Egypt: The Other Homeland

6 Apr

Another people’s exodus from Egypt… 

I always feel like smirking a bit when I come across the title of Mark Mazower’s 2005 book: Salonica: City of GhostsIt’s not just that “our parts” with their ‘ancient, tribal hatreds’ always seem to be ‘haunted’ in the Western imagination; it’s just that, truly, which of our cities isn’t a city of ghosts?  Salonica, Sarajevo, Istanbul, Izmir?  Beirut, Alexandria, Lahore, Delhi?  Which?

Well, Al Jazeera has produced a beautiful little documentary by Giorgos Augeropoulos about the story of Alexandrian Greeks.  Augeropoulos is apparently the director of a highly praised Greek documentary series and has been pretty vocal in Greece’s recent political and fiscal crisis/rezili, but I had never heard of him before.

Al Jazerera, by the way, has now become my primary source of news.  It’s the only place one can get any serious international news, run from the idiocy of American politics, escape from MSNBC’s twenty-four hour liberal catechism class, and catch genuinely original and — I don’t know how else to put it — sincere documentaries like this.  Watch it when you have the chance.

Below are the complete texts of the two Cavafy poems used at the beginning and end of the documentary, “Candles” and “The City” in both Greek and English.  Single-accent Greek (the appropriately named “monotonic”) literally causes me visual pain — like, I can’t look at it, actually have more trouble reading it — and when used for Cavafy the pain reaches excruciating levels, but I couldn’t find the poems in polytonic versions anywhere on line; those who know what I mean, please forgive me.  And this from “The Official Website of the Cavafy Archive,” malaka: http://www.kavafis.gr/index.asp   …criminal, ntrope.  And I’m beyond certain Cavafy himself, so much of whose work was dedicated to memory, the past, and the continuity of Greek civilization, would have agreed

The English translations are by Edmund Keeley and Phillip Sherrard, still the best around, despite the attempts of many others.  Under the Greek version of “Candles” is the Greek actress Eirene Pappa’s performance of the poem set to music by Mimes Plessas.  Below the Greek version of the “The City” is a gorgeous reading of the poem by the truly great actress Elle Lambete, whose stunning Greek face I think readers should have a photo of as a visual reference:

Patricia Storace,  in her Dinner with Persephone: http://www.amazon.com/Dinner-Persephone-Travels-Patricia-Storace/dp/0679744789/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1333821533&sr=1-1, the first book I recommend to anyone who wants to get Greece and Greeks (along with Patrick Leigh Fermor’s classic Roumeli: http://www.amazon.com/Roumeli-Travels-Northern-Greece-Classics/dp/159017187X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1333821635&sr=1-1), writes:

“Greek is not a voluptuous language, or a lilting one, but stony and earthy, a language full of mud, volcanic rock, and glittering precious stones…”

Listen to Lambete and you’ll know what she means.

Κεριά

Του μέλλοντος η μέρες στέκοντ’ εμπροστά μας
σα μια σειρά κεράκια αναμένα —
χρυσά, ζεστά, και ζωηρά κεράκια.

Η περασμένες μέρες πίσω μένουν,
μια θλιβερή γραμμή κεριών σβυσμένων·
τα πιο κοντά βγάζουν καπνόν ακόμη,
κρύα κεριά, λυωμένα, και κυρτά.

Δεν θέλω να τα βλέπω· με λυπεί η μορφή των,
και με λυπεί το πρώτο φως των να θυμούμαι.
Εμπρός κυττάζω τ’ αναμένα μου κεριά.

Δεν θέλω να γυρίσω να μη διω και φρίξω
τι γρήγορα που η σκοτεινή γραμμή μακραίνει,
τι γρήγορα που τα σβυστά κεριά πληθαίνουν.

Pappa and Plessas: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_0DiYKzHHdY&feature=related

Candles

Days to come stand in front of us
like a row of lighted candles—
golden, warm, and vivid candles.
 
Days gone by fall behind us,
a gloomy line of snuffed-out candles;
the nearest are smoking still,
cold, melted, and bent.
 
I don’t want to look at them: their shape saddens me,
and it saddens me to remember their original light.
I look ahead at my lighted candles.
 
I don’t want to turn for fear of seeing, terrified,
how quickly that dark line gets longer,
how quickly the snuffed-out candles proliferate.

Η Πόλις

Είπες· «Θα πάγω σ’ άλλη γη, θα πάγω σ’ άλλη θάλασσα.
Μια πόλις άλλη θα βρεθεί καλλίτερη από αυτή.
Κάθε προσπάθεια μου μια καταδίκη είναι γραφτή·
κ’ είν’ η καρδιά μου — σαν νεκρός — θαμένη.
Ο νους μου ως πότε μες στον μαρασμόν αυτόν θα μένει.
Όπου το μάτι μου γυρίσω, όπου κι αν δω
ερείπια μαύρα της ζωής μου βλέπω εδώ,
που τόσα χρόνια πέρασα και ρήμαξα και χάλασα.»

Καινούριους τόπους δεν θα βρεις, δεν θάβρεις άλλες θάλασσες.
Η πόλις θα σε ακολουθεί. Στους δρόμους θα γυρνάς
τους ίδιους. Και στες γειτονιές τες ίδιες θα γερνάς·
και μες στα ίδια σπίτια αυτά θ’ ασπρίζεις.
Πάντα στην πόλι αυτή θα φθάνεις. Για τα αλλού — μη ελπίζεις—
δεν έχει πλοίο για σε, δεν έχει οδό.
Έτσι που τη ζωή σου ρήμαξες εδώ
στην κώχη τούτη την μικρή, σ’ όλην την γη την χάλασες.

Lambete: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y32nzLanljY

The City

You said: “I’ll go to another country, go to another shore,
find another city better than this one.
Whatever I try to do is fated to turn out wrong
and my heart lies buried as though it were something dead.
How long can I let my mind moulder in this place?
Wherever I turn, wherever I happen to look,
I see the black ruins of my life, here,
where I’ve spent so many years, wasted them, destroyed them totally.”
 
You won’t find a new country, won’t find another shore.
This city will always pursue you. You will walk
the same streets, grow old in the same neighborhoods,
will turn gray in these same houses.
You will always end up in this city. Don’t hope for things elsewhere:
there is no ship for you, there is no road.
As you’ve wasted your life here, in this small corner,
you’ve destroyed it everywhere else in the world.

 

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

One Response to “Egypt: The Other Homeland”

  1. Ayk Orman August 16, 2012 at 8:19 pm #


    The City, poem of Konstatinos Kavafis in Turkish.

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