In those days I was writing the last chapters of the novel “The City has been taken… been taken”. And my soul was sick
It’s February 1996 and I have to visit Hayward University in California because they are staging my Antigone there. For three years this production was being prepared, with professor Rhoda Kaufman herself in collaboration with Minoas translating the play and direction by Edgardo De La Cruz, professor of stage direction in the university.
And here’s how it happened. At the Second International Women Playwrights Conference held in Toronto, in 1991, I had declared the opening with a speech titled “Antigone – A symbol of woman’s dignity”, Rhoda Kaufman, a theatrical professor at Hayward University, was moved, she said, by the speech and asked me if I had written a play about Antigone’s myth. It was the beginning of a great friendship that lasted for years. I remember she had come to Lemnos with her husband, Terry, to interview me before the staging of the play was even approved by the university.
And now, February 1996, with the novel The City has been taken, in the last frantic days just before the “The City has fallen” sounded, I had to stop writing and get ready for California. It was impossible for me. It was the time I was walking on the streets and crying. And I didn’t even know if I was walking the streets of Athens or Basilica Street and St. Romanos Gate, the streets of the Capital that was dying. “I can’t”, I told them. I can not come. I’m sick. My soul is sick. I couldn’t convince them. They had organized a whole week of Greek culture and I needed to be there, they said. I had to prepare speeches, meetings. And I couldn’t even move my little finger, such was the pain writing this book. And yet I went. I was sick all the days I stayed there. Weak. I just wanted to cry. And they did their best to honor me and thank me. Among the events they had prepared for “Greek Culture Week”, they had also planned an event at Berkeley University in my honor and poetry reading from the Mystic Passage, translated by professor Theony Condos. Crowds of students and people had come and the university’s huge Dwinelle Hall was bursting with energy.
Sappho, Pindar, as well as some of the modern Greek poetry was read along with mine. I remember looking at the enormous room that was shining and trying to take in this deeply emotional moment, trying to realize the extraordinary honor given to me. And when it was my turn to read in Greek the Eighth Passage of the poetry collection ”Mystic Passage” titled “Of Asia Minor” which was dedicated to my father, my voice choked. And when I read the lyrics:
Bell of Hagia Sophia
Bit by bit may thou break the silence
And once more may the new ages sound the Resurrection
May an azure glory sprout
Upon the lamentation of the ruins
From this glory of thine that will come
From this flash of the lightning bolt
was I born
That is why my voice, too,
Is a loosened bell
That still weeps.
Then, I started crying. And I’m still ashamed. I’m still sorry I didn’t have the strength to enjoy that fine afternoon at UC Berkeley Campus, California, on February 13, 1996. Then, when I returned to Greece with pneumonia, because my body had lost all its defenses, I didn’t want to think of anything. I felt like someone was punishing me. The thousand pages of the novel, I would say. But that was absurd. And when I recovered, I took the half-finished manuscripts again and continued my work. But in a hurry. I couldn’t stand it anymore. This novel had exhausted me. And I knew that my soul would forever hold the grief and lament of those last days of the Capital. And that’s how it is.
Standing at the edge of the time today, May 2012, I am living again with all that grief and the cry of mourning that travels through time and comes to me. Let me also note that in those days when I was in California, February 1996, a translation of my poetic collection Mystic Passage was published in Stockholm by Bonniers, translated by Ingemar Rhedin, a translator of Elytis and a devoted admirer of this poetry. But I was in such a state of collapse that I couldn’t even enjoy it.
And when the publisher Karl Otto BONNIER himself invited me to go to Stockholm to commemorate the book’s release, my soul was still sick from the Capital’s lament, and I refused. Some decisions are made only in a few moments, but they hurt us forever.
Small events that they hurt us forever, February 1996