Wednesday, June 29, 2005


Sebastião Salgado
Mali, 1985
[without permission]

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Let Love In

Despair and Deception, Love's ugly little twins
Came a-knocking on my door, I let them in
Darling, you're the punishment for all of my former sins
I let love in
I let love in

The door it opened just a crack, but Love was shrewed and bold
My life flashed before my eyes, it was a horror to behold
A life-sentence sweeping confetti from the floor of a concrete
I let love in
I let love in

Well I've been bound and gagged and I've been terrorized
And I've been castrated and I've been lobotomized
But never has my tormenter come in such a cunning disguise
I let love in
I let love in

O Lord, tell me what I done
Please don't leave me here alone
Where are my friends?
My friends are gone
O Lord, tell me what I done
Please don't leave me here alone
Where are my friends?
My friends are gone
I let love in
I let love in

So if you're sitting all alone and hear a-knocking at you door
and the air is full of promises, well buddy, you've been warned
Far worse to be Love's lover than the lover that Love has
I let love in
I let love in

--- Let Love In. Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds. 1996.


Saturday, June 25, 2005


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panayiotis on the (l)edge

You can laugh all you want, but I think the website has generated some interest. Suddenly, after living all his life in the relative isolation of a small apartment, Paschalis has made some friends, feline friends, the strays who operate in the vicinity of my building and the unoccupied lot behind it (they have turned the half-constructed block of flats over there into their πολυγατοικία).

There have been some other visitors in the past to the balcony (access is a matter of three simple jumps: wall, ledge, balcony). Most memorably, there was a striped orange cat I predictably called Mr. Portokalis, who scratched my little P on the chin and edged him off the balcony. I had to go down and retrieve him from the garden below. He was almost unrecognizable – shaking, bleeding, reeking with all the hormones and scents he had released.

It was an isolated event.

Mr. Portokalis had proven his point, I assume, and never bothered to return. Eventually, Paschalis regained his sense of authority and resumed his nightly balcony patrols. He kept a close watch on all the cats of the neighborhood, his vigils were intent and enduring, but he never showed any interest in leaving his domain or venturing into theirs.

In the past month, however, he’s had quite a few uninvited guests. It started with his double, a cat colored just the same as he, except that God got bored at some point and left one leg completely blank, white, unpainted. This cat has come to be known as White Leg, which is also the warning cry sounded whenever he is found on the balcony, intimidating poor Paschalis, who tries to avoid trouble by hiding under the laundry.

The new cat is Panayiotis. He is more persistent than any other; he spends whole days and nights on the balcony, bathing, taking naps, meowing to himself or maybe to Paschalis through the glass doors. He has made himself quite at home. He has even assumed Paschalis’ patrols, pacing back and forth, surveying the land, while poor Paschalis lingers, on edge, indoors -- indignant, ever vigilant, but completely unable to summon the courage to cross the threshold and displace the cat that displaced him.

I wonder what all these cats are thinking. Paschalis is obviously the fattest, healthiest, luckiest cat in the neighborhood. He has also been neutered, so his ambiguous sex may be a point of some fascination. All the visiting cats have been male, so I wonder what they’re really after –- his territory, his food, his body? Maybe just his company.

Monday, June 20, 2005


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(not the same church)

It’s so easy to fall in love in Greece. In fact, that’s just another way of saying that it’s surprisingly easy to fall in love with Greece -- to give up brilliant careers and families and friends abroad and feel you’ve lost nothing in the exchange. The sacrifices sink in later. So it started in the usual way: he sold his house in Scotland and everything in it, left an ascendant career in science to take a job so far beneath him he had to work harder than ever to do it well, turned his back on heaths and fog to get a face full of dust and hot southern winds, relentless sun on his pale pink skin. She was a divorcee with two teenage daughters; before long, a third was on the way. A vague ambition to marry became a matter of some urgency.

The wedding took place last night. It was an intimate affair: a small, white church right on the beach; the waves, rhythmic, insatiably stroking the sand; the sunset spreading its legs in an infinite split across the nether regions of sky, which blushed, deep red, in response. The Scots were kilted, their thick wool socks an itchy contrast to their wives’ bare legs and summery pink dresses. The groom wore a light-colored suit and a fiery red tartan tie. The bride wore a simple, ivory gown, high-waisted and pulled tight at the back, her belly the sole emebellishment.

The priest played the crowd right from the start, making the most of his hands-free mic. “We’re going to make this wedding bilingual. Don’t laugh at my pronunciation,” he said, earning a laugh with that, of course.

He sang the liturgy in Greek, and then again in English -- this old, gray-haired priest you’d never expect to be so accommodating. All the words were right, both spoken and sung; the prayers I’ve heard so many times were made mine at last. The people were quiet; they hung on every English word, eyes wide whenever they caught something they understood, or missed something they didn’t. A ripple went through us only once, when the priest held up the Bible in front of the groom, who didn’t know what to do and didn’t react at all. “Kiss,” the priest said. “Kiss,” we all repeated, as the groom did just that. It was an incantation. It worked its magic.

A little girl came round with her basket of rice. I took a handful and she moved on to the couple standing next to me. “We are tourists,” the man said, politely refusing. The girl moved on, but I shared my rice with them, and my excitement. This wedding was for everyone.

It ended with a mantinada; the priest asked the bride to translate for the groom and all his non-Greek guests. She blushed at its sensual nature; we all did. Your eyes are like the sea, he said and then she said, its waves are my hands and its depth, my body. I give you a soft place to sleep, and when you look at me, I turn to pieces.

At the end, I kissed them all, overwhelmed with romance, confusing my English and Greek. The story may have started as expected, but it ended so much better.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

semiotics for beginners ii

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This, my rooms tolet, that I open after my englis test I fail, not going gooder, if I study or not. I say welcome to you my friend, to stay, to eat drink. I secure you, you are not to go away never again! Geia sou file mou! (Hot water, brake-fast, open parkin but careful the goats go on the car to eat from the trees).

I know it’s not fair. He was disqualified at least twice, and as a member of the blog, he shouldn’t have been allowed to participate in the first place. But still, my hat goes off to Steph (Congrats! That's all you're going to get) as the winner of last week's so-called caption contest (winning entry above), which was really just a silly excuse for me to post a photo from my holiday in Rhodes as a joke at his expense. Two, but that’s it -- there won’t be any more pictures of Stefanos Studio, I promise. Let his humor, persistence, and grace under fire be a model to us all. You’re a good sport, Steph.

You have to be, to do well with semiotics. The signs may not always be full of mistakes and point in opposite directions, but that doesn’t mean it’s always a good idea to follow them. All we can do is be more sensitive, see them for what they are at any given moment, and know that the meaning is likely to shift in the next. Context is everything, but it’s fun to crop most of it out. To try, anyway.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Hendrik Lorentz's thumb

[Painting of Hendrik Lorentz by Arnhemensis. Photo by Bob Tubbs. From Wikipedia]

I am not a native english speaker (well, duh?!), so it took me some years before I first came across the expression "rule of thumb".

As it happens, this occured in a physics lecture on electromagnetism, still in high-school, when our teacher drew on the blackboard the mnemonic for visualizing the direction of a magnetic field, as given by the Lorentz force law.

I thought it was cool! I imagined the important Dutch physician smiling at me, and giving me a "thumbs up!" for finally understanding his laws.

I think it's fair to say that I like rules of thumb!

And all that magnetism...

Wednesday, June 15, 2005


Smiling Spider. Odilon Redon: Early Charcoals (1878-85)

I used to hate spiders. I mean, I would totally freak out even if it was a small one staring at me from the far end of the room.

At some point I decided that I could not go on like that. I decided to do something about it. I thought that if I started carefully observing them, at first from a distance, and progressively closer, I would slowly become more acquainted with their appearance and their movements and their ways. And after enough time, I would be at ease with them and not afraid any more...

A crazy theory, but it worked! It took me years, granted, but now I won't really mind a spider (well, not ANY spider) walking up my hand towards my face.

I am very happy that I have achieved this new closeness with this seamingly threatening, but also really fascinating animal.

However I regret the fact that, in order to get there, I had to subconsciously mutilate, or at least anaesthetize, something that I was born with. A basic, ancient, primordial instinct, that may be totally useless nowdays, but it certainly was a small part of the footprint of my original self.

Monday, June 13, 2005

creative transgressions

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photo by steph

Taboos, they say, make transgressions so pleasurable. There is an intense pleasure in doing something you don’t really expect to get away with, but no pleasure at all in getting caught. It’s a mysterious and self-contradictory thing.

In my childhood home, the walls of my parents’ bedroom were covered in pale green wallpaper, which, upon closer inspection, wasn’t green at all. It was actually white, or off-white, with a complex but faint floral pattern. Those appearing and disappearing flowers intrigued me because even at close range, there weren’t any real flowers there at all, just thin outlines of flowers, carefully, minutely, methodically drawn, it seemed to me, with a pale green pen.

I remember standing close to the wall one afternoon. I wasn’t supposed to be alone in my parents’ bedroom. It was off-limits; there were other places to play. I was about seven, just about eyelevel to the top of my father’s dresser, where he emptied his pockets every day after work at the college. My eyes swooped over his keys, his watch, the ubiquitous roll of peppermint Life Savers, a Chap Stick in its classic black plastic tube… and finally landed on his felt-tip pens, one of which was red. I found myself surrounded by all those empty faint flowers, just waiting to be colored in, set free from their bland anonymity on the wall, and I had just the means to do it.

Meticulously, proudly, and minding the lines, I filled the first tiny petals with bright blood-red ink. I admired my work, so pleased with my idea and sure my parents would be impressed and approve. The blood rushed next to my face, as I stepped back and realized what I’d started, for unless I filled in all the flowers with my felt-tip pen, and turned the whole wall red, the red mark, however neat, would not be the art I had intended. I colored in two or three more flowers, hoping to hide the first in a field of red. Predictably, the blood only spread; my transgression was impossible to hide or deny. I was punished promptly.

The bloody spots remained on the wall, and every time I saw them for years after that, until the house was sold and all its flawed walls became some other family’s problem, I blushed equally red – not with the penitence and shame my family still insists that I should feel, but with pleasure: with the complex satisfaction of a secret transgression, and the simple pride I took in my work.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

The calm after the storm

[Photo by Betty Miller]

No comments, but looking forward to yours.

Friday, June 10, 2005

semiotics for beginners

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How about a first-ever caption contest? Submissions welcome. The winner (and the prize) will be announced next week.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

sound and light

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Typical start to a holiday in Rhodes: walking past cafés and restaurants, trying to avoid the inevitable pitchmen accosting us from all corners. They’re always shocked when I answer them in Greek; it’s usually enough to make them back off, apologize even. One woman insisted; her colleague got involved, made a sarcastic remark behind my back. I turned and told him, still in Greek, that we were just trying to go for a walk without being harassed every two meters, and that what he was doing was not only making a bad impression but also essentially eliminating any chance of us patronizing his business. The conversation went nowhere, he announcing, loud, rude, in a fake dramatic English accent, “Have a nice evening,” and I answering back, not so loud but equally rude, «Και εσείς το ίδιο. Καλή συνέχεια.»

Things got better from there. We sat by the seahorses, watched gypsy kids wash their feet in the fountain. The “pitchman” (I saw this term used on a sign in Chania, where the mayor has taken a stand against such practices, advising tourists, in unfortunately questionable English, to report any inappropriate behavior to the relevant authorities) at the next restaurant took an interest in my dad’s university ring bearing a well-worn Greek inscription. Dad explained, “This ring represents education; the other, servitude.” I’m not sure the waiter’s English was good enough to appreciate the witticism, but mine was. I am my father’s daughter in more ways than one.

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The next day there was an undisturbed walk through shady trees. Too soon for butterflies, but a graceful conspiracy almost took wing. I missed a step and fell in the museum. It happened in slow motion, as such things will, allowing me to have a whole conversation with myself before I went down. We had lunch in a churchyard, amid the cries of peacocks, the majestic males flaunting tails of green and blue, outrunning motorbikes, flying up walls. We went to Lindos, which had closed at 2:40. Ridiculous, but it was time for my parents to learn how things are in this country. On the way through the village, I sent a manipulative message and got the response I deserved. I decided then and there to sleep on it, to leave the rest til later.

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Mom and I went to Sound and Light. I understood this time what I hadn’t before: the pledge to fidelity, chastity, and poverty. The betrayal. The abandonment. The sacrifice of a dream to a cause more significant, if less romantic. The one small moment on which great battles turn. The rejection of icons. The endurance of beauty.

Walking out, we compared our impressions of the ending. Mom was shocked that they had called the victors “Turks.” I thought the ending was quite favorable as far as the Turks were concerned, the siege of Rhodes having been described as “the death of the crusades and the birth of a new era,” less euphemistically known as 400 years of Turkish domination. My mom, still a little confused, insisted, “But isn’t it offensive to call them Turks?”

I guess it is (she was right, though not exactly for the reasons she had in mind) but no more so, as someone was quick to point out, than calling an American an American. Neither have positive connotations in the Western world, or elsewhere. After the show, there were some jokes at my expense. I played it tough, since all of it is play acting, sound and light and little more.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Rock And Roll Records

"I make rock 'n' roll records
I sell 'em for a dime
I make my living and feed my children
All in good time
The blues they go for a quarter
Guaranteed to satisfy
It's a real funky deal
Don't let it pass you by
If your evening sun don't shine, my friend
Tell you what I'm gonna do
I'm gonna hammer out this rhythm
Till I get right next to you."

--- JJ Cale, "Rock And Roll Records", Okie (1974)

Saturday, June 04, 2005


The new Playmobil product line.
(Got this by email (thanx nik), and just couldn't resist.)