Saturday, October 29, 2016


In 1960, Warren Cowgill theorized that the strange, un-Indo-European οὐχί, from which the modern όχι is derived, stems from an early form of proto-Greek: “ne hoyu kwid,” a double negative like the French “ne….pas..” meaning: “not in this lifetime.”

The Greek attitude to the negative is thus subtle and nuanced, given than it confers a temporal quality to the absolute; it is given a duration, whether this is the span of a person’s life or beyond. As such, the Greek OXI, by its very nature, proclaims that it is by no means immutable, and is subject to change and review, depending on seasonal availability and a host of other factors affecting supply.

This is the reason why, during the crucial points in Greek history in which a negative was offered, it never actually took the form of the word OXI. Take for example, the exhortation by the invading Persians to the Greeks to lay down their arms, just before the battle of Thermopylae. Rather than a straight negative, Spartan King Leonidas, offered instead, an aorist active participle in the perfective aspect: Μολών Λαβέ, meaning, Peter Russell Clarkean fashion, “Come and Get It.” The Persians duly did so, proving Leonidas right in a manner that could not have been possible, if his response had been a mere OXI.

A similar Μολών Λαβέ was offered to British colonial troops by EOKA second in command Grigoris Afxentiou, when, cornered in his hideout near Machairas Monastery in Cyprus, he was asked to surrender. The civilized British proceeded to set fire to his hideout and roast him to death, corroborating Afxentiou’s assumption that they would not take a mere ‘no” for an answer.


Byzantine OXI’s on the other hand, are incredibly long winded, being full of sentences that self-embellish, only to break themselves upon the shores of their own classical allusions as their contrived structure irrigates the placid fountains of their syntax. Thus, when enjoined by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II to surrender Constantinople to him, the last Emperor of Byzantium, Constantine XI Palaeologos, deigned not to answer monolectically. Instead, where a simple OXI would have sufficed, the Emperor responded: “Giving you though the city depends neither on me nor on anyone else among its inhabitants; as we have all decided to die with our own free will and we shall not consider our lives.” Some historians posit that the Empire gained an additional two days of existence as the Ottoman dragomans attempted to decipher just what it was that the Emperor meant.

Equally loquacious, but infinitely more poetic, was the form of OXI offered to the Turks by the hero of the Greek Revolutionary War Athanasios Diakos. By the time of his martyrdom, Diakos was already as seasoned naysayer, legend maintaining that he responded to the amorous proposals of a Turkish officer, visiting the monastery in which he was serving, not with a simple ‘no,’ but rather, by the physical act of killing him. Thus, when captured and encouraged to spare himself by embracing Islam, Diakos, instead of a dry “OXI,” was able to immediately offer up a negative of Palaeologian length, in perfect 15-syllable demotic form, without even flinching: “Go, get lost, you apostates and your religion. I was born and Greek, I shall die a Greek.” ("Πάτε κι εσείς κ΄ η πίστις σας μουρτάτες να χαθείτε. Εγώ Γραικός γεννήθηκα, Γραικός θέλ΄ αποθάνω....) Significantly, he chose not, in his final hour, to call himself, as is the fashion among Melbournian Greeks anxious to prove their patriotic credentials these days, a Hellene. Now if being Greek is good enough for someone who can compose poetry in perfect meter while being roasted to his death, (led to the instrument of his martyrdom, he remarked, again in meter, “Look at the time Death chose to take me, now that the branches are flowering, and the earth sends forth grass” -a powerful metaphor for the regenesis of an enslaved nation) it is certainly good enough for me.

Greek Dictator Ioannis Metaxas’ purported OXI, which the Greek people commemorate in Australia every 28 October, through the ritual mocking of the physical, sexual and mental prowess of Italian Australians, (going so far as to make gross generalisations about the Italian race altogether, which is counterintuitive, given that Greek-Australians generally consider all Italian-Australians to be lapsed Greeks, as encapsulated by the maxim: μία φάτσα, una razza), was, following established precedent, not monolectic. In a marked departure from hallowed tradition, it was not even Greek. Instead, when the Italian envoy presented a thoroughly disgruntled, pyjama-clad Metaxas with Mussolini’s demand that Greece surrender to him, various militarily strategic positions, Metaxas chose to respond in French, with a not so resounding: “Alors, c’est la guerre,” (So, its war).

Undoubtedly, it was the retouching of this simple statement into a brief but indomitable OXI (facilitated by the fact that the technology of the time did not permit the Italian envoy to a) video Metaxas’ reaction with his phone and b) upload it onto youtube), that galvanized an entire nation into a remarkable fight for freedom and inspired them to achieve the impossible: the repelling of the invader. In such a retouching, a powerful myth was born, one whose legacy endures to the present day.

Consequently, it was the power of this myth, the myth of the grand negative, that Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras sought to subvert to his own ends, when, last year, he called the Helladites to referendum. Flipping the legacy of Constantine Palaeologus on its head, it was not the answer, but the referendum question, which assumed an uncanny Byzantine form: “Should the agreement plan submitted by the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund to the Eurogroup of 25 June 2015, and comprised of two parts which make up their joint proposal, be accepted?” Again, in a radical break with millennia of Greek history, the suggested responses to the question neither included: “Oh well, its war,” nor “Come and Get It,” nor an admonition to prepare the barbeque, the rumour that former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis offered to submit himself to fiscal waterboarding on behalf of the Greek people, while simultaneously offering economic witticisms in meter to an ecstatic, self-lubricating Phillip Adams on Late Night Live, if only the Troika would let Greece breathe, having only just recently been debunked. Instead, the Helladites (and their apodemic cousins, living moments of similar grandeur via facebook and puerile protests in the cities of their abode) were led to think by their leader that they must partake of a Metaxas moment and vote OXI.

Thus, sixty-one percent of the Helladites, conflating Greece’s desperate hours with those of 1940, voted for an OXI of their own. Soon after, Alexis Tsipras and his government, completely ignored that OXI, signaling their adherence to the memorandum they had asked their people to reject.

This marks a historic watershed in the history of Greek negatives. For it suggests that Greek negatives can be rendered non-existent through non-recognition. Consider the impact of Diakos’ sacrifice, if, upon having delivered his poem to his captors, excoriating them and their religion, the Turks had, instead of taken him at his word, responded, “well you’re a Muslim anyway.” Quite possibly, this is the reason why the prudent Greeks of yore avoided using the term OXI in the first place, anticipating the semantic reforms of Tsipras, as arguably, did the Lord in the Gospel of Matthew, when he stated: “But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.”

In imposing his semantic progression upon the diachronic linguistics of the Greek language, is Tsipras, in rendering OXI redundant merely adhering to a hidden clause within the Bailout Agreement that provides for the eradication of dissent and thought? Further, is Tsipras, in fact, the Troika’s Orwellian O’Brien, tasked with the elimination of all words from the Greek language that inhibit compliance with lending criteria, starting with the most potent, the most enduring, OXI?

“Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thought-crime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it…Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller…”

When all is lost, salvation appears in the form of Sabaton, the Swedish Heavy Metal Band, who in their song “Coat of Arms,” seek to remind the Greek people, of the glories of negativity as well as the fact that while the enemies, of yesteryear charged from the hills, today they charge from behind the counter, in the form of bank fees: “At dawn envoy arrives, morning of October 28th/"No day" proven by deed/ Descendants of Sparta, Athens and Crete/Look north, ready to fight/Enemies charge from the hills/ To arms, facing defeat/There's no surrender, there's no retreat.”
Until next time then, OXI, and we bloody mean it.

First published in NKEE on 29 October 2016

Saturday, October 22, 2016


Whereas in the Poseidonians, the Greek poet Cavafy portrays a group of Greeks on the verge of assimilation aping old customs without knowing exactly what they signify, (an immensely strong metaphor of the apodemic condition) in his poem, “Of the Jews” (50AD), Cavafy paints the picture of a beautiful male, in the Wildean sense, not so much caught between two cultures, as in the process of feeling guilt for adopting one, new, exciting and catering to his sense of aesthetic, while discarding that belonging to his ancestors. That process is not without guilt, as can be seen below:


“Ianthes, son of Antonius, was beautiful like Endymion;

a painter and a poet, a runner and a thrower of the disc;

of a family with a leaning for the Synagogue.


“My noblest days are those

on which I forego the pursuit of aesthetic impressions,

when I abandon the beautiful, yet hard, Greek life

with its dominant attachment

to perfectly shapen and corruptible white limbs.

And I become, what I would wish

always to remain, a son of the Jews, of the holy Jews.”


Very earnest, this assertion,

“always to remain a son of the Jews, of the holy Jews”.


But he did not remain as such at all.

The Hedonism and the Art of Alexandria

had in him a devoted son”


Here we have a Jew of Alexandria, a Greek colony in Egypt with a large and important Jewish community, in an advanced state of assimilation. His name is Hellenised, while his father’s is Roman, reflecting a state of affairs that could be paralleled to the Greek-Melbournian experience of a second generation Greek-Australian named, let’s say Dean, for the sake of argument, naming his third generation son, Brian, in order to facilitate his ingress and egress within the mainstream culture.


Ianthes’ pastimes also do not conform to the Jewish stereotype. Though he is of a religious family, his interests lie in the Hellenic pursuits of athletics, poetry and the arts, much as a third generation Greek Australian, albeit a scion of a family that is heavily involved in “Greek” pursuits such as attending festivals, dances, church or concerts, much prefers to spend his time watching football and going for a run, rather actively being involved in the collective pursuits of his own community.


Yet despite his apparent devotion to the “beautiful” Greek life, Ianthes finds it a burden. His noblest days are those in which he abandons the search for the aesthetic – suggesting that though he may absorbed by it, it is something foreign and unattainable. Instead, Greek life is deemed by him to be “hard”, just as a complete and utter submission to the Australian religion of sport is also hard, requiring, if one is to navigate its multiplicity of doctrines and disciplines, the ability to process and assimilate an innumerable array of statistics, the display of blind uncritical faith towards Australian athletes and one’s team and an adamantine commitment to a training regime that punishes the body and completely dominates any and all free time.


This Anglo-Australian pursuit of the body beautiful, was, for the average Greek-Australian migrant, mystifying and to a great extent, culturally incompatible with their own social practices (unless it could be used to make money). It did however provide the key for entry and ultimately acceptance into the mainstream, which is why, when the AFL seeks to laud itself about the catholicity of its communion, it points to the existence of Greek, and other players of a multicultural background within its ministry. Ianthus also perceives sport in the same way. The Greek aesthetic, as expressed through sport, is fixated upon ‘whiteness,’ albeit of corruptible limb. The inference here is that Ianthus is not ‘white’ and that despite his delight in delving into the depths of the hunt for the elusive aesthetic, he is fully cognisant of the fact that his very race disqualifies him from more than an impressionistic dalliance with the subject of his fascination.


Ianthus’ therapy for his ontopathology, being a Jew who however hard he tries, believes he can never become a Greek, is to resolve, neither to adapt his Jewishness in order to confirm to the Greek aesthetic, or indeed, to jettison it altogether. Instead, like many Greek-Australians of Melbourne, he determines to “become what he wishes to remain, a son of the Jews.” Does this mean that his guilt and sense that he is truly not being accepted by those who he aspires to become are causing him to abandon his philhellenism and ersatz aestheticism for the stark asceticism of his own people, who are fixated upon the incorruptible?


There is much irony in that sentence. For why should Ianthus become something that he already is? If he is a Jew, why does he need to become a Jew? Further, it is significant that he does not call himself a Jew, but rather the son of the Jews, casting the authenticity of his own sense of belonging to his ancestral people into doubt. Quite possibly, Cavafy here has Ianthus qualify his being the son of the Jews, with the words “of the holy Jews,” in order to underline how an identity can become a hallowed doctrine of belief. Here, Ianthus finds his counterpart in the practices of many Greek-Australians, myself included, constantly seeking to find ways, through history, dance, folklore, sport, literature and music to augment their understanding of their parent’s identity, in order to make it their own, for it is sacred. Legion are those among us who seek to transform their understanding and search for Hellenism into an all-encompassing worldview. We too then, here in the Antipodes, in a city colonized, though not founded, as in the case of Alexandria, by Greeks, are the sons of Greeks, the sons of the holy Greeks.


Yet, if we are to take Cavafy at face value, Ianthus’ ontopathological battle appears to have been a momentary blip on the radar of his conscience. Despite his stated desire to return to his own people, the soft ways of hedonism and Alexandrian art (which hitherto appeared ‘hard’ to one schooled in the single-minded monotheistic devotion of those who once left Egypt and embraced the desert) appear to have caused Ianthus to embrace assimilation and abandon his ancestral ways.


As an exploration of how one is invariably led astray from one’s dedication to a cause of a belief by the allurements of pleasure, Cavafy’s poem still resonates today, as Helladic Greeks and diasporan Greeks point to the often depraved allurements of Western culture and their people’s uncritical adoption of these as a key reason for a perceived ‘loss of authenticity’ or erosion of their ethno-cultural identity. Yet the city in which Hellenism triumphed over Ianthus the insecure Jew is no longer Greek speaking. Neither did the Hellenise Jews triumph over those Jews who remained attached to their ancestor’s ways.


This, I believe, is the significance of Cavafy’s dating of his poem at 50AD. For by that time, the Hasmonean revolt that had seen the Hellenistic kings driven from Palestine, as a reaction to their intolerance of Jewish ways, was already a century old.  That revolt caused a reassertion of the Jewish religion, partly by forced conversion  and reduced the influence of Hellenism and Hellenistic Judaism. Some sixteen years after the date of the poem, another Jewish revolt would break out, one which would be brutally crushed by the Romans and would result in the expulsion of the Jews from their ancestral homeland, converting their culture to a diaspora culture. Arguably, the fall of our own great bastion of Greek civilisation, Constantinople, a millennium and a half later, placed the erstwhile triumphant Hellenes in a similar position.


Cavafy did not live to witness the establishment of the state of Israel. However, he would have been aware of the remarkable survival of Jewish culture throughout the European and Near Eastern world, including in his own city, Alexandria, where a Greek colony of migrants was also re-established and had reached its apogee during his time. He also did not live to witness the expulsion of both communities at roughly the same time.  Perhaps then the irony of Ianthus’ final lapse, is to treat anything as final, And just perhaps, Cavafy is making a more than strong  hint that in cultures co-existing and being permeated by others, guilt and pleasure are insurmountable dualities that must be embraced, not fought against, so that the guiltiest of pleasures lies not in exclusion, or puritanism but rather in tasting the comingling of the heady juices of the entire process of Apodemia, while stirring languidly, the multicultural melting pot.

First published in NKEE on Saturday 22 October 2016

Saturday, October 15, 2016


The revelation that the members of my tribe were possessed of a certain renown with regard to the resonance of their voices, came to me early in my youth. An exogenous friend from school was over, and we were trying to solve a puzzle while my maternal progenitor was on the phone, speaking to her respective maternal progenitor, in the fabled city of Athens. 

In those heady days of international telephony, the ominous blips that heralded the imminent reception of an overseas call had their own protocol. Upon the sounds manifesting their presence upon his auditory nerves, it was incumbent upon the lifter of the receiver to firstly yell: “Ελλάδα, Ελλάδα!” most probably as an invitation to the rest of the members of the household to gather around the telephone, as well as an exhortation to be quiet, a pious hope, considering that the telephone receiver would be fought over by all members of the family, in their attempts to speak to their loved ones in Greece.

Having claimed the receiver, hallowed rubrics prescribed that the would-be interlocutor had to yell “shhhhh!” to the rest of the family, who in turn were obliged to shouting “τι λέει, τι λέει;” in the staggered unison of an ancient Greek chorus, as they attempted to wrest the phone from his grasp. Extricating himself from the tangle of outstretched arms, entwined phone cord and a cacophony of voices, holy tradition dictated that the interlocutor must then shout triumphantly: “Αλάου;” followed by a litany of “μ᾽ακούς, μ᾽ακούς;” while the rest of the family interposed with antiphons of: “χαιρετισμούς” and ”φιλάκια πολλα!

In homes such as ours, possessed of such modern and heretical of devices as a wall telephone, the whole typikon was typically performed as an akathist.

“Geez your mum has got a loud voice,” my friend exclaimed, having been treated to a truncated version of the above described telephonic liturgy.

“No, she’s speaking to Greece,” I responded, unconsciously translating into English, the Greek phrase: “Μιλάει με την Ελλάδα.” (In those days leaving out the article was inconceivable).


“She is speaking with my grandmother in Greece,” I elaborated.

“So why does she have to shout?”

“Well, Greece is such a long way away,” I heard myself saying.

Despite the advent of new rites that have, in their quest for global conquest, swept away the old rituals, along with their adherents’ unique conception of a relationship between volume and distance, some of us remain, as solitary Zoroastrians marooned within the wastelands of Yazd, faithful to the diptychs. Refusing to be initiated into the mysteries of Viber with the vehemence of a Jacobite recusant and viewing Skype with the incomprehensibility of a South Sea Islander gazing upon a crucifix for the very first time, to this day, when I call Greece, I, an Old Believer, perform the old observances, shouting down the mouthpiece of the telephone with as much fervor as I can muster.

Such fervor is of course, that of the lapsed pagan who, though converted, perennially lacks true faith. Somewhere, deep below my idol-worshipping veneer, I doubt the ability of the electromagnetic gods to convey messages via means supernatural and verily believe that the more I shout in the general direction of climes ancestral, the further my voice will carry. After all, did not Saint Kosmas the Aetolian prophesy the coming of the telephone when he envisaged: “you will speak here and they will hear you in Russia,” or according to another version “you will cry out here and they will hear you in Russia?”  I’ve called Russia on a few occasion in my time and have been gratified by the fact that being a country of like faith, the shouting is reciprocal. Furthermore, in my zeal, I display the same propensity to uplift my voice for calls local. Oh Telstra, hear my prayer. Silence. Oh Optus, - Yes.

            Though not quite. For it was a non-Greek colleague that pointed out the inconsistencies in my implementation of received dogmatic technology. “Did you that I can tell when you speaking to an Aussie? Your voice becomes low and nasal. I can also tell when you are speaking to a Greek. You get agitated and start shouting. Why are you guys always fighting with each other?”

            Such sentiments have also been echoed by non-Greek family friends witnessing a Greek-Australian discourse:

            “What’s wrong?”

            “Nothing, why?”

            “You guys are fighting.”

            “We aren’t fighting.”

“Yes you are. You are shouting at each other.”

“Are we?”


“No, we are just talking. That’s all.”

“So why are you shouting at me now?”

“No I’m not.”

“You are, you are shouting at me as we speak.”

“I’m not shouting. I’m raising my voice for emphasis.”

According to some deep thinking members of the tribe, our propensity to be louder than all of the other inhabitants of this planet has more to do with evolution then faith and ritual. At least that is what one armchair philosopher of a local Greek community organisation revealed to me when I observed that at general meetings, shouting seems to be the main item on the agenda: “You can’t blame them my boy. Of course we shout. The Turks are to blame. The ancient Greeks were very dignified people and shouting was considered bad breeding. You would never see Socrates or Pericles shout for example. The Byzantines were a very solemn people, always chanting hymns and praying, so there was no time to shout, except towards God when they shouted: “Lord, I have shouted unto Thee, hearken unto me,” (which seems to describe perfectly, my relationship with the telephone). When the Turks came, however, they push us all into the mountains. And how we were going to communicate with each other across deep mountain valleys and impassable ravines? Why, via shouting of course. We have gotten into the habit and we can no longer shake it off. Go to any φρουτομαρκέτα these days, and you will see Greek calling Greek like mastodons across primeval swamps.”


A sociological explanation was once offered to me by an Athenian theologian who was at that time, moonlighting as a municipal waste disposer (better money and hardly any work to do considering that they were perennially on strike). According to him, the Byzantine model is the ideal from which we have fallen: “Orthodoxy if anything, is structural. You cry, God listens. Similarly, when the Word of God is spoken, you listen. But in modern Greece, everyone shouts because they have lost the skill of listening. Because listening means thinking. And we Modern Greeks talk so we don’t have to think. Nonetheless, since times ancient, we have remained a competitive, adversarial race. This is why Modern Greeks do not believe in whispering. If anything, the main task in a discussion between Greeks is to achieve a decibel level higher than your interlocutor. The louder you are, the more right you are. Haven’t you seen the Greek morning talk shows?”


This exposition troubled me, not because it purported to reveal to me my true identity but rather because that identity has been prophesied by Saint Kosmas to be compromised when the world is ruled by the “άλαλα και μπάλαλα,» that is, those who neither speak, nor hear. Consolation, is taken where it an be found, in the multitude of the Modern Greek songs that attest to the inimitability of shouting to the Greek identity. Take the Cartesian Φωνάζω, for example, where it is categorically stated: Ελπίζω άρα υπάρχω... Φωνάζω άρα ζω...Δε θα σωπάσω ούτε λεπτό, or even Giannis Ploutarchos, Το Φωνάζω, which proves that even in our most tender and intimate moments of eros, shouting is a prerequisite for our understanding of reality: ‘Tο φωνάζω. Με καμία δε σ' αλλάζω. Σ' αγαπάω στο φωνάζω.’

Giannis Kalliris drives the point home further and reveals the ultimate truth about ourselves when he croons: “Γιορτάζω, γιορτάζω μ’ ακούτε που το φωνάζω…” Thus, if he does not shout it, we would not know that he is celebrating. If we do not shout, no one knows that we exist and we begin to doubt our own corporeality. It was for this reason then that in the Beginning there was the Word, and only later did in become Flesh.

Secure then in the knowledge that my decibels shield me from oblivion, I fear only, like the proverbial tree in the forest, my hypostasis, should I shout and there be no Greek there to hear me, which I think, is why the Byzantines turned to God in the first place. Till next time then, when it is my shout.



First published in NKEE on Saturday 15 October 2016

Saturday, October 08, 2016


“Within the dark of anguish/ I inhabited your footsteps/ these you told me/ are the yeast of resurrection.”

The above lines could easily have been written by Saint Isaac the Syrian, John of Dalyatha or any of the desert fathers of the Thebaid. The “Noted Transparencies” a collection of poems, the majority of which were revealed Muhammad-like, to the poet Nikos Nomikos in a nocturnal vision and only written down decades later in the Antipodes, are not just imbued with the desert tradition, they are sodden in it. That vision, is not an easy one either to behold, or to record. It is just as painful as that granted to John of the Apocalypse, and just as cryptic: “I saw a towering lord-like man, with a parchment spread across his chest, I tried to read it, but strange were its words, and it reminded me, of an old happy world, in which I had once lived.” Unlike that of Saint John, Nomikos’ Apocalypse is comprehensible, (albeit barely), but does not appear to lead to any discernible resolutions, save for the affirmation of the palimpsest of his own memory.

Most notable is the sparse, arid, apophthegmatic quality of Nomikos’ revelations.

The words of desert fathers are few but their meaning are as manifold as the grains of sand that comprise their home. They need to be, for time is of the essence: “…and he told me, look on the calendar, nigh are its hours, the definition of silence and do not worry, tomorrow I sail, with the morning line.”  Typical of the Orthodox conception of time is the manner in which Nomikos conflates it, confounding any modern perspective of its linearity. This vision is of things that have passed, are currently passing and are yet to pass, all in one. In all of this, there is an incredible amount of waiting: “I am sitting on the bench, along with others, waiting for my turn to be called, to the feast of the apocalypse, just as they had told me.” There are therefore, apocalypses and apocalypses of apocalypses and we slowly begin to understand the aptness of the title: “Noted Transparencies.” The desert fathers aspire to theosis, union with the Godhead. On that day, the earthly raiment of the corporeal shall be shed in favour of the ineffable and the aethereal and spiritual paradoxes such as that of the “itinerant musician…just playing his guitar so deftly, never mind that he was one-handed,” shall be superseded.

We place Nikos Nomikos among the desert fathers of the diaspora, however reluctant, for he is that rare thing, a diasporan by birth, even before arriving at the Antipodes, a source of wonder, even for the poet himself: “In any case, no matter whom I asked, nobody knew to tell me, why they invited us, to this different land.” Born in Alexandria to Greek migrants, his conception of Hellenism is that not of the exile, but of the outsider. Living in the same neighbourhood as Cavafy, and later going on to inhabit the same workstation as Nikos Kavvadias, a following in the footsteps of the fathers, if there ever was one, Nikos Nomikos’ poetry is remarkable (and mercifully) devoid of the palindromic but ultimately stultifying nostalgia for place and time that has so characterized the poetry of his generation.

His tradition, as opposed to that of many of his peers which appears to have frozen in time upon their arrival upon these shores, is a living one, which can thus facilitate the poets’ effortless spiritual navigation through millennia of the human condition, without becoming anachronistic, or stale, all the while encouraging us, to ascend or descend to the sublime, at will, upon a ladder with him and his teachers:  “The alarm clock howled beside me, at days reveille, with all the sensitive demands, of the spiritual person, and I remembered my teacher, not Saint John of the Ladder, him I never had the privilege, he only left me his ladder, freshly painted, as a memento, but the Alexandrine, originally from Corfu, Ioannis Gikas…”

The juxtaposition of Saint and exiled teacher here is not coincidental. Saint John Climacus is known as an ascetic who abandoned the world for the monastery of Saint Catherine in Sinai, there to pen the Ladder, a manual that describes how to raise one's soul and body to God through the acquisition of ascetic virtues. Incidentally it is in the Ladder' that we first hear of the ascetic practice of carrying a small notebook to record the thoughts of the monk during contemplation. In similar fashion, the poet Nikos Nomikos views his toil as being best ascribed to that of the ascetic, even referring to his workspace as his ασκητήριον. Thus in a poem that appears to converse intertextually with his neighbour Cavafy’s ‘The Afternoon Sun’ («This room, how well I know it.») he states: «The room is quite small, three by three, but with vast ascetic dimensions, full of fires and passions, which whatever we say, outlast distant measures of time, and their word, is heard deep, in the hearing of lovers, the decency of spiritual light.»

Gikas, on the other hand,  «with his all white beard, his monocle, and the black cloak of intellectualism, that whenever I saw him my skull shuddered from his spirit, and I would sit for hours on end, listening to him...» is just as capable of imparting those things needful in the diaspora as any metropolitan Hellene. Spirituality aside therefore, Nomikos’ alternative vision of the Greek diaspora, that of a community completely emancipated from its cultural cringe of ersatzness, self-confident and capable of manipulating its past heritage and current conditions in order to formulate and articulate a world view of its own, is an exciting and overwhelmingly relevant one, if only we have the noetic insight to follow in his footsteps, for the search for topos is eternal and transcends itself: «From then I began designing the winters of the future, on sorrowful canvases, in the gallery of the soul, with faces full of incurable dreams, of the golden Homeland, which are never-ending.»

It is perhaps fitting then that «Noted Transparencies» has been translated from the original Greek by diasporan scholar and poet George Mouratidis, who, despite being born in Athens, culturally belongs to the second diasporic generation. Mouratidis’ translation is careful, considered and unobtrusive, rendering the desert father Nikos Nomikos’ Apocalypse, with all the faith, respect and discernment that it compells of his disciples, hence his admission that: «every one of my conversations with Nomikos is a lesson...Nomikos, both in his art and life, is a world unto himself, one into which he himself disappears, taking the reader with him.»

«Noted Transparencies,» is the only collection by Nomikos to appear in English. Published by Owl Publishing, the imprint of Greek academic stalwart Helen Nickas, who has devoted much effort in disseminating the works of Greek diasporan poets to the broader mainstream, it is more than a monument, in the words of Lucy Van, to the ruptured flowrings of time: intimate, beatific and sad.   Instead, it is the entire sublime paradox of existence, to be «celebrated with choirs and high floods of light.» For each of us, all it could take to be granted the vision of this humbly transparant desert father, could be: «that poem, with the gilded dove on its breast, which spoke of syllables of the soul, on the open sails of the ineviable journey, with a closed mouth of sacrament.» And in the meantime, as the noetic prayer of poetry is rendered faithfully into the English idiom through the ascesis of Mouratidis for the edification of us all, «tonight the wind is blowing and it is raining heavily, in the ascetic’s face.»

The English translation of Noted Transparencies was launched at the Collected Works Bookshop on Friday 30 September 2016.


First published in NKEE on Saturday 8 October 2016 

Saturday, October 01, 2016


Dearest mainstream journalists who posit that ‘wog’ is a term of endearment,

One of the first “wogs” I met, was my father, who at the tender age of six was ordered off a Melbourne tram, along with his father, for having the temerity to speak to him in the only language he knew, Greek, in this fashion: “We speak English in Australia you bloody wogs. Get off.” At that time, my family had only been in Australia for two years, so the endearing intent behind the injunction was lost on my father. Similarly, in high school, when his classmates fulminated against the “f....g wogs,” only to modify their position upon being the recipients of his fists, with an: “but you’re alright,” he criminally failed to appreciate the jocular, endearing way in which this was intended. Incidentally, to this day, my father refuses to watch the epic film “Lawrence of Arabia,” because of the scene where T.E Lawrence walks into the ‘no-wogs’ bar (again, that is meant in the nicest possible way), and announces he has taken Aqaba in the following terms: “We’ve taken Aqaba... the wogs have.” Regardless of how much I try, I am unable to convince him that the British army meant the word as a term of affection for the Arabs, whose countries they would go on to appropriate for themselves. Funny that.

In his memoir, “Call me Emilios,” His Honour Justice Emilios Kyrou of the Victorian Supreme Court of Appeal, also vividly describes how he failed to realise that the constant beatings and name-callings he endured at his school for being a “wog,” which resulted in him changing his name in an attempt to efface his ethnic identity, were merely the effusions of the generosity of the Australian spirit. In a sense, His Honour should be profoundly grateful for the privilege of being called a ‘wog’ and being roughed up as a result, for it gave him the motivation to seek to defy the contemporary preconceived notions of a wog’s proper place in society and become of the keenest legal minds of his generation. I extend, unsolicited, my thanks on his behalf.

Likewise, in her recent maiden speech to Federal Parliament, Greek-Australian Liberal MP Julia Banks describes her own special relationship with the word ‘wog,’ and how she sought its meaning in a dictionary: “Incredulously, I read the definition over and over: “Someone of dark skin who is foreign to the land on which he lives.” I was hurt more by the tone of the word and less by its definition. I felt ugly, scared and very alone.”  Notice a pattern here dearest mainstream journalists? We “wogs” seem unable to understand the unique Australian communication of affection. Julia Banks in a case in point, because in more recent times, mysteriously contemporaneous with when “wog” became a term of endearment, as a junior lawyer, her car was attacked by unionists who in her own words: “They threw my car, rocked it backwards and forwards and slammed their faces against the windows as they called me a wog.” For some reason, Julia Banks seemed sufficiently moved by this outpouring of tolerance and inclusiveness that she also chose to relate this love story in her maiden speech.

Furthermore, dearest mainstream journalists, when I, born and bred in Oz, wear the Greek national costume for the Greek Independence Day march to the Shrine of Remembrance, which has taken place in Melbourne for over four decades, I will be invariably be accosted by well meaning Sunday strollers with the words: “F......g poofter wog. Why don’t you go back to your own country?” When I do return to my ancestral homeland, which is the municipality of Moonee Valley, in which my family has resided for sixty two years, I usually reflect upon how the expression of such terms of endearment create an  unprecedented sense of intimacy and connectedness with the broader Australian zeitgeist. I suspect this has something to do with how well my bestockinged legs look in a skirt and suspect them, that I asked for it. Similarly, I am always astounded at the level of affection displayed when discussing the merits of Australian political parties with my parents on the way to the polling booth on election day, well meaning citizens diligently remind us: “We speak English in Australia you b....y wogs.”  I had the honour of witnessing a gentleman also direct those same loving words of endearment at my then two year old daughter at last year’s local ANZAC Day festivities, proving that age is no boundary to lapping up the type of love you so celebrate.

Dearest mainstream journalists, I applaud you for celebrating just how endearing the word ‘wog’ is in the mainstream print media. Finally, pronouncements such as “all wog parents are strict, wog parents don’t give their kids enough freedom, (from psychologists,) wogs shouldn’t speak their wog languages because it confuses them when they speak English, (from teachers) wogs are experts at rorting the system (from a centrelink employee), ‘geez you wogs smother your kids in clothes (from a doctor) and I love wog food, (almost anyone invited to our homes)” all fall into perspective, though I confide in you that I am yet to comprehend what a “chocko wog” is. This is important, because apparently, I am one. I’m sure it’s something exceedingly beautiful, just like me in my ‘wog’ skirt.

Imagine how ecstatic I was to learn that the term ‘wog,’ was first noted by lexicographer F.C. Bowen in 1929, in his Sea Slang: a dictionary of the old-timers’ expressions and epithets, where he defines wogs as "lower class Babu shipping clerks on the Indian coast.” This makes me happy, both because I have an abiding fascination in the cultures of the Indian subcontinent, and because a Second World War veteran who was hidden by Greek villages in Crete at the risk of their lives during that war, once told me, after a passenger on the tram derided me for daring to read a book in ‘wog,’  that ‘wog’ was a colloquial expression for a disease, and I’d rather be a Gujarati-speaking bureaucrat than syphilis, any day. I was going to go with the common cold here, but I assure you, there is nothing common about us ‘wogs.’

What is especially endearing about applying the word ‘wog’ to us, dearest mainstream journalists, is that the love is spread so far and wide. Indeed, the broadness of its application is breathtaking. It is efficiency itself. Instead of having to differentiate between Italians, Greeks, Maltese, Turks, Croatians, Serbians, Bosnians, Albanians, Turks, Kurds, Armenians, Persians, Lebanese...etc, one collective noun is all that is required to speed your love from your lips and into our hearts, decimating the differences in language, culture, religion and gender between us and re-casting us in one, easily accessible, Aussie-forged image, all the better to relate to us with, similar in fashion to how in 1949, British MP George Wigg said of Winston Churchill: “The Honourable Gentleman and his friend think they are all ‘wogs’. Indeed the Right Honourable Member for Woodford, thinks that the ‘wogs’ begin at Calais.” This is instructive because I’ve always wondered where the borders of Woglandia begin. As well, for some obscure reason, I’ve been brought up to be proud of my Greek heritage. I feel now, that this is a grave mistake. Had I been brought up to be proud of being a ‘wog,’ I would not have missed out on appreciating all that love. And sometimes, that’s just all you need.

The archetypal ‘Wogboy’ himself seems to agree with you dearest mainstream journalists. Nick Giannopoulos once commented: “I think by defusing the word 'wog' we've shown our maturity and our great ability to adapt and just laugh things off, you know... When I first came [to Greece] and I started trying to explain to them why we got called 'wog' they'd get really angry about it... But then when they see what we've done with it—and this is the twist—that we've turned it into a term of endearment, they actually really get into that...”

Certainly, there is great comedic release in ‘wogs,’ saying the word wog, for after all the best type of comedy is that which arises from a release of tension, in this case, the realisation by the coiner that his term registers as one of endearment to the intended recipient, just as the ‘n’ word is used in the United States. In a conversation I had some time ago with another archetypal ‘wog,’ George Kapiniaris, we mused over just how mainstream and metrosexual the descendants of the ‘wogs’ that they portrayed with such acclaim in the eighties have become, to the extent where their forebears would neither recognise them or relate to them.

This engenders in me feelings of deep disquiet. For disturbing evidence appears to suggest that while the members of the communities referred to collectively as ‘wog’ are slowly evolving, not only due to their acculturation in this wide brown land of y/ours, but also as a result of increased ability to maintain links with the rest of the world. I fear that we members of those communities are gradually morphing and melding into something that no longer resembles the traditional image of the ‘wog’ as historically defined by Australian society and hallowed in ‘Kingswood Country,’ ‘Home Sweet Home’ and ‘Acropolis Now,’ but rather has a weird and warped dynamic of its own. And herein lies the rub: I’m not so sure I can live up to the image you are so enamoured of, but I’m dead as hell sure I cannot live without your love. And so, dearest mainstream journalists, all that I ask of you is this: If I cannot be the wog you so desire me to be, will you still love me tomorrow?

Yours stereotpyically,

A wog (of the chocko sub-species).


First published in NKEE online on Saturday 1 October 2016