Friday, April 18, 2014

Don't Want To Live Like A Refugee

This rather lush Greek book promotion says we are all refugees and author Dimitris Karavasilis asks, what if the our children don't have any memories of Asia Minor? What if they don't feel it in their soul? An obvious fear, since many of those children read English and the stories are in Greek.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Do Smartphones Dumb Down The Greek Language? X! X3ro!

You can write with the Greek alphabet on most smartphones, and the iPhone Greek keyboard makes messaging very simple.

But Android phones don't come with Greek keyboards, and long Greek words mean expense and hassle. So more and more Greek-speaking people are using Roman letters combined with abbreviations to text on phones. Greek is daunting: is the "E" sound spelled ει, οι, η, ι, υ ?! But as technology speed up communication, will the result erode written Greek? A University of Western Macedonia study in 2008-2009 found that "Greeklish" is slipping into Greek students' work, with crazy word spellings, the use of Roman letters, and other mistakes that totally confound teachers. An example from a recent text I received:
I got: Efxaristo poli, sou efxome ke esana oti pothis.
It should be: efharisto polu, sou efhomai kai se sena oti potheis.
It would be, in Greek: ευχαριστώ πολύ, σoυ εύχομαι σε σένα ότι ποθείς.
It is, in English: Thank you very much. I wish you whatever you desire (crave).
The iPhone has a built-in Greek dictionary that auto-corrects spellings, teaching students of Greek like me. But I do think foreign scripts should be universally accepted among devices -- or supported by the data providers. That Android devices can't intercept Greek-language texts is one more reason for me to put up with the small-screened iPhone, for now.

Many decades ago my grandfather, who contributed to the the publication -- in Chicago -- of several books in Greek, and taught Greek in North Side immigrants' homes, still used some Katharevousa, or high Greek. He and one of my uncles lamented new word usage and abbreviations in Demotiki, the common Greek that is now widely used in all but government, court or scientific settings. When my parents were kids, U.S. Greek school lessons required learning all the complex accents -- Greek diacritics -- that were mostly abandoned in the 1980s.

My favorite Greeklish for texting and tweeting: x! That is an abbreviation for χάλια (halia), meaning lousy, really bad.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Fish Soup & Kalamari

Found an irresistible special on a chalkboard menu today: ψαρόσουπα-- with carrot, potato, just a bit of flaky white fish and lots of fresh lemon. It may have had a little tomato, or okra, for flavor. And it was not pureed, but not too chunky. I had καλαμαράκια and pita bread on the side.
This is my favorite taverna in Astoria: Tiny, nice menu with a few twists, the server with hazel eyes always calls me sweetie, and today he's playing the best acoustic rebetika. Antiques and old photos on the shelves, below wood beams. Νow playing: "Φεύγω, γιασου γιασου!"
This fish soup recipe is quite simple.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Power of Pontian Dance

You don't need to speak any Greek to be engaged for at least the first 15 minutes of this video that shows the power of dance! It's undenyable.
It's interesting to see how in step the dancers are doing the "Σέρρα" dance, bonding with small movements. See how holding hands supports body movement, even in old age!
Pontos, on the Black Sea in Northern Turkey, was unique. The people were Greek, but had their own dialect, music and dress, all with a certain Turkish influence. As the Ottomans battled ethnic minorities in the 1910s and 1920s, the Pontians became refugees, and were sent mostly to Northern Greece -- much like the Greeks in Asia Minor and other parts of what is now Turkey.

For the Love of Fish: Αγάπη μου

In Greek, the language of love and the language of fishing overlap.
Some men see women as beautiful creatures to bait, lure and dispose like fish. In this Greek man's fishy guide to conquest, listen for terms of endearment: αγάπη μου (my love), μωρό μου (my baby) and κούκλα μου (my doll).


But capturing mermaids is not pretty: flailing on deck, gasping for air, with pain from even the tiniest of hooks. Those addicted to this, and those lured in, should heed the advice of the Benedictines: don't plunge directly from one experience into another, but rather pause, recollect, and gather strength before moving on. Otherwise the fish get smaller and smaller, and the sea is depleted.
A sophisticated fisherman filmed on the shores near Piraeus and Athens offers secrets - μυστικά - from talented Greek fisherman in small wooden boats. The first guy in a small boat offers all glory to God.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Open Road

Someone told me recently that there are no rules in living life.
Living within the lines can block creativity. But there ARE undeniable laws of the heart and mind, even if society, religion and those in positions of power distort them.
Skimming the book "The Open Road," a biography of the Dalai Lama, in a shop with chanting and incense floating, I am struck by an opening quote by Michael Faraday, made in 1849: "All this is a dream. Still, examine it by a few experiments. Nothing is too wonderful to be true, if it be consistent with the laws of nature."
To sense nature, we have to listen. To listen, we need more quiet, more time away from concrete and technology, and more time with people who generate positive energy, I say.
The book addresses the Dalai Lama's thoughts on asceticism and monks in the modern world. He says our fast pace is the West is a hindrance to meditation. But he praises Western Christians' social activism.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Music: The Island of Peace & Love

“Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy.” 
Ludwig van Beethoven
“Music has first place among the arts. It brings us to an island with peace, beauty and love. Music is a dream. Music helped me have hope. In difficult times, when suffering … even the bad is beautiful. It is a mystery when the first tone of music starts: it goes straight into our soul. Music … is …. God.” 
Alice Herz-Sommer, pianist, Holocaust survivor 
Died 2/23/14 Age: 110
   http://theladyinnumber6.com  http://www.nickreedent.com

Friday, February 28, 2014

Reading the Coffee Cup

Usually I only see maps and topography in my demitasse coffee.
Tonight I see people: a strong head, maybe on a woman's body, and others. All leaning in. But I need help on reading this one! Calling all fortune tellers: who can parse the grounds, with cardamom, at Tanoreen restaurant in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.

Tanoreen: Olives, Lemons & Za'atar

The fates sent me to Brooklyn instead of Wall Street tonight.
I love an adventure and "Fell Back Alone" listening to World Party, staying on the train to Bay Ridge and Tanoreen - a Michelin-rated bib gourmand Middle Eastern restaurant. It won't disappoint unless you can't handle red wine, heavy spices and the next table's raw kibbeh.
I had a cumin-spiced lentil-butternut squash spread, "a Gaza specialty," and mhammara, a red pepper, walnut, spicy spread. (It's similar to the Turkish salsa-like appetizer spread esme, but not as chunky nor sweet-sour.)
Accompaniment: za'atar toasted flatbread. And a nice French Pinot Noir (Cote du Rhône).
Innovative Palestinian Chef Rawia Bishara, with recipes influenced by the Mediterranean and Middle East, is a well-kept New York foodie secret. Her new cookbook is number two to Ottolenghi's latest cookbook. Check out "Olives, Lemons & Za'atar,"a beautiful cookbook. Only complaint: the index doesn't cross reference traditional names, which is what you find on restaurant menus.
Tanoreen's menu and website has Bishara's interesting story: she started the restaurant later in life, in the 1990s, with inspiration from her mother, a teacher-cook. Bishara says:
"What I truly loved and respected about my mother’s cooking and indeed the woman herself, was that she somehow “colored outside the lines” and enlivened her life and therefore her food with many creative flourishes."

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Plenty of Veggies

Just in time for Great Lent, a lovely cookbook: "Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London's Ottolenghi."
Recipes are very simple: eggplant with pomegranate, za'atar and buttermilk sauce (pictured); beet, orange and olive salad; caramelized fennel with goat cheese; quinoa salad with dried Persian lime ....
Chef Yotam Ottolenghi also wrote a Jerusalem cookbook.
Separately, a new take on grilled cheese, Sfakianopita, a Greek flat bread, which seems to be a version of the famed plakotiganites yiayia prepared but no one can duplicate. The recipe was featured on an episode of the Cooking Odyssey on PBS, which maintains a fabulous list of Greek recipes

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Love, Authenticy & The Predator

Be authentic, open and loving, but remember life is war.
So seek refuge in the figurative treehouse, just like animals. This reminder came from Athens, Greece, with the video below, which illustrates a scene Dad and I recently witnessed outside our house. Feathers blew lightly across the snow, betraying violence in the Linden tree. I guess it was an omen.
Sure, Paulo Cuelho says, "Love does not need to be understood. It needs only to be shown ... The world around you will reward you." And sociologist/inspirational speaker Brene Brown says we should let ourselves be deeply, vulnerably seen and love with our whole hearts, though there is no guarantee."
Sure, indulge your emotions, but be fierce. Consider the movie Life As War, the third film in a trilogy about modern society, with moving Philip Glass music. It depicts our hyper-technological life and the absence of nature. Ευχαριστώ, Βασίλη μου!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Lincoln: One Nation Under Omnipotent Being

Columbia Journalism School in New York
Only three of our presidents were not particularly religious, according to Pew data.
In celebration of President's Day, Prof. Mark Movsesian, director of the Center for Law and Religion at St. John's University School of Law observes that Thomas Jefferson (left), the patron saint outside the journalism school at Columbia University in New York, wasn't religious at all. And President Abraham Lincoln was not a "technical" Christian, but believed the universe was ruled by an omnipotent God.
So he had a Jesus problem.
Some have said the same of President Barack Obama, who often points to Lincoln. Time to read more on what Obama accepts and what he rejects from Lincoln on religion.
That's not addressed in Prof. Movsesian's otherwise fascinating post in the Center for Law and Religion's main forum/blog.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Beautiful Winter Sunshine

Daffodils and sunshine are making my kitchen cheery. The calm before another winter storm due Thursday ....

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Mourn, Be Fierce. One Life to Live

From the balcony: Arvanitaki at Carnegie Hall 2/1/2014. 
Eleftheria Arvanitaki enthralled a packed Carnegie Hall with her songs Feb. 1.
They included heavy laments, but these miroloi were uplifting in their poetic pain. Such songs are not wallowing in sadness, but what one blogger calls "stoic innoculation." It's a very Greek sentiment, aided by the uplift of the bouzouki. And, last Saturday, there was innocence conveyed in the breaks in Arvanitaki's voice, and a collective sway we felt whispering the lyrics together. The New York Times review notes that she draws on rebetika that is "mournful and fierce." Rebetika is the Asia Minor musical-blues influence that arrived in the 1920s with devastated refugees forced to abandon their homes.
I can't get enough of one Arvanitaki song, "το παράπoνο," ("The Lament"), which is an adaptation of an Odysseas Elytis poem. The poetry doesn't translate easily. It roughly says that one may set out to do one thing in life and find, looking back, that it was as if someone else was acting. It concludes: "a second life, there isn't." However, halfway through one's life, there is the other half to live ...
Εδώ στου δρόμου τα μισά 
 έφτασε η ώρα να το πω 
Άλλα είναι εκείνα που αγαπώ 
 για αλλού για αλλού ξεκίνησα. 
 Στ' αληθινά στα ψεύτικα 
 το λέω και τ' ομολογώ 
Σαν να 'μουν άλλος κι όχι εγώ 
 μες στη ζωή πορεύτηκα 
 Όσο κι αν κανείς προσέχει 
 όσο κι αν τα κυνηγά 
Πάντα πάντα θα 'ναι αργά 
 δεύτερη ζωή δεν έχει.
Below, Arvanitaki sings the song To Parapono, with more of her hits to follow. The song is on a 1996 album of Greek poetry set to music called,"Songs For The Months" explained on a great music blog. Other quiet songs I recommend: Καθρεφτίζω το νου and Παράπονο (Ξενιτιά).  In New York, her orchestra included Armenian oud player Ara Dinkjian. More from a clever British blogger who says musical laments, for Greeks, are "not wallowing in sadness, but stoic innoculation." Here's the ANT1 Greek interview with Arvanitaki about the New York show.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Childlike Ways of Jimmy Fallon

The genius of Late Night With Jimmy Fallon is that host Fallon is childlike and smart.
Though the show will air late on the East Coast, I predict he will make us a better nation. After all, Fallon makes writing thank-you notes an art form. Get happy with the plinks on the mini-piano and kazoo accompaniment in his version of the pop song "Call Me Maybe" with Carly Rae Jepsen & The Roots. We grew up with that colorful mini-xylophone, on wheels!
Don't agree with the Vanity Fair cover, which surmises Fallon brings back "gritty" New York to late-night TV. He's peppy, clean-cut New York!
For more on being childlike -- rather than childish -- by valuing innocence, trust, humility and transparency, versus being impatient and selfish, see "Childlike & Childish" in Commonweal magazine and the well-known Bible passage on the subject: Matthew 18: 2-4.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Greek Tango

In the Greek movie The Christmas Tango, the climax is one tango of several minutes that connects two people for a lifetime.
Actually, three people are connected, but you have to see the film to get the love triangle. If you needed proof that the tango craze has made its way to Athens, consider that Greek superstar musician George Dalaras (Γιώργος Νταλάρας) sings the high-drama theme song, "Μια στιγμή για πάντα," (lyrics: One Moment For Always). Translation isn't perfect, but select lines:

Πάντα εσυ του πόθου μου είσαι το νησί, Always you are my lusted-after island
πάντα η χαμένη μου πατρίδα είσαι εσυ,  always you are my longed-after country
στην ξενιτιά μου η μονακριβη ελπίδα,  in my exile, my only hope
πάντα ο φάρος στο χαμό μου,  always a beacon in my loss
η αμμουδιά στο γυρισμο μου, the sand beneath my return
και στη δίψα το νερό μου είσαι εσύ... and in thirst, you are my water
Κι αν ο χρονος μας λυγίσει,  and if the years bend us,
κι ο καιρός μας πολεμήσει,  and time fights us,
τι μπορεί να μας χωρίσει, what can separate us
τόση αγάπη πως να σβήσει, with so much love to extinguish?
Χίλιες θάλασσες θ’ ανοίξω,  A thousand seas I’ll open
χίλιες μοίρες θα νικησω, a thousand degrees I will overcome
κι οταν θα σε συναντήσω, and when I meet you
θα `ναι μια στιγμή για πάντα,  it will be a moment for always,
αγκαλιά στο Θεό, in the arms of God
πάντα, σ’ ενα τάνγκο για δυο,  forever a tango for two
μαζι για πάντα... together always .....

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Cuelho: Love Without Trying to Understand

Love others, says author Paulo Cuelho in his new book.
"Love – because you will be the first to benefit. The world around you will reward you, even if, at first, you say to yourself: ‘They don’t understand my love.’ Love does not need to be understood. It needs only to be shown."
He wrote the well-known book, "The Alchemist." but I didn't realize he fought to be a writer, and devoted himself to it full time only after a spiritual pilgrimage in Spain, according to this biography of Cuelho. He often visits the themes of expressing love and conquering fear. Cuelho observes that by avoiding confrontations with the unpleasant, you won't suffer, but won't live in fullness. Life is so simple, isn't it?
He says he was married several times before he found his partner, in his late 30s, and talks about the great valleys one must go through to reach new highs ... in love, in life. He went to jail for a time, and was tortured.
Back to now: Cuelho has a great blog and brilliant social media connections to his new book, "Manuscript From Accra." Cuelho's video channel includes travels, advice and thoughts from his "office" -- his head -- that make a writer come alive. It's pretty genius video, and he should be making money at it. One video is him driving through a Middle Eastern desert, because, he says, try crazy things, have fun and learn from whatever happens. There's a great shot of the turbaned, robed driver standing on the SUV, phoning for help as the sun sets.
Here is Cuelho on the two angels who knock on our door, pushing us to change, to pursue our dreams: the angel of death and the angel of good luck:

Monday, January 20, 2014

Rossano Brazzi, Star of Another Era

Rossano Brazzi
Credit: http://bit.ly/1mwTjkk
The magic still happens: it's possible to connect with a handsome stranger across a crowded room.
I have been watching film clips of the 1950s actor Rossano Brazzi, a heartthrob from Italy known for  the movie version of "Some Enchanted Evening." Check out some wonderful 1950s color film clips of Brazzi, with Katherine Hepburn and Mitzi Gaynor.
But when is a handsome face just a fraud? He could act & pout, but couldn't sing! Brazzi was lip-syncing in South Pacific.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Alexander Payne At the Golden Globes

Yes it's true: the writer and film director Alexander Payne is of Greek descent.
So Payne was kind to the Greek Reporter shaggy-man behind the microphone below. According to the Alexander Payne Wikipedia biography, his real first name is Constantine and his ancestors come from Livadia, Aegio, the island of Syros, in Greece, and from Germany. He grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, studied Spanish and history at Stanford University, studied in Spain and later lived in Colombia.
So being Greek isn't the story he tells. (He is close to his elderly parents, a restaurateur-businessman and a French-Spanish teacher, according to a recent New Yorker profile.)
His latest film "Nebraska," one of four set in his home state, features black-and-white winter prairie landscapes that remind me of the ride from Chicago to Champaign, Illinois. That stark beauty helps tell the story. On storytelling, Payne paraphrases Anton Chekhov: "If you want emotional effects, you have to place them against a cold background, so they stand out in relief." (see The New Yorker on Payne Oct. 28, 2013, p. 50). Critics say Payne can be condescending in trying to balance satire and sympathy in his characters. He says he is "deathly afraid of beign too sentimental." Payne told The Guardian in an interview that evoking emotion is the goal:
"Sentimentality is a dirty word to me. It implies trying to wring tears from the audience. I don't want to do any of that crap. If you want to be moved, fine. If you don't, fine. I'm not going to force anything out of you."
I find something admirable about Payne's tenacity, his apparent un-Hollywood existence, and the length of time he spends scouting, writing, filming and editing. Even with success, The Guardian claimed he was not prolific -- now with more than six films to his name, an Oscar and new award nominations.
Creative minds should be condescending, given all the judgement one is constantly subject to.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Being Defeatist: So Middle Class

Another great quote from the sassy grandmama in Downton Abbey, the British series on PBS.
"Don't be defeatist, dear. It's so middle class."
Spoken by the character Violet Crawley, played by English actress Maggie Smith, the quote applies to being single, but also to money. Script writers have given the elegant and grandmotherly Violet character many great one-liners -- blogged about here.
It's a reminder of the power that matriarchs have in families and in society, when speaking, then and now.