(by Simone Perotti)
I would like to show you a photograph of Kafka, nom d’art Katerina Kafentzi, but she does not like to be photographed. If you Google her, apparently you will get, at the most, one or two photographs. I ask her why and she answers by quoting the names of famous artists with whom she has worked, all of whom are very reserved and do not like showing their true faces.
And she repeats a mantra that will come up often during our conversation: “There is a lot to be done each day, without improvisation, but with care, working seriously”, or in other words: enough of nothing more than appearance, let’s go back to the substance of things.
I would truly like to show Kafka to you though, because she is the new face of Athens, because she charismatic, and also because she is a beautiful woman, with long dark hair, tall, sensual but without ostentation. A fascinating person, or if you like, a person with a definite aura, which is not common in this world of artificial posing unsubstantiated by interior strength. She is the editorial production boss of En Lefko 87.7, a radio “for people who do not want to conform”. A curious viewpoint that I ask her to explain. “We want to talk to people when they are alone in their rooms, when they are truly themselves in other words, when they are not subjected to conventions and superstructures”. This in itself is quite easy to understand, even if Kafka, with great concentration, adds: “The owner of the radio wants a return on the money it invests, and he’s right. That is why we must be original, and take that extra step every day”. When someone relates links realpolitik with creativity, I feel at home.
Kafka, what kind of radio is yours, tell us about it “I don’t really know if what we do news, entertainment, communication … perhaps a little of all of that. Our formats range from music to readings of great literature texts…”. Sorry, are you saying that you are making money reading Proust? “It’s our top programme, the author is a very charismatic seventy-year old, and very innovative”. It gets more and more interesting, and so I want her opinion on the current situation in Greece, right away. “The recession is misleading. There is less recession here than anywhere else in the world. I was coming back from Los Angeles, some time ago, and when I landed in Venizelos I felt a flash of pride for being Greek. Certainly not for reasons of nationalism. Here no one sleeps in a car, nor eat as they drive because they don’t have enough time, or works at their computer as they eat and drive a car. Here people over 25 are still just starting to live, while abroad they are past it and out of business. Here we still know how valuable time is”.
Time, that very same splendid time that flows over us as we chat in cockpit of the Mediterranea, moored at the Zea Marina, Pasalimani, Phyreus. “Our Mediterranean model is a winning one, and resoundingly so. And I am not saying that because I am a privileged person, I am raising and educating an eight-year old little boy, and every day I work my ass off, to say it in vulgar terms, with my own arms, legs and brain”. I am pleased that I asked the somewhat provocative question about her potentially privileged position, given her proud reply. “There are so many opportunities here, for those who want to get off their backsides and get to work. If you do something you really enjoy and you do it with care, commitment and determination, you can succeed”.
Next to Kafka is George Bakalakos, a thirty-year old young man that she wanted to introduce to us because he is a real musical talent, and has one of the most successful formats of her radio. The young man has a very lively expression, you can tell that he lives at a very fast pace, and he takes part in what we are saying with real perspicacity: “It is a question of balance. There are things that you have to do, obstacles you have to overcome, and then there is what you truly enjoy doing, that you feel is your own, and you have just got to do it. The alternative is simply following others, unless you decide to think for yourself. What do they drum into our heads at school, at university? the same old system. But you’ve got to leave systems behind”. A talented thirty-year old, who excels in his field, and is also wise. What a den of progressive people there are at En Lefko78.8?
“We are not the only ones who talk of the recession like this. There are people out there who are trying to make it. The recession has awakened souls, people communicate now, they give it their best. I don’t have the solutions, I have only suggestions. But every day I try to turn my son into a good man, and then I try to do something good with myself. My way of doing that is to work, every day, to make this radio something that goes against normality and conformism. Language, themes, tones, format, new messages that allow others to raise the questions we need. People indeed write to us, ask questions, they are curious about our choices of music, they follow what we are looking for”.
And what are you looking for? “Our music, that of the many, the very many musicians that do research work, excellent musicians, who have local ideas that are important for the whole world. And investors reward us. We have a share of 5.4%, which is no mean thing. But we are not like all the other radios who broadcast a pre-packaged playlist of the most popular music. We organise public events, we fill the modern art museum with music and people as they have never seen before. A lot is going on here. I don’t want to make comparisons with other parts of the world. We are here, in Greece, we are in the Mediterranean, and we are us, real and original”.
Do you believe in the Mediterranean, Kafka? You are such an international woman, you travel all over the world, you have friends in the world of music and art, you should be opting for a cosmopolitan vision of the world. “The enormous wealth of the Mediterranean is all that we have. It is a complex, and very appealing, element. I am interested in those who look at the world, but from the Mediterranean, from here, in other words from themselves”. Do you believe that this has an impact on society, do you think it helps? “I do not believe in politics. Syriza is the the novelty of the moment. He is interesting, certainly, but I know that when someone is elected, as soon as you put your hands on public affairs, as soon as you touch politics, that changes you, carries you off. I believe in the work of individuals who try to change themselves, their building or village, but starting from themselves. That is true politics. Everything repeats itself, the soldiers of Tamerlane cut off the heads of thousands of persons, just like the Isis are doing, so what has changed? It is man who must change. Politics do not exist. Why should Mr. Tsipras be different from everyone else?”
Changing the individual, starting from the interior, from himself, to have an impact on the world. Kafka is neither ambitious nor withdrawn into herself, but what she says makes a certain sense, and above all the lucid determination with which she says it makes sense. It’s easy to see that this is what she thinks, that she turned this into dialogue, that she has measured herself with this and worked out her own vision of the world. “When someone comes to me they generally try to explain why they are leaving what they had. I don’t give a damn about that. All I am interested in what they have to suggest, what ideas they have. What do you want to do? I ask. People don’t understand that they have to change themselves. There is no way, they just don’t understand, they put up enormous resistance. Only people count, and nothing else, what they do as single individuals”.
We end by following her train of thought. She is a journalist, she has talent, character, energy and she guides the interview. I let myself be guided, I stop asking questions, and simply listen. “Time. That is the focal point of Mediterranean culture, we still have the privilege of time. We know how to resist, we know how to wait, we know how to enjoy the passing of time”. George too puts a word in: “My father always used to say to me: 24 hours are enough time to do everything. There is no need to run, we must simply not stagnate. That is what the Mediterranean is, the space between stagnation and that unnecessary rat race”.
When we say goodbye we take a stroll along the dock, Kafka wants to leave me with these words of David Foster Wallace: ”But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving…. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day. That is real freedom….The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.” Incidentally, David Foster Wallace was born in a small town called Ithaca in the United States.
What a beautiful encounter. Here is today’s modern Greece that in a few years will irremediably change this Country, turning it into a different world, that no one understands yet. Here is the Mediterranean, our Mediterranean, which makes us see and listen to things that we had never imagined. Understanding this age, which is only virtual, only from afar, or devoured in two days which are far too brief to understand, just doesn’t work. The Mediterranean is first and foremost a different strategy for a new understanding.