Saturday, January 22, 2022


The twelve days of Christmas are well and truly over, even if yet again for another year, their termination was not marked by a mass migration to Princess Pier, for the ritual blessing of the waters and consumption of souvlaki. The Christmas goblins, the kallikantzaroi, are by now, once again safely tucked back underneath the bowels of the earth and have once more commenced hacking at the tree that holds the world in place, while we acting in concert, do everything to poison its surface. It is by this we know that the holidays are over. 

Just before Christmas a friend’s son asked how one expresses the terms goblin and elf in Greek. While goblin can equate to a kallikantzaro, in and of itself, it is actually a Greek loan word. Its origins like in the kobalos (Κόβαλος,) an ancient Greek sprite, a mischievous creature fond of tricking and frightening mortals, even robbing Heracles. 

Greek myths depict the kobaloi as impudent, cheeky, amusing elves of a phallic nature and their depictions are common in ancient Greek art. Having spread into Europe with various spellings including "goblin" and "hobgoblin", and later taking root and stemming from Germanic mythology, they survived into modern times in German and English folklore. Interestingly enough, the name of the element cobalt comes from the creature's name, because medieval miners blamed the sprite for the poisonous and troublesome nature of the arsenical ores of this metal which polluted other mined elements. 


“Why are you telling me this?” the father asked enraged, for he is one of those people that believe that Christmas is over on 26 December and spends Boxing Day taking down the Christmas tree as his children look on and weep silently, not so much for the Christmas tree but because invariably the next day they will be forced to stay at their grandparent’s holiday home in Blairgowrie for the next three weeks, whereupon they will be trundled up and down every single latte purveying establishment on the Mornington Peninsula, as pappou and yiayia are addicted to Greek satellite television and no longer show any interest in playing with little Demetra-Sienna and Charles-Kanelos.  


Doron, my Jewish friend who has married into a Greek family, also dreads the annual pilgrimage to his in-law’s holiday house. His is more of a weather-related phobia. “When the weather turns sour, as it always does in Melbourne, spare a thought for us poor buggers entombed in our in-law’s holiday houses with no possible means of escape,” he pleads. When we last spoke, Darren communicated his plan of catching COVID so that if needs must, he could remain in splendid isolation, alone. I remind him that the Hebrew term “to assimilate,” lehityaven, literally means “to become Greek.” Resistance is futile. 


Mary, who hails from Doncaster on the other hand and religiously attends her parents’ holiday house in Rye for two weeks of the summer every year, this year is considering breaking tradition. The reason for this bout of iconoclasm relates to the fact that she has increasingly come to deplore the amount of depilatory preparation required before she deems herself suitable to appear upon the sands in bathing costume. The rationale behind her contention is detailed and graphic, so I feel comfortable enough to inform her that on Thasos in ancient times, around 480BC as statues attest, it was de rigeur for pubic hair to be tightly trimmed into the shape of a horizontal bar, or a diamond shape. 

Around 450BC, these artificial patterns began to be abandoned in favour of an unstyled natural growth. Before the Brazilian, therefore, there was the Thasian. 


Mystifyingly, I do not receive an invitation to visit her in Rye, this year. 


Katya, who hails from Ivanhoe and whose relations do not own holiday homes on the Peninsula is an expert at wrangling free accommodation via the extraction of polite and vague invitations from friends to stay at their in-law’s places, which she immediately accepts with alacrity. She has saved thousands over the years in this way but she will not accept an invitation to stay with anyone on the Bellarine Peninsula, for this is the domain of the lower quality Greek. I relish annually inviting her to stay in my non-existent holiday home in St Leonards. Declining this year as she does always, she proffers by way of excuse that she has taken up portrait painting and that the light necessary for her art can only be found in abundance between Dromana and Tootgarook. 


I inform her that according to Pliny, portraiture began with the fear of lost love. In Book 35 of his Natural History, he tells the story of Kora, the daughter of Butades of Sicyon. Smitten with love for a youth at Corinth, she drew upon the wall the outline of his shadow by candlelight, and that upon this outline her father modelled a face of the object of her affection in clay, which he baked along with the clay roof tiles he was in the business of making. Now the daughter could keep her beloved's likeness forever, inventing the portrait and the ρουφιάνοall in one hit. The object of Katya’s ardour is a married gentleman, a decade older than her who keeps promising to leave his wife when the time is right. We muse together as to whether she could draw the outline of his belly in candelight, and how much wall would be required. She promises to wrangle me an invitation to his place, as soon as she secures her own. 

Adonis, whose real name was Yianni before he changed it, enjoys the use of an impressive establishment on Mount Martha and never fails to invite me every Summer. A part time competitive fighter and athlete in his heyday, he is toned and sleek and perpetually on the prowl, boasting of his many Summer conquests along the pubs of the Peninsula, which form his preferred hunting ground. Invariably I decline, not so much so as to not intrude upon his nocturnal activities, but moreso because of the periodical appearances of his mother who suddenly manifests herself without warning, brandishing a mop and bucket to clean his various messes, all the while enjoining him to rethink his bachelorhood and louche lifestyle yelling: «ΤέρμαΤέρμα!» 

When first I heard the exasperated lady, I was reminded that one of the most common expression for the female climactic orgasm in ancient Greece, was "Aphrodite's finishing post," (Ἀφροδίτης τέρμα). I relayed this important fact to Adonis, providing an example of how the term was used in Achilles Tatios' Hellenistic novel: "Leucippe and Clitophon" where Clitophon says: 

«πρὸς δὲ τὸ τέρμα αύτὸ τῆς Ἀφροδίτης ή γυνὴ γενομένη πέφυκεν ἀσθμαίνειν ὑπὸ καυματώδους ἡδονῆς...». 

"And as the woman reaches Aphrodite's finishing post, she pants with blazing pleasure..." 

Today, of course the word τέρμα is commonly used in sport in Modern Greek to signify a goal, something that Adonis appreciates greatly, but neither Adonis nor I can keep a straight face when his mother yells «ΤέρμαΤέρμα!» while cleaning the toilet and thus Ι am obliged to stay away. 


Always, in the Summer, I am drawn to Dromana, where my father’s people all retired. In their prime, those Summers would consist of following the smell of barbeque from one backyard to the other. There, huddled beneath the fig, the peach and the apricot trees, the older men would cook chops, compete with each other over the size of their tomatoes, launch into lengthy disputations about the relative merits or faults of the president of the regional Brotherhood they all belonged to, while hatching intricate plots to bring him down, all of which were forgotten after their post-prandial siesta. As a young boy I dreamt of being like Philip of Pergamon, known to us only through an inscription on the base of his statue. In that inscription, he provided the ideology informing his writing of history - highlighting the horror of conflict and how it can easily arise, a manifesto that should inform any would-be historian of the Greek clubs of Melbourne: 

"With my pious hand I delivered to the Greeks the historical narrative of the most recent deeds: all sorts of sufferings and a continual mutual slaughter having taken place in our days…. I did this, so they may learn also through us, how many evils are brought forth by courting the mob, love of profit, civil strife, and the breaking of trust, and thus, by observing the sufferings of others, they may live their lives in the right way." 


Nowadays, these plotters are largely lying in plots of their own, or are in extreme old age, secluded for their own health and for me Dromana is now but a necropolis of childhood memories that linger without being able to find true rest. Furthermore, in order to be taken seriously as a historian of Greek clubs, you need to have mastered the art of convincing said clubs that it is necessary for them to part with tens of thousands of dollars before you will be able to persuade the world that they are in any way historically significant, and I would rather go fishing instead.  I eat at the overpriced derivative restaurant that purports to be Greek, purveying dips straight out of the tub, just how we like them, listening to my compatriots on the other tables complain about their relatives in the holiday homes they are staying at. Driving past the sepulchral brick veneer buildings all constructed at the same time with the same enthusiastic aesthetic, I make my way to the pier, to take a stroll. 


Just in front of me university aged girl with large plastic rimmed glasses and a distinctive Oakleigh accent remarks to her friend: 

- I don’t know anything about classical music but I don’t like it. It’s just about entitled dead white dudes. 

Not being able to help myself I interject: 

- Have you heard of Tchaikovsky? 

- No what’s that? 

- He was a Russian composer. He struggled with poverty and his sexuality and committed suicide by deliberately contracting cholera so he wouldn’t be outed as gay. 

- As I said, she shruggs her shoulders. A dead white dude. 

- How is he any more or less entitled than Jay Z or Snoop Dogg? I ask. 

- Who is Snoop Dogg? she asks.  


Suddenly I feel old. Winter is coming…. 



First published in NKEE on Saturday 22 January 2022