Poem of the Month: March

Shipwreck by Emi Avora

The City

You said: “I’ll go to another country, go to another shore,
find another city better than this one.
Whatever I try to do is fated to turn out wrong
and my heart lies buried like something dead.
How long can I let my mind moulder in this place?
Wherever I turn, wherever I look,
I see the black ruins of my life, here,
where I’ve spent so many years, wasted them, destroyed them totally.”
You won’t find a new country, won’t find another shore.
This city will always pursue you.
You’ll walk the same streets, grow old
in the same neighborhoods, turn gray in these same houses.
You’ll always end up in this city. Don’t hope for things elsewhere:
there’s no ship for you, there’s no road.
Now that you’ve wasted your life here, in this small corner,
you’ve destroyed it everywhere in the world.

C.P. Cavafy: Collected Poems

Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard

Translation Copyright © 1975, 1992 by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard
Reproduced with permission of Princeton University Press
Source: C.P. Cavafy: Collected Poems (Princeton University Press, 1975)

Image: Shipwreck, Emi Avora.

 

Η Πόλις

Είπες· «Θα πάγω σ’ άλλη γή, θα πάγω σ’ άλλη θάλασσα,
Μια πόλις άλλη θα βρεθεί καλλίτερη από αυτή.
Κάθε προσπάθεια μου μια καταδίκη είναι γραφτή·
κ’ είν’ η καρδιά μου — σαν νεκρός — θαμένη.
Ο νους μου ως πότε μες στον μαρασμό αυτόν θα μένει.
Οπου το μάτι μου γυρίσω, όπου κι αν δω
ερείπια μαύρα της ζωής μου βλέπω εδώ,
που τόσα χρόνια πέρασα και ρήμαξα και χάλασα».Καινούριους τόπους δεν θα βρεις, δεν θάβρεις άλλες θάλασσες.
Η πόλις θα σε ακολουθεί. Στους δρόμους θα γυρνάς
τους ίδιους. Και στες γειτονιές τες ίδιες θα γερνάς·
και μες στα ίδια σπίτια αυτά θ’ ασπρίζεις.
Πάντα στην πόλι αυτή θα φθάνεις. Για τα αλλού — μη ελπίζεις –
δεν έχει πλοίο για σε, δεν έχει οδό.
Ετσι που τη ζωή σου ρήμαξες εδώ
στην κώχη τούτη την μικρή, σ’ όλην την γή την χάλασες.

Κωνσταντίνος Π. Καβάφης (1910)

Φωτογραφία: Shipwreck, Έμι Αβόρα.

Letters from Berlin 2: George Pavlopoulos

ohne_die_linden

Ohne die Linden


 

 

 

 

 

It is the shortest metro line in the world according to newspapers. Principally known as the “Chancellor Line”, U55 has been from the start a victim of its own vanity, aiming to mark out the borders of the newly established government complex following the reunification of Germany. It would supposedly provide fast transport for politicians, even though all of them continue to use limousines. It took almost fifteen years and millions of euros to build the line that serves no one, except for a few tourists who use the U55 to verify what they already know from the TV and the Internet.

The line has only three stations: Main station (Hauptbahnhof), Parliament Station (Reichstag), and Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor). The single-track extension towards Alexanderplatz, which was probably carried out in order to alleviate the failure, will not be completed until 2019. In the meantime, U55 will continue to run underneath the famous Unter den Linden (under the lime trees), even though passengers will not be able to see it.

The lime trees are the road’s trademark. In mid-February, fifty-four out of approximately three hundred trees were uprooted so that construction work could continue. Where up until today tree leaves rustled, there is machinery parked next to soil mounds. Some of the residents reacted by, among other things, covering the street signs with stickers renaming the street to Ohne die Linden (without the lime trees).

The city officials considered the move in bad taste and immediately took down the offensive stickers, stressing that new lime trees would be planted immediately upon completion of the works. Rumour has it that when a politician noticed the deformed name from the back seat of his limousine, he ordered for it to be taken down right away. Had he used the “Chancellor Line” the ironic note at the heart of the city would have survived a little longer, giving it the chance to travel by word of mouth, inspire jokes or support, or even become some form of urban legend narrated by residents sitting on benches when the trees would eventually return.

U55, however, did not prove useful even for that.

 

George Pavlopoulos. March 2012, Berlin. (transl. E. Avloniti.)

Photo: George Pavlopoulos.

George Pavlopoulos was born in Athens, Greece in 1980. He is the author of two novels: 300 Kelvin in the Afternoon, (2007) and Steam,(2011). An extended excerpt from his first novel was featured in New York based online translation venue, InTranslation. His short story, “Dictionary of an Insignificant City”, will be included in the Strange Fiction aus Berlin Anthology Vol. 1 (to be published in Berlin in May 2012). He currently lives in Berlin.

Ohne die Linden

Οι εφημερίδες τη χαρακτήρισαν ως τη μικρότερη γραμμή μετρό στον κόσμο. Περισσότερο γνωστή ως «γραμμή του Καγκελαρίου», η U55 ήταν εξαρχής θύμα της ματαιοδοξίας της: θέλησε να οριοθετήσει τη νεόκοπη κυβερνητική συνοικία, όπως αυτή προέκυψε μετά την ένωση των δύο Γερμανιών. Υποτίθεται ότι θα πρόσφερε γρήγορη μετακίνηση στους πολιτικούς, έστω κι αν τελικά όλοι εξακολουθούν να χρησιμοποιούν λιμουζίνες. Χρειάστηκαν σχεδόν δεκαπέντε χρόνια και εκατομμύρια ευρώ για να κατασκευαστεί η γραμμή που δεν εξυπηρετεί κανέναν –εκτός από μερικούς τουρίστες που μετακινούνται με την U55 για να επιβεβαιώσουν αυτά που ήδη γνωρίζουν από την τηλεόραση και το ίντερνετ.

Η γραμμή έχει μόλις τρεις στάσεις: Κεντρικός σταθμός (Hauptbahnhof), Κοινοβούλιο (Reichstag), Πύλη του Βραδεμβούργου (Brandenburger Tor). Η μονόπλευρη επέκτασή της προς την Αλεξάντερπλατς, που πιθανότατα εκπονήθηκε για να μετριαστεί η αποτυχία, δε θα είναι έτοιμη πριν από το 2019. Έτσι, η U55 θα διατρέχει υπόγεια τη φημισμένη Unter den Linden (Κάτω απ’ τις Φιλύρες), έστω κι αν ο επιβάτης δε θα τη βλέπει.

Οι φιλύρες είναι το σήμα κατατεθέν του δρόμου. Στα μέσα του Φλεβάρη, πενήντα-τέσσερα από τα περίπου τριακόσια δέντρα ξεριζώθηκαν ώστε να μπορέσουν να συνεχιστούν τα έργα κατασκευής. Εκεί που μέχρι πρότινος θρόιζαν τα φύλλα έχουν τώρα σταθμεύσει μηχανήματα πλάι σε χωμάτινους λοφίσκους. Ορισμένοι κάτοικοι αντέδρασαν και οι διαμαρτυρίες εκφράστηκαν μεταξύ άλλων με αυτοκόλλητα που κάλυψαν τα οδόσημα και μετονόμαζαν το δρόμο σε Ohne die Linden (Χωρίς τις Φιλύρες).

Οι αρχές της πόλης θεώρησαν αυτή την κίνηση κακόγουστη και κατέβασαν άμεσα τα προσβλητικά αυτοκόλλητα, τονίζοντας μάλιστα ότι θα φυτευτούν καινούργια δέντρα μόλις ολοκληρωθούν οι εργασίες. Οι φήμες λένε ότι κάποιος πολιτικός είδε το παραποιημένο όνομα από το πίσω κάθισμα μιας λιμουζίνας και αμέσως έδωσε εντολή να το ξηλώσουν. Αν είχε χρησιμοποιήσει τη «γραμμή του Καγκελαρίου» η ειρωνική νότα στην καρδιά της πόλης θα είχε επιζήσει λίγο περισσότερο, δίνοντάς της την ευκαιρία να μεταδοθεί από στόμα σε στόμα, να γεννήσει ανέκδοτα ή υποστήριξη, ακόμα και να γίνει κάποιου τύπου αστικός μύθος, που θα τον διηγούνταν οι κάτοικοι καθισμένοι στα παγκάκια όταν κάποτε θα επέστρεφαν τα δέντρα.

Αλλά ούτε καν σ’ αυτό δε φάνηκε χρήσιμη η U55.

 

Γιώργος Παυλόπουλος, Μάρτιος 2012, Βερολίνο.

Φωτογραφία: Γιώργος Παυλόπουλος.

O Γιώργος Παυλόπουλος γεννήθηκε στην Αθήνα το 1980. Το πρώτο του μυθιστόρημα, 300 Βαθμοί Κέλβιν το Απόγευμα, κυκλοφόρησε το 2007 απ’ τις Εκδόσεις Αλεξάνδρεια. Μέρος του βιβλίου δημοσιεύθηκε στην αμερικάνικη λογοτεχνική επιθεώρηση InTranslation. Το δεύτερο μυθιστόρημα του, Ατμός, κυκλοφόρησε απ’ τις Εκδόσεις Κέδρος τον Μάιο του 2011. Το διήγημά του, “Dictionary of an Insignificant City”, θα δημοσιευθεί στη λογοτεχνικό περιοδικό Strange Fiction aus Berlin Anthology Vol. 1 το Μάιο του 2012.

 

Letters from New York 2: Soti Triantafillou

Slow Train by Soti Triantafillou

Slow Train

I went south on a slow train that ran through Trenton, New Jersey. Back in the nineteen eighties, I used to stand on the turnpike hitchhiking westwards. It’s a desolate landscape now, full of boarded up factories, abandoned warehouses and rusting machinery. The rivers are green and slimy – I remember that old song about a green river and barefoot girls dancing in the moonlight. A Creedence Clearwater Revival song.

They were different times with different rivers.

Life was made of metal; I wandered among steel mills, power stations with cooling towers, limekilns, grain elevators, cranes and lathes. The cakes were made of mud – they blew up, sometimes they even caught fire. It was W.H. Auden’s beloved scenery, industrial, hazy, faceless; I rode trains between granite mountains and drove on yellow brick roads, on bridges that swung when the cursed birds of Prometheus hovered and crowed. I traveled past deserted graveyards, thermal springs, uranium mines – I had no destination, no purpose. I listened to the vibes of the universe, to the sounds of the hollow earth.

I remembered the details, I forgot all the rest: my memory was like the enchanted land of New Mexico, dusty and blurry, carved by the red Santa Fe railroad – I remembered useless things, people with orange hair, walls made of bottles, herds of wild horses, Pete Townshend’s crooked nose, a sandstorm in Phoenix, Arizona. I forgot what was worth forgetting. Looking back I saw the psychedelic dances at Fillmore and at Avalon and further back the hula-hoops and the polka dot prom dresses and Elvis singing Lawdy Miss Clawdy. I saw myself when I was five years old and rock’ n ’rolled with small feet in pink socks. Thirty years went by and I drove through them in a second hand Thunderbird 66, high as a kite. Some of us popped pills, some snorted glue, others sniffed varnish and lighter fluid, and there were a few who shot up Chinese heroin – in the dissolving darkness I saw the black crawling moon; time turned into jelly and stood still. Now, when the train’s is pulling in the Penn station I feel like kissing the ground, like walking on Brooklyn Bridge on a tight rope. One of these days I’ll take a chance like Steve Brodie who jumped off it and survived.

Soti Triantafillou. March 2012, New York City.

Photo: Soti Triantafillou

Soti Triantafillou is one of Greece’s most prolific and beloved writers. Born in Athens, Greece in 1957, she studied in Paris and New York and is the author of 24 books, all of them long-sellers. Her first novel, Saturday at the Edge of Town (1997), has attained cult status and has been hailed as the most important Greek novel of its generation. Her fourth novel, The Pencil Factory (2000), has become a publishing phenomenon in Greece and has been translated into German, Catalan and Turkish. An independent political debater, Soti Triantafillou has over the years built up a considerable reputation for herself as one of Greece’s cultural icons, famous for her outspoken views and critical stance towards Greek and international politics. Her autobiography, Time Again, published in 2009 and her latest novel, For the Love of Geometry (2011), have become national bestsellers.

Letters from Athens 1: Nikos Dimou

Nikos Dimou Munich 2004

Greece – Germany: A Romance Turned Sour

It started with admiration and adulation. Eighteenth century Germans – with Winckelmann in the forefront – re-discovered ancient Greece. They visualized Hellas as the epitome of perfection in art, philosophy, and ethics. Their idealized model influenced all of Europe in the beginning of the romantic nineteenth century and was the reason why public opinion backed the Greeks in their war of independence against the Turks (1821-1829) and induced the great powers to help the liberation of Greece.

After the war, the first King of the Greeks was a German. Otto of Bavaria the son of Ludwig, was a Greek-crazy monarch that had rebuilt his capital, Munich, in the Neo-classical style. Otto came with a large retinue of experts and practically created the Greek state. Greek law was a copy of the German Code and all institutions were modeled on their German counterparts.  Otto loved Greece, but Greeks did not reciprocate. To them he remained a foreign body and was finally exiled.

In the next 80 years the mutual admiration persisted: Germans studied and excavated the remains of Ancient Greece (they were our best archeologists and scholars) while Greeks admired the quality of German products. “Made in Germany” was – and still is – the utmost mark of perfection.

Next chapter: the Second World War. After some unsuccessful attempts from the Italians, Hitler’s Wehrmacht subjugated Greece. These were very dark times: people died of famine in the streets and whole villages were exterminated as countermeasures for Greek resistance fighting. Greece was never duly compensated for the cruelty and the pillage.

After the war, relations slowly ameliorated. In the sixties impoverished Greeks emigrated in tens of thousands to help build the German “Wirtschaftswunder” (economic miracle).  Some of them never came back to their country and subsist as a major minority represented in Parliament and important government posts.

Starting in the seventies till today, Germans fell again in love with Greece. Not as an antique ideal, but as an ideal vacation destination. Instead of “seeking with the soul, the land of the Greeks”, as their great poet Goethe admonished, they seeked it with their body. They bronzed their skin on Greek beaches, swam in our seas, and relished the Greek food. Moussaka, greek salata and souvlaki, rhymed with syrtaki – the dance of “Zorba the Greek”.

They loved this type Zorba (created by the Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis and immortalized in film by Anthony Quinn) for his carefree demeanor, his loose epicureanism, his “joie de vivre”. They tried to emulate him, while in Greece, getting out of their stiff northern, protestant skin.

Millions of Germans visited Greece during the last four decades. They outnumbered every other nation and were our main source of tourist income. The idyll was in full march and the romance flourished.

And then came the Greek financial crisis. Germans discovered that their friend Zorba was a small time crook, indebted up to his ears. He had used all the European Union subsidies not for the restructuring of his farming business but for his pleasure. A splendid Porsche Cayenne stood in his ramshackle garage. He had the largest national debt and balance deficit in Europe and the biggest trade deficit in the world! He had stopped producing and creating, and imported everything with loaned money. Thousands of Greeks received pensions in their fifties, for no specific reasons.

The Germans were aghast. Their “protestant work ethic” (analyzed by their eminent sociologist Max Weber) had no place for such a behavior. Their media, catering to the small shopkeeper in Wuppertal, (whose taxes and savings are used to support Greeks) became aggressive, choleric and sarcastic. A magazine, Focus, portrayed in its cover the goddess Aphrodite (aka Venus) giving “the finger” to the world. Many have been chanting: throw the Greeks out of the Union! As the biggest financial power within the E. U. (also the major contributor to loans and subsidies) they had a say.

Of course Greeks reacted in their turn. The domineering manner of the Germans brought back remembrances of the German Occupation. Since more than a thousand years (when the Eastern Church split from the Western) Greeks have been distrustful of western nations (although they may be very hospitable to their citizens). They also tend to export the causes for their problems to “power centers abroad” (conspiracy theories). Up to now the Americans were mainly to blame for our woes. Now, it is the Germans.

I wrote this on Valentine ’s Day. No Valentine for Greeks and Germans – at least not for the foreseeable future.

Nikos Dimou. February 2012, Athens.

Photo: Munich. Nikos Dimou, 2004.

Nikos Dimou was born in Athens in 1935. He studied English and French literature in Athens and Philosophy in Munich and has published 61 books: among them essays, short prose, satire, philosophy, poetry, and political theory. His book, On the Unhappiness of Being Greek (1975), -currently in its 30th edition with over 110,00 copies sold-, has been published in Germany (Verlag Antje Kunstmann, 2012) and France (Editions Payot & Rivages, 2012).