History According To Spiro Zervas

"Lend us some cash, do, till pay-day", now how's one supposed to react to such an entreaty, and at such short notice, too?, one may have or not have the money, but when one has an equally hard time making ends meet, when the gap between the lustre of respectability and the threadbare reality of seedy suits and down-at-heel shoes is closing with each passing day, it's not the easiest thing in the world to dig into one's pockets at the drop of a hat, "I've run out, nea Spiro, cross my heart, I'm badly off, I'd gladly lend some to you, but I'm broke myself, got me a VHS last week, I did, and I'm pretty hard up right now, so debt-ridden I don't know which way to turn, I'm telling' you the truth…", "Never mind, Ago, mob's, that's all right, don't you worry, I'll get by, somehow, a stingy lot were you to begin with, and you'll go down to your graves in your foolishness, taking a nice view of the Errata from them picture postcards with you…", en Spiro peevishly retorted, keen as he was to let off steam after my refusal, no matter how justified, yet a bad sort he was not, had to manage somehow, each and every week, no sooner had he got hold of some cash, than he'd blow it on his daily ration of booze, which went secretly towards lacing his coffee, his tea, or his soup, I wouldn't have put it past him to have even his chips deep-fried in Metaxa brandy, and that's just by way of illustration, since his imagination turned out to be more productive by far than the imagination of the average person in the neighbourhood, who would have ever thought that the nice decent son, dark hair parted on the left, of Mr Zervas, that was en Spiro's surname, owner of two mills, a hotel, three cafés and the largest pastry shop in town, would wind up as a fiend for the bottle and the bane of publicans, when in his cups, he'd make a disgrace of himself and stir up no end of trouble, it is with bitter disappointment that I'm saying all that, he wouldn't have hurt a fly, nor was he bent on causing anyone's harm whatsoever, there were older accounts to settle with himself, true, and even if he did take advantage of the odd sucker, in the long run it transpired that his heart was in the right place, and he was no scoundrel, even if his soul was somewhat darkened, truth to tell, he did have a sweet tooth for liquor, no idea whether this phrase has any correspondent in Greek, Turkish or Bulgarian, he'd overdo it at times, but this is a horse of another colour, there, another funny phrase, how could one ever explain that to an Eskimo, say, who's beaming expectantly, blissfully unaware of what a horse is even supposed to look like, could be that nenea Spiro had his own good reasons for it all, and t'was nobody's business if he did, he was perfectly entitled to, even if, too many even-ifs, I'm afraid, he was the son of old man Zervas Aristide, best pashtries in town, with Brăila-cheese filling, neither too salty, nor too fat, as for his anisette, suffice it to say its ingredients were the real stuff, hailing from their original port of call, so to say, that's the sort of person en Spiro used to be, back in the days I came to know him, gentle, always smiling, having a word in season for all and sundry, and more than just that on occasions, he was as good as his word, that he was, and if it came to lending you a helping hand, he'd never leave you stranded, might sound funny, but that's the truth of the matter, to be sure, "Why you drinkin' like that, nea Spiro?", there's no straight way to answer such a question, so nenea Spiro would go about it in a roundabout way, sort of, he was not the man to tell you directly what was on his mind, or what grieved his soul, "Want to know why I drink, eh?, why I drink…", he'd mutter to himself, "Dunno, boy, there, I don't know why I drink, I just drink 'cause I feel like it, it's not all that clear to me why I'm alive, either, an' I s'ppose I'm alive 'cause I'm not dead, I don't have to exert myself in any special way for it to be so, when my time comes to die, they'll be congratulating each other, saying, Phew, what a relief he's out of the way, nor will they chant Kyrie Eleison, or call Christos Anesti! after me, what I'd like to know, though, is whether I'll be admitted to heaven, I'd really love it in heaven, I'm telling' you, among angels just as cute as the ones in the church down Main Street…", the fellow must have gone through a lot, he couldn't have reached that level of resignation and indifference just like that, and, by the same token, neither could his heavy drinking be as thoroughly unmotivated as it appeared, there must have been a cause, perhaps, somewhere in the nature of things and in en Spiro's own life, too, yet I was not the one best qualified to figure it out, I do believe en Spiro was hiding a lot in his soul, and I, for one, was glad he wouldn't dwell on his troubles too frequently, moreover, I attempted to learn something from his general manner, after all, domnul Spiro Zervas descended from a merchant family, his ancestors had been roaming the Balkans all over, with a great variety of merchandise, money, spices, desires, ambitions of all kinds, it is known they had originally come from Thessaloniki, then settled down in Odessa, and, after the Bolsheviks had come to power in Russia, they fled to Romania, continued to prosper there, doing business along the Danube, couldn't complain, really, things must have been working out fine for them, since they were counted among the important donors to the Greek churches of Tulcea and Sulina, Galaţi or Brăila, that was, roughly, the route of their merchandise, sometimes reaching even further up the Danube, to Budapest or Vienna, and so it came to pass that nenea Spiro's father, old man Aristide, whose friends called him Niko, though no one knew exactly why, sent Spiro to study in Athens, money was no object to him, and he set great store by his status, the people of his generation can remember him well, a man of stately appearance, held in awe by all the robbers along the Danube and by the harbour pilferers too, he was doing serious business, wouldn't bother with trifles, he was wearing high boots, and would sometimes take enormous risks running after some big-time deal, it's no light matter investing half of your capital in a small fleet of wheat barges, and have the Danube freeze on you when you least expect it, is it?, he'd rather give his money to charity than encourage doubtful bargains and shady deals, "Sure enough, there are schools here as well, but it's better for him to study over there, he's bound to make a better deal of it, and on top of it all, there's a lot to be said for national feeling…", was the kind of reasoning loudly indulged in by domnul Aristide, U.K. Niko, Zervas, an admirer of Venizelos, but also, as soon as the statesman's policy turned out to be an utter failure, one of his most passionate enemies, he'd take him to pieces whenever the opportunity presented itself, regardless of the circumstances, accusing him of the loss of Greater Greece, and he was just as scathing about the English, "It was only their own interests they were after, they're known to have engaged in double-dealing before…", domnul Niko would contentedly pursue his line of argument, supporting it with the fact that The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland had been secretly handed the Isle of Cyprus on a plate by the Turks, in exchange for their support and the safeguards they offered against the threat of Russian encroachment, subsequent to the Berlin Conference, a merchant he might have been, but domnul Zervas did read history books, it was in Greece that the war caught up with young Spiro, sent over there to study, in the beginning it was smooth going for the Germans, the Italians thought they'd also carve out a profit for themselves and essayed to prove their operatic manliness, they did rub Spiro the wrong way, Italians did, a whole generation disapproved of them for the way they'd been carrying on in the Balkans, in Albania, in Greece, and wherever they were trying to nestle down in the wake of the Germans, they disgraced themselves everywhere they went, they were a burden for the great Reich, rather than any real help, they attracted the hatred and enmity of millions of people, yet how could one hate the Italians when it was all one could do to take them seriously, en Spiro got carried away with the waves of youthful enthusiasm, he couldn't very well go home and do business, as long as his friends and school mates joined the E.L.A.S. and fought the invaders first, then the royalists, which meant CIVIL WAR, what do kids of today really know about the way things were like BACK THEN, well, in actual fact, neither does en Spiro himself know what was really going on in depth, even if he was THERE, all right, and suffered alongside his comrades for the destiny of Greece, so let's tell it like it was, the Greek civil war, which broke out following the breach of the 1945 Treaty of Varkiza between the insurgents led by the communists and by the royalists supported by British troops respectively, had entirely unpredicted consequences, reaching far beyond domnul Spiro Zervas' immediate interests, the agreement between Stalin and Churchill did not yield the expected results, the king was deposed in favour of Archbishop Damaskinos, after the internationally-supervised elections in the spring of 1946, Konstantinos Tsaldaris' royalist party ended up with the majority, the September plebiscite drummed up a comfortable majority in favour of the king's return from exile, George II being the king in question, Spiro Zervas did not side with all those reactionary royalists, though, George II died and was succeeded by Diadoch Paul, and immediately after the elections the life-and-death fratricide war started again, Greeks are a passionate people, they can love or hate with equal fierceness, simple people hated Metaxas, a very strict prime minister under King George, now Spiro gives the blame to everyone alike, the king, the English, for all their calculations carried out at every step, if that's what suits us, that's how we'll go about it, if it doesn't suit us that way, we'll go about it the other way round, as long as the interests of The Crown and of The Royal Navy are not interfered with, Pshaw!, how could a man stay human under these circumstances, they left them all alone with the Germans, while they, the English, boarded their navy, and kept a low profile either in Rhodes or in Crete, after a fashion they did attack the Germans, too, but that was none of nenea Spiro's business, strange how, and it's very few people who know that, the Greek civil war played a decisive part in shaping the Truman Doctrine, the ideological framework designed in order to foster American interests in Europe prior to the North-Atlantic Treaty coming into existence, it wasn't easy, though, the Greeks didn't cower into submission, but fought tooth and nail, Manolis Glezos became their role model and standard bearer in the wake of his extraordinary feat of courage on the Acropolis, the years that followed were very hard indeed, the royalists would brand the communists as bandits and kept making occasional grabs at the area of Gramos where their encampments were, when things got really bad, they would flee to Albania, Tito and Enver Hodja were quick to stick their respective fingers in the pie, the English still had some 40,000 troops in Greece as late as 1947, it was not before March 11, 1947 that the American president put forth to the Congress the tenets of the Truman Doctrine, "I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures, I believe that we must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way, I believe that our help should be primarily through economic and financial aid which is essential to economic stability and orderly political processes", and requested the aforesaid Congress to ratify 250 million dollars worth of aid to Greece, such matters are of lesser importance for Spiro Zervas, it was the ideal he'd been fighting for, he was but a young man, forsooth, E.L.A.S. had no shortage of supporters, seasoned fighters all of them, the andartes, they had control over the Pindus and the Olympus and most of the northern frontier, they laid siege to the town of Konitza, in Epirus, where it was General Markos' intention to establish his headquarters, Spiro Zervas enjoys telling the story, he knows first hand what exactly he had to suffer, and to what extent, too, so he has little interest for what historians dig out of secret archives, "We must act in season, and out of season to put out the very first sparks of any conflagration that might threaten to set the whole universe on fire", an unswerving President Truman declared on 22 May 1947, just as an enquiry committee of the United Nations disclosed the fact that Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, and Albania supported Greek communists, General Markos was then replaced by the Secretary General of the Communist Party, Zacharides, in due course Tito withdrew his support, on 16 October 1949, the communists made public their decision to stop fighting, the guerrillas entrenched in the Grammos and Vitsi mountains, one Spiro Zervas among them, fled to the safety of countries which had already turned communist, such as Bulgaria, Albania, Romania or the USSR, General Markos, believed for a while to have gone missing in the turmoil of Stalinist persecutions, surfaced in Poland, and was exonerated by the Greek Communist Party, who, then, was to restore to Spiro Zervas the days of his youth?, his partisan life in the mountains, he'd been forced, after all, to fight in order to stay alive, not to give up at the first sign of adversity, how else would have Sparta, Athens, the Parthenon or Pericles ever come to exist, bastards!, the English carried everything away as if it had been all theirs for the asking, the pick of the friezes and sculptures, exhibited them in London and Paris, not that the Germans were in any way easier to take, as for the Russians, they made free with whatever they could lay their hands on, many a Greek died in the clashes, the rest fled whichever way they could, they were scattered all of them, he, Spiro Zervas, had his own place to flee to, that is, he went back HOME, now that's something to have you in stitches all right – a Greek calling Brăila his home, fancy that, time did its eroding job on the mountain of accumulated mishap, oh, the refugee camps, the Bulgarian and Romanian communists were helpful enough, the Romanians, particularly, turned out to be unexpectedly hospitable to the Greeks, his father died of a broken heart, after having all his property confiscated, still, he managed to escape being sent to labour camp, all he had to do was inform the Romanian communist secret services on some of his conationals considered to be reactionary and opposed to the people's democratic regime, such things do come to the surface, sooner or later, words travel faster than people, things are in a frightful tangle, there nothing you can be sure about, documents, assuming they do exist somewhere, are impossible to get to, secrets are fiercely guarded by some, while others continue resorting to blackmail, how is justice to be done under such circumstances, that's reason enough for nenea Spiro to be in a constant rage, not even booze is what it used to be, they've been and tampered with the stuff, he wanders if all the sacrifice was worth it after all, there's no way anyone can right the wrongs anyway, what is there to prove?, how is one to defend oneself?, or who is there to accuse? Yes, he, Spiro Zervas came back home, good or bad, communists or no communists, his house was in Romania, all that was left in Greece were the 50 000 dead and thousands of towns and villages in ruins, and no end of hatred spread among the Greeks everywhere, that's not easy to get over, oh Greece, in his own country, in the Greece nenea Spiro had been fighting for, he would have been executed had they but managed to lay hands on him, but then again, was Greece his own country?, it hurts to even say that, and what hurts even more is to have a house and not a motherland, the best house there is should be, after all, the motherland, the way each of us understands it, in a quiet way, mostly, without too many words, for many are those unable to grasp such matters, they keep playing with words, or grow fat on them, Greek communists took tens of thousands of children by force, and smuggled them beyond Churchill's Iron Curtain, what can be more dramatic than that, modern performances of the ancient tragedies, everything's in a constant state of flux in this world, it's only when you're left all alone in the world, far away from your homeland, and from everything you hold dear, that you come to know the meaning of next of kin, nenea Spiro couldn't be easily talked into believing things, he'd left a lover back in Greece, his own love, Hasmik, who couldn't follow him to Romania, and he lost all trace of her, for years they didn't know anything of each other, sending letters was out of the question, not even flies and mosquitoes were allowed past the border, let alone letters, the ones which didn't go lost for ever would be returned after a lengthy voyage bearing the stamp ADDRESSEE UNKNOWN, how can the one you love become unknown, years went by, the war, both the cold one and the hot one, somehow lost momentum, hatred's bite was no longer as fierce as its bark, yet a bitter aftertaste lingered on, Greece joined the Common Market, Turkey has been struggling to for years, but the Parliament in Strasbourg is holding it to account for the 1915 massacre, "Life has been cheating on me, mob's, life has been cheating…", Spiro Zervas would whisper during his moments of weakness to whoever cares to listen to him, "my heart's been left somewhere far, far behind, and it's crying and crying, and my glass fills up to the brim, and I drain it, and there it fills up to the brim once again", to be sure, we're free to perceive all that as the cheap sentimentality of a slightly drunken man, "But it's making you sick, can't you see, it's making you sick, you know your liver's not function all that well, you know all this, nea Spiro…", "So what, I'm an old man now, see?, and I just don't care anymore, my old man was cursing the Germans, the English, the Russians, said it was all their fault, but what fault, may I ask, I mean, sure, they're to blame, too, but why did you have to leave when things were at their worst?, or why didn't you come when you should have?, it was hell, both in '23 and in '42, fine, I can understand that, why didn't you come back when we needed you?, those of you in France, and the ones in America, all you could think of was money, that's right, I might have overdone it myself, raving on to them about trading in grain, cattle, cheese, timber, olives, oranges, lemons, doing business in style, with the fleet of Niarkos, big deal, the pastry shop was nothing, but what about the lot out there?, don't let me catch them babble to me about Ellas and Thessaloniki, and the Germans?, sure enough, the Germans did occupy Crete, greedy buggers, and all the islands, too, they wanted to rule the whole of the Mediterranean, they did, but the English weren't landlubbers either, as for the Germans, I'm the only one here entitled to talk about them, not that fellow, neither my old man, nor uncle Dimitrios, not the lot over there, voting for Agnew and supporting Dukakis, it was I, I who fought out there, in the mountains, not my old man, who was having a swell time making money, and going Iaso! Iaso! From Monday till Sunday, it was of a broken heart my old man died, not because of me, Economas is just talking nonsense when he carries on 'bout how I did the old man in to get to his hidden treasure, he had a troubled conscience, the old man did, it wasn't easy for him", Spiro Zervas would work himself up into a rage, and his eyes would be flashing, and I would wonder how could this nation of sailors and merchants give birth to a philosophy such as Plato's, there were times when I just couldn't figure it out, yet on different occasions, as I was watching en Spiro in his reveries, when everything was elevated among celestial bodies and gods previously unknown, the universe would change to a beautiful place within everyone's reach, Kir Spiro Zervas would turn into the happiest and most generous man in the world, and we would share in his joy, "So you really believe you will make to heaven, nea Spiro?", "Dunno, my Armenian friend, but I'd really love to have Hasmik waiting for me over there, one loves but once in a lifetime, the rest is just women, and nothing more!", and we'd leave it at that, and send little Hasmik for a new bottle of anisette, it was not for nothing that nenea Spiro was my children's godfather, and we all loved him very much.
Armenians' EncyclopaediaKadet, 1994

by Bedros Horasangian (b. 1947)