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Ithaka on the Horizon by Stavro Nashi

Ithaka on the Horizon

by Stavro Nashi

Giveaway ends May 01, 2014.

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ITHAKA ON THE HORIZON: A Greek-American Journey

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19 January 2008

Comments

Scruffy

Stavro, the view from the first photo with the gentleman sitting under the backdrop of the Acropolis looks almost identical to a view that a current restaurant in Thisseo has. The retired Lt. Col and myself have eaten their many times, and specifically the exact corner location. I'm sure there are many locations in that area with that view, but it was amazing that I have sat in the same seat as others from time long gone.

P.S. I sent you two emails offline and not sure if you received them.

Ismini

With this post you brought so many lovely stories and memories back...I recently lost both my grandmothers, they were both 95 years old and they were both born in Athens in 1912. I have so many photos and heard so many stories about their lives in Athens as young girls and as young ladies. They lived in the heart of Athens but used to spend their summers in Kifissia, one of Athens' most prestigious northern suburbs. Their families used to rent a big house (mansion type) for the whole season so they would literally move from the city centre to Kifissia. One of my granddads was born in a house that still stands in Plaka and the other he came from a small village in Aitoloakarnania at a very young age and bought a house in 1924 in Kifissia. So, even though Athens is not the city it used to be it is always in my heart. There are still so many lovely places where you can enjoy fragments of its past beauty.

Simon Baddeley

Nostalgia can be engulfing. When overcome you sometimes have to pan back to other contemporary events, and things to come. These give proportion to the sadness at lovely things lost and can restore the joys and the importance of the present. My father said 'if you want to live without disappointment go somewhere already ruined and bend your attention to making it better.' He feared we would end up 'living out our days in the cracks between the concrete. And then they will pour cement on top of us.' I refuse to accept this. I respect nostalgia but I will not be intoxicated by it - though your picture is so beautiful. I recall my first sight of the Parthenon outside of the school books that embedded it in our classically educated northern brains, was from the lavatory window of my step yia-yia little flat in Kolonike in April 1957 on my first visit to Greece from England. Only my mature knowledge of Greek events, shortly before and still to follow that date prevents me celebrating that joyful view as I emptied my bladder as some sort of epiphany. I just saw a building - but I'll never forget that moment.

Stavros

Ismini,

I think, as you do, that there are still vestiges of the old Athens, portions of Plaka come to mind. When I lived in Athens I spent a great deal of time at my Aunt's home in Nea Smyrni. I loved that neighborhood like a home. My Uncle moved the family there before the war. Thia (Aunt) Eleni's home had a beautiful courtyard with a lush green garden and a chicken coop filled with her pride and joy, her chickens. That home will soon be destroyed and replaced with a huge polikatekia (apartment building). Perhaps that's why every Athenian dreams about a summer place far from the city and the zombie-like urban dwellers who begin to resemble contestants from the series SURVIVOR.

Simon,

I am not nostalgic for the poverty, war and untreatable illnesses of the day. It was not all a bed of roses and being human our memories blot out the ugly bad memories of the past. Still there was much that I wish we had preserved. I am curious about what it was that drew you to a place like Ano Korakiana. Was it perhaps an attempt to find something we all seem to be lacking in our own modern lives?

Stavros

Scruff,

Maybe we need to check out this place instead of wasting our time at Dunkin Donuts in Glyfada. I have responded to your emails twice. Could there be a problem on your end that you are unaware of?

Let me know.

Theophilos Xenos

Stavros,

Lovely post and thanks for highlighting this beautiful album by Spandonis. Booksellers in Athens do carry it; see, for example, this bookstore http://www.estiabookstore.gr/estia/HestiaBookStore_Books.asp?bookcode=28220121
Spandonis's father (Nikos, I think) was for years a reporter for the now defunct Acropolis newspaper and had amassed a great volume of old photos and other memorabilia from old Athens -- which his son has obviously put to good use.

I watched parts of old Athens disappear when I was a lot younger ... but only recently have I come to realize how much we have lost by destroying old Athens. A good friend has bought a house downtown and he is presently renovating (the house went up in 1920, I think). Amazing building, although a lot must be done to bring it back to operating status. When it is finished, it will be a little palace.

At the end of the day, people need to be more sensitive and appreciative of their past and the way they organize their environment. These are qualities not present in "modern" Greece, where abuse of our surroundings and rampant profiteering form the rules of existence. We are already paying the price for these criminal excesses. Just look around you in Athens today.

Theophilos Xenos

... the URL in the previous comment was truncated. Add bookcode=28220121 at the end.

Theophilos Xenos

It is, however, interesting to see how some of the observers of the day saw Athens of the Belle Epoch. For example, Emmanuel Roides, a superb writer whose archaic Greek is inaccessible to most Greeks of today, wrote four essays just before the 1896 Olympics for the Hestia newspaper (still publishing) which were recently gathered in a thin volume (I have unfortunately misplaced my copy and can't give you publishing details here). Roides laments the village atmosphere of Athens, the dusty streets only a stone's throw from Syntagma square, the open air butchers, the flocks of sheep trudging down pathways only blocks from the royal palace etc. etc. He also describes how authorities went out to impose some sense of "order" in view of the Olympics. In fact, if you remove the dates from these essays and add modern Greek, Roides's account is remarkably "contemporary" re. the "magical" 2004 Athens Olympics -- the same rush to whitewash the ugliness, to remove trash, to impose some discipline on parking, and block artery lanes for "Olympic traffic only." Things change so little -- and people's attitudes remain so remarkably similar.

Theophilos Xenos

... and since we're talking about books and Spandonis, here's another book by Spandonis that I'm sure will interest you, Stavros. It is the biography of Gen. Nikolaos Plastiras; see info at:
http://www.perizitito.gr/product.php?productid=85958&page=1

Stavros

Theophile,

Many thanks for alerting me the Plastiras biography. After reading Spandonis I am starting to feel like he and I are kindred spirits in many ways. I will be buying this book as soon as I can.

It's interesting to hear Roides complain about the "village atmosphere." Athenians have always looked down on their uncultured counterparts in the eparhia, have they not? Personally I think part of the enticement that Athens of the Belle Epoch has for me was not the majestic buildings but the human scale of city life at that time. The fact that it combined both a bourgeois mentality chastened by a rural simplicity or earthiness in which people still mattered.

Perhaps I am over-romanticizing things, however, the attitude of Greeks of that era, whether illiterate villagers or cosmopolitan urbanites, stands in sharp contrast to modern day Greeks. They were people who believed in themselves and in their nation. People who were imbued with the spirit of achieving a better future.

I mourn their loss.

Theophilos

Stavros,
Roides, a highly educated cosmopolitan, belonged to that small "aristocracy" of the time who essentially articulated the great desire of the Nation for a push forward. Invariably, these people had Diaspora connections (like Roides) and more often than not family relations in the great centers of Hellenism abroad like Alexandria, Constantinople, and Vienna. It is rare that you would meet pure "Helladites" among these ideologues and dreamers of a Great Hellas.

Athens of the Belle Epoch did have some imposing grand buildings, very few of which survive today, but otherwise it was a "donkey town" (expression used by my grandfather, a Constantinopolitan of impeccable Diaspora credentials). Indeed, Athens was far from "modern" even as late as the 1950s -- pressed dirt streets everywhere, no street lights to speak of, rudimentary sanitation, frail public transportation, scant private telephones etc, etc.

And then the 1970s happened ... and we are where we are today. "Ouden metron" as the Ancient Greeks would say.

Simon Baddeley

Why Ano Korakiana? Why is it Greeks that ask such difficult questions. Thank you. I will now try to answer that for myself and if I have a good answer I'll share. Why do you fall in love? I saw Ano Korakiana 'across a crowded room ...'

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