Friday, 23 October 2015

ΔΗΛΩΣΗ

Linda and Angeliki working on a catalogue - May 2015

ANO KORAKIANA – CORFU
10.12.15
I would like to thank my dear friends SIMON and LINDA BADDELEY for the valuable and disinterested* assistance they have given me in bringing to public notice the works of the self-taught Corfiot sculptor, my grandfather, Aristeidis Metallinos. At the same time I would like to emphasise that the project to make my grandfather better known is conducted with no wish on my part for personal or financial gain.
Signed
 Angeliki Metallinou
Αγγελική Μεταλληνού
*Disinterested doesn't mean 'uninterested'. The literal translation of 'αφιλοκερδή' is 'non-profit' but that looked a little awkward.

*** *** ***
The Calf Bearer 570BC - Acropolis Museum, Athens 
My review of Richard Pine's Greece through Irish eyes (Liffey:Dublin 2015)
Comparing Greece and Ireland, Richard Pine sees two countries “each proud of its own independence from the age old dominant neighbour; proud of its historic contribution to European culture…(but)…deeply ambivalent about their role in Europe and about the loss of sovereignty to supervening powers…’
His chief conclusion is also a proposition - that ‘there are many faults in the Greek system, but not, I believe in the Greek character” (xiii) - ditto Ireland. The next 380 pages are devoted to exploring this conclusion – not through a British or American gaze but out of forty years living and working in Ireland ‘on the rim – (like Greece) - of a fragile Europe’. The author claims three purposes – to give Irish readers a glimpse of Greek character and Greek history; to suggest parallels in the circumstances of Greece and Ireland; and for the author to explain why he loves Greece, the land he’s chosen for his ‘final exile’ - where he’d wish to be buried.
The book is, he writes, ‘an argument’ not ‘a travel brochure’. It meanders with reassuring confidence towards its findings about ‘Greekness’ ελλενικότιτα – about the land of the Hellenes as an accretion of geographical and philosophical ideas, a singularity of place and mind. Reading and re-reading it, as I do, with enjoyment and respect, is like starting at sea – the way I would prefer to make landfall on Greece - and seeking a source river from one of many delta streams.
This book is far better than a collated reworking of Pine’s journalism, though it has most of its readability. The book’s conclusions, as I’ve said, are in the sections with which it begins. There’s a ‘preface’ from the deputy editor of The Irish Times explaining how ‘Greece through Irish Eyes’ derives from the newspaper’s regular publication - since the current Greek crisis started making news in 2010 - of Richard Pine’s ‘Letters from Greece’; his letters ‘home’, where he married and where his daughters live. There’s a 6 page pre-publication ‘update’ slipped in by the author - ‘Three tense weeks in July’ - to include an account of ‘lessons learned and unlearned’ between the author completing this latest book in March and Liffey’s printing deadline in July 2015. There are ‘Acknowledgments’; 4 pages alone – Irish and Greek names predominant, journalists, academics, artists, cooks, friends, eating places, books, newspapers, journals. Add to these sections, but at the back of the book, an efficient 10 page index, 21 pages of suggestions for ‘Further Reading’, a 5 page ‘Appendix’ listing ‘What the Greeks Did for Us’, and 28 pages of ‘Endnotes’, sourcing and enlarging, with reference and anecdote, the thought, research and imaginative observation that infuse this book’s 10 chapters, spiced with well chosen black and white images including 3 maps, one showing the expanding territories, and sudden fatal contraction, in 1922, of Modern Greece, since her Independence in 1832. A browser on Google Books, Amazon or in an actual bookshop, minded to read further may do so with the confidence they’ve bought themselves a gift of the weightiest light reading - in English - on Greece in recent times, an offering of insight into ‘perennials’ that show the EU, the IMF, the ECB, the Finance Ministers of Europe, as no more than blips ‘on the radar of Mediterranean history’ (p.xii); a vade mecum for anyone seeking contrary facts, complicating interpretations and rebuttals to spice daily servings from the world media, dinner conversations and pub talk of ‘Greek crisis’ clichés.
Pine aspires to draw his understanding of, and feelings about, Greece from Chekov’s maxim – that you learn about life by concentrating on what you observe of it through your window’s view of your street – in Pine’s case the one that runs through the Corfiot village of Perithia in a house called ‘Home-as-if’ – friendlier in Greek as ‘Villa Ipothesi’. ‘Mon Repos’ it is not.
Behind Pine’s desk I suspect shelves of probably the most extensive library of books about Greece – and Ireland – now held by any foreigner to those lands. Pine reads and writes classical Greek, lectures at the local Ionian University and was a founder, and for 12 years, Director of the Durrell School in Corfu town.
Still English, he shares with his two adopted countries the revels of polemic. His regular informed criticism of Greek governance, disparagements he shares with vast numbers of ordinary Greeks, not a few quoted in the book, drew informal protest from the Greek ambassador to Ireland. His understanding of modern Greek culture is evidenced by his own perceptions leavened by constant quotes from and reference to Greek writers, poets, film-makers, musicians, dramatists, cooks, journalists and scholars, far too few of whose works are, as he says, accessible outside Greece, let alone translated into English or other languages. Pine’s overview – ‘Brief History Lessons’ (Chap 2)  - of the short-lived, conflictful and deficit-ridden story of Modern Greece, is as illuminating and disciplined a précis of the last 181 years as any I’ve read. Read it first?
The book is timely for me. I now find the Greece I know and love more familiar than my home of over 30 years in the inner suburbs of Birmingham – which I also love. In Corfu I see so many foreigners rather like myself. Notices, menus especially, are in English or ‘Greeklish’ (Greek written phonetically in the Latin alphabet). I can sometimes order fish and chips with mushy peas (very nice); vinegar beside HP sauce on the table. Above a bar, serving the same lagers I avoid in the UK, a flat screen circulates news of the world delivered in loud voices from familiar faces between bouts of pop and football. For the holiday-maker ‘Greekness’, in many resorts, comes on Friday evening as a ‘Greek night’ with ‘dancing and plate-smashing’. A thousand miles north west, amid the imploded Empire that is urban Britain, I see men and boys in djellabas leaving their mosques, women in black wearing veils over all but part of their faces, Sikhs in turbans going to the Gurdwara, woolly hats in the national colours of Jamaica, dreadlocks, weave, Somalians, Eritreans, Kurds, Iraqis, Syrians escaping war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East, and, since EU enlargement, Poles, Roma from Rumania, Lithuanians, Bulgarians, Ukrainians, Turks, even Moldovans, plus Christians from Vietnam – the Handsworth’s bouillabaisse, myriad languages and dialects, beginner’s English, becoming Brummie accented.
Richard Pine’s book strips from my present Greece the surface of modernism and over-familiarity, part demanded by tourists. Reminding me of the nation’s foreignness, he evokes the ‘otherness’ of the ‘wondrous land’, conjuring, with his writing and reference, the sense of place and people I encountered and found so strange and exciting in my youth, in the 1950s, before tourism turned Greece into a product, put prices on its mysteries, and before, much more recently, the EU with, until now, fulsome Greek compliance, strove to curb its dissimilarities, harmonise its discordances and drive its young into the Greek diaspora for hope and opportunity.
Pine’s book turns things that have become the fodder of signage back into Delphic hints, ambiguities and confusions, arguing, with many examples, the differences at the core of ‘Greekness’ - the extent to which these dissimilarities are not understood, acknowledged or even perceived by other Europeans, especially Finance Ministers and the northern European populations on whose votes they depend and who have, happily or grudgingly, embraced the common-sense of geo-finance.
Richard Pine has said, in other books, that a writer, whatever their theme, is invariably writing about themselves. Pine is writing to explain to himself why he loves Greece; why he is a Philhellene. Although he answers, in entertaining detail, many shared questions about Greece’s history, economy and culture, a reader drawn into the book - seduced into exploring the many-streamed delta - may be frustrated or delighted to find more questions raised than answered. Pine is not alone in knowing the difficulty of trying to explain love, even to yourself. In the meantime do you want fish and chips, an ‘all-day’ English breakfast, baked beans on toast, cheese burger and pizza or stiffado, pastitsia, spanakopita, feta, kokoretsi and horta?
The book finishes with a generalisation – the kind of observation a host may make to signal to their guests it’s time to be heading home: ‘My Western eyes show me that what I saw in Ireland in term of physical beauty is matched and, perhaps, excelled by that of Greece…that the problems of Greek society in this global world are present also in Ireland: the emptiness of politics, the corruption high and low. But is this not true of almost all modern states? And many of those can offer nothing like the charms of either Greece or Ireland’ (p.321). 
Landfall on Greece 1962
James Chatto, 30 years living in Loutses, Corfu, saw this review after reading the book:
Dear Richard. I’m sitting in a hotel room in Regina, Saskatchewan, having just reached the end of your book – and having just read the excellent review and interview you shared. I must heartily congratulate you on your achievement! Greece Through Irish Eyes is remarkable – learned, eminently readable and, most importantly, true. It really should be required reading for anyone who spends time in Greece or claims some experience of the place. I very much enjoyed the way you traced the triumphs and crises of the country back to its formation so convincingly and you have given me a picture of Greece’s relationship with the troika that I did not have before. Like you, I love the place even though it often exasperates and dismays me, and I mourn the village life... 
The family in the village by Aristeidis Metallinos of Ano Korakiana 1986 cat. M r 40 x 64 (photo: Anastasios Nikolouzos)
...that seemed so much more robust and complete when I first encountered it at the end of the 1970s. I think you have found a perfect position from which to provide perspectives into the past and also to observe Greece’s contemporary place in Europe. You have filled in many shameful gaps in my knowledge of modern Greek culture and formed a fascinating net of connections that really do build up into a structure of understanding. You have also left me wishing I knew more of Irish politics, hinting at parallels that I must now try to follow up, to understand the allusions properly.
I do hope someone is going to translate this into Greek so that our friends there can read what you have to say about them. Perhaps they will be surprised that a xenos can have such a sensitive and multi-dimensional view of their Greekness and the current predicaments they face in Europe and in themselves.
I agree with your reviewer about the status of this book – it is the one to read first, pulling no punches and refusing to oversimplify. Did I mention it was also a pleasure to read – seasoned with just the right amount of wry wit and profiting no end from your own inclusion as a character in the narrative.
Thank you for writing it! It deserves a much broader success than the obvious constituencies of Irish and Greek readers will give it. All the best...

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