Saturday, August 27, 2016

On the subject of Mikis Theodorakis, in Naousa.

‎In case you don't know, I decided to rent an apartment in Naousa (Imathias), the "Heroic City", and the town where my grandparents Paraskevouda Koutsouki and Xanthoulis Xanthopoulos were married 100 years ago and where my father was born in 1920. So here I am. 

Having come down with a case of the flu, I managed to go look for a chicken to make soup -- and was directed to a store where the woman deals only in chickens (6EU) and eggs (1EU the half dozen). When I asked how she sold the chickens, in pieces or what, she said however I wanted. And in a matter of seconds I got a whole, completely skinned chicken, saving me a lot work and mess in my small kitchen. I love that woman!

Naousa is a cultured town of 20,000 people. There is a LOT going on here. Accordingly, I saw posters for a concert of "The Love Songs of Mikis Theodorakis" at the Town Theater featuring a band of mostly mandolins‎ and a chorale from Corfu. It was put on by "Hope," a local group raising money to feed indigent families. I was surprised it was only 5 EU, but the not small theater was packed with several hundred people.  And the concert‎ was amazing on many levels. 

The 21 songs were prefaced by a narrative of when the songs were born and why, and also who wrote the words -- mostly famous Greek poets (Elytis, Cavafy) and others (Naruda). It was amazing not to just hear the songs, but to try and grasp the scope of Mikis Theodorakis' music and his life's milestones fighting for justice and freedom as a fearless and unapolegetic leftist. He is most certainly one of the most important Greek patriot-artists of modern times, whatever your politics are.

More amazing was the response of the audience, ‎mostly senior citizens in a town that suffered greatly during WWII and the brutal Civil War that followed. Indeed, my dear aunt Soula's father, Nikos Theofilos and then mayor of Naousa, was assassinated by Communist guerillas. The people loved the music and did what I love so much about the Greeks -- they sang along, like they do in restaurants or wherever. It's a certain joie de vivre that we rarely release in the US and which continues to overide even the horrendous economic situation we face here. Both young and old, people always know the words to classic songs, and that's what counts more than anything..

Thank you, Mikis Theodorakis!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Continuing German entanglements..

It was a deja vu kinda weekend in Greece -- strikes against more punitive legislation voted on late Sunday and angst about the meeting of European financial ministers (aka "the creditors") that followed. I have been running around preparing to leave Greece after 3 months right in the thick of things. Eight o'clock flight to Munich, and I was going to sleep all the way.  But next to me sweet Kyria Despina of Mikrohori, Dramas, had other ideas. She wanted to tell me her story.

She wanted me to know that she was on her way to her son-in-law's funereal. He is German, she said, but was such a great guy. He met her daughter when he ate at her taverna in Munich. There were always lines of people waiting to get in, until the place closed on its 30th anniversary. The sign outside had extolled "Mom's cooking." 

Despina was not only Mom, but had actually worked about 20 hours a day back then. Early AM at the Herta slaughter house in Dachau across from the concentration camp, where 1250 pigs and 50 cows were processed every day. ‎ Then an afternoon stint at her husband's coffee house. Followed by a shift at the taverva, from which returned about 1:30 AM only to start up again around 4:30. Kyria Despina is retired now, but she looked quite sad and worn out.

Too many people I saw every day in Thessaloniki looked sad and worn out ...resigned to whatever was needed to make Greece whole again, and trying heard to make do. But it is never enough -- now more pension cuts, higher taxes on many things like cigarettes and coffee (from 23 to 26 %), etc. Hey, Greeks need to stp smoking, but they will never stop drinking coffee.
Kyria Despina's story of hard work in Germany is a very common one. Many Greeks went there to work not long after the war in a country prospering because their wartime debts had been forgiven. Germany needed those workers, until they didn't. Now Germany & Co. is the boss of Greece, and Greeks have been labeled by some as lazy. You can't make this stuff up! 

Yesterday, a Girls School grad and restaurant owner in my Dad's Naousa told me: "Greece is a boiling pot." The press doesn't mention the thousands of suicides, she rasped -- and I was taken aback by her informed passion and weary anger . She was about to fill out papers registering the fact that the ridiculous spring weather -- which had included hailstorms -- had damaged about 80 % of their fruit trees. What's next?

Meantime, in Munich there is a funeral on Friday, and Kyria Despina will be there.

NOTE: there is a shred of hope for the Greek economy. For the first-time, the Germans have signaled some willingness to discuss debt reduction -- the only way that Greece can actually recover instead of continuously cutting pensions to borrow money to pay back the banks. That's what Tsipras was fighting for last summer...You didn't think these bail-outs were actually helping the Greek people, did you?

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Friday, May 6, 2016

Left Kyparissi (for awhile) with more family info!

Left Kyparissi (KYP) yesterday, but only in body not spirit. In fact, I began a process of finding a place to stay there next spring for 2 months. Yup, KYP earned a try-out for permanent status...

I had hoped that relatives who no longer lived there full-time would join the traditional ‎convergence on their horio for Easter. KYP was indeed quite crowded over the holiday weekend, but not with the important people on my list.  One of two surviving children of my Papou's brother Ilias (the infamous Louis Sarris) called me from Athens to lament that we would not meet. I promised to visit on my next trip. He seemed sad about that...

And I got to thinking‎...for 6 days I heard over and over again, "He could have answered your questions" or "My Yiayia knew all about that." In fact, one font of information, George Poulakis,  passed about 10 days before I got there. Another, George "Mountzouras" Kolomvotos (also of San Mateo) died suddely about 2 months ago. I wasn't going to miss a chance to meet Ioannis Sarris and his sister Angeliki sooner rather than later!

So I changed my plans and stopped over in Athens on my way back to Thessaloniki. I had asked him what could I bring from his horio. "Haroupia!" he said laughingly. This morning I went to his apt in N. Irakleon -- an Athens northern suburb not so easy or cheap to get to‎ today because all public transportation workers were on ‎ strike. Again.

Uncle Ioannis Sarris, my mother's first cousin, got his haroupia (carob pods) whether he was joking or not, and he laughed some more... and seemed quite pleased to meet me -- right along with his son Ilias‎, sister Angeliki and her daughter Voula (Paraskevi!), and Eleni Ianniou who is the widow of their brother Anastasios. Thea Angeliki kept asking, "What is the purpose of this Family Tree investigation?"  Her nephew's answer? "So we can find out who we are!" 

I had met Eleni last summer in KYP. Her sister is a historian who continues to write about her village.‎ Eleni came armed with more paperwork than me, and we (sort of) took turns sharing info and asking questions. We finally identified "Thea Andonina," who sold a Sarris aloni (threshing place) and home to the father of an old geezer I had been hanging out in the kafeneion with. I now know where in KYP the Sarris family lived before Ilias built the large home above the Sarris Mill. Her husband Andonis died in the States in 1919. We're not sure if he was the brother of Papou George Sarris' father Nicholas, or...

But there was bigger news: Nicholas Sarris -- who first bought the mill in 1907 -- also came to the States and then returned, potentially‎ even before my Papou came over in 1911. Got to shuffle those old photos back in Miami again to see if we can identify the man who then died in KYP on March 9, 1922. To be continued...

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Monday, May 2, 2016

St. George's Day in Kyparissi, Lakonias -- better luck next year!

Yes, St. George's Day is normally celebrated on April 23.  But because Easter came after that‎, it was celebrated today (The Second Day of Easter). And tomorrow is officially May Day. Sweet!

And normally here in Kyparissi, the local priest is taken by boat to tiny St. George's church, about a 30 minute walk from the village. I was determined to hitch a boat ride to celebrate my Papou/Kyparissioti George Sarris' nameday -- family facts I foist on anyone here who will listen -- and then walk back. All went well at first, as the priest and‎ psalty (Mattina, a local nun) were loaded onto the boat along with all their accoutrements for the first run. ‎I was pretty excited.

Just as the party of four -- did I mention the boatman George's mom? -- made shore, down came the rain. They quickly borrowed the little church's antique St. George icon ‎and turned back. Services were then held in Aghia Triada, one of Kyparissi's 3 churches. About 20 minutes later, the sun came out. Better luck next year!

NOTE: Finally made contact with Mihalis Papapavlou, nephew of George and Pete Pappas (and cousin of Andy Pappas). He lives in a house across from my hotel, where I stayed in 1974 on a visit with my Uncle Pete and Thea Faith -- when Kyparissi still had no electricity and no road. In those days you came by boat...and we left by a caiqui driven by Barba Ioannis Zafeiris, father of today's boatman. Mihalis lamented having lost track of a paper his father left behind outlining their family tree. He thinks there is a connection betwen the Papapavlou and Sarris families. I need to ask his brother Nick, who got away back to Athens before I could nab him. Shortly, Georgia Adams (from Stockton, Calif) will be arriving here, and we can sit around pondering our relative family trees together -- and maybe even connect the Sarris and Vasiliou families. Who knows?

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Thursday, April 28, 2016

About Eleftheria #2 (in living color!)

Sitting here amid the ruins of ancient Sparti, I have  Eleftheria (Liberty) on my mind. That's Eleftheria #2, whom I just left behind in Koroni, Messinias. ‎ She's one of 3 cousins of that same name and generation whose Yiayia was Eleftheria Kapiniari, mother of my Yiayia Evghenia Sarris. 
I have known Koroni ‎Eleftheria since 1962,‎ when I first visited Greece with my Aunt Libby Sarris, aka Eleftheria #1. #2 was a slight young woman not too much older than me and raised by her aunt Panayiota, who could not ‎bear children. She subsequently married Vassilis Sayiakos and had 3 kids of her own. (Eleftheria #3 lives in Athens...)
Later visits‎ revealed a kind woman with a wry sense of humor and an unusual flair for color. My brother Bill remembers a house crawling with painted flower pots large and small. When I visited 4 years ago, I was taken aback and charmed by Eleftheria's unusual creativity. She gave me a commercially-printed postcard that featured her colorful housefront.‎
And when I went back to her house last Sunday, I was simply amazed and dazzled by a current output that now includes gourds and rocks of all sizes --  and takes up every available inch of her courtyard.‎ A phalanx of large cans housing plants that stands guard outside is painted bright purple! 
"What's happening here?" I joked. "'I've lost my mind,' she joked back, while stepping around a bunch of paint cans in the middle of the floor.  ‎"I like doing this, it's very relaxing." I couldn't help admiring her efforts outloud and repeatedly. She promised me a gift. 
The next day, she proudly presented me with a freshly-decorated rock signed per my request, a new concept it seemed...For my part, I had taken a leap of faith and bought her some art supplies‎ from the local stationary store. I suggested that she could perfect designs on paper first and then paint rocks and gourds to sell. She said she had thought of that...Inspired, I promised to send her a book about Grandma Moses -- who late in life painted in a simple, folksy style. Who knows what might come of all this?
That's the story of Eleftheria #2, for now. I should also mention that her husband died last year. So here's a talented woman who LOVES bright color‎s, but is now consigned to wearing black for the rest of her life. What is wrong with this picture?‎
NOTE: While in Koroni, I met her grandchild Eleftheria -- the only relative carrying that name in the current generation. I'm hoping that some day one of my nephews or nieces decides to name a daughter Eleftheria. Is there a cooler name than Liberty‎?
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