My departed Father’s birthplace

Paphos, Cyprus, November 2016/January 2017

From Sydney, via Dohar, to Larnaca; long haul flight over the Indian Ocean; please an aisle seat if possible; who will sit next to me; young man with sparse chestnut goatee; the ritual before I go on board; comfort shopping; buy a biography [Nikola Tesla]; a double-shot of Bombay Sapphire; since the near miss over the Caribbean; frightened of flying; Mark Webber in the next gate; not long ago it was Eckhart Tolle; and before that the happy songstress; to my right a distressed father of five; we jockey for the middle armrest; why does food taste differently on planes; more to do with smell rather than taste they say; I am repeating myself; Farfalle tossed with Arrabiata Sauce; will George hit his second fifty this weekend; your broken shoulder has healed well my boy; Katina manages amazingly without me; “I have loved you for a thousand years” (Christina Perri); the primary flight feathers of the Mute Swan; crosswind landings; angle of attack; the mythical landscape of Paphos; my changing face and my balding head; my departed Father’s birthplace; the deepest wound is silence; like a mark in the dark; your spirit gives life to the earth; Johann Sebastian Bach; punctus contra punctum [‘point against point’]; Nina Simone; the fingers are an extension of the voice; music smoulders down through to the large toe; C minor naturals and accidentals as required; I should stop for a drink; Zivania grape pomace and dry wine; nothing beats an icy cold beer; Bus 618 to the harbour; Apostolou Pavlou Avenue; Bank of Cyprus; Superior Real Estate; the earth stretches as far as the eye can see; to the end of silence; the suffering of the other is not ever far; Aleppo reveals the actuality of the new world order; Bana al-Abed keep safe under the giant wings of angels; long walk in the heat almost lost; local traffic signs are perilous here; step over cracks with the right foot first; great art like mystery inspires transformation; “The street had its own history/ someone wrote it on the wall, with paint” (Manos Loizos); Kallinikos Stavrovouniotis the inspired iconographer; preparation of brushes and woods; heated beeswax and coloured pigments; two young girls to my right are taking selfies; not long ago they would have been preserved in portraits; nine bus drivers on strike to my left; worry beads fighting a losing battle with cigarettes; no rain for three months; remember take quick showers; hot air masses over from the Sahara; gases and dust; the birth of stars; the big belt of Orion; second draft of the short stories done; “I journey inward seeking a language of lament” (Stephanos Stephanides); “How close we are/ to what we thought was so far away!” (Costas Montis); “Those who die in war, they sing the best songs for peace” (Mehmet Yasin);  true artists will bleed; your voice must bleed to give life to birds; without blood your poems will cease to exist; Aphrodite rises from the foam; Adonis in Ovid’s Metamorphoses (Book X); Pygmalion’s futuristic fetish gave birth to Paphos; most everything has been done and said before; even pixels and robotics; I need another blanket it is cold; two light bulbs burnt out; please make up Room 201; am I the last person on earth without a mobile; immunity from the network; the portable telephone will go inside the head; a 16 year-old Mother missing with her baby boy; we are all refugees; I have too many coats; “If you have two coats, give one away” (Lk. 3:11); scores of souvenir shops; the ridiculous mingles with the sublime; from nodding plastic Messiahs to the Virgin Mary of Kykkos; feather ice, fine as white Iranian Pashmak; figures of speech the folding doors at Pompeii; dreams the building blocks of images; globalism one of the terrible lies; to obliterate history; to deconstruct identity; the monopolization of food; “To the south, to the south, my time is running out” (Frank Turner); “First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin” (Leonard Cohen); “We all live in a yellow submarine” (Beatles); Saint Neophytos Monastery and Temple of the Retreat; a glorious Sunday morning histories and eternities turn together; the Divine Liturgy the summary of all things; Saint Barnabas Apostle to Antioch and Cyprus; Saint Spyridon the Wonderworker; Saint Sapricius the Bishop; mourning must not be wasted; the Berlin Christmas market attack; Russian ambassador assassinated in Ankara; babies freeze in Aleppo; wax honeycombs inside the beehive; synchronized wings; contract pollination; lightning in the form of ribbons; stories trapped in stone; Rock of the Greek; Saint Paul’s Pillar (1 Cor. 2:11-24); Paphos Castle; Tombs of the Kings; the Ancient City of Marion; who am I, dear Mother, and why have I become; what rests in the depths of depths; Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me the sinner; sickening migraine tonight; wild galloping horses; anvils made of splintered diamond; Gustav Mahler Symphony No. 9 in D major; you play music on the inside of my heart; it ends too soon; before we have time to say, this is who I am; a child is asked to decide on a Christmas gift; what will it be a dress or a toy; a small glass of milk, she says; thank goodness it is raining; Trinitarian mystery and supercritical fluids; “Lazarus, come forth!” (Jn. 11:43); I should tell Jeremiah to believe in the resurrection of the living; I should have been in Mexico; I should have brought another white shirt; Gennadios Taverna; White King Chess School; Papaconstantinou Bakery; my jaw is hurting again; oh please Lord, not for a third time; this codeine will not work; the ‘pigeon-toed orange peel’; it never existed Mr Eastwood; film can convince us of almost anything; Zeno of Citium; true good can only exist in Virtue; happiness depends on moral actions; truth is as recognisable as the odour under the armpits; go bald gracefully and delight in the possibilities; a middle-aged man with short-cropped hair waiting for Mediterranean mussels; an elderly woman with cat eye sunglasses is pushing away the past; a young couple bent over, lost forever in their mobiles; Marios Tokas Anoula tou Hionia; Michalis Kakoyiannis Zorba the Greek (1964); Christopher A. Pissarides “theory of search frictions”; a philosopher with broken hands taking notes; dark energy; dark matter; normal matter; expansion of the universe not slowing down; like stars racing on the edges of galaxies; the artist must for a short time forget; only then can he or she create anew; the palimpsest is a valuable example; beards are back in fashion; the Bandholz; the five-blade razor; birds made from old manuscripts and from the virgin’s hair; Pied Wheatear; Warbler Sylvia; Short-toed Treecreeper; Panagia Theoskepasti; Agia Kyriaki Chrysopolitissa; Agios Georgios Basilica; Dostoevsky’s “The Possessed” an ongoing prophecy; please read Albert Camus’ “The Human Crisis”; Dag Hammarskjold Markings; the Cyprus issue falters again; corruption is the mainstay; culture of co-existence a distant vision; the view of the Mediterranean coastline is mesmerizing; each flickering light a poem in the horizon; miles of soul sleeping tonight; “Let the stars appear/ and the moon disclose her silver horn” (Jane Kenyon); South Sudan conflict; another catastrophe; hunger in Yemen; United Nations ineffectual intoxicated on blind power; a rusted door knob; a shoe without a heel; a broken teacup; we become that after which we chase; Midas touched his daughter she turned to gold; let us chase after poetry; why are you reading these lines; have you visited before; would you offer a hat in my distress [or a rope, as he once did]; in Pegeia they speak in key signatures; the young ones still court at the ‘vrisi’; Coral Bay sprays new life into the ancient lithosols; I was a soldier here long ago; one day they prepared us for war; there was lots of crying in camp; House of Dionysos; House of Aion; the “Forum” [the Agora]; the first photo is never right; why do you forget; a wooden boat swaying gently on scattered sunlight; a group of children skipping on pebble skins; seashells on the knees of butterflies; Chapecoense LaMia Flight 2933; from one moment to the next; Alexandrov Ensemble Tu-154 crashes in the Black Sea; a new chorus of mermaids; you will spring from bed one night; the answer would have at last arrived; it will be the last and the hardest of your battles; “years have passed many changes taking place” (Hazel Durham); “what’s changed is you” (F. Scott Fitzgerald); “so take away my passport!” (Mahmoud Darwish); you said you were going away forever; yet I will look for you in the cities; “Or ancient mounds that cover bones, Or rocks where rockdoves do repair” (The Alchemist in the City, Gerard Manley Hopkins); caution no entry; attention heavy vehicles; beware bumps on the road; Troodos Mountains; Pediaios River; Avakas Gorge; the way you clasped your hands; Latin-rig sails drifting into the distance; the secret remains in how we communicate the story; Cyrano de Bergerac and his talking earrings; I sing carols with old ‘Santa Claus’ Lawrence; December 25th Christmas Day; “In the beginning was the Word” (Jn 1:1); “Therefore Christmas, the day of the birth of the God-man the Lord Jesus Christ, is the greatest and most important day in the history of all the worlds in which man moves and lives” (Saint Nikolai Velimirovich); the parcel of land recovered; belongings were watered; January 11th time to go.

My parents, George and Helen

Kiama, NSW

The second eldest of Michael and Aspasia’s six children, my Father was born 1924 in the Paphos District of Cyprus. The island third largest in the Mediterranean (after Sicily and Sardinia) has been occupied by a number of major powers throughout history given its strategic location in the Middle East. At the time of George’s birth the island was under British administration and had been since 1878. The independence which came in 1960 with Cyprus’ admission into the British Commonwealth and the tragic events of 1974 (when the island was effectively partitioned into Greek south and Turkish north), were still very much in the future. My Father’s family background was humble. It was typical of the supportive and largely self-sufficient communities which lived in villages and toiled daily on their inherited parcels of agricultural land. My Grandfather after losing most of the family’s estate during the depression of the 1930’s, when large loans where defaulted on him, would eventually become the owner of the town coffee-shop, the kafeneion in Peyia. The old man never recovered from the loss of his “fields” and fell into a long depression from which he suffered for the remainder of his life. When I reflect on my Grandfather and on his turbulent history, I see Richard Harris in that superb Jim Sheridan film The Field (1990): the memorable story of “Bull” McCabe an old man of indomitable spirit fighting for his land. I have often wondered given my own battle with the “black dog” whether ‘Pappous’ descent into melancholia was triggered by his personal circumstances or whether the bad germ was there, already in the blood. Something else of interest to me that on both sides of my dad’s lineage were ancestors who had undertaken pilgrimages to Jerusalem. These intrepid pilgrims the hadjis as they came to be known in the Christian orthodox world (originally an Arabic term of respect for Muslim pilgrims to Mecca), were a source of great pride to their families.

After completing his secondary education at the Greek Gymnasium of Paphos in 1942, a notable achievement for those times, and then taking stints working on building sites and in bauxite mines, the hard-working George would afterwards volunteer with the BMA (British Military Administration) during WWII serving in the Dodecanese and in the Middle East. Afterwards at the conclusion of the war, he made submissions to enter the British police force. He was rejected on account of the indiscriminately applied height restrictions. Dad would half-joke that he was “tall enough to be killed in the service of the Commonwealth but too short to be given a job.” He would in due course arrive in Darwin, Australia, on board an old twin-engine cargo plane on the 28th of October in 1948. The dashing captain of that rickety plane, we were often told, was the fantastically named Captain Spearmint.

Though my Mother (nee Fotineas) was also brought up in a village, born in the Peloponnese, Greece, 1934, her lineage carries a little more intrigue, particularly on her paternal side. The Greek Orthodox priesthood is a dominant factor in her family. Great-grandfather, grandfather, and father were all priest-confessors. Another priest, this time a maternal uncle a holder of doctorates in both Theology and Law, would for many years serve as one of the legal counsels to the former Archbishop of Athens and Greece, Seraphim. Much later, too, her only son would be ordained into the priesthood. I mentioned some ‘intrigue’ from Mother's paternal side. This has to do with the possibility that my grandfather’s forefathers belonged to the court of the last crowned Byzantine emperor, Constantine XI of the Palaiologos dynasty. Whatever the truth behind this long-held family tittle-tattle, it does make for some interesting tribe trivia. The young and by all accounts very beautiful girl, Eleni, who learnt to sew and to play the mandolin, was the third of nine children of Father Andreas and Presvytera Stavroula Fotineas. She would arrive upon the shores of her adopted country ten years after her future husband, on board the famous Toscana ocean liner on the 18th of January in 1958. The first port of entry on reaching Australia was Fremantle, Perth. I asked Mother to describe those initial impressions. "A great numbness," she said. "And then the realization that it was all about to begin." Her first job was as an ironing lady with Lawrence Dry Cleaners in Forest Lodge.

George and Helen were married on the 19th of July in 1959 in the church of the Dormition on Abercrombie Street, Redfern. It was also the church of my baptism.

­From each of my parents I inherited some evident traits, for instance my Father’s ‘never say die’ attitude, and my Mother’s strong inclination towards compassion. Other traits or characteristics were evidently learnt behaviours by way of observation. Much discussion has centred about this question: what part of us is inherited and what learnt? What is the composite of our psychological make-up? Philosophers, as well as geneticists, are fascinated by this question. Perhaps the two, that which is inherited and that which is learnt cannot be separated, like the two strands of DNA which are wound around each other into a double helix.