Conversations on the United States

While we always joked with my father and Uncle Arthur that the highlight of their trip was a stay in Las Vegas and a chance to play in the grand casinos, their once of a lifetime trip to the United States was important.

They went over in the seventies, flying in a Boeing 707. The landed in New York and visited Staten Island and the Statue of Liberty. From there they flew to Los Angeles to visit and stay with their cousin John, a Stathoulis family on the other side of the world when the world was still a big place.

I found my father’s pictures from that trip after he died. What impressed me was the way he captured the grand size of everything in the States, at a time when South Africa was only starting to build malls. He has spacious pictures of casinos, yes, and of department stores with unlimited stock.

I know my father came back motivated from that trip to put into action the great American dream. He was never entranced by it like his cousin Peter Manelis, who collected American cars and raced in America. But the dream came with a price, and my father saw it: the destruction of the family.

I remember going to Los Angeles in 1987. I was doing my elective work in Greece and flew over to Woodstock and then Los Angeles. I did not visit Staten Island and drove straight up through the first snowfall of winter into Woodstock. I stayed a night and two days at the famous concert village and then flew to Los Angeles. I visited my father’s cousin John. Torrance, the suburb where they stay, is on the southern side of Los Angeles. There were great lever arms of oil pumps on some corners, silently slaving away to drive America.

Their house was not big by American standards, but then again I found the houses deceptive in America because I only saw the front. It may have stretched far into the back. I do not remember what we spoke about. We did not speak in Greek.

I do not remember what I wanted out of the meeting. I do remember I did not stay with them, but rather with some village compatriots in Burbank, beyond the Hollywood Hills. I remember driving around L.A. in George’s white Jaguar saloon and sitting in an Italian restaurant on Rodeo Drive living the high life and discussing philosophy and love. I do not remember any of the details, but I do remember meeting a cool artistic guy who joined us for dinner one night.

I think I flew back to Greece after that and stayed at Panayiotis. I spent one night in a villa on the sea at Agia Marina talking politics and love with Corinne, and left with a copy of Fitzgerald’s “Tender is the Night”.

I remember my father landing at Jan Smuts’s airport after his trip to the States. He was not tanned brown and energised like when he came from Greece. He was pale and tired, jet lagged, from seeing the other side of the world.

Conversations while Drumming

By the time I had turned 40 I did not care what people thought. Some people might say I was born that way, but I always made allowance for other people’s opinion, although I may not have outwardly shown it.

When I turned 40 I had a weekend party at Mbona for friends and family. Although I have written about that day before the days of blogs, 9 years later my memories of that day have changed. They have softened, become warm and melancholic. Today is the third anniversary of my father’s death.

My father embraced the idea of a party at Mbona. He got to spend time with his old friends, Rod Conacher, and with his new friends, Gigi and Mr Casciola. I do not remember what happened on the Saturday morning but it must have been organisational. There were tables to set, caterers to organise and good weather to pray for. I remember lunch was perfect, with good food, crisp wine and clear skies so warm we had to raise the sides of the marquee. Whichever direction your eye fell there was a vista of grass or trees, a hill or lake, covered by an unusual blue sky in August.

Before dessert I had arranged for someone at each table to speak. My father spoke for his table, but I do not remember what he said. I felt good when he spoke, that I do remember. I felt good when everyone spoke. The easy part to remember was the poem Tabatha wrote for me, “The Man with the Spade”.









After lunch the drummers arrived. They parked on the lawn away from the house and all the children descended on the brightly coloured drum covers like bees on flowers. They helped unzip the covers and placed the drums, different sizes, in a circle. As they did a few African notes escaped, some single, some in tune, into the grasslands.

I could see my father was apprehensive. This was not the sort of thing he had expected, but he was game. He sat in the circle, made some comments, checked his drum and started tentatively until he realised he could put on a show. By the time the two or three drumming sessions were complete he was the centre of attraction and everyone was enjoying the experience.

Then drumming was not enough, so he found two walking sticks and decided to do a Zulu dance. I am sure if we had the music he would have progressed to a Kalamatiano, and had everybody swirling around the flat lawn in the mountains.

He made his Arcadia wherever he went.