Bryan lived on the sixth floor, the last floor but one, in his wife’s apartment in Salonica. The buildings around the waterfront were all fairly new. The apartment was a big, open space, with a window from ceiling to floor right along the side which faced the harbour. At least that’s how I remember it. I’m using the past tense because I don’t go back anymore, but I don’t think much has changed, except that Bryan and his wife are no longer there. In the afternoon, looking through their huge window, as you felt you had to do, it was like being in front of a movie screen, one that was fixed on a single frame of light.
On a day of great optical clarity, as Bryan used to say, you could see the mountains in the distance. The peaks were very small. It felt as if you were looking down on them. You were higher than Olympus.
Bryan told me how a group of Englishmen had climbed the main peak. You can walk up without much trouble. For safety – someone’s idea of safety, anyway – they were all attached to one rope. Entertaining in itself, but they had also been drinking. After a happy ascent, they finally stood on top, a space not much bigger than a dining room table. Then someone lost his balance, pulled the others with him, and they all fell to their death.
Bryan’s wife was Greek. She looked very old to me. When she was a girl, the Germans came to her school and took away the Jewish children, including a friend. Each time Bryan had me round, she invited her own Greek acquaintances. I don’t think there was anything belligerent about it. They didn’t do battle in this way, or in any way that I could see. When Bryan told her I was coming, I suppose she just imagined what it would be like when I was there. She didn’t want to feel left out. Her English was perfect. I don’t think she disliked me. She simply had no interest in me.
The acquaintances, two or three old ladies, probably didn’t knit the whole evening, but it seems like that now. On one occasion, Bryan quietly pointed out to me how they all talked at the same time. He was right. They never listened to each other, not for a moment. It was riveting.
Once, just once, we all had tea together. Bryan passed on the news that the BBC was going to broadcast a story I had written. He was quite proud of me, I think. One of the old ladies asked how much I was getting paid. When I told her, she laughed. Another one explained: “He’s only a beginner.”