Absolutely splendid time in Athens – treated like visiting royalty by the Sylvia Ioannou Foundation, which was putting on the conference in association with the University of the Aegean and the University of Cyprus. Five-star accommodation – views from the terrace across to the Acropolis. The conference assembled at the Museum of Cycladic Art on Thursday evening for preliminary welcomes and speeches, distinguished guests a-plenty, and a slap-up buffet. Excellent.
On the bus bright and early in the morning for the first full day. At least I was – the First Lady opted to remain by the pool – but each to their own I suppose, and I can see that fifteen academic papers in a day might just conceivably not be everyone’s cup of tea. Our conference theme was Cyprus on the Crossroads of Travellers and Map-Makers from the 15th to 20th Century – so plenty of scope for a variety of papers on that enchanted but ever and achingly troubled island. We moved from biblical exegesis (Catherine Delano-Smith) to cosmographic narratives, mediaeval and early modern texts and descriptions, Venetian plans, portolan charts (Tony Campbell), monastic landscapes and more – the papers in Greek, English and French with simultaneous translation laid on through our headsets. How difficult must simultaneous translation be? Most of us find it difficult enough speaking one language at a time – or speaking at all, come to that. Multi-tasking writ large. Translation can’t ever be quite simultaneous of course – always those awkward moments when the native speakers all laugh and you can’t because either you haven’t as yet had the translation – and when you do get it it’s too late – or you don’t get the joke in any case, lost in translation or just lost on you. But the translators performed heroically in trying to get us most of it in good order. There was perhaps just a single point in a single paper at which the pool option flickered briefly as a very viable alternative – but the thought soon passed.
Anne meanwhile had prised herself away from the pool to catch the bus across to lovely Nafplion to pay a visit to ABA member and old friend Louise Bryan – using her full name now and trading as Mary Louise Bryan– and of course her partner, Panagiotis Chantziaras.
Panagiotis is, as we know, a man of robust and sometimes idiosyncratic views – if only the Greek government would listen to him, I’m sure they’d have themselves sorted out in no time. I had hoped to tack a couple of days on to the visit to get down to see them both myself, but the conference timetable was tight and the imminence of an ABA Council meeting ruled that out. So – photographs from Anne – greetings and best wishes from Louise and Pan to all their old friends in the UK.
Back in Athens, rapidly back to the hotel to rewrite my paper. No point in making a point already made by four other speakers – and scope for some instant topicality in picking up on some of the thoughts beginning to emerge. More of the extraordinarily generous hospitality soon beckoned – a visit to the wonderful new Acropolis Museum, levered up above the archaeological dig taking place below it. The deeper the foundations went, the more they found. Our personal guide as we see the highlights. Then on up the road to the entirely splendid Dionysos Restaurant – champagne views of the floodlit Acropolis – pretty much the food of the gods in the lap of the gods. Seafood soup, crispy vegetables, fillet in Mavrodafni wine sauce, and baklavas – not a dessert I normally have a great deal of regard for – but here just absolute nectar, even the locals thought it the best they had ever tasted.
Enjoyment of the evening slightly tempered by the knowledge that I am the very first speaker the following morning (who on earth arranged that?) – but still time enough for a late-night nightcap back at the hotel with Ashley Baynton-Wlillams (whom I blame entirely), my delightful fellow-speaker, Dr Aiketerini Papadoulaki-Apostolaki from the University of Crete, and a couple of her pals. Ashley is just putting the finishing touches to his cartobibliography of Cyprus maps, to be published by the Foundation, no-one better to be on hand –and I thank him here for all his help, notes and guidance, as well as some stunning images from the Foundation’s collection. Long since written in the stars that 9.00am on a Saturday morning is never, ever, in all our imagining, going to be my best or most fluent segment of the week, but got away straight off with a slightly risky reference to the British occupation of Cyprus – not easy giving the appalling things that happened and in front of a large number of Cypriots – but faint heart, and all that. Helped a little by the fact that the huge map of Cyprus by Captain H. H. Kitchener dominated one wall of the Museum – and indeed our lunch-room. We all know Lord Kitchener as the very face of the British Empire at the time of the Great War – but perhaps not as the young captain in the Royal Engineers who mapped Cyprus in the 1880s better than it had ever been mapped before – and who had a blazing row with his commanding officer, the redoubtable and ungainsayable Sir Garnet Wolseley, over standards of mapping.
The rest of the paper – in fact when I got round to it about three very much earlier British maps of Cyprus – appeared to go down well enough and will eventually be published as part of the proceedings. Time to relax and enjoy the rest of the day – a whole bunch of further papers on later nineteenth and twentieth-century perceptions of Cyprus, plus a paper from Professor John Walton of the University of the Basque Country at Bilbao, fast becoming a firm friend and expert guide to the protocols of academic conferences, but whose text appeared to me at least (perhaps I missed something) to be about Mallorca rather than Cyprus. But highly entertaining it was – and Cyprus was certainly referenced. John chaired a final discussion session which became just a wee bit tense – but after tea we moved smoothly on to a presentation from the seriously impressive Eva Sachini of the Greek National Documentation Centre (EKT). Extraordinary and far-reaching plans for the digitisation of Greek sources – scholars watch out!
Another ABA member, Andreas Nicolas (Nicolas Antiquarian Ltd.), was attending the conference – a professional interest in these matters – an expert in all things Greece, Cyprus and the Levant, over in Athens in hope of doing a bit of business as well. Not a great deal to be done he tells me, but whatever there is he will find. Very good to see and catch up with him. The final papers presented and enjoyed, Anne now back amongst us, we assembled for a farewell supper up on the roof of our Athenaeum Intercontinental Hotel – yet more spectacular views across to the Acropolis.
Some debate about whether this was the very finest view in all Athens. Parmesan risotto, lime sorbet, suckling pig, chocolate gâteau with iced orange – how difficult is this? A very fine few days. Good, interesting and jolly company. Superbly organised. Formal and heartfelt thanks to all concerned, not least Sylvia Ioannou herself, collector extraordinary, her son Stelios Christodoulou and his charming wife Angela, and the wonderful Artemis Scutari, director of the foundation. Angling for a return invitation to the next conference? – you bet. Thank you all.