Friday, October 21, 2016

How the other half lives...

It's getting cold here in Naousa, and that's no joke.
A visit yesterday to my favorite "cava" -- wine store where wine can be bought by the liter from barrels -- provided comfort beyond excellent retsina.  I also got some validation for constantly feeling cold, especially at home.  As winter seeps in, most Greeks are very worried about keeping their families warm when money is scarcer than ever. 
I had responded‎ to the  usual "How are you?" with "COLD!" -- having spent recent days not feeling well, holed up in my apartment where the temperature hovered around 60 degrees (Fahrenheit)...and also worrying that I was just being a Miami Lightweight. But Naousa is at a relatively high altitude -- think nearby ski resorts -- and gets cold early. My wine seller replied: "No kidding. I wear a sweater to bed." Wow, I'm not the only one!
I not only felt vindicated, but determined to find a solution beyond a simple electric heater someone had given me that wasn't doing the trick while pulling costly electricity. Yes, my studio apartment does have central heating, but it is dependent on heating oil that has risen in cost by over 20 percent since April and is not yet available to us. My space is small, but If the average household here needs 200 liters a month X 93 cents and is living (like half of all Greeks) on a poverty level income of 600 Euros a month --  well, you do the math...
More and more Greeks are being forced to find other solutions, like converting to wood stoves  both in villages and big cities. Or buying 1-2 small heating appliance and toughing it out with heavy clothes 24/7. Schools are not escaping this growing problem either. The Greek People are living an economic nightmare and are now facing yet another "austerity measure" winter.*

‎Yesterday I finally invested 80 Euros in what is essentially an "electric radiator," even though I will soon be returning to the USA to vote. The new models don't use as much electricity and have an automatic thermostat.  And wow again! My apartment is now at 66-68F, though I can't yet be sure of the electricity expenditure or how I will fare when it gets much colder. And I'm not sure when my building might get organized to buy heating oil to rev up the system. Or how much that will cost.  Or if when I return, I will just limp along without central heating, wearing sweaters to bed again when needed just like many others here in Naousa and throughout Greece. 

So if you don't have a heating (or AC) problem, be grateful. Because this is how the other half lives -- in Greece and too many other places.

*The 2016-2017 Greek winter would be the coldest in 50 years!
(Published in The Greek American Herald, November 2016)

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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Naousa Independence Day (for real!)

Yesterday I shed a tear singing "Tin Ipermaho," for real -- not like when we sang it on March 25th during a church play in my hometown of Stockton, California. Then we had some stereotypical/idealized idea of Greek Independence Day circa 1821. I memorized quite a few patriotic poems in those days, and can still see my mother Angeliki proudly decked out in a traditional Greek costume.
Yesterday was October 17th, the day that Naousa was finally liberated from the Ottoman Empire in 1912. Naousa did indeed join The Revolution of 1821, but the local Turkish ruler responded by killing 10,000 Greeks and burning the town to the ground in 1822 -- think "scorched earth" in overdrive. About 1500 captives (women/children and priests ) chose suicide rather than change religions and live with the Turks‎. That episode, however, tied up Turkish resources big time and helped patriots win independence for the south of Greece. (For those reasons, Naousa was renamed "The Heroic City of Naousa" by royal decree in 1955.)
The Greeks of Naousa, Edessa, Veria, and Alexandria did their part in the ensuing years to undermine Ottoman rule, and the north was finally liberated in 1912-13. Makedonomachi (Macedonian Freedom Fighters) like Theodosios Zafeirakis and Dimitrios "Tsami" Karatasos were among those remembered and honored yesterday with the somber laying of wreaths in the town park.

But be‎fore that came a special church service ("Doxologia") in Naousa's Mitropolis Church replete with numerous crown-wearing bishops and a gaggle of  local priests. Not to mention elected officials, representatives from all the schools, and members of the military. (No Separation of Church and State here, even though the current leftist government has caused a firestorm by proposing the removal of religious classes from school curricula. They think religion should be taught in churches and at home...)

Meanwhile, Greek flags were raised high, and led by candle-bearing bishops we sang "Tin Ipermaho" and the National Anthem -- for real.‎ 
My kind of holiday!

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Sunday, October 2, 2016

Naousa Great-Grandmother back in the news!

Still searching for paperwork that proves my father was born in Naousa...A few days ago I went back to the Town Hall again. I say again, because last year I was told that all the town documents were burned in 1949 during the Civil War. But I decided to try again, what the heck. Administrative chores here in Greece often take hours if not days, so my strategy was "let's get re-started."
The office staff was both cordial and patient. Again I was told that there would be nothing, but make an application anyway in case the head archivist can find something. Then I noticed that on the same application you could also seek a death certificate. So I added the name of my father's grandmother, Aikaterina Koutsouki. She died in 1955.

Bingo! Her death had been recorded in the book, and her death certificate was in the computer (with her name spelled Koutsiouki). Within minutes I had a copy of a document that recorded the date and time and also verified the address in the "Alonia" that I had come to know -- even though the home was bought subsequently and torn down to be replaced by a new one. The doctor of record was her grand-nephew and my father's cousin Giorgios‎ Koukoulos (now 91), who noted that she died at 90 of old age.

My pro-yiayia's birthplace is Pyrgos, Kozanis, known then as Katranitsa. Her father was Georgios Lalas, paterfamilias of a large clan still thriving in Naousa. And Her husband Kostantinos was a Makedhonomachos (Macedonian freedom fighter) who died in a Thessaloniki Ottoman prison in 1904. They had four kids: Antonis (Tony Gust in the USA), Eleni (Huntalas), Paraskevouda (my Yiayia), and Maria. All except Maria went to the states. She married Nikos Theofilos, a soldier from around Corinth who subsequently became mayor only to be assassinated by Communist guerillas in 1949 and hung in the town square (as reported by TIME Magazine). They named a street leading to that square after him. I often walk down that street...

Here's a photo of "RiRi" Koutsouki circa 1934 with her grand children Georgios and Soula Theophilou -- yes, the Soula that we in the family know as Thea Soula in Paleion Faliron (Athens). Soula has lived there since 1949 except for a few years‎ in Salt Lake City and LA where her late husband Mario -- also a soldier stationed in Naousa who fell in love! -- studied and worked. She is my favorite Greek relative in Greece, and I have quite a few.

Before I left the Town Hall, I also had a letter to prove that there is no record of Efstathios ‎ Xanthopoulos because the town records were burned.* Not sure how that helps -- but I do now unexpectedly know more about my great-grandmother to help trace back to my grandmother and then my father, as I build my case for Greek citizenship.

And the whole transaction took only about 45 minutes, surely some sort of Greek bureaucracy record -- opa!
*In the coming months that would be proven false!

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