There are so many layers of Greece.
Pre-historic Cycladic Greece with its idols so reminiscent of the Easter Islands.
And then there is modern Greece….
There are so many layers of Greece.
Pre-historic Cycladic Greece with its idols so reminiscent of the Easter Islands.
And then there is modern Greece….
Why turn experience into fiction? Why not write a “true” account of material? [If truth can ever be achieved. Consider the varying testimony of witnesses to a crime. Consider varying interpretations of historic events.]
There is a place for non-fiction: a good biography, a well-written history, a scientific treatise can attempt to provide answers. But to comprehend the motives, to understand the why, to make reality live, fiction, alone, can work.
Fiction, story-telling, is mankind’s oldest way of conveying information.
Think of the cave men, sitting around an imagined fire, relating the “facts” of the hunt, teaching the youngsters of the clan the best way to corner the Woolly Mammoth, the surest means of defending the tribe’s territory, the appropriate behavior in confronting danger.
See, we’re already in the realm of fiction. Nobody really knows, with absolute certainty, whether or not cave people sat around a fireplace and told stories. Archeology tells us they had fire. Common sense, and over-population, tells us they had children. And human progress suggests they had a way of sharing experience with the younger generation. The rest is fiction – based on arrowheads and ashes informed by personal experience. Add to that cave paintings – art, which is close kin to fiction. And song – poetry, to fill in the void that even fiction cannot reach.
Fiction, along with art and poetry, is the ancestor of all knowledge. No need to apologize for writing fiction.
The BBC reports that the unemployment rate in Greece is 26.8%. Greece has overtaken Spain as the European country with the most unemployment. Not only that. This is the highest unemployment rate EVER recorded in the European Union. And this despite a year or more of austerity. Or maybe that explains the problem. What next?
The good news is that the S&P has raised Greece’s credit rating from “Selective Default” to “B-minus.” The bad news is that unemployment in Greece is the highest in Europe, and that’s saying something. The problem. Well, what does Greece have to sell but Sun and Beaches? There is, of course, Greek yogurt (made in the USA, for the most part). This New Yorker cartoon tells it all.
Here is “Before Time,” the Preface to Time Running Out. To read more, order at email@example.com ($13, postage paid). To find out more, read the postings below.
He waded out of the sea at dawn, the duffle bag hoisted on his shoulder. Gulls whirled above his head as the dory drifted off.
From the crest of the dune, he gazed, with clear blue eyes, on the northern sea. He seemed tall. But there was nothing but marram grass against which to measure him. Naked, he was a man in his prime – thirty years old, perhaps. Maybe more. All around him the island spread down to the sea.
He opened the duffle bag, pulled out a long-sleeved shirt of white muslin and put it on.
He was thirsty and he drank his fill from a jar of water.
As the sun climbed, he dug basins in the sand – using his hands, the way a dog digs with his paws. He layered the depressions with rubber sheeting he took from the duffle bag and held it in place with stones. When he was satisfied with his crude cisterns, he turned to anchoring a tarpaulin against an outcropping of rock. Bracing the square sheet of canvas with drift wood, he fashioned a shelter for himself.
It was past noon and the sun was warm when he waded into the surf and threw out a net. Around him, the blown sea foam contained all the colors of the rainbow. He pursed his seine and caught three cod in the tightening net. The fish lay flapping among the webbing while he pulled on a pair of trousers and gathered driftwood. He was careful to store some inside his tent against the storms that would come.
The wind died. He started his fire with a match. He lit dry seaweed, fed into it slivers of kindling, and then added larger pieces of firewood to the kindling. He gutted the fish and scraped them clean with the blade from his pocket knife. The two larger cod he hung to dry on a rack hastily fashioned of driftwood. The smallest he skewered onto a spit balanced across two forked branches. He buried a potato in the fire, one of a dozen he had brought with him. In the future, such luxury would be rare. He took a sweater, a heavy woolen jacket, socks, a pair of felt boots, a bedroll, and a cooking pot from the duffle bag and stashed them inside his tent.
Sitting near the fire, the man took out the last of his possessions. For him, it was the most precious. And yet, it was no tool for survival. Nor was it of particular monetary value.
He had wrapped it well, covering it with multiple sheets of canvas to protect it from the sea. Slowly, carefully, he removed each layer.
When the board was uncovered, he balanced it on his knees. It measured forty by forty-eight centimeters. Months of fasting and prayer had preceded his work on this notched slab of linden wood. Weeks had followed during which he had scored the board and primed it with layers of linen and of glue extracted from rabbit hide. Finally he had coated the prepared surface with a mixture of the glue and an alabaster powder called levkos, He had first sketched, and then engraved into the dried levkos the outline of a picture. For days on end, he had colored the image – that was the best time – with pigments ranging from vivid red and yellow ochre to cobalt blue and white, hand-ground into a tempera base of one part egg yolk and two parts white wine. He was cautious with the white pigment because it was toxic. Finally, after a three month wait, when the paint was thoroughly dry, he had overlaid the image with a varnish of olife, of heated linseed oil. He had followed meticulously the technique of the masters, of Andrei Rublev, Theophanes the Greek, and other anonymous, though no less great, iconographers of past centuries.
Now he considered his painting: a face with round, wide eyes, a narrow beard, and curls of hair to either side of the elongated skull. There was no neck on the figure, no shoulders. The head floated on a golden field. The man crossed himself, and then, for a long time, while his supper sizzled, he meditated on the painting. As even a rough sketch of the Mona Lisa, in another culture, might be instantly recognizable, so this picture, this icon, had a name, this “Image-Of-The-Savior-Not-Made-By-Hands.” This was not the first icon he had painted – “written” as he expressed it. He had little talent, but he had great devotion. His child-like attempt, guided by a greater hand, was a reasonable copy of a copy of the original. He touched the smooth surface reverently.
Then he turned the block of wood over and contemplated the image he had painted on the other side – the Patriarchal Cross of the Eastern Christian Orthodox church. Above the horizontal bar of a typical Latin cross, was a smaller plank where a foreign governor might have set an inscription, and near the bottom, a short, slanted board where the feet of a crucified man might have been nailed. The cross, in this painting, was set into a mound of dirt that covered a buried skull. To either side worshipped stiff, imperfect, winged angels. A sun and moon, personified, floated above their heads. Until this image, this “Glorification of the Cross,” had faded into little more than a blur, he contemplated the painting. Darkness came early in the autumn evening.
He sighed, and carefully re-wrapping his treasure, he returned it to the duffle bag and placed it inside the tent.
He pierced the fish with the tip of his knife, breathed in its sea-salt fragrance, and licked his thin lips. He found a piece of driftwood wide enough to serve as a platter. Careful to lose none of the cod to the fire, he removed it from the spit, rolled the potato from the embers with a stick, and sat back to enjoy his meal. Except for the spit that could double as a weapon, and except for a pocket knife, he had no utensils. He ate with his fingers.
He emptied his water bottle, sipping thoughtfully as the violet sky darkened into black. Stars appeared one by one and a thin, crescent moon hovered to the east. He lit a cigarette and smoked in the warm evening. Few embers remained of the fire. He had no other light. Only the stars.
In the morning he would begin to roll the great stones up from the sea to build his shelter, and in the weeks to come his muscles would ache with the unaccustomed labor. If things did not go well, he would endure the torments of hunger and thirst and of cold. He was ready for that. But, now, this was a time to savor a propitious beginning. When he had smoked the cigarette so far down that he could no longer pinch it between his fingertips, he extinguished it in the sand and stripped it, spreading the few shreds of tobacco among the dying coals.
He crawled into his crude tent, made a pillow of his sweater and his jacket, and wrapped himself in blankets. Briefly, before he drifted into sleep, he rehearsed, in his imagination, the progression of the constellations: the Corona Borealis of the North, and Orion with Betelgeuse at his shoulder and bright Rigel at his heel. Behind came sniffing, all the pack: Canis Minor, leading the way for Sirius, the Great Dog Star, and lagging behind, Canes Venatici, the hunting dogs. The pounding surf and the barking of seals lulled him to sleep.
He woke toward morning. Rain beat on the tarpaulin. He rolled over and smiled.
Here was a sure sign of God’s approval. There was no drinking water left. He had forty days ahead of him. He would not have survived even the first week without rain.
Did you know that on October 31 Greeks celebrated a National Holiday? Oxi Day remembers the day when, in response to Mussolini’s 1940 ultimatum demanding that Italy and Germany be permitted to occupy parts of Greece, Prime Minister Metaxas (yes the name is the same as the brand of brandy) responded with the Greek word for “No,” that is ‘Οχι (pronounced Ochi). What followed was almost 6 months of war against Italy, German intervention to prevent an Italian defeat in April 1941, and the German occupation of Greece a month later. Some believe that Germany’s intervention in Greece in April of 1941 delayed the subsequent invasion of the Soviet Union just long enough for the advance of the German army to be halted, a la Napoleon’s army, by getting bogged down in the mud of the Russian winter. Greece paid dearly, too, with over 100,000 casualties and more in the Civil War that followed – see Time Running Out for a fictionalized account of these events. Or, for the results of the Axis invasion of Greece, see Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres, also fiction, but based on fact. The particularly harsh occupation helps explain some of the anti-German sentiment in Greece these days.
Members in the spotlight:
Another Winning Mystery by Fran Vardamis
Attention fans of Frances Diem Vardamis’ Lavonis mystery series: you have a marvelous reading experience awaiting you with this long-time CRA member’s latest edition, Time Running Out. When retired Captain Yannis Lavonis is asked to help with a search for important Greek icons stolen from churches and monasteries throughout the country, you will accompany him, his young colleague Aphrodite Davvetas and her American fiancé on a hair-raising adventure – from Greece, through St. Petersburg, to a monastery in the farthest reaches of cold, forbidding northern Russia. The author’s command of Russian customs, politics, geography and language is astonishing. Unless you have been beyond Murmansk and the northern tip of the continent recently, you will be consulting your atlas or Google Earth to follow their wild trek. Along the way, be prepared for intrigue, murder, drugging, colorful Russian “minders” and politicos, as well as a unique and unexpected ending that will leave you waiting impatiently for the next book.
Time Running Out is available at Pilgrim’s Way Bookstore or from Fran Vardamis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Debbie Sharp, graduate of Mills College, journalist with the Carmel Pine Cone, and English instructor at Monterey Peninsula College says of Time Running Out:
In her fifth YannisLavonis mystery, Frances Diem Vardamis has given us
her best. The plot is intriguing and fast-paced with twists and turns that
allow the author to delve deeper into the characters of the clever,
irrepressible Greek detective and his impetuous assistant, Aphrodite
Davvetas. We learn more about what makes them tick as they travel through
Russia on a hunt for stolen Greek icons, joined by David Siegel, who does
his best to protect Aphrodite from herself. In the end, and what an end it
is, the three come up against more than they–or we–could possibly have
imagined and leave us hungry to know how they will rebuild their lives.
WHAT, INDEED, MIGHT FOLLOW?
Another TIME RUNNING OUT Review
Barbara Darrah, Board Member of the Friends of the Harrison Memorial Library (Carmel, California) and retired Instructor in the German Department of the Defense Language Institute discusses Time Running Out:
Athens’ controversial detective, Yannis Lavonis, returns to us after several years. His interlude in Vermont has become a thing of the past. He is a little older, not much wiser. His career in the Police Force has faltered, in part because of his impulsive and headstrong nature. His intuitions are usually correct but often clash with the more orderly ways of the bureaucracy that employs him.
But now he is called to work a very unusual case. He and two associates we met in Vermont Sea Glass, Fran Vardamis’ fourth book in the Yannis Lavonis series,set out on a perilous quest, navigating politically sensitive waters in order to retrieve stolen Greek icons from an undisclosed location in Russia.
The story is spell-binding, taking our three protagonists from Athens to St. Petersburg, then to Moscow where they are placed under the dubious protection of the current, post-USSR incarnation of the KGB, and to the icy north of Siberia.
The story is told so skillfully that you can never be sure who is friend or foe. Page-turner tension starts at the very beginning, arcing across the entire book to its almost fantasy-like climax and eventual somber but satisfying denouement.
What is more, the personal relationships of the three main characters are deeply engaging.
It is not enough to call this book a mystery, an international adventure story, or a very fine novel. It is all of that and more, because Vardamis is an inspired story teller who has studied the politics, culture and history of the places and people she describes in her books. She has traveled to the places she writes about so well.
She also has a fine understanding of the human heart . . .
TIME RUNNING OUT is available at $10 plus postage. For details, contact email@example.com or leave a comment.
Edwin Cranston, Professor of Japanese Literature at Harvard, comments on Time Running Out : “This “philosophical, apocalyptic thriller” (in the author’s words) takes her Athenian detective Yannis Lavonis to Russiaon the trail of stolen Orthodox icons. There he encounters his own father, a committed Communist and recipient of the Order of Lenin, experiences post-Soviet society, and discovers the stronghold of a secret mystical sect, the self-proclaimed saving remnant of a doomed world. The love story of Aphrodite Davvetas and the American David Siegel, begun in Vermont Sea Glass, the author’s previous novel, is taken up again, complicated, and pursued to a devastatingly painful conclusion – which, however, is clearly not a resolution. Love, hate, self-delusion, and the uneasy embrace of religiosity and madness are the interwoven themes running through this “action-packed” narrative – themes the author refuses to grant a happy ending. One feels further adventures are in prospect. The last sentence, “It was the middle of the night, and he [Yannis] needed sleep,” implies as much. The night explored in these pages is a dark one. But human compassion, conflicted and compromised though it is, survives, one feels, to greet another dawn.
DON’T MISS OUT. To order contact firstname.lastname@example.org. $10 special early-bird price, plus postage.