Thursday, 2 May 2019

The Beginning of the Beach,
the End of the Beach

‘Αρχή Ακτής, Beginning of the Beach’ … a sign at Pavlos Beach in Platanias, east of Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

There is one signboard with two notices at the entrance to beach at Platanias, where I spent the past week.

On one side, it reads: Αρχή Ακτής, Beginning of the Beach.

On the other side, it reads: Τέλος Ακτής, End of the Beach.

The Greek might be translated more literally as ‘Shore’ rather than ‘Beach’, and perhaps the word Παραλία is used more often for beach in Greek.

In some ways, those signs also came to symbolise this past week in Rethymnon. I had come mainly to experience the Orthodox commemorations and celebrations of Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter.

But each day included a stroll along the long stretch white sands along the shore at Platanias, enjoying the sunshine, the blue skies and the deep blue sea.

Nails remaining from old death notices on the hill leading from Platanias up to Tsesmes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Reading signs in another country and another language requires more than literal translations.

The hundreds of nails stuck into one old pole on the road leading up from Platanias to the hillside village of Tsesmes may have mystified many a first-time visitor to Crete. But they remain from the old notices that are pinned or nailed to any available space as soon as someone dies, but removed before the celebrations of Easter and the Resurrection began on Saturday night.

Death, denial and a white seashore are images that remind me of the poem ‘Denial’ ( Άρνηση) by Giorgos Seferis (1900-1971), first published in 1931 in his collection Turning Point (Στροφή, Strophe).

Seferis received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1963. After the colonels’ coup in 1967, however, he went into voluntary seclusion and many of his poems were banned, including the musical versions written and arranged by the composer Mikis Theodorakis.

‘Denial’ came to be the anthem of resistance to the colonel and was sung by the enormous crowds lining the streets of Athens at the poet’s funeral in September 1971. He had become a popular hero for his resistance to the regime.

Άρνηση

Στο περιγιάλι το κρυφό κι άσπρο σαν περιστέρι διψάσαμε το μεσημέρι· μα το νερό γλυφό.
Πάνω στην άμμο την ξανθή γράψαμε τ' όνομά της· ωραία που φύσηξεν ο μπάτης και σβήστηκε η γραφή.
Mε τι καρδιά, με τι πνοή, τι πόθους και τι πάθος, πήραμε τη ζωή μας· λάθος! κι αλλάξαμε ζωή.

‘Denial’ (translated by Edmund Keeley and Phillip Sherrard)

On the secret seashore
white like a pigeon
we thirsted at noon;
but the water was brackish.

On the golden sand
we wrote her name;
but the sea-breeze blew
and the writing vanished.

With what spirit, what heart,
what desire and passion
we lived our life; a mistake!
So we changed our life.

‘Τέλος Ακτής, End of the Beach’ … the other side of the sign at Pavlos Beach in Platanias, east of Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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