Begging as Performance Art

Begging as Performance Art
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  Begging as Performance ArtJohn Xiros Cooper Begging has been raised to a fine art in Greece, all the way from the middle aged lady at the bottom of the down escalator at Irakleio ISAP station  pathetically waing her brown st!mp at yo! as yo! descend, her face e"pressing the most profo!nd sadness, to the yo!ng Greek actor, #ani Giannakopolo!, a blonde woman with big bl!e eyes, starring in a new ideo clip called $In Case I #on%t #ie A Greek &hisper to '!rope() It has been circ!lating lately across social media( It can be fo!nd athttps*++www(yo!t!be(com+watch-py./A0h123s( 4ake a look(4here hae always been beggars in the streets of Athens( I remember them when I first isited my homeland as an ad!lt in 5678( I wasn9t shocked or s!rprised beca!se there are beggars eerywhere, incl!ding rich cities like San :rancisco and /anco!er( And een on ;arlsplat3 in wealthy <!nich, where m!ch to my s!rprise in =ctober >?5@ a legless man was propelling himself melodramatically back and forth in front of my hotel eery day, waiting for hando!ts( 4hese days there are more beggars in Athens streets than in 5678, no do!bt as a res!lt of the debt crisis( In /anco!er where I9e worked for a good deal of my ad!lt life, the many beggars are generally not ery practised or creatie in the fine art of soliciting( 4hey hae not honed their art to the high leel that one finds in a sophisticated city like <!nich or my hometown( In Athens, there are some wonderf!lly iid performances( 4here9s the man who gets on the ISAP train somewhere north of Attiki 1  station holding !p his Identity Card, the hospital bills for his dying child, and other doc!ments to proe beyond a shadow of a do!bt that he9s neither amigrant nor a scam artist( 1e9s the real thing and like all good '!ropean he9sgot the papers9 to proe it( 1is sincerity neer wobbles a millimetre from tr!e(4here are other engaging recitals on streets, <etro trains, and p!blic s2!ares(=ne s!ch is the older, bearded man in Syntagma, strategically placed  between the main <etro entrance and 'rmo! Street at the other end of the s2!are( 1e repeats the same short solicitation for money nonstop for ho!rs and at all times of day and in all types of weather( I9m not s!re what it9s abo!t, b!t it seems to me that it has something to do with a brain t!mo!r, a hospital, and money( A cynical friend of mine, a Greek in case yo!9re wondering, beliees the man needs cash to p!t into the little enelope9 which r!mo!r has it Greek physicians e"pect, as s!pplements to their reg!lar fees, in order to treat their patients( I do!bt ery m!ch that this is tr!e these descendants of 1ippocrates co!ld not possibly be so crass( B!t the bearded man is a kind of h!man mon!ment to the art of begging( 1e9s got his papers9 on display to proe his bona fides , he9s got newspaper articles to doc!ment his claims, he9s a got a f!llsi3e Greek flag to mark his patriotism, he9s got gr!esome pict!res of the brain t!mo!r, and, aboe all, he has his oice, coneying ab.ect pathos, not entirely witho!t dignity mind yo!, as  part of the e"hibit9s  gestalt  ( 4here are many 1ollywood actors who wo!ld behard pressed to find that ocal sweet spot where they can comm!nicate in one short speech .!st eno!gh dignity not to so!nd aloof and .!st eno!gh  beseeching sonority not to so!nd embarrassing( B!t the bearded man is not alone haing eleated begging to a form of performance art( 2  4here are many s!ch artists in my hometown( Some hae perfected sagging despair to an astonishing degree of realism( =thers stand !p straight and do afine impression of soldierly heroism as of embattled warriors not yet bro!ghtlow( =thers coney a weariness so profo!nd yo! want to go to bed as soon as yo! get home( 4hen there are those who !se props( 4here9s one heap of rags stationed near the Ianos bookstore on Stadio! Street, who yo! cannot aoid if yo! happen to be passing( 1e sits and is always bent oer do!ble( So, of the many times I9e been by and left him a '!ro, I9e neer seen his face( 1is prop is an open book, always on his lap( I like to imagine he is an old scholar down on his l!ck Dwhich in Greece means he didn9t know anyone importantE( B!t I fancy he9s keeping !p with his st!dies een if it means haing to share the paement with the happy c!stomers from the Farastore nearby laden down with their shopping bags( I wonder sometimes whathe9s reading, Aristotle I hope and not Plato( I9m against Plato these days( Perhaps it9s something more modern like o!is:erdinand CHline ately I9enoticed that he9s bent oer in s!ch a way as to precl!de reading( In this littlematter, his performance is slipping .!st a smidgen( 4he book is beginning to look a little too m!ch like a prop and not s!fficiently like a life9s mission gone off the rails( Children are also great props( oma people are partic!larly good at  brandishing offspring to play on one9s feelings( I remember one day not so long ago a partic!larly engrossing drama on a <etro train( A @?something oma woman entered the train that r!ns between Aghia <arina and the Airport( She had a oneyearold, a pathetic looking specimen of a child, that she held in her arms in s!ch a way as to ma"imi3e the child9s isibility( She 3  fi"ed yo!r eyes directly, candidly, and with a shabby dignity that was not any the less dignified for being shabby( 'eryone t!rned his or her back to her m!te entreaties( I m!st confess I did too( At first( B!t then, instead of  pressing on with the .ob, witho!t warning, she .!st s!ddenly gae !p and sl!mped into a window seat and stared de.ectedly into the blank darkness of the passing <etro t!nnel( She seemed completely defeated, deflated, totally spent( It was there in her body lang!age( 4he drained slo!ch, the <adonnalike tilt of the head, the babe resting on her t!mmy, that kind of body lang!age( <eanwhile, like in the icons, her babe slept on, its sm!dged, b!t  beatific, face t!rned eer so sweetly towards its mother9s breast( I then had to leae the train and beca!se she had made s!ch a sad, iconic pict!re so  perfectly, I slipped her a fie '!ro note( She looked !p at me as I was  passing and nodded her head in acknowledgement( I think what I appreciated most abo!t her gest!re was this, she9d broken o!t of the ro!tine  performance and either got real all of a s!dden or raised her art to a higher leel( 4he whole thing seemed perfect beca!se it had the character of something done witho!t oert deliberation( 4hat, I appreciated( In any case, it didn9t matter, whicheer it was, it worked wonders(As wonderf!l as the oma woman was, I hae to admit that <s Giannakopolo! has, in her ideo spot, raised the art to what m!st be one of its highest forms of e"pression( I m!st say that $In Case I #on9t #ie ( ( () is amasterpiece all the way from the title which nicely reerses an e"pectation, $In Case I #ie ( ( () to the ironic little smile that plays in her eyes and across her lips at the start of clip and the so!lf!l stare with which she hopes to hold o!r attention thereafter( 4he word $&hisper) in the title is also a masterstroke, reersing the fact that Greeks tend to be rather lo!d( &e seem 4  to think as a people that o!r words are tr!er or more belieable the lo!der wesho!t( =f co!rse, her performance is aimed at a yo!nger a!dience  a cynicalfriend of mine wo!ld hae said, a yo!ng a!dience of airheads( B!t I9m not a cynical man and I know that <s Giannakopolo! is !nder @? and people of her generation, confronting daily an age of sarcasm and contempt, hae a whole secret way of comm!nicating their gen!ineness to each other that I don9t really get9, b!t I know abo!t it beca!se I hae a >5yearold son( 4he ideo seems to be asking not for sympathy  that wo!ld be a little too ab.ect  b!t for empathy  a more dignified form of appeal  empathy for thedilemma of the Greek people and a call for pan'!ropean solidarity( It hits all the right notes( 4he oligarchs are bad, the politicians hae f!cked !s oer,the '!rocrats in Br!ssels and elsewhere are so!lless a!tomatons, ordinary yo!ng people, s!ch as #ani, haen9t done anything wrong, they9re .!st waiting, wideeyed, for their lies to begin( So why are they being p!nished4he appeal seems aimed at other yo!ng people !nder @? across '!rope and makes a connection with them thro!gh body lang!age, a perfectly mod!lated contralto oice, delicate and meaningf!l silences, a hardwon,  passionate nonchalance, and, for finale, a rit!alistic tearing of her grey tights, which is of co!rse no act!al rit!al that I know of, b!t has the magical feel of a sec!lar sacrament, a moment of !nrehearsed inspiration, !nscripted,!npl!gged, rare( 4he torn stockings capt!re a certain kind of barely definable emotional power  a properly borne pride torn at the edges by circ!mstance  the whole performance shot thro!gh by a kind of brilliant, naked cando!r( 5
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