by Bruce Redwine.
When I was an adolescent, one of my big heroes was Nikos Kazantzakis. Adolescents are susceptible to new ideas, and he opened my mind to endless possibilities. I saw Kazantzakis as the embodiment of the Greek spirit and read most everything of his that I could get in translation, from The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel to The Last Temptation of Christ. I even wanted to learn Greek. Then I got to the University of California at Berkeley and lived in a hostel, The International House. At I-House, half the students were foreign and from all over the world. The dining hall was the place for making friendships and having cultural exchanges. One day I sought out and sat opposite two brothers, who I knew were Greek. They were short, swarthy, and powerfully built in the mold of Zorba, as I imagined him to be. They were from the Peloponnese—Spartans, I thought—and both were mathematicians pursuing doctorates. Geometers, surely, like Euclid. The younger one was shy and had a stutter, like Demosthenes. The other did all the talking, polite but restrained. Suitably laconic, I thought. We talked about Greece, and I went on about Kazantzakis. They listened, nodded, and then the older one asked, “And what do you think of Kazantzakis?” I was pleased and answered, “I think he was a great man and deserved to win the Nobel Prize.” The brothers sat stonefaced. After a while the younger one said, “We think he was eeevil and dddeserved to fffry in hhhell.” The older nodded. They both left, and we never talked again. There are many kinds of Greeks.
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