Πέμπτη, 19 Σεπτεμβρίου 2013

Lefkas, a Picturesque Island Blended With Jetsetters


I was born on Lefkas, an island located between Italy and mainland Greece in the deep blue Ionian Sea. Lekada, as it is known in Greece, is one of seven islands that comprise the complex of the Ionian Islands and is situated a few kilometers south of cosmopolitan Corfu.

For me, my island has always been the center of the universe, the navel of the earth. I saw the light of day in the streets of its capital, the town of Lefkas. It is here where I ran and danced and suffered my share of cuts and bruises playing in the neighborhoods inhabited by the most welcoming and adorable people.

Lefkada town is all about magic. Entering the island by car over a movable bridge, you get the feeling that, with one snap of the fingers, you're back on the mainland. As you cross the bridge onto the island, you find yourself on a causeway with the azure blue sea on your left and the grayish waters of the lagoon on your right. The view remains etched in the mind of the visitor, creating an unforgettable first impression.

A little further down, the capital rises up with its brightly colored houses and their red and yellow roofs forming a lovely palette. The town, surrounded by the sea and the lagoon, sports a crowded western pier teeming with trendy bars while that on the east side is home to traditional tavernas and ouzeries offering up wonderful local specialties.

It is fringed by the beach of St. John, a unique stretch of all-white sand several kilometers long that is ideal for swimming and partaking in watersports. Here, amidst the refurbished windmills, you can sip the local sweet almond drink, or "soumada," while admiring the incomparable sunset in the soft dusk of summer or experience the twilight rising beyond the cliff side mansion of the Stavros family.

The eastern side of the island has the privilege of standing directly across the mountains of Aetoloakarnania, on the Greek mainland, that paint its waters with their golden colors. Small beaches and fishing villages adorn the winding coastal road, providing the visitor with a wonderful view of the small, "fjord-like" coastline.

Immediately south lies the town of Lygia, with its numerous fishing boats, and the village of Nikiana, with its many small, accessible beaches of pure, white sand. Further along, you find Perigiali, with its little bays, and Vlycho with its spectacular inlet resting beneath a tall, green mountain and offering one of the finest examples of the island's beauty.

A stop at Nidri, the cosmopolitan resort of Lefkada, is a must. Once a quaint fishing village, the town thrived in step with the persona of Aristotle Onassis who purchased the neighboring mythical Scorpios Island in 1963, married Jackie Kennedy five years later and transformed Lefkada into a playground for the rich. Legendary for his international "jetset" parties, Onassis also owned the adjacent, smaller island of Sparti which he used as a hunting ground to entertain his famous friends.

Today, Nidri is reliving moments of past glory as Russian oligarch, Dmitry Rybolovlev, who recently bought Scorpios from Onassis' grand-daughter, Athena, begins preparing this exclusive paradise to receive elite company once again. Purchasing the bulk of his supplies and renovation materials from local Nidri shops, Rybolovlev plans to restore the beautiful homes on the island while, in turn, giving a boost to the local economy.

Eastward, the shoreline passes Sivota, a sheltered bay of staggering beauty, where the clear waters reflect the view of the surrounding mountains. Continuing on, bypassing numerous small, landlocked villages, you arrive at vibrant Vassiliki, at the southern tip of the island. Strictly a commercial port in the pre-war years, Vassiliki is, today, the offloading point for the large ferries crossing daily from Cephalonia loaded with toursists. Here-in sits the small hamlet of Ponti which is famed for its stiff breezes and has become an international meeting place for champion windsurfers and sailboaters.
On its western shore, Lefkada offers spectacular views and wild seas. Following the road from the village of Agios Petros, down towards the stunning Athani and past Exantheia, you can gaze as far as the eye can see, far beyond the deep, blue color of the Ionian Sea. Snaking along the coast, you come to Agios Nikitas, where you can walk the cobbled streets of this picturesque fishing village, breathe in the saltiness of the water and stroll along its beautiful, rocky beach.

Dancing among a panoply of beaches on the way back to Lefkada town, you can discover the renowned Porto Katsiki with its turquoise sea, the stunning Ekremnous with their open waters, the expansive Kathisma with its ivory sand and cosmopolitan bars and the calm, more remote Peukakia.
If you're a the true sea lover, hire a sloop to sail around the Island and admire the cape of IRAS with its quaint monastery and bathe in one of the countless virgin beaches.

Before departing, do not forget that you have a duty to visit the monastery of Phaneromeni, perched on the hill, high above the capital, guarding the precious image of the Virgin Mary and giving hope to the weak and courage to the strong.

Should you enjoy the journey, you will want return to the magical island of ancient Pegasus, again and again, as many have before you, to get to know the locals and become acquainted with a new Greek generation of Dorians and Ionians.



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Πέμπτη, 12 Σεπτεμβρίου 2013

Sifnos, the Island of Wild Beauty and Food Tasting!



Photos :Courtesy Vangelis Rassias

Justine Frangouli-Argyris
The Huffingon Post

 Greece is a country of many islands, each boasting its own unique morphology, architecture and culture. The Cyclades, a group of twelve remote islands in the midst of the Aegean Sea surrounding the sacred island of Delos in a circular formation, are renowned for their "jet-set" destinations of Mykonos, Santorini and Paros.

However, it is well worth the effort to venture "off the beaten track" and visit some of the lesser known jewels of this Aegean archipelago. For, it is here, where the tourist masses have yet to establish a presence, that the visitor can discover the true splendor of the Cyclades.

This summer, I was fortunate to land on the hidden paradise of Sifnos, an island of wild beauty yet, at the same time, with a unique nobility. Hugging the sea but sporting steep mountains that stand naked in its midst, Sifnos immediately attracts for the ruggedness of its spectacular scenery.

Apollonia, the capital, with its classic white-washed houses dotted with Aegean blue and other soft shades that blend to form a soothing pallette, appears as if perched on a ledge, overhanging the ocean and offering an unforgettable panoramic view.

Artemonas, with its cobbled streets and predominantly larger structures, stands proud in its urban nobility. The expansive residences, with their large fenced yards, are pristine examples of Greek Neoclassical architecture. The wealth of the local churches, with their important byzantine icons and frescoes, are proof of the town's financial superiority, owing to its historical ties with the shipping trade.

The Kastro, a past capital featuring medieval fortifications, is, perhaps, the island's most picturesque village, resembling a living museum and overlooking the tiny cove of Seralia with its tiny fish restaurants.

Sifnos may not be blessed with a panoply of beaches like some of its more renowned neighbors, but it posesses a few very beautiful and easily accessible ones that house good services. The extensive Platis Yialos, for example, has fine, dark sand and brandishes small hotels and beach bars that offer parasols and lounge chairs at water's edge.

At the less-organized Vathy, where many yauchts are docked, the transparent waters allow the wader to gaze at the teeming marine life underfoot and to enjoy the sight of the quaint fishing village across the bay.

The sandy beach at Kamares, with its calm waters, is home to many shops, bars and cafés and doubles as the official port of the island, where the visitor is first welcomed.

Over the course of the summer, Sifnos hosts many cultural events. A splendid affair to which I was invited, the 7th annual Festival of Cycladic Tasting, is a three-day gastronomic exposition of Cyclades delicacies, many of which I had no idea were purely Greek in origin.

An intricate part of the celebrations is an event organized by the Cultural Association of Sifnos. "Sifnos makes the table," is dedicated to the memory of the famous Greek chef, Nikos Tselemendes. Born in the town of Exambela, Tselementes went on to international stardom by showcasing the flavors and products of his beloved Cycladic cuisine.

On exhibit were twenty separate kiosks, each displaying local agricultural specialties and offering up appetizers, indigenous wines, and Sifnian pastries. Visitors could even partake in the many cooking demonstrations that were a sight to behold.

The evenings were capped off in the central square of Artemona where local music abounds and island dance troupes performed. A stunning highlight was the annual reincarnation of the traditional Sifnian wedding that originated at the home of Tselementes and weaved its way through the narrow streets to the great square, signalling the conclusion of the festivities.

"Apart from traditional food, the Cycladic islands proudly display local agricultural produce chiefly cultivated by a new class of young entrepreneurs trying to succeed in a country that has been devastated by the economic crisis," confessed to me the President of the Cultural Association of Sifnos, Maria Nadalis.

For his part, Mayor Andreas Babounis hopes that the festival will continue to flourish and eventually become international in scope. "Our aim is to further communication and networking amongst the Cyclades and every year we invite representatives from some other island groups in order to promote interaction between our individual cultures. Our ultimate goal, however, is to give a wider connotation to the event and, at some point in the future, have European participants showcasing their cuisines."

Sifnos, the island known for its chick pea soup, or "revythada," and local wild sheep, or "mastelo," is, truly, a rare paradise that captivates with its wild beauty and offers the best of the reputed Aegean good life.



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

Τετάρτη, 4 Σεπτεμβρίου 2013

John Catsimatidis, a people's man

Justine Frangouli-Argyris

What can be written about John A. Catsimatidis, the boy from the small Aegean island of Nissyros in the Dodecanese, that hasn’t been penned already?  Arriving in New York at the tender age of six months, folded in his Mother Despina’s arms alongside his Father, Andreas, in search of a better tomorrow, John is the embodiment of the ‘American dream.’  

What can be said about the entrrepreneur who began as an assistant in his friend’s uncle’s grocery store in Harlem that hasn’t been heard many a time?  For, from those early days, John has gone on to conquer the business world and is presently ranked as the 132nd richest man in the United States, according to Forbes.

This past January, his story became national in scope as John declared his intention to run for the Mayoralty of New York City, setting his sights on the Republican nomination at this month’s primaries and, eventually, hoping to capture Gracie Manor, on November 5th.  

John Catsimatidis was born on the Greek island of Nissyros in 1948 and emigrated with his family to New York City when he was six months old.  He spent the past forty years of his life building his company from a single grocery store into a conglomerate with vast holdings in real estate, energy and aviation.  He still retains ownership of Manhattan’s largest supermarket chain, Red Apple Stores, but this represents only a tiny slice of his empire that has been estimated at $3 billion according to Forbes, although, as John claims, “it is actually between $3 and $5 billion.”  Before annoucing his candidacy for Mayor, Catsimatidis denounced the poor quality of the declared and presumed candidates and stated that “he was willing to spend whatever it takes to win City Hall.”

John may be reputed as being “tough” but those who know him closely describe him as a “man of the people.”  True, given his role as businessman, investor and dealmaker, he is renowned for being a hard-nosed negotiatior but he prefers to describe himself as a devoted father and a passionate citizen of his beloved New York.

To know John personally is to know a man who has raised his children “hands on,” rising at dawn to prepare breakfast and to share in their most serious conversations at the morning table with his charming wife, Margo.  To have lived close to the Catsimatidis family is to know that, even today, with the children having become young adults, they cotinue to be showered with love and attention.  Vacations are still planned in unison and the family, although great American patriots, continues to honor the culture and land of their origin, the distant Nissyros, as one.

To walk with John in Manhattan is to realize that he is intricately familiar with every building, every sidewalk and every stone in town.  To travel with him by car, to the Bronx or over the bridges to Brooklyn or Queen’s, is to hear him describe      
how he hopes to reshape the city, revive the New York World’s Fair and make the metropolis “the capital of the world.”

John Catsimatidis is not an accidental successful entrepreneur.  Originating from an important family in Istanbul, Turkey, where his grandfather was chancellor of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, his mother, Despina Emmanouillidis, was educated in French and graduated from the renowned School of Rhodes.  It was she who shaped him with kindness and devotion and through her deep knowledge resulting from her classic education.  His intimate beginnings are well known to me as I have authored the fictional biography of his mother, For the Love of Others.  

In a few days, John hopes to obtain the Republican nomination for Mayor of New York and, should he succeed, it is my belief that his persuasion and gentle demeanor will lead him to City Hall.  Once there, John is adamant that municipal policies will take their clue from the everyday citizen, not from individual interest groups.  He will bring along his patriotism, his cosmopolitainism and his management skills as well as his unique ability to touch people’s hearts.

In my opinion, with John at the helm, New York will have a true people’s mayor who will make it the shining light of all the world’s great cities!  

Δευτέρα, 12 Αυγούστου 2013

EROS in a bottle!

He sells "eros," or love, in a bottle and originates from the Greek island of Crete. His name is Emmanuel Maniadakis and the "Eros" apple ice cider he produces is strictly made with the purest organic products on the outskirts of Montreal where his vast orchards form an impressive sight.
justine frangouliargyris

Maniadakis may be a native of the famous Greek island but he was the first grower in Quebec who dared invest in the biological cultivation of apples. You can call him innovator, crazy or a dreamer but he explains, "the apple tree is a very sensitive plantation and no one believed that I could grow apples without the use of chemical fertilizers or sprays."
Daring to go against the tide because he was very sensitive to chemicals and had suffered for years from allergies when dealing with apples and apple growers, he began his "natural" production in 2002 and was granted the official stamp of the Agricultural Service of Quebec, designating his apples as unquestionably organic.
His experiment, however, was not a simple one as he notes that chemicals are widely used to suppress apple tree diseases. "The main problem is the various diseases that can attack the trees and the mildew that proliferates with the rain is almost impossible to arrest without antibacterial drugs. However, I proved to growers and agronomists alike that, with constant trimming, sparseness of tree numbers and the use of geological sedatives apple trees can survive and flourish without any need for chemicals."
Ever since, Manolis Maniadakis' apples have become a staple in Quebec's organic supermarkets and fruit stands. His Cretan restlessness, however, led to his desire to take his dream one step further and demonstrate that he could distill organic cider. He proudly proclaims, "After I succeeded with the organic apples, I decided to use the fruit to make ice cider because the weather in Quebec is favorable to the production of this kind of spirit."
He explains,
We let the apples freeze as the frost mashes and kneads the inside of the fruit. We then harvest the frozen produce towards the end of January when the temperature reaches minus 10 degrees celsius and place it in a sterile chamber where the kernels are gathered and the alcohol is produced. The result is a much sought after sweet ice cider, or apple wine, that is served as an aperitif or digestive.

Maniadakis has bottled his nectar in a long, slender, elegant flask and affixed a colorful, artistic label with the words "Eros" emblazoned in gold. In mythology, Eros was the god of love and the word itself means passionate love in Greek. Proclaims Manolis, "I live and breathe Greek mythology. It is a passion of mine and I believe that an aphrodisiac wine such as Eros, made without chemicals, should have a name that denotes pure love from a God."
Maniadakis has received numerous awards for his ice cider around the world and has begun to export his production to France, Switzerland and the United States. Surprisingly, he has found it a struggle to obtain shelf space in his home market as the liquor stores in Quebec are a government monopoly that is not easy to penetrate. Undaunted, he continues to broaden his scope and recently introduced an ice wine made from organic pears.
His dream is to some day become another "Bacchus" and have his sophisticated wine widely available in his homeland, being enjoyed by the Greeks themselves. He would like to see his Cretan brothers under the bright sun in front of the sea brandishing a bottle of Eros!

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

Τετάρτη, 24 Ιουλίου 2013

Passionate for a Hellenic Identity: The Greeks of Boston

Huffington Post
Justine Frangouli-Argyris

At the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. From left to right: Businessman Ted Argyris, author/journalist Justine Frangouli-Argyris, Museum coordinator Betty, lobbyist Nick Koskores,
Sitting:English teacher Mary Koskores and the great benefactor of the Boston Museum,  Ms Eve Condakes!

They may have been marginalized, frowned upon as being part of an immigrant ghetto and received so suspiciously before World War II that they were often forced to hide their origins but the Greeks of Boston, who emigrated to America early last century in search of a better life, have come a long way. So far in fact that, today, some of their names adorn the walls of the city's storied Museum of Fine Arts, having taken their place amongst its most vaunted benefactors.
The couple of Eve and Leo Condakes were instrumental in funding the restoration of the Classical Antiquity Gallery while George Behrakis provided the financial resources for the new "George D. and Margo Behrakis Art of the Ancient World" wing. Opened last September, it marked the first time that the museum has named a multi-gallery wing after a major donor since 1915 and led to Behrakis being honoured as one of the seven "guardians" of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, a title reserved for those that have contributed in excess of $25 million. A true masterpiece, the wing is crowned by a showcase gallery featuring some thirty pieces from the museum's collection of Greek and Roman sculptures.
Strolling through the majestic corridors with the ever-charming Eve Condakes at my side, I am filled with pride as I spy the names "Eve and Leo Condakes" prominently displayed above the Antiquity Gallery and listen attentively as she begins to narrate in a most eloquent, fluent Greek:
My father was the publisher of the first Greek newspaper here in Boston and, along with my mother, taught us the Greek language and instilled in us the obligation to honor the country of our origin. I remember that we visited the museum when we were very young and how devastated my father was when we were shown the museum's collection of ancient Greek sculptures on display, down in the basement. As such, when the opportunity arose many years later, my late husband, Leo, and I jumped at the chance to fund the marvellous gallery that houses many of those very same works of art today. I am very proud to witness our national treasures being admired by visitors from around the world in one of the most famous museums in the United States.
Born and raised in Boston and the mother of two prominent professionals, Nick and Ted Koskores, Evanthia Condakes rose to a senior level executive position with a major international cosmetics company but, following her father's teachings, never forgot her roots.
Our parents and grandparents were conscious of their great responsibility towards their history when they began their long journey to the blessed land of America. They may have come here with very little means in the quest of a better future but they arrived full of pride in their history and traditions.
A much decorated and highly beloved former president of the National Philoptochos Society of the Archdiocese of America, a longtime benefactor of Leadership 100 and the Greek Orthodox Community of Boston to name but a few, Eve Condakes has also become an outspoken advocate for the reopening of the Chalki Greek Orthodox Theological School in Turkey.
A long friendship connects me with his Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew. Together with many other Greek Communities in the Diaspora, we support all his efforts for the re-opening of the historical Theological School in Chalki. We demand protection for the human and religious rights of the people in Turkey and we hope that the status of our historic Patriarchate in Istanbul will be respected and that the country begins to adopt a more pro-European stance. Our prayers are with his Holiness, our Patriarch and leader of the Orthodox around the world.
Eve, along with her late husband, Lycurgus (Leo) Condakes, may symbolize the "American Dream" but she is also a shining example, as was he, of an individual with a deep sense of being and respect for her heritage. Their gallery at the museum houses an important series of sculptures and vases that date from the 4th century B.C.
As we walk down the gallery named after the Eve and Leo Condakes' Foundation, she notes, head held high:
I am proud of my cultural and religious origin. Here in Boston, I feel full of Greece and Orthodoxy and I am trying to pass these values on to my grandchildren. My late husband and I invested in the Classical Antiquity wing at the museum so that future generations of the Hellenes could explore and admire the beauty of our culture and experience the eternity of the Hellenic spirit.

Πέμπτη, 18 Ιουλίου 2013

The Greek Diaspora: A People Neglected

Justine Frangouli-Argyris
The Huffington Post

Somewhat after World War I but, predominantly after World War II and the devastating Greek Civil War that ensued, Greece encouraged her children to emigrate, en masse, in quest of a brighter future.

Facing a ruined economy, the post-war eras left no other plausible options to the Greeks who fled to Australia, Canada, the United States and Germany as they had done in ancient times when they left for the shores of Southern Italy and France.

However, instead of Greece moving ahead with the implementation of some coherent policy to support the Greek element overseas, the country, on the contrary, became dependent on a flow of funds from these expatriates back to the homeland. Known as "hidden resources," these monies were essential in providing the developing nation with an economic respite in its effort to stand on its feet.

The only aid that Greece offered was to dispatch a vibrant clergy to the Greek communities that sprung up around the world who would go on to become the founding fathers of Greek Orthodox churches and parishes and, by extension, the pillars of Greek language education with the establishment of parochial schools.

This great wave of post-war migration created a large Greek diaspora with varied problems, needs and priorities. Unfortunately, however, Greece showed little interest in or entirely abstained from adopting a continuous, consistent and balanced approach to help these new communities. For example, Greek-educated teachers were sent to Germany but not to any other country until the recent years.

Meanwhile, post-dictatorial Greece (1974) began to develop rapidly, quickly obtaining the means necessary for abetting the Greek diaspora whose flow was, by then, slowly subsiding. Once again, however, the government demonstrated no desire in promoting educational or other programs that could instill a Greek identity among the youth and strengthen the ties between the fledgling communities and the motherland.

To this day, Greece continues to act irresponsibly and unevenly with respect to the teaching of the Greek language in the Greek Community schools abroad. In Germany, for example, an old-fashioned methodology has resulted in outdated institutions whose teachings have long been bypassed by a much more quickly evolving population whereas in Australia and America the Greek schools have been basically abandoned, left to fend on their own with anachronous textbooks and teaching materials.

The government has been inept at dealing with the different generations of Greeks abroad, unable to tailor its educational programs in accordance with the differing stages of progress in which they are and insisting on focusing almost exclusively on language to the detriment of Hellenic history and culture.

On fomenting a Hellenic identity among Greek youth abroad, here, too, political investment is sorely amiss. The country should be avidly promoting the attendance of the diaspora's young in camps around the country where contact with Greece's natural beauty, the native population and other Greeks from around the world could go a long way to instilling these Hellenic ideals.

Despite the fragmented efforts of leaders such as Andreas Papandreou who showed true compassion for the Greeks living abroad as he, himself, was an expatriate for many years, the Greek government has done far too little for far too long to arrest the crumbling of the majority of Greek institutions abroad.

And today, given the ongoing economic crisis with Greek unemployment approaching 30 percent and surpassing 60 percent among the young, we are faced with a new wave of Greek immigration looking to build a life in Europe, Australia and America. This may just be the Greek state's last chance to help the Greek Diaspora reach its full potential and become a force that can eventually be instrumental in bringing Greece, once again, back from the brink.

Τρίτη, 2 Ιουλίου 2013

Learn From Laval and Montreal -- Limit Mayoral Terms

Justine Frangouli-Argyris
Huffington Post

Montreal Mayor Michael Applebaum is taken away by police after being arrested at his home in Montreal on Monday.

It is summertime in Montreal and that implies decrepit, broken roads and endless congestion as a result of omnipresent construction crews in the midst of repairing potholes left over by the spring thaw. It is also the time of the world famous Montreal International Jazz Festival but instead of the city revelling in music and laughter, it is being bombarded by the deafening sound of jackhammers on asphalt repair.

The astonishing fact, however, is that to build these wretched streets that are the root cause of innumerable major car repairs, taxpayers, on average, have been charged some 30 to 50 per cent more than those of neighbouring provinces and states with similar climactic conditions such as Ontario and New York.

For, as has been revealed at the hearings of the ongoing Charbonneau Commission investigating Montreal's construction industry, the awarding of city contracts has, for years, been dominated by a select, corrupt oligarchy involving kickbacks to political parties and payments to corrupt city officials. The inquiry, whose mandate was recently extended, has already brought about the resignation of Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay, the arrest of many of his closest collaborators and his interim replacement, Michael Applebaum, as well as the indictment of the mayor of the adjoining city of Laval, Gilles Vaillancourt.

Having entered municipal politics after a distinguished career at the provincial level where he served as Minister of Industry, Gerald Tremblay was forced to resign this past November after 11 long years at the helm of the city of Montreal and after allegations of corruption surfaced at the Charbonneau Commission.

Tremblay's resignation landed Michael Applebaum, the chairman of Tremblay's Executive Committee, in the mayor's chair. Promising to bring transparency and honesty to City Hall, Applebaum created a stir for becoming the Montreal's first Anglophone mayor in a century. However, last week, he, too, was forced to resign, indicted on 14 counts, including fraud, conspiracy and breach of trust.

The Applebaum saga was preceeded by the spectacular arrest of Laval Mayor Gilles Vaillancourt along with 37 co-conspirators on multiple charges of corruption and gangsterism. Vaillancourt ran Laval for an unprecedented 23 years, often without any opposition, before being forced to resign in disgrace last November.

So, as I drive through the city, desperately trying to avoid the deadly obstacles, I keep thinking about the very notion of corruption and how this beautiful city has become a beacon of mismanagement all around the world.

In looking for possible solutions, I believe the time has come for the National Assembly of Quebec to legislate a limit on a mayor's tenure in the province's cities. As in many other jurisdictions, two terms are more than sufficient for a leader to illustrate and realize the projects he or she wishes to enact whereas clinging to power for extended periods of time leads to cronyism and conspiracy as has been well demonstrated by the Montreal and Laval experience!