Saturday, May 28, 2016

Greek Interim, January 1979 (Hamline U group led by Fred Leach), a rough draft of an unfinished recap

Greece trip timeline (in consultation with Gary and Sandy, not sure when):

16 Dec 1978 (I think)
  • ·         Orientation or meet and greet at 1650 Hewitt (the Leaches)
  • ·         Much discussion about toilet facilities, horror stories for the impressionable among us
  • ·         Girls were warned that there might only be “holes in the ground”; they groaned
  • ·         Maps spread out on the dining room table; hotels, train stations, cafes, museums were pointed out; everyone crowded around, trying to picture what we were in for
  • ·         “Does everyone have their passport?” No. “You’re running out of time, Jim. I suggest you do it tomorrow.” Jim looks unfazed.
  • ·         Gary looms over everyone, even Ron. He looks like a science major. A tall one. Gary, like me, is quiet, but he smiles frequently. Two years later he tells me he was scared to death.
  • ·         Also much talk about the cheap sweaters to be purchased. (They will turn out to be more expensive than promised.) Sweater fever is loose!

3 Jan 1979           
  • ·         Cold morning, took a taxi (with my father, I assume? car didn’t start)
  • ·         MSP departure 11am CT
  • ·         DC-10 with Connie and “Hawkeye.” Hawkeye has a Playgirl with her—whatever happened to House and Garden? I wonder. I can’t look out the window, since it would look like I’m stealing a glance at the nude men.
  • ·         Plane drops rapidly into CHI, which is felt in the stomach
  • ·         Arrive CHI, and a 7-hour delay; meal vouchers for $7; played cards and a magnificent Crazy 8s losing streak begins; Pat makes a point of commenting “Well, unlucky at cards, what’s in store for you?” This line of teasing never stops for the duration of the trip.
  • ·         Went to some “ritzy” restaurant with Gary and Pat (“ritzy” to me would have been something better than Burger King). When we’re finished, I note, we’re still hungry.
  • ·         Wandered through the airport into hotel next door and a bar, with Jim, Gary, Pat, maybe Ron; Jim wants to go into the city
  • ·         Jim manages to annoy a salesperson in the bar. The guy tells Jim that he “wishes John Gacey had met you.”
  • ·         How much money did you bring? $200. $300. $500, we say. Jim has brought $2000.
  • ·         I also note that Roxie scares the bejeebers out of me. Makes me feel like I am 12.
  • ·         Depart CHI, 747 with Deb Fox? and?

4 Jan 1979
  • ·         Amsterdam (early afternoon, their time), briefly
  • ·         City Hopper to Brussels (pro basketball player on the plane)
  • ·         Everyone has a window seat
  • ·         Air Sabina flight to Athens (stewardess had the longest neck I had ever seen) with Gary, playing cards; served lunch meats which I describe as “near fatal.”
  • ·         We fly over Athens at night with lights stretching and flickering for miles. Like stars below us. No sign of the Acropolis.
  • ·         Roxie singing as we arrive
  • ·         Very warm in Athens – wonderfully warm! We step off the plane on to stairs and take a shuttle to terminal
  • ·         Bags! For all except Sandy, Roxie, Lora, Cindy, Karen? Terminal was all but deserted.
  • ·         A photo: The girls sit on the edge of the baggage carousel in semi-mock dismay. It is actually probably very real. They are the unlucky ones. The bagless.
  • ·         Bus to the city is a “breathless” ride. Gary and I sit near the back and we both cringe as the bus speeds through the narrow streets. The scenery is obscured by the dark. Where are we? Buildings fly past. Hills speed by. Were those ruins? Or our hotel? Look out for those cars! Why are the streets so deserted? Why does it look so dream-like, so surreal?
  • ·         The bus circles a square twice and finally stops in the middle of a dark, narrow street. Cars begin to line up in front and behind us, their drivers losing patience. Bags are hurried from the bowels of the bus as horns sound. We enter the Hotel Apollon.
  • ·         They take our passports.
  • ·         Gary,  Ron and I receive our room key; the elevator is needed by too many and looks a little unsafe, so we take the stairs. Huge stone stairs, and we’re three flights up. The hotel is quiet. Deserted?
  • ·         Door to room won’t open. Everyone tries, then Gary breaks the key in the lock. Back down to the lobby where the desk clerk scowls and gives us another key. A good start.
  • ·         The room does not come close to our nightmares. Two beds and a cot. But it looks clean. There’s even a bathroom in the room, with a shower!  There’s no hole in the ground! This will be a breeze.
  • ·         We decide to go for a walk and meet  Nan, Roxie and Sandy. The night clerk mutters to himself as we exit and hit the streets. We walk down the block, turn right up another block and find a bar. It is now very late. The bar is dark with scattered tables, only a few customers. I nurse a glass of ouzo, which I know I do not like, but know is better than retsina.
  • ·         Here we are: halfway around the world and halfway around the block. Amazing.
  • ·         We return to the hotel and shirts are lent to Roxie and Sandy. Sandy gets my purple Minnesota t-shirt.

5 Jan 1979
  • ·         Sandy wears my t-shirt to breakfast.
  • ·         We meet a group from Bethel at breakfast. Bad news. They have been bagless for five days now.
  • ·         Anemic breakfast (hard rolls and tea!), followed by trip to bank in Omonia Square. We form a line behind my father and follow. All roads lead to Omonia, we will find. All you need to do is remember how to get from Omonia to the hotel. Vital information, we will discover.
  • ·         There are actually people in the city. Lots and lots of people. The bank is under the square, near the subway stop. Underground there are more shops, more tourist traps.
  • ·         The tellers look ready for the onslaught of Americans looking to cash their travelers’ checks. Show us your sweaters!
  • ·         The city has its own distinct smell. Soon everything will smell like it. The food, your clothes, everything.
  • ·         Cars flow into Omonia from every direction, controlled, barely, by stoplights. When the lights turn green, the cars buzz into the square, circle the fountain at its center and buzz out again, but in a different direction. It seems as if one must always first turn in a circle before one goes anywhere, in an automobile anyhow. On foot? Find Omonia Square and then head off. It’s as if Omonia is the heart from which everything is pumped.
  • ·         Gary and I set out for a walk on our own, confident we know our way back. All you have to do is pay attention to the route you take and then reverse it. Right? The Acropolis beckons, sitting high above the city, way off at the end of one of Omonia’s numerous arteries. But it will have to wait. We’re not that ambitious yet and, more to the point, we are hungry. The first thing we find, under a movie marquee, is a shop selling sweet rolls. But what are they? Well, one must be daring. And what to drink? Nothing to be found except Cokes. A sweet roll and a Coke? It will have to do.
  • ·         Gary is a sight for the locals. A giant roaming the streets. I fit in, height-wise anyhow.
  • ·         We pass through a covered block reserved for butchers. Knives and other sharp instruments are brandished to our right and left. The place is packed with people. Blood flows on the cement at our feet. Whack! Hack! We flee. (That’s right. Our flee market.)
  • ·         Back on the street, we are disoriented by the lunch and the carnage, as well as the city. Cars continue to honk. Especially at pedestrians who dare to venture into the streets. Panic! Stay out of the streets! Stay out of the Meat Market! Stay away from the sweet rolls!
  • ·         It’s about this time we begin to long for the security of our hotel; it is also about the time we begin to realize we don’t really know how to find it. We know how to find Omonia, mind you; we just don’t know which spoke to take from that hub. We pick one and try it. Wrong. A mile later, we head back. We pick another. We spend our afternoon this way, looking for our hotel (which we pass at least once).
  • ·         Ceramic cemetery in the afternoon, our first official bed. Lots and lots of pots. Gary is in heaven. I am in a museum of pots (and it’s been a long day). Outside is a little better. I wander around, staying away from the roped off areas where digs (more pots! more potsherds!) are in progress.
  • ·         I find a high point and sit and watch my tour mates, blotches of color in the distance. I can now identify them by the color of their clothes, as no one’s wardrobe is extensive, especially not the bagless.
  • ·         More on pots: They come in many shapes and sizes, with various patterns. One tries to keep one’s interest up, but even the great variety cannot disguise the fact they are still pots. The thought that they were being used over 2000 years ago is cool, no doubt. But. You know. Pots. The fact that most of them, some even very large, have been painstakingly pieced together from their scattered sherds is incredible. But. Pots. This will be a trip full of pots. We will observe pots all over the length and breadth of Greece. Pots. Pots. Pots.  
  • ·         Dinner at the hotel (as will be the case every night). There will always be a cabbage salad, with olive oil in abundance. It is distasteful at first, it grows almost tolerable, probably due to the extreme hunger I am feeling. But, eventually, it reestablishes itself as totally inedible. Every meal will begin with the arrival of this dish, a consistently bad start.
  • ·         The waiters distribute varying portions of later courses. The distribution seems random, except for Roxie, whose plate will always be full. Roxie will be a favorite everywhere.
  • ·         About once every four days they will serve hamburgers and fries. The potatoes are delicious, the burgers frightening. It’s a depressing meal, regardless. We are in Greece, after all.
  • ·         Desert is fruit, usually an orange.
  • ·         One of the waiters, also a bartender upstairs, spends a great deal of time barking, much to the amusement of the diners.
  • ·         That night, five of us -- Gary, Karen, Ron, Sandy and I – headed out to the Acropolis. We had been there a whole day and not done so, which bothered me. This was the main reason I wanted to go to Greece, after all. We left after supper, knowing only the general direction. But, hey, it’s always in view, right?
  • ·         When our walk suddenly became a decidedly uphill one, we knew we were on the right track. And then we were there!
  • ·         The gates are closed. But it’s still impressive. We gaze out over Athens from the ancient rock. We end up lying down on a stone floor (of the Roman amphitheater?) and look up at the Parthenon and the stars.
  • ·         I believe we jumped around on the stones at the base of the Acropolis. There was serious conversation, earnest. There was a lot of time spent on a huge stone overlooking the city. It was a warm night. There weren’t many other people. A long, lazy evening, like we had all of the time in the world.
  • ·         I remember something about Sandy wishing the lights were on – and then the Parthenon lit up. Did that happen?
  • ·         Taka-Taka (very late, into early AM) for souflaki, but different than what we’ve had before. This is more like sausage in pocket bread. The proprietor tries to teach Sandy how to use the worry beads she has purchased. I believe we play cards.
  • ·         I am falling in love with this trip and with this city.
  • ·         The hotel is very quiet. We climb the stone steps and could just as well be the only people in the world. We need to get up in five hours.
  • ·         At night, as one settles down to sleep, one listens to the sounds of Athens. Noisy people shout from the street. Sometimes there are what sounds like arguments. Sometimes there is rowdiness. Car horns can be heard from in front of the hotel and in various volumes from far away in the city. Garbage men arrive, banging cans as they work. One falls asleep to these sounds and, eventually, they become – almost – soothing.

6 Jan 1979
  • ·         In the morning, one steps out into Athens and it is cold and dark. The sun is too low to shine upon you; it is blocked by the tall buildings. Later it will warm up. A little. And we will shed some layers. But in the morning you never seem to have enough on.
  • ·         Omonia subway station in the morning (I do not recall traveling by subway, but apparently we did). I write that it is only infrequently actually “sub,” that is, below ground.
  • ·         To Piraeus for Epiphany celebration. We walk from the subway terminal to the sea, to a dock where several fair-sized ships are moored. We have been told that at some point a man dives into the waters to retrieve some object. This is what we all wait for, what we expect.
  • ·         It becomes more and more crowded as we wait for this diver. Then people are lining both sides of a nearby street. Something was obviously going to happen. It turns out to be a parade. Clergy, soldiers and well-dressed citizens filed past. Gary was able to film it from his advantageous height. I didn’t see much. There never was a diver.
  • ·         And just like that, it was over.
  • ·         Many of us, baffled by what we had seen, followed my father for lunch, it now being early afternoon. 
  • ·         On the way back to the subway terminal, Pat flirted with a girl who was walking with her father. Pat bought her a rose at one point. He found out she was something like 15.
  • ·         Back to Athens, to a station near the Flea Market.
  • ·         Sometime during the day, Gary and I decided we would go exploring again.
  • ·         We decided to visit the Olympic Stadium, probably Gary’s idea.
  • ·         Another photo, right to left: Nan, looking solemn; Ron, slightly behind her, hat on head, smiling; Gary, stretching out, leaning back on his elbow, grinning; Sandy, with a big smile; me, hands clasped to my knees, a tight-lipped smile, best I can do. We all sit on a foam pad used for jumpers. Roxie takes this photograph and the five Olympic rings (which we never thought would turn out) shine behind us.
  • ·         We had to climb over a low gate to get in and there was the suspicion that maybe we were trespassing. An element of danger. The stadium was set into hills on every side.
  • ·         Pretty sure Gretchen and Gayle had come, too.
  • ·         We noticed volleyball nets and a basketball court, and I lamented the lack of a ball.
  • ·         We walked through the Royal Gardens on the way there and on the way back.  They were long walks.
  • ·         Taka-Taka on way back
  • ·         Cards with Gayle, Sandy, Roxie, Nan and Gary very late into the night. Gary taught us “99” and “Screw Your Neighbor.” We were noisy and were scolded by our favorite night clerk.
  • ·         A running joke was begun, born from an entry in our phrase books. In Greek: “Will you repair my dentures?” Somehow I began and Gary helped perpetuate the idea that dentures were much on the minds of Greeks. In fact, that was all they ever talked about, period. “What are dentures shared by a couple?” “Teeth for two!” This, I claimed, was the national joke. I was a twerp.
  • ·         The phrase book was full of gems. Under “Dating” it included: “Pardon me, is this your handkerchief?”

7 Jan 1979
  • ·         Cold, rainy day cancels Acropolis trip
  • ·         National Museum instead
  • ·         Lunch somewhere upstairs in Omonia
  • ·         On one of these nights, we hear that Jim has pushed Ron into the fountain in Omonia Square, as a joke. Ron is not very amused. Another night, Jim, Ron and Pat oink at a policeman and are chased. They run into a hotel and hide in a bathroom stall. The police break the door down, take away their passports and throw them in jail, where they spend the night.
  • ·         Jim also, at some point, buys a white fur coat, knee-length.

8 Jan 1979
  • ·         Acropolis, cold and windy morning
  • ·         Lunch in Flea Market, after shopping with my father, Nan, Carol and ?
  • ·         Gayle is locked in the bathroom and has to scale the wall to the 2nd floor window to call for help
  • ·         Nan loses camera (or it is stolen, more likely)
  • ·         Likavitos plans cancelled due to chaos of some sort, but some go, with Jim leading
  • ·         Nan, Cindy, Gayle, Gary, Sandy and I go out for a drink, probably Taka-Taka
  • ·         Hotel lobby for TV (English detective show), cards, others return late

9 Jan 1979
  • ·         The last of the luggage arrives (Lora’s)
  • ·         National Museum for Mycenean exhibit
  • ·         Gary and I look for Nan’s camera in the afternoon with no luck
  • ·         Likavitos that night with many, restaurant/bar

10 Jan 1979
  • ·         Board bus in the morning, Gary and I in the back.
  • ·         It begins to dawn on me that Greece, especially the countryside, is beautiful. This is something I had, for some reason, never imagined. I had always thought of the country as dry, barren and very rocky – flat even. But there was green, even in January.
  • ·         Janiss (Yanis?) has a limited selection of tapes to play on the bus. We liked the Greek music and booed ABBA (why??). He was not bothered. He WAS bothered by the fact we had no guide. It was not the way things were done. My father sat in the guide’s chair and the two of them tried to navigate our way southward.
  • ·         Cross the canal of Corinth and our first stop. We left the bus and walked to the canal, the very one separating northern and southern Greece. We were all surprised by the height of the bridge spanning it. Most of us dropped something into the water.
  • ·         Corinth ruins and lunch. Toilets were again a theme. The ancient ones and its so-called modern ones. Here were the dreaded holes in the ground.
  • ·         I admire the hill in the near distance and wish to climb it. But there is no time.
  • ·         Gretchen falls ill
  • ·         Outdoor toilets
  • ·         Arrive at Mycenae, my father plays “On Top of Old Smokey” on his harmonica
  • ·         Arrive Naplia mid-afternoon
  • ·         Gary, Ron and I climb hill, through the cacti; needles penetrate (come out a few days later); explore the town; there’s a Russian tanker
  • ·         Dinner is octopi?
  • ·         Gary and I walk to the other side of the peninsula, meet others
  • ·         I room with Gary and Ron? Or Pat? Nice hotel. Must be a mistake.

11 Jan 1979
  • ·         To Epidaurus by bus in the morning, Ron (it was Pat wasn’t it?) sings in amphitheater
  • ·         Wander through the fields
  • ·         Back to Naplia for lunch; Ron gets into a fight about clams (not sure I remember what this was about)
  • ·         Gary, Ron and I climb steps to fortress overlooking city; gorgeous view
  • ·         Ron takes the long way back, we meet Gayle and Sandy on the way down (late afternoon)
  • ·         Waiters at dinner are flirting with Roxie, and they invite girls to disco that night
  • ·         Basketball on TV that evening, others head to disco
  • ·         Gary draws Gretchen (and romance begins …)
  • ·         I leave for disco, end up carrying Sandy from the floor rather than actually dance

12 Jan 1979
  • ·         Depart for Olympia, arrive late afternoon
  • ·         Olympia Hotel has most of us nearby; also another family-run hotel?
  • ·         Disco with Sandy, Nan, Roxie and Janiss (bus driver, right?)
  • ·         Walked with Sandy, late
  • ·         Pat later tells us a story of his night (bizarre)

13 Jan 1979
  • ·         Olympic ruins in the morning, have our own events, including some footraces and pinecone football
  • ·         Walk through the countryside with Ron in the afternoon
  • ·         Sandy heads off to disco with a Greek; I wait for her (ha!)
  • ·         Gretchen is now very ill
  • ·         Gary and I invent “Slap Everything” which is Slap Jack on steroids
  • ·         The Blue Hammer? (I have no idea what that means.)

14 Jan 1979
  • ·         Depart Olympia in the morning
  • ·         Patras (Patros?) for lunch before ferry to Northern Greece
  • ·         Afternoon walk with Sandy through town; someone wears a Vikings jacket
  • ·         Arrive Delphi late afternoon, after harrowing busride up the mountain side
  • ·         Switched to a very modern, for my father, hotel
  • ·         Whistling dinner (not sure what that means either)
  • ·         TV, backgammon, cards, “Cat People”
  • ·         Much romantic intrigue

15 Jan 1979
  • ·         Sandy’s birthday
  • ·         Group to Delphi ruins in the morning; Pat sings again
  • ·         Lunch with Gary in a deserted restaurant (souflaki, as usual)
  • ·         Shop with Sandy mid-afternoon
  • ·         I go looking for something resembling cake for the birthday girl
  • ·         Dinner, which includes what I found
  • ·         Disco and a taxi back

16 Jan 1979
  • ·         Back to Athens
  • ·         Dafni Monastery (mosaics), mid-afternoon, in route
  • ·         Evening with Sandy, Roxie, Nan and ouzo
  • ·         Nan’s would-be suitor is told she is “out.” George?

17 Jan 1979
  • ·         Others to laundromats, but I walk alone (in dirty clothes, no doubt)
  • ·         Go to Flea Market in the afternoon with Sandy. Bought a ball for the Olympic stadium; watched the changing of the guards again.
  • ·         Sandy and the other girls/women have Scotch for dinner and waiter (Dmitri) brings more
  • ·         Cards in the lobby and I’m suckered into an incomprehensible card game with Greek men, who give me some sort of red liquor (cherry ouzo?); Connie and Mary were also there
  • ·         I run over to Taka-Taka to get Sandy some souflaki
  • ·         Is this when the others went to Crete?

18 Jan 1979
  • ·         Byzantine Museum (Airplane museum is next door) with many Madonnas and assorted icons
  • ·         Walk back by myself
  • ·         To the Acropolis with Sandy and to a bar on the far side

19 Jan 1979
  • ·         To Piraeus for boat (Saronic Star) and trip to islands
  • ·         Aegina first, but I don’t take the tour to the ruins, walk with Gary and Gretchen
  • ·         Poros is next; cat claws Sandy’s jeans as a mule is led past us (maybe this was on Hydra?)
  • ·         Hydra

20 Jan 1979
  • ·         Benaki Museum in the morning; weapons, clothes, tapestries
  • ·         Sandy shops for boots
  • ·         Sandy, Nan, Roxie and I meet Janiss and a friend at a touristy nightclub; includes Greek dancing
  • ·         Nan, Sandy and I walk back through (up and over) the Acropolis

21 Jan 1979
  • ·         A free day, a Sunday
  • ·         No one for volleyball (must have been the ball I bought and I don’t know what “no one” means), so we play basketball at the stadium (Gary, Sandy, Gretchen, Gayle and I) that evening
  • ·         We walk back and Sandy and Gretchen try to teach some dances

22 Jan 1979
  • ·         Stoa Museum at base of Acropolis in the morning, then the ruins nearby in the Agora
  • ·         Lunch with Sandy, Nan and Roxie
  • ·         National Tourist Info Center in the afternoon
  • ·         U.S. Embassy (about Customs declarations, etc.); allowed to bring back more than we thought
  • ·         Nan and Roxie taxi back, Sandy and I walk, her boot store is closed; went back late afternoon and it was still closed

23 Jan 1979
  • ·         Sounion by bus (public bus) in the morning/afternoon
  • ·         Gretchen sacrifices her camera to the Mediterranean
  • ·         Sandy finally buys her boots
  • ·         Movie with Sandy, Gretchen and Gary (Pretty Baby)

24 Jan 1979
  • ·         Museum of Popular Art; embroidery, costumes

25 Jan 1979
  • ·         Last full day
  • ·         Tour the city

26 Jan 1979
  • ·         Taka-Taka one last time in the late morning, after a walk to the palace?
  • ·         Plane to Amsterdam
  • ·         Red Light District that evening (my father leading)
  • ·         Another nice hotel

27 Jan 1979
  • ·         Van Gogh museum and Stedlijk?
  • ·         Plane home

Friday, May 20, 2016


Gary, somewhere in the hills overlooking Florence. He has climbed a wall to take some pictures. If I recall correctly, this one surrounds a graveyard.

I found out late last night that my dear friend had died. I don't have the details yet. But, in the mean time, for myself, I want to write about him.

I first met Gary in 1978, probably December. My father had invited all the students headed to Greece with him, in January, over to the house. I don't remember much of that. I'm not sure I even remember Gary, specifically, but I do have a vague sense of his good humor being present that night. And someone tall.

Gary became my best friend on that trip and in the years that followed. He was one of my roommates in Athens. He broke the key, I think, when we checked in. Back in those days, Gary was as picky of an eater as I was. We lived on Cokes and chocolate bars, and souvlaki. We went off to explore Athens together, as well as Corinth, Naplia (where we strolled through the cacti), Mycanae, Olympia, Delphi and an island or two.

We played tennis, wiffle ball and golf. Biked. Made some movies. And in 1980 I went on another interim trip, although I had graduated in the spring of 1979, to Italy, France and the Netherlands. This trip we came equipped with games (Uno, electronic football) and props (chattering teeth, the main one). And we invented Slap Everything -- Slap Jack, except every card had an action to be performed. In short, we annoyed the hell out of everyone.

That was it for the interims, but the next year we made our movie -- about being stuck in Minnesota for the winter of 1981. We had fun. I'm not sure anyone who watched it did, but we did.

And then we grew up. Or Gary did, at least. He ended up teaching at Macalester and travelling to Cuba and then China for his ceramics. I saw less and less of him, but did keep in touch. Occasionally we would play golf, although the tennis went the way of our youth.

There's other stuff, of course. But most of it is too embarrassing to write. For me, anyhow.

What I most wanted to say is that I loved the guy. I never told him that, but I am telling him now. I hope he hears me, somehow. I already miss him more than I can say. He was a major part of some of the very best moments of my life.