The last thing life’s going to do, is wait behind closed doors

or

Beware of sharks!

As you grow older, the colors fade. Rage, anger, fear, anxiety. It all gains entry into our life, there is space for it all. Successes, joy, losses. Yet, if there is one period I recall that was thoroughly focused and single-minded, a period in which it felt like we were about to leap over the ditch onto the side of happiness, from “was” to “will be”, that was the period of the entry exams for Uni.

I don’t know if it was because I was growing up in rural Greece, I don’t know if my parents thought of University as a one-way street and, so, had brought us up with the dream of a graduate degree.

I don’t know if it was because all the cool guys in town were the University students who arrived back during the holidays and livened up the place.

I don’t know what the reason was, but there was no doubt in my mind that there was a red dividing line that ran through everything: University exams. The time before and the time after. I looked with sadness on the kids that didn’t make it and had to take on extra tutorials for one more year, and then another; and then? Personally, I couldn’t imagine anything past that. Thinking back on it, it seems that ever since primary school, I toiled for when I get into to University, leave the city of Larisa, become independent, become myself, know what it is I want and where I’m heading. For when I will be able to plan trips, be able to do what I want, pick and choose among all the different life-scripts.

We had loaded so many expectations onto this passage to University life! It was the passport for exiting the restrictions of the birthplace for the challenges of a big city, where poetry, revolution and love were waiting. There, at university, we would live at full throttle.

Maybe that is why I still get slightly panicky at the mention of University exams. I remember I used to study out on the balcony, breaking all promises to myself that I would sleep, relax, spend some stress-free time. The small table full of notes and Alcazar park across the street, a summer night full of sounds and smells and promises, and me hanging my whole life on the day coming up. What if I don’t go well, if I don’t get admitted, if I don’t get to leave. Next day I was to take the exam at a building on the other side of town. On arrival, I realized I had left my ID card behind. We drove back, the car shooting every single traffic light indiscriminately, and I returned just as the doors were closing but, in the face of my desperation, they opened again. For years afterwards, I would have the same nightmare, that the doors will not open, that life will sail off without me on board. Only later, much later, did I get it. The last thing life’s going to do, is wait behind closed doors.

I wouldn’t want for my children to go through the same agony. I would like to teach them that happiness is made of different stuff. That, no matter what they choose, they need to really want it a great deal. I remember a friend wanting to study dance, “And she won’t go to University?”, aunt Lillian had said. Dance, music, were activities to do in parallel to academic studies, not an end in themselves. How very small the world was I was dreaming of. No, this isn’t not how I would like my children to think. “And if your son says he wants to be a cyclist or a mountaineer or a dolphin trainer, will you let him?” a friend had asked.

Yes, and I will even pump up his sails as much as I can, for him to dream bigger. Because I now know that no door holds happiness, unless we learn early on to appreciate life. To wage battle. To smile at small, everyday miracles.

The one thing I will tell my son is what I, too, was told by a young friend of mine, when I confided my childhood dream of going round the world on a bicycle. “Ma’am, you need to watch out for sharks. I mean, when you have the bike on the raft or boat, you need to watch out that the sharks don’t puncture the tires.”

And one other thing that fairytales taught me. Many roads open up before us. One leads to the mountain, another to the sea, one to university, another to the village. It’s a shame not to follow your own road. Then again, if you come across sharks along the way, beware that they don’t puncture your tires.

Four season travelers

I bought it twelve years ago. My kids, still young, wanted me to initiate them into holidays in a tent. Alexandra at 9, Stergios at 4. Guests on the property of a close woman friend. All the women would go along with our kids. I didn’t own a tent, so I did some market research. This was the most expensive one but also, I was assured, the best: “It’s a four-season tent, you see.” I was thinking on it when my husband called who said to go ahead and buy it at once, because he was dreaming of tent holidays in winter and summer. At the property, everyone laughed at me. “Let’s see you in the tent in winter!”

When I unfolded it, I realized that all these years I had been a stage hand, following orders, but I’d never set up a tent all on my own. The children were looking on, waiting for my instructions. I didn’t want to disappoint them, so, after an ordeal of several hours, the three of us managed to enter the tent. From that moment on, the complaints started. “I don’t like sleeping on the ground. I don’t like bugs. I’m scared of the dark that moves about all over the tent.” We overcame all of those. And, soon enough, we were happy as larks and all set to enjoy our holidays. We laughed, no matter that there was dirt being carried into the tent, we carefully took out any uninvited insects and the darkness was the departure point for the next story.

I remember the two children insisted that I sleep in the middle. We left the back window open. I was listening to them breathing and looking up at the stars. It seemed to me that a star blinked, as if it heard my wish. “That we always be well. That we hug so there’s room for all of us in the tent. That we travel. That we get to know the world. That my children become travelers.”

I came across the tent again, twelve years later. The children decided to set a tent up on Elygia beach. Before promising I would go to Heraklion to buy them one, I discovered in the storeroom the tent with the brand name: 4 seasons. I sent the children a picture of it. “Is that the one from the property in Astros? Well done, mom, it was worth every penny!” 

All these years and the promise was still good: “summer and winter holidays in a tent.” I momentarily thought of grumbling but then remembered all the fond summers I’d spent with my children in beds, beaches, balconies. And I did succeed in making them love summers, gorges, isolated beaches, expeditions and adventures. I had managed it. Even though the tent waited for all those years. The wish came true. My children became four-season travelers.  

Proust’s questionnaire


What is the main trait of your personality?
The student syndrome

Your greatest asset?
I get easily enthusiastic

Your worst defect?
I get easily enthusiastic

When and where have you been happy?
A few months ago, before Melina passed away

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
A large farm with everyone I love, where we could have as many animals as we liked

What or who is the biggest love of your life?
My family is a great passion

What talent would you like to possess?
That of the explorer

If you could change one thing about yourself what would that be?
To dare make bigger journeys

If you could change one thing about your family, what would that be?
να κοιμόμαστε συχνότερα κάτω απ΄  τα αστέρια

What do you appreciate most in your friends?
Their love

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My children’s carefree laughter

Where would you like to live?
In a bigger garden, in a greener city

What is your greatest fear?
The end

What do you dislike most?
Emotional stinginess

Which trait of yours do you most deplore?
My inability to be on time for my appointments

What trait do you most deplore in others?
Cruelty

What do you consider your greatest wastefulness?
Wasting time on meaningless relationships

Which is your favorite trip?
In the Aegean

Which do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Self-confidence bordering on arrogance

In what circumstances do you lie?
When there is a chance of hurting someone I care for

What do you not like about your appearance?
The excess kilos

What kind of person do you dislike?
Every fascist, every racist

Which word or phrase do you use to excess?
“Baby”

What do you think is your most marked characteristic?
The going to and fro from reality to fairytales in order to explain the inexplicable

What thing do you regret?
The hugs I didn’t give when I should have

What is your favorite activity?
Going for long walks with my dogs

Who are your heroes in real life?
My children

Who are your heroes in fiction?
The heroes of the books I read as a child. The little girl in A tree grows in Brooklyn, Robinson Crusoe, Zoe in When the sun… by G. Sarri, the great rebels in my father’s imaginary tales

How would you like to die?
In my dreams

If you died and came back to life, what person or thing would you like to come back as?
A great explorer

Mistakes towards which you are most lenient?
When it’s a reaction to or the natural consequence of a grave injustice

What is your favorite motto?
Dreams and miracles are a matter of practice

Anneka Esch-van Kan, www.kinderbuch-couch.de

I Want To Win!

Who wins? In kindergarten, on the playground, at home with the siblings
- children are always competing. And
it is not unusual for the same children
to lose out again and again. How can you deal with it if you lose? How do you keep a healthy self-confidence? How do you maintain loving relationships with others? And how can you break through or interrupt a culture of competition that seems to begin with birth? Who wins? is a tale of two little beaver brothers who, at the end of the day, embrace each other full of love and finally go to sleep with a changed view of the world. A little beaver swings high, followed by the curved lettering “Who wins?”
But beware: the ropes are bent, and
this announces the change of direction backwards. Rocking – that means an eternal up and down, always threatened by the fall, which may be the outcome of the desire for “more”. Although in the end actually another little beaver falls from the swing and breaks a leg, however at the centre of the gentle tones and rather simple illustrations of this children’s book, is not the fall which follows the boisterous conduct, but rather the negative consequences of competitive behaviour among siblings. [...]
‘Who wins?’ is a question that goes beyond the confines of family life and addresses a fundamental problem in contemporary, competitive societies.
As kids, we practice behaviours that permeate our entire lives: we constantly compare and compete. Victory and success define the value of a human being and affects her self-esteem. We succeed, essentially, when others
fail. Does that have to be the case? What does it mean to have “success”? What makes individuals valuable and lovable? What kind of relationships do we want to keep up? And, finally, does the comparison with others play a role at all? The story of the award-winning
Greek author Maria Papayanni –whose work has not yet been translated and is hardly known in Germany– remains clear throughout. A story is told that is clearly recognizable as a fable but refrains itself from spelling out a precept. Both in the visual language and in the writing style
it becomes very clear that something is to be revealed. Readers and listeners are invited to follow the story without identifying with any of the characters, without distinguishing between good and evil, without immediately comparing and evaluating each behaviour. [...]
Who Wins? is a children’s book that lovingly and unobtrusively depicts a core problem of our time. It is a good idea to take the time to read it and to start a conversation with your children. Since it stimulates an active co-thinking, and the visual language avoids typical stimuli for toddlers, the book is recommended for children from 4 years of age. Conclusion: A fairy-tale about the violence of comparison and the repercussions of competitive behaviour. Instructive, subtle, and a little sad–but still, so beautiful.

Gerald Jatzek, Wiener Zeitung

I Want To Win!

Who wins? In kindergarten, on the playground, at home with the siblings
- children are always competing. And
it is not unusual for the same children
to lose out again and again. How can you deal with it if you lose? How do you keep a healthy self-confidence? How do you maintain loving relationships with others? And how can you break through or interrupt a culture of competition that seems to begin with birth? Who wins? is a tale of two little beaver brothers who, at the end of the day, embrace each other full of love and finally go to sleep with a changed view of the world. A little beaver swings high, followed by the curved lettering “Who wins?”
But beware: the ropes are bent, and
this announces the change of direction backwards. Rocking – that means an eternal up and down, always threatened by the fall, which may be the outcome of the desire for “more”. Although in the end actually another little beaver falls from the swing and breaks a leg, however at the centre of the gentle tones and rather simple illustrations of this children’s book, is not the fall which follows the boisterous conduct, but rather the negative consequences of competitive behaviour among siblings. [...]
‘Who wins?’ is a question that goes beyond the confines of family life and addresses a fundamental problem in contemporary, competitive societies.
As kids, we practice behaviours that permeate our entire lives: we constantly compare and compete. Victory and success define the value of a human being and affects her self-esteem. We succeed, essentially, when others
fail. Does that have to be the case? What does it mean to have “success”? What makes individuals valuable and lovable? What kind of relationships do we want to keep up? And, finally, does the comparison with others play a role at all? The story of the award-winning
Greek author Maria Papayanni –whose work has not yet been translated and is hardly known in Germany– remains clear throughout. A story is told that is clearly recognizable as a fable but refrains itself from spelling out a precept. Both in the visual language and in the writing style
it becomes very clear that something is to be revealed. Readers and listeners are invited to follow the story without identifying with any of the characters, without distinguishing between good and evil, without immediately comparing and evaluating each behaviour. [...]
Who Wins? is a children’s book that lovingly and unobtrusively depicts a core problem of our time. It is a good idea to take the time to read it and to start a conversation with your children. Since it stimulates an active co-thinking, and the visual language avoids typical stimuli for toddlers, the book is recommended for children from 4 years of age. Conclusion: A fairy-tale about the violence of comparison and the repercussions of competitive behaviour. Instructive, subtle, and a little sad–but still, so beautiful

toutelaculture.com

I Want To Win!

Children like to take part in races and competitive games, but sometimes, those who lose get hurt, and lose a sense of their self-worth. This is what happened with Pollux, here. But this is also what will motivate him to overcome himself, to mature, and to realize that there is something more important than winning. He understands that whoever loves and is loved is always a winner. An inspired and touching book with wonderful illustration.

Eleni Svoronou, O Anagnostis

I Want To Win!

“Our beavers are the Earth’s eternal ‘heroes’. Vainglorious but also capable of the bravest self-abnegation. Able to understand that “finally, everything is a matter of luck and the gods may stop favoring you any time they like – it takes no more than a minute to turn from lucky to unlucky. The most important thing is who you are, what of you is left once good luck abandons you.” But that is exactly what good children’s literature can do. In its sparse and frugal language, it can condense meanings and concepts that belong to the sphere of philosophy. Aris found that out for good when his good luck ran out. So, let us be our selves. Another day we will win, differently.”

Elena Ardzanidou, Thinkfree

The King Who Had Too Much of Everything

“A different, interesting story, rich and well written. It succeeds in managing the obsessions of its protagonist which cause suffering and darkness to the land. At every page you might be listening to music that gives rise to gloom, alienation, terror until, once again, light and hope arrive. A theatrical story or, better still, a story for an opera. The book requires multiple readings, with pauses and spells of silence. It seeks initiated readers while it simultaneously attracts the ‘rest’, the new, hatching readers. In this work, too, Maria Papayanni dares confront the passion for wealth which only brings about pain, destruction, exile and depletion and she does so with a few sparse words, Doric, well aimed and creative. A craftswoman who enchants, while methodically arresting the attention of her old, but also her new reader.”

Manos Kondoleon, Bookpress

The King Who Had Too Much of Everything

“Whereas Papayanni writes with lyricism and tenderness, she addresses issues intensely political or social in character and does so in the service of initiating the child in a cyclic and not in the least utilitarian analysis of the world.”

Anta Katsiki_Guivalou Professor at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Bookpress

The King Who Had Too Much of Everything

“In a language that is simple and direct, through the vehicle of a fairytale, it addresses serious issues which children, but also adults, face in the difficult times of the present. […] Without didacticism, not even indirect, Papyanni highlights the nourishing and restorative power of knowledge, imagination and memory in creating and recreating a life full of optimism, joy, hope and, especially, free of the sundry fears and nightmares that poison our life, turning it into a veritable hell. This fairytale of Maria Papayanni is a modern narrative, political in the broad sense, as it highlights, often by contrast, the concepts of freedom, subjugation, free will, submission, love, hatred, personal and social isolation, totalitarianism and democracy, the collective overcoming of difficulties, resistance to despotism, and does so in a manner that is particularly pleasant and attractive. Certainly this text is amenable to multiple readings.”