Back to Plato's Academy (pt.2)

The video installations at Plato’s Academy (Akademia Platonos) were all at the western section of the park. We  (we being wife and I) thought it proper to check out the north-eastern section as well, before night would set upon us for good. Exiting the park at Kratylou St. we walked to the left and across the street, searching for the preserved ruins of Akademos’ “Sacred House”. We did not see any improvement in the site from the last time we were here but, on top, we came across what seemed like a scene from a disaster movie.

Palm trees at Akademia Platonos, Athens, infected by the red palm weevil 

Palm trees at Akademia Platonos, Athens, infected by the red palm weevil 
I remembered a couple of articles I’d read about the “red beetle” (aka “red palm weevil”) and the havoc it’s causing in palm trees throughout Greece. This invasive species was introduced into Greece from affected palm trees about ten years ago, after being detected in various other Mediterranean countries. It feeds on the interior of palm trees and often causes their destruction. EU authorities were late in banning its import several years ago and Greek authorities have mostly been caught off guard when it comes to protecting palm trees in urban parks and other public spaces. This seemed to be one such case, with palm tree branches and leaves having wilted under the attack of their enemy. 
Palm tree trunk (middle of the picture), destroyed by the red palm weevil, at Akademia Platonos park, Athens, Greece 

Yet, the light of dusk did provide for some interesting photos and the air of destruction only added to that effect. 

Akademia Platonos park at dusk. Athens, Greece.

Akademia Platonos park / archaeological site at dusk. Athens, Greece.

Evening practice at a soccer field; next to Akademia Platonos park. Athens, Greece 

I’ll be curious to see the new landscaping choices for this park and how the red beetle problem gets treated, at least in  the case of Akademia Platonos. Once I do, I’ll let you all Plato fans out there know about it!

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Back to Plato’s Academy, this time for an art exhibit (pt.1)

It’s been two and a half years since I last went to Akademia Platonos Park; the archaeological site, turned urban park, in the western edge of Athens, where ancient philosopher Plato and his students used to hang out. On a side note, that first post was the reason for meeting a modern day English philosopher –the first person I met through this blog! Since then, there’s been a lot of talk on upgrading this urban area - with the park used as a catalyst for the project - but the whole thing seems to be moving very, very sloooowly, if at all.
"Visual Dialogues 2012" billboard near the entrance of Academia Platonos park 
An art exhibit, titled “Visual Dialogues 2012”, was what drew me in the park this time around. Sponsored by the big funding arm of the Onassis Public Benefit Foundation and the Onassis Cultural Centre, ten artists were invited to create video installations, dispersed in the park, within ephemeral wooden structures. A virtual “dialogue” between art, archaeology and the urban environment. A way to bring more people into the park, as I see it, but also in contact with an art form that most are not familiar with. 

Wooden projection room, at Academia Platonos

You get a slightly spooky feeling when you enter these dark, unmanned, isolated structures in the middle of the park but the presence of exhibit staff around the area is reassuring. Inside each one, runs the projection of a short, digital film in a continuous loop from noon till 6:00pm. Among the ten short films, the one that clearly stood out for me was that by Katerina Athanasopoulou - the first as you enter the park. Making reference to Plato’s work (Plato was the one who preserved Socrates’ teaching for the world to read), the video’s brochure tells us that “Socrates compared the human soul to a cage, within which elements of knowledge fly like birds. Born with an empty ‘cage’, people gradually collect birds/knowledge as they grow up. When a piece of information / knowledge is needed, humans try to recollect it ‘with their hand’, but sometimes they pick the wrong one. Furthermore, ornithologists have observed a pattern of restless anticipation in birds before the time of migration, both in free and in captive birds.” 

Apodemia, by Katerina Athanasopoulou

Apodemia, by Katerina Athanasopoulou

Combining the above concepts and images, the short film named “Apodemia” (which rimes with "Academia" and stands for "Emigration" in Greek), ) presents a flock of birds encircling an empty cage-bus which runs around the deserted streets of a vast city, half-built, with huge granite hands trying to alter its course but also catch the birds/knowledge. The haunting music by Jon Opstad and Clare Wheeler’s violin playing only add to the whole effect.

Symposium, by Maria Paschalidou
Other videos that spoke to me were the ones by Maria Paschalidou (Symposium: a reference to a local citizens group with an indirect reference to xenophobia, also using Albert Camus’ “The Stranger”), Maria Zervos (Nomadology: The Route), Myrto Vounatsou and Stelios Dexis (The Wave: a dual screen projection imparting a vague sense of fear and anxiety to its viewers) and Petros Touloudis (Via Recta: the breathless presentation of a hectic, fuzzy mountain/rock-climbing trip).

The Wave, by Myrto Vounatsou and Stelios Dexis

Entrance: Kratylou St.& Tripoleos St.
Transit: Bus 051 from Zenonos St., near Omonia Square (see map in previous post)
Admission: Free
Hours: Daily from 12:00 to 18:00 (arrive at 17:00 at the latest to be able to get a glimpse of most videos and the park). Running till February 10, 2013.

There was more to this visit but you'll have to wait for part 2...

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Villa Amalias - a (former?) anarchist enclave in Athens

A -somewhat silent- tug of war between police forces and anarchist groups is taking place in Athens these past 3 weeks. Greek police decided to end a 22-year old occupation of a building in the quasi-central Plateia Victorias  (Victoria's Square) area, at the corner of Heyden St. and Acharnon St., on December 20, 2012.

The building, nicknamed "Villa Amalias" and officialy owned by a state entity called "Organization for School Buildings" which builds schools throughout Greece, had become a bastion of anti-state groups throughout this period and a thorn in the eye of police forces and authorities.  It has often been claimed that the site was being used not only for peaceful purposes (film screenings, lectures, etc.) but also for building molotov bombs and the like, which are habitually thrown during large protests and riots. In fact, police forces reported finding large quantities of empty beer bottles, sticks and gas masks during their raid on December 20. Sympathizers with the occupation claim that the building has provided support to neighborhood immigrants who are occasionally attacked by racist gangs and that the real reason for the raid is a collusion between police forces and racist gangs who want it out of the way.
"Villa Amalias" entrance at Heyden St.

The truth is that the area around Plateia Victorias has seen more than its "fair share" of violence in the past 10 years, becoming a hotspot of Athens' current ethnic troubles and illegal migration issues. Thefts and bullying by illegal immigrants and indiscriminate attacks by anti-immigrant groups have often taken place while immigrant supporters have also thrown in their weight in this "debate". This morning, a fairly small group of people re-occupied Villa Amalias, only for police forces to take it back hours later. Police presence in the wider area is still quite large.

"Villa Amalias": Corner of Heyden St. and Acharnon St., Athens 
It may come as a surprise to you but I have family living in this area, whom I visit fairly often, and many Greek families still refuse to leave the area although there has been a Greek short of "white flight" to the suburbs. I can't say I am not "on alert" when I walk these streets but I wouldn't say I avoid them either. Maybe because I can manage to not look / walk like a potential victim (my age and physique still allows me to do so). Even so, I would say that most Athenians, besides the occasional outbursts of heated rhetoric, seem to take it all in stride, treating this whole situation like one more piece into the complicated urban mosaic of modern Athens...

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