Sunday, January 17, 2016

Our Big Fat Greek Baptism #2

All photographs by Erika Sidor
 Back when I was a child and attended a Presbyterian church, baptizing a baby was no big deal.  The parents and baby came down to the front for a few minutes after the Sunday service, the minister sprinkled some water on the baby’s head and said a few words, and it was over.  I don’t even remember that I had a godparent, although I must have.
When I married a Greek in 1970, I quickly learned that in the Greek church, baptisms are a really big deal, involving ritual, dancing and a fancy sit-down meal after the elaborate church service.  When Nick and I baptized our three children, the godparents presented their godchild with a new set of clothing and a gold cross.  And every time, my father-in-law, Christos, led the dancing while balancing a glass of Coca Cola on his head.  (And he never spilled a drop!) Here he is at the baptism of daughter Eleni in 1975.  She was only 11 months old, but after watching her Papou, she started dancing Greek-style, holding her little hands in the air.

Last November, on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, when daughter Eleni and her husband Emilio threw a baptism party for their second child, Nicolas José, no one danced with a glass on their head, but everyone had a rollicking good time, even nine-month-old Nicolas, once he got over being submerged three times in the baptismal font.
Here’s the family ready to leave for Saint Spyridon Cathedal in Worcester.  Nicolas is wearing the antique christening gown that his abuela, Carmen, brought from Nicaragua.  It’s been worn by babies of the Oyanguren family for over 100 years. Mommy and Amalia are dressed in accordance with the color palette Eleni chose for the baptism: dark blue, light blue and silver.  (Eleni works for Martha Stewart, so there’s a color palette for every party.)

Nicolas is always ready for a party!  Here he is waving at his about-to-be godmother Amy Ambatielos Pappas and her husband--another Nick.

Once he was carried to the baptismal font and Father Dimitrios Moraitis blessed the  water, Nico looked a little worried.  On the right is Nico’s godfather, Gerardo Baltodano Cantero, the brother of Emilio’s father Alvaro.  “Tio Gerardo” came from Nicaragua for the baptism along with his wife, Maria Caridad.
When Father Dimitri immersed Nico three times in the water the baby protested loud and long.
By the time his godparents had dried him off and dressed him in his new clothes, Nico had calmed down a bit, but still wasn’t happy.  Here his Godmother Amy leads a procession around the baptismal font to symbolize his new life as an Orthodox Christian, while his godfather Gerardo carries him.  
By the time everyone arrived at the Cyprian Keyes Golf Club, Nico was ready to party.  Eleni decorated the tables with the theme of Saint Nicolas, baby Nico’s patron saint, who is the protector of sailors.  The centerpiece on each table was a sailboat topped with two tiny flags—for Greece and Nicaragua.  The adult favors were small icons showing Saint Nicholas rescuing sailors from a storm, tied around the traditional bag of Jordan almonds. The children’s favors were sailboat cookies (and each child took home a sailboat.)
Here are Amalia and her Yiayia Joanie examining one of the sailboats.

Before the meal began, Eleni, Emilio and even Amalia welcomed everyone.  Once Amalia saw the power of a microphone, she didn’t want to give it back.

Nico’s Papou, Nick Gage, gave a beautiful blessing, saying in part, ”I want to wish him a long life full of the love, joy and wonder he is feeling today, I want to express the hope that all of us will be around to dance at his wedding…But if I don’t make it, I hope that those of you who do will tell him how deliriously happy I was today that he was given my name to carry on throughout this century…And finally I want to wish Nicolaki a blessing we say in my village: ‘May he live as long as the mountains’.”
Later it was time for photos.  Here is Nikolaki flanked by his godparents. Nick and Amy are holding their son Alki, who is looking forward to a sibling coming this year.
And here Nico is with his grandparents.  That’s Abuela Carmen Oyanguren on the right.
Then the dancing began.  Here’s Amalia leading Papou on the dance floor.
Now she’s in a line of dancers that includes her great-aunt Alexandra Stratis, her cousin Anthi Vraka, and her Mommy.

Even Nico’s non-Greek relatives from his Grandma’s side—namely Great Aunt Robin and Great Uncle Bob Paulson, cut a mean rug during the Greek dancing.  (But then Robin’s a professional dancer.)  At the far right is Amy’s Mom, Vicky Ambatielos, dancing with her grandson Alki.

Finally, Papou Nick asked little Nico if he would like to learn Greek dancing.  Nico said yes.

So, although the baby’s Papou Nick did not balance a glass of Coca Cola on his head, as his great-grandpa Christos used to do, Nico’s Papou gave him his first lesson in the kalamatianos, and that was even better.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

George Discovers New York City…Part Two

In my last post, chronicling the beginning of the action-packed day when I toured Manhattan with George, a young visitor from Greece, we encountered the Museum of Natural History, Columbus Circle, a series of three-star restaurants, and various street people on our way to Times Square.
When we got to Times Square, they were already setting up barriers and cameras in preparation for the next day’s New Year’s Eve dropping of the ball at midnight, which would be witnessed by an estimated one million people packed into the area (plus 6,000 cops hoping to keep them safe.)  One professional cameraman, setting up his tripod, said the ball would fall from just above the Toshiba sign above.
George took photos in all directions, and so did I.  The crowd frantically waved at the huge Revlon billboard, which kept zooming in on the people in the street below, including us.  It’s a kick to see yourself on a lighted billboard above Times Square!
Next George led me into the nearby Hard Rock Café, where he bought a tee-shirt, saying “We don’t have a single Hard Rock Café in Greece.”   Then it was on one block to Madame  Tussauds where the line of people waiting to get in stretched for what seemed like miles.

When we finally got in, after paying $40 each, we were herded into a large elevator to the 9th floor, called “Opening Night”, filled with film stars dressed in red carpet garb.  We would walk down to the other floors, each with a different theme.  The first statue to welcome us was Kim Kardashian and then Kanye West, seen here with George.

On the next floor I enjoyed seeing John Wayne with this elderly fan, and then Jennifer Lawrence with a much younger admirer.

Jimmy Fallon was interviewing this young lady.  And Don Draper was already celebrating Happy Hour.
I made George pose with Lucille Ball and Ernest Hemingway, even though he had no idea who they were.  There were floors with scientists and writers and inventors and a theater where we watched a six-minute 4-D Marvel Heroes film.  Evidently 4-D means that, when you see splashing water or a bullet whizzing by or a punch in the back or an explosion, you experienced it yourself, sitting right there in your chair, with water in the face, air whizzing by, and a poke in the back.
We passed through the floor featuring presidents past and present with their first ladies.  Obama and Michelle didn’t seem to mind two teenagers taking over the presidential desk.  And finally George reached the floor he had been waiting for, where he got to spar with Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali.
When we left Madame Tussauds, we walked across to Fifth Avenue, looked at the Library lions, then set out to walk up Fifth Avenue to see the  famous Christmas tree.  The sidewalks were so crowded that I kept thinking about how, in India on religious holidays, people who fall down are trampled to death by the crowds.  Luckily I didn’t fall down before we got to see the tree, with the skating rink in front of it and all the beautiful  lighted angels lining the way.  George was determined to be photographed with a New York police officer (don’t know why) and this gentleman obliged.
Finally, because George wasn’t able to mount the Freedom Tower or the Empire State Building the day before due to fog, we bought tickets to go to the Top of the Rock --the observation tower atop what we oldsters call the RCA building, right behind the tree. (In 1988 it became the GE Building and last year the Comcast Building.)  Halfway to the 67th floor, everybody got out and filed through a security checkpoint just like at the airport.

It was worth it, and the $32 tickets, because from the top we got amazing views of Manhattan at night, including the Empire State building that was decked in red and green lights for the holidays.
Once we were back on the ground we sprinted over to Loi Estiatorio on 132 West 58th Street where Nick was waiting for us.  There the owner and chef, Maria Loi, the official “Ambassador of Greek Gastronomy”, shared some of her cooking secrets with George.

After we caught our breath, George declared that he had seen a week’s worth of New York City in two days. I had to agree.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Touring New York City with George, Who’s 20…. Part One

 You often hear long-time New Yorkers say things like: “I’d never been to the Empire State Building (or the Statue of Liberty) until a friend came from out of town and wanted to go.”

That was pretty much my story, too, until George, a young man from Greece, came to Massachusetts and told us that his dream was to visit New York City.   And he had his own list of must-sees: The Empire State Building, Times Square, the Apple Store, the Hard Rock Café and especially Madame Tussauds. “Madame Tussauds?” I said. “I thought that was in London,” but George assured me there was one in Manhattan.

And because George is a budding chef, his must-see list included the famous New York restaurants that have three Michelin stars (there are five of them in Manhattan.)  He could recite the names of their chefs, just the way movie fans recite the names of their favorite film stars. We had only two days to show George all of that-- Dec. 29 and 30-- so we drove to Manhattan to stay in daughter Eleni’s apartment, which was empty over the holidays.

The first day, Nick took George to Ground Zero and the Empire State Building, but they didn’t go up either one, because heavy fog had covered the city and there was zero visibility.  But George did manage to get photographed outside the restaurant he most wanted to see – Eleven Madison Park (chef Daniel Humm, tasting menu $295. excluding beverages).  And Nick took him to the bustling Apple Store at 59th and Fifth Avenue, where George pondered buying a tablet.

The next day I was the tour guide and we had to pack a week’s worth of sight- seeing into 24 hours.  First stop was the Museum of Natural History. George had seen the film “A Night at the Museum”. We arrived before the museum opened at ten and the line of waiting families wound around the block.  As soon as we got in, we hit the high spots:

Here’s George, wearing camouflage,  posing in front of the elephants.  Next came the battle between the whale and the giant squid.

 Here’s the famous 94-feet-long blue whale hanging from the ceiling of the Hall of Ocean Life.  And of course the dinosaur skeletons, although they did not scamper around as they did in the movie.

Next we took the subway from 80th Street down to Columbus Circle, where we photographed the window washers dangling from the Trump International Hotel and Tower.  We admired the statue of Columbus in the center of Columbus Circle and I told George the story of how Mafia Boss Joe Colombo was shot right there in 1971  while addressing a huge crowd at the Italian Unity Day Rally, protesting the media's use of the word “Mafia.”.  (Nick covered it for The New York Times.)

Then we walked across to the Time Warner Center where we found, on the 4th floor of the Atrium, two of the three-star restaurants, Per Se (chef Thomas Keller, 9-course tasting menu $325 excluding beverages) and Masa (chef Masayoshi Takayama, prix fixe menu $450 excluding beverages.) We took pictures but we did not eat at either one.  You can probably figure out why.

Instead we walked  down Seventh Avenue to my personal favorite Greek restaurant Molyvos, between 55th and 56th, where we enjoyed the three-course Express Lunch menu for $28, with some nice wine from Santorini. Then we went around the corner to see the very trendy Milos Restaurant, whose chef is Costas Spiliadis—one of George’s idols.  We walked in to see the famous “fish market” in the back, where diners go to choose their seafood.  It's flown in daily from Greece and the prices start at $125 a pound and go up.

From 55th Street we started walking down Seventh to see Times Square.  I knew it would be crazy on the day before a million people crowded in on New Year’s Eve (plus 6,000 cops). As we approached, we encountered this homeless man, holding a sign that read, “Happy New Year!  No Family.  Nowhere to go. Please help raise $48 for a hostel.  Thank you! I Miss the Good Life.”

I gave him some change, he continued sleeping, and we moved on, encountering the infamous Naked Cowboy.  I had warned George about the scam artists who populate Times Square; topless women in bikinis and men dressed like Sesame Street or Star Wars characters. They come up to you, say, “Take a photo with me” and then demand $20 . So we stealthily photographed the Naked Cowboy from the back and moved on.

Next Blog Post:  George and I survive Times Square, shake hands with VIPs at Mme. Tussauds, marvel at the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center, and ride 65 floors up to the Top of the Rock.

Monday, January 4, 2016

A Grammar Rant to Start the New Year

Last Friday, the first day of 2016, I sent the following letter to the Public Editor of The New York Times.    I knew I was beating a dead horse.  I understood that ranting about the proper use of "lie" and "lay" is a lost cause, but I did it anyway:

"To the public editor of The New York Times:

It happened again yesterday, Dec. 31.  In an article on the front of the Arts section by Doreen Carvajal describing an installation at the Pompidou Center, the second paragraph begins: “Waves of undulating sand are dotted with upright slabs of mushrooms.  A rusting machine gun lays across a hospital gurney…..”

It also happened on Nov. 29, 2015 in a laudatory review of the book “Like Family” by Paolo Giordano, written by Jennifer Senior: “All while Mrs. A. lays dying—the ultimate solitary experience….”

As a professional journalist, I flinch every time I encounter a grammatical error like this in my beloved Times.  (Interestingly, when I looked up the Senior book review on line today, the error had been corrected.)

Three years ago I wrote on my blog “A Rolling Crone":

It's always an error in The New York Times that sends me off on a grammar rant -- and there was another one today (Thursday, March 28). In the Style Section, in a large, bold pull-quote from an article about photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith taken in the 1960s, I read: "After laying dormant for decades, a second life for photographs taken of a pair of artists on the cusp of fame." Of course, it's supposed to be: "after lying dormant...”

In the olden days, when I was being trained in New York Times style at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism, these errors would have been caught by people called copy editors, but I can only imagine that, in this very difficult period for all print media, The Times has been forced to fire all its copy editors for economic reasons. 

That thumping noise you hear is the late, lamented Times editor Ted Bernstein spinning in his grave. Once upon a time, Theodore M. Bernstein was the watchman of the venerable Great Gray Lady as well as a professor at Columbia J School. After he died in 1979, Time Magazine noted, "Theodore M. Bernstein, 74... served as the paper's prose polisher and syntax surgeon for almost five decades, authoring seven popular texts on English usage and journalism... In a witty Times house organ called 'Winners and Sinners,' the shirtsleeves vigilante caught solecists in the act."

At Columbia J School we often saw Bernstein's "Winners and Sinners" newsletter. Somewhat like the judges on American Idol, Ted Bernstein would periodically praise a brilliant headline or turn of phrase in the NYT and chide and make fun of grammatical and syntactical lapses.."
You might reply to me that nowadays, when almost no one uses “lie” and “lay” correctly, the readers of The Times don’t care about grammatical errors.  That’s what I thought too.  But when the blog post quoted here was published on the Huffington Post, on April 4, 2013 it received 958 likes, 243 shares and 728 comments—by far the largest response I’ve ever had to a post.

Please hire a copy editor!  The Times was the last bastion (in the U.S.) of proper English.