Fading Away

Little Girls in Greek Dance Costumes (2011)

In the time that Martine and I have been going to Greek church festivals in Los Angeles, we’ve noticed several trends:

  • The food is getting less authentic. Today, Martine ordered a spanakopita (spinach and cheese pie) that did not contain any cheese.
  • It seems that fewer of the parishioners speak Greek. Is it that the older generation is passing on?
  • The priests are less involved personally with the festivals, particularly in offering church tours to visitors.

This is less true of Saint Sophia Cathedral in downtown L.A. which draws crowds from a much larger area, and which is across the street from Papa Cristo’s, the most authentic Greek restaurant in town.

The same is true of the Hungarian festivals. At first, I felt abashed by my poor command of the Magyar language. Now my Hungarian seems to have gotten better, or again, are the old immigrants dying off and making my poor language skills look better by comparison?

I suppose this is a natural process. Many of the places we visit may not even be around in a few years. For instance, there do not seem to be any Hungarian restaurants left in our nation’s second largest city. Back when I first moved to L.A., there were a number of choices, especially the much lamented Hortobagy.

If you want a more authentic ethnic experience in Los Angeles, you have to look to Latin America and Asia. There is a bustling Thai and Korean scene; and numerous options involving Mexican, Central and South American culture. There are numerous places offering Oaxacan food. Culver City has an Indian restaurant offering the cuisine of Southern India’s State of Kerala.

As to the girls in the above photograph, I could have sworn that they were in a group of teenage girls who passed us on the way to our parked car. They were busy calling each other “chicken butt.”


It Eventually Had to Happen

My Right Front Headlight

I have been twenty-two years without an auto accident. It had to happen eventually, and fortunately no one was hurt.

On Saturday, Martine and I went to the Greek Festival at Santa Sophia Cathedral near downtown. It was a hot day with temperatures going up to 90° (32º Celsius) or more. We spent most of the time in their air-conditioned parish hall sampling the Greek goodies. When it was time to go, we went to our car, which was parked at Saint Ignatius High School’s parking lot and headed north on Dewey Street. Just as we approached Pico Boulevard, a driver in a parked car opened his door, which my Nissan slammed into, wedging his driver’s side door hard against my passenger side door. Martine was seated about three inches from the impact.

My Nissan Pathfinder is now having some body work done. It appears that I will have no blame in this particular incident, as my car was parallel to his when I hit his car door.

The driver was a Latino who didn’t quite understand how accidents are handled in the United States. I felt sorry for him. Luckily, he was insured. He wanted to call the police in. I encouraged him to and offered to wait. He was disappointed when, upon calling them a second time, they told him they weren’t coming out unless someone was injured. He shook his head and said he didn’t understand how this country worked. That’s OK: Neither do I. In the end, we wound up shaking hands. I didn’t turn out to be the Gringo pig he expected (at least I hope).

Damaged were to my front bumper, right headlight, a gash on the panel to the right of the engine, and my right rear-view mirror, which hangs on two thin wires.

Another Day, Another Nationality

Costumed Children Waiting to Dance

Yesterday was Scottish, today was Greek. Every Memorial Day weekend, Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in North Hills puts on a three-day Greek festival with food, dancing, and vendors. It is one of three Southern California Greek festivals that Martine and I attend. For Martine, the main attraction is spanakopita, Greek spinach and cheese pie, the baked goods redolent of honey and nuts, and he beautifully decorated church.

My preference is to see the children dancing. As they go through their steps, members of their family step forward and shower the dancers with one-dollar bills, which are picked up after the performance. And, although I was raised as a Roman Catholic, I have always had a warm spot in my heart for the Greek Church.

I sometimes wonder what will happen in the years to come as the younger generation grows more detached from the values of their parents. Many of the older parishioners still speak to one another in demotic Greek, while the children are just American kids trying to make their own way in the world. When the girls in the above picture grow up, will the old ways matter to their own children? What about the Greek language? the cuisine? even the religion?

Are we seeing the last florescence of children trying to adhere to their parents’ folkways? Perhaps not. Trumpf to the contrary, America is still seeing waves of immigrants, mostly from Asia and Latin America. As a Hungarian, I am closer to the European ethnic ways; though the Central Americans and Koreans and Persians also have a lot to offer.

The Dance Goes On

Little Girls in Greek Costumes

Little Girls in Greek Costume

Yesterday afternoon, Martine and i went to the Valley Greek Festival at St. Nicholas in North Hills. It was a cool overcast day, but people came from all over the Valley to party. Unfortunately, there were some signs of increased organization and decreased quality, especially in the food service area. But it’s still fun, what with all the music and Greek dancing. (No, I didn’t dance: I was not born with the ability to move in time to music without causing pain to my dancing partners’ feet.)

We took our usual tour of the church. Greek Orthodox churches can be pretty spectacular, and St. Nicholas is one of them. In case you were wondering, yes, it’s Saint Nick, Santa Claus, after whom the church is named. For some reason, this year there was no Question and Answer session with one of the parish priests, which I rather miss. Although I was raised a Catholic, I have a lingering admiration for Orthodoxy.

Doctrinally, the major difference between Catholicism and Orthodoxy is a single word—filioque—in the Nicene Creed. Also, their priests can be married; whereas Roman Catholic clergy must remain celibate. Curiously, there are several different rites of he Catholic Church, under Papal jurisdiction, in which marriage is also permitted.



Don’t Let the “Ballet Skirts” Fool You

Boys from St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Macedonian Costume

Boys from St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Macedonian Costume

Here’s another photo from the Valley Greek Festival in Northridge that Martine and I attended yesterday.

It has always seemed strange to me that the Greeks favored starched white skirts for their male dancers and soldiers. It certainly does not imply any lack of masculinity on their part. As a wartime correspondent, Ernest Hemingway was with the Greek forces invading Turkey in the aftermath of World War One. It was the first time, he wrote, that he had seen “dead men wearing white ballet skirts and upturned shoes with pompoms on them.” Below is a photo of Greek Evzone soldiers on guard duty:

Greek Evzone Troops

Greek Evzone Troops

Don’t let the “ballet skirts” fool you. Although it has not always been well led, the Greek Evzones have always been a formidable fighting force.


The Dance Goes On

Dancing Aphrodite

Dancing Aphrodite

Today was the Valley Greek Festival in Northridge. Martine and I went to St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church at Balboa & Plummer and sampled some of the Greek cuisine (very limited in my case, but still most excellent). Also, I watched some of the folk dancing to the live band—I think its name was Olympia.

The young lady in the photograph above seems to be at all the local Greek festivals. It is a joy to watch her dance: Her moves are incredible. Over the years I have been attending these festivals, perhaps as many as eight or ten years, I have nicknamed her Aphrodite. Never having spoken to her, I do not know her real name; but she is poetry in motion, a regular Terpsichore.

We also took the tour of the church for the umpteenth time. There is something about the Orthodox church that appeals to me. If I were to become an active Christian, I might well switch my allegiance from the Church of Rome to the Church of Hellas. (For one thing, the whole child molestation epidemic among the Catholic clergy has repulsed me, even though I know that only a minority of the priests are guilty.)

The next big Greek festival in the area is in Torrance the weekend after I get back from Iceland in July., followed by the L.A. Greek Fest at Saint Sophia Cathedral in downtown Los Angeles early in September. The dance goes on …