Saturday, January 25, 2020


“The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.” William Shakespeare
I blame the woes of post-Junta Greece on the fact that Greek diva and actress Aliki Vougiouklaki, the darling and eternal hope of the people was never elevated to the lofty position of Head of State. This makes no sense. Her appointment would have imbued the adoring populace with hope and purpose, driving them towards a better future, without angst. As she herself pronounced: «Τράβα μπρος και μη σε νοιάζει…» Furthermore, to a restive populace in the “now” age where pessimism, despondency couple together with an inability to wait for better days, Aliki of blessed memory’s immortal doctrine: 
«Κάντε υπομονή κι ο ουρανός θα γίνει πιο γαλανόςΚάντε υπομονή μια λεμονιά ανθίζει στη γειτονιά would have not only served to revivify the flaccid spirits of a downtrodden people and keep them from engaging in time-wasting protest at the drop of a hat, but also ensure that their daily requirements of Vitamin C were met as well. Pre-empting disastrous experiments in a state-run, planned economy, Saint Aliki would have propounded a credo that not only would have served to enshrine an easy going, laissez faire approach to economic development, arguing that if left alone, the market will regulate itself, but also combining this message with a powerful prohibition of cruelty against animals. Further, in an age of climate change and anxiety over the depletion and the use of fossil fuels, Aliki would have discovered, five years before the Beatles did, that in order to run a civilization, you need not rely on carbon belching fuels, or on renewables. Instead, if you have her as driver, all you need is love, to laugh in the face of adversity: «Καροτσέρη, καροτσέρη, ασ’ το καμουτσίκι απ’ το χέρι/ και μην το χτυπάς/ Δεν χρειάζεται να τρέχειςόταν τόσο πια κοντά σου έχεις/ κείνον π’ αγαπάς./ Άσ’ το τ’ αμάξι μονάχο να κυλάει/ κι όπου κι αν πάει για μένα είναι χαρά/ Όλα είναι εντάξει κι η αγάπη μου είναι πλάι/ κι όταν γελάει ο κόσμος μου γελά».
Under this paradisiacal regime, a sort of precursor to John Howard’s relaxed and comfortable Australia, there would be no need for data protection and privacy for everything would be in the public domain: 
«Έχω ένα μυστικό κρυμμένο στης καρδιάς τα βάθηΚανείς δεν το ’χει μάθει και ποτέ δεν θα το πω/… το ξέρουνε οι κάμποιτο ’χει μάθει το βουνόΤο τραγουδούν τη νύχτα στα κλώνια όλα τα αηδόνιακαι το ’χουν γράψει τα χελιδόνια στον ουρανό». If this were not enough for the doubters, the splittists and the anti-social elements, the aethereal Aliki promised that life under her benign reign would be filled with bread and circuses, giving the plebs full opportunity to “makes some noise,” clinching the argument for her perennial presidency evermore: «Θα σας πάρω καραμούζες και ροκάνες/κι ένα δίχτυ τσικουλάτες και γλυκάκαι ταμπούρλα και κορνέτες και καμπάνεςγια να κάνουμε μεγάλο σαματά./ Ένα μόνο θέλω εγώ για το καλό σας/ να με κάνετε αρχηγό κι αφεντικό σας». Aliki of course in Greek means Alice and the homeland would have been renamed Wonderland, its inhabitants basking in the afterglow of endless tea-parties, and dancing hasaposerviko to Lobster Quadrilles.
Grievously, the Greek people did not get the Queen of people’s Hearts, Alice to lead them. Instead, since the re-founding of the Hellenic Republic, its hapless citizens have been led by lacklustre litany of loathsome layers, the first being Professor of Law Michalis Stassinopoulos, followed by lawyer and diplomat Konstantinos Tsatsos, then lawyer and politician Konstantinos Karamanlis, to be succeeded by lawyer and jurist Konstantinos Sartzetakis, who in turn was replaced by lawyer Konstantinos Karamanlis, who not only wanted a second go, but wanted to institute a constitutional convention according to which  only Greek male lawyers called Kosta could assume the presidency. That there was an attempt to establish this convention is proved by the fact that Konstantine Karamanlis was succeeded by lawyer Konstantinos Stephanopoulos, and was only modified so that you have to be a Greek male lawyer whose name starts with K,  when lawyer and politician Karolos Papoulias assumed the presidency. He of course was followed by Law Professor Prokopis Pavlopoulos, when his predecessor wanted to go pee pee. Of course the country had long gone in the same direction, by this time.
Now, the convention, though slightly modified, is being reinstated, with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis initiating a special broadcast to announce that Katerina Sakellaropoulou has been nominated to be the next President of the Hellenic Republic. Granted, if parliament approves the nomination, she will be the first woman to be appointed to the role, and it is high time that a woman assume the country’s most esteemed appointment. Yet in other respects, she merely fits convention. Firstly her name begins with a k, and secondly and most heinously, she is yet again, a career lawyer, being the current president of the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court. Ominously enough, we learn that this talented professional, who has successfully occupied a number of prestigious legal appointments, is into discipline, having served on the Disciplinary Board of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and that she is a cat-lover, making us all wonder whether the history of the Greek nation would have turned out differently if Mrs Slocum from “Are you Being Served?” had ever been given the opportunity to run the country. Most likely, this would have been highly beneficial, and I am unanimous in that.

Appointing a lawyer, however brilliant, yet again, to the pinnacle of Hellenism conveys the message that only the privileged few, of whichever gender, can ever aspire to such greatness. It restricts the top job to members of the guild and reinforces the aridity associated with what should be an exalted position. Surely, it betrays a lack of imagination and true empathy with the Greek people and their ultimate destiny. In their supreme leader, the Hellenes, both in Greece and beyond its borders, seek someone who they can identify with, who they can admire and who they feel, has an innate feel for their condition.
It is thus mystifying that Greek daytime television goddess Eleni Menegaki was overlooked for a position that should have been hers by right. As a veteran talk-show presenter, she has her finger and camera on the pulse of the average Greek citizen, and possesses a unique insight into their inner-most thought processes, one that Russian funded hackers are still, yet to master. So deep is her penetration into the collective psyche of the Greek people that she has been named by Forbes Magazine, second-most powerful and influential celebrity in Greece and top-ranked female. As a working mother with four children, she, like no other public figure in Greece is most qualified to personify those qualities that are so required by a supreme overlord. Her resourcefulness and tenacity is exemplified in the fact that she has presided over the same talk show, named in her characteristic, no frill, no nonsense style, “Eleni” after herself, since 2011. Here is one pulchritudinous president who will not stand idly by dispassionately and allow sundry members of parliament to let the country go to the dogs. Instead, she will invite them on her show and engage in a talk-fest of such dizzying lexical complexity, that she will confound, confuse and ultimately combust any hot-air talking, self-satisfied politician. Her appointment is also vital for national security. Give her the top job and watch her fix the Sultan across the straits with her steely gaze. The beguiled tyrant will go weak at the knees and grovel at her sturdy feet within five minutes. She will be the face that launches a thousand ships, to  re-assert Greece’s maritime sovereignty and drill for oil. A single majestic blank stare, and the carrot-topped Planetarch across the seas will hasten to offer her his missiles and do her bidding. Watch her silence Largarde, Merkel and the rest of the heads of the Five Families. Eleni Menegaki can out-talk, out-stare, out-last anyone, and when she runs out of words, she invents her own.
Appointing Eleni Menegaki as Greek president would have righted an outrage that was committed against Aliki Vougouklaki decades ago. She is desperately needed to leave the cohorts of bankers breathless and ready to pander to her every whim. Unlike the esteemed and highly accomplished Katerina Sakellaropoulou, Eleni Menegaki, is ageless and, rumour has it cannot die or decay and thus she can act as a perennial, economical, (given that she can remain in the position for eternity) and more suitable symbol of Hellenism. As Expressionless and dispassionate as an immortal and as monolithic as an Olympian deity on heat in pursuit of its purpose, she is as much an object of worship, as she is a candidate for premier potentate.  It is inconceivable and the loss of a historic opportunity for the beleaguered republic, that she has, yet again, missed out. The lawyers have struck again.
Rennard Strickland may argue that “Lawyers are the foot soldiers of our Constitution,” yet who needs lawyers, albeit remarkably precocious and cerebral ones, like the gifted Katerina Sakellaropoulou, when one is governed by a goddess with the constitution of a concrete elephant? Aliki may have long gone, yet her surefire methods of re-establishing her country upon the path of greatness, remain. Hers is the way of austerity, a way which is borne willingly, in a manner that her rightful successor, Eleni Menegaki can only epitomize: «Ζω με δίχως στεναχώρια/κι ας μου λείπουν τα λεφτά/αγαπώ όλα τ' αγόρια/και με αγαπούν κι αυτά». For in the end, there is no provision, either in the Hellenic Constitution, nor in the Legislation of the Republic, where loafing lawyers abound, for love.
First published in NKEE on Saturday 25 January 2020

Saturday, January 18, 2020


n ways inexplicable, my attendance at the annual Theophania Festival at Port Melbourne determines the outcome of the rest of the year. I can attend the same ceremony in Frankston, or Rye or Rosebud, but these are no substitutes for being present at the primary blessing of our Melbournian waters. If, as this year, other obligations get in the way, then those obligations are speedily cast aside, for who knows how the year will turn out if my presence is there not made manifest?
A number of rituals accompany attending the Port Melbourne Theophania, the first of which is having a secret, convenient car parking spot that no one in Melbourne is privy to. It is a good idea to have a second back up secret car parking spot, if, as was the case this year, your last year’s brilliant find has in the meantime, turned into a Loading Zone. And be not jealous of the pensioners and senior citizens that have parked so close to the pier. They have been there since last night, and have camped out in order to obtain priority.
Then there is the ritual of the long walk along the sea to get to the pier. I pass the public toilet, which still has a sign painted in the sixties, in phonetic Greek “ANTRES,” this being a time before gender, but not alphabet dysphoria. As I proceed, passing Station Pier, invariably, I see older Greek-Australians point to that landmark and relate to their disinterested grandchildren, how they first set foot in Melbourne upon that very spot. Consequently, thousands of third generation Greek-Australians are possessed of the firm conviction that their ancestors arrived in Melbourne, from across the Tasman, on the Spirit of Tasmania.
Back in the times when the Blessing of the Waters was newsworthy, or during election years, the pier would team with reporters and politicians, both of Greek descent and the garden variety. This year, is not an election year and I missed being asked by stray MPs, for directions to the refreshments tent. I always, however, remember the time, years ago, when I was accosted by a rather anxious journalist, asking me if I could identify Mr Theo Fanya in the crowd and would he be willing to speak with her? “See the tall man wearing a crown and sporting a beard? The one who is about to throw the cross in the water? That’s your man,” I told her. I am convinced that the received pronunciation of our feast, as demonstrated by sundry newsreaders over the years, into standard Australian, has its origins in this singular conversation.
Arriving at the pier and jostling my way through the crowd, I soon give up on trying to find a suitable spot from which to view the imminent competition. Instead, I do what all second generation Greek-Australians do: I hand over my progeny to their grandparents, trusting in their superior pathfinding skills to find a suitable vantage point. After all, I already know how the story ends and they are still agog with anticipation.
Attempts to secure a position in the shade or a plastic chair are fruitless. They have been in the possession, custody and power of ever resourceful yiayiades since the early morning. There they sit, Woolworths supermarket bags placed proprietarily upon the trestle table, a veritable apostrophe of possession. This is the land of Terra Nullius, a legal concept which in Greek translates to: “Όποιος πρόλαβετον Κύριο είδε.”  Yet on extra hot Theophania days, when the sun beats down hotter than the wings of the Holy Spirit, on the heads of the faithful, sovereignty is invariably ceded, but only to young, suffering children.
As the procession of priests, bearing the flower bedecked Theophany Icon, winds its way through the crowd to the platform, there is no jostling, no pushing like years of old, for at the end of the pier, a giant screen has been erected, allowing the proceedings to be viewed in crystal clarity. I lament this abomination, as signifying the destruction of the religious saying: “Πίστευε και μη ερεύνα,” although as a result, this was the first year that I actually was granted a vision of the entire event.
The Bishop begins to read from the Bible. “Σήκω βρε αθεόφοβε,” an old woman tugs at the sleeve of a corpulent man with droopy eyelids, dozing upon a straining plastic chair, all the while crossing herself: “They are reading the Bible.”
Σιγά μη σκωθώ,” the old man snorts, adjusting himself, and settling in his chair once more. “Άμα σκωθώθα μου πάρουν την καρέκλα.” The fact that the gentleman in question happens to be the long-serving president of a Greek brotherhood with a particularly robust political culture, is purely coincidental.
            Doves are released and they circle the crowd once and fly off back to their dovecot. The Bishop feigns a few throws, teasing the swimmers and then tosses the cross into the briny. Oblivious to the large screen, people crowd onto the edge of the pier and are shouting. Apparently an unregistered interloper, swimming from the jetty has caught the cross, a unique occurrence, yet…my attentions are drawn elsewhere. A rather harried lady in her fifties poking her finger repeatedly into what apparently is her mother’s shoulder. Employing the lisp that is standard in Greek-Australian female pronunciation of the consonant s, she demands:
  • Πού ήssουν;
  • Πήγα να πάρω ημερολόγιο. Δεν σου είπα;
  • Έπρεπα να ssε κάνω call five times.
  • Δε σ᾽ άκουσα καμία φορά.
Shoving her remarkably still extant Nokia E71 in her mother’s face, the lady exclaimed angrily.
  • Don’t you know that κάθε φορά που ssε κάνω call, κάνει cost money? Look!
  • Και τι σε νοιάζει; Σάμπως θα τα πληρώσεις εσύ; Εγώ τα πληρώνω όλα, the elderly
mother snapped and walked off in the direction of the crowd, leaving her perplexed daughter to fiddle with her phone.
            On the large screen, I watched as the brave swimmers passed the cross to each other and kissed it. Then they kissed each other. Arising from the waters to receive a blessing and a cross from the Bishop, they were surrounded by wives and girlfriends, also eager to give their champions a kiss. Then it was their mates’ turn to whoop enthusiastically while giving them a kiss, a pinch on the forearm, a slap on the back, a feel of a pectoral muscle, a grasp of a bicep. I viewed this touchfest with mild opprobrium, for, much like Prince Andrew of the House of Windsor, I disdain physical contact, especially with seamen.
            In years gone by, I would stay on for the politicians’ speeches, so that I could venerate the Theophany Icon in their aftermath. Instead, this year, after listening to the Bishop’s homily, I retrieved my progeny and took them down the pier to view one of the caiques that took the swimmers out to sea. This was the “New Artaky,” fitting enough, considering that Artaky, in Asia Minor, was the birthplace of Private Peter Rados, the only Greek to die in the Australian army at Gallipoli.
            Though the purchasing of souvlakia and loukoumades is de rigeur at all Greek-Australian events, there is a general unspoken convention among the Greeks of Melbourne that, at Theophania at Port Melbourne, these must be supplemented by something more maritime, such as fish and chips. This is why, even as the folk dancers jolt the pier out of its somnolence, Greek-Australians can be found patronising the piscatorial and potato purveying establishments along the length and breadth of Bay Street and beyond, with an emphasis on Hunky Dory. In memory of the Theophaneia I once experienced in Constantinople some decades ago, I purchased an icy pole instead. As the “Age” Newspaper writes, “spirituality, sun and souvlaki,” indeed. The “Age” Newspaper also writes of the controversy over the cross swimmers as a Greek tragedy, presumably because Orthodoxy is salvific rather than tragic.
            A particularly hallowed Greek-Australian Theophania tradition does not take place at the actual pier but in the living rooms of Greek-Australians across Melbourne in the evening of the festival. This involves scanning all the news channels to see which one will report on the ‘Theo-Fanya.’ After first examining the screen to see if one can recognise themselves or their acquaintances, a quick comparison of length of the segment, explanation of the event and quotes from a person on the ground allows for a ready reckoner to be compiled, of most racist to least racist television channel, though such indignation that is expressed, rarely lasts beyond the sports segment, or at worst, the weather. There is also a new permutation to this age old tradition: the uploading of one’s own Theophania footage on youtube and facebook, an electronic infusion of the Holy Spirit, for the couch potatoes of on-line Orthodoxy.
            When I was younger, I would like to confound my relatives and friends in Greece by claiming that we celebrate Theophania in Australia by having jockeys mounted on kangaroos chase after the cross along the foreshore. “Yeah right,” they would laugh. “Next thing you’ll tell us is that you all ride camels across the desert in search of waterholes.” As I took my leave of Theophania Festival for this year, I whipped out my telephone to record five camels at the land end of the pier, urinating in unison as they awaited their riders. Pressing send, was by far, the most profound festive experience of the day.


First published in NKEE on Saturday 18 January 2020