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Cerebral Cypher

Greece: Where there is no such thing as “rush hour.”

Jan 29, 2007

Ya sou! I have been to Greece twice in the last year. The first time since I was a child. It was supposed to be a pilgrimmage. It wasn’t suddenly ground-breaking. However, I did learn something about myself and my place in the world. Home is neither here nor there. No place on a map. When I go again during the summer, I will go as a tourist. Below is a rant, rave, and monologue in dramatic form! Enclosed are pictures. The trip has inspired my latest work, Odyssey Trippin’. You’ll see. Enjoy the (point of) view!

G-O-Y-A. I couldn’t stand GOYA. Not the can of beans, but The Greek Orthodox Youth Association. It’s a church group for teenagers who come together and play basketball and volleyball and have arts and crafts shows and stuff like that.  There are dances.  It’s strictly an American phenomenon. I couldn’t stand GOYA because I couldn’t stand the GOYA girls.  GOYA served as a microcosm. A wound where all of life’s infectious dramas will commingle and play themselves out.  These Greek girls have Greek fathers that have Greek diners.  Diners with plastic ionic columns and a watercolor portrait of Zeus.  Paying homage to the past instead of investing in the future. “Damn son,” says the world, “I’m saying, what you got going on now?”  Opopopopo.

The GOYA girls personified this purgatory. Maybe it was their parents fault for making them feel too proud of themselves for doing nothing in particular.
“Opopo Maria Opopo Maria Opopo Maria sa ga po.”
Delighting in their myth. It reeks of laziness.  Walking in parades does not count.  “Kiss me I’m Greek” signs excluded. “Got Ouzo?” The “I’m 100% Greek-American” T-shirts from the St. Demetrius festival do not matter unless you wear it ironically, with internal conflict coming apart at the seams.  Opooooo.

They who revel in the past.  “You know the Greeks did this and we were the first to do that.  Look at all we have given the world.” We are squatters. Being Greek means struggling to stay relevant. If you rap about Agamemnon, rhyme Pericles with centuries and how Aeschylus brought out the best in us. Tell me how you gonna cop that if you can’t top that? Pop the lock, spill some hemlock, free my inner-Socrates. It was Demosthenes giving orations rallying the Athenians against Alexander’s scheming regime.

Being Greek is not something you are. It’s an action verb. It’s something you pursue.  It’s what I have to do.  Forward thinking thought in motion. If you ain’t feeling me I got a souvenir you could hang up in your room, limited edition, “Do Not Disturb the Dust.” Ohhoooo tora. Krimas.

Chorus: The revolutionaries and warriors of Greece from Bumbolina1 to he Eagle of Maheras2 believed Freedom is not something you are born with, you must fight for it.

Istanbul was Constantinople3
Now it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Why did Constantinople get the works
That’s nobody’s business but the Turks

A constant reminder of living from hand to mouth, and, land to mouth.
Zito Eladda! The best thing about being Greek is not being white.  A nomadic life.  Evicted from whence they came during the Hellenic genocide.  “I’ve never heard of such a thing,” someone just whispered.  “I have,” an Armenian will say.  “Me too,” an Assyrian will echo, “my grandmother still talks about it.”  “Does that mean Greek,” asks the Greek.

“What does it mean to be Greek?” Until I know, I am only white.  White is the absence of. A rude lull in the harmony, like architecture, a crooked line, an unfinished turn. White, and blue, sand and water, like the flag. ta nera, ki ta xera.5 The alternating white and blue stripes stand for every one of the nine syllables of the Greek Patriot motto from 1822’s uprising for Independence from the Ottoman Empire. 400 years of slavery. “I didn’t know that.”

E   le   fte   ri   a   o   Than   a   tos

Chorus: There have been casualties and heroes on both sides. In fighting over land, we dig graves.

“What does it mean to be Greek?” Nothing. There is no such thing as Greece.  It is an English word with no translation. The land is really The Democratic Republic of Hellas. It is pronounced Ellada.  And Greeks are not Greek.  They are Hellenes. As if to say, Hellenes. When you hear a Greek say the word it sounds fake. “Greek.” There is a false accent. “Greece.” It sticks out and sounds stupid. The name is someone else’s convenience. It’s a curse word really. From Grecos. How the Turks would yell. We’ve allowed it.  Like the N word, it’s become a term of endearment.  We call each other, G r e e k . Years of bad foreign policy.

Chorus: An anthem remains.

Elefteria o Thanatos
Freedom or death

Chorus: How did you learn all that?

Me: I searched and searched. By myself and alone.

Chorus: Where?

Me: On the internet.

I gotta get to Greece.  My brother insists, “Yeah, you can’t talk about what you don’t know.” When I finally made it, I saw the Parthenon asphyxiated in a polluted ring.  Dilapidated and looted. Lord Byron tagging up the marble.  What was worse were the faces of these security people. Women with too much make-up, wearing regular clothes. And a look on their faces that is the worst of any kind: indifference. At least they should be wearing uniforms.

Annoying Greek lady voice: “Malista koritsimou. Se pyon ise? Ohi, pyos ise, se pyi ise? Ahme. Padreftikes? Ti pirimenis? The mou les, ti thoulya kanes? Writer? Vgazis to psomes?”6

My compatriots and I meet each other with a complete lack of understanding.

Me: Do they go to college here? Where do you work? What do you do?

George(a Greek in Greece): Eh. University is free.  Some go.  If we need money we work. Eh. When we need more money we work again.

Me: College is free?! If everyone kind of works how do they live?

George: Eh. I do not know.  What are you asking? Eh. We just…you know.

Me: Do you have any plans to move out of your parents’ house?

George: Ehhh. For what? I can’t wait for them to retire to the horyo so I can have the apartment in Athena to myself. I want to change their bedroom into a studio.

Me: I hate to bring this up, but I have to ask. In the States, our parents used to put, I guess still do, a great emphasis on chastity.  They are very strict, as most parents are I suppose when it comes to virginity and sex. So we’ve got this guilt/shame thing going on. Is that stressed here too?  I mean, the young people, how did you approach this…?

George: We fuck all the time…  Ehhh the mas les, why has it taken so long for you to visit Greece? (beat) Working?  Why you work so much, you want more money? Look his T-shirt there. With the planes flying to the towers. You read what it says underneath eh? Just Do It.

I am not Greek. I am an American Greek…first-generation. Nata.
There is a difference.

1 Heroine from the 1821 Revolution against the Ottoman Empire.
2 Gregoris Afxentriou, a hero from Cyprus who fought against the British post-WWII.
3 Swing-style song written by Jimmy Kennedy and Nat Simon, based on the music of “Puttin’ On The Ritz” by Irving Berlin (1929).  Sung by the Four Lads in 1953 and later famously covered by They Might be Giants in 1990.  The song makes a humorous reminder of the new name and wonders why the names of cities change.
4 Long live Greece!
5 The sea and the land.
6 Whose are you? Not who are you, whose are you, to whom do you belong? Who are your people? Are you married yet? What are you waiting for? So what do you do? Does this kind of job make any money?