Greece’s rising graffiti artist is a young local guy by the name of Kostas Louzis who signs his work “Skitsofrenis” (skitso is Greek for sketch). He’s a serious environmental activist whose biggest work spans an extraordinary three kilometres along the roadside from Kalamata to Sparta.
The images are of a planet in agony – burnt forests, polluting factories, tortured souls, a Dark Knight – and among these are the hopeful young planting trees.
The road project was backed by a Greek-American foundation called Plant Your Roots whose philosophy is “to combine the ancient values of respect for nature with the Olympic ideal of volunteerism. We promote the spirit of reconciliation and coexistence between humans and our natural environment.”
Louzis comes from the tiny olive-producing village of Kalianeika near where we’re staying, and trained to become a stockbroker but soon gave that up for the frugal life of a graffiti artist. I first heard of him from the local English-language magazine Inside the Mani. When we went to see the work we found it stunning.
He’s had some setbacks – some of the early murals were vandalised, and he patiently re-painted them. But he’s become popular in the area, and is even getting commissions from schools. Most of his slogans are in Greek but one that will resonate back home in the Tweed Valley is: “The only solution to pollution is the green revolution”.
He turns out – of course! – to be a friend of our bookshop friends. You can find him on Facebook as Skitsofrenis Low bap (low bap is hip-hop, and he’s into that too).
OLIVE QUEEN OF BOROUGH MARKET
As our London friends well know, the old Borough Market has taken on new life in recent years as a destination for foodies. Check out “Oliveology”, the stall run by another child of the olive lands, Marianna Kolokotroni (there’s a heroic name for you). After 12 years in England, where she trained as an industrial designer, in 2009 she set up her business selling organic produce from the Sparta area – Kalamata olives, oil and honey. “The response at the market has been great,” she said, and now department store Selfridges is selling her olives, “which is extremely exciting”.
TOURISM IN DIFFICULTY
It’s high season for tourists in Greece, but they’re not coming in the same numbers as before. Latest estimates show tourism from Germany down by about 30% or 135,000 people, and numbers from the UK down by around 25%. But domestic tourism is down by a whopping 40%, a sure indication of the difficulties Greek families are facing.
So far we’ve found no basis for the scare stories we heard in Australia and London before coming here. Despite everything, the welcome from Greek people is warm and generous.
We can’t help noticing that people become less reticent as soon as they learn we’re Australian. Many, inevitably, have relatives in Melbourne. An uncle at the family-owned bookshop we visit relaxes when he realises we’re not British. More in sorrow than in anger, he asks, “Why do they say bad things about us now in Britain and Europe? What have we ever done but help them?”
BOOK TITLE OF THE YEAR
It’s capitalism, stupid has become the best-selling book on the economy here. It’s by Nikos Bogiopoulos, a journalist on the Communist Party newspaper Rizospastis. I haven’t read it, and it doesn’t appear to have been published in English yet, so I can’t vouch for the contents, but love the title.
What was that Olympic opening ceremony in London all about? It was hard to find a theme. The message seemed to be that Britain has gone from a people of Shakespeare-loving nation-builders to a mass audience for TV soaps, via a stint in hospital that turns into a nightmare – which just about sums up the state of the National Health Service. Redeeming moments: Kenneth Branagh (but why the top hat?), the making of the steel ring, and Rowan Atkinson hamming up the Chariots of Fire theme tune. The rest I couldn’t make head nor tail of, and not just because the commentary was in Greek.
Sydney had exuberance, Athens had classical grace, China had spectacle, and they all had great national stories to tell. And there’s the rub. You can have a budget of £127m, Danny Boyle and all that incredible talent, but if you’re a post-imperialist country in crisis having trouble confronting your past let alone your future, then the message is bound to be confusing.