Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Hadjibirbilakis, the Birbilakis, the Birbils,

While looking at some old photos, I was curious to see if there were any physical resemblances. Do I look like my Father or my Grandfather does my son look like any of us? The span is Asia Minor, NY, and Greece, a fisherman, a candy maker, an advertising guy and a painter. I often think what would have happened if there was no catastrophe, would we all have been fishermen?

I was named after my Grandfather and kind of think I look like him. My son was named after his Grandfather, my Dad…and he kind of looks like him.

This unfortunately is as far back as we go on my Fathers side, I think I can go further back on my Mothers side, I have to talk to some cousins in France.

I have friends and I read about people that can trace their roots for hundreds of years. I wonder what is back there in my family roots, do we actually go back to Crete and before that, what?

It ain't Brooklyn Blackie, but it is Brooklyn.

I had a tattoo done while we were in NY this Christmas. My daughter’s boyfriend took me to a tattoo parlor in Brooklyn, not Coney Island unfortunately, but it nevertheless was Brooklyn.

It seems there are no more tattoo guys in Coney Island, El Greco, Brooklyn Blackie and the rest of them are gone.

We went to a parlor called the 3 Kings, great work, lots of heavily tattooed people tattooing other heavily tattooed people, men and women. I was, as usual the oldest guy there. I wanted an octopus on my shoulder; my wife designed one based on the ancient Minoan vases. Larry goes there often, he is one of the heavily tattooed guys, and he recommended one of the artists there, a heavily tattooed Josh.

Go to their site and see the place and the work. Three Kings tattoo, Brooklyn. A great place.

I imagined the place to be seedier with sawdust on the floor and lots of beer cans all over. Nope, nothing like that, a clean, well-lit place with drawings and paintings on the wall, each artist has his own station. Lots of paper towels and boxes of rubber gloves, also plenty of tracing paper with designs on them.

We did have some seediness, after Larry’s tats we did go and have some vodka and bourbon, in a great local bar, and then went for my tattoo.

I still fancy the idea of becoming an apprentice tattoo artist…I would like a nickname. These new guys don’t seem to have nicknames, I wonder why? The old guys all had nicknames, and great ones; my favorite is still Brooklyn Blackie the electric Rembrandt.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Papou sends his sons abroad

This blog evolved from my daughter’s request to have me tell some of the family stories. It actually was supposed to be a video memoir, which I didn’t warm to. This is about my Papou, in Asia Minor just before the catastrophe of 1922-23.

I was named after him Grigorios Polichronis Birbilakis, Greg Birbil seems a very poor translation, I should go back to the original, it is impressive as hell.

Back to Asia Minor.

It seems that the Greek men were drafted into the Turkish army; they were Turks so they were draft able, being Greeks though they ended up in the work battalions, which was the equivalent of a death sentence.

My Grandfather ( Papou) having some money, being a prosperous fisherman, would send his sons, my father and my uncles abroad, to avoid being drafted, not unlike going to Canada during the Viet Nam war. Pop was sent to the States to avoid the draft; he was in America when the catastrophe happened. My Uncle Stephano was sent to England, and when he returned to Greece after the population exchange, he was forever known as the Englishman, (o Englesos).

My Mother’s family did the same; her oldest brother was killed while in one of those dreaded work battalions in the Turkish army, after that, all her other brothers were sent abroad. My mother’s family ended up in France because one of her brothers was in Marseilles, avoiding the draft. His name was Cariofilis Alexandridis, he filled out a French form wrongly and was forever known as Alex Cariofilis…so was my Mom’s family in France, and their last name disappeared in the morass of French government bullshit.

My Father was in the States at the time of the catastrophe, I can only imagine what he went through, no info, not really knowing what was going on…no CNN, no Internet, he must have felt so alone. He never spoke to me about it, I never asked and now it is too late.

My Grandfather and the people from the village apparently landed in Edipso on the island of Evia, their first stop in Greece…an old lady in Nea Michaniona told me they arrived on the last day of August and were allowed to use the hotels until the spring, then they had to leave and find someplace to settle. My Papou and some of his family as well as some others decided to stay, they built houses and to this day I have cousins there. The rest of the villagers went to Nea Michaniona, outside of Salonika.

I really have to go there again to get more info, although I was told that the steamship that brought them to Edipso, had one caique, fishing boat, on board, it belonged to my Grandfather. There is also a photo I seem to remember that I saw at a cousin’s house, it is the funeral of Papou, and he is on his caique so people can pay their respect.

I have to get a copy of that photo.

I have to also get more information, once you start you realize how little you know and how complicated it is to get the additional information; the oral sources are about to or have died out.

I should have asked more and listened more when I was a kid.