Saturday, 6 July 2013

Squabbles (Καυγάδες)

My very kind cyber-friends all over the world often pass on weblinks to me which often end up being the basis of a blog post. As one of those friends said to me once, I can create a post out of practically nothing. (I don't know if that is a good thing or not, but it allows me to keep boredom at bay.) This morning, I received a link to a card (being sold on ebay) showing an ancient Greek site (Acrocorinth), sent in April 1922, by what seems like an American who was visiting Corinth, to another American in Constantinople, Turkey. It is often the little message written on the card that provides revealing little insights into our past.
Little did the writer know that only 5 months later, Constantinople would no longer exist on the map - it would be known as Istanbul, as it is today, after the Smyrna catastrophe in September 1922.
On another occassion, my friend Betty asked me to explain to her what was written on a century-old postcard selling on ebay. The postcard, showing the entrance of St Sophia in Constantinople, was sent by a Greek man living in a place called Pera (referring to a suburb of Constantinople which was also known as Galata, and now called Beyoglu in modern-day Istanbul) to his Greek female cousin in Alexandria, Egypt, which had a thriving Greek community at the time (to this day, the Greeks remain one of the biggest minority groups in Egypt, primarily centred in Alexandria). For these reasons, the postcard could be deemed to possess great historical value, showing the widespread shores that the Hellenic people had made thier homes in around the at the time fledgling Greek state.

The language of the actual postcard is in French, as was common at the time, when French was the international language of Europe. It is dated 26 March 1910, with the 26 highlighted in a different pen colour from the remaining text, which may be deemed significant, given the ensuing discussion on the postcard. It arrived in Alexandria on 1 April 1910, according to the stamp. The person receiving the postcard probably doesn't know French, since the writer explains the phrases found on the picture side of the postcard. The form of the Greek language used by the writer is Katharevousa, the 'compromise' between Ancient Greek and Modern Greek which was invented for the purposes of keeping a high levelof the language alive for official purposes; the use of Katharevousa Greek also suggests that the writer must have been quite educated, as most diaspora Greeks living close to the Hellenic shores were at the time.

The writer starts off with the globally common way of adressing someone in writing: "Dear Cousin Sophia". But he does not continue with the common salutations that often open a letter - he gets straight to the point of the epistle with little hesitation:

You have absolutely no right to accuse me of not writing a letter to you detailing Polixeni's latest opinions. I immediately wrote you a letter, addressed to Nikolas or to Michail, but maybe unfortunately you did not receive it. You must know, my dearest cousin, that I care a lot about you, and you have to understand this, and not put it in your mind, as you write here to me, that I concern myself with alien issues. I believe that my attitude towards you so far is not that of a stranger but a relative, at least in my opinion. If you did not receive the letters, ask for them at the post office. I beg you (turn over) Sofia, please do not send me another letter within a letter addressed to someone esle, because the last letter you sent me was contained in Lemonias' letter, even though you had closed it, they gave it to me opened [...]. Please don't write to her. Because the best way is not to send letters inside others' - not including, of course, your brothers' - letters. 
We are well, and I wish the same for you. I hope I am proved wrong [...] the unjust [...].
Your cousin, A......, 1910. 
Επαίτης = Beggar

It seems incredible that during the years when letters took a long time to get to their recipients, someone would spend money and time writing a postcard of this sort to scold their cousin! But then, family relationships in those days were not as simple as they are now, and the telephone did not exist for them. He talks about privacy in the message/letter, although he did not heistate to send it as a postcard without an envelope!

The whole essay sounds to me like a grand spiel of an explanation for missing mail. If this letter were to be written in modern times, I expect that it would be some kind of text message or email, and it would contain something similar to the following message:
"didnt u get my msgs? pls check yr junk mail"
Throughout the centuries, Greeks have always had a liking for a good debate, philosophising trivialites, without any fear of letting it turn into a squabble, as this postcard attests. One wonders what Sophia would have said to her cousin or how she would have greeted him upon seeing him after a very long time after a very long trip, even if a war or some other social upheaval may have taken place during that time: "Did you get my letters?"

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