Saturday, May 13, 2017


The Portokalos, Windex—infused conception of Greek linguistics would have almost every single word in the English language derive from a Greek root. For many Greeks, this patrimony forms an intrinsic part of their identity, which is why the ‘fact’ that there are 40,000 to one million words of Greek origin in the English language, depending on who one speaks to, is often offered as a reason as to why reluctant diasporic offspring should study the language of their forefathers. The need to prove that our language has gone boldly where no other languages have gone before, is thus symptomatic of an inferiority complex that ties national pride, not just to over-achievement but also an acceptance of one’s culture’ superiority over all others, in all fields, in this case, linguistics.
 There is, however, no need for exaggeration or inflation of facts or figures when it comes to the Greek language for, from times ancient until now and for often complex reasons, the Greek language has profoundly influenced tongues, transcending the boundaries of proximate language families. In this context, Professor George Kanarakis' tome: The Legacy of the Greek Language, recently launched at the Greek Centre under the auspices of the Greek Studies Program of La Trobe University, the Greek Community of Melbourne and Victoria, the Greek-Australian Cultural League οf Melbourne, and the Hellenic Writers Association of Australia, is a must-have book for all Greek-Australian households. Not for the jingoistic reasons outlined above but rather, because it outlines just how deeply the Greek language has contributed in shaping the language, grammar and even thoughts of various other cultures over the centuries, or in some cases, relatively recently. In doing so, it does not crow over the superiority of the Greek language or culture. Instead, it analyses the manner in which such contributions occurred, and most importantly, the historical and social factors that facilitated such a contribution, which are surprisingly diverse.
 Of course, the fact that this monumental endeavour, comprised of a compilation of essays by noted linguists throughout the world, had its genesis in Greek Australia is of great significance, one that leads credence to the assertion in the book, that within the context of the reception of various aspects of the Greek language by so many other tongues, we can truly speak of “Globo-greek.”
Of great value especially are the essays on the Greek influence in the Coptic language, for this language relationship uniquely was engendered in a manner similar to the spread of the English language in India, that is, via conquest and colonization, with Greek being the language of the ruling class. Thus Greek was not only a language of administration and intellectual activity, but also, more enduringly until today, as a language of theology and as a medium with which to record Coptic itself. Consequently, Coptic is not only peppered with Greek loan words, but also Greek grammatical forms that are otherwise alien to the dialects of that language. It is hoped that revised editions of the book will examine the trickle down influences of related languages and cultures, such as Meroitic in Sudan, where, in the kingdoms of Nobata and Alarodia, Greek was the official language for centuries, and of course, the various Ethiopian languages, considering the important diplomatic and religious ties shared by the Greek world with that region.
 The corollary with Coptic are the articles on Bulgarian and Russian, which are interesting, considering that at the time of first contact, Greek was the official language of the Eastern Roman Empire, a dominant power and thus able to export culture, religion and alphabet as well as political might. In the case of Bulgarian, these cultural ties endured even as political power waned, and the fact that the word order of such Balkan languages corresponds in large part with that of Greek, should not go unnoticed.
 The essay on Albanian is also of profound interest, as it delineates not only how languages that exist in close proximity with each other can influence each other grammatically and via vocabulary, but also how such languages can converge and diverge several times over the course of a millennium of inter-association, while dialects spoken in areas more remote to Hellenism, such as the Northern Albanian Gheg, preserve Greek loanwords in more archaic forms, providing the linguistic archaeologist with a treasure trove of information.
 Moving towards the east, the article on Arabic is instructive, because our modern western orientation often causes us to forget that the Greek language and culture was diffused both more broadly and deeply in the east than in the west. The plethora of loan words existing in Arabic are symptomatic of a wholesale movement to understand much of the philosophy and science of the Greeks. Given that the bulk of these works were mediated into Arabic by way of Greek-speaking Syriac scholars, the addition of an article on the Greek influences on Syriac/Aramaic would also have been valuable. Since the aforementioned language forms part of my linguistic reality at home, I am constantly amazed at the presence of both Greek words, calques and ideas within it.
 Similarly, the article on Hebrew fascinates the reader by exposing the old Greek elements embedded within that language from ancient, to medieval and modern times, exploring the usage of such words as diyatiki (diathiki) for will, timyon (tameion) for treasury, tuganim for fries, from the Greek “taginon” meaning frying pan, lagin from the Greek “lagynos” meaning flask and even the remote pakres from “epikarsion” a redundant Greek word for a striped garment.
 As a speaker of Chinese, I am fascinated by the process in which, phonologically and culturally, Greek words are received into Mandarin. An article by the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Korea about the phonological challenges entailed by the reception of Greek words into that language is also fascinating, and with its companion Japanese article, marks a Cavafian spread of the influence of the Greek language, way beyond his Hellenistic Indies.
 The well-constructed article on Turkish informs the reader just how many Greek loanwords were adopted by the Turks as they entered Asia Minor, and, given that in turn, Turkish lent many of its own words to Greek, this piece constitutes the best argument for the publication of a companion volume, in which the influences upon the Greek language by other languages since times ancient is examined. Arguably, such an endeavour is sorely needed and would prove most challenging for the cherished stereotype of the Greek language existing in blissful and splendid superior isolation for much of its existence, with each linguistic borrowing being equated to subjugation, contamination and cultural decay.
 Nonetheless, within the thirty languages which the book examines, to whom largely Greek influence has been spread via other dominant world languages, the legacy of the Greek language is shown to be both complex and awe inspiring, as it is extensive and long-lasting perhaps suggesting patterns for the future development of languages within the context of globalization., In facilitating a study of such awesome scope, Professor George Kanarakis thoroughly deserves, our heartfelt gratitude.


First published in NKEE on Saturday 13 May 2017

Saturday, May 06, 2017


I confess to be conflicted about the amorous proclivities of the Modern Greek people. This is because, growing up in the eighties, I was assailed by sundry compatriots sporting T-shirts proudly emblazoned with the slogan: “Greeks do it better.” What objective criteria were used in order to verify such a broad claim remains a mystery and for this reason, I accepted the claim as fact. In my university days, I was advised by the executive that “NUGAS is for lovers.” Considering what transpired at the various national conventions, again I had no reason to doubt that this was the case.
Similarly, every once in a while, the Greek press is wont to publish articles whose sole aim is to disprove the myth of the Latin lover, asserting variously instead, that Greeks do it better, or more often, or longer, or with more partners or in manners more lyrical and ebullient. Again, I accept these wholesale, because as a newly arrived Ellinara in an Oakleigh cakeshop once told me while attacking a kok with gusto, Greeks invented σεξ. Literally. Breaking it down etymologically, he explained that the English word sex is derived from a Greek compound comprising the words σε (you) and ἐξ (outside). According to him one has to come outside oneself in order to indulge in the said act, and my observation, that the opposite of sex is thus men με (me) and ἐν (inside), being in itself a form of tantric constipation was met with incomprehension and sundry dismissal. Similarly, when I advised him that the Greek term for sex is συνουσία, meaning the conjoining of essences, he dismissed this angrily, stating that he would never allow anyone to con-mingle with his essence, which was well defined over the course of the decades of his existence and uniquely perfected. As a sexual monophysite, then, he roams the barren fields of all that remains of Greek-Melbournian nightlife, sadly unable to fertilise, for, as he confides, Greek-Australian women are just not women enough for him, and being a Hellenic supremacist, no other type of woman is worthy of him.
To add to the confusion, despite being the world’s best lovers, this does not appear to translate to superior Hellenic fecundity. Ultra-right nationalists, religious folk and purveyors of the deeply held conviction that humanity is descended (or is rather in a process of decay) from an original Greek master-race that covered the globe (except for the Amazon basin, the Australian desert and sub-saharan Africa), are most concerned that Greeks do not produce enough children and that as a result, within a projected period of time, the Greek state will be populated by peoples of inferior blood lines and the pure Hellenic blood line will be sullied forever. According to them, there is therefore much in the way of copulative activity, but not much to show for it. This could easily be a metaphor for the manner in which the Greek economy or the Greek public service works.
The august Prime Minister of Greece, Alexis Tsipras has also appeared to explode the myth of Greek amorousness. This is gravely disquieting, especially considering that during a time of crisis, the leader of the home of democracy and the world’s best, longest and most frequent lovers should be “talking up” Greece’s capabilities, rather than casting further doubt upon them. However, instead of concerning himself with the prickly demographic fears of the far-right, for Tsipras, it is the act of copulation in Greece itself, which is under threat. And as usual, we have the Troika to blame for the fact that quite simply, young Greeks, just simply, cannot be ……ed.
In his recent address to the Youth Conference of his own Syriza party, Alexis Tsipras thus stated pertinently: “Children who reach the age of thirty and when they wake up in the morning, they are in their children’s bedroom, who cannot enjoy sex, who cannot feel autonomous… we are determined to change this with a plan and with substantial interventions. In the next few years, we have designed and will implement a major program for utilising state-owned buildings to accommodate young people." In other words, Alexis blames the crisis (and not tradition) for the phenomenon of Greeks living with their parents beyond the age of thirty, and thus not being able to find a private place in which, as the Greeks say figuratively, they can “take their eyes out.”
Commentators rejoice in the consistency of this new SYRIZA policy, coming as it does in the midst of the greatest humanitarian and economic crisis to flagellate Greece since the Second World War, proving, that SYRIZA is committed to providing the populace with its basic needs, quite apart from food, safety and financial security. Indeed, Tsipras’ exciting new policy directive can be considered revolutionary, given that traditionally, it is the government that is widely held to “screw” the people. Now, in what could thrillingly be described as state sponsored anarchism, the government is providing the means for the people to “screw each other.”
Rather than being an inept form of the worst type of populism, signifying that Greek politics has learned nothing from its travails over the past few years, Tsipras' bold new move must be interpreted as a calculated strike against the coerciveness of the modern state. George Orwell in 1984 pertinently observed that: “unregulated, naturalistic, animalistic, erotic, hedonistic, pleasure-for-pleasure’s-sake sex [ is] a politically rebellious act and, particularly, a political act of defiance against states, state power, and state authority.” Orwell, and Tsipras, by providing Greeks with the means in which to have sex, is in effect reinforcing the fact that sex is an effective response to a concentrated, and therefore dangerous, state power and thus ensuring that sexually rancid fascism will never again blight Greece.
In like fashion, Tsipras conceivably desires the youth of SYRIZAn Greece to be satiated and satisfied because this forms an effective resistance against the cult of false excitement that seems to plague the western world. At all times, we are supposed to gush happily about the latest programs on our screens, or assume paroxysms of orgasmic delight at the progress of our workplace, traverse the streets in our active-wear and measure every pace we take according to the dictates of an insidious fitbit. Tsipras rails against the coercive misuse for such energy, using as Orwell does in 1984, sex, as the key tool to emancipation from the cult of the ersatz social orgasm and the repression that it masks: “When you make love you're using up energy; and afterwards you feel happy and don't give a damn for anything. They can't bear you to feel like that. They want you to be bursting with energy all the time. All this marching up and down and cheering and waving flags is simply sex gone sour. If you're happy inside yourself, why should you get excited about Big Brother…. and all the rest of their bloody rot?” In youth sex, therefore, lies freedom.
Greek Olympian Voula Patoulidou, was perhaps more prescient than she could have ever known when she muttered those immortal words: «Για την Ελλάδα βρε γαμώτο,» which literally translates as “I copulate with this, for Greece.” Let us go forward therefore, with this injunction indelibly engraved upon our generative parts, happy in the knowledge that a brave new generation of Tsiprasjugend is being created, one that, suitably discharged of all frustration, will, in a languorous and pleasurable way, lubricate the Greek economy and facilitate Greece assuming all the requisite positions that will see her able to withstand the bump and grind of Weltpolitik, well into the future, or at least, until such time as the Troika see fit to levy a tax on them as well.


First published in NKEE on 6 May 2017

Saturday, April 29, 2017


Anzac Day, the cornerstone of  our collective Australian national identity, has just been solemnly commemorated. Men and women marched, or attended dawn services, honouring the lost youths who fought and fell at Gallipoli, in incomprehensible numbers. 
Among their number, members of the broader Greek community. Considering that during most of the Great War, Greeks in Australia where considered enemy aliens and were interned, harassed and in some cases attacked, (King Constantine kept Greece out of the war ands was passing state secrets to the Kaiser) it is worthwhile to question whether the way in which Greek Australians increasingly honour ANZAC day is connected to a desire for inclusion, is a calculated or subconscious effort to insert Hellenism into the Australian national narrative or is merely an appreciation of heroism and sacrifice? After all, up until recently, there was scant inherited memory of the important contribution of Greeks and Greek Australians to the Allied cause within our community.
Ruminating over this after the dawn service, I saw an advertisement on television that claimed: “They fought, not for King, not for Country, but for their mates.”
This then is the Australian version of the Adonic cult . The emphasis on ‘mateship’ was borne of the ANZAC tradition and exemplifying the ‘very best of the Australian character’, to lend a particularly Antipodean tinge to the Mediterranean cult of the lost youth, who, through commemoration, achieves deification.
Such mateship mythmaking is important, and Australians have successively capitalised on ancillary mateship myth-making, emphasising the magnanimous words of the founder of Modern Turkey in the aftermath of the Great War, Kemal Ataturk: “There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours,” in order to ensure continued permission for Australians to commemorate their dead directly at their place of slaughter. It is well that they do so, for it is becoming apparent both, that Ataturk never uttered those words and that Australian commemorations at Gallipoli are negotiable, by a Turkish government that is increasingly viewing the Ottoman Empire with nostalgia and admiration and which is purging intellectuals and others who would challenge the validity of its own national myths.
Thus, myths of mateship aside, the ANZACS actually fought at Gallipoli, a peninsula ethnically cleansed of its Greek inhabitants by the Ottomans at the instigation of their German advisers Colonel Liman von Sanders and Ambassador Wangenheim, in anticipation of the ANZAC landings.
The Australians fought willingly in what the spin doctors of the time termed ‘the Great War for Civilisation,’  because apparently Teutonic barbarism had to be stopped and the world made safe for benign monarchies like the British Empire. Barely having been given self-government some thirteen years previously, Australians went to war to serve British strategic interests, in the firm belief that these were also their own.
Gallipoli is the Australian Thermopylae, a place where Australians distinguished themselves through their valour, thus creating cultural archetypes to boost the self-esteem of a young nation, even though their efforts were ultimately futile and absolutely useless in serving their military aim: the capture of Constantinople.
For the Turks, the battle is seen as one of the finest and bravest moments in the history of the Turkish people - a final surge in the defence of the motherland as the centuries-old Ottoman Empire was disintegrating; laying the grounds for the so-called Turkish War of Independence and the subsequent foundation of the new Turkish Republic, led by Atatürk, a commander in Gallipoli himself.
This is significant because the Gallipoli campaign could, according to scholars, have been the catalyst not only for the creation of the Turkish republic and the Australian national identity, but also the first genocide of the twentieth century. According to an essay by Robert Manne, Professor of Politics at LaTrobe University in ‘The Monthly’ magazine, what the Turkish genocide of the Armenians (and in parallel that of the Pontic Greeks and Assyrians) and the battle of Gallipoli have in common is that they started on almost the same day, within a few hundred kilometres of each other. He poses the question, one which is pertinent considering blatant attempts to recast the Ottomans as Turks and in that guise, as an ‘honourable enemy’ in a manner not attempted with Australia’s other historical military opponents, such as the Germans, Japanese and Vietnamese, why we don’t know this as a nation and why Australian historians and literati have apparently never made the connection between the two events, except for Les Murray, who used Armenian genocide victim Atom Yarjanian’s poem: ‘In shock I slammed my shutters like a storm,/ Turned to the one gone, asked: ‘These eyes of mine/ How shall I dig them out, how shall I, how?’ in his work ‘Fredy Neptune.’
In The Monthly, Professor Robert Manne, explains that “in 1915, the Ottoman Government began one of the first really systematic genocides in history, certainly of the twentieth century. And within a year or so, perhaps one million Armenians had been killed because they were a Christian minority in the Muslim Ottoman Empire, which was in its point of crisis. And there’d been persecution for a long time, but this the attempt to eliminate a people.”
The Turkish government has consistently denied the genocide of the Christian peoples of Anatolia. As Professor Robert Manne posits: “The Turkish Government has always utterly denied that a genocide took place, although they admit that some massacres took place. But the largely blame the Armenians for that saying they were a rebellious, subversive element at a time of wartime crisis. But it's at the heart of Turkish identity to deny the meaning and the reality of that genocide.”
Of course, up until recently, the fact that modern day Turkey was considered a vast economy of some eighty million people that paid lip-service to Democracy and was, apart from Israel, the only non-Arab ‘democratic’ state in the Middle East, could possibly explain why the West has been willing to overlook a painfully obvious crime that allegedly inspired Hitler to perpetrate the Holocaust, supposedly remarking “Who remembers the Armenians?” Realpolitik is also compounded by the difficulty the West would experience in sympathising with such Middle Eastern peoples with unpronounceable names as the Pontians, Armenians and Assyrians, who were slaughtered a century ago, when in our own time, the nightly news has for the past decade, flooded our living rooms with images of mass slaughter in the same broader region, coupled with our own tears of terrorism. However, considering the increasingly authoritarian nature of the Turkish government, such attitiudes may change. 
The inconsistency of such historical indifference has not escaped Professor Robert Manne, who stated to the ABC a few years ago: “It seems to me the strangest thing. We have Anzac Day as April the 25th 1915 is remembered; the Armenians have April the 24th 1915 as their day of mourning, which they take to be the beginning of the genocide. The two events not only coincided in territory and in time, but there is quite a lot of evidence that the genocide was pushed on because of the Dardanelle campaign of the Anglo-French forces in which the Australians were involved.
So despite the fact that the things happened at the same time and int he same place more or less, and they were even kind of connected with a causal link, I looked through book after book about Gallipoli, and there's no end of books that Australians have written about it, and virtually none of them mention it for more than a passing paragraphs or a couple of lines”.
Yet as Professor Manne states, the evidence linking the two events, seems to be incontrovertible: “[T]here are some contemporary historians, there's a wonderful Turkish historian, Tanner Akcam, who think that when the Gallipoli campaign began, or when the Dardanelles were first bombed by the Anglo-French in March 1915, that was the final moment of reckoning, and that the Turkish regime, which was run by two or three young Turks were the dominant figures, they set upon and decided on a systematic extermination of the Armenians, saying that at this moment of crisis, where Constantinople might fall, we can't afford to have as subversive minority within our country.
So, the Dardanelle campaign and the Gallipoli landings pushed on and maybe not exactly caused, but at least triggered the final events that led to the genocide…. My point is how strange it is that the event that's really by far the most important historical event in the national imaginary in Australia, which is the Gallipoli campaign, our historians have never thought to ask the obvious questions about the connection between the two events, or even to comment on the fact that the two events took place at the same time. Apart from the poet Les Murray, I've not come across an Australian writer who's really thought imaginatively about the connection of the two events in whatever they've written.”
The causal link between the two events is further cemented when one considers that just twenty days after the Gallipoli landing, on 14 May 1914, Talaat Pasha, a member of the ruling Young Turk triumvirate ordered the forcible evacuation of all Greek settlements on the Dardenelles as far as Kyssos and the re-settlement of the region with Muslim refugees from the Balkans: “For political reasons it is urgently necessary that the Greek inhabitants of the coast of Asia Minor are forced to abandon their villages… If they refuse to move… please give oral instructions to Muslim brothers how to force the Greeks to remove themselves ‘voluntarily’ by any means possible. In that case, don’t forget to obtain confirmations from them that they are abandoning their homes of their own free will.”

Consequently, in May and June 1914, there were massacres of Greeks in Erythrae and Phocaea in Ionia, while in Pergamon on 27 May 1914; the Greeks were given just two hours to leave the city. This ethnic cleansing, along with the simultaneous massacres of Armenians and those of the Assyrians in inaccessible areas such as the mountains of Hakkari, were widely reported by diplomatic personnel and missionaries. U.S Ambassador Morgenthau, who had the ear of the Young Turk Pashas and was also privy to their boasting about what they would do to the Christians in their realm, was one of the first to link ethnic cleansing with the Gallipoli landings in his memoirs. Arnold Toynbee, who worked for the British secret service wrote as early as 1915: “The scheme was nothing less than the extermination of the whole Christian population within the Ottoman borders…”
As always, there was no mention of the millions of innocent Christian victims of bungled western policy in this year’s ANZAC Day commemoration. Nor was there any mention of the thousands of Greeks who assisted and nursed wounded Australian soldiers from Gallipoli on the island of Lemnos. Homage instead, was paid to that ‘honourable enemy army’ that, upon German instruction, cleansed the coastline of its Christian inhabitants in order to better defend it against the ANZACS and who, as the campaign dragged on, engaged in their wholesale slaughter.
But then again, Gallipoli was never about justice, or historical fact. It is a national myth within the confines of which other people, especially victims of its aftermath who may sully the noble pure page of its epic with their blood, have absolutely no place. In the words of Robert Manne:
“… I think always Gallipoli has been tied up with identity and almost never been really connected to a kind of interest in the history of the First World War, let alone an interest in the Ottoman Empire. And so it's not really pessimism so much as kind of trying to identify the difference between history and myth, that I think it'll never become a matter of great interest in Australia, except perhaps for some intellectuals…. The interests of myth, I think, drive the historians that move time and again back to Gallipoli. Even if they want to revise the story, what they're doing is revising the myth. But they're not really interested in the kind of overall historical questions that are connected to it.”
In this context, the traditional expression: “Lest We Forget” assumes the form of a pious hope indeed.


First published in NKEE on Saturday 29 April 2017

Saturday, April 22, 2017


Every year on Holy Saturday, our doorbell rings. Standing outside our doorway, our Italian neighbor awaits, brandishing a panettone. “Buona Festa,” she smiles as she hands it over. That smile gradually merges into a grimace, when I reciprocate by handing over a tsoureki of our own construction. Such unrefined items rank rather low in the Magna Graecian pecking order of comestible appreciation.
By now, said neighbor would be justified in her reticence, for this year’s tsourekia are by all reckoning, the worst to have emerged from the Kalimniou kitchens and this would probably explain her forced smiles and quick shuttling back into the safety of her own property as soon as she sets eyes on me, ever since. The fault, in my opinion, lies solely with Easter itself.
On that Great and Holy Thursday, after weeks of fasting, the sight of eggs and milk rendered me weak at the knees. It was all that I could do, to cast a pontificating and supervisory eye upon the tsoureki production, without dipping my snout into the trough, as my wife kneaded the dough. She did so methodically, rhythmically, ignoring the clouds of flour in which she was covered, transforming her into a type of human λουκούμι. Back and forth went her hands upon the dough, back and forth, until I could bear it no more.
“You are supposed to knead the dough, not stroke it gently,” I commented. Coming up behind her, I plunged my hands on top of hers, into the dough. “Like this,” I said, and slowly began to pummel the dough. Back and forth, went my hands, back and forth, until she could bear it no more.
“It needs more mastiha,” she said breathlessly, pushing my hands away. “Crush some.”
Quickly, I poured the mastiha granules into the mortar and taking hold of the pestle, I began to pound them inexorably. Back and forth went my pestle, grinding the mastiha into oblivion. Having pulverised the entire contents, my head swmming, I poured them into the dough. Some hours later, the most bitter tsoureki ever made emerged from the oven, overwhelmingly tainted by the mastiha of my own deviant anticipations.

Some twenty minutes after our Italian neighbour departed bearing the tainted tsoureki, the doorbell rang again. This time it was a Greek-Australian friend, proffering what looked suspiciously like a panettone. Now in my mind, Greek-Australians who gift each other panettoni instead of tsourekia for Easter are the abomination of desolation as spoken of by Daniel the Prophet. This pernicious custom is aided and abetted by the Greek grocers of East Keilor, for, as one of them told me when I accused him of destroying all that is sacred and righteous about our Easter traditions, panettoni retail for thrice the price. One cannot argue against the free market with margins of this magnitude. 

A half an hour later, the doorbell rang again, this time to herald the arrival of an effusive exponent of internet inspired, born again Hellenism. Not only was the donor inordinately enthused in providing a home-made tsoureki that was gluten free, she also gushed excitedly that she could not wait to see who in our family would "win the coin." "What coin?" I asked. "The coin that I put in for good luck" was the response. This is because apparently in New Age Hellenism (it is a Greek Australian Vasiloxristopita thing), New Year is celebrated in April and Easter not at all, among those who define themselves as “Culturally Orthodox.” This is also a “thing.”

Owing to an inspiration best attributed to an inordinate amount of angst causedd by the proliferation of tsourekia in our household, I managed to crack my long-departed grandmother’s secret koulouri recipe. Upon crowing triumphantly about my achievements to a friend, said friend was singularly unimpressed, commented drily tha making one’s own koulouria is so last season, and the Greek-Australian tradition is to “re-gift.” According to the rules of the game, if your koumbara, friend, or cousin's koulouria are excremental, in that they look, feel and taste like an ossified dog turd, then playing “Re-gift the Koulouri” is mandatory. Accordingly, one takes the said excremental koulouria and gifts them to another Greek family to whom one is linked by a bond of υποχρέωση. You score one point if you able to pass this off successfully. Two points are gained if you can identify koulouria given to you by others as a re-gift and you proceed to re-gift these as well. Ten points if you re-gift your mother in law's koulouria and these are re-gifted down the circle of relatives until she ends up with them. Twenty points if your mother in law realises what you have done. Thirty points if you are what is termed an “Afstraleza nyfi” in game terminology and have only made koulouria (which you criminally call Easter cookies) in order to placate the fury of your mother in law in taking her precious son away from her. Lose thirty points if you are an “Afstraleza nyfi” and you think that by making koulouria you will obtain your mother in law's acceptance. Gain forty points if you are an “Afstraleza nyfi” and you find your koulouria in your mother in law's rubbish bin (she wouldn't be caught dead re-gifting them). Lose twenty points if you seriously believe your aunts, mother and in laws don't hold a grudge if you didn't make koulouria. Gain fifty points if you froze last year's gifted koulouria and are gifting them this year. Apparently, the game is won when you say “Stuff This” and get your mum to make your koulouria for you. House-proud Greek Australians who pride themselves on their koulouri-making prowess are disqualified from entry, as are Greek-Australians who attribute their koulouri recipes to George Kalombaris. Of course the flaw in the game, is not having a critical mass of one’s own koulouria to effect the first exchange, but my friend was so wrapt in her exposition of the rules that I didn’t have the heart to tell her. Instead, in honour of her ingenuity, I re-gifted her koulouria to someone that I love, on my way to the Epitaphios service.

Evidently, in modern Greek Australia, it is de rigueur for some parents to become abusive when it is suggested to them by older parishioners that the ornately decorated candle with the Easter bunny/butterfly/AFL team logo they purchased for their children from one of the various Greek cake shops that purvey articles of this sort, is inappropriate for the Good Friday Epitaphios, for the reason that this service is one of mourning and thus, their candle is out of context and better suited to the Resurrection Service. Quoth one mother, on the steps of our church: "How dare you judge me. It is a scam on the part of the church to sell more candles." I observed her in silence, for my four year old did not want to bring a candle to the service at all. Instead, as she informed me, she wanted to bring her collection of marbles, with which to stone the evil men που σκοτώσαν το Χριστούλη.” I made a mental note to have a father-daughter chat to her about fundamentalism in a few months’ time.

Her proclivities towards violent revenge notwithstanding, said daughter was extremely well behaved on Holy Saturday, despite being untimely woken from her sleep, in order to take communion. The  line outside our church was long but orderly, and we had plenty of time to absorb the comments of the eager communicants:

- Στηβ, έλα Στηβ; Το κρεατάδικο έχει μόνον λόιν τσοπια. Νάου, δε ξέρω πού να πάω. Νο γουόρυ. Θα περάσω από το φρουτάδικο.

"Im not going to your (I think the word was fornicating) mother's alright?"

"Yia yia (emphasis on first syllable), why are we drinking this wine anyway?
Answer: "Μπηκόζ Χριστούλη” wants you to.
Googly eyed woman observing a scruffy unshaven fellow wearing tracksuit pants walking down the street: "Obviously he's not Orthodox" Ten seconds later, scruffy man joined the line, proceeded to roll his own, and generously, offer rollies to those behind him.
“Seriously, why can't they have disposable spoons? Are they that stingy?"

In our corner of Greek-Australia, it becomes Easter at exactly the stroke of midnight, regardless of whether the priest has completed the service and chanted the Resurrection Hymn. This year, the priest proclaimed the Resurrection five minutes past twelve, which meant that a large number of the faithful had already kissed each other, smashed eggs (I was informed by a particularly militant vegan family that smashed avocados are a more ecologically viable alternative to this barbarous custom) and wished each other the uniquely Australian version of the traditional Orthodox Easter Greeting:
“Christ is Risen.”
“Yeah, thanks, same to you.”

When I finally arrived at my parent’s house for the Easter feast, my mother looked me up and down and asked incredulously: “Didn’t you bring any koulouria?” In my haste, I had not realized that I had forgotten to re-gift and thus had depleted my own store of edible koulouria. “Here,” I smiled, proving my maternal progenitor an offering from my notorious mastiha-laden batch. “I’ve brought you a tsoureki instead.”


First published in NKEE on Saturday 22 April 2017

Saturday, April 15, 2017


"Did you bring it?" the old man rasped earnestly from his bed.
I looked down at him. Emaciated and yellowing, he forced a grin, as he painfully raised a withered arm as if to confer a stunted benediction. "Look at all these tubes. Truly I am being trussed and seasoned for sacrifice, just like the Pascal lamb." 
Pushing aside the multitude of tubes attached to various parts of his person, he asked again: "Did you bring it?"
Slowly, I revealed the box of chocolates I was hiding behind my back and tried to balance it on the bedside table, between a desultory vase of nonchalant flowers and a rather large leather bound tome, open at the centre and almost completely covered with pencil notations.
"Oh joy," he exclaimed, licking his lips. "By your Passion we were set free from our passions, O Christ, and by your resurrection we were redeemed from corruption." Steadily, his fingers enclosed a truffle and looking furtively at the door, quickly enveloped it with his mouth. "Bliss. Take one."
"After Easter," I responded. "We aren't there yet."
"Oh yes," he snorted. " Let all mortal flesh keep silent and stand in fear and trembling, giving no thought to things of the earth. Yet it is the flesh that betrays us in the end you see, because the soul and the flesh are interconnected. Plato was either a blithering idiot, or set out deliberately to mislead. Chrysostom on the other hand..."
"Don't get yourself excited," I murmured, grasping his hand. "It's ok."
"Well, imagine how differently Christian theology would have evolved if the Holy Fathers had access to chocolates, or for that matter, if Kierkegaard had had someone to sleep with. The whole thing would have been unrecognizably different, don't you see."
He reached over to pour himself a glass of water and became entangled in an unspeakably complicated contraption, full of buttons, tubes and emitting high pitched, rhythmic bleeps. "They do not know nor understand; They carry on in darkness; all the foundations of the earth shall be shaken," he grimaced, as a nurse, entering the room, silently wrested control of the water jug, helped him back into bed and fluffed his pillows for good measure.
"Bloodsucker, ανέραστη," he cursed. "They are not humans. They are automatons. No feelings to speak of at all except for one, some type of South East Asian. A beautiful bloom. His skin radiates jasmine and hibiscus of the East. When I was in the South East, this was before the war, you understand, I was captivated by the scent. And I told him, if there is a Paradise, this is what it will smell like. Because at that time, the whole South East smelled of him, or the other way around, I don't know. And he just smiled, the bastard. Smiled like he always did. You know we were together for forty years?"
"No, I didn't know. No one ever told me."
"I don't imagine they would have. Together ever since Cairo, my and my British Tommy. We came to Australia together. I was the first Greek your grandfather met here. That much you must know. And HE was the first non-Greek, he met here. Simply because he was wandering around the dock like a lost sheep with that frown on his face, yes, exactly like that - it's uncanny how similar yours is, it's like I'm looking at your grandfather resurrected - and we felt sorry for him and took him home with us and helped him find a place of his own. And I remember he would always scold your grandfather for frowning and tell him: "Lift up your finger and say: Tweet Tweet, Shush Shush, Now Now, Come Come," which were the words of a popular song of the time." Your grandfather thought he was insulting him and looked like he wanted to throw him a punch. He never liked him you know. And even when he would come round, never with your grandmother, you understand, the first thing he would do, was ask gruffly: "Is your husband here, αφορισμένε? No? Good." A tremendously dry sense of humour, your progenitor had."
"Pappou is long gone," I mused.
"They all are," he spluttered. "All gone, and left me alone, an aging fag, to find my pleasures turn to ash in my mouth, to face Death alone. What does it say in there?" he asked, pointing to the fat tome on the table.
I picked it up and flicked through the pages. It was an old service book for Holy Week, so well thumbed that the corners of most pages were almost translucent. The text was so heavily annotated it was barely legible. Taking my place from a large pencil asterisk, I begin to read: "Now then, if you are ready, when you hear the sound of the trumpet, the pipe, the harp, the four-stringed instrument, the psaltery, the symphony, and every kind of music, that you shall fall down and worship the golden image I made."
"Not like that," he snapped. "Properly. Chant it, the way I've shown you. Now read this."
"I said, "You are gods, and you are all sons of the Most High. But you die like men, and like one of the rulers, you fall."
Grasping my hand so tightly that I let out a gasp, he closed his eyes and intoned: "Today, Hades groans and cries out, "It would have been better for me if I had not received the One born of Mary; for when He came here, He destroyed my power. He shattered the gates of brass; and, as God, He resurrected the souls, which I held captive for ages..." Then, leaving off suddenly, he asked: "Will there be a resurrection, do you think? And stop frowning, boy."
"There has to be," I responded after a time. "Otherwise our hearts would break."
"But that is precisely the point, dear boy," he chortled, his eyes widening. "Down there among the mud and clay, you won't have a heart for very long will you? How long do you think it will be before it disintegrates? One month? Less? So why do you need a resurrection?"
I remained silent.
"Will you go to the service of the First Resurrection on Holy Saturday morning, the one that anticipates His rising?" he asked.
"Yes. I always do."
"When the priest comes out with the laurel leaves, I want you to bang your pew hard. I want you to hammer at it. Make an almighty ruckus so I can hear it all the way down in Hades. Harrow those gates of Hell," he pronounced, almost with manic urgency. Sitting up on the creaking hospital bed, he pleaded: "Please, do this for me."
"Yes, alright. It's only a few days away and then I will come to see you again. And next year, we will go and hammer those pews together."
"Oh no," he smiled, waving me away. "I'm going off to meet not one, but two bridegrooms. I'm the luckiest person in the world."
On the third day, Holy Saturday, very early in the morning, I took the koulouria and eggs I had prepared and went to his chamber. I found the curtain drawn away from the bed, but when I entered, the bed was empty and his body was not there. While I pondered this, suddenly a nurse in whites that gleamed like lightning stood beside me. In my fright I turned my face away from her but she said to me: "Why do you seek him? He is not here."
"The Lord awoke as from sleep, and He rose and saved us," I recited, as I discerned an empty chocolate box poking out of a drawer of the bedside table. As I walked away, light penetrated the four panels of the window, flooding the empty chamber. And I wept.


First published in NKEE on Saturday 15 April 2017

Saturday, April 08, 2017


A long time ago, in a place quite far away, a young man embarked upon an epic galactic quest for truth that saw him embroiled in an interplanetary war. Compelled to choose sides, he befriends doughty fighters who command three-headed vultures, giant fleas and space spiders and traverses landscapes inhabited by grass-bodied birds with wings of giant leaves, elephant-sized fleas, half women half grapevine beings from whom a kiss would send one “reeling drunk”, and men who sweat milk of such quality “that cheese can actually be made from it by dripping in a little of the honey,” which runs from their noses. George Lucas on performance enhancing stimulants? Hardly likely. Instead, the plot of this bizarre story, entitled “True Histories” (Ἀληθῶν διηγημάτων) was concocted some two millennia prior to Lucas’ earthly manifestation, by Lucian of Samosata, an ethnic Assyrian author of the second century, who wrote in Greek. As such, it can safely be stated that the first work of science fiction, was written in the Greek language.
Unlike the epics of Lucas, which takes themselves just a tad too seriously, the work of the eerily similarly-named Lucian, are delightfully cheeky. Indeed, rather than being constructed as a dualistic moral tale, Lucian weaves, throughout his racy tale, innumerable and skillfully rendered send-ups of the philosophers and authors of his day. Thus, in passing, the iconoclastic Lucian mentions the tales of Ctesias, Iambulus, and Homer, and states that "what did surprise me was their supposition that nobody would notice they were lying." Indeed, the very title of his work, is provoking. Ancient readers would have known the paradox of Epimenides who stated that “All Cretans are liars” – if he is telling the truth he is lying, but if he is lying then he is telling the truth. Thus, as Aaron Parrett explains, when Lucian calls his fantastic tale (which makes fun of liars) a “true story,” he references one of the key paradoxes of philosophy and its inability to be completely self-grounding. Charmingly, Lucian takes a swipe at the tale spinners of his day, especially his rival Antonius Diogenes,’ now lost Of the Wonderful Things Beyond Thule, whose protagonist also reached space, stating that the story recounted in True History is about "things I have neither seen nor experienced nor heard tell of from anybody else; things, what is more, that do not in fact exist and could not ever exist at all. So my readers must not believe a word I say."
Caricaturing philosophy is one thing. To do so in a breathtakingly interesting way is quite another. Lucian’s space adventure features a group of travelers who leave Earth when their ship is thrown into the sky by a ferocious whirlwind. Eventually they arrive on the Moon, only to learn that its inhabitants, the Selenites are at war with the people of the Sun, for the most Lucasian of reasons: both are vying for control of a colony on the Morning Star. As Endymion, king of the Moon relates, in pure science fiction fashion: "The king of the inhabitants of the Sun, Phaethon,…has been at war with us for a long time now. Once upon a time I gathered together the poorest people in my kingdom and undertook to plant a colony on the Morning Star which was empty and uninhabited. Phaethon out of jealousy thwarted the colonization, meeting us halfway at the head of his dragoons. At that time we were beaten, for we were not a match for them in strength, and we retreated. Now, however, I desire to make war again and plant the colony."
The warriors of the two celestial orbs travel through space on winged acorns gigantic turnips as ammunition. Anticipating the mass slaughters brought about by colonialism, by almost two millennia, blood “[falls] upon the clouds, which made them look of a red color; as sometimes they appear to us about sun-setting.” Of course, the mood is lightened someone by the fact that Lucian casts one class of killers as the Garlic-warriors ῾Σκορδομάχοι,᾽ another as the Millet Throwers, ‘Κεγχροβόλοι’ and yet another as the Ostrich-Slingers ‘Στρουθοβάλανοι,’ while the imperial battleships of George Lucas, take the form of the Lettuce-Wings ‘Λαχανόπτεροι.’ 
In lampooning Aristotelian views of the natural world, Lucian makes some novel imaginings that would arrest the attention of gender scholars of the modern age. In particular, he envisages upon the moon, a society in which women are completely absent and men are by necessity, self-procreating. Thus babies are born from men’s swollen calves, delivered dead but brought to life “by putting it in the wind with its mouth open”. Another people known as the Arboreals employ a different method of propagation: a man’s right genital gland is cut off, planted, and from it “grows a very large tree of flesh, resembling the emblem of Priapus”, and from its fruit of enormous acorns men are ‘shelled.’
Lucian’s imagination even embraces technological advances, in particular, conceiving of a telescopic microphone: “There is a large mirror suspended over a well of no great depth; any one going down the well can hear every word spoken on our Earth; and if he looks at the mirror, he sees every city and nation as plainly as though he were standing close above each. The time I was there, I surveyed my own people and the whole of my native country; whether they saw me also, I cannot say for certain.”
Eventually, Lucian’s protagonists return to Earth, and become trapped in a giant whale. Inside the 200-mile-long animal, there live many groups of people, including, Robinson Crusoe-like, a self-sufficient father and son team that farm the fish entering the whale’s stomach. They also reach a sea of milk, an island of cheese and the isle of Elysium. There Lucian meets the heroes of the Trojan War, and other key characters of Greek mythology, and literature, including Homer. The god Rhadamanthys arbitrates disputes between Alexander the Great and Hannibal, Theseus and Menelaus and certain philosophers are also to be found there: “I heard that Rhadamanthys was dissatisfied with Socrates, and had several times threatened him with expulsion, if he insisted on talking nonsense, and would not drop his irony and enjoy himself. Plato was the only one I missed, but I was told that he was living in his own Utopia, working the constitution and laws which he had drawn up.”
Tellingly, we learn there that Herodotus is being eternally punished for the "lies" he published in his own ‘Histories,’ which is amusing, considering that Lucian ends his story abruptly, promising to continue it in later books, and never does so. 
In combining science fiction and parody in equal proportions, Lucian’s remarkable work, also notable for the fact that is constitutes an early expression of the idea of crossing the Atlantic and exploring lands which might lie on its other side, some 1400 years before Columbus, anticipates the French philosopher Voltaire’s ‘Micromegas’ and the writings of Douglas Adams. Significantly, astronomer Johannes Kepler’s 1634 novel Somnium which describes a trip to the moon and the view of Earth seen from far away, was partially inspired by Lucian. He picked up True History in the original Greek to master the language. 
English critic Kingsley Amis has remarked “that the sprightliness and sophistication of True History make it read like a joke at the expense of nearly all early-modern science fiction, that written between, say, 1910 and 1940.” In producing a tale concerning itself with exceeding the margins of the possible and the plausible, Lucian manages to lampoon the hallowed tradition of his world, while imagining the infinite permutations of others. If there is any regret, in reading his remarkable work, it is that he did not prove immortal, in order to have seen and satirized, George Lucas’ puerile “Rogue One.” Had he done so, arguably, he would have given him a slightly more abrasive treatment than that which he gave Pythagoras, in the aftermath of an Elysian war victory: “From this Pythagoras alone held aloof, fasting and sitting far off, in sign of his abhorrence of bean-eating.”
To the man that taught us to reach for the stars, and take the mickey out of them, we are eternally grateful.

First published in NKEE on Saturday 8 April 2017

Sunday, April 02, 2017


«Σε τούτα εδώ τα μάρμαρα/ κακιά σκουριά δεν πιάνει,» the great poet Yiannis Ritsos proclaims. He is absolutely right. Rust does not assail Greek marbles, wherever these are situated. Instead, despite their ability to blindingly reflect the sun, in the Antipodes, they acquire a tendency towards the opaque and to merge silently with the ashen background of grey, Melbournian pretermission.
One of those forgotten marbles, is the one most recently installed. Mouldering away on the Lonsdale Street "Greek" precinct, placed strategically close to the shops, now gone, that once comprised the hub of Greek life in the Melbourne's Central Business District, is the monolith dedicated to the sisterhood of Melbourne and Thessaloniki. The monument, an initiative of Melbourne's Thessaloniki Association "White Tower," which appears to be a vociferous, and probably, the only truly committed proponent of the stilted sister-city relationship, was triumphantly installed amid fanfare, by controversial Thessaloniki Mayor, Panayiotis Psomiadis, in 2007. One side of the monument bears a relief, in early Byzantine style of Saint Dimitrios. The other, predictably, bears a relief of Alexander the Great holding what appears disturbingly to be a butcher's knife. Once upon a time, the black inscription upon the monolith advised the wayfarer that both images were based on mosaics of old. There are no images remotely linking Thessaloniki to Melbourne on the monument and we can only speculate that it is possibly the act of replicating a mosaic itself, in bas relief, that provides the connection with Melbourne, implying that its society forms a mosaic in its own right, one that ironically enough, defies being set in stone.
It is hard to defend this contention with any confidence, for in just a decade, the inscription has faded to the point of near-illegibility. Indeed it is not at all certain that the part of the inscription that informs the viewer that the monument was installed during the time of Psomiadis reign will endure beyond the year. Instead, there it stands, hidden in plain sight, before the vibrant Asian businesses that fringe the precinct. Though white and gleaming, passersby rarely spare it a glance. It is a ghost, of a past and of a relationship no one cares to remember and whose continued existence frightens nobody. 
Another Greek ghost haunts the environs of the city of Stonnington, opposite the Greek Orthodox Church of Helen and Constantine. The memorial, remarkable in how its socialist realism aesthetics mirror those of the Soviet period, comprises triangular marble-like panels, bearing two bronze reliefs of Reifenstahlian torch bearing athletes on either side. The installation is surrounded by a low metal barrier which is broken in one place, two flagpoles upon which the Greek and Australian flags flap desultory and is fringed by a row of olive trees and a grove of abandoned shopping trolleys. Unlike the Psomiadis monument, there exists no inscription or plaque to enlighten us as to when and why the aged pile was erected. Instead, the sole form of writing upon the monument is a scrawl of graffiti across its front, branding the ghost of the past for the present. Nonetheless, the Olympic Rings emblazoned upon the torches borne by the athletes hint at a connection between Greeks, International Sport and Melbourne.
This particular ghost is possessed of peripatetic tendencies. According to local residents, it was once located at the Malvern Road access of the park in which the Prahran swimming pool is situated. However, it moved to its present solitary position, as it had fallen victim to vandalism. Now it poignantly whiles away the hours to oblivion, forlorn, and forgotten, the significance of its strong, virile and noble brazen male caryatids incomprehensible and remote to a latte bearing, iphone7 wielding generation at large and to the old ladies who enter and exit the church frequently without sparing it a glance, alike. Nonetheless, it would be fascinating to learn of the existence of any Lady of Rho-like figure who secretly tends to the olives and raises the flags upon their flagpoles, unobserved by the local populace, guarding her own Thermopylae, aeons after the Persians have passed us all by and have become forgotten.
That is not to say that all of our mouldering spectral piles signify oblivion. The marble monument at the Axion Estin monastery in Northcote has admittedly seen better days. Bearing in bas relief, the image of a foustanella clad euzone clasping the hand of an Anzac wearing a bizarre elongated sun-visor, underneath a pediment atopped by busts of a helmeted Pericles and an equally helmeted Alexander, it defies inscription, for the Melbournian weather has caused the once gilded Greek buzzwords of Peace, Civilisation, Freedom and Democracy to fade away, most likely in sympathy with the erosion of these values in the Brave New World of our times. Despite this, and its increasing fungal discolouration, the Axion Estin monument serves as a backdrop and a place of reference for the commemoration ceremonies of multitudes of local Greek organisations, all of which have something to do with war, but little if anything, to do with their life in Australia, though it plausibly could be argued that commemorating various Greek regional war events, IS a feature of Greek-Australian life. Here then, dilapidation is not a consequence of obscurity but rather, comfortingly, of wear and tear. The Greek-Australian war memorial in the gardens close to the Shrine of Remembrance is used nowhere nearly as frequently, except to mark grand and solemn national commemorations, and is thus as immaculate as it is unnerving.
The Rye memorial to the Greek and Australian dead, smart, neat and luminous on a summer’s day, featuring a plinth poised upon a mosaic of the Greek flag was erected by the Rye Greek community in 1995. Despite its relative age, it is lovingly tended and serves as focal point for the commemorative ceremonies of the local Greek communities of the Peninsula. If one were to prognosticate, one would venture to feel confident that this memorial will fend off ghosthood for at least another generation, for the Greek-Melbournian urge to retire, or seek relaxation in Rye its environs is a particularly enduring one.
A similar enduring status must be afforded to the monument erected by the Cretan Brotherhood of Melbourne, to Crete’s most famous son, Eleftherios Venizelos. Every time I drive down Nicholson Street, the architect of the Greece of the two continents and five seas greets me. I know that in the years to come, subsequent generations of Greek-Australians will struggle to recognise him or appreciate what he means to us. For this reason, I propose that the land upon which the monument is placed become the subject of a restrictive covenant, so that, regardless of whatever use the adjoining building is put to in the future, Eleftherios Venizelos can gaze upon our descendants in perpetuity, a symbol of the failure of our own Μεγάλη Ιδέα, this being the deeply held belief that we could reconstruct and perpetuate, the lives our ancestors left behind prior to their arrival upon these shores.
Pretermission, the act of forgetting, is especially haunting when it comes to monuments. For to forget a monument which has been erected in order to keep you from forgetting, negates its entire purpose, rendering it, a spectre. It is for this reason, while we as a community, are in construction mode, that we should consider building a monument to commemorate those monuments we have erected, which have lapsed from our memory. And while we are at it, during our community’s vibrancy, we should also build a monument to commemorate ourselves, lest we forget. After all, it worked for the pharaohs….

First published in NKEE on 1 April 2017