1.12.2011

Κοινωνία

A better life

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A better life

In the eyes of Loredana there are centuries of travelling. There is a tradition rooted in a family’s history she can trace to the VII century AD, when her ancestors populated the village of Dobrinovo – today Iliochori. But during the period of the Slavic hegemony in the Epirus the town of Dobrinovo already existed, and therefore Loredana’s blood line might as well spring from a deeper vain. She laughs at it: “No matter the name, the soil is the same, and there is where I’m going.” The intensity of her voice, the candour of her teeth, makes me shiver as in front of a magnificent creature.

Acquainted to farewells, she gave me appointment at the Hotel Grande Bretagne’s Winter Garden. In there, to the stained glass that adorns the ceiling, to the intricate marble floor, and the creams and gold that surrounded us, any expression of sorrow would mean nothing more than a child’s cry against the canvas of times past.

Everything seemed so simple: the way in which her father visited my grandfather in 1940; on the path of his ancestors, who travelled towards Vienna as herbs’ bearers, Vikos doctors they used to call them. The way in which both our grandfathers ended up in the same Austrian-Hungarian hospital in Pardubice, that back in 1916 was called Pardubitz. The way in which my own father played on her father’s lap, and the Greek became his Godfather in 1928. Finally, the afternoon in which we exchanged phone numbers over a common interest; and we both froze, in disbelief, at the sound of our surnames. To recognize the past in a stranger’s face is nothing less than to find lost family.

“I go home… to the herbs of Pindos”, she finally told me. I felt relief, “I shall not lose her, yet.” I thought.

“To the village, out of Athens’ madness!” I toasted in a dash.

Then, the fresh-brewed coffee, and warm pastries; the overall feeling of refined turn-of-the-century elegance induced us to whisper, lulled us into silence.

She smiled, fully recognizing my feelings but uttering none; her eyes suddenly watery, she lowered the gaze.

“We could be in a scene from 1900.” She joked over a sip of tea. Did she know he had been a guest at the hotel, Bernardo Bertolucci? Had she staged everything, as wise people do?

In there the abrasive quality of our times subdued for a moment, allies the soft hum of hushed words, the light steps, the sparkle of crystal glasses, the tender touch of damask napkins. The toilsome knowledge that Loredana is almost bankrupt softened as well. An historian, who turned into an antiquarian bookseller, she became aware it was time to change her life radically, once again, some months ago.

“I’d better before I start to look into the wheelie bins for food like others do!” she joked.

I failed, found nothing to say. Lost in the glossy mass of hair that can hardly be bent into a knot; on those lips sipping at life aggressively, on those lowered lustrous lashes that hid her amber iris, I remained mute. Then, eyes pointed into mine: “It is a better life if you know who you are, and act upon it”, she stated with a brave smile.

She is not the only one who acted upon it. I farewelled several people in the last few months; they all abandoned the city for a quality of life hard to find in Athens. Among them there is a director of photography that decided to move away, deep into the hills of Peloponnese, and now teaches children how film’s language works, the rest of his needs are covered by the crop his land produces. There is a film director who a few years ago arrived from the States, settled in Athens and worked in the flourishing advertisement market. Last month he moved to northern Greece:

“I want my children to know what seasons look like, what fresh fruits taste like, what real water is.” Determined, he set up an organic production of grapes with some winemakers, and never uttered a word on the lack of work that pushed him out of Athens.

As it happened, we spent the whole day together, Loredana and I. In the night, tipsy from the wine she insisted I drank, I let my memory go to our last day in Trieste. This time I was the one leaving, and she wanted to see me: a blue velvet hat well set on her flowing hair, an attitude like no others, she escorted me around town to see I find what I needed. We walked in a Christmas frenzy of lights and jingle bells; laughed all the way through on my attempts to understand the many languages she speaks, but mostly loved the snow. As we were about to part, thick powdered flakes started to fall, and that image of us did not fade. Back then, as now, times where changing and we had to move on.

As I returned to my flat, stepping on the cobblestones of Ermou street, I wished more people had the courage to move, to change, to react to the blows life strike us with.

“We belong to an economy of scales. We naturally understand the advantages one obtains due to change…Do not look at parliaments, look at the people already on the move. They are the force of life.” She smiled and throw at me.

She seemed so right, like a caravan lady who fears nothing; who belongs to the people able to do what is needed, as her family did when business brought them to Vienna. I can not but admire her determination, her dignity, and grace.

As for me, I shall visit her. We shall walk the gorge on the path of her family, drink the tea she picks personally, and tell stories.

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Γράφει η Romana Turina

Romana TurinaRomana Turina is a lecturer in Communication at the University of Indianapolis. She works as screenwriter and research thematics concerning dramaturgy, memory studies, and animation as applied to the divulgation of knowledge.

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