People of Aegina #8 – Mary Galani Kritikou
Mary Galani Kritikou, a woman from Aegina with a great history. Her grandfather was a founding member of the first archeological museum in Greece and a friend of Saint Nektarios. Her father was the doctor of Nikos Kazantzakis. She, a founding member of the Historical and Folklore Museum of the Municipality of Aegina, contributed significantly to the cultural life of the island. Born in Aegina, she studied French literature in Sorbonne, worked for the French Figaro, “To VIMA” newspaper and other publications in Greece. In 2010, she published her book “Aegina: Faces – Places – Memories.” We visited Mrs. Mary Galani Kritikou in her beautiful house in Aegina, full of her traditional embroidery, and it was an honor to talk about her memories, her feelings, and everything she loves about the island. Enjoy her interview!
Aegina in a word…
Aegina is my second self. I am totally connected with Aegina.
I love Aegina because it is my whole life and memories.
I have raised my children here, also my grandchildren, always by the sea. My first memories start in a very old house, of my great-grandfather, opposite the old Town Hall. I want this house to be the subject of my second book because it was an unimaginably great adventure. The house was large, had fig trees, yards, loggias. It was a beautiful house that our aunt, my great-grandfather’s daughter, had rented.
The other house I remember was the amazing house with the huge fig tree that is in the extension of the Markellos Tower, a very nice neoclassical one. There was Nikolakis Peppas, the doctor who was married to my grandmother’s other sister. He had also invited Venizelos to this house.
Saint Nektarios was a friend of my grandfather.
Together they found the location of the monastery. Then, he said to my grandfather “Antonis, those who will come here will become rich.” And indeed they did. The armchair of Agios Nektarios was in our living room, I also had his books with dedications and I have given them to my children.
In Aegina, everyone finds their place.
Mine is the place of Kazantzakis.
Kazantzakis came to our house and my father was his doctor.
I remember they used to play backgammon with my mother every afternoon after he ate and then we would go up to Rock Mela’s house for long visits. General Melas, Paul Melas’ brother, and Rock, his son-in-law, who had made the statue of the unknown soldier, grew up there, they were my friends.
In Aegina, people can be isolated on one shore…
Let’s say here on the rocks of Kazantzakis. Another secret that people didn’t know before and now they seem to have learned is the amaranth flowers that I usually collect and make May Day flower wreaths for me and my friends.
Something I like to do in Aegina …
I like to fish following my grandson’s patent. I break a sea urchin, I put it inside the net, I swim all over the shore and I have a big pocket where I put the fish I catch. My husband used to fish with a speargun. He had even made an agreement with Kapralos. My husband had told him to stay in the shallows so that he would go in the deep to catch octopuses!
When I come to Aegina every Friday and the ship arrives at the port…
I feel like I’m breathing.
My favorite place on the island …
is Kolona. I spent my whole life there, back then no one used to climb up there. Every full moon I would take my friends up there, and I remember them being afraid to go there. And then of course Paliachora. I was the only one who went up to Kolona and Paliachora at that time. I remember all the springs I used to hear the vespers from the monastery. And of course the little church of Agios Nikolaos Thalassinos with which I am bound by thousands of memories. All my life, all my flirts, all my friends are connected to this church. I also love Kazantzakis’s side, where I like to swim in the very deep waters.
Aegina for me …
is a great source because my great-grandfather was here, my grandfather was a founding member of the first archeological museum in Greece in Aegina, my father was a doctor and he fought in the hospital of Aegina for 40 years, his photo is still there. My mother was a school principal and provided social welfare to children whose mothers used to work. My father also created the Aegina Educational Association.
We founded the Historical and Folklore Museum of Aegina with Gogo Koulikourdi.
As you can read in my book, she was an amazing professor who motivated us all every summer. Then we took a lot of actions, such as cleaning Paliachora, organizing theatrical performances about the customs and culture of Aegina, at a time when nothing else used to happen on the island.
The building of the Folklore Museum belonged to Polymnia Irioti and Gogo persuaded her to donate it for a museum, it was a ruin back then. To make it a building, we worked very hard, with a lot of people. And we had a big party in the former prisons of Aegina, where all the professors and the actors who were in Aegina came. Everyone helped a lot. And then we got a lot of money to be able to do the Folklore Museum. Then I was the president of the Museum on behalf of the Municipality and we did the inauguration.
All this effort for the culture of Aegina was eternal.
And we’re talking about times when there was no television, no people going out, so everything we did then, even the performances we organized as students, was the only thing that gave life to Aegina.
I loved Aegina very much…
I was also a municipal councilor for a period and it was difficult because when the dictatorship took place, they took us down. When the dictatorship left, those of us who were left went back to rebuild the Municipality. That’s when we did very nice things. We were a living cell in all areas of civilization in Aegina at that time.
The famous embroideries made by Mary Galani Kritikou that present experiential moments and folklore characteristics of Aegina.
Stories from my childhood in Aegina
I was born in 1936 in Aegina.
I lived in Aegina for my first 18 years and went to elementary and high school there. It was a very difficult time for the island because Aegina was very poor, there was no tourism or anything.
My memories from the German occupation …
The occupation was tragic, my father as a doctor was struggling with aspirin to save the world, you can read the stories in my books. My grandmother used to feed the hungry children with spoons of oil. We sent all the crystals of our house to Epidaurus and they sent us back a bunch of beans for those amazing things.
That’s how my parents chose Aegina …
My father was a doctor. He had pleurisy and was sent here by his professors before he left for Paris to pursue an academic career because Aegina had a very good climate. This must have been around 1934. My mother used to teach in Piraeus and spent her summers on the island. That’s how she met my father. They were romantic so they decided to stay in Aegina for 2-3 years before leaving for Paris. However, various events overtook them and then the German occupation came, so they stayed in Aegina. That’s why they never had a home of their own.
The feelings of my childhood memories of Aegina…
Are bittersweet. For me, Aegina is like a person who envelops me. At that time, Aegina was a mixture of Middle Age and modernism. I remember I used to wear shorts, something no one could have imagined in Greece. Then people said I was a boy and when I was in Paris they said that I was going to change my gender and many more things! My parents loved me so they said, “Don’t let Mary find out and lose her spontaneity.”
A time when I returned to Aegina from Paris …
I found my friends inside their houses and I wanted to entertain them. So we organized the baptism of a dog in my house. On the occasion of this incident, some teachers who could not stand my shorts wanted to take me to jail with the law 4000! I had gone through difficult times, but I was so spontaneous ever since so I didn’t mind. In the end, I did not allow them to change my mentality. There were people who loved me very much and others who couldn’t stand me.
At that time, I was very supportive of the local community.
Even the shopkeepers called me to talk to tourists because they didn’t speak the language. For me, all this was natural, but now I understand that in times when girls didn’t go out, I would go and do my readings in Kolona on my own, I would go up to Paliachora alone wearing shorts. Back then, it wasn’t easy to do all that. In the meantime, my mother’s sister, who was very attached to Frederica of Hanover, took me to various receptions at the palace to listen to Bachauer in Athens. There were those times that I visited the palace in Athens and there were other times in Aegina that I wore shorts and drank ouzo, and impersonate the saleswoman. My mother helped me do all this and not lose my spontaneity, she was a great woman.
After my 18 years…
I spent 3 years at Kalogries School in Athens to improve my French writing. French was my first language. Then I left for Paris, where I studied, worked as a trainee in Figaro, then came to Greece, worked in Vima, and wrote in various other newspapers. The newspapers didn’t pay well then, so I also did my other job, teaching French. I did Sorbonne and French literature and I really enjoyed teaching the language to beginners.
I have always been half in Athens and half in Aegina.
My home was in Athens after I got married, but every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday I was always in Aegina. Apart from the quarantine days (Spring of 2020), I was never away from the island on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays!
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