Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"Old age is no place for sissies." Bette Davis said that.



In Brooklyn it is “old age sucks.”

This is our yearly trip to NY, to see the doctors and “OLD” friends.
It is a concentrated time of checkups, probes, and tests,
We do it once a year, our friends, stretch these visits out over the year.

Everybody we see seems to have something wrong with him or her, including me.
Aches, pains, pills, orthotics in your shoes, hearing aids, increased prescriptions, injections for sugar, prostate exams, gall bladder operations and God knows what else.

It is bad enough we have these things, but we talk about them to each other. It seems to be the main topic of conversation. I really cannot stand it but I find myself doing the same thing. This has to stop, much as I care for all my friends, the last thing I want to know about is the number of pills they take or their gall bladder operation.
I love them but enough is enough, basta, ya, finito, let’s talk about women or fishing or politics, anything.

A friend told me we are like an automobile, we are born like a perfect Mercedes, and over the years it requires servicing. At a certain stage it isn’t a 6,000-mile checkup, it is a lot worse, engine block cracked, needs major work. I figure I am at the million mile checkup, should be able to last another couple of thousand miles if they can figure out what that weird noise is.

OK, now here comes the crazy thing, I just read a report that our happiness and contentedness increases after the age of 50 and continues to go up for the next 20 years or so. It seems we do not worry about success, getting ahead and all the things we anguished about when we were in a developing stage. It sort of makes sense, we are what we are and are relaxed about who we are…a good feeling.

It seems odd to me, at a time when we are seemingly falling apart, we are happier and more contented than any other time in our lives.

It all comes down to a very simple thing; if you have a great mental attitude and are OK with yourself, the physical does not seem to matter much. A few aches and pains are nothing compared to the feeling you have that the rough part is over.

I think being “young” is no place for sissies.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Mom and Pop go to Greece on their "Honeymoon"



My father went to the States in 1912 or so. My grandfather, in Asia Minor, would send his sons out of the country when they became draft age. The Greeks there were drafted into the Turkish work battalions, basically a death sentence.

Pop’s brother was sent to England, and was forever known as “O Englesos,” the Englishman.

Pop went to America and became a candy-maker; he was in the States when the catastrophe happened in 1922.

Mom and her family went to France and eventually settled in Paris where she was a seamstress.

In 1928, Pop went to Paris and married Mom, I wrote a blog about that, April 7th, a very funny situation, the Francophile Greeks were shocked by Pop and his American ways and especially by his American suits,
“O Americanos” was what they called him until the 50‘s.

It is also, what they call me in Porto Heli.

After the wedding, in Paris, they went to Greece to visit family, my Father’s family were living in Edipso, on the island of Evia, and in Nea Michaniona, near Salonica.

The photo above is in Edipso, with my uncles and Aunts and various kids, who I assume are my cousins.

Family that is really unknown, this vague connection through old photos. This is just one of the results of the kind of emigration that was forced on people and spread them throughout the world. You will find Asia Minor Greeks all over the world, from Argentina to the States, France as well as Canada and Australia, and we know our relatives through photos like this, just sort of know them, not really well.

I have been to Edipso and met some of the people in the photo, 36 years later.

Mom told me that Pop was not happy about the visit; he does not look very relaxed in the photo.

It seems he had been living in the States about 10+ years, and seemed to have trouble adapting to seeing his family in Greece.

He had been sending money very regularly, and everybody seemed to think making money in America was easy.

The fishing boats, that he paid for, were on the beach and not being used, Mom told me Pop spent a day pouring water on them since they were dry and rotting. Meanwhile some of his relatives were in the Cafenion, complaining about the lack of plentiful fish.

Pop decided that their stay had to be cut short, he did not want to stay and be more disappointed by his relatives.

He felt that they believed he had it easy, “it was not difficult to make money in the new world.”

He worked 7 days a week and all sort of hours. He did that all his life, and I remember his hours at the store.

It was a naïve way to view life in America, lots of work, lots of money, easy life.

My mother took on the role of sending money to his relatives, Pop never did it personally, ever again.

It is a shame that his trip to Greece ended so sadly, he never talked about it, but Mom told us with tears in her eyes.

I wonder what he would have thought of today’s Greece?

Friday, December 10, 2010

The role of the computer in creative departments



There is no way that I will be an idiot and claim the computer has no role in agencies, I am old but not that old.

The computer has changed things in the creative department…not all for the best.

Somehow the computer is too perfect, it makes presentations look too finished. We use to make a thing called layouts, magic marker on layout paper. It showed the idea in a simple way; it required a little imagination to see it finished. That was the secret; you were able to use photographers, designers, etc. to make contributions to the idea. It was a collaborative project, it was better.

Today the computer shows it finished, as it will appear; some of the magic is gone. I think the art director is limited to what he can find on the Internet, what he can swipe. The clients are not required to imagine anything, sounds good but is it really better?

I heard a story about an agency that had an electricity shortage, it was a few hours, the creative department came to a standstill, and even the copywriters could not work. Whatever happened to pencils and paper? Ideas should be able to be created without depending on computers.

In our Columbian office, no computers are used in the morning, just layouts, paper and pencil. The computer is used to finish ideas up, for presentation.

An agency in Brazil, a great one, has banned computers in the creative department. Just roughs, “show me the idea” screams the creative director, “not your skill on the computer.”

I think we might be depending on the technology and not the content. We are paid to make people see things in a new way, things they already know. Technology is wonderful, but it is not what we are paid for, we are paid to make relative connections with the consumer on behalf of our client’s brands.

The digital agencies have yet to reach their potential creatively.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, a communication idea, content, will never be made by a computer programer, no matter the program.

Friday, December 3, 2010

"There is a universe in the basement!"



When I was in Japan, our financial director, a Japanese, a very formal elegant man, for some absurd reason took a liking to me.

He invited me to lunch with the head of Johnson & Johnson, an Englishman that I had been working with, on the next years campaign.

This was not a very normal thing, certainly not for me.

The client arrives to the office, for a meeting, it goes well, we then take off for lunch. We go in the financial directors car to a huge skyscraper downtown. It looked like a normal office building, without a restaurant in sight. We drive into the underground parking and go down about three stories. It looked like a normal parking lot, cars, attendants, numbered slots, all very much as you would imagine.

We pull up to an ornate, traditional wooden carved door, no signs, and three stories down. Attendants rush out to take the car and we are ushered into the “restaurant.”

We enter a world of sunshine and natural beauty. It is amazing, flowers, birds flying around…little tiny houses, bridges with little streams. It is raining over one of the small houses. All this three stories underground, unbelievable, talk about theme restaurants.

There is a whole universe down there.

We are led to a small house on stilts. It is where we are going to have lunch; there are two waitresses per person there. Drinks are served, no sooner do you take a sip when you are handed a fresh drink.

The meal is unbelievable; dozens of beautiful and delicious plates are served, each more amazing then the last.

This magnificent service goes on for at least two hours, the formal Japanese financial director loosens up and starts telling jokes, thank heavens there was no karaoke, we would have all done Elvis.

The most amazing thing about this meal was, no bill appeared, our car was ready when we left, we were handed beautiful presents, and addressed by name by the hostess.

Service, magic environment, wonderful food…all in a parking lot.

Synthesis or fusion?




This article appeared on Gourmed.com. It is an interview with my wife, by Panos Georgoutzos.

It is about the girl I met at art school, the one that prepared salty dolmades for my father, at our engagement party. She has grown into an amazing cook, and I am sure her skill in entertaining, has been a great help in my career
as well as in our life in general.

My size proves it as well as our kid’s ability to cook. This is her view on food and cooking.

“I loved the pumpkin soup we had last night. I love you too.”

Jeannine Birbil is an American of Albanian Epirot descent, whose maternal grandfather came to America in 1904. She was born in Massachusetts and was raised in NYC. Attending Pratt Institute she studied Fine Art & Illustration, and is an illustrator. She is married to an American of Greek descent, a born Brooklynite. They met at Pratt, and have 3 grown children.
Due to her husband’s job, in Advertising, they have lived, for the past 45years, in London, Madrid, Milan, Tokyo, Johannesburg, Mexico City, Bogotá, and finally Athens. They now live in Porto Heli, a beautiful port, in the Peloponnesus.

Since Jeannine loves to cook, this seems to be a perfect formula for a fusion cuisine. Her creativity, the spices, the ingredients, the dishes, the local customs, the restaurants, the friends, all this multicultural exposure have helped make her dishes unique and a true fusion. 
You cannot live in all those places and not shop. Jeannine has an extensive collection of dishes, glasses and various china wear, that she uses constantly. Among her favorite dishes are the colorful Talavera plates that she commissioned in Puebla, Mexico. 
As a child she learned traditional cooking from her grandmother, mother and father. Her creativity, her travels, and her interest in cooking have done the rest.

-What is your relationship with food? How did you come to love cooking?

I just love it. It is such an absorbing creative experience. I love the colors and the presentation of food is important to me. It is like painting a portrait and food is the medium. Living in so many countries as my family and I have, it’s always about what influences you bring together from all these different cultures into your cooking. Once when I was very young, visiting my grandparents I opened the fridge to get some milk for breakfast and I saw three lamb heads sitting there staring at me. You could say that it was a disturbing thing for a little girl of 5 or 6 years old to see. Instead of being scared, I was truly curious to know what my grandmother would do with them. She expressed her distaste and told me that my grandfather was the one who would cook and eat them. Intrigued I sat beside him at the table watching him enjoy this odd meal and he offered me a taste expecting me to say no, but I was more than willing to try. He gave me the best part, the soft, tender and succulent cheeks and they tasted wonderful. This experience triggered my curiosity and all my interest about food.

-So, which countries have influenced your cooking?

All of them!

-England too??

(laughs)…Well… yes! When we lived in England in the 60’s, food wasn’t a priority. If you wanted to go out and dine, you could only go to the center of London, where all these foreign restaurants were. English food was all about steak and kidney pud, roast lamb or roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, which although are hearty nourishing meals I don’t find them very challenging. I did learn to make great scones though and I always looked forward to the sweet cinnamon glaze on a tasty hot cross bun. Having tea and dainty sandwiches at Fortnum & Mason and strolling through the food halls of Harrods was a marvelous, elite experience. However England has changed and an interesting cooking culture has emerged. They now have some superb young chefs that have incorporated international elements to English cuisine and have done a wonderful job.

-Others?

Spain. I loved Spanish food. In season, flavorful artichokes and peas sautéed with Jamon Serrano give a lovely salty, robust flavor to the vegetables. I still dream about the wonderful parrillada’s (a seafood platter) we enjoyed. Seasonal asparagus and wild strawberries from Arranjuez consume you for weeks. I learned how to make paella and now I love to make it in so many different ways. Also, Mexico for me has probably the most varied cuisine outside of Asia. As varied as the Chinese cuisine. It is a fabulous fusion of traditional Spanish cooking mixed with New World foods and indigenous preparation. Chilies are a very basic element that I incorporate into my cooking from my years in Mexico. At first I assumed that they are used in all Latin America but they are not that popular outside of Mexico. I realized that for the Mexicans, having more than 50 varieties of chilies, they are almost sacred. So I really like using chilies. I have to be careful in Greece, because not everyone loves chilies… Mexico was a real experience, and I kept as much as I could from that cuisine. Italy was wonderful too. Of course, there I learned how to use all kinds of ingredients to make pasta and a variety of risotto and especially how to use basil as an ingredient in sauces and pesto. As you know Greeks traditionally never use basil to cook with.

-What about Greek cuisine. Has it made any impact on your cooking?

Of course! It was my first cooking experience watching my mother and grandmother make those famous large round Epirus cheese and spinach pies. I stood by as a child mesmerized as they rolled out the filo. I loved the squishy, soft, tactile feel of the ball of dough my mom placed in my hand as I watched and eagerly tried to imitate their filo making. Here is an amusing story involving my Greek cooking. When my husband Greg and I were engaged, his family came to our home for the engagement dinner. I knew that his father loved dolmades so I decided to make them for the first time. I found a recipe and did everything right except for one very important detail. I didn’t know that the vine leaves are kept in brine and so I just rinsed them a bit under the tap, instead of soaking them. And if that wasn’t enough during the cooking process my father, a terrific cook himself, lifted the lid of the pot and to my horror added even more salt…My dad had never made dolmades either but was laughing when I told him how salty the vine leaves already were. When I tasted them I really had second thoughts about whether to present them to my father-in-law to be, but in my vanity to show to his family that I too can roll dolmades prevailed and in the end I served them. Unfortunately the first dish offered to him was my dolmades. Everyone was staring at Greg’s father for approval as he took the first bite, he paused and then someone asked him what he thought of the dolmades. His reply was: “The bride is very beautiful”. He didn’t touch another thing for the rest of the evening! (laughs)

-And how do all these influences come together? What is the result?

I use ingredients from all these cuisines together. I can use up to six different spices in one dish and people will go asking me “what is this”? Sometimes I even forget, because I’ll just grab 4 or 5 jars and go “oh, that would be alright to mix…” Most of my dishes are originals.
.
-So we come to the word “fusion”. Is that what your cooking is all about?

My husband doesn’t like that word…(laughs). Well it’s very difficult to find another word to substitute that. My way of naming my cuisine is “synthesis”, which is actually a Greek word.

-Which are your favorite dishes? What do you usually cook at home?

When I have friends over I love making Greek food. I make all the traditional dishes like moussaka, pastitsio or roast lamb. But I also improvise a lot. I make dishes with a twist from my international cooking background. I make a mean ceviche, spicy and colorful using fresh Greek fish and a wonderful oyster mushroom dish sautéed in olive oil with spring onions, chopped garlic, chili guajillo (a tasty, dried, calm, flavorful chili that you soak) coriander leaf and tequila. I love to marinate chicken or sliced turkey breasts in orange juice, fresh garlic, finely chopped ginger and curry with a dash of soy sauce. Sometimes I will use fresh limejuice instead of orange juice and combine lemon grass, just a touch of soy, you don’t want to overwhelm this dish with too much soy sauce, ginger, garlic, spring onions, a dash of white wine and a few fresh chilies as I sauté the chicken breasts in olive oil. I always use olive oil, which we harvest from our own olive trees and a variety of chilies, that I grow in pots on my terraces. 
As a variation you can cut the marinated chicken breasts into strips and sauté them in olive oil and chopped garlic along with strips of finely cut sautéed sweet red peppers and onions for a variation adding cumin and a dash of vermouth. There is no limit to what one can do with food. Creativity, imagination and fearlessness are the only tools you need. Know your herbs and experiment using cloves and cinnamon with meats, something that Greek chefs have been doing for centuries. Besides, always remember that cooking is fun.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"A noble but dumb animal...just like Royalty."



Do not get me wrong, this was said to me, by a Caballerango, (a horse-wrangler) in Mexico, at the Domecq ranch.

I actually love horses; at least I love drawing them.

While running McCann Mexico we got the Domecq account, specifically the Presidente Brandy account.
It is the largest selling brandy in the world, by volume. Mexicans drink it with Coca-Cola.

It was really a big coupe for an International agency, since it was such a traditional Mexican account.

We also handled the Coca-Cola account. There were millions of drinks served in Mexico that we had a lot to do with.

They always used the Spanish horses in their advertising, horses that they bred, originally in Spain. In Mexico they had bred a version called the Azteca, (Google it for more information).

We recommended a campaign where the horses were free; normally they always showed them controlled by a rider or a handler with a long lead.

These horses running free was no easy feat, they are not used to being free in large open spaces. We naturally wanted them running on a beach, what did we know?

We are going to shoot the commercial in Florida, on this wonderful open beach. We arrange for the horses, Spanish ones, locally from a breeder.

The Caballerango comes from Mexico with us to handle the horses.

The first thing he tells us is that we need boats in the sea, since the horses, once in the water, might swim straight out to sea. The last thing we want to do is lose one of these expensive beautiful animals, by drowning. “Sorry, the horse swam away.” To crazy to even contemplate. We get the boats, four to be safe.

The boats are positioned, out of shot, and we release the horses. We work all day to get the shots we need, without losing any horses. Yes, the boats were needed, those animals once in the water headed for Cuba.

Remember what the Cavalarango said.

The Mexican director, Pedro Torres, did a great job, In spite of the “sea horses.”

The horses were beautiful and noble, maybe just a little dumb… I do not know anything about royalty.

"We tried Bill...we tried."



Our head of International, during the seventies, was an ex Marine that had served in the Pacific during the Second World War. If you wanted to do a casting of an ex-marine, he would be perfect. He was a tough looking guy with a great stare, and when he spoke you listened.

I once turned down a job in a market and jokingly asked him if he would hold it against me, his answer was, “I am not sure that I won’t.”

Not much of a sense of humor, a real tough guy. He was a good guy though, in spite of his demeanor.
He had a great memory, and seemed to remember everybody he ever met, names, family, everything.

He did have one weakness, because of his military service, he never went to visit our Tokyo operation, number two in the world at that time. Finally he was convinced that he had to go, considering his position in the company, and especially that of our Japanese operation’s size.

He finally goes to our Tokyo operation while on a far eastern tour. He is received very graciously as is to be expected. He meets the major clients, sees the impressive agency presentation. He seemed relaxed, the Japanese manager sends him on a tour of Tokyo, and a ride on the bullet train to get a feeling of the country, Kyoto, Mt. Fuji, a very impressive couple of days. He stayed in traditional Inns had hot baths, massages, ate Sushi, the works.

When he gets back, they give him the traditional cocktail party, clients, staff, suppliers and diplomats.
While at the party he makes an observation to the Japanese manager, a very cool guy, that the country seems very crowded, buildings all over the countryside and asks the population of Japan. “ It is about 120 million people” says the manager. He thinks for a while and says to the manager, “you guys need more land.”

With a small shy smile our manager turns to him and says… “We tried Bill, we tried.”

No matter who you are, just think a little bit before you say anything…remember.

“We tried Bill, we tried.”

Monday, November 29, 2010

Opening an agency in Greece



We opened our agency in Greece during the Junta. It was the late sixties.
The same person, Tom Pappas, represented our two most important clients, Coca-Cola and Esso; he was a Greek American that came back to Greece for the business opportunities.

He was a very important guy in Greece at that time and his name carried lots of weight, as I found out at the airport when I arrived.

I had previously come to Greece before the Junta, and the airport was a very casual place. I remember sheep on the runway and people coming to the plane as we landed. I may be wrong about that, but that is the image I have. It was a different Greece before the Junta. I arrive and realize the difference when my passport is requested a few times, the airport personnel were much more buttoned up, almost an imitation Switzerland.

I was really happy to be back in Greece and was using my crummy Greek. Finally I get to customs, I spoke to him in Greek, big mistake. I had a can of film, commercials for Esso and Coke, as well as my suitcase.
He immediately said open your suitcase, and asked me what various items were. He asked about very simple things, shoes, shirts shaving kits etc. He was a supercilious shit, very impressed with his uniform. I finally got a little sarcastic, when he asked what something was, I said. “Here is something you have never seen before in your life, it is trousers and a jacket that match, it is called a suit.” He went nuts and attempted to remove a gun that he didn’t have. Lots of screaming, I immediately became an American and forgot my Greek, I innocently asked in English “what was the matter?” I was really nervous about having to explain the reel of commercials I had with me.

In those days Greece had tourist police, they wore a shiny metal helmet and spoke various foreign languages. Fortunately, one came over; he spoke English and asked me what was wrong? The customs guy kept screaming that I was Greek, and I kept asking. “What is he saying, he seems really upset.”

The cop asked what I was in Greece for and I used the then magic name, I said, “I am here to see Tom Pappas.” Things changed immediately, straight out to a taxi and I continued the innocent Gringo. “How much will a taxi cost to the Hilton?” He said it would cost 30 drachmas, or some ridiculously low price.

He then told the cab driver were I was going and the cost he quoted me.

A not very happy cab driver took off, looking in his mirror at me. I tried to engage him in conversation with my Greek that had mysteriously come back. No response, or a reluctant nod occasionally. At 30 drachmas on the meter he shut it down, about half way to the Hilton. I told him to keep it on, no way was he going to do that, he did not know who I was, secret police, CIA, or what.

These were difficult times in Greece, everybody was afraid; people could not congregate, 5 people or more, and the cops showed up. Everybody seemed nervous and apprehensive.

When we got to the hotel, I tipped him generously to make up for the fare that he didn’t charge.
I finally got him to talk a bit, once he realized I was not secret police or the CIA, he told me how hard it was under the Junta. He drove me around for the next few days that I was in Athens. I remember that and find it strange that some people today remember the Junta with nostalgia.

Finally I go to the meeting with Tom Pappas with my boss, the head of Europe. We present what we are doing on Esso and Coca-Cola in the rest of Europe. After questioning me about my Greekness, where my family was from, where I grew up in the States etc., he suspiciously asks, how come the only Greek working in Europe, me, happens to be working on the two accounts he runs. He finally reluctantly believes that I do. We get the accounts and open McCann Athens, with a great Greek partner.

He gave us sets of worry beads with the Esso Pappas logo, the only place in the world where Esso has another name attached to it.

I am amazed it wasn’t also called Coca-Cola Pappas.

Very weird businesses trip too, at that time, a rather weird place.

I refused to come to Greece then to run the agency. I eventually did, but much later.

Be wary of customs agents in countries with a Junta.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Hailing a taxi in Tokyo and Athens.



Tokyo, 1971, I was there as creative director for three months, until the one they hired got his working papers. I was on loan from the London office. I was treated incredibly well; they really know how to make somebody welcomed. I had a driver that picked me up every morning, a house with a housekeeper, everything to make my stay easier.

Japan is a beautiful country, with very polite people, nevertheless it is the other side of the moon, just as you think you understand everything, something happens that reminds you how different it really is.

OK, let me get back to the title, taxis here and there.

As I said, mornings a driver picked me up to go to work, he arrived spot on time, white shirt, black pants, a tie and white gloves, absolutely immaculate. He was available all day to take me wherever I had to go.

At night I did not go straight home, stayed late and then went out with some of the guys, restaurants clubs, bars, massage parlors, etc. After all it was Tokyo, and the early 70s.

At night, I would take a cab home, or somebody would drop me off at the house.

One rainy night, on the Ginza, I tried to hail a cab. It was pouring, but I was still optimistic, there were hundreds of cabs going by, and it was not that late. Cabs are stopping for people up the road as well as down the road. They just zoom by me to somebody down the road. I started to think it was a racial thing, do not stop for the Gaijine, especially in the rain. I do not remember how I got home, but I must have.

I was told the next day, by my secretary Mariko, that when it is raining or there aren’t many cabs, you hold up two fingers when you are hailing a cab, you would pay twice the price. Great system, I couldn’t wait for the next rainy night to try it out. I hold up two fingers, the preverbal English, “up yours”…it works, the cab stops, takes me home I pay twice the price, well worth it.

I am now in control of my destiny at night, at least I can get home.

It is very late one night, pouring rain, and my two fingers are not working, no cab is stopping or even slowing down, they just are zooming by me. I am a little drunk and I figure out if two fingers don’t work, maybe five fingers will work better. I hold up my open hand and point to it with my other hand, screeching brakes, tires smoking, cabs stopping, they would have thrown out any passengers they already had. A new way to hail a taxi, five fingers, seemed to work all the time. I must admit, I did try to play the innocent and only pay what was on the meter, it didn’t work, they could get really pissed off, rightly so.

What do Tokyo cabbies have to do with Athenian cabbies? When you try to hail a cab in Athens, he might slowdown as you jog alongside, telling him where you want to go, if he is polite he will flick his eyebrows up and speed away, otherwise he will just speed away. There is an independence to both groups.
I have to try the two-finger technique here and hope he hadn’t lived in England.

If he doesn’t stop the two fingers work just as well ”up your's vre.”

Monday, November 15, 2010

When our commercials were film.



When I was in Spain, during the early 70’s we had a tobacco client based in Hamburg, Germany.

They produced a black tobacco cigarette for the Spanish market called Aguila.

They let us create the launch commercial in Spain. Not much of a spot. Lots of flags marching and eagles flying around, the music was basically triumphant, based on the hymn,
“Battle Hymn of the Republic."

You have to remember that this was the early 70’s, still during the time of Franco. This slightly military type commercial appealed to the local Spanish client and the German client as well.

We shot the commercial in England. In those days there was no video and films were 35 millimeter. We presented by projecting the spot, like in a movie house.

We were late; I had to go to Germany to present the spot there, so we could make the launch date.

I go to their offices, a brand new building with the latest facilities for meetings and viewing. A great cinema, windows are darkened with the touch of a button. There are all sorts of automatic things for slides, films, and overhead projection. A state of the art facility, the best I had ever seen. The three senior clients and me, in this slick huge room.

We are all set to see the spot.

The projectionist, in a white coat, takes the film, marches off to set it up, and show it.

Lights are dimmed, and nothing, zip, nada, not an image, we are all dumbfounded.

The projectionist comes running down, very agitated and a little pissed-off. He starts whispering in German to the marketing director, It seems the film does not work. I am told it is because it is a Spanish film, I tell them it is an English film and I saw it the day before in Madrid and it worked perfectly. Back and forth, your fault, no your projector sucks, no, it is the latest projector from Leica, blah, blah, blah.

We all calm down and I decide to present the commercial as best I can. We gather around a desk lamp and I hold up the film and start passing the film through my fingers, so that they can see the images. I pass it a little faster so that they can see the movement and pace; meanwhile I am humming the music.

We are talking 24 frames for each second; a sixty second commercial is about 90 feet of film, almost 30 meters.

I keep this up for the full spot; we are up to our knees in film. I show it to them again and again, trying to get the movement right and humming like a crazy man. This bizarre act goes on for about an hour, film all over the place.

They finally approve it and even congratulate me, I think for my humming.

Of all the presentations I made in my 40+ years in the business, this by far was the wackiest. I think I can pretty much present anything after that.

Fortunately the desk lamp worked.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

"If you do not buy this campaign we will jump out of the window!"



That is how my partner for many years ended his presentation to the head of Coca-Cola for Europe.

John had probably just read George Lois’s book.

This was London in the 70’s.

After presenting six new commercials, done from the squatting position, a little like a praying mantis, while smoking a Woodbine cigarette and shaking his hands in the air in front of his head, John was very intense and passionate when he presented, he managed to get the head client to squat as well.

During the course of his presentation, the whole room of various brand managers as well as our account guys got down in the squat position. This was triggered by the head of Coca-Cola assuming the position first, not necessarily by the quality of the ads, even though they were pretty good. The intensity of the moment manifested in this amusingly ridiculous scenario.

I managed to avoid the squat position, since John was in complete control of that group. I enjoyed his act, even though I had seen it before and could never hold the squatting position for very long. I was always amazed at John’s ability to so mesmerize our clients in this way.

I did react when John volunteered us to jump out of the window if the commercials were rejected. It seemed a bit much since he had never taken such a dramatic posture before.

Our offices were on Howland Street, near the Post Office Tower, McCann had six floors including the basement.

As soon as John made his closing remarks, I started to laugh, not nervously, but out loud since we were in one of the conference rooms in the basement!

We would have had to jump up ten feet to impale ourselves on the spikes surrounding the lower floor.

John knew exactly what he was doing and was playing the whole meeting for a wacky opportunity to use this line.

No New York ad men were going to be more passionate than us.

John gave me a conspiratorial smile when I started to laugh; reminding me that the room we were in was in the basement. An iconic moment.

We sold the ads.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Was it the hat or the head?




One of the sharpest and funniest guys I ever met worked at McCann. We worked and traveled together many times. He was an International co-coordinator as well as regional director, a big shot. He was an old time ad guy in the good sense. He loved martinis, and claimed he still had the first bottle of vermouth he ever bought, opening the bottle in the other room was enough vermouth for his martinis he said. He really liked them dry.

One his many talents was his presentation skill, he always had the appropriate opening, sometimes a great relevant joke or a pertinent story.

At an international coordinators meeting in Madrid he told what I thought was a great joke.
We were at a famous flamenco restaurant, and after a great meal and traditional flamenco music and dancing, he opened the evening session, not really work, but prizes and welcomes to the new guys. We had the restaurant to ourselves, about a hundred people, from the New York office and all our European offices.

He took the stage, in the flamenco position, hands ready to clap, head back looking over his shoulder, and said
“Why is an international coordinator like a flamenco dancer?
He is stamping out a fire while he applauds himself, as he watches his ass.”

One of his great stories took place in New York in the 50’s, Madmen era.
They all wore hats in those days. These three guys and their paranoiac boss had lunch pretty much every day.
The boss decided he needed a new hat and they stopped at Brooks Brothers on the way to the restaurant, where he bought a new fedora, perfect fit.
As they continued to the restaurant, one of them lingered behind and bought two more exact hats, but one was one size bigger and the other was one size smaller.

They go to the restaurant, check in their hats and coats but they replace the boss’s hat with the one slightly larger.
After the traditional two martini lunch they head back to the office, the boss gets his hat and it is a little large on him, not a great deal but noticeably larger. Has his head shrunk after his meal? They get back to the office and replace his hat with the correct one. That evening he goes home, hat fits fine.

Next day they get ready for lunch and they slip him the smaller one, he puts it on and starts to get agitated, his head seems bigger when he is hungry. They continue this for about three days, his head seemingly bigger when he is hungry and smaller after he eats.

He takes some sick days off and checks with his doctor about this bizarre illness. Head expands when hungry, shrinks after he eats.

He also did something to somebody in our Italian office, the deputy general manager hated garlic, can you believe that? He stuffed his phone receiver with garlic, every phone call was slammed down with a disgusted comment about the guy that was calling and his breath.

There are many Stu stories, he was funny, smart and he was a good friend.

Monday, November 1, 2010

"Dos fried eggs me feta...vre."



When you think of a traditional American restaurant; in many cases it is a diner. In reality, it is probably owned by a Greek, and 70%, down from 90%, are.
.
The Greeks that arrived in the 60's and 70's worked in the then, very American diners. They started in the kitchens, washing dishes, eventually working their way up and then buying them. They were the nearest things to a Greek kafenion for them.

At that time, the immigrants were farmers, so they knew how to run a business and many had Asia Minor roots, so they knew how to deal with different people.

There is no diner that does not have some Greek dishes, even though it has a selection of hundreds of choices, menus that seem like books with dessert displays that are huge. Nevertheless, you can be sure that there will be a spanakopita, or something with feta on the menus and baklava in the dessert display.

The names will give you the hint of the origin of the owners, the Diana, the Acropolis, the Spartan manor, etc
.
Greeks owned diners for years; unfortunately, as their children grew up and became lawyers or doctors or stockbrokers, they showed no interest in going into a business that required a 24/7 commitment.

These diners are now being sold to the next generation of dishwashers and cooks, no longer Greeks, in most cases Latinos or Orientals. Obviously this will have its effect on the menu. As one Greek owner of a diner said
”Once the Greeks are out, the diners will not be diners anymore.” He is probably right; the menus are a truly unique mixture of very American food and Greek touches.

Until then, the food has a strong Greek influence, in spite of it being the most American of restaurants. I wonder if the new owners will realize that feta and eggs, or spanakopita are not American dishes, perhaps they will keep them on the menu. I wonder if the customers will keep asking for the Greek infiltrated items on the menu. I like the idea of a spanakopita becoming a firmly entrenched American dish. I also wonder if the language of the diners will change, will we still hear, the counterman, usually a Mexican, saying, ” dio fried eggs, vre.” I hope certain things remain, but I also am looking forward to the new ethnic dishes that will appear on the diner’s menus, perhaps with a bit of feta.

If you visit the States and feel an urge for Greek food, go to the most American of restaurants, the Diner. You may, very well have the best Greek meal that you can have in the States.

If you tell the owner you are from Greece, the coffee and the baklava, will probably be on the house.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

It is olive picking time...that means olive oil. "probably the best oil in the world."



I have spent most of my life not giving olive oil and olives much thought. Being Greek, they were on the table at every meal. My parents came from a fishing village in Asia Minor, fish were important, I guess they had no olive trees, so I did not hear anything about the romance of the olive tree.

That changed radically when we started coming to Greece regularly. We would see these large green cloths on the ground under olive trees and people in the tree and on the ground “combing “ the tree and the olives being gathered on the cloths. I was still not entirely into the olive tree mentality.

We retired to the Argolida, home of the best olive trees and the best oil, not only in Greece but also in the world, according to the locals. I am use to hearing that, about everything, oil, wine, fish, their kids, everything ”best in the world.”

The humility of the Greeks is one of their most endearing qualities.

This time of year is the olive picking time, major topic of conversation at the coffee shops, olives and local elections. The rain was good, too much rain, the mayor is a “malaka” the guy running against him is a “bigger malaka”, this year will be good for the olives, a good crop, not as good as two years ago. Back and forth, but even a bad crop will still make the best oil in the world, that stuff from Kalamata and Crete is junk.

The truth is that this is an amazing area for olive trees and has been famous since ancient times, with trees hundreds and even thousands of years old, maybe they are right about the quality, I am not sure it is the best in the world but it is pretty incredible.

We planted olive trees, but not enough for oil; we do prepare the olives for eating though, maybe not the best in the world, but pretty good.

Early in the year is the pruning period, it is an art, the branches are cut to open the tree up to the sun, and they say a bird should be able to fly through it. Every three years or so they prune them very severely, you suddenly see trees that seem to be just a trunk with a couple of branches; they seem to have overdone it. Those trees in a couple of years are full and gorgeous, and full of olives. The trees are amazing, beautiful shapes, so strong, and properly looked after they will give fruit for thousands of years.

The best part is going to the olive press, fresh oil, bread to taste it with and some wine. We all stand around and make sure we get our oil, all of it. Those guys are fast and some oil that belongs to you always seems to disappear.

It really is wonderful, olives that you brought, transformed into extra virgin olive oil, the same thing that has been going on for thousands of years.

I also like the qualifications of the oil; it is all dependent on the acidity, extra virgin, virgin, 100% pure.

I wonder what the difference between extra virgin and virgin, can you be purer than pure, I guess you can if you are olive oil. Sunday we go to the press with some friends and their olives: the oil will be great, I know it. “ The best oil in the world” especially if it is yours.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

"It's woman's day, what do we do for them this year?"



When I first arrived in Greece, I had lots to do and things to try and understand. Clients, staff, international crap, and getting use to this place, so out of the blue comes the question, “it is woman’s day, what do we do for them?”

It seemed like a weird question, but what the hell, what could we do for them?
I remembered in Mexico, woman’s day was pretty easy; the bosses got the secretaries coffee and flowers etc.
No big deal, but as we all know “Greece is different”.

We brainstormed and came up with flowers and Champagne, not very creative.

The PR gal says, “what about a male stripper”? What is Greece coming too, love the idea, do we have the Arxidia to do it?

Here is the idea, we got all the women into the conference room, me, the financial director, and the head of client service are the only males there.
We serve drinks and give them each a rose, silence, quizzical looks, they think we are nuts, all 40 of them.

At this point our male stripper is supposed to come in dressed as a cop and arrest the financial director.
Pretty good idea, he then starts to dance and strip, we get out and the fun begins.

Our stripper comes in on cue, but he is dressed as a sailor, and tries to arrest the financial guy, evidently he could not get a policeman’s outfit. Pretty funny anyway, by now the women realize something is up, especially when he gets up on the conference room table.

We get out and listen at the door, screams, laughter and yelling, some from the stripper. They are hitting him with the roses that still have thorns on them. He is evidently on the table with a rather chubby secretary; we later find footprints on the ceiling. The screams and laughter go on for close to an hour, seems it is a success.

Periodically some women step out fanning themselves and going “po, po, po.” the receptionist comes out with the stripper’s underwear on her head.

I am suddenly worried about husbands, brothers, fathers, all the Greek machos, have we gone too far?

I am relieved when some of the older women come out and thank me. I figure we are safe, if nobody says anything we will be OK.

Later the stripper’s manager wants more money, the stripper is scratched and bleeding, he will not be able to work for a few days, and the roses were put to good use.

Every year after that, the ladies waited for woman’s day, what would the Americanaki come up with this year.

We could not afford the Chippendales’, the only thing that would have topped our policeman dressed as a sailor, stripper.

We resorted to Champagne and flowers; they were always waiting for more, no sailors, policemen or soldiers.

I wish we could have seen and filmed the show; it would have been a hit on you tube.

Friday, October 15, 2010

"Get in line or I am going to leave without you or your cars".



On our first trip to Greece we were exposed to many new experiences, the
Ferryboat was one of them. This was 1964, and aside from my experience with Greek rental cars, weird Opels, with gearshifts that were connected with wires -the ferryboats and the loading of cars on them was a nail biting experience.

While getting my rental car on board I was directed by a guy dressed in an old navy outfit, probably from world war one, “ella, ella, a little more”, “enough” the enough, came after I smashed into a car that was loaded just as precariously as I had been. I got out and asked a crew member what was that all about, he told me the guy had nothing to do with the ferryboat, he just liked to direct cars on to the ferry. The real crew got a big laugh at this guy’s loading technique.

Without a doubt the best ferryboat story happened in Edipso over Easter on our first trip to Greece. We wanted to leave on Monday, after Easter, but were told by my cousins that we should leave on Tuesday.

I assumed it was a sin or something to travel on the Monday after Easter. I was not about to question such an adamant suggestion.

Monday morning, my cousins go to the taverna that overlooked the port and the ferryboat slip. They started to take chairs and line them up on the terrace with the best view.

We then all went to take our places; drinks and mezedes were on the tables. My wife and I sat there not knowing what to expect, cars were lined up ready to load up, and the ferry was pulling in.
At this point all hell broke loose, the cars all moved in at once from all directions to be the first on board, crew members are trying to restore some semblance of order, no luck, cars are jockeying for position, grandmothers are being used as buffers on the newer cars, there is still lots of fender benders and fist waving, as well as screaming, with slamming doors prior to the threatening of fights. It was a great scene.

The captain of the ferry is screaming through a loud speaker, threatening to leave without any cars, he even pulled out about twenty meters to show he was serious. He stayed there for quite a while.

A little semblance of order takes place; it would be considered chaos in Germany but order in Greece. Finally they start to load the cars, the village idiot is directing traffic, so are the two cops of the town, and they seem to be doing just about the same thing, not very much. Somehow the ferry gets loaded, to the cheers of the people at the taverna, wine is drunk, we toast each other and cry out “Xristos Anesti, Christ has risen, Alithos Anesti, verily he has risen”. A new Easter experience, not very religious but a hell of a lot of fun, the villagers seem to look forward to this all year.


The ferries today are not nearly as much fun, there are no wackos directing traffic, well actually there are, but they lack the color and flamboyance of the old days.

I wonder if Monday after Easter is as much fun as it was.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Earthquakes, here and there.



For some reason it seems we have had our fair share of earthquakes, both in Mexico and Greece as well as some minor rumbles in Japan, and even in Milan.

They are frightening, but I remember the funny stuff, which is usually a relief after you realize that you are still alive.

Our first was in Greece in 1964, on the island of Evia, our first night after visiting relatives in Edipso. They were upset that we had checked into a hotel and not stayed with them. At about 5:30 in the morning the room started shaking and the thick wooden door was bowing as if it was made out of cardboard. Jeannine leaped out of bed, naked, and started yelling at me to get up and get out. I evidently was very cool and told her to wake me up when there were cracks in the walls, besides I said “If it was serious, my cousin would come and get us”.

I am pretty good at major crises; I fall apart over small things.

Jeannine finally got me up, we dressed and started to go downstairs, we found my cousin in pajamas and slippers running upstairs, I guess it was serious.

The rest of the day was spent pretty much out doors reliving the quake and waiting for the aftershocks that were sure to come. They came, quite a few of them. Edipso, had about 30 yards of sidewalk, it was, after all, 1964.
A woman was on the sidewalk and when the aftershock came she fell off the 6 inch curb. She managed to do the sign of the cross three times before she safely hit the ground; I guess doing the sign of the cross works.

The next earthquake was a very serious one in Mexico, in 1985, really catastrophic, 8.1 - enormous. One of the most serious to hit a major city, we lived in an area that did not suffer any major damage, but we did bounce around quite a bit.

We had some guests, actually from Greece; I figured they knew about earthquakes. When it hit, it was morning the kids had gone to school, safely, to another area that was not affected. We all ran out of the house, the maid, her daughter, my wife and my friend’s wife, all on the lawn away from the house, waiting for Nick. The door finally opens, and there in the doorway is a naked Nick. He takes one look at everybody on the lawn and runs back in the house. After what seemed like ages, he comes out with pants on, but also a cup of coffee. A Greek without his coffee cannot start the day, unbelievable.

That earthquake has many stories, not funny, but very touching. The people of Mexico City reacted in an amazing way, civilians
helped each other, unfortunately the authorities were slow to respond.

The next earthquake was Athens in the 90's, it was bad, but after Mexico it did not seem so bad. My office was on the 6th floor and we had three floors to our company. I was in my office with a colleague, when the earthquake hit, he immediately dove under my desk, correct action but not if the desk is a glass slab. A rather sheepish Andonis came out when I reminded him the desk was glass.

Everybody got out safely and we all congregated at the snack bar across the street, cell phones were put to great use. Everybody was OK, especially after we ordered drinks.

My wife walked over with our hysterical dog, which by now had calmed down. He evidently had relieved himself about twenty times on the way over.

I know how he felt.

Earthquakes and Greece seem to go together like octopus and ouzo.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Ramblings on what a Creative Director is



This was written by me in the early 80’s for a worldwide managing directors meeting.

A creative director does not have to be the best creative person in the Agency. He has to know good stuff and has to obsessed with getting it. He has to be a leader. He has to be a manager (art directors seem to have more experience managing work loads because they work with outside suppliers more).

He has to inspire. He mustn’t compete directly with his people. He must have the ability to help develop ideas that are mere germs.

Al Scully use to say his job was “ to create an atmosphere where gold medal ads could be created, but if that wasn’t happening to at least create a bronze medal ad himself “. He must be the champion of certain standards.

A great creative director is like the editor of a magazine. He doesn’t necessarily write it but his are the standards, the vision, and the focus for all. He has to defend his people but he also has to be ruthless.

An agency like McCann has a variety of creative needs, with some accounts you have to work smart, with others you have to strive, because you can, to do great work. A creative department needs to have a variety of talents, the mechanic to the high flyer.

Probably the biggest mistake we make is promoting a great creative into being a mediocre or even a terrible creative director.


I believe an agency must have one creative director. 3 or 4 creatives reporting to a manager is not the way. Creatives need a leader, a champion, actually so does the Agency. Client service people need to know and have an ultimate person to go to. Creative, media, research and planning, and finance need a head, they are all crafts. Client service people can function without a department head, not sure why, but they can. The other departments need a head.

A creative director doesn’t even have to be the highest paid guy in the creative department. He can hire specialists, a great art director, a great copywriter that gives the agency something it needs, not necessarily people that will stay forever, but hired guns for a problem. I worked for a great creative director in Chicago that hired some talents earning more than he did. Made the manager crazy, but it solved a serious problem we had, they eventually went on their way, as most gunfighters do.

An agency is a balance, it must have a creative director or the balance is off, that goes for all the other crafts. If the manger comes from the creative side it still needs a creative director.

I don’t believe you can train a great creative director, you can guide him, motivate him, help him be better but you cannot create one.

The biggest mistake, the biggest demotivator, the quickest way an agency style, not a clients style is to have a creative director who still wants to be a creative and compete directly with his people.

He must be a magnet for great people in the market.
He must be a teacher and a mentor.
He must be respected by everybody in the agency, not necessarily liked, but respected.

Good creative people without great creative directors, get beat up, leave, or worse, do mediocre work.

We believe the agency lacks good creative people, the truth is we lack good creative directors.

Lastly the desire to do great work is not only the creative directors responsibility, but also everyone’s, manager, department heads, financial director. It is after all what we are about. It is what we do.

20 years later, I would not change any of this, but I did say this blog was going to be one sided.

The revenge of an Archimandrite, serious stuff



When I was a kid in Brooklyn, I was an altar boy at our church, I was even the head altar boy. We needed an extra altar boy, he had to be tall, since the robe we had was a long one. I went down to the Sunday school and picked a kid to be an altar boy. He was about three years younger than me. He was to be the junior kid, in the gang of altar boys. It was a gang; we after all had access to the communal wine (which as I remember was Manoshevitz kosher wine).

I, as the head altar boy got to carry the incense burner (themiato), next to the Priest. The others carried various banners and crosses; the junior carried a mere candle, the lowest of the low.

Many years later I went into advertising, and that tall kid became a Priest not only a priest but an Archimandrite, he turned out to be a great priest, perhaps because he fit the robe we had when we were kids and altar boys.

We remain good friends, he blessed the little chapel we have on our property here in Greece. He taught me a lot about our heritage, religious as well as cultural.

About eighteen years ago, he presided over the baptism of our grand niece. We went to the church in Brooklyn where he is the Archimandrite. We had some little girls holding candles around the baptismal font, as is the custom. One of the little girls was having a problem with her candle. Father Eugene asked me to hold the candle in her place.

He came around the font chanting and carrying the incense burner and shaking it with wonderful enthusiasm, the bells on it were ringing, making a beautiful sound. All Greeks know this sound.

As he came around he whispered to me “ Now who has the candle and who has the incense burner?”

He waited over forty years to get his revenge.
Those Archimandrites never forget.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Convertibles...read the instructions jerk.



I love convertibles, but I only owned two, and crazily enough I owned them in England.
It always seemed to be raining and I remember always having the tops down.

We lived in countries that called out for convertibles, Spain, Italy, Mexico, South Africa and now Greece, nevertheless always closed cars, I wonder why?

Whenever I traveled I always rented a convertible, LA without a convertible is like a garden without flowers.

Must have one.

I was in Nice once going to the Cannes festival. I rent this great big French convertible at the airport.
It was delivered to me with the top down and the rental agent starts to tell me how to put the top up,
I brush him aside; give me a break, I know how to do that.

By the way, I also never read instructions, so you know what is coming.

I am zipping along the highway and it starts to pour, how the hell do you put the top up on this weird French car.
I pull up under an overpass and try to put the top up, impossible, no way to do it, I am in France so nobody is going to stop and help me, at least not a Frenchman. Thirty minutes later, the rain stops, I make it to the hotel in Cannes, slightly damp but with the top down, after all it is the south of France. Never figured out how to put the top up, fortunately it didn’t rain again. I smugly turned it in at the airport, top down.

The Car in the photo was one of my favorite cars, an Alvis from the sixties. Our other convertible was a MGB, when we first went to England, nice, but too small for us.

When we moved to Madrid, the Alvis stayed in London in a friend’s garage.
Lew drove it down a couple of months later, top down, same story, could not get the top up, fortunately no rain.

He did get a terrible sunburn on his baldhead.

Lew arrived with a newspaper hat on his head.

We have to learn how to put tops up, read the instructions, jerk.

We really enjoyed that car in Spain, finally a convertible, in a place that needed one.
Didn’t drive it much, it was in the country illegally, when we did though it was marvelous.

The last open car story did not happen to me. A good friend told it to me.

I am not sure I believe it, but I would love to think it really happened.

There was this guy, a Greek in West Africa; he drove a small Fiat 500, the real old tinny ones.

He has a date, and tonight is the night, he is going to get lucky, it is a done deal. This girl is ready for him.
They drive to a secluded spot by the sea, she insists nothing is going to happen unless he opens the sunroof, no view of the sky no hanky panky, zip, nada.

He gets out to open the car up. Two hours later, the roof is open.

She asks what took so long and he holds up an old fashioned can opener, the car had no sunroof nor was it a convertible, but now it is.

I doubt this, but I would love to believe it. You probably could open a 500 with a can opener.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

"I don't have a name day, nobody sends me flowers"



When I was working in Greece, where name days are even more important than birthdays, I had a client, he was Swiss and worked for Nestle, he was the chief marketing officer, he complained to me one day that he did not have a name day. It seems he was not getting flowers or presents once a year like everybody else.

I diligently looked up Greek saints; after all he was a client, but also a friend. No luck, no Greek saints called Ray, or Raymundo. What a great opportunity to create a new saint. Ray was in charge of all Nestle brands, but we worked with him mostly on Loumides, Greek coffee.

We had to create a reason for this saint, we decided that Raymundo brought coffee to Greece and that was reason enough for sainthood. There would be no Cafenia, no intense discussions, no Greece as we know it today, without St Raymundo’s contribution. Real reason for sainthood.

I have been a creative guy my whole career, art director, creative director, all my life creating ads, commercials etc. I never had the opportunity to create a saint. This was a terrific opportunity, not too many ad guys get to create a saint.

We decided to make this saint coming to Greece on a boat, from the east, and holding a cup of Greek coffee. We debated if there should be a parrot on the boat, but decided that would much too commercial, after all we are talking about a saint, St. Raymundo.

A saint without an Icon is impossible; we had to have an Icon. I went to see an icon painter that had done some icons for me as presents. My first problem, he was willing to do it, but he could not put a golden halo on this figure, he would lose his icon license or something. We finally settled on the design.

Now we had to write the declaration for this saint, almost a saint, since his icon had no golden halo.

One of our creative directors wrote it up, with all the pomp that these things have to be written up with. We aged the paper, not worrying that it was printed up off his computer. We also decided that his name day would be December twelfth. It was the day everything was finished by, seemed like a good day.

The Icon, document and flowers, with a note saying Chronia Polla, was delivered to Nestle, never again would Ray have any complaints about not having a name day and not getting flowers. Another satisfied client.

All of you remember the day; the twelfth of December is St Raymoundo’s day. Send flowers and notes, after all he was responsible for an indispensible part of Greek life.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

For a few drachmas more...



We first came to Greece in the early sixties and visited relatives in Edipsos, on the island of Evia, a small Greek town.
We were there a few days and I went to the barbershop with a cousin for his twice-weekly shave. I never had a barber shave me; I was looking forward to it.

When my turn came, the barber asked me if I wanted a shave with a view or not.

The shop went quiet, they all looked at me to see my reaction. The barber continued his sales pitch, he said “ for a few drachmas more”, I could have my shave with a view of the sea.

How could I resist, I said “naturally with a view”, how were they going to do that, since we were on a side street. The barber’s chair was moved to the street and turned to the left and looked down the street to a glimpse of the sea.

I was seated in the middle of the street, facing the sea, not a bad view of the sea; I also was not a bad view to most of the town, sitting there like a goof.

The young boy that was helping the barber ran out with a bucket of hot water, some towels and a brush and soap. I was lathered up and got my first shave from a barber. I had a view and a great shave, it was worth a few drachmas more. It really was worth it when the raki came out with all the customers as well and we toasted my view.

I have had many professional shaves throughout the world, never was I asked if I wanted a shave with or without a view.

It seems like a great sales pitch.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

"What the hell is my name Pop?



When my father came to the States in the early nineteen hundreds, he like so many had his name shortened or even changed by the immigration guys. I am sure he would have accepted any name, Smith, Jones, Ramirez, or Shapiro, anything, just to get in.

He ended up with a shortened version of his Greek name, Birbil, but what was the original? When I was a kid I was not that interested, I just added an - os when I wanted to give my Greek name, Birbilos. In Greece I used Birbilis, it was common and I was able to use it easily.

When I was a kid, my father told me that we were originally from Crete and had been moved to Asia Minor in the late seventeen hundreds. The village in Asia Minor was Mixaniona, on the Sea of Marmara. It supposedly meant not Chania, but I have been unable to get much information about that.

Back to the name, when I wanted to get my Greek nationality, I had to prove that my father was Greek; his papers in the States had him down originally as a Turk.
No amount of reassurance from the Greek Church in Brooklyn was enough for the Greek government. I had to have a copy of their wedding certificate, they married in Paris in 1928, how do I do that?

I have cousins in Paris, they said, “no problem”, I thought it is never going to happen. They went to the church in Paris, Agios Stephanos, and in five days I had the copy of their wedding certificate.

Low and behold, Pop’s name was down as Birbilakis, Cretan as all get out.

So my Greek name is Birbilakis, Grigorios Polichronis Birbilakis. Some moniker. I did some more checking and many of the refugees from Mixaniona have - akis at the end of their names. Pop as usual was right, we were originally from Crete.

The Turks are responsible for Greek last names, they gave us last names so they could tell where we were from. The -aki at the end of names in Crete were an insult, it meant little, it was Birbilaki, little Birbil, (the word Birbil is the name of a bird, a Nightingale or the sound it makes). The Greeks added the s to diminish and even eliminate the insult of -aki. No more little captains, little birds, or little anything.

The Greeks from various parts of Greece have specific last names, if you were from Constantinople your ending would be -oglou (son of), if from the Black sea area it had an ending -des, this went on all over Greece. You can identify pretty accurately where Greeks originated from by the ending of their names

I am in the process of getting in touch with the town council of Chania, in Crete to see what information I can get about when the move happened. I am not too optimistic, maybe I should check the churches there, they seem to function a lot better than the government.

If I make any progress on this I will let you know. Any ideas will be greatly appreciated.

Monday, September 6, 2010

There ain't no Olive trees in Coney Island



As a Greek from Brooklyn, my vision of Greece was Olive trees, a view of the sea, Cypress trees, and a small church.

My parents were Asia Minor Greeks, they were obsessed with the sea, we lived in Coney Island, I am sure the sea being so close was one of the reasons they settled there. No Cypress trees and certainly no Olive trees in Coney Island.

When we visited the village in Turkey where they were born I do not remember any olive trees, they all lived off the sea, fishermen, all of them. I suppose the cemetery had Cypress trees, but I do not remember them.

My vision of Greece certainly had Olive, and Cypress trees, as well as a church.

We bought a piece of property in the Argolida, near Porto Heli, big Olive tree area and plenty of sea views.

The property we bought, for some reason, was the only five stremmata piece in the Argolida with no Olive trees, no Cypress trees and no church, nevertheless we have an amazing view of the sea. That is something I could not have fixed, the rest we could do something about.

I found out that Olive trees could be transplanted, moved from one area to another.
Had we planted seedlings, my grandkids would have seen mature trees.

We transplanted two and three hundred year old trees, exactly where we wanted them. We have one at the top of the driveway. A friend told us we were very lucky to have found that tree in such a perfect location, he is a lawyer so what can you expect. He could not conceive of moving such a large and old tree.

The Cypress trees as well, were transplanted, a much easier job than the Olive trees. We also built a small chapel, named for my wife’s late brother, Agios Demitrios. Our son painted the frescoes in the church, more about that later.

I wanted our very modern house to look like it was dropped in the middle of old stone walls, old Olive trees and an old stone chapel. It worked.

It helped being in advertising and supervising photo and television productions.

“You want an Olive tree there, you got it”.

“Old stonewalls, no problem, you got it”.

“Cypress trees there, near the front door and here, you got it”.

I realized building a house is a lot like doing a TV commercial, what you want, you get, and you pay for it.

Back to the Olive trees, they have been in this part of the world for thousands of years; it is inconceivable to imagine Greece without them.

We make olives to eat and even make or own oil, although we have to steal some from abandoned fields to have enough olives for a decent amount of oil.

I have become a Greek when I talk about my Olives,

“The best oil, and just taste that olive, and you cannot buy stuff like that”.

I sort of even believe it.

The sea, Olive trees, Cypress trees, old stonewalls, a stone church, what more could a kid from Brooklyn want?

I could use my own water and not have to have it shipped in by truck. We did dig a well at the beginning and we found part of our view, sea, even crabs came up.

No real complaints, not too many guys from Coney Island have their own Olive trees.

I often wonder what Momma and Pop would think.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The cell phone and me.



I look around now at how many people are carrying cell phones, even more than one phone.
Different carriers, different countries, different models. iPhones, Blackberries, normal ones, camera phones and God knows what other kinds there are.
The iPhone was very in before it was available in Greece. People had them from the States and had somebody “break” it so it worked in Greece. Now that it is available in Greece it has lost some of its cache. I think the models that are not available here yet are still in, if you have one that you hacked or had it done.

My first cell phone was in Mexico around the 80’s, it was a giant Motorola that weighed a ton: called a tuvla (brick). It was hardly mobile. Fortunately, I had a driver, Arturo, who carried it for me. You had to find a signal to use it, usually in the middle of an open field and it seemed to be always raining. It was a really unique experience to be able to make a call from wherever you were, sort of. As I remember it, when you had reception the phone was great, worked like a charm.

I grew up in the days of rotary dials, we didn’t have one at home and used the pay phone in Pop’s store.

Ah, progress! I soon had a really portable one, it even worked in the car. One of the first in Mexico. I think Arturo got tired of carrying the Motorola tuvla. He had some connections and got it for me. Mexico is a little like Greece; it is all about whom you know.

One day, my boss from Brazil, who ran the South American region, was on a visit. He came about three times a year to break my balls.

We leave a Coca-Cola meeting, it all went well and he was a little disappointed, he was hoping to get me on something.

We get in the car and he notices the phone, Brazil did not have them yet. He asks if he can call his secretary in Brazil, and we do. He then proceeds to dictate a fax for her to send to me from Brazil, about the meeting, while I am in the car. It had nothing to do with the actual meeting. It seemed bizarre to me to tell me about a meeting we just attended, by fax from Brazil, while I was three feet away from him.
He said it was better to have everything in writing, even though it wasn’t very accurate.

I liked faxes; you could always deny you got it, not like e-mails, which came much later.

Ah, Jens, what a character. He once called his secretary in Brazil to call the receptionist of a hotel we were staying at in Mexico to complain about something. I was in the next room. He really didn’t trust me much.

Cell phones became an obsession, they were a great help, but also very easy to call about nothing. “I am in the car” “we are about to land” “I want fruit for dinner” you have heard them all, trivial crap, rarely of any importance.

I admire people who do not have them, how do they do it?

I jump in the pool and while I am underwater I check to see if my phone is in my pocket. Unfortunately, it sometimes is.

The phone shop says the summer has started when the first customer comes in with a soaked phone.

It is nice to see a shepherd on a donkey with a cell phone to his ear, probably telling his wife what he wants for dinner.

The average Greek has more than one and the tables in the coffee shops look like a Japanese display of every phone available.

I think in a country of 10 million people there must be 30+ million cell phones, not unlike the number of chairs per capita.

I now have an iPhone with more things on it than computers the size of buildings had twenty years ago.

I use about five percent of it’s capacity and I am looking forward to my next upgrade. I want it all, especially on my cell phone, even though I cannot understand how to use it all.