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Saturday, 24 April 2010

My Fat Greek Wedding

My family on my father's side came from Kefalonia. Captain Corelli's Mandolin and all that. The capital of Kefalonia, Argostoli was destroyed, along with much of the island's building and infra structure, by an earthquake in August 1953.

My grandmother went back every year to her husband's family home. They were pretty important, with streets and even a church (St Anna) dedicated to them. An old established family, it can be traced back to Crete in the late 1400's. Crete at the time was under the Venetians, and this is clear in their  Italian Christian names:   Giovanni, Marc Antonio...Lorenzo but as the years passed Greek names began to appear so that by the 1800's they were well and truly mixed. Now the UK branch is very Anglicised, with a smattering of Greek sounding names.

The   "Livre d'Or de la Noblesse Ionienne" by Eugene-Rizo Rababe ( impressive or what!) published in the 1890's and frequently revised in the early years of the 20th century has a chapter on the Coida family. And extremely impressive reading it makes (what went wrong?). Not content with being Judges, Doctors and Politicans, they also found their way into high echelons of  the Greek Orthodox Church. Which might explain why I was carried head high, surrounded by incense, round the Greek Orthodox church in West London all those years ago.


I've always been proud of my Greek roots. As a youngster at school I would boast that I was Greek and when asked if I could speak the language I would babble incoherently  hoping to convince my admiring audience that I was fluent. Of course, it didn't take long for me to be found out. So it's rather strange that I have hated my given names Basil Theodore. They are very smart Greek names. Basil - "king": Theodore - "gift of god". Can't get much better than that - St Basil's Cathedral in Moscow no less. But, of course, that was of no interest to me as a kid. I was ragged rotten - Baa...zil, Brazil, Flippodore, Theodora, and I hated it, and as a result my names. So when I moved school I introduced myself as Barry, and I've stuck with that.

But my given name would catch me out. Applying for a driving licence, passport or opening a bank account usually results in confusion. And I would and still do, feel an embarrassment when my real forenames are discovered. I recently changed my bank; and I registered the account as Barry Coidan. Subsequently I transferred an ISA from my old bank to the new one. That unfortunately  was recorded under my given name; which confused the receiving bank. My explanation was accepted and the ISA account transferred but my bank account is now under "Basil Theodore Coidan". So 50 odd years of masquerading under "Barry" has been found out!

I've only been to Greece once - to Poros, just of the Peloponnese Peninsula and it was just like any other Mediterranean resort. I prefer the Greece of antiquity, of epic wars, Golden Fleeces and beautiful princesses for whom handsome warrior princes would ravage ancient towns and cities. I am also mesmerised by the thought that such a small group of states could have created some much that still has a huge influence on us today.

Although my experience of Greece in the modern era is limited to "My Family and Other Animals", Nana Mouskouri, Vangelis and "Zorba the Greek" reading the latest news about the financial woes of the Hellenic Republic is not something I can do dispassionately. It's disturbing to see the civil strife and strikes now occurring throughout the country. A nation that threw off the yoke of the Ottomans, that defeated the Persians now brought low by massive financial speculation.

There's a huge, and extremely wealthy, Greek diaspora out there.Who knows maybe, like the Greeks of old defeating Darius at Marathon, they will ride to the rescue and keep the enemy from the gates of Athens.

2 comments:

Layclerk said...

Basil's a great name!

My middle names are Edwin Jones, and the Edwin part is after my maternal grandfather who died two years before my birth (the first grandchild). He was always known as Eddie, but his actual name was Jesse Edwin Smith, and having researched my family tree and seen a copy of his birth certificate wherein his first name is spelled Jessie (which was then overwritten to the correct spelling) and his gender is clearly listed as "F" which has rather carefully but unconvincingly been changed to a florid "M", I'm just glad I wasn't named after his real first name!

Barry Coidan said...

Lovely: just the sort of fabulous details my wife digs up in her family tree searches. She'll be on Ancestry.com when there'll be a "The poor woman!" or "Oh my God!" she having discovered that one of her distant relatives had a child every year for 20 years.

Also, literacy was somewhat lacking hence many a weird name appears in the birth register.