On Thursday 13th July I had the pleasure and the honour to accompany Dr Diana Owen, our CEO, to Myrtia, Crete for a special event; the twinning of the Kazantzakis Museum and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Coming from Greece, with origins from Peloponnesus and Crete, I know what hospitality means and how important that still is in my country. For the past seven years I have been away, exactly the same time that the financial crisis had been declared, things in Greece had come into a standstill. Watching the news someone could think that Greece is now over; Athens is a destroyed from the riots city and nobody is safe. I kept wondering, is it possible for everything to change that dramatically over seven years, because of a financial crisis? Are my family and friends in real trouble, will they be able to survive and overcome the difficulties? Is there any light at the end of this tunnel?
The answer to all of those questions was given to me last week, when I visited Crete for the festival Travelling… England. I was excited and worried at the same time. Representing the SBT in Greece of the crisis, with our CEO, and meeting new and important people felt like a huge responsibility for me. The big and kind smiles, the strong and reassuring hugs and handshakes from the people of Kazantzakis Museum, made all my doubts to disappear and they brought back to my mind the Greeks I know. The openhearted and welcoming men and women who will treat you with more food and drink than you can ever imagine; who will find a house for you to stay and who will have their children and grandchildren ready to guide you and help you find your way around the town with a huge smile on their face. People who care about their cultural heritage, who love to share it with the tourists (as we do at the SBT) and who will do miracles with as much funding as possible. That is the answer and there is a bright light at the end of the tunnel; that is Greece!
The festival was immaculate and one of the highest standards. Myrtia was brilliantly transformed in to a smaller Stratford upon Avon and the music and theatre performances impressed us all.
Every time I leave Crete I am in tears. I love this place more than I can describe it with words. The last time I had been there was just before I moved to UK, not knowing when I will be able to get back again. This time, thanks to the SBT, I left Crete knowing that I will be back for sure. This journey to bring our two biggest writers together has just started!
My journey with the SBT started 4 years ago, but it was when I joined the team at Hall’s Croft, as a guide, that everything started making sense to me of how important Shakespeare and his works were, are and will always be in the whole world.
It comes as a surprise to all our visitors when we tell them how the house of William’s daughter was once owned by two very rich sisters from New York (Josephine MaCleod and Betty Leggett) who were hosting parties and gatherings for famous people such as Mahatma Gandhi and Winston Churchill, but for me it came as a very emotional and priceless surprise when Dr Diana Owen mentioned that our very own Greek Nikos Kazantzakis lived at Hall’s Croft too. Not only I have known and admired his works and his unique personality, all my life, but I am proud to say that I am also the great granddaughter of a very dear friend of his, Herakles Polemarchakis, who joined him in Russia in 1919 in order to bring back the Greeks from Pontus after the War. When Dr Owen mentioned Kazantzakis to me I started researching all about his time in the UK and I found out that in his book Travelling England he thoroughly describes his stay at the house where I happen to work every day. It is this same house that the daughter of Kazantzakis’s favourite poet, Shakespeare once lived. It brings tears to my eyes every time I think I am walking on both Shakespeare and Kazantzakis’s steps in that lovely house, still standing after 400 years ago today. Kazantzakis loved Shakespeare, something which was completely unknown to me, but so understandable and great to realize. They were both masters of their native language; it proves difficult for somebody to copy their unique style and according to my opinion their work will never be exceeded by someone else. Both ahead of their times, they still manage to surprise and motivate with their works. Their words lead the new generations of people to think and act. Shakespeare and Kazantzakis constitute a cultural heritage accessible from every single man on the world to enjoy.
To conclude, as Mrs Varvara Tsaka, the Director of the Kazantzakis Museum, mentioned when I explained to her who I am and how I am related to Kazantzakis, some things in life have no explanation when they happen. I do not know if it is a coincidence, or faith, but what I know for sure is that I am a proud Greek who follows the steps of Kazantzakis and who enjoys meeting and sharing the British history and culture in Shakespeare’s houses with visitors from all over the world. Like Kazantzakis, many are making a once in a lifetime pilgrimage and it is an honour to welcome them in Shakespeare’s town.
I will encourage everybody to visit both museums and pay their respects to the two magnificent writers of all times. I hope that “friendships” like this one will be just the beginning for new and exciting projects in the Heritage sector between UK and Greece.