On Tour with Jackie Kennedy: Feasting on Hydra to Parthenon Politicking (Part 4)

In headscarves, sandals, and sunglasses through most of her Greek vacation, Jackie Kennedy presented a different Persona than her formal appearance in the preceeding week in Paris, Vienna and London.

Not wanting the American First Lady to fear the intrusions she had unexpectedly encountered in London and Rome during her vacation in their country, Greek Prime Minister Constantine Karamanlis ordered the highest level of security, exceeding that even provided for Vice President Lyndon Johnson during his trip there, an odd action since the Greek government insisted the trip was “completely personal” and “completely unofficial.”

Nevertheless, no less a person than the Prime Minister and his First Lady Amelia Karamanlis were on hand to greet her. At her Athens airport welcome, it was soon discovered that some 20 percent of the orderly crowd that numbered about 400 people were plainclothes police.  Chants of “Jackie! Jackie!” got drowned out by the scripted and clunky cry of “Hooray for Boston!” One reporter estimated that every third person was snapping a camera, but this time Jackie was so amused by the polite attention, she smiled and posed. When a young man broke free and ran towards her to snap a close-up, state police seized and detained him. She meanwhile entered the terminal to greet brightly-garbed U.S. Embassy employee wives who assembled into a stationary line she promenaded along, the same reception format used by the Queen.

After unpacking on her arrival in Greece, the First Lady plunged into the blue Mediterranean for a swim.

The First Lady, her sister and brother-in-law were given use of a magnificent Athens two-story villa on Kavouri Bay owned by Greek shipping magnate Markos Nomikus. Her bedroom on the top floor had pale green walls, modern furniture and a view of the Saronikos Gulf, along the Attic coast. Exchanging her black hair bow, light blue coat and royal blue dress for a bathing suit and ocean swim, she took a light dinner and turned in early. The next day, Jackie would begin an island tour aboard the 123-foot long yacht Northwind, loaned by her host’s Princeton-educated son Peter.

In Greece, as she did on a later trip to Italy, Jackie Kennedy was snapped in her bathing suit – showing more skin than First Ladies ever had, exciting admirers and scandalizing others.

Her appearance, words and deeds, however, gave those who met her and those who simply read about her, an entirely different Jackie than the formal and official one they expected from her time in Paris, Vienna and London. Hair tousled freely in the wind, legs bare of stockings, wearing sandals, cotton head kerchiefs and the sunglasses that would eventually supersede the pillbox as her trademark, the American First Lady showed as much reverence for her host nation’s culture and history as she had done for France when there. Her respect for Greeks of all classes, however, won her not just the nation’s respect but affection.

For all her extensive travels through Europe as a younger woman, Jackie Kennedy had never been to Greece and had longed for this vacation.

A year earlier the film Never On Sunday had swept the Oscars with awards for best director, best costume, best “writing,” and best actress to its star Melina Mercouri.

In later years, by the time Mercouri’s activist on behalf of preserving Greek art and history led to her election as Minister of Culture, she had become an acquaintance with the then-former American First Lady.  Yet as a result of Mercouri’s sudden global fame in 1960 and her own preparation for the Greek trip a year later, Jackie had already begun to follow the actress-philosopher’s views in the press and read  many of her writings.

As a presidential widow in the mid-60s she would be particularly impressed by what Mercouri believed to be the qualities which delineated the ancient Greeks from the ancient Romans. In disagreeing with her Continue reading →

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Categories: First Ladies, On Tour with Jackie Kennedy, The Kennedys

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