Sunday, February 27, 2011

Mama goes to the MOMA

While I was at Pratt, it must have been in the late 50’s, I took my mother and my eldest sister to the Museum of Modern Art. I was presuming a bit, but I thought they might enjoy it, even though I was not sure about Mama’s reaction to some of the art.

Going into the city was not something my mother did often; she would go in to go to the department stores for fabrics, this would at least be a day out. I assumed my sister would enjoy the museum; she was a dietician and worked at the VA hospital and was incredibly well read.

We got there and it was fairly crowded, we got in and started to go around to see the permanent collection and then make our way to the exhibitions. My sister was not that happy about the museum, I guess she was more traditional and conventional than I thought she would be. I was surprised because I thought she would really enjoy it.

Mom took her time and wandered around the exhibitions not saying very much, but what she said seemed to make sense. She was a creative person; making her own clothes and my sisters, when I was small she even made my clothes. She seemed to identify with some of the work, especially the abstract expressionist work.

She really got excited when she came upon the Picasso’s; she looked at them for a while. She turned to me and said, in Greek, “ta xero afta”, she told me she knew this work. I was surprised to say the least, how did she know this work. She told me when she lived in Paris after the catastrophe; she would see this work at a gallery on her way to the workshop she ran as a seamstress.

These things come out at the weirdest times. By the way, she told me she went to see Lindberg land when he flew the Atlantic in 1927. More stuff I never knew.

The MOMA was no big deal to Mama.

She would have loved the Smithsonian; it has the “Spirit of St. Louis.”

Saturday, February 19, 2011

When we were nuns

We lived in Mexico from 1984 until 1994. The Brazilian embassy had a carnival party every year. They knew how to throw a party and the Mexicans knew how to party.

We were invited and the same dilemma came up, what to wear?

Brainstorm, since everybody goes virtually naked or at least very sexy, we would go as nuns. Jeannine would make a perfect nun, I on the other hand had a big mustache and smoked a cigar, a not so perfect nun, not bad, but not perfect.

I tried on my outfit in my office, at that moment, a client, Irish-American, GM marketing director walks in on me.

He panics; my outfit brings back memories from his Catholic School upbringing…it might be my mustache or my cigar. He thinks I am sister Margarite. My outfit works, it passed the test. He recovers has some water and leaves my office shaking his head.

He must have some wild memories of sister Margarite.

That night we drive to the party, I am sitting in front with our driver, Jeannine was in the back. A city bus pulls up alongside of us at a traffic light. It all seems calm, people glance in the back of the car and see a good looking nun with gold wire framed glasses, then they see me, mustache, cigar, nun’s habit. Double takes are the least things that happen, poking neighbors, pointing, signs of the cross and finally laughter.

We are going to be a hit at the party. I am ready to take on the others with their revealing costumes.

We get there, caipirinhas, food, great music, lots of bare quivering flesh…a typical carnival party, love it.

Our outfits are well received, laughter, funny comments, mostly about my cigar. We are pretty much the most covered up couple there, and the only ones without feathers or sequins.

The competition starts, dancing and judging for the best costume. There is a shortlist and we make it to the final ten. The next dance is the lambada, we are great, I am groping my dance partner, the little nun with the gold wire rimmed glasses, she is sexy as hell and really getting into it, lots of moves…we just might have a chance to win this. We are getting applause and being toasted…this might be our night.

Our only real competition is a near naked couple with strategically placed feathers and sequins, who unfotunately dance pretty good.

DAMN, they win first prize, we come in a close second and are pretty happy with that, the church has held its own, at what is in reality a religious festival.

Not bad for a couple of nuns from NY in Mexico at a Brazilian carnival party.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Do not fly through Charles de Gaulle

Last December we were going to NY, we were booked to leave on the 15th from Athens, direct to NY.
Three days before we heard about an air controller’s strike for the 15th. We changed our flight for the day before, the 14th, it was not direct and it was via Paris. Athens to Paris, Paris to NY. It seemed easy enough. We had an hour in Paris to change planes, same terminal, no big deal, or so I thought. The dreaded Charles de Gaulle airport suddenly is going to change all that.

I remember this airport and all the hype it got when it was built in the mid 70’s, it was modern and did not look like any other airport at the time. They have added on to it for the past 30 years, some of it isn’t even connected to the original; maybe it is not even in Paris. This monster airport has grown in a seemingly haphazard way. Parts of it have even collapsed.

The people that work there do not seem to have an idea of where anything is, certainly not any of the gates. But I am getting ahead of myself, back to the beginning of our trip.

We started very early, 3 am, by taxi from Porto Heli to go to the airport for our flight to Paris at 7am. Tiring but no big deal. Flight to Paris fine, considering today’s flights. Cramped, crowded but on time. We now arrive at the dreaded Charles de Gaulle airport. We land nowhere near the terminal; the plane lumbers around the airport and finally stops at some bus station in the middle of nowhere. We load on the bus and off we go to more or less where the plane originally landed, I think.

Into the terminal and the search begins for our gate for New York. I ask and am told different directions, the signs lead us outside, we rush around, the wheel chair we ordered for Jeannine is nowhere to be seen. We end up on the sidewalk outside; we go back inside and through the security check for the second time in France.

I finally go crazy at some guy that tells us to go outside and enter the terminal next door. Suddenly a man in a suit appears and reassures me that we are in the right place, but we have to hurry since the plane is loading. “It is close,” he says, we take off, sort of running, more like staggering. I have the hand luggage, two small bags, that weigh a ton by now and a computer bag. Jeannine, who supposedly needed a wheelchair, takes off to the gate, running to make sure they wait for us, for me especially.

We get there and are told there are some passengers still missing; also some of the crew cannot find the plane. We stumble on board and find ourselves in first class, this plane had two doors, and we got in the first one. First class looked pretty good and I asked if we could upgrade, the flight attendant told us it was full and could not do that, even when I offered one of our kids.

We got to our seats and were pleasantly surprised; roomy, pleasant attendants, drinks, movies, it just might be ok, in spite of starting from the dreaded de Gaulle airport.

The trip, after the insanity of de Gaulle airport is pleasant, normal and we get to NY fine.

It has been one of the longest trips we ever made, door to door.

I will never go through that airport again, I will also try not to even have it as my destination. There has to be another way to get to Paris.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Komboloi...or Fiddle Beads.

I know, I know, before you all tell me, they are worry beads, not fiddle beads. Since Greeks like to play the game of being worriers, when I think they do not really worry, I would rather call them fiddle beads, fiddle being a better word to describe how they are used.

The history of the Komboloi is readily available, the most important thing is that they have no religious use, they are the only beads handled that are not for praying. They originated from prayer beads, Buddhist, to Moslem, to Catholic (rosaries), then our beads, the newly named fiddle beads. The name komboloi is derived from the komboskini; the knotted prayer strings that Greek Orthodox monks make for praying. Komboloi means knot and word, but they have no religious use, maybe just the opposite…it is really an idler’s object.

When we first came to Greece in the early 60’s, older men, usually from Asia Minor, working-class, only used Komboloi. Everybody else fiddled with something, key-chains, string…anything else that you could fiddle with. Today it seems they are popular in all classes. They are available in periptera for a few Euros or in specialized collectors stores for up to thousands of Euros. They are collected by all levels of people and have lost some of the Rembetico connection, although maybe that is one of the attractions, for me it is.

Amber ones to be stroked and caressed due to their fragileness, Faturan ones to be handled rougher, and twirled aggressively. Komboloi are made out of everything, from precious stones to camel bones…I love them. They seem to bring me back to my roots, Asia Minor, where they originally came from.

My Father was too Americanized to use them; he was a calm guy and didn’t worry or fiddle. I, on the other hand use them often. I even had a set made to give away as a company gift; it had our logo on it “the truth well told.”
I have to admit, I got the idea from Tom Pappas when I fist came to Greece to help open McCann, he gave me a set of fiddle beads with the Esso Pappas logo on them.

The komboloi are used all over Greece, while having a coffee and a cigarette and using your cell phone, the twirling of the fiddle beads is deafening. You have to be a real Greek and done time in the Greek Army to really know how to do this…I am practicing, but without the Army, this may be a lost cause