By George Capsis
At last, yesterday, I got John Capsis on Skype sitting at his desk in Athens.
He had chided me, as he always does, that as a “techie” American, I shouldn’t have so much difficulty Skyping with him.
I first met my cousin John in the summer of 1949. He was waiting for me in the early hours of the morning at the old Athens airport. Even then he had a kind of in-charge stance defensively revved up a bit to meet his “rich” American cousin, after a war and occupation which brought a very poor country close to starvation.
He had been drinking at a taverna with a bunch of his buddies both kidding and boasting that he had to pick up this American cousin and after a sufficient amount of ouzo, persuaded them to join him, so when we arrived at the square-backed taxi from the thirties it contained two of his pals whose cynical bravado instantly evaporated as they eyed me with intense interest and even reverence.
After the Germans left, the Communists tried to take over and there was shooting in the streets. The old Fix (Fix was how the Greeks pronounced the German “Fuchs”) beer plant in which they were holed up was riddled with bullet holes and the communists had fled north into the mountains, but the fighting dragged on for years and years.
Because of the fighting there was no such thing as a tourist in Greece, in fact when later I suggested to John that Greece should build a tourist industry he snorted “why would they come to Greece, it is nothing but rocks!”
We drove in the gathering light towards Athens and when I looked up there was the Acropolis and the Parthenon—so real—so close— and John ordered the cab to stop so I might look. The city was absolutely silent—no cars, no people just silence with the Parthenon in the dawn light.
John’s father, Pantelis, had been first a school teacher then a journalist and at twenty John got a job at Embros (Forward), the same newspaper for which his father worked. When John took me to visit, I, in a brief moment of surprise, realized that the office had no sound of typewriters—there were none—instead, the journalists wrote with pens on cheap foolscap and only in the basement was a Linotype type machine where the pool of melted lead, waiting to be formed into type, gave off a metallic smell. Bang, bang—with each stroke a single letter was formed— bang, bang.
John went on to become the Deputy Foreign Minister of Greece and his son the Minister of Information.
Yesterday on Skype was the first time I had seen John in decades and I of course boasted about my newspaper and finally John repeated the Capsis’ litany:
“My father was a journalist, my sons are journalists my grandson is a journalist, you are a journalist and your brother John was a journalist—it runs in the Capsis family.”