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Escape to Naxos

where, in an attempt to hide from himself and others on a faraway island, the Author ends up unsurprisingly mired in the pandemic slough of paranoid patrimania.

LET US flee to Naxos once more, I thought, pure air, clear waters, good food, simple folk.

Amnesiac romantic everlasting am I.

For we should not eat the luscious figs, the bursting pistachios, the dried wild mushrooms -- Chernobyl fall-out, 1986, Strontium 90, -- for the rest of our lives.

Workers are building cottages around our refuge on the promontory of Stylida. The beaches attest to the endurance of plastic objects. The food service trends toward mangia-scapa, as the Italians say: bolt it down and get out.

Spies? Of course. Back to Maxim #1: Everybody spies on everybody else in everything and reports to everybody. The rumors get quite wild. "An American on Stylida is building the airport," we were told by a new taverna owner of Mili who didn't know me.

You can trace the components of the rumor: gravel and stone for the runway come from my land; I have been espousing the project for twenty years, taking over from some Belgians who sponsored it and went broke, but I merely grump; the USA has built many installations in Greece -- so why not this?

Each grain of truth adds itself to the total absurdity. Paranoia and patrimania are pandemic in Naxos. Many Naxiotes live perpetually in fear of Turkish attack.

I go to pay my respects to my former wife Melissa. She opens the door and rushes off to put on a dress, leaving me with Kuki Berde. This once great actress of Communist Germany smiles sweetly at me. As we enter the lofty parlor she says, "Alexander, what are the secrets of the Pentagon or are you through fishing for the day?"

While I am pondering the question, she disappears to fetch coffee and Melissa reenters exclaiming, "Alexie, I am worried about Kuki. She isn't taking her medicine!"

All is instantly apparent. Here we go again! Return to Chapter Seventeen. Dal segno al coda.

Kuki is back in a flash, so Melissa switches to French. "She gets angry with me when I urge her to take her drugs, and says `Who are you? I am a Prussian aristocrat. You are a Russian spy!'".

Melissa resorts to English again so that Kuki can `understand'. She herself now leaps into reminiscence of events that I have long forgotten.

"I remember how you were the very first to predict Nixon's downfall. (I was?) It was at your apartment in Washington Square Village. It was while we were listening to the election returns. It was 1972. Your black professor friend was there, oh you remember his name. (You mean Charles Billings.) Yes, Charles, and there was Mark, Mark Blasius, and several others, and Nixon was declared the winner and Charles said, `I'd better get a passport so I can leave the country.'

"And you said, `Don't give up yet, Charles. Nixon has the best chance of being impeached of any President this century.'"

I had in fact said it, but without much feeling. For, when the Watergate scandal began, I was contemptuous of the Republicans of Nixon's circle for believing that they might gain valuable information by bugging and observing the Democratic Party Headquarters. The whole idea and its execution were feeble-minded.

When you think that these assholes (President Nixon bugged himself, inveterately profane, but with a starved vocabulary) were supposed to be responsible for the fate of the world! Gadzooks! But, as the details of their baseness and vindictiveness unfolded, I began to warm up. I wrote a piece for the New York Times (see my Collected Works, vol. XIX) which they would not print, exposing the paranoid behavior of the President and his White House team.

"Do you remember," Melissa was saying, "the day when you flew down to Washington to testify before Howard Baker's Investigating Committee? I took a later shuttle to join you after teaching my class."

"No. When was that?"

"It was in 1973. (Christ, she remembers everything!) When I came in, you were speaking about the end of the Republic coming when the Presidency gets involved in spying on the Party System. Howard Baker was supporting you. I sat just behind Senator Edward Kennedy. We had dinner with Howard Baker that evening. I was wearing a beautiful dress, it was a Jean Patou; you said to me why are you dressed like an ingenue; I could have killed you. (And she gives me a ferocious look.) You were pleased when Judge Sirica was appointed to hear the Watergate case. You said, he's a Sicilian, he'll get him."

She made me remember all this.

Meanwhile Kuki was taking it all in, her full red mouth slightly open, glancing kindly from one to the other. Then she stood up to leave, fixing her straw hat to her head and saying, "Now, Alexander, I must go to breathe secrets to the Pentagon."

"Good-bye, Kuki."

But she pauses at the door, spins gracefully around to us, smiling, and exclaims, "Spass muss sein auf der Bühne".

"That is Berthold Brecht," she adds as she departs. "There must be fun on the stage," it means in English.

Probably we would say, "The show must go on."

That evening we hold a pow-wow.

The next day, Nikos Voulgaris shuts his ceramics shop and coaxes her aboard the boat. In Athens, he delivers her to friendly hands.

We are back to space one.


Chris Marx is nowhere to be seen, even though I had asked him down, both before and since Kuki's departure. The Federal Court of the Swiss Confederation has reproached the Prosecution for its vague charges, noted his innocence of political espionage, and reversed the court charges to the Canton of Basle. He is sauntering about the streets of the City feeling and praising freedom. No wonder he's not come to Naxos.

On the other hand, for the first time in the twenty years that I have lurked hereabouts, swallows of familiar aspect have appeared and are swooping around our Stylida dig! Followed me from Saint-Martian, is it possible?


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