Never was a more perfect climate wasted on so undeserving a people: how Greeks drive you nuts

24 Sep

Hymettus Athens half-zoom-set-sun

After two brutal months of mid-90s and freakish humidity, it finally dropped to low 80s the day before yesterday.

And they’re cold, the whiney brats.

The feel of the air is crisp and cool.  The sky is its normal dazzling blue.  The oleander and jasmine and orange blossoms smell again.  And forgive the cliché but the light, especially at lower angles, is working its magic again and creating all sorts of optical illusions.  There’s something about the clarity it creates that seems hyper-real or surreal.  It makes it impossible to judge distance for one: the mountain that you know is forty kilometers away looks like you can reach out and touch it; the eucalyptus tree in the yard looks like it’s at the opposite end of a football field.  Impossible to convey photographically.  Everything looks totally clear yet almost flattened and two-dimensional at the same time, like an icon or a Persian miniature or a shot from a super zoom, where all optical levels are reduced to one plane.  Plus it makes the ugly grayness of Athens look blindingly white.

The beauty all around is completely lost on them.  Take out your heavy hoodies, roll up the car window so that the draft doesn’t give me a stiff neck tomorrow.  They actually believe that, that drafts hit and freeze a certain body part that then hurts you for an x number of days.  Especially lethal is the rear passenger side window in a taxi.  So they run to the doctor who gives them a beer stein of antibiotics to guzzle and that compromises their immune system even worse.  And then when they’re seriously ill five or six times every year they wonder how it’s possible because they stayed out of drafts and wore a scarf.

A screaming match in the gym by the treadmills.  She wants to close the windows.

“We’ll be sweating”, she says.

“Yeah, hon’ we’ll be sweating.  And sweat rising to your skin and drying up upon air contact is the body’s natural cooling system without which we would die.  That’s why dry climates, like this, are so comfortable and humid ones are not.”

Yok.  Now people just stay away from the treadmills when the crazy American comes.

“Stay away from the window, you’re all sweaty, you’ll get sick.”

In twenty-first century language: “Sit in your sweaty post-workout clothes and make sure they’re an even better environment for breeding bacteria by making sure they don’t dry on you.  Then wonder why you got sick.”

But as Swift said, it’s impossible to reason a man out of something he was never reasoned into in the first place.  Cold doesn’t cause colds?  Germs and bacteria that flourish in a sealed environment do?  Forget it.

“I like my mediaeval ideas, ok…” says the Right-wing Old Fart, the I-don’t-want-to-s of someone argued into a corner.  Like the “I didn’t like it” of the Macedonian.

Feel the perfect aromatic Attic night falling.  Then watch the giant windows onto the beautiful sweeping marble terrace rolled shut like a prison gate and then be boarded up like the zombies will get in otherwise.

And weep.

They have other charms, I guess.

Athens gross concrete

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Howard Jacobson: two interviews, on how screens are making us stupid and the stupidity of democracy

24 Sep

One on Hardtalk with the BBC’s Stephen Sackur, the other from BBC’s Newsnight.  I’ve forwarded first video to 15:58 because the first half of the talk is a bunch of ridiculous clichés on the part of both men on Zionism, anti-semitism and Israel.  If you like you can always start it from the beginning.  Ultimately both interviews leave you wanting more.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Diyarbakır

24 Sep

A cool Twitter account with photos of Diyarbakır, the capital of Turkish Kurdistan.  Slight weakness for the super wide angle, the last refuge of those with no compositional ideas, but interesting nonetheless.  Plus, who knows when we’ll once again be able to travel there freely.

Diyarbakir 5

Diyarbakir 3

Diyarbakir 2

Diyarbakir 4

Diyarbakir 1

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

 

Amen. From Tablet, a New Year reading.

24 Sep

Screen Shot 2017-09-24 at 9.44.06 AM

“Our beautiful boy Judah was so very lost. אִבֵּד את עצמו: our Hebrew language gently conveys; he literally could not find his way. On Tuesday, December 22, 2015, at the age of 27, my son surrendered to the torment that had been slowly destroying him.

“Our family had been working together for years in a private challenge to help our struggling Judah. My husband took 36-hour missions to Berkeley whenever he detected a certain pause in Judah’s stride, our other children rushed to cheerlead him into the next day each time they saw their brother falter. And Judah worked too—the hardest of all of us. הוי דן את כל האדם לכף זכות was his mantra; he never judged, and he insisted that we always grant others the benefit of the doubt. He had great faith in humankind. In fact, one of Judah’s favorite quotes was Anne Frank’s: “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.” He would share with us that if she could say that about her situation, he could say that about his.

“But ultimately his reality was incompatible with life in this world. In his very complicated brilliance, Judah understood that his journey on earth had ended. And in the final test of unconditional love, we accepted that our son had no alternative but to rescue his misplaced soul.

“My father, who spent six insufferable years in German concentration camps, often spoke of his indefatigable determination to live, in spite of the miasma of omnipresent death. Judah was the grandson who most resembled his Opa, who inherited his baby blue eyes, insatiable curiosity, and razor-sharp intellect, and also acquired his tenacious fight to survive. But the odds were impossible. Judah struggled valiantly, never sharing his pain beyond our immediate family, wearing an enormous smile while displaying profound sensitivity to everyone he encountered. And while my father refused to let himself die, my son could no longer sustain life.

“And I am the bridge between them.

“I am named for my father’s mother who died on an unknown date, in an unknown way, in an unknown place, after she was boxed on the deathtracks in late 1943. And because of all these unknowables, my father adopted the custom encouraged by the post-Holocaust Jewish world to use a designated yahrtzeit day. And that date, the tenth day of Tevet, was always marked by the candle lit atop the kitchen refrigerator, as the memory of the grandmother I never knew flickered in the Philadelphia home where I was raised. Just five days before his 28th birthday, 72 years later, I lost my son on this very same day: the tenth day of Tevet, a day of Jewish communal suffering, now a day of intense personal anguish.

“When we lose someone we love dearly, the resulting enormous vacuum exerts actual pressure that threatens to splinter our hearts into shards. It is as if their physical essence is reversed into an imploding emptiness that suctions out our own energy. We are bereft, our broken selves attempting to reconfigure to accommodate the person we can’t let go of, as we incorporate their souls into our very own so they are not completely and forever lost. The grief process is the relocation of our loved one from their body into ours, as we absorb their spirit into our go-forward existence.

“If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes an entire nation to bury him. “We will go on with living, not dying,” I repeated and repeated, my salty tears softening my crisp words, to the choreographed rows of overflowing shiva visitors who rearranged vacations to offer words of comfort. And despite the proclamations that “there are no words,” it is the bounty and beauty of kind human language that continues to help us breathe today.

“It is more difficult to drown in self-pity when friends and relatives stand by to rescue you. It becomes impossible to feel isolated when you are surrounded by people who don’t stop calling, who bring flowers and tins of cookies and teddy bear hugs, who text daily even when you don’t respond, who show up at your door laden with overflowing bags of groceries, who open your closets to set your table with china and silver because they know it tastes better when it is not served on paper, who memorize your Starbucks preference, and who—nine full months later, my reverse pregnancy complete—continue to help us grapple with the loss that would otherwise paralyze us.  Our sorrow is diminished, spread out, shared. The power of our people is the engine that pulls us forward.

“On Rosh Hashanah, as we read the Sacrifice of Isaac story, we are reminded that, in place of the son, a ram was offered instead. This very animal gifts us the shofar, whose piercing blasts this High Holiday season beacon us to find perspective and faith in the face of adversity and horror, as Abraham demonstrated in his challenges. And on this divine Day of Judgment, I will forever hear Judah’s voice calling on us to never judge our fellow man.

“It is my father’s legacy that guides me in the march from death that I have been navigating since December. I have chosen to manage my personal tragedy, as my Holocaust surviving DNA dictates: by choosing life. Because if the Holocaust survivors lost their entire families and homes and towns, their freedom, and belonging, without ever losing their dignity or hope or grace, and then sailed alone across foreign seas to strange lands to master new languages and form new families, and learned again to love and laugh with lust for life—then how can I just let myself fall?

“None of us knows what the coming year will bring. Who shall thrive and who shall perish. While we may have no control over what happens to us, we have control over how we respond. And this High Holiday season, the first since we lost our son, we pray for the continuing strength to together embrace our destiny.

“May the memory of Judah Aaron Marans be a blessing.”

See “Родные” — “Close Relations” — at the MMI in Astoria

23 Sep

Bad translation.  “Pодные”…”rodnye” means intimate, familiar, related; by extension born-beloved, dear one, cared for, same root in Russian as parents, birth, homeland, Christmas…wouldn’t be surprised if it has the same Indo-European roots as “root”.

Rodnye Vitaly Mansky

Vitaly Mansky‘s documentary is being screened this coming weekend and the next at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens.  (See schedule. It’s two train stops into Queens, guys.  Then you can have a nice dinner for half of what you pay in Manhttan at a good friend and koumbaro‘s place: Mar’s.)

“In this follow-up to his award-winning documentary Under the Sun, filmmaker Vitaly Mansky examines Ukrainian society amidst the 2014 national election, a period rife with political chaos and growing uncertainty over national identity and integration. As both a Russian citizen and native Ukrainian, Mansky deftly underscores personal and political complexities as he visits with relatives living in Lvov, Odessa, the Crimean peninsula, and the Donbass region, and in the process discovers a wide and disorienting spectrum of outlooks and affiliations, including his own sense of ongoing exile and unease. Close Relations is at once an intimate family portrait and a graceful journalistic endeavor, a movie of the intense present that illuminates a place caught between a troubled past and an anxious future.”

Watch the trailer below.

Lots of moving, “disorienting” footage.  Also, lots of humor, which reminds us that so much of a certain ironic, sardonic take on the world — a viewpoint “from a certain angle”, as E.M. Forster said of Cavafy — that we in the United States think is particularly Jewish, is really just a trait common to all eastern Europe, even Greece, or perhaps just a trait common to the powerless everywhere:

“Crimea was a pity, but the Donbass…they can have it.” *

But I think the most important moment in terms of geopolitics comes at 1:15:

“So Ukraine decided to join NATO.  Isn’t that its own business?”

“Nyyyyyet!”

…comes the reply without a moment’s hesitation.

“Nyet” with its palatized “n” and final “t” is one of humanity’s great no-words.  Like “yok” in Turkish, it literally means “there isn’t” or “Il n’y a pas”.  But while “yok” has a kind of know-nothing passivity about it, “nyet” is an active “Halt!  No way you’re going further down this road.  There’s no access.” **

That moment in Mansky’s doc is why, despite widespread support for a Putin I find repulsive, I can’t get as angry at Russians as I get at Trump Americans and Türk-doğans; because Russians aren’t stupid.  They’re not as smart as they used to be in the old days, при коммунизме, when everybody knew not to believe any-thing.  They now believe all kinds of nonsense.  And they went and got religion on me too, which is one of my life’s greatest watch-what-you-wish-fors.  But they’re still pretty intelligent about the world.

I can’t get inside Putin’s head, like Ben Judah convincingly does in what’s still the best book on the Путинщина, the “Putin-ness” or the “Putin thang.”  Judah’s thesis is that Putin is really just a nebech apparatchik who others put in his place and who now — having trampled over so many people on his way up — is terrified of stepping down and that the macho persona he so tiringly projects masks mega insecurity.  It almost makes you feel sorry for him.

But this relative of Mansky’s and her coldly realpolitik “nyet” tell you why he has so many Russians’ support.  Because it means: nyet, you can’t tell me that the U.S. and NATO suddenly developed a major crush on Estonia and Georgia; nyet, you can’t suddenly tell me you’re interested in Ukraine too, because this was already starting to feel like a corporate raid on all the old girlfriends who dumped me, but Ukraine, especially, is like hitting on my sister; nyet, you can’t moan and groan about how we’re violating a basic credo of the European Union by changing borders, when neither Russia or Ukraine are part of the European Union and you wouldn’t even have considered Ukraine — with its resources, access to the Black Sea and huge Russian population —  a candidate if it weren’t a way to totally encircle Russia; and, nyet, you can’t tell us that you’re not still treating us with a Cold War mentality that you inherited from an Anglo tradition of Great Game power struggle that doesn’t apply anymore and is now completely counter-productive.

At least talk some truth and maybe we can get somewhere.  And then I’ll reconsider breaking up with Putin.

For more on these issues see: The first two of my cents on Ukraine and Russia… from a couple of years ago, and more on the imperative to engage Russia in Syria, Russia, ISIS and what to do about everything“.

Putin Judah Fragle Empire

************************************************************************************* * The Donbass, the river Don basin is part of southeast Russia and the Russian-speaking parts of eastern Ukraine where the current conflict is centered.  From The first two of my cents on Ukraine and Russia“:

“Also, thence, a crucial point: that Ukraine wasn’t so much conquered, but settled by Russia…

“The independent “frontiersmen” mentality of the Russians of these areas, a sort of Russian Texas  — among its ethnic Cossack peoples especially — should not be underestimated and should not be disregarded as a possible element in the current conflict.  (See: And Quiet Flows the Don at Amazon and at Wiki.)”

“Новая Россия,” (Novaya Rossiya), New Russia, is not a Putinism.  It’s a name for these lands that goes back to Catherine the Great and the first serious subduing of Cossack rebelliousness and settling of Russians in the region in the 18th century.  It was part of the Russian empire’s most fertile grain-producing regions and then the scene of crazy industrialization under the Bolsheviks; maybe it was once a sort of “Russian Texas” but now it’s more like a sort of Russian Rust-Belt.  Hence, the “they can have it” comment.  The Soviet Army, decapitated by Stalin’s purges of its most talented and experienced, and ill-prepared and ill-equipped, only made the Nazi sweep through Ukraine grind to a halt once the Germans had made it this far east and after hundreds of thousands of Russian men had already been sent to a meaningless death and the Nazis had swept the old lands of the Pale clean of Jews through massive massacring and mass executions which were an integral part of the military strategy of the eastern front; many military historians believe that if the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union hadn’t been slowed by German troops stopping every other community to round up and shoot its Jews (a method/process that killed more Jews than the gas chambers did), they might have been successful in beating the coming of winter and more successful in their campaign long-term.  The region then became the scene of brutal attrition warfare, culminating in the siege of Stalingrad (now reverted back to its original name, Волгоград / Volgograd on map below).  This left the region seriously trashed and so huge numbers of Russian workers were settled there post-WWII, Russianizing the Ukrainian far east even further and setting the stage for today’s conflict.

Map of the Don Basin.  The grey line shows the border between Russia (РОССИЯ) and Ukraine (УКРАИНА) and the broken grey lines in Ukrainian east indicate the Lugansk (Луганск) and Donetsk (Донетск)

Don_basin

** “У меня денег нет” (“U menya deneg nyet”) in Russian is the same structure as the Turkish “Benim param yok” — “I don’t have any money.”  Though Russian has a verb for “to have” like other Slavic languages, these structures both mean, literally: “By me there’s no money” or “My money isn’t there/isn’t by me.”  Wondering whether it’s a construction Russian acquired through contact with Tatar.  There is apparently a phenomenon where languages effect each other and transmit certain properties between them, though there’s no large bilingual population to bring them together and though they’re not genetically related, at least not closely.  The absence of an infinitive, for example, in modern Greek, Albanian, Bulgarian and Romanian/Vlach, though each are from different Indo-European families and more closely related languages have an infinitive, is one good example.  Also, Yiddish “by mir” (as in “By mir bist du shayn”) which is like the Russian по-моему (“according to me”) — for me, in my opinion.  Though German uses “bei mir” also to mean same thing.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Do Kurds need to do this right now, just at this very moment?

22 Sep

At the end of 2015 I wrote this piece: Syria, Russia, ISIS and what to do about everything where I expressed my hopes that Iraqi Kurds not declare de jure independence, since that would destabilize the region even further:

The Kurds: ‘I have a dream,’ as they say, for Kurds: that they will recognize the fact that Iraqi Kurdistan with a capital at Erbil is already a de facto independent state and not complicate things in the neighborhood by please resisting the urge to declare de jure independence.

Kurds

Kurdish-inhabited regions of the Middle East and Caucasus, according to tribal break-down.

“This centrally located political entity can serve as the hub of a wheel of still-to-be-worked-for, autonomous, Kurdish regions encircling it, and by not insisting on independence and union, they will be able to put more resources and energy into developing what they have and not fighting to defend it forever. I don’t know; maybe the future of the world will involve the devolving of nation-states into affiliated groups of semi-autonomous units with perhaps overlapping or varying degrees of jurisdiction – Holy Roman Empire style – and the Kurds may be the first to experience this as a people and benefit from it: that is, to see diaspora (if that word really applies to a non-migrating group), or political ‘multiplicity,’ as a finger in every pie and not as separation, and be able to reap the advantages of that.”

And my what-to-do suggestions:

“The Kurds: Give the Kurds EVERYTHING they need. They’re creating a society, both in Iraqi Kurdistan and in the internal socio-political life of Turkish Kurds that is nothing short of revolutionary in its civic-mindedness, democratic tendencies and secular steadfastness. Yes, nothing’s perfect there either but it’s by far the best we have. And the loose confederation of Kurdish regions that I spoke of earlier may have perhaps an even more strategically valuable position to offer the rest of the world than Turkey does. Beg Turkish Kurds to swear to abide by ceasefire terms despite all provocations by the Turkish state; insist that Iraqi Kurdistan not declare independence. And then give them everything they need, even if it means billions in aid. Because, along with the Russians, they’re the ones who’ll probably have to do even more of the ground fighting when the airstrikes campaign reaches its inevitable limits – and starts harming civilians, which it unfortunately already has — even though they now insist that they’re not spilling any more of their own blood for anything outside of Kurdish-inhabited regions.”

Well, it looks like “Hope” as Poles say, “is the mother of stupidity” and nobody cares about my wish-list.

The above was written before the relationship between Turkish Kurds and the Turkish government went to hell again and descended into crazy violence, before supposed anti-Erdoğan coup, massive purges, HDP’s Demirtaş’ imprisonment, and all the other fun stuff that’s happened in Turkey since.  I hate, more than anybody, to look like I’m catering to Erdoğan’s peeves, but an Iraqi Kurdish referendum on independence just at this time is a provocation for him that may turn out to be disastrous.  Erdoğan is already massing troops on Turkey’s southern borders, and though I doubt he’ll have the balls to invade what’s pretty much an American satellite, Iraqi Kurdistan, I don’t put it beyond him to send troops into the Idlib region in Syria — maybe even hold a “referendum” and annex it like the Turkish Republic did to the neighboring region of Antiocheia in the 1930s.  A friend in C-town thinks that the third and newest Bosporus bridge is named after Sultan Selim 1st (“the Grim”) not just to stick it to Alevis (he was the ruler who committed widespread massacres of them during his reign, 1512 – 1520) but to emphasize Selim’s wresting of Mesopotamia from the hated Safavid Shia of Iran and the Levant from the Mamluks of Egypt and underline Erdoğan Turkey’s role in the region.  His Neo-Ottomanism may yet find its perfect expression in post-ISIS Iraq/Syria.

Read Barzani in the Guardian: Barzani on the Kurdish referendum: ‘We refuse to be subordinates’: “Iraq’s Kurdish leader tells the Guardian why the independence vote is so vital, and how he will defy global opposition”.

Interesting times.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

“When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another…”

22 Sep

“…and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

  • Are Catalan nationalists like Carles Puigdemont Founding Fathers or Confederate separatists?
  • I’m not convinced by the “causes which impel” Catalans to separation.  Are you?
  • I’m hoping Catalans don’t goad Madrid and Rajoy into doing something stupid.
  • Read .  But especially scroll through the comments; the scariest ones that should give you more pause and where the dangers of Catalan separatism become clearest should jump out at you.  There you’ll see the racist self-righteousness of “little nation” nationalism in all its smug, bourgeois glory.
  • Whenever a Catalan uses or writes “Castille” that means reactionary, Catholic, Black Legend Spain where — as one comment gallingly states — “things haven’t changed much since Franco.”  Andalucía is cool and Moorish.  The Basque Country is wealthy, enterprising and progressive like us, even if they’re a little too Catholic for our tastes.  Galicia is the sweet, melancholy home of Celtic troubadours.  It’s Castille and Aragon — oh, and Asturias, which gave birth to the ugly ideology of the Reconquista — the kingdoms of the barbarous “Reyes Católicos”, that are oppressing us.
  • Substitute “Serbia” for “Castille” and you’ll get an amazing repro of Croatian gripes.  We’re European and forward-looking — even if kinna the kings of post-Hapsburg noxious fascism; don’t leave us to the mercy of obscurantist, Orthodox, Serb savages.
  • Read Vasily Grossman in …the nationalism of little nations on Armenians and what the nationalist is really about.
  • Read Vargas Llosa about how …Nationalism effaces the individual…“.
  • Where’s Almodóvar, the face of the Madrileña “movida” from La Mancha, where “nothing has changed much since Franco” to give us his opinion?  I’m sure he has one.

Catalan independence protestor

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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