CULTURE

Giorgos Chronas

«It was during a break from a Latin lesson in Piraeus in 1962 that I first read some poems by Yiannis Ritsos. Reading them changed me. The word formed images that were elements from nature. Movement. Breaths. Sweat. Years later I met him at his house in Aghios Nikolaos, on Acharnon Street, near the railway station. We went into the living room. His voice was warm. He spoke as if he were composing music. His hands looked like something by El Greco. He offered me coffee, water and a spoon sweet. I watched him looking after me like a butler. ‘This is where I sit in the evening. I listen to Bach on the record player. And I write. Until late.’ I saw the scene. Night. The curtain drooping. The damp rising. ‘You could be the Tennessee Williams of the Mediterranean with what you’ve written,’ I told him. He didn’t reply; he was Ritsos of the World. I met him once more. I went with [artist Yiannis] Tsarouchis. It was obvious from their words and silences what friends they were and how they loved each other. Something magnificent. «The last time I saw him, he got off the electric train at Monastiraki – one of the few intellectuals in Greece who used public transport. He was going to a funeral at Athens Cathedral. It was cold. He was wearing a fur coat. He lit a cigarette as he walked, Visconti, I said, from Monemvasia, Ritsos’s hometown. «Whenever I read his poems, I return to the lesson of feelings. Sick or healthy, they come to soothe me. A trumpet sounds, a tall lad looks out over the Lion’s Gate, at the entrance to the fortress in Monemvasia, the city where the poet was born. Further on, his tomb gleams in the night. There is a full moon tonight. The Stranger from his collection of the same name, greets me. A radio is playing. A window opens. Yiannis Ritsos is here. He’s always here. He hasn’t left.»