One doesn’t drink the sea, one tastes it!
contemporised interview* of Dimitris Rousounelos from Scala Gallery
(candidate for local councillor with KEPOM, headed by Despina Nazou)
-Born or naturalised Mykonian?
-Born here, in this very neighbourhood, in the bedroom of my paternal home.
-Do you have a nickname? What is it and how did you get it?
-Everyone in Mykonos has one. Carbonis is my grandfather’s nickname from the time he worked in America as a boilerman. It comes from the Italian ‘carbone’ which means coal. My father, as the younger child of the family, became the carbonaki (little coal), accordingly. This name is our family nickname.
-Your first memory of the island?
-A woman (my grandmother Katerno) cooking on a wood fire at the top of Kounoumba.
-Who was your role model as a child?
-Misokolaki, the hero of a Mykonian fairy tale.
-Who are your heroes in real life?
-Those who look forward, who have vision, who don’t back down, and who everyone acknowledges thirty years later. Antiheroes, basically. Dinos Tsakos, the archaeologist of the 60s, is one of those people. We owe him the uncontaminated image of Mykonos, its protection from excess and greed.
-Which Mykonian custom is your favourite?
-The one where the boys steal mayflowers and place them in the gardens of the girls they like.
-How has living in Mykonos influenced you?
-I have the sense that everything ends somewhere and then the sea begins.
-What is your greatest contribution to the island?
-I think it is the publication of the newspaper “Mykoniatiki”. For thirteen years I rang alarm bells, now the prophetic words of the newspaper have been confirmed. Unfortunately, other agendas and interests prevailed, which push things in other directions.
-Do you believe your presence played or plays a role in the development or the history of the island?
-At one time our participation in a group of young people with common goals set down the foundations of another way of thinking about the development of the island. Back then we had the strength and the vitality to open new paths. We became tired, however, because of the constant antagonism with systems and people who were motivated by personal agendas, and by a world which is indifferent to the future. The shock from the unjust death of Doujon Zammit, the resignation of Veronis, the huge scandal and the exposure of the conflicts of interest in the Municipality, the Police, Urban Planning reactivated the conscience of Mykonians.
What are you most regretful about?
I studied economics, although I should have studied cooking.
What would you like to do for Mykonos in the future?
To give her back the image of an island with calm people, with a normal everyday life, with open squares and beaches devoid of the forest of umbrellas that reach all the way to the water’s edge and injure the fragile harmony of the landscape.
What do people here not know about you?
In small communities you can’t hide anything, especially when your life is a public one. For thirty years I have written and spoken publicly about the island, so it goes without saying that everyone knows my views and beliefs. But, if you insist, I don’t think anyone knows that yesterday I counted 380 books in my library on general culinary topics. Even I didn’t know that.
What makes you proud here in Mykonos?
The fact that Mykonians, in spite of the assaults they have endured, remain largely people who care for their island.
Which fellow countryman do you admire most and why?
He is no longer alive. On the eve of the 1998 local council elections, he went to my home one afternoon and waited for me until late into the night, to confide in me personally and sobbing, that he would not vote for me. He said he was voting for the candidate who gave him firecrackers at Easter. I knew he meant the current mayor, Mr Thanasis Kousathanas-Mega. I embraced him and advised him to do what his heart told him. Yiannis Rousounelos was his name and he was my beloved first cousin. He was a Down’s Syndrome sufferer. That evening he gave me a rare lesson in honesty and bravery. I dedicate my truth to his sacred memory.
Who has been the most influential person in your life until now?
I won’t speak about individuals, but about a period. I left home at 11 years of age. I lived alone until the age of 26… Anargyreion High School in Spetses, University, the Navy. This influenced my life completely. Firstly, I did not have the adolescent problems with my parents, and then I had to solve my own problems. I learnt to gain support from my social relationships and the well-structured friendships around me.
What advice would you give a young person growing up in Mykonos?
To get up and leave and return here again some day.
What do you admire most in Mykonians?
The same as I admire in the people of Amorgos, they have drunk a lot of sea until they grow up.
What do you dislike most?
When I hear people talk about the uniqueness of the place, about the umbilical chord of the universe which surrounds them.
What has disappointed you most?
The perennial fear of most of my fellow citizens is that, if they call a spade a spade and demand the obvious, they will cause damage to … tourism. They easily inhale the dioxins from burning rubbish, cutting days and years from their lives. They make a colander out of the island because of all the boring for water. They overlook the quality of the water they drink and the products they consume. Most people are indifferent to the quality of life, to tomorrow, to the alcohol addicted children, to the social consequences of a physically exhausting work timetable.
What is the greatest fear for the island?
That all this will end ingloriously. The peak is achieved with difficulty. Nadir, ‘ground zero’, the razing to ground level, the bottom of the barrel, the complete acculturation of the island and its people, lurks just around the corner. You know, tourism has the capacity to corrupt consciences and beautiful places…
What is the greatest problem or biggest shortcoming here?
That nobody comes out to support the rights of Mykonos and that way it looks like we are hiding all our sewage under the carpet.
The non observance of the hours of common peace (siesta time).
The absence of free, living public spaces. Everything is consumed by the flora of tables and chairs, and chaise longues.
The misfortune of being a parent with a wheelchair-bound child and wanting to enter the town and walk around Megali Ammos. Menouhin sold his house because he could no longer walk a distance of 200 metres.
If you were mayor of Mykonos for a day, what would you do or change on the island?
This question is not relevant to me. Inform Mr Kousathana-Mega, Mr Kousathana-Aniksi and Mr Fiorentino so that they relax and sleep peacefully tonight. In the municipal elections in November I am a candidate for local councillor with KEPOM, headed by Despina Nazou, a dynamic woman, a time honoured old friend and fellow wayfarer in common struggles. Her professional background, her passion and decisiveness are guarantees of an outlet from the crisis which plagues the island, and is a hope for a functioning and democratic administration.
What is your favourite expression?
One cannot drink the sea but one can taste it!
*The interview was originally edited to Mykonos Cofidential -summer 2007 edition.
Link of the original Greek text: http://olastakarvouna.blogspot.com/2007/07/blog-post_12.html
Link for more bilingual K.E.Po.M. texts: http://kepom.wordpress.com/bilingual/
Translated thanks to Maria Lomis