The Blog of John Walford, British-born, but long resident in The United States. I am an art historian, currently studying satire in Netherlandish art, an amateur photographer, and occasional writer, who writes here about art, photography, and the human condition--some of it ekphratic poetry, responding to works of art. This is to be a site for words and images, interacting on one another, as vehicles of human expression.

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Monday, December 24, 2007

An Incredible Christmas Eve "Reunion" -involving France, England, Croatia, Greece, and the USA



Leonidas Pandely Argenti of Chios (1743-1822) -As a leading citizen of the Greek Island of Chios, hung by the Turks, with 22 other leading citizens, as a public example, in 1822.

Christmas Eve, 2007: A day full of surprises, in which, through multiple, parallel communications, with totally disparate individuals, linked to diverse parts of my existence, I discovered that each was somehow more closely connected to the other than I ever could have anticipated. Thus, I found myself, a British expatriate, married to an Italian, together now living the last 26 years in the USA, emailing a few friends--one in Croatia, one in France, one in England, and two in Greece.

The "friends" in Greece are not actually friends, but we share a passion for both art and language, which has resulted in written exchanges, commenting on one another's photographs--each one operating under a pseudonym. The "friend" in Croatia is not actually a friend either, but a young philosopher by trade, and a creative photographer, by passion. We had earlier discovered that we shared a passion for art, ideas, philosophy, religion, humor, satire, and language, which has resulted in many, many deep and intense written exchanges, commenting on one another's photographs, and views of life. Now it happens that, some time ago, the Croatian "friend" put me in touch with the younger of the two "friends" in Greece--for comparable reasons. So the younger of the two "friends" in Greece, and I started a few email exchanges, via the Flickr photo-sharing site, that we all use.

Then came the day before Christmas eve, and no Christmas letter written. So I opted for the electronic solution. At about 2.00am, thus by now Christmas Eve, I sent off a note to many of my family and friends--real ones, and a few new, Internet ones--for good measure!!! I had to get up at 5.00am, to run an important errand, and by 6.00am. I had already heard back from my friend in France. Actually, we are not strictly "friends", as we only know each other through correspondence. But we are bona fide, blood relations--though only distant cousins. But, for us, that is good enough, since we both derive from a close-knit, widely dispersed, but deeply interrelated group of Greek families--all survivors of the 1822 Turkish massacre of the Greek islanders of Chios, close to the Turkish coast, where our common ancestors lived as sea-faring merchants, for centuries upon centuries, until that appalling, and cruel disaster.

Now, my cousin in France is a writer and a journalist, and he knows almost everything there is to know about the Chiot diaspora. Since I had just heard from one of my two Greek photo contacts, now living in Athens, that her family also came from Chios, I asked my cousin in France if he knew anything about her family. He writes back, four minutes later, to say that he was on the point of writing to her father, a somewhat distinguished Athenian intellectual, to wish him a Merry Christmas, when my email arrived. Now, turns out that her father--unbeknown to me, since also using a pseudonym--was my other Greek, photo-contact "friend", who is not really a friend at all!

Then came the surprise: My cousin in France was writing to him, in Athens, because they really are good friends! But not only that, my French cousin told me that the man in Athens, and thus his daughter too, are actually my blood relations, and that, due to constant inter-marriage among these Greek, Chiot families, we are not only cousins, but cousins three times over, through different lines!!


Now recall that I first mentioned London as another point in this nexus of connections. So, it now unfolds that not only do my two Athenian photo-contacts turn out to be father and daughter, and both my cousins, but, furthermore, that my beloved Greek aunt in London, who had recently died, was a close friend of the Athenian man's mother, and that my London aunt's daughter, thus my cousin, also living in London, and of whom I am most fond, has stayed with them in Greece.

Not only that, but so did my cousin's daughter, only last summer. In so doing, she, in her turn, became friends with the brother of my other Greek photo-contact, the distinguished Athenian's daughter--whose pseudonym, by which I have known her, is, perhaps fittingly for such a Greek tale, "semimortal"!!!!

I had teased her about this pseudonym, until I found out that she lived not far (relatively speaking) from the foothills of Mount Olympus! Now, it also turns out that the family I stayed with in Greece, relatives of my Greek aunt, in the summer of 1966, were also friends with this same Athenian family.

In short, if you have had the patience to follow me thus far, you will have realized something, namely that it took a young philosopher in Croatia, and a journalist/ writer living in France to act as catalysts to reunite on Christmas Eve three long-lost distant cousins--separated by the vicissitudes or war, murder, pillage, and the resultant dispersion of peoples. So we are already planning a great reunion --perhaps in London, Paris, or Athens itself!---hopefully before too long, and before we all forget who we are!

All this is perhaps a foretaste of heaven, and something, that in its fullness, we can all enjoy through the great blessings brought to mankind through the Christmas Incarnation.

As if this is not enough, something very similar to this happened to me on Christmas eve, 1969, now 38 years ago. On that occasion, also involving the Greek Chiot diaspora, I met on the street of High Street, Kensington, London, my 5th cousin, whose family had lived in Alexandria, Egypt, since the time of the 1822 diaspora. How we met that night in London is also an incredible story, which I will save for another occasion. But I will say that, in absolute truth, the discovery unfolded as the clock on the nearby church struck midnight, so ushering in Christmas day! Our mutual astonishment is something that surely both of us will carry to the grave. Now, 38 years later, a sort of reprise, of a similar kind, has take place.

The sheer beauty of such experiences makes me think that heaven will be filled with an amazing set of reunions for all of us. For that, Christ be given the glory, and thanksgiving for his first stooping to enter our sorrowful, wicked world, born as an outcast, in a manger, behind an inn, only recognized by three shepherds and three wise men.

As I conclude writing this, for today, the minute-hand on the clock creeps towards midnight, and in four minutes precisely, once again it will be Christmas day, when people all over the world celebrate the birth of Christ, now some two thousand years ago, to a woman called Mary, who was without a bed for that night, and had to give birth in a doubtless messy stable.

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Christmas morning, 2007:

Early, on Christmas morning, my Croatian, philosopher friend--"Idea Man" on Flickr--wrote back, as follows:

"Thanks for remembering your young friend! And, I did know the Glyptis [of Athens] story a few weeks ago, since Alexandra [the daughter] and I have become real close friends (we talk on Skype) and she explained to me the surname omen, hehe. But I thought that you two met at the religious hour at my photo.

Also, I did tell her many good things about you before you were in ''first contact'' so...I take the full blame for making this ever shrinking world even smaller... soon we'll bump our heads any time soon, hehe.

Thank you very much for wishes and all, I too wish you and all your loved ones (present company included, hehe) a merry Christmas filled with it's magical powers and those feeling that we wish could go on for entire year...and why not?! They should!

Send my love to Maria and Ida sends her greetings and kisses too!" ---Robi

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Such, indeed, is an example of some of the remarkable, possible outcomes of our Internet era, when used selectively, and creatively. Such experiences have brought me great joy, and fresh intellectual stimulus, as I have discussed ideas with people such as Robi, the "Idea Man" from Croatia. He is by turns funny, profound, clever with words, extraordinarily creative, and exceptionally generous, in the sharing of his breadth of knowledge, his terrific sense of humor, nostalgia for lost childhood, introspection, engagement of the present moment, and its possibilities, and playful teasing of an older academic, such as me!

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John Walford

John Walford
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I am a British-born, art historian, teaching in the USA; I studied law, in England,1964-68; worked part-time in the art world, 1968-69; then studied art history at the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, 1969-76; completed my Ph.D. diss. at the University of Cambridge, 1981; moved to the States in 1981, and have since written, or co-authored, other books. I am currently studying satire in Netherlandish art. My wife, Maria, was born in Milan, Italy, where she worked as an interpreter, in business; she spent seven years in Switzerland, at the University of Lausanne, 1963-70. She came to Amsterdam in 1971, and we soon married. She is a wife, mother, literary critic, of Italian (and French) literature, and completed her Ph. D. diss. in 2002, at the University of Chicago, on Cesare Pavese and His Critics. We have three married children, and eight grandchildren, all of whom we excessively adore! I welcome dialog about art, photography, human behavior, beliefs, and motivation from all comers, regardless of race, color, gender, orientation, values, or beliefs. This is to be a site for words and images, as vehicles of human expression, around topics of mutual interest.

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