Me, the Melody and My Mandolin ; the Writer Louis De Bernieres Is an Aficionado of 20th-Century Greek Poetry and Music. Now He Wants to Share His Passion with Everyone
Bernieres, Louis de, The Independent (London, England)
I did not go to Greece at all until I was 28 years old, but I do seem to have made up for it since. Wherever I go, I buy cookbooks and music, and it was on my second visit that I bought three cassettes "on spec".
There was one each of Hadjidakis, Theodorakis, and Xarhakos, and a waiter spotted them on my table in the taverna where I used to eat in the evenings. This man, Nikos, was really a farmer who only worked there in the tourist season, but he also happened to be a musical connoisseur. He offered to play my cassettes on the taverna's sound system, and then, with evident pleasure, sang along to them as he worked. Subsequently I had many conversations with him, since I was travelling alone, and he took it upon himself to educate me a little. He told me, for example, that English girls were by far the world's worst lovers, except when they were drunk, in which case they were by far the best. He also explained to me with great pride and enthusiasm that in Greece for quite some time the best serious composers had been creating immortal popular songs out of the lyrics of the best poets.
He was right, of course, and as time went by I found myself increasingly seduced by Greek music. I eagerly bought it up, and found many gems among the numerous bad buys. I discovered bands of massed mandolines, rembetika, pentozali from Crete, cantades from the Ionian Islands that are both charming and beautiful, and the distinct folk musics from every region. One learns the conventions quickly enough and the melodies are often lovely enough to play solo on the flute. None the less, like many Greeks, as I was to discover, it was Hadjidakis that I came to love the best.
Greek poetry, too, was a late love. Like many others I read Cavafy first, and I still think that he is the best Greek poet to read for meaning, which is why he translates so well. He can be knotty, acerbic, and cynical, but above all he is wise. "Ithaca" is one of the great poems of the 20th century. Naturally, one enthusiasm leads to another, and I bought my first anthology of Greek poetry in a small bookshop in Cephallonia, my second in the equivalent shop in Ithaca, and subsequent volumes in Athens, in Thessaloniki, and in the marvellous Zeno's of Denmark Street, London.
Polly Hope, the artist, introduced me to the poetry of Odysseus Elytis, and others pointed me towards different translations of particular poems, praising or damning them in …
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Publication information: Article title: Me, the Melody and My Mandolin ; the Writer Louis De Bernieres Is an Aficionado of 20th-Century Greek Poetry and Music. Now He Wants to Share His Passion with Everyone. Contributors: Bernieres, Louis de - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: November 29, 1999. Page number: 9. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.