Monday, July 30, 2007


“The few wonders of the world only exist while there are those with sight to see them.” Charles de Lint.

Two are the things we must know about the Seven Wonders of the World. The first is that seven was a number of significance to the ancient Greeks. All important classifications and groupings seem to have been determined by it. Thus, we have the ‘Seven Sages’ of ancient Greece and the ‘Seven,’ led by Polynices, who fought to reduce Thebes, as featured in the homonymous play by Aeschylus, and Euripides in his ‘Phoenician Women.’ This number was also applied to geographical groupings. Atlantis, according to Plato, was said to have comprised seven islands, there were seven hills in Rome and in later antiquity, seven hills of New Rome, Constantinople. Though the mystical significance of such a classification seems well entrenched in ancient thought, it often confounded the ancients. According to Iamblichus, Pythagoras was said to have commented: “Number is the ruler of forms and ideas and the cause of gods and demons.” But then again, what else would one expect from a man whose facility with numbers has caused him to be referred to as Ahl al-Tawhid and along with Plato, is revered as a prophet by the Druze communities of Lebanon? In Pythagoras’ view, the number seven was the symbol of virginity, since it neither factors nor produces among the numbers one to ten. When applied to the Seven Wonders of the World, one would assume that this signifies the fact that these Seven Wonders neither factor, nor produce new Wonders and they are meant to stand as an exclusive club for eternity.
The second thing that we should note about the Wonders of the World is that the are a Greek tourist ploy, the likes of which would turn Thomas Cook green with envy. Wily ancient Greek travel writers, in the pay of unscrupulous travel agents and Hellenic Planet guidebook owners, compiled a list of remarkable man-made constructions, located around the Mediterranean rim, presumably because it was there that the tour guides operated and a mass influx of wealthy Greek tourists, replete with amphorae of purified water slung on their backs could be anticipated and accommodated. That the orientation of such writings were touristy is proven by the fact that the ancient Greek writers did not call the Wonders ‘thaumata’ but rather ‘theamata’ or ‘must-sees,’ a sort of precursor to today’s inane lists of top ten banalities. The publication of such lists was accompanied by the usual consequences: as early as 1600BC, tourist graffiti begins to appear scrawled upon monuments in the Egyptian Valley of the Kings and ancient Greeks must have boasted about ‘doing’ the pyramids, as much as their modern antecedents do today.
The travel writers of the period are of an exalted pedigree. Herodotus and Callimachus of Alexandria are said to have been the first to have created the scam, though their writings on the Wonders have been lost and survive only in other works, as references. The first extant list is that of Antipater’s of Sidon, a Lebanese Greek, who artfully used his questionable mastery of poetic evocation to elicit the requisite emotional responses in his nouveau-riche readers, that would compel them to book a guided peregrination and circumamblulation of the chosen sights, with his agency. Quoth he: “I have set eyes on the wall of lofty Babylon on which there is a road for chariots, and the statue of Zeus by the Alpheus, and the Hanging Gardens, and the Colossus of the Sun, and the huge labour of the Pyramids and the vast tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the house of Artemis, that mounted to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliancy, and I said, “ Lo, apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on, aught so grand.” In other words, East of West, (and feel free to book your tours of both these destinations with us, as we offer many, many exciting packages) Greece is best.
Perhaps the most charming thing about the Seven Wonders is that by the time their authoritative list was compiled in the 6th century AD, supposedly by Philo of Byzantium, most of them had ceased to exist, a compelling and profoundly moving expression of the futility of all our works and deeds. The temple of Artemis, which was supposed to have been the greatest Wonder of all by Antipater, was burned to the ground by the delinquent Herostratus, who committed this barbarous act of vandalism, simply to achieve the immortality of his name. Similarly, the golden and ivory statue of Zeus by master sculptor Pheidias seems to have been misplaced. We have no documentary evidence of its fate save this tantalizing snippet from Lucian of Samosata: “They have laid hands on your person at Olympia, my lord High-Thunderer, and you had not the energy to wake the dogs or call in the neighbours; surely they might have come to the rescue and caught the fellows before they had finished packing up the swag.” The Lighthouse of Alexandria and the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus were both destroyed in earthquakes, though a reconstruction of the Mausoleum exists in the form of the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne and Los Angeles City Hall. The Colossus of Rhodes stood for only fifty six years before it snapped at the knees during an earthquake and toppled over. Its subsequent fate is notable, in that if one believes Theohpanes the Confessor, the Arab Caliph Muawiyah sold its bronze remains to a travelling salesman from Edessa, who transported the scrap back to his city on the backs of 900 camels, giving rise to the ancient Arabian curse: “May the fleas of a thousand camels nest in your armpits.” The enduring legacy of the statue is not only the scintillating sword and sandal 1961 flick, but the arrogance of the Americans, whose statue of Liberty was inspired by the Colossus and who have inscribed upon a plaque the following taunt by Emma Lazarus: “Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,/ With conquering limbs astride from land to land;/ Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand.” Yeah? And may the fleas of a thousand camels nest in your bronze gusset, Miss Liberty.
Of all the ancient Wonders, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon are perhaps the most fascinating in that they may not have existed at all. The only references we have for them exist in the writings of Strabo and Diodorus Siculus, who supposedly purloined their account from Berossus, a Babylonian priest of the fourth century. No concrete archaeological evidence of the Gardens has ever been found, giving rise to the niggling suspicion that these are a clever invention by unscrupulous tour guides, as a pretext for a lengthy (and expensive) detour to Iraq. In the precursor to the aftermath of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, one can plausibly imagine smug Greek tour guides shrugging their shoulders and protesting to the United Tourist Nations: “No Hanging Gardens? Impossible. They were here last time we looked. Anyway, we are here now, so we might as well make the place safe for tourocracy.” After all Babylon has always been a haven for rival tour guides.
Lowell Thomas seems not to have understood the mystical significance of the number of the ancient Wonders of the World and to have ineptly considered that this list could be added to or updated. For it was he who is primarily responsible for the abominable generation of a new list of Wonders, through his making of the 1956 film “Seven Wonders of the World,” wherein he “searches the world for natural and man-made wonders and invites the audience to try to update the ancient Greek list…”

We did not make it on the list of New Seven Wonders, his enfant terrible, which is terrible, considering that we inviented the list in the first place. Instead of hurling down Pythagorean curses upon Swiss businessman Bernard Weber, the insitigator of this blasphemy, Greek Culture Minister Georgios Voulgarakis prissily pointed out that: “Monuments do not have to parade on a podium like in a beauty contest.” One can only wonder whether he would have taken this stance had the Parthenon actually made it into the new list and it may be for this reason that both the tour guides and the soldiers guarding this superlative symbol of Athens seem to be perennially on strike this year.
The reason our Parthenon did not make it on the list of New Seven Wonders seems to be attributable to another Greek invention: democracy. Participants worldwide were invited to vote for their wonder of choice and it follows logically that they would vote for a particular construction in their homeland. For example, by July, ten million Brazilians had voted for the statue of Christ in Rio de Janeiro. This is no wonder given the amount of marketing that went into the process. One morning in June, Rio de Janeiro residents awoke to a beeping text message on their mobile phones: “Press 4916 and vote for Christ. It’s free!” Greece, still exhausted after the 2005 Eurovision campaign to ensure the lyric Pythagorean pentagrammic supremacy of Elena Paparizou could not hope to match such endeavours. Similarly, the Hellenistic Nabatean Red City of Petra in Jordan only made the list after an intense campaign through the Arab world by Queen Rania. That campaign was so successful, despite Jordan only having a population of under seven million people, that over 14 million votes were made from the country. It comes as a rude shock to learn that the rest of the world could not care a hoot about our virtual hallowed place as the birthplace of all that is noble and sacred, and that we lack the requisite queens to get our message of cultural superiority across.
The Parthenon truly is a wonder. Though it was shortlisted as possessing the attributes of Democracy and Civilization, it was only built through Pericles’ pillaging of the Delian leagues’ treasury, which was a common fund designed for the defence of a conglomeration of Greek states. Considering the various vicissitudes it has met with over the years, including being partially blown up by the Venetian Morozini, its defacement by Lord Elgin and acid rain, it is a wonder that it is still standing at all. Yet Pythagoras yet again holds the key to our bruised egos. If the Seven Wonders are indeed virginal, and so can produce no others, how much more virginal is the Parthenon, whose very name denotes virginity? Truly then, it is peerless and subject not to the paltry attempts of the impotent to pierce the hymen of its splendour and significance. The Parthenon, and the Seven Wonders are living proof that the legacy of legend is eternal and that mankind may truly aspire to perfection. They will continue to entrance and inspire humanity in a way that the new wonders, all of them notable and exemplary buildings in their own right, will never be able to do.
Diatribe leaves you this week with the thought that if Greece was to provide a modern wonder for a modern list, surely that wonder would be a toss up between the Tardis like bigger on the inside than on the outside cave of Perama, the self-demolishing, blodd-sacrifice demanding bridge at Arta or Athens Metro, begun in 1869. Considering the delays, the prevarications and the cost blow outs over a century, it is a wonder that it was built at all, though it truly is wondrous, given that it is the only metro that doubles as a museum of antiquities in the entire world. Until next time, let us mull over the following gem, by Walt Streightiff: “There are no seven wonders of the world in the eyes of a child. There are seven million.”


First published in NKEE on 30 July 2007

Monday, July 23, 2007


In our Sinn Fein-like conception of the universe (where the Gaelic denotes the meaning “we ourselves”), where everything exists to resound to our greater glory, it may surprise us to learn that our influence upon and interaction with other peoples is not always considered to be a benign and illuminating experience. The Romanian national myth, which emerged in spite of Hellenism, is a case in point. While Greek historians wax lyrical about the modernizing spirit of the Phanariot Hospodars, (Greeks of the Fanari quarter of Constantinople who were appointed as suzerains of the Ottoman Sultans to govern the tributary principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia), who introduced a school system profoundly influenced by the enlightenment, encouraged the study of the Greek classics and made lasting contributions to the unique architectural heritage of Romania, Romanian historians dwell upon their rapacity, corruption and Hellenocentricity. Similarly, while Greek historians rail at the perfidy of Greek-educated Romanian national hero Tudor Vladimirescu, who promised to assist Alexandros Ypsilantis’ uprising against the Ottomans only to desert him at the last minute and attack the Greek administration in the Romanian principalities instead, Romanian historians see his revolt as the first act in a Romanian national awakening, which could have only taken place once the shackles of Greek cultural and temporal domination had been cast aside. In short and put crudely: Romania exists because the removal of the Greeks allowed it to do so.
Romanticised nineteenth century petty-Balkan nationalism notwithstanding, a large number of Greeks in Romania continued to make lasting contributions to the formation of a Romanian national identity and culture. One of these Alexandros Chrysovergis, known in Romanian as Alexandru Hrisoverghi, owes his esteemed position in the Moldavian and Romanian pantheon of poets to his reading of another hybrid poet previously featured in the Diatribe, the Franco-Hellenic André Chénier. During his typical of a Romantic poet, short life, Chrysovergis established a reputation as a Casaonova-like figure and it is one of those quaint ironies of history that permits one to claim, with considerable historical authority, that this archetype of a Romanian Romeo was in fact, Greek.
Not only was Chrysovergis Greek, but he was also born into one of the families traditionally despised by the Romanian populace, the Phanariot hospodars. Born in Iaşi, Modavia in 1811, to Nikolaos Chrysovergis and Elena Rosetti, Alexandros belonged to one of the Phanatiotes families who were present in Moldavia during the rule of Prince Dimitrie cantemir. True to the canon of Romanian nationalism however, his friend and biographer Mihail Koğalniceanu hastens to assures us: “Hrisoverghi took absolutely no pride in this vain noble origin; he had sufficient personal merit, without needing any more from his parents.”
Chrysovergis’ childhood and youth took place amidst the context of the Greek War of Independence, during which Alexandros Ypsilantis’ Filiki Etaireia troops occupied Moldavia and Wallachia. The Chrisovergis took refuge in the Russian ruled portion of Moldavia, known as Bessarabia, where he was tutored in ancient Greek.
Returning to Iaşi, he enrolled in a French-language boarding school headed by a professor Mouton, while being tutored in Ancient Greek literature by a Greek teacher named Frangoulis. Again, this portion of his education is given a deprecatory nationalistic gloss by Kogălniceanu: “His education was superficial; but this was no fault of his, rather that of a lack in educational institutions that was being experienced in Moldavia at the time.”
As a consequence of the Russo-Turkish War of 1828-1829, Moldavia and Wallachia were occupied by Russia, and, soon after, achived nominal independence. This notably provided for the creation of a Moldavian milita force, which the idealistic youth of the principality joined in large numbers after 1830. Chrysovergis, inspired by romantic ideals of independence was one of them, but withdrew in 1832, after just two years of service — dissatisfied with military life. At the time, he became an avid reader of his compatriot André Chénier and other French Romantic poets and was inspired by their example, while leading a Bohemian lifestyle and becoming noted for his affairs with women. Reportedly, he was quite the looker, and the object of compliments, which took multifarious forms, from women in high society, a sort of precursor of the ever virile Gabrielle D’Annunzio.
By that time, and given the enormous amount of compliments paid to him by flocks of admiring women, to whom he generously dispensed his poetry, Chrysovergis was showing the symptoms of an unknown disease, which first manifested itself as renal colics. As doctors recommended exercise and fresh air, he left for the Ottoman Empire, visiting the Thracian province of Rumelia on his way to Hadrianoupolis. Kogălniceanu, adopting the usual discourse of the superiority of Latin-based, Romanian culture over the other, ‘less-developed’ cultures of the Balkans, views this journey as instrumental to Chrysovergis’ poetic inspiration: “The patriarchal life of the Bulgarians, their customs so unlike those of any other, more civilized and thus more commonplace, nations, the magnificent view of the Balkans still full of souvenirs from the Russian victories, all that primitive nature left vivid imprints in his memory and awoke within him the poetic genius.”
Returning to Moldavia in 1834, Alexandros Chrysovergis published his debut work, Ruinelor Cetăţii Neamţu, an ode which had been prompted by news that the inhabitants of Târgu Neamţ were planning to raze the nearby medieval complex and use it as a source of building material. lts final stanza began with the following, stirring, nationalistic words that mark the first attempt to oppose urban planning permits through the use of verse: “O, Moldavian brethren, young and old alike, don’t you think that you’ll be called to answer in future eras? And will you, in cold blood, witness that demolition? Will you not stop that barbaric deed, will you not raise your voices? Gaze upon the sole witness left to us from another age, for your nation is a successor to the nations of the brave, how gluttony ruins and spoils it into ostentation, for it to build palaces for itself, in order to gain satisfaction.”
If only Chrysovergis was around when the modern Athenians were demolishing their neoclassical masterpieces, transforming their city into a drab nightmare of Ba’athist aesthetics, without the kufic calligraphy.
Ruinelor Cetăţii Neamţu had instant appeal, persuading Prince Mihail Sturdza to block the Târgu Neamţ demolition projects, as well as popularizing historic preservation throughout Moldavia. Over the following years, Chrrysovergis pursued a romantic affair with Catinca Beldiman, the wife of nobleman and amateur Nicolae Dimachi. According to Kogălniceanu : “She was a young, beautiful woman, with a vivid imagination, who had kept alive all the illusions of her childhood and who, resonating with the young poet's fiery words, answered him: love me, be blessed; make yourself a luminous name among men, so you may cover me with your glory.” Apart from serving as a constant feeder for his egotism, Chrysovergis found in her “the ideal heroine he had previously read about in works by Byron, Dumas and those of so many novelists; he gained a soul to understand his own soul, a heart for his heart, a star for his horizon. He thus forgot everything else, glory, honors, future, in order to live for his loved one.” Kogălniceanu noted that all of Chrysovergis’ works after that moment, his poems as well as his translation of Dumas' Antony, published posthumously, evidenced the inspiration of his muse.
Chrysovergis was wily enough a Greek to sense from which direction the political wind was blowing. In 1834, he welcomed the arrival of Prince Mihail Sturdza, and the end of Phanariote rule, by authoring a poem in his honour. His sycophancy knowing no bounds, he also decided to rejoin the Militia. In late December, Sturdza welcomed him on his personal staff, where he served as princely adjutant, being promoted Captain in January 1836.
In February 1836, after attendinga masquerade ball in Iaşi, he left on mission to Pribeşti, romantically traveling through a blizzard. This contributed to the subsequent decline of his health. In constant pain for the following year, he died soon after turning 26, and was buried in Iaşi. His funeral was attended by a large group of officers and young civilians and was accompanied by attempts at mass suicide by swooning Moldavian ladies. The autopsy reportedly uncovered that Hrisoverghi died of complications from tabes dorsalis, a polite word for syphilis which medicine of the time attributed to tuberculosis and which undoubtedly was the true reason for so many Moldavian ladies attmepting to end it all.
In connection to his death, Gheorghe Sion later claimed that Chrysovergis was severely injured after jumping from a window, when caught in his lover's arms by her husband; allegedly, his rival took him into his care. This account, which probably referred to Catinca Beldiman and her husband, was doubted by Călinescu, who noted that it may have been entirely borrowed from his translation of Dumas’ Antony.
A book of his collected works was published in 1843, and included his sycophantic paygerics to various potentates of his day. Most of his poems were left in unpolished stages, including one he composed on his deathbed which is eerily reminiscient of the Greek demotic song «Αχ μώρε σεβντά, αχ καρά σεβντά, πώς με έχεις καταντήσει το μαύρο/Αχ δεκαοχτώ χρονών παιδί/στον Άδη με έχεις στείλει»: “Ready to part with life, I cry, I sob uncomforted,/ The hope in my bitter days has scattered./ With a pining gaze I still lovingly look/ To the world’s joys I could not have tasted.”
Besides his translation of Dumas' novel, Chrysovergis noted for those of poems by Chénier (to which he notably added his own verses), Friedrich Schiller, Alphonse de Lamartine and Victor Hugo. He is also the main character in a 1943 novel by Tudor Raşcănu (Fermecătorul Hrisoverghi).
Though naïve and slightly nauseating to today’s taste, Chrysovergis’ poetry is noteworthy for the influence exercised by André Chénier on his style, and one may draw parallels between the two authors' lives (including their ambivalent attitudes toward military life). In addition, Chrysovergis was instrumental in introducing a national focus in Moldavian literature. Perhaps poet Vasile Alecsandri, is compassionate and generous when he sums up his opus as follows: “Old people would only read the lives of the saints; and youngsters would read nothing at all, holding Romanian books in contempt, and among those youngsters only a Chrysovergis would tap his forehead, saying, like Chénier in the hour of his death: “Et pourtant je sens que j'ai quelque chose là.” (And yet I feel that have something here.)
In later periods, literary critics took more reserved stands in respect to Chrysovergis’ contribution to Romanian literature. Călinescu noted that Ruinelor Cetăţii Neamţu was “a disgraceful replica of Cârlova's Ruinurile Târgoviştii.” He also stressed the misogyny present in several lyrics authored by Chrysovergis, which he defined as having “the stray impulses of Romantic jokes and featuring ridiculous invectives.” When one reads the following stanza: “You giggle you wicked woman, and you even mock me, But consider that the knife can also be used on you,” one begins to appreciate this point of view. Yet the Romanian Romeo and Latin lover was no hater. He was merely a rip off merchant of Greek demotic songs. We leave you this week, with the Grecian lines that may have incited this unfortunate parexigesis: «Η σκύλα η πεθερά σου, θέλει μαχαίρωμα, ως το ξημέρωμα.»

First published in NKEE on 23 July 2007

Monday, July 16, 2007


According to a precedent set by those geniuses at the cutting edge of international jurisprudence, the gavel jockeys of the Turkish Court of Appeal at Ankara, the Oecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, is not Oecumenical. Readers would be pleased to learn however, that the entity is a Patriarchate, that is at least if a subsequent court does not find the following remark to be obiter dicta: “The Patriarchate, which was allowed to remain on Turkish soil, is subject to Turkish laws.”
This unilateral assertion of jurisdiction is a clincher. The Patriarchate has been graciously ‘allowed’ to exist. It is on Turkish-ruled soil and thus subject to Turkish laws. It follows logically then that it cannot be an international organization. The aptness of this legal analysis can be evidenced by a more local analogy: Stars International Reception is situated in the City of Darebin and is subject to its local laws. As such, it cannot reasonably claim to be truly International and thus should not try to hawk its unique services upon others outside the City of Darebin. One can see then, how the hapless General Pants Co, Australia’s leading youth brand apparel retailer, (‘where the young and restless dress’) could conceivably be barred from setting up operations in the Turkish Republic without consent first had in writing and not limiting the generality of the above-mentioned, whereby its assertion of Generality as that pertains to their pants, would certainly be disputed within the narrow confines of the Turkish nation state and legal interpretation of jurisdiction.
The only loophole that seems to exist for the General Pants Co, is the persistent rumour that General Pants was the nom de guerre of one of the Generals behind the 1997 military coup in Turkey, when, after increasing its harshness and frequency of its public warnings to the Islamophilic government of Neçmettin Erbakan, the military rolled their tanks down the streets of Sincan in Ankara, causing Erbakan to step down. Coincidentally enough, the guiding ideology of Erbakan’s party was the Millî Görüş, or ‘National View’ wherein the term ‘national’ is to be understood as ‘monotheistic ecumenism.’ Here then is a clue. How can His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomeos harbour pretensions towards assuming the appellation of ‘Oecumenical’ when in fact, it is Neçmettin Erbakan who is the Ecumenical patriarch (with a small p) of Turkey? The ideology is just not big enough for the both of them.
The directors of the General Pants Co. may argue until they are blue in the face that the Generality of their Pants is well rooted in the high regard and great respect that they command within the fashion industry, the long and rewarding association they have had with dance culture, supporting clubs, dance parties, music, surf and skate events. They may postulate for posterity that as a leading retailer of International (well not in Turkey anyway) and Australian brands specialising in street, denim, skate & surf, they set trends in the youth market, whilst focusing on contemporary demand, thus making their pants indeed General, but they may as well parrot the legally inept reasonings of Greek Foreign Ministry spokesman Giorgos Koumoutsakos with regard to the status of the Oecumenical (oops that terrible word again) Patriarchate: “The ecumenical status of the Patriarch of Constantinople is in the foundations of international treaties, the holy rules of Orthodoxy, history and Church tradition. These things do not change and are not altered with judicial decisions based on misinterpretations of the Lausanne treaty.”
Come to think of it, the venerable formulators of the Lausanne Treaty were not possessed of the requisite foresight to include a definitions section that would dispel any dispute about the interpretation of such contentious terms as ‘Oecumenical’ or ‘General.’ The General Pants Co. would in vain insist upon the enforcement of clause 39 of the Lausanne Treaty in order to argue its case before the courts in the Australian patois. This is because though the clause states: “Notwithstanding the existence of the official language, adequate facilities shall be given to Turkish nationals of non-Turkish speech for the oral use of their own language before the Courts .” This is because the words oral use and language have not been defined in the non-existent definitions section of the Treaty.
It is noteworthy to mention that in the signed procès verbal of the Treaty, dated 10 January 1923, İsmet İnönü, the head of the Turkish delegation and subsequent second president of Turkey, called the Patriarch of Constantinople ‘Chef de l’Eglise Greque Orthodoxe,’ that is, the Head of the Greek Orthodox Church. Now, the Patriarchate of Antioch is formally known as the ‘Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East. The Patriarchate of Alexandria is formally known as Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa, and the Patriarchate of Jerusalem is formally known as the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Collectively, these are the oldest and most venerable Patriarchates of the Greek Orthodox Church (save Rome owing to the Schism), from which all other Patriarchates stem. According to İnönü himself, the Patriarch of Constantinople is the ‘Chef’ or to adopt the Turkish, the başı of the other ‘Rum Ortodoks’ Patrikhanesler. So our Ortodoksbaşı is Oecumenical after all…
To its chagrin, no such admission is afforded to the General Pants Company by the President in the Treaty or in any other ancillary, extrinsic materials. Perhaps this is for the best. For imagine the comedown when an elated General Pants Company barges into the Court at Ankara waving İnönü’s imaginary process verbal in the judges’ faces, only to be told that it not withstanding, just as the head of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople is not known as the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople but rather, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Fener (ie. Phanari, the specific suburb where the Patriarchate is situated), the General Pants Company is actually the Specific Pants Company, where only its purveying of ADIDAS Beakenbauer Track Pants is officially recognised, and nothing else.
In its desperation, the General Pants Company could try the approach of the Patriarchate, which could be described as an attempt to create a historical guilt trip in its captors. In the entrance to the Oecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople, there is a famous mosaic portraying the conqueror of Constantinople, Mehmet II Fatih, awarding a firman to Oecumenical Patriarch Gennadios Scholarios, in which all his previous privileges under the Byzantine Empire were confirmed. It is situated in close proximity to the gate where Mahmud II ordered the hanging of Oecumenical Patriarch Gregory V in 1821. The directors could conceivably stylishly mount a photograph of themselves handing a pair of MC Hammer pants to the last Ottoman Sultan, Mehmed Vahideddin, before their Constantinople store, above a cautionary UN caption that reads: “Can’t touch this.” Regretfully, this approach has not melted the hearts of the die hard Turkish republicans who have built their modern state in spite of and not as a continuation of the Ottoman tradition.
Ultimately, the wretched General Pants Company may just have to resign itself to claiming that notwithstanding the legal eagles of Turkish jurisprudence, it is the spiritual purveyor of a multitude of General pants-related items throughout the world. Millions of faithful look to it for style tips and the setting of trends despite the non-appreciation of its fashion legacy by the Turkish Courts. Let them not be down-hearted. As the great Winston Churchill, a vehement opponent of the Lausanne Treaty once stated: “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” There is thus a pants related basis behind the Greek Foreign Ministry’s firm conviction that “above all, recognition of the Ecumenical Patriarch as a spiritual leader is — and has been for centuries — deeply rooted in the conscience of hundreds of millions of Christians, Orthodox or not, worldwide.”
Proving Albert Einstein’s belief that: “If one studies too zealously, one easily loses his pants,” the eye of the storm is to be found elsewhere. For the Turkish Courts are merely following the precedent set down by the Latins, who, in the aftermath of the Second Ecumenical Council refused to accept the third canon which held that the Bishop of Constantinople “shall have primacy of honour after the Bishop of Rome because Constantinople is the New Rome.” As if this was not enough, they also refused to accept canon 28 of the Third Ecumenical Council which asserted Constantinople’s jurisdiction over the ‘barbarian’ lands, thus making it an ‘Oecumencial Patriarchate.’ About the same time, the thirteenth Council of the Genoese Pants Guild, the Consiglio dell’ Arte da Pantaloni, refused to recognise the General Pants Company’s assumption of the right to sell a general array of pants to the popolo minuto. The ensuing schism in the Pants fraternity between those who in all etymological conscience believed that the garment is question should be referred to in the singular as pant, and those, like our fellow sufferers who sought to refer to it in the plural as pants, had profound repercussions throughout the Genoese trading colonies of Byzantium, influencing the attitudes of sojourners in its domain up until the present day.
To these brave Generals of the Pantaloni we pay homage, for complying with our exhortation to stand fast before the Turkish judges, an experience which captured the attention of the global community in the manner in which the head of the General Pants Company, described in detail, paraphrasing the jocular Robin Williams: “It felt wonderful doing it. But that’s rather like urinating in brow velvet pants. It can feel wonderful but no one will watch.”
To His All Holiness, Oecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomeos I, as he struggles to maintain the two thousand year old presence of the Light of Orthodoxy and Greek tradition in its homeland despite the racist fanaticism of those who would deny the much diminished and ravaged Constantinopolitan community of basic human rights, and have no qualms in barbarously stripping away the dignity of a most venerable and globally (and as the General Pants Company can tell you, hysterical nationalism is soooo last season) we can only say, as we have for the past two thousand years: «Τον δεσπότην και αρχιερέα ημών, Κύριε φύλαττε εις πολλά έτη.»


First published in NKEE on 16 July 2007

Monday, July 09, 2007


On the cold marble floor of the temple, there are evidences of shed snake-skin and sterilized death. Below the marble flutings of the columns, as the wind blows freely from the outside and whirls round the tamed, potted fires within the braziers, causing them to breathe the smoke of bay-leaves, the infirm sleep and dream of Asclepius.
If you dream of Asclepius, you have need of hope. If you dream of medicine, help is coming. If you dream of a doctor, help is coming. Two doctors are a warning that you should look after your body. If you dream of an ambulance, you will get better. If the ambulance bears a patient that is unconscious, someone you love will fall sick. If the patient in the ambulance is conscious, then you will learn news of someone you have not seen for a long time. If you dream of a surgeon, you have strayed from the right path.
If you dream of a heart bypass, you will break up with your beloved. If you dream of a stomach operation, you have not repented of your misdeeds. If you dream of a surgeon, you must let something you keep inside of you go. If you dream of a surgeon, you will fall sick. A scalpel is a call for immediate action.
To dream of a liver is a premonition of the state of your happiness. If your liver is healthy, so too are your finances and you are brave. If your liver is ill, then you will become poor and are a coward. To dream of a finger is of concern to your relatives. If you dream of a wounded finger, a relative will fall sick. If you dream of cutting your finger, you will have a fight with a relative. If you dream of your finger being cut off, you will mourn the death of a relative. To dream of an elbow signifies nothing. To dream of a knee heralds humiliation.
When you dream of a cyst, know that your relationship with someone will be tested. If the cyst is a large one, the relationship will last. If the cyst is a small one, beware of those that love you. If you dream of your kidneys, you will travel far away. If you dream that they are in a bad state, you will never return. If you dream of gall bladder problems, you will avoid bitterness. To dream of a brain is uncommon. To dream of the sole of one’s foot is perverse.
If you dream of a snake, help is coming. If you dream of a stroke, there is nothing wrong with your health. If you dream of a stroke, look to the state of your soul. If you dream of a fever, look to your affairs for there is trouble. If you dream of a fever, do not compromise, for you will be lost. If you dream of intestines, people will question how you made your money. If you dream that your intestines are that of a bird, you will find happiness. To boil your own intestines is to make a great mistake.
If you dream of a haemorrhage, you will get sick. If you dream of having an abortion, you will be sad. If you dream of performing an abortion, your plans will not eventuate. If you dream that you are watching someone else having an abortion, you will have an accident. If you dream of tonsillitis, then someone is oppressing you but the oppressor will not be found. To dream of recovering from an illness, is to marry well. To dream of a restoration of health means that you will inherit money. To dream of detoxification means that you will suffer disappointment. To dream of an ear infection means nothing.
If you dream of an asthma attack, you will be placed in an uncomfortable position. If you dream of an asthma attack, your friends will betray you. If you dream of asbestosis, you will prevail by the skin of your teeth. To dream of contagion signifies nothing. To dream of tuberculosis signifies nothing. If you dream of cholera, you will experience terrible thirst. If you dream of leprosy, your wife will betray you. If you dream of a hospital, you may die.
If you dream of gaping wounds, you will suffer. If you dream of gaping wounds on someone else, they are morally corrupt. If you dream of gingivitis then people will speak ill of you. If you dream of an eye condition, then you are a coward and lack depth. If you dream of an ophthalmologist, then someone will provide you with good advice. To dream of a nurse signifies nothing. To dream of a syringe is death. To dream of death may be death. To dream of a dream of death is complicated.
It is from within the dream that Asclepius makes his powers manifest, from within the dream that the signs of salvation will be revealed. The dreamers who will wake, will relate the signs of their dreams to his priests and the priests shall prescribe the cure. Yet there are those dreamers who will wake and not remember the signs at all, or shall recite them garbled. They are the ones who are unworthy and it is better that they had not ever dreamt at all. No sacred dogs will lick their wounds and their children cannot be born through a caesarian section.
A few will lie, on the cold marble forever and never wake up. These are the ones who in their dreams, have been given by Aesclepius to drink the Gorgon’s blood, a present from Athena. If they drink of the blood taken from her left side, it is fatal poison. If they drink from the blood taken from her right side, their dead will return to life, though they shall suffer terrible headaches and they themselves will look as though they have been struck by a thunderbolt.
To dream of treatment is to aspire to everlasting hope. To dream of a cure is presumptuous. If your doctor brings you back from the dead, for money, he will surely die, for to dream of resurrection illustrates man’s ability to challenge the natural order that separates mortal men from the Gods.
If you dream of a serpent, there is healing. If the serpent is curled around the stick, then you have seen the Rod of Ascelpius and with that healing comes authority. To dream of a shed serpent skin is to conceive a child. If that serpent skin belongs to the Elaphe longissima, then your child shall have the buck teeth belonging to rodents. If the serpent is brazen, then the blessings of God are upon you and your illnesses shall be cured, but only if you have faith. To dream of someone laying their hands on you is nothing. To dream of attempting to heal someone is nothing. To dream of sewing a black arm on a white amputee is to aspire to sainthood, unless you take money for it.
Some of the dreamers shall dream of cures hanging in their brazen beds, from the icon of the One that cleaned the lepers, restored sight to the blind, returned hearing to the death, stopped haemorrhages and restored health and mobility to the lame and paralyzed. They will dream dreams of molten metal and assume the forms of eyes and hands and legs erstwhile afflicted. As the incense tarnishes their sheen, they are destined to oxidize beatifically, in the knowledge that it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. In their hours of repose, they wrestle angels on ladders.
When they wake, when they wake, there shall be no more illness, no more doctors. The old women will not tell their tales in their waking hours, nor rub their backs and toothless gums in agony and the oil that has sunk in the water, heavy with curse and disease, will poison the rose-bushes no more.

First published in NKEE on 9 July 2007

Monday, July 02, 2007


I first came across Sir Basil Zaharoff, director and chairman of Vickers Munitions, arguably one of the most nefarious and evil of Greeks ever to have blighted the face of the earth, in the guise of Basil Bazaroff, the unscrupulous and amoral arms-dealer who sells arms to two fictional Meso-American countries between whom he provokes war, in Herge’s Tintin Adventure, ‘The Broken Ear,’ as can be seen in the picture above. Years later, I would find him again in Freddy Germanos’ classic account of espionage, love and nationalism: ‘Tereza,’ where, thwarted in his own purposes, he hands over the hapless heroine Tereza out of spite, to the bestial lusts of members of the Turkish Republican Army. He was fated to pop up again, played by Leo McKern, (of Rumphole of the Bailey fame,) in the series Reilly, Ace of Spies and again, in Upton Sinclair’s ‘Lanny Budd’ series.
Zahroff’s life, though colourful, is an Odyssey of iniquity, a Babylon of self-interest and corruption. How one man can achieve so much and just what he could have done, had he, in Maxwell Smartian fashion, exercised his considerable power for good instead of evil, is the cognitive conclusion that vexes those cognizant of his sorry deeds, which arouse disgust but also furtive guilt-laden feelings of admiration for a consummate scam-artist.
Basil, a Greek, was born in Constantinople. His surname, Zaharoff was adopted when the family fled to Russia as a result of the anti-Greek Easter pogroms in 1849. By 1855, the family was back in Constantinople where they lived in the poor quarter of Tatavla where Basil was a street urchin.
Zaharoff’s first job was as a guide for the tourists to Galata, the prostitution district of Constantinople, helping his clients to find the forbidden pleasures that went beyond the bounds of normal prostitution. He was then to become a fireman. The firemen of Constantinople were famed not for extinguishing fires, but for rescuing the treasures of the rich for a healthy commission. Many also engaged in protection rackets and outright robbery. Basil then took on the job of a money changer. Legend has it that he would pass counterfeit currency to tourists who would not notice until they were safely on a boat steaming away from Constantinople.
He next appears in London in the midst of a controversy that had him in court over irregular commercial actions involving the export of certain goods from Constantinople to London. Released on the payment of £100 on condition that he pay restitution to the claimant, and remain within the jurisdiction of the court, he immediately went to Athens
Once there, Zaharoff was befriended by a political journalist Etienne Skouloudis. By a stroke of good fortune, another friend of Skouloudis, a Swedish captain, was leaving his job as representative of arms manufacturer Thorsten Nordenfelt for a more important posting. Skouloudis, a rising star in politics and was able to recommend Zaharoff to fill the vacancy. On 14 October 1877, Zaharoff was hired, embarking upon a spectacular career. The prevailing political and military circumstances involving the Balkan states, Turkey and Russia provided an excellent opportunity for the young salesman. Each state was ready to spend large, in order to proptect themsleves against the perceived aggressive intentions of its neighbours, in the global paranoia that anteceded the Berlin Agreement of 1878.
One of the most notable sales by Zaharoff was that of the Nordenfelt I, a steam-driven submarine. Though the major powers were not impressed by it, smaller nations interested by the prestige hankered after it. It was thus that, with a promise of liberal payment terms, Zaharoff sold the first model to Greece. He then convinced the Ottomans that the Greek submarine posed a threat and sold them two. After that, he persuaded the Russians that there was now a new significant threat on the Black Sea, and they bought two. None of these submarines ever saw battle. In a trial by the Turkish Navy, one of theirs attempted to fire a torpedo and became so unbalanced that it sank stern first.
Zaharoff’s next coup was the deliberate sbotaging of an exhibtion of the Maxim Gun. Infintely superior to Nordenfelt’s hand-cranked machine gun, Zaharoff was determined to obtain for himself, the sole right to purvey the Maxim Gun. Thus, at an exhibition in La Spezia, Italy, Maxim’s representatives did not show up; an unknown person had provided them a guided tour of La Spezia’s nocturnal establishments leaving them in no condition to go anywhere.
Some later, in Vienna, after shooting a few hundred rounds, Maxim’s apparatus became erratic then stopped altogether. When Maxim took the weapon apart to see what had happened, he discovered that it had been sabotaged. At a subsequent demonstration, an unknown person consulted a gathering of senior officers, convincing them that the workmanship required to produce such a marvellous weapon could only be done by hand, and that without the means for mass production Maxim could never produce the machine gun in sufficient quantities to satisfy the needs of a modern army. Maxim was beaten. He successfully sought a merger with Nordenfelt, with Zaharoff as the principal salesman at a fat commission rate. In 1890, the Maxim-Nordenfelt association broke up and Zaharoff chose to go with Maxim. With his commissions, Zaharoff bought shares in Maxim’s company until he was able to tell Maxim that he was no longer an employee but an equal shareholder.
By 1897, the Maxim company had become important enough that it received a buyout offer from Vickers, one of the then giants of the armaments industry. This involved substantial settlements in both cash and shares for Maxim and Zaharoff. From then until 1911, while Maxim’s business enthusiasm waned, Zaharoff’s enthusiasm and portfolio of Vickers shares grew. With Maxim’s retirement, Zaharoff joined the Vickers board of directors.
The first decade of the twentieth century ushered in a European Imperial Arms Race. Germany and Britain both saw an especial need for improved naval units. Vickers and Zaharoff were there, willing and able to accommodate both sides. After its disastrous defeat by Japan in 1905, Russia too had a need to rebuild its navy, but the nation was beset by a wave of chauvinism that required a domestic industry for the rebuilding. Zaharoff’s response was to build a huge Russian arms production complex at Tsaritsin, as a subsidiary of Vickers. Zaharoff’s adeptness at intriguing is exemplified by a 1907 letter,written by the Paul von Gontard factory (a secretly controlled Vickers company in Germany) to a Vickers associate in Paris recommending that press releases go out to the French press with suggestions that the French improve their military to meet the threats of military build-up in Germany. These French newspaper articles were read into the record of the Reishstag, and were followed by a vote to increase military spending.
In the years immediately preceding World War I, Zaharoff’s fortunes grew in other areas to support his arms business. He purchased the Union Pariesenne Bank in order to better able to control financing arrangements. By gaining control of the daily newspaper, Excelsior, he could be assured of editorials favorable to the arms industry. Some time after, the French President Raymond Poincaré signed a decree making him a commander of the Legion of Honour.
Vickers of Britain alone would, during the course of the war, produce 4 ships of the line, 3 cruisers, 53 submarines, 3 auxiliary vessels, 62 light vessels, 2,328 cannon, 8,000,000 tonnes of steel ordnance, 90,000 mines, 22,000 torpedoes, 5,500 airplanes and 100,000 machine guns. By 1915, Zaharoff had close ties with both Lloyd George and Frenh PM, Aristide Briand. It is reported that, on the occasion of one visit with Briand, Zaharoff quietly left an envelope on Aristide Briand’s desk; the envelope contained a million francs for war widows, one if his few gestures of generosity.
One of Zaharoff’s tasks during the war was to ensure that Greece became involved in the war on the Allied side. A task seeminly impossible since King Constantine was brother-in-law to the Kaiser. Setting up a press agency in Greece to spread news favorable to the allies led, within a few months, to Constantine’s being deposed in favour of Prime Minister Venizelos. With the war’s end, The Times estimated that Zaharoff had sacrificed £50 million for the Allied cause, ignoring that this was but a small fraction of his commissions. He was made a baronet, as Sir Basil Zaharoff.
In the years that followed, Zaharoff involved himself in the affairs of the lesser European powers. In particular, he convinced Venizelos to defend itself against the insurgent Turkish republicans of Anatolia, sparking off the Asia Minor expedition. In the elections that followed, Constantine’s loyalists trounced Venizelos, but Zaharoff insinuated himself into the king’s good graces, persuading him to continue the war. At the same time, he was secretly supplying Mustafa Kemal with arms.
Much more than being just a petty arms-dealer, Zaharoff had immense commercial and financial influence in Europe. In October 1920, he became involved in the incorporation of a company that was a predecessor to oil giant, British Petroleum. His association with Louis II of Monaco led to his purchase of the debt-ridden Société des Bains de Mer which ran Monte Carlo’s famed casino, and the principal source of revenue for the country. He succeeded in making the casino profitable again. At the same time, Zaharoff prevailed upon French President Clemenceau to ensure that the Treaty of Versailles included protection of Monaco’s rights as established in 1641.
Fascinatingly, Zaharoff’s decline seems to have commenced only when he gave way to sentimentality and human-like emotions. In September 1924, the 75-year-old Zaharoff was married for the first time to the love of his life, Maria del Pilar who he had met some three decades earlier on the Orient Express. Zaharoff was smitten from the beginning, but she was already married to the unstable Duke of Marchena. Despite the fact that the insane Duke was soon confined to an asylum, the Catholic Maria would hear nothing of divorce and waited for the Duke’s death. Eighteen months after the marriage, Maria succumbed to an infection.
With that, Zaharoff began a liquidation of his business assets, and undertook to compose his memoirs. When the memoirs were completed, they were stolen by a valet who had perhaps hoped to make his fortune by revealing embarrassing secrets about the greats of Europe. The police found the memoirs and returned them to Zaharoff. On payment of a cheque to the policemen, Zaharoff re-acquired the manuscript, which he then consigned to the fireplace. The remainder of his days were passed in friendless solitude and he died in 1936.
A remarkable but thoroughly flawed man, this ignominious Greek’s legacy can be summed up in his own words, as they appear Freddy Germanos’ Tereza: “My dear, I am much more evil than you could ever know.”


First published in NKEE on 2 July 2007