books, people, travel
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a chat with ‘lonesome jorge’

AS A child living in an isolated country town in Australia, Jorge Sotirios  was often fascinated by daring explorers who went to far flung places like ‘The Amazon’, ‘The Galapagos’ and ‘The Moon’. In his humorous, colourful and well received first novel, Lonesome George, C’est Moi! he managed to travel to all three. My Greek Review caught up with the author for an Athens-Sydney conversation. Sotirios has been closely following the Greek situation over the years, coming over from Australia for intense research and exploratory travel through the dense Greek socio-political jungle. He is currently preparing his new novel Graffiti Over Marble which relates to the past, present and future of crisis-struck Greece.

Sotirios on his South American adventures

Sotirios on his South American adventures

My Greek Review: What has most inspired your love of travel?
Jorge Sotirios: The truth is my uncles in Greece went around the world as officers on cruise ships, so their tales of ‘other places’ inspired me (they loved New Zealand the most strangely, but that happens when romance is a given).

ImageResize.ashxAs a travel journalist I’ve been fortunate to spend ample time in South America, India, the Caribbean and Asia as well as visiting far-flung places within Australia. This meant sleeping under mosquito nets that dice up the stars in remote Arnhem Land, eating in huts beneath yak cheese hung to dry on rafters in the Himalayas, and puffing out of breath to ascend the Sierra Maestra where Fidel Castro and Che Guevara camped out for three arduous years.

MGR: What are you up to these days?
: Currently I’m in the throes of completing a book on the Greek crisis. How has the average Greek experienced the past 5 years under the thumb of austerity? Graffiti Over Marble is my portrait of Greece that doesn’t focus merely on Athens but extends to the Balkans, the islands and through the Peloponnese.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of my travels during the economic crisis was the amount of graffiti that has been scrawled across walls, up poles, down awnings and into marble facades. It’s been an anthropological exercise to decipher the messages of anger, resistance, sorrow and humour but I believe it gives insight to the travails of a society under the pump of austerity.


Sotirios (pictured R) with graphic artist Pat Grant at Australia’s Griffiths Readers Festival 2013, where Sotirios spoke about using his personal experiences as a basis for writing. He told the audience: It’s dangerous “to point at other cultures. You’ve got to be careful using your own life history because you’ve got to be able to bring it to the reader”.

MGR: What is your raison d’être?
JS: My aim is to be a better person, but since everyone I meet is better than me, I have some way to go.

MGR: How important is writing for you?
JS: Living intensely is more important; which is why I write.

MGR: What have you written so far (topics, concepts, titles) and why?
JS: I started writing atrocious plays, but fortunately I’ve progressed to writing atrocious essays and books in equal measure!

MGR: How satisfied are you with what you’ve done so far?
JS: Writing is a work-in-progress. I’m satisfied when readers tell me they laughed. At me, it’s fine, but for my books, even better.

MGR: Who are your main influences?
JS: Probably philosophical. French existentialism provided me with a view that pointed towards things like action, authenticity and compassion. The great Lithuanian thinker Tom. E. Raudonikus summed it up well: ‘have a go ya mug!’

One of the graffiti images that Sotirios has photographed off the streets of Athens to include in his new book, Graffiti Over Marble - depicting the shadow puppet character of Karagiozis throwing a Molotov bomb.

One of the graffiti images that Sotirios has photographed off the streets of Athens to include in his new book, Graffiti Over Marble – depicting the shadow puppet character of Karagiozis throwing a Molotov bomb.

MGR: How important is it to you to write about Greece, and why?
JS: Tremendously important. I first visited when I was 14 and sites, people and ideas were seared into my mind: like the omphalos in Delphi where Zeus set off two eagles, and they returned to the centre of the world; going to villages that had no electricity to be embraced by black-clad crones with single teeth; the waves in the Aegean whose spume resembles the fallen feathers of Icarus; and most of all I was commended by relatives because I ate so much and kept a chubby figure!

Of course, later I read up of previous travellers: Lord Byron, Leigh Fermor, Henry Miller, Virginia Woolf, Martin Heidegger. In some way I hope I’m passing the baton by relaying my experiences in a land where I find deep connection.

Excerpt from Jorge Sotirios” ‘Europe’s Trojan Horse’
HESIOD MIGHT HAVE written the script. The 2004 summer was Greece’s last Golden Age. The Athens Olympics focused the world’s attention on a small but thriving country in the Mediterranean. In no other nation could the Olympic flame be lit and returned home, as though Zeus’s eagles had once again found the centre of the earth. A brilliant opening ceremony reminded the world of Greece’s ancient glory.
The marathon began in the outer-lying suburb of Marathon, exactly 42.195 kilometres from the finish line in Athens (provided you took the old road). Medals awarded in gold, silver and bronze even replicated Hesiod’s hierarchy of Ages that befell humankind.
Added to this were supporting acts like Euro 2004, when the Greek soccer team flew back from Portugal, victorious, and was garlanded with laurel at the Pan-Hellenic Stadium used for the inaugural 1896 Olympic Games. Commentators drooled on TV: ‘May this axehasto – unforgettable – summer never end!’ When Eurovision and Miss World success came promptly after, it only brightened the glow.
Departing Athens for Buenos Aires as the clouds rolled over Mount Lycabettus, my Argentine amigos put it to me bluntly. ‘Is there anything Greeks haven’t won?’ they said in unison, as though a tragic chorus, minutes prior to the hero’s downfall.
How different the two countries were. Abandoned shops with graffiti sprayed over boarding, a devalued peso, and social and industrial unrest were the norm in Buenos Aires’s once-fashionable streets. Athens, by contrast, was scrubbed up, its art-deco buildings renovated and freshly painted.
Newly planted trees in Syntagma Square sprouted over tiled walkways that led to an underground station doubling as Metro and Museum of Archaeology, due to finds made during excavations. Even the steel scaffolds had been removed from the Parthenon, as though the Acropolis’s tenant – a senior citizen known as Athena – had been freed of her Zimmer frame, and was proudly standing upright.

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