Here is a small selection of Teresa’s many published articles which she hopes you will enjoy.
From Athens it is easy to reach any part of the mainland and to island-hop either by boat or plane. Read on to savour a little local flavour.
9 Days to Heaven, illustration for Day Eight
Introducing the artist of the lovely paintings in 9 days to heaven and on this site:
Try setting yourself free! Be who and what you are. Not what others expect or want you to be. Perhaps you have lost sight of your true character. Let a trip back to childhood through colours and paper remind you.
DAUBING PUTS COLOUR BACK INTO YOUR LIFE
By Teresa O’Driscoll
Do you remember the childhood joy of splashing bright colours all over a piece of white paper? Of putting whatever colour you wanted, wherever you wanted it, in whatever shape you wanted it - and loving every minute! “Free expression” is what it would have been labelled but at that time we neither knew nor cared about labels - we were just having fun. In this case nostalgia alone is out of place. It is within your power to turn back the clock and recapture that freedom. Painting is a cheap and cheerful way to lift the spirits.
"Not everyone needs or wants to become a painter but it is important to express what is inside of us and this is a good way to do it," commented artist Elisabeth Mamas, who has also studied communications science. Painting is an accepted way to relax the mind and bring about a more positive attitude to life. Hospitals, for example, often encourage patients to paint as part of the healing process. "Painting can have a therapeutic effect,” Mamas agreed. “The action of applying paint to paper can be calming.” She teaches art to adults and to children at her home atelier in Athens. "In my lessons there is always music playing, often classical, and this, together with the painting itself, engenders a soothing atmosphere," she shared.
The materials needed to begin are minimal, inexpensive and readily available. "I favour water-colours as a medium," Mamas volunteers. "This technique, using the combination of the elements water and colour, encourages the creative powers." Recently, at my local supermarket I bought water-colours, brushes, and a block of paper for a very low price. These were enough to begin daubing.
If you need any further encouragement to bring painting back into your life make a visit to the Museum of Greek Children's Art in Plaka. In itself the tranquil atmosphere and wealth of colour in the paintings on display are sure to please you. Then, the refreshingly bold approaches will hopefully stimulate you to go back home and fill up a blank piece of paper with visions from your own imagination. And take heart from Picasso who once said, "I've spent eighty years of my life trying to paint as a child."
Once you have begun to paint don't be surprised if it raises your general awareness level. "Painting helps people to see things in a different way, to observe carefully and to see what is going on around them," Mamas predicted. Sooner or later, you may even get inspired to go out and about and paint the celebrated glorious blue sky of Greece or any other of the wonders of nature that are here. Keep in mind though that the object of the exercise is FUN and this is only achieved through a relaxed approach.
Whether with a hymn or an OM, Greece spells spirituality
By Teresa O’Driscoll
In a land where St Paul himself preached the Gospel, where churches crowd together and the name of the Virgin Mary is constantly on the lips of its people, it is difficult to ignore the spiritual side of life. We may try to do it, focusing on the needs of body and mind, but at times that elusive spiritual side of our nature is stirred as the very air itself seems filled not just by sunshine but with the whisperings of past deep secrets.
The spiritual side of our multi-dimensional structure is the one that has long been ignored. The trio of mind, body and spirit has been reduced to the duo of body and mind, it is little wonder then that the twentieth century disease of superficiality has encroached upon mankind and is feeding off the ailing spirit. Yet in rare our moments of supreme happiness we can feel the zinging of the spirit as a palpable, living part of our being. This experience is beyond the mind and the body and yet an integral part of it since we three are one.
To truly get the best out of life it therefore follows that unless we take time to nourish all three aspects of ourselves we are not fully living. And since a harmonious life is the most fulfilling one maybe it's time to give that elusive spiritual side a bit of attention. Perhaps you have never given much thought to your spirit that has been described as the 'essential nature of a person'. And yet, with just a little attention you can achieve that balance and perspective that you unconsciously crave - that illusory 'peace of mind'. And when you get a little deeper into your own awareness you will begin to realise that the very craving for peace was your spirit crying out for your attention.
For the record, I believe that God is the Creator of everything and I also believe that Jesus Christ is His son. However, you can believe whatever you wish; it doesn't change the three-layered nature of mankind, and it doesn't change the needs of the spirit nor does it fundamentally change the methods for nourishing that side of us, because when we actively do that we open ourselves out to a level of experience that takes us beyond the confines of this world. And how we choose to interpret our new-found knowledge and through what filters we run it is a personal matter and choice.
Over the coming months we will be looking at spirituality in its many guises. We will be looking at such things as: the use of the power of prayer in the healing process, something that is currently being systematically monitored by scientists (after Western medicine has spent the last one hundred years trying to rid itself of such 'hocus-pocus' it is now proving that prayer power really works); and ways to nourish the spirit through methods such as meditation, breathing exercises, and prayer. We will take a look at religion and what it means to a variety of people (it has recently been scientifically established that people who regularly attend religious services have lower blood pressure, less heart disease, lower rates of depression and generally better health than those who don't attend).
If you want to begin today, right this very moment, to nourish your spirit you can do nothing better than sending out a prayer for someone else. It is not a prerequisite to prayer that you have knowledge of God, it's fine to send your petition to Him anyway, even if you think it's on the 'off chance' that SOMEONE UP THERE is listening. You don't need fancy words, just state what you want with a sincerity of heart. Norman Vincent Peale in his best selling book "The Power of Positive Thinking says of prayer, "Personally, I believe that prayer is a sending out of vibrations from one person to another and to God. All of the universe is in vibration. There are vibrations is the molecules of a table. The air is filled with vibrations. The reaction between human beings is also a vibration. When you send out a prayer for another person, you employ the force inherent in a spiritual universe. You transport from yourself to the other person a sense of love, helpfulness, support - a sympathetic, powerful understanding - and in this process you awaken vibrations in the universe through which God brings to pass the good objectives prayed for. Experiment with this principle and you will know its amazing results."
I love the Greek mainland but the islands are just something else! Each has its own unique feel and character. Agreed, a few have been spoilt by tourist over-development. However, plenty more still retain their natural beauty and charm. (And attractive low prices!) Their populations have dwindled as islanders migrated to Athens. They brought with them special skills and talents. Sculptors and artists from the island of Tinos are a good example of this.
Pyrgos The Outdoor Architectural Museum Of Tinos
By Teresa O’Driscoll
Three throaty horn blasts announce the arrival of our boat at the port of Tinos. My friend and I have come especially to visit the village of Pyrgos which has produced three of the country’s greatest artists: Halepas, Lytras and Filippotis. And whose beauty has earned the unofficial title “Outdoor Architectural Museum”.
We hire a car in the port, home of the famous Evangelistra Church (which houses an icon of the Virgin Mary said to perform miracles), and are soon driving upwards away from the Hora heading north. Minutes later yellow broom and crimson poppies wave at the roadside and the Aegean is a blue sweep below. The surrounding hills are divided by stone walls into brown or green “pezoules”, small fields that hold the meagre soil in place. After about 30 minutes Pyrgos appears and even at a distance it is clear that the cycladic white cube-shaped houses set into a valley have more about them than usual. They exude pride and elegance.
At the entrance to the village stands an elaborate marble structure with benches. We have begun! Proceeding on foot - the only way - immediately on our left are the village’s two museums. One is the house in which the sculptor Halepas (1854-1938) was born and raised. “It became a museum in 1971,” said its curator, Andreana Piperi. “It is important because Halepas is the most famous of Tinian sculptors and here people can see the conditions he lived in.” In the room at street level are some representative sculptures and photographs. Steep wooden stairs lead down to Spartan living quarters - small kitchen, stone sink, stone oven with marble hob, round table, and cupboard. But the sculptor’s workroom brings us closest to him. Filled with natural light it contains his wooden workbench and I imagine him there; fulfilled. (There is a museum dedicated to his work in the Hora. See The Sleeping Maiden of Halepas in the First Cemetery, Athens)
Next door is the Museum of Panormos Artists with sketches, sculptures and other pieces of art. A work, The Harvester by Filippotis, (1839-1919), a boy holding sheaves of corn dominates. (Filippotis is revered for his great contribution to sculpture in Greece. See The Woodcutter opposite Kallimarmaron Stadium, Athens.) There are also a number of magnificent carved busts by Halepas. Outside a small garden containing a globe inscribed “The ashes of the Tinian artists” adds its own poignant note.
This village is the only one in Greece still following the old marble cutting traditions. The quarries close by are still working and the number of signs saying “Art on Marble” or “Marble Workshop” shows it is a flourishing craft. Curiosity about its production methods takes me into the workshop of Petros Marmarinos (translates as Stone Marble). He has regular exhibitions in Athens and Thessalonica. “I have had my workshop for about 10 years,” he says. “There are about 7 or 8 others in the village.” His work “decorative as well as useful” includes items such as plates, tables and fountains as well as reliefs and sculptures. Eagerly he explains the carving techniques. First the design is pencilled onto the marble. Then with a hammer and small chisel (made by the village blacksmith, whose tools are used all over Greece including on the Parthenon) it is painstakingly carved away until the creative objective is achieved - which could take days, months, years even.
The method appears simple though great skill is employed. It is mentally taxing, not to mention - physically hard. “It’s also dangerous for the health as you breath in the marble dust. You have to stand for hours and your waist aches,” he shares. So, he must love his work. “Yes!” he agrees. Why? “I like the finished result of each piece.” He adds, “But I don’t know if I could do this work anywhere else except Pyrgos.”
Why has Pyrgos spawned so many sculptors and artists? “No one can explain that,” he says, then tries to. “There is great natural beauty here with the mountains and Aegean Sea, and energy from the environment. And of course we have the material, the marble too.” It seems to be in the genes though. “One of my sister’s sons as soon as he could walk took up the tools and started trying to work on the marble,” he remembers.
Walking up the main street, a long narrow lane, the scent from a small shop “To spiti tou meliou” (house of honey), also selling aromatic oils, follows you as far as the square. Continuing we meet two imposing marble fronted buildings including that of the Cultural Centre. Turning hard left from the square we entered the alleyway called Nicko Lytras Street (1832-1904, considered, along with his friend, Gyzis - also born on the island - to have been the most important Greek painter of the 19th century). A local directed us to turn right at top of street to view the artist’s house. “It is the one with the garden and is now occupied by someone else,” she said. We found the unremarkable white plastered villa easily. (Fine examples of both artist’s work, along with the island’s other masters such as Sochos (see his Theodoros Kolokotronis on Horseback. in Stadiou St., Athens) and Vitalis (see his William Gladstone on Panepistimiou St., Athens) can be seen at the Museum of Tinian Artists in the Hora.)
Meandering back down through the old narrow alleyways we encountered countless houses with a carved marble lintel over the front door, either semi-circular, square or triangular, with delicate motifs such as fruit, flowers, trees, birds, boats and fish. And fanlights over windows or above the lintel often geometrically pierced to allow in air or light. Drinking fountains tapping water from mountain streams, in front of a church or on a street wall, were also of carved marble. Small or large churches with carved marble bell towers and fabulous marble interiors.
Elated by all this living art, yet thirsty, we returned to the square and chose Café Mako from one of half a dozen tavernas and coffee shops shaded by a huge plane tree (planted 1859). It was directly beside the big square marble monument, housing drinking fountains dating from 1778. It is dedicated to the heroes of the Greek War of Independence whose inscription we read while eating the house speciality “galaktobouriko” (milk filo pie) with our coffee.
A resident, Manthos Koukas, aged 85 told us that the monument used to be the village laundry. And identified the huge church above as Aghios Nicholaos. A magnificent structure of carved white marble whose churchyard is filled with marble sculptures. Men’s tombs are carved with the tools of their trade. For instance, a blacksmith is identified by his hammer and anvil. It transpired that Koukas is a manufacturer of marble cutting machines - eschewed by Pyrgos craftsmen, used in other parts of Greece and abroad - with a factory in Athens. And his hobby is marble art.
Before leaving Pyrgos we walked up to the School of Fine Art housed in two low white buildings with terracotta roofs on a hill just above the village. I counted about 30 seats in one building, each with a drawing table. The other building had sculptures in its windows. Opened in 1957 its efforts are supported by the foundation of the Evangelistra Church. Its students have come from all over Greece and even abroad, as well as locals (such as Petros Marmarinos). They are custodians of techniques perfected long ago marching fearlessly into the 21st century. And while visitors like us continue to marvel at their craft it will continue.
I have included an article on Lake Vouliagmeni because, in the spring and autumn, it was my favourite place to swim. And when I needed clarity and inspiration in my work I went there. It lifted my spirits within minutes.
By Teresa O’Driscoll
“The lake and its surroundings are one of nature’s monuments and have the same status for me as the Acropolis,” pronounced their manager, Anionis Dandoulakis. “Characterised as a ‘therapeutic hot spring’ the lake is 60% mineral water and 40% salt water and contains lots of metals and calcium.” The cocktail of components includes potassium, ammonium, iron and iodine. These are beneficial for a wide range of bone and muscular problems, and dermatological and gynaecological conditions. They also combat stress.
The site doctor, Cleopatra Balé said, “Many physicians in Athens send their patients to swim in the lake for therapy.” When you have a medical problem the lake’s waters should be used with discipline. Dr Balé recommends the first swim last no more than 15 to 20 minutes, increasing by 5 minutes every 2 to3 days. “At the beginning of your therapy you may feel a little worse,” she cautioned. “But this is simply your organism reacting to something new - the unaccustomed exercise and the minerals which enter the body.” And does the therapy work? “Yes. We have a good success rate. A number of people tell me, for instance, that their pains are much less.”
All year round you will see people swimming in the lake. “Most of our winter clients are from Athens and Piraeus,” said Dandoulakis. “But summertime we have a lot of foreign visitors from say, Germany, Austria, Scandinavians and Britain. They stay in hotels in the area and come here every day.” The lake’s temperature ranges between 21 to 27 degrees Celsius. “Sometimes on a winter’s morning it gives off a lot of steam which looks very beautiful,” he enthused.
Not all the lake’s visitors come for therapy. Many simply enjoy the pleasing ambience and facilities such as tables, chairs, umbrellas and sun-beds (all at no extra charge) not to mention the waiters circulating at your beck and call with drinks and snacks. (Plans are in place for a modern spa building to replace the old, now inoperable one, with indoor baths, gym, pool and mud pool.) If you don’t feel like swimming merely sitting in the outdoor café bar breathing in the ‘feel good’ ions (negatively charged particles) coming off the lake will lift your mood appreciably. After dark the scene changes to romantic wining and dining. You can even have a special function catered for.
Every couple of years you may happen across a cave diving team setting up on the far side of the lake. The leader will be Bolanz, chairman of the International Speleological Union (union of cave divers). “We first dived here in 1989,” he recalls. “It is one of the most interesting caves in Greece. As the underwater chamber is quite deep, 75 to 105 metres, it has been a challenge to explore it as we have to swim near the surface to avoid depth that would make dive decompression very long.” (Squandering precious air.)
The cave expeditions are organised by geologist Vassilis Yiannopoulos from the Greek Ministry of Culture, Department of Speleology and Palaeoanthropology. “I study everything in the cave - which is 4 or 5 million years old - from the archaeological, through to animal bones,” he explained. Over his 27 year career he has, in other parts of Greece, found the ancient remains of elephants, hippopotamuses, lions and panthers. And also documented numerous crucial facts including those related to changes - such as in temperature, sea-levels, and land formation - occurring over millennia around the country.
The other work of the team is to explore and to map the underwater cave. Results so far show it is over 4 (suspected to be as much as 20) kilometres long. Below the cave is the biggest hole in the world with a capacity of some 2 million cubic metres! The cave has a reputation for being perilous as it has claimed 9 diver’s lives. These were individuals, not team members. “None was a cave diver,” stressed Bolanz. “They all used the wrong material and the wrong procedures. The equipment, procedures, and philosophy are completely different to that of sea diving.” Since the last 2 deaths in ’92 cave diving here, except by this official team, has been banned. The team uses stringent safety precautions. However, despite their great experience each expedition is a risk. And there is now an added risk. “Our equipment is very old,” said Yiannopoulos. “We need help from the Ministry to update it.” He adds soberly, “Cave diving is dangerous.” Bolanz quips, “At 63 I’m probably the oldest cave diver still alive!”
One challenge still facing the team is the discovery of the precise origin of the lake’s waters, though Yiannopoulos speculates it’s from an underground deposit at Mt. Imitos, some 20 kilometres away, getting its heat from a nearby undersea volcano. And how old is the lake? “Oh, it’s very young,” he laughs. “No more than about a thousand years.”
The initial development of the lake was begun in 1927 by Greek-American building contractor, Charles D. Soteras. His daughter, Thalia, born and raised in the States, now lives in Athens. “Eleftherios Venizelos went to the USA in the early twenties to encourage prosperous Greek-Americans to invest in Greece,” she recounts. “Papa, a pioneer of California and a leading Greek citizen - he’d gone there alone aged 12 with nothing - was one of those to hear and respond to the call. He arrived in Greece complete with construction vehicles to develop the sea-front south of Athens. His first project was the lake of Vouliagmeni.”
Nowadays, Thalia swims regularly in the lake during the summer months. Her father’s hand in its development is unknown there and she gets no preferential treatment. She doesn’t seek it. The lake is something of a bond between her long-dead father and herself. During a rare visit from the USA her youngest sister, Bilo swam in the lake too for the first time. “She told me it brought her closer, somehow, to Papa,” Thalia confided. “And psychologically helped with the healing process of his loss as a small child. That healing was physical too. She’d had a back problem for many years and said the lake waters just washed her pain away. Returning to America her doctor told her, ‘People in Greece are so fortunate to have access to that wonderful highly therapeutic mineral water!’ ”
When I was a teenager my dad had a boat and we used to do a lot of sailing. As the weather is so unpredictable in Britain we found ourselves in a number of tricky situations - force 8-9 gale causing us to lose our way, etc. It was often cold, wet, uncomfortable, and dangerous. But we loved the adventure! Sailing around the Greek islands is a whole different ball game. No tides, lots of sunshine, and warm waters. Perhaps you’ll fancy giving it a go yourself after reading the piece. It’s definitely inspiring.
Why sailing in Greece is just swell!
By Teresa O’Driscoll
Sailing around the Greek islands is a dream come true for millions each year. Picture a yacht on a sunny summer’s day. Tall white sails filled with warm winds, hull at a steep angle with blue sea bubbling just below the deck line. A glamorous sight indeed! However, sailing generally has little to do with glamour and luxuriating. It’s more about communing with nature. In fact, the faster a yacht sails the more likely it is that her accommodation and facilities for crew may be rather primitive. Built for speed not comfort. And the faster the speed the more costly the yacht.
“The first Greek Archipelago sailors were Stratis Andreadis, father of George Andreadis, vice-president of the International Sailing Federation (repeated champion) and many other world-class ship owners such as Goulandris, Empeirikos, Nomikos and Koumantaros,” said Manos Roudas, instructor with the Hellenic Offshore Racing Club (HORC) the country’s largest sailing club founded in the 60s by the elite who wanted to race each other. So what attracts the rich and famous including the former King of Greece, Constantine - an Olympic gold medalist - to forego their usual pampering? “People who can afford it generally have a racing yacht plus a luxurious yacht,” he clarified. “And when racing are highly competitive wanting to prove they are competent and skilled. And so they are prepared to put up with the often cramped conditions, a trickle of water for a shower, the cold, and so on.” (Very fast sailing relies on good aerodynamics. The hull is usually long and narrow to cut through the water. The vessel needs to be as light as possible to minimise drag, automatically precluding opulence.)
You don’t have to be rich to own your own yacht these days. Any one with a very good income and a fascination for sailing (who is prepared to watch the pennies in other areas of their life) could afford one. If you are competitive racing clubs like HORC (who have their own prestigious annual regatta, the Aegean Rally) are good to get involved in. Even if you don’t have your own boat but have some sailing experience and want to join in as crew, at little, or even no cost to you, the clubs could probably help out there too. And maybe even have some members who would be glad of your assistance to get across the finishing line. It will be without doubt a real-life adventure.
On the opposite end of the scale a slow-paced holiday sailing around Greece is the ideal antidote to a stressful life. Safe seas. Long, hot sunshiny days under clear blue skies. And a new horizon daily. “In Greece we have almost 2,000 islands,” pointed out Achilleas Ioakimides, marketing manager of Vernicos Yachts, a charter company. “So, although we don’t have the wonderful marine life of say, the Caribbean, we do have lots of dolphins and a wide variety of itineraries. Some are for hardened sailors. Others for those with much less experience. Which mean we attract sailing enthusiasts of many different kinds.” (As an aside he added with a smile, “Another great thing about Greece is that you don’t have to sail your own yacht to get here as we have a wide range of boats for charter with or without skippers.”)
“Most islands are only about 20 miles from each other making Greece the perfect place for such island hopping,” said Roudas. Each is unique with something of interest on offer, though what’s often missing is a big modern marina. Even so, some of the islands are very well organised. “On Syros, Mykonos, Santorini, Kos and Crete you will find everything you need,” Roudas stated. “The other islands have even smaller marinas so August, peak season, they may get a little crowded so I recommend the Cyclades and the Dodecannese. Both are in the Aegean and very picturesque.”
In the face of such variety how does one choose a route? “Start with the Ionian,” Roudas suggests. “This is for beginners. There are no waves or wind so it’s easier to sail. The Aegean is for the more experienced because in the summer months, July and August it gets a northerly wind, the ‘meltemi’.” This springs from a combination of two semi-permanent systems - high pressure in the western Mediterranean and a heat low east of Cyprus. HORC advises that ‘caution should be exercised at narrows and prominent points, where funnel effects take place - reinforcing seas, current and winds.’ They say that those worried by high winds should note that after Easter winds are light, days are long, tourists few and the countryside is blooming. (Think sapphire sea, swathes of yellow margaritas, crimson poppies on expanses of fresh greenery and you are on the right track.)
Another great thing about sailing is that it is for all ages. George Floridis, sailing coach for the Athletic Nautical Club of Glyfada says, “One of the reasons I took up sailing is because it is one of the few hobbies you can do for the whole of your life.” He has been sailing for about fifteen years, since the age of 13. Having taken part in numerous championships he now teaches dingy sailing for 6 to 12 years olds. “The seas in Greece are perfect for kids to learn on,” he says. “For added safety they wear lifejackets. Sometimes a life-line too so they can’t fall overboard. And even if a dingy capsizes, first of all the seas are warm - so it’s not too uncomfortable, nor dangerous - and secondly the boat just comes upright again.” He added, “The kids love it. They have such fun learning.”
Taking up sailing generally falls into two distinct age brackets. The first is children. “I started sailing because my father was doing it,” Floridis recalls. “He used to take me to the sailing club where I made lots of friends. And it led on from there.” In the second bracket there are the 30 somethings - who seem to be seeking a fresh eye on life. And perhaps a means of widening their social circle too. Roudas commented, “Sailing is a nice way to meet people because you come very close to them. I have known many people who met and married through sailing. In Greece there is a saying amongst those who sail, and I believe it, that before you marry you should go with your future husband or wife on a weekend sailing trip. Because through sailing together you might discover a hidden side of a person, maybe a bad inner-self that you might not have otherwise seen. If you can survive the weekend with your relationship intact - you should marry. If not - definitely don’t marry!”
Greece is the birthplace of Drama. Its people have a natural flair and predisposition for it. Some are extraordinarily talented. Here I have picked out just two pieces from my archives . One, on Oscar winning actress - Katina Paxinou who, though she has passed over, still lives on in memory. The other, on Eleny Scotes, gifted theatre director-teacher-producer. Both women are inspirational. Both know plenty about making dreams come true.
Preservation of a Great Talent at the Katina Paxinou Museum
By Teresa O’Driscoll
Katina Paxinou, referred to as the greatest Greek actress of the 20th century, is ‘gone but not forgotten’ as the museum dedicated to preserving her memory attests. Winning an Oscar definitely helped to create her lasting fame. I looked at that golden award now standing, small yet hugely impressive, on a polished wooden cabinet and couldn’t resist furtively touching it. Paxinou won it for her role of Pilar, the fiery Spanish gypsy revolutionary in the 1943 film For Whom the Bell Tolls which I had seen on television many times. Although the film was nominated for nine Academy Awards, with leading roles by Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman, it won only this one for Best Supporting Actress.
Paxinou, born in Piraeus, 1900, appeared in other Hollywood films before resuming her stage career in 1950. She formed the Royal Theatre of Athens with Alexis Minotis her principal director husband, another great talent, whose desk dominates a corner of the small museum. Over the next two decades she gave excellent performances which are captured in the photographs thickly lining the museum walls. I spoke to some people who had seen her act. “When she walked on stage you saw no one else,” they said. She also continued to accept occasional film roles until her death in Athens in 1973.
Her bureau stands open draped with a filmy black shawl. On it are displayed some personal items. A sparkling tiara, a silver-backed hairbrush, a pair of rhinestone rimmed spectacles. And a vanity case stands by stacked with make-up and toiletries. The only purpose of all these now is to be a poignant reminder of a life of talent fully shared.
Suddenly, I heard my name. No one had spoken. Fanciful? Probably, but silently I said, “If that was you Katina please tell me what is the most important thing in this room?” I closed my eyes and when I opened them again they riveted on the Oscar and everything else seemed to disappear for a moment. Just then a bell rang. Uncanny! Doubtless, it was just from a nearby church. But no matter. I felt we had communicated. And as John Dunne himself said, “Do not ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”
Eleny Scotes Is Back In Action
By Teresa O’Driscoll
Greek-American Scotes, who did her training in New York and London, made her home in Athens in the late 80s. “When I first came to Greece I decided to train young people in the methods I knew with the plan of working with them in production later,” she told Odyssey. She took this route because she was generally unimpressed with the standard of Greek acting. Blending a mix of Stanislavski (a Russian from the turn of the last century who created the first acting methods), with her own expertise, she slanted all towards the Greek temperament. “It was a long road for me,” she admitted. “But I’m so glad I did it.” Already, her hard work is bearing fruit. “My ‘family’ - the original group of students have all gone on to do what they had to do. Some of them are Greek television stars such as Yannis Dritsas and Alexandros Stavrou. And Victoria, who took over my workshops for me when I was away, has just landed a top agent in Australia. Her film, Brides - the Greek-English production by Pandellis Voulgaris in co-operation with Scorcese, who hand-picked her out of thousands - is winning awards and is coming out in the US this summer. And I’m so happy for her. She’s on her way!” And so is Scotes.
In only a few short years of packing out the Athens’ theatres her top quality contribution to Greek culture was recognised and encouraged by the State with some funding ‘a small stipend’ which enabled her to form a national company, Nama. And to go on to open her own premises, Theater at Kolonos (Theatro epi Kolono - in partnership with architect, set designer George Hatzinikolaou and Daphne Larounis, in charge of programming and personnel).
Their first production there Dear Elena by Liudmilla Razumofskaya in the year 2,000, put the company on the map. “We won all the Athinorama [a what’s-on-where-in-Athens magazine] awards in 2001,” she recalled. Then relived the moment. “It was a really funny thing because when we went in they didn’t even know our names and they seated our group high up on the left of a tier somewhere. And then we just swept all the awards - directing, actors, designers…everything. And we were like…Ahh!! going crazy with excitement.” She chuckled at the memory. Their second production, a Sam Shepherd play, was also nominated in all categories the next year. “But we had put it on later in the year and it didn’t have time to get enough people to see it,” she explained. “ So, we didn’t win anything.”
“Then I got pregnant and the theatre space - one theatre holds 120, and the second holds 40 - got rented out to other artists. This year though, we’re back in our space again with a play Penalty written and directed by my assistant, Giorgos Paloumbis with actors from our workshop, and it’s doing really well.” Paloumbis also assists in teaching classes. Her workshops are currently thriving with 70 to 80 students, and as a working mom she is happy to have help.
We talked about her decision to become a mother. “Basically I was a career woman and I didn’t realise that I wanted to have children until at 41 I discovered I was pregnant. I went to America and with natural childbirth had my daughter, Zoë.” And how has Zoë’s arrival impacted on her career? “Having a child has made me really slow down,” she shared. “I’ve always been in the fast lane. In many ways not being in the moment, always in the future. Whereas, if you want to really be with your child in the moment it obliges you to be in the Now. And it’s made me realise that this whole idea of the ‘supermom’ is really a myth. It cannot exist. So I’m having to understand that I can do it all, but I can’t do it all at the same time. It’s just about setting priorities.”
This means, for instance, carefully scheduling time for rehearsals for her latest production “Don’t Swim Alone” by Canadian playwright, Daniel MacIvor. The style of the play is a new departure for the company which is known for its classic, realistic works. “This play is a post-modern,” Scotes clarified. “There’s a lot of absurdity in it. It’s very theatrical. And it’s Fun! In using this different genre we’re veering off to the right, or left, or whatever. But I want the audience to see that we can do that kind of thing as well. And then we’ll come back and do a classic.”
The play’s cast of three are young actors trained in Scotes’ workshops in which she emphasises improvisation. “That is a whole area of expertise; a skill,” she explains. “And here in Greece they don’t know this technique. The play will be a challenge, of course, but we’re working together.” Together is the key word. It sums up her whole directing approach. “I’m not, you know, a ‘high and above’ lording over these actors telling them what I want,” she says laughing. Then it feels like she is lifting the curtain and giving us a peak at her working as she continues, “I’m moving along side by side with them. And if I see something I’ll say, ‘Ooh! Let’s expand on that. Let’s enhance it.’ But for the most part they’re initiators. I’m giving them the wherewithal to take off and let their subconscious take over and be playing with it.” By now her eyes are shining and her love for her work is blatantly obvious. She is happy to be back and the rehearsals are going well. The final date for opening will be announced soon.
Already though, Scotes is thinking further ahead than that. “I plan to continue working and expanding our theatre,” she began. “We are trying to encourage some older actors to come to our workshops too. However, my main future goal, which I hope is shorter rather than too long-term, is to make a permanent, professional English language theatre company, the Theatre of the Diaspora. The idea is to bring the Greek theatre - contemporary plays, new works - into the English language.” These would be performed in Athens and in other countries.
“There are enough English speaking people here. And I feel the Greek audience would come to see their work on the English stage. We would also bring English theatre from all over the world to Athens.” She has already had meetings with the American Hellenic Union about a possible collaboration. “They seemed very upbeat about it,” she reported. “I’m currently working on a proposal outline and a budget.” She is hoping that the project will be realised within three to four years.
“I also have the idea of working with the Diaspora such as Greek-Americans, Greek-Canadians, Greek-Australians, whatever. Tapping into that resource has always interested me.” This would mean encouraging young playwrights by competitions with awards, and to have the plays produced and performed in Athens too. “Obviously, that’s something I can do because I know these cultures very well so I can bridge the gap,” she enthused. Then added, “Basically the Theatre of the Diaspora has to do with Greek culture reaching, in English, the people of all nations and backgrounds. With a home base here. So I think I have something to strive for!”
I chose the following piece - about Simon Singh, best-selling author - because his chosen path shows that there is more than one way you can immerse yourself in a subject you love - by applying creative choices.
Physicist-Author Simon Singh In Athens Pays Tribute To Ancient Greeks
By Teresa O’Driscoll
Eratosthenes, the BC 250 Greek genius mathematician, astronomer who estimated the Earth’s circumference to an accuracy of about 2 per cent, is highlighted in the opening of Simon Singh’s latest book Big Bang: The in-depth story of the theory of the origins of the universe. One lofty book reviewer commented that the writer could have skipped the first 100-odd pages, ‘a dutiful trudge through Greek precursors.’ However, Singh - physicist turned best-selling author, award-winning TV producer - clearly preferred a more complete equation, giving credit where it was due. “All scientists and mathematicians look back to the ancient Greeks,” he explained. “Scientists only see further because they are standing on the work of the giants before them. But the Greeks are probably at the very foundation of it all.”
He produced a Greek translation of Big Bang. It was shot through with simple diagrams. “It’s about how science works,” he outlined. “And what is science? How do you get a new idea off the ground? How do you test a new idea? And how you use mathematics to try to develop formula equations to see if your idea is a good idea. And a lot of that stuff starts off from the ancient Greeks.
“They weren’t always right,” he conceded. “For example, Ptolemy got it wrong when he suggested that the sun goes around the earth. Because, in a way, that’s what common sense tells you. But science is about more than just common sense. It’s about looking beyond that. So, the Greeks weren’t always correct but they had an idea, and a way of saying, ‘well, we’re not going to just say everything is due to the gods, that everything is supernatural, or a mystery. We are going to try to do experiments and develop theories and test those theories and argue them. So if you think your theory is better than mine, argue your case.’ And so I absolutely admire them.”
On his Big Bang book tour he has already, since last autumn, covered Britain, the USA, Australia and New Zealand. His target readership is ‘anyone curious and interested.’ “For thousands of years we’ve wondered where the universe comes from,” he said. “Now we have an answer. Not a complete answer or a perfect answer, but it’s pretty impressive. In the book I talk about what we know, not speculation.”
Singh comes to Greece quite often socially to visit one of his oldest friends from college who is half Greek. “She got married on Hydra not long ago and I went to the wedding,” he shared. However, his last ‘official’ visit to the capital was in the millennium year when he came to promote the work that launched his writing career, Fermat’s Last Theorem - the first book on mathematics ever to become a number one best seller. Translated into 32 languages his subsequent television documentary won a BAFTA award and was nominated for an EMMY.
To what does he attribute the ground-breaking success of that book? “I think it’s because it is a good story,” he ventures. “It’s about an ancient problem that someone had solved but they didn’t tell us what the answer was. Like a buried treasure. And then a little boy dreams. The boy grows into a man, locks himself up for 7 years and works in secrecy under huge pressure.” This sounds more like a novel. “Exactly!” he agrees. “You couldn’t wish for a better script. In fact, a couple of Hollywood studios asked could they buy the option to the story. But Andrew Wiles, the central character, was highly uncomfortable with that so we didn’t go down that road.” He added diplomatically, “And that’s completely understandable.”
He has come a long way since his Cambridge days where he did a PhD in particles physics. During his studies he realised that the people there were ‘on a different planet when it came to understanding and researching’. So he set his sights on science communication instead. As he loved television he took a job with the BBC and was soon involved in making the popular science programmes, Tomorrow’s World and Horizon.
We continue talking as we go up to the hotel’s rooftop for a photo session capturing views of the Acropolis and Lycabbetus Hill. Clearly no absent-minded professor - his dark, gelled ‘flat top’ hair suits his smart casual clothing; and his modulated tones are that of an experienced public speaker - so what is the big attraction towards science and maths? “To me it’s kind of obvious.” He appears bewildered by the query. Then counters with a list of his own questions which he reels off rapidly. “Who couldn’t be curious about say, how volcanoes explode, what killed the dinosaurs, how old is the earth, where did life come from, humans come from, are we related the gorillas and chimpanzees, where did the universe come from?” Who indeed, if you put it that way! He adds, “And I think children find them interesting. They ask - ‘why is the sky blue? what’s a rainbow?’ But sometimes, as we grow up we just forget about being curious.” This last remark strikes a momentary poignant note. Then he ploughs on. “So for me the thing is not so much why is it interesting? but how could it not be interesting?” Actually, it was aged 9 that he made up his mind to become a nuclear physicist. And it is obvious that his own childhood enthusiasm is still burning brightly. (He was born in the UK, though his parents are from India.)
So, how does Simon Singh sum up the general aims of his work? “On one hand it’s about getting people as excited about maths and sciences as I am,” he explained. “I love it when people tell me they used to hate maths at school but after reading Fermat’s Last Theorem they now see why it’s so exciting. And the students at university who tell me they’re doing maths because of that book could go on to make some discovery that maybe, solves security of the Internet, could be a billion dollar industry for Greece, so it’s important to the economy. And it could be that somebody who reads the Big Bang and then studies physics comes up with some new fuel efficiency things which could help solve the problem of global warming. And at an everyday level as ordinary people we are confronted by science all the time - stem cell research, genetically modified food, vaccinating our children…So, though we can’t all be scientists the more we’re educated about science the better position we are in to make judgements about ourselves and our families, and so on.”
9 Days to Heaven, illustration for Day One,
- Opening your mind to God
Natural Order by Toni Ndikanwu .
For more information on Toni Ndikanwu’s work please contact me.
African Symbols and Messages from an Artist’s Perspective
By Teresa O’Driscoll
Once again, the Nigerian artist, Toni Ndikanwu, in his latest exhibition entitled “Symbols and Messages” shows us the heartbeat of Africa with vibrant lexigraphy and a rich-hued palette. This time he is displaying two very different approaches in his work. In an oil on canvass series he has seemingly abandoned his sculpture roots for a strict two-dimensional effect. Whilst in another, of mixed media - employing his unique concoction of bonded plaster and acrylic paints - he has built up a classic three-dimensional relief that recalls those roots. Yet the two are united in the common employment of symbolism.
“In these works, more than 40 pieces altogether and most of them new, I have deliberately steered away from representation and naturalism,” says Ndikanwu. “I did this because I wanted to concentrate on highlighting the symbolism in African traditionalism in all its parts.” The artist favours the use of traditional African calligraphy called, Uli. “Sometimes I use its literal meaning,” he says. In this case he will use the hieroglyphic type line drawings of parts of animals, insects, plants or the human body to spell out a message. “Other times I will use it as a decorative pattern and also add colour to enhance the design and visual appeal,” he explains. “And in other works I may focus on colour to tell a story.” He also employs Uli in more oblique ways such as the outline of the whole composition. Spheres often provide a counterpoint in an otherwise angular expanse. “In this way I keep things moving up and down,” he comments.
“Every painting is like a song,” says Ndikanwu, “and I am trying to give rhythm, balance and harmony.” Then he indicates one of the series and says, “In this particular one the main ingredients are lyrics.” That begs an explanation so he continues, “Rap for instance, is loaded with words, and similarly the symbols I used here are the lyrics, which I see as music. The words tend to address most of the things that were going on in my mind at the time I was doing the painting such as finances, religion and my beliefs.” He hones in on a few specific symbols. “Look at this lizard,” he says. “This is a reptile that falls from a great height without being hurt and then just moves on, so in Africa it means ‘I’m doing the best I can in every situation.’ Now see this leaf, it’s shaped like five unequal fingers and is likened to the many different types of people. And there is a spider’s web, which if you find it in your house you clear it away but the spider comes back and builds it again, so it is known for its persistence.” He then points to an area with many small lines and says, “My concept of different brush strokes is that they represent the many things that can happen in one part of a whole. A single piece tends to have a lot of parts, like the nut we have in Africa which is called a kolanut. When somebody visits you break the nut and say prayers and then share it out and everyone gets blessings. However, if something bad happens to them on the way home it is said that they got the bad part of the kolanut because it has both positive and negative in it.”
At first glance, in many of these new pieces the artist seems to have forsaken his predilection for the human presence. However, Ndikanwu’s admission that he is scrutinising human attitudes through these works is the clue that humans are in fact present, just more elusive than usual. Some are, as in his previous works, portrayed as living images. Whilst others appear as a hint or an abbreviation. But though seemingly understated, the unfailing inclusion of these people in each work is the clue to their importance as part of its entirety. In fact, in order to grasp the meaning of the whole scenario, it is often a good idea to track down the figure or figures then view the work from that focal point.
Specifically in the oil on canvass pieces, there is a general absence of space as well as depth. Every available inch has been taken up with intricate designs. This makes for a general feeling of busyness which the artist says reflects his lifestyle at the moment as he has lots of things happening around him and not all of them under his control “In these works I am facing any problems that I’m having head on and just letting them come out onto the canvass,” he says. Some respite from the whirlwind of activity has been created though by the use of areas of earth tones which inflect a note of calmness or solidity and maybe even a pause. Whilst in the mixed media section pale or dark tracts accentuate the broad outline of each study. In both sets, a staccato of strokes in white, pastel or bright hues quicken the pace. Meanwhile, the addition of curves and random orbs catch the glance and slow the stanza down.
Overall, it can be said, that the works state the case for the continuing significance of communication. To that end, the Nigerian Embassy are supporting this exhibition. There is also a possibility that it may be sent to other countries as a representation of Nigerian culture. The Athens venue is the cultural club of the open programme “DIAVASI.” “I would like to send my appreciation and thanks to the Nigerian Embassy and the organisers of DIAVASI for all their support,” Ndikanwu concluded.