Tag Archives: Greece

Two of Edward Lear’s least striking and interesting drawings of 19th century Jiannena — just can’t find the others anywhere.

15 Jan
Edward Lear 1851
Edward Lear 1868

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The Acropolis, 1820

15 Jan

Hate to be a bummer to all those art historians who would have liked to preserve the plurality and palimpsest of this kind of look.

(source unknown)

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Jordan Peterson calls out West’s ignorance of Stalinist/Communist repression: “…the fact that we don’t know that deep inside our bones is a testament to the absolute rot of our education system.”

12 Jan

“Well…Solzhenitsyn estimated the deaths in terms of repression inside the Soviet Union at something approximating 60 million between 1919 and 1959.  Now that doesn’t count the death toll in the Second World War by the way.  He also estimated that the same kind of internal repression in Maoist China cost a 100 million lives.  One of the things that is really surprising to me and that I think is absolutely reprehensible, absolutely reprehensible, is the fact that this is not widespread knowledge among students in the West, any of this, and it’s because your historical education, if you started to describe it as appalling you would barely scratch the surface.  These are probably the most important events of the 20th century and they’re barely covered at all in standard historical curricula.  …my experience with students is that none of them know of anything that happened as a consequence of the repression of the radical left in the 20th century and I believe that the reason for that is that the communist system had extensive networks of admirers in the West, especially among intellectuals and still, in fact, does, which is also equally reprehensible and I believe that one of the consequences of that is that this element of history has been…underexamined…  And that there’s absolutely no excuse for that.  It was the worst thing that happened in the 20th century and that’s really saying something because the twentieth century was as bad as it gets and the fact that these deaths on a massive scale occurred and the fact that we don’t know that deep inside our bones is a testament to the absolute rot of our education system.”

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I have a black and yellow Fred Perry polo shirt and I’m pissed

12 Jan

I bought it a thousand years ago in Toulouse — you have to believe me. It survived the drips and crumbs of countless French dinners, successfully cammoed wine stains for years, held up to Russian washing machines, the Attic sun and the hard water of Athens. And I really like it. And now I can’t wear it because of the fucking Proud Boys fachos.

I also loved it because black and yellow are, by complete coincidence, the colors of my favorite Greek soccer team AEK. That doesn’t mean I know anything about Greek soccer or care. But when asked or when I get thumbs-upped on the street when I wear it, it’s for AEK, because the acronym stands for the Athletic Union of Constantinople, which was founded in Athens in 1924 by Greeks from Istanbul, and is the institutional descendant of the Tatavla (a.k.a. Kurtuluş) Sports Club:

Kurtuluş S.K. was founded in 1896 under the name Hercules (Greek: Ηρακλής, Turkish: İraklis Jimnastik Kulübü) by local Greeks in 1896. It was the first club in Istanbul exclusively dedicated to sports activities. Later in 1934 it was forced to change its name to Turkish, Kurtuluş.

It was one of the major Greek sports clubs in Istanbul, while from 1910 to 1922 it was one of the clubs that undertook the organization of the Pan-Constantinopolitan games (Games organized among the Greek clubs of the city).

In 1906 two athletes of the club, the brothers Georgios and Nikolaos Alimbrandis won gold medals in the Intercalated Olympic Games in Athens, in horizontal bar and rope climbing respectively.

During the 1930s, the club intensified the efforts in the field of sports with the foundation of basketball, volleyball, cycling, athletics and other sports departments. Competent athletes from these departments were distinguished in local and international sports events. The club played in the Turkish Basketball League between 1966 and 1968.

The Tatavla Sports Club was the first athletic club in Turkey and was obviously created by non-Muslims because baring your knees is haram, I guess, and the Ottoman ulema had a particular problem with the soccer British troops in the City were making popular in Allied-occupied İstanbul because it was too evocative of the victors playing with Huseyn‘s head after his death at Karbala.

And it’s not like I can keep wearing it as long as I’m still in Greece, because even if Greeks didn’t know about the Proud Boys and their sartorial choices before, after last week they do. And they’re very unforgiving when they know they have one on you — malicious Romeic glee is boundless and an undying spring — and haydi explain yourself. I don’t know what the universe is trying to prove to me, but I’m vexed!

Thank God Carhartt is cool in Greece and has no American far-right nut-job associations yet, ’cause otherwise my dungarees would have to go next…

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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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City chauvinism and Zonaras’ lament

30 Dec

The reason that Byzantine Ambassador’s tweeting of Joannes Zonaras’ whine about being stuck on the Princes’ Islands — (“Adalar” or what Jews called, with wonderful syncretism, “Las Adas”) — “the end of the earth” — is funny…

— is that this (below)…

…is how far the Princes’ Islands are from Constantinople. In fact, it was generally considered that exile on the Islands was particularly painful because one could still see the City from there.

But, as the Bard said: “There is no world outside Verona walls…”

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My Best of Byzantine Ambassador’s tweets for 2020

30 Dec

Check out ByzAmb (a.k.a. Henry Hopwood-Phillips) at @byzantinepower or at his website: THE BYZANTINE AMBASSADOR. He’s a tipaccio in the great tradition of truly erudite, eccentric Brits, and is always up to smart, scarily learned, quirky takes on Byzantium, Orthodoxy, what we used to call Christendom, MENA and western Eurasia more generally, and lots else.

These are my favs for this year:

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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: Dangers of Convenient Universalism: Power Relations and Responsibility of Scholars on the Hagia Sophia — Axel B. Çorlu: “The reconversion of Hagia Sophia is about power…”

23 Dec

I once got into an argument with a Turkish art historian friend of mine after I referred to the eight round canvasses with the first caliphs’ names on them (I think) in Hagia Sophia as “the hideous green billboards”. She, of course, thought they were “cool” or “pastiche-y” or “palimpsest-y”. I thought, and think, that they not only mar the space by covering the joints between the massive square space and the massive dome which are perhaps the most ingenious aspect of this miracle of Roman engineering, but that they were meant to send a clear message of who was now in charge. Hers is a typical “woke” take on these things. In the article below, Axel Çorlu highlights the dangers of such gleefully amoral, post-modern celebrations of funky “conjunctures” and how they essentially elide the historical facts of violence, persecution and appropriation from our picture of the past, and how — in the particular case of Hagia Sophia — these academics end up feeding the discourse of both Ottoman/Muslim triumphalism and the oppression and displacement of religious minorities by the nationalism of the Turkish Republic.

In short, you may want to get past “conquest narratives”; Erdoğan — who justified the reconversion by the “right of conquest” — doesn’t.

My money quotes:

They [Patricia Blessing and Ali Yaycıoğlu, titled “Beyond Conquest Narratives: Hagia Sophia, Past and Present”] conclude this section with the heart of their essay: “…in this essay, we would like to divert the conversation and discuss how the conquest narrative, which is shared by those who oppose and support the decision, does not do justice to Hagia Sophia and its architecturally, spiritually, and emotionally charged history.” This sort of interjection, very appealing to the academic mind, nonetheless includes ominous terminology such as “doing justice” to the Hagia Sophia and its “…emotionally charged history.”

This narrative at once establishes the issue of “justice,” not in the sense of the expropriation and destruction of Christian and/or minority populations and the appropriation of their cultural heritage, but as in, “Let us not be unfair to the Ottomans or the Turkish Republic…” and the fact that those who respond to the Hagia Sophia issue might be affected by the same “emotionally charged” aspects. In other words, the authors are guiding us to focus on “justice,” as long as it is to protect the powerful who do not need any protection –there appears to be no need to consider the concept of justice for the dispossessed, whom the Hagia Sophia also symbolizes. […]

While the republican regime was indeed interested in recasting the Ottoman past (usually not in a very bright light, as it also distanced itself from many of its aspects and dictated a highly selective version of its history) and kept busy trying to prove that “Turks” had existed in Anatolia for millennia through the Hittites and other ancient peoples with an eclectic mix of the racial theories and pseudo-science of the time (including the infamous obsession with the morphology and measurements of skulls), it hardly made an effort to understand, teach, or preserve its Byzantine past, let alone “making a claim” to it, if what we mean by “making a claim” is anything more than a possessive but not inclusive approach.

Indeed, the Byzantine past of Turkey remained either buried, neglected, or carefully molded in the public imagination, as nothing more than the “other” that had happened to be there before.At no point did the republic genuinely try to make a direct connection to the Byzantines beyond their role as the adversary in history textbooks, the adversary that had been vanquished, the adversary that had nothing to do with the ethnicity or cultural heritage of the people in Turkey. […]

Beyond its [the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a museum] practical use as described, it was neither part of a grand historical or intellectual vision, nor a noble gesture of “tolerance” by a regime that did its very best to eliminate the remaining diversity of cultures and religions in its lands for decades to come through acts ranging from the population exchange with Greece, to the Izmir Economics Congress of 1923 where the elimination of “foreign” bourgeoisie and its replacement with a “national” one was planned, to the Varlik Vergisi (Capital Tax) of 1942, among many other examples. Such a regime surely could not care less about multiculturalism, inclusivity, or the Byzantine past as the authors suggest. […]

This idea also worked very well for the urban Kemalist elite and their newly created middle class throughout the 20th century, because it did not require them to symbolically come to terms with the vast destruction visited upon the minorities of the land, from whom they had acquired significant aspects of their material and cultural wealth via direct or indirect appropriation

I agree that a narrative that “equates Ottoman approaches to Hagia Sophia with iconophobia and iconoclasm is incorrect” but I do not think it is necessarily “marked by Islamophobia and Orientalism” given the fact that Byzantine art and architecture suffered tremendous degradation and damage, sometimes in the name of Islam, and other times at the hands of unscrupulous republican bureaucrats, treasure hunters, or the common public in more recent times. Any scholar, casual observer, or visitor of Byzantine, Armenian, or Syriac heritage sites in Turkey will be more than cognizant of the intentional damage done to frescoes, mosaics, and other elements of Christian architecture. The damage was done over a period of centuries under different conditions, the perpetrators were/are not a homogeneous group, and the practice ranges from officially undertaken projects to “simply” neglected sites. This is an undeniable fact, and it would be disingenuous to suggest that the few token examples in the Ottoman era, republican era or today somehow represent a “preservationist” or “tolerant” attitude when in the vast majority of locations they were covered at best and destroyed at worst. …..Today, the Turkish state uses sites such as the restored Aghtamar Cathedral of the Holy Cross or the Sumela Monastery as tokens of its hollow “multiculturalism” and “tolerance.” As scholars, we have a grave responsibility to challenge this narrative. This multiculturalism narrative and tokenism of Turkey is a propaganda tool designed to cover the simultaneous appropriation and destruction of the past and the present, motivated to a significant extent by the conquest narrative. The conquest narrative was a real factor in history, and it is a real factor today. Ignoring it, reducing it to merely an “incorrect” historical interpretation, or diminishing it to an ahistorical approach is dangerous. […]

The reconversion of the Hagia Sophia is about power; in a world where power relations past and present influence the lives of millions of people, and history is weaponized for various agendas, we do not have the luxury of pretending to “stay above it” in a noncommittal manner.

The interior of Hagia Sophia with the eight “hideous green billboards”. Getty Images.

For full article, please read below:

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Dangers of Convenient Universalism: Power Relations and Responsibility of Scholars on the Hagia Sophia

2020-08-08

By Axel B. Çorlu, Ph.D.

The recent reconversion of the Hagia Sophia into a mosque by the (Turkish President Recep Tayyip) Erdogan regime generated heated debates among scholars, politicians, and the public. A recent article by Patricia Blessing and Ali Yaycioglu, titled “Beyond Conquest Narratives: Hagia Sophia, Past and Present” offers sophisticated but ultimately convenient universalism, where both the past and the present are presented from a distorted lens, with strategic omissions.[1]

According to Blessing and Yaycioglu, there is a binary “conquest narrative” that both the supporters and opponents of the Hagia Sophia reconversion utilize, and that in essence this simplistic view does not reflect the “complex history of Ottoman Hagia Sophia.” The authors go on to label the concerns about the protection of the structure, especially regarding the issue of the mosaics as ahistorical “disinformation,” and offer a “correct” version of history.

I will follow their text in the same order, and point out the multiple issues… (see below)

Continue reading

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.

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