An ephemeral Greek chocolate museum

Pavlidis Chocolate is a household name in Greece. The kind of superbrand that persists through all kinds of adversities and ups and downs that time inevitably brings, remaining at the top of consumers' preferences. It's been around for more than 150 years! 
Up until 20 years ago -give or take- you could find very few imported chocolate bars in Greece. The local market was shared among a few Greek brands and Pavlidis was the one that stood out among them, especially with its 43%+ dark chocolate offering. The so-called "Sokolata Ygeias Pavlidou" ("Pavlildis' Health Chocolate") is deeply engrained in our collective, choco-loving consciousness, especially for those of us older than 30 years old. I don't know who came up with the slogan "Health's Chocolate" (written on the bar's blue-colored wrapping, featuring the multitude of medals and prizes that the company's products have earned in time) but for many Greeks, even today, the term is synonymous with the phrase "dark chocolate".

And yes, come to think of it, a blue colored wrapping in any other chocolate bar would probably deter me from trying it out. But in this case, the memories that the wrapping brings have the exact opposite effect. 
Now, 43% cocoa may not sound like too high a percentage these days, but back in the 1980's the only other alternative were overly sweet milk chocolates with a very low percentage of cocoa. During "Good Friday", when we had to go through the... mandatory Christian Orthodox fasting, a "sokolata ygeias" was a rare treat inside a week of bland, tasteless food (at least for our childish taste buds). We were allowed to eat dark chocolate ("sokolata ygeias") because it didn't contain milk (which is a no-no for Christian Orthodox fasting) and that only added to the chocolate's allure!
The company was bought by Kraft Foods in the 1990's and can still be found all over Greece. Whenever I travel abroad I try to make a small trip in a local super-market. I think it's a great way to mingle with locals and get a feeling of everyday life, let alone sample some of the local treats (chocolates included!). So, I highly suggest you give this one a try.
The reason for this long narration is that Pavlidis (i.e. Kraft) set up an ephemeral "Chocolate Museum" beside their factory at 135, Pireost St. in Athens this weekend (29-30 January 2011), offering special gift packages. We tried to visit the "chocolate museum" Saturday morning but this is what we came across:
A long queue outside of Pavlidis chocolate factory, for the ephemeral chocolate museum
The temperature was near freezing level and the line wasn't moving. So we just took a few pictures and took off (yes, we did buy some chocolates from the supermarket later on!)
Newer additions to Pavlidis line of chocolate bars. The traditional sokolata ygeias w/ orange added, plus a 70% cocoa dark chocolate. 
 P.S. Greek intellectuals, artists, etc. often complain about modern Greeks' obsession with food (and TV sports viewing) and about how that is their only interest. In contrast, modern Greeks relation with art and books is almost non-existent they say. The picture below is of the queue at the Benaki Museum, across the street, at 138, Pireost St. :)
Benaki Musem - Pireos Building entrance

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Pikionis retrospective at Benaki Museum: my impressions + a tour of Pikionis' works in Athens

I made a mention of this exhibition in a previous post, so I feel obliged to come back. We went to visit the exhibition at Benaki Museum (138, Pireos St., till 13 March 2011) on Greek civil engineer, landscape architect and painter Dimitris Pikionis (1887-1968). He is mostly credited with constructing the landscaping work (paths and corridors) around the Acropolis and for finding inspiration in the traditional, Greek building norms and materials and nature and incorporating them into his own work, even though he lived in an era that the modernist architectural movement was at its peak. He even constructed a couple of modernist-inspired works himself. We both thought that the exhibit was of interest mainly to architects and other specialists in the field. A documentary film was only in Greek (no subtitles). If you are not an architect / landscape architect I think we can safely say that you won't be impressed with what you'll see, although there are several paintings / mostly sketches or water-colour paintings that some might find of interest. Painting was Pikionis' true love as he himself had confided to people, but he couldn't make a living out of painting so he chose architecture instead. It seems to me he almost intentionally downplayed his painting, by sketching only in small pieces of paper (max. 60x70cm) and keeping his painting works hidden for most of his life.

Anyway, you’ll be better off walking around Athens and trying to discover Pikionis’ works themselves, instead of spending time in the exhibit. Here is a list of his works in Metro Athens, with info on how to get there (few other works of him are to be found anyway as he made a living as a university professor):
1)   Paths leading up to the Acropolis Hill and the adjacent Filopappou Hill. His most famous work for which he received, post mortem, in 2003, the International Carlo Scarpa Prize for Gardens. This was created in 1954-57.
Path up to Filopappou Hill (aka Muses Hill)
Path up to Filopappou Hill - Detail

2)   Aghios Dimitrios Loumbardiaris church, on Filopappou Hill, and the "Filopappou kiosk" (1954-58) next to it, facing the Acropolis. The kiosk -which operated as a cafe / snack restaurant has been closed since 2005. 

3)   Block of flats at 27 Ηeyden St. (central Athens), created in 1938. Unimpressive at first glance, from the outside, but the documentary at the Benaki museum made us appreciate it more. A rather seedy area nowadays but very close to the Victoria Metro Station.
Polykatoikia (block of flats) by Pikionis, at 27, Heyden St., Athens
4)  Stamatopoulos house, at the corner of Laskaratou St. & Aghias Lavras St., Ano Patissia neighborhood, Athens (near Metro Aghios Eleftherios and Metro Ano Patissia). Constructed in 1961.
Stamatopoulos house, by Dimitris Pikionis, Athens, Greece

5)  Efthymiadi-Menegaki house - workshop at 10, Grypari St., Ano Patissia neighborhood, Athens (near Metro Ano Patissia). Frosso Efthymiadi-Menegaki was a sculptor and her house (created in 1949),  has now passed to her heirs and is undergoing restoration. It's supposed to be used as a museum-exhibition space, under the auspices of the National Gallery.


6)  Children's playground at the suburb of Filothei, 17, El. Venizelou St. (1961-64). It is here that you will see most evident his inspiration not only from Greek but also from Japanese art and garden art. Still operational and much loved by locals and their kids.
Filothei playground
Filothei playground
Filothei playground, by Dimitris Pikionis
7) Potamianos Residence at Filothei (1, Niovis St. & 14, Diadochou Pavlou St., Filothei) (1953-55). There's a big, ugly power tower in front of it right now but if you walk by you'll see what an amazing house this is. I was of course discreet enough to take pictures from afar in all cases (without a zoom), as most of these houses are occupied and I'm sure nobody wants a stranger peeking inside their house. The end stop of Bus 610 (from Ampelokipi) is 100m from the house.

Potamianos Residence, by Pikionis 
Potamianos Residence, Filothei

8) Grammar school at "Pefkakia"-Lykavittos Hill, Athens (1933). This was a building difficult to study and construct (on the slopes of a hill) but Pikionis was quick to renounce it as soon as he had it finished. The modernist-inspired work was not what he was striving for and he soon turned to Greek (and Japanese) tradition for inspiration. Here's a few pictures of the building in its current form, from the outside. It now houses 2 grammar schools and 1 junior-high school.

Lower entrance of schools, Leontos Sgourou St.

School entrance-you can see how the building is constructed at several levels to adjust to the hills steep slope. Each classroom has its own small yard (can't see from this angle)

View from the upper side, Doxapatri St.

Here is a map with all the above mentioned works of Pikionis:

View OMIG-Pikionis in a larger map

Click here for books refering to Pikionis' work, in Amazon.com.

P.S. In case you're wondering there are 2 other works of Pikionis still in existence, outside Athens. The Xenia Hotel at Delphi and the Peiramatiko School at Thessaloniki.

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'Paris 1900: From Art Nouveau to Modernism', painting exhibition

The painting exhibition "Paris 1900: Art Nouveau and Modernism" (click the EN at the bottom for English text), hosted in the National Gallery of Greece-Alexandros Soutzos Museum, up to 28 February 2011, is in exchange for an exhibition that was sent from Greece to Paris a couple of years ago, with Byzantine relics and treasures from the Mount Athos (Aghion Oros - "Holy Mountain") monastic compound. The exhibits are Belle Epoque paintings sent from the Petit Palais Museum in Paris, France.

Last Wednesday evening, the director herself of the National Gallery, Ms. Marina Lambraki-Plaka, acted as a guide for visitors of the exhibition. There was a fairly good crowd gathered, but not so many as to make the experience uncomfortable. Truth be told, I am not a regular in such venues (the Gallery's hours are mostly meant to cater to tourists and the non-employed after all...), but if an exhibition of this caliber takes place I try to find the time to squeeze it into my schedule. The narration was quite interesting; not too long - not too short, and it helped me short out ideas, art styles, events and personalities that I had heard about without, until now, having put them in the proper context. Aside from that, the paintings sent from Petit Palais were really astounding; each one was... one of a kind. Even if you were no art expert you couldn't help being captivated.
The Petit Palais Museum as we learnt, was built for the World Expo that took place in Paris in 1900, and Greece was one of the countries invited at the time. So, as you enter the hall, on the left hand side, the National Gallery has set up a "secondary" exhibit, with paintings of the Greek painters who had taken part in the 1900 World Expo! Some of them had received awards, like the Children's Concert, by Georgios Iakovidis or On the Terrace (Athenian Evening) by Iakovos Rizos, pictured on the entrance ticket below.

I also very much appreciated the quality of the information panels placed at strategic points in the halls. Usually they are filled with jargon, pointless technical details or, on the other extreme, lacking in info. These ones were a pleasure to read, with properly-sized fonts, and just as much information as was needed to accompany you or to stir your curiosity.

Trivia: Another interesting piece of info I picked up was that the Greek Pavillion for the 1900 World Expo had the form of a Byzantine church, although on the inside it was actually made of modern materials, such as cast iron. Well, this pavillion was relocated to Athens after the Expo, and it is now sitting on a major Athens thoroughfare, operating as an actual church! It is the "Aghios Sostis" (Christ the Saviour) Church, at 129-131, Syggrou Ave. Throngs of people walk or drive by it every day but I doubt even a few know its story...

Address: 50, Vassileos Konstantinou Ave., Athens (Evangelismos Metro Station, Line 3). Across from the Athens Hilton Hotel. 
Admission: 6.5€ / 3€ for students and over 65yo. / free for handicapped people, children less than 12yo and ICOM card holders.
Nearby hotels include: Divani Caravel Hotel, Best Western Ilissia Hotel, Crowne Plaza Athens City Centre Hotel, Delice Hotel Apartments

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Athens makes a strong entrance into the new year

Despite all the gloom and doom you will hear from some Greeks regarding 2011 and what it has in store for us, the new year made a very strong entrance for the Metro Athens area. I'll just drop a few names and titles and I'll come back with more details in the coming days and weeks:
  • One new Metro station (Aghia Paraskevi - Line 3), at the northern suburb of Aghia Paraskevi, was completed and opened to the public 2 weeks ago and so was a large square above the station.
  • Two more Metro stations at the western suburb of Peristeri (Line 2) are about to be completed and the square on the ground above Metro Station Peristeri (Platia Dimokratias) was inaugurated and opened to the public also 2 weeks ago. This will be one of the largest squares in Metro Athens, covering almost 9,000 square metres (2.2 acres / 96,000 sq. feet).
  • Two new shopping centers were opened. Of course, this has a possible negative side, as it signals the decline of individual, neighborhood-type stores, but any store opening these days has to be treated as good news. The first one, the "Athens Metro Mall", opened on November 30 and is located in the southern suburb of Agios Dimitrios, at 276, Vouliagmenis Avenue, right next to the Aghios Dimitrios Metro Station (Line 2). The second one, even though not completed yet, is even more important as it is located in a central Athens neighborhood, which has declined over the last few years. This is the "Athens Capitol" shopping center. This one is not a mall, but it houses a supermarket on the ground floor, already in operation, a few -mainly clothing- stores in its 3 floors, a couple of cafeterias and the first Automobile Museum to be built in Greece, on its top floor! It's been typically open for 2-3 weeks now, but not all stores are yet occupied. The Automobile Museum will open in March 2011. However, this could be a major boost for a neighborhood that really needs one and it seems like a brave move on the part of the developer. The main entrance is located at the corner of Ioulianou St. & 3is (Tritis) Septemvriou St, while there seems to be a smaller entrance - not yet finished - on Patission St. (see previous post on Patission St.), just one block from the National Archeological Museum.
  • The largest urban park in central Athens (Pedion Areos) was re-opened to the public, on New Year's Eve, after a 3 year long architectural and landscaping renovation. There are still works going on inside the park but the outgoing politicians needed to "inaugurate" it before they left office :)
  • The opening, just a month ago, of the long-awaited Onassis Cultural Centre (of the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation) which has programmed a real smorgasbord of events, shows and lectures.
  • Last but not least, some major art exhibits are being hosted in Athens galleries and museums. Among these: the exhibition, at the Benaki Museum (Pireos Building) on the work of 20th century Greek painter, architect and landscape architect Dimitris Pikionis, who is credited with the landscape work around the foothills of the Athens Acropolis, in the 1950s; an exhibition in the National Gallery hosting paintings from the Petit Palais Museum in Paris, titled "Paris 1900 - Art Nouveau and Modernism". 
Did anyone say "crisis"?

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