Buy This Issue
The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 15 July 2017
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 15 JULY 2017 25 OPINION bad daytime television. Historians and sociologists of the future may well want to study the significance of why she, and a few other diasporan authors such as Haris Siamaris, whose book Τα Τραούδια του Χωρκάτη is written in the Cypriot dialect, have penned works in dialects for which not much real literature is extant. The structure of the short book is delightfully tight and well comported. The narrator is visiting Greece (she takes pains to point out that she is with her husband, a clever juxtaposition of the scene that is to follow from her own reality) when she spies five widows making their way to the cemetery to tend their husbands' graves. They invite her to accompany them and then, a scene reminiscent of an ancient Greek chorus unfolds. Konsandina Dounis renders it thus: "Huddled around, they lit their candles and then, to cool down, lifted their skirts and each one sat on their husband's grave. I asked each widow to tell me her story . . ." The five vignettes that fol- low are heavily laced with chthonic sexual tension, and this not just because the widow's husbands are buried beneath them, while they lift their skirts and straddle them. When she meets them, the narrator makes sure that the reader understands that the widows, in stark contrast to their mouldering husbands, are fecund and full of life: "You're all so vivacious and attractive, how did you get rid of your husbands . . . while you now visit them for solace?" The first storyteller, is the widow Kalliopi. The choice of name is significant as in times ancient, Calliope was the muse who presided over eloquence and epic poetry; so called from the ecstatic harmony of her voice. Her husband, by consequence, was a drunkard who, having overindulged, would sing loud and not so tuneful lyrics. Furthermore, when in that state, "when he tried to put the key into the keyhole, it wouldn't stand still!" a powerful metaphor for coitus while over the .05 limit if there ever was one. Interestingly enough, having a drink with Kalliopi seemed to restore his keymastery and Kalliopi's appreciation of him: "How could I ever forget him? He was insatiable. If only he were still alive. I couldn't care less how much he drank . . . sometimes I even sit on my grave, in case he rises out of it!" Ourania, the second narrator, finds her counterpart in her namesake; the muse of astronomy and also of love and philosophy. Her story takes place by the fireplace, where the tickle of her departed's moustache would lead to other "fun and games." As the celestial orbs dance in heaven, so too did this muse, albeit for a brief time, for the music has now been stilled: "How can I dance, now that there's no clarinet player?" It goes without saying that the long, columnar organ referred to therein is a powerful metaphor indeed. Significantly, she is the only one of the widows who does not name the owner of that instrument. Demetra the third narrator is like her deity namesake; a restorer of harmony and order. Order she achieves by sitting on her husband's grave not out of yearning or for pleasure but rather to prevent him from rising up to service the local womens' plumbing (her words, not mine, I hasten to assure the reader), and harmony, by burying him with his wrench, (Konstandina Dounis employs the term 'plumbing tool' proving that she can be as equally cheeky as the author) an act of supreme emasculation or its opposite, depending on which side of the casket one happens to be. Maria's story is the inverse of that contained in the Gospel tradition. Being possessed of a feckless husband, rather than being led in safety to her own Bethlehem it is she who is forced to traverse strange lands, astride a donkey and on her own, in order to make a living. Yet her solace lies in her own capabilities, her slender waist and her ability to arouse her husband; a red velvet dress a relic of an enduring, albeit dysfunctional passion. Antigone, like her namesake, is torn between passion and duty. In the face of her husband’s gross disrespect she makes a supreme act of emancipation, taking possession of what ‘traditionally belonged’ to a husband: "Are you going to come home and sow your own field or should I give it away before it grasses over?" Upon the conclusion of the stories, the widows are invited by the narrator for coffee. This is not mere hospitality for there is polysemy in the Greek concept of that beverage. It is associated with consolation, whose origi- nal Greek word παραμύθι, has now come to signify a story. It is also associated with confession, since one can discern in the dregs of the cup traces of all things withheld, voluntarily or otherwise. All these women are monolithic forces of nature. There is none of the ennui, self-doubt or insecurity that characterises the modern day psyche about them. Rather than seeking the causes of their fate, or to blame others, these women endure their lot and transform it into a life-giving force. They are in fact, elementals, titanesses and all the more seductive because of it. Christos Avramoudas' ostensibly understated illustrations accompanying the text are truly remarkable. Just as Armenian painter Arshile Gorky blotted out his mother's hands (the only aspect of her which he remembered in the aftermath of the Armenian genocide) in his portrait of her, so too has Avramoudas portrayed the veil-clad widows without furrows or wrinkles. Their pain, anguish and unfulfilled desires lay deep within and cannot be revealed unless they choose to do so. By focusing on this salient feature of the widows, Avramoudas has lent their portrayal immense dignity, ably complementing the rendering by Mrs Baloukas/Konstandina Dounis. There would not be many first-generation female authors in our community who would be brave enough to address the issue of senior sexuality, let alone link it so expertly, seamlessly and unselfconsciously to the elemental forces of life and death, as Mrs Baloukas. In the frustratingly few pages of The Widows and the Dear Departed which leave us frustrated, unfulfilled, aching and crying our for more, we have a female counterpart to Kazantzakis' Zorba, at least as far as sexuality is concerned. It truly is a remarkable achievement. In his illustrator's note, Christos Avramoudas laments the loss of a genteel life via a process which Pasolini termed: 'scomparsa delle luccione,' the disappearance of the fireflies. In her masterful text, with the dexterity of a true illuminatus, Mrs Baloukas suffuses us with just enough light within the darkness of modern artificiality to revel in things basic, bounteous and beautiful, as bittersweet as these may be. Tools and symbols NIKOS FOTAKIS By now, we've all seen the image of the 'riot hipster', taking a selfie in front of a bonfire, lit up by his fellow anti-capitalist, anti-globalisation protesters. The photo was taken in Hamburg, which hosted the G20 meeting last weekend. Inside, the leaders of the 20 wealthiest countries in the world were trying to agree on a series of thorny issues, from global trade, to Brexit, to climate change. Outside, thousands of angry protesters were breaking things, starting fires and trying to get their voices heard, only to be met with water cannons and a generous dose of state violence. For those who are aware of the state of international politics, this kind of turmoil comes as no surprise. The G20 are supposed to find solutions to a series of problems plaguing the world, most of them caused by the same system which allows them to be . . . well, G20. Previous meetings were sometimes held in more remote, secluded places, which made protesting trickier. Not this time. Hamburg has a tradition on leftist/radical activism, which made last weekend really predictable. Even the impressive choreography of the 'zombie rally' could be anticipated, in an era of flash mobs and DIY filmmaking. But nobody was ready for the 'riot hipster'; the wellgroomed bearded young man, dressed in black, and taking a selfie with his phone raised an uproar - at least in the realm of social media. Of course, there is still some doubt regarding the authenticity of the photo - some say that the man was photoshopped against the fiery background. It doesn't matter. Because the outrage was real. The image of a protester carrying a smartphone - an iPhone, no less - spurred a wave of comments condemning the mere possession of the device as hypocritical. How is it possible for an anti-capitalist, anti-globalisation protester to be holding a symbol of capitalism, of consummerism, of profit, of cheap labour in Asian factories? Surely, the irony is not lost on him. This kind of criticism resonated deeply in Greece, where journalists described the anti-G20 riots as having an 'essence of Exarchia', which probably means that for the Greek media, leftist activism and anti-establishment protest is something that is part of the local colour of the Athenian neighbourhood, not something that responds to certain social, political and economic circumstances. The 'smartphone' argument proved to be very appealing for Greek pundits, pontificating that it is capitalism that created the smartphone they are using to document their rioting. This is not the first time in Greece that possession of a smartphone was deemed hypocritical. A couple of years ago, when the first wave of refugees and migrants started arriving by boats on the Greek islands, many Greeks were suspicious of the devastated people carrying smartphones and argued that this is proof that they are not genuine refugees but financial migrants, if not altogether jihadi terrorists on a mission from ISIS. This only proves how out of touch with reality those who endorse these views are. In their minds, a person worthy of sympathy and humane treatment should be raggedy, poor, desperate, dirty and illiterate. And an anti-establishment activist should be a luddite, rejecting technology altogether, a backwards person. Anyone thinking like that needs a reality check. They should ask Refunite, one of the most significant non-government organisations that reconnect families of refugees, based on the fact that most of them have access to a mobile phone, or to broadband internet - which, in its turn, is considered a human right, but don't tell this to the people in the centreand-right part of the political spectrum. They are not ready to concede. They fail to understand that the world is not the same as it was in the early days of the 20th century: that we all have access to information, that we are all connected. A smartphone is not a 'symbol'; it is a tool, it's a camera and a megaphone, a computer, a notebook and - yes, a telephone. It is something that allows communication, that allows users to motivate, to send messages, to call to action. Little matters whether it bears a bitten apple on it or not. The medium is not necessarily the message. And if it is, maybe we should think of what kind of message it is. If a smartphone is a symbol of globalisation, this should concern those voting on trade agreements which approve of low-paid workers making parts for the phones. It was these workers who 'crafted' the smartphones, them, not capitalism, people, not an idea. No '-ism' can produce things and services - it can only regulate who benefits and who profits. Anti-establishment protesters (and refugees before them) don't fetishise smartphones, pretty much the way a builder does not fetishise shovels and a technician does not fetishise screwdrivers. They are just tools, which are used for a purpose. In fact, it is those who see smartphones as 'symbols' who are fetishising them, attributing some kind of magical power to them. They should look in the mirror and contemplate this distorted notion of things and people. And maybe take a selfie while they are at it.
08 July 2017
22 July 2017