Riikka Pulkkinen studied Finnish Literature at the University of Jyväskylä (2005-2010) and has a master degree in Comparative Literature [her thesis is titled ’The experience of urbanization in the short stories of Konstantinos Chatzopoulos’]. In 2007-2008 she studied at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki as part of her Erasmus Program. She also studied at the Autonomous University of Nuevo Leon, Monterrey, Mexico (Jyväskylä University scholarship) in 2009 and at the Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic in 2010. She did her practice at the Finnish Institute of Athens, under the supervision of Maria Martzoukou (2012 – Erasmus scholarship, 2016/2017 – CIMO scholarship).
In 2014 she participated in the debate on modern Greek literature at the Helsinki Book Fair. In 2017-2018 she received a scholarship to attend the Education and Vocational Training Program for Young Modern Greek Language Translators (Kostas and Eleni Ourani Foundation – Haris Petrou Foundation). In September 2017 she created www.nykykreikkablog.com, where she publishes Greek literature translations, writes articles and introduces Greek writers to the Finnish audience. Within the framework of promoting young Greek writers she published the short story Ψυγείο [Fridge] by Dionisis Marinos in the literary magazine Nuori Voima in spring 2018.
Riikka Pulkkinen spoke to Reading Greece* about her interest in the Greek language and more specifically in the translation of modern Greek literature. She discusses the profile of Finnish readers that opt for Greek literature, noting that although there are many Finnish books translated in Greek, modern Greek literature is almost unknown in Finland both due to the decline of modern Greek studies and the suspension of the Greek translation funding program. She also comments on the challenges a translator may face when translating literature from Finnish to Greek and vice versa, as well as on the differences between the two societies, which are in turn reflected on culture and literature in specific, concluding that “indeed the two countries are unsettled and in a constant path of change, yet I am not sure where they are heading”.
What motivated you to turn to the Greek language and more specifically to the translation of Greek literature?
I have always been interested in letters and thus started studying Finnish Literature at the University of Jyväskylä. In the meantime, I came in touch with the Greek language and I was really drawn to it, self-taught at first, attending courses afterwards. So I ended up spending a year in Thessaloniki, where I had a crash course in Greek in parallel with my studies in English literature during my Erasmus. At that time I wasn’t able to read a whole novel in Greek. I then decided to continue my studies in Finland, where there were no Greek literature classes available so I petitioned for a free moving excange at the Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Rebublic, where I attended my first modern Greek literature courses. I had my master at the University of Helsinki, where together with comparative literature I also completed the courses corresponding to a modern Greek literature degree, some of them in Athens.
I have always been drawn to translation, so I also took translation courses. Yet, I had difficulty choosing what to read, as well as communicating with publishers. There was no interest whatsoever at the time. So I heard of the Education and Training Program for Young Modern Greek Literature Translators funded by the Petros Haris Foundation and the Kostas and Eleni Ourani Foundation, which has been operating since 2012 under the aegis of the Academy of Athens and I was lucky enough to be accepted. I reckon that this was the opening I needed to get to know the world of Greek books and their writers. I now know I am on the right track and I feel much more confident in what I do. Unfortunately the program didn’t took place this year.
You have recently created www.nykykreikkablog.com, which focuses on Greek literature in Finnish. How did you decide to embark on such a venture? What is its appeal to Finnish readers?
The idea came up last September when I started the aforementioned program of the Academy of Athens. Some other fellow students had started publishing their translations online, which was a good idea for a language like Finnish. At first, I thought it would be a kind of portfolio which would present Greek writers to Finnish publishing houses; yet, just a few months later, the blog attracted readers who were interested in Greece in general and my website was actually their only access to modern Greek literature. I often receive messages asking me where they can find the whole books or when the books will be published. Every proposal I make is accompanied by information on the writers and their works in their entirety so that publishers have access to more options. My aspiration is to cover more literary categories, which is quite a demanding task.
I am currently discussing a few books with some publishers. Some of them are quite interested, yet the difficulty lies in the fact that there are no translations available. I am running a blog fully aware of the challenges, and I try to present Greek writers and part of their work in Finnish so that they are known by Finnish publishers. It’s really interesting that many readers follow the site and express their interest to read more Greek writers and their books. What is actually missing is the publisher. Yet we are on track!
What do you reckon is the profile of the Finnish audience that reads Greek literature? And, in turn, what is that makes Finnish literature appealing to Greek readers? Are the major differences that exist between the North and the South reflected in what readers in both countries opt for?
I can think of three types of readers: those interested in ancient Greece, who are willing to know modern Greece as well, those travelling to Greek islands in the summer and enjoying the Greek landscape, and those, maybe younger ones, who have discovered Athens and are more interested in its urban landscape. Finnish people read a lot of literature from all over the world: in 2014, for instance, the Finnish population of 5.5 millions borrowed 91 million (!) books from public libraries, a figure that corresponds to 16.76 books per citizen.
There is of course a literature that is read because it comes from a specific place or because it focuses on specific issues; but there is also a literature that readers opt for regardless of the author’s origin. Maybe this kind of literature is easier to translate all over the world given that cultural and historical elements are often considered a burden, unless the way of writing is so attractive that the topic of the book is no longer what is advertised!
There are remarkable differences between Greece and Finland in this respect. First of all, there have been more than 10 years since a Greek book was translated in Finnish. In mid-1990s, thanks to the translator Reija Tanninen and the translation funding program of the Greek Ministry of Culture, some Greek books, such as part of Karyotakis’ and Engonopoulos’ works, were actually translated. At the same time the Finnish Institute of Athens supported the publication of a Greek short story anthology. Yet, when the translation funding program was suspended, there were no more publications.
In contrast, there are many Finnish books translated in Greek. Let me quote Aimilios Solomou and his research on the issue: “It’s strange that in a country that loves books, modern Greek literature is completely absent. The respective authorities are mostly to be blamed for the situation. It should be noted that until 1987 there were no translations of modern Greek poetry in Finnish (!) […] as Kimmo Granqvist eloquently put it, till the early 1990s “the majority of translations were based on a mediate language, especially French, English and Swedish”. This rather disappointing situation changed shortly afterwards when modern Greek studies flourished in Finland, with the cooperation of academics, modern Greek teachers and students. In late 1990s translations were finally based on the Finnish text itself. Yet, this considerable effort came to an abrupt end due to the decline of modern Greek studies and the suspension of the translation funding program”.
It is indeed quite difficult to establish a substantial communication between the two countries when such an effort isn’t supported at a university level. In Finland there are no more modern Greek language courses every year (only the basic language course is left, when there are enough students), while in Greece there was never a Finnish Literature department. Thus, there are no culture ambassadors, just scarce personal initiatives, as is the case of Maria Martzoukou, or myself that I am just starting my career on modern Greek literature; and the path is definitely quite a challenging one.
Yet, there are so many reasons for the two countries to establish such a communication. They both have a similar geographical location, no matter how different the weather is. It is exactly this location that has influenced the history and politics of the two countries in a comparable way. They both share similar war experiences, they suffered a civil war and all the divisions that such a war may leave behind, they are both small EU countries with a rich culture, yet a bit isolated from the rest of the world. I also reckon that arts also focus on similar topics – it is often argued that in Greece the current generation of authors writes about the civil war, and the same goes for Finland. The Finnish Institute of Athens is currently organizing an exhibition on the civil wars of both countries, as well as Spain.
I believe that such experiences should be shared through literature, without, however, disregarding the current situation in both countries. Greece is nowadays struggling with the crisis, as did Finland in the 1990s. Such experiences leave their mark and influence lives and families, which is, in turn, reflected on culture. Historical and social novels are quite popular in Finland as well. A case in point is Where Four Roads Meet by Tommi Kinnunen [Το σταυροδρόμι, Εκδόσεις Ουτοπία, translated by Maria Martzoukou] that sold 40.000 copies in Finland and will be published these days, which revolves around the same issues as Gkiak by Dimosthenis Papamarkos, which has also sold 40.000 copies in Greece. In Finland there have always been the classical studies and everybody knows something about ancient Greece; yet modern Greece has not attracted so much attention. Thus, it’s something quite unknown yet. And there are also a lot of people who would like to know more about the crisis and the respective developments.
Most scholars reckon that the content of a book cannot be separated from the particularities of the language that gave it shape. In this context, what are the peculiarities of translating literature from Finnish to Greek and vice versa?
Both languages have a special way of creating puns and I have noticed that their translation requires a deep knowledge of both languages. The text of course has to change a lot. In both languages, dialects are frequently used in literature and rendering their meaning is quite impossible – a soldier from Messolonghi cannot speak the same way as my grandfather on the eastern part of Finland. These elements constitute a major challenge for the translator, and unfortunately the translation often becomes problematic.
What’s also common in both languages is the use of notions that have no equivalent in the other language. In Greek, for instance, there are many traditional objects as well as words related to the orthodox church: τσολιάς, μπρίκι (a kind of coffee pot), the difference between a traditional coffee house (καφενείο) and a café, the tavern and beverages in bulk, traditions related to the Orthodox Easter, the carnival, the junk dealer (παλιατζής), λαχειοπώλης (a person who sells lottery on the street)…In a short story I recently translated I realized that the fact that the main character smoked a hand-rolled cigarette would create a completely different image to the Finnish, so I had to figure out a solution. Nikos Houliaras has written about those twists of luck: “such a strange thing luck is that it’s not at all weird that those who usually sell lotteries out on the streets are, as a rule, people injured by it”. (A story of the long winter, Nefeli, 1990). This image is difficult to be understood by someone who has never seen a Greek lottery seller in person.
In turn, in Finnish, we have many objects that are used for snow: tools to remove ice from cars, others to shovel the snow and clean our yards; there are various games that don’t exist in Greece as well as many references to the Finnish mythology (Τhe Kalevala, translated by Maria Martzoukou), which is less known internationally compared to Greek mythology; there are so many things in forests that have no name in Greek. In addition, the longer day of the year in late June has a completely different meaning to Finnish people. All these elements should be taken into consideration when translating, and not just οn linguistic terms. At a linguistic level, for instance, a thorny issue relates to fish! In Finland there are more freshwater fish, while in Greece some fish that abound in seas, may have no name in Finnish!
There is undoubtedly a stereotyped perception of Greeks abroad. Could literature be used to shake off these stereotypes and help form a new narrative about the country?
I am not sure this is the case anymore. Maybe this stereotyped perception has been related to a Cretan man like Zorbas, but this is not the dominant perception anymore. Greek people travel a lot and I am sure that Finnish people have met someone that proved that such stereotyped perceptions are not prevailing. During the first years of the crisis, Greek people appeared quite a lot in the Finnish media as well, yet even then, no new stereotypes were formed. Instead I personally saw a battle: some wanted to present the Greek people as rich and easy going, while others opposed such arguments by showing the real situation in the capital’s streets. The general perception nowadays is that the Greeks are undergoing harsh times; it becomes evident every time I discuss the Greek issue with a Finnish.
One of the reasons why Greece has attracted so much attention is exactly this battle. And this is where the voice of young Greek writers should be heard. Art has always constituted the most substantial means of communication among civilizations and its counterbalance is more necessary in the last decades than ever – and this is not only the case for Greece and Finland. I believe that the human voice should be heard, and this is exactly what literature does. I cannot say for sure which is the narrative that young writers would want to form about the country – and I am sure that there are major differences of perception among artists – yet what is important that they are heard to counterbalance impersonal statistics and news that just scratch the surface.
It seems that Greek and Finnish society differ in terms of their experience of modernity, their conception of family values and personal mentality. Yet a critic would argue that values are liquid and unsettled in both societies. Would you like to comment?
There are major differences indeed. Finland is considered a pioneer vis-a-vis technology, which is imprinted in cities, schools, houses...Things that don’t yet exist in Greece are considered self-evident to the Finnish. Children have entered the digital world to a greater extent compared to Greece; primary school children have their own smartphones and this is actually commonplace. In Greece, there are still blackboards and chalks. It’s a matter of personal preference which way you think is better, yet I personally feel relieved that things have not yet moved so fast in Greece.
There are also major differences as far as the family is considered and this is much related to the state. Although I cannot refer to official statistics, I reckon that family ties are much tighter in Greece, with grandparents actively participating in children’s lives. The three generations seem to be closer and spend much more time together. Let’s take a square in an Athenian neighborhood for instance. Children are in the same place as adults; a playground, a grandparent’s traditional coffee shop, a mum’s café, a ball-playing screen for dads and uncles, all co-exist in the same square and communicate with each other. Some children may have come with their parents and others with a grandparent. There are no such places in Finland. Already in early adulthood, the Finnish start an independent life, both on financial (state aid) and more general terms. And when they create their own families, grandparents play the role not so much of a basic family member but of a beloved visitor. In Finland the three generations lead quite distinct lives: children play at playgrounds in the presence of their mothers, adults hang out in places where children may not be allowed to enter, while the elderly have their own lives and it’s really unusual to live with their children. The state is organized in such a way so that a grandmother doesn’t need to pick her grandchild from school – and maybe this is why she doesn’t do it even if she wanted to; it’s quite unusual.
Such differences exert a considerable influence both at a personal and interpersonal level. Finnish people are used to be more autonomous, even lonely in family and working issues and they are quite unwilling to ask for help. I’m not sure if Finnish people themselves believe so, but after being in Greece for some years, the difference is quite intense. The same goes for their openness to discuss and share their personal issues.
Indeed the two countries are unsettled and in a constant path of change, yet I am not sure where they are heading.
*Interview by Athina Rossoglou
The 59th Thessaloniki International Film Festival, the major South Eastern European film festival and annual platform for Greek productions, is setting sail at Thessaloniki port and its other venues, celebrating independent cinema from 1 to 11 November. Its rich programme of films and events focuses on the concepts of charity and alterity, two notions that influenced the festival’s international competition section and key event.
Showcasing Greek films
As happens every year, the annual Thessaloniki International Film Festival presents Greek Films of the year, which include 20 feature films. In the “First Run” section, 12 films produced in Greece and co-produced with other countries will have their Greek premiere in Thessaloniki. “Meltem” by Basile Doganis, “Smuggling Hendrix” by Marios Piperides, and “Still River” by Angelos Frantzis are among those of the “First Run” section.
Three films by directors who live abroad (“Night Out” by Stratos Tzitzis, “Pause” by Tonia Mishiali and “Sunrise in Kimmeria” by Simon Farmakas) will also be screened for the first time in this year’s edition “Beyond Borders”.
Five films that have already had their Greek premiere will be presented as well in the “Second Viewing” section, including docudrama “1968” by Tassos Boulmetis and “In this land nobody knew how to cry” by George Panousopoulos.
Greek films Screenings include 10 short films as part of the festival’s tribute to celebrated Greek animator Jordan Ananiadis, 6 short films by young Greek filmmakers, selected by the Greek Directors’ Guild, including “Patission Avenue” by Thanasis Neofotistos, and one new short film, Acrobatics, directed by all of them, and the 17 award-winning films of the 2018 International Short Film Festival in Drama
"Patision Avenue" (2018), dir. Thanassis Neofotistos
Opening & Closing Films
The opening film of the Festival on Thursday, 1 November, is “Shoplifters”by Hirokazu Kore-Eda, Japan (2018), while the closing film on Sunday, 11 November, is “Girl”by Lukas Dhont, Belgium (2018). Both films were awarded at the Cannes Film Festival.
Cimon and Pero (Roman Charity), Peter Paul Rubens, 1630, oil on canvas
Roman Charity guides the selection of this year’s IC films
Every year, the International Competition section of the Thessaloniki International Film Festival discovers the boldest new voices of global contemporary independent cinema and presents their first or second film. The International Competition section of the 59th TIFF comprises of 15 films, three of which are Greek, including “Her Job” by Nikos Labot, that was recently awarded at the Warsaw Film Festival, and “The Waiter” by Steve Krikris.
The festival selected the IC films guided by caritas romana / roman charity, a classical yet lesser-known art theme that has inspired numerous artists over time. It is the story of a woman, Pero, who secretly breastfeeds her aging father Cimon, who is sentenced to die by starvation, and thus restores his strength. With this noble deed, Pero goes beyond herself, her body and her social role as mother and daughter. This special transition and role variability is common ground in the films of the International Competition section, in different ways.
“Pero’s charity reflects not only family solidarity, but also a brave political act that establishes new social relations and cultural symbols," notes TIFF’s Artistic Director Orestis Andreadakis, adding: “Today we can reexamine this story in the light of recent theories about woman’s role, the decline of patriarchy, the heteronormativity of gender roles and the performativity of the social gender”.
A side event for the IC is “Caritas Romana: 15 Acts of Devotion”. Based on the “caritas romana” concept of this year’s International Competition section, TIFF invited 15 young Greek artists to watch the IC films and create 15 original works for each one of them. These will be presented for the first time at the festival’s main exhibition, organized by TIFF in collaboration with the Contemporary Art Centre of Thessaloniki. The event curator is TIFF director Orestis Andreadakis.
"Her Job" (2018), dir. Nikos Labot
Greek Queer Cinema Tribute
The 59th Thessaloniki International Film Festival also holds a large tribute to the Greek queer cinema, with a selection of 38 short and feature films dating from the late 1960s to the present day which showcase a lesser-known chapter in the history of Greek cinema, with the contribution of the Greek Film Centre and the Greek Film Archive.
The line-up includes rare films that laid the foundations of the genre, others that were unable to reach the public in conservative times, but also films that contributed to people coming out of the closet, as well as the works that established the New Greek queer cinema and introduced it to audiences abroad.
This is the first time that these films are presented as an extended tribute in Greece. The tribute is curated by Konstantinos Kyriakos, Associate Professor of Theatre and Film Studies at the Department of Theatre Studies, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Patras, Greece. As he notes: “What is even more important is the radical gesture to organize a retrospective tribute to queer/gay Greek cinema at the annual Greek film festival (…) A tribute that, on the basis of selective criteria, features a combination of films that are undoubtedly part of the gay/queer trend of Greek cinema: some pioneering and unique, others justifiably honored and awarded in Greece and abroad, and others unjustly unacknowledged; all, however, representative”.
Vortex or The Face of Medusa (1967), dir. Nikos Koundouros
For 25 years the Thessaloniki International Film Festival’s Balkan Survey section, curated by Dimitris Kerkinos, has been showcasing the best samples of Balkan film production. Well-known directors, as well as promising newcomers, tackle a variety of challenging themes in the core program of this year’s edition that consists of 15 films, both shorts and features. Balkan Survey also presents the tribute “Before the Wave Breaks” with 8 iconic films directed by pioneers of New Romanian cinema.
Introducing the Agora ambassador
TIFF’s AGORA event (November 3-10, 2018), supported by Creative Europe-MEDIA, is an industry event offering various networking opportunities for the global film industry in an informal, welcoming and professional atmosphere. As an international meeting and trading event, AGORA runs parallel to the Thessaloniki International Film Festival and offers to its visiting industry professionals a variety of industry activities which focus on the countries of Southeastern Europe and the Mediterranean region.
The 59th Thessaloniki International Film Festival presents a new initiative that aims to further enrich its well-established Agora section. Celebrated Greek singer-songwriter and film buff Foivos Delivorias becomes the first Agora ambassador that will promote the section’s events and goals, collaborating with film professionals who will attend this year’s edition. He will also present the Agora awards ceremony that will take place Friday, 9 November, 2018.
The Festival trailer dir. Jaqueline Lentzou
Read also in our series of Filming Greece interviews: Thessaloniki International Film Festival Director Orestis Andreadakis on creating an absolute cinematic experience, Jacqueline Lentzou on the Utopia of Belonging, “Torpor”: Sleepwalking to adulthood, Thanasis Neofotistos on portraying people in their private Twilight Zone
Nikolaos Vlahakis is a Greek poet whose works have been translated into English, Spanish, French, Bulgarian and German. He has also penned articles on literature, international politics and social theory, which have also been published in newspapers and magazines, in Greece and abroad. He was a guest poet at the 27th International Poetry Festival in Medellin, Colombia; excerpts from his first poem collection have been translated into English and Bulgarian and published in the magazine Literaturni Balkani, while some of his poems were recently published in the Franco-Canadian magazine Le Crachoir de Flaubert and in Variations, the literary journal of the University of Zurich.
Vlahakis was born in Crete in 1967 and studied philosophy at the University of Sofia, Bulgaria. He also studied public administration at the National School of Public Administration in Athens and obtained an MA in foreign relations and strategic studies at the European Center for International and Strategic Research in Brussels. He has served as Press and Communication Counsellor in various Greek embassies. He has released three poem collections: Tractates from a multinational force or Terra incognita (2002), The Bridge of the Eagles (2011), About turbulence and shadow - Idola tribus (2016), all by Gavrielides Editions.
Nikolaos Vlahakis spoke to Greek News Agenda* about his sources of inspiration, the poets that have influenced his work and his thoughts on the poetry in the digital era.
You have already published three poem collections and many of your poems are considered to be influenced by the great Greek poet Cavafy. Do you have other sources of inspiration?
Usually we have different influences, even those who do not write, but are just readers of poetry. It is true that some critics actually, have seen an influence of Cavafy, mainly in my second poetic collection The Bridge of the Eagles. Some others have traced the influence of Odysseas Elytis or, in general, the so-called generation of the 30s. And this is partially correct, although I can say that my concern is to look beyond the eyes of this generation. Several times I turned to the classic writers of Modern Greek poetry, from Solomos to Palamas, Cavafy, Seferis, Elytis, Ritsos, etc. This was inevitable in my effort to create a more personal style. In this effort I also had the desire to talk with these top poets. In the process, however, one should discover his own expression.
The same happens regarding the foreign influences, and especially in the languages you mentioned: Pablo Neruda and Lorca were the ones that attracted me the most in Spanish poetry, while French symbolism is in my opinion an unsurpassed model of poetry. Once I was passionate about Mallarme, Paul-MarieVerlaine as well as Arthur Rimbaud. As for the English speaking poets, I can confess that when I discovered Allen Ginsberg this was the reason to start writing poetry again after a long period I had interrupted. His poetry gave me the incentive to restart by doing some translations exercises. Later, I was also fascinated by William ButlerYeats. But the encounter with many other poets from different countries enriched my poetic course. The point, of course, is to transform all these different influences into your own “poetic idiom”, and this can only be done in your own "poetic workshop".
Odour of death
a small interrupted storm.
like a cleft in a rock
sisterhood of silences
and grasshoppers with instincts of a killer
and abandoned machine gun platforms
evacuation of maimed
and abrupt orders
to hotel girls
that I haven’t had enough of you yet
and now and tomorrow
the grand resignations.
(Translated from the Greek by Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke)
What was your first contact with poetry? What internal need prompted you to express yourself poetically and which are the sources of your inspiration?
My flair for writing, especially poetry, was developed at an early age. My family’s tradition is that my uncle, my mother's brother, published some very remarkable poem collections which he offered to us. In the island of Crete, where I was living at that time, I participated in some local literary contests at the age of 16-17, where I was awarded and my work was published. This was a strong motivation that maintained my interest in poetry. I started writing poetry again after a long period, mainly after my student years, but during my student years I was reading a lot of prose and novels. In Crete, however, where I grew up, the live folk tradition that derives from Erotokritos and continues with the rhyming couplets in form of a narrative or dialogue (mantinades), makes us all think like poets!
My inspiration derives from an attempt to express philosophical reflection in poetic form. An attempt to combine philosophy with the condensed form of poetry.
Due to your occupation as a Press and Communication Councellor at the General Secretariat for Media and Communication, you have lived many years abroad. Did you miss Greece all these years?
Yes and no. As my daily routine and my work was directly interwoven with the political and other actuality of the country, but also as a part of the country's public administration abroad, I would not say that I was missing Greece. Greece was constantly present in my mind. What I was missing was perhaps the landscape, my people, and my memories. This nostalgia, however, is a creative motivation for poetry.
What is the focal point of your poetry collections?
I consider my poetic work, published by Gavrielides Publications, as a trilogy, a repetitive reflection in Greek history, within space and time, as well as in Balkans and European history in general. Besides, my books are connected with the cities where I wrote them, when I served as a Press and Communication Counsellor at several embassies of Greece: I started writing my first collection in Tirana and I finished it in Brussels; the second in Sofia and the third in Budapest. They are in some way poetic chronicles of these cities, or that is how I would like to characterise them.
The first collection (Tractates of a Multinational Force or Terra Incognita) is in reference with a conceptualisation of the Balkans as a tough historical terrain which internalises or even imprisons objectivity into the inner sphere of the idea of an unknown land (Terra incognita is the subtitle). The second collection is a metaphor of the eternal returning in Time, through the gates of a bridge guarded by four imaginary eagles (The Bridge of the Eagles), which compose the chorus, whereas in the centre there is digression calendar of everyday life. I can say that it is a metaphysical view of history. In the third attempt, I make a poetic anatomy of our atavistic stereotypes, which is what the English philosopher Francis Bacon called "Idola tribus". Inevitably, this brings me to a self-conscious relationship with Greece and my homeland, Crete. In this sense, I see my work as a kind of political poetry, though not obvious at first glance.
Do you think that the digital revolution has affected poetic creation and, if so, in which direction?
Not so decisively, but I believe that it will influence every aspect of art and expression. And I do not mean only the way of circulation, publication and dissemination of poetic creation. It will impact it structurally. Let me give you an example: the haiku started to become a form of poetry with which more and more poets are engaged all over the world, going farther than the Japanese tradition which created them. This happens due to the fact that nowadays with a simple tweet you can spread your daily haiku. On the other hand this fact determines the way in which poetry is now written, with whatever impact this has, negative or positive. Poetry reverts to the forefront as Internet requires abridged communication and synthesis, as a sort of contemporary art form. Last year, I participated in the 27th International Festival in Medellin, Colombia, where I realised that modern trends in international poetry are combining multi-media, video art and performing arts in general.
Do you think that the recent economic crisis has influenced Greek poetry?
I think yes. The new generation has started to create the art of this period in every field. It is a collective experience that strongly defines the way we now detect our horizons. It is characteristic that when I was leaving Berlin, where I was serving recently, a German poet suggested me to compose together an "Anthology of Greek-German Poetry of the Crisis". Besides, it will be the mark that separates two periods of the recent history of Greece: The period of crisis from the period after it.
*Interview by Marianna Varvarrigou
Read also via Greek News Agenda: Reading Greece | Athens - World Book Capital City of 2018; Zdravka Mihaylova, translator of Greek literature into Bulgarian on literary translation as a platform of communication
Axel Sotiris Walldén (born 1949) studied economics in Sweden and France and was awarded a PhD from the University of Athens. From 1996 to 2014 he was an official at the European Commission, mostly dealing with EU enlargement. Previously, he had served, inter alia, as secretary-general at the Hellenic Ministry of National Economy and as a visiting professor at the Panteion University, Athens. He has also served as an adviser at the Greek Foreign Ministry.
He presently teaches a post-graduate course at the Institut d’Etudes européennes of the Université Libre de Bruxelles. He is the author of a large number of books and articles on EU enlargement, Balkan issues, Greek foreign and domestic policy and recent history. Walldén took an active part in the struggle against the Greek dictatorship (1967-74) and has since held leading posts in parties and organisations of the Greek Left. Being of Greek and Swedish nationalities, he has recently released three books on the issue of Greek-Swedish relations during the Axis Occupation and the Greek military junta (1967-74).
These books are From Lapland to the Acropolis : the European itinerary of a Swede in the 20th century (in Greek by Polis editions), Humanitarian Assistance to Occupied Greece. The Swedish Red Cross Mission 1942-1945 and Dictatorship and Resistance 1967-1974; a Personal Testimony (both by Themelio editions). Thanks to the first two of these publications, Walldén was awarded the 2018 prize of the Association of the Friends of the Swedish Institute in Athens (Föreningen Svenska Atheninstitutets Vänner) for his contribution to cultural exchange between Sweden and Greece. On this occasion, he granted an interview* to Greek Νews Agenda.
You were recently awarded the 2018 prize of the Association of the Friends of the Swedish Institute in Athens (Föreningen Svenska Atheninstitutets Vänner) for your contribution to the promotion of cultural exchange between Sweden and modern Greece. The basis for the Association’s award were your two recent books (From Lapland to the Acropolis and Humanitarian Assistance to Occupied Greece). Both these deal with Swedish-Greek relations during the Axis Occupation of Greece. Could you elaborate?
Greece and Sweden have a long-standing history of friendly relations. Two ‘moments’ of this history were crucial for the shaping of a positive image of Sweden in Greek collective memory: Sweden’s role in alleviating the famine in Greece during the Axis Occupation and its solidarity to the struggle against the Greek military junta in 1967-1974.
Sweden, as a neutral country during World War II, was mandated by the belligerents to lead what proved to be the largest humanitarian operation during that conflict: bringing food from the Americas to the starving people of occupied Greece and managing its distribution in cooperation with the Geneva-based International Red Cross. The two books of mine you mention focus on this operation, still little known, and hence they hopefully contribute to a better knowledge of its extent and details.
The book From Lapland to the Acropolis is a biography of your father. Tell us about it.
My father, Gottfrid Walldén, was a Swede born at the beginning of the 20th century in Swedish Lapland, who came to Greece during World War II with the Red Cross and eventually settled in Athens where he stayed until his death in 1967.
His biography falls under the category of ‘people’s history’, a narrative that attempts to account for historical events from the perspective of common people, rather than political or other leaders. The reader can follow his rather unusual itinerary, which includes early years in northern Sweden, two years at a high school in Normandy just after World War I and life as a bank accountant during the inter-war period in Central Sweden. However, the largest part of the book covers his stay in Greece in the 1940s, first as a neutral delegate of the Swedish Red Cross mission and then as a businessman, having decided to settle in Greece, a country which he comes to adore.
In my book, I try to picture the atmosphere and social environment of the respective periods and places where my father stayed, most crucially of Greece in the 1940s. The perspective of a Swedish national of modest origins who lands in the conservative upper-class Athens society during the Occupation, Liberation, the December 1944 uprising and the ensuing Civil War in 1946-1949 is, I believe, quite revealing.
The book also provides a concise picture of the Swedish Red Cross mission to Greece. In fact, my research on this topic went far beyond the biography of my father and led me to edit another volume, which deals with the humanitarian relief mission itself.
From the award ceremony at the Museum of Mediterranean and Near Eastern Antiquities (Medelhavsmuseet) in Stockholm
Let us come then to your book on the Swedish Red Cross mission to Greece during World War II. Could you briefly describe this operation?
The relief mission brought to Greece 650,000 tons of food from Canada and Argentina and organised its distribution to millions of people in most of occupied Greece. It was thus instrumental in avoiding a repetition of the deadly famine of the first winter of the Occupation. Sweden provided the ships that transported the food through zones of warfare and the Allied blockade of continental Europe. It also contributed witharound 30 delegates who, together with the Swiss, managed the vast organisation needed to ensure an efficient and neutral distribution of the goods throughout the country.
My book is a comprehensive description of that operation. The first part is a detailed account of the mission, written by Emil Sandström, the head of the Relief Committee (1943-1945). In a second part, I explore, based mostly on archival material, what I call ‘the sensitive issues’ of the operation. These include inter alia the often difficult relations between the Swiss and the Swedes in the mission, the issue of irregularities and corruption, but also a section on ‘the neutrality of the neutrals’, i.e. the attitude of the Swedish delegates towards the belligerents and towards the parties of the internal Greek divisions. Finally, the third part comprises documents, mostly unpublished and translated from Swedish archives, with reports and views of Swedish delegates and diplomats on the situation in Greece and the unfolding of the humanitarian mission.
Your two books rely on research in mostly Swedish archives. How relevant were these for the study of the history of Greece?
Indeed, I relied extensively on a number of Swedish archives, notably those of the Swedish Red Cross, the Swedish Foreign Ministry and the Legation of Sweden in Athens, all of which are deposited at the State Archive (Riksarkivet) in Stockholm. I also worked at the archives of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva. All of these sources provide precious information on the Red Cross mission, but also on the situation in Greece during the Occupation through the eyes of Swedish (and Swiss) delegates and diplomats. The Swedish archives, in particular, are not easily accessible to foreign researchers for linguistic reasons.
From the book presentation at the Greek Cultural Centre (Grekiska Kulturhuset) in Stockholm
Let me now come to your book on Dictatorship and Resistance 1967-1974, which is a narrative of how you experienced that period as well as of your participation in the resistance movement against the military junta. Tell us about your activities then, including during your stay in Sweden.
A military dictatorship ruled Greece between 1967 and 1974 in what was the darkest period in the post-war history of the country. At the time, I was a high school and then university student in Greece, Sweden and France and I actively participated in the resistance and solidarity movements from the ranks of the Greek Left. My book is a testimony of that experience which I still consider as my ‘finest hour’.
The book focuses mostly on the resistance in Greece, both underground and ‘legal’, with a key chapter on my role as the liaison between the student organisation ‘Rigas Feraios’ in Greece and the Party leadership abroad, during the student mobilisations that led to the Athens Polytechnic School uprising in November 1973. However, I also deal with the anti-dictatorship activities abroad, including in Sweden, where I was based from 1968 to 1972.
Sweden was probably the country that supported most the fight for democracy against the Greek military regime. The Swedish Government opposed the junta in the Council of Europe and supported the resistance movement. There was a broad and very active solidarity movement in the country, coordinated by a ‘Swedish Committee for Democracy in Greece’ where all parliamentary parties except the Right were represented. A bulletin on Greece, the Grekland-bulletin, was published in Lund and circulated in the whole of Scandinavia. Public opinion was favourable to our struggle and ordinary citizens participated in demonstrations and fund raising for the Resistance. My book provides a taste of all these activities.
I should maybe add that my book illustrates the fact that the struggle against the military dictatorship forged an anti-fascist unity of democratic forces throughout the political spectrum, despite important differences among them. This legacy is very much pertinent today, when we see extreme right and nationalist forces again on the rise just about everywhere in our continent.
*Interview by Nicky Psychari, Head of Press and Communication Office of the Embassy of Greece in Stockholm
Read also via Greek News Agenda: “12 October 1944 - Free Athens” The city commemorates the 74th anniversary of its liberation; 12 October 1944 - Free Athens: Interview with historian Yannis Skalidakis; “The Unknown Famine: Athens 1941-1942” Exhibition & Conference; Greece under the Nazis: The German soldiers' perspective; Military Dictatorship (1967-1974) in retrospect: New historical approaches; Military Dictatorship (1967-1974) in retrospect: The Greek visual arts scene
Grammy-winning producer, musicologist and record collector Christopher C. King is one of the world’s most passionate devotees of traditional Greek folk music, especially the idiosyncratic, usually mournful sound distinctive in Northern and Western Greece’s music and songs. His latest book Lament from Epirus: An Odyssey Into Europe’s Oldest Surviving Folk Music is the product of his dedicated research into the music of the region Epirus, in the northwestern part of Greece.
King, who describes himself as an “auricular raconteur and sonic archaeologist”, is a remastering engineer and producer who specialises in pre-war rural American music as well as various Eastern European, Balkan and Mediterranean musical traditions. He discovered the music of Epirus by chance, thanks to a stack of old 78 rpm discs he had bought, and was instantly spellbound by those 1920s and 1930s recordings that made him feel as if he “had been taken apart and rearranged”.
Soon, King contacted the Barounis brothers, avid collectors in Athens, from whom he eventually acquired their entire archive of Epirotic music recordings. Since then, he has released several albums featuring remastered songs from his extensive collection of Greek folk music. He has also traveled to the region, hunting for facts about legendary virtuosos of the past (Kitsos Harisiadis and Alexis Zoumbas, both featured in his album releases) and was amazed to discover that contemporary festivals (panegyria) retain the same spirit that enchanted him in the old recordings he first listened to.
Through these experiences, the self-described “sheltered, misanthropic record collector” fell in love with Epirus, its people and its rituals. In Lament from Epirus, he recounts this “unforgettable journey into a musical obsession, which follows a unique genre back to the roots of song itself” – given that King believes Epirotic music to be the oldest surviving folk tradition in Europe, originating from pre-Homeric cultures. The cover art is by renowned American cartoonist and musician Robert Crumb, who has also created the artwork for some of King’s music album releases.
Christopher C. King’s musical quest has also inspired writer and director Paul Duane to make the documentary While You Live, Shine (2018), filmed during the annual three-day festival for the departed emigrants of Epirus who return to their land of origin. The film is described as “a story of a cynical man escaping his prison of nostalgia & regaining his faith in humanity”.
Lament from Epirus will soon appear in Greek by Doma publications. On the occasion of his book’s presentation in Washington D.C., Christopher C. King gave an interview to Greece in America, the official newsletter of the Embassy of Greece in the U.S.A.
You have described Epirus as a "musical biosphere" and have previously praised the clarinet players of the region. Could you describe the moment that Epirus came to justify this term for you?
The moment that this happened was indeed an epiphany. I was attending my first panigyri (local festival) in the village of Vitsa, drinking Zagorian tsipouro with my Sarakatsanos friend George Charisis, and dancing. George began to explain the ancient pagan roots of the music and dance in Epirus. And that is when I realized that the "musical biosphere" of Epirus was largely intact and sustaining the life force of music here. I mean, I had heard this "musical biosphere" in the old 78 rpm discs but I had no idea that it still thrived in certain parts of Greece, especially in Epirus. But then it came to me... just like that. At that moment I perceived music as an organic entity within its unique environment.
In your book, you set out to discover why we make music and end up discovering how music is a tool meant to help us with therapy and survival. What was a significant time when music played a therapeutic role during your journey?
Once again, this happened during my first visit to Epirus, in Vitsa. During the panigyri, I was encouraged to dance the piece "Samantakas" and at the very end of the dance the clarinet player, Thomas Haliyiannis played his clarinet "into me." That is to say, he left the group of musicians and played the clarinet directly into my ear. I entered into some ineffable emotional and psychological state, probably best understood as "musical healing" or therapy because when I left the dance, I felt as if everything within me had been rearranged in the right way. Every time I return to Epirus, I always ask the musicians to "play into me."
Lament from Epirus constitutes your literary debut. However, you are also a Grammy-winning producer and musicologist. What were you able to draw from your previous experiences in music production while writing the book?
My background in music theory and musicology provided me with tools to help process what I was hearing and how the music relates to the complex history and culture of the Epirotes. However, the book is by no means "technical." It is much more of a narrative travelogue and memoir, where I reflect on how folk music functioned within smaller isolated communities and how I discovered this still viable function in the music of northwestern Greece. That it still lives there.
What does the future hold for you and Lament from Epirus? Perhaps a collaboration with Greek research institutions and another visit to the region?
I have very precise long-term plans regarding the future, this book, and my work. First, I intend to move both myself and my archive of Greek 78 rpm discs and physical collections to Epirus. I have wanted to live there ever since I started researching and writing this book and I travel to Epirus several times a year. Second, I am working on collaborating with the University of Ioaninna through the musicologist George Kokkonis and the Society for Epirotic Studies (ΕΗΜ) to find a suitable building to house the archive and develop a robust Archive of Epirotic Music, which can actively collect recordings and artifacts of this largely intangible cultural heritage. I plan to make this my life's work and I want to give back to Epirus as much as what it has given me. Third, I'm writing a new non-fiction book about murder ballads both in Greece and in the southern United States. I've only scratched the surface of this music with this first book.
Read more about King’s research into Greek folk music: The Otherworldly Sound of Greece’s Rural Folk Music
Is there a private twilight zone where every individual confronts his or her own internal and external conflicts? This appears to be the case in the latest two Thanasis Neofotistos films, “Patision Avenue” and “Prosefhi: Greek School Prayer”. In “Patision Avenue” a single mother enters it when she finds out her six year old son is left home alone as she heads for the audition of her lifetime. Through a series of phone calls, she fights to balance the most important roles of her life, whilst walking in the most controversial area of central Athens, Patision Avenue. In “Prosefhi: Greek School Prayer” Dimitris, a high school student, has to put up with Vassilis, the school bully/ cool guy, while going through his personal maelstrom of puberty and the contradictory feelings brought about by his sexual awakening in a school environment that could very well be in the 90’s.
Christos Karavevas, "Prosefhi: Greek School Prayer" (2014)
Thanasis Neofotistos is a Film Director, Writer & Architect born in Athens. He studied Architecture at the Dimokrition University of Thrace, Film Directing at Queen Margaret University and acting. His latest short film, “Patision Avenue” (13’-2018) premiered in 75th Venice Film Festival 2018 and screens in a series of International Festivals. “Prosefhi: Greek School Prayer’ (20’-2014), his dissertation film, has been screened in several important International Film Festivals (21st Encounters, 26th SaoPaulo, 23rd Raindance, 35th Munich, and 40 more IFF) and won the 1st prize (Golden Dionysus Award) at the 37th Drama ISFF, as well as other significant distinctions (Best Sound, Photography, Nomination at GFA, etc). His documentary “Pogoniskos” (10’-2015) won the Best Documentary Award at the 38th Drama ISFF. Neofotistos currently works on his first feature film, “Peter and the wolf”, a dark, coming-of-age folktale; the film project has already been selected at First Films First SEDA 2017, MFI 2016, Sarajevo Script Station and got a MEDIA development fund.
Interviewed by Greek News Agenda* Neofotistos explains that putting his film characters through Twilight zone situations helps him reveal their core of existence, when they are in the most vulnerable and helpless state. As regards “Prosefhi: Greek School Prayer”, Neofotitos underlines that he wouldn’t like it to be regarded as a film about bullying, because it the issues of homosexuality and puberty are equally important. He also talks about his artistic choice to shoot “Patision Avenue” in a single continuous shot in central Athens, which was characterized by “Sight and Sound” magazine as a technical marvel, explaining why it was a personal challenge for him. Neofotistos concludes that challenges and dilemmas may lead to external and internal explosions, but they may as well prove extremely beneficial in the end.
Marina Symeou, "Patision Avenue" (2018)
In both your films, “Prosefhi: Greek School Prayer” and “Patision Avenue”, you put your characters through extreme situations in which they are alone, testing their limits with no outside help. The two central characters of “School Prayer” won’t talk to anyone, while the protagonist of “Patision Avenue” cannot find anyone to help her. Why do you exert pressure on them? Is it an attempt at a social comment regarding their helplessness?
Putting my heroes in an extreme situation is an attempt to create authentic people and showcase their core characteristics. People in normal, everyday situations have much more control over themselves and their behavior. Although I find this everyday person of Jarmusch movies very tender, when telling a story, I find it more interesting to explore people in situations that test their limits and reveal, what I call, their core when being in the most vulnerable and helpless state. I have a genuine interest and compassion for what is under the human illusion of control.
Christos Karavevas and Stelios Karambinas "Prosefhi: Greek School Prayer" (2014)
“Prosefhi: Greek School Prayer” is a study in human nature during a significant and sensitive period in life, such as puberty. While it accurately depicts bullying, you have underlined that bullying is not the sole focus. What drove you to make a film like “School Prayer” and what was the feedback you got at the schools where it was screened?
I believe that a movie can never be about a phenomenon. “Greek School Prayer” is about a boy that happens to be bullied and his bully; the movie is about Dimitris and Vassilis. When we were writing the story we were thinking about what happened to them, they were our focus. I also believe that if someone focuses on bullying, the star-topic of the film, the other dimensions (puberty, sexual awakening, homosexuality) will be become less important. Of course that is always a trap with star-topics. A very personal interest about these boys made me do the movie and I was extremely happy about the reception of the film. People told me that they identified with my heroes, which is a huge compliment for me. I also received enthusiastic letters from children who saw the film in their schools. That made me as happy as I could be, because it was a movie about them and their age.
Marina Symeou, "Patision Avenue" (2018)
“Patision Avenue” is a one-long-take film shot in a few minutes, the duration of which is called “magic-hour’ in cinema. What were the difficulties posed by this artistic choice?
The one-long-take-shot was my personal Everest till now! Magic-hour only lasts for some minutes and as a result we had a good chance for only one take. So, artistically, there was no room for mistakes. As I told you before, I am really interested in how people react under pressure, including myself. I find the result after such circumstances to be more genuine.
In “Patision Avenue” the protagonist is experiencing both an internal and an external conflict, but she is defeated in the end. What do you think about women’s position in society?
I agree that this woman faced an extreme conflict, but I’m not sure she was defeated. I’m still thinking about it. About what happened afterwards. Such dilemmas in life, where things lead to an explosion, external and internal, may be extremely beneficial in the end. I really admire female qualities and even envy them at times. I believe that we live in an age where women try to earn an equal position in a society which should respect their differences.
Would you like to elaborate on the alternation between imagination and reality in your films?
It’s a game I’m really interested in. I’m quite an imaginative person and I think that imagination often reveals a lot about a person that cannot be seen in his behavior or words. The alternation often highlights the contradiction of these two worlds. My first feature film, “Peter and the Wolf”, a coming-of-age folktale about a young boy called Peter, includes a society where existence is based on a reality that tries to defy imagination and even free will. They do it mainly by being prejudiced and narrow minded and that’s when the problems begin.
How have your architectural studies influenced your film work?
Architecture, for me, was the best influence to begin doing cinema. It formed my sense of space, rhythm, light and made it easy for me to find a method to construct my stories.
* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi
The “Patio House” residence is a striking building hanging off a cliff edge over the sea; it is situated on the island of Karpathos, the second largest of the Greek Dodecanese islands, in the southeastern Aegean Sea. The structure has caught the attention of specialists worldwide due to its unique way of merging with its jagged surroundings, overlooking the sea, and was even nominated at the World Architecture Festival Awards. The firm behind the audacious concept is OOAK architects, a Stockholm-based architecture studio run by Maria Papafigou, Johan Annerhed and Marie Kojzar.
Papafigou was born in Athens and studied architecture in Lund, Barcelona, Athens and Stockholm. In 2004, she founded together with Johan Annerhed the Athens-based architecture firm Paan Architects. Annerhed was born in Uppsala, Sweden, and had studied in Lund, Delft and Athens. One of the Paan Architects’ projects was nominated for the Mies van der Rohe Prize in 2013. That same year the duo founded OOAK in collaboration with Marie Kojzar, born in Stockholm, who studied in London and had previously worked with Alison Brooks Architects in award-winning housing projects and public buildings.
OOAK Architects (from left to right): Johan Annerhed, Maria Papafigou, Marie Kojzar
Maria Papafigou spoke* to Greek News Agenda about OOAK’s past and future projects, their influences from Greek and Nordic architecture, the distinctions they have received so far and the Greek “meraki”.
When I saw the cover of the Plaza Deco magazine (issue June ’18) I couldn’t help but stop and browse through the cover story, which was about a house in Karpathos. Each photo in the article captured the Aegean Sea in the background and I found out that those responsible for this architectural feat are the OOAK architects: you, your husband, Johan Annerhed, and Marie Kojzar. It was also stated that the house was commissioned by a couple who keep visiting Karpathos to enjoy their favorite water sport, surfing, because of the “meltemi” wind -also known as etesian- blowing on the island.
After having travelled to Greece for many years because of windsurfing, a Paris-based French-Swedish couple finally found their dream spot on the windy island of Karpathos. The search for the perfect site was tedious, but the minute they saw this amazing property they knew that they had found their place: a dramatic plot of land with open views of the Aegean Sea and direct views of the windsurfers on the beach of Afiarti. The owners dreamt of a sanctuary in this beautiful yet rough landscape; a place where they could fully experience the magnificent surroundings, a shelter from the strong winds of Karpathos.
How does the Aegean landscape affect the design as well as your aesthetic choices?
Our firm’s work is colored by the strong ties to the locus, both cultural and physical, and is strongly influenced by the Nordic respect for nature. For us every design derives from the particular characteristics of each site. More specifically, this project focused on the sparse, untamed and dramatic landscape which became the starting point for our design. Every manmade alteration would be visible in this unique lot with its jagged, textured cliffs that descend into the grand Aegean Sea. The main issue that needed to be tackled was the ways of introducing a foreign object -a house- into this spectacular landscape, while simultaneously enhancing its qualities without altering its character. Rather than trying to mimic the landscape, the house is gently placed on the site as an object, leaving the surrounding landscape as untouched as possible. Landscape and building are perceived as two distinct elements that together create a new entity – much in the way a perfect shell fuses with a rock over time and gradually becomes part of the rock formation itself. In other words, the result transformed into two contrasting objects, living in symbiosis, enhancing and complementing each other.
Have you undertaken projects in other islands?
Yes, in fact we have worked on various architectural design projects in Samos, Andros, Santorini, Antiparos and Rhodes.
Besides the Aegean islands, in what other landscapes or cities have you had the opportunity to work?
Currently, we are working on several projects abroad. We have taken upon larger residential projects in the Bahamas and Cayman islands. Additionally, we are working on vacation homes in the Greek islands and several projects in Sweden. In the past, we have worked on projects in other countries such as Finland, Norway, Russia.
While conducting my research based on your name, I discovered multiple distinctions regarding your work in a number of architecture magazines. Would you like to elaborate?
OOAK architects is a Greek-Swedish firm founded on a new collaboration between Paan architects (Maria Papafigou and Johan Annerhed) and architect Marie Kojzar. Paan architects was an Athens based firm active for about 10 years. Johan and me, as part of Paan architects, realised and got acclaimed for many of our projects, including “Hill House”, a house in the outskirts of Dionisos that was nominated for the Mies van der Rohe Prize for 2013.
I have the pleasure of interviewing you in your workplace, in a small office in the city of Stockholm from where you depart towards many destinations across the world. Please tell us more on your international work travels.
We follow up the construction on all our projects and we travel frequently to the construction site. We share the travels between the three partners and we try to establish good collaborations on each site in order to secure the quality of the work.
Do you apply some of the features of the Scandinavian architecture in Greece and vice versa? Does it inspire you or do you incorporate features of the Greek architecture on projects that you take up outside of Greece?
As previously mentioned we aim to create unique projects with distinct identities. Characteristics such as strategic planning, physical and cultural context, climate and people are specific attributes that often translate into the driving forces for the design process. We enjoy redefining vernacular elements in to our design and of course we bare with us the traditions of our two native but distinct countries.
The Scandinavian architecture does differ compared to the Greek one. Would you say that in your work there is some sort of connection between them? Do both of them tend to reach a meeting point or even an overlap?
Our work is very much inspired by the Nordic respect for nature and all our projects around the world have the same respect to their surroundings.
"Patio house" (Photo: Yiorgos Kordakis)
What has the Greek traditional architecture taught you? Especially, regarding the houses you are designing in the Aegean or the Greek countryside.
In Greece the most inspiring thing is the “meraki” of all the builders and workers. Meraki in this case can be roughly translated into the amount of labor and effort put into methods and techniques with many different materials. Many things are possible to realise in Greece that would be impossible or very expensive somewhere else and that is mostly thanks to the experienced craftsmen drawing strength from the ongoing mutual communication and understanding.
Would you consider Greeks as daring? Are they ready to embrace something unprecedented that does not fall under the traditional housing design? Do they accept your ideas and suggestions?
We consider Greeks visionaries embracing new ideas. We have never encountered concerns or difficulties while explaining to our clients the concept of a project and we always try to combine innovative thinking with environmentally friendly ideas.
What kind of relationships have you developed with the locals?
The attention that our projects require becomes a positive challenge for the builders and the construction crews. That makes them want to prove to us and themselves their distinct professional skills, feeling very proud of the result at the end.
What are the four short project-books you published in Highlights magazine and to whom are they addressed?
These are small booklets that we produce at the firm after the completion of each project. We always try to put together a booklet for our clients that explain our thoughts and the process that goes into them.
"Patio house" (Photo: Yiorgos Kordakis)
I read that you have been nominated in the “Villa of the year” category at the World Architecture Festival and that you are going to present your project in front of the jury at the end of November. First of all, congratulations! How do you feel about that?
We are indeed very happy that the project has been nominated in the World Architecture Festival and Awards. These international awards showcase the best examples of architecture worldwide in many different categories. In the 'villa of the year' category our project is the only one from Greece. We cannot express how proud we are for the opportunity to show the beautiful Greek settlement where the house is located as well as the Greek craftsmanship that has made the project possible.
*Interview by Nicky Psychari, Head of Press and Communication Office of the Embassy of Greece in Stockholm
Read also via Greek News Agenda: Urban transformations | Nikos Souliotis on Athens' modern cultural identity; Yiorgis Yerolymbos on the Stavros Niarchos Cultural Center and the Greek urban landscape; Iannis Xenakis: Science as art
N.M. (Intro photo: "Patio house" by Yiorgos Kordakis)
Sissy Alonistiotou is a journalist with an extensive experience in developing and managing weekly and monthly magazines; from 2012 she focused her work on issues related to media and news literacy. In 2014 she created the Journalists About Journalism project and from 2016 she heads the Media Literacy Institute, the an organization that promotes media literacy.
Alonistiotou spoke to Greek News Agenda* on media literacy, fake news, the impact of social media on journalism and the importance of media and news education for a well-funcioning democracy. According to Alonistiotou, journalists as well for the public need to learn how to effectively manage the vast quantity of news as well with the speed by which they spread. Finally, she posits that while in Greece the training of journalists themselves is still a challenge, the wholesale discrediting of all those involved in journalism, "creates a sense of a dystopian present."
You are the director of the non-profit organization Media Literacy Institute, and of the website Journalists about Journalism, both projects aiming at promoting media literacy. Could you expand on the concept of media literacy?
The term media literacy refers to the acquisition of cognitive, technical & communication skills in the use of modern media. More specifically, when we refer to cognitive skills, we mean the ability to understand, analyze and critically evaluate the operation of communication and information media and the messages conveyed through them, along with the ability to perceive, analyze and critically use the context in which media are used, as educational, social, political and economic mechanisms. As technical skills, we mean the access and ability to critically use modern communication media; and, lastly, as communication and social skills, we mean the ability to express and create (through responsible content production) in a variety of environments. Media education refers to all information media, analogue and digital, "modern or traditional", and in any form of expression and communication in the modern, digital age.
What do you see as the biggest danger in the propagation of fake news? What is the difference between what is now called fake news and what was known in the past as misinformation or propaganda?
There is no difference in essence. What makes the current "situation" exceptional is the speed of dissemination and everyone’s ability to create and disseminate content, both the result of technological development. To put it otherwise, qualitative change has occurred through quantitative accumulation. That is why we, the Media Literacy Institute, argue that democracy requires well-informed citizens and that media literacy and news literacy are one of the most important ways towards combating bias and hate speech, critical perception and responsible creation of content across all media (online or print), as well as developing the ability to evaluate sources, creators and information objectives. An education that will help us all understand the rules governing communication so that we follow them. We do not agree with the "repression" and fear that many cultivate against the vast potential offered by technology – including the field of communication.
Do you see social media as a destructive or a creative force in journalism? What are they biggest challenges social media pose for journalists and citizens?
Without a doubt, I consider social media to be a creative communication and information force. Like all tools, we need to learn how to handle them. What is required by both sides is I believe the effort towards the development of capabilities to manage the speed by which news spread. Journalists, for their part, should not sacrifice reliability and accuracy for speed, whilst citizens should be trained to "control" the tendency as well as the obsessive need for constant news.
What are the specific issues Greece has to face in terms of news quality and media literacy?
If in liberal Western democracies the need for the public’s education on critical thinking, on ways of decoding digital media messages in general and media messages in particular, on the correct / critical perception of news and the handling of misinformation poses a creative challenge, then for Greece the training of journalists themselves is a challenge. The discrediting of all those involved in journalism, rightly or wrongly, creates a sense of a dystopian present and, unfortunately, of a dystopian future.
*Interview by Ioulia Livaditi
Alexis Panselinos (born 1943 in Athens, Greece) is an award-winning Greek novelist and translator. He is the son of the poet and author Assimakis Panselinos (1903-1984) and Ephie Pliatsika-Panselinos (1907-1997), also a poet and novelist. He studied Law at the University of Athens. He is a resident of Athens, married to the novelist Lucy Dervis.
His first book, a collection of four stories, appeared in 1982. In 1986 he published his first novel, The Great Procession, which obtained a national award. In 1997 he was the Greek candidate for the European Literary Award (Aristeion) with his third novel, Zaida or the Camel in the Snow In 2012 he was awarded by 'Diavazo' Magazine for his novel The Dark Inscriptions in 2012.
Several of his books (The Great Procession, Zaida or The Camel in the Snow, The Dark Inscriptions and Betsy Lost) have been translated into other languages including Italian, German, English and Polish. He has also translated novels from English and German.
Alexis Panselinos spoke* to “Greek News Agenda” about the influence of his parents in his decision to become a writer, the characters of his books, the economic crisis, as well as about his latest book Light Greek Songs.
You are an awarded writer and your work has been highly appreciated. What influenced your decision to become a writer? How much did the fact that your father, Asimakis Panselinos, was also a famous writer contribute to this decision?
I was born at a time when people were reading books, went to the theatre and cinema. We had a library in our home and the presents I received on festive occasions were mainly books. I was enthralled by literature and I began writing in my early teens. Both my parents were writers. At home, we’d have poets, artists, and novelists coming and going all the time, the tone was vividly artistic in every regard, so I had the opportunity to grow and develop my flair for writing from an early age. My early works were written with the conviction that as an adult this -writing- would be my main occupation and my life.
How do you choose the characters in your books? To what degree do their toughness and imperfection inspire you and what room do you leave in your works for the optimism of life?
My approach is realistic. My writing may play fantasy games, but I use it to intensify the clarity of the view on people and life. None of my heroes is tough per se, people are complex and toughness often covers up their fears and weakness. People are imperfect, and this makes us human. Our weaknesses, our mistakes, are interwoven with our dreams, with love, with the fear of death, with our ideals which, even when betrayed by our weakness, remain within us like a festering, open wound. Life itself is an optimistic situation. As long as one is alive, he fights, hopes, dreams; and that’s optimism.
Do you like changing your narrative style, experimenting with writing forms?
I actually don’t like repeating myself, and I strive for different forms with every book. This is also the case because the choice of subject every time entails a different form by itself. The subject determines the form, the subject has its own requirements and it is served more efficiently by a particular technique, a different style. My personal obsessions may not change, but there are a thousand different ways of looking at them - and that's what I do. All in all, I write the same book over again, and a sensitive reader can grasp this.
Today, many Greeks are suffering on account of the economic crisis. Do you believe that art, and literature in particular, has been positively or negatively affected?
The economic crisis we are going through is not something new. We have experienced it in the past, and I could go as far as saying that it has never gone away. In one way or another, Greek society, as well as many others around the world, is experiencing a crisis. History, communities, people and countries, are in a state of permanent crisis. History is the process and the successive mutations of this crisis. And literature has a double role - on one hand to depict it, and on the other hand by way of metaphor to turn it into consolation, a breath of hope and optimism for the future - because the beauty of life and the world still exist to support us even in the most distressed, and the most difficult circumstances. The country has lived through a decade of foreign Occupation and Civil War, and people who lived through these horrendous times have managed to create and hope, to fight and overcome the disaster. I cannot see why the current crisis will not be overcome.
You come from Lesvos. What is the image you have of the island following the refugee wave that has overwhelmed it in recent years?
With Lesvos, I have a distant relationship, but also one of deep love. I was not born there, but in Athens – in the heart of the city as a matter of fact. I have visited Lesvos only a few times and always as a tourist rather than as a returning native. I visited the island last year in the spring, at a time when the Moria refugee camp was already in operation: refugees and migrants had already been moved from the harbor area where acute problems for the inhabitants of Lesvos had been created, but the sight of the camp in Moria, with its high metal fencing topped with coils of razor-barbed-wire, as well as the concrete shelters where these people were living in made my heart freeze. It seems that the situation has gotten much worse since then. It is both sad and outrageous.
Your last book, Light Greek Songs, refers to the 1950-1953 period, a time that was marked by the execution of Nikos Beloyannis, with the wounds of the civil war still open, but also a time when there was hope of rebuilding the country, when there was need for security and carefreeness. What prompted you to choose to depict, and very successfully too, this particular era?
In my book Light Greek Songs I endeavor to look at the history of the country as a whole, from the end of the Civil War to the present. I am concerned with the construction of a post-war and post-civil war country, in the form it took under the governance of the winning side, preserving the acrimony, rancor and spite, along with the destructive maladies that have brought us to the current crisis, which aside from economic is also moral and political. So the nostalgic gaze upon the Athens of my childhood is tinged by the awareness of the distorted evolution of our society which was based on division, preventing us in the process from realizing that we are part of the same society and that our actions concern us as a whole and not only as individuals. The so-called “light” popular songs of that era were the people’s call for beauty, optimism, peace and progress. My novel is not an ethography of the ’50s; it is an anatomy of the contemporary deadlock, the bankruptcy and discrediting of political thought and action, of intolerance and the absence of goals. The reader should see through the lines of this light-hearted, distant narration - as one should through those cheerful melodies, the buoyant rhythms and the often naïve lyrics of those 50s songs, hear the beat of peoples’ hopes, who throughout the 1940’s had been bleeding and experiencing darkness and despair.
What message would you like to convey to writers of the younger generation?
A writer must stand courageously in front of the mirror that is his art. To see his face clearly, to reject flattering disguises and to recognize in his image the image of the society that surrounds him. He must also not forget that art has its rules and that a writer’s basic tool is language.
*Interview by Marianna Varvarrigou
Read also via Greek News Agenda: Writer Vangelis Raptopoulos on “The man who burned down Greece”; Kostas Katsoularis on Books as Living Organisms and Book Readers as a Species Facing Extinction; Nikos Mandis on Fiction, Labyrinths and Athens as the Main Protagonist
The San Francisco Greek Film Festival (SFGFF) celebrates its 15th year with a rich film selection. The Festival annually showcases the work of Greek and Cypriot filmmakers from around the world, aiming to inspire, engage, and entertain its diverse audience. The SFGFF accepts film submissions in all categories. The audience votes for their favorites in the feature-length film and short film category for The Astron Award.
The Festival program includes 24 feature-length films and shorts by Greek and Cypriot filmmakers from around the world. Among the Festival’s feature films are “Rosemarie” by Adonis Florides, “Polyxeni” by Dora Masclavanou and “Cloudy Sunday” by Manoussos Manoussakis who will be this year's artist-in-residence and will also facilitate with Q&As and provide context for the films throughout the week. The festival program also includes Tasos Boulmetis’ docudrama “1968” and short fiction film “Mum, I’m back” by Dimitris Katsimiris. All filmshave English subtitles.
Paramount CEO Jim Gianopulos
To celebrate its 15th year, the festival will host Closing and Opening Nights at the Premier Theater at Lucasfilm and Dolby Cinema at the Dolby Laboratories headquarters respectively.
The Festival’s events include the Opening night at Lucasfilm’s Premier Theater at the Letterman Digital Arts Center in the Presidio on Friday, Oct. 12. Greek film master Pantelis Voulgaris will present his latest film, “The Last Note”, about the execution of Greek resistance fighters during the Nazi occupation of WWII. The festival will present Voulgaris with an award to honor his legacy in Greek cinema. Writer Ioanna Karystiani and producer Yiannis Iakovidis are also expected to attend the screening.
On closing night on Saturday, Oct. 20 at Dolby Cinema, the festival will present the first-ever Spyros P. Skouras Lifetime Achievement Award to Paramount CEO Jim Gianopulos. The award was created and sponsored by Tom Skouras, festival Advisory Board member and nephew of the late Skouras, to honor outstanding film industry professionals of Greek descent. The reception will be followed by screening of Dora Masclavanou’s “Polyxeni”.
Katerina Mavroudi – Steck: “We don't want the crisis to dominate the conversation about Greece”
On the occasion of the 15th Festival Edition, Greek News Agenda interviewed* SFGFF co - director Katerina Mavroudi-Steck on its history, programming and selection criteria. Born and raised on the island of Crete in Greece, Katerina Mavroudi-Steck came to the United States to complete her studies in Economics and has made it her home for the last 36 years. She worked for several years in the Silicon Valley for a high tech company but for the last ten years she has worked for the San Francisco Greek Film Festival and other events which celebrate and promote the arts, history, and culture of Greece. Mavroudi underlined that the Festival was established as an alternative way to celebrate Greek Culture. Regarding the crisis effect on the image of Greece, she stressed that it's up to the films to give people a deeper and more nuanced picture of Greek society and, although the crisis has definitely left its marks, “we don't want the crisis to dominate the conversation about Greece”.
"Polyxeni" (2018), dir. Dora Masclavanou
What was the rationale of establishing the San Francisco Greek Film Festival?
The San Francisco Greek Film Festival was established to highlight the latest independent films from the Greek World. In America, Greek communities often celebrate our culture through food and folk dancing. It's great that we do this, but we also felt it was important to create a space to celebrate Greek cinema, which is a special art form that deserves a platform. At the time that we established the festival in 2004, we were one of the few festivals in America celebrating Greek film. Every year, we receive more and more film submissions and we screen an increasing number of films at each festival. We are celebrating our 15th Anniversary this year, making it the longest-running festival of Greek and Cypriot cinema in the country.
What do you think about contemporary Greek cinema?
We strive to feature a variety of film styles and formats: shorts, features, documentaries, dramas, comedies, and everything in between. Attending one of our festivals keeps you on the pulse of what's happening in Greece (and the diaspora) in that moment in time.
"Rosemarie" (2017), dir. Adonis Florides
What are the criteria for your selection and programming?
Films have to be connected with Greece or Cyprus in some way. They could be Greek or Cypriot productions, the filmmakers or star actors could be of Greek or Cypriot descent, or films could be about these countries.
What is the impact of the Festival in the community?
Since the festival was founded in 2004, it has screened 268 movies, hosted 36 Greek and Cypriot filmmakers and other special guests from the film industry, and has inspired, engaged, and entertained more than 9,000 attendees. We love bringing the San Francisco and Greek film communities together every year and look forward to growing and expanding our impact.
"Mum, I'm back" (2017), dir. Dimitris Katsimiris
Do you help filmmakers come into contact with representatives of the film industry?
During the week of our festival, the filmmakers get to network with the other visiting guests from the industry and we try to arrange for visits with the San Francisco Film Society or Lucas Studios.
The San Francisco Greek Film Festival is a program of the Modern Greek Studies Foundation and proceeds benefit the educational initiatives and cultural presentations of the Foundation. It's a nonprofit organization with an active board of trustees and the festival is the organization's signature annual event.
"Cloudy Sunday" (2016), dir. Manoussos Manoussakis
How has the crisis influenced the way Americans think of Greece and what is the influence of Greek cinema on their perceptions, if any?
Americans love Greece — this hasn't wavered too much despite the economic crisis. American media outlets haven't been covering the crisis lately, so it's up to our films to give people a deeper and more nuanced picture of what's happening today and all the ways it affects Greek society.
The economic crisis undoubtedly comes up as a topic in our film selections. This year's short "The Ticket" («ΤοΕισιτήριο») is a good example. But Greek filmmakers have a lot more to say, and we don't want the crisis to dominate the conversation about Greece.
* Interview by Florentia Kiortsi
Read also in our series of interviews about Greek Cinema Filming Greece: Manoussos Manoussakis: “The Fight Against Nazism is Always Contemporary”, Tassos Boulmetis: Strangely Enough, the Crisis Promotes Greek Cinema, Dora Masklavanou on giving voice to the outcasts, Dimitris Katsimiris takes a walk on the dark side