Of Certain Places, At Certain Times
In these nameless times, it’s even hard to think what to say. There have been many rapacious initiatives that have violently congested media channels with pseudo-exhibitions, live conversations and digital performances that most of the time have not been able to distract from the impetuous Covid-ride that was advancing on the horizon. But they often revealed an evident self-referentiality and a widespread lack of participation. Thoughts led nowhere, perhaps kidnapped by that daily bulletin that sounded so warlike, that it even frustrated our ability as passive listeners. There are times for cultivating, and there are other times for waiting, to which we are probably no longer accustomed, either culturally or socially.
Looking back over the last three months, it becomes difficult to identify a noteworthy remodulation in the panorama of cultural mediation. The first wave of Covid-19 certainly saw a general decline in the use (and power?) of the image. Unable to give a face to the virus – the devious power of invisibility – unable to say goodbye to our loved ones, we had to return to a predominantly numerical reading of death (images of exhausted doctors and military trucks full of coffins are collateral descriptions of an evil without image) losing all contact with life, that is, with the relationship.
Today, we hope and expect a resumption, a full return to the live experience, and September, in the cultural industry, is more congested than ever – everything that has been blocked in recent months has flowed into it.
Now, instead of starting to write again re-proposing myself uncritically in the media flow (as if nothing happened), I feel the need to give voice to the time I have lived, sharing it, or rather introducing the transversal images that have stimulated my phantasia.
This time has given me the space of the book – and the book by its nature opens, turn and unfolds. Or rather, it has been the time of detective novels. I now wonder if, with so much death around me, the attempt to exorcise it through more death has been effective.
I have been a great reader of the genre since adolescence, but in recent times I had lost the feeling, until I ran into Petros Márkaris, a Greek-Armenian writer (Istanbul, 1937) and his police investigator Costas Haritos.
Márkaris led me into the core of the major crisis that hit Greece just over ten years ago, through police investigations and glimpses of everyday life of a simple middle-class family in a chaotic Athens, like that of Haritos, with a daughter tempted by the experience abroad to find a deserving post-doctoral work. Without forgetting the geo-political framework, with various notes on Balkan immigration and significant focuses on Greek minorities on the Turkish side of the Mediterranean, Márkaris – himself part of a minority – presents human, deeply human characters that it is hard not to empathize with.
In the several investigations, we find Haritos facing the end of a culture, that of the dissidents (the students of the Polytechnic) who rebelled against the military dictatorship of the late ’60s – early ’70s (the Regime of the Colonels), who later became the ruling class of a system of patronage, like the previous one, far from frankness.
In the detective stories of Márkaris all the recent Greek history find space, and we encounter stories related to fascism, communism, civil war, immigration, presented with a deep psychological examination of the characters and a reconstruction able not to fall into trivial morality.
Greece struggles, grief and destruction mark a tired-looking Athens, which feels the weight of its history. In one of the dystopian novels (Bread, Education, Liberty), the Euro-exit of Greece, Spain and Italy and the return of the national currencies are even hypothesized: it appears that more than dystopian it was a real nightmare. Márkaris’ narrative starts with the weakest, and never leaves them behind. On the contrary, it seems that by telling their lives, he tries to elevate their actions, finding in the details, in the strong family ties, in the smiley dialogue a (useful) palliative that distracts from the unfortunate time that the characters (and all of us) are forced to live.
Reading of a misplaced Athens, of its traffic that finally becomes smooth but instead of being the sign of a renewed road system marks the rhythm of the crisis – nobody can afford to let the car out of the garage anymore – perceiving the suffering of the Greeks of Constantinople, hidden in a city that doesn’t even recognize them (Earlier, Much Earlier) may seem unsuitable, and yet it had a cathartic value.
Márkaris has embarked me to the anachronic journey through images. A journey that exploits all those minutiae, those unusual details of past experiences that reappear as traces of meaning. In my imagination the Athens of detective Haritos merges with the Minoan Crete, where the origins of the myth of Narcissus are lost in the matriarchy of Ariadne; in my mind the indigenous Greek community of Istanbul finds its absolution (or punishment) in the Christ in anger of the Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora.
Márkaris brings me back to Morocco, who knows why, to the Menara gardens of Marrakesh, maybe for the warm air of the heatwave and the colors melted under the weight of an atmosphere too thick not to be perceived… that immense basin of water where, by now, you cannot reflect any more, until you find yourself, upside down, looking at the black sky of an raining Athens, crossed by an icy wind whispering Limit to your love by James Blake. James blake. How does he connect to Márkaris? Yet, there is in this journey along with campo San Polo, Venice and its sun, the red bench, the cry of the children, the workers at work. It is the end of June and we wonder how we have already got this far. Some months have been devoured by fear, others have been taken away by a winter when you can’t remember a drop of rain, and even this you wonder if it is normal.
I am writing as I am about to finish the third and last detective story set in the background of the Greek crisis. I am writing as I juxtapose the palm trees of a city in North Africa to this crisis. Those gardens… that warmth and light on that pool that today struggles to find a place in a neighborhood where capitalism shows its most shameless impertinence… that pool requires space as the city expands, devouring the earth. The mirror resists, but the city is now at its sides: what will find place in tomorrow’s anti-crisis thinking?