Monday, February 27, 2006


If television had existed in the time of ancient Greek athletes Milo of Kroton, Diagoras of Rhodes, or Theagenes of Thasos, no doubt their triumphs in the ancient Olympics would have been the subject of numerous live broadcast interviews. Pheidippides’ drug-enhanced sprint from Marathon to Athens would have been the subject of heated debate in the current affairs shows of the day, with sages like Thales of Miletus locking horns with Solon the Athenian, popular models such as Aspasia (look out for her latest Compact Discus: “Eros on the Acropolis” brought to you by Heaven, er, I mean Olympus) and politicians such as Themistocles, all shouting over each other and interrupting each other, causing the host, presumably Aristeides, (he was not called “the Just” for nothing you know,) to interject, only to throw to a cross-promotional commercial break.
Euripides’ and Sophocles’ tragedies would be serialized and blended with inane music and even more inane expressionless interpretations by players with faces as stiff and lifeless as the clay masks all ancient actors wore, and would be adapted to the times, hence: Persian dress, a good admixture of Illyrian, Persian and Thracian expressions as an indicator of ‘modernity’ and plenty of fornication during the lacunae in the text. Sitcoms would invariably be re-hashed plots of Aristophanes and more likely, Menander, shredded, pulped, spun around in a centrifuge and re-constituted to form a myriad of separate episodes, involving bodily functions, obtrusive mother-in-laws and angry teenagers who want to have sex - not with their mothers-in-law of course, for that can only take place in a tragedy that has been inordinately serialized to ensure that each actor has slept with each actress at least once, in the manner of an AFL Footy fixture.
Scientists speculate that the strange device found off Antikythera decades ago and previously thought to be a planetarium was actually a clockwork television, whose episodes screened would gradually decrease in value and interest as the gears wound down. Take for example the ancient epic «Έρωτας» (Love), which was found lodged within the gears of the machine, re-constituted and revived for modern audiences. All the great elements of drama are there: Wealthy family that owns what was known in ancient Greek as a «ρεζόρτ». All is well within this American fantasy-palace except for the traditional fatal flaw that must be present in all true tragedies, that afflicts all of them: they can’t stop slipping in Americanisms, or sleeping with one another. Thus, the central character, Myrto, sleeps with a young man personally planted for that reason by her jealous ex-husband who is currently sleeping with her best friend, while her current husband who fled his home because he slept with his brother’s wife, is pursued by his previous wife, who wants to sleep with him and ends up sleeping with his wife’s sister. All the while, his wife’s son dumps his girlfriend, who then goes on to sleep with a hired thug hired by his father to cause harm to his mother, all the while being pursued by her ex-lover’s sister, an evil closet lesbian, and sleeps with an ex-lover, who dumps the previous person she was sleeping with and who alone in the entire series has no one else to sleep with, because he is a loser. In the case of this masterpiece, the clock wound down centuries ago.
In another masterpiece, known as «Κρυφά Μονοπάτια» or “Secret Pathways” with all the connotations of a gay porn-film attached, it takes the usual formulaic 2(x-3)² episodes for the heroine to sleep with her fiancé’s cousin, amidst the usual quaint and bucolic country setting, bleating of sheep and fornication of rams. The old master Manoussos Manousakis has been granted by Hermes, the god of Television with a grand gift: to be able to tell the same story for ever and ever and ever, without his viewers ever cottoning on.
Greek television is insidious because unlike normal television, as soon as a Greek native is exposed to it, he loses all critical faculties. Remove said native Greek from Greece, and permit him to access Greek television abroad and this affliction becomes even worse. Whereas it can take such a Greek two seconds to compel with Olympian majesty, the dismissal of inanity from Channel 9 for example, at the touch of a button, turn on the satellite top box or suitable Foxtel accoutrement and you have him hypnotized there for life.
Researchers are at this moment conducting DNA tests on Greeks of Melbourne to see whether or not we are descended from Theseus, who was compelled by Hades to remain forever glued to his seat and watch the underworld go by and whether in fact, our current affliction is merely a mutation of a primordial punishment. For it cannot be doubted that Greek television certainly is a great parent-sitter. On the other hand, take away the remote control and change the channel, and the placid, transfixed parental units the subject of this diatribe let loose a storm so powerful and intense as to rival the sacks of Aeolus or at least, the hot air emanating from the omnipresent undead Andreas Mikroutsikos’ mouth.
I suspect the Olympian gods hands in all of this. King Midas’ song competition against Apollo surely was televised in times ancient. Tatiana Stephanidou would have prefaced round one, streaming out into the middle of the studio in suitably suited to show off her long legs attire, only to be replaced by the next mindless and bitchy starlet enjoying the network god's favour, Sophia Aliberti for example, whose latest catchphrase: “I LIVE YOU” has exploded entire linguistic theories on velar fricatives and voiceless uvular plosives, given that it is recited to rhyme with the word “love”. Both contestants’ performance will have been endlessly debated by has-been and nobody music personalities offering streams of self-righteous and catty advice while in the end, after ogling the side-show dummy contestants and commenting on the way they are brilliant from the neck down, will announce Apollo as the winner (after all who is in favour with the Olympian Compact Discus Company? Who’s your daddy huh?) and send Midas off the set with asses’ ears and a consolation record contract that practically means that everything he touches will turn to gold.
Further evidence of Olympian interference in Greek television comes from the morning shows, which are invariably populated by ancient, scantily clad nymphs. I once blamed the Roman occupation and their own corruption of television for the presence of these, to my mind decidedly ungreek creatures. I do so no longer. These ethereal creatures noiselessly and with an expression of benign and Olympian nirvana, flit and float, pirouette and twirl in hot-pants, lingerie and mini-skirts across the studio in a paean to the gods, while gorgeous priestess giggle and flirt with other members of the Olympian priesthood who must be placated, causing the entire population for unemployed or otherwise idle Greek men to have a reason for waking up in the mornings. Though mostly of Russian, Bulgarian and Ukrainian extraction, these girls personify how ecumenical the benefits of Greek civilization really are. Praise the Gods indeed.
For those of you, who in accordance with the teachings of philosopher Jean-Bernard Klus, reject public displays of lingerie as superfluous to a well-tempered aesthetic, but like Tantalus, maddeningly hunger for an escape from all this inanity, the Jerry Springer-like show «Κους Κους» where Greek housewives ring in and confess to a panel of sexperts with how many men they are cheating on their husbands, is a veritable wheel of Ixion. Further insult to injury is provided by the manifestation of a matronly Hestia, in the guise of a Κυρία Βέφα, a priggish, obnoxious old hag who attempts to prove the superiority of her cooking by tilting her perfectly coiffured beehive, pronouncing all of the ingredients in English and creating the most mind-numbing and tasteless of offerings. Yet woes betide the Greek who would have the temerity to look away. For it is she who is the domestic goddess and not upstart Nigella.
One cannot help but have Orwellian false memories of sun-filled Sunday mornings, before the victory of the Olympian gods, when the Titans would produce such tremendous shows on Channel Ten as “The Greek Variety show” and “Let’s go Greek Entaxi.” Cronus’ world was invariably populated by naive, hairy Greeks with sideburns and embarrassingly tight pants, priests riding motorbikes and music tremendously quaint but so wholesome that it caused us to grow up big and strong. The sands of Cronus have sadly passed on, though stray grains appear as the flickering and grainy documentaries of ERT SAT. As we close our televisions in silence, we can only hope that one day, the Olympians will have left no one left to shag and given that Greek television allows us to retain our Greek identity, and expand our vocabulary, hence our parents' insistence that we watch it with them, note down our new word for the day: Sex, by Elli Kokkinou.
First published in NKEE on 27 February 2006

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


"I have plucked the finest flowers of the unmown meadow and worked them into a row which I now offer to you", wrote John Moschos, as he began his tales of the holy men of seventh-century Palestine and Egypt in about 587 AD. Moschos was one of the last itinerant pilgrims to traverse a Near East that was still predominantly Christian. His book, 'The Spiritual Meadow' is not only a compendious exposition of Christian ethics but most importantly, an invaluable, closely written snapshot of the perpetually morphing and shifting Near East.
Undeniably, Near East has exercised a fascination for all Greeks. Pythagoras was said to have roamed around Egypt and Babylonia, while not a few Greek armies, notably those of Alexander and the Hellenistic Kings entrenched themselves in the region for centuries. It is therefore not surprising that traditionally Greeks referred to the region as 'our East,' «η καθ’ ημάς Ανατολή» for it is as inextricably linked to our people's history as the Greek mainland. It helps of course that this connection was further entrenched by the region's passing into the sway of the Christian Byzantine Empire, whereupon both Egypt and Palestine, owing to their harsh and rugged terrain, gave rise to monasticism, the Coptic and Syriac fathers of the desert being the direct spiritual ancestors of all Orthodox monks today and despite the trials and tribulations of heresy, infighting, the Arab invasion, the current paranoid and claustrophobic conditions in which Christians must live in the Near East, and the behaviour of some its hierarchs, this region is still considered one of the greatest supports and pillars of Orthodoxy. Indeed, in the case of Egypt, it houses one of the fast growing Orthodox churches in the world.
Despite the loss of the region to invading Arab armies, the Greeks, through religion and commerce (items that go hand in hand not only in our world but the Levantine domains that we so seamlessly fit into) have always maintained close links with the Near East. Indeed, Egypt housed a Greek community comparable in size to our own and far greater in influence, importance and cultural attainment right up until the nationalism ensuing from the Suez War, caused their expulsion. Palestine too boasted a significant Greek community, though this has now largely been denuded. Interestingly enough, most of those that were caused to leave their homes in these lands made their way to Australia, so memories and longings for the Near East are part of the underlying nostalgic substructure of our community.
Much as Muslims must make a pilgrimage to Mecca, known as the Hajj, at least once in their lives, so too do Christians feel the necessity of viewing the lands where the greatest events of the Bible took place. A pilgrim to the Holy Land, especially one that immerses himself in the Jordan River, is invariably and imitation of Islamic terminology, knows as a Hatzi and every year significant numbers of members of the Greek community trundle themselves off to the Holy Land, in search of solace and inspiration.
Enter Spiros Caras, of Caras Tours, all round good guy, super-hatzi and protector of pilgrims. With his trademark European stylish attire and his never ceasing smooth banter, his job, for the past twenty years or so, has been to cajole, coax, muster and perambulate pilgrims around the Holy Land, with an enthusiasm that, if one considers the high temperatures coupled with the mature ages and often short tempers of his flock, is positively saintly.
I had the inordinate privilege of accompanying Spiros to the Holy Land last year, witnessing this remarkable Aussie explorer in Gucci first hand. I was soon disabused of any preconceptions that I may have had, both about my fellow pilgrims and my tour guide, for Spiros Caras is no ordinary guide concerning himself simply with logistics. He is a philosopher, friend, and fierce intellectual adversary, able to give his charges enough latitude to make the annual pilgrimage to Egypt and Jerusalem a true voyage of discovery, spiritually as well as corporeally. Most importantly, his infectious enthusiasm and love for the region permits him to break down the barriers between fellow travelers, whether these be social, political or age based, uniting everyone with a zeal for the unknown and a sense of awe.
There were only two of us 'youngsters' accompanying the pilgrimage last year, though generally there is a good intergenerational mix and rather than finding ourselves in a 'retirement village' as friends speculated prior to our departure, what we found was that despite anyone's best efforts, the very atmosphere of the region, one's hushed reverence and awe in treading within places so ancient or so holy, immediately and imperceptibly caused every one of us to meld together, the crucible of Spiros' enthusiasm and care, coupled with sights so breathtaking as the pyramids, or so emotionally energizing as the Tomb of Christ, burning away all unnecessary divides.
I will never forget some of the cryptic conversations I shared with Spiros while climbing Mt Sinai, the contents of which had all the poetry and wisdom of the Holy Fathers. I don’t believe I have ever bared my soul so easily to anyone before that anabasis. Nor will I ever be able to understand how he could so dexterously channel the emotions of his pilgrims depending on their attitudes: pious and grave to some, humourous and rouguish to others but underlying everything else, a deep sense of humility and a yearning to transcend the corporeal and softly touch the spiritual.
With ever-flexible Spiros assuming the form of an indulgent guardian taking his charges on excursion, we were able to 'develop' the set itinerary further and explore the backstreets of Cairo, the Armenian quarter of Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. I will never forget how, while on the road from Jericho and an exhausting hike up the cliff to Sarantaporos monastery, I expressed an interest in the monastery of St Chrysostomos. "Let's go," Spiros remarked, without batting an eyelid. "If you want to go there, let's go." Now that's what I call a tour guide. No useless facts, no hurried explanations or restricted viewing. Of primary importance for Spiros is that his fellow pilgrims get exactly what they want out of the tour:
"There is plenty to see. We visit Cairo, the monastery of St Catherine's at Mt Sinai, cross the Negev desert into Israel, skirt the Dead Sea, spend Easter in Jerusalem, visit Bethlehem, Nazareth, Jericho, the Jordan River and even take a trip to the north, to Lake Tiberias where Jesus walked on water. Not bad for thirteen days. At the end of the day, there is something for everyone."
"Well what's in it for you?" I want to ask him. And then I see him, walking stick in hand, traipsing through the streets of Jerusalem, pointing out key items of interest, rescuing one lady from the clutches of a persistent street vendor, all the while saying: "Isn't this wonderful? Isn't this absolutely fantastic? This is brilliant! Where do you want to go next? Oh my God, this is unbelievable!" and I desist. For with Spiros, we see not only the holiest of sites. We track the decline but also the tenacity of Hellenism in the old neighbourhoods of Cairo and marvel at how culturally indistinguishable we are to an open-hearted Palestinan spice vendor. All those who would assume the role of John Moschos have a hidden agenda, though it is invariably benign and the blossoms of their meadow never lose their scent. In Spiros' case, the connection with Moschos is all the more poignant as it is in his days that the diminution of the Christian population of the Near East that began in Moschos' time, is entering its final chapter.
It was on the West Bank, outside Bethlehem, while perusing the walls of shame erected by the Israeli government to keep out the Palestinians, that revelation came: "This place is never static," he told me. "It always changes but its primary significance remains. You feel things here that you could never feel in sleepy Melbourne, or in Greece. It is like all these dormant emotions well up inside you and then, once you get here, they escape through every pore possible. I have to come here every year and I have to share these experiences with others. I will never forget how during the intifada, we had to cancel one of the tours because things were out of hand, I was crushed." His face lights up. "Come and see where Jesus was born. And after that, let's have a drink. Isn't this something? Isn’t this absolutely fabulous?"
A few months after our return, I pass by Lonsdale Street, and enter a familiar shop. There ensconced between Greek objects d'art and various other kitsch items is a much dejected and deflated Spiros Caras. "This is no life," he spits out in pure Hellenistic fashion. "When are we going to Jerusalem again?"
Caras Tours are located at 189 Lonsdale St Tel. 9663 3844.
First published in NKEE on 20 February 2006

Monday, February 13, 2006


“Taking the piss”, in popular parlance, signifies making a mockery of something, viewing it from its lighter side or divesting it from any serious connotations that it may have for others. As such, it forms an important part of the Australian tradition, closely linked as it is to the proverbial “tall poppy syndrome” which prevents anything, whether human or a denizen of the ethereal realms to grow too much out of proportion of its importance in the consciousness of society. Thus to the inevitable question “Is nothing sacred?” the Australian, or at least my next-door neighbour would respond: “Yeah. Football and beer.” But then again, the Australians’ capacity to make light of a serious situation, coupled with their wry humour are their most endearing features. Such traits are a direct descendant of European nineteenth century liberal values, which sought to demythologize ‘sacred cows’ such as class systems. They are also a product of a hitherto largely classless Australian society and quite possibly, a distant lineal mutation of the first people to “take the piss,” the ancient Greeks, especially Aristophanes through his biting satires and more literally, Menander, with his focus on bodily functions in general.
A deconstruction of the expression “taking the piss” however reveals more than just light-hearted banter. Its literal description of a urologic discharge harbours menacing connotations of paraphilia and a sadistic desire to humiliate that can only parallel the perversions of the urolagniacs and we would do well to recall this semantic substructure when would be proponents of free speech see fit to abandon social norms and the concerns of others in their pursuit of instant titillation.
Given the rapid development of defamation law in recent years, the Western World’s love affair with “free-speech” is amazing. Freedom of expression generally is held to be the product of a mature democratic society, which can cope with the manifestation of diverse or conflicting attitudes and we laud ourselves at arriving at such an apex of civilization. The reality of course is far different. It is questionable how “free” speech is in our mass media, especially when it is controlled only by two or three entities. Undesirable opinions can be lampooned or buried so that cultural or ideological conformity can be achieved, whereas advertising and the constant repetition of mantras dedicated to the wonders of individualism can render even the slightest expression of contrary views heresy.
In these heady days, in which we are still enmeshed in the throes of a “War on Terror,” free speech works like this in western democracies.: We are all “free” to applaud the invasion of Iraq, even express our concern at its wisdom but we are of course, not free to actively express support for Al Qaeda or armed violence in the furtherance of any cause, even if we were so demented and galactically insane as to want to do so, as certain Islamic clerics in Australia have found out recently.
Ultimately the canon of what is sacred and what can be parodied alters and morphs depending on the vicissitudes and conditions of the time. At this particular juncture, the integrity of the West and its civilizing mission is as sacred as the White Man’s Burden was to Kipling and Victorian England. Religion on the other hand is not and it is here that an inability to understand diverse cultures despite one’s own self-bestowed mantle of gentility and plurality can cause harm.
In 1997, the controversial photographer Andres Serrano exhibited his work in the National Gallery of Victoria and in particular, his infamous “Piss Christ,” depicting a small plastic crucifix submerged in a glass of the Serrano’s urine. This work is often used as a test-case for the idea of freedom of speech, and was described in the journal Arts & Opinion as “a clash between the interests of artists in freedom of expression on the one hand, and the hurt such works may cause to a section of the community on the other.” In creating and exhibiting “Piss Christ” Serrano, was literally “taking the piss,” ie. sickeningly denigrating an object of extreme spiritual significance for the purposes of advancing his own career and possibly making some type of statement about the desirability of intellectual urolagnia and the opaque way one can view the world through a murky prism of liquid refuse.
I was still at university at the time and remember how when aggrieved members of the community, our own Bishop Ezekiel among them vociferously exercised their right to free speech by attempting to explain how such heinous disregard for a vast section of the world’s reigious sensitivites had been grieviously offended by Serrano’s artistic peregrinations, they were ridiculed, discounted, slighted and vilified as medieval remnants of a long lost time when knights acted with chivalry, spoked sweetly to fair maidens and cast their cloaks over muddy puddles in order for their queens to tread dry-shod. In the secular western world where commercial considerations drive man to attempt to achieve the heights of divinity upon a Babel of gold reserves, attachment to the supernatural is first tolerated, then questioned and finally, ridiculed and degraded, not in the interests of free speech but simply because our self-appointed cultural controllers, whether they reside in Stalinist Russia or the United Nations, would have it be so.
In today’s manifestation of the Eastern bloc, being the Islamic Crescent, religion is one thing that is taken extremely seriously. After all, is not the War on Terror being fought against a fanaticised group of criminals that would undemocratially impose their intepretation of Islam upon us and remove our freedom of speech from us? Are we not fighting a Holy War against the jihadists as our Crusader forefathers did a thousand years ago? It therefore comes as no surprise then that now, just as then, religious propaganda would be used to denigrate our adversary, in this ‘religious war.’ The cartoon of Muhammad in the guise of a terrorist, his turban in the shape of a bomb that has circulated throughout western Europe is nothing more than a thinly disguised sadistic urolagnic attack upon a rival culture and religion, masquerading as free speech. For its publishers should have known, as St John of Damascus did more than a thousand years ago, that the portrayal of Muhammad in his bodily form is a terrible offence to Muslims. His lampooning, though not as heinous as Serrano’s efforts, is also a grievous insult to those hundreds of millions who consider Muhammad to be the conveyor of the final divine revelation and it is obvious that this is what was intended, along with a sleazy feeling of satisfaction in having committed such a lewd act.
Free speech it would have been, to responsibly question certain cultural practices or doctrines associated with Islam that one disagrees with. There can be no excuse for lampooning figures of the past unless this is intended for insult. No one creates cartoons of Napoleon or Genghis Khan for example.
The extent of the damage is great. By seeking to hide behind the smokescreen of free speech to evade responsibility for this crime and clumsily mask its true intentions, the West, which has embarked upon a quest to convince the Islamic Crescent to divest itself of its ‘harmful’ traditional ways and embrace ‘pluralism,’ ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’ has in fact stupidly demonstrated to its would be converts how hypocritical, inconsistent and ignorant the wielders of such cultural weapons are and further polarised the denizens two opposite ideological cardinal directions. In Australian, this is called “pissing in the wind.”
Assuredly, the way to avenge such insults is not by violence. The fact that in ‘democratic Turkey’, an EU candidate, Roman Catholic preists are seen as scapegoats for the conduct of Danish journalists and shot should ring alarm bells in those pushing for its reception into Europe. Similarly, attacks on Western embassies will achieve nothing more than to create further bitternenss and hatred on both sides, which leads one to understand why Serrano decided to carry out his urolagnic perversions on Christ, being a ‘soft’ target in a decadent westen world that now espouses other values, rather than on Muhammad, whose adherents would demand revenge.
At the end of the day, what infantile western journalists should understand is that it is not the Islamists that are so “pissed off” that shall «πληρώσουν την νύφη.» Instead it is the Middle Eastern Christians, the vast majority of whom are Orthodox, who will be held resonsible for the crimes of bigots who do not even have an inkling of their existence, and who since the Crusades have suffered revenge attack upon revenge attack, while remaining true to their religious beliefs in the face of asphyxiating pressure. But then again, why should that impress us? All things are subordinated to the ideological War on Terror, including decency, consideration and empathy. Fin de siècle gentility is ended. The Great War has begun and you had all better fill your bladders in readiness. We leave you this week with an extract of a poem entitled “Piss Christ” by Andrew Hudgins: “We are born between the urine and the faeces/ We have grown used to beauty without horror./ We have grown used to useless beauty.”

First published in NKEE on 13 February 2006

Monday, February 06, 2006


The jubilant aftermath of Marcos Baghdatis' achievements in the Australian Open is fraught with paradox. I have always found tennis, especially when applied to compatriots, to be an intrinsically Greek game, tailoured to the psyche of the Greek athlete. After all, tennis is inherently individualistic. The player and the player alone is the master of his own destiny and no amount of cheering or interference whether beneficial or otherwise from the courtside by on-lookers can practically influence the outcome of a game.
On the other hand, and when a Greek tennis-player wins, suddenly his achievement is no longer his own. It belongs to his entire nation, in our case, not only in its political manifestation, but rather, that of the entire ethnos, exemplified by the Northern Epirots of Droviani, who saw the final life on ERT and then partied with Albanian police officers until the wee-hours. This attitude would be historically akin to the Macedonians celebrating the Hellenic victory in the Persian Wars, after lifting not a finger to resist them. All of a sudden, the victorious tennis-player is not just victorious in himself. At the moment when Marcos Baghdatis triumphantly lifted his silver coffee-tray for the world to see, one could not help visualize a suitably white-sheet clad, busty, dark-haired damsel, in the manner in which early twentieth century propagandists personified Greece, materialize behind him and try to wrest the said coffee-tray for herself. After all, all our victories reflect her greater-glory and thus are rightfully appropriated by her.
We can all rest assured that the famed silver coffee-tray, the child of Marco's prodigy and persistence shall be kept locked safely away by his mother, it being too good to serve guests with, until his wedding day, when hopefully, pumpkin soup will also be served out of an Australian Open Silver soup tureen, watered by the tears of a vanquished Roger Federer.
All of this of course, leads one to postulate that there is significant psychological or volkkunst, if not archaeological evidence to advance that if art reflects a people's personality, then it must have been invented by it. To this, our mania for proving that our autochthonous ancestors established all things in times antediluvian may add the scant archaeological evidence, in the form of bass-reliefs and vase-paintings, that seem to suggest that the ancient Greeks did in fact play a form of tennis.
Other theories, propounded by malevolent enemies of the people would place the progenitors of this most symmetrical game further south in Egypt, purely on philological grounds. The theory goes that the name tennis derives from the Egyptian town of Tanis alongside the Nile and the word racquet evolved from the Arabic word for palm of the hand, rahat, in which case it was not the ancient Egyptians who invented tennis after all but the Arabs that came after them and who did they get the game from I should like to know? Presumably it is this Egyptian connection that Goscinny and Uderzo paid homage to when they named the Egyptian character in Asterix and the Legionary Ptenisnet. Of course, regardless of who actually is the father, undoubtedly the precursors of Baron de Coubertin, French monks of the middle ages who in their tedium began playing a crude handball against their monastery walls or over a rope strung across a courtyard are definitely the mother, yelling tenez, ie. "Take this," as one player would serve to the other.
That being so, Marcos Baghdatis has achieved an ethnic equilibrium unparalleled in the annals of the game. For in achieving so much in so little time, he has not only brought honour, admiration and the goodwill of the entire world down upon his shoulders, but also given homage to both sets of spurious contenders for the role of father of tennis. For in making it to the finals in such a valiant fashion, he appeases the Greek harpie of hubris as well as his father's Arabic heritage, though it is noteworthy that the Lebanese community was not so ebullient about its compatriot's win as we were. As one die-hard Lebanese fan explained to me: "If he wins, he is Lebanese. If he loses, he is Greek."
What was most significant about Marco's stellar progression through the Australian Open was the open-hearted and kind manner in which the Australian public embraced him. Spectators, in the best of the purist Australian tradition of sportsmanship that still views sport through a vacuum of individual achievement, unsullied by other considerations, was genuinely thrilled to see a youngster, especially an easy-natured and unaffected one, strive to achieve the heights of excellence. It is conceivable that it was the boyish charm and humility displayed by Marcos that caused the Australian media to turn a complacent eye towards the Greek die-hard fans who bedecked the tennis courts in swathes of blue and white and punctuated each volley with deep and excited Greek chants.
It is just as well, for in the aftermath of the Cronulla riots, one would have expected a more cynical treatment by media and Tennis Australia alike, as in the past few years, blatant displays of ethnicity such as those manifested during Greece's European Cup win, or the Olympics have attracted cynical or negative comment by those who would have us question and review multiculturalism in the interests of cohesion.
In the case of Marco's fans, it is actually quite strange that they did not attract the same treatment. For some of the chants sung by them were blatantly political, such as «Έξω οι Τούρκοι από την Κύπρο» and flags bearing inscriptions such as "Constantinople is Greek" (which is quite true, it is Istanbul that isn't,) surely would have given rise one would have thought to a debate as to whether politics and especially the Lernaian Hydra of "ethnic" politics, has any place on the tennis court. Undoubtedly those who disagree with the sentiments displayed by the fans would agree that such displays are inappropriate. One can appreciate such a stance, especially where one considers the prospect of highly politicized compatriots of tennis players coming from countries that display enmity to each other watching a game together and the conflict that may ensue. We need no encouragement to rejoice in our ethnicity and display it jubilantly at all occasions. However, we do need to know when it is appropriate to divorce such displays from politics, lest one is confused by the other, and both are decried or proscribed by those who understand neither.
Conversely, one cannot but feel solidarity with the frustrated and isolated few who, seeing how the powers that be arrogantly trample over the rights of Cyprus, disregard UN resolutions and use coercion and blackmail in order to procure Cyprus' assent to the legitimization of the illegal occupying regime in its north, feel sufficiently moved to voice their disapprobation at such heinous activity. In a world where governments no longer feel bound by opinion polls and no longer heed protest, is the chanting of political slogans at sports matches a potent symbol of citizens' disempowerment? As one fan told me, "We are probably going to get a better hearing here, than in the UN General Assembly."
In the case of Marco's fans, the power and potency of such a futile gesture is augmented by the fact that the chants pertaining to Cyprus were executed in the Greek language, a language that few of the people the cantors sought to reach could have possibly understood. This undoubtedly underlies and proves the aforementioned contention that in the purist Australian sports vacuum, politics and games don't mix. The fans knew that they could not voice their concerns in English, for fear of condemnation, so they resorted to Greek, in a seemingly impotent preaching to the converted, signifying nothing. They did it not only because they love Cyprus, but primarily because of the boyish delight people derive from saying inappropriate things when they think they can get away with it. Therefore, it is not sufficient to view the fan's chants as a patriotic act. Indeed, coupled with their chants of male genitalia in Greek, they should be placed in their proper psychological context, as scatological and inappropriate.
If anything, they will permit those who oppose our views to sow fear and hostility into the hearts of the mainstream. The message is clear. Don't trust Greeks with their displays of ethnicity or language as they use these to subvert social norms, without propriety. All of a sudden, what seems like a pleasant stint alongside the tennis court, has the capacity to give rise to further questions about the already unraveling warp and weft of our multicultural tapestry.
For the time being though, let us bask in the glory of Marcos, marvel, hobbit-like fashion at what mighty things a 'little' people can do and ogle his girlfriend to our hearts content. Oh and another thing. Let the Cyprus Community extend an invitation to Marco's fans to chant «Έξω οι Τούρκοι από την Κύπρο» at the annual Justice for Cyprus Rally. This is an appropriate forum for their efforts and they are sorely needed. As Lysistrata could tell you, we invented the protest as well.

First published in NKEE on 6 February 2006