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Tag: Athens

Cavafy in April on Candles

Sunday, 29 April, 2018 0 Comments

Hosted by the Cavafy Archive and the Onassis Foundation, the International Cavafy Summer School will take place from 9 to 15 July in Athens. “Knowledge of Modern Greek is not a prerequisite, but familiarity with Cavafy’s work is,” say the organizers.

W.H. Auden famously observed that the poetry of Cavafy seemed to survive translation remarkably well, and that it was marked by “a tone of voice, a personal speech immediately recognizable as a poem by Cavafy; nobody else could possibly have written it.” Born on 29 April 1863, Constantine P. Cavafy died on 29 April 1933.

Candles

Days to come stand in front of us,
like a row of burning candles —
golden, warm, and vivid candles.
Days past fall behind us,
a gloomy line of burnt-out candles;
the nearest are still smoking,
cold, melted, and bent.
I don’t want to look at them: their shape saddens me,
and it saddens me to remember their original light.
I look ahead at my burning candles.
I don’t want to turn, don’t want to see, terrified,
how quickly that dark line gets longer,
how quickly one more dead candle joins another.

Constantine P. Cavafy

Candles in Milan


The Bourne Formula

Wednesday, 24 August, 2016 0 Comments

The story at the heart of the latest Jason Bourne adventure is sandwiched between two major action scenes. First up is a mesmerizing segment in Athens, where the hunters and the hunted weave their ways between police and protesters. The ultra-violence is balletic and superbly choreographed by director Paul Greengrass. The other big action scene is a car chase in Last Vegas that instantly veers into destruction porn. Compared to the opening, this is jaded stuff. There’s a similar déjà vu feeling about a pursuer-pursued scene set in London. Wasn’t that done in Bourne 2? Or was it Bourne 3?

Yes, there are some nods to surveillance and Facebook and Snowden, but substance and subtlety have to make way for fisticuffs and formula. Matt Damon is more muscled and taciturn than ever and utters a total of 42 sentences. Tommy Lee Jones looks poorly, Alicia Vikander is less robotic than in Ex Machina and Vincent Cassel is the “asset”. Overall, then, an excellent way of whiling away 2 hours and 28 minutes. Unsurprisingly, Jason Bourne is huge at the box office.


Will we create a new class of robot slaves?

Tuesday, 28 June, 2016 0 Comments

That’s the question posed by Joi Ito, the Japanese entrepreneur, venture capitalist, academic and Director of the MIT Media Lab. Ito is concerned that Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other technologies might create a “productivity abundance” that would end the the financial need to work. On the face of it, this should not be a cause of great concern, given that many people hate their jobs. But there’s more to work than labour, Ito argues. It confers social status and gives a purpose. The solution? Disassociate the notion of work from productivity. The role model? Periclean Athens, which Ito terms “a moral society where people didn’t need to work to be engaged and productive.” In a post titled The Future of Work in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, Ito asks:

“Could we image a new age where our self-esteem and shared societal value is not associated with financial success or work as we know it?… A good first step would be to begin work on our culture alongside our advances in technology and financial innovations so that the future looks more like Periclean Athens than a world of disengaged kids with nothing to do. If it was the moral values and virtues that allowed Periclean Athens to function, how might we develop them in time for a world without work as we currently know it?”

To his credit, Ito appends this note to his suggestion: “There were many slaves in Periclean Athens. For the future machine age, will be need to be concerned about the rights of machines? Will we be creating a new class of robot slaves?”

We looked at that very issue in our Monday post here: When will the e-people be allowed to vote?


Waiting for the Barbarians in Paris, Berlin, London

Sunday, 15 November, 2015 0 Comments

«la France sera impitoyable à l’égard des barbares» said French President François Hollande in response to the Islamist terror that left 129 people dead in Paris on Friday night. Hollande’s evocation of “the barbarians” makes Waiting for the Barbarians, written by the Alexandrian Greek poet Constantine Cavafy in 1898 and published in Egypt in 1904, seem particularly prescient today.

In a huge square in an unnamed city (Athens? Rome? Constantinople?), the emperor is preparing to present a “scroll” that is “replete with titles” to the designated barbarian leader. Not that the brutal fighter will care. He can take what he wants, anyway, and there will be no negotiations. As Cavafy notes, the barbarians are “bored by rhetoric and public speaking.” Oratory and punditry, laziness and luxury have made the empire cynical and soft and the citizens have lost interest in politics: “What laws can the senators make now? Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.”

Cavafy delays until the last two lines before tossing in the hand grenade. The crowd is, in fact, waiting eagerly for the barbarians: “They were, those people, a kind of solution.”

One can picture a decadent polis, after a lengthy culture war, longing for a radical solution to the empire’s crisis. Cavafy’s bigger point is that barbarians have been at the gates since the dawn of civilization and their presence always poses an existential test for leaders and nations. When the barbarians arrive, when concert-goers and diners are being slaughtered, action is needed. That’s why the supine appeasement Cavafy brilliantly evokes in Waiting for the Barbarians is so loathsome.

Waiting for the Barbarians

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?
     The barbarians are due here today.

Why isn’t anything happening in the senate?
Why do the senators sit there without legislating?

     Because the barbarians are coming today.
     What laws can the senators make now?
     Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.

Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting at the city’s main gate
on his throne, in state, wearing the crown?

     Because the barbarians are coming today
     and the emperor is waiting to receive their leader.
     He has even prepared a scroll to give him,
     replete with titles, with imposing names.

Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
and rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?

     Because the barbarians are coming today
     and things like that dazzle the barbarians.

Why don’t our distinguished orators come forward as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?

      Because the barbarians are coming today
      and they’re bored by rhetoric and public speaking.

Why this sudden restlessness, this confusion?
(How serious people’s faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home so lost in thought?

      Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.
      And some who have just returned from the border say
      there are no barbarians any longer.

And now, what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.

Constantine Cavafy (1863 – 1933). Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard


Nothing is more permanent than the temporary

Sunday, 12 July, 2015 0 Comments

All eyes have been on Greece this week. We’re on topic today, but is a somewhat oblique way. A. E. Stallings studied classics in Athens, Georgia, and has lived since 1999 in Athens, Greece. She has published three books of poetry and is the recipient of fellowships from the MacArthur Foundation and the Guggenheim Foundation. Her husband, John Psaropoulos, is the former editor of the former Athens News and now blogs at The New Athenian. Together, they’re raising a small argonaut, Jason.

After a Greek Proverb

We’re here for the time being, I answer to the query—
Just for a couple of years, we said, a dozen years back.
Nothing is more permanent than the temporary.

We dine sitting on folding chairs — they were cheap but cheery.
We’ve taped the broken window pane. TV’s still out of whack.
We’re here for the time being, I answer to the query.

When we crossed the water, we only brought what we could carry,
But there are always boxes that you never do unpack.
Nothing is more permanent than the temporary.

Sometimes when I’m feeling weepy, you propose a theory:
Nostalgia and tear gas have the same acrid smack.
We’re here for the time being, I answer to the query—

We stash bones in the closet when we don’t have time to bury,
Stuff receipts in envelopes, file papers in a stack.
Nothing is more permanent than the temporary.

Twelve years now and we’re still eating off the ordinary:
We left our wedding china behind, afraid that it might crack.
We’re here for the time being, we answer to the query,
But nothing is more permanent than the temporary.

A. E. Stallings

A.E. Stallings


Meanwhile, in China

Wednesday, 8 July, 2015 0 Comments

The world is worried about Greece becoming a Cuba on the Med, with ouzo instead of rum and olives in place of bananas, but there’s an even bigger problem on the horizon: China. The rout in Shanghai is far more troubling than the drama in Athens. Consider:

“A stock market crash there has seen $3.2 trillion wiped from the value of Chinese shares in just three weeks, triggering an emergency response from the government and warnings of ‘monstrous’ public disorder. . . . In an extraordinary move, the People’s Bank of China has begun lending money to investors to buy shares in the flailing market.”

That’s from a report filed Down Under yesterday titled Chinese chaos worse than Greece. In an echo of 1929, the writer notes: “Underscoring growing jitters amid the three-week sell-off, police in Beijing detained a man on Sunday for allegedly spreading a rumour online that a person jumped to their death in the city’s financial district due to China’s precarious stock markets.”

Today, those “precarious stock markets” have moved into the danger zone and the air is filled with talk of China’s “Black Wednesday”. The Sydney Morning Herald has a rolling blog on the situation titled, rather worryingly, China panic grows. Snippets:

“Losses on the ASX have accelerated again on the early slump in Shanghai, and the Aussie dollar just hit its next six-year low, showing that the Chinese turmoil is starting to affect local investor sentiment.”

“China’s securities regulator says “panic sentiment” has set in mainland sharemarkets, contributing to an ‘irrational’ sell-off that has defied the government’s urgent attempts to stem the market freefall.”

“I’ve never seen this kind of slump before. I don’t think anyone has. Liquidity is totally depleted,” said Du Changchun, an analyst at Northeast Securities.”

Update: The SMH blog is now titled “China panic spreads”. It’s a “developing story”.


I said, pretend you’ve got no money

Monday, 6 July, 2015 0 Comments

“I said, pretend you’ve got no money,
She just laughed and said, Oh you’re so funny.”

Common People, Pulp

In May, the Greek newspaper Athens Voice suggested that the woman who inspired the Pulp song is Danae Stratou, wife of Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek minister of Finance. Ms Stratou studied at Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London between 1983 and 1988 and is the eldest daughter of a wealthy Greek businessman.

That celebrated Paris Match spread in March raised eyebrows and generated questions about the contrast between Syriza reality and rhetoric. Yanis Varoufakis was a player. He remains a puzzle. “I wear the creditors’ loathing with pride,” said Minister No More.

Common People


Give me the money or I’ll shoot!

Friday, 3 July, 2015 0 Comments

Intra-European affairs are fraught these days, given the dissent about Brexit, migrants and Putin. The Greco-German relationship is going through an especially rough patch right now thanks to lending/borrowing “issues” and the cover of today’s Handelsblatt, the daily financial paper published in Düsseldorf, sums up the fear and loathing.

Handelsblatt

Meanwhile, “Greek politics is short-term. The long term is for Germans,” notes David Patrikarakos in Politico. Problem is, Germans and Greeks are united by the euro. Still.

By the way, those taken aback by the Handelsblatt cover, should take a look at the depictions of German leaders in Greece. They’re not very subtle. Here is a referendum poster in Athens that shows the face of German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble and states: “He has been drinking your blood for five years, now tell him No.”

No


The art of currency: Stefanos, Banksy, Warhol

Wednesday, 1 July, 2015 0 Comments

“On the front of both series of euro banknotes, windows and doorways are shown,” states the European Central Bank. “They symbolise the European spirit of openness and cooperation. The bridges on the back symbolise communication between the people of Europe and between Europe and the rest of the world.”

That’s the view from Frankfurt. The Greek artist Stefanos says that the currency does not reflect the reality of our era and he’s hacking it to make his point.

In the spirit of the British street artist Banksy, who uses public spaces and property to showcase his messages, Stefanos is using money to make a statement about the dire situation in Greece. His altered euro banknotes depict mass hysteria, despair, violence and social collapse. To create his works, Stefanos draws human figures on the notes using a black ink ball-pen, scans the results, posts the images on his website and returns the notes into circulation. Their subversive message is then spread around the modern agoras by consumers.

As we move towards a cashless world, banknotes are on their way to becoming valuable collectables. Before they’re banished, however, there’s the pressing matter of a Grexit, which could make the euros of Stefanos worth even more than their defaced value. Andy Warhol would have approved.

Artistic note


Greece as Zimbabwe or Argentina

Friday, 20 February, 2015 1 Comment

What will happen if Greece exits the eurozone? For starters, the banking sector will collapse as everyone tries to move their euros to German banks. Although word on the street is that most have done so already. Athens might consider reintroducing the drachma, but no one would want it, so people would just keep using the euro. This option is not without precedent. Back in 2009, Zimbabwe gave up the pretense of monetary sovereignty and the United States dollar is now the official currency for all government transactions. Just as Robert Mugabe has no influence over the Fed, Greece would no longer have a seat at the ECB but life goes on and there are reports that nightlife in Harare is picking up again.

Instead of going the way of Zimbabwe, Greece might become another Argentina and things won’t be as bad as the pessimists say. Given that what the Argentines call “viveza criolla” is very much at home in Greece, a tango-sirtaki morph may be on the cards. That being the case, here are some useful viveza criolla phrases:

Total, si no robo yo, robará otro.” (In the end, if I do not steal, another will steal.)
Hecha la ley, hecha la trampa.” (Made the law, made a loophole.)
El vivo vive del zonzo y el zonzo de su trabajo.” (The smart guy lives off the fool, and the fool lives off his job.)

Back on the 11th of this month, STRATFOR looked at the two countries in Greece and Argentina, Similar But Not the Same. Conclusion:

Even though Syriza used Argentina’s case as an example during the electoral campaign, and many Greeks are aware of the country’s history, Athens has considerably less room for action than Buenos Aires did. Many of Buenos Aires’ moves since 2001 have been ill conceived and poorly executed, but unlike Greece, Argentina was a fully sovereign country when it made them. Greeks elected Syriza to fix the country’s debt problem without leaving the eurozone and the European Union. Greece’s main problem is that it will be extremely hard for Athens to achieve both goals simultaneously.


Written in Alexandria by an Achaean

Sunday, 25 January, 2015 0 Comments

Greeks go to the polls today at a time of rising tension between Athens and its main creditors. A win for the left-wing opposition party Syriza over the ruling conservatives of New Democracy is predicted. Would a Syriza-led government start a game of poker with Germany that could lead to chaos and a Greek exit from the euro? While we wait for the results, let’s turn to the poetry of Constantine P. Cavafy. He knew his Greek history.

Those who fought for the Achaean League

Valiant are you who fought and fell gloriously;
fearless of those who were everywhere victorious.
Blameless, even if Diaeos and Critolaos were at fault.
When the Greeks want to boast,
“Our nation turns out such men” they will say
of you. And thus marvellous will be your praise.

Written in Alexandria by an Achaean;
in the seventh year of Ptolemy Lathyrus.

Constantine P. Cavafy (1863 — 1933)

Note: The Achaean League (280 — 146 BC) was a confederation of Greek city states on the northern and central Peloponnese. It was dissolved when the corrupt generals Diaeos and Critolaos were defeated in 146 BC by the Romans. Cavafy attributes this imaginary epigram to an Achaean living in Alexandria during the reign of Ptolemy VIII Lathyrus, a turbulent age, somewhat like our own. Actually, Cavafy wrote the poem in 1922, after Greece had been defeated in the Greco-Turkish War. History has no end.

The Achaean league