As with the item titled “Checkpoint Charlie” a few weeks ago, this present posting is written for my grandchildren, so that they will know just a little of what their grandpa did in his younger days. He wasn’t always a tired old man.
There were two strangers in the apartment one day when I got home from work. Linda worked for a tour company at this time (1972), greeting each plane-load of visitors to Efate in the New Hebrides - a group of islands in the South Pacific now called Vanuatu. This couple had asked her to recommend a cheap place to stay, but they were backpackers, and we had been backpackers once, so...
“This is Pam and Bruce! Pam and I have just discovered that we went to the same church retreat when we were fifteen! Small world! Bruce is Canadian!” Exclamation points were bouncing off the walls.
“Bruce Stephenson. Hmm. The name rings a faint bell,” I said. “Have we met before?”
My address book of the time had a host of names from my travels dating from nine years ago. And there he was: Bruce Stephenson, mother’s address in Canada, Thessaloniki, Greece, October 1964. “I don’t remember you, either”, I said, “but the book doesn’t lie”.
We thought about it, then, “Zorba the Greek!” Bruce cried. And so it was. Eight or ten of us foreigners from the hostel watched the movie in the town cinema, in English with Greek sub-titles. We laughed at the funny lines a second before the locals did, which made it even funnier. We sat around drinking coffee back at the hostel, and some of us exchanged names and addresses. “If you ever get to Canada...” - that sort of thing.
Next day, or the one after, I was ready to hit the road again, going east. I had already promised a lift to two fellows, each of whom stuffed an alarmingly large pack into my Beetle. Then some girl from the Zorba session asked if I had room for one more. Well, not really, but what can you do? The boys got out where they wanted, but over the next few months she and I drifted eastward, then westward, then north, then west again... She’s still here, somewhere around the house as I write this. What can you do?
“Zorba the Greek” influenced my life, indirectly. We might not have been in the New Hebrides at all, except for the lure of Crete, where the movie had been filmed. Somebody on our travels had told us about the caves of Crete, which had become a hippy hangout. We were never hippies, but we were low-budget travellers, and living in caves on a Greek island with eccentrics like Zorba became part of the dream. In 1970 we decided we were rich enough to retire there. Linda took a course on teaching English to Greeks, I taught myself how to make a fortune playing the stock market. What could go wrong?
At the same time as I was wondering what had gone wrong, a trust company in the New Hebrides was advertising for professional staff. I went there and did my thing, while Linda showed tourists around the island and met visitors off the planes.
We never did make it to the caves of Crete, and nor did Bruce and Pam. I don’t know what happened to the hippies in residence there, if anything. In idle moments, I wonder if any of them ever got stoned for sexual misbehaviour like the widow in the movie. Linda and I got stoned in Egypt**, once, not in the nice way; but that’s another story. [**"Stoned in Alexandria", posted June 2012]