Bad trips, sad falls, and more

Twice yearly, Mondo Greco puts out a serviceable and occasionally inspired mix of prose articles, poetry and photographs that mesh into one of the better publications offering a taste of Greek or Greek-centered literature, in English. Most pieces are professionally translated, and while shades of meaning may get lost the rendering is generally of high standard. This latest, fall 2004 edition mixes 10 fiction and two travel pieces along with poems and a few black-and-white photos in its 140 pages. There is plenty of eccentricity documented (or imagined) in these pages – enough to justify one promotional ad saluting the publication’s «wild endeavor.» Some of the material gets centrifugal as the writers let their imaginations rip, like a raconteur full of anecdotes that don’t always add up. Then again, that’s part of the fun, and there is usually something to admire in the quirky and enterprising characters celebrated. Take, for example, the opening piece by Thanassis Valtinos, posed as an Odyssey-like memoir of an elderly villager, «Andreas Kordopatis,» recounting his hair-raising efforts to get to the US. These include missing two chances for a boat, finally making it aboard one with 3,000 other wretched passengers, practically drowning en route to New Orleans, and then, on the cusp, nearly being sent back to Greece before escaping into the safety of dockside crowds. No morality tales here, just literary realism laying to rest assumptions about the romanticism of transatlantic emigration in its heyday. Margot Demopoulos in «Messengers From the Front» takes realism in a military and high-politics direction as she imagines a Cretan regiment in northern Greece, followed by split screens of Metaxas’s famous «No» to Mussolini in October 1940, and the latter’s bombastic response as he sniffs his moment to shine – by invading a furious Greece. Grigoris Petriniotis recounts the sad coexistence of Leila and Raouf in Istanbul, with the latter’s dissolute daily existence propped up by his long-suffering wife, who «had taken from life what she’d been able to negotiate and not what she deserved» while getting a bit of revenge by extracting guilt in the process. Amanda Michalopoulou (a Kathimerini columnist) writes richly in «The Spiral of Life» about goings-on in a writer’s colony where «equally maladjusted artists swarm all around you like bees» and where you «participate in a summary of the civilized world.» Her underground «Spiral of Life» offers the two choices, getting out or remaining inside, that seem to give a new twist to Plato’s «Simile of the Cave.» Ioanna Karystiani, author of an award-winning previous novel, penned «The Saint of Solitude,» demonstrating considerable powers of observation amid a torrent of description of Stella’s loneliness that no doubt is mirrored widely. Other pieces warrant mention too, such as Michel Fais’s 50 brief vignettes on unnamed Athenian characters, giving an unexpectedly full picture of everyday city life, gritty but often with humor, as with the street seller with bad Greek («Hey, friend, want a Rolex at a desperate price?»). Tassos Kaloutsas’s «Regarding Sophoula» describes the travails of an emotionally damaged young woman who falls to her death in uncertain circumstances. Alison Anderson’s «Night Without Moon» offers a dream-like travel memoir that takes the reader, appropriately, again back in time to end the volume.