Antiparos in the Age of Madalena

Text: Eleni Katsarou

In the summer of 1960, an event happened in Antiparos that forever changed the face of the island. It was chosen by The Greek Film Production Company, Finos Films for the shooting of the film “Madalena”, starring Greek actress, Aliki Vougiouklaki.

The rhythm of life on the island village square, central fountain and the Castle transformed into a magical backdrop of what was known until then as a “God-forsaken island”. In the film, this little-known island is referred to as “Aspronisi” (White Island). The film would later participate in the 1961 International Cannes Film Festival. It also changed the life of local inhabitant, Margarita Maouni. Here she recounts the story of her life back then, the parallels between the movie and island life and her involvement with the film.

First, a little introduction to the movie and the story plot. “Madalena” was written by local Antiparos author and historian, Georgios Roussos.  Madalena, played by Aliki Vougiouklaki, is a young girl with formidable courage who struggles with difficulties in life. She is one who fights to keep her word and her honor. She is also the daughter of a local boatman. When her father dies and she becomes an orphan, she decides to continue his work, ferrying inhabitants across to Paros. She sings in one of the most famous scenes in the movie, “Inside this boat I am alone and I have as company a white bird”. In the end all is as it should be. And in Madalena’s boat, love does indeed rule -with a little help of the village priest. In Greek cinema, at that time, we needed a good love story.

It is now 2014 and Mrs. Maouni is on her son’s terrace, at the edge of a beautiful garden, overlooking a magnificent panoramic view of the whole island. She recalls, ”Everything you see now, in those days didn’t exist”.  With a twinkle in her eye she shows us the current view of the village of Antiparos. In 1960 Margarita lived in Antiparos, with her husband and two of their children, Chrisoula and Markos. Things were very different.

“All these were fields and vineyards and we had to walk through them to get home. There was no electricity and no running water. We had wells back then and washed our clothes by hand in the ponds.” As a young girl she had to be home in the evening when the church bells tolled. Otherwise she was hit with a branch. But she managed to go dancing every Sunday, and it seemed that in those days, that people in love had their favorite saint, Ai Gianni Klidona (Saint John the Baptist) as an ally. “Girls especially had another helper, lead. Lead was used in building the plumb for the fishing boat trawls. And in the island tradition we melted it down and when fluid it was dropped into the water. The lead would take various shapes, perhaps an anchor or a rake or some other design and we would then divine its meaning. Every girl could find out which kind of man she was going to marry, a sailor, a farmer, and so on. People back then worked very hard every day on the land and the sea. When the movie was shot we were mowing and haymaking, hard work, but everyone in the village still managed to play in the film. We all got some extra money. And we needed this money because life, clothing and the grocer were all so expensive, exactly the same as in the movie, Mantalena.

Τhere was nothing then, nothing. I remember when I was a child, sometimes a foreigner appeared on the island for work; he would go out onto the deserted street and come to the cafe of my father. He had to eat something and to sleep somewhere. And my mother would make him fried eggs and put him to sleep on our sofa. The next day he would leave on the boat. We didn’t buy meat then. We cooked a goat over a fire at Easter once a year and fried the leftovers over and over until it was finished. Only the priest, the policeman, and the customs officer ate meat. Imagine, we had a customs officer then! We were forgotten by everyone. The world started to hear about Antiparos from Vougiouklaki and with the release of the film.”

Ιn the movie, Margarita Maouni, appears in the village feast scene, filmed on the square, just before the engagement of Madalena. She sings along with others a song written by Manos Chatzidakis. The movie was shot without audio playback. Chatzidakis sent the musical score, recorded by Nana Mouskouri, so that Aliki could learn to sing them “trying as good as possible, not to imitate our other national star”. In the scene we see Margarita Maouni with two other girls holding a glass in her hand. She stands out not only because of that; she is also very pretty and has a beautiful voice. “They took me because I sang well and during the shootings I didn’t put on any makeup, at all.
The film career of Margarita did not continue. She herself has not kept a single picture from the shootings. Aliki was praised by everyone but what Margarita remembers characteristically about her, is that our national star wanted only eggs with fried zucchini for lunch.

Margarita can still recall all the details about life in Antiparos and remembers with ease names and stories of the past; the postmen who took the parcels from Antiparos to Paros and to Piraeus, on the mainland. She can count off the names of boats that carried people back and forth. In those days you had to give the word to the ferryman if you were going to stay overnight on Paros. Otherwise the signal was to leave the church door open –for day time boat crossings or at night, have a blazing a fire on the beach. If the boatman did not or could not come, the passenger could spend the night in the small church at Pounta.

“We lived it all and we know,” she says and clarifies with sweetness. “It was a different time. Today things are much better.” Before we left we asked her, “Do you miss anything from those days, Mrs. Margarita?”
I only miss my youth! What else should I miss? Today I have more than I had then. Only my youth!”. “And what about love, Mrs. Margarita?” In the movie love prevails, what about in Antiparos?
Here, all the girls got married out of love. Me too”. And with her bright eyes she looks around for her husband who left us discreetly while Mrs. Margarita spoke to us about life during the Madalena years.