Livaneli on Theodorakis: ‘As if a monument is lost’
It was that morning, two weeks ago, when I had left my home island in the Ionian Sea to spend my last days of my summer vacation in Athens. The Athens part of my trip was to be for the less interesting time, mainly meetings and preparation before returning to my base in Istanbul. Departing from the island becomes more difficult by the year, especially when you leave in the month of September, when the sea is at its best.
Equally sad were many passengers on the ferry boat to Patras, who, with half of their face hiding behind the obligatory mask, were absentmindedly watching the TV at the corner of the large salon. So, very few, including me, noticed, the flash news that started running at a particular moment, along the lower part of the screen: “Mikis Theodorakis died this morning at the age of 96.”
Suddenly we all had to come to terms with the terrible news. Many stood up as if in attention, silent, some emotionless in disbelief. As if no one considered his old age as a serious factor for his natural end. Nobody expected that this gigantic cultural and political figure who was active since the mid-1940s, was going to die. “We had forgotten that he was mortal,” said Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in his message after Mikis’ death. Watching the live coverage of the event together with several hundred holiday makers returning to their mainland habitat, I was sure that the same feeling overtook most of us. Of being left alone, like an orphan.
Our only consolation was his music that we started hearing from everywhere whether that was from the TV set in the “Kefalonia” ferry boat to Patras or from our car radio on our return to Athens. Music that many of us had not sung for long time, but which had accompanied all our lives, both in adverse political times but also in our most lyrical moments.
In a space of a few hours, the death of Theodorakis swept away all other news, music, culture, and leftist politics became one and we all remembered the times when these three components were the basis of our lives. (I had met Theodorakis and I had interviewed him, in that symbolic house “with the view of Acropolis.” I remember his humor, his creative energy, and his dislike of the British. After all, he had experienced the Greek Civil War.)
His death was followed by a three-day public mourning, while his coffin was laying in state in the small ancient chapel of St. Eleftherios, next to the Athens Metropolitan Church. Thousands of people started pouring in to pay their last respects. From all ages and all walks of life. Many young children. Everybody talked about him, how directly and indirectly affected their life.
I felt I had to contribute somehow. I talked to Zülfü Livaneli. He was about to leave for Athens to attend the funeral. He was devastated. “I felt as if one day, Acropolis was lost. As if one big monument was lost. This unthinkable. Of course, he had a human side, he was mortal, but in another way, he is like an ancient Greek god, he is immortal,” he told me.
Livaneli had met him first in Athens in 1983 after a concert. A close friendship and collaboration followed which resulted in a joint album and the establishment of a “Greek-Turkish Friendship Committee” - the idea came over a meal in a Bosphorus fish restaurant. The committee attracted several members and a visit to the late Turkish president Turgut Özal convinced him to lift visas for Greek citizens coming to Turkey. Using culture, they worked a lot to promote peace between the two nations and he quoted George Papandreou telling him, “Me and [former Foreign Minister] İsmail Cem walked on a carpet that you had laid before.”
Two weeks later, the vacuum from the physical departure of such a towering figure is still in Greece. His funeral, like his life, became a political event, mourning became a political protest. It still is as if he has never left.