Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Happy Name Day-- to me.

There are several name days for Joseph in Greece. But the Cretans, according to my Uncle John, celebrate the name day for Sifis on Dec 30. Now that I think about it, I remember a late night phone call my cousin Adonis made to the priest in Paleochora about it. He promptly said "Dec 30" as if it were a routine question, hung up the phone and no doubt went back to sleep.
I wasn't called "Sifi" as a boy and to this day there are folks who don't know that is one of my names. I use it mostly in my inner circle and among Greeks. But every once in a while I will get asked, "Who is Sifi?"
The name is very common among the Sfakiotes, not so much in Selinio or Gavdos, where we are from, or so I'm told. I feel fortunate to have it, for it is an instant conversation starter in Crete, especially among the hospitable elders in the villages. I've had many thimbles of tsikoudia while straining to understand bits of lore about some local Sifis.
My late and lamented, ever-loved great-Uncle Christos, when asked if the name appears elsewhere in our family, said, "We don't need another Sifis, we have you!"

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Study in Gray and White

We met this shy kitten on the streets of Paleochora last year. There is something about how her own coloring is echoed by the grays, whites, and soft tans of her surroundings. Bet she is a wily survivor, a needed skill.
I have wanted to write something about the current unrest in Greece, but respect for those whom I love and are living there has stopped me. Theirs are the voices I long to hear. So I will continue to refrain, except for this: I have revered Greece from the moment I first went there as an adult, returning to a place my heart knew--but where I had never been. I've always tried to look at it in a clear-eyed way, which is hard to do when you love something so intensely. Thankfully, on every visit there is an eye-opening moment of (mostly minor) mishap that brings me down to earth, away from the mysteries that the golden light spins into my head. So it is now. I look on it with consternation, sadness, frustration, hope--a hundred feelings. And I wonder what the future holds for my beloved Ellada.
Merry Christmas and Kala Kristougenna!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Proust Questionnaire

[Galley proof of Swann's Way, sold by Christie's in 2000. The image is in the public domain and is from Wikimedia Commons.]

I'm reading "In Search of Lost Time" for the first time in over 20 years and this time I hope to finish the entire thing. The secret to this plan is not to think of it as work but as a very long visit to 19th century Paris. With no danger of consumption, cholera or being run over by a runaway horse and carriage. Also, the novel is very beautiful and often funny, and most importantly it deals with reality.

Have you ever done the Proust Questionaire? Of course he did not write it but most famously took it--several times. There are many versions. Here is my latest attempt.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? Waking up on a Greek island with no plans for the day.

What is your greatest fear? A long and fatal illness.

What historical figure do you most identify with? El Greco.

Which living person do you most admire? Two very close to me.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? Taking petty behavior by others to heart.

What trait do you most deplore in others? Manipulative behavior.

What is your greatest extravagance? Travel.

On what occasion do you lie? By omission: Daily. By commission: Only when asked to comment on a dish of food or article of clothing.

What do you most dislike about your appearance? My nose is crooked.

What is your favorite journey? Driving the road from Hania to Paleochora, Crete.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue? Modesty.

Which living person do you most despise? Not just one--a group of reigning rulers.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse? “Wonderful!”

What is your greatest regret? Not to have been a working artist.

What or who is the greatest love of your life? I hope we will grow old together.

When and where were you happiest? Probably as a boy, walking on a country road, looking towards the future.

Which talent would you most like to have? To play many musical instruments.

What is your current state of mind?Alert.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? I would be less reactive.

If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be? They would be less reactive.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what would it be? Neither. It’s a horrible conceit.

If you could choose what or who to come back as, what would it be? See above.

What do your consider your greatest achievement? Surmounting fear.

What is your most treasured possession? My cat, Manoli.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? Bitterness of heart.

What is your most marked characteristic? People say I’m very observant.

What is the quality you most like in a man? Warmth, intelligence, a rugged simplicity.

What is the quality you most admire in a woman?Intelligence, humor, compassion.

What do you most value in your friends? Detachment.

Who are your favorite writers? Plato, Shakespeare, Austen, Baudelaire, Cavafy, Whitman, Elizabeth Bishop.

Who is your favorite hero of fiction? The perfectly balanced and unnamed narrators of many 19th century novels.

Who are your heroes in real life? My grandmother--my father’s mother.

What are your favorite names? For a man: Nikolaos. For a woman: Maria.

What is it that you most dislike? Cowardice in those in power.

How would you like to die? I would like to float upward and into heaven on Aug 15, 2059, but I doubt this will happen.

What is your motto? I change it frequently. Some day I will settle on one.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Picture of George T.

Here is a picture of George that Ann put on her evite for the memorial.

The memorial was a week or so ago. It was wonderful and beautiful and sad. We had it in a church hall in N. Berkeley. There were many people there, wonderful food, music, testimonials. I think George would have enjoyed it.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Berkeley Farmers' Market

I have become a person of habits and rituals. Is that what happens when you get old? (Yes, it is a recurring theme with me.) One of my favorite things is to get up on Saturday and go to the Berkeley Farmers' Market. The Saturday market is held right in the center of town and starts at 10:00 am, a leisurely hour in my opinion. I'm sure the time was arrived at by trial and error and is really an indication of the late hours kept by the typical customer.
The market is wonderful for people watching and also has great farm stands. Although the produce is sometimes expensive, most if not all is organic. And, there are bargains to be had. For example, one stand has lovely butter lettuce for 3 for $3. And there are always specialty items such as heirloom beans and freaky heirloom squashes. One thing I must recommend: Swanton Farms Ollaliberry Jam. A can't-fail gift@ 3/$15.
Here are some pics from a few weeks back.

The maddening, endearing crowd of shoppers.
Autumn tableau.
Lovely to rest the eyes upon.
What size pom suits you?
This guys has it all figured out, no?

The Berkeley Farmers' Markets are a program of the Ecology Center.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Obama wins!

I have been much calmer since Tuesday night.
Jared had a group of people over to watch the elections and he served Greek food. He had made a wonderful pastitsio as well as spanikopita. I brought a small bowl of dry-cured olives from Antonis's trees in Selino. (They sometimes have to last a few years so I ration them.)
After watching Obama's speech I walked up to catch the train at Castro Street. Some DJ's had brought a flat bed in and set up a huge screen and music system. There must have been a few thousand people dancing in the street! Being old and responsible, I knew I had to get home to bed, but I took a few minutes to dance with the crowd and smile at strangers.
Since then I have realized that my everyday personality has now returned. For weeks I had a kind of fever-worry that the election would go wrong, somehow. That we as a country could not possibly elect a black man to president, no matter how obviously better suited he is for the position. But that is over. In one spectacular day, we have made a change, I think, in the eyes of the world. As a nation, we have grown up a little. We are moving forward again.
I don't envy Obama the challenges of the job. But I am excited to see what will happen over the next few years with him as president.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Coffee at Strada

I have been going to Caffe Strada in Berkeley for many years. It is right by the UC campus and has a nice area outside to sit and have coffee. Dave, George G. and I went the other night and enjoyed the Halloween mood we found there. George had a hilarious video of George T and himself singing a Sinatra song as well as hanging out in Voulgiagmeni, Greece.

The noble Athenian face of George G.
The counter guys at Strada like to kid around.
It's all about the brand.
Dave on the "catwalk."

Friday, October 17, 2008

Grapes in the Old Town

[Paleochora, Crete, Greece, 2007]

I am still mining the trove of pictures from last year. I hope you don't mind!

We were walking down the street in Paleochora, getting ready to pass by Barba Christos's house, preparing to be sad, for he had been gone for over a year. (In my own heart, I know his memory will be eternal.) But his door was open and there were Kleoni and Georgos. Kleoni had come from Hania and Georgos had come from Montreal. Georgos was staying in Christos's (his father and my great-uncle) house. Of course, we got swept up in a day of activities, including a perfect lunch at Captain Jim's, complete with barbounia.

Somehow, this photo, although absent of humanity, sums it all up for me. Christos's old, tiny, simple house, where he and Theano raised so many children, and with so much love, has an inner courtyard which is covered by a trellis. The grapes were hanging there, looking so beautiful. They were like memories, preserved for us. All we had to do was raise our eyes, and there they were.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Fire on Angel Island

Angel Island as seen from North Beach, San Francisco, 10/12/08.

[Image by Danleo, Wikimedia Commons]

This past Sunday, we were invited by a friend to join the closing night celebration for the Mill Valley Film Festival, a cruise on the Bay, originating in Sausalito. We boarded the boat at 8:00 pm and were immediately plied with food and drinks. It was wonderful, slightly decadent and felt not a little like 1929, due to the current world financial crisis.
At 9:00 pm we pulled out from the dock, under the glorious October moon, and almost immediately noted the fire on Angel Island. How eerie it felt, at one point, to be standing on the top deck as the boat sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge, with the moon above us and the fire blazing off to the starboard side. For more on the fire, see: http://www.sfgate.com/.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

In Memory: George Tyrogalas, 1939-2008

Paleochora, Crete, Greece. October 2007

It has taken me nine days to be able to write this. George passed away in Athens last Monday. He was 69 years old.
I met George about 10 years ago at the Strada Caffe, near UC Berkeley. He and his friends were speaking Greek and so we started to talk to them. Not knowing I understood (my Greek is basic), he told my friend I looked like Eleftherios Venizelos! Of course I liked him instantly.
I, and many others, here and in Greece, are missing our dear George. Here are a few words I might use to describe him: hilarious, friendly, kind-hearted, loud, leering, unpredictable, parsimonious, loquacious, sensitive, compassionate, artistic, loving, curious, loyal, peaceful.
There are so many more things I could say. I think the key to the real George was watching him with animals. His heart went out to the mistreated and you could see that in the way he treated not only his own cats/dogs but how he often went out of the way for others. When in Greece he always carried food for the many strays in Athens. He really was an example of much-needed compassion and in his own way followed the Golden Rule.
The funeral was last Thursday in Vyronas, Athens. There will be a memorial in Berkeley in early November.
I used to tease George by calling him the Buster Keaton of the Greek World. He had marvellous expressions and could always make me laugh, no matter what was happening in my life. I will miss popping over to Peaberry's Coffee after work and running into my George. He was like no other friend.

Friday, October 3, 2008

What the heck--a few more vacation shots

Sagamore Bridge.
Dave, Sifi, Carmen @ Copley Square
Some very embarrassed lobsters. Poor things.
The bustle of Commercial Steet, in Provincetown.
Joe (Sif) hanging out at Joe's Coffee Shop
A perfect fantasy vacation home in P-town. Ahh! Wouldn't it be lovely? I would invite you for dinner. Really, I would!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Pics from Boston and the Cape

The sad remains of a lunch at Pizzeria Reginia in Boston's North End. Dave's mother says the interior is the same as when she was girl, in the 30's.

Pastry Shop. They have table service!
Paul Revere House.
Parade of Schooners at Provincetown.
A Salt Box for sale.
General Store.
Frappo's in Provincetown.
Cape Cod National Seashore
Race Point Beach.
City Hall, where everybody stops to linger and maybe strike up a conversation.
Plein-air painter at Longnook Beach.

I think the pictures say it all.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Rocks of Southern Crete

I have found a new blog that I adore. Actually, this brilliant Kiwi-Greek has two of them. One is about food, and I well tell you about that later. The other is called one day in hania and I am addicted to it already. The most recent post is about Vathi, a village not too far from where my family lives. In the spirit of conversation, here are some photos from last fall. This is looking out from Paleochora toward Gavdos.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Back from Boston

Cape Cod and Boston were absolutely revelatory. (I had to use that word because I have banished amazing until it is dropped by all the people who wore out the wonderful fabulous.)
That said, they were all that and so much more! I will post some photos soon. Bye.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Bu-bye Gall Bladder

This is probably too much information.

My gall bladder had been driving me to distraction all summer. It is now gone. If you have never gone through surgery, the first time is quite the rite of passage. I told the anesthesiologist that if he killed me I'd come back to haunt him.

Surgery is scary, that's all there is to it--even so called routine procedures.

I'm very grateful to Kathleen, my pre-op nurse, for helping me to ask all the right questions and getting me ready. I also had a rock-star surgeon, Dr. Fowler, and the love and support of friends and family. Thanks, all.

Monday, August 11, 2008

For the Love of Manoli

Manoli (with his late and much-missed brother Kamaki) came to live at my house about 7 years ago this week. So, even though he was born in April, it's kind of birthday time for him.
Since K left us a year and a half ago, my relationship with M has changed. He's always been a bit on the clingy side, and I am still convinced he thinks I am his mother. But as time goes on he just seems to need more and more LOVE.
I don't mind at all. I think he sometimes gets lonely and bored. Especially when beloved neighbor Roshni is away.
Also, there is an upstart gray kitten that seems to want to horn in on M's supper dish. M came in the other day limping a bit and I suffered, thinking there had been a fight and remembering screeching that woke me at 1230 am the night before. But he's fine now and the rival seems to have wandered off into other territory.
K and M have made me into a "cat person"--something I would never have predicted. They were rescued. This is something I think can be quite rewarding. If you want a fuzzy friend, or just to lend a much needed paw, check out Island Cat Resources and Adoptions.
Meow, babies.

Friday, August 1, 2008

North Beach on a Summer Day

I think this may be turning into a photo blog.
Do you ever pretend you are a tourist in your own city? In the Bay Area, there seems to be an inexhaustible list of things I want to do. This is remarkable for a (relatively) small city.
This photo is a bit older, but was taken after I got back from Ohio. I've found myself in North Beach several times since then. It is fun to walk around and pick up on the vacation mood. I like to take the boat to the City and walk up from the Ferry Building. Usually there is a stop at Stella Pastry and Cafe for a cappuchino and biscotti.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Few More Shots

The party was held in the church hall. My mother is on the committee so she gets it for free. It's right next to her house. Here are: Cousin Holly, Katerina, Aunt Mona, Joanne. (That is my niece Katie in the background.)

My brother Bruce and his grandchildren.
I am with my niece Margaret. She says she is my favorite but I don't have a favorite. I love them all and miss them!
Cornflowers, called chicory, grow wild by the Ohio roadsides and show up in July.
My brother David and I walked to an old cemetery on a little road near my mother's house. This is one of the more poignant of the stones.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Pictures from Home

Here are some pictures from home, as promised. I will upload some more later.

1. My mother's kitchen window. 2. Nephew Bruce and Mom. 3.Black raspberries growing everywhere on the property. 4.My mother's house. 5.Collectables in a Wheeling shop.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Vo's is Back Open!

After what seems like (and may in fact be) years, Vo's has reopened, after closing for a LONG time, due to a fire, if I recall correctly. Vo's used to be a funky Vietnamese place in Uptown Oakland. Now it is kind of sleek and modern but still reasonable in price. They have completely redone the interior and now have a bar. Today I sat there and had a bowl of beef pho. Did you know it is pronounced "pha" as in "phat"? The bartender read me my horoscope but I don't remember what it predicted. Hugs 2 all.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Safe at Home

Tonight we saw a big band concert on the shores of the Ohio River. I'll try to figure out how to load the pictures in here real soon! Bye for now...

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Summer Smoke

We are back in fire season, although it really is a bit early for that. There have been fires all around the Bay Area for the past several weeks. Today there is smoke in the air and it creates a moody yellowish light.
The past three months have been all about work. We are on a FY system here and so it concludes on June 30. Bliss. Time to breathe a little until the next set of deadlines looms. I am going to go and see my family in Ohio for a family reunion. This will be my first visit there in four years, so look for lots of pictures. Ciao, babies.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Quick Check-In

Sorry about the lapse, dear World.
Blogs grow stale if not updated. As far as this one goes, I am thinking about where I want to take it. I feel it needs a focus beyond my epicurean and other ramblings.
There is much that presses me for attention these days, and I don't prefer that. I remember reading of Thoreau that he liked a "broad margin of leisure" in his life. Time to walk and just think. Sounds wonderful, doesn't it? Also, it may seem a petty complaint in light of all the good work this world needs doing.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

A field trip to the Presidio of SF

This morning, Dennis and I went to the Presidio for a look around. We are going to bring a student group there for a field trip this summer.
I've worked on projects there for many years, so it is always a thrill to see how it is changing right before our very eyes. It is becoming a model for the new urban park. Do visit soon.
We had lunch at the Acre Cafe.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


Another amazing shot by Dan Pierce. This was taken yesterday at Gorman, CA. I could not resist posting it. Dan wrote me that someone had predicted this would not be a good poppy year.