National Geographic : 1956 Jan
Athens to Istanbul There he could telephone Athens for a me chanic and a new crankcase. George bargained with a passing farmer and took his place aboard a mule. Jean and I had our bedrolls and ample supplies of tinned food. The car was loaded with so much valuable equipment we didn't dare leave it. We prepared for a four-day camp while George, who isn't used to riding, bounced out of sight over the next hill. Farmer to the Rescue Three hours later, while I typed notes under an olive tree and Jean cleaned cameras, the farmer whose mule George had rented came galloping over the hill like the U. S. Cavalry riding to the rescue. He leaped from the wooden saddle and fished a note from his homespun trousers. I'm sure the message from Marath6n was no more welcome than George's note: "Dear Franc: I am at the first village. They can do everything we want. There are all the means. Wait till I come with a car to pull you to here. It won't take long. Yours, George." We didn't really believe it, of course. George, we speculated, had found someone with an old car, a soldering iron, and un bounded optimism. But we doubted that the car could tow us over that rugged track, and we were sure no village blacksmith could weld that great tear in the crankcase. Still, it broke the monotony. We waited. Huge Truck Arrives An hour later the biggest truck I had seen in Greece roared up over the hill. Brand new, it looked powerful enough to tow the battleship Missouri over the Rocky Moun tains on a muddy day. While we stared, openmouthed, two Greek mechanics jumped out, shook our hands, looked at the damage, smiled as if it were nothing, and started to hook their towing cable to our car. A small crisis developed. The hook was too large for the axle. They needed a rope. We had none. Everyone looked puzzled. Zeus looked down and smiled. The white bearded abbot of Osios Loukas rode up on his mule, en route home. Across his saddle was a coil of stout new rope. George ex- plained our problem. The abbot insisted on giving us the rope. It took much persuasion to get him to accept what the line had cost him (page 66). The hookup was completed and off we went, over hills and through streams, into the village of Distomo. "Distomo is a famous village in Greece," George told us as we rolled along. "It's primitive and off the beaten track, but it is noted for the independence of its citizens. The Germans found that out when they occupied this territory during the last war." The mortality rate among their officers was very high. The climax came in June, 1944, when guerrillas shot some Nazis just outside the village. In retaliation, Germans massa cred 218 villagers. The names of the victims are engraved today on two marble plaques set into the front of the church which domi nates the village square. Greetings from the Mayor The mayor of Distomo was waiting to greet us when we were towed into that square. A crowd pressed forward to shake our hands. Puzzled by the reception, we were escorted to a coffee shop. There the mayor explained. "As soon as the Germans were driven out," he said, "your country sent money to rebuild our homes. Greeks who had gone to America sent their own funds, which kept widows and orphans from starving. And in 1946 twenty children, orphaned in the massacre, were taken to America for adoption. They are there now, growing up as American citizens. "People in America thought Distomo had been wiped out. So a housing project in New Jersey took the Americanized name Distomo, so it might live. "All these years we've wanted a chance to show our gratitude. Now you have come. So we say 'Thank you' to you for all America." Villagers brought us sweets and flowers. We were invited into every home. A house wife tried to present Jean with a young eagle. The words efharisto parapoly-thank you very much-were said to us a thousand times. A wedding had been planned for the next day, and the bride-to-be brought us a huge tray of cookies baked for the event. In the midst of all this hospitality I wor ried aloud about our car. The mayor's brother laughed away my fears. "I own a large bauxite mine near here,"