Sissy Tsiflidou, Bookpress

Shoes with Wings

“Papayani’s writing is expressive and engaging. She has the ability to effortlessly communicate her message to the reader, attract him into her narrative universe, have him enter the story, empathize, agonize, laugh, identify with the characters. Her storytelling which occasionally turns poetic, the technique of encased narratives which merge seamlessly into the storyline, her rich and well crafted intertextual references, her literary armature reflected in her use of language, mark her one of the most noteworthy writers for children and youth.”

Dimitra Makropoulou, Ta Nea

Shoes with Wings

“A world that is hard and violent in which you live, which you reject, which you imagine different.You do have the choice of creating this different world. Here, however, the colors are different, as are, for instance poems and their language, to which the author masterfully alludes through her chapter titles, or as are imagination, optimism, a gaze directed towards life, that gives you shoes with wings to run to the place you dream of.”

Kostas Magos, at the 13th International Conference on Intercultural Education 2010

Excerpt from the presentation by Kostas Magos, at the 13th International Conference on Intercultural Education 2010

Tomorrow the Earth will Grow

The book describes the parallel daily reality of two girls of the same age: Anna in Greece and Chadzouavi in Ghana. Through the story, the young readers of Greece become familiarized with basic aspects of their peers’ way of life in Africa, discovering similarities and differences. The scarcity of water and the difficulties in securing it, the domicile, the family, the parents’ occupation, the educational setting and other matters concerning the life of children in the particular African country, emerge through the books texts and illustrations in a way that is natural and easy understand even for younger children. The book avoids all the usual traps mentioned earlier. In particular, “exoticism”, a common issue in books describing other cultures, is entirely absent in the present text where the description of the daily life of the different “other” is consonant with the corresponding reality. Also objective is the description of daily life regarding members of the dominant culture. There are no obvious or hidden stereotypes in the book, while the storyline fosters intercultural contact, understanding and the respect of difference, as well as support for children’s education in Africa through the relevant programs. Finally, the story offers itself for discussion on issues to do with children’s rights globally and the existing inequalities around that.

The choice of heroines is apt, as it concerns two girls both of them preschoolers, who, despite the distance separating them, share the same desires (play) the same dreams (school) the same needs (love, tenderness) the same questions (how large is the earth) the same fears. The lives of Chadzouavi and Anna are treated equally and the differences work not in the service of marginalizing difference, but as a motive for deeper contact and exchange.

Poly Krimnioti, Avgi

My name is Maya

“My name is Maya”; thus simply is the six-year-old heroine introduced in Maria Papayanni’s new book. Observer and narrator at the same time, with a child’s feistiness, directness and disarming honesty, Maya looks at the world around her with a sense of wonder, asks questions constantly and rightfully expects answers to those seemingly simple questions which, however, grownups can’t always answer with the ease with which she makes them. Maria Papayanni’s Maya is a child of our times. The author succeeds in portraying her language and thought without the affectation and clichés which adults often resort to, when they “borrow” children’s voice. Hence, the young reader meets with a true peer, the thought processes, the guile, the jokes, the puzzlement of that age group in the course of daily life. And learns effortlessly, without didacticism or lecturing on the part of the author, the very important thing that Maya learns in her first days at school. That “school is first for making friends and then for learning how to read and write”, since it took her four months to master writing but only one day to meet her best friend.

“Children can tell truth and lies apart”

"My child and I"
Interview with Evi Karkiti

A recent award, that of the literary magazine Diavazo, was the occasion for yet another look at the world of Maria Papayanni. In her books, a miracle is always waiting outside the door, to change the life of her young heroes. The same thing happens in the performance Strange isn’t it? whose libretto she signs, and which will be presented from 20 to 30 December at the Athens Megaron Concert Hall.

-In your books, do you present the world to children exactly as it is, or is there always space for dreams?

In the stories I write, I try to tell children the truth. But I don’t record reality as it is. Part of it is paired off with a fantasy, a dream, an expectation, a burning wish or obsession which I wish could come true. For example, that there is a miracle waiting outside our door or that in this life, the good guys win… They say that myths are shared dreams. The Australian Aborigines called creation the Dreamtime and their myths dreaming. I don’t think today’s children have given up on dreaming. My need is to share my dreams with them or to get inside their dreams.

-What made you take up writing for children? Is it easy, in the end, to write a story that can be understood by children?

I love children’s fiction. I’ve never stopped being interested in it. I remember that at university, grown up child that I was, I never missed a book by Georges Sarri or Alki Zei. Later still, when I started to write about things that moved me, the way I approached them was always through the eyes of children.
I like stories that aren’t childish in order for children to like them, precisely because I believe that children do understand an awful lot and, above all, they can tell truth and lies apart. And if they sometimes chose the lie, that’s because they can’t bear the truth.

-What do you believe children look for in a book today?

I believe that good books are for both grownups and children. Selma Laggerlef, the first woman to receive a Nobel prize for literature, used to say that “the children’s book is real when it is liked by both young and old.” When I start to write something, I never think of my readers’ age. According to sales, children in recent years may well favor fantasy fiction but, for me personally, what is really important is that books should help children grow up. As a great storyteller, Tolkien, used to say: “Their books, like their clothes, must allow for room to grow but, books especially, must at all costs encourage growing up.”

Interview with Anna Routsi for the internet magazine

-In your works, the element of otherness is quite pronounced: The characters are different from the majority of people. Is there something you want to point out and why?

Without thinking much about it, I’d say that I don’t decide in advance to make my characters different. It’s just that I was always fond of special people. Whether silent or loud. A little gone with the fairies and not all that conventional. The people who interrogate daily the self-evident, disguise it, transform it. Who dare on a daily basis to dust off their treasures and pin themselves against them. Thus, a friendship becomes a precious gift and an excursion, a journey full of possibilities. I like watching the everyday through a magnifying glass. I don’t know if that’s my way of trying to familiarize my young readers with the acceptance of the “other” but I certainly believe that miracles take a different form for each one of us and that life would be dreary without colors.

-The characters in your book struggle with superstitions, popular beliefs, fears, things closely linked with the Greek tradition. Which of these amuse you and which do you consider potentially dangerous?

I think the dividing line is pretty clear. In the Lonesome Tree, my main heroine loves life very much, she laughs easily. Her sister takes her to an icon in the church and points to an angry saint. “See how he’s looking at you? The saint doesn’t like it one bit that you’re laughing.” On the other hand, there are the legends and folk traditions which I find utterly poetic. Magic realism. In many villages people still live side by side with sprites and ghosts, talk with those who have passed to the other side and have stories to tell about every single stone.

-Do you think that our times lend themselves to dreams and to the imagination? Can the drive for survive b combined with those elements and how?

Dreams and the imagination are not a medicine and can’t be dispensed with a doctor’s prescription. You live like that, or you don’t. They exist in our life. They are a part of who we are. It’s just that some people have closed the door, in their effort to survive this unbearable everyday. As far as kids are concerned, this is their way of growing up and explaining the world. They need to slip away from reality into the world of the imagination. Nobody would claim that the solution is to take up residence in the world of the imagination. Still, a pebble keeping the door open for some fresh air to come in now and then, is always needed.

-We often hear that young people don’t read, don’t write, and so on and so forth. You, who are in touch with these issues, how do you see things? Does society and our educational system play a role in this?

The only thing they play a role in, is the accumulation of knowledge so that the children move on to tertiary education. Kids in adolescence have next to no time for extracurricular activities. This morning I heard myself calling out to my daughter to quit piano practice and get to her homework in Religious studies. I heard myself and I was appalled! Kids are so overloaded that they haven’t time not just to read but get together with their friends. Naturally, I think that those children who got some “training” when they were young, on growing up, will again seek the pleasure of reading.

-Fiction for adolescents has the peculiarity that neither will adolescents buy it of their own accord, nor do grownups quite know (or dare!) to buy something for adolescents. How can it be made more accessible? You in particular, what is the audience you address and how do you approach them?

To tell the truth, I don’t have a specific age group of readers in mind when I’m writing. I don’t tailor my stories to anyone. I wouldn’t want to write a novel partial to adolescents that would only speak their slang and have as its sole subject the violence, conflicts and mad pace of that age. In the music I listen to, the conversations I have, sometimes I like to turn the volume up and at others to turn it down. When I am invited to schools, I meet such different kids, with such wide ranging interests. Some will discover my book and, if they like it, recommend it to friends. That seems to me a more normal way. Isn’t that what we did in high school as well? We swapped books, music and poetry. Kids at that age are suspicious of their parents. They can discover a book by themselves which, if imposed by adults, they will reject out of hand.

-Do you remember your favorite books as a kid- an adolescent – a grownup?

I remember well the bookshelf in my room in Larisa. Next to the tales of the Grim brothers and Andersen, were added Doctor Mars’ daughters and then the Silver Skates, A tree grows in Brooklyn. At some point, A child counts the stars was joined by the Tiger in the shop window, the Wooden Swords, When the sun... There was a reason that books came into the house during the first ten years, on holidays and during vacations. Nowadays, books are piled into bookshelves, the unread ones are crammed on the bedside table, and it is harder to remember them and bond with them. At university, I discovered Marquez with great excitement, I was amongst the first to buy Maro Douka’s latest and recently, I fell in love with Zyranna Zateli. And then, I wiped the slate clean and went back to the beginning: the Odyssey and A thousand and one nights.

We all have a Peter Pan hidden in us

Writer Maria Papayanni talks about the magical world of children

Chryssoula Papaioannou

for Eleftherotypia, 12/18/2007

“As we grow, we become trapped in the everyday and lock away our riches for safekeeping, except we hide them so well that we forget about them and we end up …accepting discounts on our dreams. Children dream both with their eyes shut and open.” Maria Papayanni, writer and translator of children’s books, knows what she is talking about. She wrote the story Strange, isn’t it? to remind young and old that “life’s miracle are the small, everyday moments. Mom’s hug after a nightmare or a friend’s embrace.” We will be seeing it as a musical play at the Nikos Scalkotas hall of the Athens Megaron Concert Hall starting this Friday until December 30.

The score is by Thanos Mikroutsikos on verses by Yannis Ritsos (the title is from his poem “Again the young Eleni”) Nikos Kavadias, Maria Papayanni and Melina Karakosta. The show is dedicated to the latter who passed away during rehearsals. Mikroutsikos and Panayotis Larkou directed, while the sets and costumes are by Yorgos Vafias and the choreography my Cecile Mikroutsikos. The dancers are Rania Glymitsa and Konstantina Mikroutsikos.

As the name Mikroutsikos is often repeated in the play’s credits – and besides, Maria Papayanni is the composer’s spouse – the writer clarifies: “In a sense, artistic productions are family affairs anyway. Thanos who is at the helm of the undertaking, would not choose people without experience in similar performances.”

The performance at hand is built around the axis of Papayanni’s story: in a city without dreams, feasts or celebrations, a falling star appears but Yomo and Cora have nothing to wish for. The reason is that, a long time ago, an evil witch stole the key of dreams from the wise old man who was their guardian. Yet, the two children will go all the way up to the sky to find the missing key. They will become circus acrobats, have an encounter with pirates and will live through many adventures.

A children’s story for Papayanni means … a happy end. This is not to say that evil is absent. “We shouldn’t tell stories where everything is fine as rain. We are preparing children for this world, not another ideal one. Evil needs to be present and it must be recognizable. The bad guys have always existed in fairytales though, nowadays, unfortunately, they are glamorous and it’s easy for a child to identify with them”, she says.

Not only fairytales but the conventional storytellers have changed. “The stories that grandmas and grandpas used to tell, were good practice for children’s imagination. Today, they take their grandchildren on their lap to watch the afternoon TV serials”, she remarks.

What does a good fairytale mean for Maria Papayanni? “It’s the one that speaks about the truth without being childish. Every child has a different level of maturity. We want them to walk away with their pockets full of pebbles, that is to say, ideas and emotions. On their way home, each picks out what suits them.” Of course, fairytales don’t address exclusively young children. “A tale for children works when grownups also like it. Also, a bedtime story is combined with a hug, and a child may need that for many years”, she adds.

Though she is a mother of two, 6 year old Stergios and 11 year old Alexandra, her love of fairytales dates to her years as a Literature student. “Maybe it’s because of the Peter Pan we all have hidden in us, and the longing for the land of Never-Never. I leave the door open so I can come and go to both worlds”, she explains. Which is why she finds it hard to tell her young son that there is no Santa Claus. “I am in favor of making our life into a bit of a fairytale and not killing myths off”, she says. These festive days, then, will find her with her family under the Christmas tree where

“we will all sleep together and tell stories…”

I like seeing miracles in the everyday

Writer Maria Papayanni talks about the magical world of children

Interview with Sandra Voulgari, for Kathimerini, 03-11-2012

The Lonesome Tree, an unusual story, taking place on the rocky outcrops in the shadow of a Cretan mountain, earned writer Maria Papayanni the State Prize for Adolescents’/Youth Book of Fiction. This piece of news happily coincided with a second one concerning both the writer and children’s literature in Greece, as the contract was signed with minedition press for publishing yet another of Papayanni’s stories with the title, Another day, it will be your win.
The latter book is addressed to preschoolers and will be illustrated by the well loved and much acclaimed illustrator Eve Tharlet. In tandem with her voluble and very interesting writing, Maria Papayanni has translated several of her titles published by Patakis, and has dreamt one day to see how Tharlet might paint one of her stories.
When I called her, I found her in the abandoned village in Crete that was the setting for the Lonesome Tree. I thought that was very exciting. Our conversation took place through the internet and over the phone in the middle of several adventures, as, last time we spoke, the house she was staying in, was flooded by the rain…

-What inspired the Lonesome Tree?
All stories I think are born in a place. Certainly, they carry along seeds and pebbles from all the journeys. My tree looks out to the south. In the outskirts of an isolated village in the Asterousia mountains, gazing out to the Libyan sea. Here live people who may have never traveled in their life but can tell you countless stories about every village stone. According to those tales, the village was always chosen by strange beings.
Elves and things that go bump in the night, spirits that arrive from the sea, visit one of the houses and never let it be in peace. So, then, I thought what it would be like for a young child to grow here carrying all the local beliefs and legends, growing up in a place far removed from the urban alienation. And then, I used this adolescent, whom I christened Simos to talk again about my own obsessions. Namely, that the deeper the roots grow, the larger the branches. That the more solidly you tread your home ground, the farther you can fly, travel, explain and get to know the world.
Also, that you need every so often to empty yourself out of everything you hear daily and remember your on weighing scales, the ones we all carry inside us for things small and large. But with the world’s din, we forget ourselves and use other people’s scales.

- What inspires you as a writer more generally?
I have always loved unusual people, those who are different, whether they’re silent or passionate about some thing. On the other hand. I observe everyday life through my own magnifying glass. A minute detail, a gesture, a phrase, a dream, assume the leading role. I like seeing small miracles in the everyday, which is to say, seeing through the eyes of children, as much as that is possible, of course, because their imagination is limitless. I love fairytales. As you know, fairytales don’t say that everything is perfect, they say that we all lived happily ever after. How? Only if we cross the dark woods, if we dare confront the wolf and the wild beasts and, especially, if we spend the time to listen to the advice of an old woman, a bird, a beggar.
The magical advice is only given to those who keep their eyes and ears open, their senses vital in a mill that grinds up everything. All this is my starting point, true enough, but with one precondition. Even when I immerse myself in tradition, in terms of space and time, I endeavor for my writing to be contemporary. I don’t believe in realistic representation in the sense of depiction, but in the magnification of the real in the sense of magic.

-Are you crafting a new story?
It’s not possible to turn our back to the unbearable everyday life, the difficulties we are all experiencing and which put us under so much strain and pressure. For some time now, I have been thinking about a story with children as main characters, who see the circumstances of their lives change dramatically. My goal is for unemployment not to be a strange and exotic experience but part of the reality of people who, up till yesterday, were employed and living normal lives. The next story, then, will be taking place in the years of the crisis.

-Do you believe that children are ready to hear it?
Children don’t live inside some glass ball, they live in the same everyday as us, with their antennae always on the lookout. It seems to me wrong to keep children away from problems. Children are peers in any discussion and that is how I treat them. Those who think they need to make a fake oasis for their children, evidently don’t know how to prepare them for this world but for some other, ideal world which I, personally, have no idea where it might be located.
It’s a shame to let kids try and piece together the puzzle of reality from things that come under the crack of the door, because they might build an even more dismal reality. Besides, they are getting daily bombarded through that big door, television. The point is to bring up strong children who can resist wretchedness, who will dare stand up for what they believe in and, even more, who will not clip their dreams down to the size of necessity but will try to make their own dreams reality.

- Do you prefer writing for children?
The truth is that, when I write, I am not thinking of the age I am addressing. Yet, I do love children very much and I envy the way they dream, I admire their ability to overturn everything, the great sense of justice they possess. Personally, I had quite a hard time making up my mind that I am grown up and, to be honest, I still think about what I want to be when I grow up and, in fact, have quite a long list in mind. I don’t know if that’s the reason I write for children.
At all events, when I write a story, I don’t tailor it to any particular age. I do have a tendency, though, to taint even my evil characters with goodness and seek their other side. I love life a great deal, despite how disappointed I am in people, despite all the difficulties. And maybe it’s this unwavering persistence in always choosing life, in trying to reverse misery, that fits in with childhood. One storyteller used to say: “The world is unbearable. Life is beautiful. We always have the option of choosing. The narrator of tales chooses life.”

Maria Papayanni was born in Larisa. She has studied Greek Literature and worked as a journalist for radio, television, newspapers and magazines. In recent years she has been writing children’s stories and translating fiction for children. He last novel, As if by magic, was awarded the Prize of the Circle of the Greek Children’s Book as well as the prize for Children’s Book of Fiction, of the literary magazine Diavazo. She wrote the libretto and the verses for the play Strange, isn’t it? (musical theatre performed at the Athens Megaron Concert Hall in 2007 and 2008.) Also, the libretto (adaptation of the novel by Selma Lagerlof, Nils Hoggelrson’s wonderful journey) for the play Say it with a fairytale for narrator and orchestra, to the score by Thanos Mikroutsikos, produced in Christmas of 2002-2003, at the Athens Megaron Concert Hall.


Hμερομηνία: 11-03-2012   

The Singing-stew

Ever since I was small, I loved stories. I adored listening to grownups recounting scenes from when they were young. Small feats that, to my ears, sounded fabulous. It was always at mealtime. When the plates emptied, when the glasses were filled and refilled, when the kids went back to playing, that’s when the best part started. “Do you remember when…” The first stories brought on laughter, the laughter singing, the singing hugs and, then, more stories. In the summers, five brothers, five families with a dozen children, we all shared the same house. In the morning, we were always roused by the smell from the oven. All the moms were in the kitchen, one washing tomatoes and peppers, another slicing onions, another preparing the meat. The singing-stew was a summer dish and a Sunday one at that. For the large formal spread. None of our friends knew what the singing-stew was. Maybe it was a family invention. “Why is it called singing-stew?”, I would ask the moms. “Because whoever eats it, sings.” The meat was swimming in potatoes, peppers and onions and the only wintery note was the feta cheese, like snow on the colorful dish. I wasn’t particularly fond of it but I didn’t make a fuss because I was thinking that the Sunday singing-stew helped the grownups sing more tales. The kitchen leader was grandma. She sat on the side and pridefully watched the daughters and daughters-in-law cooking. It was her, grandma Victoria, who had taught them the recipe. She hadn’t made it herself for years but she knew how it was done better than anyone. They’d show her the plate with the feta that was about to land on top of the casserole. And although she could neither see nor hear all that well, grandma Vic took the opportunity to start chatting. They would forget about her all through the morning. She kept a discrete distance throughout the cooking, to keep a white hair from her well made bun, wander into any of the pots and pans. “Don’t rush, has the meat boiled good and proper?” “Why, mom, it’s melted already!” “Oh, you didn’t over boil it, did you?” The first-born and best cook, Marika, would decisively take things in hand: “If we spend more time discussing this, it will soon be inedible!” She turned off the stove and sprinkled the feta on the casserole in one smooth motion. Then, she took a clean dishcloth and covered it. The meal was ready and the women could go to have a quick dip, meet up for a while with the men and children, then come back again before the others, to set the table. Grandma kept the singing-stew company until the children and grandchildren returned. I was convinced that at that exact moment, grandma put something in the singing-stew casserole, something magical, that would make her children sing tales again. One Sunday I asked my mom to not go swimming because my belly ached. “Alright, you stay quietly in your room. Grandma will be in the kitchen.” As soon as I heard them all leave, I went barefoot and took position by the kitchen door. I saw my grandmother rise laboriously and lift the dishcloth, sniff and sniff and, then, reach inside the pocket of her black house robe, pull something out and sprinkle it on the food. Then, she turned to where I stood and winked at me. That gesture always stayed with me, like a great secret. I never told anyone and never asked my grandmother what magic she added to the recipe. When she died, I went into her room, opened her wardrobe and stroked her black robe. I slid my hand into its pockets and there was the answer to the great mystery of my childhood. On the one pocket there was a dry leaf of basil and in the other, a twig of oregano. We were fairly grown by now. In the summer, us kids ran off, each with their own group of friends to the islands that lay off the beaten track. Back in the summer house, the Sunday table grew that much poorer. Still, ever since then, all my cousins agree that mine is the best singing-stew of all.

Shared dreams

I’m lucky. My office faces a couple of trees squashed in between the apartment blocks, but trees nevertheless. I can hear my neighbor watering them with unfailing enthusiasm on Sundays when he’s off work. My friend, Christos, is lucky as well. If he leans out, he can see over the apartments a little bit of Lycabettus Hill. He dreams of growing a small forest on his rooftop and has entered a waiting list on a municipal program. We live in the centre of Athens. Still, those two, three trees create the illusion of a small luxury. Under those trees, my daughter used to leave notes to the fairies, looking for ways to communicate with them. I watched her at first with joy though later it made me sad to see her searching desperately for in which language to talk to them. She would write on ribbons and tie them on to branches, painted small scraps of fabric or colorful bits of paper, then she thought of drawing on the leaves. She possessed a great deal of patience, she had the vision, the passion and, in her youthful mind, all that was missing was the right form. But she needed a fairytale that had its beginning in the small courtyard of our house. She would have discussions with me and I would anxiously search for the right answers. Should I tell her that there are no fairies, ground her in the adult world. I didn’t want to. We were the ones knocking ourselves out telling her fairytales and, on the other hand, she was growing up in a world were dream materials were so scarce! When she went to primary school and learned the alphabet, I found her one late afternoon repeating under the two trees: “a, b, c…” “What are you doing?” I asked. “Shhh, I’m calling the fairies”. She asked me to join her. Her small alphabet sounds mixed with the everyday sounds of our neighborhood. The cars passing, Severina looking for Pipi, her cat, the cat’s bell jangling as he leapt from one balcony to the next and, of course, the steady sound of a TV set out of all the apartments, but especially the one across, on the first floor. A deaf old lady lives there with her carer who keeps changing every so often, A Bulgarian, a Russian, a Pole, always from the Eastern Bloc, because Mrs. Nana used to play the piano in her youth and held the Russian school in high esteem. My mind follows the sounds in the apartment across the way while my daughter goes on: a ...b …c.At some point she cuts short annoyed. The fairies won’t come unless you sing, too, a…b…c.Her comment is as disarming as her expression. Feeling awkward and moved all at once, I start murmuring a…b…c and, gradually, the sounds from the surrounding balconies fade away and it’s just the a, …b, …c. and my daughter’s need for a new myth of her own, in this modern world. But it is so hard to make out the voice of myth in a world that has completely forgotten its forebears and their pathways through nature.

I was reminded of this story of my daughter while reading a Hebrew tale. Baal Shem Tov and his faithful scribe are going on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The boat hits a storm and the sailors surround the Jews considering them responsible for the bad luck. Death seems certain. The worst thing is that Baal Shem Tov has forgotten all the sacred prayers and can’t ask for God’s help. His apprentice pleads with him to try but he can’t remember a thing. Eventually, the great teacher and storyteller, asks his faithful scribe if he can remember anything. Slowly, with difficulty, he recalls the first two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. So, he starts murmuring in a timid voice, Aleph, Beth. Baal Shem Tov repeats the letters and these most elementary parts of language have such power that they are saved from perdition.

Every time period brings changes with it, ours, though, is a time of complete transformations. Many simple things are being overturned. Electronic media, new technologies for the dissemination of information. Yet, the more information accelerates, the more people’s vital communication is hampered with family members, friends, neighbors, nature. In this new reality, the need for something immutable grows. And oftentimes, the realms of “Once upon a time” are proving more stable that the contemporary geographical maps. In recent years an ancient art is being revived. Storytellers, revisionist bards, fairytale festivals, home gatherings, seminars on narration and oral tradition. This past summer, on Kea island, in Vytina, in Kallipefki, the hillsides and woods filled with people thirsting to hear fairytales. Could it be that in amidst the galloping of a mechanical everyday, a new feeling is growing that the human voice and memory are irreplaceable? Is it maybe that we need the renewal of the bond between those who narrate and those who listen? Is this a response to modern day barbarism? How else to explain the ever growing interest in such a simple form?

Is it perhaps the need for introspection, if we agree with the view that our ancestors’ stories are always alive within us, though their voice can’t be heard in the midst of modern living? Or, is it our need for simplicity, for the things that used to be self-evident in times past? Our need to live our life with perfect simplicity, just like in a fairytale? Might it above all be the need to dream up a new myth? Besides, weren’t myths in different times of history, the way to explain the inexplicable and, simultaneously, an ongoing reflection on life’s unanswerable questions? Could our times be at that very point? The point, that is, where we need a modern myth that will teach us to listen to one another, listen to the voice of nature before we utterly destroy it? 

Who is the hero in the traditional fairytales all over the world? The one who travels through the dark forests, who slays dragons, who dares to take on obstacles but, mainly, the one who listens… The one who listens to the elves and leprechauns, who listens to the spirit of the forest, the tired woman at the edge of the road who might be a witch or a benevolent spirit. If his ears are closed and, particularly, if he is in a hurry, he will walk past the solution to the problem and will be powerless when the time comes to pit himself against the challenge. In fairytales, then, we learn that the need to listen is as heroic as fighting a dragon with a dozen heads. How then should I dissuade my son who is trying to communicate with animals or my daughter who used to try to listen to that which is different in the dusk? Could it be that we have simply forgotten how to listen? Might that be what we need over and above anything else? Might we, also, have hastened to name certain things all the better to forget them straight afterwards? “Imagination is essential for a happy child…” Yes, certainly, but, then, how come we don’t miss any opportunity to dismember its dreams? Always with the best intentions, to be sure, we stuff that child with knowledge and information – computer literacy, and language classes and some sports and a bit of music. We run along the street to be there on time before the class starts. The young boy pauses: I heard something in the trees. A lizard was desperately asking for help.Next to a wizened tree, in the middle of an encumbered city, all I can see are a few pieces of discarded plastic. The kid insists: listen.And, suddenly, I feel how poor I am. How difficult it is even for the best parents to be able to hear a small lizard’s cry for help, the young boy’s desperate need to transform reality in order to be able to experience it. And, then, I want to go down on all fours and find the little lizard except time is pressing and the class is about to start irrespectively of lizards and the tears of wayward students.

I had read the interview of a contemporary storyteller, Ednos, who was saying that one of the challenges of his art form was to give meaning back to words. To forge materials, including ancient ones, in a way that resonates with society and its dysfunctions. “The fairytale is like a pebble that must prevent the door from closing.”

Through the half-open doo, I am again thinking of a small girl seeking her fairytale, repeating the only letters she knows: a, …b, …c. A great teacher and storyteller whispering his own letters: aleph, beth, to avert a disaster. A contemporary storyteller who wants to give meaning back to words. They say that myths are shared dreams. Australian Aborigines called the creation Dreamtime and their myths dreaming. Are we maybe at that very point? Is all this contemporary interest in fairytales the need to share a dream and dream again a new myth? At all events, while our forests were burning I, who admire the two little trees crammed in the small space between buildings, my neighbor who on his one free day, Sunday, waters them with enthusiasm, my friend Christos who is planning a forest on his rooftop and that young girl sending signals to the fairies through the lower branches of a lemon tree, we were all having the same dream. An earth that is under threat and is desperately asking for help like the little lizard on the way to the classrrom.