Friday, April 28

A piano should fall on all their heads.

There are so many losers in the world. Thank the gods that there’s no shortage of pianos.

I was originally going to devote this post to Bishop Joseph Devine, one of Scotland’s most senior Roman Catholic clerics. It seems that Devine is upset that Scotland’s first minister, Jack McConnell, has refused to debate the proposed Adoption Bill with the bishop on Premier Radio, the London-based Christian broadcaster. Read the full story here. If approved, the bill would grant unmarried partners and same-sex couples the same adoption rights enjoyed by married heterosexual couples.

“The simple truth is that the institutions of marriage and the family have not been well served by Scotland’s devolved government. It would appear that gay pressure groups have far more influence than the Christian churches in the corridors of power of the Scottish Parliament,” Devine said.

Obviously, what really has Devine’s vestments in a twist is not the lack of debate, but the bill itself and the possibility of adoption in Scotland by same-sex couples. As in Massachusetts, the Catholic Church in Scotland has already demanded the right to turn gay couples away from its adoption agencies. After all, the Catholic Church can’t just sit around while unwanted children are placed in stable, loving homes. Let’s face it, morality has never been the Catholic Church’s strongpoint. They should stick to what they know best; namely, producing homoerotic art.

But I digress. I would like to reserve four pianos for David and Tonia Parker and Joseph and Robin Wirthlin, the Lexington parents who have chosen to sue their town’s school system for teaching their children tolerance.

It seems that the Parkers and Wirthlins, whom the lawsuit identifies as devout Christians, objected to a second grade teacher’s classroom reading of King & King, which tells the story of two princes who fall in love with one another and get married. You’ll all remember Parker, who was jailed last year for refusing to leave school property when officials declined to exclude his 6-year-old son from a discussion of gay parents. Parker complained after his son brought home a “diversity book bag” with a book that depicted a gay family.

The Parkers and Wirthlins claim that because they were not notified in advance that King & King would be read and not given a chance to remove their children from the classroom, their First Amendment rights were violated. The parents believe that by “indoctrinating” their children about the acceptability of a “lifestyle” they deem immoral, the school interfered with their freedom of religion.

What is it with the people of Massachusetts who keep on insisting that they have a constitutional right to discriminate? I’d like to remind the Parkers and the Wirthlins that the public school system is not beholden to evangelical religion. It seems inevitable to me that the tenets of America’s civic religion, which (at least on paper) includes a commitment to equality and multiculturalism, will come into conflict with the dictates of evangelicalism, which tends to marginalize entire classes of people, like gays and those who listen to secular music.

People like the Parkers and the Wirthlins cannot expect the public school system to resolve that conflict in their favor. Despite what they claim in their lawsuit, their rights were not violated because the Lexington school system has refused to champion (or cave to) evangelicalism and its hate-filled, anti-gay agenda.

Thursday, April 27

My Apology to Tarkan and Tarkan Fans Everywhere

In addition to receiving a comment upbraiding me for criticizing the new Tarkan CD in this post, I received this by email from Martin in Holland:

Being someone who listens to Turkish fasil music and Ottoman folk songs - I’m not surprised you didn’t like Tarkan’s album - you probably don’t like hip hop. I am a great fan of the singer and I was upset to read you say it was not good as though it was crap and give no justifcation. I have been reading your blog for sometime and I figure you to be an intelligent guy - one that would say “I don’t like it, it’s not to my taste but I can see how others might.” After all, it can’t be that bad if the single reached 15 in Germany’s charts and the album entered at 18 - can it? It is more success than any rembetiko artist is going to get.

For to you read up on Tarkan can I suggest some links?

Click here and here.

First of all, thank you for your message, Martin. I didn’t realize that my comments about Tarkan’s latest CD would be so offensive to Tarkan fans. Admittedly, instead of saying that his newest release wasn’t very good, I should have said that I didn’t like it because I found the English lyrics to be insipid and flat. I’ve always enjoyed his music in the past, but this one just didn’t do it for me.

The reason I did not say, “I don’t like it, it’s not to my taste but I can see how others might” is that I didn’t feel it needed saying. It was implied. Obviously, I know that there are people who like it. I was making a subjective statement, not an objective one, though I understand that sometimes subjective statements can appear to be objective ones. However, I’ll try to be more sensitive in the future.

Regarding Rembetika, I myself am not sure that there are any real Rembetiko artists left. There are artists that perform Rembetika, but I’m not sure that makes them Rembetiko artists. Rembetiko artists were the artists who created and invented the music. Those of us who attempt to recreate that music cannot really compare ourselves to them, no matter how talented or skilled we might be.

As for my opinion of hip hop, I’ll say only this: I’m not sure that hip hop as a genre is broad enough to encompass Tarkan, whose popularity I do not deny. However, at the risk of alienating some of my readers, I would argue that mass appeal is not necessarily a measure of quality. Nor does commercial success equal artistic merit. Perhaps I will be accused of being an elitist for saying that, but it wouldn’t be the first time. In the end, popularity means very little. It means no more in art than it does in politics. This has been amply demonstrated by George W. Bush, whose popularity (though waning as of late) is by no means an indicator of his quality as a leader.

Wednesday, April 26


Just saw this:

Gay Pride parade organizers determined to hold it in Moscow

MOSCOW. April 26 (Interfax) – The organizers of a Gay Pride parade in Moscow are determined to hold it despite the Moscow government’s refusal to grant approval, coordinator Nikolai Alexeyev told Interfax.

“We plan to hold our procession on Saturday, May 27, roughly at 3:00 p.m., right after the end of a conference to mark the International Day Against Homophobia, which will take place at Moscow’s Swiss Hotel,” Alexeyev said.

Sexual minorities in Moscow plan to file an application for a parade on May 15, despite the fact that Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov said earlier that he would not allow such an event in the city. He was supported by the leaders of all leading religious confessions in Russia.

I want to say that I have the utmost respect and heartfelt admiration for the men and women who are defying the authorities to stage this event. They are risking their personal safety, perhaps their very lives, in order to make a statement about the visibility and dignity of GLBT people in Russia. Both Orthodox and Roman Catholic leaders have condemned the march. Russia’s chief rabbi declared that the march would be as offensive to Jews as the Danish caricatures of Mohammed were to Muslims. Muslim leaders have threatened physical violence and beatings if the march takes place.

By publicly showing that they are a presence in Russia and not ashamed of their identity as queer Russians, these courageous men and women are helping pave the way for greater acceptance of Russia’s sexual minorities. Though it will be a long and difficult struggle in Russia (as elsewhere), a show of gay pride in the present will help ensure that future generations of GLBT Russians do not have to live in shame.

Silence = Death
Безмолвие = Смерть
Смелость = Courage

вы делаете историю!

If you could only smell this…

After enjoying some delicious leftovers from Sunday’s dinner, Joe and I carved up the remainder of the lamb carcass tonight. On Sunday I carved only enough to fill a large platter. There’s something surreal about carving up a lamb on the front porch in front of my 2 year-old nephew, but he didn’t seem fazed at all.

I took all the bones that we’d cleaned and threw them in a pot with some water, rosemary, parsley, salt, pepper, oregano, and garlic. It’s still simmering right now. It smells heavenly. I’m not sure what we’ll do with the lamb stock. Maybe Joe will make risotto. We’ll probably save some for soup. K suggested barley or white bean. Yum.

We brought K some leftovers too, since she’s in the middle of exams. We had some tea and listened to the new Tarkan CD, which is all in English and, well, not very good. Tarkan should stick to singing in Turkish. And, oh yeah, he should have sex with me.

We ended up looking at K’s old atlas to locate the Red Sea resort where our friend (and housemate) G is vacationing. We had a bit of a scare when we learned of yesterday’s terrorist attack in Dahab. G didn’t leave us (or his family) an itinerary, and it took a bit of sleuthing on my part to figure out his exact whereabouts. Fortunately, he’s not in Dahab.

While looking at the atlas, I came across a map of England and noticed something odd. It seems that the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex are situated in Old England in the opposite fashion as they are in New England. In Old England, Norfolk county is north of Suffolk, which is north of Essex, whereas in New England, Essex county is north of Suffolk, which is north of Norfolk. I thought that was interesting. What can I say, I’m a dweeb.

Tuesday, April 25

Weekend Wrap-up

On Sunday Joe and I celebrated Greek Easter with my parents, my sister and brother-in-law, their two sons (aged 9 months and 2 years), and our some of our friends. Although the weather outdoors wasn’t great, indoors it was festive and spirited.

As in years past, I roasted a lamb over an open fire in the back yard. Knowing that it was going to rain, I had set up a canopy on Saturday. On Sunday morning I was up at 7am, earlier than I’ve been up on a Sunday in a long time. First I had to get the fire going, which was no easy task because I use charwood without lighter fluid, so there’s a lot of newspaper and fanning involved. I had set aside from branches for kindling, but foolishly left them out in the rain, so they were useless. Eventually, I got a good fire going and went inside to dress the lamb.

The most important ingredient in a Greek-style roast lamb is garlic. Slits are cut into the flesh and whole garlic cloves are inserted for flavor. For a whole lamb, I use about half a head of garlic. Once the lamb was properly skewered and tied to the spit, Joe and I carried it out to set over the flame. It then gets brushed with a mixture of olive oil and lemon juice and sprinkled liberally with salt, pepper, oregano, and fresh rosemary. Pretty basic overall.

I made sure that the fire stayed good and hot and kept the spit on the low setting, close to the flame. In years past, I’ve had a problem with the lamb being underdone in spots, so I wanted to make sure that it cooked nice and evenly this year. This requires keeping a close eye on the fire and adding fresh coals about every half hour or so. Here’s how it looked at around noon:

Our friends K, P, and L came over for brunch at mid morning. Joe made a salami pie (a really decadent recipe that’s always a big hit at our place) and a panettone, which is another holiday favorite at our house. Although store-bought panettone is cake-like, Joe’s panettone is more of a bread than a cake. It’s very similar to challah and also to tsoureki, which is a type of Greek Easter break. K was kind enough to pick one up for us at Athan’s in Brookline.

F arrived a bit later followed by my family. I had put some chocolate bunnies in the yard for my nephew to find. I didn’t really hide them, since he’s only 2. I’m not sure he knew what to make of it all. He had been napping on the car ride over, and I think he was still half asleep, but we didn’t want to wait since it was threatening rain. Soon after he gathered all the goodies I had left for him, the sky opened up.

J and G arrived just before the lamb came off the spit. My mom was able to help me determine when it was done. By about 3pm, we could both tell that it was fully cooked and felt comfortable taking it off the spit, as opposed to last year when we removed it prematurely and had a hell of a time carving it. Underdone lamb on the bone is very difficult to carve.

The lamb is wrapped in a clean white sheet (symbolizing Christ’s burial shroud). In my case, I use a table cloth that my great grandmother (my mother’s mother’s mother) wove herself. It might have been part of her dowry, which would make it quite old. After letting the lamb sit for about 10 minutes, you gather it up in the sheet and smash the whole thing on the ground three times. Smashing it on the ground helps separate the joints, making it much easier to carve. As I smash it, I recite the following verse in Greek from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians:

καί γάρ τό πάσχα ημών ετύθη Χριστός, ώστε εορτάζωμεν.

For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed; therefore let us keep the feast (1 Corinthians 5:7-8).

In addition to the lamb, my mother made ντολμάδες (dol-MA-thes) or stuffed grape leaves, Joe made a lasagna, and I made φασολάκια (fa-so-LA-kia), which is string beans stewed in tomato sauce. Earlier in the day, K and L had made the roast potatoes, which came out splendid (even though they used less salt than I do). Here’s a video of their culinary endeavor:

Just before we sat down to eat, I got a nice surprise from my friend G, who gave me Leo Steinberg’s The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion. Based on some of my recent blog posts, he felt it was a good choice. I was thrilled, I can’t wait to read it. He’s such a sweet boy (G, that is; not Leo Steinberg, whom I’ve never met).

After dinner, Joe and F made Turkish coffee (or is it Greek coffee? Arabic coffee?), and K read everyone’s cup. I have no idea how she does it, but she’s pretty good. And I don’t know what was going on yesterday with all our coffee drinkers, but there was some weird shit in their cups, J’s especially. There was some wild orgy scene or something. Even I saw it.

It was a great day. It was a smaller crowd than we’ve had in the past, but it allowed me to spend more time with everyone present. Everyone pitched in and helped clean up afterwards too, which was nice because Joe and I were pretty exhausted by the end of the day. I’ll end with a little photo montage from our Easter table:

Sunday, April 23

The Resurrection of the Flesh

Above is a detail from The Resurrection of the Flesh (fresco, 1499-1502), painted by Luca Signorelli (c.1445-1524) to adorn the Chapel of San Brizio, located in the main cathedral in the town of Orvieto in northern Italy. Joe and I visited Orvieto in 2002, but we didn’t go inside the cathedral. It may have been closed or we may just have had a case of “duomo overload.” In any event, I took lots of photos of the cathedral’s exterior. We arrived in the town as late afternoon turned to dusk, and the cathedral was bathed in the soft pinks and golds of the setting Umbrian sun.

Signorelli’s depiction of the resurrection is interesting for several reasons. First of all, there appear to be only two women in a sea of men. For the most part, the figures are all nude or semi-nude and robust-looking. Some appear to marvel at their newly raised flesh. Perhaps Signorelli preferred the male to the female nude. Perhaps he was making a statement about the ratio of men to women in Heaven.

Some of the figures are mere skeletons, as though they have just emerged from their graves and are still awaiting their resurrection bodies. The figure on the right is conversing with a group of skeletons and has clearly said something amusing, because the skeletons appear to be chuckling at his wit. Either that or he has a very small penis. In any event, many art historians have alluded to Signorelli’s playfulness in The Resurrection.

I like this fresco for its beauty and its wit, though I myself do not subscribe to the doctrine of Christ’s bodily resurrection or the bodily resurrection of the dead. Many of the earliest Christian writings (the earliest versions of the Gospel of Mark, Q or “the Synoptic Sayings Source,” and many of the non-canonical Gospel writings) do not include the resurrection story. Even Paul, whom many claim to be the most ardent apologist for the doctrine of Christ’s resurrection on the third day, is hardly unequivocal in his treatment of the resurrection.

In his First Epistle to the Corinthians, Paul writes about how after Christ died and was buried, he appeared to

Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born (1 Corinthians 15:5-8)

Now the word that Paul used, which is translated as “appeared,” is ώφθη, the aorist passive of the Greek word οράω meaning “to see.” Many scholars recognize that this verb conveys both a literal and a figurative meaning—seeing with the eyes or seeing with the mind. In other words, the word ώφθη could be used to convey either a bodily appearance or a mental apparition. In this passage, it could denote a vision of some kind.

Paul includes himself in the list of those to whom Christ “appeared”/ ώφθη. Acts 9, however, describes the manner in which Christ appeared to Paul, and it was not a bodily appearance. Ultimately, Paul’s understanding of the resurrection is unclear. He speaks of Christ being raised, but also seems to talk about Christ’s appearances as spiritual, rather than bodily events. In other words, if Paul is really trying to make a point in his letter to the Corinthians about the bodily presence of Jesus among his disciples following his death, why include his own experience on the road to Damascus, in which Jesus was clearly not present bodily, but spiritually?

Many scholars have argued that there was no consensus among the different early Christian communities about the resurrection (or whether there was a resurrection at all). It seems that the early Church was much more complex, and the diversity of beliefs more richly varied than previously thought.

As far as I’m concerned, Christ’s resurrection is best understood figuratively, not literally. For example, I believe in resurrecting the Historical Jesus buried by Church myth and dogma for millennia. Moreover, when I say Χριστός Ανέστη (Hrist-OS A-NES-ti) or “Christ is Risen” with my fellow Greeks, I say it because Christ is risen whenever the oppressed are liberated, whenever the outsider and the marginalized are welcomed, whenever the rights of the poor are championed, whenever the exploited find justice, whenever love and compassion triumph over greed, and whenever peace is made. In this world, these things don’t happen very often, but whenever they do, Christ is risen. Christ is risen whenever the spirit of his ministry to the poor, the oppressed, the sick, and the marginalized is brought to life in our words, our deeds, our hands, and our bodies.

To all my fellow Greeks,




The video shows Joe rolling κουλουράκια (kou-lou-RA-kia), a traditional Greek Easter cookie. Although Joe is not Greek and did not grow up rolling these year after year at Easter as I did, his shapes are quite beautiful and very creative. The shape he can be seen rolling here is one of his inventions and aptly named, “the lovers,” because, as he explains, it looks like two lovers spooning.

Saturday, April 22

Ο Επιτάφιος

I took this video at the Good Friday (Μεγάλη Παρασκευή) liturgy that I attended at Saint Nectarios in Roslindale. In the Orthodox religion, the Good Friday service is understood as a funeral service for Christ, and the video shows the part of the service when the επιτάφιος(epitaph), decked in flowers and meant to symbolize Christ’s funeral bier, is taken outside, with the congregation following in procession. The burial hymns that accompany this service are among the most beautiful Byzantine hymns ever produced in the Greek language—I make that distinction because some of the Russian hymns are far more beautiful—with the main hymns spanning a period of hymnography stretching from the 9th century to the 16th century CE.

For me, however, the επιτάφιος is less a symbol of Christ’s tomb, than of the creation of the tomb myth. What I mean is that the επιτάφιος represents the way in which the earliest Christian communities (some of them anyway) “prettied up” and romanticized Jesus’ martyrdom and brutal death. Just as the επιτάφιος is itself adorned with flowers, fragrance, beautifully carved wood, and richly embroidered cloth, the story of Jesus’ death was gradually embellished and adorned with such mythical elements as a freshly hewn garden tomb. The επιτάφιος symbolizes not history, but the creation of story by the faith community.

The garden tomb plays a vital role in traditional Christian doctrine. It was, after all, the empty tomb on Easter morning that offered the very first real evidence of Christ’s resurrection. Thus, the empty tomb is the foundation upon which the resurrection story is built. This can be seen when someone like myself denies the doctrine of Christ’s bodily resurrection as a historical event, and a conservative traditionalist (i.e. a fundamentalists or evangelical) counters such an assertion with the question, “But what about the empty tomb? If Christ didn’t rise again as his followers said he did, why didn’t their enemies just produce his body?” This is an interesting question, and one that John Dominic Crossan handles quite skillfully in Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography.

Crossan suggests that the burial of the Historical Jesus was not a pretty one. A limed pit, not a garden tomb, according to Crossan, was the Historical Jesus’ final resting place. As for the body, it quickly became carrion for the dogs and other scavenging animals. Of course, it should be noted that the doctrine of Christ’s resurrection, though it arose relatively early, did not develop overnight. Moreover, there were some Christian communities for whom the idea of a bodily resurrection never formed part of their belief system. Scholars (who practice source criticism) point out that at least some of the earliest written sources upon which the canonical Gospels were based did not contain a resurrection account at all.

For those communities who did develop a resurrection story, they invented a burial story to accompany it, because without a burial story, there is no resurrection story. It was no accident, moreover, that a statement of Christ’s burial made its way into both the Apostles’ Creed and later the Nicene Creed. This was because Christ’s burial, like his virgin birth and his resurrection, was contested by some members of the diverse Christian community. In other words, Christ’s burial was not so obvious to the Christian community or so universally recognized as fact that it could go unmentioned. It was part of the evolving story but because it was contested, it had to become enshrined as dogma.

Rather than thinking of these stories as “lies,” we should understand them as part of the natural process of posthumously mythologizing a beloved and charismatic leader. It is precisely that process that the επιτάφιος symbolizes. The hideous reality of a brutal execution was transformed into something beautiful. Sadly, however, the Historical Jesus was buried in the process.

Friday, April 21

Τι Νοικοκύρης

The year I spent studying sandouri in Greece, I was invited by Clio H., a friend of my sister’s, to spend Easter with her family out in Kifissia, one of Athens’ poshest suburbs. I was thrilled not to be spending Easter alone, so I went out of my way to show my gratitude by bringing Clio’s mother Easter eggs, κουλουράκια (a special type of Greek Easter cookie), and a ricotta pie (Joe’s aunt’s recipe). When I showed up at their door laden with treats, she was amazed. When I told her I had dyed the Easter eggs using onion skins and red poppies that I had gathered from the slopes of the Acropolis, she was astounded, looked at me intently for a second, and then exclaimed, “Τι νοικοκύρης!” (Ti ni-ko-KY-ris) which means, “What a homemaker!”

All I could do was laugh. I guess the young Greek men in Mrs. H’s family didn’t go out of their way to dye Easter eggs and bake. I wanted to explain to her that I was gay and it was normal for a gay man to do such things, but I didn’t want to embarrass her. Instead I simply thanked her for inviting me. The truth is, I was really touched by her effusiveness.

That was the first time I dyed eggs using red onion skins. I still can’t believe that it worked, since I kind of winged it. I’ve done it every year since. The only year it didn’t work was the year I dyed the eggs at my parents’ house in Lynn. For some reason the dye didn’t take, and my mother had to throw in a tablet of the store-bought red dye she typically used. I was bummed because I had been bragging about how nice my eggs had turned out the previous year.

In case you were wondering, Greeks traditionally dye their Easter eggs red, no pastels. The red eggs are meant to symbolize Christ’s blood. Easter eggs, as everyone knows, are a pre-Christian fertility symbol. Thus, red Easter eggs are a wonderful example of the synchretism that is so common within the Christian tradition.

Tonight, it was touch and go for a while. For some reason the dye took a really long time to set. The first batch of eggs took forever to color. They came out splotchy too. And I broke a lot of eggs. I think this is the last year I’m going to use white eggs. They’re too damn delicate. I’ve known for a while that brown eggs dye just as nicely as white eggs, but I always end up buying white eggs anyway. No more.

In the end, this year’s eggs turned out quite nice, notwithstanding all the breakage and the initial stubbornness of the dye. I think that I probably didn’t use enough vinegar. I used only about a cup and you really need to add two cups. I’ll try to remember that next year. In total, I’ve got just under four dozen eggs. The prettiest ones will go out on the table. For me, that means the ones with the most uniform color, but Joe really likes the splotchy speckled ones, so I’ll include a few just for him.

Thursday, April 20

Six Months Too Late

I read this in yesterday’s Boston Globe:

MONTGOMERY, Ala. The City Coucil has a message for late civil rights icon Rosa Parks and other blacks who were mistreated in Montgomery during the 1950s:
We’re sorry.

The majority-white council voted unanimously Tuesday to make a formal apology to Parks, who died in October, and four women who filed a federal lawsuit that resulted in court orders mandating the desegregation of city buses.

The council’s resolution also apologized to “all others who suffered the same indignities” as Parks.

Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus in December 1955. The Montgomery City Council has had more than half-a-century to apologize. It seems to me that had they really wanted to apologize, they would have done so while Parks was still alive.

Parks died on October 24, 2005. Would it have killed those dumb fucks to apologize six months ago?

Half-Nekkid Thursday

In addition to being Half-Nekkid Thursday, today is also Holy Thursday (Μεγάλη Πέμπτη)—the Thursday of Eastern Orthodox Holy Week, as the week preceding Easter is called. I guess that makes it Holy Half-Nekkid Thursday. Among the events that are commemorated today is Jesus’ washing of his disciples’ feet:

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come forth from God and was going back to God, got up from supper, and laid aside his garments; and taking a towel, he girded Himself. Then he poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded (John 13:3-5).

I once had a very frank discussion with the former dean of the Boston University School of Theology about the feet-washing episode in John’s Gospel. I think I had just finished Theodore Jennings’ The Man Jesus Loved, and I told the dean that I thought that the feet-washing had very erotic overtones. I pointed to how the Gospel writer goes out of his way to mention that Jesus stripped down. Moreover, Jesus dries the disciples’ feet using the same towel that he wrapped around his waist. I guess it was Half-Nekkid Thursday for Jesus too.

The dean did not disagree. On the contrary, he acknowledged that he had often thought the very same thing. We then went on to discuss how the feet-washing episode is an example of how Jesus in the Gospels turns gender upside-down. In the Greco-Roman world of the first century CE, feet-washing was performed by women and/or servants or slaves, all of whom possessed an inferior social status. Scholars have traditionally drawn attention to the fact that Jesus was taking on the role of a servant/slave in order to demonstrate the meaning of discipleship. What is often overlooked is that Jesus was also taking on the role of a woman and in so doing makes a powerful statement about gender.

Therefore, I thought it appropriate to show a picture of my freshly washed feet for this week’s HNT.


Wednesday, April 19

A Response to Anonymous

An anonymous comment left in response to this post caught my attention, and I felt it deserved more than simply a comment in reply. Therefore, I’ve put together a more detailed response, which I hope someone will find useful.

Anonymous said...
I’d like to hear more about what you think the Bible does condemn about homosexuality, because I don’t think it condemns an entire group of people who are gay and lesbian. I think it condemns prostitution and idolatry. But the same sex practices of that age aren’t anything close to what homosexual love and relationship can be like today.

Check out Temple Gray’s book, Gay Unions. He speaks of what sexuality was like in the ancient world. Nothing like what we have today in the heterosexual or homosexual sense of what is possible now. FHT

First of all, thank you for the question. I think it’s an important one, and I’m happy to explain my position more fully. I believe that as far as the Bible (or any sacred text) is concerned, I think one should begin by asking two basic questions. The first is, “What does the text say?” and the second is “Is the text authoritative and binding on me?” The first question is hermeneutical in nature, while the second is more theological. They are both equally important. Often, these questions are not asked separately, or the authority of the text is simply taken for granted. I think that if a person approaches the Bible as if it were authoritative and all its proscriptions universally binding, then it is difficult to give an honest and objective reading of the text. The stakes are too high.

It seems to me that if one is unable (because of convictions, upbringing, etc.) to dismiss the authority of the text, that person is then compelled to neutralize particularly troublesome passages by coming up with interpretations that are non-threatening and that affirm his or her identity, especially if that person feels s/he cannot change.

On the other hand, one can neutralize the authority of the text itself, as I have done. I consider the Bible no more sacred than any other religious group’s text. In other words, I afford the Bible no more authority than any other group’s sacred text. As a result, I can offer an honest critique of the Biblical texts and embrace an interpretation even when it conflicts with who I am, the way I live, and what I think.

Of course, I’m not saying that the authority of the Bible (or any other sacred text) is to be treated lightly. I have wrestled with this question for many years. It was only after much soul searching and study that I have come to the conclusion that the Bible is not vested with any divine authority.

So, having established that I do not consider the Bible as authoritative or binding on me, I can consider the meaning of the passages that have historically been used to condemn homosexuality (i.e. Genesis 19, Leviticus 18:22, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9, 1 Timothy 1:10). I won’t attempt to offer a full exegesis of the individual passages themselves, because that would take far too long and it would bore far too many readers. Instead, I will speak in broader terms, focusing less on the particular acts or situations the passages themselves refer to, than on whether the proscriptions pertaining to homosexual acts were more akin to blanket proscriptions to be applied broadly or, conversely, were more limited in their scope.

Admittedly, it is not obvious what exactly is being condemned in those pesky passages. Anonymous rightly points out that the homosexuality that we practice today is not the same as what existed back then. We must not project either our contemporary understanding of sexual identity or our particular categories and constructs of sexuality onto the ancient world. After all, to do so would be anachronistic and inaccurate. However, just because homosexuality in its current form(s) did not exist back then, it does not follow that what is being addressed in the various aforementioned Biblical passages has absolutely no connection to that which exists today.

If, for example, it is a particular sexual act that is being condemned without any qualification whatsoever, the original context in which the condemnation was issued becomes less relevant, especially if that same sexual act (like two men fucking) continues to be performed today, regardless of the particular cultural context in which that act occurs. Many queer Christians look at the context in which the condemnation was issued as the qualifier itself, but I think that imposes a limitation on the proscription that would have struck the original writers as quite odd.

In other words, many queer Christians become preoccupied with why the proscriptions were issued and the particular situation (or abuse) that they were meant to address, as if to demonstrate that if we avoid the particulars of that situation (by not becoming a temple prostitute), somehow the proscription doesn’t apply to us and we’re just fine. However, I myself am not sure that the applicability of those passages was meant to be limited in such a fashion. After all, wouldn’t it be foolish to argue that 1 Corinthians 6:9 was meant to apply only to Corinthian Christians, but not Christians in Ephesus? If I’m going to conclude that those passages don’t apply to me, it’s because I reject the Bible’s authority, and not because I think that what I do in the bedroom isn’t addressed in those passages, because it probably is.

This might seem to many like a dangerous concession to the Religious Right, who love to use those passages to justify legislation that marginalizes GLBT people. However, given my unorthodox and iconoclastic take on scriptural authority (i.e. there is none), I’m not too worried about how I interpret certain Biblical passages. I’m not going to pretend that the Bible is 100% gay-friendly for political reasons. Besides, in combating the fanaticism of the Religious Right, I would much rather focus on constitutional questions than theological questions. After all, what the Bible says is ultimately irrelevant in a discussion of GLBT civil rights in America.

Getting back to the subject at hand, I admit that it is quite possible that the various Biblical proscriptions of homosexual acts arose in response to something very specific. That does not mean, however, that the proscriptions were meant to be narrowly interpreted or applied. Even if Leviticus 18:22 was formulated in response to male temple prostitution among the nations whom the Israelites felt it was their destiny to dispossess and annihilate, that does not mean that other forms of same-sex activity were considered acceptable as long as they did not consist of prostitution or gender-bending as was often the case in the cultic practices of the ancient Near East. To me, Leviticus 18:22 reads as a broad-based proscription. I do not believe it was meant to be limited in its scope.

I think it is even harder to make an argument about the limited nature of the New Testament proscriptions. Homosexual practices and relationships were, I imagine, much more diverse in the Greco-Roman era than in the Bronze Age. Nor was homosexuality in the Greco-Roman world limited to the practice of pederasty, which was the socially accepted form that it took in classical Greece. In the first century CE, an educated and Hellenized Jew of the Diaspora like Saul of Tarsus (Paul) would have been exposed to homosexuality in different forms, from pederasty and temple prostitution to marriage-like relationships between same-sex partners of roughly the same age (see Craig A. Williams’ Roman Homosexuality).

As a result, it is once again difficult for me to understand precisely what Paul is referring to in Romans 1:26-27. Likewise, in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10, the writer uses what many consider to be a neologism, αρσενοκοίταις, a word that has been rendered as “homosexuals” by contemporary translators (and “sodomites” by previous generations of translators). It literally means “manfuckers,” and while Paul might have been reacting to the orgiastic homosexual practices that took place at Corinth, there is no evidence that he meant his condemnation to be limited in its scope.

It is almost as if people like my anonymous commentator believe that Moses and Paul never meant for their condemnations to be applied to loving, monogamous, and committed gay and lesbian couples. It’s as if s/he is saying that had Moses and Paul only known of such couples, they would surely have qualified their proscriptions. I don’t think that is the case at all.

The reality is that neither Moses nor Paul (or whoever composed the parts of the Bible normally attributed to them) was big on recreational sex of any kind. Sex, in ancient Israel, was for procreation; its very existence as a nation depended on procreation. It is not difficult to understand why homosexuality was condemned. Paul, on the other hand, is anti-sex. Period. Paul is not an advocate of either recreational or procreative sex. Sex, for Paul, belongs to the realm of this world, which is passing away. The “family values” message of the Religious Right would have seemed very foreign to Paul, though less so to some of the post-Pauline writers of the New Testament who were moving toward an acceptance of the established order of patriarchy and the Roman paterfamilias.

In spite of all that I have just said, I think it is important to recognize that it is indeed possible to give a queer-friendly reading of the Bible, as Theodore Jennings has done in The Man Jesus Loved. However, the beauty of Jennings’s reading of the Bible is that he doesn’t engage in any hermeneutical gymnastics to dismiss the Bible’s critique of homosexuality. He acknowledges it and treats it as tragic evidence of the way in which the early Christian community very quickly lost its way. The critique of homosexuality evident in the New Testament is part of the tension between inclusivity and egalitarianism on one hand and patriarchy, the Law, and inequality on the other—a tension with which the early Christian community consistently wrestled. In the end, the New Testament’s proscriptions against homosexuality were a casualty in the Culture Wars of that era, just as anti-gay legislation is a frequent casualty in our own Culture Wars.

Tuesday, April 18

Rembetiko of the Month

I was going to post a great tune by Rita Abadzi, actually the song that was my first real introduction to Rembetika as an adult—as opposed to the Greek music I was exposed to as a child, which might have included Rembetika, but I don’t really remember because I didn’t think too much about it at the time. It’s a good one, and was going to be my first Rembetiko of the Month featuring the Piraeus School, to which I’ve alluded.

Instead, this month’s Rembetiko of the Month is Ή Ελένη ή Ζωντοχήρα (Helen, the Divorcée), also in the tradition of the Piraeus School. It was recorded by Andonis Kalivopoulos (pictured right) with Yiovan Tsaous on what some have deemed a saz, others a tanbur. What Outiboy and I think is being played here is a bouzouki with movable frets, which was not uncommon in Rembetika from the Interwar period.

The principal reason why we think it’s a bouzouki with movable frets is the F half-sharp. Imagine the note between F and F#. This is one of the quartertones I was talking about in this post. A bouzouki with fixed frets (which is the kind played by Greeks today) wouldn’t be able to produce an F half-sharp. While the saz and the tanbur have movable frets that would have allowed them to produce a half-sharp, the instrument in this particular recording has a distinctly bouzouki-like sound.

The makam is Oussak, which is like a (Western) natural minor except for the half-sharp, a note that I am unable to produce on the sandouri. As a result, I play Oussak the way most Greeks do, as a natural minor with a flatted second thrown in on ocassion as an approximation of the half-sharp (the symbol for which is to the left).

Tsaous plays the F half-sharp, and it’s wonderful. The tension it adds to the melody is, well, it’s sexy. It’s really perfect for this song, which is all about sexual tension. Eventually, as Rembetika became more Westernized, notes like F half-sharp became less and less common, until they disappeared altogether.

As this song amply demonstrates, the Piraeus School produced a harsher and grittier sound than the Smyrnaïc School. While both Schools were associated with the Anatolian Greek refugees that flooded Greece after the Asia Minor catastrophe of 1922, it was the music of the Piraeus School that eventually came to define the Rembetic tradition, though this was perhaps more true in Greece than it was for the Greeks of the Diaspora, especially in the United States, but that’s a topic for a future post.

I chose this song because of the last line (about the roasted lamb), seeing that Sunday is Greek Orthodox Easter.

Click here to listen.

Η Ελένη ή ζωντοχήρα ντέρτι έχει ή κακομοίρα—
Ένα γέρο άντρα έχει ή καημένη δεν αντέχει.

Κάθε μέρα ‘ναστενάζει απ’τό στόμα φλόγες βγάζει:
Νέα είμαι δεν ταιριάζει γέρος νά με αγκαλιάζει.

Τον ξεπόρτησε καί λέγει τι νά κάνω κι’όλο κλαίει—
ο μπακάλης τήν λυπάται κάθε βράδυ τήν θυμάται.

Κι’ο μανάβης σάν περνάει στέκει τήν παρηγοράει:
Έτσι τό’θελε η μοίρα, Λένη νά’σαι ζωντοχήρα.

Σάν τ’ακούει μπαρμπεράκι νά καί τρέχει μέ μεράκι:
Έλα’δώ, βρέ Ελενάκι, νά σου σβήσω το μεράκι.

Τό’μαθε το χασαπάκι τήνε στέλνει έν’αρνάκι:
Ψήσετό μέ το σπανάκι γιατί θά’ρθω το βραδάκι.

Poor Helen the divorcée is heartbroken.
She had an old man for a husband and she just couldn’t take it.

Every day she signed; “I’m a young woman,
and I don’t want some old man embracing me.”

The grocer passes by her door; “What can I do?
All she does is cry?” He longs for her and thinks about her every night.

The greengrocer passes by and tries to console her:
“This is your fate, Helen, to be a divorcée.”

The barber runs to her with passion:
“Come her, Helen, I’ll ease your pain.”

The butcher heard about her pain and sends her a lamb;
“Roast it with spinach, because I’m coming over tonight.”

Γειά σας, παιδιά, καί Καλή Ανάσταση.

Recommended Listening:
Rembetica: Historic Urban Folk Songs from Greece

Monday, April 17

Weekend Wrap-up

I know I didn’t do a weekend wrap-up last weekend, and I’m not going to try to recreate it now. I will say only that we played some music with Mike the drummer and had dinner with B and J, two friends we don’t see often enough. I used the barbecue for the first time this year to grill up some lamb. It was good.

Not much to say about this weekend (which isn’t over yet). I won’t celebrate Easter until next weekend, so there’s no big dinner or family gathering to report. Joe and I visited a nursery out in Wayland to try to find a redbud tree (cercis canadensis) for the yard. We argued a bit about where to put it, but didn’t find what we were looking for. I got some pansies for the yard. I usually don’t plant annuals this early in the season, but I guess I felt inspired by the beautiful summer-like weather we had on Saturday.

Saturday night, Joe and Mike played at a Jamaican restaurant in Worcester. I was supposed to join them, but I’ve been a bit under the weather since Friday. Nothing serious, just a sore throat. I stayed home and watched The Ten Commandments (the 1956 Cecil B. DeMille version with Charlton Heston). Joshua (John Derek) was super hot back then.

I dragged myself out of bed Sunday morning to go to church, something I haven’t done in a long time. For Greeks (and all Eastern Orthodox), it was Palm Sunday. I wanted to get some palms for the house, since I have them tucked behind all the icons. That’s the power of tradition, I guess. I went to Saint Nectarios in Roslindale, since it’s only about 10 minutes away. I tried to time it so that I caught the tale end of the liturgy. I ended up arriving before the Eucharist and the church was packed, which meant I had to stand through the remainder of the service and three sermons. The first was in Greek and had to do with receiving the Eucharist. I found it interesting that the priest felt compelled to point out that you cannot receive Holy Communion if you have your tongue pierced. Who knew?

The second sermon was in English about the recently publicized Gospel of Judas and how the Gnostics were heretics. I thought that was pretty amusing, since most of the parishioners wouldn’t be able to explain the difference between Gnosticism and Orthodoxy if their lives depended on it. Those doctrinal controversies just don’t excite people the way they did back in the second and third centuries.

The second sermon in Greek was delivered by a rather flamboyant deacon. I didn’t understand all of it, but got most of it. It’s really not worth recounting, other than to say that it was pretty conservative, dogmatic, and nationalistic. He too mentioned the Gospel of Judas. He also made a joke about being visited by a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses, but I think it went over my head.

The worst part, however, was that I forgot that many of the Greek churches have stopped giving out palm fronds and have switched to bunches of laurel, which is more consistent with the practice in Greece. When I was a kid in Lynn, for weeks leading up to Palm Sunday, all the Sunday School classes would gather in one of the classrooms to make crosses out of the palm fronds. As our little fingers folded away, we were supposed to work in meditative silence, but we all chattered away. I don’t remember what we used to talk about. Nothing profound or religious, that’s for sure. The priest’s wife—Greek priests are allowed to marry—used to scold us for talking, but we didn’t care. I used to think of all that cross-making as forced labor, even though I enjoyed it. I still remember how to fold a palm frond into a cross. I guess if I want palms next year, I’ll have to go to a Western church for their Palm Sunday.

For the remainder of the day, I worked out in the yard. I did some weeding and cleared away a lot of the dead growth from this past winter. I trimmed some roses, which was a pain, but I’m glad it’s done. I planted the pansies and cleaned up a little after the carpenters who are repairing the front porch. For dinner, Joe made homemade gnocchi and baked some semolina bread, which was lovely. Later we watched Before Sunrise (1995) with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.

Today (Monday) Joe and I will visit my aunt Bessie. She’s my mom’s oldest sister. She’s in her eighties, but is in reasonably good health. I’ve been promising her a visit for some time. We told her we’d take her to lunch. My parents may join us as well. I also plan to bring the tape recorder to do a bit of oral history. I want to ask her some questions about her parents (my grandparents). She loves telling stories and she has a lot to share. I’m sure there are many I’ve never heard.

She also has a photograph of herself as an infant with my grandmother holding her. The last time I saw it was two Thanksgivings ago. I usually pick her up and bring her to my parents’ house in Lynn. I had seen it as a child and asked her about it, so she took it out to show me. I noticed something very peculiar about my grandmother, but I’ll wait to talk about that when I post the picture, which I’m hoping to be able to do if my aunt lets me borrow it to have it scanned.

Friday, April 14

Ecce Homo

Above is the image of Christ that I came across while visiting the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum for the Gentile Bellini exhibit several weekends ago. It was Bellini’s brother Giovanni (c. 1430-1516) or someone in his immediate circle who created the above work, entitled Christ Carrying the Cross (c. 1505-10, oil on wood, Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum, Boston).

The painting isn’t large. In fact, it’s easy to miss, tucked away in a corner of the Titian Room. I had seen it on a postcard in the gift shop and had to ask a security guard about it, because it’s so difficult to find.

I fell in love with it as soon as I saw it up close. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I fell in love with the model. I found myself thinking a lot about him. Who was he? Was he a young priest who struck Bellini as especially Christlike? What about him inspired Bellini? It would be easy to conclude that it was his strikingly beautiful face, but perhaps there was something else. Maybe he wasn’t a cleric at all, but was simply a young man connected in some way to the patrons who paid for the painting. Perhaps he was simply a fellow artist. Whoever he was, he was gorgeous.


While looking for a high-quality digital image of Bellini’s Christ—I forgot to bring the postcard I had purchased to work for scanning—I came across his Pietà (c. 1474, tempera on panel, Pinacoteca Comunale, Rimini). Although the model who posed for this Christ isn’t nearly as handsome as the model discussed above, I thought I would include this image, if for no other reason than that it is another example of a Renaissance artist showing Christ’s pubes. Take a close look, they’re there. You might also take a close look at the two angels standing on the left. Notice anything interesting? I think that Bellini might have been having a bit of subversive fun here. Let me know if you think you see what I see.

Trembling Loins

OK, I admit it, I ripped this out of a magazine at the hair salon. I couldn’t help it. I suppose I could’ve just gone out and bought the magazine, but it was a really dumb magazine, one that I never read (the name of which I can’t recall), and the only reason I was flipping through it was that I was trying to pass the time while waiting to get my haircut.

Anyway, this is just too whack. I had no idea that Trojan had entered the disposable sex toy market. If I understand this ad correctly, the product shown here is something like a vibrating cock ring. It reminds me of those razors that Gillette makes with the battery in the handle so that the thing vibrates, even though I don’t think the vibration makes all that much of a difference in how close a shave one gets and might actually contribute to shaving cuts (see this week’s HNT post).

God forbid Trojan should have used a scene featuring two men. I mean, it’s not like the ancient Greeks were squeamish about using homoerotic scenes on their pottery. But everyone knows the ancient Greeks were much cooler than the Trojans.

Whatever. It’s still a pretty interesting ad. And, undoubtedly, the best part is this:

No real surprise there. My only question is this: Did the legislatures of these states actually pass a law banning disposable vibrating cock rings?? Perhaps it was a decision on the part of Trojan executives not to market this product in those states, based on the… er… more conservative moral climate.

I guess the good people of Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia will have to find some other way to get their loins a’ tremblin!

Thursday, April 13

Why is this night different from other nights?

I originally began this as a short comment on someone else’s blog but decided to make it a more expanded post of its own because this stuff has been on my mind since Tuesday night when I broke down and watched some of The Ten Commandments on ABC. I didn’t watch the first part on Monday night. Part II, which picked up the story after the Israelites are out of Egypt and are camped out in the Sinai, struck me as incredibly violent. After consulting my Bible, however, I was reminded just how violent the Exodus story is.

Yeah, I have a Bible. I read it sometimes. So there I was last night, in front of the TV with my Bible open on my lap. I was trying to figure out when Moses ditched Zipporah, because that part of the narrative was featured in the TV adaptation. As I simultaneously watched and read, I found myself more and more disturbed by the story that was unfolding before me.

It’s not that I hate the Judeo-Christian tradition or the Bible. I just happen to be very critical of both. I see the Bible as an ancient text that is more a record of humanity’s quest for God than of God’s revelation to man. Perhaps it is a mixture of the two. But whatever it is, it is an imperfect document in that man’s quest for God is imperfect. Moreover, that quest can get confused and pretty ugly at times, and the Bible records that confusion and ugliness. The Bible is as much a record of man’s errors in his search for God as it is a record of the wonderful epiphanies that sometimes occur in man’s search for God. As a result, I find the Bible simultaneously inspiring and repulsive.

One example of this is the Exodus story. The story begins as a wonderful act of liberation and ends as a terrible tale of conquest, intolerance, and cultural imperialism. Go into the land, assert your claim as the only legitimate claim to the exclusion of all others, and kill all the inhabitants because they worship other gods. Today we would call that state-sponsored terrorism and attribute such views to the likes of Al Qaeda.

Equally repulsive are the strictures against homosexuality, at least one of which is connected to the Exodus story (Leviticus 18:22) in that the Biblical tradition places it within the corpus of laws given to Moses on Sinai following the Israelite exodus from Egypt. The “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination” is part of the pure vs. impure, “us vs. them” mentality that so often accompanies humankind’s quest for the divine. Admittedly, that’s an oversimplification in that the passages condemning homosexual practices have much to do with violations of prescribed gender roles, the importance of ethnic survival (i.e. of the Israelites), and notions of cultural superiority.

However, I would like to point out that I do not feel the need to pretend that the Bible doesn’t really condemn homosexual practices. It does. I am not a revisionist in that respect. In other words, I am not one of those people who feels the need to come up with an alternative explanation, because s/he believes that if the Bible really did condemn homosexual practices, s/he’d be, well, screwed. Many queer (and queer-friendly) Christians fall into this category. I do not.

Because I myself do not consider the Bible as possessing divine authority or assign it any special normative status, I am comfortable with the its condemnation of what I do in the bedroom. Likewise, I am free to offer a critique of passages like the conquest of Canaan and those condemning homosexuality. To me, they represent perfect examples of the inhumanity to which humans often stoop in their quest for the divine. The Bible records these instances, and we must learn from them. We can’t do that if we try to explain them away. We need to embrace that ugliness for what it is.

At the same time, there is a lot in the Bible to commend it. Certainly, Jesus was inspired by the social justice teachings of the Prophets. The Bible has lots to say about the equitable treatment of the poor and the less fortunate. It is unequivocal in its condemnation of those who oppress the poor, the weak, the widow, the orphan, and the alien. This is the Bible to which I look for inspiration. And this is the Bible that the Religious Right would do well to heed.

Tuesday, April 11

We Are Not Criminals

I took this after work yesterday at the rally for immigrant rights that was held in Copley Square.

More from Yesterday's Rally

Sunday, April 9

This is a bit gross, so if you’re squeamish, you might want to stop reading…

Joe and I are having our front porch stabilized, and in the process of removing the stairs, the carpenters revealed the final resting place of what appears to have once been a possum. Why it chose to die under the bottom step, I don’t know. Did it freeze to death this past winter? Was it sick? Did it die of a broken heart? I guess we’ll never know.

What I do know is that I can say unabashedly that I’m glad it died before it found its way into our basement. I know that sounds cruel, but I say that only because we had about three of the neighborhood cats who took up residence on and off in our basement this past winter. We concluded that there was a hole somewhere in the foundation (presumably under the front porch) because that’s the only way that they could have found their way in.

We weren’t really all that upset that there were cats living in the basement. They were just trying to keep warm. Still, they did set off the alarm a couple of times and pissed all over the place on more than one occasion. One night the upstairs smelled so bad as a result of the cat piss that I used like half a bottle of Febreze in the basement and burned a bunch of candles upstairs, since it was one of the nights we were rehearsing with our band.

The point here is that had it been a possum living in the basement, that would have been a much bigger problem. They are considerably more wild than a neighborhood cat, and I’ve heard that they can be mean mother fuckers when cornered. I’m glad that the poor bastard who died under our stairs never found his (or her) way into the basement.


Friday, April 7

Read this post only if you’re a linguistics geek like me…

One of the more interesting elements of Bulutlari Beklerken (Waiting for the Clouds)—the film I saw with Joe and friends last Friday—was the use of Pontic Greek (Ποντιακά), the dialect spoken by the Greeks from the southern coast of the Black Sea (also referred to as Pontos/Trebizond, or Trabzon in Turkish). I had known about the existence of a Pontic Greek dialect, which evolved independently of the language spoken by the Greeks living in Greece and Western Asia Minor, but had never actually heard it spoken until last week. Because of its relative isolation, it is said to have preserved elements of ancient Greek. However, it is also generally recognized to have incorporated Turkish and Persian elements.

Admittedly, it was difficult for me to understand, though there were times when I could make out some of the words. I decided to do a bit of poking around on the web and found some interesting resources.

There’s a great lexicon comparing Pontic Greek with Modern Greek (along with English translations) on, a web portal for the Pontic Greek diaspora. The site is in Greek, but the lexicon is easy enough to figure out. Also, Wikipedia has some useful information on the historic evolution of Pontic Greek with some interesting grammatical analysis and comparison to ancient Greek. Finally, I found the entry for Pontic Greek on ethnologue, which is a really cool site in its own right.

Thursday, April 6

Weekend Wrap-up

OK, I know it’s Thursday, and in some corners of the world today is considered the beginning of the new weekend, so it might seem strange to do my weekend wrap-up so late in the week, but years from now when I look back on this blog to see just what the hell I was doing with my life during the first decade of the 21st century, at least I won’t have to wrack my brain about what happened on April Fools Day 2006.

Actually, quite a lot happened this past weekend. On Friday, Joe and I went with K and D and our housemate G to see Bulutlari Beklerken (Waiting for the Clouds, 2004), the second film in The 5th Boston Turkish Film and Music Festival. We had longstanding plans to see Cesaria Évora at the Orpheum with J and G Friday night, but when we heard about this film, we decided to try to squeeze it in before the concert, since the film screened at 6pm and the concert was at 8pm. It seemed feasible to do both.

I’m glad we saw it, though it wasn’t what I expected. The film is set in 1975 in a village along Turkey’s Black Sea Coast and tells the fictitious story of an elderly woman, a Pontic Greek, who as a child was forced out of her village as part of the widespread deportation of Black Sea Greeks that occurred during the First World War and immediately afterwards. Forced to march south (in this case to the port city of Mersin near the Syrian border), thousands died en route. Many parents, knowing that they were dying, begged locals along the way to take in their children, lest they perish. Some locals took in children left orphaned and raised them as their own.

In Bulutlari Beklerken, the main character lost her parents and baby sister, while she and her brother were taken in by a family of Turks. Her brother, not wanting to stay with a Turkish family, ran away and ended up in an orphanage and was later sent to live in Greece (to Thessaloniki). The girl is raised as a Turk and is forced to hide her true identity. Had it been revealed that she was a Greek, she would have been forced to leave Turkey during the population exchange of 1923 or she might have been killed. As a result, she lives her entire life as a Turk, returning later to her ancestral village on the Black Sea without revealing who she is. After the death of her adopted sister—the last surviving member of her Turkish family—the strain of keeping her past a secret becomes unbearable and on the verge of insanity she reveals her identity to a young boy whose presence in her life reminds her of the brother she lost sixty years earlier. Eventually she goes to Greece in search of her lost brother, and the ensuing reunion between brother and sister is both moving and troubling as the two struggle to piece together the remnants of a family destroyed by war.

The premise of the film is that, while the native Greek population was gradually removed from Turkey first through a series of informal deportations and forced migrations and later through a formal exchange between Greece and Turkey, there were inevitably Greeks who were left behind, most likely children taken in by Turkish families and raised as Turks. The group with which I saw the film all agreed that such a thing seemed entirely credible to them, and based on my own reading, I wouldn’t disagree. In many ways, the story is very similar to Not Even My Name, a biographical account written in 2001 by the American-born daughter of Thea Halo, a Pontic Greek who survived one of the death marches after she and her entire family were forced to leave their village.

After the film we didn’t have much time to make it to the Orpheum, so we rushed off in a cab after saying our hasty goodbyes. G (who is Turkish) was quite moved by the film, and we really wanted to stick around and discuss it with him, but we knew we had to go and since we live with him, we knew we’d have ample opportunity later.

We actually beat J and G and their two friends to the Orpheum. It’s really a magnificent space, that Orpheum. It’s in bad need of a restoration, but enough of its grandeur survives to give a sense of its former glory. I hadn’t been inside in almost a decade and was quite awestruck. We sat in the balcony and had a great view of the stage.

I admit, I hadn’t heard of Cesaria Évora until J invited us to the concert. She’s amazing. Originally from Cape Verde, her Afro-Brazilian tunes have that wonderful mix of sultry soul and jazz that never fails to entrance me. The concert opened with a Brazilian singer on acoustic guitar who sang of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas (shantytowns). Afterwards, G and I discussed the similarities (and differences) between the urban folk music emerging from the favelas and Greek Rembetika, which grew up in the shantytowns of Athens and Piraeus in the 1920s and 30s. It was after the concert, moreover, as a tall, dark, and handsome gentleman caught his eye, that G first brought up Fayyum portraits.

On Saturday, we had a little birthday party at our place for Joe and our friend L. We ate, we drank, we smoked, we played music, we showed a couple of old films on the projector that Joe finally got working, I shot some really great video of our housemate D telling some funny stories about our trip to Montréal, and we all got to feeling pretty good overall.

That was partly due to the drinks I was making in my really cool cocktail shaker (which has been compared to a rather large metallic vibrator). I started mixing up what’s called a ménage a trois for F and me and before I knew it, everyone wanted one. It’s a blend of Chambord, Frangelico, and Bailey’s. I first had one at Cuchi Cuchi in Cambridge—the drink, not a threesome. M called them “gay teenboy drinks” (or something like that), but that didn’t stop him from having one. They are super yummy. F had three in a row—he kept asking, and I kept mixing. Eventually we ran out of Frangelico, but another M started mixing something else at that point.

Our housemate D and some of our friends did most of the cleaning up, so on Sunday Joe and I didn’t have much to do other than tend to our respective hangovers. We attended a neighborhood meeting in the afternoon and around dusk took a lovely walk in the Blue Hills near Houghton’s Pond. We ended the weekend with dinner at Ten Tables in Jamaica Plain, which we’d been meaning to try. The meal was splendid, and Shane, their dining room attendant, is an absolute doll. Charming, attentive, and stunningly beautiful. We’ll definitely be going back. And perhaps I’ll order a ménage a trois for after dinner.

Wednesday, April 5

Göz Lokum

The above image has been the wallpaper on my work PC for several weeks. I don’t recall how I came across it, but it has become one of my favorite paintings. It’s called The Wrestlers (1899, oil on canvas, Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, OH) and it was painted by Thomas Eakins (1844-1916). Eakins is well known as an artist of homoerotic subject matter and is best known for The Swimming Hole, which he painted in 1884/5. Originally called Swimming, the much beloved work was preceded by a series of photographic studies showing a nude and attractive Eakins (left) accompanied by his equally nude students frolicking at Mill Creek near Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.

I find it interesting that Eakins did not choose to portray these wrestlers nude. After all, I’m certain that by the late 19th century (and presumably much earlier), it was an established fact that young male athletes in ancient Greece wrestled in the palaestra au naturale. Whether they did in 19th-century Philadelphia is another story. Eakins himself was no stranger to nudes and painted (and photographed) many male nudes during his career as an artist. Perhaps Eakins sensed that there was a difference between painting a group of nude youths swimming and painting a nude youth pinned by another nude youth. As it was, Eakins’ use of photographic nude studies as drawing aids in the classroom drew criticism from his colleagues and he was fired by the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1886 for allowing a mixed class to sketch from a completely nude male model. Perhaps he was wary of the potential scandal that nude wrestlers would have aroused.

In spite of the fact that the subjects are not nude, The Wrestlers possesses an intense eroticism. To be sure, they’re not wearing much—they may not be bare, but they’re barely covered. Like many of Eakins’ paintings and photographs, The Wrestlers celebrates the beauty of the male form and invites the viewer’s gaze to linger over their lean bodies and taut muscles. Moreover, the scene suggests a sexual passivity as well, as the bottom wrestler is pinned and held passive and submissive by the victor on top. This sense of sexual conquest is heightened by the body contact, almost intimate in nature. Time and again, my eyes are drawn to the subtle way in which the winner’s right hand (holding down his opponent’s right hand) rests against the vanquished wrestler’s perineum.

During his time in France at the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts, Eakins was a student of Jean-Léon Gérôme, for whom he had great affection, though Eakins himself was critical of the French academy’s preoccupation with classical subjects. Eakins was also an admirer of Walt Whitman and painted a stunning portrait of the poet in 1887. While Whitman used verse to proclaim the beauty of the mail form, Eakins used the brush and the camera, and it’s not surprising that the two formed a lasting friendship. Nonetheless, Eakins’ erotic interest in males has proven even more difficult to pin down than Whitman’s. Eakins married fellow artist Susan Macdowell (1851-1938) in 1884.

Tuesday, April 4

In Memoriam

On a day that began like any other day,
three souls were taken up to Heaven from Boylston Street;
and walking back from the scene of the tragedy,
I saw that the trees in the Common had turned to blood.

Monday, April 3

Fayyum Portraits

Apr 1, 2006 2:43 AM
Hi Dean--

Here‘s a link to the portraits I was telling you about...

It’s kind of a kranky website. Make sure to “link to other cities” to see more pictures....

This is kind of the guy I had in mind:


Apr 1, 2006 11:48 AM
i’ve seen these, but wasn’t familiar with the term. cool. but wouldn’t you consider these hellenistic portraits proto-byzantine in their styling? i see a connection...

Apr 1, 2006 12:14 PM
Calling it proto-Byzantine may be a tad Byzantine-centric, no? But I
see your point... :)


Apr 1, 2006 12:45 PM
i’ve never denied being byzanto-centric :)
it’s just that i see elements in the portraiture that byzantine artists picked up on later. perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the early byzantine stuff, not much of which survives because of the iconoclasts, relies heavily on hellenistic portraiture. how’s that? :)


A little bit later on, I had a chance to peruse the site and came across him:

I don’t know who he was, how he died, or anything about him. But looking into those eyes across the span of two millennia, I feel as if I know him.

Saturday, April 1

Τσαχπινικός Απρίλης

This post was originally going to be titled Χαρούμενος Απρίλης, meaning “Cheerful April,” but then I took a closer look at Tsarouchis’ Απρίλης, and I think that what it conveys more than anything else is coyness. He’s flirting with us. So I changed the title to Τσαχπινικός Απρίλης, which means “Flirtatious April.”

We in New England know what a tease April can be. He runs hot and cold. Kind to us one day, cruel the next. All the while, flirting with us, holding out the promise of pleasures yet to come.

It was 70◦ Fahrenheit and sunny in Boston today. If it had been a Saturday, we’d have been at Gay Head in a heartbeat. Tomorrow and Sunday it’s supposed to be colder and rainy, and on Monday, we’re back down into the 50’s.

That’s April. Always flirting.
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