Monday, August 04, 2008


The problem with purporting to write for a newspaper is that invariably, a consensus arises among the populace at large, that one is possessed of an opinion on subjects, all and sundry. This Tuesday last, for example, I was approached by a reader, who after deconstructing the diatribe of the day before, posited the inevitable question: “So did you read that article in the Age about the proposed law reforms?” I gazed at him with a visage best likened to that of a stunned a codfish that has been unceremoniously scooped out of its watery abode, divested of its scales with a serrated implement and about to be entombed within the infernal depths of an electrical oven. Regaining my composure, I replied: “No. I don’t actually read any other newspapers than Neos Kosmos.” Equally stunned, though in a marlin “I can’t believe I fell for that hook, line and sinker’ kind of way, my inquisitor riposted: “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
I wasn’t. Neos Kosmos truly is the only form of print media I rely upon for information. In actual fact, it acts as the catalyst for my acquisition of other news from various sources in what turns out to be a news odyssey of epic proportions. It goes something like this: On Mondays and Fridays, I set off for my hour-long quest to get to work. On the way, in order to alleviate boredom, I listen to the news on Radio National, and have done so, ever since former Neos Kosmos English Edition doyen Dimitris Tsahuridis once quipped: “My friend, we are serious pretenders, you and I - and only listen to Radio National.” Satiating myself upon the parochiality of the daily bulletin, and in close proximity to my office, I duck into the newsagents and acquire the coveted newsprint, slamming exact change upon the counter and dashing out once more, in order to recover my illegally parked vehicle. Arriving at the office, I peer briefly at its contents and then fold it away, waiting for the inevitable phone call. Sure enough, an hour or two later, my internal equilibrium will be disrupted by my mother, whose first question always is: “Anything interesting in the paper?” As I provide a brief summary of the main points of interest, I cast my mind to that bizarre weekend show on Ant1, «Στούντιο με Θέα» where Spiros Haritatos basically spends and entire programme reading out the headlines of the Athenian daily rags. I am convinced that he does so as part of an intricate attempt to artfully satisfy and also simultaneously evade his matriarchal progenitor’s craving for news.
Demographic trends are reversed in my family. Whereas the usual course of action is for Neos Kosmos to be acquired by the first generation and bequeathed to the second, I make a bi-weekly pilgrimage to the family home, in order to deliver the Neos Kosmos, fresh and unsullied, to my parents. By the time I have walked through the front door and proceeded half-way down the hallway, my sister has relieved me of Neos Kosmos, my father has divested me of the entertainment section and my mother is poring over the headlines, emitting exclamations from time to time. Having rendered them at their most vulnerable, I seize the chance to obtain sovereignty of the television remote control. By the time I leave, collecting the tattered remains of Neos Kosmos and removing them with me, my sister will have developed strong opinions about the progress of the A-League, which, owing to the prevalence of velar plosives in her speech pattern is somehow pronounced Gay-League, my father will have found at least three items of interest in the classifieds and my mother will have a) learned of the demise of at least two acquaintances, b) identified two upcoming community functions that she will like to attend and c) engaged in an in depth analytical debate with me as to the various opinion pieces appearing therein. I, in the meantime, will have gorged myself upon Ant1 news, ERT news and the latest implausible happenings in yet another tasteless Greek drama series. Emerging from this font of Hellenic media cleansed and duly informed, I remove myself to my own abode, there to digest the paper at length and consider its opinion pieces, especially those by Kostas Nikolopoulos, which display greater freedom, originality and freshness of thought than what can be found in its English counterparts.
My understanding of the concept of a newspaper has been fashioned by Neos Kosmos, for it was the first newspaper I ever came in contact with. My grandfather who read with difficulty, would carefully extricate the television program guide from the rest of the paper, fold it lovingly and place it under the coffee table in his living room. Why he did so, for decades, when he understood not a word of English and thus was unable to follow the television programmes is something that I have never been able to fathom. Nonetheless, I will never forget the day that, seeking to find out what I was missing out on television, for my grandmother had ordered it turned off, lest in ‘overheat,’ I picked up the television guide and read that «Σήσαμη Στρητ» was playing on Channel 2. Oh those glorious days of transliteration, before the English alphabet was incorporated into our own. From then on, whenever I would visit my grandparents, I would intently study and memorise the television guide, gradually migrating to the ‘proper’ paper, which I could read, but not understand. So bound up with the concept of my grandparents was the concept of ‘newspaper’ that when I asked my father to purchase a copy for home he replied: “What for? Just read παππού’s copy.”
My understanding of the concept of a Greek community has also been fashioned by Neos Kosmos. Of course I knew that Greek people existed - the person my father purchased groceries from spoke incredibly fast Greek and once in a while we would go to Greek dances. However, it was only through the pages of Neos Kosmos that I learned of the interconnection between thousands of small micro-communities, like the one I was growing up with and how in a labyrinthine and intricate way, they all comprised what was known as the Greek community. Week after week, photographs of slightly overwhelmed, be-robed youngsters attested to the fact that a generation of people just like me was completing high-school and university. Years later the same bemused and overwhelmed youngsters would make their appearance again, this time in suitably tasteless tux or bridal gown and later still, posed in front of font, proudly holding their newly christened children, in what truly was, a Greek-Australian right of passage. These photo-people acted as role models for the expected way our lives were supposed to be played out: university degree, marriage and children. Now the occasional appearance of such photographs may seem quaint in a post-modern world, but they are still a source of pride.
Sometimes people didn’t get that far. I remember turning the pages of the newspaper one day and receiving the shock of my life when I encountered upon the smiling face of one of my Greek school classmates among those pictured in the death notices. On other occasions too, the smiling face of some young person would make cruel mockery of the sad and old faces that usually populated the death pages. We didn’t know these poor children. However, they were part of our community as revealed to us by Neos Kosmos and their loss was felt as keenly by all mothers within it, as if they were their own offspring. Similarly, earlier this year, I remember not being able to drive further than two blocks down my street because of a massive traffic jam created by Greeks from all parts of Melbourne attending the tragic funeral of two Greek boys, killed in a car crash. Most of these people, unrelated to the two boys, were brought together in a mass outpouring of compassion and support, by Neos Kosmos.
Similarly, it is worth considering how poorly attended the multitude of weekly Greek community functions would be if they were not publicized by Neos Kosmos. No one would even know that they had transpired. And how, expect by primitive word of mouth would we be made aware of which are the Greek businesses out there who need our support and patronage and indeed, just how would we know of the tireless work performed by some of our most talented and gifted community members if it were not for the fact that Neos Kosmos makes us aware of it? It is in painting a plausible micrograph of our community that Neos Kosmos is crucial. If that micrograph did not exist and we could not see all the facets of our diverse community, we really would not know if it existed, or what if any, is our place within it.
One of the reasons why I purchase Neos Kosmos is because I want to get a feeling of how the community, across the generations is thinking. To read the Greek letters page is often exasperating but invariably revealing. Sometimes the distance between immediate issues affecting the community and the inane trivia that seems to tax the minds of the first generation is quite frightening. On other occasions, their concerns, petty squabbles, scrapes and ego trips, as they are played out in the letters page can be quite instructive as to the mind set that gave form to the community we see today and enlighten us as to the motivation of those who would be its prime movers.
Understanding how our journalists see our community, Greece and Australia , as exemplified by their articles, be they Sotiris Hatzimanolis’ no nonsense incisive and often biting commentary, Babis Stavropoulos’ enlightened musings, or Vivian Morris’ glimpses into social issues is, to my mind, of intrinsic importance in comprehending the formation of a Greek-Australian identity and make valuable reading. For their perspective is like nothing that can be found in either of the Greek or Australian mainstream media and it is often of seminal importance in the construction of key issues or events. My chief delight is to explore the labyrinthine mind of Kostas Nikolopoulos, through his work, chiefly because eight out of ten times, I find myself having formed the same opinion as he on a given issues a few days prior to publication. In years to come, it is to the thoughts of these and other writers that historians will turn, when (and if) they are charged with the task of reconstructing who we were.
In my time, I have dabbled in community radio- also a great unitary medium - but find nothing more enduring than the written word as a perishable testament to immortality. And it is a singular fact that, be it because of the unique construction of the paper or the rare chemical composition of the ink utilised to print Neos Kosmos, it seems to work remarkably well, with Windex, in the streakless cleaning of household mirrors and glass surfaces. Rags of course leave streaks, and the quality of other newspapers, whether they be municipal, tabloid or having serious pretensions to culture, seem to be of dubious utility in this regard. No really, for a streakless, squeaky clean, you can’t go past Neos Kosmos and I can say that I do use it upon all the mirrors and in my house that have not yet cracked from the sight of me. Try it on your windows and sliding doors as well. You can’t go wrong. The Diatribe in particular is good for kitchen windows, that have the odd congealed food stain. Try it yourself. You will thank me for it.
First published in NKEE on 4 August 2008