Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Making Promises

There once was a woman who didn't know how to drive a car. She promised herself every January—with a list of other promises—that she'd finally learn to drive. But it seemed too complicated, all those gadgets and buttons and well, her husband, Bert, had always done that sort of thing. But when at the age of 75, she watched poor old Bert reach for his jacket in the back seat of their beat-up old sedan and slump lifelessly to the floor, she realized her time to learn to drive had arrived. First she dialed 911 and received a recorded message, then she screamed for her neighbor who appeared to not be home. Then she pushed poor old Bert further into the back seat, closed the door, got into the driver's side and backed the car out of the driveway with all the speed and prowess of Mario Andretti.

The hospital was only 3 blocks away so she didn't have much time to think about the fact that she was, for the first time in her life, in the driver's seat.

But when she did have time to reflect on it (and after she found out that poor old Bert was okay), she felt very proud and happy. And then she felt very sad.

"But why, granny?" her awestruck teenaged granddaughter asked, "Why are you sad? You should be proud!"

"My dear," Granny looked at her with solemn eyes, "it's an awful feeling, at my age, to realize you can do something you thought you couldn't." She shook her head slowly. "And worse than that, is wondering about all those other things you hadn't tried because you thought you couldn't."

Granny has a good point, doesn't she? Forget about January promises. Let's just go out there and do the things we still have time to do!

I'd love to hear from you!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

From the Big Apple to a Big Greek Village

An interview by author Marjory McGinn from her blog Big Fat Greek Odyssey 

Caption for linda and hubby with NY skyline
A recent photo of Linda and Nick in front of the New York skyline
This week I am interviewing Linda Fagioli-Katsiotas, a New York teacher and writer who married a Greek in the 1980s and bravely went to live with her new family in a remote and raw village in Epirus, in Greece. Her fascinating story is the subject of her memoir The Nifi.
Q: Welcome to my blog, Linda. Tell us a bit about yourself.
A: First let me thank you for inviting me to this interview. I was born and raised on Long Island, outside of New York City. My father’s parents were Italian immigrants and my mother was from the little town of Malone, in the Adirondack Mountains; her parents were French Canadian. I’ve been a teacher for 21 years, working with immigrant children at my local school.
Q:  In your 20s you married a Greek. Tell us a little about that.
A: I met my husband in 1980 at a restaurant on Long Island, where we worked together. Nick had been in the US since 1978 and didn’t speak a lot of English but it was enough. Later we eloped after knowing each other for about a year. It was a marriage with all the trimmings for failure: different culture, religion, language, ethnic background, but somehow we made it.
margariti village caption
The traditional village of Margariti in Epirus
nick and linda cooking goat 1983
A young Linda and Nick in 1983 getting to grips with village life, and roasting a goat for lunch
Q: Later you went to live for a while in your husband’s native village of Margariti, in Epirus, north-west Greece. What was your Big Fat Greek Immersion like?
A: At that age, I had no idea what I was doing. I was madly in love and, probably like every young person then, I wanted a life that was different from the mainstream. Nick was quite a tough person and I realised when I got to his village why he was like that. Most of the people in Margariti are tough. It’s a matter of survival. The journey to his village was my first trip out of the US.  Epirus is a beautiful mountainous area with some of the most exquisite beaches as well like Karovostasi. But lovely surroundings quickly lose their appeal when you’re living in quite primitive conditions, without the ability to communicate with anyone.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Mourning Trees

How we treat nature, speaks volumes about who we are. When we see the majestic branches of trees that are intertwined with age and wisdom, what do we actually see? Something to: water, climb, hug, prune, or just grab a chainsaw and cut down to nothing?

To some, this beautiful mass of greenery below is a work of art . . .

. . . and yet to others, it's a mess of gnarled obstacles that needs to be eliminated.

That green wall of vegetation stood tall behind our fence one early June morning when I left my house, but it was completely gone in the afternoon when I returned. Beside my own loss, I was struck by the confusion of the wildlife that, for hours and days afterwards, searched for their homes. Birds with worms in their mouths circled the naked area looking for their nests, and squirrels ran about without direction. Their world had vanished without explanation, gone because of one human being, greater than they, who had ownership of, and the means to destroy, a hundred years of growth.

I mourned those trees for a long time after they were gone, each day as I looked out my windows and saw my neighbor's house. Not because of privacy but because I'd watched them grow for almost sixty years. Among their branches were the threads of my childhood, my adolescence, the birth of my children and the struggle of growth that ensued year after year.

I'm really a bit baffled by this new . . . let's call it "change."  Was it my neighbor's desire for clean straight lines and a well organized space? A sort of comment on his frustration at how unpredictable and random nature can be and therefore, a need to tame it in hopes of neat, tightly kept spaces to live life?

For a few weeks I lived in a cave with my shades drawn. It wasn't that people could see in, but rather I couldn't bare to look out. And then slowly I got used to the idea. I accepted the change. The old replaced by the new.

And not long after, there was a similar "change" happening across the ocean, back in Margariti. An old olive tree, unyielding and set in its ways, was cut down and dug out, leaving a tiny orange tree that had struggled beneath its oppressive shadow.

And on the farm, a group of adolescent maple trees was transplanted from where they'd fallen as seeds at the base of a deep ditch.

They were brought up onto flat land, planted side by side within the valley where direct sunlight now hits their branches and the drapery of mountains has become their backdrop for the future, replacing the shady mud of the ditch where they'd struggled to grow for several years. Some are slowly dying and some are fighting to live but it is a certainty that none would have survived much longer in the ditch.

Different location. Different rationale.

I'd love to hear from you!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Rules for living in Greece

Are you a rule follower?

Katherine Hepburn said: "If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun," and Socrates: "Sometimes you put walls up not to keep people out, but to see who cares enough to break them down."

So rules are made to be broken, right?

Good Lord, I have no idea!
I just know that I'm always the anxious person behind the rule-breakers whispering, "Are you sure this is okay?" while biting my nails and looking over my shoulder. Which describes many of my outings in Epirus.

Below is a sign explaining the funding of six hundred thousand euros from the EU to the Greek government to keep an archeology site open. This one happens to be the ruins of an ancient city overlooking the Preveza bay.

But it appears that the money was used for a chain and lock.

So, when we arrived there after a pleasant walk through the woods, we were disappointed but not surprised, as these are hard times in Greece so for whatever reason, we've accepted closed locations that had formerly been open.

On the other side of the gate, within the archeological site we spied some movement and then a man slowly came forward with the unsure stride of a trespasser. 

"This is not a Greek person," Nick said, and Cousin Errieta who had accompanied us on our outing, agreed. They were both right. The non-Greek speaker hesitantly motioned to the fence a few feet away from the gate, until we realized what he was showing us.

Apparently, he also had wanted to see the archeological site and at first we thought it was he who had cut the hole in the wire fence, which he was directing us toward. It seemed a drastic measure because archeological sites are everywhere in this country--in household gardens, on the side of highways, next to supermarket parking lots--so why not just find another one. But perhaps this ancient city was one spectacular enough to take the time to buy wire cutters, climb up into the rocky buttress along the gate, and make an illegal entry.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Is That an Airplane I Hear?

“What’s that noise!?” 

Are you the kind of person who hears the high-pitched whistle of an approaching airplane as you lie in bed at night and wait for it to pass—grateful that it’s passed you by and is still airborne?  In my family that’s totally normal. We Fagiolis are hypersensitive to sound. I suspect, if we were wired to lab equipment when we hear a “ping” or bump that isn’t familiar to our super-power ears, there would be evidence of dilated pupils, a racing heart, increased breathing—again, all normal—genetically acquired.  (This hypersensitivity to sound does not include people speaking.)

Recently, Nick had the opportunity to fly in a two-seater airplane. He flew over the Margariti valley and along the Ionian coastline in a seat beside the pilot, a local man named Athanasios Giannelos. Athanasios highlights many of his flights by using a camera attached to the plane and posting the images to his Facebook page, AIRFIELD MARGARITI.

Originally, Nick thought that I might want to fly with Athanasios, but given the fact that a flight in a jumbo jet brings me to my knees,  I decided to pass. Maybe another time. I knew, however, that Athanasios and Nick would be flying over the house so with much excitement, I awaited the sound of the plane engine as I tried to go about my business. I even changed into a red blouse so that they'd be able to spot me on the balcony.

What actually happened was this: 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A Tale of Two Packages

“Only a masochist with deep pockets would want to pursue [it].” That phrase is from author, Marjory McGinn, describing her registering of her car legally in Greece, the operative word being legally. That was after the villagers tried to persuade her to do it . . . let's just say, a more successful way. I’ve been thinking of that lately as I await a package that I regret ordering online and having sent to me here, in Margariti.

I love Greece, Epirus in particular. And I accept the fact that “business” is run a bit differently than in other parts of the world but I’m not here on business, so that's fine with me. That being said, when I ordered something from and had it delivered to the Margariti address, I did it, more or less as an experiment – sort of like tying a message to a balloon and seeing if anyone ever gets it.

I expected nothing but hoped for the best. And I was pleasantly surprised when, two weeks later, I got a text from Amazon saying the package had been delivered. So Nick went to get it from the post office but the postmaster said he hadn’t gotten anything for us even though the tracking number showed that it had been delivered—but it had not.

Okay,” I thought. “I tried.” And with all the optimism of a person on vacation, far from the stress of work or bill-paying, I cheerfully continued to hope for its arrival. At some point, I called a representative at which resulted in a full refund and the representative saying that if the package did eventually show up, it was still no charge.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Greece's Doctors

I recently had an unusual encounter with a doctor. It was quite different from my first visit to a physician's office in Greece back in 1983--for a severe case of food poisoning. The doctor back then also had his office in the port of Igoumenitsa, but to get there, we needed to take a bus from Margariti on a narrow winding road around several mountains--not a very pleasant trip even in the best of health.

As I recall that day, I remember the doctor well. His office was small and unremarkable. He spoke perfect English and he attended to me with great care and kindness. The medication he prescribed was very effective. Overall, it was quite a reassuring experience, as I'd been staying in the somewhat primitive conditions in which Margariti was engulfed at that time.

Over the years, there have been other doctor visits: dentists, pediatricians, general practitioners. All providing very good care for a small affordable fee.

This most recent visit however, felt a little different. I needed to see a dermatologist. One was recommended by someone in the village. So we drove the  17 miles to Igoumenitsa, about a 20 minute drive with the new smooth and modern Egnatia Highway. Once there, it took us a while to find the doctor's office because it was located away from the center of town, in a residential area. The sign to the office was small and somewhat hidden by vegetation. The office itself was on the first floor of a residential building which was reached by walking through a gate into a beautifully manicured yard. It was shared with a dentist as indicated by another sign and it appeared to have a home on the upper floors. This is not terribly unusual in Greece but it's the first time I, personally, have seen a doctor who is outside of the business center of Igoumenitsa.

The unusual part came when the young doctor opened the door to the waiting room to usher us into his inner office.

Monday, July 6, 2015

A Warm Traditional Zagorian Home

When I read his book, The Ionian Islands and Epirus: A Cultural History, Jim Potts' description of Zagori, an area in the Epirus region of Greece, was somewhat familiar to me as I'd been there several times. However, I never expected to be as fortunate as I was recently when Nick and I were invited to Zagori's village of Vitsa to spend time with authors Jim Potts and Maria Strani-Potts. Entering their restored Zagorian home was like passing through the doors of time, into another world and era.

Though the materials used for the restoration of the old house were new, the design remained true to that area's ageless architecture which makes use of the most abundant construction materials of those mountains: a variety of stone and wood.

The original front gate has the charm of its weathered wood. That gate leads into a courtyard that is partly covered by an upstairs room of the house. It is adorned with wall coverings taken from the sides of an old cart, while a metal milk container is fashioned into the pedestal of a small table which sits between two comfortable-looking chairs, making a very inviting sitting area, so inviting in fact, that a small bat has taken up residence inside a small blue light on the ceiling.

A working cistern also sits in that covered part of the courtyard and Jim told us that it was used at times when the restoration rendered the indoor plumbing unusable.

From there, the courtyard opened up as we walked through a lovely archway into an open space with trees and flowers. The front door of the home sits unassumingly in that bright courtyard and walking past the strings of beads that hang in the doorway, we were led into an adorable well-stocked kitchen from which Maria and her friend, Fantina prepared us a wonderful local feast.



Off the kitchen is a narrow winding staircase that leads to the second  floor where the main sitting room is full of fun artifacts from the couple's life in different countries.

Friday, July 3, 2015

The Economic Crisis in Epirus

Days before I boarded my flight to Greece, I'd heard that the economic crisis was heading toward a critical turning point. I worried about civil unrest, the banks running out of money or not being able to use my ATM card. . . but of course, not enough to cancel my trip.
On the last leg of the journey, I traveled aboard a somewhat empty ferry from Corfu. While sitting inside the lounge, I  watched the panic unfold on the television, not quite sure what the Greek newscasters were saying and when I finally disembarked in Igoumenitsa, the chatter of English-speaking tourists deepened my concern.

I cannot tell you what is happening in the cities nor can I tell you about Greece's islands or all of her countryside villages. I can only tell you what I see and hear on the Northern coastline of Epirus.

The banks are closed. They've been closed for the past five days. Small business owners are unable to get the supplies they need to conduct business because there is no way to pay a supplier electronically, so businesses sit idle and orders go unfilled. The ATM in Amoudia was filled the day before yesterday, so said one fisherman as we relayed to him that it is now empty. In the supermarket in Kanalaki, the flour and rice shelves are empty, though there seems to be plenty of other products. The ATM there has money but only $60 per day per card. If I were a younger person with a family, I would be taking that $60 and stocking up on canned goods. The roads have very little traffic on them. There seem to be more motorbikes than cars. At $60 a day, it's probably foolish to waste money on gasoline for a car. There are far fewer tourist than in years past. In fact, some of the seaside towns such as Plateria, and Amoudia, towns that are mostly visited by Greeks on day trips, are so deserted that they remind me of a time long ago before the Egnatia Highway and the influx of easy travel. It's a circumstance that I have often pined for with the new era of crowds and summer commotion, but now that the empty beaches and empty eating places are back, I can't say that I am glad about it. As the saying goes: Be careful what you wish for; you just might get it. 

I have to admit, I'm feeling a bit uneasy.

Best Bookstore in Greece!

This adorable little bookstore in Parga, Greece, has increased in size with each year that has passed. They've also added books written in languages other than Greek. This year they added THE NIFI to their English-language collection and I am so incredibly amazed that they've sold out! A new order is on the way, but if you bought one from this bookstore I'd like to say a big THANK YOU! and I hope you enjoyed it.

If you're still in Parga and looking for another book to read, I'd like to humbly suggest YOUR OWN KIND, which I hand delivered to them yesterday.

Happy reading!

I'd love to hear from you! 

Sunday, June 7, 2015

A Summer Body

I've just gotten one of those catalogues from Victoria's Secret, the one that has me absently looking at my profile in window reflections, as the summer approaches. But the true Secret here, is in the speed with which I'm able to get Victoria to the trash upon her arrival to my home, rather than having her sit on the counter, staring at me for a few hours or days.

When I first started working with adults with brain injury (mostly strokes), they all looked quite old to me, but over the past few years, they've somehow gotten younger and lately those I'm giving therapy to, are around my own age.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Changing of the Guard: Goodbye Θωμά

On May 11, 2015, the patriarch of Margariti's Katsiotas Family, my father-in-law Tomas, passed away and left his children to carry on. In the days that follow, there may be patches of blue sky as the black clouds finally begin to part, but emotions other than those we had expected, may also surface.

Tomas was a bit of a prickly pear: difficult to get near or to touch, but whose tough outer skin quite possibly might have been protecting the sweetness inside. 

And with his death, I find myself wondering about his life.

While I was writing The Nifi, I tried to get his perspective on some of the events that Chevi was describing to me, but Tomas didn't seem to want to share the past. His answers were short and vague. There must have been a reason for his rough nature, but he offered very few clues as to what it might have been. I suspect though, there may be some pieces of his past that could support the memory of his life.

Tomas was a survivor.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A Facelift

It's not easy getting old. The Nifi remembers her earlier days fondly but she has to admit, she's not as young as she used to be. Her face is a bit worn out and she's missing a few periods . . .

. . . and commas.

So in anticipation of the new addition to the family, a  young, fresh-faced novel entitled Your Own Kind, the Nifi has gotten a bit of a facelift.

We've added a quote from the British author, Jim Potts and we've toned down the colors of her face a bit. Nothing too dramatic, just a few subtle changes. Those bright colors don't work as well as they did when she was younger.

A preface at the beginning and a "few last word"  at the end of the story, have also been added.

If you have the Kindle version, you'll be able to download an updated version at   AMAZON.COM

Your Own Kind is also available in paperback at AMAZON and for downloading to your EBOOK

I'd love to hear from you!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Liar, Liar, pants on Fire!

It's true: I'm a fibber. 

Back in 1969, I lied my way through sixth grade English class, though I suspect Miss Kutz, my English teacher at that time, knew. But whenever I talked to her, she attended to my every word as though my ideas were of great importance, which is a rare gift for a child in a family of eight. The students in Miss Kutz's class were supposed to independently read a book every month and afterwards write a summary. My summaries were copied from my father's Encyclopedia of Book Summaries. I handed in well written synopsizes of books like, A Tale of Two Cities, Silas Marner, and Great Expectations . . . you get the picture.

But Miss Kutz never once called me out on it.

And then I decided to write my own book on loose leaf paper about a family. It was completely independent of any work I needed to do for school. I showed it to Miss Kutz. She took it and actually read it and wrote encouraging comments in it. I don't remember anything else about the rest of middle school. Only that. But I hadn't thought about her or that loose-leaf-book until these past few years.

Little snippets of time like that one stay inside us—sometimes buried so deep they're unreachable. Over the two years that Your Own Kind was written, Miss Kutz slowly slipped back into my memory. I think she would be proud of this one.

Here is Chapter 1:

Sunday, February 8, 2015

I am an Abuser

It's true. I abuse books. Not only do I crack their spines, crease their pages into deep dog-eared triangles, write notes in their blank spaces, but I also rip them. I make two small rips on the side of the page so I can fold it toward the lines that have me nodding my head and thinking, "Oh, that's a good one. I want to remember that."  But I know I won't remember it . . . unless I mark it in a way that ensures when I pick up the book months or years later, it will open to those pages and that special excerpt will be there waiting, like this one from The Cellist of Sarajevo: "Life is a series of tiny unavoidable decisions . . . a series of inconsequential junctions, any or none of which can lead to salvation or disaster." C'mon, isn't that a great line?

Okay, so you probably do not want to lend me any books and if you already have, you know I typically don't return them. Nor am I a very good library patron, so I almost always have to buy the books I want to read.

Around 1984, supermarkets started selling them in a big way, and I remember my elation the first time I walked down the book aisle. The decisions were easy: buy milk or buy a book? . . . never a difficult choice. So, yes, now I've got tons of books, because I also do not part with them once they're in my possession.

I might have a little problem.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Thank you to Corfu Blues and its creator Jim Potts

The Ionian Islands and Epirus: A Cultural History, by British author Jim Potts, sits on the coffee table in Margariti. It's the kind of book you never really finish reading because you find yourself going back to the pages to reread or to use as a reference. It was also the book that prompted me to take more advantage of the Islands not far off the mainland from where Margariti lies.

In his book, Jim Potts describes the seven Ionian Islands and celebrates their spectacular landscape and classical associations. After reading about these islands and having visited Margariti for more than 30 years with embarrassingly few visits to the islands, (flying into Corfu airport barely counts), I felt compelled to seek out a local boat captain, Captain Yianni, for a trip to Paxos and Antipoxos, which is described in the JANUARY BLOG POST entitled, "January, the MID-year month." It proved to be a wonderful trip but with the background knowledge I gained from reading about the two islands beforehand, I was able to enjoy it to the fullest. And with that, I've made the commitment to at least enjoy one Island each summer.

Because Mr. Potts is an expert on that area, I was also very honored and excited to see an article about my own book, THE NIFI , written by this very successful and talented author on his blog entitled, CORFU BLUES .

In addition to his glowing approval of my rendition of Margariti life, he wrote: "Although an American herself, Linda Fagioli-Katsiotas has had more than enough insider experience to be able to give all these Greek women—and men—real authentic voices." 

In The Ionian Islands and Epirus: A Cultural History, Jim Potts also asserts that, "the unsurpassed beauty of the islands and of the Pindus Mountains have stimulated the imagination of countless writers and artists," which I humbly hope to now count myself among.

The Ionian Islands and Epirus is a wonderful book, one worth reading and if you cannot come to Margariti to have a cup of coffee and flip through the one that sits on the coffee table, don't worry, it is available to you on

I'd love to hear from you!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

January: The MID-year month

We all know that September is the first month of the year and June is the last. Why else would the school's MID-term tests be scheduled in January? So as I come over the hump of mid-year and see the light of the Greek sunshine on the horizon, I think of those two other months, the ones that equate to paradise, and I fondly think of Yianni.

He and his family live on a boat in the Acheron River during the summer.  Captian Yianni's boat has no frills and is relatively small, but that makes it much more endearing than the overcrowded tourist boats--those with the eyes painted on the side to look like an ancient relic and with wall-to-wall people hanging over the railings with IPHONEs pointed in all directions.    

Our tour on Captian Yianni's boat begins in Amoudia, a village not far from Margariti. As you drive out of the mountains and along the ridge of a delta, the village of Amoudia opens up and fans-out before your eyes. The old people in the area call it Splanza after an Italian general who controlled the area during WWII.

The Map below shows the short drive from Margariti and then the cruise to the Blue Caves, Antipoxos (the smaller island), Paxos and then back to the mainland.