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Sunday, 11 March 2012

Time for stories

Poems by Taylor Mali
Even though we know it ended in melted wax and tears Greece is unembarrassed about using the myth of Icarus as a symbol and a brand.
Greek airmail stamp
When it was founded in 1930 Greece called its national airline Icarus. It went bankrupt within months. Passing through Venizelos a few years ago Lin and I noticed that Olympic Airlines advertised an Icarus Frequent Flyer programme. There was a lounge for Icarus subscribers. The programme was 'suspended' in 2009 as Olympic went into liquidation. The Hellenic Air Force Academy is called Σχολή Ικάρων, Skoli Ikaron.
The inventor and artist, the cunning craftsman, Daedalos, Δαίδαλος, wanted to escape with his son from exile in Crete after building a labyrinth in which King Minos could house his wife's son, the Minotaur. Daedalus made them both wings - feathers held together by wax - to which they harnessed themselves.
The fable of Daedalus and Icarus,Ἴκαρος, is prefigured in the Sanskrit epic Ramayana. The brothers Sampati and Jatayu competed - as vultures - in flying. One day both came too close to the flames of the sun. Sampati protected his brother by flying over him and was so burned he fell wingless to earth, his life continuing flightless. Years later Sampati, still able to fly, tried to rescue Sita, the wife of Rama, from revenging Ravana, on his way to Lanka after kidnapping her.
Jatayu swooped down upon Ravana; fought bravely with him, but he was old. Ravana lopped off one of Jatayu's wings. He fell wounded to be discovered by Rama who, knowing Jataya's death was near, freed him from samsara - the cycle of death and reincarnation - so that he attained moksha, nirvana.
The myth holds - Icarus or his precursors - in our imagination, fare for art including cartoons, this in February'10...

and May in the same year, Jimmy Margulies in the LA Times...
Some say Daedalus made, not wings, but the sails he rigged in a boat given him by the minotaur's mother, Pasiphaë, Πασιφάη, daughter of the sun, for whom Daedalus had made a cow of wood and hide inside which, cursed by Poseidon with consuming lust, she'd mated with the sea-god in the form of a white bull, giving birth to the Minotaur, Μῑνώταυρος.
The baby Minotaur on his mother's lap
Why did Pasiphaë lend that boat which foundered, drowning Icarus somewhere near the coast of Anatolia, off Samos, driven by strong winds far east of his intended destination? Poseidon was the father of the Minotaur. She encouraged Daedalus to escape by sea, knowing the dangers of the passage north to his home in Athens; knowing whose realm was the sea. It was Daedalus who'd given Ariadne, the Minotaur's sister, a clue - no, a clew - the unreeling ball of thread that Theseus had used to find a way out after he'd killed the beast in the heart of the maze.
Daedalus had made enemies of the sun and the sea. Thus Sir Humphrey Gilbert hailing the Golden Hind through a seething Atlantic gale from the stern of the frigate Squirrel cried "We are as near to heaven by sea as by land!" Some use the myth to warn against overweening ambition - an Icarus sculptor outside the country's bankruptcy court in sea-girt Amsterdam - for others, it might be a story about 'navigating the space between brilliance and madness'. Respecting and fearing the Mediterranean I'd go with the idea of that sad disastrous voyage from Crete
On Danica 1962 - an island on the way to Sicily somewhere north west of Crete

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Monday 12 March: I need another story for this; talking to Lin this morning in England as she gets ready to drive her parents to Sheffield for a check on her father's medical treatment, reading, hearing and watching events in Greece where we'll soon be returning. We bought a house in Corfu seven years ago. It is now worth far less than we paid for it. We've made improvements and repairs to it. New roof. A replaced balcony.
"Why" I asked Lin just now "are we not worried that we wouldn't have a hope of getting our cash back let alone a profit on our home in Greece? We're used to being boringly sensible with money. Why aren't we deeply distressed at our financial loss?"
"Well, the place carries no debt. We've no wish to sell it. Quite the opposite. We can pay it's outgoings - property tax, insurance, electricity and fuel, for instance. We can leave it to our children who don't need to sell it either. Our daughter and if all goes well our grandson will be there in October. We have good kind neighbours and close friends in the village. We can afford the travel to and fro."
"Yes, but we've never lost so much money in our lives!"
"We've had at least that value in happiness from it"
Is this why Icarus is a hero in Greece?
How do I explain this paradox in the language of economics? Is it to do with our age; that we've built up enough capital - I'm near 70 and Lin in her 60s - not to need credit? Is it that travel costs are still affordable? Why aren't we deeply dismayed at losing more cash than we've lost in all our previous life - a unique shared disaster?
Nowhere better than in his Epilogue in Alexandria has a gentile expressed a lament with the resonance of the the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. This is Lawrence Durrell writing that stoicism resignation, acceptance, are not enough. 'The loss of Greece has been an amputation. All Epictetus could not console one against it.'
Says Epictetus, Ἐπίκτητος 'He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.'
Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones sings the psalmist.
Durrell's final paragraph in Prospero's Cell:
In April of 1941, as I lay on the pitch-dark deck of a caique nosing past Matapan towards Crete, I found myself thinking back to that green rain upon a white balcony, in the shadow of Albania; thinking of it with a regret so luxurious and so deep that it did not stir the emotions at all. Seen through the transforming lens of memory the past seemed so enchanted that even thought would be unworthy of it. We never speak of it, having escaped: the house in ruins, the little black cutter smashed. I think only that the shrine with the three black cypresses and the tiny rock-pool where we bathed must still be left. Visited by the lowland summer mists the trembling landscape must still lie throughout the long afternoons, glowing and altering like a Chinese water-colour where the light of the sky leaks in. But can all these hastily written pages ever re-create more than a fraction of it?
Yes. Well. A couple of years ago I read Keeley's book Inventing Paradise. It seemed it might explain a virtual Greece created by artists in writing and poetry, 'the creation of Greece as an object of foreign admiration, passion, yearning and joy'. In later pages Keeley described post-war fans visiting Greece with thumbed pages of Durrell and Henry Miller in their luggage, leaving with a mixture of pleasure and censored disappointment at the growing difference between the 'invention' and 'the reality', while the artists who did return wrote almost venomously of a great fall - like seeing a beautiful woman, wrote disenchanted Durrell, who's been taken by some disfiguring disease - I forget his exact words. I remember others writing of a mass-tourist invasion of pale visi-goths, worse than the Occupation and Civil War in the moral and physical desecration visited upon 'Paradise'.
Sober reflection in 2012 has me recanting - on the idea of invention. I don't disown for a moment that the world has changed - environmentally for the worse. Only ostriches deny that. But at the same time as both Lawrence, and his brother Gerald, were living in Corfu and writing about it with such beauty and craft - others were writing reports of protein deficiency and poverty among the peasants to equal Mayhew's commentaries on London's labour and poor.
So if not invention, what? Some of have said the Durrell's were describing their childhood, writing intimations of immortality...every common sight, apparelled in celestial light, the glory and the freshness of a dream. Not so. When in January I stepped, towing my suitcase, from the Superfast ramp onto the concrete jetty, my shadow lengthened in the dim yellow light illuminating the bleak plateau that is the Port of Igoumenitsa, surrounded by revving container trucks heading for the Ignatia superhighway - all that I loath about motorised transport and the blight it brings to landscapes across the world - I reached down and touched the ground of Greece and kissed my palm. I can love the cathedral like space below Spaghetti junction, embrace the drab landscapes of post-industrial Midlands, enjoy dying tower blocks and littered subway tunnels.
Sunset on the Walsall Road, Birmingham (photo: Richard Baddeley)
There's no forcing here. I'm no more describing my childhood - at 69 - than were the Durrells, Gerald 10 and Lawrence 23. They saw something in Greece they could not record but, rather which, recorded them. Durrell's friend Ivan Zarian called it 'The Enormous Eye'.
'Here' wrote Lawrence from Alexandria 'we miss Greece as a living body'.
Us too. Why else would Lin (my Carrie in Corfucius' sweet and valued characterisation of us as the Pooters of Democracy Street) say, without a thought, as she gathered her car keys "We've had at least that value in happiness from it"?
At least that value in happiness
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In Ano Korakiana on Friday, there was a vote among villagers gathered in the Church of Ag.Nicholopolou to oppose using herbicide spray against the olive fly; this opposition to be communicated from the Co-op Committee and the village as a whole to the Municipality...
Τελικά η απόφαση των κατοίκων του χωριού ενάντια στους ψεκασμούς για το δάκο, αντί για την «Εκκλησία του Δήμου» πάρθηκε στην Εκκλησία του Άη-Νικολόπουλου!!!. Εκεί, όταν, μετά το πέρας της κυριακάτικης λειτουργίας ο εκ των Επιτρόπων και Γραμματέας του Συνεταιρισμού Γεώργιος Κένταρχος υπενθύμισε στο πολυπληθές εκκλησίασμα ότι ακολουθεί η προγραμματισμένη ανοικτή συνέλευση στο Συνεταιρισμό, έλαβε δια βοής την αρνητική ψήφο-θέση του κόσμου για τους ψεκασμούς. Λίγο αργότερα τη μετέφερε στους αρμόδιους του Τοπικού Συμβουλίου και του Συνεταιρισμού, καθώς και στους λοιπούς που είχαν συγκεντρωθεί στην αίθουσα του Συνεταιρισμού….
Extract from Corfu Wildlife:
The olive fruit fly, which is by far the greatest threat to the olive crop, has been the subject of much debate especially regarding its eradication as on Corfu and most other countries this has been done to date using helicopters to aerial spray insecticides. This has led to uneasiness regarding the long-term effects of these insecticides on both the human population and the beneficial insects of the island and ultimately the food chain. Recently a comprehensive study of the olive fruit fly was carried out by scientists Fletcher and Kapatos in unsprayed olive groves on Corfu, which has led to a better understanding of the population ecology of the olive fruit fly. This study in turn has helped worldwide development of alternative methods of control most notably Pheromone traps, which are now the only allowable method of control in some areas of Corfu.
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'Did I send this? Direct action: a fair deal for Greek farmers and their customers' a link emailed me by Barbara Panvel [Plunkett FoundationForum for the Future, Organic Research Centre] in Birmingham, about domestic purchasers buying potatoes direct from farmers at prices below those in supermarkets.
In Katerini, Saturday, March 3, 2012, between 8am and 1.30pm, 75 tons of potatoes were sold to 1082 families. There was perfect order, no queues, not the slightest problem. Hundreds of volunteers from the Voluntary Action Group Pieria demonstrated the best way to self-manage the fate of the products produced by our country. We're a conscientious and very capable people, who've not forgotten the meaning of friendship and solidarity. We can live with dignity from the wealth of our country, without intermediaries, officials and the perverse stallions, επιβήτορες, of life for our children.

Στην Κατερίνη, το Σάββατο, 3 Μαρτίου 2012, από τις 08:00 -- 13:30 διατέθηκαν συνολικά 75 τόνοι πατάτας σε 1082 οικογένειες, με απόλυτη τάξη, χωρίς να δημιουργηθούν ουρές, χωρίς να υπάρξει το παραμικρό πρόβλημα! Εκατό περίπου εθελόντριες και εθελοντές της Εθελοντικής Ομάδας Δράσης Ν. Πιερίας απέδειξαν με τον καλύτερο τρόπο, πως μπορούμε να διαχειριστούμε μόνοι μας την τύχη των προϊόντων που παράγει ο τόπος μας, πως είμαστε ένας φιλότιμος και ικανότατος λαός, πως δεν ξεχάσαμε τι σημαίνει φιλία και αλληλεγγύη, πως μπορούμε να ζήσουμε με αξιοπρέπεια από τον πλούτο της χώρας μας, χωρίς τους μεσάζοντες, τους πολιτικούς τους υπαλλήλους και τους διεστραμμένους επιβήτορες της ζωής των παιδιών μας.

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