“For me learning Greek is not only learning to improve my “mother” tongue, but as a cosmopolitan Greek it is a joy and honor to speak this language which symbolizes the idea of universalism. The Greek language has been spoken for centuries by people of different cultures in Empires, well beyond the borders of the Greece of today.So the Greek language carries the idea and the philosophy of universalism.”
That’s what will stay with me for a long time after my chat with Madeleine; her pride to be a part of the universal heritage and message that is at the heart of the Greek language. Having grown up in the multicultural environment of Egypt and in a cosmopolitan Greek home she experienced very early on the importance of safeguarding and experiencing all her identities.
“We Greeks of Egypt have two homes, we belong to two cultures and one does not exclude the other. Nowadays they ask you to choose. We had the luck to experience multiple identities that can live side by side.”
The Greek identity seems to be something quite important to her, though, since she has also brought this connection to her professional life as she explains.
“I started my professional life as an independent film producer, then I joined the european cultural channel ARTE so my first interest was to connect with Greek film producers. I spent almost 25 years producing films with Greek directors and producers and in all those films you can actually follow the developments of the Greek society.”
I ask her why she has chosen to produce documentaries and she explains that she is interested in real life, in capturing how societies evolve, in catching people in historical periods and seeing how they react.
Madeleine might be part Greek but I strongly believe that she would be a philhellene even if she wasn’t born in a Greek family. She proved this during the Greek financial crisis when she actually initiated a whole day for Greece on their television.
“When the crisis started in Greece, we aired a GREEK DAY with as many as 17 programs, films, documentaries, stories on Greece. In my mind this was something I had to do, it was necessary to fight the media stigma and stereotypes about Greece and Greeks that were circulating during the crisis. And film was a fantastic way to show a very different reality.”
What’s fascinating to me is that despite the fact she never formally learned it, her Greek is quite advanced considering that it was not around her that much especially during her adult years. Madeleine has a very interesting theory about this.
“It’s quite a mystery why I speak Greek because I never learned it formally. All cosmopolitan people in Egypt spoke 6 languages. I think that languages are strongly tied to emotions. I believe that Greek stuck with me because it’s what I heard with my loving grandparents, with my mother who actually died when I was quite young, so it’s what “κόλλησε” as you say in Greek.”
Because of all these levels Madeleine connects with the Greek language and culture when I ask her about what she finds challenging in Greek, I know that her answer won’t be superficial. She proves me right and manages to capture the philosophy of the Greek language in a couple of lines…
“What’s challenging but beautiful with Greek is its complexity. In modern times we always simplify. You cannot express complex things in a simple way. My interest is in how you can safeguard complexity and find the adequate means to express it. A language like Greek does justice to complexity, it has the tools to express it. The Greek language is complex just like life. Learning Greek is a fine tuning process of your mind and the expression of your experiences.”
As to what wish she has for the future she says: “My big wish is that in the wake of all these big technological transformations I hope that Greece will stay a place of deep human values. This is what attracts people to Greece and not just the sea. It’s the human side of it. The values of hospitality, kindness, the smile of Greeks, the good humor they have, their unpolitical correctness, their generosity, the notion of giving something for free. I sincerely hope that Greece will harbor, nourish and value them.”
I cannot help but agree with her and hope that we will continue this extremely interesting conversation sometime in the future in one of her favorite places in Greece, Thessaloniki.
Thank you Madeleine for being a part of our Greek online community.
Madeleine lives in Strasbourg and works as a producer. Some of her films include: