Monday, September 20, 2010

Street Art – Worcester’s Got It!

(Please click on the photos to make them bigger.)

Today’s Worcester Telegram and Gazette shouted in a front page spread that 40,000 art lovers flocked to StART on the Street yesterday to view and buy the art and crafts of about 250 local artists.

Maybe 40,000 is a wee exaggeration, but seeing the event, which took up several blocks of Park Avenue, filled me with pride in Worcester. I realized that there is a burgeoning community of talented artists in these parts, some of whom came from outlying communities to sell their creations. I am constantly amazed at the power of the creative urge (especially in older folks, like my fellow crones) that inspires people to spend their weekends and spare hours creating art out of an incredible variety of materials.

Yesterday I saw artists working with media ranging from painting, sewing, knitting, glass blowing, mosaic, iron welding, and furniture building, to feathers, gourds, dolls --even forks. (Matthew Bartik, whose business is aptly named “Fork Art” was so busy selling sculptures he has created by bending forks that you had to wait in line to get up to his table to pay him.)

A new wrinkle in this year’s StART on the Street was having artists demonstrate their craft. For instance there were three blacksmiths—one of them a woman-- another woman spinning yarn on a spinning wheel, and a huge “community quilt” of designs chalked on the street surface by anyone who wanted to create a square.

There were scads of small children (and small dogs in odd costumes). It was interesting to see the children transfixed as they interacted with a knight in shining armor, fencers fencing, craftsmen demonstrating how to carve and saw wood, even a lady covered in bronze paint and sitting on a ladder looking as still as a statue—these real-live artists were more interesting to the youngsters then anything they might see on television because they could hold the knight’s sword or saw on a log with the wood cutter, collect the wood chips and draw on the pavement with chalk. They were being entertained by the dancers and musicians and the man with the shell game and they were learning something about arts and crafts at the same time.

I saw a lot of paintings and prints and photographs I liked, and bought a few cards of Worcester photos from Dick Taylor. I also bought a little brown fabric doll with dreadlocks who is sitting in a rocking chair holding a miniature teacup. For gifts I purchased a couple pieces of “fork art” and a lacey wooden bowl crafted by Al Wheeler from solid oak using a scroll saw.

The food and drink booths had block-long lines and kept running out. All the artists I spoke to were thrilled with the business they were doing. It was a perfect day—not too cold and mostly not too hot. As I left StART on the Street, I walked through Elm Park, the oldest piece of land in the United States set aside for a public park in 1854. It has been full of outdoor art for two months, including a “fountain” made of empty plastic bottles gushing from a tree into the lake. (This year I noticed a lot of art is being made from recycled plastics—everyone’s thinking “green.”)

On the way to my car I took a photo of my favorite three-deckers—Worcester’s trademark architectural form, originally designed to house the families of the immigrant factory workers who crowded the streets at the turn of the last century, when Worcester was a thriving industrial center.

Today the city is much less crowded and many of the public buildings are empty, but on a day like yesterday, it was clear that, when it comes to encouraging arts and crafts, Worcester is worthy of its (usually) ironic nickname, “The Paris of the Eighties.”

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Our Big Fat Greek Engagement Party

(Click on the photos to make them bigger.)

(The mathematical formula Eleni worked out for the wedding is: E squared plus 10 cubed equals double happiness.)

On Friday Sept. 3, the Taylor Rental guys brought the tent (20 by 60 feet long) and assembled it in our back field just as other citizens of Massachusetts were boarding up their windows in preparation for the arrival of Hurricane Earl. Dan, who does our mowing, had spent a week cutting down blackberry bushes and chopping limbs off trees to make room for it.

Because daughter Eleni will be marrying her fiancé Emilio on the Greek island of Corfu on 10-10-10, we wanted to throw an engagement party over the Labor Day weekend at our home to share the joy with family and friends who couldn’t travel to Greece in October.

We invited about 200 people, suspecting that many would be away for the holiday weekend, but by the time the tent was going up, 176 people had told us they were coming from as far away as Arizona, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Miami and lots from New York.

A million things could have gone wrong, including the hurricane, but they didn’t. I forgot to put floating candles in the pool and tiny blue flowers around the cake, but it didn’t matter . Everyone has been e-mailing for a week, posting photos on Facebook and saying how they loved the party because it was authentically Greek and so full of joy.

Eleni wanted a celebration (and a wedding) that was not grand but put together by her family and friends, saying “It takes a village to plan a wedding.” And that’s what happened.

Her sister Marina designed the intertwined E’s (for Eleni and Emilio) that became the logo, written on everything from the invitations (also designed and printed by Marina) to the cake and the favors (boubonnieres in Greek)—filled with Jordan almonds.

Marina managed to get the logo embroidered on handkerchiefs and then Big Eleni labored many days and nights turning the handkerchiefs, ribbons and candy into 200 favors which awaited the guests on the tables under the tent.

Eleni and Emilio chose a blue and white wedding because those are the colors of both the Greek and the Nicaraguan flags. (Emilio is from Nicaragua.) I assembled the centerpieces of hydrangeas (and flags) on the morning of the party and criss-crossed the 17 tables under the tent with ribbons.

As people drove up, one of Eleni’s cousins, Nick, and his son, Evan directed the parking. In the pool area, the wait staff were ready with welcome drinks, including the “Blissini” that Eleni chose-- prosecco, orange and pomegranate juice, and two pomegranate seeds each (because, as my husband, Nick, pointed out, in Greece pomegranates symbolize good luck and fruitfulness.)

Under our grape arbor was a small table holding the wedding bands and an icon of Christ. Our priest, Father Dean, aided by Father Greg, spoke the prayers for the blessing of the rings, then the couple exchanged the bands, putting them on their left hands. (On the wedding day, they will switch them to the right as is done in Greece.) Governor Mike Dukakis and Kitty were among the guests watching the blessing.

After Nick, the Father of the Bride, made some remarks honoring the young couple, he invited everyone to sit in the tent outside in the field. Nearby, the 24-foot-long buffet table was loaded with Greek dishes prepared by the catering staff of Aliki and Anastasios Benisis, owners of Ciao Bella restaurant.

There was a separate table groaning with lavishly decorated trays of sweets brought by many of the Greek ladies—baklava, kataifi, revenni. When the party was over everyone went home clutching high-calorie “goodie bags”. Below, the Big Eleni is giving a box of sweets to Mike and Kitty Dukakis.

On the dessert table was a cake with the intertwined E’s made—at Eleni’s request—by Evie, the Cake Lady who works in a red barn down the road, and who has made just about every birthday cake we’ve served.

After comments by me (the M.O.B.) and the groom, the DJ, George Regan, played “You’re just too good to be true”—the Frankie Valli song that will be the couple’s first dance in Corfu. They showed us the steps they’ve learned so far, then the DJ changed to Greek music and the crowd launched into line-dancing worthy of Zorba the Greek. Eleni’s Aunt Kanta led the dance, looking lovely in a blue dress she wore exactly 40 years ago when Nick and I were wed.

I remember our big fat Greek wedding in Worcester 40 years ago, which was attended by eight Presbyterian WASPs (from my Minnesota family) and about 300 Greeks. It went on for three days, but Eleni and Emilio’s wedding will be three celebrations spread over two continents and six weeks.

Part two will happen on Oct. 6, when the hardiest of the Corfu-bent wedding guests will party in the inn in Nick’s mountaintop village of Lia in Northern Greece.)

It will all culminate, God willing, on Corfu on 10-10-10 at the foot of the Crusader castle overlooking the harbor.

I think what made the engagement party so memorable was all the love for Eleni and Emilio that was gathered under that tent, from their friends, family and the members of the community who worked so hard to make it wonderful.

As Eleni said, it takes village to plan a wedding.