Time to don masks, take to the streets

If you happen to be walking around Athens on Thursday, March 3, and see a horse-drawn carriage crammed full of actors belting out lines from Souris and Bost and singing ballads, or if you’re on Athinas Street and your appetite is awakened by the aroma of grilled souvlaki and your ears pick up the sounds of traditional Greek folk music, don’t be surprised because it’s the opening of Carnival for the City of Athens. The festivities always begin on Tsiknopempti. In other countries, this is Pancake Day, but in Greece, the pancakes are replaced by copious quantities of grilled or fried meat, accompanied by even more copious quantities of wine. For the Carnival period the City of Athens has organized a string of events throughout the city center for the weekends of March 5-6 and 12-13, with the closing on Clean Monday, March 14. Kotzia Square will be the center of the opening ceremony, which features traditional music and dances from around Greece performed by a live music ensemble and a group of 30 dancers. Throughout the day, actors Costas Voutsas and Theodora Voutsa lead their peers on a route from the Varvakeios Market to Monastiraki Square by horse-drawn carriage, where they will recite lines from the rather racy plays of Souris and Bost, while dancers and musicians pull the public in to join the lively parade. At the squares of Plaka and around Thiseion, a variety of music and dance groups – including the Athens Philharmonic Orchestra and Domna Samiou with her folk dance troupe – will be reviving old Carnival customs such as Fanou, which will be performed by 70 dancers from Kozani, and singing traditional songs relating to the Carnival (Apokries). Bit of the East with a dash of jazz Rebetika master Vassilis Tsitsanis is the focus of festivities on Saturday, March 5, as Babis Tsertos, Mario and Youli Tsirou and their band perform some of his most popular tunes at noon at the Varvakeios Market, while dancers from Turkey perform sensual Eastern numbers. In Kolonaki, the Big Band of the City of Athens will be playing to a different tune, rendering Latin, jazz and swing classics, while the Athens Philharmonic plays uplifting Carnival melodies at Syntagma Square. On a romantic note, a traveling choir will perform serenades in the streets of Plaka at night. Sunday, March 6, is cut out for kids, with Zappeion being transformed in a paradise of jugglers, clowns, acrobats (both on the ground and in the air), weird and wonderful masquerades on stilts and a lot of dancing to fun, funky music coming from the DJs. Adults will be happier at the Technopolis arts complex in Gazi, where the Big Band will perform its stuff at noon, followed by the band Kitrina Podilata and Despina Olympiou in Greek pop-rock. Dancin’ in the streets Latin American dances will fill the streets of Athens on Saturday, March 12, as the Sambaxe dance group boards an open truck and weaves its way through the streets and public squares of the capital at lunchtime. Other areas, such as the squares of Aghios Dimitrios, Orthodoxias, Fokionos Negri, Syntagma and Aghios Andreas will be having a different party as acts visit the various neighborhoods of the city. In the evening, top singers Glykeria and Costas Makedonas join forces at Kotzia for a concert of pop hits and broody ballads. The acrobats will be back at Zappeion on Sunday, March 13, though this time they will be flying to the Carnival tunes of the Athens Philharmonic. Meanwhile, in Pangrati, the quirky rappers Imiskoubria will be spreading beats and laughs at noon, while Thiseion listens to traditional Greek demotic tunes with Manos Achalinotopoulos and Areti Ketime. Taking to the hills On Clean Monday, the last day of Carnival and the day when Greeks fill the sky with colorful kites, the festivities will take to the hills of Philoppapou, Skouze and Strefi, where there will be music and dancing, as well as buffets of local delicacies.

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