Christmas reading with a Greek flavor

One way to find a great gift for a book-lover is to go for the latest publications. Kathimerini English Edition checked the current crop from Greek publishers. Our short list covers fiction, memoirs, art, photography, history, hiking and cookery. NIKOS KONSTANDARAS Michalis Katsigeras’s «Greece in the 20th Century: The Front Pages» (Ellada 20os Aionas: Oi Protes Selides) is just out in a second printing by Potamos, making the mammoth review of a century of headline news available to more readers. The book presents 357 front pages from 1900 to 1999, including newspapers that were published outside of Greece (in Cyprus, the rest of Europe, the United States, the Soviet Union, Turkey and Africa), and some of which were illegal at the time. For anyone interested in the history of Greece over the turbulent past century, this book presents the great historical moments as well as the perennial and temporary obsessions of the Greeks. But, more than that, it shows how the Greeks saw those events as they were taking place. Katsigeras, whose commentary appears at the bottom of each page, knows both his history and his newspapers: He has been Kathimerini’s front-page editor for many years and is the author of the «50 Years Ago Today» column which appears daily. A. KOROXENIDIS An unusual collection of late 19th and early 20th century postcards from Greece and the Balkans which its owner Philip Betancourt, professor of art history at Temple University and an archaeologist specializing in Minoan Crete, donated to the American School of Classical Studies at Athens is presented in «Greece and Her Neighbors in Historic Postcards: 1895-1920,» recently published by Potamos in collaboration with the American School of Classical Studies. Foreworded by Michael Llewellyn Smith, the book offers rare images documenting aspects of social, political and economic life during a period marked by crucial historical changes for Greece. There are images that were issued by the government as political propaganda, images that were destined for the travel industry or portraits made by photographic studios. Most of the images published in the book are from Greece. Ancient monuments seem to be the prevailing theme here, with some exceptions that capture modernity; the 1896 and 1906 Olympic Games held in Athens are an example. By contrast, the images from Turkey and other eastern Ottoman provinces lay emphasis on folklore and the picturesque. An unusual and sophisticated book, the Potamos publication, cleverly designed in the rectangular form of a postcard, casts light on the course of modernity in the Balkans. A volume devoted to the work of contemporary Greek artist George Lappas was recently published, in English only, by Futura: «George Lappas: Maqams of Blood and Maqams of Milk.» One of the most trendy names in Greek publishing, Futura specializes in contemporary cultural issues and is known for unusual layouts and book designs. The book on Lappas is filled with large images that sprawl throughout the entire page. It is meant to be read cinematically, as a flow of large images that follow one another in a carefully orchestrated succession. The text itself is almost completely visual, particularly as the size and color of the font differ in the essays included in the book. A broad selection of essays offer different views into the artist’s work. Two interviews with Lappas also help put across his ideas. One of only a few books on contemporary Greek artists put out by Greek publishers, this book fills the gaps in contemporary art Greek publications. VIVIENNE NILAN «Greek Color» offers just that. Photographer Nikos Desyllas has captured Greece at its most colorful in his new volume for Synolo Publications, available in separate Greek and English editions. From the classic blues of sea, sky and painted woodwork, to the splendid russets of autumn in Epirus, the pale pink and gold of sunset on Amorgos, and the lichen-tinged stone dwellings of the Mani, Desyllas records quintessentially Greek visual moments. Simple interiors, cats, fishing boats, white-washed chapels and the character-filled faces of villagers and islanders complete the picture. Nothing new here, but a genuine picture nonetheless of Greek beauty both simple and grand, in all its variety. Kathimerini’s Nikos Vatopoulos contributed a thoughtful preface on the timeless landscape of Greece and the far-reaching changes wrought upon it by urbanization and modernization. Of the myriad cookbooks on offer, here’s one that is redolent of its birthplace: «Tastes of the Dodecanese,» published by the Dodecanese Tourism Organization and Topio Publications and available in Greek, English and German editions. The recipes sound scrumptious and the instructions are straightforward. Squid stuffed with rice, octopus rissoles, baked mullet, fried hare with garlic cream and marinated liver are tempting choices, while greens – fried pot herbs from Kos, potato with garlic cream for Kasos – and pulses – chick pea rissoles from Leros or a lentil dish called arantista from Astypalia – round out the Mediterranean diet. There’s a cheese made on Rhodes with a little yeast and another from Kos made with wine. Sesame, olives, mastic and onion add flavor to different kinds of bread from Rhodes. Try Patmian apidakia, pear-shaped pastries made of almonds, Karpathian zembilia pastries with mastic, spices and dried fruit or Lazarakia pastries from Kastellorizo in the shape of Lazarus. Just out from Kastantiotis is «My Childhood Years,» edited by Thanassis Niarchos. Niarchos interviewed 24 men and women aged 70 and over who have made an impact on Greek life about their childhood, and it makes compelling reading. Manolis Glezos, famed for his heroic action in bringing down the Nazi flag from the Acropolis in occupied Athens, proves to be a true son of Apeiranthos on Naxos. His courage and altruism chime with the ethics of his native village, with its history of resisting tyranny and sharing prosperity. Among the highlights, Menis Koumandareas recounts memories of life in a wealthy Athenian family; Mikis Theodorakis attributes his optimism and confidence to a happy youth amid an affectionate family that loved books and music; and Jules Dassin relates scenes from childhood where his close-knit family triumphed over deprivation. KATERINA VOUSSOURA A breeze of nostalgia blows through Maria Karavia’s latest book, «The Children of the Wilderness» (published by Kastaniotis), a collection of short stories presenting images of what Greece was like until a couple of decades ago. Each story features either a prominent personality of the past or places that still maintain the customs and atmosphere that prevailed before tourism and commercialization set in. Don’t expect historical accuracy; but if you are looking for a rather romantic outlook on what the author considers to be genuine «Greekness» then this book will be of interest to you, although most of the stories are too short to touch more than lightly upon their subjects, leaving a taste of homesickness. Here is artist Valias Semertzidis, whose work included a portrait of legendary resistance figure Aris Velouhiotis, and gallery-owner and collector Alexandros Iolas, famous for both his collection of art and his eccentric lifestyle. Vassilis Goulandris, founder of the Goulandris Museum of Contemporary Art on Andros, appears in another story, as does gardener Petros Mouchlidis, who created a number of striking plantations in the villas around Kifissia and Kefalari many years ago. Karavia’s image of a Greece that has ceased to exist is shaped by the traditional values of the countryside and of Athens as it once was. YVETTE VARVARESSOU Something of the magic of Greece’s mountains has been captured in a large-format book of 400 beautiful photographs spanning 30 years of work by Costas Tsipiras. «Oreini Ellada» (Kedros Publications) comes with a pocket-sized guide to 10 trails around the country. The book is an ideal gift for mountaineers and hikers who will spend pleasurable moments recognizing favorite haunts from the Rhodope range in the north to Taygetus in the Peloponnese and Psiloreiti on Crete, or getting new ideas for their next excursion, but others will also be impressed with the scenes of parts of the country they are not likely to see up close. Many of the more striking photographs are repeated as two-page spreads. The stark simplicity of the little Louitsa lake on pages 24 and 25, a lone hiker silhouetted on a grassy slope alongside a rocky peak on Falakro on pages 86 and 87, and a misty portrait of a lake on Mount Iti are particularly vivid. Tsipiras, an award-winning photographer in Greece and abroad, has included in this, his second book, images of the inhabitants of the high country ranging from Sarakatsan shepherds to Pomak dancers as well as schoolchildren on hiking holidays and alpinists scaling cliff faces.