Saturday, October 30, 2021



Last year before the onset of the pandemic, I was apprehended by an older acquaintance singing to my childrenthe lyrics of Roza Ekskenazy’s immortal song: Πρέζαόταν πιεις. «Σαν μαστουρωθείςγίνεσαι ευθύς….» (once you get high, you immediately become….), I rasped as I strummed my baglama, my progeny dancing all around me. 

“Stop! What are you doing?” she screamed. “That is terrible. Think of what you are teaching them! But that comes from this stupid obsession of yours with rebetika. Seriously. The songs of low-lifes and drug dealers. And I’ll tell you what. It comes from a place of arrogance. Modern Greek music is too low-brow for you, but this is down-right unwholesome. What’s wrong with Elli Kokkinou, for example?” 

My interlocutor, who until the age of forty derided all things Greek, discovered Elli Kokkinou while on her first trip to Mykonos after her divorce. She became a fervent convert to the worship of all popular Greek music and returned to Australia tanned several degrees of Karoten, insisting that Thanos Petrelis and Elli Kokkinou were the motherland’s answer to Brangelina. 

“Kokkinou, though not without some aesthetic merit is a problem for me,” I opined. 

“Here we go,” my interlocutor snorted derisively. “Why? Not intellectual enough for you?” 

Having my taste in music considered intellectual wounds me deeply, considering that my favourite song ever is Zafiris Melas’ «Σαγαπάω κοίτα», in its original incarnation: “Nerelere gidem,” as sung by Ibrahim Tatlises, and I rose to defend myself: 

“It’s not that. It is that I find the ritualisation of stalking in Modern Greek popular music and the tacit acceptance of psychotic behaviour deeply disquieting.” 


Well take your idol Kokkinous song «Δεν Γίνεται» for instance and analyse the lyrics:  «Όμως δε γίνεται, δε γίνεται απλά έτσι να σ' αφήσωΘα γίνω η σκιά σου εγώ και θα σε κυνηγήσωΣε κάθε μέρος και στιγμή/Θα βρίσκομαι και εγώ εκεί σου λέω.» Now consider it in English translation: “It's not possible, It's not possible, for me to let you go so easily./ I will become your shadow and will hunt you down./ In every place and at every moment I will be there, I tell you." While I am sure that there are individuals of all genders who would like nothing more than having a crazed Elli Kokkinou shadow their every move, owing to my innate paranoia, I am not among them. Section 21A(1) of the Crimes Act 1958 is quite succinct on this point, providing: “A person must not stalk another person.” While person is not defined in the said section, and a legal argument could be mounted as to whether it was parliament’s intention to include within the definition of the term “person,” sundry seedy Greek singers, the prohibition remains.” 

“Oh gimme a break,” my interlocutor huffed in disdain, jingling the komboloi she purchased from a periptero on Ios and has worn as a bracelet ever since. “One song and you’ve taken it out of context. It’s a song about fidelity and love. It’s a generational thing and you’re a male. You wouldn’t understand.” 

“Then let’s look at some male equivalents,” I suggested. “How about the Vasilis Karras classic: «Δεν παώ πουθενά». The cretaceous crooner commences his chanson, requesting that he not be turned out of, presumably, his place of habitation at an ungodly hour: «Μη μου ζητάς να φύγω/μες στα μεσάνυχτα». Not having succeeded in dissuading his partner from her chosen course of action, he emphatically refuses to leave, or to accept that the relationship is over: «Δεν πάω πουθενά, πουθενά, πουθενά/ εδώ θα μείνω/ δεν πάω πουθενά/ η αγάπη μου είσαι εσύ/ και δε σ’ αφήνω.» In this state, this can be deemed conduct that has the intention to cause physical or mental harm to the victim, including self-harm, or to arouse apprehension or fear in the victim for his or her own safety, in accordance with s21A(3) of the Act. At the very least, there are credible grounds here for the granting of an Intervention Order. And my understanding is that the apartment from which the hero of the song is being ejected belonged to his mother in law and there is a dispute as to whether it was a gift or occupied under license.” 

“OK, two songs, get over it. What about all the other songs about love and longing. Haven’t you ever yearned for the unattainable?” my interlocutor eyed her exposed greying roots anxiously through the medium of the camera function on her smart phone. 

“Sure I have.” I affirmed. “Every Greek-Australian male does from the minute their father turns to them and asks in despair: «Πότε θα γίνεις άνθρωπος βρε ρεμάλι;» But stalking seems entrenched within the Greek discourse. Take for example the high deity of the Hellenic pentragrammic pantheon, Lefteris Pantazis. In keeping with his tribe, he is also one of those gentlemen who will not take no for an answer. «Κι εξακολουθώ να σ' ακολουθώ/ Κι ας το ξέρω πως θα χαθώ,» he freely admitsNot only does he confess to continuous stalking, this is leading to his general disorientation, understandable, since this song was composed before the invention of the Google Maps.  And by way of providing some sort of justification for his unsettling conduct, he merely repeats the fact that he will continue to follow the poor woman upon whom he is fixated, simply because he desires her: «Κι εξακολουθώ να σακολουθώ/ Γιατί σε θέλω και σαγαπώ».  

“He loves her dammit! Man I wish someone would fight for me like that! Not give up at the slightest difficulty!” my interlocutor expostulated emphatically. So emphatically in fact that my children who had hitherto been attacking the baglama with a harmonica and using it as a percussion instrument, ceased their rhythmic accompaniment. 

“Sometimes what we want is just not good for us,” I confided soothingly, placing my hand on her arm. “Consider sultry serenader Antypas. At least he has enough insight to recognise that his chosen course of action places the public at risk and could give rise to a road traffic accident: «Οδηγώ και σε σκέφτομαι/κι είν’ αυτό επικίνδυνο (“I’m driving and thinking of you/ and this is dangerous”). Unlike other members of the guild, Antypas has the capacity to autopsychoanalise his cognitive behaviour and his emotions and to self-diagnose as a very sick person indeed, suffering from paranoia and possible psychosis: «Αρρωσταίνωπού παςόταν άλλον κοιτάς;/ Όταν δε μου μιλάς αρρωσταίνω». (“I make myself sick wondering where you are going/ when you look at someone else/ When you don’t speak to me, I get sick). Here presented in perfect candour, is the monologue of a sociopath, seeking to foist guilt upon the object of his ardour, for her rejection of him. Definitely not the most chivalrous of behaviour.” 

“You don’t get it,” my interlocutor sighed, reached into her bag and retrieved a box of Karelia Lights. Flipping open the lid of the packet, she extracted an ultra-elongated, thin cigarette and rolled it in her hands without lighting it. Like everyone who comes from my ancestral village, I knew the story of Spiro of Santorini and how he had gifted her the packet of the cigarettes telling her: «Θα είμαι σαν αυτό το τσιγάροτο μόνο πράγμα που καίγεται για σένα», before absconding in the morning, the telephone number he provided her having been disconnected, but village mores prescribe the feigning of ignorance. “Love is hell. And the Greeks understand this and so they sing of it.” 

“Yes they do,” I agreed. “Since hallowed antiquity. And combined it with stalking. Analyse these lyrics, if you would, from the divine diva herself, Viki Moscholiou: «Ξενύχτησα στην πόρτα σου και σιγοτραγουδώΕδώ είναι ο παράδεισος κι η κόλαση εδώ». If I spent the whole night outside your door singing: “Here is Paradise and Hell is here,” sotto voce, you would be calling the cops in a state of nervous abstraction.” 

“I think its kind of cute.” 

“If it was the man of your dreams, possibly. But what if it was someone you absolutely abhor, like that guy Chrysantho my aunt attempted to ‘proxy’ you with in the nineties? Would you not then be urgently dialling the number of the station of your local constabulary?” 

Yuk!” my interlocuter spat. “What have you made me remember now. Those teethAnd those hideous wog-tappers with the tassels…” 

Well apparently he is a well to do chiropractor with several investment properties in St Albans, as my aunt never grows tired of telling me,” I informed her. Speaking of whichconsider this gem, by George Simidis, in which unregulated practitioners abuse the relationship between practitioner and client, all the while performing unregulated services:  «Το κορμί σου το φιδίσιοφέρτο να στο κάνω ίσιοΚι άμα δεις ότι σ’ αρέσει, θα σου φτιάξω και την μέση». Now imagine Chrysantho, he of the investment property portfolio, sidling up to you and lisping: “Let me straighten your serpentine torso. And if you like it, I’ll sort out your back.” Sir Mixalot he is not, but the sentiments are just as creepy.” 

My interlocutor cringed, lovingly replaced the cigarette in the packet and picked at her teeth nervously. “Yuk, yuk, yuk!” 

“Precisely my point. What happened to the gentlemen of yesteryear? The Vamvakarides of «Τα ματόκλαδα σου λάμπουν» (Your eyebrows glow), whose lyrics criminally have not been used in a Maybelline commercial? At least he was forthright enough to provide his paramour with proper notice that he intended to enter her property at 3 am, possibly the first ever booty call in world music, signalling: «Χαράματαη ώρα τρειςθάρθω να σε ξυπνήσω». 

«Αυτοί ήταν άντρες!» my interlocutor exclaimed. 

Yet in the interests of full disclosure it was in the times of the rembetes that the rot truly began to set in. Take Panos Tountas’ «Περσεφόνη μου γλυκειά». Persephone may be a sweetie, Panos may spend have his day following her begging her not to reject him via the presentation of cogent arguments, but he ends his attempt at seduction with the following ominous warning: «Περσεφόνη στο δηλώνω/ πως αρχίζω να θυμώνω/ κι αν στ’ αλήθεια δε με αγαπάς/ από του Τζελέπη μην περνάς/ μη μου πάρεις στο λαιμό σου/ κοίτα για καλό δικό σου.» Personal safety intervention application here we come.” 

“So what is your point? All Greek singers are sick?” 

“The time has come to cancel Greek music,” I announced. “Its lyrics must be purged of threats of violence and aggression towards women. Take the erudite Yiannis Miliokas great paean to womankind: «Γιατί είσαι άγαρμπη, είσαι αναίσθητηείσαι κρυόκωλη και ανοργασμικιά». Definitely not what you would have wanted to have had dedicated to you on Richard Mercer’s Love Song Dedications.” 

“So what are they going to sing about?” my interlocutor asked, in genuine wonderment. 

Picking up the baglamaI began to rasp: «Από το βράδυ ως το πρωί/ Με πρέζα είμαι στη ζωή/ κι όλον τον κόσμο κατακτώ/ την άσπρη σκόνη σαν ρουφώ». 


First published in NKEE on Saturday 30 October 2021

Saturday, October 23, 2021


 «καὶ ἐμοσχοποίησαν ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις ἐκείναις καὶ ἀνήγαγον θυσίαν τῷ εἰδώλῳ, καὶ εὐφραίνοντο ἐν τοῖς ἔργοις τῶν χειρῶν αὐτῶν».       Acts 7:41 


Standing on Dionysou Areopagitou Street, close to the Odeon of Herod Atticus, at the foothills of the Acropolis, shines a newly erected statue in bronze, of legendary opera diva Maria Callas. Truly luminous, the statue has been created by sculptor Aphrodite Liti, who has previously worked as museum sculptor at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens. 

The relationship between sculpture and archaeology in Aphrodite Liti’s profession, within the Greek context, bears further analysis. Sculpture is a creative process, an interpretation of the object being portrayed. Archaeology on the other hand, which entails the interpretation of found objects already made, is also a creative process, in which the past is reconstructed, invariably to confirm to prevailing political, social or cultural ideologies. To be a sculptor in a museum that ostensibly displays the detritus of the past automatically entails sculpting if not the past itself, then at least, its detritus. 

The concept of setting up statues of famous or worthy citizens has deep Hellenic roots. In many cities of ancient Greece, citizens would vote for the erection of likenesses of exemplary inhabitants, as objects of admiration and emulation, fitting in with the state’s ethos and of course whenever necessary, for the destruction of these for political reasons. The statue of intersex sophist Favorinus for example, was pulled down by the anxious Athenians when they learned that he had displeased the Emperor Hadrian. The Corinthians also dismantled their statue of Favorinus, outside the city’s library and he, incensed, took the Corinthians to task for this, in writing. 

In doing so, Favorinus refers to his likeness as an εἰκών, (icon) which in the early Greek social context, referred to “portrait statues.” His statue was erected in front of the library of Corinth, Favorinus explains, for the specific purpose of inspiring people to pursue his noble profession. His statue and the library act together. The library reminds viewers of all that Favorinus embodies (his Greek education) and his statue directs them to the library so that they might achieve a similar station. His statue’s identity, therefore, is contingent on his icon’s placement and on the orientation of the people who move around or in front of it. 

Maria Callas is for western culture undoubtedly an icon. She is also a diva, a word which is used to describe an opera singer and which also connotes a self-important person who is temperamental and difficult to please. The term however, ultimately derives from the Latin word for goddess. By commissioning a statue in the likeness of Maria Callas, is the Maria Callas Greek Society, the instigator of this initiative, not merely honouring an outstanding citizen, in order to inspire others to emulate her remarkable achievements, but rather, assembling its own secular deity, for worship? 

The statue has already received a barrage of criticism both in Greece and abroad, with local wags considering that its glowing brass patina constitutes it a fitting counterpart to Star Wars’ 3-CPO. Indeed, such an observation is inspired, as one is compared to juxtapose a humanoid manipulated by an exterior will against the manipulation of the likeness of a departed human. Some find fault in the fact that the statue, austere, sleek, fluid and ambiguous does not in fact adequately resemble the received canon of likenesses of Maria Callas in all of her glamour and splendour, thus negating its original purpose of being a public εἰκώνAnother criticism pertains to the statue’s orientation, positioned in a lonely, isolated spot, within an archeologically significant area that bears scant relevance to her own life and contribution, and which relegates her to the status of a rarefied archaeological artefact rather than a human being whose experiences and talent can be analysed and evaluated.  

Others still pertinently pose questions as to the suitability of Maria Callas as an object of veneration in the context of Modern Greek culture in the first place. According to this view, Maria Callas although of Greek descent, was born outside of Greece, lived in Greece only for a decade, was an exponent of an art form that is western in origin, achieved fame outside Greece and neither contributed materially to the development of modern Greek culture or influenced it in any significant way, nor did she intend or manage to infuse her art with any discernible “Greek” perspective. Consequently, while her own undoubted artistic achievements, talent and association with an influential diasporic Greek capitalist caused the western world, to vicariously link her to her motherland, granting some type of positive media exposure to Greece during a turbulent period in its history, there is much within that discourse that is racist and neo-colonialist. Argued from this perspective, the erection of Maria Callas’ statue could be deemed as revelatory of an ontopathology of Modern Greek insecurity whereby a person is held to be of importance because they can achieve the acknowledgment and admiration of the dominant ruling class, by emulating their mores and tropes, thus legitimising “Modern Greece” in the estimation of the West, rather than for successfully articulating “Greek” ones, whatever these may be.  

Further, it is unknown as to whether the statue reinforces the violence of the western discourse on antiquity and culture by evoking its periphery’s local or particular engagement with concepts of that culture. The fact that one of the key public objections to the statue is that it is not in the prescribed classical form (bleached marble, chiselled features) that is ubiquitously employed to render Greek national heroes in innumerable statues throughout Greece and diasporan communities, an aesthetic replicated from the West as part of its appropriation of ancient Greek culture, is indicative of the extent to which the Modern Greek statuary aesthetic depends on the arbitration and approval of its cultural colonisers. 


To my mind, the statue of the brilliant and tragically flawed Maria Callas poignantly resembles a Logie or an Oscar, its brass luminosity an inspired interpretation of the often blinding sheen of fame, of its fleetingness, of the hollowness of public adoration, of its capacity to distort and of the incredible loneliness that it can engender.  "No, it's a very terrible thing to be Maria Callas, because it's a question of trying to understand something you can never really understand," the diva once candidly revealed.  The way the sculpture is already rusting onto the marble pediment is also supremely poetic, suggesting the corrosiveness of idolisation and subversively implying in the process, a particularly Greek götterdämmerung. 


An accomplished piece of art is not merely an εἰκώνa faithfull likeness. Instead, it is one that interprets the figure it portrays and creates a conversation about who that person is and what they actually signify, in all of their polyvalencies. By producing a care-worn, but no less stark and imposing version of Maria Callas, her sculptor is eminently successful in this. As a private initiative, there is need to distinguish art from the iconography of a official public monument which is in fact an idol. Aphroditi Litis’ sculpture is by no means an idol. It is an evocative visual poem about the process entailed in understanding the true face of those who we seek to deify. Most importantly, it facilitates a discussion that places the esteem we hold revered figures such as Maria Callas in much needed perspective. It is this discourse, that ensues immortality, as Favorinus well knew: 


“I will set you up by the god, where nothing will take you down, neither earthquake, nor wind, nor snow nor rain, nor envy nor hatred; but even now I find you standing. Already oblivion/forgetfulness has tripped some others and fooled them, but γνώμη fools no good man, by which you stand upright as befits a man.” 



First published in NKEE on 23 October 2021

Saturday, October 16, 2021


It seems like only yesterday that fresh out of university and having written the NUGAS column for three years, I was afforded the unique privilege by then editor Nick Psaltopoulos of writing the “Diatribe” column in Neos Kosmos’ English Edition. At that time, barakia were still operating in Russell and Chapel Streets, the youth of the Greek community in Melbourne were revelling in a Greek party culture imported from the motherland. Our community organisations reigned supreme and jostled for supremacy in overarching institutions such as the Council for Hellenes Abroad and it appeared that our Indian Summer was only just beginning. 

Yet the auguries were discernible enough for those perceptive enough to identify them and fault lines within and around the paradigms we accepted without question abounded. My original aim both in the NUGAS column and the early Diatribes was to provide readers with information about obscure moments in Greek history that were relevant to the present, in order to challenge stereotypes and prevailing ideologies that dared to prescribe who we should actually be. Armed with historical parallels gleaned from a diverse range of historical eras and perspectives, I felt that the reader would be empowered not to accept Western or even Community imposed definitions of identity, but to fashion their own, a condition precedent to entering into a debate as to who we are and what role our cultural identity can play in “multicultural” Australia. Along the way, readers have been introduced to Lucian, the ancient inventor of Star Wars, Philogelos, the inventor of the Dead Parrot Sketch, the Toupha, or peacock headdress of the Byzantine Emperors, as well as arcane lore concerning ancient Greek buttocks. 

In order to assess the memories that one refers to as comprising their identity, these need to be examined critically. Over the years, the Diatribe has not shied away from reappraising the massacre of Muslims and Jews during the Greek Revolution, the way in which the word “Macedonian” was employed in Greek literature by certain authors in order to purposely deny Slav speakers their Bulgarian heritage, among other historical controversies. In so doing, I have encountered interest and ire, vexation and vitriol, admiration and admonition and I have been grateful for all these reactions, for it is in constant re-examination and questioning of the elements that provide us with a sense of collectivity and the ability to relate these to our present reality, that vitality and future relevance lies. 

There is a palpable sense of nostalgia and loss to many of the Diatribes. Early on, Neos Kosmos English Edition Editor Argyris Argyropoulos pointed out to me that as month followed month, ways of life that we took for granted, were vanishing as the generations passed. This encouraged me to share my own memories of growing up in suburban Melbourne among a village community that framed my sense of self, and which has since broken apart and vanished. I have written about customs such as tending the garden, visiting aunts and being offered spoon sweets and vanilla at the end of a spoon, the interweaving of flowers in wire mesh screen doors as a sign of a visit missed, the unique architectural aesthetic that characterised the first generation which is now in the process of being lost. In doing this I mourned the passing of my own grandparents publicly, hoping that in my attempt to contextualise their way of life, I was preserving memories that are common to us all because after all this is the cultural capital we all have in common. It binds us together and the question of how we will go on when those who have framed our identity for us, is ever present. 

The preserving of memory has been a key concern of the Diatribe. It became apparent while writing that to all intents and purposes, we suffer from collective amnesia about the history of our presence in this country. While many of us know much about Greek history and thanks to Greek satellite television which has transformed our relationship with the motherland, engage with its current zeitgeist, there appears to be no widespread recognition of the uniqueness of our own historical experience in this country. Little knowledge or appreciation of the struggles of the pre-War Greek community inform our collective consciousness. Nor do we keep at the forefront of our minds the intense battles for social equality and multiculturalism fought by the progressive elements of our community and from time to time, I have sought to highlight these, by means of cautionary tales about the dangers of taking our hard won privileges/rights for granted. These perspectives follow a shift in my own personal thinking over the past two decades: from the desire to seamlessly fit in with the Greek mainstream, to a growing realisation that ours is a unique alternate branch of Hellenism with traditions, cultural memories and discourses all of their own. At the risk, as one Greek Consul General once told me in exasperation, of being considered of propagating a doctrine of “Greece for the Greeks, Greek Australia for the Greek Australians,” I have become an unabashed proponent of seeking to articulate our own distinctive understanding of who we are, negotiated between two cultures, without this being considered in any way a diminution of our core identity beliefs.  

Over the years, Diatribe has thus attempted to view both Greek and Australian social and political phenomena from an idiosyncratic Greek-Australian position, discussing same sex marriage, suicide, clumsy efforts by successive Greek governments to engage with the Diaspora as well as endemic racism within the Australian “multicultural discourse.” The rationale is that our existence as a bridge between the two cultures means that we are affected by the social phenomena of both. For that reason, they need to be examined, criticised and discussed. I have relished and learnt from many readers incisive responses and opinions in this regard. 

During the twenty years of the Diatribe, many events of import have affected me personally, chief among them, marrying and having children, as well as losing my loved ones. Many of the Diatribes ask questions about the direction we are taking with Greek language learning, the plight of the elderly and vulnerable members of our community, the fate of our ever-declining brotherhoods and their stagnant resources, the manner in which our current institutions have failed to formulate a coherent vision for the inclusion of the latter generations in the collective affairs of the community. Diatribe has also stood admiringly and watched as individuals and groups within the broader community have bucked the trend and have introduced vitality and a trajectory of their own. The building of the Greek Centre, a major historical achievement and the atmosphere of inclusion that this has engendered has been a source of perennial fascination. The manner in which university students and graduates have organised to create such wonderful expressions of Hellenism as murals, lectures, articles published in Neos Kosmos in which key aspects of Greek culture are interrogated point to  a version of the future that fill us with optimism. However, the Diatribe has also had to criticise disturbing phenomena such as the rise of neo-fascism within sections of our community. What form do we want our community to be like for our children, is thus a question that is often posited by the Diatribe. The answer it invariably comes to time and time again, is to provide no answer. Instead, we need to give the latter generations, enough support, trust and resources, to solve that question for themselves, according to their own requirements. The Diatribe thus often concerns itself with members of the community, known and unknown who are doing exactly that. 

Underlying twenty years of Diatribe is thus an immense love for our community and a sense that there is something truly valuable in espousing a Greek cultural identity in Australia. In celebrating who we are, examining both negative and positive aspects to our multifaceted existence and accepting that we are so diverse, so fascinatingly complex, so omnipresent in all fields of the mainstream as to defy definition, in postulating whether we are in fact engaged in two discourses, an outward one, responding to the way the ruling class sees and defines us and an inner one, conducted both in English and Greek responding to our own needs and internal tensions, we draw ever closer. It is this closeness, this feeling that despite our many differences there is a common thread linking all of us, encouraging us to support and encourage and assist each other that the beauty of our community lies.  

This is also the reason why the writing of the Diatribe for the past decade at least has been a consultative, collaborative and democratic process. Once the bare bones of each article are written, they are posted on social media, there to be dissected, criticised, pilloried and critiqued by readers. On many occasions, I am compelled to discard the entire premise of the narrative as erroneous, to re-assess suppositions or facts in the light of others, or to take into account perspectives I had no idea existed. The ever present corny jokes however, remain my own. I remain ever grateful to those readers who care enough to engage in this process with me. I am also humbled by readers who take the time to confide that reading the Diatribe has taken them on a journey of re-interpretation of the world around them, all of their own, or encouraged them to try their own hand at writing. Some of their work is truly awe-inspiring. 

Everyone has something to say, and yet not everyone is always afforded the opportunity to say it. In this I am perennially grateful to the proprietor of Neos Kosmos, its Editor in Chief, English Edition Editors, journalists and staff for their support, their insight and their forthright criticism. Many of them have become close friends and to be included in the Neos Kosmos family, to be granted a glimpse as to how it comprises the glue that keeps our community together, is truly a gift. Diatribe now enters its third decade and on a weekly basis I am contacted by people who express the view that they have “grown up,” with it. So have I and for this and the continued existence of Neos Kosmos, I am eternally thankful. 


First  published in NKEE on Saturday 16 October 2021