CULTURE

Nikos Aliagas’s double life

“There are a thousand ways to explain a myth,» writes Nikos Aliagas in his first book, a series of tender, autobiographical accounts of a man with a double national identity and an ancient Greek heritage. A multifaceted journalist who has gone from covering hard news to presenting reality extravaganzas (and turning into a celebrity himself in Greece and France), Aliagas’s «Gennithika Ellinas,» (I Was Born A Greek) was recently published by Livanis Press, with a translation by Rena Lekkou-Dantou and illustrations by artist Alekos Fasianos. The Greek edition follows the original French one, published by Jean-Claude Lattes, under the title of «Allez Voir Chez les Grecs,» a play on a popular French expression referring to ancient Greek sexual habits. Already a best-selling item in France and Belgium, for the author the satisfaction so far has been, above all, emotional. «There is a certain demand on the part of publishers for commercial books, memoirs of stars, for instance, but I thought it would be better to build bridges between Paris and Athens, given this is the way I live,» said Aliagas in an interview with Kathimerini English Edition. «At the same time it was a way for me to speak about all these things; essentially, I did my psychoanalysis through this work, while telling other kids that you can belong too.» Belonging to two worlds and two cultures has been Aliagas’ twofold, exciting destiny – rough at times, but enriching all along – in which «You can be born a Greek abroad» is the author’s motto. In the case of Aliagas, it is the Greek edition’s subtitle, «Mythology, or the School of Life,» that provides the answer on how to achieve this. In the book, Aliagas’s sweet memories of childhood (while vacationing in Greece), adolescence and adulthood are narrated with abundant references to ancient Greek myths. It is Aliagas’s grandfather Spyros who gets the credit for laying the foundations for his grandson’s thinking – by telling him stories, usually during long, afternoon walks. From Prometheus to Oedipus, Aliagas finds out how Greek women rule the world and touches on the importance of love, sexual freedom, the nobility of the Olympic Games, the vitality of politics, the idea of democracy and the particular way Greeks deal with death. Most of all, he realizes that Greece exists on two levels: both local and universal. He goes on to explain eternal myths in simple terms: Pandora’s box and Icarus’ broken wings, but also words such as «apotheosis» – for the ancient Greeks it meant a hero that was posthumously accepted into the club of the gods – why Hercules is not a terminator in the Arnold Schwarzenegger sense (but more of a Tarzan kind of guy); how the lives of demigods compare to the tragic destinies of idols such as Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and Che Guevara. Essentially, Aliagas points to how the past is really the present, comparing the mesmerizing songs of the Sirens to today’s lurking temptations, ranging from unprotected sex to futile society games. Meanwhile, all that the young Aliagas craves is to be admitted to his native clubs, in France during the winter, and in Greece in the summer (telling moments in the book include the 10-year-old kid from France instinctively joining in with a group of dancers in Mesolongi and the same boy, five years later, forced to take the metro in Paris dressed in traditional Greek attire). Later on, Aliagas is also concerned with his very own status as a public figure, deconstructing his fame and offering tools for survival – dancing Greek dances the night before interviewing Celine Dion did the trick for him. The author does not aspire to adding something new in terms of history. He is simply content to offer his personalized view on how to use it. «I am not an author; I’m a journalist who is presenting a show, and who wanted to give an account of his own experience,» said Aliagas. In this spirit, he is not worried about bad reviews in Greece while in France, the response has been particularly positive: Jacques Lacarriere commended him for his fresh approach, while the president of the French Republic, Jacques Chirac, was touched by this «Greek of France» or «Frenchman of Greece.» «I don’t believe in putting things in boxes – for the sake of a clean conscience,» said Aliagas. «It’s a risk I’m taking; people will say, ‘Who are you to tell us about the Greeks?’ Meanwhile, I’m not going to apologize for being a public persona; no one has a monopoly on writing.» And there’s more coming up. In view of next year’s Olympic Games, Aliagas is already working with his French publisher on a guide to antiquity, where sports mix with the body and the soul, while he does not rule out writing a novel or publishing a collection of poems. Born to Greek parents in Paris in 1969, Aliagas worked for Radio France Internationale before moving to Tele Monte Carlo and then on to Euronews. His rise to fame began through Christine Bravo’s «Union Libre,» a joyful television magazine featuring European stories and making comparisons between the different states, while talent show «Star Academy» (on TF1) established him as a leading television presenter. (The show was recently awarded with a Sept D’Or for best reality show.) It was while working on «Union Libre» that he began commuting for professional reasons to Greece, initially as an anchorman for Alter channel. Forever working on «building his bridges,» however, and while on the live set of «Star Academy,» Aliagas recently undertook a show for Greek state channel NET, interviewing personalities and stars ranging from soccer star Zinedine Zidane to eternal rocker Johnny Hallyday and fashion master Karl Lagerfeld. «I’m taking advantage of the fact that I meet a lot of personalities through my position in Paris, and I want to share it with the Greeks,» he said. The live show in Paris will come to an end one day and Aliagas is already thinking about his future in the French media. Plans include working in radio. Whatever his professional choices may be, his future is assured, following in the footsteps of his past and his present. «In France, no one ever said to me, ‘We don’t want you to be Greek’,» he said «They said to me, ‘Prove to us what you can do and keep your roots’.» With the publication of his book, Aliagas has done just that. «The whole thing is a matrix; a sort of code: What is mythology, what is Homer all about – the subconscious figures going through Ancient Greeks’ imagination. They are passkeys. If you’re not sure where you are going, then use the passkeys from the past, not in a worshiping way, but through rational and realistic thinking,» said Aliagas. «I think, therefore I know where I’m going.» And that is why going back to the classics is important. «French youth and Greek youth are part of Europe’s youth. They can all listen to Madonna and Beyonce and read Plato,» said Aliagas, adding that he always thought of Homer as being pretty «cool.»