May 5, 2017 § Leave a comment
When our house got damaged by the big earthquake we moved for a year to an old cabin in our orange trees field, previously used to store father’s tools and as a temporary accommodation for the seasonal fruit pickers. We stayed there for the year it took to repair our house; my parents, myself and my two older brothers in just one room, the other one used as a kitchen and dining place. The restroom was a separate tiny cabin.
My friend M., whose house had been only slightly damaged, was much more excited about all this than I was, receiving it almost as an opportunity for a permanent camping adventure. She came to visit me everyday after school and would stay until my mum would send her back to her mum “so she wouldn’t get worried”. “Five in one room is more than enough for me”, mum would say closing the door behind M. with a sigh of relief.
A few years later, when I got married –much too young and to M.’s great astonishment and disapproval– I moved to our prefecture’s capital, next to a small old church severely damaged by the same earthquake. A new church was built and was in use a few houses further, but nobody wanted to tear down the old one. Sometimes religious celebrations took place in the church’s yard and somehow candles always burned inside.
My marriage turned out to be an unhappy one. M. visited me only once, after I got my first child. Then she moved very far away, to study, to live, to have real camping adventures, I don’t know.
I had a couple of affairs but never got divorced. Seems to me I had lit too many candles in that old church.
April 30, 2017 § Leave a comment
Ugliness is heartbreaking. To see ugliness and not misjudge yourself for beauty or your taste for exquisite is true seeing. To like, dislike but also understand is a matter of eternity.
Corinth is full of ugly statues. Also the cacophony of the modern architecture. I had to laugh. I had to cry.
“Thereupon many statesmen and philosophers came to Alexander with their congratulations, and he expected that Diogenes of Sinope also, who was tarrying in Corinth, would do likewise. But since that philosopher took not the slightest notice of Alexander, and continued to enjoy his leisure in the suburb Craneion, Alexander went in person to see him; and he found him lying in the sun. Diogenes raised himself up a little when he saw so many people coming towards him, and fixed his eyes upon Alexander. And when that monarch addressed him with greetings, and asked if he wanted anything, “Yes,” said Diogenes, “stand a little out of my sun”. It is said that Alexander was so struck by this, and admired so much the haughtiness and grandeur of the man who had nothing but scorn for him, that he said to his followers, who were laughing and jesting about the philosopher as they went away, “But truly, if I were not Alexander, I would be Diogenes.””
April 15, 2017 § 2 Comments
In the wee hours of Good Friday I woke up by a dream that involved the streets the procession of the Bier of Christ would take place the same evening. It was 4am and the dream was still so clear that I immediately wrote it down in my online notebook. Then I fell in deep sleep again. I don’t know what went wrong but those notes are gone and now the details of that dream too.
At first sight the streets I grew up haven’t changed much over the years, but two more close neighbours died this winter and my parents’ generation in our street is in decline.
My dream was certainly influenced by this notion and the spirit of Good Friday. What I still remember is me walking down the very street in full daylight but completely alone. Against the solitude of the image, in my mind, a sentence echoing: “This street is not empty. This street is not empty.” I was in Berger’s Lisboa.
Later that evening, on my way to the Good Friday procession, I turned to look back and, except for the sunshine, I saw my dream.
April 13, 2017 § Leave a comment
On the plane to Greece I was reading ‘Apollo’, a short story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, in which the protagonist visits his elderly parents twice a month to naturally find them every time older and fragiler. In Adichie’s story age has not only altered and softened the parents’ bodies but also, so it seems to their son, their character. He finds his well-educated parents, both former strictly rational academics, now supporting each other’s superstitious stories, watching animal documentaries on TV and overusing Vicks VapoRub!
My parents are not particularly well-educated and certainly no former academics. They would have probably been prosper former farmers by now, if it wasn’t for the financial crisis that still forces them to cultivate their land as their pensions are too small and selling no option for them either. Not yet. But that said, I recognise some of Adichie’s observations about parents growing old: “It was a kind of innocence, this new childhood of old age”, she writes. Mum and Dad are not as old as the couple in that story, but I notice a certain carelessness and indifference for consequences in their behaviour. I have to repeatedly tell them to watch their language or choice of stories in front of my ten-year-old who now finds Grandma and Grandpa the coolest as they always say the very funny things parents would never say. Very different to Adichie’s elders though, they also seem to have not really accept the limits of their ageing bodies: they’re in their seventies and they keep doing things that are quite worrying: dad regularly riding his tractor full speed or mum doing a four-day trip, twelve-hour each way, by bus!, to Bulgaria in deepest winter, only to come back with almost a pneumonia.
Well, I think I better buy them a huge box full of Vicks VapoRub for Easter.
April 13, 2017 § Leave a comment
The plane was full with elders travelling to Greece for the orthodox Easter. I had to smile when a Greek priest also came on board. He was a quite tall man in his fifties, dressed in his dark grey travel frock with a very big cross banging on his belly every time he moved to fetch something out of his bags. His beard was also a bit longer and wilder than the priest beards I remembered. The older ladies greeted him with respect and initiated a chat with him whenever possible. All in all I just had to think of Rasputin, though our plane monk didn’t have his crazy eyes, was cleaner and well-behaved.
April 2, 2017 § Leave a comment
March 19, 2017 § Leave a comment
This weekend spring has already taken a break and it’s rainy, windy and cold. But that was all very different a week ago and so, on that Sunday, I took a long evening walk to enjoy the sweet light and the very first bits and buds of the upcoming spring.
On the other side of this old wall is the river.
Only meters away from the spot I was taking the photos on that first beautiful spring evening of the year, a corpse was found in the early Monday morning hours. It lied or was washed ashore at one of the river’s banks. A man. No more was to read about him that first day. I couln’t stop thinking of all those people I took photos of, most of them from afar, walking at the bank or sitting on the benches: lovers, mothers with kids, and quite a few loners staring at the sunset, some with a bottle in the hand, others, maybe, with a weight in their heart. How did that poor man die? Was he a ghost in one of my photos?
I don’t know if the man on the bench in the photo above was the dead man found in the river. All I know is that when I got on that wall and walked by this man, I looked at his plastic bags full of bottles and his bottle full of alcohol, I looked at his muddy shoes and dirty beard and thought of the kind of photos I could but won’t take. Then a few steps beyond the benches for the river walkers, I came across an artwork—just opposite a church—an abstract kind of bench out of a single tree-trunk with the inscription: “wir sitzen wie in unserem Grabe” that could be translated: “we sit as if in our graves” *. In thought I did make the connection between the people I had seen sitting on the benches and the artwork’s inscription. Then I went on and went to the movies.
When I read about the corpse in the river the next day, my first thought was this man, but there was nothing mentioned in the article about the dead man’s age or causes of his death.
A day later the result of the autopsy was published in the local newspaper. No movie-like murder, but just a fifty-seven-year old man who fell into the river after a heart attack and being firmly drunk.
It might as well have been my ghost man.
* I first posted this story on my Instagram feed and one of the local photographers reminded me that “those wooden blocks are made of trees from the western front. There are also some original bullets inside that once hit the trees. The quotes are from the book “Im Westen nichts neues”. That’s “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque, a book based on his World War I experiences. A personal story that connects me to this book was that it was the very first book my grandfather gave me as a present. I was something like only 12 in Greece back then, I’m not sure. He, a veteran of World War II, had always thought that it was the best book that had ever been written about the brutality of the front.