Athenapallas's Blog

May 15, 2016

HOW THE PARTHENON MADE ME CRY

The following post was published five years ago and now at last I have finished my novel:  

DIGGING UP THE DEAD

 Greek Mythology Meets Coal Mining

by Narelle Scotford  With Art by Selina McGrath

It  has been a long journey but the experience recorded in this post has become part of this extraordinary novel…. to learn more follow the link at the end of the post… now read on…

I arrived in Athens  accompanied by a flight full of Greeks from Melbourne making their annual pilgrimage to the islands of their youth. After listening to conversations that criss-crossed the plane in that peculiar antipodean version of Australian Greek, peppered with Ozzie slang and words in English with the Greek endings, I was in a state of exhausted anticipation. However I managed to find my way via the Metro to my Hotel in Plaka and somehow my energy returned.

I needed to seek out my temple, the PARTHENON. Walking through Plaka’s seedy but somehow charming streets, passed hawkers and markets full of trashy goods and hopeful shopkeepers I abandoned the map and chose one of the many marble-paved lanes that headed upward to the Acropolis.                

Here the seediness disappeared as I passed  quaint tavernas

with smiling owners touting for business,

Athenians in intense conversation,

with only a few tourists in sight.

Then looking up to see what appeared to be a giant wall, columns peaking over it, what is that? Many steep steps in narrow lanes all leading up, following  a wider path not wanting to look up to my left, that must be it, it’s so large,steep, high, a mountain of a rock but where is the PARTHENON?

The  Acropolis, the Uluru of Western Culture, and I felt like I was an ant, my cloak of knowledge abandoned, falling off. I tried not to look at it, maybe this was not it,  and maybe the PARTHENON doesn’t even exist except in my imagination.

I stopped to listen to a lone Greek player of a kind of medieval lute or sitar, soft sounds in a minor key as I sat beside him on the pavement. I hummed the chords quietly, we talked slowly with him respecting my meditative state as he waved away people who tried to take his photo. I felt my heart opening, breaking at the same time, saying at last I’m Home. I said goodbye to the slim fine-boned intelligent man whom later I would call Dimitri as he became my friend and guide. He stood and shook my hand, thanking me for stopping and sitting beside him. No-one ever does that, he said in perfect English. Was he Hermes the Divine Messenger?

The smog was lifting and the sun shining more than I expected, the pink white rows of houses and small apartment blocks sparkled from this distance, their shabbiness turned into jeweled boxes as I looked across the plains of Attica. I realised as I looked up again at the rock, it felt like the backside of the Acropolis with just a hint of columns above what appeared to be giant city walls. No wonder Pericles chose this place on which to build his monument to the glory of  the Athenian Empire!

As I reached the car park and tourist office I could see the magnitude of the rock, it truly was a fortress. I bought a 4 day ticket and withdrew as  tourists swarmed, not wanting to join them. I wandered into the Pnyx, hurried off the wider path into narrow tracks in the bush, surrounded by ancient debris, feeling the presence of the past, still hardly daring to look up to my left towards the PARTHENON. Seeking shade and solitude. Found the prison of Socrates, caves in a rocky outcrop  with bars across the interior,wondering how it was for him as he waited to take his poison receiving his students and friends all of whom were offering him escape in exile which he refused. I wanted to climb up the rock to get  a better view but could not, I crouched behind a bush to have a pee hoping the cops on motorbikes don’t see me. At last I lay down exhausted, my view of the Acropolis and its elusive temple obscured by the fir trees scattered among the pine cones. I sat down with my back to a tree and then I saw framed in its branches the unmistakable PARTHENON, hardly daring to look at it as if its shining might blind me like Tiresias. I had no camera with me to capture this first image, the photo below was taken at 8am the next day when I was alone on the Acropolis except for a few workers.

Now the sun was at its zenith, no clouds, bright bright blue sky and here I am, am, am. Tears coursed down my face, my whole body shook with joy, relief, pneuma, knowing, gratitude and awe. I lay there and the only words that came to me were, now I can die. I’ve seen all I want to see, if I die now it doesn’t matter. Transcendent  was the word that came to me later as I encircled this experience and found more and more places to catch this image and blend it into my psyche forever. I sat upon  a rock nearby while my image of the corner of the PARTHENON grew and grew, shone and shone, two long thin cranes appeared like beacons above this wounded cultural icon of the West, here at last we were restoring Pericles’ vision of the embodiment of sophrusune/balance after centuries of pillage,theft, misuse, war and pollution – or was it just as it should be with its complex history still present?

I hoped the restoration would not result in it becoming a plastic caricature of itself. I tried not to load it up with concepts and kept coming back to my body, exhausted, tingling, awake, aware, feeling ‘zoie’ divine breath, everything in my life that had led to this moment , an older woman, ‘xseni’ foreigner, from 9000 kilometres away, guardian of the temple, Athena inside me, calling to passers-by ‘Ela etho’, look up, stand here, they obeyed and thanked the strange woman lying on the ground as if I must somehow belong here.

I can still feel that moment within me, it is enshrined forever no matter what ugly and sad realities I must inevitably encounter here and elsewhere on my journey.

 

http://www.scotford.com.au

 

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January 15, 2012

2011 in review

Filed under: Uncategorized — athenapallas @ 9:18 am

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,100 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 35 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

December 20, 2011

THREE WISE WOMEN- a Christmas Story

Filed under: Modern Athenas — athenapallas @ 9:56 am
Tags: , ,

Leith was fed up. It did not matter how careful she was Olga always found something wrong. As if it mattered the bandages were folded incorrectly.  They barely had enough so often they had to tear them in half to make them last.

Yesterday they ran out of clean syringes so they had no choice  

 but to re-use the ones they would normally have discarded.

It was scary to think that in curing one disease

they were also spreading another even more deadly one.

Helen told her yesterday that it would be a miracle

if a child were born in the camp free of HIV.

She liked Helen even though she was not exactly Einstein. She knew Helen had lied about her qualifications to get this job. But the HELP Foundation did not care. Most nurses with those fancy new degrees would not want to work here. No high desks to hide behind. No endless notes to write just the choking dust, the putrid atmosphere and worse the unrelenting despair. Helen just accepted it like it was nothing out of the ordinary to be surrounded by all this pain, dirt and fear.

 Olga on the other hand refused to face the fact that there was little they could do. Provided they followed her stupid routines she was happy. How she hated Olga’s scrubbed pink skin and straw-like hair pulled back severely into a roll at the back of her head. She had insisted Leith cover her curly red hair the one thing she liked about herself. Her mother used to say it was her crowning glory which was just as well as her skin was freckled, her limbs too long and her breasts hardly more than a pair of nipples.                                                  

Helen somehow managed to look pretty even here.

Her short punk hair framed a perfect oval of a face and

her skin was milky like a healthy baby. She was tiny too.

 Not fat like Olga or awkward like her.

You hardly even noticed that one leg was shorter than the other.

Olga came bustling into the tent. ‘We have another birth in Sector 4. I’ll get there later if I can. You know the routine. Let’s see if we can save this one.’    She wanted to scream at her, ‘All of the babies in Sector 4 who have survived have developed AIDS. What is the point of saving a child for that?’

 But she did not. She was a coward and as the youngest aide in the camp no-one ever expected her to have an opinion on anything. She had attended deliveries here already. They mostly did little except ensure the baby was not strangled by its cord or by the mother or someone else. All the women here had been infected with the AIDS virus because they had been forced into prostitution by their parents in exchange for food. They knew that if they were ever allowed to return to their villages they could not take a sick child with them.

 Not like the time back home when she had assisted in  the maternity ward of the district hospital.

There all the mothers were from the local town and

even the single ones and those who had undergone

 the most gruesome labour greeted their babies with delight.

They were so proud of their achievement, feted and celebrated by family and friends.

 Leith walked slowly towards the tent. No one would greet this child with joy.

Their death would be a relief, their life a painful burden.

 She could hear whimpering sounds from within. Not full-bodied screams like you would expect.

 Just a low-grade, simmering sob. She reluctantly bent down to enter and was shocked at what she saw.

 The mother was hardly more than a child herself. She was alone except for the baby, which she cradled in her arms.

She had delivered it herself. 

 Gently Leith checked that she was not still bleeding, took the baby from her

and went about the post-natal routine she had been taught.Carefully cleaning the wound where the cord had been bitten off, and freeing the baby’s face from the membranes, which hid it.

The child on the ground rocked back and forth crying quietly.

Leith tried to put the baby girl back in her arms but instead she grabbed hold of Leith and hid her face in her chest.

 When Helen and Olga peered inside the tent they saw three children.

Leith was sitting on the ground nursing the mother and the baby.

Mother and baby made the same whimpering sound.

Leith’s tears bathed them equally.

 Olga was about to speak when Helen shook her head to stop her. 

They sat down beside Leith, dried her tears,

 then uncurled the  tiny fingers that clasped hers so tightly

and began to wash the little body.

 (This story is a work of fiction originally published in the 2001 Spring edition of Gowanus, the award-winning literary journal)

 

December 12, 2011

THE MAN WHO LOVED CROCODILES and other Adventurous Australians

THE MAN WHO LOVED CROCODILES and stories of other ADVENTUROUS AUSTRALIANS.

By Marg Carroll, published by Allen and Unwin 2011.

(A short version of this review is published today in Newsbite the e-magazine of the NSW Writers’ Centre.)

This book is the third of a series written over the last decade about rural Australians both indigenous and non-indigenous: the first  Ordinary people, Extraordinary Lives 2001, the second Re-inventing the Bush: Inspiring stories of young Australians, 2008, and now this third book about 15 adventurous older Australian,  all up 57 remarkable men and women across the continent.        

The Man Who Loved Crocodiles

This last book in particular is a perfect companion for us                  

 city folks who are apt to whinge a little

and forget how our land was forged by such people

 as inhabit the pages of this extra-ordinary book.

Marg tracks real lives,

 ‘wherein lie the ingredients of the best dramas: bold dreams and overcoming mighty obstacles’.    She is motivated by her own search for inspiration, the result is she succeeds in inspiring her readers as well.

 This is a book to be treasured over time. Open it up anywhere not only at the Crocodile story,

but maybe the one about the Camel Lady who rode a camel       

The Camel Lady

across the desert following in the tracks of Burke and Wills,

or the Torres Strait Islander who dived for pearls and

then became a national singing star, or

 the Czech immigrant who survived 13 Nazi prison camps through the power of meditation,

or the Supermum who raised 13 children mostly on her own,  finally learning to read after she recovered from a brain tumour in her seventies,

or the Indigenous entrepreneur who created a tourist enterprise, conservation haven,and education foundation for bush Aborigines,

or the woman who founded an organic skin care business, or…..

The story of a person who has lived long and well is a privilege beyond price’, Marg asserts and the process of delving into another life is ‘akin to uncovering a treasure’.

I was struck by the importance of curiosity and being involved as key ingredients to a well-lived lasting life and as Marg tells these stories she reflects on the nature of courage and daring. In fact she felt that all 15 of her story tellers could have won awards for courage revealed in so many unique ways. These are not fearless people but people who keep engaging in life and who face their fears and triumph over them.

Marg has found these people like a bush Hercule Poirot following up all sorts of leads, looking in surprising nooks and crannies via networks, friends, family, the internet and the media but most of all she has followed her own sense of adventure for exploring issues close to her heart like the environment, a better life for First Australians, the protection of endangered species and nurturing young people.

In these stories there were many brushes with death and she unearthed a variety of spiritual beliefs but in all there was a respect for the beliefs of others and real openness of hearts and minds.

 Not only did Marg find these special people, she formed remarkable alliances with them so that they could trust her with all of their stories, the good and the bad. It was a true collaboration and Marg became in some way or other an extension of them and their families.

She is the master of the first paragraph in all of her stories, immediately giving you a succinct word picture of the person and their character and whetting your appetite to learn more.

 Novelists and short story writers need to take lessons from her. Take the first paragraph in her very first story:

 ‘You may not pick Heather Innes─ slight in stature with short-cropped reddish hair, a cheeky grin and quick wit─ as a champion sports woman, top pilot or formidable crime fighter. Her modesty and mastery of understatement ensure no hint of an illustrious past.’

She is also the master of the concluding paragraph.

She finishes her story of Back Country Milkman with the following:

 ‘He has experienced the three most significant events of the last century, the Great Depression, the fall of Singapore and the dropping of the Atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He had the longest milk run in Australia over 3 decades and he just signed up for another milk run by which time he will be 96’.

One of the strengths of this book is how the author weaves historyand relevant often startling statistics into the stories so that the reader is learning not just about the people                 

Marg with the Desert Writers 2010

 but about the broader society and culture in which they lived. 

Some of this is confronting and surprising for people

who have never met a bush Aborigine,

watched the sunrise in the desert

 or seen buffalo or crocodile at close quarters or

 grown up living in a bark hut papered with old copies of the Women’s Weekly!

(Marg workshopped her some of her writing for this book on Jan Cornall’s Desert Writers Trek in 2010.)

Some statistics in the book blew me away: of the 330,000 prisoners of war who toiled on the infamous Burma-Thailand railway  one in three died, repeating a common belief that they buried a man for every sleeper laid and  11,000 POWs lost their lives from Allied bombings.

Our story-teller, Bush Country Milkman survived both the horrors of the railway and one such bombing in a ship bound for Japan only to end up working in a coal mine 10 kilometres from Hiroshima just before the A-bomb hit.

Ian the Indigenous entrepreneur/philanthropist of Kings Creek Station with his wife Lyn help the local people,who in the absence of a health clinic, come to them with ear infections, scabies, pneumonia,starvation and the impact of alcohol and he  has recently established an education foundation to send young people to schools in Adelaide to escape the downward spiral of life in their own communities. 

Lyn, Lizzie and child Kings Creek Station

Every day he sees bush people trying just to survive.                          

‘I listened to PM Rudd’s apology

 to the Stolen Generation that is a white man’s term.’

 His wife, Lyn calls these bush people the Neglected Generation

 while he sees the official apology as only words and instead urges action. ….

‘Why didn’t Kevin Rudd apologise to the kids who are uneducated and starving,

 to the old ladies who are waiting for dialysis,

to the people who are committing suicide, to men who have no work.

 That would be a real apology.’

In the story of Peter  the last of the buffalo hunters we learn that   20,000 bulls were captured and killed in an industry in which indigenous and non-indigenous people worked side by side producing leather hides to be used for a huge variety of industrial purposes as well as saddles, buckets for windmills, seat coverings,  and hand bags. After synthetic leather hit the market in the fifites the industry collapsed.

Another striking thing about many of these stories are          

Peter and Lena

 the enduring partnerships  

which survive through periods of great hardship

and strain and the tragedy of illness and loss,

 like  Peter and Lena both of the Stolen Generation…

Lena received horrific injuries protecting her husband from a crocodile attack…

A theme of such partnerships, even when not tested in such an extreme way, was that they gave strength to each other and even when they ended helped  to forge a new life for themselves.  And in many cases, the comments and ideas of family members whom Marg interviewed, become a mirror in which the person is also reflected, often candidly without flattery but with droll humour and affection.

Beautiful and original descriptions  abound in this book.

As Marg approached Claret Ash Farm where Jan harvests and produces her organic skin care products that are exported  to exclusive outlets in Japan, Marg comments,            

Jan at Claret Ash Farm

 ‘Even on a perishing day bright flowers light the garden-

 the orange of marigolds and nasturtiums, purple lavender

 and the last of the autumn roses.

Floppy pink petals of Echinacea, yellow yarrow,

blue-starred borage

and the white frills of chamomile daisies are scattered

through beds of pumpkin, rhubarb and silver beet….

All Beds face the north east for maximum sunlight and slope down to a dam where Black Angus weavers graze.

This is an oasis in my journey from the parched east.’

In her lovely story of the Artist Ada still a working and recognised artist at 79

who at  the age of 64 established her own Gallery and Studio in Milthorpe 

Ada at Mt Canoblan

 after her beloved husband had died tragically,                                        

 Marg describes one of her paintings:

 ‘The fine strokes of Japanese calligraphy adding dimension

where there was none, colour where white prevailed and

 becoming a landscape of the  mind as well as what we see before us.’

In other stories like the one of Pam, the founder of the Landcare movement, Marg makes great use of  quotes to illustrate what Pam was able to achieve.

For example Margaret Mead’s statement,

‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world. Indeed that is the only thing that ever has.’

And later as she describes Pam’s extension into local government and her advocacy for women at all levels of decisions making, she quotes from one of Pam’s speeches,

‘Shakespeare made his woman characters as strong as men and his men as tender as women.’

I love it when we see more of Marg in the stories as she is undoubtedly one of the characters we get to know when she travels with her husband and with her story tellers while they show her how they live and work.

 She is one gritty lady, not just for following the Man who loved Crocodiles,the famous film maker, hunter and conservationist, as he flushed out lethal salties in the bush,

but also for the many times she sat and listened and recorded peoples’ pain,deep secrets and experiences of the whole gamut of human emotions as they recalled sometimes unimaginable horror and deprivation.

There is plenty of humour in the stories which comes as much from Marg as from her subjects.

 I like her account of flying to Horn Island in the Torres Strait to meet  Seaman Dan, the oldest person at 74 to win an ARIA award. This island was also the site during WW 11, she tells us, of an Australian airforce base for 5000 men and nine women!

‘Swirling around the islands that Seaman knows so well,                          

Marg and Seaman Dan

the waters are turquoise, merging into cobalt depths.

The water looks inviting but beneath the wharves lurk crocodiles,

 A fresh breeze lifts off the sea. Islands surround us:

“Tuesday, Wednesday and that’s Friday Island,” Seaman points out.

Weekends don’t rate a mention.’

Marg must have the last word to this wonderful book:

‘Real stories can touch our humanity and move us to understand not just the person we are reading about but also ourselves. Rich lives such as these build a mosaic of Australia over the past century-surely a priceless legacy.’

July 18, 2011

WITNESSING THE ATHENS UPRISING May/June 2011

Narelle Scotford, the writer of this blog, visited Greece in May and June this year. Although of course her alter ego has resided for 2500 years in Greece, this was Narelle’s first trip. Long long ago she was a Greek bride and learnt to speak, read and write the language of her beloved Greek Gods and Heroes. In preparation for her trip she studied Greek language, mythology and history again as well as re-learning how to make Greek coffee and sampling the culinary delights of the great cooks in her Modern Greek class at Sydney University.

Narelle arrived in Athens at the beginning of the recent unrest finding a small hotel half a block from Syntagma Square. She  wandered around the square on her first day where only a handful of students were gathered and after this she was there every day until she left Athens for Delphi and for her attendance at a  Buddhist  retreat north of Athens in the company of other Athenians.

The following photos and comments are her personal record of her time in Athens. She left Athens a few days before the Parliament passed the Austerity Measures Bill when TV screens around the world showed over and over again violent images of what was happening on the streets. More about that later in the post……

Greek Cops Waiting

 
 
 
 
 
 
It was a common sight to see groups of cops (police) on bikes or foot around the square and gradually as the week  progressed their presence became more obvious particularly towards evening when the people were starting to gather in Syntagma Square for the evening discussions, speeches and songs.
 
 
 

Beginning of the Tent City in the Square

 
 
 
 
At this stage there were just a few tents and people were busy talking as usual and some were creating makeshift signs.
 
It looked more like a scout camp than a revolution.
 
Most of the young people I met spoke good English but appreciated my attempts to converse in my faltering Greek.
 
They were pleased I could read their signs some of which I will show and translate below.

Greek Parliament

 

Fancy Dress Soldiers on their way to guard the Parliament

 
 
 
 
 
 
           

What We Need!

                                                                                                   

 This is the first sign I saw after I started going to the Square, as you can see it
is Texta on Cardboard, hardly high-tech. Before I had a chance to translate it (always tricky as Greek Capital letters are often different to their lower case equivalents) I thought it must be a kind of  Bill of Rights or List of Political demands but no, it is nothing of the sort. Ever practical they were asking for:
 
CLOTH,CARDBOARD,PAINT,TEXTA PENS, SELLOTAPE,ROPE, BRUSHES,
TABLES,CHAIRS,TENTS,PORTABLE LAMPS, MICROPHONES,WATER, RUBBISH BAGS, NOTICE BOARDS, MORE TENTS, FLOODLIGHTS.
 
When I asked where these would come from they told me ‘the people’ and they were right, as the days went by all this as well as food and drink and sleeping bags, linen, clothes etc were donated by ‘the people’.
 
 
  

Love this tent!

              

More and More Tents

                                                                                              

 

REAL DEMOCRACY like we had 2500 years ago!

 
 
 The young Greek students who painted this sign and set up their website were well aware of the sorry history of their failed political process where cronyism, elitism and bureaucratic feather bedding had eaten away not only at their democracy but also their economic and  civic resolve. 
They all knew how Western Democracy and its many imitations around the world started here, when each of the 12 tribes of what was then Greece or Attica sent a representative to live and work  for one month in what was then their National Assembly returning home afterwards to allow another member of their community or group take their place.
 
 
 

In the name of Melina Mercouri

          
A visit to the New Acropolis Museum is a must for any traveller to Greece if only to realise how much has been stolen from  the birthplace of democracy by many of the countries whose citizens make their pilgrimage here.
The new Museum stands out for its modern architecture which aligns itself with the Parthenon way above  on the Holy Rock called the Acropolis.  What made the most impact inside the museum  for me was not the few marvellous sculptures that have managed to survive, but all the gaps left in the Museum’s mockup of the Parthenon where images of the Gods and mighty heroes of our shared mythology and history have been hacked away and taken to museums and private collections all over the world. If all these stolen artifacts and works of art could be valued and Greece compensated for them imagine how their economy might be!
                                                                                                             

Global Stooges

     

No word needed here

Individual citizens express their anger and frustration at what feels to them to be a return to a kind of dictatorship with the ordinary people having no say in  their future.

 
 

Man with a Mission

                    at first I did not realise what this man’s mission was until I saw the reference to the Bible, John 14:14. Standing at the top of the steps with the Parliament as his backdrop and looking down on all the activity in the Square,  seemed oddly appropriate when I translated his biblical quote: If you ask for something in My Name I will do it’.
 
 

Message from France

     

Riot Police Relaxing outside the Parliament

         

Syntagma Square Filling Up

Every night more and more people would gather in the Square I would walk there for a while and then go into nearby Plaka the old area of Athens to my favourite tavernaki to eat and listen and talk with other people working or dining there. Most of them depended on tourism and were worried on the effect of all this activity, noise and crowds on the tourists. Many were sanguine about it saying nothing will change, it never does.  ‘We have been living in a dream and now it will become a nightmare,’ one philosopher told me.
 
I came back to Athens on the night of the  biggest demonstration ever(over 200,000 people) travelling on the metro which was packed with well dressed well spoken people all heading for the Square. They advised me to take the back exit from Syntagma station which I did but the crowds were just as thick and it took me a long  time to find my way through them to my friends.
Back on my hotel balcony late at night I could still hear and see the crowds singing, shouting and blowing whistles and banging drums. I fell asleep to this cacophony wondering about the clash of pragmatism and idealism,the need for economic independence, civic responsibility, true democracy, the battle of the Titans, Heracles 12 Labours, Odysseus’ 20 year journey home to his faithful wife Penelope, and the mighty Achilles defeating Hector on the plains of Troyzzzzz zzzzzzzz.
 
Later at home in Australia watching the violent images from the Square where I had spent so much time, I was at first sad and then angry particularly when I had a message  from a friend in Athens I trusted who told me the rioters were paid provocateurs who had nothing to do with the People’s Movement I had been privileged to witness during my time in Athens.
                                                                

April 7, 2011

THE LEGACY OF OLYMPIA AND HOW TO SURVIVE THE OLYMPIC DREAM

 

'Ancient Olympia

The start of the first official OLYMPIC GAMES was declared in 776 BC by King Ephitus at a time when there were many Hellenic states.    The games were held   what is now the prefecture of Elia in Greece 24ks from the modern  town of Pyrgos at the site of Ancient Olympia.

The Games were  to honour of Zeus the King of the Olympian Gods, father of Athena, whose gigantic temple at Olympia was one of the wonders of the ancient world. Little remains of the temple but it might have looked something like this:

The Ancient Games took place around the first full moon in August and consisted of merely a foot race of about 500 metres. Gradually longer races were introduced as well as the pentathlon (a contest of running, leaping, wrestling, discus and spear-throwing), with chariot races as well as the pancration, a vicious combination of boxing and wrestling.

The early competitors were naked and were required to undergo a training of ten months, to make sacrifices to the Gods and to vow that they would compete fairly. There were official trainers as well as the judges who awarded the prizes─wreaths cut with a golden knife from the sacred olive tree in honour of Heracles, the mighty but disgraced son of Zeus who defeated monsters and man-eating animals in his famous 12 labours.

Marvellous stories were told of the feats of the victors at these ancient games. In a single leap they would cover a distance of nearly 17 metres, and one year the winner of the nine mile race kept running past the finishing line before he stopped at Argos, fifty miles away, the same evening.                    

The Games were held every four years and vast crowds camped

on the slopes of Mount Cronos or in the dry river beds.

Dense throngs stood around the racecourse and

must have suffered in the heat as water was scarce and often polluted.

A holy truce was declared for a whole month during which

all warfare was forbidden and the land of Ellas was considered sacred.

These ancient games were exclusive to male athletes and spectators

and the story goes that if any women were caught within the precincts

they would be thrown from a nearby rock!

There is one story however, of a Spartan woman being detected in male attire

but as her son was the victor of the Games she was forgiven.

Writers, poets and historians also read their works to large audiences,

and the citizens of the various city states of the ancient world got together in a way that happened nowhere else.

 The Modern Olympic Games were instituted in 1896 and except during the first and second world wars were held every four years in various cities around the world including Sydney in 2000 and Athens in 2004 where thousands of athletes compete in hundreds of events and sporting activities.

                                                                                                                                

The Olympic Flame is lit at the ancient site in Greece and

carried by runners to the city where the games are held.

In modern times the good will and good fortune

generated by the games rivals the work of the United Nations

in trying to bring the nations of the world together.

So into this rich history comes the story of one of our own Olympians,

Nadine Neumann, a young woman who would not even have  even

a spectator let alone competitor in the ancient games.

Wobbles an Olympic Story written by Nadine is her story,

the story of a young girl who became one of the fastest and

most versatile swimmers of her generation in the world,

who was part of the world of elite sport in Australia in the 1990’s,

and who by the time she was 20 had experienced more physical and

mental suffering than most of us ever have.

This book was written during her painful journey of finding a new life

after the cruel, triumphant, gloriously crazy Olympic dream.

Frighteningly real, insightful and compassionate,

 Nadine reveals what it was like inside the Olympic swimming family in Australia.

Nadine’s story will make you angry and sad and affect you so deeply you will start to question things about your own life, your obsessions and the culture that carries them.

 A beautifully constructed book, showing all the skills Nadine learnt in her University English teaching degree.

 Cleverly she starts the story at the end of her Olympic dream, about to dive into the water at the 2000 Olympics Sydney Trials and then takes you back to where it all began for her at her local swimming pool in Ryde.

She tells her story through her own child’s voice and as the story progresses we see her change, but once she has decided that she will go to the Olympics there is no way she can be diverted, and her family become her ally in this dream. She is Herculean in the pursuit of her dream.

Nothing will stop her: not the punishing training regimes and internal politics of the day,

the undiagnosed Chronic Fatigue Syndrome triggered by glandular fever,

the broken neck and major depression,

the social isolation and fractured relationships

and the family hardships related to supporting her and her quest.

There is some wonderful writing in this book which make you realise what a multi-talented woman she has become. She uses short sentences, sometimes even single words like Euphoria, to great effect, showing the ability of a novelist to build tension, suspense and the desire to keep reading.

Even though sometimes you want to shake her and say, please stop, no more, she carries you on her journey, willing you to be on her side and to understand what it was like for her, and she succeeds.

There are many extracts which I have noted but this is one of my favourites.

To me the sound of water is the sound of heaven the tinkle of bubbles as the surface breaks and swirls around your ears, the rhythmic bass-drum of your breath, the roaring cymbals of your feet agitating the waves of your body curves, the melodious movement of an element that supports you, surrounds you, becomes part of you completely. And the symphony plays through a silence that makes you feel the song is yours alone….’

If you have ever marvelled at the Olympic swimming,

or swum yourself and felt the water element embracing you,

had an extraordinary dream in your ordinary life, overcome suffering with not too much grace,

felt like curling up and dying when it all gets too much,

you will find much in this book to illuminate your way.

It should be compulsory reading for all young would-be athletes and their families

 but it is much more than that– it speaks to all of us and

we should thank Nadine for her courage in telling it so well and using her natural writing talent to such great effect.

Photos of Ancient Olympia courtesy of T.Palimperis

Other Photos courtesy of Nadine Neumann

January 20, 2011

DISCOVERY : A REVIEW of wrack

 Athena has retreated to her cave at Santorini ( see 2010 August 27 )   and has asked me  to do a guest post .

Recently I was visiting ‘my home away from home’, the serene women’s pool at Coogee. In the change room is a reading corner where swimmers leave books for others to read.

This time I picked up a book entitled wrack and it was this word that grabbed me. Intrigued I read the extracts from the reviews on the back and realised that the author’s name, James Bradley, was familiar but I was sure I had not read any of his work. The reviews used words like ambitious, intelligent, provocative, ingenuous, sensuous, erudite, and the short précis sounded enticing.

However I was at first sceptical, jaundiced from the struggle with my own writing and the glut of both popular and literary books that tumble off the shelves and disappear into oblivion.

With nothing else to read while I lay in the shade between swims I panicked, hoping this book might live up to its marketing hype. It was after all by an Australian writer with a peculiarly Australian story emanating from the controversial maps of the journeys of Portuguese explorers to Australia nearly two hundred years before the discoveries of Cook and Banks.

I couldn’t help wondering about the journey of this book from its no doubt proud display in a major bookshop in 1992 to some second-hand bookshop or exchange where it was sold for $2.95, maybe to the person who had left it here, and now it came free of charge to me, perhaps not the first women’s pool reader.

No wonder writers struggle to make a living just from their writing.

As a writer and would be novelist now happily blogging, writing songs, and little books, I thought of all the energy and emotion I had put into my several unpublished novels, so I approached this novel with both trepidation and humility.

This was James Bradley’s first novel published in 1992 when he was already a published  poet and editor of an anthology of Australian writing, so the inside cover told me.

I had left my iPhone at home but even if I’d had it with me I would not have googled him.

I wanted to see if indeed I had happened upon a treasure and I didn’t want to be influenced by anything else but my own reading here and now in January 2011.

As I turned the first two pages I liked what I saw, a dedication to the memory of his grandfather and an extract from the shorter Oxford dictionary with seven meanings for the word wrack some of which I didn’t know, and in reading those definitions I started to feel a sense of excitement as to what was to follow.

Then I was delighted to find a list of Maps that were included in the book as well as a table of Contents including Acknowledgements which I quickly scanned. So far so good. But it got better.

A Prologue headed by a quote from A Midsummer Night’s Dream was followed by an extract from the journals of a William Townshend the Surgeon aboard His Majesty’s Vessel Berkeley written on the 17th August 1794 telling of the discovery of a shipwreck believed to be of Portuguese or Spanish origin witha  ship design not seen for over 200 years. And amongst the debris a box containing papers with the name De Cueva and the date 1519.

 No comment was made by the author about this extract except to follow it with a page from Mathew Flinder’s Voyage to Terra Australis 1814 alluding to a French chart that showed an extensive country south of the Moluccas called Great Java which agreed with the extent and position of Terra Australis and could have been the result, wrote Flinders, of observations of the Portuguese on their voyages from India before and after 1540.

Then someone asked the question, How to tell this story, where to begin?

When I first read this page and half I was not sure who was asking this question of me, the reader, using both the first person plural we and second person you.  Not knowing was good. Here was the theme and that was also good. 

Perhaps it begins in a storm…..or there are patterns we can detect in the motion of the sand…..symbols which might trace out a story of love and death. About loving and dying…..emotions moving like tides like rivers deep within the sand…feeling stealing across the years like shifting hills slowly inexorably burying all that lies before them……

The poet was speaking here and then suddenly we were into the story with the introduction of one of the main characters, David, the present day Archaeologist who was supervising a dig for what we already knew would be related to that ship and that name and those maps.

 The short first chapter headed Discovery was not just about this, it was the start of a complex, compelling historical murder mystery linked to the present by archaeological secrets, rivalries and obsessions, and including two beautiful, terrifyingly real love stories.

I couldn’t finish this book at the pool, I had to dive in and swim to come up for air so immersed was I in its pages, so I took it home to devour it over the next week. I was fascinated and sometimes annoyed by the structure but full of admiration as to how the writer almost managed to pull it off.

It didn’t matter if I found some of the transitions from present tense to past, or changes in narrator or lack of punctuation or the interjection of succinct essays on the political history of European expansion challenging, since I had experimented with all such devices in my own writing and I knew how well this writer was handling these.

And above all, the story, the characters and the clear but lyrical prose carried me into worlds that I knew and didn’t know, the familiar and the strange interwoven in a book that doesn’t quite fit any genre,  resulting in a reading experience rivalling some of my best.

Original, exciting, seriously scary in parts and oh so erotic with a sometimes perverse edge, are some more epithets I would add.  And hurrah for a man who can write erotic scenes so well!

I googled James to find out more and I remembered why his name was familiar, his blog  had been recommended in Newswrite the journal of the NSW  Writers’ Centre, and  he’d had gone on to win further acclaim with his next two novels. His blog is generously full of ideas, information, provocative essays, comments, videos, cartoons,  and the longest blog roll I’ve ever seen. Well worth a visit particularly his video interview about his book The Resurrectionist.

However there is nothing like the experience of reading a great novel, lying in the sun overlooking the vast Pacific Ocean in this land we now call Australia or the map calls Great Java.

Wrack will stay with me a long time, it is already in my psyche burrowing away and prodding my wretched muse to do its work. I don’t want to part with this book yet but eventually I will take it back to the pool and let someone else have the joy of Discovery of this treasure. And I will buy  a copy of The Resurrectionist.

January 2, 2011

2010 YEAR IN BLOGGING FOR ATHENAPALLAS

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow which means healthy blog we think you did great!

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,800 times in 2010. That’s about 4 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 25 new posts, not bad for the first year! There were 92 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 35mb. That’s about 2 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was April 13th with 59 views. The most popular post that day was Warrior Goddess ready to do battle.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were healthfitnesstherapy.com, ahhserenity.wordpress.com, obama-scandal-exposed.co.cc, mail.live.com, and hitztvshows.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for spider web, spider’s web, spiders web, giant spider web, and erecthion.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Warrior Goddess ready to do battle April 2010
6 comments

2

WHY I NEVER DESTROY A SPIDER’S WEB June 2010
1 comment

3

Modern Hermes or How Twitter saved Australian Literature April 2010
11 comments

4

HOW ATHENA CAME TO ASK A QUESTION ON NATIONAL TV June 2010
6 comments

5

Melting Aphrodite, Eros and Growing Old Disgracefully. September 2010
2 comments

December 20, 2010

WHAT DOES CHRISTMAS MEAN IN 2010?

Filed under: Athena's musings,Modern Athenas,Who am I? — athenapallas @ 8:47 am
Tags: , , , ,

Our Lucky Land

How can I write anything meaningful about Christmas when thirty desperate people have lost their lives trying to come to our  so-called lucky  land.

A land that unlike most places that these people have escaped from is peaceful, prosperous and supposedly welcoming and inclusive.

How have we so easily forgotten that we all came to this country as refugees or even prisoners and occasionally free settlers but usually escaping from persecution, or class hatred or poverty or the harsh winters of Britain or Europe in which our babies died.

As I walk along my street in Leichhardt I often pass a woman on her way back from  the shops. She walks lopsided, gripping plastic shopping bags and I notice her unsuitable shoes, her sad eyes, her dropped face and her thinning dyed black hair, and I wonder about her.

I usually try to make eye contact and say Hello, but mostly she does not see me, or if she does she gives a hardly perceptible nod of her head.

A part of my professional mind thinks she must be depressed, another part of me gets annoyed at her avoidance and concerned that she doesn’t seem to know how to look after herself, or as I think she should, by using a trolley, or wearing a hat and more suitable shoes for her shopping trip.

Last week I looked towards her house to see if she was coming down the street.

I could see her outside her gate because she was wearing a bright orange pants suit so different from her usual dark attire. As I approached her, I smiled and said, ‘I love your orange pants suit, the colour really suits you.’

Her face lit up like she was a young woman again, standing in the moonlight with her sweetheart, and she smiled at me.

 ‘I bought it at Millers. I buy all my clothes there..so cheap.. my daughter buys me other things not necessary…

And so she started to talk and tell me her story.                                         

‘ We came here from Italy in the 50’s,  a village north of  Roma,                        

my husband he was a good man, he worked for the big builders

in the city, he built Australia Square, we had a good life here,

then he has the head thing and he nearly died, he was only 45,

I nursed him for ten years but he was good man,

and the neighbours here very kind people, I have lived here 50 years, 

I have two daughters they work in the city they do well,

we very lucky, I have been robbed three times in this street,

once they knocked me down and took my bag,

and I fell on my leg, I’m ok now, I have a 26 year old grandson,                                                      Village in Italy

I say to him you can put me in the place in Marion St but he says no,

you don’t need that, Nona, I’m lucky I know people here,

the woman in your house was my friend she died of  cancer long time ago….’

 The rain is starting to spot her lovely orange jacket but still she continues to talk.

So much history and so much to be thankful for despite all she has gone through.

No wonder some days she looks grim and does not see me. Now, however she will see me, I know her name and I  have welcomed her into my world without judgment.  And we can at last be true neighbours.

What a pity we don’t do this more often.

My Bella in Tuscan Village

December 5, 2010

ATHENA SINGS WITH JONAH AND THE WAILERS

 

Athena sang with Jonah and the Wailers at the Basement earlier this year. If you like the sound and energy of this wonderful Acapella group you can see them and Athena at their final concert for the year, End the year on a HIGH NOTE, at the Mosman Art Gallery, December 12th at 3pm. You can purchase your tickets online and find out more about this wonderful concert.

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