Part II: THE FRIENDSHIP



[From Elia Kazan's "A LIFE" (Knopf, 1988), pp. 557-559.]



A farewell dinner was arranged at Stellio's house, where I'meet my other cousins as well as Stellio's wife and their children. We sat around a table that was heavily loaded with savory food; they inspected me and I them. I found them all excellent people, well educated, discreet, and kindly. I noticed that whereas my father had been a terror in our home and ruled his wife and four sons with the threat of a temper about to explode, Stellio's wife, Vili, was boss in their home, sat at the head of their dinner table, cut the meat (always the male prerogative), served the food, and dominated the conversation. Stellio's posture could only be described as conciliatory; he seemed to be anxious that we should all get along, especially that everyone should like me and that certain doubts and concerns--I didn't know exactly which--should be kept under cover. I noticed that his two sons didn't respect him as Greek children should their father, and I believed this hurt him. My guess was correct; some years later, he said to a friend that he doubted his sons would come to his funeral.

Wine made me contentious. Perhaps I was feeling the Greek male's resentment at a woman who dominated a home. In a confident and exuberant mood, I described the events of our stay in Kayseri, spoke of the friendly feeling everyone there had for me and for Stellio and of ours for Kavundju, how much I admired Osman and what he was doing in Kayseri. "I wish you could see what's happening there now," I said, "the new factories and buildings, the atmosphere of progress." I told them about the old men in Germeer and how often they'd said they missed the Greeks who were no longer there and how generous everyone had been to me, accepting me as one of theirs. Perhaps, I said, the tensions and hatreds of the past could finally be set aside. I said that no matter what the military men who ruled the country felt, the Turkish people themselves were good people and ready, I believed, for a new era of frienship. I said I'd decided to make a film, would make it all in Turkey, using the people as extras, and that my purpose, beyond making an exciting film, would be to make some contribution toward bringing about better relations between the Turks and the Greeks. That had to happen, I said.

I got a sour reception. I'd noticed that Vili was becoming furious with me, so I'd aimed my talk particularly at her. The wine unlocked her tongue too, and soon I had a "report from the interior." When she began to talk, she looked away from me and directly at her husband. She seemed to be speaking primarily for his benefit; was she blaming him for what I'd said?

"It's easy for you, Elia," she said, looking at her husband, "to go where you want and say what you think and be so brave, then come here and instruct us on how we must understand the Turk when we've lived all our lives under his foot. You come and tell us how friendly and kind and generous the Turkish people are, that they are not bad people and so on, but friendly and so on." Then she turned, facing her husband and speaking directly to him. "Yes, it's easy for him to talk big and play the hero. But, Stellio, you don't have an American passport in your pocket, do you?" She turned back to me. "When he was younger, my dear husband, he used to talk big out of his mouth too. So I told him, be brave in the house, keep your mouth shut on the streets. You have a wife and two sons now, and you're not risking only your neck but ours. Still he was brave, until they broke into his store the first time and threw everything into the mud outside, and except for a friend, they would have done it again. Did he tell you?"

"Yes," I said, "he told me that he had a friend, a Turk who put a crescent over his door, which saved him, and that shows there are good Turkish people and we must not think of them as our enemies forever--"

"Had a friend!" Vili said. "He made a friend. My husband is very clever. Did he tell you the whole story?"

Stellio interrupted. "I told him, Vili."

But she went right on. "Did he tell you how many of his own good customers he sent to this Turk and how, when I was baking, he'd say, 'Bake for him, too,' and I would? Did he tell you how often we made our vacation shorter on the island and gave our place there to him and his families? Yes, the man had two wives. And how Stellio always paid for the lunch when they ate together and how--"

"Vili, enouph," Stellio said.

"Oh, yes, my husband is very clever. He knew what to do. But you think that way of life is a good example for his sons? Does it teach them strength? Must we be so clever all our lives to survive here?"

"Vili, Vili, shshsh," Stellio said.

"Never mind that shshsh," she said, turning away from me altogether. "I don't want him here encouraging you with how nice they are and how human, when the truth is that they are animals, who tasted our blood many times and want more, like animals." She turned to me. "Did he tell you how for three days and three nights we stayed here, inside, with the shutters closed and heard those beasts running wild through the streets and saw the flames near us and the shouts of the people whose homes they were looting and how the next day, even though it was quiet, we didn't dare go out for bread and meat or milk for the boys? We know it's going to happen again and we know that the government wants it, they provide money for the ouzo they drink, so don't tell me about your governor in Kayseri who gives banquets for you, the big American with his name in the newspapers. He's not innocent either, your Kavundju Effendi. Is he, Stellio? Is he? Say!"

Stellio didn't answer, and nobody else spoke. Then Vili turned to me, and she was calmer but more hateful then before. "Elia, we're living well here now. He does a good business, and we have money enouph for food and most everything else we need; not trips to America but a month on the island, and we have our donkey there too. Our boys go to a good school and wear decent clothes and so--so--so leave him alone! Leave us alone! This is not America, and we are not Americans. Remember that. Anger is a luxury we can't afford! We live as we must and--and I'm satisfied. Just leave him alone! I'm satisfied. Excuse me."

She got up and left the room. A door closed.

The dinner party broke soon afterward. The boys went to their room to do their homework and Vili didn't come back. Stellio and I had a few moments alone. He apologized for his wife. "She's a good woman," he said, "and makes a good home for me here. She's had some fights in the street, and to tell you the truth, although I wish she hadn't said what she said, I agree with it. That is our situation here. At least for now."

Then he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small, well-sealed packet and gave it to me. "Some jewelry," he said, "and some British pounds." He was whispering now--in his own home! "I have a sister in Athens, you know. When you go there, give this to her. They won't open your bags, not yours. Perhaps better put it in your pocket. Her address is written here, see? She knows what to do with it."

As I walked back to my hotel, I wondered: Was Stellio planning to escape from here? Was he planning to start over again in Athens? And if he was, would he be able to do it? I doubted it. I thought of my father, who'd made the journey to America, started over again, and made good. Wasn't he of tougher stuff than Stellio? I thought so. Understanding Stellio, I understood my father better. I appreciated him more, for I'd seen what he'd come out of and a little of the fact of it--not just the romance. For the first time in my life, I had respect for my father and what he'd done. I understood him.

Sailing back to the States, I made notes, a diary of our days in the interior and about Stellio and Vili and about Osman Kavundju, for whom I had tender feelings. I put down everything I'd seen and heard before it faded; I knew I'd use it one day. And I began to have a feeling that surprised me: that it was my "calling" to speak for my father and my uncle and for the people I'd sat at the table with that night.