A Farewell To Ikaros: For Kevin Andrews
“He had cheated death so long, so well, so cleverly, the many scars on his fine body notwithstanding, that perhaps he imagined our new love would only comprise some added protection, some additional charm, for him. Instead, he melted his fragile wings and left me suspended in mid-air, weeping as he plummeted. Could you not, Kevin, have been more careful, and still remained true to yourself?”—Elizabeth Boleman-Herring
By Elizabeth Boleman-Herring
“For years and years, O my tormented heart, have I struggled/with ink and hammer,/With gold and fire, to fashion an embroidery for you,/The hyacinth of an orange tree,/A flowering quince to comfort you—/I who once touched you with the eyes of the Pleiades . . .” —From Amorgos, by Nikos Gatsos, Translated by Edmund Keeley & Philip Sherrard
Note: This memoir was first published in 2005.
PETIT TRIANON Florida—(Weekly Hubris)—3/23/2015—Finally, I have opened the trunk. Small, battered, and black, made of cardboard but covered with leather made to look like snakeskin, it was once the college footlocker of an old friend from America. Something he left behind with me on one of his visits to Athens. Armored at its eight corners and bristling with latches and locks, it bears two labels. One, some 30 or 40 years old, reads, “From the Whistle Stop, Shipping Agents, Columbia SC”; the other, in my own hand: “Kevin Andrews’s unpublished novel, section of his diary, ring, bracelet, cross, scarf, other mss. Upon my death, please deliver to the Director of the Gennadeion Library, Athens, Greece.”
In this brittle case, so unlike the sleek and utilitarian luggage of our present century, in September of 1989, I carefully laid away in layers a collection of objects—books and papers, coins and ancient jewelry, the photocopied pages of a diary—that I could no longer bear to hold, or wear, or even see. I laid to rest, in a locked sepulcher, the artifacts of a love affair, and the evidence of a vanished, if infinitesimal culture-of-two, things that bore a man’s scent and sweat, and words written in his inimitable hand.
And now, 15 years later, I have finally released the lock and the latches, lifted again the lid. Carefully transported from Athens to Munich to London to Pendleton, South Carolina and now, at last, to Teaneck, New Jersey, this little trunk, like an Easter epitaphios finally decorated and lifted, shoulder-high, in the streets, breathes in the air of a strange autumn, a new country, an older century. Like my heart, it is a little musty. The brazen coins (three two-drachma pieces dating from 1978, and bearing the head of Yiorgios Karaïskakis) that Kevin once used to “throw” the I Ching smell sharply of metal. The Coptic cross has tarnished on its silver chain. The ancient silver ring—once Kevin’s—given to me on Hydra by his belovéd friend, Letta Duyé, has gone dark. But the 5th-Century-BC bracelet, heavy as a half-dozen eggs and coiled like a bright asp, glints of gold, and sucks in the heat of my body as I lift it in both warm hands.
As he went down the rocks to the sea, on Kythira, he placed this bracelet on my arm, the cross around my neck, saying—lightly, oh so lightly, with that smile of both mouth and eyes: “These are your talismans.”
In the trunk, too, is a purple, Indian scarf made of silk, which he was wearing knotted around his neck the night we met or, rather, the night we met again. In 1988, a group of British publishers arranged a belated book party to honor Patrick Leigh Fermor upon the publication of Between the Woods and the Water, and I went, to have a few words with my mentor (the Ur Stylist of Travel Writing in English, Leigh Fermor) and to share a glass of wine with literary expatriate Athens. It was a cold night, we were all bundled unfashionably to the gills in bits and pieces of wool, and my former husband, photographer Æmilios Moriannides, was there taking black-and-white photographs. It is thus that I have a picture of Kevin and me, talking heatedly about books, and another of Kevin signing for me a copy of his Greece InThe Dark. I was 37, wraith-like in a green wool dress; Kevin was 64, immured against the chill in a wool shirt, sweater, and tweed jacket, a purple scarf around his neck, the 5th-Century coil he would later give me shining on his wrist.
We had met before, we believed, and we spoke of it that night. On Mykonos, or perhaps on Mykonos and then, again in Athens, he thought, in the early 1960s. I would have been ten; he 37, my age as I stood there before him. But it was, perhaps, just the dreaming chatter of two strangers who had found, suddenly, that they had shared, most of their lives, the same little patch of soil; lived in and loved and written about all their lives the same place—without meeting. And the one—the younger of the two—had read the other’s writing all her life, yet never crossed his path.
We made plans to meet again. I was founding a scholarly literary journal, had been granted carte blanche by a generous and visionary benefactor to do with it what I would, and what I wanted was to employ both Kevin Andrews and Patrick Leigh Fermor as editors at large, and to publish works in English in the community, the wide diaspora, of philhellenes here and there, who had not elsewhere found their true audience. Kevin told me he had an unpublished novel and a long piece on his origins that he very much wanted published. We arranged to meet at The Athenian, where I held the post of Deputy Editor, to discuss all these things further.
There are so few photographs. Only these two from the Viking book party, and a handful of others. One of them, his passport photo—a genre usually sterile and stiff—is my favorite. The left and right sides of Kevin’s face, like my father’s, were so different. His left, the side we usually reserve for the gaze of “others,” our more public face, was warm, a bit guarded, with a slightly drooping lid. The right side comes as a surprise, taken alone. The eyebrow arches up in intelligence and irony and mirth; the eye wide and childlike, seeing right through you. It was a mobile, beautiful and muscular face, with a wide caress of a mouth shadowed by a moustache that curled up at the ends, greyly. His hair, parted on the left, was wild and Irish-wavy, with some curls still frothing on the crown. I look at this photograph now, and can see and hear the man entire. This is still almost more than I can bear.
In another photograph, he sits in his small kitchen and jewelry workshop, in his garden-apartment in Mets. My first visit to the dark little hovel where he lived and wrote—and I later learned that Greek light was a source of both joy and pain for him; his epilepsy and, perhaps, the medications he took to keep it in check, had sensitized him to the sun—convinced me that the paying position at The Southeastern Review might be a godsend for Kevin. Decades alone, and decades a rough wanderer in the hinterland, he had become all but a hermit in Athens, though he lived as we all had in the Greece of an earlier era: spartanly, meanly, on very, very little money. In the center of the kitchen was a butcher’s block, used primarily for hammering and piecing together the beautiful, utterly original bronze-and-copper bracelets he made. And, on the wall behind him in the photo, are a row of ancient drinking cups made of bronze and one of silver; and newer ones fashioned from animal horn. It was in this kitchen that he cooked pligouri and spanakorizo (bulgar salad; spinach-and-rice) and other simple, nourishing, comforting food for me. We would take our plates out into the dusky garden, and sit drinking hima (from the barrel) wine, talking under the stars.
In two other photographs, taken on Kythira, on September 1st, 1989, Kevin stands on a rocky ridge, the sun so bright that he appears to shimmer. He wears one of my white T-shirts, a pair of my black men’s shorts (his pocket watch in the pocket), and proper walking shoes. Again, too, the Coptic cross round his neck; the ancient bracelet on his arm; and, incongruously, a stainless steel Rolex—one way we would later identify his body. Behind him, in the distance, tantalizingly and misleadingly close on the horizon, floats the little shark’s-fin shape of Avgo (Egg) Islet, also called Hitra. In a companion picture, which he shot of me, I stand in one of his shirts and his son Alexis’s Diesel jeans, a white scarf wrapped round my head, and a straw hat perched atop the scarf. The wind has come up, and I hold the hat, squinting into the sun. The look of love on my face is as naked as a newborn.
In my diary, on the page including the dates for that last week in August, 1989, I have scratched: “Du spannst und leidest, reissen darfst du nicht. You stretch and suffer. Break, you may not.” Break, I did.
There is no statute of limitations on writing about matters of the heart, about grief and loss. Confronted, always, with my little black footlocker, always placed reverently atop my maternal grandfather’s wooden traveling trunk in a study or guest bedroom as I made my way surely from east to west, I asked myself each year if I were yet ready to open it, ready to revisit my time with Kevin, his death, and the subsequent horror I experienced in Athens in dealing with the Greek government in the form of a Coast Guard inquisitor in Piraeus, but first with Kevin’s “family,” with his first child, Corinna, born to a Greek woman married to someone not Kevin, and his estranged wife Nancy Roosevelt Andrews, daughter of e. e. cummings, and mother of Kevin’s second and third children, Ioanna and Alexis. Raw like an oyster from the moment of losing him, I was to be split open, doused with lemon, and robbed of marrow and pearl by those who might have saved him; those who should have cherished and loved him; those who could have comforted me.
Now, in finally opening my heart to speak of him, I find “the tenses of the verb” running and blurring, and I find I can once again be in his presence, in the present. As Marilynne Robinson has written: “For to wish for a hand on one’s hair is all but to feel it. So whatever we lose, very craving gives it back to us again. Though we dream and hardly know it, longing, like an angel, fosters us, smooths our hair, and brings us wild strawberries.”
. . . or the sound of a man standing at a bathroom window, in the room of a neoclassical hotel on Kythira, loudly singing both Figaro’s and Susanna’s parts from Act I of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, laughing boisterously, and translating the Italian for his still-half-asleep lover.
“WHY are you singing so loudly, Kevin? Aman!” cried the woman in the bed.
“This is so beautiful. Listen. ‘Cinque . . . dieci . . . venti . . . trenta: Five . . . ten . . . twenty . . . thirty . . . .’ Figaro is measuring, in thin air, his and Susanna’s marriage bed. And she is looking in the mirror, at her little cap covered with flowers. ‘Ora sì ch’io son contenta . . . How happy I am now . . . Ah, with our wedding day so near, how pleasing to your gentle husband is this charming little cap . . .’”
And on and on he sang.
“Ahh, but my dear, I never learned Italian,” she said sadly, musing on the enormous body of his learning, first the gentle, cumulative curve of his grand formal education, conducted on two shores (Stowe; St. Paul’s, Concord; Harvard), supplemented by the fierce tempering of the Italian Campaign of World War II, and then, under the auspices of the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, the wanderjahren that produced Castles Of The Morea. “I know nothing, nothing,” she said.
And suddenly, he was there beside her, on his knees, his face at her face: “I will teach you everything I know.”
“Do you promise?” she said.
“I promise. I will never leave you.” Then, that smile, punctuated by an old sledding scar, and again, Figaro and Susanna began their bathroom duet.
“But Mozart obliterates such a magnitude of farts!!”
And we both dissolve in helpless laughter on the bed.
“Look at these vertebrae: you have the beautiful spine of a water-dinosaur!”
In my little black trunk is a child’s copybook, Tetradio No. 20, with its poor, cheap, four-color cover: steps in the Anafiotika—the high, whitewashed “village” above Plaka—leading up to the platform of the Acropolis. In it, Kevin was teaching me Greek as we went along. The first entry, in my own hand, in Greek, reads “prokalo, to provoke, challenge.” How appropriate that this was a word I needed to learn, and one he knew so well. “Tha prokaleso, I will provoke. Proklitiko, provocative.”
From there we skipped to pasaleifo, to smear, again in my hand, to which he added, “Se pasalipsa me mixes, I’ve covered you with snot!” and “Mou ’kaneh tin kardia perivoli, He really gave me a nice time/made me feel good (totally ironic).” And then, “Maliaseh ee glossa mas, We went on and on and on talking, way into the night till our tongues got furry and woolly,” followed by “Mou ’stripseh (to mialo understood), I lost my head, went straight off my head, went completely crazy, my wits turned (but more abruptly).”
Beneath this little lesson, which was transpiring on the hydrofoil journey down to Kythira, he wrote, “Lasse das Grosse gross und das Kleine klein erscheinen” followed, in parentheses by, “yia na meh thimaseh, that you may remember me.”
And then, at the bottom of the first page of the tetradio is a pithy lesson, from the master trekker, in the fine art of walking without tiring. “For conservation of energy (ballet, dance or other stylization and perpetuation and formalisation of movement): the shortest possible steps uphill—no more than heel to toe; frequent stops—not only to sit & regain breath but even to lie flat on the back, with feet higher up the hill, so that the blood can flow more easily (KEY WORD!) back to the head; and avoid the TRIPLE strain and effort of gaining premature, unnecessary altitude.”
In that last paragraph, he scratches out—vehemently—a few words he feels badly chosen. He was ever so precise about his writing: milling and milling and milling it down to the fine, perfect flour it was.
On the next page comes an idiomatic phrase I learned in Hora, the main town of Kythira, the morning of the day Kevin died. We had stopped into a pandopoleion on the main street, one of those stores that still sold anything and everything in the Greece of the late 1980s. The shopkeeper was kind and curious. We were so unabashedly in love that we walked in entwined, encased in the newly minted armor fledgling lovers wear. Like toddlers we were, drunk and unsteady on our feet, and giggling. And while we roamed the crowded aisles, “I want to BUY you something, Elizabeth! Choose anything, something!” he began to play his phloyera, his reed-flute, and the owner of the place sought him out and they began to talk, conspiratorily. I chose a woven bag with a leather strap, something dyed the colors of the earth, and sturdy. In it we placed cheese and water and bread for our planned picnic on the rocky coast across from Avgo islet, from Hitra. Going out, Kevin called back to the man, in Greek, “Should anything befall us, say that we played our lives crowns/letters (heads or tails),” and I repeated his declaration.
In my copybook, a bit later, he dictated the phrase I didn’t know: “Paizee tin zoï tou korona grammata, he lives dangerously, he’s willing to risk anything.” But what the villagers said later was untrue. He was not saying we were going to our chosen deaths in the sea off their island. He was laughing when he said we were casting our fates to the winds, adding that we were going to England to be married, to try to conceive a child. “Paizee tin zoï . . .” He plays his life. Plays. This was homo ludens on my arm, in my arms; not a man of sorrows about to quench them forever.
The next word for me to learn was “galini, peace(fullness)” and then “mavra mesanikta, of total ignorance,” as in “Aftos mavra mesanikta.” And, finally, “at the bottom-bottom of the written,” as the Greeks would have it, Kevin’s last notation in this little notebook: “ponetikos,” or “melancholy, tragic, human, poignant.”
Ah yes, my provocative love, you smeared me with kisses, made my life a garden, our tongues grew furry from all our talking into the long, lovely dawns; we played our lives crowns/letters, found peace, at last, and then, tasted tragedy, ponetikos, the sorrows of others. And utter darkness.
We chose Kythira for that excursion in early autumn, because we wanted to go away together to a place near Athens where none could find us; to a place neither had been before. We read the Blue Guide entry on Kythira on the noisy little hydrofoil. Kevin had brought work along as well, translations of songs he and I tinkered with en route to the island, and Browne’s Religio Medici. We read and wrote, and he sang, “K’ ee Thespina os t’akouseh,” all along the sheer and bright and rocky coast of Mani.
Kythira, the Island of Venus, sacred to the Syrian Aphrodite, was also called Porphyrousa, for its wealth of murex, source of royal purple; and Cerigo, by the Venetians. Long a member of the Ionian island group, though orphaned at the very foot of the Peloponnese, post-war Kythira lost much of its population to Australia (known by the residents as “Big Kythira”). It bristles with history, from the Minoan to the Medieval, but Kevin and I never even saw the Kastro, in the main town, or Kastri, the Minoan site, or the caverns, with their stalactites, or Aghios Kosmas, with its Doric columns, or even one of the eccentric author Lafcadio Hearn’s family homes, also on Kythira. We saw only the little enclosed room of the Hotel Margarita, and I have never been able to bring myself to go back.
In that hotel room, where we moved on the 30th of August—our first room, near the sea, had been too spare and mean for his tastes: “Not even a basin in this room! Imagine!”—we looked out over the fields, ochre and white with stones in the anvil of early, rainless autumn, and the sea beyond. We pushed the double beds together, overlaying them with blankets, coverlets and sheets so we could lie together, and placed caper flowers, with their inimitable sweet scent of love and pepper, in a water glass by the bed.
He had gone 21 long years without love, without the unclothed skin of another next to him, he told me, and coming back from that dead place was, at first, a shock for him. In his little Athenian garden, we held hands, across a table, at the very beginning, and I remember thinking that mine were the first hands he had ever held, for it felt that way. “The gods will be jealous of us,” he said. And he jumped when touched: “With pleasure! Ah, with pleasure! Don’t ever stop,” he pleaded. He would circle my wrists with his thumbs and forefingers, circling, circling, encircling: “You are my anima. At last!”
One night only, after we found one another, we could not be together. I had some editorial duties at The Athenian to attend to, a publishing party after work and, out very late, I returned to my Deinokratous Street apartment in Maraslio and slept alone. When I came to him the morning following, he was asleep holding my red pillow wrapped in my nightgown. “Is this what love is like?”
“It is, my love.”
And, every night, before we fell asleep—and it was hard to fall asleep; there was so much to say, and hear; so much time to make up for—he would recite, to me, in Greek, The Lord’s Prayer, always emphasizing the same words: “Give us for today, our daily bread, Elisavet; not tomorrow’s bread, ohi yia avrio: today’s bread alone . . .”
Before he swam out to Egg islet, the last things he said to me were The Lord’s Prayer and, as he placed on my arm his ancient bracelet and, around my neck, his Coptic cross: “These are your talismans, your amulets . . . If the current’s too strong, I will come back.”
“Come back, anyway,” I said.
“Halfway to Hitra, I will wave to you, so you can see that I’m alright. I will wave, coming and going.”
But, as the poet Stevie Smith wrote in 1953, he was perhaps not waving.
“Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he is dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.”
At about six o’clock on the evening of Friday, September 1st, Kevin waved to me, about a mile and a half—halfway—into his long swim to Avgo. Waving, or drowning? Waving and drowning? I will never know.
The climb down to the sea that last breezy, brilliant day was not an easy one. We had both, Kevin and I, grown up hiking the rough Greek terrain in summer. And we were like twins, sunburnt and muscular; wearing one another’s clothes. How beautiful were his arms, their angular muscles, and the taut crows’ feet where they met his chest, with its straight, abundant hair.
Twins, too, we shared a past where a love of the English language and a love of a foreign land adopted early melted into one and became a way of seeing, being, and recording what we saw and were. We had clambered about the crags and ravines of Greece, from Taygetos to Olympus, alone and with others. I had taken his brilliant work, The Flight Of Ikaros, along on many journeys, reading and rereading it. And now, here we were, handing one another up and down little faces of rock, on our way to the black Ægean.
At the top of a ridge, near a place called Trachylas, we paused, and Kevin turned to me, his face clouding. “There is something old and ugly and shameful I want to talk to you about,” he said. “I want you to just hear me out. It is something I have never talked about to anyone.”
What could this be, I wondered? We stood in the merciless sun, burning where we stood, and I listened as he poured out the stories of his first physical affairs, dating from the year when he first came to Greece, at 24, on a fellowship to the American School. He had encountered the notorious Kimon Friar, whom I knew well; and an elderly Russian woman named Olga, who had seduced him (“‘Let me caress you,’ she said, in her Siberian voice”; and he had fathered his first child, his daughter Corinna, having fallen in love with her mother, the wife of a Greek professor. All his first lovers were older than he, and all left him a tangled legacy of guilt and rage and fear. “Was not this all unnatural? he asked me, biting torment in his voice. “The seizures began immediately after. And I felt I had them, have them, whenever I try to prove something to others, when I fail, when I lie. That they are my conscience, somehow. And I have so much to be ashamed of.”
“Ah, dear God, Kevin, no! The seizures come willy-nilly. And I myself owe Olga, the wily old broad, a debt of gratitude for what she taught you. And Corinna’s mother as well, for she loved you so, and taught you love. Let this all go, this poison. Let it go.” And I held his arms up in the wind.
“Let us never go back to Athens. Let us never go back!” he said.
In his Diaries, an invaluable and as yet unpublished history of his times, both in terms of Greece’s history and his own, and which he kept so faithfully from 1947 till the day before his death, he also made a careful record of his seizures, telling the long and baffling story of his epilepsy. In 1947, there was a single grand mal, or perhaps even status, seizure, and he was begun on Phenobarbital, and hospitalized in Athens for observation (a saga he recorded indelibly in The Flight of Ikaros). Thereafter, the grand mal and psychomotor seizures burgeoned. In 1967, there were, he reckoned, seven grand mal seizures. In neat columns, in his strong, sure, hand, its a’s and e’s redolent of Ancient Greek, he noted what medications had been changed, and when, what doctors he had seen, how many days he had been seizure-free, etc. I did not see this particular page of his diary before his death, but had taken him to my GP, gerontologist and pediatrician Judith Triandafilou, in the days before we left for Kythira, to be sure we were safe in going away for a week of swimming and walking.
Having taken a careful history, Judy told us Kevin had the blood pressure and body of a 20-year-old, and said she saw no reason he could not swim or hike or carry on with his usual activities on the island. The regimen of medications seemed sound; she would see him again in the fall, when we returned.
Still, he knew he was sailing too near the sun whenever he pushed his body past a certain point. As early as The Flight Of Ikaros, he had written: “On a more intimate plane I had a reckoning to deal with in my own life now. My first winter’s illness had proved to be epilepsy, in a retarded manifestation but here to stay . . . . It charted a path between things to avoid (some more easily than others), such as alcohol, coffee, strong tea, worry, unhappiness, uncertainty, shyness, insomnia, irregularity of meals or other habits, car-driving, rock-climbing, jaywalking, a careless attitude to sharp edges and pointed objects and some innocent things like the corners of tables, as well as a bemused posture on cliff-edges, swimming long distances out to sea, prolonged solitude in unpopulated areas of land, bright light and heavy breathing, but above all exposure to sun.”
Ah, Kevin, you knew the dangers so well! I could perhaps remove a large measure of unhappiness and uncertainty from your days, but into the sun and sea, and up cliff faces you were bound to go.
Had I wanted to stop this man from doing anything he put his mind to, it would have been as pointless as trying to stop the tides. Later, his son Alexis told me, in a rare unguarded moment, “I knew this is how he would die, either climbing or swimming. I had feared it for years, but this was the life he chose to lead, the way he chose to live it.”
In Ikaros again, he wrote: “I said good-bye to steering wheels and demon rum forever, and to the prouder aspects of rock-climbing, but I continued to indulge the rest as merrily as before, if not more so, learning with time the value of theft and the jealousy of rules and regimens and other aids to a productive life.”
He had cheated death so long, so well, so cleverly, the many scars on his fine body notwithstanding, that perhaps he imagined our new love would only comprise some added protection, some additional charm, for him. Instead, he melted his fragile wings and left me suspended in mid-air, weeping as he plummeted. Could you not, Kevin, have been more careful, and still remained true to yourself?
The first morning on Kythira, while I slept, utterly spent from our journey down from Athens and the nights and nights up with one another before the trip, Kevin stole out and swam across the bay at Kapsali, coming in with wet hair and a sheepish grin. “Were you in the shower? “ I asked him sleepily. He couldn’t believe I hadn’t missed him, and I was mortified, incredulous. “You swam that far without me?” Of course, I knew I couldn’t keep up with him in the water or, for long, on land.
In his Diary, on Thursday, August 31st, the last of his entries reads: “Woke every two hours through the night for one vigil blacker than the last: every stage achieved, reversed, every validity turned upside down. One danger’s real in any case: I could give up all work for the sake of playing and making love and talking till Doomsday to make up for all ‘ridiculous the waste sad times stretching before and after’ and traveling, and seeing things together.” And he made the sign of the cross at the top of the page.
On Saturday, August 26th, he wrote. “Love early. Sweet to wake up with,” and, quoting Jung, “I don’t believe. I know.”
Back in February of 1989, I believe Kevin was reaching a crisis in his thinking about and living in Greece. This man who had so passionately loved the country that he had jettisoned his American citizenship to become Greek, and struggled, day in and day out, for 40 years to explain, to parse, the modern history of a nation determined to shrug off the gift-bearing, soul-killing advances of first one great power and then another, had finally lost faith with Hellas.
From his Diary, Friday, February 24th, 1989: “. . . I must be sure my literary-crusading zeal hasn’t abandoned me completely, as it now looks like doing. Here is where fiction would help: a work of art and not desperate polemics; something by no means removed from politics, but no longer dependent on it. The difficulty at this point is that Greece is such a desert all around me, leaving such a blank within, that nothing stirs, not one creative idea to fill the vacuum where nothing seems worth saving, nothing zieht uns hinein, and there’s nothing to fight for, aim for or interpret. A place that enjoys the spectacle of its own rot, content to let forest fires consume it, a younger generation given over to video and other sub-cultures, with Rightist movements taking over, a place where no effective measure has been or is likely to be taken to forestall the poison in the air, which every day gets worse—is any of that worth writing about? or capable of bringing any work to creation? A god gone dead, a passion exhausted, a way of life that once seemed independent and life-giving now proved false or at least misdirected.”
This was how I found him, or re-found him, in 1989. But when I asked if, in addition to the books he had published, there might not be something else that had gone unpublished, some work of fiction, perhaps, he finally remembered and dredged up, in the depths of the dark little place in Mets, his novel on the 1950s, Old Rising Sun, and we made three photocopies of the manuscript at Southeastern College, where I was teaching Journalism, and began to work on it in earnest, preparing it for publication; at the same time seeking out, through Patrick Leigh Fermor and Mike Keeley, an agent who might represent him. When I read the novel, in the summer of that same year, I could not believe that he had shut this book away in a cupboard, essentially burying, denying it, and so completely devoted himself to poetry, history, and politics.
In my black trunk, too, are the original manuscript of the novel, with Kevin’s emendations and revisions, and my personal photocopy, with my own notes and suggestions. What reams and reams of paper we lugged out to Kythira: the two enormous manuscripts of Old Rising Sun, his typewriter, reference books; the Greek versions of Tragoudia Tis Xenitias, Songs of Exile, which we were working on together to put into English. Had we indeed “never come back,” we’d have had work enough, if not food, for a year.
Who will know where to find his books, all now out of print (and ever published in small editions, but for Ikaros), and read him, learn from him, this remarkable writer on Greece in time of war, Greece in the aftermath of war, the Greece of the castles, Athens past and present and to come, the Greek, engaged always in his Sisyphean struggle for self-determination?
Castles Of The Morea, both the 1953 Princeton University edition, and the 1978 reprint, “By Arrangement with the Publications Committee, American School of Classical Studies at Athens,” published by Adolf M. Hakkert, Publisher, Amsterdam. Recently, I found one copy only available on the internet. One of the reprint editions, inscribed to me, resides in my black trunk, some day to belong to the Gennadeion. [Note: this book, at least, has been published in a new edition since its author’s death.]
The Flight Of Ikaros: A Journey into Greece, in a later edition subtitled Travels In Greece During A Civil War, published in 1959 by Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London and, in the US, by Houghton Mifflin; revised and again issued, with a preface by the author, by Penguin Books Ltd. in 1984.
Cities of the World: Athens, issued in 1967 by J.M. Dent & Sons, Ltd., London.
First Will & Testament, a book-length poem, privately published by the author in Athens, 1974 (and ably and sensitively reviewed by The Athenian’s Michael Harlow; review reprinted and included in my own copy of this chapbook).
Athens Alive, or The Practical Tourist’s Companion to the Fall of Man, Hermes Publications, Athens, 1979.
Byzantine Blues: A Cradle-Song For Neodemocracy, another book-length poem privately published by the author in Nicosia, Cyprus, in 1980.
And, Ah Christ, his masterpiece, really:
Greece In The Dark: . . . 1967-1974- [and every bit of punctuation in that title is freighted with importance], again from Adolf M. Hakkert, in Amsterdam, 1980. It is in this book that Kevin recounts his presence, his participation, in the riots that brought down, at such great cost, the dictatorship of The Colonels, and his cruel beating at the hands of fascist thugs. Every Greek, wherever he or she was born, should read this book in addition to The Flight Of Ikaros, for they serve as historical book-ends, halves of a whole.
A Bomb to the Labyrinth, essays, Adolf M. Hakkert—the only book of his I neither possess nor have read.
And, of course, the Diaries. There are the Diaries. I have the last, least important of them in my possession, and only a photocopy thereof, all I was vouchsafed by Corinna and her terrible friend (whose name I have suppressed), who visited me in the aftermath of Kevin’s drowning, and who would have attacked me physically, and threatened to do so, had I not given the Diaries up. The Diaries which I promised Kevin I would guard with my life should anything ever befall him, and shepherd on to publication, along with his novel. I promised but, in the face of Corinna’s wrath and greed and fear of exposure, gave them up. How I have failed you, Kevin. How I have failed utterly both you and Modern Greek Letters.
And it is on your head, Corinna, daughter of “Kokkona” and Kevin Andrews; on your head Nancy née Roosevelt (or née Cummings de Foret) Andrews’s head, and on Alexis Andrews’s head, and, to a much, much lesser extent, on your grieving head, too, Ioanna Andrews, that you have not published these diaries and thus made available to readers one of the greatest, as-yet-unknown works in English on Greece.
Kevin Andrews was never so silenced off the coast of Kythira as he has been silenced by his vindictive, small-minded, fearful, hidebound and utterly-embarrassed-by-genius family. It’s an old story, and a terrible one; and I wish to God I had taken up a knife and barred Corinna from my door in Maraslio rather than let her come in and spirit away her father’s great work, half a century’s labors at a lonely desk, to bury it.
What does it matter, what will it matter—oh you infinitesimal, impermanent soul, who may have shared space or DNA with him but who had no real understanding, finally, of who he was—in the flash of an eye, a decade’s time, a quarter century’s time, that you were not your legal father’s daughter, Corinna? Or that your marriage was full of such rage and woe that Kevin was still reeling with memories of it in 1989, Nancy? Or, Alexis and Ioanna, that your father wrote of his sorrows, shared them with the page, in a family he saw detonate around him? What will any of our personal trivia matter weighed against his record of the Italian Campaign (as a reconnaissance scout for the 10th Mountain Infantry Division and winner of the Bronze Star), the Greek Civil War, The Junta, and all the other great imponderables upon which he cast his bright and shadowed gaze?
I understand, through Ioanna, who kindly wrote me a long and contrite letter in the mid-1990s (“I just wanted you to know how deeply sorry I have always felt about the unspeakable way my family treated you after my father’s death . . .”), that some of the Diaries are now housed (or were housed there at the time of her writing) at the Gennadeion Library, which is where, in any event, I would have deposited them all, myself. But that they are simply languishing there, on a dark shelf, unedited and unpublished, is tantamount to having destroyed them. And if Corinna has suppressed some of the volumes (as Ioanna laments), because they deal with events in the lives of her own family members not yet dead, I would ask her whether preserving the surviving shreds of her middle-class dignity outweighs providing the world with the remarkable, priceless “whole,” the gestalt of what Kevin Andrews called his “Book of Life.”
Sweet Jesus, Corinna, you were illegitimate, he was illegitimate, both of you dropped, like cuckoos’ eggs, into the nests of other men, and Kevin paid for his perceived sins—the sin of loving, for heaven’s sake—all his life. Must he keep on paying all of your life, and mine? Must we all keep paying? Or will you, rather, sing to the high heavens that you are this magnificent writer’s daughter, and get down to the work of preserving his legacy, the work you have blocked others so much more capable than yourself of doing, from getting on with? You are only a few years my senior, as your sister is only a few years my junior, so we are all contemporaries, and all belovéd by one man. Do his wishes count for nothing? Do your father’s fervent wishes count for nothing?
“Elizabeth, do not let the Diaries fall into the hands of my wife, my children. See that they are preserved, published, made available, along with Old Rising Sun, to readers.”
“Yes, Kevin. I will.” But faced with your and Alexis’s and Nancy’s cold eyes and colder hearts, and with a proprietary post-mortem visit that constituted rapine and robbery, did I have any choice but to be bloodied or yield?
He loved you, Corinna, he loved you beyond imagining. You were, in his life, a “benison,” as he phrases it in the Diaries. You and Ioanna and Alexis, all three, despite the wrangling, the quarrels. It was what he spoke to me about, mostly, the day he died. And you owe him that debt of love in return. Publish him. Publish the diaries. Publish the novel. Publish it all. Do not let him remain, Corinna Andrews, as he noted sadly in the Diaries, “the other pappou,” or grandfather, your children knew they had, but were never allowed to acknowledge.
Below Trachylas, we found a cool pool of seawater in the rocks, condensed down to a salty bath where we were virtually weightless. Stripped of our clothes, we floated, and I held him aloft in my arms (“Like the Pietà,” he said.). We had talked so much, non-stop, for weeks, and he lamented that he had not written any of it down. “My own art, for what it is, gets lost in the air—listening and speaking,” I said. And he promised to be more dutiful in the future; to keep a record for us both.
“I will buy all new clothes,” he said. “I will see a tailor, right here on Kythira, and have measurements taken, for a suit, a wedding suit! And I will throw out everything I have on Trivonianou Street, anything I have ever worn.”
And we continued to talk up until the moment he went into the sea. But my memory fails now. “How quickly,” I wrote, after the funeral, “the gestures and expressions and smell and movements of loved ones leave us, erasing themselves from our minds. The pain is at first overwhelming, and then absent-mindedness takes over, easing the pain—hard as we try to hold on even to our suffering.”
When he died, it is as though, for me, he rolled up all of Greece like a map, swiftly stuffing it into a dark tube, taking it with him, wherever it is he went.
Said my friend, Eugene Vanderpool: “He was a monument on the landscape.”
And, “No,” I answered, “he was the landscape entire. He has taken Greece with him . . .”
“He has taken the whole—your whole—world,” said Gene.
“I feel I’ve been given a diamond too large ever to set,” I said.
“So—don’t set it . . .” said Gene.
In my trunk are two reed phloyeras, Greek flutes, two of three he took along to Kythira, and still bearing the mark of his knife, where he noted spaces for the holes. One of them, he played that last day at the pandopoleion. One, I wreathed in flowers, and dropped silently into his open grave. That he might play for Euridyce, perhaps; that all of the music not be snuffed out with him.
From a letter from an old friend, fellow archaeologist and writer, to The Athenian:
Kevin Andrews’s premature death by drowning while swimming to a rocky islet off Kythira is a grievous blow to all who admired him as a writer and loved him as a person, and an irreparable loss to the small body of really distinguished writing about Greece. There are many learned scholars. But Andrews, like Patrick Leigh Fermor and Christopher Kininmonth, is one of the few modern authors on Greece whose work rises to the level of literature. His books, poems and articles tell the honest, unsentimental, sometimes painful truth about this country, about himself and about life. His perceptions and thoughts are often brilliant and always entirely his own. His somewhat refractory writing style does not lend itself to superficial skimming: it forces the reader to pay attention not only to the thought, but also to the way it is expressed.
Andrews’s integrity was likewise inherent in his personal life. Any mistakes he may have made were those of a passionately believing, sincere and committed man. He could no more evade a challenge, physical, intellectual or moral, than he could surrender to the petit mal disability that plagued him from young adulthood. Kevin Andrews’s death, tragic and untimely as it was, reflects the courage that informed the struggles of his life. The publication of his unpublished writings would be a most fitting tribute to his memory, as well as an invaluable addition to the true literature on Greece and the Greeks.
Very truly yours,
Paul T. Broneer
Many other letters came to me then. Peter Green, from the Department of Classics, at The University of Texas at Austin, wrote: “Oh god. I am so desperately sorry—for you, for Kevin, for all the good bright shining might-have-beens. Your letter caught me completely off-balance—I ripped it open in the departmental mail-room expecting literary chat, Athenian gossip. And then that blank finality. I had a vision of Kevin as he was when I last saw him, looking uncannily like Leslie Banks as Chorus in the Olivier Henry V, dusty, rumpled, vibrant, full of passionate enthusiasms and (as Paddy so well put it) Tolstoyan aspirations. What a waste. What a loss, and for you—who finally managed to break through those prickly defenses—more than anyone. Dear Elizabeth, it’s no use trying to palliate a loss like that. All one can do is sympathise, commiserate, share the mourning (it was a shock to me personally; I hadn’t seen Kevin for ages—I tried last year through Jean Demos, but no dice—but he always occupied a very special place in my Greek world: a rare kind of integrity, brilliant insights, even more brilliant writing, and the by me much-envied decision to apply for Greek citizenship), and, perhaps, try to offer advice. (When did I first see him? I think at the American School in 1950 or 1951, dancing with the vibrant red-haired girl who decided that Kevin was altogether too wild a proposition and so veered to the other end of the scale by marrying HR, and ending up neither vibrant nor red-haired nor anything except R-the-dull-professor’s-duller-wife . . . . And we had another odd link, though I didn’t realize this at the time, through Louis MacNeice, whom I’d known in wartime London and afterwards on the literary London circuit in the last fraught decade of his life, and about whom in Greece Kevin wrote a fascinating piece in a memorial volume published in Dublin . . . . Please don’t go to Tibet, a country full of syphilis, malodorous monks, bloody-minded Chinese troops, and what Larry Durrell in that nice poem about the Coptic congregation going to Ethiopia described accurately as rancid goat-butter and the piss of goats. You’re not expected to be too rational just now. But let me offer you, in essence, the advice Odysseus gave Achilles . . . Ess, ess, mein Kind: don’t get out of the habit of eating . . . While I was still a Catholic one thing my parish priest was always telling me was, if you are suffering from unbelief, keep on with the forms.”
Everyone has written of Ikaros. Not so many of Daedalus, though Angelos Sikelianos writes of both father and son, the grand old artificer, and his creation, his headstrong creation. Edmund Keeley and Phillip Sherrard, always my favorite of the translators, have rendered “Daedalus” thus:
“. . . The fate of Icarus could have been no other
than to fly and to perish . . . Because when he put on
freedom’s awe-inspiring wings, their equipoise the art
of his great father, it was youth alone
that flung his body into danger, even if
he also failed, perhaps, to find their secret balance.
And men untried by suffering were shaken,
women were shaken, when over the huge sea
they saw an adolescent body upright
thresh the winds like a gull, and suddenly
plunge from sight.
And then it was as if
they saw the whole sea like an endless teardrop,
a deep lament which, telling and retelling
the young boy’s name, took from that name
soul and meaning and its own true sound.”
And there is, of course, Auden, whom I followed, and failed to keep pace with, as my own poetry-master: “Musée des Beaux Arts.” Breughel, naturally, whose Icarus falls in an obscure corner of a large canvas, all but unnoticed. (As did my own Ikaros: the caïques and a red Zodiac plying their speedy, peaceful courses while I screamed from shore, unseen, unheard, unremarked.)
“. . . In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster: the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.”
And so why is his first, breaking-of-the-silence book, his first, original work of literary art—and I count not Castles Of The Morea, as that was scholarship, if brilliant and also original, an academic but not an artistic triumph—why did he title his first book, the beginning of his autobiography-in-Greece The Flight of Ikaros?
Kevin chose with care every word he uttered or wrote. Nothing in excess; or any small excesses identified and excised, immediately. Like Bonnard, he would have smuggled a paint box into the Louvre to correct an errant forelock, a color not quite right, a smudged line, on a framed and hanging painting. Writing precisely was his calling. Writing so well, so brilliantly, that none could ever fault him; so that no blame would attach.
But, unlike Ikaros, he was fatherless, as only those who are too-fathered, two-fathered, can be. Roy Chapman Andrews, famed archæologist and discoverer of Chinese dinosaurs, into whose household Kevin was born, was not his biological progenitor, and knew it; and Harold St. Clair Smallwood, the British army officer who sired him, saw his son only once, and virtually disowned him on the spot.
Kevin wanted the facts of his paternity known, so deeply had they affected his life and art, so surely had they thrown him into Expatriation To Excess: No Blame (the title of the first piece of his I accepted for publication in my new periodical, The Southeastern Review: A Journal of the Humanities in the Southeastern Mediterranean). This speculative essay was published posthumously, according to Kevin’s precise instructions regarding punctuation and spelling. I found, much, much later, reading Kevin’s Diary entries, that others had rejected the piece, the Kenyon Review for one. Few were willing to accept Kevin’s rigorous requirements for the publication of his work: I myself couldn’t imagine doing otherwise. And I am grateful to have brought into print at least one self-revelatory piece of writing among all that Kevin felt had been suppressed, by editors, by relatives, by the dearth of an audience.
Volume 1, Number 1 of SER was dedicated to Kevin, and opened with a poem written in his memory by Philip Sherrard.
The Flight of Ikaros
We grow out of, as we grow into, the images
that shape us to their likenesses: images we choose
to live by, or that choose us to be
their mortal witnesses. Such images
constitute our gods, and gods and mortals
Herakleitos explains, live each other’s life,
die each other’s death.
Which is why
we ought to be vastly more careful about
what images we choose to bear witness to.
For most of us
from the pantheon of possibilities make
the most pathetic of choices, select
the most lack-lustre, imbecilic, uninspiring, dead-souled,
prissy and boring
gaggle of idols to mould our life to, and gradually
we reduce ourselves, or are reduced, to their seedy,
graceless, democratic, mob-minded and vacuous
level of pointlessness.
Yet, thank God, in each
generation a few—a dwindling few, but none the less
the elite, the elect, whether we like it or not—
do take the bull by the horns, rise from the ruck,
and choose for their paradigms the ever-vigorous,
ever-eccentric, unrepresentative and non-pragmatic
lords of creation. Like them they cultivate
only the high wasteful virtues, like them
they refuse to be anything less
than the unpredictable, irrepressible
pulse of their being commands them to be.
Selfish, we call them, high-flyers, arrogant.
And when, as is often the case, a certain
recklessness seizes them, a certain
intolerant scorn for the barnyard squalor
most of us live our lives in, and they climb
too close to the sun, are scorched, and fall,
we say it’s poetic justice, it is what they were asking for,
forgetting it is only in fire that the finest
metal is forged, and that if they drown
it is in seas in fealty to no worldly power,
it is in seas in fealty to the empress of love herself.
i.m. Kevin Andrews, drowned off
Kythira, 1 September 1989
I believe that, at long last, in writing The Flight Of Ikaros, and titling it, re-naming himself in the process, Kevin found and named-by-name his chosen father, a figure out of Greek myth, a Renaissance-man-and-artist-as-god-figure too big ever to be believed; a creator-progenitor who could never hope to prepare his son for the temptations and pleasures and dangers and certain death inherent in his also-chosen, wingéd existence, between heaven and earth, mankind and the immortals. Himself, like Dædalus, wanting recognition and freedom and affirmation and escape and a life lived at an impossible altitude, Kevin jettisoned both his earthly “fathers,” with their fragile claims on him, in favor of Dædalus, larger than life, and a hard act to follow, a fatal act to follow, but what an act to follow. I think he saw himself always as the son, the junior traveler, the page, which was so wrong of him. Lesser than his revered Philhellenic peers, was how he felt he shaped up. Distressed, he was, when Patrick Leigh Fermor, oh not so very much older, was perceived to ignore the reissue of one of his books, the very book in fact. But, truly, the boy had become the man, the acolyte the master. If only his own estimation of his talents and gifts and accomplishments had been more in line with reality. Until he fell from the sky, his was a flight of Dædalus, not Ikaros.
Before we met, or met again, Kevin was withdrawing from the world. His dark, ground-floor home, with its tiny walled garden, was mean and shabby, lightless, labyrinthine, musty: a Puritan’s cell, a keli, an ersatz mountain hut of 50 years earlier in the city’s history, down a tiny side street in the quiet urban hill-community of Mets, which neighborhood takes its name from the Metz Beer Hall, established by a Bavarian in 1870 and, in turn, named in honor of the Germans’ Franco-Prussian War victory. He lived a stone’s throw from Athens’s First Cemetery, which was to be his first, brief resting place after Kythira.
He had, he knew, become a citizen of a vanished Greece; as though, having decided to make the plunge (into full citizenship, forsaking all other alliances) this diver found that the pool had emptied. In Expatriation To Excess: No Blame (The Southeastern Review, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp 28-9) he wrote: “I had come to Greece in time to experience . . . ancient, intimate conditions; it was impossible to forget them after they had gone. Was it perverse to hold on to the memory?—cowardly not to admit a new and different reality?—or blind not to take in the extent of the change?—or inconsiderate in the extreme, or egocentric to a degree not permitted by the pace of life today, to resent a people’s right to be as vulgar as it likes? I had been spoiled by its generosity, pampered by the interest the lone traveller once automatically aroused in people who had never seen a foreigner, or learned to read, or travelled to a town, or else who had migrated to the slums of Athens in the 1930’s out of a necessity beyond my comprehension, but whose hearts were in their mountains still, and their hospitality commensurate. To forget all that was to break faith. Most of those I knew are dead . . .”
Having seen and recorded and pondered the violence on both Left and Right in the Greek Civil War and, in what Kevin felt to be just an extension of that war, the Colonels’ Junta, he had pulled hard to the Left, ideologically, morally, and with every fiber of his physical being: his, the mountain hut; never the hotel. And yet, in the late 1980s, he found he had painted himself into a corner—not intellectually but, rather, emotionally, physically. The Left, in Greece, is surely as apt to let one down as the Right. He knew this, had always known this, and yet he had cast his lot with the Left. He had metamorphosed into an ardent Leftist in the 1970s but, the revolution seemingly won, his stance had hardened into a carapace at a time when most Leftists were shedding their own skins and veering to the safer, so middle-class Right.
To have stood vigil during Greece’s long nightmare, of the 1940s into the 1970s, and then to embrace the revenants, the sleepwalkers, even the somnambulists, was his lot and his choice, both; but, having written right down to the bone, again and again, the history of his expatriation, his estrangement, I felt, when I came to love him, that he was still at sea, still adrift, baffled and angry, even in 1989, at 65, even with his Greek taftotita (identity card) firmly in hand.
Scourged on a daily basis by his affliction, the holy falling sickness though it might be, he was not an old man; not yet an old man and not soon to be one. I was as alien a creature and concept to him, on the surface, as I would have been to his Greek Leftist friends: this young woman; this American gomena (woman-for-sex, lover) with the dyed red hair and the manicured hands; this slick magazine editor; this so-20th-Century urbanite in her luxurious (if “house-sat,” only) Maraslio apartment. What they must have thought of me when I appeared at the funeral, the old Athenian Leftists who so bourgeoisly judged new little books by their glossy covers.
Kevin, like a bristling, baited bear in a cage, snapped at everyone he met in that last decade, testing all comers for brains and intellectual heft; for integrity. He found all, everyone, wanting, and he documents his litany of disappointment—cynically, bitchily, at times—in the Diaries.
And yet, and yet. As he tested and testily sparred with me one night at his home, I reached out, through the bars of his cage, and placed his hands on my heart. And he fell into my arms like one bearing the news from Marathon, and I said, with word and flesh, “Rest a while.”
And, somehow, he saw me then as not the enemy; saw that the battle he had waged, with his pen, for so very long, would be there yet on the morrow, for him or for us both to rejoin.
What he never knew, and what his friends and family still do not know (if anyone ever cared to know, that is) is that I came to Greece as a child and was dropped, as Kevin was dropped, into the miasma of the Civil War which, in the early 1960s, was still being fought—if it is over, yet. My first memories of Greece involve sitting, or lying, thought to be asleep, in rural rooms where my psychoanalyst-father was taping interviews with the war’s survivors, recording the stories of women, and women only, who had come through the horror. My first memory of Kalamata, which has erased all others of that town, is of listening to Toula A., my eyes closed, as she told the story of her parents’ being buried alive before her eyes, their screams snuffed out by the soil in their mouths.
My father and mother, like Kevin before them, were Americans who made it their duty to see, to become intimately knowledgeable about, the realities of the war, and just what had been effected and financed by their own American tax dollars. Like Kevin, my father attended, and recorded, and the level of the world’s indifference to the plight of a small country being smothered by the more monumental indifference of distant, powerful electorates was, in small, small part lessened, pricked into consciousness.
Today, when fully 50 percent of those who even care to rise from their American slumber to vote have entered into a poisonous dream, a comic-book world of fantasy, where photo-ops and sound-bites and communiqués the length of a mantra are the rule of the political day—and my estimate of America’s willful ignorance may well be too low a figure—Kevin might have held the candle to his own wings rather than try to go on with his quixotic fight.
If there were, in English, a much, much stronger word than indifference—and it seems we must coin one—it would be too mild a descriptive for what has enveloped America. Mine is the land of the New Lotus Eaters, of great, fat, ignorant toddlers, sitting in pairs, anæsthetized before their flickering television sets—this is “no country for old men” such as Kevin would have become.
The first nine years of my life had been spent in the privileged, walled-in enclave of 1950s California; Pasadena, where I attended private schools (as had Kevin), and learned smatterings of foreign languages from gardeners and cooks and caretakers (also, like Kevin). And then, Buddha-like, if only in the sense of bursting out of my chrysalis of illusion, there I was, put down to sleep across rush-bottomed chairs in a quiet saloni in Kalamata, and Toula was whispering and weeping into my father’s tape recorder about her parents’ last words to her as they died beneath the Communists’ (and it could just as easily have been the Rightists’) spades.
Nightmare had been with me from earliest childhood—my first memory, at three, a dream of drowning, in my crib, smothering, under a deluge of toys. But, in the Greece of the 1960s, Nightmare never went hungry for lack of real fodder. In Pasadena, somehow I had still been an outsider, the outsider; aware, and somewhere deep, of a reality that lay beyond my rosy walls. In Greece, I came to wish I could go home again, and un-know what I had heard; again feel safe. If, in this modern age, we can all share something of the Buddha’s epiphany; too, there are many of us who would welcome, at times, its reversibility.
In Greece, in the early 1960s, I was enfolded in that fierce, immediate, unconditional embrace (most especially because I was a child) afforded “the foreigner,” the foreign visitor. More than even my parents, who were belovéd by my father’s students and colleagues at Pierce College, and the women in the provinces who vouchsafed him their stories, I was enfolded, adored, by the Greeks who entered my parents’ lives and became their lifelong friends. On the one hand, there was Nightmare: I knew the country to be a battleground. And yet, in the light of day, in the islands or mountains or plains villages of the north, the Fulbrighters’ daughter was swept off her feet by the passionate Greeks like a child bewitched.
And, in this, I also shared Kevin’s experiences on the ramparts of The Morea, and among those left standing when the butchery of the war, and the war that followed it, had receded into memory, if recent memory.
I remember that my thin cheeks were always blue with bruises from being pinched by the Greeks, displaying their almost terrifying, to a child, love: “You did not starve in the streets of Athens, though your cheeks are thin. You are the child of Americans, and a wonder to us, even if we remember Truman in another way than you do, and Yalta, and so much else . . . .”
Kevin fell into my arms; and I, into his, and we were home; speaking English to one another, writing in English for and to one another, in the foreign land we had both chosen to inhabit. I think neither one of us had ever imagined we would become so lonely in Greece, among the vociferous members of our two, separate pareas (circles of intimate friends); but we were members of the same species, and knew one another as such, almost immediately. What joy!
“Elizabeth,” he told me, “the passive observer is no more.”
In the many Journalism classes I have taught at colleges and universities, both in Greece and in America since the 1970s, I have always cautioned my students that the most they can expect their stories to embody is what investigative journalist Bob Woodward has called “the best obtainable version of the truth.” Truth itself is always beyond us, all of us.
Journalism, non-fiction, is the first draft of history, and even the very writing of it—the ordering, the selecting, the emphasizing, the structuring—makes it subjective; makes it a “story.” What I write here and now of Kevin, of myself, and of Greece is the best I and my fallible memory can do for him, for us, for our story. It had a beginning and an end. And what transpired along the way would surely look to an other, other than the way I have seen it. And yet, like Ishmael, I alone was there to observe if not alter the course of his trajectory, and I alone escaped.
In the wake of Kevin’s death, I descended into panic, for years, my attacks as frequent and as daily and almost as debilitating as his seizures had been. Certain I was dying, each and every time, as though my memory of any previous attack, and my patent survival of it, had been erased, I would gasp for air, my heart racing, and often I would crumple to the floor or, alternatively, begin running, to what distant source of salvation I had no idea.
Like all Americans of my generation and social class, I sought help, first, from doctors, and then from those who purport to doctor only our psyches, psychiatrists. The drug I was given by one such quack, Xanax, I found repellent, useless against panic, and instantly addictive. No solace there. In time, and in the year when my mother was dying of cancer, 1992, a member of her cancer support group, himself dying of cancer, gave me a box of audio cassettes made by a layman who claimed he could talk sufferers through panic, one step at a time, giving them, us, me, simple behavioral tools to keep the attacks at bay. Counterintuitively, this blunt instrument worked for me, and I recovered. But, over the course of my three-year-long ordeal, I found myself in the office of one psychiatrist who, very logically, traced my symptoms back to the drowning, the loss of Kevin. No great intuitive leap, that diagnosis!
But it was his contention that Kevin swam out that day willfully seeking his death, acting out the last scene in a tragic play, with me as the sole member of his audience. The death of Ikaros. My immediate response to the floating of this theory was silent rage, and I soon left this man’s “care” and sought none other.
To a Western eye, Kevin’s swimming, or climbing, or even crossing the busy thoroughfares of Athens, would appear suicidal, but not, on any significant level, did it to me. Motivations are always several if not indeed numberless, but at least as various as the cards in any given hand of poker. In my heart, I believe that Kevin, having at the end jettisoned so much of the rage and pain he held in his heart for the sundry ruinous experiences of his 65 years—his un-ending accompaniment by epilepsy; his shattered and poisonous and endless (with no prayer of her allowing him a divorce) marriage; the loss of his children’s constant presence and love; his inability to publish widely, easily, profitably—perhaps, perhaps he determined on some level never again to entertain such pain, such grief, such regret, such anger. Released from care, as he was in our brief, happy interval together, perhaps he chose, deep beneath his consciousness, to go out on a great wave, in one of his best belovéd elements, at a time of his own choosing, taking with him the wily opponent with whom he had wrestled most of his life, his seizures in essence “drowning with him.” If this is so, as he would have phrased it, “No blame attaches.”
. . . even if Ikara herself, his belovéd, his twin, were left weeping, screaming, on the rocks opposite the place where he died.
“But,” I almost hear him whisper, his thumb and forefinger circling my wrist beneath his bracelet, “you are so young, my love, and you will recover—almost completely—and love again. I know you will.”
Those attending the funeral, at Athens’s First Cemetery, comprised a sea of, for me, unknown faces; my own, and his son’s and daughter’s, Alexis’s and Ioanna’s, the youngest I could see. I arrived alone, uninvited, and stood like a ghost in black behind the seated figures of “Kokkona,” mother of Corinna P-C, Kevin’s first, eldest daughter; and Nancy, his estranged wife, who had flown in from London to attend, while various august-looking men from Athens’s literary community spoke about my lover, and his stature as a giant of Modern Greek Letters. At least that’s what I imagine was being said in the bright sun that day, Friday, September 8th, 1989. Three days later, I would attend the funeral of my former, belovéd father-in-law, Theodore Moriannides. On the 16th, I would participate in my closest friend, Jenny Colebourne’s wedding to Dr. Paris Raftopoulos. But, all this time, and for weeks to come, Greek would make no sense to me. I could hear people speaking to me, but it was gibberish. In my heart, I had already left the country, the country having abandoned me in the hour of my greatest need. I moved like a wraith, sunburnt from Kythira; walking but dead.
I remember only three things from the service, and they have nothing to do with language. Standing behind the first two women Kevin had loved, “Kokonna” and Nancy, I found myself next to Alexis. Reaching out for his hand, I placed on his forearm the bracelet of iron and copper Kevin had made for me, hammered on his butcher’s block workbench on Trivonianou Street.
And then, somehow, suddenly, we had all moved, and I was seated next to “Kokonna”—who reached out to me, patting the seat next to her, where she kept me close, touching her side and arm, for the duration of yet another service. The coffin was before us, just above us, and it was one of those wonderfully flimsy, cardboard coffins the Greeks have so wisely and flimsily devised that the flesh might return, swiftly, to the dust from which it sprang. And, out of the joints, the seams, of this coffin, was spilling rice. I rubbed my eyes and bent forward. Rice. Ah, God, no, but maggots, the spawn of the blowflies that had hatched on Kevin’s body even in the sea. Not only, in life, must we mount the great wheel, and strap ourselves on, but we must remain conscious as we are broken.
And then, released, I am surrounded again by a sea of strangers speaking an unknown tongue, and they are lowering my belovéd’s body, corrupted and utterly unknowable, again, in this lifetime, into the shallow, shallow grave. And I force my way through, my oh-so-inappropriate red hair flashing, and I toss gently into the grave, and upon the coffin, a shepherd’s flute wreathed in white flowers.
And that is all I remember.
Att: Patrick Leigh Fermor, Esq.
September 5, 1989
This comes over a FAX line, and I will save the story I need to tell you for later. This is some of what I would have the world know, though one always wishes the world would like to know the precise contents of the human heart. If I make little sense, it is because Kevin is dead. I have not put pen to paper, except to record events, since…
He died on the forty-second anniversary, to the day, of his having set foot on Greek soil. He would have been 66 on January 20th. His father, who never acknowledged him, was one Colonel Smallwood, as perhaps you know, but he was born Kevin Roy Victor Andrews. His résumé, accompanying, phrases the truth of his origins in the way he would want it phrased. He is survived by his estranged wife, Nancy, his daughters Corinna and Ioanna, and his son, Alexis. It is probably better to make the epithets hazy, as Corinna . . . but then, you will know.
We went out to Kythira on Tuesday, August 29th to rejoice. It was a place we had never been before, or had we? He took along his typewriter and the ms. of the novel he was working on. He had allowed me to make editorial comments, and he was revising the book for publication. It would have been, is, will be, his first novel . . . Old Rising Sun. For you only, the near-drowning of a young sponge-fisherman takes place in the book.
We stayed in Hora, above Kapsali, in a hotel called the Margarita. From the day we arrived, Kevin had it in his head to trek out to Trachylos and swim to Hitra, or Avgo, the seal island some 5 kilometers off the coast. We walked out to Trachylos on Wednesday, then all the way out to the tip, land’s end, on Friday, September 1st. He was in no way suicidal. He was euphoric, in excellent spirits and form. He spoke at length about his lack of fear, my own fears, in the gentlest way. It was obvious that I could hold him from doing what he wanted, but that it would diminish him and what we had if I did.
At 4:40, after saying The Lord’s Prayer, in Greek, to me, as he did nightly, he went into the sea. Approximately 45 minutes later, just before I lost sight of him, he waved to me, energetically, to say he was proceeding; fine. I had told him to keep an eye on the height of the sun. When the light disappeared, at 8:00, I ran back to Hora across the cliffs and rocks, to seek help. I had left food, water, clothing, and his anti-epileptic medications on the rocks at Trachylos.
It was difficult to rouse the Limenarheion to mount a search. At last, a caïque took me out near Trachylos, but the fourtouna that had been blowing—7 Beaufort?—since Kevin’s departure had not abated, and we were forced to turn back before rounding the Cape. During the night, after notifying meson [those in power], in the form of Lisa Evert, in Athens, a thorough search, under flares, was made of the Cape area, and Hitra. At dawn, helicopters were sent from Crete. Futile.
Leaving instructions, I flew out at 4:00 p.m. Saturday. The Port Authority called me in the air to say they had “news.” I phoned from the Athens airport to learn that a fisherman had found Kevin, felled by a status seizure, I conjecture, floating in a distant bay. He would not have suffered. Again, this type of severe seizure, experienced only a handful of times in his life, is something we had discussed the day of his death. I feel, and have nothing to substantiate this except feeling, that he died at precisely 6:00 p.m., and then was swept off by the currents.
—End of “Facts”—
We had been planning an escape from our old selves, our old lives. It involved London, a child, marriage, mountains, writing. He said he had never before been so happy: I know I had not. As I told the shop owner we saw just before leaving for Trachylos: “If we don’t come back, you will know where we are. We have played our lives korona/grammata.”
What they will call me, I have no idea. His 37-year-old companion? His friend? It matters not. What matters is that one of those who had had the grace granted to her to know and love him attended his leaving. He left on a blue wave capped by foam, under a brilliant September sky. He intended to return but, as he said, lightly, “The gods are jealous. Especially Aphrodite.” This, though he was an Anglican.
Paddy, I have begun to babble now. I am dealing with the horrible guilt of not having been “more of a man,” of not stopping him, and I am dealing with the terror that his work will now be suppressed in the same way his true identity, and that of his first child, were so long suppressed. I was given a trust, and have no legal means to execute it. I know he would lift this cloud if he could . . . .
For now, the pen is in your hand. He would have wanted it so. That he never heard from you regarding Ikaros was something that troubled him. He held you in great esteem, as do I. Do not let this last bit of information sadden you. Kevin never quite got over being a ‘son’: that is, perhaps, for the next dimension, where I pray more nurturing and affirmation will be granted him. At the end, I was able to see him as perfected . . . .
The novel is set in Greece and is a major work. The last book he reread was Religio Medici. He died wearing a 7th-Century-BC ring given him by archæologist Judith Binder. Yes . . . enough.
Du spannst und leidest, reissen darfst du nicht. This I wrote in my journal before we left.
As the sun sank, I knew in my heart he was gone. At 6:00 p.m., the wind had come up, swirling around me as I stood on the rocks above the sea, blowing his hat from my head and into the water. I had been straining to see him, to see anything, on the darkening sea and, as the wind rose, and the waves with it, I knew a storm was coming. At 8:00, just at dusk, I began screaming into the wind. A white caïque and a red Zodiac went gaily by me, as I leapt up and down on the rocks, waving my arms. No one stopped.
And then, I flew. Leaving provisions for him, I raced up the rocks, falling and crying and screaming, passing the little cave where he had made the sound of an owl into his cupped hands, the abandoned, ruined house where we had seen a hornets’ nest in a dead hawk’s body, over the ridges above which crows had been mating, talking, in mid-air, earlier in the bright afternoon. On the ground, littered with spent shells from the last war, I fell, and bloodied knees and hands. At a crossroads, I left my own straw hat, weighted down with stones, to mark the way we’d come; to let him know the way I’d gone, should he follow.
At the Margarita, I was incoherent, screaming, crying, motioning towards the sea. And the kind young people who were the proprietors there, who had just that morning served us coffee and endless rounds of toast and butter and marmalade, took me down, by motorcycle, to the port, where I began to harangue the fishermen in their boats. The storm was now blowing fiercely, and none would risk venturing out.
“But this man was your hero!” I wailed, in better Greek than I had ever spoken. “This man was your champion! A great author! You cannot let him down! He has never let you down! He gave up his citizenship, and was the first, ever to do this, to renounce America, in order to become a Greek. Do you understand? If you do not take me out in one of your boats, I will swim out into the sea here and now, and you will have my head, as well as his, on your consciences!” And I did then wade into the sea.
“Esee ftes—You are responsible,” said an old fisherman, but with no venom. “He was older even than I . . . .”
A man then came forward and said he would take me, though his wife was pulling him back.
At the last moment, she gave me her pullover, and the caïque went out into the darkness.
We searched in the night, at last approaching the sheer rock faces of Hitra. And I shouted his name—a refrain taken up by the Greeks on board, though the word “Kevin” was difficult for them—into the indifferent wind until I had no voice. Upon first looking up at those sheer cliffs, I knew in my soul that no swimmer could have found purchase there. None but the seals could scale Hitra, or “The Pressure Cooker,” once believed by the Kythirans to be a volcano.
I remember nothing more until the next day at the airport where, again, the young owners of the Margarita had accompanied me. The woman, whose name I have lost, walked me up and down the runway, to get me away from the gossiping passengers in the little terminal.
Halfway to Athens, an attendant came to tell me I had a phone call from Kythira. There was “news,” but they could tell me no more while we were in the air. My heart leapt. He was alive. Against all odds, he had survived and would come back to me.
But in Athens, alone, standing in an airport phone booth with a hand clapped over one ear so I could hear the barely audible voice on the other end of the line, I learned that they had found his body; that he would be sent back to Athens by ferry, that I could meet the boat at Piraeus.
Again, I remember nothing for several hours. But, with Corinna, somehow with Corinna, I went down to the port of Athens, where she was given his Rolex watch, and we were told where we could see the body.
At the morgue—or was it a hospital?—in an exterior room where there were many stone slabs, all but one unoccupied, in the incredible heat of a September noontime, I at last saw him again, and knew him not. I think it is universal that, if you have passionately loved someone’s body, and loved it as recently as had I, you are compelled to seek out that very flesh, in whatever state you may find it, to convince your heart that the loss is final, that there will be no taking into your living arms again the lost belovéd.
Corinna could not understand this, but I, who had lost my father, and all but one other whom I had loved in my family, would not be denied this last honor.
But the sea, kind monster, had already erased his features and made him anonymous to my puzzled eyes. Even to the touch, he was not known, knowable; nor even human. I had been here before, somehow, with my own father. But it was still all new. No tears came, for this was not my lover, not my mentor, not my light, buoyant, eloquent twin. This Ikaros was wingless, as though he had never flown. The artificer was elsewhere entirely.
Kevin, My Love, halfway into this writing, I “threw” the I Ching or Book of Changes. You know I was always a skeptic about this form of divination, any form of divination, though you swore by it. But I threw your three coins, in any event, and came up with “Work On What Has Been Spoiled.” I thought you would be amused, My Dear. Shall I read you what the book has to say?
Work On What Has Been Spoiled
Has supreme success.
It furthers one to cross the great water.
Before the starting point, three days.
After the starting point, three days.
Commentary on the Decision
Work On What Has Been Spoiled. The firm
is above and the yielding below; gentle and
standing still—that which has been spoiled.
“Work On What Has Been Spoiled has su-
preme success,” and order comes into the
“It furthers one to cross the great water.” On
going one will have things to do.
“Before the starting point, three days. After the
starting point, three days.” That a new begin-
ning follows every ending, is the course of
Well, My Dear, your humor, and your tenderness do perhaps extend far, far beyond the grave, and I am comforted, and have marked the page with our pink hydrofoil tickets to, but never from, Kythira.
In the days following the funeral, I was rescued, literally, by Letta Duyé, Kevin’s belovéd friend, confidante and traveling companion. Her name figures on a daily basis in the Diary of 1989, and her seeking me out, and comforting me; her spiriting me off to her getaway on Hydra, all spoke to a generosity of heart and spirit that was unique among his Athenian friends.
In my little tetradio, are Greek words that Letta tried to teach me, but my letters are ill-formed, and there are only six words and phrases from that visit to Hydra, the last two: ee enohee, or guilt; and themenee kombos, which I did not translate.
On Hydra, I encountered, for the second time, a close friend of Kevin’s from Langley, Washington, Robert M. Cabot. He would send me, in February of the next year, photographs from Kythira, where he had made a pilgrimage to see the rocks beneath Trachylos, and Hitra; as well as of Kevin’s grave in Athens’s First Cemetery, ringed with rough, mountain rocks: he would have loved it.
Now, in time-honored Greek fashion, the body will have been exhumed, and the bones transported, I know not where. But since all communication broke off immediately with Corinna and Alexis, who had been so quick and cruel to seize the Diaries, and with Nancy, whose only words to me consisted of queries about the whereabouts of this or that piece of Kevin’s jewelry, this or that treasure supposedly purloined from Kevin’s house—I retreated into dumb pain, and lost track of even Letta.
The Greek Coast Guard, seeking to paint the drowning as a suicide, or a somehow failed double-suicide, summoned me to Piraeus for what can only be termed an interrogation; and turned on me the one Greek face I hate, the tiny, mean face of fascist Greece—located right at the bottom of the vast Pandora’s Box of Greek faces—and hate is far too weak a verb for what I feel. My Maniate lawyer accompanied me, to translate, for I was now totally without Greek. Without him, and the time his translation vouchsafed me between questions and answers, I fear, as he feared, that I might be charged with some crime. Perhaps the Limenarhis of Kythira was regretting, too late, his refusal to mount a search? I will never know.
Whatever the case, I signed a long statement, and went home to Maraslio and, in short order on, briefly, to Munich, where I worked as a book editor; and then to London where, until my mother’s final illness, I edited travel books and, in 1990 and 1991, wrote Vanishing Greece.
Years later, I returned to Greece, to Corfu, to write a travel book about the Ionian islands and, in a little gift shop owned by my Swiss friend, Ruth Bossard, I saw and picked up a beautiful set of bracelets—silver and brass and blackened silver—the pieces cleverly linked together in a fashion I had seen only once before. I turned to Ruth and said, “How much are these?” and she told me. The price was reasonable.
As I was paying, and turning the bracelets on my arm, Ruth said, “They were made by a woman in Athens. Corinna P-C.”
Patrick Leigh Fermor’s obituary of Kevin Andrews, from London’s The Independent, Thursday, September 7th, 1989:
“The death by drowning of Kevin Andrews last week, off the island of Kythira, is a great loss to English letters and to the Greek world.
“He was born in Peking in 1924 of an English father and an American mother and his upbringing was half the East-coast American world of Henry James, and half England, where he was sent to Stowe. He won an honours degree in Classics and American Literature at Harvard; he was just old enough to serve as a reconnaissance-scout with the US army in the Po Valley campaign.
“But, very soon afterwards, Greece became his chosen field and remained so for the rest of his life. A fellowship at the US School of Archaeology in Athens launched him on a wild and solitary hunt for Peloponnesian Crusader ruins, and the resulting book, Castles of the Morea (1953 and long overdue for reprinting) has remained a classic.
“These travels led him into steep mountain ranges in the throes of civil war, where, often in great danger, he became friends of the combatants on both sides; his knowledge of the fierce realities of Greek mountain life became the raw material for The Flight of Ikaros (1959). It is the most brilliant and penetrating book on the bitter and often tragic aspects of Greek rustic life to come out since the war.
“He was uniquely fitted for such a task by his physical stamina, by his classical and historical studies, his outstanding command of Modern Greek and its dialects, by the vigour and range of his style; psychological grasp, poetical flair and feelings of pity led him straight to the heart of his chosen world.
“With his fine looks, clear glance, and the shaggy goatherd’s cape with a wooden flute in the pocket,—his excellent ear for music was matched by a knack for songs—Andrews always brought a tang of curds and woodsmoke back with him to Athens. All this turned him into a scholar gypsy, and everyone loved him. In spite of his gifts, his transparent integrity sometimes seemed to disarm him for life and he was plagued from childhood by le petit mal—incapacitating seizures which could last a minute or two—and it was one such untimely visitation that caused his death.
“His marriage to Mrs. Nancy Roosevelt, a daughter of e.e. cummings, ended in estrangement and, through the absence of his children in America, much sorrow. I think he was happiest sleeping out on brushwood among the sierras of the Megarid, where a goatherd god-brother pastured his flocks; or in talking all night in Athens with Greek literary friends or with Louis MacNeice, Robert Lowell and Professor E.R. Dodds.
“His Athenian habitat prompted him to write Athens (for Dent’s Cities of the World Series, 1967) a brilliantly original, resilient and iconoclastic dismantling of all accepted ideas about modern Greece, which set many shock waves in motion.
“Another book on the same place, Athens Alive (Athens, 1979) is an assembly of historical texts from the 4th Century AD to the eve of the Second World War. Recondite and largely unknown, they range from Hellenistic papyri, Burgundian chronicles and Turkish firmans to the dispatches of Hemingway, all of them heavily annotated by Andrews to illustrate the age-old interference in Greek matters by foreign powers, especially in recent times.
“These feelings—and allotting blame for the colonels’ dictatorship and for other wrongs to Greece—preoccupied him. Towards the end of the dictatorship, he wrote a remarkable and moving poem about it—of Waste Land length—called First Will & Testament (1974). He condemned Western leaders with the vehemence of Byron excoriating Castlereagh, and, in 1975, he renounced his American citizenship and became Greek. He was the first foreigner to do so, and the change was important to him.
“His increasingly radical feelings never came under a party denomination: they were a kind of Tolstoyan aspiration, perhaps akin to Orwell’s pursuit of common decency. I think he was perhaps sometimes astray and very occasionally unfair but never anything less than deeply convinced. Several things—the failed marriage, the distance from his children, the troubles of Greece—made the last decade or so less happy than the others.
“But, just before the end, everything had begun to change. He had fallen in love with a fellow-writer and poet, remarriage was planned and, for the first time in his life, he had embarked on writing a novel. He was intensely happy. The fact that these prospects glowed removed all suspicions of suicide from his death and, when his body was discovered by a fisherman, medical evidence proved the nature of the mishap.
“On 30 August [sic], after a day of reading Religio Medici he set off to swim from the southernmost cape of Kythira to Avgo island: 6 miles there and back. A sudden storm blew up with a 7-Beaufort-Scale wind; night fell, and after a long search, and helicopters flown next day from Crete, hope was finally abandoned. He vanished, 42 years to the day after first setting foot in Greece, heading for an islet full of sea-caves and gulls in a legendary reach of the Ægean.”
In the early autumn of 2003, staying in Mets, just off Markou Mousourou Street, with my American fiancé, who would soon become my husband, I finally found the tharos (the courage, the strength) to turn up tiny Trivonianou Street late one evening. Mets has changed less than other of the city’s neighborhoods since 1989, and yet certain areas have been gentrified; their former, poorer residents pushed out in the process. Holding Dean’s hand for courage and comfort, I entered the dark street, and peered up at the once-familiar façade of No. 69. Much the same, thank God. We were turning to go when the door opened, and a young couple emerged. I heard children laughing in the interior of the house. We were all startled for a moment, and then I struggled to say who I was: “I was there when Kevin Andrews died . . . . I loved him.”
“He was our friend, too,” said the husband, “and we have lived here for a while, but now others want the house. Would you like to come in? Come in, please!”
“No, no,” I said, pulling back into the dark street. It would be too much. Too much for me, now or ever. “I cannot.”
But they left the door standing open, and I stepped back into the light spilling forth from the house for just one moment more. The walls inside had all been freshly painted, and the dark furniture and boxes and papers and shelves were all gone. The ceiling was a shade of empyrean, as brightly lit now as the dawn sky. And children peeped around the corners to see the foreigners on their doorstep.
Author’s Note: My entire memoir, from which the story of Kevin’s death is excerpted here, is titled Greek Unorthodox: Bande à Part & A Farewell to Ikaros, and is available in hard copy via many book-sellers.
YUP…I AGREE WITH RICK. I STILL HAVE HIS PIX ON MY HD.
Danny M Reed
This excerpt from your book resurrected a time when I was alive. Life itself CAN be so good that no one should leave without trying at least once because once is never enough. There are some that have never lived and some whom have died trying. It is (whatever it is) a powerful gift that drives us to make it last forever, and yet not a single human soul has survived to tell about it. Harry Houdini, who lived in Appleton, WI for a time, made Death his ultimate and final escape challenge, No?
I have talked with women 105 years of age, left behind by their husbands and half their family who definitely wanted to die naturally and get it over with. I say “naturally” because Death dominates our Nature right now. Women are left behind.
When I was a teenager I finally ran into my first love at work while I was reading Leo Buscaglia’s book “Love.” Like a male hermit crab I waved my violin claw into her heart. Barbara was basically a bored housewife whom had read too many steamy novels and was sick of baking “little-chocolate-chip-cookies.” Over 23 years my senior, she had the maturity of experience in a 20 year marriage with two boys my age in high school. Barbara herself had attended a Catholic Mesmer High School (why is it always Catholic girls?) Wow, she had read some wild scripts and was eager to act them out. Being a family publication, I am not at liberty to say it.
I am all for Metamorphoses but it is a bit like waterboarding off the coast of Egypt. It feels like it will never end (it does) and I will never be the same (I won’t). Learning to breathe water or learning not to breathe at all in a low gravity La Grange Point in the vacuum of dark matter space and learning to travel vast parsecs without actually moving is hard. I have no conscience anyone would agree with so it sounds so bleak and dark. Death is NOT beautiful because it is EXACTLY what it appears to be to the naked eye: the grain of wheat falls and dies so we may be alive.
Like the Colonel in “Apocalypse Now”declared, ignoring unflinchingly a nearby mortar explosion, “Some day this war is going to end, son.” I see the whole thing. Beautiful excerpt from a powerful book. I will read on, Elizabeth. The Lemon
You are more snicket than lemon, Danny, still. Don’t despair. I keep falling into our shared black hole and then, somehow, climbing out again, and there you are, still. Kevin went willingly into a bottomless hole, while happy. Perhaps it was a choice; perhaps not. I never learned, or was taught by him, “everything he knew.” I do hold that against him. But I also know that, had he been even a little less impetuous, he would not have been Kevin.
Love you and Debby and Terri and Eric,
You write beautifully!
Thank you, Irena. Thank you so very, very much…..
Danny M Reed
“Elizabeth,” he told me, “the passive observer is no more.”
I moved to Greece in January, 1989, at the age of 35. For the first 6 months I studied modern spoken Greek at the Athens Center, very close to Kevin’s house. I walked up the hill from Kalomarmoro Stadium on Marko Mousarou, passing its intersection with Trivoianou 75 feet from his house six times a week, coming and going, during that time. I think of him now brooding in his little house as I passed by approximately 125 times, or perhaps I passed him on the sidewalk, a fit man my father’s age with a look of utmost seriousness and unhappiness on his face. I wish I would have known about him then. He probably would not have wanted me as a friend, because I’m a Christian with fairly strong faith, but now that I know the title of the last book he read I’m not so sure. Thank you for your heartbreaking story which proves once more to me that in this fallen world tragedy strikes a much deeper and more resonate note in our hearts than any other narrative form.
I’m still in Greece, in Thessaloniki, married to a Greek with a beautiful daughter. I’ve been here 27 years, stayed out of the political stuff, hated the country for decades for all the reasons many foreigners dislike living here, and am only now, as I read books like Ikaros, understanding what a beautifully unique land this is. There’s a lot of authentic Greece left, believe me. I’ve learned to love this country deeply.
Dear Dan, what a loving, thoughtful, kind response. But perhaps I can add some additional words, and not colored by tragedy. I believe Kevin’s faith was, like your own, deep, and fairly Orthodox. It was a broad plain/plane on which he stood, without “having to look down.” One of the very last things he said/recited to me was The Lord’s Prayer . . . of course, in Greek. So . . . you would have had much, much common ground, and it’s sad you could not meet, both incarnate.
I came across this page in looking for descendants of Roy Chapman Andrews. (I had wished to share a small vignette from long-ago family stories.) It sounds as though his son Kevin was as remarkable a person as his father, although, of course, inhabiting another universe. Thank you for sharing your experience of who he was. Greece remains a country cherished within my dreams of sunlight and sea. You captured its essence so wonderfully in your writing.
You do write beautifully!
Dear Jil, thank you. Of course, Kevin did not consider himself an Andrews descendant but, at this remove, I have my own doubts that the man he settled upon as having been his father . . . may well not have been. I so, so wish he had lived; that we had had time. As some Native Americans would have it, I have a “ghost life” with Kevin; and it will endure for the duration of the life I actually have. Thank you for all your words, Jil….
Danny M Reed
Once there was a way to get back homeward. Once there was a way to get back home. I’m not one for visits or revisitation so much as what I may call parousia or presence with a time and place in mind when I read this again. Nearly exhausted of youthful affectations I have come to terms with my own complex traumatic stress. Eight years after an NIH Ketamine Study the FDA approves S Ketamine at last as a metabolite for Depression effective in hours rather than months. At last I find my Depression is not only Manic, inherited from the Lowells, but Existential as well. Reading again about you and Kevin reminds me that even as I lost in love after the cessation of a 27 year marriage, and lost friends along the way, yes, love lost well. Born Alone, Living Alone and now Dying Alone I know what Kevin’s 21 years with no one to love but a red pillow in a nightgown feels like. Still, there are greater and greater levels than this existence we call life, zoe, and meaning greater than life. I know how to be alone and considering the alternative even preferable to Aloneness. Thank you for being my lemony friend, Elizabeth, a tangy medicine for Aloneness.
Dearest Danny, we . . . go on. And knowing that you are here with me, however distant, makes this all, all, easier and brighter. I always remember you. I always remember that time you and Terri and Debby and Eric and I spent together in that Retreat for The Brilliantly Bereaved. I can go back, in my mind, to you at the door to your room, and me with a cup of tea-full-of-lemons. And sugar, Danny. AND sugar. I love you.
What a gripping piece!
Please know that your guide “Athens” (in Harrap’s “Insight Pocket Guides”) and “A Flight to Ikaros” are both cited in the bibliography of my book on Athens, on pages 367 and 377 respectively. https://www.amazon.com/Athens-Searching-Before-Bubble-Burst/dp/095520903X/
And please know, too, that in 2013 I went up and down Odos Praxitelous looking for your recommendation “Doris”. In 1991 my husband and I had faithfully followed the routes in your excellent guide and so had enjoyed the atmosphere, the charm of the staff, and the “wicked” loukoumades of that splendid little place. So almost 30 years later, in 2013, while on one of my annual holidays in Athens, I sought “Doris” again, but sadly did not find it. Young shop-assistants couldn’t help me, being too young to remember it. But eventually an elderly shop-keeper confirmed, with sadness, that “Doris”, like so many small independent businesses in Athens, had closed due partly to the financial crisis and partly to the influx of transnationals since the financial crisis erupted.
How lucky I was in 1991 to catch what was probably a little of the last of the older living Athens!
And how lucky I have been to catch this article of yours today, in 2019. Old Athens still lives!
Very Best Wishes.
Dear David, Yes, Doris is gone, and I have not been back to Athens since 2011, so I have not felt that particular pang of loss all Old Athenians now experience on Praxitelous. For all my long life “in country,” so little that I loved changed in Greece, but after Europe’s ongoing economic debacle began, that beloved landscape alters daily, and not for the better.