My father’s taxi driver in Greece was a gem. He sat on a cushion to be able to see through the loop of steering wheel onto the road. He didn’t always look under the loop, and his eyes often strayed to make contact with the passengers as he held conversations after long absences.
He stayed in Levidi, the village along the short cut road that passes our house. It is a pleasant 2 hour walk through fields and pastures, past old churches and ancient city ruins.
The Head of Interpol was born in the same village and cousin to the taxi driver. So when he completed his stint as head of Interpol in Brussels and returned to Greece it was natural that he saw my father more often. Those were the networks. His wife was a lawyer ( so was he by training) and my father used their services on occasion.
Once I flew over the Greece for a few days while everyone was preparing for a wedding in Italy. On my departure my father called the ex head of Interpol who was now the head of security at Greece’s new International airport. My father said I should say hello to him when I arrived.
“But how will I know who he is?’
“He’ll find you, don’t worry.”
So I stood in the queue to check in and two security guards arrive and ask if I am Basil Stathoulis?
“Come with us.” They led me to the business class check in, checked me in and whisked me through passport control and security and to me to the head. He embraced me, kiss on either cheek, asked questions about the family and the situation at home in South Africa, then took me to the Business Class lounge, made me a great espresso and we chatted some more. Then he said to wait till he would collect me. Now I travel a lot and like to be on time, so I edged my way up to the boarding area. He found me there, and wouldn’t let me board till the end. He came on with me, greeting all the crew.
To the senior stewardess “Einai gnostos prosexai ton (He is known to us, take care of him).” Then the same to the pilot.
I was disappointed when I found myself sitting in economy. Surely he could have swung that for me?
Then as the plane took off and the seatbelt sign switched off the air stewardess came to me and said the captain was waiting.
So I went to the cockpit, admired the view and the buttons, chatted a bit about work and then said goodbye. The captains said no, buckle up and stay for the landing.
I flew into Rome on a clear spring afternoon in the cockpit of a commercial airliner, saw the Coliseum and Forum from the air, the Olympic Stadium and St Peters. It was an incredible entry to the Holy City.
It helped that my godfather had been the senior pilot of Olympic Airways a decade earlier.