Posts Tagged ‘Greece’

Keep It Clean

February 26, 2017

Surely it’s just a “coincidence” that the beginning of Rabbit Month in the Year of the Fowl coincides with Clean Monday.  Or maybe not:

In the Orthodox Christian tradition, Clean Monday [Kathari Deftera] occurs at the beginning of the 7th week before Orthodox Easter Sunday. The previous [Sunday] evening, Forgiveness Vespers culminates with the Ceremony of Mutual Forgiveness, at which all present bow down before one another and ask forgiveness. In this way, the faithful begin Lent with a clean conscience, with forgiveness, and with renewed Christian love.

Clean Monday is considered to mark the beginning of the spring season.  In this manner, the Orthodox celebrate the fact that “The springtime of the Fast has dawned, the flower of repentance has begun to open…”  In Greece and Cyprus the day is celebrated with outdoor excursions and the widespread custom of flying kites, as well as the consumption of shellfish and other Lenten fasting food.  It is customary to clean the house thoroughly and go to Confession during this week.

clean_monday_kites

Because I’m an unorthodox kinda guy, I probably will not be flying a kite, cleaning the house thoroughly, or observing a Lenten fast during the coming week.  However, I have already vowed to respond with forgiveness toward [some of] those who have trespassed against me.  But since this world is not yet filled with sweetness and light, repeat offenders will not be eligible for this limited time offer.

Swimming From Cambodia

February 13, 2016

I’m not sure what they’re smoking in the editorial offices at the New York Times, but it can’t yet be legal in the Empire State.  And it probably never should be.  How might we best describe the decision to publish this particular vacation travel article at this particular time?

  • tone-deaf
  • callously insensitive
  • completely clueless
  • just totally fucking oblivious

I didn’t think our Mediterranean vacation could get much better.  [We] had already swum several miles a day through astonishing turquoise waters off Kas, a remote village on Turkey’s southwest coast, where cliffs soar up from the sea, the soft air is scented with jasmine and views of the glimmering bay are downright therapeutic.

Amid a ring of seven islands, our group of open-water swimmers glided alongside limestone coastlines, the sunlight spangling the underwater landscape of smooth boulders and serrated pillars.  We swam over marine forests swaying in the current.  We crossed into the open sea, pulling rhythmically through a panorama of royal blue, a laser show of sunbeams funneling into a gleaming ring in the depth.

“It’s like swimming in the sky.”

That’s right, at a time when hundreds of Syrian refugees have been drowning in the Mediterranean as they attempt the ocean crossing into Greece, the Times decides to publish a puff-piece celebrating an American family’s weeklong swim vacation idyll in Turkey amid “translucent waters under mighty peaks … arcing our cupped hands into the water in unison, catching views of one another with each breath.  It was bliss.

Life-is-but-a-dream

Out of thirty-seven paragraphs, only one sentence buried halfway through the article acknowledges the elephant in the room:

The captain of the daily ferry between Kas (Turkey) and Meis (Greece) said that of the roughly 400 refugees crossing the water into Greece each month, most of them from Syria, 10 to 20 brave the [ 5 kilometer ] swim, waiting for nights with no moonlight so they would be undetected.

But quick, let’s change the subject, avert our eyes, and return to fantasies of paradise:

We swam a foot or two above the cragged shelves of submerged rock, as if soaring over canyons.  We would swim about 20 minutes and stop to rest and drink from water bottles or to check out a turtle floating below, some passing trumpet fish or another otherworldly seascape.  One minute we were peering underwater at the waves plowing fizzily into an island’s limestone bank; the next, we were in open sea more than 100 feet deep, as if drifting through an indigo dome, with no bottom in sight.

This sudden queasiness I feel isn’t seasickness, it’s utter disgust.  I can (resignedly) accept the fact that wealthy Americans are willing to blithely disport themselves in exotic Third World locales while the locals quietly starve within their quaint hovels.  I can (somewhat) sympathize with the staff of the Times travel section, who’ve seen their usually-reliable winter season ‘escape’ destinations suddenly rendered off-limits, ravaged by Zika virus.  But this is too much.  America’s haste to aid the Saudis in their Sunni reconquista has blown back in a big, big way and Syria’s little people are paying the price.  If you’ve already forgotten little Aylan, there are plenty more just like him washing ashore on those craggy limestone beaches.  For them, another kind of paradise awaits.

beachhead

 

All Greek To Me

December 22, 2015

Many years ago, a friend of mine from Cyprus offered some unsolicited advice.  He said, “If you ever hope to understand the Greeks, you need to bear in mind that when you have a difference of opinion with a Greek (and you will), he doesn’t merely say ‘I am right and you are wrong.’ He says, ‘I am right and you are an idiot.’  And that is what he truly believes.”

Nikos-Ioannis

Several years later, I found myself engaged in an “animated discussion” with an actual Greek –an actual resident of Athens, in fact.  In a mischievous mood, I told him what my friend Giorgios had said.  “Bah!” he retorted. “What does he know?!?  He’s a Cypriot!”

The moral of the story: don’t be a Cypriot.

 

Tales of Brave Ilissos

December 7, 2014

Late last week, the Greek government took a brief break from its usual pastime (running budget deficits) to launch a bitter tirade against the world’s original bourgeois imperialists:

The British Museum [secretly shipped] one of the world’s most hotly disputed artistic masterpieces to Russia for a loan on Friday, causing an outcry in Greece, which says the priceless 2,500-year-old statue was looted from Athens and must be returned.  It was the first time any of the Elgin marbles had left Britain since arriving two centuries ago.  The decision was not announced until the statue –a headless, reclining nude sculpture of the river god Ilissos— was already safely in Saint Petersburg, where it goes on display as part of an exhibition to mark the Hermitage’s 250th anniversary.

Greek anger has been intensified by the fact that this ain’t just any old Elgin Marble torn from the Parthenon’s western pediment:

The Ilissos is a river in Athens, Greece. The stream drains the western slopes of Mount Hymettus, and originates from multiple converging seasonal creeks. During antiquity, it ran outside the defensive walls of Athens: the river was one of the borders of the ancient walls. Its banks were grassy and shaded by plane trees, and were considered idyllic; they were the favored haunts of Socrates for his walks and teaching.  Ilissos was also a demi-god, the son of Poseidon and Demeter, and was worshiped in a sanctuary on the Ardittos Hill.

In response, the British Museum’s director offered some bland, all-too-predictable platitudes.

“This is the first time ever that the people of Russia have been able to see this great moment of European art and European thought.  A huge new public can engage with the great achievements of ancient Greece. People who will never be able to come to Athens or to London will now here in Russia understand something of the great achievements of Greek civilization.”

“The British Museum [is] the most generous lender [of art] in the world, making a reality of the Enlightenment ideal that the greatest things in the world should be seen and studied, shared and enjoyed by as many people in as many countries as possible.”

Not everyone in Britain agrees:

David Hill, chairman of the International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures, said the loan to Russia was “highly provocative” and a “very rude gesture.”

Right you are, Dave … but not for the reasons you think.  In my view, the nation being rudely provoked is not merely Greece –it’s Russia.  Why?  Because multiple cultural subtexts are silently flowing beneath the rippling surface of Britain’s seemingly magnanimous gesture.  Instead of engaging in open conflict with Comrade Bear, perfidious per-Phidias Albion has chosen to make art, not war.

1. Achieving EU consensus on intensified sanctions against Russia depends upon persuading Germany to act against its own economic interests.  Looted art is a “wedge issue” that Germans understand only too well: as the Nazis did unto Western Europe during WWII, so the Soviets did unto defeated Germany. Thousands of German artworks traveled East at the end of the war, and many are in the collections of the Hermitage Museum.  They’re never coming back.  Britain’s art loan to Russia is intended to remind Berlin of its darkest hours.

2. It’s also an attempt to damage Russia’s relations with Greece and Turkey, two countries that Comrade Bear needs to keep somewhat neutral in the Black Sea/Balkan region as he prepares to ingest Ukraine.  Will the Greeks request that Russia “return” the sculpture to Athens?  Would the Hermitage comply despite its contract with the British Museum? Lawyers are already sharpening their pens.

3. Lastly, the loan of Ilissos to the Hermitage should be understood as a personal insult directed at Comrade Bear himself.  Of all the Parthenon marbles available for loan, the British Museum trick (or bribe) the Russians into accepting a buff –but headless– reclining male nude.  This is a sculpture that, for almost two centuries, has been ogled by successive generations of effete, limp-wristed, tea-sipping British public school aesthetes (if you know what I mean).  The limeys are practically daring Comrade Bear to show up in his own hometown museum for a photo op with Ilissos.  Priceless.

VVP_Ilissos_20141205

Somehow I get the feeling that there’s gonna be a new director of the Hermitage Museum sometime next year.