The Greek title is Πολίτικη Κουζίνα (Politiki Kouzina) and means Cuisine of the City, Πολί being the word for city, “I Πολί”, “The City” refers to Constantinople, or Istanbul to be politically correct. This is a film who depicts a multiple love story. “Gastronomos contain the word Astronomos”, I have the feeling that the translation is obvious. It is about a boy who likes to cook with significant spices and “the most beautiful city in the world”. Istanbul is also a character in this wonderful movie. The English international title is A Touch of Spices.
The boy, “Fanis”, is a seven year old Greek growing up in Istanbul, where his grandfather owns a grocery store which also sells spices. The grandfather, “Vasilis”, teaches Fanis the planets by using spices. Pepper is the symbol for the sun, because it’s fierce, cinnamon replaces Venus, the planet of love, the feminine symbol, because of its dual taste. Cinnamon has an important role in the film, being used a lot in sexual context. Fanis’ mother, “Sultana” has a very good Turkish friend, “Aişe”, who has a daughter, “Saime”. Saime has a small cooking set which she always takes with her when meeting Fanis. Fanis learns a lot of things from his grandfather, a lot of cooking secrets and not only. He learnes cooking by sneaking around in the family’s kitchen and witnessing all the events. He developes a dear friendship with Saime as well. He told her some of the secrets he learned from his grandfather in exchange of her dancing. Saime established her own saying about that: “You’ll cook for me and I’ll dance for you”.
The movie is not a comedy, but it has humor. Politiki Kouzina can be interpreted also as “Political Cuisine”, it’s a matter of accent and of course, pronunciation (Πολιτική Κουζίνα – you see, this time the accent falls on the last syllable in Πολιτική). This movie doesn’t make politics but because of the times pictured, that couldn’t be avoided. Turkey was a relic of the Ottoman Empire, and it harbors many different nations in it: Greeks, Armenians, Jews, Kurds, Arabs, Georgians, etc. Their post Atatürk governments followed his “Turkification” politics, sometimes justified, sometimes not. In the year 1955, took place what became known as the September Events (Eylül Olayları). Mob attacks were directed primarily against Istanbul’s Greek Community. The riots were orchestrated by Tactical Mobilization Group, the seat of Operation Gladio‘s Turkish branch, the Counter-Guerrilla, and National Security Service, the precursor of today’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT). The events were triggered by the false news that the Turkish consulate in Thessaloniki, in northern Greece — the house where Mustafa Kemal Atatürk had been born in 1881 — had been bombed the day before. A bomb planted by a Turkish usher at the consulate, who was later arrested and confessed, incited the events. The Turkish press, conveying the news in Turkey, was silent about the arrest and instead insinuated that Greeks had set off the bomb (cf. Wikipedia). Sad, but that triggered a mass emigration of the Greek population. If they were sixty-five thousand in 1955, only forty-nine thousand were found registered in 1960, and later, nowadays, the number of Greeks in Istanbul is estimated at only two thousand and a half. Of course, the matter is very complex and doesn’t make the subject of this film.
So, Iakovidis family arrived in Athens (they were deported by the authorities, being Greek citizens). The grandfather was a Turkish citizen, so he stayed in Istanbul. Not quite the best life start for Fanis’ family in Greece, the misconceptions and the prejudice continued there too, which were sensed mostly by the adults. In Istanbul they were considered “Greeks”, and in Athens they were looked at as “Turks”. Funny and a little bit sad. The cuisine of the “Turks” was appreciated, though. Fanis evolved in a very good cook (as a hobby), but he became a renown astronomer and astrophysicist. Maybe you remember what Robert Rodriguez says about one who doesn’t know to cook.
Before ending the article, trying to avoid spoilers as much as possible, I have to mention an event happened before the Iakovidis family’s deportation. Usually, the kids, Saime and Fanis were plying in the grocery’s attic, where the grandpa came from time to time to spread his philosophy. One day, the shop was visited by a Turkish diplomat with his son, “Mustafa” (dressed for Sünnet, the circumcision ceremony, making the boy to be around same age as Fanis). Mustafa wanted to climb the stairs to the attic, but grandpa Vasilis stopped him, saying “it’s forbidden” there, making the place even more mysterious for the poor Turkish boy who aspired to be a doctor and his father saw him as an officer. Grandpa said that a military doctor would solve the matter. The diplomat said through other things that the news aren’t good at all. Shortly after that, the family has been deported. Now, in the movie, the mature Fanis is played by Georges Corraface, grownup Saime by Başak Köklükaya, and grownup Mustafa by Tamer Karadağlı, the last two being renown Turkish actors. Georges Corraface is a French actor of Greek origin.
A Touch of Spices has been released in 2003, is written and directed by Tassos Boulmetis, runs for 108 minutes, and it’s rated 7.6 out of 10 on imdb.
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