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Thursday, 14 December 2017

D. K. Toteras, OCHI day in Greek-Town, San Francisco; World War II; Επέτειος του Οχι

Edited extracts from Bitter Tears,
by Demetrius K. Toteras

The World War affected everyone in Greektown a year before the U.S went to war. There wasn't a house in Greektown that hadn't lost someone as a result of the German invasion of Greece. Grieving families wore "Penthos," mourning black for the dead. Black became the colour of Greektown and the Mass for the dead was being held in church every Sunday…

Greektown came alive on that day of October the 28th, 1940.
Benito Mussolini became jealous of Hitler's great success and decided that he should invade Greece. After giving the Greek premier John Metaxas three hours to hand Greece over to him or be attacked by the great Italian armies, Mussolini waited.

The Greek said "No." OCHI!

The Greeks love the word No. Somehow it fits their attitudes of life. No! No! No! Everyone practises the word No, because saying No brings one as close as possible to complete freedom. My father would tell me, to be able to say No, and not give a damn about the consequences, gives one the feeling for life that can never be bought. My mother called him crazy, in fear that he would influence me to say No to her. He pointed to the Greek paper, The Kirika (The Herald), the paper that most liberal Greeks read.

"Look," he said, "it's in the paper. They're saying what I've said for years: NO. NO is the greatest word that man has invented. It means go to hell. It means fry me, cook me on a spit, torture me till your imagination goes dry, but No it is and No it stays."

"It's easy for you to say that," my mother tells him, "but I've never heard you saying No. Everybody borrows money from you. A coward like you loves to tell stories of heroes who have made NO the cause of their death, but you would let someone else say the No."

A week later in the Pindos mountain range, Benito Mussolini's armies are badly mauled up by Greek mountain troops screaming NO!  General Graziano talks to Mussolini on the phone and says that he isn't fighting soldiers, he is fighting madmen who charge at cannons, screaming NO. The battles move from the Pindos to the Grammos Mountains, close to where the Greek gods protect Greece. The earth opened up and the Italian army was devoured by the word NO! No destroyed the Italians…

Great conversations erupted from Greeks in Greektown. Spartan Greeks claimed that their "No" meant a history of No's that went back to the Persian wars. "Three hundred of us Spartans," K. says, "stopped the Persians at Thermopylae."

"Athenian Greeks said No, for they went back to Pericles, to the Golden Era of Greece." George K. said that Greek women were famous for the word No, and have driven men insane with the goddam word.

The word No was becoming a holiday of its own, along with Independence Day, Christmas and Easter. An official day was designated whereby all Greeks all over the world would celebrate NO as a force to be reckoned with. Say No to everything on that day.

All of Greektown was ready for a parade. Greek flags came out of the trunks, a white cross on a hazel blue background, crossed with the red, white and blue of the stars and stripes. Pictures of King George and Queen Frederica along with Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt were on every mantelpiece. Everyone felt the electricity that flows when victory is on everyone's lips. God is with the winners and God lets the winners taste the goodness of victory. "If it's only for a minute," my father said, "it is worth the NO."

…All of us had to go back to learning English with a new vigour. America was now New Athens and our world was a limited one. We lived in Greektown, where we could understand the world only as we knew it, as Greeks who were becoming Americans by the day. Soon we would be Americans and all the Greeks would some day go back to Greece, dressed in tailor-made suits, with golden watch chains folded across their vests.

"How else," K. asks C., the owner of the only General Store in Greektown, "can they justify being gone for 25 and more years from their home?"


Another evocative extract from Bitter Tears, about San Francisco's Greek-Town during World War II:

“Magdaline, my mother, loved the classics, and the myths that went along with them. Her favourite was the one about the Amazons and Hyppolita their queen; she pictured herself as an Amazon, ready to do battle with the world and all those foreign Greeks who lived in Greek Town. “They talk Greek like foreigners do, we're caught in a war”. She'd tell me we were foreigners in a strange land

The people who lived in Greek Town, although they all spoke Greek, might as well have been from different parts of the world. They were Greeks to the rest of the population, but among themselves they all belonged to specific parts of the Greek-speaking world. How could people like that exist in the 20th century?

One day my father (Costas, who came from Sinies, Corfu) took me for the first time to Pantolean’s Store on Third Street. I entered its forbidden domain as one would enter the sanctuary of a church. There were barrels of dried, salted cod; a foul-smelling piece of fish that was as hard as an oak board, called Bakalaro; barrels of olives; feta cheese; jugs of olive oil; Kalamata and black olives; smoked herring; salted smelt; barrels of lentils and beans; trays filled with koulouri bread made in the shape of a circle at the Greek bakery; all sorts of things to eat that required no ration stamps, because the American government didn't think people ate that kind of food on a daily basis. Chris’s market wasn't famous for its food, it was famous for the people who frequented the place. I had heard that everyone came here not only to shop, but to exchange information - priest and gamblers; miners, seamen and businessmen. M., from the Greek Herald, would come here and gather information for the local Greek newspaper. It was a place, my mother said, where blasphemous men who believed in nothing, congregated to insult God and his Holy Family and to exchange useless sachlamares (rubbish, crap, nonsense, baloney).

Inside the store it was a world on its own, separated from the world outside. Talk was the elixir of the Greeks’ lives.


Demetrius K. Toteras ©2012
posted with permission of Nine Muses Press, Occidental, California,
and ©2012, the Estate of D. K. Toteras.

I hope that by posting some sample sections, publishers, academics and interested readers will call for Bitter Tears and other important works by Toteras to be published, at long last.

D. K. Toteras fought in the Korean War, having signed up under-age. He was captured and became a prisoner-of-war. He died in California on Thursday 12 November, 2009.

The original working-title of "Bitter Tears" was "I Made My Mother Cry Bitter Tears, (A View of the Korean War by a 15-Year-Old Infantry Man, From Osan to the Pusan Perimeter).

See also:

Greek-Town, San Francisco, World War II; The World Shuddered, Demetrius K. Toteras (from Bitter Tears); A Great Greek Writer

D. K. Toteras, A Twenty-Year-Old Letter on the Meaning of Hellenism and On Being a Corfiot Mandoukiotis

D. K. Toteras, Young Greeks Learn to Speak English in a San Francisco Elementary School; Bitter Tears

Interested scholars and publishers are invited to make contact, to explore publication possibilities with the copyright holder.

All enquiries: Nine Muses Press, P.O. Box 1138, Occidental, California 95465

Related: some images from the net

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