By Vicki James Yiannias
Actor, Cultural Ambassador of Crete, and Director of the New York City Greek Film Festival, Maria Tzompanaki, who saw her first light in Crete and grew up to carry this island in her heart always, is the first person who came to mind for insights and information on the recent “vendetta” deaths in Anogeia, Crete.as well as her thoughts on the ownership of guns. The interview, in effect a lyrical comment, began with a message from Ms. Tzompanaki titled “Anogeia, Crete 2020. On the occasion of the death of two Cretan-Anogeians who after a quarrel, were killed by bullets from their guns on May 2”.
GN: Who were the victims of these mutual murders in Anogeia?
MT: Two neighbors, Cretan-Anogeians: 30-year old Georgios Xylouris, an animal breeder, and 60-year old Lefteris Kalomiris, a writer of Mantinades and teacher of folk dances. First death: Lefteris Kalomiris dies sinstantly. The second death:Manolis Kalomiris, in “response” to the death of his father shoots Georgios Xylouris, who falls next to Lefteris.And two families are locked in deep mourning, forever. Mourning that guarantees a new death “response” ifthe two families choose to describe the incident, ex officio–under the deceptive cloak of words “vendetta” wears–as: “an eye for an eye” or,simply ”justice”.
GN: Did you know the men personally?
MT: Lefteris Kalomiris was my beloved friend for twenty years. A singular person, honest, real, who expressed his great sensibilities with his Mantinades and his dance. A great talent in both. He loved deeply—the tradition of Crete, life, and his family. I have known his chldren since they were very small. They’re all good kids, very respectful of their parents, with the mother and wife a diamond of strength and patience.A unified family that fought to establish itself.I respect the Xylouris family, as well. I’m familiar with the extended Xilouris family and have a friendship with various of them, but I didn’t know the young man in his prime who was lost.
I can’t believe how two men, one of whom was even a father with small children, got up one morning and decided to ruin their lives!
GN: Tell us a little about how mountain life adds to the risk of vendetta in Crete.
MT: I known how they raise children in Crete, not only in my generation but now, as well. Boys, especially those growing up in the mountain villages, are prompted to become “strong and fearless” men, with all that entails in the mind of a small child.
Tradition in mountain villages has anintense presence. You can experience it and wonder at its enchanting beauty… at the humanity of more innocent times. But unfortunately, sometimes you can be greatly surprised to experience what can be said as the harsh, bitter side of tradition taking over:when“blood catches fire” (ανάβουντα αίματα).
GN: And not to good end?
MT: Βlood is set afire in love and joyand also when tsikoudia and mugs of wine (μονορουφιi)at parties generate the mistaken impression that “manliness” and “egoism” are one and the same thing… egoism that can fixate on a wild look or retrograde to a pat on the chest.
No one is born a murderer, but from the moment someone puts a gun under his pillow there is a likely danger he will become one.
GN: Should guns be controlled?
MT: A weapon isn’t protection in peacetime. And it doesn’t decide winners or losers in a fight. Especially among young people whose blood and soul are boiling.
It only condemns some to prison and others to death! Each time it is a matter of luck who will be the “killer” and who will be the “killed”. Having a gun in your home, next to your children, under your arm at a party, you sentence is indubitably your companion every day. A road without return. When angry words are exchanged, which can happen at any time, a weapon easily shows who is “right”. Today, two mothers in Anogeia will be crying for their boys until they close their eyes. One will be singing dirges; the other will be crying softly. Both are already mourning the burned youth. How will they be comforted? How? No one can ask them to “cry now, have patience, and it will pass”. We can just stammer and entreat these mothers to stop the evil here. They both mourn the needless loss of their loved ones and should not have to mourn the loss of more.
The two men deserved to live. And the two widows deserved to have companions for the rest of their lives. And the seven orphaned children deserve to have their fathers. And both these good mothers deserved to live without being imprisoned in pain. Each one will live her life differently.
GN: How can one explain the vendetta?
MT: All of us have experienced moments of anger when we lose our composure and say things we would never have chosen to say. This has happened to everyone. Think what it would be like if we all had a weapon in the little pocket of our car “just for protection”. How many would escape the title of “murderer”, and how many would be mourned by their parents or children?
GN: Should a trip to Crete this summer include a trip to Anogeia?
MT: I love Anogeia. The place and the people are very beautiful. Psiloritis and Madares are our pride.Nature, the villages, the hospitalty, our cultural tradition, vibrantlyresonate love for the ancestral land.
But guns are not our tradition. Death is not culture!
My grief for Lefteris is heavy.I thought this man would live forever! He loved life so much. My grief for the young Xilouris is heavy, too. I weep for this young man whose lot in life to remain alive ran out. Let us not allow such a terrible thing to happen again. Because it will be an immeasurable pity and a mistake. Then we will all be to blame! And we know it.
“My young man
if only I could know
how to be with again
on the very edge of the cliff
I would do a Pentozali“