Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Shaken Not Stirred

After all my years of trotting about the globe, it never fails to amaze me how much we still have to learn about each other. At least, that's a bear's philosophy - I'm not sure how you humans work into the equation. Anyhow, whenever I used to think of Greek beverages, drinks like ouzo and retsina always jumped to my mind first. Until I visited Greece ...

And although I'm not suggesting that thousands of litres and litres of ouzo and retsina aren't drunk in Greece every day - because I'm sure they are - I was surprised to find that, for the past several decades, Greece has become a Frappé Nation. Maybe it should be renamed Frappé-opolis.

Like all great ideas, the frappé began as a very happy, if not frothy, accident. In 1957, at an international trade fair in Thessaloniki (in northern Greece), a Nestlé food rep couldn’t find hot water to make his coffee. He improvised and used cold water instead, giving birth to the caffeine-packed frappé - now a staple in the Greek diet.

Nowadays, everybody seems to have a frappé in hand as they walk down the street, and those who don't, are sitting in a sidewalk café drinking one. My male bipedal started drinking them almost the second we arrived in Athens - sort of a "when in Rome thing". Except we were in Athens. Anyway, my female turned her nose up at them until she tasted one and, rather than buying one herself, just kept taking mammoth sips from everyone else's.

That's me above with one of mine. That frapp
é was particularly delicious: it was on the rooftop café of the brand-new Acropolis Museum, which overlooks the Acropolis where I was banned for being a toy!. It was such a costly museum to build that the city is charging only 1 euro for admission as a special thank-you. Isn't that nice of them? And they make awesome frappés.

Anyway, I thought I'd share a recipe with you if you want to make your own frappé at home. Of course, there are some minor differences between recipes but this one pretty much nails it:

Grey Bear's Authentic Greek Frapp


2 teaspoons instant coffee (locals still favour Nescafé)
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
Cold water
30 ml evaporated milk or regular milk (this is optional but I don't think it would be a frappé without milk.)

Assembling GB's Authentic Greek Frappé

1) Place coffee, sugar, and 60 ml cold water in a shaker, jar or drink mixer (anything with a lid).

2) Cover and shake well for 30 seconds or, if using a standing or hand-held drink mixer, process 10 seconds to produce a thick, light-brown foam.

3) Place a few ice cubes in a tall glass.

4) Slowly pour all of the coffee foam into the glass.

5) Add milk, if desired (you really should), according to your taste.

6) Fill with cold water until the foam reaches the top of the glass.

7) Add a tall, bendy straw (this is mandatory!)

8) Serve with glass of cold water on the side (because this is Europe).

9) Slurp & enjoy!

Yum! Doesn't that sound delicious? - and I just saved you the cost of a plane ticket ... but I hope you do go ... and remember to ask for a frappé! And until then, I'll try to rustle up some recipes for ouzo and retsina - oh! and γεια μας - and in case that's just Greek to you: cheers!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Shoppers, Gods, Emperors & A Bear (Oh My!)

I've received tens of thousands of e-mails from my readers asking for an update on the international incident I nearly caused - or rather, nearly caused by that little troll of a guard at the Acropolis. First of all, thank you for your concern and just to put your minds at rest, the city of Athens has officially apologized, all ambassadors are back at their respective posts, and that little troll of a guard has been reassigned as the city's dog poop cleaner. With all the stray dogs in Athens, he'll be a very busy troll - I mean, man.

My being banned from the Acropolis was extremely upsetting, but to give my bipedal attendants their due, that didn't deter them from snapping photos of me at Athens' other historic sites. Of course, having said that, the guards at the other sites weren't as zealous as that troll but we had to keep a sharp eye out, just in case.

After the debacle at the Parthenon, we descended the Acropolis and continued on our way to the Agora - which just means "market". From 3,000 b.c.e., this was the heart of the ancient city as both a place to shop as well as a meeting spot for merchants, gossips, and politicians. This was where citizens could ostracize (from the Greek word ostraka, or potsherds) their rivals, tyrants & people who looked at them the wrong way. You simply scratched a name on a potsherd and popped it into a big urn. If 5,999 other Athenians agreed with you, the unlucky fellow was exiled for 10 years with no chance of appeal. This was an important feature of that crazy new fad called democracy.

I didn't have to worry about being ostracized because that had been already taken care of at the Parthenon.

You can see me (above, left) in the stoa (Greek for "covered walkways"), a columned colon
nade under which shops and stalls stood, and which offered protection from the elements to potential shoppers. Its modern-day equivalent would be an outdoor shopping plaza. In fact, my female bipedal thought she'd be able to do some shopping here. Her ignorance astounds me some time - besides, how many fridge magnets does one person need?

Not far from the Agora stands the Hephaisteion (above, right) - probably the best preserved Greek temple in all of Greece (although it was a Greek Orthodox church for some 1200 years). It was built in the 5th century b.c.e. to honour Hephaistos, the crippled blacksmith of the gods, and a god himself. You may know him by his Roman name Vulcan (as in our word volcano: think of his fiery furnace).

Hephaistos, besides being lame, was not very attractive and there are lots of myths about his being spurned by Greece's goddesses, including Athena herself. He was said to be so ugly that when he was born, his mother Hera was so appalled at what she had given birth to that she hurled him from Mount Olympus - and it took nine days & nights for him to reach the ground.

I bet he never
sent her a card on Mother's Day.

He did eventually find a bride: the goddess of love Aphrodite (or Venus, in the Roman version). Zeus arranged the marriage so that the other gods would stop squabbling over Aphrodite. I don't think she was too pleased with the match but I doubt she was very faithful either. My female bipedal attendant tells me that there beautiful women have to bear (bear!) many trials and tribulations - although I don't know how she would know that.

It was from Hephaistos that Prometheus stole a spark of fire - thus bringing fire to humankind - and it was
he who fashioned Achilles' armour (although he forgot about the heel) and who created the box which ended up in Pandora's curious hands.

We decided to push our luck with the city's antiquities guards a little further - always keeping our eyes open - and stopped for a photo at Hadrian's Arch (bottom, right). This huge gateway bears (bears!) an inscription which states that Athens is the city of the Emperor Hadrian - the fellow that built the big wall in the north of England - but beyond that we don't know what his actual involvement was.

Hadrian was born in the 1st century and died in the 2nd: he was a Stoic, an Epicurean, Emperor of Rome, and later a god. And a Capricorn. He was born in the city of Italica which lies just outside of Seville in Spain - which gave birth to another Roman Emperor: Trajan. I love Seville. *Sigh* - I miss Spain.

Among all of his positive and not-so positive exploits (Hadrian d
eified his lover after his untimely drowning), battles (he quashed the 2nd Jewish Revolt), accomplishments (he banned circumcision, saying it was barbaric) and travels (he spent more than half his reign outside of Italy), it is believed that Hadrian popularized the beard among Romans (until then it was a Greek thing). As a former international fashion model, I know how easy it is to start a trend. In the autumn of '98, everyone (and I mean everyone) was wearing grey flannel! - but the truth is, he had lots of warts and scars on his face which he tried to hide with his beard.

Anyway, all that we have in Athens is his arch while there's an entire gate belonging to Hadrian in Antalya, here in Turkey. I guess that bears (bears!) visiting too. I wonder what the guards are like there ... hopefully I won't be ostracized from Antalya. As it is, I think I'll have to wait 10 years before I can return to Athens. No wait! - I forgot! That little troll of an antiquities guard is scooping up dog turds as I, or rather my bipedal types this. What goes around, comes around ... or maybe in his case, shit rolls downhill.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Grey Bear of Troy

You'd think that I'd be used to it by now: every time I visit a cemetery with my bipedals, we get hopelessly lost and we can never seem to find the graves of who we're looking for. We once spent 4 hours in Paris' Père Lachaise Cemetery looking for the grave of Jane Avril - the famous can-can dancer - immortalized by painter Toulouse-Lautrec. Do you think we ever found it? No! I mean, why can't "some people" do their homework and try preparing a little? Isn't that what I pay them for?

So it really shouldn't have come as any
surprise that, when we were in Athens - spending some quality time with The Dearly Departed in the Próto Nekrotafío, the city's historic cemetery - we should a) get hopelessly lost and b) be unable to find the grave of the one individual I wanted to see: Heinrich Schliemann.

For those a little rusty on their history, Schliemann was a 19th century businessman and indigo (as in the colour - I prefer grey to blue but I do look dashing in indigo) dye merchant and banker and maverick archaeologist and all-round rogue from Germany who, as a child announced -
or so he later claimed - that he would one day discover the city of Troy. And did. At that time, most scholars believed that Troy - home to the Trojan War as recounted by Homer in the Iliad - was nothing but a myth. Schliemann, however, was obsessed about its existence.

Born dirt poor, he climbed up the financial food chain in Europe and later moved to California in 1851 where he opened a bank and amassed a huge fortune during the state's gold boom - both through banking and through private speculation. I'm not sure if that's considered insider trading or not - I have a head for fashion and humanitarian causes so I hire professionals to worry about money. Shortly after this, he left the USA for Russia where he made even more money through military contracts during the Crimean War. By the time he was 36, he was able to retire quite comfortably - unlike my bipedal attendants who still barely have a pot to piss in.

He travelled about the world - he could speak 13 languages - and even infiltrated the holy city of Mecca disguised as a Bedouin tribesman. He then decided to find Troy and, divorcing his wife in absentia (what a swell guy) and inspired by the work of a British archaeologist who was working in Turkey, he moved to Hisarlik in the northwest of Anatolia. Hisarlik - modern Çanakkale - is only a few hours from Izmit but we haven't been able to make the pilgrimage yet because the bus system here leaves a bit to be desired. Except for the cookies and tea you get on board - they're yummy.

Schliemann decided he needed someone to help with with the "modern" Greek part of things (although he was in Turkey) and so he advertised for a wife in an Athenian newspaper. Sophia, a 17-year old relative of the Archbishop of Athens was suggested to him, and the two married. Their children would be named
Andromache and Agamemnon - just to give you an idea of how obsessed he was with all things Ancient Greek.

With his huge personal fortune backing him, he started digging and didn't stop for eight years. Within 2 years, he struck gold - jewellery, cauldrons, vases, shields - with the so-called "Priam's Treasure", referring to Homer's King of Troy, who in fact lived several hundred years later than the date of the gold. But calling it Priam's Treasure must have sold a lot of newspapers and tickets to his forthcoming lecture circuits.

He had his wife's photo taken with some of the gold, erroneously dubbing it "the Jewels of Helen" - as in Helen of Troy. As a former international fashion model, I have to say that less is definitely more and she should have fired her personal fashion consultant. Such gaudiness! So tacky! Anyway, the Turkish government went ballistic and sued him for a share of the gold. They revoked his license and Schliemann skipped out of Turkey, smuggling everything out with him in order to "safeguard" the treasure from corrupt Turkish officers.

That comment didn't endear him much to the Turkish authorities.

He then popped up in Greece, where he started digging again. In Mycenae, he unearthed the (again) so-called "Funerary Mask of Agamemnon" belonging to - you guessed it - Agamemnon, the cuckolded husband of Helen of Troy. Unfortunately, Schliemann's dating of the find was way off again but, like Priam's Treasure, the name has stuck. I saw the mask and some of Schliemann's other finds in the Archaeological Museum of Athens but they wouldn't let me have my photo taken there either (Athens' guards are so testy and I'm still in the throes of my last international incident, I decided to let that one go).

Itching to get back to Turkey - perhaps he liked Turkish baklava more than Greek baklava - Schliemann traded some of the gold from Priam's Treasure w
ith the Ottoman government for an excavation permit. Some of this gold is in the Istanbul Archaeology Museum but the rest was scooped up by the Imperial Museum of Berlin. The treasure was moved to an underground bunker during WWII (it was below the zoo!) but was stolen by the Red Army in 1945 and brought to the USSR (those German bears must have been napping).

For yea
rs the Soviet Union claimed to know nothing about the treasure but 16 years ago it turned up in Moscow's Pushkin Museum. Germany wants the gold back - and probably Turkey does too - but Russia wants to keep the hoard as reparation for the looting of museums and general destruction caused by the Nazis. You humans: you'll just never play nicely, will you?

Anyway, back to
Schliemann. In 1890 he developed a serious infection in both ears and travelled to Germany to seek medical attention. After surgery, he disregarded his doctor's advice and decided to return to Athens. On the way, he stopped off in Italy to visit Pompeii, and on Christmas Day, while in Naples, he fell into a coma and died the next day. Friends sent his body to the Próto Nekrotafío in Athens where it (or he?) was interred in the Mother-of-all-Mausoleums which, if you scroll back up, you can see looks like a Greek temple. The frieze which encircles the outside shows Schliemann leading the excavations at Mycenae. Schliemann would have liked that, although he probably would have asked for another monument recording his excavations at Troy.

I would add that his mausoleum is the biggest grave in the entire cemetery and sits (or looms) just by the front gate - you really can't miss it - but unfortunately we entered through the back gate and it took us 3 hours to find it. But we - or rather I - saw it perched on a rise of ground, towering over the other lowly graves! Like Troy, his monument wasn't a myth and I can prove it - and that was cause for having a cold pint of the appropriately named Mythos beer.

I think it might be time to go back to Paris and look for Jane Avril's grave. Or to ancient Troy - at least you'll all know the story now!