A small echo accompanies George Manginis’ voice on the other side of the telephone line, which is to be expected, because, as he explains: “I’m alone in my office on Koumparis Street, in a building that’s completely empty except for the guards who are here around the clock. I came to tidy up some loose ends, as we’ve closed down, and decided to take advantage of all the collections I have at my disposal. I was struck by a strange feeling; it wasn’t one of ownership, but I did realize that all these remarkable exhibits were here for me to admire at my leisure and in peace, so I went up to the first floor to see my favorite item.
“Only the security lights were on,” Manginis continues, “so I used a flashlight to look over every corner of the stunning Skyrian bed covers with their embroidered edges. Princes, riders on horseback, men in traditional breeches, animals, trees and flowers all constitute a small universe, made out of thread in the 18th century, which came alive under my beam of light. Even a piece of fabric can help cure your anxiety.
“As I stood there, the empty museum began to seem like a musical instrument waiting to be played. All of us who work at the Benaki Museum are used to seeing people all the time, and being with them. We already miss our visitors, and I believe that, in a way, they miss the museum, too. It’s been at the heart of Athenian cultural life for decades. Still, people shouldn’t worry: the museum offers a great virtual 360-degree tour of all its venues and their individual rooms on benaki.org.”
“We are,” the director continues, “living an unprecedented experience. The older generations are more ‘vaccinated’ against hardship, because they experienced the war. Those of us who are between 30 and 50 years old tend to define sociability in physical terms: going outside, having friends over, hanging out with each other. The younger generation is more used to the solitary, and remote, virtual world.”
Manginis describes how he imagines he’ll spend the upcoming weeks at home: “He who loves books is never alone and, luckily, I have a large library. I also have to attend to my scientific work. I gave Angelos Delivorias [the museum’s late director, who headed up the institution for more than 40 years] my word that I’d publish a certain number of articles every year. I’ve just walked past the door of the museum library, which was home to his office for the last years of his directorship. For a moment, I had the impression that, if I opened it, I’d find him in there. We miss him a lot.”
This article was originally published at ekathimerini.com.