All posts by Stella Pierides

Stella Pierides is a British poet, writer and felting enthusiast of Greek descent. She divides her time between Neusaess, Germany, and London, England. Interweaving the past with the present, Stella’s work is located at the meeting points of cultural, social, and psychological worlds, which spark the day-to-day moments of our lives. Her work has been published in numerous print and online journals and anthologies. Recent books include Feeding the Doves: 48 short stories and haibun (Fruit Dove Press, 2013); In the Garden of Absence, micro-poetry and haiku (Fruit Dove Press, 2012), and Of This World haibun (Red Moon Press, 2017), which received Haiku Society of America Merit Awards for books published in 2012 and 2017, respectively; and Ekphrasis: Between Image and Word (Fruit Dove Press, 2017 – paintings and haiku, a collaboration with Maria Pierides --www.mariapierides.co.uk). Stella serves on The Haiku Foundation board of directors and is the managing editor of Haikupedia. She enjoys reading, felting, gardening, film, music, and food. She also likes walking around the Bavarian lakes, along the rivers, through the moors and flatlands of Swabia, the North Norfolk coast, the Welsh countryside, and strolling along the Thames.

What is a blog carnival? And do I need a carnival costume?

What is a blog carnival? And do you have to wear carnival costume?

You can tell I am a late learner. I found out about blog carnivals yesterday! I immediately liked the idea. I learnt that a blog carnival is the regular appearance of a central post containing links to other blog posts on a previously specified theme. This post is written by the blogger who hosts the carnival. Hosts rotate.  I quote from the originator of this particular blog carnival:

“there’s a given theme, and to join, you put up a relating blog post in your blog, and then send the link to the host of the carnival – who then puts a central page with links to all participating blogs / posts together.”

The > Language > Place Carnival will be of particular interest to bilingual authors living outside the country of their birth, or learning another language. There are so many of us… I take this to mean emigrants, immigrants, expats, exiles, also refugees of all kinds…all those finding refuge, or asylum, or arbour in a second language/place … travellers… after the Fall wanderers…

Visit the site for the full details.

Finally, no, you don’t have to wear carnival costume, though respecting the dress code of others is essential. And no, you don’t have to worry about eating/avoiding meat (carne). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnival Though the idea is to beef up your content!

For a succinct definition of “blog carnival” and festival have a look  here

Join the fun here.

21 October 2010

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Seferis’ Houses

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Seferis’ Houses

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The houses he had owned

they took away from him..

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Seferis carried his home

on his back like a tortoise.

Iron beds in empty hotel rooms

rang through his lines,

and the sounds of loneliness–

the silent screams of souls

left to themselves

in the dark.

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The houses he had owned they

took away from him.

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He used his poetry,

he strung words from the stars

stared at them from afar.

Flowers of Agapanthus

he nailed on his lines,

and crickets, beating time

for the machine.

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Only briefly did he go back to Smyrni.

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For he knew. Seferis knew. He knew

you have to talk to the dead.

Hades is full of whispers–

the house is always watching.

And waiting.

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A version of this poem appeared in the “Word for Word” anthology Gathering Diamonds from the Well, London: New Gallery Books, 2007.

George Seferis (1900-1971), Greek poet, originally from Smyrni (now Izmir) in western Turkey, winner of the Nobel Prize for literature 1963.

20 October 2010

A Bum’s Demise

Papa Osmubal’s poem “A Bum’s Demise,” published in Asian Cha, is nominated for a Pushcart. You can read the poem here. A very perceptive and thorough analysis of this poem is also published by Asia Cha, in their section A Cup of Fine Cha, here

I felt both moved and haunted by this poem; compelled to comment on it. It kept me thinking. It is a powerful poem, with many levels and even more twists of meaning. Verlaine is implicated. His liver also, though I was more interested in the state of his heart. Read my own comment in the comments section of A Cup of Fine Cha. You can also find it copied in my own Scrapbook.

19 October 2010

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Memory Loops

Memory Loops

Researching my novel When the Colors Sing, I came across information about a new memorial to the victims of National Socialism that has opened in Munich. It is a virtual memorial, with personal accounts of the victims being read out from the specific locations where the events described occurred across the city.

Michaela Melian, artist, musician, professor for time-based media in Hamburg, won the first prize for this audio art work in the competition “Victims of National Socialism: New forms of remembering and remembrance” held by the city of Munich in 2008. She was awarded the city’s art prize in 2010.

Melian collected material from newspapers and Holocaust archives, interviewed survivors herself and put together a sensitive and remarkable collection. The individual accounts, read out by actors, are indicated by blue circles superimposed on a digital map of the city, and people can click on them to hear the stories.

The digital memorial can be accessed from across the globe, especially by the younger generation more interested in digital forms of communication. In Munich, some museums are lending their mp3 players to those wishing to tour the places where the events described took place. Bayerischer Rundfunk supports the project, broadcasting narratives in special programmes. The Munich Department of Arts and Culture is also offering its support.

Incidentally, the visual image of Memory Loops reminds me of Anselm Kiefer paintings: “the dark light falling from the stars” for instance. Here is the link to Memory Loops, by artist Michaela Melian.

See also here

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18 October 2010

The Acropolis and the violence

The Acropolis and the violence

Giorgos Seferis, the Greek poet and Nobel laureate, 1900-1971 (born in Smyrni, lived everywhere else, almost), wrote:

I woke with this marble head in my hands;
It exhausts my elbows and I don’t know where to put it down.
It was falling into the dream as I was coming out of the dream.
So our life became one and it will be very difficult for it to separate again.

(From “Mythistorima,” quote: Wikipedia; read the whole poem here)

Seferis was expressing an important element in the Greek identity, an element which weighs heavily on the Greek psyche. But while this has been written about, there are other “marble in the hands” issues in modern Greece. Take the recent “reporting” on the demonstrations, discontent, and rioting that has been taking place in Athens in the last year. The last event to make the news was the one that took place on the Acropolis.

The Persians sacked the Parthenon while it was still being built on the Acropolis of Athens, along with the rest of the city in 480BC. The Athenians raised it to the ground – I should say: rock – and then rebuilt it. There had been temples on the site earlier, and more were added later. It served as a mosque after the Ottomans took Athens in the 15th century. The Acropolis survived millennia of attacks and war damage, including being bombarded by the “Venetian Army” when it was used as a weapons arsenal by the Ottomans. Only last year, 2009, the new museum was opened at the foot of the Acropolis. And now, the Acropolis is being used as a place of protest. Culture Ministry employees, protesting about working for 22 months without pay, barricaded themselves inside, not allowing the tourists in until their demands were met.

A sad story, for the tourists were reported to have been unimpressed by the protest. They had travelled a long way to see the ancient site and were understandably disappointed. Sad for those Athenian workers too, those seeing no other way of exercising their legitimate right to protest and no other venue. Perhaps they thought this was going to make the world sympathize with their plight: after all, what would you do if you hadn’t been paid your salary for twenty two months? Sad, also, that the violence continues.

And yet, the people of Athens, and of Greece must be equally disappointed that their social, political, and financial predicament is not being put in the context of the unique Greek experience and history, but is instead too readily compared with ‘that of Western European countries. Brendan O’Neill, in an interesting article in Spiked, writing about the riots at the time of the killing of the Greek teenager, argued that the Greek problems were not simply due to the credit crunch (the pet idea of the Press) but stemmed from a historical crisis of legitimacy. Without necessarily agreeing with all the points O’Neill makes in this article, one might say that by putting the situation in a wider, complex historical perspective, O’Neill went beyond the usual media fascination with violence and money. Sad that this kind of writing is not found more often in the media. Because absence of interest in what lies beneath the “news” is a form of violence too.

16 October 2010

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Ithaca

The poet Constantine P. Cavafy, or Konstantinos Petrou Kavafis, one of my favorite poets, wrote the following about his origins:

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I am from Constantinople by descent, but I was born in Alexandria—at a house on Seriph Street; I left very young, and spent much of my childhood in England. Subsequently I visited this country as an adult, but for a short period of time. I have also lived in France. During my adolescence I lived over two years in Constantinople. It has been many years since I last visited Greece. My last employment was as a clerk at a government office under the Ministry of Public Works of Egypt.

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I have pasted his poem Ithaca below – he knew what he was talking about. For more of his poetry and resources on the web, see the Cavafy Archive

The poem, quotation, and Wikipedia url can be found here

Ithaca

English Translation

When you set sail for Ithaca,
wish for the road to be long,
full of adventures, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
an angry Poseidon — do not fear.
You will never find such on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, and your spirit
and body are touched by a fine emotion.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
a savage Poseidon you will not encounter,
if you do not carry them within your spirit,
if your spirit does not place them before you.

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Wish for the road to be long.
Many the summer mornings to be which with
pleasure, with joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time;
stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase the fine goods,
nacre and coral, amber and ebony,
and exquisite perfumes of all sorts,
the most delicate fragances you can find,
to many Egyptian cities you must go,
to learn and learn from the cultivated.

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Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your final destination.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better for it to last many years,
and when old to rest in the island,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to offer you wealth.

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Ithaca has given you the beautiful journey.
Without her you would not have set out on the road.
Nothing more has she got to give you.

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And if you find her threadbare, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what Ithacas mean.

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For more of his work see the Cavafy Archive and here

National Poetry Day 2010 UK

Thursday, 7 October 2010 is National Poetry Day in the UK.

“Poetry helps us to revive, heal or endure” and the official website for this day provides a number of resources to help celebrate this poetry day 2010.  There is a small selection of poems on this year’s theme of Home here

Andy Jackson, of North Carr Light, “A newsy blog for creative writers in Dundee, Perth & Angus” set out to create a

Patchwork Poem for National Poetry Day 2010

Poets of all shapes, ages and sizes sent in work; 43 of them “from established Scottish poets such as Sheila Templeton and Eleanor Livingstone to a group of schoolchildren from Aberdeenshire and attendees at an Adult Learning Centre on the West Coast…to south of the border and as far away as Germany…” Andy Jackson, who edits the North Carr Light blog, writes. (Indeed, myself included!)

Using a line from each poet’s contribution he produced a wonderful  poem:
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“It was certainly a challenge, but ultimately an enjoyable one,” writes Andy Jackson.
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The poem is also available to download from North Carr Light.

The poem itself can be read online  here

The list of contributors is included with the poem.

Happy Poetry Day!

After the Passion

Black Horse
After the Passion

In Oberammergau they waited for ten years – they prepared for several. And finally, this year, 2010, they performed the Passion Play all summer. For those new to his event, it is laid on by the villagers of Oberammergau once every ten years, to fulfil a vow made by their ancestors in 1633. They had pledged to stage the Passion of Christ in exchange for protection from the devastating plague, wars, and poverty that had been raging in the area in the 17th century.

Now, the last performance of this decade’s Passion Play, the 109th of  the season, has taken place; more than half a million people from all over the world attended this year’s production.

The costumes have already been mothballed for the next set of performances in 2020! The performers have been allowed to have their hair cut (after a year of growing it long in order to appear “authentic”), and the village to relax for the time being.

There is cause for celebration and merriment. The village has done well in this climate of global depression and economic unease. The performance was excellent and the hospitality unique.

A sad note, however, must not be left unheard. The animals that took part in the performances will be returning to their usual, mundane jobs. This would be unremarkable if it did not involve a heart-breaking separation. According to the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, the camels (Campari and Opi) and the black horse (Garko) – who starred in and enriched various scenes of the play, strutting their stuff nonchalantly on stage day after day – became infatuated with each other. Now however, they must go their separate ways: Campari and Opi to their home farm in Schwabmuenchen, and Garko back to his job of pulling coach-loads of tourists around Oberammergau.

Date: 5 October 2010

See also here and here

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Bremen Town Musicians

A few days ago I visited Bremen, Northern Germany, and was fascinated by the
number of statues, photographs, and references to the Grimm brothers’ fairy tale The Bremen Town Musicians.

The Four Bremen Town Musicians
Bremen Musicians

In this tale, four animals: a donkey, a dog, a cat and a cock, having worked hard for their human owners, but getting on in years, are facing redundancy, abandonment, abuse, and slaughter. This unsavoury predicament brings them together and they decide to set off for the town of Bremen to find work as official musicians there.

Before reaching the town, however, they come across a house in the forest, as one does in fairy tales, and agree to try to scare away a gang of robbers feasting inside it. The dog stands on top of the donkey, the cat on top of the dog, the rooster on top of the cat, and each making its own, unique cry – their concerted braying, barking, meowing, and crowing – they crash through the window inside the house and scare the robbers off. In this remarkable way of co-operation, the four animals repel an attack by the robbers during the subsequent night, and settle to live there for the rest of their lives.

The Four Bremen Town Musicians
Bremen Town Musicians

(I took a picture of this sculpture from the street; it is made of papier mache by Gaby Bertram of scrap-pap.de)

I wonder why this fairy tale has become so important to the city. Might it have to do with a wish for all kinds of people, of all backgrounds, ages, ethnic origins to live together happily, like those seemingly incompatible animals did in the story? I hope so anyway.

Readers of this blog will know about my novel Alexandrias 40: In the Shade of the Lemon Tree, and my interest in the ways people (in this novel, mainly Greeks and Turks) come together – or not. It seems that having a sense of shared humanity and a common purpose, and project helps: this Grimm tale shows us how.

In any case, I had fun walking around and finding depictions of the animals to photograph.

How Time Dilates…

How Time Dilates…

atomic clock
Atomic Clock USNO

I just read that Einstein’s Theory of Relativity was shown to apply to altitude differences as small as 33 centimeters. Scientists at the US National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colorado, using the latest and most accurate atomic clocks, found that the higher you are above sea level, the faster time runs for you.

In addition, as Einstein had also suggested, the scientists found that travel through space influences clock speed. A stationary clock ticks slower than a moving one. So, if your clock is moving rather than stationary and, in addition, you live high up, then you might start thinking about botox, moving to sea-level, or buying a bungalow!
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The time differences at these small distances are minuscule, but now measurable.
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This demonstration of time dilation leads me on to another, though I believe related, track. Einstein conceived of his Relativity Theory more than one hundred years ago, and yet we are only now able to confirm its predictions on our, human level! Atomic theory, stating that matter is composed of discrete units called atoms, according to Wikipedia, “began as a philosophical concept in ancient Greece and India” and only entered scientific thinking in the early nineteenth century. Thus, “time” is also relative, depending on the prevailing culture, socio-political conditions, etc., when it comes to the interval between ideas being born and their progressing to proof and acceptance. Just think of the effect of certain periods of the Middle Ages on the progression of ideas!
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Moving on to a more experiential level: In my forthcoming novel Alexandrias 40: In the Shade of the Lemon Tree, a little girl is obsessed with time. She fears changes of plan, the adults changing their mind, things happening unexpectedly – “Can you do that?” she wants to know. If you change your plans, then time becomes unpredictable. She keeps comparing the time on her watch with that of other family members, to reassure herself of the stability of her world. Like most of us, she confuses the subjective timeline of our lives, and its curves, ambits, u-turns and roundabouts, with the instrument of its measurement, her watch.
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On the other hand, shrinking or speeding up time, for instance through time-lapse photography, can provide us with a new, marvelous perspective on the world. The BBC has a great video on this, “Timelapse: Speeding up life” Watch it; I added it to my previous post.
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For musings and poetry on Time, read Asian Cha’s Random musings on Time: “Pray, my dear, quoth my mother, have you not forgot to wind up the clock?” They claim their clock does not tick. Not even tock?
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Perhaps this, the dilation of time, the arrhythmia of time, where the interval between “tick” and “tock” is unpredictable, or different to what our current understanding would lead us to expect, is a major, crucial point where the arts and the sciences intersect – where the subjective and objective meet. Let us stay with this thought for a minute. Stop all the clocks!

The Munich Readery – A writer’s and reader’s dream come true

A few years ago I was a member of the writers’ group Munich Writers, meeting weekly in central Munich. I got to do a lot of writing, got a lot of very useful feedback, and met wonderful people.

One of the members of the group, Lisa Yarger, together with her partner John Browner, opened an English-language second-hand bookshop in the city, the Munich Readery.

The bookshop, the largest of its kind in Germany, and I would say the friendliest, has a great collection of books; I would spend hours there, were I to live in the city and not forty five kilometers away in the countryside.  There are comfy couches, good light, quiet corners, and books from all-over the world. A book-lovers dream.  And it goes on: wifi access, cookies and book sales regularly (OK, sales and cookies, but you see what I mean), valuable book advice whenever needed, even special rates for bulk-buyers! The Munich Readery hosts a book club, which meets at the shop the second Thursday of each month, an ongoing series of children’s events, and a monthly open reading for writers.

Yesterday evening (Saturday, 18th of September) I took part in the open reading for writers there.  It was a lovely evening, with friendly readers and listeners. Writers reading, besides myself, were Mandy von Sivers,  Catherine Larose,  and Lisa Yarger.  Each writer read clearly and passionately well-written, sumptuous work. The organizer, Lisa, kept us well-timed, focused, and, thankfully for me, relaxed.

A big, big thank you to Lisa!

The members of the English-speaking community in Munich are very lucky indeed to have such a resource in their midst: a “gathering place for book lovers,”  “a place for writers and lovers of words and literature.”  Matchless, the online magazine based in Munich, this summer described the Readery as having “…a steady following of devoted readers who frequently buy and trade books or join in one of the many social gatherings; it’s become a close-knit and dynamic community all of its own.”

If you think that in their website, John and Lisa write that the Munich Readery is “the culmination of a book store romance and more than 30 years of book-selling experience,” then you understand where all this energy, warmth, and community building comes from.  Well, John and Lisa, it shows!

Murnau (Moor)

Murnau is a small market town in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps. It is the place where Gabriele Münter, Wassily Kandinsky, and Franz Marc, inspired by the landscape, created The Blue Rider movement.

This is how the tourism office describes Murnau:

In Murnau nature, art and culture form a special bond. World-renowned artists like Kandinsky, Münter and Horváth lived here and found inspiration in the picturesque landscape at the foothills of the Bavarian Alps with its romantic lakes and unique moorlands.

The moor, Murnauer Moos as it is called in German, right next to the town of Murnau, is an enormous nature reserve, the largest in Central Europe and, surrounded by the Bavarian Alps, benefits from a micro-climate that supports an extraordinary range of animals and vegetation.

Meadows, marshes and mires; bog and creeks invite and nourish butterflies, insects, and rare birds. The light is translucent, the air uplifting, and the colors of the wild orchids, irises, grasses, and innumerable other plant varieties are thought to “sing.” Painters, photographers, art, nature, and bird-lovers make their pilgrimage to the moor to hear these songs.

Whenever I can, I go for walks there. My poem Murnau, published in escarp.org on the 8th of August 2010 is a twitter-sized attempt to condense the experience of walking on the moor without losing sight of some of the cultural associations of the area.

Nolde Question

Colour Clouds
Nolde Question

While working on my novel When the Colors Sing, about The Blue Rider (Der blaue Reiter) movement, especially Kandinsky, Münter and Marc, I came across the work of Emil Nolde and his struggles with the development of his art. Readers of this blog will know I recently visited his house – now a museum – in Seebüll, North Frisia, to get a better feeling of his surroundings and the areas where he liked to work.

Having dipped a bit deeper in Nolde’s bio, I came back with more questions than I went with; which is something I appreciate. For instance, I kept thinking, how did Emil Nolde hold the tension between his art and his craft; between his personal, conservative philosophy and his experimental and liberating work; between his roots in the farming community and artistically, in a German tradition of painting, and freedom of expression in his own artistic explorations of landscape, nature and humans. In other words, how did Nolde carry his own, individual cross to produce such work of great depth, intensity, and appeal?

Continue reading Nolde Question

They send light to Earth

Murnau Moor
Murnau Moor

I am delighted and  honored! My micro-poem They send light to Earth was chosen to be the first piece to be published by new e-zine @textofiction.

Brand new, “Textofiction is an online literary publication dedicated to bringing the best writing in under 140 characters.”

Read my micro-poem and think, it packs a lot in. Better still, let me know your thoughts about it! Read it here

Date of publication: 29 August 2010


David vs Goliath

Niyamgiri Victory
David vs Goliath

A tribe in India has won a stunning victory over one of the world’s biggest mining companies. The Dongria Kondh, a tribe of 8000 people, with the help of Survival International and others, has won a victory over a multibillion company which proposed to mine bauxite on the sacred hills of the tribe. The Dongria Kondh’s struggle had a happier ending than that of the film Avatar, in which a tribe was pitted against a ruthless mining company. The Dongria Kondh’s perseverance, courage, and victory will encourage indigenous tribes everywhere.

Well done to Dongria Kondh, their supporters, and to Survival!

One Sound, One World

Handmade Football 1

Photo credit: Jessica Hilltout

I wrote this poem during the 2010 World Cup, when everyone was talking about vuvuzelas. It appeared in escarp: ” a text-message-based review of super-brief literature,” 17 June 2010.
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Big, tough fella

loud, racy lass

timid Cinderella

prodigy, alas

blow your vuvuzela

if you must.

See also my post: Whatever you think about football

Nolde’s Garden

Nolde's Garden

Having seen an exhibition of Emile Nolde’s “unpainted pictures” in the Berlin branch of the Nolde Foundation earlier on this year, I came to visit his house in Seebüll, North Friesland, Germany, where he lived and worked.

The house is built on higher ground – this used to be a tidal area – providing a panoramic view of the garden below and the surrounding flatlands. The “unpainted pictures” refer to the small-scale watercolors Nolde produced from 1941 onwards, after he was formally forbidden to paint by the Nazi regime. Even before that, the Nazis considered his work to be “un-Germanic” and “degenerate.”

In order to continue working, Nolde used watercolors since they do not emit the typical smell of oil paint and turpentine that would have been easily detectable by the Gestapo during unannounced inspections. Nolde considered the watercolors of this period “unpainted,” because he had planned to render them in oil after the fall of the regime.

Some of the “unpainted pictures” are of flowers, with vibrant colors that overflow the boundaries set by the line and spill over. Perhaps this is one expression of Nolde – like Kandinsky – seeing music in color: his color notes blending across space in the way musical notes blend in time.

Nolde found ample inspiration for these motives in his own garden, which abounds with joyous color and diversity of form illuminated by the immense skies of North Friesland.

The Annunciation

The Annunciation on the Wall

“Some great paintings are inexhaustible wells, forever self-replenishing,” Michael Glover writes in The Independent’s Great works: Annunciation (1438-45), Fra Angelico.  In a well-written article, he refers  to a number of other works on the same, very popular subject. Most of these other paintings include symbolic elaborations and allusions which may be said to clatter the subject.

Fra Angelico’s image is sparse: there is no holy book on Mary’s lap, other paraphernalia or decorative allusions pointing elsewhere. Mary and the angel, both with folded arms mirroring one another and looking into each other’s eyes, seem to be quietly and calmly accepting of the message of the conception – of the realisation (incarnation) of the divine. There is an acknowledgement of the gravity of the situation, respect, as well as certainty that it will be carried through.

More importantly, in this Annunciation there is a pervading sense of stillness. In the instant depicted, contact, communion, acceptance have taken place and now there is stillness and silence. Mary and the Angel face one another in a moment pregnant with meaning. They, and we, know that a whole new chapter is to follow.

For me, great works of art, or literature, are great because they are timeless representations of humanity’s most precious treasures. In this case, The Annunciation is the metaphor for the creative moment, when the “aha!” experience is reached (in-spire), when a new thought, a new conception arises in the mind. In this sense, the annunciation transcends the narrower context of Christian belief to emerge as a universal symbol of the creative, generative moment.

A print of Fra Angelico’s Annunciation – which for me captures the universality of  inspiration at the moment it materialises in the mind, as it becomes flesh, or ink, poem or book – hangs on the wall of my house. I pass it with pleasure several times a day, always looking and waiting for the “Angel” to appear.

“ArTherapy” in Gazi

"ArTherapy" in Gazi

At this year’s (2010) Munich Film Festival I watched Nikos Perakis’ new film “ArTherapy”.  I found it an intelligent, exciting and enjoyable film, mixing documentary with fiction.

The protagonists, young students of the National Theatre School of Drama, mostly middle-class, politically conscious and wholly devoted to their art, work tirelessly in the face of adversity in the Athenian capital. The portrayal of the young, the intensity and aliveness of Athenian life, the wonderful development of the culture centre in the centre of historic and multicultural Athens, aptly named Technopolis, made me feel proud of my Greek roots. And yet, however much I enjoyed the movie, I felt there was something missing: something about the context, the place, the area was lacking. There were interviews with a few locals, but overall, I was left wondering who was the art therapy for, who is in need of it and why? An unfair question, perhaps, or even an irrelevant one. And yet.

Of course one answer to this question might be that it is the young generation addressed in the film that needs it, the generation of Greeks facing high unemployment, debt and deficit, of a politically traumatized youth, but this too did not seem enough to help understand my unease. In addition, a more complete answer might be that the fans need the art therapy too: “There is no better time to offer your fans an artistic therapy against the period of an economic crisis and fear from the forthcoming social shock. Told in the style of Fame Story…” the GR reporter wrote about the film. Of course…and perhaps!

I followed my usual pattern when in doubt: I googled Gazi. Taking its name from the Public Gas Works, which existed there for over a century, Gazi was, for most of its existence a poor area, where poverty, prostitution and immigration went hand in hand. And then I came across an article in Balkanologie about the people of Gazi.

The author of the paper, Dimitris Antoniou, wrote about the late immigrants to the area who arrived from the 1980ies and 1990ies onwards: Muslims from Northern Greece, from the Western Thrace migrating internally to Athens. Influenced by the Treaty of Lausanne, as well as the Greco-Turkish volatile relations and tit-for-tat policies, these people had found it hard to settle in Western Thrace, with scores migrating to Turkey, other countries, as well as to Athens, whenever possible. Antoniou followed their settlement patterns in the capital, their struggle for survival from earning a living through establishing cultural and religious associations to working out a distinct identity as a group.

Five years after the publication of this paper, I cannot find any further information about the people described and how they fared in the face of the massive redevelopment of the area.

Given the importance of this area as migration destination of Muslim Thracians, I now wonder what impact development has already had or might have on this group of people. Would it lead to the complete demise of this community in the name of progress, or might there be a new way of helping to engage and support the community in its search for and expression of its social and cultural identity? Would there be a way that the arts and crafts flourishing in the Gazi Technopolis might aid the survival of this community? That could also be a form of art therapy!

(Picture credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gazi_Technopolis.jpg)

(The) Calcutta Chromosome, by Amitav Ghosh

The Wise Silence before and alongside Words: The Calcutta Chromosome by Amitav Ghosh

Wise Silence
Silence

In The Calcutta Chromosome, Amitav Ghosh explores the different and overlapping worlds of (scientific, written-down) language, and intuitive, oral folk tradition, and silence. This exploration takes the reader through an experiential process in which the customary way of reading a novel is challenged.

The novel begins at an unspecified time in the near future, when Antar, an employee of LifeWatch, a public health consultancy, is asked to find out what happened to another employee, L. Murugan, who disappeared in Calcutta in 1995. The plot is complicated (reviewers described it as “mind boggling” and “Rubik’s Cube of a novel”), and demands a special sort of concentration, as it shifts between different time periods and perspectives. The major plotline being that Murugan had asked to be transferred to Calcutta to investigate the life of Sir Ronald Ross – Nobel Prize winner for his work on how malaria enters the organism – but had disappeared under mysterious circumstances. I shall not attempt to summarize the novel here, as this has been done already quite competently.

Ghosh explores a complex web of themes: science, myth, language, silence, society and the individual. It is a web skilfully span, as he pairs the most unexpected themes, only suddenly to juxtapose them in the most astonishing patterns. For instance, silence is presented in various relationships to language, including scientific language. A character says about silence: “I see signs of her presence everywhere I go, in images, words, glances, but only signs, nothing more…”

Perhaps wisely, Ghosh does not attempt to describe in words this kind of silence. The implication being that by using language, we enter into a relationship with the background of silence similar to that we have as train travellers through a landscape, though infinitely more complex. For to say something is to change it. In a manner reminding me of the observer effect (in Quantum Mechanics) – the observer and the act of observation affecting the system being observed, regardless of the specific method used – the novel presents scientific knowledge as altering the landscape of the silence it tries to describe. Ghosh rather provides allusions, hints, pointers to it.

Language introduces other drawbacks. A scientist investigating a topic is burdened by scientific language, with particular ways of seeing and describing the world in the scientific community. A lay person, on the other hand, free from the restraints that scientific community and its language impose on him/her is well placed to make new discoveries, Ghosh is saying. It is as if, if you don’t know where to look, you may be in a better position to find what you don’t know you are looking for. Except in the novel, the natives know what they are looking for, and they are using the scientists’ results, and the results’ by-products, to gather the information they are seeking.

Taking the two major ways of knowing, scientific effort and language on the one hand and intuition, wisdom and silence on the other, Ghosh skilfully explores the opposition and mistrust that exist between the followers of the two. The setting being India, he also takes the reader on a reflective journey between the British colonial attitude of knowing best scientifically, and the native Indian one, of also knowing best, intuitively! There is more opposition and antagonism between the two ways of knowing in this book than there is in The Hungry Tide.

It may well be the case, as John Thieme wrote in The Literary Encyclopaedia, that in The Calcutta Chromosome, Ghosh explores “the possibility of an alternative subaltern history, which exists in parallel with colonial history as an equally – or possibly more – potent epistemological system, albeit one which has traditionally operated through silence.”

One of my own associations is to W. R. Bion, the British psychoanalyst born in India, who also wrote about knowledge and the processes of transformation that it has to go through in the mind before it reaches the potential of being knowable. Describing this process, Bion wrote about the shared human preconceptions and their journey to become concepts in the mind of the individual.

Bion valued the state of reverie, in which the mind sits quietly and allows things to unfold “without memory or desire,” or without expectation and aim-directed behavior. In this state, he believed, what had been obscured by the glare of expectation, wishful thinking, knowledge and assumptions would be allowed to show its true color, to shine through its own presence. In such a state of mind, one does not identify with, but rather becomes the thing thought about.

Bion wrote in a style which – although described as “not reader-friendly” – invites the reader to work with the text, to associate, feel and think for herself, i.e., to make or become its meaning. It seems to me that Ghosh too, in this novel, through his weaving of text and plot, knowledge, not-knowing, and guessing, attempts such a feat – risking, however, leaving the reader in a state of bafflement rather than becoming. Ultimately, the reader of the novel has to go through the process of experiencing it and form her/his own idea about it.

The Garden of Eden

Garden of EdenDoes the Garden of Eden look like this?

A steady flowing river, whispering reeds and listening fish;  a flowering meadow,  a gentle mountain breeze, green to delight the eye, colorful mosaic of insects. It certainly felt like the Garden of Eden.

If not, what does the Garden of Eden look like?

Perhaps my twitter poem earlier in the Spring caught something of this quality, though the Cornmill Meadows are in the outskirts of London while the landscape in this picture is in the valley of the river Ammer near Ettal and Oberammergau.

At the Cornmill Meadows

dragonflies rest on nettles

comfrey, buttercups

and the smooth stones

of the shallow stream.

(Published in Escarp, a “review of super-brief literature”)

Photo Credit: Attentive Eye

Whatever you think about football

Handmade Football

Whatever you think about football,

think again. There is a story in the New York Times article “To Those with Nothing, Soccer is Everything,” about how Jessica Hilltout documented the continent’s love of the game. The Belgian-born photographer loaded her car with soccer balls and drove through southern and western Africa taking pictures.

Driving through villages, Hilltout found a genuine love for the game, people playing soccer for the sheer joy of it. In this sense, I would say the people playing the game, instead of nothing, do have something very important: the capacity to find enjoyment and pleasure in their environment.

The article, by Celia W. Dugger, singles out the most soulful of Ms. Hilltout’s images: those of homemade balls using the most improbable materials in the most ingenious ways: paper, plastic, strings, socks and rags, bark, amongst others. I must say I agree with her. The balls and the other pictures – look at those goalposts – look wonderful. You can see for yourself here.

Her photographs are exhibited in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Brussels galleries; there is an accompanying book “Amen: Grassroots Football,” published with the help and encouragement of her British father, and some of the photographs can be seen on her website.

What did she do with the factory-made soccer balls in the car? She gave them to the children in the villages who were reported to be delighted to get what they considered to be the real thing!

Perhaps the pleasure of the game, which we all share, whichever continent or country we live in, expresses our common humanity; realizing this may help to create a better atmosphere when acknowledging and coming to terms with colonial memories and wounds.

Handmade Football 1

Photo credit: Jessica Hilltout

Sugar Cube Horror

Yesterday, I tweeted the “11 of the most craziest things about the universe,” a short photo essay by Marcus Chown, science writer. Chown alerted us to the fact that “if you squeezed all the empty space out of all the atoms in all the people in the world, you could fit the entire human race in the volume of a sugar cube.” He explained that this is because matter is “empty.” An atom, the most basic element of matter, orbited by electrons, is an incredibly empty thing with immense distances, relatively speaking, between the electrons and the central nucleus.

I was reminded of Sartres “Hell is other people.” Not the way he meant it – which was that if our relationship with a particular person is  bad, then our being with them becomes hell;  but the way it is usually understood, namely, that all other people are, and our relating with them is, torture.

I wonder what Sartre would have made of the idea that all humankind could theoretically be squeezed into a sugar cube! Horror of horrors! He might well have been a bit more appreciative of the already existing space inside and in-between other people’s atoms.

Now that’s a thought (for a short story).

I see that the ideas in the photo essay are explored in Chown’s “The Matchbox That Ate A Forty-Ton Truck: What everyday things tell us about the universe.” Well then, I am off to get this book…

For an essay on the quote “Hell is other people” see: http://legacy.lclark.edu/~clayton/commentaries/hell.html

Also, for the real thing:  http://www.sartre.org/

No Exit, the play from which the quotation arises http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_Exit

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marcus-chown/11-of-the-craziest-things_b_628481.html#s107477

Photo credit:  Constantina Pierides

Pascale Petit, Frida Kahlo and the Mirror

Dividing my time between England and Germany means I miss a lot of events I would have liked to attend. I would certainly have gone to a reading by Pascale Petit from her new book What the Water Gave Me. As it is, I rely on reviews such as
Ruth Padel’s “What the Water Gave Me by Pascale Petit” in The Guardian, or
blog posts such as Kathleen Jones’ “Pascale Petit and the paintings of Frida Kahlo” in her blog A Writer’s Life; and
Adele Ward’s “From Pain to Paint to Poetry: Pascale Petit” in Adele Ward the poet at the Bus Stop – well written and thoughtful reviews.

I love Pascale Petit’s work. She has an imagination bubbling with creative and often electrifying ways of seeing the world. What Les Murray said about a “powerful mythic imagination” in her poetry is certainly true, though for me, while she draws from the whole gamut and history of art and culture, she fizzles with new ideas of her own. As a result, on reading her poems you acquire a new set of eyes, different with every single poem.

This is what makes it even more remarkable for me, namely, that she is able to put herself into another person’s perspective so well, with sensitivity and humility. Her poem “War Horse,” from The Treekeeper’s Tale, an earlier collection, inspired by Franz Marc’s letter to his wife Maria, is a beautiful instance of this. Writing to his wife from the slaughter fields of World War I, at night, he speaks through Petit over the distance of space, time, and culture to us as individual human beings.

It seems that Frida Kahlo is given the same treatment. I have not read the whole book yet, but from the poems and the reviews I have read, it seems that Pascale Petit is putting her remarkable imagination and empathy to excellent use. Taking her lead from a painting titled “What the Water Gave Me,” in which images from Kahlo’s life float in the bath water of her painting, Petit gives voice to this remarkable woman.

Kahlo became internationally known late in the twentieth century, long after her suffering polio, then catastrophic injuries from an accident in her teenage years, and her tumultuous relationship with Diego Rivera. Kahlo wove the strands of life, pain and art in her work: she used her injuries to inspire and fire her art, and her art to cope with her injuries and pain. The details of her injuries and private life have had a powerful effect on generations of women in particular, and have been written about extensively. It is a pity that a large number of her fans are said to be more fascinated with Kahlo’s tragic life than with the greatness of her art: the way she used life, pain and paint to speak in a unique language of painting. It is a unique “language” which conveys in colour, form, and Mexican folklore what it is like for a courageous intellect such as Kahlo’s to be looking at herself in the mirror.

One wonders what might have happened had Kahlo herself written poetry instead, or in addition to, her painting. Might she have coped in a different way, perhaps better than she did in her life? We will never know. Now, however, through Petit’s book, we can hear her voice.

While there is a plethora of writing about Kahlo, not many have managed the task of letting her speak for herself. Petit transforms the paint into poem in the same way that Kahlo transformed pain into paint. Unafraid of death, anger, blood, ugliness, loneliness, of the monkey and the other animals in Kahlo’s portraits, of Diego Rivera, and other disturbing realities in Kahlo’s life, Petit empowers Kahlo to speak and the reader to hear her.

The Voice of (the) God (particle)

The Voice of God

Poets, writers, artists, and composers have always tried to listen to God. Through words, paints, colours, notes, they have often succeeded, as is attested by the quality of literature, art, and music in the treasure-chest of humanity.

Now, scientists are getting nearer to hearing God. Or rather, nearer to the sound of the Higgs Boson particle, nicknamed God Particle. Using a process termed sonification, they are converting scientific data collected though the LHC at Cern, into sounds.

You can listen to the sounds produced so far: http://bit.ly/b0zMG2.  I personally prefer Bach – or at least Mozart’s interpretations of the voice of God!

Photo credit: Maria Pierides /p>

The day after Refugee Day

The 1951 Refugee Convention establishing the United Nations refugee agency declares: a refugee is someone who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.” http://bit.ly/aix15K

Refugee Day (20th June 2010) has come and gone. Refugee week too. Congratulations to the people taking part and above all, to those organizing the events, the publicity, the media, those attracting attention to displaced persons fleeing persecution as well as those celebrating the achievements of refugees.

But what now? What comes the day after? And the day after that? Will our attention be drawn somewhere else, to another, no doubt, worthy cause? The refugees are still here, many under the skies, lacking water, food, warmth, traumatized. Let us not wait for next year’s refugee day to remember them. Let refugee awareness become part of our everyday consciousness and conscience. Part of our lives.

Here are some pointers to organizations that help:

Facts about refugees: see information http://www.refugeeweek.org.uk/InfoCentre/Facts

Though the 2010 refugee week has come and gone, the information on this site is valid and useful:  http://www.refugeeweek.org.uk/Events

For the best resource,  see the United Nations Refugee Agency website: http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/home

Highlighting the plight of tens of thousands of refused asylum seekers who are destitute, homeless and not allowed to work in the UK: http://stillhumanstillhere.wordpress.com/

“The largest refugee organization in the UK providing advice and assistance to asylum seekers and refugees”http://www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/

The Hungry Tide: Language and Silence

The Hungry Tide

I just read The Hungry Tide, a novel by Amitav Ghosh, published in 2004. It has taken me a long time to find out about it, as well as its author, but, as they say, better late than never.
Such a well-written, well-researched, good read! But the added reason I bring it here is that it includes, among a number of other topics, the story of a Bengali refugee group, settled on Morichjhanpi island of the Sundarbans, forced to flee by the newly elected government of West Bengal, and the massacre of 1978-79. I have an interest in refugee groups, their experiences, itineraries and development – a refugee group appears in my forthcoming novel, Alexandrias’ 40: In the Shade of the Lemon Tree, as well as the one I am currently working on – and Ghosh’s story describes one such group, in a different part of the world, in a sensitive and engaging manner. In such a manner, in fact, that one might say that the refugees find a home and a voice in Ghosh’s novel. While they flee one way, and then the other, like the ebb and flow of the tide, they are given a presence, a ‘stable’ place in history by Ghosh.
He writes in English, weaving fact and fiction into a wonderfully clear, informed and at the same time enchanting tale.
While the refugee group is an important pivot to the story, the ebb and flow of the tides in the Sundarban islands off the easternmost coast of India, and the ebb and flow of language and silence, are the true stars of the novel. The main characters, an American Indian female researcher, an Indian male translator and an Indian male illiterate fisherman, carry the tidal shifts and currents between language and the areas around it, those places which inhabit the heart and the elemental areas of the psyche shared by all humans. This shared humanity provides the ground for the – unfortunately often undervalued – capacity to communicate with one another. “…Words are just air,” a character says, “When the wind blows on the water, you see ripples and waves, but the real river lies beneath, unseen and unheard.” (see also my comment:  http://bit.ly/aGNY1P)

Ghosh’s achievement in this novel is to illustrate this ability through the relationships between these three characters and someone who, through his diary, is telling the tale of the refugees, using political, philosophical, and religious themes linked with passages from Rilke. In this novel, history, politics, poetry, biography, religion and myth are brought together in their varying forms of narrative language and yes, narrative silence, to tell a seamless story of incredible beauty.
More than that, however, the novel – through its metaphorical and symbolic richness and its assumption of the perspective of the American Indian scientist and the Indian translator, while contrasting them with the different qualities of the Indian fisherman’s discourse, and its unfortunate reception – reaches further into the colonial and post-colonial waters and invites critical reflection.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough, especially for the outstanding achievement of bringing together so many strands, including the horrific tale of the refugee group, loss, history and a love story with so much humanity and humility.