MC's Whispers

Whispering Silences

Archive for the category “Something Different”

Blink or Think

blinkThe real purpose of books is to trap the mind into doing its own thinking” (Christopher Morley). Some books excel at it. And it is not just the ones that engage you into travelling away from reality, but rather those that make you think more of it.

In Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell manages to do exactly that. He makes you consider how those first thoughts you have are the ones that matter the most and are often more correct than if you think thoroughly through something.

The book points out that “the key to good decision-making is not knowledge. It is understanding”. That is why, for instance, when people talk, we listen to their words and watch their eyes in order to pick up the expressive nuances that reveal if what they’re saying is true.

Through a series of stories and case studies, Gladwell attempts to “understand this mysterious thing called judgement – the kind of wisdom someone acquires after a lifetime of learning and watching and doing”. “From experience, we gain a powerful gift, the ability to act instinctively, in the moment. But it is easy to disrupt this gift”, because we live in a world saturated with information and sometimes that works against our judgement. Those subtle influences from our surroundings, our background, our experiences, our network, often very much affect the bias of our unconscious. As such, we are already prejudiced in our decisions, particularly if we dwell hard on them.

These are the “unexpected costs of knowing too much”. That you allow your judgement to be clouded by too many things – often stereotypes. “We are inundated with information and we have come to confuse information with understanding.” That is why, as the book very eloquently explains, “sometimes we can make better judgement with less information”.

The impression you form in a blink – in milliseconds – is in fact more truthful than the one you allow yourself to form after thinking a situation through and permitting the stereotypes in your head to barge through. The point is not to listen with your eyes, but with what your instinct tells you. It is the power of first impressions, of rapid cognition.

It is true of course that “there are some situations where the human mind needs a little help” – where more information is required to form a proper decision. After all, “truly successful decision-making relies on a balance between deliberate and instinctive thinking”.

But, in the issues that matter most, perhaps the decisions that stem from the unconscious are the ones that will in the end make us happier.

Think about it. Maybe next time just trust that ‘blink’ you get as a first thought and see what happens.

The Psyche of Eros

http://img14.deviantart.net/f580/i/2009/128/8/6/cupid_and_psyche_master_copy_by_phomax.jpgThere is a fact we all soon come to acknowledge: that there can be no love if not felt deep inside the soul. There is a lovely Ancient Greek myth that centers on this – the fable of Eros (Love) and Psyche (Soul):

Once upon a time, there was a king who had three wonderful daughters. The youngest, Psyche, was much more beautiful than her two sisters and looked like a goddess among mere mortals. People throughout the land worship her beauty so deeply that they forget about the goddess Aphrodite. Aphrodite becomes angry that her temples are falling to ruin, so she plots to ruin Psyche. She instructs her son, Eros, to pierce the girl with an arrow and make her fall in love with the most vile, hideous man alive. But when Eros sees Psyche in her radiant glory, he shoots himself with the arrow instead.

Meanwhile, Psyche and her family become worried that she will never find a husband, for although men admire her beauty, they always seem content to marry someone else. Psyche’s father prays to Apollo for help, and Apollo instructs her to go to the top of a hill, where she will marry not a man but a serpent. Psyche bravely follows the instructions and falls asleep on the hill. When she wakes up, she discovers a stunning mansion. Going inside, she relaxes and enjoys fine food and luxurious treatment. At night, in the dark, she meets and falls in love with her husband.

She lives happily with him, never seeing him, until one day he tells her that her sisters have been crying for her. She begs to see them, but her husband replies that it would not be wise to do so. Psyche insists that they visit, and when they do, they become extremely jealous of Psyche’s beautiful mansion and lush quarters. They deduce that Psyche has never seen her husband, and they convince her that she must sneak a look. Confused and conflicted, Psyche turns on a lamp one night as her husband lies next to her.

When she sees the beautiful Eros asleep on her bed, she weeps for her lack of faith. Eros awakens and deserts her because Love cannot live where there is no trust. Cupid returns to his mother, Aphrodite, who again decides to enact revenge on the beautiful girl.

Psyche, meanwhile, journeys all over the land to find Eros. She decides to go to Aphrodite herself in a plea for love and forgiveness, and when she finally sees Aphrodite, the great goddess laughs aloud. Aphrodite shows her a heap of seeds and tells her that she must sort them all in one night’s time if she wants to see Eros again. This task is impossible for one person alone, but ants pity Psyche and sort the seeds for her. Shocked, Aphrodite then orders Psyche to sleep on the cold ground and eat only a piece of bread for dinner. But Psyche survives the night easily. Finally, Aphrodite commands her to retrieve a golden fleece from the river. She almost drowns herself in the river because of her sorrow, but a reed speaks to her and suggests that she collect the golden pieces of fleece from the thorny briar that catches it. Psyche follows these instructions and returns a sizable quantity to Aphrodite. The amazed goddess, still at it, now orders Psyche to fill a flask from the mouth of the River Styx. When Psyche reaches the head of the river, she realizes that this task seems impossible because the rocks are so dangerous. This time, an eagle helps her and fills the flask. Aphrodite still does not give in. She challenges Psyche to go into the underworld and have Persephone put some of her beauty in a box. Miraculously, Psyche succeeds.

When she gave Aphrodite the box, the goddess got extremely angry. She yelled the poor girl that she would never let her go and she would always be her servant. At this crucial moment, the Gods, who were watching this wrongdoing all this time, decided to take up action. They sent Hermes, the messenger God, to narrate Eros all the misfortunes that his wife was going through. Eros was touched and this healed the wound of betrayal. He left his room and found Psyche exhausted in his mother’s garden. From that moment on, Eros and Psyche lived happily together in their lovely palace, which was always full of roses and other flowers. Psyche persuaded Eros to forgive his mother for what she had made her suffer. As a wedding gift, Zeus made Psyche immortal and allowed her to taste ambrosia, the drink of the Gods. Even Aphrodite was happy because, now that Psyche was living in the sky with her husband, men on earth had forgotten all about her and were again worshiping the true goddess of beauty. Eros and Psyche then had a daughter named Hedone (Pleasure).

The story centres on the power of true love and the strength it finds in overcoming all the obstacles thrown before it. But most importantly it reveals that in the union between love and soul, trust is essential. For love is an act of faith for the other and it must remain surrounded by a small veil of mystery. It is what keeps the feeling alive. Living each moment with deep emotion, without trying to understand the magic that lies behind it. If we cling too much, we will end up strangling love itself.

Love is something we often don’t fully understand. It comes abruptly and touches our heart and soul. If it persists, if it prevails despite the challenges it may face, that is when you know it is true and worth having.

 

Searching for fairness in an unjust world

http://copywritercollective.com/howtobeacopywriter/wp-content/uploads/Accountant-Cartoon-728x520.jpgIt is not often that I write a personal account of something. I prefer to see things from the perspective of a journalist or writer – as an outsider, viewing the world from all possible angles. But there are some things that strike you hard, right in the centre. Because you can relate to them more than anything. And sometimes you have to speak up in the hope that someone will listen and things will change.

My attention yesterday was directed at an article that said pretty much everything I have in my mind. Martin Conterez at The Hungry Dog’s Lair wrote an open letter to Huffington Post stating in essence that it is high time that writers are paid for the work they do.

I agree. The work you do should be compensated for. It’s nice to be acknowledged in every way and form. The satisfaction you receive through someone’s expression of gratification is priceless, as is the the much-desired (and needed) exposure by a renowned source. Yet, none of these enables you to survive a month of obligations, expenses and bills. You still need a monetary recompensation of the work you do. Because what you offer is in fact original content. That content that all publications are looking for. But that very “content has to come from somewhere. It has to be created, and creation takes work. It takes passion. It takes blood, sweat, and tears. It takes desire, drive, devotion, dedication, and deference. All of that comes at a cost. A cost to the livelihood of the person creating it. A cost that should be compensated for.”

Martin says it very well. Because although it may take you a few minutes to read something we’ve written, for us “it takes hours, days, sometimes weeks to create a great piece. To make content the world is willing to consume ends up consuming those who create it. And that’s just one piece, that doesn’t take into consideration the years we pour into our craft to become good enough to be featured on a site” with global reach and money. The truth is, such publications do have money, often unduly collected through exploitation and unpaid labour.

The paradox of it all is that, as writers and journalists, we are still eager to write for anyone willing to publish our pieces, usually dubbing this “voluntary contribution” because it is better to be exposed either way in the hope that someone will finally discover you and offer you a worthwhile compensation. Hiding away without any demonstration of what you can do will lead to nowhere.

That, however, does not negate the fact that people need to get financial compensation for whatever they offer. They spend time, energy and focus on something that others will profit from. Isn’t it fair that they too earn their rightful share from that?

Interviewing a person you want to be like

DSC_8267 (2)Every young writer has a longing to meet the authors s/he looks up to, either for advice, or to find traits in their writing process that fit into their own, thus granting them a sense that they are doing something right, and if they keep working hard enough, just maybe they too will become bestselling authors. It’s an amazing sensation to be able to sit down and chat with a writer you admire. Even more so when that person is not just a writer, but also an actor, a radio producer, a dancer and so much more. And he inspires you too, to just “get out there and fight hard for what you want”.

Kostas Krommydas is a well-known Greek actor having participated in many TV series, theatre performances and movies. He is the author of four books (and more to come). For the past two years, he selects music for a three-hour programme on popular Love Radio, while he has also participated in the Greek version of Dancing with the Stars.

I first met him at a book exhibition where I was lucky enough to convince him to sign his book for me, and was won over by a chocolate he was handing out, like a host at a party. He is slender and tall, yet emits a warmth and generosity that is rare in people who have so much of the spotlight turned onto them. Active on social media, he will respond almost instantly, and I was genuinely surprised at how approachable and cheerful he is. As soon as I finished his book – based on a true story, weaving together seemingly independent tales with a fascinating and fast-paced cinematographic script – I contacted him to ask for an interview. It is always wonderful to meet the person behind the pen. You always learn something, even if it is just the fact that they are quick-witted and love to multitask. But they do it all so well, and that is truly encouraging for someone who is also involved in so many things they need to make lists simply to keep up with themselves.

“Ever since I can remember I always wanted to be an actor and had begun searching for how to become one from a very young age,” he recounts. “But I also wrote from a young age. In an organized manner, though, I officially began to write the last six years. I began with a biographical book of how I raised my daughter, then followed three novels”.

20151202_120354Can an actor and a writer be combined? Kostas says “One hundred percent yes. Each helps the other, because of all the skills, experiences, and images gained from the one, you can use for the other, and by combining the two you can create something great”.

Like every writer, Kostas too says he is influenced by many other authors, naming for example, Milan Kundera’s early works, the Ancient Greek Tragedians (Aeschylos, Sophocles, Evripides), as well as Alexandros Papadiamantis, and Herman Hesse, as just a few. As for his favourite book, he chooses Oedipus Rex, which he says “even today, it is as if it was written yesterday. It’s structure is simply astonishing”.

Currently working on another book, Kostas says he would like to write a genuine crime novel. All of his novels, however, contain an element of crime, and the last two in particular are based on true stories. “If you look out there, there are amazing stories that life has written, so you don’t have to imagine them; on its own, life hands you a lot of material to take and develop.” Yet, he recognizes the huge responsibility that lies in this, “in basing your novel on a true story and developing it, making it into a version of what the reality could have been”.

Do his books entail something personal? “One hundred percent, yes. All my books have something mine in them. I really like to include a piece of my life, of the images and feelings I have; I think it makes the text more lively that way”.

And what about where inspiration comes from? “From everything. Music, nature, people around you. A lot of things inspire me. I may see something in the street, I may hear music, and be inspired. I think that generally, if you let yourself go and observe what is going on around you, inspiration will arrive on its own”.

IMG_4301That moment when you see your views converge with that of an acclaimed writer is priceless and fills you with a sense of satisfaction. And then he goes and inspires you even further, because how easy is it really to decide what you want to do and simply go and do it? “It is both easy and difficult at the same time. Sometimes it’s simply about deciding what you want to do. But on the other hand, taking that decision is the hardest thing in the world. It all depends on the person, on where in life s/he is when that decisive moment arrives, and whether you take or not those decisions”.

In his latest book, Kostas beautifully writes, «Grab every minute of all the life that is given to you and add value to it. You live life today, in every second that passes by with no return, and not in future desires that never become actions”.

So what advice would he give today? “To do what I did – to go out and fight hard for what you want; to chase after the things you want to achieve. Success rarely comes and finds you on its own.

His words come out flowing, like a strong current full of knowledge, experience and passion for the life he lives. And this is exactly what he both motivates and encourages others to do. After all, he even writes it in his books: “it is better to do something wrong, than to never live it at all…”.

It’s not easy being Greek

Youth in GreeceFor the past five years, Greece has been the centre of news around the world. Not so much because of its spirit of democracy and ethos imbued by our Ancient Greek ancestors. But because of the shame, deceitfulness and financial mismanagement brought about by their predecessors. Media around the world have vilified the country that thus far was praised for all the principles and values it had introduced to the modern world. Yet, we ourselves proved unable to live up to them.

It is not Greece alone that is in financial trouble. The whole of Europe is, and most of the world too. But Greece is an easy target. The advertised ‘300 days of sunshine’, the Mediterranean diet, the mythical island beaches, the relaxed and ‘easy-going’ way of life are so easy to despise and scorn, and all the more easy to contradict with the lack of responsibility and order, especially as regards public finances. The source of all our troubles.

Foreigners cannot understand how Greeks can still fill restaurants and cafés, as if nothing is going on around them. But Greeks themselves justify their outings, by arguing that staying indoors and damning their misfortunes is not a solution that will lead anywhere.

And they are right.

Because it is not the “ordinary” Greeks who can do much to change the situation, other than adhere to the harsh measures imposed. Those brought upon them by others. Others, who, are supposed to represent them, but once in power, forget all electoral promises and turn the other way. The lay Greeks are the ones who witness their country’s demise and all they can do is shout, exasperate, and eventually just let it go, because somethings will never change.

This attitude is what has caused over 200,000 young Greeks to search for a future abroad. For many, their dreams and expectations were too big for what the country (now) had to offer. It is certainly not easy to get up and leave. To abandon everything you are familiar with, the life you are accustomed to, your friends and family. But it is even harder deciding to stay. It takes more courage to remain and continue to fight in a country that is constantly proving to be against you in every way.

There are many Greeks who choose to stay. And they should be respected all the more for that. Because they are still trying. They are the ones who believe that “if everyone just leaves, who will stay and fix the country?” They are the ones who still dream, but are determined to compromise on a few things in order to survive. They may not be acknowledged as much as they should, nor are they compensated for the work they do. But they choose to stay. Why? Why would you stay when everything and everyone around you screams go?

Because you still hope. You believe deep down that things will change for the better. And that you will be part of the wheel that will set it all in motion.

There are young Greeks, in their early 30s, educated, full of thirst for life and willing to work. There are those who decide to strive on their own, and, since they can’t find the work they want, they will create it themselves. In a period of crisis, struck on all fronts by austerity measures, stifling bureaucracy and high taxes, these Greeks persist in having their own way. There are many who have launched their own business, determined to change foreign perceptions of their country, making it a model to emulate, rather than one to avoid. It is these Greeks who have been dubbed the crazy ones, the radicals, the dreamers. The ones who people look upon with both admiration and sympathy. But aren’t “those who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, usually the ones that do”?

It is not easy being Greek nowadays. And it is certainly not easy being Greek in Greece. But there are still many who insist, persist, and resist all negative waves pounding their way. Maybe it is through them that Greece will arise again. After all, it was Socrates who said that the secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but in building the new. And that is just what we need. A new start.

See also related reports with examples of Greeks who try to accomplish more in their own country in English and Greek.

Fine Art, Flawed Artists

books1There are times when you come across a book that you cannot put down, not because of its plot or fictional narrative, but because it is so inspiring you want to learn more. When such books are recommended by people who know you well enough to safely bet that it will enrapture you, then you are certain to read through the entire book in less than a couple of days.

Clive James’ Latest Readings is such a book.

Masterfully written it is witty, funny, absorbing, entertaining, inspiring. The flow of language is so effortless that it can be read in a gulp. There is a uniqueness in every line, blooming with such an exquisite narrative, that it makes you feel as if the author is sitting right there conversing with you.

Although an esteemed literary critic, in this specific book, James does more than simply review the books he read. He reviews a lifetime of reading books. Because he artfully combines his opinion of the book’s content, with its background epoca and its context, associating everything with current events – from the rise of ISIS, to the digitization of the written word, to Bill Cosby’s trial, even to recent TV series and movies. And all of this is combined with a telling of his own state (he was diagnosed with terminal leukemia) and the fact that he was melting away, or, like he says, “slipping into time”.

This is an illuminating book in many ways, because, although some books and writers may not be familiar to you, he will awake in you the urge to read more. He will illuminate the dream of having a large room with huge double doors opening into an entire library full of books. One that contains bookcases rising up from the ground to the ceiling, so complete that you need an incorporated sliding ladder to move across them. A library so full, that you would eventually need to smuggle books in and hide them, as he does, being under embargo for bringing in more books. And he encourages you to love books, despite the rapid conversion into the “rational solution” of a digital form, as “being book crazy is an aspect of love, and therefore scarcely rational at all”.

But he will also inspire you to become a better author in order to produce the book you dream to write. He urges you to be open to self-criticism, because “unless you can criticize yourself, you are not a writer”. He even calls out to journalists themselves, a dying craft of our times, stressing that “journalism is the first draft of formal history”.

He explores the background stories of the writers themselves, opening up details into their lives that you never knew. One of the most memorable phrases in the book is that “fine art is usually work of flawed people”, giving you hope that no matter your troubles, you can always produce something great.

His ode to Ernest Hemingway is beautiful, particularly noting that “he was a giant of who dreamed of being a giant” and was an author able to deliver such a convincing narrative, such that “his way of putting things was a transformative illusion”. His closing reference to Florence Nightingale is also both touching and enlightening.

What is most astounding throughout the book is that, despite his illness, James never gives up. He doesn’t abandon his wit and sharp intellect, nor does he stop reading, expanding both his knowledge and his world. And that, is perhaps, the most inspiring aspect of it all. After all, as he so deftly states, “If you don’t know the exact moment when the lights will go out, you might as well read until they do.

10 Things we’ve learnt during the Greek crisis

greek_financial_crisis__svitalskybrosFor those in Europe, the past few weeks have been a constant game of diplomatic war between Greece and the EU. With countless meetings, summits and councils convening in the course of just a month, Greece and its international creditors reached a breaking point. An irreparable rift, even if none admit to it.

The Greek crisis revealed a lot:

1) That there is no real leadership in Europe or its member states. No politician has demonstrated their worthiness of being the elected representative of the people. Not when so many have been named and shamed at how on the onset of a financial crisis they were the first to take their money out, when they are the ones who should have protected the economy and the nation state, let alone the entire union from financial collapse.

2) That politics is indeed a dirty game. We see images of EU and member state officials hugging, kissing and joking around before their “crucial” summits every couple of days, conveying a light-hearted atmosphere. Yet, two hours later, they are at each other’s throats, accusing one another of acting irrationally, unilaterally and unreasonably. The institutions (European Commission – European Central Bank – International Monetary Fund) accuse Greece of departing from the discussions abruptly and breaking off all negotiations, thus abandoning any hope of reaching a compromise. Greece accuses the institutions of blackmail and of handing them a take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum for accepting within 48hours their “harsh, absurd and recessionary proposals”. All making one thing clear: that one is out to break the other in an endless tug of war.

3) That solidarity is just a word. With no meaning. No content. Ever since the financial crisis began, “solidarity” has become part of our everyday vocabulary. Everyone is calling for more solidarity. From the EU, from member states, from international partners. Everything is argued to be done “in the interest of solidarity”, yet this is hardly the case. Right now, one state is left fighting for its own survival, pitting itself against another 18 (Euro area member states), who refuse any extension of the current status quo “because there is no will on their part”. However, if after the crucial referendum on Sunday, Greece wants to discuss another bailout programme, “the door is open, in the spirit of solidarity and responsibility”.

4) That the media still has significant power as the fourth estate. Upon the announcement of a Greek referendum on the institutions’ proposals, media immediately conveyed the message that the referendum was a question of whether or not Greece would remain in the Euro. Misinformation that was reinforced and intensified over the week and came to be replicated by EU officials and member state leaders themselves, resulting in widespread fear among the Greek citizens who continue to flock to ATMs, supermarkets and gas stations in what can only be likened to a state of siege.

5) That propaganda is a politician’s greatest tool. “EU leaders urge Greek citizens to vote ‘yes’ to stay in Euro”. This is the featured headline in media around the world, as the institutions launch a last effort to sway the Greek authorities in their direction and accept their proposals. Some even talk of visiting Greece to convince voters first hand. Regardless that this would be a direct intervention into the internal politics of a sovereign member state…

6) That it is easy to say a lot but hard to act on any of it. Like Mark Twain said “action speaks louder than words but not nearly as often.” The Greek crisis was the issue of at least 87 meetings of European Ministers since 2010, with around a dozen Eurogroup meetings being held in the last couple of months alone. Yet they have all failed and we have reached the point where a country “on the brink of default” is striving for a last minute agreement.

7) That Europe started off as a vision of a united continent, joining its people against a common cause and demonstrating solidarity when the need arises. But today, that dream has perished with Europe appearing more divided than ever. And it is nowhere near the initial vision of its founding fathers. It revealed its ugliest side in the midst of the harshest crisis it has ever faced and continues to squabble over things its people still do not understand. As Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times states, “The current crisis is not just a reflection of the failings of the modern Greek state, it is also about the failure of a European dream of unity, peace and prosperity.

8) That Europe has come to be divided into the lenders and the indebted. Where the indebted are left with no choice other than to borrow from the lenders who profit from the former’s very need to survive. From the hundreds of billions of bailout fund received by Greece since 2010, less than 10% was invested in the country itself, as the majority was used to pay off debts. In the same context, the indebted are forced to bow down and approve every programme presented to them by the lenders as “necessary reforms for economic recovery and debt sustainability”, even if this is diminishes their living standards and would lead to their own suffering. Let alone the economic jargon that no-one other than the ruling technocratic elites comprehend.

9) That democracy is a concept that has faded in the modern world. Politicians (overuse) the term to justify actions that in essence cannot be explained. They hold meetings behind closed doors with unelected officials who are not accountable to anyone. Yet it all comes down to one thing: “a clash of democratic mandates — pitting Greek voters’ desire to ditch austerity against the voters (and taxpayers) of other EU countries, who want to see their loans repaid and are loath to let an unreformed Greece continue to benefit from EU money.

10) That instead of joining forces against a common enemy – the threat of terrorism and ISIS that is gathering like a black cloud over the region – we are instead devouring our own flesh, wrangling with each other and by ourselves destroying the very consensus we are trying to create. And as such we become a people divided – both within our continent and within our own countries. This internal strife is actually worse than any foreign enemy.

A World of Shock

disaster_capitalismYou know that old woman who shoved you while hurrying to get off the bus this morning? She was running to get to the hospital, as her husband suffered a heart attack while she was at the market. And remember that young man getting sunburnt on the side of the pavement where he was rooted, who even offered his blessing when you stopped to hand him some change? Two hours later, his cousin dropped by in a fancy car, picked him up and went to the beach.

Things are not always what they seem. Nor can we even imagine what the reality is truly like. In a world marred by constant talk of crisis, sensationalist media reports, and the looming pessimism of disasters – be they natural, financial, political or even moral – we live in a constant state of instability and shock. We are fighting nervous breakdowns by pretending we’re OK, by keeping on moving, by refusing to even consider what would happen if we stopped and breathed it all in.

People all around us seem so different, even though we share common ground. Nonetheless, all we mostly see – or chose to acknowledge – is the extent to which we vary from each other. And this usually always means that “the others” are most often luckier, more privileged, and “have it easy”. Or even that those who have managed to travel beyond the continent, somehow have returned deeming themselves over and above their compatriots, as if now they are somehow better than everyone else, as if they no longer belong to this world. There are people like that. Who managed to rise up from the slums into a life of riches, and all of a sudden, they have become too important to deal with “petty commoners”, or even “locals”. Those who rise from their ashes remembering their past and helping others survive it too are, unfortunately, a rarity in this world.

In one of the most enthralling, shocking, riveting, and illuminating books of modern times, Naomi Klein describes exactly this. How we live in a world of shock. How certain capitalists pursue a “Shock Doctrine” in order to impose Milton Friedman’s Chicago School model of deregulation, privatization, and cut of public spending. It reveals our world as it truly is, one run by capitalism that has no interest for its human impact. She dubs this “Disaster Capitalism”, because it concerns big private companies profiting at the expense of the poorer and lower down on the social scale, whenever disaster (in any form) strikes. It is the implementation of a shock and awe policy. Simply considering the world we live in today – this constant state of “crisis” – it is not hard to see that certain international institutions (the International Monetary Fund, for example) are doing exactly this – demanding that their terms be implemented if money is to be disbursed; terms that include drastic spending cuts, VAT increases, privatisations, cuts in the public sector, no matter what that may mean to the levels of unemployment, poverty and a break in the social chasm. According to this powerful book, the only thing that shines some optimism among us, is the fact that memory is the strongest shock absorber of all, and the only one capable of providing resistance to the repeating of such events.

No matter what you read, or if you don’t read at all, Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine” is an eye-opening book that everyone – every politician who is not an idiot, every citizen who wants to make a difference, every person who refuses to be a lemming – should read. You will never view the world in the same way ever again.

Life on a canvas

1- Exterior viewA city’s culture is usually illustrated in the artwork it hosts, in the respect it demonstrates towards works of art no matter how old, and in the immortality it grants to those who laboured for them. The modern, clean-cut building that dominates the central landscape of the capital of Cyprus is a solid proof of how a private collection can enrich an entire country’s cultural life.

It is not often that such a rich collection of rare works of art is displayed in a public gallery. The A.G. Leventis Gallery in Nicosia, situated at the very heart of the city, features over 800 works and objects of European 2 - Entranceart spanning over 400 years across three magnificent floors. It is in these modern facilities, which also host regular events in the specially designed rooms, that a private collection belonging to one of Cyprus’ most famous (cultural) benefactors, Anastasios G. Leventis, becomes public for Cyprus and the world to discover and admire.

The vision that would become the Gallery, as it exists today, was a seven-year project that began in 2007 and culminated in the inauguration on3 - Gallery view 1st floor 26 April 2014. Just one year after it opened its doors, the Gallery has already established itself as an important cultural centre, displaying the European cultural heritage of Cyprus.

With its three floors of Cypriot, European and Greek art, and the use of modern audiovisual technology to enrich the visiting experience, the Gallery is worthy of its counterparts in the most renowned European cities.

This essential visit begins with the Cyprus Collection found on the Ground Floor, where the first steps of modern Cypriot art are 4 - Adamantios Diamantis - The World of Cyprusportrayed. The paintings mainly illustrate narrative and figurative characters, inspired from everyday life, landscape and history of the island. Most notable is the monumental piece by Adamantios Diamantis, The World of Cyprus, a large-scale composition (1.75 x 17.5 m) based on 75 drawings depicting the people and landscapes of the island. Drawn between 1931 and 1959, it portrays the traditional world of the island and its people, a world that the painter described as ‘bearing the long heritage of Cyprus’. Along with the other works in the Collection, it captures the spirit of a past time and place, enriching our knowledge and understanding of Cyprus and the Cypriot people.5 - Boiserie

Perhaps the most impressive display of art is found on the First Floor. The Paris Collection features paintings, furniture and objects which the Leventis Foundation acquired between the 1950s and 1970s. The name of the Collection alludes to the Parisian apartment in which it was housed for well over half a century. In fact, a wood paneled-room (the boiserie) was transported from the apartment itself and re-erected inside the Gallery, offering a vivid image, as it revives the unique atmosphere of Leventis’ residence with a view over Paris with its tree-lined avenues and the Eiffel Tower. This unique ambience is also conveyed through the rich collection of furniture from the era of Louis XV and Louis XVI, as well as rare 6 - PorcelainChinese porcelain, European Meissen and Sévres porcelain, miniatures, small sculptures, and period clocks.

The Collection brings together works from a broad spectrum of the history of art and underlines the collector’s eclectic outlook through a whole range of artistic schools and styles, from the 17th to the 20th century. The Collection includes paintings by El Greco, 17th century still lifes by Dutch, French and Spanish schools, Rococo art, 18th century French landscape as drawn by Oudry, Boucher and Fragonard, Venetian view masterpieces exemplified by Canaletto and Guardi, as well as 7 - Jean-Baptiste Oudry, Comediens Italiens dans un jardinpaintings by Rubens. It also includes a peek into Impressionism to the early days of Modernism, featuring exquisite works by Boudin, Monet, Renoir, Sisley and Pissarro. Vivid canvases exemplify the turn from the Post-Impressionism to Fauvism and beyond, represented by the bold bushwork of Signac, Bonnard, Dufy, Vlaminck, Utrillo, van Dongen and Chagall.

Moving up one more floor, the Greek Collection, most of which Leventis acquired from Evangelos Averoff-Tossizza in 1973, displays oil paintings, watercolours, drawings and prints, from the aftermath 8 - Emilios Prosalenits - Welcoming Admiral Miaoulis in Hydraof the Greek War of Independence in 1821 to around 1970. The Collection showcases a variety of artistic movements and approaches, including exemplary paintings from artists who shaped the face of Greek art, such as Konstantinos Parthenis, Konstantinos Maleas, Spyros Papaloukas, Yiannis Tsarouchis, and Yiannis Moralis. 19th century portraitures, as illustrated by München school artists such as Nicolaos Gyzis and Nikiforos Lytras are also featured here, together with newer compositions of landscapes and seascapes by Pericles Pantazis, 9 - 20150423_134151and the Modernism depicted by Nikos Engonopoulos.

This exceptional experience can only be enhanced by a secret carefully concealed within the Gallery’s halls. The most beautiful, yet most delicate, watercolours and pencil drawings on paper are hidden. They are protected from light and constan10 - 20150423_140031t exposure by a thick casing that is only removed if you press the round button on the side of what appears to be just another shiny inner wall.

All in all, this Gallery is of the highest possibly standards in the centre of a city that still remains divided. For what it hosts among its walls is more than just a series of paintings. It is a splash of colours, of emotions, of perspectives and views, of people, animals and things, of events you’ve never seen, of places you’ve never been, of times you’ve never experienced. It is life imprinted on a canvas.

N.B. All photos are mine taken on 23 April 2015.

The Origins of Health

1_imgsize.aspThere is nothing better in life than good health,” wrote the poet Menander (4th century BC) and rhetorician Lucian (2nd century AD) agreed that “there is no benefit in possessing every good if health is absent”. Ever since the dawn of its existence, humanity has strived to achieve and maintain good health, while seeking to understand the causes of illnesses and searching for solutions to treat them. This remains one of mankind’s primary concerns – just consider the most common drinking toast (“to good health”). In an exquisite archaeological exhibition entitled HYGIEIA: Health, Illness and Treatment from Homer to Galen, The Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens, Greece, offers an unrivalled journey through the evolution of medical practices from 1200 BC to the 3rd century AD, with the aid of 282 artefacts from 41 museums in 7 European countries. But it is not just the artefacts that matter here, it is the knowledge residing behind them.

2_AsklipiosIn his epics, Homer refers to Asklepios as a mortal King of Trikke in Thessaly and a peerless physician. However, according to ancient myth, Asklepios was the son of god Apollo. He is later referred to as a demi-god, one who possessed the unique ability to grant health. From the 5th century BC onwards, his cult as the foremost healing god spread rapidly and endured even past the advent of Christianity to approximately 500 BC. Asklepios was that tall, mature, bearded man often figured clad in a long robe, leaning on a snake-entwined staff. A snake is a “chthonic” element, it crawls on the ground and is well aware of the herbs and nutrients the earth breeds; thus, also capable of distinguishing between the good and bad – in fact, in Greek the word for medicine (φάρμακο) is just an intonation away from the word for poison (φαρμάκι). The snake, however, is also the symbol of renewal because of its ability to shed its skin. It therefore became the sacred animal of the healing god and today is the international symbol of medical doctors.

Such symbolism is abundant: in the Ancient era, the trademark for physicians was an ancient medical cupping vessel, named “Sikya” because of its resemblance to the tubular fruits of the sikya plant. Trefoil juglets that stored opium resembled inverted poppy capsules (the ones that when slit leak out opium-bearing latex), while they also featured a snake on their handle, cautioning that opium may be used in small doses as an anaesthetic and for soothing pain, but in larger doses can cause damage due to its hallucinatory effect.

4_AsklepieioIn the ancient healing sanctuaries dedicated to the healing god and thus known as Asklipieia, patients seeking divine cure would be bathed and aromatized (a purgatory ritual to ensure good health and ethical purity). They would then sleep in the sanctuary (incubation), experiencing a divinely-inspired dream, where Asklepios would appear and offer advice. In the morning this would be interpreted by the sanctuary’s priests and the illness would be physically treated.5_ Hygieia

The incubation process was inspired by another symbol: one that depicts Sleep – the brother of Death – as a winged child at the feet of Hygieia found at the very entrance of this exhibition. Hygieia (Health) is one of the daughters of Asklepios and the goddess of good health. It is from her name that the name (and concept) of “hygiene” arises. Asklepios’ entire family was related to the health-treatment process: his wife Epione was the comforter of pain; his two sons Machaon and Podaleirios took care of injured Achaeans in the Trojan War; while there were also the daughters Acesó (goddess of the healing process); Iasó (goddess of healing); Panacea (the all-healing goddess); and a younger son Telesphóros (he who brings fulfillment and protected coalescing patients).

This “theurgic medicine” was so widespread because prevalent belief had it that the gods inflicted illnesses upon humans as a punishment for impious acts. 6_Anathima STATUE-570And since the cure of every illness was similarly godsent, people tried to appease the gods with prayers, magnificent sacrifices, and purifications. These also included votive offerings either before or after treatment, which took the form of objects (or ailing body parts) as a supplication to the gods. Centuries would pass before the divine provenance of disease was challenged and treatment dissociated from divine intervention. This occurred with the teachings of the Pre-Socratic philosophers (6th c. BC), which served as the foundation for rational scientific medicine. However, votive offerings still remain an integral part of Christian belief, especially in Greek Orthodox Churches.

Hippocrates (460 BC – 370 BC), today considered as the Father of Scientific Medicine, recorded about 60 ancient treatises in what is known as the Hippocratic Corpus. The medicinal use of healing herbs still used today, originated from thousands of years ago. For example, laurel as an antiseptic, emollient and cathartic; Crocus (or saffron) used for eye inflammation; Lykion (or Goji Berry) extremely well-known for its healing properties; Mandrake used as anaesthetic in surgeries (today is the emblem of the Hellenic Society of Anaesthesiology); and Mastic used, among others, to clean teeth and as a regenerative factor for a radiant complexion.7_ Iasis 1

Hippocratic physicians also emphasized the importance of diet in maintaining health as well as in treating disease. In antiquity, the word diet was not limited strictly to food, as it is nowadays; it expressed a broader concept, which also encompassed – and always in moderation – drink, physical exercise, baths, massages, sleep, sexuality, and a person’s habits and way of life in general.

According to Hippocrates, the human body encompasses four fluids or humours (blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile). The balanced proportion of all four fluids, known as Eukrasia (good mix), is a main characteristic of good health, while the disruption of this balance (Dyskrasia) leads to the onset of various diseases.

Galen (129-216 AD), a prolific Physician from Pergamon whose theories dominated and influenced Western medicine up to the 17thcentury, tried to explain human behavior according to the fluid that prevailed in each human being. So, for example, a Sanguine person, in whom blood prevails, is sociable; a Phlegmatic person, in whom phlegm prevails, is relaxed and quiet; a Choleric person, in whom yellow bile prevails, is tense and aggressive; and a Melancholic person, in whom black bile (melaina cholé in Greek) prevails, is moody and introverted.

9_760374_Iasis_Installation_3In the ancient era, physicians were seen as the “healers of evil” and were greatly respected in society. They enjoyed an elevated status because of their specific skills. They were considered craftsmen, as well as “demiourgoi”, i.e. workers who labored for deme, the public good. Physicians were considered servants of mankind in general and travelled from place to place to practice their craft and offer their services to community. This is also what today’s doctors vow to do through their Hippocratic Oath. To continue practicing medicine, whose origins, as is evident, stem from centuries ago. And despite the fact that people – in their majority – no longer believe diseases are godsent punishes for irreverent human actions – deep down we all hope that someone can find a way to reverse them, to treat even the most incurable ones, and soothe the suffering for all.

 

* The exhibition “HYGIEIA. Health, Illness, Treatment from Homer to Galen” runs from 19/11/2014 until 31/5/2015 and a short video can be found here.

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