I wonder who is right?
Last night I went out with the “first Hispanic President of the United States”.
Edmundo”s 11 year-old grand-nephew Erik (in blue shirt) has already decided that he will go to Harvard or Stanford to study Politics and that he will be the first Hispanic President. Can you imagine spending an evening with such a child and his equally interesting 12 year-old brother, Kristian at a performance of Handel”s Messiah at the new Arts Centre in Miami?
The questions came like volleys of bullets from an AK47 and Uncle Michael was left to answer all of them while Edmundo sat in the second row of our box and chatted to others. What lovely bright kids!
But I don”t joke when I say I was exhausted after the performance. We stopped by the Patrons Room to introduce the boys to the equally talented but exhausting, and slightly older 32 year-old Musical Director of Seraphic Fire, Patrick Quigley. Finally dinner (and more questions!) Both boys fell asleep on the hour-long drive home to South Miami.
Enough children for this weekend and I have suggested to Edmundo that we skip the painful and discordant children”s mass at St Agnes here in Key Biscayne and go to a Maronite Mass with better music at St Jude”s in downtown Miami.
I would like to share nephew Kristian”s written thoughts on the “Seraphic Fire” experience. (Click on red link above to read.)
Earlier in the week Edmundo and I went to a special Christmas performance of “Seraphic Fire” in a gallery of the Frost Museum at the Forida International University. I am attempting to include a music track from that performance here. The only way I can see as a possibility to do so at this time is through Windows MovieMaker.
BUT – I haven”t learned to “edit” it. Open this link and move the cursor to 5mins 20 secs to hear a wonderful rendition of “Adeste Fideles”
BUT BUT – I can”t even upload it!!!
We did have a late breakfast together, after Edmundo got over the shock of Regina not being here, and reprimanding himself for having listened to my suggestion that the older lady could also do with a day off to recuperate from long days of party preparation.
“We have no food, we have to eat out” was the plaintive cry as I opened the frig door to see leftovers including half a turkey and, lobster medallions; and cut melon that Regina had left for us.
Some people genuinely don”t know how to boil water. I”m staying with one who chooses never to learn. You should see both of us going through ten drawers to find the sugar, and then ten drawers to find the tea . . . and . . and . . . Even getting the stove to work to boil the water was a challenge. Edmundo is certainly not master of the kitchen.
Jose, a friend of Edmundo invited me to attend a Meditation session at the famous Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables. The lady guiding the Meditation was so good with her comforting chants and mantras, I passed right out and Jose had to make noises to wake me up. How relaxing was that!
I felt more than a little guilty in these grand surroundings walking into the Golf Club and ordering only a hamburger and an Australian Coopers Ale. Time doesn”t seem to move very quickly in these surroundings. Immaculately got-up young caddies return to the club house carrying the golf bag while the older golfers in timelessly conservative “American” gear look like they”ve just stepped out of a silent movie.
The Biltmore is the heart of Coral Gables and was built in 1926 at the same time as the imposing Hotel Nacional de Cuba located on the Malecón in Havana, which we will be visiting next month.
Al Capone had a suite in the Biltmore that he turned into a gambling parlour. It was used as a Veterans” rehabilitation centre during the Second World War and refurbished to its “Grand Dame” status by the City of Coral Gables in the Eighties. It is also the venue for most meetings of US Presidents and their South American counter-parts. And here am I eating a hamburger!
I am a control freak. I create my own anxiety. How many people have told me that everything I do in life does not require a successful ‘outcome’ for me to be happpy? And so I’ve taken to Meditation. I haven’t had much success getting through to Edmundo that something similar might help him be happier without the 110% perfection that he requires of himself, and I continue to nag.
He may not have felt such a failure at not being able to control the weather that washed away his grand plans of entertaining guests outdoors on two nights this week if he had listened to me! (I know all of course.)
However, with rain pelting down, (and swearing as he removed the buried crossed silver knives that were meant to keep the rain away), with agility Edmundo switched from Plan A to Plan B, to Plan C, and finally to Plan D. He orchestrated the whole thing to be moved inside – with the guests still thinking how spectacularly presented everything was! And we all had a wonderful time.
Such a beehive of activity with Edmundo orchestrating preparations for two Christmas parties to be held outdoors over two consecutive nights. Setting of tables; placing glass columns for floating candles; clipping topiaries and sinking bamboo stakes in the garden under trees to hold the Christmas wreaths. At this point, Todd, the decorations man holds up two shining silver knives that he’d found buried in the garden soil . . . . . .
Ah ha! Edmundo had listened to a Venezuelan friend Antonio, who at lunch yesterday told him of the Venezuelan custom to bury two crossed knives in the ground to fend off any chance of rain. And he buried silver ones! And, as we were to find out, he perhaps would have been better off had he said a rosary, the practice of which he is more familiar. Come evening, the rain pelted down and so much of a day’s work of so many people was fruitless.
Not only the terrace, but the whole home looked terrific.
In the middle of this mêlée, I was banished to meet a friend for lunch at the Mandarin Hotel. What a setting, and how wonderful the new high-rises of Miami looked through sheets of rain pelting down. Poor Edmundo, unbeknowns to me, he had re-buried the crossed silver knives in the belief that there would be no rain for the evening party.
I get the sense that I will be experiencing things ‘Cuban’ to a larger extent during my stay, and not just on our trip to Havana after New Years. I’m very happy about that.
We started on our first night in town with a meal at a rustic seafood restaurant on the river, Garcia’s, owned by Cuban fishermen – now wealthy men! The crab claws that I always associate with Miami were delicious. I was also introduced to a hot ‘media noche’ Cuban sandwich of ham, roast pork, cheese, pickle and mustard on sweet bread at Sergio’s. This Cuban American restaurant started as a place for truck drivers but works now with a different immigration group of people mainly from Central America.
Of course, my trip here would not be complete without a visit to the famous Versailles Restaurant in Little Havana, the venue for all Presidents at some stage of the campaign trail – traditional chicken and rice with fried bananas and black beans was the fare of the day. And then there was Joey’s in the most dangerous part of Miami where we got lost and I insisted we lock the doors of the car . . . . Apparently, Edmundo does not frequent five star restaurants, or perhaps he is showing me ‘life in the city’.
I joined him this morning for my first training session with his Cuban émigré trainer, Osmani, down in the gym of the building. This guy tried twice to row to the US from Cuba and was caught and beaten, before eventually ending up in the US via Venzuela about three years ago. When we go to Cuba, his best friend there will be our guide. How much easier it is to train when the trainer hands you the weights and takes them away at the end of each routine. I think Lee used to do this when B Firm was in its infancy and I didn’t appreciate it.
I think I might be in strife with Edmundo for upsetting the ‘hierarchy’ of the household! This morning, Anna the trusty Guatemalan maid of 20 years brought some Cuban croqueta de jamon and invited me to share with her and Regina with a cup of café con leche in the kitchen. These warmed ham croquettes in crusty Cuban bread were so delicious. Edmundo is concerned that my engaging the women in conversation is stopping them from doing their housekeeping duties!
On Christmas Eve we are going to Edmundo’s cousin’s house here for a typical Cuban Christmas dinner celebration. The cousin has written several cook books and she is doing one on Cuban ‘cuisine’ of old. They’ll be cooking a pig in the ground with all the trimmings.
After seeing Edmundo”s Christmas tree decorated with 2,200 lights, I start to wonder if the simple Australian gumnut Christmas wreath that I carried and declared to US Quarantine will ever get a showing. I”ve asked Todd, a friend of his, to see if perhaps he can shoosh-up the wreath with some lights and ribbon.
Mike tells me so many Americans he comes across in business circles and socially these days are feeling tired, and bruised, after a very, very difficult year. Perhaps the lack of customers tonight in this smart watering hole in the weeks before Christmas could also be due to this malaise?
Departing Auckland at midnight and after saying I”ll have only the smoked salmon and go to sleep, I am then tempted with the thought of some cheese with the delicious New Zealand wine. And I can”t say no when the hostess offers ice cream . . . . I may as well have coffee and watch a movie and get really tired.
After having to seek instruction on how to use the inflight entertainment remote, I see the wonderful Meryl Streep in the Julia Childs story, “Julie and Julia”. In this movie, I see once again how people use “stream of consciousness” with keys clacking away and thoughts being posted to a daily blog on a computer screen – like Carrie Bradshaw in “Sex and the City”. If you could only see my fingers tapping away right now!
Air New Zealand in Business Class is terrific on many fronts with a glaring exception being the way they dress their cabin crew – that is of course unless you like all those drab, muted colours of the green spectrum – their uniforms combine fern green and bottle green, all wrapped up with long dark green aprons.
One poor young stewardess out of Sydney walked down the aisle looking like she”d just come in to the kitchen from hanging washing on the line, the only thing missing were two pre-school kids hanging off her skirt and screaming for attention. The way she looked with no make-up and straggly hair, I couldn”t have asked the poor girl for a thing.
As for the men, for cabin service, they take off their ties and roll up the cuffs of their business shirts and don a long apron. What a casual lot! The Turners and Victor, who leave next week on Etihad, might be pleased to know that I saw the whole Etihad crew waiting to board their flight at Sydney airport. Wonderful style and groomng – you could even call it glamourous.
The groomed and lipsticked Air New Zealand “concierge” lady on board explained that the boys were given latitude to express themselves with their uniforms, but assured me that ties will be back with a uniform re-vamp next year to coincide with the delivery of new aircraft. (I tend to believe she is a lady with some influence too. When breakfast was being served, I noticed that all the stewardesses were featuring “lipstick and rouge” galore.)
The herringbone layout of the cabin to accommodate lay-flat beds is a bit confronting at first – like going to Mass at St Canice”s where the congregation sit across from each other and stare (well that”s what they did when Father Steve first moved the pews like choir stalls). The bed was roomy and comfortable (moreso if I slept on my left side). I slept very well, fully stretched out for hours under my duna before waking for a smoothie and a simply delicious omelette.
Will I go this way again? I heard the calls at Sydney Airport for Qantas and United flights non-stop to Los Angeles as I waited to board my little plane for the first hop to Auckland to join the trans-Pacific 747, and thought Aaagh! How many hours before I”ll arrive? I dismissed all that and settled back to enjoy lambshanks and a delicious couple of glasses of New Zealand Merlot before falling asleep. And I could sleep knowing that the “price was right”. When I booked the ticket, Qantas fare was double Air New Zealand. Good enough reason?
Between flights, I really enjoyed the Chinese foot massage in the the Lounge at Auckland Airport and I had time to check my Gmail. Arriving in the afternoon in LA, there was no people in the queue for immigration and even with the hoopla of declaring my gumnut Christmas wreath for Edmundo, I was out and in a taxi on my way to Beverly Hills within 30 minutes.
An easy connection in Singapore made the long 21-hour Athens to Sydney return on Singapore Airlines much easier than expected. I’m now happily ensconced back in my apartment in “Encore’ and slowly getting used to donning a jacket over a sweater in the brisk winter air.
I arrived home to news that my nephew Bill was planning to marry a young Korean woman – next week! There’s nothing like having a ‘project’ as soon as you land, and we were off to a sidewalk café in Macleay Street within the hour to start writing a guest list et al on the convenient paper tablecloth.
Thanks for following me and for your comments over the past 7 weeks. One old friend commented that whilst I had now injected some “feeling” into the posts, there was possibly an opportunity to also add “significance and meaning”!
Perhaps, I”ll have that opportunity in my next trip of a completely different nature when I travel to Timor-Leste for a week at the beginning of August. I’ll let you know all about it and advise the blog address for that series of postings closer to the date.
The last time I was in Athens was with Lee in 2003, before the Athens Olympics.
Annie, Trev and I have only one full day in town between Spetses and our flights home. The full moon was shining and further illuminating the lit Acropolis when we arrived at our hotel in the Plaka.
Today, the sun shines as we make it over the slippery and uneven terrain and many steps of the Acropolis to view the Parthenon – thankfully, even a breeze. We aren’t so lucky at the much-vaunted, new Acropolis Museum though with the queues too long to wait with tired feet.
Refreshed after an iced coffee in the shade, we make it through the flea market in the Plaka (without throwing too much away on over-priced souvenirs – you’ll love my hand made lace aprons for wine bottles!) Then a light lunch, so delicious and innovative, at “eat at milton’s” under trees on a corner near our hotel.
The trip has really come to an end now.
I can’t spell Peloponnese so I copied the Greek version from Wikipedia.
How fortunate for us that Hellenic Seaways cancelled our trip to Piraeus and left us standing in the midday sun with our suitcases on the dock at Spetses. It is only when Trevor walks to the office in the town and recognizes a sign in Greek with the times of our ferry, and Ευχαριστώ (thank you) signed at the end, that he guesses we”re in trouble. We get our money back. Now, to get to Athens.
One mobile call later and Irini, the housekeeper (and head concierge) at Spiti Charlie, has lined up Costa the water taxi man to take us to the mainland, and Yanni the car driver to get us into Athens.
We set off through the chic Athenian summer resort of Porto Heli and zig-zag up into the highest mountains of the Πελοπόννησος (Peloponnese) with olive trees and windmills (both traditional white and the new turbo prop), and the technicolour seascape beneath us.
What a pity the day wasn’t pre-planned as we pass only 15 kms from the ancient Greek Theatre of Epidavros. We see many Ω Omega-shaped bays, some with openings to the sea just wide enough to let the yachts and fishing boats enter. A break lets us enjoy the view and an iced coffee, high on heavily wooded hillside of pine, fragrant in the heat, and loud with insects.
We pass by a monastery of 2,000 years, and look up to houses built on outcrops of rock. Pencil pines rise out of the rocky ground to pierce the blue. Further along, rows of gnarled olive trees, surviving in wonderfully wild undergrowth, stretch from the sky down to the sea.
I”ve heard of the Corinth Canal but seeing this narrow gap, cut by man deep through the mountains to separate the Peloponnese from the mainland to give ships passage, is a wonder. This is where the holiday ends.
Welcome to the mainland – industry, graffiti and expressways. Farewell lazy days, clean air, amazing light, and crystal clear blue green seas we’ve enjoyed for the past three weeks.
But there”s still fun to be had with Anne and Trev in Athens where we are looking forward to visiting the new Acropolis Museum and dinner in the Plaka.
Not given to superlatives (as you know, ahem!), I felt I had to break the pattern yesterday on the way home from the daily swim and jot some thoughts about the wonderful three weeks I”ve spent here on Spetses with some of my dear friends and family.
I sat on the seawall outside the house and for some reason thought “poetry”.
Well! All my plans to get something on paper about the trip to Portugal in May (yes, May) went with the wind and I started writing, right there. I didn”t feel the sun blazing down (at first).
TO SPITI CHARLIE
The air is so clean with light ever changing,
Crystal clear waters with blue green amazing.
Sea lapping and rolling.
The sun is warm and the sky so blue,
Breezes blow to rustle and cool.
Our house Spiti Charlie overlooking the sea
Is an old Sea Captain’s cottage quaint as can be.
What past has it seen!
Venetian stencilling and art deco on walls,
Floors are all painted Greek-style to the doors.
A grand residence!
A garden so decadent in old English ways,
With flowers and herbs and vines holding sway.
Flashes of colour and scent.
Always come sunset on long summer days,
The smell of sweet jasmine steals breath away.
The insects buzz.
Spetses sea motifs in black and white stones,
Take drastic a toll on poor old man’s bones.
On the garden path.
With sea so inviting to swim is a treat,
We walk to the water with crocs on our feet.
Sea urchins? Who cares!
Awake from siesta as twilight descends,
And sit on the terrace to chat idly with friends.
Dinner can wait!
Sunrise or sunset, whatever it be,
I look out my window and take in the sea.
Aaah! How I’ll miss Spiti Charlie!
Michael Musgrave, Sydney – 4th July 2009
Don’t open your mouth when swimming in the sea off Spiti Charlie . . . . unless you want to taste the freshest of fish!
The water is crystal clear and the light so crisp. Dozens of little fish dash and dart around my body as I float in the buoyant salty waters. A marvellous experience!
We have been swimming with the fishes since we arrived in Spetses, only they seem to have multiplied today. Yesterday, it was a bread roll floating by in the clear water with so many little fishes attached that suggested a new meaning to the ‘loaves and fishes’ parable.
Also, don’t swim in the sea without your reef shoes or plastic crocs . . . . unless you want to run the risk of brushing the spiny sea urchins multiplying on the rocks. A gnarled and tanned Spetses local was in the sea today with a long hook collecting these reputedly delectable morsels of sea meat until his net was full. He enjoys them for lunch simply with fresh bread and a squeeze of lemon, and a glass of ouzo, he says. Marianne Abiad would agree.
Our holiday is drawing to a close, so I take this opportunity to share some of the other ‘fishy’ sides of Spetses, in pictures also. This is my first Picasa ‘video’ of slides: (Now, I have to learn to add a soundtrack, but not here. That can wait till I return to the cold of a Sydney winter.)
At last a possible formula for battling the oversized Spetsian mosquito!
After the first sip of the warmed ‘raki’ that Theodore brought to the table for us as a digestive at Maraklis Restaurant here in Spetses, Frank pronounced that “the good news is the mosquitoes are no longer interested. I won”t have to hide under my mosquito “tent” any more”
I won”t have to hide under my mosquito “tent” any more”
Theodore calls it Rakenolo, “special medicine from Crete”. We work out that it is distilled pomace similar to Italian grappa and close to pure alcohol. Delicious but deadly, but we manage to stumble home hardly feeling the stone bruise under my heel that had crippled me earlier.
Again, it was Irini the housekeeper who had put us on to this restaurant of home cooking. Trevor and I tried to find it on five occasions without success so I had to ride on the back of Irini”s bike to be shown the secxret lanes that her map did not explain to a non-Greek.
Theodore, the owner”s son comes and sits with us at the table to go through the menu Like Greek-Cypriot Ange does at Sardine Room in Sydney), but quickly decides “leave it to me. I do for you”. This is really Greek home cooking – the table groaned. The stuffed vine leaves in lemon are hot and met in the mouth; eggplant has come straight from the oven – not microwaved and mushy as we”d had before; the tzatziki has a bite of garlic; hand made Greek makaronia tastes to us like a very soft gnocchi; and by this time, the baby veal steaks are superfluous.
Panos the Greek boatman is waiting for us on his 20-foot caique at the small fisherman”s pier in the old harbour. It is one of those morning of mornings with not a ripple nor a breeze to disturb the mirror surface of the sea. This is a day for “sea and caique” . . . and chicken legs and peppery rocket and pickled beetroot and the biggest red tomatoes . . . and of course a chiller bag of cherries and peaches.
Father Frank from Berlin is in his “Mary blue” T-shirt and of course he thanks the Blessed Virgin for our good fortune with the perfect weather. Annie and Trevor are bringing up the rear with the picnic basket.
We set off around the lighthouse into a glassy sea, past fewer and fewer signs of civilisation until we really felt we were sailing in the open Aegean with just seagulls and jumping fish for company.
We take Panos” suggestion to continue till lunch time and then drop anchor before we jump in the water in a protected little cove.
Swimming and frolicking in 7-metre deep crystal clear waters, we see an army of sea urchins on the rocks near the beach, so Panos lays out the picnic cloth on the covered deck. (I think I may have one remaining sea urchin spike in my foot from my first encountger of two weeks ago, so we”re not going there.)
Laughing and falling about as we toss the salad and Trevor swearing “Bugger! That”s why I don”t eat beetroot” as he peruses his stained new shirt, we settle down to eat. And a silence descends. This is not your usually chatty “tea and cake” afternoon. The gentle rocking and the lap-lapping, sun on our backs are like a drug. We all seem to be overcome at once by where we are. The buzz of cicadas and the cries of the peacocks ashore add to the reverie. Schools of sardines flit in the aqua waters around the boat while zargana jump out of the sea. A seagull gently glides past.
A yacht appears in “our” bay and we are no longer alone. Up anchor and head towards home getting our first real chance to see Spetses town and “Spiti Charlie” from the sea. A tired crew, we wend our way back to the house for an afternoon nap.
Not quite ‘up the creek without a paddle’, but one day Edmundo and I were on a spluttering quad bike belching black fumes and pointing in the wrong direction up a narrow one way street with oncoming shirtless Greek gods on scooters whizzing around us at a rate of knots – without a reverse gear!
If you could have seen Edmundo (the look on his face and terror in his recriminating voice!) and me pushing and pulling every device on the handle bars in hope that it might be reverse gear. And then having to resort to straightening all four wheels and letting it roll backwards until I could find enough room to turn in a forward direction.
That stupid woman in the hire shop!
We’d walked for an hour in the hot afternoon sun looking to hire one of the bikes that we see (and narrowly avoid) whizzing along the narrow streets of ‘downtown Spetses’. Finally, in desperation and soon to expire from the heat, I see one outside a very closed-up shop and ring the number over the door. Five minutes later, a lady appears and takes my Australian Drivers Licence as security (and my money), before demonstrating the basics of a clapped-out old faded red bike; and then informs us that we need to get gas. The gas station in the centre of town through the narrowest of streets of whizzing bikes and workers vans. Blow! But we are determined to circumnavigate the 25 miles around this island, today.
I slap the sun protection cream on my forelegs for the arduous journey ahead of us while t
I slap the sun protection cream on my forelegs for the arduous journey ahead of us while the lady straightens the bike up for us pointing it towards town. (I should have wondered why.) We jerk forward from a standing start with Edmundo hanging on for grim death as I get the feel of the accelerator button on the right hand handle bar (or was it the left? No that’s the brake. You can see we’re safe to let loose on public roads). The machine throbs between our legs and splutters noisily expelling a thick trail of black soot behind us like the tulle behind the bus in ‘Priscilla Queen of the Desert’ movie.
We set off to the waterfront (with Edmundo fearing that I’m going too fast around the corner and we’ll end up in the sea). Then along past the grand, century-old Poseidon Hotel currently undergoing major renovation, dodging lumbering cement mixer trucks, bumping over potholes, and into the busy port area where we have daily coffee and spinach pie. On, up to the edge of town, we lookout for the one narrow lane down to the petrol bowser. But no! We miss it and end up, ‘up the one-way street without reverse gear!’
Circumnavigation is over. Edmundo demands we return the damn bike – immediately. I got my licence and my money back as hire shop lady nonchalantly advises us that we could return another day saying “That model doesn”t have reverse gear. I”ll have one for you tomorrow!”
In addition to what genes I was “dealt” at birth and with loving parental guidance, two other strong influences during my teenage years had an effect in the formation of my life and in the direction it took.
My friends of long standing all know my eccentric ‘Aunty Viv’, mum’s only and older sister who was married to ‘Uncle John’. Both had a tremendous influence. They lived for years in Rome and Athens when I was a boy looking after the migration of so many families coming to Australia by sea after World War II. I was always entranced by their stories and loved to write and receive letters in return.
Then there was ‘Mr and Mrs Philippides’, Dino and Ioanna from Cyprus, who hired me to work my way up in the travel business at Australian Express in 1965 (long before my years at American Express). Aunty Viv, John and Dino are no longer with us, but Mrs Philippides is still living hale and hearty in Brookfield in Queensland. To her, I write.
To her, I write.
I worked hard and learned much from my five years with the Philippides. I would hear how simple and wonderful life in Greece was and hear of lazy summer afternoons when you could walk by the sea and smell the pines (a teenager getting excited about smelling pines?) I not only listened to how wonderful the Greek food was but would be ‘rewarded’ for giving up a Saturday morning at the beach with John Thompson by Dino’s promise of ‘Mrs Philippides’ making me a special Greek lunch for coming to work. Ioanna introduced me to octopus, okra and eggplant, olive oil and tomato, and those wonderful crushed almond horseshoe-shaped shortbreads rolled in icing sugar and washed down with thick sweet Greek coffee.
Now, nearly at age 67, on a hot summer’s afternoon here on the Greek island of Spetses, I step outside the front gate into the shaded lane and say to my brother in law Trevor “Smell the pines!” Why does he look at me strangely?
Annie is looking after my taste sensations with wonderful roast baby lamb and eggplant and is now looking up how to prepare octopus and okra before we depart next week. (Annie”s talking about boiling the octopus with corks to make it tender!) And she tells me that the Greek olive oil is lighter and sweeter than the Italian; Irini, the housekeeper makes me the most wonderful large cups of Greek coffee and I buy the white shortbread at the little baker down the lane.
Sight and sound of the blue green sea beneath my window all day and wind blowing at night complete the senses.
Thank you, Mrs Philippides.