This the website for the English (but in fact Irish) journalist, author and book editor John Gill, author of Hype!, The Stars Over Paxos, The Rough Guide to Corfu and the Ionian Islands, Queer Noises, Essential Gaudí and Andalucía: A Cultural History, among others. The most recent projects are Far From Heaven, published in late May 2011, a short book on the Todd Haynes film for the British Film Institute’s Film Classics series, in which queer theory meets Hollywood melodrama, and Athens, a cultural history of the modern city, published in January 2012 in the innercities cultural guides series by Signal Books, who published my Andalucía: A Cultural History, in 2008.
There are excerpts from Far From Heaven, Athens and Andalucía available to read here in the sidebar at left or, for Far From Heaven and Athens, by clicking on the book covers above. Athens is available from both amazon.co.uk and amazon.com, as is Far From Heaven (amazon.com; amazon.co.uk). Signal Books encourage readers to support the independent book sector by buying their books from online companies such as Word Power, who actually undercut Amazon prices and in an ethical, trade union-friendly workplace (although at present you are advised to search for Athens by author name).
There are more projects in the pipeline, but superstition forbids mention of any of these until they are at least underway... mischief involving sound sculptures planted in remote Greek island forests may attract the attention of the Greek constabulary and, later, readers… as may POD versions of earlier books...
There’s a brief note about me in the sidebar at left outlining my career as a journalist, writer and book editor. While I have plenty of work sitting on my iMac to be going on with, I am always open to offers...
This is a small site that will get bigger when I find time to upload the texts of earlier books now unavailable, out of print or listed for ridiculous prices on eBay. Siga, siga...
Finally, the reason for the Greek phrases peppered through this web site is that after eight years in the mountains of Andalucía it is now being run from a base on a small Greek island, an adult-life-long obsession that has produced at least four books. Like Odysseus, I have finally come home.
The Shipping News
Sunny most days, but it can also snow in winter... Check back in at whim for the latest weather report from a room with a view over the Aegean with Alonnisos on the sea horizon.
26 September 2011
Harbours seen for the first time
Most visitors to this website will know that my lover of thirty-five years (which we celebrated last June on the Venetian island of Torcello), the jazz composer Graham Collier, died very suddenly on 9 September 2011. It has been a fairly strange time here, but one tempered by the extraordinary sympathy and affection of our island friends and neighbours, proof of the enduring Greek quality of filoxenia, kindness to strangers. I have collated links to all the obituaries and tributes at his website jazzcontinuum, where there is also a magnificent tribute to Graham by the critic Brian Morton, which can be read as an unintended epitaph, and one that Graham got to read before he died.
As few non-Greeks will ever visit the grave, I thought it fitting that it should carry an inscription in the language of the people who made us so welcome in their community over the past four years. Graham wanted to use the opening lines of Constantine Cavafy’s poem ‘Ithaka’, which took Calypso’s advice to the departing Odysseus in The Odyssey as a metaphor for a life well lived, in a words-and-music piece he would have begun work on this spring, but the penultimate stanza seemed more fitting for his gravestone. The inscription translates:
Graham Collier, 1937-2011
composer, musician, writer
“Ithaka gave you the marvellous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.”
– from ‘Ithaka’, C. P. Cavafy
– although he would have been delighted to find that the middle line more accurately translates as “Without her you would not have gone on the road” (“θάβγαινες στο δρόμο”). Either way, he reached his Ithaka…
You can read the complete ‘Ithaka’ in English translation here.
6 January 2011
Not entirely accurate, but it does give a flavour of the Greek winter that few who only know it as a place to visit in summertime will be aware of. Our first snows this year came early, in December, before the snows hit northern Europe, dusting Alonnisos with snows that vanished before I could snap them for inclusion here but briefly wrapping this lighthousekeeper’s glass eyrie in a blizzard. Mostly our snows, the years they do arrive, come in February, when the little-known Greek skiing season is in full swing and when the snows that make the runs usable have sometimes carpeted Athens itself in six inches of snow. Research for my new book on Athens unearthed – or perhaps unsnowed – more than twenty ski resorts in mainland Greece, including a few a mere bus ride away from Volos north of here on the mainland. Few are of the Gstaad variety of ski resort; most are more like the modest “estación de ski” at Pradollano above Granada in Spain’s Sierra Nevada, but they have lifts, black runs and restaurants and hotels for après ski. (I should perhaps confess I am not a skier; I barely spent a few hours at Pradollano when I went to check it out for an earlier book, although I was mainly there for the view.) After the hottest summer in Greece for half a century, this has been the coldest snap in a similar length of time, although temperatures are predicted to edge into the Fahrenheit sixties at the weekend. This time last year we had, as reported below, just emerged from a Yuletide mini heatwave. So Skopelos, like the other islands, mainland and continental Europe, follows the recent waves of unseasonal weather around the world. Not quite the Rapture, and certainly without any mysterious Fortean rains of birds or dead fish. Just Gaia shaking her thing. For some images of snow on Skopelos, check these photos of the big snow of 2004 by our pal Costas Andreou at www.skopelos.net
19 July 2010
Houses in motion
It was a toss-up between the title of one of my favourite Talking Heads tracks and one from a Jon Hassell album, Earthquake Island, but the Talking Heads title gives a better flavour of the event: a magnitude 5.1 earthquake that struck between Skopelos and Alonnisos at 9.53pm last Friday, 16 July. The epicentre was deep below the seabed over the hillside in the photo above (that’s Alonnisos in the distance). Earthquakes are common in this part of the Aegean (and elsewhere in Greece, too; the Greek Mediterranean is veined with tectonic fault lines), but they rarely nudge above the low Twos. While still this side of disaster, a Five-point-something is a biggie, a ‘moderate’on the Richter scale, but one where the amplitude, or shaking effect, rises at an alarming rate: a Five has ten times the shaking effect of a Four. Those much-maligned folks at Wikipedia reckon a Five-plus has a seismic yield comparable to the effect of the bomb dropped on Nagasaki. The effect was dissipated by the fact that the seismic jolt happened ten kilometres below the surface, or around nine kilometres below the sea floor, between the islands. When the first shockwave hit Skopelos, it was enough to make the house shudder and furniture start swaying, but there was no damage and none of our neighbours seemed unduly alarmed, so we returned to the sofa and a re-run of ‘Shameless’. Aftershocks continued every few hours or so, a particularly lively one waking us at six the following morning. Scampering to our trusty Macs, we found that the Sporades were the site of over twenty (smaller) earthquakes in the space of around twenty-four hours.
Below is a static screen grab of the northern Aegean from the Uni of Athens Seismological Laboratory, with the latest quake ringed in yellow just north of Skopelos. Click into the Laboratory’s interactive map here Real-Time Seismicity for the latest disco dance moves from the floor of the Mediterranean...
1 January 2010
This lighthousekeeper has just returned to his post after nearly a month away travelling to the rim of the world for a week sailing around the Galápagos islands, crossing the equator twice and missing the peak of the Geminid meteor showers almost entirely while anchored in the lee of one of Isla Isabela’s volcanoes. (There was, however, a possible sighting of a Geminid-related fireball over the flanks of one of Isabela’s volcanoes.) The yacht, a 120-ft motor cruiser once owned by Grace Kelly, moored at most of the major islands - Santa Cruz, Isabela, Fernandina, Genovesa, Bartolome, North Seymour and San Cristobal - and the expeditions took in most of the islands’ varied topographies (shield volcanoes, lava fields, dry and wet jungle, mangrove swamps, matorral) and their extraordinary biota: vast colonies of marine and land iguanas, Darwin finches, more blue- (and red-) footed boobies than you could shake a stick at, young albatrosses learning to fly, acrobatic rays, dolphins and sea lions, temperate-zone penguins, turtles mating in the waves, giant land tortoises, and even the rather sad Lonesome George, soon expected to become a father in his hundred-and-twenty-something year.
Your lighthousekeeper was pleased to find his quadrant of the Aegean almost as hot as the equator on his return. The past week has seen the islands bathed in glorious sunshine daytimes (the equator gets a lot of cloud cover at this time of year), even though nights have been cool. Neon etos paramoni - roughly, New Year’s Eve - here was magical: a full moon over the bay, a very John Carpenter-ish sea fog hugging Alonnisos on the horizon, and the town spangling with the elaborate Christmas light displays the islanders love to use to decorate their homes. The return of expatriate islanders for the holidays even persuaded some of the summer bars on the paralia, seafront, to crack open, but soon they’ll be closing down again until Easter (early this year, beginning on April 4 in both the Roman and Greek Orthodox calendars). Until then, however, we will have one of the best kept secrets in the Mediterranean to ourselves: the Greek islands in winter...