Search results for 'what I put away'

What I managed to put away in a day-and-a-half in Paris and some thoughts on the “crise;” or, “…the brevity of time and the immediacy of pleasure.”

1 Nov

…not all in one sitting of course.

A ‘tarte tatin’ au boudin — a take on the traditional tatin upside-down fruit torte, with the boudin (spiced and coagulated pig’s blood) over the flakiest, probably lard-based, crisp puff pastry underneath, and a thin layer of apple and some of the most expertly caramelized onions — almost honeyed, that’s what’s seen dripping almost like syrup under the boudin — in between:

tarte tatin au boudin

(click)

A pig’s foot, braised, then breaded and fried, for the first time served with a bearnaise sauce (essentially tarragon-flavored egg yolks and butter), which was almost a bit too much even for me:

Pied de cochon pané

(click)

And andouillette, large pig intestine (colon) stuffed with small pig intestine and grilled, kind of like a chit’lin-loaf or mageiritsa sausage, usually served with a mustard sauce or mustard of some kind because it needs something to balance the heady fecal aroma (like the dill in mageiritsa) and really bring out its subtlety:

andouilletebalzar

(click)

And now everyone who keeps telling me that people only ate this stuff because they were so poor they had no choice must cease and desist in this absurd and ignorant argument. (See last year’s post: Chitterlings…and mageiritsa: “Then I have to listen to the anthropology tes poutsas about how people only used to eat that stuff because they were poor and they had to eat everything available, like eating intestines were the equivalent of the dirt-eating that tragically occurs in third world countries under famine conditions.”)  No.  They eat this shit ’cause it’s good.  Proof were the happy groups of Parisians all around me — even young, skinny ones — digging into the same stuff I was, who apparently hadn’t gotten the “evolution” memo from Brussels yet that now that they live in one of history’s most prosperous societies they can stop eating pig guts.

And speaking of prosperity…  Everyone I know in Paris talks incessantly of the “crise” but eventually ends up admitting things are ok for the most part, which makes me wonder that the French crisis is not an outsiders’ invention, or just a fruit of the fact that the French like to think about things and talk about them — imagine….  Ever since Adam Gopnik heroically defended French civilization (“the most beautiful daily culture ever created…lemons on trays and windows like doors everywhere you looked…”) in his Paris to the Moon, ever since the eighties Thatcher/Reagan years actually, there has been a constant schadenfreud-ish gloat-fest in what the French love to call the “Anglo-Saxon” world about how France is over: politically irrelevant, its cultural traditions either fading or ossifying, and how its economic model is simply unsustainable.  This “end of France” commentary in the English-speaking press has practically become a genre of its own; Maureen Dowd gave a classic example of this type of screed in the Times this summer, “Goodbye Old World, Bonjour Tristesse” about how depressed the French now are that France has seemingly lost in place in the world (great photo though):

07DOWD-articleLarge

Ferdinando Scianna/Magnum Photos (Paris, 1989)

and then just these past few months, Steven Erlanger produced these two models of the genre “A Proud Nation Ponders How to Halt Its Slow Decline” and “Reflections on a Paris Left Behind”, sad reflections on how… boring and sterile Paris has become, and repeating the tiringly repeated observation on how London has taken its place; London a city I still find to be trying a little too hard to make up for centuries of un-coolness, vis-a-vis Paris mostly.

Yet, they’re doing something right.  The London Review of Books had a fascinating and comprehensive review of the European Union crisis in its August 29th issue by Susan Watkins: “Vanity and Venality” where she comments on France’s seeming disappearance from the European political landscape (which it seems to be trying to make-up for by flexing military muscle elsewhere) but how it seems to be functioning fairly well internally:

“There is something anomalous about the neutralisation of France as an actor on the European stage and the brittle character of German hegemony must stem in part from it. The conventional explanation is that the French economy is too weighed down by its statist legacies for the Elysée’s word to carry much authority, but the figures don’t bear this out. France has now overtaken the UK, after a swifter recovery from the crisis .  [Could that be because it didn’t opt for Nasredin’s Donkey austerity economics as much as Britain did?]  Its public debt, including bank rescues, is lower than Britain’s and its manufacturing sector is in better shape. Unemployment is worse, but average household income is higher, inequality lower and infrastructure and healthcare in another league.”

(Also read the Watkins article for some dismal analyses of a Greek economy that has shrunk by twenty-percent and the scandalous closing of ERT, Greek Radio Television by PM Samaras)

So France and the French, it seems, keep soldiering on, and well and socially securely at that.  And it seems that some Protestant sourpuss will always be incensed that they seem to be doing it so pleasurably on top of it all, adapting to the new state of things and still enjoying themselves.  Let them bitch and judge.  I know the small part of Paris I see when I’m there is only an equally small part of French society, but if for some reason I were banished from New York tomorrow, it’d still be my first choice to seek refuge in.

PalaisRoyal

One of those single, condensing phrases that teach you so much about a thing, in this case me about the French: the writer Michèle Fitoussi hits the nail on the head when she said that her compatriots “have a keen sense of the brevity of time and the immediacy of pleasure.”

Comments: nikobakos@gmail.com

Also see the full post: Chitterlings…and mageiritsa for my general food musings, campaigns, philosophies and tirades

Radio Free Europe — Radio Liberty: “When The World Looked Away: The Destruction Of Julfa Cemetery”

24 Dec

Disturbing…beautiful photos…here.

Julfa cemetery 1915
Julfa cemetery 1915

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Does India, its world’s largest democracy rhetoric and “marigold p.r.,” get away with shit we would freak about if it were Pakistan?

23 Oct

Some meanwhile-Kashmir p.s. articles…

From today’s Guardian: India to open talks with all parties in disputed Jammu and Kashmir: Former intelligence chief given unrestricted mandate, indicating that even separatist leaders will be consulted.”

And a “long read” by Mirza Waheed from last fall that’s still worth reading, on a conflict we often forget about, despite its up-and-down escalating ugliness:  India’s crackdown in Kashmir: is this the world’s first mass blinding?:

“How did India get here? How is it all right for a constitutionally democratic and secular, modern nation to blind scores of civilians in a region it controls? Not an authoritarian state, not a crackpot dictatorship, not a rogue nation or warlord outside of legal and ethical commitments to international statutes, but a democratic country, a member of the comity of nations. How are India’s leaders, thinkers and its thundering televised custodians of public and private morality, all untroubled by the sight of a child whose heart has been penetrated by metal pellets? This is the kind of cruelty we expect from Assad’s Syria, not the world’s largest democracy…

“Two-and-a-half decades of rebellion in Kashmir have hardened the indifference of India’s political and intellectual classes to the human cost of the country’s repressive tactics in the valley.”

See “more on this story” articles at bottom of Waheed piece.

And a reality check: does India, with its world’s largest democracy rhetoric and “marigold p.r.,” get away with shit we would freak about — or at least make some nominal fuss — if it were Pakistan?

Screen Shot 2017-10-23 at 6.59.12 PMVictims of police shooting who have been blinded in one or both eyes in hospital in Srinagar. Photograph: Yawar Nazir/Getty Images     

Waheed is author of the best, most disturbing piece of Kashmir fiction I know of: The Collaborator.  Check it out.

Collaborator Mirza Waheed

A follower of William Dalrymple’s suggests he’s in Kashmir doing research on new book.  Anybody have any leads or other knowledge on such project?

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Bulgaria: Why countries resist immigration…what are they afraid of? Well then, whither away in depopulated stagnation…

6 Oct

Despite Shrinking Populations, Eastern Europe Resists Accepting Migrants — The New York Times

Bulgarian kid zonar

Petrunka Yankova helping her grandson, Stoyan Dodrikov, into traditional Bulgarian dress.  (Dmitry Kostyukov for the New York Times)

“In the most recent World Population Prospects from the United Nations, the 10 countries in the world expected to lose the most population between now and 2050, per capita, are all in Central and Eastern Europe, with Bulgaria in first place.

“In 1990, just after the fall of Communism, Bulgaria had about nine million citizens, making it slightly bigger than Sweden and Austria. Today, the official population is 7.2 million, much smaller than Sweden or Austria, and projections are that it will lose 12 percent of its population by 2030 and 28 percent by 2050.

“Romania is not far behind, expected to lose 22 percent of its population by 2050, followed by Ukraine (down 22 percent), Moldova (20 percent), Bosnia and Herzegovina (19 percent), Latvia (19 percent), Lithuania (17 percent), Serbia (17 percent), Croatia (16 percent) and Hungary (16 percent).”

And yet people are against immigration.  What can I say.  You hear this less in Greece, but still.  It’s beyond my comprehension what people are afraid of.  “Losing their country” says the Prophet (formerly the Messenger).  Your country already belongs to Europe, America and, actually, international financial institutions.  Losing your culture?  Your culture is already long gone, a victim of modernity, globalization, vapid consumerism and the indifference of several generations of your own people, including your own, sacrificed on the altar of your own insecurity and internalized snobbery.  It’s a museum piece, like you sense in the picture above (click) without there being any real telling signals — except the suspicion that the a real Bulgarian pallikari, like the guys in the picture below, would never have traditionally put on such an ugly, cheap satin sash for anything in the world (just compare the obvious difference in material quality between the two, that comes through even the black and white of the bottom photo); he’s obviously dressing for some folklore ensemble performance or to receive a minister come visitting to their town.  Your Bulgarianness, your Polishness, your friggin’ fascist Hungarianness — were it still a dynamic living organism — would not be threatened by your country becoming 5 or 10 or 20% or even majority Syrian or Muslim.  It would survive as a thriving, blossoming minority — if it still had any life left in it.  But it doesn’t.

At no point in history did in-migration represent anything but a more dynamic, hard-working, creative population moving into a different region where there was an already pre-existing energy and dynamism gap — and no, not just in America Mr. Prophet: but Mexicans moving into the depressed American South and Southwest, where the native population, Black and White, has been dumbed to the point of idiocy and uselessness by its own government…or just the inevitable historical trajectory of things…is a great example  And you can stop that if you want by a sudden burst of spiritual fortitude (forgive me, for example, for my obvious affective bias, but I refuse to believe that Serbs will just shrink away into moronized proles), but not by building walls or hating.  That’ll only make you smaller.

And it’s only in Greece where I’ve heard from the most surprising quarters — not intellectuals, of course — but housewives and cab-drivers, that: “What the hell?  Let some of them stay.  It might do us good.”  Maybe they’re remembering what the infusion of Albanian blood into the country did in the 90s — nothing except what it’s always done through the centuries, but imbue us with greater energy and working and fighting spirit.  Or maybe they’re just smarter than their intellectuals and politicians.

Bulgarians

(click)

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

From the Times: Putin uses the Church…and the Church mostly lets him… “Позор…”

3 Aug

RUSSIACHURCH-1-superJumbo-v2

James Hill for The New York Times (click)

The Times has a great article, “Putin Strives to Harness Energy of Russian Pilgrims for Political Profit” on one aspect of Putin’s shameless use of the Church to foster patriotic — and racist and nationalist and rabidly anti-semitic — feelings among Russians that he hopes — and will probably succeed — will strengthen support for him among ordinary Russian people, perhaps the majority.  He has seized upon the cult of St. Sergey of Radonezh and is trying to make him a symbol of Russian unity for our times.  There are voices, historians and even clerics from inside the Church, that are resisting this manipulation, but the vast majority thinks it’s all just wonderful.  One is moved by Russian intensity and emotionalism on all levels, not least by the massive reserves of faith they access so easily, but their ability to let themselves get swept away by one grand ideological vision after another, completely forgetting the previous one and the disaster it led to, is just plain stupid often.  I was talking to an American friend of mine who was here with me in the eighties, and she commented on how people seemed smarter then, and completely cynical about any ideology they were fed, while now even educated, urbane people seem to swallow up anything they’re presented with.  The consciousness of repression may be a formidable sharpener of one’s critical capacities; the illusion of freedom may lead to a dangerous dulling of those critical skills — the non-stop-yacking-about-freedom U.S. is probably your best example.  Do those two always have to be the only choices for Russia?

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.  Τρέξτε να προσκυνήσετε…πρόβατα…run and prostrate yourselves, sheep, like you did to Stalin before and to the Tsars before that.

JP-RUSSIACHURCH-1-superJumboJames Hill for The New York Times (click)

Money quote from one pilgrim:

Beyond spiritual matters, the crowd at the birthday commemoration at the monastery here, 45 miles north of Moscow, was unquestionably in the Putin camp. Many compared him to a czar, and meant it as a compliment.

“He has just not been anointed,” said Vladimir Bubelev, 60, an officer in the naval reserves wearing a brass pin showing the profile of Nicholas II, the last czar, on his lapel.

“But his powers are greater than those of Nicholas II,” Mr. Bubelev said. “On many questions he acts like a monarch — he makes correct, willful decisions. This is very good. Plus he is a believer!”

 JP-RUSSIACHURCH-2-superJumboJames Hill for The New York Times (click)

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

What “really” happened on March 25th :)

25 Mar

Old post from 2015 I think:

The Annunciation: “And I thank you for choosing me…”

25 Mar

AnnunciationSantaMariaMaggiore

The Annunciation of the Virgin mosaic from Rome’s Santa Maria Maggiore (click)

Today is the Feast of the Annunciation, when the Archangel Gabriel appeared to a terrified, barely post-adolescent Jewish girl in a village in Galilee and told her that she was going to become God’s mother.  And in one of the greatest acts of moral bravery in history, this — what? fourteen-year-old? — Jewish girl said: “Yeah…ok.”

This is a “yes” which we should all pray to be given the opportunity to offer up to some one or to some greater thing, in even the tiniest of manners, at some one point in our lives.  It, oddly enough or not, always puts me in mind of the name “Reza,” which I’ve always loved on Persian men, since as far as I understand it, it means “willingness, acceptance, consent…” a saying-yes to Life or to the Divine Will.  (The other is “Peyman,” with its comparable sense of promise and commitment.)  Except in Mary’s case it’s a “saying-yes” that’s particularly female in its bravery, since she barely understands what’s being asked of her and she consents out of pure love, and most men find such consent difficult without first knowing what glory there is in it for them.  Instead Mary does the glorifying:

Μεγαλύνει ἡ ψυχή μου τὸν Κύριον καὶ ἠγαλλίασεν τὸ πνεῦμά μου ἐπὶ τῷ Θεῷ τῷ σωτῆρί μου, ὅτι ἐπέβλεψεν ἐπὶ τὴν ταπείνωσιν τῆς δούλης αυτοῦ. ἰδοὺ γὰρ ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν μακαριοῦσίν με πᾶσαι αἱ γενεαί, ὅτι ἐποίησέν μοι μεγάλα ὁ δυνατός, καὶ ἅγιον τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ, καὶ τὸ ἔλεος αὐτοῦ εἰς γενεὰς καὶ γενεὰς τοῖς φοβουμένοις αυτόν. Ἐποίησεν κράτος ἐν βραχίονι αὐτοῦ, διεσκόρπισεν ὑπερηφάνους διανοίᾳ καρδίας αὐτῶν· καθεῖλεν δυνάστας ἀπὸ θρόνων καὶ ὕψωσεν ταπεινούς, πεινῶντας ἐνέπλησεν ἀγαθῶν καὶ πλουτοῦντας ἐξαπέστειλεν κενούς. ἀντελάβετο Ἰσραὴλ παιδὸς αὐτοῦ, μνησθῆναι ἐλέους, καθὼς ἐλάλησεν πρὸς τοὺς πατέρας ἡμῶν τῷ Αβραὰμ καὶ τῷ σπέρματι αὐτοῦ εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα.

46 And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,

47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

48 For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

49 For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.

50 And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.

51 He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

52 He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.

53 He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.

54 He hath helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;

55 As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.

That’s March 25th: the Annunciation of the Virgin.  The rest — by which we mostly mean Greek Independence Day — is bullshit.  Nothing that led to the establishment of the first independent Kingdom of Greece happened on March 25th.  There were sporadic outbreaks of rebellion, some semi-coordinated, among Ottoman Greeks throughout the Empire in the early spring of 1821, but there was no raising of any standards, or launching of any campaigns or declarations of any kind made on March 25, 1821 as far as we know.  Except for sporadic massacring nothing much occurred at all that year until the fall, when, only with foreign help, the Greek rebels were able to finally take Tripolitsa in the Peloponnese and butcher the majority of its Muslim and Jewish — meaning practically its entire — population.  And eventually all that happened is that the Greek statelet slapped its observation of Independence Day onto the Annunciation in a conscious-or-not appropriation of the holiday’s already inherent meanings of conception, inception and beginning (I think that, the Julian Calendar still in operation at the time, March 25th was also Easter Sunday that year so, with the theme of Resurrection added, the temptation was irresistible) and so Althusser’s Ideological State Apparatus smothered one of the loveliest holidays of the Church with flags and parades and tanks and national anthem sap and all the other cheezy trappings of N/S patriotism.

But by the same token, the Annunciation itself was slapped by the Church onto the pre-existing observation of the Vernal Equinox (by a few days), the Persian Zoroastrian New Year, Nowruz, the first day of spring, the first day of the month of Aries — with its already inherent meanings of conception, inception and beginning.  And fast forward nine months, exactly (she was nothing if not on-time our Pantanassa*) and we have Christ born on (or near) another Zoroastrian holiday, Yalda, which marks the Winter Solstice and the beginning of the lengthened days and the Sun’s return to our lives.  The Winter Solstice, in more ancient Iranian religion, was the birth date of the deity Mithra, often associated with the Sun, and who — guess what? — was often said to be born in a cave, of a virgin mother, and who saved the world through the sacrifice of a bull along with a whole other complex of shifting tales and myths that I’m not an expert on.

But though Mithra seemed to fade into a secondary deity in classical Sassanian Zoroastrianism, he was accepted with great fervor and enthusiasm into the highly eclectic polytheism of the late Roman world, where he was especially popular in the Roman army.  Many of the latter emperors were devout followers and there are historians that believe — seems like a bit of an exaggeration to me — that the West came close to being a Mithraic civilization instead of a Christian one.  But the Church slapped Christ’s December 25th birthday onto Mithra’s (I’m simplifying some) and that was the end of Mithraism.  Which is a bummer, because by the Second Century A.D., Mithraism had evolved, in Roman hands, into a super-butch, male virility bull-cult for an initiated military elite, all wrapped-up in the full panoply of Hermetic-Alexandrian-Astrological wisdom, where Roman officers and soldiers gathered in caves and commemorated the sacrificed bull and honored its blood  (we don’t really know what occurred because it was only for the initiated but a sacrifice and subsequent shared meal of some kind was probably involved) and Christianity is kinda — well — is kind of lacking in those kinds of thrills.  One of my best beloved Roman ancestors, Julian the Apostate (the subject of four Cavafy poems), a fascinating figure, who was both a devotee of Mithra and an initiate into the Eleusinian mysteries, tried to reverse his uncle Constantine’s establishment of Christianity as the Roman state religion and give support to the traditional pagan cults, their rites, rituals and sacrifices, but it was already too late.  People just wanted their blood as metaphor by then, a shift in consciousness that has always been considered psychic or intellectual progress of some kind though — like the shift to monotheism itself — I could never quite understand why.  Those of us who still like reality better still have and have always had Spain though; that’s unless the European Union and PETA and the Catalans take their sanitary Handy-Wipes to the corrida too and that’ll be the real end.

Ah, but even then we’ll still have Mexico…

"Tauroctony" - Mithras slaying a bull

Mithra and the Bull, from the Vatican Museum (no other info) (click: it’s a huge and beautiful file)

What conclusions can we draw from all this?  One, is that humanity is not particularly imaginative and just kinda copies itself over and over ad infinitum.  Second, is the idea that often comes up when looking at our zone, thinking about “our parts,” more closely — and that’s the simple conclusion that everything is Persian.  Not just our food, our music or dance, our dress, our color palette, our poetic sensibility and ideas about love, but our common penchant for narrative cycles of martyrdom and rebirth (see: “Ashura 1435: a poem from Agha Shahid Ali”) and the deeper structures of our spiritual psyches.  It’s tempting; instead of the inane arguments about what’s Greek and what’s Arab and what’s Indian and what’s Turkish — everything is Persian, and be done with it.  Alexander seemed to have gotten it; shouldn’t be too hard for the rest of us.  But probably the truth lies and always will lie with Jung: and that is that all of the imaginary activity of the human unconscious operates on one, unified, symbolic grid of archetypes.

Chronia Polla to those whose namedays are today.  And signing off this post with R&B singer Lauryn Hill’s beautiful “To Zion” where the subtitle of this post comes from.  This was a song that came from her real-life experience of having to choose between having an unexpected baby and sticking with her career.  “One day…you gonna understand…”  Lyrics are below:

“To Zion”

Unsure of what the balance held
I touched my belly overwhelmed
By what I had been chosen to perform
But then an angel came one day
Told me to kneel down and pray
For unto me a man child would be born
Woe this crazy circumstance
I knew his life deserved a chance
But everybody told me to be smart
Look at your career they said,
“Lauryn, baby use your head”
But instead I chose to use my heart

Now the joy of my world is in Zion
Now the joy of my world is in Zion

How beautiful if nothing more
Than to wait at Zion’s door
I’ve never been in love like this before
Now let me pray to keep you from
The perils that will surely come
See life for you my prince has just begun
And I thank you for choosing me
To come through unto life to be
A beautiful reflection of His grace
See I know that a gift so great
Is only one God could create
And I’m reminded every time I see your face

That the joy of my world is in Zion
Now the joy of my world is in Zion
Now the joy of my world is in Zion
Now the joy of my world is in Zion

Marching, marching, marching to Zion
Marching, marching
Marching, marching, marching to Zion
Beautiful, beautiful Zion
[repeat to end of song]

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*”παντάνασσα,” pantanassa, is one of my favorite epithets for the Virgin, but whether it means “all-breathing, giver-of-breath, breath-granting” I can’t tell, nor can anybody else I know.

**Latest addendum note: Beloved dinosaur cousin — who is the always the one one should go to for these question, since he’s a monster of erudition in most fields, but especially Greek language, informs us that Pantanassa has nothing to do with breath or breathing, as many of us must assume, but: Η άνασσα είναι το θηλυκό του άνακτος (ονομαστική: άναξ), του βασιλέως (εξ ου και ανάκτορα).  “Anassa” is the feminine form of “Anax,” meaning king, same root as “Anaktora,” or palace.  So it simply means “Queen of Queens,” which is kind of disappointingly Catholic-sounding.  Speaks to a whole history of Greek and Latin vocabulary mixing itself up, replacing, re-replacing, disappearing and then appearing again, especially in titles of government or military due to initial composite character of Byzantine state structure.  I’m assuming, i.e., άνασσα was already an archaically Greek word at the time, for example, the Chairetismoi were written.

And a personal sensory note:  According to the guidelines of Orthodox fasting, which if observed carefully constitute the most elegantly designed spiritual economy of partaking and abstaining one can imagine (probably only Hinduism could produce a more intelligent  schema) — again, the guidelines, not the rules, meaning it doesn’t affect your G.P.A. at the end of term if you slip up, like if you’re Catholic — fish is considered meat, and is not eaten during Lent.  But there are festive days, essentially the Annunciation and Palm Sunday, which even in the sorrow of Lent, should be marked as Feasts, and then the eating of fish is practically obligatory.  Today in the streets of Greek neighborhoods, therefore, here in Athens or in Astoria, in apartment house corridors and restaurants, the smell of fried bacalao is all-pervasive.  One of my strongest sensory memories of Holy Week as a child is being taken to the matins for Holy Monday on Palm Sunday evening, the first of the so-called “Nymphios” or “Bridegroom” services (the reference being to Christ coming to Jerusalem for Passover and to meet his fate) and all the old women in church smelling like fish fritanga.

And a really interesting article from Wiki about “Tauroctony” or “Bull-slaying” if you’re interested in the phenomenon religio-anthropologically.  Again, the best book, that’s both an anthropology of Mediterranean bull cults and the best sociological history of Spanish bullfighting there is, is Timothy Mitchell’s “Blood Sport: A Social History of Spanish Bullfighting.”


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Found this in a file of old unposted posts, and since 2020 felt more like 2000 than 2000 did, it might mark the loss of ANTHONY BOURDAIN, even if a little bit late: “When I die…”

30 Dec

ANTHONY BOURDAIN: “When I die, I will decidedly not be regretting missed opportunities for a good time.’ ‘My regrets will be more along the lines of a sad list of people hurt, people let down, assets wasted, and advantages squandered.”

Ouuuuuuuuyyyy mooo….:  WHAT sad list of people did you hurt, WHAT people let did you let down, WHAT assets wasted, and and WHAT advantages squandered?

Tell me!  You were a God!  You were a KING!  Even in knowing it was time to go, you were the KING!

Love you always — Changed my Life — Love Forever — Super-majo* till the end!

NikoBako

P.S. I remember all the trite, dumb stuff people wrote and commented after his suicide — “what a waste”…”how sad…”, even some aunt of his, I think, saying that: “He had more money than you could possibly imagine! He had more fame than you can possibly imagine!”

Well, all that was obviously not enough, lady.  And how little you must have ever understood him to come out with something so slight.

Screen Shot 2019-11-21 at 2.01.27 PM

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*Majeza,n., or maj-o/-a, adj.: you can read the whole post where the meaning of this word appears previously: “Un Verano en Nueva York”, but if not, here’s the quote from it:

Majeza is a very Spanish term that encompasses such a complex of qualities that it’s difficult to explain, especially in English, which is tragically lacking in a comparable term, as its speakers (aside from the Irish) are in most of its qualities.  It means openness and frankness and humour and swagger; it means being hospitable without being in anyway servile; it means being able to put away copious amounts of wine and pig meat; being friendly and spirited and generous while always maintaining a kind of stylish dignity and flair; it partakes of some of the qualities of Greek and Turkish leventeia in that sense; in fact, it’s a word with a certain undoubtable Balkanness about it.  Soon after the term appeared in, I think, the late eighteenth-century, working-class barrios of Madrid, it almost immediately became associated during the Napoleonic Wars with the city’s street kids, who terrified the French with their suicidal bravery, so it probably originally implied a quickness to pull a knife too and no squeamishness about seeing a little bit of your own blood shed as well… In any event, courage is still certainly an implied element of being majo.  There’s a great, chapter-long analysis of majeza in Timothy Mitchell’s Blood Sport: A Social History of Spanish Bullfighting, if you’re interested and can get your hands on it.”

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Feast of St. Nicholas on Julian Calendar, old post, and Срећна Cлава to all Serbian friends celebrating today

19 Dec

(See Slava: “Где је слава, ту је Србин” — “Where there is a Slava, there is a Serb“)

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Today’s my nameday

6 Dec

Saint_Nicholas_1550

Russian icon of St. Nicholas the Wonder-worker (click)

Today’s the feast of St. Nicholas (on the Gregorian calendar — December 19th on the Julian Calendar, depending on what kind of Orthodox you are ethnically), the saint generally known in the East (and beautiful Bari, one of my favorite Italian cities) as the “Miracle-worker.”  But for me the coolest thing about St. Nick, and that’s the cause of his nauseating transformation into Santa Claus in the West, is that his miracles are deeply human and mundane and material, and actually just more good deeds than miracles: his most metaphysical, I guess, was his power to calm threatening seas; probably more to the point he prevents the execution of an accused criminal, following Christ’s example in opposing capital punishment or — my favorite — he quietly leaves three bags of gold, εν τω μέσω της νυχτώς, in the bedroom of three poor sisters who needed dowries to get married.  He didn’t preach or rail against the dowry system, like the moralist who thinks his ideological crusade is more important then the real needs of real people, who gets a hard-on from his preaching while others are truly suffering: for example, the schmucks who leave a hard-working waiter a card that says: “We don’t believe in tips; they’re exploitative, join our group at www…etc…” or like the assholes you hear in New York on the subway when a panhandler comes by and certain types go off on their “oh-I’ve-heard-that-story-before-get-a-job-you-probably-make-more-money-than-me” tirades, without thinking that if a man is reduced to begging, for whatever reason, he’s already been through hell enough and deserves your compassion.

A priest at my old parish in Whitestone, I remember years ago on this day, said in his sermon: “St. Nicholas is not one of our great theologian-intellectual saints, like the Cappadocians [though he apparently slapped someone at the First Oecumenical Council at Nicaea for saying something dumb about the Trinity…I think], or one of our warrior, defender-of-the-faith saints, like Demetrios or Mercourios or the Archangels.  More, he was a saint who always made sure that everyone under his pastorship had food to eat and a roof to sleep under.”  He was particularly venerated in the sea-faring islands of Greece, for obvious reasons (“Hagie Nikola, I implore you” sings the island girl with her sailor-man away, “carpet the seas with flowers…”) and is the patron saint of Russia.  In communist times the name still had some lingering Imperial/Romanov stigma attached to it and when I was there in the eighties, it seemed anachronistically charming to many Russians.  Now it seems there are significantly more young “Kolyas” and “Nikolays” everywhere.

Despite an almost erotic devotion to and obsession I’ve developed for St. Demetrios over the years — hard to resist a young Roman aristocrat in uniform — Nicholas is still my patron saint.  And he’s more than just important to me as saint himself, but because I love the Orthodox nameday tradition, which again varies from country to country.  Serbs have always observed a single clan nameday, the Slava, celebrating the saint on whose feast-day the family’s first ancestor supposedly converted to Christianity, a very ritualized and beautiful celebration and one of the many traditions that Serbs adhere to that makes them the Slavs that, more than any others, still have one foot in their pagan past; telling, also, to how important he is in the Orthodox world: the single largest group of Serbian clans celebrate St. Nicholas as their Slava patron.  Communism forced Russians to take their birthdays more seriously, and discouraged the celebration of the obviously religious nameday, but nineteenth-century Russian literature is full of nameday celebrations (Chekhov’s “Nameday Party,” and Tatyana’s nameday dance in Pushkin’s Onegin*), and as a semi-conscience remembrance of what the new Western-style celebration of birthdays replaced, the birthday-boy is to this day still called the “imeninets,” the “name-bearer.”

What I most love is that, among Greeks, your nameday is a day critical to your honor and reputation: it’s when you take friends out and treat them; it’s when people in small towns especially, but even some in Athens still, sit home in a house full of food and sweets and wait for everybody who has the right to — meaning every one they know essentially — and most likely will, drop by and wait for the the privilege of feeding them; most young Athenians today wait for an official invitation but massive group drop-ins are still common enough among the old-fashioned.  In smaller, provincial towns, when there was a death in the family, you used to have to put an ad in the paper saying: “Due to mourning, we won’t be accepting callers this St. Nicholas Day.”  In villages everybody just knew.  It’s a day when you make an artoklasia,  a “bread-breaking” offering and share sweetened and blessed loaves with your whole parish.  It’s a day when it’s your obligation to give and serve and prove your noblesse and not, as Western birthdays have become, a day when you sit around waiting for others to do for you or give you gifts.  Western, American, birthdays are only slightly less gross to me than the totally American ugliness of wedding and baby showers: “I’m getting married and/or I’m pregnant; so I’m having a party where you have to bring me things.”  And don’t even start me on bridal registries, where you tell people, not just that they have to bring you something, but what they have to bring you.

So: χρόνια μου πολλά…  And Многая Лета to other Nicholases everywhere.  Keep the tradition alive.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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* Tatyana was not a popular name in Russia until Pushkin’s Onegin became the Bible and literary gold standard of modern Russian, and Russians took the deeply loved heroine into their hearts.  Only then did it become a widespread name and eventually, through her epic act of heroically soul-baring letter-writing probably, her nameday, January 12th or 25th — depending again on calendar — become the patron saint day of young students and scholars.

Great Macron photo, EU and Turkey

12 Dec

I wish I were as smugly happy about EU decisions on Turkish sanctions.

See: Al Jazeera, “Europe’s stance on Turkey toughens with sanctions, weapons talk.”

French President Emmanuel Macron said by slapping sanctions on Turkey, Europe has shown its ‘capacity to stand firm’ on Ankara [Olivier Hoslet/Pool via Reuters]

If this is what Erdie came away with from the European Union meeting on Turkish sanctions, I don’t think there’s much to be happy about: EU must discard pressure from Greece, Greek Cypriots, says Erdoğan

Maybe he’ll be a bigger jerk over next few months and Europe can then take a more serious position on slapping his irresistibly slappable mug.

Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

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Benjamin Haddad in Foreign Policy: “France’s War on Islamism Isn’t Populism. It’s Reality.”

24 Nov

Liberal critics of Emmanuel Macron’s campaign against radicalism misunderstand the crisis his country faces.

By Benjamin Haddad | November 3, 2020, 6:53 AM

French President Emmanuel Macron pays his respects by the coffin of Samuel Paty's coffin inside Sorbonne University's courtyard in Paris on October 21, 2020, during a national homage to French teacher Samuel Paty, who was beheaded for showing cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed in his civics class.

Last Thursday, three French citizens were brutally killed in a church in Nice, one of them a woman whose throat was slit. This gruesome act, coming barely two weeks after the beheading of Samuel Paty, a history teacher who showed his class cartoons from the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo to illustrate the concept of freedom of speech, has reawakened France to the reality of Islamist terrorism. Since 2012, more than 260 people of all backgrounds have died in terrorist attacks: in a Jewish school, at the Charlie Hebdo headquarters, in a concert hall, in the streets of Nice, in churches, and in police street patrols.

Yet when looking at some of the coverage of the most recent attacks in the United States, and the reaction from leaders like Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the culprit is France itself. French President Emmanuel Macron’s vow to fight “Islamist separatism” has been treated as its own act of barbarism. Most French citizens, however, aware of the reality on the ground, recognize this fight as necessary and overdue.

In the latest of a series of personal attacks against the French president, Erdogan claimed that “Macron needed mental treatment” for his response to the attack. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan asserted on Twitter that Macron’s words encouraged “Islamophobia,” while Mahathir Mohamad, the former prime minister of Malaysia, upped the ante by commenting that Muslims have a right to “kill millions of French people” in reaction to the “disrespect” they suffered. Some of the U.S. media coverage seems to take at face value the opportunistic accusations of illiberal leaders such as Erdogan. One article spoke grandiloquently of a “crackdown on Islam,” and the initial headline on a New York Times piece about Paty’s killing was “French Police Shoot and Kill Man After a Fatal Knife Attack on the Street.”

As France mourns its victims, its fight against terrorism and radicalism deserves more understanding and solidarity.

The coverage has puzzled if not angered French observers. An op-ed in Le Monde denounced a “disconcerting American blindness when it comes to jihadism in France.” Macron’s measures have frequently been analyzed through the prism of domestic electoral politics as allegedly trying to co-opt the far-right. But this analysis represents a gross misunderstanding of the French political reality. A recent poll on the upcoming French presidential election in 2022 shows a situation eerily similar to the one that prevailed in 2017, when Macron roundly defeated Marine Le Pen in the second round. The vast majority of French citizens feel deep concern over the situation. According to a IFOP survey last month, 89 percent of respondents considered the terrorist threat to be “high,” 87 percent that “secularism is in danger,” and 79 percent that “Islamism has declared war on the nation and the Republic.” Are these all National Rally voters?

While pointing to a “crisis” within Islam, Macron was careful to distinguish the majority of French Muslims living and observing peacefully from the radical minority that poses a threat. The comparisons with far-right rhetoric, which precisely refuses to make such distinctions, thus completely miss the point. For many French liberals, this fight is not easily separable from the one against the far-right—both are a defense of liberal democratic values against illiberal ideologies. French Justice Minister Éric Dupond-Moretti thus dismissed calls for emergency measures coming from the National Rally, insisting that the rule of law was the only possible solution.

Outsiders also misunderstand the situation on the ground in France as it deals with radical Islamism. After the recent attacks, the government chose to close a mosque and an NGO suspected of ties with radical groups. But more consequential legislative action was initiated this fall, when the French government proposed a bill seeking to fight “separatism.” Building on months of dialogue with religious organizations like the French Council of the Muslim Faith, Macron suggested stemming foreign funding for mosques and the training of imams, aiming to instead privilege domestic training of religious scholars in accordance with democratic values.

The term “separatism” was chosen concertedly. Scholars such as Gilles Kepel, who has been influential in Macron’s thinking, have documented that France faces a struggle with Islamism that extends beyond terrorism. The deeper societal challenge involves the growing influence of radical groups in certain neighborhoods that exist outside the state’s purview, a countersociety that operates at the expense of women, LGBT people, Jews, and many others. Kepel’s book Terror in France recounts the trajectory of figures like Mohammed Merah, the terrorist who killed seven people, including three Jewish children, in Toulouse in 2012. At the time, Merah was seen as the ultimate “lone wolf,” a former petty criminal-turned-radical, acting on his own, without receiving orders from an organized terrorist network such as al Qaeda or the Islamic State. But years of investigations showed a different picture from the convenient lone-wolf narrative. Merah was socialized in a radical ideology that was the norm in his direct environment. From his family to his friends to his mosque (that Islamic State leaders Fabien and Jean-Michel Clain also attended), Merah’s ideological surroundings laid the groundwork for his radicalism. Rather than look at individual profiles and the psychological underpinnings of radicalism, the French government wants to tackle the ecosystems that have allowed them to prosper.

All this adds to many reports over the years of growing pressure on teachers trying to teach about the Holocaust, sex education, or even basic biology. In 2002, a book written by a collective of high school professors, The Lost Territories of the Republic, warned of alarming sexism and anti-Semitism in the French banlieues. A female professor interviewed by the Financial Times last month reported: “I don’t feel safe. If I have to show a film with a nude scene or a couple embracing, there’d be shouting, and not just the normal teenage stuff, real aggression, kids saying, ‘This is not OK. It’s not allowed.’” Male physicians have been put under pressure to avoid attending to female patients alone. Mayors have come under criticism for acceding to demands from religious groups for separate hours for women in public swimming pools. More recently, a group of Sorbonne scholars (a university not known for its far-right activism to say the least) led by Bernard Rougier published a series of empirical studies titled Territories Conquered by Islamism, warning that “Islamist networks have managed to build enclaves at the heart of popular neighborhoods.” Jews, who represent 1 percent of the French population but are disproportionally targeted by hate crimes (about 40 percent of attacks most years), have largely deserted these areas in the last decade.

According to the jihadism scholar Hugo Micheron, currently at Princeton University, about 2,000 French individuals are considered to represent a direct jihadi threat; another 20,000 are monitored by French intelligence as potential accomplices; and a third, much larger group is influenced by Salafi ideals and is at threat of breaking away from French society. This third group is the one targeted by the new policy on separatism. Micheron quotes an influential 2016 study by Hakim El Karoui at the centrist think tank Institut Montaigne, estimating that 28 percent of self-declared French Muslims are seen as “secessionist,” according to which Islam becomes a means of self-assertion against French society. Similarly, according to the respected pollster Jérôme Fourquet, the author of the bestselling book French Archipelago, around 750,000 individuals show sympathy for radical ideology.

Protesters raise their fist and give the finger from the statue of Marianne on Place de la Republique in Paris on June 13, 2020.

Could France do a better job at integrating its largest minority and dealing with issues of racism and discrimination? Yes, it certainly could. Discrimination in the job and housing markets, as well as hate speech against Muslims, is a serious problem that French society must address. And as Macron noted in his speech several weeks ago: “We built a concentration of misery and difficulties. We concentrated populations according to origin and social milieu. …We created neighborhoods where the promise of the Republic was never kept and where these most radical forms [of Islamism] became sources of hope.” Some of the rhetoric from Macron’s own government hasn’t been helpful either. Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, himself of North African heritage, criticized large corporations for acceding to identity politics by having separate kosher and halal aisles.

But blaming the French state for the attacks and the rise of radicalism shows a dangerous moral confusion. Nor is secularism to blame here. While French secularism laws prohibit “ostentatious” religious signs (such as hijabs, kippas, or large crosses) in schools and state buildings, Paty’s killing and the new wave of attacks are linked to the Charlie Hebdo cartoons and most recently to the trials of the accomplices of the 2015 attacks. Whatever one thinks of the magazine—which regularly mocks all religions, the far-right, or any politician for that matter—its staff is entitled, in a liberal democracy, to draw cartoons without being murdered. Besides, secularism or not, France is not alone in this fight. While France harbors the largest Muslim population in Europe, Belgium, Denmark, and Sweden, none of them harbingers of laïcité, have sent higher proportions of foreign fighters to Syria. Terrorist attacks have struck Germany, the United Kingdom, Belgium, and others. France is at the forefront of a deeper battle striking major European societies.

A key fact often overlooked in this context is the diversity of France’s 5 million Muslims, of their political opinions, and of their religious practice. In public service, in the business community, in journalism, and in politics, a new generation of French citizens of multiple religious, ethnic, and social backgrounds are making a name for themselves. They often don’t want their public or political identities to be conferred by their religion. Other French people carry their religious identity more visibly, and that’s their full right, even if it is not always well received in a deeply secular, even atheist society. It is paradoxical that so many news outlets in the world claim to care for Muslims in France without giving a voice to the different opinions they have or even speaking with them. It is up to them, not Erdogan or Khan, to speak for their identity. Meanwhile, denouncing policies targeting Islamists as “Islamophobia” bundles all Muslims together with the radical minority that is precisely attempting to prevent their integration with society as a whole. It’s a trap.

To name things wrongly is to add to the world’s misery, Albert Camus said. In 2017, after Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, after two years of terrorist attacks and structural economic difficulties, the French electorate chose to resoundingly defeat the far-right and opt for a centrist, pro-European government. Today France is the front line of another fight against illiberalism, and it is leading that fight with the same values. It deserves better than denial and accusations from its friends.

Benjamin Haddad is the director of the Future Europe Initiative at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C. He is the author of Le Paradis Perdu: l’Amérique de Trump et la fin des illusions européennes.View
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