South Belt

Nikos Karouzos, Roberto Bolaño and Thomas Pynchon clinking their glasses and wandering in the labyrinths of the South

[ Words/Thoughts/Sobs: George-Icaros Babassakis, Images/Engravings /Moods: Eleanna Martinou ]

Eleanna Martinou, Karouzos / Portrait-Space I 2013, mixed media, 21 cm x 30 cm                        Courtesy of the artist and Batagianni Gallery

Eleanna Martinou, Pynchon / Portrait-Space III 2013, mixed media, 21 cm x 30 cm                       Courtesy of the artist and Batagianni Gallery

Eleanna Martinou, Bolaño / Portrait-Space II 2013, mixed media, 21 cm x 30 cm                           Courtesy of the artist and Batagianni Gallery

I spent myself at the thickets / Yorgos Makris

Two of the writers who uplift you come to join at an old wooden table the poet who uplifts me. They drink raki and nibble at cool figs and dates. They smoke unfiltered cigarettes. You can hear cicadas. You can hear a crier. You can hear a bell. You live amid anniversaries, but you also live at each present moment. Another one had said, we are fans of oblivion.

The South is an urgent breath amid the industrial delirium that chokes yet still fascinates you. On the one hand the Einstuerzende Neubauten and the critique of alienation in Antonioni’s Red Desert, on the other the covert idleness, the secret languor as you shun the relentless rolling away of seconds.

You are looking for traces. You scavenge the corpus of Pynchon, the fragments of Bolaño. You find the passages into the South Belt. You place them at the same table with Karouzos.

Already in the first pages of Gravity’s Rainbow, the Commander gnashes his teeth:

Free French plotting revenge on Vichy traitors, Lublin Communists drawing beads on Varsovian shadow-ministers, ELAS Greeks stalking royalists, unrepatriable dreamers of all languages…

We wanted the North. We joined André Breton in saying that there is too much North in us for us to become people of full-time sponging. The North is subjected to systematic revenge for the Great Feast of ’68. The South has also began to suffer systematic revenge. There is one belt, one strip, one islet left for breathing— the South Belt that hosts Pynchon and Bolaño drinking raki from the jug of Karouzos. Here in the South Belt we listen to rembetikasongs and the blues.

Get away, you stupid world, I’ll never bother to plan things / Nikos Karouzos

In Inherent Vice, that jukebox/coffer of the Mad Song of the Sixties, amid the various pieces/manifestos/encomia for LR (Love Revolution as a counterpoint to the IV [Inherent Vice] of the title), this amazing figure of a Southern Greek, Titos, listens obsessively to Rosa Eskenazy. We listen with him.

Titos was playing a Rosa Eskenazy tape on the car stereo. “Listen to her, I adore this woman, she was the Bessie Smith of her time; she sang with the soul.” He sang a few bars with her. “What incredible passion—who hasn’t felt this, mate? A need so desperate, so degrading that nothing you can say can do it justice.”1

In the South, the South Belt, we listen to the blues, we listen torembetika, we enjoy our cold vanilla/“submarine” sweets and we like Jackson Pollock, that wild Sam Peckinpah of painting. Here you read the books of staunch modernists and discover their penchant for beautiful things and innocent pleasures, which tends to oust forever an existing social order that likes neither beautiful things nor innocent pleasures.

In the South, the South Belt, you listen to songs; songs that tell stories, stories about loves which fade away at daybreak, about losses of wealth, wrinkles of youth, blood of myrrh; songs about the chivalry of pain, songs about “the nobility of our comedy”, as Karouzos wrote.

When Cyprian and Danilo reached Salonica, they found the city reverberating like a gong struck by the events […] “Enjoy the sky while you can,” said Danilo, almost tearful, “the idea of a city without a mosque has almost come true, dull, modern, rectangular, entirely devoid of the mystery of God. You Northerners will feel at home.”2

In a city devoid of the mystery of God, you cannot but machinate. Or fall in love with yourself again and again, fruitlessly/ pointlessly/in vain—which means not to fall in love at all. You can conspire—but you have no reason to do so. It is time to reinvent the mystery of God, or at least pretend to. But in any case you must play, join the Adventure.

In the South, the South Belt, vertigo does not come from the speed of machinery, is not external; it comes from the speed of emotions, it is internal; an inner vertigo, a whole philosophical universe condensed in the stanzas of a song at a seedy joint; the entire Hegel in a line of Heraclitus sung, almost mumbled, as converted into six hundred pages by Roberto Bolaño and as it had been sung earlier by a femme fatale. In the South Belt, right-in-here, “the father is the craziest slaughterhouse” (Yorgos Kakoulidis), and we tell the history of the world through rembetika and the blues.

He lived for a while on Icaria. Then he lived on Amorgos. Then on Santorini. Then on Sifnos, Syros and Mykonos. Then he lived on a tiny island, which he called Hecatombe or Superego, near the island of Naxos, but he never lived on Naxos. Then he left the islands and returned to the Continent.3

Karouzos, Pynchon and Bolaño know how to live just fine, for all the drawbacks, in the labyrinths of the South Belt. Table and bed. Bread and water. Unfiltered fags and raki. Thoughts when- ever they come. Words, the same, Silence, likewise. And hanging from a nail on the wall, a Rothko. No contradiction. To sum up: “Leukoplast for small and large discrepancies” (Karouzos).

He ate very hard black bread that had to be softened with wine. He ate fish and tomatoes. Figs. Water. The water came from a well. […] He was a strong swimmer. Sometimes he dove. Other times he sat alone on the slopes of the hills covered in scrub, until dusk fell or dawn came, thinking, or so he claimed, but really he wasn’t thinking anything at all.4

Karouzos plays chess. Bolaño plays billiards. Pynchon plays poker.

They drink raki. Eat figs. Iced water. They’ve crossed so many minefields to get here. They’ve experienced dictatorships, wars, treason. They know the weight of every word. Their words are hoarse. Their words have wrinkles. They laugh because they know what crying means.

[…] then he got up shaking and went for a walk around Missolonghi, which was full of memorials to Byron, as if Byron had done nothing in Missolonghi but stroll about, from inn to tavern, from backstreet to little square, when it was common knowledge that he had been too ill to move and it was Thanatos who walked and looked and took note, Thanatos who visited not just in search of Byron but also as a tourist, because Thanatos is the biggest tourist on Earth.5

Drinking raki, smoking unfiltered cigarettes, talking, remaining silent, ruminating, cursing, daydreaming, Karouzos, Bolaño and Pynchon are chanting a liberating Trampling over death by death, they save Art anew after its death at the turn of that 20th century, reinstate the Great Feast, wink meaningfully at us, restore the mutuality of tears in the game, call upon you to be saddled with painting and prose again, now that you know you can still practise them even though they were killed. Karouzos, Bolaño and Pynchon are your alibi: you can write, you can paint; all is not lost. There is rembetika, there is the blues, there are millions more seconds yet; pick up the pen, put up the canvas, switch on the tape recorder, write/paint/talk.

“Aman,” howled Vesna, “amaaaan, yanıyorum ben, seviyorum sen…” She sang about a yearning so deep that humiliation, pain and danger no longer mattered.6

They clink their glasses in the Labyrinths of the South, Karouzos, Bolaño, Pynchon, and what has long abandoned itself, what has long been a burden but passed off as joy, what stayed around out of charity, what retains no essence or meaning, goes away and is forever lost. Leave us to our songs, to the words and the works that tell our stories. The Great Wager in art, as in life, is to be able to sit at the same table and eat and drink with those who taught you how to eat and drink.

Back in that time, of which so many songs speak – that day… what happened?7


1. Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice, Greek trans. Yorgos Kyriazis, Kastaniotis, p. 294. 2. Thomas Pynchon, Against the Day, Greek trans. Yorgos Kyriazis, Kastaniotis, p. 956. 3. Roberto Bolaño, 2666, Greek trans. Kriton Iliopoulos, Agra, p. 1101.
4. Roberto Bolaño, 2666, Greek trans. Kriton Iliopoulos, Agra, p. 1102.
5. Roberto Bolaño, 2666, Greek trans. Kriton Iliopoulos, Agra, p. 1103.
6. Thomas Pynchon, Against the Day, Greek trans. Yorgos Kyriazis, Kastaniotis, p. 958. 7. Thomas Pynchon, Against the Day, Greek trans. Yorgos Kyriazis, Kastaniotis, p. 958.

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