Stavros Niarchos Cultural Centre

A sculpture exhibition and some of the plants from the garden at the centre

 

I’m still very much in marathon recovery and completely knackered. So, I wanted a nice recreational, short, easy, recovery run on Saturday and decided to finally take myself off for a gander of the new Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre down by the sea in Palio Faliro.

The centre was built on the site of the disreputable old horse racing track and is meant to provide Athens with an all purpose cultural centre that includes a new home for the ballet and opera, because the current location for Lyriki Skini in Akadamias street is not fit for purpose. It will also house the national library collection and be a space for outdoor and indoor concerts and exhibitions. There’s a big park full of traditional plants of the Attica region, a small boating lake for teaching sailing skills, especially to children, a large grass area suitable for picnics and outdoor events, a running track and a small musical park for children (I loved this), where you can play musical notes by jumping on or hitting various objects.

The whole place bears no resemblance at all to the piece Oliver Wainwright wrote on it at the beginning of the summer where he criticised it as a white elephant in crisis torn Greece because, obviously, the last thing poor Greek peasants (and we all are) need is any culture provided by private funding. The other criticism is that the gates were locked and the library had no books in it. Not a valid criticism for a place that still remains to be fully opened as yet. And what’s interesting to me, is the sneering disdain for Greece and its cultural centre compared with the joyous celebration of Hamburg’s new building. It’s absolutely typical of the superior, patronising attitude northern Europe has for Greece. Suffice to say, that Wainwright has joined Jonathan Jones, the art critic and Simon Jenkins, professional old duffer, on my shit list of anti-Greek bigots working at the graun. Simon will forever be top of that list for the utterly disgraceful piece of propaganda he wrote on the new Acropolis museum, which far from being a Banana Republic police HQ, is a world class museum so filled with the light of Attica that it makes the BM look like a dingy hole.

To be completely honest and fair, though, there are some problems with the SNFC centre. It still hasn’t opened entirely. This is down to government incompetence more than anything else and the centre has been holding events all summer long and there is lots going on. In the summer, it was extremely popular with Athenians, as there were all sorts of events going on and people enjoyed taking their own food and drink to hear free concerts. It’s a great way to make arts and culture accessible to a very economically battered people.

I can’t wait until the ballet moves there. And in the meantime, like the rest of the Athenians, I’ll be going along to the concerts in the park and the exhibitions too. If you’re in Athens, get the tram from Syntagma sq for S.E.F or you can get a bus on Syngrou ave outside Syngrou/Fix metro station.

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Athens Authentic Marathon

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Dawn at the stadium of Marathonas: the starting point for the Athens Marathon.

Yesterday was race day in Athens for the Athens Authentic Marathon, which I was lucky enough (or mad enough) to take part in.

It was a long and lovely day, a real celebration of sport and beautifully organised. The first thing the organisers did was make sure that around 18 thousand of us participants got from the centre of Athens to the stadium at Marathon. I had to get up at 4.30 am but by a little before 7 am I was in Marathon stadium, my kit bag was on a DHL truck and I was having a coffee watching dawn come up.

It was a little boring waiting for the 9 am start but there were some items of interest to behold, including a group of Polish chaps dressed as Ancient Spartans in aid of a children’s charity. There were also lots of people in various novelty costumes including a guy in a furry rabbit onesie who must have suffered terribly during the race as it was a sunny day!

At 8.45 we took our places in our blocks and because the Greeks like to remind everyone that the Marathon is a Greek thing.. ANCIENT Greek, we had to raise our right hands and put our fingers together, while an oath to Sport was read in Greek and English. I was in block 8 at the back so I didn’t start off until 9.20. The organisers were very good at making sure everyone in their block (mine had 2,500 people in it) knew where they were going and what to do.

Then we were off, down the road from Marathon to Athens with a slight detour round the tumulus of the battle dead of Marathon and back onto the main road to do the 42km to the Kallimarmaro in central Athens. The Kalimarmaro was the stadium used for the 1st modern Olympics in 1896 and where Spiridon Louis, a Greek, became the first ever Olympic Marathon winner, 120 years ago.

The first 7 miles of the course are lovely. Flat and easy, and yesterday was a lovely sunny day with a nice breeze. But miles 8 to 20 are very tough and mainly uphill. Most of the remaining 6 miles into town are downhill. The course was well-organised with water stations every 2.5 km as well as plenty of isotonic drinks, bananas and energy bars. My only quibble would be someone to bring fresh loos because the ones I saw were not a pleasant experience.

I shouldn’t really have taken part at all, as I’m not fully recovered from the injury I did from over-training earlier in the year. But I always intended to run/walk it because of the hills. I really enjoyed the first half of the race as the going wasn’t too bad. I ran the flats, walked the hills and ran down any slopes I could. But those hills just keep getting higher and higher and I hit a wall somewhere around the 22 mile mark and the last few miles were, basically, hell and I entered the Kallimarmaro stadium exhausted and whimpering. I managed to run a third of the race and walked the rest and I was still totally pooped. I saw awesome people older than me and some with obvious mobility issues who totally outpaced me. Respect! That course is one tough mother.

The men’s race was won by Lubowan Luka Rotich of Kenya in 2.21.49 and the women’s was won by Arusei Nancy Jebichi of Kenya in 2.38.13

I was significantly slower.

Zongolopoulos and Other Greek Artists

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I stopped my timed run to take this because it was too fantastic an opportunity to miss on such a lovely cloudless day.

I’m going to try not to say the word MARATHON too many times this week but with only 6 days to go, I hope I can be given a little leeway in the circumstances.

Anyways, on Saturday, I did my last pre-race 10 miler and to make it tough I ran all the way up Galatsiou then down over onto Kiffisias as far as Xalandri and back again. This is an area I never run in and the only reason I chose it is because I wanted some tough hilly work and some nice flat bits too. So I was really surprised to stumble on this beauty, Umbrellas, from George Zongolopoulos as I passed by the main entrance to Psychiko. I had no idea it was there, even though I went to an excellent exhibition of his works on Andros this summer.

Zongolopoulos is one of a few Greek artists to have made a name for himself outside Greece. Yet, I knew little about him until I went to see an exhibition of his works at the Goulandris Museum of Contemporary Art in August. The Goulandris is a small gallery on Andros but holds some great permanent pieces and very interesting exhibitions. The main retrospective on Zongolopoulos has finished now but the gallery is still exhibiting some of his pieces over the winter season as well as lots of works of important Greek painters such as Ghikas, Fasianos and Tsarouchis.

It’s a wonderful gallery of contemporary art and not just Greek stuff either. If you get the chance to go to Andros, this is just one more reason to visit the island among many. And once you’ve enjoyed your art and culture you can carry on down the steps into Nimporeio where there’s some great, reasonably priced tavernas.

Oh, and if you do get to the Goulandris, you mustn’t miss my favourite thing there in the permanent collection. It’s also by another Greek artist, Takis. I don’t know how to describe it… eerie, funny, ridiculous, fascinating, joyous, scary and utterly hypnotic are words that spring to mind. It’s basically bits of metal, string and magnets that ‘play’ a sort of perpetual harmony. I swear, it’s worth the trip to Greece and Andros just for that one, mad installation.

So, if you didn’t know that Greece has a great contemporary art scene, now you’ll know what to look out for. You can also find Zongolopoulos’ umbrellas in Thessaloniki and in Brussels (which probably inspired the idea given their weather).

Percy: Death of a feral cat

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Percy: at round about 6 weeks old. The prettiest eyes ever.

I had thought today was going to be a good day. I went for one of my final pre-Marathon training runs in the morning and then came back to put on a nice frock for work, as I’m off to the premiere of Galaxy at the Lyriki Skini this evening.

Every morning, on my way to work, I pass by a cat colony living in the garden of an empty house. I’m not the only one who feeds them. Another lady gives them dry food and I come by in the morning with a tin of chunks in gravy. All the girl cats have been neutered and they’re all pretty healthy. I’ve given them all names and as I come round the corner I’ll call out a couple of names and suddenly I’ve got about 10 cats of various ages and sizes all running to greet me. Then I feed them and talk to them before dashing off to the office. Some of the cats like to be stroked. Some don’t. Only Percy liked to be picked up and cuddled.

But then he was always the friendliest. Bit of a runt of the litter but so nice and pretty with it that he managed to get on quite well. In fact, recently, I’d got him to put a bit of weight on and grow a bit more by giving him extra kibble on the side.

Until this morning that was.

I got round the corner and there he was. Laid out on the wall, where I’d find him. No blood to indicate he’d been hit by a car. Was it murder or manslaughter? I don’t know. But the fact he’d been placed on the wall seems to show someone wanted me to see him there. Most of the people in the area congratulate me for helping to look after them. But I know there are some people who hate the cats. Not very far away, a woman I chat to came home to find that someone had hung one of her cats with electrical wire from her fence while she was out shopping on a Saturday afternoon.

What can I say? We live in a world where many people commit atrocities of various kinds. Percy was just a cat. A small harmless creature.

I’m gutted.