Tag Archives: Egypt

A genuinely happy 2021 to everybody: Κωνσταντίνος Καβάφης «Κεριά» — Cavafy’s “Candles” — Greek, English, Russian, Spanish, Italian — and sung by Eirene Pappa

1 Jan

Κωνσταντίνος Καβάφης «Κεριά»

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

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


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


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

Constantine Cavafy — Candles

Days to come stand in front of us like a row of lighted candles—
golden, warm, and vivid candles.

Days gone by fall behind us, a gloomy line of snuffed-out candles; the nearest are smoking still, cold, melted, and bent.

I don’t want to look at them: their shape saddens me, and it saddens me to remember their original light. I look ahead at my lighted candles.

I don’t want to turn for fear of seeing, terrified, how quickly that dark line gets longer, how quickly the snuffed-out candles proliferate.

(translation Edmund Keeley)





Velas — Constantino Cavafis

Los días del futuro están delante de nosotros
como una hilera de velas encendidas
-velas doradas, cálidas, y vivas.

Quedan atrás los días ya pasados,
una triste línea de veles apagadas;
las más cercanas aún despiden humo,
velas frías, derretidas, y dobladas.

No quiero verlas; sus formas me apenan,
y me apena recordar su luz primera.
Miro adelante mis velas encendidas.

No quiero volverme, para no verlas y temblar,
cuán rápido la línea oscura crece,
cuán rápido aumentan las velas apagadas.

Kostantino Kavafis – Candele

Poesie scelte: KONSTANTINOS KAVAFIS, Poesie (Milano, Mondadori 1961).

Stanno i giorni futuri innanzi a noi
come una fila di candele accese
dorate, calde, e vivide.

Restano indietro i giorni del passato,
penosa riga di candele spente:
le più vicine dànno fumo ancora,
fredde, disfatte, e storte.

Non le voglio vedere: m’accora il loro aspetto,
la memoria m’accora del loro antico lume.
E guardo avanti le candele accese.

Non mi voglio voltare, ch’io non scorga, in un brivido,
come s’allunga presto la tenebrosa riga,
come crescono presto le mie candele spente.

Traduzione di Filippo Maria Pontani

And in song by the wonderful-looking Irene Pappas, (more photos below) and music of Mimes Plessas.

Irene Pappas 1956
Irene Pappas date unknown
THE GUNS OF NAVARONE, Irene Papas, 1961
Irene Pappas 1971

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Wonderful Jewish grandmother who speaks a ton of languages

30 Dec

Check out this cute video from sehr-cute Jewish boy, Nathaniel Drew (kind of goyische-sounding last name? Yeah, I thought so too) who talks to his polyglot grandma about the languages she speaks and how she acquired them.

Money moment at 3:25:

Nate: “We could say you’re a sponge for languages?

Grandma: “Yes” (chuckles)

Nate: “Do you know why you have this ability?”

Grandma: “I love languages. I love learning. I love to know.”

Translation: “I come from a very ancient tradition of Mediterranean and MENA urbanism and cosmopolitanism which was destroyed by the modern ethnic nation-state and its ridiculous ideas about cultural uniformity”

Or…

Translation: “I’m Jewish.”

Readers who want to remember the pre-Nasser Alexandria this woman was born in might want to revisit “The Other Homeland” documentary by Yorgos Augeropoulos for Al Jazeera.

Egypte, Alexandrie, le front de mer

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NikoBako reads: Tom Holland on secularism, France, Islam…

23 Dec

My money quotes:

Ibn Khaldun, the great medieval historian, noted with surprise that the Gospels consisted largely of sermons and stories, “and have an almost complete lack of laws”. It was this lack, in the opinion of medieval Muslim jurists, that served to condemn Christianity as an inadequate and superceded revelation. Unlike the Jews, who at least had a written law from God, Christians were forever changing their minds, devising new law codes, revising the ones they already had. How were such people possibly to be taken seriously? […]

Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that Islamist radicals, when they look at the history of France, should see in it a sinister continuum. In 2015, when the Islamic State issued a statement claiming responsibility for the murderous attacks on the Bataclan and a range of other atrocities, it readily conflated the era of Louis IX with the vices of a more recent and godless materialism. Paris was condemned both as “the carrier of the Banner of the Cross in Europe”, and as “the capital of prostitution and obscenity”. […]

The Islamic State, when they identified France as the capital of everything that it most hated, were not so far wrong. Eldest Daughter of the Church and the home of revolution, the land of saints and philosophes, Catholic and laique, it is her fate — and perhaps her privilege — to serve, more than any other country, as the very embodiment of the West.

Full article below…

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The age-old tension between Islam and France

A profound antipathy reaches back beyond the Enlightenment

BY Tom Holland

Tom Holland is a writer, popular historian and cricketer. He is not an actor. His most recent book is Dominion

November 2, 2020

In 1798, Napoleon embarked on the first French invasion of Egypt since the era of the Crusades. He prepared for it with his customary attention to detail. Conscious that he was travelling to a predominantly Muslim land, he sought to make a careful study of Islam. Top of his reading list was, of course, the Qur’an. Raised as he had been to view the Bible as the archetype of scripture, he found it a surprising text. The character of Muhammad’s revelations, he realised, was radically different from that of the New Testament.

The Qur’an did not content itself with what Napoleon had been brought up to think of as “religion”. Its scope was much broader than that. From fiscal policy to sumptuary laws, it offered prescriptions for entire dimensions of what, in Europe, had long since come to be defined as “secular”. Napoleon, sorting out the library in his cabin, duly catalogued it, not under “Religion”, but under “Politics”.

Continue reading

Alexandria’s Nuovo Teatro Alhambra, 1926

12 Dec

A testament to the funky cosmopolitanism of the Mediterranean “Cities We Lost (see Facebook page) and to the strength of Italian regional language cultures — a great juxtaposition of wordliness and provincialism, or the provincial in the cosmopolitan — the Alhambra Theater in Alexandria, one of the city’s first, hosts a travelling theater troupe staging productions in Sicilian dialect:

The stills above are taken from Giorgos Augeropoulos‘ beautiful documentary, Egypt: The Other Homeland | Al Jazeera World, a piece about the Greeks of Alexandria in the 19th and 20th centuries. This documentary was the subject of one of our first Jadde posts:Another people’s exodus from Egypt, posted right around Passover that year.

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Stephen Spender on Cavafy

29 Nov

C.P. Cavafy @CCavafy “His poetry… immortalizes the moment at which the predestined disaster or corruption happened. Of all poets he is the one who most makes success look like grandiose failure and failure look like fatal success.”

Stephen Spender on Cavafy.

Stephen Spender

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Flamenco: sometimes “I can’t get enough” of something because it’s just so awful (even with a goddess like Estrella Morente); the limits of fusion; Andalucía to the Caribbean, ida y vuelta, or allez-retour; Spanish casticismo and crappy Greek reality TV

20 Sep

You know, you can’t just throw together anything you feel like…like, I dunno, the Pennsylvania polka with polyphonic southern Albanian orchestration or background singers, and call it music. There’s a great Greek expression for what would result: “May God call that [whatever] …” music, in this case; то есть, only God can give this thing the existential status it’s claiming for itself.

Fusion happens organically. Egyptian pop has a çifteteli rhythm Greeks like, and slowly Greek pop develops a whole genre that is heavily Egyptian sounding. Klezmer musicians, especially Romanian and Moldavian ones, heard Greek Balkan tunes in Bucharest and Constanța and Istanbul and incorporated them into their repertoire. Serbs are attracted to Greek music, to its tone and melodies and especially to its affective nature, so lots of the new starogradska music (which literally means “old city” music, meaning popular, but urban, not folk, like Greek λαϊκά) develops a deep Greek vibe. Greeks loved Bollywood in the 50s, so a whole genre (one railed against by many, including Tsitsanes, which is why I can’t forgive him), of some really beautiful music, developed out of some plain rip-offs, and some imaginative reworking, of the Indian material that Greeks liked in their movies.

I’ll soon bring you examples of all of the above. My point is simply that these intermeldings happen organically and if they’re forced, consciously and stupidly, the product kinna sucks.

I’m sure the intentions of the Khoury Projectfour Palestinian brothers from Jordan, with a last name that probably indicates Christian (“Khoury” means priest in Levantine Arabic) — are good…oh, Lord, please don’t let them be misunderstood. But the result is atrocious. It’s a little bit classical Um Kalsoum Arab suite, a little bit Balkan brass band or tamburaša, a little bit demek jazz improv’ — and it’s all made worse by the lust for speeeeeeeeeed our civilization suffers from, to cover up for lack of art, because form is sacrificed on the altar of cheap excitement, till form becomes illegible, rhythm becomes unfollowable, and melody disappears…and it all turns into a dog whistle that we can’t even hear.

Everything is like coked-up Bregović.

And what did that poor kanun do to this dude, that he’s banging away at it like it’s a heavy metal drum set, or like he’s hoping to snap a few of its strings?

Ok, there is one cool idea they’re working with, and that’s in the title: “RUMBA”. It’s not a ton of people who know that, but the musical and other cultural influences that Spain, especially Andalucía, sent to the Caribbean, were matched by the musical influences that the Caribbean, especially, of course, that heavenly font of music, Cuba, sent back to Spain. (You can probably trace the popular music of the whole twentieth-century world to either this one island of ten million people or the Mississippi Delta…or to the West Africa that both sprouted from.) Rumba, for example, is a flamenco genre, as is tango, though they don’t much look like their Latin American namesakes in their Andalusian gypsy forms (Morente gives us a moment of Cuban/Andalusian “rumba” dance moves at 6:56). But sevillanas and bulerías also have rhythmic structures and verbal phrasing and dance moves that have earlier Cuban antecedents.

The reason most people don’t know this is because there’s no more cliché-bound human than the modern tourist. And the academic tourist, who you think would have more outré interests to pursue when he travels, is often the worst of all. So as far as Spain goes, they’ll go to Barcelona, because it’s just such a “hip,” “cosmopolitan” Mediterranean (Christ, sometimes I hate that word) city, and skip the edgier, scruffy, by far more involving urban vibe of Madrid.* And if they’re under 35 they’ll go to Ibiza; over 35 will go to Mallorca. The MESA or other academic folk won’t go to either (if they want beach action they’ll come to one of our more remote Cyclades); rather, after Barcelona, they’ll do the Glories of Al-Andalus tour of Córdoba and Granada and then hightail it back home.

And you can’t get a full picture of flamenco in any of those places. Yes, there’s clearly a gypsy community in Granada that has created its own sound (including Estrella Morente and the whole Morente clan). But “gypsiness” and flamenco are to be truly appreciated in lower Andalusia, the flat river-delta of the Guadalquivir (the al-wādī l-kabīr in Arabic, the “great river”, like the kabir in this blogs’ name.) The great (or “kabir”) flamenco palos or genres, the great flamenco singers and guitarists, are almost all from the Gypsy barrios of Seville, Jerez, Cádiz, Sanlúcar, Puerto de Santa María, or the large village/towns of the region, like Osuna, Écija, Carmona, Utrera. This was not just the entry point for Spanish contact with its American colonies; it was the region that soon after the Reconquista came to be made up of large estates, latifundia, and a large rural proletariat that worked those estates and a large urban proletariat that lived in semi-employed poverty. Unfortunately, this was the pattern that Spain exported to not just its American colonies, but to southern Italy and Sicily during the centuries that it ruled those lands. What’s so fascinating about Naples and Palermo (like, of course, Seville) is that they were the first large, third-world cities of European modernity, overgrown, over-densely populated, surrounded by a countryside where land ownership was wildly unbalanced, cities of fabulous wealth and a dispossessed urban proletariat that still characterizes the modern and post-modern megalopolis — from Bombay to New York.

The Guadalquivir

Unfortunately or not, the pressure-cooker of urban poverty seems to be the petri dish of fantastic music: whether it’s Havana or Seville or Naples or New Orleans or New York and Chicago or Smyrna or Piraeus. We owe it to the creators of this music, and their suffering, to not mangle it the way the Khoury Project has done in this and in many other videos of theirs.

That’s why I’m bringing you more than just one of the original versions of the Cuban classics that Morente and the Khoury project butcher beyond recognition. Take the time to listen to both: the several original versions and the shameless interpretations the new fusion versions bring.

At 6:15, Morente sings the historic Cuban song “Songoro Cosongo”. This was a “son”, an Afro genre from eastern Cuba that, in the early twentieth century, became the more or less national dance (out of which the mambo and then salsa grew) replacing, even in polite society, the danzón. The lyrics are not original “Afro”; they’re Art-Afro, from the Black Cuban poet Nicolás Guillén — y de allí you get into all kinds of questions of authenticity that basically lead you nowhere. What’s important is that this first version was sung by the Septeto Nacional, which was the first group of Black musicians who were allowed to play in the Havana Tennis Club in the 1920s, marking the entry of Blacker music into the social mainstream of Cuban life (or maybe that was the Sexteto Habanero?). Here’s the original version. For Colombians, forget the baldosa please and watch the first part of the video and incorporate some movement into the dance; drop the screwdriver step.

And here’s Hector Lavoe’s 1970s big band sound, salsa version:

The other Cuban/PR classic that the Khoury Project and Morente make kokoretsi out of (at 7:10) is the piece known alternately as “Mandinga” or “Bilongo” or “La Negra Tomasa”.

Here’s a Cuban έντεχνο version from pianist Rubén González of the Buena Vista Social Club:

And here’s the truly breathtaking salsa version, again from the 70s, of Eddie Palmieri, with singer Ismael Quintana: “Kikidi-boom, Mandinga, Kikidi-boom Mandinga….”

Y aquí la tienen, la Negra Tomasa:

La Negra Tomasa, like Mamá Inés (“ay Mamá Inés, ay Mamá Inés, todo’ lo’ negro’ tomamo’ café.”) It’s amazing how powerfully Pan-American this archetype of the Black woman is: Mamá Inés, La Negra Tomasa, Aunt Jemima, the Black woman who, despite the misery and servitude of her existence, still feels and expresses genuine love for those she has to care for. Here’s the scene from Gone with the Wind where Hattie McDaniel gave the performance that garnered her the first Oscar to go to a Black woman:

Ok…

And back to Estrella Morente’s outta space performance. I don’t want to sound like one of the judges on #MyStyleRocksGR (though I’d like to have a drink with Stelio Koudounare — below)** but, Estrella, you’re a magnificent woman. But you’re also a modest Gypsy girl. Don’t wear a strapless dress that you’re constantly tugging up for fear it’ll fall off and reveal your ample bosom. It cramps your style, especially for a number as fast this “Rumba”.

(There’s something that’s so interesting about the semiotics of Gypsy and flamenco sexuality, a really interesting interaction between the revealing and openly erotic and the puritanical and covered up — that’s maybe a real remnant Indian cultural trait. We had a long-time Gypsy tenant, Mandy, who rented a commercial space in a building we owned in Manhattan for her Tarot-reading business; how they made the rent for a midtown Manhattan space offa Tarot readings is anyone’s guess. And whenever I dropped by at that time of the month, she was always dressed kind of like Lola Flores in this video below of commercial, movie, kitschy but beautiful copla-flamenco [look up “copla”; it’s a critical bridge between flamenco and other Spanish popular music]:

A tight top, but with straps — please — and an ankle-length skirt, tight around the hips and flaring out from the knees, like Gypsy women all over the world wear. The use of the skirt in flamenco dance, the flipping and turning around, the gathering up of its ample folds and ruffles and waving them back and forth or stuffing them between the legs, almost up into the crotch…all of those moves become especially powerful because revealing of the lower body seems so taboo. Not to mention the similarities between the prop manipulation of the long skirt in flamenco and that of the cape in the corrida, or bullfight.)

всё…

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* There’s a wonderful expression in Spanish: “De Madrid no se ve el mar.” — “From Madrid you can’t see the sea” which condenses the whole personality of the city. Madrid is really nowhere. It doesn’t occupy a strategic position, like the older cities of old Castille. It’s not on an important navigable river. The weather sucks: the famous “nine months of winter and three months of hell” (“nueve meses de invierno y tres de infierno”), though I love the cold, sunny weather of a Castillian winter (“colder than a Lutheran” says one character in the film version of Alatriste), and the food is perfect for the climate. It was simply built by royal fiat as a court and imperial capital in the early 16th century because there was an old, Moorish town there in the geographic center of Iberia, on the high, arid and underpopulated central plateau, or meseta, of Spain.

And yet this isolated city — from where “you can’t see the sea” — in the middle of nowhere became the sophisticated, highly cultured and rich capital of a massive empire. The contradiction is that it couldn’t ever really evade or deny its roots. Madrid remained and remains a deeply castizo city. “Casticismo” is a complicated term that means “pure”, “[Spanishly] authentic”, “native”, “conservative” and even a solid melding of all of those together won’t give you the precise sense of the word. Casticismo is what makes Spain Spain. I’m tempted to find Greek analogies and thought that it might be Romiosyne as in versus Hellenismos. But no…

When you’re in a bar somewhere in the center of Madrid in July, and there’s a cold, sweaty caña, or half-pint, of beer and an equally sweaty few slices of ham in front of you, when there’re dirty paper napkins or toothpicks (or there used to be; this custom has sort of fallen out of style) or peanut shells on the floor (the more garbage there was piled up on the floor, the more it signalled to potential customers that, “oh, this is a fun bar that people like…let’s drop in here”) and you’re packed in with super-friendly, inquisitive Spaniards speaking at a totally unnecessary decibel level…and it’s only 11:00 am — well, that’s the right time to get a feel for casticismo, even if it’s just a sensory feel that you can’t express discursively.

And that’s kind of the essence of Madrid, a liberal, tolerant, mad creative, open place that’s still closed and stubbornly archaic and even anarchic: even cañí (tacky) or hortero (red-necky, rough, kitschy, or vulgar). As opposed to the dizque sophisticated-acting, cosmopolitan but actually staid bourgeois air of Barcelona, Madrid is more a microcosm of Spain: one of the West’s and Europe’s most progressive, advanced in every way, societies, that’s simultaneously not part of the West or Europe at all, but a wild, limit-pushing land that is something totally itself, where the grappling between the “raw” and the “cooked” is as interesting and powerful as anywhere.

The go-to book on casticismo is by my saint-hero-philosopher Miguel de Unamuno who wrote it in the early 20th century, when the question of identity — especially after the disastrous Spanish-American War of 1898 when Spain lost its last colonies to the United States — and how Spain needed to generate some kind of new dialectic between its “deep” identity and the modernity it had to face was a red hot, controversial issue. As a Basque, he had a particular insider-and-outsider take on Spain and if you read Spanish or can find an English translation — which I’m not sure there is — it should be on your reading list before your next visit there.

En torno al casticismo (“Regarding casticismo”)

Miguel de Unamuno 1929

** Yes, don’t ask, I’ve totally regressed:

Stelios Koudounares, Greek fashion designer and guest judge on #MyStyleRocksGR

I’ve never been even remotely interested in fashion. I mean, I like to know that what I’m wearing looks ok, but in terms of high-end, concept fashion that nobody really wears…nothing’s ever bored me more. So don’t ask why I’ve gotten hooked, and on a daily basis, to #MyStyleRocksGR. Yeah, I like Stelio, but it’s basically because the judges and contestants on the show are all having so much fun…and when it’s mean it’s because there’s some serious Greek shade being thrown around that, ultimately, no one takes seriously. Any way, I’m addicted.

Next: between occasional blogging and working on my translation of Polites’ Stou Hadjifrangou, I’ve also gotten addicted to reality show #BigBrotherGR. (Owning up: I was addicted to Jersey Shore too.) The other night I sat transfixed through three-and-a-half hours of the special live Friday night broadcast they do, because I was afraid that my favorite room-mate, Demetres Kehagias (Δημήτρης Κεχαγιάς) below, was going to get booted off the show.

I don’t like Kehagia just ’cause he’s good-looking. I like him ’cause he’s echt-Greek/Rhomios. He’s always grouchy and irritated about something and someone and getting into fights with everyone around him, talks a mile a minute in thick Athenian attitude and intonation… And then suddenly becomes all loving and caring and sweet in a way that makes everyone around melt. Luckily he survived.

Here he is in rare form against his nemesis room-mate, the woman with the fried peroxide hair, Anna Maria from Chania (that’s just what they were missing on this show, a Cretan woman of a certain age with fried, peroxide hair…) Check them out in this video below; the fun starts at around 2:17. Yes, the two guys in the black t-shirts are identical twin brothers (makes for all kindsa nuttiness), Zac (Ζαχαρίας) in the Marine t-shirt says and does absolutely nothing in any episode except look pretty, and the zaftig chick in the fuchsia top with the fan, splendidly named Aphrodite!!! is the loving Big Mama that me and apparently all Big Brother addicts in Greece — so say the polls — adore, and she spends lots of her time trying to de-escalate arguments like these. Enjoy. This is a perfect Greek kavga, the Turkish word we use for pointless, steam-letting, “let’s-have-some-fun” arguing. I’m not going to translate or tell you what it’s about….because it doesn’t matter!!! It’s not about anything! They’re just arguing!

I started watching ΣΚΑΪ (SKY) because it’s the of right-of-center channel that still maintains (despite these trashy shows I’m into) some sense of cultural and social standards out of all Greek TV stations. And also because a right-of-center good friend of mine got voted in as MP in Greek Parliament this year and he appears as the go-to expert on Greece’s international relations — especially at a tight time in Greek-Turkish relations like now — on ΣΚΑΪ‘s news broadcasts. But then I get back to work and leave the television on with no sound. Explains how I got hooked on these shows.

Addendum: they’ve also been broadcasting American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace these past two weeks. It’s fascinating. Because it’s not about Versace almost at all. It’s about his tragically psychotic murderer, Andrew Cunanan. And it leaves you with the very disturbing sense that he wasn’t so distantly psychotic from the rest of us, that he just wanted what we all want; things just came together in a way that pushed him over the edge. It’s on Netflix; check it out.

Darren Kriss as Andrew Cunanan in The Assassination of Gianni Versace

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Cavafy: “Painted”

20 Sep

Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard

Την εργασία μου την προσέχω και την αγαπώ.
Μα της συνθέσεως μ’ αποθαρρύνει σήμερα η βραδύτης.
Η μέρα μ’ επηρέασε. Η μορφή της
όλο και σκοτεινιάζει. Όλο φυσά και βρέχει.
Πιότερο επιθυμώ να δω παρά να πω.
Στη ζωγραφιάν αυτή κυττάζω τώρα
ένα ωραίο αγόρι που σιμά στη βρύσι
επλάγιασεν, αφού θ’ απέκαμε να τρέχει.
Τι ωραίο παιδί· τι θείο μεσημέρι το έχει
παρμένο πια για να το αποκοιμίσει. —
Κάθομαι και κυττάζω έτσι πολλήν ώρα.
Και μες στην τέχνη πάλι, ξεκουράζομαι απ’ την δούλεψή της.

(translation comment: it’s a “spring”βρύσι — not a “fountain”. Fountain sounds built and marble and urban, as in Trevi… Spring better suits the pastoral, Arcadian setting that I think Cavafy’s mind has wandered into in this poem.)

Why Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Love Affair with the Ottoman Empire Should Worry The World — Alan Mikhail

5 Sep
Selim I

By Alan Mikhail September 3, 2020 7:00 AM EDT Mikhail is Professor of History and Chair of the Department of History at Yale University. His new book is GOD’S SHADOW: Sultan Selim, His Ottoman Empire, and the Making of the Modern World (Liveright/W.W. Norton & Co.)

At the end of August, Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan celebrated the Islamic New Year with aplomb. Fresh off his conversion of the monumental Haghia Sophia to a mosque, he converted another former Byzantine church, the fourth-century Chora church, one of Istanbul’s oldest Byzantine structures. The day after that he announced the largest ever natural gas depository in the Black Sea. This followed another recent discovery of natural gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean. Both of these areas are hotly contested zones of international competition between the powers around these seas. Later that week he welcomed a delegation of Hamas to Ankara, where he expressed support for Palestinians in the wake of the recent announcement of an agreement between Israel and the UAE.

All of these moves project Erdogan’s vision of Islamist strength into the world. Standing up for Islam at home goes hand in hand with securing natural resources and imposing Turkey’s power abroad. It also goes hand in hand with domestic repression. The Islamic New Year saw Erdogan further tighten his grip on social media freedom and consider pulling Turkey out of what is known, now farcically, as the 2011 Istanbul Convention, a treaty of the Council of Europe that commits countries to protecting women from domestic violence. Democratic peoples in Turkey, the Middle East, and around the world should worry.

Much has been written about Erdogan’s attempts to “resurrect” the Ottoman Empire or to style himself a sultan. There is truth here. But to understand Erdogan’s political agenda and horizon we must be specific about which Ottoman sultan Erdogan strives to be. It is the empire’s ninth sultan, Selim I.

Selim died 500 years ago in 1520. It was during his lifetime that the Ottoman Empire grew from a strong regional power to a gargantuan global empire. For Erdogan, this sultan from half a millennium ago serves his contemporary needs. Selim in many ways functions as Erdogan’s Andrew Jackson, a figure from the past of symbolic use in the present. Selim offers a template for Turkey to become a global political and economic power, with influence from Washington to Beijing, crushing foreign and domestic challengers alike. He helps Erdogan too to make his case for Islam as a cultural and political reservoir of strength, a vital component of the glories of the Ottoman past, which he seeks to emulate in contemporary Turkey against the dominant elite secularism that has reigned since its founding.

We should be wary of Erdogan’s embrace of Selim’s exclusionary vision of Turkish political power. It represents a historical example of strongman politics that led to regional wars, the attempted annihilation of religious minorities, and the monopolization of global economic resources. In addition to his attempts to monopolize natural gas reserves around Turkey, today this takes the form of Erdogan’s foreign military ventures in Libya, Syria, and Yemen. At home, he has gone after Turkey’s Shiite community, Kurds, intellectuals, Christians, journalists, women, and leftists. Erdogan cultivates his own Sunni religiosity to position Islam at the center of Turkey’s domestic agenda, with the church conversions the most potent recent symbols of this. Erdogan’s represents a political logic of zero-sum competition that pits Turkey against Saudi Arabia and Iran for control of the region and over claims of global Islamic leadership.

Erdogan likes Selim because he made Turkish global political power possible. From 1517 through the end of World War I, the Ottoman Empire maintained the geographic shape Selim won for it, dominating the Middle East and the eastern Mediterranean. In 1517, the Ottomans defeated their major rival in the region, the Mamluk Empire based in Cairo, capturing all of its territory in the Middle East and North Africa. This more than doubled the empire’s size. This explosion of the Ottoman Empire into the Middle East turned it into the region’s foremost military and political power and one of the world’s largest states. The Ottomans now controlled the entire eastern half of the Mediterranean and thus dominated the globe’s most important trade routes overland between Europe and Asia and by sea through the Persian Gulf and Red Sea. The Turkish Republic inherited much of that power after the empire’s demise and the republic’s rise in 1923.

While every modern Turkish ruler has distanced himself from the legacy of the Ottoman Empire, and Islam, to attempt to project a more “western,” “secular,” and “modern” face for the republic, Erdogan is the first who has actively embraced the Ottoman past and the empire’s Islamic heritage. Here too Selim proves key to Erdogan’s image of his rule. Selim’s defeat of the Mamluks made the Ottoman Empire a majority Muslim state for the first time in its history, after over two hundred years of being a state whose population was mostly Greek Orthodox. [my emphasis] With this victory, Selim became the first Ottoman sultan to rule Mecca and Medina, Islam’s holiest cities, thus earning the title of caliph and cementing the empire’s global Islamic credentials. If Selim was the first Ottoman to be both sultan and caliph, Erdogan is the first republican leader to profess to possessing both titles.

Like President Donald Trump’s purposeful deployment of the symbols of Andrew Jackson—prominently displaying his portrait in the Oval Office and defending his statues—Erdogan has trafficked publicly and specifically in the symbolic politics of Selim in Turkey. His most striking act was to name the recently constructed third bridge over the famous Bosphorus Strait after Selim. Erdogan has also lavished enormous resources on Selim’s tomb and other memorials to his rule. After winning a 2017 constitutional referendum that greatly expanded his powers—a process marred by irregularities—Erdogan made his first public appearance at Selim’s tomb. Staged as a kind of pilgrimage, there Erdogan returned to the long-dead sovereign his kaftan and turban that had been stolen years before. This far-from-subtle first act after winning a referendum that gave him near-limitless power made clear who Erdogan’s role model is.

Erdogan and his Islamist party colleagues regularly describe themselves as the “grandchildren” of the Ottomans. In this very pointed genealogy, Erdogan purposefully skips a generation—that of Turkey’s republican fathers since 1923—to leapfrog back in time to when the Ottomans ruled the globe with their particular brand of Turkish Sunni politics, to Selim’s day when wars and domestic repression led to wealth and territorial power. Recreating a political program akin to Selim’s is a dangerous prospect for Turkey and the Middle East and indeed the world. To make Turkey Ottoman again requires the kind of violence, censorship, and vitriol that Erdogan has indeed shown himself ready to use. The universal lesson here is that calls for returns to perceived greatness, whether in Turkey or in United States, selectively embrace controversial historical figures, mangle their history, and elevate hatred and division.

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The great Greek theater and film star, Elle Lambete, died today 37 years ago — and an aside about Alexandrian Greeks

3 Sep

One of the first posts on this blog — Egypt: The Other Homeland — mentions her.

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Patricia Storace‘s Dinner with Persephone (along with Patrick Leigh Fermor‘s Roumeli: Travels in Northern Greece) is one excellent book that I recommend to all friends who are planning on visitting Greece and want to know what to read.

At one point Storace writes:

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

Listen to Lambete beautiful recitation of Cavafy’s “The City” and you’ll know what she means:

Η Πόλις

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

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

The City

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

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And if you can see the documentary posted: Egypt: The Other Homeland by Giorgos Augeropoulos and Al Jazeera about the story of Alexandrian Greeks. It’s really beautiful; I remember I first posted it on Erev Pesach in 2012 and introduced the post with: “Another people’s exodus from Egypt”. Plus, it’s good to remember the positive aspects of our long historical relationship with Egypt at times like this. I think it’s particularly noteworthy that one of the doc’s subjects talks about how Greeks slowly and steadily starting leaving Egypt because they felt there wouldn’t be any room for them in the nationalist and statist revolutionary Egypt of Nasser, but it was striking that “…we never felt fear” in Egypt.” Contrast that with the chronic low-level fear — punctuated with moments of real terror — Greeks in Istanbul lived with throughout the twentieth century…

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Write us: with comments or observations, or to be put on our mailing list or to be taken off our mailing list, contact us at nikobakos@gmail.com.

Me and the Stromfront bros, V. A reader, C. from Italy, says:

22 Oct

Dear Niko, yesterday I found Jadde-ye-kabir and your email, and here I am. I was so happy to read what you think of Hellenism!!!!! It’s exactly what I think. In my latest book I quoted Ion Dragumis when he wrote that Hellenism is a far larger place than Greece.

I studied ancient Greek at school ages ago, and I’ve been going to Greece as often as I can. It’s the mother-country of my choice! I have also studied modern Greek which I can read and write, which doesn’t make a tourist of me, but a traveller. I wrote a book about the (Losanna) population exchange, which implied travelling in the North of Greece and in Anatolia: a wonderful  journey. But I’ve found Greece, or better Hellenism, in Alexandria (looking for Penelope Delta among other things), and in Crimea, and I’m looking forward to going to Pakistan in the footsteps of Alexander. I’m in a hurry now, but I’d like to talk with you longer. Where do you live?

I do like what you write and I completely agree with you! Let’s keep in touch! Have a nice day, Claudia from Verona (I’m going to Bari in a few days to present my book on Greece and I’ll use some ideas in your blog. Thanks!!). Ciao, as we say

Thanks Claudì!  Keep reading!  And yes, stay in touch.

magna_graecia_1595_old_map1__30062.1439923980.1280.1280.jpg

See alsoStormfront​ I​: Just so we know what we’re dealing with in Giannis and — probably — Kristos,​Me and the Stormfront bros, post II: Yavrum, ηρέμησε…, Me and the Stormfront bros, III: Gianni calls me by my Albanian name, Me and the Stromfront bros, IV. A reader, my podruzhka M, from Novi Sad, says:, Me and the Stormfront bros, post VI — A reader writes: nonsense born of fearMe and the Stormfront bros, VII: Kristos, how I’m wrong and Carly Simon: “I bet you think this song is about you…”

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

 

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