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.