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Friday, December 9, 2016

It Only Takes One Generation to Forget

He was stripped naked, forced to kneel in the snow as a dull sword was given to a 16-year-old villager, a sort of baptism into soldierhood, though there were plenty of guns available for the job. It took the boy several blows of the sword to accomplish the task. The victim: an Italian soldier taken prisoner in the mountains of Greece during World War II, a young man who now lives in my psyche and haunts my dreams.

This true account was taken from the diary of New Zealander, Tom Barnes, whose daughter-in-law turned those pages into a book called The Sabotage Diaries. He and his men, part of a team that was parachuted into Greece, witnessed the account but were not able to stop it. For several reasons, this book is more than just an interesting read. The narrative of that one unfortunate Italian captive, is but a few lines in the tale and yet, I cannot let it go. I see those family members of mine who were players on that field. My father-in-law, Tomas was a young andarte (partisan-guerilla) among those the British allies came to help. My mother-in-law, Chevi, was a young woman who suffered the consequences of the war and was one who carried the munitions for the soldiers as Barnes was aghast to learn--women in Greece were the pack mules.

But it's the words of my father, Carl Fagioli, that ring in my ears. An Italian-American, born of immigrant parents, he suffered throughout his life from bouts of anxiety that in later life he attributed to his time in World War II. His mother, a widow and he an only son could have deferred the deployment but they didn't know. She was a barely-literate immigrant trying to make a living in the Bronx. When dad was sent to the front, he was grateful it was in Asia, for now the relatives back in the old country were deemed enemies and he wasn't sure how he'd be able to survive if he had to fight against them. Was that young prisoner in the Greek mountains a relative? A friend of one whom dad would visit in Italy forty years later? Would the family members of that young soldier have ascendants who'd come as tourists after a few generations to swim on the Greek shores? It only takes one generation to forget the atrocities of the past. . . That's why it's so easy to repeat them.

My father-in-law, Tomas had told a few war stories in his time and of course these colored my reading of Barnes' book. Another quick mention of a seemingly insignificant character in The Sabotage Diaries was a young twenty-year-old woman who the Greek guerrillas deemed a poutana (whore) for collaborating with the Italians. The Greek rebels that the allies came to help were actually split into two factions, leftists and right-wingers. It would be the only time they'd work together and even before the world war had ended, they would battle for control of Greece until the people were left in destitute tatters with broken hearts, broken homes and widespread starvation.

But the memory of one particular story from Tomas, had me reading about that so-called-whore with a heavy heart. There were groups of fighters vying for favor with General Zervas, the perceived leader of the Greek guerrillas. And bringing her to the general appeared to be a move to please him. Was that poor woman a traitor or a pawn? Someone who had jilted the amorous advances of one of the local boys-turned-guerrilla? A starving villager who'd succumbed to an Italian soldier's charity? An unlucky woman drawing water from a village well when the guerrillas passed by? Eventually she was taken away and shot.

This is my father-in-law's story:

Cousin Theodore was an andarte fighting against the Germans with the leftists. Tomas joined him with the thought that it would be better at least to have family within the ranks of whichever group he followed.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Split Second Decisions that Define a Future

The first Greek I ever met, was the one who hired me for a diner job in a New York suburb back in 1980. I didn't know he was Greek, probably couldn't have found Greece on a map. After all, there'd been no point in high school for attending to useless drivel like geography. If it wasn't going to make me a good wife or if I couldn't enter it into my journal while I cut classes and sat in the library writing, I simply wasn't interested.

I hadn't had any intension of taking that diner job. I'd just given up on a failed hairdressing career. Actually I was a shampoo girl. My fate had been sealed several years prior when I'd gotten caught ditching my high school Spanish class. That was my solution to some nasty bullying. All I knew was that I couldn't go back to that class and when one hapless guidance counselor got the unpleasant duty of reprimanding me, he'd tried to scare me with some line about needing Spanish coursework for when I applied for a university. Silly fool. College? Me? I'm one of six children and a girl. Didn't he know anything?

"Well, what are you going to do with your life?" he'd asked me.

"Be a mother and a wife, of course." I thought, "what else?" But he seemed to want an answer. I knew I liked to write and to read books. But you can't make a living out of that, can you? Hmmm, well, I also knew a girl who was in a program to become a hair stylist.  I liked blow drying my hair. I was pretty good at styling it. I really couldn't think of any other profession at that moment and I figured he needed an answer. It was his job after all. Guidance counselor. So, I gave him something mostly so I could get out of his office.

"I want to be a hairdresser," I said.

Oh that sweet man! From then on, he worked with a vengeance to get me into the 2-year cosmetology program and my hairdressing career was off and running. The first thing I learned was that I didn't really like to touch other people's hair. But the commitment was made. So, I'd give it all I had, which turned out to be very little. I never made it past shampoo girl and I was tired of living in my parents' house. Remember the six kids?

Friday, December 2, 2016

Insects and other creatures.

Imagine insects and small creatures crawling into your window at night or just living in the cracks of your stucco walls.

I've just reread the hilariously entertaining book, My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durell. As Durell, a young boy living on the Greek island of Corfu in the 1930s, recounted his intimate relationship with the creeping crawling creatures of the area, I could not help but think of my own, not-so-romantic experience on Corfu in 1987. I'd missed the last ferry to the mainland and had to spend the night in a hotel that boasted a closeness to nature like none I wanted to experience. I'd thought my stint on the mainland in the village of Margariti, a few years prior, had desensitized me to those creatures. But I was wrong.

Rewind to that first experience of the Greek countryside in Epirus, 1983. Within the altered state of mind-numbing culture shock, I'd become hypersensitive to sounds--not only to the lilt of approaching Greek-speakers but also to the barely audible sounds of small creatures that only I seemed to hear until they made their presence blatantly known. Take the Greek termites, for example. A small scratching sound, almost imperceptible, unless you happened to be lying wide-eyed in the middle of the night, a thin sheet sticking to the sweat on your body. In that case, as was the case for me on those sweltering, pre-air-conditioned nights, I implored my husband, Nick, to identify from where the sound was coming but he couldn't hear it. I, on the other hand, could localize the vicinity somewhere near the floor by the door but when I turned on the light, there'd be nothing there. It wasn't until we'd needed that one wooden chair for a dinner guest, that the scratching sound was accurately identified. I retrieved the chair from the bedroom and brought it to the guest beneath the grape arbor where the family had gathered for a meal. The guest sat on it, and with a small creak, the chair disintegrated under his bottom and he fell to the ground.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Worth Repeating

He wanted to take that old lantern and smash it up against the thief's head. It didn't matter that it was an old oil lantern, not worth much of anything, or that the thief was a neighbor whose house lay a few feet from his own, or that the lantern was alway returned unharmed. The whole situation irritated him beyond relief. Stealing is wrong and thieves should be punished. It was logical reasoning for an eight-year-old and as an adult, my husband, Nick recalled the events, remembering a sense of grave injustice.

The neighbor, we'll call her Yitonia, would bring the lantern back to Nick's mother, Chevi, a few times a week and apologize for her son who had taken it.  Chevi would invite the neighbor in.

"Oh, kids are that way," she'd say in her light manner, as if it were nothing, but young Nick fumed with anger.

And then Chevi would give Yitonia some of her bean soup she'd made or some olive oil that was stored in the back room. Yitonia knew Chevi didn't have much, barely enough to feed her own family.

"Oh, no, no, really.  I can't," Yiotonia would say, but Chevi would insist and the other woman would leave with her loot.

One day, as Chevi was getting ready to go to the farm with the children, Little Nick came into the house with the oil lantern.

"What are you doing?" his mother asked him.

"Hiding this from Yitonia's son," he said wondering for the first time why his mother had never thought of that easy remedy.

"Niko," she said, "Don't you think if the boy were actually stealing it, it would stay gone?  We'd never see it again."

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Pomegranate Power


It's a beautiful lush green plant, perfect for a hedge of privacy. Its giant red flowers in the spring turn to large red pomegranates in the fall. More importantly though, is the power it possesses. It's often looked at as a symbol of fertility and the number of seeds represent the many children in one's future.

But somehow the pomegranate has evolved along the Greek countryside to include a power for warding off the evil eye . . . or so I've been told. For that reason, the pomegranate is often given as a silver jewel to hang somewhere in your home as a symbol of luck and prosperity, as well as insurance against unexpected mishaps.

The one that was given to me as a gift, hung on the handle of the Margariti kitchen window until the red string to which it was attached, broke. I worried that the broken string might somehow be related to a damaged future fate . . .

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Swimming Against the Tide


My first memory of Cousin Toula, is of her sneaking a drag on a cigarette—actually several drags, I think it was my husband, Nick's cigarette—and blowing the smoke into the darkness of a warm Greek summer night. It was something similar to what I'd done with one of my friends more than ten years prior, while sitting in the wooded area near my house. Two American thirteen-year-olds experimenting. But Toula was not a teenager and she was not experimenting. It was 1983 and we were twenty-something-year-old young women in the small village of Margariti. Even I who wore short shorts and tight tube tops at home in New York but long sundresses in Margariti, knew that Toula was playing a dangerous game, this female-smoking-a-cigarette thing.  

I immediately liked her.

When I met my sister-in-law, Eftihia, for the first time, she was wearing jeans—long legged Levis. She was the only pant-wearing woman I saw in the village as well as in the small city of Igoumenitsa. Again, it was 1983 and I myself was clad in a dark colored dress of conformity. My jeans were strictly for the plane ride to and from New York. But Eftihia explained (though no explanation was necessary as logic made it obvious) that carting wood for cooking, trekking to the spring to get drinking water and the heavy laborious work in the house made dress-wearing a ridiculous idea. Those around her tried to make her see the reasoning in conforming to societal rules. But she wasn't having any of it. In fact, when a naughty male passenger had a bit of a feel on a crowded bus one day, she turned around and punched him in the face and made his advances known to all. It never happened again. Not to her anyway.

Cousin Toula, against strong and fearsome objections from her father, opened a bar in Margariti. Yes, a bar! She tended to drinks and conversation for over fifteen years—against threat of disownment and humiliation. She followed her own path—swam against the tide and made a good living for her family.

Eftihia negotiated her own marriage. The young men who were smitten with her—she was a beautiful woman—had to agree to her terms or there would be no deal. In the end her current husband listened and agreed as she laid out her expectations and objectives for married life. Whether or not it went as she expected—I’ve never met a woman whose expectations of marriage bore fruit—it didn't matter. She did the unthinkable. She laid out what she wanted in her future husband rather than accepting what was expected.

Friday, August 26, 2016

A Bridge Built by Brits

Relationships are directly linked to physical health and psychological well being, sometimes positive, sometimes negative. There's much research to back this up but it's something I've always suspected based on my own experiences.

When I first came to Margariti, I had only my husband, Nick, with whom I could converse. I interacted with others but rarely by choice. And without understanding the language, it was mostly an anxiety filled encounter. The solution seemed to lie within the language. It was the bridge to a fulfilling life, the missing piece in a perfect setting, the holy grail.

If I could just learn Greek . . .

But Nick and I rarely stayed more than two months at a time. We would return to the U.S., to life, which does not often give you the chance to do what you want, when there's so much that's needed to be done. But I kept trying with Greek language books, with satellite Greek television, and then computer programs when they came into existence. And each of these got me just a tiny bit closer, but still there remained a large gaping canyon between me and relationships of substance. Eventually I acquired a survival-type Greek and with it Greek-speakers often assumed that I knew more than I was revealing. (Something no one ever does, when given the choice of interaction or loneliness.) There were casual friendships that stayed just outside of intimacy, people with whom I wanted to share so much but could only sit on the periphery of their conversations.


And then suddenly, there it was. The beginning construction of a bridge.

Ah, but it wasn't the Greek language that was building it. With one brick at a time, it was the English expats who've made this area near Margariti their permanent home. Slowly the gaping canyon narrowed with the camaraderie of those who understood my plight, people with whom I could discuss an array of topics. Someone other than my own significant other. So bit by bit, as one new relationship after another blossomed, I felt the missing pieces of my Margariti life arrange themselves.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Greek Math: 1 really equals 2


If you only have a few days to spend in Greece that's okay because one day really equals two. Simply adhere to the Greek spirit of rest and you will be able to double your life span. . . or at least the span of your Greek holiday. . . well, not really. But it will feel like it. And sometimes illusion is better than reality. I'm talking about the Greek custom of the midday siesta.

Take this Facebook exchange as an example of how it works:


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Don't Kill the Messenger

I've written and deleted this post a hundred times and my indecision stems from two sources. One is sheer ego and the fact that I want everyone to think I am in paradise and they are not. The other is mostly cowardice in that I prefer to avoid controversy and there will be Greeks and non-Greeks who dislike what I am about to say.

Brazil 1960-something
Brazil today
Let me start with Rio de Janeiro because it is a city in the spotlight with the 2016 summer olympics. The sea water there is so polluted that several athletes have left. But it was once a top destination for tourists with some of the most beautiful beaches.

There must have been a time when the tourist business owners began to see the first remnants of foamy film washing up on the shore. Maybe they talked about it in cafes over coffee or mojitos. Maybe it was a moment at which something could have been done but then it was so small and insignificant it was hard to get others to care about it, especially when they were struggling to make a living. How can you worry about a little bit of pollution when you are trying to feed and clothe your children? Besides, the sea is able to cleanse itself. It's done so for millions of years and it will do so again as soon as the tourist season is over.

Beach in Epirus 2016
Greece has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Here in Epirus the mountains meet the sea and the water is so crystal clear that you can see the mountainside continue under the turquoise water into the blue-black depths. The water temperature is so comfortable that you can swim for hours without realizing the energy expended or if preferred, float atop the warm blanket of sea and forget every problem that awaits beyond Greece's doors.

A few years ago, a foamy film was occasionally spotted at a few beaches.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

A Difficult Decision

How are decisions made? Maybe you weigh the pros and cons, draw a T-chart, calculate the risks and so forth. Or you just dive in and hope the water is deep enough so as not to crack your skull on the bottom. I don't know the answer to this. I only know that with youth, decisions are made on the basis of an endless future to recover from unforeseen results. But that is no longer an option.

My husband and I raised our two children in an apartment in my parents' house in the U.S. Like every young mother, I did all I could to protect my little ducklings. The kitchen area was built so as to have a window facing the yard in which they played. The yard was strategically fenced to keep them in and to keep danger out. A metal swing set was cemented to the ground in the middle of the yard so that it would be stable as the children played on it. Downy green grass grew beneath it to cushion any falls they might have. And then one day, as I stood at the kitchen window watching them swing high back and forth in the little controlled space beneath the swings, I heard a God-awful crack and before I could get out the back door, a monstrous branch from the neighbor's old oak tree fell square on top of the swing set, engulfing both children and the entire swing set.

I couldn't breathe. "They're dead," I thought just as the leaves parted and both children ran out from underneath the mammoth branch.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Our Donkey needs a Doctor

Today's cars are yesterday's donkeys. Just look at the width of any village street. No one ever expected anything larger than a donkey and a cart to pass through them.

The donkey was a means for transporting goods as well as people and according to one very well-known Margariti citizen (though it may be only me to whom he is well-known), a donkey elevated one's status in society. And rightfully so. If you had one, you had more freedom than others, a mode of transportation. Thus, it was essential to care for said-mode of freedom.

I've always felt a great sense of camaraderie with the donkey owners of yesteryear when it comes to this idea of autonomy. When my brother-in-law finally traded his motorbike for a car, I sensed a moment of power with the prospect of having a possible escape vehicle, albeit not my own and not one I could drive. I never learned to drive a manual stick shift. But it clearly was a means to escape when escape from the village was necessary. All I needed was a driver.

As I recall, the family donkey was eaten by wolves, a horrible story. He was tied to a tree down on the farm one winter night and when the unlucky family member who was supposed to retrieve him got to the farm, only his half-eaten carcass was left, and of course a frayed rope. Oh the horror! To have lost a loyal and reliable member of the family in such a way but also to have lost so much more.

Supposedly a horse is more valuable than a donkey, however, and it raises one's status to a higher degree than those who own a slow-moving stubborn donkey. So when a horse was purchased from a seller who lived higher up in the mountains, the family was elated at such a lift in status and also enamored by the lovely prospect of traveling at a greater speed while mounted upon a proud stallion. However, no one told them not to let the horse eat too much of the valley vegetation until he got accustomed to the change in diet. The horse gorged himself on valley grass and then died.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Teachers are like Mother Hens?

"You look like a hen with your baby chicks following behind," a fellow teacher once said to me as I passed by her classroom door with several of my students in tow. I liked the comparison. I thought it was cute and also accurate. Until recently.

Here in Margariti, we've acquired several chickens and one rooster. And about a month ago, one of the hens produced a certain squawking sound that my brother-in-law, Fotis, identified as her desire to brood, which means sit on a nest and wait for the eggs to hatch. So, we put fifteen eggs in a well-cushioned nest and Mama Hen sat on the eggs for 21 days. I often emailed photos to one of my sisters who was spending the summer back on Long Island chauffeuring her two teenaged sons around while also jumping through hoops to entertain her six-year-old daughter.

"Twenty-one days until they hatch?" my sister asked. "Tell her to enjoy it while she can."

So, Mama Hen sat in her nest and once in a while I checked in on her, until one day, a few little chirping chicks emerged briefly from under her haunches and then scuttled back underneath. Upon closer examination there were ten unhatched eggs and five open egg shells but only four chicks. The one missing chick was a mystery with a plausible conclusion. A predator most likely ate it. Mama Hen could not leave the nest to fend for one chick when there were so many to protect. I obsessed over that one missing chick for a couple of days and then I just had to accept its unknown fate.

After a few more days, there were more chicks but four unhatched eggs remained. Eventually Mama got off the nest and left those four behind so she could teach the others how to scratch the dirt and find food. At one point a cat got into the area where her chicks were mulling around and Mama ran after him, pecking and squawking until the intruder gave up and left her area, her babies safe, her territory unmarred. But my eyes kept going back to the unhatched four that remained in the nest and the comparison of a teacher and her students was renewed.

"What about the unhatched eggs?" I asked. "Maybe they just needed a little more time."

"Yes, maybe," Fotis agreed, "but then how would she be able to feed and protect the ten who are here now. If she stays on the nest waiting for those four, she'll risk losing the others. She had to make a judgement call."

I nodded. I don't like it. But I understand.








Monday, July 11, 2016

An Apology to the Greek Villagers

I wanted to speak for those who could not speak for themselves. That was the answer to the question asked of me a few years ago back in New York: Why had I become a teacher to immigrant children and then a speech pathologist to brain-injured adults? And as that answer escaped my lips, I realized where that yearning was born. In Margariti, my adopted Greek village. I’ve known that feeling for years. The frustration of wanting to communicate—my way, with my words—instead of through fractured and inadequate translation.

Mary Smith, the author of one of my favorite books, No More Mulberries, said "people thought I was aloof, stuck up . . . If only they understood the agonies of the socially inept." When I read it, I thought, Yes! And then add to that a different culture and different language! That’s the conundrum of being the American-me in Margariti.

The village traditions, celebrations, memorials, festivals . . . are never ending. But my ability to learn Greek is. Or at least it’s petered to a drizzle. The major culprit here is the number of people in any given conversation. In a Greek village, the number is rarely small.

In a group of four, (myself and my husband/translator, Nick, counting as two of that four), I can follow the conversation, though I might ask a question about the foot injury I think you're discussing when you are actually talking about the octopus you caught at the beach. But with such a small group, I feel like I have a fighting chance. And even better if you subtract one person. With three of us, my understanding is a bit clearer and I might venture to add something to the conversation, even if you turn to Nick and say, “Huh? What’s she saying?” I’m no longer silenced by that comment. I still might try to repeat my message without his help. And I can almost understand most of what's being said to me if the speakers don’t have food in their mouths or mumble too much.

Monday, July 4, 2016

A Greek Farming Lesson

Is it healthy clean food you're after? Perhaps you've had the dream I've had since my teen years in the 1970s: to live off the land, pick my own food, simplify life to its basic components.

Well, suffice it to say that my first moments in Epirus Greece in the early 1980s shook some sense into me. Back then I was a new bride, married to a Greek I barely knew and the countryside lifestyle in those days, in that area, was grueling to say the least, but I didn't give up the dream. . . I just modified it. Erase that "simplify life to its basic components" nonsense. I am thrilled with the changes made in Epirus since then: Indoor plumbing, passable roads, independent transportation, a livable house, internet connections. I need a bit more than just basic components, thank you anyway. But the farmer-living-off-the-land dream remained and this year I vowed to make it work. That is, until a few days ago. Now, it appears that I may need to modify a bit more of the plan, based on some recent Greek Farming Lessons.

Here is what Maragariti, my adopted village has taught me:

1. Chicken sh@# is not just a word to describe a fearful person. Chickens actually have excrement and it's disgusting.


2. Picking your own food is a hassle. After it's removed from the ground/tree/bush, it still has to be cleaned and the inedible portions cut off. I now know why Village Greek Salad doesn't consist of lettuce. It's hard to grow and hard to
clean. . . not to mention the fact that I pulled most of it out while I was weeding. It doesn't grow in a neat little round ball. How was I to know?

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Twenty Four Hours in Corfu


The transformation begins on the top step of the airplane stairs. That incredible Greek sunlight carves the Corfu mountains so very precisely into the azure blue sky. It partners with the warm breeze to anesthetize the emerging passengers. And we're finally here, back in Greece! Our fountain of youth. Transformed, we are young, we are strong, we are free!

First stop: Kalami to resurrect an old memory. My first encounter with this quaint little seaside village was in 1990-something when my mother-in-law watched our children and my husband, Nick, and I took to the road in my brother-in-law's tiny car, nicknamed the cockroach (by us only), which now seems terribly ungrateful on our part. I loved Kalami then and the love remains. It's an adorable little bay with a few restaurants and that signature warm blue sea water.

It's also the home of The White House. That's a house-turned-restaurant that was originally Lawrence Durell's residence. He is the brother of Gerald Durell, author of My Family and other Animals which tells of his experience as a child in Corfu in the 1930s. That was an extra treat because I knew it existed but  didn't realize it was in Kalami until we happened upon it. The food was so-so, but the atmosphere for a nerdy bookworm was wonderful as was the scenery.

Next stop: Kassiopi to a hotel that was exactly what a tired stressed-out old lady needed. It was the product of an online search and it was very good luck. Chrismos Hotel was a quiet, tucked-away little treasure with a lovely sea view, pool, cafe and bar.

While there, we visited the village of Kassiopi where we sat in a little cafe and had a gargantuan English breakfast. The English breakfast gets an A+. Nick washed his down with a beer which seemed to be the norm. I ordered Greek coffee which was more like warm brown water. The server explained that the British clientele preferred their "greek" coffee that way and then removed it from the bill. Honestly, the view and atmosphere were so pleasant, I would have eaten shredded cardboard with a smile.

Now, how does one write about spending time in Corfu at this particular time without mentioning the stinky garbage piles?

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Education

I wonder if the children of Margariti know what they have, if they know of the fragility of education for those who came generations before. It's
unlikely.

We're all basically the same. It's hard to know what those before us have gone through so that we could live in our comfortable oblivion.

It was this Margariti school that my husband, Nick, attended as a rambunctious and rebellious student who I have no doubt was a challenge to most teachers' patience. In fact, one disturbing incident that was depicted in a past post entitled, Teacher, may have been the catalyst to his disillusionment with education and thus his choice for disruptive school-behavior. But that's a different story.

At the same time that Nick was attending Margariti School, I was across the ocean, a compliant, looking-for-the-teachers'-praise little student. Along with my classmates, we were unquestioningly collecting pennies to donate to an organization that would send food to the post-war hungry children of Europe. We even had black and white photos of their hungry faces hanging in the classroom, which seems odd now. But I remember feeling a great sense of duty as I begged neighbors and relatives for their pennies.

Nick also fondly remembers receiving American cheese when he was in grade school. It was cut into small square blocks and handed out to the students. None of the children had ever seen such cheese before. In the heat, it became a gooey yellow mess. So, under the direction of my future husband, they learned how to launch it from the end of their pencils and have it stick to the classroom ceiling.  He's always been a mechanical sort of guy.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Ithaka



As you set out for Ithaka, hope the journey is a long one.

That's the first line from the Greek poet, C.P. Cavafy's poem entitled Ithaka. It has been quoted, translated, and often referred to in its carpe diem, live-for-today theme. But it's such a difficult idea when we are human--to live in the now, to see and feel what is before us at one particular moment or another rather than to rush our lives away waiting for one event and planning for the next.

Following, is a link in which Sean Connery, with his soothing voice, narrates the poem:  Ithaka.  And below is a passage from the novel, Your Own Kind, which borrows the idea of the poem.

        Alexandros had read those lines in the tattered poetry book more times than he could count, and yet at that moment, it was as if he were hearing them for the first time. Though the actual words were as familiar as the fingers on his hand, it was here, in the car with Sarah, that the meaning found its real home as the poet reached out through the ages. Suddenly there was an answer to his uncertainty--an answer to the letter his father had yet to send him. 
        Alexandros had been a brooding adolescent in his mountain village when the schoolmaster gave the older students that book of poems as a gift. There were only four students in his grade--all boys, but Alexandros was the one Mr. Thaskalos had chided to stop waiting for life to happen.
        It's a journey and you're on it. Don't wait for a destination; look around you, boy! This is life.
        But at fifteen, Alexandros had thought he knew more than the old schoolmaster. He needed to go somewhere, do something, but what? His restlessness had blinded him. With the other boys, he'd made fun of the poetry book. What were they to do with it? It was of no use to them when hunting or herding. But the village boredom which inevitably creeps into the young inhabitants of the mountains, led him to the book one snowy afternoon and as Alexandros read, he was surprised to be moved by mere words. He memorized certain poems--Ithaca was the first, appealing to a young boy because it spoke of Odysseus, hero of the Trojan War. He traced over those same words again and again until he found himself reciting them inside his head while herding the goats or cutting wood. But it was in this place, with this American girl, where the message of the poet became as clear as mountain spring water.






Sunday, June 12, 2016

Eating Bugs

In Epirus Greece, there is a small village named Margariti. The love I have for this village, some say, is due to a rigorous long-term brain washing . . . which might be true, but it's a love just the same, a love that took hold slowly and evolved as Margariti evolved.

My first encounter with the village was without a doubt something that did not produce feelings of love or anything close to it. It was 1983. Women were somewhat segregated from men so my actions, such as sitting in a cafe with my husband, were grossly against the societal norm.

Nick was the first person who'd ever married a foreigner. And people came from great distances to see the American. I'm pretty sure they were disappointed. Their ideas of Americans came from movies and newspapers. American women were blond and busty like Marilyn Monroe, not dark-haired and flat-chested.

In the memoir The Nifi, I sit quietly next to Nick during each of the many visits as villagers come to greet him after his long absence from Greece and to get a glimpse of his American nifi.

Below is an excerpt:

        As time crept forward and the villagers came to get a look at the American, I did my best to sit, smile, nod and listen to the buzz of incomprehensible conversation. When I would say anything to Nick, all movement would stop as the ever-captive audience would become entranced in the gibberish between us. So, naturally, when a bug was trapped within one of my muffled yawns and I felt it flit about my palate, given the choice of a hacking spit with no hope of explaining my behavior or an unnoticed swallow, I chose the latter. It just seemed more tolerable to me. 
        "I want to go home!" Tears streamed down my face. I tried to sob as quietly as possible, enclosed in the small room, Nick's sisters on the other side of the door. We'd been there less than a week. 







Friday, June 3, 2016

Ouzo, not Orzo

Ouzo, the anise-flavored liquor, and Orzo, the rice-shaped pasta, are quite different regardless of their similar spelling. So, it's understandable that confusion was the main dinner guest one recent evening
at our home. I had been asked, through smartphone text, by a very accommodating cook what I would like for dinner that night. In my Friday fatigue, I elicited Siri's voice command on my smartphone to deliver the message: "I'd love to sit in the backyard and just have a bit of ouzo, maybe with some cheese and olives."

It had been a difficult week and I was reminiscing about the soothing Greek evenings of the past. One in particular at a quaint little ouzeri in the city of Thessaloniki where we'd sat just outside the little cafe, our table positioned at the end of the open wall so a warm breeze blew over us as we watched the comings and goings of the sidewalk as well as the array of characters inside the tavern. We'd quietly sipped our ouzo and discussing the beauty of life as we noshed on an array of mezedes (appetizers). 


Another ouzo-related memory elicited a deep sigh just before my Siri-produced text requesting the ouzo and some hors d'oeuvres. It was that of the sunset at Plataria, a village slightly north of Margariti, our table and bare feet at the water's edge as the server brought us our elixir and some small morsels to snack on.

Both memories are very soothing and among so many others similar in nature. 

Now to be honest, I never use Siri, so she hadn't a number of times to analyze my voice or my New York accent. Thus, it was ORZO with cheese and olives that was for dinner that evening. Apparently that's how Siri had interpreted my request and I, having carefully checked the spelling and grammar before pushing the send button, had further misread it. Still a delicious dinner and even more so with a glass of OUZO on the side.

The novel, Your Own Kind, has one scene between fictional characters in an Astoria Queens restaurant. It is somewhat similar to my first encounter with ouzo. And if you've ever had it, yourself, you may relate to the scene a bit.  Enjoy!

        After they were ushered to a table, Alexandros spoke to the waiter, making small talk before he ordered two drinks and looked at Sarah.
        "We try ouzo. Is strong but is Greek."
        The waiter said something to Alexandros and they laughed. 
        "He says too strong for woman." Alexandros nodded. "Is true. Too strong for woman and for man." He smiled. "But you try, okay?"
        The waiter was a bald man who looked to be about fiftyish with a belly pushing against a starched white shirt, testing the strength of the two buttons midway from his belt. He disappeared for a few minutes and returned with a small round tray balancing so perfectly on the outstretched fingers of his right hand that it might have been an appendage that had grown from his fingertips. Two glasses with a clear liquid sat on top of the tray's surface. The waiter placed each on the table and stepped back a few paces, curoius to see the outcome of their first sip.
        Alexandros and Sarah took their glasses, oblivious to their waiter who was saying something to another waiter as  he passed. That caused the other waiter to slow his pace as he kept his eye on Sarah. Alexandros and Sarah brought the drinks gently against each other in a toast, as Sarah said, "cheers," at the exact moment Alexandros said, "gia mas--to our health." Neither understood the other's words but both felt the same sensation as the first sip entered their months. Sarah closed her eyes tightly as she received the full impact. 
        The air around her had been sweet and warm, the background chatter adding to the warmth but as that first sip passed between her lips, that warmth turned to a raging fire, the ouzo searing her tongue and burned its way down her throat sending flames up into her nostrils and out into the restaurant air. 
        Alexandros was laughing as he poured water into her glass, changing the ouzo to a milky liquid and cutting its potency. He wiped away a tear that was rolling down her cheek. 
        "I'm on fire! What are you trying to do, poison me or something?"
        They both laughed so hard, they didn't notice the onlookers from afar. 
        




Monday, May 9, 2016

Book Early

No, this is not a post about a book entitled, Early, so my bookworm friends can move on. . .

This is about a man and a woman. She is a high-strung, tight-lipped, plan-it-or-we're-screwed kind of girl who said back in November, "Let's look at a map of Corfu Island in Greece and choose destinations and book hotels." He's a devil-may-care, live-life-as-it-is, free-spirited fun guy who said, "Let's not book anything. Let's just go and let the Corfu mood decide where we stay."

The only problem is they're not talking about 1968 Corfu and they're not hippies. Sometimes he forgets how much Greece has changed since the 1960s.

Book early means, if they don't, they'll be sleeping in their car . . . or does it?

So now, with a Google map on the computer screen, a pad of paper and pencil in hand, she reaches for the telephone and he gives her a knowing nod. Maybe a reservation is a good idea. She dials the long distance Corfu number, with no intension of changing their plan to travel around the island and with a bit of his free-spirit guiding her. Maybe a soft pillow and a fully reclined seat is not so uncomfortable.


To be continued . . .
in the summer . . .




Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Communicating by Phone

"If I want you to divorce me, all I have to do is throw your phone away," my husband says, and I respond,  "Divorce? More like murder."

Yes I love my smartphone and maybe I do stare into it a bit more lovingly than into Nick's eyes, but I believe that comes from the early trauma of my years in Margariti, Greece, when I would have cut off my left arm for any working phone line from that isolated village to my family back in New York.

Patience is a virtue. . . good things come to those who wait. . . Those adages may be true in some context, but personally, I want my information now and I want the ability to talk to my love ones immediately within my grasp, whether orally or via text.

I am eternally grateful that the internet has finally come to Margariti.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Love and Perception

I recently re-watched the movie, Shirley Valentine and laughed as hard as if it were the first time. The 40-something-year-old British housewife gets fed up with her life and takes a holiday on an island in Greece with a friend. She meets a Greek cafe owner who is in the habit of. . . let's say, romantically-enhancing the holiday of women tourists. It reminds me of the tourist village of Parga, in Epirus Greece.

Years ago, while I was visiting my husband, Nick's, village with the kids and he'd had to stay behind in the U.S., I often spent the day in Parga. It was a short bus ride and a world apart from the little mountain village. The local-male-Greek & female-tourist connection was alive and well, back then. Maybe it still is and I'm just too old to know about it--kind of the same way I think that people don't go out to clubs anymore. But anyway, back then, I was privy to a few awkward attempts by the local males. I watched with intrigue as they tried to communicate with some of the tourists. And I also had one opportunity to practice my newly acquired and very inadequate Greek:  "Don't you see she wears a ring? She's married! Shame on you!" I think that's what I'd said. It's hard to know. The expression on his face could have been interpreted in many ways.

Nowadays Parga is much bigger and more of  a bustling tourist destination. Occasionally Nick and I witness a few female travelers looking for local Greek men and vice versa.

We recently sat in a cafe and watched the carefully executed dance unfold. Our ability to understand the broken English, made it as comical as the scenes in Shirley Valentine.

But back in the late 1960s when Parga was barely known to outsiders, and Nick was a budding adolescent, there existed this---let's call it culture of hospitality. Nick sometimes tells a story about the first American girls he ever met. They were in Parga and he was hanging out with his friends, spending days with those young women on the beach and evenings with them in discos. One of his friends served as the translator.

Author Interview by Janet Emson











It was an honor to be featured on Janet Emson's renown book blog, From First Page To Last. A copy of the interview is below but the blog itself has many author interviews and book reviews for the book lovers among us!

You can check out the blog  HERE

Today I’m pleased to welcome Linda Fagioli-Katsiotas author of The Nifi, a memoir which inspired Linda’s blog and Your Own Kind, a fiction novel. Linda kindly answered a few of my questions.
1. Tell us a little about Your Own Kind.
It is 1974. Alexandros is a young man who has left his rural Greek village to come to New York to work in his cousin’s restaurant. The restaurant is in East End, a small seaside village fifty miles from New York City—not exactly what Alexandros had expected when he heard he’d be going to New York. Sarah is from a small town in the mountains of New York State. She has moved to East End to escape the sins of her past. Of course, they fall in love—no surprise to the readers. But a difference in culture and tradition stands in their way, as Alexandros is betrothed to a girl back home and Sarah has a secret that would deter Alexandros regardless of the situation. Add to that, one son of Turkish immigrants—a love-sick adolescent, whose jealousy, thirst for revenge and misinterpretation of events set in motion a series of actions that lead to violence and heartbreak.  Maybe life would be easier if people would just stick with their own kind. But what does that actually mean? This book explores that theory.
2. What inspired the book?
I married my Greek immigrant husband in the early 1980s. We eloped because it was frowned upon on both sides of the family, regardless of the fact that we were so in love and so compatible.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Learning to Speak Greek

"I want to ask you a question."

That was the simple message I had intended as I struggled to communicate in my newly-learned-broken Greek, with my brother-in-law. I was alone with my children in Greece--and by alone, I mean without any English-speakers. I knew by his facial expression, that whatever it was I had said to him, was not what I had intended. I waited patiently for my husband to arrive a month later so he could translate. I found out that I had actually told my brother-in-law I wanted to make love. The two words are similar.

By the same token, a few years later, my brother-in-law struggled to use the English he had learned. I was holding his infant son and my guess is that he wanted to say, "the baby loves you." What he actually said was, "I love you, baby."

Language is so integral to who we are and when one is surrounded by the incomprehensibility of an unknown language it can be a very frustrating situation.

My attempts at learning the Greek language have been many, the first of which was back in the early 1980s after having fallen in love with my husband, Nick, who was a Greek immigrant in the kitchen of a diner. At the time, I was enrolled in a college computer class trying to learn the language of computers which turned out to be far more illusive than the Greek language--for me, anyway. Rather than attending to the nuances of Cobalt Computer language, I sat in class writing and rewriting the Greek alphabet. Now, if my handsome Greek cook had spoken Cobalt, I might have become a computer programmer, but alas, that whole college stint didn't work out very well, but that's a different story entirely.

Fast forward to the newlywed couple about to embark on a trip to Nick's village of Margariti, in rural Epirus Greece, 1983. I'd bought a book in Queens, New York called Greek Made Easy. Even as I write this, the title makes me laugh. I'd studied it faithfully, hours a day, to prepare for my trip but once there, no one understood a word I was saying, or trying to say. A book entitled, Greek Village Language would have been much more useful.

Fast forward another ten years as I acquire my position in the local school district, teaching children who do not speak English. It's a very rewarding and sometimes comical job. Some examples of the questions students have asked me are:

1. Why do people always say "cheeses" when they are upset? The student was actually trying to interpret the exclamation "Jesus!"

2. What does "speechy" mean? This one was a little harder for me. I asked the student in what context he'd heard it. His answer: "I said to someone, 'how are you?' and she said, 'just speechy.'"  Interpretation: Just  peachy.

Friday, April 1, 2016

A Little Village

My mother is from a place called Malone. It's a small village, or so it seemed to us Long Island kids when we spent summers there, just along the Adirondack Mountains near the Canadian border. To us it was a quaint little place with a main street, fair grounds and a recreational park where a small river was cordoned off for swimming. I remember it fondly, but to mom it was a place from which she needed to escape, so in the early 1950s she made a journey to New York City to live with her sister. That's where she met the I-talian, as Grandpa Omer used to call my dad--the foreigner. Though dad was born in the Bronx, I suppose that was like a foreign country to my Adirondack grandparents. I wonder what Grandpa Omer would have thought of my Greek husband, had he lived long enough to meet him.

My mother's mother, Grandma Anne, came from a tiny speck of a village called Owl's Head. She resented having to keep house after her father died in a logging accident and her mother had to run the general store. She married Grandpa Omer to get away from her little village and to live in a large town like Malone, as she put it.

My Italian grandmother, Nanny Giovanna, and her husband, Chelso who died long before I was born, came from two small villages whose names escape me. Nanny always identified them as being near the Italian city of Piacenza. She came through Ellis Island to the U.S. in the early 1900s, and according to her, the one and only reason she left was so that she wouldn't have to work on the farm. She always said that she never regretted leaving. Village life was just not for her. She met her husband in the Bronx and yes, life there was quite a distance from the family farm on the Italian countryside.

And yet, here I am living my entire life in a never-ending sprawl of suburbia outside of New York City--always longing to be part of a village. The irony is palpable.

The first time I saw my husband's small village of Margariti, in Epirus Greece, if we can ignore the mind-numbing culture shock, I do believe I fell in love at first sight . . . or maybe second.  I was especially  attracted to the closeness of the people and their symbiotic lifestyle.

So maybe my ancestors put forth great effort to remove the little villages from their past, in the belief that they were creating a better life for their descendant in the future. But I'm pretty sure the little-village-gene got passed down and their good intentions were overthrown by nature.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Searching for Your Roots

There seems to be a natural pull from the past for people to seek out information about their ancestors. I'd venture to say this is the reason for so many websites: ancestry.com, geneology.com, my heritage.com . . . They go on and on. For us Americans our heritage usually lies in another country, unless of course, you are a descendent of a Native American. This may be the reason I was so attracted to my Greek husband in the first place. His foreign status reminded me of my Italian heritage that had been washed clean in an American suburb. The Greekness was so concrete and defined and familiar . . . but it was his, not mine.

I wanted it.

There's nothing worse than a convert, right? And I think I've proven that. Once I securely harnessed the wild Greek with a marriage license, I dove head first into the Greek culture, dragging my Italian extended family with me. (Nick's family were all in Greece.) And I was so successful that my nephew, Steven, with my Italian brother as his father and a mother who came from the nicest Long Island Brooklyn-Italian stock, came home from kindergarten one day with a heritage project sporting a large Greek flag. My brother, Jim, had a talk with him but I'm not sure Steven accepted it completely. Twenty years later he went to Greece for his honeymoon. . . I'm just sayin'

Cousin Dina, Tom, Nikki and Cousin Marianna
But this seems to be true for others as well. In my visits to Margariti, Greece, I've come across many Brits and Australians looking for evidence of their past. Some are former vacationers who had a memorable summer in their youth with a local Greek while others are themselves Greeks--children or grandchildren looking for evidence of their past. One in particular stands out in my mind. She was a young woman from Australia. She'd come to find her heritage and I was there alone with my kids that year. It was a very difficult situation for us both and when we found each other it was like finding water in a desert.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Face of Courage



Chevi & daughter, Anastasia
Imagine you are a young child running for your life, from an enemy of whom you’re certain wants you dead or enslaved. You’re being guided by the one person you trust the most: your mother. And yet at the very moment that you feel freedom is but a breath away, you are sent to your death by that trusted person. 

This is the story of Anastasia Lykas from the villages of Souli, in Epirus Greece. She was my mother-in-law, Chevi’s, great grandmother and her spirit remains in one of Chevi's daughters, a namesake—Anastasia, a woman of strength and determination.


Near the village of Zalogo atop the majestic cliffs that overlook the Preveza Bay and its lush green valley, stands a monument to those brave women who fled their enemy in 1803 during the Souliotes  War. One of them was twelve-year-old Anastasia Lykas. The monument is barely visible from the main road, but it remains an important tribute to the memory of those women, forced to make an unforgivable choice so their children would not experience an even greater horror.