Sunday, March 22, 2015

Mama had a thing for Elvis




My mother was born in Asia Minor and moved to Paris after the catastrophe.
She lived in Paris for about 5 or 6 years, before she married my father and moved to the States.
Pop was from the same village and had gone to the States; he went to Paris to marry Mama.

She was a seamstress in Paris and was rather elegant and arty, making great clothes; she made all our outfits when my sisters and I were kids. She was creative in everything she did, from cooking to sewing to being very modern and allowing me to go to Art school and not insisting on me being a lawyer or a doctor as most Greek parents would.

I am just trying to set her up to try and maybe explain her infatuation with Elvis Presley.
I am not aware of her liking Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra or even Johnny Cash.

Elvis was something else. For some reason he was adored by Mama.

Our store on Surf Ave. was next door to the Tilyou movie theater, Mama went often to the movies but she wasn’t a great fan unless it was an Elvis movie. She would not miss one; she even took my future wife to see one, one of his Hawaiian ones, in the early 60s. Mama told Jeannine she loved Elvis because he bought his Mother a house. He was a good boy.

I wonder if that was the real reason and not his hip moves or his suits?

I would like to know who Pop had a thing for, Jane Russell, Marylyn Monroe
or some exotic Turkish Dancer?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Greeks are funny



I was in the local supermarket and saw this product there.
It was Calamari (squid) and the photo was beautifully rendered octopus.

Question is, what is in the actual can?

Squid, octopus, fish, tomatoes, liverwurst, mushrooms, what?

It could actually be anything.

I bought it and took it to a friend’s house on my way home.
We opened it and we some wine ready, you never know when you might need some.

Octopus, just like the illustration…tasted pretty good, not like fresh and just grilled ones though.
I was really disappointed that there wasn’t something else in the can…would have made a better story.

I will keep looking for conflicts on labels and keep you in the loop.


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Mt Ararat is really a mountain




Ok, that really sounds nuts; I thought it was an international chain of Armenian restaurants.
Every city I have lived in seemed to have an Armenian restaurant called Mt Ararat.
I wonder if there is a real McDonalds somewhere.

We went to Yerevan in Armenia for a week, did a presentation there at the American University of Armenia. Haig, a great friend of mine teaches advertising and marketing there three months a year. Like a good Diaspora Armenian he lives in Glendale California, pretty much the capital of the Diaspora Armenian community.

 We had a great week. People were great, friendly and very open and knowledgeable. I found out to my great surprise that Mt Ararat, which you can see perfectly clearly from all parts of Yerevan, is in Turkey. OK, I should have known that, but I didn’t, never occurred to me that it would not be in Armenia.

Armenia is a country, where you can see the hand of the Soviet Union all over it; after all they were under it for 70 years. It has its seeming good side as well as its horrible side. The capital, Yerevan is beautifully laid out, wide avenues, tree lined, ending up in large squares with museums, elegant buildings, opera houses etc…a very cultured people in a cultured looking city. The ugly soviet style apartment buildings dotted through out the country are about as unimaginably ugly and dreary as possible.

Throughout the soviet hand, the good and the bad, ancient Armenia comes through and dazzles, and so does post soviet Armenia.

 There are huge private residences and new churches, cathedral sized that have been built by the oligarchs, huge pretentious mansions in the middle of some dreary countryside…battle of egos, really horrific.

A little about my presentation, Haig, a dear friend that has worked with me in three countries at least invited me to speak about my 40 years in international advertising in over 10 countries. The audience was his graduate students, the US ambassador, members of the university staff, members of the business community, all in all about 200 people.

My wife Jeannine and my daughter Justine, who flew over from NY, for my presentation, were there as well. I suspect my daughter was there to tell our other kids, “Dad was a dud in Armenia.”

The truth is I was really proud that she came to see me present.

I have not presented to a group in over 12 years, I was really nervous about it and wanted it to be a success for many reasons.

It was a success or maybe Armenians are really polite, especially to Greek Americans. They even did the wave for me when it was over; actually, I asked them to do it, although the second wave was sort of spontaneous.

If you go to Gregory Birbil on You Tube you can watch it, by the way, the one labeled part 1 is really part 2. Armenian logic.

I wonder if there is a restaurant on Mt Ararat called Mt Ararat.





   

Monday, March 2, 2015

Blog block, blogger’s block….block, block!




It has been a year since I have written a blog, obviously BLOG BLOCK.
I had ideas but it just seemed impossible to sit down and just write.
Just hope this is over and my block is un-blocked.

as a sort of creative guy, creative block was always overcome with a deadline.
You sort of did it when you had no choice, do it or die.

Maybe I need a deadline, one blog a week, one blog a month, 
one blog when I feel like it, that is no good, that leads to blog block.


Thursday, January 2, 2014

Vasilopita a tradition for all Greeks…that sometimes gets weird.


Every new year, pretty much all the Greeks, at least the ones I know, prepare, or buy and cut a Vasilopita to celebrate the new year.

It is an ancient tradition that honors St Basil.

A pita, or a cake with a coin in it, is cut into slices representing the New Year, St Basil, the Family, as well as each member of the family. Whoever gets the coin has good luck for the rest of the year.

When our kids were small we had to cut at least three pies, and I had to manage the cutting so they all won coins.

Sorry kids.

The pitas vary depending on the regions, some are more bread like others more cakelike, the decoration is usually the year or a New Years greeting, with almonds and sesame seeds…at least Mama’s were like that.

This year Jeannine didn’t get a chance to make her own, I went to the bakery in town and found this weird one…I didn’t buy it, it was much too creepy for me, I bought a plain one.



It had a bizarre effect on me, it immediately took me back 70 years, and it made me think of my father and his friends. Our pita was cut at midnight exactly, with the sign of the cross, all the appropriate blessings and all the anticipation of who would win the coin. I think Pop maneuvered it so the store was the winner frequently (good for the whole family).

This weird pita had some playing cards (real ones), an ashtray, edible, as well as two cigars in the ashtray…made of chocolate.

It reminded me of Pop and his friends that played poker after the pita was cut and they all smoked cigars.

70 years come racing back because of a Vasilopita proudly displayed in a bakery window.
Playing cards an ashtray and cigars…should have had a tsiporo glass as well, since they drank, pretty much all night.

Thinking about it now, I should have bought that pita.

I am going to go there today and see if he still has it. 


Saturday, December 7, 2013

My singing cousins



It is amazing, since I have a tin ear, that two of my first cousins were professional singers.

My Mother’s family left Turkey after the Catastrophe and went to France. My Mothers oldest brother was there to avoid the Turkish draft.

Mom married my Father in Paris and they went to the States in 1927.

When I went to Paris with my Mother in 1946 as a chubby American kid, to see my Grandmother, who unfortunately was dying, I met my Mothers family for the first time. 

Mom had an older brother and sister as well as two younger brothers and a younger sister.

Her older sister, my Thea Fotini, had three sons, Marco, Jean, and Vasso, they all were tailors, like the rest of the family. I have no idea why they were tailors; maybe the oldest brother who was there before was one.

Two of her sons, my cousins, Jean and Vasso, were singers as well as tailors, the tailors that sang or the singing tailors. Not their stage names. One, Jean Marco ( Marcopoulos ) became very famous after the war. He unfortunately died in a car crash in the early 50s, just as he was really getting famous and about to appear in a movie.

Jean would come to my uncle’s house where we were staying; he was in his early twenties, handsome and unbelievable charming. The family gathered there frequently to visit with us, since they hadn’t seen Mom in 20 years. Jean would bring his guitar and sing for us. He sang songs from Asia Minor, Greek rembetika songs, French ones that he wrote, and I vaguely remember him singing some popular American songs. I wish I could remember which ones.

All I remember is how happy the family was, he was magnetic and it was obvious that the whole family loved him and were proud of him.

Jean’s younger brother Vasso , just a few years older than me sang as well. He taught me to ride a bike with another cousin on the streets of Paris. I was a chubby American kid being harassed by my French cousins, as I wobbled down the street on a rusty bike.

God, they were patient but pretty cruel.

Quite a few years later 1956 or ’57 Vasso the younger brother came to the States with a group of singers,
“The Street Kids”, or something like that, to appear on the Ed Sullivan show. He was a very cool guy.
 
He came out to Coney Island to visit us; he asked me where he could buy some American Jeans. He wanted to take them back to Paris and sell them, he told me he could sell them for a fortune in Paris and make more than he was being paid for the Sullivan show, with the other three guys.

We went to an Army and Navy store on Mermaid ave. and he bought armloads of jeans, counting the thousands of French Franks in his mind. He and his older brother could adjust them to fit the buyers, remember they were first of all tailors.

He was an Asia Minor entrepreneur after all.

He also asked my sisters where he could buy some fancy brassieres. He was a charming guy and everybody helped him in the stores like crazy, his English left a lot to be desired but my French still sucks.
I am not too sure what he did with the bras and did he make them fit to order or were they for one girl.

I remember him on the show wearing a striped tee shirt and they all wore berets, as they should since they were after all, “The Street Kids” straight from Paris.

I found a site on the Internet that talks about my cousins but more importantly there is a note from my eldest cousin Marco’s daughter, Sophie Marcopoulos. She confirms that Jean was the center of the family and his death was a devastating event for the full family.

 The search continues, thank heavens for the Internet.

There is more family out there.

http://jacques-helian.pagesperso-orange.fr/Jean-Marco.htm





Thursday, November 28, 2013

The smoking room



Pretty much everybody I know that smokes or used to smoke has started the same way.
As a kid 12,13 years old, they stole cigarettes from their Father’s pack.

My Pop smoked cigars, 5 cent White Owls, they even had a hole in them so you didn’t have to bite the end off…I would have preferred to have been able to bite the ends off. Seemed more cigar-like.

We had a luncheonette in Coney Island, since we sold cigars and cigarettes it was no big deal to steal a couple of cigars when I wanted to smoke. It never entered my mind to steal cigarettes, Pop smoked cigars so that is what I would smoke.

I have no idea if Pop knew. He never said anything. I suspect Moma knew, but she probably thought Pop was smoking more.

I would go the beach with a couple of friends to smoke, usually at night so we would not be seen.

We would climb up on to the abandoned lifeguard’s chair to smoke and look at the ocean…if we were lucky we had a full moon.

It seems like the epitome of the luxurious cigar smoking experience, view of the sea, two good friends sharing the experience.

Throwing up after the first few puffs at the beginning didn’t seem to take too much away from the experience. Eventually we were able to finish the cigars and did not even get nauseous or turn green.

The view, the friendship, the slight guilt, the danger of being caught, seemed to make smoking attractive.
I became a cigar smoker, preferred them to cigarettes. The real attraction, memories and friendship, was related to 5 cent White Owl cigars.

I eventually progressed to better cigars. Cubans.

I gave my Father a Cuban cigar once thinking he would love it, not a chance, he immediately started a White Owl and offered me one saying “Here is a real cigar. Pare ena alithino puro, vre.”

I could never smoke in front of my Mother or Father. No matter how old I was or even if my parents lived longer, it would have been impossible to smoke in front of them. It must have been a bizarre kind of respect or maybe even a bit of fear.

Of my entire cigar smoking experiences, great cigars after a great meal in exotic places… not one of them, lived up to smoking a cheap crappy cigar with some friends, up a lifeguard chair on the beach at night in Coney Island, watching the sea, even though I threw up after.