Love and hope in times of hardships

Drapetsona is a suburb located to the west of Piraeus Port, today part of the united municipality of Keratsini-Drapetsona.

After the Greece-Turkey war in 1922, which led to the Asia Minor Catastrophe – the destruction of the Greek city Smyrni and the movement of masses of Greek refugees into this area, it became an overcrowded and poverty-ridden slum, a situation that had mostly remained for as long as until 1968.

In his autobiography, the Rebetika musician Giannis Papaioannou describes his first days as a refugee in this area, and the humiliation they experienced at the hands of the official bureaucracy as well as of the local residents, who considered them as different, inferior, Greeks:

“When we arrived… they put us in some warehouses full of worms…[then they] put us in quarantine and were putting our clothes in a furnace, the locals were stealing our clothes, everything we had, even our shoes; who can forget! Hunger, misery and especially despises – how can those things ever leave your mind?” After some time in tents, Giannis tells, the refugees built wood shacks for themselves, where they lived for a long time. Ιn the 30s they got very small apartments in small houses which were built for them.

Many writers and observers focused at the urban folk subculture that had developed in those areas: countless crimes, hashish dens… The special ethics, behavior and dress of men called Mangas, the underground music, the Rebetika… but in essence these people were heroes. “Uprooted people, with broken families who counted their dead, fought under difficult conditions and stood on their feet with great effort and sacrifice.” Immediately after they built the shack Giannis “set to work. I had to feed myself, my mother and my grandmother.” Not only did they have a poor starting point, but they also had been through difficult times, including prosecutions by the dictatorship in the 30s, the German occupation and the civil war in the 40s.

In 1960 the government decided to demolish the refugees’ houses. This stirred up a huge protest, which inspired composer Mikis Theodorakis and poet Taos Leivanditis. M. Theodorakis said: “for those people it was a fight for survival, a struggle of life or death when the bulldozers went and took down their houses.” This is how the song “Drapetsona” was born. “Drapetsona” describes the reality of a difficult situation that is converted “into stubbornness, pride and the desire for a better life.” (Sotiris Pastakas)

Built with blood, every stone and sorrow

every  nail is bitterness and sob

but when we were returning in the evening from work

I and she dreams and kisses

 

 

The wind and the rain beat it

but it was port and hug and  the sweetest hope

ah, our little house, and this one had soul

 

 

Take our wreath, take our geranium

in Drapetsona we don’t have life anymore

hold my hand and let’s go my star

we will live even though we are poor

 

 

A little bed and a cradle in the corner

on the leaking roof stars and birds

each of its door sweat and sigh

each of its window a sky

 

 

But when the night was coming

in the narrow alley the kids were having fun

ah, our little house, and this one had heart

 

 

Take our wreath, take our geranium

in Drapetsona we don’t have life anymore

hold my hand and let’s go my star

we will live even though we are poor


Dimitris Basis sings in a television show in front of its first interpreter Grigoris Bitikotsis:

********

In the years after the formation of the state of Israel, this country also experienced mass waves of immigration. People who were prosecuted in their native lands, Holocaust survivors and others, hundreds of thousands people flooded the country in a short time. This resulted in immigrants’ camps in which people lived in poverty in tents, wooden shacks and in derelict abandoned houses.

Two of the new-comers were singer Yehuda Poliker’s father who came from Thessalonki, and the poet Yaakov Gilad’s mother. Both were Auschwitz survivors. The song “Window to the Mediterranean” is written as a letter by a new immigrant to his beloved woman who stayed behind. He describes his difficulties a way reminiscent of “Drapetsona”, but he urges her to follow him – there is hope here:

I had promised to write as I left

and I have not written for a long time

now I miss you so much

it is a pity; it is a pity that you are not here.

 

 

After I had arrived in Yafo

hopes were born out of despair

I found a room and a half

on an abandoned building’s roof

 

 

There is a cot here 

if three of us want to sleep

you and me and the child

in front a window facing the Mediterranean

 

And maybe from afar there is a one to a million chance

and maybe from afar some happiness sneaks to the window

 

Nineteen Fifty, end of December

outside a war of winds

snow has suddenly dropped

white reminds me of the forgotten

 

The wound is still open

if only you were here with my now

I would surely tell you

what a letter could not tell

 

Here if you wish you will have a home

and you will have lots of me

children laugh at twilight

in front a window facing the Mediterranean

 

And maybe from afar there is a one to a million chance

and maybe from afar some happiness sneaks to the window

These two great songs are so different in style but are so similar in one thing: the hope that emerges in difficult times. The firm Zebekiko style of “Drapetsona” challenges the difficulties and concludes with “we will live even though we are poor!”, and in the letter intimate style of “Window to theMediterranean” the writer calls his beloved one to join him in the hardships because “maybe from afar some happiness sneaks to the window”. Somehow you feel that they will take this chance… “We discovered that there was always some hope that kept them (our parents) alive in the death camps and also in the postwar years,” Says Yaakov Gilad. “They did not dare to give up on hope, this hope that is the foundation of humanity in all places. Giving up on that hope meant the victory of the devil.”

Notes:
The Singer Katherina Siapanta comments on these songs: “These two different songs speak so strongly about the sufferings and the injustice that people had to undergo, chased away, lonely and unprotected.”
Thanks very much to Nata Ostria who had sent and translated most of the referred texts here, to Shahaf Ifhar and Dany Matz for the English editing.
The quotation of Yaakov Gilad is from Wikipedia and other resources are:

http://www.snhell.gr/testimonies/writer.asp?id=88

http://www.koutouzis.gr/drapetsona.htm

http://www.poiein.gr/archives/1548/index.html

and Theodorakis official site.

4 Responses to “Love and hope in times of hardships”

  1. azahov Says:

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    Azahov.

  2. Arie G. Says:

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