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A Chilean Summer Interlude
by Jilliana Ranicar-Breese

Walking down Ermou Street, Monistiraki in downtown Athens last night, having nothing else better to do after my Greek 'sister', Georgia from Chania, Crete had left, I ventured into a fashion shop as the clothes I did not need beckoned me. The assistant was ultra friendly and we chatted in Greek about this and that.  Eventually I succumbed and bought two items, one as a gift for my beloved best friend Pauline, back in Brighton and the other because the saleswoman was good at her job persuading me the black and white tunic looked fabulous on me. She was right. I was actually wearing black and white that day, the new very Me combo. She spoke reasonable English and, having nothing else to do, I settled down in a chair to talk, as women do, about Life. I corrected her English as she was keen to learn confessing she had no one to practice with. Me, I suggested so I decided to buy a gourmet sandwich from the local patisserie, and come back for an Intercambio. We got on so well that I heard about her personal family life, her own fashion shop and it's demise, and I gave her some techniques on how to speak to customers. She was all ears because she told me she loved her job selling clothes. 

At that point a Danish woman came in to buy a couple of tops. I speak to everyone as if I know them. Within seconds I had discovered that this nutter was in transit returning from a dancing holiday worshipping Mother Earth in Skyros. However, she knew nothing about the established Personal Development Centre on the island which I had visited on two consecutive summers, first studying Reiki level 2 with the American Master Practitioner, Mari Hall and the following summer taking an advanced writing course with the renowned English novelist Sue Townsend of Adrian Mole fame. At least she had seen the statue in memory of Rupert Brooks, the English poet who had died on the island during World War One returning from The Dardanelles and who was buried on the island. 

After the woman left, the assistant commented how amazed she was at how easily I could speak to strangers. I explained that I had 30 years experience selling tangibles and intangibles in 6 languages and I always spoke to strangers as if I already knew them.

A 30ish man wandered in carrying a rucksack. Browsing, he too had nothing better to do with his evening. It was by now about 21.30 and I was ready to leave and go back to my rented studio around the corner off Athinas Street, Monistiraki, the nerve centre of bustling scruffy downtown Athens. The young man continued browsing but for what? I wanted to know. I, in my usual way and perhaps wanting to show off my selling 'technique', took over.

'What are you looking for?' Seemed to be a conventional question that most shop assistants ask or the inevitable 'Can I help you? Boring!  The best I ever heard was a jewellery dealer in Istanbul asking me how could he help me spend my money!!!! So I asked the young man, 'Do you know what you are looking for?' I asked him in English as I instinctively knew he was not a Greek.

'You mean in Life?' Was his creative intelligent reply.

It turned out he was a bilingual Franco Chilean from Santiago.  We switched from French to Spanish and then English. The Spanish Inquisition began. I demanded to know why he was living in Athens without speaking much Greek. He confessed to being 32, working for a French IT company and surprisingly that he wanted to get married and have a family. Joking I asked what he had to offer the bride, a vineyard maybe? Astonished by the question, he replied yes, his family, were established wine producers revealing the name of the well known family -  Irarrazaval from the wine province of the same name! 

The delightful intelligent Greek shop assistant was immediately forgotten. I, the Queen, invited my new subject to sit in the other chair and continue our stimulating Life interview. 'Come into my office!' said I and he unwittingly did!

Confused in Life, he had run away from an obviously wealthy family to join a sect in Brazil before heading off to Barcelona for a couple of years to find himself and finally London. His English was perfect. He was also a musician and a selective international Creative like myself. We knew were in tune with each other. I told him my story later in a cafe in the bustling Cafe Metro where I discovered they offered Cretan Mountain Tea in Monistiraki Square! 

I explained I had no connection with Chile except a relationship with a past admirer Fernando, an architect who I had met by chance in Paris in the summer of 1972 at the pivotal time when Allende fell leaving Chile in turmoil. Santiago was all ears. This was his history. I told him that I had had a ticket to go to Santiago from Buenos Aires in 1970 but had been advised not to by the banking family who had 'adopted' me in there. It was explained that I could be in danger as Americans were being attacked in Santiago and that I could have been accidentally taken for an American. No way Jose! I threw my Aerolineas Argentinos ticket away and that was that. Out of sight they say. Adios Bernardo O'Higgins! 

I had fallen out of love and was disenchanted with my bohemian suffering artist French fiancé Philippe. We were to travel around the South of France that summer but he was desperate to return to his beloved Greek Islands instead and I was left abandoned. Not to be without a summer holiday, I travelled to Marseille, Aix, The Luberon (pre Peter Mayle) ending up in Paris on someone's couch.

I was an impoverished TEFL teacher at St Giles school of languages in Oxford Street, London in those days earning £27 after tax had been deducted from the miserable £32 weekly salary. 

Being a typical tourist and only having one friend in Paris, Nina Sutton, the political journalist, I wandered the streets admiring the architecture, always looking up, lost in the reverie of a past era. 

I was walking past the Louvre one afternoon daydreaming when suddenly I was aware of an interesting looking 40ish man walking towards me. He was attractive but then so are lots of men should you be looking. I was not. I had enough problems on my plate like, how to get rid of Philippe who was a parasite living with me. When a relationship is past it's sell by date, it's time to remove it from the shelf. 

We passed intensely looking at each other, our eyes locking. We spoke without speaking. In a flash I knew something had happened. Slowly I continued walking, then stopped and looked back. He had done the same thing. We walked back to meet each other just like in a movie. We spoke in French I think or was it Spanish or English?  Who cares? Words were not important.  He  introduced himself as Fernando, a Chilean architect working in Delft on a project.  He was stressed because he was married and the telephone lines were down to Santiago because of the crisis. He had had no news whether his wife and son were safe. He was a tourist like me lost in the wonders of Paris. We walked and talked. He, too, was sleeping on a couch somewhere in he city. We were attracted to each other in all senses but neither of us had any money to go to a hotel to express our feelings. But then there are other important things in Life than the desires of the flesh and so we agreed to meet the next day at the Musee Carnavalet, the most romantic museum in Paris, in the Marais district. 

Excitedly we met at the museum entrance and then sauntered around kissing passionately under the watchful eye of the attendant who followed us around the rooms and display cabinets just to make sure we were not doing anything improper! We were like a couple of lambs frolicking around and must have spent a couple of delightful hours there imbibing the culture and more!  The rest of the day I don't recall but I do remember the next day going to Versailles and after visiting the Palace, lying necking and kissing on the grass in the vast grounds with tourists tut tutting at our 'disgraceful' public behaviour. Well, Paris is the city of romance, isn't it? And romance we had even if it only lasted for three days without the lust of the nights. 

We promised to write and keep in touch. He invited me to Delft. I promised I would go when I was disentangled.  Back In London, Philippe returned dressed in a Greek blue and white bernouse. He had aged because he had grown a grey beard. I wanted him out but he refused to go. I went to the Citizens Advice Bureau who told me I would have to issue a Writ outside the flat at the bottom of the stairs. Philippe told me I could not be thrown out in the winter months! The CAB told me as I had invited him to live with me, he was therefore my Common Law Husband. I was so innocent of these matters. I could only think of Fernando, my Chilean. Then a letter arrived from Holland. My heart leapt. He wrote in French how much he missed me and when was I coming to visit? I was working full time as an TEFL teacher so I plotted and planned to go for a long weekend because Fernando was working too. our previous time would be very limited to a long weekend. 

Then Philippe accused me of being unfaithful. He became insanely jealous. Yes,  true I had been mentally unfaithful but how did he know? My behaviour towards him had changed. I was cold and distant. He saw the letter from Delft with attractive stamps and foreign neat handwriting.  Suspicious, he later confessed, he had steamed it open with a kettle, read it and resealed it. The letter had haunted and tortured him for weeks. 

Later I did go to Delft for a long weekend. How I got there I have no clue. Plane, train or boat? It was a disaster. Fernando lived in fear of his landlady finding out he had a guest. He lived like a student with a bunk not bonk bed! This was not liberated Amsterdam but provincial religious Delft. On top of that he was impotent with guilt, no doubt, as he was probably a faithful Catholic husband back in Chile with emotional baggage in Holland. I bought some blue and white Delft Pottery as gifts and hastened back to London disillusioned. 

The magical moment was lost forever. Gone Into oblivion. Delft was not Paris. All we had to savour was the memory of three wonderful romantic days in Paris that passionate summer of 1972.  

Written in Athens, September 2015.