Thursday, 26 June 2008

Cypriot language and blogs

I would like to draw attention on a phenomenon I noticed lately. That I noticed it lately doesn't go to say that it's a recent thing. I am talking about Cypriot blogs. Cyprus is a funny place. Its people (both Greek and Turkish speakers) speak their own varieties of those languages. The Greek Cypriot variety has distinctive differences from standard Greek, such as different phonology, different syntax and different vocabulary (enriched with elements of archaic Greek, French, Italian, Provençal, Arabic, Turkish, Catalan and English). This is a natural consequence of the language evolving through centuries of particular historical and cultural influences. There is a whole big argument as to whether the Cypriot variety is a dialect or a language, with many opinions flying back and forth. The main difference between the Cypriot and the standard Greek is that standard Greek speakers do not understand the spoken Cypriot.

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.

or Greek?

Monday, 16 June 2008

No estes lejos de mi (soneto XLV)

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.

Pablo Neruda, Soneto XLV, Cien Sonetos de Amor


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

Archipelagos-Christakis Georgiou

" The Land Rover stopped. It is four forty-five.
‘Must be somewhere here,’ the Englishman shouted. He jumped down from the Land Rover. The headlights were on. Their light, cool and lifeless, moved reluctantly on a horizontal line. With his torch, the Englishman examined the wire. Then he tripped on the thick rope: ‘Sabotage,’ he shouted to those in the Land Rover:

They all jumped down, torches in hand. They saw the thick rope riding the wire and touching the soil, caressing it. Three yards away the beams fell on a human body. The muscles were contracted, the face buried amid a thicket of thorns.

‘Rascal. Since you don’t know the job, why did you get involved?’ He bends over him.
‘Dead. Dead as a piece of wood.’"

Cypriot strikers demanding higher wages

Just finished reading Christakis Georgiou's Archipelagos. The book tells the story of Ioanna Manoleon, a cabaret performer in 1940s Cyprus who marries the heir of an American mining family, Matthias Oriol. Matthias' family owned mines around the world and operated the Cypriot copper mines. He is an alcoholic/epileptic man with mental problems and his decision to marry Ioanna does not go down very well with his conservative family. Ioanna, however, rises through the challenge to gradually gain control of her husband's business. All this is happening during a succession of troubles on the island: the miners' strikes in the late 40s, the anti-colonial nationalist struggle of the 1950s and the rift between the island's two communities, Greek & Turkish of the late 50s onwards.

Cypriot miners

Georgiou gives a fairly accurate account of the real rags-to-riches story of Zena Gunther de Tyras, a cabaret dancer in Limassol who married the heir of the Gunther family, owners of the Cyprus Mines Corporation which exploited the Skouriotissa mine, one of the largest copper mines in the world. Zena went on to become a global socialite, a major charity donor and a leading personality in Cyprus and Europe. Georgiou places his Ioanna/Zena in the middle of the anti-colonial struggle, funding the local armed groups fighting the British. Her life is full of hope, but also disappointment, and is painted against the backdrop of political developments on the island in this period.

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

The beauty of football

After last night's Sweden-Greece paint-drying match (Sweden won it by drying 2 whole walls to Greece's wet surface), I am looking forward to a proper match. Turkey-Switzerland tonight should provide enough excitement to keep us going until the Netherlands or Spain play again.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Do You Remember Dolly Bell?

"Every day in every way,
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."

"Second item: Dino, shit."

"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

Where a soft wind blows

I dreamed of a blonde

Oh, how happy I was

And as I spoke to her

Her lips trembled so...”

Friday, 6 June 2008

I can't wait!

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

Underground (1995)

"I know where you're going. To see that whore!"
"No, I'm going to defend my country"
Blacky to his wife, Underground

Today I would like to take you back in time. Back to 1995. That was when Emir Kusturica, the Bosnian director, released Underground. The film tells the story of two friends-members of the Communist Party, Marko and Blacky, who spend their lives drinking, dancing and having fun in Belgrade of the 1940's. The Nazi invasion of 1941 disrupts the lives of the two friends in a dramatic fashion. Blacky takes refuge in an underground bunker in order to continue the resistance during the German occupation, while Marko goes on to become one of the leaders of the Party and claim the woman they both loved, Natalja. This fits perfectly with Marko's plans to dominate the Party and keep Natalja for himself, while his friend is locked up in a basement, making weapons 'for the cause' long after the war has ended. Fate makes it so that Blacky emerges from his hole in the 1990's, during the war which tore Yugoslavia apart. And he wants revenge...

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

Prypiat, Ukraine

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.