Monday, October 28, 2013


The Melbourne-born who would sojourn along the banks of the lake at Ioannina are surprised when dusk falls, to see lights seemingly suspended in mid-air. These are the lights of the villages that are perched upon the slopes of otherwise invisible Mount Mitsikeli, which broods wearily over the lake, a lake, which, if the popular traditions are to be believed, is the repository of the tears of the world.

Few lights can be seen emanating from Lingiades, for this village has never fully recovered from one of the most brutal and horrific instances of Nazi inhumanity – the slaughter of all of its inhabitants, ninety two men women and children and the immolation of their homes, on 3 October 1943. As late as the nineteen nineties, most of the village still lay in ruins. The enormity of the crime still haunts the people of Epirus, who shudder and speak of the massacre in hushed tones every time they drive up the mountain. Four were the survivors of this heinous crime, two twenty four year old boys who were lucky enough to have the bullets graze but not penetrate their bodies, a young woman, and the then infant Yiannis Babouskas who sought vainly to suckle from his dead mother’s breasts, in a scene evocative of that of Delacroix’s paiting of the Massacre at Chios.

The slaughter of the inhabitants of Lingiades, took place by way of a reprisal by the Nazis for the assassination of veteran Nazi lieutenant colonel Jozef Zalminger by the EDES resistance forces, led by Kostas Tolis. In the view of the German National Socialists, the lives of the undermenschen held no intrinsic value and could be taken away at will in order to secure the obedience of a cowering and terrorised subject population. That the massacre at Lingiades still plays upon raw emotions is amply evidenced by the fact that at a 2007 conference in Munich on crimes of the Wehrmacht in Greece, the son of the Nazi Josef Salminger, , Hermann, who was mayor of Mittenwald, refused to meet with the Greek delegation and in particular, with Yiannis Babouskas, the sole surviving survivor of this terrible crime. His very words: “I will not meet with the Greeks.”

Historian Christoph Schmink-Gustavus maintains that this crime, unlike many others, seems to have been covered up by the German authorities. According to his view, the massacre was subject to an inquiry by the court at Bremen. While thousands of pages of evidence was amassed, the court gave emphasis to the testimony of one Nazi officer who swore: “I did not ever see any village in Epirus burning.” Subsequently the inquiry blamed Hitler and the rest of the Nazi hierarchy for such brutalities as were committed in Greece and the whole event was forgotten. This is despite the report of Sergeant Alfred Schrepel who had reported at that time: “At the village of Lingiades at peaks 1015 and 1277, limited resistance by the enemy was neutralised. Fifty citizens were killed. Lingiades was burnt and 20 mules collected in loot.”  It was in this banal way that the murder of thirty four children aged between six month and eleven years, thirty seven women aged between thirty to sixty and eleven elderly inhabitants, along with the destruction of 43 houses, and 57 sheds was reported.

The court at Bremen may have skipped over the incident, the mayor of Mittenwald may harbour resentment at the fact that victims of his father’s belief in German racial superiority refused to accept their domination by a hysterical and genocidal regime but instead, fought valiantly for liberty, seeing, as a result, the wholesale destruction of Lingiades but the inhabitants of Epirus have not forgotten. Indeed, it is easy to see why they have not, for the massacre in Lingiades was not an isolated incident. A few months before,  on 12 August 1943, a two-man Wehrmacht reconnaissance team came across a small group of ELAS guerrillas in the village of Kommeno near Arta, and had reported back to divisional headquarters in Ioannina. On the evening of 15 August 1943, Lieutenant Colonel Josef Salminger, whose son was so eager to pour salt in the wounds of Greek victims of his brutality, ordered an attack the village on the following morning. The attack was led by Lieutenant Röser, who personally shot the village priest at the outset of the assault. Men, women and children, seventy four of them under the age of ten, were killed indiscriminately, though thankfully, almost half of the village's population managed to escape by swimming across the Arachthos river. The first Wehrmacht reports recorded that 150 civilians had died. As the reports moved up the command chain, they were amended so that "150 civilians" became "150 enemy". The names of the three hundred and seventeen villagers who were killed are now recorded on a marble monument in the village's main square, a testament to the German totalitarian regime and it was for this crime that the EDES resistance assassinated Salminger and it was for this that the hapless victims of Lingiades paid with their lives.

The Nazis came to my mother’s village too, in 1943, suspecting that its inhabitants were arming the ELAS guerrillas. They rounded up all the inhabitants in the village square and were preparing to gun them down when the village priest offered his life in exchange of that of everyone else. The bemused Nazi office, having concluded his search of the village and found no weapons, dismissed the terrified villagers and permitted them to return to their homes. Had he not done so, I would never have existed. For me, this brings the magnitude of the crimes at Kommeno and Lingiades into stark focus. Generations of people were denied a chance to live as a result of a brutality that has gone unpunished. Hubert Lanz, who ordered the attack on Lingiades and other villages in Epirus, was rewarded in 1951 by being appointed by the Free Democratic Party of Germany as adviser on military and security issues. It is worthwhile mentioning that this was the party that advocated the release of all "so-called war criminals" and welcomed the establishment of the "Association of German soldiers" of former Wehrmacht and SS members, to advance the integration of the nationalist forces in democracy.

When I consider 28 October 1940, our so-called OXI day, I do not conjure up images of a defiant petty dictator Metaxas, or of gallant Greek soldiers repulsing the Italians from the mountains of Epirus. Instead, I think of Lingiades, Kommeno and the many other villages that fell victim to Nazi fascist barbarism. And I scratch my head and wonder how it is possible, given the amount of blood spilled and the enormity of the suffering that was caused, that many so-called ‘patriots’ cannot say OXI to the perverse appeal of fascist ideologies or political viewpoints that demonise and dehumanise others. To the martyrs of Lingiades and Kommeno, then, on this seventieth anniversary of their slaughter, let us resoundingly cry OXI to the besmirchment of their memories and a further OXI to all forms of intolerance and brutality wherever these raise their disgusting heads.
First published in NKEE on Saturday 26 October 2013

Saturday, October 19, 2013


"One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them,
One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them."
The dread Necromancer and Maia of Arda, Sauron, whose name is evocative of the Greek word for lizard, may have forged the One Ring to rule them all, but he certainly was not the first lord of the Rings. Neither was Isildur, king of Gondor who cut the Ring from Sauron's finger, nor indeed Gollum, the grotesque and murderous hobbit who killed his freand in order to obtain it. Finally, Bilbo Baggins and his blue eyed nephew Frodo, who displayed more than a passing interest in the affairs of his batman Samwise, last to possess the Ring are not to be considered true lords of the said item of ornamentation.
This is because the One Ring that renders the wearer invisible when worn is not native to Middle Earth, the imaginary realm of J.R.R Tolkien's legendarium. Instead, even before the whole Lord of the Rings series was but a mere twitch in Tolkiens pencil clutching fingers, Rings of power featured prominently in the mythology of, you guessed it, our ancient and venerable ancestors. Gyges, King of Lydia, was said to have possessed such a ring. Gyges, if the historian Herodotus is to be believed, achieved power by the undemocratic  means of a coup. According to his account, said to have been gleaned from the  poet Archilochus of Paros, Gyges was a bodyguard of Candaules, the Lydian King, who believed his wife to be the most beautiful woman on Earth. He insisted upon showing the reluctant Gyges his wife when unrobed in order to verify her good looks. When the outraged wife ascertained the existence of the pervs, she gave Gyges the choice of murdering her husband and making himself king, or of being put to death himself. Gyges naturally chose the former. As King, he plied the Oracle at Delphi with numerous gifts, notably six mixing bowls minted of gold extracted from the Pactolus river weighing thirty talents. The Oracle confirmed Gyges as the rightful Lydian King, gave moral support to the Lydians over the Asiatic Greeks, and also claimed that the dynasty of Gyges would be powerful, but due to his usurpation of the throne would fall in the fifth generation, as it did when Croesus succumbed to the Persians.
According to Nicholaos of Damascus, who lived in Augustan times, Gyges was a favourite of Candaules and was dispatched by him to fetch Tudo, the daughter of Arnossus of Mysia, whom the Lydian king wished to make his queen. On the way Gyges fell in love with Tudo, who complained to Sadyates of his conduct. Forewarned that the king intended to punish him with death, Gyges assassinated Candaules in the night and seized the throne. Despite Tudo's comeliness, Gyges  became besotted with Magnes, a handsome youth from Smyrna noted for his elegant clothes and fancy korymbos hairstyle which he bound with a golden band. One day he was singing poetry to the local women, which outraged their male relatives, who grabbed Magnes, stripped him of his clothes and cut off his hair. This caused the lovesick Gyges great pain.
Gyges also appears on Plato's Republic and in particular, in the second book, where Socrates encounters a man named Glaucon who uses a mythological story to prove a point about human nature. In the Republic , a different version of Gyges' story is told, one that seems to have been told in Asia Minor for generations.  According to this account, .Gyges was a shepherd for the king of Lydia. One day, while tending to his flock, there was an earthquake and Gyges noticed that a new cave had opened up in a rock face. When he went in to see what was there, he noticed a gold ring on the finger of a former king who had been buried in the cave. He took the ring away with him and soon discovered that it allowed the wearer to become invisible. The next time he went to the palace to give the king a report about his sheep, he put the ring on, and predictably seduced the queen, killed the king, and took control of the palace.
Plato used the story of the Ring as a metaphor for the corruption caused by power. In the Republic he has Glaucon argue that men are inherently unjust, and are only restrained from unjust behavior by the fetters of law and society. In the view postulated by Glaucon, unlimited power blurs the difference between just and unjust men. "Suppose there were two such magic rings," he tells Socrates, "and the just man put on one of them and the unjust the other; no man can be imagined to be of such an iron nature that he would stand fast in justice. No man would keep his hands off what was not his own when he could safely take what he liked out of the market or go into houses and lie with anyone at his pleasure, or kill or release from prison whom he would, and in all respects be like a god among men. Then the actions of the just would be as the actions of the unjust; they would both come at last to the same point."
The corruptive effects of possessing a ring of power as discussed in the Republic, featured prominently in Tolkien's work. The effect of the Ring and its physical and spiritual after-effects on Bilbo and Frodo are obsessions that have been compared with drug addiction. In his work, the Lady Galadriel, the most powerful woman in Middle Earth refuses to take possession of the Ring, knowing that it would corrupt her. Similarly, Gandalf the Grey, a supernatural being, refuses to bear the burden of the Ring, stating that while he would wield it initially to do good, the concept of unlimited power would soon erode him moral compass. In many ways then, Tolkien's work seems to be a commentary and a riposte to Glaucon, on the one hand stating that people can choose not to be corrupted by denying themselves ultimate power, while on the other hand, agreeing with Glaucon that no one who assumes ultimate power can emerge uncorrupted. In one of his letters, written in 1958, he takes this idea further, stating:  "I should say that it was a mythical way of representing the truth that potency (or perhaps potentiality) if it is to be exercised, and produce results, has to be externalized and so as it were passes, to a greater or lesser degree, out of one's direct control."
While taking pains to state that The Lord of the Rings was not allegorical, Tolkien conceded "applicability" as being within the "freedom" of the reader, and the notion of a power too great for humans to safely possess as first evoked in the myth of Gyges and his Rings would have resonated powerfully in a post-atomic and subsequently nuclear age. Today, the legend of Gyges' Ring, as extrapolated and woven into an enduring table of the triumph of justice and courage over might, power and corruption by Tolkien offers a poignant commentary on the structure of global society, underlying that today's moral and political dilemmas are those that pre-occupied and challenged the ancients, who while temporally remote from our times, remain enduringly relevant. The last word of course, belongs to the defeated and rendered impotent Sauron, who divested of his Ring, laments, in the manner of all tyrants:  «Μού 'φαγες όλα τα δαχτυλίδια, και κοιμάμαι τώρα, τώρα στα σανίδια
First published in NKEE on Saturday, 19 October 2013

Saturday, October 05, 2013


There are first dates which are memorable and by way of corollary, first dates which are eminently forgettable. There are also first dates that are memorable in that one wishes that they were eminently forgettable and the one of mine belonging to this particular category took place at the iconic Stalactites restaurant. Having taken great pains to pull the chair and allow the object of my ardent fascination to be seated before resting my own posterior, I promptly forgot all about her, as I pored over the menu exclaiming with delight when I unexpectedly discovered the presence of patsas therein. So enmeshed in the throes of culinary ecstasy was I when said dish was brought before me,  that I did not realise that the aforementioned object of my ardent fascination had discreetly interposed her not inconsiderable handbag between myself and her good self, thus creating a visual, though not an olfactory barrier between us, which would, as she explained later, permit her in a large part,  to retain her dignity while also inhibiting her inherent gag reflex.
 Roaming the streets of any given Greek city late at night in the furtive search for a good “patsatzidiko” is a rite of passage for many a visiting Greek-Australian. It is also an activity fraught with danger for if one is not possessed of the requisite terminology, the act of ordering patsa becomes inordinately complex. In southern Greece, patsas generally refers to the tripe soup which is used a remedy for hangover. When, at the tender age of fifteen one of my aunts discovered that I was walking the streets of Athens in search of this delectable dish, she said to me sternly: “If you must indulge in such filthy habits, I prefer you did so in the privacy of our home and under supervision.” Since that date, subsequent to my every arrival in the mother country and my safe delivery via taxi to her doorstep, a bowl of this delicacy, steaming and delicious has been waiting for me.
In northern Greece, this form of patsa is known as Iskembe Tsorbas, which also happens to be its Turkish name. It is best served with skordostoumbi and hot pepper flakes, or alternatively with avgolemono, which is just as satisfying. Back home in Melbourne, owing to the fact that my loved ones have solemnly threatened to cast me out from their loving embrace for all eternity should I even think of consuming such foodstuffs before them, when the longing becomes too much, I betake myself to Sydney Road in Coburg where I am known to the Turkish purveyors of Iskembe Corbasi, there to indulge my perversion en solitaire. Patsa on the islands and northern Greece, on the other hand, denotes something entirely different – a soup consisting of the shank or trotters and the head of a given animal and this seems to be the original form of the dish. This also serves to explain why my islander uncles had difficulty understanding why a particular northern Greek acquaintance laboured under the soubriquet of «Ο Πατσάς.» When it was explained to them that the gentleman in question exhibited a marked propensity to burp frequently, they still could not understand the connotation, as for them, the dish has nothing to do with the stomach.
For reasons unexplained, every time Greeks borrow terminology from Turkish or Persian, they tend to stress the ultimate syllable of each word, rather than the penultimate. Thus, where the Turks would say Pásha, we says Pasás, where they say hámam, we say khamám, and where they say Pácha, we say Patsás. This is important to know as the iconic patsas is actually a Persian dish. In its full form it is known as Kale Pache, which literally means ‘head-shank.’ As such, it usually contains a sheep's entire head, including the brain, eyes and tongue, as well as its hooves. The dish, traditional to both Azerbaijan and Iran, is usually consumed as a breakfast soup, and is seasoned with lemon and cinnamon. In Iran, Kale Pache is almost always only served from three in the morning until sometime after dawn, and specialty restaurants that serve only Kale Pache are only open during those hours. It is my enduring dream to travel to Iran and frequent such a place, only because I harbour very dim but extremely happy memories of my grandmother cooking such a dish in her kitchen in Essendon and desperately seek to re-live this glorious moment of my childhood. Further, I recall a time when my Samian uncle, sick of the usual watered down fare our family was serving at Easter, decided to cook and bring his own pig trotter soup to the dinner table. Steaming hot and resplendent with a multitude of garlic cloves, he and I both beheld the pot with wonder, seconds before instantaneously being banished to the end of the table, there to consume the offending article away from the indignant gaze of the rest of the family, swiftly, but with eminence and style. I seek refuge in a country that will not only view the proclivities that have caused me much shame with compassion, but will instead, actively embrace and encourage them.
Such compassion and understanding is sadly not to be found within the Assyrian branch of my family, for while they acknowledge that Pacha forms an intrinsic component of their traditional cuisine, it provokes feeling of disgust and contempt in them and is thus banished from the dinner table. This is a tragedy of cataclysmic proportions, for Assyrian Pacha truly is a masterpiece. A happy melange of all forms of Patsa known to man, it is constructed of the sheep's head, trotters and stomach, all boiled slowly and served with bread sunken in the broth. It goes without saying that the cheeks and tongues are considered the best parts and I am reliably advised that it is not considered impolite to discard and not consume the eyeballs, despite the protestations to the contrary by purists. The stomach lining, however, and this is pure genius, is stuffed with rice and lamb and stitched with a sewing thread, forming neat parcels of exquisite flavour and providing hours of convivial entertainment as one unpicks the thread and, quite possibly, free dental floss in the process. I have been known to drive all the way to Craigieburn in search of such morsels of rapture, yet the opportunities for transportation into the sphere of the sublime are few and far between.
I belch in the face of the smug Greek chef who recently opined that patsas is “a traditional soup that does not smell good but tastes great.” Instead, patsas is a way of life, an embodiment of our history, evocative of a time when the chances to eat meat were few and every part of the animal was utilised to full effect and with respect. It is a hearty dish of uncompromising goodness, a sure-fire pick me up yet it is the Armenians who have contrived to enshrine it in ritual. If you can, try to get yourself invited to a khash party, khash being the Armenian word for patsas. There is much ritual involved here. Many participants abstain from eating the previous evening, and insist upon using only their hands to consume the dish. Because of its potency and robust smell, and because it is eaten early in the mornings and so often enjoyed in conjunction with alcohol, khash parties  usually take place on the weekend or on holidays. The guests almost always bring a bottle of vodka or arak which is one of the necessary parts of the feast. Among the Armenians, even the toasts are part of the ritual. They start with a "Good Morning" quick toast, which is later followed by another quick toast for the hosts. The last one of the three mandatory toasts is for the khash-loving guests and the humble diatribist takes your leave, proposing a fourth, to patsas itself, the dish that truly speaks, the international language of  love.
First published in NKEE on Saturday 5 October 2013