Non-fiction readables for the holidays

Whether you are shopping for presents or planning to treat yourself, Christmas is a great time to splash out on books. Kathimerini English Edition has been sampling recent non-fiction titles for holiday reading ideas. Next week, we’ll look at new releases for children. One of the most appealing new publications is «Symbolic Plants of the Olympic Games,» just out from Hestia Publishers and illustrated with Ferdinand Lukas Bauer’s splendid drawings for «Flora Graeca Sibthorpiana» (a collection of Greek plants in 10 volumes, brought out from 1806-1840). Biologists Anneta Rizou and Sophia Rizopoulou trace the history, names, myths and symbols associated with plants used in the Games. The illustrations They draw on classical sources to reveal the plants’ complex symbolism for the ancients. «The plants of myth awarded to the winners of the Games, initially apples and later olive branches, touched on myths, legends and the reality of antiquity. The gifts of nature, of mother earth, useful plants in everyday life, became universal symbols of honor and glory for winners and participants in the Olympic Games,» they write. Tables collate the plants’ names – ancient, modern and scientific – and their uses. The 2004 Olympic Games in Athens familiarized the world with victors’ olive wreaths, but how many of us knew that irises were used to decorate altars, ivy to decorate altars and statues, poppies as food by the athletes and poplars for sacrifices at altars? Authentic dishes Nikos Stavroulakis more than accomplishes his modestly stated aim in «West Cretan Cookery» (Talos Press): «This book aspires to be no more than a record of typical dishes that were more or less ubiquitous on the island prior to the 1960s.» No fan of fusion foods, Stavroulakis has looked deep and wide in his search for the traditional cuisine of Crete, going as far as Turkey to seek out Muslim Cretans long separated from their place of origin who still keep its culinary traditions alive. An introduction sets Cretan food in its historical context and explains how geography has determined much of the Cretan diet. A substantial section on ingredients precedes the recipes, and all without the benefit of a single picture of food – but you won’t miss them. It was a conscious choice. The author, also an artist, has illustrated the book with his paintings of the Cretan landscape which, he writes, «has had a deep influence on forming the Cretan character and diet.» Enjoy «West Cretan Cooking» for the insights into Crete and for those delicious dishes: octopus in wine, snails and garlic, or pork and olives. «The Propylaia to the Athenian Akropolis II: The Classical Building,» by William B. Dinsmoor and William B. Dinsmoor Jr, edited by Anastasia Norre Dinsmoor and published by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (Princeton, New Jersey, 2004), is definitely aimed at specialists, but contains much to fascinate anyone who has ever admired the gateway to the Acropolis in Athens. It is a massive, meticulous attempt to see through the surviving monument to the original plan – or plans, because they changed, and the architectural plans included record the changes. The formidable task of bringing together the authors’ sometimes conflicting theories fell to Dinsmoor Junior’s widow, Anastasia Norre Dinsmoor, and the result is impressive. Bilingual editions Artist Maria Cacouri-Voudoroglou pays tribute to her native town in «Patras: Old Houses, Buildings and Monuments» (Hestia Publishers), translated by Mary Kitroeff. While painting the old buildings she describes as «a precious link to the past,» the artist had encounters which enhanced the pleasure of the experience. There was the child who offered what was probably the contents of her piggy bank to buy a painting, and the house painter who stopped by, as a fellow tradesman, to discuss the tricks of the trade. The paintings and sketches preserve private and public buildings that have survived urbanization, earthquakes and the ravages of time – charming examples of art deco, neoclassical, eclectic and early industrial architecture that give Patras its flavor. In her introduction, Eugenia Gatopoulos links the history of Patras to the development of its architecture, pointing out its special feature, the arcades «borrowed» from Italy, «lending the city a character all its own and allowing the sunlight to filter through the arches, emphasize the columns, the capitals, the arcs.» Efessos publishing house, founded in 2000, has built up a list of high-quality, well-illustrated bilingual editions in competent translations. Texts by specialists focus on the Greek cultural heritage. Two of its latest titles are «Arcadia: Native Land» and «The Sculptures of the Parthenon.» In «Arcadia,» Vassilis Kardassis, professor of economic history at the University of Crete, traces the story of Arcadia from myth and legend through classical antiquity, the Byzantine era, Ottoman rule and the Greek struggle for independence to the present day, highlighting Arcadians who made their mark in politics, economics and letters. Photographs by Yiannis Yiannelos record the beauties and variety of the Arcadian scenery, from archaeological sites to monasteries perched on precipitous cliffs, traditional mountain villages, remnants of Venetian architecture and modern towns. Geoffrey Cox is the translator. Sculptures Alkistis Choremi-Petsieri, director of the Acropolis Museum, begins «The Sculptures of the Parthenon» (Efessos, translated by Alexandra Doumas) by outlining the evolution of the Acropolis from a refuge to the seat of a king, then of administration, a place of worship, and a citadel fortified with Cyclopean walls. She sets the Parthenon in context, explaining its meaning through the ages and the work being done to restore it to its former splendor. The book documents the surviving marbles located on the Acropolis, in the British Museum and the Louvre, and photographed here by Sokratis Mavrommatis. The author describes the sculptures in detail, evaluates their artistic effect, explains their significance and speculates on the missing fragments. In a measured but strongly felt epilogue, Choremi-Petsieri adds her argument for reuniting the marbles. «The return of the marbles to their natural and historical environment,» she writes, «is not a matter of concern for the Greeks alone, but for the entire civilized world, whose duty it is to publicize the importance of cultural artifacts and especially their inseparable and indivisible unity.»