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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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.
                                                                

August 27, 2010

ATHENA RETREATS TO SANTORINI

Filed under: Athena's musings — athenapallas @ 9:15 am
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Athena is weary. She has been scheming and working on Odysseus’ behalf

to help him on his epic journey back home to Ithaca. 

She fought beside him in the Trojan wars,

she sent a dream to Nausicaa to give her the idea of doing  her washing

at the river on the day Odysseus landed at Phaeacia;

she gave him supernatural good looks to ensure Nausicaa would obtain a boat for him to return home;

she begged her father Zeus to help him,

‘Olympian Zeus have you no care for him in you lofty heart?’

She caused Calypso to release him after seven years of imprisonment on her island of erotic delights and persuaded her  to give him the means to put to sea again.

She wants to get far away from the Homeric haunts of the Ionian Islands   

 so she has come at last to Santorini

formed by a cataclysmic volcanic explosion

long before Homer told his tales to passers by.

No one knows her here and there is no trace left

of her stay beyond  a little known path along the cliffs

where if you are observant you can see her foot prints.

Like the thousands who have come to this spectacular island

she watch its sunsets in awe.

She finds a cave long since abandoned by its inhabitants

and here she sleeps dreaming of the time when she might welcome Odysseus home.

Then as she feels the ground beneath her  heave in yet another attempt to stop her,

 by her angry Uncle Poseidon who hates Odysseus,

she  knows she has to leave to continue her own Odyssey.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

Before she goes she takes one more look at the sunset     

 that will  become the hallmark of this island

 in the centuries that follow drawing thousands

of modern travellers to the shores of this

magic place.

July 30, 2010

ATHENA AND THE GHOSTS OF HISTORY

Filed under: Athena's ragings — athenapallas @ 5:28 pm
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THE SERMON OF HERMANNSBURG JULY  2010

Athena mounted the pulpit of this historic church and this is what she said to the ghosts of the past, present and future.

 I, Athena, The Warrior Goddess proclaim this to be a special place full of enormous power and inspiration emanating from the cataclysmic intersection of three cultures and Peoples: the Evangelical Lutheran Missionaries, the Expansionary European Settlers and the Aranda People of the West McDonnell Ranges of Central Australia.

 All three groups required courage and endurance to survive in this, one of  the oldest and driest continents on earth. And in the violence of their meeting a fire was lit whose flames can still sustain us or consume us if we do not listen to the message that this brings namely:

The Land is everything and  without it we are lost.

With no knowledge of  the  land we are doomed,

and if we approach it with ignorance and greed

we will die and our descendants will be cursed and the land will no longer support us.

From our connection to the land comes our humanity and our spirituality.

THE LAND IS US AND WE ARE THE LAND.

 In the  heavens ancient Gods may reign and fight among themselves but here on earth the mortals must collaborate and co-operate if they are to survive and flourish.

Pastors standing here in this pulpit may have raged about the wages of sin and declared the Glory of  their God but they also grew to respect, sometimes to their detriment, the power of Indigenous Dreaming and the intricate web of relationships between the landscape, the flora,  the fauna and the peoples of this land we call Australia.

I, Athena salute this sacred place and humbly thank all who have stood here before me.

July 12, 2010

WALKING IN THE STEPS OF DESERT HEROES- Macdonnell Ranges Central Australia

This is Nicholas 19 year old lawman of the Arunda people and  Indigenous guide for the Desert Writers Into the Blue Creative Walk   in the West Macdonnell Ranges of Central Australia   a modern unsung hero befitting the NAIDOC  2010 theme of closing the gap through celebrating our unsung heroes.

And this  is the story of the amazing relationship between Nicholas’ family and the family of Pastor Carl Strehlow, the Senior Missionary of Hermannsburg, the first Aboriginal Mission in the Northern Territory, established by the Lutheran Church in 1877 on Western Arunda traditional lands.

The  story is narrated by Nicholas’  grandfather Herman Malbunka and the first part is  about his grandfather Hesekiel Malbunka, a senior Western Arunda man, a lawman of his country and the friend and cultural mentor of Pastor Carl Strehlow. An unsung and sung hero as the story will demonstrate.

 When Pastor Carl became fatally ill Hesekiel was sent to Alice Springs to send a telegram for help.

Hesekiel knew how critical his task was, he needed to act quickly. Once out of sight of the Mission and other people, he pulled out a lump of soft grass.

He sung that grass to act as the sun and stay high in the sky, for him to complete his journey in the daylight hours.

Hesekiel completed his song and then put the grass in a high fork of a tree and travelled overland by INKALAKA (foot  walk) using the power of song to move through country in record time.

He sang just three songs chanting rhythmically in his mind,his sacred songs learnt through the law.

He walked an incredible 250ks  in two and one half days. On his return he removed the grass in the tree and returned to the Mission compound.

Ted Strehlow Carl’s son said this was faster than our horses would have been at that time.

Ted Strehlow and Gustav Malbunka, Hesekiel’s son were born on the same day 6th June 1908.

One day when only boys they were  down at the Finke River playing. Ted dived in and hit his head on a rock temporarily knocking him out. Gustav dived in and pulled him  up onto the bank saving his life.

Carl had saved Hesekiel from a notorious policeman some 20 years earlier.

Gustav had now saved Carl’s son, these families had strong bonds of friendship, they were friends for life.

Herman Malbunka Narrator (From the Occasional Paper 4 2005 Strehlow Research Centre)

Now Herman’s grandson Nicholas, an initiated lawman works as a guide taking people into his family’s lands and the lands of others Western Arunda people.

He is in some ways a typical teenager full of mischief and fun        

but in others he is different.

He walks tall, he notices all that is happening around him,

he takes his responsibility as a guide seriously,

imparting information where it is appropriate

and sometimes keeping quiet.

He is kind and thoughtful to older white women

who must sometimes seem slow. 

He laughs, sings, dances and jumps for joy a lot of the time.

He took himself all the way to Adelaide to complete his secondary education so that he would not return to his people to get married and have children before he was 20 years old.

‘I will do that later’, he said, ‘maybe when I’m 24. In the meantime I want to work, earn money and learn new things’. 

In the course of several conversations during our desert walk  he said things like:

Our family and our people love and respect the Lutherans,

they worked   hard to help us,  

they saved our lives and stood up for us against the government and others… 

They helped us get back our lands and

they brought us the Word of  God but did not interfere with us.

We have a new church now but some of our people have forgotten.

 Our family will never forget.

There is another side to this story. Although the missionaries here did much to save the people as they fled from massacre, drought and disease,  in the single-mindedness of their Christian beliefs of that time, ancient sacred places were desecrated. Mudgooroo in his dictionary of Aboriginal Mythology reports the Christian exorcising of  the main keeping place of sacred objects (tjuringa)  at Manangananga cave two kilometres from the Mission in 1928 and that sacred objects were sold to tourists and Anthropologists at a shilling a time. But apparently  in the 1950’s there occurred a tribal revitalisation movement which saw the re-sacralisation of the  Cave. And by the 1970s the sale of sacred objects and songs was at an end.

July 6, 2010

ATHENA IN THE DESERT

Athena has just returned from an amazing  journey through the Macdonnell Ranges of the Central Australian Desert,  which stretch 400 kilometres on either side of Alice Springs . A life changing event for the Warrior Goddess as she met Ancestral Spirits,  a modern Aboriginal Law Man and Senior Traditional Owners of the lands where she alighted.

In the coming days/weeks she will post photos and stories that she gathered in the company of an extraordinary group of Modern Athenas/Writers led by Jan Cornall performance poet, composer, writer and teacher and Raymond Hawkins  a Modern Hermes of Into the Blue Creative Walks   and  a young  Aranda Law Man Nicholas Williams.

A sample of these posts include the following:

Dog Rock Python-The Desert Oracle                                         

Charioteers of  The Pound

How a Meteorite and a Baby Formed a Landscape

Friends For  Life- an Aboriginal Miracle.

The Amphitheatre of  Centralia

The Four Noble Truths of Writing

Athena’s Sermon from The Church at Hermannsburg

Listening to the Rocks of Ormiston

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