The Southern Cross

Parian Horizon

Soon we will be leaving our little Greek island. Looking at the horizon from our neighbourhood beach, I already feel nostalgia. I already miss the vastness of the blue sea just as I already miss the night time sky. Often we spend evenings on the terrace where the Big Dipper can be seen. Sometimes we go on the roof to see other constellations, as well. But even then, not all the constellations are visible.

Once upon a time the Crux was visible to the Greeks. But the Earth’s axial precession began to migrate and by 400 A.D. the Crux became invisible to most of Europe. The Crux is now visible only in the Southern Sky, that is, south of the celestial equator. For this reason it’s known as the Southern Cross.

I’d first heard of the Southern Cross from the Stephen Stills song. Well, it wasn’t totally his song. It was first sung by the Curtis Brothers. Stills had expressed an interest in recording it but was busy with so many other projects that he never did. Then his girlfriend, French singer Vèronique Sanson, broke up with him. The break-up left him feeling wilted and worn. Friends suggested he distract himself by sailing to Papeete. It was here that Stills saw the Southern Cross for the first time. Inspired, he modified the original lyrics:

When you see the Southern Cross for the first time

You understand now why you came this way

‘Cause the truth you might be running from is so small

But it’s as big as the promise of a coming day.

The Southern Cross also inspired the Greek poet Nikos Kavadias. Born in 1910 in Manchuria of Greek parents, in 1921 his family moved back to Greece. When his father died in 1929, Kavadias was forced to work in his uncle’s shipping office in Pireaus where he trained as a wireless officer. But Kavadias already had two main desires: to write poetry and to be a sailor.

Nikos Kavadias Poems

In 1922, the Turks marched into the Greek zone of Smyrna and began burning it down. Thousands upon thousands of Greeks were killed and those remaining were left homeless. So in masses these Greeks escaped to Piraeus bringing with them the sorrowful sound of rebetika. It was the music of the poor, the displaced, the victims of social injustice and love gone sour. It was the music of exiled souls. Rebetika could be heard in ouzeri, hashish dens, coffee shops, and any other place frequented by the marginalized. They were places that Kavadias no doubt frequented so it’s easy to assume that his poetry was influenced by the lyrics of these heartbreaking songs.

Kavadias was a loner, an observer, and a collector of stories. His home, the sea, provided him with stories of irreclaimable people and faraway ports, stories of loneliness and longing. Like that of the wealthy young woman he’d fallen in love with but couldn’t be with. Many years later, quite by accident, he saw her again on the streets working as a prostitute.

To redeem one’s suffering you must turn it into a poem.

In the late 1970s, Greek composer Thanos Mikroutsikos discovered that Kavadias’ poems would provide the perfect lyrics for his compositions. His first album using Kavadias’ poems was Σταυρός του Νότου (Southern Cross).

To be honest with you, maybe I like the idea of poetry more than poetry itself. Often the meaning of a poem seems to be so hermetically sealed within the poet that reading the poem is like being in a foreign city without a map to guide me. And I feel lost. But, determined to get something out of Kavadias’ “Southern Cross”, I’ve read it and reread it several times and this is what I’ve understood:

The winds are blowing and the waves are hot. One man narrates the other. Bent over a map, the other says that he is heading to another latitude. A declaration of love is tattooed on his chest. But although the love is gone, the burned skin remains.

The Southern Cross behind them indicates where they are. The other rubs his worry beads and chews bitter coffee beans.

The narrator lets himself be guided by an azimuth compass whereas the other warns of the stars of the southern skies.

The other had learned to navigate that same sky thanks to the captain’s mulatto girl. The other had also bought a knife on an island near Madagascar. The knife glittered like a lighthouse beam.

But now, says the narrator, the other has been sleeping for years on an African shore far away from the lighthouse, far away from Sunday sweets.

The Southern Cross has a special meaning for Australians and New Zealanders. So much so that the constellation’s four bright stars are shown on their flags. Because the Southern Cross acts as a compass for night time navigators. And, as we all know, without a compass it’s easy to get lost.

Related: Crux + Stavros Tou Notou (Live) on youtube + The Earthly and Celestial Meaning Behind “Southern Cross” by Crosby, Stills & Nash + Seven League Boots~Curtis Brothers on youtube + “Southern Cross” with Michael Curtis background info + Crosby, Stills & Nash – Southern Cross + Greek rebetika and rebetiko songs + Warwick Thornton: racists have ruined the Southern Cross for everyone + Precession of the earth animation + Smyrna 1922: A complex legacy +

Nazim Hikmet, poet with a cause + I’m nobody and so are you +

Bibliography: Holst-Warhaft. The Collected Poems of Nikos Kavadias. Cosmos Publishing Co. Rivervale, NJ. 2006

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The Doll’s House

In 1840 the Brits began the colonization of New Zealand, islands inhabited by the Māori people. Somehow representatives of the United Kingdom managed to get the Māori chiefs to sign a treaty giving the Brits sovereignty over these islands. But later there were disputes over the differing translations of the Treaty. This led to the New Zealand Wars. Along with their presence, the British brought with them infectious diseases that greatly diminished the indigenous population. Plus the Brits imposed their own economic and legal system, their elitist class hierarchy, and confiscated much of the Māori lands causing the indigenous population to live in poor and unhealthy conditions.

Katherine Mansfield was born in New Zealand in 1888 to a socially prominent family. Although she was ambivalent towards the Māori, she recognized the violence of colonial history and the repression of the Māori population. So to escape the colonial mood and focus on her own, she moved to London and never went back to New Zealand except in her writings based on childhood memories. “The Doll’s House” is one such story.

Katherine Mansfield Stories

Old Mrs. Hay stays with the Burnell family. To thank them for their hospitality, she sends their daughters, Isabel, Lottie, and Kezia, an elaborate doll house. The house is big and smells of fresh paint. The girls examine it carefully and are awed by the rich details. Kezia is particuliary impressed with an amber lamp with a white globe. The girls can hardly wait to go to school the next day and brag about their new doll house. Isabel said she will be the one to tell everyone as she is the eldest. She will also be the one to decide who can come to see it. So the next day at school Isabel goes into great detail about what a magnificent house it was. Obviously everyone wants to see it and arrangements are made as to who can see it and when. While the girls are gathered around talking about the doll house, the Kelvey sisters walk by.

The Kelvey sisters, Lil and Else, are poor. Their mother washes other people’s dirty clothes to earn a living. No one has seen the girls’ father so it’s assumed that he’s in prison. Because of their inferior social status, the other students at the school treat the Kelvey sisters with contempt. So although they are curious to know about the house, Lil and Else walk away knowing that they are not wanted. Poverty is humiliating for anyone who is forced to experience it. But for a child growing up, it has even a stronger impact. It leads to a lack of self-esteem which is a risk factor in terms of psychological health as well as academic achievement.

Privilege, too, has negative consequences. Once such consequence is that, to reinforce this feeling of superiority, you need to put someone else down. That’s why Lena Logan, cheered by her fellow classmates, goes to Lil Kelvey and, in front of everyone, shrills out: “Is it true you’re going to be a servant when you grow up, Lil Kelvey?” Lena can’t stand it when Lil doesn’t answer. Her need to humiliate is like an addiction. She must continue her terrorism and hisses spitefully: “Yah, yer father’s in prison!” The other girls, suffering from the same addiction, dance with excitement.

That afternoon the privileged girls parade to the Burnell home to see the magnificent doll house. The Kelvey sisters walk by only because it’s on their way home. After most everyone has gone, Kezia, the youngest of the Burnells, sees the Kelvey sisters and asks them if they want to see the doll house. But the sisters, knowing that they are not wanted there by Kezia’s mother, decline. Kezia insists until the girls finally say yes. So like two stray cats, the sisters follow Kezia across the yard. Once in front of the doll house, Kezia says she’ll open it so they can see inside. But right at that moment, Aunt Beryl comes out of the Burnell house and starts screaming. Shooing them away as if they are chickens, she tells the Kelsey sisters to go away at once and never to come back again. Burning with shame, the two little girls run away.

Aunt Beryl is a spinster who’s having an illicit affair with a man who threatens to expose the affair if she’s not accomodating. As a result, Beryl lives life like a volcano about to erupt. But to ease up, she tries putting the pressure elsewhere. Like on those two little Kelvey sisters. Making others feel bad makes her feel better.

Recently a high school friend sent me a link to the above doll house located in San Antonio’s Witte Museum. It comes from a Facebook post found HERE with little information other than claiming that these dolls walk the halls of the museum during the night.

Ahhh, what a lovely thought to think that these dolls come back to haunt those who have treated little girls badly. By the way, did you know that there’s a haunted doll house at Windsor Castle?

Moral of my story: Even rich people have dirty clothes and would continue to have them if it weren’t for women like the Kelvey sisters’ mom.

Related: The History of Creepy Dolls + The Haunted Dolls’ House + Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House


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Witch Hunters      

“Elizabeth Gaskell” by Jenny Uglow

Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865) was a gifted storyteller. Her father was a Unitarian minister and this greatly influenced her writing. Unitarians believe that God is only one person. But, although Jesus is not a divinity, he is a good role model. Furthermore, Unitarians do not believe in original sin nor do they believe that rational thought and science conflicts with having faith in God. They believe in the worth of each individual and in the universal salvation of all souls. And, above all, they believe that a person must use his free will and think for himself.

Elizabeth’s writing skills were rooted in oral narrative. When she wrote her first novel, she said she wrote it as if she were “speaking to a friend over the fire on a winter’s night.” Aside from novels, she wrote over forty short stories. One such story included in Gothic Tales was “Lois the Witch”.

“Gothic Tales” by Elizabeth Gaskell

Lois Barclay, daughter of a parson, was orphaned in 1691 when just a teen. On her death bed, Lois’ mother told her daughter to write her uncle, Ralph, now living in New England. Ralph had left England twenty years before because of his religious beliefs. Alone in the world, Lois had little choice but to cross the Atlantic to live with someone she’d never known. So, once in New England in a colony of Puritans, Lois finally meets her uncle. Although he is kind towards her, he’s dying. Soon Lois will be under the jurisdiction of Ralph’s wife, Grace. Grace, who has one son and two daughters, considers herself to be the epitome of righteousness. She immediately takes a negative view of Lois as the two practice have opposing religious backgrounds. There is also tension with her cousins. Manasseh, a self-proclaimed visionary, says God wants him to marry Lois. Faith, initially friendly, is jealous because the man she’s in love with, Pastor Nolan, has a crush on Lois. And Prudence, a born trouble maker, does everything possible to put Lois in a bad light. Somehow Lois manages to deal with the situation. But that changes when Pastor Tapppau’s daughters start having convulsions. It was obvious to the pastor that Satan was on the loose and someone in their community was a witch. Soon the blame fell on an Indian servant who, after being tortured, confessed to being a witch and was hung. Prudence, wanting to get attention for herself, began behaving hysterically and said started calling Lois a witch. Lois obviously was not but nevertheless found herself in jail. Although she refused to confess to being a witch, she was hung anyway.

Elizabeth had been fascinated by witch hunts for a long time. And it was the true story of Rebecca Nurse that inspired her to write “Lois the Witch.”

The Witch of Salem by Freeland Carter, 1893

Rebecca Nurse was born in England in 1621. But her family later migrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony settling near Salem. Around 1644 Rebecca married another Brit, an artisan who made wooden objects for the house. For the most part, they could be described as a normal couple. With their eight children, they lived on a farm in the Salem area. At a certain point, the ownership of the property was in dispute. Somehow the Putnam family became involved in this dispute resulting in their accusing Rebecca of being a witch. Rebecca at the time was 71 years old, an invalid, deaf, and had always been considered a pious woman. As a result of these accusations, Rebecca was hung to death.

Judge John Hathorne, a passionate witch hunter, is noted for being one of the judges responsible for Rebecca’s hanging. Although irreversible deceased, less than twenty years after her death, Rebecca was fully exonerated. Many years later, John’s great great grandson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, although born “Hathorne” changed the spelling of his name to distance himself from someone he considered “so conspicuous in the martyrdom of the witches, that their blood may fairly be said to have left a stain upon him.” And it may have been this uncle’s actions that inspired Hawthorne to write The Scarlet Letter.


Related:  The Oldest Witch Killed In Salem Witch Trials Was Related To Lucille Ball & Other Celebs + The Crucible by Arthur Miller + Rebecca Nurse Homestead + 10 Things You May Not Know About Nathaniel Hawthorne + Researching Unitarian Women – Elizabeth Gaskell’s Unitarian Network +


Gaskell, Elizabeth. Gothic Tales. Penquin Classics. London. 2000.

Uglow, Jenny. Elizabeth Gaskell. Faber & Faber. London. 1993.

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Angeliki’s Apricots

There are many things I will remember about my summer here on Paros this year. Like the apricots from Angeliki’s garden. And the tablecloth made from the countless fabric remnants that Alexandra has given me.

This foto does not represent just a bowl of fruit on a table. For me it represents the beauty of sharing. A sharing that is not boisterous but discreet. A sharing, that in the moment of exchange, creates a bond. A sharing of small things that makes life bigger. A sharing that lets you know that someone has thought about you and, in doing so, made you feel a part of their life.

And knowing all this makes me feel grateful and what is gratitude if not a form of happiness.

Today I am happy.

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The Master, Margarita, and Mona

Even when she was seated and still, Mona was a moving picture. Best of friends for years, we were separated by geography. Then by death.

Born in Cairo, Mona grew up in London. She’d studied all over Europe, spoke four languages and had a doctorate in literature. Her love of literature made her good at description. Like the protagonist of a novel, Mona was glamorous and her presence made the world around her seem glamorous, too.

One morning I went to visit her. Mona answered the door wearing an elegant mustard colored tailleur. “Where are you going?” I asked. “Nowhere,” she replied. “I’m just reading Bulgakov.”

Until then I’d never heard of The Master and Margarita (the book that inspired Mick Jagger’s lyrics to Sympathy for the Devil). And I probably never would have read it had it not been for Mona’s death several years later. Although we’d been out of touch for some time, I just couldn’t believe she was gone. It crushed me and, as it often happens when someone dies, things you never gave importance to before suddenly become important. The magical thinker in me somehow made me believe that I could experience a part of Mona again simply by reading Bulgakov.

“The Master and Margarita”

It was the summer of 2017 when I finally decided to read The Master and Margarita. Initially excited, by page 25 I was ready to give it up.

At the sunset hour of one spring day, two writers, Berlioz and Bezdomny, go to a kiosk in Moscow where they drink warm apricot juice. Suddenly Berlioz gets a creepy feeling and feels the need to run away. But before he can do so, a transparent man appears before him. He is wearing a jockey cap on his small head and a short jacket on his long and narrow body. This is the first direct contact Berlioz has with the devil. The devil introduces himself as Professor Woland and predicts that Berlioz will die that evening. And so he does.

This is how The Master and Margarita begins. It’s the story of how the Soviet Union’s state atheism meets Christian philosophy. Part of the setting is in Moscow, part in Jerusalem, and part in places invented by Bulgakov’s surrealistic satirical imagination. It is dense and chaotic. Too chaotic for me. So here I will focus only on Behemoth, a pig sized black cat, and on the Master and Margarita referred to in the book’s title.

Not all cats are the same.

Behemoth is quite unusual. He is a shape shifting cat that can walk and talk. He enjoys drinking vodka, playing chess, shooting pistols, and telling bad jokes. But most importantly, he is part of Woland the Devil’s entourage. Behemoth’s most important role seems to be that of creating chaos.

Chaos has an important role in politics. Who is in power wants to maintain order and who is not in power wants to create chaos. This tug-of-war between order and chaos is the foundation of politics. To avoid the challenges created by chaos, many people are willing to conform and subject themselves to the established order. As it happened during the time of Pontius Pilate as well as during the Stalin regime. When there is chaos, there will be conflict. When there is order, there will be repression. Chaos and order feed off each other to keep themselves going.

In Bulgakov’s book, the Master is a repressed novelist who represents Bulgokov himself. Margarita, although married to a bureaucrat, is in love with the Master. The constant attack by literary critics leads to the Master’s breakdown. He burns his manuscripts then commits himself to a mental institution. Margarita is so in love with the Master that she’s willing to become a witch just to have the Master released from the hospital. Thanks to her pact with the devil, the Master and Margarita are reunited and return to live in their basement apartment. The manuscript that the Master had burned is now magically intact and Margarita begins to read it.

Elena and Bulgakov

But the love story between the Master and Margarita is not fictional. It’s based on the true story of Bulgakov and Elena Sergeevna Shilovskaya. Although both were married when they met, they began a passionate love affair. Finally, in 1932, they divorced their spouses and married one another.

Mikhail Bulgakov was born in Kiev (Ukraine) in 1891. He started writing The Master and Margarita in 1928 during the Stalin regime. But, because of the political repression, he could not see a future as a writer. So he burned his manuscript. But apparently Elena’s presence helped him start writing again. He continued to write until just a few weeks before his death in 1940 at the age of 48. After his death, Elena swore that she would make his book her life’s mission. Impossible to be published in Russia, the complete manuscript was finally published in Paris in 1967. Elena died three years later.

Eighty-two years after Bulgakov’s death, censorship still exists. And not just in Russia. Following Queen Elizabeth II’s recent death, several people were arrested in Edinburgh for protesting the monarchy. One woman for holding up an anti-monarchy sign. Another man for having said, in reference to King Charles III, “who elected him?” And another man for heckling Prince Andrew,   alleged pedophile.

The Queen, who ruled for 70 years, will be mourned by many British subjects and their grief is to be respected. However, respect should be reciprocal.

It’s estimated that the Queen’s funeral, which will be paid for by the British taxpayers, is estimated at $9 million. Why should the Brits, at a time when they are finding empty shelves at the grocery store, inflation exceeding 10%, and an 80% increase in heating costs also be expected to keep their mouths shuts just to placate the monarchy who live a privilege lifestyle?

No head of state should be considered more important that the people it represents.

Related: My Friend Mona + The Master and Margherita PDF + Margarita + Elena Sergeevna Shilovskaia-Bulgakova (1893-1970) +

Elizabeth II, the queen of Britain’s post-colonial influence + King Charles’s $440 million net worth is likely getting a lot bigger. Here’s how wealthy the rest of the royal family is + Revealed: Queen’s private estate invested millions of pounds offshore + King Charles will not pay tax on inheritance from the Queen + King Charles’s staff given redundancy notice during church service commemorating Queen Elizabeth II + Julian Assange’s short talk on democracy and free speech and the necessity to challenge the intentions of those who seek to control us + How Britain stole $45 trillion from India +

The War on Dissent by Whitney Webb +

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