In the world of digital information bombardment, I somehow missed it. It was only after doing research on my next book, set in Izmir and parts of Greece, that another Greek writer friend insisted I see Hello Anatolia and speak to the producer/director, Chrysovalantis Stamelos, of New York and Izmir.
Hello Anatolia is part travelogue, part documentary, with a dose of reality TV. None of this is surprising, as Stamelos is a filmmaker by both education and profession, and of a generation of directors/producers that mix genres comfortably and effectively.
Seeing the film generally requires no follow-up interview, as he guides you effectively through his own personal motivations to find his Asia Minor roots in situ, his romance and marriage with a lovely Turkish lady, and his quest to see what remains of the millennia-old Greek presence in the area.
Parallel and complementary with this, he takes on the cultural divide between Greeks and Turks by homing in on the similarities, and our common traits hidden in plain sight – and in both countries, I should add.
Parts of the film readily remind me of a late 2011 trip I took to Izmir, which I reviewed in Neos Kosmos (‘Ghosts of Smyrna in Izmir’, 5 May 2012). The ex-Greek villages on the outskirts of the city, the Cretan Muslims singing mantinades where you would laugh and cry, walks along the waterfront, where I brooded in thought, and Stamelos and a close Turkish friend singing Dalaras’ song, Mes tou Bosporou ta Stena.
Music figures are a central theme in the film. In one scene, Stamelos speaks to Greek music legend Glykeria before one of her concerts in Istanbul, where she emphasises the common roots of our shared music, that the music is native to both countries and it is very difficult to determine who wrote what. I found this as well in Bulgaria and Serbia, the music was interchangeable with Greek or Turkish, only the lyrics sometimes differed. In another discussion, he introduces us to another Izmiri, a lovely Turkish singer now resident in Athens, singing, predictably, in both languages, to the delight of both peoples.
Then, of course, there is the cuisine, which is perhaps better understood in the context of the Aegean or eastern Mediterranean, before borders and identities hardened, rather than proprietary Greek or Turkish.
Stamelos offers that his film is a “time capsule”, capturing the reality of Izmir and its diverse heritage at a certain time and place, namely the period from 2010 to 2012. Though he takes the viewer on a media-savvy journey, it is still his journey, a passion to find his roots.
“In Izmir,” he explains, “I found a lot of missing pieces of my Greek culture, and at the same time, I was able to explain some of the Turks’ own cultural traits.” Traits that may have been inherited from their former Greek neighbours. He says Turks don’t throw out bread, but rather kiss bread that has fallen on the ground, “which has Orthodox roots as bread as the Body of Christ”.
Another trait is particularly close to my heart.
Around Easter, when he is unable to find red egg dye for Easter eggs, his Turkish mother-in-law directs him to use onion skins to dye eggs. My Serbian wife does the same thing for Easter eggs.
Having travelled extensively in the lands around Greece, I have often
said that understanding Greece requires an understanding of the general neighbourhood, and geography. In this sense, Stamelos is a keen geographer, as he unearths the common geography of the Aegean, divided by arbitrary borders of state, religion, and official identity.
Without rancour to either side, Hello Anatolia is a reaction to the official version of Greek and Turkish history and identities, of the hermetically-sealed versions, which, Stamelos says, “enslave us”. His film is no means to an end, but rather a bridge builder; there is a common river of history flowing beneath.
As if sensing the irony that he, a Greek American, would make the reverse trip, not even to Greece, but to Greece’s titular enemy, Turkey, he would ask people, both the few Greeks still resident in Turkey, and Turks, what they thought of his decision to live in Izmir and to make his life there. Some shook their heads in disbelief, others applauded his courage. Stamelos offers that Greeks in Greece, once exposed to Turkey, so close by, often realise and appreciate these common roots, as do Turks visiting Greece. In this sense, Greeks and Turks back in the homelands, who have ample opportunities to meet each other and recognise their cultural commonalities, are more tolerant, perhaps, than those of us in the diaspora, with less opportunity for interaction. In this sense, Hello Anatolia, the journey of a diaspora Greek, should speak to us even louder than to local Greeks.
Personally I find his work an invaluable chronicle of a part of the Greek world where Greeks may have vanished, but their presence, spectral or real, remains. A wise old Serbian once told me that “the land never forgets its inhabitants”, and Stamelos proves that this is true. It helps, of course, for a media and tech savvy filmmaker with a passion for the land of his ancestry. The film should be the smartphone of every Greek who makes the journey across the Aegean. It would be on mine.