About a year ago I walked into the Art Gallery here in Queensland and saw this portrait.
It is called "The Cypriot" by William Dobbell painted in1940. Dobbell met Akis Gavrielides, a waiter in a cafe in London. He painted many portraits of this man who is described as a study in exotic good looks. Clive James wrote a poem in 2003 called "The Cypriot by William Dobbell" and the opening stanza goes:
"The Cypriot brought his wine dark eyes with him,
Along with his skin and hair he also brought that shirt.
Swathes of fine fabric clothe a slim frame with grace
bespeaking taste and thought".
It has stayed with me ever since, and now is the moment I can celebrate it. We have just had the weekend of Paniyiri in Brisbane. Two days of Greek dancing, cooking demonstrations, honey puffs, shieftalies, souvlaki, plate throwing and much, much more. Two days for which months and months of preparation have been spent tirelessly by so many volunteers to bring this event to life. This year we celebrated 40 years of the Hellenic Dancers. I applauded the efforts of Cypriot women in http://in-cyprus.com/spirited-women-of-cyprus/. They start their preparation months in advance.
We celebrated the island of Crete, and commemorated the Battle of Crete which took place on the 20th of May 1941 in which so many Anzacs and Cretans fought to ward off the German invasion. They lost the battle but the bonds between Crete and Australia and New Zealand have remained strong and close. We listened to Glenda Hume Saunders talking about her father Reg Saunders experience fighting in Crete. We put up photos of Cretan people from the Cretan Photographic Society. We remembered that this is the 60th anniversary of Nikos Kazantzakis' death in 1957, just as I was being born. Extracts from his books and a film on his life and talks on his works gave us a small insight into this giant of Greek writing. I think of my sister Niki who was instrumental in introducing me to his works and whose birthday is May 23rd though sadly we lost her in 2013.
Members of the Cypriot, Cretan and Greek Communities in Queensland have worked tirelessly for months to share their history, culture and love of life, as epitomised by Zorba the Greek, with a wider Australian audience. It makes me nostalgic for my homeland and proud at the same time. I think often of the reason why at the time when Cyprus was fighting a war of Independence against the British, my father decided to educate me in English, attracting criticism and death threats for his action. This is a decision which changed the direction of my life forever and while I have no regrets about the many places it has taken me, I often wonder at his own thoughts in choosing for me to go in a completely different direction from my sisters. Everywhere my itinerant life has taken me I have looked for the Greek or Cypriot connection. In India, counted on the fingers of two hands. Here much more widespread and still evolving and it is an undoubted pleasure and privilege to meet so many wonderful people who choose to celebrate their origins in their new homeland. Today, the 22nd of May is also the anniversary of my father's death, a traveller himself who never passed up an opportunity to see the world. Does he look down on me and see what a traveller I have become I wonder? It is fitting therefore, on these days of many anniversaries to share from Kazantzakis his own passion to see the world, a celebration of origin, travel and happiness:
“All my life one of my greatest desires has been to travel-to see and touch unknown countries, to swim in unknown seas, to circle the globe, observing new lands, seas, people, and ideas with insatiable appetite, to see everything for the first time and for the last time, casting a slow, prolonged glance, then to close my eyes and feel the riches deposit themselves inside me calmly or stormily according to their pleasure, until time passes them at last through its fine sieve, straining the quintessence out of all the joys and sorrows.”