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Letter from Athens: “Button Your Tunic, There Lad,” The Greeks Are Coming

January 2, 2022

There’s a great scene in The Long Good Friday, where the inimitable actor Bob Hoskins, headed for a bad end when his British mob gang tangles with the IRA, tells an American gangster: “What I’m looking for is someone who can contribute to what England has given to the world: culture, sophistication, genius. A little bit more than an ‘ot dog, know what I mean?”

Gotta’ give him that but except for that and the Avengers in the 1960’s, the TV show with the cool John Steed played by Patrick Macnee and the sizzling Mrs. Peel, played by Diana Rigg (nobody ever looked better in a tight black leather cat suit) where is the English culture, sophistication, and genius?

They had to import it, stealing from colonies, and the Scottish diplomat Lord Elgin ripping off the Parthenon Marbles now housed in the British Museum of Thievery and Plundered Goods, otherwise a British Museum of Culture would be an empty warehouse. Oh wait, that’s the Tate Museum.

British Culture is an oxymoron right up there with ‘true fact’ so the Brits have to stuff their museums with objects made by other cultures, such as the Benin Bronzes and the Rosetta Stone from Egypt, but nothing tops the Parthenon Marbles, which were long called The Elgin Marbles before the late, great Greek actress and former Culture Minister Melina Mercouri renamed them.

Unlike many museums around the world showing off their country’s real culture and greatness, the reason the British Museum exists is to show off the looted and plundered treasures of other countries and former colonies, the British having nothing otherwise to put in it because they are Cultural Nazis.

You have to remember that with the British you’re dealing with people who think a scone is edible. I collected them for years, trying to keep them out of the hands of dentists who’d hand them out surreptitiously to get customers, and at one point had so many I piled them up and put them on display.

I called it Sconehenge and put in my backyard – but the word got out and all the British in the area showed up thinking it was an outdoor restaurant for them but were disappointed to find their national delicacy, fish and chips, wasn’t there, although the scones taste better.

The British think Stonehenge, that pile of rocks atop each other, is architecture. To the Greeks, they were scrap pieces they’d throw away while building the Parthenon, and, unable to rival that, the British jumped at the chance to steal as much of it as they could. Well, not jump because that would show passion, which they think is an Irish trait. “I say, it’s just not done.”

The British Museum would like to show off Zulu spears but couldn’t take them away, but if you want to see an exhibit of 19th Century British rifles you can find them at the Zulu Museum in South Africa.

Just go to Isandlwana, take a right and go north, although a British guide will keep pointing you toward Rorke’s Drift where the Brits did make a miraculous stand armed only with rifles and stiff upper lips against spears.

British Museum Director Hartwig Fischer – it’s good to have a German on your side when defending stolen art – said the taking of the Parthenon Marbles was a “creative act,” although not as much as the excuses that keep being given why the Greek Marbles are now the British Marbles and will never be returned.

The keeping of the stolen marbles is indefensible, rather like Isandlwana was, but you know how the Brits just keep at it when the going gets tough, and no one will convince them otherwise, including a long line of art historians, celebrities, and writers pushing for Greece to get them back.

The British say that returning Greece’s treasures to Greece would mean that they’d have to return everything else they stole, and Museum Director George Osborne offered to lend Greece the marbles – which Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis had first suggested earlier this year to get them displayed on the 200th anniversary of Greek Independence from the Ottoman Empire.

“Sure, there are those who question our right to exist – they did back in 1753 and then do so again in 2021. Of course, there are those who demand the return of objects they believe we have no right to hold. That is not new either. Lord Byron thought the Elgin Marbles should be back at the Parthenon,” said Osborne. Byron died in 1824 while fighting for Greece’s independence during the siege of Missolonghi.

There’s more greatness of culture on one floor of the Acropolis Museum that opened in 2009 with a top windowed floor created to show off the Parthenon Marbles within view of the Acropolis if they are returned, but they won’t be.

The British need stolen culture because apart from writers and poets and chef Gordon Ramsay – okay he’s Scottish but gets a pass here because he said Greek food is better than Italian – they really don’t have much to show off and no one’s going to steal any stones from some decrepit castles.

We can settle this debate at dinner at a good restaurant. Let’s go get some English food! No, let’s make it hot dogs instead.

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