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

 

July 31, 2010

DESERT WRITERS AND FOUR NOBLE TRUTHS OF WRITING

Filed under: Modern Athenas,Novel in Progress — athenapallas @ 8:38 pm
Tags: , ,

 In the West Macdonnell Ranges of Central Australia our writing guru Jan Cornall taught us these 4 noble truths:

  1. WRITERS WRITE
  2. WRITING IS A PROCESS
  3. YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOUR WRITING WILL BE UNTIL THE END OF THE PROCESS
  4. IF WRITING IS YOUR PRACTICE THE ONLY WAY TO FAIL IS NOT TO WRITE.*

At the finale to this wonderful week of learning, writing,                      

Desert Writers Walking

exploring country, listening to the stories of traditional owners  

and visiting  secret women’s  places,  

we presented our work at  the Desert Writers’  Festival of Hermannsburg .   

While it was good to realise that as writers we cannot fail and that the process is the truth,  

the power of our group experience combined with the talent of  eight extraordinary women to produce some wonderful examples of writing in a variety of genres including film script, biography, poetry, haiku, memoir, short story and novel. 

Athena was  asked to present a short precis of her latest                  

Desert Writers Listening

work in progress, Digging Up the Dead   as  well as to read 

 a scene she wrote under the  mesmerizing influence 

of her desert writing experience. 

But  be warned, as noble truth no 3 asserts, 

this may bear no resemblance to the finished work! 

Digging Up the Dead

Athena Pallas, nicknamed Pal,  is a very unusual Diviner  who is summoned  in 1992 to Yungaburra, a small mining town  in Queensland, by David the mine geologist. After the death of Gary, the blast engineer  in the open cut coal mine, and with the coal running out on top, the mine bosses decide to go underground to extract the rest of the coal left in 1972 when a gigantic underground explosion sealed the mine entombing 12 miners. Alice,  Gary’s girlfriend and the  daughter of George  one of the entombed miners joins Naomi, an Aboriginal elder concerned by  the mine’s desecration of sacred burial places, to help Athena  find out where and how the miners died and to stop the re-opening of the mine.  David, Alice and Naomi have a secret ally who is funding Athena’s assignment and gradually other townspeople like Stan the wily newspaper editor and  Edgar the enigmatic Mining  Warden are drawn into the events that follow. 

Mysterious signs and happenings lead Athena  to think she may be the mortal manifestation of Pallas Athena, 

Desert Writers Climbing

the Warrior Goddess of Ancient Greece, or

that  someone or something is trying to drive her crazy. 

In any event she will need all of the powers of this goddess

as well as those of ancestral Aboriginal spirits 

 to complete her mission and defeat the mine…….. 

As  the plot thickens Athena has a vision of herself at the Gateway to the Underworld where she engages in mortal combat to save George and learn from him what really happened underground in 1972. 

……An enormous roar came from the depths of the tunnel like the explosion George had described but I knew that this was no mine explosion because although loud it did not bucket us with a fiery gaseous wind.  

However I knew we were in trouble when Cerberus the guardian dog  of the Underworld sprung into our presence and sat defiantly on his haunches in front of  us. 

Up close he was a terrifying sight. With three huge heads all with vicious white teeth he reminded me of  the jagged jaws of the continuous mining machines that tore out and swallowed the coal before spitting it into the shuttle cars.  

Here the similarity ended for I could see  the end of his serpent’s tail between his legs and there were innumerable snakes attached to his body.            

Nicholas Guarding Desert Writers

The snakes and his tail were deadly 

if you were foolish enough to  touch them. 

I threw my aegis shield over George to try 

and protect him from the pernicious poison I knew the Dog had in store for us if I defied him and tried to enter the Underworld. 

Cerberus seemed to be able to read my thoughts for suddenly there was a swishing sound and movement of the air in front of me. One of the Dog’s heads moved towards the sound and then the head flung itself towards us. 

I grabbed my shield to stop it before I realised it was detached from its mighty body as if it had been decapitated by an invisible sword. The hideous head fell useless at my feet, but I knew that even a two-headed Cerberus was a formidable opponent. 

Before I could think of a plan, his whip like serpent’s tail flashed out from between his legs and caught me on the side of my head. Without my helmet I would have been showered with the most toxic substance known to the gods-capable of immobilizing whole armies let alone  one woman, albeit the Warrior Goddess and daughter of Zeus. 

Recovering from this close encounter with Cerberus’  tail I lost sight of his heads for a moment and he leapt towards me with all his remaining teeth bared. I cried out: 

‘Zeus, don’t leave me, I have much to do in mortal realms. I must return above.”  

As I yelled these word another decapitated head hurtled towards me………. to be continued maybe …..

The audience clapped enthusiastically when she finished reading this scene but now the writer is left with the task of working out what on earth this means both  for Athena and the story! 

She will keep you posted maybe…… if she survives… 

*From One Continuous Mistake, The Four Noble Truths of Writing by Gail Sher

April 12, 2010

Warrior Goddess ready to do battle

Last night after watching 4Corners on the ABC I went over to the Bronte Surf club to retrieve my helmet, spear, and shield (aegis) because I’m going to to need them. I’m going to have leave my musings behind for a while and get dirty. Dirt is what the ABC  program was all about. Dirt from the 14 Open cut coal mines in the Upper Hunter Valley that make the lives of its 40,000 inhabitents like living in  Hades.

A truck driver encounters an orange cloud of toxic  gas and is so overcome with its poison he nearly  loses control of his truck;  families have all their children suffering from coughs,  asthma, bronchitis, hideous skin allergies which all disappear within days of holidaying on the coast.

In one small town 100 of the 150 people who have lived through this enormous expansion of King Coal in the area, have left to protect their families’ health. For some interviewed it’s already too late as they have inoperable cancers which they attribute to living so close to the  toxic dust and gases from the area’s mines and two power stations, and there is mounting research, overseas and here ,to support this claim.  

some stats:

14 mines in the Upper Hunter pump out 99 million tonnes of coal a year for the furnaces of Japan, India and China.

100 kilometres to the south the port of Newcastle has become the biggest black coal exporter in the world and the mines are going to get bigger in the next 6 years maybe doubling their output. 

At any one time 20 to 30 coal ships are lined up all the way to the central coast waiting to swallow their loads of black gold.

For the 40,000 people who live in the Upper Hunter, some of whom have been there for 5  or 6 generations,

there is no escape.

Latest yearly stats show a total of 108 tonnes of toxic metals including arsenic, cadmium, chromium, cobalt and lead soaking the air of the upper Hunter along with 122,000 tonnes of sulphur dioxide.

If Mt Olympus was an active volcano and if  my father Zeus got really angry and ignited it,  it could not produce a cloud of poison as bad as this.

You may ask why this makes me so angry. I’m the narrator in a  factional fantastical story Digging Up the Dead  being written  about  the effects of coal mining on a  town and its people in Queensland in 1972 and 1992.

The local mine is  small compared the ones of the Hunter and the Bowen Basin in 2010. But even back then people who lived near or worked in the mines were dying from underground explosions, fire, blasting accidents, toxic dust and gas.  In my story, when the coal company decided to go underground again and mine the area in which 12 men were entombed in 1972, the town calls on me in my mortal manifestation as an unusual sort  of diviner to help… more  about this later

I was  so moved by what  the local GP  in Singleton is doing

 to try to get the government to even acknowledge there could be a problem

that I wondered if I should be going there to help him.

This man, who has been living and working there for years, is one helluva god.

After no response to a well written and researched submission from the town

for some sort of study into what might be happening,

with the help of volunteers he started a study of his own, 

 testing the lung capacity of 900  local children  to see if they had asthma related problems.

 One in six had significantly lowered lung function compared to the national average of one in nine. 

 He would like to test the lung capacities of a  matched group  on the coast

or in some other rural community away from mines. 

But this surely is  a job for the government.

I’m going to let him have the last word on this post.

Dr Tuan An said ,’ I’ve been here for 14 years, I have a good family and wonderful community and friends.

I can’t just pack up and leave. I hope every body working together, we can change the community.

 I think the community’s not against the mining company or power station, they just want change.

The would like the goverment to listen to their…what they request

and because it’s their life and their family

and if we do not do anything else, the one we lose is our family…..’

Sorry, he can’t have the last word.

 Unlike him I’m angry and

when Athena the Warrior Goddess is angry the whole universe shakes

I don’t want to have to use the full strength of my powers, not yet anyway,

but I’m aiming my spear of Pallas and woe betide if it’s aimed at you: 

 irresponsible mining moguls, greedy consumers,

dumb governments, and dumber media

who think all we want to know about is Britney’s latest disaster.

What about a disaster that’s happening to  40,000 people

who live in what was once the most beautiful valley in the world.

and one more stat:

the  NSW government earns 1.5 billion from coal royalties

and earnings from power stations and coal transport,

that’s a lot of reasons to ignore the people of the Upper Hunter.

Much of what I’ve written is based on the transcript of the  excellent 4corners program of last night.

Any errors of stats, facts etc are my own as are the opinions expressed.

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