Saturday, October 15, 2016

GREEKS AND DECIBELS


The revelation that the members of my tribe were possessed of a certain renown with regard to the resonance of their voices, came to me early in my youth. An exogenous friend from school was over, and we were trying to solve a puzzle while my maternal progenitor was on the phone, speaking to her respective maternal progenitor, in the fabled city of Athens. 

In those heady days of international telephony, the ominous blips that heralded the imminent reception of an overseas call had their own protocol. Upon the sounds manifesting their presence upon his auditory nerves, it was incumbent upon the lifter of the receiver to firstly yell: “Ελλάδα, Ελλάδα!” most probably as an invitation to the rest of the members of the household to gather around the telephone, as well as an exhortation to be quiet, a pious hope, considering that the telephone receiver would be fought over by all members of the family, in their attempts to speak to their loved ones in Greece.

Having claimed the receiver, hallowed rubrics prescribed that the would-be interlocutor had to yell “shhhhh!” to the rest of the family, who in turn were obliged to shouting “τι λέει, τι λέει;” in the staggered unison of an ancient Greek chorus, as they attempted to wrest the phone from his grasp. Extricating himself from the tangle of outstretched arms, entwined phone cord and a cacophony of voices, holy tradition dictated that the interlocutor must then shout triumphantly: “Αλάου;” followed by a litany of “μ᾽ακούς, μ᾽ακούς;” while the rest of the family interposed with antiphons of: “χαιρετισμούς” and ”φιλάκια πολλα!

In homes such as ours, possessed of such modern and heretical of devices as a wall telephone, the whole typikon was typically performed as an akathist.

“Geez your mum has got a loud voice,” my friend exclaimed, having been treated to a truncated version of the above described telephonic liturgy.

“No, she’s speaking to Greece,” I responded, unconsciously translating into English, the Greek phrase: “Μιλάει με την Ελλάδα.” (In those days leaving out the article was inconceivable).

“What?”

“She is speaking with my grandmother in Greece,” I elaborated.

“So why does she have to shout?”

“Well, Greece is such a long way away,” I heard myself saying.

Despite the advent of new rites that have, in their quest for global conquest, swept away the old rituals, along with their adherents’ unique conception of a relationship between volume and distance, some of us remain, as solitary Zoroastrians marooned within the wastelands of Yazd, faithful to the diptychs. Refusing to be initiated into the mysteries of Viber with the vehemence of a Jacobite recusant and viewing Skype with the incomprehensibility of a South Sea Islander gazing upon a crucifix for the very first time, to this day, when I call Greece, I, an Old Believer, perform the old observances, shouting down the mouthpiece of the telephone with as much fervor as I can muster.

Such fervor is of course, that of the lapsed pagan who, though converted, perennially lacks true faith. Somewhere, deep below my idol-worshipping veneer, I doubt the ability of the electromagnetic gods to convey messages via means supernatural and verily believe that the more I shout in the general direction of climes ancestral, the further my voice will carry. After all, did not Saint Kosmas the Aetolian prophesy the coming of the telephone when he envisaged: “you will speak here and they will hear you in Russia,” or according to another version “you will cry out here and they will hear you in Russia?”  I’ve called Russia on a few occasion in my time and have been gratified by the fact that being a country of like faith, the shouting is reciprocal. Furthermore, in my zeal, I display the same propensity to uplift my voice for calls local. Oh Telstra, hear my prayer. Silence. Oh Optus, - Yes.

            Though not quite. For it was a non-Greek colleague that pointed out the inconsistencies in my implementation of received dogmatic technology. “Did you that I can tell when you speaking to an Aussie? Your voice becomes low and nasal. I can also tell when you are speaking to a Greek. You get agitated and start shouting. Why are you guys always fighting with each other?”

            Such sentiments have also been echoed by non-Greek family friends witnessing a Greek-Australian discourse:

            “What’s wrong?”

            “Nothing, why?”

            “You guys are fighting.”

            “We aren’t fighting.”

“Yes you are. You are shouting at each other.”

“Are we?”

“Yes.”

“No, we are just talking. That’s all.”

“So why are you shouting at me now?”

“No I’m not.”

“You are, you are shouting at me as we speak.”

“I’m not shouting. I’m raising my voice for emphasis.”


According to some deep thinking members of the tribe, our propensity to be louder than all of the other inhabitants of this planet has more to do with evolution then faith and ritual. At least that is what one armchair philosopher of a local Greek community organisation revealed to me when I observed that at general meetings, shouting seems to be the main item on the agenda: “You can’t blame them my boy. Of course we shout. The Turks are to blame. The ancient Greeks were very dignified people and shouting was considered bad breeding. You would never see Socrates or Pericles shout for example. The Byzantines were a very solemn people, always chanting hymns and praying, so there was no time to shout, except towards God when they shouted: “Lord, I have shouted unto Thee, hearken unto me,” (which seems to describe perfectly, my relationship with the telephone). When the Turks came, however, they push us all into the mountains. And how we were going to communicate with each other across deep mountain valleys and impassable ravines? Why, via shouting of course. We have gotten into the habit and we can no longer shake it off. Go to any φρουτομαρκέτα these days, and you will see Greek calling Greek like mastodons across primeval swamps.”

 

A sociological explanation was once offered to me by an Athenian theologian who was at that time, moonlighting as a municipal waste disposer (better money and hardly any work to do considering that they were perennially on strike). According to him, the Byzantine model is the ideal from which we have fallen: “Orthodoxy if anything, is structural. You cry, God listens. Similarly, when the Word of God is spoken, you listen. But in modern Greece, everyone shouts because they have lost the skill of listening. Because listening means thinking. And we Modern Greeks talk so we don’t have to think. Nonetheless, since times ancient, we have remained a competitive, adversarial race. This is why Modern Greeks do not believe in whispering. If anything, the main task in a discussion between Greeks is to achieve a decibel level higher than your interlocutor. The louder you are, the more right you are. Haven’t you seen the Greek morning talk shows?”

 

This exposition troubled me, not because it purported to reveal to me my true identity but rather because that identity has been prophesied by Saint Kosmas to be compromised when the world is ruled by the “άλαλα και μπάλαλα,» that is, those who neither speak, nor hear. Consolation, is taken where it an be found, in the multitude of the Modern Greek songs that attest to the inimitability of shouting to the Greek identity. Take the Cartesian Φωνάζω, for example, where it is categorically stated: Ελπίζω άρα υπάρχω... Φωνάζω άρα ζω...Δε θα σωπάσω ούτε λεπτό, or even Giannis Ploutarchos, Το Φωνάζω, which proves that even in our most tender and intimate moments of eros, shouting is a prerequisite for our understanding of reality: ‘Tο φωνάζω. Με καμία δε σ' αλλάζω. Σ' αγαπάω στο φωνάζω.’

Giannis Kalliris drives the point home further and reveals the ultimate truth about ourselves when he croons: “Γιορτάζω, γιορτάζω μ’ ακούτε που το φωνάζω…” Thus, if he does not shout it, we would not know that he is celebrating. If we do not shout, no one knows that we exist and we begin to doubt our own corporeality. It was for this reason then that in the Beginning there was the Word, and only later did in become Flesh.

Secure then in the knowledge that my decibels shield me from oblivion, I fear only, like the proverbial tree in the forest, my hypostasis, should I shout and there be no Greek there to hear me, which I think, is why the Byzantines turned to God in the first place. Till next time then, when it is my shout.

 

DEAN KALIMNIOU
kalymnios@hotmail.com

First published in NKEE on Saturday 15 October 2016

Saturday, October 08, 2016

NOTED TRANSPARENCIES


“Within the dark of anguish/ I inhabited your footsteps/ these you told me/ are the yeast of resurrection.”

 
The above lines could easily have been written by Saint Isaac the Syrian, John of Dalyatha or any of the desert fathers of the Thebaid. The “Noted Transparencies” a collection of poems, the majority of which were revealed Muhammad-like, to the poet Nikos Nomikos in a nocturnal vision and only written down decades later in the Antipodes, are not just imbued with the desert tradition, they are sodden in it. That vision, is not an easy one either to behold, or to record. It is just as painful as that granted to John of the Apocalypse, and just as cryptic: “I saw a towering lord-like man, with a parchment spread across his chest, I tried to read it, but strange were its words, and it reminded me, of an old happy world, in which I had once lived.” Unlike that of Saint John, Nomikos’ Apocalypse is comprehensible, (albeit barely), but does not appear to lead to any discernible resolutions, save for the affirmation of the palimpsest of his own memory.

Most notable is the sparse, arid, apophthegmatic quality of Nomikos’ revelations.

 
The words of desert fathers are few but their meaning are as manifold as the grains of sand that comprise their home. They need to be, for time is of the essence: “…and he told me, look on the calendar, nigh are its hours, the definition of silence and do not worry, tomorrow I sail, with the morning line.”  Typical of the Orthodox conception of time is the manner in which Nomikos conflates it, confounding any modern perspective of its linearity. This vision is of things that have passed, are currently passing and are yet to pass, all in one. In all of this, there is an incredible amount of waiting: “I am sitting on the bench, along with others, waiting for my turn to be called, to the feast of the apocalypse, just as they had told me.” There are therefore, apocalypses and apocalypses of apocalypses and we slowly begin to understand the aptness of the title: “Noted Transparencies.” The desert fathers aspire to theosis, union with the Godhead. On that day, the earthly raiment of the corporeal shall be shed in favour of the ineffable and the aethereal and spiritual paradoxes such as that of the “itinerant musician…just playing his guitar so deftly, never mind that he was one-handed,” shall be superseded.

 
We place Nikos Nomikos among the desert fathers of the diaspora, however reluctant, for he is that rare thing, a diasporan by birth, even before arriving at the Antipodes, a source of wonder, even for the poet himself: “In any case, no matter whom I asked, nobody knew to tell me, why they invited us, to this different land.” Born in Alexandria to Greek migrants, his conception of Hellenism is that not of the exile, but of the outsider. Living in the same neighbourhood as Cavafy, and later going on to inhabit the same workstation as Nikos Kavvadias, a following in the footsteps of the fathers, if there ever was one, Nikos Nomikos’ poetry is remarkable (and mercifully) devoid of the palindromic but ultimately stultifying nostalgia for place and time that has so characterized the poetry of his generation.

His tradition, as opposed to that of many of his peers which appears to have frozen in time upon their arrival upon these shores, is a living one, which can thus facilitate the poets’ effortless spiritual navigation through millennia of the human condition, without becoming anachronistic, or stale, all the while encouraging us, to ascend or descend to the sublime, at will, upon a ladder with him and his teachers:  “The alarm clock howled beside me, at days reveille, with all the sensitive demands, of the spiritual person, and I remembered my teacher, not Saint John of the Ladder, him I never had the privilege, he only left me his ladder, freshly painted, as a memento, but the Alexandrine, originally from Corfu, Ioannis Gikas…”

The juxtaposition of Saint and exiled teacher here is not coincidental. Saint John Climacus is known as an ascetic who abandoned the world for the monastery of Saint Catherine in Sinai, there to pen the Ladder, a manual that describes how to raise one's soul and body to God through the acquisition of ascetic virtues. Incidentally it is in the Ladder' that we first hear of the ascetic practice of carrying a small notebook to record the thoughts of the monk during contemplation. In similar fashion, the poet Nikos Nomikos views his toil as being best ascribed to that of the ascetic, even referring to his workspace as his ασκητήριον. Thus in a poem that appears to converse intertextually with his neighbour Cavafy’s ‘The Afternoon Sun’ («This room, how well I know it.») he states: «The room is quite small, three by three, but with vast ascetic dimensions, full of fires and passions, which whatever we say, outlast distant measures of time, and their word, is heard deep, in the hearing of lovers, the decency of spiritual light.»

Gikas, on the other hand,  «with his all white beard, his monocle, and the black cloak of intellectualism, that whenever I saw him my skull shuddered from his spirit, and I would sit for hours on end, listening to him...» is just as capable of imparting those things needful in the diaspora as any metropolitan Hellene. Spirituality aside therefore, Nomikos’ alternative vision of the Greek diaspora, that of a community completely emancipated from its cultural cringe of ersatzness, self-confident and capable of manipulating its past heritage and current conditions in order to formulate and articulate a world view of its own, is an exciting and overwhelmingly relevant one, if only we have the noetic insight to follow in his footsteps, for the search for topos is eternal and transcends itself: «From then I began designing the winters of the future, on sorrowful canvases, in the gallery of the soul, with faces full of incurable dreams, of the golden Homeland, which are never-ending.»

It is perhaps fitting then that «Noted Transparencies» has been translated from the original Greek by diasporan scholar and poet George Mouratidis, who, despite being born in Athens, culturally belongs to the second diasporic generation. Mouratidis’ translation is careful, considered and unobtrusive, rendering the desert father Nikos Nomikos’ Apocalypse, with all the faith, respect and discernment that it compells of his disciples, hence his admission that: «every one of my conversations with Nomikos is a lesson...Nomikos, both in his art and life, is a world unto himself, one into which he himself disappears, taking the reader with him.»

«Noted Transparencies,» is the only collection by Nomikos to appear in English. Published by Owl Publishing, the imprint of Greek academic stalwart Helen Nickas, who has devoted much effort in disseminating the works of Greek diasporan poets to the broader mainstream, it is more than a monument, in the words of Lucy Van, to the ruptured flowrings of time: intimate, beatific and sad.   Instead, it is the entire sublime paradox of existence, to be «celebrated with choirs and high floods of light.» For each of us, all it could take to be granted the vision of this humbly transparant desert father, could be: «that poem, with the gilded dove on its breast, which spoke of syllables of the soul, on the open sails of the ineviable journey, with a closed mouth of sacrament.» And in the meantime, as the noetic prayer of poetry is rendered faithfully into the English idiom through the ascesis of Mouratidis for the edification of us all, «tonight the wind is blowing and it is raining heavily, in the ascetic’s face.»

 
The English translation of Noted Transparencies was launched at the Collected Works Bookshop on Friday 30 September 2016.

 
DEAN KALIMNIOU
kalymnios@hotmail.com

First published in NKEE on Saturday 8 October 2016 

Saturday, October 01, 2016

A WOG LETTER OF LOVE


Dearest mainstream journalists who posit that ‘wog’ is a term of endearment,

One of the first “wogs” I met, was my father, who at the tender age of six was ordered off a Melbourne tram, along with his father, for having the temerity to speak to him in the only language he knew, Greek, in this fashion: “We speak English in Australia you bloody wogs. Get off.” At that time, my family had only been in Australia for two years, so the endearing intent behind the injunction was lost on my father. Similarly, in high school, when his classmates fulminated against the “f....g wogs,” only to modify their position upon being the recipients of his fists, with an: “but you’re alright,” he criminally failed to appreciate the jocular, endearing way in which this was intended. Incidentally, to this day, my father refuses to watch the epic film “Lawrence of Arabia,” because of the scene where T.E Lawrence walks into the ‘no-wogs’ bar (again, that is meant in the nicest possible way), and announces he has taken Aqaba in the following terms: “We’ve taken Aqaba... the wogs have.” Regardless of how much I try, I am unable to convince him that the British army meant the word as a term of affection for the Arabs, whose countries they would go on to appropriate for themselves. Funny that.

In his memoir, “Call me Emilios,” His Honour Justice Emilios Kyrou of the Victorian Supreme Court of Appeal, also vividly describes how he failed to realise that the constant beatings and name-callings he endured at his school for being a “wog,” which resulted in him changing his name in an attempt to efface his ethnic identity, were merely the effusions of the generosity of the Australian spirit. In a sense, His Honour should be profoundly grateful for the privilege of being called a ‘wog’ and being roughed up as a result, for it gave him the motivation to seek to defy the contemporary preconceived notions of a wog’s proper place in society and become of the keenest legal minds of his generation. I extend, unsolicited, my thanks on his behalf.

Likewise, in her recent maiden speech to Federal Parliament, Greek-Australian Liberal MP Julia Banks describes her own special relationship with the word ‘wog,’ and how she sought its meaning in a dictionary: “Incredulously, I read the definition over and over: “Someone of dark skin who is foreign to the land on which he lives.” I was hurt more by the tone of the word and less by its definition. I felt ugly, scared and very alone.”  Notice a pattern here dearest mainstream journalists? We “wogs” seem unable to understand the unique Australian communication of affection. Julia Banks in a case in point, because in more recent times, mysteriously contemporaneous with when “wog” became a term of endearment, as a junior lawyer, her car was attacked by unionists who in her own words: “They threw my car, rocked it backwards and forwards and slammed their faces against the windows as they called me a wog.” For some reason, Julia Banks seemed sufficiently moved by this outpouring of tolerance and inclusiveness that she also chose to relate this love story in her maiden speech.

Furthermore, dearest mainstream journalists, when I, born and bred in Oz, wear the Greek national costume for the Greek Independence Day march to the Shrine of Remembrance, which has taken place in Melbourne for over four decades, I will be invariably be accosted by well meaning Sunday strollers with the words: “F......g poofter wog. Why don’t you go back to your own country?” When I do return to my ancestral homeland, which is the municipality of Moonee Valley, in which my family has resided for sixty two years, I usually reflect upon how the expression of such terms of endearment create an  unprecedented sense of intimacy and connectedness with the broader Australian zeitgeist. I suspect this has something to do with how well my bestockinged legs look in a skirt and suspect them, that I asked for it. Similarly, I am always astounded at the level of affection displayed when discussing the merits of Australian political parties with my parents on the way to the polling booth on election day, well meaning citizens diligently remind us: “We speak English in Australia you b....y wogs.”  I had the honour of witnessing a gentleman also direct those same loving words of endearment at my then two year old daughter at last year’s local ANZAC Day festivities, proving that age is no boundary to lapping up the type of love you so celebrate.

Dearest mainstream journalists, I applaud you for celebrating just how endearing the word ‘wog’ is in the mainstream print media. Finally, pronouncements such as “all wog parents are strict, wog parents don’t give their kids enough freedom, (from psychologists,) wogs shouldn’t speak their wog languages because it confuses them when they speak English, (from teachers) wogs are experts at rorting the system (from a centrelink employee), ‘geez you wogs smother your kids in clothes (from a doctor) and I love wog food, (almost anyone invited to our homes)” all fall into perspective, though I confide in you that I am yet to comprehend what a “chocko wog” is. This is important, because apparently, I am one. I’m sure it’s something exceedingly beautiful, just like me in my ‘wog’ skirt.

Imagine how ecstatic I was to learn that the term ‘wog,’ was first noted by lexicographer F.C. Bowen in 1929, in his Sea Slang: a dictionary of the old-timers’ expressions and epithets, where he defines wogs as "lower class Babu shipping clerks on the Indian coast.” This makes me happy, both because I have an abiding fascination in the cultures of the Indian subcontinent, and because a Second World War veteran who was hidden by Greek villages in Crete at the risk of their lives during that war, once told me, after a passenger on the tram derided me for daring to read a book in ‘wog,’  that ‘wog’ was a colloquial expression for a disease, and I’d rather be a Gujarati-speaking bureaucrat than syphilis, any day. I was going to go with the common cold here, but I assure you, there is nothing common about us ‘wogs.’

What is especially endearing about applying the word ‘wog’ to us, dearest mainstream journalists, is that the love is spread so far and wide. Indeed, the broadness of its application is breathtaking. It is efficiency itself. Instead of having to differentiate between Italians, Greeks, Maltese, Turks, Croatians, Serbians, Bosnians, Albanians, Turks, Kurds, Armenians, Persians, Lebanese...etc, one collective noun is all that is required to speed your love from your lips and into our hearts, decimating the differences in language, culture, religion and gender between us and re-casting us in one, easily accessible, Aussie-forged image, all the better to relate to us with, similar in fashion to how in 1949, British MP George Wigg said of Winston Churchill: “The Honourable Gentleman and his friend think they are all ‘wogs’. Indeed the Right Honourable Member for Woodford, thinks that the ‘wogs’ begin at Calais.” This is instructive because I’ve always wondered where the borders of Woglandia begin. As well, for some obscure reason, I’ve been brought up to be proud of my Greek heritage. I feel now, that this is a grave mistake. Had I been brought up to be proud of being a ‘wog,’ I would not have missed out on appreciating all that love. And sometimes, that’s just all you need.

The archetypal ‘Wogboy’ himself seems to agree with you dearest mainstream journalists. Nick Giannopoulos once commented: “I think by defusing the word 'wog' we've shown our maturity and our great ability to adapt and just laugh things off, you know... When I first came [to Greece] and I started trying to explain to them why we got called 'wog' they'd get really angry about it... But then when they see what we've done with it—and this is the twist—that we've turned it into a term of endearment, they actually really get into that...”

Certainly, there is great comedic release in ‘wogs,’ saying the word wog, for after all the best type of comedy is that which arises from a release of tension, in this case, the realisation by the coiner that his term registers as one of endearment to the intended recipient, just as the ‘n’ word is used in the United States. In a conversation I had some time ago with another archetypal ‘wog,’ George Kapiniaris, we mused over just how mainstream and metrosexual the descendants of the ‘wogs’ that they portrayed with such acclaim in the eighties have become, to the extent where their forebears would neither recognise them or relate to them.

This engenders in me feelings of deep disquiet. For disturbing evidence appears to suggest that while the members of the communities referred to collectively as ‘wog’ are slowly evolving, not only due to their acculturation in this wide brown land of y/ours, but also as a result of increased ability to maintain links with the rest of the world. I fear that we members of those communities are gradually morphing and melding into something that no longer resembles the traditional image of the ‘wog’ as historically defined by Australian society and hallowed in ‘Kingswood Country,’ ‘Home Sweet Home’ and ‘Acropolis Now,’ but rather has a weird and warped dynamic of its own. And herein lies the rub: I’m not so sure I can live up to the image you are so enamoured of, but I’m dead as hell sure I cannot live without your love. And so, dearest mainstream journalists, all that I ask of you is this: If I cannot be the wog you so desire me to be, will you still love me tomorrow?

Yours stereotpyically,

A wog (of the chocko sub-species).

DEAN KALIMNIOU


First published in NKEE online on Saturday 1 October 2016

Saturday, September 17, 2016

ΚΗΔΕΙΑ

“I need to change my will,” the old man said, his eyes glistening. “I’ve just come from Thymio’s funeral.
In my experience, there is nothing like the loss of a friend to make one consider, not only mortality, but also the legal practicalities of life’s leave-taking.

“What do you want to change?” I asked, pretentious fountain pen at the ready.
“I want you to draft my will so that my properties won’t go to my son and daughter if they don’t give me a proper Orthodox funeral. If they bury me like a pig in a sack, as we say, they get nothing.” He tapped his fingers on the desk as if to drive home the point: “Nothing.”

“This is a problem,” I replied. “You have gifted all your properties to your kids seven years ago so that you could receive the pension. A gift is a gift. Your properties no longer belong to you and you no longer have any say in how they are disposed of.”

The old man frowned, his lips trembling: “Rubbish, they are mine. I still pay the mortgages. I don’t want to be thrown onto a fire like a barbeque. I struggled for those kids. I made sacrifices. I am entitled to some dignity. Not like poor Thymio.”

“What happened to Thymio?” I asked.

“Weren’t you at the funeral?”

I didn’t learn of Thymio’s passing until the day of his funeral and thus could not attend it. He was the only octogenarian that I have ever called by his first name, simply because he was too refined, too glamorous to be addressed as “barba” or “theio,” like the other elderly gents of our local community. With his sensitive, feline eyes, his aquiline nose and his immense height, he exuded the cosmopolitan air of the true Alexandrine.

On a weekly basis, I would run into him at our local shopping strip, impeccably dressed in suit and tie, choosing fruit with the distracted tragic air of a Byronic hero. Upon entering his field of vision, he would emit great yawps of triumph: “It’s Σερ Ουίλκινσον!” he would cry and promptly commence quoting verse after verse of Cavafy’s poem “A Byzantine Nobleman in Exile Composing Verses”: “The frivolous can call me frivolous. I’ve always been most punctilious about important things. And I insist that no one knows better than I do the Holy Fathers, or the Scriptures, or the Canons of the Councils.”

Apparently, as he once explained to a bystander, I was as phlegmatic and emotionless as an Englishman with a title, hence my sobriquet, and he should know, for in Alexandria, he had known plenty.

During Holy Week, Thymio was never in church like the rest of us. Instead, we would find him, walking down the main street, holding the service book of the Great and Holy Week in his hand, weeping ecstatically. “Behold, the bridegroom is coming,” he would proclaim, as I walked past him, shoving the service book under my nose: “Today he who hung the earth upon the waters is hung upon a Tree/ He who is King of the Angels is arrayed in a crown of thorns./ He who wraps the heaven in clouds is wrapped in mocking purple./ He who freed Adam in the Jordan receives a blow on the face.” Grasping the lapel of my jacket for emphasis, he would cry: “Such poetry, such a language! In all of the seven languages I know, no other can convey sweet sorrow in such a poignant way. We even have a word for it, χαρμολύπη. What beauty there is in sadness.”

The local Greek old men, hardened by adversity and age, would shake their heads in incredulity. “What is he raving about now?” one would ask. “If you ask me, he is a poofter,” another would respond. “Have you seen his garden? It’s overgrown with weeds. He is completely useless. Can’t even grow a tomato. His brain is only good for talking rubbish.” Taking me aside, they would advise: “Son, stay away from that man. He is not like us – he doesn’t come from a village and understands nothing about life. There is nothing you can learn from him. If you hang around him, you will get a bad name.”

"Scum, all of these Alexandrians, scum," another would pronounce, meticulously divesting his ear of wax with the overgrown nail of his little finger. "They all became foremen and ratted on the workers for the bosses because they spoke English. Class traitors all of them."

Nonetheless, even they were in awe of Thymio, because as they told me, he was an architect. it was common knowledge that all architects were Freemasons and as a result had powerful and malevolent connections. "Keep away, son, keep away," they enjoined.

Yet how could I stay away from someone who, upon one’s approach to his home, could hear him on the back verandah singing in his rich baritone, Mozart’s Aria from the Marriage of Figaro? “Non più andrai, farfallone amoroso, notte e giorno d'intorno girando…” Or remove myself from someone who had autographed copies of first editions of the works of famous modern Greek poets and musicians stacked casually upon stacks upon stacks of books, LP’s and periodicals lining the walls of his study, all the while threatening to topple onto his desk, as regaled me with apocryphal stories about their erotic proclivities?

Thymio would push away the authentic Ancient Egyptian shabtis lined up fastidiously on his desk as he selected a disc and placed it on the gramophone. Invariably, the voice of Egyptian singer Oum Kalthoum would emerge, saturating the room in its musk. Thymios, eyes closed, seated in his armchair in a dressing gown, would stroke his goatee and be transported: “Kollina, Kollina fi ilhobi sawa wilhawa, ah minno ilhawa Ilhawa, ah minno Ilhawa, ah minno Ilhawa, aaah minno Ilhawa…” he would croon.

“Shut up dad, I need to practice,” a boyish voice coming from the next room would interpose itself upon his cadences, and the sound of an oboe would begin to seep through under the door.

“All of us, all of us are in love all together, and passion, ahhh from the passion, ahhh from the passion, ahhh from the passion,” Thymios would translate, chortling at his attempts to transpose his faultless English to the rhythm of Oum Kalthoum’s Arabic.
«Πήγαινε να κόψεις το χορτάρι έξω που έχει φυτρώσει ως το μπόι σου και άσε τους έρωτες,» κυρά Θύμιαινα, would cut in abruptly, mop and bucket perennially in hand, accompanied by an unchanging angry expression.

“Alf Layla W Layla,” Thymios would exclaim, “One thousand and one nights, or one thousand and one years with this woman. But what a woman she was in Iskenderiya! What a woman! Χαρμολύπη σκέτη!”
“Go and cut the grass Thymio!” κυρά Θύμιανα’s voice would achieve a shrill scream, of an intensity that Munch would be hard pressed to emulate, and I would know it was time my visit was ended. As I would walk away, I would cock my ear, so I could hear Thymio chant, as he attempted, always unsuccessfully to start the mower, the ninth ode of the Akathist Hymn: «Άπας γηγενής, σκιρτάτω τω πνεύματι λαμπαδουχούμενος· πανηγυριζέτω δε...» (“Let every mortal born on earth with festive lamps in hand, in spirit leap for joy.”)
The vicissitudes of life somehow found a way to interpose themselves between Thymio and I in the years that followed. No longer present at the fruit shop, it was rumoured among the local old ladies, that his wife had thrown him out of the house, among the local old men that he had found a Vietnamese gay lover and had moved to South Yarra, and among others, that his reclusive wife had died, he had become afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease and had been placed by his children, unable, or unwilling to tend to him in his illness, in care.
“You don’t understand,” the old man shattered my revierie. “Do you know what they did? They burnt him. Like a pile of wood. No priests, no chanting. Πήγε άψαλτος. Even puppies get a better burial. And then his shameless children, who should have been strangled at birth, went to a restaurant with their friends. Apparently this is what they do now. Go to a restaurant and eat, and remember the dead and then they sang his favourite song.”
“What was it?” I asked. 
«Ξέρω εγώ;» he responded. “Something called Amazing Greece. Doesn’t even make sense, he was from Alexandria.” 
“You probably mean Amazing Grace,” I corrected him, vainly attempting to stifle a chuckle.
“Are you mocking?” the old man snarled. “I won’t be made fun of. Not by you, nor my kids. I don’t want to go like that. Write in the will that I want a proper funeral so I can meet my maker like σαν κύριος, όχι σαν γυφτο-αιγύπτιος. I won’t be farewelled with lattes and chardonnay. I want my people to cry over me in my grave. If they don’t give me that respect, they lose everything.”
“Look,” I assumed my most emollient air. “I’m not making fun of you. But you need to know that it is you who have nothing, having given them everything. Unfortunately, you are in no position to dictate terms.”
“And this is funny?”

“No, I wasn’t laughing at you. I was just thinking how ill fitting Amazing Grace is for Thymio. Now, if I could have it my way, at my funeral, as my pagan children throw logs upon my pyre and my soul begins to smoulder, I would ask the Lord to bring Thymios back solely to sing me away with the Non più andrai Aria he so loved: “You shall frolic no more, lustful butterfly, Day and night flitting to and fro; Disturbing ladies in their sleep/ Little Narcissus, Adonis of love.” I shrugged. “Maybe then it would be somewhat bearable.”

«E, τέτοιος μαλάκας σαν κι αυτόν είσαι κι εσύ,» the old man spat and stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind him, twice, for emphasis.

DEAN KALIMNIOU

First published in NKEE on Saturday 17 September 2016

Saturday, September 10, 2016

SMYRNA UNPUNISHED

“What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.”

The Seven Churches mentioned in the Apocalypse of St John no longer exist. They were methodically destroyed in a campaign of genocide lasting several decades but culminating in the Apocalyptic conflagration of Smyrna in September 1922. Greeks call this, the Asia Minor Catastrophe. Seemingly inexplicably, they traditionally distinguish between this “Catastrophe” and the Pontian Genocide, even though they form but parts of a broader plan to acts committed by the Ottomans and later, nationalist troops and irregulars with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, the Greeks of Anatolia by (a) Killing (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm; (c) Deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about the Greek’s physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births by the Greeks of Anatolia; (e) Forcibly transferring  their children to another group, that of muslim Kurds an Turks.

The aforementioned acts, of which were committed against the Greek of Anatolia fall within the definition of the crime of genocide, as adopted by the UN General Assembly in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in 1948.

The perpetrators of course, and their successors, have denied that any genocide took place. Instead, they have been able to form the framework of the narrative, one that sees a modern secular Turkey emerge from a backward past, emancipating itself from the shackles of colonialism and imperialism. According to this narrative, the genocide of the Greeks is downplayed by the orientalist west as collateral damage arising out of an internecine squabble between Middle Eastern groups, or anachronistically considered a bit of tit for tat, for what is deemed to be the Greek “invasion,” of Anatolia, which is ridiculous and inordinately hurtful, considering that this particular genocide commenced decades before the Greco-Turkish war.

Consequently, it is instructive, in the face of Modern Turkish denial, in concert with their western apologists, to consider the thought processes of the perpetrators themselves. Talaat Bey, Minister of the Interior and one of the ruling triumvirate of the Young-Turks who created the constructed and implemented a policy of genocide in the Ottoman Empire, had this to say in 1914:

“It is urgent for political reasons that the Greeks living on the coast of Asia Minor are obliged to evacuate their villages and to settle in the vilayets of Erzeroum and Chaldea. If they should refuse to be transported to the places indicated, you will like to give verbal instructions to our Moslem brothers, in order to oblige the Greeks, by excesses of any kind, to emigrate themselves of their own accord.  Do not forget to obtain, in this case, certificates stating these immigrants leave their homes of their own initiative, so that later political questions do not result from it.”

Greece was not an initial belligerent in the First World War. In fact, one of the major reasons why the king of the time wished to keep Greece neutral was because of his concern that the slaughter and forced removal of the native Greek population of Asia Minor, already well underway while Greece was at peace with the Ottoman Empire, would increase in scope and severity, as a result of Greece’s entry into the war.

There seems to have been some sort of apocalyptic sense of a necessary and urgent final showdown among Ottoman officials and policy makers which informed the perpetration of genocide. As far back as 1909, just a year after the Young-Turks proclaimed the equality and brotherhood of all races and creeds within the Ottoman Empire, General Mahmut Şevket Paşa, the Ottoman Commander-in-Chief, told the Ecumencial Orthodox Patriarch Ioakeim III: "We will cut off your heads, we will make you all disappear. Either we will survive or you."

Talaat Bey also mirrored these ‘final solution’ type sentiments in his own utterances, commenting in January 1917 (again prior to Greece’s entry into the First World War): "... I see that time has come for Turkey to have it out with the Greeks the way it had it out with the Armenians in 1915."

Rafet Bey, a prominent member of the Young-Turk movement, informed Dr. Ernst von Kwiatkowski, the Austro-Hungarian consul in the Pontic city of Samsounta in November 1916:"We must at last do with the Greeks as we did with the Armenians...” Two days later, he informed Consul Kwiatkowski: "We must now finish with the Greeks. I sent today battalions to the outskirts to kill every Greek they pass on the road." According to the London Post on 5 December 1918, he was if anything, efficient: "Rafet Pasha, the late Governor of Bitlis, was sent to Samsoun with express orders to become a scourge to the Greeks. He did the work thoroughly. Over a hundred and fifty thousand were deported in this district and in Trebizond."

Damad Ferid Paşa the Ottoman Turkish Grand Vizier, was one of the few official to describe Turkey's policy of extermination against the Christians in June 1919 at the Paris Peace Conference as crimes: "... such as to make the conscience of mankind shudder with horror forever." Nonetheless, regime change meant that his solemn and sensitive admission was discounted and later explained away as a product of western compulsion.

For the genocide did not cease with the fall of the Young Turk movement and the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the Second World War. Instead, old perpetrators, rebaptized as Kemalists, continued their heinous crimes under the guise of a newfound patriotism. The American Stanley E. Hopkins, an employee of the Near East Relief, wrote on 16 November 1921:

“… the Greeks of Anatolia are suffering the same or worse fate than did the Armenians in the massacres of the Great War. The deportation of the Greeks is not limited to the Black Sea Coast but is being carried out throughout the whole of the country governed by the Nationalists. The purpose is unquestionably to destroy all Greeks in that territory and to leave Turkey for the Turks. These deportations are, of course, accompanied by cruelties of every form just as was true in the case of the Armenian deportations five and six years ago.”

By this stage, Greece had occupied Smyrna, at the behest of the Allies. Greek Prime Minister Venizelos sought territorial concessions in Asia Minor, which were granted on a conditional basis and with grave misgivings by the World Powers, for they doubted the Greek State’s capacity to police the areas under its control and maintain stability. It is important to note that the plight of the Anatolia Greeks barely rated a mention in anyone’s considerations. Poorly resourced and unable to quell Turkish unrest in the areas under Greek administration, the Greek army was forced to march deeper and deeper into the Anatolian hinterland in order to quash the Kemalists. The World Powers formally abandoned their support for Greece after a democratically achieved change of government in that country and Kemal’s army emerged victorious, sweeping the Greek Army out of Asia Minor, and committing depravities on the native Greeks of Anatolia who were also compelled to leave their homelands.

Kemal was subtle, a brilliant tactician and a masterful politician, which, despite the ruthless manner in which he stifled democratic dissent among his own people, is why  he is seen as such an attractive figure among western historians and politicians. For them, the fact that he created a supposedly secular Turkey and “modernized the alphabet” (restricting future generations from access to their past) is seen as praiseworthy and massacres of opponents or the fate of the Christians of Anatolia, are either discounted, denied and explained away. Thus, while French military colonel Mougin, may claim that on 13 August 1923 in the Turkish Grand National Assembly, Mustafa Kemal declared: "At last we've uprooted the Greeks ...", in an interview with Swiss journalist Emile Hilderbrand, published on Sunday 1 August 1926 in the Los Angeles Examiner under the title "Kemal Promises More Hangings of Political Antagonists in Turkey", Mustafa seems to express outrage at the fate of the Christians: “These left-overs from the former Young Turkey Party, who should have been made to account for the lives of millions of our Christian subjects who were ruthlessly driven en masse, from their homes and massacred, have been restive under the Republican rule.”

Almost one hundred years after the Holocaust of Smyrna brought to an end over 3,000 years of Greek civilization in Anatolia, realpolitik has seen the World Powers, shift from a position of openly condemning the genocide, (Winston Churchill in his memoirs wrote: “... Mustapha Kemal's Army ... celebrated their triumph by the burning of Smyrna to ashes and by a vast massacre of its Christian population...”) to blatantly not seeking to disturb Turkey with any mention of this terrible crime against humanity. The legacy of such a policy has been to send the message to other genocidal regimes that despite the rhetoric of the United Nations, crimes of this nature can and will go unpunished.

Proof of this is that while the US has recognized that the current crimes against Christians perpetrated by ISIS in Syria and Iraq are tantamount to genocide and indeed, are merely just another more recent continuation of the genocide commenced by the Ottomans, they did nothing to prevent it from taking place.

In a world where modern Great Powers wreath their rapacity or self-interest in buzz-words, little peoples and their plight are still given as short shrift as those that suffered in Anatolia so many years before, and we can cynically pick and choose which perpetrators to punish, and which ones we can protect, in exchange for their oil, their bases or their influence. Yet the unwillingness of those Powers to confront such crimes, condemn them and bring pressure upon the perpetrators and their successors to accept responsibility, is a major threat to world peace today and a blight upon the legacies of the innocent Greeks slaughtered in the Catastrophe of the Anatolian Genocide.

DEAN KALIMNIOU


First published in NKEE on Saturday, 10 September 2016

Saturday, September 03, 2016

GOODY'S GOODY'S YUM YUM

Many years ago, when first invited to eat at Goody’s, I was enraptured, labouring as I was under the misapprehension that in fact, I was being conveyed to a BBC ‘Goodies’ themed restaurant, where cardboard representations of Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie would greet me with the slogan: "We Do Anything, Anytime, Anywhere," one which resonated with me, as I was a perpetually hungry student at the time, and possessed of a surprisingly similar world-view. 
As I walked through the streets of Ioannina, salivating, I mentally re-imagined various Goodies episodes to fit in with my environment. In particular, I recall daydreaming that the entire black population of South Africa had emigrated to Ioannina to escape apartheid. As this meant that the white South Africans no longer had anyone to exploit and oppress, they in turn, introduced a new system called "apart-height", where short people (being the entire Greek migrant population) were discriminated against. The scenario ended in classic Goodies’ fashion, with the short Greeks migrating to New Zealand and reconfiguring the haka to the beat of the tsamiko, as the whole of the North Island sank within the Pacific Ocean, under the weight of their egos.
Goody’s at Ioannina was nothing like that, neither was the Athenian Goody’s I compelled to patronise a week later. Indeed, I was incensed to find out that at no Goody’s I entered then, or ever since, had anyone ever heard of the real Goodies, their denial of any and all knowledge of the aforementioned giving rise within me, to reasonable suspicion that the forces of evil had in fact, as part of a Goodies episode, immured the three Goodies within the walls of the establishment, and were now nonchalantly feigning ignorance. Somewhere between the “extreme clubs” (a fascist metaphor if I ever saw one), and the Pita Goody’s, which is something I suspect, would be the result of a Goodies steamroller rampaging through any given franchise, lies the truth.
Having frequented all of the Ioannina eateries purveying delectable ῾φαγητά της ώρας,᾽ such as giouvetsi and giouvarlakia, which are as close to home cooking as one could possibly purchase publicly, replete with thick sauces that could be mopped up with the unlimited slices of bread provided, I was not particularly impressed with the diminutive ᾽κλαμπ σάντουιτς᾽ that was placed in front of me. 
Furthermore, there was something reassuring about the old lady doling out the giouvetsi a my favourite haunt asking me: ᾽Τι να σ᾽βάνω μωρ᾽ μάνα᾽μ; and tapping my shoulder exclaiming: ῾Φάε παshά᾽μ φάε,᾽ as I reached for my third basket of bread. At Goody's by contrast, back in those times, all we received was a barely audible grunt from the cashier, whereas in my last Goody’s foray, I received a dazzling white smile, so forced in its intensity that I marveled that the heavily foundation layered cheeks that had delivered it, had not cracked, nor that the ᾽Kαλή σας όρεξη,᾽ enunciated with the enthusiasm of a Subway television commercial extra, did not turn into ash in both our mouths.
Nonetheless I raised a dispassionate hand to grasp my glorified sandwich while my host looked upon me with horror. Through gritted teeth, he spat, sotto voce: “You do NOT eat club sandwiches with your hands. Where do you think you are? This is Goody’s. Use your knife and fork.” The next time I visited Ioannina, we steered well clear of Goody’s, to which, my friend determined, I was decidedly unsuited. In its stead, he pointed me in the general direction of a patstzidiko and, ever since, replete with memories of tripe and garlic, I remain eternally in his debt.
Having reconciled myself to the fact that Modern Helladic Greeks tend to lack appreciation of the subtle art of nonsense that would render the Goodies intelligible to them, my next memorable Goody's foray took place in Athens, where, seated among a group of people who proclaimed themselves intellectuals, I was treated to a fascinating discussion about Goody’s, being a Greek-owned company, representing the forces of local resistance against the evils of globalization and multinationals. One particularly eloquent member of the symposium, carefully removing the frilly toothpick from his ᾽κλαμπ σάντουιτς᾽ in order to carefully, methodically and in full view of all his friends, attend to the void between his teeth, went so far as to opine that in this day and age, when it is not in the interests of the plutocrats to assert themselves through wars, economic resistance was the only way in which to oppose the Western juggernaut. This was of course, prior to the second invasion of Iraq. 
Had I known then, what I know now, that is, that the Goody’s franchise has not only managed to dominate the Greek market at the expense of other multinational behemoths, that it has not only been the subject of New York-style hostile corporate takeovers, but it has also carefully, and cautiously extended its sway into such countries as Cyprus, Albania, FYROM, Mayotte, Australia and soon, the break-away state of Kosovo and Saudi Arabia, thus indulging in a little of that globalisation my interlocutors so denounced, I would have pointed this out to all present in tones as strident as the potato chips and the eye-wateringly delicious burger stuffing my mouth would have permitted me so to do. As it stands, globalisation is, for the modern Greek ideologue, a terrible thing, unless we are doing it, in which case, we are merely fulfilling our destiny. Look at Alexander for instance.
Scintillating discussion aside, that particular Goody’s experience was notable as well for the foray into the store, of some particularly ebullient Greek –Australians who proceeded to make such comments in inordinately voluble English as: “Shoulda gone ta Macca’s,” (prompting one of our party, who was an English teacher to ask me if I knew which language they were speaking,) trying to recite the ingredients of the Big Mac, “Two all beef, patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese….” before lapsing into a rousing chorus of “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, oi, oi.” I cringed, culturally of course before exiting the premises with them, onto Omonoia, where I harassed, for their amusement, a hapless policeman with the question: “Excuse me sir, can you tell me where Omonoia Square is?” When he replied “here,” I responded with indignation, pointing to the decrepit roundabout before us: “Come on man, this is a circle, how can it be a square?” Much majesty arises therefore, in the trivial outcomes of the marriage of Goody’s and Greek-Australians.
Now that Goody’s is made manifest among us in the heart of our own Greek-Australian community, let none deride it as a mere western imitation. Let no one ask how its Angus burger range, which include the ‘Texas BBQ’ and ‘Red Hot Chili Burger’ (affectionately known among Greek-Australians from Northern Greece as the ‘boukovo,’) are in any way connected with Greece. Goody’s cuisine notwithstanding, is the personification of Greece in ways subtle and unsuspecting. It even reflects the demography of that country and its phenomenon of mass migration to the cities, with seventy-two of its one hundred and seventy two Greek stores being located in Athens. Its very name precludes negativity and directly refers to the Ancient Greek quest for beauty: το καλόν. It, like Ancient Greece itself, is an ideal, and thus occupies a exalted space far beyond the decay of this chthonic world.
More importantly, rather than aping the western culinary and marketing traditions of corporate entities that in reality constitute a vanguard for global domination by rapacious, capitalist world powers, Goody's represents something profound and exciting. It is, by its very existence, Modern Greece's riposte to the west for appropriating Ancient Greek culture, with all its constituent ingredients (theatre, democracy, philosophy, history……(to be recited with the same tune as “two all beef patties”) and culturally trademarking them, so that they in turn, market them back to us, and dictate to us the terms in which we will receive (and pay for) them. 
Now, at long last, we in turn, millenia later, have, through Goody’s genius, been able to appropriate aspects of Western cuisine, assimilate them within the Greek zeitgeist and make them so much our own, that to consider a Modern Greek state without the institution of Goody’s would be unfathomable. I can almost hear my Greek ideologue friends of yore crow triumphantly: “Take that, evil westerners, ye of the memoranda, the troika, the usurpers of Bretton-Woods, unspeakable fiscal water-boarders of the IMF quagmire from which you were filthily spawned, your burgers are ours!” 
Put simply, it is the patriotic duty of every single Greek-Australian to get their Greek on and tweak the nose of our oppressors by purchasing not one, but two κλαμπ σάντουιτς from Goody’s. And I eagerly look forward to the day when, to paraphrase Charles Kuralt, we can navigate our way through this most Greek of cities, using Goody’s burger establishments, as a navigator uses the stars.

DEAN KALIMNIOU.
kalymnios@hotmail.com

First published in Neos Kosmos on 3 September 2016

Saturday, August 27, 2016

THE RANDY EXPRESS TO TIRANA

That day the leaden sky was as low over the lake as the ceiling in my freezing ancestral home. I counted each of my nocturnal breaths etched upon the windowpane as I descended the steps and proceeded down to the lake lapping at the village entrance. It was dawn and in two hours I needed to be across the border in Argyrokastro, from where I was to find my way to Tirana, there to attend as an observer, the annual conference of the Union for Human Rights Party.
 I could not see my reflection in the ashen lake. Instead, its own reflection could be found in the sky and as I wandered along its deserted shores, I wondered how many aeons of human futility and dashed hopes lay submerged under the quagmire within, along with Kyra Frosyne, drowned upon the orders of Ali Pasha not so far from where I was standing, and my mother's wooden doll, lost in these waters forty years previously. 
 In the solitude of the rushes fringing the great silence of the lake, I availed myself of the stillness in order to answer a call of nature, musing as I prepared to do so, upon that unique sense of sweet sorrow, that which the inhabitants of Constantinople term hüzün, but which here at Ioannina acts as a great drain with the plug removed, dragging everyone, slowly, imperceptibly but inevitably into its watery sink of oblivion. 
 Poised, primed and ready to relieve myself, I gazed distractedly at the ground below, only to discover, coiled at my feet, within striking distance of my vital appendages, an enormous black water snake. One of the most vivid Greek expressions used to denote terror literally translates as: "My spleen was cut," and I bear living testament to its aptness. Backing away from the serpent with much care, I forgot to complete the primary task I had undertaken to perform, which would have easily foreseeable consequences later.
 All the auguries were awful, compounded by a developing migraine wherein each revolution of my taxi to the border’s wheels assumed the form of a circular saw, cutting its way into my skull in iambic tetrameters. In my delirium, in which snakes featured prominently, I retained only a dim recollection of crossing the border checkpoint into Albania and my bladder felt as pressed as John Proctor in The Crucible, as my taxi driver to Argyrokastro tactlessly and enthusiastically explained that he came from the village of Bistritsa, which was Slavonic for a “gurgling stream.”
The plan was to find in Argyrokastro, the bus terminal whence passage could be obtained for Tirana. Subordinate to that was the locating of a public convenience in which I could, the threat of ophidian beasts notwithstanding, achieve bodily release. Yet as soon as I alighted from my taxi, I was dragged under the arm by a waiting friend, who pushed me into a worn, but surprisingly sturdy BMW. “You are not getting on a bus,” he stated in a tone that brooked no argument. “Anything can happen between here and Tirana and your Albanian is cringeworthy. I’ve arranged for you a lift with these gentlemen. They are all delegates to the conference, and the man in the front seat is the eparch of the Greek village of M. You will have plenty to talk about. You are late, off you go.”
As the door slammed shut behind me (the Greeks of Albania share none of their Helladic brethren’s aversion to being assertive when it comes to closing car doors), I was greeted by long, expressionless glances by the young men seated in front and beside me. “Here, you are the skinniest, sit in the middle,” one of them offered, moving aside. They would have been only five years older than me and yet their faces were furrowed with lines and wrinkles, in contrast to their painstakingly coiffed hair, granted structural integrity via immense quantities of bryllcream. 
“So you are Australian?” the eparch asked, turning to me with a smile.
“Yes. I’m much interested in your views as to the constitutional efficacy of the new minority laws…”
 “Do you know Elle Macpherson?” he interrupted.
“No, I haven’t had that pleasure but I’m wondering from a human rights perspective whether…”
 “I’d love to do her. Είμαι καυλωμένος κάργα.»
 «Κάργα!» came a chorus from the boys in the backseat.
“What about Jessica Hart?”
 “Huh? Who is she?”
 “You live in Australia and you don’t know who Jessica Hart is? Η ομορφούλα η κουτσιοδόντω μωρέ.”
 “Sorry, I’ve never heard of her.”
 “I’d do her, gaps in her teeth, or no gaps.”
 “Ok, but how do the restrictions on private schools affect the status of Greek education in…”
 “Είμαι καυλωμένος κάργα,” the eparch exclaimed, clutching at his crotch.
«Κάργα!» the boys in the backseat diligently echoed.
“Now listen and repeat,” the eparch instructed. «Τα βόδια σύρονται.»
So?”
«Και τα πρόβατα μαρκαλιούνται. Say it
Ok. Τα βόδια σύρονται και τα πρόβατα μαρκαλιούνται. What of it? Is this a folksong or a line from some demotic poetry?”
Howls of laughter ensued as the boys in the backseat started chanting «Τα βόδια σύρονται και τα πρόβατα μαρκαλιούνται,» in manner akin to a soccer chant, but with greater and more refined attention to phrasing.
“These are the words we use when bulls and sheep mate,” the eparch explained. "Each animal does his business in a different way.”
 “What about humans,” I ventured. “Can we employ different terms for them, or is it the same across the board?”
The eparch considered this for a moment before remarking dismissively, as if it should be painfully obvious even to a foreigner like me: “No, humans are humans, naturally. Except,” he added as an afterthought,” for those humans who are βόδια. Human βόδια μαρκαλιούνται. You will find plenty in the villages around here.»
Peals of laughter ensued from the backseat as the boys once again took up their chant.
“Have you slept with Sarah Murdoch? She is Australian,” the eparch enquired.
“No. I can’t say that I have.”
 “Why not? If I was living in Australia, I would,” the eparch commented. “Beautiful women, kissed by the sun with no hair on their lips, their legs, or their pudenda.”

I confess that at that time I had no idea who Sarah Murdoch was and was having trouble keeping up with the conversation, let alone steering it in the direction of minority rights, which was the purpose of my trip. Furthermore, my bladder ached with urgency and I pressed my legs tightly together. Seeking a further way to contribute, I offered: “The Albanian writer Ismail Kadare laments the modern taste for depilation as a key to sexual attractiveness…”
 “Bugger Ismail Kadare, he is probably gay anyway. I’m talking to you about a blonde beauty and you… I’d do her any day. Είμαι καυλωμένος κάργα.»
 «Κάργα!» the boys in the backseat dutifully repeated, clasping their crotches.
“Do you know what I’d do to Sarah Murdoch if she was sitting here?” the eparch continued.
“No but I’m sure I can guess. Can we make a stop here, by the creek? I’m dying to go to the toilet.”
 “Yeah, good idea. We can all take a leak. It will give us a good idea as to what size Australians are.”

We stopped under a tree and I ran as fast as I could, away from my fellow travellers who were sniggering behind me. Ensconced safely between some rocks on the banks of the creeks, I began to unburden myself. 

“Watch out, there are snakes here. Decent size by the way, though I was expecting something a lot more heavy duty, if you are to take on the Australian woman.”

To this day, I do not know how the eparch, who when last I looked was approximately one hundred metres away, attempting to “cross streams” with his friends and giggling like a schoolgirl, found himself at my side, his arm resting protectively upon my shoulder as he viewed my nether regions appraisingly. “If Elle Macpherson was here right now…” the eparch intoned before abruptly interposing another thought. “You know,” he mused, “It’s strange. Your skin is very smooth. Like a woman.”

My flow immediately shut itself off midstream and I walked to the car, my hands in between my legs. I am unable to fathom how I endured the next two and a half hours in which the eparch duly recited the diptychs of all American supermodels, past and present, revealing to all and sundry that he was καυλωμένος κάργα, the refrain of κάργα being unstintingly intoned by his entourage. All the while, I felt like the little Dutch boy of legend who was compelled to place his fingers in many dykes, a subject also canvassed by the versatile eparch, in order to stop an imminent flow that would flood the entire Netherlands, pun probably intended. When upon our arrival in Tirana I was able to enclose myself in the protective custody of a lockable lavatory, I felt a liberation of a magnitude that can only be conveyed by a Cecil B DeMille dramatisation of the Lord smiting Pharaoh with the gushing waters of the Red Sea. 

I’ve not kept in touch a great deal with the eparch, single and living at home with his parents, but still fighting the good fight on behalf of the Greeks of Northern Epirus over the years and I was surprised to receive an email from him the other week, in which he enquired as to the prospect of him emigrating to Australia. I furnished him with answers to his queries, attaching as a coda to my response the following: "Τα βόδια σύρονται και τα πρόβατα μαρκαλιούνται." He effected not to know what I was talking about.

DEAN KALIMNIOU
kalymnios@hotmail.com

First published in Neos Kosmos on 27 August 2016