Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Yiayia's Advice

Yiayia's advice: The right time is now . . .  for whatever it is you've been promising yourself.

Yiayia didn't know how to drive a car. Every January she promised herself—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, Papou had always done that sort of thing. But when at the age of 75, she watched poor old Papou 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 for the police and received a recorded message, then she screamed for her neighbor who appeared to not be home. Then she pushed poor old Papou 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 Papou was okay), she felt very proud and happy. And then she felt very sad.

"But why are you sad, Yiayia?" her awestruck granddaughter asked.

"My dear," said Yiayia, "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," Yiayia continued, "is wondering about all those other things in years past, that you hadn't tried simply because you thought you couldn't."

Yiayia's advice: The right time is now . . .  for whatever it is you've been promising yourself.

* Photo:
* Reposted and revised from December 2015

Independent authors often have quite a challenge in getting exposure for their work. I hope, dear reader, you will consider writing a review on Amazon or

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A Greek Man's Memory of Epirote School Days & A Midday Pep Talk

You need only to wait 40-50 years before your children and/or your students begin to appreciate you. That's what I've gleaned from my husband, Nick's, attempt to comfort me in a moment of despair.

We've met for a brief daytime break during the school day. My head, having dropped to the table, rests on the back of my hands. I'm barely able to lift the feather-light weight of an espresso cup as I relay the latest of my classroom drama.

A bundle of perfectly sculpted lesson plans with activities and mastery goals that could bring tears of joy to an observing administrator, still lay untouched as my only goal has become, quite by necessity-----for those newly immigrated 12-year-old boys from a country that eludes me in my repertoire of worldly knowledge-----to keep their hands off each other, away from their noses and out of their pants which seem to have them in a perpetual state of itch. My arm muscle aches from pointing to the self-crafted poster in their home language that reads: "I expect you to behave like young men." And it is at this moment Nick starts to reminisce.

"Maybe they're from a small village," he says, a far off look in his eyes, "maybe a village without water. It's hard to stay clean without water. The family might not be used to having running water. Maybe they're conserving it without realizing."

I see a look of understanding come across his face, a realization of sorts and this is what he says about his own memory as a student some fifty years ago in the rural countryside of Eprius, Greece:  "We must have driven out teachers crazy. We were wild animals . . . with horrible behavior. And we only bathed once a week, Sunday for church. We washed our hands and face every morning but we were filthy, running around, sweaty and wild, just wild." He shakes his head slowly. "We really tortured those teachers."

Apparently, new teachers were required to work in that poor area before they could move on to another location; perhaps one they preferred. So few stayed and there was very little continuity in the students' lives. But Nick remembers one really dedicated music teacher.

He says, "she never gave up on us. She was so positive and cheerful and we really liked her. She stayed for a long time."

Okay! I get it. Positive. Cheerful. Never give up. I suck down that triple espresso and wander back into battle . . . um, I mean go back to school . . . fully caffeinated and bolstered by the fact that the boys might possibly, maybe, sort of, kind of, perhaps think about the effort I put into educating them.

Forty or fifty years from now.

Among the Zinnias is part of an Amazon promotion: 99 cents for a few more days with this link. I hope you will give it a try!

Independent authors often have quite a challenge in getting exposure for their work. I hope, dear reader, you will consider writing a review on Amazon or

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Rembetika (with a side of ouzo): A new Method for learning Greek

This method for learning the language of Greece is one that I'm enjoying a great deal! It's the latest endeavor of this high-strung perfectionist who will only believe she speaks Greek when it exits her mouth in perfectly fluent chains of speech. As it turns out, the ouzo is integral to the method, as it seems to get me closer to that perfection with each sip.

Rembetika, an historical Greek music steeped in culture and history, is hard to define. But suffice it to say that the lost love, sorrowful tales and tragically flawed humans, depicted in Rembetika lyrics are simple and straightforward with many opportunities for learning idioms and colloquial Greek.  I discovered this at the taverna, Piperi, in Parga, Greece, with friends, Cathy and Hanne. Hanne, mentioned that she has been using Rembetika to help her improve her Greek language.
Sotiria Bellou

The Piperi Taverna group usually consists of several musicians and one female singer whose voice renders my husband, Nick, soppy with emotion and nostalgia (not an easy feat). The singer's voice, to him, is that of Sotiria Bellou which takes him back to his 1960s school days in Athens when apparently he was spending much time hanging out in tavernas listening to Rembetika and pining over its lyrics.

Likewise, the Piperi Taverna music awakens its patrons with songs that release inhibitions from even the most repressed among us. During the hottest summer nights of Parga, there are always impromptu additions to the music, by overenthusiastic patrons who might start drumming on the table or, in bursts of emotion, try to out-sing the singer in an ouzo-soaked shouting voice. While these shows of enthusiasm are extremely entertaining, I prefer the actual melodic voice of the singer, and I enjoy singing along quietly if I've figured out the lyrics, or if I haven't, just making up my own.

This brings me back to the Ouzo/Rembetika language lessons.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Artifacts left Behind: Epirote Women

Epirus, Greece, has leapt from the 19th century to the 21st in a matter of thirty years. Until the 1980s, life remained as grueling and difficult as the centuries before. And it had been the women of Epirus who'd kept that world turning through wars, political upheaval and devastating poverty.

This blog post is about the artifacts they've left behind and by extension, a tribute to their strength.

I was fortunate enough to witness that lifestyle --  a piece of Epirus history, the history of its women -- before it faded to an insignificant rhetoric. In the summer of 1983, when I first arrived in Margariti, Epirus was still moving at a slow crawl toward modernization with no indoor plumbing, primitive roads, limited communication to the outside world and a paralyzing culture shock that had me locked in a fog for quite a while. Dictated by chance of gender and birthplace, these women worked tirelessly during every moment of the day for the simplest necessities of life, such as clean drinking water and edible food. During that first visit, despite the fact that I was the daughter-in-law (the nifi), my foreign status seemed to exempt me from such labor as my sisters-in-law worked beside my mother-in-law, Chevi, for what seemed to me like every waking hour.

Chevi left behind many objects of this laborious era. They are memories and reminders, but not so long ago they were Chevi's valuable possessions.

The round wooden board for making pita would be placed on the floor where the dough would be rolled out to paper thinness.

The actual cooking took place in the fourno, the dome-shaped oven that was often covered by a small structure for protection from the weather. The heat for cooking inside the fourno came from wood collected and stored by the women during the fall months.

This wood-collecting contributed to the bald appearance of the mountains and surrounding area during that time. Such deforestation had numerous effects on the weather, as well as on the women's spines which often were loaded beyond that of any pack mule. They learned to carry this weigh as young girls while their bones were still developing.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

. . . The reason we drink too much in Greece

There's nothing earth-shattering here, no words of wisdom or deep philosophy, just a compilation of photos showing a random variety of dishes (also known as mezes, or mezedes) which, in Greece, are automatically served with drinks. So a couple of drinks and a plate of food, amount to a fun night out for as little as 4 to 8 Euros. For me, this means that I often order much more than my liver can filter, just to see what kind of mezedes the server will bring.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Cyprus: A Country Occupied

I had no right to cry and yet, I could not stop the tears. By right, I mean my life had never touched these places, these memories, except through the stories of my husband, who'd been a soldier at the time and my dear friend, Andrea, who lived it, in her own painful way. She'd been a new bride, in the U.S. when her village was invaded, her entire family having the daunting task of trying to escape by foot on a land as flat and treeless as a cutting board. Turkish parachuters floating down to amber fields as mothers ran with children, but to where? It was not clear to anyone. Back then, 1974, there was no social media to keep the information flowing. The people of Cyprus had no idea what was happening. The radio station was quickly occupied and continued to play music. Immediately, the Greek government sent ships to help. My husband, Nick was on one of them. They were blocked by American and British ships, forced to watch from afar, impotent while the atrocities of war with its brainwashed soldiers unraveled.

For Andrea, there was only a brief mention of the Turkish invasion on the nightly news in her New York home and then silence. . . and agony as she waited for some word of her family's fate. After six months it finally came. They'd gotten out, all of them, one of the few fortunate families. Theirs was an in-tact family but without a home, without a village. Refugees forced to the other side of the island as a handful of political players, untouched by the tragedy, drew lines on a map, invisible borders that remain today.

The people are referred to as Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, both groups having lived peacefully as a diverse population of christian and muslim Cypriots until the invasion from mainland Turkey, which forced the Turkish Cypriots from their homes in the south as they feared repercussions from the injured Greek Cypriots. So they fled to the Turkish-occupied side of Cyprus while the Greek Cypriot refugees who were able to escape that war zone, relocated in the south.

There are ghost towns at the border that lie within something called the buffer zone, a sort of no-man's-land between the two sides. It's too dangerous to settle near there even though it's more than 40 years later. What would happen if one side or the other decided to take more land? Better to be as far from the border as possible. So we passed by completely empty shells of large villages with houses, town squares, and churches standing vacant against the cypriot-blue sky as nature slowly covers the stones, taking them back to the earth. . . a historical site for future generations to ponder over.

We were there to visit Pigi (Πηγη), Andrea's village, something she's dreamed of for years. The border has been open since 2003. Greek Cypriots who've been exiled from their homes for over 4 decades have trickled back to see their homes, but those houses are occupied by the enemy . . . kind of. Our Cypriot license plate identified us and most people understood why we were there. There were hesitant waves of welcome, a honk or two from a passing car with Turkish plates, a few meek nods of the head as we passed by cafes.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

What You Find In a Greek Garden

In Greece, everyone's heard of construction projects that've been halted due to unexpected artifact finds. It's usually a tale of woe as the building project is kept in limbo waiting for a governmental decision -- to proceed as planned or to halt work permanently thus claiming the property as an archeological site. For this reason, it is rare for citizens to report any ruins they find while undergoing independent construction projects. Instead, such sites are often covered up and left for another era.

Likewise, gardeners in Greece have similar experiences. A mere generation ago when Greece was still struggling to meet the modern world, artifacts in one's garden were common place.

When my mother-in-law found an ancient coin while she was digging on the family farm, she
showed it to her children and asked, "Can we use this to buy something?" The answer was "no" so she tossed it aside and it lay unclaimed until many years later when it was put on a chain and worn with pride.

Remnants of war also tend to surface now and then. Take this belt buckle, for instance.

It was worn by one Greek teen throughout the 1960s after he'd found it half buried on the farm. For him it was a prize to show off with swagger. But as time went on, the belt that was attached to the buckle began to deteriorate. The buckle was lost and forgotten, only to reemerge some fifty years later in the family vegetable garden.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Margariti's Morning March

Currently there are two of us in this group. I am the not-so-fluent Greek speaker, making up Greek words that seem like they should be in the language and Toula is a do-or-die, won't-stop-until-I-get-the-point-across, barely-able English speaker.

But we are both fluent in grunts, groans, eye rolling and gestures. Thus, our morning conversations are both enlightening and somewhat confusing.

All are welcome to join us! Young, Old, middle aged, male, female, Greek-speakers, English-speakers, non-speakers etc.
However. . . and this is a big however. . .

No dogs, please.

Why no dogs?
Here are 4 reasons:

1. 1962, First Encounter with a Dog: I was playing at Little Jimmy Sorkell's house in Hicksville, NY. His puppy, which to my 4-year-old mind was a ferocious lion, jumped up on me and started barking. I peed all over the kitchen floor. His mother said something like "You make more of a mess than fido!" and then she got me a pair of Little Jimmy's scratchy boy-jeans to wear while she laundered my clothes.

2. 1987: Margariti, Greece . . . My brother-in-law thought it would be a good idea to keep a ferocious man-eating dog outside the door of our small 2-room house. I was terrified all that summer, especially at night. What if the dog got loose? It never stopped barking. My in-laws tried to reassure me. The dog would never hurt one of its own, they said, which I found completely unnerving. That dog was trying to get at an unfamiliar scent: American. I barely slept a wink that summer.

Friday, June 9, 2017

On the Road to Perdika

Greece is filled with summertime cantinas that could easily be passed by without a second thought, but this one, called Kantina Meeting, had caught our eye as we drove from the beach up to the village of Perdika, which lies between Parga and Syvota.

There was something about it . . . the detail in its structure that bespoke a clever creativeness begging to be investigated. We had to stop. And we hoped to meet the artist of such a creation.

As it turned out, the proprietor was Thanasis, a Greek who had returned to live in Perdika with his English-speaking wife. And this is how we met the very talented pastry chef, Katie, of Katie's Cakes.

She and Thanasis have 3 sons and have lived in Perdika since 2002. Before that, they lived in Corfu which is where they met. Katie's cakes are worth the trip to Perdika. In fact, after having tasted her delicious handiwork on one coffee stop after the beach, we made the trip back to Perdika just for a birthday cake which we brought all the way to Filiates where the celebration was taking place.

I find Katie especially interesting because she is a foreign "nifi" (daughter-in-law), a non-Greek married to a Greek which is something that comes with an entire village regardless of where the married couple decides to settle. And a foreign-nifi is profoundly different from a woman whose parents are Greek and comes back to Greece, leaving from the country in which she's been raised (Australia, Canada, the U.S.).  No, a foreign nifi is a Different-Language-Speaking woman who never dreamed she'd marry a Greek, who only thought of Greece as an idyllic vacation place, who expected a white picket fence and fine manicured lawn with a man from her own country.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

"Age" old Experience

When looking for a new physician, are you the type who wants an older more experienced doctor?

Once when given a choice while making an appointment for an orthopedic, I was asked by the receptionist, "Do you want to see the father or the son?" The two doctors practiced together. How sweet, I'd thought. Of course I wanted the father. I pictured a twenty-something-year-old son. However, when the old man hobbled in, I realized my mistake. The problem was with me, really. I didn't know I had gotten older. I've always felt more comfortable with a physician who is at least my age or a bit above, but that doesn't quite work anymore.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Hero or Narcissist

How does a national hero suddenly become a narcissistic nut?

When the book, A Man, came out in the early 1980s, I was barely 30 years old. At that time, Panagoulis was a brave Greek freedom fighter. My opinion of him was heavily swayed by the fact that I was enamored by my own Greek rebel who adored the book and the character.

Now, however, thirty years later as I've finally gotten around to reading it, Panagoulis seems more like a self-absorbed narcissist. But it's the woman who loved him intensely who has convinced me of this.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

When Your Dad has Alzheimer's . . .

You watch him deteriorate with a mixture of sadness and frustration. But there is also fear. It's a fear that permeates every bone of your body, and after he's gone, that fear slips to the background, rearing its head now and then. A forgotten name, a missed appointment, lost car keys . . . that's normal, right? But as you age, you count the years between you and that deadline, the one in which you surmise it all began for him   . . . but nobody is really sure when exactly it did begin. After he passes away at the age of 79, mom tells you it was a 20-year disease. He hid it from us all, she says. And I understand this now. Yes, he probably did.

It was very hard for mom to watch him slip into oblivion. She brought him back to Long Island from their home in Florida, hoping to remain, but instead, it turned into a short visit. During that time, dad was hospitalized for a fall he'd taken at my brother's house. By then, he'd already lost most of his ability to communicate. He was often confused and agitated. It was my turn to stay overnight with him at the hospital. When I got there to relieve my sister-in-law, his wrists were tied to the bed to keep him in it. Her face was ashen and she said, "The nurse did it." I took some small scissors from my purse and cut the ties. His hands were free. I quickly reached into my bag and pulled out a salami sandwich. I unwrapped it and put it in his hand. He smiled and began to eat.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

What's in a name?

The Greeks and Italians share a common custom of confusion. It's in the naming of their first-born sons. When the parents of a first-born son follow tradition, that child gets his paternal grandfather's name which means when an extended family gets together for an event, it results in several cousins with the same name, and a scene such as that in the clip above from, My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

In both cultures, the results are some interesting nicknames to distinguish who is who. For example, Grandpa Anthony might have a fifty-something-year-old grandson, Little Anthony, and a thirty-something-year-old GREAT-grandson, Baby Anthony. The nicknames are created to distinguish one from another but somehow once created, become as permanent as cement. In a situation where cousins and extended family have several Anthonys, the nicknames can become quite creative and are often very telling of one's personality or physical features. And sometimes that nickname just comes up because of a momentary situation that never again presents itself but leaves the recipient with that unusual label, thereby changing his identity for eternity. 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Mom's Marijuana

Mom had six kids. Yeah, okay, so did dad . . . but it was the 1960s & 70s in suburbia America. The U.S. may have been in the midst of women's marches and cries of equal rights, but mom and dad were still children of the 1930s which meant mom was in charge of the kids and dad was in charge of bringing home the bacon . . . for quite a while, anyway.

Some of those six kids, or maybe all of them, were influenced by the marijuana of that time. And one in particular, or maybe several, thought it would be an interesting experiment to try and grow her own plant. However, if one were to start growing a plant in her bedroom closet, there would be a moment in time when she would need to transplant that creation to a healthier environment. Luckily mom also had a garden.

The garden was on the only sunny side of the house and could be seen from the front sidewalk. Mom noticed the tall healthy plant as it grew taller than her tomatoes and she watered it faithfully and weeded around it, waiting to see what type of fruit its purple flowers would yield. That is, until Mr. A. from down the street walked by one evening and stopped to talk to mom as she stood in the middle of her garden watering her plants. Mr. A. was a New York City detective and very knowledgable about many subjects.

A few of us kids were at the kitchen window as we watched the plant ripped from the ground in one full swoop and sail over the fence into a wooded area.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Age of Wisdom?

When exactly is that age of wisdom, I'd like to know. We 1950s children were supposed to be "seen and not heard." Our elders knew best. And yet now that we've reached that frontier, we are no longer the valued wise.

Who needs elders when there is Google?

We are a generation of in-betweens. Sandwiched between young people who cannot grasp the idea of having an agreed-upon meeting place in case they get separated while shopping in the mall, and older people who annoyingly refuse to learn to text. It seems an odd place to be, and yet I wouldn't trade this newer age of technology for any age of wisdom . . . if that were to be the trade off.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Among the Zinnias

It's here! 

Among the Zinnias is now in ebook and paperback!



Independent authors often have quite a challenge in getting exposure for their work. I hope, dear reader, you will consider writing a review on Amazon or 

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Hoarder

I saw this post in The Facebook group, A Good Greek Read and I thought the book title looked familiar, Inside Hitler's Greece.

Sure enough, I found the book among many others in my basement, where books seem to accumulate.

Copyrighted in 1993, I remember someone in my family reading it, so with the prompt from Facebook and the fact that I had the hardcover in my hand, I decided to read it.

It's not a light easy read by any means, but it is an interesting one, especially when considering my father-in-law, Tomas, was among the resistance fighters who fought against the Germans and was very much privy to the wide spread starvation that occurred as a result of the German occupation.

As I read the book, memories of Tomas emerged. Both the Germans and Italians occupied Greece during the second World War. Tomas told me some stories about the Italians, which at the time, I thought were just his way of being nice to me, his Italian-American daughter-in-law. But I've just read similar accounts in this book.

According to Tomas, the Italian soldiers were mostly kind-hearted and tried to help the Greek civilians. He told of Italian soldiers giving their food rations to the children of the village and then catching turtles to boil and eat, instead. The children would aid the soldiers in catching the turtles, knowing they'd get the soldiers' food in return.

The Italian government also did as much as they could to supply some food to the starving Greeks. This was in contrast to the German government and soldiers who took what they could and shipped much of the Greek food supply back to Germany to feed that hungry population. Thus, especially in the cities, the Greek civilian population dwindled rapidly under these dire conditions.

Another memory of Tomas and his war stories is about two men who had come to the countryside from Athens in search of food.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

A Blanket of Snow

Photo credit: taken from Facebook Group, Parga Paradise, posted February 8, 2017 by Lloyd Gowland who credited the original post of Rosario Grazioso.

A small sprinkling of snow, like the shake of a snow globe can create a scene of beauty and is a tolerable situation.

An even coating, perhaps a few centimeters, is a bit of a nuisance but barely disrupts the flow of life.

A heavy blanket, however, one that stops traffic, closes businesses and blocks the television satellite programing is respite from the unruly spin of daily routine. I for one, welcome it. (Retirees, this is not meant for you, and stop telling me how great your life is).

Friday, January 20, 2017

Lost in Translation

She said she doesn't want anything from you. That's what he told the older woman. That's how he translated my message.

However, my actual words, having been carefully chosen and sculpted, were meant to spare her ego. What I'd actually said was: Tell her, I appreciate her effort very much and would love to have something to eat later but I've just eaten and would not fully appreciate how delicious her food is. Tell her also that she's such a wonderful cook! (big smile from me to the woman awaiting translation.)

Most people would agree that, although both statements declare the same basic truth, each gives the listener, in this case, my mother-in-law, a different perception of the speaker. What other reason is there for language than if not to communicate what is in one's mind. And if a person takes the time and effort to mold the message into just the right words, one would hope that it would be that precise message that the listener receives, no?

Such mistranslation, for that is what I'd call the above encounter, has been without a doubt a strong motivator for my learning Greek. But this is not about me and my incompetence with the Greek language or my feeble attempts to communicate with my Greek relatives. Rather it is a revelation that speaks to something I'd never thought of despite the fact my life has been surrounded by people with whom communication is a monumental effort . . . and yes, an art.

This is about reading translated editions of books.

But how does the encounter above relate to reading? Can different translators have different renditions of translated material? I'd never thought about it much until I read the article, The Subtle Art of Translating Foreign Fiction, after which I thought about my new favorite author, Donatella Di Pietrantonio. But she writes only in Italian and I do not read Italian. So, does that mean my love for the author is actually meant for the translator?