In Geneva the Summer of 1988
. . . and “the second sunrise of my soul”
Nikos Kazantzakis died October 26, 1967 at seventy-four. His wife Eleni (our “Helen” in English) lived a little past the age of one hundred. She first wrote me in 1977 in response to the galley proofs sent her to appear in what I’d written about Nikos, and, prompted by him to do her own writing, she’d written a book on Gandhi’s life, some other assorted articles (and, after Nikos’ death, the definitive biography on him). With her living in Geneva (see the photo above) and my living in the U.S. there seemed no viable way for us to ever meet. However, eleven years later in 1988, when I spent the entire summer in Europe in what became the second sunrise of my soul, we unexpectedly found a way to meet. Greeting me at the door, she received the flowers I’d brought in her right hand, as she entwined her left arm in my right, saying as she gently urged me forward, “Come to my kitchen table. I treat you like family!”
Over the lemon cake she’d made and the hot tea she had prepared, we exchanged personal tales and shared events from our lives for the next five hours. What she’d written originally was most kind:
“I wish, I could write to you in good English how much I enjoyed reading the part of your manuscript on Nikos Kazantzakis, which you kindly sent me. Alas, my English is so bad, that I am ashamed in writing it!” Then, she mentioned they were leaving for Greece where they would be commemorating the 20th anniversary of Nikos’ death, thanking me again for having the piece sent, and closing the typed letter by writing in her own flowing hand below her signature . . . “In reality (actually?) I wish I could read the whole book!” . . . initializing it for a second time.
I had taken along the last remaining copy I had of my book to present to her, in gratitude for all that her writing of their thirty-three years together had meant and done to enrich my own.
This all happened to be at the same time the film The Last Temptation of Christ was then being released in the United States, stirring such intense controversy and endless demonstrations picketing theaters where it was being shown. She took me by the arm again to give me the tour of her apartment, showing me her desk overflowing with letters caught up in either side of the ensuing conflagration — shaking her head at “all the madness.” We talked about that and other things on and on without running out of yet another significant avenue to explore, amidst a few phone calls that came which she hastily kept as short as possibly by explaining the nature of our unexpected visit.
Towards the end, she stood up saying she wanted to get something, and a few minutes later came back with a copy of her Gandhi book signed on September 22, 1983 by one of his thirteen grandchildren, and an inscription in Greek with an arrow pointing to the signature and indicating which grandchild it was. She graciously gifted me with the book, exchanged our then current contact information, and parted.
As I emerged again from her apartment building, hastening to hail a taxi on the street and race back to the station in time to catch the train departing for Italy, I felt like the fountain in the accompanying photo. That day still stands as one of the most glistening sun-filled summits of my life.