and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
August #5

This Navy wife had her own brush
with wildfires in Greece
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, August 30, 2007

So there I was, a whistle around my neck, lifeguarding the women and children at a Navy base swimming pool, while the Navy men helped fight a dangerous, fast-moving Greek summer fire.

I was on a two-year dream vacation as a Navy wife living with my husband and young son outside Athens, spending as much time as possible at the pool during the dry, hot summers on the Navy base at Nea Makri. When the nearby Air Force base sent its children for swimming lessons, I was asked to take a Red Cross Water Safety Instructor course so I could help teach.

The weekend after I passed the course, the fires began, but because it was so very hot Command was reluctant to close the pool. So my first day on the job I spent alone and in charge, if not control. Hadn't even sewn my new WSI badge to my bathing suit yet, so had to pin it on just in case anyone doubted my professional authority.

It was a small Navy base, and all the wives, both officers' and enlisted men's, knew me and humored me in my new role. All was fine until the Air Force bus arrived: Not kids this time, but young airmen who were unimpressed by my pinned badge and thought my pathetic attempts to keep them from cannonballing off the high board were amusing. I finally moved the Navy kids to the shallow end and let the guys jump on top of each other.

Not sure why the Air Force wasn't up in the hills with the Navy and the Army fighting the fires, but I had heard why the airmen didn't have their own pool on the big support base at Pireaus: When the Air Force tried to build one, somebody forgot to put in drains, so they simply decorated it with potted palms and used it as a conversation pit at parties.

Oh well, we were all a long way from Vietnam where the war was still raging; so the Army, Navy and Air Force kept in shape by giving each other a hard time, telling or, if necessary, making up stories to make the others look bad.

The Marines, in case you were wondering, were mostly seen in Athens guarding the embassy during this period. Greece was run by a military junta in 1970; it was a strange world for Americans who were safer than we would normally be in our own or another foreign country, law and order being dictated and enforced here. The Greek people probably didn't feel so safe under a dictatorship, but they had recently fought two terrible wars, first with the Germans, then with the local communists, so were allowing it temporarily.

This was one reason for the fires. Over the years the trees that were removed for use as battle cover and for fuel during hard times had been replaced by low shrubs -- thyme, myrtle, lentisk -- all of which were pungently aromatic but fast-burning during the dry summer months, especially when the meltemi winds blew.

I don't remember so many fires at one time as we are seeing on the news this month, or people dying in them. Arson was probably one of the many crimes that people didn't commit while the junta was in charge. (Don't you wonder why democracies seem to have a harder time scaring and deterring the bad guys? There's a lesson in here somehow that might have to do with Alberto Gonzales, but I don't want to think about it while I'm on vacation.)

I recognize many of the sites of this month's fires, especially the area around Olympia in the Peloponnese southwest of Athens. We were there one February, when the air was cool and tiny wildflowers clustered among the ruins.

I was puzzled, though, by media references to the island of Evia until I saw it correctly spelled Euboea. It is a very large island, off the eastern shore. It could be seen from Nea Makri and when I first saw it I thought it was Turkey.

We went fishing there once. My husband and son had poles, and I had things to toss into the famous current in the channel called the Euripus between the mainland and the island. The current changes direction several times a day, and legend says that Aristotle threw himself into it, despairing of ever finding the cause -- the implication being that he committed suicide out of frustration. Other sources tells us that he died of colic.

It's tempting to go with the drama over the colic, but I can't imagine anyone as wise as Aristotle killing himself because he didn't understand something. He knew there were many things he didn't yet understand. My own theory is that he did, indeed, throw himself in, just to see if he could figure out the ebb and flow as he bounced around.

I can relate to that -- probably because, after Labor Day, I shall be throwing myself back into the political current, frustrating as it can be, hoping to someday understand it and impart that understanding to you.

Good thing I was once a lifeguard, and can swim.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and Eagle Tribune, and often in the Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.