Thursday, 4 December 2008
After the war my family lived in Ayia Phyla, just north of Limassol, until things back home on the east coast settled down. Or, to put it differently, people fled for fear of the Turkish army, and kind of settled where they found refuge, found jobs and homes and found it hard to return immediately. They were torn between a foreign place where there were jobs, a flourishing harbour and industries, and home where there was very little to sustain them. I was only a few months old when the war happened in that hot summer of '74. Grandad Kostis took Mum, my older brother Costas, myself (Petros was not to arrive for another 3 years), and my aunts and drove us all to Limassol where we had relatives and where things were safer. Dad was in the army, a reservist called to do his duty who thankfully managed to make it back safe and in one piece.
When he joined the rest of us, we rented a house owned by Mrs. Mariò. We lived there for a couple of years, which I can't really remember, before we moved to Ayia Phyla, to another rented house. That's where my first memories take me. It was a poor street, with old houses, next to some British-period water tanks, abandoned semi-circular structures with metal doors which provided perfect hideouts for our long, playful afternoons. My younger brother was born at this house, but soon we moved to another place, Mrs Loullou's house, north of the village. Mrs Loullou and her husband were shepherds up on the hill, and their daughter Petroulla was Mum's friend. She'd sometimes come with some lovely anari cheese, hot and fresh, which we devoured with bread and honey. The house was opposite Shiatis' bakery; I remember the smell of the fresh bread early in the morning until today, it will never leave me. Loullou's house was a poor one. Dad had found a job at the Co-op in Kapsalos, a Limassol suburb, and Mum stayed home to raise the three monsters. I suppose that this was all the family income could afford, a little, two-bedroom house with an outside toilet. No bathroom. The family took its baths in a tin tub in the kitchen. I remember being terrified of the dark, so any foray to the toilet at night was beyond consideration. We boys had to do our job in a little bucket which Mum emptied in the mornings (well, it magically vanished so I'm assuming she did). The house backed onto an olive grove, another extension of our playground. Dad soon filled the place with cages for his favourite pastime: keeping birds of all kinds and sizes. We had pigeons, quails, chickens, most of which went a long way towards subsistence. The garden had a couple of lemon trees, essential in a Cypriot home.
The large pigeon cage was right next to the outside toilet, and in front of both stood a tall loullouthkià tree, a tree which produces little white flowers which turn into round green balls (useful for throwing at each other) which then turn brown and soft and smell horrible. No use to the tree whatsoever, apart from the fact that thrushes like it. I used to climb the tree, hop onto the roof of the pigeon cage and then the roof of the toilet where Dad kept all sorts of junk. There was this strange contraption he'd made: It was a plank of wood with a long, rusty nail sticking out of it; it had a handle and Dad used it to make springs for his partridge traps. Mum, always cautious and looking ahead to the next mischief us little ones would get up to, warned me: "don't go on the toilet roof, you'll hurt yourself". Alas, when did listening to ones mum ever sound like the thing to do? Once, twice, three times and that nail found its way through my flimsy flip flop (it was summer) and through my foot. I cried from the pain and ran straight down the tree and towards the house screaming "I stepped on a nail! I stepped on a nail!". There were two things that had to be done. Firstly, Mum made sure she gave me a good hiding for disobeying her and impaling myself on the spring-machine. Secondly, we had to go to the hospital, so off we went, for the all-necessary (and painfully familiar) tetanus injections and all the rest of it.
Another time I hit my head on the corner of the corrugated iron sheets that formed the roof of one of the cages. Running was too exciting to stop and pay attention to hazards. Five stitches and that's my scar for life, I still have it to show for my troubles. Loullou's house was not far from the mountain. A few minutes walk north and you'd be in the heart of it. We loved to explore the mountains, play there and go hunting with Dad and his various contraptions. We used to go meet our friends Christakis and Yiangos, refugees from Bellapais, and play endless games of football or anything else. We also used to head down to the local shooting range, where the considerably large army garrison would do shooting practice. We liked to pick up rusty old bullet casings and bullets, lead deformed from contact with the targets. Costas found an old National Guard helmet, which we kept for years, as it made playing 'war' all that more convincing. It was initially green, but the paint was flaking so we painted it white. A family heirloom from a troubled time. It was an adventurous childhood to say the least.
My parents were very actively involved in the local community. Dad played football and especially volleyball which was (and still is) a must where we came from. They did theatre, politics, all the things that their generation had and believed in, and risked their necks to pursue, contrary to the fascist threat and the danger of ostracism in a time when bosses didn't want to employ 'commies' or active union members. I remember Dad taking us to watch the local football team, ENAF (Youth Union of Ayia Phyla) which played in the regional league. This was no glamorous affair-it was the time before grass pitches and fences, the crowd just stood by the touchline and watched, spurred on their team and intimidated and occasionally beat the poor referee (as fat Christakis notoriously did one Sunday-stuff of legend). The ground was near Tsireio, a 'proper' stadium where the big Limassol clubs played, AEL (the left wing-and therefore ours-team), Apollon and Aris. Politics mattered very much in those troubled times. We occasionally went there as well, although I don't think Dad enjoyed the company very much, as we were more interested in peanuts, soft drinks and going to the toilet than the games themselves.
Triumph Herald 1200 Estate, we were amazed. He bought it second hand, of course, but it was ours none the less. It looked so beautiful. It was white, with registration CC588, and it had red seats and a wooden dashboard which looked just gorgeous.
In the next few years we spent a lot of time in good old Triumph, as the family travelled east to see parents and relatives in what was still really home. Those were the days before motorways and fast journeys, and it took the 1.2-litre Triumph a few hours to get us there. The dusty, country lanes of early 1980s Cyprus seemed endless, as hill after hill and orchard after orchard unfolded in front of our eyes. After some time Dad had a tape deck fitted in the Triumph, so we could listen to music. Mum and Dad had this horrible Barbra Streisand/Barry Gibb tape which they played endlessly (#I am a woman in love...#, my toes still curl with agony). Dad also taped songs from the radio, he had this black EMI tape with Pink Floyd's Another Brick on the Wall and The Police's Don't Stand so Close to Me. I remember enjoying the journey very much, much more than actually reaching our destination. After passing the largely arid and dusty hills near Limassol we started weaving through green hills and small villages, through lazy squares where men sat outside coffee houses, playing backgammon and looking at passers-by. At one of the rest stops there was a restaurant which had on its roof a huge beer can, advertising the local lager. When the motorway was finished, these businesses died, but the beer can stayed there, dying a rusty death in the Cypriot sun. I remember those times with nostalgia. The long trips and the games we devised to make time pass. Costas used to pull my leg by telling me that under the hills were hidden giants, ready to sprawl and eat the unsuspecting travellers. We'd stick our ears close to the car's inside wall to hear the engine, and it would make a strange sound. Costas used to say that it sounded like beans were cooking, boiling in the engine, and we laughed. When Petros was old enough to be naughty, the three of us just raised hell (or did we?) on the back seat.
We always thought that the road signs deliberately didn't tell the distance to our village because it was a communist village. Approaching Larnaca, which we recognised by the tall eucalyptus trees which lined the road, we felt that we were in almost familiar territory. On the other side of the city started the 'red villages', named after the colour of the rich-in-iron soil. Potato fields, colocassi fields, orange groves, orchards and windmills appeared as the landscape changed dramatically from the barren to the fruitful, the desperate to the hopeful. Home wasn't far. I somehow can't remember ever arriving, I cannot conjure the actual image of entering our village. I wonder if by the end of it all I fell asleep, always to be woken up by Nana's sweet kiss and the promise of lemonade and biscuits.
Staying at Nana's place was always fun. She loved us very much and was always mild-mannered and nice. Her house was at the back of aunt Pepa's house and the yard had all sorts of weird and beautiful things. An old moped of Grandad's became, with a little imagination, a wartime torpedo. Uncle George's plumbing stuff were all part of that battlefield of children. Being there also meant we caught up with all our cousins and got up to more mischief in the village streets. My cousin Dinos was only a toddler and Stalo, his sister, was my age and we got on like wild fire. The chance to play with them gave our games a different, almost continental, foreign dimension. We were sort of city kids, although we also lived in a village. We were the ones who were away and came for the weekend or for a few days in the summer, bringing with us all the funny habits we'd picked up elsewhere. Calling the goals 'kola' instead of 'terma' for example. And the beaches. The beaches in the east were to die for. Uncle Kokos would pick us up in his old Mitsubishi Colt and we'd whizz through dirt tracks lined with reeds, which cut through fields of wheat and water melons. The sea air would hit our noses and we knew we were close. We loved the sea, we spent so much time swimming and playing in the water I'm surprised we didn't develop gills.
And then the time to return came. We loaded the Triumph, said our goodbyes to Nana and the rest and off we went. Again through the same villages, occasionally stopping to see aunt Giorgoulla and our cousins in Xylophagou, where play temporarily resumed before we jumped in the car for the final part of our journey. Good old Triumph did the journey back and forth for a few years. I remember it breaking down a couple of times, but it was mostly fine-"it has a good engine" were always Dad's words. When we moved back to the east, it did the journey one last time. Dad parked it next to the house, in an empty plot, and it stayed there. After a few years we stopped using it and it became part of the landscape. British tourists used to stop and photograph it, a forgotten gem of a car made in Coventry, parked up behind our house. I guess it was an antique in Britain. It was an old, crumbling car in Cyprus. For years Dad said he'd have it fixed, "its engine is good", but he never did. It just stayed there, gathering dust and providing another space for the neighbourhood children to play in. It was there up until the mid-90s, when the local council offered to pick it up and take it to the scrap yard, in an attempt to tidy up the (by then) town. Dad said yes, knowing that the engine, although good, would never roar again on the hills. It was a sad day. Along with the motorways and the decline of the old routes, came the demise of the old trusted family Triumph. It was a legend of our childhood.
Friday, 21 November 2008
Preparation time: 30 mins
Cooking time 45 mins
For the aubergines:
2 medium sized aubergines
Fetta cheese (1/2 -1 pack), chopped/crumbled in medium-small pieces
1 red pepper finely chopped
250gr of cherry tomatoes, as ripe as possible, chopped (keep the juices)
2 cloves of garlic, very finely chopped, like in Goodfellas
1 medium onion, finely chopped
fresh parsley, finely chopped
Cut the aubergines in two, from top to bottom. Score the insides with a knife and lay them skin-down on the tray which you should have sprinkled in olive oil in advance. Sprinkle some olive oil on the scored insides which should be facing up. Put them in a pre-heated oven for 30 minutes. In the meantime....
Heat some olive oil in a frying pan and sautee your garlic and onions on low fire. Add the chopped pepper and when it's sufficiently cooked, add the tomatoes. Add your parsley, oregano, chilli flakes and seasoning. After 3-4 minutes, put the fetta cheese and stir for 2-3 minutes. Turn the fire off, your stuffing is ready.
Take the aubergine tray out and with a fork mash the inside of the aubergines. Careful not to make a hole in the bottom. With a spoon take your stuffing and put it in your boat-shaped aubergines. Return to the oven for 5 minutes and pronto! You're ready to serve! Serve with cous cous or bulgar wheat and set yogurt.
In a kettle boil some water. Add 1 1/2 cups of cous cous in a bowl, together with finely chopped spring onions (0ptional). Add the same quantity of hot water and wait for about 5 mins for the cous cous to absorb the water and become soft. Add as much olive oil as you like, mint and salt.
Monday, 10 November 2008
It was a cold evening, as cold as it can get in Cyprus in February. Things had been a bit slow in general. My course at Uni was going well, I was pretty settled with my friends, living in a flat with two of my best mates, Mike and Chris. Life involved turning up for classes (most times), but most crucially staying up late, playing backgammon and watching a trashy Turkish music Channel called Kral TV. We didn't know it was trashy at the time of course, we thought it was high-brow and that Muazzez Ersoy a serious artist. Next to the backgammon set lay the Redhouse dictionary, which helped with words we didn't understand in the songs. It didn't help with being deaf to the phonology, unfortunately, so we ended up hearing 'one more time, my car' (bir daha arabam) instead of 'I will never call again' (bir daha aramam). It all added to the excitement. The flat was really cold, 'heated' by a woefully inadequate electric heater we'd pinched from somewhere,one of those old ones with the two bars that turn red when hot.
At the time I was really after the affections of a certain girl we'll now call Stella for anonymity's sake. Not that the real 'Stella' will ever read this blog, but anyway. Stella had lovely long curly hair and green eyes, much like a Days of Thunder-era Nicole Kidman. She looked like her too. Beautiful pale skin, freckly and nice, very nice. So you can imagine my excitement when this beautiful creature wanted to hang out with me. We spent most breaks together, just hanging out, going from acting silly to acting a bit sillier. My mate Mike was particularly adamant that I take the next step and ask her out, good and proper. As usual, anyone else but me could see that the girl liked me and there was potential. I was never good with these things. Advice to other people I can give by the bucketload, but when it comes to actually observing and judging my situation I am as blind as a mole after an 18-hour drinking session with Keith Moon.
As it happens, Cinema Paradiso, the beautiful Italian film which was all the rage a few years earlier, was on TV one night. When Stella rang to ask me round to watch it with her, I thought I was in with a big chance. Let's face it: there's no denying the obvious underlying suggestion when a girl invites a boy round her place to watch a wonderfully romantic and nostalgic film, in the language of love. So yours truly went through all the motions, well groomed, bottle of wine and flowers in the Suzuki moped's basket and off we go. She only lived round the corner from our block, but 'round the corner' in Cyprus is usually a distance you usually drive anyway, just to give the planet that coup de grâce it so desperately needs.
I went up the stairs (couldn't wait for the lift), jumping the steps two and three at a time, like an eager young Majnun on his way to meeting Layla. When Stella saw me she was pleased and happy with the flowers. The lights in the flat were low, the little settee was set up for two bodies to cosy up against each other, and the film was about to begin. Things were looking rosy for yours truly. And, as usual, that's when disaster stroke. I heard in the door the horrible sound of the keys turning, and the flatmate of doom returning home early from her politics group. Now, I must say here that I have nothing against the girl. Well, a few things stored up, perhaps. Kiki was the sort of girl that most guys found obnoxious: loud, involved in every cause, a creature that went from the green pastures of political meetings to the snowy peaks of oboe practice. She was a member of at least a dozen groups, and participated in all of them very actively. Most importantly, Kiki was not very popular in the mating arena. Being flatmates with Stella meant that attention was never directed at her. This made her spiteful and more determined to ruin the chances of her fairer (and more pleasant overall) flatmate.
"What are you guys up to? Oh, I smell popcorn! Is there a film on?" That was it. For the next two and a half hours what had been planned as a nice, romantic viewing of maybe half a film, possibly evolving into some tender exchange of bodily fluids, had degenerated into an awkward ride in the Robin Reliant of love, with Kiki playing the part of Vehicle Wheel the Third. She of course stayed and watched the whole film with us, cooing and ahh-ing with every sad, romantic or beautiful twist in the tale. The film was indeed gorgeous. I hadn't watched it before and it really brought a wobble in my throat (which I would without doubt have used in an evil ploy had Kiki not been there). It told the childhood and coming-of-age tale of Toto, a Sicilian boy whose love of films during his childhood and beautiful Elena in his teenage years dominate his life. The film was very nostalgic and at times dark, but a masterpiece nevertheless.
When the film was over, very late at night, we thought (well, I thought to be precise) that Kiki would at last leave us alone and that we'd be able to get on with things. After all, it was quite late and Kiki had been out all day, so she must have been exhausted. Again, wrong call. Kiki had just enough energy to stay up and keep us company, obviously to protect the virtue of beautiful Stella from the evil paws of the hairy bloke. So she stayed on, rabbiting on about x, y and, occasionally, z, making small talk last so long I thought I would die there and then. Although I was putting on a brave face, responding to chit chat and pretending to be civil, always the galantuomo, I was burning inside as if the Vesuvius and Etna had decided to sit in my heart for the night and play board games. What had promised to be a night to remember, for all the good reasons, turned out to be the biggest let-down since Guns n' Roses released The Spaghetti Incident?.
At about three in the morning I conceded defeat. The omnipresent and ubiquitous Kiki was not budging, but just sat there, determined to ruin it all for young Majnun. I got up, said my goodbyes, kissed both on the cheek (so as not to create a sense of unfairness and inequality) and disappeared into the night. The three -minute moped ride from Stella's block to ours felt like a lifetime. As I turned the key in the lock and entered the flat, I saw Mike and Chris in their usual positions, playing backgammon, watching Kral TV and sitting as close to the electric heater as possible. Mike turned and looked at me, as I entered with all the panache of a wet dog who'd just been kicked in the head. 'What happened? Or, in fact, what didn't happen?' I went to the kitchen, pulled out our bottle of brandy, three glasses, and sat with them to tell them the story while drowing my sorrows in the sweet, trusted friend. As we worked our way into the morning, backgammon, cheesy Turkish music, brandy and unfulfilled potential all became one, enveloped by the unrelenting February cold.
I don't quite remember what happened next with Stella. After the Kika incident, we sort of drifted apart, as if Kika represented a stonemason's wedge and feathers, driven deep into what looked like a solid, unbreakable promise. After a few empty phone calls, the romance was over. Soon over it would all be over anyway-graduation, departure for foreign lands; life has a way of ironing out the little imperfections everyday situations create on the greater fabric. It all seems so distant now, but there is nothing greater than the hurt of the unfulfilled potential, the 'what ifs' of our lives. It would have been a thousand times better if the whole thing did kick off, only to peter out in a few days. At least I'd have known. As it stands, all we have is a hypothesis.
Monday, 27 October 2008
It was all over in a flash. One moment I was up, in control (seemingly) of my movements, and the next thing I knew I was lying on the floor, with the unfailing certainty that my ankle had given way. And it was unceremonious, no hint of glamour or valour in the whole thing, nothing like these chaps here. No no no, it was just a slip, a good, old-fashioned slip on the wet pitch. Down and out. No slow motion, soundtrack, nothing. And it hurt. It was the last kick of the match and I went down trying to stop someone scoring, as if it would have made a difference at that point, we were losing anyway. But you know, pride, competitiveness and all that. I remember people flocking around me, talking, helping out-funny how rivalry disappears when there's someone on the floor, even though he ended up there as a result. Thanks lads. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I am now the proud owner of an ankle which resembles a piglet, with little stripes of blue and yellow (Fenerbahçe?). If you are not squeamish, you can preview my work here. If you are indeed squeamish, you can always do something else, perhaps enjoy Cat Power's version of New York New York. Onwards and upwards, give me the drugs!
Tuesday, 14 October 2008
This is another very simple but very tasty recipe, given to me by my friend Antonis. You can serve this as a main course or a side if you want.
Ingredients (feeds 3-4)
500gr pasta, usually penne or farfalle. I also like to use, larger, tubular pasta, like rigatoni.
2 pieces of mozzarella (they usually come in 150gr pieces), drained, cut into pieces.
Fresh basil leaves
Fresh ripe tomatoes (the redder the better), chopped (keep the juices)
Salt & pepper
Cook the pasta for the time suggested on the package. Drain it and put into a large bowl. Mix in the chopped tomatoes with their juice. Add the basil leaves and mozzarella and sprinkle with olive oil and season. Enjoy!
Wednesday, 8 October 2008
This is a simple and quick recipe.
Ingredients (for 2-3) people
For the sauce
1/2 kilo (1 pound) of cherry tomatoes, halved (keep the juices)
1-2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
Salt & pepper
Dried basil (optional)
Chilli flakes (optional)
Grated parmesan cheese
Use whatever pasta type you like. I prefer small pasta, like penne or maccaroni for this one, but any would do. I find that about 500gr feeds two very hungry adults, if not more.
Bring to the boil some water (with some salt) and add the pasta. Add the pasta and cook for the time the packet recommends. Drain it and put to the side, in the same pot you cooked it in, or in a bowl. In the meantime...
Add the olive oil in a medium-sized frying pan (just enough to cover the surface), heat it and add the garlic. Turn the fire way down and let the garlic fry slowly for 2-3 minutes, but don't let it turn brown. Throw in the tomatoes and cook for another 5 minutes, or until the tomatoes are nice and soft but not completely melted. Add salt, pepper and some basil if you have. You may add dried basil and/or chilli flakes (not much) if you want. When the tomatoes are half-cooked, throw everything into the pasta and mix it well. Serve quickly and top it with grated parmesan. Enjoy with a light Pinot Grigio or any medium white wine. Or red if you prefer, up to you really...
Thursday, 11 September 2008
1) Go to Flickr and search for the answer to each of the questions at the bottom (ie search for 'Marios' if your name is Marios).
2) Pick a picture from the first page of results, anyone you like, and paste its URL into fd’s mosaic maker. Remember to select a mosaic with 12 tiles, either 3 rows/4 columns or vice versa.
3) When you have all 12 URLs click on 'Create' and voila! Remember to save your mosaic as a .jpg
4) Marvel at the product of half an hour of pointless procrastination! Thanks Hen!
1. What is your first name?
2. What is your favorite food?
3. What school did you go to?
4. What is your favorite colour?
5. Who is your celebrity crush?
6. Favorite drink?
7. Dream vacation?
8. Favorite dessert?
9. What you want to be when you grow up?
10. What do you love most in life?
11. One Word to describe you.
12. Your flickr name
My answers: 1. Marios 2. Souvlaki 3. Dherynia 4. Bordeaux 5. Juliette Binoche (yummy) 6. Single malt whisky 7. Andes 8. Pomegranates 9. Myself (although that produced a face down, dead rabbit toy) 10. The sea 11. Eruptive 12. Don't have one
Thursday, 28 August 2008
Marinate your sea bream (the longer the better) in lemon juice and salt. Have chopped mushrooms, onions and a couple of cloves of garlic. Use white wine, any really, as long as it's not too sweet. Heat a little olive oil in frying pan and put your fish in, shallow frying for about 5 mins either side. Throw in the chopped mushrooms, onions & garlic, and with the fire low cook for another 4-5 minutes. Throw in a couple of large glasses of wine, or until the food is almost covered. Bring the fire back up until it starts simmering and then put on low again. Let it simmer with the lid on for about 20 minutes. Serve with rice, a tomato & rocket salad and a nice Pinot Grigio. You can usually find that what's available on the market is from farms and probably a bit fatty, so don't use much oil in frying it. If you have too much oil, empty it out before you add your veg.
Sea bream is also called durade and is very similar to sea bass in flavour. Italian: orata, Greek: τσιπούρα (tsipoura), Turkish: Çipura.
1 sea bream per person
Dry or medium white wine
Wednesday, 20 August 2008
I just can't get enough of this song, written by Dave Goulder and also sung by Martin Carthy and Christy Moore and adapted by Rachel Unthank & the Winterset for their debut album Cruel Sister (2005). Although one must bow to the genious of the songwriter, I adore Unthank's arrangement and listen to it on a daily basis. Without further ado I hereby submit the lyrics (may vary) & song for your enjoyment. Don't forget to check out your homework (at the bottom) for Friday!
Rachel Unthank's version (extract)
Martin Carthy's version (press 'play on top right of page)
Dave Goulder's version (extract)
Am C G Am
The January man he goes around in woolen coat and boots of leather
C Am G Am
The February man still shakes the snow from of his clothes and blows his hands
Am C (play different bass lines) G
The man of March he sees the Spring and wonders what the year will bring
and hopes for better weather.
Through April rain the man goes down to watch the birds come in to share the summer
The man of May stands very still to watch the children dance away the day
In June the man inside the man is young and wants to lend a hand
and smiles at each new comer.
In July the man in cotton short he sits and thinks and being idle
The August man in thousands take the road to find the sun and watch the sea
September man is standing near to saddle up another year
And Autumn is his bridle
The man of new October takes the rain and early frost is on his shoulder
The poor November man sees fire and mist and wind and rain and winter ere
December man looks through the snow to let eleven brothers know
They're all a little older
The January man he comes around again in coat and boots of leather
To take another turn and walk along the icy roads he knows so well
The January man is here the start of each and every year
Along the road forever ..............................
Right, this is your homework: I expect you to listen carefully, study the lyrics, and join me at the Bratby for an in-depth discussion of it all, accompanied by fermented barley juice.
Tuesday, 12 August 2008
It was 2 am. She just wouldn’t stop crying. In fact she got more and more agitated as time passed. No matter what I did she wouldn’t calm down. I knew she was fed and clean so it wasn’t that. Can this be what they call colic? I don’t know, I’ve never done this before. So it’s new territory, both for me and her.
We tried walking up and down the stairs, it seemed to calm her a bit. Going down to the kitchen, I found that pacing up and down, singing Greek anti-fascist songs (the Accordion) along with military marches (insane I know but it seemed to work) did the trick for a while. Don’t ask me on the song selection, at 2 am very little makes sense anyway, whether you’ve just finished your 18th pint of Addlestone’s cloudy cider or you’re just trying to persuade your 3-week old to sleep.
The marching and singing did the trick. She was soon asleep in my arms, oblivious of the havoc the crying had caused in my brain (and feet). I quietly went up the stairs, put her in her bed, covered her gently and flung myself face down on my bed, hoping for 3-4 hours of unbroken sleep. Two minutes later I heard her little breathing turn into panting, gradually building into crying. Again. Despair. When she finally hit that 98th octave I got up and picked her up again. Down the stairs, into the kitchen and “the Army is marching” once again, along with “Fascism shall not pass”. It was too optimistic to think I’d fool her second time round. Despair yet again.
I went into the living room, quickly emptied the pram from all the stuff that accumulated there (blankets, bags etc) and put her in. I sat on the sofa beside it and started pushing it back and forth. With my left hand I picked up the remote and turned the telly on. I caught a nice program on BBC3 on Tolkien so I tried to block out the baby’s protests and focus on Middle Earth.
It didn’t work. Baby was having none of it. "We’re not in the park and this is not a real ride. Will. Νot. Sleep". After about 10 minutes I picked her up again and rested her head in my left arm. She just looked up at me and in seconds she closed her eyes. Slept. For fear of her waking up I watched most of that Tolkien program before I dared walking up the stairs and repeating the drill. I think it worked, or I may have just passed out and didn’t hear her. But I think it did. We live to fight another day.
On my way up the stairs, at the top, on the wall just above the landing we have a mirror. I saw my reflection, crazy hair, crazy eyes, holding this baby sleeping its serene sleep, and then it hit me: “you’re a dad mate, you’re a dad”.
Tuesday, 1 July 2008
Spain's triumph in Euro 2008 has again raised issues of 'national unity', regional vs national identity, separatism and so on. I knew that the moment the final whistle went and Torres' magic goal gave Spain the Holy Grail of European football, the issue of unity would be brought up by our better newspapers and the BBC, the same way it did when France won the 1998 World Cup. The Guardian today has published an article called Political fútbol from Spanish newspaper El Mundo, in which Victor de la Serna hopes that the country will not break up into separate states such as Catalunya, the Basque Country or Galicia, idiotically stating that they "have never been independent states before, and therefore cannot claim the same type of historic legitimacy that can be brandished by, say, Scotland or Bavaria". I must admit that I have never seen such shallow and idiotic arguments against nation-states and their formation. I do not believe in nation states myself, as they promote nationalism and extreme right-wing ideals of 'purity' and 'superiority'. However, the argument that they cannot achieve independent political status because of a lack of 'pedigree' does not hold any more water than a paper bag. With holes.
And I explain: modern nationalist movements in Europe appeared in the 19th century and became the base of what we understand today as national identity and nation. The way national identity works is that people rally behind a certain set of ideals, which frequently claim historical pedigree but very often are based on very thin argumentation. Not all modern nations have pedigree, basically because there are infinitely more self-perceived nations than there can be pedigrees, or political states for that matter. Bosnia was always in a Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman or Habsburg sphere of influence. And yet it is a new nation, with a flag, national anthem and all the trimmings. The same goes for a number of other modern nations, Croatia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Kosovo, the list is endless. In addition, if we were to demand a form of historical evidence to support the right to independence, then 4/5 of the modern world would have to revert to a colonial state of being. Because we have no evidence of historical pedigree for ancient Africa, Oceania and of course America. But then again, perhaps the readers of El Mundo would support a movement to include South America back into a Castillan-led empire, such as in the 'golden days' of Philip II.
When the main partners of the EU support Kosovo's move for independence, it is hypocritical to deny Catalans, Basques and Galicians the right to choose their own fate. Western Europe does not like it when Balkan-like troubles manifest themselves at its doorstep, they cramp its style and make it look slightly untidy and not as problem-free as they like to appear. It makes no sense. If a people have chosen to believe that they are different and deserve self-determination, they then have to try it and see for themselves. It's a circle that needs to become complete, before we can then start letting this 'superiority' nonsense die down and come back to living together as humans once again. When self-determination is denied, it leads to extreme phenomena, as Spanish people will agree. Nationalism is a thinly veiled version of racism, xenophobia, prejudice and hatred. But oppressing national sentiment only serves to exacerbate these sentiments and make it harder for people to go about their daily business without having to choose sides.
Calls for 'unity' on the back of sporting events smack of 1970's Chile and Argentina, or Greece and Portugal, where dictatorships boosted sport in an attempt to consolidate 'national ideals' and distract the populace from the more sinister aspects of 'detainee management'. The mothers of the disappeared, relatives of people who were kidnapped, tortured and executed in the Dirty War in Argentina, serve a reminder to what 'national unity' represents. Football is political, there is no doubt about it. Sport becomes the focus of national sentiment, a sentiment which regimes exploited since antiquity and continue to exploit in our days. But the Guardian would do well to steer away from such idiotic 'patriotic' fanfares.
Thursday, 26 June 2008
Decades of Greek nationalism on the island rendered the spoken Cypriot Greek an 'unnecessary' element in the minds (and policies) of all those who wanted to highlight unity with motherland Greece. Therefore the local spoken language/dialect was deliberately neglected and downgraded (often considered a lesser quality, peasant language) in favour of the standard, Athenian Greek. This in turn has caused a number of issues: the fact that Athenian Greek is an artificially planted language to serve political purposes meant that very few people actually speak it correctly. Let's face it: you grow up, speak Cypriot at home and then you go to school and you are expected to adopt an Athenian way of speaking and writing. It would be the equivalent of asking British people to adopt a mixture of Latin and Germanic proto-languages in order to sound 'authentic' and not regional. The Brits would promptly give you the two finger sign (and not the victory one-although I know people whose parents told them off for speaking Geordie) The Cypriot phenomenon created a diachronic inferiority complex for the Cypriots who go through various levels of brainwashing in their lifetime in order to ensure 'national unity' and all the rest of it. So far the Cypriot variety was restricted to literature and comedy sketches with a distinctive 'rural' theme. That is to say that the Cypriot was a language restricted to the countryside, a 'peasant' thing, unfit for modern people who live in cities and drive cars. All our education, media, government language, services etc etc are in this forced Atheno-Cypriot garb, a weird mixture to say the least.
Until now. You see, blogs have given people the freedom to express themselves in their mother's tongue rather than some pretentious and unnatural 'AthenoNicosian' hybrid that just sounds irritating. The same way it would sound irritating if all Athenians all of a sudden decided to speak Cypriot. Cypriot bloggers have taken to writing in Cypriot, showing to all those who consider it inferior that it can actually be used in real life, for real situations that don't just involve tending to your goats or setting up arranged marriages between Vladimiros Kafkarides' daughter and Nana Georgiou's son. All blessed by Andreas Moustras playing the priest. And there are many brilliant examples of Cypriot blogs. Here are but a few of them:
This shows the strength of blogs. Anyone can write. Anyone can say anything. In any language they please. It is a sign of the times when the new president openly speaks the local 'peasant' language rather than something he can't speak very well anyway.
I am unaware of a similar Turkish Cypriot phenomenon, but I would bet it exists. This is not a political statement. Let's just say that it's natural to speak and write the language you learn at home, from birth. That way you can express yourself fully, without sounding contrived. How can people think that that's inferior? It just makes sense. If you think your mother tongue is inferior, you are definitely suffering from inferiority complex and delusions of grandeur. Grow up.
Monday, 16 June 2008
No estés lejos de mí un solo día, porque cómo,
porque, no sé decirlo, es largo el día,
y te estaré esperando como en las estaciones
cuando en alguna parte se durmieron los trenes.
No te vayas por una hora porque entonces
en esa hora se juntan las gotas del desvelo
y tal vez todo el humo que anda buscando casa
venga a matar aún mi corazón perdido.
Ay que no se quebrante tu silueta en la arena,
ay que no vuelen tus párpados en la ausencia:
no te vayas por un minuto, bienamada,
porque en ese minuto te habrás ido tan lejos
que yo cruzaré toda la tierra preguntando
si volverás o si me dejarás muriendo.
Don't go far off, not even for a day, because --
because -- I don't know how to say it: a day is long
and I will be waiting for you, as in an empty station
when the trains are parked off somewhere else, asleep.
Don't leave me, even for an hour, because
then the little drops of anguish will all run together,
the smoke that roams looking for a home will drift
into me, choking my lost heart.
Oh, may your silhouette never dissolve on the beach;
may your eyelids never flutter into the empty distance.
Don't leave me for a second, my dearest,
because in that moment you'll have gone so far
I'll wander mazily over all the earth, asking,
Will you come back? Will you leave me here, dying?
Thursday, 12 June 2008
The story is embellished with vignettes of Cyprus of the 1940s-1970s, frequently capturing and bringing back to life real or 'as real' incidents of what was the island's turbulent period. Although the book inevitably suffers from its translation into English, it manages to convey the spirit of the times beautifully. Georgiou makes an effort not to appear politically biased, although he at times shows his sympathy towards the striking miners and persecuted communists-who wouldn't? He also stops just shy of openly blaming the British for encouraging the inter-communal conflict and the partition of the island. Besides, this was a favourite policy of colonial Britain, as India and Pakistan can testify.
May Day parade in Cyprus, with the demand for
'8 hours of work, 8 hours of recreation, 8 hours of rest'
I found the story gripping, mainly because it describes places, things and people that are familiar to me. This does not go to say that Georgiou does not tell a good story. He managed to write a history by simply telling a story. The book does not at any point appear to be didactic and aloof. Stories and history, fable and truth are well woven together to create an entertaining and informative piece of work. Recommended.
Wednesday, 11 June 2008
Tuesday, 10 June 2008
I'm getting better"
Dino, Do You Remember Dolly Bell? (1981)
Our journey back to Kusturica's films takes us to his first feature film, Do You Remember Dolly Bell? Kusturica, fresh back from film school in Prague had created a couple of TV shorts before he created Dolly Bell in 1981. The film is set in 1960s Sarajevo, where young Dino and his friends pass their time with music, cinema, experiment with hypnotism lessons, exaggerate about imaginary girlfriends and also do the odd bit of pocket-picking at the market. When a local tough, Sonny, tells Dino to hide Dolly Bell, a local prostitute, in the loft, Dino falls in love with the girl and has an awakening.
This film tells a coming-of-age tale very lovingly, and is based on Kusturica's own growing up in Sarajevo. It depicts a world where traditions and socialism exist, where the father returns home drunk only to wake his sons up to convene a committee meeting with an agenda on the happenings of the day, while the youngest son, Midho, writes the minutes:
"Well, good. Now write. First item: school."
"Dad, it's the holidays. There's no school."
"Excuse me, Midho. Cross that out. Write: report on financial undertakings.""That's first."
"Write "shit." Write it!"
"Kerim, shit, too."
"Kerim will chair the meeting. So you don't think your dad's drunk."
(Kerim) "I hereby open the meeting. Dad to speak."
"I propose we be brief. We must be more constructive.""I personally have nothing against private, that is personal, initiative. We must stimulate individual creativity in our socialist society."
Kusturica's storytelling, his eye for a scene and his sentimental involvement with the subject make this film a beautiful story, one that does not require high drama, special effects or complicated plots. It rather describes a life which was simple, when people used to be happy with the few things they had and always made time for enjoyment and friendship. Central to the film are the themes of friendship, adolescence, poverty, tradition, religion, with a bit of Marxism thrown in between glasses of Slivovica (šljivovica) for good measure. Ultimately, Dolly Bell depicts a world that was to be eventually ruined by the war in a time when its inhabitants were blissfully unaware of their future. It most certainly pains my heart to watch the happiness in a 1981 Sarajevo film, with the hindsight of the horrific war of the early 90s. None of that here though. Besides, the film is set in a time when optimism about the socialist society was at a high. A subtle masterpiece.
“On the sea's blue beach
Friday, 6 June 2008
Euro 2008 is just hours away, the excitement is building up. Will the big boys deliver? Will there be a dark horse, stealing the show? What is the drama in store? Who will stand tall? And who will go out with a whimper?
One thing is for sure: international football is the best there is. The clash of football cultures is the last remaining trace of purity. 'National leagues', whose clubs feature very few home-grown players have contributed greatly in killing any kind of regional pride that came with supporting a club. The likes of Arsenal and Chelski have been lining up with 11 non-English players for some time, while the rest are not that much better either. So, to recap, international football is the only remaining stage where regional football cultures can be seen on display. Spaniards playing with Spaniards, Romanians with Romanians. English with English...oh, sorry, forgot about that. Yes. No English this time. Just as well. Saves the painful process of going out on penalties after staggering through to the last 8 by narrowly beating inferior opposition.
Anyhoo, where was I? Yes, the beauty of contrasting footballing cultures. The cool-headedness of the German team. The abundant but usually restrained talent of the Italians. The flair of the Spanish. The unpredictable Croatians. The disciplined Greeks. Or is it? Are these just stereotypes? Of course they are. The Germans are far from cool-headed. And the Italians sometimes show glimpses of the beauty of their game. How about the Dutch? Will they at last deliver, or will they implode as usual? And don't write off the chances of Romania or Croatia, nations swelling with talent and great stars of proven value.
And how will the great stars fare? Christiano Ronaldo, Fernando Torres, Cesc Fabregas, Adrian Mutu, Luka Modric, Michael Ballack, Luca Toni etc etc? Will they rise to the challenge? And who knows who will shine for the first time? Who is the next superstar to emerge? And consequently, who is the new superstar that will cost Chelski £30m and warm their bench for 2 years before being shipped to Bolton?
Who am I backing? Well, because of my age, I back Italy. This is due to their 1982 heroics, which I saw through the eyes of a 9 year-old. Rossi's goals, Tardelli's celebration, the most wonderful explosion of joy and passion, etched on my heart forever. I like the Italians. They play well, their defence is incredibly well organised, and they never ever ever ever hoof the ball out of the box. It's always passed, carefully and intelligently, in order to launch an attack. Their defenders bring the ball out, skillfully. Watch out for it. If you don't have the ball you can't play. So why give it back to the opposition by hoofing it? Can you hear me Steve (and Sven, and Graham etc etc)? However, Italy usually offer me much frustration. Their inability to cut their best talent loose (Baggio, Del Piero, Totti...) to wreak havoc in opposition penalty areas usually means that they go down, like in Euro 2000.
But I am not just behind Italy. I think the Czechs have played some wonderful football in recent years and were really unlucky in 1996 and 2004. On merit, they are the 2004 champions for me. Just think that Pavel Nedved never won the Euro, it's mad.
I would also love an underdog to come through to win it. Romania, Croatia, Poland. Anyone. Just not Germany. Never liked their football. Because no matter how good or rubbish they are, they always get to the final. And that's just boring. They were the worst World Cup runner-up in my memory, when they never turned up against Brazil in 2002. Shameful.
But I can't wait. Bring it on. Hours of footie, total immersion. Oh, and it's still all free on our TV! And one thing is for sure: I will not miss the idiotic flag-waving and the St George flying on top of cars. Nice. Watch this space for game reviews, updates etc...
And don't forget the absent greatness, Cyprus.... :-P
Wednesday, 4 June 2008
"I know where you're going. To see that whore!"
"No, I'm going to defend my country"
Kusturica tells the story of Yugoslavia like a modern combination of Homer and Dante. While the background of the story is unmistakably political, the foreground is dominated by people, their desires, their faults, their envies and weaknesses. This is all woven with the yarn of Goran Bregovic's gypsy music (a dominant theme in many Kusturica films). In fact, the film soundtrack is a hit in its own right. Allegory is interchanged with harsh reality: dancing, singing, sex, love, hate, comedy and tragedy all become one; they become a force which tore the country to shreds. Kusturica's Underground, is a film which combines light-hearted comedy with deep tragedy, an emotional rollercoaster which captures 1990's Yugoslavia. The events of the past 60 years or so have become fertile ground for many ex-Yugoslav directors and artists. Out of the tragedy springs art.
Sunday, 1 June 2008
I was playing a computer game, Call of Duty 4, when I noticed references to an ex-Soviet, now Ukrainian, town called Prypiat. In the game you play a British soldier on a mission in the 1980s, and it is mentioned that before the Chernobly disaster 50,000 people lived in the abandoned city. I was 13 when the disaster happened, and apart from concerns
about whether the radiation was powerful enough to affect our lives, it hadn't occured to me at the time that Ukrainian lives, especially in the area immediately surrounding Chernobyl, were completely ruined. Of course we saw images on TV of children affected by radiation, but the extent had never really hit home. Until now. You see, in the game Prypiat is depicted as a ghost city, a place of desolation which makes your heart sink, much like Druids Heath but without humans. So I wondered whether the city in the game was real. I went to uncle Google and typed 'Pripiat' and, lo and behold, the hits were in their millions. Apparently, the city was built for workers of the nuclear station and is now included into the 'Zone of Alienation', a 30km zone around Chernobyl which is heavily contaminated and whose population was evacuated after the 1986 disaster. The following videos are a harrowing account of the aftermath, and a warning to our 'enlightened' leaders who insist on switching to nuclear power as a source of energy. The third video is a comparison of real photos of Prypiat and the computer game.
Thursday, 29 May 2008
Pigafetta's description is very graphic, with beautiful depictions of a world previously unknown to Europeans of this time. It includes exact descriptions of locations, names, produce and economies, along with very useful vocabularies of languages encountered in the journey. We have useful information on spices and the cultivation of cloves and cinnamon. At the same time, it slips into exaggeration, such as when describing native tribes of Patagonia as 'giants', and many other examples where European imagination, prejudice and ignorance prevailed. As an account it is very useful, especially when one comes to consider the conditions of early modern travel and exploration with the practical issues that accompanied it, such as provisions, communication with various linguistic groups and so on. A beautiful, savage and, at times, dreamy account.
Wednesday, 28 May 2008
"Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice."
One of the greatest literary achievements, this book is surely a must. I don't like to praise such things too much, as when other people do it I get put off (I didn't watch, listen to or read many good things because of this obstinacy). However, with this one I must insist. You see, this Book (with a capital B) is one of those that people should read. Set in the depths of time, in the Colombian forests, it tells the tale of seven generations of the Buendia family who founded the town of Macondo. It's a life full of events: wars, disasters, miracles, obscenities, love, hate, death. It's a full life. This one of only two books I have ever read twice (the other one to be reviewed here in the future). I usually adopt a 'why read something twice when there's so much you haven't read?' approach to life.
What makes this book special? Marquez's ability to weave a tale of fiction, full of both truths and fiction itself, a magical web of natural and supernatural, normal, abnormal and paranormal, make it compulsory reading. Such a book could only have been written by a South American author. It carries the result of centuries of interaction between Europeans and natives, Christians and 'heathens' etc etc. From Rebeca's earth-eating, to Jose Arcadio's enormous tattooed body and Colonel Aureliano's constant fight against the conservative government forces, the Book is full of promise, surprise and disappointment. I don't want to give more away. Find it and read it. Now. And tell me what you think. I am expecting your response (friends, Romans and all the rest of it).