Tuesday, 27 September 2016

September 24 – Lines of passage

(The Halim Bey Mansion, Mytilini)

Last week a fire spat smoke over the capital Mytilini; the next day the smoldering fire was put out by rain. The refugee camp of Moria was partly burned down and even though in the north of the island we had no idea what was going on, the media soon well picked up news of the fire. European politicians however smelt nothing. They are still parading around proudly saying that their ‘Deal with the Sultan’ stopped the flood of refugees. I am afraid that they will only step into action and do what they promised when another photo of a dead child in a camp shows up and brings people all over the world to tears.

The whole situation makes my heart bleed and my frustrations escalate. Every tourist who visited the island this summer knows that life on the island (except around Moria) continues as usual. Tens of thousands of Greeks are still surviving a national crisis.

Cultural organizations however continue to organize festivals. This past summer the island was full of activities, not only for tourists, but also for the locals. The absolute top was the Molyvos International Music Festival, maybe the best classical music festival of Greece. Young international talents armed with Stradivarius violins and a Steinway piano played some lesser known and beautiful music in the fairytale like atmosphere of Molyvos Castle in several open-air concerts. I am still wondering how they got the Steinway into the massive fort. This kind of event attracts people who are drawn to the island itself, unlike the press-mosquitos drawn by the bad news

The Turkish couple Can and Sevda Elgiz also want to bring another public to Mytilini. They collect modern art and offer space to young artists in their Elgiz Museum in Istanbul, which houses the overflow of their growing home collection.

In the coming month part of this collection is going to be exhibited in Mytilini, and with a special reason: Can's ancestors, the Kulassizades, were governors of Lesvos. Can’s great grandfather, Halim Bey, was the last Ottoman ruler, before Lesvos returned to Greek government in 1912. The entire family left their birthplace eleven years later to settle in Ayvalik, when the Treaty of Lausanne was signed and the population exchange was made. The family house in Mytilini, where Can’s mother grew up, was left empty, but some hundred years later still stands. The house now known as the Halim Bey Mansion has been restored and has become a public art gallery. This was for Can a good reason to reconnect with the island, and especially because Lesvos now needs positive energy.

After an impressive file of movie and pop stars, various artists and the pope, who all came to bring attention and help for the refugees and the Levorian population, we will now see some top-notch art. The Elgiz love to gather the work of the big names like Karel Appel, Robert Rauschenberg, Julian Schnabel, Andy Warhol and Gilbert & George. Which of their art works will cross the Aegean Sea is not yet clear. The exhibition called ‘Lines of passage' is created by the Turkish curator Baak Senova, who has made her name in the international art world.

In earlier times it was not unusual to visit for several days a city that offered a high-profile exhibition. Nowadays masses of art lovers go to the big art attractions, although now you sometimes have to buy tickets months in advance and then still wonder whether you will see the artworks or just the queues of people waiting to get in.
A new trend is to mount exhibitions in lesser known places, and Lesvos offers a perfect opportunity to check this out. Art lovers: hurry to the Paris of the Aegean, Mytilini.

And for the artists (Like Marina Abramovic who last spring worked in Athens): Here is the island of the new art world! Ai Weiwei has already discovered it and because artists will not, like politicians, ignore the refugee crisis, more will follow to the island.

(The exhibition will be open from September 30 to November 11 in the Halim Bey Mansion in Mytilini)

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

© Smitaki 2016

Sunday, 4 September 2016

August 30 – Dresskini

(A bourkini for men)

A bathing suit, I heard somebody say yesterday, makes you look old. I am already a bit old and I have worn out heaps of bikinis and some bathing suits, like the wafer-thin swimsuit in tiger print that was said to let through UV beams, but the covered parts never became the much desired golden colour. Now I am looking for a bathing suit that will make me look younger, one that will restrain my speading belly and other burgeoning parts, and make me look more streamlined. I ordered some online.

One of the bathing suits has its waist practically under my armpits and its leg holes rise so steep that my venus hill barely gets hidden. Greeks still are a bit prudish, so there's no way that I can wear this barely decent piece of clothing on a Greek beach; that is something for a clean-shaven movie star on a beach in Nice.

The second swimming costume is a real Desigual. It fits me perfectly and indeed makes me look slimmer. But on the back - where two pieces of cloth join together between the shoulder blades – is a dastardly little zipper, which can only be closed through dislocating your arms as you try to zip up. I now understand why it is called a sports model. So like a real French duchess I will have to hire a dresser to lace me up tightly into the bathing suit.

The third swimsuit was so narrow (or my behind so thick), that it could barely pass over my buttocks, nor could the shoulder straps pass my breasts. The same problem with the swimsuit-dress. I thought it a lovely invention, this swimsuit with a short skirt. In the morning I walk my dogs over the street along the sea in a baggy dress. I suppose that on the French boulevards nobody thinks twice at seeing a woman in a bikini walking her dogs, but for Greece I think even a swimsuit is not a suitable dog-walking outfit. I thought such a swimsuit-dress would be the solution: you can jump in and out of the water, later chasing the dogs on the street without offending people with your blubbery naked body. After a lot of pulling and stretching I finally managed to put it on: it looks nice on me and certainly does make me look years younger.

So it's not entirely true that a swimsuit makes you look older. Its only disadvantage is that it sits as tight as an iron corset of queen Marie Antoinette. And prevents me from moving, causing cramps within minutes so that I soon wanted to start the battle of removing it. Then I needed at least an hour, stark naked, loosening my muscles. But I made the decision to every day wrestle myself into this fancy swimsuit-dress, hoping that it would stretch. As this summer was rather hot I did this exercise only twice.

The surprise came with a little beach dress I also ordered. The bust covered in black, there then followed a skirt of colourful jungle-print, full of flowers and animals. A beautiful dress, equally suited to an outing to a mundane French restaurant. While unpacking I noticed the synthetic fabric. Bah, I should have been more careful when ordering: I don't wear synthetics in the summer heat.

A luncheon party at the beach seemed the perfect occasion to introduce this dress to my friends. It fitted me perfectly (supportive enough to give the opportunity to not wear a bra, a luxury during hot days) with the skirt fluttering around my legs. A friend felt the fabric and said that it was bathing suit material. Great! Of course: a beach dress should be made in order to challenge the sea. So I ran to the water and dived into the waves. No longer a complicated party dresses; dripping with the sea, I just reappeared at the table and before anybody could remark that I had gone for a swim, my decent dresskini was already dry

I wonder if my dresskini would have brought me any problems on the beach in Nice. Here in Greece there is no problem: old women and widows pleasantly have long chatting sessions far out in the sea, entirely dressed in black clothing. And men after fish, dive into the sea in their bourkini-for-men hunting suits, whilst heavily armed with a harpoon and a scary big knife strapped to their leg. Nobody thinks this is threatening! I think that somebody wearing a bourkini on a Greek beach would be as undisturbed as the Pappas (priests) who roam the villages in their black dresses. So you're more likely to enjoy the beach amongst Greeks than amongst those silly French, who prefer offensive naked to chastely covered.

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

© Smitaki 2016