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Salamis, Spring 1966

Wilhelm von Kaulbach, The Battle of Salamis (1868)


At the little taverna in the village, they serve us avga matia—"egg eyes,” sunny side up, for breakfast (washed down by me with a tétarto of retsina).

Then we hike up to a place where, in autumn 480 BCE, they say, Athenian refugees—old men, women, and children evacuated to the island watched the defeat of the Great King's Persian armada by Themistocles' allied Greek fleet.

The sea shining so calm below us, it's hard to imagine a scene like that now.

An old monk, the last one who's left at a monastery among the pines, asks: "Would you or someone from your country like to come and live here?” He knows he'll be gone soon himself. There'll be no one there then.

I say no, although many in our country would no doubt jump at the chance; we are South Africans. Apart from Werner.

He'll be run over and killed, years later, in Düsseldorf, probably still wearing that Saint Christopher medal his mother gave him: “In Lebensgefahr erbitte einem katholischen Priester."*

I wonder if they got him one!

Michael (who died of AIDs in the nineties) says nothing. He usually has all the answers. If you parachuted Micket the Cricket into a strange city, like say Tashkent or Samarkand, I used to joke, he'd unfailingly know immediately which was the best restaurant.

Any news though of Mary Louw, that sharp, witty lady? I like her a lot! Is she still in "the land of the living"?

Mary and Werner have a child. Bertie?? Or was that someone else's kid? Anton Vinogradov and his Dutch wife's maybe, with a hare lip, just like his dad.

Anton says he got it in the Korean War when a U.S. MP punched him in the mouth and torched his British Army truck, which he had refused to destroy, after a quarter of a million Chinese troops crossed the Yalu River en masse.

South Africa had a fighter squadron in that war, called "The Flying Cheetahs," as I recall—an endangered species now, although they can run faster than any other animal.

"Poor little thing, so young to have been in Korea!" Alex teased. (I saw Alex in Cape Town, at that frail care home in Observatory, not long before he died.)

What if I'd gone to live in that monastery myself? It's peaceful there in the piney woods.

I'm sending you this because I wanted to ask you something. But what was it again?

Oh, yes. Do you know anyplace around here where you can get eggs with, like, those bright orange yolks? They were delicious.

The chickens on Salamina must have been feasting on the locusts that summer!



January 27, 2024



*“In mortal danger, I request a Catholic priest.”

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