Friday, July 24, 2015

Eureka -- thanks to an Orfeos newspaper blurb and a missing photograph!

As previously posted, I had visited Nea Skopos in Northern Greece on 6/21 in my quest to learn something more about my grandfather, Xanthoulis Xanthopoulos -- a man from Skopos, Turkey, that we know next to nothing about before he married Paraskevoula Koutsoukis in Naousa circa 1916...except the names of his parents, Efstathios and Kokosill (as noted on his 1941 death certificate). No one I spoke with that day knew anyone who might be related to me. And I was told there was no K name Kokosill in the Skopos tradition, but there was a name Kokony. 

I was on a mission to find at least one Xanthopoulos relative on this trip. So the Syllogos Orfeos in Nea Skopos graciously offered to include a blurb about my search w/my cellphone# in their quarterly newspaper, which was just about to be printed... 

20 days later and on the night before I left Thessaloniki, I spoke with someone who had read the newspaper and given me a call. Her maiden name was Eleni Xanthopoulou, her grandparents were named Efstathios and Kokkony...and she remembers being told that her Yiayia would go to Naousa to visit relatives.  Eureka!

Eleni said that somewhere she had a photograph of four people that was received with a box of clothes and she was sure that I was in that photograph. Out-of-the-blue she referenced "Stockton, California" -- which all sounded nothing short of too good to be true.   

This was the first person on the Papou Xanthoulis Xanthopoulos side of the Family Tree that I have ever located -- made possible because the Syllogos Orfeos in Nea Skopos was kind enough to publicize my quest, and then Eleni (who lives in Serres, father Kostas) happened to see it. We did not have time to meet in person this trip, but we have an enthusiastic connection and something to build on. Now to find that photograph! 

NOTE: If you have queries about Skopos relatives you can write to Theodoros Voyiaris, President of Orfeos in Nea Skopos (Serron), or call him at 306949535354. It works!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

51 and counting, in spite of all the troubles!

Left Greece yesterday firmly believing that the ship I am abandoning is, for all intents and purposes, un-sinkable -- and if you are at all familiar with the history of the last 100 years, you know what I am talking about. The Greek people are stoics, philosophers, and fighters all rolled into one. They will never go down without fight!   

The newest proposed measures look to be worse than ever, but with real prospects for economic recovery.  The lack of cash has caused a cascade of serious problems that most American citizens would find unbelievable AND intolerable. And it was impossible to see the end of the tunnel if the creditors do not cut the debt, like they did for Germany in 1953. That is why Greeks voted OXI, and I am very proud of how they stood up for themselves no matter who is to blame for the current situation.  

All the while, I ran around for 6 weeks trying to find relatives, and then to seek out graduates of the American Farm School's Girls School Department -- forays into towns and villages which gave me even more insight into the economic situation. I worked at the School 1968-78 (under a military dictatorship for 7 of those years, I might add!) and was pretty tight with students their families. I kept in touch with many up until about 1985, then radio silence...my fault.

So how do I explain that I have now ‎visited 51 such graduates -- some of whom have led rather extraordinary lives --  who acted as if 40+ years have not gone by? Miss Paula is now much older and overweight, but they don't seem to care -- maybe because some of them aren't so svelte any more either. The way I was greeted by these people went beyond my wildest expectations.‎ I could have stayed 6 months if I took them all up on their invitations to stay in their homes!

That must be what they call unconditional love -- and I like to think it is because we had an extraordinary program for kids from villages, especially for girls who were not sent to high school by their parents. They spent 2 years with us and we filled the time with traditional classwork, homemaking/handicraft training and anything else we could think of to mold mothers and community leaders. A few remembered that I taught them play badminton of all things, others the "Smile" awards I conjured up for best dorm rooms, etc. One even used a certificate she got for best candle-maker to get a loan for an amazing decorative candle company she created -- but which has now gone bye-bye because most people can't afford that sort of expenditure any more. (The same for many small businesses which couldn't compete in markets saturated with goods from China and the like.) 

Most importantly, these now 50+ years-old women loved getting together with others they had not seen or heard from for many years as I went around gathering them up and sharing contact information. They loved talking about their school experience and how important it was. Eleni, Tassoula, Fotini, Aleka, Mairi, Despina, Chrystallo, Isaiah, Peristera, Glykeria -- some are widows, others are still working hard (at the very least helping pick cherries or peaches or olives during harvest seasons in their hometowns), and most are grandmothers tending to large extended families challenged daily by these severely depressed times.  


So my new mission in life is to reach them all, creating some sort of network/association for today -- to renew the friendships they had, share their life experiences, and help each other when they can. 51 was great, but 205 will be a whole lot better.

NOTE: A big shout-out to my partners in crime (above top photo), Vasso née Gondinou '74 ("Sherlock Holmes"as I dubbed her and a leader in her village) and Ioanna née Ntekou '73 (hostess and driver par excellence, and teacher in a special needs school for 26 years!) -- who not only came along for the ride‎, but organized a good bit of it. They seemed to enjoy those encounters even more than me -- and are working on the next phase as we speak. Double OPA!

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the Verizon Wireless 4G LTE network.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Sadly, Greek life on eerie hold -- to put it mildly!

View from Ioanna's front porch
Currently visiting the beautiful village of Neohori, Halkidhikis. On the one hand it's business as usual -- with a panigyri in progress nearby along with other normal happenings and flawlessly cheerful hospitality wherever I go. On the other, there is a giant elephant in the room.

Life here in Greece is on eerie hold in anticipation of a referendum on whether Greeks would accept the last EU offer for continued financial aid coupled with increased austerity measures. Greece refused to sign unless such a deal included debt reduction. Indeed, an IMF report 2 days ago has now affirmed the government's insistence all along that without debt reduction, the economy is not sustainable -- so why torture the public more just to follow a policy that has only created a growing humanitarian crisis?

It seemed logical and clear a week ago: OXI means no more of the same and NAI means hit us again harder after 5 years of taking our medicine with no end in sight. Unfortunately, the Greek public has now been inundated with fear-mongering rhetoric (think Fox news on steroids!) and numbing banking controls ‎that have recast the  vote into Europe/Eurozone NO or YES, when that has NEVER been the intent or goal.

And to make matters much more dangerous, European creditors have been openly campaigning against the OXI vote in hopes of bringing down a democratically-elected government they disagee with, but which came into power last January because Greeks said we can't take this any more.  As far as I'm concerned, such blatant interference is TOTALLY unacceptable regardless of anyone's political leanings. 

Lines at Naousa ATM
Greek politicians not in power and who previously went along to get along, are‎ furiously doing everything they can to undermine the government and confuse the public. Polls show that the vote is too close to call, when just a week ago people said who would be stupid enough to vote for more pension cuts (already at almost 40 percent) and more taxes on food and medicines? After waiting at ATM lines to get their daily Euro allotments and being unable to pay the rent or make other necessary purchases, Greeks now think a YES vote will mean all will return to normal -- conveniently forgetting that some of them in the public and private sectors have not been paid for months in a stagnating economy that did not just get that way under the present government, no matter how you slice it.

It's pretty scary to think no one really knows what will happen no matter how the vote turns out. Rumors and accusations abound. Prime Minister Tsipras goes on TV daily to urge people to remain calm, hold their heads high, and vote OXI for the ‎betterment of their country in the name of democracy. Demonstrations pro and con grow larger, dotted with foreign celebrities. Meanwhile people are scampering to get back to wherever they are registered in order to vote -- when they are not waiting at ATM machines under threat of further hardship, having difficulty trusting anything they hear. I'm afraid to turn on the TV, hoping this will al go away if I don't.

"Whatever happens, we will manage somehow like we always have" is a typical response by regular people trying to disguise growing anxiety and anger over a situation that has now become inexplicable as well as unfathomable. 

Sadly, Greek life is indeed on eerie hold-- to put it mildly!

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the Verizon Wireless 4G LTE network.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Lost some Naousa pals, found many new ones!

The rather bleak financial situation here in Greece has not stopped me from visiting with relatives wherever I can find them, including in my Dad's hometown of Naousa where I just spent 6 days. Returning 35 years later was difficult in the sense that my main contacts have "left" as the Greeks prefer to say regarding those who have passed away. That included Alkinoy and Christos Lalas (Yiayia X's first cousins, at whose house I usually stayed) and their son Tassos, who died suddenly last August. He was my age and partner in crime whenever I visited Naousa. Zoi se mas.

So I made it my business to drum up new contacts ‎-- starting with the oldest relatives on my list, most of whom I had met in the "old days." Christos Lalas had 4 siblings who altogether produced 18 children, none of whom went to the States. Elizavouda is 91, lives alone, and is no slacker. Her kids Dina and Kosta live in the building next door and have devised an ingegious steel bridge to connect the 2 buildings (see photo). Don't you love it?

Dina's husband Giannis Kosmides comes from the nearby village of Rodohori, where I have been before. She graciously drove me there and helped me seek out 3 Girls School graduates, all of whom she she knew. Another now lives is Veria and is related to her husband; we spoke by phone, Then Dina gave me the grand tour of Aghios Nikolaos and environs. (Many more women now drive in Greece, and that takes some skill :)

Very happy to also meet Tasso's daughters Ethimia -- she now runs her father's light fixture/accessories store near the Aghio Mina church -- and Alkinoy. Tasso's Brother Manolis (who hosted me in Veria) also has a daughter Alkinoy. Both girls seem to have inherited their Yiayia Alkinoy's warm, welcoming traits!

Dr. George Koukoulas gives me a copy of his book!
‎I was invited by graduate Despina née Kosmidou '78 to have Sunday lunch in her Naousa home in the Alonia neighborhood --not far from where my Yiayia's ancestral home once stood and where my dad Steve grew up in the 20's. Her kids go to Yalakia, a school that just celebrated its 160th birthday and where no doubt my father went to grammar school before leaving for America in 1929. And who introduced her to her husband? Maria Koukoulou, daughter of my Yiayia's cousin Dr. George Koukoulas (who is still going strong at 91 himself and has written his autobiography). And to top things off Despina's husband's family name is Mitsanis, though the name Stavros Mitsanis -- Angelo Mitchell's father, stephanosied by my Yiayia's brother Tony Gust in Stockton -- did not ring any bells.

Rang my bell though, reminding me just how small a world we live in. Which is why Greece needs to be respected and supported as an enduring, important member of the family of nations. Lots of things have gone down here in the last 100 years, many not the fault of the Greek people per se.  ‎They have suffered enough, in more ways than the average second or third generation Greek-American can fully appreciate. 

Meanwhile, I am collecting names and phone numbers of new contacts in Naousa and can hardly wait to see them again. Zito Hellas!

NOTE: How has globalization affected Naousa? Beginning in 1875, textile factories were established there and provided work and prosperity for over a century. Many such factory buildings dot the Naousa landscape -- and now, except for one, they are all sadly shuttered because such goods could be produced much more cheaply in China and Pakistan. Even the famous Naousa area cherries and peaches -- and most people were spending mornings these days picking/processing in their family orchards -- bring little profit anymore as foreign markets have fizzled.

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the Verizon Wireless 4G LTE network.