Thursday, September 11, 2008

Don't look back

I have just watched a delightful film on DVD, Πολίτικη Κουζίνα, mistranslated into English as A Touch of Spice. The very good Wikipedia entry gets the title right.
The original Greek title is Πολίτικη Κουζίνα (Politiki Kouzina) which means Cuisine of the City and refers to the Cuisine of Constantinople - Cuisine tis Polis (now Istanbul). However, in the film's promotional material, the word Politiki of the title is depicted in capital letters, therefore allowing an alternative reading of the title, as Πολιτική Κουζίνα (Politiki Kouzina) which means Political Cuisine signifying the important role that politics played in the lives of the main characters.
It is a romance; a love story of the bond between grandfather and grandson, of the memory of a childhood sweetheart and of the complex relationship between Greece and Turkey. All are explored using, surprisingly, the metaphors of cooking and, more obliquely, of astrophysics. However, one theme is constant, the lingering pain of exile.

The film is in Greek, Turkish and English and a sundry thought struck me. It is speculative, but as my own struggles with the Greek language make me curse our monolingual culture, I wondered whether our neglect of other languages could arise from the fact that, though we are well travelled, the English have generally encountered other peoples as hosts or conquerors, rarely as supplicants. Even our tourists arrive in triumph. It is our good fortune and our loss.

The ending offers hope. The command to Orpheus was not to look back or he would lose his love. Fanis, the main character, issues the same warning to his old lost love with a different meaning. "We look back and that image remains as a promise". Sternly facing straight ahead defends against pain, but bars the doors to joy. A child turns round and smiles.

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