Saturday, November 22, 2014


My octogenarian great aunt, my grandmother’s sister, is a most formidable woman. Possessed of a steely brow, piercing eyes and thick hair, carefully restrained within a plait the thickness of a handspan, that reaches all the way to her knees, she is renowned within the family and beyond for her practical, no nonsense approach to life, an approach that can be likened to construction machinery, as she bulldozes through life’s innumerable obstacles.  Such an approach came to her in her youth where, back in the village, charged with administering injections for the local doctor at all hours of the night, she happened to be walking through the village in the darkness, when she was accosted by a sleazy male, who made various lewd suggestions to her. Without a moment to lose she waylaid him, subjecting him to a beating so severe that no one in the village ever so much as raised their eyebrows in her general direction ever again. Given that my aunt’s forearm are twice the size of my own, such a beating was not inconsiderable.
Aptitude for self defence notwithstanding, my great aunt is also possessed of a religious temperament, and as a child I loved to sneak upstairs her creaky Victorian terrace home gaze at her iconostasis, comprised of icons lovingly arranged upon a mantelpiece. At their centre was an extremely old icon of the Resurrection, executed in baroque, manneristic style. Its triumphalism and deep passion would always transfix me, until that is, my aunt would materialize silently behind me and whisk me away, so as to do no damage. My aunt’s religiosity also is the cause of the mortal peril in which I happened to find myself one day, when in conversation, I casually remarked that Jesus Christ was a Jew. My remark was met with an ominous silence as I saw my aunt turn various stages of pink, red and then violet. “What?” she eventually snapped. “Who told you that?”
“Well, everyone knows that he is a Jew,” I replied sensing I had committed a grievous error but not quite knowing just what that error was. “You do know that he is a Jew, don’t you?” I continued, apprehensively.
“Rubbish!” my aunt spat, as she threw her arms up into the air. “Absolute rubbish. Jesus was Greek. His mother was called Maria. She was Greek! Who teaches you this twaddle?”
            Carefully, I picked up her coffee cup, which, in her indignation, she had sent sprawling across the coffee table and replaced it upon its saucer. I then opened her Bible, which always stood upon her sideboard and turning to the first verses of the Gospel of St Matthew began to read aloud: “Book of the Genealogy of Jesus the Messiah - This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers...”
“What was Abraham, aunt?” I asked. “A Jew. What was Isaac? A Jew. Jacob? Judah in particular? All of them were Jews. How can you say that Jesus was Greek when even the Bible states that his ancestors were Jews?”
“Give me that,” my aunt said, snatching the Bible from my hands. She sat there, lips pursed, mouthing every syllable, as she attempted to absorb the information I had just given her, thick forefinger, following the text in front of her. As she continued down the page, the furrows in her brow became ever more pronounced until finally she put the Bible down and looked up at me:
“This Bible has been written by Communists and Jehovah’s Witnesses,” she shouted. “This is disgraceful Now get out of here.”
            This memory is germaine to the recent attempts by the Greek tourism board, to appropriate the Twelve Apostles along Victoria’s Great Ocean Road, in their advertising campaigns. Greece of course, has no shortage of wondrous natural and man-made landmarks to offer to travelers for exploitation, for the purposes of extracting funds from them and thus, the appearance of the testament to the erosive properties of the Southern Ocean in a Greek tourism campaign can only rendered explicable by a thought process akin to that of my aged aunt, to wit: If Jesus is Greek, it stands to reason that the twelve Apostles, are also Greek and therefore, the Greek ministry of tourism, headed by the western educated Olga Kefaloyianni, (whose name, tortuously belabouring the motif of this paragraph literally translates as Head-John’), is entitled to claim them. Furthermore, the word apostle is Greek and if indignant Australians continue to poke fun at Greece’s righteous claims upon this landmark, the Greeks can demand the payment of royalties from them, for the continued use of the world ‘Apostles,’ and utilize these funds for the re-payment of European bail-out. If this is refused, then Australia should be compelled to rename them the “Twelve Emissaries,” instead. At any rate, the onus in upon Australia to prove that the Twelve Apostles were not Greek, having regard to the propensity of communists and ne’er do wells to alter the text to suit their anti-Hellenic agenda.
            Mystifyingly, the Greek ministry for tourism did not cite any of these cogent arguments in support of its appropriation of the Twelve Apostles. Instead, it concocted a nebulous justification that has regards to the stars above the Twelve Apostles, all of which apparently are Greek, including the Southern Cross, which of course, goes by the sobriquet of Stavros. 'When the day is done,’ the narrator pronounces,  ‘the moon and her stars paint the sky in brilliant constellations, named from astrology by ancient sailors, navigating their way from island to island across the broad sea,'
In one section of the advertisement, entitled  'Gods, Myths, Heroes' (because according to the Greek tourism board, there is nothing worth seeing in Greece that took place after the mythological era), the video pans over the Twelve Apostles under a starry night sky, while the English narrator tells how it is here that Aphrodite, goddess of love, lust and kindness, 'emerges from the waves.'
            This is fascinating, as it is common knowledge that Aphrodite emerged from the waves off Paphos in Cyprus, where there exists one Twelve Apostle-like protuberance. One wonders why the Greek tourism board did not appropriate this image instead. One also wonders why the Greek tourism board and its buoyant minister could have possibly thought that the existence of Greek-named constellations in the night sky could act as an incentive for people to visit Greece. What will be next? Video footage of the Palace of Westminster and the Capitol to invite people to Greece as the home of democracy? Footage of the Scienceworks museum that will move tourists to flock to Greek shores to pay homage to the home of systematic science, or indeed, photographs of Peter Singer and Bertrand Russell to showcase Greece as the home of philosophy?
            It did not take long to wiggle my way back into my aunt’s favour. I did so by diverting her religious sensitivities to one of her favourite topics, the life and works of St Kosmas the Aetolian, one of the Geek nation’s most famous enlighteners and evangelists. It is to whom now who the talented people at the Greek Ministry of tourism should turn, using 1950’s footage of Billy Graham and current clips of Creflo Dollar and Joel Osteen to lure people to Greece, as the home and place of origin, of evangelism.
First published in NKEE on Saturday 22 November 2014