Saturday, 24 September 2011

Give ye them to eat.

'... I'll read you something that's not mentioned in the canonical gospels, so you can see the ingratitude* of people: '...then Jesus caused the bread and the fish to multiply, and all did eat, and were filled: and after turned they their gaze upon Jesus, and cried unto him, saying: 'isn't there any fruit?'

*****

Πλεονεξία means 'greed' but that seems inadequate here because it can refer simply to a desire for more grub. Can anyone suggest a noun meaning 'ungrateful lack of recognition of a miracle performed for one's benefit'??? I'm not suggesting that πλεονεξία carries anything like that load, but the casual φρούτο δεν έχει; does add this idea. The English 'isn't there any fruit?' doesn't, simply because the British wouldn't necessarily expect a meal to conclude with fruit. Maybe the last line should be 'OK, so what's for afters, then?'



Arkas, Η Ζωή Μετά. (The Hereafter)

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Porno II



Not a student in sight until Monday. I had been looking forward to a few days without work and especially without trains, but in the event I am going stir-crazy after only a day and a half, so naturally I decided to have a look at some Russian gay porn sites on your behalf. This is porn to turn you off, anti-erotica, Bonjela for the phallus. Think of Lady Chatterley's Liver, Vicks-scented massage oil and inflatable Joseph Ratzinger dolls. The photos on these sites are unstimulating affairs in which anorexic-looking gay-for-pay young men play with each others’ bums and willies with all the enthusiasm of prisoners slopping out. These anaphrodisiac proceedings are shot in rooms of surpassing drabness, usually done out with grubby flock wallpaper that recalls damp provincial Indian restaurants, and sofas in fecal brown and beige. Epic fail, therefore, for this is weeny-shrinking stuff from people whose primary concern should be NOT shrinking weenies. To find any entertainment value on these pages, you have to ignore the photos and read the texts that try to seduce you into parting with money to join the site. Addled memories of words, misuse of dictionaries, confusion of registers, ignorance of connotation: it’s almost like being back at work.


In the sad, twilight world of homosexuals, middle-aged men meet in secret locations to gratify their urges on innocent Boy Scouts with cute nipples and treasure trails. As is plain from this repugnant photograph, so intent are these men upon satisfying their lusts that no thought is given to the choice of carpet, furnishings or light fittings.

Just tell me, have you ever wanted to watching really raw medically checkup pictures featuring fuckable carnivore doctor explore his male patients purple katana?’* Not personally, no, but if your answer is yes, this site is for you, because ‘sultry really degrading doctor is going to tickle next male patient of his.Tickle him? That sounds a bit tame for a sultry degrading fuckable doctor, but things promise to hot up, as ‘defiling doctor lines with twink and shag them.' That's OK, then. 'Come and see nude boys and males get coarse together!’ I'll pass on that, if I may: it sounds like a rugby club dinner. All this tickling, defiling and coarseness appears to be taking place in the bedroom of a Morecambe boarding house about forty years ago. You can just smell the Colgate toothpaste, Palmolive soap and that inexplicable odour of breadcrumbs. Nothing to stiffen the, um, resolve here: click another link.

Here are Jirik and Milos, two boys who fancy one another and spend all day having it away. 'Lascivious boys have men's copulation together. Smooching boys start bare and pet their phalluses.' They have the odd break for a bite to eat and then get back to ‘kissing, hummer and bump uglies every another.’ This won't do. Gay men are united in their esteem for the noble cock, so 'bump uglies' is a truly wretched choice of idiom, given such an audience. The naff décor of the boys' quarters is probably rendered even more objectionable by the end of the day because ‘Milos pounded the shit out of Jirik`s fine anus. The apartment was in shambles from this all day ride the baloney-pony heavily built orgy’. Dear, dear. Never mind, though, because ‘the guys were happily spent’ as who would not be, after such exertions as ‘having their butts turned into lumps of red, seductive, swollen penial seasoning rocket.

Penial seasoning is obviously a translation of a phrase for ‘a load’ as we may deduce from this description of Raphael and Eric’s couplings: ‘when Raphael gets to the point of no return he shoots a very big penial seasoning all over Eric's face.’ It really doesn't capture the masculine joy of ejaculation, though, does it, that bathetic characterisation of Raphael's load as ‘very big’? It sounds more like congratulating a toddler for something he's done in his potty. A slightly better attempt perhaps is: ‘once Raphael gets to the point of no return he shoots a very big jizz-o-frizz all over Eric's pretty face.’ That sounds a bit jollier, even if ‘Jizz-o-Frizz’ could be something you spray from a can at parties, or on classroom windows at Christmas. Other attempts to gain verbal purchase on the intensity of male jouissance are rather regrettable: ‘he just lovers to bust a semen’? Sounds uncomfortable, and ‘he can't wait to squirt a warmed-up cum’ sounds as erotic as flicking bogies.

Raphael, incidentally, sounds like a bit of a cretin, because his mate Eric ‘starts off by giving him a brain to get his juices droplet.

I have remained unmoved, therefore, by these Russian overtures to my libido and I really must find more productive things to do with this time of enforced leisure. Like look for a job… move house yet again... back to teaching for peanuts. For the moment I can’t face it.

*****

*Katana: Japanese longsword with single edge and slight curvature. Used here as a metaphor for the penis. You must picture the lad with a flat, shiny dick that's two feet long. A katana is silver, but here we must see it as purple. I personally cannot call to mind a cock or a sword after all this.


Monday, 19 September 2011

Now what?



For the last ten weeks, the university department where I teach has been heaving with 550 students and 20-odd teachers. We’ve been hammering listening skills, reading skills, note-taking skills and presentation skills, and assessing and marking like mad. The teachers’ room was a hot stew of people, chatter, banter, moaning, papers, overflowing tables, overflowing bins, overheated machinery, scattered stationery, scattered coffee mugs and slewed piles of photocopies and books. On Friday a Saudi lady, the tempestuous Muminah, who has long been convinced that her teachers were in league to bring about her downfall, received her report and threw a fit, and a book, and assorted odds and ends, because she had not been awarded the grades she wanted, but merely those she had actually earned. Now it’s all over. I went in this morning, unlocked the door and sat at my usual computer in cold and silence.

In the building there were two other teachers and four students, whose writing test I invigilated. After marking the scripts, we decided it was pointless for three of us to watch four students do a reading test. I therefore selflessly volunteered to go home, and here I am. I have no more lessons until Monday the 26th, and the way things are at the moment, only 54 hours between now and Christmas. I seem to be the only regular teacher there who has an inner conviction that things will pick up pretty soon. Everyone else is looking for work in other places.

Where does my inner conviction stem from? I suppose it’s really no conviction at all - merely a disinclination to apply to language schools or F.E. colleges that pay £18.00 an hour when I have been used to more than twice that amount for the last four years. F.E. colleges, under the yoke of Ofsted, further burden you with absurd amounts of paperwork, the message of which is, we do not trust you to teach without an overseer. I cannot muster a shred of enthusiasm for interviews in such places, or the acting ability necessary to pretend I want to teach in one. There is a very nasty rumour going round that our department will be taken over by a study chain, one of those educational Tesco Metros that so many university English Language centres have been forced to sell out to. I looked at their website. Predictably, it has photos of teachers with smiles like floodlights, teaching mostly oriental students who are revelling in the beams, soaking up learning in paroxysms of delight. As indeed they do! The teaching is dynamic, of course, the learning experience first class, the centre naturally dedicated to excellence, with a wide range of courses: that our copy-writer’s style is free of cliché is no idle boast! This is more wish-list than prospectus. The teachers will be netting around a tenner an hour for delivering their caring, smiling, dynamic, first-class learning experiences, so I wouldn’t place too much faith in that advertising copy if I were you. For that kind of money you are unlikely to find people with the qualifications and experience required to deliver on all those promises.

If this happens, I shall not stay around to have my hourly rate slashed and admin load doubled, so I am probably going to be available. I can teach students and train teachers. I’m not interested in administrational positions, I have scant patience with management speak, little time for meetings and a short way with time wasters. Snap me up…

Here is Gillian Rose on meetings:

'... I found myself in a routinely tedious faculty meeting, in which, as usual, I carried no presence whatsoever. As drivers insist that the blaring radio aids their concentration on the road, so I always found that a volume open on my lap enabled me to pay the small amount of attention needed to navigate these shallows. When asked with withering detection by the impassive secretary whether the book I was blatantly perusing was good, I nonchalantly replied, 'I only read good books.' I responded similarly to her policing my failure to send a note of apology for a meeting that I actually managed to miss, 'But I'm not sorry.'

Rose, G., 1995. Love's Work. Chatto & Windus

That's the way to do it, but make sure you are indispensable before you take this tone.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Cheap Chow



The uncertainty of the times compels dedicated drinkers to ponder what food should accompany the wine these days, or indeed whether to forgo eating completely. If reduced circumstances force you to buy your plonk from the bottom shelves of a Tesco Metro now instead of the eye-level displays at Adnams, you'll want to know how to make this swiggable but uninspiring, one-dimensional stuff feel right. Don’t worry, I’ve got this sorted. I have a hearty Greek dish here for the non-Greeks among you to try. Cheap, slightly sour wine goes well with this large dose of carbohydrate and olive oil. If any Greek reader feels I am a foreign interloper traducing traditional recipes, tough: έτσι το φτιάχνω εγώ, ρε, και δεν είμαι η μαμά σου, εντάξει;*

Get some runner beans, some waxy potatoes and a fat red onion. Top and tail the beans, peel the spuds and cut them into fat chunks, and slice the onion thinly. Fry the onion gently in olive oil until it is soft and savoury-sweet, and chuck in as much garlic as you fancy - in my case, a positively anti-social amount. Then throw in your beans and potatoes and half a can or so of chopped tomatoes. Add a little water if you think it necessary, but you don’t want too much liquid as the vegetables will give off their own. Season with salt or Aromat or Marigold bouillon, and add a pinch of cinnamon or two or three crushed allspice berries (my preference is very much for the latter) a generous amount of chopped open-leaf parsley and if you fancy it, a little chopped fresh mint. The mint I tend to leave out, as its taste when cooked reminds me of chewing gum, but that's me. Let the assemblage cook gently until the potatoes are tender. Eat this at room temperature with lots of fresh bread and a side dish of feta cheese slathered with olive oil and some dried oregano crumbled over it. There you go: dead easy, muck cheap, very tasty and at least seven of your five a day. You can add chunks of pork or veal to it if meatless meals leave you feeling deprived. It’s at its best the day after you cook it.

Variations on this theme of cooking vegetables in olive oil with herbs and garlic and a little stock or white wine are numerous and lend themselves to improvisation. You can make a hispanic-y version of the above recipe by adding chunks of chorizo and flavouring it with smoked paprika and a bayleaf, and sloshing in some dry sherry or red wine. Potatoes, carrots and artichokes go well together, or artichokes and broad beans. Peas can replace the beans, if you like, but not for me. I understand that some even like okra, a vegetable of which I have a horror for its slithery, mucoid juice. A plate of okra is like the pullover sleeve of a kid with a bad cold. Forget I said that. These simple dishes, served with bread and feta, are a godsend, and they just love rough red wine.


Not a steaming splat of boiled pond life, but okra (bámies), a dish that calls to mind the old playground song: 'nobody likes me, everybody hates me, I'm going down the garden to eat worms.'

*****

A nice way with feta cheese: finely chop some red or green chillis, put them in a bowl with feta and olive oil, and mash coarsely: 'fuckin' bastard feta sodding cheese...' Some recipes for this τυροκαυτερή (tyrokafterí 'hot cheesy stuff') call for the inclusion of yogurt, vinegar and God knows what else besides, but I like it basic. The owner of a taverna in Kalamata used to make his tyrokafterí in a blender; shun his example unless cheesy Instant Whip appeals to you. A few seconds' work with a fork will make a pleasingly nubbly, salty, creamy, fiery dip to scoop up with bread or pita or crackers. As my grandma used to say, 'cheese is binding', meaning it slows the passage of food through the alimentary canal. Well, maybe. Perhaps the Greek custom of taking some cheese with such a dish as that above has the effect of putting the brakes on the bolus of beans that's plummeting through the system.

*****

* I decided to see what my old mate the babelfish would make of this. It came up with:

'thus I make him I, [re], and I amn't your mum, all right?'

for 'this is how I make it, and I'm not your mum, OK?'

I amn't is very old Yorkshire dialect that even my grandparents found quaintly amusing - how did that get in there? The appellative ρε [re] is left untranslated as it has no real English equivalent, nor has its fellow appellative παιδί μου [pe'ði mu] literally 'my child'. You can translate them as 'oi!' 'hey, you!' 'mate', etc. but they're probably best left out. Παιδί μου is such a common feature of colloquial Greek, such a contributor to the flavour and character of everyday speech, it's a great pity you cannot capture it in English translation. Translated literally, it has a benign, ecclesiastical ring, uttered by superior to subordinate, and this is utterly the wrong note to strike. I have a translation of Kazantzakis's Zorba where these appellatives are variously rendered as 'you know' 'I say' 'my boy' and 'old fellow', making Zorbas come across as a Home Counties vicar circa WWI.


Monday, 12 September 2011

Chőd



Perhaps everything terrible in us is, in it's deepest being, something helpless needing our help.

- Rainer Maria Rilke

I first read about the Tibetan Buddhist practice of ‘chőd’ in Alexandra David-Neel’s ‘Magic and Mystery in Tibet’. Some time in the early nineteen twenties, David-Neel was travelling in Tibet and camped near the cave of a lama and his two emaciated disciples. She waited some days for the lama to grant her an interview, but he played hard to get. She was about to move on when one of a group of herdsmen camped nearby died, and so she decided to stay around to observe the rustic funeral. This was an affair of much chanting, much reading of religious texts to the deceased, days of copious eating and drinking, all culminating with the feeding of the corpse to the vultures on a plateau in the mountains.

David-Neel set out to the sky-burial ground at night, intending to meditate there, but one of the lama’s disciples had beaten her to it. He was not, however, sitting in serene detachment, meditating on emptiness being only form and form being nothing but emptiness. Wielding a drum and blowing into a thigh-bone trumpet, the young man danced and chanted in the moonlight among the pieces of corpse, howling at an invisible assembly of demons:

‘I pay my debts!’ shouted the naljorpa. ‘As I have been feeding on you so feed upon me in your turn! Come, ye hungry ones, and you that ungratified desires torment! In this banquet offered by my compassion, my flesh will transform itself into the very object of your craving. Here, I give you fertile fields, green forests, flowery gardens, both white and red food, clothes, healing medicines! . . . eat! Eat!’

The excited ascetic blew furiously his kangling, [trumpet] uttered an awful cry and jumped on his feet so hastily that his head knocked against the low roof of the tent and the latter fell in on him. He struggled a while under the cloth, and emerged with the grim, distorted face of a madman, howling convulsively with gestures betokening intense physical pain.

Chőd is a ritual and metaphorical feeding of oneself to hungry demons, another Buddhist way of cutting through the ego; chőd in fact means ‘to cut’. Burial grounds and villages infected with smallpox were apparently favourite venues for the ceremony, as they were places where the fear of death could not only be faced, but faced down. David-Neel felt this lad was working at chőd so hard that he was endangering his sanity, so she went to see the lama to persuade him to get the boy to ease off a bit:

Rabjoms Gyatso was seated cross-legged, in meditation. Without moving, he only lifted his eyes, when I opened the curtain and addressed him. In a few words, I told him in what condition I had left his disciple. He smiled faintly.

‘You appear to know chöd, Jetsunma. [Reverend Lady] Do you really? . . .’ he inquired calmly.

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I have practised it too. Rimpoche, […] I warn you seriously. I have some medical knowledge; your disciple may gravely injure his health and be driven to madness by the terror he experiences. He really appeared to feel himself being eaten alive.

‘No doubt he is,’ answered the lama, with the same calm, ‘but he does not understand that he is himself the eater. May be that he will learn it later on.’
The other week I bought ‘Feeding your Demons’ by Tsultrim Allione, an American Buddhist teacher who has adapted chőd for Westerners. You don’t need to visit a cemetery or a plague-ravaged mountain village (I mean, like, thank goodness, right?) because Allione has turned this fearsome confrontation with the reality of death and decay into a very American five-step program. You keep a Demon-Feeding Diary so that you don’t forget to feed your demons on a regular basis, and so that none of them gets left out. You can also work with a partner and compare hang-ups. Like so many American self-help books, this one is packed with anecdotes about comfortably-off Sharons and Barbaras and Peggys and Kates who have their low self-esteem demons and their over-eating demons, their alcohol-abuse demons, their blame-demons and their loving-too-much demons, and much of it I found pretty unreadable. You want to say to the Sharons and Barbies, look love, get a life or get a thigh-bone trumpet and sod off to the mountains, but fucking leave us out with massaging your complexes. It is with some reluctance, therefore, that I have to admit this stuff has actually worked for me, after a fashion.

'... he does not understand that he is himself the eater.' This morning I knew I was in for a few hours of insomnia when I woke at about two. This wakefulness, a weekly occurence, invariably involves a wearying bombardment from my subconscious of old guilts, old humiliations, memories of sins of omission and sins of commission, scenes of hideous executions, visions of foul creatures from the ocean abyss, oh, it goes on and bloody on. So I got to thinking about Allione’s watered-down chőd, and as she suggests, I began to imagine my Guilt and Humiliation demon, to give it a shape. It was an elephant-sized cross between a squid and a giant weta, its legs and tentacles visible on the floor, its amorphous bulk off in the darkness. I had to ask what it wanted of me. ‘Warmth,’ it said. And then I had to feed it what it wanted. Dutifully I imagined gold liquid running out of me, and the Guilt Monster Weta thingy plonked a proboscis into the liquid and drank. And then fuck me if I didn’t begin to experience, unbidden, a warm sense of gratitude for my cosy bed, my family, my brains such as they are, my health, everything I ought to be grateful for but hardly ever think about in those terms. The squid-weta-guilt demon shrank. The monster is, of course, myself tormenting myself. By treating it kindly, I broke the usual pattern of angry, weary resistance. Such resistance has the same effect as scratching mosquito bites; the itching just intensifies. I fell asleep at four or so. The alarm woke me at six, the only time I have ever actually needed it. After so little sleep I felt like a half-baked soufflé from the oven untimely ripp’d, but still marvelling at the ease with which Allione’s chőd for softies had short-circuited that horrible guilt-ridden insomnia that I get so often.



Night demons: treat em nice.

So there you go. I don't feel so cynical and superior to the Sharons and Katies now, and realise there are many other night-flying demons I might feed, chief among them the Demon of Aging, followed by the Demon of Poverty, the two things I suppose I fear the most. Since this is Western Europe, I have to start by recognising that the second demon would more accurately be termed the Demon of Having Rather Less Money To Spend On Creature Comforts For A While Than One Might Have Preferred - I'm on severely reduced hours as from next week unless a huge number of students turns up unexpectedly.

*****

Confess all your hidden faults!
Approach that which you find repulsive!
Whoever you think you cannot help, help them!
Anything you are attached to, let go of it!
Go to places that scare you, like cemeteries!
Sentient beings are as limitless as the sky,
Be aware!

-Dampa Sangye, (1045-1117)



Chőying Drolma performs the chőd meditation without benefit of dismembered corpses.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Opus 4




'Opus 4'. I found this a few hours ago on You Tube, after googling 'art of noise no sun november' and so heard it again for the first time in 23 years. It's a pretty little aural kaleidoscope by Art of Noise. Opening this page in two or three tabs and then setting the video off in each one with a couple of seconds delay produces an interesting effect, like listening under a bell-jar. You might have more pressing things to do, of course. Anyway, it soooo brings to mind my first visit to Athens in 1988, where I first heard it, and when I decided that as soon as I could, I would live there.

I stayed with a friend, Artemis, who had recently moved to Athens from Kavala where we first met. I was in my first full-time, permanent job at a language school in Cambridge and despite the regular pay and generous holidays, was climbing the walls with boredom and the predictability of the days. Artemis invited me to stay, and I was off like a shot.

She was working at the time as an apokleistikí, meaning ‘exclusive’, which is to say a private nurse in a public hospital. If you are hospitalized in Greece and have insufficient private health insurance, your family will have to undertake all the feeding, bed-bathing, shit-shovelling and arse-wiping necessary for the duration of your indisposition, unless you hire an apokleistikí from an agency to relieve you of some of the messier jobs. Artemis worked nights, ministering to the ever-dwindling needs of the moribund. She wrote to me: ‘I clean bums and willies by the cartload,* and send as many as I can to the Next World’. This was a joke in 1988, hand-written on a post card, Twitter as yet undreamed of. No 'Inappropriate Remarks from Healthcare Personnel' watchdog was ever charged with investigating the source of the communication. Greeks are always convinced that other people will cut corners wherever possible and one of Artemis's charges, when she had laved his member, would palpate the glans then pass his fingers under his nose to ensure he was getting his money's worth.

Artemis lived in a 'δώμα' dhóma, which is a tiny room perched on the top of a block of flats, like a paper-clip box on a filing cabinet. The block was on Doxa Patri, the topmost street on the side of Lycavittos that faces the Acropolis, and from the enormous terrace she commanded a magnificent view over Athens all the way to Piraeus and the sea, the receding white buildings way below like a plane of smashed, sun-bleached bones radiating back the afternoon heat. The dóma had a cupboard-like bathroom where you had no option but to sit on the loo to have a shower, and I rendered at least one bog-roll a day useless by accidentally drenching it. We cooked dinner outside on a calor gas ring under an awning, and with it drank cheap wine by the vat before Artemis went off to work around ten o'clock on Epaminondas, her elderly motorbike. Nobody seemed to mind her showing up squiffy, probably because most of the people she had dealings with were hanging on to this life by a thread, aware by now that all is vanity and, ε, so what if she's half-cut? In fact it was only by the sheerest luck that she showed up at all, given the traffic, the retsina and the fact that Greeks in those days thought crash-helmets were for pussies.


After she had left, I would play ‘Opus 4’ a few times, then Glass’s ‘Koyaanisqatsi’ up to around the mid-point where it starts to drive you insane, then set forth about midnight to a gay bar in Kolonaki, where the lads were up-front and horny in a way utterly unexampled in Cambridge’s lone gay club at the time. Nobody did the pussyfooting 'do you come here often/can I buy you a drink?' bit that I was used to and so hated. On the first evening I was approached within fifteen minutes by a gorgeous young man called Michalis. He observed strict protocol:

1) 'What's your name?' 'Steve'
2) 'What's your zodiac sign?' 'Pisces.' Eh? 'Fish!'
3) 'Have you got a place?' 'Certainly have.'

And we were away to the dóma for erotic fireworks, no messing. ‘Fucky Nell,’ I thought, ‘Sod Cambridge, I’m moving here as soon as I possibly can.’ I kept his underpants as a souvenir.

The following evening Michalis said ‘I have a friend who likes you’ and introduced me to Yannis, with whom I went back to the old dóma for another night of raging lust. Wine, men and song: this was the life. Yet truly in the midst of life we are in death, for fifteen minutes after I had tipped Yannis out into the night, Artemis returned early. While the lad and I had been at one another like starving men attacking a roast, she had been stuffing cotton wool up the arsehole of her newly deceased patient. I should explain for those unfamiliar with postmortem care that packing the back passage with cotton wool is standard procedure, not just a desperate way to pass the time on your shift. Every apokleistikí got a day off when her patient slipped off the perch, and later we hurtled round Athens on Epaminondas and went to buy meat and fish at the central market, a stinking hall of skinned corpses swinging on hooks, their guts piled red, white and blue, their shiny, chocolate-coloured livers and kidneys dribbling juice on bloody marble slabs. Slithery scraps of fat and flesh were squashed into the dust on the floor. It was like a mass execution of traitors.



Well, anyway, that quaint little piece of music heard once again this morning reminded me that I committed myself to living in Greece because the 29 year-old me wanted wine, chaos and cock, all more readily and cheaply available in Athens than in Cambridge, above job security, a bank account and a pension scheme, God help us.

I mentioned our boozy dinners of September 1988 to Artemis last time I saw her. Now retired and serious and teetotal, she shook her head ruefully at the irresponsibility of belting through Athens on Epaminondas, unhelmeted and sozzled. I feel a pang of nostalgia for those nights, though, on hearing that odd little song: the smell of frying squid, the grassy olive oil on the salad, the sluicing down of ice-cold retsina, the tangled necklaces of lights spread out below us all the way to the sea, the thought of horny, handsome lads and the waiting for midnight when I would set out to see if I might get off with one.
Lovely photo of Artemis in 2012, looking arty.

*****

* 'με το κιλό' = 'by the kilo' but that sounds wrong in English.

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