Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Shadow Figures Theater

Eugenios Spatharis performing
On February 26th, the Greek Ministry of Culture decided to honor- with its remarkable tendency towards delay and eternity- Eugenios Spatharis, the most reputable animator of Shadow Figures Theater in Greece for his achievements during the last 65 years, in keeping alive the tradition of Karagkiozis. He strarted performing during the dark years of the German occupation (early '40s), while still an adolescent. There are many other shadow theater traditions around the world (in China, Indonesia, the Ottoman Empire) but Karagkiozis proved to be flexible in commenting on actual events, politics, social aspirations, phenomena of daily life, so that eventually this spectacle has not been fixed in given stories/myths. At the beginning of the school year he appears as "Karagkiozis Teaching", before the municipal elections "Karagkiozis the Mayor", before the national elections "Karagkiozis at the Parliament" and so on, along with other favorite stories that show him fighting side by side with Alexander the Great against the Cursed Snake.

I am tempted sometimes to compare these simple sketches with the way that Aristophanes criticised his contemporaries, by means of mythology and mainstream artistic reperesentations. The characters of this theater are more or less counted:

Karagkiozis- a poor Greek guy with a rebellious spirit. He is a family man, but at the same time lazy, careless, humorous, unconventional, adventurous, ready to question any social hierarchy, or be seduced by the beautiful daughter of the ruler.

Hatziavatis- a middle class Greek in the ottoman Empire: Ready to co-operate with the basha, to become spineless, to get some profit, to obey the rules of social mannerisms.

Sior Dionysios- a Greek from Zante, westernized, poetic, using italian words every now and then, strong in his feelings, helpless with reality, a friend for Karagkiozis.

Stavrakas- the typical macho street guy, he pretends to be the Lionheart, but in the end he is coward, beaten up, worthless, an exemplary liar.

Morphonios- an ugly pampered young man, spoilt by mom, delicate and an easy victim of Karagkiozis's strong hand.

The Jew- a Jew merchant of Istanbul or Thessaloniki, where Greeks and Jews were living side by side. Stingy, funny, relatively wealthy, sly on occasions, timid.

The Basha- the representative of the ruler, powerful, respectful, he never sings during the performance, keeping appearences.

Barba Yiorghos- the mountainous Greek braveheart of the south, unpolished in his behaviours, strong in fights, stubborn and proud, using a heavy accent. He is the uncle of Karagkiozis usually.

Veligkekas- the Turkish-albanian guard of the Basha. Violent, strong, stupid, using a strange dialect in which greek, turkish and albanian phrases come together.

One can easily notice the stereotypical representations; they originate from the long Ottoman experience in Greece. What is particularly interesting is that this world of another era could travel through time and become a tool for an up to date commentary and sharp criticism. Revealing perhaps continuities in human behaviour. I was so delighted while watching a series arranged by Spatharis, on Odyssey, representing Karagkiozis as one of Ulysses's sailors. Karagkiozis also became the theme of some interesting ballads of protest. He became a figure of musical and still one can buy his leather or cartboard figure in Plaka, or elsewhere. As a hero, he is positive and admirable. But the expression "Είσαι Καραγκιόζης ρε συ!!!" means "You are ridiculous, pal"

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Not the cherry blossom

A contradiction: the counterpoint, if I may use a musical term over culture. Always I look forward to the posters of our Japanese Section, announcing the annual poetry and speech competition (this time on March, the 3rd) for their delicate patterns. But...

Αυτά δεν είναι της κερασιάς τα άνθη που τα περιμένουν με ιερή αγωνία κάθε Άνοιξη οι Ιάπωνες.

Δεν είναι του Σκαμάνδρου τα νερά μετά από μια μέρα που έφερε πλούσια καρποφορία στον Κάτω Κόσμο.

Δεν είναι ούτε τα λουτρά εκείνων των στρατιωτών στα Όνειρα του Κουροσάβα, που περνούσαν λασπωμένοι, εν-δυο, εν-δυό, το τούνελ να φτάσουν στο αχώρητο πειθαρχικοί.

Ούτε η λεκάνη που ξέβαφε η Φρύνη τα μάγουλά της.

Είναι το αίμα των δελφινιών έξω από το Ταϊζί, με την έναρξη της θηρευτικής περιόδου, στο θαλασσινό νερό, στα ρηχά. Δεκαέξι χιλιάδες δελφινια σκοτώνονται κάθε χρόνο στην Ιαπωνία. Είναι κομμάτι της παραδοσιακής μας δίαιτας, λένε. Είναι εισόδημα για τους φτωχούς ψαράδες, λένε. Μα έπειτα λένε ότι τα δελφίνια δεν είναι εύκολο να σκοτωθούν γρήγορα κι αναίμακτα, όπως συμβαίνει με θηλαστικά της στεριάς. Οι ψαράδες διαβεβαιώνουν ότι κάνουν ό,τι μπορούν ώστε τα θύματα να υποφέρουν όσο το δυνατόν λιγότερο.

Παράξενο. Δεν είναι λίγοι όσοι υποστηρίζουν (με βάσιμες μετρήσεις και πειράματα) ότι τα κήτη έχουν νοημοσύνη παιδιών επτάχρονων. Πόσοι θα εξεγείρονταν και θα έτρεχαν σε τηλεοπτικούς μαραθώνιους για τα μακελευμένα παιδιά. Να χτιστούν μνημεία, να ιδρυθούν κληροδοτήματα, να δοθούν ονόματα σε δρόμους, να απασχοληθούν οι δικαστές στο Δικαστήριο της Χάγης. Ο ΟΗΕ ψηφίσματα. Ο αρχιεπίσκοπος δεκάρικους για τον ξεπεσμό της ανθρωπότητας και την απομάκρυνση από το ελληνοχριστιανικό δέον. Η ηθική που προχωράει μόνο με το καθρεφτάκι στο παχουλό χεράκι της "τι μου μοιάζει", "τι αξίζει", "τι υπάρχει", δηλαδή, πάλι, "τι μου μοιάζει".

In these bloody waters I was swimming, when we decided suddenly to go to the Turkish concert at the Royal Cultural Centre, featuring the Anatolian Sun Quartet plus a tenor, plus Fatih Erenler, playing nay. As always, community cultural events are funny, people forget themselves for a while, a forced displacement. But being an outsider, I enjoyed the music (I love the sound of nay so much, and two of the pieces reminded me of traditional music from Mytilene, the island of mom, and the series we were watching 30 years ago in black and white, on TV). It is bad finishing with/in a parenthesis.

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Dans la Seine, in cold

While I was reading Theodora Economides's Welcome to Ramallah, originally written in French, I was surprised to see in details the long and mischievous interviews the travellers to Palestine had to survive in order to be allowed by the Israeli authorities to enter the prohibited land, with the nine letters. Their methods of verbal terrorism in the name of law and order reminded me of Javert, in Hugo's Les Miserables. Today I found another similarity, which I read in melancholy, as if literature reproduces itself or, to put it in Oscar Wilde's words, as if life imitates art. The Israeli Defence Attache in France, David Dahan,who was missing for more than a month, was found dead in Rouen, in Seine. No particular evidence is there for criminal action and most probably it was a suicide; his close ones informed the police that he was going through depression recently. Exactly like Javert in his last steps, on the Pont Notre Dame. It is a remark that did not make me happy.

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Λέων γεγραμμένος

The Friday effect has been mild, lighter than expected, after all. The Amlak edition along with Al Waseet and Al Momtaz brought normality and the regular rhythm of breathing back to me- everything: food, suits, furniture, tanks, training benches, maids, apartments and tiles are precisely encoded in photos, so I felt the World turns round again and around its magnetic axis. Events were minimal and regular.

I wake up early; this is a shortcoming since ever, which made me a caffeine and nicotine addict. What is now needed for such a freak? Music. Today I was in the mood for Henry Purcell and, since I do not have Dido and Aeneas in compact disc, I found its cousin, King Arthur, a very weird semi opera, typical for british baroque and the atmospere of the Court. I find it amazing the construction of national identity by means of music. Arhtur, pious Britons, heathen Saxons, a blind princess, Merlin, mixing of the visible and invisible worlds (like in Shakespeare sometimes) and a story that would trouble even Spielberg. The music goes at some parts identical like in Dido, the cold song for example. One of the few things I kept listening to in Thessaloniki this time was the Cold Song with the unbelievable voice of Klaus Nomi. (Strange, both Henry and Klaus died relatively young, like wild anemones.) Then I was rushing to the bus stop and from there to the clinic. But, as the story deals with a national identity affirmation, it does not take me very high, and I think it is better this way, this very morning. Lots of paperwork.

And here are the good news I found in the Greek news: In 2008 the museum of Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika will be ready. Six storeys: the galerry on the fourth, and they will display his correspondance with Seferis, Sikelianos, Elytis, Pentzikis, etc. oh Generous God! and his manuscripts. This is a good motivation to keep it up till 2008 :)). I do not recall exactly how many exhibitions of his I have attended. Some while he was still creating, and other, posthumous ones.

Three encounters influenced me deeply: two of his paintings I saw while I was 17, a big thematic exhibition at the Old Archaelogical Museum in Thessaloniki (a nice rococco mosque of the late ottoman years), in which I realized how good he was in scetching, and last summer on Hydra, a small one, like a revision, at his place of origins, in a house like his, with the landscapes he painted just appearing from the windows. It was like a revision in general for more than one thing: His art, his austere choices, my youth, my conclusions. Then we stood with Voula and Pelagia, by the canons watching the night and the dark waves in silence. Never trust lovers who give lectures from the podium of their pillow:)).

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Friday, February 23, 2007

the friday effect

This recurrent, weekly pause sometimes brings me nausea, or migraine. Not Saturday, it is Friday the potential aspirin day. Is it all about the religious context of the holiday? It could be, because I clearly remember in Greece it was the Sunday(not cheerful Saturday) church bells that were making my head blow. Perhaps a reminder of penitence and redemption, one can never be sure about these things, universal energy stuff, flying angels, instances that one would rather block than investigate, scrutinize or remember. Or is it the available few extra free hours that cause a general bodily horror, how to deal with them, far from the automatic motions of the established roles?

Ways out:

1. a drive to the countryside- I do not drive, useless creep of philology.

2. a ride to the countryside- So many arrangements have to take place beforehand that we reach early afternoon, many princes to wake up, meanwhile my migraine has disappeared already by itself.

3. a coffee outing at bluefig/abdoun -Yeah, ok, I do that, but there are the families, with the mothers in law and the children, and- worst of all- those clowns who are supposed to keep children busy, and looking at them and their crayons I want everytime to cry.

4. a coffee at home with my best friend- Most of the times, Ala'a passes by, he is the best coffee companion one can dream of, but on Friday mornings he suffers of a strange gush, he keeps revising the whole week, and then he recites poetry for me. Then I am lost among so many varieties of speech: the son, the employee, the dear friend, the poet...

5. Music- Yesssssssss. Today George Onslow, Quintette a cordes opus 78 (strings are not good for headache, but pleasure does you good).

6. A long walk in the Downtown- This is a promise that I 97,4% do not keep and postpone.

7. Calling and answering the phone- Mama, and Baba, (my friends are at work, so it cannot be, on Sundays they are at home, I am at work: we meet virtually either on late-evening-tired-voice occasions or in dreams). But these days it feels nice finding my parents' voices getting again relaxed and hopeful after many weeks of stress and agony.

Yalllllllllla enjoy. It is Friday.....

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Thursday, February 22, 2007


This is a story about a grown up, and the silver screen: how he became a grown up at the expense of the silver screen. While he was younger (a college student, let us say), he could not bear life unless he was covering himself regularly (twice/three times per week) with the silver screen: i hope the term still signifies nicely in english, cinema. He had also developped an early dislike towards american cinema and the easy, shallow tears the movies with children and family drama (illnesses, tragical accidents, divorces, separations, departing UFOs) were bringing him. He still uses them of course in days of depression, crying his guts out on the adverse luck of Meryl Streep or something, even Barbra Streisand, no problem at that stage.

To the contrary, he loved european, japanese, australian, n.zeal. and korean (why not?) cinema. He was marking the promising titles/stories and was expecting them to appear and be screened in Thessaloniki or Athens. It was an addiction, a regular and important segment of his monthly allowance. The addiction was not just about the films, but also about the special condition of watching them in a theater, with other people around, watching their figures in the shifting light of the hall, listening to their laughter, feeling their sobbing and trying to escape at the end with them, avoiding looking at each other's eyes. A thin line between private and public.

Now, geography appeared meanwhile: the years on Amorgos- no cinema on the magical island, but it was like living in a movie, with the skies and the sea as a screen, and the constant wind as the projector. The years in Amman made things even more difficult- american movies, always american best sellers, and the annual European Film Festival as a regular occasion for ethnic communities and an arty flock to appear; a social event mostly rather than personal. DVDs are not the same. Cinema is not made for TV, or it should not.

What has been left? Breaks and vacations. Again trying to catch up with some, few samples of what has appeared in filmography. It is not easy, because every time he realizes that the ones that he would really like to watch, have been shown already or will be shown in the coming month (while there will be no break). So he rushes to second rank choices, and the first time he is about to fall asleep in the semidarkness of the theater, because even cinema needs its training, a physical condition of consciousness.

This time, I would like to mention that beautiful film by Guillermo Del Toro (Mexican I think), Pan's Labyrinth I watched, which deals with the Spanish Civil War, and the phychological retreat in legends and fairy tales. The scenery for both reality and fantasy is impressive. He admits that he was influenced by Edward Lear, the one who drew the scetches for the first edition of Lewis's "Alice in Wonderland". It is a garden for visual arts, with symbolisms and imposing images, like the ones a child imagines while listening to a fairy tale narrated by a loving adult. The moment that Ophelia dies, her elaborate fantasy takes her to salvation and relief.

Here we are with coincidences: after 5 years, I saw at the break, while trying to smoke half a cigarette and buy some pop-corn, Ioanna, my closest in Jordan at that time. Half a cigarette and an attempt to catch up with so many events, especially hers. On the way out, we recomfirmed our mobile numbers, to be forgotten perhaps somewhere between here and there, in our Labyrinth. Of course, I was carrying my keys with me, Pelagia and Voula, protecting me like a precise map.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Telling the truth

It feels nice writing the truth, writing about young people and, with your letter as a key, entering through a side door the adventure of their multiple possibilities/potentials in life, before Adulthood appears with its axe of concessions.

How should one visualize it- Adulthood I mean? It depends on the particular language I presume. In Greek it is feminine "Eνηλικίωση" therefore it could be a Medusa with her untidy hair, the petrifying snakes, holding the sword, ok, but better cutting its victims with the edge of a paper which from its one side (the honey dipped one) contains promises, wages, insurance package, incentives, the scale of salary raise, bonus etc, and from the other side (the genuine one) the respective duties: marital contracts, taxation, fees, minimal photos of friends who have mysteriously vanished before the age of 30, some sundried flowers from vacations far behind in time, adverse historical circumstances.

She is covered with a patchwork cloth, you may assume what bits it contains: mixed technique- pearls, amethysts, pieces of silk with these imaginative indian colours, pieces of bloodstained gauze, again photos, again few verses written on the dress with thread, and black rags, and empty spaces, holes, for the emptiness to appear. Uff now I can see her well. And I believe it is her dress that achieves the stunning effect.

But it is still early, they may find new ways, so many ways, paths, hidden itineraries, personal options, the magic of an unexpected enlightenment, a big revolt agains all odds and expectations. So let me just enjoy for having given out my recommendation letters, in happiness, in real hope, not uttering any kind of lie.

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

glass bits

Ο Ησίοδος δεν ήταν εκείνος που μεταλλειολόγησε τους θεούς, τους ήρωες και τους ανθρώπους, έτσι όπως ξέπεφταν στα διαρκώς φθηνότερα και σκληρότερα; Χρύσεον μεν γένος... Έφτανε και στο σίδερο, τους ανθρώπους της δύναμης και του αίματος. Το γένος των καθ'έξιν πολεμιστών. Ύστερα όμως τι γίνεται; Τι συμβαίνει με όσους αποθέτουν συνταξιούχοι την πανοπλία τους, κι απομένουν χωρίς κνημίδες αλλά με τίποτα γάζες των νοσοκομείων τυλιγμένες σαν τον αναστάντα Λάζαρο γύρω από τα πόδια προς αποφυγήν θρομβώσεων; Οι προστατευόμενοι των καλών ασφαλιστικών ταμείων δικαιούνται και ελαστικές κάλτσες απαστράπτουσας λευκότητας για τον ίδιο λόγο. Τι γίνονται αυτοί; Γιατί πάντα βρίσκεται κάποιος απρόβλεπτος ξερός κορμός για να αποθέσουν άκοντες τη σιδερόφρακτη αμφίεση, τόσα χρόνια καρναβάλια, τόσον πολύ καιρό άλλοι. Πολλά ζητήματα ακόμα βρίσκονται στη μέση, πολλές υποθέσεις ανοιχτές, κανείς δε στρέφει να κοιτάξει την κλεψύδρα, κανείς δε βλέπει πως κιόλας φύτρωσαν μικρά λουλούδια στο νερό που λιμνάζει και δείχνει τον ξοδεμένο χρόνο, κανείς δε βλέπει ότι τα πουλιά μάθαν τον τόπο κι έρχονται να πιουν, να κυνηγήσουν τους πεταγμένους σπόρους μιας ομοιότροπης ανθρωπογονίας. Ευτυχείς όσοι κατέρρευσαν βαριοί με τα πλουμίδια τους χωρίς να υποψιαστούν το διαρκές τους τριώδιο. Μα υπάρχουν οι πολλοί, εκείνοι που δύσκολα παραδέχονται τα γεγονότα, πως δηλαδή τόσα χρόνια ήταν γυάλινοι, λεπτοί από μέσα, όλο ραγισματιές, η σκόνη έγινε η κόλλα κι ο αρμός τους. Θα μπορέσουν να ζήσουν με τη χαρά της εύθραυστης ουσίας τους, τώρα που δε γίνεται να κρυφτούν άλλο πια;
Σήμερα, καθώς αργούσαν οι γονείς να επικοινωνήσουν μαζί μου και τους φανταζόμουν να διασχίζουν στο χάρτη τους λίγους πόντους από τη Θεσσαλονίκη στο σπίτι, τους σκεφτόμουν καμωμένους από μικρές κρυστάλλινες ψηφίδες. Με έπιασε η αγωνία: φοβόμουν μη σκορπίσουν από κάτι ελάχιστο: μιαν απότομη κίνηση, ένα τράνταγμα του οχήματος, κάποιο σκαλί που το δρασκέλησαν με το πάτημα ενός νέου σε μέθη.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Valentine behind a heavy velvet screen

This is a good day to catch up with time, with words that vanish in postponement; I see them melting in the salty lake of silence, among automatic motions of my head nodding, in retreat and weakness. Eid al 7ob: a generous day for the florists and the various vendors of kitsch red gifts. And since the age of 17 I have been watching it being so, cheap and tasteless. The red synthetic silk boxers with hearts, the shortlived roses, the strawberry cakes with layers of artificial jelly, the dictatorship of anniversaries.
Oh Aphrodite, oh Hermes, oh Adonis, do not teach them anything, your ribbons are worn out, all in golden and purple threads eaten by the moth of numerous departures. Your nudity is fragile, and these are iron-nailed flocks.

"Immortal Aphrodite, daughter of Zeus,
you always set traps of love.
Devine Matron, I beg you
not to add any further burden of sorrow and bitterness on my soul.
Devine Matron, I beg you

What might be, once again, this thing
that my heart yearns for?
Who may be, once again, the one
for whom I ask Persuation to bring her back?
Who is the one that made you suffer, oh Sappho?
Who may be, once again, the one
for whom you ask Persuasion to bring her back to you?

Come then, once again,
to save me from my sufferings."

Αθάνατη Αφροδίτη του Διός κόρη
όλο παγίδες στήνεις της αγάπης
Δέσποινα παρακαλώ
μη να χαρείς μη ρίχνεις άλλο βάρος
από καημούς και πίκρες στην ψυχή μου
Δέσποινα παρακαλώ
μη να χαρείς

Τι νά΄ναι πάλι τι
εκείνο που ποθεί η τρελή καρδιά μου
ποια νά΄ναι πάλι αυτή
που την Πειθώ ικετεύεις να σου φέρει πίσω
ποια να πονέσεις σ'εκανε Σαπφώ
ποια νά΄ναι πάλι αυτή
που την Πειθώ ικετεύεις να σου φέρει πίσω

Έλα λοιπόν ακόμα μια φορά
να με λυτρώσεις απ'τα βάσανά μου.

(Σαπφώ στην απόδοση του Οδυσσέα Ελύτη)

After a long while I went again to the favorite simple coffee shop on Mecca Street. I was expecting to see their special edition donuts, the icing sugar, the red jam. Not to eat them, no... Just to feel vaguely connected to them and their symbolism through the smoke of my cigarette. No... This year they were sold out. Or they did not make any. I felt shy to ask the polite youngman behind the counter, who prepares my cup with the accurate fingers of habit. In Jordan Times a psychoanalyst explains why we find it easier to confess our love in a foreign language. Oh this must be the reason for all these language learners. I should go a bit further in languages: to learn by heart the dictionary of corals and dolphins.