LETTER FROM GREECE#12: Hotting up
Fifty years ago, June 10th, 1963, Thich Quang Duc, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, took his seat and set himself on fire, putting to lie the U.S. claim that the protests against the Diem government were on the wane. Five months later Diem was dead, victim of a military coup.
If the future is anything like some of the Sci Fi movies suggest, humans zipping about the cosmos encountering strange beings from wherever, who, miraculously speak English and resemble carny hustlers from 50’s America, except that they’re reptiles with antenna, then think of the market for English language poetry! A poem could get a billion hits. Now, if there were a billion spasms of consciousness digging one poem, how many publishers would it take to turn a donkey into a satellite dish?
From Tuesday, the 18th of June: “Afghan forces must operate without American air support, medical evacuation helicopters or partnered combat units.” So, surprise, the Taliban is eating their lunch and casualties have exploded. How long do you think these guys are going to keep showing up for work?
ERT, the now renegade public broadcasting network of Greece, is still streaming live over the internet while its fate is decided in the courts and corridors of power. Most if not all will eventually lose their jobs, but a temporary reprieve of two months is being discussed. But what the reprieve will really mean is anybody’s guess.
"We are present at the beginning of the end of the Argentine model, which is not sustainable anymore," he said, "and so (Argentina) is taking measures that oblige Argentines to buy dollars in our country and generate a flight of currency.” Paraguay's Economy Minister, Manuel Ferreira Brusquetti.
I would imagine that having a large segment of the population trying to finesse a volatile currency market would drain a lot of energy from an economy. I dread the chaos if Greece leaves the euro and returns to a new drachma. It might be the right move, in the long term, I really don’t know, but I think I have a pretty good idea how bad the implementation of that act will, at least initially, be. Countries only do this when there’s no way out.
35.5 in Sparti today, that’s about 96 Fahrenheit in Yankee temperatures. It always sounds hotter in F, even after more than 23 years here. On the other hand, 0 here is 32 in Dubuque. I like it hot. It brings with it a loosening of body, a deep relaxation.
I’m down at the video store and my guy says, as I slap down Les Miserables on the counter, “It’s a musical.” Duh, dude. And I say, “What, you think I just fell off the karpousi (watermelon) wagon? I go to New York. I see Broadway shows. Fuck, I’ve even read the book. Come on, a little respect.” He laughs. Expecting that is folly. He has no way of knowing that I was raised on Broadway musicals and, of all things, opera. My grandfather could, I’m told, play guitar and sing, but it is safe to say that there wasn’t much music in my father’s dirt-poor childhood. But somewhere along the line he heard some opera and dug it. So he built himself a stereo (I’m not making this up.), bought some LPs and turned himself into an opera buff. I have very fond memories of being on our sailboat drifting on the bay during a windless Saturday listening to the Texaco live broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera in NYC. Sounds like an aristocratic New England WASP vision, but we don’t have a drop of that kind of blood, I’m happy to say. Nevertheless, I’m not comfortable with the wide disparity between our financial situations, the video-guy and I. It’s a crucial question in these postings, how to reconcile this? How to be proactive with these resources? How to be smart and compassionate with my overwhelming material advantage? The movie sucked. M & I were astonished at how lousy the songs were. This was a big international hit for years? Of course, so was Mama Mia!, and that was well beneath dreadful.
The defense in the ongoing Whitey Bulger trial in Boston is trying to make much of an Irish criminal code of honor. What a great steaming crock of shit. Yeah, like old South Boston was a bastion of honor and community spirit. A federal prosecutor put it this way, “They kill their friends, they kill their girlfriends, they want to make themselves sound better than they are. Whitey’s code is, ‘I didn’t strangle the woman, I watched the other guy strangle the woman.’ ” About any book by Dennis Lehane would disabuse you of the honor idea.
My journalist friend John Psaropoulos very recently posted an article on Al Jazeera and on his blog, www.thenewathenian.com, concerning a perceived trend in Greece.
“The situation is so bad, that two years ago the unemployed and inactive population together exceeded the number of people in work, which means that roughly one third of Greeks is supporting the other two thirds. In the midst of what may be the worst peacetime collapse of a developed economy, many Greeks have decided to go back to the land.” I responded.
found your article on the return to the land interesting but this ‘movement’, if indeed that is what it is, is more of a culture/lifestyle story than an economic one. Studies show that advanced capitalist democracies cannot sustain more than 5 percent of their workforce in the countryside without massive subsidies. (www.levga.gr) It’s boutique farming, something for the young and romantic with access to money. Take your main example, Zanaras. “He spent tens of millions of euros building a juice plant, financing the venture with his own savings as well as loans.” Tens of millions. How many people thinking of going back to the country can raise that kind of scratch? You probably have enough digits to count them. I’d say in actual numbers, most people are returning to their villages, or their grandparents’ villages, because they’ve lost their jobs in the city or finished their degree programs or given up and need a roof over their heads. The cafés are full of them. Their hands have never held a sappa or a klathera and probably never will. Those tools are wielded by dark sub continental guys working for what would be impossibly low wages for a Greek. You might say, well, sometime they’ll have to, but that ignores the pressure on wages, pressure that means that a Pakistani or Bengali, living in a hut with ten others, is always going to work for less than a Greek. Kanellos, who scrambles and struggles to squeeze something out of olives, hires foreign workers because they’re faster and cheaper. But there is some evidence of this migration, the competition in the farmers market in Sparti is fierce now and driving the prices down. Everyone’s margin gets a little thinner. More people raising tomatoes only makes it worse for those already doing it.
We’re listening to Jacques Brel and Mirella sighs, “And his look, oh, I know the word in Greek, AR-hon-das, AR-hon-diah, let me look it up. Distinguished, notable, a man of substance. Yes, that’s about it. Look, AR-ho-mania: lust for power. And AR-hondo-horeeo-ee-AH-tees: vulgar well-to-do person. No shortage of those.”
“Be luck available.” Stephen Elliot
That’s what we must do here, loosen our loads, get light on our feet, be ready to improvise and, perhaps, sacrifice that the boat floats. I’m reading J.M. Coetzee’s fictionalized memoirs. In Boyhood he’s watching his father, whom he loathes, attempting to curry favor with strangers by buying them drinks. I love buying my gang a round or two, but walking into a bar and buying the house a round has never appealed. Billy Martin, combative hard drinking and successful manager of the New York Yankees, several times, walked into a Seattle sports bar while the Yanks were in town and announced, “Set ‘em up, the drinks are on George (Steinbrenner, the equally combative owner of the Yankees).” Okay, you gotta love that. Every bar is full of losers, even if they haven’t begun to lose yet. That’s just the way it works. We all lose. What do we make of that? Like a sun stunned wave splintering over rock our lives disintegrate and reform. And nothing lasts.
Soon after you begin reading Coetzee, certainly one of the premier writers of English prose working today, you get the feeling that he must be a really weird guy. This from Rian Malan, a fellow South African writer.
“Coetzee is a man of almost monkish self-discipline and dedication. He does not drink, smoke or eat meat. He cycles vast distances to keep fit and spends at least an hour at his writing-desk each morning, seven days a week. A colleague who has worked with him for more than a decade claims to have seen him laugh just once. An acquaintance has attended several dinner parties where Coetzee has uttered not a single word.”
Only an hour? But he’s brilliant and can write like a muthafucka.
“Era más hermosa que el sol She was more beautiful than the sun
y yo aún no tenía 16 años. and I wasn’t even 16 years old.
24 han pasado 24 have passed
y sigue a mi lado.” and she’s still at my side.
from Roberto Bolaño’s “Muse”
The Muse, when will she speak? I was eighteen and drearily completing the last year of high school. The school had determined that I only needed three credits to graduate and so my schedule was arranged that I attend school from 8 to 11 AM, and then vacate the campus as quickly as possible. A partial rolling expulsion, if you will. All because I was just too annoying. Or maybe it was because the faculty wasn’t being paid enough to put up with my bullshit? Either way, or both, and many more; though my crimes were merely verbal. Me pater just chuckled and said, “Well, that means you can work all afternoon for me.” He was a guy who had never had a free lunch and felt that putting your shoulder to it was the only way to move anything. Just what you want to hear at eighteen. Actually, worked out sweet as he paid he really well (combined with the lesson above, work should be rewarded) so I had jingle in my pocket, a car, alright, full disclosure, a convertible, oh shit, Happy-Fucking-Daze, especially if we could find someone to buy us some beer. Nevertheless, I don’t harbor fond memories of my teenage years and the silly little town I found myself in. It was something to endure. Not that I felt superior. There was nothing that would give me that idea. It was all just dumb and dull and I felt dumb and dull. If I’d been having lots of sex it might have all been different. I’m not given to boredom and had, especially in those days, a vigorous fantasy life wherein I was certainly touched by greatness, and by lots of women, or, girls, rather. But that’s just wheel spinning. I didn’t read much, often not even the texts assigned. But I had read All Quiet on the Western Front, on which an in-class essay was to be written as our final. We had been studying the essay form with its introductory paragraph stating the thesis, followed by three supporting paragraphs and then a concluding one restating the theme, yadda yadda. I sat at my desk and couldn’t bear the idea. But I had enjoyed the book and its puncturing of whatever young male war fantasies I might have entertained. War was a relentless meaningless horrible hell that continues long after the fighting has stopped, that’s what Remarque had written. Fuck it. I just started writing and what I was writing looked and sounded like poetry. I’d hardly read any poetry either, Sandburg, Emerson, that kind of crap. But this wasn’t anything like that. This was a rolling rhythmical free verse wherein I attempted to channel what Remarque had written about the terror of combat. Page after page I cranked it out till the closing bell. Even managed to bring it to some conclusion. I had no idea what I was doing. None. But I was, weirdly, doing what came naturally. I felt pretty good handing that in. It had nothing to do with what was assigned, I wasn’t demonstrating my knowledge of the essay form, but it had everything to do with the text at hand.
A few days later my mother received what was to be her last call from a school concerning her son. Twelve years of complaints and requests for meetings concerning my behavior came down to this last call. It was from the head of the English department and my instructor that term, though he’d left most of the grunt work to a teacher’s assistant. Before me mum could get out a what now? he began to tell her that although I had brazenly disregarded the prescribed formula for the test, I had managed to create a written work that was powerfully evocative and beyond his ability to critique. I can imagine my mother going, Huh? Next day I had a meeting with him where he repeated the above and then said, I can’t give you an ‘A’ because you didn’t follow the instructions but this work is so original, frankly, like nothing I’ve ever seen from a class, that’ll I’ll give you a ‘B’. If you want an ‘A’ you’ll have to write the assigned essay. Who did he think he was talking to? I didn’t give a shit what the grade was as long as I passed. I told him I’d take the ‘B’ and slid out the door thinking, what is this about? You can humble your elders, get them to change their rules and cop big respect by whipping out the verse? Wow. It was time to start reading.
The Scottish poet Don Paterson, in his wonderful book of aphorisms, The Book of Shadows, says one should never sleep with one’s muse. Nonsense, I sleep with mine every chance I get.