Friday, June 27, 2014

THE BABES

To a cyclist the number 13 followed by the % sign is scary shit.  That's exactly what I thought when I saw the number on my bicycle computer as I climbed Spyglass Hill -- holy shit!  You see I've basically been off my bicycle for a couple of months,  thinking that if I didn't bike my shoulders would heal, and all would be good.  But, it's been six months and the shoulders haven't healed, and since they don't feel any worse on the bike than off the bike, I figured I'd rather be on the bike.  Get my drift?   OK, now back to that 13%.

It all started on a Friday Babes ride.  I probably haven't written directly about the Babes because I've wanted to keep them/us a secret, but after today's fantastic ride (6/27/14), it's time to spill the beans.

The ride started after a 2 hour drive from my house to Pacific Grove, a quaint seaside community between Monterey, California and Carmel -- two gorgeous places that are on the list in the book A Thousand Places to See Before I Die.   All eight of us met up in front of the bathrooms at Lovers Point.  I know that doesn't sound very romantic, but you always have to start a ride near a bathroom.




TODAY'S BABES





ONE OF OUR MANY GORGEOUS VIEWS

We headed south, some of the time on the road, and other times on bike paths.   Riding through the toll booth at the entrance to 17 Mile Drive and not have to stop to pay was a kick because cyclists get to use the private road for free, while cars pay a rather hefty fee.  The weather started out a little bit foggy, which is typical for the California Coast this time of year, but after an hour or so, the sun came out, and we began shedding layers.   There had been some earlier rumblings about Spyglass Hill, so I figured there would be a good climb at some point, but I certainly wasn't expecting something as steep as 13%.  Most people laugh when they see how low my bike gears are.  I'm no dummy.    I did not get off my bike to get up Spyglass Hill.  I didn't even have to weave back and forth across the road like Miss Nameless, but heck, she made it to the top without stopping, so who really cares how she did it!






NO MATTER HOW MUCH I ENLARGE THIS PHOTO, IT'S IMPOSSIBLE TO SEE
13%

Enough about Spyglass Hill because the rest of the ride was pretty comfy.  There were some rollers, of course, but to me that's a perfect ride.  I even like climbing hills, even steep hills, but it's better if I'm in top form, like I was when I rode Mount Tam last summer.  Even better than the roads was our delicious lunch at the outdoor cafe at the municipal golf course, often called Poor Man's Pebble Beach.  I played golf there once, but I hung up my clubs when I realized I was better at riding a bike. 




ANOTHER GORGEOUS VIEW LOOKING SOUTH TO THE VILLAGE OF CARMEL



CANDICE AND JULIE ON THEIR PHONES -- "HEY, WHERE ARE YOU GUYS?"







IPHONES HAVE LOUSY WIDE-ANGLE LENS, SO NOT EVERYONE MADE IT IN THIS PICTURE





After lunch we rode back through famous Cannery Row and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, or at least close to it, and then Fisherman's Wharf on a path that was very crowded with kids on trikes,  pretty serious runners, and tourist cyclists, which means bike riders who are slow and don't have a clue as to what they are doing.  Eventually we got on the sand dunes path that had a magnificent view south overlooking Monterey Bay and north to the beach town of Santa Cruz.  I've seen that dunes path a hundred times before when driving on Highway #1, but this was the first time I'd actually ridden it.  Very cool indeed.  



A VIEW FROM THE DUNES PATH LOOKING SOUTH TO MONTEREY



At one point on the dunes path, a few of the Babes turned around, but I kept going until I reached another Miss Nameless who looks like she's barely pedaling, but she goes like the wind.  She was sitting on a guardrail at the top of a short hill waiting for me, while I huffed and puffed up the hill to meet her.   At that point we decided to turn back and head for the commercial fishing wharf in Monterey because she was hoping to buy some fresh fish for dinner.  Well, the commercial wharf was really quite an interesting scene with very large refrigerated trucks waiting to pick up fresh fish right from the boats.   There were no tourists.  Just working stiffs and a couple of cyclists hoping  to buy fresh fish.  


CHECK OUT THE ICE IN THE RED CONTAINERS WAITING TO LOAD ALONG WITH THE FRESH FISH



When that didn't work out, we headed to a local market where we knew we could buy really fresh, and we did.  My friend didn't have a backpack or any place to carry the fish for the rest of the five mile ride back to our car, so she stored the fish packed in a plastic bag with ice under her bike shirt and zipped up her jacket, and prayed it would hold until we reached the car.  And it did.


WHAT A VERY CREATIVE WAY TO CARRY FRESH FISH




HOW MANY SEALS DO YOU SEE IN THIS IPHONE PICTURE?




The rest of our bike ride was pretty straightforward except when we went to load our bikes in my car which was parked in a quiet residential area just off a busy street.  That's when a lovely man came out of his house and said, "Ma'am, your car alarm went off twice today.  I thought you should know."  "Oh, my God," I said.  "I'm so sorry.  What happened?  How did you stop it?"  "I didn't," he said.  "It eventually went off by itself.  Then the second time the horn went off, I tried to jiggle the driver's door because I noticed it wasn't shut tight, even though the car was locked.  Again, the horn eventually shut off by itself."  Of course, I was mortified, but there was nothing I could do but tell him how sorry I was, and I hoped I didn't ruin his or his neighbors' day, but he seemed very nonchalant.  Just got in his car and drove away.



So, that's my story about today's great bike ride in Pacific Grove and Monterey with The Babes.  Just think.  Some people spend thousands of dollars to travel here and ride their bikes on the same beautiful route we did today.   All I spent was $15.00 for lunch and three-quarters of a tank of gas.

  
$15 BUCKS AND 3/4 OF A TANK OF GAS!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

EXPLORING MY ROOTS - EPILOGUE

When I woke up in Samarina,  the sun was shining, and the sky was bright blue.   Where did yesterday's fog go, I wondered. Then it hit me.  Turning to Bruce, I said, "You know what that thick fog was about, don't you?"   Not giving him a second to answer,  I continued, "It's all because of my Mother.  She made it happen."  There was no doubt in my mind that my Mother was responsible for the fog we encountered yesterday because she wanted to make sure our trip to the high mountain village of Samarina was as dangerous and as difficult as it had been for her all those many years ago.  That's why she told me I could only go to Samarina in August because the snow would be gone by then.   Since there was no snow on our trip in May, like there had been in her day, she created the fog.   I couldn't wait to share my insights with Susan and Maddy.   "Oh, you are absolutely right," Susan said, and although Maddy never knew her great grandmother, she'd heard enough stories, so she agreed too.  You see that's the way Lucia Perkins was.  A little bit Miss Smartypants, a little bit Miss Vindictive, and a lot of Miss I-Told-You-So.   We all had a good laugh, but knowing that Lucia and Nick were along for the ride kept us smiling all day.  


LUCIA PERKINS, 1986




After a good night's sleep in Likos' almost-new hotel and an unusual breakfast of a thick creamy rice soup,  the four of us climbed in the red jeep, and with Likos as our chauffeur, we set off to explore the town.   The best way to describe our morning in Samarina is to call it a love fest with strangers.  To all the people we met, we were the Pispirikos girls (poor Bruce), and we had our introductory letter that my cousin wrote in Greek to back us up.  In some instances, we produced the family photos, and even though no one knew us, there were a lot of oohs and ahhhs and even more hugging and kissing.  To the Samarina villagers, we were their long-lost Vlach-American kissing cousins.



SOUP FOR BREAKFAST?






SUSAN TALKING WITH 86-YEAR-OLD ALEXANDRA WHO REMEMBERED MY PARENTS WHEN THEY WOULD COME TO SAMARINA TO  VISIT


 That morning we had an experience that can only be called one of those six degrees of separation things.  Here's what happened.  While having coffee in the platia (plaza) in front of Likos's restaurant, we met Zisis Davaras, who spoke pretty good English.  He overheard us talking, so he pulled up his chair next to ours and asked if we were from the United States.  "I have a second cousin who lives in Haverhill, Massachusetts," he said.  "Perhaps you know him."  Under different circumstances, I would have politely laughed and said No, the United States is a big country, and we live in California, thousands of miles away, blah, blah, blah.   But this time I told him my parents lived in New Hampshire, and they had many Vlach friends who lived in Haverhill.     "His name is Mike Valhoulis," Zisis said.  "Do you know him?"  "Mike Valhoulis," I shrieked.  Really, Mike Valhoulis?"  I was shocked.  "Of course, we know Mike Valhoulis.  He and his family were very close friends with my Mom and Dad, and I knew him too--a long time ago."  








DRINKING COFFEE IN THE PLATIA WITH ZISIS AND LIKOS'S BROTHER




LIKOS AND ZISIS DAVARAS READING OUR LETTER OF INTRODUCTION
(L-R)  ZISIS, MADDY, SUSAN, BRUCE & LIKOS'S BROTHER


  When Zisis heard my reply, he reached for his cell phone and punched in the number for Mike Valhoulis in Massachusetts, and lucky for us, Mike answered.  In Greek or most likely in the Vlach language, Zisis asked Mike,  "Do you know the Pispirikos family from New Hampshire?"  "Of course, I do," Mike replied.  "Well, there are three members of the Pispirikos family here with me in Samarina right now."  Then Zisis handed me the phone.   For the next ten minutes, we had a reunion with Mike, catching up on our lives, as Susan and I passed the phone back and forth between us.   Mike not only knew my parents well, but also my brother, who is Susan's father and Maddy's grandfather.   






ZISIS CALLING MIKE VALHOULIS IN MASSACHUSETTS
























HELLO,  IS THIS MIKE?





AFTER OUR TRIP I SENT MIKE VALHOULIS THIS PICTURE MADDY TOOK OF SAMARINA


This small world story will underscore something that most of my close friends already know about me:  I have six degrees of separation and small world encounters often.  Some of the stories might make an interesting post, but until that time, I will tell you one more that relates to this Samarina story.  

A few months ago I went to see a new doctor about my sore shoulder.  He was a young guy with a long name that ended in "ouros," so, of course, he was Greek.  We took a few minutes to exchange details about our roots, and although his family was from the south, he was familiar with the village names of Samarina and Vouvusa because he thought that his in-laws' family may have come from there.  He gave me their email address and encouraged me to contact them.  In an email reply from his aunt, I learned that her parents were from Samarina and Vouvusa (formerly Biasa) too, and that their best friends in Haverhill, Massachusetts were the Valhoulis.  


GOOD-BYE SAMARINA

So, that's the story of reconnecting with my Vlach heritage.  A few days ago I was with a friend who had read the first installment of my "roots" blog, and I was touched when she said, "Your blog made me realize that I too have a tribal heritage."    I guess in some way we all do.





Wednesday, May 28, 2014

EXPLORING MY ROOTS

What a weird feeling to be standing on the same stone bridge as the one in the photograph that hung on the wall in my parents' house all the years I was growing up.   When I was a little kid,  my mother would point to that picture and tell me how the ancient bridge in her Greek-Vlach village was one of the few landmarks that survived the destruction during a Balkan war.   And here I was, many years later, looking out at the same beautiful view that my mother saw when she crossed that bridge as a child.   




THE BRIDGE IN MY MOTHER'S VILLAGE




I had a similar reaction when I saw the church in Samarina, the village where my father was born.    It wasn't just the church that brought me to tears.  It was seeing the lone pine tree growing out from the church's apse, just the way Daddy said it did.  Over the years I'd forgotten about that tree, but now, with my own eyes, I could see the tree looking strong and healthy which made me feel really homesick for my Dad. 



 
IN SAMARINA THE PINE TREE IS STILL GROWING OUT OF THE APSE FROM 
THE VILLAGE CHURCH IN 2008  





NOTE THE CHURCH AND THE SIZE OF THE PINE TREE.  THIS PHOTO WAS TAKEN FROM A BOOK PUBLISHED IN 1914 ENTITLED  THE
NOMADS OF THE BALKANS:  AN ACCOUNT OF LIFE AND CUSTOMS AMONG THE
VLACHS OF NORTHERN PINDUS




In 2008, four of us traveled together on what I like to call "exploring Pam's roots trip."  There was my niece, Susan, her daughter Maddy, and Bruce and I.   With the exception of Bruce whose Jewish roots come from Eastern Europe, we were three generations of Greek-American Vlach women, visiting the birth place of our parents, grandparents and great grandparents in the remote mountain Vlach villages in Greece

 We started our trip in Ioannina, a university town that sits on the edge of a beautiful lake in northwestern Greece, in the Epirus region to be exact. Ioannina is the home of an extended family of Brajitulis cousins, once, twice and three times removed.   Only a few of them spoke English, but all of them were eager to see us.  I'm not sure we knew what to expect; we certainly didn't imagine they would roll out the red carpet, but they did.  In each of the three Brajitulis households we visited, we were greeted with shouts of joy,  hugs and kisses, and more delicious food than we could possibly consume.  From the stories (and jokes) told to us in Greek but translated into English, we learned how my parents -- Nick and Lucia -- were adored, and how much their visits back to their homeland meant to the families who stayed behind.   My niece Susan and her daughter Maddy brought a large manila envelope of historical photographs they found in my mother's belongings after she died.   I brought the family stories, and Bruce brought the video camera.    


A FEW MEMBERS THE BRAJITULIS FAMILY WITH PAM, SUSAN & MADDY



My mother used to say, Pammywhen you go to Greece, you will have to go in August because up there in the mountains, the snow doesn't melt until June, and the roads don't open until July.   Since August can be a very hot month, I'm sure I added  "heat" to my long list of reasons why I didn't want to go to Greece.  

Well, my roots trip was in May, and maybe it was climate change, I don't know, but the snow was long gone,  and the roads were perfectly clear.   And yet, on the day we drove to my father's village of Samarina,  travel was a nightmare, due to the dense fog we encountered as we drove up to this mountain town, known as the highest village in all of Greece.   At one point, the visibility was so bad, Susan stepped out of the car to see if we were still driving on the main road.  Telling this story now sounds amusing, but at the time it was a little scary because we weren't on a road at all, but instead we were driving in a parking lot next to a ski lift. After finding ourselves back on a paved road, we stopped to ask for directions.   When we heard the musical clanging of bells and spotted the herd of goats, we asked the shepherd in English how we should go, but all he heard was blah, blah, blah, so he was no help at all.  And as far as the bartender in Smixie was concerned, he too only heard blah, blah, blah.  


SUSAN, MADDY AND PAMMY CALLING OUT "WHERE ARE WE? "


About that time I noticed there were reception bars showing on my cell phone, so I called the number of the hotel in Samarina where we were staying  and hoped someone would understand me.   The phone rang a couple of times and suddenly I heard a man's voice shouting, "Pamela, Pamela.  Is that you?"  "Yes, it's me," I shouted back, wondering how he knew my name or how he knew the call was from me.  Again, he shouted, "Pamela, is that you?  It's Likos."   Then I remembered that the Greek word for Yes is Neh, which, of course, sounds like the English word for No.   In desperation and hoping I would be understood, I shouted back to Likos "Yes, No, Yes. I mean Neh, Neh, Neh."  Suddenly the line went dead.  "Oh, damn," I said to the others in the car, "I lost him."   A minute later my cell phone rang, and a woman's soft voice speaking English with only a slight accent said, "Pamela, is that you?"  "Neh, Neh," I  responded quickly without thinking.  "I mean "Yes, Yes. I'm Pamela."  She said her name was Stella, and  she was Likos's daughter.   She asked where we were, and although I wasn't entirely sure, I told her we were on the road outside of Smixie.  "Stay where you are," she said.  "My father is coming to find you.  Look for a red jeep."  And then I heard a click.  She hung up.  So, we turned off the engine of our rental car and crossed our fingers waiting for the red jeep.  Thirty minutes later out from the dense fog, the red jeep appeared.  A man with a sweet-looking face and a big grin rolled down the window and said,   "Pamela, is that you?  It's Likos."   "Neh, Neh," I shouted back with relief.   He made a U-turn in the road and signaled that we should follow him.

Finally we arrived at the comfortable hotel Likos owned in the Vlach village of Samarina, but we were starving, since the box of baklava we'd eaten for breakfast was long gone.  I called Likos's daughter on my cell phone and told her how happy we were to be in her dad's hotel, but now we were hungry and had no idea where to find food, since we thought we were on the outskirts of town.   "I'll call you back,"  she said.   A few minutes later my cell phone rang and Stella said, "My dad will take you to eat in a restaurant in town."  "Oh, that's so nice," I said.  "We'd really appreciate it."  Hoping she could come along and serve as our translator, I added, "Would you be able to join us?"   She laughed and thanked me for the invitation.  "I'm in a boarding school about three hours away, " she said, "so it's not possible,  but you will like the food."  That's when I realized, with amusement, that the translator for our communication with Likos was nowhere near the location where the conversation was taking place.

All four of us piled into Likos's jeep, and in the heavy fog he drove into town, parked the jeep, and escorted us into a rustic taverna.   The unassuming place was bustling with activity and very noisy until the five of us stepped through the front door.  That's when everyone went silent.  Even the server stopped to see what was happening, and they all watched as Likos led the four of us to a table nearby,  sat us down and handed us menus.  Soon conversations around us began to resume,  but it was clear people were very curious who we were and wondering why Likos was escorting us into the restaurant.   We nodded appreciatively,  as he  pointed to some items on the menu he thought we might like. As he strutted into the kitchen, Likos puffed himself up like a proud peacock, all the while grinning and looking back at us and then over to the other patrons as if to say to them these people are mine.  That's when we figured out that Likos owned the restaurant! 


The red carpet was rolled out for us again.  Likos emerged from the kitchen carrying a platter of grilled sausages, lamb chops, and fried potatoes slathered with melted goat cheese.   And, of course, there was the ubiquitous Greek salad and plenty of dense bread, the white kind with a thick crust, good for soaking up whatever juices remained on our plates.   Likos sat down and ate with us at the table, seemingly content that everyone was happily scarfing down his delicious food.    








SUSAN, MADDY & BRUCE IN LIKOS'S RESTAURANT





After Likos cleared the plates we showed him the letter of introduction that my cousin had written in Greek, saying we were descendants of the Pispirikos family and explaining why we were in Samarina.  I should have assumed he already knew, since my cousin in Ioannina made the hotel reservation.  Susan opened the thick manila envelope filled with black and white photos of my parents when they were young and other ones they took when they returned to Samarina on visits in the '50s, '60s and '70s.   Likos became excited and very animated when he recognized my parents and loved seeing the old pictures of the village and the local people who were still around.    



SUSAN AND I LOOKING AT OLD FAMILY PHOTOS WITH LIKOS


ON THE LEFT, MY DAD AS A YOUNG MAN.  I THINK THE OTHER MAN MAY BE HIS BROTHER




Something special happened to me that evening in the restaurant, although I can't put my finger on exactly what it was.   It felt almost spiritual, maybe even akin to magic.   As I sat there listening and watching Likos look at the family photos and interacting with Susan, Maddy and Bruce, I had a sense of connecting.    Maybe it was some other strong emotion, like really missing my parents.  I don't know, but it felt deeper.  Maybe I was finally feeling what it means to be a Vlach.  




Stay tuned....................

Sunday, May 18, 2014

SELF ACCEPTANCE

I'm wondering if the reason I'm so fascinated by tribal cultures is because I'm from a tribal culture myself.   This is true.  Growing up, my parents never described our family as an ethic minority group or called us members of a tribe.  But we were.  The ah-ha moment hit me not that long ago when someone asked about my heritage and family background.   We had just returned from visiting the ethnic minority groups in China at the time, so the notion that our family might be called tribal began to surface in my mind. 

Both Mom and Dad, who were born in Greece, were Vlachs.   They called themselves Greek, but they were Vlachs first.  My mother was born in Biasa, an isolated village located in the Pindus Mountains in northwestern Greece.  For centuries, the residents lived a peaceful but nomadic life, herding their sheep and growing olives, and then trading wool and olive oil for coffee and tobacco with merchants who traveled throughout the region.  Not in touch with what was going on in rest of the country,  the Vlachs developed their own customs and language, and kept to themselves in a tribal way.



VLACH WOMAN SPINNING WOOL




My father was a Vlach as well, born in a village called Samarina, just over the mountain from Biasa, where my mother lived.  In those days there were no roads that crossed those rugged mountains,  so villages remained isolated from one another.  Like the people who lived in Biasa, the Vlach sheepherders in Samarina preferred a simple nomadic life.  



SHEEP GRAZING IN THE PINDUS MOUNTAINS



Who are the Vlachs?

Anthropologists, linguists, and historians are still studying the origin of the Vlachs, but many believe we are descendants of Roman people, who fled in the fourth century AD, when the Roman Empire was collapsing.  Hordes of people were looking to escape from the Huns and finding a place of their own.  Eventually, most of them settled in the region that now includes Greece, Albania, Macedonia, and Bulgaria.  The Vlach language, which my parents also spoke, is more like Romanian than modern Greek.  



VLACH MEN IN THEIR NATIVE COSTUME


Only a mountain separated my parents from each other, but they didn't meet until they were here in the United States.    They both had interesting stories to tell.   In an effort to find safety during the first Balkan war in the early 1900s, my maternal grandfather left Biasa and his family, and sought passage to the United States. After several years of trying to figure out where to settle in this strange new land,  he finally sent for his family because he found a place that reminded him of Greece.  That place was called St. Johnsbury, Vermont.   During the years my grandfather was away, war spread throughout the Pindus mountains,  and my mother's village of Biasa was pillaged by soldiers, and her home was burned to the ground.   Around the same time, my father, not having much of a family life in Samarina, came to America alone.   As a 13-year-old runaway, he had only a New York address of a family member written on a small scrap of paper and tucked deep inside his jacket pocket. 

   
 ORIGINAL IMMIGRATION FORM FOR MY MOTHER - 1920
SHIP MANIFEST WITH THE NAME OF MY MOTHER - 1920





















A DRAWING OF THE SHIP THAT BROUGHT MY MOTHER TO THE UNITED STATES

























My Vlach parents

My parents told me early in life that I was a Vlach, something I should be proud of, but as a little kid, I didn't know what being a Vlach meant.  I couldn't comprehend what being a Greek meant.   I knew my parents were a little different from my friends' parents, but they weren't eccentric or old fashioned like some of the Greek people my parents knew.  Instead they were hard working and forward thinking, always wondering what they could do to get ahead and educate their children.     When they told stories about what their childhood in Greece was like,  I thought they had lived on a different planet.   To me, Greece was just that.  Another planet. 



MOM, DAD AND ME IN THE 1970S


My parents greeted other Vlachs they met like kin, whether they were from Samarina, Biasa or somewhere else.   I can swear on a stack of bibles that my father knew every Vlach within a 200 mile radius of our town.  That's just the way he was.  Every summer we went to a Greek picnic in the southern part of our state, where we line danced to bouzouki music and ate roast lamb that had been cooking over an open fire for hours.  My mother, not known for her Greek cooking, brought several large pans of spanokopita that she made from scratch.    My father would oversee  the skewers of kokoretsi blistering on a slowly turning spit.  Greek Vlachs from all over New Hampshire and Massachusetts would come to renew friendships, tell funny stories, and reminisce about the old country.   


KOKORETSI (LAMB INTESTINES)


Accepting my heritage

I don't know why, as a youngster, I renounced my Greek and Vlach heritage, but I did.   Learning a different language seemed like a waste of time since we were the only Greeks in our small town.   As a teenager, I rejected the idea of baptism in the Orthodox church because I knew it was a full body dunk.  I never dated any Greek boys since the last thing I wanted to do was marry one.  And yes, as an adult, I liked to cook Greek food, but I also enjoyed cooking Italian, Thai, and Indian.  Not surprisingly, I never had any interest in going to Greece.

In 2007, Bruce and I took a trip to Turkey.   Maybe it was the way the people smiled at me, or how they exuded warmth when they said hello,  but many of the Turks I encountered reminded me of my Greek parents.   The two cultures are so similar in their customs, their food, and their relics that my childhood memories came flooding back.   I learned more about the conflicts between Turkey and Greece following the first World War.  In order to staunch the bloodshed, the Greek and Turkish governments signed a population-exchange agreement.  According to the terms of the deal, Greek Orthodox residents of Turkey had to relocate to Greece, while Muslim residents of Greece had to move to Turkey.   As a result of this, entire Greek villages in Turkey became ghost towns, and after seeing one or two of these on this trip,  I realized that I was ready, and it was time for me to visit Greece.  


GREEK GHOST TOWN IN TURKEY



In 2008 we planned a trip and invited my niece, Susan, and her twelve-year-old daughter, Maddy.  Fortunately for us, Susan is the genealogist in our family, collecting stories, old photographs, and family trees.   Using social media she has even reconnected us with Vlach people from our family's past.   Putting the trip together involved conversations with my aunt and her family in Rhode Island, who put us in touch with English-speaking relatives in Greece.  After  research and email communications back and forth, we settled on an itinerary that took us, three generations of Greek Vlachs, to meet our relatives for the first time, and explore the remote Vlach villages of Samarina and Biasa, where my parents were born. 

Stay tuned..............


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

ON BECOMING A COLLECTOR - PART 2: THE MAD HATTER




Collecting hats came next.  In northern Laos where we were trekking from one Akha tribal village to another, we were impressed with the unusual ceremonial hats worn by the women who greeted us.  "I want one of those," I said to Bruce, after my eyes locked on a beautiful beaded hat decorated with heavy silver coins. 

   
MY FIRST GLIMPSE OF THE AKHA CEREMONIAL HAT






HER LIPS AND TEETH ARE STAINED RED FROM CHEWING BETEL NUT



When we asked our local guide what it would take to acquire one,  he shook his head and said, "These hats aren't for sale."  We didn't want to believe him, but unfortunately, he was right.  The Akha hats weren't for sale.  At least not the ceremonial ones I coveted because they were family heirlooms and handed down from generation to generation.   "You might find some beaded hats when we visit the market tomorrow," he told us.   We had already seen the hats in the market, but they were like an embroidered beanie and not a heavy royal crown.   A few weeks after we returned from Laos, we saw a similar Akha hat for sale at the San Francisco Tribal and Textile Arts Show, so we bought it.   I like to think we were meant to have that hat.




FINDING THIS HAT AT THE TRIBAL SHOW MADE ME VERY  HAPPY



While hiking in the Simien Mountains of Northern Ethiopia, we bought two hats right off the heads of a couple of young shepherds who were tending their goats.  We didn't particularly love the hats, but the kids wanted to trade something with us, and since we didn't have anything to trade, we took out a few birr and bought their woolen hats.  The problem was these hats smelled so terrible that we had to keep them separated from our travel clothes for the rest of our trip.   Honestly, I'm not quite sure how we managed it, except that after the Simien Mountains, we traveled to the remote tribal region of South Omo where everything smelled like goats, so I guess we got used to it.  (N.B.  I don't think we really got used to it because when we returned home, I had to air the hats outside for a couple of months before I could display them.  I swear when I walk by the shelf, I still smell goat!)


SHEPHERDS HAT FROM ETHIOPIA



In Tanzania we bought a beaded crown worn by the Yoruba tribe in Nigeria, a country we weren't planning to go to.   In Arusha, Tanzania, there is this incredible place called the Cultural Heritage Center, which definitely deserves to be called the motherlode of tribal art.  There are three, maybe four buildings with two levels each chock full of fabulous "stuff," like masks, wooden and stone carvings, jewelry, shields, fetishes, statues, pottery, wooden alters, doors, and windows, swords, paintings, weavings, and other handicrafts.  This is the place where I can honestly say my husband lost his mind.   



AURUSHA CULTURAL CENTER

THE MOTHERLODE OF TRIBAL ART









YORUBA BEADED CROWN FROM NIGERIA




There were a lot of different hats for sale in the Masai village we visited in Tanzania, but this one was small enough to transport home, and that is always a factor to consider.



MASAI HAT, TANZANIA


The hat below is from Turkmenistan, but we bought it in an antique store in Bangkok on our way to Bhutan.  The shop owner was also willing to sell us the wrought iron display stand and even shorten it a little to meet our shelf dimension at home.  The only problem was that there wasn't enough time for him to do the work before we left for Bhutan early the next morning.    For a few extra dollars, the man agreed to alter the stand and then, along with the hat, send a well wrapped package by taxi across the city to the airport hotel, where we would staying two weeks later when we transferred through Bangkok on our way home.   


A HAT FROM TURKMENISTAN



We saw this crazy hat when we were in Borneo, Malaysia.  Someone told us it was a chief's hat, but we never saw any chiefs so that label can't be authenticated.  We bought it anyway.   It was too fun to pass up.    



CHIEFS HAT FROM BORNEO





This decorative child's birthday hat jumped out at us while we were walking through a market in a Dong village in Guizhou Province, China. Although the owner of the shop didn't speak any English, he was willing to pose for the photo.  Both Bruce and I thought he looked like Genghis Khan.  



GENGHIS AND PAMELA KHAN



We have a few smaller hats that we acquired in Egypt, Bhutan, Laos, and Oman.   Surprisingly, finding an Omani kumar that was hand-stitched rather than stitched by machine was a challenge.








THESE OMANI MEN ARE WEARING THE TRADITIONAL KUMAR





In Burma,  I told Bruce,  "No more hats.  "We have too many already."  Mild-mannered Bruce didn't disagree, but he didn't agree either.  Then we saw this! 




NAGA TRIBAL HAT


With a grin on his face, he looked at me and said, "I think we can get it for $60. " What could I say?   How could I refuse?    "Where will we put it? " I asked.  He just shrugged his shoulders.  "This is our last hat," I insisted, but now we are planning a trip to West Africa for 2015, and I bet we come home with a hat.