Saint Jean’s Midsummer bonfires in Quebec: the bonfires of St.Jean

23 Jun


Greek song from the 60’s: “They light bonfires in the mahallades on St.Johna’s Eve, from what you know and tell me.  Ay, how many thing like you know, that have died.”

The primary purpose of Jadde-ye-Kabir may be to pay yahrzeit to these customs and in this sense keep them alive, at least in memory.

There was a previous post, wait, here, from a couple of years ago:

Malagac07_17161026People dance around a bonfire during Saint John’s night in northern Spanish town of Oviedo, late June 23, 2011. (Reuters/Eloy Alonso)

Today, June 24th is the feast day of St. John the Baptist.  It’s actually one of several.  June 24th is his birthday and August 29th is the day of his death (the whole Herod and Salome and head on a silver platter story).  But the Orthodox Church has a tradition of setting aside the day after a particular holiday as the synaxis of the main “player,” shall we say, in the previous day’s events.  Thus the Feast of the Holy Spirit comes on Monday after Pentecost, which marks its descent and illumination of the Apostles.  December 26th is the synaxis of the Virgin, but there are so many other holidays dedicated to the Virgin that her synaxis the day after Christmas mostly goes unobserved.  But January 7th, the synaxis, is the most important of the three St. John’s days of the Church — not his birthday, nor his death, but the day after Epiphany, January 6th, when he baptized Jesus Christ.  So as opposed the Catholic West, where June 24th, today, is the most important of his feast days, what most Greeks refer to as του Άη Γιαννιού is usually January 7th and most Greek Johns celebrate their namedays on this day as the closing date of the Christmas season.

And yet his birthday is not ignored.  If we remember (or ever knew) Christ and St. John were cousins, as were their mothers, Mary and Elizabeth.  On March 25th,  the of day the Annunciation, the first thing the Virgin Mary does after the visitation of Gabriel is run — flustered and shocked — to her cousin Elizabeth to tell her what had happened to her. (This love between the two teenage Jewish cousins has always touched me.) Elizabeth at the time was already six months pregnant with the young John, and the “babe leapt in her womb” upon hearing that his beloved cousin had been conceived, for it was John’s purpose — the “Forerunner” — to lay the groundwork, baptize Him and set Him on His mission.  Three months later, at the Summer Solstice, John was born.

And so again we have the formidable astrological and astronomical symmetry that the Church most likely inherited through Zoroastrianism.  Exactly three months after the Annunciation on the Vernal Equinox (Nowruz), John is born on the Summer Solstice (Tirgan), and then six months later Jesus Himself is born on the Winter Solstice (Yalda).  According to Iranian friends, Tirgan is not celebrated nearly as widely as Yalda and especially not Nowruz, and even less than the Autumnal Equinox (Mehregan), but is still present as a holiday in the Iranian consciousness.  Apparently there’s a certain symbolic ritual table set-up for Tirgan, like there is for Nowruz and Yalda, and I had located an image of it before but now can’t find it.

Throughout the Christian world it has traditionally been a time for building bonfires, though why this should be so in the middle of the heat and lengthy days of late June and not at the Winter Solstice has always kind of baffled me.  In northern Europe (for our civilization’s perhaps greatest treatment of the season, see Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream” and Bergman’s “Smiles of a Summer Night” and starkly intense film version of Strindberg’s Miss Julie by Liv Ullman and starring Colin Farrell — as perhaps our civilization’s greatest treatment of the season), Scandinavia and Russia (oh, yeah, Dostoevsky’s White Nights too) this time of the year has also always been associated with a kind of — especially — erotic license and carnivalesque freedom, or even temporary bouts of lunacy or mental illness, which probably comes from not sleeping for several weeks when the sky only goes dark for about an hour every night.

The bonfire tradition still persists in parts of Greece as well, but as all such practices, is probably slowly being forgotten.  The disappearance of practices like this, and the subsequent impoverishment of humanity’s symbolic consciousness and imagination that these losses entail always saddens me.  As I’ve written before, a friend once said to me: “History is a personal emotion for you, N.”

There’s a song by the recently deceased Demetres Metropanos that I love which refers to St. John’s Eve and its bonfires.  Metropanos was a singer very popular in Greece from the 1970s to the early part of the previous decade.  I’ve never understood why so many people considered him to be slightly skylé as a singer — meaning, oh, I dunno, crudely if not underworldly, working-class.  I think much of his music is lovely.  This song, the lyrics of which I don’t totally understand, meaning not that I don’t understand the Greek; I don’t understand the imagery:  Η σούστα πήγαινε μπροστά — “The spring (which means wire coil? shock absorbers?  spring, as in both mattress and ‘jump,’ when its the name of a dance in Crete or the Dodecannese? Something else? I don’t know…) led the way forward” is one of them.  But it’s a testimony to the high quality of Greek popular music at the time, that composers and singers (I don’t know who Metropanos’ lyricist was) were unafraid to use the most abstract and associative poetic imagery in their music, even if it was destined for middle and even lower-middle class audiences. as opposed to the lyrics of rebetika, which often consist of mostly repetitive, “tough-guy,” metallic jangling.

The lyrics, in Greek:

Η σούστα πήγαινε μπροστά
κι ο μάγκας τοίχο τοίχο
δεν έτυχε στα χρόνια αυτά
τίποτα να πετύχω

Ανάβουνε φωτιές στις γειτονιές
του Άη Γιάννη αχ πόσα ξέρεις και μου λες
αχ πόσα τέτοια ξέρεις και μου λες
που ‘χουν πεθάνει

Με βάλαν πάνω στην κορφή
στ’ αγριεμένο κύμα
στης Σμύρνης την καταστροφή
στ’ άδικο και στο κρίμα

Ανάβουνε φωτιές στις γειτονιές
του Άη Γιάννη αχ πόσα ξέρεις και μου λες
αχ πόσα τέτοια ξέρεις και μου λες
που ‘χουν πεθάνει

(Again, very difficult, odd to translate)

The spring led the way
With the “tough guy” (manga, maganda) hugging the wall
I never managed, in all these years, to accomplish anything.
They light bonfires in the mahallades on St. John’s Eve,
which you like telling me about.
Oh, all those things you know and tell me of,
things that are long dead.
They set me up on top,
with the furious waves,
At the destruction of Smyrna,
Amidst the injustice and the pity.
They light bonfires in the mahallades on St. John’s Eve,
which you like telling me about.
Oh, all those things you know and tell me of,
things that are long dead.
“…things that are long dead…”
And that’s me, NikoBako: the keeper of things long dead.
And the song:




Good Slate piece: “The Shunned Muslim Journalist Wajahat Ali wrote about Israeli settlers…”

22 Jun

Interesting question some ways through about who does or doesn’t have “skin in the game.”

Are the MESA Thought Police still on it?  Rah! Rah!

I’ve never heard of this guy or any of these guys or these organizations, but I can’t disingenuously say that: “…I have no skin in the game.”


Photo: a late June summer night in Petersburg

22 Jun

Screen Shot 2018-06-22 at 6.52.21 PM

The Nevsky Prospect, in “Peter”.  The green baroque extravaganza on your right is the Stroganov Palace (yes, like in “Beef …)  On your left across the Nevsky with the lead dome is what was once Russia’s central Singer offices (yes, like in sewing-machines), which during Soviet times became the famed Dom Knigi — “the House of Books,” one the world’s most massive bookstores.  Now I think it’s a bank.

This is probably taken at like 1:00 am. It gets a little darker after that.  Then by 3:30 the full sun is up again.  Truth is it starts to drive you a little nuts after a while.  But it’s still breathtakingly beautiful.


Madhubala, Madhuri Dixit, Mughal-e-Azam, and “…the current crop…”

22 Jun

Youtube: Perfection!!  Too bad it’s all doomed now.  Current crop of actors n actresses is a joke.  Aishwariya, Priyanka, Deepika..even all three combines can’t match the beauty, elegance, expressions of Madhubala.

-The current crop of Bollywood women are just fine — great dancers and good actors.  My humble opinion (and personal taste) is just that they’re forced by current trends to be too skinny. They don’t have any body to do anything with. A slightly more zaftig girl like Parineeti Chopra (who I like a lot because she looks Greek) gets all sorts of shit and is called fat all the time. The last great female body on the Bollywood screen was the goddess Madhuri Dixit. Here she is in her kitsch-kathak number from 2002 Devdas.

…where she was pushing 40, was five months pregnant and wearing a costume that weighed 60 lbs.

And still rocking more than a decade later with Ranbir Kapoor, in Karan Johar’s 2013 Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, in the silly “Viagra” number, dancing and looking amazing.  (You have to see the “making of Ghagra” video to hear Ranbir talking in that sweet, soft-spoken manner he has, about how Dixit was his first screen love, and how exciting it was to get to kiss her finally — highly recommended).  She’s incredible.  As is he of course.

While the “current crop” of ‘roided up, live-in-the-gym, men in Bollywood: John Abraham, Varun Dhawan, Siddharth Malhotra, even Ranbir Kapoor — seems to have benefited on screen from the extra meat, some of the women are starting to look anorexic.  Then they put those stupid bikini tops on them with their saris — whereas an old-fashioned, super-tight, mid-arm choli is so much sexier — and they look even bonier.

In fact, it’s easy to argue that since the exit of Madhuri Dixit and the appearance of Hrithik Roshan (who has since totally disappeared…anyone know why?) and the emancipation of teenage girls’ libidos, men have replaced women as the primary objects of desire in Bollywood cinema.  I mean, who are the sex objects in this “Radha” number below from SOTY Alia Bhatt ?  Or Varun* and Siddharth with their kurtas unbuttoned down to their navels and their pec cleavage?

(Or is this all the work of the ‘demonic’ Karan Johar :) and his objects of desire?)

Below is my girl Parineeti (mentioned above: right, she looks Greek?) in Daawat-e-Ishq, not looking fat at all, playing opposite an absolutely spectacular-looking Aditya Roy Kapur, done up just like I like my South Asian Muslim men to be, with surma and two big silver earrings and tight, tacky polo shirts.  I seem to be the only person who liked this movie; it wasn’t the greatest, but I like her and him and them opposite each other, and I’m always interested in what Bombay does with purely Muslim themes.

“Tamam, NikoBako, so are these the things you worry about on a daily basis while the whole world is going to hell?”  Yeah, ok, I’m sorry.  No, they’re not the only things.  But nobody wants their guilty pleasures taken away from them.

Plus, I do think it’s all related.  Ask me how if you’re interested.  Gotta go…

* (I have a particular weakness for Varun’s kind of extra-baggy salvaria…)


Rachel Maddow breaks down during report on ‘tender age’ shelters

21 Jun


World Refugee Day 2018

21 Jun

Screen Shot 2018-06-21 at 12.17.26 PMIllustration-icon Kelly Lattimore


“It will cost your mother many tears to make a man out of you” — Shlof shoin main jankele…

20 Jun

Hmmm…  Why doesn’t his father make a man out of him?

Sleep, sleep, Yankele, my handsome son. Close your little black eyes. My little one, now that you have all your teeth – must you make your mother sing you to sleep?

The little boy who has all his teeth and who, God permitting, will soon go to kheyder And learn Torah and Talmud – must he cry when his mama rocks him to sleep?

The little boy who will learn Talmud – and how glad and proud in his heart your father is that you’ll be learning Talmud – must he make his mother stay awake all night?

Sleep then, my little one, my clever one who will be a bridegroom yet. Sleep while you are still in your cradle by my side. It will cost your mother many tears to make a man of you.


shlof zhe mir shoyn yankele mayn sheyner, di eygelakh di shvatsinke makh tsu. a yingele vos hot shoyn ale tseyndelekh, muz nokh di mame zingen “ay lyu lyu”

a yingele vos hot shoyn ale tseyndelekh un vet mit mazel bald in kheyder geyn. un lernen vet er khumesh un gemore, zol veynen ven di mame vigt im ayn ?

a yingele vos lernen vet gemore, ot shteyt der tate, kvelt un hert zikh tsu. a yingele vos vakst a talmid-khokhem, lozt gantse nakht der mamen nit tsuru ?

a yingele vos vakst a talmid-khokhem, un a geniter soykher oykh tsuglaykh. a yingele a kluger khosn bokher, zo lign azoy nas, vi in a taykh ?

nu shlof zhe mir, mayn kluger khosn bokher, dervayl ligstu in vigele bay mir. s’vet kostn fil mi un mame’s trern, bizvanen s’vet a mentsh aroys fun dir!



%d bloggers like this: