Saturday, November 27, 2010

Melina Mercouri - The Woman Who Should Have Been Mayor of Athens

 Honouring Melina Mercouri - the Last Greek Goddess
The Poster created for her Mayoral Campaign in 1990  was later issued 
as part of a set of commemorative stamps in her honour

The local elections in Greece recently saw a change of power in Greece's two main centres, for the first time since 1986...

In the capital, Athens the sitting Mayor, Nikitas Kaklamanis, a former Minister with Nea Democratia, was defeated by outsider Giorgos Kaminis, the former Ombudsman whose candidacy was supported by PASOK and the left coalitions...whilst Yiannis Boutaris, of the reknowned Boutari Wines, on a similar basis, ousted Nea Dimokratia's sitting Mayor Vassilis Papageorgopoulos in Thessaloniki...

As the elections came and went and a new Mayor was elected for Athens, some of us couldn't help but think of the only woman who really deserved to have been the Mayor of Athens but wasn't, Melina Mercouri, the ultimate Athenian, the last Greek Goddess, someone who loved the city and would have done wonders for Athens' image and identity...

Her vision was focused on showcasing Greece's rich heritage - emphasising the beauty of Athens' many classical and historical monuments, uniting  Athens' many Archaeological sites, reuniting the Parthenon Sculptures, and adding culture and poetry to everyday living and education...

One thing is for sure, she certainly wouldn't have allowed her beloved Athens to get to the level it is today, with scenes such as the one pictured below an everyday occurrence which totally mars the beauty of the newly restored Athenian Trilogy buildings in one of the most beautiful streets of Athens, Panepistimiou... and not only!

Photo by Alexandros Filippidis which appeared in the Kathimerini on Sunday 
14 November 2010  in the article  Athens Is Losing its Symbols

Melina, born Maria Amalia Mercouri in Athens in 1920, was the daughter of Stamatis Mercouris, a former cavalry officer, member of Parliament for the Democratic Socialist Party of Greece and former Minister for Public Order of Greece, and the granddaughter of Spyros Mercouris, one of the most successful Mayors of Athens.

Melina worshipped her paternal grandfather who played such a significant role in her early childhood. In turn, Spyros Mercouris adored his granddaughter and took her with him almost everywhere he went - the sight of a young Melina with her grandfather was an endearing one, and one which would inspire the song Melina Melinaki which also became very popular in France.

A well-known and talented actress, Melina was internationally acclaimed for her portrayal of a woman of pleasure in Never on Sunday,  a film which was a milestone in Greek film history but she also had many other performances in her repertoire, both in films and in the theatre, modern and classical. 

During the years of the Military Junta in Greece, while in exile abroad, Melina also recorded several albums which became very popular... her sultry, husky voice giving the songs an extra special dimension. 

One of the most popular was a 1973 album with fellow Global Greek, composer Vangelis,  'Si Melina M'Etait Contee', which featured this song , one of her most beautiful ...  

 Athenes, ma Ville

Ma ville,c'est bon ne plus te voir en rêve
Ma ville, regarde le soleil se lève
Je te salue, toi mon ami, ma soeur
belle endormie mais qui attend son heure

Ma ville, écoute au creux de tes ruelles
Ma ville la voix  de tes enfants t'appelle
réveille-toi réveille-toi
Athèna Athèna

réveille-toi  réveille-toi
Athèna Athèna

Ma ville que c'est un joli jour pour naitre
dore le pain Pâques est enfin venue
tire le vin qui fait chanter tes rues

Ma ville écoute au creux de tes ruelles
ma ville la voix de tes enfants t'appelle
réveille-toi réveille-toi
Athèna Athèna
réveille-toi réveille-toi
Athèna Athèna
réveille-toi réveille-toi
Athèna Athèna
réveille-toi réveille-toi
Athèna Athèna
réveille-toi réveille-toi
Athèna Athèna

Famous for her anti-dictatorship stance during the Military Junta, she was deprived of her Greek citizenship and denied entry into Greece from 1967 to 1974. Her response to that was a simple
'I was born Greek and I will die Greek. 
Mr Pattakos was born a dictator and a dictator he will die

Her biography, appropriately enough, has the same name, I Was Born Greek...

When democracy was restored to her homeland Melina returned to Greece and entered politics, becoming Minister of Culture in the first PASOK Government and retaining that position until she died, except for a short break between 1990 and 1993. From that position she took on the British Museum as she campaigned long and hard for the return of the stolen Parthenon Sculptures now on display in the British Museum. 

Melina didn't live to see her dream become reality. She died in 1994 but her cause was rapidly gaining support around the world and her vision of a Museum to house the Repatriated  Sculptures materialised on 20 June 2009  when the magnificent New Acropolis Museum opened its doors in Athens. 

The pressure on the British is unrelenting and grows daily, with the London Olympics in 2012 an ideal moment for initiatives to be taken. 

Melina, our immortal Melina, will be waiting, just as we are...  as she said when she addressed the UNESCO Conference in Mexico in 1982...

'You must understand what the Parthenon Marbles stand for us. They are our pride. Our sacrifice. Our ultimate symbol of nobility. It is a requiem to our democratic philosophy, our ambition and our name. They are the essence of our Hellenic Being. 
If you ask me whether I will be alive when the Marbles return to Greece, I tell you, yes, I will be. 

But even if I'm not, I will be born again.

When the Sculptures come home to Athens, so will I'

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