Tuesday, 12 November 2013

A Shadow and a Dream

Sir John Tavener died today. Either he's gone to his rewards and crowns or he's simply ceased to exist. Depending on the day, either possibility can seem to me likely or absurd. Here's his 'Song for Athene', written for a young Anglo-Greek woman who died in a cycling accident. The final phrase 'Come! Enjoy rewards and crowns I have prepared for you!' starts decisively and stretches out in a beautiful arc before descending back into the drone ( ison)  that represents the unchanging nature of God, and it brings me out in gooseflesh every time I hear it. Yeah, well...You're a long time dead. Those of us still on parade can be grateful that Tavener was for a while among us, and left us such beautiful noises.


Here's a beautiful orchestral version of Song for Athene arranged by Tavener for violinist Nicola Benedetti.

Tavener: Song For Athene by Nicola Benedetti; Andrew Litton: London Philharmonic Orchestra on Grooveshark

The lyrics are from Hamlet and the Orthodox funeral service. 

Alleluia. May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
Alleluia. Remember me, O Lord, when you come into your kingdom.
Alleluia. Give rest, O Lord, to your handmaid, who has fallen asleep.
Alleluia. The Choir of Saints have found the well-spring of life and door of Paradise.
Alleluia. Life: a shadow and a dream.
Alleluia. Weeping at the grave creates the song: Alleluia. Come, enjoy rewards and crowns I have prepared for you.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Greek, Interrupted

Over at the Economist’s Prospero blog, economist Athanasia Chalari describes the appalling effects of the Greek financial crisis on people's everyday lives. Homes are being repossessed and life savings decimated. Nearly 65% of the 18-24 age group is unemployed and the suicide rate has risen by 40% in the last year. Chalari gives historic reasons for the crisis: the state has always been chaotic, and Greeks have had:
'...a tendency to ask politicians for personal favours that prioritise their personal interests. Previously there was no concern for the collective interest. The time has come for them to realise that this cannot work any more.'
All this makes sense. But then Chalari sees another contributing factor: it has to do with how Greeks talk. ‘Greeks,’ she tells us, ‘are very loud and they interrupt each other very often.’ Do they ever! This is one of the the earliest things you notice as an outsider living in Greece. Political discussions on the TV news are nigh on impossible to follow. The anchor will be moderating an exchange between maybe six politicians and journalists, each in a different studio and all shouting at the same time. Such challenging questions as the anchor may have prepared go by the wayside as he is reduced to hollering ‘Parakaló! Parakaló!! PARAKALO!!!’ ‘Please!’ to try to get them to belt up and listen to one another. At the end of the discussion, we are rarely much further forward.   
So there's this lack of communication despite strenuous effort to achieve it, and the reason, I always thought, is cultural. Here comes a truck-load of generalisations to annoy you. It’s important in Greece to make one’s mark in company, and talking long and loud is one way to do that. Men especially are proud of their opinions and theories, often unwilling to modify them in the light of incoming evidence, or indeed to admit that there is any countervailing evidence. A Greek friend - Greek, mark you - once told me ‘Greeks have very little sense of audience.’ Her observation seemed to me to explain a lot: why teachers could bore students into catatonia without apparently noticing, why middle-aged gasbags in cafes and on TV could bloviate for hours without gauging listeners’ reaction (or lack of) and why TV adverts would interrupt films mid-syllable and without warning.
Well, as I said, there's a heap of generalisation there, but it might be said that there’s no smoke without fire. Chalari’s explanation for political chaos is different, though. She blames the grammar of the Greek language:
'When Greeks talk they begin their sentences with verbs and the form of the verb includes a lot of information so you already know what they are talking about after the first word and can interrupt more easily.’
This is a bizarre explanation for interruption. Greek is highly inflected and with almost every word tagged by its ending, word order is pretty fluid, so there’s no requirement that an utterance begin with a verb. Indeed in Greek, frequent the verbless sentence. (Mackridge, 1985.) Neither is there any reason that I can see to imagine that one could predict the content of an entire proposition from its first word. Face-to-face conversation is highly context-dependent, however, and you might well know what your interlocutor is going to come out with, given your understanding of the context. Of course, this is not peculiar to Greek: it’s a human universal. All human beings can interrupt one another during an exchange, regardless of what the grammar of their language requires them to focus on. What matters is how that interruption is received, and this will depend on culture and social context. It might be seen as engagement and enthusiasm, disdain and superiority, insubordination, impatience with your argument or simple pig-ignorance. Chalari says:
‘The way politicians talk in parliament and the way politicians present themselves in the media obviously makes it harder to reach an agreement.’
No question. But since any human being who wants to interrupt another has at least the possibility of doing so, it’s hard to see what the grammar of the language has to do with it. It remains to be seen whether or not a new concern for the collective interest will be reflected in a different attitude to turn-taking in political spoken discourse. Imagine politicians and journalists on Mega channel news patiently awaiting their turn to contribute and graciously ceding the floor to their opponents. That's something I'd pay to see.     

Mackridge, P. (1987) The Modern Greek Language Oxford: Oxford University Press 

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Talk Soup

Fundies say the darndest things. On a You Tube thread, I pointed out to a Jesus freak that contrary to his stated opinion, the issue of gay marriage was indeed a political one. One group wants something, another group is adamant they shall not have it, and both pressure our leaders to decide in their favour - a no-fucking-brainer, really. He replied:

I believe that it's not debatable as far as God is concerned. But I also keep an open mind. God gives us the power to overcome things. [meaning homosexual desire, presumably] He gave us refrigeration to overcome death by shellfish and tampons to overcome "unclean" times in womanhood. With God, all things are possible.

FFS... I rejoindered:

God gave us refrigeration and tampons, huh? Look up 'history of tampons' and see how women have coped with this unintelligent design feature over the centuries. Why did he wait until the late 19th century to make refrigeration a possibility? Think of the lives that could have been saved had he inspired people earlier. 

This cuts no ice with your Bible Belt Bible-bewitched Biblebot. They won't credit human beings with even a spark of ingenuity save in the service of lies and skullduggery. The response was simply:

Think of how many souls could have saved (sic) if they had accepted God. 

Never mind. It's inevitable they'll accept gay marriage in the end - then claim credit for having successfully overcome the wicked world's homophobia, which God has always hated.

Sod them. Let's talk about soup.

When, as now, it turns back-endish, it's gratifyingly cheap, simple and healthy to boil up a big pan of root veg, garlic and herbs, and whizz it into soup to eat with dark, wholemeal bread as the rain lashes the windows. It's nice to work up an appetite by pondering what colour and texture of soup you fancy: broccoli-spinachy green, beety purple, carroty-turnipy orange, creamy or nubbly. I use cannellini beans when I want a smooth, creamy texture, because I don't like real cream. I usually chuck in some white wine or dry sherry. This weekend I had a hankering for a rich fish soup. I had specific gustatorial, visual and textural requirements for this one, so it took a bit of thought and research. Here's what I came up with.       

First, take a bulb of garlic, separate the cloves, toss them in a little olive oil and bung them in the oven until they turn soft and creamy. Meanwhile, fry some onions in olive oil with a bunch of thyme. It's amazing how many recipes tell you to pick the leaves off the thyme: who could be arsed? I just throw in a bunch of stalks and then fish them out before I make with the blender. I wanted this soup to be yellow, so when the onions had softened I threw in a chopped yellow pepper and a chopped leek. I got the yellow pepper from a stall on the High Street where six peppers of assorted hues were a pahnd a bowl, unlike at Marks and Sparks where you pay at least that for one. It means finding a use for two green peppers, though - any suggestions? It became obvious that the soup wouldn't be yellow enough, so I added a tiny bit of turmeric. I slung in a can of cannellini beans, water and a couple of fish stock cubes, and boiled it all up. When the vegetables were done, I put in a small piece of smoked haddock, and after a few minutes, squeezed the soft creamy garlic from the skins, added them, and blended the lot to a puree. I remembered to remove the thyme first.

These soups always taste better if they're allowed to sit and fester for a few hours. While mine was doing this, I roasted a red pepper, scraped it not too assiduously, chopped it into little cubes and added it to the soup. Seven hours later, I brought the soup back to the boil, threw in a slug of white wine, and some cubes of smoked haddock and some of muscular, bright red wild salmon. This last was extravagant, but I can't abide that slithery pink farmed stuff. Well, it was bloody marvellous with bread and a glass of dry sherry, which was just as well, because it wasn't cheap and considerably more time-consuming than my usual boil-it-up-and-blend-it efforts. Any suggestions for dairy-free improvement will be considered.  

Friday, 1 November 2013

Ab Fab In Ovo

This eight-minute sketch is the seed from which Absolutely Fabulous grew. I remember seeing and loving it in the early nineties. There's no Patsy or Bubble yet, just Proto-Edina and Ur-Saffy in their mother-daughter role-reversal. When Adrianna (the Eddie-to-be) has a fit and lets loose a load of bloodying and bollocking, the daughter wearily admonishes her: 'Mum, it's not clever, it's not funny, and nobody's in the slightest bit impressed.'


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