Lockdown Diaries: Day 61 (Give Me My Aegean)

Locked Down in London: Open Letter to Boris

Dear Boris,

Today I had a long, hard day at work in an overheated office (our patio) and in my well considered opinion this lockdown sucks, sucks and sucks some more.

I know you’re very busy so I’ll be brief: I want water. Not from the tap! I want to go to the beach; if not that, then to the river; if not that, to the lido; if not that, at least to the pool where I’m a member.

Virtual Escape: Give Me My Aegean

While we’re waiting for Boris to reply…


The hour when the little boat enters the sea cave, and after dazzling light you suddenly find yourself closed inside a freezing blue-green mint.

A little terrace. Among the flower pots of Geraniums, a rose-coloured dome, white arches, masts weaving the sky, Delos.

Sailing along the island at high noon. Your naked arms burn on the gunwhale. And continually, the little scallop-coves unfold one after the other until finally the big cove with the white crown at its heads spreads out before you.

Light-hued the tremulous waves and dark, heavy, opposite the conical boulder. A motor-caïque’s putt-putt is heard as unseen it passes by.

(Excerpts from What One Loves (Snapshots) by Odysseas Elytis)

Recommended Book:The Collected Poems of Odysseas Elytis
Keep safe, keep sane – keep sharing! 🙂

Lockdown Diaries: Day 40 (Of the Aegean)

Locked Down in London, Day 40: Holiday flight

An e-mail from my airline regarding my upcoming holiday flight – the one we postponed from April – left me in the quandary: do I transfer the flight to July (my only remaining free holiday time), do I accept the voucher that I can’t use and try to swindle my way round the fact that it’s not transferable, or do I sit tight and hope that the airline will cancel the flight and I can get my money back?!

On the subject of holiday flights: I saw the following video a while ago, and probably you all saw it by now… but just in case somebody missed out, something to cheer you up!

Virtual Escape: Of the Aegean

No comment:

The archipelago
And the prow of its foams
And the gull of its dreams
On its highest mast the sailor waves
A song

Its song
And the horizons of its voyage
And the echo of its nostalgia
On her wettest rock the betrothed awaits
A ship

Its ship
And the nonchalance of its summer winds
And the jib of its hope
On its highest undulation an island cradles
The coming

(Odysseas Elytis: Of the Aegean)

Further Reading:Sailing the Aegean with Odysseas ElytisOdysseas ElytisA Look at Greek Poet Odysseas Elytis's Best Poems
⇒ In case the video didn't work for you: Holiday flight
Keep safe, keep sane – keep smiling! 🙂

Lockdown Diaries: Day 23 (Christ Recrucified)

Locked Down in London, Day 23: The Police Is Losing the Plot

Earlier in the week, the Northamptonshire chief constable threatened to send his policemen to check on shoppers’ baskets and trolleys because in his opinion going out to buy chocolate Easter eggs is not essential!

What about buying the dye for the boiled eggs?! 🙂

Photo by Boris Manev on Pexels.com


Virtual Escape: Christ Recrucified

Our virtual escape today, in honour of Easter, is to the small fictional Greek village of Lycovrissi, in Anatolia, under Turkish rule, about a hundred years ago. Christ Recrucified by Nikos Kazantzakis (of Zorba, the Greek fame), tells the story of the year preceding the village Passion play. Every seven years Christ’s Passion is reenacted for Easter; on this occasion with some unexpected and tragic consequences…

The following excerpt describes the village elders discussing which villagers to choose for the various characters for the following year’s Mystery in the beginning of the book:

“We are therefore met together today,” the pope continued, “to choose—and may God enlighten us—those to whom we shall entrust this sacred mystery. Speak freely; let each put forward his opinion. Archon, you are the first notable, therefore speak first; we are listening.”

“Judas! We’ve got him,” the captain interjected. “You’ll never find a better one than Panayotaros, the plaster-eater; sturdy, spotted with the small-pox, a real gorilla, like the one I saw at Odessa; and what’s even more important, he’s got the beard and hair for the part: red as the Devil’s in person.”

“It’s not your turn to speak, captain,” said the pope severely; “don’t be in such a hurry, there are those whose turn comes before yours. Well, archon?”

“What shall I say, pope?” replied the archon. “I desire only thing: that you should choose my son Michelis to act Christ.”

“Impossible,” the pope cut in. “Your son is a young archon, big and fat, eating and drinking and enjoying life, while Christ was poor and thin. It isn’t suitable, forgive me. And besides is Michelis capable of going through with so difficult a part? He will be scourged, he will have to wear a crown of thorns, he will be hoisted up the cross: Michelis won’t have the strength, do you want him to fall ill?”

“And the most important of all,” the captain cut in, “is that Christ was fair, while Michelis’s hair and moustache are as black as boot-blacking.”

“For Mary Magdalen we’ve just the thing,” said Ladas, clucking: “widow Katerina. The bitch has everything required; she’s a fine whore with golden hair; I saw her one day in her yard, combing her hair, and it cam edown to her knees; devil take her, she’d damn an archbishop.”

The captain already had his mouth half-open to utter some jest, but the pope gave him a look which made him hold his tongue.

“The bad ones are easy to find,” said the pope; “Judas, Mary Magdalen. But the good ones? That’s where I’m waiting for your advice! Where shall we find, where shall we find—Lord forgive me!—a man resembling Christ? Let him but resemble Him more or less physically, that will be good enough. I—for days and weeks I’ve been hatching this idea in my head and many nights it’s kept me awake. But I believe God has had pity on me; I’ve found the man.”

“Who?” said the old archon, stung; “out with it.”

“With your permission, archon, someone in your service, whom your lordship also loves well—your shepherd, Manolios. He is mild as a lamb, he can read, has been in a monastery too; has blue eyes and a short beard as yellow as honey, a real Christ like an icon. And pious into the bargain. He comes down from the mountain every Sunday to hear Mass, and every time I’ve confessed him and given him Communion I’ve found not the least pecadillo to reproach him for.”

“He’s a wee bit crazy,” squeaked old Ladas, “he sees phantoms.”

“No harm in that,” the pope assured him; “it’s enough that the soul be pure.”

“He can stand the scourges, the crown of thorns and the weight of the cross. What’s more, he’s a shepherd, another advantage; Christ is also shepherd of the human flock,” said the schoolmaster sententiously.

“I approve,” concluded the archon, after having reflected for a good while. “And in that case, my son?”

“He’ll do very well for John,” said the pope enthusiastically. “He has everything required: well fleshed, black hair, almond eyes, and of good family, just as the well-beloved disciple was.”

“For James,” said the schoolmaster, watching his brother the pope timidly, “it seems to me we couldn’t do better than Kostandis who keeps the café. He’s thin; fierce-looking, crabbed, and that’s how they represent the Apostle James.”

“And he has a wife who worries the life out of him” (it was the captain again. “Was the Apostle married too? Well? What’s your opinion, most learned of all the learned?”

“Stop joking about sacred things, blasphemer!” cried the pope angrily. “You’re not on your boat here, telling dirty stories to your scum. We are considering a mystery.”

The schoolmaster plucked up courage.

“A passable Peter,” he said, “would, I think, be Yannakos the carrier: narrow forehead, grey curly hair, a short chin. He loses his temper and calms down, flares up and goes out as easily as a tinder; but he’s a good heart. I can’t see a better Peter than him in all the village.”

“A bit of a cheat,” said the archon, shaking his big head. “But what can you expect of a tradesman? It doesn’t matter.”

“They say he killed his wife,” wheezed father Ladas; “he gave her something to eat and she died of it.”

“Lies, lies!” cried the pope; “don’t come telling that story to me! One day, out of sheer greed, his late wife at a whole great bowl of raw chick-peas; it made her so thirsty she couldn’t bear it. The poor woman was thirsty, she drank a whole jugful of water. She swelled up and died. Don’t damn your soul, father Ladas!”

“Served her right!” said the captain; “that’s where drinking water leads to, she need only have drunk raki.”

“We still need a Pilate and a Caiaphas,” said the schoolmaster; “I think we shall have trouble in finding them.”

“A better Pilate than your lordship we shall never find, my dear archon,” the pope hazarded, in a honeyed voice. “Don’t frown; Pilate too was a great nobleman; proud in manner, well stuffed, double-chinned, well groomed, with just your bearing. A good man, too; did what he could to save Christ, and at the end even said: ‘I wash my hands of this.’ By that he escaped sin. Accept, archon, and you’ll enable us to give grandeur to the Mystery. Imagine what a glory it will be for our village and what a crowd it will draw when people hear that the worthy archon Patriarcheas is to act Pontius Pilate!”

The archon gave a self-satisfied smile, lit his chibouk and was silent.

“Father Ladas would make a first-rate Caiaphas!” said the captain, breaking in again; “we couldn’t find a better. In your opinion, pope, since you paint icons, tell me, what do they make Caiaphas look like?”

“Well…,” said the pope, swallowing, “rather like father Ladas: skin and bones, grimy, cheeks hollow, nose yellow and narrow…”

“And was his moustache, too, scurfy?” asked the captain, who liked giving pin-pricks. “De he, too, grudge giving a drop of water even to his guardian angel? Didn’t he, too, walk about with his boots under his arm so as not to wear out the soles?”

“I’m going!” shouted Ladas, jumping up. “And you, captain, why don’t you take a part? What are you waiting for? There’s not a smooth skin needed, by any chance, is there?”

“I? I form the reserve,” said the captain, with a laugh and the gesture of twirling moustaches. “Perhaps in the course of the year—after all we’re men, and not young!—one of you will go west: you for instance, Ladas of the moustaches, or even his lordship Pilate… If so, I shall take his place, to save the Mystery.”

“Find another Caiaphas, that’s all I’ve got to say!” bawled the old skinflint. “Anyhow, I must do some watering. I’m off!” And he made for the door.

But at one bound the pope was there and, with outstretched arms:

“Where are you going? Our people are coming, you shan’t leave. You don’t want to make us all ridiculous?”

Then, wheeling:

“You must make a sacrifice, like the others, Mr. Ladas. And think of hell-fire; many of your sins will be forgiven you if you aid us in this work, which is pleasing to God. A better Caiaphas that you we shall never find. Don’t hold out against us. God will note it on His tablets.”

“I don’t want to be Caiaphas!” shouted old Ladas in terror. “Find another! And as for those tablets—”

But he had no time to finish his speech: the villagers were already coming up the stairs and the pope unbolted the door.

“Christ is risen, notables!” About ten villagers came in, their hands on their chests, lips or foreheads. They formed a line along the wall.

“Risen indeed!” replied the notables, placing themselves more squarely on the divan. The old archon passed round his tobacco-pouch.

“My children, the decision has been taken,” the pope announced…

Links:Nikos KazantzakisPassion and Compassion: Nikos Kazantzakis's Christ Recrucified
Keep safe, keep sane – Happy Easter!

Lockdown Diaries: Day 13 (On Homer’s Beaches)

Locked Down in London, Day 13: The Year of the Genius Generation

Since the government cancelled all exams this summer (A-levels and GCSEs both), the young and a bright are set to get predicted grades instead.

Wow! This will be the only year ever in which no student fails his exam; the only year when all departments in all schools meet their targets; the year when academic achievement across the country soars to unimagined heights… the year of the Genius Generation!

There’s only one small problem: How will the universities and sixth form centres accommodate all this talent?

Virtual Escape: On Homer’s Beaches

Today we’re escaping to Greece, with a Nobel-prize winning poet. But no picture – this is for seeing in your mind’s eye!

     I was given the Greek language;
a poor house on Homer’s beaches.
     My only care my language on Homer’s beaches.
Seabream there and perch
     windbeaten verbs
green sea-currents amid the azure currents
     which I felt light up in my viscera
sponges, medusae
     with the first words of the Sirens
pink shells with their first black shivers.
   My only care my language with the first black shivers.
Pomegranates there, quinces
     swarthy gods, uncles and cousins
pouring oil in huge jars;
     and breaths from the ravines smelling
of chaste-tree and lentisk
     broom and ginger root
with the first cheeps of the finches,
     sweet psalmodies with the very first Glory to Thee.
My only care my language with the very first Glory to Thee!
     Laurel there and palm fronds
censer and censings
     blessing the sabres and flintlocks.
On the ground spread with vineleaves
     odours of grilled meat, eggs cracking
and Christ is Risen
     with the first gunshots of the Greeks.
Secret loves with the first words of the Hymn¹.
     My only care my language, with the first words of the Hymn!

(Odysseas Elytis: Psalm II, aka The Poet and His Language)
(Translated by Jeffrey Carson and  Nikos Sarris)

¹ Hymn: the Greek national anthem.
Keep safe, keep sane – keep reading poetry! 🙂

Pen Mightier than Sword (Pluma más poderosa que espada)

Authors with Sword in Hand

Throughout history, there were soldiers who wielded the pen with as much as skill as they wielded the sword; sometimes better.

Autores con la espada en mano

A lo largo de la historia, hubo soldados que manejaron la pluma con tanta habilidad que la espada; a veces, mejor.

Most of the literary output of these soldier-writers was, understandably, autobiographical: descriptions of battles and campaigns they took part in. A classic example of this is Xenophon’s Anabasis, better known as The March of the Ten Thousand, a gripping account of the retreat of ten thousand Spartan mercenaries in the wake of a lost battle across hostile territory, from Mesopotamia all the way to the shores of the Black Sea. Another is Bernal Díaz del Castillo’s The Conquest of New Spain, a similarly gripping (at least in the abridged version) account of how four-hundred desperadoes under Hernán Cortés conquered Mexico and overthrew an entire empire in the process. I warmly recommend them both.

La mayor parte de la producción literaria de estos soldados-escritores fue, naturalmente, autobiográfico: descripciones de batallas y campañas en que lucharon. Un ejemplar clásico de este tipo de libro es La anábasis de Jenofonte, mejor conocida con el título La marcha de los Diez Mil, un relato emocionante de la regresa de diez mil mercenarios espartanos después de una batalla perdida, a través de un territorio hostil, todo el camino desde Mesopotamia hasta las orillas del Mar Negro. Otro relato que es semejante emocionante (por lo menos en la versión abreviada) es la Historia verdadera de la conquista de Nueva España por Bernal Díaz del Castillo, que narra como cuatro cientos aventureros bajo el mando de Hernán Cortés han conquistado Mexico y derrocado un imperio entero en el proceso. Os recomiendo ambos libros.

But in addition to these authors, there were a handful of soldiers who are better known by literature professors than by military buffs; a handful of soldiers who are more famous for being authors than for ever having been soldiers.

Pero además de esos autores, hubo un puñado de soldados, que son mejor conocidos por profesores de literatura que por aficionados de la historia militar; un puñado de soldados que son más famosos por ser autores que por su pasado como soldados.

Meet five of them.

Aquí abajo puedes conocer a cinco de ellos.

Continue reading “Pen Mightier than Sword (Pluma más poderosa que espada)”

Ode to Santorini

This summer it’ll be five years ago that I visited Santorini for what then I thought was the first but now suspect was also the only time. I didn’t know the poetry of Odysseas Elytis then even though he had won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1979 and I did – twice! – graduated in literature. Admittedly, neither of those degrees was in Greek literature but you don’t study literature, in any language, in a vacuum, and my ignorance of a Nobel Prize winning poet seems preposterous in retrospect.

Continue reading “Ode to Santorini”

The Battle of Salamis: Retold in Poetry II

While Byron chose to tell the story of the Battle of Salamis short and sweet in The Isles of Greece – which, by the way, is part of a much longer poem, Don Juan -, the Athenian playwright Aeschylus wrote an entire play based upon it.

ὦ παῖδες Ἑλλήνων ἴτε
ἐλευθεροῦτε πατρίδ᾽, ἐλευθεροῦτε δὲ
παῖδας, γυναῖκας, θεῶν τέ πατρῴων ἕδη,
θήκας τε προγόνων: νῦν ὑπὲρ πάντων ἀγών.

O children of the Greeks, go,
free your homeland, free also
your children, your wives, the temples of your fathers’ gods,
and the tombs of your ancestors: now the struggle is for all things.

Aeschylus: The Persians

The Battle of Salamis According to Aeschylus

Can you imagine telling a story, with your audience hanging upon your every word, breathless with excitement or moved to tears – although they had heard the story many times before and know the final outcome? Because that’s exactly what Ancient Greek playwrights had to do; and Aeschylus pulled it off beautifully with The Persians.

Continue reading “The Battle of Salamis: Retold in Poetry II”

The Mighty Dead or Does Homer Matter?

Why Homer Doesn’t Matter

Now that’s a heading that nobody should have been expecting from me, given how I go on and on about Homer whenever I have nothing better to do. But I have finished reading The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters by Adam Nicolson, and put it down with the feeling that sadly, it failed in what it set out to do: namely to convince skeptics that Homer mattered, that Homer should still be read, perhaps even studied, because he’s relevant to our lives.
Continue reading “The Mighty Dead or Does Homer Matter?”

From Ransome to Keats to Homer

When I was ten, I read Swallows and Amazons and in the course of that, Arthur Ransome introduced me to English poetry. One of the characters, Titty (I still wonder what sort of a name is that for a girl), was much given to recalling random lines of poetry that they had taught her at school.


The boy stood on the burning deck
Whence all but he had fled;
The flame that lit the battle’s wreck
Shone round him o’er the dead.


… like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific—and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

These lines spoke about adventure and unknown worlds in pulsating rhyme. I’m not surprised that they stuck in Titty’s head; they certainly stuck in mine. Ransome  – and not my literature teachers – made me read Keats; and Keats made me pick up Homer again, many years after I left school.

Continue reading “From Ransome to Keats to Homer”