Friday, 11 September 2009

Chatting over squid on Vido

Between times I’m reading my digitized copy of Eleni Calligas’ fascinating history of Ionian politics over the forty nine years of the British Protectorate between 1815 and 1864 – giving me insight into British-Hellenic relations on every page, bringing the past alive, illuminating the present. A typical gem decribes how one High Commissioner, Sir Howard Douglas, used the Porte to have the then Patriarch of Constantinople tried for fermenting treason in the Ionian islands and forcing his resignation:
The issue at stake pertained to a loosening of the marriage laws proposed by the Assembly as part of the standardization and modernisation of the Venetian codes of law. The particular modifications involved religious dogma, so a representative had been sent to Constantinople in 1838, to present the case and solicit the Patriarchate's consent. The Patriarch, however, refused to consent and addressed a reply to his lonian flock outlining his reasons and warning against the harm of non-orthodox influences in religious matters. In accordance with his directions, the reply was published and was to be delivered from the pulpits of the Septinsular. Douglas forbade both the circulation and the public reading of the Patriarchate's reply, an order disobeyed only by the episkopos (bishop) of Ithaca. But the text did become known, which then prompted the High Commissioner to take a series of repressive measures against the local clergy and to request the exemplary punishment of the Patriarch for fermenting a rebellion. This request was addressed to the Porte in 1839 and repeated the following year. The Patriarch was submitted to a trial by the Ottomans and found guilty; he resigned on 20 February 1840.(Calligas 1994, p.59)
Calligas drawing on one of her rich Greek sources, that I could never have found or understood (Verykios, G. 1870) Memoirs on the ex-lonian Republic and mostly on the radical beliefs that existed therein, Cephalonia), describes the consequences:
While Douglas was pursuing this appalling confrontation, yet another incident occurred, further insulting the lonians' religious feeling and national amour propre. One of Queen Victoria's early decrees forbade the official participation of British troops in celebrations of foreign religious dogmas and the first instance of its enforcement in the Septinsula was on a day that the patron saint of Corfu was honoured. The population suddenly found that the religious procession would not be accompanied by the military band as was customary, nor the traditional honorary salute be offered. Shocked and angered. they in turn prevented the usual honours to be paid to the High Commissioner and the British monarch. Douglas reacted by dismissing the public officers he considered responsible for the outrage, the Corfiots responded more constructively by founding the Philharmonic Society. In a fortnight, over two hundred members had subscribed to the Philharmonic which became an important cultural and patriotic nucleus, decreeing in 1841 that all its proceedings would be published in Greek and that it would organise annual public celebrations for the Greek Independence Day, 25 March. (pp 59-60 Calligas)
I’ve heard much of this classic ‘unintended consequence’; skimmed correspondence about it in the National Archives at Kew. We discussed it the other day when we were visited for tea and snacks by Thanasis and Katya Spingos and Kostas Apergis – Ano Korakiana’s historian - and his wife Eva, who we’d not met before. As we sat out on the balcony last Saturday, I had to tell them I’d still had no success finding the ‘paper’ or ‘petition’ from the village which oral report says was delivered to the High Commissioner, Sir Henry Storks, asking the British to remain – a complicated matter involving tensions between enosis and the prospect of Septinsular autonomy, as well as the self-interest of those enriched by or pensioned under the Protectorate – but that in searching for it I had enjoyed learning so much more about Ionian politics.
From the village website: Μια κλασική βρετανική «πρόσκληση για τσάι», από την οικογένεια Baddeley που ζει για αρκετούς μήνες το χρόνο στο χωριό μας, δεν μπορούσε παρά να έχει θετική απάντηση. Ο Simon μας υποδέχτηκε στον κεντρικό δρόμο, πάνω από το πηγάδι της «Γραμματινής» για να μας οδηγήσει κατευθείαν στην ξύλινη βεράντα του σπιτιού του, με τη θαυμάσια περιμετρική θέα. Τελικά το «τσάι» αντικαταστάθηκε από ποτό και σνακ, που είχε επιμεληθεί η Lyn και συνόδευσαν την πολύωρη κουβέντα μας, με επίκεντρο την τοπική ιστορία, αλλά και ένα σωρό άλλα θέματα. Η πανσέληνος που άρχισε να σκαρφαλώνει στον ορίζοντα του Ύψου, σήμανε και το τέλος της επίσκεψης...Το ραντεβού ανανεώθηκε για τις αρχές του καινούργιου χρόνου, μαζί με ευχές για «καλό χειμώνα».
I mentioned Richard Pine’s view that Gladstone, during his 12 week Ionian Mission over 1858-59, believed ‘in his heart’ in ending the Protectorate but as a Briton, had, like Lawrence Durrell in Cyprus, to overrule his personal feelings and relay the public denial of the British state. Kostas told us that Gladstone had, during his well known tours to test public opinion in the Septinsular, visited Ano Korakiana. “The house he stayed in just down there.” He pointed south east towards houses in the lower part of the village “…but this is only recorded by word of mouth.” I suspect there's a great deal of history that exists here in that form and which Kostas, in the second stage of his history of the village, will harvest.
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E-mail to a close friend following the news, long anticipated, of changes at the Institute with which I’ve worked since 1972 - even tho' I retired to become an Associate and honorary lecturer nearly 10 years ago:
Dear X. Inlogov will survive but with some robust restructuring. Our review, now effectively in the public domain, includes the opinion that ‘some elements of the department's portfolio have been delivered by Honorary or Associate staff, which has brought both beneficial flexibility and experience to Inlogov' but 'Honorary contracts which come up for renewal will be renewed until 31 July 2010 in the first instance ... The expectation is that the reliance on these types of arrangements will reduce in the medium to long term.’ That gives welcome breathing space to find other ways of being able to use Athens and email - useful advantages of my campus links along with the the university's name - a coat I've worn so long I'm not sure what I'll do without it (:)) Other changes require an increase in the proportion of senior staff to hold the attention of those at the top of local government - in teaching, consultancy and research.
At 67 I suppose I shouldn’t feel so involved but it’s a little like learning of a planning decision to drive a motorway through one’s old village even tho’ I’m living happily elsewhere. In some ways the discomforting news from home adds piquancy to a diet of contentment. We’re enjoying the company of people – Greek and British - pluckily struggling with insecurities about the future that make mine seem petty. The braver part of me embraces these changes.
One of the challenges will be how to stay in touch with what’s happening without the backing of the university. I've been self-sufficient when it comes to making films, having built up skills and equipment separate from the university over the past decade. Many of my best ideas about teaching are my own, refined in working with practitioners like you. Best. S
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Yesterday Lin and I went into town to visit the bank. We strolled back down Theotoki munching fresh cheese and spinach pies, gazed at a big crane dredging the Old Port to build the new marina. On a whim, we took the ferry to Vido and talked about things over a squid and chips, gazing at passing ships and small boats, feeding bread to the pheasants that scurried among the chair and table legs of our taverna. "Where are all the rabbits?" I asked. "It's too hot for them. " said the waitress "I think they've gone into their holes or something."

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