Saturday, July 29, 2023



You won’t find a more ostensibly “Greek” person in our community than Kerry. She is my main source of information as to the latest Greek songs. She never misses a concert by any visiting singer from Greece. Her arms are festooned with kombosxoinia and matia, and she wears a gold chain that bears her name in Greek: Καλλιόπη. While her workmates enthuse over the latest series on Neftlix, she yawns when I describe my delight at a newly discovered series on Ertflix, because she has seen them all, including the one millionth episode of Χαιρέτα μας τον Πλάτανο.

Kerry is an avid reader of Neos Kosmos and prides herself for being one of two people in her increasingly broad social circle who can and will read Cavafy in the original. Although wont to parade around the quadrangle draped in a Greek flag in her university years, nowadays she manifests her Greekness via the spoken word, which is crisp, clean and startingly Athenian, for she has perfected her accent through years of watching Ant1 Satellite Television. Her young son also speaks in the same incisive tones as he has been reared on a diet of Greek cartoons from Youtube.

When I caught up with Kerry earlier in the year in the environs of Oakleigh, she was frowning over a copy of Neos Kosmos.

“You know, with all this stuffing around with the Greek electoral laws, the Greek government is creating two classes of Greeks in Melbourne,” she scowled.

“You mean people who attend the Consulate General to vote KKE, and everyone else?” I enquired.

“No. Look at how the vote is defined: «Ψήφος Αποδήμων», “Voting for the Greeks Abroad.” But in actual fact, there is no voting for the Greeks Abroad. There are just voting rights for people who are enrolled in the electoral roll.”

“Which makes sense,” I hastened to opine. “We haven’t had unregistered voters participating in the electoral process since the time of the Junta.”

“No, it doesn’t, Kerry continued. “What it does, is suggest that to Greece, the only Greeks who are «απόδημοι» are those who are entitled to vote. “

I found this strange and ventured to say so. “According to the prevailing laws, all those who had a Greek ancestor,” have the right to citizenship.”

“You are referring to the term «ομογενής», which literally means of same kind, or alike,” Kerry pointed out. So in order to be deemed a Greek, we have to go through a process of homogenization and pasteurisation as if we are a milk product.”

I found this amusing and laughed out loud.

“It actually isn’t funny at all,” Kerry spat. Until such time as we submit ourselves to the torturous processes of Greek public servants and spend years trying to furnish useless documents to “prove” that we are homogenous, we aren’t really Greeks Abroad. And even if we are there are a myriad of qualifications before we can be deemed worthy of voting. That is what I’m trying to tell you. There are two types of Greeks in Melbourne. Those who are registered as Greek citizens – and these are the Greeks Abroad, and the rest of us, who have not or cannot. And my question to you, is this: Unless we undergo that process, what are we? Potential Greeks? Lapsed Greeks or Aussies with funny surnames? Because we sure as hell are not Greeks Abroad.”

Like me, Kerry’s parents arrived in Australia when they were very young. Like my own parents, her parents saw no reason to lodge a record of their marriage or their children’s births with the Consulate General of Greece because (a) they didn’t know they had to and (b) they had no intention of ever returning to live in Greece, so they would never have seen the need to do so.

Kerry too, has no intention of returning permanently to Greece but desperately wants to be considered a Greek formally, via the obtaining of citizenship. “I want to be a Greek,” she states. “A real Greek. One with a ταυτότητα, an identity card. We’ve spent all our lives trying to maintain the Greek language, the Greek identity. Yet they make it so bloody hard and you have to jump through so many bloody hoops to get it.”

Kerry’s desire to be a card-carrying Greek was inflamed the day that her friend’s grandmother obtained a Greek passport for her grandson, Trent, who doesn’t speak a word of Greek and has no connection to the Greek community. However, an avid soccer player, he was desirous of obtaining a European passport for the purposes of travelling to Spain and attending Real Madrid’s Soccer Academy, in the hopes of becoming the next Sergio Ramos. “Here people who know nothing about Greece get citizenship and we struggle from one proxeneio appointment to the other.”

Kerry’s conundrum is compounded by the fact that her parents, both deceased have left her no official documents from Greece attesting to their identity. “When I went to the proxeneio, I thought that everything was computerised and they could just look up the information. But nothing is computerised. They gave me a whole list of documents I need to provide and I have absolutely no idea how I can obtain them, even though my Greek is good. I asked them, if the process is this complicated, how do people whose Greek is poor manage with the process and they just shrugged their shoulders. They just told me to get a relative in the xorio to help me. I tried to explain to them that my parents left their village over seventy years ago and I don’t really have a relationship with any relatives that remained behind and no contact with the village but they didn’t provide any other alternatives. So now I have all these papers I need to provide, which in any other civilised country would be digitised, and which by the way are irrelevant and useless (Kerry is a public servant so if she says something is useless, it is invariably so) and what’s more no way of obtaining them.”

When I met up with Kerry on Saturday last at the same time and place and enquired as to how imminent the prospect of her Hellenisation was, she buried her head in her hands. “I’ve put a stop to it,” she snapped. “I get the feeling that they don’t really want us to be Greeks and they are merely making us jump through as many hoops as possible so we can eventually give up. It makes sense if you consider the Greek State to be a larger extension of the Greek community. Just as Greek brotherhoods try to restrict the membership as much as possible so that no one challenges their hegemony, so too does the Greek State pay lip service to “Global Hellenism” or whatever buzzword they use at the time while at the same time doing their utmost to keep us out.”

I found this rather far-fetched and said so. Granted Greece is a country whose bureaucracy is specifically designed to stop anything from ever happening but we should take pride in the fact that we do this better than anyone else in the world.  “If anything,” I ventured to say “you should be proud of the fact that you are being treated as equally badly by the Greek Public Service as any other Greek citizen. That is why they are all perennially angst-ridden and forgive me if I call your patriotic fervour into question if you deign to give up, faced with only with bureaucratic obstacles. What of your ancestors guarding Thermopylae or fighting at the Inn of Gravia? Where is your fighting spirit?”

“Neither Leonidas nor Odysseas Androutsos had to deal with Greek Consular Staff,” she lamented. “But that was not the clincher. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when they told me that even if I get my citizenship, the name on my identity card will not be Καλλιόπη Μανδαλοπούλου but ΚέρρυΜάνδαλ, because that is how my birth certificate appears in English. Apparently, they will not recognise the Greek version of my name as it appears in my baptism certificate, and the only way I can have my Greek name recognised by the Greek authorities is if I officially change my name and then provide half a forest of documents attesting to my new identity. Why would I want to go through the entire rigmarole of “becoming a Greek,” if my Greek identity is to emphasis a foreignness whose expunging is the purpose of my trying to become a Greek in the first place?”

“But your Australian name is just as much as part of your identity as your Greek name,” I observed. And why try to hide your Australian provenance? It is your Australianness that gives you value as a Greek and sets you apart from everyone else. Look at all those Greeks abroad historically whose names were a bit wonky: Averoff, Tsakaloff, Maria Menounos instead of Menounou.”

“What I want to know is why they go out of their way to emphasise difference instead of what brings us together. At the end of the day, our efforts to remain Greeks in Australia mean nothing to them.”

“Maybe because even though that foreignness is part and parcel of the apodemic condition, there is still room for it in the Greek national narrative,” I considered.

“Theorising is great but if you ever get your citizenship, you won’t be known as Κωνσταντίνος Καλυμνιός. To all Greeks henceforth you will be known as Ντιν Καλιμνίου. Thoughts?”

“Bugger that,” I replied and ordered another frappe.


First published in NKEE on Saturday 29 July 2023

Saturday, July 22, 2023



“This was the ugliest man who came beneath Ilion. He was bandy-legged and went lame of one foot, with shoulders stooped and drawn together over his chest, and above this his skull went up to a point with the wool grown sparsely upon it.” The Iliad Book II.

In the heroic world of the Iliad, those figures who because of their physical disabilities are perceived to fall short of the mark are often ridiculed and reviled. The case of Thersites, a Greek soldier punished for having the effrontery to speak truth to power, is a case in point. Yet a close analysis of Homer’s disabled characters in the epic reveals that rather than being figures of scorn, they act as symbols of the voiceless and the marginalized, their mistreatment serving as a stark critique of the unjust power dynamics that exist within the world of the Iliad.

Homer does not mention Thersites’ father's name in the Iliad, implying common origins rather than an aristocratic pedigree, and thus magnifying his effrontery when he takes his social betters to task. Above all it is physical deformity that renders him unequal to other men and thus barred from voicing dissent, with the poet referring to him as: “Evil-favoured…beyond all men that came to Ilios.”

When he does dare to criticise the avarice of the leaders of the Greek army, Homer deliberately feminises Thersites, stating not that he merely spoke his mind, but rather, than he uttered “shrill cries.” The main object of Thersites’ ire is King Agamemnon, who he condemns for his squabble with Achilles over ownership of the slave girl Briseis. In castigating him for his avarice, his manipulation of the war solely for the amassing of plunder and his total disregard for the welfare of his men, Thersites immediately becomes subversive, not only because he is subverting the social order by criticising a king but also in his attempt to feminise in turn, all of the king’s followers for not objecting to his reprehensible behaviour:

“Son of Atreus, what’s your problem now, what more do you need? Your huts are filled with bronze, crowded with women, the pick of the spoils we Achaeans grant you when we sack a city. Is it gold you want now, the ransom for his son some horse-taming Trojan shall bring you out of Ilium, the son that I or some other Achaean have bound and led away? Or a young girl to sleep with, one for you alone? Is it right for our leader to wrong us in this way? Fools, shameful weaklings, Achaean women, since you’re no longer men, home then with our ships, and leave this fellow here, at Troy, to contemplate his prizes.”

Thersites’ words are caustic and bitter, yet there is no secret made about the fact that he is deliberately trying to conduct criticism through laughter and satire, as he “cared not what he said, so that he might set the Achaeans in a laugh.”

Ultimately though, the laugh will be on him, for Odysseus will refuse to get the joke. Berating Thersites as one of whom there is “none baser,” he rebukes him for having the temerity to challenge Agamemnon. He threatens to “strip away” his clothing and send him “bare and howling back to the fast ships, whipping you out of the assembly place with the strokes of indignity.” The threat however, apparently needs to be backed up by violence and he proceeds to physically assault him. Homer is careful to note that while many of those present share Thersites’ sentiments, Thersites’ humiliation, which causes him emotional anguish and shame as well as pain, brings them great joy as they delight in seeing him humbled:

“Odysseus, struck with his staff at Thersites’ back and shoulders, and the man cowered and shed a huge tear, as a bloody weal was raised behind by the golden staff. Then terrified, and in pain, he sat, helplessly wiping the tear from his eye.”

What is important here is that the deformed Thersites, barred from critiquing those in authority, is silenced. It is for this reason that those witnessing and thus implicated in the hapless Thersites’ humiliation comment on Odysseus’ assault: “This is surely the best thing he’s done for us Greeks, in shutting this scurrilous babbler’s mouth. I think Thersites’ proud spirit will shrink from ever again abusing kings with his foul words.” An army riven by dissent and discord is suddenly united in its mutual derision of the disabled.

This disturbing scene has modern antecedents. In November 2015, US President Donald Trump mocked the physical appearance of disabled reporter Serge Kovaleski, after he questioned one of his claims. It is also a scene mirrored in more exalted spheres elsewhere in the Iliad, which give rise to questions as to the meaning of the disabled in Homer’s symbolic palette.

One cannot imagine more perfect beings than the gods. Yet it is on Olympus, in Book I, that we meet a disabled figure who is immortal: the lame Hephaestus. As in the case of Thersites, his affliction is used as a means of creating mirth that will dissipate conflict. Hera is angry at Zeus and he threatens her with physical violence if she does not submit to his will: “Now sit there, quiet, and obey me; lest I set my all-powerful hands on you, and all the gods of Olympus lack the strength save you.”

Hephaestus, who was maimed by Zeus’ violence hastens to his mother, highlighting the potential grave consequences of her defiance:

“Be patient, mother, and contain your anger, lest you who are dear to me are beaten while I look on. For all my pain, there’s no way I could help you, the Olympian is a tough antagonist to face. Once before, when I rushed to save you, he seized me by the foot and hurled me from heaven’s threshold; all day headlong I plunged, and fell, with the sun, half-dead, to Lemnos’ shore.”

The lame god then seeks to provoke laughter by acting as cup-bearer to the other gods and indulging in self-ridicule, stumbling here and there on his bad foot. The gods laugh at his own self-mockery and peace is restored. What possible distinguishes Hephaestus from his Thersites is his acknowledgment of his disfigurement. While Thersites appears to ignore it and to demand to be treated like an equal, Hephaestus seems to believe that this is not possible. By “owning” his disability and accepting his lower status, he can weaponise it in order to bring about a desired outcome even if this is submission to a patriarchal order.

Other disabled characters in the Homeric epics are treated with greater respect. Demodocus the Bard is blind, but his songs are in great demand. He is one “whom the Muse loved above all others, [al]though she had mingled good and evil in her gifts, robbing him of his eyes but granting him the gift of sweet song.” He so appreciated by Odysseus, that he is moved to gift him one of his own pork chops. It should be noted however, that at no time does Demodocus seek to disrupt the pre-established order and for all his blindness, he is not described as physically ugly.

The word Homer employs to describe Thersites is αἴσχιστος, an ambiguous term that could mean either “ugliest” or “most shameful,” thus intertwining physical deformity with morality, a concept common to the ancient world. Viewed from this perspective, Thersites’ physical appearance may be considered a reflection of his character by the Greek ruling class but the manner in which Homer portrays the scene provokes in his audience a sense of pity and empathy for Thersites that transcends notions of class and highlights social injustice and the importance of personal courage.

A complex character that defies stereotypification, Thersites’ literary legacy is diverse. Mentioned in Plato's Gorgias as an example of a soul that can be cured in the after-life because of his lack of might and in The Republic as one who chooses to be reborn as a non-human ape, in the Alexander Romance, Alexander the Great supposedly addresses Homer thus: “I would sooner be a Thersites in Homer than an Agamemnon in your writing.” Making an appearance as a fool-type figure in Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, as well as in Goethe’s Faust, the multi-faceted nature of his character absorbed the philosopher Hegel in his Lectures on the Philosophy of History:

"The Thersites of Homer who abuses the kings is a standing figure for all times. He does not get in every age . . . the blows that he gets in Homer. But his envy, his egotism, is the thorn which he has to carry in his flesh. And the undying worm that gnaws him is the tormenting consideration that his excellent views and vituperations remain absolutely without result in the world.”

The assault on Thersites highlights the hierarchy and abuse of power prevalent among the Greek warriors in the Iliad, where the physically weaker and socially marginalized are treated as objects of ridicule and violence. Whether truly the “first conscientious objector,” as he was characterised by Floyd Dell in his 1914 article ‘Homer and The Soapbox’, printed in the socialist US magazine ‘The Masses,’ or the harbinger of a future revolution, as he is portrayed in Philip Davies 1938 play “Trojan Incident,’ where he declaims: “All we are to you is so many bodies to heap up to the glory of Greece. In the name of a whore that no decent man would allow under his roof. … We have pulled down cities at your orders. We have murdered and plundered, we have died and rotted for you. But your men will not always be blind,” Thersites endures as a powerful literary motif for the dispossessed, the reviled and the dissenting, as well as a cautionary tale for the fate of satirists and those with unbridled tongues at the hands of  the perennially insecure in power.


First published in NKEE on Saturday 22 July 2023

Saturday, July 15, 2023



Once upon a time, a young Turk, working as a press attaché in the Turkish Embassy in London, began to feel homesick. Post-war 1947 London, still reeling after the bombings of the Second World War, was a drab, austere and cold place, very different from his vibrant home city of Constantinople, which emerged from the conflagration unscathed, owing to Turkey’s neutrality.

The dislocation from his homeland seems to have had a distinct effect upon the nostalgic young diplomat. In particular, it facilitated him finding common cause with other expatriates from neighbouring countries, sharing related cultures who shared the same pinings for home. A gifted poet, while looking at the leaden sky brooding low over exhausted London, he saw in its place, only the deep azure sky and sea of his motherland, realising that its majesty cannot be confined by borders. Taking up his pen, he wrote:


You become aware when you feel homesick

That you are brothers with the Greek;

Just look at a child of Istanbul

Listening to a Greek epic.

We've sworn at each other

In the free manner of our language.

We've drawn knife on blood

Yet a love lies hidden in us

For days of peace like these.

What if in our veins

It were the same blood that flows?

From the same air in our hearts

A crazy wind blows.

So generous like this rain

And warm like the sun.

The armfuls of goodness of spring

That surge from within.

Our hostility is like a drink

Distilled from the fruit of the climate

As harmful and as tasteful as any drink.

From this water from this taste have we sinned.

A blue magic between us

And this warm sea

And two peoples on its shores

Equals in beauty.

The golden age of the Aegean

Will revive through us

As with the fire of the future

The hearth of the past comes alive.

First a merry laughter comes to your ear

Then some Turkish with a Greek accent.

Nostalgic about the Bosporus

And you remember the Raki.

It is when you are homesick

That you recall you are brothers with the Greek.”


The poet granted the poem the title:  Türk-yunan Şiiri (“Turkish-Greek Poem”) and leaving London, he travelled to America, where as a guest journalist for the Winston-Salem Journal in North Carolina, he bravely decried the endemic racism of the 1950’s American South, castigating the so-called ‘democratic’ Americans for being: 

“guilty of refusing to drink from the same fountain as the man who has fought on the same front for the same cause; guilty of refusing to travel on the same coach or seat as the man who has been working with equal ardour for a common community; guilty of refusing to pray to God side by side with the man who believes in the same prophet’s teaching.”

This man, possessed of such lofty and noble humanitarian ideals, inordinately cultured and utterly convinced of the brotherhood of all mankind, a radical who once opined: “Those wanting to improve democracy in their countries should not wait for permission,” was Bülent Ecevit. In 1974, as Prime Minister of Turkey, he ordered the Invasion of Cyprus.

Ever the humanitarian, he made the order, invoking Turkey’s right under the Treaty of Guarantee to protect the Turkish Cypriots and guarantee the independence of Cyprus. After all, it was the Greek Junta who had toppled the democratically elected government of Cyprus and sought to compromise its independence. Did not the ethnarch Archbishop and President Makarios, in his speech to the UN security council, describe the coup which replaced him as “an invasion of Cyprus by Greece?” Did he not state that there were “no prospects” of success in the talks aimed at resolving the situation between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, as long as the leaders of the coup, sponsored and supported by Greece, were in power?

Ecevit must have taken Archbishop Makarios at his word and the West applauded him for it. In Resolution 573, the Council of Europe supported the legality of the first wave of the Turkish invasion that he ordered, as per Article 4 of the Guarantee Treaty of 1960, which allows Turkey, Greece, and the United Kingdom to unilaterally intervene militarily in failure of a multilateral response to crisis in Cyprus.

It must have been under the inspiration of his verses “We've drawn knife on blood/Yet a love lies hidden in us,” that Ecevit ordered the Second Invasion of Cyprus, which, in keeping with his high minded and morally principled world-view, he named his “Second Peace Operation.” It is in the furtherance of that hidden love for his fellow Greek that Ecevit’s army extended its occupation from merely the zone around Kyrenia, to thirty percent of the entire island.

It must have been while pondering the question he posed in his poem: “What if in our veins/ It were the same blood that flows?” that the poet ordered his army to ethnically cleanse the northern part of Cyprus, driving 160,000 Greek Cypriots from their homes, slaughtering and raping the innocent, looting, pillaging and destroying their cultural heritage and creating over two thousand missing persons, the vast majority of whom are still unaccounted for.

I wonder whether he recalled the verses of his poem: “The hearth of the past comes alive./ First a merry laughter comes to your ear,” when he allowed himself to be portrayed in propaganda posters as a benign figure, smiling approvingly as the soldiers under his command crush defenceless civilians under their jackboot.

Indeed, I wonder whether the poet remembered just how fervently he chastised the American imperialists when he presided over the setting up of a system where Turkish and Greek Cypriots could not drink from the same fountain, nor travel on the same coach or seat, could not pray to God side by side, with least fifty five churches having been converted into mosques and another fifty churches and monasteries into stables, stores, hostels, or demolished, along with their adjacent cemeteries and indeed, could not live next to each other. A regime which used rape systematically to "soften" resistance and clear civilian areas through fear, where even the Greek Cypriots left behind in Karpassia are still subject to harassment and intimidation half a century later. Was it for the poet’s passionately hoped for “days of peace like these,” that so many crimes were committed and so much heartbreak was caused?

By the time the European Commission of Human Rights issued its reports of 1976 and 1983, Ecevit was not longer Prime Minister, assassination attempts and a Turkish Military Coup having intervened. I wonder, though whether he reflected upon the: “blue magic between us/ And this warm sea” as he read the Commission’s finding on the crimes committed at his behest:

“Having found violations of a number of Articles of the Convention, the Commission notes that the acts violating the Convention were exclusively directed against members of one of two communities in Cyprus, namely the Greek Cypriot community. It concludes by eleven votes to three that Turkey has thus failed to secure the rights and freedoms set forth in these Articles without discrimination on the grounds of ethnic origin, race, religion as required by Article 14 of the Convention.”

Ecevit, Turkey’s only ever Socialist Prime Minister, harboured a great love for releasing doves of peace into the air during his election rallies and the dove is still the emblem of the Democratic Left Party which he founded. I wonder as he released those doves into the air and as he accepted the soubriquet Kıbrıs Fatihi "Conqueror of Cyprus,” whether he considered that it must have been a: “surge from within./ [A] hostility.. like a drink/ Distilled from the fruit of the climate/ As harmful and as tasteful as any drink,” that caused him to equate violence, brutality, apartheid and racial intolerance with peace. I wonder, as I re-read his poem time and time again, agreeing with him in his description of the Aegean: “two peoples on its shores/ Equals in beauty,” what hurts more: the pain of a crime that has been perpetuated for the past forty nine years, or that long before the time of his death in 2006, Ecevit was no longer homesick and thus unable to: “recall [that his people are] brothers with the Greek.”


First published in NKEE on Saturday 15 July 2023

Saturday, July 08, 2023



«Μες το μαχαλά πέφτει κουμπουριά

Οι ζεϊμπέκηδες χορεύουν στου Ντελή Θρακιά

Πίνουνε ρακί τρώνε παστουρμάΚαι χτυπάνε τα ποδάρια με τα γεμενιά..»

The year is 2002 and it is Grigoris’ twenty fifth birthday. I have just made it to the Retreat Hotel two hours late, for I am a newly minted lawyer and my employer has provided me with a newly minted pointless and menial task simply in order to make the point that lawyers, by their nature, need to be seen to be working ridiculous hours. Pushing past the onslaught of smoke, I come upon Grigoris, glass of retsina in hand, glaring at me under his thick, bushy monobrow.

“You’re late,” he snarls.

Saying nothing in reply, I collapse into the chair next to him as he pours me a glass of retsina. Τhe band plays Pythagoras’ immortal song «Γιορτή Ζεϊμπέκηδων» and the crowd gives forth a whoop of enthusiasm in unison as they circle the dance floor.

“Where is everyone vre?” I ask.

“No one turned up,” Grigoris answers, his knuckles white against the retsina glass. “And she didn’t come either, even though she said she would.”


«Καίγεται ο ντουνιάς σπάει ο ταμπουράς

σπάει απ' το σεβντά του κι ο Ντελή Θρακιάς»


“What an amazing song,” Grigoris sighs after a while. “You can just imagine these pallikaria, all mates, dancing while the tambura is bursting out of love. It’s almost a scene out of a movie. Well, that was what I envisaged for tonight. But Nick is working night shift, Spiros’ mum is sick, George has commitments and Maria…she promised me, she promised,” he emits a long, drawn-out sigh and shakes his head.


“It wouldn’t have worked,” I muse. “The zeimbekides weren’t Greeks. They were the Turks of the Ionian hinterland who would get high on hash and come down the mountains to rob and slaughter the hapless rayiades. It would be interesting to see what Pythagoras was actually thinking about. Do these lyrics the memory of a real event or are they just a mish mash of orientalist motifs? I for one...”


“Way to ruin the atmosphere,” Grigoris whines. He is looking at an immensely tall and lithe vision of beauty rather intently. “Go and talk to her and figure out her story,” he commands.


Without question, I rise and do his bidding. She is most personable and polite and having broken the ice with an inane joke about Britney Spears and invited her to have a drink with us, I turn to my left to cue in Grigoris’ appearance and effect a hand over. Yet he is gone and this is a problem, not only because I have nothing beyond small talk to follow through with but chiefly, because Grigoris was supposed to give me a lift home.


I call him on the mobile and my ear is assailed by the sounds of Marinella booming: «Άνοιξε πέτρα για να μπω». “Bloody women,” George sobsIf you are not tall, dark and handsome they won’t even look in your direction. «Βρε ζωή φαρμάκια στάζεις, σε βαρέθηκα. Κι αν χρυσά παλάτια τάζεις, είναι ψεύτικα».

I consider telling him that Poly Panou, though eminently acceptable, plays merry hell with the intensity of Marinella’s rhythms but decide against it. Hanging up the phone, I notice the vision of beauty eying me with eyebrow raised in anticipation of the promised beverage. A few minutes of me providing a learned exposition on the profession of accountancy in Byzantium and she has sloped off in search of more intelligible company, and I make my way outside and hire a taxi.


It is 2008 and I meet Grigoris in Preveza. It is high summer and for possibly the fortieth time in his life, Grigoris is in love. He has already made elaborate plans for how he will receive his lover. As we sit at a bayside tavern, he gazes at the water while sipping copious amounts of ouzo, channelling Mitropanos: «Θάλασσες μέσα στα μάτια σου θάλασσεςΚαι με ταξίδευες σαν το καράβι κι έλεγεςΘα σαγαπώ με τα καλοκαίρια…»

Despite my entreaties and the puzzled looks of our fellow patrons, Grigoris, whose voice closely resembles mastodons calling to each other across the ooze of the primeval swamp while standing on cheese-graters, refuses to desist.

Apparently, when he meets his love, she will run to him, her long curly locks unfurled, singing Tania Tsanaklidou’s«Αν μ' αγαπάςΘα κλέψω χρώμα της φωτιάς και λευκό πανίΟι δυο μαζί να ζωγραφίσουμε ξανά τη ζωή». They will daub each other with paint and then consummate their love by writing erotic poetry all over their bodies.

I ask with whether Tsanaklidou meant: «Θα κλάψω χρώμα της φωτιάς,» rather than «θα κλέψω» and he is enthused. We discuss how it is possible for one to cry in colours and he confides in me his hope that love will come soon, for the object of his affection has no idea he is infatuated with her. “The power of Greek song!” he gushes. “This is what makes us feel. This is what acts as the soundtrack to our lives.”

The endless undulation of the waves has a soporific effect on me. Slowly I prise my posterior from my seat, for I have an appointment across the border in Agioi Saranta that afternoon. Taking my leave, I recall that not far away from the position we are currently occupying, the poet Karyotakis committed suicide.

Grigoris, incensed that I have shattered his romantic stage-directions, throws his glass of ouzo in my direction and vows never to speak to me again. When we meet up again in Athens a few weeks later for a road trip to his village near Monemvasia, he sings Poulopoulos’ «Έκλαψα χτες σαν μέτρησα/τις πίκρες της ψυχής μουΚι εσύ δεν ήσουν πλάι μουαστέρι της ζωής μου». I think it prudent not to ask for details, for he appears to be enmeshed in the throes of ecstasy, which is a problem, since he is driving. As we approach Mani, he confides in me that this trip has created an unbreakable bond between us which we shall carry out entire lives. I decide that I am allergic to the Peloponnese.


It is 2011 and Grigoris and I are sitting on the sand at Port Melbourne beach. It is August and bitterly cold. As the waves impose their might against the shore, a bitter wind is whipped up, flagellating our cheeks. As the damp from the sand seeps into our trousers, we watch the lights from the Spirit of Tasmania drift away from the pier and linger, like hungover stars before vanishing in the darkness. On his iphone, Grigoris is playing Sotiria Bellou and he joins in with his rasping, dissonant voice:

«Ένα καράβι απ' τον Περαία

ἐχει σαλπάρει για μακριά.

Μα κάποιος ναύτης που είναι μέσα

τον νου του πάντα τον έχει στη στεριά».

“Imagine,” he says. “The scene is set. The ship leaves the docks and the sailor is on board but his mind is still back on the shore..”

“Hello sailor,” I exclaim with as campy a voice as possible.

“Stop being facetious,” he scolds me. “It’s a love song. He pines for a dark, tanned girl and they tell him: «Καθένας έχει και τον καημό του/ έτσι είμαστόλοι εμείς οι ναυτικοί». This is heart-wrenching. A brotherhood of shared pain and suffering. People who understand when your heart is bleeding. People who are with you in your solitude. Who feel you when you are past all endurance..” He struggles to complete his sentence and his entire body is racked with sobs. It is not enough that she has left him. She has written him a note to tell him that for all his encyclopaedic knowledge of amorous songs, for all his depth of feeling, his inability to hammer a nail in a wall or to flick a switch effectively, renders him unmasculine in her eyes. The note contains the most appalling spelling I have ever seen.

Grigoris weepsand I also start channelling Bellou:  «Μην απελπίζεσαι και δε θ’ αργήσει/κοντά σου θα 'ρθει μια χαραυγή/καινούργια αγάπη να σου ζητήσει/κάνε λιγάκι υπομονή». Immediately, his face lights up and he dries his eyes. “Of course!” he exclaims. “Of course! Only you understand me. It’s a whole wide world out there and we are the pearls of its oysters!” I have been plagued with pangs of guilt ever since.


The last time I saw Grigoris was in 2016, at his parent’s house, for he had just sold his unit and was moving to Greece the net day. Though his parents had catered for at least forty people, there were only a few of his aged uncles and aunts sipping their coffee desultorily in the living room. Responding to my question as to what he was going to do in the motherland considering that his qualifications would not be recognised and he lacked a support network, he exclaimed: “There is no life here. We are dead. Completely bereft of feeling. Devoid of any sort of emotion. Look at those songs we have listened to together. That should have been us, revelling, falling in love, feeling joy. We had none of that. We haven’t lived. Not like our parents have lived. We have had no experiences. No heart-break, no great romances. We’ve spent our lives wrapped in glad-wrap, insulated from the world, in inane spiritual hibernation among people who have an orgasm just thinking about going to shopping centres, who consider that the apogee of achievement is to buy a car or to get a bargain at Bunnings. There are no people here, just plastic automatons and I can’t take it anymore. I am going to find real people who feel real things and lead real lives. I am going to the place where songs have meaning.” Breaking into songhe chanted triumphantly«Θα σου φύγω, στο 'χα πει θα σου φύγω και γέλαγες εσύ πριν μ' αφήσεις σημάδια και τα όνειρα άδεια. /Θα σου φύγω, στο 'χα πει».


They found Grigoris’  drug addled body in Athinas Street on a cold winter’s day in 2021. He had no form of identification upon his person and it caused the authorities a good deal of inconvenience and annoyance to house his corpse in the morgue until they were able to ascertain who he was, let alone contact his family. After all, why all the fuss about yet another prezoni. And on the anniversary of that terrible day, I make my way sombrely to the beach at Port Melbourne. The wind whips at my face, the damp seeps into my trousers and I watch the lights of the Spirit of Tasmania allow themselves to be consumed by nocturnal oblivion. A car speeds down the Esplanade, its engine backfiring sharp guttural maledictions, filling the night air with harsh malodorous fumes. People walk past hurriedly with their dogs, stopping for a moment as they hear an incomprehensible misremembered lament emanating from my stooped knee-hugging figure upon the sand, stolen by the wind and buried deep within the sea: "Στα λιμάνιατα ντουμάνια οι ριπές/ ανάψανε φωτιέςαχ μην κλαις». They walk on.



First published in NKEE on Saturday 8 July 2023