John Nichols, author of The Sterile Cuckoo, The Milagro Beanfield War, The Magic Journey, The Nirvana Blues, and major (uncredited ) work on the screenplay of the Costa Gavras movie Missing, says:
“Steve Fox’s rousing memoir, Odyssey: Love and Terror in Greece, 1969, is part high drama, part fumbling comedy, sort of like Austin Powers meets Z, a Costa-Gavras political thriller about the rightwing military coup in Athens. The book is a great page turner, a fast-paced yarn with no yawns and written with a fine combination of innocence and moxie. There’s plenty of intrigue, both of the salacious kind and of the military junta sort, surrounded by enough confusion and danger to make any twenty-four-year-old lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force think twice. Steve was that Air Force lieutenant, and we are fortunate that he didn’t think twice . . .and lived to tell the tale. His writing is sleek, humorous, engrossing. In the background Kazantzakis, Lawrence Durrell, and the poet Cavafy keep a sly watch over the American hijinks, occasionally cracking a smile. If you like your ouzo straight up, you will really enjoy this book. Melina Mercouri would have loved it!”
Denise Chavez, a National Book Award winner and author of The King and Queen of Comezón, A Taco Testimony: Meditations on Family, Food and Culture and Loving Pedro Infante, says:
“Odyssey: Love and Terror in Greece, 1969 by Steve Fox is an homage to the resilient human spirit. Full of wit, insight and indefatigable respect for all sentient life, it empowers us with a joyful chispa/life spark. There is a complete honesty in these words that look unflinchingly at the powerful, sometimes sad stories that make us who we are. Odyssey is exhilarating, life affirming, a testimony of a broken time healed by conscious living.”
Sean Murphy, author of One Bird, One Stone: 108 Contemporary Zen Stories and The Time of New Weather says:
“Steve Fox’s compelling coming-of-age memoir has it all: an exotic location, political intrigue, a gripping love story – all set in the pivotal year of 1969. What more can you ask? Read and enjoy!”
If the cops see me I’m dead. This car has no speed. When I make it out of these narrow, twisty streets, I’ll have to cross the edge of downtown. There’ll be more cops on the wider roads, and it’ll be easier to see me. How can I outrun anyone in this 44-horsepower VW bug, especially against their souped-up Fiats and Mercedes? They know Athens way better than I do. They’re better drivers, too. I’ve already had one accident here in this thing. Driving in Greece is high risk.
I was on a secret mission for my American friends Allan and Linda Wenger in June 1969. Allan was one of the coolest guys I’d ever met, someone I’d do nearly anything for. He was about 30, six years older than I, a bit shorter than my five feet eleven, with long black sideburns, receding hair, a resonant baritone voice and hipster ankle boots. Linda was also 30 or thereabouts, a petite blond with long, luxurious hair, china-blue eyes and a heartbreaker smile. I didn’t know when or whether I’d ever see them again. They had just fled Greece because of their involvement in a group resisting the country’s military dictators.
These dictators, known to everyone in Greece as “the Colonels,” a far-right military junta that had been in power for three years, fully embraced the eastern Mediterranean tradition of torturing their critics. Their preferred method was called falanga, from the Greek word meaning the clusters of finger or toe bones arrayed together. Torturers beat the bottom of the feet with iron pipes, which leaves no marks, but is particularly brutal and painful because it damages the clusters of nerve endings, small bones and tendons in the feet and cripples your ability to run, or even walk well, for months.
I was a new lieutenant serving in the U.S. Air Force at the Athenai Air Base, which was half of Athens International Airport. Allan and Linda had become like a big brother and sister to me. In the six months I’d known them, Allan and Linda had never told me they were in a resistance group because of the danger my U.S. military affiliation could bring to their 25 comrades, who were already risking their health and lives by defying the Colonels. But they were forced to tell me about their involvement when Allan was pulled over by cops while driving the couple’s red VW bug a week before. He went on the torture list and left on the next plane for Paris to keep the police from getting to Linda and the rest of the resistance group through him. Linda and Allan knew he was the lightning rod who could endanger all of them if he didn’t vanish immediately.
I had helped Linda pack up their stuff. A week after Allan left, she and their week-old baby girl, Niki, got on the same early flight Allan had. Then I was alone in Athens with the knowledge that the cops had probably photographed my car, a primer-gray ’66 VW decorated with three saucer-sized flower decals. They were symbols from the Summer of Love in the U.S. two years before. Now, knowing how far-right the Colonels were, I found myself wishing I had removed them. Linda told me that Allan said the cops surely must have photographed my car in the last two weeks while they were surveilling Allan. I had parked in front of their house on Dafnomili Street on the slopes of Lykabettos Hill many times over the past five months.
Is this the intersection where I bear right? Too late, I’ve done it. Then right at the next light? Deep breaths. Stay cool. Don’t worry — oh, Jesus, check the gas gauge! Half a tank, thank God. Would’ve been brilliant to run out of gas. Wish I knew who’s gonna meet me when I get to the drop spot.
I glanced warily at the two-by-two-foot cardboard box on the passenger seat beside me. The mission with this box makes me an enemy of the Greek dictators, although inside the box was only a mimeograph machine. Just like the hand-crank ones we had in grade school in the fifties, with their aromatic purple ink. To the Colonels, this humble machine was more dangerous than a bomb, because it told the truth and it exposed their evil lies.
Allan and Linda had been making English translations of their group’s fliers, which the other members then spread around the streets of Athens. These pamphlets were the only independent source of news in this European capital city. They exposed the truth about who was in custody or being tortured, who had escaped the country, and what the “wonderful tranquility” the Colonels were bringing to Greece really meant. The Colonels had arrested 10,000 people the first day of their coup in 1967, throwing them in various prisons on the islands dotting the Aegean. They had closed down all radio, print and TV news, and banned meetings with more than five people attending. The mimeograph was the social-media delivery system of the day. The Colonels were using an identical hand-crank machine to print their own propaganda.
Okay, stop. Look both ways. Ahead and behind, too. It’ll be treason if they catch me. With Allan and Linda gone, there’s nobody to help me if I get caught. I don’t know anyone else in their group, they don’t know me, and they wouldn’t risk helping an American officer. Would my Air Force bosses help me? Ha! I’d be a traitor to them, too. Do I have the status and rights of an Air Force officer, an American citizen, a brother? Or am I an enemy to both sides? Good friggin’ questions. Dusk coming on now. Streetlights flickering. Put your lights on! Check the rearview. Don’t panic and run a light or a stop sign. I should have taken the flower decals off when they shipped the car over from Mississippi. Too late to tell myself not to panic.
The mimeograph machine was just one of the thousand things the Colonels had explicitly banned from private possession. All Western literature and music were on their massive list. From miniskirts and the Beatles to Socrates and Plato. And if they caught you with anything on the list, you were out of luck, because there were no more civilian courts, no lawyers, no judges. Just the Colonels.
Crossroads — which way? Can’t sit here wondering. Where’s the map? Okay, left here, not right. Is that guy following me? Fuck! No, he turned off. Just one more turn and I should be at the drop point.
“Destroy this map as soon as you see where it leads you. Park at this spot,” Linda had hurriedly pointed out on the map, “and blink your lights once. Don’t look at or speak to whoever opens your car door to take the box, OK? Don’t look at them or say anything! And good luck.” She looked so stressed. “Steve, Allan wanted you to know he loves you like a brother. And I do too. We’re both in your debt for helping us get out of here. I’m so sorry we’ll be gone by the time you deliver the box.” She seemed worried. Niki was crying. Linda had been having irregular heartbeat. I was worried for her.
I only had two friends left in Athens now — a self-involved name-dropping deejay at the American base radio station and my American girlfriend, Deborah Cuomo, back at my house in Glyfada, waiting for me. Her father was a chief master sergeant, who managed the day-to-day activities of Iraklion Air Base on Crete, the main U.S. spy base in the eastern Mediterranean. I knew that because of her father, Deborah had to be really careful not to get caught up in this resistance activity.
When I arrived in Greece in 1968, Allan and Linda had already been in Athens for four years. They knew writers, film people, the nightlife scenes — and they were fun to be with. They were from New York, where Allan had been a folk singer in the Greenwich Village folk revival of the sixties. Allan was my mentor, my idol. He and I had already dubbed a “Spaghetti Western” film into English. It was being dubbed into Spanish and French, too, under Greek direction. We had acted together in the Edward Albee two-man play Zoo Story, which Allan also directed.
Oh! My traffic accident two months ago! The cop took my ID info and license number! Was that cop in the same division as the ones who were photographing Allan’s visitors? Would traffic cops match accident reports to the Security Police’s enemies lists? OK, the map says last right turn here. Really dark now. We’re close, Mimeo! Who would have guessed that a humble VW bug could execute a spy mission or that an innocent ditto machine like the ones we all knew from church and school could be a tool of revolution?
The drop point was on a straight uphill street. I stopped about a hundred yards past the last house and cut the engine.
Blink the lights once. Just wait.
I was concentrating so hard I could hear my watch ticking and crickets outside in the weeds. Nothing happened. A minute. Should I blink the lights again? No, Linda’s note said once. A car started up. I hadn’t noticed it parked off the street as I passed. It slowly drove up behind me. I didn’t look at it, even in my mirror. My heart pounded in my chest and in my ears. Please please let it not be the cops. My passenger door opened. It took all I had not to look over.
The hair stood out on my arms, and the goosebumps surged up my nape. I stared straight ahead. What if they’d already infiltrated Allan’s group? The box scraped across the seat cover. The door closed quietly and clicked. The car behind me backed up, turned a 180 and sped away. I looked at the empty seat beside me and got chills again. I drove off nonchalantly for several blocks before I remembered my lights. Shit! Turn them back on!
Now zig-zag back to downtown. Punch in the cigarette lighter. Pull over by this warehouse. Get the corner of the map into the glow of the lighter. Let the flame grow. Toss the map out of the window. Watch it curl in flames and burn to ash. Drive home by a roundabout route.