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.
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).
As 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?
JS: 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.
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!’
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.