HOW I MET ANAIS
by Lili Bita

In 1968 I was a young, fresh immigrant from Greece. And, like most immigrants, poor, lonely, confused, feeling guilty for leaving behind family and country only to be lost in the labyrinth of the New World.

One day, Robert Zaller, an accomplished writer himself, brought me a book. “I think you’ll like this writer. She’ll help you survive.”

With my poor English, I spelled the title, Under a Glass Bell and the author’s name, Anais Nin. With the help of a dictionary and Robert’s too, I was able to enter the worlds locked within this collection of short stories. Every time I had a few minutes free, I ran to the compassionate and magical words of Anais.

I then announced to Robert, “I will interview her for a Greek newspaper in New York so my compatriots can learn about a great woman and writer.”

Robert smiled. “She’s very famous and very busy. I don’t want you to be disappointed.”

“That’s fine,” I answered, with a donkey’s stubbornness. “No matter what, I’ll meet her and I will interview Anais Nin. You’ll see.”

Early the next day I called her agent, Gunther Stuhlmann.. With trembling voice, I explained my request. He was polite but business-like.

“Miss Nin is traveling now,” he said. “She’s very busy, but I’ll give her your message.”

I put down the phone with a sense of utter defeat. Robert’s right. She’ll never call me back, I thought.

One month went by, and I was sure that I’d never meet my idol. However, out of the darkness, there finally came light. On a day in May 1968 Robert was defending his dissertation at Washington University in St. Louis. I was literally sitting by the phone to hear the results.

When the phone rang, I expected him to be on the other end of the line. Instead, I heard a girlish voice with a musical accent, not at all heavy like mine. “Miss Bita?” I immediately knew the voice was that of Anais, the writer who spoke to my heart and filled me with courage and dreams, the woman who gave me and a million others a certain power and pride for being alive.

Like a true Greek, I felt the urge to dance, drink, scream, and even break a wall with my fist. My body and soul couldn’t contain my overwhelming emotions, plantazo, as we Greeks say.

In my best English, I requested an interview with Anais. She accepted. “Why don’t you come next Monday for dinner?”

When the phone rang a second time, I interrupted Robert before he even spoke. “Guess who called? Anais Nin invited me to dinner. Next Monday.” We were both stunned.

I then piled more of her books next to my bed and prayed that the days would rush by fast. I bought a bouquet of daisies and finally, Robert and I arrived at her apartment in the Village at 7:00.

Anais was outside her door; she was radiant in a purple dress which she told me later was her favorite color. We embraced and kissed like two sisters who served the same Goddess, Art. Thus, my relationship with Anais began, lasting until she left this world. It continues into Eternity.

My interview was published in Campana (Bell) with the pseudonym Daphne Delenda, because my country was under the tyranny of a brutal military dictatorship. Fear of everything made all Greeks paranoid, including me.

I later translated her novel, The Spy in the House of Love into Greek. In the summer of ’05, when I saw the book on the shelf of a friend’s bookcase, I couldn’t help but feel nostalgic. Despite the fact that Anais never received a penny from the translation, nor did I, she gave me a gift of $200 which I used to buy a typewriter since I didn’t have one. I’ve never forgotten her generosity.

For almost a month when I lived on the beautiful island of Kythera, I worked day and night to complete the translation. The telegram I sent Anais from Greece after I completed it was published in Volume VII of The Diaries (p. 121)

THIS MOMENT I FINISHED THE TRANSLATION OF SPY IN
THE HOUSE OF LOVE
STOP CAN’T BELIEVE IT STOP
WORKED 8-10 HOURS A DAY ALL MONTH STOP TONIGHT
IN THE TAVERNA WE WILL DRINK TO YOUR HEALTH AND
BEAUTY AND SUCCESS IN GREECE STOP WILL WRITE MORE
FROM ATHENS STOP
SABINA THE GREEK

Robert and I had a strong relationship with Anais for eleven years. He edited a book of criticism on her work, A Casebook on Anais Nin (New American Library ’74). This generous woman wrote a Preface for my poetry book, Furies. We found many ways to express our love, admiration and devotion to Anais.

My last visit to her was in the summer of l976 at her Los Angeles home. She was very weak and had to be supported to stand. Her sense of beauty was still apparent in the Mexican yellow dress she was wearing with a vivid blue ornamental necklace.

“When you come to Greece, I’ll teach you Greek dancing. I promise.”

Anais smiled, lifted her hand in acceptance. “I’d like that very much,” she said.

I gazed at her to absorb her image and voice forever.