Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Connection and convergence

When Corfu was a bastion of the empire of Venice
We visited the new fort in Corfu town, ascending gently via Solomou Street, €3 entry, then up a steeper path, then steps until up a narrow iron stairway a vista of Corfu’s rooftops, domes and upper floors and down to the ports over to the Old Fort; uncluttered with educational signage so you make things up as you stroll through the defensive tunnels and tour the battlements, getting slightly lost down dim cul-de-sacs, imagine falling through holes, bones found years later. Venetians built this fort four centuries ago. Italian was the language of government, long before Greece became a nation and longer still before the Ionian Islands became part of Independent Greece. They called their bastion Castlll Novo to help guard a front line opposite the western sea border of an immense declining Ottoman Empire which continued 200 miles north to Belgrade on the borders of the Austrian Empire, north eastward past Bucharest almost to Odessa in Russia, a greater part of the Black sea coast, eastward to the Indian Ocean, south over Syria, Sinai, Egypt across all north Africa to the Atlantic. When the Ionian Islands joined independent Greece in 1864, Epirus easily visible across the narrows was still Turkish - just. Corfu was a northern outpost. The borders of independent Greece lay further south, on a line from northern Euboea, through Lamia to the west coast opposite Levkas – 60 miles south of Corfu. The Turks ceded Thessaly to Greece in 1881 and then after the Balkan Wars of 1913 Greece extended its northern borders to where they now remain, but for the addition of Thrace in 1923.
Later we strolled briefly up the narrowest part of Theotoki where transients from unsightly stacks of floating flats squeeze by shops offering wisecrack T-shirts bringing commerce to the city.
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On Sunday we went to Paxos on the hydrofoil – like travelling inside a windowed vacuum cleaner with an old engine, What the journey loses in romance it makes up for in speed across an azure sea with splendid views over the parched mainland coast topped by cumulo-nimbus thousands of metres high. I sat on a rock paddling a foot in the sea by the southern harbour mouth at Gaios reading Kadare’s retelling through the tortuous investigations of Regional Captain Stres of the legend of Doruntine and Konstandin, her brother, who may or may not have risen from the earth to bring his sister home from a marriage in distant Bohemia to visit her aged mother, Lady Vranaj, in the emergent land of Arbëria, vaguer in boundary than modern Albania, more robust in culture.
Gaios in Paxos
Most arrivals I find disappointing. Is this age? Am I jaundiced by experience of travel? What has happened is the disenchantment of place, making everywhere too familiar, all that is charming and exotic seems commodified, taken over by voyeurs, customers, spenders. We arrive as economic drivers; consumers of place; the harvest of areas which once had economies based on trade other than the sale of themselves. I've been spoiled. I've entered harbours - for me - yet unseen - Naples, Syracuse, Bonifacio, Bizerta, Casablanca, Mousehole, Marseilles, Gibraltar, Algerciras, St.Peter Port, St.Malo, Piraeus, New York, Bridgetown in Barbados, Fort-de-France in Martinique, Le Havre, Cowes, Lymington, Beaulieu, Grimsby and Goole, Ortiguera, Espasante, Dartmouth, Cherbourg, Gosport, Cuxhaven, Southampton, Gran Canaria, Bequia, Calvi, Port D'Andraix in Majorca, Ibiza, Zante, Killini, Patras - sailed the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, the North Sea and the Channel, the Bahamas from Matthew Town to Nassau.

Θὰ μπαίνεις σὲ λιμένας πρωτοειδωμένους·
Νὰ σταματήσεις σ' ἐμπορεῖα Φοινικικά,
Καὶ τὲς καλὲς πραγμάτειες ν' ἀποκτήσεις,
σεντέφια καὶ κοράλλια, κεχριμπάρια κ' ἔβενους,
καὰ ἠδονικά μυρωδικὰ κάθε λογῆς,

…you will enter harbours yet unseen;
that you may stop at Phoenician emporia,
and acquire all the fine wares,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensuous perfumes of every kind…

We are no longer strangers to be offered hospitality, but here to pay people’s wage. On the way to and from - between departure and arrival - I still nurse fantasies of travel; imagining and exploring places with a life of their own and economies that don’t need my money, which offer me the opportunity ‘to learn and learn from lettered men’- ‘νὰ μάθεις καὶ να μάθεις ὰπ' τοὺς σπουδασμένους.’
I enjoyed the little Paxos museum; an official junk shop – though I didn’t put such a description in the visitor’s book – because it would be misunderstood and hurt feelings.
Here amid the homogeneity of seasonal tourism was a classroom filled with a disordered display of domestic tools and backbreaking agricultural artifacts that people must have handed into the museum from time to time mixed with old black and white portraits, children’s innocent toys, a crib, keys, flat irons, a child’s commode, a pump flyspray, a donkey saddle, a celluloid doll, a bakelite telephone, a short handled bed warming pan, a four poster bed, a Pierrot suit, a Singer treddle sewing machine, a loom, lace bobbins, cotton pyjamas, nighties, globves, veneered wood case valve wirelesses, builder’s tiling tools, a display box of hundreds of small flint tools including arrow heads but as likely used for myriad domestic tasks in the absence of iron, heads, guns, knives, dressing table items, shells, pots, pans, cutlery, clocks, texts, samplers, bedcovers, a heart-stoppingly simple tapestry of aspirations to conjugal happiness from an unmodern world of faith and material poverty, foxed mirrors that made so much sense of seeing truth through a glass darkly, and in a separate room some very good oil portraits and small landscapes by the island artist Christodoulos Aronis some of whose paintings are in St Sophia’s Church in London – where my stepmother Maria’s (Μαρία Ρουσσέν) funeral service was held.

Yet I should realize that one of the duties of being grown up, old, even wise, is to stop my displays of vexed disappointment at expecting to be entranced by other people and places. I was taken to places whose magic I now grumble at missing by parents, teachers, tutors, wiser companions and many others who wove the clothes of my imagination, artists who embroidered my dreams for me. I should be doing that for myself from the rough cloth of days.
On the horizon a smudge a little higher to the east than to the west, due south in the gap between Levkas to the east and Cephalonia to the west. Fifty miles away. Ithaca.
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The web amplifies serendipity. I’ve had an intriguing letter out of the blue:
Dear Mr. Baddeley. A friend of mine, at the University of Hertfordshire  just successfully discovered your exchange with Karuna Mantena who had sent me her dissertation on Sir Henry Sumner Maine since I have written about him in my book on Common lands and Customary Law and institutional change in north India published by Oxford University Press, 1996. I knew George Feaver very well who as you know wrote Sir Henry's biography  ... and felt the lack of some of the known sources known to exist in the family's archives to which I had 'lost the trail' so to say. You cannot imagine my excitement, or perhaps you can for I have been living with the research on his papers since 1978. Is it possible for me to meet you sometime as I am in England right now and will be making a presentation at Hallam University on the 17th of this month? Best wishes and look forward to hearing from you. Prof. Minoti Chakravarty-Kaul
I replied saying that the person Minoti should meet, while we’re in Greece, was my mother who as a child knew Lady Maine, her great grandmother Jane, who died many years after her husband. Minoti has since written to my mum and copied her letter to me:
Dear Mrs Burnett-Stuart. Greetings from an Indian scholar and teacher retired from a women's college called Lady Shri Ram College for Women, University of Delhi, India. I would be honoured and grateful if you could grant me some time to meet up with you, if possible on the 18th or 19th of September at your home. Please forgive my precipitate request, it is occasioned because only the other day I 'discovered', to my extreme gratification, both Simon Baddeley and you Mrs Burnett-Stuart as Sir Henry's descendants. I crave your pardon for springing this so suddenly because, I will be heading home to India on October the first, but somehow I cannot give up the idea of meeting you…I will be in the north as close as it can get to where you live now. Please let me know if it will be convenient for you to see me…I first came across Sir Henry James Sumner Maine's work way back in 1978 as a result of research following a disturbance over the Government acquisition of common lands in a village called Kanjhawala to the North West of Delhi State, the capital of Imperial and then national India since 1911. This incident in 1978 suddenly drew my attention to the fact that even though I was teaching economic history of Europe where enclosure of common lands was central, we in India had not paid any heed to common lands as a heritage of rural India.
Thus, began my journey into the past and when I tried to trace the origins of property rights in land in India from the records that the British administration had left behind, I came across the theories of Sir Henry James Sumner Maine and so this endeavour has been a continuum for me over thirty years now.
Even though so much has been written about Sir Henry's work…no one has really examined what he had to offer in terms of common lands and the village community in either England or in India. This is despite Sir Henry's work on Village Communities of the East and West.
The only exception perhaps has been Lord Everseley and the emergence of the Open Spaces Society and now the Foundation of Common Lands in the UK and Ireland.…A large part of the reason for this historical 'miss' has been that histories have concentrated on the manor and manorial courts which had land records without giving due importance to folk law and the institutions of self-governing capacities of rural communities which were largely unwritten.
In my reckoning and those of our association of like-minded scholars as (in)...the International Association for Common Property [IASCP] deem that common property in natural resources and traditions of commoning are very important institutions for the twenty first century. The development of governance in countries which are newly emerging from a past are annihilating micro-governance systems which were relevant to both communities and their use of natural resources. With climate change in the offing the urgency of this connection becomes even more critical. I hope this introduction has not been tedious but I am only trying to convey to you why Sir Henry's work has been so crucial to my research. As you well know Ancient Law, 1861 had already established that the origins of Law can be traced to India. My take from this has been in my work on Common Lands and Customary Law in Northern India, 1996. Currently I am working on a book or rather two each of which will complement the other - one will be Sir Henry Sumner Maine and the European Debate in the Nineteenth Century and an annotated compendium of his correspondence … (but) my major involvement is at the ground level where village communities of sedentary cultivators and pastoral communities have been struggling against markets and Governments, to keep their foothold on what is an inheritance from the past - common property resources. (my italics - SB) I hope you will consider me deserving of a little slice of history and grant me the privilege of meeting you? Yours truly with regards, Minoti.
I have of course been interested and proud of my great great grandfather’s reputation but saw no connection between his genius and anything in which I was marginally involved. I rejoice at the quite unexpected prospect, sparked by Karuna Mantegna’s scholarship, of making a small connection between Minoti’s life work, my step-father’s long preoccupation with documenting on television the end of country life and the dissolution of men’s link with the land, a preoccupation of his biographer Paul Peacock, of our friend Mark in Ano Korakiana, and my own shared efforts to recover urban green space especially our local campaign to save the Victoria Jubilee Allotments - me an urban pooter who’s seeking news of his first potatoes on his first allotment. I am sure my mother already fascinated by these continuities – she who as well as working for Vogue as a war correspondent was long on the editorial staff of Farmer’s Weekly at a time when farming was going through tectonic change  - will be delighted to meet Minoti. I shall hope to stay in touch and will now be learning more about the Foundation for Common Lands in UK and Ireland, and the International Association for Common Property and its association with Nobel winner Elinor Ostrom (her 2009 Nobel Prize speech text and video). Let the plot develop. I have also not forgotten that my dad was born in India, where his father served in the governorate of Madras (Mumbai) and where his mother, my never known grandmother Dorothy, died in the 1930s. Talking among my Greek relatives there was even a fantasy that due to a hushed up affair long ago we may even have Indian blood – something that would in that society in those days something to be hushed up by all involved would now be a source of pride. Dad who never had the opportunity to reconnect with India would speak of love for his childhood haunt, a love which he transferred generously and unconditionally to Greece by marriage and the gift of my half-siblings. And then there’s my newer connection and the joint work in Australia with John Martin, Professor of Sustainable Regional Communities in Bendigo (and an even keener cyclist than I). Is this blending really the egoism of age, with all roads converging on my significance. Yes and no. I’m allowed, like Pooter to disclaim false modesty and I do feel drawn into a plot in which my walk-on parts are becoming more frequent.

Ref: 19 October 2010 - The International Association for the Study of the Commons
Note: Get a copy of Ronald J. Oakerson's Governing Local Public Economies: Creating the Civic Metropolis 

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Back to the future - 25/12/11 - Jim Potts links to a short tale about 'one less octopus in Paxos'

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