Saturday, 24 January 2015

Communication and Dialogue

Communication and Dialogue

It takes a little while to ‘re-familiarise’ when we move from one country to another and it’s always a little challenging. We need to re-immerse ourselves in Greek (or Australian) culture each time we migrate.

We slowly get used to being surrounded again by the other language, and all that pertains to communication in that language. We we find ourselves making comparisons, but also find that this is not necessarily derogotory, and that making comparisons we are learning again something about the two cultures, and what it is we value about each place.

The Flexibility of Language

Steve Pinker in his book about writing style, ‘Sense of Style’, argues for a more easygoing attituded. He thinks we can write understandably without insisting on outdated stylistic conventions.
But we all have our hates about modern language usage.

Terry Eagleton wrote a very funny piece about the way he’d react (if he could) to some peoples useage ‘if he were king for a day’.
My first move as monarch would be to tackle those grim institutions in which antisocial types are confined for years only to emerge as much a threat to civilised society as ever. Having abolished the public schools, I would turn to the question of language. On-the-spot fines will be issued to people who say “refute” when they mean “deny”, “fortuitous” when they mean “fortunate” and “floor” when they mean “ground”. People who tell you that they literally exploded with laughter will be literally exploded. Those who talk about their life as a journey will have their travels rapidly terminated.’

And so on….

Nowadays many English words are used in Greek, and not long ago which style of Greek should be used created a very big divide between popular usage and an academic ‘cleaned-up’ version. A compromise developed in the early 19C is now used for literary and official purposes. (In Takis’ lifetime there was still some confusion at times)

From Wikipedia
In the modern era, the Greek language entered a state of diglossia: the coexistence of vernacular and archaizing written forms of the language. What came to be known as the Greek language question was a polarization between two competing varieties of Modern Greek: Dimotiki, the vernacular form of Modern Greek proper, and Katharevousa meaning 'purified'.

Language in Context

I’ve now become more familiar with the non-verbals used in Greece, often accomaning a verbal saying.
Perhaps for true understanding one must listen AND watch a speaker. One writer insists....

 'True translation demands a return to the pre-verbal' … John Berger

John Berger’s books talk often about non-verbal forms of communication and especially his book ‘Ways of Seeing’. He emphasises the fact that a true translation is not a binary affair between two languages but a triangular affair. As he puts it, the third point of the triangle being what lay behind the words before it was written. The situation, the context, the speaker’s – poet, painter, writer – intentions.

I've found, when trying to understand conversations in Greece this to be true, 'true translation demands an understanding of the situation, the context, and the speaker’s intentions'.  

This way you can catch the nuances. Talking to my husband, listening to neighbours in Greece I’ve learn that some phrases in Greek, like some of those English terms used in Australia, can have a number of meanings, depending on situation, context, and intention.

For instance, in Greece ‘eh re athelfe’, with arms thrown up and hands shaken can mean,
‘What do you mean!’
‘Why blame me?’
‘That’s enough!’
‘I’ve had enough of your accusations’.

And the saying, ‘then birazi’, with a shrug, can mean,
‘It doesn’t matter.’
‘That’s OK.’
‘It’s alright.’

So What do We Mean?

In one of her books about settling into the Greek way of life Gillian Bouras makes a comment about, 

‘The limitless power of language to divide, as well as unite.’ 

It is easy to mistranslate what is said, and end up confused, or even having an argument.

In the first chapter of my book I write about my continuing confusion with Greek non-verbals, and about the confusions that can ensue. I refer especially the upward lift of the head to indicate ‘no’, rather than a shake of the head side to side.  

‘And though I had expected that, as in most cross-cultural relationships, there might be a few communication problems between us, I soon came to see that even a simple communication could cause problems. My first lesson came when he gave a wordless response to my question about whether he wanted a second helping of dessert. It wasn’t a vigorous headshake, rather an upward tilt of the head with raised eyebrows. At first I thought that this might be a Greek gesture of disdain, about the meal or perhaps an uncertainty as to his state of fullness. So had he not liked the sweet? Perhaps he needed to be encouraged to take another serve? Gradually I came to understand this culturally codified non-verbal ‘no’ response, and I’d pack the dishes away.’

But, having sorted out what the other person actually meant to say, and with a better understanding, then real dialogue can begin!

Friday, 23 January 2015

Greeks in Australia

                                     Greeks in Australia

In Australia for Australia Day

In contemporary Australia, celebrations reflect the diverse society and landscape of the nation, and are marked by community and family events. It is a time when folk remember Australian history, give community awards, and perform citizenship ceremonies at which new immigrants are welcomed into Australia.
This Monday, 26th January, is the official National Day of Australia. Celebrated annually on 26 January, it marks the anniversary of the 1788 arrival of the First Fleet of British Ships at Port Jackson in New South Wales where the Flag of Great Britain was raised.
It was not until 1935 that all Australian states and territories had adopted use of the term "Australia Day" to mark the date, and not until 1994 was that date marked by a public holiday by all states. The meaning and significance of Australia Day has evolved over time. Unofficially, or historically, the date has also been variously named "Anniversary Day", "Invasion Day" and "Foundation Day", Invasion Day the name given the holiday by many aboriginal groups.

Greek migrations to and from Australia

Since the arrival of the First Fleet there have been many other arrivals to these shores. The Greek government encouraged post-war migration as a way of solving poverty and unemployment problems, with the most favoured destination being West Germany although large numbers also went to Australia and Canada.

Since the year 2000, Greek immigration to Australia has slowed down and in the years 2000-2009 many Greek-Australians both native Greek and Australian-born, returned to Greece, to discover their homeland and reconnect with their ancestral roots.

Greek immigration to Australia slowed since the 1971 peak of 160,200 arrivals. And, as the economic crisis in Greece has grown, and the opportunities for temporary resident Greek Australian's in Greece became at risk many Greek Australians shortened their planned long term stays and returned to Australia.

Australian Greeks Today

Like other Australians Greeks too will celebrate Australia Day by gathering in their backyards with lamb chops sizzling on the barbie, and kids running amok. They will wear shorts and thongs and a floppy hat. They will eat sausages and drink a few beers.

Within Australia, the Greek immigrants have been "extremely well organised socially and politically", with approximately 600 Greek organisations in the country by 1973, and immigrants have strived to maintain their faith and cultural identity.
But this Australia Day many Greeks in Australia are very worried. They are very concerned about the outcome of an election to be held this weekend in Greece. They fear that if Syriza is elected Greece may exit from the European Union and return to the drachma. It is not easy for overseas Greeks to vote though they can cast an absentee vote.
In The Age newspaper a recent article highlighted the mixed feelings of many Greeks living in Melbourne. They felt that Greece’s reputation as a nation had been damaged. And that folk did not realize how many successful, enterprising and full of initiative Greeks there were.’

Australian Greek Dilemmas

For many Australian Greeks there is enough similarity between the countries for them to feel at home in Australia. There is an apparent bareness in the outback of Australia that recalls the dry interiors of places in Greece. And in both countries the population tends to cluster along the coastline, this too reminds Greeks of towns they left behind.
The situation in Greece is one that tugs at their hearts. They see problems back in there and want to help, and many have tried. The situation is one that they hit their heads against time after time. Like Takis they may have tried to do something and been rebuffed then found themselves mired in family and legal problems. In spite of this Greece still pulls at their heartstrings.

‘Greeks, like the Jews whom they resemble in so many ways, have long been able to adjust themselves as merchants in many climes and to many ways of life. But, also like the Jews, they have preserved in their heart of hearts a vital memory of the homeland to which they yearn to return.’ Encyclopaedia Britannica

Greek Australians know that the Athens share market has plunged. They know that if they own property in Greece they now are required to pay new taxes for that property; they know that land and property has been significantly devalued. Yet they still want to help.

I read a quote in a book by Adam Nicholson about the renovation of his grandmother’s house in England, how he felt like Odysseus, wanting to reform the situation. He wrote,
 ‘Odysseus’s home coming was to Ithaca and his ferocious desire, in the middle of his life, after twenty years away, was to reform the place he found, to steer it back onto a path it abandoned many years before.’

This quote reminded me of Takis and his attitude towards the house on Lemnos. However he knew what he was letting himself in for the situation in Greece was one he’d encountered before when planning to set up a business there. Takis wanted to contribute something to his parent’s homeland, and he persuaded his business partners to join him, but then too he was rebuffed, and found beurocracy blocking their way.

Greece a Land of Politics and Poetry

This is a country that has lived through almost constant change from before the Great Wars. This current political drama is not a new one, just a variation of what has gone on in Greece for years.

So when we took on the project we new it would not be easy. And we have enjoyed our house on the island, accepting this is a land of both politics and poetry.
Not more beautiful than other countries, for each country has its beauties. But it is a country that lies between Europe and Asia and it has suffered many deprivations and migrations, and myths have grown up around these migrations.

The Diaspora often look back to a ‘fairy tale’ place and time, while those that have stayed behind as others left are often bemused by the dissonance between what they see around them and what these returning Greeks imagine. The Diaspora and other tourists tell them about a Greece of their dreams but the locals know it is not sunny all year round, that taxes do not get paid. They suspect that it is not wise to party as if its summer all year round, but that myth of a laid back Greece is a hard one to kick!
From the last chapter of my Book ‘It Began with a Watermelon’
Though I well knew there’s a danger in unquestioningly accepting the stories you’re told, while trying to recreate (Takis’) mythical past I found I was also able to give sense to my new life by researching Lemnos’ storied past. However I balanced this by also connecting to its political present. I write,

‘I’ve found the experience of living here has gradually given me a sense of the past, and of being ‘at home’ here in the present. Though this has mostly come about through my engagement with the house, the island too has become more familiar. And this isn’t just because I’m experiencing something that Takis finds familiar and appealing, but because the house links me to the generations that have previously lived here.'

Friday, 16 January 2015

Over 70 with Style

Over 70 with Style
 On Slowing Down
I am a retiree but not taking it too easy. Right now I’d love to be able to settle down for a full day of writing, or even to post one or two blogs, but January tends to be as busy as December. I for one am still getting over Christmas, plus doing some summer holiday grandchild minding.
Happy Grandparents

We want to return to our Greek house again this year, but we are getting older, and that means having to slow down and jobs take a little longer. So we took longer to make up our minds before booking our ticket to return to Greece in 2015. But now it is done, and we will leave here after our Australian Easter, and arrive just before the Greek Easter, which falls one week later this year.


However we will be making some changes to our usual schedule. We will only be going for three months (not our usual six months) and we are not going overdo the guest list. At our time of life its time to pace ourselves (15 guest in one year, and five at a time is a bit over the top!)
Greece Here we come Again! (in April)

On Getting Older

Getting older has its problems. Though you do not want to keep focusing on the problems the body you have lived with, the one that has looked after you all these years, now needs constant monitoring.  

The main problem is that the soul fights against the slow deterioration, and would rather like to preserve the body forever. The answer? To enthusiastically still be yourself, for the time at your disposal; be yourself even if your body aches, or your eyesight falters; be yourself with joyful élan even if your knees and hips need replacing.

The Benefits of Old Age?
Aging is something we all do, and our lives will diminish. Friends will to tell you about their aches and pains, and some loved ones will have already died. But the next generation gives us motivation, and nature still inspires.  And, from the vantage point of full maturity, you have the opportunity to have a wider viewpoint, if you so chose.
Dress Happy
Having time to wander around a supermarket, look at the price, the country of origin, and whether the contents are high in fats and sugars, before deciding to buy the item!

Not having to be responsible for planning ahead for all the family, and even being able to let someone else lead the way and get you to the bus/train/plane in time!
Keep Raging

Knowing enough about a number of subjects that you can sense from the first few pages or the first five minutes whether the article or book or TV program is worth pursuing!

Having enough clothes in your wardrobe that you can dress somewhat appropriately (or outrageously) for country or town, winter or summer.

And, if you have always been intimidated by your doctor, your dentist, your next door neighbors, your priest or even by your newsagent – sure that you will bungle the sentence or drop in at the wrong time – it is useful to know that you are now older than them, and its now easier to repeat the sentence or laugh of a mishap!

 Over 70 with Style

Birds come to the feeder,
Red headed, green winged -
Beautiful and demanding.
I look at their colors,
They have my attention.
 ‘Give me seed, feed me now.’
And I feed them.

I could retire,
Give up on fashion and desire.
But even at seventy
I’ll get more attention
If I dress like a peacock,
And make demands.
Never too late to be noticed.

Julia Catton
Fashionable Me!

(Have a look at <> a blog about some fabulous ladies over 60, peacock ladies with style.)

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Acts of Garden Creativeness

Acts of Garden Creativeness
 'Waste' that is Decorative

At present I’m often reluctantly pruning in my garden, reluctantly as the long lengths of sappy growth are often topped with beautiful flowers. This is because we are still getting later showers and with the warm weather everything growing thinks they are in tropical climes. Of course I do not want to throw out these flowers and so they go into glass vases dotted around the house. 

A Bunch of Spring Flowers
Autumn Colours

'Waste' that is Useful

Many times things from the garden that you might put on the compost heap, or into the green rubbish bin, can be put to some use. There were the sappy twigs I bound into a wreath for Christmas, the longer stronger lengths I use as posts to hold up the tomato plants, or the fallen cones that make a beautiful, and long lasting, indoor decoration.


A walk through the country can produce as many interesting ‘found’ objects or a bunch of wild flowers.

More on Trees

I have always found that gardening, like walking, sorts out my puzzled thinking processes. It is calming and connects you to the larger world. Imagine the joy of being connected, via an appreciation of trees, to a life that was there before you existed and will be there long after you leave this world. This thought is one that certainly puts things into perspective!

An Act of Garden Vandalism

This week I read an article in our local paper that horrified me. We have of course been horrified by many happenings in the world, and this might seem a small instance of terrorism, but to ringbark an old and historic tree is an act that horrified me with its senseless, and selfish human-centric view of life. Was it because someone thought, ‘I want a view’? or just because someone felt angry at the world?

The article by Jeff Sparrow in tells about an act of violence that happened in the Melbourne Botanic Gardens.
 ‘The Separation Tree, Melbourne’s huge and ancient river red gum, took its name from the impromptu celebration held when Governor Latrobe declared Victoria separate from the colony of New South Wales. Now we’ve killed it. Well done, humans.
As Tim Entwistle from the Royal Botanical Garden explains, the tree actually predates the white settlement of Melbourne itself. It would, he says, “have been a sapling in the 17th century, when the Boonwurrung and Woiwurrung met and camped beside the Yarra River.”
Now it’s dying, after two separate ringbarking attempts by vandals, who also targeted collections of other plants.’ 
Jeff Sparrow goes on to discuss other large-scale catastrophes, such as the loss of trees in the Amazon jungle, and the manner in which populations of wild creatures have dropped in the last four years. These are catastrophes I can read about and worry about but for me that one tree, lost because of the senseless act of perhaps one person, leaves me shaking my head with extreme sadness at the way we often cannot think beyond our own needs and angers.

Finding Our Own Creativeness

Brief Beauty in the Garden
Not for Picking - Just for Admiration
Much better, I think, to realize we are not the ‘lords of creation’, rather that we are privileged to be able to join in with nature’s yearly creativeness. If we do this, in our gardens, and parks (while of course keeping a wary eye open for nature’s fickleness, such as flood and fires), we have opportunities to find our own creativeness, and opportunities to settle back into our place in the world again.
Nature's Bounties

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Trees: A Celebrity for More than a Day

 Trees:  A Celebrity for More than a Day


Thinking about 2015 and the NEW YEAR got me thinking about our human ‘three score and ten’ lifetimes, and comparing that to the lifetime of trees. Then up came a story on BBC about an oak tree in England that was going to be nominated for the Tree of the Year Contest. This oak is said to be more than 1,000 years old!

Major Oak

Probably more than 1,000 years old and weighing in at an estimated 23 tonnes, it has been said that Major Oak is like "a stately home" in the forest. As ancient tree specialist Jill Butler,of the Woodland Trust put it, the oak being nominated is "as stunning as many of our palaces or man-made wonders like Westminster Abbey."

Named after historian Major Hayman Rooke, who wrote about it in the 18th Century, its history can be traced back as far as William the Conqueror. Reputedly used as a hideout by Robin Hood and his merry men, Sherwood Forest's Major Oak has been picked as England's ‘Tree of the Year’. It will take on 13 trees from across Europe in what has been dubbed ‘Eurovision for trees’.

Tallest and Oldest


Major Oak is not the only old tree as trees tend to be long-lived, some reaching several thousand years old. Methuselah, a bristlecone pine tree in California is thought to be almost 5,000 years old.

The exact location of the gnarled twisted Methuselah is kept secret by the Forest Service for its protection (that might not be it above).


The tallest known tree, a redwood called Hyperion stands 115.6 m (379 ft) high. Because of their longevity and usefulness, trees have always been revered and they play a role in many of the world’s mythologies. The tree is estimated to contain 18,600 cubic feet of wood, and to be roughty 700-800 years old.

The Botany of a Tree

In botany a tree is a perennial plant with an elongated stem, or trunk, supporting branches and leaves. Trees include a variety of plant species that have independently evolved a woody trunk and branches as a way to tower above other plants to compete for sunlight. Thus Wikipedia tells us that, in a looser sense, the taller palms, the tree ferns, bananas and bamboos are also trees. Most trees are surrounded by a layer of bark which acts as a protective barrier. The bark of some eucalyptus trees is especially noticeable in warm weather when the trees shed large sheets of bark.

Trees and CO2

Trees play a significant role in reducing erosion and moderating the climate. They remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store large quantities carbon in their tissues. A Nasa study shows tropical forests absorb 1.5 billion tonnes of CO2 a year.

Rainforests absorb more than half of CO2 taken up by vegetation globally. In parts of the world, forests are shrinking as trees are cleared to increase the amount of land available for agriculture. Researchers now claim findings emphasise the need to protect rainforests from deforestation to help counteract human greenhouse gas emissions.

Trees and Birds

Trees and forests provide a habitat for many species of animals and plants. Tropical rainforests are one of the most biodiverse habitats in the world.  

Here in our Australian gardens we love looking at the various parrots that come to our bird feeders. A friend, who lives close to a nearby nature park, has a greater variety of birds visit her bird feeders.

Even in our cleared and cultivated garden we are awakened by the Kookaburras and Blackbirds every morning, and we love watching the rainbow Lorikeets and Rosellas eating the seeds we have put out. 

A King Parrot 
Now and then a flock of Cockatoos will come screeching past the house. Right  now we have a huge untidy nest in on of the camellia bushes that belongs to a Currawong family, whose youngster is making a great deal of noise as it begs its parents for food!

A Family of Kookaburra's (a local photographer)