THE PHOTOGRAPH IN MOSCOW, 1970. AND NOT JUST THAT.
I would like to describe this photograph to you.
However, I felt a deep need to go way back to the ancient times of Ionia and then to the time my grandparents were young and lived in their lost homeland, Asia Minor.
If you believe everything is written here-below is just a useless flow of words, ignore it and just keep in mind that this photograph was taken in August 1970 in Moscow, at the Red Square.
On the photograph, one can see dad, mum, Giorgos and me.
We arrived in the Soviet Union with our father, who had been officially invited by the government of the USSR.
They offered him the position of General Secretary of the Communist Party of Greece, which at the time was held by Secretary Kostas Koligiannis (1956-1972).
Dad, however, did not know why he had been invited.
He thought that surely the Soviet Union would like to honour the communist revolutionist!
Of course, following their offer and many discussions, he disagreed with them.
It was in Moscow that the numerous discussions were held.
As for us, we spent entire weeks visiting the city with mum and our translator-escort (of the KGB), the pleasant Galina!
I became so familiar with Moscow... I was eleven years old and Giorgos was ten!
Alexis Hatzis was also with us.
Last year, when I visited Moscow again with Alexis – after one more trip there in 1983 with my parents, during the short period of time Yuri Andropov was in office – I admired a very beautiful, rich and glamorous city, which rivalled America with respect to prodigality and luxury; in other words, I admired a world capital.
I remember that after Moscow and idyllic excursions on the city’s outskirts, we stayed in stylish dachas where Soviet artists spent their holidays. I remember swimming in the Volga River, seeing many plays at the Tchaikovsky and Kremlin theatres and doing numerous other things that appeared magical to two children. We were also offered hospitality in Yalta, in an exclusive resort for the leaders of the Party!
There, dad had to wait for the results of their discussions.
The luxury surrounding the leaders of the Party was also unforgettable!
Above all though, I remember the beauty of the landscape.
It resembles Kineta’s landcape, with its green forests on its steep hillsides that climb up to the top of Gerania Mountains.
Crimea with its extremely denticulate beaches, its tiny islands, and the rocks that suddenly jut out of the sea, like reefs close to the seashore!
And pine-trees, pine-trees, pine-trees everywhere!
We gazed at the mountains and beaches inside super fighter ships that belonged to the Navy!
Absolute grandness, so to speak!
Crimea also resembled the Corinthian Gulf’s coastline, which is hooked on the bottom of the steep Gerania Mountains, with the endless pine-tree forest!
If one travels the coastline by boat, from the lighthouse of Vouliagmeni, opposite our house in Vrahati, one goes in and out of small bays, enters enigmatic caves, and continues until one reaches the deep mysterious gulf with the cold water, the beautiful Alepohori, and, further away, Psatha. There, the valleys stretch out until the bottom of Mount Pateras and until the great Mount Kitheronas, where the Erinyes live!
It is so beautiful!
It is unbelievable how much poor Crimea resembles Greece!
Maybe that’s why thousands of Greeks, throughout thousands of years, made this region their home.
One day, in Yalta, we went to visit the house of writer Anton Chekhov, who lived there the last years of his life.
It was afternoon; Dad sat down in the quiet garden, next to the marble table, and wrote a few words in the visitors’ book. Surely, his inscription is still there.
There is also a photograph. It was taken while he was writing. When I look at it, I feel as if I’m looking at a historical event.
Around us lay countless trees, flower-beds and paths! One would have thought we were in paradise. That is why we, the children, walked piously, as if we were in a holy land.
Then, our accompaniers received the order that dad should leave, so we left!
When we returned to Moscow, at the airport, our accompaniers, who were members of the KGB, had transformed themselves into unpleasant and irritated state officials.
We hurriedly went through customs and passport control.
They wanted us to leave as soon as possible.
That is what our parents also wanted; they wanted it even more than our accompaniers.
As we were walking from one lounge to the other, in order to reach the external air corridors, we saw behind a huge glass partition, far away, a group of young people, who were fiercely moving their hands and waiving at us with passion and craze! We could see them shouting, but we could not hear them behind the huge glass partition.
Dad's accompanier stood next to us. He was a huge man, who was dad's interlocutor day and night. I think his name was Anatol (I'll ask dad; he was of course a member of the KGB!).
He told dad that the young people were Greeks from Tashkent, who had travelled thousands of kilometres to see him! After a one-week trip by train and countless stops at the police controls, they arrived just before our departure!
They asked to see dad, to talk to him or, at least, to greet him.
However, as Anatol said, they had not been given permission to see him, even though they had travelled thousands of kilometres…
Now, they were waiving and grinning, in an effort to show dad how much they loved him!
You see, dad had visited them in Tashkent in 1966, with his orchestra, Maria Farantouri and Antonis Kalogiannis, and his music was a forever burning flame for the secluded and forgotten Greek rebels and their children in Central Asia.
The young people behind the glass partition were the children of Greek rebels who were born in the depths of Asia!
All the details regarding the incident that took place at the airport of Moscow in 1970, with the group from Tashkent, were narrated twenty-five years later in Athens by Dimitris Christodoulou, the bouzouki of today's orchestra, who is unfortunately not alive anymore; he died very young, ten years ago.
In 1970, though, he was there too.
All these events took place a short time after dad was released by the Junta. Indeed, French politician Jean-Jacques Servan Schreiber had boldly asked Dictator Giorgos Papadopoulos in person to set him free, while dad was swelling dangerously.
His belly was bloated, so he was taken from the camp of Oropos to Agios Pavlos Hospital (the Hospital of Nikea today).
The Junta believed he had stomach cancer… They therefore thought that by releasing him, they would get rid of him!
However, it turned out that dad just had appendicitis, which had not been diagnosed and had thus caused peritonitis!
The rupture happened after dad was released, while he was in Rome, at a huge square, on 1 May 1970, on the stage with Enrico Berlinguer (who later became the leader of the Italian Communist Party and a historical leader of the Left), in front of hundreds of thousands of people, during the main May Day speech.
The crowd admired the hero, the resistance fighter, the communist; my father!
The crowd hurrahed before the revolutionist!
Italian people adored him!
Dad started his greeting in perfect Italian and then… fainted!
The operation at a hospital in Rome lasted over four hours, due to the fact that by then the pus had spread throughout his stomach.
“They took my intestines out and washed them!” dad told us later.
“I really almost died! A great doctor saved me.”
He was Berlinguer’s personal doctor.
We, the children, included this episode in the list with dad’s accomplishments!
As for Servan Schreiber, after the bravery he demonstrated, he triumphantly entered the French Parliament with his newly-founded party, Le Parti Radical.
And dad helped in this, we enthusiastically said!
All of the aforementioned events took place at the end of April 1970. We were still living in Nea Smyrni and were – as grown-ups used to say – hostages of the Junta.
That’s why we ran away on May Day!
Mum, Giorgos and I were disguised as French.
French friends of Schreiber helped us flee the country (and once we arrived in France, they became close friends of my parents too).
We pretended we were on a cruise in the Aegean on a sailboat (?), rented from ship-owner Potamianos (they didn’t know what our intentions were!)
We ended up in Chios.
From there, with French passports and mum wearing a brown wig, we reached Turkey with a liner boat.
Chios – Cesme!
This was our first trip abroad since our arrival in Greece from Paris quite a few years back, when we were still babies.
I was eleven years old and Giorgos was ten.
We arrived in Turkey by sea, like all Greeks – millions of Greeks – that had fled the country.
Before us lay the homeland of grandmother Aspa, dad’s mum!
A mythical town, a magical town, exactly as I had imagined it would be when I was still a little girl; I remember the stories my grandfathers and even more so my grandmothers used to tell me for years on end, when I was still a baby, about their lives back then, a very long time ago, in their ‘forgotten homeland’ (as I used to tell myself every time I was next to my tiny grandmother, Margarita).
I was a little girl and I was listening to my grandmother telling me about their lives there as if she was telling me an endless fairy-tale!
I was born a Smyrniot, a woman of Asia Minor origin!
That is why we lived in Nea Smyrni, one of the refugees’ neighbourhoods.
I was very proud that my best friend, Fani – who lived opposite our house, slightly to the right – had a Smyrniot grandmother and that her mother, Mrs Xenia, had gone to school at the legendary Evangelical School (Evangeliki Scholi), at Nea Smyrni’s Square, just like my mum and all the other female neighbours. Moreover, I am proud that my grandfather worked there until he retired, as a teacher and as principal of the Evangelical School of Nea Smyrni!
My grandfather, Ilias, my mum’s father, taught chemistry at the renowned Girls’ School of Smyrna (Parthenagogio tis Smyrnis), as well as at the Evangelical School of Smyrna!
Giorgos Seferis was one of his students!
But he was more than a chemist! My grandfather was wise! He used to speak to us in Turkish or in Ancient Greek, and he used to recite hundreds of palindromes in Ancient Greek. He cultivated crops in his back garden, where there was a big vineyard and fruit-bearing trees. He was a vegetarian with moderation, his main source of protein was fish, he knew what a healthy diet meant, he respected animals... Ah, my grandmother had an army of cats; as soon as she came out of the kitchen – her eternal kingdom – in the courtyard, tens of them ran behind her, with their tails up, as a sign of their joy and love. My grandmother had the flowers and the hidden huge olive tree on the pavement…
Our grandfather was a wise man and our grandmother a loving housewife.
Should I now say how I went to Smyrna and visited these schools with my children in 2010? That we managed to enter the Girls’ School after receiving permission from the present principal of the mixed high school? That no other Greek tourist had ever succeeded in entering the school and that aunt Stasa was very disappointed that they never let her in, although she had travelled countless times to her homeland?
We walked around the holy rooms feeling like triumphant winners!
We saw many boys and girls in uniforms coming out when the bell rang. Nowadays, they were Turkish.
We even managed to enter the Evangelical School. Today, it is a mixed school as well. We arrived at the amphitheatric room where the chemical laboratory was located and where my grandfather used to teach. It was exactly as aunt Stasa – who in October 2013 turned 100 (she was born in 1913) – had described it!
She knew exactly what this room looked like, because her father Ilias, who was my grandfather, used to take her with him to class when she was 5 years old, a young child still, namely in 1918!!!
I will not write anything else about these stories; there are so many of them, that I could fill entire volumes of books.
I do not know where to start. As I’m writing to you, thousands of other stories come to my mind and in particular pictures with my beloved grandfather Ilias, with whom we lived until 1 May 1970, when we secretly left our house in Nea Smyrni.
But neither we, the children, had a clue where we were going!
“We’re going on an excursion, dear children, since it’s May Day”, our mother told us. We felt confused, but believed her.
Because never before had mum suggested we did something so revolutionary for young children. Until then, our whole world was between Nea Smyrni and Vrahati.
(Our two houses, our two nests.)
It would have been insulting if mum went on excursions and to fairs, while dad was – until less than a week ago – a prisoner at the concentration camp of Oropos, together with thousands of his comrades.
We knew that and we were proud of our father's struggle. We knew everything and we understood that mum should always be left in peace, as her sadness was immense.
She did not tell the truth to her parents either. She was afraid they would force them to talk later…
“We’ll go on a May Day excursion with some French friends of ours,” she had told them.
While we were getting ready to leave, I could see in my grandmother Margarita’s eyes that she felt very nervous and worried. She used to walk to and fro, with her sick feet, always in a hurry.
My tiny grandmother!
My mum never saw her father again.
And we never saw our grandfather again.
One night back in 1971, in Paris, we received a call from Greece and my mother was told that my grandfather had died.
She went to a corner and cried.
That night, all three of us remained silent and left our mother in peace, with her grief. She could not go to his funeral.
We had lost our wise grandfather; we had been running around his old feet since we were babies.
Now we were fleeing the country, persecuted.
Here is Cesme before us!
Cesme, the town where the fairy-tales of grown-ups took place.
This is where grandmother Aspasia was born and raised.
The town, the port lay before my astonished eyes!
I will never forget the wooden houses built on the port’s dock, with their typical Muslim latticed balconies!
I saw them and it was like I always knew what they looked like!
The old wooden houses with their latticed closed balconies.
It was as though I was looking at an old, forgotten lithograph.
Then, we arrived in Smyrna, secretly again, so that the Turkish government would not officially find out about it. Had they been officially informed with respect to our arrival, it would have led to a diplomatic episode, as it would have meant that they were protecting fugitives of the Greek dictators.
Our French friends had arranged for us to secretly spend the night at the Club Méditerranée in Smyrna; the next day, we travelled by airplane from Smyrna to Graz.
Actually, since our stay at the Club Méditerranée was not official, the beds were not made and the bed-sheets, which had been put in our room in secret, had already been used, which upset our poor mother; however, as far as I can remember, we slept perfectly well!
This is how I returned to the homeland of my grandfathers and grandmothers, in an unorthodox way, secretly and just for twenty hours.
However, I did step on the land where my existence began!
I was still a very young girl. Nevertheless, these few moments were an intense experience for me, filled with emotion, as I realised that I had at last arrived at the lost land, at the land that was mine as well!
That is why I voraciously examined everything around me.
My eyes were dazzled, avidly admiring the landscape while we were traveling through the endless fields where Soultanina grapes were cultivated, from Cesme to Smyrna.
("These fields remind me of my grandfather's small vineyard at home," I thought.)
Later, when I was a grown-up girl and someone asked me which countries I had travelled to, I proudly answered: “First of all, I have been to Turkey, to Asia Minor, my homeland!"
And I was very proud!
Later on, I visited Cesme again, with my entire family: my mother, my father, Giorgos and my four children. Many other people came with us as well: all the employees at the office, musicians, singers, sound engineers, friends, journalists, film-makers, photographers and many people from Chios, the island where my dad was born.
Honestly, we were a very big group of Greeks traveling together back in 2005.
We were like a large group of friends going together to a big party, to a beautiful funfair.
To my father’s funfair. He would soon be walking in the narrow streets around Agia Sophia, the neighbourhood where his mother used to run and play when she was a child!
All these thoughts made me feel great emotion.
The members of the procession were moved as well.
Dad’s procession arrived in his birthplace, in an old homeland that was now a foreign country.
We were going on a pilgrimage all together.
There, the Greeks met up with the Turks, our countless friends, and all of us started the celebrations in the honour of our beloved father!
I must note that he was a father to us all!
At long last, he returned where he had started existing!
When the town came into sight, I barely recognised it!
Since the last time I went here, back in 1970, all the buildings, all the old houses had been demolished and replaced with modern imposing concrete constructions.
The truth is that they weren't ugly.
The town is very nice in its modern form.
Tens of thousands of tourists ‘inundated’ the legendary hotels-palaces, which dated from the times of the Greeks, with huge thermae and sulphurous pools in their bowels. All hotels without exception had such thermae!
Cesme means source.
Thousands of years ago, the Ancient Greeks had created on Asia Minor’s southern seaside, on these springs, famous beautiful towns with innumerable spas, usually close to a Nymphaion, thus honouring the nymphs, the goddesses of water, with small temples!
However, in 2005 the dream, the magical fairy-tale of the Orient, Giorgos and I used to listen to with thirst and fury when we were young children in Nea Smyrni, was missing.
The fairy-tale I had lived during my first maiden voyage, when I was a little girl – twelve years old at the most – was missing.
I would like to go back to our photograph at the Red Square in 1970 and describe the magical moments my brother and I experienced.
Maybe because every day we discovered places, the existence of which a young child could never have imagined. Indeed, we were children who until then were spending their days riding their bicycles around the neighbourhood, up to Amfitheas avenue; whatever existed beyond that point was like a different country to us!
Our children’s world was really tiny!
Maybe another reason why the moments we experienced seemed magical to us is that within three months we travelled five countries by airplane, train, fighter-ship and military helicopter.
Or, maybe because through with my father – how unbelievable – we met leaders who are today the subject of history books.
What’s for sure, however, is that the experience was magical to us because, while being in our mother’s arms, we were now and forever together with our father, who we caressed, who hugged us, who we kissed, who took us in his huge arms, who we never stopped talking to; indeed, we kept on talking to him. And who also talked to us, and incessantly told us various stories.
(Everybody knows how it is when one meets up with him: he is usually the only person talking, for hours on end, while his friends and invitees listen to him enchanted!)
Our life has been a fairy-tale and our dad has been its main writer!
On the photograph, he was ours! He was our dad!
They were both ours and were now with us!
We would never part again!
Indeed, we have never parted to date!
“Tri and tri and tri and tri, dad is going for a pee”.
We used to paraphrase Elytis’s poem, when dad stopped the ‘frog’ on the Athens-Corinth national road to take a pee.
Every time our dad started the Citroen, which was a fantastic car to us, it went up self-inflating. On the back seats, we tightly and proudly held the door handle, waiting for our amazing dad to start driving.
“Tri and tri and tri and tri…”
He always stopped to take a pee. This was a very personal moment, but I must mention it, so you can understand us better.
It was our chance to sing our remake of dad’s beautiful song from the ‘The Small Cyclades’.
Mum used to sing along with us, for the fun of it.
We usually stopped at Kakia Skala.
Athens – Vrahati – Vrahati – Athens.
Every weekend, he lived with us again, away from the awful Security Police Building located at Bouboulinas Street, the numerous prisons, concentration camps and exiles.
We had become used to the prisons, the informers and the gendarmes. We had even become used to the army raids on our deserted house in Nea Smyrni, back when they were relentlessly looking for him, while he was hiding in Athens, going from one house to the other.
All this happened from 21 April 1967 to early August, when he was caught in Haidari, in Maria's house, hidden behind a piano.
One can become used to anything.
Even to fear.
It does not surprise you at all.
One can become used to anything.
I think of these times with nostalgia.
One day, if you want, I'll tell you about the time when the army made a raid in our house, in the middle of the night!
It was like a pogrom against Jews.
But when I think of all these events, I smile.
I will never forget the young and handsome soldier who savagely, coercively and frighteningly pushed us kids with his rifle's bayonet.
He was so cute and good-looking! He was blond, short and angry and he was yelling, but we got used to that as well!
Athens – Vrahati – Vrahati – Athens.
Athens – Vrahati – Vrahati – Athens.
Fifty years have gone by since that first time in 1964.
Dad, mum, Giorgos and I.
Like on the photograph at the Red Square.
As for the ancient times of Ionia, what more can I write?
That’s what I've been writing about for hours now.
Then, now, we’re always the same.
So close to eternity!
Always the same, with the same zeal, the same joy, having fun, singing, dancing!
This land is both theirs and ours.
There's nothing nationalistic in what I am saying.
Just sweet feelings. Sweet feelings for our homeland.
For my family’s homeland.