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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 01 September 2018
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 1 SEPTEMBER 2018 17 TRAVEL Billy with Maria-Olimpia Squilaci, Senor Don Salvatore, and Danilo in the Greko museum. In the piazza at Bova Marina near the Greko museum with Danilo and the kids from Palizi singing in Greko. PHOTOS: SUPPLIED L.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 1 SEPTEMBER 2018 17 TRAVEL Billy with Maria-Olimpia Squilaci, Senor Don Salvatore, and Danilo in the Greko museum. In the piazza at Bova Marina near the Greko museum with Danilo and the kids from Palizi singing in Greko. PHOTOS: SUPPLIED offers offers an invaluable glimpse into the Greko past, and its future. While there are very few Greek speakers in the town, with only 10 per cent speaking it fluently, there's no denying the Greek presence. Street names appear in both Italian and modern Greek, and there is the must see Museo Agro-Pastorale dell'Area Ellenofona, the Mediterraneo Greek Restaurant, and several prominent Greek cultural organisations, including l'Associazone Ellenofora Jalu tu Vua, To Domadi Greko, and the Greek cultural association at Meditarraneo. When I first visited in 2002 the attention we attracted as foreigners was akin to the mass hysteria reserved for INXS, and so word quickly spread that we were on the look out for Greeks. Within an hour Carmelo Nucera, who has his own association in Reggio, came and found us. Born in the Greko town of Condofuri, he was the former Mayor of Vua, a smaller town with 800 people and 400 Greek descendants. Another person who met with me was local Greek teacher Phillipo Violi. This time we arrived under the cover of darkness on a bumper to bumper main street. Some animated Calabrians waited for us by our beachside accommodation at San Pasquale, welcoming us in Greko: KALÒS ÌRTETE, STON JALÒ TU VUA. As you drive outside and inside Bova Marina, one can't help but smile at the old sign that welcomes you to the town in Greko and Italian with a Greek and Italian flag. When I first came to Calabria 16 years ago, I could see that the Greko language was almost at an end. Musician, Pandelis Danilo Brancati from Condofuri Marina had told me that over the last few decades, there had been a trend of "Greko speakers leaving the Greko areas in search of jobs and a better life. It is hard sometimes in Calabria". However in recent years, the younger generation have taken on the task of championing the Greko language, with some 20 activists led by Maria Olimpia Squillaci driving a renaissance. Maria Olimpia's energy and belief in the language has led her to undertake studies at Cambridge University and return to the region to teach Greko and ensure more people are learning it. This has led to the campaign 'If You Speak Me, I Live', which features year round workshops, online teaching, apps, and a filoxenia project to encourage more people to visit the region. It is easy to look up Google and read up on a region, but Calabria around the Greko area is a bit harder to locate. With the support of Maria Olimpia, who was in the middle of arranging her wedding, she was able to open a number of doors and take us to a range of meetings with elderly Greko, poets and younger people. No request was too hard, no annoying text for information or call was problematic - a reflection on the way she was brought up, and the warmth that Calabrians, especially the Greko, display to visitors. As part of our journey, we took along letters collected by Dr Efrosini Delgianni, head of Modern Greek Studies at UNSW, from her Greek language students who wrote cards with messages in Greek. Dr Deligianni was an enthusiastic supporter of the project and it was heartening to see university students Billy at the Greko and Italian sign at Bova Marina. willing to engage with children on the other side of the world. Meanwhile in Melbourne, Anastasia Spanos, a teacher from Oakleigh Grammar, coordinated her students to write a number of letters, each with a personalised message in Greek. The messages came from the heart, encouraging the young Greko children of Calabria to maintain their language. While in Thessaloniki, Christina Michailidou, a primary school teacher and radio star on Boite Surreal Radio, produced with her students a number of letters and drawings, the colour and detail giving a beautiful and powerful message to the children in Calabria, one of summer and the hope that the language can be preserved. The letters were delivered in Bova Marina to the teacher of the students from a Greko town called Palizi. The children in return produced a brilliant hand drawn and sketched A3 booklet, including pop out information, to give an interactive element to the dialect, like a blue man with a diagram and words describing features such as eyes: ta maddhia (mouth), to stoma (nose), i cefali (head), etc. While an orange pop up features the 12 months of the year: O Jenari, O Flevari, O Marti, O Apriddi, etc. A number of drawings of the town were also presented, succinctly and brilliantly capturing the medieval style of the village with its Byzantine church. What made the exchange special was that the children performed a number of songs in the dialect for us in the town square. A touching experience, it gave us goosebumps, demonstrating the passion and hope for preserving the language amongst the younger generation in Calabria. Danilo led the singing, and at one point was accompanied by a young boy and his Greko speaking grandfather, Don Salvatore. This of course is just a typical day in Bova Marina. We also paid a visit to the Greko museum and had a drink with Greko speakers led by Don Salvatore, and sat with a grandmother and daughter all evening recalling stories of Greko from early last century. After a crazy day driving around the mountains and ending up in a range of Greko towns such as Vua and Roghudi, we decided to grab a Greek meal at Meditarraneo, of course. When we entered the tavern, the dark cloud was again hovering above. Along with ordering food in Greek, we quietly asked the staff for the owner. Turned out it was his day off, but he came to see us, and before we knew it, he was taking us upstairs to see his vast library of Greko and modern Greek books, a school for teaching Greko, and generously spent two hours past midnight talking to us. As we said our good byes and walked to our car, I noticed that the dark cloud had lifted. Similarly, I could see the dark cloud over the future of the Greko language lifting. And why wouldn't it be, given how brilliantly the younger Greko speakers, combined with the older ones, are setting out to reverse centuries of dwindling numbers. * Billy Cotsis is a writer and filmmaker. His recent documentary is titled 'Mykonos: The Other Side'.
25 August 2018
8 September 2018