(by Simone Perotti)
Ersi Sotiropoulos is beautiful woman, slim, sexy and not only because of her low husky voice. She is a sensitive writer, who comes from a troubled and tormented background. She seems to come straight from the pages of one of Miller’s novels, rather than from the small alleyways of the centre of Athens. “When I was little I used to run away all the time, they just couldn’t stop me…”.
It can’t have been easy to be an adolescent from a middle-class family during the Military Junta (’67-’74). “It was poetry that saved me, otherwise perhaps I wouldn’t be here”.
Do you want to tell us something about, Ersi? She hesitates at first, takes a sip of cold water on this hot afternoon that is slipping into evening, and then she starts, slowly. “I was born in Patras, I used to run away, all the time, I wanted to drop out of school, to drop out of everything else too. They were all just conservative imbeciles, they weren’t teaching me anything. They wanted me to wear a uniform, a long skirt that reached me here, and a shirt that reached me here. Once, during the morning assembly, a headmaster accused me of looking at him where I shouldn’t have been looking. Just imagine how depraved he was, crazy. I rebelled against everything, the Junta and its social and political rules, my family, and school. They sent me to psychiatrists, here in Athens, who were worse than the police, they filled me with drugs for people who have a personality disorder. Time, reality, everything was muted, those drugs were killing me. But I used to spit them out and they would force them down my throat. I was, indeed, tortured, there is no other way of describing that treatment”.
Now I understand the intensity of Ersi’s face, her piercing eyes, never lost, but sunken, and her husky, firm but tried voice. “I wanted to go away, and when I sat the university admission exam I tried to get the lowest possible marks. But it was all for nothing, they would not let me go, they locked me up in my room.
And then came the scandal. I was fifteen or sixteen and I had a relationship with a family friend, a man over forty. And to stop the talking and cover the shame, within two days I was shipped off to France”.
Ersi Sotiropoulos, a courageous and original woman, an anti-conformist, an opposer, who from runs away from a boarding school in Vance, meets a Greek who is exiled in Ventimiglia, Italy, falls pregnant, gives birth to her child just to spite her mother who wanted her to have an abortion. She then lives in Florence in hub of the protest, lives with other youngsters in communes, without a cent “but full of hope. We saw the change just ahead of us. We were certain that the world would change.” She returns to Greece, gets a study bursary in Midwest America, and carries on writing “I started writing when I was eight years old, and there, in the American nothingness, together with artists and writers, there was a feeling of inspiration, it was good”. I think of the atmospheres of Zabrinsky Point and Blow Up. “I had starting publishing, in those years. It was about the time of my novel “La Farsa” (1982) (The Farce), that Papandreou came to power and after a number of fortunate circumstances I got the job as cultural councillor in Rome, which I initially enjoyed, but then it became nothing more than red-tape and I left”.
Ersi Sotiropoulos travels and writes, she remarries and has a daughter, and her life in some way settles down, although she continues to be a restless soul, eternally fibrillating with creativity. We smile and drink wine, while a cool evening breeze blows in from the East, daylight softens and now between us there is a like-minded joy of communication.
“Greece is in serious difficulty, but not because of the recession. There are many deep-rooted reasons. Anyone who says that Greece is doing well, as I so often hear, is lying. We are having enormous problems, people who rummage in dumpsters, people who are unable to pay their taxes, people who have lost hope and don’t know where to find it. It is also true though that the place is teeming with cultural events, theatres which spring up in flats, young people who don’t have a euro but start doing things, trying to make it, and then we have five or six young cinematographers who do wonderful things, even beyond the greatness of Angelopoulos”. I wonder aloud if recession and creativity go hand in hand. But Ersi stiffens. “No, I don’t believe that. I know what you are saying, but it is not quite like that. Was it like that in the past? If Joyce had not had someone who supported him, would we have Ulysses? Think of publishers: they have to sell to survive, so they end up not publishing things that are worth publishing, but whatever sells. That’s when the recession becomes a problem. And even people who are doing things, young people who are doing things, the events they create risk being isolated. The crisis is a moral one, other people, our neighbours, have become invisible”.
A vision which goes against everything that I have been told up to now. But it was to be expected, Ersi is always on her own side, her thoughts are always different, like when she tells me something which, for me, is unacceptable, but that I do understand: “The daughter of the Albanian cleaning lady who came to us for a while, just had to have designer shoes. For her having them was a question of dignity. This consumerism is something we have to understand humanely, compassionately. There is no use beating around the bush, dignity has everything to do as well with the shoes of that girl, who then goes to school and is different to the others, if she doesn’t have them”. I make a note of this, and understand how much humanity there is in this consideration, which for me, is wrong, for my vision of the world, but does denote a sensitivity that goes beyond ideology. “How can you make that girl understand that her dignity is not in those shoes? Impossible…”.
We discuss politics. “Thank goodness Syriza exists, even though I see many good intentions, but very little political strategy”. And then we speak of the Mediterranean “There is something primordial and ancestral here. The sea is always in my novels. The Mediterranean, despite it all, is optimism”. But is there a current Mediterranean model? “I think so, but how can I answer that? It’s you who will tell me at the end of your journey. No one will know it better than the “Mediterranea”, but only afterwards. Certainly, I see many differences in the scale of problems. One must not think of Italy and Greece, but of Greece and Libya”. Then on the question of intellectuals “I do not agree with Koutsourelis. Intellectuals always write about current events, the world that ends up in their verses, in what they write, is always about today, it is always a line of reasoning about the world around them. By definition, a true intellectual, can never be far from reality. In Athens there are at least thirty literary journals, there are not so many even in France or Italy. We do have intellectuals and artists, thank heavens”.