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


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

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


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.