Friday, April 4, 2014

Martin Luther King, Jr. My Memories of that day 46 years ago

[This is a reposting of a blog entry from years ago]

My roommate Brian Wilson and I got on a ferry boat at Piraeus, Greece, just outside of Athens the evening of April 4, 1968. We hadn't seen a newspaper in days and were far from any televisions or radios--blissfully cut off from the Vietnam slaughters and the American race wars. The ferry was heading overnight to Iraklion, a city on the northern coast of the island of Crete. It was a very crowded boat, not luxurious in any way (and that was fine with us). Overnight some of the Cretans were playing a wild music on some sort of folk instrument played with a bow. Brian Wilson met a girl on the boat from Eastlake, Ohio, a Cleveland suburb just miles from my home in Euclid. I actually knew some of her relatives and had shopped in her family's little clothing store in Euclid. A young mother in my quarters pulled out her breast in public and began nursing her baby. I was astonished beyond belief, never having seen anything like that back home. I slept a little that night in the crazy cacophony, in a setting where Zorba the Greek would have felt quite at home.

In the morning we arrived at port in Iraklion. We hitched a short ride up a hill on the back of a moped and then began walking. We had only a vague clue where we were headed. Somewhere we had heard a vague rumor about a place on the south central coast of the island where we could live free in caves. The place was called Matala, so we decided to head there. When we got out of Iraklion, we began hitchhiking. Unfortunately for us, there were hardly any cars at all on the roads. Finally a truck came by carrying a full load of gravel and stopped. The girl from Eastlake and I hopped into the cab, but there wasn't room for Brian and his guitar. The driver signalled for Brian to get up on the load of gravel, which he did. We began driving over the incredibly bad roads of Crete, occasionally passing by areas where the road had been utterly ruined by earthquakes. I passed the time trying to talk to the driver. I only knew a few words and phrases of Greek, but I discovered he spoke some German--apparently useful in Greece during the World War II era. And that's when he told me: that Martin Luther King had been murdered. His German was shaky enough that I wasn't sure exactly what he was telling me: that the king was dead, was shot. The driver was deadly serious about this and he certainly communicated to me that something very serious, very terrible, had happened.

We had a few more rides that day and walked a great deal. We walked right past one of the most historic archaeological sites in the world: "Phaistos," an ancient civilization, almost a birthplace of the world I lived in. The final 10 miles or so of our journey was on foot. There were no cars, no buses, and very primitive roads to Matala. I do remember one beautiful moment. A Greek man noticed Brian's guitar and invited us into his home. He spoke a little English and introduced us to his family, told us of relatives in America. He brought out his pride and joy, a magnificent bouzouki, one that must have cost him a year's wages, and played it for us. I took a photo of that scene, inside this Cretan house, the man holding his bouzouki, his wife and children by his side. About 4000 miles away in America, all hell had broken loose. The grim tide of blood and chaos that WB Yeats had spoken of had been unloosed. Evil and hatred had its day in America, while Brian and I were so blessed by this man and his family in Crete.

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