Search results for 'An Angry man'

“An angry man — that is my subject.”

2 Aug

That’s my favorite opening line of any translation of the Iliad by W.H.D. Rouse.  Granted, it takes its liberties with the wordiness of the original Greek:

μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος

οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί’ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε’ ἔθηκε,

πολλὰς δ’ ἰφθίμους ψυχὰς Ἄϊδι προί̈αψεν

ἡρώων, αὐτοὺς δὲ ἑλώρια τεῦχε κύνεσσιν

οἰωνοῖσί τε πᾶσι, Διὸς δ’ ἐτελείετο βουλή

and the more literal translations: “The wrath do thou sing, O goddess, of Peleus’ son…” (A.T. Murray).  Fagles’ “rage” is better than “anger” and closer to the Greek “menos,” which, perhaps for no other reason than that it’s the first word in the Iliad, is truly terrifying, but the curtness of Rouse’s opener conveys the message better; he’s angry – too angry for too many words; don’t talk to him; better to not even get too close.  He’s angry and, in fact, his anger is the subject; it’s the whole story.  He’s begged, cajoled; nothing works.  His best friend pleads with him – yok.  He’s offered gifts and treasures far surpassing the one insignificant thing they took from him but the taking of that thing has so lacerated his rightly gigantic ego that he won’t budge.  The Achaeans send their wisest to plead with him – the ones he himself respects the most – and he and Patroclus roast their best meats and pour their best wine for them, in what is literature’s seminal account of Middle Eastern hospitality: not because of the kebab or the wine, but because the feast is entirely about the honour of the host and pleasing the guests is irrelevant.  This guy, especially, has no interest in pleasing his guests; once he’s done his duty as a host he sends them packing with a litany of insults to deliver to Agamemnon that would leave a Russian truck driver’s ears ringing.

Rage is good.  I always thought so and think we’ll suffer as a society now that we’ve banished it to the corner where all our stigmatized emotions sit.  It just needs to be channeled, motivated by something other than blind ego: namely, by fully aware ego.  Even Achilles — once his rage stops being about his bloated self and becomes attached instead to his love and grief for his friend — goes to work decimating the Trojans, delivers some of the most deliciously bloody sections of the Iliad, and stages a wake the likes of which I’m envious that I’ll never attend: with games, massive quantities of food and drink, and the sacrifice of scores of sheep and goats and beautiful horses and twelve Trojan princes.

Achilles’ Rage (no more info)

Achilles’ sacrifice of the 12 Trojan prince POW’s at the funeral of Patroclus. Part of a wall painting in the Francois Tomb, Vulci, 350-330 BC. Museo Torlonia, Rome.

So you see it needs to be given the form of discipline, just as everything needs form; not tempered or minimized or put in contact with its feminine side – please, God…  Women have the right to and are certainly, perfectly and obviously capable of rage as well; but it’s not to be domesticated.  I’ve been watching athletes use it or succumb to it all summer now.

We all know I’ve been watching my man Phelps closely.  He’s not just a hero of mine and one of the greatest athletes of all time; I just wanted so badly to see him stick it to the bloodthirsty mobs who, back in 2009, were howling for his just crowned and anointed head because he had smoked some pot.  My heart sank after that first event, the 400m individual medley: fourth place?   I couldn’t believe it.  I thought they had gotten to him, psyched him down, the Lochte-mania.  In fact, the mobs did immediately start trashing him: “oh, he’s just been coasting a lot…” “oh, maybe at his age…”  What?!  He’s almost a year younger than Lochte!  As he stormed out to the lockers in a rage, I hoped he hadn’t succumbed to Djokovitis, the racket-smashing loss of concentration that’s plagued Nole since the spring.  I knew inside he was hanging his head.  Then silver in the relay, ok.

But then he came in second in the 200m butterfly, the event that he’s had in his pocket for almost a decade, so silver just wasn’t good enough, even if it tied him to Larisa Latynina, the Russian gymnast from the 1960s with the record of eighteen Olympic medals that she had held for forty-eight years.  Or because that was the medal that tied hers.  That was precisely the medal he had wanted to be gold.  He got out of the pool, looked at the clocks, threw his swimming cap back into the lane and stomped off again.

But there was something different about his anger this time, an “I’m better than this…” tone.  And sure enough, he came right back out and surpassed Latynina, who was watching in the stands, with his nineteenth medal – a gold one this time — in the 4x200m relay.

From Duncan White at The Telegraph:

“Nothing fuels Michael Phelps like anger. After failing to even get on the podium in the 400 metres medley and being beaten by the closest of touches in the 100m butterfly, he had plenty of frustrated fury to work with.”

Latynina was great:

Larisa Latynina won 18 Olympic medals in gymnastics for the Soviet Union, but she attended swimming Tuesday night. Michael Phelps was racing. He was trying to beat everyone in the pool and Latynina’s record as well. And when the moment came, she knew exactly what a great champion should do. She put on her lipstick.

Latynina joked in recent weeks that it was time for a man to be able to do what a woman had done long ago. And that it was too bad Phelps was not Russian.

Russian gymnast Larisa Latynina, winner of 18 Olympic medals, waving to the crowd during the women’s team final.  (Rolf Vennenbernd/European Pressphoto Agency)

This year in New York, Latynina did meet Phelps and presented him with a medal she had won in a Soviet-American dual meet in 1962. She found him “very simple, smiley, lovely to talk to.” They discussed training and, Latynina said, Phelps acknowledged that he had wearied of swimming and was ready to retire after the London Games.

She understood.

“I think a person should go for sport only as long as they get pleasure from it,” Latynina said. “As soon as they stop enjoying it, they should stop.”

And like she had been the lucky charm — or the older athlete mom that got to our Cancer Mikey’s heart (they’d met before — see article), our man has been cruising on gold ever since.  But I think that it’s just that he took control of his rage.

“Nothing fuels Michael Phelps like anger. After failing to even get on the podium in the 400 metres medley and being beaten by the closest of touches in the 100m butterfly, he had plenty of frustrated fury to work with.”

You wouldn’t think it, eh?

For other Phelps posts see:

“Ποιόν σοι εγκώμιον προσαγάγω επάξιον, τι δε ονομάσω σε, απορώ και εξίσταμαι”“…απορώ και εξίσταμαι.” , which explains the title of the previous Greek post; and “I told you they wouldn’t leave him alone” or my original 2009 “Michael Phelps” and check out tag box at lower right.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Great Krugman on Putin

22 Dec

putin-russia-military-750a_4eeedb96f23edfb4cd42615d86323da2(click — if you can stand to…)

In today’s Times: Conquest Is for Losers: Putin, Neocons and the Great Illusion

Good for someone to remember these things — and say them straight up to.  Whether it’ll sink through Russian heads is not a call I can make.

“First, why did Mr. Putin do something so stupid? Second, why were so many influential people in the United States impressed by and envious of his stupidity?

“The answer to the first question is obvious if you think about Mr. Putin’s background. Remember, he’s an ex-K.G.B. man — which is to say, he spent his formative years as a professional thug. [My emphasis] Violence and threats of violence, supplemented with bribery and corruption, are what he knows. And for years he had no incentive to learn anything else: High oil prices made Russia rich, and like everyone who presides over a bubble, he surely convinced himself that he was responsible for his own success. At a guess, he didn’t realize until a few days ago that he has no idea how to function in the 21st century.”

And from me August 3rd: From the Times: Putin uses the Church…and the Church mostly lets him… ‘Позор…’  

“Does anybody remember that Putin was a KGB agent for decades — not just a cop, an agent of an instrument of mass state terror with perhaps no equal in history — and that part of his job was ruining the lives of anyone who engaged in the kind of religious pilgrimage these people are?  No.  It’s like that never happened.  And though my stomach turns when I see him on news footage solemnly standing with his candle at Easter, engaging in the non-stop crossing and bowing that Russians do in church, I’m also just stunned by his brazenness.  The word Позор (pa-zor’) in the heading of this post means “shame” but as I was trying to find somewhere to cut and paste it from I came across its etymology.  It originally meant “remarkable,” or someone or something remarkably “watchable,” from the root “zor” for vision.  And this is, in fact, the response Putin provokes: you simply stand there, staring and dumbfounded by his shamelessness.

“As for Russians themselves, sometimes I get so angry, not just at their acceptance of the political manipulation of an Orthodox Christianity that’s important to me, but at their general passiveness, gullibility, and willingness to play along with anything that promises even some tiny alleviation of their suffering, that I just want to think that they deserve their fate.”

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

 

To Murray, man?! To Murray?!

3 Aug

To Murray?!  Are you shitting me, Nole?!

Get your bronze and get out of England.  Don’t nobody even talk to me right now.  I’m the angry man.  Beating Murray would’ve gotten Novak’s No. 1 ranking back and an Olympic Djok-Roger fight could’ve been the match of all our lifetimes.

 

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Tarlabaşı II: Elif Batuman, Beşiktaş, Kuzguncuk and “diversity”

2 Aug

A couple of problems I have with this New York Times article from last month  —  “Poor but Proud Istanbul Neighborhood Faces Gentrification”  — that prompted this Tarlabaşı series (see “Tarlabaşı I”), other than that it’s so confusingly written that one can’t exactly tell what the Beyoğlu municipality has in mind for the area, which may be their plan and not the fault of the writer.

One, is the “migrants” bit in the first or second paragraph of the article.  Yes, Istanbul continued to attract migrants until the early twentieth century from all over the Ottoman Empire and even the independent and impoverished successor states of the Balkans, men like my great-grandfather and his son-in-law, my great-uncle.  But the Greeks, Armenians and Jews that lived in Tarlabaşı in the 1940s and 50s where not migrants.  They were born and bred — mostly far more than two generations — Constantinopolitans who would’ve gotten somewhat apoplectic if you told then they were migrants.

Two, is that contemporary Tarlabaşı is not “diverse.”  It’s almost 99.9% Muslim and probably about 80% Turkish and 20% Kurdish – maybe with a very heavier demographic tilt toward the Kurdish end, which is natural because you would have run away to the big city too if your villages were being constantly bombed and flattened and what’s essentially the sürgün* of Kurds westward had been going on for decades.  That’s not diverse.  It’s probably pretty representative of the poor of the rest of the country.  If by diverse we mean the ex-pats that’ve found a good rental deal there and the artists who live in Tarlabaşı, that’s a whole other story.  In that case, maybe it’d be a good idea that artists recognize that they’re always the anti-diversity seed for every gentrification: they move in, their blending in with the locals is “cool” at first; the bankers, the lawyers, and the academics with a little bit of money follow the coolness (they have to do something), and then the ‘hood is gentrified and the funky artists can’t live there anymore…along with the neighborhood’s working, or maybe completely impoverished, classes.  And then come the wine bars.  Maybe the artists should go straight to Yalova or Tekirdağ, or Poughkeepsie or Scranton, so there’s no fear of the yuppies following them.  What do you think?  Demographically emptying neighborhoods, like the East Village and Williamsburg were here in New York in the eighties, obviously went first.  A mahalla with a stay-put, clannish population, like the Greeks and Italians and Bosnians of Astoria, obviously doesn’t let the process go that far, which is why Astoria has its share of artists and actors and writers and gay guys but still has functioning ethnic communities with their clubs and bars and butchers and produce shops at the same time and in the end remains far more interesting — and far more New York – a neighborhood than Williamsburg has become.

Astoria (click)

Williamsburg

But gentrification is not the issue.  The buzzword “diversity” is and that’s not even the Times’ writer’s fault.  “Diversity” and “multicultural” are words that have filled Turkey’s stock portfolio for several decades now: the less diverse İstanbul, especially, became, the greater the ubiquity of those words became; for tourists obviously, but, more importantly, for internal consumption in a dynamic so complicated that it’s always been tough to outline for me or figure out at all.  Post-eighties, late-twentieth-early-twenty-first-century, modernizing, haltingly democratizing, Turkey has a great investment in these words.  I mentioned in one of my first posts The Name of this Blog,” that:

“All this unpleasantness is usually excised from the contemporary Turkish nostalgia phenom.’  I remember on my first trips to Turkey as a teenager in the eighties even, often finding myself in the confusing position of being told: ’Oh, lots of Greeks used to live around here,’ in a smiling and totally sincere attempt at bonding and with a totally blissful indifference or maybe ignorance as to why they didn’t anymore, leaving me feeling both touched and irritated.  Granted, people have become markedly more sophisticated since then.”

Or have they?  I admit to asking this question with more than a significant dose of bitterness because the issue makes me angry.  Maybe I just want to expect – or eventually be able to expect – better from Turks.  I know what Greek nationalists think and they’re hopeless, because the bitterness of Neo-Greek impotence springs from an eternal source.  They think only Greeks ever lived in Greece.  They think there were never any Turks in pre-1913 Greece.  They don’t know how hard the Neo-Greek statelet made life for Salonican Jews between the wars (even as a little nostalgia phenom’ has developed around them in Salonica, a city hungrily looking for cultural capital).  They don’t know that Muslim Albanians were massacred and expelled from western Epiros during WWII.  If it were up to them, they would expel the Turkish minority from the north-east – were it not for fear of Turkey’s response (see Çiller’s famous comment about the Turkish army in Athens in 24 hours, the bully-face of the Turkish state at its grossest) – and they simply ignore the Macedonian minority of the north-west, terrorized and intimidated for decades, if they even know or are willing to admit it exists, etc., etc.  There’s no point in going on.  I detest Greek Turk-hatred; it’s so beyond obvious to me that it’s a projection of the total failure of the whole Neo-Greek project – politically, socially, economically and culturally – and I bow up like a friggin’ cobra whenever I sense even the slightest whiff of it.

But sometimes I wonder if I prefer Greek animosity to Turkish arkadaşım-s and kardeşim-s or silent smiles.  Elif Batuman is a writer I love.*  She wrote a very funny book on Russian Studies academia in the U.S. and she’s been The New Yorker’s guy in İstanbul since she moved there in 2001.  She writes truly – not just hilarious – but perceptive articles on modern Turkey, which remind you why — if one does – you love that country and its people.  In the March 7, 2011 issue of the New Yorker she wrote a brilliant piece on İstanbul’s Beşiktaş soccer club, “The View from the Stands,” and soccer in Turkey generally that said so much about the country she should look into writing a book about it.  (Her writing often betrays her, also, as a woman who really likes men; I don’t mean “likes” like that; I mean has a deep and genuine appreciation for them and their company — she’s a guys’ girl.)  Anyway, at one point she writes:

“Hakan quoted a much repeated cliché: ‘Armenians support Beşiktaş, Jews support Galatasaray, and Greeks support Fenerbahçe.’  Nobody ever says whom the Kurds – Turkey’s largest minority – support.”

Really?  Batuman recognizes it’s a cliché and probably also asked herself the same question: What city is he talking about?  Granted the p.r. guy, for lack of a better word, for Beşiktaş’ mob-like fan club is an Armenian.  Other than him…?  How many of İstanbul’s estimated 50,000 Armenians, 25,000 Jews, or 1,500 Greeks have been to a Beşiktaş game?  (I mean…forgive me the stereotype, but the idea of a good Jewish boy going to one of the high-testosterone matches Batuman describes, with their brawls and stabbings, strains all belief; one of the old Greek ladies from the Balıklı old age home would be there first.)  Or how many of Beşiktaş’ fans, unlikely to even be from İstanbul (and whom Batuman makes you like so much you want to hang out with them), have even met one of any of the above ethnic groups – out of a city of almost 15 million?

So in eternal pursuit of this question I buy Streets of Memory: Landscape, Tolerance, and National Idenitity in Istanbul, a book by Amy Mills from the University of South Carolina about Kuzguncuk and the narratives of social change that are told by its inhabitants.  Kuzguncuk is a lovely neighborhood on the Asian side of the lower Bosphorus.  It once had a large Armenian and Jewish population and a slightly smaller Greek one.  Beginning in the 1940s and into the 50s, as the minorities left for other neighborhoods or left Turkey all together, rural migrants, especially from the Black Sea coast, started to settle in the area.  But it was one of the ripest gentrification fruits in the city, dripping and ready to drop like a cracked fig: quiet, as the Asian neighborhoods of the Bosphorus are (quieter and prettier generally than their counterparts across the water; their only drawback is that in the summer they roast in the setting sun for the entire afternoon), close to Üsküdar and Kadiköy and their easy connections to the European side of the city, and still so architecturally intact that several good-ole-days, neighborhood soap operas have been shot there.  As for the quarter’s former or remaining minority residents, Mills’ doesn’t get very much out of them; the old Turkish residents of the area have the usual smiling, nostalgic accounts of their lives with the others, but are generally silent about what happened to them, or at least uncomfortable about going into details (as are the non-Muslims themselves), and the young Turkish gentrifiers of the area are, of course, too busy fighting their usual war against the newer, richer gentrifiers that the former are sure will destroy their mahalla-paradise.

The skala at Kuzguncuk (above).  Houses in Kuzguncuk (below) by Selma Arslan (click)

But after several chapters of interesting but kind of non-conclusive ethnography and lots of interesting accounts (the Greeks are the most secretive and unhelpful of her subjects — perhaps because they’re the most recently and deeply traumatized), Mills drops a theoretical bomb — for me at least — in her conclusion that summarizes everything I’ve always suspected about the issue:

“But why do non-Muslim minorities become the subject of nostalgia?  As I demonstrate in chapters 2 and 4, the nostalgic emphasis on minority cultures in Istanbul is a way of reinforcing a sense of cultural and social difference, a way of othering, that ultimately works to co-opt minorities back into the predominantly Turkish imagination of the city.  Thus nostalgia embraces and reinforces a nationalist context that defines social difference (without which, there wouldn’t be social difference) along ethnic and religious lines.  If we interrogate the cultural politics of this nostalgia, we see that nostalgia constitutes the flip side of silence.  By focusing on the dimensions of interethnic neighborhood social life that emphasizes togetherness and sharing, nostalgia erases fissures and differences.  In chapter 4, I discuss how nostalgic memories of life on the main street smooth over the violence of particular antiminority events in Kuzguncuk: the erasures accomplished by nostalgia actually reify the ideology behind the dominant national narrative, that Turkey is an inherently Turkish nation.  Nostalgia for cosmopolitanism, by sustaining the erasure of difference, writes minorities back into a seamless collective, and so nostalgia for minority places and people is part of the discursive field that dispossesses minorities of place.  Minorities comply by maintaining silence regarding their experiences of Turkish nationalist discrimination and by assimilating, thereby ensuring their safety.  In this way, the primary function of the nostalgia for cosmopolitanism is to sustain and mediate social and personal experiences of ethnic Turkish nationalism.  The conclusion is that in Istanbul, cosmopolitanism is imagined locally in ways that perpetuate the notions of social difference and inequality that cosmopolitanism, as an ideal, claims to transcend.”

Hard to say more than that; it strips “İstanbul nostalgia” down to its basic – if not hypocrisy – then at least its unintentional disingenuousness.  But there is probably one more layer that needs to be excavated there and a connection that may need looking in to.  Under the fanatically secular project of the Republic, which permits the doublethink simultaneity of pure Turkishness and gracious cosmopolitanism that Mills nails on the head to “co-exist,” may run, ironically, the frequently bloated claims of tolerance and egalitarianism that Islam has often made for itself.  There’s a suspiciously similar paternalism: “We’re in control here, but as long as you lay low, you’ll be ok…” that seems part of the foundation of both ideologies, and that might not be a coincidence.

And that’s also why Batuman’s Beşiktaş fans can recite the classic trio of vanished ethnic groups but never say what team the Kurds support: because Turkey has 14 million Kurds, and they won’t “lay low.”

**********************************************************************************************************************************************

*Sürgün means deportation in Turkish (I don’t know if it’s originally a Turkic word).  The Ottomans, the Byzantines, the Safavid and previous Persians, the Romans — all used them for strategic military purposes and to disperse peoples whose unity was considered threatening or subversive.  The Byzantines used the method extensively to re-Hellenize the Greek peninsula after the Slavic invasions of the 6th century, moving Anatolian Greeks to Greece and Slavic groups to Asia Minor; a cynic will tell you that exchanges of populations and ethnic cleansings are nothing new.

**You can find most of Batuman’s work for The New Yorker here, though most of it is behind their bitchy pay-wall, and her book: The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

See Tarlabaşı I and Tarlabaşı III

Mexicans, Achilles, anger and Michael Phelps

18 Jan

I’ve suddenly had a sudden non-stop bombardment of hits from México — which I never get — on this post on Phelps from London games.  Can anyone tell me why now?

**************************************************************************************

“An angry man — that is my subject.”

That’s my favorite opening line of any translation of the Iliad by W.H.D. Rouse.  Granted, it takes its liberties with the wordiness of the original Greek:

μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος

οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί’ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε’ ἔθηκε,

πολλὰς δ’ ἰφθίμους ψυχὰς Ἄϊδι προί̈αψεν

ἡρώων, αὐτοὺς δὲ ἑλώρια τεῦχε κύνεσσιν

οἰωνοῖσί τε πᾶσι, Διὸς δ’ ἐτελείετο βουλή

and the more literal translations: “The wrath do thou sing, O goddess, of Peleus’ son…” (A.T. Murray).  Fagles’ “rage” is better than “anger” and closer to the Greek “menos,” which, perhaps for no other reason than that it’s the first word in the Iliad, is truly terrifying, but the curtness of Rouse’s opener conveys the message better; he’s angry – too angry for too many words; don’t talk to him; better to not even get too close.  He’s angry and, in fact, his anger is the subject; it’s the whole story.  He’s begged, cajoled; nothing works.  His best friend pleads with him – yok.  He’s offered gifts and treasures far surpassing the one insignificant thing they took from him but the taking of that thing has so lacerated his rightly gigantic ego that he won’t budge.  The Achaeans send their wisest to plead with him – the ones he himself respects the most – and he and Patroclus roast their best meats and pour their best wine for them, in what is literature’s seminal account of Middle Eastern hospitality: not because of the kebab or the wine, but because the feast is entirely about the honour of the host and pleasing the guests is irrelevant.  This guy, especially, has no interest in pleasing his guests; once he’s done his duty as a host he sends them packing with a litany of insults to deliver to Agamemnon that would leave a Russian truck driver’s ears ringing.

Rage is good.  I always thought so and think we’ll suffer as a society now that we’ve banished it to the corner where all our stigmatized emotions sit.  It just needs to be channeled, motivated by something other than blind ego: namely, by fully aware ego.  Even Achilles — once his rage stops being about his bloated self and becomes attached instead to his love and grief for his friend — goes to work decimating the Trojans, delivers some of the most deliciously bloody sections of the Iliad, and stages a wake the likes of which I’m envious that I’ll never attend: with games, massive quantities of food and drink, and the sacrifice of scores of sheep and goats and beautiful horses and twelve Trojan princes.

Achilles’ Rage (no more info)

Achilles’ sacrifice of the 12 Trojan prince POW’s at the funeral of Patroclus. Part of a wall painting in the Francois Tomb, Vulci, 350-330 BC. Museo Torlonia, Rome.

So you see it needs to be given the form of discipline, just as everything needs form; not tempered or minimized or put in contact with its feminine side – please, God…  Women have the right to and are certainly, perfectly and obviously capable of rage as well; but it’s not to be domesticated.  I’ve been watching athletes use it or succumb to it all summer now.

We all know I’ve been watching my man Phelps closely.  He’s not just a hero of mine and one of the greatest athletes of all time; I just wanted so badly to see him stick it to the bloodthirsty mobs who, back in 2009, were howling for his just crowned and anointed head because he had smoked some pot.  My heart sank after that first event, the 400m individual medley: fourth place?   I couldn’t believe it.  I thought they had gotten to him, psyched him down, the Lochte-mania.  In fact, the mobs did immediately start trashing him: “oh, he’s just been coasting a lot…” “oh, maybe at his age…”  What?!  He’s almost a year younger than Lochte!  As he stormed out to the lockers in a rage, I hoped he hadn’t succumbed to Djokovitis, the racket-smashing loss of concentration that’s plagued Nole since the spring.  I knew inside he was hanging his head.  Then silver in the relay, ok.

But then he came in second in the 200m butterfly, the event that he’s had in his pocket for almost a decade, so silver just wasn’t good enough, even if it tied him to Larisa Latynina, the Russian gymnast from the 1960s with the record of eighteen Olympic medals that she had held for forty-eight years.  Or because that was the medal that tied hers.  That was precisely the medal he had wanted to be gold.  He got out of the pool, looked at the clocks, threw his swimming cap back into the lane and stomped off again.

But there was something different about his anger this time, an “I’m better than this…” tone.  And sure enough, he came right back out and surpassed Latynina, who was watching in the stands, with his nineteenth medal – a gold one this time — in the 4x200m relay.

From Duncan White at The Telegraph:

“Nothing fuels Michael Phelps like anger. After failing to even get on the podium in the 400 metres medley and being beaten by the closest of touches in the 100m butterfly, he had plenty of frustrated fury to work with.”

Latynina was great:

Larisa Latynina won 18 Olympic medals in gymnastics for the Soviet Union, but she attended swimming Tuesday night. Michael Phelps was racing. He was trying to beat everyone in the pool and Latynina’s record as well. And when the moment came, she knew exactly what a great champion should do. She put on her lipstick.

Latynina joked in recent weeks that it was time for a man to be able to do what a woman had done long ago. And that it was too bad Phelps was not Russian.

Russian gymnast Larisa Latynina, winner of 18 Olympic medals, waving to the crowd during the women’s team final.  (Rolf Vennenbernd/European Pressphoto Agency)

This year in New York, Latynina did meet Phelps and presented him with a medal she had won in a Soviet-American dual meet in 1962. She found him “very simple, smiley, lovely to talk to.” They discussed training and, Latynina said, Phelps acknowledged that he had wearied of swimming and was ready to retire after the London Games.

She understood.

“I think a person should go for sport only as long as they get pleasure from it,” Latynina said. “As soon as they stop enjoying it, they should stop.”

And like she had been the lucky charm — or the older athlete mom that got to our Cancer Mikey’s heart (they’d met before — see article), our man has been cruising on gold ever since.  But I think that it’s just that he took control of his rage.

“Nothing fuels Michael Phelps like anger. After failing to even get on the podium in the 400 metres medley and being beaten by the closest of touches in the 100m butterfly, he had plenty of frustrated fury to work with.”

You wouldn’t think it, eh?

For other Phelps posts see:

“Ποιόν σοι εγκώμιον προσαγάγω επάξιον, τι δε ονομάσω σε, απορώ και εξίσταμαι”“…απορώ και εξίσταμαι.” , which explains the title of the previous Greek post; and “I told you they wouldn’t leave him alone” or my original 2009 “Michael Phelps” and check out tag box at lower right.

(My original 2009 “Michael Phelps” for the event that started it all.)

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

I told you they wouldn’t leave him alone.

19 Aug

Digging up dirt is their business, and the higher the target, the more cheap glory accrues to their little souls.  We have one of the greatest athletes in history, photographed by one of the greatest artists of our time (do we understand that that’s what the Greeks did?), and they’re worried about the “rules.”  The idea that super high-end professionals likes Phelps’ agent and p.r. people, the entire Louis Vuitton corporate world, and Annie Leibovitz and her p.r. people, all knew about this rule — which is new, by the way — and deliberately flaunted it, is absurd.  But let’s see how this plays out.  There are no limits to people’s pettiness. 

If they take away any medals I’m going after somebody; I’m not kidding.

Beautiful work on Leibovitz’ part — goes without saying.

The other part of the ad below.

“Swimming champion Michael Phelps might be in hot water with the International Olympic Committee after photos of his posing in a bathtub for part of a Louis Vuitton ad campaign were leaked on the Internet.

Phelps was photographed for the campaign in a bathing suit and goggles in a bathtub reportedly by photographer Annie Leibovitz. The photos were released during a time when Olympic athletes are banned from participating in marketing campaigns.

The regulation was introduced this year by the Olympic Committee and is known as Rule 40, prohibiting athletes from participating in advertising from July 18 to Aug. 15, which included periods before and after the Olympic Games.

The photo of Phelps in the bathtub next to a Louis Vuitton bag, however, popped up on the Internet in early August, appearing on Paper Mag and the Los Angeles Times, among other websites.

Athletes who break Rule 40 can face sanctions, including financial penalties and disqualification from games, which can mean a loss of medals, as outlined in the Olympic Committee’s guidebook. 

The U.S. International Olympic Committee and Louis Vuitton declined to comment. Representatives for Leibovitz did not immediately return calls from ABC News.”

For other Phelps posts see: Michael Phelps“;  “An angry man — that is my subject.”; Ποιόν σοι εγκώμιον προσαγάγω επάξιον, τι δε ονομάσω σε, απορώ και εξίσταμαι“…απορώ και εξίσταμαι.” , which explains other Greek heading, or check out tag box at lower right.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Ποιόν σοι εγκώμιον προσαγάγω επάξιον, τι δε ονομάσω σε, απορώ και εξίσταμαι

4 Aug

No more to be said.

“The medal was Phelps’s 22nd over all, the most by any Olympian; his 18th gold; and his 6th in London. Phelps’s week has been something of a farewell tour, marked at different times by sadness or smiles, memories and melancholy. He has seemed to soften around the edges, letting people into a life so long closed to outsiders as he pursued swimming history, but he never lost his edge.”

The vultures’ll continue hounding him, come up with the tritest dirt; as soon as they had to stop dissing him when he shook off his initial losses in London, the sleazebag press had started going off on stories about why his father was absent — a real wound for him — and not like Lochte’s, red-faced and slobbering over his son after every event.

Knowing his anger and sensitivity about his relationsip with his father, I can only imagine how that infuriated him; and can now guess at how the 2009 witch-hunt and the American public repentance machine he has had to bow to all these years must’ve twisted up his guts in rage: Michael Phelps.  Maybe now he can fulfill my fantasy and publicly declare: “I’m Michael Phelps and fuck all y’all.”  And take a good, deep hit.  And not just a hit.  Drink.  Eat whatever what you want.  Sleep late.  Travel.  Fuck a lot.  And then eventually think about what’s next.

‘Cause whatever this tough, driven, generous and fundamentally All-American good-natured kid does next, he’ll kick ass and the gods’ll all be behind him as he does.

Twenty-two medals — eighteen gold.  The greatest Olympian in history.

*************************************************************************************************************************************************

“But tell me: how did gold get to be the highest value? Because it is uncommon and useless and gleaming and gentle in its brilliance; it always gives itself. Only as an image of the highest virtue did gold get to be the highest value. The giver’s glance gleams like gold. A golden brilliance concludes peace between the moon and the sun. Uncommon is the highest virtue and useless, it is gleaming and gentle in its brilliance: a gift- giving virtue is the highest virtue.”

— Friedrich Nietzsche

By Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images (GOTTA click)

For other Phelps posts see: Michael Phelps;  “An angry man — that is my subject.”“…απορώ και εξίσταμαι.” , which explains the title of this post; and “I told you they wouldn’t leave him alone” or check out tag box at lower right.


Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Michael Phelps

26 Jul

Another favorite athlete.

Michael Phelps, of course, has been let out of the mothballs of American moralism for a few months now.  He brought his polis glory at Olympia, did good by the friggin U.S. of A for a long time and then was clapped in the stocks and packed away into a closet for the major crime of having taken a bong hit of some plain old weed like everyone else.  Subway, I think, never totally withdrew their sponsorship, but, in general, the kid was abandoned for years till some commercials started reappearing again recently – but the whole thing, until the absolute eve of the Games, has been kind of low key and sotto voce.  “60 Minutes” had an interview with him Sunday night that I didn’t stand to watch for cringe of the sorries and guilts and mea-culpas that his p.r. people are probably still making him recite.  In any event, it’s obvious from the spate of light porn ads we’ve been subjected to that Ryan Lochte is the media’s swimmer sex-star for these Olympics, though there’s no indication — as London preliminaries have shown — that he’s as fierce a swimmer as Phelps.

Here’s a piece that I wrote back in 2009 when Mikey committed his major crime because I was so enraged by the whole incident, complete with American sheriff huffing and puffing about putting the bad guy away.  It’s not just about Phelps; it’s about athleticism, manhood, heroism and the twisted, perverted notions of all of the above that contemporary America suffers from, and as America goes, the rest of our world; one always wants to hope not, but one’s hopes are usually disappointed.

*****************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************

February 2009

 

I’m writing to everybody because I think it’s important for as many of us as is possible to speak out against one of our most recent episodes of moral nonsense: the Michael Phelps issue with the bong picture and the whole issue of the criminalization of marijuana generally

My main intent is not to argue in favor of the decriminalization of marijuana use, but I have to start there to move further.  There are people better equipped than I am to argue that case, but I just need to state clearly that keeping marijuana use illegal is ridiculous and that eventually it’ll be recognized as an even bigger and more futile moral absurdity than Prohibition was.  Unfortunately that recognition will not help the people who have been harassed and incarcerated for it, the young people whose records have been pointlessly marred with meaningless arrests, the minors trapped in America’s private jail gulag, or those whose already underprivileged lives have been damaged irreparably by these laws.

I’ve never even smoked pot, but the moral randomness of this position is so mind-boggling that it makes my hair stand on end.  I’m not a doctor or a biochemist, but I can tell you for a fact that marijuana use is not even close to as destructive as even casual alcohol use can be.  And I can tell you with even more certainty that it’s not nearly as damaging to the body and spirit as the garbage that two-hundred million obese Americans shovel into their mouths every day without any legal interference at all.  McDonald’s will kill you or radically lower the quality of your life far faster than pot will – in fact, I think it should be illegal.

But beyond that, what I most want to put out there is my disgust at the spiritual and aesthetic bankruptcy of American culture that this whole circus has once again revealed: not just the trite outrage, the moralizing, the canned language of the ridiculous apologies and Protestant confessions, or the Puritan hand-wringing which always carries with it that nasty whiff of pure persecution that it has so often slid into in our history and into which it can easily slide again.  Spiritual and aesthetic bankruptcy are equivalent states – I can’t think of a better way to put that right now; how about “it is meet and right” to honour the beautiful — and even more than the unjust scapegoating and even real civil rights abuses this kind of stupidity can lead to, it’s another kind of emptiness that galls me: the fact that Michael Phelps is nothing for us but someone we can rip apart like this; that we’ll commodify him or trash him, but no sense of greater meaning ever comes from who someone like him is.

What do I mean?  I mean that in a healthy civilization Michael Phelps would put on his crown of laurels, call a press conference and say: “I’m Michael Phelps and fuck all y’all…”  And he wouldn’t even raise his voice.  “Look at me. I got fourteen gold medals. I’m a god.”  And step away – sorry, no questions.  Because gods don’t even apologize for their crimes, much less their little pleasures that are none of your business anyway.   But he can’t do that because we’re too little.  We’ve lost the sense of awe or worship or grandeur that could have received that.  We no longer understand a radical assertion of self; shitty selfishness we get alright — in the disgusting immorality of our politics and of our business and economic practices — but a radical assertion of power or beauty or manhood just freaks us out and we’re blind to the spring of good things that assertion can become for all of us.  We don’t know what to do with him.  We don’t even know how to destroy him, how to dismember him and eat him like some captive Aztec deity in the hope that we’ll gain some of his strength that way or be saved or whatever it is one wants out of absorption of the numinous.  So we make this magnificent kid grovel and humiliate himself for no reason.  And then we feel better about our own misery and impotence and impoverished spiritual world.

Carlyle said: “Great souls are always loyally submissive, reverent to what is above them; only small, mean souls are otherwise.”  Mean souls is right.  The whole sickening schadenfreude again, which that poor pendeja Paris Hilton didn’t even deserve, much less Phelps…  The wholly squirrelly attitude of  “ha, ha, big stud who thought he was above the law gets taken down a notch…put in his place…” even from intelligent quarters like the New York Times, like this inane piece of pettiness and daddy-preaching from George Vecsey.  We’ve lost any sense of real pride in a phenomenon like Phelps, but we’re all so quick to point out hubris when we think we see it.

Everybody is so happy to call him a dork now, a stoner, a callow fratboy.  But if we see him as nothing but a callow fratboy, that’s our problem, not his; it’s because we don’t recognize the Divine in anything anymore.  If you can look at Michael Phelps and not see the innocence of a Parsifal or a Galahad, you’re the callow one.  And if you don’t see that innocence, it’ll never be transformed into the heroism or strength of a Parsifal or a Galahad either.  You’ll dumb him down and box him in with ethical pettiness — meaning castrate him — so he stays like you.  You just see fratboys, so you’ll get fratboys; all that’s proof of is how far your spiritual imagination extends and that we’ll continue to progressively slide even further into a nation of callow fratboys than we already have.  Every culture gets the culture it deserves.

Kellogg’s dropped their sponsorship of Phelps….  Oooooo….  We’ve let Kellogg’s – Kellogg’s, malaka! the cereal! the vendor of bad carbs and high fructose corn syrup! — become a voice in this fake moral debate.  I wonder what the folks at Oscar Meyer have to say…or Wonderbread…or Pop-tarts, though I’m sure one company owns all of them.  We obviously haven’t turned a single page since the 50s then, and we deserve no sympathy.

Meanwhile, the first thing I thought when I saw that photo and the only real moral issue that it raises for me — the issue of who that scumbag was, the “friend” or fellow partier who took that picture and distributed it to the media — isn’t ever even mentioned!  The betrayal, the cheapness, and the way we cheaply use this traitor’s cheapness as an opportunity to do our moralizing and to turn Phelps into Hester Prynne, that he was probably even rewarded for it…. THAT doesn’t seem to scandalize or bother anybody!  Apparently betrayal and opportunism are now American moral ideals but the simple pleasure of a bong, enjoyed by a kid who more than deserves it and made us so proud…THAT’S a crime….

So, here’s some Cavafy that I think says it all — at least for those who “understand and step aside:”

One of Their Gods

“When one of them moved through the marketplace of Seleucia
just as it was getting dark—
moved like a young man, tall, extremely handsome,
with the joy of being immortal in his eyes,
with his black and perfumed hair—
the people going by would gaze at him,
and one would ask the other if he knew him,
if he was a Greek from Syria, or a stranger.
But some who looked more carefully
would understand and step aside;
and as he disappeared under the arcades,

among the shadows and the evening lights,
going toward the quarter that lives
only at night, with orgies and debauchery,
with every kind of intoxication and desire,
they would wonder which of Them it could be,
and for what suspicious pleasure
he had come down into the streets of Seleucia
from the August Celestial Mansions.”

(Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard)

So step aside creeps and shut up — and be grateful you were there to see him pass.

(Below is the original Greek and a Spanish translation too)

 

Ένας Θεός των

Όταν κανένας των περνούσεν απ’ της Σελευκείας
την αγορά, περί την ώρα που βραδυάζει,
σαν υψηλός και τέλεια ωραίος έφηβος,
με την χαρά της αφθαρσίας μες στα μάτια,
με τ’ αρωματισμένα μαύρα του μαλλιά,
οι διαβάται τον εκύτταζαν
κι ο ένας τον άλλονα ρωτούσεν αν τον γνώριζε,
κι αν ήταν  Έλλην της Συρίας, ή ξένος. Aλλά μερικοί,
που με περισσοτέρα προσοχή παρατηρούσαν,
εκαταλάμβαναν και παραμέριζαν·
κ’ ενώ εχάνετο κάτω απ’ τες στοές,
μες στες σκιές και μες στα φώτα της βραδυάς,
πηαίνοντας προς την συνοικία που την νύχτα
μονάχα ζει, με όργια και κραιπάλη,
και κάθε είδους μέθη και λαγνεία,
ερέμβαζαν ποιος τάχα ήταν εξ Aυτών,
και για ποιαν ύποπτην απόλαυσί του
στης Σελευκείας τους δρόμους εκατέβηκεν
απ’ τα Προσκυνητά, Πάνσεπτα Δώματα.

 

UNO DE SUS DIOSES

Cuando uno de ellos atravesaba el ágora
de Seleucia al caer la tarde,
en la figura de un hombre joven, alto y hermoso,
perfumada la negra cabellera
y la alegría de la inmortalidad en sus pupilas,
los que al pasar le contemplaban
se preguntaban uno a otro si alguien acaso le conocía,
si era tal vez griego de Siria o un extranjero. Pero algunos
que le observaban más atentos
comprendían y se apartaban.
Y mientras él, bajo los pórticos,
entre las sombras se perdía y la luz tenue del crepúsculo
hacia los barrios que despiertan
sólo en la noche para la orgía,
la embriaguez y la lujuria y todo género de vicios,
admirados se preguntaban cuál de entre ellos era éste
y por qué placer equívoco
hasta las calles de Seleucia descendía desde la augusta
beatitud de sus moradas.

Versión de José Ángel Valente

For other Phelps posts see:  “An angry man — that is my subject.” “Ποιόν σοι εγκώμιον προσαγάγω επάξιον, τι δε ονομάσω σε, απορώ και εξίσταμαι”“…απορώ και εξίσταμαι.” , which explains the title of the other Greek-heading post; and “I told you they wouldn’t leave him alone” or check out tag box at lower right.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Rudeness in Europe: from a Quora discussion. I found these scarily accurate…

15 Dec

Rudeness is not as common in Europe as it might be in some countries, but it does exist. I grew up in Europe, have worked there and have been in pretty much any situation one can be in, so I feel I can reflect a bit.

Generally in Europe, rudeness isn’t a standard retort you have to expect. People are aware of a proper way to behave, and will stay on that level as far as possible. But a point can be reached, anywhere, where that bubble bursts.

And that point comes sooner, and will be more dramatic, in some places.

I’ve had the most traumatic experiences of rudeness in my life in the US, but I think it’s safe to say that you can experience rudeness verging on violence relatively easily in the following places in Europe:

  • Austria; I’ve been accosted and screamed at openly and for no discernible or justified reason there on many occasions, and I tread very carefully there these days, knowing that the pleasantness on display is volatile.
  • Germany; it takes a while for a German to blow up, but they are very confrontational, and will seek you out if you do something in public they disapprove of. Things can get loud and violent very quickly then. When I’m in Germany, I keep my head down, challenge no one, and try to be as invisible as possble.
  • Great Britain; there is a segment of the population which, given enough blood alcohol, will turn on people. Luckily, you see them and hear them coming from a mile away. Unfortunately, there are rather a lot of them. An English town centre on a weekend night is like a zombie apocalypse.
  • France; perhaps it’s a streak of Gallic fierceness, but the French can get unbelievably angry, often as a pack and in an organised fashion, and turn violent quickly. Well, what’s new. Any time some law gets passed, a few cars are turned over and set aflame in Paris for good measure. Let’s not forget that this is where kings got their heads taken off once. I’ve once had a dog set on me by a campsite owner near Chartres for parking the wrong way around.

Rudeness in Europe usually comes from an inclination to “set someone’s head straight” about a perceived transgression against their person or public order. So in a way, when you’re being treated like that in Europe, it’s usually a sign of vigilantism, and of you being perceived as a perpetrator of some kind.

This is different from Eastern European rudeness, which is more of the hungover and self-loathing variety [ 🙂], or Scandinavian rudeness, which is usually just social awkwardness bordering on the autistic spectrum [🙂🙂*]. Or Asian rudeness, which seems to increase toward the lower echelons of mental capacity. [My emphases]

* (I came across a tweet recently: that Scandinavians embraced Lutheranism so widely and quickly because it absolved them from the Catholic sacrament of Confession, where they would have to say more than ten words at one time.)

The duck and okra and Armenian massacre chapter from Loxandra — “shit happens” — my translation

4 Sep

It’s actually hard to say which came first: whether Maria Iordanidou’s Loxandra was the first literary manifestation of the archetype of a Greek woman of Istanbul, or whether life imitated art and Politisses started unconsciously behaving like Loxandra.  Joyful, funny, hovering and caring around all her loved ones but even strangers – even Turks – worldly for her degree of education and fundamentally cosmopolitan if even unawares, obsessed with good food, and always finding happiness and beauty and pleasure in the world, despite her people’s precarious position in their wider environment.

Iordanidou’s novel captures more perfectly than any other literary representation what Patricia Storace has called the “voluptuous domesticity” that Greeks associate with life in Anatolia and Constantinople.  But what’s always moved me and struck me as so intelligent about the novel — each of the some ten or more times I’ve read it — is that it’s not all fun-and-games and yalancı dolma and Apokries in Tatavla and Politika nazia.  Right along side the pleasure and humor rides a brutally honest portrayal of the “tolerant” and “diverse” Ottoman society that is a favorite fantasy of certain progressives, on both Greek and Turkish sides of the coin.  Iordanidou doesn’t fall into that trap, just as she doesn’t fall into the alternate trap of portraying all Turks as murderous animals, along the lines of Dido Soteriou’s Matomena Homata (Bloodied Lands) or Veneze’s Aeolike Ge (Aeolian Earth).  She simply goes for the starkest realism: Ottoman Turks/Muslims and their subject peoples didn’t live together in harmony but rather lived in parallel universes that rarely intersected; the novel takes place at a time when – as Petros Markares points out in his essay in the book’s latest edition – “life was heaven for the minorities and hell for Muslims.”  But even in that paradise, when the two parallel universes collided, the result was hellish for everyone.

I’ve translated the chapter that takes place during the Hamidian massacres of Armenians in 1896, particularly the shockingly urban episode that occurred in Istanbul.  In August of that year, the Dashnaks, Armenian freedom-fighters-cum-terrorists took hostages at the Ottoman Bank in Karaköy and the operation turned into a mini-civil-battle with groups of Armenians and Turks taking up position on either side of the Galata Bridge. 

From Wiki:

Massacres:

Retribution against the ordinary Armenian populace in Constantinople was swift and brutal. Ottomans loyal to the government began to massacre the Armenians in Constantinople itself. Two days into the takeover, the Ottoman softas and bashibazouks, armed by the Sultan, went on a rampage and slaughtered thousands of Armenians living in the city.[11] According to the foreign diplomats in Constantinople, Ottoman central authorities instructed the mob “to start killing Armenians, irrespective of age and gender, for the duration of 48 hours.”[12] The killings only stopped when the mob was ordered to desist from such activity by Sultan Hamid.[12] They murdered around 6,000[1] – 7,000 Armenians. Within 48 hours of the bank seizure, estimates had the dead numbering between 3,000 and 4,000, as authorities made no effort to contain the killings of Armenians and the looting of their homes and businesses.

Loxandra and her family live through the massacring of their Armenian neighbors in Pera in terror, hiding inside their shuttered house for a week, till they finally run out of water and have to start interacting with the neighborhood vendors.  Iordanidou does take a swipe at Turkish passivity and fatalism though in the closing part of the chapter as Loxandra hears repeatedly from the Turkish merchants she has to deal with, in reference to the killing: “Yağnış oldu.”  “That was a mistake.”  This “Yağnış oldu” chimes like a bell or rather a kick in the gut on the chapter’s last page.  Thousands dead, “their homes looted, their churches destroyed… Yağnış oldu”

Shit happens, in other words.

Loxandra soon starts to forget, or at least pretends to.  In the end, the chapter is a disturbing look at the compromises we make in order to go on living with the Other, despite the evil he may have done you, or you him.  Otherwise life would be intolerable.  For “…too much sorrow doth to madness turn…” Loxandra concludes in the final sentence.

Loxandra: Chapter 5

Glory be to God, because To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…A time to be born, and a time to die…a time to break down, and a time to build up…”

Loxandra just figured that for her to suddenly find herself living in the Crossroad*(1) that meant that her time had come and that this had to be her world from now on.  She accepted her new life the way that she accepted Demetro’s death.  What can you do?  That’s how that is.

The Crossroad was nothing like Makrochori, and the beautiful old life she had there – it was like a scissor had come and snipped it off — slowly became a sweet receding dream.  Cleio started to yearn for twilight in Makrochori, the sky, the sea, their garden and the shade of their plane tree.  She had even lost her father’s library, because during the move to Pera, Theodore had pilfered most of it and now all she was left with were Kassiane, Pikouilo Ali Ağa and Witnesses at a Wedding.  She started to avoid the cosmopolitan life of Pera, which she at first had thought heavenly, and she lamented her lost paradise.  Exactly opposite to her mother.

Because Loxandra never wept for lost heavens.  Nor did she ever go in search of joy.  It was joy that went in search of Loxandra.  And it would usually pop up in the most unexpected moments.  The angel would suddenly descend and stir the waters in the fount of the Virgin of Baloukli and for Loxandra it was like she had been baptized anew.

Glory be to God.  And great be the grace of the Virgin.

The fat little ducklings of August and the okra make good eating.  It’s a sin to let August pass without eating ducklings with the okra.

So on the eve of the Virgin’s Loxandra bought ducklings to cook them with the okra, and despite her exhaustion, she went down into the kitchen to start preparing the birds.  She was especially tired because the day before she had stocked up fuel for the winter.  She filled the cellar with charcoal, and then she’d call the Kurds to come hack up the lumber she would use for the stoves.

In the City at that time, just as your milkman was Bulgarian, your fishmonger Armenian, your baker from Epiros, so your lumber supplier was a Kurd.  So Loxandra called the “Kiurtides” to come chop up her winter stock of lumber.  Early in early morn’ — όρθρου βαθέος — they would dump a good thirty “chekia” of tree trunks and thick boughs and then the Kurds would come, brawny giants from deep in Anatolia in salwar and black kerchiefs wound around their fezzes and with their shiny, well-sharpened cleavers to chop up the wood.  The Kurds were meraklides when it came to their blades.  Even all the way in his village in the depths of Kurdistan, the Kurd could never be separated from his cleaver, and when the time came for him to emigrate his mother would present his cleaver to her son, the way a Spartan woman gave her son his shield.  And when a young Kurd got to an age of fourteen or fifteen and started feeling the first longings of his youth, he never took flowers in hand.  Instead he’d take his knife and go about the mahalades crying out: “Dertim var, dertim”… “I’m in pain, in longing” and would look around to see if any of the shutters or windows all about would open.  The young girl that would first answer his call would open her window and cry: “Dertine kurban olurum”, meaning “I’ll sacrifice myself to your longings”.  And the young man would exclaim: “Bende baltaim burada vururum”, meaning “And so I nail my knife here.” Then he went home and sent his mother to retrieve his knife and at the same time, get to know her future daughter-in-law.

That’s how important the cleaver was for a Kurd.  And you’d be better off cursing out his Prophet rather than saying anything offensive about his cleaver.

Loxandra was afraid of Kurds, just the way she was afraid of Turks.  But when it came to important things like her yearly supply of firewood, well…there was no holding her back nor kid gloves to wear in treating them:

“Does this fit, you son-of-a-dog?” she’d yell, suddenly fearless and waving a big, bulky knot of wood above the Kurd’s head.  “Does this fit, bre, in my stove?”

She would get so angry that she almost might have said something about his cleaver.

But oddly enough the Kurds never got angry and never felt insulted by her, and would do any favor she wanted.  They would stack the chopped up lumber in her cellar and their departure was always warm and accompanied by the usual güle güle and reciprocal good wishes and a light winter, may-it-be, and here…take this for your little boy and here take this for your wife, and all the rest.

That night, Loxandra was exhausted and all night long she saw bizarre dreams of sharp meat cleavers and a big butcher’s block piled with chopped meat.  She just attributed the dreams to her experiences that day with the Kurds.  “Oh”, she thought upon waking: “Ιησούς Χριστός Νικά” “Jesus Christ Victor”…and she went down into the kitchen to brown the ducklings.

How could she know what the future had in store for them?  How could she know that the treaty that was signed eighteen years before in San Stefano had been revised and revised again so that Bulgaria could be an autonomous state, Romania and Montenegro were now independent, Russia took Kars and Ardahan and Batumi, Britain took Cyprus, Greece got Thessaly and a part of Epiros, but the Armenians got nothing out of all that had been promised to them, and they started an uprising, so that Sultan Hamid roused up his people, and he brought Kurds with their cleavers and they had organized a massacre of Armenians…right there…in the middle of the streets of the City…on the eve of a feast day like this…the Assumption of the Virgin…  How could she possibly know all of that?

So, blissful and clueless, she went down to prepare the ducklings, and she was in a happy mood, but in just such a good mood that morning.  The day before they had received a letter from Giorgaki asking for Cleio’s hand in marriage.  The letter was a bit nutty, but what was important is that he wanted to marry Cleio.  It started like this:

“In these difficult moments my mind races to you and only you, my refuge and haven, my peaceful port…”

And riding on that inspiration – and drunk – Giorgaki wrote that he missed his boat and that he had gotten stuck in Genoa with Epaminonda, alone and abandoned and penniless, because, being human, they had had a bit to drink to forget their dertia and night had fallen on them in the alleyways of Genoa, and in the dark Epaminonda had started bugging a Catholic priest: …psss…psss…thinking he was a woman, and the neighbors had gotten all riled up and Epaminonda had gotten arrested, but the Greek consul in the city was a countryman of Giorgaki’s and he got the authorities to release Epaminonda from the holding pen, and in a few days the consul would put them on a ship to Constantinople to celebrate the engagement — that is, if Loxandra accepted him as a son-in-law.  And before closing, he added: “My lips will never again touch even a single drop of alcohol.”

How could she not be happy?!  She set the pan on the fire and as soon as the birds started to soften up, she tasted the sauce to check the salt.  Suddenly she heard the stomp of running feet in the street.

Bre, Tarnana, get up and go out and see what’s going on”, she said to him.

But Tarnana was too tired to go see because to see he had to climb up onto the sink because the kitchen was in the basement. So all he could see the was the sight of running feet.  But Loxandra grabbed a chair for herself and climbed on top of it to get a better view.  And what does she see?  A Kurd with his cleaver in hand was trying to break down the door of Monsieur Artin.(**2)

HA!  The bloody dog, may-a-wretched-year-befall-him!

She got down off the chair and grabbed the large soup ladle.

“Just wait and see what I’ll do to him!”

She gathered up her skirts and ran up the stairs.  But she came crashing into Cleio.

“It’s a massacre, mother, a massacre!” cried Cleio in a semi-faint.

Loxandra paid her no mind.

“What massacre shmassacre you talking about, bre?  Some Kurd is looking to break down Monsieur Artin’s door. Get outta my way!”

Sultana came down too and along with Cleio and Tarnana they stuffed up her mouth so that her cries couldn’t be heard on the street.  They closed the shutters and they all hid in the charcoal cellar.

But even in the cellar you could hear the blows from the street, the running feet, and the dying cries of the wounded.  There would be a short few moments of quiet and then it would start again.  Any time there was a bit of silence, Loxandra would grab her ladle.

“It’s just the Kurds for heaven’s sake, may-the-Devil-take-them-and-carry-them-off! Let me go see what’s happening!”

When the frenzy finally stopped an employee from Thodoros’ office came to bring them some groceries and to see how they were.  He said there had been a mass slaughter of Armenians but that no Greeks had been hurt unless they were harboring Armenians in their house, and Thodoro sent the message that God forbid anyone find out you’ve got Tarnana in the house.  In the Crossroad things had calmed down, but the killing was continuing in the suburbs.

That was enough to finally scare Loxandra and she hid Tarnana under her bed.  She was afraid to get near the window or even open the shutters.  The street vendors started to come by as usual.  The salepçi (***3) came by.  The offal-vendor came by, and as soon as they smelled him the cats started growling.  She locked them up in the charcoal cellar.  “Shut up, bre, they’ll come and cut your throats too.”  The milkman came and knocked.  No one inside made a sound.  We’ll do without milk.  Drink tea.  But on the seventh day the water supplier came by and she had to open up because they were running out.  Hüseyn came in limping and emptied two goatskins into the clay amphora they stored water in. 

Hüseyn says good bye sweetly and soon the egg-seller comes knocking on her window.

“Kokona (****4), Aren’t you going to buy any eggs?”

Loxandra cracked open the window, took a look at him, and thought: “Could my egg-vendor Mustafa be a Hagarene Dog (*****5) too?”

The next morning the street watchman came by to say hello, expecting his usual cup of coffee.

Haydi, Tarnana, make him some coffee.”

She opened up the front door and sat on the steps, thinking again: “Is he or isn’t he?”  Finally she couldn’t contain herself:

Bre, Mehmet, I want you to tell me the truth, but, I mean, I want the truth, ok?  Were you out on the street the other day with the killings?  But tell me the truth.”

“Valah! Billah!  Mehmet wasn’t involved.”

“Oooff… And I was going to say…” And she began to sob.  “Why such madness?  What did poor Monsieur Artin do to them and they slaughtered him like that?  No, Tell me!  What did he do?”

“Vah, vah, vah”, Mehmet said.

“Vah, vah, vah”, said the liver vendor a bit later.

“Vah, vah, vah”, said the chickpea vendor too. “Yağnış oldu.”  “That was a mistake.”

Some ten, some twenty thousand people were murdered.  Their homes were looted.  Their churches destroyed.  Whole families were wiped out…“yağnış oldu.”

The dogs licked the blood off the sidewalks and life started again as if nothing had happened.

Tarnana came out from under the bed too, Elegaki came over too and they all got together in the kitchen to prepare the sweets for Cleio’s engagement.  Loxandra wiped her tears and made sweet out of sorrow, because that’s how that is.  And let me tell you something, too much sorrow, well…”that way madness lies.”  I mean, there are limits!

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*(1) The Crossroad, Το Σταυροδρόμι, (above) is what Greeks called the spot in central Pera where the now Istiklâl Caddesi (the Isio Dromo or the Grande Rue) intersects with the steep uphill Yeni Çarşı Caddesi (never understood what the New Market, which is what Yeni Çarşı means, refers to) coming from Karaköy, and the Meşrutiyet Caddesi which then takes a curve at the British consulate and ends up — now — in one of the most dismal urban plazas in Istanbul and a run-down convention center, that were built over a pleasant little park that was built in turn over an old Catholic cemetery. Mercifully, one side of the street is still architecturally intact and you still get one of the most splendid views of the Horn and the western part of the Old City from there. By the Gates of Galatasaray Lycée, that’s still the starting place for demonstrations and protests — whatever are allowed, anyway… By the Cité de Pera arcade and the central fish market (never understood why the fish market is up at the top of one of Istanbul’s hills and not on the seafront somewhere) that is full of both trashy, touristy restaurants and really good meyhane finds as well, once almost all owned by Greeks and Armenians.

If Pera is the center of Istanbul, the Crossroad is the center of Pera. And in Greek usage it meant the whole surrounding neighborhood as well.

The old Meşrutiyet Caddesi
The Gates of Galatasaray

(**2) Artin immediately registers to a Greek-speaker as an Armenian name.

(***3) Salep (Salepçi is a salep vendor) is a hot drink made from ground dried orchid tubers, milk I think, and cinnamon on top. It’s supposedly fortifying — in what way common decency prevents me from saying — but aside from the fact that “orchid” comes from the Indo-European root for “testicle” (as in “αρχίδια,” or as in “στα αρχίδια μου”) the finished drink has a slightly creepy, slippery texture and translucent color that definitely reminds one of semen. I happen to really like it, but I don’t know if that’s just because of its status as a historical remnant or oddity. You can find it in Athens too, like on Ermou, still. But it’s a hot drink, meant for wintery consumption, so it’s weird for Iordanidou to have a salepçi coming around on the street in the middle of August.

(4****) “Kokona” is a term used in historical literature to address not just Christian women, but Greek women, Ρωμιές “Roman” women, specifically. It’s never used to address Armenian or Jewish women, for example. It appears in literature and various accounts dating from even early Ottoman times. In the Byzantine Museum here in Athens (the name of which, at some point recently, was changed to the Byzantine and Christian Museumin case we forget that Byzantium was a Christian culture 🙄) there are several pieces of ecclesiastic embroidery: priests’ stoles, Epitaphio shrouds — that date from the 16th and 17th century, and are attributed to specific women: Kokona Angela, Kokona Marigo, so it was more than just a slang term of address. No one I know can tell me the root of the word, nor can anyone say why it was used just for Greek women and not other gâvur/kaffr women.

(5*****) “Hagarene Dogs”Αγαρηνά Σκυλιά – is an obviously unpleasant term used as far back as mid-Byzantine times to refer to Arabs/Muslims. The rub is that it was the first peninsular Arabs and Muslims who themselves identified with the term. Hagar, as we know, was the slave wife of Abraham, who bore him a child, Ishmael, because his own wife, Sarah, was already 80 years old plus and unable to have a child. Then the angels came to visit and told Abraham that Sarah would bear him a child; Sarah heard from the kitchen and laughed. But indeed, she did bear him a son, Isaac. And Abraham promptly tossed Hagar and Ishmael out into the desert, but they were saved by an angel that descended and struck the ground out of which a fresh spring of water gushed:

Hājar or Haajar (Arabic: هاجر), is the Arabic name used to identify the wife of Ibrāhīm (Abraham) and the mother of Ismā’īl (Ishmael). Although not mentioned by name in the Qur’an, she is referenced and alluded to via the story of her husband. She is a revered woman in the Islamic faith.

According to Muslim belief, she was the Egyptian handmaiden of Ibrāhīm’s first wife Sara (Sarah). She eventually settled in the Desert of Paran with her son Ismā’īl. Hājar is honoured as an especially important matriarch of monotheism, as it was through Ismā’īl that Muhammad would come. [my emphasis]

Neither Sara nor Hājar are mentioned by name in the Qur’an, but the story is traditionally understood to be referred to in a line from Ibrāhīm’s prayer in Sura Ibrahim (14:37): “I have settled some of my family in a barren valley near your Sacred House.”[20] While Hājar is not named, the reader lives Hājar’s predicament indirectly through the eyes of Ibrāhīm.[21] She is also frequently mentioned in the books of hadiths.

I have no idea why early Arabs chose — not that it was a conscious process, but being unconscious makes its function even more powerful — out of all of Jewish scripture, to consider themselves and Muhammad (all together now: PUBH) descended from a scorned slave woman and her unwanted son, the first-born of Abraham cast into the desert, especially given how Ishmael is described in Genesis:

Genesis 16:12 “He shall be a wild man; His hand shall be against every man, And every man’s hand against him.”

Unless “a wild man” suited their needs. Almost to an archetypal degree, conquest narratives justify themselves as retribution for a historical wrong, or as a necessary process by which the morally and ethically superior impose themselves on the inferior: from the Israelites and Canaan, to the Romans taking revenge for their defeated Trojan ancestors, to the Turkic Conquest of Rum and the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, to the Spanish Conquest of the Americas, to American Manifest Destiny, to Nazi lebensraum to the current Islamist and Turanian rantings of Mister Erdoğan and the bitchy historical insults he’s constantly hurling our way.

So the Hagar and Ishmael story might be perfect soil for the sprouting of Sunni Muslim triumphalism. And if that triumphalism hits the wall of modernity and suddenly finds itself not in charge anymore, if the triumph narrative doesn’t go the way it should, well then we get the Nietzschean man of resentment and we can talk about that forever. But the prophecy that “He shall be a wild man; His hand shall be against every man, And every man’s hand against him.” certainly seems to have been fulfilled, as we find so much of the contemporary Ummah stewing in rancid testosterone, lamenting their “humiliation” and “disrespect” and convinced that the purpose of the rest of humanity is to deny them their Allah-given superior place in the sun.

And the rest of us just don’t get it. But their mission is that we do.

And wouldn’t you know, just today, Mr. Erdoğan gives us a Friday sermon that pretty much says it all and in language far less wordy than mine:

“Turkish Conquest Is Not Occupation or Looting – It Is Spreading the Justice of Allah”

Loxandra, of course, doesn’t know any of this. She’s just heard the legends of the “Hagarene Dogs” growling at the walls of the City before the conquest, and imagines them to be real barking dogs who can take human shape and turn into her milkman or egg vendor.

Betty Valasi as Loxandra in the 1980 Greek TV serialization of the novel

And now I need some good salsa, ’cause the legacy of “our parts” — τα μέρη μας — can weigh on you like a glob of hardened lead.

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