Greece

Reflecting on her visits to Greece, Cathy describes the extended family members, traditions, and experiences that have shaped her over the years.

Remembering family


  • This is a picture of my father’s house. This is our property. This is where he (my father) was born. Can you imagine? It took me a day to get there on a donkey, on my honeymoon. This is how rural – I mean, it looks almost primal. This is a village in Crete, called Sklavopoula, which translates to slavery. I don’t know why or what. I am sure it is still there, but no one goes there. You see at one time, it was very viable. They had their own oil, they had their own sheep


  • I kind of gravitated towards my father’s family. I loved them all. They were very fine people. And so are my husband’s family. I am in touch with them as well. My husband and I gave them some property. They were working these orange groves, and we gave them to them. They had been through the war. We felt it was the right thing to do. But we also have some land by the water that we are trying to sell now. I am in touch with the cousins, and they are all trying to help me. I sent this to Lisa because we are trying to sell this now. George and I used to go swimming there all the time. George’s father had an oil press too. They used to send me oil with the first pressing – the dark green (olive) oil. It’s wonderful there. My husband’s father and mother (owned all the land). He was a blacksmith. They did well. They were successful. My mother’s family too. They all worked their farms. They were elegant people. You know, now I see these films - I love films - and I see films of these farmers and these villagers, but they had a dignity to them that somehow you don’t see much here with Trump. It has nothing to do with money. There’s a nobility. You are accountable in a small village. Honor is everything. I think my parents had that and that is what they showed me. I thought the whole world was that way and they weren’t.


  • Property is important. My mother’s family had a lot of property. And my father’s too but it was poorer. And they worked it. But now the young people, they work so…. In fact, my uncle said to me, “I worked so hard to educate my children, and you in America who are educated come and work on our farms. The kids come and want to work on our farms, and our children want to get out.” I said to him it’s because they like being with the earth. He thought it was demeaning I guess.


  • She (My mother) had a lot of brothers. I had the feeling that they had a lot of workers picking the olives, and she would go around on horseback and sort of boss them around like she did us. She felt entitled. There’s no wealth in Crete after the war, but she seems to think she did. But then I went, and I saw that it was not any better than what my dad had. But it could be all from the war. I’ve seen pictures of her brothers, and they were very elegant men. Tall. In fact, she said one of her brothers looked like Tyrone Power so, she was in love with Tyrone Power. They wore high boots and bloomers, and they stood straight, and they danced beautifully. The ones that I had seen – not the brothers because the brothers by the time I had seen them were old - but their sons. The Cretans are very proud people. It’s an island. You are very accountable for who you are and what you do. But they have a ‘joie de vive’ that is terrific.


  • My husband had a first cousin in Greece who was in charge of all the Byzantine restoration on the island and all of Crete. He was an expert on icons. My husband and he would stay up all night, drinking Metaxa, and talking religion and history. They were very connected. Whenever we went to Greece (I have been 20 times with George because he taught Greek history and he took classes there), we met with this cousin who would take us on these archaeological digs where the children would be scraping the churches because the Turks had painted over all the icons. He wanted to restore them. He had these young children from all over the world come and scrape inch by inch off the ceilings so you could see these frescoes. It was quite amazing to see the advancement each year. We would go with him, I loved him too. He was wonderful. Manoli is his name. Then they made him the curator of the museum at Knossos. Now, Knossos is in Crete. Sir Arthur Evans in the 20’s, I think, discovered the digs of Knossos, and this is the civilization of the Minoans which are from Crete. These Minoans were the first civilization that had women as goddesses and had the power. The Minoans had no gates. Everything was welcoming. The first civilization that welcomed people. Hospitality was very big. He rebuilt the palace the way he imagined it would have been in 5000 BC. It was a beautiful civilization from everything I have read. Men would jump on the bull and play with it. It was remarkable. So, Manoli was the curator of this museum. When my husband died in 1997, I tried to reach him (Manoli), and couldn’t because, I don’t know, maybe the phones were changed. But I had too much on my mind and I just let it go. Then three years ago, these friends of mine from California - they were Lisa’s teacher from Taft and we became very close, the 4 of us and we traveled together. They moved from Taft and he was a headmaster in California. He published a book, and it was very successful. The publisher gave them $750,000 so, they wanted to go to Greece. They called me and they said, “Cathy, we have this money, and we want you to come with us.” I said, “I can’t. I really can’t. It’s hard for me to go because that is where I went with my husband all the time.” They said, “You have to do it. We’re not going to go.” So, they talked me into it. It was the best thing I could have done. So, we go to Crete. We went to places that tried to duplicate the authentic Greek that I knew of. With the little kalitsounia, the Greek pastries. It’s like a spinach pie and they have them for breakfast. It was just a beautiful place that we were at. So, I spoke to the owner and I said to him, “Do you have a computer? I’m looking for my cousin. Maybe you could help me find him.” So, I gave him Manoli’s name. Manoli Bourburdakis was his name. He went and the next day he came to me and he said, “I am very sorry to tell you that your cousin died,” of the same thing my husband died, “from an aneurysm. And it was on the front page of all the newspapers. He was a very famous man.” I was very touched by that. I said, “Could you possibly find his children for me?” He said, “I’ll try.” The next day, he came and said, “I’m very sorry. I couldn’t locate them.” Then, we go to the museum in Knossos to see some of the digs. I knew he was the curator there so I inquired. I said, “I know he is dead but is there any way you could locate his children for me?” And they couldn’t. I gave up on that. The last week of our trip. Gaby Edwards said that they wanted to go to the tip of the island, which is called Ayo Nicolau. It’s a little fishing village and we went there. Before we left, she said, “I want to buy a book on Knossos,” and we go into this little bookstore. She says to the little old lady there, “I am looking for a book. The best book you have on the history of Knossos.” She goes into the backroom, and she comes out with this book. It said Villa Ariadne which is the house that Sir Arthur Evans built while he was doing this excavation. So, I said to her, “I stayed there” and she said, “No, you couldn’t have because it is only for archaeologists because it used to be Arthur Evans’ house.” I said, “I know, but my cousin was in charge of it, and he let us stay there.” She said, “Was your cousin Manoli Bourburdakis?” And I said, “Yes” and she froze. She said to me, “See that boy across the street with the red sweater carrying a baby?” I said, “Yes.” She said, “That is his son.” I said, “Aleko, aleko,” and he looks at me. He had tears in his eyes. He said “Katina, I have been looking for you. My father died. And I didn’t know how to find you.” We were just hugging each other and kissing each other. Well, the next day, he brings me his wife, he brings me his mother who I had met many times. They had gotten divorced though. Then he brought me his aunt (Manoli’s sister) who had visited me in America. So that was amazing. Gaby and Seldon my friends from California saw the Greek hospitality. They never let us pay for anything. One day, before we left, I went into a restaurant and gave them my credit card and I said, “Make sure I pay for it.” And they took it. Then when I left, they gave me the credit card back and said, “Your money is not good in this part of the country.”

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Cathy’s father’s house in Sklavopoula


Visiting Greece


  • My mother didn’t (want to go back to Greece). My mother was so happy here. My father always wanted to go back. And they did go back, and my sisters went with them, but I was married and I had small children. Then, my mother and father took Lisa and spent a whole summer there. They hired a tutor for Lisa so Lisa speaks very good Greek. And I talk to Lisa in Greek and that’s wonderful. Especially if we go shopping. I put Lisa on a plane all alone at 12 years old. And she went there and met my parents. And she will tell you that she just had an incredible experience. When they went into the villages, I think Lisa did go there (to the old family property). In fact, Lisa and I went back there together, the two of us, and stayed (at that place). We loved it. The aunts were cracking nuts with a hammer. It was just wonderful.


  • When we got married, we went to Europe for 3 months, and the last 2 weeks were going to be in Greece. Now, my father had written to his family to tell them that the daughter was coming. Now, this is 20 years later after he left. After all this had happened. The war was there and had demolished one village and took all the men and killed them. That kind of thing. I went in 1954, but there was still damage from the war. When I went, they were waiting for me because George’s daughter was coming, and they had not seen an American. When I went, I wanted to go to this village, but they didn’t want me to go because it was so far. I had to go on a donkey. But I went. I wanted to go. My husband and I went - It took us a day to get there. And when we went, they were all lined up waiting for us. They were throwing rose petals. They were trying to fix the roads so it wouldn’t be so bumpy. It was quite an arrival – I will never forget it. Here I am 20 years old - very American - and I see something that I had never seen before. All these women in babushkas in black. But they were very beautiful to me. They were very unconditionally loving. They were kissing me. Crying. Hugging me. Touching all parts of my body. I had never had that either. They just couldn’t get enough of George’s daughter. Then they had me christen their babies. It was quite an honor for me to be there, and I will never forget it. And my husband loved it too. And I recognized everyone from the pictures. And they were very surprised. Here’s this American. They were calling me like the movie star. I am speaking Greek. I am dancing their dances. I am helping them serve, and they were surprised I even got up from the table. They were in awe of George’s daughter, and I was in awe of them. They showed me unconditional love. They were so poor, in one village, they had me playing with this rabbit all day, and then that night, it was my dinner. I thought I would die, but I ate it because I wouldn’t hurt their feelings. But it was quite an adventure, and I will never forget it. Another thing, you had to go to everyone’s home because the other one would have been slighted.


  • My favorite Greece is when Lisa was there in Hydra. Her back was hurting her. She couldn’t cope. She was living with this old woman. Her back was really killing her. I said to George - and I’d never been without him - I said, “George, I have to go be with Lisa. She is hurting and I don’t like that she is alone.” He said, “OK and I will meet you after the park closes,” because he couldn’t leave the park. I get to Lisa. I saw a Greece that I had never seen before. The islands. The people. The food. We just did everything. We went exploring. We’d go to people’s homes. We did the things that I like doing. And then when George came to meet me, I showed him that part of Greece too. He was a swimmer too. He loved that. We had fun.


  • I have a friend who is an artist, and he called me and he said he was going to Greece to be a professor there. He asked me some words and some things that he should know. I said, “What is this thing you are going to do?” He said, “It’s a school. It’s on a remote island. It’s on Samos. There are only 32 families, and it’s going to be in the school there.” And I said, “Would that be something I’d be interested in?” because I love to paint. He said, “You can apply. And he got me going. And he said, “You’re going to love it because there’s a woman that is going to come with me whose husband is a Dean at Yale Arts School. You will love her. Her name is Ruth Miller.” I applied and I got in. The first day I was there, when I saw Ruth Miller, I was going on the boat. Her husband is a tall, lanky man, and she was very frightened of flying. He said, “See that woman over there, Ruth? Go over to her, she’ll guide you. She’ll be good for you.” And she came to me and she said, “I am a little afraid of flying.” I said, “Stay with me.” So, we traveled together. We went to this island. The first day we are there, she got bitten by something and her face started to swell. There were no doctors and no one speaks Greek except me. I had a room with two beds, and I said to her, “Ruth, you are not going to go up to your house - it’s a 5-mile walk - with that bite because it could affect you, and you don’t know what’s going to happen during the night. Come sleep with me.” She did but the adrenaline started kicking in, and she was talking, talking, talking all night long. I learned all about her life. All about her affairs. And I just loved her. We would go skinny dipping. She wouldn’t take her clothes off - I made her take her clothes off. She was older. She just did it. She loved it. She said, “Cathy, let’s get a house and come here next year.” We met these two men. They were models of our school - naked and we would draw them. They were wonderful. They showed us to their home. They were Dutch. They took us to their home, and they found us this house on a cliff overlooking the Aegean. With nothing near us within four miles. And there was another friend of mine, who is a very famous artist in Sante Fe. Her name is Carol Anthony, and she wanted to come with us. So, the three of us got into this house, and then we invited this other woman, Elizabeth McDonald, who works with ceramic tiles and does buildings, and she came for a short while. We had this house, and we painted day and night with these extraordinary women. We’d take hikes at dawn to see the sun rise too. We would go to monasteries and just sketch and paint, and paint and laugh and sing. We had music going. I found myself through these women. It was extraordinary. We did it again the following year. And then we did it 10 years later. Our husbands joined us. We rented a boat and went to the islands together. It was incredible. We are sisters now.


  • It showed me independence. It showed me my worth. That school - because I was the only one that spoke English - I started to almost run it because people would come to me. Children who were in need. This young girl, we used to go for hikes in the moonlight. I’d see this young girl crying, and I sort of edged my way back to the line so I could be near here, just to talk to her. All of a sudden, I realize. She said to me, “I am gay, and I have brothers and, they will kill me if they know.” She was crying and she said, “I don’t know how I am going to go home.” One night, she came to my room. She went to someone else’s room, and he came to me with her and he said, “Cathy, I don’t know what to do. She is going to have a breakdown.” I took her to the hospital. I had to hitchhike because there are no taxis in this little village. So, I saw my power. These are not relatives who just took me unconditionally. I had to earn it over here. When the school was over, they made a wreath for me of olive branches. They each did a little painting for me and gave me this huge portfolio of their work. Each teacher and each student did that to honor me because I had helped them. It was very moving. I’m still in touch with a lot of the students. It’s called The Aegean School of Samos. The man who ran it was Nick Peron. That was really great.

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Cathy with friends in Samos


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