Much as I appreciate retellings of fairytales, reading new ones is an altogether different pleasure; especially when these are fairytales for adults or mixed audiences, i.e. the original fairytale audiences.
I started reading The Reasonable Ogre in the summer and each fairytale was so powerful that lingered in my thoughts for days or weeks after and so I postponed reading the next one in order to keep that feeling, the feeling of a story that haunts your thoughts. And haunting is not always a bad thing.
In The Reasonable Ogre you will find stories with bad endings and stories with good endings; some will be didactic, some others not, some dark, creepy and mysterious, others comforting and tender. And this is what makes this fairytale collection so beautiful, how it denies to be classified in already known categories.
Grimus the Miser is the story of the Tooth Fairy, as you’ve never imagined before. Silver reminded me of old Japanese fairytales and Sloth’s Minions of Greek myths; Wear Me Last could have been an E.T.A. Hoffmann story. Yet these are all new original tales, alluding to themes from the big well of our collective cultural past, but never repeating any old patterns; they are only being aware of them.
Complementing Mike Barnes’s flawless and captivating prose are Segbingway’s illustrations. Often reminding of illustrations of The Sandman, portrayed by different artists in Neil Gaiman’s long saga, Sebingway’s black and white strokes add to the tales in a unique way. His style changes accordingly and creates a genuine atmosphere for each story.
My thanks to Biblioasis for the review copy.
ERT, the Greek national broadcaster was shut down by the Greek government on June 11th, 2013 without any negotiations and with the presence and help of riot police. This article is not about the political agenda of this decision or the brutality of its implementation, it is not about the level of democracy (as it comes in levels nowadays) or that of corruption. Enough is being written about all that. This is about ERT and what it is for me.
ERT was not just another broadcaster; it was and is a symbol. It formed identities, it formed me. Like most Greeks that were children at the 1980s, I grew up with carefully selected children’s programmes that ERT provided, programmes such as FROUTOPIA, a crime story with humour and symbolism tailored for children, written by famous children’s author Eugene Trivizas as a comic and adapted for the TV in the form of beautifully crafted puppets that triggered the imagination. And this is just one example.
It is however as adolescents that we make our real choices that will lead to what adults we become. The 1990s in Greece brought many private TV channels, together with all the glamour and the kitsch these could offer. I remember zapping through rubbish to land on the great names of world cinema, late nights on ET3, one of the 3 TV channels of ERT. That was the time before internet entered our homes. Film descriptions would be found in the weekly TV programme magazine, most of the times badly written blurbs. Yet for ET3 films, I didn’t need a description: there was always a magical surprise there for me, a window into different countries, different worlds. I bumped into films like “La cité des enfants perdus” by chance. Another sleepless night in my adolescent gloom I found on ET3 “Mina Tannenbaum” and this film changed me. And then I started recording the films on videocassettes and became a collector of treasures fished out of the lake in the oasis that ERT offered: Rohmer, Bergman, Dreyer, Pasolini, Fassbinder and so many more. And often there would be a very informative introduction to the film, an entirely non-pretentious cultural analysis that showed me how I wanted my conversations to be. I was wet clay and ERT moulded me into what I am.
But it was not only the film choices that distinguished ERT from any other broadcaster. ET3 would show an opera every week, picked from the best interpretations of the world. I was a child and adolescent that responded to the stimuli around me. ERT offered the best stimuli I could wish for. I am thankful to ERT for giving me a choice, for offering the opportunity of a different perspective. I am thankful I grew up in a cultural environment that my parents allowed me to choose and never forced upon me. When I was 4 years old, walking down the street with my mom, I heard music coming out of the conservatory of our neighbourhood and stretched on my toes to see what is behind that window. My mother asked me if I wanted to see what is in that house and this is how I started learning the piano. ERT showed me all these beautiful stories put into music and with the salary of my first job I took classical singing lessons. This is what ERT did to people.
And not to forget the ‘Third Programme’, one of ERT’s many radio stations: it was the only radio station in Greece broadcasting classical music and cultural programmes that educated through entertainment, an oasis of the radiosphere. I have lived in 3 more countries other than Greece and their classical music radio stations have always been keeping me company. However none of them has ever touched my soul as the ‘Third Programme’ did and not because of linguistic burdens. There was a warmth in this radio station, the short intros before each piece were not just informative, at times they would become a beautiful metaphor, a personal interpretation that would lift you one step or one cloud higher. ‘The second part of a sonata often resembles middle age, composed, without extremes, yet with an inner tension, as if reflecting on one’s life so far’ said my friend Alina, radio journalist at the ‘Third Programme’ and co-soprano at the National Conservatory Choir, one evening in the early 2000s or this is how I remember it. And this changed the way I listen to second parts of sonatas ever since and also the way I think about middle age.
This is who I am. And ERT is and will always be part of me.
I started reading The Vorrh because it gave me the impression it would be some very good fantastic literature. The fact that it was introduced by the usually reserved from public appearances, commentaries and endorsements Alan Moore was a guarantee for that. And let me clarify that by fantastic literature I don’t refer to all the books you will find in the bookstore shelves under ‘Fantasy’, but to the wider spectrum of fantasy fiction that includes Jules Verne, Edgar Allan Poe, Algernon Blackwood, E.T.A. Hoffmann, Neil Gaiman, fables and fairytales and so on. This is the quality I expected and I was not disappointed.
But The Vorrh is so much more than that. It is a book that walks skillfully across genres, like only very good literature can do. It is as much fantasy as it is historical fiction and steampunk, playing all along with Jungian archetypes. The Bowman, one of the protagonists-narrators is such a one. The eye, and everything related to that (blindness, cyclopes, photography and much more), is another. More protagonists include Sir William Gull, one of Queen Victoria’s personal doctors and the one who first understood and named anorexia nervosa, Eadweard Muybridge and his famous zoopraxiscope and Raymond Roussel, the author who influenced the Oulipo and the surrealists.
It is from Roussel’s novel Impressions of Africa (1910) that the Vorrh takes its name. Brian Catling’s Vorrh is a vast, unmapped territory with not so easily defined forms of existence and irreversible effects to whoever goes too deep or stays inside for too long. All the themes of the coloniser and colonised are revisited but in a new way, one of an author that has been exposed to and digested postcolonial rhetorics; this has a very interesting effect that feels at the same time recognisable and entirely new.
The Vorrh is also a metaphor for the savage, for the woman and the unknown. But most importantly it is a metaphor for reading. It is dense and intense and it will have an irrevocable effect on the reader, same as the forest has to those who dare enter its core. I cannot recommend it enough.
My thanks to Honest Publishing for the review copy. This book is one more piece of proof that small and independent publishers choose the best literature and should be whole-heartedly supported!
You have probably heard of the Antikythera Mechanism, or the first computer of the world. If not let me shortly explain that in 1900 a group of sponge divers found an ancient (ca. 1st century BC) shipwreck near the Greek island of Antikythera. The shipwreck included many objects that were apparently being transported from Greece towards some city of the Roman Empire. It was usual for rich Romans to decorate their villas with looted Greek statues and other luxury goods.
What was particularly interesting among the found objects was a mechanism that included gear-wheels with teeth. Archaeologists could not decide what it was supposed to do until very recently, when they discovered with the help of advanced technological methods that this mechanism was calculating and predicting the exact position of the planets at any given time, including lunar and solar eclipses with minute precision. All this at a time when they could only observe the sky with bare eye! I am unable to scientifically explain how exactly this worked, however if you have not already, you should watch the BBC documentary about it (The Two Thousand Year Old Computer), which explains in a fascinating and accessible way how the mechanism worked and how they managed to find out about all that. The techie details are spectacular!
The Antikythera Shipwreck findings are currently exhibited at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens. The whole exhibition is designed very beautifully; the visitor has often the feeling that he is underwater with the combination of sounds, light and the whole set-up of the different rooms. There are films explaining how the mechanism works (the 3D film is really worth watching), how the shipwreck was discovered by chance in 1900 and there is also film footage by the second underwater investigation in 1976 with the participation of Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his famous oceanographic ship Calypso.
The Antikythera Mechanism is spectacular as a concept; the idea that such a detailed astronomical calculator existed in 150 BC. The more you understand about it, the more astounded you are left. As an exhibit however it is not that big or eye-catching. What really impressed me in the exhibition as such was the collection of statues. I have never seen such a combination of beauty and horror all at once. The parts of the statues that were buried in the sea sediment have been left intact, their Parian marble shining with beauty and perfection. The parts that were exposed though are eroded in a way that creates such an uncanny feeling as if the statues had life. As if they were sick, lepers or even zombies at times, their flesh hanging from them half-rotten; a live metaphor of some forgotten Gods that creep slowly to infect your dreams with fears.
But even more impressive than the rotting Gods and mythic heroes was this young athlete, a boy, probably wrestling. I could not decide if he was smiling or struggling. If he was struggling I was not sure if it was because of his wrestling opponent or because of the sea monsters that have been eating his flesh. And if he was smiling, it was rather a haunting smile.
I had never seen anything like this before and the symbolism of decay put me into thoughts. What was hidden deep inside was protected and survived, like the feelings and thoughts we sometimes keep to ourselves. What was exposed was marred and deformed…
However, this did not happen to the bronze statues. The famous “Antikythera Youth” stares into the void, perpetuating the mystery of who he might be. There are many theories, the two most dominant being the hero Perseus, grasping in his right hand by the hair the head of the Gorgon Medusa, whom he just decapitated or the Trojan hero Paris, holding the Apple of Discord, which he offered to Aphrodite in exchange for Helen and thus instigated the Trojan War. I spent quite long practising with my hand the grip of an apple and that of a head. I don’t have experience in the second, but it still seemed to me more probable.
One of my favourite exhibits was “The Antikythera Philosopher”. The assumption is that he is a Cynic philosopher. Then I couldn’t help but notice the video that was playing directly opposite him, showing footage of the discovery of the shipwreck. Could the philosopher see himself being dug out of the past? And then, what a moment, the Philosopher was staring at himself…
The Antikythera Shipwreck exhibition will be at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens until April 2013.
I grew up with books; they were (and still are) my food, my happiness, my refuge, my world. I met the most important people in my life because of books. And naturally, I have always wanted to share this love, this secret of happiness if you want. Being a book giver at the World Book Night on 23 April 2012 was a unique experience for me. Why is that? Even though I have been spreading the love in a different context by teaching Literature at University students, taking it a step further and talk to strangers was an entirely different thing.
The point of World Book Night was to reach audiences that are not normally passionate or even exposed to books, so this excluded giving out the books in libraries or bookshops, which would have been of course easier for me. In my book giver application I suggested that I wanted to give out the books at Lewisham Shopping Centre, which is a meeting point for a lot of people and sadly has no bookshop inside or even around.
Following the suggestions at the World Book Night blog, I gave out some books on the 21 bus to Lewisham. In an enclosed space like a bus, I was able to explain what it was all about and people even asked me questions about the book I had chosen. They were eager to find out. The greatest pleasure was when later in the shopping centre I saw a young boy passing in front of me, reading while walking, absorbed by the book I had given him earlier in the bus.
In the shopping centre however, the experience was almost terrifying. People would not stop, not even to see what this was about, even though it was clear from my self-made banner with the World Book Night logo that I was not trying to sell them anything. It is saddening to realise how suspicious we have become of each other, that the simple gesture of giving without demanding anything in return does not even occur to us anymore as a possibility. So those who finally stopped and talked to me did not just receive a beautiful book, but also the live confirmation that unconditional giving still exists. Maybe this triggers them to give unconditionally, too; and this makes me happy.
Deptford, London SE8.
The Wellbeloved butchers are there since 1829. Here is a map of 1833. If you click and enlarge you will see that Tanners Hill was densely populated, while everything else around was pretty much fields.
Deptford High Street, a street with far too many betting shops and pawnbrokers.
But it also has The Deptford Project:
And this is the brand new Deptford Lounge, a very nice space to read and socialise. The new library, which belongs to Lewisham Libraries, has ordered 1000 new titles covering all tastes, including those of difficult readers like myself. To give you an idea, seeing Bolaño and Houellebecq staring back proudly from the shelves gave me a smile that stayed all day on my face.
The walk continued towards Deptford Creek. This is the famous Deptford Creek lift bridge, reconstructed in 1963, but originally in use since 1838. It is one of the very few opening bridges in Britain, used for the ships to pass to the Royal Dockyard, which was in Deptford since 1513.
The Laban and new apartment blocks.
Where the Deptford Creek (the tidal reach of river Ravensbourne) meets the Thames:
Along the Thames in SE8:
You can see the Cutty Sark from here:
New apartments at the former Pepys Estate, named after author Samuel Pepys, who spent some time in Deptford.
Here you can find a lot about Deptford’s history.
If you haven’t been there yet, go have a look before it becomes too popular.