Tuesday, March 28, 2006


How the mighty have fallen. First we had the colonies, (yes, we invented colonies) such as Marseilles, Nice, Barcelona and Syracuse, then we had the kingdoms, namely the Greco Bactrian kingdom and the Indo-Greek kingdom, destroyed owing to internecine fighting between Greek colonists, then we had the Byzantine Empire and affiliated cultural Commonwealth, only to resort to Greek Street, not the 1930 movie, mind you, but its homonymous street in London, which is not home to a noticeable Greek presence any more but is home to Norton Balon, the rudest landlord in the world.
One way of psychologically dealing with our loss of status and constant downgrading as a relevant municipal entity is by glorifying our own supposed 'achievements', and lusting after an endogamous, DNA-restricted social caste system, where those in the highest caste are known as "bizinadoroi" and those in the lowest are dismissively referred to as "haramofaides." Or we rename the paltry evidence of our manifestation in the hope that this will magically augment our importance. For example the deceptively named "Greektowns" of Vancouver, Detroit and Chicago are not towns at all. Unlike Melbourne's "Chinatown" they do not even encompass the length and breadth of an entire street. Nor do they have a Greek population of any importance. Thus in the case of Chicago Greektown, an American journalist writes: "Many [Greeks] have left the neighbourhood, leaving mostly restaurants, although a cultural museum and an annual parade hope to ensure the continuation of Greek heritage in Chicago." Vancouver's Greektown is extinct. During the eighties, a combination of cultural assimilation , an influx of baby boomers, rising property prices, and Asian immigration began to significantly erode the Greek influence in the area. During this time many Greek businesses moved or ceased operation, the Greek television station that existed went off-air, and Greek Day was canceled. However, Arbutus, the strangely-named Athenian Social Club faithfully remains within its boundaries. There is hope for Greektown Detroit however, presumably because it houses Greektown Casino, one of the few places where the ancient Greek god Mammon is still worshipped in the form of the sacrifice of votive dollars by Greek pensioners.
We in Melbourne share the affliction of our antipodean cousins when it comes to identifying our own geographical markers. Thus, according to most, Lonsdale Street is the "heart" of our community. If this is so, then it is no wonder that our community is in cardiac arrest, given that if we look at the relative magnitude of the Greek presence on the same street, which comprises not even half a block, and transpose it to the science of anatomy, our community's left and right ventricles have atrophied. This means that there is little or no circulation of new oxygenated blood within it. None of it reaches our community's brain, resulting in a lack of direction, the rumour that our community leaders are ανεγκέφαλοι and are unable to be removed, not through a lack of democratic process but rather because they, along with the 'custodians' of our identity, have suffered an aneurysm of relevancy.
If one of the remaining few coffee shops along Lonsdale Street could be said to be the lungs of our community, given the immense amount of political and other talk that takes place within it, then certainly our community is suffering from emphysema, and not only because of the clouds of smoke that greet one who walks through its portals, only to stumble upon the ample bosom of a scantily clad waitress, an exact clone of the one who used to work there three months ago. This is the dragon's lair of yesteryear, a treasure trove of decrepit relics, lamenting the bygone age of their own virility, recounting scam after scam, extolling opportunities that can still be grasped, if only the waitress serving frappe would bend down within reach. Amidst the leering and the jeering, the puffing and the wheezing, eroded alveoli belonging to collapsed bronchioles cut and make electoral deals that will render their organizations gasping for even more air. Yet no one seems to notice.
Further down, the stargates to a parallel universe loom ahead, like leucocytes fighting off the infection of assimilation. To enter their doors and emerge clutching an aeroplane ticket to the homeland is akin to going through a marginally successful bout of chemotherapy. The hand of death has for the moment been stayed, but for how long? Kitschy posters of 1970's Greece still adorn their walls, possibly because this is the homeland to which we long to return, yet the stargate offers no passage to it and taunts us mutely. One of these stargates now lies empty and ravaged, like a great big whitehead that has erupted upon the surface of our community epidermis, spilled its pus a long time ago and remained an empty crater, bearing only upon its walls, a hand-painted advertisement for a Greek theatre production that has come and gone but which no one can remember. Its name is symbolic however as in our heyday, it could have also been used as a synonym for our collective whole: "Ο υπερφυσικός μπεμπές." Now we have grown old, and we are dying.
Yet we are sustained by the collective cholesterol of Greek restaurants, the knowledge of whose existence transmutes to fatty deposits which clog our arteries. While no self-respecting Greek that does not work in a factory and owns three investment properties will admit to hungering for τσικνίλα, and though such restaurants cater mainly to the tourist market, preferring foreign antibodies that have not yet mutated to develop a culinary immunity to their allure, the call of the dark side of the taste bud is strong and at least once a year most likely during the Antipodes festival, we can be found there, not taking account of the times that we take dignitaries, celebrities or friends from Greece there, in order to maintain the illusion that we still have a community. The arteries of our soul lead not to our hearts, but to a cul de sac and they shall bulge in inflated self-importance, until they burst. Yet it was here that I sat, outside a restaurant that now purveys Cambodian fare during my lunch breaks, watching antibodies float by in pursuit of Hellenic bacteria, and eloquently attempting to convince a particularly pneumatic foreign organism that a symbiotic relationship of our respective haploids could prospectively produce a zygote that would be beneficial to mankind. I have given thanks to τσικνίλα ever since.
Just as Orpheus, the messianic bard of old continued to sing as his severed head floated downstream, so too do our music shops continue to blare out the propaganda of a Greek presence. It is life itself that is being spurted out of their doors, by the urgency of the dying heart in a severed body. Yet there is much organic matter here that must not go to waste. The neo-greeks know it and that is why they and their self-appointed leaders have tried to emulate Shelley in producing a hybrid, Frankenstein creature that though moribund, bears the illusion of life and consequently acts as a salve to the wounds of their incomplete conscience. Now it is getting late and as the sun sets on this macabre Mel Brooks send-up and we drive away after buying the latest Despina Vandi CD, or the collected works of Fame Story, we wonder, as Igor did in Young Frankenstein, whether like him, we have managed to steal the wrong brain from the local brain depository.
Yet though the spores of our original fungal infection spread to inflict themselves upon other suburbs and climes, namely Oakleigh, though percentagewise Preston has a high Greek concentration, Lonsdale Street, the hub of the original malignancy, remains holy ground in a way that Bridge Road, Sydney Road and comparable streets with a greater historical concentration of Greeks do not. Perhaps this is because the heart, however ailing or addled with disease is more important than the periphery, which seems to be our main domain. It is, by chance geography, the logical conclusion of our 2004 soccer jubilation and the sacred sanctuary wherein we may exhibit our peculiar ethnic pathogens to those of foreign infestation, at least until the bypass which has seen the rise of the pernicious Federation Square as the state-sanctioned pen in which ethnic cattle can be put on display.
Who knows whether proper function can ever return to a broken heart? We view the electrocardiogram anxiously as it bleeps intermittedly and then flatlines and breathe a sigh of relief as Melina Kanakaredes switches it off, for good. Thus then, is Providence. Let the credits roll.
First published in NKEE on 28 March 2006

Monday, March 20, 2006


The Greeks invented iconoclasm, along with everything else. The Great Synaxarion of the Orthodox Church sets out the invention of the said movement/heresy as follows: “Through God’s indulgence Leo the Isaurian, a swineherd and keeper of donkeys, inherited the sceptre of the kingdom. At that time Saint Germanus was at the helm of the Church. Leo sent for him and said, "Since it seems to me that there is no difference between the holy icons and idols, command that they be removed immediately from among us. Although if they are true likenesses of the saints, let them be hung higher on the walls so that we who are wallowing in sins do not defile them by venerating them." But the Patriarch responded thus to the Emperor’s abomination, "O King, we have heard of someone who once raised his hand against the holy icons. He was called Conon. Could you be this man?" The emperor said, "I was so called as a child." And since the Patriarch refused to obey the emperor, he deposed him and installed Anastasius, who sympathized with him. And so at that time began the struggle against the holy icons.”
Depending on which chronicler you believe, iconoclasm was either a) a reaction against excessive religiosity, the hysterical worship of icons which saw icons acting as godparents to children, people licking the paint off them in order to gain their ‘power,’ an intellectual eastern movement that could not see how the Old Testament prohibition against graven images could be circumvented by two dimensional representations, as a method of defeating Islamic criticisms of Christianity, revitalising the army and causing it to defeat the encroaching Arab armies after centuries of defeat or b) a godless prejudice inspired by hatred and ignorance that saw a great many beautiful works of art destroyed and the people’s deeply felt cultural and religious affiliation trampled underfoot.
Eventually of course, after fits and starts, burnings and defacement of icons and intense persecution of iconodules, icons were ‘restored,’ by the empress Theodora in 843 and the anniversary of this date is always celebrated by the Church on 12 March as the ‘Sunday of Orthodoxy.’ As the Synaxarion lyrically states: “The empress rejoiced greatly and requested the Patriarch to assemble all the people with the holy icons and crosses in the great church, so that might be adorned with the holy icons and God’s new miracle could be known by all. And soon when all had gathered in the church holding candles, the empress arrived with her son. And a Litany was served there with the holy icons and the divine and precious wood of the Cross and with the sacred and divine Gospels. And leaving the church, calling out, "Lord, have mercy," they processed the agreed mile. Then they returned to the church, where Divine Liturgy was celebrated. When the holy and precious icons were returned to their place, the holy men mentioned earlier and the pious Orthodox rulers were glorified, and those impious people who did not accept the honour of the holy icons were anathematized and condemned. And from that time these holy confessors appointed the annual commemoration of this solemnity, so that we might never again fall into a similar ignominy.”
The outcomes of this traumatic period of Greek history were threefold. The first was the it caused inspired theologians such as St John (Mansur) of Damascus to delineate church doctrine on icons and they did so brilliantly, stating that: 1. The biblical commandment forbidding images of God had been superseded by the incarnation of Jesus, who, being the second person of the Trinity, is God incarnate in visible matter. Therefore, icons do not depict the invisible God, but God as He appeared in the flesh, 2. Idols depict persons without substance or reality while icons depict real persons. This was considered comparable to the Old Testament practice of only offering burnt sacrifices to God, and not to any other gods. 3. Icons are venerated ie. respect is paid to the person they depict and they are not worshipped.
The second outcome manifested itself amost a thousand years later, when it inspied Protestant followers of Calvin in 1562 to ransack and destroy the tomb of St Eirenaius in Lyons, creating a neo-iconoclast movement that saw churches desecrated and great works of art in the western world totally destroyed. In England, Bishop Joseph Hall of Norwich described the events of 1643 when troops and citizens, encouraged by a Parliamentary ordinance against superstition and idolatry, behaved thus:
“Lord what work was here! What clattering of glasses! What beating down of walls! What tearing up of monuments! What pulling down of seats! What wresting out of irons and brass from the windows! What defacing of arms! What demolishing of curious stonework! What tooting and piping upon organ pipes! And what a hideous triumph in the market-place before all the country, when all the mangled organ pipes, vestments, both copes and surplices, together with the leaden cross which had newly been sawn down from the Green-yard pulpit and the service-books and singing books that could be carried to the fire in the public market-place were heaped together.”
The third outcome of course was the indisputable place that the icon gained within the Greek family. Generations of Greeks prayed fervently to their icons for protection from the vicissitudes of life, poured their hearts out to them and ascribed punishment or delight to the virtue of their intercession. Icons were carried before the armies that liberated Northern Epirus and defended Greece against the Italian invasion in 1940 while a huge icon of Panayia faces occupied Cyprus today, from the free side and it was with trepidation, anguish and at the same time, hope, that our parents and grandparents took down their icons from the walls of their homes, kissed them lovingly and packed them away in their suitcaes, seeking their protection during the long jorney to Australia. These icons therefore, have stood as mute witnesses to our arrival, settlement and integration within Australian society and have been the focal point of that generation’s pininings, longings and ambitions.
During the celebration of Sunday of Orthodoxy, it is customary for the congregation to bring their icons into church and then take part in a procession around the church, where their icons are proudly displayed. This year my parish church was full of such icons and it was fascinating to see their vast array in various styles and states of repair. Quite apart from neohellenic silver icons of questionable taste, I was able to discern quite a few fading and pitted nineteenth century baroque pieces, a few flaking and well-worn icons that seemed to be crude, village impressions of post-Byzantine iconography and even one decidedly and ancient Byzantine piece, though garishly restored in hues of pink. Here then is not only a repository of emotion and devotion but one of history as well. The elderly members of the congregation spoke in hushed and reverent tones about how their icons were miraculously found, saved from monasteries about to be destroyed by the Ottomans, commissoned by wealthy forefathers or taken from Asia Minor Churches during the long trek to the west, and exile. Others, not knowing how their icons came to be in their family, clutched them lovingly and merely related how they had been a source of solace to them during the long and difficult years of their sojourn here.
What a story these time and ethnos-ravaged representations would have to tell. What was especially heartwarming as we proceeded around the church, icons in hand, a microcosmic litany of historic and religious continuity, was not only seeing that the Cypriot Commonwealth Games Athletes had joined us, seeking a blessing for their own efforts ahead and enthusiastically carrying the church icons, but also the considerable proportion of younger members of the congregation taking part. Holding their family icons in their arms and proceeding reverently with their grandparents’ hands on their shoulders, they walked past, one by one cradling an entire slice of their own personal heritage in their hands. And indeed how symbolic it is, to witness at the conclusion of such an ancient procession that others would discount as of marginal importance to the present age where form is so worshippd over substance, to see those same young persons, in whom the hopes and aspirations of the first generation for immortality reside, lovingly lift their remarkably enduring manifest heritage and hand it back to their rightful custodians, for the time being at least. Their turn shall come.

First published in NKEE on 20 March 2006

Monday, March 13, 2006


The primary problem with Phoebus is quintessentially a semantic one. His name in ancient Greek means "the shining one," giving rise to the oft cited belief that the aforementioned gentleman is so replete of himself that he believes that the celestial orb shines out of his fundamental orifice. Let us put paid then, to rumours of Phoebus' so-called reclusiveness, which is merely a ploy for popularity and mystery. As philosopher recluse Klus maintained, the artist creates the myth to obscure the art and like it or not, the manifestations as well as the energies of Phoebus have been opaquely diffused throughout the world, coming to rest upon the ears of the Greek people, and burning them charcoal.
Believe it or not, there were musicians and songwriters before Phoebus. The recording studios of Minos for example were labyrinthine, minotaurs of nasally intoned songs by mountain shepherds such as Voskopoulos lurking behind every corner, only to meet with and passionately embrace such delicate nymphs as Viki Mosxoliou or that Grace Jones-like of Amazon Queens, (and Jeff Kennett's favourite) Marinella. These were also the days where the Muses, still unmarried and free to do with their dowries as they would, would frolic with the greatest of all bucolic poets Ritsos, Elytis, Seferis and Gatsos to name but a few and causing them to cavort in hollow meadows and across wooded hills with fawn-like satyrs such as Hatzidakis, Theodorakis and Markopoulos, bring into fruition the most profound and enduring of musical compositions.
All of this activity took place within the context of primordial strife of such magnitude that its extent and cause has been lost in the mysteries of time. The Homeric Odes talk of lost homelands to the east, the destruction of a holy city and the metathesis of the palladium of that city, the three stringed bouzouki, to the lands of fair Hellas. As a symbol of social change and resistance, it sustained the Greek people while the Titans clashed with the Gods and Giants around them and permitted them to retain their innocence until that very black day indeed, when Manolis Chiotis, in his brazen attempt to pander to and placate the Gods, added a further string to the bouzouki and changed its fingering, damning himself and others of his ilk, to musical Tartarus for all eternity, or at least, until the end of the taxim.
So there was music before the appearance of Phoebus and though he has now been confused with Helios the God of the Sun and the God of music, he was at first none of these things, nor were the Gods of the Olympus Compact Discus company aware of his existence, save for the CEO, Zeus, who was monitoring the earth for new talent, ceaselessly. Indeed, Phoebus (stage-name Apollo) got his real break when stumbling across Hermes in a cave. Hermes, a child prodigy, had at the tender age of two days old, killed a tortoise and stolen Phoebus' cattle. Out of the tortoise shell and the cattle-guts, he created the first lyre. Phoebus fell in love with the instrument and offered to allow exchange the cattle for the lyre/bouzouki, giving rise thereafter to his musical maxim: "They'll accept bull in exchange for music."
It does not leave us astounded to learn that Phoebus is also the codename of a famous European cartel that started a conspiracy in 1924 making sure there were no unwanted competitors in the billion dollar light bulb market, for that encapsulates exactly the manner in which our eponymous hero proceeded to conduct himself. After accepting livestock for his lyre, Hermes moved on to create and master with extra-ordinary viruosity, the syrinx, an early version of the klarino. Phoebus, not being able to countenance another having pretensions to loftier muscial greatness than himself, promptly confiscated it and replaced it with the kyrikeion, relegating Hermes to apply his considerably better singing voice to the task of town crier.
And these are not the only crimes committed by Darth Phoebus in his quest to establish the evil Olympian Compact Discus empire for Zeus. All others learning the ways of Music were to be destroyed or bested. For example, the many fans of Pan, pan-pipe virtuoso had the audacity to compare his music with that of Phoebus and challengde him, to a trial of skill. Phoebus of course, created the ultimate of competition venues, a contest of sycophancy and slavish imitation run and adjudicated by the Olympian Compact Discus Company on their own televisual network "Keraia." Tmolus, the mountain-god, was chosen to umpire. Pan blew on his pipes, and with his rustic melody was deemed brilliant by the panelist Midas, who happened to be present. Then Phoebus struck the strings of his lyre. Even before he finished, and prodded by the Imperial light sabre above, Tmolus at once awarded the victory and consequent record deal to Phoebus, and all but Midas agreed with the judgment. He dissented, and questioned the justice of the award, causing great discussion among the parastic panelists viewing the contest. Phoebus would not suffer such a depraved pair of ears any longer, and caused them to become the ears of a donkey.
And that was not all. Look at what he did to Marsyas. Marsyas was a poor satyr who challenged Phoebus to a contest of music. He had found an aulos on the ground, tossed away after being invented by Athena because it made her cheeks puffy. Marsyas lost and was flayed alive in a cave near Phrygia for his hubris to challenge a god. His blood turned into the river Marsyas. Another variation is that Phoebus played his lyre upside down. Marsyas could not do this with his aulos and so Phoebus hung him from a tree during Fame Story in concert and flayed him alive as thousands of fans screamed "We live you," in adulation. Take further the case of Cyniras, Asclepius' son, also coerced onto Fame Story and caused to commit suicide when the judges awarded the prize yet again to Phoebus. The list of his heinous crimes reads like a list of Offenbach operettas: long and fearfully inane.
Quite apart from his decimation of the competition and his host of male lovers like Hyacinthus who all died 'accidentally,' Phoebus also studied the art of hibernation. Ignored and then persecuted before finally being forgotten by his minions who had no stomach for his ear-assaulting noise, Phoebus hid his murderous brilliance underneath the island of Delos, he emerged once more triumphant, this time not as Phoebus Apollo but as Phoebus Tassopoulos, to take down the Greek music scene and glorify the restored Olympian dictatorship of all the clefs, for all time.
Gone were the modes and modulations we had all known and loved for centuries. In their place was put the Dionysiac monorhythmic beating of a drum, the tired chords of a protestant prayer meeting hymn and of course, after the murder of Polhymnia, Calliope and Erato, muses of poetry, Phoebus Tassopoulos assumed the mantle of god of poetry as well. He then procceded to remove any trace of intelligence and Hellenic influence from lyrical works, while in the manner of Sauron the Great, forged the one Discus to bind the wills of the easily corruptible Greek singers to him, so that they would only sing his songs, and no others. We provide one of his 2001 offerings, in loose translation, as executed by his minion, the unspeakable Despoina (yeah right) Vandi. "How much I want you. How much I miss you. Come back because I tell you: I can't do without you. Ahhhh." Τύφλα να έχει ο Shakespeare, or to quote the go himself, "Come along now. Ooooooh."
No musical tradition can be without influence from the outside world, just as it is the grafted tree that bears better fruit. Yet the wholesale massacre of Greek music that has taken place under the auspices of this evil dictator-god has seen both creativity and euphony desert our fair motherland in protest. Once upon a time, songs were the natural mouthpiece of the dreams and aspirations of a people. Today, if Phoebus is to be believed the Greek people's aspirations, to be sung either to a techno or agonizingly slow zeimbekiko-mutation involve drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, grieving over the umpteenth broken relationship and as Elli Kokkinou vociferously attests, sex. What is even more disquieting is the fact that such a cacophony as can only rival the tormenting demons in Dante's Inferno, is imposed upon and not flowing from, the Greek people. In the tradition of the well-known fable of the Emperor having new clothes, no one is permitted to point out that the Emperor is in fact naked, puny and has forget to wax his bikini-line.
Behind every line of Espresso magazine and all other trash mags, the God Phoebus lurks, extending his talentless despotism further into our lyrical corpus killing like a cancer our musical good taste, while in faraway Melbourne, where the pre-Phoebian baraki scene is well and truly dead, more and more exasperated sons of the apodimoi venture into the night in search of the Phoenician delights that are more attuned to what was passed down to them for entertainment. For verily my children it is time that we sacrificed this evil Olympian upon the altar of Baal and dance rather than ass-shake an artful tsifteteli in the temple of Ashtaroth to the dulcet tones of Zafiris Melas' «Μπιμπελό μου μπιμπελό μου είσαι ζάλη στο μυαλό μου.»
And may Marinella have mercy upon our souls.

First published in NKEE on 13 March 2006

Monday, March 06, 2006


The lode of intense but ultimately futile effort that runs through the strata of Greek history is especially rich when it comes to the Greek conception of society. From ancient times it was the custom for Greeks to abandon their war-ravaged or civil strife-stricken homelands, ostensibly in order to preserve themselves and their culture and to set up what they hoped to be a convivial re-forged society anew, elsewhere, in the hope that the prospect of a tabula rasa in an unknown land, would give them a second chance for survival and success . Ostensibly, this was undertaken Many of these new cities/colonies, bore the name of their mother city or place of origin. Thus the city of Messina in Sicily has been named after Messinia in the Peloponnese, while the city of Isparta in Asia Minor was named after Messinias’ arch-nemesis, Sparta.
It says much for the concept of a tabula rasa that most of the ancient Greek colonies have largely been swept clean of a Greek presence within them. Instead, and especially in the aftermath of the Asia Minor catastrophe, the ancient colonies, unable to survive trial, tribulation and destruction, disgorged their colonial population back into the windpipe of the motherland, creating colonies from colonies. And thus it is in the death throes of the dream for a new society that suburbs such as Nea Philadelphia or Nea Smyrna came into being.
Interestingly enough, Athens Nea Smyrna is not the first child of woe to emerge prematurely and bloody from the womb of its stricken mother. For almost two hundred years prior to tumultuous events that caused the destruction of the mother city, its passion under the Ottoman yoke saw it again embrace the prospect of escape and rebirth, not around the littoral of the Mediterranean this time, but in the ultimate embracing of the tabula rasa, in the New World itself.
The colony of New Smyrna, though financed and established by the British East Florida Company, was the brainchild and project of the Scotsman, Dr. Andrew Turnbull (1718-1792). After having spent years in the Ottoman Empire, Dr. Turnbull married a Greek woman, Gracia Maria Rubina Turnbull (1736 - 1798) from the city of Smyrna on 22 August 1753. The New Smyrna Colony was named in honour of her city of birth. Aside from family sentiments, Dr. Turnbull sought to provide a haven for the Greeks of Asia Minor, who, residing in the lands where Ottoman power was strongest, bore the brunt of an increasingly intolerant and repressive society. Further, Turnbull believed that Greeks and other peripheral peoples who were used to a Mediterranean climate and methods of agriculture would be perfectly suited to the lands in eastern Florida.
On 26 June 1768, eight ships carrying 1,255 Mediterraneans arrived in the Spanish settlement of St. Augustine, in Florida, in preparation for their re-settlement. Collectively, this is said to be the largest single contingent of colonists ever to immigrate to North America. The colonists included individuals from Corsica, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy and the Balearic island of Minorca near Spain. While the individuals who composed this colony were drawn from numerous locations in the Mediterranean, Asia Minor Greeks and Greek-Corsican colonists numbered more than half the original contingent.
This mixed bag of colonists came as both freemen and indentured servants to work on a large plantation some 100 kilometres south of St Augustine, in an area then known as Mosquito Inlet. The British Crown Colony in what is today the general area of New Smyrna Beach awarded a grant for some 40,000 acres of land to Dr. Turnbull and his partners. This is to where the weary colonists travelled in the summer of 1768, immediately after their arrival in St Augustine.
With food, tools, provisions and housing for only 500 colonists awaiting the 1,255 individuals, circumstances at the new plantation would have been difficult under any conditions. What made matters worse was that despite his championing of the Greek cause and his stated intention to provide a haven for Greeks who had suffered Ottoman oppression, Dr. Turnbull chose to ignore the conditions set forth by the indenture contracts he had his would be new settlers sign. With the ill-fed colonists exposed to severe weather and cruelly mistreated by overseers used to driving Negro slaves, trouble was inevitable.
In 1768, a revolt took place on the plantation, in protest against its prevailing poor conditions and the inhumane treatment of the colonists by their purported ‘saviour.’. The colonists were subdued by British troops and put on trial in St. Augustine. Three of the rebel leaders were condemned to death: Carlo Forni, Giuseppe Masiadoli (alias Bresiano), and Elias Medici, a Corsican Greek. In an obvious attempt to divide the strong alliance which had developed between the numerous unmarried Greek and Italian colonists, the life of Elias Medici was to be spared on the condition that he be the executioner of Forni and Masiadoli.
Bernard Romans, the famed Dutch topographer (1720-1784), witnessed the execution and left this riveting account:
“On this occasion, I saw one of the most moving scenes I have ever experienced: long and obstinate was the struggle of this man's mind, who repeatedly called out that he chose to die rather than to be executioner of his friends in distress. This not a little perplexed Mr. Woodridge, the sheriff, till at last the entreaties of the victims themselves put an end to the conflict in his breast, by encouraging him to act. Now we beheld a man thus compelled to mount the ladder, take leave of his friends in the most moving manner, kissing them the moment before he committed them to an ignominious death.”
Ironically, after the failed revolt, the New Smyrna Colony eventually prospered, yielding vast sums of money as an indigo plantation. Nevertheless in the short term, through mismanagement, greed and political intrigue within the Colonial government in St. Augustine, the plantation failed in 1777. There was great loss of life at the colony. The survivors, who only numbered around 600, literally escaped the plantation in the dead of night, making their way over 100 kilometres along the shoreline beach to St. Augustine.
It was on Saint George Street where the survivors of the New Smyrna Colony first settled after their escape in 1777. Since that time, this area of Old St Augustine has been called “the Greek Quarter” and alternately “the Minorcan Quarter.”
Upon their arrival in St. Augustine, the surviving colonists, soon distinguished themselves. Many houses and shops still found on St. George Street and throughout Old St, St Augustine bear bronze plaques, commemorating not only their status as buildings on the Historical Register of the Untied States, but also the Greek colonists who owned those buildings.
Given the manner in which public records were kept, it is uncertain how many of the original Greek colonists survived. We do know that men such as Petros Cotsifakis, Gasper Papi of Smyrna, Ioannis Giannopoulos of Mani, Ioannis Koluminas from Corsica, Anastasios Mavromatis of Melos, Elias Medici and others survived.
Among the customs and traditional ways of life the Greek colonists of new Smyrna bequeathed to their descendants, was the use of the pezovoli, the traditional Greek fishing net. The cry, “mullets on the beach,” which signals a run of this species of fish, has long been recognized as the freedom cry of the New Smyrna Colonists. For as custom has it, once this call is sounded, all the descendants are free, regardless of their work or other duties, to run to the beach and use their hand-thrown pezovoli.
Another time-honoured relic of St. George Street is the Genopoly House. Ioannis Giannopoulos - who in time went by the name of Juan Genopoly - built a home for himself sometime around 1800. Today, this preserved building is recognized as one of the oldest schoolhouses in North America. As the story goes, Genopoly, in typical Greek fashion, was worried his children would grow up without an education. Genopoly (or one of his sons - the stories are unclear) hired a school teacher, and generations of children from St. Augustine went to school in this building.
Further, St Augustine boasts the only Greek Orthodox Shrine in the US. In 1777, the Spanish governor Vicente Manuel de Zespedes gave the abandoned Avero House to the community for its religious and civic use. Eventually, the second floor of Avero House was turned into a chapel. The Chapel of San Pedro served its mixed parish community for approximately seven years.
In 1965, local Greeks in St. Augustine acquired Avero House, one of the oldest surviving Spanish colonial buildings in the region. Through the sustained efforts of the late Archbishop Iakovos, Avero House was purchased by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. In 1969, Iakovos announced that this shrine would bear the name of Saint Photios, the great Patriarch of Constantinople from the Ninth Century who fought to preserve the original Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed and remove the filioque clause, and who sent Greek missionaries to Christianize the Slavs.
A historical restoration ensued with a grand dedication celebration taking place on February 27, 1982. One of the Shrine's express missions is to honor the memories of all the New Smyrna Colonists. The Shrine consists of a courtyard and an exhibition area with artifacts, photographs and historical documents on the colony; a beautiful Byzantine style chapel, a gift shop and offices. With well over 100,000 visitors a year, the St. Photios Shrine is a premier Hellenic American Museum. This year, between 4-5 February, a two-day round of festivities was held to commemorate the twenty-fourth annual pilgrimage to the Shrine, as well as the ingenuity of its hapless Geek colonists. The intrepid immigrants of the New Smyrna Colony deserve nothing less, as long as there are other colonists to remember them.
First published in NKEE on 6 March 2006