Monday, February 16, 2015

Wisdom From the Bottom of the Glass: Our 16th President

While living in Illinois in the early 1830's, Abraham Lincoln and his business partner, William Berry, owned a general store.  Like any general stores, they sold a variety of items including bacon, guns, and honey.

And booze, of course.  And booze.

Any proprietor could sell liquor without being licensed as long as he sold more than a quart and as long as it was not imbibed in the establishment.  The serving of libations was reserved for those industrious souls who received a liquor license, so, in order to make the Berry-Lincoln Store more profitable, William Berry applied for and received such a license in 1833 - making our 16th President the only person to hold that office who was also a tavern-keeper.

Cheers, Honest Abe, cheers.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Wisdom From the Bottom of the Glass: Quinine, Morphine and Whiskey

"In one pocket I carried quinine, in the other, morphine, and whiskey in my canteen,'' Dr. Nathan Mayer wrote, describing a daylong [Civil War] march in which he trailed his regiment, examining stragglers and treating the sick and injured.

~David Drury, Hartford Courant, December 29, 2012

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Reverend and the Archbishop

As Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is celebrated, please tell me you've seen the cover of Life Magazine from March 26th, 1965 - it's one of the issues commemorating the Selma to Montgomery marches.  The cover image has always been compelling and powerful since, as Life proclaimed, it was a historic turning point for the cause.  But for me it has also represented a point of pride because, as an American with strong ties to my Greek heritage, it's gratifying to recognize Archbishop Iakovos standing just to the right of Dr. King.

The Archbishop - Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America - was one of the few non-African American members of the clergy who had the courage to answer Dr. King's call and march through Alabama in support of civil rights. 

That image is the most well known, with the Archbishop looking into the camera's lens.  But another image, less famous, better captures the feeling of time, of place.

What it doesn't capture, of course, is the horror of that time and of that place.  It doesn't display the hundreds of earlier marchers who had tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge that same month and were attacked by state troopers armed with billy clubs and tear gas.  It doesn't broadcast the murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson, or of James Reeb, two men guilty of trying to march in the South and who paid for their guilt with their lives.

What it does reveal is the tension and sorrow of Archbishop Iakovos and of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and of the long line of marchers behind them.  It reveals the uneasy awareness that though their cause be just, there were men who would rather see them dead than marching under a southern sun.  Dr. King was more aware of this than anyone because the threats to his life came ugly and often.  It's that troubled awareness that strikes me in the second photograph, as if the wreath he carries in memory of the martyred Reverend James Reeb were a shield of flowers. 

And so even if it doesn't show everything, it shows that.

Years ago I happened across a copy of Life Magazine - three issues after the one that covered Selma - from April 16th, 1965.  Its Letters to the Editors were featured on page 21.  In the middle of those columns is a short missive from J. H. Sprague of Dallas, Texas, referring to the earlier edition.  It's adorable:

That cover takes the cake.  It's the best evidence of left-wing trouble makers you could ever get together.

Now, while it is true that Dr. King could be characterized as left-leaning, and while it is even more true that Walter Reuther, seen standing in back of and between the good Doctor and the Archbishop, could definitely be described as left of center (he was a Socialist in the '30's and a strong Labor Union Leader later in his life) it's funny for someone as theologically conservative as the Archbishop to be called left-wing.  But Mr. Sprague's ilk is made comfortable when they can put the Other in a derogatory box, so more power to you, Mr. Sprague, you silly, silly man.

Tonight, Karen and I talked about that to our girls, then showed them Dr. King's last speech.  Listen to his words.  Listen.  Listen and know that the threats that came to him ugly and often would turn deadly less than twenty-four hours later.  Elizabeth's eyes grew wet, as did ours, because she, unlike Dr. King, knew exactly what was going to happen to this man the next day.

Well, I don't know what will happen now.  We've got some difficult days ahead.  But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop.

I don't mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life - longevity has its place.   But I'm not concerned about that now.  I just want to do God's will.  And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain.  And I've looked over.  And I've seen the Promised Land.  I may not get there with you.  But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

So I'm happy tonight.

I'm not worried about anything.

I'm not fearing any man.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!

Do you remember when I told you about the grave of Nikos Kazantzakis?  About the words that mark the resting place of the creator of Zorba the Greek?  No name, no dates, just a few simple sentences: 

I hope for nothing.
I fear nothing.

I'm free.

You'll have to pardon me if I've always heard these lines echo in Dr. King's words and that this hearkening to the ideas of another only strengthened the ties in my mind binding Dr. King to the Greek Archbishop, the Archbishop who marched with the Reverend to Montgomery.

I try and remember throughout the year that it's not just on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day that we commemorate him - that we don't listen to his speeches with the girls today and forget about him tomorrow.  I try and remind them that powerful words alone aren't enough.  I remind them that it's when words combine with action that their power can be felt.  I remind them that glimpsing a mountaintop isn't enough because you can't see the other side until you've actually reached the summit.

For us, unfortunately, the summit is still a long way off.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

January 15th, 1929 - April 4th, 1968

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Monday, December 1, 2014

Zorba the Drink

My favorite books of all time?  That compilation changes faster than New York Times Bestsellers, but there are always a few constants, a few books so great they're always on my list with one book is so wonderful it never leaves my Top Three - Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis.

The book has been a favorite of mine for as long as I can remember having favorite books.  Zorba is one of those characters - created by a writer, never flesh and blood except on the page - who is more fervently real than most of the people I meet every day.  That's why he gets this month's drink in our newsletter.

"What's happening today, this minute, that's what I care about.  I say:  'What are you doing at this moment, Zorba?'  'I'm sleeping.'  'Well, sleep well.'  'What are you doing at this moment, Zorba?'  'I'm working.'  'Well, work well.'  'What are you doing at this moment, Zorba?'  'I'm kissing a woman.'  'Well, kiss her well, Zorba!  And forget all the rest while you're doing it; there's nothing else on earth, only you and her!  Get on with it!'"

Karen gave me a leather-bound journal on Valentine's Day, 1986, and that quote was one of the first I entered.  I'd read books, or articles, or attend a lecture, and if something jumped out at me - into the Journal it went.  Books usually got only one entry, and so that was the first entry from Zorba that resonated - then.  But then...

...but then, in 1989, I went to Greece for the first time.  And took Zorba with me.  And we traveled through Greece together, Zorba and I.  But reading Zorba?  In Greece?  It was no longer a passage that resonated - pages resonated.  I was overwhelmed.

Happy is the man, I thought, who, before dying, has the good fortune to sail the Aegean Sea.


'The idea's everything,' he said.


Zorba sees everything every day as if for the first time.


It is a great pleasure to enter a Cretan peasant's home....The house appears empty, but it contains everything needful, so few in reality are the true necessities of man.

My Journal, for a time, was taken over by Zorba the Greek.  So many of the passages weren't merely a mirror held up to life - they were Life.  My Life.  That entry about a Cretan peasant's home?  My cousin, Geó̱rgios, living in a horio (village) in Crete, owned so few things - but I've not met many men who were happier than he.

My memories of Geó̱rgios:  the glee with which he showed me the baby owl nesting in the small courtyard outside his house.  He spread its wings wide before returning it to safety.


Katina, his wife, bringing out the tray of Ouzo for the men to share.  I dutifully took the shot glass she offered and - having learned during those summer months that the easiest way to drink the Ouzo thus offered was to shoot it, quick - I shot it, quick.

But - when the liquor hit the back of my throat I knew this wasn't Ouzo.  It was a strong home brew, Raki, or Cretan Tsikoudia - the Greek version of White Lightning.  And Geó̱rgios and the rest of the men gathered there in Kaina, that village in Crete, looked at the crazy young American as he swallowed the undiluted drink - while they merely wet their upper lip with the booze before tossing the rest of the shot onto a dead bush crinkled brown near where the owl nested.

Geó̱rgios would give me a flask of my own when I left - with the admonition that even though I liked it so much, I had to promise to cut it with water.  To cut it with a lot of water. 

He leaped into the air and his feet and arms seemed to sprout wings.  As he threw himself straight in the air against that background of sea and sky, he looked like an old archangel in rebellion.  For Zorba's dance was full of defiance and obstinacy.  He seemed to be shouting to the sky:  "What can you do to me, Almighty?  You can do nothing to me except kill me.  Well, kill me, I don't care!  I've vented my spleen, I've said all I want to say, I've had time to dance....and I don't need you anymore!


Faces change, crumble, return to earth; but others rise to take their place.  There is only one dancer, but he has a thousand masks.  He is always twenty.  He is immortal.

I was about twenty, then, immortal then.  Dancing then - lots of dancing, then, with my Theo Niko.  My Theo Niko singing - drinking and singing and dancing.

My Theo Yanni - knocking on my door at five in the morning after I left my cousins at three, knocking because I said I'd go with him and milk his goats and check on his olives and water the few crops he had growing all over the island.  Little patches of land, some not much bigger than your living room, enough to keep one goat tethered - and so we drove and fed them and milked them and he'd make cheese, later, with this fresh milk.

Or he'd turn on a spigot, in a different area, above a different patch of ground, and the water would run down the small rows where he'd grow feed for his goats, and we'd talk in the cool of the morning and then Theo Yanni would kick a few pebbles with his scuffed boot and the water would change course.  The few rocks he dislodged would change the course of this trickle we were following and it would feed another row, and he'd do that - as the water wet the earth - he'd kick a few more rocks, taking his time.  There's no rushing in Greece.  Everyone takes their time - at least they do on the islands.

And later as the sun rose we came across one goat, just a kid - a runt - and it had been attacked by a billy goat and Theo Yanni knew the kid was in trouble so he threw it into the back of his truck with me, and after we finished our rounds he put it in the cool shed where the milk would ferment.  Soon after, though, his son - my cousin, Taki - went in to see how the kid was doing...

And then Taki shot out of the shed screaming, Afto pethane!  It's died!  It's died!

Theo Yanni ran in and grabbed the kid and tied its back legs together and threw the rope over a beam and hung that goat high, by its legs, before slitting its throat - because, he explained to me while the blade sliced the goat's neck, he had to bleed the goat out.  The meat would be useless to him unless he did this - and a waste like that couldn't easily be borne.

Except the goat had died and so its heart had stopped pumping - so no blood pulsed from its slit neck.  So my Theo cut the goat down, fast - here was a time to rush, finally a time to rush on the island of Skyros - and Theo Yanni grabbed a bicycle pump from somewhere close, and he stuck the business end of the pump into the main artery of the goat's thigh and looked up at me and at his son, Taki, and at my cousin, Peter - Peter, like me, from California.  Taki just screamed some more - Oxi!  No!  No! - and I looked at my Theo, confused, and so it was left to Peter who understood what needed doing.

And what needed doing was pumping the pump.  The pump with its needle stuck into the artery of the dead goat at his feet.  Pump pump pump - and suddenly the dirt next to my Theo's patio was awash with blood, the blood rhythmically pumping out of the goat as if by its own beating heart, when instead it gushed because of the maniacal up and down pumping being done by a man from Stockton.

Did Peter smile for the camera, for his cousin, Nick?  He did.  Was the meat of the goat wasted?  It was not - it became souvlaki that night.

Back home?  In the States?  The story is met with horror, revulsion.  But in Greece?  On the island?  On Skyros it made perfect sense.

To Zorba it would have made perfect sense.

After visiting my family on Crete - the General and his brother, Giorgios, their brother, Andoni - the only other thing I needed to do was visit the grave of Nikos Kazantzakis.  He's buried on the outskirts of Heraklion because the Greek Orthodox Church wouldn't let him be buried in holy ground.

No cemetery, then, for Nikos Kazantzakis - for the author of The Last Temptation of Christ.

Anyone would be struck by the simplicity of his resting place.  There's no name - no stone that reads—

Nikos Kazantzakis
Born 18 February 1883
Died 26 October 1957

—but there is a cross, wooden and tall.  And a headstone, yes, but instead of his name and when he was born, when he died, it has three lines from his work, The Saviors of God.  Just those lines, and nothing more.

Δεν ελπίζω τίποτα.  (I hope for nothing.)
Δε φοβούμαι τίποτα.  (I fear nothing.)
Είμαι λέφτερος.  (I'm free.)

I sat there, warm in the Cretan sun, and thought about those words, and Zorba.  And my family, near and far.  I thought about my mom, who traveled to Greece with me - the first time she'd been back since she left Skyros in 1961.  I thought about her reunion with her own mother.  Joyous.  Thought about the fact that I'd purchased a ring for Karen in Thessaloniki because I was having a wonderful time in Greece - but it would have been infinitely better with her, and so I would ask her when I returned to Berkeley from Greece, I would ask her to marry me.

So could I, too, say that I hoped for nothing when I hoped for so much?

Once more there sounded within me....the terrible warning that there is only one life for all men, that there is no other, and that all that can be enjoyed must be enjoyed here.  In eternity no other chance will be given to us.
A mind hearing this pitiless warning - a warning which, at the same time, is so compassionate - would decide to conquer its weakness and meanness, its laziness and vain hopes and cling with all its power to every second which flies away forever.

Funny thing about Zorba the Greek - the book.  The book that I love.  When Simon & Schuster published it in the United States for the first time, they didn't actually publish a translation of the Greek.  They instead published a French translation of the Greek into English.

Greek to French to English.

I'm sure it made sense - but, the problem with that is this:  Kazantzakis is a son of his country, and as a son of Greece he reveled in the idiosyncrasies of the Greek language.  And Cretan Greek is different from Skyrian Greek is different from Athenian Greek.  I can't imagine getting the sort of wonderful detail down on the page that Kazantzakis strove for by doing the Greek/French/English thing.

Thankfully, this month, Simon & Schuster is remedying that by publishing a new translation of Zorba the Greek - their first since the book came out in 1953.  I found out about it because Wendy Sheanin looks out for me - she's the Director of Marketing for Simon & Schuster, and yes, it's good to have friends in high places.  So there's Wendy in New York, there's their amazing rep, Cheri Hickman, keeping me up to speed on this coast - Book People, we take care of each other.

To say thanks, I mixed up a little something I originally called the Hot Zorba.  I wanted it to have rum, because that's the drink the young Greek intellectual shares with Alexis Zorba at the beginning of the novel.  Our smart friend wanted to drink sage tea, but Zorba scoffed at that.

"Sage?" he uttered with contempt.  "Over here, waiter!  Rum!"

In addition to Zorba's preference - the rum - I would have liked to add Tsikoudia.  Ouzo, though, is more readily available and I want you to try this - so Ouzo.

At first I called this a Hot Zorba because it's very close to a Toddy.  But after tasting it I realized that what I had in my hands was, of course, Zorba the Drink.  Please, read the book, drink the drink - and then we'll talk about it.

Yia sou!

Zorba the Drink:

.5 oz dark rum
.5 oz ouzo
.5 oz lemon juice

.5 oz honey
3 - 5 oz tea

Mix all ingredients - except tea - in a warm mug.  Top off with tea.  Garnish with a cinnamon stick, lemon peel and a sage leaf.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Richard Ford is going to be Frank with you

Frank Bascombe, from Richard Ford's prize winning trilogy (The Sportswriter, Independence Day, and The Lay of the Land), is back in a collection of four Ford novellas, Let Me Be Frank With You.

In the first tale, I'm Here, Frank, the (now) old realtor views the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy.  The unlucky soul he sold his own house to - that house now lying on its side - wants Frank's opinion on what he should now do.  On his way to this uncomfortable meeting, Frank thinks about age, about getting old - wondering why it is that the elderly always break something when they fall.  Has the distance you fall somehow grown greater as people age?

Frank here ruminates - a lot.  And something that recurs during these ruminations is the sonnet, Ozymandias.  And while my Egyptian history needs brushing up, I do know that the star of that poem, the pharaoh Ramesses II, enjoyed wine.  I also know that a very common sweetener in old Egypt was honey - so I wanted to begin with those ingredients.

One of the images that will stick with readers is Frank - surveying the wrecked neighborhood that used to be his - now full of hardworking men trying to lay claim to the land, again.  He can hear snippets of their conversation - mostly Spanish - and that led me to think about drinks these men would enjoy.

Also, I was thirsty for Sangria, so I decided to recast it, this time using mezcal instead of brandy to complement the wine.  And instead of tossing a lot of chopped fruit into the drink - as, yes, you should do with Sangria - I opted to just using fruit as a garnish.  So in the end, I've got Shelley's Ozymandias coming at you by way of Spain.  Enjoy.


3 oz. red wine
1 oz mezcal
.5 oz honey syrup
Club soda

Stir all - except the soda - with ice.  Strain into a rocks-filled glass.  Top with soda and garnish with orange and cherry.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Game Four - Clinching at 30,000 Feet

It's the last day in our quick Chicago trip - Tuesday, October 7th - and Karen is attending the second day of her conference.  Before that, though, we're going to head to the American Girl store.  My Chicago friend Stacey was worried - she thought we had our own girls with us and warned that a visit to AG with the kids could have been disastrously expensive.  Since it was just Karen and me, though, she figured we could do some damage but still make it out alive.

With daughters in tow?  A different outcome entirely.  As it was - Venimus, emimus, viximus.

If I was keeping score - our hotel (check), the Billy Goat Tavern (check), an American Girl emporium (check), all on Chicago's Magnificent Mile?  Not bad, Windy City.  Not bad.

On our way back to the hotel, some of Chicago's finest stared at us, peering out from the Water Works.

Karen went to finish up at her Conference while I made my way to the Art Institute.  During such a short trip we ended up doing about one percent of the things we wanted to do, but the Art Institute, for me?  Part of the one percent.

Getting there took me past some of those singular Chicago buildings I floated by the day before, like the corn cobs of Marina City on State Street.

When I got to the Art Institute, I ended up with about an hour to spend there - which is like giving yourself sixty minutes to learn Greek.

Two great exhibits that I ran through:  Magritte, the Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926 - 1938 and Heaven and Earth, Art of Byzantium.

Just phenomenal, both.  To see Magritte's painting, This is Not a Pipe?  That image I've seen hundreds of times?  But to see it in person?  How beautifully it's rendered?  The colors that no reproduction can capture?

Or the pieces in the Greek collection?  So many stunning works - like one of the icons deep in the exhibit.  It shows Christ on the Cross with the Virgin Mary on one side and a second figure on the other.  It's so large - and gorgeous in gold.  But at some point after the fall of Constantinople, the icon was disfigured - the faces of the three figures gouged out, possibly with the tip of a sword.  This kind of defacement was common, and when I told my mom about it, she made the sign of the cross and muttered something under her breath.

And honestly?  I shared her disgust - the defacement of art or icon is small minded.  Stupid.


Of course, then I told my mom about the gorgeous Head of Aphrodite that begins the show.  A wonderful marble bust from the First Century - the curls in Aphrodite's hair?  How it's seemingly cinched in the back?  Incredible.

But what really draws your attention in this amazing display of the sculptor's art is the cross crudely carved into her forehead.  Just hacked into her (once) smooth skin.  Also begging for your attention is the fact that her eyes have been attacked, as if the madman had tried to blind her.  And the clumsy chiseling on her mouth in an attempt to, what?  Silence her?  But those rough strikes like those elsewhere on her face - perpetrated in this case not by a Turk conqueror of the Byzantine Empire, but by an early Christian wreaking the same kind of havoc on a symbol of a religion not his own.

We've been doing the same thing for thousands of years, with no end in sight.

Aren't we precious.

But all this art can't keep us away from the Giants.  Try as it might, Chicago can't keep us away from the men in orange and black - the Giants who were trying to clinch the Division Series against the Washington Nationals.

The Nats were the pride of the league and were picked by most every pundit to win this Series.  With some ease.

So we left Chicago - flew out of Midway International - had been in the air for some while before the game began.  By then I had made friends with two guys - Monty and Nick - in the aisle across from ours.  They were returning to the Bay Area after attending a convention for Wendy's franchise owners.

Why are Wendy's hamburgers square? Nick asked.

I sipped my Diet Coke, thought about it, but then finally shrugged.

Because we don't cut corners! he said, and he and Monty gave each other a high five.

Not only were these two cracking wise, they also had a tablet that they fired up mid-flight to catch the Game.  I strained my neck trying to follow the action until Nick turned the tablet all the way around so that he was straining his neck and I was watching comfortably.

That's totally unnecessary, I said, not sounding even remotely convincing.

No, it's fine, Nick said.  I can watch it easy, no problem - and his solution was to put it practically in his wife's lap.  She had the window seat and was a real trooper who let her husband inconvenience her so that I could watch the game.

Right?  A round of applause is in order.

I got a little loud early when the Giants scored a ridiculous run in the second on a bases-loaded walk, and got even louder when they scored again immediately on a Joe Panik ground-out.  Karen told me to pipe down, which was understandable.  The lights on the plane were low, some people were trying to rest - but in my defense, your Honor, the Giants were battling for the Series victory, and they had just scored the first run by dint of a walk when the bases were drunk.

The play of the game, another one that made me get loud and that made Karen remind me that we were on a plane and not in the stands at AT&T, was when herky-jerky Hunter Pence threw his body into the wall in deep right field as he stole extra bases from Jason Werth.  Slammed his body into that wall, fell to the ground, but kept control of the ball the entire time.  Just a long - though violent - out.

In the seventh, after our plane had long since began its descent, all electronic equipment had to be turned off.  As soon as Nick's tablet was turned back on, we learned that Bryce Harper had again crushed another home run - tying the game.

The jerk - he's really good, but still - had a lot to say in the dugout after clouting his homer.  Thankfully, his grin was short-lived as the Giants scored once in the bottom half of that same seventh inning.  On a wild pitch.  With the bases loaded.

That's worse than a bases-loaded walk, which we'd already seen.

Karen and I caught this action on a tv at a bar in the very quiet Oakland airport.  Very quiet until that walk when it got a little bit loud - this time, Karen didn't bother telling me to keep it down.  She whooped it up a bit herself.

Did I mention that you do not throw a wild pitch with the bases loaded when the score is tied in an elimination game and you're the one in danger of being eliminated?  Alas, Aaron Barrett did just that and almost gave another run away when, on an intentional walk to Pablo Sandoval - the panda who had induced the wild pitch - Barrett threw the ball to the backstop.  While trying to intentionally walk the batter.

You don't see that kind of meltdown from a professional ballplayer in the postseason - and yet you did.  Fortunately for Barrett, Buster Posey was thrown out trying to score on that wild pitch.  Unfortunately for Barrett, the run he gave away was the deciding run, and the Giants would hold on to win 3-2 and take the Series from the deadly Nationals.

The Giants were not supposed to win this Series.  The Nats had the best record in the National League.  The Giants were a wild Wild-Card team.  An afterthought.

Before the series began, though, you'll remember that Tim Hudson, a southern man pitching for the Giants, had said that talent can take you only so far.  That the Giants had a little something extra between their legs that he thought would keep them in good stead.

The insinuation did not play well in Washington, D.C.  Did Mr. Hudson mean that the Giants had something the Nationals were lacking?

Tim Hudson has 16 years of major league experience to draw from, and he saw something in the Giants that many overlooked.  Was he a little bit crude in how he expressed himself?  Sure.  But polite doesn't win games.

And the Giants were not supposed to win these games.

And yet - no doubt helped by Karen and me getting away from Chicago and the Curse of the Billy Goat, the Curse that had felled the Giants, by association, the evening before - the Giants did win these games.  The Giants won.

The Giants won.

On to St. Louis.