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December 12, 2008

What is that?

This little short moved me deeply. A poignant portrait, it captures the bond that exists between a parent and child. EM, who is 3 and a bit, asks questions constantly.

It’s a good reminder to be patient and savour those small storybook moments.

In my father’s last days, we used to spend our afternoon’s together watching the world go by from our front steps. In the moment, some of those afternoons seemed endless. Now that he’s gone, I can honestly say, they weren’t long enough.

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April 4, 2008

Read: The Joys of Greek Easter

By Rita Wilson, Huffington Post Blog

Once every few years, Greek Easter falls the same week as “American Easter,” as it was called when I was growing up. In order for “Greek Easter” to be celebrated the same week as “American Easter”, Passover has to have been celebrated already. We Greeks don’t do Easter until after Passover, because how can you have Easter before Passover? Jesus went to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, after all. Unless it is one of the years where the two holidays align. Like this year.

Here are some of the things that non-Greeks may not know about Greek Easter: We don’t do bunnies. We don’t do chocolate. We don’t do pastels. We do do lamb, sweet cookies, and deep red. The lamb is roasted and not chocolate, the sweet cookies are called Koulorakia and are twisted like a braid, and our Easter eggs are dyed one color only: blood red.

There is no Easter egg hunt. There is a game where you crack your red egg against someone else’s red egg hoping to have the strongest egg, which would indicate you getting a lot of good luck.

Holy Week, for a Greek Orthodox, means you clear your calendar; you don’t make plans for that week at all because you will be in church everyday, and you fast. Last year, in addition to not eating red meat and dairy before communion, my family also gave up sodas for the 40 day Lenten period. During one particularly stressful moment, there were many phone calls amongst our kids as to whether or not a canned drink called TING, made with grapefruit juice and carbonated water was, in fact, a soda and not a juice, which our then 10 year old decided it was, so we had a Ting-less Lent.

No matter where I find my self in the world I never miss Easter, or as we call it, Pascha. I have celebrated in Paris, London, New York City, Los Angeles, and in Salinas, California at a small humble church that was pure and simple.

When we were kids, our parents would take us, and now as parents ourselves we take our children, to many of the Holy Week services including the Good Friday service where you mourn the death of Jesus by walking up to the Epitaphio, which represents the dead body of Christ, make your cross, kiss the Epitaphio, and marvel at how it was decorated with thousands of glorious flowers, rose petals and scents like incense.

Note: This was originally posted last year in the Washington Post under the title: Why Easter is Greek to Me: Xristos Anesti!

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November 2, 2007

Bring back the Greek gods

I came across this article by Mary Lefkowtiz on latimes.com (link is below). Do you agree with her comments that monotheism “poisons” human life?

Mere mortals had a better life when more than one ruler presided from on high.


Prominent secular and atheist commentators have argued lately that religion “poisons” human life and causes endless violence and suffering. But the poison isn’t religion; it’s monotheism. The polytheistic Greeks didn’t advocate killing those who worshiped different gods, and they did not pretend that their religion provided the right answers. Their religion made the ancient Greeks aware of their ignorance and weakness, letting them recognize multiple points of view.

There is much we still can learn from these ancient notions of divinity, even if we can agree that the practices of animal sacrifice, deification of leaders and divining the future through animal entrails and bird flights are well lost.

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August 27, 2007

Poetry Train Monday # 4- Magda & Georgios at the Cancer Clinic

The Appointment

(Or: Meditations, Superstitions and Lies)

“Who says our childhood years are the most carefree? No, no Magda. They are bitter, tormented years - when you want and want, and the grown-ups keep saying, ‘Don’t this, don’t that’; and the world outside your door is an infinite sea you cannot grasp. You are a small boat without anchor. In the distance you see Ithaca and you long to grasp this mythical place. You wish to count it on all your ten fingers. You extend your reach when whap, whap the teacher’s ruler snaps against the back of your right hand making you cringe as if you’ve touched the bloated body of a dead man. ”

Hop on Board Rhian’s Poetry Train!

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June 5, 2007

A Greek Icon: Melina Mercouri

Melina Mercouri (1925-1994) epitomized the modern Greek: a vital and intellectual woman full of joy and sensuality. She was an accomplished singer and actor; an exiled political activist (during the military junta) and finally in the late 1980s Minister of Culture, fighting, among other things, for the return of the Elgin (Parthenon) Marbles.

Her role as Ilya, the exuberant prostitute, in Never on a Sunday, made her a household name. In 1960, Mercouri won the Best Actress Award at Cannes and the film won an Academy Award for its well-known theme song, written by Manos Hadjidakis.

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Me Logia Ellinka

With Greek words,

I fell in love with you,

from your lips bewitched …


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March 28, 2007

The Pause

In the course of time, inside us as well as outside us, certain pauses take place.

We hear this stop and come to a standstill, without being aware of it.

We’ve actually forgotten.
Our gaze stands still above our own unknown, trying to smile.

Pauses from one thought to the next, from one word to the next, from dream to fact, from recollection to now. A question hovers suspended from lips, which doesn’t want to be asked, so that no one hears it. And yet, this unspoken “why” can be heard inside this pause – an odd coupling of childlike sweetness and senile bitterness.

Maybe that’s why my father became more handsome in the course of his last months?

His entire face had become a smile – a distant smile, not towards anybody and not toward himself. A glowing smile, free of any purpose.

This was not always so.

When we met with the palliative care team for the first time in August, my father was animated and talkative. The list of medications and doses, daunting. Judy, who was to become his private nurse, gave us a large clear blue plastic bill box, divided into seven sections, one for each day of the week. Together we made a list of my father’s medications and dosages. And my father was given the task of organizing his pills.

I notice that my father’s smile changed soon after our fateful meeting at the Cancer Clinic. This new smile had a purpose: to bridge or conceal his pauses, to keep me from recognizing that our previous life, our previous interactions before his diagnosis, had been forever interrupted.

With each of Judy’s visits, my father’s smile became larger while his vocabulary became smaller.

“Hello Nick. Can I see your medications? Have you had a bowel movement today or would you like an enema?”

“I wanted to go to the bathroom, but instead of going to the bathroom, I went to the kitchen. Have you seen my garden? The fig trees are ripe with fruit. Ever made fig jam?” He burst out laughing. And we laughed too. “My goodness, how absent-minded. I’ve become.”

But now when I recall his laugh, I see it wasn’t like his smile those last few days: diffused, vague, holy. In August, it was a mask – trying to hide something.

Even his admission was misleading – in order to deflect us – to prove that he was the first to recognize his own absent-mindedness.

For the first few weeks, Judy left each visit with a bag or two of figs and other fruits that my father harvested from his back yard.

And I memorized his prescriptions, his dosages. I organized drawers full of tablets and capsules: Cemetidine, Ativan, Cytotec, Naproxen, Hydrochlorothiazene, Hytrin, Altace, Mesolon, Ms Contin, Haldol, Gravol, and MOS.

Gradually, my father stopped talking. For hours, he remained silent. Staring at nothing. He would open a book without reading and then close it, with one of his fingers still between the pages.

The book must have felt terribly mournful, forgotten like this on his lap.

Often he asked the same question three times, five times, ten times, “Where were you yesterday, Christina?” “Edo emouna, Baba, mazi sou” Two minutes later, the very same question: “Where were you yesterday?” “Right here, beside you daddy, where else would I be?”

Even if he asked the same question a thousand times, the nurses, my mother and I would answer him as if it were the first.

And at once, darkness fell. On morphine for most of his waking hours, my father’s eyes became empty and white.

I noticed the wildflowers in his garden were sad stars, which had fallen from the sky, sad for my father, and I felt sad too.

Three days before his death and on my birthday, my father gave me his final gift.

“Christina,” my father called to me, “a newborn comes into this world with his fists closed as he has the desire to grab everything he sees before him. When an old man dies, he dies with his hands open because he has realized that there is nothing he can take with him, only those intangibles imprinted on his heart.”

His eyes became white again, completely empty. He could see without looking. Perhaps now, he could see the invisible in its entirety, the empty, the absolutely white.

It seems that the pauses inside him had become wider, until they fused and all of them became a single pause, an infinite, absolutely white serene pause. His face became more sweet, more distant, like some disembodied saint.

And in this absence of colour, I reached for my father’s hand.

dad shot.jpg

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March 19, 2007

3:00 A.M.

I awake to rain, a cold breeze and the faint taste of soap on my tongue.

In my dreams my father came back, dressed in the clothes we’d buried him in. In his right hand he is carrying a stammering candle of the Resurrection services. His left hand holds a half-eaten mango; it is a gaping wound of bruised skin and burned orange flesh.

His navy wool suit seems hardly worn. It is then that I notice his feet. Sockless and shoeless, his ankles and bare feet are a dull frightening gray. I begin to cry, realizing he walked the whole way. I think of him climbing up from his grave and then, obeying some paternal instinct, walking the miles west along the highway toward his only child. It must have been some time ago, since he had completely wreaked his shoes. Where along the way did the brown leather crack, the seams pucker and the stitching come undone?

When did he begin his journey?

I am ashamed, disturbed by the thought that while he looked for me, I was unaware of his arrival, since no one ever told him where to find me. It hurt to think of him walking day and night; talking to no one; walking, walking, walking until he finally found me.

My tears have woken him up. He has heard me calling him.

He walks over telling me I must go with him. When he asks if I want to go with him, I lie.

Then he is gone, leaving as he had come with the night breeze.

According to my mother, the deceased are never far from us. There is a fine line between our reality and theirs. My father knows I have been mourning and has come to comfort me.

When I think about him now, my pain is the color of his bruised blue hydrangeas.

My memories of him, crushed chalk on my tongue.

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March 6, 2007

Snapshot - August 2000

As August draws to a close, it seems like I finally have some time to sit down and compose the group update I that I have promised so many times before. I have made many false starts: I am coward. The words I write are difficult, intimate and exposed. My father is dying.

There is no eloquent way to phrase this.

Continue reading "Snapshot - August 2000" »

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February 2, 2007

August 2001 - Athens

I dream of Angels.

They arrive stark-naked; their wings folded up against their ribs and they walk like birds standing up, but with great ease, as if they’re equally familiar with walking and flying; they don’t seem at all disconcerted – they watch out not to step in muddy places; they window-shop outside trendy boutiques and consider buying blue jeans; they peer in dimly lit kafenia, savour the aroma of fresh-ground coffee. They don’t stay long. The “krak, krak, krak” of the tavli boards, the non-stop chatter and the persistent cloud of cigarette smoke grates on them.

It seems my Angels are visible only to some people. Children call out in joyful enchantment: Two Angels, Two Angels. Young couples zipping by on motorcycles can see them perfectly. In my father’s neighbourhood, the grocer, the baker, the butcher, the woman, Angeliki, who wanders the streets selling lottery tickets and lives in upstairs apartment, can’t see them.

Continue reading "August 2001 - Athens" »

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January 31, 2007

My Father’s Garden

This past April, the week after Easter, Dev, our chicken and I traveled to Athens to deal with family business. I own property in Greece: a two-story house, near the sea, in Paleon Faliron (Old Faliron). It’s the house where my father, his three siblings and his parents, my grandparents, lived up until the family moved to Canada in the early 1950’s. The last time I visited my father’s ancestral home was in the summer of 2001.

The first summer after my father’s passing …

Continue reading "My Father’s Garden" »

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