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  • Back in 1977, I received a dream assignment from a travel magazine. They were doing a special issue on Greece. The editor was going to cover the mainland and he asked me if I’d like to report on the Islands. We agreed to meet in Athens to make our final plans. I showed up at his hotel room at the appointed hour and knew right away that something was very wrong. The room was littered with those tiny whisky bottles found in service bars, and he was quite drunk, although it was only 10:00 in the morning. “Is there a problem?” I asked. Without a word he handed me a telegram. It was from his publisher, informing him that the magazine had been hemorrhaging money and he had no choice but to shut it down. We were on our own. They’d paid for a round-trip ticket, but I was damned if I was going to come all this way just to take the first flight back to Philadelphia. I wired my bank to see how much money I had left in my checking account: $900. I decided to see how long and how far $800 of it would take me (five weeks and very far, as it turned out). Bidding the tipsy ex-editor farewell, I took my leave of Athens.

    For the next few weeks I skipped from island to island, meeting new people, seeing new sights and enjoying myself immensely. It began registering in my consciousness that I had constantly been seeing the same woman wherever I went: on ferry boats, at outdoor cafes, at the marketplace. She was in her late 30s, with curly blonde hair, very attractive, always by herself and with a severe look that made people keep their distance. At first I thought there was something in her that frightened people, but then I realized that it was she who was frightened of them. One day on a boat in the middle of the Aegean Sea, I approached her and said, “I can’t speak for the others, but you have no cause to be scared of me.” She laughed. Like many people who don’t smile often, her smile utterly transformed her face. Her name was Karin and she was German. For the next couple of weeks we were together all the time, on Ios, Kos and Santorini. I can’t assign the blinding white-washed walls, blue shutters or rocky coastlines to any one place anymore: they all blend in now. I do remember the incessant firecrackers Easter week, the girl running up to us to give us flowers and the scandalized hotel clerk who made us take separate rooms and stood guard outside your door, never suspecting she'd climbed in my window.

    The time came for us to return to Athens and home. As the boat pulled into the harbor at Piraeus, she turned to me and said: “The minute we dock, you don’t know me anymore. I won’t even look at you. I have to return to the House of Fear. Promise me you’ll never live there.”

    We collected out bags. I went out to find a taxi. She got into a black Rolls-Royce. My German was pretty fluent back then, so I know I heard the driver correctly when he said, “Did the Countess enjoy her holiday?” I tried to catch her eye as the car pulled away, but, true to her word, she didn’t even glance at me, and true to mine, while I have dropped in from time to time, I have never taken up residence in the House of Fear.

    (Photo by Elizabeth Boleman-Herring)
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