"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promotory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; and man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." John Donne 1572-1631
The funeral bells are tolling again in Athens. Another soul has crossed the River. I got the word early yesterday about my good friend Graham. I knew he had been hospitalized some weeks ago and operated on for stomach cancer. We all hoped he could be treated for it but he never recovered from the operation. The full impact of his passing hasn't struck me yet, but it will when I arrive there in June and see the vacant chair at the To Kati Allo Taverna, and watch for him coming down Hatzichristou Street (like I still watch for Roberto). We spent so many hours there sitting over carafes of krasi talking about music (he was a jazz/blues aficionado and used to play the saxaphone) and discussing world or current affairs. He was also a writer. Being a cynic he wrote tongue-in-cheek satire. He was part of the group there. I've known him since the late '80's. Most of us were ex-Pats, drawn together by a common bond, living beneath the Acropolis. Graham was a retired accountant from England and he'd recently bought a house on Evvia where he planned to spend the rest of his retirement.
I laid awake last night counting all those who have gone. There are so few of us left now. And each time I go back there are more vacant places. In their memory I
composed a list of those for whom the bell has tolled:
Arden, Fritz, Keith, Eleni, John (Iannis), Giorgos, Roberto, Mitso, Kaye, Graham
And there are more, the casual passers-by who we knew by name or sight. I have heard that several more elderly village folk have passed on since last I visited and no doubt there will me other vacant chairs at the taverna.
Of those who are gone, one was an actor/model, several were writers, one was an artist, one a psychic, one a shepherd. One committed suicide, a couple died of alchohol-related disease, one of a heart-attack, the rest from cancer.
It gave me pause to wonder what has become of James, the poet. When last seen (in Plaka Square two years ago), he bequeathed to me his 'final' work, a hand-written book of poetry and a sheaf of papers declaring that it should be published 20 years after his death. (Did he think I'd be around for that much longer?) He had previously put me in charge of a box of poetry manuscripts (which I still have). Some of his work is brilliant and definitely should be published, but it sits in my closet because I have no idea where he is and if he's even still on the planet. He looked pretty bad when I saw him last, not the bon-vivant magician of the '80's when we first had met. He definitely had seen better days. When he parted, he claimed he was going back to California. He said he'd probably die in a homeless shelter there. I didn't believe he'd go at first (he was a noted con-artist) but in fact, he did leave. And the email address he gave me is worthless so now I have no idea where he might be. Is he among those for whom the bell has tolled? Perhaps I will never know. But I do have his poetry and don't really know what to do about it. I would never throw it out.
I have pictures on my wall of Roberto (my soul brother), Mitso (my shepherd) and now I'll add a few more. Memories. Those were the vibrant hay-days of the '80's in Athens. Now it's the end of that era. I can count on one hand those of us who are left.
post script: Today was Graham's birthday.
"I can scarcely bid you good bye even in a letter. I always made an awkward bow. God bless you!" John Keats, 1795-1821 (letter to Charles Armitage Brown, Keat's last letter, Nov 30, 1820)