26 June 2016

5/7/2016 MICHIGAN Kalamazoo - OK, Zia (and the Greeks)

Zia translates to aunt in Italian. My totally fun Auntie Joan shamed me into getting some blog work done. Her last email to me said, "I can't wait to hear all about Greek Fest!" That was early June. So here is the Greek Fest review.

We live very near to the festival site in town, so we get to see (or at least hear) them all up close. Usually you can get in before 4pm and see all the fun for free. After that there is a charge because the bigger entertainment shows start at that point. But we can sit on our balcony and hear all the wonderful music.

Friends stop by when they see our balcony lights on (a sign that we are open for company). Some stop for a short visit or to use the bathroom!! (instead of the sometimes stinky port-a-potties at the site). Others bring their food up to eat with real silverware instead of plastic forks. Always a cocktail on the ready for those that wish to linger longer.

The festival season starts each year with Greek Fest. This event started 40 years ago in the basement of the Dionysos restaurant owned by Theo (now passed) and Stacy. They wanted to share their heritage and culture--food, drink, music, dance--with a small group of friends and family. Over the years it morphed into a 3-day outdoor fundraising event that welcomes the entire community. Thousands of people attend.

It was announced earlier that this will be the last year for the festival in its present form. Stacy is getting on in years and says 40 years is long enough for such a huge operation. Per Stacy's daughter, the family will continue fundraising with a large indoor dinner event that still includes traditional Greek food, music and dance.

Stacy personally cooks and directs the kitchen in making ALL the food for the festival with fresh ingredients. No store bought or processed frozen products here. The fare includes gyros on the spit, handmade dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), spanakopita (spinach pie), and other traditional Greek dishes. They also serve Greek salad (with Kalamata olives and feta cheese). Desserts include all manner of Greek sweets including baklava and kourampedes (powdered sugar cookies).

Greek items are also for sale--olive oil products, souvenirs bearing the blue and white Greek flag, dangly belly dancer belts, and other Greek items.

Family entertainment is pure Greek culture immersion with the Levendes Greek Show. It is a Greek orchestra with traditional instruments. Folk dancers perform in full cultural costumes.

For kids, there is the Wonders of Hercules tent. There you could see a clown or magic show. There was also balloon twisting and face painting and a bounce tent.

But the most popular bit is the belly dancers. The star is Joette. Above see her walking under our balcony headed to the stage. How often do you see belly dancers walking down the street in full costume!! She stopped to pose as folks took her photo. Me included (from above).
Here is Joette in action during a performance. She is just one of about four dancers.

This is not only a belly dance demo, but the dancers entice audience members to come up and take lessons. It is a wonderful hoot and you learn some key moves.

No people pix here because we can no longer see the stage from our balcony. Trees in the park have grown to high, but that is OK, we can hear the music quite clearly.
We hope to attend Greek Fest, in whatever form, next year. Huge thanks to Stacy and family for all you have done for our community over 40 years. OOPAA!

12 June 2016

6/10/2016 - I'm Not Really a Sports Fanatic (Gordie Howe)

... but I do have a soft spot for some sports characters. Mohammad's passing got to me and this Friday it was #9 Gordie Howe.

I don't know if it is just me or most gals, but when you go out with a guy that loves a certain sport you kind of get into it through osmosis. Around 1970 I was going out with a Bob. He was into hockey and baseball, so we went to a lot of Detroit Red Wing and Detroit Tiger games. The Tigers were OK, but I loved the hockey games at old Olympia Stadium. Although Gordie's prime action days were in the 50's and 60's, he still had it going as far as I was concerned.

I loved the mostly graceful quietness of the sport. Yet it was exciting with a lot of action. Players zooming across the ice with a swish-swish of ice skate blades or a braking side slide. The puck's sharp slap sound when it was slammed by a hockey stick. The organ music playing in the background when the action was at a lull. Yes, there were fights and I usually closed my eyes for that, but the refs stopped them before too long. Today the fights are part of the entertainment and it is part of what people pay to see. Fights and violence seem just ho hum now.

Anyway Gordie was the star of stars in the hockey world. His nickname was Mr. Hockey. In 1999 readers of The Oakland (Michigan) Press proclaimed him the greatest Detroit athlete of the 20th Century. Mohammed was more of a world athlete, so no competition over who was the greatest in Michigan. But Gordie did win over Detroit's boxing champ Joe Louis and baseball star Ty Cobb!!!

Gordie played for the National Hockey League's Detroit Red Wings for 25 seasons from 1949-1971. He even scored 15 points in his last season at age 51, unheard of for a hockey player. He retired as NHL's all-time leader of 801 goals and 1,850 points, and held that record til the 1990s when Wayne Gretzky finally surpassed him. He was said to be the toughest player on the ice and the nicest player off the ice. You always saw photos of him talking with fans and signing autographs.

Gordie was 88 years old when he passed. 

PS - I could not find any U.S. postal stamps honoring Gordie. Canada has a number of stamps honoring their hockey greats, but I didn't see one for Gordie. Boo!

PPS - We have only been to one Kalamazoo Wings hockey games since moving to Kalamazoo. It was St. Patrick's Day a few years ago. We rounded up the family (mom, bros, sis, nephews and nieces) and made it an outing. On this day each year they dye the ice green. It was fun to get together, but the game itself was not as enjoyable as I remembered. Fans cheering encouraging fights and refs letting them go a little too long. Emphasis seemed to be on that rather than the sport.

Our friends R&D also have given us tickets to Western Michigan University's hockey games. We've been to four and that WAS a lot of fun. Sportsmanship was honored, and good and fair games were played. Students dress up in crazy hats and costumes and act silly, adding to the entertainment. Bonus - Another friend of ours manages the penalty box, so fun to see him in action.

6/15/2016 - The Funeral
I'm sure this funeral in Detroit was not as big as Ali's funeral in Louisville, but very special in its own way. Thousands from Canada and the U.S. passed by his closed casket to say a final farewell at the Joe Louis Arena visitation. The funeral was held at Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament and was attended by sports heroes that included baseball legend Al Kaline (friends with Gordie for 60 years) and hockey hero Wayne Gretzky (retired from the Red Wings).

Wayne was born in Canada, but always hoped to play for his idol Gordie Howe's Detroit Red Wing team. Wayne succeeded in that childhood dream in a big way and broke a number of Gordie's records. His #99 was retired from the NHL league. Wayne's hope is that Gordie's #9 will also soon be retired in the NHL. The Red Wings did retire #9 in 1972.

7/3/2016 - Connections
There is a new bridge being erected between Detroit, Michigan, USA and Ontario, Canada. It is a huge project and will be completed in 3-4 years. But it was announced on May 14, 2016 that it will be named the Gordie Howe International Bridge. The bridge was named before his death, but I just found out today. What a wonderful "double" connection with our friends in Canada.

05 June 2016

6/3/16 - The Greatest (Mohammad Ali)

Mohammad Ali died today. I'm thinking his last days (or even years) have been mostly pain and suffering, both physically and mentally. So it is probably a blessing for him to finally be in peace. I feel so much empathy for his wife and children and all those that loved him. Brings tears to my eyes. He was an inspiration to the world, no matter what shade your skin color might be.

I met him in person once. Must have been over 30 years ago when he was in his prime. There was a midnight flight each night out of Detroit to New York on Northwest Airlines. I checked him in and just a few minutes later he was laying on his back on the floor. Not in pain, but in gleeful delight. He was wrestling with the kids in the waiting area. Giving them horsey rides on his upraised knees. Totally oblivious to the adults incredulously watching him with their children. There were smiles all around. It was an endearing sight that I will never forget.

I was trying to find some royalty free pix to put on the site and came across a number of stamps from various countries. Just goes to show you how much he was loved all over the world. Getting your pix on a stamp is a BIG deal.

The one I found from the US was printed with his birth name of  Cassius Clay. The others all say Mohammad Ali. I found stamps from Austria (shown above), several from United Arab Emirates, Dagestan (part of old Russia), Laos, Togo, Zaire, Guinea, Malawi, Tajikistan, and Maldives. I'm sure there are more.

I do not have to tell his tale of success over black suppression as a child, rising from nothing to greatness. A man with a peaceful soul who would not be swayed from his beliefs even though it meant great monetary sacrifice. He was not only a champion in boxing, but a champion for racial and religious equality and human rights. He was a shining star and an inspiration to so many.

June 10, 2016 - Ali's Funeral:

(information gleaned from TV news and online articles)

Today was 74-year old Mohammad Ali's funeral in his home town of Louisville, Kentucky. The funeral procession was 19-miles long with residents and visitors lining the streets. "Ali, Ali" was chanted by some on-lookers, while others fell silent and bowed their heads as the hearse passed by. A profusion of flowers were thrown onto the hearse. "We love you" banners, or the like, were abundant. 

Many dignitaries such as King Abdullah of Jordan and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, personality Arnold Schwarzenegger, director Spike Lee, boxing promoter Don King, football great James Brown, and soccer star David Beckham were among those attending in the funeral. Some 18,000 fans were also able to get free tickets to the funeral held at a local stadium. Pallbearers included boxing champs Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis, and actor Will Smith, who played Ali in the 2001 film "Ali," as well as some of Ali's nine children.

Other world champ boxers expected to attend were George Forman, Larry Holmes, Sugar Ray Leonard, Bernard Hopkins, and boxing promoter Bob Arum.

Eulogies were made by Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and others speakers. U.S. Past President Bill Clinton spoke and top advisor Valerie Jarrett made a statement on behalf of President Barack Obama. (Obama could not attend in person as today was also his oldest daughter Malia's high school graduation.) 

James Brown, comedian Billy Crystal, sports commentator Bryant Gumbel, and Ali's wife Lonnie also spoke. Words were said to remind us all of the senselessness of war and the inequities of racial injustice--things Ali believed in and worked to change.