Κυριακή, 26 Μαΐου 2013

A Greek Saga: From Editor to Baker

Unemployment may have hit many industries in Greece but none more so than the realm of the mass media. As the newspaper To Paron reports, approximately 4,800 jobs were lost over the course of the last three years (2009-2012) among the country's publicly traded media companies and, at the same time, thousands of salaried employees in the field were forced to accept dramatic reductions in their salaries.

Two major publishing houses, IMAKO and Liberi Editions, have ceased activities altogether while a third, CK Tegopoulos, continues to operate but had to shutter its crown jewel, the historical Eleftherotypia newspaper. A similar fate befell one of Greece's most popular television stations, Alter, which went off the air in December of 2011.

Among the many affected by this devastating media tempest is Despina Antipas who had been employed, alongside her journalist husband, Kostas Tsapogas, at Eleftherotypia for 15 years until the paper filed for bankruptcy in late 2011.

Justine Frangouli-Argyris
The Huffington Post

Undaunted, Despina Antipas was not one to be defeated by this dramatic turn of events. Fascinated by macarons, those sweet little pastries she discovered while visiting France, she decided it was time for a change of course. Taking her cue from the little cakes made of chocolate, vanilla and fruit by the renowned La Duree pastry shops, Despina underwent a quick transformation from newspaper editor to baker and took the process one step further by adding her own personal touches and introducing wonderful Greek flavors such as fig and masticha.

The story of Despina and the macarons that she now bakes in Greece with her magic hands and which she wraps so lovingly in incredibly attractive packaging, is one that originates with Greece's financial crisis and truly touches the soul.

A dedicated journalist for some 21 years, the last 15 of which she spent at Eleftherotypia, Despina Antipas suddenly found herself without a job. Having taken up pastry-making on a whim a year before receiving her pink slip, she decided to go into business by putting the art she learned as a hobby to practical use.

"Because I always wanted to deal with something creative, I began making macarons for friends and relatives when they came over for coffee or to offer as gifts when we would visit them," she tells me. "Slowly, I began to see that they loved them and they would ask me to make more so that they, in turn, could give them to their friends. It was then that I made the decision to learn as much as I could about this traditional French delicacy. Devouring numerous French and English books on the subject and extensively searching the Internet, I devoted endless amounts of time to perfecting the little deserts."

"Having honed my creative skills, I try to combine different exotic fruits with classic Greek culinary staples by implementing modern pastry making techniques. Hence, I was able to give birth to the Mavrodafni macaron with fig and cheese, the Aegina peanut macaron and the berry and yogurt mousse macaron, to name a few."

"Each and every macaron is made to order," says Despina. "Mostly, so as not to detract anything from the quality and freshness as it is a very delicate and sensitive sweet that requires tender care and attention. It is also important for me to know something about the person for whom I am baking. As I discuss an order with a client, I derive inspiration from and personalize the recipe for that specific individual. It's similar to eating mother's pastries which are always tastier than those that are store-bought."

"The day after Eleftherotypia went belly-up was a day of relief", she sighs. "The previous months had been so full of despair and insecurity that I have wiped them from memory. We were unpaid, nervously waiting by the phone for any information that would give us some hope that never came. It took an entire summer for me to free myself from that suffocating atmosphere and to be able to think calmly and clearly once again. It had to have been the longest summer of our lives."

"Watching all the plans we had made for the future vanishing before our eyes in a Greece of despair, I had to start from scratch, to find solutions, make new dreams and grab onto something that could keep us going. My travels with the macarons have become my personal therapeutic journey through a country that has been traumatized beyond all hope."

Follow Justine Frangouli-Argyris on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Justinakion          

Τρίτη, 14 Μαΐου 2013

Skopje's policy: Rebranding of a Nation!!!

Yours to conquer: Macedonia is in the midst of an Alexander The Great rebranding

Come for the adventure travel, stay for Mother Teresa. Or Alexander the Great. Or the avjar.
Ryan MeriglianoCome for the adventure travel, stay for Mother Teresa. Or Alexander the Great. Or the avjar.
It’s taken an hour’s hike to get here. I’m standing at the top of one of the highest mountains around. I notice a cairn of sorts off to the side, put up by someone to mark their trek up here. I put a Canadian penny on it to mark mine. It’s beautiful up here, and solitary. These aren’t like the Rockies or the Alps. They’re more like very big snow drifts, gentle, long, graceful. In front of me, a four-million-year-old lake called Ohrid. To the left, a town enveloped in a Pig Pen-esque cloud of smog in the middle of an otherwise pristine horizon. That’s Albania; Pogradec, I think.
A week ago, I had no idea any of this existed. And if you’d pressed me on it, I probably would have mixed up Albania and Armenia.
Travel can be many things to many people, but there should always be discovery. My own tastes run to places my friends would never think of going; I give myself bonus points if they’re not entirely sure where it is.
This admittedly idiosyncratic approach to travel has taken me to Bulgaria, a ski resort in North Africa, Easter Island, Ethiopia and Haiti, and I hope to make it to St. Helena and Cape Dorset before long. (Had to look them up? Excellent; more points for me.)
But I had to set up a new system for tallying my points when I came to Macedonia. Not only did people not know where it was, they thought it was a different country than it is.
And that’s the first thing you need to know about Macedonia: It’s not Macedonia.
The Macedonia that most of us grew up with a vague awareness of — the one with Alexander the Great, the one that briefly ruled the world’s most extensive empire, the one that conquered Persia — that Macedonia is in Greece, a couple of hundred kilometres south of the border of what is now officially and painstakingly known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which celebrated the 20th anniversary of its official recognition on April 8.
Nevertheless, when you land in the capital city of Skopje, you land at Alexander the Great International Airport, where you can take an Alexander cab into the centre of the city to admire a new eight-storey-high statue that is officially known as “Soldier on a Horse” as a form of appeasement to the Greeks, but whose true identity is given away by the friendly wave he’s giving to another, equally massive statue a few hundred metres away of Philip II of Macedon, Alexander’s father, who made this landlocked bit of turf part of his empire in 356 B.C.E.
A week ago, I had no idea any of this existed. And if you’d pressed me on it, I probably would have mixed up Albania and Armenia.
It’s called antiquisation, and it’s one of the most entertaining aspects of this particular Balkan state. Based on the claim that ancient Macedonians were not Greek, and despite the fact that whether they were or not, they didn’t live here, the current nationalist government is looking to build popular support, and a tourism market, on the backs of Philip & Son, putting up statues of them all over the country, and making them the centre of what they’re calling Skopje 2014 (it’s got its own Wikipedia page), which is nothing less than a rebuilding of the city’s core (much of which was destroyed in a Yugoslav-era earthquake).
It’s an overt effort to make themselves more attractive to tourists and prompt them to take advantage of the second thing you should know about Macedonia: It’s cheap. From activities to cabs to hotels to food and drink, the only real expense for a trip to Macedonia is the airfare.
But it’s the free things that will stay with me. Like the woodcarving at the Bigorski Monastery near the border with Albania and Kosovo. Carved from single pieces of wood, these reliefs are carved deeply and intricately enough to have foregrounds and backgrounds, scene after biblical scene rendered in extraordinary detail across an iconostasis that’s at least three metres high and 10 across. The monastery mostly burnt down in 2009, but this big piece of wood fantastically survived.
Then there was Skopje’s Memorial House of Mother Teresa. She was born and raised here, it turns out. The museum is built on the site of the church in which she was baptized in 1910, destroyed by that earthquake. It’s big and capriciously designed, but also empty. My boyfriend and I are the only ones here. As it happens, I visited her tomb in Calcutta about a year earlier. It was packed. This museum is a pilgrimage stop waiting to happen. With apologies to Christopher Hitchens’ blessed memory, there’s someone to name your airport after.
The first thing you should know about Macedonia is it’s not Macedonia
But the big tourism ministry push now is for adventure travel. They have 16 mountains higher than 2,000 metres, 50 lakes and, thanks to that wonderful Eastern European cheapness, you can hurl yourself off one of them with the questionable support of a paraglider for $50. We visited a ski resort, Popova Shapka, near the Kosovan border, and picnicked with our guide, Ljupco, who brought some mild homemade avjar, a red pepper and garlic spread each mother-led Macedonian household seems to be exceedingly proud of, to spread on our bread while we admired the 35 square kilometres of slopes.
Which brings us to the third thing you have to know about the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: Its identity is still up for grabs. The current government likes the Alexander approach. The next one may prefer Mother Teresa, or its history as part of the Ottoman Empire or, who knows, the role it played in Yugoslavia. But for the moment, it’s left to every visitor to make up their own Macedonia to bring home in stories for friends and family. And for the world traveller, that’s a rare thing indeed

Πέμπτη, 9 Μαΐου 2013

Greek Immigrants in Canada: The Twilight of a Generation

Huffington Post
Justine Frangouli-Argyris

You can meet them at Rockland Shopping Centre, in the heart of Montreal's Mount-Royal suburb, every Wednesday afternoon. They are a large group, some 30-odd, with the women seated on one side and the men on the other.

The gents reminisce about their youth and the glorious times spent fishing in Cape Cod or trekking north of the city to shoot deer in the Laurentians. The ladies talk about cooking while exchanging the latest recipes and go on and on about their children and grandchildren. The predominant topic, however, is Greece and the news and memories emanating from the homeland.

Made up overwhelmingly of elderly Greek immigrants who left the Motherland after the war in search of a better life, this populous group, aged between 70 and 90 years, reunites every Wednesday to remember the good ole days and converse with each other in their native tongue.

They are the architects of the Hellenic Community of Greater Montreal, having built its cultural centres, churches and local associations and having proudly laid the stepping stones for what is one of the most important Greek communities in the world today.

They may be in the twilight of their lives and a fair distance from their roots but they remain eternally optimistic, regardless the severe back pain, or a wonky heart, or the fact their legs can barely carry them.

Recently, Nikos Georgiadis, an integral member of the clan and owner of the legendary Rex travel agency, passed away. Through his office, Mr Georgiadis was instrumental in processing over 30,000 Greek immigrant visas to this country, thereby single-handedly being responsible for over one-quarter of the 116,300 Greeks who settled in Canada between 1946 and 1981.

Emmanuel Dimopoulos, beaming father of three and equally proud grandfather of six, has become a regular, joining the crowd at the mall for the last three years. Mingling with his friends, he explains, "we meet here every Wednesday, remember the old times and have some joyful moments."
Spyros Starfas, blessed with a refreshing sense of humour, claims they meet to "discuss several issues but mainly to check out the beautiful young women. We hang out with the guys I met in Florida a few years ago, where we fished some big ones. Now we see each other every week and we are reborn. We talk, we laugh and we exchange opinions out loud."

For Constantinos Vasiliou, "Home Sweet Home" is on the island of Lesvos, in the Northern Aegean. "I go there every year to rejuvenate," he says. "I have a boat and sail and go fishing. It's nice to be there in the dear homeland."

Everyone speaks of the desire to return to Greece for the summer, even though the financial crisis has dampened the spirits of relatives and friends on the other side of the Atlantic. "Regardless, Greece Never Dies!" they shout, remaining hopeful that the economy will snap back at some point and that the good times will return.

Their children are fluent in the Greek language but the same can not be said for their grandchildren. "You see, the younger generation loses the mother tongue no matter how big an effort we make. We speak Greek to them but, once in school, they learn French and English. The third generation is assimilating slowly but surely," everyone will agree.

Someone mentioned that the children do not attend the Greek Orthodox churches because the service is not in English but others disagreed, insisting that it is the mixed marriages that are to blame.
However, one thing is for sure. The Greek men and women of the "golden age" have never forgotten their hometown, recalling the days of their youth and empathizing with the problems of Hellenism today. They are fervent followers of the Greek news channels via their satellite dishes and constantly wonder what tragedy will befall their beloved homeland next.

The ladies motion me to their side, filling me with tales of their triumphs in the kitchen and sharing their agonies about their offspring. Suddenly, I smell the sweet aroma of freshly made "loukoumades" in the air. An elegant woman approaches and offers the delicious little morsels of dough coated with honey and cinnamon made in the traditional Greek way.

Each and every Wednesday, the protagonists of the wave of Greek migration to Canada in the '50s and '60s reunite at Rockland Centre to recycle their memories...in their twilight, until the curtain falls!
For more information, visit here.

Παρασκευή, 3 Μαΐου 2013

Happy Easter, Kalo Pascha!!!

My Humble Greek Lean Easter
Justine Frangouli at HuffPost

Easter, 2013 in Greece: For the first time in recent memory, Greeks will celebrate Easter stripped of their annual Easter bonus which, until now, represented 50 percent of their monthly salary. The Greeks have watched in shock as their incomes are crushed under the weight of an austerity program that has tightened its grip around the country, bringing it to the brink of asphyxiation. As such, they will be looking to celebrate the most important event in the Orthodox Church's calendar with less, hoping that good weather and some form of optimism will help mask their despair. It will definitely be a lean Easter!

But what is Easter for us Greek Orthodox? It is the greatest celebration of Christianity whereby the solemn atmosphere of Holy Week is followed by the joy of the evening of the Resurrection, bringing ineffable relief and intense excitement to the Orthodox world.
And, whereas the Greek Orthodox Church gives the utmost importance to the resurrection of the Lord, Jesus Christ, the non-Orthodox faith, on the other hand, emphasizes the mourning of his death.
Here-in lies one of the main differences between the two doctrines. In the Roman-
Catholic Church, Christ as God is distant, fair and a punisher, but in the Greek Orthodox
religion, Jesus takes on a more simple, human form, depicted in our icons as he who was
sacrificed and subsequently resurrected, cleansing mankind of sin.
My vivid memories of Holy Week on the Ionian island of Lefkada are a collage of colors
and fragrances.

The week begins with Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evenings dedicated to the bridegroom:
"Behold the bridegroom comes in the midst of the night... beware, therefore."
Later on Tuesday night, I remember always being mesmerized by the beautiful, enthralling "Hymn of Cassiane." Most likely the work of Patriarch Photius or Romanos, it relates the story of a humiliated woman in the crescendo of asking forgiveness for her sins:
"The woman who had fallen into many sins recognized the Godhead. O Lord, Woe to me, saith she, receive the sources of my tears. O thou who doth gather into clouds the water of the sea. Who can trace out the multitude of my sins and the abysses of my misdeeds? O thou whose mercy is unbounded."
Holy Thursday is the day of the twelve gospels. Written by four different evangelists but actually recounting the same facts, they describe the path taken by Jesus to the Crucifixion. Through their wonderful narratives, they delineate Christ's progression from glory to humiliation, his prayer at the Mount of Olives and his betrayal by Judas.

After the reading of the fifth gospel, the Crucifix is processed around the church with the priest chanting the 15th antiphon:
"Today is hung upon the tree. He who did hang the land in the midst of the waters... "
During the service of Holy Friday, the removal of the body of Christ from the cross is commemorated with a sense of mourning for the terrible events which have taken place. As the cleric reads the gospel, he removes the body of Christ from the cross, wraps it in a white cloth and takes it to the altar:
"... and taking the body, Joseph wrapped it in a white cloth."

He then places it on the Epitafios or Sepulcher, a carved bier which symbolizes the tomb of Jesus and we are reminded that, during Christ's entombment, he descends into Hades to free the dead of the ages before his incarnation.

All unwed girls bring violets from their gardens to the Epitaph which they proceed to adorn, praying. The smell of spring pours into the church and everyone remains transfixed by the aromatic fragrances that abound.

That same evening, the thoughtful and well-written "Odes," sung by the choir, compare the Compassion of God to the cruelty of man, the might of The Lord with the moral ineptitude of humanity. The Odes depict all creation trembling, witnessing The Creator being hung by his own creatures. Then the entire congregation joins in singing the three parts of the "Hymns of Praise" (there are approximately 300 hymns, but only a few are sung). After these hymns, the priest sprinkles the Sepulcher and the whole congregation with fragrant water.

This is followed by the procession of the Epitaphs of all the different churches of the town across the main market area with the scent of flowery perfumes spreading the joy of the coming Resurrection.
Holy Saturday commences with the breaking of clay objects, symbolizing the end of evil. Housewives awake at dawn in order to break pots and vases while the Lefkadian Philharmonic parades through the narrow streets, playing hymns from Bach and Beethoven.

My mother would bathe us in the afternoon and force us to take an extended nap in order for us to be able to witness the twelfth hour. I am still haunted to this day by our awakening to the smell of the slowly simmering traditional tripe soup, the magiritsa, wafting in the whole neighborhood.
Then, at precisely 11 p.m., it was off to church with our ceremonial candles, the lambades in hand. At 11:45, the priest (our Dad) would bring out the 'holy light,' originating in Jerusalem, and offer it to us. At midnight, he would chant "Christ is Risen" and everyone would join in, kissing each other and asking for forgiveness.

We would then partake in an impressive fireworks display that would light up the sky to commemorate the joy of the Resurrection and subsequently return home to devour the gut soup. After dinner, we would smack dyed eggs against one another with the lucky winner, the one with the unbroken red one, being blessed with a year of good fortune.

The following day was Easter Sunday. Bright and early, the spits would be turning and the grills would be red-hot. The customary main attraction, the lamb or goat, is usually roasted whole, in the open air, to represent the lamb of God. We would often gather round, hacking mouthwatering chunks directly off the spit and leaving little but bone by the time we were done. Undaunted, many Lefkadians would do their cooking in the oven, preferring this method as it would enable them to add all kinds of accompaniments and trimmings to the roast.

Great Greek wines, ouzo, raki, tsipouro and all kinds of drinks would flow freely and everyone would end up dancing in the streets, turning the traditional Easter meal into a memorable celebration that would last well into the night.

Predictions are that the Greeks will not be able to have a festive Easter or Pascha this year given that their austerity-slashed salaries will dampen their spirits. However, with spring in the air, with its colors and scents, optimism can not help but be the flavor of the season!
Kalo Pascha, Happy Easter!