Bulgarian Beginnings

The Ottoman Empire bridged three continents and the subjects of the Sublime Porte included people of various cultures and languages.  Even though the Sultan ruled from Constantinople, governance of the empire involved a wide network of advisors and other officials.

Biography Of An Empire by Christine Philliou, University of California Press, 2011 focuses on one member of the government two centuries ago. Stoiko Stoikov was born in the 1770’s in a small town situated in what is now Bulgaria. He eventually abandoned his native language and became assimilated into a Greek-speaking milieu.

He changed his name to Stephanos Volgarides after marriying a woman of the phanariot class and settled in the capital. The majority of the Greek-speaking elite lived in the Phanar (crescent) District, relatively close to the Palace. These were a wealthy, educated, mobile minority with extensive family and business ties in other countries, especially the capitals of Western European nations.

As a government official, one of the many complicated issues Volgarides addressed was the Greek revolution of 1821. He chose to defend the state and declared his position publicly. It was a perilous time and he risked imprisonment or death but managed to survive. His work in the Translation Office was vital because the Empire was increasingly being challenged by key Western nations.

Biography Of An Empire not only examines Volgarides’ rise but also traces the importance of family relationships. Philliou found a wealth of information about a somewhat unknown man but there were many more like him who were indispensible to the Ottoman administration. Her book is an invaluable resource for understanding the inner working of the Empire.

Remember Us by Jason C. Mavrovitis, Golden Fleece Publishing, 2007 also begins in Bulgaria around 1881. The author chose to tell the personal story of his ancestors as a novel, using their real names but making up the dialogue. It’s a more emotionally satisfying work but some of the early episodes are awkwardly crafted.

There are several generations and an ever-increasing cast of characters as the story moves over time from Sozopolis to Brooklyn, where the author was born. The family patriarch, Stefan Tsvetkov, married Theofano adopting her last name, Kapidaghlis, and Hellenizing his first name to Konstantinos.

As the book progresses, Mavrovitis weaves together the journeys of both the maternal and paternal side of his family. He covers the turmoil in the Balkans as nationalism rises and ethnic groups are pitted one against another, before introducing the immigrant enclaves of the early Twentieth Century in Chicago and New York.

It’s a compassionate portrayal of hardship, endurance, love, betrayal, kindness, loyalty, and hope.  A generous gift to those who laid the foundation of the life he built upon in America.

copyright © 2012 by N. A. Diaman, all rights reserved

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Australian Filmmaker

Anthony Maras is an award-winning Australian filmmaker. He’s a native of Adelaide, with roots on the island of Ikaria, Greece. Maras received a degree in Law and Legal Practice from Flinders University in South Austrlia before going on to study film production at the University Of California Santa Barbara.

After returning to Australia Anthony Maras produced his first short film, Azadi (2005), a refugee drama. This was followed by Spike Up (2007), a drama about a family in the drug trade; and, his most recent work, The Palace (2011), set in Cyprus during the 1974 war between Turkish and Greek forces.

The Palace, an Australian-Turkish production, featured an international cast that included Kevork Malikyan, who also played in Midnight Express, Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. It won twice at the 2012  Australian Academy Of Cinema And Television Arts Awards: Best Short Fiction Film and Best Screenplay In A Short Film.

Maras also worked as associate producer on Last Ride, the 2009 debut feature film by Palm D’Or winning director Glendyn Ivin that starred Hugo Weaving.

There’s a trailer for The Palace on his web site and a two-minute video interview of Anthony Maras on YouTube.

copyright © 2012 by N. A. Diaman, all rights reserved

Great Greek Eats

Greek food is more than dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), spanakopita (spinach pie), and avgolemono soupa (egg-lemon soup). Many Greek cookbooks include these and other well-known favorites. They’re on the menu of every food festival, in the table of contents of every church recipe book, and what we remember eating at grandmother’s house.

I rely on Greek Cooking For The Gods by Eva Zane, 101 Productions, 1970 for the basics. However, that book is out of print. Modern Greek by Andy Harris, Chronicle Books, 2002 is a wonderful alternative. The later book is beautifully designed and filled with full-color photos throughout.

Anyone who wants to delve more deeply into the regional food of Greece should check out The Glorious Foods Of Greece by Diane Kochilas, William Morrow, 2001. The book covers each of a dozen regions of the country: the foods typical of each, what is usually available, and numerous recipes gathered from local cooks she met during her travels while researching the book.

The first dish I prepared from her book was the cheese and squash pie from Hania on page 420. I wanted to replicate one of several courses served by Maria on her balcony in Athens one summer night a couple years ago. Since then I also cooked savory pies from other areas that are now a part of my culinary repertoire.

Kochilas is a New Yorker with roots on the island of Ikaria. She currently lives in Athens and has a cooking school on the northern side of the island. She has her own web site, dianekochilas.com, and quite a few videos on YouTube.

copyright © 2012 by N. A. Diaman, all rights reserved

George Whitman (1913-2011)

I was one of many aspiring writers drawn to Paris. In 1964 I went to Le Mistral, the English-language bookstore at 37 rue de laBûcherie, to look for work. I met the owner, George Whitman, who dubiously claimed to be the grandson of the famous American poet, Walt Whitman.

He told me there weren’t any openings but offered me a place to sleep on the floor in exchange for an hour or two of work in the shop. His proposal wasn’t appealing.

A window of my small room at the Hotel Esmeralda overlooked the back of his store that was soon renamed Shakespeare & Company, after the small shop founded by Sylvia Beach decades earlier.

I was surprised to find not only Shakespeare & Company, but also its founder, alive and well during my 2004 stay in Paris. His young daughter, Sylvia Beach Whitman was at the front desk. I spent a few minutes looking over the floor-to-ceiling shelves crammed with books but didn’t find anything I couldn’t live without.

That year I often I dropped by the San Francisco Bookstore, a much newer establishment at 17 rue Monsieur le Prince, to visit with its owner Jim, who was by then living full-time in France.

San Francisco Bookstore

George Whitman, who was honored by the French government for his contribution to the arts, died 14 December 2011, two days after his 98th birthday. He was an eccentric bohemian that became a Paris legend during his lifetime.

image & text copyright © 2012 by N. A. Diaman, all rights reserved