Saturday, December 24, 2011


At the end of the cold war, when walls, barriers and ideologies came crashing down, the eminent social thinker Francis Fukuyama described the new world order as " the end of History." Simply put, the failure of utopian ideologies throughout the ages signifies a triumph of liberalism and laissez faire economics as the most efficient and enduring systems to regulate society. Further than promoting individualism and self-interest, no improvements may be made. Humanity has reached its apex.
Far removed from whether indeed the triumph of self-serving fascistocapitalism is a desirable phenomenon in itself, and certainly the collapse of the sub-prime mortgage market certainly indicates otherwise, the circularity of time defeats Fukuyama's contention. Much as the mosquito continuously circles a light globe, so too does humanity revolve itself around the pursuit of the ideal. Occasionally, as with the Minoans, the Romans or the Babylonians, human endeavours reach an apex before they come crashing down, awaiting a new phoenix, in the form of the Ionians, the Renaissance man or the Mujaheddin to re-light the pyre of "progress." This is all very Heracleitan. In accordance with that ancient philosopher's theories, all matter exists in an essential form, the outward manifestation of which is constantly changing and transforming. If we view the concepts humanity has been grappling with since the extrication of their minds from the bestial fetters of instinct, they are in essence, the same, given a polish or pruning here or there, changing their veneer and in pursuit of which, civilizations perish.
It is therefore important to have a conception of the circularity of the human condition, especially if in accordance with Fukuyama, we have come to yet another impasse and are precariously perched upon the periphery of yet another abyss. It provides us not only with unique insight into our plight, but also consolation that we have been here before many times and in the words of Gloria Gaynor, we will survive.
Unfortunately, western conceptions of time are linear. Thus, the past does in some way impact on today, but in today's consumerist world of fast-food and drive by experience, what has passed is past. We focus on the present and then embrace tomorrow in a state of blissful ignorance. However, time is circular, the past, present and future exist simultaneously but sadly, knowledge of history in the West is not seen as integral, but as peripheral to one's existence. This is why barely any Australian schoolchildren know who their first prime minister was, while in a recent survey of Greek high school students, most believed 28 October 1940 marked the anniversary of the Greek Revolution.
As Lewis Lapham points out, the study of history furnishes what Dionysius of Halicarnassus praised as "philosophy learned by example." It instills a sense of humour, wards off what Hamlet decried as "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" and through analysis of similar past situations, know what to expect for the present and future.
Indeed, people unfamiliar with the world in time find themselves marooned in the ceaselessly dissolving and therefore terrifying present, divorced from both the future and the past and surrounded by a siege of images in the news. The mass media promote the impression that urgent issues, such as the various Middle East imbroglios or the Global Financial Crisis arrive like monstrous apparitions, uninvited and unannounced from the four horseman of the apocalypse. Those devoid of history are at a loss to comprehend how and why events come to pass. Not knowing their place in the cosmos, they become an ephemeral audience for three-day wonders and one line jokes. Here today, gone tomorrow.
How tragic it is that people will themselves to a status as orphans. Deprived of the feeling of kinship with a larger self and unable to fix their position in time, they do not know the story in old books is actually their own. How then can they make sense of the context of the presence or measure the emptiness or cynicism of society or marshal the strength of their minds against what G K Chesterton called "the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to walk around?"
Rather, devoid of a conception of their identity, they confine themselves to a wraith-world of shadow in which reality remains elusive, a world in which they do not partake and upon which they will leave not a trace.
This year has been a year of intense turmoil and suffering. In particular, our country of origin has seen its economy collapse, its society erupt in protest and its example held up to ridicule for the rest of the world. Yet all these things have befallen Greece before, and largely, for the same reasons. It is for the Greeks to search within the detritus of their past in order to understand the causes of their current plight. As the Archbishop of Albania and thinker Anastasios stated in a recent message to the Greek people, we all need to look within ourselves and our history in order to find not only the causes for the current condition, but also the moral and ethical building blocks, in the form of ideals, to overcome it, triumphantly.
Similarly, this year has seen the toppling of three oligarchic regimes in the Arab world and the attempted toppling of another two. Yet the origins of the Arab Spring lie in the clash between orientalism, colonialism, imperialism, socialism and Islamic fundamentalism, which has its origin in geo-political realities that go back at least as far as the Roman and Parthian Empires. Analysts and global leaders would do well to plumb the depths of these realities if they truly are committed to solving such problems and putting an end to so much suffering, for, and especially so in Egypt, where the large Christian minority is facing daily persecution of such a vicious and primitive nature that it would put the worst depredations of the Ottoman Empire to shame, it appears that the problems of corruption and intolerance, continue to persist.
Do we bet on a horse without reading the form guide? Possibly, but we should be stupid if we did so. History is the form guide of life. And we are all co-authors. The Afghan and Iraq Wars, and the short-lived triumph of reactionary capitalism within the fertile soil of globalisation reap a bloody harvest. For two hundred or so years repressive geopolitical theories have extended their sway over the world with the sole aim of combating the spirit of Enlightenment. Let us pray therefore that history is not at an end, for it protects the future against the past and that the coming year ushers in a period of understanding, peace and humanity. To all of you, avid readers of the Diatribe, we wish, forst having thanked you for your patience and condescension throughout the year, Καλά Χριστούγεννια και ο,τι καλύτερο για τον καινούργιο χρόνο.


First published in NKEE on Saturday, 24 December 2011

Saturday, December 17, 2011


It is a little known fact that Greek civilization has its own counterpart to the Taj Mahal. Unlike Shah Jahan’s gleaming edifice, ours lies in ruins. Again unlike Shah Jahan, whose edifice is a testament to his love and grief for his beloved wife Mumtaz and which, serving as her final resting place, is but a glorified tomb, Antigoneia, now in Albania, was a living, bustling city, constructed by the Epirot king Pyrrhus, as a gesture of love towards his wife Antigone, in the third century BC.
Perched high above the valley of the river Drinos, directly opposite the stone city of Argyrokastro, Antigoneia, commands the main artery towards Illyria to the north and the rest of Epirus to the south. Today, all that remains of it are a few shattered columns, and the base of some massive stone walls, for this was one of the seventy Epirot cities destroyed by the Roman legions of Aemilius Paulus in 167 BC. Scratch in the dirt however, and you uncover mosaics of breathtaking poignancy, sporting Greek inscriptions. These have been allowed to moulder away among the silent grasses and the few surviving trees, felled by the order of the Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha, who did not want Antigoneia being used as a place of pilgrimage or entertainment by the Greeks of the region, and so all and sundry may loot and pillage what little remains to tell the tale of this most ancient Greek city, as well.
Some kilometres away, perched high upon a hill in the verdant district of Delvino, lies another ruined city of Pyrrhus, Phoenice, the capital of the ancient Epirot tribe of the Chaonians and one of the northern most archeological site of the classical period. From the second half of the fifth century BC, an acropolis was erected on the site, while at the end of the next century, Pyrrhus expanded the city’s walls, which consisted of massive blocks up to three metres thick, and made the city his capital. Strolling about the dusty archeological site now, consisting of the base of Pyrrhus’ massive walls, a few lintels and columns overgrown with grass, it is difficult to imagine that this was the birthplace of federalism in Northern Greece. When in 233 BC, Queen Deidamia II was assassinated, the Epirotes abolished the monarchy, and uniting the major Epirote Tribes of the Chaonians, Molossians and Thesprotians, instituted a system of federal government known as the Epirote League.
Squatting on the dusty ground of what today is a sleepy backwater, to get a closer view of the intricate dry wall construction of all that remains of Phoenice’s walls, it is not easy to conjure images of these walls being manned and then surrendered by Gaulish mercenaries to the megalomanic Illyrian Queen Teuta, only to be reconquered by the Epirotes. These are the stones that bear mute testimony to the Epirotes’ valiant attempts to navigate their way through the tortuous waters of Illyrian rapacity and Roman expansionism, vainly trying to preserve their independence, only to lose it and face destruction at the end of the Third Macedonian War. One can gain a lasting impression of the destruction caused by the Romans who levelled the city by those same stones, which have largely lain where they were overthrown, in a manner akin to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, ever since.
The enormity of some crimes are too heinous to bear even for their perpetrators and the following centuries do not reveal strong traces of a Roman presence in Phoenice and Antigoneia. Granted, the Emperor Justinian did construct fortifications on a hill adjacent to Phoenice, and during the fifth and sixth centuries, the city was listed a see of a bishopric, hosting a number of churches, a baptistery and a basilica. However, subsequent to this time, the city vanishes, as the urban centre of the area was moved to the Mesopotamos, a vibrant centre of Hellenism to the present day.
The existence of the ruins at Phoenice and Antigoneia, attesting to the antiquity of the Greek presence there, have proved to be a headache for subsequent rulers. During the formal excavations of the area in 1924-1928 by an Italian Archaeological Mission, which was a political tool for Mussolini’s nationalistic ambitions in Albania, Italian archaeologists, led by the fascist prehistorian Luigi Ugolini, were dismayed to have found only a few “Illyrian” artefacts, as this was inimical to their desire to exploit Albanian nationalist sentiment in the region, at the expense of the Greek ethnic consciousness of the majority of the local population. Similarly, a survey conducted by Albanian archaeologists Bace and Bushati in 1989, glossed over the archaeology of the classical period, reporting Hellenistic domiciles, Roman houses and drawing implausible parallels between excavated dwellings and medieval Albanian ones. They also found an “egalitarian” nature among the excavated dwellings, in line with the philosophy of “self-reliance” propagated by the Albanian communist state during that period.
Even today, and despite Phoenice and Antigoneia falling squarely with the Albanian recognized “Greek minority zone,” the state experience immense difficulty in accepting that the archeological sites that pepper the landscape and are allowed to erode away, are of Greek origin. Some of their attempts to prove otherwise, such as the annual Festival of Pagan Rites and Popular Games in Antigoneia, involving rather sad people pretending to be Illyrians, though no one really knows just what Illyrians were like, are rather amusing. What is more insidious however, is the deliberate vandalism of the historic sites in displays of unrestrained racial intolerance.
The perpetrators of the disgusting act of philistinism that saw the words “Greece Fuck” spray-painted upon the ruins of Phoenice in recent weeks speaks volumes as to how Albanians view the ruins that their government would have them believe are Illyrian. Casting aside for a moment as spurious the argument that the grammatical construction employed in the slogan is an imperative and that the authors are thus exhorting the Greek population to copulate, presumably in order to arrest their declining birthrate, it is clear that the authors of this act of cultural barbarism do not identify these archaeological remains as forming part of their culture or identity. Nor do they see them as articles of integral historical importance to the land in which they slumber, and thus, worthy of respect. Instead, they see them as the hated and unwanted remnants of an equally hated and unwanted people, which should be defiled and reviled, as having no place in the Albanian national narrative.
The Greeks of Northern Epirus, an autochthonous population who form the largest concentration of Greeks contiguous to the Greek border, are used to such vilification. For years they have endured policies that denied them their names, language, religion and customs. Now, they are being denied their right to their own history by Balkan bigots who have difficulty accepting that they are ruling a grudging population who was subjected to their depredations by force, as well as understanding that cultural and historic diversity and pluralism enrich and benefit societies.
There are no prizes for having a more ancient lineage in an area. However, for the impoverished and often harassed Greeks of Northern Epirus, their historical identity is, in many cases, their sole source of pride. Yet they themselves do not deny that the ancient monuments of Phoenice and Antigoneia do not belong to them, but to the whole world as a lasting testament to mankind’s ingenuity. They deserve protection, not desecration. To you, o criminals who have defiled the history of the land you profess to love, these words from Dean Koontz: “We’re not here to leave a mark, bro… We’re here to revel in the world, to soak in the awesomeness of it, to enjoy the ride. The world’s maximum perfect as it is, beauty from horizon to horizon. Any mark any of us tries to leave- hell its only graffitti. Any mark anyone leaves is no better than vandalism.” And in case you are asking, no, Greece does not want to copulate with you.


First published in NKEE on Saturday, 17 December 2011

Saturday, December 10, 2011


In the classic Greek coming of age novel "Leonis' Diary" (Το ημερολ όγιο του Λεωνή), Giorgos Theotokas paints a cross-generational picture of Greeks of pre-First World War Constantinople, encouraged by their compatriots success in the Balkan Wars, taking the final step in totally rejecting their status as Ottoman subjects and their place in the racially and religiously stratified Ottoman Empire. Among the young Leonis' classmates, this is manifested by one of them, Menos, refusing to learn Turkish or participate in Turkish class, despite this affecting his grades on his report card. In another vivid scene, Leonis' classmates, in an act of defiance against their overlords and by way of emancipation through the assertion of their own political and ethnic identity, refuse to cheer and chant pro-Ottoman and German slogans, on the occasion of the visit of the German Kaiser to the City. By rejecting the paraphernalia of propaganda, Leonis' classmates signified that they no longer felt bound by or part of the State that claimed a proprietary interest in them, while Leonis, more cautious, mused that the Greek nation was one that was "newly impoverished."
States employ a multitude of flags and symbols designed to invoke a feeling of unity that will underpin and reinforce its guiding ideologies. One of the most paramount of these, is the national anthem, a patriotic musical composition that evokes and eulogizes the history, traditions and struggles of a people, recognized or instituted by a nation's government as its official song, or by convention, through the use of the people. Thus, the «Υπερμάχω Στρατηγώ,» an Orthodox Hymn to the Theotokos as Defender General composed during Byzantine times, as far back as 676, in thanksgiving for her miraculous deliverance of the people of Constantinople from siege has been chanted by Greeks in times of delivery from evil ever since and has widely been held to be an unofficial anthem of the Greek people.
Despite this most antique pedigree, national anthems are relatively recent inventions, rising to prominence in post-Napoleonic Europe in the nineteenth century, though some others predate this period, in origin, if not in institution, such as the Wilhelmus, written in 1568 during the Dutch Revolt but only officially adopted in 1932. Spain's national anthem, the Royal March, dates from 1770 and was adopted in 1780, while the Marseillaise, which in turn inspired the "Thourios," Rigas Pheraios' rousing call to action, was adopted in 1795 in France. Serbia, interestingly enough, was the first Balkan nation to have a national anthem, in 1804.
Despite the popularity of "Thourios," its universalist and inclusionary sentiments, calling upon all oppressed Balkan Christians of diverse nationalities to unite, could not render it an appropriate propaganda vehicle for an ethnically exclusionist nation state. As a result, Dionysios Solomos' 1823 Hymn to Liberty was adopted in 1865, as Greece's national anthem, all one hundred and fifty eight stanzas of it, making it the longest national anthem in the world. Funnily enough, there exist two choral versions of the anthem, both written by Corfiot operatic composer Nikolaos Mantzaros, a longer and a shorter, both of which are relatively uninspiring and serve to render trivial or mind-numbingly banal, the rousing and moving sentiments of Solomos' masterpiece. Had the Hymn been set to the stirring triumphal march of Verdi's Aida (Egypt's anthem under the khedives), chances are our nation would have been way cooler.
Greece's founding myth, as conveniently contained within its national anthem is that of the necessity of armed struggle by a renascent people against tyranny, in defence of liberty. Australia's national anthem on the other hand, written in 1878 but only adopted in 1984, is an adaptation of a paean, penned by Peter McCormick, celebrating the bounty of Australia and the courage of the British who established themselves there, and inviting further colonization by "loyal sons". In its current form, it still celebrates the bounty of Australia, while letting people who have come "across the seas" know that "we've boundless plains to share." Considering successive governments' immigration policies, perhaps a footnote should be added to this stanza, noting that the verse does not apply to boat people. Either that, or an amendment such as "for those who've come across the seas, in an above board and legal manner pursuant to the Migration Amendment (Excision from Migration Zone) Act 2001," is in order. This notwithstanding, it is evident from the lyrics, that Australia's founding myth is that it is a land of opportunity, in which everyone may have a share.
Both the lyrics and the melody of the anthem have been criticized as being dull and unendearing to the Australian people. In 2011, for example, National Party Senator Sandy Macdonald opined that Advance Australia Fair is so boring that the nation risks singing itself to sleep with boring music and words impossible to understand. One person however, who does not agree, is former NKEE journalist Dimitris Tsahouridis, who is wont to burst into impromptu renditions of the anthem in public places. Another is our very own Victorian multicultural minister, Nicholas Kotsiras, who believes that schoolchildren should sing the national anthem once a week as part of an "Australian education" program which he says will help combat racism. According to the minister, singing the anthem would not be divisive or ostracise children from migrant families. Quite the contrary, it would, according to his view, be instrumental in "keeping our cultural identity but also uniting us as Victorians, as Australians." As such, the signing of the anthem is designed to make children from different backgrounds feel like they are welcome and that in turn also prevents extremism from taking hold.
The minister should be applauded for his initiative. In a country that openly accepts people of all walks of life and religious persuasions, there is always a risk that members of society, who are limited as to their ability to integrate owing to economic, linguistic or religious factors will feel increasingly isolated and ghettoized as a result. The ensuing frustration could further inhibit their successful integration into what is a remarkably tolerant and egalitarian society and limit their ability to espouse or pay lip service to these values. The recent objection by a Muslim family to an application by a Middle Eastern Christian church to construct a place of worship on land it owns in the western suburbs, on the basis that it did not want its "children growing up near a church, as this is offensive," is a case in point. All Australian children need to know that they have a stake in their country, just as all Australian children need to respect and cherish their counterparts of diverse backgrounds. Tolerance, understanding and celebration of diversity are values that must be taught, if they are to be respected and espoused.
Unlike other anthems, which focus on violence, racial superiority and culturally or racially exclusivist ideals, the Australian national anthem provides a blank canvas of opportunity for all to share. It neither proscribes, nor imposes any values other than self-respect. Nor does it demand that non-Anglo-Celtic Australians divest themselves of their cultural and linguistic heritage. Instead, it embraces these and the minister should thus not be pilloried for his attempts to utilize it in order to foster a sense of community among schoolchildren.
In a post-nationalistic Western world, we may be forgiven for being smug about the need for outdated national anthems and other banal nationalistic paraphernalia. However, various instances of outward rejection of Australian values of tolerance and mutual respect by isolated individuals and communities should not be overlooked, and steps taken to address these, not by denigrating them but instead, by causing them to focus on what unites us, rather than what divides us. Though seemingly trivial, Minister Kotsiras' approach is a step in the right direction. We may applaud Ira Glasser's sentiments to the effect that: "You will be pleased to know I stand obediently for the national anthem, though of course I would defend your right to remain seated should you so decide," as long as the anthem itself is respected, lest we, like the poet Keats lament of our society: "Thy plaintive anthem fades/ Past near meadows/Up the hill-side; and now tis buried deep:/Was it a vision or a waking dream?/Fled is that music: - Do I wake or sleep?"


First published in NKEE on Saturday 10 December 2011

Saturday, December 03, 2011


When I was young, my grandfather would lead an annual pilgrimage to Mount Martha on the Mornington Peninsula, in avid and singular pursuit of his one thing needful: pine resin. My father would drive him up to the mountain and he would wander through the pines, touching their trunks, appraising them with the eye of a worldly connoisseur choosing which fish would be sacrificed to the demands of his palette in a Chinese restaurant and then move on.
Perched high above the breeze-ruffled bay, the air of Mount Martha would invariably be thick with tiny forest flies. My role in the solemn procession was to lunge at them maniacally with my hands in an quixotic attempt to swat them. Up above us, Bunya pines, quite distinct from the Aleppo Pines of my grandfather's homeland on the island of Samos, would swarm over the bright mountainside, greedy to drink the vaults of milky light above.
The task of pine resin extraction is easy enough for a sanguinary pursuit: First, find your tree, then make a small cut in the tree with a double-headed pick, then knock in a collecting tray just beneath the wound. Slowly, inexorably, the pierced tree will bled its sorrow and its collective memory of all its martyred brethren into said tray in the form of a colourless resin, only to heal within a fortnight. The resin in turn forms sticky white lumps in the warm air, reminiscent of cake icing. Should the perpetrators of this heinous violation require further resin, then they may return three weeks later, making a new cut just above the old one, and repeating the process. After a while, the tree looks like a laddered stocking, but it continues to grow regardless, in silent protest.
Retsina, is the by-product of the exquisite marriage of the fundamental essence of the pine tree with white wine. Small pieces of pine resin are added to the grape must during fermentation. The pieces stay mixed with the must, and elute an oily resin film on the liquid surface. When the wine is then siphoned off the lees, it is clarified and the solids and surface film are removed. The finished golden gleaming product, in our case, would then be reposited in vast oak barrels that loomed menacingly in my grandfather's gloomy garage, forming the background, and quite often the subject for some of my more vivid childhood nightmares.
On the whole, western wine sophisticates are meant to abjure retsina as a dull wine vulgarly adulterated. I, on the other hand revere it as Olympian nectar. After all, one can sometimes have a surfeit of sophistication, and a tumblerful (for it is heresy to imbibe retsina from a wineglass) of retsina is an unrivalled antidote to the dreary quest after ultra-refined superlatives and contrived nuance.
Retsina ventilates the digestive tract, settles the stomach and fumigates the spirits. No other beverage connects us quite as faithfully to dinner with Plutarch, Theophrastus and - who knows? - perhaps even wily old Homer himself, parched after an evening's firelit recitation, fighting over a flagon with my taciturn grandfather.
Not only is retsina most ancient in provenance, it is, in keeping with its gloriously acrid taste, an untameable, revolutionary wine, the first blow of resistance of a freedom-loving people against the unspeakably unutterable depredations of Western Imperialism, the tyranny of domestic bliss or any other type oppression one cares to mention.
My grandfather was a case in point. After dinner, my garrulous grandmother having ceased relating sundry snippets of news, he would often remove himself mysteriously from the table, without ever offering a hint as to his imminent destination. One time, I followed him secretly, down the back door steps and through the garden, into the garage. There he procured from a drawer a plastic siphon, which he attached to one of the barrels and seated upon a stool, he placed the other end of the tube between his lips and began to draw the liquid gold into his mouth with gusto. Though young, I instinctively knew that I had chanced upon a holy mystery of pleasure and that to impinge or otherwise disturb its proceedings would be tantamount to sacrilege, so I made myself scarce, only to return an hour later, worried that my grandfather had failed to emerge from his hermitage.
I found him on the floor, tube fallen from his mouth, stool overturned, clutching his head in his hands, weeping. Terrified, I ran back into the house yelling: "Γιαγιά, γιαγιά! Something has happened to παππού. He is sitting on the ground in the garage crying." "Hmph!" my grandmother snorted. "Don't fret. There is nothing wrong with him. He's probably drunk. This is what he always does. He goes down there, starts drinking, and then he remembers his father and his brothers, and only God knows what else and he starts bawling his eyes out. It's nothing. Pay him no mind." I did not know then what my shy and impenetrable grandfather had seen as a young boy during the Asia Minor catastrophe, nor the gruesome brutality of man that he experienced in the mountains of Northern Epirus during the Second World War. Nonetheless, I don't believe that I ever loved him more than I did at that moment, when I determined that retsina was the drink that defied the world and memory and would be my preferred beverage of resistance from that day hence.
While scholars agree that retsina was been made continuously for at least two thousand years, opinions differ as to why. Some would have us believe that it originated from the practice of sealing wine amphorae with Aleppo resin, in order to render them impermeable and thus not liable to spoil. I would rather render credible the stories that claim that the Roman sots who invaded Greece plundered the people's wine. The angry Greeks turned to infusing their wine with pine resin as a way of extending their stores and deterring their thirsty conquerors. That the Romans were turned off by such blatant acts of defiance can be evidenced by Columella, who in his work De Re Rustica, described the different types of resin that could be used in wine but recommended that the practice not be used for the best wines, as this created an unpleasant flavour. His contemporary, Pliny the Elder, having lived among the Greeks of Magna Graecia, however, did recommend the addition of resin to fermenting wine must, in his work Naturalis Historia.
On the whole, westerners did not embrace retsina and their prejudice against the retsina-sipping easterners of Byzantium even took centre stage in the writings of the historian Liutprand of Cremona, who in his Relatio de Legatione Constantinopolitana complained that, when sent in 968 to Constantinople to arrange a marriage between the daughter of Emperor Romanos and the future Holy Roman Emperor Otto II, he was treated rudely, because he was served goat and an "undrinkable" wine, mixed with resin and pitch. Yet the final anti-western credentials of the fluid are certainly proved by the fact that an excess of undiluted retsina is said to have proved mortal for the crusading kings Eric I of Denmark and Sigurd I of Norway.
A few years ago, I went to visit my grandfather's brother in law. Hearty and hale in his nineties, he immediately produced a bottle of retsina and bade me drink. To my everlasting shame, I confessed to him that for some years, whenever any form of alcohol would touch my lips, I would be afflicted with a debilitating migraine and would thus regrettably abstain. He shuddered: "Are you sure?" His brow, furrowed in perplexity, he remained silent for a long while. Then, summoning up his courage, he asked: "Pardon me for saying so, but could this be a psychological problem? It just isn't natural for you not to drink retsina. Your grandfather drank it, so does your father. Maybe you should seek help. It just doesn't make sense."
What does not make sense, is being denied communion in a beverage that constitutes the collective memory of an unbroken succession of all the male members of my grandfather's family. Nonetheless, completely dry and acerbic, I still relish the whisper of the pine tree in our wine, and cling to the memory of defiant Greeks seeking respite from the bitterness of existence and domination millenia ago, all with the same cooling draught.


First published in NKEE on Saturday 3 December 2011