“I’ll be back within three days,” pledges bearded fugitive

sorrasrally

UNDISCLOSED LOCATION, 1 April 2017. Greek fugitive from justice Artemis Sorras has promised his followers that he will return “within three days, give or take a few, Zeus Almighty and the Twelve Gods of Olympus willing, if you pay me a just a modest administrative fee.” The bearded self-proclaimed financial alchemist has been on the run since a warrant was issued for his arrest, following his conviction for minor fraud earlier this month. From his secret hiding place, Sorras has issued numerous proclamations to his followers, including lengthy a YouTube video, and an interview with the prestigious Foreign Policy magazine.

Sorras is believed to have built a following of over 12,000 faithful in his organisation, Assembly of Greeks, based on the promise of settling their personal debts, as well as the national debt of Greece and Cyprus with bonds issued against his massive fortune, which he estimates at several trillion Euros. Members of the Assembly of Greeks are thought to have contributed several hundred Euros each to the organisation in joining fees, membership dues and administrative costs. Now, Sorras is calling them to march on the Greek parliament in his support.

Sorras attributes his prosecution to a vast global establishment (viz. Jewish) conspiracy against him and the Greek people. His rapid ascent since he first appeared on the scene in 2010 has certainly made him some powerful enemies. Father Lamogios, a monk in a remote monastery in the Peloponnese, spoke of the frustration of many in the Greek Orthodox church at was is seen as unfair competition from Assembly of Greeks. “Just the other day I was sitting down with a devout widow, who was poised to sign over her late husband’s estate to our humble institution – for what good are a few hectares of seafront property in this world, compared to eternal salvation for the departed’s soul?” The transaction came to an abrupt halt, according to the monk, when the widow asked him if the church would be covering her arrears to the electricity board and paying her back taxes. “I said of course not, my child, we are as poor as church mice… – at which point she said she had had a better offer from Sorras and walked out. Just like that.” The story has repeated itself across Greece with alarming frequency in recent years, according to church representatives, who admit they are seriously concerned about the impact on their flock’s souls, as well as their own property portfolio. The church has excoriated the apocryphal rituals of Sorras’s organisation, which include reciting a “warrior’s oath” pledging lifelong faith to the “benevolent Prince of Light” and imbibing a shot of “holy water”. “Only the blood of our Saviour drawn from the holy demijohn behind the altar has the power of salvation. We invite you to join us this month in celebrating His resurrection following His persecution by the Jews.”

There is also growing consternation in political circles, particularly since Sorras has been open about his political ambitions. “The man is a ruthless populist and a charlatan, he has no integrity,” said a senior member of the government under anonymity. “He is making all sorts of outrageous promises that he clearly cannot keep, and people are lapping it up. He has no place in politics.”

ellsy

As rumours rage about the whereabout of the fugitive Sorras, one intriguing scenario is beginning to circulate among the Greek diaspora. A number of witnesses claim to have seen a mysterious bearded figure among the VIP guests at President Trump’s White House reception to mark Greek Independence Day.  The event, which was described by some participants as the Biggest Fattest Greek Wedding Ever, included a statement from Trump in which he repeatedly and enthusiastically proclaimed his love and admiration for “the Greeks”. Many are now attributing greater significance to the statements, which were perhaps naively interpreted at first as a transparent grab for the Astoria/Greektown vote. “My cousin’s girlfriend’s kouniados works in catering and he swears on his mother’s honour that when he was delivering the spanakopitta to the White House he saw Sorras meeting Trump in the basement,” we were told by one regular at Chicago’s White Tower Grill (“Saganaki opa! a specialty”). “He saw Trump bow down to kiss his hand and swear an oath to Hermes Trismegistus, I kid you not.”

In other news, President Trump is poised to break ground on the border wall with Mexico – a key campaign promise which has lacked funding ever since “the Mexicans” refused to underwrite the project – after an “anonymous patriot” is said to have offered to sponsor it “for a modest administrative fee.”

 


ΔΙΣΚΛΑΙΜΕΡ: While this story is a fabrication, the truth is much stranger. Click on any of the genuine links in the text and prepare to be amazed. If you read Greek, I also recommend this infiltration account.

“I’ll be back within three days,” pledges bearded fugitive

A Night at the Opera

The plush crimson seating, subdued lighting and formal monochrome attire frame a pregnant moment, reminiscent of a Francis Ford Coppola epic, in which dynastic ties, political power, money and religious authority weave a rich tapestry of intrigue. Among Greeks and Greece-watchers who have seen it, this photo seems to have provoked an instant gut reaction. As we have warned before, a picture, however eloquent, rarely tells “the whole story”. So, for the benefit of the uninitiated, what is going on here and why the reaction?

Background

The setting is the main auditorium of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre (SNFCC) in Athens, a Renzo Piano-designed state-of-the-art cultural venue built to house the Greek National Opera and the National Library of Greece. In 2007, the Greek state and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation signed an agreement which was voted into Greek law: the state provided the land – the disused site of the old horse-racing track near the seafront in Faliro – and the charitable foundation managed by the family of the legendary shipping magnate funded and managed the construction of the building and the landscaped park around it. On the 23rd February, a ceremony marked the delivery of the venue to its new owners, the Greek people – at which the photo in question was taken (the webcast of the ceremony can be watched here).

Foreground

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (standing) shakes the hand of Konstantinos Karamanlis, the last pre-crisis Greek PM (2004-2009). Karamanlis’s Nea Demokratia government was succeeded by PASOK in autumn 2009, followed within weeks by the discovery of a black hole in Greek government finances which marked the beginning of the financial crisis, now well into its seventh year. Since losing power, Karamanlis has kept a low profile; while still holding a seat in Parliament, he is understood to spend most of his time at his family home in the seaside town of Rafina, which reclusive arrangement, combined with his placidity and rotund physique, has earned him the nickname “the Buddha of Rafina”. In this rare public appearance, he is attending in his capacity as the signatory of the original agreement with the Niarchos Foundation. Within his own party, which was founded by his uncle and namesake, Karamanlis retains a near-inexplicable (but for blood-loyalty) hold on a distinct faction, which is rumoured to be more active behind the scenes than his own disengaged exterior suggests. In particular, some political observers suggest an underground, borderline-treasonous, rapprochement is taking place, between the Karamanlis wing of the Nea Demokratia and the current government, with the ultimate aim of providing a back-stop to the Syriza-ANEL coalition’s flimsy three-seat majority. An unlikely pairing, one might think, between the embodiment of the nepotistic political establishment and young firebrand who promised to wipe the slate clean of all that. Proponents of the rapprochement theory note the PM’s reluctance to attack the Karamanlis government’s notable contribution to ballooning government debt, Tsipras’s proposal of Prokopis Pavlopoulos, a former Interior Minister in the Karamanlis government, for his current post as the country’s president, and (more controversially) the government’s alleged support for the criminal prosecution of the former head of the Greek Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) who restated the state finances to reveal the black hole. Viewed against this backdrop, this handshake is loaded with symbolism.

In the second row, a full two seats away from Karamanlis, current leader of Nea Demokratia and scion of the Karamanlises’ rival bloodline in the party, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, sits with Ieronymos II, Archbishop of Athens and All Greece. Ostensibly a reformist, Mitsotakis has come to resemble a groom courting the daughter of a particularly god-fearing family in his eagerness to kiss icons and cozy up to senior clergy – a reflection of the continuing hold of the Church and traditional right-wingers on the levers of party power and its voting base’s values (Mitsotakis’s actual wife is seen sitting one row behind him, entertaining another church official). Ordinarily, an opening ceremony would be accompanied by a religious blessing complete with incense, basil and holy water (as is the opening of Parliament), however this was not part of the public ceremony in this case, possibly in deference to the non-smoking rules and brand new upholstery. However, the heavy clerical presence in the front row of a shipowner-funded asset is a potentially awkward reminder that both the Orthodox Church and the shipping industry have come under intensified fire for their preferential tax arrangements, which have shielded them considerably from the austerity policies that afflict the new “owners” of the Cultural Centre.

Out of frame

The aforementioned President Prokopis Pavlopoulos, aka. the missing link in the putative rapprochement, who was seen later seated next to Tsipras, and delivering an uncharacteristically brief address; former PM Antonis Samaras, and an assortment of the Great and the Good of Athenian society, seldom seen out together on social occasions these days. Of course, the handshake captured in this photo was one of a series of unstaged greetings (more photos and observations here), a sign of courteous and civil relations among the Greek political class, even those studiously presenting themselves as untainted outsiders. Even Mitsotakis, looking excluded in our frame, is captured in other photos having an extended cordial exchange with Tsipras. Thus, the picture is potentially less sinister and simultaneously more depressing as a reflection of the political realities of Greece in 2017. It is a Rorschach test of sorts, but none of the associations are positive.

The shipping money. In his address, the Director of the Niarchos Foundation and great-nephew of Stavros Niarchos, after delivering a hopeful message about the power of cultural renewal and reinvigorated national confidence, engaged in some barely concealed live trolling. Reading aloud from what he claimed were electronic messages he had received from nameless members of the public, he voiced (in third person) an alarming level of concern for the fate of the Cultural Centre in the hands of the Greek government (examples included: “The beginning of the end,” and “Why, my good people? Is this your first time in Greece?”), before returning graciously to his own stated message of hope and confidence. Embarrassingly for the representatives of the Greek governments past and present in the auditorium, there was as much applause for the anonymised messages as for the official one – a deafening vote of no-confidence in their ability to manage for the public good. Despite the remarkable success of the building’s completion on time and on budget (all the more notable when compared to similar cultural mega-projects the world over) the moment reflects pervasive public unease around the future running of the SNFCC and the institutions housed in it by a Greek government, and a cash-strapped one at that.

The Greek people. Aside from the seating gaps in the dignitaries’ section, the auditorium was liberally dotted with pockets of empty seats, despite this being a free public event. In typical Greek fashion, the day of the ceremony coincided with a strike on all public transport, leaving only the SNFCC’s limited shuttle bus service and private transport as a means of access to the Centre. “Soft-opening” events held at the Centre have, by contrast, been extremely well attended and the park has been well-used on a daily basis. But alongside the mistrust of political authority, there is a more quiet acknowledgement of mutual mistrust among the public. Will people pick up their own rubbish? How long will it take for the first piece of playground equipment to break? Will the Greek people embrace the opera and the library? What will happen when the inevitable graffiti tags start to appear? Will people rally, volunteer and protect the place or will they rail at the authorities?

Beyond the political handshakes, it will be instructive to see how it evolves, a high-tech laboratory for a political (with a small p) experiment of sorts.

PHOTO: intimenews.gr via protagon.gr.

A Night at the Opera

Your meta-post-truth 2016

800px-bosch_hieronymus_-_the_garden_of_earthly_delights_right_panel_-_man_riding_on_dotted_fish_and_bird_creature

The year 2016 was so “post-” (or “meta-“, to insist on the Greek) that it is closing quite literally with the very last Last Christmas*. As an end-of-year salute we proudly present the 10 most read blog posts of 2016 on Dateline: Atlantis, recalling some of its weirdest moments from a Greek perspective.

#10: In April we eavesdropped on the IMF in Athens: 7 takeaways from that Wikileaks IMF transcript

#9: In March we read the media images of refugees in Greece: This is not a refugee camp

#8: In February we compiled some choice quotes by Greek politicians on the refugee crisis: My big fat Greek refugee crisis quiz

#7: On April 1st we advertised the cruise from hell (and my own personal favourite): Live your (urban) myth in Greece

#6: In December we secretly transcribed the congratulatory call between Alexis Tsipras and PEOTUS Donald Trump – an in our post-truth world some readers believed us: You’re hired.

#5: In April we got a crash course on contemporary Greek culture by watching an Easter toy shop ad: Jumbo nation

#4: In May we looked back on the material culture of the Greek beach bar from the distant future: “Our piece of Paradise”: Patterns of human activity in coastal zones of the Aegean basin in the Middle Anthropocene (late 2nd-early 3rd millennium AD)

#3: In February we got frustrated with the Greek culture of victimhood and its naÏve foreign enablers: The good, the bad and the ugly – travels in Greek hyperreality

#2: In April a papal visit prompted us to issue a brief explainer on the Orthodox-Catholic schism for beginners: Get your Schism on!

#1: In April, a grisly find prompted some timely ruminations on the perils of democracy: Fear and loathing in Athens

Now gird your loins and sharpen your wits for 2017. Rumour has it that Pangloss and Polyanna are preparing to co-author a coping guide (foreword by F. Fukuyama). It must be true, ’cause I read it on Facebook.


* One suspects quite the opposite.

IMAGE: Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights, right panel, detail (painted between 1490-1510).

Your meta-post-truth 2016

Monumental evidence of wealth-destroying “tournaments of value” in the Middle Anthropocene

Abstract

This paper puts forward a new interpretation for the monumental earthworks recorded across the continental masses of the planet Earth, dating to the Middle Anthropocene period. This study seeks to refute previous interpretations in favour of a new theory, namely that these monumental structures represent the material remains of symbolically charged ritual events which can be seen as an expression of societal stress in a period of rapid transitions and environmental decline.

canoekayak
A well-preserved earthwork of the early 3rd millennium AD, with elaborate ditch-and-bank features, usage unknown (Athens).

Introduction

Monumental constructions and earthworks have been documented on the outskirts of a number of large conurbations dating to the Middle Anthropocene period (late 2nd/early 3rd millennium AD) in widely separated parts of continental Earth. The mystery surrounding these structures has been enhanced by the paucity of the contemporary documentary record due to the Great Solar Storms of the mid-3rd millennium AD, which erased most of the predominantly digital records of the period, leaving only fragmentary texts from which to reconstruct the contemporary literary, political and economic milieu.

The monuments have in common a massive scale but show a variety of shapes and functional forms. Some are simply banks of spectator seating arranged amphitheatrically around flat areas and circuits of varying shapes and dimensions; others contain trenches and water-filled lustral basins of unknown purpose; the most puzzling ones include elaborate curvilinear ditch-and-bank earthworks, combined with mysterious mounds (see above). They were often located on the margins of existing habitations, after the land was extensively cleared, perhaps in a ritual purging, removing all traces of previous activity.

swimmingpool
Abandoned lustral basin, usage unknown. It is believed that the chair is a later intrusion. (Athens).

Stylistically, the structures are defined by a collection of common traits which has come to be known as the “International Startchitect Koiné”: exaggerated monumentality, the use of rare materials and elaborate construction techniques, the labour-intensity of the construction, the dominance of form over function are all features of this universal style, which becomes more elaborate as the period progresses. The structures could accommodate several thousand people and are believed to have taken years to construct using imported labour that may have been drawn from lower castes, forced or indentured, and there is some evidence to suggest that the grizzly custom of human foundation sacrifice was practiced to secure the buildings’ foundations. Mysteriously, most of the structures appear to have been put to very limited use, as attested by the unusually light wear patterns in their furnishings.

aquaticcentre
Artist’s impression of a ritual structure in the “International Starchitect Style”, housing several lustral basins of unknown usage (London).

The function of the monuments has puzzled archaeologists and the fascinated the general public for generations. Earlier scholars posited that such structures were the remnants of extra-terrestrial civilisations, so alien did they appear within the human landscape. However, through recently published cross-cultural studies with our extra-terrestrial colleagues we are now able to discount these rather fanciful theories. The argument that the monuments are “visible from outer space” is in our view an ex post fact rationalisation reflecting an Earth-centric bias in the scholarship of the time. Another interpretation suggested that they were defensive structures; however, evidence of damage by artillery fire and mass burials has been shown to post-date the initial phase of their use. We use the fragmentary documentary evidence in conjunction with the archaeological remains to propose a radically different interpretation that does not require the presence of alien visitors, but rather explains the extraordinary structures in the context of complex ideations and value systems of contemporary societies, as they sought to respond to increased global interaction, social pressures and rapid climatic change.

Towards an alternative interpretation

Previous scholarly attempts to explain the purpose of these structures have tended to focus on functionalist interpretations, for example that they were defensive in nature, or that they were initiated with the aim of mobilising labour for productive purposes, on the model of Amish barn-raisings. We have found very little evidence to support such theories. Instead, we would argue that the immense mobilisation of labour and resources for ephemeral or even single-use purposes have more in common with the types of practices that anthropologists refer to as “total prestations” or “tournaments of value”, systems of gift-giving with political, religious, kinship and economic implications. These are are marked by the competitive exchange of gifts, in which gift-givers seek to out-give their competitors so as to capture important political, kinship and religious roles. Examples of this include the “potlatches” of the Pacific Northwest Coast of Canada, during which chieftains competed to distribute gifts such as blankets, animal skins and ritual instruments, and enhanced their social standing by ritually destroying them in large bonfires. In contrast with western industrial economies, status in these societies was achieved in such events not by accumulating wealth, but by giving it away or destroying it in a conspicuous manner.

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Artist’s impression of Middle Anthropocene ritual. The female priestess (?) is thought to be lighting a torch to be used for the conspicuous destruction of wealth through incineration (a ritual known as “The Burning of the the Money”).

It may be seen as a paradox that such “primitive” practices could be found in “advanced” human societies. It is useful to bring to bear here the documentary record, which, though fragmentary, offers glimpses into a sophisticated ideational construct surrounding these mysterious material remains. Studies have shown that the official religion of the Middle Anthropocene centred on the dogma of “economic rationality”, which at the height of the construction of these buildings had entered the phase known as “late capitalism”. Within this value system, the driving force was the individual’s (or group’s) maximisation of material wealth by the most efficient means. This appears to be borne out by meticulous administrative documentation relating to the preparation and building of the structures. In these documents, the priestly castes frequently invoke religious terms such as “cost/benefit” and “economic impact analysis” in order to present the projects in an “economically sound” light.

At the same time, a seemingly contradictory body of evidence associates the very same projects with metaphysical concepts such as “regeneration”, “sustainability” and “legacy” – a clear nod to the mystical Dionysiac concept of death and rebirth. It is clear from the literature that this belief system viewed the structures as part of a cosmogonic ritual aimed at summoning up “world peace”. An apocryphal text known as the “Olympic Spirit” exhorts participants “to build a peaceful and better world […] to promote tolerance and understanding in these increasingly troubled times in which we live, to make our world a more peaceful place”.

Despite being mutually contradictory and internally inconsistent, these belief systems seem to have coexisted in tandem for over a century, and were surprisingly resilient to critique. We have, for example, ample contemporary evidence of criticism that the structures and the rituals associated with them did not in fact deliver the promised economic salvation but instead guaranteed balance sheet damnation, while others pointed out that there was no correlation between the rituals and world peace, or that the events resulted in debt, displacement, and militarisation of public space” and some accused the elders entrusted with organising them of corruption. It is thought that such criticism was regarded as heretical and its exponents punished severely, but the fate of the critics is not recorded.

wenlockmandeville
Wenlock and Mandeville, the Cyclopean guardians of London.

 

Little is known about what actually took place within the monumental structures. From the associated waste dumps it is clear that ritual feasting played a great part in the activities. With time, the paraphernalia associated with consumption became increasingly formalised, and ritual vessels more often than not bear the mysterious “Golden Arches of Consecration”. It is also known that those attending the rituals partook of a beverage served in a distinctive steatopygous glass vessel, whose recipe was closely guarded in a temple vault – perhaps an aphrodisiac or a fertility elixir. Each ritual site seems to have been presided over by a distinct monstrous deity or anthropomorphic animal spirit (above), clearly intended to induce a holy terror in the participants. Some claim to have found evidence of athletic contests, however we believe that such evidence is too scant to merit consideration here.

A car driven by a student of a driving school slowly moves around the carpark in front of the deserted 2008 Beijing Olympics venue for the cycling competition in central Beijing
A “sacred ruin”, venerated by later generations; note the preservation of empty space around the monument (Beijing).

The resilience of the belief system that fuelled these “tournaments of value” is further evidenced by the respect with which the monuments were often treated after their initial construction. Although subsequent generations appear to have forgotten the original purpose of the structures, they often venerated them as sacred ruins by preserving them intact and allowing the land around them to lie fallow. It is likely that only the more prosperous hosts that were able to do this, while others were forced to adapt and reuse the structures as their circumstances dictated. Occasionally, the structures were put to temporary use, as is evidenced in Phase VIIb of the Hellenikon Rhomboid Structure which appears to have been repurposed as a temporary habitation site during the “great migration” of the early 21st century AD (below).

 

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Artist’s rendering of Phase VIIb of the Hellenikon Rhomboid Structure, showing densely packed temporary habitation structures.

An ancient precedent?

Recently, scholars have suggested that the structures and and the rituals associated with them find a direct antecedent in religious festivals dating two and a half millennia earlier, and have adopted the term “Olympic” to describe them, alluding to the largest of these earlier festivals. However, despite sharing many features with these earlier practices, the long hiatus between the two sets of events leads us to posit that we are in fact dealing with a Hobsbawmian “invented tradition”: by adopting self-consciously archaising practices, emergent elites seek to legitimise their status by demonstrating their continuity with a quasi-mythical past.

It is suggested here that such practices arose as a way of bolstering a fragile global hierarchy and establishing social cohesion in an era when a rise in the overall living standards on the planet was accompanied by increased competition for resources and the looming threat of catastrophic climate change. Testing this hypothesis, however, is beyond the scope of the current paper.

Further documentation of the mysterious structures and their history of re-use here, as artillery defences and as a prison.

Further reading on the future archaeology of the Middle Anthropocene: “Our Piece of Paradise: Patterns of Coastal Habitation…”


IMAGES: Athens 2004 canoe/kayak venue by Milos Bicanski; Athens 2004 training pool by Associated Press; London 2012 Aquatics Centre by Zaha Hadid Architects; Wenlock and Mandeville, the London 2012 Olympic Mascots via Rainbow Productions; Beijing 2008 velodrome by REUTERS/David Gray; Athens 2004 baseball stadium by Jai Mexis & Partners via This American Life.

Monumental evidence of wealth-destroying “tournaments of value” in the Middle Anthropocene

A late education

APDK

What follows is a translated transcript of a segment from Parole, a late night variety show on E (Epsilon) TV, a private free-to-air channel, first broadcast on 11th May 2016 (transcript starts around 34´30᾽᾽). The segment was randomly obtained through the methodology known as late-night channel-surfing (or “zapping”, to use the Greek terminology). We have previously noted the potential usefulness of this methodology for forecasting Greek political trends.

The main presenter is Anita Pania (AP), a veteran of the variety TV genre (slightly out of date Wikipedia entry here). Her shows combine teleshopping, matchmaking, Jerry Springer-style couples counselling, talent show, gameshow and old-school variety entertainment. Although the format often walks a fine line with exploitation and is no respecter of political correctness, it is worth noting that the name Parole is used in the Italian sense of “talk” (in tribute perhaps to the enduring influence of Silvio Berlusconi on Greek light entertainment TV), rather than the more familiar US sense of “prisoner release”. Anita’s trademark cheeky blonde persona owes much to stylings of the Greek “national star” of the 1960s Aliki Vougiouklaki and thus resonates deeply with the modern Greek soul, but in true postmodern style, Anita builds rapport with her audience through asides, innuendo and knowing looks to camera. The extract presented here is on the mild end of the scale, and relatively light on Anita’s own peculiar argot, making it possible to translate almost verbatim. As the format has evolved and the advertising budget has shrunk, much of the time on air is spent promoting dubious cosmetics and inviting entries to prize draws via premium phone lines. Anita’s co-presenters in this segment are Nikos Samoïlis (NS), a financial journalist best known as a personal finance guru, and Dimitris Korgiolas (DK), a pop singer who affects the look of a middle aged raver.

The first exchange takes place in front of a flipchart on which NS has outlined the latest tax measures due to come into force.

Flipchart

NS: “Now let me tell you about an amendment that has just come through about the pricing of toll roads.”

AP: “Niko, can you please explain to me what an ‘amendment’ is, we keep hearing about amendments and amendments, what is this damn amendment?”

NS: “It is a document that essentially becomes a law of the land, it gets incorporated into a bill and gets turned into law.”

AP: “So its, like, a con?”

NS: “No (chuckles) it’s an actual law.”

AP: “Yes, it’s like a con that becomes a law.”

NS: “It’s a special text that’s separate from the law, and gets attached to a law so that it also becomes law.”

AP: “So it’s like a prologue?”

NS: “No, listen, normally what happens with amendments, let’s say for example they tack on to a bill that has to do with the Ministry of Health fifty amendments that are all about different issues.”

AP: “Do they supplement the existing law then?”

NS: “No, they are just incorporated, but they may have nothing to do with Health.”

AP: “And when will these get voted on?”

NS: “By the 24th…”

AP: “And are there amendments that don’t get voted in?”

NS: “Of course there are amendments that get retracted, that don’t reach the voting stage because MPs have reacted, or because they are totally unrelated to the bill being voted on, so it could be, I don’t know, an amendment to do with gambling and casinos that gets attached to a bill on…”

DK: “… the Health Ministry”

NS: “Tourism, or Health, something unrelated.”

AP: “Now these amendments, who do they come from?”

NS: “From the government. The government brings amendments and attaches them to bills.”

AP: “But why do they do it this way? Why bring an amendment, and attach it to the bill etc., why not do it once and for all?”

NS: “Because a lot of these appear in the middle of the night, on irrelevant bills, for reasons you can well understand.”

AP: “So now we know what ‘amendment’ means, we have added to our vocabulary, it’s a new-fangled thing. Listen, now I have an amendment for you…”

AP: “There is a person, who will be joining us, who understandably didn’t want anything to do with the kind of things we are talking about, and so he decided, as a young man, to dedicate his life to God, to remove himself from temptation and sin, and whatever might be going down on the scene, as they say, and go to Mount Athos and find a perch for himself. So, this person is Father Nikitas, and he has come here to tell us, and I would really like us to hear about his decision to dedicate himself to God at an early age, because he has been doing this now for twenty-six years, and he has removed himself from our daily life, our secular life that is full and temptation and sin and lovely things like that, and difficult things. So at the early age of twenty-something, he decided to remove himself, to stand back. Can Father Nikitas join us please.”

Groupshot

Father Nikitas (FN): (enters to the theme tune) “Good evening.”

AP: “How are you? Welcome.”

FN: “I am very happy to be among you.”

AP: “And I am happy that you are with us, and we are honoured to have you in our company.”

FN: “It’s a great pleasure.”

(NS and DK snigger)

AP: “Now this ‘Father’ business… because you’re…”

FN: “… young.”

AP: “Yes, how old are you, Father Nikitas?”

FN: “Forty-two.”

AP: “So you’re a young person, like, and you look even younger than your forty-two years, but that is now your appellation. Should I address you somehow?”

FN: “Father Nikitas is the correct way.”

AP: “Father. (Pauses flirtatiously, flicks hair). But you’re not my father.”

FN: (laughs nervously) “Call me whatever you want, Father, Pater, Elder…”

AP: “Ah… so the Father comes from Pater, it’s because you’re a priest…”

FN: “A monk.”

AP: “Do you want to tell us, Father Nikitas, about your decision to leave the secular life.”

FN: “I had the great blessing, after doing my army service, to meet Father PaÏsios.”

AP: “At what age?”

FN: “Nineteen going on twenty.”

AP: “At nineteen, eh? And you met Father PaÏsios, Saint PaÏsios? Isn’t he our most modern saint?”

FN: “So when I was discharged from the army, my life changed thanks to this simple, illiterate, enlightened man. Because the first time I visited, I went there with a friend whose mother had cancer in her bones and they were expecting her to die any minute.”

AP: “So you had gone with your friend to help him pray?”

FN: “Yes.”

AP: “But your friend was the one who was most insistent.”

FN: “Yes. But when you go to the hermitage of PaÏsios there are a lot of people there.”

Annita

AP: “Nikita… just so I don’t have to call you Father Nikitas, Pater etc., (flicks back her hair, sits back to expose her cleavage) can I just call you Nikitas? Would that be OK?”

FN: (shifts in his seat) “Look, from the point that I wear the cassock, it’s correct to use Father Nikitas, Pater, Monk etc.”

AP: “I just need to find something that I find comfortable with.”

FN: “Look, don’t worry, we’ll find it in the course of things.”

AP: “OK, so Father Nikitas, you’ve gone there with your friend who has a sick mother, so he influenced you to go there.”

FN: “I would have gone anyway.”

AP: “Were you a child brought up in the church or were you, like, a worldy child?”

FN: “I would say I was a normal child.”

AP: “So you didn’t have any tendency towards…”

FN: “Look, when you grow up on an island like Kos, I have done many jobs, jobs related to tourism…”

DK: “… in bars and the like…”

FN: “… in restaurants, beaches, I have done all sorts of jobs.”

AP: “So, a young man who was normal, enjoying a modern way of life…”

FN: “I served in the special forces… I was in the midst of everything.”

AP: “Right.”

FN: “My parents were religious, but it wasn’t like we were fanatical. Simple folk, my family were fishermen and the like. So I went to Father PaÏsios’s hermitage and there were a lot of people there, and I asked my friend, ‘how are we going to go and talk to him and get his blessing when it’s so crowded?’”

AP: “Did you know at that point that this old man…”

FN: “We were aware, we had heard…”

AP: “… that he was a special case, that he was on track for a sainthood, did you know that?”

FN: “Yes, that’s why we went.”

AP: “So the word was already out there…”

FN: “Yes, the word was out. So then the old man stands up and calls us by our names.”

AP: “…without knowing who you were?”

FN: “Without knowing us, it was our first visit, so he told me, and at that point I thought I’d just served in the special forces, I thought I was hot shit, I’d reached the moon with my youthful arrogance, he said ‘this is where we’ll see what kind of commando you were’. At that point I didn’t understand what he was talking about. In the meantime, he said to my friend, ‘Don’t worry, your mother has a whole decade ahead of her.’”

AP: “Without knowing the reason for your visit, without having discussed it with him.”

FN: “Not at all. And then my friend’s mother, who at that point was a mass of bones…”

AP: “A mass of what?”

FN: “A mass of bones, she had cancer in her bones, they were expecting her to die any minute. She revived and she lived exactly ten years.”

AP: “Po po po…”

FN: “So after that I went to Athos many times and met many monks, little old men, living in shacks, living on nothing but they had the whole world inside them.”

AP: “So Saint PaÏsios, he saw things, he had a gift…”

FN: “He saw things. And I’ll tell you one more thing, an event I lived as I was returning. There was a father who was holding his little child in his arms, and it had a problem walking. Coming back from seeing Father PaÏsios, the kid was walking, right as rain. Of course, what happens now, when various people come out and talk about prophesies and that sort of thing, that is extreme. When we do that we are taking advantage of the name of Father PaÏsios. He really did make some prophesies, some came true, others not yet, God only knows if they will. It’s best not to use his name unless he has actually said something, because this regurgitation doesn’t honour anyone.”

AP: “Are there other Fathers like him, with a gift?”

FN: “Yes, there are. In there there is a family of 2,500 people from different backgrounds, rich families, poor families. You can’t just be there because you had a moment one day. It is a great sacrifice to dedicate yourself. Personally, what I felt was, in the vernacular, like I had a big crush on God. I lived such great joy that I could not express it.”

AP: “Did you experience that the first time you visited?”

FN: “The very first time, and then I kept going back.”

AP: “So when you went with your friend to pray for his mother and you first met Father PaÏsios? And you were so taken, so charmed by this person who seemed to know you and know why you were there before you met… and that is why you decided to dedicate yourself to God.”

FN: “Yes, I experienced a joy I couldn’t express. God has made it possible for us to experience such a blessing that I wish I could take my heart out and give it to the world so they can understand what I am experiencing at this moment. It sounds nice, it sounds like a fairytale but I’ve lived it, and that won’t change. And right now there are men in their that are of the stature of Saint PaÏsios…”

AP: “Aha!”

FN: “… and that for us is a blessing, because there are many young people in there and we draw our strength from those guys.”

AP: “OK, I suggest that we take a little ad break, and when we come back I will ask Father Nikitas to explain what exactly it was that make him ‘click’, because there is something specific that made you leave the secular world at the age of twenty-something…”

FN: “Yes, there is.”

AP: “OK, let’s go and we’ll be right back.”

[There follows an advertising break featuring ads for household products, psychics, processed dairy and condoms. The conversation resumes, in which FN reveals, somewhat underwhelmingly, that he became a monk for “many personal reasons which we won’t discuss here.”]

AP: “The fact that this is an all-male situation has at times generated some weird chit-chat. So we have heard for example that it is a gay hangout. Like, there have been various embarrassments coming out of there at times…”

FN: “Listen, Athos is a hangout of people, right? There are 2,500 people there. In the years I have been there I have never seen anything crooked. At the end of the day what someone does in his bed is his business, I can’t know that, no one can know that, right?”

AP: “The issue is, when you go there, you don’t go there to do things in your bed, you go there to do other things. If you want to do something in bed you don’t go to Athos, you go anywhere else in the country.”

FN: “Look, if someone comes who really wants to repent and wants help, we can do that but no more.”

AP: “No, I’m not talking about the people who come and visit, I’m referring to the possibility that there are some monks who have gone astray, there have been a lot of scandals…”

FN: “When someone sets off to do something in their life, to do a job or to dedicate themselves, like me in a monastery, and you know what you want, you set solid foundations and you get down to it. But if you start off to wear the cassock to ensconce yourself, then the game is lost.”

AP: “Have you, yourself, seen anything like that?”

FN: “In my years there, no. There have been times for example when I have seen visitors who look like they are after something else or look like something, but nothing beyond that. From then on, whatever one choses to do… because where I am, right, I’m secluded, I’m in the forest, the people I see are those who come specifically to see me, from then on I don’t…”

NS: “What is your view on the prohibition on women visiting?”

FN: “Look, in the old days, all the monasteries were not visited by women, like the convents were not visited by men, because we are fighting temptation, we are fighting our flesh. On Athos, there have been many incidents, many miracles of the Virgin Mary that have prevented (women). Every time they tried to enter something befell them. This has been proven.”

DK: “They made trouble, right, just say it. They make trouble generally (laughs).”

AP: “Next, Father Nikitas is going to demonstrate some recipes from his book of Mount Athos cooking…”

If you want to know more about Greek TV, you can start here.

 

 

 

A late education

Battle of the Red Hot Flaming Divas

Emergency diplomatic protocol has been put in force at Athens airport this weekend to prevent a clash in the itineraries of two of the most demanding divas on the world stage, the Olympic Flame and the Holy Light. The two flaming hot dignitaries are both scheduled to be in Greece this weekend, and the rivalry between them has led the authorities to take special measures to ensure that their paths (and those of their extensive entourages) do not cross for fear of sparking off a diplomatic incident.

The Olympic Flame kicked off her world tour in Olympia on Thursday, scheduled to take in several key locations in Greece and the world, culminating in a two week residency at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro in August. The Olympic Flame is known to adopt a punishing itinerary, featuring spectacular stunts, and with numerous featured guest appearances by sports stars and other celebrities along the way. She famously favours an understated style ostensibly inspired by the timeless ideal of Classical Greece, but beneath the cultivated facade of elegant simplicity lies a high maintenance diva of epic proportions. While her entourage sport identical white belted chitons intended to evoke the image of a Grecian maiden, the Flame herself insists on a new cutting edge haute couture wardrobe by a different designer for each tour.

After being lit by means of a solar mirror in a solemn ceremony, she was photographed in the arms of up-and-coming Syrian Paralympic athlete Ibrahim Al-Hussein, following the path blazed by Angelina Jolie through the refugee camp of Elaionas, before heading off to the next point on her tour. The move was said to be a nod towards the ancient custom of the Olympic Truce, which as been systematically disregarded by the modern Olympic movement. The gossip pages are already speculating that there is more to the relationship between the diva and her much younger bearer after pictures appeared of them together on social media. But the similarities with J-Lo don’t end there. The Flame’s contract rider, leaked to the press a few days earlier lays out her backstage requirement which bear more than a passing resemblance to those of the Latina star, know for her insistence on an all-white dressing room and white rose petals in the powder room.

Meanwhile, the Holy Light, with whom she is known to be locked in a fierce rivalry, is scheduled to arrive in Athens on Saturday, on her annual visit from Jerusalem to celebrate Greek Orthodox Easter. The Holy Light is ignited by a process shrouded in mystery backstage in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, travels to Athens as a dignitary on a special flight, and is greeted at the airport with full military honours as a head of state. She is known to favour a celibate all-male entourage of Orthodox monks. The dress code at her events is strictly formal, with costumes based on a jewel colour palette and black with heavy gold leaf accents, while she insists that everywhere she goes the air is frangranced with her own label incense and her fans are kept behind the velvet rope. It is expected that she will be received by her self-proclaimed “biggest fan”, Greek “Call of Duty” champion Panos Kammenos, whose rotund form has been a regular feature of her recent appearances, sparking rumours of a possible romance.

The Holy Light has strict dietary requirements, which dictate that both her entourage and her fans observe a forty day detox (or “fast”) before her arrival in Athens. This is followed by a ritual “binge” on ovicaprid meat and offal, hard boiled eggs and chocolate. Many of her devotees are known to suffer ecstatic stomach cramps following the feast, during which they are said to find enlightenment.

image
A flaming diva and her biggest fan (as imagined by P. Kammenos).

The red hot rivalry between the two flame divas goes back centuries. While the Olympic Flame claims to be the original Torch Queen dating back to 776 BC, the Holy Light has been making much of the fact that Olympic Torch Relay was revealed as the brainchild of a controversial Austrian impresario and demagogue who took the world by storm with the modern torch rally in 1930s Germany. Her latest comment to the press seems designed to ignite a flame-fest, “Nobody throws shade on the Light of the Resurrection. Beeotch!”.

In fact, rumour has it that the real animus between the two is more to do with the fact that they both owe their eternal youthfulness to the rejuvenating treatments of the secretive Dr Zippo, who is flown in specially from his clinic in the Swiss Alps to minister to them during their frequent bouts of “exhaustion” on tour.

Battle of the Red Hot Flaming Divas

Get your Schism on!

pope-patriarch

The Papal visit commemorative print-out-and-keep guide to the Eastern and Western Christian churches.

This week, after overcoming some minor technicalities, Pope Francis, the head of the Roman Catholic Church will be visiting the Greek island of Lesvos with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and the Archbishop of Athens, to show support for the refugees arriving on the island and the local people who have been helping them.

If you have ever wondered how the churches compare on a number of key indicators, here is a handy guide.

Dogma

The two churches parted ways in the Great Schism of 1054, which marked the climax of series of disputes over issues as diverse as simple turf wars, through to who should pay whom their respects, and which bits of the Holy Trinity the Holy Spirit emanates from.

Semantics

Labels are important. Orthodox (meaning “correct”) vs. Catholic (meaning “for all”) suggests that the former are more concerned with being righteous even at the risk of remaining a minority, whereas the latter are overtly gunning for world domination. Orthodox Christianity is for religion snobs, the kind who are fond of saying things like “I prefer their early stuff, before they went commercial, it’s a bit more challenging but…” (strokes beard, takes sip of real ale, continues in same vein).

Open Hostilities?

Not since 1204, when the Fourth Crusade made a special detour on the way to Jerusalem to sack the Eastern church’s manor in Constantinople. In the last century there have been small steps towards reconciliation at the top level (mutual nullification of anathemas, to be specific) but in the ranks (especially on the Orthodox side) a particular brand of passive-aggressive anti-Papist propaganda remains a crowd-pleaser. Thus, an Athenian bishop announced that he was “praying for the Papal visit not to take place” (a known “activist bishop”, he was previously known for pronouncing the martial arts to be a gateway drug to the occult), while lurid warnings were issued from less official sources (this fringe news source warns of bad OMENS for Greece from the visit of the BEAST, noting for good measure that Pope Francis was anointed by the Rockefellers). Meanwhile, small snakes have started to appear in central Athens. Coincidence?

Pomp and circumstance

Neither church could be called “understated”. Both subscribe to the dogmas of “dress to impress”, “as big a gold cross as your neck can bear”, “no such thing as too much architectural gold leaf” and “more incense!”. The Pope has cool accessories, including his own patented “popemobile”. However, Orthodoxy has the edge here, for insisting on conducting its rituals exclusively in an archaic language. Much like Dylan going electric, one of the major signs of the Papists’ “selling out” was the introduction of guitars and modern-language mass. Points off for appearing both desperate and degenerate.

Nun appeal

No contest. It is possible to look good in the crisp monochrome contrast of the Catholic nun’s habit. A condoning attitude towards self-flagellation adds spice to the nun fantasy. A substantial chunk of the Buñuel canon pays homage to the discreet charm of the Catholic nun, while honourable mention also goes to Ken Russell’s “The Devils”, the guilty pleasure of many an “art house” fan. (“Nons!” as the infirm Father Jack in the comedy series “Father Ted” would have it. “Drink! Feck!”). And it’s not just for guys. My Catholic friends who were regularly beaten by the “penguins” at an all-girl Catholic school held regular viewings of “Black Narcissus” in rotation with “The Sound of Music” well into adulthood. Orthodox nuns on the other hand seem to come pre-aged and swaddled in a dusty all-black habit that would blend in at the more conservative end of the ISIS dress code. Negative fantasy factor, unless you are a priest on a remote posting. Catholics win.

Priest appeal

There is no Orthodox equivalent of Richard Chamberlain in “The Thornbirds”. Orthodox priests, sporting as they do the full beard and man bun, are destined to have only niche appeal. They tend to work better as postcard props posed against whitewashed walls or on donkeys, for the thrills of middle-aged German tourists. For a brief phase in the last decade, some younger specimens could have passed for that subspecies of hipster known as the lumbersexual, but soon it will be back to being mistaken for a member of ZZ Top. Catholics win, at least in fiction. And in case you’re wondering, ladies, rank and file Orthodox priests can marry. It’s a safe civil service job with a state pension – which counts for something in this environment.

Gross-out factor

Obviously, we both commit ritual cannibalism by imbibing the actual flesh and blood of Christ during Holy Communion. But while Catholics made it marginally more hygienic with the introduction of the dry communion wafer, we in the East have bread dunked in a petri dish of a chalice and administered on a shared spoon (incidentally, the dunking protocol is one of the finer points we fell out over back in 1054). Gross. The priest’s beard has been in there too. Orthodox win.

Body Politics

The Catholic church is very specific about what women can and can’t do with their bodies while they’re alive, strictly prohibiting birth control and abortion (aka. the “no soul left behind” policy). The Orthodox church catches you on your way out with a ban on cremation – but that’s for your surviving relatives to deal with. Catholics win for not waiting for the inevitable.

Accessibility Factor

To see the Pope up close, you need to book months in advance, or use binoculars in St Peter’s Square. Koutofrangos and I were able to walk casually into the Patriarchal Church of St George in the old Greek district of Fanari/Fener in Istanbul a couple of years ago to see Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew perform in front of a small gathering. My easily-impressed lapsed Catholic partner was so taken with the Patriarch’s accessibility he nearly joined the queue to kiss his ring, until he realised this would  pretty much guarantee an eternity spent burning in the abode of the damned. Not quite as impressive as bumping into Alan Rickman in the local Bayswater off-license, but kudos all the same.

Gore Potential

Catholics win hands down. Both churches venerate preserved bits of the human anatomy, but the Catholics have catacombs full of them. Also, for gore you can’t beat the concept of the Sacred Heart, a bleeding disembodied human organ destined to adorn a gang member’s bicep, or St Sebastian, a half-naked boy posing as an archery target. Add to this the endless elaboration on the horrors of purgatory and babies in limbo, and you begin to see where Alfred Hitchcock was coming from.

Scandal Register

Catholics win again, at least as far as exposure is concerned, by making their brand almost synonymous with pederasty. Although abuse is sporadically exposed in the Orthodox church, scandals are mostly confined to the church’s finances. They are either more virtuous, better at suppressing abuse stories, or perhaps it’s as simple as the ability to marry and the absence of altar boys, removes some of the more obvious temptations.

Conspiracy Potential

The Orthodox church (or at least some of its practitioners) are net producers of conspiracy theories (see above), whereas the Catholic church attracts them like flypaper. Dan Brown has been the main beneficiary of baroque plots featuring the Illuminati and Opus Dei, but somewhere deep in the bowels of the Orthodox-affiliated internet the Pope is sharing an aperitif of infant’s blood with the Freemasons and the Rothschilds after an energising session of hot yoga, in preparation for opening the floodgates to the Muslim hordes.

Worldly Goods

Tricky one this, as the churches do not comply with our earthly accounting standards. The budget of the Roman Catholic church in the United States alone is estimated to be in the same league as Apple Inc. The Church of Greece, on the other hand, is said to be close to bankruptcy. The Catholic church has been known to be more commercially-minded, pioneering one of the earliest innovations in financial engineering in the form of indulgences, which enabled them for the first time to monetise guilt. Regardless of size, however, neither church is a model of financial probity. The Vatican’s own bank is currently under investigation for money-laundering, while in Greece the Vatopedi affair revolved around a dodgy land swap, which implicated the abbot of a prestigious monastery and senior figures in government.

Demographics

Catholic: 1,200 million; Orthodox: 225-300 million (based on own estimates, so all the usual warnings apply, but you get the picture).

Which bring us to…

Common cause

A recent study estimated that by the middle of this century Islam will catch up with Christianity as the world’s most populous religion. Fellow smug secularists, atheists, agnostics and all-round fans of the Enlightenment, take note: it may feel like the march of Reason is unstoppable, but we will in fact “make up a declining share of the world’s population”.

Although both churches have voiced concern for the persecution of all refugees, they reserve particular concern for the suffering of Christians. When Pope Francis celebrated Holy Thursday demonstrating his humility by washing the feet of refugees, the ratio of Christians to other faiths was carefully calibrated at 8/4 – a bold symbolic gesture, but hardly representative of the fleeing populations. At the same time, it is not something one would imagine his predecessor doing. The Patriarch will also be taking the opportunity to celebrate the memory of “Papa Stratis”, a local priest who started a charity for refugees arriving on the island back in 2007.

Get your Schism on!