Writer Sofka Zinovieff explores Athens in a quest to understand this complex, seductive city. She visits unusual places and meets Athenians, native and adopted: from singers, poets and graffiti writers to architects, journalists and chefs. This podcast is co-funded by Greece and the European Union.
Eighth episode: From benefactors to buskers
How high & low cultures co-exist. The financial crisis hit Athens hard, but the arts flourished - against the odds. Germany’s massive Documenta14 arts festival transferred to Athens, ambitious cultural foundations mushroomed and street arts blossomed. Sofka visits the new Niarchos cultural centre and talks with magazine publisher Sudha Nair Iliades about big benefactors. Shipping magnates Onassis and Niarchos were rivals in love; their foundations now compete over their cultural legacies. We go to the lively neighbourhood of Psirri and seek out street art with George Papamattheakis. British cellist Chris Humphrys joined the ‘Camerata’ or Armonia Atenea orchestra when it was founded 30 years ago. He discusses classical music and plays us Bach in a park. Finally, we dance our way out with Balkan brass band Agia Fanfara and street music.
Seventh episode: Birth and death the Athenian way
Greek Orthodoxy and its customs. Athenians remain attached to the traditions of the Orthodox Church. Prize-winning poet American poet A.E. Stallings walks us around the First Cemetery – a beautiful sculpture park that reveals the Athenian way of death. And we visit Papios, a shop selling kollyva or food for mourning the dead. Sofka calls up her koumbara (Georgina Solo, the mother of her goddaughter) to discuss why what anthropologists call ‘spiritual kinship’ is so important. Greek baptisms often involve a level of drama and UK cellist Chris Humphrys revisits the church where he experienced full immersion as an adult. Why are name days more significant than birthdays and what part do priests play in removing the evil eye?
Sixth episode: Songs and poems
From popular songs to great poets. Sofka meets Lysandros Falireas, founder of the fusion band Imam Baildi. They unpack how the Asia Minor refugees of 1922 established rembetika (or ‘Greek blues’) in Athens. The celebrated singer Elly Paspala discusses her collaboration with two of the greatest Greek composers: Mikis Theodorakis and Manos Xatzidakis and how they used poetry from Nobel-prize-winning Greek poets. Former UK Ambassador, John Kittmer, reveals his deep love for the poet Yiannis Ritsos who collaborated with Theodorakis when both were imprisoned by the Junta. Finally, translator and bicycle tour guide Joshua Barley dives into why dimotika traditional village ‘folk’ songs are so popular in Athens.
Fifth episode: Taking to the streets
From ancient philosophers and open-air cinema to protest marches and street dogs. Athenians have always lived much of their lives outdoors. Writer and journalist Bruce Clark gives the long view back to Socrates, and we drop by the former gasworks Technopolis to learn from Anna Gagga about summer concerts. Legendary Guardian correspondent Helena Smith meets Sofka in central Syntagma Square to look back over the many protests and celebrations that have happened there. Foteini Pipi reveals how Athens Pride is changing attitudes towards the LGBTQ community. We unpack the political and cultural significance of Athens’ Polytechnic and the edgy neighbourhood of Exarchia with Architect Stavros Martinos. And we hear the secret confessions of a graffiti tagger.
Fourth episode: Feasting and fasting
From Farmers’ markets to kite-flying picnics. Athenians love their weekly street markets and chef and food writer Carolina Doriti takes Sofka around one to discuss Athenian culinary habits. Seasonal cooking, the monastery tradition and a recent return to traditions. Author and cookery writer Diana Farr Louis picks wild greens in a park. Why are horta the popular basis of the Mediterranean diet, while also provoking collective memories of hunger? The Greek calendar is filled with fasting days, but the first day of Lent has become a joyful opportunity to have a picnic feast and fly a kite. Sofka tries to ‘bottle’ Athens as a perfume. From ‘high notes’ of herbs and bitter orange blossom, there’s Frankincense and a plume of traffic fumes.
Third episode: A city of villages
Athens as a collection of villagers, refugees and outsiders. Few Athenians are so-called ‘True Athenians.’ Author and journalist Diane Shugart walks Sofka around the changing neighbourhood of Pangrati to discuss this, the ‘15-minute city’ and why the kiosk or periptero is so significant. Anthropologist Roxane Caftanzoglou reveals how Anafiotika, under the Acropolis, was built by islanders from Anafi. Refugees are nothing new in Athens. Historian Nikos Nikolaides unpacks the traumas of the Greek refugees fleeing Turkey in the 1922 ‘Catastrophe.’ From Armenians in Neos Kosmos to Syrians in Kypseli, where Marina Liakis discusses how she started the NGO Zaa’tar with its refuge and falafel café, Tastes of Damascus. At the Victoria Square Project there are community arts projects for all. Young director Niovi Zarambouka-Chatzimanou says, ‘We do not talk about refugees and migrants inside our space; we talk about neighbours.’
Thoughtful, researched, entertaining. Beautiful work and beautifully produced. The perfect listen before a trip to Greece or to visit virtually. I listened to each episode 3x, learning and getting inspired.
I am so enjoying this series and the previous one—We’ll Always Have Athens. I only wish there were links included in the show notes for the fascinating places, people and food mentioned.
Hooked from the first episode!
As a Greek American who has been visiting Athens my whole life, I am enchanted by this intelligent, passionate, and insightful introduction to Athens. I can’t wait to hear upcoming episodes and learn more about some of the quirkier or lesser-known aspects of this beautiful city and its history.