For the history of the civil war and its historical and political context, two recent publications are invaluable: Margarites 2001 and Iliou 2005.
- Chapter 3. 1944–1945: The Battle of Athens
- » Athens, December 3, 1944
Chapter 3. 1944–1945: The Battle of Athens
Athens, December 3, 1944
Early one morning in the summer of 2005, at our summer house, where my entire family was spending a few days together, I went downstairs and outside to the garden to have coffee. My uncle-in-law Kostes and his wife were already there. Before I could get any coffee, Kostes, who was reading a hefty book, looked up from it and said, “I am reading about the involvement of Aris Velouchiōtēs in the civil war, and I am amazed…”
I interrupted him, still half asleep and without thinking too much, saying, “Aris had no involvement in the civil war; he died in 1945.”
I replied that the Dekemvrianá was a clash between the British army, the police, and the andártes, which started because the British and the police fired upon an unarmed crowd at a peaceful demonstration.
“I was there, I saw it,” he said. “And you can't tell me that that was not a civil war, when Greek kills Greek. I was there, I still can't eat garbanzo beans, they repulse me, because I was there, on the roof of our house, and my mother was making garbanzo soup when the andártes came looking for my father, and my mother said, 'He's gone, he is not here, we haven't seen him in a few days.' The garbanzos were there, and now even the smell of them makes me nauseous. My mother sent me to my uncle's house [their own house was in Metaxourgeio, one of the areas of Athens where there was heavy fighting], which was right on Constitution Square, and the andártes were shooting from everywhere. I had to slither from building to building until I got to Solonos Street. There I could go no further, because there was no protection from the 'X.' I was there, I saw it,” he repeated.
I said that I wasn't there but that both my parents were. My mother lived in the same neighborhood as he did. She actually lived in his cousin's house, although the two did not know each other then, but my father lived in “Red Athens,” a neighborhood that was heavily EAM, and he too had told me that the andártes would make forays to fight off the Bourandádhes (the vehicular branch of the collaborationist police force) and “X.” Both my parents had told me, however, that this was the doing of the British, over and above everything that I had read about the Dekemvrianá.
“Leave out of this anything that you've been told and you have read,” he yelled, “because I am telling you, because I was there and you were not.”
By now we were both yelling and screaming, to the point that his wife left the garden, my husband and my son were both awakened by the sound, and my brother-in-law came outside, saw us, and without saying a word walked straight out of the garden and the house. We were all a bit unhinged by this encounter. My uncle and I quickly regained our composure and made up. The incident did not become part of my research until much later, when I was able to sit down, pen and paper in hand, and record it. Once again, my reasons for conducting this research, which seemingly deals with a fifty-year-old history, came back to me: it does not deal with a fifty-year-old history; it deals with the story that is modern Greece.
Sutton 2001 engages in a nuanced and in-depth analysis of the experience of food as an experience of history in Greece. Sutton shows why it is important to pay attention to stories, sentences, and phrases that start out “I was cleaning squid… when the mailman came” or “The whole family was together, we were eating lentils when… ,” since the invocation of the acts and gestures that surround narratives of food always index a deeper historical statement. Garbanzo beans are not the only food that many Greeks will refuse to eat even nowadays because it reminds them of the war; polenta and anything associated with corn is another. Indeed, bóbota, “cornbread,” has come to be a synechdoche for the occupation. After the war, parents would not allow their children to buy souvlaki, out of fear that it might have been made with cat meat, as (allegedly) it often was prior to liberation.
Garbanzo beans present an interesting case, since they appear frequently in both written testimonials (see Oikonomakos 2006) and in interviews as being ubiquitous in civil-war Greece. No study of alimentary conditions, the famine, or provisions in Greece mentions the proliferation of garbanzos immediately after the retreat of the Germans. Thymios Karagiannakidis, who spent time on Makrónisos in 1950 and had worked as an agricultural engineer before the war and briefly during the emphýlios, remembered during an interview that immediately following the retreat of the Germans Greece received a large shipment of garbanzos from Morocco, the first shipment of pulses to be clean of leaves, dirt, and vermin. This might explain the ubiquitousness of this particular pulse in postwar Greece.