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The Present Envoi: Departure as Arrival

By Richard White All Rights Reserved ©

Romance / Adventure

Chapter 1: Arrival as Departure

I am a part of all I have met

-Tennyson-

It was all quite fortuitous really (well, what isn’t I suppose) but I’m sitting here on the portico of my home by my still hearth in the aftermath of my sixty-second birthday, watching the sun rise over the Saronic gulf and thinking back to how this long, strange process unfolded. From a simple lemon, to Miro’s knot…

Looking back from the vantage point of 35 years I now realize much more clearly what I was then. And after all, what can a 27-year-old man offer the world? Virility. Arrogance. A free-floating lyric with no practical harbour. Wildflowers unsown and uncollected... Pistils, stamens, semen, passion... Synonyms.


Metaphors...

I was raised in ; middle class public school sort of thing, but even in my teens I knew that I wanted more. So I studied assiduously and managed to leave the industrial slagheap for erudite . I rose quickly and earned my M.Litt.; but then I did something absolutely shocking to my parents. I discontinued my studies and signed on with F.C. Hearts. It was a far-fetched dream, especially considering I

was already 24. Prime time for a true footballer but beyond belief for the beginning of a career. I hadn’t played in a competitive match in over four years.

F.C. Hearts had spotted me back then in 1960, aged 19, and offered me a chance to try to break in to their reserve side. I pondered long and hard. Had long, encouraging discussions with the manager, Brian Higbee. Had an equally long and discouraging row with my parents… In the back of my mind I knew they were right; that if I left school then and stood out for more than a year it was quite likely I’d never matriculate university.

I can still hear my mother chiding, “After all Iain…well, it’s just so working-class.” She had always had a way of making ‘working-class’ sound like a vulgarity. So eventually, with a friendly farewell to Brian and an, “Ach, Iain. The dour’s always open for yue son. Ye ken?” I finally gave in to the parents.

But now, five years on, having proved myself worthy of the university I knew they really had no more argument. My parents were too ‘liberal’ ever to want to be accused of being elitist. So I phoned Brian Higbee who, miraculously, was still the manager of Heart of the . He invited me in and I had my go at it. It really was quite romantic in a way. I was earning scale, barely enough to get by on, and training very hard just to try to win my way onto the reserve side. But for a time at least, I was living a dream.

I recall every step of the trek to the training grounds. From my digs on Gordon Terrace, down West Mains Rd. and past the King’s Buildings. That was always the point of hesitation, I would look over at the university structures knowing that that’s where my parents wanted, expected, me to be… Still, I carried on through the back streets of to the Tynecastle site off Georgie Rd.. I had a ball at my feet and jogged the entire distance, from Blackford to the Olive Bank ground. Both ways, six days a week.

By September I had managed a regular spot as a winger for the Central League side and then in April I got the call up. I played the final two months of the season and even made it into the starting eleven twice. But mostly I sat the bench, encouraged

my mates, and felt, at moments, like a genuine star. My dad, who was never too keen on the game, made every match. After each home stand we’d meet up at Leslie’s Pub and rehash the run of play.

I was quite lucky to get that chance; quite proud of myself for having taken it, and ultimately, at season’s end, quite convinced that I had no real future. Not in the first division anyway. And in in 1967, playing for less than first division wages was tantamount to manual labour. Even my mates who were solid members of the first side knew that the only real money was in England; but, one had to be a Bremner, Lorimer or Law to earn your way south and I had absolutely no shot at that. So, I packed it in. One year, a lifetime’s worth of memories and a girl named Maureen. All in all, a good run.

I returned to university and for two more years pursued my law degree. Then the wanderlust seized me again. Degrees in hand I decided to take some time off. Warm weather beckoned; so, it was. For her part my girlfriend Maureen was quite reasonable. All in one evening I told her of my decision to leave and then asked her to marry me. I knew she couldn’t follow me to as she still had two more years to her geology degree. Rather I should say, I knew that she wouldn’t follow me. Maureen was a serious, focused, goal-oriented woman. To her mind, no man was worth throwing away a degree and a career. But I knew too that she was very loyal. Steady in all aspects of her life… I suppose that describes her best.

I guess I thought that the ring would reassure her, comfort her. Oh, I don’t know really.

I do know that I needed to go.

“Iain. Promise to write... Often.” Was the only thing she asked of me then.

We spent our last night at the pub and then onto one of the dance clubs off . We went back to her flat and to bed but we didn’t make love. It went unspoken, but somehow we both knew it wouldn’t be right. We held one another, talked of some of the silly things we’d done. Of how I’d ‘stolen’ her away from my

teammate Michael and that every time he saw us after that he always thanked me for it.

“Ach, she’s all yurs nae Jimmy!” he’d say, raising a pint in mock salute to us; but all in good fun. “And god be wie ya!” Then we’d all share a collective laugh.

We slept off the whiskey and rose the next morning. She insisted on accompanying me to Waverly but I asked her not to do so. I had determined to begin my journey at the station, and alone. So, we went across the street to the Oratava Hotel for a modest breakfast. We chatted idly. Maureen kept asking what I expected to find in . I answered honestly that I didn’t really know but that I just wanted to get out of and experience another culture. She seemed genuinely interested in my forthcoming journey, but not the least bit envious. Maureen had her sights set on a degree and nothing would divert her from that goal. I had always admired her straightforward nature and her maturity. By age 15 she had decided that she was going to university and taking a PhD. in geology. For myself, I had but a vague notion that I would experience what had to offer and then, after a year or so, return to finish a law degree. I saw my own future as nebulous...indistinct. By contrast, I had no doubt that Maureen would proceed as planned, stay right on schedule and have a lucrative position with B.P. or some other international firm within five years.

We finished the meal and stepped out onto as I began trying to hail a taxi.

“Come on Iain,” she begged softly. “Just let me ride to the station with yeu.”

I insisted that I thought it for the best that we say our good-byes right there; that we not prolong things.

“Ach, alright then’” she conceded. “Give me a kiss at least, ya bas!”

I gave her one long, deep kiss. I knew that I would miss those lips. -6-

That I would miss our love-making. And perhaps most of all, I realized that I would miss the easy way

she had of making me laugh. For Maureen, despite her very Celtic, very practical-minded nature, had a terrific sense of humour. Everyone enjoyed being around her. But I also realized that none of this, not even combined into the beautiful creature that she was, was enough to keep me here.

One of the great black cabs pulled over. I tossed my rucksack and a small suitcase in the back and; good-bye it was then.


I was raised in ; middle class public school sort of thing, but even in my teens I knew that I wanted more. So I studied assiduously and managed to leave the industrial slagheap for erudite . I rose quickly and earned my M.Litt.; but then I did something absolutely shocking to my parents. I discontinued my studies and signed on with F.C. Hearts. It was a far-fetched dream, especially considering I

was already 24. Prime time for a true footballer but beyond belief for the beginning of a career. I hadn’t played in a competitive match in over four years.

F.C. Hearts had spotted me back then in 1960, aged 19, and offered me a chance to try to break in to their reserve side. I pondered long and hard. Had long, encouraging discussions with the manager, Brian Higbee. Had an equally long and discouraging row with my parents… In the back of my mind I knew they were right; that if I left school then and stood out for more than a year it was quite likely I’d never matriculate university.

I can still hear my mother chiding, “After all Iain…well, it’s just so working-class.” She had always had a way of making ‘working-class’ sound like a vulgarity. So eventually, with a friendly farewell to Brian and an, “Ach, Iain. The dour’s always open for yue son. Ye ken?” I finally gave in to the parents. But now, five years on, having proved myself worthy of the university I knew they really had no more argument.

My parents were too ‘liberal’ ever to want to be accused of being elitist. So I phoned Brian Higbee who, miraculously, was still the manager of Heart of the . He invited me in and I had my go at it. It really was quite romantic in a way. I was earning scale, barely enough to get by on, and training very hard just to try to win my way onto the reserve side. But for a time at least, I was living a dream.

I recall every step of the trek to the training grounds. From my digs on Gordon Terrace, down West Mains Rd. and past the King’s Buildings. That was always the point of hesitation, I would look over at the university structures knowing that that’s where my parents wanted, expected, me to be… Still, I carried on through the back streets of to the Tynecastle site off Georgie Rd.. I had a ball at my feet and jogged the entire distance, from Blackford to the Olive Bank ground. Both ways, six days a week.

By September I had managed a regular spot as a winger for the Central League side and then in April I got the call up. I played the final two months of the season and even made it into the starting eleven twice. But mostly I sat the bench, encouraged

my mates, and felt, at moments, like a genuine star. My dad, who was never too keen on the game, made every match. After each home stand we’d meet up at Leslie’s Pub and rehash the run of play.

I was quite lucky to get that chance; quite proud of myself for having taken it, and ultimately, at season’s end, quite convinced that I had no real future. Not in the first division anyway. And in in 1967, playing for less than first division wages was tantamount to manual labour. Even my mates who were solid members of the first side knew that the only real money was in England; but, one had to be a Bremner, Lorimer or Law to earn your way south and I had absolutely no shot at that. So, I packed it in. One year, a lifetime’s worth of memories and a girl named Maureen. All in all, a good run.

I returned to university and for two more years pursued my law degree. Then the wanderlust seized me again. Degrees in hand I decided to take some time off. Warm weather beckoned; so, it was. For her part my girlfriend Maureen was quite reasonable. All in one evening I told her of my decision to leave and then asked her to marry me. I knew she couldn’t follow me to as she still had two more years to her geology degree. Rather I should say, I knew that she wouldn’t follow me. Maureen was a serious, focused, goal-oriented woman. To her mind, no man was worth throwing away a degree and a career. But I knew too that she was very loyal. Steady in all aspects of her life… I suppose that describes her best.

I guess I thought that the ring would reassure her, comfort her. Oh, I don’t know really.

I do know that I needed to go.

“Iain. Promise to write... Often.” Was the only thing she asked of me then.

We spent our last night at the pub and then onto one of the dance clubs off . We went back to her flat and to bed but we didn’t make love. It went unspoken, but somehow we both knew it wouldn’t be right. We held one another, talked of some of the silly things we’d done. Of how I’d ‘stolen’ her away from my team mate Michael and that every time he saw us after that he always thanked me for it.

“Ach, she’s all yurs nae Jimmy!” he’d say, raising a pint in mock salute to us; but all in good fun. “And god be wie ya!” Then we’d all share a collective laugh.

We slept off the whiskey and rose the next morning. She insisted on accompanying me to Waverly but I asked her not to do so. I had determined to begin my journey at the station, and alone. So, we went across the street to the Oratava Hotel for a modest breakfast. We chatted idly. Maureen kept asking what I expected to find in . I answered honestly that I didn’t really know but that I just wanted to get out of and experience another culture. She seemed genuinely interested in my forthcoming journey, but not the least bit envious. Maureen had her sights set on a degree and nothing would divert her from that goal. I had always admired her straightforward nature and her maturity. By age 15 she had decided that she was going to university and taking a PhD. in geology. For myself, I had but a vague notion that I would experience what had to offer and then, after a year or so, return to finish a law degree. I saw my own future as nebulous...indistinct. By contrast, I had no doubt that Maureen would proceed as planned, stay right on schedule and have a lucrative position with B.P. or some other international firm within five years.

We finished the meal and stepped out onto as I began trying to hail a taxi.

“Come on Iain,” she begged softly. “Just let me ride to the station with yeu.”

I insisted that I thought it for the best that we say our good-byes right there; that we not prolong things.

“Ach, alright then’” she conceded. “Give me a kiss at least, ya bas!”

I gave her one long, deep kiss. I knew that I would miss those lips.

That I would miss our love-making. And perhaps most of all, I realized that I would miss the easy way

she had of making me laugh. For Maureen, despite her very Celtic, very practical-minded nature, had a terrific sense of humour. Everyone enjoyed being around her. But I also realized that none of this, not even combined into the beautiful creature that she was, was enough to keep me here.

One of the great black cabs pulled over. I tossed my rucksack and a small suitcase in the back and; good-bye it was then.


The Levant 1967

I had studied the map and decided to stay within relative range of ; so, I ruled out the Kykylades and the Dodekanese and settled for the isles of the . Working my way west, I spent four to five days each on , Poros, and Hydra but felt no real ‘pull’ as it were. Spetses, on the other hand, enchanted me immediately. When the Portakalis Ilios pulled into the harbour we docked not twenty yards from the town centre. A small two hundred yard long strip of tourist hotels (two), boutiques and upscale cafes all draped in long strings of white electric lights. The strip was known as the Dapia (I soon came to call it Peacock Walk).

I have no recollection of where I stayed the first few days, various pensions I suppose but I do know that after a week or so I knew I was staying. The Dapia was nice, reassuring …That’s where all the tourists were; hence a good deal of English could be heard. Most mornings I’d arrive around eight, drink café frappes all morning, read, and, of course, watch the parade. Everyone put on their best face for the Dapia…especially on Sunday when it was the locals turn to take over. One never saw the villagers in the Dapia except Sunday’s after church, and even then few stopped to sit. They just paraded along back and forth, children in tow, watching us watching them. They dressed as peasants do, ostentatious, the showiest thing in the wardrobe, but very, very proud to be seen. They did not care the least what we thought of them. We were truly the aliens.

They have a word for us: ’xenos’. It means both ‘foreigner’ and ‘stranger’…it fit me perfectly.

After another week or so I ventured away from the Dapia and began to wander the island proper. I took a small room right at one of the busier crossroads (all dirt mind you), but it suited me. It was only a ten-minute walk from town but seemed a world away. I had just a bed, a bare concrete floor and a small writing table. No indoor plumbing; just a cold water sterna out back. But I liked the fact that if I left my window open at night I could smell the jasmine and hear all the passersby talking on their way to or from the tabernas or the club (there was one). On the other hand, I could seal off the window and have almost absolute silence. I still don’t understand the acoustic dynamics of this but I wasn’t complaining.

And then…I made my first two friends…

And then my life changed...

Kyrie Eleni was a shrewish spinster who owned the villa just across the road from my room. Dressed all in traditional widows’ black she had a truly abrasive voice heard all morning throughout the neighbourhood as she refused to use the telephone. She preferred shouting to her neighbours and they wittingly cooperated. Rumor had it that she only resided in the ground floor of her villa and that the top floor, with separate entrance, was always for let and almost always vacant; no one ever stayed more than a week. She was that intrusive. But, as it was late August already and the tourist season had at most three full weeks left, I knew I wouldn’t have to abide her much longer as she took her winters in Athens. She, by all accounts was a genuine misanthrope, but was especially wary of ‘foreigners’. I can’t swear to it, but it seemed to me that every time I left my room I could see the lace curtain of her front window part ever so slightly. I admit she unnerved me a bit. I would have cast her as one of Aeschylus’ furies. She looked well into her seventies, eighties even; but, with these Greek women one can’t tell. Most spent every day of all their lives in the sun and I know many a 45 year old who looks 60 if a day. But my guess was that Kyrie Eleni was not one of these women. She was from Athenian society and money and had probably never worked in her life.

Kyrie Eleni had a lemon tree in her garden that was famous throughout the island. This tree produced fruit the size of large grapefruit and with a sweetness that was unparalleled. She was famous for both her lemon curd and her lemonade, though how one merited either was beyond my grasp. But, one day as I was heading down to the village for a coffee I was arrested by the sight of Kyrie Eleni on the second story veranda. I had seen her outside her house, but never upstairs. I quickly discerned that she was trying to collect some of the lemons from the uppermost part of the tree, and she was struggling. I don’t know what possessed me but I did not shout up to her nor ask if she wished for help…I just climbed the stairs, grabbed the small


handsaw from her and said “Parakalo”. She said not a word but released the saw into my hands. Through miming and a little broken Greek I asked her if she wanted all of them down and she responded, “No, that would be bad for the tree”. She picked up one specimen and said with her hands, “This size or larger…only those.”

It only took me about twenty-five minutes to prune the tree. I called to her for her inspection and though she pointed to one more lemon that I had ‘missed’, I could tell that she was pleased. Then, I was invited to the inner sanctum.

She led me downstairs into her quarters and into the anteroom where she signed for me to sit. It was a small, dark room which smelled of incense and old age. I could see the little wooden stool by the window where she must have spent hours peeking through the lace curtain. The walls were covered with personal memorabilia, family photos, some hand-made lace work and the usual assortment of Byzantine icons ---The Pantocrator, Hagios Georgios, Nickolas ---and of course candles stood on every shelf. It was fairly apparent that though quite a large house, Kyrie Eleni spent her time in this room and the bedroom. This was her world. ”Bound in a nutshell of infinite space” as Hamlet said.

In a few minutes she returned with a large glass of fresh lemonade. I have never tasted anything quite like it! She then proceeded to tell me a bit about her family.

My Greek was still minimal at best but I gathered that most of her relatives were dead. There seemed to be a sister around somewhere but I got the sense that they had become estranged. We chatted like this for a half hour or so. It was hard conversing in (I can’t even call it a second language, but in what is perhaps a collective desire to communicate; at however base a level we continued.. But at least I had the sense to recognize that this was a woman of experience and knowledge Then, strangely, suddenly, she reached across and took my two hands in hers.

Den melas tipota, kathola, kanennis...endaxi? Katalavis? (“Not a word to anyone about this. Understood?”)

I saw that she had a tear in her eye. She told me she was leaving for in a week, for the winter. At first she pressed a small house key into my hand. She conveyed that it was to the upper story of the villa and that if I wished, I could use the warm indoor bath in the winter. I thanked her profusely. Then she produced a basket with some cut flowers, mostly jasmine and bougainvillea, two bottles of her lemon curd, a bottle of Metaxa (brandy) and a stack of yellowed letters.

“Kyreios Sturos”…. Deliver these to Kyreios Sturos after I am gone,” she communicated.

She then stood; I followed suit and she kissed me on both cheeks.

“Good-bye”.

I never spoke to her again. She died that winter.

As the season passed and when I learned of Eleni’s death I looked back to find these words written in my journal describing my own lonely winter:

It’s because of the storm that our electricity, fitful at best of weather, is now out altogether. Thus I am deprived of the four square feet of warmth my electric space-bar once provided. So, I fumble and scribble and shiver here in this penumbral light of the oil lamp and think how fitting it is to be enveloped by existential metaphors.

“Boredom ushers in the onset of lethargy. The seasons ignore me, holed up as I am in my small room.


“It’s not the fact of being poor that’s difficult. That was my conscious, temporary choice. I can learn the role.

It’s the emotional bankruptcy that’s irreconcilable. The struggle against nothingness.

I struggle with the question that troubled the greatest of Theban Kings as I stand here alone, barefoot on the cold concrete slab of a very cold room. The wind pierces through the grocer’s plastic which I have used in a futile attempt to weatherproof the latticework. The room was not designed for winter. That’s alright. It’s smooth and cool to the touch and that is by design.

It is not by design that I find myself here. Here on this tiny island. This outpost of loneliness. Alone with these thoughts.

“I lie here broken and discarded like a half-spent cigarette.

I feel about that cheap too...

I had a slight laugh at my own expense as I closed my journal and picked up the box containing Eleni’s letters to Stouros. They stood in sharp contrast to my jejune, sophomoric self-pity. Eleni’s words were all passionate love letters which she and Sturos had exchanged over the course of decades. This proved to be a portent…

I failed to recognize it.

Theirs had been a love forbidden by caste. Aged seventeen, she came from Athenian wealth, had been charmed by this twenty year old, charismatic son of a fisherman while on holiday here in 1917. They had fallen in love, been met with rebuke from her parents and nonetheless managed a surreptitious summer of passion which neither was ever again to recapture. Whenever possible they would walk for hours over the central elevation and rendezvous in Bekira’s Cave on the back side of the island. There, as Sturos later told me, they would make love in the sand, ensconced inside the walls of the cave, water lapping at their feet as they lay wrapped around each other like nature’s grooves in a chambered nautilus. Most times however, such long absences from her vigilant family were too dangerous; so, they had various meeting spots scattered around town where they could rendezvous more often and exchange kisses. The most frequented of these spots was the abandoned cotton mill just past the Posidonion Hotel. Its massive structure and labyrinthine interior provided their best cover. There was nevertheless great risk of getting caught and

they each knew that exposure would mean the end of things. Eleni’s parents had already threatened to return to and never allow her to travel to the island

again. But of course, this danger only enflamed the passion of the young lovers. And they did manage to steal the entire summer.

In August Eleni’s parents moved back to and, as with the mores of the time, this young woman was never allowed to travel unaccompanied. Furthermore, to obviate any potential difficulty from this tryst, her parents never returned to Spetses. But then ironically, four years later, Stouros ‘married up’ to a beauty whose parents were among the most powerful in Thelossinika. He thereby gained immediate entry into ‘society’. Even he recognized the irony at the time; that he had to marry another woman in order to become an acceptable suitor for Eleni. He did love his bride, Panioita. But it was a different degree of love. He was wise enough to understand that too.

He transported Panioita to Spestes, but tragedy accompanied her. Shortly after the birth of their first child, Panioita was struck down by a debilitating stroke. Unable to care for herself Stouros was her sole companion and care provider. She had been confined to her home for almost thirty years when Eleni finally returned to Spetses. Herself made widow by the war, she had purchased the house in which I now bathed. Upon her husband’s death and now free of her parents’ yolk, she was determined to live out her days near the only love she had ever truly known. Her arrival certainly did not go by unnoticed. In fact, the gossip about her move from began even before she arrived as the owner of the property she had purchased let it be known who had just bought the villa. So it was in the tiny world of island life in the 50′s; everyone already had their antennae up.

Eleni and Stouros both knew that under the watch of the entire village any relationship outside of the formal public eye would be unthinkable. He would be seen not only as an adulterer but as one who had abandoned his duties to his stricken wife. The woman who before God, he had promised to succor to the end of their days. Eleni of course, would be seen as the dark succubus who had stolen the soul of a heretofore good man and turned him into an unfeeling libertine. Indeed, the judgment would go much harder for her. Recall too that she was not an islander, had

great wealth, and one can see the formula was ready-made for the locals to turn against her at the merest suggestion of impropriety.

So they wrote. Daily…

Passionately…

Eleni enlisted a local six year old boy to be their go-between. Promises of sweets and a few drachmae were enough to ensure the boy’s silence. Stouros understood that the risk of secreting away such romantic and erotic letters was too great a risk. So, with each letter Eleni sent him, he composed his response and then returned hers as well --- companion pieces as it were. This is how over the many years Eleni was in possession of all of their correspondence. I was astonished to learn, much later, that the lad who had acted as their go-between was now my employer, Apostolis.


As it turned out Pantolis Stouros was the town tailor. Though his productive years were well behind him, today he was more of a town pet --- the jolly old septuagenarian with the single tooth in his head who always seemed willing to join in a laugh with anyone. His shop was in the ‘old’ . This is where the villagers came to eat and drink for a fraction of what the tourists paid in Dapia. I approached him, cautiously at first, not knowing just what to use by way of introduction. (I was still so new to the country that I had yet to realize that one never ‘needs’ an introduction to meet a Greek. They are, almost to a man, gregarious and convivial). I approached Sturous’ shop furtively only to be greeted by two flailing arms waiving me inside. His English was non-existent and, as I said, my Greek, well, rudimentary. Somehow we hit it off. Sturous was fond of providing an early afternoon ‘picnic’ in his shop, which itself was a rickety old structure in the centre of the old town. One got the distinct impression that it was only out of deference to the

old man that the authorities let the place stand. Tourism was on the rise, the whole island knew it, but some were willing to stave it off as long as possible. This was 1968; by 1980 I would not recognize this square.

Stouros operated in the following manner. He would send me just across the stone mosaic tile of the town square to a small café called Apostolis’. He sent me with instructions to find a young girl or two and to invite them to our ‘picnic’. And, we had phenomenal success…met all sorts of young foreign women. And it was even better when we found one who knew some Greek, or at least more Greek than I, for the three of us would sit all afternoon eating sadziki, fresh olives and black bread chased by ouzo. Great fun. At the end of the day Sturos asked nothing more of these girls than a kiss on the lips. Almost invariably this would elicit a laugh and his pendulous belly would visibly echo his delight.

Often I took these same girls to dinner and sometimes to bed.

As much out of boredom as anything else I approached Apostolis one afternoon about helping him with the shop. I knew that Apostolis liked me. I had visited his place daily since moving into my room and befriending Stouros. Everything we ordered for Stouros’ ‘picnics’ we purchased from him. And he was well aware of the fact that I had made a point of sending tourists to his place. He liked me, often waived my bill. But he was taciturn by nature, not the average Greek, and thus rather inscrutable. What I did know was that he worked very hard, long hours indeed. He had to be in by 4:00 a.m. to meet the herders and purchase the goat’s milk for the day. That had to be boiled and breakfast preparations made for the locals who began arriving around 5. So, he had a full morning breakfast until around 11, then a slight lull and then again the big lunch rush. That lasted until 3 when the whole village closed for siesta. He opened again at 5 p.m. for the pre-dinner crowd. That lasted until about 9 and then the post-prandial crowd stumbled in between midnight and 2 a.m. At 2, Apostolis closed the café, got on his motorcycle and headed to the Bouzouki Club (a sub-culture I had yet to penetrate). So, at first he agreed to let me wait tables but soon ceded all of the morning duties to me.

So, this is how I spent my first few weeks of my first spring and then came the mad crush of the summer season when Apostolis and I would often work eighteen hour shifts. We’d close at two a.m. and often he’d inveigle me to accompany him to the Bouzouki club. How to convey the feeling of having worked an eighteen hour day, knowing that 4 am would be the beginning of another. How to convey that thought with the act of hopping onto the back of Apostolis motorcycle and heading off to the bouzouki club? One is not even admitted entrance before 2am.

Send a dried flower or autumn leaves wrapped in scented stationary. Then her times she’But, by the first hint of autumn, the September winds cooling things down marked more than a physical change in atmosphere. By the last week of the month all the tourists were gone. The strings of white lights along the Dapia had been extinguished and packed away for the winter. The only foreigners left were the handful of ex-pats who dotted the island in their expensive villas. I only knew one by name, Sulzberger. Quite friendly. We had chatted a few times over coffee. We permanent foreigners always find one another at some point. Only later did I realize that this man was The New York Times. Alas, I never got to know him well.

All the tabernas but two shut for the winter and, aside from a much-curtailed schedule of the Dapia cafes, the only cafes to remain open were Apostolis’ in town and Lazarus’, a twenty minute walk up the hill to Kastelli.

It was in this last week of September when I finally mustered the nerve to hand over Eleni’s letters to Stouros. Over the few months I’d been on the island I had befriended one of the language masters from the boys’ school. He, Stephanos, had taken a degree at and thus his English was impeccable. He had been kind enough to translate the letters for me word for word. I was terribly indebted to him for this must have taken many hours indeed; but, he told me that after reading the first few letters he had become “enchanted by them”. He went on to say that he intended to approach Stouros about having them published.


“Iain,” he had said, “What we have here is the Greek equivalent to the letters of Heloise and Abelard. When you tell Stouros that I helped you read them, please ask about the possibility of making them public someday.”

The square was virtually deserted now. The teeming throng of the summer spectacle a quickly fading memory. They would all be replaced by next season. And come that next October, we wouldn’t remember their names either. I offered Stouros an ouzo which he refused. Then I said that I had a gift for him. I explained that I was sorry it had taken so long for me to do this but that I needed to be able to explain. (What I could not explain of course was that it was far more than the Greek tongue I had needed to master in order to convey what these letters truly meant.) So. I handed Eleni’s letters to him. Still in the basket just as Eleni had entrusted it to me. (I had replaced the flowers with ones fresh cut.) I could tell immediately that he knew exactly what I had just given him. And then, I watched him cry.

The jolly soul, the man of the bottomless laugh, the man who personified the cliché of a twinkle in the eye... that man simply, honestly wept...

And then I did something I had never done before. I approached Stouros with open arms and embraced him. We patted each other on the back and I joined in his tears. We weren’t sobbing, blubbering...but the tears provided a needed catharsis for him and an advance for me. Then...I began to believe I knew something of what love might mean.

I stayed with Stouros until I saw him chuckle once more; then took my leave.


I only mention my friendship with Stouros and my menial job at the cafe for two reasons; one of which changed my life…

The other perhaps should have.

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