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Friday, 26 June 2009

Iason arrested in Iran

Iason Athanasiades a fine journalist of Anglo-Hellenic parentage, who's writing I've followed regularly, has been reported arrested in Iran. Though having a British parent and, according to the story linked here, a British name - Fowden - tagged on to his Greek one, I have always known him and thought of him as an Hellene, priding himself on his delight in and knowledge of Iranian culture and history. I hope he will not be mistreated and that his integrity as a scholar, writer, linguist, photographer and journalist will earn him a swift release. Athanasiadis grew up in Athens. He was read stories from The Thousand and One Nights (Alf Laylah wa Laylah) by his mother. In the summer of 2007 he wrote about 'intermediary Greeks' (scroll down the link to see):
...Being Greek makes me a quasi-insider: We have been present as a regional power from antiquity through to the Byzantine Empire. Later, as Christian subjects of the Muslim Ottoman Empire, the Greeks were its bankers, merchants and diplomats to the European West. The switch of allegiances to the West only came in the 19th century, after the Great Powers helped Greece win its War of Independence. There is still residual mistrust over the Crusaders' sacking of Constantinople on their way to Jerusalem and the lack of help sent by Genoa as the Turks scaled the capital of Byzantium. After World War II, Greece remained firmly within the Western orbit and became the first line of defense against the Soviet Union. In the post-9/11 world, Greek politicians have continued the tradition of the intermediary, most notably when former Greek foreign minister and Colin Powell confidante George Papandreou passed messages from the Bush administration to the Taliban prior to their overthrow. Greek construction companies were trusted by Arab leaders to construct much of the Gulf's infrastructure, build clandestine military bases in Libya, and erect palaces in Saudi Arabia complete with secret escape routes in case of an antimonarchical revolution. A fine example of the 'intermediary Greek' is that country's current ambassador to Baghdad. Panayiotis Makris was educated in Alexandria's Victoria College, speaks fluent Egyptian Arabic, packs a pistol in his leather briefcase, and lives resolutely outside the Green Zone. A 17th century tapestry depicting Alexander the Great's death in Babylon dominates his living room in the kidnapping-scarred diplomatic district of Mansour. His professional performance is likewise infused with an historical perspective. As he points out to visitors, Alexander died just 10 kilometers from Baghdad; "We're the only country that has the right to offer lessons in democracy around here," he quips in a barely concealed barb at the American mismanagement of their Iraq occupation. Greece's man in Tehran similarly draws heavily upon history in his dealings with Iranian officials. His enthusiastic and repeated claims that Greece and Iran share 5,000 years of shared civilization may owe more to Athens' dependence on Iranian oil imports and an innate proclivity to exaggerate than to historical fact. But the excellent ties between Greece and Iran reveal how important a shared cultural background is to a bilateral relationship (extract)
A Greek acquaintance here was almost amused at my concern for Iason. "He knows such things are part of his chosen profession. He will come out of this even more famous." Yes. well... maybe. My thoughts darted to the qualities another Iason shared with the most famous Odysseus - courage and cunning in sticky situations, so long as the right gods are in the right mood - metis referring in Greek to wisdom or craft or nous, and to the goddess of wisdom and prudence - η Μήτις - yet, in French, meaning of mixed race as in the Métis or mestizo. Cunning in Hellenic culture stands higher than it does in ours (tho' Greeks see Albion as a mirror). They do not link it so automatically to perfidy, and I've come, by happy chance, on the work of two Frenchmen, Marcel Detienne and Jean-Pierre Vernant, who, in 1978, published a book called Les ruses de l’intelligence: la mètis des Grecs, translated in 1991 as Cunning Intelligence in Greek Culture and Society.
...There is no doubt that mêtis is a type of intelligence and of thought, a way of knowing; it implies a complex but very coherent body of mental attitudes and intellectual behaviour which combine flair, wisdom, forethought, subtlety of mind, deception, resourcefulness, vigilance, opportunism, various skills, and experience acquired over the years. It is applied to situations which are transient, shifting, disconcerting and ambiguous, situations which do not lend themselves to precise measurement, exact calculation or rigorous logic...
* * *
Although there's plenty to do here and I love the places we inhabit we're missing Κέρκυρα. The prow points towards Vido. Beyond are the mountains of the Troumpetta leading eastwards to the summit of Pantokrator - the name of our ship.
I first saw Corfu across a crowded room - an island without insularity. Its aspect seduces visitors. Some passing through stay longer than intended, some keep returning, some never leave and one forced to go spoke of 'an amputation' for which 'all Epictetus' could offer no consolation.
But as the OSCE ministers talk at their conference at Gouvia Maria Strani-Potts writes:
The Potemkin principle is followed by our authorities. The Greek Government is spending vast sums to impress while we still have no decent hospital. The abuse of the environment continues. Corfu has become a Third World destination: luxury hotels for visitors, while the natives have to put up with abysmal public services and infrastructure. Last night we attended a public meeting of the Mandouki Association concerning the appalling state of the old olive oil factory opposite the New Port. It is a complete ruin even though it contains five listed buildings with preservation orders. It's a home to rats and illegal immigrants and constitutes a public health hazard... (see Maria's The Pimping of Panorea)
* * *
Yesterday I enjoyed strolling with Oscar in steady rain round Handsworth Park, the whole place to myself. There are problems in the park, no doubt created by general demand for economies showing up in disorganised ground care. Flower and shrub beds show signs of unskilled tending, invaded by rose bay willow, couch grass and thistle; drains, uncleared, have allowed large pools fringed by unpicked litter to gather by the cricket pitch while the broken walls and fence by Holly and Hamstead Roads remain unrepaired. What other problems may I have missed. Most will not notice even what I did as the place looks and feels so pleasant but I'm anxious about these signs of absent stewardship after our hopes in the aftermath of the restored re-opened park. I noted the arrival of a pile of topsoil for the allotments and concrete edging for the main lane through them, but can the Persimmon Homes really have them ready for selection in a month as suggested by the Allotments Team in the City Council?
Opposite the Hamstead Road park gate is the mess created by some householders colonising public grass verges with their cars even though Winston Drive off Churchill Road provides access to the rear of their homes. I passed this on to Transportation via FixMyStreet last week. We came home damp but content to dry out, chatting to our evening guest Karen while Richard and his friend Kirin cooked supper. Lin towled Oscar vigorously - a dog who's happy in the rain but, once home, detests being wet.
St.Mary's Churchyard next to Handsworth Park ~ between the fence and the gravestones are unmarked pauper's graves, waterlogged in wet weather
A card from my mother in London, She'd flown down from the Highlands to spend a week with hew new great grandchild, Raif, son of Anthony and Alesandra. 'Stunning weather & I'm so enjoying being wheeled about by Bay & going back through Memory Lane...Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens etc. The trees seem to have grown up and round otherwise London hasn't changed. I love it.'
Gillian Golding 'Noodles' 2006

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Simon Baddeley