Wednesday, 22 August 2018

August 19 – Writers' paradise

(Photo: internet. Marc Chagall - L'echo; lithograph for Daphnis and Chloe)

With majestic grand pianos, whining violins, some brass instrumentsand otherinstruments that make up an orchestra, some international musicians have for four days tried to reach out to the stars. The 4th Molyvos International Music Festival, whose main program was played out in the medieval castle above Molyvos, has again moved hundreds of people. 

There has always been music on Lesvos, but mainly folk. Or it is the wind, descending from the mountains, rushing over the treetops, looking for other murmuring instruments. Lesvos does not have a tradition of classical music. The island has produced more writers than musical stars.

Terpandros lived in the seventh century BC. He was born in Andissa, not far from the place where the head of Orpheus along with his lyre washed ashore. That might have been what inspired Terpandros to go into music. Other sources say that he was summoned to write music by the Oracle of Delphi. He added some strings to the lyre, changed some things in the traditional rhythm of the songs and thus he became famous for drinking and party songs. 

Around the same time there was Arion. Born and brought up in Molyvos, he became a successful and beloved singer and zhiter player at the court of Corinth. One day, sailing back to the court after a round of performances, the sailors stole all the money he earned and wanted to throw him in the sea. He begged to sing one last song, which was a song in praise of Apollo. The Gods listened and when he was thrown into the waves a dolphin saved him and brought him to land. Coming back to the court, the king did not believe Arion, but when the sailors returned, telling the king that they 'lost' Arion, the king realized Arion had told the truth and he richly compensated him for his misfortune.

Tambouri Ali Efendi was born in 1836 and raised in Mytilini, in those times still part of the Ottoman Empire. When he became 18 he went to Istanbul, to expand his musical gift as a tamboura player and became one of the best of Turkey. The tamboura is a Turkish string instrument, the resonance box as big as a water mellon, with a long neck and two strings. A famous pupil of Ali Efendi was Tambouri Cemil Bey, who became the greatest composer of Ottoman classic music.

Lesvos did not progress any further in the history of classical music, until now with the Molyvos International Music Festival. The island instead has a rich history in literature, starting with Sappho, whose poems are translated and known all over the world

The island is the cradle of a Novel Prize winner: Odysseas Elytis, who received this prize in 1979. Although born in 1911 in Crete, both his parents came from wealthy families on Lesvos. The airport at Mytilini is named after him.Elytis' poetry might be a challenge for novel readers. They might enjoy better the books of Stratis Myrivilis, who was born in 1890 in Sykaminia(he died in Athens in 1969). Myrivilis fought in the Balkan war (1912-1913), that inspired him to write his most famous book: Life in a tomb. Later he wrote two socially inspired novels, both situated on Lesvos: The Mermaid Madonna, about refugees from Turkey in Skykaminia and a foundling who grows up into a more than beautiful girl. The other novel, The School Mistress with the Golden Eyesis about a teacher in Molyvos, the harsh traditions and village gossip. Even though those entertaining books were written about half a century ago, their topics are still relevant: refugees and gossip. 

Another lovely book situated on Lesvos, but with no actual topics, is considered as the first pastorale novel in literary history: Daphnis and Chloe, a touching Greek Romeo and Julia, played out in the times that Mythimna (Molyvos) and Mytilini were at war with each other. Marc Chagall made colourful lithographs for this lovestory.

Molyvos is said to be a paradise for writers. Lots of them are inspired by the medieval little city, like William Golding, who stayed for a bit on the island and seeing children play, got his idea for his famous novel Lord of the flies. Fingers are still dancing over the keyboards to write stories, inspired by village life or the magic spell. You may even find courses given by prominent writers such as the South African Rahla Xenopoulos, also from South AfricanMarita van derVyver and the Canadian writer and excellent teacher of creative writing David Layton. (see: The Talking Table.)

Now that the music has died down in the castle, it is time to start writing again. Since Myrivilis' sad story about the teacher, in the narrow streets the tongues have not stopped gossiping. And the island has been caught in the refugee crisis, where not only terrifying stories are heard, but also strong moving ones about people reaching out to help. The island remains a bubbling source of inspiring stories.

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

©Smitaki 2018 

Friday, 10 August 2018

A small, devilish plant

(Tribulus terrestris)

My garden is beset with problems. They grow in the midst of the summer and the disaster spreads pretty fast. It is like a herd of constantly growing pushpins. The only defence is to wear proper shoes. Worn-out flipflops just don’t do and even in your house you are no longer safe.

The summer has many advantages, but the Devils thorn is a returning plague, — worse than mosquitos or wasps. I am talking about a stupid little plant, with teeny-tiny yellow flowers and strong thorny fruit that you will only notice when it sticks into your foot or flipflop.

Tribulus terrestris is the latin name of Devil’s thorn. The Greek name, τρίβολος, has something to do with water chestnuts, according to Theophrastus. But maybe he mixed up two plants: that is for the scientists studying the Old Greek language to figure out. The translation of its Latin name is more to the point: ‘problem on the ground’ and that is what I have. 

The little branches with long leaves at both sides are rampant within the grass and other surviving weeds, as well as on and along the sandy paths. The alarm bell tolls when the little yellow flowers appear. Within a week the fruit with 2 to 5 razor sharp thorns is ready to fall. They vaguely look like a bull or goat’s head — reason for more names: Bullhead or Goat's head. A field with Goat’s head is the same as a bed of nails: you do not want to venture into it. 

Its now the time that you hungrily reach for the figs that hang, ripe and sweet, in the trees. Also this year the grapes are early and their juicy ripeness seduces you to pick them. They are the-end-of-the-summer fruit that comforts you because this warm season has had its best days. But here in the garden they look more like forbidden fruit: to reach the fig tree you have to pass a Devil’s thorn field, so as soon as you reach out for a fig it is: Ouch, a needle in your foot!

No need to pick the fruit of the Bullhead. They roll or propell themselves toward you. They stick onto shoes and feet and this way they also invade your house. Riding a bike or walking bare foot is not done anymore; it's best to avoid a punctured tyre or holes in you feet, but especially the merciless pain. They even can cause a real plague. In a town in Oregon, America, you can earn a dollar when you deliver a garbage bag stuffed with Tribulus terrestris. I can send them a shipload. 

However there are also people who gather this prickly fruit for the herbal industry. Surely they use machines? With a big aspirator to collect those devilishly thorny things? I’d like such a machine sent over to the field here. Because this herb is worth its weight in gold: those stinging seed-boxes can be ground into a blessing aphrodisiac, proven by more than one scientist. They should plant plenty of these herbs in China and Vietnam: there people are so desperate that they pay fortunes for elephants’ tusks and rhinoceros’ horns that may improve their libido. This way those animals would not have to become extinct and people would pay far less money for their pleasure. 

In the grapevines it also is said that the herb increases testosteronelevels. Athletes and other people pimp their bodies to deliver better performances. For this reason this nasty prickly herb is now popular amongst sports people. Obviously, as a powder or a drink; I dont think those agitated people would like to have a bed of nails in their garden.

The thorny fruit has more positive medical uses. In the ayurveda for example it is called the ‘Cow’s hoof’ and is used for the wellbeing of kidneys, bladder and urinary tract. In Kashmir they believe that Cows hoofmay slow down fevers.

Maybe I should seriously consider turning this misery into something positive and start to collect this nasty herb. When I walk over an area rich in Bulls heads - after just few steps there are already hundreds of Goats head stuck to my thick-soles shoes. Who wants to buy them?

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

© Smitaki 2018