In April 1965, David flew from Montreal to Athens via Zurich. He spent a few days in Athens, then took local buses and walked to Corinth, Delphi and Olympia. David said many times that he had often been in the wrong place at the right time. His visit to Greece would definitely qualify, as the country suffered a series of moderate to serious earthquakes, starting on the 9th and 31st of March 1965 and continuing through July 1966. One hotel he stayed in, though damaged, was open, but without a kitchen. All meal orders from the hotel dining room were sprinted away to the restaurant across the street!
David enjoyed telling the tale of a bus trip, likely from Corinth to Delphi (he wasn’t sure – his mind was still very fuzzy from his treatments at the Allan) that involved a great deal of uphill and downhill travel on steep, winding and narrow roads. On one leg of the journey, the driver gave him the seat of honour, in front of the door, with a clear view forward, to the side and DOWN. The bus, on encountering a hairpin bend, would have to be manoeuvred so that the right front wheel was JUST at the edge of the road before being cranked around to make the turn. David’s seat was directly above the right front wheel, and he often described the view downward as “clenching”. Another time, sitting farther back in the bus, a tiny crone of an old woman, dressed all in black, mounted the bus with a huge bag of lemons on her back. Before she was able to sit down, the bus took off and she dropped the lemons, which all rolled to the back of the bus. Everyone on the bus howled with laughter while the old lady shouted curses at the driver and the other passengers. After a minute or so, she started to laugh as well, and then everyone helped gather up the lemons and put them back in their sack.
Another of David’s stories about this trip centred on the theatre in Delphi. He was sitting near the top of the seating area, looking down over the valley below the townsite. An older couple wandered into the theatre from below, the woman taking a seat and the man taking a position on the old stage area. He then began to recite the history of Delphi from a guidebook in a very pleasant and professional-sounding voice. When the man was done, David strolled down to introduce himself. It turned out that this couple were on their way from Dublin, where the man had recently retired as a professor of history at Trinity, to India. On foot. They had no fixed agenda and were making their way by local transport when necessary, and walking the rest of the time.
The one tale David told of his time in Greece has a certain mythical quality to it: When not taking local buses, David walked, picking oranges and lemons from roadside trees for refreshment. When he got tired, he’d hitch a ride to his next destination. On one such occasion, he was befriended by one of the locals and invited to a local taverna for a midday meal. This local chap spoke some English and was very interested to know that David was not an American and not part of a tour. The lunch progressed to coffee and ouzo, by which time the taverna owner had joined the table and wanted to know if David knew his cousin in Chicago.
It turned out that the young man who had asked David to lunch was with a national theatre troupe that was in town for a performance, and of course David simply HAD to attend the performance that evening. On protesting that he knew no Greek, he was told not to worry, that a translator would be provided. On making his way to the theatre, where he was given free admission, David found that the place was packed, but he was escorted to the front of house to find the two centre seats in the front row were marked “reserved”. His young friend dashed out from backstage with one of the actresses and told David that his translator would change throughout the performance, as he or she would have to be on stage. With that, the curtain rose and a five-act play ensued, apparently one beloved by the audience and completely impenetrable to Our Mister Nixon, despite the series of actor/translators taking the seat next to him to explain it.
After the play, David, who really wanted only to sleep, was gathered up by the cast and swept along to a party that carried on until dawn. David asked why they were treating him so well when he was just a tourist. The answer was, “But you are not a tourist! You are not an American in an air-conditioned bus, you are here among us, living as we live. And for that we honour you!”
The following day, after waking to find himself in the arms of one of the actors, David prepared to continue his journey. He shouldered his pack and walked up out of the town toward the hills and the next town. On a rise in the road a good distance from the town, David looked back for a last glimpse and was amazed to see most of the town gathered to see him off. He waved and they all waved back. David said that there was nothing he could do then but sit for a moment and cry.
When not being taken up by theatre troupes, David usually stayed in youth hostels, after being assured it was alright to do so even if he was 30! He soon discovered that one didn’t rent a room at these hostels, one rented a bed (usually one of two) in a room. If others checked in, he might awaken to someone in the other bed. If not, he had the room to himself. His favourite was on Mykonos, a plain , modern building above the sea and the sailors’ chapel pictured in the slide above.
After a month away, living out of his pack and enjoying a carefree time in a country where he couldn’t speak or read the language, it was time for David to return to Canada and commence his next career… in the modelling business.