Saturday, November 18, 2017

GOCMV: FRINGE BENEFITS


Every Saturday, a lady that I know, bundles her child into her car and drives the one and half hours separating Ballarat from Melbourne in order that her child attend a quality Greek school, in this particular case, the city campus of the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria’s Saturday school. Such commitment in these time-deprived days is rare however, even when the desire is there. For one thing, the institutions our community has created, largely reflect a demographic reality that no longer exists: that of Greek migrant communities living in close proximity to each other, in the Inner Suburbs.

Over the years, as the Greek community grew and became assimilated within broader Melbournian society, Greek-Australians began to move from the hitherto working class suburbs that still continue to define them and their identity, such as Brunswick, Richmond, Collingwood and Port Melbourne, to what were then, “new” suburbs, primarily in search of space and, most importantly, a garden. To a large extent, community institutions, in the form of churches, schools and regional social club followed them, which explains their proliferation in these areas.

Two generations later however, five important changes have taken place:

1. Greek cultural and social activity seems to have coalesced around certain Melbourne suburbs, at the expense of others;

2. Melbourne has expanded far beyond the traditional areas of Greek settlement and expansion;

3. The property boom has rendered hitherto affordable areas in which Greeks have lived, beyond the price range of younger Greek-Australians, resulting in them moving to outlying suburbs on the ‘fringes’ of Melbourne that have not had a Greek presence before and thus have no Greek churches, schools or clubs;

4. The “inner city” institutions of the Greeks of Melbourne have thus become remote, inaccessible and increasingly irrelevant to the Greeks of the outlying suburbs; and

5. As a result of geography, many younger Greeks of Melbourne who could benefit from such institutions are cut off from the organised Greek community, are unable to conveniently access Greek education or cultural and religious activities for their children and thus are displaying more rapid and higher percentages of cultural and linguistic assimilation.

As the vast majority of our community institutions are organised around the principle of a common regional Greek ancestry, addressing the complex demographic changes on Melbourne and their impact on culture and language is not only beyond their competence, but also beyond their scope and save for funding initiatives in the outlying areas through the rationalisation of unproductive assets, (something that would be highly unlikely, if the recent directive of a northern suburbs regional Greek club, that it not advertise its events to the rest of the Greek community because it only wants “its” people attending, is anything to go by), they sadly have nothing to contribute to this issue.

The Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria on the other hand, is one of the few Greek institutions that can and is taking steps to assess and address the challenges faced by the Greek community owing to shifting demographics. In some respects, this should come as no surprise. While Alphington Grammar School and other Greek schools have been operated by the GOCMV for a considerable period of time, over the last few years, a conscious effort has been made by the board to invest resources into Greek education, in new and unprecedented ways.

The fruits of this endeavour include but are not limited to addressing the needs of newly arrived migrants and advanced native speakers who do not benefit from the constant downgrading of the standard of Modern Greek usually taught in Melbourne, through the institution of Advanced Greek campuses, the introduction of classes in Classical Greek, so that the unbroken heritage of the Greek language since times ancient can be comprehended as a whole, pioneering creative drama programs, pioneering Greek school holiday programs and, underlining how seriously the modern GOCMV takes education, the appointment of a full time education officer, in the person of Mr Manos Tzimpragos.

That the modern GOCMV means business can be evidenced by the fact that it is committed to the scientific study of the Greek community and its attitudes to Greek –language education. Despite our century old sojourn in this country, academic studies have inexplicably not been conducted, not only to determine our needs in this regard, but also to evaluate the current systems via which Greek language education is purveyed and taught. The modern GOCMV is now redressing this, via its partnership with the Department of Languages and Linguistics at La Trobe University, in offering a PhD thesis investigating parental attitudes to language learning in the Greek community of Melbourne. Such an endeavour, which also seeks recommendations for improvement of the current educational regime, is unprecedented in the annals of our collective history.

Given that despite out much vaunted numbers in Melbourne, only a third of school-age children of Greek ancestry in Victoria are studying the Greek language in day school or through after-hours providers, it is vital that outreach is made to targeted areas of Melbourne in which there is need for Greek educational institutions.

It is from this perspective that the recent announcement that the modern GOCMV is to open three new after hours Greek school campuses in the areas of South Morang, Point Cook and Narre Warren should be comprehended. These campuses were strategically chosen based on careful analysis of the latest census data and all three are areas in which the population of Greek-Australians, especially those with young families, is steadily growing, in full knowledge that location and convenience is by far the main reason why contemporary parents choose a particular Greek school campus, if any.

Choosing to locate the new after hours campuses in the above mentioned areas is a savvy move. Firstly, the campuses presciently anticipate future demand as these and surrounding suburbs continue to expand. Secondly, by reason of sheer presence and convenience alone, these campuses will capture a proportion of disengaged students and their families and re-induct them within the broader framework of the organized Greek community They comprise in effect, a focal point around which a local Greek community can emerge and coalesce, in connection with those already existing and this is why the modern GOCMV has pledged to allocate its most capable teachers to these areas, which makes sense, considering that these are the areas that have the most need.

Strategic planning is something that traditionally, our community has been decidedly lacking in. A good deal of heart, faith and hard work has always accompanied all of our endeavours but generally not, planning for the future. The GOCMV could, as others have, allow Greek language student numbers in Victoria to continue their declining trend, dolorously lamenting the loss of what once was. Instead, the modern GOCMV is bravely, methodically, responsibly and fervently committing itself to pro-actively reversing the current attrition.

The GOCMV’s new campuses on the fringes of Melbourne are therefore not just about expansion. They represent a turn-around in the way our community as a whole conducts itself and thinks about its future that is of considerable historical importance. The challenges facing Greek language learning in an increasingly monocultural and monolinguistic society, in which zeitgeist and attrition serve to disintegrate past communal affiliations, are legion. What we can take heart in, however, is that finally, someone, is willing to address these in a reasoned, calculated and committed manner. For this, the modern GOCMV deserves our full support and admiration.

DEAN KALIMNIOU


First published in NKEE on Saturday, 18 November 2017

Saturday, November 11, 2017

DIADICTIC DEBAUCHERIES

According to a learned friend, there are two potential types of Greek clients in the legal services industry. The first, are the auxiliary lawyers who feel they understand all aspects of their case and are doing you a favour by granting carriage of it to you. They have read widely, or spoken to many people who have endured like circumstances, or have graduated from the University of Bitter Experience aeons before you were even a hint of glee in your progenitor’s eye. For them you are merely an instrument, to be wielded and manipulated by their expert hands. They enter your office breezily, demanding they be told by you, what you intend to do, for them.
The second type characterizes those who are not possessed of such knowledge. Instead, they approach you somberly, look deeply in your eyes and begin to tell you, with exacting detail, the story of their lives. In doing so, they will brook no interruption, nor will the interposed injunction that lawyers bill in six minute intervals serve to stem their verbal flow. For once proffered, in their estimation, that life story creates an unbreakable bond between lawyer and client that forever cleaves them together in a pact of mutual understanding. For as one elderly client once told me when I dared to offer the opinion that the details of his unrequited lust for his neighbour were not necessary for me to sue his glazier for damages: “How can you understand my case, if you do not understand me?”
When the client the subject of this narration entered my office, I had no inkling of which of the two he would be. Tall, muscular, sporting a distinctive buzz-cut that would have been de rigueur in nineteen-eighties US college football fields and decoratively draping a turquoise knitted jumper about his neck, he slung himself into a chair with the considered but effortless poise of a ballerina. All I could surmise, both from his gait, and the manner in which the squint of his left eye seemed intimately connected to the gradient of his upper lip, was that he appeared to be a recent arrival from Greece.
Wasting no time upon introductions, he began to interrogate me confidently:
“Who owns the Internet?”
“What?” I asked.
“Who owns the Internet?” he repeated.
“I don’t know what you mean,” I responded, bewildered.
“Καλά, are you really a lawyer or what? It’s a simple question. Who owns the Internet?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think anyone owns the Internet,” I mused.
“Why not? Everything is owned by someone isn’t it? Someone has to own the Internet.”

Extending the tip of his right index finger, he lifted his dark, hairy hand to his lip. A hint of tongue made contact with the finger, providing it with a modicum of wetness. Raising the hand further, he then applied the finger to both his eyebrows, smoothing them lovingly. Those eyebrows were a masterpiece to behold. Thick and impenetrable, they were lovingly defined around their edges by someone who manifestly, was a master of the tweezer. As he lowered his hand, he winced in pain and it was then that I noticed the skin toned thermoskin carpal tunnel glove he was wearing.

“I’m not sure the Internet works that way,” I commented. “I think is a collection of hundreds of thousands of different computer networks that all link in to each other.”
“Yes,” he spat impatiently, “but who owns those links?”
“How do you mean?” I asked.
“Well the Internet is a net,” he sniffed contemptuously. “And a net is made up of various different filaments that link together. Each filament is separate but they all make up the net. Have you ever owned a net?”

“My grandfather did,” I reminisced. “In those days everyone fished with nets here. I remember him coming back from the bay and hanging the nets in the backyard to dry. Of course that’s all banned now and what within fishing quotas…”
“Never mind all that,” he interjected impatiently. “Point is, I’ve proved to you that you can own a net, so why can’t you own the Internet? Seriously, what kind of lawyer are you? Its right what they say about you ellinakia here and your level of education. Year 12 here is the equivalent of Grade 6 in Primary School in Greece. I haven’t been here for five minutes and I’m already running rings around you. I’m not sure if you’re the right man for the job.”

“And what is this job?” I asked.

“It’s a pity,” he continued unabated, picking his teeth with his right index finger, again wincing in pain. “You stand to make a hell of a lot of money.”

“I don’t think I’m following,” I responded.

“Have you seen the film, “The Matrix?”

“Yes, what of it?”
“Do you understand its deeper meaning?”
“What, the power of self-delusion and the dangers of uncontrolled technological development?”
“No,” he snorted, leaning back on his chair, with his legs outstretched to reveal an unnaturally engorged crotch region. I suspected sport socks, but held my peace. “The fact that the Matrix was a network controlled by machines.”
“So you think the Internet is controlled by machines?” By this stage, I had stopped making file notes.
“No, silly, but the Internet is obviously controlled and owned by someone.”
“So?”
“Well I want to engage you to find out who owns it.”
“Why?”
“I want to sue them. Believe me, I am going to bankrupt them, the amount of damages they owe me. You will take on the case no win, no fee of course but rest assured, you will make a pile of money. More than you can possibly imagine. And more than that, the publicity. You might want to consider hiring a bodyguard though,” he added as an afterthought. “The powers that be may try to kill you. But don’t worry, I know a place outside of Serres. They would never think to look for you there. We are going to bring down the Western world. Its going to be bigger than Wikitweets.”

“Wikileaks, you mean. And why do you want to sue the Internet?” I enquired.
“Well,” he raised his gloved hand. “They did this to me. I’m in agony every day.”
“Did what?” I asked.
“This, I have carpal tunnel syndrome, and RSI and arthritis in my arm and hand.”
“I’m not a personal injury lawyer,” I informed him, almost gleefully, grateful that I had, in my estimation, found a way to extricate myself from any further protracted intrusions by him into my workspace.
“No, you don’t need to be. There are higher principles at play here. Let me explain. I arrived here three years ago, knowing no one. My relatives were not interested in helping me. The bunch of goat-herders that make up your community were neither on my intellectual level not socially evolved enough to appreciate my company. Your women are all rude and ill bred. I found myself spending my spare time in my room on the computer and I discovered..,” here he lowered his voice conspiratorially, while simultaneously fluttering his unjustifiably long, for a man of his pronounced masculinity, eyelashes coquettishly, no mean feat. “Well, I discovered, τολμηρά sites.”
I knew what he meant, but I could not resist. “Τολμηρά as in risky? Your computer was infected with a virus?”
“Oh you Afstralakia,” he gasped in frustration. “No, τολμηρά means, well you know, racy, rude.”
“OK, so not so much risky as risqué?” I asked.
“Yes,” he ruffled his hair nervously. He must have been nervous, for this time he omitted to make the obligatory grimace of pain that concluded every lowering of his right hand.
“So you didn’t get a virus?” I asked again.
“No. Let’s just say that I got used to watching these sites. I couldn’t stop. I would spend hours and hours, night after night looking up these sites on the Internet,” he gestured plaintively, again without wincing.
“I’m sure that there are a number of organisations dealing with addiction that can help you,” I advised him softly. “I’m not sure how I can help.”
“But that is the thing,’ he raised his voice emphatically. “I did become addicted. And as a result, I’ve injured my hand. As I told you, carpal tunnel syndrome, RSI and arthritis. I can barely move my hand but my addiction compels me to do so. And for all of this the owner of the Internet is to blame. Τι τραβάω, τι τραβάω.”
“How?” I asked.
“Are you serious,” he spluttered incredulously. “Because he allows these dangerous sites to be placed on the Internet. Because there is no health warning when one logs onto the Internet. So I and everyone else like me gets onto the Internet blissfully unaware of all the health hazards. There is not even a disclaimer warning people to enter at their own risk. I’m telling you, there is a cause of action in this. Imagine how many other people are exactly in my situation.”
“You could run a class action,” I suggested.
“No,” he looked behind him suspiciously. “No. What are you an idiot? If you include others it will minimise the prize pool. Seriously, what a δικηγοράκος της δεκάρας you’ve turned out to be.”
“Anyway,” I said, standing up, hoping to end the interview, “I don’t think I can help you. Internet sexual injury compensation law is not my field of expertise.”
“No, I know that. I’ve already figured out you aren’t really very competent. I just need you to find out who the Internet is owned by and lodge the requisite papers to sue them. I’ll handle it from there. I’ve already got it thought out. We will ask for $500 million.”
“Why so much,” I asked.
“Punitive damages,” he responded with well thought out ease. “But as I said, don’t ask for money up front. You have to do it no win, no fee.”
“Sorry, I don’t think I can help you. For starters, I don’t believe the Internet has an owner, as I’ve told you and further, the whole thing seems far-fetched.
It was then that he reached out with his right hand and grabbed mine in a vice-like grip. As he proceeded to almost crush it, he expostulated through gritted teeth: “What the hell is wrong with you dense Afstralaki? Where do you get off throwing away the chance of a lifetime? Μαλάκας είσαι;”
In that split second, I had visions of pots calling kettles black and of Greek village donkeys calling roosters ῾κεφάλα.᾽ Managing to extricate my by now, porphyry coloured hand from his, I responded: “No, but I do subscribe to the philosophy of the stoics.”
“How do you mean?” he asked, as he adjusted himself.
“Ό,τι τραβάμε, δεν το μαρτυράμε,᾽ I murmured, as I gently showed him to the door, shutting with it, my once-in-a-lifetime chance of winning millions, forever.

DEAN KALIMNIOU
kalymnios@hotmail.com

First published in NKEE on Saturday, 11 November 2017

Saturday, October 28, 2017

ROZA OF SMYRNA REVISITED


What passes as a hunk in 1987 Athens, haunted by his family's expulsion from Constantinople during the 1955 pogroms, is organising an exhibition of the everyday life of the Greek community of Smyrna before 1922. He does so, during the Sismik crisis, when tensions are heightened between Greece and Turkey, and war is threatened. Byzantine in appearance, and dwelling in the past, his girlfriend, on the other hand, professional, unsentimental, calculating and completely indifferent to the fate of the Greeks of Asia Minor save as a topic of scientific study, she is a symbol of the "new Greece."

A chance encounter with a blood-stained wedding dress and a mysterious photograph in Izmir (for as his Turkish guide responds to him when he asks what remains of Old Smyrna: "Not much,") will set our hunk upon a train of enquiry that will see him: a) destroy his relationship with his girl and almost immediately forge another, after a chance encounter in an antique shop, b) uncover the inconvenient truths of a family that has up until now, preferred to have had these remain hidden. That inconvenient truth is one easy to foresee. The elusive Roza's secret is that she had fallen pregnant to a Turk, with tragic consequences.

The brilliance of the lavish film "Roza of Smyrna" is that even though the plot is basically comprised of bunch of cliché's strung together upon an extremely flimsy, implausible and yet predictable plot, both the scenario and characters are treated with so much affection that these implausibilities don't really matter to the viewer, neither will the film's many flaws, detract from what is a pleasurable viewing experience. From an artistic point of view however, this film, is a conglomerate of fascinating and inspired potentialities, whose flaws and possible lack of research, prevent from coalescing into the coherent and epic narrative it deserves to be.

A few basic incongruities are indicative of this regrettable lack of attention to detail and yet rather than infuriate, they entertain the viewer, which is why this film abounds in charm:

Firstly, and this is my favourite, all of the motor vehicles appearing in the film present themselves as being waxed to a brilliant shine, as if they had just been driven out of the car detailers, quite an interesting juxtaposition to dusty, perennially water-deprived 1987 Athens and for that matter, 1987 Izmir.

Secondly, if Ismail, the main protagonist's lover, spent the years between 1922 to 1987 desperately trying to find Roza, the mother of his child, and had no idea of her whereabouts, (even though he is an extremely powerful man and could have plausibly obtained professional assistance in order to track her down), how is it that he could send her letters, which she was able to receive and keep unopened?

Thirdly, how is it that Roza, who has changed her name, can receive letters addressed to her old name, care of Athens Greece, with no suburb, or street name and number supplied. Is the inference that there existed at the time, dedicated Greek postal detectives who, nimbly and silently tracked down those to whom letters were improperly addressed? More importantly, what has happened to these selfless individuals?

Fourthly, while the film makers take great pains to explain to us the plausibility of Ismail signing his letters with the Greek initials Ι.Σ (which is silly because his name being Ismail Kulaksiz, his initials should be I.K), by having Roza launch into a lengthy and a rhythm disrupting explanation that many Turks used Greek letters because the Ottomans of the time used the unwieldy and difficult to use Arabic script, they present Ismail's first letter to Rosa as having been written in 1922. That letter, the text of which can clearly be seen, is written in the Modern Turkish alphabet, with Roman, not Arabic letters. And yet, the new alphabet was did not come into effect in Turkey until 1929, some seven years after Ismail's letter. Either Ismail was an early linguistic prophet, or some serious lacunae in the research have developed.

Fifthly, according to the film, in order to efface her sexual transgression, Roza is married off to a willing Greek, in exchange for a financial benefit. The wedding we are told, takes place after the Greek troops evacuated Smyrna. We know that this took place on 8 September 1922, that the Turkish army entered the city that evening, and that massacres began almost immediately. We also know that at this time, the Christian inhabitants of the city began to flee for their lives. Is the film maker's contention therefore plausible, that a wedding would have taken place during these circumstances, let along one where the guests are dressed in their finest clothes, completely disregarding the fact that marauding Turkish soldiers and irregulars are contemporaneously roaming the streets trying to kill them?

Sixthly, Ismail relates how he entered the church while the wedding was in progress and during the confusion, Roza's father was shot dead, neatly explaining how blood stained her wedding dress, one of the film's supposed key 'mysteries.' He states that he entered the church with the purpose of disrupting the wedding as he did not want to lose his love, or his child. However, after Roza's father is massacred, he is shown placing her on a horse, giving her a tiny knife the size of a letter opener and letting her go. Considering that at this time, massacres were raging all around Smyrna, how can Ismail's professed love of Roza be reconciled with his willingness to allow her to venture, unprotected, into the midst of a raging genocidal mob, knowing that her rape or death was almost a certainty? And what purpose does the penknife have, except as to act as a silly and irrelevant symbol of who knows what, when at the end of the film and her life, Roza throws it into the Bosphorus, a stretch of water that has absolutely no significance for her?

 

One aspect of the film I found enthralling was this: Roza's granddaughter, who I suspect is a parody of Audrey Tautou, is a struggling artist with no recognition of her talent. When it is revealed to her that the only reason why her art is being recognised, purchased and exhibited in Istanbul is because her patron is actually her grandfather, Ismail, who has arranged for this to be so out of his own pocket, she barely bats an eyelid. If this was an Anglo-Saxon film, this revelation would have caused her immense self doubt and to question her talent and artistic value. In this film, directed towards a Greek audience, none of that betrayal or loss of validation is explored, presumably, because nepotism is so entrenched within the modern Greek psyche, that the thought doesn't even occur to her, or rather to the film makers who lack the insight to explore this aspect of the scenario they have created. Roza herself, provides insight into entrenched nepotistic values. While she is fully cognisant of the hunk's designs on her grand-daughter, she treats him with exaggerated consideration, when she forms the opinion that he is behind her grand-daughter's turn in artistic fortunes. Thus, in the case of both Ismail, an abductor, murderer and person willing to allow the object of his love to venture into a massacre, and our hunk, money, and favours, can buy you love.

Just as intriguing is the film's attitude towards to Ömer, who our hunky protagonist meets in Izmir. In their lame and clumsy attempt to trace the conversion of a racist hunky Romaic intellectual consumed with hatred into a modern, humanistic hunky European intellectual, the film- makers have the said hunk treat his Turkish companion appallingly. Stereotypes abound: The Greek is impulsive, effusive and passionate. The Easterner is accepting, passive, stoic and kind. As the relationship thaws to the point where hunk is comfortable enough to reveal that he speaks Turkish, we are led to expect that this is a seminal moment in their relationship. Paradoxically, however, the effect of this revelation is completely rendered irrelevant by the pair continuing to converse in English. Furthermore, the portrayal of the reputedly more intimate friendship is puerile: At all stages hunk acts as a western colonialist, rather than a friend. Even as the relationship warms, instead of being treated as an equal, Ömer is portrayed by the film makers as an errand boy or a trusty sidekick. Tellingly, he is conspicuously absent from the exhibition at the end of the film, one which could not have been held without his intervention. His absence, renders hunks public recantation of hatred and espousal of inter-ethnic love, presciently hipsterish.


In like fashion, the denoument, where after needless prevarication, Roza scurries to Ismail's deathbed, witnesses him succumbing to a heart-attack, throws his knife into the sea and then dies on the pier is mystifying. Grandmother and granddaughter are close. By this stage, Roza is at least eighty years old. It stretches credulity to believe that Roza would have been allowed out at night in a strange country without supervision, let alone be permitted to perish romantically upon a pier, just so the flim-makers can reference the romance of Layla and Majnun. (Note to the film-makers: Majnun was killed by Layla's husband. There is little or nothing to parallel their story to this one, except for an inept attempt at a little orientalist exoticism. Still, ten marks for trying).


While the movie successfully builds up suspense and creates mystery around the circumstances of Roza's secrets, their revelation is emotionless and the retrospective scenes do not succeed in allowing us to feel her pain or sympathise to the extent that we should, partially because they are not plausible but mostly because they are told by others and we do not get to understand them through her eyes. As such, her character remains criminally underdeveloped. This is because the film-makers, in spending time cramming as many disparate and interesting elements into the early part of the movie in order to build suspense, have forgotten the most important rule of narrative: Show, don't tell. This is a pity because the character of Roza gives rise to immense opportunities to fully showcase the ambiguities of moving within and transcending ethnic and religious boundaries. Perhaps the film-makers could have taken a leaf out of Alexander Billinis' brilliant: Hidden Mosaics: An Aegean Tale, where similar secrets are treated in a historically plausible and nuanced fashion.


The above notwithstanding, the endearing Roza of Smyrna has the makings of a thoroughly evocative and enjoyable movie, one that invites thought and consideration, a feat in itself. Its cinematography, more a paean to a lost, confident PASOKian past that to Smyrna, is lyrical and elegant. It is worth a look, not just only, to trace what could have been, an epic masterpiece, had the film-makers the patience and the skills, to delve into what is, a fascinating amount of detail.

DEAN KALIMNIOU


First published in NKEE on Saturday 28 October 2017

Saturday, October 21, 2017

FROM EPIRUS TO THE ANTIPODES: MULTICULTURAL FOUNDATIONS THROUGH ARTEFACTS


When the dynamic Hellenic Women’s Cultural Association “Estia,” approached me with the suggestion that we collaborate in creating an exhibition of women’s traditional costumes and jewellery from Epirus, at the Victorian Parliament, I asked myself the question: What do a bunch of old clothes and old fashioned bling from an obscure region in the Balkans have anything to do with Victoria, Melbourne, and indeed the magnificent edifice that dominates Spring Street?

By way of addressing this is, I now poke you gently and with discretion, in the direction of Penelope, the wife of Odysseus, who, while her husband was out gallivanting with one-eyed monsters and particularly nubile demi-Gods, sat at her loom, weaving into it, imaginary scenes of her husband’s infidelities and misadventures.

Three thousand years later, and in roughly the same geographical position, the women of Epirus sat at their looms, waiting for their husbands, migrants to various parts of the world, to return home. Loss and longing formed the warp and the weft of their experience and they wove upon it, motifs that had barely changed over millennia. Those motifs can be discerned woven or embroidered upon the fabrics that will be displayed at the: “From Epirus to the Antipodes: Multicultural Foundations through Artefacts,” exhibition. 

The loom was then one of the most central implements to the Greek woman’s daily reality, which is why, not a few Greek migrants to Melbourne, my own great-grandmother included, packed her loom, a most bulky item to transport and brought it Melbourne with her, on a great Odyssey-like sea voyage.

Our family no longer has its loom. It appears that in order to fit the stereotype, the loom was only relevant if it was used in a Penelope-like fashion, the man of the house being abroad, and the woman of the house waiting patiently for his return. Now, through Antipodean metastasis, the whole paradigm was inverted, or if one pardons the cliché, turned ‘down under’. It was the woman who had embarked upon the Odyssean voyage, the woman who was to tackle the monsters and the pleasures of that voyage and considering that there was no gender stereotype waiting for a return, or at least able to imagine the adventures of those migrant women, nothing could be, or was woven. The loom, in the new country, was made redundant. Ours was secreted in a basement, where, unused, it proceeded to rot away.

The fruit of the loom, which is what the “From Epirus to the Antipodes” primarily concerns itself with, is thus a powerful symbol of the backstory of multiculturalism. The patterns, the motifs, the very fabric, transplanted here, to these Antipodean climes, forms the framework through which a significant number of Melburnians have in the past and still do, view the world around them. The application of age old tropes, connotations and ancient meanings which have their origin at Penelope’s loom, to an interpretation of Melbourne society describes the process of Greek acculturation here in Australia. This is a significant and yet unstudied, aspect of the multicultural experience. Belabouredly pushing the paradigm further than any paradigm should plausibly go, it is these motifs, the memories of these fabrics that form a new warp and weft for a new psychological loom, one upon which the travails of everyday life here are interwoven.

Of course the provenance of these costumes and artefacts is traced to Epirus, north western Greece, the place of origin of my mother and before her, a particularly significant line of strong family matriarchs. Long before multiculturalism, globalization and immigration became buzzwords with which to tax the tabloids, Ioannina, the capital of Epirus was a trading and cultural entrepot whose reach was surprisingly long. Thus, one will see among the exhibits, a silver butterfly belt, made in Ioannina, exclusively for the Bosnian export market, an ornate costume, made in Ioannina but exported to and worn primarily in Cappadocia, central Turkey. One will also see a shepherdess’ costume that can be found all along the northern Greek transhumant pastoralist continuum to Thrace, Bulgaria and beyond, in only small variations: the Sarakatsan costme. The motifs on the aprons to that costume are fascinating in that they are, by sheer coincidence, strikingly reminiscent of Australian Aboriginal art.

Reflecting the diverse nature of the social fabric of Epirus, long before words like mosaic or melting pot became popular for a brief period here in the eighties and nineties, the jewellery display will feature almost identical wedding crowns for Christians and Muslims, distinguished only by extremely slight details such as the presence of a crescent moon and, amazingly, a votive reliquary with the undeniably Christian symbol of St George on the obverse, while on the reverse, paradoxically, or maybe not so, the Jewish star of David appears, attesting to the presence of the vitally important Jewish community in Ioannina. Long before our arrival to these shores then, Greek women understood not only diversity, but also synchretism and the enriching experience of culture-sharing. This exhibition will argue that they packed their looms for the journey here, with a pre-disposition for pluralism.

These days, social media facilitates us wearing our hearts on our sleeve, or on our Instagram, our pinterest and all the other forms available of which I am blissfully unaware owing to an innate inability not to understand what purports to be modern technology. At the time when the costumes that will be on display were worn, and many of them were still being worn in Epirus, at least on feast days, at the time of Greek mass-migration to Australia, what set one apart was their bling. That bling, was in less words than a tweet, the entire articulation of a personality, including one’s standing in one’s family and community. An entire exposition of class relations can therefore be extrapolated from the costumes that will on be display. From urban formal wear, with sumptuous silks and intricate brocades, styled in the latest Ottoman fashions in the capital, to rural formal wear, slightly heavier and rustic, but no less ornate, to urban street wear for the more active woman, and there were few that were not, to rural street wear, formidable, durable, uncompromising and ready for action, kind of like most of the Greek community actually, the exhibition aims to provide a snapshot of the cultural diversity existing in one of Greece’s smallest and poorest regions.The costume of Konitsa that will be displayed, worn by women who spoke Vlach, a Latin-based tongue, is a testament to that diversity.

Of course, not a few counterparts of the costumes that will be on display were brought to Australia and adapted to Australian conditions in the 60s and 70s. I have heard stories of fashionable young migrants applying scissors and shears to brocade and embroidery that will make the skin of even the most indifferent crawl. But then again, if it is deemed acceptable for Valentino’s 2016 collection, in which bodices that look almost identical to Attic singounia are featured, it should be ok for us. Sadly I did not have the heart to seek to display the mini-skirt made out of an ornate nineteenth century caftan, a particularly enterprising acquaintance of mine created in an act of unspeakable desecration, during the late sixties. Yet this act itself, is one of supreme acculturation.

In keeping with our narrative of globalization, a large portion of the silver-works made in Ioannina, traditionally the silver-smithing capital of Greece are now made in Taiwan. Nonetheless what will be displayed at the exhibition, are not the dinosaur bones of that tradition, nor its ossification, but again, the warp and the weft of an aesthetic tradition that thrives today, within Melbourne, as can be discerned by a cursory visit to some of the jewelry shops in Oakleigh. Many of the pieces on display lent their wearer immense dignity, and a distinctive gait, a method of deportment common among many of the older ladies among the first generation Greek migrants, no matter their stature, who tended to walk in a particularly erect, and proud manner. Their deportment, was conditioned by generations of wearing of items such as those on display. Caroline Crummer, the first Greek woman to arrive in Australia in 1835 from Ioannina, to whose memory the exhibition will be dedicated, wore such pieces, during the formative years of the creation of Australia.

To point to artefacts of whatever nature, and to expect that they symbolise or encapsulate the breadth of any human experience is a task fraught with danger. This exhibition merely hopes to draw attention to the complexities but also the commonalities of that experience, within the Victorian multicultural context.

DEAN KALIMNIOU

“From Epirus to the Antipodes: Multicultural Foundations through Artefacts,” will be launched at the Parliament of Victoria by Dean Kalimniou on Tuesday 6:30pm, 31 October 2017. The exhibition will run from 31 October 2017 to 2 November 2017”

First published in NKEE on 21 October 2017

Saturday, October 14, 2017

HOMODOX


Tom is, perhaps, the closest equivalent to Noel Coward that a Greek-Australian could ever hope to be. Even his Greek, which is perfect, is inflected by Cowardian enunciation. His speech is playful and peppered with assonances, rhymes and glorious exaggerations. He is charismatic and professional, for he enjoys a high-powered career. He is stylish without being foppish, erudite without being overbearing, generous without being needy and immensely pious, possessing an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the history and practice of the Orthodox Church. One of my oldest and dearest friends, he is also, gay.

Tom rarely speaks of his sexuality because on the rare occasions that he has confided in me, he states that this aspect of his life is intensely private and he refuses to be defined as a human being by it. He lives with his mother, in a house festooned with icons and fragrant with incense. The shelves of his study groan under the weight of tomes concerning Church Canon Law, the lives of the Saints, studies in theology and a mouth-watering selection of antique, rare Bibles. He is seldom to be found without a komboschoini in his left hand, while his right hand is usually enclosed around a glass of finest scotch. If he could wear a smoking jacket while enjoying a dram, he would, but his mother is elderly and constantly cold. As a result, their home usually is maintained at the temperature of the sweltering Nitrian desert.

For Tom, the current Australian debate about expanding the definition of marriage in the Marriage Act is deeply distressing. This is because he feels that the debate has polarized the community into two distinct sections: pro-church (and hence NO voters) and anti-church (and hence YES voters, but also all gays). In his opinion, this polarisation is harmful when trying to understand the Greek community because it does not take account of the significant number of gay Greek-Australians who find comfort and solace within the Orthodox Church, and strongly identify with it.

In answer to the question: “how can you identify with an institution that does not accept who you are?” Tom is dismissive. In his view, he feels that the Church accepts him and everyone else for who they are, for all are made in the image of God. As he sees it, the Church encourages its members to divest themselves of those things that keep them tied to the world, in order to seek a higher, more substantive reality. In that process, the practice, though not the presence of his particular sexuality, is a hindrance. In keeping with his understanding of that teaching, he explains, therefore that he now lives a celibate lifestyle and believes that this is the only acceptable path for Orthodox “like him”. Unconsciously, as he speaks about this, he grimaces, and one can tell that he has only arrived at this position after years of pain, guilt and soul-searching. He has voted No in the current postal ballot because he believes that marriage is a religious institution, and that any form of union, whether heterosexual or otherwise, existing outside the Church, cannot be called marriage. His mother informs me in her village accent that Tom is now too old to get married and that anyway, he will never be married as he prefers men. Tom winces with embarrassment.

George, is exuberant, flamboyant and sporty to the point where his constant play-punches and faux-football marks scored off one’s back become slightly disconcerting in the way they intrude upon conversation. He lives with a partner who is non-Greek and has converted to the Orthodox Church. On the wall of their home, they have framed Cavafy’s poem “In Church”, with its majestic verses: “Whenever I go there, into a church of the Greeks….. my thoughts turn to the great glories of our race.” They attend Church every Sunday, armed with interlinear translations of the Matins and the Liturgy which they print from the Internet. They follow the service line by line and when they return home, they excitedly discuss passages or words in the text, that stimulated their interest. Frequently, they line up for communion. George relates that he has loved going to church ever since he was a small boy and that being immersed within the liturgy gives him an immense feeling of serenity and belonging. He recalls that the first time he ‘came out’ it was as a teenager to his former parish priest. The priest, shocked, turned his back on him, stating: “I have nothing more to say to you.” George is quite certain that his current priest knows that he and his partner and living together as partners, but he is never denied communion. “If they were to deny us communion, they would have to deny it to the entire congregation. After all, didn’t the Boss say, let he who is without sin cast the first stone?”

George’s partner exchanges recipes with his ‘pethera’ as he calls her, for tsoureki, fasting food during Lent and his Pascal lamb, basted with indescribable sauces is a vision of culinary Paradise. Both he and his partner have voted YES in the postal vote and would, if given the opportunity, marry. They provide me with books that argue that only certain types of sexual acts are prohibited by the Orthodox Church, and that these apply to everyone, whereas certain others can be enjoyed across the board. When I express my doubt at their interpretation of the Church’s position, as I understand it, they launch into a meticulous and lengthy deconstruction of the relevant verses, cross-referencing them to theological commentaries and expositions about grammar. They also point me in the direction of diverse websites such as “Orthodox and Gay,” whose content informs their convictions.

George and his partner do not feel rejected by the Church, nor do they feel it is opposed to them or their lifestyle. In their opinion, the correct interpretation that will reconcile the issue has not yet been revealed and they fervently hope and pray that it will soon, so they can marry, within the Church. After all they say, “Love, is love.” They point to the slow and careful way change is made in the Orthodox church as proof of reverence and correctness of doctrine. Above their dining table, they have gay Franciscan friar Robert Lentz's 1994 version of the icon of Saints Sergius and Bacchus, first displayed at Chicago's Gay Pride Parade, and who, they maintain, were an openly gay couple, during Byzantine times.

Maria and her partner, who is an Orthodox from the Balkans, live together and have a child. Maria’s partner freely admits that she has been estranged from the Church she was raised in and her family, ever since she came out to them twenty years ago. The revelation of her sexuality caused her to be completely cut off from her community and support network and she was also the victim of domestic abuse as a consequence. As a result, she harbours hostility both towards the Church and what she describes as “traditional communities.” However, when Maria told her that she wanted to baptize their child in the Orthodox church, she agreed, believing however, that such a thing was not possible and that they would be turned away.

Maria did not go to her local parish to baptize her child, for as she says, she wanted to avoid “scandal.” Instead, she found another parish. “When we arrived at our appointment,” she grins, “the father looked us up and down. His countenance was impassive. He opened up his book and said: “Right, make sure the godparent is Orthodox. What date suits?” I truly was astonished because I thought that he was going to send us packing.”

Maria and her partner frequently attend Church, primarily in order for their child to obtain communion. Maria will often line up to take communion herself. Her partner never does, for she is still angry but she concedes that though the odd glance is cast their way by elderly parishioners, they have never been treated with disrespect and those same parishioners will often hold their child and ruffle its hair. Both of them have voted YES in the postal vote and cannot understand, why in their view, the Church cannot accept them for who they are. Voicing their opinion in this regard to their parish priest one day, they were surprised to hear him respond: “But we do. You are here, aren’t you?”

Peter, in his early twenties, plausibly could be called a religious fanatic and a zealot. If he lived in Biblical times, then surely he would have been a Pharisee, for he takes great delight in keeping every single abstruse ritual or custom he has read or heard about, in relation to the Orthodox Church and criticizing others for not being so observant. Peter’s parents are irreligious and he came to Orthodoxy through the Internet. He has learned the Psalms of David by heart and quotes a Church Canon stating that all bishops should know the aforementioned Psalms by heart in order to impugn their piety and legitimacy. Peter is extremely conflicted by his sexuality, for he is attracted to people of the same gender and periodically engages in cross-dressing, but believes that this is wrong. He goes through periods of agonising repentance, punctuated by church observance, fasting and prayer, alternating with periods where he trawls the relevant nightspots in search of a partner. Consumed by guilt, for he believes that he is susceptible to possession by the demon of lust, after each bout of illicit, in his view, lovemaking, he confesses his transgressions via telephone to his spiritual father, who abides in a monastery in Greece. Peter confides that the spiritual father has given him dispensation to sleep with a woman, out of wedlock, in the hope that he will prefer the difference. He has voted NO in the postal vote and is a vocal opponent of same-sex marriage as he believes that this will compromise the doctrinal purity of the Orthodox Church. He is currently considering traveling to Mount Athos to become a monk, because the Greek community is too godless.

As the Orthodox Church, up until recently, has been inextricably interwoven within and has informed, the traditional understanding, articulation and practice of “Greek” culture and identity by Greek-Australians, it follows logically that the manner in which members of that broader community relate to their faith, its practice or culture, are, as the above examples suggest, complex and emotive, transcending considerations solely, of sexuality and gender. Conversely, the manner in which LGTBI members of our community negotiate their way within the structures and institutions of that community and respond to challenges outside it, also entail considerations that are not only informed by sexuality but also, by an agglomeration of the cultural and religious background in which they have been reared, or which they have chosen to espouse. The fact remains that a significant proportion of the LGTBI members of our community still have meaningful contact with the Orthodox Church, experiencing and relating to it in diverse ways. Any insightful analysis of the current marriage reform proposals, and their relation to the Orthodox Church and the broader Greek-Australian community, is incomplete, unless it provides a forum for their voices to be heard and considered.

DEAN KALIMNIOU


First published in NKEE on Saturday 14 October 2017


Saturday, October 07, 2017

ΖΑΧΑΡΟΠΛΑΣΤΕΙΟΝ


Saturday night at a Greek καφεζαχαροπλαστείον. I generally do not haunt such establishments because I have been born without a sweet tooth and for some perverse reason, prefer to make my own coffee. Furthermore, if one visits the cake shops of Cairo, resplendent in their pink granite bench tops, intricately designed cornices and offering a multitude of delectables, (infinitely exceeding the generally limited imagination of the most feverish of antipodean Greek pastry chefs), none of which are swimming in syrup, as is the case with their Hellenic counterparts, then one's appreciation of the Greek-Australian coffee-cake shop is somewhat diminished, though never, it should be added, quite extinguished.

 It would be prudent not to overgeneralise however, for Greek-Australian cake shops vary as to character and clientele according to their geographic distribution. One memorable visit I made to a Greek cake shop in the eastern suburbs was with a client. He was battling cancer, going through a particularly messy divorce and was in a bad way. As we sat sipping coffee, we overheard two sandblasted local ladies remark nonchalantly to each other:

 "I wonder if I should get my face lasered."

 "Oh you should you know, I got it done last month. Couldn't live with out it. Soooo terrible."

 My client looked up, tears streaming down his face and started laughing. "I'm going to be alright, aren't I?"

 As a matter of fact, he was and it is moments like this that unsuspectingly reveal to us the mystic, ridiculous majesty of life.

At Medallion of blessed Lonsdale memory however, I have, over a cup of Greek coffee, had the most bizarre but ultimately enlightening conversations with apologists for the Maoist regime, in which it was contended that the deaths of millions of Chinese during the Great Leap Forward was a mere fantasy and that the purge of the Chinese sparrows was a figment of the West's imagination. A few tables down, a depressed theology student downing his fourth touloumba as he delved into the dregs of my coffee cup, once revealed to me one of the most amazing compound words in the Greek language: "Ἀκτιστοσυμπλαστουργοσύνθρονον" meaning the uncreated, co-throne of the co-creator.... an attribute of the Holy Spirit, as described in the fifth ode of the service of the Saturday after Pentecost, or at least of the world's first and best Barrista. I vowed then and there to use it once a week in a sentence but have not remained faithful to that vow.

Theology students have a special affinity with Greek-Australian coffee-cake shops. On one memorable occasion, at Axilleon in Coburg, noted for the Greek misspelling of its name on its upper storey thus: ΖΑΧΑΡΟΠΛΑΖΤΕΙΟΝ, a particular dextrous group of would-be theologians, having downed impossible quantities of galaktoboureko, assigned Christian heresies to diverse forms of coffee:

 Decaf is Docetic because it only appears to be coffee.

•Instant is Apollinarian because it’s had its soul removed and replaced.

•Frappuccinos are essentially a form of Monophysitism, having their coffee nature swallowed up in milkshake.

•Chicory is Arian, not truly coffee at all but a separate creation.

•Irish coffee is Nestorian, being two natures conjoined solely by good will.

•Affogato is Adoptionist, being merely topped with espresso.

•The Café Bombón is Sabellian, appearing at some points to be foam, at others coffee and at others sweetened condensed milk.

•The Café miel violates Canon 57 of the Council in Trullo, “for it is not right to offer honey and milk” in one’s coffee.

•The Cafe Mocha (espresso + steamed milk + chocolate) is syncretic and polytheist, for it presumes to adulterate coffee with another nation’s gods.

•The Doppio (espresso + espresso) is Monothelite, permitting only one will to dominate.

 My own contribution qua coffee and faith, was to recite the old Epirot adage about Greek coffee: Καφέ χωρίς τσιγάρο, Τούρκος χωρίς πίστη.᾽ It was met with a polar silence.

 I suppose you just had to be there.

On this particular Sabbath however, the cake shop is packed with a multitude of Greek-Australian faces, from young Greek girls dressed uniformly in black yoga pants and hoop earings glaring at each other emphatically when not engrossed in an intense examination of their telephones, to ladies in their forties laughing uproariously as they ask each other over and over again: " I had a coq," "how big is your coq," "how many coq's did you have?" and the ultimate Lorena Bobbitt crowd pleaser: "I've cut this coq in half." They take a photo of the emasculated coq with their telephones, for posting to social media.

 

Late fifties couples with heavy arm jewellery lispingly mispronounce Greek place-names as they show each other photos from their telephones of their holidays in Santorini, while logging into facebook to show each other what their friends', (also recently returned holidayers), cellulite looks like in their bikinis. In the centre of the premises, one witnesses cross generational family outings comprised of bored and unhappy kids, frustrated parents and a yiayia who is perpetually signing and whose expression, if it could be rendered into words would read: "Γιατί με φέρατε εδώ πέρα, καλά δεν ήμουν στο σπίτι, και θα γλιτώναμε τα λεφτά για τον καφέ."

A well to do family sits opposite. The mother, wearing leopard print leggings,a matching leopard print headband and criminally matching leopard print shoes, opens her Gucci bag and pulls out her mobile phone and starts going through it. Her bored husband, his protruding belly barely covered by an incredibly stretched Ralph Lauren polo shirt, struggling under the pressure of his impossibly tight pants, is already immersed in his phone. Next to him, his daughter, approximately ten years old and resplendent in leopard print exactly like her mother, fiddles with her phone, while her younger brother, his hair painstakingly peaked into an installation of the Matterhorn, picks his nose and also fumbles with his phone. I watch them for three quarters of an hour, mesmerised. When the waiter arrives, the mother snaps out her order, not once taking her eyes away from her phone. Indeed, not once does the family look up from their individual phones, even as they eat and drink. There is no communication, nor interaction. It is as if they are completely and blissfuly unaware of each other's presence.

 

Inside, barely a word of Greek is heard except from the lips of the polite "off the boat" waiters. Yet my ears pick up on conversation between two Northern Greek ladies commenting on a younger member of the clan's offensive tweet: "Τα χαστάγια την μάραιναν, την πούρλα. Γιατί είχενε κι η μάνα τς χαστάγια στου χουριό τς." Χαστάγια, apparently is good Epirot-Australian for the plural of hashtag.

 On the wall, a flat screen television relays the latest cricket match. Patrons gaze in boredom. Outside, however is the domain of the older men and is thus Hellenic in speech. They line the street, examining passersby appraisingly, their faces fixed in sneers, snarls or expressions of extreme boredom - that is until one of the yoga panted girls, young enough to be their grand-daughter walks past them, at which time they become animated as they share each other the known glances of the would-be veteran connoisseurs. On the furthest table from the entrance, a couple of old men animatedly discuss politics, oblivious to the presence of yoga-pants, for they are idealists. From them, we learn that the Greek-Australian term for Tony Abbott is ο μπατζησμάγκλας. Imperceptibly and without realising it, I am drawn into a conversation about the state of Modern Greece. The old men are incensed that I appreciate the historical role of EAM in the Greek resistance and seem ready to flick their Mille-feuille at me, that is until I advise them that this stands for a new party I intend to found in order to save the Greek state, this being the Hellenic Goat Liberation Front (Ελλαδικό Αιγοπροβατικό Απελευθερωτικό Μέτωπο).

I make a hasty getaway just as a former local councillor of Greek descent, besuited, sweeps into the premises, and makes the equivalent of a model's strut upon the catwalk. No gaze catches his steely eye and without losing momentum, he steps out, unnoticed. Proceeding to the counter to pay for a surprisingly brilliant βαρύγλυκο, I notice a sign on one of the cakes proclaiming "Yeniotiko," which is good Greek-Australian for Γιαννιώτικο. I pay heartened, that there was not a decaf in sight, revealing to the Slav-Macedonian girl at the counter, slowly and methodically giving me change in ten cent pieces, my retirement dream of opening up a shop in Oakleigh selling Γιαννιώτκες πίτες. With effusive enthusiasm, I advise her that I have even thought up a name: La Dolce Pita. Sweet!

Her response, when it comes, is poetry itself: "To paraphrase Nietzsche: "If sober you present such bliss, what would your representation be when your personae are in ecstasy?" I leave mute, my taste buds and much more besides, satiated in reverence and in awe at the extent of such glorious sarcasm and in praise and panegyric for one of the most important of Greek Australian institutions ever to uphold our communal edifice.

DEAN KALIMNIOU


First published in NKEE on Saturday 7 October 2017

Saturday, September 30, 2017

SIDNEY NOLAN: THE GREEK SERIES


 
As a child, Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly often gave me nightmares. In my feverish hallucinations, the stark, black, absolute Ned Kelly of his canvas, would loom over my bed, against a background of Santorini blue. Moments later, he would metamorphose into a menacing parody of my own black-veiled grandmother, in the dream, a snarling crone, firing maledictions from a mouth that could not be seen. Inevitably, she would adjust her veil and, glimpsing at her pallid skin, I would notice that she had no eyes. Seconds later, the sinister figure would once again change, this time into a sort of veiled, helmeted minotaur, an unnatural conflation of Ned Kelly, my grandmother-parody and the denizen of the labyrinth. It was always at the precise moment when horns could be discerned beneath the veiled helmet, that I would wake up, terrified.

 Sidney Nolan never met me, or my grandmother, though he was a regular patron of GOCMV secretary Costas Markos’ fish shop. Yet in my mind, we are all inextricably linked. In November 1955, having completed his iconic Ned Kelly and Burke and Wills series, Sidney Nolan travelled to Hydra. His sojourn there, served as inspiration of a remarkable series of images exploring both the contemporary and mythological world. That series, a singular coup for the Greek community, given that Sidney Nolan is one of Australia’s greatest artists, is currently on display at the Hellenic Museum’s exhibition: “Sidney Nolan, the Greek Series.”

One approaches the series, through the neo-classical vestibule of the former Royal Mint building, fringed with reproductions of classical sculpture. Entering the exhibition space is like abandoning the formulaic certainties of the world as we understand it, and entering a labyrinth. The exhibition space is small and dark, punctuated with overhanging bulbs that appear to illuminate only that which they wish you to see, by some inscrutable yet omnipresent demiurge. As such, the Nolan paintings that stud the murky walls in multitudes, on top, below and beside each other, mimicking a mosaic as well as an iconostasis, provide the only ostensible means of escape into another world, the only glimpse into another possible reality, or a multiplicity of these, as manipulated by the artist or the curator. Placing Sidney Nolan's images of Hydra in claustrophobic proximity to each other, thus creates a kaleidoscope of cacophonous images.

 If the viewer is to resolve some kind of melodic narrative to this cacophony, it must be through an interpretation of the paintings themselves. A series of priests adorn the walls, all of whom seem to assume the form of a remarkable prototype of our own Father Lefteris of Red Hill. This priest is the antithesis of Nolan’s Ned Kelly. Instead of the black of Kelly’s armour, Nolan’s priest wears white. Where the only thing that is not black in Nolan’s Ned Kelly is the empty space in the helmet where Kelly’s eyes should be, the priest’s eyes in each painting, are obscured by black sunglasses. In this way, white, a symbol in western culture of purity and innocence, becomes subverted. This Greek Orthodox priest is the negative image of Ned Kelly and he works as much as a symbol of the ambivalence of the positive and negative in Greek culture as Ned Kelly does for Australians. In one particularly remarkable portrait of the priest, he presumably stares at us nonchalantly through his impenetrable sunglasses, while a flayed skin bearing a time-piece, hangs next to him. Does this incongruous depiction refer us to the myth of Marsyas, who was flayed alive for having the temerity to challenge a god? Is the viewer Marsyas, or is it indeed the priest, with his pretensions of mediating the divine? Or rather, is it contemporary culture itself, in the form of time that is our god and is being slain, in a sacrifice whose temporality and meaning, we whose existence is as finite as it is infinite, given that we exist within and outside the frame of the painting’s existence, and are thus gold-like, are unable to appreciate? Tempus Fugit indeed.

 I proceed along the walls, assailed by the images. The experience of being in the darkened close room for more than fifteen minutes is unbearable, existential agony in practice. I have no idea whether this is what Sidney Nolan intended, but to me it aptly symbolises the way in which stereotype, myth and imagined memory transform from thought bytes and clichés, to rediscovered primeval burdens that flood the consciousness, often with incomprehensible meanings and a good dash of inherited guilt.

 Finally, I stand before the embodiment of my childhood nightmares. There on the wall, the image that somehow, I have always known, would invade by waking moments. In ochre, the colour of earth, wherever one comes from, is the paradoxical approximation of a Minotaur that, depicted like an Egyptian pharaoh or a pre-classical kouros on a vase-painting, with head tilted to one side, also looks like a kangaroo. Moreover, this quintessentially Australian version of the Minotaur appears to be engaged in the process of assuming the form of Ned Kelly, or is the opposite process taking place, with Ned Kelly finally being placed into context as the personification of the Minotaur? After all, in order to make our civilisations safe, both Minotaur and Ned Kelly must die. Evidently, the need, for any society to foster myths about monsters that lurk beneath the bed which both horrify and fascinate, is key to an understanding of Nolan’s symbolic palette.

 Although it probably was not the artists’ intention, Greek emigration to Australia still being in its infancy at that time, Nolan’s Kelly-Minotaur could also be employed as a telling paradigm of acculturation, pin-pointing the manner in which our community has negotiated, adopted, discarded, absorbed or accreted the values, symbols and myths it found in this country, to those which has inherited, to the extent that it expresses and thinks of itself in an equivocal hybrid manner, one in which it cannot in itself discern its constituent parts from the amalgam it has become. Tellingly, Nolan’s mastery of image, symbolism and form permits him to portray a Kelly-Minotaur that kangaroo-like, also resembles Anubis, the jackal headed Egyptian god, known as the Guardian of the Scales. Thus, as we gaze upon him incomprehensibly, unable to define him, we are being judged. I long to escape this image. Yet as I turn away, I see the parody-grandmother of my nightmares again, assuming the form of Hecuba, the Trojan Queen, who, given to Odysseus as a slave, snarled and cursed at him, moving the gods sufficiently to turned her into a dog, allowing her to escape. Her ferocity, in the face of her grief and loss, is her and our, salvation. Finally, I can embrace my nightmare for what it is: An inherited disposition for a mythology of anguish, not yet sated.

 Many of Nolan’s Hydran landscapes on display seem at first glance innocuous and stereotypical, with their whitewashed houses juxtaposed against the blue. The viewer may well form the view that Nolan’s foray into the Greek world constitutes merely a conglomeration of superficial motifs acquired while on a western-colonialist holiday to a country just emerging from a brutal Civil War. They would be wrong to do so. Rather than being idyllic, these landscapes have a claustrophobic, surreal, unnervingly paranoid quality to them, deftly addressing the social and political fault lines underlying the utopian pleasure-grounds of the western tourist. Displaying these next to the more obvious depictions of aggressive mythological figures, while disconcerting, constitutes a true icon of the multifaceted and dissonant nature of modern civilization, its fundamental myths and delusions included.

 Nolan’s Greek Series, assisted Nolan in contexualising the mythological baggage acquired via his reading of Homer’s Iliad and the Robert Grave’s Seminal: “The Greek Myths,” with one of Australia’s own founding myths, that of the Gallipoli campaign. Coming to view the Gallipoli campaign as an epic Homeric struggle, the Greek Series therefore constitutes a notebook, or a prelude to his seminal and subsequent Gallipoli series. As such, Nolan’s Greek Series, comprised of sixty one works on loan from the Estate of Lady Nolan, which have never before been exhibited in Australia as a single body of work, provides a powerful insight into the intellectual and symbolic world of a truly great artist, whilst also suggesting, to a Greek-Australian audience, the manner in which motifs, symbols and myths can be employed to create a particularly unique and authentic Greek-Australian mode of artistic expression. As such, it is an exhibition not to be missed.

 DEAN KALIMNIOU


First published in NKEE on Saturday 30 September 2017