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 IthakiPoseidonians 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).

The City
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.


Θάνος said...

Γιάννη, if you complain about London, just try to imagine what went through my grand-parents' minds to leave their native Έβρος and come here in a small city/village in Belgium… Odysseus? They were not even sailors!
Look at a picture of snow in Belgium one foggy evening if you like snow…

Anonymous said...

John -- you're complaining about 1 cm of snow? Come to Canada and a wall of melancholly will hit you as you view 1 m of snow!

Speaking of Greeks having an adventurous spirit, several years back I read the book THE EXTRAORDINARY VOYAGE OF PYTHIAS THE GREEK. Have you heard of it?

I must say it was a boring read but the story of Pytheas is exceptional.

Lastly, great posts as of late.


Hermes said...

On balance, emigration is a catastrophe. Nothing can replace the separation from relatives, gradual loss of language, distance from public discourse and reduced participation in religious and national festivities. Odysseus may have appeared adventurous but he always wanted too, and eventually did, return home to Ithaka and Penelope.

However, the pain of emigration can be reduced by living in a physically attractive place. Over here it is sunny and I might leave work early and go for a surf at one of the local beaches.

john akritas said...

I wasn't complaining about the snow – all 1cm of it; I like the snow – the snow is fun – I'd love it if it came down in metres not centimetres – and it makes a change here in London from all the rain. I was just complaining about the lot of the immigrant, and about the fate of our race in general, dispersed as it is, from Belgium to London to Canada to Australia and so on. I should add that the coldest I've ever felt – colder even than New York in December – was one February in my father's village way up in the Troodos mountains.

I have read that book on Pytheas and the discovery of Britain. You're right: it's interesting but not a great read. If I remember rightly, Pytheas didn't think much of the British – who practiced endocannibalism, i.e. eating your relatives when they die; and a form of endogamy, in which brothers shared their wives.

As for the consolations of being an immigrant in Britain, natural beauty ain't one of them!! People keep telling me about what attractive cities Melbourne and Sydney are; yet whenever I come across Australians I can't believe what barbarians they are – disproving that Castoriadis theory about the importance of surroundings to paideia.

adifferentvoice said...

At least you're well placed for the Olympics (or so it looks).

And flights to Cyprus are shorter than from that mecca of recreation that Hermes inhabits.

Wish some of the London snow had made it to Suffolk. My children feel deprived (of snow).

I enjoyed the poem.