Barcelona, 24/10/2000




I would rather write something more philological, but a friendship of about thirty years compels me to narrate certain moments I lived near the great man and beloved poet. My mind goes back to the long night of August 14, 1974, in Karlovasi, Samos.

That night I happened to be in the poet's house. At dawn the Turks had bombed the Nicosia Hospital. At 9 in the morning, I heard Karamanlis on radio saying: "Greece is withdrawing from NATO". Hour after hour the terrible tension worsened rather than decreased. Hellenikon closed and all east-bound flights were canceled. Finally, around seven in the evening, a small plane left for Samos. "Why did you come?", a frowned Ritsos asked me. "Tonight we may have a war declared". "God will take care", I replied. We all went home and ate in silence -- Chrysa Prokopaki was there too -- listening to the radio worried. Around midnight Karamanlis stated that Greece would not respond to the provocation. Right afterwards the National Anthem was broadcasted. "Up!", Ritsos yelled. After a while, we went out for a walk along the beach. Young soldiers stood watch. "Good evening, guys" -- Ritsos kept greeting them in his steady, mighty and pleasant voice. And through the darkness the response kept coming back: "Good evening to you, kyr-Yannis" -- for in Samos he was just "kyr-Yannis".

The day of his funeral, several years later, was a cloudy, rainy Tuesday -- just like this one as I am writing in Barcelona. "We deliver you, poet, in front of the boundless sea of Romiosini", Minister of Culture Anna Psarouda- Benaki had said back then. These simple words have stayed in my mind to this day and recur each time I go to the grave by the sea, below the Monemvasia castle. And I still remember something awesome: at the funeral, right after the authorities left, the young people who were waiting outside in the yard rushed into the Cathedral, lifted the coffin up, covered it with red carnations and choked their voices singing "Don't cry for Romiosini".

Never, never in my life, not even during the cursed and endless years of fascism in Spain, have I lived through such an expression of patriotism, reverence and love for a poet.

Alexis Eudald Sola -- Neohellenist

[From Kathimerini's "Seven Days" (November 12, 2000) -- my translation]