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Reading in situ: Papadiamandis House Museum

October 2, 2011

Reading in Situ

Have just returned from a restorative week in Skiathos Town, home to Alexandros Papadiamandis who is referred to as the father or the saint of modern Greek literature.  He was born on Skiathos on 3rd March 1851 and returned to his native island after a spell in Athens where he joined the priesthood.  This weekend, delegates are attending a conference to celebrate the centenary of his death.  The house above, where he lived and wrote is in a quiet courtyard just off the main street that has been named after him, (as has the airport). The upper floor contains the original furniture, much of which is surprisingly low to the ground.  A plaque in the corner of one room states: ‘He left his last breath here.’ The lower floor is now a library of his works, many of which are available for sale both in Greek and other languages.

I purchased an English copy of his famous novel The Murderess which was written in 1903 while he was translating Dracula. It is described as a social tale inspired by his native island.  Papadiamandis is non-judgemental as he narrates the story of a grandmother who decides to help the angels restore the balance of male and female children on the island.  The paradox is that she is both a healer and an angel of Death. As Frangoyannou is pursued across the island ( a chase reminiscent of The 39 Steps), the author touches on topics such as victimisation, euthanasia and abortion. It is left for the reader to decide whether of not her soul deserves salvation.

As the sea was too choppy to visit the north side of the island during my stay, I settled for reading the book on one of the many beaches and imagined the town of Kastro around which the story is set.  Although the style is perhaps too dated to emulate, I was delighted to find that Papadiamandis often mentioned the idea that a girl has nine lives.  This is a concept that I incorporated into my poem A Cat’s Life published in In This Life (United Press:2004).  It just goes to show how difficult it is to have an original idea.

A Cat’s Life

I have died many times

already this life time,

about once a decade in fact.

Would that I died another five,

like a cat with nine lives,

before the final act.

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