The Hellenistic Age
Dean Kalimniou reflects on the 90s, when the epigonoi of the first generation migrants were kings and ruled their limitless world
'Ὁ αετός πεθαίνει στον αέρα, ελεύθερος και δύνατος,' crooned Notis Sfakianakis. In that, the year of our Lord 1998, Sfakianakis', name was so holy that it could not be pronounced in full, being truncated instead to the tetragrammaton 'Sfax.' Indeed, it was the year of tetragrammata, since the wall I was leaning against structurally supported a temple that bore the name Kivotos, which, in like fashion, was referred to by patrons during times profane as "Kivo," as this was the ark of all dances sanctified to the old gods of neohellenic music, the cult of the Dark Deity Phoebus who would dethrone them, still lurking ominously in the shadows of its infancy.
The lanky youth with the purple microfiber shirt and the square sideburns extended his arms as if to emulate an eagle, executed a turn with a flourish, and concluded with a jump meticulously timed so that he was to be found perched upon his haunches as the final beats of the liturgical canticle faded away. Then, being raised by a coterie of admiring friends all dressed in similar fashion, he wiped the sweat glistening from his exposed chest, simultaneously grasping the Cosmopolitan that was thrust into his hand by a gushing female admirer. He downed it nonchalantly, evidently proving he was more than manly enough for it. He was, I was informed, a Greek bar promoter, a perfectly plausible profession of limitless opportunity, in those heady days.
Yet almost immediately as his sun reached its zenith, its brilliance was eclipsed by the intrusion upon the dance floor of a vast monolithic sculpture of a man, bulging in places titillating and unimaginable. Σὠμα μου, the great god Sfax crooned, σώμα μου φτιαγμένο από πηλό... As he danced, the monolith slid his impossibly fleshy hands languidly and sensuously over the ripples of his muscular torso. Here we were in the processing of witnessing, not the execution of another zeimbekiko but rather the birth of a form of auto-Dirty Dancing, one that I believe cannot and will not ever be replicated. Female and male patrons alike remained transfixed as they beheld this remarkable display of neohellenic self-love, remarking in hushed tones that the dancer was a body-builder.
"I wonder if he realises that this song is about drug addiction?" I mused. "Or that to have a body made of clay is symbolic of the fragility of the human existence?"
Monolith was so entranced by his theosis with Sfax's godhead that he ended his cycle of terpsichorean innovations with a stamp of the foot on the downbeat, a full bar after the voice of the deity had been silenced. He remained immovable on the dance floor, bellowing 'Δεν πάω πουθενά πουθενά, εδώ θα φύγω', at the top of his voice, eliciting the acclamation of his peers, no doubt appreciating in the artful and subtle way in which he had subverted Vasilis Karas' manifesto so that it became a poignant expression of the existential crises of modern man, unable to escape, unwilling to leave.
Μαλάκα, τἀχω παίξει παντελώς, he exclaimed, to no one in particular, as he finally lurched towards the bar. Apparently, he had picked up this expression, which, as he readily admitted during the brief conversation I had with him, he did not really know the meaning of, while on a recent holiday in Mykonos. It was there apparently that his epiphany took place. Having been hand-reared on stories of the village in Melbourne, his understanding of the Greek identity involved working out which suburban deli sold the cheapest olives per kilo and compiling copious lists of which relative owned which investment property, while trying to deduce the source of income that made its acquisition possible. In Mykonos, among the cocktails, the ethereal beauties and the music that became the soundtrack to his life, he discovered true Hellenism and thus was born again.
"You know re," he emphasised. "The Greek culture is so powerful. There is a Greek song to cover every single situation. Even saying goodbye. Modern Greeks say it like Alkaios: Με δυο μαρμάρινα φιλιά και πέτρα τώρα την καρδιά σου λέω αντίο να΄σαι πάντα καλά."
"That's also got to do with the Parthenon Marbles, how we had to say goodbye to them," a gum chewing university student interrupted, looking invitingly at the monolith from under her fake eyelashes. Monolith instinctively clenched his biceps, paraphrasing, in the heavily accented Greek of the Melbourne-born, Christos Dantis' epic poem, thus: Κάποιος μ᾽αγαπάει, είμαι εγώ,᾽ a provocative paean to modern narcissism if there ever was one. "Oh my God, παίζεις με τη φλόγα," she responded. They both looked at each other and in that sharing of lyrical Greek passwords, a code was unscrambled and a connection made so strong that it could break out of the seventh circle of Dante's Hell.
It was at this stage that my fearsome leather clad, grey-eyed companion grabbed me by the arm and marched me briskly to the door. "Seriously," she exclaimed. "I've had enough of these Danti-loving troglodytes. I can't take it anymore. What the hell is wrong with them?" Sotiria too, was a born again Hellene, but her anabaptism had taken place not in the fleshpots of Diogenis Pallas but rather among the puddles of Exarcheia in Athens. "When I breathe that air, which is laden with history, (I always thought it was carbon monoxide pollution), I am immediately at peace," she was often given to repeating at almost every given opportunity, more to convince herself than anyone else. As Sotiria embraced a Hellenism that entailed reading "alternative literature" and listening to a type of music that she termed "entechni" and which bore no relation to techno whatsoever.
By the time we reached Rebelos, a few doors down from Kivo, my arm was aching from the pressure she had exerted upon in. I did not want to enter. Last time I had done so, I had laughed out loud while a long haired denizen grabbed me by the shoulders, sending alcohol fuelled cadences of Vasilis Papakostantinou's: Χαιρετίσματα λοιπόν στην Εξουσία, mistakenly down my olfactory nerves, this almost resulting in my immediate defenestration. This time, I restrained myself through the conversations of the uniformly black-wearing patrons ending every single sentence with ναι μωρέ, or σώπα μωρέ. Infuriatingly for Greek Australians, they refrained from mixing their Greek with their English, did not employ the term re, and furthermore, would, while sitting in silence with expressionless faces for over fifteen minutes, listening to modes of music that had reached the apex of popularity in Australia two generations previously, would mutter by way of a mantra: Καλή η φάση.
Having been previously instructed so to do, I attempted to fit in by wearing a black skivvy. However, it was my question as to whether Lavrentis' Machairitsas' lyrics: Ζηλεύω το μικρό σου το γατί, are just a euphemism for the innate westernophilia of the Greek pseudo-socialist coupled with a musing as to why the establishment did not play Mixalis Sogioul's Ο Τραμπαρίφας, which includes the word rebelos in the following form: 'Απόψε που την έβγαλα τη μπέμπελη, γουστάρω νύχτα δροσερή και ρέμπελη,' which finally betrayed my heretical tendencies.
"Who are you calling a bebeli, ξενέρωτε;" came the furious voice of Sotiria. "You are just like all those other chauvinist Marios. Get lost. Το έτερον σου ήμισυ δεν το᾽χεις σε εκτίμηση." This for me was mystifying as I was unaware up until that point that I was considered to be her other half, and sought clarification upon that point. The dim memory I still retain involves me being pushed out of Rebelos by a horde (probably one of two) of enraged patrons. I had not the heart to tell Sotiria that bebeli is a Slavic derived form of nineteen fifties Greek slang that simply means that it is very hot. From what I have been able to ascertain, for we never spoke again, Sotiria fulfilled her life-long dream of relocating to Greece, where she is happily married and trying desperately to convince her husband to migrate to Australia. To this day, I am inordinately proud of the fact that I managed to conceal from her, in ways dark and nefarious, that my appreciation of Greek music is decidedly non-born again Hellenic, consisting as it did and still does, of demotic songs with a heavily sprinkling of rebetika and Tolis Voskopoulos thrown in.
Ι avoided Pegasus bar, for just as I strolled past it I heard the accusatory voice of Natasa Theodoridou enquiring: ᾽Πού περπατάς;᾽ choosing instead to enter Zenith just as Sakis Rouvas was lamenting: ῾Τώρα αρχίζουν τα δύσκολα.῾ At that time, patrons were preparing themselves for a long night ahead. As I was informed, Apocalypsi, on adjacent Lonsdale Street, was about to «go off.» Invited to join my interlocutor therein, I excused myself by saying that I was feeling unwell, whereupon she unnervingly launched into the most gravelly, deep and frighteningly accurate impression of Vasilis Karas:
῾Τηλεφώνησέ μου,῾ I had ever heard. I bolted.
We, the epigonoi of the first generation migrants were kings back then and ruled our limitless world. Exulting in what we beeived to be our rediscovery of things Hellenic, our sway extended down Russell Street, into Lonsdale, all the way down to the Colonial Hotel on King Street, which we rebaptised, the "Ellinadiko, Ennea Mouses." Truly we believed that our time upon this earth would never end and that we, the Hellenistics, would continue to imbibe from a font of culture constantly refreshed by the importation of the latest Bigalis CD by Caras Music or a cruise of the Greek islands, oblivious to the existence of the non-Hellenes around us, seeking to delight in, breed and converse, only with ourselves. Yet slowly and inexorably, one by one, the barakia shut their doors on us forever, leaving us, the diet-Coke of the Hellenistic nineties, unfulfilled, disgruntled, and eternally melancholy, even before the demise of the Gamma Bar.
Last time I walked past where I remembered Kivotos to have been, I was surprised that I could no longer remember its exact position, it having been subsumed by a redeveloped architect designed tower, much as archaeologists today debate the questionable sites of Alexander's colonies. I continued along my way, sullenly whispering, without being able to stop myself: Αμά δεις τα παιδιά, πες ένα γεια.᾽
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