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.