Saturday, 18 April 2009



It is Greek Orthodox Easter Sunday today. This is a relic of the older calendrical system of the Julian reckoning. The Greek Orthodox Church has (grudgingly) embraced the Gregorian calendar for all “fixed festivals” (e.g. Christmas and the commemorative Feast Days of Saints) that recur on the same date every year. However, when it comes to calculating the “moveable festivals” (e.g. Easter and all of the associated feasts such as Ash Wednesday, Ascension, Pentecost, etc), the Orthodox Church uses the Julian Calendar. This leads to the curious situation of the Greek Orthodox and Catholic devotees celebrating Christmas together on the same date and Easter at different times.

Easter is an interesting example as the Paschal dates are calculated on the seasonal calendar, re-enforcing the fact that Easter is an old Spring fertility festival (Eostra was the name of the Celtic Spring goddess). Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first “Paschal” full moon following the Spring Equinox on the 21st of March. The dates of all other moveable feasts are calculated in connection with the date set for Easter in that year. If there is no full moon between the Spring equinox calculated according to the Gregorian calendar and the Spring Equinox according to the Julian calendar, then Catholic and Orthodox Easter occur at the same time. This recently happened in 1977, 1987, 1991, 2001, 2004, 2007 and will periodically recur (2010, 2011, 2014) until reason prevails and the Gregorian calendar is adopted universally. An even more logical approach would be to specify Easter as always being celebrated on the third Sunday in April, for example. What a boon for time-tablers, schedulers and forward planners that would be!

Today was a relaxing day with family and friends. Because Greek Orthodox people still fast during Lent, and especially so the Holy Week before Easter, Easter Sunday is a day when eating and feasting is universally adopted. The feasting starts after the midnight mass where the joyful announcement of “Christós Anésti” (Christ is Risen) is made. Everyone takes out their red dyed eggs and they try to crack each other’s by hitting them end to end. The lucky winner is the one with the uncracked egg. The eating begins after the mass when everyone goes home and eats a traditional soup made of lamb offal (liver, lung, intestine), spring onions, dill and egg and lemon.

The next day, even the poorest families will consume the Paschal lamb, roasted on the spit. It is time for families to get together (and usually go out of the cities in order to enjoy the Springtime and visit other family members who live in villages or smaller towns. The feasting continues all of the following week (even on Wednesday and Friday, which are the usual fast days when meat should not be consumed right throughout the year).

For Art Sunday today, Mikhail Nesterov’s “Resurrection” from the end of the 1890s.


“Sin makes its own hell, and goodness its own heaven.” - Mary Baker Eddy

Have just got home from Brisbane. It has been a very busy three days and today was particularly long and arduous, finishing with the graduation of our Queensland students. Graduation ceremonies are always big occasions, especially for the graduates, and this was a very good one, staged in the Concert Hall of the Queensland Performing Arts Centre.

Tonight is Easter Saturday and the midnight mass at Greek Orthodox churches will announce the happy message of the Resurrection. Today at lunchtime we had time to visit the Greek Church in Brisbane, St George’s in South Brisbane. It is a beautiful church and we heard the chant of the Resurrection in a pre-emptive resurrection mass.

The church was full of young people, which was pleasing to see. Also the parish seemed to be a particularly well-off one, with the whole of the church decorated with huge bouquets of flowers, many richly decorated icons, votive offerings, etc.

Happy Easter to all my Greek readers! Καλό Πάσχα και Καλή Ανάσταση!

Friday, 17 April 2009


“Where man sees but withered leaves, God sees sweet flowers growing.” - Albert Laighton

Today is the Greek Orthodox Good Friday, which is the most solemn and sorrowful day in the Christian calendar. No work should be done on this day of prayer and reflection when one should mourn for Christ’s death on the cross. No iron tools should be handled and hammers and nails are to be avoided especially it is said, lest you crucify Christ anew. If clothes are washed on this day, a member of the family will die. As the clothes hang out to dry they will be spotted with blood. This belief is from the apocryphal story that relates of a washerwoman mockingly throwing dirty washing water on Christ on his way to Calvary. Parsley seed can be planted on this day, provided a wooden spade is used.

The Greek Orthodox religion is particularly rich in tradition on this day. During the whole day, church masses are said with the most moving and mournful chanting ( The church icons are covered with dark purple cloth and the mighty church bells fall silent until Easter Sunday. The Epitaphios (a symbolic representation of Christ's bier), is decorated with flowers and the faithful parade past it in order to worship a embroidered icon with the dead Christ depicted on it. On Good Friday evening, the Epitaphios is ceremoniously carried through the parish in a magnificent candlelit procession, followed by the priest and the entire congregation who hold lit candles.

Fasting is mandatory and only fruit, vegetables and boiled pulses are to be eaten without any trace of oil. It is customary to drink some vinegar on this day to remember the vinegar Christ was given to drink on the cross when he was athirst.

Thursday, 16 April 2009


“We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment.” - Hilaire Belloc

In Brisbane for work for a few days. A very busy day today but at least I got the chance to enjoy a little of the glorious weather as I had a few meetings outside the campus. The hustle and bustle of the city was quite remarkable today and there also seemed to be a general holiday air. Quite a few tourists were around but even the locals were very lively. School holidays are still on and several children were making their presence felt in no uncertain ways…

As I got up very early this morning an early night is called for. Hence the microblog…
Enjoy your day (or night, as the case may be)!

Wednesday, 15 April 2009


"The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there." – LP Hartley

Running after the Past

A walk in well worn paths
Shaded by the fragrant roses
Of the passage of time.
Familiar faces, accustomed places
Sunlight and laughter
Remembered embraces.

Your eyes are sadder, maybe wiser
By memories of old mistakes,
Ageing misunderstandings
Finally understood;
But your hand reluctant
To stop history repeating itself.

You yearn for the past,
Your remembrances precious:
Of friends, sweet wine, good times.
You yearn for a past
When I was writhing in agonies
Impaled like a butterfly by the pin of your love.
Each passing second a tear
Each of your smiles a dagger
Each of your nostalgic moments one of my hells.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009


“Force is all-conquering, but its victories are short-lived.” - Abraham Lincoln

Last Saturday a 19-year-old gunman opened fire in a vocational college in Athens, wounding three people before taking his own life. He left a note accusing his fellow students of picking on him and an even more graphic document of his planned actions on his internet site. An 18-year-old fellow student of his was seriously injured and two men outside the college building were shot and lightly injured. Stabbings at Greek schools have happened previously, but such a shooting is unprecedented.

The gunman was an immigrant from the Georgian breakaway region of Abkhazia. His notes said he couldn’t take it any more and he wanted to kill as many as possible to take revenge for perceived wrongs against him. The shooter was armed with two handguns and a knife was found in his bag. He shot his fellow student four times at about 8:45 am, a quarter of an hour after lessons had started. He shot two workers at a nearby shop who tried to stop him while he was running out. He then went to a park close to the school and shot himself in the head.

This is a shooting following a recent surge of bloody bank robberies, homicides, muggings and violent burglaries in Greece. The country has no history of violent crime and the incidents have overwhelmed the country’s conservative government, which has been shaken by a series of financial scandals and holds a slim one-seat majority in parliament. Last week, unknown gunmen shot and injured two policemen who stopped them for a routine check in Athens, while recently a gunman fired shots in an Athens hospital during a bank robbery. In addition to the increase in crime, police have had to deal with a surge in political violence by anarchist and far-left groups, who frequently carry out arson attacks on symbols of state authority, banks and foreign diplomats' cars.

Such events in Greece lately have caused quite a great deal of consternation for the locals who now not only have to cope with a financial crisis of unprecedented severity, but now also have to live in an increasingly violent society, which seems to be becoming more unstable. This is a phenomenon that we are witnessing around the world. Wherever one turns there are such reports of violent crimes, robberies, senseless murders, pointless acts of intimidation and brutal aggression. Similar crimes in the USA, in Germany, in Finland, in Australia, where young men have gone on a bloody rampage in attacks that mimic one another and copy video games, movies, TV shows…

How many of our young people who are growing up in a society that is losing its collective mind in ever-increasing numbers, find that the only way to be noticed, to become a “hero”, to be strong and powerful is through the agency of a gun? How many people find it easier to squeeze a trigger and murder, than to wield a pen, use a tool, or work hard in order to contribute something to the whole of society and be thus “noticed”? How many find solace in the blood lust that a gun can engender? To kill is to be in command. To be able to kill commands everyone’s respect…

What next? Anarchy? Lynch law? Mob rule? Gangs? Pirates? Murderers ruling with an iron fist and a gun ready to fire? Next? Not so for I believe it’s all happening around us presently. Where are we going in our collective insanity? Can we stop ourselves on the brink of disaster before it’s too late?

Monday, 13 April 2009


“Fall seven times, stand up eight.” - Japanese Proverb

This weekend we watched a wonderful 2006 Japanese movie directed by Sang-il Lee, who also co-wrote it. It is the poignant comedy/drama “Hula Girls”. The film is simple in its premise, but touches subtly on many important social issues including progress, change, unemployment, social inequality, and what it means to be an “outsider”.

The film is set in 1965 in rural northeastern Japan, in a small mining town where almost all of the residents live employed by the coal mine. The changing times and the advent of oil will force the closure of the coal mine and about 2,000 people will lose their jobs. The mining company, in an effort to provide something for the town and give some means of a livelihood to about 500 people, plans to open a “Hawaiian Centre” complete with palm trees and hula dancers right in the middle of the harsh winter climate of Iwaki. The union bosses are set dead against the plan but some girls decide they want to become hula dancers and join a class that is to be taught by a professional dancer who arrives from Tokyo (fleeing from her creditors, it appears). The film depicts the struggle of the young girls to become accomplished dancers amidst an inimical climate, with even their families against them. Kimiko, Sanae and Yasuri are the leaders of the girls and Mrs Hirayana, the dancer from Tokyo first confronts them and then wins them over.

The film is a tender memoir of a different time and pays tribute to the fascination the Japanese have with things Hawaiian. Like the Peter Cattaneo film “The Full Monty”, “Hula Girls” looks at a group of misfits who conquer their insecurities and problems through learning of a particular skill or utilising a hidden talent (in this case, hula dancing). The film was inspired by the real life Jouban Hawaiian Centre (at present called 'Spa Resort Hawaiians') in Iwaki City, Fukushima, which was developed in 1961 in an attempt to stimulate the local prefecture’s economy.

Yû Aoi who plays Kimiko, one of the hula girls, does a wonderful job and is perfectly counterfoiled against Matsuyuki Yasuko who plays the dancing instructress from Tokyo. Kimiko’s mother (and union leader) is also well cast and the supporting actors all make for a good show. The music is well chosen and in keeping with the theme, while the cinematography is also very good. The dancing is excellent and one must remember that this is the Japanese interpretation of Pacific island dancing and even though many Hawaiians may object to the authenticity of the dances, the Japanese versions are a quintessential distillation of hula dancing which is presented in a marvellous way. The final dance sequence is quite stunning.

Although the film contains many humorous moments, its dramatic elements are more of its strength and there are many poignant and teary moments in it. Overall, an unexpectedly enjoyable film that surprised and delighted us.

Sunday, 12 April 2009


“Tomb, thou shalt not hold Him longer;
 Death is strong, but Life is stronger.” - Phillips Brooks
Happy Easter!

For Art Sunday today, a topical painting, the resurrection of Jesus Christ by Hans Memling. Hans Memling (1430?-94) was known as a master of Flemish painting, however, he was born in Seligenstadt, near Frankfurt am Main in Germany. Memling first established himself as a painter in Brussels and his work shows the strong influence of Rogier van der Weyden in style and composition. This is the reason Memling is thought to have studied under the older artist.

In about 1466 Memling moved to Bruges, where his career prospered. Like many other Flemish masters, Memling painted with glowing colours and fine craftsmanship. Unlike most artists, his style varied little throughout his career. Many of Memling's well-known religious works were painted for the Hospital of St. John in Bruges.

Memling was a master of portraiture. The faces he painted with careful detail glow with life and the character of each sitter is subtly suggested. In addition to the portraits Memling painted for the notables of Bruges, he also received commissions from foreign visitors such as Tommaso Portinari of the Florentine Medici. Memling died in Bruges on August 11, 1494.
“The Resurrection”, with the “Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian” and “The Ascension”
Triptych, Oil on Wood. Central panel 62 x 45 cm; Wings 62 x 19 cm; Musee du Louvre, Paris.