30.10.2011

Κοινωνία

Greek flags and Victor Horta

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Greek flags and Victor Horta

The decisions taken by the European Union leaders early on Thursday has ensured that Greece’s debt will be sustainable in the long term; however, there was not a real sense of relief among the people of Athens. On the contrary, a recent experience tells me that people already seem to be on the march to face an entirely different era.

As most families in Athens set Greek flags on their balconies, I arrived at Mr. Novak’s home, an architect from Ljubljana who maintains a flat in the city for the past five years. He decided to have a little party to celebrate the 28th of October with his Greek friends, and I was lucky enough to be among them.

Mr. Novak and I met back home, in Slovenia, while I was trying to trace the history of my family, as it was persecuted by the Italian fascists in Trieste, and in Ljubljana during the Second World War. A reserved man, at first he had observed me for a long time behind his elegant glasses; then, he invited me for a glass of handmade apple juice, willing to hear my story. We parted with the promise to meet again, this time in Athens.

I entered the block of flats where he lodges at ease. In the elevator I ended up fearing for my safety while it lifted itself laboriously to the last floor; as a result, I knocked at Mr. Novak’s door with a sense of joyful relief. In less than a minute I found myself on the sunbathed terrace, the first to arrive. Up there, a hidden garden awaited me but my eyes were immediately captured by a piece of stone carved in what was clearly art nouveau style.

As the master of the house joined me with some freshly made Orehove Rezine, a walnut cake worthy of a fairy, I was still mesmerized at my discovery. I recognize that piece of stone but I could not recall its origin. Everything I was aware of was that it did not belonged to Athens; it seemed to come from Tromostovje, Miklosicev park or Presemova street in Ljubljana.

“I did not bring it along from home, if this is what you think.” Miha whispered to me, mirth in his face. “I found it here. It is a piece of the Maison du Peuple.”

The carved stone belonged to the first example of art nouveau building, which was designed by Victor Horta (1861- 1947) for the Belgian labour party in 1896 in Bruxelles. To the great distress of the international public opinion, and a coalition of 700 architects from all over the world, the huge and beautiful palace was demolished in 1965. Among the architects was the former owner of the flat, who joined a band of Venetian students in a quest to save some parts of the building – mostly finely curved metallic parts, and stones. The arrival of the token on the terrace followed her return home.

In recent years, Ms. Marika would not sell the flat but to another fellow architect, who would understand the value of that relic. What is more, it had to be a plant lover, since she wished to see her selection of Greek herbs and veggies, in the greenhouse next to Horta’s masterpiece, survive the changes of time.

The news that most of Mr. Novak’s Greek friends would visit him especially to learn about the greenhouse came as a surprise to me. I soon learned that more and more greenhouses continue to appear on the top of several Greek blocks of flats, as well as on large balconies, and gardens of little detached houses. Mr. Novak’s enthusiasm is evident: “Necessity makes people go back to nature. For many this begins with a pot and a wish to pick their own cherry tomatoes!”

The sweetness, the enchanted marvel of Victor Horta’s new style reverberated in me with those words. People need nature and they come back to it again and again as time pass by, always in unexpected ways. In this case, the greenhouse and its content were the centre of the attention for a whole bunch of friends during the long sunny afternoon.

I continued to glance at the carved stone as I heard intellectuals and executives ask about the best way to grow veggies on a balcony. It felt as if we were under the best spell we could ask for: the scented leaves, the delicate arms of the plants stretching themselves on the greenhouse’s grid, and those iron jambs that had been bent so to match the art nouveau stone close-by, spoke of the energy of life as intended by Victor Horta from the very beginning. Instinctively, I promised myself I would make time to visit the Horta Grand Café en Art Nouveau Zaal in Antwerp, where part of the Maison du Peuple’s interiors have been used to build a large café.

It was a special 28th of October. At dinner, we celebrated the value of the Greek people, recalled Mussolini’s wish to impress Hitler in attacking Greece, and the Germans who had to run to his rescue. A British writer said a few words on the Greek fierce resistance; because there was a time when the Greeks stood alone, side by side with the British, against Fascism and Nazism. Back then, the most powerful army in Europe, the Germans troops, were almost decimated in Greece. The loss were such that Hitler found himself forced to delay an attack to Russia, a mistake that helped the Allies to defeat him.

Later on, as I helped my friend in clearing the terrace from the leftovers, watching the Greek flags in display on most of the balconies around us, he admitted he would like to see the Greek people make their country great once more. There is not a doubt that Mr. Novak has great faith in this, as many of us foreigners do.

I accepted a slice of that freshly made Orehove Rezine, as it is customary in Slovenia not to let a guest leave without a token of our friendship, and agreed to meet again once at home. We both smiled at those words, both conscious that we somehow were at home already.

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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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