Greek to Me: Notes on an Identity Crisis

Well, I can relate to it. That black sheep on the brow of the hill behind our house. After well over two years of living in Wales, I still feel very much like an outsider. I’m not sure whether I am too resisting of this new, old culture—which is struggling, with a mixture of self-consciousness and pride, to assert itself against or alongside England—retreating and subsequently fading into the American pop culture gone stale to which this journal is largely dedicated.

My self-confidence and sense of belonging were not bolstered any last weekend, when I accompanied my better half (just returned from London) to a dinner party whose far from rustic guests included a Deputy Private Secretary to the Prince of Wales. I did not expect to be conversing about my doctoral study on old-time radio, let alone impart my enthusiasm about the subject. I would have settled for literature, or travel, or dogs (Camilla having ditched the royal Corgies in favor of a Jack Russell like—or perhaps quite unlike—our inimitable Montague). Unfortunately, I did not get to share much of anything that evening. The guests chose, for the most part, to speak in the native tongue, which, I assure you, does not sound anything like English.

Yes, I can relate to the black sheep on the hills. And I sure can relate to the two main characters in the inaugural broadcast of Great Plays. After all, the comedy that evening was Aristophanes’s The Birds, in which two disenchanted old Athenians—Pisthetairos and Euelpides—leave their native soil in search of . . . Cloudcuckooland. A weekly radio program offering adaptations of Western drama ranging from ancient Greece to modernity, Great Plays premiered on this day, 26 February, in 1938. Undoubtedly, it is not the easiest introduction to old-time radio, although the multitude was being accommodated (or patronized) by the deletion of most Greek references.

Pardon me for failing to come up with a rara avis of a metaphor suitable to the occasion, but it sure is difficult to take off for unknown territory and expect to be surrounded there by those who are of the same proverbial plumage.

Nor do I quite understand the recent influx in visitors to this site from China, presently accounting—to me still unaccountably—for over 25 percent of my, er, readership. They are not likely to find much of interest here, aside, perhaps, from my reflections on avian flu in relation to the famed story by Daphne du Maurier. Then again, “China” and “Chinese” have been mentioned in this journal on several occasions, including these essays on The Shadow, Mr. Moto and the passing of Tokyo Rose, and Pearl S. Buck.

In a word, an admittedly somewhat tacky one in this context, I am disoriented. Perhaps, a flight to New York City is in order. A slow boat to China just won’t do.

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