February 11, 2008

Making culture exciting & forgetting about intellectual snobbery

Posted at 1:56 pm in Elgin Marbles

Stelios Hadji-Ioannou responds to Peter Aspden’s piece last week in the Financial Times about the incompatibilities between Easy Cruise & complex intellectual debates on the Elgin Marbles.

Financial Times

Forget the intellectual snobbery – just make culture exciting
Published: February 9 2008 02:00 | Last updated: February 9 2008 02:00

From Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou.

Sir, I found Peter Aspden’s piece “A debate that could make you lose your marbles” (February 2/3) a little too elitist for this day and age. First, the only Socratic irony I have found so far is that I read this piece on the screen of my BlackBerry as I was leaving the new Acropolis museum in Athens. I had just received a sneak preview of this masterpiece by the chairman of the museum, Prof Dimitrios Pandermalis. I found him a man not only of vast knowledge and good humour but also surprisingly thoughtful on the Parthenon marbles debate. I think anyone would be happy to entrust one’s cultural heritage to someone like him.

In his article, Peter Aspden struggled to see the association between easyCruise and the marbles debate. Perhaps this is because he forgot we actually have something in common. We both understand the British and the Greek cultures. I was born and raised in Athens in a Greek-Cypriot shipping family, so it does make sense to me that my cruise line will showcase the best of Greece, both modern and ancient.

At the same time, I will never trivialise this great debate on the Parthenon marbles. With regards to the debate, the Cambridge Union selects the speakers and I look forward to attending on February 18 in order to learn more about both sides of the argument. I will not even rehearse any of the arguments here; I will leave those to the experts.

I do however take exception to the assertion that “cultural tourism is close to being an oxymoronic phrase”. Yes, I do have a huge vested interest in people travelling for any reason, including culture, but so does Morgan Stanley, sponsors of the Terracotta Army exhibition at the British Museum. I hope Mr Aspden does not feel that a sponsor makes the exhibit or the debate any less worthwhile.

I also object to Mr Aspden’s assertion that “there is no relation whatsoever between the cheap holiday package and this stormiest of intellectual topics”. For starters our latest ship has 23 very roomy and comfortable suites that will set you back more than £1,000, although somehow I doubt that there will be any correlation between how much people pay and their IQ. In fact all the academics I have met in this debate look pretty down-to-earth guys to me.

My main problem with this type of intellectual snobbery is the problem best illustrated by the following confession: Before yesterday, the last time I went to the Acropolis was as part of a junior high school field trip some 30 years ago.

Unless we make the ancient Greek culture exciting, fun and, dare I say, affordable, the biggest risk is that the next generation will simply not give a damn about “this stormiest of intellectual topics”.

Stelios Haji-Ioannou,
176 74 Athens, Greece

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