The arts and EU presidency attract Hellenic Quarterly

“Greece in a nutshell» might well summarize what «Hellenic Quarterly: A Review of Greek social, economic and cultural life» is all about. This little periodical of ambitiously broad scope, timely publication schedule and stubbornly iffy prose has become a fixture on newsstands and bookstores catering to English speakers in Greece. It fills a niche (that stock aim of seemingly any publication these days) and covers a dauntingly wide range of subjects. It really is a window onto, and into, the Greek world. The current issue, its 16th – how time flies – treads some familiar layout, stylistic, and thematic territory, while improving in some, if not all, important areas. Once again it has a good mix of non-fiction, with the current Greek presidency of the EU as this issue’s timely cover feature, and fiction items. The bulk of the contents is devoted to the arts, covering both programs like the Cultural Olympiad and the Thessaloniki Film Festival as well as individual artists. One innovative change this time round is the inclusion, in several places, of selected reviews from journals and the Greek press of some accomplished directors, musicians and actors. It is good to get a smattering of other opinion, as such figures may not be fully appreciated through an interview or single retrospective. Good, crisp abstract artwork also appears throughout, another welcome touch to the occasionally heavy-going prose, while the poetry snippets that appear at intervals are, as always, refreshing and thought-provoking. The non-fiction pieces focus on issues before the European Union and the current Greek presidency, opening (as is customary) with a ministerial statement, this time from Vasso Papandreou, on the importance of the environment, followed by two measured academic discussions of the future of Europe by Panos Kazakos and Constantine Stephanou, and two more articles looking at the economic side of the ledger (on Greek business and post-Olympics infrastructure use). A couple of tangentially related but worthy pieces conclude this section; one on a pilot child-vaccination venture (somehow linking UNICEF and Greece’s Cultural Olympiad) and the other an interview with Angeliki Sifaki-Vassilaki, nursing services director at the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Center, who injects spirit into the notion of genuine public service in often maligned but crucial medical services.   For all this, some of these selections have had their relevance undercut by the quick flow of events. It’s now late May, but the presidency-related pieces were clearly written in 2002; a war, a transatlantic rupture, and a currency crisis have all imposed themselves since, making much of this material, even though still recent, seem curiously dated. That is not the editors’ fault, naturally, but it does reflect the risks of highlighting transient events in a quarterly. And Ioannis Spanoudakis’s piece on the post-Olympics possibilities trumpets Athens 2004’s personnel and informational exchanges with China, 2008 Olympics host, a program that has since been thrown into question by the recent SARS crisis. Film a focus Happily, culture as generally understood is less time-sensitive than that, and there is more than enough film, literary, and music-oriented content here to fill out a volume in itself. The many book reviews provide good wide coverage of contemporary Greek publications, both fiction and non-fiction. There are also extracts from, for example, the late Spiros Plaskovitis and from Rhea Galanaki’s «Age of Labyrinths,» which tells of the Cretan Minos Kalokerinos, who had «an Arabian mare of graceful build and delicate ankles, a marvel sent directly by a Greek wholesale merchant from Alexandria in payment for a shipload of scented soap from his soap factory». It also includes reviews of Lexi, a literary magazine launched in 1981 that few outsiders know about, including a look at one issue that focused on the naive painter Theophilos, born in 1868, who had to overcome the traumas of exclusion – on the basis of being born left-handed. This volume focuses more than usual on the world of Greek film, with a profile of last November’s Thessaloniki Film Festival and profiles of filmmakers like Pantelis Voulgaris («a moviemaker of loneliness») and the more youthful Yiannis Leontaris, and actors (profile and outside reviews of Aleka Paizi). The prolific musician/composer Eleni Karaindrou is also enthusiastically feted. In both these sections (film and literature), the richness and diversity of Greek culture is apparent, but so are the occasional difficulties of transferring this essence into other languages and cultures. The anti-war statement in the opening editorial leaves no doubt about the magazine’s editorial convictions but doesn’t really connect with what follows.   The familiar also rears its head in the labored syntax and odd spellings and transliterations that crop up again and again. This ranges from headlines («Greek Bussines Community») to names of the famous (the «Zacharov Prize,» among whose recipients was «Alexander Dubtseck») to broader references («valid observers»). With hundreds of names throughout these 120-odd pages, it is almost impossible to get all of them right. But it would also take little effort to try, whether via an Internet search engine or the help of a native speaker with some background knowledge; and such effort would pay off in terms of regained credibility.

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