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From the Editor: You can go home again
Director Alexander Payne says he plans to go to Greece in June and perhaps stay there for a while to shoot some film, and hone his language skills, and reconnect with his heritage. (His family comes from Syros, Livadia, and Aegio.) And he feels bully about it, despite the woes that Greece is going through.
“This crisis affecting Greece I feel is energizing my DNA. When I hear things about Greece, I feel, I can say that, you can’t say that! I can say bad things about Greece if I want, but you shut up! It doesn’t necessarily help or cure anything but it helps somewhere. I just think it’s the right time for artists including those Greek artists of the Diaspora to make beautiful things and do so somehow with the consciousness of being Greek and helping Greece in mind. Now that sounds kind of vague. I don’t know exactly what that means, even though I’m saying it, but I stick by it!”
This rallying around the old country is not an isolated incident. There is another filmmaker who visits Greece now more than he ever did before, even though he says conditions are going from bad to worse. His father has lost more than two thirds of his pension, and “people are not allowed to get sick because they can’t afford it—they get hospital bills for things that were paid for before but now they have even less money to pay for them!” But he says there is plenty of work for him and continued interest in the beauties of Greece—a parallel universe in which the rest of the world continues to see Greece as the land of gorgeous sea and sky and can’t wait to visit.
And there is the story of Eleni Gage (featured in NEO several years ago), the daughter of Nick Gage, the author of ELENI, and the namesake of her martyred grandmother. The younger Eleni for years tried not to think about her grandmother and what she had endured. Until one day she decided that she needed to return to the village where her grandmother had died, return to the house where she had been kept as a prisoner and tortured in her own basement, and reclaim it in her grandmother’s name.
So she left her career in the magazine world behind (a celebrity editor at PEOPLE with a degree from Harvard) and she went back to the village of Lia and rebuilt her grandmother’s house and then spent enough time living in it to imbibe her grandmother’s spirit (an experience she wrote about in her book NORTH OF ITHAKA).
I visited Greece about two years after a long absence, and while the Greece I remember has changed, it’s in fact even more beautiful and wonderful (with all its troubles), and the visit did energize my own DNA by connecting me with friends and relatives I hadn’t seen in years and reminding me where I came from and where my parents came from and how they kept the faith through the inspiration of these mountains they left behind. This was their world, and now it had become mine, again.
Dimitri C. Michalakis