Letter from Lesvos

In an essay titled Sex Is Politics American best-selling author Gore Vidal writes: In order for a ruling class to rule, there must be arbitrary prohibitions. Of all prohibitions, sexual taboo is the most useful because sex involves everyone. To be able to lock up someone or deprive him of employment because of his sex life is a very great power indeed, and one seldom used in civilized societies. Last week a Greek politician, Dimitris Vounatsos, an ex-member of Parliament (PASOK) now politically at odds with the present government and actually governor of the island of Lesvos proposed with some outrage that tourist female couples should be fenced off to avoid offending local residents. Mocking lesbianism on the island from which came the poetess Sappho (floruit 600 BC, and still considered the finest ever poet of the feminine gender), Dimitris Vounatsos declared: They express themselves publicly, in front of children and families on the beach or eating at seaside restaurants. Well, they can do whatever they like but in a fenced-off area, confirming thus the widespread impression that politicians’ views are pinched and narrow. It would be more suitable to fence him in and have people go and feed him in his cage! answered with candor Gregory Valianatos, a militant spokesman of Gay Liberation in Greece, who elaborated further for this column: Homosexuals in public life are still extremely fearful of coming out, though their homosexuality is usually known to the people close to them. Greek politicians still parade their wives and children as moral credentials. The governor’s remarks strike a jarring note in any complacency we may have been nurturing about our not-especially improved Greek tolerance and understanding of the homosexual who has been designated a lawful member of our society respecting the European norms – plus a hard-currency paying tourist. The current wave of Orthodox religiosity that is flowing across Greece like an oil slick certainly does not help to improve things either. A tourist country, par excellence, Greece should bear in mind the so-called, newly developed, homosexual economy. The affluence of the average male or female homosexual is easily explained. With neither wife, husband or children to support, and generally without heavy mortgages or a big insurance policy, gays have a comparatively large discretionary income. Places like Key West and Fire Island in the United States, Myconos and Eressos in Greece have long become extremely profitable homosexual vacation centers. After the sexual liberation era the homosexual has come out of the closet and into the marketplace. As well as having great buying power, they are proving to be trend-setters in fashion too says Valianatos, adding that Greek advertisers are also beating a path to their doors. The Greek Homo Classicus (‘homos’ meaning like) had quite a tradition on such matters: Thebes’s Sacred Legion, the Spartan buddy system, etc, etc. Homosexual relations between heroes were often celebrated in the ancient world. In Homer’s ‘Iliad’ Achilles’ rage is echoed when his lover Patroclus dies before the walls of Troy. There is this celebrated scene at the conclusion of the ‘Iliad’: during the siege, Priam, king of Troy, slips by night into the enemy camp to Achilles, the Achaeans most terrible warrior and the vanquisher of his favorite son Hector. He begs that the body of Hector be handed over for a fitting burial, and Achilles finally accedes to this request despite the fact that Hector had killed his closest and most beloved friend Patroclus. And the two of them, Achilles and Priam, mourn their fate together. Not to mention the Old Testament, where the love that Ruth felt for Naomi sounds of a sort that today might well end in a joint summer vacation at Eressos Beach. Apparently, Lesvos’s prefect Vounatsos knows too well that homosexuality is now legal. However, he must still be unconvinced that it’s altogether moral. Yet, things could be much worse. At the beginning of this summer in Montreal, I saw Greg MacArthur’s play (directed by Peter Hinton) with the title Girls ! Girls! Girls. Fearfully effective, this play about four ‘normal’ kids showed the full scope of disaster when emotional and spiritual emptiness becomes the norm. Would Mr.Vounatsos perhaps prefer straight juvenile delinquents to lesbians on Lesvos? According to a survey by the British Gay News, homosexuals are great consumers of leisure and luxuries. They buy more books, eat more meals in restaurants, take more holidays abroad than the average householder- but buy far fewer tickets to football games. Situated on a small mountain topped by a theatrical medieval castle in the north of Mytilene (or Lesvos), Molyvos (or Mithymna) is one of the rare extremely gorgeous places in Greece (or Hellas). I spent last week there at a friend’s house – Katerina Kamara – a Thessalonian. A picturesque town built of stone houses with tile roofs and with one of the most attractive fishing harbors in the Aegean, Molyvos is the playground of the Kamaristes and the Lefteristes (their patron being star-journalist Lefteris Papadopoulos who spends most of his time there ), named after two powerful clans of summer-visitors to Molyvos. Other illustrious personalities there include the Gatelluzi brothers, named after the medieval Gattelusis from Genoa who were ceded the island when Francesco Gattelusi married the daughter of the Byzantine Emperor John Palaiologos. According to legend, they lived in the Molyvos castle which was conquered by no less than Achilles himself during the Trojan war. Today the Gatellusis are famous for two night clubs they manage in Molyvos and in nearby Petra. Since I begun this summer reporting on the Greek tragedies presented in Epidaurus, allow me to end with Euripides’ Trojan Women as staged last weekend by the highly talented Adonis Adypas. This is one of those plays which has its strongest effect as an outcry against the oppression of the female. Oppression by state officials who, more often than not, tend not to take very seriously the morals that they impose upon their subjects.

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