It was back in 1957 that I gave a ride to a Canadian couple who had missed the bus after visiting Delphi, in Greece and needed a ride to Levadia.
They were teachers, they told me and I told them that I was a newly hatched civil engineer. Evidently I had pressed the button to the teacher persona and had invited unexpected career advice. Being an engineer, they told me, I should practice in Canada, a country in the process of building itself.
I much enjoyed their company but I took in little of their advice – the demand for engineers was also acute in post war Europe.
A couple of weeks later, as I was walking on Solonos’ Street in Athens I noticed the Canadian Consulate. It reminded me of the lesson from the Canadian teachers and I walked into the Consulate. At the reception counter was a local woman and further behind her in that long room, near the opposite wall was a man working at a desk.
I told the receptionist that I was considering going to Canada and I would like an application form. To my surprise she told me that they were already loaded with applications and if I wanted to apply I must come back in a few months.
As she was talking, my eyes landed on a poster on the far wall, above the gentleman at the desk. It was a RCAF poster, a simple one: The body of the poster was an expanse of bright blue sky. Under and very close to the top margin was an F-86 Sabre (I think it was) fighter jet in flight – that was all there was in that otherwise empty sky.
At the bottom was the RCAF logo and one line explaing matters to the onlooker: “We fight to stay on top”. That was all ...
The poster hit me hard. It was like the pilot has fired a missile into my brain. The impact was a big one.
Upon regaining consciousness (Canadian Air Farce phrase), I told the receptionist that I would like to see the Consul. The receptionist said I cannot do that. With my eyes fixed on the poster, I said I need to see the Consul. The sequence being repeated a few times, each a note higher than the previous one, the gentleman at the desk got up and came to the counter. In English he inquired what the kerfuffle was about and the receptionist told him: “This man want to file an application to go to Canada”. I interjected, in English, to the surprise of both, negating that and repeating my request to see the Consul.
The gentleman made a phone call and after hanging up the receiver, instructed the receptionist to take me to the Consul. We climbed up a flight of stairs and she opened the door to an office. The Consul was sitting at his desk facing us. I did not move further – standing at the door I asked him a simple question: “Good Morning Sir, would you please tell me why I cannot file an application to go to Canada?”
There was a pause, for how long I cannot say. Then the Consul answered me with a question and a greeting :
“When would you like to leave? Good Morning!”
He showed me to a seat and told the recptionist her that I was the “very kind of of person they wanted in Canada”.
That was it. He blew away the dust of doubt hovering in my cranium after the poster impact. That very moment, he and the poster had made the young man I then was a Canadian. Appreciative of being so warmly accepted, proud to be in in the company of people who fight to “stay on top”, exactly as Aristotle directed us to forever pursue.
The Consul and I had a long lunch together that day, talking about Canada. A couple of months later I sailed the Atlantic on board the S/S Saturnia and came through Pier 21 to be with those who fight to stay on top. I had already earned my spurs and I felt at home.