Saturday, 17 September 2016

Curiosities

Your Saturday Blogger is back from dusty Crete sporting a suntan and a broken finger, the hallmarks of a good holiday. It was a much-needed respite from the topsy-turvy house on the strand, work on which is still in progress. (I may treat you to fables of the reconstruction next week.)

There was a time, forty years ago on my first visit to dusty Crete, when everything was in Greek alone - road signs, public notices, menus, advertisements, shop signs. Nowadays, to reflect the pervasion of the international tourist, English is pretty much everywhere as well - which is a shame in many ways, for it detracts from the 'Greekness' of the experience and makes the tourist lazy.

There is a silver lining to this cloud of globalisation. Occasionally, a well-intentioned attempt to sign in English can yield some amusing curiosities. These errors in usage can also be strangely poetic, something gained in translation. Two of my favourites from the recent holiday were a  hand-painted sign on a roadside orchard wall that read "Kindly do not tough the fruits" and a notice inside the entrance to a restaurant in Heraklion that requested patrons to "Please wait to be sated".

Then there was this sign-board on a beach-front shop, pictured below....


It took me a while before I clocked that, in addition to fruit, bread, milk, batteries (all bursting with freshness of course), it was also possible to purchase Sea Gods:


Fantastic! Clearly the owner intended to advertise his stock of sea goods (lilos, inflatable crocodiles, rubber rings, foam tubes, fishing nets etc) but I loved the idea of a trade in mythological Hellenic deities of the sea being fronted through this beach-side store in 21st century Crete.

Greece is a nation of hundreds of islands, of which dusty Crete is the largest, followed by Euboea, Lesbos and Rhodes and then another 200 habitable islands of decreasing size. It's no surprise then that the role of the sea has been central to the development of Greek civilisation and culture and no surprise again that Greek mythology is littered with a pantheon of over 100 sea deities. Google Greek sea gods if you have the curiosity, an evening to spare and a good bottle of retsina to hand.

These sea gods between them embodied, epitomised or represented every aspect of the sea (storms, tides, waves, whirlpools), its contents (dolphins, krakens, whales) and the dangers it posed to mere mortals. The deities were propitiated (kept sweet, basically) through rituals performed at shrines in their honour. At their head was Poseidon, brother of Zeus. Poseidon, with his trident, ruled over seas and oceans.


Verdigris
With our junk culture,
we swarm, we litter
in thoughtless droves,
each act of hubris
a heedless desecration
of the green of Greece.

It seems to me
sea god,
as you rise majestic through emerald swell
dripping brine from verdigris
like the spray-bedecked tamarisk trees
lining this rocky shore,
that it's just as well
your bronze-age eye
has grown for evermore blind.

Otherwise
what horrors
would you find
to inflict on us
with a swift flash of trident
in retribution for our pollution
of your beautiful seaways
and sandy coves?
I imagine waves of anger
coming to engulf us all.

*Verdigris is from the Old French Verd de Grece, green of Greece.

Thanks for reading. Here's hoping for one last late summer sun-drenched week, S ;-)
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1 comments:

Steve Rowland said...

By a curious coincidence, one of the 'what's fourth in this sequence?' questions on last night's edition of Only Connect listed: Rhodes, Lesbos, Euboea, xxxxx! Nothing if not current, eh?