Saturday, November 23, 2019

Mikis Theodorakis Orchestra concert

On November 17th, I accompanied my father to a concert of the music of Mikis Theodorakis, performed by the Mikis Theodorakis Orchestra, with the singers Dimitris Basis and Maria Farandouri, at the Tel Aviv Opera House. The Opera House had great acoustics, and the seating arrangements for wheelchair users were good.

Mikis Theodorakis is one of the greatest composers of Greek music. I grew up listening to some of his albums, both while we still lived in England and after we came to Israel. This was just part of growing up in a philhellenic family. I remember as a young girl asking to listen to "the statue record". Yes, these were vinyl LPs, played on a record player. I knew some Greek music long before I ever visited Greece.

The Mikis Theodorakis Orchestra includes ten musicians on various instruments. It is managed by Margarita Theodorakis, daughter of the composer. The singers Dimitris Basis and Maria Farandouri were excellent.

The concert was arranged by journalist and radio presenter Yaron Enosh, who came onto stage now and then to tell us a bit about the fascinating life story of Theodorakis and to translate or explain some of the lyrics. Of course, one concert cannot encompass all of the work of a prolific composer like Theodorakis. It could only present a selection.

The Mauthausen Trilogy was performed in full. This work is well-known here because of its Holocaust subject matter, and it received a standing ovation.

I personally don't like the habit of the audience's rhythmic clapping during performances, and my non-conformist self refused to participate, even when the clapping was encouraged, especially by Dimitris Basis. But this also highlighted the incongruity of having popular music performed in the formal setting of an Opera House. Had the performance been held in a different setting, the clapping might have felt more appropriate.

I wasn't familiar with all the songs performed, but enjoyed them nonetheless. I also felt frustrated that I was only able to identify a few words or phrases here and there. This concert has reignited my dream of learning Greek, and I hope to do so soon. Presumably most members of the audience knew even less Greek than I did.

The concert ended, predictably, with the song Zorba the Greek. This is such a well-known song that has come to represent Greek music, and it tends to be performed too frequently. It was good to hear it performed as intended by such accomplished musicians.

We were told that photography and audio or video recording were prohibited during the concert, so I only took a photo of the performers bowing at the end of the concert.

I enjoyed this concert, which was both nostalgic, reminding me of my childhood exposure to this composer, and just good music by any measure.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

TIME Magazine's Special Climate Issue 23 September 2019

I don't usually read magazines. But when I saw TIME Magazine's Special Climate Issue in the airport shop when I was returning from Cyprus last month, I felt I had to read it. I spent the wait in the airport and the flight home reading it. It wasn't a light read. The environment and the impact human beings have on it is an issue I've taken very seriously since I was a teenager. The irony of reading a paper magazine on a plane wasn't wasted on me, either!

The magazine addressed many aspects of the climate crisis and many parts of the world. It also featured biographies of 15 women who are changing the world. I want to share a few of the important messages that spoke to me.

In "From the Editor", Edward Felsenthal wrote the following:

Notably, what you will not find in this issue are climate-change skeptics. Core to our mission is bringing together diverse perspectives. Experts can and should debate the best route to mitigating the effects of climate change, but there is no serious doubt that those effects are real. We are witnessing them right in front of us. The science on global warming is settled. There isn't another side, and there isn't another moment. (p. 4).

I was very pleased to read this evidence that journalism is moving away from the misleading idea of "balance", as though all opinions are equally valid and worthy of representation. There is actually such a thing as truth and reality, and those who choose to deny it for reasons of ideology, religion, or financial gain don't deserve to have equal representation in the public sphere.

In an article entitled "Why I have hope for the climate-change battles to come", Al Gore concluded by noting the grass-roots activism, often involving teenagers and young adults:

Saving the future of humanity is a heavy burden for teenagers and 20-somethings to bear. But they are embracing the challenge as if their lives depend on it. The rest of us must follow their lead and act before it's too late. (p. 23).

I have been impressed by the increase in young activism, though I believe that there have always been young, idealistic people involved in environment-related issues. Some people have grown up from teenagers to middle-aged or elderly within the green movement. The reason young people are so active now is that the point of no return is rapidly approaching and they will live with the consequences for longer than the older generations.

Aryn Baker visited Jacobabad, Pakistan, in a piece entitled "The hottest city on earth", and noted:

If the planet continues warming at an accelerated rate, it won't be just the people of Jacobabad who live through 50 ͒ C summers. Everyone will. (p. 26)

As a person who dislikes heat, I find this particularly alarming!

Jane Goodall wrote an insightful essay, "The devastation of climate change is real. But there are reasons to be hopeful". She lists four problems and then four solutions.

In order to slow down climate change, we must solve four seemingly unsolvable problems. We must eliminate poverty. We must change the unsustainable lifestyles of so many of us. We must abolish corruption. And we must think about our growing human population. There are 7.7 billion of us today, and by 2050, the UN predicts there will be 9.7 billion. But I believe we have a window of time to have an impact. (p. 46).
She then lists her four solutions: The resilience of nature; The human brain; Social Media; and the power of young people.

I found it interesting that this was one of the few mentions of the growing human population in the entire magazine. And I wasn't surprised that it came from a conservationist who's highly aware of the impact of habitat loss on all the non-human species of the planet. I think this issue should be taken more seriously by anyone concerned with our future survival.

Michael E. Mann wrote about the balance between individual efforts and the responsibility of corporations and governments in a piece with the pithy title "Paper straws alone won't save the planet".

There is a long history of industry-funded "deflections campaigns" aimed to divert attention from big polluters and place the burden on individuals. Individual action is important and something we should all champion. But appearing to force Americans to give up meat, or travel, or other things central to the lifestyle they've chosen to live is politically dangerous: it plays right into the hands of climate-change deniers whose strategy tends to be to portray climate champions as freedom-hating totalitarians. [...] We need systemic changes that will reduce everyone's carbon footprint, whether or not they care. (p. 52)

I have taken various actions throughout my life, and especially recently, to reduce my impact on the environment. However, I am acutely aware that individual actions are not enough, and that the greed of corporations and the reluctance of governments to intervene in ways that might reduce established industries' profits has a greater negative impact than can be balanced by individuals refusing plastic bags, plastic straws, and single-use bottles (or other such steps). Since corporations are motivated by short-term greed and not a long-term vision of the planet's future, the only way to change things on a large scale is for governments and international bodies to regulate their behaviour.

Angelina Jolie explored the issue of population displacement in "No person is an island". Once again, the relocation of populations from devastated countreis to safer places will need to be solved by governments through international cooperation. She ends her piece:

[...] standing on the sidelines of global efforts is not a morally neutral position: it will negatively affect the lives of millions of people. A nation of use only to itself is not a leading country. As Americans, we have rarely feared exercising our influence on global questions affecting the peace and security of the world as well as our own prosperity. A changing climate should be no different. In the past, America has been a country defined by vision. That still must be our greatest asset. (p. 91)

I wish I could be optimistic about the chances of this happening!

 The issue ends with "A 30-year to-do list" (p. 103), which includes the following 6 goals:
  • Phase out natural gas and eliminate coal;
  • Grow renewables;
  • Chart a path on nuclear;
  • Remove carbon from the atmosphere;
  • Change our agriculture and support trees;
  • Make our energy use more efficient.
Then it explains "How we get there":
  • Government commitments;
  • Corporate commitments;
  • Individual commitments;
  • Encourage innovation.
Once again, I was disappointed not to see any mention of population reduction in this vision. Of course, this should be achieved through individual commitments, not through government intervention such as a one-child policy enforced by law. I just hope our society can become more accepting of the idea of people choosing not to have children, or to have just one child. We can no long afford to apply the biblical injunction "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth". Human beings have filled it to overflowing, at the expense of other species. Now it's time to think about the size of our population as a whole and the size of our families.

This was a thought-provoking magazine, and I would encourage everyone to seek out information and opinions about various environmental issues. This is something we all can and should address in various ways, before it's too late.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Cyprus, Part Five: Cats of Cyprus

Cyprus likes to call itself "the Island of Love", claiming to be the birthplace of Aphrodite, goddess of love. But it could equally be called "the Island of Cats".

There are cats everywhere: in cities, villages, and archaeological sites. In fact, there are more cats than humans on the island: the human population is about 1.2 million, while the estimated number of cats is 1.5 million!

During our visit, we came across two interesting stories relating to cats in Cyprus. In Limassol Archaeological Museum, we saw a cast of the skeleton of one of the earliest domesticated cats, which was buried with a human. The remains are dated to 9500-9000 B.C.E., which is about 5,000 years earlier than the well-known domestication of cats in Egypt. This discovery is relatively recent, and while it has been mentioned in some cat books I have read, such as The Lion in the Living Room by Abigail Tucker, this came as a surprise. I always look for cat-related items in museums, and most often find depictions of lions or Egyptian cat art. This time, one of the first items we saw was the cat skeleton with its explanation. This really made my day.

The other story was that cats were introduced to Cyprus by St. Helena in 328 C.E. to hunt the venomous snakes that were overpopulating as the result of a drought. There is a monastery called St. Nicholas of the Cats, where the cats are considered the descendents of these cats. It's hard to believe that cats would be effective in eradicating the snake population, but they were probably beneficial in hunting various types of vermin.

While tourists like me who love cats enjoy seeing, photographing, and sometimes touching cats while travelling, this situation is not actually in the cats' best interest. Like other Mediterranean locations, Cyprus is clearly experiencing cat overpopulation, and most of the cats end up suffering. I hope that there will be increasing awareness of the need to implement TNR and support managed community cat colonies.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Suede live in Rishon, 25 September 2019

This week I attended a Suede concert for the second time. This time, it was held at Zappa Live Park in Rishon Lezion, an open-air venue south of Tel Aviv. I previously saw their indoors concert in 2015, and there was a different atmosphere.

Since their previous appearance in Israel, Suede have released 2 albums and toured extensively. This concert was not a nostalgia show focusing on their classic hits of the 1990s, though many of them were played. This was a concert of a mature band, featuring a variety of pieces from throughout their career.

Lead singer Brett Anderson still maintains his impressive vocal range, exceptional energy, and strong crowd interaction. The combination of beautifully performed, much-loved music and Anderson's charisma made this an unforgettable experience. The other band members might receive less attention, but their masterful playing and intuitive coordination were no less important than the singer's centre-stage performance.

The concert was structured to start with some of the band's newer work, followed by some of the 1990s hits, and ending on some of the more recent songs. I found it sad that much of the audience seemed less familiar with the newer albums. As Anderson said: "We're only as good as our last album", and I think people who were Suede fans in the 1990s would appreciate their latest albums if they gave them a chance. For me, anything they chose to play would be welcome, though there were a couple of favourite songs I missed.

It's hard to express what music means to me. It's an all-encompassing experience of body and soul, and hearing music I love played live is a rare pleasure to be cherished. I hope to have the opportunity to see Suede play live again in the future, and look forward to their new music when they release their next album.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Cyprus, Part Four: Troodos Mountain Villages

The third tour we took with Ascot Travel was to the villages of the Troodos Mountains. This was a welcome change from the rest of the holiday, which was spent in cities, archaeological sites, and museums. It was good to get out into nature. I particularly like mountains and forests, and the temperature there was pleasant, after we'd been suffering from the heat and humidity the rest of the holiday. Cyprus had above-average rainfall last winter, so the vegetation was lush and healthy.

The first village we visited was Agros, located about 1,000 metres above sea level. We had a tour of The Rose Factory, which produces a range of products using Damascus rose petals. They pick the roses in May, and it takes 400 flowers to produce 1 kg. of petals. The petals are then distilled, with each kilogram making 2 litres of rose water. Among their products: a range of organic rose cosmetics called Venus Rose, rose liqueur, rose tea, rose jam, rose candles, and even rose chocolates. Of course we bought gifts and souvenirs from their gift shop.

Next, we visited the nearby Nikis Sweets factory, where traditional Cyprus Preserves are made. Various nuts, fruits, and vegetables are coated in sugar or carob syrup to create a wide range of natural sweets. We bought some of these products, too.

Our next stop was St. Nicholas of the Roof church. This is one of the famous painted Byzantine churches of the region. Its name comes from the second, higher roof that was added above an existing roof, which helped preserve the 11th century wall paintings inside. Fortunately, this church was accessible by wheelchair, so my father was able to view the inside (photography was not allowed inside).

Our next stop was the beautiful village of Kakopetria. We were given time to explore the village. This involved a steep downhill walk, so my parents were taken to the bottom of the village and waited for us there. We enjoyed seeing the old houses, which are still inhabited. At the bottom of the village there is a waterfall, and we ate lunch at Zoumos restaurant overlooking the stream.

After lunch, our next stop was the Millomeris Waterfall. Unfortunately, this place was not accessible by wheelchair, so my parents stayed on the minibus. A pleasant walk through the forest took us to an impressive waterfall. It was refreshing to watch the water for a while.

The final stop was Lambouri Winery, where we had a wine tasting. Some of the wines were good, but we didn't buy any. I liked the lion statues that stood outside.

Overall, this was my favourite day of the trip. It combined beautiful nature, attractive villages, and glimpses into the local family-based industries. Of course, the lower temperatures in the mountains also made it more pleasant. I can see why the Troodos villages are always recommended to visitors to Cyprus.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Cyprus, Part Three: Nicosia (Lefkosia) and Larnaca

The next tour we took with Ascot Travel was to Nicosia (Greek: Lefkosia) and Larnaca. This meant that we were able to visit the four main cities of Cyprus, with Limassol and Paphos. My parents joined us on this tour, and we were able to store the wheelchair in the boot (trunk) of the minibus.

Nicosia is the capital of Cyprus, located inland rather than on the coast, and it has been divided since the Turkish invasion in 1974. The Cypriots kept stating that it's the only divided capital city in the world. This made us wonder about Jerusalem, until I realized that it's not that they don't think Jerusalem is divided, it's that they don't recognize it as a capital city!

Our first stop in Nicosia was the Archbishop's Palace and St. John's Cathedral. We didn't go inside either building. There were interesting statues outside: the ubiquitous Archbishop Makarios outside the palace, a statue that I assume represents the refugees who escaped from the north of Cyprus during the Turkish invasion, and a rather modern Jesus.

Then we walked through the streets of the Old City of Nicosia, which contained the same combination of charming, authentic old buildings and new touristy shops and cafes that can be found in many similar places around the mediterranean. Somehow we managed to get through the narrow streets with the wheelchair.

We had a limited amount of time before the minibus was due to continue, and we did not wish to cross over to the Turkish occupied part of the city as some of the other tour participants did. We left my parents at a cafe and ventured outside the walled part of the city to find the Cyprus Museum, the largest and oldest archaeological museum in Cyprus. We chose this in preference to the closer Leventis Municipal Museum, and were not disappointed. We had to rush through quickly, but even this rapid visit gave us a good impression of the finds from all over Cyprus, from various periods.

Then we had to hurry back to the minibus, and the tour continued to Larnaca, back on the south coast. Here we visited St. Lazarus Church, an impressive Byzantine church where second tomb and relics of St. Lazarus were found. There were wax votive offerings in the crypt. This church had wheelchair access.

We then had time to eat a pleasant lunch with a sea view at the Finikoudes Promenade before returning to Limassol. This was an interesting tour, though the weather was very hot and humid.