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Thursday, 31 December 2009

Koukouli, Zagori: Counting the Losses




Koukouli, a beautiful Zagori village: this is to lament the loss of irreplaceable, priceless heritage, the theft of over fifty icons from the church of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, stolen sometime during the period before Christmas 2009. The thieves ruthlessly stripped the iconostasis, took gospels and the relics of saints, according to reports on the internet. They effectively destroyed the soul of the village, just as the theft of the same church’s renowned solid gold Epitafios (made in Vienna) had done in 1936.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Konstantinos Theotokis

The Corfiot writer Konstantinos Theotokis (1872-1923) is one of the greatest Greek novelists and short-story writers. His work deserves to be far better known internationally. I've been reading both Theotokis and Thomas Hardy in recent months, and enjoy them both, but very little of Theotokis' writing has been made available in English.

That is changing, thanks to Mark Davies, whose translation of "Slaves in their Chains" is to be published in September 2010 by Angel Books, London (www.angelclassics.com).

He is currently revising his translation of another of Theotokis' best known works, "Karavelas", as well as some of the Corfu short stories.

We have a treat in store. Congratulations to Mark and to Angel Books.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

At the Chalkface, Great Moments in Education

I've always enjoyed reading Ian Whitwham's column in SecEd, which I often read online. A collection of his columns has been published by Hopscotch. I've got the book on order, but here is the publisher's description. Get it for Christmas!

At the Chalkface: Great Moments in Education
is a witty collection of columns published in the weekly broadsheet SecEd since 2003. They explore the experience of the inner city classroom with humour, honesty and compassion.

These columns reflect the writer over 30 years’ experience of the classroom, showing what really goes on – they combine lightness of touch with some depth and darkness.

They reflect the vibrant, complex and sometimes heartbreaking nature of a classroom – and celebrate the rich variety of pupils within it.

Anybody who teaches or has taught in a secondary school, and anyone who has an interest in the issues facing secondary school teachers, will love this book, written by Ian Whitwham, who has taught for over 30 years in inner city comprehensives.

I did my teaching practice in a London Comprehensive, when I was studying at London University Institute of Education, so I can sympathise with Ian's columns. It's like reading about an alternative lifestyle and career, one which I didn't follow, but which I can experience through Ian's eyes.



In Association with Amazon.co.uk

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Book of the Year

It is the time of the year when most of the newspapers publish lists of their columnists' "Books of the Year".

My old friend, Mark, publisher and editor of "Wiltshire Life" recommended John Carey's William Golding: The Man Who Wrote Lord of the Flies. I will certainly be getting that well-reviewed biography in due course. Mark even phoned me to tell me that I get a mention in the book, concerning the time that Golding visited Thessaloniki.

(Update, March 2010: Golding visited Corfu in May 1965 and wrote "Corfu...was wonderful. In a strange way it was Keatsian. I suppose we all got our first idea of Greece as a separate place, from Keats. But this abundance, this fertility, this lushness; this heat and beauty...". I have also found the reference to Golding's 1982 Salonika visit: "The next day he flew to Thessaloniki, where chanting crowrds of communist students were demonstrating against Greek membership of NATO. He hoped this would mean his engagements were cancelled, but the British Council's Jim Potts decided to go ahead. 'Belief and Creativity' had a 'muted' reception, and when he 'slanged' Marx three young men got up walked out". There's no mention of the dinner party we held in his honour, with distinguished Greek writers like Nikos Gabriel Pentzikis and Zoe Karelli).

My own nomination for book of the year is Glyn Hughes' Life Class (Shoestring Press, 2009).

It's a strange coincidence, but I also first met Glyn Hughes in Thessaloniki.


Life Class
is a truly inspiring autobiographical poem about his roots, about nature, about his three marriages (including marriage to a Greek woman)and it also covers the period he spent living in Greece.

It belongs up there with Wordsworth's The Prelude and John Betjeman's Summoned by Bells.

Life Class is a modern classic. It's a long poem, but immensely moving and readable.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Demetrius Toteras, Corfiot Californian Writer






Demetrius Toteras, the Greek-American playwright and philosopher, died in California on Thursday 12 November, 2009.

I first got to know him in Corfu in 1967-1968. He came to live in Wallingford, near Oxford, at the time that I was studying film direction as a postgraduate at the University of Bristol Drama Department, and he helped to produce a film based on his life and excerpts from his play "Sunday They'll Make Me a Saint".



Apart from being an extraordinarily original writer and challenging thinker, he was an outstanding flamenco guitarist and guitar teacher.

I managed to visit him twice in the USA, once in San Francisco, the other time at his home in Sebastopol.


Toteras was his nom-de-plume. His real name was a well-known Corfiot surname. His family had emigrated to the States from Mandouki.

In the late sixties people in Corfu knew him simply as "Jimmy Christ". Everyone who met him was impressed by his intelligence and the "life-force" he seemed to embody.



He was my "koumbaros". I hope his partner, Bronwen. will be able to bring out more of his works over the next few years. Here's a short excerpt from a scene from "Sunday They'll Make Me A Saint" (New Directions in Prose and Poetry 22, New York,1970). It's a dialogue between Mama Spider and Picalo's shoes.


Billy Lee Riley

I was sad to see that one of my favourite rockabilly and blues singers died on 2nd August 2009. Billy Lee Riley was one of the great Sun rockabilly artists, and he played extraordinary blues harmonica.

I didn't know that he had died, although I knew that he had a number of serious medical problems, because we'd been exchanging occasional emails since we met some years ago. He also sought some legal advice concerning broken bookings in Europe.

He was one of the wildest rock 'n' roll singers around, and deserved to be as famous as Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis. Take a listen to "Red Hot" (the original if possible).

He was enthusiastic about a CD I recorded at Sun, Memphis. That meant a lot.

He was born on October 5, 1933. There was a good obituary in The Guardian. I missed it at the time.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

In Bermuda

I'm back in Bermuda, trying hard not to make comparisons with Corfu, because I love both islands. If I were a passenger on a cruise ship, I'd much prefer to dock at Bermuda, because the facilities and arrangements for visitors are far superior. Having said that, many visitors preferred it when the cruise ships docked at St. George's rather than at Dockyard.

In Bermuda there is no rubbish to be seen,all the buildings are beautiful, there are no eye-sores, there is a proper shuttle service into town, the signs are helpful and clear. Visitors are really made to feel important and welcome.



A Corfiot at Elbow Beach

Bermuda is celebrating 400 years of its history, which began in 1609. It's quite a helpful yardstick, 400 years, from the time it was an uninhabited island. It's about the same amount of time that the Ottoman Turks occupied Greek territory, and that the Venetians held Corfu.

When you look at Bermuda, and consider how long a period 400 years really is, and what has been achieved in that time, then you begin to understand how long parts of Modern Greece were under the Ottomans or the Venetians.

I'm staying in an amazing converted boathouse at Spanish Point, with the waves lapping at the bedroom window.

I can't complain, except for the fact that I have a tight deadline to correct the final proofs of my book "The Ionian Islands and Epirus, A Cultural History" and to prepare the very complicated index. I'm only on page 3. It won't be published until early in 2010. It should have been out this month. That's why I've got a little touch of the Bermuda blues.

Bermuda has a greater claim to being the inspiration for Shakespeare's "The Tempest" than Corfu does. That particular argument is going to run for a long time.


John William Waterhouse, Miranda, The Tempest

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Kerouac's Blues

Jack Kerouac published his “Mexico City Blues” fifty years ago, in 1959.

The poems never really worked for me, on the page. Out loud, or with a jazz accompaniment, some of the 242 choruses really hit the mark, but "non stop ad libbing" can become tiresome and then "the gig is shot".

I much preferred his prose works, like “On the Road” and “Lonesome Traveller”.

In his introductory note to “Mexico City Blues”, Jack wrote, “I want to be considered a jazz poet, blowing a long blues in an afternoon jam session on Sunday.”

In truth, I preferred Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “A Coney Island of the Mind” (Hutchinson, London, 1959) and Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl”, but I still dig the last line of the 231st Chorus. It’s stuck with me for fifty years:

“When rock becomes air
I will be there.”

There's something memorable about this line too (104th Chorus):

"I'd rather be thin than famous".


My colleagues presented me with Jack's 3 CD boxed set when I left Sweden. I often play them here in Greece.

It didn't really matter to Jack what people thought of his blues choruses: 


"And if you don't like the tone
       of my poems
You can go jump in the lake."

(From Desolation Blues, 11th Chorus; Book of Blues)

Check out Tom Waits's two interpretations of a Kerouac lyric in the songs "Home I'll never be" and "On the Road".

Kerouac himself attributes the lyrics of these songs (the original blues) to an old blues singer he met in Des Moines:

"His songs were those mysterious rumbling, rambling blues that you hear with low-register guitar and unknown words rising out of the Deep South night like a groan, like a fire beyond the trees" ("The Rumbling, Rambling Blues", Playboy, January, 1958).

Kerouac "Home I'll Never Be" and YouTube version

And remember Jack's words:

“Take a chorus, it’s free! Blow one for me!"

Tom Waits talks about Kerouac, and sings

Kerouac, On the Road to Desolation

Bellou, Vamvakaris, Tsitsanis... and Tsipouro

A most enjoyable evening was spent last week up in the Zagori, in the company of new friends from Thessaloniki, Kostas and Brigitte, who are restoring an amazing old house in the Upper Village.

We drank local tsipouro, cracked open some walnuts from the tree in the garden, and listened to old 78rpm and 45rpm records on the gramophone. Luckily we all shared the same taste in Greek music: Sotiria Bellou, Markos Vamvakaris, Vassilis Tsitsanis, Grigoris Bithikotsis.

There’s nothing like the sound and the feel of old 78s, of classic rebetika and laika songs like “Trexe, manga, na rotiseis (“I Derbederissa”), “Apopse kaneis bam!” or even 45s like “San pethano sto karavi”or “Stou Belami to ouzeri”. Gail Holst wrote, in “Road to Rebetika”, of Bellou’s version of “If I die on the boat” that “it makes my hair stand on end, although I must have listened to it a thousand times.”

You can keep your CDs and I-Pods! Give me a scratchy old 78, any time. It’s the same with the blues. Unless you’re heard Blind Willie Johnson or Howlin’ Wolf on the original 78s, you’ve never really heard them as they were heard by their original listeners.

It’s convenient to have them on I-Pod too, I admit, although they’re not the ideal lullabies!

Zagori Villages, Deutsche Welle Report

Before I set out on my travels, here's an item I enjoyed that was broadcast on Deutsche Welle on 19 January 2009.

Scroll down to listen to the radio report on the Zagori villages, with comments from Jo and Vassilis Mouchas:

http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,3951925,00.html

A Corfiot view of the English

Nicander Nucius (Nikandros Noukios), the Corfiot traveller, visited England in 1545 and 1546.

I don't know if his views were (are?) representative of what Corfiots think of the English:

“The race of men indeed is fair, inclining to a light colour; in their persons they are tall and erect; the hair of their beard and head is of a golden hue; their eyes blue, for the most part, and their cheeks are ruddy; they are martial and valorous, and generally tall; flesh-eaters, and insatiable of animal food; sottish and unrestrained in their appetites; full of suspicion.”

Saturday, 26 September 2009

How many British residents speak Greek?

Reading Charlemagne's notebook blog on the topic of 'The Disaster of Monolingual Britain' (The Economist blog, Saturday, 26 September), I wonder how many British residents of Corfu would claim to speak operational Greek? Have a look at
http://www.economist.com/blogs/charlemagne/2009/09/the_disaster_of_monolingual_br.cfm
Also worth a look, on the European Day of Languages (26 September) are the following statistics:
http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=STAT/09/137&format=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en

Viscount Kirkwall was shocked that so few British officials knew Greek, back in the times of the British Protectorate.

It's lucky we don't have to take language examinations in order to live on Corfu . Yet.

Friday, 25 September 2009

CORFU HOSPITAL

Apparently New Democracy has invited the citizens of Corfu to the official opening of the new hospital at Kontokali, at 11am on Sunday 27 September, just a week before the general election.

Bravo! I'm glad to know it's finally open! Work started in 1996. The current website of Corfu Hospital (www.corfuhospital.gr/index.htm) has this to say (click on Union Jack for English version) :

"In the future it is programmed to relocate the Hospital in a new building installation in the region Kontokali in Corfu, which will contribute in the confrontation of increased needs and new challenges".

Looking for news on the web about the official opening celebration of the new hospital, all I could find was an item on YouTube from March 2009. One doesn't know whom to believe or trust.

In the end one can only believe the evidence of one's own eyes.

Like everyone else in Corfu, I hope a fully-equipped and properly staffed new hospital will open its doors to patients soon. The Corfiots have been waiting a very long time. They deserve it. It's a long way to Ioannina or Athens when you're seriously ill.

Watching the local TV channel on Friday night, one might be forgiven for thinking that this official "opening" of the new hospital is largely a matter of unpacking boxes of equipment before packing them up again- until such a time as the hospital is really in a proper state to start functioning.

UPDATE DECEMBER 31st 2010. I am receiving some positive reports from friends in Corfu that the new hospital is up and running and very impressive. Bravo! Happy New Year!

This is very encouraging

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

John Campbell, Obituary

Richard Clogg's obituary of John Campbell was published in The Guardian on 21 September, 2009:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2009/sep/21/john-campbell-obituary

The Daily Telegraph also carried an obituary:
www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/culture-obituaries/books-obituaries/6220080/John-Campbell.html

J. K. Campbell was the author of "Honour, Family and Patronage, A Study of Institutions and Moral Values in a Greek Mountain Community" (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1964).

He is still fondly remembered by Sarakatsan families in this area of the Zagori, although he was living amongst them as long ago as 1954 and 1955, and even though the anthropological information he published about their customs and strict moral values and codes may not always have been welcome.

In "The Sarakatsani: A People in Transition" (The Anglo-Hellenic Review, No. 6, Autumn 1992), he writes:

"Inevitably, since 1954 when we first joined them, the impact of social and economic change on the Sarakatsan shepherd communities has been profound. Few now live in traditional huts. In mountain villages, stone houses abandoned by villagers migrating to the towns have been bought by shepherds...Flocks have been reduced in size and many Sarakatsani no longer make seasonal journeys alternately to the mountains and the plains...In the 1950s one could still occasionally find an old Saraktsan shepherd playing a flute while he watched his sheep. But the significance of other aspects of his heritage was certainly neither Arcadian nor romantic."

Socio-economic change has moved on apace since 1992. Some former shepherds have settled down in the villages, in Igoumenitsa or Ioannina; others have sold their stone houses to newcomers who've restored them with the the assistance of EU grants, to make them into second homes, small hotels or guest-houses. Others have been left as abandoned ruins. Every year one hears fewer sheep-bells. I miss the sound.

John Campbell's book reminds us what life was like in the Zagori little more than fifty years ago.

See also, The Sarakatsani and the Klephtic Tradition in Minorities in Greece: Aspects of a Plural Society, edited by Richard Clogg


Sunday, 20 September 2009

Epirus, Threshing Floor





ALONI

As hard as marble, copper, iron.
The threshing floor
Where Charon waits.



(Haiku and photograph exhibited in Vitsa, August 2009).

Miroloi and Skaros: Epirot Blues

I’ve just bought an interesting book called Moiroloi kai Skaros, by Kostas Loli (Ioannina, 2003). It’s a bilingual book (in Greek and Albanian), so I don’t imagine that many of you will be rushing out to order it, unless you play the folk-clarinet and want to learn to improvise in the Epirot and Southern Albanian style. It contains a wealth of musical examples and transcriptions of this very bluesy kind of music, the moiroloi (a slow, melancholic lament or dirge), and the skaros, the shepherds’ improvisation on flute or clarinet traditionally played as they gather (skarizoun) the flocks, to settle them down for the night.

I've also been listening to an old vinyl LP ("Songs of Epirus", 1975) which contains excellent examples of the Miroloi (with Vasilis Batzis on clarinet) and the Skaros, or Shepherd's Tune (with Michael Panousakos on clarinet). It's probably still available as a CD, recorded with a Ford Foundation grant by the Society for the Dissemination of National Music. I also have an old French EP record, with Vassilis Batzis performing a Miroloi (paraponiariko) and a Skaros, recorded in 1956 by Louis Berthe, of the Musee de l'Homme.

There are several CDs containing historical recordings, such as "Epirotika, 1926 to 1950", with a miroloi (recorded in New York) from 1926, and a skaros from 1929, and "The Greek Archives, Music of Epirus Vol. 1, 1925-1940" (FM Records) which contains a miroloi from 1926 (no details) and a skaros from 1926 (clarinet, Christos Harisiadis)

I once wrote an article on Epirot Music (The Anglo-Hellenic Review, Spring 2006; reprinted in Corfu Blues, Ars Interpres, 2006), calling this music “deeper than the deepest blues”. The article finished with these words: “So play me a moiroloi (lament) of exile and infinite sadness, of that deep lonely yearning for a distant home and much-missed loved ones. Let the sound of the clarinet rise and fall as the player improvises a taximi-theme like a shepherd playing to settle his flocks- and his own soul- as night falls on the mountains!”

This kind of music isn’t very popular in Corfu, it has to be said, where the most mournful and funereal music is played by the wind-bands when they process slowly through the town on Good Friday. It’s a completely different musical tradition. The slow, improvised, Epirot instrumental moiroloi isn't associated only with funerals, it's also played at panigyria.

Patrick Leigh Fermor has a poetic description of a skaros as played on a long bone flute by Yorgo, a Saraktsani (a semi-nomadic shepherd), in his book "Roumeli, Travels in Northern Greece"(1966), page 54:

"The music that began to hover through the hut was moving and breathless. It started with long and deep notes separated by pauses; then it shot aloft in patterns of great complexity. Repeated and accelerating trills led to sustained high notes which left the tune quivering in mid-air before plummeting an octave to those low and long-drawn initial semibreves. Notes of an icy clarity alternated with with notes of a stirring, reedy, and at moments almost rasping hoarseness. After a long breath, they sailed again into limpid and piercing airs of a most touching softness; the same minor phrase recurred again and again with diminishing volume, until the final high flourishes presaged the protracted bass notes once more, each of them preceded and followed by a lengthening hiatus of silence. One can think of no apter or more accurate reflection in sound of the mountains and woods and flocks and the nomads' life."

See also Tammer on the Saraktasani, in which he quotes Patrick Leigh Fermor.

Now I have the book by Kostas Loli, but no flute, no clarinet and no teacher. I’d better stick to the blues guitar. I could do with a few lessons on that instrument, too! Maybe I'll take up the didgeridoo.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Oi Xenitemenoi





In this part of the Pindus mountains, most of the swallows seem to have left, and the Diochnes are beginning to bloom. The beautiful wild yellow or mauve crocus is telling the menfolk to leave. "Mas diochnoun", say the Zagori villagers, "they're sending us away". The flowers herald the time of the year when the men of the Zagorohoria had to up-sticks, leave their wives, children, mountain villages and stone mansions to return to their occupations as expatriates in far-away lands.

It's a common theme of Epirot folk-songs, the experience of xeniteia. I know how they felt and how they feel. But like the swallows, they always return.

Friday, 18 September 2009

The British Invade the Ionian Islands!

Did you know that the British invaded the southern Ionian Islands (Zakynthos, Kefalonia, Ithaca and Kythira) two hundred years ago, in 1809, defeating the French fleet in Zakynthos on October 2, 1809?

The British captured Zakynthos, Kefalonia, Ithaca and Kythira between 2 and 9 October 1809.

The Diary of John Cam Hobhouse


The signature of Nicholas Strani (Strane), English Consul at Patras.


Follow in the footsteps of Lord Byron through the diary of John Cam Hobhouse, assembled by Peter Cochran:

http://www.hobby-o.com/

They set sail from Malta to Greece on September 19, 1809, on the brig, The Spider, in the company of Nicholas Strani, the English Consul at Patras, and others. Byron records in a letter to his mother from Prevesa that he left Malta on 21st September and arrived in Prevesa eight days later.

Fascinating reading!

Konstantinos Theotokis: Honour and Money

"Happiness and joys cost money; however economical a person may be, in Mandouki just like anywhere else in the world, they involve expense, isn't that so?" asks an unsympathetic character in Konstantinos Theotokis' novella, "I timi kai to chrima" ("Honour and Money"), written before the Balkan Wars, published in book-form in 1914.

"Oi chares theloune exoda". I've just finished reading this powerful short novel in Greek. It's set in Mandouki (Corfu).

"Anathema ta ta talara!" shouts Rini to Andreas at the end, as she goes her own way.

Even if prospective husbands no longer demand dowries, it's still very relevant.

Lord Byron: Two Hundred Years Ago Today

Posted 18 September 2009, Greek time.

Lord Byron might have been killed in a duel on Malta before he ever set eyes on Greece.

On September 18, 1809, he wrote a letter to Captain Cary, Aide-de-camp to the military commander in Malta, challenging him to a duel at 6am the following morning. Byron felt insulted by Cary's intolerable insolence. "As the vessel in which I am to embark must sail the first change of wind, the sooner our business is arranged the better".

In another letter (May 3, 1810) he explains: "At Malta I fell in love with a married woman and challenged an aid du camp of Genl.Oakes (a rude fellow who grinned at something, I never rightly knew what,) but he explained and apologised, and the lady embarked for Cadiz, & so I escaped murder and adultery."

One suspects that it would have been Byron who would have been killed. Instead, he set sail for these shores, and he lived to see another day. The rest is history.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

The Anglo-Hellenic Review

One of the best (and most attractively designed) magazines about Greece (Ancient, Byzantine and Modern) is The Anglo-Hellenic Review, edited by Paul Watkins, published twice a year (Spring and Autumn) by the Anglo-Hellenic League in London. The latest issue, no. 40, Autumn 2009, carries an excellent article on the writer Alexandros Papadiamandis ("The Boundless Garden, The Art of Alexandros Papadiamandis"), who is associated with the lovely island of Skiathos. The author of the article is Richard Pine, founder of the Durrell School of Corfu. It's both an essay and a book review, as Richard reviews the first volume of a new translation of Papadiamandis's wonderful short stories, published by Denise Harvey ("The Boundless Garden: Selected Short Stories volume 1").

Everyone hopes that funding will be found for the next two volumes. I would also love to see a translation of the stories and novels of Konstantinos Theotokis, the Corfiot writer.

Overseas subscriptions to the Anglo-Hellenic Review are only £7.50.

If you are interested in joining the League, see http://www.anglohellenicleague.org/
email info@anglohellenicleague.org

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Theodorakis, Angelopoulos, DVDs in Greek newspapers


It's hard to keep up with all the CDs and DVDs which are 'given away' (almost) with Greek newspapers every Saturday and Sunday. When I go to the periptero (kiosk) I don't look at the newspaper or the headlines, I look at the CD or DVD included.

Last Saturday Ta Nea had the first of three classic movies by Angelopoulos (O Thiasos, Travelling Players). Next Saturday it's 'Days of 36', and the following Saturday it's Anaparastasis (Reconstruction) filmed in black and white in 1969-1970, largely in the village of Vitsa, Zagori. How those villages have changed, thanks to the support of the EU and the availability of skilled Albanian stone-masons, who have saved the day.These films are not easy to find elsewhere, but the Greek ones don't have English subtitles.

On Sunday another newspaper had the first of 5 DVDs about the life and music of Theodorakis, a cinematic autobiography.

I've also collected a stack of Westerns and thrillers in English. I hope I find time to view them.
I really wonder how the economics of all this works. So many extras every Sunday, magazines, books, films....and then a lot of unwanted paper for recycling (ie the landfill).

Monday, 14 September 2009

Ritsos, Centenary of Birth


Yannis Ritsos was born in 1909. He died, aged 81, in November 1990. The Ministry of Culture declared 2009 as "The Year of Yannis Ritsos".
I've read a lot of his work over the years. It's not difficult to read or to understand, even in Greek. I met him in 1984. He had wonderful handwriting too (see above) and he was a talented painter. This summer there was an exhibition of his paintings in Monemvasia. If you don't like reading poetry, you can always listen to it (eg Romiosyni, Epitaphios) set to music by Mikis Theodorakis.
Much of his work has been translated into English. I recently found "Late into the night: The Last Poems of Yannis Ritsos", translated by Martin McKinsey, in a Corfu bookshop. It's a powerful collection. He didn't win the Nobel Prize, like Seferis and Elytis, but he should have done.
Times and tastes may have changed, but we shouldn't forget the centenary of his birth.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Agiot Music Festival, Agios Ioannis, Corfu, 12 Sept.

Glad I made it to this well-organised festival; there was some great music.

Highlights for me were guitarist Paul Stenton, from local band Omega 5 (and Steve Dell, the lead vocalist, could really rock the blues) and The Dylan Project, with Steve Gibbons sounding uncannily like Bob at times; many of the arrangements were original and innovative (they featured some less well-known, older songs with a new cutting-edge), and their interpretations did full justice to the lyrics .

All wonderful musicians (line-up is on www.agiotfest.co.uk/lineup.html). There was also an impressive debut by young Jemma Bartlett, singing with The Good Old Boys.

Luckily the rain kept off. Congratulations and thank you to the organisers, technicians and musicians.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Mandouki, Odysseus and Nausicaa



Odysseus came ashore at Mandouki.
Nausicaa was washing clothes in the Potamos River.
That's what the Swiss traveller, Albert Mousson, believed (Zurich, 1859).
I'm sure he was right!

"And here’s Nausicaa from Corfu,
All covered with soapy lather.
She had three murderous brothers
Down in Mandouki, and in the Spianadha."

(from Nikos Kavadias, “Paideia”, Collected Poems)

Odysseus and Nausicaa, F. Preller

Ulysses and Nausicaa, Alessandro Allori

Odysseas and Nausicaa, William McGregor Paxton



Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Mules or sheep?




Bouzouki in Church?


Any Byzantine mural experts out there? Is that a bouzouki being played in church?
I guess it's a type of tampoura. But the buzuk has been played in church:
watch Ayman Fanous (solo) on www.youtube.com/watch?v=TSaQxGe8zAs

Monday, 7 September 2009

"High Altitude, Cool Attitude"













In mid-August, Vitsa is definitely much cooler than Corfu.


See you there next year, 14-16 August, under the giant platanos tree in the mesochori, 1000 metres above sea-level. Put it in your diaries now.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Missing Sweden






"Swedish Reflections, from Beowulf to Bergman" was published in 2003, when I was living in Stockholm. I was browsing through it again just now, and came across a poem of Eva Strom which I translated for the anthology. It's called "The Outer Hebrides". It struck a chord then and it still does. Why is it we always long to be somewhere else- in Sweden or the Outer Hebrides if in Corfu; in Corfu if we're in the Outer Hebrides; in Sydney if we're in London? Here's an excerpt:

"If it's the case that you long for the Outer Hebrides

Or somewhere else where you have the sea in front of you

And Europe behind you...

if it's the case that you sense inside you the end is coming

like a crack, or an idea emerging

if it's the case that you long to be changed

while you travel

just as unripe fruit is changed as it travels

in the cargo-hold, over the ocean, beneath the Southern Cross,

a hull's-width away from the water...

if that's the case and there's no other option-

if that's how it is-

you've already turned off the lights in the house:

you're on your way."



Karin Strom: Video - Darling

Hon som lskade dig

Shakespeare's Sonnets, 400th Anniversary of First Publication

Shakespeare hasn't been much on my mind this summer. I don't take his Collected Works to the beach.

I have just received an invitation to an event in London, to mark the 400th anniversary of the First Quarto edition of Shakespeare's sonnets. There is to be a musical rendering of the sonnets, as translated into Czech, performed by an old friend from Prague, a former professor of English at Charles University.

I would love to go, but one misses a lot of cultural events, living on Corfu.

Still, 400 years is a long time, and the sonnets are still as fresh as ever. Why not take them to the beach, and then tell me which your favourite sonnet is? Or I could make 154 separate posts....

Try sonnets 18, 116 and 129 for starters.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Lockerbie and Devolution

Watching the news just now, Gordon Brown was talking about the "quasi-judicial" decision made by the Scottish Executive to release the Lockerbie bomber on compassionate grounds.

I'm not sure how many people in the UK understand the significance of the word "quasi", or the basic principles of devolution.

The devolved Scottish parliament may have the legal competence to make decisions concerning its own legal system, but it does not (yet) have the devolved competence to make decisions concerning foreign affairs and defence.

Surely this was a decision relating to UK Foreign Affairs? Or was it Quasi-Foreign-Affairs?

On this topic, see also

www.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/5289358/libyagate-has-its-roots-in-labours-devolution.html

Lord Byron on Lord Elgin: Costa-Gavras Parthenon film

What do you think of the short Costa-Gavras film about the history of the Parthenon?

He quotes from Lord Byron's "The Curse of Minerva" and the satirical lines about Lord Elgin.
Byron had never intended this poem for publication and wanted it suppressed. Read it on http://readytogoebooks.com/CM13.htm

This version of the Costa-Gavras film seems to be lacking the controversial scene of early Christians (priests?) vandalising the temple. I understood that it had been restored, on the insistence of the director.

I haven't had a chance to visit the New Acropolis Museum. I hardly ever go to Athens, and the recent fires have provided another powerful disincentive.

The animated film is worth a look, whatever you feel about this cause, and the arguments for and against the return of the Parthenon marbles from the British Museum:

http://media.causes.com/523562?p_id=33961105&ref=mf

and see also http://blog.taragana.com/n/scene-of-christians-damaging-parthenon-deleted-from-athens-museum-film-after-church-objects-120739/


The First Line, trailer
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FTaVShdDS2U

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

LORD BYRON IN ALBANIA

“Lord Byron and the Balkans"

TIRANA, ALBANIA

14-18 September 2009

The Albanian Byron Society, supported by the Ministry of Tourism, Culture, Youth and
Sports, and U.F.O. University, are going to commemorate Byron’s visit to Albania in
1809. It is a combination of academic and cultural programme and tourism.
This International Event is going to take place following the Conference in Athens, 14-
18 September 2009. Those participants there, who want to come, will fly to Tirana. It
is just one hour flight. Senior personalities of state, distinguished personalities of culture
and art, academicians, writers and scholars, Albanian Byronists from Kosova, Arbëreshi
(Italy) and other countries are going to participate.
This Event will take five days, according to this programme:
14.09.2009 – Arrival: - Those who will come in groups of 5-8 or more will be picked
up at “Mother Teresa” airport, Tirana. You may come directly from London, Rome,
Milan, Athens, Vienna, Munich, etc. Individuals should inform us in advance where they
will come from. All will be received at the airport. You will be accommodated at Tirana
International Hotel (four star hotels) right in the center of Tirana. It has very good
meeting halls, etc. – You will have a welcome dinner there.
15.09.2009: - The Symposium: “Lord Byron and the Balkans”. This is a call for
papers and this theme invites you to write about the influence Byron had in this region
and the influence the Balkans had on him; about his friendly relations with Ali Pashë
Tepelena, etc. – Cultural activities in Tirana – Concert. We wish to organize an
international one with groups from Portugal, Spain, Malta, Greece and perhaps from
Turkey. The second part: Albanian groups.
16.09.2009: - Leaving for Saranda, the main tourist center of the south. The trip will
be along the Albanian Riviera. – Lunch at Llogora, a tourist center in the mountains; - A
short visit to the fortress of Ali Pasha in Porto Palermo; - Dinner in a characteristic
restaurant in Saranda.
17.09.2009: - On the way to Tirana, a short visit to Gjirokastra, a very characteristic
city. Visit to Tepelena and a commemorative activity there - Lunch. - Back to
Tirana. – The promotion of the book “ Guests to Ali Pasha” by Tessa de Loo
(Famous Dutch writer). – A gala dinner – A documentary film about Lord Byron.
18.09.2009 – Departure!
All the participants, scholars, admirers and friends of Lord Byron will
have special hospitality and special treatment:
Notes:
Those who are going to read their papers will be our guests. Their stay:
accommodation; meals and traveling in Albania will be free. The other
participants will have to pay a symbolic fee of 200 Euro!
All those who want to participate in this Event have to confirm by sending:
his/her title, full name, position(s), mail address (because we shall send formal
invitations) and a very brief CV. Deadline: June 30, 2009.
Lecturers, after their confirmation, have to send their abstracts. Deadline June
30, 2009 and their papers (about 15 minutes). Deadline July 30, 2009.
For more details you may have direct contact with Professor Afrim Karagjozi
either by mail: Rr. e Durresit, P.11, Sh.6, Ap.45, Tirana, Albania; or by e-mail:
afrim_karagjozi@yahoo.com. These are the two convenient addresses you
may communicate with the Albanian Byron Society

NEUROMANTICS, CD, RAUL SCACCHI


"NEUROMANTICS" CD, 2009

Music by Raul Scacchi



Songs: "EVE", "EURYDICE", "NARCISSUS", "LYSISTRATA", "TERESA", "Mme MARCHADIER", "ELVIRA", "MAN FRIDAY", "MARIA"



INTRODUCTION BY JIM POTTS AND RAUL SCACCHI:

“Neuromantics” (or “neuro-mantics”) is an exploration of love in all its diversity and contradictions: devotion, ecstasy, rapture, friendship, desire, blind love, vanity, narcissism, erotic and neurotic obsession, addictions.

These were some of the words, feelings and ideas we played with while we were focusing on characters, some historical or mythological, who would represent different aspects of love.

It was a philosophical and psychological investigation about people's basic needs, their dreams of escape, of excitement and romance, but also about the love of nature, the love of country, the spiritual love of God, the love of a mother for a child, self-love, even murderous love.

Technically, the collaboration was challenging. An Italian composer, an English lyricist, a Greek singer: we all had very different backgrounds and musical tastes, but Corfu provided us with the opportunity to get together and to create a work which we hope is new and original, and more romantic than neurotic. That is for the listener to judge.


Eurydice:

I like the way that you smile
When you smile at me
But it's going to be
A long long time
Far away from each other.

You look at me- it makes me die.
Could it mean good-bye?
What can I do, I'm not the strong kind.
I can wait for you all my life
And I will think of you all the time
Just to see you through.....


The Ionian Islands and Epirus: perfect Easter gift

"The Ionian Islands and Epirus, A Cultural History" is now due for publication on 1st March 2010. It's an ideal present for those who love this part of Greece.
See the publisher's online catalogue announcement, and Amazon.co.uk

http://www.signalbooks.co.uk/book.php?a=1904955657

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Byron in Greece, Music in Zitsa






Celebrating Byron's First Visit to Greece in 1809



http://www.ekathimerini.com/4dcgi/news/civ_1KathiLev&xml/&aspKath/civ.asp&fdate=25/08/2009

Conference to commemorate 200 years since British poet’s first journey to the country

From Vivienne Pittendrigh's Chamber Music Holidays August newsletter:

"The programme for Divertimenti in Corfu Festival this year is the most interesting we have ever had, with the brilliant Herold Quartet from Prague - six concerts with three wonderful venues - see http://www.chambermusicholidays.com/. This is proving very popular and only two places remain, so book soon. Recently I visited the famous Glinavos Winery in Zitsa on the Greek mainland. Lord Byron, the famous English poet, stayed at the Zitsa Monastery 200 years ago and we are having a special concert to celebrate this. We take the ferry from Corfu to Igoumenitsa on the mainland and are met by a bus which takes us to Dodoni, the oldest of the ancient Greek oracles, and the site of one of the most famous ancient Amphitheatres. Then to Ioannina, the charming city on the lake with much of historic interest, and on to Zitsa to visit the monastery, and then to the Glinavos winery. This is one of the most famous of the Greek Wineries winning many international medals. Here we have a tour and tastings before the concert. The wonderful programme, which includes Beethoven op 131, will be followed by a buffet dinner with wines before we return to Corfu that evening. The two days in Albania in the first week of the Corfu Chamber Music Holiday are packed with interest. Butrint, one of the most amazing archaeological sites in the Mediterranean, with the stunning excavations from prehistoric times through the many civilizations, http://www.butrint.org/ will be a highlight.
UPDATE, 6 SEPTEMBER: The Byron Concert planned for Zitsa has had to be cancelled because of the Greek elections.

Friday, 28 August 2009

THE CAT OF PORTOVECCHIO, CORFU TALES



The Cat of Portovecchio, Corfu Tales

The Cat of Portovecchio is usually available at PLUS bookshop in Corfu Town, or on Amazon.

What they say about THE CAT OF PORTOVECCHIO

"The Cat of Portovecchio is a deeply sensual novel, you can almost smell the sea brine, the diced garlic, the fresh bread, and even the metallic blood scent wafting from the nearby slaughterhouse...the book has colour and passion to recommend it." Thuy On, The Age, Melbourne, January 192008.


‘In The Cat of Portovecchio Maria Strani-Potts has produced a genuinely charming book...The charm consists in the book's wholeness of view...the writer's generosity in letting everything in; her allowing a place for all sorts of ordinary human follies and indiscretions, for bad humour as well as good, but with a sense that what all this makes up is a picture of the way we are… She takes us inside a whole world, lovingly created, that is like no other we have been invited into, but with an eye that can be savage as well as loving. Just when we think we know some of these characters, and feel comfortable with them—too comfortable in fact—she catches them for us in a new and altogether less easy light...She has the writer's eye for detail: for the small, unnoticed aspect of a thing that makes it immediately alive to us; the writer's sense of pace, that makes time, and room in the writing, so that everything finds its place; and the writer's unsparingness that makes truth more important to her than any desire to please.’ David Malouf, 13 November 2007, launching the book

‘This book enthralls with its depiction of life in Corfu in the 1950s…Maria-Strani Potts takes you back in time, so that you feel you have yourself experienced the Corfu of that era.

It’s like the best bits of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin rolled into one; and if a single book deserves to be read on all Corfu’s beaches this summer, The Cat of Portovecchio must be the one.” (The Corfiot, May 2008)

“Maria Strani-Potts, in a style reminiscent of Louis de Bernières (Captain Corelli’s Mandolin) and Joanne Harris (Chocolat),weaves tales about the inhabitants of a Corfiot fishing village in the 50s and the cat which makes itself part of their lives, whether they like it or not. Right from page one Strani-Potts manages to captivate the reader as the individual stories unwind and intertwine, gradually revealing extraordinarily real characters…It is refreshing to read a fictional account of village life in Corfu, written from the point of view of the locals and not from that of the foreigner in their midst. The Cat of Portovecchio isn’t trying to present a glossy, tourist-ready Corfu- instead it charms us with the inner workings of its people and traditions.” (Book Review, ISLAND magazine, Summer/Autumn 2008).

"But now comes Maria Strani-Potts' captivating Corfu tales, The Cat of Portovecchio and I eat my words- not a bad image since, if your appetite for the writing flags (which it won't), the stories themselves are laced with scrumptious local recipes. It's about a Corfu fishing village...Read it, it'll change your life and the way you love (and live) the Corfu idyll. Grab it soon because it'll sell out fast and you don't want to be left out of the fashionable chit-chat. Also, get yourself copies for the spitaki, for the London townhouse- and, hey, one for your posh QueasyJet visitors to ease the tedium of rubbing shoulders with us proles." ISLAND (Corfu's Lifestyle Magazine), March/April 2008

“Maria Strani-Potts is incisive in her observations of her locale…Strani-Potts’ writing is characterized by a relentless and seductive intelligence which can be cruel, compassionate and ironically amusing- often all at the same time. She is never less than provocative. A pleasure to read and, even for Corfiots, an education”. Richard Pine, The Anglo-Hellenic Review, Spring 2009.

Lives ripple among mesmerising aromas

Many of us enjoy a recipe, and The Cat of Portovecchio is a work of fiction that moves with confident ease between the world of the cookbook and the tale.
It is a hybrid that announces itself early. Straight after the contents page of The Cat of Portovecchio is another, headed, Food in Portovecchio.It's an idiosyncratic sequence and also an important indicator of the source of the book's charm, which drifts from its pages in a heady and beguiling combination of aroma, texture and colour.
Avgolemono, frigathelia, bourdeto, yiaprakia, mayiritsa. Fish stew, just picked summer vegetables in tomato sauce, octopus and salami. Strani-Potts conjures a world that assaults the senses and her affectionate descriptions of recipes and food preparation of the kind authentic to Corfu are so vivid and mesmerising, so imbued with social custom and occasion they are a unifying thread running through the fractured, passionate and often difficult lives of her characters.
Together with the cat of the title, a black-and-white stray who moves "like a fashion model on a platform", the author's attention to food brings a dimension of sociability and geniality to tales of a world where celebration, incidents of violence and grim compromise work themselves out in a landscape notable for its abundant gardens, shady squares and the fizzing effervescence of sunshine on the port.
With the exception of Louisa, who loses her mother at the age of six, and who never ceases to struggle throughout the tales to hang on to vestiges of her memory and her affection, Strani-Potts's characters are presented as cameos, flares of energy and of conflict without resolution. Inevitably their lives intersect, for the community is small. A young couple falls in love; the local priest, Father Anthony, spends his time maliciously skewing reality to his personal advantage; the ample, middle-aged Blossom is married off to Louisa's father, Tony.
Poor Blossom: her wiry hair, bulging dark brown eyes, flat nose and thick lips had left her stranded in the family house. She has spent her life being told what to do and now marries during a thunderstorm "with a forced smile" to fulfil a financial arrangement and provide Tony with a housekeeper. Subsequently her married life is a gruelling mix of housework, cooking, needlework and a resignation of nearly heroic proportions.
Another character, Joy, married to a mostly absent seaman, instigates an explosive and accusatory confrontation with Father Anthony in the church vestry after a mass for the patron saint of Kerkyra (Corfu). Wearing her best stilettos and a fur coat from Vladivostock, Joy strikes at his pseudo self-possession with panache, confronting him with such a terrible and accurate account of his misdemeanours that it is hard to imagine how he could ever again lift his head in the village or officiate in his church. But he does…
The Cat of Portovecchio is not a novel that concerns itself much with the fine brushstrokes of the individual psyche, its choices and its fate.
This would matter more if the overall canvas and its characters did not spring to life with such vividness and sensuality, and one's eye were not always being drawn onwards and elsewhere. The tales are persistently eventful, and as they scroll across the feast days and holy days, the cycles of the seasons, births, marriages and deaths, any number of subplots appear and then disappear, traced so swiftly and impressionistically that they ripple across the page and sink without a trace…
The Cat of Portovecchio is notable for its freshness, warmth and spontaneity. Strani-Potts invites us to step into the lives and over the thresholds of this island community with charm and generosity. She leaves us with a seaside village and a landscape so vibrant that it stays in the mind long after the book is closed.’
Cathy Peake The Weekend Australian, February 09, 2008.

‘It has everything—it’s like eating a full thirty-course dinner. Maria Strani-Potts is like a river that has burst its banks. Everything is included in her work, and she’s not afraid to put it down—no matter whose toes she steps on. Brilliant!’ D.Toteras, Greek American critic, writer and philosopher

"Cats go where they like. Even if they are chased away, they still come back. In Portovecchio, the small fishing village in Corfu, with its slaughterhouse by the sea, its old stone church, vile priest, sexy women, wild weather, fascinating food and wondering children, the cat goes everywhere, sees everything. Gerald Durrell used to be my eyes on Corfu, my only information about one of the legendary places of the world. I think I see it better now. Australians who come from Greece will recognise their roots, their ancient life, in this Corfu of 50 years ago. Readers who know Greece from afar will see it close here. I thank the cat, who moves through these very Greek joys and dreams, for opening my eyes."

Tony Troughear, The Newcastle Herald, Weekender Books Section, February 2008.

‘When I read The Cat of Portovecchio, I was immediately drawn to the apparently laid-back way of life of the characters. But it is boiling under the surface in the little village! Every character has a story to tell, and very often their lives cross. You will find passion, lost love, a child missing her mother, grown-ups caught in their own sorrow, incapable of helping others, a priest with bad intentions and secrets ready to be unveiled…and a lot of strong women. It is a book full of warm and understanding people who take care of each other and who are doing the best they can with the life God has given them. There are many original recipes. Most of all, the cat Mamee gives an unusual and enjoyable angle to the story.

It has that little extra. I immediately visualized it as a film. This is a story that will attract many readers. I also think that the timing is right. We need well-written stories with a universal message.’

Gunilla Sandin, Head of the International Seminar Program, Gothenburg International Book Fair.
‘Evocative and charming...her extensive knowledge of Greek culture informs these fictional tales featuring the widowed Tony, his daughter Louisa, the philandering island priest Father Anthony and the object of his longing, the beautiful Zoë. The cast of characters are thoughtfully created, but it is the author's understanding of the subtleties of village life—the rhythm of the sea, religious ceremonies and unspoken rules—that is most appealing.’ The Sun-Herald, 13 January 2008

‘Tales of sun-drenched life in Corfu are blended with authentic recipes in Maria Strani-Potts' novel, The Cat of Portovecchio...each of the 10 chapters has a recipe blended into the narrative. “I wanted to give people a sense of what it was like in the 1950s and 1960s...when everything was easy and beautiful,” she said. Wherever she is in the world, Corfu is always with Strani-Potts.’
The Wentworth Courier, 19 December 2007

‘Nourished by, and full to the marrow with delicious Corfiot spirit, but also with caustic humour and satire, in The Cat of Portovecchi: Corfu Tales Maria Strani-Potts reveals her intimate knowledge of the Corfiot mentality, customs, idiosyncrasies and ways of thinking. At first glance it's a tragic story enriched with comic elements, but Maria Strani-Potts also offers us a philosophical framework for the tragic social events which have an immediate impact on the inhabitants of the island.’
Sophia Ralli-Kathariou, Kosmos, 7 December 2007

‘“It’s a book about the landscape of the place, about its history, its food and the way of thinking of its people,” [Strani-Potts] said. “It describes how things were done then.” [She] said it was important because deep in the souls of Corfiots lay three primary concerns: the sea, olive trees and their very long and complicated history.’
The Manly Daily, 2 November 2007

‘Maria Strani-Potts takes readers directly into the lives of the inhabitants of a bustling Corfu fishing village. Every character has a story to tell. Easter and Christmas, saints’ days and name days, marriages and funerals, are celebrated with feasts and through these stalks the Cat of Portovecchio, imperious and opportunistic, both loved and reviled.’ Gleebooks Gleaner, November 2007.

A clever Corfu cat
JONATHAN CARR , THE ATHENS NEWS, 24.10.2008 :

Mamee is the black-and-white moggie that slinks through the pages of Maria Strani-Potts' The Cat of Portovecchio, set in Corfu in the mid-1950s. Abandoned by the owner of what was once the biggest house in a small, tight-knit community in the fishing village of Portovecchio, Mamee roams the neighbourhood at will. She knows who cooks what best (this is a place where everyone boasts a culinary speciality) and her appetite is seemingly inexhaustible. Slipping in through open doors and windows she helps herself to the most succulent dishes, usually before they have been served, creating havoc in the process. She raises smiles, she exasperates and she always - when necessary - escapes. Some love her, others don't. But Mamee turns out to be more than just a controversial community pet. She acts as a moral guardian for the human society she observes. Befriending the weak and oppressed, she exposes and punishes human wickedness.
1950s Portovecchio is quaint and attractive. Its gardens flourish with jasmine, honeysuckle, oranges and lemons; fish is plentiful and cheap; the climate is mostly forgiving. But it is made clear from the outset that the village does not represent an idyllic lost world. The local slaughterhouse turns the sea red three times a week, and the stench of its activities mixes with that of boiling tar from the shipyards to fill the air with a noxious odour. The scent of a popular kebab, the frigatheli, is far more alluring but it is not allowed to dominate.
And sin, of a sort, never lies far beneath life's surface. Fish is not Portovecchio's only business. The village is used as a conduit for smuggling cigarettes and, far more intriguingly, it supplies "an endless supply of good-looking mistresses" to Corfu town. Fat Foni, the only such mistress we meet, has managed to save travel expenses by finding herself a man in town. At the local church, actually. And it is telling that her man, handsome Father Anthony, is the only person in the village who really detests Mamee the cat, and behaves don't worry, Mamee is not so prudish that she exacts retribution for a bit of ordinary philandering, however hypocritical it is for the father to go directly from prayer to paramour. His crimes, we will discover, run much deeper than that.
Central to the world Strani-Potts has imagined is ten-year-old Louisa. She lost her mother when she was six, and arrives in Portovecchio four years later with her father Tony and her new stepmother, the far-from-blossomy Blossom. It is not a happy family. Nobody is participating in this union because they really want to be there. Tony has taken his new wife for her money, Blossom has been pushed into the match by a scheming sister-in-law and Louisa is caught helplessly in the middle. She misses her real mother, dislikes her stepmother and has no friends. It is a decidedly unpromising start. And that means there is plenty of room for improvement.
Sure enough, Louisa is soon making friends, not just with Mamee, but also with the other children in the neighbourhood. Blossom's enthusiasm for cooking provides something of an introduction to a community obsessed by the kitchen, and even snobbish Tony ends up doing a bit of socialising with people he considers beneath him. An omniscient narrative voice reassures us, from time to time, that there is a bright future in store for one or other character, but within these tales themselves only Mamee seems to achieve much lasting control over her life, and happiness ahead that might endure.
This is a quirky book. Strani-Potts was born in Corfu (in the same year as her character Louisa) and she is presumably drawing on childhood memories in her evocation of the island in those postwar years. She does this very well. Portovecchio itself is fictional, but the rhythm of life, the evocation of place and period details (the presence of the royal family in summer, the treatment of communists) give it an authentic feel. There are plenty of humorous ways in which cooking is so central to the life of the community, and hence the book. Over twenty recipes (including ones for religious ceremonies), that range from trahana soup to yiaprakia, a meat-and-rice concoction wrapped in cabbage leaves, are described fully enough for a reader to have a go himself.
It is right that a book with a cat at its centre, who tracks wrongdoing and metes out punishment, should have a touch of the fabulous to it.
And The Cat of Portovecchio does….Strani-Potts has created a vivid world in Portovecchio, full of interest and conflict and detail, and Mamee pulls off enough tricks to leave herself, and us, grinning like that fictional forebear of hers, the Cheshire-Cat.
* The Cat of Portovecchio: Corfu Tales by Maria Strani-Potts (276pp) is published by Brandl and Schlesinger via http://www.brandl.com.au/

Madonna Magazine (Jesuit Publication), May/June 2007:

Mamee, the abandoned cat, is an unspeaking observer of the lives of people in Portovecchio. We see her in people’s homes and in the streets. At one moment she leads a religious procession as if the most important character in town; at another she creeps through the shrubbery to comfort a woman who herself feels abandoned years after her husband’s execution.
Just as nothing happens without Mamee, nothing happens without food. The tastes and smells of sikomaida, bourdeto and loukoumades waft through the pages as ingredients are listed and methods explained. Not everyone is a good cook however as indicated by this title chapter: ‘The cat steals, eats and sleeps well, while Joy cooks an inedible pastitsada.’
But this is more than a bit of tourist-style nostalgia about life, cats and food in an old fishing village. Maria Strani-Potts, a native of Corfu, writes with an insider’s honesty and clear-sightedness.
When launching The Cat of Portovecchio in November 2007, David Malouf described it as a ‘genuinely charming book’ whose writer allows for ‘all sorts of ordinary human follies and indiscretions, for bad humour as well as good, but with a sense that what all this makes up is a picture of the way we are.’ All this also makes for a very satisfying read!


“A Novel Way of Looking at Corfu”, Angela Papageorgiou and Hilary Paipeti, The Corfiot, January 2009:

In 'The Cat of Portovecchio', an enthralling depiction of life in a seaside suburb of Corfu Town,
Maria Strani-Potts brings us her own experiences of the mores and customs of the early 1950s. With caustic wit, she spares no-one, from Camilla, an interfering English animal lover who wants to 'save the entire Hellenic animal kingdom', to glamourous Joy, who 'drew long, curvy lines above her dark brown eyes where her eyebrows had been before she plucked them out.' In each chapter, one of the characters cooks, and the recipe becomes part of the motivation or the plot; for example, Father Antony's Savouro is the reason why Mamee, the cat of the title, always follows him - which has repercussions in the very last paragraph of the book.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

The Pimping of Panorea (reviews); To Poulima tis Panoreas




For those who don't read Greek, an abridged version of "The Pimping of Panorea" (To Poulima tis Panoreas) was published in ISLAND magazine in 2008.


Go to http://islandmagazine.gr/

Click, on left, on Free Online Past Issues

Go to Issue 8, the Summer/Autumn 2008 issue, view pages 14-17.

About the book:

“TO POULIMA TIS PANOREAS”, MARIA STRANI-POTTS, CorfuBooks.com.

“An absolute must-read” (ISLAND).

“Πρόκειται πραγματικά για ένα λογοτέχνημα-ράπισμα και ταυτόχρονα μια αφοπλιστική περιγραφή του χώρου που ζούμε, ποιότητες που δίνουν στο βιβλίο τον χαρακτήρα μανιφέστου, το οποίο μπορεί να συνοψιστεί στο «τέρμα τα λόγια, ώρα για δράση” Dr.Kostas Kardamis.

“I didn’t just read it, I studied it closely. This book should be read by political candidates, and by all those who work in institutions and who hold any kind of power, or who hold the fate of the island in their hands.” Dimitris Konidaris, Enimerosi.

Update, from Simon Baddeley's Democracy Street Blog, 17 October 2012:

"I grumble about the commodification of philotimo contained in tourism, but at a certain point the craft of good business melds the private and the public; the domestic and the economic. A business can be managed so beautifully, that it comes almost to match the care that goes with the hospitality of neighbours, friends and family. Such achievement requires exactly the level of dedication missing from the exploitation of Greece by the behaviours and people who are excoriated in Maria Strani-Potts diatribe against the Pimping of Panorea – the pimping of everything beautiful on the island.

For anyone who aspires truly to succeed as a human being in the business of tourism, Maria’s short and powerful parable should be compulsory – it makes compelling reading, a passionate cry of outrage at the slow ruination of a culture by greedy and incompetent people lacking respect for those whose money they took for the goods and services they offered, trading on goodness and beauty they forgot or never understood".

There's also (page 13) a review of "The Cat of Portovecchio, Corfu Tales".
Dr Kostas Kardamis' review of To Poulima tis Panoreas follows, in Greek:
Μαρία Στράνη-Ποττς: "Το πούλημα της Πανωραίας"
Η Μαρία Στράνη-Ποττς, έχοντας ζήσει εξαιτίας των επαγγελματικών υποχρεώσεών της για αρκετό διάστημα εκτός Κερκύρας (και, ακόμα καλύτερα, εκτός Ελλάδος), είναι από τους ανθρώπους εκείνους που έχουν την ευτυχία να βλέπουν τον τόπο τους και με το μάτι του εξωτερικού παρατηρητή. Έτσι η ανησυχία της για την Κέρκυρα είναι εντονότερη και σαφώς διαφοροποιημένη από τα κατά καιρούς ευχολόγια διαφόρων όψιμα εμφανιζόμενων «ανησυχούντων». Το ίδιο αναμενόμενος είναι και ο τρόπος με τον οποίο η Μαρία Στράνη-Ποττς επέλεξε να επικοινωνήσει τις ανησυχίες της για αυτό που βιώνει καθημερινά: Το πούλημα της Πανωραίας είναι ένα λογοτέχνημα γεμάτο συμβολισμούς και αλληγορίες, του οποίου η ηρωίδα ταυτίζεται με την Κέρκυρα. Πάνω στην ταύτιση Κέρκυρας–Πανωραίας βασίζεται όλη η αφηγηματική πλοκή του βιβλίου στο οποίο παρελαύνουν στιγμές από την ιστορία του νησιού και, κυρίως, εκτίθεται η σύγχρονη κατάστασή του, η οποία καθόλου θετικά δεν προϊδεάζει για το μέλλον του.Η Πανωραία (βλέπε Κέρκυρα) είναι ένα ξεχωριστό και όμορφο πλάσμα με λίγους ουσιαστικούς φίλους, αλλά με πάρα πολύ περισσότερους γνωστούς. Οι τελευταίοι έχοντας τις «αγαθότερες των προθέσεων» προσπαθούν να εκμεταλλευτούν την Πανωραία προς όφελός τους, χωρίς όμως να κατανοούν ότι τραυματίζοντάν την καταστρέφουν, όχι μόνο την προαιώνια φυσική, πνευματική και πολιτισμική κληρονομιά της, αλλά και τους ίδιους.Οι παραλληλίες είναι προφανείς και βιωμένες από όλους καθημερινά Η Κέρκυρα της φυσικής ομορφιάς, του (αστικού και εξωαστικού) πολιτισμού, της μουσικής, των τεχνών, των πνευματικών ανθρώπων, της οικονομικής και κοινωνικής ανάπτυξης, της άμεσης σύνδεσης με ό,τι προοδευτικότερο στον πολιτισμένο κόσμο έχει τραυματιστεί, κατά πολλούς, ανεπανόρθωτα και έχει πλέον βρεθεί σε ένα τέλμα. Η στροφή στον γρήγορο πλουτισμό, στην μαλθακότητα του υλικού κόσμου, στις σειρήνες της πανδαιμονολογούμενης παγκοσμιοποίησης, η επιλεκτική γνώση του παρελθόντος, καθώς και η άρνηση της πολιτισμικής και κοινωνικής ιδιοπροσωπίας της ακόμα και από ανθρώπους της νεότερης γενιάς αποτελούν δεδομένα που αγγίζουν (αν όχι, ξεπερνούν) τα όρια της εγκληματικής πράξης. Υπαίτιοι οι πολιτικοί και οικονομικοί «φίλοι» της Πανωραίας, καθώς και οι ίδιοι η κάτοικοί της. Όλοι οι παραπάνω αποτελούν την πολλοστή απόδειξη της ρήσης, ότι ο δρόμος για την Κόλαση είναι στρωμένος με αγαθές προθέσεις.Έτσι, η Πανωραία παλεύει σήμερα μόνη της έχοντας στο πλευρό της ελάχιστους πραγματικούς συμπαραστάτες, όπως τον Καλοσυνάτο και τη Θάλασσα. Η Μαρία Στράνη-Ποττς γίνεται ο λογοτεχνικός κήρυκας ενός καλέσματος για να συναριθμηθούμε και άλλοι στους υποστηρικτές αυτούς της Πανωραίας, οι οποία έχει πλέον φτάσει στα όριά της πολιορκούμενη, όχι από Οθωμανούς, Ανδηγαυούς ή άλλους, αλλά από τον μεγαλύτερο κίνδυνο όλων, τα ίδια τα αλλοτριωμένα παιδιά της.


http://www.bibliokerkyra.blogspot.com/2008/blog-post_1776.html

Negative Attitudes




Why is it so hard to get projects off the ground in Corfu, and even harder to keep them going? So many missed opportunities! So many wet blankets to smother new ideas.

There isn’t a very strong can-do, or go-for-it, spirit in the island. Is it because of party political rivalry, or the result of deeply conservative, reactionary attitudes?

I know dedicated volunteers who desperately want to make a contribution, ecological, environmental or cultural, whose ideas are met only with apathy and resistance.

What happened to the wonderful magazine, “Poetry Greece”? What will happen to “Island” and the Durrell School of Corfu? What chance of finding a rehearsal space for an English Speaking Theatre, or studio-space for artists or quilters?

Wouldn’t it be great if there were literary associations dedicated to Konstantinos Theotokis, to Laskaratos or Kalvos, for instance; groups actively dedicated to restoring their houses as well as maintaining their heritage?

Henry Holland once wrote (1815) that in Cephalonia, two priests were for some time very active in opposing schemes of improvement. Was it a curious instance of their tendency to resist innovation, he asked, that when Major Du Bosset [sic] wished to introduce the culture of the potato, many of the men laboured to convince the peasants that this was the very apple with which the serpent seduced Adam and Eve in paradise?

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

The Ionian Islands and Epirus, A Cultural History








My new book, "The Ionian Islands and Epirus, A Cultural History" (in the series Landscapes of the Imagination) is due to be published by Signal Books, Oxford, towards the end of 2009, and later by Oxford University Press, USA.

Pre-publication and advance ordering details, and the front-cover design, can be found on: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ionian-Islands-Epirus-Landscapes-Imagination/dp/1904955657/ref=sr_1?ie=UTF8

I've just been making the final adjustments to the text and photographic captions.

I'm pleased with the look of the cover design. I hope to see the book itself before too long.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

LEONARD COHEN AT 75- FREE AS A BIRD ON A WIRE

Leonard Cohen will be 75 on September 21, 2009.

It was forty years ago, in 1969, that Jonathan Cape first published “Leonard Cohen, Poems 1956-1968”.

It wasn’t a particularly even collection, but it did contain “Suzanne Takes You Down”, presented as a poem.

1969 also marked the year of release of Leonard Cohen’s second album, “Songs from a Room”, which contained “Bird on a Wire”, which he’d started writing on the island of Hydra, Greece, where he’d bought a 200 year-old house in 1960.


In a 1993 interview for the magazine Song Talk, Cohen explained the origins of the line ‘Like a drunk in a midnight choir’:

"That's also set on the island. Where drinkers, me included, would come up the stairs. There was great tolerance among the people for that because it could be in the middle of the night. You'd see three guys with their arms around each other, stumbling up the stairs and singing these impeccable thirds. So that image came from the island."

From my window, I can see swallows gathering on the telephone wires.


1969 was the year of publication of the collection “Songs of Leonard Cohen, Music, Words and Photographs”, a portfolio of songs mostly from the first two albums, containing many fascinating photographs of him, and of his Swedish girlfriend, Marianne, in Greece. The back cover photograph is of Cohen’s Greek-issued international driving licence.

Born September 21, 1934, in Montreal, Canada, he will be celebrating his 75th birthday in a month's time.

On 31 March, Leonard Cohen released 'Live In London', a 2-CD collection of 25 songs from his July, 2008 performance at London's O2 Arena.

I’m listening to it here in the mountains, watching the swallows. I recommend it.

Prince Charles likes him too!

Weekly Hubris interview

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Vassilis Tsitsanis, Memorial Concert at Tsepelovo


Last night we drove to Tsepelovo for an outdoor tribute concert marking the quarter century since the death (in London) of Vassilis Tsitsanis. He died on 18 January 1984, in Brompton Hospital.

Why Tsepelovo? His mother came from that Zagori village. “Echo mia agnosti patrida’, wrote Vassilis.

The eight piece group (the Tsitsanis Orchestra from Trikala) and three singers were outstanding, and the lead bouzouki player was a real virtuoso (there were three bouzouki players).

We didn’t stay until the end, because of the mountain road and bends at night. The concert reminded me what a great song-writer, poet and composer Tsitsanis was, and how fresh and exciting his songs remain today.

Organised by the Tsepelovo Cultural Committee, the spokesman introduced the evening (pity about the 45 minute delay in starting) by talking of the way that Tsitsanis managed to bring the Eastern and Western musical elements together.

This reminded me of a poem I wrote in 1983 (it's in “Corfu Blues”, Ars Interpres):

Memories of Asia Minor: Improvisations in a Minor Key
Don’t put down that old bouzouki,
Tsitsani virtuoso!
Explore all the roads,
Extend that taqsim,
Scatter the clouds
That darken each dream.

Take me back to the East
As I move further West.
Make the rhythm more heavy
To lighten my soul:
“We’re refugees all”
Your silver streams scream.


It also appeared in Ars Interpres