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Friday, May 18, 2007

The Theatricality of Crime: Petros Martinides

Petros Martinides’s second book (see the first part of this essay, “Reflected Fates,” February 20) of his recent trilogy, H elpida pethainei teleutaia (Hope Dies Last, 2005), takes place during the summer of 2004, an unforgettable time, one can argue, in modern Greek history. For this was the summer that Greece, for the first time since 1896, had hosted the Olympic Games. But this event took place in the shadow of yet another event that has since been engraved into the collective Greek psyche. I am talking, of course, about the participation of the Greek national team in the European soccer championship (Euro 2004) in Portugal. Against even the most optimistic predictions, the team not only qualified for the second round of the tournament, but managed to go all the way to the final round and win the trophy in a memorable final game against the Portuguese host team (and one of the favorites).

All So Long Ago

This is a handsome show in every respect. Two hundred eighty-eight objects of all kinds—coins, vases, inscriptions, bronze figurines, even larger marble pieces—are augmented by a splendid catalogue in which photographs of the highest quality provide a permanent record and, in the case of items difficult to see, much welcomed enlargement. It is a luxury to study the photographed coins and small bronzes up close, as it were. The lines on the lekythoi are suddenly so distinct as they never seem to be when gazed at in the vitrines. The Onassis Cultural Center is a treasure not that well known. The exhibition hall is small, and the wallspace limited, but, in this show, the objects are arranged for maximum ease of viewing as well as for reasonably good circulation. Whenever museum burn-out threatens to descend, the visitor can escape to an adjacent cafe with the now only too ubiquitous waterfall. Some viewers will want to settle into the cafe with the catalogue, in which one can read longer, fuller versions of the captions affixed to the objects on display. Most visitors, I suspect, will want all the clarification they can get.

Suicide is Painless

Y’all take it easy now. This isn’t Dallas. It’s Nashville. This is Nashville. You show ’em what we’re made of. They can’t do this here to us in Nashville. OK, everybody, sing. Come on somebody, sing. You sing.
—Haven Hamilton, after Barbara Jean is shot, Nashville

The anthem sung by the crowd following the impassioned plea above, as Robert Altman’s film comes to its piercing end, is a peculiar—and peculiarly American (this is Nashville, after all)—circling of the affective wagons. The chorus resounds in oxymoronically defiant resignation: “It don’t worry me. It don’t worry me./You may say that I ain’t free,/But it don’t worry me.”