Saturday, March 31, 2018

Greek Easter--The Drama Begins

I first posted this in April of 2010, when Orthodox Easter and Catholic Easter happened to fall on the same day.  This year Greek Easter is celebrated a week later than Catholic Easter.  Why? Because Orthodox Easter has to happen after Passover.  So we usually get to buy our Easter goodies at half price.  But not the paschal lamb.  I've already ordered our lamb from Bahnan's, described below.   This blog post seems to be becoming an annual tradition, so I'd like to start today to wish Happy Easter  to all and to our Greek friends, Kahlo Pascha!

Next Friday is Good Friday on the Orthodox calendar and in a Greek household that means we can’t eat dairy or meat (that’s been going on for 40 days) and also we can’t eat oil, so on Good Fridays we usually end up surviving on things like plain baked potatoes and peanut butter on crackers.

But the Big Eleni, who lives with us and is the best cook in the world, has all sorts of “fasting” food ready for Holy Week, which starts on April 2 with "Clean Monday".  She's cooking up Halvah, stuffed grape leaves, rice-stuffed tomatoes, taramasalata (made from fish roe) and some sort of artichoke/spinach/ hummus concoction. And boiled shrimp.

Next Thursday, April 5, will also mark the annual dramatic journey into Worcester to collect the lamb which we ordered from Bahnan’s Market on 344 Pleasant Street. As you can see from the first sign below, the people at Bahnan’s are ready to sell you your Easter needs in four languages: English, Greek, Turkish and Arabic.

And they  have a café where, according to local Greeks, you can get the only authentic gyros for miles around.

Shopping at Bahnan’s is like a visit to the United Nations, but on Easter week it’s like several festivals rolled into one.

There is usually a considerable line of people waiting to get into the refrigerated back room to receive the lamb they had ordered and have it cut up to their specifications.   By Friday afternoon the line will be out the door.

I don’t last long in the refrigerated room, because of the cold and the proximity of all those lamb corpses, some of which look the size of a small horse. (Our lamb will be very small—20 to 25 pounds.)

I usually escape before the butcher starts sawing,  but this process is still easier than some early Easters in Nick’s northern Greek village, when the adorable baby goats were tied to each house’s front door knob and my offspring loved petting them. Then I had to drag the children, (all three under age ten) out of town on Holy Saturday to prevent them seeing the general bloodshed as the baby goats were slaughtered and blood ran in the street.

In the village on Easter Sunday you see spits outside every house, each one tended by the patriarch who is drinking homemade moonshine called Raki and having a good time. We sometimes do the lamb on the spit outside in Grafton, but not when Easter comes with weather this cold.

In the photos above you see the Big Eleni shopping for Greek cheese at Bahnan’s. She's about to make our large round Tsoureki bread with the red egg in the middle. And on Holy Thursday, as always, we will dye dozens of eggs red for the Saturday-night egg-cracking duel, after we all return from the midnight church service,  when you challenge everyone – saying “Christ is risen” “Indeed he is risen”. Crack! And whoever’s egg comes out the winner gets the other guy’s egg.

On Holy Saturday, we will all go to church very early and without consuming as much as a drop of water beforehand. We line up to take communion and then are free for the first time in seven weeks to eat dairy (not meat. Not yet. But we are free to rush to the Pancake House where we traditionally stuff ourselves with high-calorie breakfast treats that have been forbidden for weeks.)

Then it’s back to church again at midnight.—for the dramatic Midnight Mass on Saturday night when the church is plunged into darkness and the priest comes out at the exact stroke of midnight with a single candle and announces ‘Christ is risen!” Then the flame passes from his candle to everyone else’s and the church fills with light as we sing the Resurrection hymn: “Christos anesti!” We try to keep our candles lit as we drive home to break the Lenten fast by cracking eggs and eating the delicate dill-and-egg-lemon soup called "mayeritsa" made by the Big Eleni out of the lamb's intestines.

(Actually, she doesn’t put in the intestines, because she knows that our kids would never eat it. In fact two are vegetarians. And after my visits to pick up the lamb, I understand perfectly.)

I hope wherever you are celebrating Easter or Passover -- in any language – you are enjoying spring weather. Here in Massachusetts, they're predicting snow in two days on everybody else's Easter.  So when the Greek Easter Bunny comes around on Sunday April 8, he will probably have to hide the Easter eggs inside instead of outside this year.  But the azaleas and the forsythia, as well as the crocuses, will be in bloom by then, so whether you're celebrating Passover or Easter this weekend or Orthodox Easter next Sunday, let me wish you  "Kalo Pascha!"  (And don't put away the snow shovels yet!)

Friday, March 23, 2018

Billionaire's Yacht "Guilty" , the Island of Hydra & Michael Jackson in Art

Four years ago today, on March 23, 2014, I republished this essay about modern art and a very strange yacht I saw on the island of Hydra--a  story I originally posted in 2010, thus scooping The New York Times by four years.

Today's (March 23, 2014) issue of the New York Times Style Magazine--Travel--has a cover story on the Island of Hydra, Greece, and especially the famous and eccentric yacht of Dakis Joannou, who is described by the Times as a "billionaire Greek art collector" and "one of the most famous men in this part of the Aegean".

Just wanted to point out that, if you are a "Rolling Crone" reader, you read all about this wild and crazy yacht and its owner nearly four years ago on this blog.  And, unlike the Times' author of  "Beyond the Sea",  Lawrence Osborne, I got the lead on the yacht and its owner from one of the donkey drivers on Hydra's harbor, who wait around to carry visitors' suitcases up the hill because there are no motorized vehicles on the island.

Hydra is one of our favorite islands, which we visit nearly every year--On one visit we found ourselves talking to a couple who turned out to be Leonard Cohen's former in-laws!

In case you missed the original post on the yacht "Guilty" on July 5, 2010, I'm re-posting it below.

Is it a Yacht or a Floating Museum?

When we were on the Greek island of Hydra recently, I saw a very peculiar-looking yacht dock in the harbor. I had never seen a boat of that shape and certainly not one decorated with what seemed to be pop art. Painted across the stern was the name “Guilty.” I thought it might be the ill-gotten prize of some hedge-fund manager who had been convicted of a white-collar crime, a la Bernie Madoff.

So I took some photos of the mysterious yacht and then asked the nearest donkey driver whose it was. (Those donkey drivers know everything because they stand around the harbor all day waiting for people to hire them to move suitcases and baggage up the hill to their hotel or destination. There are no vehicles on Hydra, only donkeys.)

He told me that the yacht belonged to a very rich Greek who owned two side- by-side houses up above the harbor. But he didn’t know his name.

When I walked back to the Hotel Leto, I typed the words “yacht” and “Guilty” into Google and learned that the peculiar sea craft belonged to a very influential Greek art collector named Dakis Ioannou (or “Joannou” – it depends on how you translate the Greek alphabet.)

I also learned that he had launched the yacht two years earlier, in Athens, at a party attended by the most important art dealers and contemporary artists of the day. The exterior of the yacht had been decorated by Ioannou’s friend, the artist Jeff Koons.

I wrote about Koons’ life-sized statue of Michael Jackson and his chimp Bubbles a year ago, in a posting about how Michael Jackson’s death had inflated the price of Michael Jackson art.

I quoted from a New York Times article about Koons: ““His 1988 sculpture of Mr. Jackson with Bubbles was decorated with gold metallic paint and brought $5.6 million when it sold at Sotheby’s in New York in 2001. Larry Gagosian, the New York dealer who represents Mr. Koons, said on Wednesday that if one from the edition (he made three along with an artist’s proof) was to come up for sale now, it could make more than $20 million. ‘And that’s conservative,’ he added.”

Ioannou, who reportedly made his money in construction, is an extremely influential collector of works of modern art. I believe he owns 20 of Koons’ super-expensive sculptures. The masterpieces he chooses are often macabre and gory He said at the launching of his yacht, “ “These are dark times. The artists recognize that. We should, too.”

Although the exterior of the ship looks like a Roy Lichtenstein cartoon-painting, the Koons told Art Forum that it was based on a World War I camouflage pattern designed to confuse rather than hide.

The magazine reported: “The dizzying, chromatic graphics did make the unusually jutting planes of the ship, designed by architect Ivana Porfiri, hard to make out on the water. The touchy-feely interior was all mirror, silver leather, and dyed materials. ‘Isn’t it wonderful how you just want to touch everything on board?’ Koons asked, smiling. … The decor also included a lot of art… including wall paintings by David Shrigley, another by Albenda, and Guilty, an unusual text painting by Sarah Morris bought because, well, Joannou said, “I had to.” The yacht already had the name. “Guilty,” he said. “It just seemed right.”

Here is a photograph of the piece which now lives in the yacht along with a lot of other expensive works from his collection.

I have to say that, unlike Ioannou, I was not struck by an irresistible urge to buy this painting when I saw it—but then I really don’t understand much of the art that is currently fashionable.

After leaving Hydra, I picked up an airline magazine—I think it was on an Aegean plane—and learned that at the same moment, a collection of Ioannou’s art was being shown in New York at the New Museum. The exhibit was called “Skin Fruit” and was curated by—guess who?-- Jeff Koons. It included 100 works by “50 world-famous artists” from Ioannou’s private collection. According to the magazine, “It’s an exciting exploration of archetype symbols of genesis, evolution and human sexuality. …The exhibition tells the story of humanity’s beginnings. It’s like a fantastic universe imagined by Stanley Kubrick, Tim Burton and David Lynch, filled with twin towers of white chocolate, warped playground swings, androids and demons. Murals, paintings, installations, performance pieces, 3D pieces and live dramatized scenes of human passion make up a stunning display.”

Unfortunately, the exhibit in New York finished on June 20, so I won’t be able to see all the drama, but in the meantime I and the donkeys of Hydra enjoyed our accidental encounter with Mr. Ioannou’s yacht-as-modern art.