Makes perfect sense why Naxos is home to Mardi Gras. Dionysus was its first Rex!
Venice, Rio de Jeneiro and New Orleans may capture headlines, but no destination other than Naxos and the Small Cyclades can claim Dionysus, the patron of Carnival, as their native son, as well as his father, Zeus.
The Carnival of Naxos 2019 (2 – 13 March) blends timeless Greek festive elements from ancient Dionysian spring rites through to the evolution of modern Mardi Gras. Tracing roots back to rituals of sowing winter crops and praying for the coming of spring through to the Christian celebration of Easter’s promise of rebirth, the Carnival of Naxos 2019 captures all – and their web site details all!
The classic Koudounatoi – based on ancient rituals during Dionysian celebrations – is a hallmark of the Naxos festival. The Koudounatoi dance and rituals are performed by men dressed in traditional white costume bedecked with colorful ribbons and a belt of cowbells. Their dancing movement makes the bells create a very loud sound in order to clear away bad spirits that may bring plague and famine.
The Temple to Demeter overlooks the productive agricultural land of Naxos Island. Agriculture had made Naxos wealthy and in the 6th century BCE the island erected this first all marble temple in the Greek world to Demeter, goddess of grain. Dionysus was the protector of Naxos and maintained one of his divine residences on the island.
In more traditional form the men are covered with a brown coat wearing a belt with hanging bells. Holding large sticks that symbolize the Dionysian phallus, the Koudounatoi challenge each other and anyone who interacts with them and the divine right to ensure a bountiful harvest.
Wedding of the century
On Friday March 8 at the Temple of Apollo’s Portara this fertility theme is dramatically recreated with a retelling of the arrival of Theseus and Ariadne, which through a series of complications worthy of Greek story telling (including pirates!) ends with her marriage to Dionysus, elevation as a goddess and blessings upon Naxos. Ritual weddings are a common theme during Carnival.
Parades night and day
The island villages are studded with individual folkloric events during Carnival, the preparation and presentation of traditional foods, the beloved Torchlight Parade and the culminating Grand Carnival Parade on the Chora waterfront.
The Greeks elevated revelry to divine status. Christianity added its themes to the pre-Spring/Lenten season, and Naxos’ several century occupation by Venice all embossed their personality on the Carnival of Naxos 2019. Travel to the heart of the Cyclades and experience three millenniums of Carnival.
The peppy opening number of Naked Boys Singing, “Gratuitous Nudity,” pokes fun as to why we’re in the audience but promises, “No crudity. Just gratuitous nudity.” (Certainly easy on the eyes and naked 99% of the time the ensemble of Max Albertos, Mitchell Guzman, Joby Hernandez, Fidel Rebolledo, Renzo Sotelo and Luis Villanueva are handsome talented singers). Yet, most important, at the end of the opening number the men sing, “Than nakedness is just another window to the soul.”
Naked Boys Singing is an entertaining comedy revue with some real life pathos. Yet the lyrics and even the sequence of songs fail to develop this cohesive theme. The lyrics are gay oriented, a good selection for Incanto Theater situated in Puerto Vallarta –the gay friendly capital of Mexico. Yet most people evolve beyond potty humor after discovering the magic our naked bodies can create.
Perhaps edgy when originally produced Off-Broadway in 1998, I was getting bored and puzzled with Robert Schrock’s current version of his 20-year-old musical Naked Boys Singing by the end of the third song. I stress bored with the production not the boys.
Is Naked Boys Singing a vaudeville revue poking fun at our attitudes on nudity and sex? Or is it a musical of how we men see ourselves, literally, develop from the potty humor of 9-year-old boys, through teenage angst, to a celebration of why we (men and women) have beautiful, biologically designed bodies that produce fun, brainpower and love. Unfortunately creator Robert Schrock fails to ask himself these questions.
A lack of imaginative direction leaves six handsome naked men basically singing a concert in a straight line. One potty humor opening number would have been fine. “The Naked Maid” is silly but at least it was choreographed.
“Fight the Urge” (sung by Max Albertos, Mitchell Guzman, Joby Hernandez) speaks to many men, especially when gay teens, of uncomfortable moments in school locker rooms. It’s funny, true and in the last stanza sets up what could have continued a developing theme for the musical, “I can’t let anyone know what’s happening inside. I am all alone.”
Following that number, “Window to Window” (sung by Fidel Rebolledo and Luis Villanueva) provides a glimmer of thoughtful lyrics that brought more meaning to this play. In “Window to Window” two neighbors view each other frequently from across their apartment buildings’ divide. In a beautiful duet they communicate through attraction and desire. In the final lines their thoughts mesh even though physically separated when they sing, “Take a risk. Be daring.”
The beauty in “Window to Window” is that we do not know if the desire will be fulfilled. How many of us, gay or hetero, have not felt this same longing? That is the direction that could make Naked Boys Singing relevant theater and still retain its humor.
Unfortunately Robert Schrock concentrates on a miscellaneous list of minor topics from gay gym rats in “Muscle Addiction” to being a “Perky Little Pornstar.” Too many songs are just gratuitous entertainment. The lack of creative direction and a thematic vision fails to take advantage of the talents of six handsome naked men.
Yet the second act does have three songs of significant interest that capture a universal sense of humor, longing, fear and acceptance. The lyrics in “Nothing But the Radio On” (sung by Joby Hernandez) comically compare reactions to Marylyn Monroe’s famous 1950s nude calendar photo with still hypocritical sexual image attitudes.
“Work of Art“ (sung by Luis Villanueva) was appropriately a tableau recreating athletic nude marble statues with four of the cast members. The central, classically posed statue (Luis) sings of a particular man that frequently visits the museum. In silence they are doomed in expressing their mutual love. Once more the longing for love shines in this song.
The third to last number, “Window to the Soul,” a tender duet sung once more by Fidel Rebolledo and Luis Villanueva, should have been the final number in the production sequence. The “Window to Window” couple discovers the true nature of their love. They take the risk as scary as it is, “And now I know that who I am isn’t shameful or obscene.”
Naked Boys Singing should be an entertaining exploration of nakedness as both physical beauty and its impact on everyone’s self-image. Yet out of fifteen songs only a handful explore this identifiable theme – “nakedness is just another window to the soul” – that the musical introduced in the opening number, “Gratuitous Nudity.”
Still, the six talented naked young men in this Incanto Theater production have fun proving that nudity is the ultimate selfie.
Despite production flaws, Naked Boys Singing is entertaining and worth seeing. It is running several times per week along with Incanto’s stellar concert calendar for the 2018/2019 Winter season.
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Epirus is a rugged, heavily forested and mountainous region largely made up of the Pindus Mountains. Considered the “spine of Greece,” the Pindus Mountains separate Epirus from Macedonia and Thessaly to the east.
Even though the clothing, architecture and food may have a Balkan feel, today generally older men and women gather on benches around Metsovo’s church of Agia Paraskevi to observe life on the Central Square and speak the ancient Aromanian dialect.
Livestock grazing on the green Pindus mountain slopes and crafts are still a part of life in Metsovo. To that foundation, tourism has had a significant impact over the past half century. Winter skiing, summer hiking, vineyards, unique foods, charming hotels and restaurants with a view add to the allure of this northwestern Greek enclave.
Naxos is the most fertile island of the Cyclades. It has a large aquifer under the island in a region where water is usually inadequate. Mount Zeus at 1,004 meters (3,294 feet) tends to trap the clouds increasing rainfall. Agriculture is an important economic sector making Naxos the most self-sufficient island in the Cyclades.
This abundance is obvious in Naxos restaurants, artisan food shops and food markets. Besides produce Naxos is famous throughout Greece for its cheese, meats, fish and seafood. Simply walking along the wide, beautiful, long, crescent, pedestrian friendly waterfront of Chora (Naxos Town) is a gastronomic delight. Some of the best cafes and tavernas in Naxos are sandwiched between shops offering Naxos crafts and food products – it’s the center of nighttime social life in town.
No matter how murky the legends of St. Trifon Zarezan, the Orthodox Church patron saint of vine growing and wine production, Bulgarian wine is worth celebrating. Since the days of ancient Thrace and their reverence for Dionysus, Bulgaria’s neighbors have prized the wine from this region of the Balkans. At the World Travel Market London, the nation showed off its viticulture bounty to impressed attendees from around the globe.
The existence of wineries for thousands of years in what was then northern Thrace meant the industry flowed with history, sometimes with bumps. Through countless wars, Ottoman Empire restrictions on wine production to Stalinist collectivism, both the quantity and quality of the vintages varied. In the past 40 years the trajectory for quality has been steadily upward.
President Rosen Plevneliev (2012-2017) put it succinctly at a St. Trifon Zarezan Festival celebration, “If during the Socialism we were the symbol of mass production, now we enjoy quality Bulgarian wines. The Bulgarian foreign policy must focus on showcasing the success of our home winemaking; Bulgarian Ambassadors must be Ambassadors of Bulgarian wine as well.”
Constituting 42 micro climates in the five wine regions of Bulgeria classic Western European varietals such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot, riesling and chardonnay thrive along with the indigenous Bulgarian grapes gamza, mavrud, melnik, and the white misket and dimiat. Although more than 80 commercial wineries collectively produce over 100 million liters per year with 60% exported, supply does not keep up with demand. Although available in select stores and distributors, it’s difficult to find the wines in the United States.
What was particularly striking about the vintages at this tasting was their bouquet. It was difficult to put the glass to the lips because the nose was being so pleasured. The aromas of berries, especially raspberries, chocolate, hints of honey and the fragrance of oak and summer herbs was as satisfying as their taste on the palate.
Bulgarians favor red wines, hence a higher percentage of vineyards are focused on those grapes. Image Reserve was a basket of ripe summer fruit, smooth with hints of chocolate, soft and full flavored from sip to finish. A blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah, it’s rare and prized with an annual production of only 700 cases.
Rhapsody 2009 Chateau Valle de Roses oak and blackberry notes would pair well with grilled meat.
Some of the vines for Ross-Idi Pinot Noir are 2,000 years old. It was light in body with oak overtones. Ross-Idi Winery Nikolaevo Vineyard merlot had a complex mix of berry notes, pleasantly dry with a slightly acidic finish.
Angelus Estate’s Stallion was a blend of merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and syrah from the Thracian Valley in southeastern Bulgaria. It continued the aromas of blackberries with a soft finish and would match well with pastas or lamb.
Maryan Ivan Alexander red had only slight oak hints and sparkled with summer fruit notes such as plumbs and blueberries.
When my nose did not want to exit the glass of Butterfly’s Rock red, it was explained that they use special egg shaped oak barrels that are rotated frequently. The results are defined notes of oak, coffee, acorns and raspberries that are as pleasant to smell as to drink.
The average Bulgarian does not take white wines seriously. Even during St. Trifon Zarezan Festivals the reds are favored. Nevertheless, a smaller selection of Bulgarian whites is not to be ignored.
Izba Karabunar Ltd’s Misket & Dimgal was light in texture with slightly sweet melon tones. It would make a pleasant iced summer wine.
Midalidare sauvignon blanc added semillon to give it body. It had a surprisingly complex herbal bouquet finish.
Maryan Kera Tamara 2012 sauvignon blanc had definitive grapefruit tones with a crisp, dry, slightly acidic finish.
Angelus Estate’s White Stallion chardonnay managed to combine grapefruit with hints of honey – a terrific flavor combination of chardonnay, viognier and sauvignon blanc.
Levent 2012 is an Italian owned winery but with Bulgarian grapes vrachanski misket and traminer.
Orbelus Melnik organic wines sum up Bulgarian wine history. Today’s southern Bulgaria was northern Thrace 7,000 years ago. It is accepted that the ancient Kingdom of Thrace was the motherland of wine grapes. Soldiers of Alexander the Great brought melnik grapes to the Tharcian Valley over 2,300 years ago. The flavor notes of this full-bodied red were dark chocolate and walnuts accentuated by the smaller amounts of grenache noir and petit verdot added to the mash.
There is a good reason why wine is part of literature and science since nearly the beginning of the written word. Isn’t all of gastronomy meant to take simple ingredients and transform them into the extraordinary? Wine was an early success, and Bulgaria proudly continues the legacy.
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Marathia Restaurant on Tinos Island aptly proves the superlatives you have heard on the creativity of Greek cuisine and the uncompromising beauty of Cyclades Island beach locations.
Considering how many restaurants in Greece I have reviewed, Marathia is one of the more traditional yet modern you can visit. Chef/owner Marinos Souranis opened Marathia Restaurant in 2002 in the renovated nine-room boutique hotel his parents constructed on Tinos Island 40 years before. He and his staff use ageless techniques crafting a menu firmly based on local products and traditional recipes.
Yet the hook for the curious diner is in the knowledge that subtle personal touches (cinnamon added to homemade petroma cheese) and the imaginative presentations (marinated sardines served in sardine cans) set Marathia apart. That is a high compliment considering the exemplary level of Tinos gastronomy.
Both restaurant and hotel are open year round. The nine one and two bedroom apartments with kitchens are integrated within a design that’s traditional Greek village villa with 21st century amenities. The hotel includes the airy taverna style indoor dining room with many attractive antiques, tools especially, serving as sculptures against the white stucco walls.
Across the street is the seasonal dining pavilion, Partokali Beach Bar, which itself languidly spreads down stunning Aghios Fokas Beach – the longest sand beach on the island. Besides the dining area, Marathia provides shaded lounge chairs for total enjoyment of this Blue Flag beach. All of this is within a ten minute drive from the center of Chora.
Brunch at Marathia in general follows hotel patterns in so far as a buffet includes a variety of their cheeses, marinated fish, local sausages, yogurt, fruits and savory dishes. What from a distance could be mistaken for pastry layered with cream topped with strawberries was a baked savory pastry layered with cheese, herbs and topped with cherry tomatoes.
Chef Marinos wanted me to sample Marathia’s specialties from the a la carte menu. They are all meze, small plates that together with bread, salad and cheese frequently define a Greek meal. All were traditional centuries old preparations of local ingredients when preservation drove recipes. The dishes using riki, sardines, grazos and fish row are all uncooked salt cured.
Lakerta appears throughout the Aegean and Adriatic coasts. It uses riki, cousin to bonito fish. The fish is soaked in two separate salt-water solutions each for 24 hours. This cleans the fish. It’s then cut into steaks, salted and weighted down for 3 to 4 days turning daily. The lakerta may then be thinly sliced and eaten or stored in olive oil.
The lakerta is tender with mild saltiness as if fresh from the sea. Serve thinly sliced drizzled with olive oil and lemon.
Deboned grazros (cousin to sardines) sit in salt water for 90 minutes and in apple cider vinegar for 5 to 7 minutes. After the vinegar soak they’re placed in jars and covered with sunflower oil – important because sunflower oil imparts no flavor unlike olive and most other oils. The grazros can keep for three months.
Botargo – or avgotaraho – is a delicacy of cephalus or gray mullet fish row. The whole row sack is cured in sea salt for a few weeks, sundried and then encased in beeswax for preservation as it has been for over a thousand years. Traditionally served thinly sliced with some lemon juice and/or zest and white pepper either solo or with crusty bread and butter – the beeswax is removed before eating.
The botargo has a lightly chewy texture due to the process; yet its unique flavor is intense. Although like wine, flavors can very depending on the life-style and age of the cephalus, I detected hints of mango and sea urchin tongue. Allow the botargo to linger in your mouth to maximize the subtly sweet umami experience.
In preparing smoked white grouper the fish is covered in a mixture of sea salt, white pepper and sugar for 16 days before being smoked for two days. The moist, delicate silky fish is served thinly sliced with a garnish of pickled grapes as counterpoint.
Marinated vegetables, including artichokes, are steamed in water with some vinegar, lemon juice and a little olive oil until just tender. Then they are drained and marinated in olive oil, lemon juice and herbs. The textural contrast of the piquant vegetables pairs well with rich cheeses and delicate fish.
All cheeses, except one, are made in-house from unpasteurized milk and are so labeled on the menu due to health restrictions for certain conditions such as pregnancy. The exception is graviera, which is locally made with pasteurized milk. It’s the second most popular and versatile Greek cheese after feta and similar to gruyère. A firm but creamy cheese with generally mild on the sweeter side taste notes, it’s often sliced and added to cheese trays, grated over pasta and fried as saganaki.
I was surprised to see dozens of kariki aging. Only one person on the island makes it commercially, chef Aggeliki Vidou, but in small batches that cannot satisfy demand. Marinos makes his own kariki – the very rare (in the 21st century) “pumpkin cheese” of Tinos.
The name comes from the small gourd, a karika. Traditionally it was used to collect milk. Now metal milk containers are called kariki. It starts with petia a simple base cheese, that’s packed in the karika – the actual gourd. The gourd is sealed with a flour/water paste and aged for 2 to 3 months. The interaction with the gourd imparts both color and deep flavors with hints of caramel, mild gorganzola and dried figs.
His malathouni, also from the base petia (cone), is made with goat’s milk. On average malathouni is aged for about one month. At Marathia it’s aged six months intensifying the natural tang of the goat’s milk yet maintaining a creamy texture.
Petroma’s base cheese is freshly strained petia. The round of cheese is then weighted until most of the additional whey drains. At Marathia they add a bit of sea salt and cinnamon to the petia before straining.
The wood burning oven near the entrance to the hotel is for bread baking. Olive wood only is used for its high and uniform burning temperature. Breads are made from whole-wheat flour and the yeast from a starter dough. The breads have a touch of sourdough texture and aroma that compliments rich butter and cheeses.
Tinos Island’s own T-Oinos Winery 2013 Clos Stegasta Assyrtiko accompanied the main courses. It has a classic nose of dry summer grasses and vanilla. The tongue picked up fresh citrus zest, which lingered. The throat sensed a pleasant finish of dry grapefruit zest. Assyrtiko ought to be a Greek national treasure.
With the cheese course, local Domaine de Kalathas’ Winery 10+12 late harvest 100% Tinos Island potamisi grape produces a fresh semi-dry white wine. It’s not aged and has subtle tones of honey and white currents with floral notes. Despite being semi-dry in the mouth it has a surprising dry smooth finish.
Tinos Island is a gastronomic destination of great physical beauty. Yet you could eat a convenience store hotdog on a Greek island beach and remember the beauty of the experience. At Marathia let’s just say the experience is raised far above sea level.
Inspired by the allegorical 1924 Thomas Mann novel The Magic Mountain, Frederico Lazaridis takes seriously the primal interplay of mythic forces and human reality. Wine was essential to the Greek psyche and had its own god, Dionysus. In everyday life Eastern Macedonia and Thrace was its motherland.
More to the point, Chateau Nico Lazaridi sits opposite Eastern Macedonia and Thrace’s own magic mountain – Mount Pangeon. Its magic was both mythic – a favorite party mountain for Dionysus – and tangible. Its vast gold deposits funded the empires of Philip II and Alexander the Great, paid for the construction of the nearby legendary city of Philippi and, sitting on the Via Egnatia, was at the crossroads between Eastern and Western cultures for centuries.
During the Roman Empire era (100s BC – 500s AD) retired legionaries were often settled in the region producing high quality agricultural products shipped as far as Rome. The Via Egnatia spanned the length of today’s northern Greece from Thessaloniki to the Dardanelles. It was the “super highway” for the distribution of goods between the Mediterranean and Asia.
Frederico takes all of this personal. Nico Lazadidis, Frederico’s father, is from the region – the historic city of Drama. His mother was from Florence, Italy, which added a cultural influence already common in the lands along the Via Egnatia. Nico’s profession was also ancient – stone and marble purveyor. Their roots are, literally, in the building blocks of civilizations.
Nico learned to make wine during his years in Italy. In 1974 the family and business returned to Drama but continued perfecting their wine making techniques as a “garage art.” In the early 1980s Nico explored commercial possibilities and in 1987 established Chateau Nico Lazaridi.
They were one of the only wineries at the time in the Drama region of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace. It’s ironic that for seven millenniums, Thrace has been the mother terroir of wine grapes. Yet wine production virtually ended in the 15th century under Ottoman Islamic rule coupled with the phenomenal profits earned from “King Tobacco” followed then by the devastation of 20th century wars.
Of course it was precisely the devastation and upheavals of 20th century wars that ended the preeminence of tobacco as an economic engine. Macedonia and Eastern Macedonia and Thrace are once again regaining the wine reputations they held since ancient days. Eleven wineries dot the Drama area while seven labels are in the nearby Kavala region.
The Kingdom of Thasos, which the region was a part in the 1st millennium BC, established the first quality control system for grapes, wine and olive oil. Today the Drama area is within the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) Agora.
Chateau Nico Lazaridi is between three mountains, which funnel steady winds ventilating the grape vines helping to prevent mold. The vineyards lay on an ancient riverbed, which provides soil rich in minerals. The region’s flat riverbed land was made arable only as a result of 1930s drainage and land reclamation projects. The famous Battle of Philippi (1st century BC) fought nearby was on wetlands.
Chateau Lazaridi proves that bigger can be better. Its 1.1 million bottle production consists of over a dozen wines and tsipouro, the classic distillation from wine must. One hundred sixty acres in the Drama area (PGI –Agora) contain the main vineyards. Thirty-seven acres are contracted from area growers.
Their Mackedon Winery in Kavala is 25 acres and a new small ten acre winery will soon open on Mykonos Island.
Neither bio-dynamic nor organic farming methods are used in the vineyards because Frederico feels they’re best in an enclosed growing environment such as the islands where it’s easiest to maintain proper conditions.
The new wine cellar, for me, is the centerpiece. It has exposed earthen walls that maintain climate and temperature with 85% humidity. French and American oak barrels fill the vast room, but acacia wood is now being used especially for the whites. Acacia imparts a floral note. An impressive curved ceiling mural looking upward at the sky through a grape arbor graces the length of the cellar.
Chateau Nico Lazaridi is a multidimensional company of several divisions today. A demo kitchen, which will feature area guest chefs, will offer cooking and wine classes. It will be the forerunner of a future restaurant on site.
A lab is on site to maintain quality control. They research developments in vinification in the quest for the next generation of Greek wine.
The Magic Mountain Art Gallery is the family’s great pride. It is both the private collection of the Lazaridi family and, in many cases, the designs for wine labels. Twenty-five years ago Nico established an artist partnership to contemporize Greek wine marketing. The Magic Mountain Art Gallery works with and patronizes contemporary Greek and European artists who express interpretations of the primal link between this drink of the gods and its role in Greek life.
Lunch with Frederico offered hearty northern Greek dishes and two of Chateau Lazaridi’s most popular wines both from the PGI-Agora. Cavalieri Lazaridi White (Assyrtiko 70%, Sauvignon Blanc 15%, Ugni Blanc 15%) has the dry yellow fruit notes with hints of honey emblematic of assyrtiko. It spends six months in acacia barrels adding floral accents.
Greek fashion designer Andria Thomais designed both labels for F- EY, a dry red of the PGI-Agora (Merlot 85%, Grenache Rouge 15%). The original paintings in the Magic Mountain collection are of two contented men and women. Ey (εὖ in Greek) is a descriptor for all that’s good and creative in a person’s life. It’s an apted descriptor for Chateau Nico Lazaridi and one that Dionysus sitting on his magic mountain would bestow.
The god would probably want his portrait on a label.