THAT WILD HORSE CALLED LIFE
By Mary-Angela Bowie Barnett 2010
By Mary-Angela Bowie Barnett 2010
Greece is a patriarchal social system no matter how you toss the salad. Women and children are the first to suffer due to war, the economy or government upheaval. The facts are the same the world over. Women have faced political repression and the deaf ears of a patriarchal system and have done so for many years. The young women of the 21st century will not stand for that treatment. But your ancestors, 20th century women came back as international opera stars such as Maria Callas, as shipping and property magnates like Christina Onassis who owned an empire that moved oil around the world and fueled the economy of Greece, like Helen Vlachos who owned newspapers, writers, actors, musicians, fighters, protesters, women refused to accept censorship.
Apart from being a successful people in their philosophy and achievements in the arts and sciences, Greece has always been a sea-faring nation. The Aegean archipelago contains 3000 islands; so if the Greeks were not exploring, trading fishing or generally just tramping about having fun on the ocean, someone had to stay at home and rear the children and keep the family estate functioning and these tasks often fell to the women. The last two centuries have seen a wild expansion in both population and how and where to make a living; it has affected the whole planet and caused much migration.
Greek women won the right to vote in their country’s elections after WWII, in 1953. It was twenty-three years after American women got the vote but 20 years BEFORE women in Switzerland obtained suffrage. So by the middle of the century, there was a possibility for women to make progress again socially, politically, in the work place and in the arts.
Professional women include women in the military as of 2008 but they are a volunteer force as opposed to the National Guard which is compulsory conscription for all Greek men. Greek women are well-educated and professionally trained and run their homes and families with total autocracy. A women’s role in Greek life is the lady of the house; she is the final word on hearth and home!
Being a woman in Greece, standing astride two continents, bordering on four countries: Albania, Turkey, Bulgaria and Fyrom and coping with the customs of two religions, Greek Orthodoxy and Islam, two cultures, two ways of viewing woman and family, the situation is schizophrenic and requires both intellect and stamina to navigate the perilous straits of 21st century society (i). It is understandable why the lure of education abroad nurtures the talent & ambition of Greek women. And then there are the politics. Often going to Australia, Canada or America, especially South America are preferable than remaining in Greece when the political situation is in upheaval.
Greece and the United States are closely involved in each other’s current events. After WWII, a communist witch-hunt was conducted by the House of Un-American activities, they held investigations, made lists and ordered hearings from 1947-1957. It took another 20 years to break the effects of being black-listed by the collaborators who sold out their fellow artists. The collaborators included Walt Disney, Ronald Reagan and actor Adolphe Menjou, they declared that Hollywood was a nest of communist agitators and spies dropping communist messages into scripts and undermining the rights of the individual. (ii), (iii)
Those who cooperated with the hearings claimed greed as their justification. They spouted jingoistic platitudes, trotted out by panic merchants playing footsie with right wing government interests. They were challenged by Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart, Danny Kaye and John Huston. Thus political lines were drawn and actors understood that as part of their mission and occupation they needed to choose an ethical evaluation of their political stance. Meanwhile back in Greece a whole other drama was being played out that would unite Greece and the United States not through politics but through a historical old style marriage of power and the players were larger than life modern day celebrities the first crop to become famous due to television. It was a power game of status and celebrity; what did you bring to the table?
Onassis brought a fleet of oil tankers ready to fuel the planet to the table. Onassis was a player not only due to his inevitable wealth but the way in which he made money, moving oil (shipping) and property (development), he was way ahead of his time. He envisioned and supported financially the containerization of the shipping business.
Aristotle Onassis arrived in Buenos Aires at the age of 17. He was well-educated and spoke four languages, Spanish, Turkish, English and Greek, Aristotle Onassis’ father owned a fleet of 10 ships and employed 40 sailors. After WWI, Onassis’ family became refugees when Turkey regained control of Smyrna. Ari lost many of his family in the Great Smyrna Fire when the Turks torched Christians sheltering in a church.
Onassis said, ‘If women didn't exist, all the money in the world would have no meaning.’ Aristotle (40) married Athina Livanos (17) and they had two children Alexander and Christina, born in New York. Athina later married Stavros Niarchos, a competitor in the Greek shipping business, these larger than life activities and marriages filled the magazines of the world.
In 1960, Cyprus became an independent Republic. The tactics of EOKA guided by General George Grivas –subtly promoting ENOSIS while pretending to be a friend to the much anticipated independent Cyprus and the genius of Archbishop Makarios succeeded in energizing the Cypriot population, Cyprus and her representatives joined the chant for liberation by British colonies around the world. The British withdrew and Cyprus was emancipated, ‘Free at last…’
In 1961, John F. Kennedy was elected president of the United States and his wife Jackie was a visual & diplomatic asset for the image and young family feel that Kennedy’s presidency conveyed to the world. It was a short-lived presidency barely 3 years before John Kennedy was cut down in his prime, assassinated in Dallas in 1963.
On the other side of the world, opera star Maria Callas was an up and coming star. The rivalry between her and Renata Tibaldi kept the opera world titillated and tickets sold out wherever they sang. She was born in New York and by age 22, Maria had given 56 performances and 20 recitals. Her artistic inner turmoil which powered her musical engine was the mother’s preference for her sister. Callas recognized her phobia which caused her to be overweight. The single-minded, purposeful, disciplined woman took charge and lost 80 pounds in 1953 and 1954. Callas went from the beautiful voice in a frumpish operatic type costume to being a glorious beautiful diva whose voice was recognized around the world.
Maria was introduced to Aristotle Onassis in 1959. Onassis said, “There was just a natural curiosity; after all we were the most famous Greeks alive in the world.” Their affair endured through Ari’s marriage to Jackie Kennedy. Surprisingly Christina Onassis preferred Maria Callas, as opposed to Jackie Kennedy who Christina called a ‘gold-digger.’ Maria Callas’ American estate was worth more than $9,000,000 and there were rumors when she died that an ex husband had killed her to control the estate.
Greek goddesses have inspired women all over the world. Aphrodite inspires love, seduces and enchants the hearts of men to do her bidding. Artemis/Diana is the hunter and protector of youth. Athena/ Minerva is fierce in battle but embodies wisdom, reason and purity. Hera is devoted to the hearth and home. (iv)
Christina Onassis, Christina Carras, Julia Memaridis and Marie-Therese Coropouli were at St. George’s School in Clarens, Switzerland with me. I went in 1959 and was there until 1966. The school’s structure was inspired by Greek goddesses and the girls were placed in three different houses, these protocols help strengthen bonds between different age groups and classmates. Our houses were Diana, Minerva and Atlanta. I was Diana’s house captain from 1963-1966.
I think Christina showed up in 1963. Christina was on the Diana House ski team, played tennis, rounders and netball and was a competitive and keen sportswoman, dedicated serious and she won. Christina and I spoke on a few occasions about Cyprus and my father, the colonel and a war hero. She was very interested in that and did not know until I told her that he actually worked for CMC in Cyprus and was not independently wealthy, Christina respected that and told me about her father going to South America as a young man. When I got back in 1964 after the Turkish attack on Xeros and bombing the CMC jetty we spoke at length about the convoy to Skouriotissa and waiting in the mountains for a week until things cooled off.
Her brother, Alexander was at Le Rosey. Because when we, all of the above went to the Rosey Ball, The two Christinas, Marie-Therese and Julia, I went with Stratis Memaridis, Julia Memaridis’ brother and I think I was introduced to him by the gals but I cannot recall for sure. Christina had a wonderful smile and gorgeous face. I loved how she looked with her dominant nose before the surgery. She was great fun! So were Julia, Christina Carras and Marie-Therese. It is therefore no surprise to me at all, that she was a brilliant person to take over the running of the Onassis enterprise and administering the foundation set up by her father in Alexander’s memory.
Greece has a special relationship with the United States. The United States wants NATO military bases as close to the Middle East as possible and from the conclusion of WWII in 1947 the Truman doctrine set out an American policy concerning governments in Greece. The Red Menace was all the talk and the House of Un-American Activities was in full swing. Greece needed to be protected from the soviet menace. In 1949 the communists were defeated in the Greek civil war and many were forced to flee and live in exile.
In 1952 Greece joined NATO and soon a close alliance was forged between The Greek secret Service and the American CIA. King Constantine of Greece is thought to have been behind the coup and the colonels as he is seen with them at their swearing in ceremony. He was asked by the deposed government to reject the colonels but Constantine refused. The king’s actions of swearing in the Junta colonels resulted in the abolition of the monarchy in 1974 in a Greek national referendum.
During the military junta, civil rights were suspended, military music played constantly on the radio and military courts were established. By September 1967, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands went to the European commission on Human Rights and accused the Greek junta of violating most human rights protected by The European Convention on Human Rights. More than 2000 people were tortured with disgusting methods. 6,000 died or were missing, 6,500 were imprisoned and countless more were exiled. (v)
Something had to be done and who was going to do it?
Doctor Amalia Fleming was a Greek activist and politician; she was born in Constantinople/Istanbul in 1909. For her participation in the National resistance to the Axis occupation she was jailed by the Italians. In 1946 she received a scholarship to study in London. After her studies in London she married the widowed Sir Alexander Fleming. Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin. When Amalia Fleming returned to Greece she was arrested and imprisoned by the military police of the Colonels. In 1971, Amalia was released due to her health, her citizenship was revoked and she was exiled. During her exile she wrote ‘A Piece of Truth’ which is an account of her imprisonment and also of the trial of Alexandros Panagoulis. (vi)
Helen Vlachos (1910-1995) was the daughter of a newspaper owner, writer and journalist . Helen’s popularity began during the 1940s in Greece, when she wrote for ‘Kathimerini,’ in which she gleefully criticized the Greek government. Helen’s courage was no surprise as her father, George Vlachos had refused to collaborate with the Nazis in 1941 and been imprisoned as a result. In 1951, after her father’s death, she took over Kathimerini, introduced a new paper, Messimvrini and was very successful with the first Greek illustrated news periodical called ‘Eikones.’
However, in 1967 the colonels instituted censorship and rather than be censored or have to provide daily reports of what the newspaper contained before publication, Helen Vlachos closed her family business. But Helen ridiculed the actions of the government and characterizing Brigadier Stylianos Pattakos as ‘a clown.’ Helen was placed under house arrest in October. “They can’t tell me how to run newspapers anymore than I can tell them how to run their tanks.” (vii)
Thanks to Costas Loundras, her husband’s sacrifice, Helen made a daring escape to London, in November 1967, disguised with hair dyed with boot polish and fake passport. The colonels put her husband in jail for a year for possession of his military service weapon. Helen Vlachos stopped her radio broadcasts against the military junta in Greece when the colonels threatened to withhold medicine and doctor’s visits for her husband’s poor health exacerbated as a submarine commander during WWII. She returned to Greece in 1974, re-opened her newspaper empire and was elected to parliament. Her adventurous life is chronicled in “The House Arrest,’(Gambit Publishing, 1970). Another memoir called ‘Journalistic Years…Fifty and more...” was published in the early 1990s. (viii)
Melina Mercouri starred in ‘Stella’ (1955) her first movie. In 1960, she made ‘Never On Sunday’ with Jules Dassin, her future husband directing. They were married in 1966. Theirs was a politically charged union. Melina and Jules lived in Greece after the 1970s once it was safe for the protesters of the military Junta to return to Greece. An American, Melina’s husband, Jules Dassin had already been black-listed in 1950 while filming Night in the City. He had to leave the US and find work in Europe.
After playing powerful, fragile, witty or charming street-smart or nurturing, after ‘Phaedra,’ ‘Topkapi,’ ‘Promise at Dawn,’ Melina Mercouri was in the United States playing in ‘Illya Darling’ in April 1967 at the time of the Greek coup. Mercouri assembled her weapons and began to tour internationally looking for friends with whom to untangle the political mess back home in Greece. Mercouri knew they must defeat the colonels with money, influence, persuasion, conversation, negotiation whatever it took. Her energy against the political outrages occurring in Greece was endless.
And there were outrages, more than 3000 people were tortured by the Junta’s military police. Attila 75: The Rape of Cyprus by Michael Cacoyannis demonstrates the ripples in the pond theory and the legal tenet of fruit of the poisoned tree and that is what the colonels did in the Near East. 200,000 people were displaced by the Turkish invasion which came as a direct result of the colonels trying to assassinate Cyprus’ elected president Makarios. Your Neighbour’s Son, a Danish film in Greek tells the story of the recruitment of young men as torturers for the secret police. (ix)
Mercouri tried to work on the schism between Washington and London, to shore up British support against the colonels’ junta: ‘England and Greece are friends. English blood was shed on Greek soil in the war against fascism, and Greeks gave their lives to protect English pilots.’ The colonels revoked her passport and seized her property. Her response was: “I was born a Greek and I will die a Greek. Mr Pattakos (one of the colonels) was born a fascist and will die a fascist.” (x)
Melina’s struggle against the Junta risked her life; they tried to kill her in Genoa, Italy. As part of the plan to keep the Greek issue in the media spotlight, Mercouri recorded four albums in France: three in French and one in Greek. Melina amped up the political protest, with concerts, interviews, and speeches worldwide. When the Junta fell in 1974, Melina returned to Greece and became a member of PASOC—Panhellenic Socialist Movement. On her first run at Parliament she fell short by 33 votes for the district of Piraeus B constituency but by 1977 she was elected and obtained the most votes cast for anyone in Greece. Melina became Greek Minister for Culture in 1981-1989.
Melina continued to call upon her diplomatic ties internationally and was passionate about the return of the Parthenon Marbles that had been illegally removed by the British government. For a year, she was Minister of Culture, and was working on plans for a national park for the Aegean islands. Mercouri had a plan to link culture with education enlisting the passion of teachers to spread the message of collective responsibility and stewardship for the land we inhabit and for which we are custodians for the next generations. Before she could complete these plans for Greece, Melina succumbed to lung cancer in a hospital in New York. After a valiant life, Melina Mercouri was honored with a state funeral and when Jules Dassin died, they were buried side by side, together forever.
Irene Papas, the great actress, includes more than 70 films over 50 years in her resume. Pappas was discovered by Elia Kazan. She became an international star during the 1960s, after her performances in The Guns of Navarone and Zorba the Greek, ‘Z’ and Electra, Anne of the Thousand Days and The Trojan Women.
Musically, Irene Papas and Vangelis Papathanassiou, a former member of Aphrodite’s Child, collaborated on ODES, a collection of eight folk songs. These two were already the precocious troubled ones after Irene was called lascivious and lewd for chanting “I was, I am, I am to come,” on a track called ‘INFINITY’ Aphrodite’s Child in 1972. In 1983, Vangelis and Irene reprised their musical collaboration with ‘Rhapsodies’ which is an electronic version of Byzantine hymns.
Another member of Aphrodite’s Child was Arianna Stassinopoulos who is also Arianna Huffington, writer and editor of website--Huffington Post. And thusly do the elders educate the young intellects, creatively by working together and by employing the arts to help us have our say.
Papas is quick and witty; “I never won an Oscar and the Oscar never won Irene Papas “or “Falling in love is like death …they are both facts.’ Of Melina Mercouri . Papas said, “Melina Mercouri was a star. I am a struggling actress.”
The end of the military Junta in Greece was accomplished by resistance internationally from exiled Greeks, from the students’ uprising at the Polytechnic , when in November 1973, the students organised a demonstration. Papadopoulos the leader of the Junta, reacted badly and sent the army to quell the demonstration which had become a general call to remove the colonels. Ioannidis took over and sponsored a coup to depose Cypriot president Archbishop Makarios. The response was immediate invasion of the Northern half of Cyprus by Turkish forces. In 1975, a referendum deposed Constantine, trials of the colonels took place and democracy was restored in Greece. A brave new generation of women and men inherited the free Greece bequeathed to them by the freedom fighters we have discussed. But not so Cyprus, Cyprus is still occupied and divided.
Nia Vardalos was introduced when she penned and starred in ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ which was nominated for an Oscar in 2002. ‘In many ways we are all sons and daughters of ancient Greece,’ she says. Vardalos is Greek Canadian born in 1962 in Winnipeg, Manitoba and married to Ian Gomez in 1993. ‘Connie and Carla’, the movie followed in 2004 and in 2009, Vardalos directed, ‘ I Hate Valentine’s Day.’ Vardalos’ next ventures will be just as delightful and interesting and her creativity is always anticipated with delight.
Another 21st century, go-getter is Greek-American Jennifer Aniston; she is a successful actress, director and producer. Her awards for the television series ‘Friends’ include a Golden Globe and Screen Actors’ Guild. Jennifer was born to a Greek father and her mom is Scottish and Italian. Her godfather was Telly Savalas, Jennifer’s father’s best friend. Jennifer’s family lived in Greece for one year when she was a child. Aniston married to Brad Pitt, but divorced after 5 years in 2005.
Aniston is a talented and likable actress, Marley and Me with Owen Wilson grossed $242 million to date and the figure grows daily. Aniston is one of the ten richest women in entertainment. Jennifer has a busy schedule of projects for 2010 and 2011: The Bounty Hunter, The Switch, Just Go with It, Horrible Bosses, Wanderlust. Aniston’s movies have grossed over 1.7 billion dollars worldwide. Her charity work includes supporting the Free Burma campaign, TV spots for St.Jude’s Children’s hospitals, Jennifer Aniston has made generous donations to Doctors Without Borders and the recent calamity in Haiti.
Within Greece, Aleka Papariga is the General Secretary of the Communist Party and the first woman to head the party in Greece. Her re-election meant she was the longest serving General Secretary of the party so far. She has authored two books on women’s emancipation and has a daughter Vasilia.
What a marvelous group of women’s voices! What incredible things they have accomplished and how grateful we are for their contribution to the planet. From Alki Zei, Penelope Delta, Maria Polydouri, from the fatalistic and the romantically motivated to the warriors and the protesters, the fighters and the patriots, now we encounter the sleek self-assured young Greek women and men, the new generation, who are holding the reins and just waiting to take that wild horse called life out for a ridε.
(i) Meanwhile, Greek men have the run of business and politics, for the most part. Oriana Fallaci describes the resilience of Greek and Cypriot heroes and their cultural schizophrenia when she describes Archbishop Makarios:
‘Because he’s one of the few with brains, along with brains, courage. Along with courage, he has a sense of humor, independence of judgment and dignity. A dignity that approaches regality, and God knows where it comes from, he guarded sheep until the age of twelve. Many people cannot stand him. They accuse him, for instance of devoting or having devoted too much attention to women, of being in no sense an ascetic. I believe it they accuse him of governing through lies, intrigue and opportunism. And this I don’t believe completely unless by lies you mean Byzantinism, by intrigue, elasticity. By opportunism, imagination. His character cannot be judged by the yardstick we use in the West. He does not belong to the West. He belongs to something that is no longer the West but is not yet the East, something that sinks it’s roots into a culture that is sophisticated and archaic at the same time, and which has mastered the art of survival. He has the gift of survival, gained and regained through fast stepping contortions, cleverness, lucidity, cynicism. Four times they tried to kill him. Four times he escaped. Twice they sent him into exile. Twice he came back. And only once did he seem to have lost for good-after the coup of July 1974. Instead those who lost were those who were thought to have won - as a result of that coup, the Greek military junta fell and now finds itself under arrest. If I close my eyes on the subject of the archbishop-president, I can’t help accepting Makarios and taking him seriously when he tells me is a socialist.’
(ii) It was considered un-American to glorify the collective; that was the opinion of a communist sympathizer. Various organizations joined in defiling artistic reputations: The American Legion which practically single-handedly stopped the career of Lillian Hellman after ten motion pictures, she was silenced until 1966. American Business Consultants Inc was founded in 1947 and claimed to be run by ex-FBI personnel. They had access to FBI files and so there was some government involvement. Elia Kazan & Bud Schulberg testified against their friends. Jules Dassin was named by Edward Dmytryk & Frank Tuttle in 1952. CBS to its shame started requiring an oath of allegiance to America as a condition for accepting employment at their company.
(iii) Many women, African American, Gays and Jewish artists were targeted by the RED MENACE VIGILANTES: Joan Scott, Paul Robeson, Stella Adler, Edith Atwater, Uta Hagen, Dorothy Parker, Minerva Pious, Vera Caspary, Mady Christians, Louise Fitch-Lewis, Lena Horn, Rose Hobart, Judy Holliday, Marsha Hunt, Adelaide Klein, Gypsy Rose Lee, Madeline Lee, Ella Logan, Aline MacMahon, Margo, Anne Revere, Selena Royle, Hazel Scott, Lisa Sergio, Ann Shepherd, Gale & Hester Sondergaard, Betty Todd, Hilda Vaughn, Fredi Washington, Margaret Webster, Ruth Gordon, Shirley Graham, Jean Muir, Meg Mundy, were black-listed.
(iv) Mythology by Edith Hamilton pages 21-42 ISBN 0-316-34114-2
(vi) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=57jr2Ti_J3I - Amalia Fleming
(viii) The Independent Obituary Helen Vlachos by Richard Clogg
(ix) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_military_junta_of_1967-1974 page 13
(xi) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iren Papas
Interview with History Oriana Fallaci ISBN 0-395-25223-7