Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Names can be a burden

I grew up in Brooklyn and hung out with a lot of Greek kids in our area. Our parents, God bless them , gave us some great names. Pericles, Alexander, Sotiris, Constandino, Grigorios, Sophocles, there was even Aristotle. The girls fared no better, Aphrodite, Zina, Persephone, Ourania, Iphigenia, and Athena to name a few.

Try living with some of these names in Brooklyn, at school, or in the Army.

I do not believe it was just a Greek thing, our Italian friends had some beauts as well.

In the Army, my capitan was named Deatherage, he could only be an Army officer, a cop, or a killer. He wasn’t even a Greek, it happens to all of us, names.

Our names became a burden or a dream to aspire to.

Not always successful, a rather plain girl with the name of Aphrodite.

Sophocles was one of the worst students I knew.

As for Pericles, he was a poleman for the electric company.

Names become a yoke around our necks sometimes.

Our parents proudly gave them to us, perhaps we will not burden our kids as much, but my son is Polixronis, I hope he lives up to it.

I somehow cannot imagine a future Greek kid called Biff. We will still burden our kids with some beauts.

We give names, I suppose, to help define our dreams for our kids, at least in most cases.

In South Africa, my driver was called Zero, he had brothers, you guessed it, One, Two and Three. Not too many dreams there.

Our gardner’s name was Smart, you could imagine his parent’s dreams for him, although not very successful.

Our Greek names are not just different to the ear, but they all mean something, usually from ancient Greek history or the Greek Orthodox Church, you know, those Saints.

Whatever your name is, see it as a blessing, even though your friends are making your life miserable.

One of the good things about living in Greece is that Grigorios seems fairly normal amongst the other names.

Sometimes it is all in your head

A couple of years ago we were in NY, while there we were having our yearly medical check ups. I was fine, overweight but OK. I mentioned, I was having a little trouble with my balance. Our GP decided to have me do an MRI to see if there was any problem with my inner ear. Next day he tells me, no problem with my inner ear, I breathed a sigh of relief until he told me there was a benign tumor in the front of my brain, just over my sinus cavity. See sometimes it really is all in your head, even if it is benign. Here we go again.

He recommended a surgeon, and he said, “He is not only a great surgeon, but a great doctor.” Surgeons have the reputation, especially brain surgeons, of being arrogant and not necessarily having a great bedside manner. They are in a very exalted position, they go into the brain, they have some respect for heart surgeons, and less for general surgeons. They are the top. As one said, “We have no spare parts. The heart guys do, and so do the general surgeons.” I understood our doctor’s comment that he was a great doctor as well as a great surgeon.

I went to see him and he spent more than an hour with me explaining as well as telling me what my options were.

1. Do not do anything and monitor it, could result in symptoms later.

2. Go in from the top of my skull and try to remove it all.

3. Less drastic, try to remove as much as we can, with a less invasive surgery.

We decided on 3, go in from the side of the skull and remove as much as we can, since this is a slow growing tumor.

I was all set for that and then he tells me to have a second opinion. It seemed unnecessary to me, I liked and trusted him, and I even loved his outfit.

I did not need a second opinion, but he insisted.

I went to see the head surgeon (he was a head surgeon as well as head of the surgery department). He obviously was a skilled surgeon, but did not have much of a bedside manner, he was the typical surgeon, five minutes and he said we go in from the top and get it all, I also did not think much of his suit.

When you pick a surgeon amazing things matter, some incredibly important and some seemingly less important.

This was an incredible, caring guy that spends time explaining everything, not only to me, but also to my wife and kids.

He made an incision over my eyebrow, opened my skull on the right side and took as much out as he could of the tumor, almost the whole thing. It was an eight-hour operation. He was very pleased, so was I.

I did have one complaint, I expected to have scars all over my skull, and I had no bragging rights, who would believe I had such an amazing operation.
No Frankenstein scars, he didn’t even shave my eyebrow, nada to show off and get sympathy drinks.

It was actually 100% in my head, but not anymore.

Love that doctor, and his great outfits. His nurse told me his wife picked them out, even so, he had style.

When I went to see our GP a few days later, he took me around raving about my surgeon, to his associates. I had to explain that I was a pretty remarkable patient as well, I deserved a bit of the credit, and I dress pretty well at times.

I was not allowed to dive for at least a year, will do it this month, let’s hope the piece he took out and replaced stays put, otherwise there will be more stuff in my head.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Is the turkey a Greek bird?

A few years ago we were invited to a friends house for Thanksgiving, here in Greece. The guests were a group of not only Americans and Greeks but also a variety of nationalities. I was asked by the hostess to come up with something to tell the guests about Thanksgiving. She knew I would come up with some convincing lies, hopefully entertaining.

There is a Greek winery called Hadzimichalis, I brought some bottles, they use a Turkey as their logo. That was the start, how could a Greek company use a bird as the logo that was not indigenous, not possible.

The turkey has to be Greek.

Now, how did the turkey get to North America to be supposedly reintroduced to Europe?

Simple, since Columbus was Greek, he obviously took turkeys with him on his trip of discovery. People believe that he was Italian, supposedly because he was a Genovese. Genoa was the center of a kingdom that included Chios and other Greek islands. It is obvious that he was from Chios. He would have taken Greek seamen from the various islands and when he passed the Peloponnesus, he stocked up with turkeys for fresh meat on the trip.

There is other proof that he was Greek, he went to the new world three times and insisted he had found the new route to India. Must be Greek, he was as stubborn as could be, he never admitted he could be wrong.

Back to the turkeys...

The trip was shorter than they expected, they arrived with a bunch of turkeys and released them in North America, to stock up with other types of animals for the trip home.

Another aside, while in NY one year, during the Columbus day parade, I, asked somebody watching the parade who looked like he was out of the Sopranos, why were there Italian flags in the parade? He turned to me and told me Columbus was Italian. When I insisted that he was Greek, for a second I thought I might be in trouble, he started to back away to try to escape this lunatic, me. I got away from that OK; just dumb Greek luck I guess. Do not tell Italians that Columbus was Greek, they have no real sense of accurate history, and you just may get thumped.

At the dinner, some people were laughing, some believed it and all the Greeks were assuring me that he was truly from Chios. It is heavily documented on the Internet and there is a group on Facebook.

The turkey must be from Greece, since the Hadjimichalis winery uses it as their logo.

I have to think about why it is called turkey in the US and gallopoula in Greek (French chicken). In the US they probably made the mistake of confusing Chios with Turkey. I have to work on this French chicken thing.

Be careful on how you use this information, it is a very touchy subject, Italian Americans are very rigid, even violent on the subject, while animal enthusiasts are really hung up with the myth that the turkey originated in the new world, they confuse it with tomatoes

Friday, July 9, 2010

"50% of everything is in your head."

In the early 80’s we were transferred to South Africa, to Johannesburg.
It was an amazingly beautiful country, even with all the social problems of apartheid.

I have to admit, we loved parts of the experience, great friends that we still have, a gorgeous country, filled with amazing landscapes and naturally an animal population to rival any.

While there I started to feel badly, tired and weak. A doctor I went to kept telling me it was stress. This went on for months. I was tired and weak and eventually started to lose lots of weight, which was good, but bad at the same time since I made no effort to lose it. This doctor however, turned out to be a dud, irresponsible really, and made a huge error in judgment when trying to diagnose me. He took blood tests but only tested for tick bite fever, which is prevalent in S.A. (we had been to the bush recently) and it never occurred to him to do other vital tests had he been on the ball, when he saw that I was not improving.

Jeannine, very concerned by a lump that appeared under my arm, told our friend who lived across the street. He immediately took me to his own doctor. We went through a battery of tests and did a biopsy on the lump that appeared under my arm. The surgeon he sent us too had been his professor at university, and very funny, he said he liked the fact that I was American; he could tell me the truth. I explained that I was probably more Greek than American. It did not slow him down, he told me “you have a curable cancer”. I was surprised at the order of his words; he explained that had he said, “You have a cancer that is curable” I probably would have heard cancer and then had a heart attack. Funny guy, I guess it is surgeon’s humor, since he was laughing when he told me.

He recommended an oncologist that was amazing, in Pretoria, a short drive from home.

This doctor was a true inspiration, he told me “50% of my cure was in my head, 20% was in his head and the drugs delivered 30%. The drugs always delivered their share, his whole family, wife and children were oncologists, and so his 20% was a certainty as well.” All I had to do was deliver my share. He put it in such away that all my fears left me; we just had to focus on my cure. He had involved my wife as well, so it was very doable, actually she was the power behind the whole mental attitude.

He never spoke about remission, only cure, he just made me feel unbelievably positive.

He also told me to get rid of all friends that were negative, the hand-ringers, and people that mean well but immediately start to cry. Cancer then and even now, to some people seems like a death sentence. It wasn’t, to us it was a life sentence, and everything fell into perspective.

Six months later and fifty pounds lighter, it was gone, not a trace of it. I was able to go to work right after every chemo session except the 1st two, well actually I made an appearance at work for about 1 hour after the second chemo session and I lost, maybe, two weeks in total, as well as all my hair. I was very tired, and occasionally made no sense, but I was “CURED.”

This experience put lots of things in a positive light, I am very glad that I had cancer. I, we, are different people because of it. I do not advise getting cancer or any other life threatening disease but if you do, it does change you, and from what I have read, it is usually for the better.

50% of everything is in your head.

Monday, July 5, 2010

"Don't tell anybody..."

One of the best jobs I ever had at McCann was running the Coca-Cola business in Mexico. It was exciting to have such a great brand and such a dynamic market to create advertising for. I had a team and we functioned apart from the normal hum-drum of the Agency. We were basically an independent unit, and I loved it. I only had to deal with the administration of my team and the running of the account, even though it was a very large complicated piece of business.

The most difficult part was the day-to-day dealing with the head of Coke for Mexico. A dynamic, creative, forceful personality, that at times was a terror. He loved to intimidate people, and did it at any opportunity he had, he even did it when he didn’t have any reason to.

He loved demonstrating his power. In spite of all this, I truly liked and respected him; I admired pretty much most of his traits. We did some great work for the account, and most of it would have been impossible without him, great client, but at times seemed slightly erratic. I suppose that’s what made him so interesting. We remained friends for many years after I left Mexico and he went on to other things after he left Coca-Cola.

A memorable and difficult guy.

One day we presented some work for Sprite, even though he had approved the original idea, he decided he hated it, really hated it, and just so we understood, he screamed that he hated it, “I hate this piece of shit.” This was done in front of his marketing department, bright, young, talented terrified kids, as well as the agency; the reaction seemed to please him.

Marketing guys throwing up in the corner, everybody thinking they were going to be fired.

He turned around to me and started to harangue me. I said, “You do not terrify me.” He stopped and looked at me and told me to come to his office.

We went to his office, he closed the door and asked me why he did not scare me, and that he could fire the agency. I told him I had just been through something much worse the year before, Cancer, that scared me, not this, or him.

He stood up and said, ”Do not tell anybody that that you are not scared of me.” I looked at him and agreed, I suddenly realized we were on another footing with each other.

Ever since then I acted appropriately terrified in public, and we had a great working relationship. He needed the power that fear of him, gave him. His management style was POWER.

It seemed to be a very Mexican way to manage, Greek as well. If you are taken to be weak, you are taken advantage of. Fear seemingly works, sorry to say.

So when the time comes to being scared, be scared. Not always, only when it is really necessary. If you think about it, you will probably be scared less times.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Visiting family in Greece for the first time.

On our first trip to Greece, we naturally overdid the “family thing,” we saw as many as we could. They were very open and loving, sometimes much too generous.

After spending time with Pop’s family in Edipsos, on the island of Evia, we went to Salonika to see more relatives in Nea Michaniona a town in Halkidiki. We did not know them, but we had a list from Momma.

Nea Michaniona was a refugee village, built in the 20’s; it was a fishing village, just like the one in Turkey. It had rather sweet little houses painted in bright colors, pink, blue, green. I think they used left over paint from the boats, which were brightly painted as well. There were a couple of big villas as well, on the sea front.

We sat in the square and had a coffee, we were early, and as we sat there watching the people stroll by, Jeannine noticed a lady walking past us, she said, “that one is a cousin”; I said I don’t think so. She looks just like your mother, I could not see the resemblance, but Jeannine insisted, more about that later.

We went to see my Fathers eldest brother, Theo Stephanos. He is on the extreme left in the photo. A big tall man with a rather wild look in his eyes, I had heard he was a bit of a nutter. Theo promptly picked up a young calf and told me to take a photo to show Pop, and asked if my father could do that. I told him no, there are no calves in Coney Island, that seemed to surprise him and please him at the same time.

The visits continued, house after house, traditional liqueurs and spoon sweets are served, one after the other, I do not remember lunch, but we must have eaten something. Jeannine did not drink, so I would have her liqueur as well at each visit, I did not want to offend anybody. This went on until late afternoon, in incredible heat.

The last house we arrive at belongs to the lady in the square, and yes she is a cousin, Jeannine was right as usual. She immediately brings out the proverbial drinks and sweets, not a meze to be had, more booze, Jeannine’s as well, as usual. Another round before we leave to go back to Salonika, I am starting to feel this “family thing”.

We get back to Salonika safely, it is only one hours drive. I recover and we are off for the rest of our trip.

A few weeks later, we are back in the States visiting my parents, Momma laces into me: evidently I embarrassed the family, actually I evidently disgraced them, Greek mothers tend to exaggerate.

It seems that “nice” lady, my cousin that Jeannine recognized, wrote my Mother to tell her I arrived drunk at her house and spoke for some other relatives that felt I was a heavy drinker. It was their damn liqueurs I was drinking, Jeannine’s as well to not offend anybody.

When you visit relatives in Greece, be careful, liqueurs and spoon sweets can ruin your reputation, especially if you have a wife that does not drink

Friday, July 2, 2010

"I suppose you want the voice of God?"

The sixties in London again, I was an art director and worked with my partner, a copywriter. We had the Shredded Wheat account, a breakfast cereal that was more natural than the sweetened kind. We used to make an issue about its naturalness, no fun, but good for you.

John and I wrote a rather boring commercial, it was approved and we tried to find a way to make it marginally more interesting. We only had room with the voice over to do anything. “Orson Welles” we both said, a rather ambitious idea to use him for the announcer. It seemed impossible that the great talent would do it, but he was trying to raise money for a film project, he accepted.

We had to direct him for the spot, two kids that thought they were pretty hot until he showed up at the studio. This massive talent as well as massive man arrives at the recording studio. We are understandably nervous, probably even terrified. He strolls in, glares at us and reads the script, nervous copywriter, nervous art director; even the recording technician was apprehensive.

Mr. Welles looks up and says, “I suppose you want the voice of God?” we nod and very coolly say, “let’s try it that way.”

We had the studio booked for one hour. He gets in the booth and reads it perfectly, who are we to direct this great talent. He does it to length, 30 seconds; we say that’s good, 36 seconds have elapsed. He looks at us, a bunch of traumatized kids, and suggests a slightly shorter version, we immediately agree. He does it to 28 seconds, “great” we all say, 2 minutes have passed, “anything else” he says, we all are mute. “Why don’t I give you the tagline with different emphasis.”
He proceeds to give us about 6 different versions of the tagline; I can’t even remember what it was. We look at each other, ask the engineer if he is OK with them, he gulps and nods. 10 minutes have passed.
He gets up, lights his cigar, and looks at us in a pathetic way and strides out.

The voice of God made a very boring commercial a bit better, most people thought we found somebody to imitate his voice. It was Orson Welles; nobody else could have traumatized us as much.

Somewhere in the files of Shredded Wheat is the Orson Welles version of "The voice of God" commercial. I would love to have it to remember the time we spent with the great Orson Welles, trying to be cool and being anything but.

The voice of God seemed like a God to us, and still does.

Cappadocia, my treat

One of our impressive trips was to Turkey, and on part of that trip we went to Cappadocia. The Turkish ambassadors wife organized everything. It was an exciting experience. Since my family were Asia Minor Greeks, this was meaningful to me. We arrived in Istanbul, formally Constantinople, and still called that by most Greeks today, even though interestingly enough Istanbul is a corruption of “is stin poli” which means to the City, in Greek
“The city” is still one of the great cities of the world.

We spent a couple of days in Istanbul, we had been there many times before, and you never get enough of that city. We went to see the Janissaries march.
Interesting, even though they are not recruited the same way as before,
Young Christian kids were put in the Turkish army as pre-adolescents against their family’s wishes; they were trained to be ferocious persecutors of the Christians. These however, were young Turkish recruits that played musical instruments.

The marching band was great, the leader looked ferocious, huge mustache, great uniform, splendid stance, really looked good, scary guy.
The band were all young recruits, wearing fake mustaches that almost came off as they blew their trumpets, it was hard to keep a straight face as they marched by with quivering, crooked mustaches. Nice kids, they put on a pretty good show, pounding drums and demonstrating the old swordsmanship techniques, hard to imagine how their name “Janissaries” terrified at one time.

Later, we went to the famed Grand Bazaar and bought amber and some carpets, what else, it seems to be a family addiction. At the spice market as well, we were greeted with special consideration when they found out we were Greeks. It surprised many in our group.

Saint Saviour in Chora was also on our itinerary. An impressive Byzantine monastery just twenty minutes from the city center, now a museum and restored in 1316. It has remarkable, mosaics and frescos and is not on the usual tourist agenda but it is a gem with a serious history and not to be missed.

Ankara was our next stop, and we visited the capitol in style; we were after all with the wife of the ambassador to Greece.

The next part of the trip was the real highlight, we were going to Cappadocia with its unique geological formations and complicated historical heritage, google it and you will find an amazing area of Turkey with a fascinating history. Early Churches, almost cathedrals, carved out of the rock, mostly underground, (some eight levels below ground, each level had a specific function, water, storage, barn, housing, worship, etc.) whole towns under this lava like landscape, where early Christians hid from invading Persian and Arab armies. Whole towns disappeared underground for months at a time or much longer, leaving nothing behind except deserted villages to the bafflement of the invaders. Truly a unique experience, we all loved it. We even bought more carpets there.

During the trip, although our guide was knowledgeable, she did have a unique way of announcing our stops, “the facilities are excellent here,” clean toilets was what that meant. The custom was that you tipped the lady that sat outside of the “facilities” or you didn’t get any toilet paper.

We also ate at some terrific restaurants on the road, and since most of us were Greeks, wine was consumed in large quantities. The wine was extra and everybody fought to treat the wine for the group, I did say we were mostly Greeks. This went on for the whole trip; I was looking for something to treat, other than wine or ice cream. I found it, at one of the “facility” stops, I ran ahead and gave the woman twenty dollars, and told the group the “facilities” were my treat.

I bet nobody has ever treated “facilities” before. I got more thanks and praise for that then if I had treated the wine. The lady in charge of the “facilities” was happy and so was the group as they laughed their way into the toilets.

Memorable Cappadocia, with it’s unique architecture, and great “facilities”, what a trip.