Κυριακή, 8 Μαρτίου 2015

Justine Frangouli-Argyris interview: Real-life story behind ‘High Heels for Six’

Justine Frangouli-Argyris details the strong influence that feminism has had on emigration and the questions raised by the meta-feminist era, all wrapped up in a gripping tale


Greek-Canadian journalist Justine Frangouli-Argyris knows how to weave a story, entwining it with the fabric that lets readers leap over cultural walls and embrace different experiences. Her meta-feminist novel “High Heels for Six” is no exception as it chronicles the friendship of six schoolgirls reunited after twenty years of separation. The novel is semi-autobiographical, drawing from her own memories of a tragedy that saw one of her friends and her mother leave the island of Lefkada.

The book traces the links between the two, binding their development with the ropes of tradition and the restraints of a desirable pair of high heels. Here’s what the Huffington Post blogger and prolific author told Proto Thema about meta-feminism on the occasion of International Women’s Day (March 8). (Scroll down for a sample).

Which real-life tragedy is the book inspired by?
“The book is inspired by the tragic suicide of the father of one of our schoolmates from Lefkada. We woke up one morning to the the news that Telemachus Papaminas (not his real name but the one used in the book) had stabbed himself in the bathtub. He was found drowned in a pool of blood by his young and only daughter. Our island was plunged into a ‘redness’ of the blood of this great man, our memories stained forever. Immediately afterwards, our classmate and her mother left the island.”
How much of your own personal story as a Greek woman living in Canada is depicted in the book?
“My personal experience as a Greek woman who emigrated to Canada is described in the novel through the evolution of Julia’s story. All my novels are set in an experiential canvas because, for me, a novel is the “literaturization” of real life.”
What is the difference between a Greek, a Canadian and a Greek-Canadian woman?
“The Greek woman rests firmly on her feet, she is openhearted, hospitable and spontaneous. The Canadian woman’s character depends on whether her origin is English or French.  The Anglo-Canadian woman is hardworking, detached and somewhat distant. The Franco-Canadian is warmer and more generous but tends to keep to her own family. The Greek-Canadian woman has been defined by her efforts of trying to belong to the Canadian society but she finds herself in a defensive position as she is trying to be a part of both the Canadian and Greek social fabric simultaneously.”
Have you known real friendship as described in the novel and how close are you to the women you write about?
“I was blessed to grow up on the small island of Lefkada where I was able to make close friends from school in my early childhood. With these friends, I still walk, side by side, in both joyous and difficult moments. I must say, that in the course of my professional life, I met other girlfriends whom I also hold close to my heart today. My immigration to Canada made me appreciate the value of friendship and people. After my family, my girlfriends are the greatest investment in my life.”
How do you think that twentieth-century feminism has failed to liberate women’s desires?
“Feminism was a highly aggressive movement that gave many conquests to women but left them unprotected in the new era. I think that feminism has brought partial equality to women but without the backing of a psychological and social support net. So, now, the contemporary woman is trapped in a reality that has filled her life with obligation, not liberation. The traditional standards of marriage, children and family have remained constant but the modern woman now has the added responsibilities and extra hours of work.”
The book is billed as a “meta-feminist” novel and yet it is also about migration. How is feminism filtered through the theme of migration?
“The book is a post-feminist novel from the point of view that women are now trapped in this reality. They feel that since they have gained a place in the work force and in society they must also become beautiful objects of desire by way of the cosmetic and fashion industries.
Feminism for the Greek immigrant woman had a very strong influence on migration as she came from the villages of Greece where she was isolated in the historical role of wife and mother to an industrial society where she opened up to the many work opportunities.”
How have you experienced the themes of feminism and migration in your own life as a Greek-Canadian?
“Feminism in Montreal’s Greek community never took on the form of a movement. Equality at work came as a natural evolution of life in a new place that she came to in order to strive for a better life. Many women in the Greek communities in Canada are strong feminist models given their achievements in both the professional and social spaces.”
One last question, just to enlighten me. What’s the difference between post-feminism and meta-feminism?
“I will answer you by quoting Wikipedia:
Post-feminism is a reaction against some perceived contradictions and absences of second-wave feminism. The term post-feminism is ill-defined and is used in inconsistent ways. It was historically used to pose a contrast with a prevailing or preceding feminism.
Meta-feminism is the era in which women have become the equal of men in the historically masculine field of sexual opportunism.
So, meta-feminism is even beyond post-feminism in the sense that women not only feel liberated and desirable but engage in sex by male rules.”
About Justine Frangoulis-Argyri
Justine Frangouli-Argyris was born on the Greek island of Lefkada and graduated from the University of Athens Law School’s Political Science Department. A member of the Journalists’ Union of the Athens Daily Newspapers (ESIEA) she has worked for major radio stations in Greece as well as Greek state television. Since 1989 she has been living and working in Montreal, Canada, and is a correspondent for the Athens News Agency (ANA) and a series of major newspapers. In Canada, she is active in the local Greek-Canadian community and also contributes to various publications. Her weekly articles about Canada and Greece are enjoyed by Huffington Post readers.
Other books:
The Lonely Path of Integrity (Exandas Publishers, Athens 2002)
Shopping Around the World: Unbeatable Bargains and Bite-Sized Stories (Ellinika Grammata, 2004)
The Legacy (Ellinika Grammata, 2005)
High Heels for Six (2006, also on Amazon Kindle since 2013, reprinted by Armos Publications in 2013)
Havana Diaries (2008)
For the Love of Others (Psichogios 2009)
Love in the Fog (Psichogios, 2011)
Pol and Lara are traveling (Children’s book, Psichogios, 2011)
To visit her blog CLICK HERE

Τετάρτη, 4 Μαρτίου 2015

Greece and the myth of Sisyphus

Justine Frangouli-Argyris


Since 2010, Greece has been living the tragic myth of Sisyphus, the king in Greek mythology who tried to outsmart the Gods and was punished for his trickery by being forced to eternally roll a huge stone up a hill, only to watch it roll back down every time he would approach the top.

The martyrdom of Sisyphus is all the more tragic because, although he is conscious of his plight, he continues to believe that he will achieve success on his next attempt, only to experience the pain of defeat over and over again.

This is exactly what has transpired in Greece throughout its never-ending debt crisis. For, every one of Greece's four different administrations since 2010 believed that it could free the country from the constraints of the so-called loan “memoranda,” only to be forced to return to the clutches of its lenders more tightly shackled each and every time.

Let us look back to the beginning of the bailouts in order to fully comprehend the situation. In mid-2010, the debt-laden country enlisted the help of the “troika,” the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank, which formulated a joint aid mechanism for Greece. The funding from the support program was provided under the condition that Greece implement various fiscal adjustment measures and, in particular, that it would undertake concrete fiscal consolidation.

Regardless, the Greek economy was never able to attain these targets, continuing to operate in a state of financial imbalance. As such, in June of the following year, the government was forced to adopt a medium-term program that included savagely harsh austerity measures and salary cuts.

A second memorandum, replete with further urgent provisions for public debt reduction and steps to rescue the national economy, was passed on February 13, 2012 while subsequent lengthy negotiations with the troika led to further hardship with the adoption of a medium-term framework for fiscal strategy in November of 2012.

Finally, at long last, in January of 2014, the country produced a primary budget surplus and there was optimism for the future. In the spring of 2014, Greece was able to return to the financial markets and borrow money at respectable interest rates, prompting Prime Minister Antonis Samaras to proudly proclaim that, by year's end, the nation would be able to exit the hated memoranda.

Surprisingly, however, seeing tepid support for his country's efforts by its European counterparts, Samaras would proceed to call a snap Parliamentary Presidential election that would in turn lead to national elections that would bring the radical leftist Syriza party to power. In the meantime, given the unsettling uncertainty, the country's banks would see their cash stockpiles slowly but surely depleted, mimicking the effects of an informal bank-run.

The elections were determined to be the key factor that caused a shortfall of some 2 billion euros in state revenues in the 2014 budget, as was admitted by Greece's new Deputy Finance Minister, Dimitris Sotiropoulos. Adding this amount to the 11 billion euros required by Greece by June, 2015 in order to meet its various obligations such as loan payments, salaries, pensions and purchases, it is evident that the funding gap is far beyond the capacity of the current Greek economy.

Also, from the beginning of March until the end of April, the country has external commitments totalling some 9 billion euros, 1,7 billion due to the IMF and 7 billion to cover maturing T-bills. On top of which, the finance ministry must deal with the cash deficit caused by the aforementioned gap in tax collections.

Internally, March is already predicted to be a difficult month fiscally as revenues will barely reach 3.2 billion euros compared to the 5.2 billion in projected expenses. A deficit is also predicted for April as the country expects to collect 3.5 billion euros while it must spend 4.32 billion. Thus, over the next two months, the operating deficit will climb to between 4 and 4.5 billion euros, an unsustainable situation given the circumstances.

Sadly, Greece, a country that was primed to emerge from its rigid bailout regime, looks destined to suffer the cruelty of a third memorandum which is expected to be agreed upon with its European partners in four months. Even sadder is that the interim agreement the new Syriza-ANEL government recently signed with the Eurogroup clearly dictates that no money will flow to Greece until the country meets all its prior obligations and continues to show a primary budget surplus. Conversely, as seen, a sharply rising deficit is being registered, month by month.

The Greek people, with their heroic sacrifices, managed to move the boulder of Sisyphus to the top of the mountain, only to have it fall back again. And the torment of the country, like the tragic Greek hero, drags on and on, without any light or hope on the horizon.