Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Alonnisos Literary Festival

Well, no; not really: not yet anyway.

About twenty-five years ago as I was strolling about the harbour front with an English friend, we noticed an office with the sign ‘Alonnisos Cultural Organization’ and I’m afraid we fell about laughing: at that time, Alonnisos’s only noticeable contribution to culture had been a variety of deep-fried cheese pie guaranteed to send one’s cholesterol levels into the red. Things did change, but even so, when Kyriaki from Thessaloniki told me a couple of years ago that she planned to open a bookshop here in this little village at the top of the mountain, I concluded that she must be quite bonkers. True, illiteracy was no longer the norm in the local population; the younger generation could at least, when necessary, read and write, but very few households contained any books at all. (Yes, all right, there wasn’t a bookshop — duh — but there are bookshops in neighbouring islands and some very good ones in Volos, our nearest mainland city.)

Undaunted, Kyriaki found premises and opened her bookshop. It is also a café, and several of the regular local customers never look at the books but concentrate on the tsipouro with mezé. Kyriaki is uncompromising in her literary tastes; no airport novels, only good books, and the only foreign language books are translations of Greek classics and ‘modern classics’. Mainland Greek visitors sometimes remark that here they can find books they have difficulty finding at home.

Literary festival? Well, to date there have been two ‘Presentations’, at which publishers and writers talked about new books. The first presentation was about a new English edition of Cavafy’s selected poems, translated by David Connolly, who is the best. Lots of people, foreign and Greek, came. That was last year. The other day, there was another presentation, this time concerning a bilingual edition (English translation by me) of Στοχασμοί — ‘Reflections’ — by the Kephallonian writer Andreas Laskaratos. Gratifyingly, yet again lots of people turned up, many of them foreigners who were unlikely to have heard of Laskaratos, a nineteenth century acid satirist who was excommunicated for his criticism of the Orthodox clergy. (Excommunication, and anathematising of the books themselves, does wonders for sales.)

Here are some pictures of the event: (At the table, the chap with very little hair is the publisher, also called Laskaratos, and the chap with too much hair is me.)



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