Thursday, 30 October 2008

Theodorakis, Elytis, Venetsanou

This is Nina Venetsanou singing Marina, music by Theodorakis, from the poem by Odysseas Eltytis.

Give me mint and basil
verbena too to smell
For with these I would kiss you
what first would I recall

The fountain with the doves
the sword Archangels keep
The orchard with the stars
and the well so deep

The nights I took you out
to the sky’s other vista
And as you’d rise I’d see you
like the Dawn-Star’s sister

Marina my green star
Marina Dawn-Star’s shine
Marina my wild dove
and lily of summertime.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

What is freedom? Freedom is a divine madness

Now the dream in the blood throbs more swiftly
The truest moment of the world rings out:
Greeks show the way in the darkness:
For you the eyes of the sun shall fill with tears of joy.

Rainbow-beaten shores fall into the water
Ships with open-sails voyage on the meadows
The most innocent girls
Run naked in men’s eyes
And modesty shouts from behind the hedge
Boys! There is no other earth more beautiful

The truest moment of the world rings out!

With a morning stride on the growing grass
He is continually ascending;
Around him those passions glow that once
Were lost in the solitude of sin;
Passions flame up, the neighbours of his heart;
Birds greet him, they seem to him his companions
‘Birds, my dear birds, this is where death ends!’
‘Comrades, my dear comrades, this is where life begins!’
The dew of heavenly beauty glistens in his hair.

Bells of crystal are ringing far away
Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow: the Easter of God!

(Odysseas Eltyis: From the Heroic and Elegiac Song for the Lost Second Lieutenant of the Albanian Campaign).

As a reserve officer, the poet Odysseas Elytis was called up immediately after the Italian invasion and served on the Albanian front with the rank of second lieutenant in the First Army Corps. The translator Kimon Friar says of Eltyis’ war experiences that the poet ‘saw in the heroic resistance of the Greek people against superior odds, throughout their long history, a recklessness of spirit, a divine madness. In the spontaneous reaction of the Greek people to Mussolini’s invasion, he saw the victory of a beautiful rashness over self-calculation, an instinct that could distinguish between good and evil in a time of danger’.

In a letter to Friar, Elytis describes the impact of the war on his life and poetry:

‘A kind of “metaphysical modesty” dominated me. The virtues I found embodied and living in my comrades formed in synthesis a brave young man of heroic stature, one whom I saw in every period of our history. They had killed him a thousand times, and a thousand times he had sprung up again, breathing and alive. His was no doubt the measure and worth of our civilisation, compounded of his love not of death but of life. It was with his love of Freedom that he recreated life out of the stuff of death.

‘Later, with an order in my pocket, I set out to meet my new army unit at the front somewhere between the Akrokeravnia Mountains and Tepeleni. One by one, I abandoned the implements of my material existence. My beard became more and more unkempt. The lice swarmed and multiplied. Mud and rain disfigured my uniform. Snow covered everything in sight. And when the time came for me to take the final leap, to understand what role I was to play in terms of the enemy, I was no longer anything but a creature of slight substance who – exactly because of this – carried within him all the values of material life stressed to their breaking point and conducted to their spiritual analogy. Was this a kind of “contemporary idealism?” That very night it was necessary for me to proceed on a narrow path where I met repeatedly with stretcher-bearers who with great difficulty tried to keep in balance the heavily wounded whom they were bearing to the rear. I shall never forget the groan of those wounded. They made me, in the general over-excitement of my mind, conjure up that “it is not possible,” that “it cannot otherwise be done,” which is the reversion of justice on this earth of ours. They made me swear an oath in the name of the Resurrection of that brave Hellenic Hero, who became now for me the Second Lieutenant of the Albanian Campaign, that I would advance into battle with this talisman of my lyrical idea… Nothing further remained for me but to fulfill my vow, to give form to the Second Lieutenant of the Albanian Campaign on multiple levels woven together with the traditions of Greek history, but also involved – in particular – within and beyond death, in the Resurrection, the Easter of God.’

Friday, 24 October 2008

Ergenekon and Cyprus

The trial began this week in Turkey of the Ergenekon group of ultranationalist supporters and members of the Turkish ‘deep state’, which, in order to thwart the perceived drift of the country to liberalism and Islamism, allegedly plotted through terrorism and black propaganda to bring Turkey to the brink of chaos and precipitate in this way a military coup.

Writing in today’s Turkish Daily News, Mustafa Akyol indicates how events in Cyprus around the time of the Annan negotiations and plan in 2003-4 were of particular concern to Ergenekon, and how the then Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash urged the Turkish military to step in and put an end to the Annan process.

The Ergenekon-Cyprus link tells us a great deal about Turkey’s attitude towards the island; and makes us wonder that since the ‘deep state’, whose fiefdom occupied Cyprus is, was so hostile to the Annan plan – generally regarded as having met all fundamental Turkish demands on Cyprus – then what can we expect from the current negotiations between Christofias and Talat? If the pro-Turkish Annan plan brought Turkey to the brink of a coup, then what hope can there be for even more ‘concessions’ from the Turks this time round?

Anyway, here’s an excerpt from Akyol’s piece regarding Cyprus:

‘In 2003, United Nations' Secretary General Kofi Annan prepared a plan for the unification of the divided island. For Turkey's nationalists, including the Grand Old Man of Cyprus… Rauf Denktaş, this meant "accepting the Greek yoke". And those who supported the plan were "traitors" who were "selling" Turkish land to foreigners.

‘Denktaş had actually followed this "rejectionist" line for decades with strong support from Ankara. Their motto read, "The best solution to Cyprus is no solution." Hence the Ankara-financed artificial state in northern Cyprus would survive.

‘However, the AKP government was determined to find a solution to the problem, which, itself, was continuously blocking Turkey's entry into the EU. In January 2004, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan took the matter in his hands and reaffirmed to Kofi Annan that the Turkish government was accepting his role as a negotiator. Therefore, the "Annan Plan," which was categorically rejected by Denktaş when it first came out, gained momentum.

‘And hell broke loose in Ankara. For the hotheads in the military, and the like-minded, the government was now guilty of not just "Islamism" but also "treason." That's why some "unnamed generals," among which we have every reason to think that [the hawkish] Gen. Yalman and Gen. Eruygur were present, started lobbying for a military coup. They spoke with not only their fellow officers, but also some business and media circles. The operation they planned was named "sarıkız," or "blonde girl."

‘But, apparently, they could not gain enough support and the plot failed. Therefore, Denktaş had to go to New York for a second time, quite unwillingly, to negotiate with the Greeks. On the road, he called Chief of Staff General Özkök and asked, "Why doesn't the military do something?" "Constitutionally," said the law-abiding general, "this is all that we can do."

‘According to [the journalist] İsmet Berkan, "then Denktaş understood that the two generals, Yalman and Eruygur, have not been able to overcome Gen. Özkök."

‘In other words, Turkey had barely survived a coup.’

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Troilus & Cressida: Achilles slays Hector

One of the few advantages for us poor immigrants to the Anglo-Saxon world is that we know English well enough to appreciate Shakespeare.

In Troilus & Cressida, Shakespeare follows closely the narrative of The Iliad to provide a shocking and savage indictment of human cruelty, deceit and vanity. It is a tragedy in which all the protagonists are deemed unworthy of tragic dignity or apotheosis. There are no gods to appeal to, or to guide, restrain or offer protection. Motives are relentlessly base, informed not by honour or glory but weakness and selfishness. The Greek and Trojan warriors are particularly arrogant, callous and stupid and Achilles’ slaying of Hector – which is the scene above, from the BBC production – is depicted by Shakespeare as nothing more than contemptible, cowardly thuggery, far removed from Homer.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Tsitsanis, rembetika and Indian music

In the book, Βασίλης Τσιτσάνης: H ζωή μου, το έργο μου, consisting of interviews Vassilis Tsitsanis gave in the mid-1970s to Kostas Hatzidoulis, the great rembetika musician recalls with bitterness the decline of the rembetika song in the 1950s and squarely pins the blame on unscrupulous composers and producers who would rip off tunes from Indian records and films – Indian films were popular in Greece in the 1950s – and present them as Greek creations.
This is what Tsitsanis says (my translation):

‘Indian rule (Ινδοκρατία) started to prevail in the field of popular music in the first few years of the 1950s… Those irresponsible so-called composers, without a trace of shame, took music from Indian records and, after changing the lyrics into Greek, presented them to the public as their own creations and genuine Greek songs. An unprecedented wave of Indian songs swept over our country…

‘Everything we [rembetika and popular music] composers had created with sweat and blood was swept away by Indian rule. And yet nobody ever spoke out against these criminals… nobody denounced them so that the entire world could learn who, in cold blood, had killed genuine popular music.

‘One of these criminals would go with his tape recorder to cinemas playing Indian films and record the tunes. After, he would write new lyrics, make the record and have a big hit. And when I say "hit", I’m talking at least 100,000 records. With each record they put out, they were able to buy themselves a new flat.’

One of the most famous songs to come out of this Greek-Indian fusion is Δεν Με Πονεσε Κανεις (No one ever hurt for me); the tune for which comes from the Bollywood classic, Mother India (1957).

The first video above is the original song from the Indian film; the second video is the Greek version (Δεν Με Πονεσε Κανεις) sung by Eleni Vitali. Also, in Radio Akritas I’ve made available the song as sung by Eleftheria Arvanitaki, from her first solo album, Eleftheria. From the same album, I’ve included in Radio Akritas two Tsitsanis songs: Αραπικο Λουλουδι and Με Πηρε Το Ξημερωμα Στους Δρομους. This last song is one of the darkest in the Tsitsanis’ repertoire. The lyrics are Alekos Angelopoulos’.

Με πήρε το ξημέρωμα στους δρόμους
να σκέφτομαι και να παραμιλώ
καρδούλα πώς άντεξες τους πόνους
που μ' έχουν καταντήσει πια τρελό.

Μια λέξη απ' το στόμα μου δε βγαίνει
γιατί έφυγε και τούτη η βραδιά
λες και την καταδίκη μου να φέρει
η μέρα που 'ρχεται μες στην καρδιά.

Με πήρε το ξημέρωμα στους δρόμους
ανθρώπινο κουρέλι τριγυρνώ
καρδούλα μου πώς άντεξες τους πόνους
με τις φουρτούνες τούτες που περνώ.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Some Macedonian truths

Below are a couple of comments I made in the Washington Times regarding the Macedonia name dispute. The first comment is aimed at the contents of a Letter the newspaper published from Skopje’s US ambassador Zoran Jolevski, which claims that the name dispute is 2,000 years old and that Greece is being unreasonable in its demand that the Skopjans modify their country’s name.

The second comment is a response to a Skopjan commenter who parrots the usual trash you read on Skopjan websites about the Macedonians not being Greeks because if Alexander the Great and the Macedonians were Greek how is it possible that the Macedonians attacked Greek cities and killed other Greeks. Another frequent argument the Skopjans deploy to ‘disprove’ the Greekness of the Macedonians is that the Macedonians only began to speak Greek after Koine became the lingua franca in the Eastern Mediterranean and before that they spoke their own non-Hellenic language.

Also, this article by Athanasios Boudalis FYROM's Slavomacedonism, Part I: a Historical Overview is very good and worth reading.

The video above is from the excellent Cyprus Action Network of America as part of its campaign for Hellenic human rights in Skopje.

Finally, a Bulgarian news agency, Focus Information, reported yesterday that in an interview with the Albanian news agency, INA, Daniel Serwer, director of the Balkans Initiative at the United States Institute of Peace, said the following: ‘I would blame Athens [for the name dispute]. Skopje had shown big flexibility. Athens hasn’t shown anything. Greek nationalists gain from the prolonging of the argument. In my opinion the problem is solved and most of the countries in the world will call “Macedonia” – “Macedonia”. The time when Greece has to withdraw with pride from this significant issue had come.’

Now, if someone wants an idea of the kind of Americans and US NGO’s involved in promoting the Skopjans and threatening Greek national interests, it is worth looking at the website of the United States Institute of Peace – which is sponsored by Congress – and at the profile on the site of Daniel Serwer.

Here are the two comments I left regarding the Skopjan ambassador’s Letter to the Washington Times:

1. To the Skopjan ambassador: The name dispute does not stretch back 2000 years; it stretches back 60 years and the creation by Tito of an utterly bogus 'Slav-Macedonian national identity' with the intention of expanding communist Yugolav rule to the Aegean at the expense of Greece.

And if Ambassador Jolevski finds the name dispute so vexing, then why not do the honourable thing and abandon Skopje's ridiculous assertions and aspirations and call your country by the name it was known as before communist machinations, i.e. Vardaska.

Macedonia is and has always been Greek. Macedonians are and have always been Greek. Once the Skopjans accept basic facts and release themselves from the communist versions of history and communist notions of identity imposed on them when they were part of Yugoslavia, then a settlement of the name dispute becomes easy.

2. To Skopjan commenter: If you are going to claim the heritage of Alexander the Great and ancient Macedonia, you should at least go to the trouble of finding out some facts.

If you knew anything about history, you would know the Greek city states were constantly at war with each other and that one of the pivotal wars in Western history, the Peloponnesian War – described in one of the pivotal texts of Western civilisation, Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War – is all about Greeks fighting Greeks. Vicious conflict among Greeks is precisely why some Greeks craved strong leadership able to bring about Greek unity.

This desire for a hegemon paved the way for Macedonia – a remote region significantly insulated from the political convulsions that had affected and weakened the traditionally important Greek states – Athens, Sparta, Thebes, Corinth, Argos – to assume the role of unifying Greeks; not forgetting, of course, that many Greeks, proud of the liberties and used to running their own affairs, rejected Macedonian leadership and Philip and Alexander dealt with this resistance ruthlessly. In fact, Alexander reserved his greatest acts of ruthlessness for those Greek mercenaries who fought for the Persians, so outraged was he that fellow Greeks should be obstructing his Pan-Hellenic crusade in the East.

As for the Greek language, you should know that the Greek language in the Classical period was made up of a number of dialects – e.g. Doric, Attic, Aeolic, Macedonian.

Macedonian Greek was closely connected to Doric Greek, before Attic Greek made inroads as northern and southern Greece came into closer contact, particularly after the rise of the Athenian empire.

As for Koine – which is based largely on the Attic dialect – it was the dominant language in the Eastern Mediterranean AFTER Alexander's conquests, not BEFORE. Koine flourished during the Hellenistic (note Hellenistic, not Skopjan) and Roman periods.

Indeed, how is it that all these post-Alexander Hellenistic societies created by Macedonian rulers and Macedonian colonists were dominated by the Greek language, by Greek culture and religion and shaped entirely by the Greek way of life if the Macedonians themselves were not Greek? Where is the evidence that these Macedonian kingdoms were anything other than Greek? No intelligent person could possibly take Skopjan versions of Macedonian history seriously. They are beyond absurd. They fly in the face of the entire received wisdom and history of Western civilisation.

The Greeks were and are the only genuine Macedonians. The descendants of the Skopjans did not arrive in the Balkans until 900 years after Alexander, in the 6th century AD, and Skopjan history and language is bound up with that of the Bulgarian nation; the Bulgarians, as every one knows, being a Turkic tribe gradually Slavicised. This is where the Skopjans must search for their roots and history, not in Macedonia. Macedonia has nothing to do with you.

Monday, 6 October 2008

The Greek monologue tirade

Hermes and I have been discussing here the ‘monologue tirade’ popular on fringe Greek TV especially among patriotic analysts. I said I found the excessive emotion often used by speakers not only counterproductive since it obscured the message of their talk but also hilarious.

Hermes warned me against adopting Anglo-Saxon cultural attitudes towards pathos and I accepted this and mentioned how the Greek monologue tirade is actually an interesting art form, which hints at an extreme state of consciousness and is something akin to a stand-up comedy routine with all its digressions, non-sequiturs and hyperbole. I also mentioned that the Greek monologue tirade reminded me of the novels and plays of Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard and the films of John Cassavetes.

Indeed, above are two clips: one from Cassavetes’ Minnie and Moscowitz, in which Minnie (Gena Rowlands) finds herself on a blind date with Zelmo Swift (Val Avery), who lets his desire to impress his date get the better of him; the other is an excerpt from a Neoklis Sarris’ diatribe on High TV’s Τομές against vigilante ‘anti-nationalist’ journalists and academics. Sarris is a sociology professor at Panteion University and an expert on Greek-Turkish relations.

The host of Τομές is Kostas Hountas who, if anything, is an even more eccentric character than Sarris. In the clip below, Sarris works himself into a fury and then turns towards the sheepish Hountas and starts waving his finger in his face and haranguing him about the shortcomings of Pasok. Without exaggeration, I have to say that this was one of the funniest things I have ever seen and I laughed uncontrollably as I am laughing now, just thinking about it.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Cassavetes and The Blue Angel

Josef von Sternberg’s film The Blue Angel (1930), with Marlene Dietrich, is an extraordinary depiction of loneliness and humiliation, hubris and tragedy. (See the English-language version of the film in its entirety above).

Writing in Cassavetes on Cassavetes, Ray Carney reveals the influence of The Blue Angel on John Cassavetes.

Carney says of Gena Rowlands (John Cassavetes’ wife and star in many of his films):

‘It’s indicative… of many of her enduring attitudes that, after she saw The Blue Angel, Marlene Dietrich became her idol as an actress. Rowlands was fascinated with Dietrich’s blend of feminine sexual allure and almost masculine toughness and swagger. She watched the film over and over again… and even adopted a few of Dietrich’s gestures and mannerisms (sitting backward on a chair and such).’

Carney also tells us how The Blue Angel inspired Cassavetes in relation to his The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1975):

‘Cassavetes and Rowlands were both fans of Sternberg’s The Blue Angel. Rowlands loved the toughness and unsentimentalilty of Dietrich’s performance. Cassavetes liked the film for a different reason – because it was about an artist-surrogate who creates an artificial, artful world in which to live. (The filmmaker once asked me to give him a rare photograph I had from it, as well as a photograph showing the set of Yen’s palace in [Frank Capra’s] The Bitter Tea of General Yen, another film with the same subject). It’s not accidental that there is a photograph of Dietrich visible on the mirror of the strippers’ dressing room in the first version of [The Killing of a Chinese Bookie]. Although none of Cassavetes’ interviewers picked up on the allusion, in several post-release statements, Cassavetes wryly implied that he had modelled the character of Mr Sophistication [picture above] on Professor Rath.

‘Another reason Cassavetes was fascinated by The Blue Angel was that the film focused on the situation of a scorned, humiliated stage performer, an emotional event that spoke to Cassavetes for personal reasons. Notwithstanding the macho-man image he so diligently cultivated (or perhaps because of it), he often thought of his own life as a series of public humiliations – from his grade-school, high-school, college and drama-school days; to his years of unemployment and unsuccessful audition experiences – like the time he was jeered off stage as an MC at a burlesque house (an event dramatized in Shadows in Hugh’s nightclub debacle); to the various and sundry fiascos associated with his appearances at screenings and on television shows; to his run-ins with directors when he was acting (some of which are dramatized with the character of Myrtle in Opening Night).’

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Those who are alive: remembering Ion Dragoumis

‘The preservation today of our national existence is not at all certain. It demands vigilance against internal and external factors but also agents who, in a variety of ways and for a variety of reasons, have designs against our unity. It is a common secret that ‘Greece is a fortress under siege and inside the enemy roams freely’ protected by the cloak of the rights of the citizen and by a political establishment that fears being accused of nationalism and xenophobia.

‘The state of our country is clear to all of us. All around us there has been an outbreak of Balkan and Middle Eastern nationalism, much of which has its sights set against the integrity of our lands. Great powers are re-ordering their pawns on the international chess board and their moves should make us realise the need to boost the forces of Hellenism at all levels. Such a realisation is not, of course, a straightforward matter. The illusion of stability that continues to exist from past eras, as a manifestation of the law of inertia, makes us, more often than not, ignore the historical reality not only of our region but also of our planet.’ (Professor Christos Goudis).

Above is an extract (my translation – Greek text below) from a speech given by Professor Christos Goudis at an event in Athens commemorating the assassination (in 1920) of the great Greek man of action and letters, Ion Dragoumis.

Professor Goudis is a poet, the president of the Institute For National and Social Studies ‘Ion Dragoumis’ and director of the Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the National Observatory of Athens. You can read the whole of Professor Goudis’ speech here or you can see the speech being delivered here (Professor Goudis starts speaking in the second half of the video).

The talk in the video above by Professor Goudis on recent developments in the Macedonia issue (and the state of Hellenism generally) is from the TV series Όσοι Ζωντανοί (Those who are alive). Other episdoes from Όσοι Ζωντανοί can be seen here.

I am aware that some of the people involved in preserving and promoting the works of Ion Dragoumis are from LA.OS. I’m not that enthusisastic about LA.OS; but it is a fact that it is the only political grouping in Greece at the moment which is close to correctly identifying certain challenges and threats facing the country.

‘Η διατήρηση… σήμερα της εθνικής μας υπόστασης δεν είναι καθόλου μα καθόλου δεδομένη. Προϋποθέτει επαγρύπνηση έναντι εσωτερικών και εξωτερικών καταστάσεων αλλά και παραγόντων, οι οποίοι με ποικίλους τρόπους και για ποικίλους λόγους επιβουλεύονται την διατήρησή της συνοχής της. Είναι κοινό μυστικό ότι «η Ελλάδα είναι ένα φρούριο πολιορκημένο και μέσα της αλωνίζει ελεύθερος ο εχθρός» κάτω από τον μανδύα της προστασίας των δικαιωμάτων των πολιτών, και με προκάλυψη την φοβία του πολιτικού κατεστημένου μήπως και κατηγορηθεί για εθνικισμό και ξενοφοβία.

‘Η εικόνα της χώρας μας είναι γνωστή σε όλους μας. Περιβαλλόμαστε από ένα ξέσπασμα βαλκανικών και μεσανατολικών εθνικισμών, πολλοί εκ των οποίων καθιστούν σαφείς τις προθέσεις και βλέψεις τους έναντι της ακεραιότητας των εδαφών μας. Μεγάλες δυνάμεις αναδιατάσσουν τα πιόνια τους στην διεθνή σκακιέρα και οι κινήσεις τους θα πρέπει να μας κάνουν να συνειδητοποιήσουμε την αναγκαιότητα της ανάταξης των δυνάμεων του ελληνισμού σε όλα τα επίπεδα. Μια τέτοια συνειδητοποίηση δεν είναι φυσικά εύκολη υπόθεση. Η ψευδαίσθηση μιας σταθερότητας που συνεχίζει να υπάρχει από παλαιότερες εποχές, ως έκφανση του νόμου της αδράνειας, μας κάνει πολλές φορές να αγνοούμε την ιστορική πραγματικότητα της περιοχής μας, αλλά και του πλανήτη μας.’ (Χρήστος Γούδης).