dinsdag 26 juli 2016

Note to Stella on her birthday

Dear Stella,

You'll surely remember this photograph which stood on your writing desk in the house in Thessaloniki. You held the sun on your hand, having an unknown future before you. It was long before we met in far off Minneapolis. We could have met years before, when both of us spent a long time in England in 1970, but you were staying in London and I in a village in between Liverpool and Manchester. Should we have met, would we have fallen in love as we did in America? It's the kind of question one would like to see answered with 'yes', but 'if if' history isn't history. Today you would have celebrated your birthday if not, eight and a half years ago..... I cherish this and other photographs. You were the girl of my dreams long before I got to know you and so you will always remain.

For ever in my thoughts,


woensdag 25 mei 2016


On the way from my temporarily abode to the lower town I descend Agia Sophia street. I notice the name of an alleyway I pass: Urania street. Urania, the Muse of Astronomy. It makes me think of Charles Dickens who founded a home for 'fallen girls,' named Urania Cottage, together with the fabulously rich miss Coutts. The aim was to rehabilitate these girls by teaching them the necessary domestic skills after which they were to be shipped off to Australia or Canada to get married and live long and happily ever after.

Dickens never visited Greece, never mind Salonica, in the nineteenth century the competitor of Smyrna for the position of second city in the Ottoman Empire. There probably aren't any 'fallen girls' to be found on Urania street, though you will in the seedy side of town, between the port and the railway station. By the way, there aren't many stars to be seen either at night between the towering flats of narrow Urania street.

My temporary abode is in the former Turkish quarter. Just above the street where the great fire of 1917 began. It burned for thirty-six hours during which three quarters of the city was destroyed. It's a picturesque neighbourhood with quite some remains from the days that mobile telephones and the internet were still eccentric dreams of a whacko Gyro Gearloose. A girl obsessively staring at her smartphone nearly bumps into me. She gives me an angry look, as I am to blame of course.

The fire drastically changed the features of the city. History drove out the Turks in 1923 and twenty years later almost all the Jews, who constituted the largest community in Salonica by the end of the nineteenth century, the reason why it was sometimes named the Jerusalem of the West. It's impossible to predict what the internet will finally bring about, but at least the word γουγλάρω found a place in the Greek language.

Photo: Kees Klok

zaterdag 26 december 2015

2007 - 2015

On this day, eight years ago, I had to take leave of you, but you're still living on in my heart, darling Stella.

donderdag 17 december 2015

Christmas Message

We were sixteen and idealists. The world had to be made a better one and because the mindless masses and the detestable bourgeois didn't do it, it was up to us. We joined the Action Group for Peace and Development. Together with, amongst others, a vicar, a high ranking civil servant, the unavoidable feminist and a number of trade unionists.

We decided to use a heavy weapon: we'd go on a hunger strike during Christmas, a great time for revelling. That would shock the world. That would make the world a lot better. It could even be the beginning of the end of international, oil dominated capitalism. We were the vanguard that was to lead the battle from a tent in the town square. Strategically situated in the centre, close to a public urinal and a few pubs. The world would be castigated from Christmas Eve until five o'clock on Boxing Day. After that we were to have our Christmas dinner.

During the icy night the world hit back. While we were trying to keep warm in our sleeping bags, me secretly eating chocolates, an endless procession of noisily drunk townspeople passed by, often shouting curses that had little to do with the idea of Christmas. During the day the square was the desolate umbilicus of the Bible Belt. Quarter of an hour after we left, the reporter of the local rag came round, someone told us later.

Photo: archive Kees Klok

vrijdag 24 april 2015

Commemorating Rupert Brooke (1887-1915)

On April 23 2015 the poet Rupert Brooke died aboard a French hospital ship moored off the island of Skyros, in Tris Boukes Bay. His friends and fellow officers buried him in a nearby olive grove where in later years a tomb was placed on the spot of the original, provisional grave. Brooke is also remembered on Skyros by a monument on the square near the Archeological Museum and the Faltaits Museum, now called Platia Brooke.

On April 23, 2015 a Rupert Brooke Centenary Commemoration was held by his grave, led by the reverend canon Malcolm Bradshaw, at which I had the honour to be present as a poet from the Netherlands. During the ceremony the British ambassador to Greece held a short address. A guard of honour was provided by the Hellenic Airforce. Wreaths were laid by the British ambassador, the governor of Central Greece, the mayor of Skyros, the commanders of the Hellenic Airforce and Hellenic Navy on Skyros, the American military attache in Greece and representatives of various literary and cultural organisations, like the Rupert Brooke Society.

In the evening an exhibition on Rupert Brooke, called Rupert Brooke on Skyros: and Aegean corner of a foreign field was opened by the British ambassador and the mayor of Skyros. It will run until September 1 in the building of the primary school in Skyros-town.

The photographs I took give an impression of the moving and worthy commemoration of the great poet Rupert Brooke.

zondag 8 februari 2015

Open letter to the leaders of Europe

Roos Mavrikou-Zevenhuizen was born and educated in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Since a number of years she lives with her husband and children on the Greek island of Skyros where she daily experiences the misery and sheer poverty European enforced austerity has caused. She wrote this letter to some of the leaders of Europe. As we fear it will quietly disappear in the drawers of bureaucracy we publish it here as an open letter, with Roos' permission.  

Skyros, Greece, 05-02-‘15

Sincere mr. Dijsselbloem, mr. Junckert, mr. Schauble, mr. Schultz, mr. Draghi and anyone else responsible for European policies,

I suspect it will take a lot for this letter to actually reach any one of you, but I hope this cry of the heart eventually will.

My name is Roos Mavrikou, born and raised in the Netherlands and since 2007 living in Greece, with my Greek (hardworking) husband and our two small daughters of six and three years old.

Every single one of you is aware of the problems in Greece and still some facts seem to reach you and your colleges in Brussels only as such. Facts. That around 27% of the working population is without a job seems only a percentage in your eyes. For us it is reality. Life. That not even 10% of those people may apply for government help for less than 400 Euros per month, for no longer then a year, also seems to reach you only as a statistic. While behind those statistics are families living in this country with the same costs of living as example in the Netherlands, or in Germany. That statistics has pushed a large part of them into poverty.

I am a higher educated, realistic and critical person, but Greece couldn’t continue like it has been the last five years and therefore I understand and support the Greek government in all its requests for renegotiation. That is not radical for a country that after so many years of misconduct –and I do not mean only the Greek government(s), but certainly also the extreme reforms imposed by the troika, which the country, contrary of public believe, has mostly followed through on- have brought only depression.

I could make this letter even longer by describing why this country reached a certain point, but it is fighting huge prejudices.

However, when my daughter of not even seven years old, has to go to school in the winter and comes home with the message she wore her jacket all day, due to lack of heating, and the same thing happens to us, when we have to go to the local hospital, where the limited personnel also walks around in their jackets, for the same reason, I fear that in Brussel people do not realise how dramatic life has gotten here and Greek people are not ungrateful (as media has pictured us now), but mostly desperate. That’s why I see it as my obligation as a citizen of Greece, and even more so as a mother of two young children, to write this letter in the hope all of you will rethink how you view this situation in Greece and the rest of Europe. Nobody can allege with dry eyes that the approach of Greece's crisis has worked.

People here deserve more than continuing forms of threats and oppression. We at least deserve dignity and good functioning pillars of society; such as education and healthcare. Those have crumbled down due to strong austerity measures imposed by you and your colleagues from Brussels. Something that can only be considered as shameful.

I am asking you for understanding, for reasonability, and I am asking you to look deep into your hearts and stop looking at us as the black sheep of Europe, or mere statistics, but as people such as you and your family and friends, who only want a normal live for themselves and their loved ones.

Awaiting your reply,

Roos Mavrikou

Skyros, Griekenland 04-04-‘15

Geachte heer Dijsselbloem,

Ik vermoed dat er wel wat voor nodig is om deze brief ook daadwerkelijk bij u te doen belanden, maar ik hoop dat deze hartekreet bij u aankomt.

Mijn naam is Roos Mavrikou en ik ben sinds 2007 woonachtig in Griekenland. Daar woon ik met mijn Griekse man en twee dochtertjes van zes en drie jaar oud.

U bent als geen ander op de hoogte van de problematiek hier en toch lijken bepaalde feiten alleen maar als zijnde tot u en uw collega’s in Brussel door te dringen. Dat 27% van de Griekse beroepsbevolking werkeloos is, is in uw ogen slechts een percentage. Voor ons is het de werkelijkheid. Dat nog geen 10% van deze werkelozen aanspraak kan maken op een vergoeding van nog geen 400 euro per maand, voor nog geen jaar, lijkt ook slechts een statistiek. Alsof hier geen gezinnen achter schuil gaan die leven in een land met een even kostbare levensonderhoud (huur, voeding, elektriciteit) als in Nederland; het land waar ik tot mijn 27e heb gewoond.

Ik ben een hoger opgeleid, realistisch en kritisch iemand, maar Griekenland kan zo niet verder en mede daarom begrijp en steun ik de huidige Griekse regering volop in haar vraag om heronderhandelingen. Daar is niets radicaals aan, aangezien het dit land na zoveel jaren van wanbeleid –en dan heb ik het niet alleen over de Griekse regering, maar zeker ook over de door de trojka opgelegde extreme hoeveelheid hervormingen die wel degelijk voor het grootste deel zijn doorgevoerd- niets dan letterlijke en figuurlijke depressie heeft gebracht.

Ik kan de brief heel lang maken door te beschrijven waarom het land ooit op een bepaald punt is beland, maar vaak is dat vechten tegen de bierkaai. Meer nog tegen de onbuigzame politiek die vanuit Brussel wordt gevoerd.

Echter, als mijn dochter van nog geen zeven jaar deze winter een week lang zonder verwarming in het basisschool gebouw les krijgt en daarbij haar jas moet aanhouden vanwege de koude en het gebrek aan budget voor stookolie, en dit ons eveneens overkomt in het lokale ziekenhuisje waar het beperkte personeel rondloopt in hun jassen, dan vrees ik dat er in het buitenland niet beseft wordt hoe dramatisch het hier gesteld is en dat de mensen hier niet ondankbaar zijn (zoals nu veelal wordt beweerd), maar vooral wanhopig. Ik zie het als mijn taak als inwoner van dit land, en als moeder van twee jonge kinderen, om u een brief te schrijven in de hoop dat u goed nadenkt over hoe u tegen ons en onze situatie aankijkt.

De mensen verdienen hier meer dan de dreigingen over en weer. Wij verdienen op zijn minst waardigheid en goed functionerende pilaren van de samenleving; onderwijs en gezondheidszorg. Die zijn de afgelopen jaren compleet afgebrokkeld, mede dankzij het opgelegde beleid en bezuinigingen van u en uw collega’s in Brussel.

Ik vraag u om begrip, ik vraag u om redelijkheid en ik vraag u diep in uw hart te kijken en ons niet als het zwarte schaap, of slechts als statistieken te zien, maar als mensen net als u en uw familie en vrienden die simpelweg willen (over)leven.

In afwachting van uw antwoord, verblijf ik,
Roos Mavrikou

vrijdag 23 januari 2015

Endemic discord

The ancient Macedonians, a branch of the Dorians that settled in the northern periphery of ancient Greece, were known as a hardened people. It's no coincidence therefore that their most famous king conquered more or less half of the then known world. All around the Middle East there are still traces of it to be found. There even seem to be a few villages somewhere in the wilds of Pakistan where it is said a kind of Greek is spoken. Alexander achieved much indeed, but he died too young out in Babylon to consolidate his empire and without taking care of his succession. He wasn't that great after all. As soon as he died his generals began fighting each other over Alexander's legacy as a result of which the empire split up. In recent history some people, even some historians, doubted whether the Macedonians were Greek, but the violent quarrel amongst Alexander's generals is typical for the endemic discord which characterises the Greeks from ancient times until today.

Part of the present day Greeks, broken in spirit by sky-rising unemployment, one pay-cut after the other and a wave of new taxes introduced by a panicking government, seems to have resigned itself to waiting until the economy will have collapsed completely or until the drachma will be reintroduced with everything it may bring: famine, civil war, even more mass emigration or Utopia. Another part frantically supports the trade unions which seem to think that strikes are the only adequate answer to the collapse of Greece's economy. It's like a doctor prescribing continuous bleedings to cure a patient suffering from anaemia. Anyone who seriously looks at the situation in Greece must conclude that the medicine which is being forced on the country (austerity, austerity and again and again austerity) is terrifyingly counterproductive, destroying the social fabric of society.

There is no sign however of the Greek people uniting to face the problems caused by successive Pasok and Nea Democratia governments and by the harsh and stupid medicine sprung from the poisonous belief in neoliberalism prescribed by the European Union, the European Central Bank and the IMF. The Greeks are as deeply divided as ever. You would expect them to have set up a government of national unity to head off disaster as the British did at the outbreak of the Second World War. Instead they remain bickering amongst themselves. There's always hope of a change for the better, for less shouting and more listening in parliament, but whether the elections of January 26 are going to bring about that change is rather a rhetoric question I fear.

Foto: Kees Klok