Greek Revolution 1970’s sometime…
November 28, 2010
My mom insisted on going to Greece to discover the antiquities in Crete. The travel agency had warned us, the government was in a state of violence. The year of our trip was somewhere in the early 1970’s. Civil disobedience was running all over Greece, similar to what is going on today.
From the moods and whims of Zeus, Hera and the other Gods, to the present day, nothing really changes-
Someone had set off a series of car bombs in Athens so we made a beeline to Crete.
Olympic Airways at that time flew some ancient DC-3’s for the short run from Athens to Crete. Workhorses of the sky; these planes needed to be revved up for more than twenty minutes. It’s actually just a short time really, to get the engines up to a proper rpm. If you don’t rev up these planes they’ve been known to fall out of the sky.
A DC-3 doesn’t make a good glider.
Arriving in Crete the streets were deserted. Revolutionary graffiti had been spray painted over all the street signs. It visually wasn’t a good thing. But my parents were convinced that Crete was safe.
It was safe, right?
Over the next few weeks we traveled without care to most of the ancient historic sites. They were all completely deserted. It was like we had the entire country to ourselves.
My father had rented a Mercedes-Benz sedan from the Hertz car rental agency at the airport. We always rented a Mercedes or something that could really move out on the highway while on our numerous trips to Europe. We always got a road map and just drove. We were not the tour type of visitors. That is how we traveled.
I wonder to this day in the pre-GPS period how we found anything, anywhere.
And no one in the car spoke Greek.
When the road turned from a rocky path to a goat path we knew there was a problem. The hulking Mercedes, although extremely sure footed on macadam, didn’t do very well on goat paths that were strewn with stones. These road went from very steep up to very steep down in an instant. We were lost. It was late, there were no legible road signs and what few roads we could find were either dead ends or smaller goat paths.
Just over a rise we saw glimmering lights! A Taverna! Some courtyard lights were on, many cars were in the driveway and Hellenic music was heard oozing out of the brightly lit room way inside. It was indeed more than just a restaurant and we were hungry and tired.
Our hotel was somewhere out there, yet undiscovered in the dark.
What we needed was a meal and good directions to a hot bath and warm bed.
The Taverna was filled with many locals. Some were casually carrying mean-looking guns on slings around their neck’s, other weapons were strewn on tables and resting against walls. My mom said they were probably hunters. Being the precocious teenager I was and familiar with most guns, I knew that you don’t usually hunt with machine guns laden with banana clips and taped clips of bullets. There is a visible difference between short compact machine guns with silencers and what I was accustomed to. Long rifles are usually have with scopes. These were not long rifles therefore they were not using them to hunt sheep or goats.
My father and my sister are very Mediterranean looking in their appearances. They have dark hair, olive skin, dark eyes. My father didn’t speak the language (none of us spoke Greek) he just looked like the locals. My father also wore a Greek Fisherman’s cap at the time; he looked like he just stepped off a local fishing boat.
We entered the room and many smiling faces greeted us. There was no attempt to hide the heavy weaponry. We weren’t interested in their guns, just hot food and good wine. We were greeted by wonderful fat-driven smells of baby lamb being grilled in the kitchen, platters of Moussaka and steaming pots of eggplant dotted with dried Greek oregano. I smelled all of these things in an instant. We couldn’t read the menu, nor did anyone seem to speak English.
The language of travel allowed us into the Taverna, the conversation of travel invited us into their kitchen. The stove was overflowing with steaming pots containing multitudes of foods. Baby lamb was sizzling away on the rotisserie dropping fat blops of liquid onto the wood in the brazier below. There were pots of soup simmering and blocks of sheep milk feta sitting in a ceramic bowl with a large hunting knife on the side. Grape leaves were being stuffed by a group of elderly ladies at a long table by the kitchen door. The ladies were filling the tender leaves with a mixture of rice and raisins all by hand. They sat hunched over and tasted little bits of the mixture adjusting the seasoning as they went along.
It was immediately obvious that we weren’t going to starve. The cook offered us tastes of everything pointing carefully at each steaming pot of flavors- a try before you buy approach. We filled our plates and sat with the “hunters” one of whom turned out to speak enough English to be understood. Over plates of Greek Taverna food, washed down by many ceramic pitchers of red wine and glasses of ouzo, we ate our way through an entire history of Greek food and enjoyed their company. We knew something was going on, but it wasn’t our place to call attention to their weaponry. They wanted to talk about New York City and Greenwich Village in particular. Evidently many of their friends owned coffee shops.
Dessert is always a sweet finish in Greece. Their finely ground coffee is boiled in a small vessel and poured with the grinds into a small cup. It is always served extra sweet. A cup of their liquid history is a fine ending to any meal.
Someone in the room gave us excellent directions to our hotel. Our stomach’s warmly filled we left as friends.
The next day was our last on the island of Crete. We traveled to the airport and found it to be completely surrounded by Greek army soldiers. Things were going down hill very quickly. Our plane was already on the runway. Olympic Airways. A DC-3, its engines beating out a drumbeat that went right through my young bones.
Security was extremely tight. Guards hustled by carrying “we mean business” looking weaponry. Army soldiers were everywhere. They were not smiling.
My father had given me a wristwatch as a gift during the vacation. I had the box that it came in protruding from the inside of my windbreaker. It stuck out and at first glance it could have been mistaken for something possibly sinister. I went through the metal detector and set it off immediately. My parents and sister were already on the plane. They had no idea I wasn’t directly behind them.
Two very angry guys with machine guns pushed jabbed one into my young ribs and the other was held into my neck. I will never forget the feeling of the cold steel. They hustled me off to a small room, behind a curtain, their guns glued to my body. Another very matter of fact guard with a huge black handgun pointed it directly at my face and said something to me in Greek very quickly and loudly. I did not cry out- but it was pretty clear that I was unhappy about having three guns in my face- two were gray colored machine guns. They pointed to the box that was protruding from my jacket. I said in English that the box belonged to my watch and I pointed to my wrist helpfully.
One of the guards roughly took off my jacket and removed the box out of my pocket. He opened it. Empty! They made me put back on my jacket and shooed me onto the plane with out a sound.
My parents had no idea of my ordeal. To this day I’ve never told them about the guns to my neck and body, I still don’t think they’d believe me.
As we taxied to the end of the runway to rev up the DC-3’s engines before take-off, a rebel tank rolled onto the runway at the other end. The revolution had begun and the airport was about to be closed. That rebel tank was going to keep anyone from landing or taking off.
The pilot took a chance in leaving with a tank on the runway. He just cleared the armored vehicle as it was lumbering down the runway. I’ll never forget being on the last commercial airline flight from Crete to Athens before the revolution.
Warren Bobrow is a mixologist, chef, and writer known as the Cocktail Whisperer. In 2010, Bobrow founded “Wild Table” for Wild River Review and serves as the master mixologist for several brands of liquor, including the Busted Barrel rum produced by New Jersey’s first licensed distillery since Prohibition.
Bobrow has published three books on mixology and written articles for Saveur magazine, Voda magazine, Whole Foods-Dark Rye, Distiller, Beverage Media, DrinkupNY and other periodicals. He writes the “On Whiskey” column for Okra Magazine at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum and has written restaurant reviews for New Jersey Monthly.
His first book Apothecary Cocktails, was published in September 2013; and immediately went into a second printing. In 2014, he published Whiskey Cocktails. He was born and raised in Morristown, NJ, on a Biodynamic farm.
Warren Bobrow in this Edition
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