Saturday, April 18, 2015

Travels w/Aunt Libby Sarris to Greece in 1962 (and a Bouzouki for Harry Spanos)

Planning my June trip to Greece now...And with today being my aunt Liberty Sarris' 88th birthday, I was thinking of a truly remarkable trip to Greece that we took in 1962 during the summer before my senior year at Stagg High.* That rather amazing (in retrospect) 2-month escapade is documented in my little red "Trip Abroad" diary -- as my first ever trip by plane and topped off by an overnight Paris stopover on the return.  In 1962!

It all began with an invitation to visit the Harry Theocharides Family, good friends who had recently gone back to the American Farm School in Thessaloniki where his father had once taught. Harry typically pulled out all the stops to show us a good time, to see everybody and everything possible...But first Athens, where we were greeted at the airport by my grandmother's wonderful sister Anna, who lived in Piraeus and bore such a resemblance to Yiayia Sarris that I did a double-take. "How did Yiayia get here?"

In Athens, we stayed with my father's cousin Soula Chrysopoulou and her husband Mario -- who had visited with us the States  -- in their new suburban home. That was my first experience with a "telephone shower," and I was secretly horrified when I drenched more than just me.  (Now I laugh out-loud when reading reviews of Greek hotels on Trip Advisor that include rants about showers with no shower curtains.)

We then spent about 3 weeks exploring Thessaloniki and therabouts, including my Dad's historic Naousa -- where I met Yiayia Xanttopulos' elderly aunt Sultana Lalas and other relatives that I would see many times over the years, especially during Carnival Season.

Naousa 1962 (w/Sultana in black, Thea Libby, & Mary T.)
Yiayia Sarris' Father
Later we visited Yiayia Sarris' breath-taking Koroni in the Peloponnesos, flying first to Kalamata on a tiny Olympic commuter plane and going the rest of the way by taxi eating "free grapes on the road." There I obediently slurped a raw sea urchin that Cousin Thanassi pulled off rocks in the Ionian Sea not far from the family ktima. My aunt and I were both startled and honored to find a brand-new pink toilet in our uncle's out-house that had no plumbing attached to it. And we slept in a  room with somewhat unnerving portraits of mustachioed ancestors lining the walls, an experience I would repeat with my brother Bill in 1977.  

The trip was not without challenges common for the times -- especially during a 10-day stay on Spetses, an island not far from Athens that did not allow cars and where the Theocharides had a summer gig. And where our odyssey turned into a little bit of a nightmare.  I got sick for the second time, with a 105.2 temperature that took 6 days to normalize. It was quite a scene: "I was scared by the way everyone was acting."  My aunt must have wondered what she'd gotten herself into.  On August 15th (Tis Panayias),  I celebrated w/a motorcycle ride...and weighed in at 113 lbs. after what was later diagnosed as para-typhoid.

Still we had a wonderful time on our first trip to Greece and even managed to accomplish a very important mission: purchase and carry back to Stockton a bouzouki and a baklama for Harry Spanos!  I loved that trip and never forgot not just the sights, but also the sounds and smells of Greece that kept pulling me back. And I did go back in 1968 for 10 years...and keep going back, to help perpetuate the power of "Romiosini." (Google it!)

And I love my aunt for taking me on that trip and to many others places over the years.  On this coming trip, my niece Rachel will be with me on the Kyparissi leg, continuing our own family tradition...Happy Birthday, Thea!

*In her heyday, my aunt was the ubiquitous Registrar at Stagg Senior High School, having started out at Stockton High. She retired in 1989 with many kudos for 42 years of "Outstanding and Exemplary Service" (followed by about 10 more years of pinch-hitting when the Stockton Unified School District called on her).

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