Mania & Glykeria
Iraklio -Greece, Juillet 2023
For most people, Greece is synonymous with holidays, island hopping or ancient history. I travelled to Athens by bus from Brasov (Romania) via Sofia and Thessaloniki. This time my sister is my travel companion. After that, we're going to Crete. We don't do an island hopping tour but still travel with a tourist ferry that works like a bus. During the crossing, the ferry stops at many islands to let passengers on and off.
It is mid-June, and the peak of the season is yet to come, yet dozens of people get on and off at every stop. In the already intense summer heat, the clacking of wheeled suitcases can be clearly heard on deck, mingling with confused conversations. At the port of Santorini, buses are waiting in line to take tourists to their hotels and accommodation where they will spend a week or a few days on this little corner of the world. The ship takes us to Iraklion, the largest city in Crete with about 173 000 inhabitants. The third largest port in Greece receives cruise ships, ferries arriving from the mainland as well as container ships that supply the island.
After nine hours of crossing, we are let out of the ship like a wave in a sun hat, as we were at the other stops. Like all the other tourists, we hired a car, "it's the only way you can get around the island easily", my Greek colleague told me before the trip. We have three possible interview contacts on Crete. Shortly after we drove the first kilometres on the island, the first message came: " "I would have been very happy to do the interview, but unfortunately my grandmother is a bit shy and doesn't dare," Despina wrote to me from Rethymno. This is not the first rejection we have received, but still, the motivation is waning. A thousand thoughts dance in my head. No problem, I still have some contacts, including a Greek woman who will confirm an interview shortly afterwards.
A few days later, elections are due in Greece. On election Sunday, we walk across a less crowded square in Iraklion, around noon. Six parties have a permanent stand with information flyers and stickers. Between the booths is a radio studio where two men speak into microphones. Some stands are occupied by volunteers, others are completely empty. We look around. The two bars next to each other are striking. The bar on the left has a large banner of the Conservative Party. On the right, in the other bar, there is a banner of PASOK, the social democratic party of Greece. It will take some time for the results. This is the second time this spring that Greeks are going to the polls, " the system is complicated and no one feels like voting in the summer, it's definitely not conducive to democracy ", a journalist in Athens tells me later.
Early on Tuesday morning, we sit on a square in the Kamìnia district, 15 minutes away from the tourist centre of Iraklion. At half past eight, I get a message: "There's been a misunderstanding, the interview has to take place today and not Thursday, the grandma is going to town especially today." So we quickly set off. During the car ride, we get the address and the hint: the granddaughter is still doing a radio programme but should be ready around 11 am. The last days on Crete we already noticed in the car how many radio stations there are. Most with melancholic Greek music and others with mainstream songs.
When we arrive at the meeting point, we find a seat in the shade on one of the benches that are all around the Orthodox church. It is already long after 11 am and we have no news yet. I walk around a bit, passe a house where the front door is open. An elderly lady who was just sitting gets up. I show her on my mobile phone the translation of : "Hello, my name is Magali, I'm meeting Mania today. Does she live here ?" She says something in Grieschich and of that I only understand "ne, ne" and she shakes her head. I thank her and leave. Probably the wrong house. The networking with this grandmother-granddaughter pair has been through at least 3 people. Maybe even more I think as a number calls from Athens and a male voice tells me in French, “Elles arrivent, elles arrivent”. Although I still don't know who exactly this person was, he seems to know who we are waiting for and what he is talking about. I then stick one of the AVIA stickers on my white T-shirt. Finally I feel a bit more like a reporter than a tourist. This feeling makes me proud.
We are expected, three women suddenly stand in front of a front door and Mania calls out "You're waiting for me, I think!".Both of Mania's grandmothers are there. I recognise one grandmother. I tried to have a conversation with her a few minutes ago. I guess I got confused by the 'ne'. In Greek it means "Yes!". We are received in her house. Mania's paternal grandmother, Glykeria has come from her village, especially for the conversation.
The front door is at ground level, right on the pavement. The flat looks small but cosy. On the left, directly by the window to the outside, is a corner sofa and a small table with a plate of biscuits. We are invited to sit down and asked if we want coffee, Greek coffee. After a short exchange with Mania about the questions and the interview, we start.
"I am 26, I own two clothes shops. One shop is for off-the-peg clothes and the other is for designer clothes. At the same time, I am also a radio producer. We have a radio show every morning here in Iraklion on a local station. What else? I am free. I'm not married, I don't have children. I am very focused on the professional part of my life. I like my work a lot," Mania says in Greek at the beginning. She seems very confident and doesn't shy away from the microphone I hold out to her. Glykeria is 76, she has spent her whole life in Crete. What makes her special is that she is the "President(village head) of her village. " This is still something unusual on the island, but not only in Greece also in other countries," adds Mania. Glykeria talks about her life in Greek, looking at me and making big hand gestures. Mania laughs and tells her "But she doesn't understand you!"I nod to the gestures and listen attentively. It's true - as hard as I try, I don't understand what she's saying, but the intensity of the gestures and facial expressions fascinates me. Mania translates, "My grandmother grew up very poor." Glykeria was born in 1947. "After the war we were so poor, there was hardly anything to eat. Because of the poor food, mothers who had children didn't always have milk. Many mothers went to other mothers and that's how they were able to feed their children in the first months." Glykeria, like many, worked in the fields all her life, so they could provide for themselves and feed themselves. Later she had a bakery. "I lived through conflictual times," she adds. After the Second World War, civil war raged until 1949. After a decade of calming down, during which the economy grew stronger and the country recovered to some extent, the seven-year dictatorship began in 1967. Glykeria was at Mania's current age in 1973, 26. A year later, in 1974, the rule of the military regime, the so-called "dictatorship of the generals", came to an end.
I turn to Mania : ""You are super active here, you know a lot of people and you take things into your own hands, right ?" I ask her. "Yes, I believe that every woman, especially at this age, so around 25 to 35, should be very productive without being in the shadows. It is important to be creative, to rely on no one but yourself and to go against all social stereotypes. I believe that men and women are exactly the same in the field of work and entrepreneurship, even if Greek society does not treat them that way. It is mainly men who are asked to be more productive, creative and autonomous. i do not support this unequal treatment. That's why I work this way, and that's how I want to continue working."
"Do you have an event that was formative for you?" ""Yes. Corona has already had a strong influence on my life today. It was very difficult. I was working at the bar in a club at that time, so during Corona they closed. At that time I was then looking for work and nobody sent me any answer. No one ever called me for a job. Then I saved some money that I could either live on for a few months or I would have to use it to build something. So, together with the financial help of my parents, I opened my first shop three years ago. At the same time, I started working in radio. A year ago, I moved my business to a bigger shop in the city centre." I ask if Mania remembers the financial crisis of 2008, and if she feared for her future then. "The crisis was much worse in Athens. Here on the island we don't rent the flat, the houses were bought, belong to the family. And many people produce their own olive oil, their vegetables. So we were relatively self-sufficient and could meet our needs."
"Before we finish, I have one last question, what do you associate with the concept of power ?" I ask. At this, granddaughter and grandma agree: being able to live self-determined and make your own decisions, that's power. We drink the last sip of coffee, eat one of the chocolate cookies and go outside to take a photo. We say goodbye; as we leave the house the afternoon heat beats down on us.
Two days earlier, the Conservative Party of the ruling Prime Minister Mitsotakis won the elections. This is no surprise, the media report, and many Greeks agree. The turnout was 60% in Iraklion in this second round of voting. At the end of the dictatorship, it was still open which form of government there would be: either a monarchy again or a new republic. The results were clearly in favour of the republic. In Crete in particular, the vote was overwhelming, with more than 90% in favour of the Republic. "That was the right thing to do,"Glykeria sums up.
Before we catch the ferry again at the end of the week, we visit Mania in her shop. It's right in the centre of town, not on the main street, but right next door. Many beautiful long and shorter dresses are hanging on the hangers. Bold colours are good especially for weddings and celebrations. At Mania you meet more locals than tourists. A young woman is trying on a light blue, long dress. Mania advises, changes the hem if necessary and is fully in her element.