Spring…

This year we did not get much rain after December on Kea.  The landscape is quickly turning from green to yellow, although it is not yet too warm.  Still, spring is gloriously blossoming, and in shady spots green keeps its hold, and flowers keep surprising us with their elegant shapes and colors.  

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Scenes from our Island

During the first lockdown, a year ago, we started going on long walks either in the morning or in the afternoon.  We take the paved road near our house, at Otzias, but also explore the paths and dirt roads around it.  Each time we discover wonderful new angles of the island; we knew the place, but now we can appreciate it more, as we witness the constant changes in nature with the change of season.

 

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A Glorious V-Symposium

From all over the globe and with no need to travel –confinement not permitting—people had the chance to share many of the marvelous Oxford Symposium experiences from their homes…

 

I was quite ambivalent when, early Mars, the organizers decided to make the Oxford Symposium virtual. Let us wait, I said, hopefully things will be better by July… As we all know, of course, I was foolishly optimistic and fortunately the wise Symposium team decided in time to undertake the huge task to make everything happen online. They worked tirelessly, until the day of the opening events, and the result was –and still is, as it officially ends August 2– fascinating!

I was so sorry to have to cancel my much-anticipated annual trip to Oxford to meet friends from all over the world, listen to stimulating papers, and share fabulous meals at St Katz College’s stylish dining room. I even had bought my BA ticket to London last January –now it is ‘floating’ and with any luck I will be able to use it next year(!).

 

It all begun with an emotional greeting by Claudia Roden, the Symposium’s president, who emerged radiant speaking from her garden in London.

 

Throughout the July 10-12 weekend the plethora of video paper presentations and the Zoom meetings followed the relentless full-day schedule of several parallel sessions, much like the actual concurrent presentations at St Katz’s. (more…)

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Bringing Crete to Napa

We Greeks are thrilled that recently there seems to be a trend leading people back to the honest, no-frills, unadorned dishes that our grandmothers used to cook. Foreign visitors, especially those who are genuinely interested in food, often go to great lengths trying to find the long-forgotten, plain, everyday home cooking; and this is what we demonstrated at the Worlds of Flavor conference held last November in the renovated, wonderful Copia, in Napa Valley.

 

It was a foggy, bitingly cold morning as we stood at the back garden of Copia, in Napa.  With chefs Yiannis Tsivourakis and Dimitrios Mavrakis we had come for this fall’s Worlds of Flavor to present dishes from Crete to food professionals and chefs from all over the world. That morning we were giving our last workshop and tasting and had prepared a few more dishes in an open fire. As we were grilling and plating the stuffed calamari, the sunflower-seed-crusted cheese, and the smoky eggplant-pepper salad we almost forgot the humid cold, experiencing such warmth and genuine interest from the twenty or so participants. They tasted, expressed their gratitude, and asked relevant questions, making us proud and somewhat puzzled that the peasant-inspired, simple foods we learned from our ancestors were so enthusiastically received by savvy professionals.

 

See HERE the Video of our Ecolab presentations

 

The previous day at eight in the morning we were scheduled to deliver our big cooking demonstration at the Ecolab –the large, state-of-the-art amphitheater of Copia. We were somewhat afraid that very few if anybody would wake up at the crack of dawn to come see us. As we were being ‘wired’ with our microphones in the back room, all three of us were stressed and trying to concentrate and do exactly what we were supposed to do –show the slides, cook and plate our dishes, and especially keep the timing as it was planned. We had the feeling that we were fussy and nervous for no particular reason; besides the cameras that recorded the presentations, we didn’t expect more than a handful of people in the audience. Anne Mc Bride started to introduce me and as I stepped toward the podium and faced the audience I almost screamed seeing the vast amphitheater completely packed! Every single seat was occupied; there were even people standing in the back.

 

 

Chef Yiannis started the demo cooking the delicious olive-oil-fried snails with rosemary and vinegar.  Then he prepared my favorite tomato-braised chestnuts with pearl onions and mushrooms, a dish originally cooked in the villages high up in the rugged mountains above Chanea, on western Crete.

 

(more…)

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Being Gay in Athens Fifty Years ago

A Personal account by Aris Davarakis*

 

How lucky was I to have lived and grown in a circle where homosexuality, and sexuality in general, was never a problem!  This thought returns to me every June, at the time of the Athens Gay Pride.  Really, how lucky was I, to have in my youth a powerfully influential, yet also very discreet, mentor who taught me early on to be proud of who I am, have a sense of humor, and live a life filled with love.  This mentor was Manos Hadjidakis, mostly known internationally for the Academy Award for Best Original Song he received in 1960.  That song, ‘Never on Sunday’, sang by Melina Mercouri, was part of the music score Hadjidakis composed for Jules Dassin’s eponymous movie.

 But ‘Never on Sunday’ is just a very small part of what Hadjidakis used to be.  For he was not merely a composer, song maker, verse writer, and poet.  He was an active citizen eager to present his views on every possible aspect of life and public affairs, community and society, art and politics, human behavior, relationships, nature, philosophy.  His wisdom was shaped by his aversion for pretense and everything fake.  He loved sincere communication and had a great sense of humor that would help him through his various angry debates, disputes and fights.  At the same time, he was warm and generous, and a great friend.  

 

And he was openly gay.  He simply loved and fell in love all the time, without fanfare or reserve.  I worked with him when he oversaw the Greek Public Radio, ERT 3—the famous Trito Programma— an important cultural institution that thrived from 1977 to 1981.  At that time, cultural life in Greece was dominated by three gay men: besides Hadjidakis there was the painter Yiannis Tsarouchis, and the theatrical director Karolos Koun, each one crucially influencing different domains and all together inspiring Greece’s overall culture after WW2. They were all openly gay, and at the same time friends with the (very strictly straight) President of the Republic Constantine Karamanlis.  On Sundays, they’d often dine together at the Glyfada Golf Club, never matter who was what or who they fell in love with.  This was what characterized my 70ies and 80ies.

 

Manos and I were very close, and I was gay too.  We worked hard every day at the radio, producing shows that set the foundation for Greece’s cultural scene for decades to come.  I had already composed lyrics for him, a very rare privilege, and our first cooperation San Palio Cinema (like and old movie house) was a huge hit in the country: music composed by a 50-year old gay man, with the verse of a 20 year-old gay writer; an erotic song, still played on the Greek radio-waves, loved by the gay and straight alike.  Those times were different.  We openly flirted with anyone we happened to like, we laughed, and enjoyed life as it came.  Our otherness, our sexuality, our love affairs, and relationships were never a problem.  In 1980, in my first interview, I simply and matter-of-factly came out as gay without any second thoughts. 

 

Yet, this self-evident acceptance we enjoyed along such great luminaries within an overall strict, traditional Greek society of fifty years ago, was surely not the common experience of all gay women and men.  Because of Manos Hadjidakis I never had to fight for my basic human rights like many others still do.  I was just so lucky to meet him!

 

* Aris Davarakis is a well-known Athenian Journalist, Poet, and Author

 

 

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