Monday, July 31

Rembetiko of the Month

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If ever there was a time to sing Aman, it’s now. My heart goes out to the civilians of Lebanon and northern Israel. Ironically, AMAN is the abbreviation for Israel’s military intelligence unit. What I am referring to is that expression of woe and despair, known throughout the Arab world as well as Greece and Turkey. With those who have lost their homes and loved ones as a result of the recent violence, I also say Aman. Will this fighting ever stop?

Marika Kanaropoulou sang Aman like no other. Far less prolific than either Roza Eskinazi or Rita Abadzi, Marika Kanaropoulou’s αμανέδες (a-man-EH-des) convey a lost innocence. Perhaps it is because her voice possesses an almost adolescent quality. At the same time, Kanaropoulou’s vocal skills were anything but adolescent. Her control and mastery of the art of makam, her unique style, and her thick, rich vowels rank her as one of the top female singers of Rembetika, despite the fact that she recorded far less than others.

Very little is known about Marika Kanaropoulou. Kanaropoulou may in fact be a stage name, since it literally means “daughter of the canary” and may be a reference to the dulcid quality of her voice. It could also be a surname carried by a family with a long tradition of singing. It is quite possible that Kanaropoulou came from a musical family.

Also known as “Tourkalitsa” (the little Turkish girl) and “Brousalia” (the girl from Brousa), Kanaropoulou was a native of Bursa (Brousa in Greek), located in western Turkey not far from the southeast coast of the Sea of Marmara. Bursa had a sizeable Greek population prior to the Asia Minor catastrophe of 1922. Kanaropoulou most likely left her homeland when the Greek population was expelled from Asia Minor, though it’s possible that she and her family left earlier during the First World War or shortly thereafter.

She recorded a handful of songs in Athens, mostly αμανέδες in 1933 and 1934 before emigrating to America. There is no record of her having recorded in the United States. At some point, she returned to Greece, where she died in 1990.

Kanaropoulou recorded Neva Manes in Athens in December 1933. As in the case of Abadzi’s Gazeli Neva Sabah, once again Neva is erroneously used to denote the key of D, even though in reality Neva is the name for A, and the song, like Gazeli Neva Sabah, seems to be in D#. I’ve already theorized in an earlier post as to what might have caused this error.

Kanaropoulou’s Neva Manes is set in makam Ussak. In classical makam theory (by which I mean Turkish and Arabic), Ussak (referred to as Bayyati in Arabic) has a microtone as its second. More specifically, the second is flatted, but instead of a half step, what you get is a note that is somewhere between a half step and a whole step. Greek music eventually evolved away from microtones, so that the Greek version of Ussak has a simple half step between the first and second. It looks like this:

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In reality, many Greek songs in makam Ussak compensate for the loss of the microtone by including both a natural second and a flatted second, as if to approximate the microtone, which lies somewhere in between. It’s not the same as having the microtone, but the effect is arguably just as lovely.

In Neva Manes, Kanaropoulou and her accompanists (Dimitris Ladopoulos on violin with an unknown oud player whom Outiboy is convinced is Agapios Tomboulis) follow the classical version of Ussak, not the version of the makam that eventually became prevalent in Greek music. The second is neither a half step nor a whole step. The effect is to create a wonderful tension within the melody.

During the interwar period it was common for Greek artists, who were well versed in classical makam theory, to set their melodies within the true versions of the makams—that is, the versions that included the microtones. This is what they knew. To complicate matters, however, Neva Manes also throws in an occasional microtone as the sixth. Classical Ussak/Bayyati has a flatted sixth (i.e. a simple half step, not a microtone). In Neva Manes, Ladopoulos sometimes plays the sixth slightly sharp. This appears to be a reference to an Arabic makam known as Ushak Masri (though Outiboy says it’s actually a makam called Huseyni), which has a three-quarter step between the fifth and the sixth, though not between the first and the second. In the end, it is the seventh on which Ladopoulos hangs that ends up sounding wonderfully microtonal because he plays the sixth slightly sharper than it would normally be in Ussak.

Click here to listen.

Τίνους νά πω τον πόνο μου νά με παρηγορήσει,
Αφού ο κόσμος ψέφτησε καί η ζωή θα σβήσει;

To whom can I tell my pain, so that I can be comforted,
Since the world has become false and life is erased?

Kanaropoulou knew pain. She lost her home and her roots. She became a refugee in a strange land. I think of the hundreds of thousands of Israelis and Lebanese who have become refugees in the past few weeks because of the violence that grips their countries, their towns, and their neighborhoods. Aman was a word frequently on the lips of those Greeks and Turks who lost their homes and loved ones because two peoples could not find a way to coexist peacefully with one another.

To my brothers and sisters in Lebanon and Israel, Aman. Aman that fate has brought you pain and suffering. Aman that homes and lives are destroyed. Aman that life is erased.

Recommended Listening:
Women of Rembetica

Friday, July 28

A Piano Should Fall on His Head

I know some might think it a wee bit inappropriate to suggest that a piano fall on the head of Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch, the head of Israel’s extremist (and historically anti-Zionist) Eda Haredit rabbinic court, especially as missiles are being launched at Israel by Hezbollah guerillas in southern Lebanon. However, I cannot attempt to hide my contempt for a man so consumed by bigotry and dogmatic zeal that he blames those same missiles on Israel’s GLBT community.

In Fred Phelps’ fashion, Sternbuch has declared that Hezbollah’s assault on northern Israel is the result of G-d’s anger at Israel for playing host to the upcoming WorldPride, which is scheduled to take place in Jerusalem this coming August. “We have not protested enough against this parade of abomination and therefore we have received this warning,” he warned in a hand-written message to his followers. “Who knows where things will get to if we do not act further and more stringently against it.”

Notwithstanding the rhetoric of Sternbuch and the opposition of conservative Israeli politicians, Jerusalem’s mayor, and many religious leaders (this is one area where Jews, Muslims, and Christians seem to put aside their differences), the controversial event will proceed as planned, minus the parade, which has been postponed. In a recent press release, the Jerusalem Open House stated:

“As a result of the current hostilities in the region, the Jerusalem WorldPride march will be postponed. The march, that was scheduled to take place on August 10 in Jerusalem, requires extensive security, including police reinforcements from other parts of the country, which the police are unable to provide for at these volatile times. Therefore, Jerusalem Open House will hold the march at a later date, as soon as the circumstances in the region allow for the march to take place.”
In Sternbuch’s warped vision of the world, acceptance of GLBT people brings on God’s wrath. Not only does his Bible teach him that homosexual acts are an abomination, but his Scriptures are chock full of episodes in which G-d punished Israel for her wickedness by sending in the armies of neighboring superpowers like Babylon and Persia. In a way, one can hardly blame him. He sees the world as he has been taught to see it. One cannot condemn Sternbuch without also condemning his particular religious tradition as backward, divisive, full of hate, and utterly lacking in humanity.

One cannot regard Sternbuch as an isolated villain or zealot. The problem isn’t one rabbi who views Hezbollah missiles as G-d’s punishment of Israel for allowing WorldPride. The real problem is a religious fundamentalism (of any variety) that divides the world neatly into saints and sinners.

Of course, in a free society religious extremists like Sternbuch are free to express their views, however disagreeable they might be. Such is the high price of freedom of expression. At the same time, fundamentalists must never, ever be allowed to interfere with the rights of those they deem sinners. This is no less true for America than for Israel.

It is very easy to scapegoat GLBT people by pointing to Israel’s moral decline and divine wrath as the cause of the current crisis between Israel and Hezbollah, while ignoring the thousands of displaced Palestinians whose claims to the land and whose grievances are afforded no legitimacy whatsoever. That is not meant to suggest that the Israelis don’t also have a legitimate claim to the land. The problem is that each side tries to defend its claim in a way that invalidates the other’s claim. That alone is why missiles are falling in northern Israel. It’s certainly not because of WorldPride.

Wednesday, July 26

Nager est vivre

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On Monday, Joe and I left work early and headed to Hull for a late afternoon swim. We’ve been there several times so far this summer. Nearby Nantasket has a more carnivalesque atmosphere (and a really cool old carousel), but Hull is quieter. On the weekend, it tends to get crowded, and parking is impossible, but at 6pm on a random weekday, it’s peaceful and calm, and parking is easy.

It was low tide when we arrived on Monday, and the sun was still strong, even as it was setting. We swam for a bit, the water was warm with some waves, though not too big. After we swam, we napped.

Later we drove out to Hull’s outer neighborhoods, where there are some really beautiful 19th-century homes overlooking the water. As is the case everywhere in Massachusetts right now, there were tons of houses for sale. It’s unsettling to see how much is on the market. Where is everyone going?

Yesterday, we left work again—life is short. We met our friend IH for lunch. We talked about his new place, our jobs, the situation in Lebanon, and the larger Arab-Israeli conflict. IH is Palestinian.

I forget how it came up, but IH mentioned that he used to swim in Walden Pond in Concord. The reason Joe and I left work early was to visit my aunt B, who’s in a rehab facility in Littleton because of a problem with one of her eyes. It occurred to me that since Littleton is very near Concord, we could stop at Walden on the way home.

My aunt was in much better spirits than we expected to find her. She was very happy to see us and was as alert and talkative as ever. I was relieved. The doctors are optimistic that the problem with her retina is temporary and will clear up on its own in a week or so. At 88, she’s the oldest of my mother’s siblings. My mother is the youngest, and there’s a twenty-five year age difference between them. For that reason, my aunt feels almost like a grandmother to me (as do many of my mother’s older sisters), since my maternal grandmother has been dead for almost two decades.

On the way home, we did indeed stop in at Walden Pond. We arrived just after 7pm. I’d actually never been before. Since it was more or less completely spontaneous, we had no swimsuits or towels. We just hiked in wearing our street clothes, past the sandy beach area near the entrance to the trail that surrounds the pond. The trail is roped off on both sides to protect the banks of the pond, but there are breaks in the trail every thirty feet or so, where narrow stone steps lead down an embankment to the water’s edge. Although there is a small beach area for families, the entire pond is open to swimmers, as long as they stay on the designated trails.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingIt was a truly Thoreauvian moment:
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
We stripped to our boxers and went in. The sun hovered just above the tree line. It was glorious. When we were done, we got out and air dried on the stone steps. We used our t-shirts to dry off the last drops of water before getting back into our clothes (sans wet boxers, of course). I thought to myself that the only thing that could have made our virgin swim at Walden more perfect is if we had gone skinnydipping, but I’m pretty sure that would have been frowned upon. There were no signs prohibiting nude bathing, but I just can’t imagine that it’s allowed, even in hip Concord. I’m sure Thoreau didn’t wear a bathing suit.

Sunday, July 23

Göz Lokumu

A reader (whom I’ve never met in person but with whom I have friends in common) recently pointed out to me that the correct form of “eye candy” in Turkish would be “göz lokumu,” rather than simply “göz lokum.” It’s a subtle, but important distinction, especially since I have a fair amount of Turkish readers.

Anyway, recently Joe and I had some friends over for dinner, and one of them (for reasons that aren’t important) was asking me about Ariadne. In Greek mythology, Ariadne was one of the daughters of King Minos of Crete. She gave Theseus a magical ball of string to help him make his way through the Labyrinth so that he could find and slay the Minotaur and then find his way out again. Theseus rewarded Ariadne’s kindness by abandoning her on Naxos. Typical guy.

Ariadne got the ball of string from the ingenious Daedalus, who had designed the Labyrinth at Minos’ behest to house the Minotaur, which was the monstrous half-man/half-bull borne by Minos’ wife Pasiphae after she succeeded in copulating with a bull by means of a rather elaborate contraption, also designed by Daedalus. Or so the legend goes.

Daedalus was the father of Icarus, shown in this painting by Lord Frederick Leighton (1830 – 1896). In order to safeguard the secrets of the Labyrinth, Minos imprisoned Daedalus and Icarus on Crete. To escape, Daedalus fashioned two pairs of wings, one for himself and one for his son. When Icarus grew bold and flew too close to the sun, the wax that held the wings together began to melt, and the boy fell to the earth. Such is the mythological origin of the name Icaria, as the Aegean island where Icarus’ body landed came to be called.

In the painting (oil on canvas, c. 1869, private collection), Icarus’ (black) cloak has blown open, rendering him exposed and emphasizing his beauty, but also his vulnerability. At the same time, he is more sculpture than flesh. It is as if he has been immortalized in stone prior to taking flight and crashing to earth. He is his own funerary statue.

I think in many ways America is like Icarus: child of genius, victim of hubris.

Wednesday, July 19

Snicker, snicker…

Am I the only one who’s noticed something peculiar (and a little scandaliscious) about Snickers’ new marketing blitz in and around Boston’s neighborhoods? It started out with made-up words like “substantialiscious,” “nougatocity,” “satisfectellent,” and “peanutopolis,” but recently I came across the clearly ill-conceived “hungerectomy.”

It’s clear what they meant, i.e. “ectomy” being the suffix used in medical terminology to refer to “the removal of,” in this case, hunger. But if you take a closer look you might begin to think that maybe they’ve got a horny gay man in their marketing department.

Hung, erect, O my! My O my O my O my. Put that in your mouth. Snickers satisfies? I bet it does!

Tuesday, July 11

Weekend Wrap-up

Kate, Joe and I took the fast boat to Provincetown on Saturday. Apart from a little mishap that took place on the way to the pier, it was a lovely day.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingWe had planned to take our bikes, so Joe put the bike rack on the car, loaded our bikes (mine first, then his), and we set off to pick up Kate. We were all running a bit late, which meant that we didn’t notice when the extra weight of a third bike (Kate’s) on the rack caused the whole thing to sag just enough that the straps connecting the rack to the bottom of the car came loose. We sped through downtown Boston so as not to miss the ferry and we almost made it. We hit Congress Street (with the parking lot in sight), which has been under construction and didn’t pay attention to the big steel plates covering the road until it was too late. When the car went over the plates (which have the same effect as speed bumps), the rack lifted off the car (since it was no longer secured at the bottom) and came slamming down, launching Kate’s bike in the process. It flew through the air and landed about 30 feet back in the middle of the road. We’re lucky there was nobody behind us. The frame was bent, and the back tire ended up looking like something out of a Dali painting.

Joe’s front wheel got out of alignment as did both of mine (it’s a brand new bike!), but at least they were ridable, unlike Kate’s. We threw hers in the back of the station wagon (yes, we drive a station wagon) and hoofed it over to the boat with less than 5 minutes to spare. The lessons: don’t rush; and invest in a decent bike rack.

Fortunately, that was the only flaw in an otherwise perfect day. Kate said it was Nazar (the evil eye). I’m tempted to believe her in light of some recent developments, but that’s a whole other story.

Ptown is a lovely place. I’d call it utopian, but to do so would be classist and insensitive, since a place where real estate is as out of control as it is there and affordable housing in such short supply could hardly be considered utopian. Still, the accepting atmosphere, the diversity, the vibrant arts scene, the natural beauty of the shore—all of these make Ptown an idyllic spot for a quick getaway.

Our friend J, who was down attending a poetry workshop, met us at the dock. We had a nice breakfast, after which he gave us a little tour of the town’s East End, which has a different feel—quieter and simpler—than the West End. I also stopped into Ptown Bikes to get a new clamp for my seat, the old one having ended up somewhere on Congress Street.

Kate rented a bike for the day, and we set off for the beach after meeting J’s boyfriend (I hope it’s OK to say that) in town. Our destination was Herring Cove, which is on the bay side (as opposed to the open Atlantic). We chose a spot in that fuzzy region where the gay men start becoming naked gay men. I think Kate was the only woman for miles.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingThe water was warm, which surprised me. J said it had been that way all week. Kate, Joe and I swam the most. Joe and I got naked to swim. Everyone else kept their suits on. Joe and I couldn’t resist an opportunity to swim naked. We put our suits back on when we returned to our blanket. Actually, after my last swim, I kept my suit off and took a little naked nap, but it was only for about 30 minutes just before we packed up and left. Pretty much everyone we were with (except for J’s boyfriend) had seen me naked before, so it didn’t really matter to me.

We ended the day with cocktails at the Pied Bar, where the early evening Tea Dance was just getting under way. Our boat was scheduled to depart at 7:30pm. J wanted us to stay over, but we all had various things we needed to get done on Sunday, and it wasn’t clear if our Saturday evening return tickets would be honored on the Sunday 10am boat. In any event, we’ll be heading back before the summer’s over, and perhaps we’ll stay over next time.

Joe worked a little on Sunday. I took my bike and Kate’s to the place where I bought mine a few weeks back. They said they’d true up my wheels and look it over for any other damage. Kate’ll need two new wheels and the frame will need to be adjusted, but they said it was fixable.

Late Sunday afternoon, Joe and I took a ride to Duxbury beach. Because we didn’t arrive until almost 4pm, we found a parking space in the tiny lot at the bottom of the bridge that spans the inner bay separating the town from the beach. We attempted to swim, but the water was so much colder than at Ptown, which is odd, because they’re located almost directly across from each other, on opposite sides of Cape Cod Bay. I ended up napping while Joe took a walk.

We ended the weekend with dinner at what has become our favorite spot: Ten Tables in Jamaica Plain. Joe and I are both terribly smitten with Shane, the dining room manager. He’s so damn cute and charming. We had a delicious meal followed by a decadent dessert. Their desserts are very unusual and creative. Not commonplace or predictable at all. Truly imaginative desserts are sometimes difficult to find at Boston’s eateries.

I got a bit tipsy on the Riesling and tripped on the way out. Shane chuckled, but not in a mean way. I’m sure I’m not the first boy to stumble out of there after ogling him all night. And I probably won’t be the last.

Monday, July 10

Carnival of Bent Attractions

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingIt seems that the Eighth Edition of the Carnival of Bent Attractions was on Greek time. My apologies to all those who have been eagerly awaiting its arrival.

This month’s Carnival covers a variety of topics and features some great blogging. Many of the posts shared a common theme; namely, that the world is much more complex than we sometimes realize.

BiBi Cambridge of High-Grade Heroine opened my eyes to the sordid (OK, exciting) world of cruising using Bluetooth technology. Call me old fashioned, but I prefer eye contact and a coy smile.

Dawn of Queer¢ents gives us some good old fashioned common-sense pointers in “The 5 R’s of Saving Money.” I especially liked her last one, “Restore.” Anyone who’s ever enhaled the intoxicating fumes of paint stripper to… er… breathe new life into that perfect diamond in the rough that s/he found in a junk shop (or along the side of the road) will agree.

In “Sex, gender roles and gender identity,” Paul over at the force that through introduces us to Alice Dreger, whose intersex work focuses on the exceptions to the biological generalities of male and female. Dreger distinguishes between gender roles and gender identity, both of which, she argues, are in part based on biology. She reminds us that nature doesn’t care about our socially constructed categories. It seems that nature is no less messy than culture; and in the messy world of nature, not everyone fits neatly into one category.

Of course, some people belong in the idiot category, and Denise over at Musings on Life, Law, and Gender offers us just such a person who wrote to Dear Abby recalling how after dating a woman whom he subsequently discovered was an M to F transsexual, he wanted to “punch [her] out,” but wasn’t sure if that would be considered “hitting a girl.” Read the rest of Denise’s post to get Abby’s response.

In “To Be or Not To Be—Out,” Denise weighs the advantages of stealth vs. out for both transexuals and queers. Stealth (i.e. not coming out) may be safer and pose fewer risks, but without the visibility that can only be achieved by coming out, equality may prove elusive. At the same time, Denise is acutely aware that the choice between personal safety and social and political legitimacy is a difficult one. While she asks whether stealth is the result of internalized transphobia, she does not stand in judgment of those who ultimately choose stealth for their own safety.

Also on the subject of transphobia, “In Truce is Better,” Jay Sennett of jan sennett jaywalks points out that while white people need to hold each other accountable for our collective racism (in both the blogosphere and in the real world), so do we need to be mindful of the myriad of ways in which our words marginalize the transexual community. At the same time, one must find common ground even with those who don’t get it:

“The fact is that for social justice work to be truly liberatory we must find common ground even with people we might despise. We don’t get a free pass to only work with people who love us and like us—and towards whom we feel the same—100% of the time.”
Jay also draws our attention to his new publishing company, Homofactus Press, so be sure to check it out.

Speaking of people who don’t get it, to so-called liberals who ask the ridiculous and offensive question, “Is gay pride really necessary?” IrrationalPoint’s Soapbox gives us Gay Pride 101. It’s not about sex, IrrationalPoint explains. It’s about rights. And as for those idiots who ask, “Why do you need gay pride? We don’t have straight pride...,” IP reminds us:

“Straights don’t have Pride parades, but that's because you don’t need them—you have TV and billboards to proclaim your straight pride for you.”

“Lesbianism is not a vision of perfect power relation free heterosexuality,” argues Winter of Desperate Kingdoms in “On lesbianism and feminism.” She challenges the romantic view of lesbianism held by many heterosexual feminists and points out that the romanticization of lesbianism by mainstream feminists contributes to the marginalization of lesbians:

“What pisses me off most about the feminist appropriation and romanticization of lesbianism is the fact that lesbians have very real and serious problems which need to be addressed urgently.”
She looks ahead to a lesbian or queer feminism, or perhaps “a new kind of alliance with heterosexual feminism,” one in which lesbianism and the real-life experiences of lesbians are understood in their own terms, as opposed to being constructed as some kind of feminist utopia.

In “Reframing the Poly Debate,” Andrea Rubenstein asks how we can “fight against mandatory gender roles, heterosexism, racism, ablism, etc. and then go on believing that a romantic relationship can only exist between two people.” Although she was taught to believe that polygamy was wrong, that it was just “a bunch of old guys marrying underaged girls in Utah or the Middle East,” she later began to question “the supposed immorality of non-monogamy.” I think that same-sex marriage advocates—with their annoying emphasis on monogamy and social conformity—could learn a lot from her article.

I suspect that Andrew of Air Pollution would agree. While he supports efforts to legalize same-sex marriage in the United States, he is uneasy with the heteronormativity and patriarchy associated with marriage as an institution. Moreover, in “On normalcy and marriage,” he offers a much-needed critique of the way in which the marriage equality movement has often made conformity its principle strategy for achieving legitimacy:

“Rather than proponents of gay marriage arguing that we want to be included in a stable, enduring instution so that we can share the American dream, we should be arguing and illustrating how, I believe, the expectations of marriage are restrictive for everyone. Marriage can remain an option for those who want it, but we have to work to make it only one option rather than THE option.”

Finally, Ron over at 2sides2ron lets us in on the new International Carnival of Posivities, offered as an international forum for those of us who are living with HIV/AIDS. For more information please visit the related blog.

Be sure and catch the Ninth Edition of the Carnival of Bent Attractions over at coaching4lesbians starting August 10.

The Latest from Massachusetts

The highest court in Massachusetts ruled today that Attorney General Tom Reilly did not err when certified an initiative petition seeking to amend the Massachusetts constitution to deny marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Read the full story here.

Click here for the full text of the Court’s decision. Click on “Opinions” and then select case # 2, Johanna SCHULMAN vs. ATTORNEY GENERAL et al, SJC-09684, July 10, 2006.

Friday, July 7

Τό Συγκρότημα

My cousin G, whom Joe and I saw last Saturday for a gig out his way, showed me this photograph during our visit. It was taken in the 1920s or 30s. Pictured are G’s paternal grandfather (far left) and his great uncle (far right) with their band (συγκρότημα). Both men came from Lesbos around the time of the First World War. They were from a family known throughout the island for their musical talent, both then as well as now.

My cousin’s grandfather played in a couple of different ensembles. He played violin as well as trumpet. My cousin L now plays his violin, and it’s a real beauty. My maternal grandparents (also G’s maternal grandparents) were very close with my G’s paternal grandparents even before they became in-laws when G’s father N married my mother’s sister D. They knew each other from the Sappho Society, which was the local organization of Greeks from Lesbos. In addition, G’s grandfather’s ensemble often played at the house parties thrown by my maternal grandparents.

My cousin and his mother weren’t sure who the violinist was. They thought it might be the father of a close family friend, but they weren’t sure. As for the sandouri player (second from the right), they didn’t recognize him at all. Both my aunt and my mother recall that their parents (my grandparents) referred to the sandouri player who played for their parties simply as “σαντουριέρης,” or “sandouri player.” I don’t know whether or not the man in the picture was their σαντουριέρης.

On the back of the photograph shown above were written two names; one name was G’s grandfather, who was considered the band leader. The only other name was: Δημ. Τεστσιδέλης (Dimitris Testsidelis). My aunt didn’t recognize the name, and it could be either the violinist or the sandouri player. I have another cousin who might know.

I like this photograph for its Old World charm. It captures the formality and dignity of Ottoman Greece, of that generation of Greek Americans who came over around the turn-of-the-century, and of the era in general. More to the point, I can imagine that the ensemble pictured here made some great music.

They’re not a typical Greek ensemble even for the period in which the picture was taken. Their sound would have been regarded as somewhat foreign by other Greeks, especially from the mainland. However, they don’t represent an unusual combination for Lesbos, where mixing brass and strings was not uncommon. The music of Lesbos was heavily influenced by the musical tradition coming from Smyrna (Σμύρνη/Izmir), which often featured the pairing of sandouri and violin. The addition of brass into the mix to create what was referred to as a φυσερά, or “wind ensemble,” does seem to constitute something of a distinctly Lesbian music idiom.

I imagine that they would have sounded something like this.

The melody is the Αδραμυτιανός Ζεϊμπέκικος (Adramytianos Zeïmbekikos). Αδραμύτι—or present-day Edremit, which is located along Turkey’s Aegean coast—was where G’s paternal grandmother was born. Her family fled to Lesbos during the First World War. There she met and married G’s grandfather, and they later emigrated to America. Their son, G’s father and my uncle N, taught me the Αδραμυτιανός Ζεϊμπέκικος several years before he died. The version here, recorded on Lesbos in 1994, is very much how it would have sounded when G’s grandfather’s ensemble played it.

This melody is also called Τσεσμές (tses-MES), which refers to the town of Çesme located near Smyrna/Izmir. This is curious to me, because Çesme and Edremit aren’t exactly next door to each other, though it is very common for the same melody to go by multiple names.

Wednesday, July 5

La liberté est toujours indécente.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingHappy Belated Birthday, America.

Seeing how America has been (mis)behaving both at home and abroad, I think that belated birthday wishes are all she deserves.

To celebrate our wayward nation’s independence, Joe and I hung no flags nor made any big plans. Nothing other than an afternoon jaunt to the beach was on our agenda. However, liberty herself had other plans for us yesterday, and although it was completely unanticipated (more or less), we followed her lead and ended up doing something utterly subversive, irreverent, queer, whimsical, indecent, probably illegal, exhilarating, and un-American (at least according to the definition of those who have arrogated to themselves the authority to safeguard America’s values and morals).

In the midst of a political climate in which America has been hijacked by people far more dangerous than the 19 who hijacked our airplanes on 9/11, we did something (together with a couple of lovely like-minded others) to celebrate the true meaning of the 4th of July; namely life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We exercised our freedom. We paid tribute to the beautiful ideals upon which this nation was founded. We declared our independence from those who insist upon telling us how we should live, whom we should love, and what we should believe. In retrospect, we couldn’t have planned a more patriotic evening had we tried.

We did what we did for no lofty reason; we did it because it was fun. However, in the context of an America that has become smitten with fascism, what we did possessed a symbolic value that made it all the more powerful, at least for me.

The image is a detail taken from Liberty Leading the People (1830, oil on canvas, Musée du Louvre, Paris) by Eugene Delacroix (1798 – 1863).

Liberty is always indecent. Vive la Liberté!

Days of Love

Joe and I followed our last Friday of the month gig at Café Apollonia with a gig out in South Hadley’s Buttery Brook Park, part of a summer concert series that the Friends of the Park organize every year. My cousin G lives out that way and had arranged it (not the one I mentioned in June’s Rembetiko of the Month post—I have a lot of cousins named G). We did it last year too.

Mike the drummer and K the accordion player (along with K’s lovely wife and her mother) drove out with us. G played guitar, and his daughter L played violin. His other daughter V sat in as well, playing a small hand drum, just as she did last year. It was nice to have some of the original members of Skordalia finally get to meet and play with some of the newer members. Overall, it was a good set.

Afterwards, we went back to my cousin’s place for some μεζέδες (meh-ZEH-thes), which is like the Greek version of tapas. His wife J is among the warmest, kindest, most generous and hospitable people I have ever met. She put out quite a spread for us, which she always does, and she’s a fantastic cook. Her parents were there as was my cousin G’s mother (my aunt) along with another cousin G and his long-time girlfriend. We ate, we drank, we laughed, and we listened to some old reel-to-reel tapes from the 1950s of my late uncle (G’s father) N playing bouzouki and singing.

My uncle N has been dead for almost three years now. He was a real inspiration for me musically. He taught me quite a few of the songs that I now play. His son has been digitizing the old reel-to-reels, which are full of old Greek melodies with my uncle alternating between bouzouki and piano. I listen to the CDs my cousin gives me of his dad, and I continue to learn new songs, so in a way, he’s still teaching me music.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingAt one point, I ventured into the family room where my cousin L (the violinist) was watching TV with her younger sister and a few of their cousins on their mother’s side. A commercial for Days of Our Lives came on, and I jokingly asked L if she ever watched it. She said that she did and that her parents used to as well, especially when her dad used to be able to come home every afternoon for lunch.

I explained that when I lived in Greece, I also used to be home in the afternoons and got hooked on Days, which was shown on one of the main networks. They didn’t do dubbing, so it was all in English with subtitles. The only difference is that they didn’t call it “Days of Our Lives,” but rather Μέρες Αγάπης, which translates as “Days of Love.” L asked why, and I explained that “Days of Our Lives” is an idiomatic expression in English that just wouldn’t translate well into Greek, so they renamed it.

However, as I began to think about it, it occurred to me that if they tried to translate “Days of Our Lives” into Greek, the resulting title, Μέρες των Ζωών Μας, could mean both “Days of Our Lives” and “Days of Our Livestock,” since in Greek ζωή (zoh-EE) means life, but ζώον (ZOH-on) means animal. However, the genitive plural of each of these nouns would be the same, therefore rendering the title ambiguous. In reality, I think that there might be a difference in accent between the two words, but I’m not sure about that. I’ll have to ask P the fiddler, since his course of study in Boston is Greek language and literature.

In any event, I decided to ask my aunt D (G’s mother) about it. I could tell she was baffled from the get go, but did her best to try to figure out how to translate “Days of Our Lives” into Greek in a way that did not produce the unflattering “Days of Our Livestock.” After wrestling with it for a bit, she admitted that her Greek isn’t as good as it used to be, so we asked G’s mother-in-law, a native speaker who was born in Greece (unlike my aunt, who was born here).

We explained that we were trying to figure out why the Greeks had chosen to render “Days of Our Lives” as “Days of Love” instead of translating it literally and asked her how one might say “Days of Our Lives” in Greek. She thought about it for a few moments, and then said, “that would be τά περασμένα χρόνια,” meaning “bygone years.” I pretty much couldn’t control my laughter at that point, as my aunt and her in-law began a philosophical discussion about whether “Days of Our Lives” referred to past, present, or future days. I was beginning to wonder whether G’s mother-in-law understood that we were talking about a soap opera. It really was priceless. Perhaps you had to be there.

Saturday, July 1

О Γιούλης

It’s Γιούλης (July). Go ahead and celebrate your independence by taking it off. Take it all off.
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