In And Out Of Greece
LEA, PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST
PART l : MILITARY SERVICE
It seemed so stupid to Panos this whole business of military service. He had to
go through it to become a civil servant. To be allowed to settle permanently in Greece,
for that matter, after years of study abroad. He would not be able to take up his post as
an instructor at the state polytechnic unless he completed this one-year stint of duty. Did
he really have to know how to wield a gun and peel potatoes to teach the abstruse
intricacies of mathematical series and infinities?
He was thirty but there was no way around it even at his age. In Greece, it was
the inescapable duty of rich and poor, of the clever and the stupid, the educated and the
ignorant. He did not mind the exercise and the running. He would have done it on his
own in any case but getting up for lookout post duty and the uncomfortable, dreary
hours it involved was too much. Moreover, he did not want to think. What else could
one do in the chill darkness of midnight to daybreak but think?
The boredom of his activities and mostly of his free time sometimes exasperated
him. He felt completely out of place. His only consolation was that the camp was on a
hill by the sea and the breeze that constantly caressed it was pure and sea-fragrant. Even
when the army trucks moved noisily about spouting thick black fumes it did not last
long. The fumes drifted away and the sweetness returned. The subtle scent of the sea
almost nourished him. It opened his appetite and the blue, calm Aegean sated his soul.
Right opposite the camp on another rocky promontory, separated by a bay from
the camp, was the Castro. A castle built by the Byzantines and later rebuilt and used by
the Venetians and Genovese up until the invasion of the Turks. Though only a flock of
deer now inhabited the extended ruined fortifications, it dominated the landscape of
Myrina, the village-capital of Limnos. Poised high above the village, it stamped it most
emphatically with a sense of history.
History was not lacking in that picturesque but not especially beautiful island.
The numerous archeological sites and ruins that studded Limnos reached back to the
Bronze Age and evidence of Paleolithic Age settlements of hunter-gatherers and
fishermen were recently discovered. It made Panos marvel that even a small, relatively
infertile, mountainous island could generate tomes of detailed history books researched
and written by archeologists and learned native lovers of the island. Places like
Moudros with its natural deep-water harbor sheltered the British Navy in the failed
Dardanelles Campaign and the Greek Navy in the Balkan Wars. This, however, is
modern history. Limnos’s history and prehistory though minuscule in the great events
of the world was, nevertheless, a molecule of the whole.
Panos loved its beautiful, sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters that had
survived pristine the millennia and felt satisfaction that this island provided aquatic
resting grounds for migrant birds and tall flamingos. He wondered if the extraordinary
natural environment would survive another two decades.
He arrived in Limnos in early spring, near the end of March. The sky was
cloudy and the flight turbulent in the small twin-engine plane. As he walked with his