Monday, July 17, 2006

Morbus Memoriae

Last Wednesday a pearl of beauty slipped into my pocket unexpectedly: The cultural committee of our Municipality brought to the new open theater on the mountainous slope Maria Farantouri for a single performance along with Mode Plagale (an experienced group which plays traditional tunes in the Jazz mood), Martha Frintzila (a great voice with a touch of dramatic interpretation of the songs). Sometimes it is difficult to explain the artistic impact to people who do not know the scene of a particular country or language.
How would I explain the value of and the appreciation towards Maria Farantouri? I guess that the easiest way, but not the most successful, is through equivalents. She is in a way the equivalent of Fayrouz for the Greek audience, a stable point of reference since the early ‘70s, always working with the most important composers and singing some of the best samples of our modern and contemporary poetry. The performance lasted for almost two hours and she appeared during the second and longer part. Older than I recalled her, heavy in moving, playful and serious, with a volume of melody that one can never enjoy in recordings, since I had the chance to watch from very close how she controlled the rhythm with a dual motion of her hands and body. One hand was keeping the stable rhythmic theme while the other resembled to a needle marking the details of the embroidery.
At some point, Argyris, my good friend, whispered in admiration “Listen how she modified the tune from the first verse to the couplet!” Indeed it was a song of Theodorakis, “Who is chasing my life?” «Ποιος τη ζωή μου ποιος την κυνηγάει;» Who is chasing my life? These interpellations may cancel my practical spirit for days; especially if other details are combined with the initial surprise. And there were plenty of other details: the huge orange moon, two days after its climax in brightness, the view to the plains and the distant lights of the town and the high way, the memory of a similar night at the ancient theater of Filippoi, not far from here, not very different view from here, in 1985 that she had sung some songs of Manos Hadjidakis. Much younger she had been, her limps had not been obstructing her yet from moving, and the generous lungs had not been giving yet such a clear image of a fully controlled austere mode. This human-centered austerity, which is delivered with grace awaking senses, delicate feeling and logic I consider it to be t h e trustworthy sign of a classic form of art. (AND THIS IS AN ABSOLUTELY POSITIVE REMARK).
Moreover, there was in my heart the final symptom of the Morbus Memoriae (Μνήμης Νούσος): the Memory Disease. Two hours before the concert I was informed that A.S. died, after two years of desperate struggle with memory and oblivion. She was my favorite mom’s friend and I was her favorite friends’ child. She used to bring me sweets every time I had my name’s day, or any other event such as graduation, career step, or whatsoever. I used to give her honest, wholehearted kisses over our reunion and then she started forgetting and getting confused: First the names and then the affinities among people, who is the son of whom, and then the generations, who is younger, who can be nephew of whom. Everything became a sticky entity with no borderlines. She did not know what is yesterday and what the actual time is. She was searching in deep agony the secret path that would take her to the “other” town, the same town with the same name and with the same streets, but a better place for her: she meant our town some thirty years ago. She was telling my mother that she could not rest a single moment, because in her house her father and mother were going up and down the stairs, calling her name and cooking in her kitchen. Actually, both of them had died man years ago. She had the disease of memory, which I believe is a magic curse, to enter the land of memory, without the manipulations of an opportunistic check-point of the present. In this vast land of yesterdays, of many selves overshadowing each other, things go according to their gravity and not according to our present needs of survival. Someone who appeared for few days in our lives thirty years ago becomes much more significant than someone we spent a lifetime with… The houses are the same, but the paint on the walls is fresh, the bricks still bring the heat of the furnace and the flower pots are used for the first time.

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