In addition to what genes I was “dealt” at birth and with loving parental guidance, two other strong influences during my teenage years had an effect in the formation of my life and in the direction it took.
My friends of long standing all know my eccentric ‘Aunty Viv’, mum’s only and older sister who was married to ‘Uncle John’. Both had a tremendous influence. They lived for years in Rome and Athens when I was a boy looking after the migration of so many families coming to Australia by sea after World War II. I was always entranced by their stories and loved to write and receive letters in return.
Then there was ‘Mr and Mrs Philippides’, Dino and Ioanna from Cyprus, who hired me to work my way up in the travel business at Australian Express in 1965 (long before my years at American Express). Aunty Viv, John and Dino are no longer with us, but Mrs Philippides is still living hale and hearty in Brookfield in Queensland. To her, I write.
To her, I write.
I worked hard and learned much from my five years with the Philippides. I would hear how simple and wonderful life in Greece was and hear of lazy summer afternoons when you could walk by the sea and smell the pines (a teenager getting excited about smelling pines?) I not only listened to how wonderful the Greek food was but would be ‘rewarded’ for giving up a Saturday morning at the beach with John Thompson by Dino’s promise of ‘Mrs Philippides’ making me a special Greek lunch for coming to work. Ioanna introduced me to octopus, okra and eggplant, olive oil and tomato, and those wonderful crushed almond horseshoe-shaped shortbreads rolled in icing sugar and washed down with thick sweet Greek coffee.
Now, nearly at age 67, on a hot summer’s afternoon here on the Greek island of Spetses, I step outside the front gate into the shaded lane and say to my brother in law Trevor “Smell the pines!” Why does he look at me strangely?
Annie is looking after my taste sensations with wonderful roast baby lamb and eggplant and is now looking up how to prepare octopus and okra before we depart next week. (Annie”s talking about boiling the octopus with corks to make it tender!) And she tells me that the Greek olive oil is lighter and sweeter than the Italian; Irini, the housekeeper makes me the most wonderful large cups of Greek coffee and I buy the white shortbread at the little baker down the lane.
Sight and sound of the blue green sea beneath my window all day and wind blowing at night complete the senses.
Thank you, Mrs Philippides.