Monday, October 01, 2007
Onassis VS Niarchos
I first encountered Stavros Niarchos face to face four months before I got to know Aristotle Onassis, the man who became on of my best friend. I met Niarchos in mid-May 1959 when the Creole was moored in the Bay of Vouliagmeni, outside of Athens. It was the most elegant and expensive yacht in the whole world at that time, a three-masted ebony masterpiece. I had a business appointment with him. In Greek we call a shipping magnate a Stolarchos, meaning the commander of a fleet, something much more than a shipowner. In truth many of these mercantile fleet owners, these Greek shipping magnates, were more powerful than navy admirals.What was Niarchos at that time, thirteen years after his acquisition of his first Liberty ship? He was a famous fifty-year-old opulent, Greek Stolarchos. He owned his own private island, Spetsopoula, and he privately entertained kings, assorted bluebloods and nobility, heads of government and celebrated artists. He was also renowned for his passion to enrich his private collection of great impressionist painting. Along with Aristotle Onassis and Stavros Livanos (the father-in-law of both Niarchos and Onassis), they represented the most famous and powerful triumvirate of "Golden Greeks," who governed seas and oceans with their fleets. Not that there weren't other Greek sea-rulers, for | example, the families of Laimos, Goulandris, Embeirikos, Pateras and Hatzipateras, Kouloukountos, and others. But the two brothers-in-law with their wives, the two fashionable and beautiful daughters of Livanos, the great shipowner from Chios, occupied the social columns of the foreign press almost daily. It was time of great public interest in all kinds of blue bloods - stars and legends of Hollywood, of the opera and the ballet, and rising political leaders who made up the new aristocracy.
Onassis, the most flamboyant of the great shipowners, had at his service the pen of Hollywood's arch-gossip-columnist, Elsa Maxwell, and he often entertained on his yacht, the Christina, Winston Churchill the veteran Father of Victory of World War II. So from the beginning, Onassis was the front-runner, as they say at the races. He led the field in the race to gain the attention of prominent personalities. Already Kennedy, Greta Garbo, Elizabeth | Taylor and Richard Burton, but also heads of state had visited his yacht at Monte Carlo, (over which he ruled for some time) to pay their respects to Churchill. The kings of Greece and Belgium, whom Niarchos entertained, did not measure up to the stature of Churchill. So the fifty-year-old collector of paintings was envious | and on the lookout for a counterattack to win the first prize of prominence from his brother-in-law.
The rivalry between Niarchos, the man from Piraeus, and Onassis, the man from Smyrna, had begun after World War II, in New York City, when both acquired a Liberty ship and coveted the same woman, none other than the youngest daughter of the great shipowner Stavros Livanos. The beautiful Athena, finally married Onassis. The unyielding Niarchos asked in marriage Athena's oldest sister, Eugenia, so the two brothers-in-law sharpened their swords during the holiday and Sunday afternoon dinners their father-in-law held at the Plaza Hotel in New York, or | at his estate in London.
Twelve years had passed since that time, but the rivalry of the two (who were becoming even richer year-by-year) continued. They competed over who get the biggest tanker, the most luxurious yacht, the most private island, the most blue-blooded and super-star guests, the most expensive houses and villas at the | farthest reaches of the earth; and finally, who would accumulate the most wealth....
During all those years of abundant harvests and successes, had children and gave the impression of being exemplary family men, but, as they were most healthy and robust (as Costas Gratsos told me), they clandestinely fooled around with models, starlets, social courtesans and whores, the women most well-known for their beauty and social standing. Both of them had first tasted sex and had proved their virility in common brothels: Aristos in those of Smyrna, and Stavros in those of Piraeus. Consequently, the whole idea of purchased sex was a standard habit of theirs, with the difference that, after their marriage, they used their yachts as | bachelor flats. Then Greta Garbo, Elizabeth Taylor and some
French actresses [to drink them in a glass] came on the "Christina" at Monte Carlo, and Niarchos (who saw the pictures | in newspapers and magazines) was furious with envy.As a journalist always on the hunt for the amorous escapades of | the notorious rich and famous, I was pricked by the suspicion that the one of the two rival brothers-in-law who decided to create an erotic scandal would become front-page news and would surpass the other in the battle for publicity.
That morning the old man woke up in a fair mood and invited the nurse - young and beautiful - to take tea with him. He asked her where she was from - a real New Yorker, she told him - but he did not believe her. She must have come from someplace deep in rural America, Niarchos thought, and she had come to the big city to become a nurse and seduce some doctor or rich patient. Even though Niarchos employed only Greeks for his male staff, his female employees were all foreign. He wanted to see only long-legged bodies around him; long and slender like the masts of his yacht, the Creole, and not some low-assed lighters.
As soon as Felix collected the dishes, Hilary brought a batch of fax-messages and notes to Niarchos and began reading them to him one at a time. The old man listlessly said, "Yes" for some and "No" for some others because he was acutely aware that there, on Fifth Avenue, he was left with just a bed to die in. The rest of the furniture was nothing more than decorations for an expected death. He thought of his wealth. It would be divided by his children. It would be plundered by his grandchildren, daughters- and sons-in-law, and all the other the fuckers of the extended Niarchos family. Oh my God, no, no, he thought to himself. It was impossible that his ingenious ideas, his labour and effort, the moves of a master on the chessboard of the universal shipping business, would reach the hands of such clumsy ungainly people. My God, no, he thought. A great lion's booty would become prey for jackals and hyaenas.
"Go away, all of you," the old man yelled suddenly. The secretary and the butler quickly retreated to avoid the full impact of his outburst. "You stay," he told the terrified nurse, gesturing to her to approach.
Women always either calmed or angered him, but this minute Stolarchos felt he needed a little relief, a little loosening of his nerves because his doctor told him often, "Less nervousness, more life]." He smiled at the beautiful woman, sweetly telling her, "Come sit next to me." When she brought a chair close to him, she sat and in his the wrinkled hand he held her young one. He creased his prune-like mouth drawing in her feminine perfume through his nostrils. "Channel No 5" he asked her. "Yes, sir," she answered, frightened, because she had used some without permission from the little bottle she found in the bathroom, the one Niarchos's old guests used.
The old man felt himself calming down. "My little girl, what memories you bring back," the old man whispered and closed his eyes.
In her mind, the nurse wished that he would begin to caress her and use her any way he wanted. He could not cease being a Magnate for her, even though he was a disgusting one. She thought that he could I not only give her gifts, but also possibly remember her in his will.
Niarchos continued to hold her hand and, reclining there in the armchair, he remembered the women he had enjoyed. Anonymous and faceless ones in the brothels at
Vourla and Troumba, well known ones of Athenian high society. The old man no longer had either sexual desires or passions, and abruptly his mood changed. His brain smouldered as if giving off an evil smelling smoke. Women, he thought.... All of them hide between their legs their most loathsome property, a portal of life, but also of dirt; a gate of unspeakable sweetness, and of deadly enjoyment too.
The old man's brain continued to grind away at every disgusting memory that came to him that moment. He saw clothing being shed from lithe bodies, simultaneous gasps of sensual pleasure and hypocrisy, as the unfortunate lover gathers his hot blood and empties his spine while the mistress often pretended her passion. Theatrical displies of the whore and of the shipowner's wife differed in nothing, absolutely nothing ... in nothing, he thought. The bitches.
...Stavros Niarchos wearing his school hat, he visited the Eurotas flour mills, where his uncles would give him pocket-money. When he got it, he ran fast to save himself from the flour dust that reached the office. And he ran to Neo Phaliro to dive into the sea from the boardwalk. He remembered those days when men and women had to swim from separate places, as they now had to use separate bathrooms. It was much later mixed bathing became the custom. Neo Phaliro of the 20's. The subway building, Theater by the sea shore, the wooden boardwalk...
The young girls accompanied by their mothers, the dandies with their straw-hats. Going swimming was a family affair then, and he was usually responsible for his young cousins, Stavros and Spyros Koumantaros. He had to watch out so they did not swim into deep water. He idly watched the young girls. They were staringat that young guy parading around on his motorbike, the Aristos Onasis. He burned rubber just to show off. He wore dark glasses to protect his face and eyes from the wind, as he crossed the whole of Athens coming from Kifissia to reach Neo Phaliro and Piraeus, in order to stare at girls and ships. Later, he disappeared. He went to Argentina, representing his father to buy and sell tobacco, as they said. His name, Aristotle Onassis. Niarchos heard about him again years later, from his cousin Aglaia Koumantarou, who had been cut off by the war in America and there she had met him in Los Angeles. He told everyone, "I left Greece to save myself from the Greeks, but also from my father, who wanted me to become a salesman." Aristos suffocated under his father's shadow, just as Stavros did under his uncles' patronage. As the man from Smyrna came into his mind, he became upset and mumbled insults, incomprehensible to the nurse who anxiously came to his bed...
...Ares Onassis, still an adolescent, had freed - through a momentous gratuity - his father from the Turkish prison and proudly had brought him to Kifissia where the whole family had been gathered. According to custom, they had slaughtered a lamb, and the head of the family blessed it. They roasted it, had a demijohn of wine, drank, and then all of them began dancing, listening to songs from Smyrna on a phonograph with a funnel.
if you knew my pain, my heart's pain, aman, oh, aman your eyes would weep as do mine, aman, oh, aman.
As the Smyrnaic voice accompanied by the Anatolian lute and lyre tore the hearts of the refugee family, who just a while ago lived in riches, Artemis started crying. But the fifteen-year-old Nikos Konialidis recounted to Aristos how he had become a casual money-changer as soon as they arrived on Mytilene: "As I was saying cousin, I climbed on a chair and I bought and sold bank-notes."
The adolescent Aristos kissed him and then told his sister: "Stop crying; others left their carcasses in Asia Minor, while we saved ourselv...
They lived in a villa at the aristocratic district of Long Neck, and Stavros had begun to transform himself into a shipowner. He kept a cook and a gardener for her, but when the South American Magnate, Alberto Donero, invited them to his mansion at Center Island for a weekend, Niarchos realized just how far he still stood from the real magnates of wealth. First there was a sitting room for receiving guests, then two immense drawing rooms, and twelve people providing service, Outside were spacious verandahs, swimming pool, grass, tennis courts, flower-beds, very tall trees. Inside, crystal chandeliers, the most expensive antiques, paintings by famous artists, and furniture brought from all over Europe. And when they sat down for dinner, men found a gold tobacco-box and women platinum perfume, holders.
The fledgling shipowner was shocked by the riches and opulence and Melpo was bedazzled by the dress of Mrs. Donero, a former Hollywood starlet, which probably cost as much as Melpo's complete wardrobe.
Onassis was also invited. Niarchos remembered him at Neo Faliro before the war, that little tramp with the motorcycle and those golf trousers. Forty-five-years old now, his hair parted and slicked back, and wearing a double-breasted suit, but without the dark glasses that became his trademark later. Spyros Skouras, the president of FOX, often teased him that he could easily fit the role of a Mafia guy in a gangster movie. Onassis laughed loudly that he preferred to be hired as a trainer for stars and starlets who did sex scenes. The short but well-built man from Smyrna slipped like an eel from drawing room to drawing room to find guests who interested him. Not only high government officials, but also beautiful women. He was popular because of his bold and daring jokes, and he enchanted even Melpo, whom he accompanied from person to person, introducing her to persons of authority, bankers, stockbrokers, and artists. Once even, he introduced her to her ... husband, but Niarchos had his mind elsewhere, in Liberty ships and maybe on those T2 tankers that Americans were willing to sell cheaply...
...The thirty-seven years old Niarchos desired Athena, whom they called Tina, and paid no attention to her older sister, Eugenia, whose name they had changed to Jenny. She was beautiful too, but a bit cold, not a tease like the young one. I'll wait, he thought, for her to grow up a bit; I'll divorce Melpo, and ask her hand in marriage from Livanos. One day, however, he realized that the young one belonged to Onassis who, from that moment on, became his most hated enemy. He was taking a walk at Central Park when suddenly she rode by, quick as lightning, with her bike, followed equally quickly by Aristos, that old satyr. Niarchos sat on a bench and, shortly, saw them returning on their bikes, one next to the other, holding each other by the shoulder, and flirting like love stricken adolescents.
Tipping the concierge at the "Plaza," listening to this and this and that, he learnt that the hotel had been buzzing, a while now, with gossip about the shrimp and the seventeen years old girl. He almost died; he did not know how to react, what plans to
conceive to get her from him, until the young one disappeared. A new tip, more recent news. Tina had broken her leg horseback riding, was confined in her suite and, as Livanos was away in London, Onassis kept her company for hours with Arieta's blessings because she wanted him as her son-in-law. When the man from Chios heard about all this, he got mad, shut the door on him [Onassis], but as the proverb says, [if the bride and groom want, the father-in-law wants].
The bomb exploded when the wedding was announced in New York and Greek newspapers and the social column of TIMES commented that two shipping Colossi unite. What Colossus (Livanos got angered)? The groom had not even got one fourth of his fleet. Onassis laughed remarking that the ships he owned were his alone while he would distribute them among his children. Sleep peacefully, the father-in-law would be upset again, giving as a bridal gift to his daughter a ship with half of the purchase installments still unpaid.
The wedding took place in December, 1946, in the Orthodox Cathedral of New York, presided by Archbishop Athenagoras; the best man was shipowner Andreas Embirikos, and, although the rest of the shipping social circles whispered that they would ignore the event, all came accompanied by spouses and children.
The wedding reception was held in the grand room of the hotel; the newlyweds, among the Archbishop, the Patriarch of the Greek shipowners, Stavros Livanos, the bridegroom's father-in-law, and his wife, Arieta, the president of Twentieth Century Fox, Spyros Skouras, and the head of the great-shipowners and of the American Greeks! Niarchos congratulated bride and bridegroom
with a fake smile and went to his table, at the back, along with some small time shipowners and skippers. There was lots of food and drink, two orchestras—one foreign, one Greek—toasts and wishes, bride and groom opening up the dancing floor.
Cruel memory, for digging everything up.
Here is Eugenia Livanos, dark and beautiful too, but not like the bride who danced an Argentinean, full of passion tango with the bridegroom. Niarchos got up, and with his agile, nimble walk, in his elegant tuxedo, approached the older daughter of Livanos: "May I have this danser
The daughter of the magnate smiled arrogantly and extended her lace-clad delicate hand to the invitation of the elegant man who led her to the dance floor. At that moment, tango ended and waltz began, a dance in which Onassis was not as good as he was in the South-American rhythm, which was his forte. With self-confidence Niarchos whirled his dance partner in the rhythm of "The Blue Danube" and she had gracefully left herself to his lead, drunk with Johann Strauss. When the music ceased, everyone applauded the couple and only then did Eugenia Livanos noticed that other couples had withdrawn from the dance floor to admire them. She did not meet her partner's eye, however, because he was looking for the bride who, devoted to the bridegroom, happily flirted with him being in love, as she could not hide it. That night Niarchos felt in him his passion, desire for the young daughter of the Chios born man—whom someone else enjoyed—to flood and burn him inside like lava. He was crazed, biting his bed sheets, thinking of the bridegroom delighting in bridal bed...
It was May third, 1970, a horrible date. Early summer and his guests at Spetsopoula were still in their bungalows or at the beach. A maniac with cooking, Eugenia supervised the preparation of one of her special recipes in the kitchen. Spied upon by the host since early morning, Tina examined a photo-album in the living room.
He took the chance and sat next to her, pretending to idly looking at the pictures as well. She turned and smiled at him, her dimples appearing on her cheeks. Seeing them, [his blood hit his head,] he
grabbed her and, before having time to resist him, he began kissing her cheeks passionately. She pushed him off Surprised.
- Stavros, what's wrong with you? Have you gone mad?
- Not now... it's been twenty-four years, since I first saw these dimples and wanted to kiss them. But the Smyrniote got ahead and took you from me, and then ... that closet-fairy.... But now, the time has come, my little girl, to have you....
- You've gone mad, truly; you know, I'm not that little girl at the "Plaza" any more, but a forty-one-year-old woman. I've got two kids and you've got four, and you are my sister's husband.
- That female crow, he said, and grabbed her, kissing her clumsily like a schoolboy.
A shriek was heard; it was Jenny, who was bringing them a platter with mezedes. It fell on the floor; she turned, crying, and run up the stairs that led to the bedrooms. And while Tina had remained frozen, as a pillar of salt, Niarchos blasphemed the Divine and run after his wife, but she had already locked herself in her bedroom.
- You silly girl, it was a joke, he shouted from outside the door, but Jenny was breaking everything she found in her front while crying.
- Her husband opened the locked door with a master key and found her, face down on her bed, yelling hysterically.
-1 expected it from you, cheat, but my sister?
- It's not Tina's fault, my darling Jenny. It was me who made the joke.
- What joke, you scoundrel? You think I don't see you salivating all these years? Just wait, I'll tell the whole world, you'll be humiliated.
His wife tried to scratch him with her nails; he avoided her and pushing her, threw her on the bed.
- It's OK, you'll get over it, he said and left slamming the door so strongly that it was heard downstairs.
- In the living, there was neither Tina, nor anyone else, only the shadow of a servant by the window, hesitating to stay or disappear like the rest, who foreseeing a storm, had withdrew in the kitchen.
Niarchos drank, cursed and threw glasses occasionally. What a day that was. In the morning he had the first fight with his wife who did not want to have on the island that "bastard" of Ford, and there it was a while ago, this episode, which of course would continue, because Jenny believed that her husband had an affair with her sister.
Before the recounting of the events continues, of those episodes that followed the night of May 3rd, 1970, to arrive at the tragic death of Eugenia Niarchos, the great revelation must be done; a revelation that few people knew or know. The antecedent that preceded the tragic event (the erotic outburst of the host on his sister-in-law, witnessed by his wife) was not a fabrication of the writer's imagination, but the reporter's exclusive information; he collected it from the sister of Aristotle Onassis herself, when Artemis Garofalidis was still alive.
That tried woman had gone through a lot in her life. She lived through the destruction of Smyrna, the looting of her father's fortune, the flight of the refugees and of her own family. She gave birth to a mentally retarded child, and lived through the successive deaths of the Onassis family members. Even though she was wealthy, thanks mainly to her brother, she left this life disappointed and tormented. That woman got to know of what preceded the events of that night, not only from the shadow-servant, but from Tina herself who recounted everything in detail, with all Ps and Qs, as they said in Smyrna. The only person who did not find the thread [clue] of Ariadne that night at Spetsopoula was Police lieutenant Kotronis, the first to interrogate both Stavros Niarchos and Tina Livanos. Nor could the subsequent interrogators and district attorneys consider, intentionally or unintentionally, the possibility of the magnate's flirtations with his sister-in-law, so the clue, in the labyrinth of Spetsopoula, remained entangled for ever; because this time Theseus did not kill the Minotaur, but the bull drove his horns in and killed his wife, whom wealth sacrificed, without punishment indeed, while Justice shut its eyes.
Words for a melodrama script accompanied by the reader's
suspicions that the writer utters revelations that cannot be verified since Artemis Garofalidis is not in life; however, there are two more sisters of Garofalidis, that is, Meropi Konialidis and Kalliroe Patronikolas, who are not only alive but can, if they would (because they keep their mouths tightly shut for twenty-seven years and are not of the types that appear on the TV "windows"), confirm the event-clue that preceded the tragic death of Eugenia Niarchos.
The old man did not want to remember that moment, the most pathetic moment he had ever experienced with a woman, which moment, however, turned out to be the most moving one. Tina was in his arms, wearing her transparent negligee, certainly prepared for what was to follow. Nonetheless, she had taken her pills, a light dosage of barbiturates. Niarchos realized he held a soulless doll with a voice: "We are not good for such things now, my Stavros, she said and began crying."
Tina was 42 years old, but felt old, much older than her new husband who was twenty years older than she was. Stavros watched the castle he had built crumbling down as if made of a pack of cards. Now or never, he thought; using his lemon-perfumed handkerchief, he wiped off the
tears that streamed down her lovely dimples. She was touched and extended her arms that embraced him like white doves, just before the pills' effect began.
"Tina, my love," Stavros Niarchos whispered and continued as he kissed her passionately: "Whatever I became, I owe it to you, for I wanted your respect and admiration!"
In his daze, the old man asked for the support of the shadowy butler because he was the only one he got left.
Meanwhile, the butler was rummaging in his dossiers and clippings to find information about the marriage of Tina and Stavros, but he could not because their matrimonial life did not include outbursts and reveling, highs and lows that attract reporters and paparazzi.
Theirs was the strangest marriage ever to take place; it was neither sexual passion, nor a match-making, but the mingling of an absurd logic based on financial interests and on the wish for a refuge of two people, who after the storm, were searching for peace. Niarchos showed interest in Tina's children, who, however, did not want even to see him. One day he surprised her; he gave her a list with information on the property of Onassis.
- So that you know in detail what exactly Jackie is after, he told her.
The former Mrs. Onassis knew about most of the information, but some of it was unknown to her: a fleet of freighters and tankers that exceeded the seventy vessels. Stocks that accounted for one-third of the capital of Onassis, in oil companies in the USA, the Middle East, and Venezuela. Additional shares that secured his control of ninety-five multinational businesses on the five continents. Gold processing plants in Argentina and Uruguay. A great share in an airline in Latin America and $4 million dollars worth of investments in Brazil. An electronics company in Japan. Also companies like Olympic Maritime and Olympic Tourist; chemical company in Persia; apartments in Paris, London, Monte Carlo, Athens, Acapulco, a castle in South France; Olympic Tower, a fifty-two story high-rise in Manhattan, another building in Sutton Place; Olympic Airways and Air Navigation; islands Scorpios and Sparta; the yacht "Christina"; and finally, deposit accounts and accounts in treasuries in two hundred and seventeen banks in the whole World!
'What can I use this list for?" she asked him.
He looked at her with his cunning, sardonic gaze:
"It isn't only the list, my sweet. I've sent my people out, too. At every opportunity they gather information on any and all changes and transfers of property assets which belong to Aris today, but which tomorrow will go to Alexandras and Christina, provided, of course, the Smyrna man won't lose it in the meantime or that good-for-nothing American woman and her kids don't grab most of it."
"Don't speak nonsense, Stavros, because Aris will leave everything to Alexandros, whom he holds dearer than the crown of his whole kingdom.
1973 (Alexadros Onasis)
Everything fell apart when the Piaggio aircraft of Alexandras crashed during its take off on 23 January 1973. Sitting in his armchair, Niarchos read from the book, The Onassis Dynasty: Tragedy and Riddle:
"We all read in the papers how Alexandros Onassis died, twenty-eight hours after the crash of his Piaggio that was operated by the newly-arrived American pilot Donald McCasker. However, nowhere did we read the name of the man who had misconnected the wires between the control panel and the helm. This is the man that Aristotle Onassis was looking for until the moment he realized the reverse counting that signaled the end of his own life had begun. "Limberopoulos, they killed my boy!" He said the same thing to everyone with whom he had a close acquaintance or friendship during the last months before he died. He added that he had to have Christina married as soon as possible because she was in danger to be killed. Uttering his own words, the spiritually and physically broken father of Alexandras appeared terrified, and would lower his voice. Who? The fearless Onassis, who, since the time he saw Smyrna in flames, never feared anything again in his life; the multibillionaire who never employed body-guards…
...January 23rd, 1973: Phones started ringing all around the world. In New York, shocked and numb, the father stood with phone in hand; then he cried:
"Save my son ... save him and I'll give you everything you will want... everything!
Tina, the young man's mother, hears the appalling news while in Germany. Stavros Niarchos, who is with her, accompanies her to Athens.
The sister of Alexandros, Christina, is in Brazil. In the beginning, she thinks this is a tragi-comical farce. Then, she hastens to the airport, looking ten years older. In the plane, she is informed that Alexandros is fighting -without any hope - with death.
The book slides from the old man's hands; he cannot continue reading but he remembers those tragic moments when, supporting Christina, he entered the hospital room where the machine kept Alexandros alive while his brain was already dead. After her son's death, Tina lost all interest in life. She even looked at her daughter with an empty gaze. As for Niarchos -who also mourned for Alexandros, she saw him as someone who took care of her life, who tried to dissuade her from using sedative and hypnotic pills...
The Niarchos couple happened to be in the same hall with Maria Callas during a charity event in Paris. The prima donna lost her composure. She remained petrified. Livanos's daughter, without losing her cool - she may not have seen her -, passed by, but Niarchos paused, made a light bow to his famous compatriot, and went on his way. They say that Callas told Jeffirelli, who was accompanying her, motioning her head towards Tina: "Here's a woman who's much more miserable than I am.".
...When she married to Niarchos, Tina was 42 years old, still fresh, beautiful and elegant. Looking at the children, Alexandros was 25 and Christina 23, one could think that they were her siblings, and certainly the mother was much more feminine than the daughter. A psychiatrist could explain the complexes of both children, considering the one lived with a woman much older than he, and the other was married a middle-age man. Since their mother was a beautiful socialite, and their father a businessman, always on the move, Alexandros and Christina had been raised by governesses, nannies, maids, and teachers. The children never felt the consistent family support and warmth, except during Christmas holidays and vacations. But even during those times, their parents took more care of their guests.
Tina Niarchos felt she was a mother only when she lost Alexandros. It was, however, too late to consider her faults, especially her biggest one: her sensitiveness and stubbornness to get a divorce at thirty-one when her
children were twelve and ten years old and suffered a psychic trauma that followed them for the rest of their lives. Now, she had lost her son; now, Tina Livanos, former Mrs Onassis, former Bladford, and current Mrs Niarchos felt that her life had no meaning whatsoever. She increased the dosage of sedatives that she already used; consequently, her sexual appetite ceased. She continued to be the wife of Stavros Niarchos only on paper. Once they visited Scorpios, with their yacht, to pay homage to her son's grave; they tied her next to the 'Christina.' On her deck, where she had dined with both her first and last husbands, memories of festive nights with famous guests did not stir in her mind; instead, she felt Alexandros and Christina, as young children, playing and running around her. She began crying, falling in the arms, not of her husband, but of Aris, whom she felt as her own, her only husband in her sinful life. Niarchos understood and retreated a bit, glass in hand, but still able to hear his wife telling his eternal enemy:
My Aris, if I die, do not demand that I be buried here next to my child, for I was not a good mother, and I would disturb his peace. Let them place me next to our Eugenia, in Lausanne.
Tina had grown ten years older that period and so had Aris. They cried in each other's arms and for the first time tears, and many tears also streamed down the face of Niarchos. Tina retreated to sleep, having swallowed her barbiturates for sure, while the two men stayed up all night, drinking and talking. Onassis said he wanted his life to be over, while Niarchos consoled him that they had many years ahead of them.
The guy from Smyrna at some point looked at him in the eye and, suddenly, asked him: "I would like to know two things before I leave this world, Stavros: Whether my son was murdered and how Evgenia died. You are the only person who can answer the second question.
Niarchos, dead drunk - quite the contrary of Onassis, who never got drunk - looked at him with a blank gaze:
"Aris," he said, "I could be wrong in anything that I tell you. Like I said in the interrogation, I don't remember exactly whathappened. So what can I tell you, especially since I'm drunk even now that you're asking me, just like I was that cursed night."
"Come on, let's go to bed," Onassis said and helped his rival in love and in wealth to get up.
When Onassis had taken him to his cabin, he waved at the steward to go away and told him: "I hope you tell me the truth in the next world, Stavros."
However, before closing the door, the guy from Smyrna said: "I'm talking nonsense. If there is another world, souls will be discharged of worldly affairs."
Next day, the one yacht passed by the other one and that was the last time the two sons-in-law met, two men whose rivalry created two of the grandest fortunes of this century...
...In January of 1954, the 'Tina Onassis' sails to Jidda, with Aris and his wife who are given hospitality in the
palace of Saud. The Saudi Arabia-Onassis agreement is underway and the powerful oil companies feel as if a dwarf saws their gigantic legs.
Old Niarchos recalls all this, the stir Onassis provoked in the American government and Aramco, the excitement in the newspapers. And behold, lately an FBI agent filled newspapers and TV with his statements that supposedly I "had paid him to destroy Onassis!"
Stolarchos moves in his armchair, mumbles and curses. His nurse wipes off his drool while Hilary and his butler approach. He looks at them through the crack of his half-closed eye:
-They accused me for collaborating with agents to destroy Aris. Lies and vileness of fantasizing journalists and FBI retired cops, who attempt to get out of darkness into the light. Do you know what television means to a nameless and undistinguished man? A great opportunity for self-projection and publicity. I'm not sure but I think someone killed his whole family to get on the first page and be on the accursed television!
As every day so today the aged man remembers haphazardly his life's chapters; the one regarding the American government charges is nailed in his thought. He nods to his secretary to lean over, listen and respond:
-Do you remember what happened finally with the Onassis-FBI
The English woman hesitated to respond, but he insisted:
-Remind me exactly of all that happened even if you think you'll upset me.
Having lived with her boss's outbursts, her own shorthand scribbles, the keys of her typewriter, fax machines and telephones, his titanic struggle for wealth and power, the woman wipes off his sweating brow now and tells him:
-Onassis had become first page news in the American press, which, more or less, portrayed him as a new Luciano. In a few days, however, Onassis launched a counter-attack reminding the press that it was he who saved the American Bethlehem Shipyards from closing down, because he entrusted them with building a super tanker fleet for him; moreover, that during the Korean War, he set his ships -under foreign flag - at the disposal of the American Navy, and they thanked him publicly.
-What happened next? the old man urged, familiar with the answer but wanting to hear it again.
-The mafioso, Greek Luciano, became John Wayne!
The old man started laughing incessantly so that his secretary and nurse worried he might choke from his laughter. Upon calming down, he told them proudly:
-This is how we, the Greeks, are. We fight among ourselves, like weasels and jackals, but when in front of strangers, we become lions. But even lions grow old, he continued in an exhausted voice, and end up like Aris, with their fur and mane fleeced, mangy and pitiful, worthless even to rag-collectors of Seine. Why Seine? Because there, in Paris, died the most ferocious lion I met in this jungle called human antagonism and conceit. Tell me then, my dear Hilary, since you met Aris and me at the apex of our power, what is left of us? My pride is gone since you've got to pamper me like a baby, and I'm left with the mange, already smelling like carrion...
Today the big boss showed that although his mind had been imprisoned for months, it was ready to free itself. He stewed over the fact that his colossal fortune, whichhe had created alone, was being mastered by his sons while the doctors bent over his bed with pills, syringes and intravenoustubes. However, all this was over, finished, he told himself. Heresolved to eat again, to gain his strength, to get up and properlytake care of everyone! "I'm hungry," he yelled, and added:
-Bring me the newspapers, foreign and Greek.
Niarchos attempted to drink his juice but the glass shook in one hand, as did the piece of toast in his other. The juice streamed down his chin and the butler wiped it with a napkin scented with lemon blossom cologne.
"Take it," he said, and then beckoned them to push him, in the wheel chair, to his office. He commanded the secretary and the male-nurse to set him in front of the computer. Then he ordered them to leave him alone. From his pocket he took a small piece of paper with the code number written out, and began to press the keys. He wanted to survey his assets, to determine the current number of his ships, and find out about the last one he had acquired. He leaned over, with the magnifying glass in front of one eye, and saw number "22" and next to it a digital-image of the last tanker that had joined his fleet: OCEAN GUARDIAN: 292,000 tons 333 meters long 22 meters draught Shipbuilders: MITSUBISI, Japan (1993) Value: 88,000,000 USD
His bony fingers remained suspended above the keyboard as he recalled a moving scene three years ago in New York. Before departing for Japan to take delivery of his great tanker, his captain and officers had visited him at the hospital. With pride, he had pointed to Captain Dimitris Karakoulias and said to his son Constantine: "He is from Laconia, the Province of the Peloponnese, and I'm proud he'll lead the world's most modern tanker”
When his two legs still supported him, he flattered no one, but in his later days he found words of sympathy for those who would serve under the command of his children. Therefore he showed compassion for Captain Dimitris in front of his son, and remembered he had expressed his wish to take a trip with the megathere he would govern. "Why not, Captain Stavros?" the Laconian skipper had responded. But already the Stolarchos began to realize that sea travelling was now an impossibility for him, who had so fervently loved the sea.
"I envy you, for I won't be able to come with you," he had said to the officers, and then asked the captain about the number of officers and crew on the tanker. "Only twenty-four persons, ten Greek officers and fourteen Filipinos, to fill the inferior positions. Captain Stavros, this tanker is the most recent creation of modern shipbuilding. All navigational equipment is automated, so it doesn't require night shifts. The computer, from the engine room to the bridge, the helm, and all navigation, loading and unloading controls everything. It is also "double skin," that is, there is one vessel inside another, so if the hull cracks, the sea won't get polluted."
This is the new age of electronic navigation. The old man pressed the keys to find the lists from his golden epoch when he had 3.7 million tons of freighters and tankers. His fleet furrowed seas and oceans carrying
gold-producing cargo: grains, coal, iron ore, timber, heating oil, and petroleum. Niarchos brought all this back to his memory; his tankers World Honor, World Horizon, World Kindness, all of them superior pieces, with turbine engines, built by I. H. I. Shipbuilders in Yokohama. For five or six years, these ships yielded great profits and then were put out of commission, dismantled and sold for scrap metal in Taiwan. He had no use for them since the Suez crisis (1967-1975) was over. The Suez crisis: what a lottery ticket! Of the 160 million tons of petroleum that poured out daily from wells in the Middle East, 100 million were destined for Europe and were transferred to the continent, the tankers having to navigate around Africa. A year before the Suez crisis, as if by sudden Divine illumination, Niarchos had increased the number of his tankers, which were already busy carrying petroleum priced three times above normal price! "A trip equals a ship!" yelled the lucky shipowner, who was not only lucky but forward-thinking as well. While other ship owners scurried around trying to order tankers, he was already channeling his immense profits not into the acquisition of new ships, but to other profitable businesses, this time on the mainland. He had driven all the traditional ship owners crazy, this commercial navigation "parachutist," Who built ships when the others hesitated to do so. And when they tried to emulate him, they failed, because the sea had speculatively dried up, and Niarchos had already gone into mainland businesses.
Onassis had increased his fortune during that time, and was considered wealthier than his rival, because he possessed not only his fleet and his aircraft company Olympic Airways, but mostly through his behavior which made the front pages of most newspapers. He had convinced everyone that he was the biggest Magnate of all.
Initially, Onassis's great notoriety did not matter so much to Niarchos. He knew the man from Smyrna was an exhibitionist, showing off] for public consumption. After all, Onassis only had a metal yacht, a power boat, that is, worthless and tasteless, like his art collections of dissimilar pieces and artistic styles. Niarchos, on the other hand, had a yacht that was a work of art, and a painting collection of the greatest impressionists. Even the most elite of world society bowed to his good taste.
Once, the Olympic gold-medallist and successor to the Greek throne, Constantine, had teased him: "Mr.. Niarchos, Onassis fooled you and adopted the word Olympic, with the five circled emblem, in the names of his ships. Why didn't you think of "Your Highness, I preferred the word World, in naming my ships since I'm not after an Olympic metal every four years. I beat the world record every year!"
On the other hand, the man from* Smyrna criticized that Niarchos used the colors blue, white and red on his steam-boats, along with an enormous "N," which reminded everyone of France and Napoleon Bonaparte.
"And what does that mean?" his closest associate, Costas Gratsos, asked him.
Onassis answered: "Don't you understand what he means by that? He thinks he is the Stolarchos, what am I saying?, the emperor of oceans."
When Niarchos learned of all this he used to get furious. Now in the same way, he recalled it all and stooped over the complete list of all the ships he had ever owned, to ascertain that indeed he had been the Greatest Stolarchos of them all...
...Suddenly, the wretched image of that lunatic Howard Hughes jammed his dream. What a horrible end that handsome man had, who was envied by the most wealthy of the world before losing his mind to drugs. Isolated in his invincible fortress, gripped with a terrible paranoia that someone would poison him; unwashed, unshaven, with his long hair plastered by dirt, naked on his bed; and the monitor in front of him, checking the entrance, the corridors, the stairways, his personnel in their rooms, in the kitchen. He resembled a bone-thin Tarzan, a miserable king of the jungle. The man who once had so many of Hollywood's Janes at his feet. During his prime, they raced to be the first to enter his mansions and the biggest plane in the world that he himself had designed and piloted.
The old man was violently awaken by the nightmare:
"Thank you, my Lord, that I didn't end up like him. Maybe my body got thin and feeble, but my mind preserves its youthful nature especially, since it can still calculate my calculable.
His eyes met the Cephalonian man:
"Õou know what I was dreaming about? That looney, Hughes, who was terrified that his guards and service people would poison him. Do you think maybe I have something to fear from you, too? And do you know what your motive will be? Jealousy and envy; because, with absolutely no help, a man like me managed to climb all the steps of life one-by-one and, after titanic battles, he set his flag on the top of the mountain. I'll tell you so you know Tom ... I started with a nutshell of dinghy, which was sunk by gun fire and with the indemnity I got from the insurance agency, I set the initial capital for my fleet .... And I realized my dream of naming all my ships with the prefix WORLD, Universal. It is the word that possessed me since I was a kid, when I was dreaming to become the Alexander the Great of the oceans."
Tom remained silent, completely engrossed in listening to Niarchos.
-Once, my youngest son, Constantine, asked me, 'Dad, why don't we name one of our ships Great Alexander? You know what I answered him? My boy, Alexander was as great as the distance between Macedonia and India is, and his name cannot be contained on the bow or stern of a ship. And now, I'm tired this chattering, bring me a glass of liquor and a cigar.
As he moved to prepare the drink, the butler thought that his boss had been so great that, once, the earth, the seas, the oceans could not contain his magnitude. His name shined on the nameplates of his offices around the world, from "Niarchos London Ltd." to "Niarchos Japan"!
"I wanna piss, but not in the bed pan. Lift me," the old man faintly shouted, and Tom waved to the security man standing by the door. He was afraid to help him alone, lest "sir" fall down.
As the strong guard helped him, Niarchos felt the man's tight arm and got jealous, because, when he was young, he was muscular also, even though he was a slim man. He stood above the toilet bowl, with the security man and the butler ready to catch him if he lost his balance. Summoned by Hilary, the doctor on duty had hastened anxious, because, for the first time in many months, the patient had moved so much, even though he was still confined to his wheel chair. "I have the desire," the old man laughed loudly, "to throw shit him, but I don't want to dirty my hands."
The male-nurse washed him, changed his underwear, and while the doctor advised them to take Niarchos in to sleep, he pointed toward the armchair near the fireplace. "There," he shouted to Hilary, and told her to give a hundred dollar bill to each of the twenty-four-hour shift people. His blurred gaze went to the guard, and he wondered what salary the man got. Niarchos envied him because he was young, strong, healthy .... After his shift, he would eat and drink as much as he wanted, and at night he would make love and he would exercise in the morning .... He could play tennis, swim, run, climb the stairs.
"My Lord, such people exist!"
When he got comfortable next to the fireplace, he again asked how much the guard was paid to serve him, even to endanger his life. He knew that he was armed and trained. A healthy organism, to take care of a dried husk of a man, waiting like a dog does that expects a bone from his master. The old man's brain worked quickly through a thousand curves. Some day, all these gunmen will be dangerous to those they guard, he thought. Just like in the old days, when the cowboys got to be too dangerous for the big cow-ranchers. Was Hughes right;