The story of two Greek shipping magnates who became Eskimo-bros
I’m going to have to speed-write this article, seeing as I’m on a library computer at the 40th Street branch of the New York Public Library system, and there’s a meter on the bottom right of the screen ticking away second by second, with only 42 minutes and 48 seconds remaining as of this keystroke.
There’s an elderly man next to me who smells. How delightful. The branch is called the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library, and a google search reveals that Stavros was a Greek shipping tycoon holding a fortune of $12 billion at the time of his death in 1996. Stavros’ was born into wealth; his father owned a fleet of ships and young Stav followed in his footsteps. He married early, at 21. His first divorce came a year later. In 1940, Italy invaded Greece, and Greek soldiers began fighting on the side of the Allies. Stav joined the Navy during WWII and lent his family’s boats to the war effort. I can’t successfully pretend to know much about world war 2 history — I’m not a history buff, much less a military nerd — but the important thing here is young Stav made it through the war, and according to Wikipedia, the Suez Canal Crisis was a big thing that happened next and pretty soon, the canal, which was wiiiide open to all the oil barges, was closed. Closed!
In 1955, Europe was getting most of its oil from oil fields in Iraq and Persian Gulf states, and most of that was going by ship through the Suez canal, approximately 1.2 Million barrels per day. That’s a whole lotta oil, hun!
Christo and Jean-Claude’s trapezoidal, cotton-candy floater in London consisted of exactly 7,506 barrels.
1,200,000 barrels / 7,506 barrels = 159.8 Christo pyramids of oil per day, way back in 1955.
To my right, a shadowy man with a dirty backpack and a black hoodie mutters Japanese incantations, madly, under his breath. He is plotting revenge.
Before the Suez Canal Crisis, oil tankers were built to fit through the canal. Had to be small. Nimble. After the crisis, new shipping routes had to be taken (they sailed around the tip of Africa) and the Supertanker era began — build big, baby, build ‘em big!
The West wanted oil, and Stav was delivering it, running a business empire containing a shipping fleet of 80 supertankers. His rival was the Onassis dude. Those seafaring Greeks and their fine suits and cigars!
Shit—there’s only 23 minutes left on my clock, and I haven’t even gotten to what I wanted to talk about. No matter. The computer just gave me an additional 10 minutes.
Stavros by this time was divorced from Wife #3, a marriage marred, no doubt, by his infidelity with the daughter of Winston Churchill. In 1965, he finally (again) found the love of his life, Charlotte Ford, the great-granddaughter of Henry Ford. They wedded in Mexico, under flowering lily trees, with gas-lit lamps illuminating Spanish-traded woven tablecloths expressing native archetypes of the Eagle Warrior and the Virgin Bride at Stavros’ red-hued hacienda by the ocean. The ocean waves lapped on the wet sand. Scores of handmaids burnished stainless steel trays of grilled shrimp and green peppers on skewers.
The marriage lasted less than a year; Stav had had enough shrimp skewers and needed that Greek loving, so he returned to Greece and his third wife. Unfortunately, four years later, she died of a Barbituate overdose. It was now the 1970s.
Not unfortunately, his beautiful Greek bride (now dead) did have a sister named Tina, a very lovely sister in fact, who had once been married to Aristotle Onassis, Stav’s old business rival! Tinam who did not do barbituates, soon fell into a blissful marriage with Stavros — who was rounding out his prolific career wedding wealthy heiresses at Five.
Sorry, I take it back. Turns out Tina, the sister, DID also like barbituates, and she also died of an overdose three years later.
Oh to be young!
Stavros died in 1996, when your humble narrator-turned-library-card-holder was merely a 3-year old pup babbling sounds like “Mawmah” and “Coocoo” while drooling tiny, adorable strings of sputtle on his onesie. Stav’s fortune was by then enormous; his semen, enthusiastically spread; his legacy, largely irrelevant in the grand scheme of cosmic time.
Shipping men… men who owned big ol boats and paid salaries to sailors and handsome captains, men who organized routes and built mercenary armies to defend them, men who smoked cigars and had fat, wrinkly fingers and laughed with hoarse cackles; oh, these men had something stuck in their teeth. Mr. Onassis defiantly flouted safety regulations and in 1970 one of his older tankers smashed into some rocks off the east coast of Canada, spilling out 8,000 tonnes (one barrel contains approximately 1/10th of a tonne, so we’re talking 80,000 barrels, or roughly 10 Christo Pyramids here) of crude oil, drenching 190 miles of salty Canadian beaches with slick black oil, triggering a crisis in the local lobster-fishing industry and consigning to a sticky death countless shell-bearing creatures.
Hey, my session time has been extended by 15 minutes!
How the hell can I wrap this up? I barely even got started talking about what I wanted to talk about, about cannibal culture and ideology and the internet. Maybe those subjects are boring anyway. In 2017, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation donated $55 million dollars to the renovation fund for the Mid-Manhattan Library. The foundation is run by Stavros’ offspring. These smart folks have notable art collections—they own at least one authentic Picasso and one Van Gogh—and they also, like Stav, prefer to marry heirs and heiresses, even if it means shacking up with their cousins (first or second, who’s counting) such as the sons and daughters of Onassis, or Churchill, or Ford. It can be so hard to keep track of who is related to who when you’re also keeping track of $12 billion dollars.
The renovations to the museum went off swimmingly, and thank goodness they did, because by 2020, just as the finishing touches were installed, the Covid-19 pandemic hit New York like a supertanker against a jutting jetty. Kablam! Out goes the oil, and the whole fourth-floor reading room has to be shut down for a good 18 months.
But now, by the grace of God and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, the lights are on, and outside, cars, cabs and big busses whoosh by. Whether we like it or not, we owe much of what we take for granted about “post-”modern society to fat-fingered men like Stavros. Half (45%) of this library’s electricity at this very moment is generated with natural gas, a close cousin (perhaps even a sister) of the liquid oil that Stavros used to move from A to B, making a tidy profit in the process.
We’re also importing a bit (4%) of our electricity from Quebec, our neighbors to the north, who produce it with all low-carbon sources, mostly Hydro-electric stations which syphon the ocean’s natural movement to generate electricity. Those Canadians must have learned their lesson after the lobsters turned black and the fishermen got all angry and upset. But do they have a newly-renovated library around the corner from a Dunkin Donuts, one filled with modern art and free-to-use public access computers, which incessantly and repeatedly keep giving me 10 more minutes, extending my time by 15 minutes more, again and again, allowing me to continue to write langorously, almost decadently, prattling on… and on… and on… and on… and on… and on…