Archive | March, 2011

Church Hopping: Agia Lavra

30 Mar

In case you missed it, here’s the link to my most recent Church Hopping entry on Burnside Writers Collective.  In this adventure, I bring you to Agia Lavra, the little church where the Greek revolution began.  Long before Facebook organized citizens, the Church was a place of social change.

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2011 Greek Independence Day Parade

29 Mar

Who made it out to the parade on Sunday to celebrate Greek Independence Day?  My sister and I went after brunch.  It was a great day for a parade.  The sky was a bright, bright blue and the sun was shining.  It was a bit brisk to be standing on the sidelines, but I’m sure those marching in the parade enjoyed that it wasn’t hot out.

Our favorite part was seeing the little kids all dressed up in their Greek costumes.  Seriously adorable!

I also rather enjoyed seeing the Greek-American women who insisted on marching in high heels.  It was quite a few blocks up Fifth Avenue to be clomping around in heels, but they remained stoic.

Greek men and women of all ages layered blue and white clothes on, wore Hellas t-shirts they probably picked up in Plaka, and draped the Greek flag over their shoulders. Super-hero style!

Here are a few pics.

 

 

 

 

Victory Hellas!

25 Mar

Happy Independence Day!  I fully realize in this chilly weather that today is not July 4.  March 25, however, marks the 190th anniversary of Greek Independence from the Ottoman Empire.

Greece was a strong empire, impacting language and culture around the world for much of ancient history.  Even after Greece fell to Roman rule, Greek thought and influence remained strong.  However, in 1453 the Byzantine Empire fell to the Ottoman Empire.

On March 25, 1821, Metropolitan Germanos of Patras raised a revolutionary flag under a tree outside of Agia Lavra, a monastery in the Peloponnese.  This wasn’t the first clash between the Greeks and the Ottoman Empire in those 400 years.  The Turks had burned monastery, which was built in AD 961, to the ground in 1585.  The Greeks rebuilt it in 1600 but then the Ottoman Empire armies of Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt destroyed the church in 1715.  The Greeks rebuilt it again, and in 1821 Germanos gave an oath to the Greek fighters and raised the flag.  Pasha’s army destroyed Agia Lavra again in 1826.

The War for Independence lasted nine years.  Finally, on 1829, a small part of Greece was liberated.  Slowly, other parts of Greece were liberated.  On July 21, 1832, the Treaty of Constantinople, which put the Greek borders in writing, was signed, and on August 30, 1832, it was ratified.  Still, it wasn’t until after World War II that other Greek lands were returned to Greece.

You can read my full article on the church where the revolution began in my Church Hopping column on Burnside Writers Collective.

*  *  *

Get out your blue and white… in New York, the Greek Independence Day Parade will be taking place this Sunday, March 27, beginning at 1:30.  The parade goes up Fifth Avenue, starting at 64th Street until it reaches 79th Street.

If you can’t get there, you can watch it on WWOR TV Channel 9.  It will be anchored by Greek-Americans Ernie Anastos, Nick Gregory, and Nicole Petallides.

I’ve attended the parade many years, and when I was a kid I even got to ride on one of the floats!

Read my write up on the 76th Annual Greek Independence Day Parade in New York that took place a few years ago on Daily Frappe for more insight on the history of the parade and Greeks life in America.

Mapping Out Houses of Worship in NYC

24 Mar

Remember the other day when I mentioned that cute little restaurant Penelope?  Well, last Friday Penelope happened to be the opening setting of a New York Times article by Mark Oppenheimer, entitled “Mapping Religious Life in the Five Boroughs, With Shoe Leather and a Web Site.”  The article is about a Texas native named Tony Carnes, who moved to New York to go to The New School, where incidentally I’m enrolled in the MFA program, and who is, according to his website, “exploring the postsecular city.”

He’s mapping out every house of worship in the five boroughs of New York.  My immediate thought was: there are so many churches that make use of school auditoriums, bars, and ballrooms — how will he find those churches, if he’s driving around looking for church signs?  Well, apparently Carnes hears about those by word of mouth.

But he isn’t just mapping the city out.  He and his colleagues are telling stories.  Stories such as:

“The youth of Bethany Baptist Church put together a modestware fashion show in Jamaica, Queens called ‘A World of Difference.’ They follow a long tradition of fashion shows in African American churches.” —Fashion in Church, Jamaica, Queens

“Under the searing sun and stench of roadside garbage, a teenage Hispanic girl carrying a baby boy comes out of a door next to a church. Her tousled hair looked like she’d been up all night. The baby’s unwashed face was smeared with dirt; a diaper was the only thing covering his bare skin.” — Girl Power in Flatbush

“What church would get rid of its pews to make more room for feeding the poor? Surely, wouldn’t the pastor resign, the elders stomp out in exasperation, and the members hastily decamp for a properly pewed church? All that didn’t happen at a Lower East Side church ten years ago when it did just that…” —East Village church threw out its pews to make room for the poor

If you want to know about Greek Orthodox churches and Greek Pentecostal, there’s also an article posted on the census the nonprofit took in Astoria.

I love the way Carnes and his nonprofit organization are uniting houses of worship.  In a way, it’s kind of a blend of the way Burnside Writers Collective gives community and voice to people of varied Christian background (head’s up: check out my church hopping column tomorrow!) and Asphalt Eden illustrates various New York church’s unique personalities by listing events.

In another way, it reminds me of the exciting and noble work the Endangered Language Alliance, headed up by Dan Kaufman, Bob Holman, and Juliette Blevins, is doing, mapping out endangered languages in New York and working to preserve them.

For more on Carnes’ “Journey thru NYC religions” visit http://www.nycreligion.info.

Writing Wednesday: Who Is the Patron Saint of Your Writing?

23 Mar

Detail of Turf One's painting "Holy Ghost."

“Who is the patron saint of your writing?” my lit instructor inquired.

I’m taking a class that looks at how classic works of literature inspire contemporary works.  We look, for example, at how Evan S. Connell’s Mrs. Bridge informed Meg Wolitzer’s The Wife.  It seems natural that great authors would inspire other great writers to write either in the same style or the same theme.  And yet, my instructor’s question has had me thinking for days.

I’ve never thought of my own writing as being inspired by another writer.  I don’t try to write like my favorite authors, though I’m sure I must’ve done it subconsciously many times.

In a way, this rejection of sameness is reflective of my life in general.  I was the English major in undergrad who hung out with all the premed students.  I was the Greek kid in middle school with all the Korean and Japanese friends.  It never occurred to me to hang out with people who had my identical interests and culture, and it never occurred to me to try to write like another writer.

Except maybe Gregory Corso.

When I was 22 I wrote an homage to Corso’s “I Am 25.” It was pretty much a rip off of Corso’s poem, but it was meant to be.  Corso writes about stealing the poems of Shelley, Chatterton, and Rimbaud, and I more or less swapped out the names of these “old poetmen” for those of Corso, Kerouac, and Ginsberg.

Along those Beat Generation lines, one of my favorite writers is Jack Kerouac.  Read these lines from On the Road:

“Soon it got dusk, a grapy dusk, a purple dusk over tangerine groves and long melon fields; the sun the color of pressed grapes, slashed with burgundy red, the fields the color of love and Spanish mysteries.”

“The one thing that we yearn for in our living days, that makes us sigh and groan and undergo sweet nauseas of all kinds, is the remembrance of some lost bliss that was probably experienced in the womb and can only be reproduced (though we hate to admit it) in death.”

It pains me how beautiful these words are.  While so much has been made of Kerouac’s subject matter and improvisational style, I find that it is his lyrical descriptions and, yes, the rhythm of his prose that captivate me the most.

I have zig-zagged across the country, visiting places Kerouac visited, and I’ve written short travel articles, but I don’t write road-trip novels.  I would like very much to write about America, though.  I’ve written about Kerouac, sure, but I haven’t (consciously) attempted to write in his style.  I love punctuation rules too much.

I would probably choose Jack Kerouac to be the patron saint of my writing, but in reality, my writing voice comes out more like Sue Monk Kidd or, as my mom has pointed out, Donald Miller and Anna Quindlen.

Others tell me to read David SedarisHe’s Greek!  He writes about his family! And indeed, I do see his humor sometimes creeping into my personal essays.  One time, right after reading David Foster Wallace’s Consider the Lobster, I will confess I conjured up his style for an article I wrote, but I fear that was only similar to off-key humming of a song that just played on the radio.

Must I choose just one patron saint?

I admire great writers, and I love to reference them and turn other readers on to them, but I don’t think I could ever choose just one to be my patron saint.  I’m way too much of a schizophrenic writer for that.

Who is your patron saint of writing?

Biggest Advice for… English Majors

22 Mar

 

I’ve received a lot of emails lately from students at my alma mater, Scripps College, wanting to know how I got started in book publishing and what advice I have for them.  I’ve been responding to emails individually but I thought it might be helpful to do a series of career-advice posts in addition to my regular Writing Wednesday posts here on the blog.

As with all my posts, this is simply my opinion.  There are a lot of great books, articles, and career counselors who can set you on the path to choosing and establishing your career.  I’m offering my perspective because it’s been requested and because sometimes it’s helpful to hear personal experience, but it’s by no means the only advice and methods available.

First up in this series is my biggest advice for English majors.

 

Congratulations!  You’ve decided to become an English major.  An English degree is incredibly versatile.  It can be applied to such exciting fields such as book publishing, journalism, teaching, writing, law, and so much more.  You need to know how to write and comprehend the written word in practically every job, whether you’re writing your cover letter for an application or writing a compelling business proposal once you’ve gotten the job of your dreams.

Plus, English majors are just plain cool.  They’re always walking around with dog-eared paperbacks.  They scribble poetry in blue ink on hand-bound journals and think typewriters are still relevant.  They’re in touch with their emotions.  They’re in touch with the emotions of others around them.  They know big words.  They read the book before the movie comes out.  Okay, so maybe I’m stereotyping, but there’s just something so romantic about English majors as opposed to many of the other majors.  I should know.  I was one.

I knew going into college that I wanted to major in English.  I love working with words.  Reading them, writing them, painting them, savoring them.  Though I do wish I’d taken a few more “practical” courses, I don’t regret my decision to major in English.  It’s had a tremendous impact in my career choice as a writer and editor, and I just plain enjoy studying literature on a personal level.

Here are a few tips garnered from my personal experience as an English major that I hope will help those of you pursuing your degree.

  1. Select a wide variety of English courses.  Variety is the spice of life!  Instead of limiting yourself right away to a particular time period in English literature, load up on courses from different time periods and regions.  You’ll gain a more complete awareness of the full history of English literature and learn how they interact and respond to each other.  Remember that in order to fully understand postmodernism, you need to also study modernism.  Take a Southern Gothic class and an Elizabethan Shakespeare class.  Take a women writers course and an Asian American lit course.
  2. Be open-minded.  My undergrad program was heavy on British literature.  At the time I didn’t really appreciate reading books by Samuel Johnson and poetry by Edmund Spenser because I wanted to study the Beats.  Now, while my focus is still on Beat literature, I’m so thankful that I have a wider knowledge of English literature because it informs me of the history and progression of writing.  Plus, Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, published in 1759, could give postmodernists a run for their money any day!
  3. Research the authors you read.  A little trick I learned in grad school was to look up information on the author before I came to class.  Knowing the author’s biography and bibliography helps give context to their books.
  4. Take creative courses outside your major.  One of the courses that had the most impact on my writing was not an English literature class; it was Introduction to Film, taught at Pitzer College by Professor Alexandra Juhasz.  Through the jump cuts and camera angles, I learned about craft and point of view in a way I’d never thought about so clearly before then.
  5. Take digital art classes.  I studied digital art under Professor Nancy Macko at Scripps, and having that background opened up opportunities in web design, typesetting and page layout, branding and marketing, and production.  Even though I have a production manager now who deals with printer specifications of my books, it helps that I have an understanding of production issues.  Furthermore, I know how to create logos and manipulate images, which I can use on my personal blog to promote my own writing.
  6. Find a second subject that captivates you.  If you’re planning on becoming a writer of any sort or working at a publication, it will be useful to have specialized knowledge in a subject outside of literature.  Whether it’s classical music or psychology, the subject will inform your style and subject matter.  I took History of New York at CMC and continually find myself drawn back to what I learned in that class.  It gave me a broader scope of the New York lit scene I admire so much, and I’ve since gone on to study writing under one of the authors of the books we read in that class.
  7. Think outside the campus bubble.  While many college campuses lend themselves to picturesque academic landscapes, I have to brag that in 2010 Forbes ranked Scripps’ campus one of the most beautiful in the world.  The campus is so pretty and yet the academics so rigorous that I really didn’t think much beyond Elm Tree lawn while I was there.  Not only is there life after college, there’s life going on while you’re at college.  Try to picture where you want to be after college and look into what options are available.  Schoolwork is invaluable but so is eating, so try to remember that your schoolwork is only a means toward something greater: your career.  One lousy paper isn’t going to matter in the grand scheme of your career.  In fact, seeking help from your professor may foster a mentoring relationship that will help you in the long run.

All of this is what I learned from trial and error.  I’d love to hear from other English majors.  What advice would you give to undergrads?  What would you do differently?

I’d also love to hear why those of you who were or are English majors chose that major.  What career do you have or hope to have?

Writing Wednesday: Writing Mentors

16 Mar

I need a writing mentor, I more or less said in a post in January.  I have to admit, though, I felt a little awkward saying it.  Needing a mentor implies the need for help.  And who likes to admit they need help?

Well, it turns out, some of the best authors around have had writing mentors.  Flavorwire posted a great little montage called “A History of Famous Literary Mentorships.”

It featured literary mentoring between such notables as Henry James and Edith Wharton and Joyce Carol Oates and Jonathan Safran Foer.  I would’ve added Allen Ginsberg to the list.  He was constantly running around to different publishers, championing his friends’ works.

I currently have a publishing mentor.  It’s been great bouncing thoughts off her and hearing about her experience.  I also mentor someone, which has been really fun.

While I consider all my workshop instructors and classmates my writing mentors, I’m still seeking someone who can be a one-on-one mentor.  It would be so helpful to get an outside, experienced viewpoint on both my writing and my writing career.

I wonder if my writing would be different if I had a mentor.

φάε: Spinach & Kimchee Pies — My Childhood in Savory Pastry Form

14 Mar

I grew up in a town in New Jersey that was heavily populated by Korean Americans.  You can imagine my delight then when I stumbled upon a kimchee variation of spanikopita.  It was like my childhood in savory pastry form!

On her ever-popular blog, Not Eating Out in New York, Cathy Erway tells how her friend inspired her to make spanikopita.  When she didn’t have any feta cheese in her fridge to make the spinach pie, she decided on a unique alternative: kimchee.  “I’ll take spicy, briny, tart pickled cabbage over feta this time,” she wrote.

 

Spinach & Kimchee Pie. Photo via Not Eating Out in New York. Used with permission.

For anyone who doesn’t know, spanikopita is the name of a Greek spinach pie that is made out of delicious layers of phyllo dough, spinach, feta cheese, egg, and onion.  This being the season of Great Lent, I should point out that there is also a vegan version that does not contain cheese.

Kimchee, meanwhile, is a popular Korean dish of fermented vegetables.  The main vegetable is cabbage but it could also have onions and cucumbers in it.  Kimchee is having its moment right now.  It’s being packaged up and branded to the foodie hipster crowd.  The brand Cathy uses in her recipe is her friend Kheedim Oh’s Mama O’s Kimchee, but I also discovered via Joy Deangdeelert Cho’s blog, oh joy!, the brand Mother In Law’s Kimchi, which I then stumbled upon at Whole Foods.

Cathy’s spinach & kimchee pies are not your yiayia’s spanikopita.  She combined the spinach and kimchee and folded it into pastry dough.  Get the full recipe and its health benefits on the Not Eating Out in New York blog.

The Quotable Greek: The Secret of Business

7 Mar

“The secret of business is to know something nobody else knows.”

~Aristotle Onassis

 


Gripster: Community’s Starburns Is “Creepy, Seems Greek”

7 Mar

Greendale Community College held an impromptu election for student government on the last episode of Community, “Intro to Political Science.”  As usual, Jeff scoffed at the idea and then, wearing a leather jacket and tight black jeans, used his lawyerly tricks to prove votes aren’t based on anything of substance.

Troy and Abed gave a rundown of the candidates, which included Starburns.  Describing him, Troy said, “creepy, seems Greek, possible drug dealer.”  The ethnicity on the screen shot shows: Cambodian.  This is right after they said another candidate changed his last name to get the Hispanic vote and right before they mentioned Jeff, whose ethnicity was listed as Northern European.  Mind you, the ethnicity of the ever-perky Annie is listed as “hot.”

Starburns’ given name, we find out via Troy and Abed’s campaign coverage, is Alex Osbourne.  So what gives with the “creepy, seems Greek” comment?  Well, in case you didn’t know, Alex “Starburns” Osbourne is played by Greek-American actor Dino Stamatopoulos.

Stamatopoulos was born in Norridge, Illinois, on December 14, 1964.  He attended Columbia College Chicago before becoming a writer for such shows as The Ben Stiller Show (for which he won an Emmy), The Dana Carvey Show, the Late Show with David Letterman, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, MADtv, and Important Things with Demetri Martin (another fellow Greek-American).  He also wrote the claymation episode of Community that everyone raved about: “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas.”

Pretty good for a guy whose Myspace page humbly says, “He’s also written and produced many of show business’ least-watched shows, but he doesn’t care.”  Oh, and according to said Myspace page, he’s got great taste in music.  He likes The Mountain Goats, Nick Cave, John Lennon, and The Magnetic Fields.

If you’re looking to get into screenwriting or comedy writing, you may want to study Stamatopoulos’ Emmy-Award-winning writing.

The next episode of Community will air March 17 and is entitled “Custody Law and Eastern European Diplomacy.”