My friend Andoni married Shayne’s sister over a decade ago now but I will never forget the manner I was introduced to him soon after the marriage took place. Sitting in Eaton Mall, Andoni ordered us Greek coffees and his brother-in-law, a flat white. As I marvelled at what appeared to be a rather well preserved 1991 Williamstown VFA jumper, Andoni said: “This is Shayne, my Aussie brother-in-law. He is from the country, so you will have to forgive him.” Then, leaning over the table, he spoke to his brother-in-law slowly and deliberately: “Shayne, we are gonna talk wog now. So order yourself some fish and chips or something. You won’t find any pies on the menu here.” Shayne squinted at him incomprehensibly and then lowered his head obediently as he scoured the menu.
“I’ve married into a clan of bush χωριάτες,” Andoni explained.
“That’s not so bad,” I observed. “Was it not Chairman Mao who proclaimed: “Several hundred million peasants will rise like a mighty storm, like a hurricane…” You really want to be on the right side of history for that one.”
“Seriously, it’s a massive cultural shift. I’ve been trying to teach my pethera how to cook. All she knows is Shepherd’s Pie. Τι Shepherd’s Pie μωρή; Κάνε καμιά τυρόπιτα με τραχανά, the way my yiayia used to in the χωριό. Άκου εκεί Shepherd’s Pie…”
Shayne had almost consumed his fish and chips and was wiping his cutlery on a serviette. «Κοίτα εκεί,» Andoni snorted. “He is eating fish and chips with a knife and fork instead of with his hands. Άβγαλτοι είναι ρε, πίσω από τον κόσμο. I’m going to have to teach them how to eat now.”
By this stage, Shayne was expressing interest in the Galaktoboureko. “Forget about it,” Andoni dismissed him. “You can’t pronounce it, let alone eat it.” Tugging him by the footy jumper sleeve, he dragged him from the table. “Come on Shayne, we gotta go.”
“Nice to have met you,” Shayne farewelled as he was hauled across the mall. “It’s a pity we didn’t get to talk more. I’ve been reading this fascinating book about Plato’s literary style and I wanted to….”
“Shayne, this guy doesn’t know anything about Play-Doh or the footy’, so stop pestering him. The cricket is starting soon….” Andoni boomed.
“Because this author, he maintains that philosophy aside, the literary achievements of Plato have been completely ignored and I find that fascinating,” Shayne insisted, interrupted only when Andoni emitted a shrill klephtic whistle that activating the inner shepherd in the hitherto nonchalant denizens of the adjacent cafes, caused them involuntarily to stand up and look around, as if searching for a primaeval flock.
«Αμάν ρε Shayne,” Andoni bleated. “Sorry for this. He is usually a lot quieter. But you know what they say: Δώσε θάρρος στο χωριάτη να σ’ ανέβει στο κρεβάτι.” As he pushed Shayne down Atherton Road, I could hear him screech: “What colonial gravestones in Warrawee Park ρε μάπα; The only colonial you are going to see is irrigation after I remove my foot from your κώλο ρε. Hurry up. Michael Clarke may be a right-handed middle-order batsman, but he still has decent form.”
Andoni is no longer married to Shayne’s sister which was why I was quite surprised when on the first day of September, I received a telephone call from him. “Happy Byzantine New Year!” Shayne exclaimed joyously.
“Thanks, same to you,” I muttered hesitantly, failing to register from the outset, what he was taking about.
“First of September yeah? Start of the Byzantine New Year? What year is it? 7532 I should think. Am I right?”
“It should be,” I guessed. We don’t really measure time that way anymore.”
“Why not? You should. After all it is the beginning of the ecclesiastical new year and it’s the time that students return to school after the summer holidays.”
“And the time that Greek-Australians return to Greece, bronzed, plumper and more disgruntled than ever,” I mused.
“I think it was a grave mistake for you guys to adopt western modes of time measurement,” Shayne opined. “How can you remain true to your traditions and your natural worldview if the way you look at time is skewed? Did you know that the Byzantines began their calendrical day which was called nychthemeron at midnight with the first hour of day coming at dawn? The third hour marked midmorning, the sixth hour noon, and the ninth hour midafternoon. The Evening called hespera, which is where you get your kalispera from, began at the eleventh hour, and with sunset came the first hour of night called the apodeipnon. Also, the interval between sunset and sunrise was called nyx and it was also divided into twelve hours.”
“Brilliant,” I commented. “Our church services still use the old conception of time.”
“You guys should bring the indictions back as well,” Shayne enthused. “I love reading the dates in the Acts of the Quinisext Council: ‘..as of the fifteenth day of the month of January last past, in the last fourth Indiction, in the year six thousand one hundred and ninety..”
“Indictions refer to the fifteen yearly reassessment of taxation in the Empire and are greatly to be preferred over lodging one’s BAS on a quarterly basis,” I agreed. “The Byzantines must rise again.”
“What do you guys usually do for Byzantine New Year?” Shayne inquired. “Is there a festival or something?”
“We don’t really celebrate it,” I explained. “It’s not really a thing for us.”
“Ridiculous. Did you know that in Amalfi, they celebrate Byzantine New Year with pomp and ceremony every year? People dress up in Byzantine costume and greet the new year remembering that they too were part of the Byzantine world, culminating in the coronation of the Duke of Amalfi. Considering that they were on the periphery of that world and you guys are at the centre of it, it is disgraceful that you neglect to celebrate this auspicious day. Do you have a central organisation I can write to in protest?” Shayne asked.
Briefly, I allowed myself to be lulled into reverie, picturing our community leaders solemnly processing down Lonsdale Street in sumptuous dalmatics, tablia, pteruges and loroi, arguing with each other about who has precedence, according to the Typikon. “Look, Byzantium was a long time ago. Greece and the Greeks have changed.” I ventured, finally.
“You don’t say Greece or Greeks,” Shayne interjected. “You are Hellenes from Hellas. You ought to use the proper names.”
“And here I was thinking that we were Byzantines,” I riposted.
“I find it strange that you haven’t created your own terminology for your local environment here Down Under,” Shayne continued. “After all, aren’t you the largest Hellenic speaking community outside of Hellas? Did you know for instant, that the word Melbourne translates in Hellenic literally as Μυλόρεμα, Melbourne being an old English word for Mill Stream? Similarly, Victoria should be translated as Nicaea.”
I considered this for a while. “So, adopting your methodology, Sydney which means “Meadow by a stream” could translates as Παραποτάμιο Λιβάδι. Παραλίβαδο I think, could be eminently acceptable. Brisbane, bizarrely means ‘Break bone.’ I’d love to pay tribute to the Greek community of Σπαζοκοκκαλιά.”
“Hellenic community,” Shayne emphasised.
“Apparently Geelong means “a place of the sea bird over the white cliffs.”
“How would that translate in Greek?”
«Μια γαλάζια περιστέρα, πέταξε και πάει σιαπέρα».
“Sound like a mouthful, if you ask me. Still, it would be great if we could inaugurate these terms into general usage by way of celebrating Byzantine New Year, next year.”
Before I had the chance to posit that Oakleigh could translate as Τσικνοτσιγαρίλα, I noticed that I had another incoming call. Fumbling as usually, I cut Shayne off as I answered the new call. It was Andoni.
«Πού είσαι ρε πατρίδα;»
“In the office. Πού θες να’μαι;”
“I’m down here at my local RSL celebrating my birthday. You should come down re, the prices are mad! Pity about all the τσομπάνηδες, though.”
“Did you know that its Byzantine New Year?” I asked.
“What’s that, like Christmas in July?”
“Never mind,” I said.
“Good,” he burped. “Now if you aren’t coming down, at least get off the phone. The racing’s on.”