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Tasos: Three Parian Nights of the Wild, Ex-Patriot Boy

     Ty Soule Bitting Jr., known almost everywhere he went, as "Tasos", died on Amorgos May Sixth (2012). A neighbor found him in bed that morning. The medical examiner in Athens said Ty died of complications from an untreated hernia. If so, it was honestly acquired from the wear and tear of hard living; in particular, twenty-plus years of putting out, and hauling in fishing nets. He is survived by an ex-wife in southern France, and a son, Robinson, who is currently in flight school in the U.S. Ty's body now rests on Amorgos; a long way from his origins in Michigan, but overlooking the Aegean, and closest to the home of his heart.

     To those of us who counted him in our paraia, bed wasn't the sort of place where you expected Ty to go quietly into "that good night". Most of us expected him to spin out of this world in a whirl-wind of wild dancing. Ty was Dionysian in his aspirations; a free spirit that loved the koritzia, idolized Zorba, and carried a copy of Kerouac's , "On the Road" in the bib pocket of his overalls. Ty's adopted Greek name, "Tasos", is short for Athanasius, "Deathless"... expectations may fail; irony never.

     The first time I knew of Ty, it was a damp, Paroikian night. The street lamps were reflecting off the small puddles on the flagstones. As I started for the market street, someone with an American accent ---behind in the port plateia--- was in the midst of an incoherent rant. Looking back, I could make out a shadowy figure, someone standing before the marble bust of a local Resistance hero, and waving his arms about. I was embarrassed and annoyed, that he was American, and said so.

     "New guy." A companion remarked, "He was that way when I met him on the Piraeus-to-Paros ferry two days ago; kept talking about his father just died."

     Even knowing that tid-bit, it took me a while to overcome that first impression.

     In one way, Ty wasn't unique on Paros at that time. More than one free-spirit; seeker, con-man; wayfaring artist, writer musician showed up on the island looking to put away entanglements with what lay behind. Some stayed; maybe wintered over; then, drifted on; others stayed forever. Ty was in the latter category. His spoken Greek was never literate, but why should it be? Was Zorba "literate"? Ty wanted to be free; free to live life as hard as he could, for as long as he could; free to live it without the "petty shit"; to immerse himself in the pain and pleasure; and then, to spend feverish days putting them in great polychrome koans, on stretched canvas.

     There was another cold, Parian night, after we'd become friends; after he'd found lodging outside the village, that he showed up at Dinosaki's in local dress, like the men at the tables around us. I hadn't recognized him at first, nor had the others at the table of ex-pats. He seemed the soul of a Greek fisherman in his worn suit coat and flat cap. The coin had dropped when he came up and announced that he'd been hired to go onto the briny deep with one of the island's fishing caiques. Ty was stoked! He regarded his captain, a grizzled veteran of salt and sun, as somewhere between Mr. Roberts and Captain Ahab. His captain had told him, that on his boat, Ty's name would be "Tasos".

     "Americans aren't supposed to work here..." Tasos explained.

     Having stood while he delivered the good news, Tasos pulled a chair to the table. As an after thought, he put a thumb under the frayed, brown lapel of his coat and lifted it slightly.

     "Found this sucker at the dump near the house: my spiti..." He shrugged and made an islander's "what can you do?" face, "My captain called me a kalo pedi when I showed it to him. Wool's the thing you wear on the water this time of year."

     And there was yet another Parian night; this in November.... The rain has caught us coming home from a late party in Butterfly Valley: Tasos, Jeralee, and myself, crossing the stony fields that lie between us and shelter; drenched and bellowing out the refrain of  "Have You Ever Seen The Rain"; lost in the moment.

     Ironically, as an artist, Ty wanted to be free to live the life of a Greek fisherman: expansive, boisterous, hard-working, but secretly be a painter. Out fishing, his painter's eye would frame all he saw on inner canvas. But among ex-patriots, he was all things Greek --- though his interpretation of  "Greek" might include wild Rembetika dancing, knife-in-hand, at polite literary soirees. To the growing social cream, with less empathy for such Whitmanesque, blue-collar antics, his exuberance was inexcusable. It just knocked their gentility all to cock, and afflicted an unwelcome and outrageous image on every notion of propriety.

     Nor was Ty's art work any different in its bodaciousness. Curiously, the work where he was most impressive: his paintings, he was most reticent about showing to many. He felt no such constraint with his written stories, which, at a reading, could go on as long as an audience lasted; zen-like provocations to order and stability; wild, neo-Kerouac scat-writings, dependent more on sound than sense. To friends and family, he sent letters stuffed with pictures of himself cliff-diving into the sea; eating squid fresh from the nets; cave crawling. To his stateside family he will, no doubt be its most interesting member for generations.

     Tasos remarked once that he'd stayed on Paros until the "Club Med types had civilized it." That was when he'd moved to Amorgos, where for some years he rediscovered the simplicity he felt was lost on the island he first-loved. Whatever demons drove, or led, Ty from the U.S. to the Aegean islands, it was the islands where he chose to make his stand, and none could say they took their commitment to a new life more to heart than Tasos. He lived it, and he died it.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=ujonntGp3kE        ~ Video interview of Ty Soule Bitting Jr.~

    

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Comment by Tammy Parks on August 14, 2012 at 0:55

You've captured him perfectly. Rest in peace, Tasos. Opa! 

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