13. the life of Stavros Livanos
One person Niarchos often remembered was Stavros Livanos, the patriarch of Greek shipowners. He was fortunate that he did not live till the time of his girls' and grandchildren's tragic deaths. Niarchos remembered the man from Chios at The Plaza hotel with his wife, daughters and son. An antisocial man, with permanently hardened skin on his palms from constantly using the oars when he was young, he never looked you in the eye even when he greeted you with a handshake. For a long time, Niarchos was not certain whether his father-in-law knew the features of his son-in-law. His other son-in-law, however, Onassis, when he realized that the man from Chios behaved this way, he did not let go of his hand and forced him to look at the Smyrniote straight in the eyes.
"I, a coward, before taking his daughter, never dared to do the same."
What was Stavros Livanos at the beginning? He was a sailor in his father's caique that carried men from Chios and cargo to the islands; later, when the boat and he had grown, it reached Misiri, that is, Egypt. Like Niarchos, Thomas [the butler] knew well the career of Livanos. As the Cephalonian heard certain names and words in his boss's delirium, he pulled out of his dossier his notes and clippings and consulted them for his book:
Stavros Livanos opened his initial capital with caiques; later he bought an old boat and fixed it up into a sailing boat running the risk, however, that his crew and cargo might end up in the sea.
In 1927 Stavros Livanos is thirty-six years old, married to a beautiful young woman, Arieta, who is half his age. They live in a lower middle class home in London and from a place near by -in a tiny office - he arranges freight for his small boats - all of them old, reconstructed - as his wife says, who sews her dresses, still mends underwear and darns the miser's socks, as she later relates to her sons-in-law.
They last for years because the skipper from Chios, tight with his purse and his prudence, does not only buy old boats which he turns into profit-making vessels, but has his first tanker built in a British shipyard. And because - as he said - a ship is like a mama-rabbit who gives birth to baby-rabbits, one after another, he has got seven new ships and two daughters before 1930. After 1930, he has evolved into a big shipowner name of the City and no one considers commenting on his old fashioned suits and his cheap Greek cigarettes, "Ethnos," which he continued to smoke.
During those years, captain Stavros travels - through the sea -from London to Piraeus, the Persian gulf, North and South America and is absent from his home for one or two months. He establishes his representatives and offices everywhere; he becomes international, while, in London, Arieta moves with her children to a bigger house, acquires a maid who is also a nanny for her daughters and assistant to the cook, that is, herself, for she wants to have control in the kitchen. Later she acquires a servant (a butler, according to the British) and a chauffeur. She holds tea gatherings with respectable ladies of the City as her guests, who love her "mezedes" and her Chios sweets. Her husband has created friendships and business transactions with famous people of the shipping and business circles of Albion and initiates them to the tickling of the palate and the delight of the stomach: mastic liqueur, ouzo, olives, sardines, and feta. The Livanos couple are much sought after and their daughters attend expensive schools and acquire aristocratic girlfriends.
This is why Stavros Livanos was labeled the patriarch of Greek shipowners from those years. Later, with the entrance of Onassis and Niarchos in the Livanos mansion, they were established as the "Golden Greeks" in the international jet set!
This is what Niarchos dreamt in his sleep and Tom thought of in his waking and even if ill-mannered sir has pestered him much for thirty years, he could only admire him and feel awe for this sacred monster, the last Golden Greek. It was irrelevant how he behaved when he was mad; in his normal moments he was the most aristocratic among all Greek shipowners. His father-in-law was indeed the founder of Greek shipowners, but Onassis and Niarchos were the forerunners [pioneers] of modern shipping.
During all these final days of his mental turning back, his [Niarchos's] thought took off from his ruined body and turned to the past, traveled with the dead men and women, who once had been not only alive, but powerful and gorgeous.
Here is Stavros Livanos among his two sons-in-law. He was vulgar, inconsiderate, demanding, deceitful, greedy, but also a flatterer, especially to his wife who held the bunch of the keys to closets, chests, and safes. When the three men got photographed together - Arieta wanted the picture in her drawing room - the skipper from Chios wondered loudly, "I wanted to know what my daughters found in you and lost their minds: stature, beauty, bravado?" His wife knew what their daughters had found in their sons-in-law, and mentioned it to him: "Every woman dreams of the unhesitant and wild lover who, if he exhibits these qualities [traits] in his business, he will use them in bed as well."
"Aris," the father-in-law asked the son-in-law one day, "do you have the qualities necessary to a shipowner? because I see you are too elegant."
The man from Smyrna smiled; as they played backgammon -the man from Chios stealing constantly - they began talking about freightage, cargoes and ships; suddenly, his father-in-law confessed to him that he found Mr X shipowner needing money and was taking his ship for a piece of bread. They played one, two, three games; Livanos was happy because he was winning, and Onassis went to the bathroom for a minute. He was late to return. Where did you get lost? he asked him. I called and bought that ship for Tina, he said and the man from Chios got upset, but Arieta calmed him down:
"Stavros, my dear, don't yell and shout ... after all, the ship came into the family."
Moments like this, which Livanos trumpeted to show off his smart son-in-law, Niarchos felt like an outsider to the family. In order to enter the family, he racked his brain and conceived ideas and ambitious plans the same moment that his brother-in-law was becoming great.
The rivalry of the two brought antagonisms and hate, which if it were confined to the boxing ring it, would be till final fall for sure. The father-in-law rubbed his callused hands - vestiges of an old skipper's sawing and caulking - and was happy for the progress of his sons-in-law through antagonism. But just a minute, wife, he often wondered, they squander a lot of money to show off, the ruffians. Houses in New York, Paris, Greece, show off boats (this is what he called the yachts), private planes, sailors, personnel, maids, cooks, chauffeur, gardeners, guard in every length and width of the Earth. The skipper woman laughed, for it was with her own persistence that they maintained houses equal to their wealth and had sent her children to study in aristocratic schools: "What else did you think of, my dear Stavros ... would our sons-in-law and daughters enter the social columns had they not been generous?"
"Squanderers, you mean, my darling, because they throw their money out the windows."
"Years have gone by, my captain, times have changed. But you are still back at the time of'Laspakis-provisions four.'"
"Where did you learn all this," Livanos got angered.
"This all they talk behind your back and gossip, my husband."
"I shit on all of them," he breathed furiously.
"And they on you," the skipper woman muttered.
Arieta & Stavros Livanos Livanos-Onasis-Niarchos
added at: 03 Oct 2006