Sunday, 7 December 2008

Όσο κι άν ψάξω... (However long I search...)

Infuriating, chaotic and parochial as the place is, I will never get over Greece, and will probably always feel that mentally I’m living half way there whilst physically still in England. Like most long term ex-pats I was, and am, completely schizophrenic. Whilst in Greece I would be driven mad by the recklessness of the driving, the baseless conviction of most Greek men that they can turn their hands to anything (rewiring the house, teaching English, running the country) and the endless, ignorant, self-congratulating hyper-bollocks talked about the Greek language. A sample:

It is the basis of ALL the world’s languages.
It is the oldest language in the world.
It is the 'most complicated' language in the world.
The Greek alphabet, recited, is an encrypted prayer to the sun.
You can say things in Greek that cannot be said in any other language.
Learning Greek will make you a better, more generous and humane person.

There are dozens more such whacko received ideas on the subject. I might get round to working them into a post some time.

On visits to England, though, I’d be just as huffy about the needless caution, the obsession with foreseeing and preventing the tiniest accident, the fear of 'going too far' emotionally, the drunken boorishness of youth, and the lack of colour and spice in daily life. Now I'm permanently back in grey England, any Greek music, however hackneyed, instantly floods me with nostalgia for the edge, the intensity of Greece - the deafening music from bars, the smell of grilled octopus by the sea at night, kami-kaze taxi drivers, handsome, up front, horny boys, special foods for dozens of one-day holidays throughout the year, the greeting 'καλησπέρα'* which always seems to promise food, wine and conviviality, and the sight of the Parthenon illuminated by night, floating serenely above the nerve-frazzling racket of Athens.

This has to be one of the best known Greek songs, Τα Παιδιά του Πειραιά (Ta Paidiá tou Peiraiá ) by Manos Hadjidakis. The title means ‘The Children of Piraeus’, although παιδιά might be better translated as ‘lads’ here – girls didn’t get a look-in at the time this was written. Here it is performed by Melina Mercouri in the 1960 film ‘Never on a Sunday’. It might be pumped into the streets ad nauseam on the tourist-infested islands in summer, and inescapable in Plaka all year round, but finding it on You Tube brought a lump to my throat nevertheless.

* kalispera = good evening


Bo said...

Very evocative! The stuff about greek (having spent 12-21 studying ancient greek I have some grasp of the 'spirit' of the language) is amusing - reminds me of the father in 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding' claiming that everything comes 'from the Grik'.

Mariana said...

Awww, now I miss the father in Goodnes Gracious Me, who also said everything was Indian. I loved that show so much.

vilges suola said...

Yes, the MBFGW father's ideas about etymology are not too far from the views of many Greeks. The usual procedure is a) find a word in a foreign language b) scan Homer for a word that sounds a bit like it c) engage in a little intellectual lassooing to link the Greek and the non-Greek words conceptually. Thus the English word 'look' cometh of 'λυκόφως', 'evening twilight'. This is hardly less loony that the father's idea that 'kimono' is derived from 'χειμώνας' = 'winter'.

Never seen 'Goodness gracious Me',I'm afraid. Will have to look (or λυκ) on Υou Τube.

E said...

thanks for posting that song! it makes me incredibly wistful too. I spend most of my free time listening to and translating greek songs with the hope of learning greek eventually.


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