Had A Little Greek in Me

It’s not quite Father’s Day, but I don’t think I need to wait another week to honor my dad.  I called him yesterday to ask if he could make time to help me swab my deck.  I had considerable debris from those stupid maple tree seeds on deck, in the cracks of it and on top of my upgraded seamless gutters.

So of course, he came over first thing this morning, when I was still in bed and I Tazmanian-deviled it to get myself together and start the job.

He brought the shop vac and the power washer and we tackled the job, as always, and when we finished, he promised to help me again next week when I prepare to re-stain the deck for the summer.  He is ALWAYS there for my sisters and me with the kind of integrity that comes from the old country, I guess.

Dad at sixteen
Dad at sixteen

Dad escaped the Iron Curtain in 1956.  He was sixteen years old and decided that he wanted to live in America.  So he basically ran away from home via a five-mile walk to Greece.  He was apprehended by Greek soldiers and brought to an Athens refugee camp.  Then his great uncle sponsored him and he made his way to his new life here in Syracuse.

Dad and fellow refugees sitting in front of the Parthenon in 1956
Dad and fellow refugees sitting in front of the Parthenon in 1956

Every year he has a new story to tell us about his life and it really never ceases to amaze me.  The most recent was when he shared what it was like when the German soldiers were occupying the village of Velushina, some sleeping in their house during World War II.   I can’t imagine living through that incredibly harrowing experience, especially in light of my very happy-go-lucky life as an artist.  I am really a very lucky person to have such a profound heritage and of course, I know how lucky I am that my parents are still here with us when many of my friends have lost theirs.

When I was little. we told people we were Yugoslavian.  But then Yugoslavia busted up into five separate countries and ours was Macedonia.

In my authentic Macedonian costume circa 1973
In my authentic Macedonian costume circa 1973

The Macedonian culture is relatively similar to the Greek one.  The music is the same, the folk dances are similar and so is the food (it’s the Mediterranean diet).  There is a part of Macedonia that is in Greece too and this is the subject of the kind of political debate that seems as silly as the episode of old Star Trek when there were people who had half back face and half white face at war with people who had half white face and half black face.

St. Sophia’s Greek Orthodox Church in Dewitt, NY is only a quarter of a  mile from my parents’ house.  They have a festival every June with live music, costumed performances, and Greek cuisine including spanikopita, which is almost the best ever spinach and cottage cheese pastry.  (Sorry, but the best was the stuff my late great-aunt Lefterija Jim used to make – hands down.)  We always park at Mom and Dad’s and walk there, and have been doing this for the last thirty or so years.

The performances this year were really out-of-this world great.  I just loved the new costumes that represented the region of 1930s yesteryear.

1930s era wedding in Velushina, Macedonia courtesy of the Jovanovski archives
1930s era wedding in Velushina, Macedonia courtesy of the Jovanovski archives

The women wore traditional garb but the men had on suits and newsboy caps!

Greek dancers perform for the crowd at St. Sophia's Greek Fest, Dewitt, NY
Greek dancers perform for the crowd at St. Sophia’s Greek Fest, Dewitt, NY

20150613_204817_0

20150613_204513

20150613_204502

I saw so many people last night – Macedonian and Greek friends, and friends from the neighborhood where I grew up.  The kind of friendships that pick up right where we left off.

20150613_203930

20150613_203920

20150613_210556

20150613_203934_0

20150613_204822

20150613_204859

20150613_205448

20150613_210018

20150613_204910

As far as art goes, there are some incredible icons on the walls of the small church.

Icons painted by Mrs. Smith at St. Sophia's Greek Orthodox Church
Icons painted by Mrs. Smith at St. Sophia’s Greek Orthodox Church

They were painted by the priest’s wife.  She learned the technique from a master iconographer; I think it’s a combination of fresco, egg tempera and gold leaf on hardwood.  She used a stencil for the imagery so that the icons have unity.

20150613_183056

My sister and I watched her demonstrate her technique during the festival last year,  She is Orthodox, but not technically Greek by DNA.

priests wife

20150613_183106

I am not Greek (although I have never had my DNA tested) nor a member of the Greek church – in 1968, Dad was an integral part of bringing a Macedonian Orthodox church to Syracuse.  That festival is in August.

But after dancing, checking out the fun displays in the church gym and the icons on the walls of the church, and eating a pita and a marinated chicken kebab (chicken souvlaki), drinking wine and folk dancing, I definitely had a little Greek in me.

It all reminds me of the joke Coach Walter Dodge, my elementary school gym teacher once told.  He said, “Ask me anything in any language.  That’s right, I can understand any language – except Greek.”  Of course we all tried to stump this man we held in high regard.  After all, at the time I actually thought the guy invented Dodge Ball! So I said something in Macedonian – in my limited non-fluent fashion.  He paused for just the right amount of time and said, “It’s all Greek to me.”

If you live in the area, the festival is still going on until around 7pm today.  It’s located on the corner of Waring Road and Tecumseh Road in Dewitt, New York.

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s