Tuesday, May 17

Petros Márkaris, writer: “The problem of the left is to become a party of the system, that has destroyed it”

The Greek writer Petros Márkaris (Istanbul, 1937) is in top form at 85 years old. Márkaris, screenwriter for the filmmaker Theo Angélopoulos, continues to write Mediterranean noir novels, in the style of his great compadres of the genre: the Italian Andrea Camilleri and the Catalan Manuel Vázquez Montalbán. Gastronomy, Mediterranean sun, social criticism and some protagonists who have already passed into the collective memory of the readers of the crime novel of southern Europe: the Greek commissioner Kostas Jaritos, the Italian Salvo Montalbano and the private detective Pepe Carvalho. Three great guys into all kinds of fregaos.

In this interview with elDiario.es, Petros Márkaris, invited by the Fira del Llibre de València to present his latest book Quarantine (Tusquets, 2022), reveals how Commissioner Jaritos, head of the Athens Homicide Brigade, has experienced the health crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic. He no longer drives the old Mirafiori since, in solidarity with Spain in the midst of the Troika offensive, he bought a Seat Ibiza, with which he drives through the crowded Athenian streets.

After surviving the financial crisis, Jaritos continues to enjoy his grandson, the stuffed tomatoes cooked by grandmother Adrianí, and his esteemed daughter Katerina and son-in-law Fanis. And of course he keeps reading his Orthographic and Hermeneutical Dictionary of Modern Greek by Dimitrakos. The commissar’s friendship with veteran communist Lambros Zisis remains intact. The prose of Petros Márkaris, luckily for his readers, too.

How has Commissioner Jaritos passed the pandemic crisis? Has living with Adrianí been hard during confinement?

During the first year Jaritos has continued to do his routine work in the Police but his secretary had COVID, which forced him to be in quarantine. Quarantine was life with his wife. When you have a life with a woman and only the man works, the common life is limited to five or six hours. Living together all day is something else. And Jaritos has lived that experience for the first time during the quarantine. In addition, he has been forced to deal with a dead person and try to find the culprit during his life in quarantine at home. It was very difficult for him. Also, he is very ignorant when it comes to technology.

Poor Jaritos, lately he looked more relaxed after the financial crisis…

The last crisis has been health but we have also experienced an economic crisis from 2010 to 2018. He is more relaxed and, what is more important for him: his grandson. The family has grown and is very important to him and even more so to his wife, Adrianí. Grandma was happier than Grandpa.

How has the confinement been?

The health crisis has left very harsh consequences for Greece but it is not a unique experience for Greeks. Being forced to have a very lonely life in quarantine is not an everyday experience for men and women, especially in countries like Greece or Spain where people like to leave home. It was very difficult for them to live with that experience.

And how is Lambros Zisis doing?

In Investor Ethics, Zisis says that the left is dead. If you expect help from the left, the left is dead. It is said by a left-wing man who has fought during the Civil War, who had a very hard life, expelled on an island for years. What he sees today of what is called the left, he does not have the possibility of accepting as the left. It is seen in countries like France or Italy. Last June I received a call from an Italian journalist. She told me that she did not call me to interview me, only to ask me: how do you see the European left? How can you explain that in a country like Italy with a very combative left it is now represented by Beppe Grillo’s 5 Star Movement? What can you answer me?

What did you answer?

I said that I am very sad but it is not only in Italy, it is a bit the same all over Europe. The great revival of the far right is related to the decline of the left. We have seen what happened in France during the last elections with Marine Le Pen. Where is the left? Everyone said that Macron would win. But what about the left? Only Mélenchon. The left had two very strong parties, the Socialist Party and the Communist Party, but Mélenchon was a man of the left apart, now he is the center of the left. The big problem with the left is that it wanted to become a party of the system. That is what has destroyed the left. To be a party of the system, that means you have to be a center-left party. But the system already has center-left parties, it doesn’t need you. That’s the problem.

The great revival of the extreme right has a relationship with the decline of the left

In Greece a powerful party like Syriza failed.

That party started during the economic crisis saying that it was going to change Europe and remove the memorandums. It has accepted everything that Europe has imposed on Greece. Everything. Now, a large part of the people who voted for the left have lost confidence in the left.

Perhaps they were facing an enemy too powerful.

To have the goal of becoming a party of the system and, at the same time, to be hopeful that Europe will change is a completely surreal idea. I saw that in France and in Italy, I don’t know how Spain is doing now with Podemos, I don’t have a clear view of Podemos. Is there a relationship between the Democratic Party in Italy and the Communist Party of Parmiro Togliatti? None.

Syriza has accepted everything that Europe has imposed on Greece

At least the Greek far right seems defused.

We have been relieved that the leaders of the extreme right are in prison. Right now there is no immediate danger in Greece coming from the extreme right, let’s be honest, it’s the truth. She was a very neo-Nazi extreme right wing and very aggressive. Now it’s over.

Katerina, the daughter of Jaritos, was threatened by the Hellenic ultras. Are the commissioner and his daughter calmer now?

He is more relieved but during the pandemic his daughter’s family has experienced a period of great tension. It was like that in every family in Greece because her husband is a cardiologist and has a very stressful professional life, while Katerina couldn’t work because everything was closed. This stress of everyday life has had consequences in the family.

When can we read new installments of the adventures of Jaritos?

There will be another novel about the pandemic, it is published in Greece, we have finished the German translation, I think it will be translated into Spanish and Catalan. It is a novel with two different points of view: a generation older than mine and young people, how they understand life, help and resistance during the pandemic.

How has the commissioner experienced the war in Ukraine?

It’s too soon, we have to wait. I am finishing a novel. Regarding Ukraine, I wait to see what will happen and what interests me is the direction that reality and resistance will take in Ukraine. It is too early to have a clear look. Also a very important issue for me is that we have lived in Europe for many years without a war. We were convinced that the war was over in Europe, now reality has returned.

There are two representatives of the Mediterranean crime novel that I adore: Montalbán and Camilieri, who was a very good friend of mine.

He said before that he does not have a “clear view of Podemos.” What a pity that Manuel Vázquez Montalbán is no longer here to give him his opinion…

I saw what happened with Pablo Iglesias in the elections in Madrid but I don’t know how the party is today. I did not know Vázquez Montalbán but I love his novels. There are two representatives of the Mediterranean crime novel that I adore: Montalbán and Camilieri, who was a very good friend of mine. When I began to write my noir novels, Montalban had died. I knew his wife but not him.

What united them?

Common ties are politics, society and cooking for all three. All the Marseille cuisine is also in the novels of Jean-Claude Izzo.

About Pepe Carvalho there is a book, unfortunately out of print, of cooking recipes. It is true that they are three great gastronomes, it makes one very hungry to read his novels.

I am convinced that the kitchen in the Mediterranean crime novel is one of the most interesting aspects. It is the opposite of the Scandinavian novel.

More cold…

mon dieu The big difference is that the authors of Mediterranean crime novels love cooking, being able to eat. By contrast, Scandinavian authors eat because they are hungry, not because they have a respect for cooking. I read a Scandinavian novel and for a month I couldn’t eat sandwiches or drink beer [ríe a carcajadas].

Adriani does some stuffed tomatoes that must be a delight.

Because Adrianí is identical to my mother, who was that combination of Greek and Turkish cuisine, from Istanbul. My mother made Istanbul cuisine that no longer exists, even in Turkey. But it is a traditional cuisine that is alive in Greece as a result of the emigrants who came from Asia Minor.

Its protagonist maintains a close relationship with Lambros Zisis, whom he met in the dungeons of the colonels’ dictatorship. Is that friendship your own harvest?

I am on the left but I have no experience in the history of Greece during the occupation or the Civil War. I know the history of the German occupation and the Civil War but from reading, not from personal or traumatic experiences. Maybe that’s why I said to myself one day: why can’t we have a friendly relationship between a policeman and an old left-wing man like Zisis, who is now part of the family, after all these years?

Is a friendship against nature?

My experience is that various left-wing men arrested during or after the Civil War in the 1950s always respected police officers who were nice to them. It is the case of Zisis too. I have heard stories from friends on the left who said: he was a policeman but he was very nice. They accepted that, although there were policemen who tortured people from the left. Torture existed too.


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