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 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.