Monday, April 24, 2006


In all sincerity, I am beginning to tread the tortuous line that leads to political insanity and the main symptom is that I find myself empathizing with and partially understanding Pol Pot and Chairman Mao. You will all recall of course that Pol Pot was that unsavoury gentleman whose particular stamp on the world was inventing a brand of communism that held that since cities were dens of bourgeois vice and reaction, the only solution was to deport their populations into the countryside for re-education. Similarly, Chairman Mao, leader of the most populous country in the world, theorized that bourgeois or mutant tendencies of the proletariat could be purged through 're-education through labour.' In both cases, this meant that puny city-dwellers were let loose upon a countryside that could not sustain them and permitted to slowly work and starve themselves to death. Before the august reader throws down the Diatribe in horror, let it be said that it is only the purging and re-education of the puny that is in my deluded state appealing, not the actual process of extirpation, which is messy and I am told, not sanctioned by any union whatsoever.
Instead, the gentle reader is invited to learn the course for such a mental malaise which is none other than the annual ANT1 beauty pageant, featuring the flower of Hellenic womanhood under such ultra-hellenic neo-Byzantine court titles as Μις Σταρ Ελλάς and, my personal favourite (the title that is, not the category) Μις Γιανγκ, apparently named so, as the Greek word for young has been legislated out of the official Hellenic dictionary, by uniform regulation of the E.U.
My bile and indignation at chancing across an event of such puerile and excremental stature could only increase when considering the fact that beauty pageants rest on venerable historical precedent and rather than being a decadent symbol of belated western acculturation, they are rather, an expression of pure Hellenism, thus rendering my pedantry and Puritanism not only annoying but downright unhellenic.
For what else that a beauty pageant could that little episode by the river Scamander in Asia Minor, where the shepherd Paris was commanded by Eris, famous and controversial Olympian gossip-show host, to provide an apple to the 'fairest' of the three goddesses Athena, Aphrodite and Hera be précised as? It is an early pilot-run, written by Homer, for ANT1. And what was the result? A bloody war over some other irrelevant beauty queen when the wily owner of the Olympian network promised Paris a prize that actually belonged to another TV station. If Odysseus was alive he would be….. and indeed come to think of it, the only redeeming feature of the whole story is that the gender dialectic was permitted to come full circle and that the Olympians were able to stage a male beauty pageant on the island of Ithaca, with the reluctant Penelope as adjudicator, drawing on proceedings as interminably the ANT1's episodes of "Love," in a constant search for good ratings, until Odysseus was able to outmacho them all and win the prize. Similarly, my thesis, that beauty pageants are elitist and thus undemocratic was exploded when it was explained to be that in actual fact, STAR HELLAS (isn't that the name of another Greek television channel?) is a most democratic pursuit, given that hundreds of nubile young women compete and are gradually ostracized from the competition in Athenian fashion, until the victor is left. Interestingly enough, given that the ostracism is conducted by the Greek public who has to pay exorbitant amounts of euro in sms and phone charges in order to vote, there is valid orthographical argument to suggest that the pageant be homophonously re-spelt as "Καλληστεία." In my mind at any rate, the only decent democratic bloke to have dabbled in beauty pageants was King Thespios, who rather than have only one of his daughters crowned consort of demi-god Heracles, threw caution to the winds and permitted him to have all fifty, thus granting our plummeting birth-rate a new lease of life.
Despite the introduction of a new faith that celebrated eternal life more than worldly life and was not too generous on the flesh either, Hellenic attachment to beauty pageants remained. While Byzantine emperors busied themselves with variously fighting or propagating heresies, sleeping with their nieces and blinding their children, their mothers often found the time to organize beauty pageants. In this case, the term beauty queen was particularly apt, as the winning contestant would become Empress of Byzantium. Take for example the bizarre beauty contest conducted by Emperor Theophilus' mum. She had the most beautiful and educated girls of Byzantium line up before him and had them await his discernment as he decided whom to give a golden apple to. Resting his eyes upon one Kassiane and about to give the apple to her, he remarked that: "all evil came from women." Kassiane retorted by reminding the emperor that from women also came good things. Through Mary, the Mother of God, the gates of Eden had once again opened. Stupid girl. The correct response was "World Peace," a giggle and a toss of the hair. As a result, Kassiane lost the competition, though she did found a monastery, become its abbess and write some of the most passionate and beautiful religious poetry to have ever been written in the Greek language. It proves that poetry doesn't get you far in this world, especially if you want to be a princess.
Seeing all those blank-faced girls walking up and down the ANT1 stage dressed in what would have to be the demise of the Greek fashion industry was quite nauseous for me. Quite apart from the fact that I have a Freudian fear of Barbie-doll look-alikes ever since having nightmares upon seeing the movie Mannequin way back in 1987, I struggled to fathom what interest a largely homogenous and plastic grouping of females judged solely upon millimetre differences in looks could evoke, unless of course my hypothesis that Minos Kyriakou, ANT1 chief and pageant-holder extraordinaire is actually Darth Sidious and has created a vast new clone army of fembots with which he shall take over the world, unless stopped by the powers of an anachronistic little man with glasses ("Diatribe baby yeah!) is proved correct. Interestingly enough, the vast majority of these girls lack tertiary education though some have by their own admission taken courses of study in such Hellenic subjects as "αντβερτάιζινγκ" and "μαρκετίνγκ." Perhaps the curse of Babel is wearing off after all.
While in civilized countries, vocal opposition to the objectification of women has largely seen the demise in popularity of beauty pageants, Greece seems to revel in an objectification of women that has its roots deep in our ancient and narcissistic past. Like a teenager that obtains its license for the first time and dizzy with its newfound freedom promptly crashes into a tree, Greek society has celebrated its emancipation from village and customary taboos by indulging in bestial and sleazy denigration of its female citizens. A prime example is some old fart's injunction to one of the Fame Story 2 girls that though she is a pretty girl, she must now learn how to become a "γυναικάρα," and the unacceptable display of under the legal age girls in their swimsuits before the salacious eyes of Greek pensioners and unemployed buffoons sitting at home while their wives or mothers cook them dinner or wash their clothes. Μις Γιανγκ must be renamed Μις Φαρ Του Γιανγκ - πήγαινε σπίτι και φέρε μου τον κηδεμόνα σου and such ogling must stop, especially in a country where it is acceptable to attempt to 'impose' oneself upon girls and where girls are taught to accept the predatory nature of their male counterparts' advances with a sigh of resignation and determinism.
Take them all, Kyriakou, his inane hostesses, in fact the entire Greek nation out in the countryside for re-education! Expose them to the letters column of this newspaper, the rantings and ravings of its columnists and through constant belabouring and lecturing, purge the stereotype and the banality from their superior souls! Feed their fundamental cognitive orifices with the enema of political correctness and when they emerge from the purgatory of purification clean and forged anew, let us see what further game shows we can pillage from the US. Man that Kalomoira is hot, in a juvenile, a schoolgirlish kind of way… you know what I mean…. Πω πω κάτι ποδάρες!!

First published in NKEE on 24 April 2006.

Monday, April 17, 2006


«΄Ηρθ’ο Λάζαρος, ήρθαν τα Βάγια, ήρθεν κι ο Χριστός από την Βηθανία...» goes the Epirot Palm Sunday carol. It is interesting that popular folklore preserves the association between the Feast of Palm Sunday, commemorating Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem and the Resurrection of Lazarus as these two feasts are inextricably and theologically linked. In times ancient, they were celebrated together as the commencement of Passion Week. Later, this was considered incompatible with the triumphant and exhalted character of these feasts and thus, they took on a nature of their own. By the fourth century, the Patriarchate of Jerusalem had developed its own elaborate festive observances, consisting of the Patriarch riding upon a donkey as Christ did before him, from the Mount of Olives, into Jerusalem. The populace walked before him, holding palm leaves in their hands.
While this custom gradually fell into disuse, it had its successor in the Imperial pageantry of Byzantium. On Palm Sunday, the “walk of the Emperor” would take place, where amid much pomp and circumstance, the Emperor would emerge from his palace and in triumphant procession, walk to Saint Sophia, while his lambadarios would chant the kontakion of the feast: “Sitting on Thy throne in heaven, carried on a foal on earth, O Christ God! Accept the praise of angels and the songs of children, who sing: Blessed is He that comes to recall Adam!” Apparently, as the representative of God on earth, the excessively elaborate ceremonies of the Emperor, though far removed from the humility and simplicity of Christ’s own triumphal entry into Jerusalem, is supposed to at least somehow, remind us of the majesty and vast importance of that historical event.
These days, all that has remained of these customs is the traditional adornment of churches in palm fronds, olive branches and inexplicably, bay leaf branches, significant in pagan Greek worship and symbolism and quite possibly a cultural remnant of that age. Interestingly enough, the feast is not known as Palm Sunday in Greek but as Bay-leaf Sunday. Traditionally, teams of village children, carrying a cross made of laurel wood, would scour the village to collect laurel branches and bring them to the church. They would do so, all the while singing: «Βάγια, βάγια του βαγιού, τρώε ψάρι και κολιό και την άλλη Κυριακή, τρώνε κόκκινο αυγό». Upon their arrival at the church, goodies in tow, the church bell would peal happily and the blessing of the bay leaves would be conducted. Popular belief held that bay leaves blessed on Palm Sunday and later burnt could restore health to those that had fallen sick due to the Evil Eye or safeguard the health of farm animals.
In Russia on the other hand, where palm fronds are not readily available, willow branches and pussy willows are substituted and given how seriously the Russians have traditionally taken their festivals, this is not to be smirked at, try as we might.
Another custom, more enduring and in fitting with the triumphant nature of the festival in the midst of the penitential atmosphere of Lent is the eating of fish. Indeed, this is considered in the popular culture to be so integral to the observance of the feast, that it has given rise to the saying: «Αν δε φας ψάρι, πρέπει να γλείψεις ένα ψαροκόκκαλο.»
However, there is an interpretation of Canon LXIX of the 85 Canons of the Holy Apostles which states: "Note that during all the forty days of Great Lent, fish is allowed by the Church but once, and that is only on the feast day of the Annunciation, as is ordained in the manuscript Rituals kept on the Holy Mountain. Hence it is evident that it has been a more modern hand that has written into the printed Rituals and into the Triodia that we may eat fish also on the feast day of the Palms. Besides, even Nicholas the Patriarch in his stichs (or verses) allowed the eating of fish only on the feast of the Annunciation. Wherefore, when we learn this fact, let us follow the forms of the saints, and not the modernities of the heretics, who yield obedience to the dictates of their bellies."
Tradition and custom notwithstanding, Palm Sunday and the Resurrection of Lazarus are of inordinate importance to the Orthodox Church for a number of reasons. The Resurrection of Lazarus has profound Christological significance. It is celebrated by the Church, as St Cyril of Alexandria tell us, as an assurance of the general resurrection of the dead at the end of days. Therefore, in the apolytikion in the feast, the faithful sing triumphantly: “Giving us before Thy Passion an assurance of the general resurrection, Thou has raised Lazarus from the dead, O Christ our God.” Of course, there is a fundamental difference between the resurrection of Lazarus and the resurrection of mankind after the Second coming of Christ. After his resurrection, Lazarus retained the body with which he had died, with all the characteristic features of corruptibility and morality, whereas the Church teaches that in the general resurrection, when the bodies will be raised, they will be spiritual and not subject to corruption. Nikos Kazantzakis in his book “The Last Temptation of Christ,” presents Lazarus after his resurrection as a re-animated corpse. Though unsound theologically, it certainly is a powerful and interesting literary exploration of the feast.
Most importantly, in the Resurrection of Lazarus, we see the doctrine of the two natures of Christ, God and Man clearly exemplified. St John the Evangelist records that Christ, as man, wept at the death of Lazarus, his good friend. In particular, he “groaned and was troubled.” Thus, his human aspect suffered. St Cyril of Alexandria maintains that since Christ is not only God by nature but also man, his human nature must suffer. While Christ begins to be moved to that grief which brings tears, he somehow reprimands his flesh by the energy and power of the Holy Spirit. Given that Christ, as God-man is omniscient, his questioning others as to the whereabouts of Lazarus’ tomb can only be interpreted as a manifestation of his total self-emptying and humility. Of course, his raising of Lazarus four days after his death and total healing of his decomposing body is an exemplar of the divine aspect of Christ and this, so that, as St Andreas of Crete holds, his contemporaries had to believe that he who has the power to raise someone dead for four days, has the power to raise himself in three days. His divine command “Loose him and let him go,” is indicative of man’s deliverance from the decay of sin at the general resurrection of the dead.
Palm Sunday, the Triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem on the other hand, is celebrated as a triumphant fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy of Zachariah who wrote: Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey…He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.” Indeed Christ did enter Jerusalem on a colt of a donkey, in absolute humility. St Epiphanios of Cyprus tells us that Christs’ humility is not an artificial outward virtue but an expression of his love and simplicity. Various fathers of the Church interpet Christ’s sitting on a donkey or colt of a donkey in various ways. Euthymios Zygavinos says that Christ sat on a colt, representing the Gentiles while the donkey, representing the Jews followed behind, symbolising the Gentiles’ receptivity to Christ as compared with the Jews, who will come to Christ much later. St Gregory Palamas attributes it to the prophecy of Jacob, who said: “binding his donkey to the vine and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine.” Christ is the vine, his disciples the choice vine and the colt, the Church. Later on in the Gospel narrative, Christ commands his disciples to release the colt, symbolic of a release of man’s sins through Christ.
The joy of the populace at the entry of Christ into Jerusalem was unbounded and provoked by the miracle of the raising of Lazarus. They shouted: “Hosanna in the highest” pointing to the lofty nature of the god-head and “Hosanna! (Save us) Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” pointing to his humanity. In particular, babes in arms and children sang his praises, indicating as St Gregory Palamas and Cyril of Alexandria wrote, the childlike simplicity of soul that is necessary for each believer that would experience the uncreated energy of the divinity. It is for this reason that St Cyril exhorts Christians not only to hold palms in their hands but to possess the palms of their souls ie. divest themselves of pride and conceit and lay these at Christ’s feet and this is the symbolism of the waving and casting of palm branches at Christ’s feet during his entry into Jerusalem.
My parish priest likes to point out that those same people that wildly acclaimed Christ during his entry into Jerusalem, were those who in a few days would demand his execution. There is much to be said for this. However, there is something special in seeing young children flock to church every year, some barely able to pronounce the word «Χριστούλης» but all clutching their palm leaf cross or bay leaf, their stomachs rumbling at the fish lunch that is to follow. Blessed bay leaves still adorn the iconostasis of many Greek homes in Melbourne year around and there is nothing more touching than seeing teenagers reverently placing bay leaves at their grandparents’ graves after church, or taking them to their ailing grandparents in their homes. While burning cannot offer us much protection, we safeguard our increasingly brittle bay leaves throughout the trials and tribulations of the year that will follow, knowing that while the raising of Lazarus and the triumphal entry into Jerusalem point to hope for the general resurrection and the entrance of Christ into the pure heart of man and are thus primarily internal festivals, the shadow of Hades still looms around the kontakia we can no longer understand and the tombstones of our departed ancestors, that we can no longer read. Καλή ανάσταση.

First published in NKEE on 17 April 2006

Wednesday, April 12, 2006


Greeks invented the public statue, preposterous as it sounds. For while statues have been with us since the eon of the cave man and have expressed humanity's need to idealize its condition, hence the various statues of the gods, it appears that Greeks were the first people in their effrontery to transcend the barrier between the idealistic depiction of a deity and claim that place for a mankind idealized in its own right. Thus it can verily be said that the Greeks created their gods in their own image and then created their own image in that of the gods. As the thread of this cosmological argument is so spiral as to disappear up its own fundamental orifice when followed to its own logical conclusion, we need not pursue it further in this column at least.
The manifestations of the need for public statuary are manifold and interesting. Of particular note are the curious depictions of the god Hermes, known affectionately by archaeologists as Herms, that dotted Athens. Simply put, they consisted of an idealized head of the said god, on a rectangular plinth, on whose base was carved in bas-relief, an erect phallus. So there you have it. We literally invented the concept of phallocephaly as well, though the jury is out on whether the prevalence of Herms in Athens is indicative of a concentration of phallocephalists in that city, though judging by their modern day descendants, an arguable case may be made.
The concept of bringing attention to the deeds of men by immortalizing them in bronze or marble was a novel idea. By doing so, citizens who acted heroically or selflessly for the benefit of their own city or tribe could gain immortal renown through their depiction in such a three dimensional medium, thus providing incentive for further would-be good deeds doers to achieve the public acclamation and 'face' that Greeks so traditionally craved.. Such statues could also be used for pure propaganda purposes, as in the case of the statue of Harmodius and Aristogeiton, lovers who murdered the tyrant of Athens Hipparchus as a result of a lovers tiff but whose example was suitably spun out by Athenian spin doctors to personify the struggle for liberty and democracy. So enduring was this myth that when Stavros Baretis assassinated the Prince of Samos Kopasis in 1912, his photograph bearing the title «ο νέος Αριστογείτων» was published in a poster alongside an etching of the famous statue.
Similarly, Olympia was replete with statues of athletes who had brought honour to their cities by being victorious in their various games. Our modern day Greek community equivalent seems to be the honour board of various organizations where various 'fathers' of the Greek community cheat, scheme or outlay cash in order to have their name etched thereon, only to be ignored by the next generations, who have no idea who they are and cannot read their names in Greek anyway. Perhaps a statue would be more enduring, as are those that adorn the mouldering tombstones of the wealthy Greeks of Cairo and Constantinople. At any rate, while engravers don't really enjoy much kudos in the Greek community, sculptors who found the 'perfect' method of representing the human body, such as Pheidias and Polykleitos still inspire awe today and their creations, such as the Charioteer, will live for ever, or at least until Athens museum is plundered by those intent on making that city safe for democracy.
During the Roman period, much of Greek civic statuary was replaced by poor Roman imports of occupying powers such as Aemilius Paulus in Macedonia or were forcibly removed to Rome, where the various emperors would lop off their heads and replace them with their own, especially if said statue happened to be of a particularly well built and buff model citizen, proving that there is a fine line between civic sculpture, propaganda, a 3D Playboy magazine and doctored internet pictures of Britney Spears. Regrettably, this practice continued during Byzantine times, though the statues of emperors through divine wrath or at least that of Encheladus have largely not survived and two-dimensional art, in the form of the icon was preferred, though even that was almost abolished.
With the liberation of Greece and the neo-classical movement that it inspired, interest in civic sculpture as a method of fostering good citizenship, was rekindled. There is seldom to be found a Greek town that does not have a heavily mustachioed hero, every single pleat of his foustanella lovingly reproduced, standing silent sentinel in its village square, constructed of various relatively imperishable materials. The plinth of Kolokotronis' statue in Tripolis encases the heart of that great hero and for sheer magnitude, you can’t beat the stature of Archbishop Makarios in Lefkosia, which towers over the Archdiocesan offices, in whose grounds it resides and is larger than any other statue I have ever seen, giving further meaning to the expression 'larger than life'. Phillip's statue in Thessaloniki is also interesting as the sculptor has depicted Philip with a stern, yet puzzled expression as if to say: "Where the hell am I? This isn't Pella." For of course at the time of his demise, Thessaloniki had not been founded. The Modern Greek obsession with statue also led to a new gardening movement. Apparently you can grow them, or at least that is what the title of Mesolongi's "Garden of Heroes" replete with a multitude of the statues of Philhellene freedom fighters springing out of the ground connotes.
Some statues are just plain wrong. One of these is the statue of Aris Velouchiotis in Lamia. Enough evidence has been gathered to suggest that the said monster, disendorsed by his own party was a sadistic, malevolent and violent criminal against humanity and his glorification by the hapless few who stupidly pine for the days of the Greek Civil War is an affront to all that is decent in human nature. It is better that this period is totally forgotten than to have the archmurderer three-dimensionally depicted so as to taunt his victims from gehenna. The same goes for the right-wing criminals who committed similar acts, though I have not seen any of their statues in modern Greece.
Other statues seem to have unfortunate fates. The statue of Eleftherios Venizelos, perhaps the greatest statesman of Modern Greece in central Athens is a case in point. Every time I visit it, on its lonely plinth in the centre of a deserted square adjoining Queen Sophia Boulevard, it is covered in graffiti, much like the ancient monument of Philopappos on the homonymous hill. This constitutes an ignominious and infamous state of affairs for it was Venizelos who was the father of the first Greek Republic, the founder of the Greek welfare state and liberator of vast tracts of Greek land starting with the heroic island of Crete, his homeland. After being betrayed by recalcitrant and self-interested elements of Greek society, including the then reigning monarch who proceeded to botch up the whole Asia Minor campaign and alienate Greece from the rest of the world, Venizelos selflessly returned to Greece to rehabilitate the million or so refugees fleeing King Constantine's humanitarian disaster, and in doing so, totally transformed Greece for ever. Most importantly, as a master of diplomacy, he dexterously managed to gain the sympathy and co-operation of the entire Western World to an extent never again attained by Greek diplomats. He therefore deserves greater respect, though thankfully, in other parts of Greece, especially in Crete, his image is treated with rightful reverence.
The Cretan Brothe hood of Melbourne, along with the Australian and Hellenic Foundation of Eleftherios Venizelos' unveiling of a statue of Venizelos within its grounds last month, cannot be viewed otherwise than a direct continuation of the Hellenic need to praise and immortalize its heroes not with three cheers, but in three dimensions. Yet what is the relevance of Venizelos, born 140 years ago, to an Australian-Greek population whose latter generations have only a vague if any understanding of his existence and intrinsic importance to their place of origin? If anything, it is that Venizelos was able to conceive of a greater Greece and not just in the physical sense. This Greece, consisting of every corner of the globe where Greeks reside, is according to Hellenistic concepts of identity, to be found in the conscience and being of all those who make the effort to maintain an affiliation with her. For Venizelos, seeing the destruction of the indigenous population of Asia Minor, the ensuing Greek diaspora constituted a second chance at hope. That Greece, as the great statesman once said, "has every intention of surviving and it shall survive." And even if fifty or so years down the track, the Greek language is no longer spoken on our shores and our decaying memories of our illustrious ancestors decompose to the humus of consciousness, then at least the statue of Venizelos shall continue to look desolately and mutely upon the wasteland of its dreams, visited by swallows bearing tidings of whispered memories and granting him, along with all of the works of our hands, greater poignancy.
First published in NKEE on 10 April 2006

Monday, April 03, 2006


There is a genre of autobiographical writing that achieved great popularity and public sanction in the Soviet Union that is known as Stakhanovistic, after the indefagitable model coal miner Alexei Stakhanov. The authorities of the time, inspired by such autobiographical works as Gorky's 'My Childhood,' which described the harsh social conditions of pre-Revolutionary Russia in vivid detail, would encourage ordinary members of the proletariat to record their experiences (and their devotion to the party) for the edification and emulation of all.
Nikos Vournazos' autobiography 'Going Solo' thoroughly resembles such works both in style and content. Much like its Stakhanovistic counterparts, it dwells much upon the social conditions that helped him to form a social conscience and a particular world view, one whose principles provided a yardstick and a source of strength throughout the rest of his life. In Vournazos' case, these principles, of morality, independence, love of justice and self-reliance as well his skepticism with regard to things supernatural are typical of the Stakhanovistic, self-made man. Belief in one's self is vital and the author views his own strength and capabilities as the deciding factors that helped him through such difficulties as the War, poverty, settling down in a new country and even cancer. They are also typical of the values prized by many first-generation Greek migrants in Australia.
If there is any justification for the rendering into English of further Stakhanovstic literature, it is not because of its quaintness, this book being written as it is, a decade after the fall of the political system that saw its genesis but rather, because Nikos Vournazos' account is truly representative of the lives and backgrounds of a multitude of Greek migrants coming to these shores. As his autobiography is written in the swansong of that first-generation's active presence within the Greek community in Australia, his attitudes and opinions are relevant to all of the three major components of Greek Australian history.
Like Gorky, who split his autobiography into three parts, ("My Childhood," "My Apprenticeship" and "My Universities") Vournazos also splits his autobiography into three. The first section deals with his early childhood in Greece and the privation he endured as a result of his family's social and economic class, coupled with the vicissitudes of war. This section is instructive as it explains why so many migrants of Greek extraction were forced to leave their countries and migrate to Australia. In Australia, the migrant narrative tends to be considered to begin upon their arrival on its shores and its causes are generally overlooked. Vournazos masterfully restores the balance to this narrative by providing valuable insight into the deep
traumas that caused the migration and his experience proves that while old wounds may heal, they never stop itching. Of these, injustice and privation vex Vournazos the most and he returns to them time and time again. To read this first section is to gain a deep understanding of the underlying conflicts, traumas and negative experiences which provided much of the motivation for immigration and also provide a good explanation as to why migrants behaved a certain way when they reached Australia as well.
Section two is concerned mainly with Vournazos' acculturation to his new environment in Australia. Of particular interest are his narration of his brother Dimitris' experiences of monocultural Australia and the ensuing cultural clashes that took place. Here Vournazos' narrative transcends the usual listing of differing traits existing between the two cultures and attempts to analyse and rationalise the differences in viewpoint and value system in a sensitive and sophisticated manner. Returning to his position of socialist realism, he proclaims that it is incumbent upon the migrant to become acclimatized to the culture his new country as a prerequisite for progress, without however forgetting or neglecting his origins. The contrast between Vournazos and his brother Dimitris in this regard, is a spectre that has haunted many a Greek family since their arrival to Australia.
Of the many values propounded by Vournazos as a prerequisite to success, one of these is strong family ties and cohesion. Throughout the autobiography, Vournazos freely acknowledges the debt owed to his family, provides lessons as to the consequences of removing oneself from the support of their family and in this represents chiefly, the sentiments of the vast majority of first generation migrants. If the Stakhanovites saw success as lying within the bosom of the Party, then surely Vournazos' counterpart is his family. He is also manifestly representative of them with regard to his attitude to hard work, business acumen and education. The chapter where Vournazos looks at the skyscrapers of Melbourne for the first time and says to himself: "I will beat you," is characteristic of an entire enterprising generation's attitude to life in their new country.
Throughout the book, the Stakhanovite Vournazos stresses the importance of improving oneself not only through industry but also through education. The story of a boy finishing high school despite the vicissitudes of war, rejecting a humiliating offer of charity to study at university and finally achieving this end in his old age is a profound and moving one.
Perhaps the most lengthy and indeed controversial section of the autobiography, is the last part, which deals with Vournazos' involvement in Greek Community affairs. Like his ancestors Pericles and Aristeides before him, after reaching a certain social and economic standing, Vournazos decided
to contribute voluntarily towards the welfare of the Greek community through its established institutions. Unlike the above, and like a Roman Cincinnatus, he tactfully withdrew when he considered he could contribute no more. Much of what is contained in this section is hotly disputed and as translator, I can make no warranty as to its factual basis. Its chief worth lies in it being characteristic of any Greek-Australian involved in community affairs. It is unashamedly passionate, forceful, at times sarcastic but always guided by what the author believes to be fair and true, especially with regards to the matters he sets out pertaining to the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria (GOCMV). It provides one with a fascinating perspective into both how Greek-Australian institutions were founded, how they were administered and what skullduggery and foul-play marred their operation. While Vournazos does not stop short of castigating those who he feels are responsible for the demise of various institutions, he does not absolve himself entirely of the blame either.
Indeed much of this section is concerned with explaining the rise and in one case, fall from prominence of two presidents of the GOCMV, Christos Mourikis and George Fountas. In keeping with the book's Stakhanovite quality, this narrative resembles greatly the clash between the brilliant, idealistic yet fatally flawed Trotsky and the dark, malicious and master manipulator Stalin, given that these are the respective attributes attributed to the parties by the author. This dualistic method of approaching the historiography of the GOCMV is quite novel and the reader is left to make up its own mind as to its plausibility. At any rate, the author in his introduction states that he attempted to recount events the way he saw and experienced them and viewed from that perspective, his account is an invaluable prosthesis to the corpus of literature about this subject.
There is a despairing quality to this final section of the book, the despair of an individual having high hopes for the future of the Greek community in Melbourne seeing his efforts come to nought. Vournazos' prognostications as to the survival of Greek institutions in Melbourne are not overly optimistic. Interestingly enough, he does not view the next generation with the same amount of hope as others of his generation. His view of youthful involvement in Greek community affairs is slighting and deprecatory. He tends to place youth in two categories: those who are ambitious and become as 'corrupt' as the first generation or those who are idealistic and are either purged or manipulated by the first generation to achieve their own ends. Here the reformist Vournazos calls for a change in structure and attitude which is of great interest. Finally, though he cannot bring himself to say it he admits defeat, intimating that today's youth do not share the same interests as their senior counterparts.
Interestingly enough and this again is a characteristic of his generation to a great extent, Vournazos’ interest in the community institutions he has participated in or has come across, seems to be centered upon their structure. Thus the state of the GOCMV’s finances, or those of the Nunawading community and their property holdings or building projects are seen as measures of success and are of primary concern. Similarly, Vournazos’ extremely brief exposition of the role played within the Greek community of Australia by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia is solely confined to speculation as to the extent of its property holdings and the way it operates as a legal entity, glossing over its cultural, educative or religious role. Like many of his compatriots, Vournazos’ worldview of social realism does not allow for the supernatural and his chapter on the Archdiocese is closely reminiscent of an early Soviet copy of ‘Bebozhnik,’ in which similar themes are expounded.
In this respect, what is particularly fascinating about ‘Dancing Solo’ is the way the author sets out his vision and suppositions as to the way the Greek community should operate. A GOCMV divorced of partisan or other influences occupies pride of place with the Greek language newspaper ‘Neos Kosmos’ paradoxically acting as its mouthpiece, chief critic and guardian of its moral integrity. The role of an ethnarch-archbishop is abjured though the author castigates the current prelate for supposedly lacking the attributes which the author himself believes a prelate should not possess. The Brave New World of a Greek community without institutions as that which is slowly emerging in our times among the later generations, rendering the classification, existing since the Greek Civil War, of people via the ‘group’ they belong to almost impossible is looked upon with horror and trepidation, so much so that this concept receives only one sentence.
Quite apart from its historic value or that it is representative of an entire generation, 'Dancing Solo' is an engrossing read. The language is simple and cascades onto the page with the freshness of a mountain waterfall and this is a chief characteristic of the author himself. The narrative maintains a steady pace and is kind to those who know little of the complexities of Greek village life or life in Australia. The third part of the work presupposes some knowledge of the workings and structure of the Greek Community but this is not an insurmountable obstacle to its appreciation by any means. One cannot escape the feeling that this third part, more despairing and introspective than those preceding it, intended the first generation as its main audience. All the more reason to translate it I say and i thank the author for entrusting t me, the translation of this important work.
I first knew the author by reputation, then as a client and finally as a member of the family which took me in and guided me along my first steps into the 'real world.' 'Dancing Solo' is therefore in keeping with this tradition. For the youthful and inexperienced or unknowledgeable, it is instructive, for the experienced, reflective and conclusive, a repository of sage advice and passions that have not died down after so many years. Despite his passions, his pet-hates and his righteous anger, Vournazos speaks to all of us with the warmth and concern of a close family member and offers his life experiences to us as a lesson and a resource upon which to draw, with the generosity and open-handedness that is so characteristic of him.
Dancing Solo will be presented at the Morthcote Town Hall on 9 April 2006 at 3:30pm
First published in NKEE on 3 April 2006