The revelation that the members of my tribe were possessed of a certain renown with regard to the resonance of their voices, came to me early in my youth. An exogenous friend from school was over, and we were trying to solve a puzzle while my maternal progenitor was on the phone, speaking to her respective maternal progenitor, in the fabled city of Athens.
In those heady days of international telephony, the ominous blips that heralded the imminent reception of an overseas call had their own protocol. Upon the sounds manifesting their presence upon his auditory nerves, it was incumbent upon the lifter of the receiver to firstly yell: “Ελλάδα, Ελλάδα!” most probably as an invitation to the rest of the members of the household to gather around the telephone, as well as an exhortation to be quiet, a pious hope, considering that the telephone receiver would be fought over by all members of the family, in their attempts to speak to their loved ones in Greece.
Having claimed the receiver, hallowed rubrics prescribed that the would-be interlocutor had to yell “shhhhh!” to the rest of the family, who in turn were obliged to shouting “τι λέει, τι λέει;” in the staggered unison of an ancient Greek chorus, as they attempted to wrest the phone from his grasp. Extricating himself from the tangle of outstretched arms, entwined phone cord and a cacophony of voices, holy tradition dictated that the interlocutor must then shout triumphantly: “Αλάου;” followed by a litany of “μ᾽ακούς, μ᾽ακούς;” while the rest of the family interposed with antiphons of: “χαιρετισμούς” and “φιλάκια πολλα!”
In homes such as ours, possessed of such modern and heretical of devices as a wall telephone, the whole typikon was typically performed as an akathist.
“Geez your mum has got a loud voice,” my friend exclaimed, having been treated to a truncated version of the above described telephonic liturgy.
“No, she’s speaking to Greece,” I responded, unconsciously translating into English, the Greek phrase: “Μιλάει με την Ελλάδα.” (In those days leaving out the article was inconceivable).
“She is speaking with my grandmother in Greece,” I elaborated.
“So why does she have to shout?”
“Well, Greece is such a long way away,” I heard myself saying.
Despite the advent of new rites that have, in their quest for global conquest, swept away the old rituals, along with their adherents’ unique conception of a relationship between volume and distance, some of us remain, as solitary Zoroastrians marooned within the wastelands of Yazd, faithful to the diptychs.
Refusing to be initiated into the mysteries of Viber with the vehemence of a Jacobite recusant and viewing Skype with the incomprehensibility of a South Sea Islander gazing upon a crucifix for the very first time, to this day, when I call Greece, I, an Old Believer, perform the old observances, shouting down the mouthpiece of the telephone with as much fervour as I can muster.
Such fervour is of course, that of the lapsed pagan who, though converted, perennially lacks true faith. Somewhere, deep below my idol-worshipping veneer, I doubt the ability of the electromagnetic gods to convey messages via means supernatural and verily believe that the more I shout in the general direction of climes ancestral, the further my voice will carry. After all, did not Saint Kosmas the Aetolian prophesy the coming of the telephone when he envisaged: “you will speak here and they will hear you in Russia,” or according to another version “you will cry out here and they will hear you in Russia?”
I’ve called Russia on a few occasion in my time and have been gratified by the fact that being a country of like faith, the shouting is reciprocal.
Furthermore, in my zeal, I display the same propensity to uplift my voice for calls local. Oh Telstra, hear my prayer. Silence. Oh Optus, – Yes.
Though not quite. For it was a non-Greek colleague that pointed out the inconsistencies in my implementation of received dogmatic technology. “Did you that I can tell when you speaking to an Aussie? Your voice becomes low and nasal. I can also tell when you are speaking to a Greek. You get agitated and start shouting. Why are you guys always fighting with each other?”
Such sentiments have also been echoed by non-Greek family friends witnessing a Greek-Australian discourse:
“You guys are fighting.”
“We aren’t fighting.”
“Yes you are. You are shouting at each other.”
“No, we are just talking. That’s all.”
“So why are you shouting at me now?”
“No I’m not.”
“You are, you are shouting at me as we speak.”
“I’m not shouting. I’m raising my voice for emphasis.”
According to some deep thinking members of the tribe, our propensity to be louder than all of the other inhabitants of this planet has more to do with evolution then faith and ritual. At least that is what one armchair philosopher of a local Greek community organisation revealed to me when I observed that at general meetings, shouting seems to be the main item on the agenda: “You can’t blame them my boy. Of course we shout. The Turks are to blame. The ancient Greeks were very dignified people and shouting was considered bad breeding. You would never see Socrates or Pericles shout for example. The Byzantines were a very solemn people, always chanting hymns and praying, so there was no time to shout, except towards God when they shouted: “Lord, I have shouted unto Thee, hearken unto me,” (which seems to describe perfectly, my relationship with the telephone). When the Turks came, however, they push us all into the mountains. And how we were going to communicate with each other across deep mountain valleys and impassable ravines? Why, via shouting of course. We have gotten into the habit and we can no longer shake it off. Go to any φρουτομαρκέτα these days, and you will see Greek calling Greek like mastodons across primeval swamps.”
A sociological explanation was once offered to me by an Athenian theologian who was at that time, moonlighting as a municipal waste disposer (better money and hardly any work to do considering that they were perennially on strike). According to him, the Byzantine model is the ideal from which we have fallen: “Orthodoxy if anything, is structural. You cry, God listens. Similarly, when the Word of God is spoken, you listen. But in modern Greece, everyone shouts because they have lost the skill of listening. Because listening means thinking. And we Modern Greeks talk so we don’t have to think.
Nonetheless, since times ancient, we have remained a competitive, adversarial race. This is why Modern Greeks do not believe in whispering. If anything, the main task in a discussion between Greeks is to achieve a decibel level higher than your interlocutor. The louder you are, the more right you are. Haven’t you seen the Greek morning talk shows?”
This exposition troubled me, not because it purported to reveal to me my true identity but rather because that identity has been prophesied by Saint Kosmas to be compromised when the world is ruled by the “άλαλα και μπάλαλα,» that is, those who neither speak, nor hear. Consolation, is taken where it an be found, in the multitude of the Modern Greek songs that attest to the inimitability of shouting to the Greek identity. Take the Cartesian Φωνάζω, for example, where it is categorically stated: Ελπίζω άρα υπάρχω… Φωνάζω άρα ζω…Δε θα σωπάσω ούτε λεπτό, or even Giannis Ploutarchos, Το Φωνάζω, which proves that even in our most tender and intimate moments of eros, shouting is a prerequisite for our understanding of reality: ‘Tο φωνάζω. Με καμία δε σ’ αλλάζω. Σ’ αγαπάω στο φωνάζω.’
Giannis Kalliris drives the point home further and reveals the ultimate truth about ourselves when he croons: “Γιορτάζω, γιορτάζω μ’ ακούτε που το φωνάζω…” Thus, if he does not shout it, we would not know that he is celebrating. If we do not shout, no one knows that we exist and we begin to doubt our own corporeality. It was for this reason then that in the Beginning there was the Word, and only later did in become Flesh.
Secure then in the knowledge that my decibels shield me from oblivion, I fear only, like the proverbial tree in the forest, my hypostasis, should I shout and there be no Greek there to hear me, which I think, is why the Byzantines turned to God in the first place. Till next time then, when it is my shout.