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Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Weather, dreams, scorpions in the woodpile

After raining steadily all day, the sky has cleared, the wind gone down, the thunder wandered eastwards into Greece, lightning winking off the sides of clouds, too far to hear thunder. After midnight a moon rises, gibbous and big; orange streaked with nimbus above the mainland mountains; brightening and shrinking as it clears the distant clouds to silver the Kerkyra Sea. The Belt of Orion glimmers high to the west and below the village, among trees, street lights glow into the distance through a film of mist diluting the adequate moonlight, wasting energy.
By morning the rain had returned for the day. I’d dreamed of arriving home in Handsworth to find the support staff of the institute going through my possessions. I pretended not to be me; smiled at one of them. “Riding on the cross-bar” she sneered, knowing I’d understand her expression of shared contempt for my relished and indulgent liking for cycling to work. I woke sweating. Next I arrived at a rail station which might have been mine; asked fellow passengers its name.
“What what what what what?” they chorused quietly.
I phoned National Rail on my mobile – an insane idea when awake – and someone said, mockingly, “mmm, mmmm, mmmm, mmmm.”
Furious I threw the phone onto the platform where it shattered. No-one noticed. I peered at a wooden board scraped to its painted grain and made out the name 'Joyford'. I was in my pyjamas – which I never wear – having wandered into an event attended by my old friend and colleague Tanya, who was acting a part in a scene in which she played a cake. Her decorated head stuck out of the top of a round table, intricately braided with a ruffled cake band round her neck.
“What’s happening?” I asked, gazing round at lots of well dressed smart people.
“It’s the something or other event…didn’t you get it on...?”…she mentioned an obscure social web name to which I’d failed to subscribe. “Could you turn off my mobile for me?” she indicated it with her eyes on the table beside her.
Someone grabbed my arm and rescued me. I was involved in keeping Saddam Hussein captive in a butterfly suit – seriously Red Admirals – below the surface of a dank pool, but when we went to drag him out the suit was empty. He’d escaped. I, knowing how dangerous he was, fled but left my credit cards and my bicycle. Later I was in an office trying to explain who I was without ID, regarded as deranged with my tale of Saddam on the loose. “He’s got a gun!”
I was rescued by the head of school – still in my pyjamas – who said “Your daughter, Helen Baddeley, wants to see you. She’s in the Philosophy Department over there.”
He led me by the arm to the door to outside.
“But I haven’t got a daughter called Helen. My daughter isn’t a philosopher. She’s in the police.”
We were having a meal – four of us including Richard Pine – the only people in Harry’s Taverna in Perithia. The rain was a torrent, spouting from the gutters, streaming along the roads. “We have cod” said Harry “and stiffado”. “Ah” said Stephen “the piece of cod that passeth all understanding.” “Fercrisake” said Richard “It’s only one o clock”
Harry's in Perithia
The last wasn’t dreamed. It was a good meal in good company. I’d driven 26 kilometres round the north east coast to have lunch with Richard, who’d encountered two friends in the post office in Perithia. We talked of everything under the sun and rain. Playing with ideas. Mentioning nothing in the news, talking as if spectator sport didn't exist. Yet I could roam through my experience of living in the most profound opposition to the Lausanne Principle that has run through the history of 20th century Greece and its neighbours – Nansen, Venizelos, Curzon – engineering the biggest enforced exiling and banishing in the history of  Europe.
A book lent me by Yolanda the other day
“Our PM has talked of his concerns about multiculturalism. But until nationalism became the game of the last century, the word multiculturalism needed no inventing. People’s co-existence was imperfect. Yet until the nationalist faith was used to create new states and boundaries older faiths governed relations between people linked to the land on which they worked and worshipped in landscapes known for millennia in cities where the congregations of churches, mosques and synagogues, where it did not arise from neighbourliness had civility enforced by autocracy. This is why Ivo Andrić, at first a liberal, came to believe that people – in his case around a bridge over the Drina in the heart of the Balkans - would only live together if forced by firm and even harsh rule from above. This is why my great great grandfather wrote of the potential tyranny of popular government; that it may liberate people, co-existing under law, to indulge their ugliest potential, sometimes even turning those same neighbours into strange fruit. “You don’t have to love your neighbour” said Thelma, the fourth of our party “but you need willingness to negotiate.” If thy neighbour’s curry offends thy nose, work out the days, lest as the smoke of roasting meat on thy BBQ cause equal offence.

The Lausanne Principle emerged from a conference held there in late 1922 and early 1923 attended by Greeks, Turks and representatives of the leading world powers - USA, France Britain, Italy. Article One of the Lausanne convention includes the words:
…There shall take place a compulsory exchange of Turkish nationals of the Greek Orthodox religion established in Turkish territory, and of Greek nationals of the Muslim religion established in Greek territory…
This drastic expedient entailed the compulsory mass migration of millions of people from places their ancestors had lived for centuries. It was widely a seen, at the time and even today - especially in the versions of the exchange told in childrens’ school history books in Greece and Turkey – as a form of disaster relief, even a humanitarian measure. Who am I to pretend, even now, that this is a story that can be seen from a neutral position, the eyrie of the objective historian. Aristotle used the word catharsis to describe a dramatic technique - a purifying of the emotions brought about in the audience of a tragic drama through the evocation of great fear, intense pity…Καθαρμός ή ψυχοκάθαρση μέσω της (δραματικής) τέχνης ή της συνειρμικής ανάμνησης…Music, writing and myriad artistic expressions evoked by these events renew and recall them – as with all disasters – but the purgation implied by catharsis remains far from complete in Greece and Turkey and their diaspora communities. This has as much if not more to do with events leading up to the exchange of populations. On this subject it is difficult to speak, Suffice it to say that after the butchery of the first world war, what followed in Asia Minor was a thoroughly appropriate link to what happened across the European continent into Russia between 1930 and 1945 - Europe's most dreadful century so telling described by Mark Mazower's book Dark ContinentThe journalist historian Bruce Clark who wrote – in 2006 – his excellent account of ‘how mass expulsion forged modern Greece and Turkey’ tells in the preface of an incident in 2004, in Kosovo, when the Lausanne convention that maintained the principle of dealing with inter-ethnic inter-faith strife by partition, expulsion and separation was vigorously implemented, but this time not with the support of the great powers who, 80 years after the Treaty of Lausanne, now justified their Balkan interventions as being ‘to enable all the region’s peoples to live decently and amicably without fear of persecution on ethnic or religious grounds’. 
Representatives, police and soldiers of almost the same national signatories that had attended at Lausanne, this time constrained by the fragile United Nations’ consensus that had just about allowed a monitoring and strictly defined humanitarian intervention in Kosovo, watched with appalled impotence as ‘thousands of people, mostly Serbs were driven from their homes’, their villages burned, churches destroyed, 20 people killed. Wasn’t it Charlemagne who once said of Christ’s crucifixion “Oh that I had been there with twenty of my Frankish knights”? As it was our soldiers could only watch and report the mayhem; try to pick up the wretched pieces. ‘Oh why do the nations so furiously rage together?’
In response to these events, a statement was issued by a think-tank known as the European Stability Initiative (ESI). Its authors, young Europeans with experience of political or humanitarian work in the Balkans, made an appeal: whatever governments now did, they must not succumb to the old temptation of using the ‘Lausanne Principle’.(p.xi)
We have not succumbed; in part a result of the rigorous diffusion in almost every part of private and public life, that certain attitudes and behaviours towards ‘the other’ are unacceptable. Racism is an obscenity, and that’s just a start – so is discrimination against anyone’s prospects of employment on the basis of anything other than their qualification and competence to do the job for which they are applying. More than that we have invented terms to define engrained organisational and cultural processes that may have made it more or less difficult for certain categories of people to gain those qualifications and competence – ‘canteen culture’ in the police, institutional racism and sexism in government and corporations. Our research and literature has delved deeply into the embedded subtlety with which prejudice may be sustained by self-dislike – the tragic image of the black child scrubbing her skin. In nurseries and primary schools across the western world teachers attend courses on the devious tricks of language that can sustain such feelings – the conflation, for instance, of the word ‘dirty; with the word ‘black’. The casual and unintended impoliteness that can cut to the bone. We wrote about it, Kim and I, in 1991 (Baddeley, S & James, K (1991) The Power of Innocence: from Politeness to Politics Management Education & Development, 22 (2) pp.106-118). At the Cambridge Footlights in 1965 I watched a telling sketch in which a mild mannered ‘official’ with a faux-German accent spoke of all the work being done to ensure ‘it never happens again’, as people are educated to respect their neighbours, and with increasing fervour of how ‘ve hef vays of making people love one another’; ultimately, beads of sweat breaking out on his convulsed face, raising his arm in the evil salute, of ‘his government’s’ great project of achieving "a final solution" to the problem of discrimination between humans. The much derided notion of ‘political correctness’ is about the interpersonal and organisational etiquette that might just guarantee co-existence in a world that eschews the Lausanne Principle of solving an intractable dispute over territory by putting up a wall across a disputed area and compelling people on one or the other side of it to move, until boundary and ethnic group coincide.

Coming home I drove over the mountains via Episkepsi and on to Spartillas. Rain and mist all the way.
The road over the mountains
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I’m gradually working through the wood pile in the garden – the wood given us by one of our neighbours last October - turning nailed, woodwormed, termite eaten beams into firewood that will fit in our stove. The smell of the sawed ends of the old pine and olive, still with undamaged cores, something to be inhaled like a fine wine before the released smell of the wood disperses.
It must be centuries old – mature when first cut then a long time holding the roof or floor of our neighbour’s old outbuilding. I’m minded to take a small piece of this wood home for Richard Hill as a gift to carve, perhaps a fish or an owl. I lift the wood carefully, avoiding reaching under. Nestled in the wood pile were scorpions, crumpled to avoid the attention of light. These were gently persuaded to scuttle off to another refuge after we’d enjoyed gazing at them “They are alien aren’t they?” said Lin. Quite ugly while squat they become exquisite emblems as they move, pincers spread, tail erect, across the old wood, swifter than their sibling arachnids.
Scorpions in the woodpile
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Now I'm clearer. I think. There's a party in Ano Korakiana on Saturday evening - as per this notice posted on Democracy Street - starting at 2100 in the Agricultural Co-op and then the Ano Korakiana Carnival Procession will be on the following Saturday, March 5, starting around midday, after which there's another party, like last year, in the Co-op. Oh blimey - another correction - Carnival is Sunday 6 March!

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Simon Baddeley