Bambo won you over with his eyes, so full of life and so magnetic that they always mesmerized everyone around him. And then he’d charm you with words in one of many languages he knew: Greek, Italian, French, German, and some Swedish and Turkish. He was a kind man; though he was strict, it was an affectionate strictness that was always obviously for our good and tempered by his great intelligence. So you couldn’t help but accept it and understand. It came naturally for me to make him my hero and shower on him all the love I could only show my dad on our short visits in London.
His family’s six hundred years in Turkey never lessened their Greekness, nor did it save them from the horrors of the Greco-Turkish war. We kids never got tired of hearing stories about his grandpa, a leader of the Greek community in Constantinople and long time advisor to the Sultan.
The story of his capture always had us on the edge of our seats:
One morning in 1922, Bambo’s grandpa was at his regular barber’s, his face lathered up and ready for his shave. A Turkish man he knew burst in like a gust of icy wind and, without recognizing his grandfather, shouted:
“Tonight we’re going to kill all the dirty Greeks and we’ll start with their leader!” He left just as quickly, slamming the door and leaving everyone stunned and in a state of upset. His grandfather impassively and slowly wiped the foam off his face, got up without a word, and left.
He was a man with an exceptionally cool head and great moral strength. He quietly headed for home. He organized affairs in a few hours, gave orders to everyone in his large family, telling them to gather only their most important possessions. In the later afternoon, he put them on one of his ships that ferried between Constantinople and Romania, because he had a large estate for timber trade in Galata. He stayed in town and managed to escape execution, but was thrown in prison where he later died of illness. Everything he owned was confiscated. His family stayed in Galata for many years. When Bambo’s mother died, she decided to move with Bambo first to Paris to her brother’s home (“Oncle Bibi”), and then to Athens.
Bambo’s relationship to Greece grew stronger after this experience. In Athens, he completed his studies with honor and during the war became an aide-de-camp for the Archbishop Regent Damaskinos. After the war, a close friend of his father’s took him under his wing and helped him succeed. He employed him in his cruise company and treated him like a son. He first sent him to Paris, then Sweden and Switzerland, and ultimately Genoa, to the company’s headquarters. Bambo took the opportunity to make the best use of his talents, and then one day he was struck by a truly brilliant idea…