Ancient or modern?

In describing Cycladic art, one of our guide books exclaim most innocently, ” With their astonishing symplicity, the figurines appear almost abstract, as if Modigliani or Picasso had sculpted them.”

I think he has it backwards. It would be interesting to see how many times Picasso visited Athens or saw examples of Cycladic culture. Time to check his diaries and passport.

This 4,000-year-old art from the Cycladic islands surrounding the island of Delos was here long before Athens had its golden age. The people left no written language, but their iconic works seems to speak to a strong interest in fertility. We saw many examples today as we tour several museums with extensive collections from this era.

We also saw one major private collection in a Neoclassical mansion that spanned the ages with lots of goodies.

It also featured traditional costumes and household furnishings from the last two centuries.

But our favorite exhibit was a collection of paintings of Athens from the 19th century, including some showing Lord Elgin’s team at work removing the marble sculpture from the Parenthon. How nice that someone was there to paint the event.

We also saw a museum of Byzantine and Christian art, showing how the Byzantine Christians borrowed from the Greeks and Romans to create a new religious style. Lovely stuff, but I do need a break from icons and religious artifacts for now.

By luck, we happened upon a relatively new find, near one of our museums. Aristotle’s Lykeion, or academy, was found in 1996 and just opened to visitors in 2009 after its excavation. Yes, one can stroll the paths that Aristotle took in the 4th century BC, before he went off to tutor Alexander, later to become the Great. Amazing.

We’re about to leave Athens for a while, to return in a few weeks. But it would take years to see all that it has to offer, and maybe months to absorb all that we have already seen.

Don’s Food Corner

We sat down to a proper meal today at the cafe at the Byzantine museum. It was a beautiful place with a broad menu. We shared a Greek salad, then, I went on to stuffed grape leaves. Served hot on a thick bed of decorative yogurt, the grape leaves seemed fresh and the stuffing of meat and rice was delicate. I don’t think I’ve ever had stuffed grapes leaves that seemed this refined. Tasted nothing like those things that come pickled in a jar. Someone took some time to hand-make these.

Jo ordered Smyrna meatballs in tomato sauce on rice pilaf. Although we didn’t know it at the time, this is a classic Greek/Turkish dish of finely minced meat (which seemed like a mixture of beef and lamb) that is heavily spiced with cinnamon, cumin and other spices. The tomato sauce was equally spiced. The rice pilaf is also the traditional accompanying dish. So we were fortunate to land on a traditional specialty, and glad of it.

Earlier in the day, for a little break at the Benaki Museum of Greek History and Culture in their also-delightful cafe, we shared an apple strudel. Very fine, except, unlike all the strudel we had in Germany a few months ago, it did not come with decadent vanilla sauce, rather with lots of cinnamon. No complaints.

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