Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Princess Writes About “Eleni”, Milos Island and Life Coming Full Circle


Nick and I met HRH Princess Tatiana of Greece last summer at an event in Las Vegas where everyone was given her book “A Taste of Greece,” which is published in four languages and available in 72 countries, with all profits from the book going to charitable causes.  Born in Caracas, Venezuela, (née Tatiana Blatnik), the tall, glamorous blonde studied in Switzerland, got her BA from Georgetown, and in 2010 married HRH Prince Nikolaos, son of Greece’s former King Constantine, on the island of Spetses, Greece.  She is an entrepreneur and philanthropist, heading organizations that support women leaders around the world, provide food for impoverished children and teenage mothers, and aid to unaccompanied refugee children in Greece.


Just yesterday I saw a blog post on her official website www.tatianablatnik.com--a beautifully written essay about her introduction to Greece long ago through reading my husband’s book “Eleni” about his mother’s life and her death to save her children, and then, 14 years later, meeting our daughter, Eleni, her grandmother’s namesake.  I’m going to quote some of the princess’s essay here, but you can read it all and learn more about Tatiana and her good works by clicking on https://tatianablatnik.com/reflecting-on-milos/ 

Reflecting on Milos, Greece and life coming full circle

In 2003, when Nikolaos and I took our first trip to Greece together, he gave me a book called ELENI by Nick Gage. As we sat on the plane from London to Athens, I began reading it and found that I couldn’t put the book down! Through its pages, I not only learned so much about Greece’s recent history, but moreover I became emotionally involved with its main character, Eleni Gatzoyiannis, and my eyes filled with tears as I read her harrowing, true story…

Last year, this brave woman’s namesake, Eleni Gage, Nicholas’ daughter, asked if she could interview me for a piece she was writing for CondeNast Traveller on the enchanting Greek island of Milos. Naturally, I was more than happy to speak with her; Milos holds a special place in my heart because it is where Nikolaos and I went for our honeymoon. During this meeting with Eleni, she gave me a small thoughtful gift — a lovely, little St. Nicholas icon which I have since carried in my hand luggage whenever I travel.

Fast forward a year and there I was the other day, pulling my hand luggage behind me as Nikolaos and I walked through the airport — yet  again! — when I passed the newsstand and noticed the new issue of CondeNast Traveller, featuring Eleni’s cover story on Milos. Suddenly it hit me: life comes full circle and everything in it is interconnected.

“Isn’t it amazing?” I couldn’t help but remark to Nikolaos. For who would have imagined that 14 years after Nikolaos’ and my first trip to Greece, during which time I’d read Eleni Gatzoyiannis' story, I would be here today, a resident of the country she fought so hard for, having been interviewed by her granddaughter and carrying within my luggage the icon that she’d given me.



Monday, May 8, 2017

The Greek Island of Milos Has Been Discovered

Last summer on our family vacation to Greece,  daughter Eleni introduced us to the stunningly beautiful island of Milos, which she was researching for an article for Conde Nast Traveler.  Now it's out in the magazine's May issue: "Milos is the Untouched Greek Island You've Been Looking For", revealing all the little-known treasures of this island--incredible beaches (many only accessible from the water), wonderful restaurants, incredible views, new and picturesque villas and resorts.    

Her article inspired me to post some of the photos I took while we were there last summer.

In the photo above, Eleni, Emilio and grandkids Nicolas and Amalia are in the water at Sarakiniko Beach which, because of the white sandstone stone carved into a lunar landscape, looks like some otherworldly planet.


One of the places we stayed was a glass-sided villa at Skinopi Lodge, newly built by Nausika Georgiadou,who took us on a boat tour of the beaches which can only be reached by water.  Here is one of them,  where Eleni and family managed to swim through the cave in the distance and back to the boat.

I became photo crazy on one of our last nights on Milos when we went to the village of Klima, famous for its sunsets and the colorful wooden houses along the seaside called syrmata.

I took this photo because it has everything I love about Greece.  I've done note cards celebrating Greek windows and doors and Greek chairs  and it's all here, including the iconic Greek table.  Only thing missing, in my opinion, is a cat, but we found plenty of those down by the waterfront.


On the way down to the seashore, Amalia checked out the sound of the waves in this seashell.


The colorful syrmata, unique to Milos, are dwellings built by fishermen right on top of the garage for the fisherman's boat.

Now the syrmata are eagerly rented or bought by tourists, like these folks who are enjoying the view along with some hungry cats hoping for fish.



As the sign says, you have to be careful walking along the seaside by the syrmata.


Eleni, Emilio and Nico are about to take a stroll.  Note the octopus drying nearby.


These geese were checking things out.


And this cat was checking out the geese.



We saw this sign for the Panorama Restaurant....


So we joined Papou Nick and Amalia and a curious cat...


And watched the sun set over the island of Milos.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Revisiting Guilt About Motherhood and Princesses

 (I had forgotten that on this day, six years ago, I posted on the subject of guilt, motherhood and Kate Middleton's royal wedding which was the following day.  But my post was really a reprint of the essay daughter Eleni had written on her blog about these topics, plus Disney princesses.  I think it's one of her most brilliant and funny essays.  She wrote it four months before Amalia was born, but now that Amalia is approaching six years old --and Nico is two-- Eleni is still fighting the good fight against her kids wearing Disney characters on their clothes and battling the inevitable guilt felt by all mothers.)

Daughter Eleni, who studied Folk Lore and Mythology  at Harvard, recently launched her blog “The Liminal Stage”. (As she explains: “Liminal stages are psychological thresholds, times of transition when we stand ‘betwixt and between’ one state and another. The biggies are birth, marriage, death.”)


 Yesterday she posted about the Royal Wedding under the title “Will Kate Middleton Eat My Daughter?” (She was riffing on the current best seller “Cinderella Ate My Daughter” by Peggy Orenstein.)  From the topic of the Royal Wedding, she segued into pregnancy and motherhood and how  guilt is an inevitable ingredient in these major liminal stages—especially in the United States, where everyone is so uptight about what a pregnant woman should or should not do.

 Eleni began her post with the story of how I apologized to her for not watching Diana and Charles’ wedding with her 30 years ago, and maybe that's why  I found her essay hilarious while at the same time very wise and insightful about what a guilt-ridden state is motherhood these days.
So I got her permission to reprint her post today on “A Rolling Crone”. 

Now you’ll know why we’re not getting up at five a.m. tomorrow to drink tea and eat scones together, although we both  hope—along with every other woman waiting to see The Dress, that Kate will find her marriage guilt- and worry-free, unburdened by all the expectations and complications that Princess Diana dragged down the aisle along with her 25-foot train three decades ago.

Will Kate Middleton Eat My Daughter?

April 27th, 2011





That Royal Wedding, July 29, 1981, Getty Images / Fox Photos / Hulton Archive (borrowed from an about.com page on Princess Diana's wedding photos).
This morning my mother apologized. It’s a rare occurrence, but what was even more remarkable was the topic about which she felt guilty. “I was reading somewhere a woman remembering her mother waking her up to watch Princess Diana get married 30 years ago, and now the writer is going to wake up her own daughters to watch the Royal Wedding on Friday,” she reported. “And I felt sort of bad I didn’t wake you girls up.”
I told Joanie not to worry, that I actually thought it was a good move not to teach her five-year-old daughter (not to mention my then two-year-old sister) to fetishize a 19-year-old girl marrying a laconic older man who was in love with someone else.  I didn’t watch that royal wedding and I didn’t grow up expecting to marry a prince, ride around in Cinderella carriages and grace the covers of magazines.
In fact, in light of the current culture of princess parties, and Disney domination (its darker sides are discussed in Peggy Orenstein’s bestselling book Cinderella Ate My Daughterand the fact that I’m due to give birth to a baby girl on August 19th, I’ve decided to try to keep my daughter in the dark about Disney princesses for as long as possible. I don’t want her wearing clothing or diapers that advertise a film franchise if I can help it, and I’m guessing that I’ll still be in charge of what she wears until she’s about three.
Does that sound naïve? Defensive? Hypocritical, given the fact that the bandaids in our house already have Elmo on them, in anticipation of the baby’s birth?

Portrait of Amalia of Greece, by Joseph Karl Stieler
The truth is, I have no issue with princesses, real or fictional. The name we’ve picked for our daughter, Amalia, was the name of the first queen of Greece. (I’m not a Royalist, I just like the way the name sounds, that you can say it in Greek, English and Spanish—Amalia’s key cultures–and I have very positive associations with the name, as it also belongs to a dear friend of mine.)
Baby aside, and back to Kate Middleton, I’m taking advantage of a local spa’s Royal Wedding special—half price manicure/pedicures all day, plus they’re serving tea and crumpets! And I am excited to see what Kate wears—I hope it will put to rest the 15 year tyranny of the strapless wedding dress, and offer future brides more interesting options.
But the whole Royal Wedding brouhaha, and my mother’s guilt over opting out of the first one, has got me thinking about motherhood, and how a mom starts feeling guilt and fear before the baby is even born. Part of this is biological I think….I can’t read a People magazine without worrying about bringing a child into a world filled with tsunamis and wars and sex traffickers.
But I think part of the motherhood guilt is cultural, given the way American doctors tell us not to let anyone know we’re pregnant for the first trimester (if something were to go wrong, I’d be devastated either way, plus I’d want the support of my family and close friends–so whose feelings was I safeguarding by staying mum?).  In my first trimester I was painfully aware that something could go wrong at any moment—and then I realized that I will never again be free of that fear—at 96 I’ll be worrying about my 60–year–old baby.
Then, there’s the American culture of blame when it comes to every single thing you put in your mouth. In England, Kate Middleton will be glad to know, food safety is so good pregnant women get to eat sushi and smoked salmon and turkey, whereas here undercooked fish and smoked or cured fish or meats are strictly off limits. A Greek friend’s doctor told her she should drink a glass of red wine a day for the antioxidants, whereas here we’re not even supposed to have feta cheese, much less booze. I think all these US rules are overcautious, Puritanical and just plain wrong (for all our rules, the US has a higher infant mortality rate than most industrialized countries), but of course I’m following them—I couldn’t handle the guilt if I didn’t and something went awry.

Pomegranate--a lucky fruit--from www.flowers.vg
But I remember years ago, an Indian friend’s mother told me she ate a certain fruit or spice during each of her pregnancies, to ensure that her first child be handsome, her second joyful, her third brilliant. And I can’t help but think that is such a healthier, more positive attitude for mothers and babies—believing that by carefully choosing what you eat you can give your child blessings before they even greet the world, rather than fearing that if you put the wrong hors d’oeuvres in your mouth you are dooming your child to a lifetime of failure.
Once the baby’s born there’s the culture of competition—the race to the smuggest, to see who can feed (or diaper) their child more organically, shoe their baby’s tiny toes with the smallest carbon footprint. Before that there are so many loaded conversations about birth itself…I’m the only person in my prenatal pilates class giving birth in a hospital, and I have to admit that fact makes me feel wimpy.
The mother of Amalia the elder (not the Greek queen, but my BFF) likes to say that being a mom means being a punching bag—it’s part of the job description. And while right now I feel that quite literally—Amalia II likes to kick my hand off my stomach if I rest it there while watching TV—she means it figuratively; whatever choices you make as a mom, some of them will disappoint or hurt your children, and they’re sure to blame you. Just look at the first two lines of this blog for an example.
In the end, all you can do, I guess, is try to make the sanest, most loving choices possible, and forgive yourself for the times you fall short. And try not to judge other moms for not seeing parenting exactly as you do.

My non-royal, but rather princess-y carriage
So Joanie, thanks for not raising me expecting to become Princess Diana; it turns out she had a pretty hard row to hoe, despite the lovely tiara. And even though at 19 I was busily pursuing my degree in Folklore and Mythology and blaming my mom for making me wait until I was 13 to get my ears pierced, although my younger sister got hers pierced the exact same day—what’s that about?—I’ve had plenty of princess moments in my day.  I did marry a prince among men, eventually.  And I rode to the first of our two wedding ceremonies in a horse-drawn carriage, because we wed on the island of Corfu and that’s how they roll.
As a commoner without a title (until she’s married), Kate Middleton will ride to Westminster Abbey in a Rolls Royce (although she gets to leave in a carriage). Nevertheless, I hope she is surrounded by just as much love and laughter on her wedding day as I was on mine. I hope the little girls who get up early to watch her wed never forget doing so, and that those who sleep right through it have pleasant dreams of futures that don’t depend on the man they will marry, even if those dreams involve them turning into mermaids or having mice and bluebirds or seven little dwarves sew them fabulous couture gowns—and even if those gowns are strapless. Maybe Kate will have a daughter less than a year after her wedding, too. And when our daughters grow up and blog about us—and they will—I hope they will be kind.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Thinking About May Baskets

(I see violets popping up in the yard, reminding me of the fun of making and sharing May baskets--a spring ritual that seems to have faded away with my childhood.  I'm posting my annual essay about May baskets and May wreaths below, and this year, a reporter from the Milwaukee Sentinel, Anna Thomas Bates, interviewed me about my long-ago memories of the custom.  She posted an article in the paper yesterday with a wonderful photograph of a little girl in 1947 hanging a basket on a door knob and looking very much like I did back then, with my braids and plaid jumper.  Here's a link to her article:  http://www.jsonline.com/story/life/food/2017/04/23/may-day-tradition-worth-bringing-back/100380364/

Some sixty years ago, when I was a little girl in (first) Milwaukee, Wisconsin and then in Edina, Minnesota, on the first of  May we would make May baskets out of construction paper and fill them with  whatever flowers we could find in the garden or growing wild. We would hang the baskets on the doorknobs of neighbors—especially old people—ring the door bell, then run away with great hilarity and peek out as the elderly person found the little bouquets on their door.

 Thirty-some years ago, when we moved  to Grafton, MA, I continued the same tradition with my three kids, but then they grew up and moved away.  Just today I looked out at all the flowers popping up in our yard and reflected that all the old people in our neighborhood had died.  In fact, I realized, the only old people left were my husband and myself, so I picked a small May Day bouquet for us out of what’s growing—white violets and purple violets, cherry blossoms, forsythia, wild grape hyacinth--  and here it is.

 In 1977, when the children were all small (the youngest was one month old) we moved from New York City to a suburb of Athens, Greece, courtesy of The New York Times, which had made my husband a foreign correspondent there.  In Greece, even today, whether in the country or the city, on May 1 you make a May wreath of the flowers in the garden.  Roses are in full bloom by then in Greece, along with all sorts of wild flowers. You hang the May wreath on your door.  It dies and dries and withers until, on June 24th, St. John the Baptist’s Birthday, the dried May wreath is thrown into a bonfire.  The boys of the town leap over the flames first. In the end everyone leaps over the fading fire saying things like  “I leave the bad year  behind in order to enter a better year.”

Here is daughter Eleni in 1980 wearing the wreath that was about to go on the door. Next to her is her sister Marina.

 In Greece, even today, you’ll find May wreaths hanging on the front doors of homes and businesses, although I don’t know if anyone still throws them into a St John’s fire.  In Massachusetts, the tulips and forsythia are out, the bleeding hearts are starting to bloom, and soon the lilacs will open, filling the air with their beauty and perfume.  But today I gathered a small bouquet of May flowers and remembered the years gone by.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Remembering George Whitman--We'll always have Paris

Photo by Simon Nofolk for The Telegraph

(I'm re-posting this from 6 years ago, because I just learned that my friend, award-winning author Nicholas Basbanes, and his wife Connie, are off to Paris, and I wanted to tell them of my experiences visiting "Shakespeare and Company" and George Whitman, who owned the store until his death in 2011.  It's now owned by his daughter. This post is one of my favorites, recalling the years when I was traveling as a single girl, not yet a crone.  I recommend that anyone who visits Paris visits the store on the Left Bank, with one of the most beautiful views in Paris.)

Today’s New York Times carried the obituary for George Whitman, who died yesterday, Dec. 14, in Paris in his apartment above his bookstore “Shakespeare and Company” at the age of 98. There was even a small photo of him on the Times’ front page saying “Heir to a Paris Legacy—George Whitman, owner and operator of the postwar Shakespeare & Company bookstore and a beacon, mentor and provider to generations of young writers.  Page B 17.”

I was immediately transported back to 1969, when, as a single “career girl” in my 20’s, I took two years off, quit my magazine job in New York and traveled, visiting friends from Vienna to Paris to Morocco to Rome and then settled into an editing job in London.

Like every writer of my generation (including Woody Allen) I harbored fantasies of being part of the Paris writers of the twenties, hanging out with the Fitzgeralds and the Hemingways.  I knew all about Sylvia Beach and her famous bookstore Shakespeare and Company, and I had heard it was now owned by a New England eccentric who was continuing Sylvia’s legacy and would offer food, board and books to anyone who wandered in off the street.

I was eager to write an article about him, but the first day I walked into the store, he refused to be interviewed.  When he finally did grudgingly agree to answer some questions, he mixed fantasy with fact, because he liked enhancing his legend.  He told me he was the “illegitimate grandson of Walt Whitman”, but the twinkle in his eye hinted that we both knew how unlikely it was that the poet left any progeny.

Looking today on Google for photos of George and his famous  bookstore on the Left Bank’s Rue de la Bucherie, facing Notre Dame, I discovered that dozens, maybe hundred of writers of my generation visited Shakespeare and Company and had experiences similar to mine and are now reminiscing on their blogs about the man who devoted nearly a century to carrying on Sylvia Beach’s store and her encouragement of writers.  (It's not the same physical store, but Sylvia  late in life gave George the right to use the name.) 

My article on George Whitman was eventually published in the April 1970 issue of the late, lamented Holiday Magazine. As I wrote in the lead, “Between the two world wars, a minister’s brown-eyed daughter named Sylvia Beach owned a famous bookstore called Shakespeare and Company on Paris’ Left Bank. She provided encouragement criticism and occasional handouts to struggling American writers …She published Joyce’s revolutionary Ulysses when no one in New York or London was willing to take the risk…Ernest Hemingway, in "A Moveable Feast", wrote about her:  ‘She had pretty legs and she was kind, cheerful and interested and loved to make jokes and gossip.  No one that I ever knew was nicer to me.’”

In the 1970 piece I chronicled the troubles Whitman had been having with the French Government, which had closed down the second floor of the store because he was using it as a free hostel for young people who wanted to crash there.  I quoted the sign in the window on the day I first entered the store:  To Those Who Cherish Freedom, Practice Equality and Seek Justice –WELCOME.  We wish our guests to enter with the feeling they have inherited a book-lined apartment on the Seine which is all the more delightful because they share it with others.”

In the article I compared Whitman to “a modern Don Quixote.  He is the image of the knight of the woeful countenance—tall and painfully thin, with watery blue eyes in a doleful, hollow-cheeked face, unkempt red hair streaked with gray and a gray Van Dyke beard that juts out at the world like a defiant Brillo pad.”  (And that was 42 years ago, people, when I was very young and he was already an old man. Twelve years after I visited him the first time, George Whitman produced his only heir, a lovely blonde woman named Sylvia Beach Whitman, who has taken over the running of the store.)
 I found this photo of Whitman, posing with  his daughter Sylvia and  Bill Clinton on a blog  with the unlikely name of Palavrasqueoventoleva 

In “The Paris Magazine”, Whitman’s  attempt at a “poor man’s Paris Review” he wrote, “Why do people always come in and ask me is this your bookstore?  I consider it as much yours as mine ...Go ahead and kick off your shoes and lie in a bed and read…”

Here’s how I described my first meeting with him:   I was peering into the window when a bleary-eyed, bearded figure unlocked the door and, squinting at the sun, asked me what time it was. “Noon,” I replied.  “Come in and I’ll make us some coffee,” he said.

Soon I was drinking coffee at a table outside the door of the shop, gazing at what must be one of the most lovely views in Paris, while my host opened his mail.  I felt I should explain myself, but when I began he snapped, “No interrogations at this  time of the morning,” and went back to his mail.

Some  customers wandered in and he motioned me aside “I have some good news for you, dear.  I’m going to let you run the store while I take a shower.”  He handed me the cash box, warned me not to sell any books that didn’t have the price written on them and nailed up a “Black Power-White Power” poster on an outside wall.  Then he scrabbled around the messy desk looking for his soap, towel and a candle.  “To cut my hair.”  He lit the candle, ignited his hair, then beat out the flames with his hands, muttering,” Better than a haircut.”  Finally he donned a red-plaid sports jacket, leaped onto his bicycle and rode out the door to the public showers, leaving me with 25,000 second-hand books and the odor of burned hair.

 He never asked me my name and I never got a chance to ask his.

During the next seven hours, Whitman returned two times—just long enough to unload piles of books from the baskets of his bicycle. To my protests that I had to go, he’d mumble, “Lots of important errands to do, lots of people to see. Haven’t paid the tax on my bicycle.” And off he’d ride, red coat flapping behind him.  Meanwhile I sold about $150 worth of books in five languages and refused to sell what were worth about $100 more because they weren’t marked.  The most popular books that day were Vietnam: Lotus in a Sea of Fire, L’Anarchisme and anything by Ezra Pound.

By the time the sun was going down, I had been joined by two mini-skirted English girls who had run out of money, a starving French boy who wanted to sell his art books, a young American couple who couldn’t find the friends they were supposed to stay with, a fiery Frenchman with a broken leg who wanted to talk to Whitman about publishing his poetry, and Gerard, a soft-spoken American who had been on the road for seven years and was currently sweeping up the store in exchange for food.  Whitman himself popped in for a minute to say he was going to make potato salad—we must all stay for dinner—and he was just going to the grocery store. Much later, when he hadn’t returned, we raided the refrigerator, ate bread, sausages, cheese and yogurt on the table outside and watched shadows cover Notre Dame while the good bourgeoisie of the neighborhood looked at us with curiosity.  I handed the cash box to Gerard and set out on my Métro trip back to the Right Bank.”

Eventually, of course, I came back and eventually I got the chance to interview George.  One thing he said that I quoted in the article: “My favorite customers are seventeen-year-old girls.  I can’t think of anything more wonderful than  being seventeen and in Paris.  If a girl comes in on her seventeenth birthday, she can pick out any book she wants, free.”

That interview took place in 1969 when I was 28 years old, not seventeen.  When I turned 60 in 2001, I returned to Paris with my two daughters (both of them over 17 by then) and dropped by Shakespeare and Company to find it being tended by a young British schoolteacher.  She assured us that George was in fine health, reigning over his small kingdom as usual.  He just wasn’t in at the moment.

Now George is gone, but I suspect his ghost will still be sitting in the shadows of his dusty, overcrowded store which, according to the Times he called, paraphrasing Yeats,  “my little Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart.”

George Whitman lived a remarkable life.  I’m just sorry I never got a chance to thank him for one of my favorite Paris experiences.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Greek Easter--The Drama Begins

I first posted this in April of 2010, when Orthodox Easter and Catholic Easter happened to fall on the same day just as they do this year.  We just picked up our lamb from Bahnan's market today, and I realized this blog post is becoming a tradition.  Happy Easter  to all and to our Greek friends, Kahlo Pascha!

Today is Good Friday and in a Greek household that means we can’t eat dairy or meat (that’s been going on for 40 days) and also today we can’t eat oil, so on Good Fridays we usually end up surviving on things like plain baked potatoes and peanut butter on crackers.

But today the Big Eleni, who lives with us and is the best cook in the world, has all sorts of “fasting” Good Friday food ready – Halvah, stuffed grape leaves, rice-stuffed tomatoes, taramasalata (made from fish roe) and some sort of artichoke/spinach/ hummus concoction. And boiled shrimp.
Today was also the annual dramatic journey into Worcester to collect the lamb which we had ordered far ahead from Bahnan’s Market on 344 Pleasant Street. As you can see from the first sign below, the people at Bahnan’s are ready to sell you your Easter needs in four languages: English, Greek, Turkish and Arabic.

(And they now have a café where, according to local Greeks, you can get the only authentic gyros for miles around.)


Shopping at Bahnan’s is like a visit to the United Nations, but on Easter week it’s like several festivals rolled into one.

There was a considerable line of people waiting to get into the refrigerated back room to receive the lamb they had ordered and have it cut up to their specifications. And this was in the morning, before church let out. I imagine by afternoon the line was out the door.

I didn’t last long in the refrigerated room, because of the cold and the proximity of all those lamb corpses, some of which looked the size of a small horse. (Our lamb was very small—I believe 27 pounds.)

I had to escape before the butcher started sawing, I couldn't take it, but this process is still easier than some early Easters in Nick’s Northern Greek village when the adorable baby goats were tied to each house’s front door knob and my offspring loved petting them. Then I had to drag the children, (all three under  age ten) out of town on Holy Saturday to prevent them seeing the general bloodshed as the baby goats were slaughtered and the blood ran in the street.

In the village on Easter Sunday you see spits outside every house, each one tended by the patriarch who is drinking homemade moonshine called Raki and having a good time. We sometimes do the lamb on the spit outside in Grafton, but not when Easter comes this early.

By the way, this was a rare year when Orthodox Easter and everyone else’s Easter are on the same day. Usually we Greeks are later because Orthodox Easter has to be after Passover. It’s complicated.
In the photos above you see the Big Eleni shopping for Greek cheese at Bahnan’s. We already have our large round Tsoureki bread with the red egg in the middle. And on Holy Thursday, as always, we dyed dozens of eggs red for the Saturday-night egg-cracking duel when you challenge everyone – saying “Christ is risen” “Indeed he is risen”. Crack! And whoever’s egg comes out the winner gets the other guy’s egg.

Tomorrow—Holy Saturday—we will all go to church very early and without consuming as much as a drop of water beforehand. We line up to take communion and then are free for the first time in seven weeks to eat dairy (not meat. Not yet. But we are free to rush to the Pancake House where we traditionally stuff ourselves with high-calorie breakfast treats that have been forbidden for weeks.)

Then it’s back to church again at midnight.—for the dramatic Midnight Mass on Saturday night when the church is plunged into darkness and the priest comes out at the exact stroke of midnight with a single candle and announces ‘Christ is risen!” Then the flame passes from his candle to everyone else’s and the church fills with light as we sing the Resurrection hymn: “Christos anesti!” We try to keep our candles lit as we drive home to break the Lenten fast by cracking eggs and eating the delicate dill-and-egg-lemon soup made by the Big Eleni out of the lambs intestines.

(Actually, she doesn’t put in the intestines because she knows that our kids would never eat it. In fact one is a vegetarian. And after my visit to the market today, I understand perfectly.)

I hope wherever you are celebrating Easter or Passover -- in any language – you are enjoying warm spring weather. Here in Massachusetts it has finally stopped raining and will be a beautiful weekend. Kalo Pascha!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Magazine Divas--The First Pants Suit at the Office


 ( I recently read an amusing article about the history of women wearing pants suits, slacks, bloomers, whatever you call them, and I thought I'd re-visit this post about my early working days at Ladies Home Journal when we all were shocked to see a stylish female editor walk in wearing a pants suit.  I first posted this in November of  2009 and saw my first pants suit at the office in the mid-1960's
.)

(Looking for an illustration for this post, I googled for images from the great 1959 film --and novel by Rona Jaffe-- “The Best of Everything” about young women who work in a NYC publishing firm—The diva editor is played by Joan Crawford. They suffer terrible fates until they realize that they will be happier in quiet domesticity as housewives instead of living a miserable life as career women.

I was thrilled to find the image above—our heroine Hope Lange standing on Park Avenue in front of Lever House, because that was where I worked at my very first job. For six months after grad school I worked in PR for Lever Bros. I quit six months later after my (male) boss in P. R. kept taking credit for my work, including the coup of getting a news article positive to our company in the NY press.)



After the month as a MLLE. guest editor, having developed a taste for caviar, I revised my plans for the future. I’d return to the Midwest, finish college, and then head straight back to New York City and a magazine job. Maybe they’d even hire me at MLLE! I wanted more Lester Lanin dances, Central Park photo shoots, strolling at night in the Village with Peter S., the young man who introduced me to my first Communist (in the White Horse Bar) and taught me how to eat an artichoke.

I had not yet realized that the women on the staffs of Vogue, Glamour, Mademoiselle-- all the Conde Nasties-- had to have trust funds in order to pay for food, rent and expensive clothes. No one was making a living wage. (And no one, let’s be honest, is ever allowed to dress in the clothes from the Fashion Closet despite what you see on “Sex and the City” and "The Devil Wears Prada". You can borrow a dress for a working night out, but you have to return it.)

Three years later, in 1964, I was back in Manhattan looking for a job, armed with my Master’s in journalism. I tried out for a post as fiction-reader at the Saturday Evening Post and my written tryout was labeled “brilliant”, but when the legendary fiction editor Rust Hills met me and learned that I had neglected to read "Henderson the Rain King", I was out the door in minutes. So I settled for a post as editorial assistant in the Ladies Home Journal food department and considered myself lucky.

I was paid $80 a week and worked with two other young women in a windowless room next to the LHJ Test Kitchen. Shortly after the Beatles invaded New York in 1964, our kitchen became a popular gathering spot because word got around that you could scrape the insides of banana peels, toast the result and get high smoking it. Mellow yellow! We tested, but it didn’t work.

My boss was a celebrity food editor—Poppy Cannon. She was known for many things including "The Can-Opener Cookbook" and her multiple husbands, among them Walter White, the founder of the NAACP and Chef Phillipe of the Waldorf. Her sister was the designer, Anne Fogarty. (Since we’re talking the Pleistocene era here, I don’t expect you to recognize any of those names.)

Poppy was, as she often told us, the first woman elected to the Chevaliers de Tastevin. She would occasionally organize wine-tastings in the LHJ food kitchens, and I would assist. She would take a mouthful of wine, roll it around in her mouth like the connoisseur she was, then spit it out into a silver cup before cleansing the palate with a little bread and going on to the next wine. My job, which did not really require a master’s degree or a Phi Beta Kappa key, was to hold the cup into which Poppy spit.

Poppy was a glamorous and, yes, Amazonian woman who liked to wear long, sweeping dresses and matching turbans which increased her height to well over six feet. She often displayed various medals on her ample chest, pinned to sashes like royalty. She was, in fact, very sweet and not intimidating like Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly, but Poppy was rather needy and helpless.

She often didn’t feel like coming into the office, so I would have to go to her Park Avenue home. While she reclined on a chaise longue, wearing one of a dazzling wardrobe of peignoirs and muumuus, she would dictate her column for the magazine while I took notes. During the whole time I knew Poppy, the stove and oven in her kitchen did not work, so she would send me out to get lunch for both of us. And usually she had no cash on hand, so she’d tell me to expense it.

In the end, I wrote many of her articles myself, because, after a while, I got the hang of her uniquely florid style. Poppy also once invited me and a colleague out for a weekend at her house in Danbury. We were driven by a car and chauffeur, but it turned out that we were there to clean the house and serve at the table.

In those days, I was at an editorial luncheon when some of the women began reminiscing about the "Delineator". What, I asked, was the Delineator? That was like Amanda in The Devil Wears Prada saying “Can you spell Gabbana for me?” The journalists fell about laughing and sneering (“She’s never heard of the Delineator!”) and informed me it was one of the finest magazines ever published for women. When I looked it up later, I learned that it was published between1873 and 1937 and went out of business four years before I was born.

In my early years on MLLE and LHJ, I met a number of glamorous, larger-than-life women from the post-Pleistocene generation whom I call the Best of Everything editors-- because they are the ones Rona Jaffe was writing about in her book. Their names belong on the roll of visionary, intelligent, glamorous and sometimes impossible women who carried the torch in an era when Ladies Home Journal staff members were given aprons with the slogan “Never underestimate the power of a woman.”

There was Bruce Clerke, my personal editor at MLLE, who suffered my Midwestern naiveté with great good humor and tact, as when I tried to drink the shrimp cocktail at La Fonda del Sol during our first lunch. Bruce was a beautiful southern belle, (a college Azalea Queen, if I remember correctly). Perhaps her trademark silver hair inspired Meryl Streep’s portrayal of Miranda Priestly.

The fiction editor at LHJ was Phyllis Levy, a slender and vivacious woman who entranced a series of men but, to my knowledge, never married. (Her good friend Rona Jaffe wrote about Phyllis’s chameleon personality in the story “Rima the Bird Girl.”) One morning, as I was answering reader mail in my closet off the test kitchens, Phyllis dashed in clutching a bottle of champagne and a tin of caviar. “Put this in the refrigerator,” she commanded. “I met the most fabulous man and he’s flying me to Paris tonight.”

And the late Lois Benjamin Gould was the first editor to stride into the office wearing a pants suit. She looked thin, tragic and beautiful. Our jaws dropped. Anything that Lois did, we knew, must be the Next Big Thing. I believe this was after Lois’s husband had died and she dropped out of sight for about a year while she wrote Such Good Friends about discovering her husband’s adultery, another “fiction” book, like The Bell Jar and The Devil Wears Prada that was really faction.

At this time I was sharing an apartment on 14th Street with three young women, all in some form of journalism. Two were researchers on news magazines and, it’s true, the female researchers were expected to travel with the reporter, to help, research, support and socialize with him, but never to write. In those days, believe it or not, nobody got by-lines on the articles in Time, except for columnists. Nowadays, everybody who has anything to do with a piece gets his/her name at the end. Which is only fair.

We had fun, living in that sordid apartment with cardboard furniture and orange-crate shelves. We each chipped in a dollar a day for food. When Time closed on Friday nights, there was always a big buffet on the top floor and our Time/Life researcher roommate would often bring home leftovers. There was no swag for magazine assistants-–certainly not the way there is today--but I remember one Christmas when Restaurant Associates sent me a box made of chocolate with my named spelled out on the lid. Once in a while the Fashion Department would sell off clothes at a bargain-basement price and I snagged a dress that was originally worn by Twiggy in a fashion spread. When there was a subway strike, we’d compete to see who could walk to mid-town on time without stopping for a Chock Full O’Nuts doughnut on the way.

No doubt we were abused, underpaid, overworked and discriminated against because we were women, but that was before we’d ever heard terms like “glass ceiling” , “women’s liberation” and “car service” or read manifestos like TDWP. We didn’t even realize that we were storing up fodder for future exposés.

Footnote about Anna Wintour: I’ve never met her, but when I first had an article published in Vogue, she sent me a handwritten note saying that she liked it. I thought that was a very gracious thing to do.
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