Icons for Life, Images of Death
Nevertheless, I did not take any step; I just posted him my thanks and shared some personal point of view concerning Petropoulos. I was so pleasantly shocked to know that in 2003 he took his steps to their honest end, asking a friend, after the cremation of his corpse to dispose the ashes in the sewer of Paris. Wise as always, he knew that, first, some virtuous voices would not allow that in Greece, or would spoil the dignity of death with their virtue, and, second, that the places where we spend long years, big proportions of this mess which is cut and trimmed in biographies, and is named "life", become in principle suitable fatherlands for death. I have to get this volume, I had a look at it, it looked great with all these photographs he had been obsessively gathering and taking from graves, processions, tombstones, reliefs, the short and definite Curricula Vitarum on marble, wood, cement, stone, a common nothingness on occasions of extreme pressure or poverty. And his comments. Most of the times, the arrangement and the selection were adequate texts by themselves. It has to be gotten during one of my "Flying Dutch" adventures.
Since the 1960s he gathered much (10.000 photographs), he pondered a lot and he found meaningful this sociology and cult of death, in the sense that it was commenting more on life than its negation. I remind myself here that this is also true in "Les Dances Macabres" of the late Middle Ages. By fearing the end, we find the vitality to live some instances of forced difference and meaning, out of the gray zone of work-home-pension-future- to-secure-for-children-and-for-the- hard-times-to-come-Gracious- God-spare-us. And He/She never does. Does He/She? The critics and reviewers underline his achievement: to prove that Greece as a concept of Life at its human scale, crazy and wise, as a Golden Principle shown basically through its violations and the human compassion to them (English uses the wrong term Empathy for the above described condition), to the imperfection (knowing the value of Perfection)is to be found in the towns, villages, working class areas, the mixed racially customs of some regions. Athens and Thessaloniki (the central graveyards, this is) are so linear and boring in the way the extend their hand to bid a farewell to their departing citizens.
Petropoulos is a strange combination of a folklore studies scholar, of a philologist, a theorist and a sociologist. Let me mention here some of the titles of his books: Songs of the Greek Underworld: the Tradition of Rebetika, Old Salonica, Wooden Doors, Iron Doors in Greece, Of the Prison, Underworld and Karagkiozis, The Turkish Coffee in Greece, Kaliarda: the Jargon of the Greek Homosexuals, the Brothel, The Holy Weed, Le kiosque Grec, Cages a Oiseaux en Grece, Les Juifs de Salonique: In Memoriam, and many-many-many more.
For me, apart from the bliss of reading good texts on prohibited, or red-zone issues, he is special in this way: Perhaps there is hardly any contemporary intellectual in my language engaged with the great values of Enlightenment, continuing this French bred tradition: I mean secularism, freedom in writing and exploring, criticism to nationalism as a system that violates or, simply, obscures the Social Pact foundations of Equality, and of the Rights beyond colour, language, faith, religious convictions and so on. At the same time, he possesses the passion of romanticism and its reiteration or specification in Realism and, especially, Naturalism. His interest in the underworld, the suffering ethnic groups, the classified "deviations" of human sexuality, indicate a strange mixture of the two gladiators of theory. The eyes of Zola but the interpellation of Voltaire.