Manolis is around eighty years old, a score or more years older than I am. He is a gentle man with good manners A kind man with a sense of humour, well thought of by the villagers
He comes from a good family, they say.
His great pleasure is his family, particularly his grand daughter and that is how we became friends. I am an amateur photographer. One Easter I took some black and white photographs of a young girl on her way to the village dance, so proud in her festive clothes, so full of life. I developed, printed and enlarged them. They looked good. I was pleased and showed them to Anna in the cafeneion.
Manolis she said. To engoni tou Manolis. It is the grandchild of Manolis.
He was sitting outside, so I gave them to him. He wanted to pay. I said no. He asked me to sit with him, then insisted. He offered me an ouzo and we became friends. Manolis learnt the trade of boot maker many years ago. Boot making is not an old profession here. It dates back only to the end of the nineteenth century, so it is just possible that Manolis was taught by the first boot maker on the island. The boots are of soft leather with hard soles. They reach up to, just below the knee and are perfect for walking on the thorn and scrub covered hillsides. The cultural traditions here strongly intertwine the music, clothes, food and social mores. That’s what the songs are about and the poetry and stories. Boot makers have status. They are thought to be wise. Manolis is wise. .
I have always been a confident person, always assumed that I know a lot. But in our first conversation Manolis shocked me. made me understand that I had not even scratched the surface of this small village which is my home.
You are not the first tourist that came here. He told me
I know that.
Kevy was here. Kevy Andrew.
Kevy. He used to sit there. In that place where you are sitting now. Kevy Andrew. O Kevis. An American.
And then I realise he is talking about Kevin Andrews, author of Flight of Ikaros. I had read this book several times. It tells the story of the young Kevin walking through the wild places of Greece during the Civil War. It is beautifully written, by a man who clearly loved the Greek people. It is a very moving book and taught me a great deal.
He was here? Kevin Andrews came to Diafani? You knew him?
And the story came out. Kevin Andrews came to the island several times in the sixties and early seventies. He stayed in this village, made friends with these people. He was here before the roads came and before the harbour was built. Sometimes he came by ferry boat, sometimes by caique. Often he was alone, but he also came with his daughter, He spoke perfect Greek, so good that he could write mantinades, the rhyming couplets that are still composed here for name days, celebrations and festivals. Each line has fifteen syllables, the rules are strict and a good mantinada is passed down by word of mouth from generation to generation. I know of some that are nearly one hundred years old. Mantinada can be spontaneous or composed in advance. If they are long and are sung for a special occasion, such as the celebration of someone's life, they are composed in advance and written down. Often they are collective efforts, the first line suggested by one of a company and the rest coming from the others. Manolis wrote down this creation by Kevin. Later that night another friend, in another bar told me how it was written
We were there in the cafeneion trying to help him choose the right words and then suddenly they came and we had a new mantinada
twra to apofasisa na ginw Olymbitis
dioti emai sidero, kai o topos sas magnitis
I have decided to be Olymbitic
Because I am iron and your place magnetic
Now, a couplet which praises this place cannot go wrong, the people here are proud of their life and of their traditions. But it takes more than that for an old man to remember a poem from four decades ago and to write it down without hesitation. The poem is good, the endings Olymbitic and magnetic have just the right resonance and dissonance in Greek.
Kevin Andrews was a prolific walker, covered all the footpaths. There were many more in those days. Some fanning out from just east of Olymbos down to the beaches along the East coast, others down the valley and up and over the ridge to Avlona and beyond. Tristomo, Vrakounda, Steno all had their paths, some paved and dating from Minoan times. Some have been destroyed, for the people here have little respect for the historic landscape and others have fallen into disuse and are overgrown by bushes, shrubs and trees. They are lonely places now. If you go off the two or three routes that the tourists know about you are unlikely to meet anyone. But in Kevin’s time these footpaths were the thoroughfares, lifelines for these remote communities. Donkeys, goats, mule, sheep and people moving up and down, east and west, north and south. A shepherd with a flock, an old lady with fuel for the fire, children walking back and forth to the school in Olymbos six miles each way. Kevin Andrews preferred walking alone, but he would have relished the company of these country people as he strode along before leaving them behind. He had a pair of boots made for him by Manolis. Of course, when I heard this I had to have a pair too
Just like Kevy? Asked Manolis
Yes, just like Kevy.
They are soft yellow suede boots hand sewn with thick soles. I wear them when I go to Saria, they protect my legs from the low lying scrub on the rocky hillsides, but I don’t really use them for walking. I use them when working with my bees. Now, these lovely little creatures like to walk up hill, so if they are on the ground, and if they are by your feet they climb up your shoes and then up your leg. If your trouser legs are not tucked inside boots they climb up the inside of the trousers and this can be painful, or embarrassing, or both. So I wear my boots when I work with my bees and I tuck my trouser legs inside and this separates the bees from the parts of a man where a bee should not go. My boots are strong round the ankle and the soles are made from the rubber tyres of an old truck. They will last me out.
Kevin was a proud, strong, athletic man. Very handsome with broad shoulders a strong face and an easy smile. A palikari the people, tell me. A warrior. But he was also epileptic. Towards the end of his life he suffered very badly, having five or more minor fits a day. Here it was different. He fought his illness, tried to ignore it, gave it no quarter. The consequences, were bad, but could have been disastrous. Several times villagers came across his inert or shaking body by the side of a path. Not understanding the problem, they tried to comfort him. They ignored the mess, put their arms around him, brought him round with water, lifted him to his feet and brought him slowly back to the village. Kevin must have been devastated by this, the shame, the lack of control, the embarrassment, the gossip.
He suffered terribly. They tell me. Terribly.
So I began to research Kevin Andrews life. I wanted to write a story, the story became two, then three. .... Now I have 60,000 words and the stories are becoming a book. The book will be Stories in Search of an Author. The Life of Kevin Andrews.
It is not easy to research Kevin's life. He was well liked and his friends and family are protective. He was born in Peking in 1924. His mother, a fascinating woman, was Yvette Borup, sister of George Borup the Arctic explorer. She was married to Roy Chapman Andrews the explorer and adventurer, but RCA is unlikely to have been Kevin's father. Yvette left Roy and travelled to England with her two children. They came by the Trans Siberian Express. In the 50’s Kevin met Nancy Thayer, the daughter of ee cummings. She was married to, Kevin’s friend Willard Roosevelt at the time. Kevin and Nancy married and had two children. They moved to Greece. Kevin wrote the Flight of Ikaros. At the age of thirty he had been told that Roy Chapman Andrews was not his father. He rewrote Flight of Ikaros. The marriage with Nancy broke up, but they never divorced.
The Colonels seized power in Greece and Kevin was part of the resistance. His book, Greece in the Dark tells of those times. He was beaten up by the police during the occupation of the Polytechnic. Later he was to renounce his American passport and became a Greek citizen. Kevin Andrews found it difficult to come to terms with what he called his murky past. He was a troubled and difficult man.
Kevin died in disputed circumstances in 1989. He drowned off the island of Kythira, swimming in a wild sea.
The search for the man who was Kevin Andrews continues. If any readers have tales to tell please contact me. He was a fascinating man and deserves to have his life recorded.