Saturday, September 30, 2023



The first thing to note about Yiota Krilis’ latest Greek language novel is the title: «Στο Μέτωπο» "At the Front." This is a title that is eminently fitting considering that most of the plot concerns itself with the Asia Minor Front where Greece is destined to risk much to achieve its dream of national fulfillment and fail miserably, but also with a labyrinth of opposing factions, each  with their own conflicting worldviews: the internationalism of the communists, the so called “small but honest” Greece of the monarchists and the “Greece of the two continents and five seas” of the supporters of Prime Minister Eleutherios Venizelos.

In English, the meaning of the term «Μέτωπο» is rendered as“Front,” that is, as far forward as possible - the front line. In Greek however, the term encodes various other meanings, deriving from the ancient μετά and ωψ (face). The Greek term thus connotes that place where you face others and behold them with your eyes. Consequently, while the English word is impersonal, the Greek focuses on the human being, in order to show us exactly what it entails to stand on the front line, face to face with another and look into the eyes of that fellow human being who will either kill you or be killed by you.

An exploration of the semantics of the title becomes necessary because many are those who attempt to write about the war but few succeed without resorting to cliches and melodrama. What is remarkable about Yiota Krilis’ work is that it places war in its proper context.  The result, is a deeply humane tale, its carefully considered prose adding a multitude of facets to the human species’ desire both to live and to take life.  

Below the title, there is a subtitle, which reads: “The Epic of Asia Minor.” At first, this may appear disconcerting. Usually, when the word «έπος» is used in Greek in relation to war, it generally signifies wars in which “our side” has emerged victorious, such as the ‘Epos’ of 1940, or what are referred to in Greek as the “Trojan Epics.” The term itself derives from the ancient Greek verb epos, I speak, and it commonly denotes a lengthy narrative poem, typically about the extraordinary deeds of extraordinary characters who, in dealings with gods or other superhuman forces, gave shape to the mortal universe for their descendants.

Yiota Krilis’ book is not a work of poetry. However, the author in a dextrous way interweaves the ancient style of epic within her prose by quoting a plethora of verses from songs and poems contemporary to the era she examines in her novel. Uniquely, the verses constitute a parallel narrative within the text that act as a chorus in an ancient tragedy,  commenting on the plot and the psychological condition of the main protagonists and intensifying the distance between myth and reality. It is this distance, between hopes and the possible, that forms the tragic element in the novel, in keeping with Aristotle’s dictum: “whoever, therefore knows what is good or bad Tragedy, knows also about Epic poetry.”

Below the word Epic on the title page, we come across another subtitle: “A Historical Novel.” What then is the historical novel and what does it have to do with the epic? How can we attempt to define a work that seeks to define itself on its cover in so many different ways? Granted the work is set in the past and it pays attention to the mores, social conditions and other details of the depicted period, which in this case is the Asia Minor Expedition of 1919-1922 along with the period immediately before. True historical events intersect the lives of the main protagonists, some of whom are real and others imagined and the historical context in turn affects the flow of fictional events and the fate of the persons involved. Yiota Krilis’ expert use historical framing grants the reader a semblance of security and ease. However, this is an illusion which is cultivated with enviable skill by the author as she contrasts scenes of war and horror with bucolic scenes of everyday life, joy and hope for the future.

Yiota Krilis’ choice of main protagonists is highly successful, as is her choice of their place of origin which acts as a motif as the story unfolds. They hail from rural Arcadia, and much use is made of the expression, “ET IN ARCADIA EGO,” the meaning of which the main protagonists discover only when they leave Arcadia and embark upon their own epic journey, to the edge of the Greek world, Asia Minor. The intercession of a Smyrnan painter is required in order for them to learn that the expression is used by the French painter Nicolas Poussin in one of his paintings, where some figures flank a stone inscribed with the Latin expression, which means: “And in Arcadia, am I.” This expression will be used by the protagonists as a touchstone and a password, not only of their identity but also of the way in which they identify with their fellow human beings, as well as the places and the situations in which they find themselves.

Of course, what the author keeps silent and never reveals to the Arcadian comrades-in-arms is that the person credited with saying “ET IN ARCADIA EGO” in Poussin's painting is Death itself, who can penetrate even the most idyllic landscape, as Arcadia was for the neoclassical and romantic writers of the West. Allowing the main characters to misuse the saying as a means of establishing identity is brilliant in the manner it introduces irony, because from whatever point of view we examine the work, Death reigns everywhere, an original literary device that not only lends realism to the work but encourages us to discover for ourselves, like the protagonists, the multiple aspects and dimensions of futility and death, both of people, and civilization as a whole, undermining stereotypes and subverting prevailing socio-historical narratives, through delusion.

What is also fascinating about the manner in which the author treats her main characters as compared to other works of the genre, and especially those written by those who come from Asia Minor or their descendants, is the colonial subtext that underlies their presence in that land. While the narrative canvas is broad, it is mainly the Arcadian soldiers who reveal Asia Minor to us. Although the text is liberally peppered with dialogue in which the protagonists accept and propagate the “Greekness” of the lands they visit and fight for, in contradistinction to the royalists, they themselves are foreigners and their discourse feels contrived, stage-managed and overly simplistic, especially to those readers who come from the area. This too bears witness the author’s immense art: She manages, in a complex way that appears effortless, to reconcile two "incompatible" concepts: myth and history, while at the same time posing deeper questions as to identity beyond racial and social constructs.

All the while, the reader is treated to a sensory expedition into the collective memory of Hellenism, where competing concepts of homeland, cosmopolitanism, class differences, history, topography and value systems flow around each other and converge, as a river conveying the individual destinies of an entire people.

Much could be also be said about the book's intertextual relationship with other writings: its magisterial tone is reminiscent of Tolstoy's War and Peace and Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities, Its pathos evokes Dido Sotiriou’s “Bloodied Lands” and its sense of frustration and futility find in Panos Karnezis's English novel “The Labyrinth,” a kindred text.


Ultimately, the author’s greatest contribution to the genre is her text, both as a narrative and as a form. Armed with an emphasis on detail, rendering a world irretrievably lost, she implies that the only element that endures time is language and its transformations. Thus in her novel, linear narrative intersects with memory thanks to the operation of associations, glimpses, as captured in dreams and beliefs, interwoven with flashbacks, dialogue and inner monologue, and enhanced by extensive description and cross-references from historical sources. The use of language adds verisimilitude without becoming tedious and the main protagonists learn about key events from the same sources that we do: contemporary newspaper articles or speeches, which the author, who has undertaken extensive research, provides us.

A book that cries out for an English translation, Yiota Krili’s “At the Front” goes a long way in establishing her as one of the most fascinating Greek novelists of our time.

“At the Front” can be obtained by enquiring at or 0428968715


First published in NKEE on 20 September 2023

Saturday, September 23, 2023



When I learned that volume three of Nia Vardalos’ film franchise was to be unleashed upon the unsuspecting populace, I admit to hoping that it would be a courtroom drama. Having married and produced offspring, the only trajectory available to her in my view, would be a big fat Greek Divorce, possibly in three sub-parts like the Hobbit: My Big Fat Greek Periousia Battle (1), My Big Fat Custody Battle (2) and My Big Fat Soi taking sides (3). It had slipped my mind that interposed between these two stages, there invariably must be a third; the pilgrimage to and discovery of, the motherland.

Of course, this has been done before in Australia, and in particular by our very own Nick Giannopoulos in Wog Boys 2: Kings of Mykonos, thirteen years prior to Vardalos’ attempt. In comparing the two films, one is struck at differences in perspective, in nuance and the way in which mythologies both of migrant and broader ethnic identity are propagated. Back in the day, “At the Movies film critics” Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton commented about Kings of Mykonos: “The movie is a more accurate representation of Wogs in Australia.” How they were qualified to render judgment given that they are not “Wogs,” is a moot point and I would argue that both films invite discussion as to how different Greek migrant communities inhabiting the Anglosphere see themselves and their country of origin and the manner in which cliches are appropriated and employed to express such perspectives.

For example, there is an element of self-parody in Giannopoulos’ film which most probably derives from the off-beat Australian self-deprecating comedic tradition. Steve Karamitsis and his friends may dress as stereotypes, express themselves in stereotypes of a bygone age (such as when fugitive from justice Tony the Yugoslav renames himself Tony from Crete because he believes that Crete is not part of Greece), and appear to be stuck in a fashion and cultural time-warp but they appear to have unique insight and adaptability that enable them to touch the lives of the Greeks they encounter in Greece in meaningful ways, whether through romance, philanthropy or sheer decency and ultimately saving the day.

None of this is apparent in Vardalos’ latest offering. The Portokalos family unloads itself upon its deserted ancestral village, imposes itself upon the landscape, and having satisfied its key objectives, these being locating the dead Daddy Portokalos’ friends and delivering a diary to them, as well as attending a village reunion, leaves, having gained no new insights whatsoever. Of interest is the manner in which these Chicago Greek-Americans see Greece. The urgency with which they run to the sea with their clothes on while on the way to the ferry would mystify Greek-Australians for whom access to the beach is a given. The portrayal of Greek vehicles as ramshackle affairs with peeling blue and white paint, foustanella dolls on the engine grille and flag bearing the Evil Eye talisman, driven by an androgynous mayor of ambiguous gender whose inane catch phrase “Number one, the best,” is particularly disconcerting as it bears absolutely no relation to any Greek lived experience.

In Kings of Mykonos, the portrayal of the Greeks of Greeks is ambiguous and multilayered. They appear to be relaxed and somnolent, but they can also be passionate, angst ridden and prone to worry. While there is a tradition of filoxenia, they do not welcome strangers unconditionally but instead have expectations of reciprocity and obligation upon those who would purport to belong. Importantly, not all of them are benevolent, nor are they concerned solely with plying visitors from the Anglosphere with ouzo, as is the case in Vardalos’ flick. Embedded within the Greek-Australian mythology of the homeland is a sense that those who were left behind are somehow “two-faced,” seeing their Australian cousins as gullible and easily exploitable sources of income. This is expertly examined by Giannopoulos in the way he portrays the inhabitants of Mykonos pitted against his main character as he attempts to redeem his inheritance. Most significantly however, he attempts to portray also how the Mykoniates are also pitted against each other, in a society where the pie is very small indeed, and division problematic. These Mykoniates are not the prehistoric peasants that populate Vardalos’ flick. They are savvy, contemporary and sharp. Beyond the cliches, there is much to be gleaned here.

The same cannot be said of the Greeks of the Portokalos’ epic. Vardalos cleverly divests herself from the need to depict them plausibly by removing the Greeks from the village, so as to be able to allow the Greek-Americans to develop the plot in a relative vacuum. Such slight character portrayals as exist entail incomprehensible, unapproachable caricatures who act in strange ways and whose motivations are completely inscrutable until they are resolved at key moments via single phrases. These Greeks are at best the “noble savages” of her discourse, symbolising the innate goodness and moral superiority of a primitive people living in harmony with Nature, gruff but good natured and ultimately agreeable to submitting themselves to serving the needs and requirements of the Greek-American consumer without establishing any enduring connection or requiring any recompense, all the while obligingly adopting the Greek-Americans’ mispronouncement of yiayia and pappou with street on the penultimate instead of the ultimate syllable.

This is further evidenced by the parallel plot twists in the two movies. Giannopoulos’ protagonist, is able to surmount the migrant barrier in order to establish an emotional connection with the local nightclub chanteuse portrayed by Zeta Makripoulia. The love story that unfolds in Vardalos’ attempt, emerges from within the Portokalos paradigm and remains firmly within it, no outside Greek influence being able to permeate its impervious carapace. Similarly, while it is revealed that the menacing old crone that both terrorises and plays host to the Portokalos’s was their father’s first love and has produced their half-brother, this news is accepted without emotion or question, with not even the hint of the implications this would have for questions of property or inheritance. After all the born to serve Greeks would never dream of making demands upon their Greek-American brethren.

Instead, it is dealt with as an acquisition: that half-brother too is appropriated and taken to America. In Kings of Mykonos, the revelation that Steve Karamitsis has inherited a fortune because his real father was not the person he idolised and modelled himself upon, causes him real pain and gives rise to questions of identity that surmount the diasporic experience and focus instead on the very idea of personhood. Rather than appropriate an inheritance that in his eyes is tainted by his having no relationship with his biological father, Stephanidis provides a lasting legacy to his place of origin: he gives up the inheritance in favour of the local inhabitants. The Portokalos’ legacy is the unsolicited dumping of their father’s ashes under a tree, this passing without comment by the non-existent inhabitants of conservative rural Greece.

Of interest is the difference in the life aims of the Greeks, the Greek-Australians and the Greeks-Americans in the two films. In Vardalos’ film, the young Greek-Syrian couple have a concrete aim: they want to get married, stay on their island and run a viable farm. In Giannopoulos’ film they seek alleviation from their economic problems, relief from blackmailing by those more powerful and an emotional bond between those with whom they share their life. While in My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3, much is made upon hard work and sweat being the “glue” that keeps the Portokalos family together, in Kings of Mykonos, there is an ambivalent attitude displayed by Greek-Australians towards the Anglo-Protestant work ethic, which while acknowledging the hard work of the first generation of migrants, approaches the Helladic perspective of working only as hard as you need to, to get by, the main characters having challenged the Australian establishment and its values and refusing to be defined by them, as a way of life.

Vardalos’ major failing is the implausibility of her plot. The sojourn in the motherland is occasioned by the need to deliver dead Daddy Portokalos’ journal of his life and times in America to his three friends. The few glimpses we are given of the diary reveal that they are written in demotic and using the monotonic system, an anachronism, given Gus Portokalos’ age. While much could have been made of the mysteries that this journal may have contained, nothing is made of this in the movie. We do not know why Daddy Portokalos could not have written to his friends over the years, or stay in touch with them. Partly, because when his missing friends are located, playing the bouzouki of course, they are not given a voice and an entire plot thread falls flat. What we do know, is that his task-oriented American offspring have accepted a challenge and completed it, however nonsensical allowing them to take their place as joint heads of the family and presumably satisfy one of their KPI’s.

Ultimately, despite the heavy sprinkling of cliches that are deemed necessary by producers for films about Greek migrants to be marketable to an English-speaking market used to reducing them to easily compartmentalised and safe stereotypes, the nuances of Kings of Mykonos, allow us to consider Helladic Greeks and Greek-Australian as distinct, but indefinable entities, united in their complexity and multi-faceted nature, even after exaggeration. My Big Greek Fat Wedding 3, on the other hand is eminently forgettable.


First published in NKEE on Saturday 23 September 2023

Saturday, September 16, 2023



«Ο δρόμος είχε την δική του ιστορία

Κάποιος την έγραψε στον τοίχο με μπογιά…

Ύστερα κύλησ' ο καιρός κι η ιστορία

Πέρασε εύκολα απ' τη μνήμη στην καρδιά…»


I don’t live too far away from Footscray, where GOCMV board member and Greek Youth Generator Instigator Dean Kotsianis has caused to be created his latest memorial to Hellenisms Past: a mural on a wall in Yewers Street. Yet apart from a few names of businessmen who have had an impact upon the broader community, I struggle to decode the symbols depicted there by the artist. It is not that the method of portrayal is esoteric or obscure, quiet the opposite: the mural is vivid, its colours vibrant and it’s eschewing of the stereotypical earth colours of red and white reference a Hellenism that is at one with the local landscape. Rather than being a perpetually foreign element, it has embraced the land upon which it has settled and has become one with it. The addition of blue to the palette, not so subtly points us in the direction of the colours of the Western Bulldogs, a team once proudly known as Footscray. When we view Kotsianis’ tribute to the Hellenism of Footscray, we immediately realise that one cannot comprehend the history of the suburb and its environs without reference to its intrinsic Greek community.


I note reference to Olympic Doughnuts and remember reading at article in Neos Kosmos about its imminent closure, which alerted me to its existence. Quite apart from being a fixture of the community and a longtime successful Greek-Australian business, its appearance in Kotsianis’ mural is, I think, not coincidental. This is a paean to a Hellenism that no longer exists and its memory is fading. The few Greeks that remain in the area remember. Their children may not and their grandchildren are largely blissfully unaware of their existence. Some of the businesses commemorated in the mural are of broader importance and yet remain a lesson in futility. Jack Dardalis’ success in Marathon Foods enabled him to make possible the creation of the National Centre for Hellenic Studies and Research (EKEME), an endeavour which ultimately failed. Other businesses’ such as the Goulas’ family’s Conway’s Fish Trading is still known for its philanthropy. Kotsianis has therefore conjured up the ghosts of Hellenisms past to haunt us, to remind us who we once were, what we once did.


The emphasis on businesses within the mural deserves consideration. For more than suburban yards, migrant architecture and the occasional brotherhood building, it is the Greek businesses, with their Greek language signage or billboards that advertised a particular place of origin in Greece that moulded the local landscape and imparted upon it a Greek flavour, enabling those of my generation to create our own sense of geography based upon the endeavours of our kin. Like Dean Kotsianis, I too wondered what the history behind the building bearing the inscription “Hellenic” was, on the rare occasions we ventured to Footscray, primarily on excruciating shopping forays to Forges of Footscray (a favourite pastime for Greeks from my neck of the woods who felt culturally deprived in not having a Forges in their vicinity), for the Greek furniture store it once housed had shut its doors years ago. Nowadays, such businesses as are owned by Greeks rarely display the origins of their owners by means of Greek themes or inscriptions, for they are oriented towards a broader market and generations brought up to expect visible manifestations of their presence on suburban streetscapes could be forgiven as they traverse suburbs undergoing a process of gentrification that the absence of such signifiers is a symptom of decline. After all, we stopped using Greek street inscriptions around the same time that we began to switch to English inscriptions on our loved one’s tombstones.


I barely experienced the Greek migrant craze for wrestling, the passion shared by my father and my uncles having largely died out as I grew up and barely spoken of. Footscray played a large role in fostering that craze and yet when I come across articles about Greek wresters in the print media of decades past or view the depiction of Alex Iakovidis in Kotsianis’ mural, I shrug my shoulders. This for me, is a historical curiosity, not part of my lived experience or repository of inherited cultural memories. It is someone else’s story, reminding me of something which we, and those who purport to represent us or govern us often forget in their attempts to reduce us to stereotypes and sound-bytes: While we are one community, we are also disparate and several. Much of our identities as Greeks are rooted in the suburbs in which we settled, raised our children and grew up ourselves, and our histories are entwined with those who shared those experiences with us whether Greek or not.


Given that the subtleties and nuances of our local Greek identities distinguish us from one another and the sub-cultures that arise from our co-habitation deserve study and celebration, perhaps Dean Kotsianis’ mural can be interpreted as a profound symbol as a way of re-configuring the relevance of Hellenism to Melbourne by moving away from a narrow identification of Greeks via their place of origin within Greece, an increasingly obscure and futile endeavour considering how few of the latter generations identify in any meaningful way with their grandparents’ birthplace, to a local identity, which is rooted in the experiences and interactions of those who actually live in that area, making these relevant to all those who still remain in, or identify with that area, considering that many of those who do so, have moved out of the suburb, some photos and a lingering affection for the local football team the most enduring ties to the place of their own personal migrant foundation myth.


It is for this reason that I believe that rather acting as a tombstone, a dread Dickensian ghost of Christmas Future, come to suggest a bleak past of utter desolation after the commemoration of its dead, that Kotsianis’ new Footscray mural suggests quite the opposite: instead of mourning for our lost migrant communities and mythologising them as a Golden Age in comparison to whose protagonists we are much diminished, we ought to celebrate them and render them joyous and vivacious, at all times and in all their multifarious manifestations. Rather than laying wreaths at their cenotaphs, and transforming our collective communities into a vast death cult in which all creative imperatives are relegated to the past with our, their inadequate descendants’ sole duty remaining as their undertakers and taxidermists, to ensure they remain stuffed and preserved for posterity, we ought to recognise, as Kotsianis’ mural does, that communities and the locales that house them are constantly evolving and ever changing and that nothing we can do will ever retard that process. We can however revel in the memories of those who came before, be inspired by their intrepidity and bravery and fortified by their ability to transform their local landscape in their image, attempt to find meaning in the Hellenism of our daily lives, wherever and however we live this. Finding this meaning and savouring it to its full extent, when all is decoded and nostalgia is afforded its proper context, lies at the heart of what Dean Kotsianis muralistic Hidden Hellenism project is all about.



First published in NKEE on Saturday 16 September 2023

Saturday, September 09, 2023



My friend Andoni married Shayne’s sister over a decade ago now but I will never forget the manner I was introduced to him soon after the marriage took place. Sitting in Eaton Mall, Andoni ordered us Greek coffees and his brother-in-law, a flat white. As I marvelled at what appeared to be a rather well preserved 1991 Williamstown VFA jumper, Andoni said: “This is Shayne, my Aussie brother-in-law. He is from the country, so you will have to forgive him.” Then, leaning over the table, he spoke to his brother-in-law slowly and deliberately: “Shayne, we are gonna talk wog now. So order yourself some fish and chips or something. You won’t find any pies on the menu here.” Shayne squinted at him incomprehensibly and then lowered his head obediently as he scoured the menu.

“I’ve married into a clan of bush χωριάτες,” Andoni explained.

“That’s not so bad,” I observed. “Was it not Chairman Mao who proclaimed: “Several hundred million peasants will rise like a mighty storm, like a hurricane...” You really want to be on the right side of history for that one.”

“Seriously, it’s a massive cultural shift. I’ve been trying to teach my pethera how to cook. All she knows is Shepherd’s Pie. Τι Shepherd’s Pie μωρή; Κάνε καμιά τυρόπιτα με τραχανά, the way my yiayia used to in the χωριό. Άκου εκεί Shepherd’s Pie…”

Shayne had almost consumed his fish and chips and was wiping his cutlery on a serviette. «Κοίτα εκεί,» Andoni snorted. “He is eating fish and chips with a knife and fork instead of with his hands. Άβγαλτοι είναι ρε, πίσω από τον κόσμο. I’m going to have to teach them how to eat now.”

By this stage, Shayne was expressing interest in the Galaktoboureko. “Forget about it,” Andoni dismissed him. “You can’t pronounce it, let alone eat it.” Tugging him by the footy jumper sleeve, he dragged him from the table. “Come on Shayne, we gotta go.”

“Nice to have met you,” Shayne farewelled as he was hauled across the mall. “It’s a pity we didn’t get to talk more. I’ve been reading this fascinating book about Plato’s literary style and I wanted to….”

“Shayne, this guy doesn’t know anything about Play-Doh or the footy’, so stop pestering him. The cricket is starting soon….” Andoni boomed.

“Because this author, he maintains that philosophy aside, the literary achievements of Plato have been completely ignored and I find that fascinating,” Shayne insisted, interrupted only when Andoni emitted a shrill klephtic whistle that activating the inner shepherd in the hitherto nonchalant denizens of the adjacent cafes, caused them involuntarily to stand up and look around, as if searching for a primaeval flock.

«Αμάν ρε Shayne,” Andoni bleated. “Sorry for this. He is usually a lot quieter. But you know what they say: Δώσε θάρρος στο χωριάτη να σ' ανέβει στο κρεβάτι.” As he pushed Shayne down Atherton Road, I could hear him screech: “What colonial gravestones in Warrawee Park ρε μάπα; The only colonial you are going to see is irrigation after I remove my foot from your κώλο ρε. Hurry up. Michael Clarke may be a right-handed middle-order batsman, but he still has decent form.”

Andoni is no longer married to Shayne’s sister which was why I was quite surprised when on the first day of September, I received a telephone call from him. “Happy Byzantine New Year!” Shayne exclaimed joyously.

“Thanks, same to you,” I muttered hesitantly, failing to register from the outset, what he was taking about.

“First of September yeah? Start of the Byzantine New Year? What year is it? 7532 I should think. Am I right?”

“It should be,” I guessed. We don’t really measure time that way anymore.”

“Why not? You should. After all it is the beginning of the ecclesiastical new year and it’s the time that students return to school after the summer holidays.”

“And the time that Greek-Australians return to Greece, bronzed, plumper and more disgruntled than ever,” I mused.

“I think it was a grave mistake for you guys to adopt western modes of time measurement,” Shayne opined. “How can you remain true to your traditions and your natural worldview if the way you look at time is skewed? Did you know that the Byzantines began their calendrical day which was called nychthemeron at midnight with the first hour of day coming at dawn? The third hour marked midmorning, the sixth hour noon, and the ninth hour midafternoon. The Evening called hespera, which is where you get your kalispera from, began at the eleventh hour, and with sunset came the first hour of night called the apodeipnon. Also, the interval between sunset and sunrise was called nyx and it was also divided into twelve hours.”

“Brilliant,” I commented. “Our church services still use the old conception of time.”

“You guys should bring the indictions back as well,” Shayne enthused. “I love reading the dates in the Acts of the Quinisext Council: ‘ of the fifteenth day of the month of January last past, in the last fourth Indiction, in the year six thousand one hundred and ninety..”

“Indictions refer to the fifteen yearly reassessment of taxation in the Empire and are greatly to be preferred over lodging one’s BAS on a quarterly basis,” I agreed. “The Byzantines must rise again.”

“What do you guys usually do for Byzantine New Year?” Shayne inquired. “Is there a festival or something?”

“We don’t really celebrate it,” I explained. “It’s not really a thing for us.”

“Ridiculous. Did you know that in Amalfi, they celebrate Byzantine New Year with pomp and ceremony every year? People dress up in Byzantine costume and greet the new year remembering that they too were part of the Byzantine world, culminating in the coronation of the Duke of Amalfi. Considering that they were on the periphery of that world and you guys are at the centre of it, it is disgraceful that you neglect to celebrate this auspicious day. Do you have a central organisation I can write to in protest?” Shayne asked.

Briefly, I allowed myself to be lulled into reverie, picturing our community leaders solemnly processing down Lonsdale Street in sumptuous dalmatics, tablia, pteruges and loroi, arguing with each other about who has precedence, according to the Typikon. “Look, Byzantium was a long time ago. Greece and the Greeks have changed.” I ventured, finally.

“You don’t say Greece or Greeks,” Shayne interjected. “You are Hellenes from Hellas. You ought to use the proper names.”

“And here I was thinking that we were Byzantines,” I riposted.

“I find it strange that you haven’t created your own terminology for your local environment here Down Under,” Shayne continued. “After all, aren’t you the largest Hellenic speaking community outside of Hellas? Did you know for instant, that the word Melbourne translates in Hellenic literally as Μυλόρεμα, Melbourne being an old English word for Mill Stream? Similarly, Victoria should be translated as Nicaea.”

I considered this for a while. “So, adopting your methodology, Sydney which means “Meadow by a stream” could translates as Παραποτάμιο Λιβάδι. Παραλίβαδο I think, could be eminently acceptable. Brisbane, bizarrely means ‘Break bone.’ I'd love to pay tribute to the Greek community of Σπαζοκοκκαλιά.”

“Hellenic community,” Shayne emphasised.

“Apparently Geelong means “a place of the sea bird over the white cliffs.”

“How would that translate in Greek?”

«Μια γαλάζια περιστέρα, πέταξε και πάει σιαπέρα».

“Sound like a mouthful, if you ask me. Still, it would be great if we could inaugurate these terms into general usage by way of celebrating Byzantine New Year, next year.”

Before I had the chance to posit that Oakleigh could translate as Τσικνοτσιγαρίλα, I noticed that I had another incoming call. Fumbling as usually, I cut Shayne off as I answered the new call. It was Andoni.

«Πού είσαι ρε πατρίδα;»

“In the office. Πού θες να’μαι;”

“I’m down here at my local RSL celebrating my birthday. You should come down re, the prices are mad! Pity about all the τσομπάνηδες, though.”

“Did you know that its Byzantine New Year?” I asked.

“What’s that, like Christmas in July?”

“Never mind,” I said.

“Good,” he burped. “Now if you aren’t coming down, at least get off the phone. The racing’s on.”


First published in NKEE on Saturday 9 September 2023