Sunday, September 21, 2014

HOMECOMING

Five days before my New Hampshire trip,  I could feel myself getting antsy.  What if we run out of things to talk about?  What if our political beliefs differ.  Maybe she's a born again.  Or even worse.  What if we don't like each other?  

These questions filled me with anxiety as I packed my bag and thought about the days ahead, when I would finally meet up with my long-lost, best friend from elementary school.  Long-lost is probably the best way to describe our relationship because that is what it was -- long lost.  Fifty years to be exact.


I THINK THIS WAS FOURTH GRADE.  CAN YOU FIND ME? 


Janet and I had deep roots.  She and I connected in the sixth grade, although we'd seen each other earlier when her family, who lived a few hundred miles from us, came to visit the Melnicks, their relatives, who lived in our rural town of Littleton.  Her uncle, Mr. Melnick, owned the best shoe store in town, and his family lived down the hill from our house.  When Janet visited,  we would play on the swings in Remich Park and build snow sculptures in the winter.   When we were in the sixth grade, her family moved permanently to Littleton, but her teacher was not the same as mine, so we didn't see much of each other that year.    She was quiet, timid, and shy, so rather than boldly announcing to me here I am, she stayed in the background and watched me play with other kids.  Things changed in seventh grade, and although neither of us remember how it happened, we became best friends.    Back then you didn't introduce someone as one of my best friends.  You would put your arm around her and say, I want you to meet my best friend.  I had only one, and her name was Janet.

I had some anxiety about seeing Janet in person.  Last year I wrote about finding her in a post entitled Nostalgia, and since then, we've emailed back and forth, asking and answering questions, and even though I thought we were probably on the same wave length, I didn't know for sure.  

On that Friday when my plane landed in Manchester, I called Janet's cell to say I had my bag and would be waiting out in front of the terminal.   She giggled when she said she was driving a big black Mercedes, and the giggle I heard sounded like the Janet I used to know.   I pushed my way through the double glass doors and spotted the Mercedes.  Leaving the motor running, Janet jumped from her car to greet me.   I could tell from the red blotches on her face, and the way she gripped me as we hugged, that she was as nervous about seeing me as I was about seeing her.  In fact, we decided to find some place to stop, have a cup of coffee and calm down because we both were shaking so much.   It didn't take long for us to feel comfortable with one another, almost like teenagers who talked about their future like we used to, but this time, as we stared into each others eyes, the only thing we could talk about was the past.

There are more than memories here, I thought to myself.   I looked down and saw that the three silver bracelets Janet was wearing were almost identical to the three silver bracelets I was wearing.   I remember when we were kids, we made a tiny cut on each of our fingers so we could rub our blood together and call each other my sister.  

It was about a two hour drive from Manchester to Littleton, where we were spending the weekend together and staying at what was once called Perkins Motel.  When we arrived in Littleton and checked in to the motel my parents used to own,  I thought it was strange that I  felt no emotion for a place I had lived from age 11 to 17, and where my memories ran wild.  I even wrote about it in a blog post  Motel Musings #1.   Ironically, the woman who worked the front desk remembered my parents and my sister and brother.  "Your parents would cry if they saw this place now," she said.   "It's not the same anymore. "   She went on to say that the former owners of Perkins Motel fell on hard times and let the place run down so badly that the bank took it over in foreclosure.   But there were new owners now. 


PERKINS MOTEL IN THE 50s



After dinner that evening with two elementary school friends, Cynthia and Karen, who were still living in town, Janet and I returned to our room at the motel, and even though we shut off the light and said goodnight several times, we continued to talk for hours.  No matter what we said, we saw the parallels in our lives,  not so much in what we did during the last fifty years, but more about how similar our core values were and our mutual desire to grow as human beings.  We each turned adversity into a positive force in our lives.  Our curious personalities drove us to become readers and world travelers.  Having been forced to be financially self sufficient, we realized that we both had a strong inner drive to succeed. 

Janet may have been timid and shy as a youngster, but as an adult she is strong, optimistic and courageous.    In recent years, the love of her life, David, has developed Parkinson's disease, but yet she and he have done everything they can to remain positive, stay current, and not let this disability affect their love for one another and their family.   If anything they love each other more, but have learned to do everything they can now and not take anything for granted.  While Bruce and I are fortunate to be reasonably healthy, I share Janet and David's desire to do everything while we still can and not take our good life for granted.      



JANET & HER GRANDDAUGHTER CLEMY & RUBIE, THEIR ANTIQUE TRUCK



 The next morning Janet and I strolled up and down Littleton's Main Street, even visited the new history museum, but I was not as emotional as I thought I would be.  Maybe it was because of all the physical changes.  With the exception of the iconic town hall, the Littleton Diner, and the old but sturdy brick post office, the place had changed quite a bit.   Even a candy store filled the big space where Parker Drugs and soda fountain used to be.  I wondered how anyone could, in good conscience, sell tons of sugar to already overweight people, even though the soda fountain where we hung out was famous for their syrupy cherry cokes.   Trendy boutiques and an art gallery occupied the space where Melnick's shoe store used to be, and the space that was once McLeod's department store was now called something else.  McLeods always held a special place in my heart, especially those few weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas when Santa Claus was in town.   All of us kids would stand in line in the basement of McLeods waiting to sit on Santa's knee to tell him what a good girl or boy we had been.  Meanwhile, our mothers shopped upstairs uninterrupted.   Also on Main Street there were small, brightly painted pianos placed on just about every block, and I thought about Mrs. Wright, who for years taught piano lessons to most kids in town.   She would have loved those miniature pianos.

















Downtown Littleton was a buzz with energy on Saturday morning.  Tourists were playing on the miniature pianos,  and a beer fest and art fair were being set up near the dilapidated grist mill on the edge of the Ammonoosuc River.  I was happy to see Lahouts Country Clothing and Ski Shop still in its original location up on Union Street in Apthorp, a section of town some called the other side of the tracks.  But today Lahouts has more than just the Apthorp store.  They have several retail operations in other parts of town, proving what my Mother said was true.  "The Lahouts are a hard working family and, like us, work 24/7 in the family business.





I asked Janet if we could stop at Lahouts and check out the place. While she amused herself inside, I talked to Joe Jr., who remembered my family and told me that his dad, Joe, Sr. still lived  upstairs over the store, where he was born 94 years ago.    For as long as I can remember, Joe Sr. ran the store with his colorful sister, Gladys.  While Mom would  kibitz with Joe, Sr. about stuff I didn't understand, Gladys would take me in the back and dress me up in a latest ski outfit and try to talk me into a new pair of boots.   As we walked up the back stairs,  Joe Jr. warned me that his Dad might not be as sharp as he used to be but that he had aged well.   "Don't be surprised if he doesn't remember you," Joe Jr. said.    I didn't care.  I just wanted to see him again because he and his sister made a big impression on me as a kid, and I used to love hearing him and my mother talk about life in the old country.  You see, the Lahouts were Lebanese and my parents were Greek, and although Lebanon and Greece don't share a common border, their cultures are similar enough, so their relationship was special.  Not many people in Littleton could or would eat kibbeh.

 When Joe Sr. shuffled out into the kitchen holding on to his son's strong arm, I was surprised at how emotional I became, and I found myself choking back some tears that I didn't want old Joe to see.  I was so happy that he was still a handsome looking man, but his son was right, he didn't remember me or my Mom.  Instead, he surprised me by saying  he remembered old Mr. Perkins, how shrewd a business man he was, and how much he admired him.   I was surprised because I don't remember my Dad ever shopping in Lahouts, only my Mother and I, but obviously my father's strong business sense and outgoing personality carved a groove in Joe's brain, so he remembered my Dad after all these years.  He and I were very chatty.  He reminded me of the good old days, and how life in Littleton used to be when I was growing up.  He cautioned me to be careful riding my bike and also urged me to stretch every day to keep my body limber and strong.  I didn't stay long, but seeing Joe again at 94 was like going back in time, when my Mom and I would shop at his store.


Our childhood friends Cynthia and Karen's participation in Janet's and my weekend was very meaningful and emotional.   On Saturday evening, while we were talking together over dinner,  several facts emerged that made us question the concept of  randomness and coincidence in our lives.  It certainly begged asking questions about why I came to Littleton that particular weekend, and why Janet and I sought them out as people to confide in.  Some might call it coincidence.  Some might say it's the way the universe works.  I don't know what to call it,  but here's the thing.  When a few people from my past, with whom I've had no connection with for the last fifty years, suddenly come into my life and become very connected to me, it does make me wonder.  I think my three childhood friends will agree that some things in life are too strong and too strange to be called a coincidence.  

Sunday came way too quickly and it was time to leave.  Our last few hours were enjoyed with a $5.95 bacon and eggs special at Topic of the Town Restaurant with our friends, their spouses and others we knew from the good old days.   Having Sunday breakfast together may be a ritual for some of the Littleton crowd, but for me the gathering was something much more symbolic.  It was the culmination of a sentimental weekend in Littleton with my best friend Janet, and a reawakening of a friendship that will last forever.   It was also a reaffirmation that I have a special bond with my childhood friends that goes beyond description.  My three days with them closes the circle of a friendship that began many, many years ago.  In closing I want to send a public message to my dear friends -- Janet, Cynthia and Karen.   You have enriched my life by helping me remember the fond memories of our childhood.  I will always feel close to you for reasons you will understand. 



(L-R) PAM, CYNTHIA, JANET, & KAREN 




Friday, September 5, 2014

TWILIGHT ZONE THOUGHTS





  • I popped open the umbrella and rode her to Mars.



  • The day started when I closed my eyes and found myself in love.



  • My favorite dessert is a a mothball covered with chocolate sauce and sprinkled with sand pebbles.



  • The dentist cut out his nose hairs with pruning shears.




  • When the phone rang, I logged onto my computer and saw my deceased mother on Skype.




  • I couldn't tell what time of the day it was until my hands touched your face



  • I drove up to visit you in my hardtop strawberry and saw you covered in vanilla ice cream.




  • When I brought the cold glass of water to my lips,  it turned into absinthe.




  • I closed my eyes and saw the most beautiful picture of a blank wall.




  • I like washing white clothes better than dark because the results are more obvious.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

FARM TO TABLE IN MOUNTAIN VIEW, CALIFORNIA







My Sunday mornings at the Mountain View Farmers Market aren't just about shopping for healthy fresh food.  It's much more than that.  For me the market is a vibrant community, where kindred spirits greet each other like neighbors living side by side in small town America.   I'm not just talking about the shoppers; I'm also talking about the farmers, who are becoming my Sunday friends.  


A SMALL SECTION OF MOUNTAIN VIEW FARMERS MARKET - 5TH FAVORITE LARGE MARKET IN CALIFORNIA




Connecting personally with the farmers is something I really enjoy.  For an extrovert like me,  getting to know the farmers by name  and developing a relationship means a lot because it makes the food on my plate actually mean something and even taste better.  It is my nature to ask a lot of questions  -- Where is your farm located? How much acreage do you have?  How many crops do you grow?   What are you doing water-wise now that we are in such a severe drought?   Their answers are important to me because I'm not a farmer and can't put myself in their shoes.  I'm not even a gardener.   You see, I've never put seeds in the ground or planted anything I could eat, so I have enormous respect for the hard work these farmers do, and what they are able to accomplish, with or without the help of Mother Nature.   



EVERYTHING IS ORGANIC AND DELICIOUS FROM SWANK FAMILY FARMS



Take the two sisters, Joyce and Lucianne, who share a bit of my Greek heritage, with some Armenian thrown in as well.  Their farm stand is called Sweet Annie's, and because of their close-in location at the market, it's the first place we stop.  Our early arrival enables us to have time for a little chat, and sometimes even a hug.  We've even looked at their photo album showing pictures of the farm and their colorful chickens pecking away in the open field.   For several years,  I mistakenly called Lucianne Annie, until she graciously told me one day that her name was Lucianne, and that Annie was the name of her mother.  Joyce and Lucy always have big smiles on their faces, laughing about why one week their hens lay small eggs, and other weeks the eggs are gigantic.  "Blame it on the weather, "  Lucy tells me, and considering they live in the hot Central Valley town of Clovis,  I believe every word they say.  "Hey, Joyce," I holler out.  "Can you pick out the perfect cantaloupe for me to eat today or tomorrow?"  After scanning the table quickly with well-trained eyes,  Joyce hands me a golden cantaloupe that smells really sweet right through its thick skin and says, "You can tell this will be candy sweet because of its beautiful color." 



(L-R)  JOYCE AND LUCIANNE FROM SWEET ANNIE'S (YES, LUCY, YOU ROCK!)






Even in the peak of summer when the market is in full throttle, like it is now, most farmers manage to squeeze in a little time to talk to shoppers about what they are buying or answer questions about how to cook this, or what to do with that.  Even the Asian farmers who grow produce about which I know nothing never make me feel dumb.  They very politely answer my question when I hold up a giant bunch of weird looking greens and ask, "What is this?"   


WHAT ARE THESE ASIAN GREENS?



Kelly, who sells vegetables grown at Country Rhodes Family Farm in Visalia, explained that they are known for their outstanding tomatoes.  The striped German tomato I tasted last week was fantastic, and the juicy red and yellow cherry tomatoes were delicious in the penne pasta I made with chunks of fresh lobster meat, garlic, shallots, and fresh basil.   Recipe will be sent upon request!



TOMATOES FROM COUNTRY RHODES FAMILY FARMS



Silvia Prevedelli from Prevedelli  Family Farm in Watsonville is another example of a super farmer, the kind of person who is more committed to educating than selling.    Her outstanding produce speaks for itself.   Silvia's main goal at Sunday's market is to talk to her customers, to inform and educate.  She not only wants you to understand the difference in the large variety of apples she grows, but how each one differs in taste.   One of the things I admire about Silvia is her deep commitment to the profession of farming, and her passion for agriculture education.  In keeping with her dedication, Silvia and her family are involved in a fundraising effort to establish scholarships with the express purpose of educating future farmers and encouraging young people to enter or continue in the vocation.   An example of this is the fundraising farm dinner she and others are hosting at the Prevedelli Farm in Watsonville.  If you click on their website under their highlighted name above,  you will find detailed information on the fundraising dinner scheduled for September 28, 2014, and specifics about how to buy your tickets.  I have already bought ours, and if you live close by, I hope you will consider attending too.


SILVIA PEVEDELLI OF PREVEDELLI ORGANIC FARMS



Another delightful farmer I would like to single out is Donna Shebelut, who drives two hours from Madera every Sunday in the summer months to sell her delicious peaches, pluots and plums.  What I enjoy about Donna is her passion for her exceptional fruit.  Here's my advice.  Believe whatever Donna tells you.  She knows her business, and if you don't think her peaches are the very best, then do a side-by-side comparison taste test and find out.  We did exactly that, and now we are loyal to Donna and buy most of our peaches from her.    In addition to her humor, she has a sharp wit, and she always has something to teach you.  Incidentally, her farm is called DEL Shebelut: The D stands for Donna, and the E and the L stand for her kids, Elise and Lance.



DONNA SHEBELUT OF DEL SHEBELUT FARMS


All the dedicated farmers at Mountain View Farmers Market work hard, and Adrian Alvor from Montebello Farms is no exception.  He explained that there are only four of them who work at the farm, planting, harvesting, and selling every week at several farmers markets throughout Northern California.  Besides himself, there is his wife, his father and his brother.  He also told me how their 18 acre farm is on leased land in Morgan Hill, and that they fear losing that land because housing developments are getting closer all the time.  



ADRIAN ALVOR OF MONTEBELLO FARMS


Strawberry season seems to last longer and longer each year, but who's complaining.   As early as March and often as late as December, you can find strawberries for sale at the market, but never will you find strawberries as sweet and juicy as they are right now during the peak growing season of June, July and August.  I'm not partial to one strawberry  farmer over another, so I buy from a variety of different growers.  To be honest, it just depends on who has the sweetest sample that I might taste that particular week.


YOU'VE NEVER TASTED STRAWBERRIES SO FRESH AND SWEET  


Another one of my favorite farmers is Araceli from Calderon Farms in Hollister.  I call her my potato lady because I buy one or two russet potatoes from her each week to satisfy our need to carbo-load.    Not only does Aracelli grow a wide variety of tasty vegetables, like carrots, broccoli, and green beans, she's also one of the few farmers who grows and sells fresh herbs like oregano, thyme, sage, rosemary and mint.  Oh, how I love fresh mint in my summer mojitos or an Arnold Palmer.


ARACELI - ALWAYS WITH A SMILE ON HER FACE



I get a big kick out of Brenda who works at Heirloom Organics because each week Brenda's hair is a different color.  I've noticed that her hair color often matches the colors of their produce.  One week her hair is the color of swiss chard.  Another week her hair matches the purple spinach, but bottom line, Brenda knows her stuff, and can tell you about all the different pre-washed greens they sell and how they cook up best.    Now that I know how important greens are in our daily diet, I make every effort to steam or sauté fresh greens several times a week.    


BRENDA FROM HEIRLOOM ORGANICS

One Sunday I bought some fingerling potatoes from Ashley and Daniel at Rio de Parras Organics out of Salinas. Their  produce stand is next to Brenda's at Heirloom Organics.   When I accidentally left my bag of fingerling potatoes behind,  Brenda hunted me down amidst the large throng of shoppers because she knew how upset I would be to get home and not have my fingerlings.   Now how thoughtful is that!




DANIEL AND ASHLEY, RIO DE PARRAS ORGANICS




Patti Gonzales of Apricot King Orchards, sells dried fruit, walnuts & almonds from a 45 acre farm that she and her husband Gary own in Hollister.   Patti is at the Mountain View Farmers Market all year round, so when fresh peaches or apricots are not in season, you can always buy dried fruit from Queen Patty, and their nuts taste delicious any time of the year.



PATTI, APRICOT KING ORCHARDS




Several growers sell delicate orchids, colorful cut flowers, and even small Japanese maple saplings,  and over the years I've bought quite a few from each.   My favorite growers are Mr. and Mrs. Herman Schmezer who have been selling potted plants at the market for more than 23 years.  They explained how this year has been kind of tough because of the current drought.  They said  some home gardeners are now looking to buy drought-resistant plants, which the Schmezers are hoping to eventually provide, but all the plants I've bought from them over the years are doing extremely well, even with limited water.    








MR. AND MRS. HERMAN SCHMEZER AND THEIR BEAUTIFUL PLANTS



I also appreciate the friendly farmers at High Ground Organics, who grow high quality organic vegetables, including a wide variety of lettuces: romaine, red leaf, red oak leaf, baby gem, butter, and red butter.   I know this might sound a little high-fallutin, but I think their luscious red butter lettuce falls into the category of gourmet.    Their other produce is wonderful too, but for me I always buy the lettuce. 



THIS IS WHAT I CALL GOURMET RED BUTTER LETTUCE




Last, but not least, are the helpful and knowledgable people at  Mission Fish where we buy our fresh wild salmon every single Sunday all year long.   Some times the salmon is local and caught off the California Coast.  Other times the fish is flown in fresh from Canada the day before.  As far as I'm concerned, it doesn't matter where the fish comes from because it always tastes very fresh and always very delicious. 




MISSION FISH ALSO SELLS FRESH SOLE, HALIBUT, AND SNAPPER BUT MY FAVORITE IS SALMON



It's a well known fact among our good friends that if you are invited to our house for a Sunday night dinner,  you will probably be served fresh salmon, either poached, grilled, or roasted--maybe accompanied with just a slice of Meyer lemon, or a dollop of home-made pesto or maybe a spicy surprise, like a coconut Thai sauce.  If you come to our house in February I might serve roasted organic cauliflower as an appetizer.  We could also have grilled organic asparagus in April or sliced heirloom tomatoes with creamy buratta cheese in September.  I believe in simple cooking. Right now we are serving corn on the cob, with or without butter, with or without Kosher salt.


Hmm, I think it's time to finish writing this post and see what's in the refrigerator.  I'm getting hungry.  





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....................