28 September 2006

Team Greece winning uphill battle for survival

In that regard, the members of Greece's national hockey team and the rest of its small, close-knit hockey community were just like players the world over. Once upon a time, they never thought their toughest battle would be to simply have a place to play. But circumstances beyond their control left them without a single viable rink in their country and no funding for the national hockey program.

That's when a determined group of Greek hockey players, driven only by their love of the game and desire to play for their country and for one another, banded together. They fought both for the survival of their team and of hockey in their homeland.

Since 2003, Greece has been just one of one three European countries without a rink in the country, along with Albania and Malta. But the players of Team Greece have gone to extraordinary lengths to stay together on and off the ice. All the while, they've lobbied anyone who'll listen for a place to practice and play in their country.

The story of the Greek ice hockey team starts in the mid-1980s. In 1984, a group of Greek nationals returned home from hockey countries abroad to form the first national league in Greece. Soon the league consisted of five teams of amateur players; two in Athens, one in Pireus, one in Salonica and one in Chalkida. The first official game was played the following year in Athens.

Over the next four years, the rag-tag league gained better organization and stronger infrastructure for training. In 1989, the first Greek ice hockey championships took place on an Olympic-sized ice surface at Peace and Friendship Stadium, marking the first time organized hockey games were played on an International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) regulation-sized rink.

With growing youth participation in the sport, the Hellenic Ice Sports Federation formed the first Greek national junior hockey team in 1990. The team participated in the IIHF Pool C World Junior Championships in Yugoslavia. The next year, Team Greece took part in the IIHF Under-20 tournament held in Italy.

In 1992, the first adult-level version of Team Greece took shape shortly before the upcoming IIHF Pool C World Championships in South Africa. Despite having only two weeks of serious training, the squad won the bronze medal in the tournament.

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17 September 2006

Church Treasures of Cyprus

After the occupation of northern Cyprus by Turkish forces in 1974, looters stripped the region's churches, removing several dozen major frescoes and mosaics dating from the sixth to the fifteenth century, an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 icons, and thousands of chalices, wood carvings, crucifixes, and bibles. Recovery efforts by the Church of Cyprus and the Republic of Cyprus have resulted in the return of some pieces through acquisition, trial, and seizure.

A major break came this past October when Munich police arrested 60-year-old Aydin Dikman, a central figure in the looting and selling of the church treasures. The cooperation of Dikman's former associate, Dutch art dealer Michel van Rijn, with Cypriot and German authorities made the arrest possible. By his own account, van Rijn, who claims descent from both Rembrandt and Rubens and has been convicted in France of forging Chagall's signature, had realized the error of his ways and wished to make amends by helping recover the artworks.

In apartments owned and rented by Dikman, police found Cypriot frescoes, mosaics, and icons, ancient coins, Precolumbian pottery, stolen paintings, and an unauthenticated Picasso. Police estimate the artworks and artifacts to be worth more than $60 million. If convicted of possessing and trafficking in stolen goods, Dikman faces up to 15 years in jail in Germany. Cyprus has requested his extradition.

Dikman's participation in the depredation of Cypriot heritage in the occupied part of the island was suspected as early as 1982, when reporter Mehmet Yasin, in the Turkish Cypriot weekly magazine Olay, identified him as an antiquities smuggler. It was not until 1989 that the extent of his role became somewhat clearer through testimony in the Goldberg case, a legal battle in federal court in Indianapolis over Byzantine mosaics from Cyprus. That nearly nine years passed before his arrest can be explained partly by Dikman's efforts to keep a low profile, working through dealers and seldom meeting directly with those who purchased items from him. Furthermore, those who knew that he was selling looted Cypriot artworks did not reveal his identity to authorities out of fear of personal retribution, concern that antiquities would be destroyed to do away with evidence, or unwillingness to jeopardize potential future acquisitions.
There have been three major recoveries of church treasures, and in each case the artworks, particularly the frescoes and mosaics, have been damaged and are in urgent need of conservation.

The first recovery came in the mid-1980s when the Menil Foundation of Houston, with Cypriot government and church authority approval, purchased from Dikman the thirteenth-century frescoes of Christ Pantokrator ("All Sovereign") and the Virgin with the archangels Michael and Gabriel from the Church of St. Themonianos near the village of Lysi. In June 1983 Dominique de Menil, Walter Hopps (then director of the Menil Collection), and Yanni Petsopoulos, a London dealer acting as an intermediary, met Dikman in Munich and examined two fresco fragments in one of his apartments. Dikman claimed the frescoes were from a ruined church in southern Turkey that was bulldozed during construction of a resort. They suspected that Dikman was lying, and in late June, the foundation engaged Herbert Brownell, a former United States attorney general, to investigate the legality of the acquisition. Brownell sent an inquiry letter and photographs of the frescoes to eight countries in lands once part of the Byzantine Empire. On September 6, 1983, Cyprus replied, identifying them as coming from the Church of St. Themonianos. De Menil contacted Vassos Karageorghis, then director of Cyprus' department of antiquities. By November 11, an understanding was reached whereby the Menil Foundation would acquire and restore the frescoes on behalf of the Church of Cyprus, which would then lend them to the foundation for an extended period.

The fragments were sent from Munich to London, where conservator Laurence J. Morrocco worked on them. The fresco of Christ Pantokrator had been cut from the church dome in 26 pieces, the Virgin from the apse in 12. Restoring them was nearly impossible because there were no measurements of the original structure (the church, in a military zone in the occupied area, was considered inaccessible), and the fresco fragments had lost their original curvature. To reconstruct the dome and apse, it was first necessary to determine their exact size and shape, then the appropriate curvature could be restored to the fragments so they would fit together on the curved surfaces. The process took three and one-half years.

In November 1987, as the restoration was nearing completion, Morrocco traveled to occupied Cyprus and surreptitiously visited the church to measure the dome and apse. He described what he found in a 1991 account of his work:

It was very strange for me to see the place where the frescoes had come from. It was as if it had just happened: the saw cuts were still visible in the plaster left behind when the fragments were ripped off. I could see how the thieves had cut crudely around the circumference of the base of the dome, leaving the angels' ankles and feet on the wall. Small pieces of the fresco lay scattered around the floor amidst dirt, straw, and sheep droppings.

Once the frescoes were reassembled, decisions had to be made about treating the damaged areas. The saw cuts were restored as invisibly as possible, but the larger missing areas, such as those around the base of the dome and in the lower part of the apse, were filled in with a dark color.

In April 1988, the reconstructed dome and apse frescoes were packed into large crates for the flight to Houston. In November 1997, nearly 14 years after they were bought from Dikman, the restored frescoes, housed in a specially constructed chapel consecrated by Archbishop Chrysostomos I, were put on display. According to a deposition taken for the Goldberg trial, Petsopoulos had offered the frescoes to the foundation for $850,000; the final price has not been disclosed. The conservation costs, according to Cypriot sources, were about $1 million.

Read more at > Special Report: Church Treasures of Cyprus

13 September 2006

Why I Wrote Two Plays About Phaidra

Your faces, I don't understand them. At night I stand at the back of the theater. I watch you suck in sex, death, devastation, hour after hour in a weird kind of unresisting infant heat, then for no reason you cool, flicker out. I guess for no reason is an arrogant thing to say. For no reason I can name is what I mean. It was a few years ago now I gave you a woman, a real mouthful of salt and you like salt. Her story, Phaidra's story, that old story, came in as a free wave and crashed on your beach. I don't understand, I could never have pre- dicted, your hatred of this woman. It's true she fell in love with someone wrong for her but half the heroines of your literature do that, Helen, Echo, Io, Agave, all of them.

So, Phaidra – a work in motion, surpassing her, surpassing itself - disappears again and again into Phaidra after Phaidra, but in this so-called second version. I wrote it to show how that feels. Phaidraless world. Her great soul withdrawn, the story goes through its tricks in a weak voltage of vicious reactions and bad piety, which I hope will amuse you but this fact remains, there is no shock in it anywhere except Aphrodite. Aphrodite is pure shock. When she comes onstage in the prologue and tells you about a few simple stitches she is going to take in the lives of Phaidra, Hippolytos and Theseus, you feel the salt of absolute cruelty sting your face. That needle flashes in and out of living skulls. I guess by the time I came to write the prologue (I usually write the prologue last) I had pretty much given up on saving Phaidra, the real one. But there is a residue of her gone down into Aphrodite's anger. It is sexual anger. Or is all anger sexual? Remember (if you saw the first play) the advice Phaidra gives to her pale groaning husband when he confronts her about the boy:

Phaidra: Instead of fire – another fire, not just a drop of cunt sweat! is what we women are – you cannot fight it.

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8 September 2006

Balls to Picasso's masculinity

For years, Picasso identifies with the image of the minotaur and once went so far as to describe the bull-man archetype as analogous to himself. This mythical creature is conveniently revived from ancient Greece as a grandiose pretext for showing off; for it allows Picasso to hang upon the human frame the formidable head and testicles of a bull.

What kind of courage did it really take Picasso to advertise his randy instincts? How can his manifest indulgence - supported by an establishment of collectors and museums - be construed as an act of resistance?

Never was ancient myth so prostituted in the service of an artist's delusion, and never were such fantasies turned so successfully to the marketing of conceit and the pomposity of genius. How can we celebrate all that big-headedness, especially when transacted in an age of mass extermination?

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Amazon wins race to offer online movies

Amazon.com beat Apple to the punch Thursday with a new service that lets customers download movies to their computers and take them for on-the-go viewing on portable media players -- but not on Apple iPods.

The Amazon Unbox service is expected to compete head-to-head with Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes store, which already offers music videos and TV shows and is expected to include full-length movie downloads soon.

The companies' race to launch their movie services reflects the changing ways consumers are getting their entertainment.

But industry analysts questioned the prospects of Amazon's new service because it won't work on iPods and it could be cumbersome to transfer the technology to the family room TV.

Amazon officials, however, were giddy about partnering with more than 30 studios and networks to offer its customers thousands of titles, including some TV series episodes available the day after they first run. Those will go for $1.99 per episode, while most movies will cost $7.99 to $14.99, Amazon said. Movies also can be rented for $3.99, about what consumers pay at video stores.

With the Unbox, consumers can download a video with a DVD-quality picture, Amazon said. It would enable consumers to buy a show using one personal computer, such as at the office, and download it to another, likely at home. The shows would work on any Microsoft Windows Media video-compatible portable device, including Creative Zen Vision:M.

Read the story at > Amazon wins race to offer online movies

3 September 2006

Spain thump Greece to claim crown

Spain shrugged off the loss of injured star Pau Gasol to thrash Greece 70-47 and claim the World Basketball Championship title for the first time.

It was Spain's first medal in global competition since the 1984 Olympics, and they went through the tournament undefeated, winning all nine matches.

Greece could not reproduce the form which shocked the USA in the semis.

Read more at > Spain thump Greece to claim crown

2 September 2006

In odyssey, Greek wasn't their hero

Phantasmagorical. In a word, that's what it was.

Homer, the old Greek scribbler, would have relished this 3-hour-48-minute rewrite of his "Odyssey". Though only a tennis match, the wandering of two combatants called Andre and Marcos through a variety of perils along the treacherous way to the third round of the US Open was high melodrama in five acts that seduced countless viewers. They watched across the globe via the electronic Cyclops, TV, or were eyewitnesses in the amphitheater honoring an earlier battler, Arthur Ashe.

Those in the immediate Flushing Meadows audience formed a Greek chorus of 23,736 voices -- but they were not there to praise the young Greek Cypriot , Marcos Baghdatis. Far from it. Their hero was the ancient one, a wielder of a gut-strung scepter, the Armenian-blooded Andre Agassi. They let Baghdatis know it every sneakered step of the way from Thursday night into yesterday morning.

Such a loud and raucous clamor of feverish adulation and hero worship hadn't been raised here since 1991, when another beloved ancient, James Scott Connors, 39, was bashing his way improbably to the semifinals. Jimmy, like 36-year-old Andre, was a midnight man, forcing his foes to toil -- fruitlessly -- from one day into the next, winding up the faithful like cuckoo clocks.

But at the juncture of midnight, the chorus was wary and worried because the Greek had just struck one of his 23 aces and another of his 12 service winners to pull even, 3-3, in the climactic fifth act. Baghdatis, the bearded belter, seemed the killjoy who would take down Agassi like the whirlpool, Charybdis, that threatened Homer's main man, Odysseus.

The beguiling nail-biter, twisting and turning like Charybdis, and changing directions often, suspensefully lurched toward Baghdatis three games before the curtain. He was one point from virtual victory four times. But the Greek gods -- Zeus & Co. -- must, curiously, have turned their eyes away from Baghdatis and gleamingly onto Agassi, the triumphant: 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 5-7, 7-5.

Read more at > In odyssey, Greek wasn't their hero

1 September 2006

Greece sizzles while U.S. shooters struggle

Our Greek National Basketball Team has made us proud again!

Greece 101 - USA 95

The Greeks (8-0) can add a world title to the European championship they won in 2005 with a victory over either Spain or Argentina in Sunday's gold medal game. Those teams, also undefeated, met in Friday's second game.

"They played like a champion plays," United States forward Shane Battier said of Greece.

"Basketball is not just about dribbling and shooting," said Greece coach Panagiotis Yannakis, who took a congratulatory call from Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis after the game. "You can come off the bench with a clear mind and give the best of your talent and that's what our players did today."

The Greeks - with no current NBA players on their roster - danced in a circle at halfcourt after their victory over an American team put together after a series of recent failures.

"Big players play big games," said guard Theodoros Papaloukas, the MVP of the European final who had 12 assists Friday. "And today I think we played very good."

Read the Fox Sports article > Greece sizzles while U.S. shooters struggle