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Oct. 9th, 2010 | 01:20 pm

I begin with a curiosity, a zetema that's been on the loop in my head for a few days now.

Being the kind of old-fashioned soul I am, I have set the ring tone on my phone to 'nostalgia'. I'm sure you know the tone, for it is available on every Nokia and probably many other brands as well. It sounds like an old dial phone, that penetrating rattling ring. Back in Aus and over in the U.S. no one else seemed to choose this tone, so I never had any confusion over in-coming calls. You know that moment when a mobile begins warbling away and half the people on the train reach into their pockets or handbags or briefcases? Well, I thought I had avoided it, smartly and in style. So when I came to Greece, I chose the same tone. I said to myself said I, "All the Greeks I'm sure will have some silly pop songs on their phones, some melange of bellydance and techno. Not me! I shall stick with my good old nostalgic ways and everything will be fine." Then the universe decided to disabuse me of my stereotypes: every second Greek uses the same ring tone as I. So now I'm the one reaching hurriedly into my bag to check whether it was my phone that just began warbling. I have joined the masses. Or, perhaps (I kid myself), they have joined me.

My point, however, is not about stereotypes. It's about nostalgia. The ring on my phone is just one of many examples. There is, for instance, the digital camera. It does not have to make much sound when it takes a shot. That heavy crunch of the shutter is just not a necessity. Whether the device has a mechnaical shutter or an electronic shutter, in either case it still does not sound like an old camera, like one that uses film. But you can make it sound that way, at least, on some devices you can. One of my cameras gives me this option and I find it amusing to think that the technology may have been superseded but the 'feeling' of it remains. As with my phone, I can have the sounds without any of the dependent inconveniences, like the fact that the phone is not portable. Indeed, the sound becomes more pleasurable precisely because it is divorced from the clunky, temperamental object that originally produced it. When a real old dial phone rings, few of us immediately think, 'how quaint!' Most of us just realize how much less instrusive a modern digital cordless is.

Curiouser and curiouser, said Alice.

And now it's time for the news.

Well, I finished the article yesterday. It was long slog. At a bit over 10,000 words and well over 100 footnotes, it's really more of a chapter - the largest thing I've ever put together for publication. It was also the first time I've ever had to write and index rerum and index locorum. Not very interesting tasks, those.

Last Tuesday I went to the School of Modern Greek to sit some placement exams. I start classes this coming Tuesday. Three days, ten hours per week: a lot of work for someone who's also trying to research a doctoral thesis, but I have a hunch that even this much work in Greece will be less than Cornell (now why would I say that??)

Time is ticking on the thesis. I can feel it. Officially I only have one and a half years now. That was ample time for my Masters thesis, but this? This has to be original, deeply-researched and, in the end, something I can transform into a book without too much tedious re-writing. Hmm. Yes. Good luck with that.

A few hours ago, I finished reading 'Waiting for the Barbarians', the third Coetzee novel to pass beneath my eyes in the last two months. One paragraph was particularly striking. After all those weeks of wrestling with Lucan, a few simple lines about empire and history found ready response in me. So I shall sign off here and leave you with them:

"What has made it impossible for us to live in time like fish in water, like birds in air, like children? It is the fault of Empire! Empire has created the time of history. Empire has located its existence not in the smooth recurrent spinning time of the cycle of the seasons but in the jagged time of rise and fall, of beginning and end, of catastrophe. Empire dooms itself to live in history and plot against history. One thought alone preoccupies the submerged mind of Empire: how not to end, how not to die, how to prolong its era. By day it pursues it enemies. By night it feeds on images of disaster: the sack of cities, the rape of populations, pyramids of bones, acres of desolation. A mad vision yet a virulent one."

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Good Old-Fashioned Truths

Oct. 1st, 2010 | 10:58 am

A common Greek adage that I thought you might enjoy:

"The child of the priest is the grandchild of the devil"

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Old and New

Sep. 25th, 2010 | 11:04 am
mood: curiouscurious

A brief flick across that domain of infinite distraction, facebook, has really brought home to me how many of my friends, from primary/high school or undergrad, live outside Australia now. Glancing through those 'current city' captions will yield a diversity of locations that stretches from London to Istanbul and will, soon, stretch as far as Bishkek. Should I simply attribute this phenomenon to my lifestyle? "I am cosmopolitan, therefore the majority of the people I know are also." Somehow, I suspect that this doesn't quite work. Or, it works, but only so far. For, you see, facebook allows you to be friends with almost anyone: my high school class had a renunion less than a year ago and even though I didn't attend I made (remade?) lots of extra 'friends' just by browsing through photos from the event. People you go to school with are a bit like relatives - your'e more likely to be friendly towards them because you have to than because you want to. This doesn't mean I don't keep in contact with many, and wonderful, people I met at Uni High. It just means that we don't - with a few exceptions - reflect each others personality and personal choices to quite the extent that later friends do. So, I come back to the quandary of cosmopolitanism - or nomadism, however you wish to see it - and I offer another conclusion: Australians travel a lot. A lot more than the average inhabitant of most other countries.

I know, I know. There are many other factors: education is becoming more and more a global thing; long-distance travel and communication are easier, cheaper even. But how many non-Aussies (which is not many of my audience here, unfortunately) met Australian backpackers while journying? We could over-interpret: it's obviously a nation of dispossessed, dislocated people, the natives grubbing at the sidelines, the immigrants importing their own cultures and enclaves and the Anglo core still (even now??) dreaming of England as their alma mater, as some kind of lost and forbidden home. I'm not going to get so poetic about it. We from downunder just happen to like travelling.

So, as an Aussie, I find myself living first in the U.S. and now in Greece. This year in Europe is the first time I've ever seriously thought about the Old World. There was that time in England when I was barely out of toddlerhood, but, well, I was barely out of toddlerhood. So no real thinking there.

Now there are many things we think we like about the Old World ('we' being that oddly pragmatic, oddly tough species of New Worlders). We assume that they've got CULTURE over there. And we go over there to get the culture they've got. We also assume - so often mistakenly! - that they have manners. Well, if it's manners in the sense of 'complex social relations' you are after, then the Old World is the place for you. All in all, we assume that people in Europe know more about how to live. How to live tastefully, deeply, slowly, carefully, thoughtfully and accompanied by good food. It's a funny stereotype that doesn't get much airtime nowadays. We spend so much more energy broadcasting another pervasive myth: that 'indigenous' populations live more 'authentically' than we do.

Aside from the obvious fact that the New World has a bit of an inferiority complex, where does that leave us? It leaves us wondering about the true content of the myth, surely. Take manners, for instance. We all know that the French are rude (who's stereotyping now!?), so I'm using 'manners' in its broadest possible sense: ritualised social interaction. All those European languages that have both a formal and informal second person address (du/sie, εσύ/εσείς, tu/vous etc.) would fall into this category. Add to it their treatment of family structures - it is harder to be independent of your family in the Old World than the New. Add to it the particular ritualised ways in which one should normally eat and drink (and contrast it with America's invention of 'fast food').

As the list builds up, I return to my earlier point: we think we like/want these aspects of the Old World, but do we really? I'm not just being some kind of cultural chauvinist here, either. Would you choose greater independece? Would you choose to level with your interlocutor rather than address him in the formal register just because he's 70 and you're 20 even though you may be far more qualified? On the question of food, I would really like to cast my vote for Europe, for eating slowly, eating fresh. But even this entails some problems, in Greece at least. Here the main meal is consumed at about 2 or 3 p.m., which means that someone needs to cook either the night before or in the morning. There's such an emphasis on fresh food here that matinal cooking is more common. So what? So, if you're going to spend your morning in the kitchen, you're obviously not spending it at work. No wonder the majority of family meals are still produced by mothers who never worked, or worked rarely, and still command the kitchen even now when they are in their seventies. On the surface, the idea of a big, hot, slow lunch is very lovely. To implement it, however, can and often does involve certain sacrifices and (dare I say it?) a mild amount of sexism. Among the Greeks of my generation, both men and women work, so I'm not sure what will happen when all the mamas are no longer capable to doing their job. As I said, I want to cast my vote. But I hesitate, I can't decide even though I'm holding it right above the ballott box.

Then there is the point about formal and informal language, which leads to me another thought, namely that the concept of meritocracy is very New World. Of course it is. Whether by choice or compulsion, people from Europe went to America, Canada, Australia and knew that in those lands they could start society again from scratch. There were no hierarchies based on ancient, half-forgotten privileges and maintained by a select group of eccentric inbreds. For anyone who made money or had an idea there was the social as well as the physical space to implement it. Eventually we grew so fiercely proud of this that the merest suggestion of hierarchies not based on merit made our hackles rise.

The New World is, I feel, more pragmatic. Where the Old World sits down to think about a problem, the New stands up and solves it. The downside with being pragmatic is, or can be, an obsessive materialism. Everything is a product, everything must be quantifiable, we must be able to put a price on almost everything. And for my line of work that is a significant disadvantage. In Australia, it leads to marginalisation: chronically under-funded academic institutions plod away with their research surrounded, on all sides, by a kid of aggressive ignorance that is a pitiably Australian characteristic. In America, many universities are wealthy, which is marvellous, but as a consequence their academic staff work at a hectic pace, round the clock, churning out book after book all for the sake of producing a tangible result, in many cases regardless of the quality. So, under these conditions we New Worlders are right, to some extent, in supposing we lack culture. For artistic, contemplative culture is always the first thing to be sacrificed to economic imperatives. But at the same time we should resist holding 'culture' up as some kind of ideal, since it can also have many flaws. It is, above all, impractical. Praxis, as we all know, is not what 'artistic' culture is about. And believe me, you might think, 'well, that's fine, I dont' really care about the practical, anyway', but just wait until you live in a place where the orchestral concerts function more smoothly than the hospitals and you might begin to reassess that judgement. The average city-dwelling European is less ignorant than the average city-dwelling American, but the American will be more responsible and conscientious. And, let's not forget, hard working.

So, where does that leave me? (Apart from lying on a couch in Thessaloniki, that is...) I don't know. I'm not trying to decide for the Old or New World: both have their appeal for me. I just think that we New Worlders should hesitate before we romanticise Europe too much. And, to counterbalance this, we should romanticise ourselves a bit more. America has succeeded in doing that to a small extent; Aus still lags behind.

Whew! When I started out, I hadn't anticipated it being that large. If you managed to read through to the end, you deserve a star!

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Fruitful day

Sep. 13th, 2010 | 02:10 pm
location: Θεσσαλονίκη
mood: sillysilly

My nectarines are over-ripe, said the actress to the bishop, but I like them in that rich, almost rotting state.

Time for tiropita! And tea! What a lovely combination. How silly of the Greeks that they don't really drink tea.

(Enough with the food, Bexley. We all know you've got a one-track mind. What else could have drawn you to Latin literature if not the enticing promise of doormice with honey and sesame seeds...?)

Today was a day of success. I caught the bus and found the courtroom, successfully. I met the lawyer and got the stamps, successfully. I found my way to the sketchy office and submitted all my papers....and then...she actually processed them and granted me in return...a silly slip of paper! Before you get too excited, I must say that this is not quite the residence permit, not yet. That will be a sticker in my passport and it may take the authorities in question four months to process. Still, with this slip of paper, I can go home for Christmas and re-enter the country, so I'm happy. (Mrs. Beeton's Christmas pudding with brandy custard awaits me.) Success? Definitely.

Upon my return, I scarfed the fish left over from Saturday's banquet, accompanying it with a small Greek salad. By way of conclusion, there was milopita (apple pie) with yoghurt.

Then, to work. Roughly two pages got written this afternoon - a good 800 words or so. The article progresses. I am content.

Also, my TV adventures: I have now started watching an old(ish) Greek soap opera in which - as far as I can work out - two women have swapped places/identites with the expected confusion resulting all round. Funny thing is, this show is set in two places: Greece and...you guessed it: Melbourne!! The best mock Australian accents I've heard are on Greek TV. There's also something very amusing about coming half way round the world to watch images of your hometown on screen.

Tomorrow, I shall begin some university battles. I feel sure that my request to sit in on modern Greek classes (potentially without enrolling), will be met with mystification at best, dismissive scorn at worst. And my Gringlish will be stretched to its limits to get through it all.

S'pose I should go and do justice to those nectarines.

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The strangest thing on Greek television

Sep. 8th, 2010 | 01:33 pm

...is an advert in German, in which the Herr Direktor's octopus goes missing and just before the direktor (of what? of whom?) has a fit, we find out that the octopus has gone to a Greek betting shop. Perhaps there is some subtext here that makes sense and I'm just too foreign to get it?

I wouldn't go as far as saying that today granted me any victories, but at least there was some relief. Two further trips to the sketchy office have produced a result (of sorts): I must have my funding letter from Cornell and my health insurance letter translated into Greek and certified by a lawyer. Then I can resubmit all my documents and they assure me there will be nothing more. Though I'm far from convinced by their assurance, it's nice to know my next step.

Trips to this office prompt me to muse on the banality of evil. Perhaps that phrase, famous as it is, is too grand for the tangled chaos of Greek officialdom. Yet it seemed appropriate today when I saw another young woman collapse in tears at the counter after half an hour of arguing. Her interlocutor, a dull looking man with comically large, clownlike ears, sat completely unmoved. How many times must he have seen this? How often has he sat through someone shouting or screaming? How, how, how do these people in these offices justify their actions? To cause that much stress to others on a daily basis (and for no knowable reason) - surely there has to be an element of cruelty in it? Or at least inhumanity?

Anyhow, we got some answers today. Which meant that I was able to settle down and work in the afternoon, work without worrying. And this evening, there was a stroll, followed by curry eaten on the balcony.

Later, there might even be some more TV.

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Tales of ordinary madness

Sep. 1st, 2010 | 07:48 am
mood: angryangry

I have a new rhyme, a new version of an old classic. See if you can guess which:

Round and round the garden
Like a bureaucract
One step, two steps
And how many more after that?

More tales of the residence permit, which, after two whole months, I still haven't managed to get. Today I returned to the sketchy office, with Yannis' brother-in-law, Panagiotis, an Aussie-Greek. We had all the documents: we'd checked and quadruple-checked. Even the envelopes and elastic bands were there. (Turns out that they wanted folders with elastic straps over each corner. So much for everybody's exciting theories about the possible uses of these two random elastic bands - currently they are still on my wrist.)
We were ready. Ready to wait and ready to battle.

Which was good, because we had to do both.

My name was called; we appraoched the counter and stated our position: I have a three month visa (which is rapidly running out) and I am applying for a residence permit, so that I can stay in Greece for one year and not be arrested at the airport when I leave.

First she wants to know why my passport wasn't stamped upon entry to Thessaloniki.

(Um, they didn't stamp me. Ask them - in fact, the rule with the EU seems to be that they stamp you when you enter the Shengen zone and when you depart. So I had a stamp from Brussels. But even that haven of bureaucracy didn't satisfy her.)

The she wants to see my plane tickets.

(I don't have any: I booked online.)

Boarding passes?

(Are you kidding? It was over two months ago! I've long since thrown those out.)

Ring the airline, then.

(????? I flew Hungarian Air...??????....WTF?....erm, I have an email.)

Oh, OK. Print up the email and bring it back here.

(Could you just check whether the rest of the documents are OK?)

She checks. I shouldn't have asked her because she finds something else to query:

It says here you're a student from another university.

(Yes, I'm coming on exchange. For one year.)

We can't give you a residence permit if you're not a student at Aristotle University.

(What should I do then?)

You need a visa.

(I have a visa: it only lasts three months.)

No, you should have a one-year visa. You should go back outside the country and come back with a one-year visa.

(???????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!......?????????!!!!!!!!.......No. That's just stupid. No...Um, in my understanding, Greece only issues visas for three months. That, as far as I know, is what your law states.)

Well - she thinks - I shall copy these documents and send them to my superior. Come back on Monday.

If they don't help me on Monday, I'm going straight to the Australian embassy and asking if I can borrow their crocodile.

(Still, I think crocodiles prefer eating dogs to bureaucrats.)

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Three snapshots

Aug. 24th, 2010 | 08:05 am

It’s just over a week since Yannis’ departure and that’s a good time to tell you some tales of my – solo – adventures in the city. Each one of these could be little dialogue scenes from a ‘Learn to speak Greek’ book.

1. At the Post Office
The Greek ταχυδρομείο is often anything but ταχυ (‘swift’). One takes a number (like in those big chain bakeries in Melbourne) and one sits down to wait. Sometimes, if the lines are very long, one can go home/shopping and return half an hour later. Anyhow, I’ve discovered a post office near my house that is never especially crowded: the longest I’ve had to wait is 15 mins and considering that I regularly had to wait 45 at the ‘Cornell Post Market’, I don’t really mind. On this particular occasion, the fifteen minutes had passed and my number was next. I was ready. Then the teller pressed two numbers by accident, skipping me entirely. I got up and moved to the counter, but a woman pushed in front of me and when I looked up I realized it was her number, not mine, on the screen.

So much for waiting.

I was about to go and grab another number when the fellow I’d been sitting next to started shouting. I could decipher that he was complaining on my behalf; he shouted at the employee who skipped my number and the woman who’d pushed ahead. “Get out of the way, kyria, the other kyria was first! You silly woman, you pressed the button twice!” The employee began to shout back. Then the customer, the one who pushed in, followed suite. There was a lot of arguing about my status. I just stood there like a stone. A few times I mumbled “δεν με πειράζει” (“I don’t mind”), but I don’t think anybody heard. Eventually one of other post-office employees said it didn’t matter, would they all just shut up and she would serve me after she’d finished dealing with her current customer. So I posted my letters and left the place, having unintentionally caused so much kerfuffle.

2. Shopping on Tsimiski
I was out buying some basics on Tsimiski when a woman stopped me and began a barrage of rapid-fire Greek. This happens to me every few days here and she didn’t seem to be selling anything, so I listening politely while waiting for her to take a breath so that I could say, “I don’t speak Greek very well” – the golden phrase that solves most of my problems here. Eventually, the opportunity presented itself. I spoke my phrase, but to no avail. She suddenly became very interested in me. Where was I from? What was I doing here? Did I live in the area? Then her companion, another lady, came over and talked with me. At this point I knew something was up. She whipped out a piece of paper: it seemed she was from a beauty clinic. An offer: did I want free whatever for face or body? I tried to extricate myself, but it was too late by now. Together they whisked me down a hallway and before I knew it, I was on the third floor of a building, somewhere just off Tsimiski with a crowd of beauticians around me (all of them fat, peroxided) asking me in Greek what I normally did to the skin on my face. Asking me, in fact, everything from diet to bikini line. I just shrugged in response to most of their questions. (And I have a feeling that even if they were asked in English, I would have shrugged at them. The beauty regime is not my scene.)

Well, I was there for 45 mins or so, during which time they managed to plug me into a computer and read my weight/height/water retension/BMI/skin elasticity/skin moisture/other things I’ve never heard of. Everyone in the office came to talk to me. They printed up some paper, which recommended, invariably, a course of twelve treatments for whatever was apparently wrong with my physical being. I took the paper and said I would consider it. Then I ran out of the office, back to Tsimiski. Thankfully that adventure did not cost me a euro cent.

3. On the bus
There was an incident today, on the number 5 bus. I’m still not entirely sure what the incident was; all I know is that it was urgent and there was lots of shouting. We’d gone no more than two stops when an old man began to yell from somewhere in the crowded middle of the vehicle. At first, I thought he’d just missed his stop and was angry. I could pick up that there was a lot of talk about opening the doors. Then some other people started yelling. The bus driver pulled over and made a phone call. Then we stood, still and packed like the proverbial sardines, waiting for…what? I wasn’t sure. But the bus driver wouldn’t let anyone off. The shouting renewed: people had appointments – they would be late; couldn’t we at least open the doors? – it was very hot. The bus driver rose in his seat and shouted back down the length of the bus. I just tried to pick up as much Greek as I could.

After ten or so minutes, the police arrived. The driver opened the doors; the police came on board; there was a further few minutes of shouting and pushing while a crowd of rubbernecks gathered on the pavement. Eventually, an old man got off in the company of two policemen. The bus doors closed. The bus drove off. People continued to mutter about the incident and I really, really wanted to just nudge the guy next to me and ask, “what happened?” but I suspected, from the look of him, that he didn’t know English.

I close with a variation on an old adage: "All that glitters is not a Hellenida's shoes" (Hellenida = Greek woman)

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By popular demand

Aug. 17th, 2010 | 03:58 pm

Erin effectively told me to write on my blog. So I'm doing it. I've been hesistating saying anything at all because most of my experience of Greece so far has been not far from hell - not of the fire and brimstone variety; this hell is made up of bureacracy, with a little ignorance thrown in. But I don't want to bitch about it or load you with it. Still, the number of problems Yannis and I have faced in the last month and a half is simply staggering. Perhaps, if you bear with me, I can relate just a few of them and we can all have a laugh? (Lord knows, I badly need a laugh.)

So, I got a visa - I hope you all remember THAT story. The next stage in this serpentine system that would astonish even Kafka is acquiring a residence permit. Should be easy, right? Then again, a visa should be enough. It's enough for the U.S. and what's enough for the U.S. is more than enough for the world. Anyhow. We didn't know where to go to apply for this permit, so we traipsed the offices of the city, asking. Third time lucky: we visited a place that some American blogger has dubbed 'the sketchiest office in the Balkans'. Now, I haven't visited the rest of the Balkans but I think his title has merit. Here in this office, we obtained a form detailing what I had to do to apply for a permit: letters from the university (again!), tuberculosis test, chest xray, and, right down there at the bottom of the page, it said 'supply two envelopes with elastic bands'. ????? Silence was the only response to that.

Clutching the list, we traipsed some more. A visit to the hospital - god I've never seen anything like it. Crowded, graffitied (inside!), confused. There was a surprising paucity of medical staff and an alarming abundance of secretaries. We queued here, we queued there. For a nine-thirty appointment, I saw a doctor at 1 in the afternoon.

This went on. We made a visit to book the appointment. Then a visit for the xray. Then a visit - elsewhere - for the TB test. Then a return, to check my TB test results. Then we realised we needed a piece of paper to certify all of this and we had to go to yet another hospital and book yet another appointment. If I didn't know better, I would have thought I was in the USSR.

Well, I did eventually get the paper. With a stamp. Several, in fact. Something I have observed in Greece is the proliferation of stamps: everything seems to require one and two is certainly regarded as better. I remarked to Yannis that this would be the best business prospect in Greece at the moment: manufacture stamps and sell ink.

And if my silly bureaucratic struggles weren't enough, poor Yannis had to go to the army. He left two days ago on the dodgiest of dodgy trains. (If India weren't competing then the Moudzouri (?) might win the award for dodgiest train in the world.) Before that, however, he was also running crazy errands, like me (as well as helping me - god knows how he did it all). The army guys were meant to send him a letter stating when and where he needed to turn up. They didn't send it and didn't send it and eventually when people phoned people and people got angry, they sent him a fax. It was one page. On the front were all the immediate details and at the bottom of the page it read (along these lines): it is VERY IMPORTANT that you read carefully and fulfil all the criteria on the back before you turn up. Yannis flipped the page over. It was blank: they had forgotten to fax the back of the form.

It's like living inside Catch-22.

Eventually, the letter came. (Although not before Yannis had asked some other recruit-to-be what exactly happened to be written on the back of his form.) The letter came two days before Yannis left. And, for some reason known only to the bureaucrats, he had to go and pick up the original from the police station because the military guys wouldn't let him in if he only had a fax. No stamps, I suppose.

Kind of funny, really, in an infuriating way. This will be a year rich in stories (I've already turned my hospital adventure into a short piece), so I suppose I have something to look forward to.

Despite all that, I'm still encouraging people to visit me. Damjan spent a few days here and even though we had heaps of errands to run and there was a lot of frustatrion in the air, I think he enjoyed it...not much of a recommendation so far, is it? Umm, the food is awesome. Can't stress that enough. And if you're just a visitor and not trying to do anything serious like study or get a job, then you'll have a fine time here. This country really knows how to go on holiday. As for the reat of life's requirements, well...

Anyhow, it's late. I'm going to put a stamp on this post to certify that it's an original Erica product that has passed all EU strictures, and go to bed.


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Jul. 28th, 2010 | 02:37 pm
mood: excitedexcited

The book containing my article about Lucan's Cato has just come out. You can see a picture of it here:



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Paxi (peregrinations)

Jul. 22nd, 2010 | 03:05 pm

Last night, coming home from Paxi on the bus, I had all sorts of clever thoughts and sentences flying around my head. It was that time, just pre-sleep, when one's brain relaxes enough to allow the little ideas to come out of hiding. They look brighter, those ideas, in the dull light of evening. So, there I was, lying across three bus seats composing various things - an essay about J.M. Coetzee and a livejournal post were among them. Then I fell asleep and all those little thoughts and sentences went plunging into the dark blue netherworld, lost to memory. I must add - tempting fate - that that is exactly what will happen to my livejournal post if the stolen internet I am currently and shamelessly using suddenly flickers and dies. Then, gentle reader, you will simply have to imagine what I would have said.

So, first to the news, if one can call it such, of our holiday in Paxi. Beautiful. (I expect to feel your jealousy...so for those Melbournians currently sloughing through winter, I warn you that the following descriptions may provoke feelings of restlessness and mild irascibility...) The main reason why Greek islands are beautiful is simplicity. Paxi was no exception. The beaches are white, sometimes sand, sometimes stones, always sun-bleached. The water is a Whitsundays blue, tropical even. It is clearer than glass. Around each bay stand rocky headlands covered in dense grey-green growth. The sky is pale, decorated with whisps of cloud. The water is cool, refreshing. It is also so very salty that swimming is no effort at all. And afterwards, when you sit in the taverna, you can still taste the salt on your lips, mingling with the salty feta in the salad.

Of course, it seems at first that everyone on a Greek beach is lithe and tanned. As I adjusted, however, I realized another beauty of Paxi: the beaches are for everyone. Grandmas and grandpas are swimming as well. The beach is not for show; it's just for enjoyment.

Then there is the town. Actually, there are several on Paxi, but such was our lethargy that we only bothered to visit one. Gaios (named after some random dude who accompanied St. Paul, apparently) is a pretty settlement composed of winding streets and sandstone buildings, many of which have been painted a striking pale peach. Paxi was under Venetian control for some centuries, so there is a distinctly Italian feel to much of the architecture. And the nicest bars look straight out onto the harbour so as you enjoy your evening drink, you can watch the yachts pull in, watch the wealthy furl up their sails and make their way to shore.

I couldn't help thinking of Gerald Durrel and his memoirs of Corfu.

Our holiday lasted only four days. It was quiet and peaceful, though, and we certainly deserved it after all the fuss of settling here. In the preceding week, we spent time and precious energy traipsing the city to visit various bureaucracies. Yannis enquired about his military service; then he helped me enquire about my resident's permit. To do the latter, we had to find what is known (to American tourists and only on the internet, so perhaps its infamy is not too great) as 'the sketchiest office in the Balkans'. We found it. We also found a list of things I must do for the permit, which includes a hospital visit - blood test? - and yet another letter from the university. By the end of this, I expect to be able to think like Kafka.

Still, we have made progress.

I am also learning the intricate strategies of backgammon (called tavli in Greece). I am learning them by being trounced...repeatedly.

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