Tuesday, 3 February 2009
Far from our native soil
Here among the barbarians in Hyperborea, it's been snowing. Above are some pictures of the effects of the snow in my local park in London. (For Athenian readers, the tall objects you see are 'trees'). Even though these are pretty scenes, I still can't help wondering what the hell our parents were up to when they left civilisation to live in northern climes. I've heard the argument that emigrating fits in with the Greek spirit of adventure, going back to Odysseus and reflected in Cavafy's Ithaki –
As you set out for Ithaki
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery…
– but let's not forget that the last half of The Odyssey consists of Odysseus back in Ithaki, re-establishing order and justice; and as for the great ironist Cavafy, he was no Kazantzakis, constantly on the move, seemingly determined to see and experience the whole world. Rather, Cavafy led, according to Seferis at least, an uninteresting life, not existing outside his poems, devoted to and trapped in Alexandria, which he hardly ever left, settling for spiritual wanderlust, which you don't have to move a muscle for.
Anyway, below is Cavafy's poem, The City, which is a counterpoint to Ithaki – Poseidonians is another Cavafy poem on the catastrophe of leaving your native land – and because it's cold in Hyperborea and I've been thinking about warm clothing, I've also made available in Radio Akritas three rembetika songs about coats and jackets. Coats and jackets are a popular theme in rembetika and this stems, I suppose, from the coat being a prized asset for the impoverished and yet sartorially proud manga or rembete. On sartorial pride, I also recommend reading Gogol's short story, The Overcoat. In the mp3 player (below), Elli Lambeti reads Cavafy's The City (in Greek).
1. The Jacket – Anestos Delias:
2. The Overcoat – Giorgos Mitsakis (vocals Sotiria Bellou); and
3. My Jacket's Worn Out – Vasilis Tsitsanis (vocals Stella Haskil).
You said: 'I’ll go to another country, go to another shore,
find another city better than this one.
Whatever I try to do is fated to turn out wrong
and my heart lies buried as though it were something dead.
How long can I let my mind moulder in this place?
Wherever I turn, wherever I happen to look,
I see the black ruins of my life, here,
where I’ve spent so many years, wasted them, destroyed them totally.'
You won’t find a new country, won’t find another shore.
This city will always pursue you. You will walk
the same streets, grow old in the same neighbourhoods,
will turn gray in these same houses.
You will always end up in this city. Don’t hope for things elsewhere:
there is no ship for you, there is no road.
As you’ve wasted your life here, in this small corner,
you’ve destroyed it everywhere else in the world.