Tag Archives: Greek

One Swallow Does Not Make a Summer

22 Aug

AristotleNicomacheanEthics

“One swallow does not make a summer,
neither does one fine day;
similarly one day or brief time of happiness does not make a person entirely happy.”

~Aristotle in The Nicomachean Ethics

Find my other posts on Aristotle here.

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Consulate General of Greece in New York Proves That Current Greek Art Matters

26 Oct
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The new art exhibion Colors of Greece at the Consulate General of Greece in New York is a phenomenal display of artistic diversity. I was thoroughly impressed by the variety of subject matter and aesthetic style of Greece’s contemporary artists.
 
Contemporary Greek art—be it visual art, as it was in this case, or the literary arts—matters to me a lot. Now, more than ever.
 
As a Greek, I am proud of my country’s rich Classical history. Our ancient art and architecture is revered the world over, and for good reason. To this day, I still stand in awe every time I look up at the Parthenon. How could anyone not? And yet, as well-meaning individuals speak to me about Olympia and Homer and all the beautiful work of Greece’s centuries’ old history, a part of me feels frustrated that only the Greece of the past is recognized. It is as if the Greece of today is nonexistent in their eyes. I think most Americans would be hard-pressed to name any Greek artists living today.
 
This saddens me because Greeks and Greek Americans have done much to enliven the postmodern art world. As a scholar of the Beat Generation, I have often turned to the art of the 1940s and ’50s. Specifically, I have researched the abstract expressionists who hung out at the Cedar Tavern and mingled with the Beats. Several of the most famous abstract-expressionist artists were Greek American: Wiliam Baziotes, Theodore Stamos, and Peter Voukos. Another famous artist of that time period was neon-sculpturist Stephen Antonakos. Today, there are artists like Maria Fragoudakis, who continues the collage and pop-art work of that era. These artists have done exceptional work that does not hinge on their being Greek.
Colors of Greece, likewise, demonstrates the vast scope of Greek art in 38 works. The artists cast their eye far and wide, landing on people swimming in blue, blue bodies of water; dramatic flora; city streets; the human face. Their style is photorealistic, figurative and full of emotion, abstractions. In a small exhibit hall it may perhaps seem jarring to view dissimilar works, and yet that is what makes this exhibit so special. It only captures a small sliver of the variety of work Greek artists today are doing. 
 
At a time when contemporary Greece is looked at through a negative political and economic lense, drawing attention to contemporary Greek artists’ work is a political statement. The Consuate General of Greece in New York shows that there is more to Greece than what you see on the evening news and read in history textbooks. There is a Greece that is vibrant, full of life, energetic, and colorful. There is a Greece that sees beauty among the ruins. It is the artists who perhaps will raise Greece up, who will innovate, who will create a new Greek generation.
 
Colors of Greece runs until October 30, 2015. Free of charge, the exhibit is open to the public from 9:00am to 2:30pm at the Consulate General of Greece in New York, located at 69 East 79th Street.
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Also, I’m pleased to announce Hellas, a 2016 wall calendar that I created using photographs I took while in Greece this past summer. You can purchase it here.

The Perfect Novel for My Personality … and Yours!

29 Jul
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Obsessed with Buzzfeed quizzes, I of course find Myers-Briggs types fascinating. Perhaps as a memoirist I’m always on the quest to know myself better. Or maybe it’s because I’m Greek. Wasn’t it Socrates who said, “Know thyself”? At times, the Myers-Briggs test seems to know me better than I know myself. It narrows in on aspects of my personality that I haven’t thought about before even though they’re true.
Maybe that’s because I’m an ISTJ, and “The ISTJ is not naturally in tune with their own feelings.” ISTJ means Introverted, Sensing, Thinking, Judging, or “Introverted Sensing with Extraverted Thinking.” ISTJs are quiet, reserved, loyal, dependable, keep in line with the law, and like tradition. You can read the breakdown here.
When I came across Flavorwire recently published “A Classic Book for Every Myers-Briggs Personality Type,” I was curious what novel would be paired with my personality type. Would it be one of my favorites? Would it be something that resonated with me on a soul level?
Would it be Jack Kerouac’s On the Road?
Saul Bellow’s The Dangling Man?
Maybe Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way?
Perhaps Nikos Kazantzakis’ The Last Temptation of Christ?
According to Flavorwire, the novel that best suits me is…
ISTJ: The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
With interest in traditions and loyalty, and an ability to make a huge impact despite being quiet, ISTJs will appreciate Wharton’s masterpiece of manners.
I actually do love Edit Wharton’s writing. I even have a Pinterest board devoted to a make-believe puppy I created named after one of her characters.
The part about my supposed “interest in traditions” is interesting though, particularly when it comes to my reading habits. I do like tradition. I was the kid in the family who always insisted we HAD to have Christmas at our house and do it a certain way because it was tradition. But, I think sometimes we read to escape ourselves, to stretch ourselves, to live out in our imaginations the parts of our personalities that we are too rule-abiding, too anxious, too conformist to live out in our actual lives.
What personality type are you? Do you find it to be an accurate portrayal of yourself? What book would you pick for your personality?

Should a New York Couple Follow the Husband’s Greek Tradition?

15 Apr

The other day a friend of mine posted an article on Facebook about how his friend, a New Yorker of Greek descent, has taken to the internet because his wife doesn’t doesn’t want their unborn baby to be named Spyridon. Here’s how the headline read for the Daily Mail article:

Couple launches online campaign to decide if their unborn baby should be called Michael or Spyridon – after failing to reach an agreement despite months of arguments

A couple basic facts:

  • The husband’s name is Nicholas. A common name. An easy to pronounce name.
  • The name Spyridon is Nicholas’ father’s name. In Greek culture, it’s common to name your first child after the husband’s side of the family. Though a familiar Greek name, Spyridon is not common even in the diverse city of New York … well, unless you go by its diminutive, Spyro. Nor is it obvious to nonGreeks how it should be pronounced.
  • The wife’s name is Kseniya, a name I’ve never heard of until reading this article. A name I’m not quite sure how to pronounce. Kseniya thinks the name Spyridon is too “archaic.” If it’s a boy, she wants to name it after her own father, Michael.

Some have posited that the husband has “the right” to name “his” son after his father. Here are a few questions to consider:

  • Should the New York couple follow Greek tradition?
  • Would it make a difference if they lived in Greece?
  • Why should the couple follow the husband’s tradition over the wife’s desires?
  • Does it matter that the child in question is a son*? Should a father’s opinion matter more for the name of a son?
  • What makes the child “his” son and not “their” son?
  • If the child is a daughter, would this be as big of an issue? Would you still say the child should be named after the father’s side of the family or if it’s a daughter would you side more with the mother?
  • Does Kseniya perhaps know better than her husband the frustration of growing up with a a difficult-to-pronounce first name?

*Here’s the kicker: they don’t even know yet if the baby is a boy or girl!

So yeahhhh this type of marital spat is kind of how I ended up with my name. In Greek culture it’s tradition to name the first child after the father’s parents so my father just assumed I would be named after his mother. My mother (a Midwesterner who is not Greek) didn’t want me to have two “weird” names. The result? The night I was born my father ended up storming out of the hospital when the nurse came around to ask for my name and my mother refused to name me after my father’s mother. While he was out in the midst of a New York City snowstorm, my mother named me. For the record, my mother compromised by naming me after my dad’s stepfather instead of his mother and gave me his mother’s name for my middle name.

As Shakespeare would say, “What’s in a name?”

Kuros Charney’s “The Humanist” Questions the Value of the Humanities

18 Mar

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My friend and I attended Kuros Charney‘s play “The Humanist” the other night, and it resonated ever so profoundly. Here’s the synopsis:

A comedy about the corporatization of higher education. When his old flame becomes his new boss, a classics professor at a public university must fight to keep his job in the face of state budget cuts and profit motives, while defending the humanities as the foundation of democracy.
The play was put on at Urban Stages and starred J. Anthony Crane, Kate Jennings Grant, Lipica Shah, and Dylan Chalfy. They all have great acting chops, as evidenced not only by their performance in this reading of the play, but in their former credits. In particular, Shah gave a standout performance, appearing so natural in her role of the student that at times I forgot she was acting.
Kuros, a writer I know from living in the same neighborhood in New York City, explores weighty issues of the purpose of education; culture as both an ethnic (read: immigrant) and socio-economic (read: aspirational) descriptor; and relationships between administrators, professors, and students. “The Humanist” shows both the plight of idealistic, intelligent students and their wearying professors in an economic environment in which success needs to be quantifiable. For as much depth as is in the two-hour play, it was also full of humorous and tender moments.
As a graduate of a liberal arts college who studied the humanities — English major FTW! — who also happened to study the classics (I studied Classical Greek at Pomona College), and then went on to get my MFA in creative writing (nonfiction), I believe strongly in the importance of education for education’s sake and art for art’s sake, and yet that’s because I view both education and art as transformational, empowering, and purposeful. I believe that in the long run, education and the arts are just as important to democracy as anything else. Capitalist business models have their place. It’s important to be able to put food on the table. But I believe we can do that while still valuing the studying of Classical Greek.
But maybe I’m a bit biased. 😉

Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary, and the CIA

31 Jul

leary

 

It’s widely acknowledged that the Beat Generation writers experimented with drugs, which influenced both the content and style of their writing. I’ve written before about how Allen Ginsberg’s drug use shaped his writing when he had a vision while reading William Blake, forever guiding his poetry.

But dear old Allen Ginsberg was also leery of America’s hand in the drug trade.

Let me backtrack a moment. In 1960 Allen Ginsberg became friends with Timothy Leary. Timothy Leary was an American psychologist born on October 22, 1920, in Springfield, Massachusetts—meaning he’d been born near Herbert Huncke, Jack Kerouac, and John Clellon Holmes a little after Huncke was born and a little before Kerouac and Holmes were born. At Harvard University—which William S. Burroughs also attended—Leary conducted experiments involving psychedelic drugs for the Harvard Psilocybin Project.

The friendship between Ginsberg and Leary led to the psychedelic revolution, with Leary popularizing the phrase:

“Turn on, tune in, drop out”

Timothy Leary invoked Socrates when he said:

“Question authority”

The irony of this, though, is that Leary didn’t drop out or subvert authority. Much like the way the CIA funded abstract expressionism, Leary was doing research at an ever-prestigious Ivy League college which consisted of experimenting on prisoners (see the Concord Prison Experiment). This isn’t all that different than in the 1950s when the CIA launched Project MKULTRA, which administered LSD to unwitting participants as a means toward experimenting with mind control. In fact, prior to meeting Leary, in 1959 Ginsberg participated in experimental studies of LSD at Stanford University, which it turned out were administered by psychologists working for the CIA to develop mind-control drugs. Leary also began experimenting on writers.

Peter Conners’ book White Hand Society: The Psychedelic Partnership of Timothy Leary & Allen Ginsberg, published by City Lights in 2010, alleges that Leary used Ginsberg to further publicize his studies. Here’s the marketing copy for the book from City Lights:

In 1960 Timothy Leary was not yet famous — or infamous — and Allen Ginsberg was both. Leary, eager to expand his experiments at the Harvard Psilocybin Project to include accomplished artists and writers, knew that Ginsberg held the key to bohemia’s elite. Ginsberg, fresh from his first experience with hallucinogenic mushrooms in Mexico, was eager to promote the spiritual possibilities of psychedelic use. Thus, “America’s most conspicuous beatnik” was recruited as Ambassador of Psilocybin under the auspices of an Ivy League professor, and together they launched the psychedelic revolution and turned on the hippie generation.

White Hand Society weaves a fascinating and entertaining tale of the life, times and friendship of these two larger-than-life figures and the incredible impact their relationship had on America. Peter Conners has gathered hundreds of pages of letters, documents, studies, FBI files, and other primary resources that shed new light on their relationship, and a veritable who’s who of artists and cultural figures appear along the way, including Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Thelonious Monk, Willem de Kooning, and Barney Rosset. The story of the “psychedelic partnership” of two of the most famous, charismatic and controversial members of America’s counterculture brings together a multitude of major figures from politics, the arts, and the intersection of intellectual life and outlaw culture in a way that sheds new light on the dawn of the 1960s.

Years later, 1967 to be exact, this conversation between Leary and Ginsberg took place about “dropping out”:

Ginsberg: For instance, you haven’t dropped out, Tim. You dropped out of your job as a psychology teacher in Harvard. Now, what you’ve dropped into is, one: a highly complicated series of arrangements for lecturing and for putting on the festival…

Leary: Well, I’m dropped out of that.

Ginsberg: But you’re not dropped out of the very highly complicated legal constitutional appeal, which you feel a sentimental regard for, as I do. You haven’t dropped out of being the financial provider for Milbrook, and you haven’t dropped out of planning and conducting community organization and participating in it. And that community organization is related to the national community, too. Either through the Supreme Court, or through the very existence of the dollar that is exchanged for you to pay your lawyers, or to take money to pay your lawyers in the theatre. So you can’t drop out, like DROP OUT, ’cause you haven’t.

The year after that, Ginsberg penned an article called “Remarks on Leary’s Politics of Ecstasy” for The Village Voice, in which he suggested the American government was trying to silence Leary:

Timothy Leary quit public life to write a book in Mexico some years ago, but he was searched by Agents of Government as he went to cross borders, arrested for possession of some herb, and thus forced to interrupt his writing, return to public action, and defend his person from attack by the State. So he traveled to academies and lectured to the young, & thus he paid large legal fees required by the State & thus maintained an Ashram of fellow seekers well known in Millbrook. Agents of Government raided and repeated abused the utopia, whereupon Dr. Leary was obliged to be Dr. Leary and lecture more to raise money for his family of imprisoned friends. Agents of Government concluded this phase of prosecution with a piece of Socratic irony so blatantly echoing an old Greek injustice that the vulgar rhetoric of a Tyrannous State would need only be quoted to be recognized, were it not for the fact that these States are by now so plagued with Tyrannously inspired chaos and public communication so flooded with images of State Atrocity from the alleys of Saigon to the parks of Chicago that official public conscience here now, as memorably in Russia and Germany, is shocked, dumbed & amnesiac.

Ginsberg grew to become leery of the government’s hand in drugs. Researching, Ginsberg became convinced that the CIA was involved in drug trafficking. Ginsberg’s poem “CIA Dope Calypso” uses the following refrain:

Supported by the CIA

Wikipedia gives a quick summary of Ginsberg’s conspiracy theory that the CIA profited off of drugs:

Through his own drug use, and the drug use of his friends and associates, Ginsberg became more and more preoccupied with the American government’s relationship to drug use within and outside the nation. He worked closely with Alfred W. McCoy who was writing The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia which tracked the history of the American government’s involvement in illegal opium dealing around the world. This would affirm Ginsberg’s suspicions that the government and the CIA were involved in drug trafficking. In addition to working with McCoy, Ginsberg personally confronted Richard Helms, the director of the CIA in the 1970s, but he was simply brushed off as being “full of beans”. Allen wrote many essays and articles, researching and compiling evidence of CIA’s involvement, but it would take ten years, and the publication of McCoy’s book in 1972, before anyone took him seriously. In 1978 Allen received a note from the chief editor of the New York Times, apologizing for not taking his allegations seriously so many years previous.[83]

Despite our notions of how counter-cultural drug use is its history is steeped in academia and politics. Even so-called counter-cultural writers theorize the government is behind drug trafficking.

Of course there are others who’d suggest that it was Timothy Leary and Allen Ginsberg who were conspiring to change the world.

 

Maria Fragoudaki’s “Superheroes”

3 Oct

mfragoudaki_11-lgMaria Fragoudaki’s “Sometimes I Cannot Control Myself”
2013
Mixed media on canvas. 70in x 56in.

Move over, Ben Affleck! Maria Fragoudaki‘s Superheroes opens tonight at New York’s One Art Space (23 Warren Street; Street level—Gallery 1; Manhattan). Fragoudaki explores issues of identity in New York City. Her larger-than-life works of mixed media shine like the bat signal, exposing the fast-paced, fragmented lives we lead here in Gotham.

Born in Athens, Greece, Fragoudaki has shown her work in New York as part of groups shows in the past, but this is her first solo show in New York City . Tonight’s opening reception begins at 6.

From the press release:

The inspiration for this body of work came in New York during the last two years. The artist explores issues of individual identity in a fast-changing world where anchoring points are disappearing. These themes, familiar in Maria’s work, take a new twist here as emotions are amplified by the uniquely fast-paced rhythm of the archetypal metropolis, New York.
At the center of this whirlpool where anxiety is constant and uncertainty the norm, the need for stable references, strength and reliance become more acute. This prompts her to reach to the world of superheroes, which in addition has direct references to New York. Drawing on the collective unconscious of pop-culture the artist creates immediate associations that facilitate a casual and direct communication with her audience.
In the creative process the superheroes become abstracted moving the focus to the notions they represent. Deceptively simple messages, with child-like directness, are superimposed at times as statements, at time as cries, while the medium of collage enhances the feeling of the fragmented self in the process of constructing identity and meaning.

Maria Fragoudaki’s first solo show in New York induces the public to connect with their emotions and conflicts. This exhibit allows each of us the opportunity to discover our own personal Superhero.

mfragoudaki_12-lgMaria Fragoudaki’s “Spiderman’s Arrival”
2013
Mixed media on canvas. 91in x 27in.

From Fragoudaki’s website:

Maria Fragoudaki was born in Athens in 1983. She studied chemistry, pharmacology and business management in London where she subsequently worked for a few years. She started painting systematically in 2008 and over the last 4 years she attended various courses and seminars in painting & fine art in New York and London. Her work utilises a wide variety of media such as oils and acrylics on large canvas surfaces and she has also produced other mixed media works incorporating the technique of collage. Over the last 4 years Maria has participated in numerous group exhibitions in New York, Belgium and Greece and has also presented her first solo exhibition in Skoufa Gallery in early 2011. She is currently working on her forthcoming solo show in London. Her work has been acquired by private and corporate collections in New York, London, Greece and Belgium.

Superheroes will run at One Art Space through October 24.

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Burning Furiously Beautiful is now available as an ebook! You can download your copy here.

The Great Valhouli Fauxlore: Atlantic Uncovers Truth Behind Kerouac-Burroughs Fight

9 Aug

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Those of us who devote our time studying the life and work of Jack Kerouac and yet who simultaneously spend a lot of our time on Facebook already called “hoax” on that photograph that was being circulated around about a plaque on how Kerouac and William S. Burroughs got into a drunken fight over the Oxford comma. I assumed it was a digitally manipulated photograph. As it turns out, though, it has a fascinating back story. Alexis C. Madrigal uncovered the truth behind the plaque — which actually exists — in the story “Facebook Fauxlore: Kerouac, Burroughs, and a Fight Over the Oxford Comma That Never Was” in The Atlantic.

It’s a great piece — minus the odd portrayal of the Greek American behind the plaque. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

Hot on the trail of something fishy, Madrigal contacted sources Paul Marion; The Morgan Center; Martha Mayo, head of the Center for Lowell History; and Tony Sampas. Marion, author and employee at UMass Lowell Center for Arts and Ideas, had seen the plaque and knew that it was created to promote Mill No. 5 at 250 Jackson Street in Kerouac’s hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts.

Marion referred Madrigal to Ted Siefer’s article “Mill No. 5 brings transformation to Lowell” in The Boston Globe, which explained that developer Constantine Valhouli, with business partner Jim Lichoulas III, was transforming the former textile mill into an office building:

with a kind of fun-house brio to attract the eclectic, off-beat, and hip: boutique movie theater, yoga studio, farm-to-table restaurant, a lounge/library in the style of an English manor — the whole thing decorated with architectural materials salvaged from the likes of Dr. Seuss’ house.

It would appear that Valhouli ascribes to the same Beat philosophy of improvisation as Kerouac. Siefer says:

Valhouli likens the development of the project to how jazz musicians build a song. “We’ve not built from a plan,” he said. “You play a theme, and you just keep playing improvisations over it.”

Madrigal points to the pivotal paragraph in The Globe story for proving the plaque is a fake:

And there, in the 13th paragraph, was proof that we were looked at a false sign: “Inside the entry hall will be a reconstructed early 19th-century New England schoolhouse,” the Globe wrote, “an exhibit that will be part of what Valhouli calls the Lowell Atheneum [AHA!], which will also feature a collection of hand-painted pseudo-historical plaques from New England history [DOUBLE AHA!].”

Madrigal, who went on to interview Valhouli, then explained that Valhouli and Lichoulas thought up the idea of creating “a series of plaques commemorating events that never happened” to support Mill No. 5. They hired Ould Colony Artisans‘ Robert and Judy Leonard to paint the plaque by hand. The artists had created many other historical signs in the Massachusetts area.

I found Madigral’s investigative reporting enthralling.

Still, I was put off by this aside:

I had to get in touch with this Valhouli character, who was, no doubt, swirling his mustache near some railroad tracks looking for damsels.

Okay, I’ll concede that Constantine Valhouli certainly sounded like a “character” for faking people out — although I’m not sure we generally refer to conceptual artists or those who come up with brilliant marketing schemes as “characters.” Instead, I think we tend to use terms like “inspired” and “business-savvy” to describe people who manage to get others talking about their work. A quick look at Mill No. 5’s Facebook page, and the tongue-in-cheek branding is evident:

We’re working on the bathrooms at Mill No. 5 today. Which made us think of the central question of paleontology:
Q: Why can’t you hear a pterodactyl go to the bathroom?
A: Because the P is silent.

Brilliant Subway Panhandling Prank Flips the Script

Hahahahahaha. This. Oh this. The Hipster Logo Design Guide.

But there was “no doubt” in Madrigal’s mind that Valhouli had a mustache and that he swirled it, like some sort of old-timey Western villain? Is the mustache assumption because he’s Greek American or because The Boston Globe article referred to his work as “Disneyland for hipsters”? Where did the leap from real-estate developer to someone who hung out at a train station get made? Was this supposed to tie him closer to Kerouac — or make him sound like some sort of train-hopping hobo? He was out “looking for damsels”? What??

With today’s access to personal information on the Internet, it took only seconds to find Valhouli’s LinkedIn page, and — unless it too is a hoax — discover he (fittingly) received his BA in English and fine art from Georgetown University, where he went on to get his MA in interactive technology. From there, he got his MBA from Columbia University’s Business School. He received the Charles G. Koch Fellowship and was a Peter Agris Fellow. He did equity research for Morgan Stanley and was director of business development for Incogniti before becoming principal at The Hammersmith Group, which describes itself as “a boutique strategy consulting firm with concentrations in real estate and technology.” His LinkedIn summary reads, in part:

Constantine has been featured in the BBC, Businessweek, CNN, Forbes, Fortune, Newsweek, and the Wall Street Journal. He has guest lectured at Columbia Business School, MIT, New York University, and has served as a panelist on internet industry events and at the U.S. Department of State.

There wasn’t a profile picture to verify him peeking out of a train tunnel to leer at women. The Atlantic has created its own “fauxlore” about Constantine Valhouli. Oh, how the tables have turned.

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This post has been updated to correct the publication to The Atlantic.

The Quotable Greek: Gain Their Reputation

29 Apr

“Skillful pilots gain their reputation

from storms and tempest.”

~ Epicurus

The Quotable Greek: The Most Difficult Thing in Life

22 Apr

“The most difficult thing in life

is to know yourself.”

~ Thales