The Mass Murderer and the Old Dutch Potato Chip Truck

I was 17 and I’d been hitchhiking for 55 days – and I was coming home. It was August 28, 1972 and my trans-Canadian adventure had taken me from Victoria to Charlottetown, P. E. I. and back…almost. This was my last full day on the road and I was a consummate pro at the art of travelling by thumb. I’d had some close calls and near misses in the previous two months but this was the home stretch and I was confidently optimistic of making it back to Victoria by the following day – maybe even this day if all went well.

Aunt Alma was a sweetheart and offered to drive me to the highway outside of Lethbridge to begin my day, but she was prone to worry. “Ohh George….I just don’t feel right leaving you out here by the side of the road…all alone” she said.  Her eyebrows furrowed, her eyes scrunched and her mouth turned down with a look of great concern, “In the middle of nowhere”. “Don’t worry Aunt Alma”, I said,  “I won’t have to wait long…and I’ve got that sandwich you made me”…”Thanks for the lift – see ya!” she gave me a hug, I grabbed my backpack, and hit the highway with my thumb out.

It was a hot, dry August Monday in southern Alberta – rolling plains of grasses, scrub and crops, where my Grandparents had settled sixty years earlier to grow sugar beets. I didn’t have to wait long for a ride, catching a lift in a truck  with a young farmer with a pronounced stutter, who took me past Fort McLeod and Pincher Creek to the small farming town of Cowley on the edge of the Foothills.

The next lift was with a heavy equipment operator who was willing to put up with my company for the next five hours all the way to Trail, BC, where he worked. We breezed through the Crowsnest Pass and the BC-Alberta border into the Kootenays along Highway #3 – one of the most scenic drives in BC and a personal favourite of mine. This was a great ride as it took me almost halfway home. I sat back and enjoyed the view, engaging in small talk with the driver, regaling him with stories from “the road”.

From my experience, it usually didn’t take more than an hour between rides, maybe two if there was a long line-up or you were stuck in a particularly conservative, redneck area where kids with long hair – like me – were frowned upon.  As a blue-collar town with it’s fair share of hippie-kid bias, I expected that leaving Trail might take longer than usual, but was surprised that three hours lapsed before someone decided to stop and pick me up. Finally some “heads” (counter culture term for Hippies) stopped to give me a ride.

“We’re just goin’ to Christina Lake, where ya off to?” they asked. “Heading home to Victoria so anywhere further west is great – thanks.” I threw my pack into the back seat and climbed in.  It’s about 6pm and the drive to Christina Lake is about an hour. The unexpected delay in Trail has changed my plans. “I’ll try and make it to the Okanagan tonight, maybe Osoyoos or Penticton to find a Hostel.” I said. The driver and his friend were American draft dodgers in their 20’s, living on a commune near Christina Lake. Canadian roads, communes, and hostels were full of young American men fleeing the draft and the Vietnam war during these years, and the Kootenays seemed to be a particularly popular destination.

They dropped me off at what is now known as the Tempo General Store & Gas Station shortly after 7pm in “the Village” of Christina Lake. The spot looked like it had good hitchhiking Feng Shui – it was close to a store/gas station with access to food and drinks and washrooms, and it was on the Village strip where cars would have to slow down and abide by the reduced speed limits. Slower cars usually translated into more rides. I imagined that I’d be in Osoyoos by sundown in time to grab a bed and maybe a bite of food at the local hostel.

There was no shortage of traffic, it was summertime and Hwy 3, officially known as the Crowsnest Highway, was full of holiday travellers. By 8 o’clock, as the evening light began to wane, and many cars had passed, I became slightly concerned  – “I don’t like to hitchhike at night” I thought, “Things can get weird”.  By 9 o’clock it was dusk and, despite striking my most pathetic and needy hitchhiking postures, I hadn’t had any bites – except for the increasing number of mosquitoes. By 10 o’clock it became clear to me that something was wrong. People were certainly driving by slowly – too slowly – and looking fearfully at me through their rolled-up car windows. “I wonder what’s up, this is just as bad as Trail,” I thought. I was resigning myself to hauling out my sleeping bag and finding shelter in a nearby park. “I’ll give it another 15 minutes…a bed would be nice.”

Then, an Old Dutch Potato Chip Truck pulled over to the side of the road ahead of me. At first, I wasn’t sure if this was a ride or if the driver had to

Looking something like this (Google photo)…my delivery from evil

deal with an emergency. He opened the door of his cab, got out, and walked towards me. “I bet you’ve been stuck here for a while, haven’t ya?” he asked. “Yeah, Jesus…3 or 4 hours I replied, as I picked up my gear. “What’s goin’ on?” “Well…There’s a murderer loose in this area…killed some people in a campsite…just walked in and shot ‘em.” “The RCMP and local police are looking for the guy…happened this afternoon…anyways, I’m driving to Kelowna so I can get you that far” “No wonder it’s been such a shitty day for hitchhiking” I replied, “I was stuck in Trail for 3 hours this afternoon too…I appreciate the lift man, I just wanna get outta here.” Rather than admitting me into the passenger side of his cab though, he opened the back door to the windowless  compartment and said, “Hop in.”

The voices in William Bernard Lepine’s head told him that he was chosen to save the world from a nuclear holocaust.  Although he’d spent time in the East Kootenay Mental Health Unit and the Riverview Mental Hospital in Coquitlam, from whence he escaped on July 30, he did not exhibit any violent behavior.  On this day however – starting around 9am August 28, 1972 –  Lepine, armed with a 22-caliber rifle and a 30-caliber rifle, walked into an orchard outside Oliver, BC, where Willard Potter (16) and Charles Wright (71) were working on some irrigation equipment, and shot them both – dead.

Lepine was a 27 year-old American who had worked for a time in the orchards near Summerland, and doing maintenance work for the Municipality of Creston before his slide into schizophrenia. Symptoms typically come on gradually, in young adulthood, and can include delusional thinking, hallucinations and hearing voices that do not exist.  Today, Lepine’s tragic internal commands dictated that he kill random innocent people to stave off Armageddon. He put his first victims bodies in their landrover and drove northeast towards a campground off the Kettle Valley Road. Around 11am he discarded their bodies in the bushes off the road and entered the campground.

The Clarks and the Wilsons had been friends for a long time and liked to go camping together. The Kettle Valley Recreation Area was one of their favourite places to park their motorhomes and spend a weekend hiking, picking huckleberries, and sitting around the fire at night drinking a few beers and sharing some laughs. Around noon on this day, William Lepine entered the campsite, chatted briefly with Lester (58) and Phyllis Clark (61), and Allan (62) and Mildred Wilson (55) and then left. Shortly thereafter he returned, armed with one of his rifles. He ordered the two couples into one of the motorhomes and started shooting, killing Phyllis Clark, and wounding the other three. While Lepine escaped in his car, the Wilsons – bleeding profusely and in shock – managed to get into their vehicle and drive towards Westbridge in search of help. Lester – also severely wounded and suffering the additional trauma of witnessing his wife being shot and killed – managed to follow the Wilsons in his motorhome with his deceased wife in the back.

After receiving critical medical care in Westbridge, the wounded survivors were able to give the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) the information they needed to begin their manhunt, in which about 25 officers participated. Patrols went out, road blocks were set up and radio stations were alerted to warn the public that an armed killer was on the loose. By 3:00 as I was being dropped off by the roadside in Trail, the hunt for William Lepine was moving into high gear. And then he killed again.

How many murders does it take to stop a nuclear holocaust? As he went about his unfathomable mission, neither Lepine nor his internal voices could provide an answer. It’s over when it’s over, when the shooter is caught or shot.  

Lepine had driven several hours north to the small village of Edgewood on the shores of the Upper Arrow Lake.  It was late afternoon on a beautiful summer day at the end of August, and Herbert (57) and Nellie Thomas (56) were enjoying life and each others company when the young unshaven man approached. Nothing could prepare them for what was to follow. Without warning or explanation, Lepine pulled out his rifle and shot and killed them both. After hiding their bodies nearby he escaped in their car, drove 30 miles north and shot and killed Thomas Pozney (24) who was enjoying a little quiet fishing time on the Lower Arrow Lake near Nakusp.

I was surprised that the driver of the Old Dutch Potato Chip truck was putting me in the back of the truck, in the windowless box with all the merchandise, but it was a lift and I’d been languishing by the side of the road for hours…and there was an active shooter, a murderer, on the loose. I hopped in and he closed the door.

When the driver closed the door, every last bit of light was gone. It became absolutely, completely dark and I became blind.  I had to feel my way with toes and outstretched hands, between the boxes of chips, pretzels and pepperoni sticks to a place against the wall where I could stretch out. It was a 12 x 6 x 6 box…432 Cubic feet of pungent Old Dutch product line aromas – Salt n’ Vinegar, Barbeque, Sour Cream n’ Onion, Cheesy Puffcorn, Ketchup Flavoured…and Original…saturated the air.  Just as I was thinking that the driver wouldn’t miss a couple of bags of chips, a male voice in the darkness said, “Hey man…where ya goin’?” I didn’t know that I had company in the box.

 Momentarily startled by this revelation, I tried – with no success – to determine exactly where he was inside the cube…and if there were others. “Heading back to Victoria” I replied guardedly, my thoughts turning from chips to murderers. “I didn’t know there was anyone else in here…where are you goin’?” “I’m trying to get to Penticton…pretty wild about the murderer” he replied.  He sounded young, maybe about my age and seemed amicable. I wasn’t getting a strong vibe of “crazy serial killer in the dark” so our conversation turned to comparisons of our experiences on the road. He was from Winnipeg and was going to the Okanagan to pick fruit or find other work. He too had been stuck for hours this afternoon, in Salmo, before catching a lift with the Potato Chip samaritan. Or at least…the driver seemed like a real Old Dutch Potato Chip Truck driver…maybe he killed the real driver and was impersonating him, we speculated jokingly…and then, in the middle of nowhere the truck slowed down…and stopped.

Noises and muffled voices outside. Moments later, the door flung open and two powerful flashlights beamed in, hurting our eyes, which had become accustomed to the dark. “OK, gentlemen” said the authoritative male voice, “…I’ll have to ask you to get out of the truck.” We hopped out, smelling like potato chips, into a cordon of Mounties holding shotguns at the ready, near a roadblock of police cruisers with lights flashing. My initial fear that the driver was the murderer and was stopping to kill us was now replaced by the fear that the cops would search my backpack and find my small stash of marijuana and my pipe. “I’ll need to see some ID…no doubt you’ve heard that there’s a murderer on the loose, we’re just checking to make sure you aren’t him,” he said.

The roadblock had been set up at the junction with Hwy 41 to the States in case our fugitive decided to flee south – he was after all American. This was the first time I’d seen my travelling companion, another young, long-haired denizen of the hitchhiking culture that was so popular during the late 60’s and early 70’s. We didn’t talk much while we were being scrutinized by the cops – I found out later he too was worried about them finding his stash of hash and two hits of mescaline. But the police had larger concerns than the contraband of teenage hippies – a second murder victim had been found and four other missing persons reports had been filed. It was bad and appeared to be getting worse, they had to find Lepine.

We were back in the windowless potato chip truck talking about the weirdness of our situation and whether or not we should do the mescaline. We decided that it might be a bad idea in the off chance we might have to disarm a psychopath or brave another police roadblock. The driver had decided to shorten his trip to Kelowna by taking Hwy 33 through Westbridge rather than the longer Hwy 97 route through the Okanagan.  My choice was to get dropped off on the side of the road near Rock Creek around midnight  – with a mass murderer on the loose – and try and get a ride to Osoyoos, or continue to Kelowna…which would put us at the hostel around 2am.  It was not a difficult choice.

For some reason I still have this chit from my stay at the Kelowna Youth Hostel

We arrived at the hostel shortly before 2am fully expecting that it would be closed, and that we’d have to sleep outside. Luckily, two of the long-haired volunteer Hostel staff were up, quite stoned and playing “Go”, and they let us in. We thanked the driver for delivering us from evil and he gave us a box of Schneider’s Pepperoni sticks as a parting gift which we, and our hosts eagerly devoured…think “munchies”.

Epilogue

William Lepine was caught and arrested the next morning at Galena Bay and taken to the RCMP office in Nakusp before being transferred to Nelson, bringing his murderous rampage to an end.  He was ultimately tried and found “not guilty by reason of insanity” and placed in the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital in Port Coquitlam, where he remains to this day.

Lepine, under heavy guard, being escorted to – or from – court

I made it back to Victoria the following day despite having to wait another three hours outside of Kelowna for a lift, likely “because of the fucking murderer” according to my journal. My immersion in the darkness, fear, and potato chips has not diminished my enjoyment of Old Dutch products – my favourite is still “Original”.

Nearly 30 years later, I would meet Jackie B. and her sister Barbie B. who would both become very good friends of mine. As it so turned out, they are the granddaughters of Allan and Mildred Wilson who had been shot and wounded in the campsite in the Kettle Valley on August 28, 1972, and who drove those desperate miles to Westbridge for help. Jackie and Barbie have attended parole hearings for the past 25 years to speak of their family’s pain, and help prevent the release of William Bernard Lepine.

Tonight Fascism Will Die! (Apópse tha Pethánei o Fasismós!)

“Kathy and I are getting kinda low on cash so we’re thinking of going to Israel to work on a Kibbutz…we get free room and board if we work on one of their farms…it’s kinda like a commune or something”

It’s Saturday, November 10, 1973 and I am in Athens with my two friends and travelling companions – Keith and Kathy – who have just decided to go to Israel to extend their overseas trip by exchanging labor for food and a bed. Our round-the-world trip together has lasted barely 2 months and we haven’t even left Europe. “That’s kinda crazy”, I said, “Israel just had a huge war with all of her Arab neighbors barely two weeks ago. It’s pretty dangerous there right now Keith, thousands were killed and you guys don’t know what you’re getting into.”

I’m not sure if  K&K’s motivation was genuinely to save money, or if their foray into a war zone was driven by Kathy’s desire to calve her malleable boyfriend Keith away from his high school chum – myself – so she could have more one-on-one quality time with her guy. If so, it seemed like a fairly extreme money-saving solution, or relationship building exercise. (I guess I could call them and ask, 46 years later, although they are no longer a couple, we are still friends) In any event, I chose not to join them, preferring instead “to go to Istanbul” , according to my journal, and carry on with my global adventure. They left without  fanfare or delay and were gone the following day, Sunday the 11th, flying off into Armageddon as I remained in Athens, eighteen and alone…according to a journal entry from that day though, their departure left me somewhat nonplussed, ““Said goodbyes to Keith and Kathy, sorry to see them go but I think I’ll get more accomplished now. Lazed around playing chess and cards” …evidently my ideas of accomplishment lacked a certain get-ahead quality – even then!

I was staying at the “New Youth Hostel #4”, at 3 Hamilton Street (now Chamilton), 97B Patision (now 28th Octovriou (October) Street) in Downtown Athens,

Brochure from Hostel # 4 in Downtown Athens – 1973

just a few short blocks away from the Polytechnion  (the National Technical University) where a student  uprising would explode within the next  few days, resulting in much death, destruction, and ultimately, the overthrow of  dictator George Papadopolous. 

I’m not sure if I should say that my days leading up to the revolution were blissfully unaware, or admit that they were pathetically uninformed.  I was completely oblivious to the political upheaval which was brewing in my neighbourhood.  My fellow travellers seemed unconcerned, the Athenians with whom we engaged were not discussing it, and I was preoccupied with my travel plans, petty concerns and pleasures.  

On Monday November 12, just three days before the students went on strike and occupied the Polytechnic, I was busy assembling the illegal documents I would need – primarily fake student I.D. – to get discounts on my flight to Istanbul. From my journal: “went to a “Crazy spot called Antonios” for fake student id

My fake ID and wistful look from November 1973

(my Journal entries were often vague, as I have no recollection of why Antonio’s was “crazy” – I guess my younger self thought that it would be sufficient descriptive for my older self to remember and interpret – no)

I was much more concerned about cold showers: ”the energy shortage is giving us cold showers…what a drag”, …eating: “Went for food with Pearl and Dave “, …drinking: “Met some insane Australians” (which probably meant that they drank more than me), and… playing “cards & chess” . Eat Drink Play…the book. And, perhaps the greatest example of my complete detachment from the political turmoil unfolding around me, my entry from Wednesday November 14 – the day of the student occupation: “Nov 14 – Wednesday “When I don’t write every day I find I really forget what’s happened anyway. It’s kind of a drag, reading, sleeping, eating”. My self-indulgent ennui was about to change.

Student protest is not a new thing. Wikipedia lists 49 such demonstrations going all the way back to the University of Paris Strike of 1229. My favourite being The Great Butter Rebellion at Harvard in 1766…just for the name alone, “Mr. President we must do something about this Butter Rebellion…it’s starting to spread!

The late 60’s and early 70’s were a time of much student unrest…1968 was particularly tumultuous ( Protests of 1968 ) with a worldwide escalation of demonstrations, sit-ins, riots and revolutions taking place in well over 20 countries.  These uprisings were mostly directed against military and bureaucratic elites, who countered with greater repression. This is exactly where Greek students of the Polytechnion found themselves in the fall of 1973.

Greeks had been chafing under the repressive regime of the military junta since 1967.  Known as The Regime of the Colonels or just “The Dictatorship”, leader Georgios Papadopolous  abolished civil rights, dissolved political parties, and exiled, imprisoned, and tortured politicians and citizens based on their political beliefs.  An assassination attempt in 1968 and a student self-immolation (Kostas Georgakis) in 1970 failed to change history.  Despite further clampdown on their rights and freedoms, and American support for the Dictatorship, by late 1973 students in Athens were angry enough to make their move. On November 14, 1973, while I was evidently dealing with the hardship of endless reading, eating, and sleeping, the students of the Polytechnion – blocks from my bed at Hostel #4 – decided to take their lives in their hands and occupy the University.

On Thursday, November 15, the second day of the occupation, thousands of citizens from Athens and the surrounding area, headed towards the Polytechnion to support the students.  A radio transmitter had been set up on campus demanding the restoration of democracy, acting as a magnet for the disaffected. Still unaware of the magnitude of events that were unfolding around me, I arose, ate breakfast and decided to wander up 28th Octovriou Street towards the American Express office where I was expecting some mail (in those days, Amex was one of the only ways to receive snail mail while overseas).  Within a few blocks of the Hostel it became apparent that “something was going on”…the streets became more and more crowded the closer I got to the University, traffic was down to a trickle or stopped altogether, and there was a sense of excitement and anticipation in the air. My first journal reference goes thus, …“Watched a demonstration, very interesting, not enough leaders, publicity or organization…” my one experience attending an anti-nuclear (Amchitka) demonstration in Victoria some years prior had evidently made me an expert, or at least a critic, qualified to provide such astute political commentary.

Main Gates of the Polytechnion

I do recall, on this day, being able to get fairly close to the barricaded gates of the Polytechnion. There were placards and protest signs stuck everywhere, while people milled around and the crowd swelled. I recall watching from the sidelines during the day, as different groups allied with the students started to arrive – third parties such as construction workers and farmers joined the demonstration and at one point a large throng of “suits” showed up which were reputed to be bankers and businessmen.  By this point I had gleaned – through conversations with some English speaking protesters – what the demonstration was about and what was at stake.  

As a young, long-haired, left-of-centre traveller my sympathies were definitely with the students, but as a non-resident just learning in real-time what was happening in front of me, I felt emotionally detached from the passions I was witnessing. I was a concerned spectator, a witness.  It was fascinating and exciting but I got hungry and I left, carrying on with my evening routine of exploration and the quest for food friends and fun.

I may have gone to the Plaka (entertainment district), perhaps I climbed up to the Acropolis or Filopappou Hill to watch the sunset, these details escape me and are not really germane to the story – I do know that my journey back to Hostel #4 at days end took me once again past the Polytechnion and what I am now referring to in my journal as “the riot”.

“…went back to the riot.. got talking to a bunch of students, took a couple of dangerous pictures”  Night time brings an edgy quality to the angry passions of young males. There was now a sense of lawlessness on the street as the government had not – as yet – decided to respond. Lots of clenched fists and mass chants of “Bread Education Freedom”, or one which has stuck in my mind since that evening “Apópse tha pethánei o Fasismós!” (Tonight Fascism will die!). Maybe the uprising was going to work, maybe the demands for justice, freedom, civil rights and democracy would prevail – or maybe American V.P. Spiro Agnew would parachute naked into Syntagma Square spewing more pro-junta drivel like “the best thing to happen to Greece since Pericles ruled in ancient Athens”…I know, I know – the junta was installed at the height of the cold war during America’s fight against Communism, and Greece had fought a divisive  Civil War pitting left vs right in what is considered the first conflict of the Cold War – it’s all so complex… but could all be resolved so easily and amicably with the “Bathgate Solution”…better “leaders, publicity (and) organization”…

I edged my way into the crowds of protesters and decided I would take a picture with my shitty little 1970’s Kodak Pocket Instamatic Camera and its weird little flash attachment.

For award-winning photojournalism I recommend the Kodak Pocket Instamatic Camera

I stood out like a sore thumb with my long strawberry-blond hair, patched jeans, foreign culture coat, and large caulk boots with their spikes removed – a remnant of my brief career as a tree-spacer with Macmillan Bloedel. When the protesters saw that I was a foreigner with a camera they encouraged their compatriots to sit on the street so I could get a better shot of their protest (this was only a fraction of what was going on) and tell the world what was happening in their country.

Students rising up and sitting down

At the same time, I was told that what I was doing was dangerous and that there were secret police keeping an eye on the protesters and would not think kindly of someone recording it, and even worse, being mistaken for an American …”got asked if I was American – never say yes (even if you are)”.  Given American support for this unpopular regime, and considering where I was standing this was definitely not an auspicious time & place to admit to being American. I flashed the Canadian flag sewn onto my day satchel and apologized – to prove I was Canadian – and escaped the wrath of the mob.

Friday November 16 – Morning arrived, the uprising had not yet coalesced into revolution, and Papadopolous was still in power. For we hostelers there was really nothing to do but go about our day. None of us knew what the final outcome would be, although it seemed likely that there could only be one of two possible outcomes – the students would prevail and democracy would be restored, or they would be crushed and the regime would cling to power. The final outcome would prove to be much more Machiavellian in the complex calculus of Dictatorships and great power politics.

Despite being less than a kilometer from the uprising, Hostel #4 was still a place of relative calm.  This could not be said of the rest of Athens. Sometime during the day, a proclamation was announced that the students intended to bring down the junta, demonstrations and attacks against neighbouring ministries took place, central roads closed, fires erupted and Molotov cocktails were thrown in Athens for the first time. The Junta decided to reply firmly, and repress the rebellion. Battle lines were drawn.

(most of these grainy black & white photos were borrowed from Mr. Google and were not taken by me – my thanks to the anonymous photographers)

As evening descended I met two friends – Betty & Anne – from a nearby hostel who wanted to walk to the Plaka for dinner.  A little Moussaka, Retsina and music sounded good. It was Friday night after all and, thus far, we had not witnessed or experienced anything that gave us pause in our normal activities. The most direct route would take us – once again – past the Polytechnion, ground zero of the revolution.

There was little or no automobile traffic so we were able to walk on the streets on our way to Omonia Square. Crowds of Athenians, students and otherwise, milled about. There was garbage in the streets as one might find after a parade or festival. As foreigners, we were certainly being watched but no one seemed hostile and there was – at this point – no government presence. No police or military in sight. This was soon to change.

We got to Omonia without incident and veered left onto Stadiou on our way to Syntagma Square which is a few short blocks from the Plaka. Suddenly, halfway up Satadiou Street, the crowd started running towards us. Behind them was a phalanx of policemen with clubs, charging down the street beating pedestrians indiscriminately. We could see their clubs rising and falling of the backs and heads of those that were fleeing towards us. It took a moment to grasp what was going. Moments before the mayhem reached us I grabbed Betty & Anne and pulled them into a store hoping to avoid being clubbed or run over by fleeing pedestrians.  One of the young policemen, rushed into the store after us wielding a club over his head as if to strike as we cowered on the floor, screamed something unintelligible, then abruptly, turned and left and ran to re-join his comrades. We gathered ourselves and exited the store to find broken windows and people clutching their bruised and bloodied heads, while some tended to the injured.

We were all shaken by this new, violent display. Not wanting to follow in the same direction the police had taken, we carried on with our original plan to head to the Plaka, find a taverna, have a drink, and gain insight into what was going on. No more leisurely Friday night stroll. People ran furtively to their altered destinations or gathered on street corners deep in conversation while casting fearful glances. It was around this time that we began to hear the first gunshots echoing in the distance.

“Tonight is the night of the Revolution” said Dmitri, owner of the little Taverna that we liked to frequent.  “I suggest you return to your Hostel… it is going to get too dangerous on the streets for you. The police are out now beating people and taking some away” “We think Papadopolous will send in the military…already there is shooting but we don’t know who is shooting who”. “How should we get back?“ I asked,  “The Polytechnion is directly between us and the Hostel?”. “Don’t go back the way you came” he said, “you will have to make a big detour”.

We headed out, unsure of our route but knowing that we had to give the University a wide birth. It seemed wise to avoid major routes so we chose a series of narrow streets which hugged the slopes of  Lycabettus Hill. We headed roughly northeast to avoid the turmoil, asking people for directions and guidance as we went. It’s about 11pm now and gunfire, including automatic fire was being heard more frequently. Apparently the regime had sent snipers into the city near the Polytechnion to assassinate students. We were running into other people who were fleeing the conflict – some of which were suffering from tear gas exposure. “Here is some vaseline for your eyes” said one Athenian we encountered, “it will protect you from the tear gas”. We applied it as directed and carried on.

Betty & Anne were staying at a different Hostel than myself, several blocks farther away from the University, so I decided to get them home safely before I returned to #4. After what seemed like an extremely long, arduous and nerve-wracking detour through the side streets and back alleys of Athens we arrived – safely – at their Hostel, hugged and said our goodbyes. From here it seemed worth the risk to take the main road – Patision (28th Octovriou) – back to Hostel #4.

It is now Saturday the 17th around 1am. Patision was unrecognizeable. City transit buses had been hijacked and overturned all along the main drag, acting – I imagine – as barriers to the anticipated military assault and as protection against police attacks which were now ongoing.  Students would run from behind overturned buses to hurl rocks and Molotov cocktails, and then retreat to the relative safety of the barricade. Often it was not enough, as small groups of police would corner a student (or a citizen) and beat them mercilessly and then drag them off to awaiting  police vans.

My route back to Hostel #4 was not far but it was an obstacle course of broken glass, small fires and avoiding the wrath of the police. By the time I got back to the Hostel most of the other inhabitants had returned and were either sitting together in the common areas with worried, fearful looks, or had ascended to the roof for a better view of the mayhem on the streets below. I decided to join the rooftop crowd.

There were around ten or fifteen of us on the slippery red-tile roof, clinging to our positions so we could witness the fight between the protesters and the police – and avoid plunging to the street below.  One fellow had a professional-looking Nikon camera and was taking night photos which required no flash, whereas I, with my cheap Kodak Pocket Instamatic decided to try my hand at a night shot using my flash at perhaps two or three hundred feet (as you can see from rooftop shot below…this really doesn’t work)

Woman…roof…imperceptible mayhem

I don’t know if my flash alerted the sniper to our presence, but within minutes a hail of bullets passed within inches of our heads – I could have reached up and caught one. Everybody let out a collective “FUCK!” and rolled, slithered and crawled – as fast as was humanely possible – off the roof and back into the relative safety of the Hostel. Some of the women were in tears, and everybody was agitated, fearful, and excited. No one knew if the sniper missed intentionally or if we had just “dodged a bullet” but the adrenaline was pumping – it was 2 in the morning and sleep was not an option. And then the military moved in.

I remember the distant rumble, you could hear the tanks and military vehicles coming down Patision Street from many blocks away. I and several others made our way to the second floor balcony on Chamilton Street where we had a good view of Patision to see what was in store for the protesters.  Within minutes a giant rumbling AMX-30 tank came into view heading towards the Polytechnion.

A tank getting ready to crash the gates of the Polytechnion

Whichever buses and cars the tank could not push aside with its massive weight and bulk it drove over and crushed. On top of each tank was a soldier with a pivoting machine gun firing indiscriminately. Big chunks of plaster flung off the buildings across from us as the bullets whizzed. From my journal: “Saturday November 17– “Late at night most people are awake (early Saturday) the sound of guns is so loud and close it’s deafening. The tank carried on down 28th Octovriou, making it’s way inexorably to the gates of the Polytechnion – bringing down the main steel entrance to the campus, to which people were clinging.  

Incredible footage of the uprising (photos and videos), including a very rare video taken by a Dutch journalist of a tank crashing through the gates of the Polytechnion, to which people were clinging (at 4:13 on the Youtube clip)

At this point, Spyros Markezinis (Prime Minister…briefly)  had to request that Papadopoulos reimpose martial law. A radio station had been constructed on campus (using laboratory equipment)  which repeatedly implored Athenians to join their struggle. As the military entered the campus “a young man’s voice could be heard desperately asking the soldiers (whom he calls ‘brothers in arms’) surrounding the building complex to disobey the military orders and not to fight ‘brothers protesting’. The voice carries on to an emotional pitch, reciting the lyrics of the Greek National Anthem, until the tank enters the yard, at which time transmission ceases.” (wikipedia)

The uprising has been crushed. There are some disputes over the size of the military operation and the number of people killed. Wikipedia notes: “An “official investigation” …recorded casualties amount(ing) to 24 civilians killed outside Athens Polytechnic campus….the records of the trials held following the collapse of the Junta document the circumstances of the deaths of many civilians during the uprising”. The Athenians I spoke with said that up to 200 had been killed.

Daytime. The tanks and armoured cars arrived today, it’s a real freak-out. The papers say 4 dead the people say 200…who knows? Not us, I wouldn’t walk out in the streets to look. Started work today, 50 drach and a bed, the manager is a real ass, he pinches pennies and is never satisfied…50 Drachmas and a bed for janitorial work at the Hostel. I left this tidbit in as a nod to how rapidly life returns to the commonplace. Soldiers are still shooting at people blocks from where I am, yet toilets still need to be cleaned, beds made and floors washed, and I’m angry with my cheap manager. Atrocities are being committed, tragedy is unfolding, yet interpersonal exchanges still provide fodder for comedy – would you like some more pita with your tzatziki? ….Today they started curfew after 4 o’clock, no food til Monday so we shop now. Prices raised, streets deserted, some windows smashed. Came back to tear gas after breakfast, one guy has two kinds of bombs(tear gas canisters that he picked up) both American makes…Tonight the streets are dead. No action, scattered shots with occasional machine gun bursts. Some people got stuck across town after curfew – tough luck.”

In the days following the military clampdown it looked like the Junta had won. The rebels had been killed, injured, captured or had fled. The rest of the city was on edge and we were all subject to a 7pm curfew. I was still trying to arrange passage to Istanbul in this new restrictive environment. . “It’s scary downtown, at 6 the people are all hurrying home…Just made it but I can’t get comfortable here…And then, on November 25th, the day before I was scheduled to fly to Istanbul, in what seemed -at that time – to be sweet poetic justice, Colonel Georgios Papadopolous, the Dictator, was overthrown in a coup d’etat. On the surface, to an outsider like myself, it appeared to be cause for celebration – the students sacrifices had not been in vain, their efforts had indeed led to the fall of this repressive regime. The truth, as it turned out, was much more complex and would take many twists and turns over the next 7 months. I couldn’t stay to find out – I flew to Istanbul the next morning.

Denouement

One critical piece of this story – which was not revealed to me for many years – was that Papadopolous had actually been attempting to liberalize the regime in the late 60’s and early 70’s prior to the student uprising. Many restrictions had been lifted and the army’s role significantly reduced. His attempts at “gradual democratization” had failed, however, and hardliners within the military were looking for a pretext to return the country to a more “orthodox” military dictatorship. The student uprising gave Brigadier Dimitrios Ioannidis a casus belli to oust Papadopolous  and replace him as the new strongman of the regime. Thus, the student revolt had an opposite effect – it led to even more repression and further suspension of rights and freedoms.

But all was not lost! In the Machiavellian labyrinth of Greek Politics, Ioannidis made a fatal miscalculation by staging an abortive coup against Archbishop Makarios – the President of Cyprus – in July 1974. This resulted in an invasion of Cyprus by Turkey which subsequently caused the military regime to implode. These events ushered in the era of metapoltefsi (Greek for “polity/regime change). Parliamentary democracy was restored, and the elections of 1974 were the first free elections held in a decade. Although it took 7 months after their attempted revolution had been crushed, the students sacrifices had not been in vain – the law of unintended consequences was on their side.

And Keith and Kathy in their Israeli kibbutz in a war zone? They stayed several months and passed their time in peace and harmony….L’Chaim!

The Armed Robbery

These days, I feel like writing and seem to enjoy it when I do so. As I don’t seem ready to tackle the larger writing projects, which float around like elusive butterflies in my subconscious, I’ve decided to “warm up” with some short stories – primarily personal anecdotes from the now distant past, or, journal-like entries from recent experience. Recent experience could include a story called “My Life in Coffee Shops” as this truly has become my preferred location for all of my writing activity and is where I am now…comfortably ensconced at a table surrounded by “the buzz” of a little grocery store/coffee shop hybrid called BeFresh, in Kitsilano. A store, not unlike the Herb & Spice Shop on Bank Street in Ottawa, where I apprehended an armed robber in the early 80’s.

 

I don’t recall exactly where I was headed, but it was a Friday night, I was in my mid 20’s, and I was walking north on Bank Street without a care in the world. I was, in all likelihood, going to a friend’s, to go to a pub, to try and meet girls.

 

The Herb & Spice Shop was our neighbourhood grocery store. This was the owner’s second location after his flagship store in the Glebe proved profitable. It was nearby and it was friendly, and I’d developed a first-name relationship with the staff. On this night, the sweet & bright Debbie T. was running the store and getting ready to close up to follow her own, youthful, Friday night pursuits.

 

As I approached the Herb & Spice, engrossed in my own plans for the evening, Debbie burst out the front door onto the sidewalk, scuffling with a rough-looking unshaven man in his mid to late 30’s. In the midst of their frantic dance he pushed her to the sidewalk and ran north on Bank – clutching a handful of money. “Stop that guy! He’s stolen our money”, she shouted.

 

I think a heroic act must involve some thought of the possible consequences of one’s actions – a conscious decision to act, despite foreknowledge that a threatening situation may contain risk of harm to self. That, is heroic and admirable. Often though, in the face of danger, when our reptilian brain is offering only limited choice: Door #1 labelled “Fight” or, Door #2 labelled “Flight”…we do not always have the metered luxury of thought. When friends or loved one’s are in peril, the rush of adrenaline shakes Mr. Lizard awake with the stark choice, “Are you going to run away, or are you going to step in? Feeling lucky?…punk?”

 

A small group, of maybe 2 or 3 individuals, who were slightly closer to the mayhem than I, gave chase. “Aaah…those three should be able to get that guy”, I thought, as my lizard slowly slunk back into it’s reptilian lair, “But this is exciting”, “And I like Debbie”, “And perhaps I can help”, “Safety in numbers”, “Maybe I’ll get free groceries”, “And it’s on my way”, I thought. All in a nanosecond. So I joined the pack, in hot pursuit of our prey – the evil-doer.

 

Not far from the Herb & Spice Store, on the next corner, was a pub called “The Hitching Post”, which I did not frequent. I was a Royal Oak guy with its lovely faux British pub feel (and Kilkenny on tap) so I had little reason to go to this watering hole, which catered to career alcoholics and the country music crowd. (I, and my friends, were – of course – too cool for that with our New Wave hair and obsessions). I don’t know what possessed the stick-up guy to enter this bar as a means to escape his pursuers but he did so by way of the side door – slipping into the dinghy, smoky, and noisy pub interior in a frantic bid for freedom. The 3 closest pursuers, who were hot on his trail, followed him doggedly into the bar, and I arrived, moments later, slightly out of breath as the Pub door closed.

 

“Those guys are bound to catch him inside the Pub”, I reasoned, “and, therefore, don’t need me to add to the pandemonium”…“I’d just get in the way”, “He’s probably already caught”, “I might unwittingly discover I like country music”…”Hmmm…I have an idea”, I thought, “I’ll go stand by the front door in case they don’t catch him – which is highly unlikely – and stop him there if he emerges, also, highly unlikely”. I strategically repositioned myself to the front door of the pub…and waited.

 

I didn’t have to wait long, and it wasn’t long enough to form any kind of coherent plan. The three pursuers had failed in their simple mission – catch the bad guy – and suddenly, here he was, bursting out of the pub, wild-eyed and breathless and clutching a handful of money. Mr. Lizard was abruptly & rudely awoken from his complacent slumber. “Fight or flight Georgie? What’s it going to be? C’mon…you’ve got…uh… less than a second to decide.” I pulled my right arm back, made an unaccustomed fist and punched the hold-up man squarely in the face.

 

Up to this point in life I’d never really had that all too common male experience of beating someone up. I was a skinny bespectacled New Wavish guy and this was the first time I’d struck somebody with force and intent in the face. My fleeting thought, for it wasn’t a plan, was that the criminal should somehow, easily and readily, succumb to my punches and crumple to the ground…unconscious. I just…wanted…to knock …him out.

 

“Not so quickly my effete friend,” spoke Mr. Reality, “The gentleman you’ve just assaulted has been in worse scuffles and received far more damaging blows from a life of petty crime and stints in the penal system. Your pitiful attempt at “punching” is likely just going to remind him of the injustices he suffered at the hands of a cruel father and will only serve to enrage him.” Stunned momentarily, Mr. Criminal leapt at me and grabbed my coat with his one free hand. We scuffled upright briefly but his unwillingness to let go of the cash and my height advantage gave me enough leverage to throw him to the ground, sit on his chest and punch him again – with the greater force of my now seasoned experience – directly in the face…twice.

 

While our scuffle was taking place, several things happened: the original pursuers exited the bar and now surrounded us as non-participatory onlookers, quite likely thinking, “Oh good…the skinny guy has him pinned…looks like he’s got it covered…what a great puncher…let’s just watch”; Debbie appeared out of the now-gathering crowd and grabbed the cash from the perps hand…freeing him up to fight back more effectively – which he did, and; a bunch of drunks, who had no idea what was actually going on spilled out of the bar and surrounded us while we fought. “Hey” said one of the Waylon & Willie listening bar patrons in his familiar beer-soaked slur, “Stop yer fightin’…get off that guy”, while “Mama’s Don’t Letcher Babies Grow up ta be Cowboys” emanated from the bar. Several sets of nicotine-stained hands reached down, grabbed me roughly from behind and pulled me away from “the guy”.

 

Pandemonium ensued as the original pursuers protested fruitlessly, Debbie shouted something inaudibly, and I stammered ineffectively to the alcoholic liberators. There was nary a hint of understanding or sympathy in their rheumy eyes – perhaps the robber was their friend and the stolen loot was intended to buy rounds at the pub. Recognizing an opportunity and without missing a beat, our street-smart hoodlum got up, glanced furtively around, and chose – unwisely – to run back into the bar through the open front door.

 

Like bloodhounds back in the chase, the original pursuers took off after their prey and ran into the bar in hot pursuit. The drunks, sensing that something exciting was unfolding, and likely feeling thirsty after all their strenuous activity poured themselves back into the bar to order more beer and obstruct justice. Debbie had disappeared, likely to return the $$ and get on with her evening, now that her role in this drama was over, and I, once again in very short order, found myself alone outside the pub as events were unfolding inside.

 

“They’re bound to catch him this time”, I thought, “no need for me to go in there…it’s a done deal…how could they miss him this time? That’d be crazy”…”But…if they do”, I thought, “I might as well go and stand guard by the back door as a highly unlikely and unnecessary, back-up plan.” I walked around to the side door and waited…again. I didn’t have to wait long.

 

I’m not sure if it was fear or surprise that I saw in his eyes when he burst, once again, out of the pub through the side door, but his internal Reptile was definitely giving him the “flight” command. His brief startled pause and the dismay of recognition made him attempt an evasive action but it was of no use. Once again, lacking any grand strategy or experience in the apprehension of evil-doers, I pulled my arm back, made a fist, and punched him square in the face. I was a one-trick pony who just wanted his opponent to succumb to the simple knock-out punch.

 

Panicky and enraged, and definitely not unconscious, he reached for my lapels while I put my violent “Plan B” into effect. “Perhaps if I just grab his head and repeatedly bash it against the brick wall he’ll crumple and I can sit on him until the police come…they will come won’t they?”

 

Plan B, on a determined, wily, motivated opponent was not having the desired effect. After four or five vigorous head smashings, he broke free of my grip and ran towards a cab, which had just pulled over to the curb to see what was going on. “Get me out of here!!”, he shouted to the bewildered cabbie, as he flung open the back door and threw himself into the cab.

 

I’m not sure, exactly, what script I was following then. It was all so primal, without a whiff of rationality or forethought. I was in the fight and was somehow still protecting my friend Debbie, my neighbourhood. Perhaps internal codes of conduct – good vs. evil – were playing out and directing my actions in this little street drama. Maybe I was just a young male jacked up on adrenaline and testosterone.

 

I reached into the cab, hauled my victim out, threw him to the ground, sat on his chest and punched him forcibly in the face. “Stop struggling or I’ll keep hitting you”, I said….“Where are those fucking police?”, I thought. Fearfully, eyes darting and weighing his options, he finally chose capitulation over struggle. I’m not sure who was most relieved that this ordeal was over. I sat on his chest…and waited. Fortunately, someone – maybe the cabbie – had finally contacted the cops…I could hear the sound of sirens approaching.

 

Epilogue:

The police came, arrested the culprit, and took him away to be charged and sentenced. I wasn’t required to make a court appearance but I know from subsequent newspaper clippings that – W.S.T. as he shall be known – received a 3-year sentence. He was a 33 year-old guy from Hamilton, of no fixed address, with a history of recent hold-ups and break-ins and subsequent jail time. The day prior to robbing the Herb & Spice Store, he’d held up Hillary Cleaners on Alta Vista. Although he didn’t have a gun, he made the claim that he did while sticking his hand in his pocket and pointing it at the cashier…this is considered armed robbery.

 

…and for my efforts? I received thanks and a small bag of produce from the owner…and, perhaps, a slight elevation of esteem in the eyes of Debbie T., after all, I was her accidental hero.

Saved by da mizzles

It was late summer, 1973, and I was a long-haired 18 year old kid about to embark on my post high school round-the-world odyssey of personal discovery…and fun. In preparation for the cross-Canada train trip to Montreal – where my best pal Keith and I would catch our flight to Amsterdam – I decided to leave my parents home in Victoria and stay in Vancouver for a few weeks, where my brother-in-law had arranged shared accommodation for me at his secretary’s apartment.

Barb was a much older – she was 23 – single mother of one, and carries the distinction as being the woman to whom I lost my virginity in the days and weeks prior to my departure for distant lands. “Wow, this is great!”, I thought, “exotic travel and sex…I should’ve left Mom and Dad’s place years ago” …what the parental home may lack in terms of exotic and erotic freedom is oftentimes compensated for by its protective cocoon – my first sexual encounter would also be my first (but sadly not my last) encounter with venereal disease – young Georgie had “the clap”.

Aah, but I was not bitter or angry (after all, I’d finally had sex :), and the clinic loaded me up with enough pharmaceuticals to kill a horse and also ensure that I could catch my train on time. Thank God for antibiotics…and sex!

If you’ve ever caught the train across Canada you’ll know, but it bears repeating, it’s an absolutely gorgeous journey and a very leisurely and civilized way to travel. Grand Canadian vistas viewed from spacious seating areas through large picture windows. Because Keith and I were budget travelers we did not rent a stateroom choosing instead to spend the 4-day trip either wandering to the dining car or residing in our ample seats…this, of course, left us exposed to interactions with the other passengers. Late one evening, before we pulled into Montreal, a fellow, whom we’d never seen before,  approached us with an offer of free drugs – MDA I seem to recall – in powdered format. We ingested as much as his largesse would allow, after which time he promptly left, never to be seen again….We waited….Patiently. After a time, I said “I’m not feeling anything…you?”, “No” replied Keith, “I wonder what that shit was?” We remained in our seats with our advancing disappointment, and mild apprehension. “Maybe it was baking soda”, said Keith, “Or poison…rat poison” I countered. Either way, apprehension is not an ideal state from which to enjoy a good nights sleep. We arrived in Montreal feeling a little burnt out but eager to embark on the next stage of our journey – transatlantic flight! Europe! Yay!

By the time we were in the air, I started to notice that I wasn’t feeling so great. I had a mild headache, felt slightly feverish and had increasing difficulty swallowing. My throat felt constricted and scratchy…”I might be coming down with a cold”, I told my buddy, “That’s a drag man, why don’t you ask the stewardess if they have any pills for that?” Great idea. The ever obliging and helpful stewardess (in the days before flight attendants) hauled out her bag of pharmaceuticals and gave me two of something to ease my plight. Painstakingly I swallowed them, not thinking for a moment that perhaps, just perhaps, adding more chemicals into my system on top of the recent antibiotics and “mystery drug” might be unwise. I thanked her and smiled flirtatiously in my new role as a non-virgin.

Not surprisingly, the pills didn’t work and, by the time we landed in Amsterdam, on a Sunday,  I was feeling considerably worse and now had a noticeable rash on my torso comprising of small raised red spots. “Hey man, I don’t know what I’ve got, but I feel like shit and think I need to have this looked at…let’s ditch our backpacks at the Hostel and go find a doctor “, I said, “Where are we going to find a doctor on a Sunday…in a foreign country?”, replied Keith. Remember, it’s 1973…no internet…no smartphones or handy apps…we didn’t even have credit cards – Americans Express cheques, a copy of the Lonely Planet Guide and the optimism of youth were the tools with which all obstacles would be overcome. “We’ll ask the guy at the Hostel, c’mon”

”Red Light District”…”You can find anything you want in the Red Light District”, said the Hostel Guy, “Here” …he slid a piece of paper across the reception desk, with an address on it, making sure not to touch my hand for fear of infection.

God bless the Dutch…and their quintilingualism (Hostel Guy spoke impeccable English), and their progressive ways! “Anything we want”…on a Sunday no less, how civilized. We made our way into Amsterdam’s world-famous “Rosse Burt” seeking medical salvation.

The unabashed display of prostitution and open accessibility of soft drugs made me forget – momentarily – that I was dying of an unnamed illness. For two parochial lads from the repressive Social Credit province of British Columbia, seeing bars open – and serving alcohol – on a Sunday was perhaps even more of a revelation to the permissive wonderland of vice that the Dutch had created. I knew I was going to like it here – if I survived my plague.

The bar looked seedy and non-descript. An open doorway into darkness with early 70’s era rock pounding from within. As we attempted to pass, a half dozen smallish, brown-skinned young Moluccan* males – some with knives hanging from their belts – exited the bar and surrounded us in a circle. “‘Ey man, where you boys be goin?”, “You got no need to be runnin’ off…why don’ choo c’mon into da bar an buy us a drink man”

Parochial or otherwise, Keith and I both knew what it meant to be surrounded by a slightly intimidating pack of males. This kind of threat plays out in schoolyards around the world and is not an uncommon experience of young males everywhere – the knives were an unfamiliar twist. “My friend is sick and needs to see a doctor” said Keith – going for the sympathy play. Unconvinced, our “new best drinking buddies” shuffled a bit and looked slyly at each other, without any sign of backing down. Realizing that they needed further convincing, and in one momentarily clever strategic move, I lifted my t-shirt up to my chest to expose my torso covered in bright red spots.

“Whoa man, you gots da mizzles” said the ringleader, now with a tone of fear and dread. He and his cronies had all immediately taken about 5 steps backwards when they saw me covered with an apparent communicable illness. “You gonna need a doctor…go dat way” he pointed further down the street, as he and his mates slunk back into the bar – defeated by mizzles.

Feeling relieved by this narrow escape, we carried on with our medical mission of mercy. “How’re you feeling man?”, asked Keith, “Shitty”, I replied, “I think we’ve strayed from the recommended sites of the Official Tourist Guide…are we almost there?”, “I think so, according to Hostel Guys instructions it’s just a bit further up Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal …c’mon”

The doctor’s office was on the second floor of a 3 storey brick and stone walk up. Down a poorly lit hallway, the wooden door with the frosted pane read: Dr.Willem de Ridder Room 216. I knocked. A gravely male voice said, “Kom Binnen”. Inside the room, sitting behind a wooden office desk with a cigarette in his mouth, sat the Doctor, languidly petting the head of a Red Setter. The room was stale with cigarette smoke and on the desk sat an ashtray full of cigarette butts. Between cigarettes and strokes of his faithful pets head, the doctor explored my throat and infected torso with his nicotine stained fingers. “ I sink you haff an infection”, he said, “I vill give you some pills – antibiotica – which vill clear up your problem in a few days”. Being the trusting sort: of older, more experienced women; of strangers on a train; of the medical acumen of stewardesses; and of Doctors in Red Light Districts…on a Sunday – I took the pills.

Later that night, back at the Youth Hostel, I lay in my bunk, wrapped in my sleeping bag, shivering, shaking, and bathed in sweat from fever and mild delirium. The red spots had now spread to my groin, upper arms and back. The first day of my overseas adventure had taken some unexpected twists.

It would be a few years before I made the connection between my pharmaceutical overdose – too many drugs in too short a time –  and my “mystery illness”, longer still before I understood the political plight of young Moluccan* men in the Netherlands. Despite my near-death pharmaceutical misadventure, we got lucky on this day and  may have accidentally been saved by ‘da mizzles’…more reliable street smarts would definitely be required to get us safely through the rest of this trip.

*(The Moluccans are a people from the Maluku Islands, an archipelago in Eastern Indonesia. When Indonesia gained independence from the Dutch in 1950, The Republic of Maluku tried to secede, supported by the Netherlands. When the movement was defeated, 12,000 Moluccans were transported to Holland where “They were then discharged on arrival, not allowed to work, given pocket money and ‘temporarily’ housed in camps.”. Because “the Dutch government, never made any effort to help the Moluccans establish their Republik”, this marginalization “radicalised young Moluccans during the ’70s in the Netherlands, including a train hijacking in 1975, taking hostages at De Punt in Groningen and at a school in Bovensmilde.“

 

Sudden Blue Sky – Hornby Island

I’ve been meaning to write a story about our trip to Hornby Island in June of this year to celebrate the life of our friend Ben Banky who died tragically in 2008, but the summer turned out to be exceedingly busy at my Gallery on Mayne so I’ve not had the chance. Now, we are just a week away from a second event to honour the 10 year anniversary of his passing on December the 12th (at the Anza Club with Big Head Project & Snass) so I’m buckling down to capture memories of summer before they fade.

When we received word that a weekend celebration was being planned in June on Hornby Island to honour – what would have been – the 50th birthday of our dearly departed friend – Ben Banky – we embraced the thought wholeheartedly. An opportunity to honour our dear friend Ben, and pay a long overdue visit to his parents, extended family and friends seemed like such a fabulous idea that we accepted the invitation without delay. I was grateful to Ben’s widow Linda, and his parents Jake and Kathy for spearheading the idea – grateful too that a trip to one of my favourite Gulf Islands – Hornby, in late Spring – was now in the cards. It would be sublime.

A subsequent email from Jake in early April – via Linda – almost unbelievable in it’s tragic content, cast immediate uncertainty upon all of our community’s celebratory plans for Ben. His brother John was missing and presumed dead – the result of foul play in Northern B.C. Fairness, evidently, is just a concept – lightning can, and has tragically, struck twice.

The desire for all of us  – friends and family of the Banky’s – to assemble on Hornby Island was made more acute by John’s passing. Now we would come to honour the lives of both of their sons. We would bring our support and love and hugs, and would receive the same in return.  We would bring food and drink and music and bonhomie – the key ingredients of any good gathering which are always so plentiful at Banky events.

Driving up the inner coast of Vancouver Island on the slower oceanside routes under full sun and warmth in mid-June before tourist season, is blissful. Many of us were making the trek to Hornby on the Friday night to settle in before Ben’s 50th Birthday Bash on Saturday. Cathy and I shared a cottage with our good friend Craig on Anderson Drive  – just a short walk from the Banky’s home on Oyster Place, and Ben’s business partner Matt, and his wife Shino & daughter Emma rented a waterfront house – also on Oyster – which created a private enclave where the events of the weekend would unfold.

Friday night was BBQ and potluck at the Breech’s, and was reserved primarily for off-island friends and family who’d travelled great distances – some coming in from as far away as Toronto and Boston – to be there. The above picture was taken from their deck looking east towards Texada Island and the Coastal mountains of the Mainland, and, luckily for all attending, the blue skies and warm weather stayed with us all weekend.

Hornby Island is – without a doubt – one of the loveliest of all of the Gulf Islands, and might arguably be the most beautiful spot in BC. I fell in love with this place when I first hitchhiked here at the age of 14 with two highschool chums, and have been coming back as often as I could ever since. It was here that I met Ben at the first annual Hornby Island Blues workshop in 2000, and here that I would stand as his Best Man and MC at his wedding, and here where we would lay his ashes to rest at the “Ben-der” in 2010.

We awoke on June 16 – the day of Ben’s celebration – with a mind to explore some of the cherished places that Hornby has to offer. For me, any trip to Hornby must include a walk on Tribune Bay, a hike at Helliwell Park, a visit to the Ringside market & Farmer’s Market, and a trip to Ford’s Cove. Luckily we were able to do all of these things – here’s a picture of Cathy & I at Tribune Bay.

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Saturday’s celebration of life – of Ben’s 50th Birthday – was being held at the Banky’s home, commencing in the early evening with a sizeable crowd expected to turnout. Jake & Kathy are long-term and well-loved stalwarts of Hornby’s community. Their active involvement in island culture, Jake’s legendary Apple Snake hooch and Kathy’s renowned cooking have earned them well-deserved reputations as warm and inviting hosts. Off islanders have gathered and locals will arrive to contribute food, drink and camaraderie to the festivities. Old friends were reunited, tables creaked under the weight of food, the outdoor bar was well-stocked (until it wasn’t), instruments appeared, singing followed, and maybe, in the midst of the gaiety, tears were shed…how could it be otherwise?

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Craig with Ron & Karen Doucette against the backdrop of Texada and the Coast Mountains

If Ben were still with us and if I were still drinking the party would have been noisier and gone later, and maybe some form of mischief might have ensued. Despite this, the rest of the celebrants did an admirable job 🙂 It was a bittersweet and magnificent event.

Sunday morning, early,  after a party at the Banky’s – one of those moments where 6 years of sobriety pays off :). Our day would unfold very much like Saturday…breakfast at the Ringside Market, exploring, enjoying and absorbing the natural beauty of this place – and we found time for an additional trip to Whaling Station Bay and a little spelunking of tidal pools and driftwood. Tonight’s wrap up to this glorious weekend would be hanging out on the Breech’s deck for leftovers and BBQ, while the Banky’s gathered their clan next door for a more intimate – and sedate – family get-together.

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Our Sunday night gathering at Matt & Shino’s was a much smaller group, as many friends and family had to return to their Monday morning off-island lives…mellow and conversational…a sweet meditation on a busy emotionally conflicting weekend. Here’s a little video of our amphitheatre of bliss with Cathy, Shino, Nick, Craig, Matt, Emma & Cam present.

Up to this point in the weekend, I can’t say that there was anything noticeable missing from an otherwise perfect celebration of Ben’s – and his brother John’s – lives. At least not until the sound of Ben’s deep baritone came to us via Matt’s sound system – it was Ben, singing our dear friend Lolly’s song “Shana Na” backed up by Big Head Project. This song was recorded on a CD called “Great Stuff”…a collection of tunes written by Lolly and recorded by his friends after his untimely demise in 2005. We all paused to soak in the moment…the warm embrace of Ben’s voice like an audible hug.  Here’s the tune – have a listen:

As the song was ending, and we were all sitting in quiet contemplation or murmuring appreciatively, I remembered that I had Doug Mollenhauer’s song “Sudden Blue Sky” on my iPhone – a song Doug wrote in honour of Ben after Ben’s passing. It’s a beautiful and powerful song – haunting and poignant – and seemed absolutely fitting for the moment that we were in. As some present had not heard it before I suggested that we play it and everyone heartily agreed…here it is:

With the setting of the evening sun on the shores of the Salish Sea, with full bellies, surrounded by good friends and partners, and feeling connected to Ben through song, we were in a very mellow blissful state – it was quite grand. Then Matt remembered that he had brought a video – the video – of Ben & Lolly playing bongos & guitar on Doug Mollenhauer’s recording of “50 Something Blues”, a song which Doug had written for his brother John’s 50th…videotaped by Linda in my bedroom circa 2002-03. We all convened around the flatscreen for a viewing:

The beauty and serendipity of this moment was not lost on anyone present. The unexpected arrival of Ben – through music – was sweet synchronicity. Watching Ben, Lolly and Doug toast Doug’s brother John at the end of the video – the same name as Ben’s brother who had also recently passed, was one of those Jungian “meaningful coincidences” that cross our paths.  I am always grateful when such moments appear, for they are rare  – it was a perfect denouement for our weekend of remembrance – it was sublime…

 

The Mixed Blessing of Selling your own Artwork

I wear several hats currently. I am a Curator at Shavasana Gallery & Café                             ( http://www.shavasana.ca ) where I curate the artwork of other artists who have chosen to exhibit here; I double as the proprietor/barista guy at the very same Café…selling a few cookies and squares, making a mean cup of daily Saltspring Dark & well-received espresso drinks; and, when time permits, I wear a three-pointed creative hat, or Tricorne, which comprises my efforts as a writer, musician and artist.

I’ve always had some trepidation giving myself any one of these three creative titles, and am not completely clear what it takes to make it so – public appreciation? having income from one’s efforts? If so, I guess I can now make a legitimate claim – I’ve made a few sales of my own artwork lately which – as I have discovered – can be a mixed blessing.

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(Cernunnos  – https://clayandbone.com/portfolio/cernunnos/ made his way to an appreciative home this past summer)

When one writes or makes music, it is usually a product for mass consumption. You don’t write a book or create a song for one person (hopefully) and it is, therefore, not quite as personal as when you sell a piece of your own art. Art is truly unique in nature and is almost always one-of-a-kind – when it leaves your studio, home or personal collection it is truly gone. That piece of you, that thing which you have attempted to express…is gone, and it can be truly bittersweet.

This is one reason why establishing a fair price for a piece of art can be so difficult – the selling price should compensate for the loss the artist feels and should not be sold for less. fullsizeoutput_1154

(Although I have not included my line of necklaces on the Clay and Bone website, I have a series of them which I hope to make room for soon – this piece, which was made from beads used by “Bear” – a pipe-carrier following the shamanic path. It was my personal favourite and it too departed this summer)

The third piece which sold this summer – to a dear friend visiting from the Gatineau – was a departure from my usual mask & necklace making activities. The local Mayne Island Arts Council came up with a concept for a community Art Show – titled “Art in a Book” (or some such thing) which involved either making an art booklet, or, in my case, making art inside a hollowed out book which I had in my possession. Check it out:

( All Roads At Any Time, art in a book… All Roads at any Time

This particular piece has significance for me as I have an intention to work further with the message: “All Roads at Any Time” which I find -from personal experience – to be an apt metaphor for life…

 

 

 

Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria

When I first saw his face my immediate thought was – I must tackle this as a mask project. Look at that moustache, those steely dispassionate eyes and puffy dissolute face. For me there was something compelling about his face and I felt a need to try and recreate that in clay. Certain aspects of  “The Archdukes” lifestyle though, provided an ironic justification for wanting to see his head mounted on my wall sporting a set of Fallow Deer antlers…

If not for the widely-accepted thought that his very public assassination by Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip precipitated the start of World War 1, he may have remained a more obscure footnote in history – carrying on with the self-indulgent life of a member of the Austro-Hungarian royal family. That all changed on June 28, 1914 when he was assassinated, with his wife Sophie by his side, as they drove through the streets of Sarajevo in an open and unprotected sedan.

But it wasn’t this pivotal historical event that compelled me to proceed with my mask project. While doing a little research into other aspects of his life I came across this tidbit in Wikipedia:

“Franz Ferdinand had a fondness for trophy hunting that was excessive even by the standards of European nobility of this time.[11] In his diaries he kept track of an estimated 300,000 game kills, 5,000 of which were deer. About 100,000 trophies were on exhibit at his Bohemian castle at Konopištē…”

How is it even humanly possible to kill 300,000 animals in one lifetime? Archduke Franz Ferdinand Carl Ludwig Joseph Maria was evidently a pathological one-man extinction event and he deserved to be mounted on a wall with  sporting a beautiful pair of antlers in honour of the unlucky 5,000 deer that fell prey to his insatiable murderous hobby. I began to draw, prepare the clay and commence adding facial details:

 

Once the facial details bore an acceptable likeness to my subject I allowed the clay to cure for a week or so

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Following successful firing in the kiln (always a bit nerve wracking before it comes out in one piece) I began the process of painting The Archduke – layering shade and shadow:

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Until I felt pleased with the final outcome.

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Personally, I think that this may be my best creation to date. There is a definite evolution in my skill level and attention to detail. Not that detail and lifelike realism need to denote higher quality in a piece of art. Creativity and expression can take us down many roads, but I am pleased with this effort as it does reflect – quite closely – what I was setting out to achieve. 🙂

If you are interested in purchasing “The Archduke” it can be yours for $685.00, by ordering online through the Mask Gallery (on this website) or by visiting my studio at: www.shavasana.ca