better late than never

Well, let’s try again, shall we?

It’s been awhile. I decided to get over the fact that I’m not together enough – or talented enough – to become the next famous blogger. So, now I hope just to have some fun.

Here are my updates:

– the Globe and Mail were kind enough to publish another of my rants a while back – here it is.

– Funnily enough, I’m actually blogging for work now! For some fascinating content on public legal education and access to justice, check out the PLExchange.

– I’m checking out medium.com as a blog platform and hope to be writing semi-regularly both here and there. Right now, I’m just grabbing some content from this blog and posting it over there… for example, this article.

Otherwise, all is well.

“You’re Gonna Eat Wood!”: Ruminations on a Greek Wooden Spoon

My mother, like every other woman in the Greek diaspora, kept a wooden cooking spoon – a koutála – handy at all times.

This multi-function kitchen gadget served as the weapon of choice for mamádhes everywhere. So known is this use, in fact, that the Greek for “you’re due a walloping” translates literally as “You’re gonna eat wood!”

To be fair, I don’t think that my mother actually ever used the dreaded spoon on me. She probably just waved it around at a few times when I was four or five years old and said, “Wait until your father (a.k.a. “The Boss) gets home.” After that, a robust shake of the drawer where THE KOUTALA lived was enough to smarten me up.

I do find it curious that the mere threat of THE KOUTALA seemed far more useful a corrective tool than its male counterpart, THE BELT, as threatened or swung with seeming abandon by The Boss. (The Greek diaspora, after all, is hardly a matriarchial society.)

Perhaps this is so because in my little corner of Greece in Canada, food meant chastisement as well as love. This does not always jive with the many heart-warming recollections of immigrant food I have read.

I lack the number of fingers and toes required to count the number of articles about nonnas, bubkes and yiayiáthes, standing at their vast hearthes and showering affection upon anyone in the general vicinity with enough baked goods to feed the whole of Prince Edward Island.
Conversely, I have noticed only cursory literary mentions of food as a tool of discipline. One exception: Christina Crawford’s accounts of life with her movie-star mother, Joan. Admittedly, the food-related traumas from my past were not quite that severe.

One example that keeps ringing in my brain like that song you hear on Muzak and then can’t shake for days: “You little ingrates, during the wartime we were lucky to have a dry crust of bread to suck on and some weeds to eat – so you had better finish that tripe stew and that lamb’s head or else…(stentorian fingering of THE BELT).”

Moreover, food also became fraught in my childhood universe of one because it was a direct symbol of my Otherness within the smaller Anglo community of my upbringing. At least today I can chuckle when I read about all the pleasures of the Mediterranean peasant diet. In past, I had spent far too much time wondering whether those authors skipped home blithely from Brownies, swim practice or slumber parties. I imagined their triumphant arrival home to dinners catered in front of the TV by Chefs Swanson and Boyardee and accompanied by pleasant chat in dulcet tones.

Those kids, the kanadhezákia, did not know how good they had it! While they were lazing in front of the tube eating tater tots and fish sticks, I was trudging home in the dark through the snowdrifts from Greek school (which took place at least 10 evenings per week). The teacher (some guy who they sent to Canada because he was too sadistic to teach school in Greece) had assigned me approximately 10,000 lines in punishment. So, I was shivering more from the anticipated plea-bargaining with The Boss than from the cold.

What wafting harbingers of dinner greeted me? Colonel Sanders? McCain’s pizza? Pogo sticks, even? Nope. Instead, the wet sneaker stench of cabbage and rice slapped me across the face yet again. That smell was enough to bring bitter tears cascading down my frozen cheeks. If instead the plat du jour was lentil soup or stuffed vine leaves, I would sink to my knees in abject terror. What was so wrong with Hamburger Helper, anyway?

At the time, the only Greek foods I found remotely palatable were the Greek-Canadian experiments that my mother (like me, Canadian-born) indulged in when The Boss was working late. One of my favourites: chicken “lemonáto”, cooked in Campbell’s condensed cream of chicken soup diluted with Realemon and redolent with dried oregano . Another: fried Spam “a la Grecque”, which came with Kraft Dinner made with sweet-salty brown butter and mizithra cheese, all stirred together with THE KOUTALA.

(I have no idea what ended up happening to the many packages of the powdered orange stuff in the KD box. Since it was a sin to throw out anything in my house, perhaps they were donated in aid of hungry kanadhezákia.)

Since those grim and scary days, my interest in Greek food has expanded tremendously. In fact, the only thing food-wise that causes me to weep into my platter of stuffed vine leaves is the memory of the sheer number of delicious lunches I gave away in my zeal to score Wonder bread and peanut butter.

So, whither THE KOUTALA after all these years? It takes pride of place in my very own utensils canister. I liberated it from my mother’s kitchen drawer when I moved to the big city some 20 years ago.

In my idealistic world view, I felt that in this way I could help put an end to the cycle of violence in the Greek diaspora. (Let me stress that in no way was this particular revolutionary act related to a desire to save my student assistance loan money for important things such as … um, textbooks… rather than mundane household items.)

By this point, I had blown THE KOUTALA up in my mind until it was roughly the size of a baseball bat. Imagine my surprise when what I actually found was regular old spoon somewhat smaller than a soup ladle, and worn and stained to boot. I marveled: “So small! So harmless!”
As I do not have children (by choice – with THE KOUTALA in my possession I would fear for their physical and emotional safety), the only things getting whipped into submission in my household are the vats of homemade hummus that I scarf down on a weekly basis. With, of course, Greek-style pita.

*********************************************************

Kristina Brouhaha is a perpetually disgruntled recovering legal professional living and (not) working in Greektown, Toronto, Ontario. In her (considerable) spare time she dreams of the halcyon days of blogging at her erstwhile site http://www.bespokebybrouhaha.wordpress.com, ingests at least 2 food-related publications daily, practices the accordion she bought on a whim a few months back and pursues her long-deferred dream of working as a line cook. While she realizes that Mickey Ds and Harvey’s are pretty much always hiring, she can’t live with the idea that as a fast-food pusher she would be (theoretically, at least) old enough to have grandmothered her boss.

farewell to JJ

I am writing to let you know that my partner JJ (John Johnston) died suddenly on Friday 25 May, of a heart attack.  He was 74 years old.
 He is survived by his sister Margaret Thomson and brothers James (Jim) and David Johnston in Scotland, his son John and son-in-law John Cunningham in London, England, his former wife Mary Goss Johnston of Toronto, his two cats Cleo and Patch…
…and me.
John was both a proud Scot and a proud Canadian.  He moved to Toronto from Cumbernauld, Scotland in the early 1990s having retired from the Royal Mail (U.K. post office) after 38 years there.  Once in Toronto, he worked with the Corps of Commissionaire until he retired four years ago.
Everyone who met him will remember his good humour and wit… I remember one landlord representative at the Ontario Rental Housing Tribunal when John was working the desk there saying, “How is it that you always get the last word, and that it’s always funny?”
One of JJ’s wishes was that his ashes be scattered in three locations, which reflect his love of both his homeland and his adopted country:
… the ravine between St. Clair and Eglinton off Bathurst in Toronto (next to the Valleyview apartment building where JJ lived for 4 years)…

JJ gave me one of the recipes represented in this photo, and he also liked the “horiatiki salata in a jar”.

… the Atlantic Ocean at Inverness, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia…

Inverness is reputed to have the best sunsets in Canada (by the locals, at least!). JJ, after seeing a few of them, stopped arguing with the locals about where the world’s best sunsets actually were.

… and Loch Lomond in Scotland (just north of where he was born and raised).
There will also be future celebrations of his life held in both Toronto and Scotland – trust him to want not one but two drinking fests in his memory!

One of JJ’s pilgrimages to the only single-malt whisky distillery in Canada, located at Cape Breton, NS.

For those friends who knew JJ and me personally, it was JJ’s wish that flowers not be sent.  If friends chose to make a gesture, he would have appreciated a donation to the Canadian Cancer Society (JJ had lost two wives to cancer.  He would have wanted donations to be made in the memory of Jean Johnston, his first wife and the mother of his son John.)
Another wish that he had was that when people learned of his death, they listen to his favourite song: “Loch Lomond” as sung by Runrig in a live version.  Here is the YouTube link to the song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pzQ1pNfbe3Q (please note that it is 7:34 minutes long but it is well worth the listen.  While you listen, picture JJ prancing and dancing around the apartment while it was blasting – one of the only noise complaints we ever got from the landlord resulted from his footfalls from jumping up and down during the song, which the downstairs neighbour did not appreciate.)   Please note that that song was also a tribute of his to Jean, the first true love of his life and the mother of John.  I believe that if he hasn’t joined her already, they will soon meet up again.
I would like to leave you with a quote from one of JJ’s favourite songs/poems by Rabbie Burns (web reference is here: http://poetry.about.com/od/poems/l/blburnsfarewellhighlands.htm). Although he was not from the Highlands, he loved this one stanza in particular:
Farewell to the mountains, high-cover’d with snow,
Farewell to the straths and green vallies below;
Farewell to the forests and wild-hanging woods,
Farewell to the torrents and loud-pouring floods.
He first quoted this to me when we visited Cape Breton and he showed me this scenery on the Cabot trail:

Αἰωνία ἡ μνήμη σου, JJ.  (Aionia i mnymi sou/May your memory be eternal.) And, ready aye ready!!  You were loved, liked and respected by many people and brought a lot of good into many people’s lives, including my own.  You will be missed.
PS.  click here for a comic I made up about JJ a few years back – you should get a kick out of it.  http://sites.google.com/site/bespokebybrouhaha/comics

song list in honour of JJ

Musical favourites of JJ’s, in no particular order.
1.  “Hit me with your rhythm stick” (Ian Dury and the Blockheads:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6idHmoe5EM

2.   Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, most particularly the Summer section http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pe-MIDDfckw
3. – “(I would walk) 500 miles” (The Proclaimers)
(JJ was known to jump up and down to this song as well, but I guess the complaining neighbour downstairs at the time must have been out or otherwise sedated.)
4.  “Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps” as sung by Edmundo Ros
5.  “Flower of Scotland” as sung by the Corries (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vyx1xeZo_tk.  This version is 3:10 long.)
6. “To Pepromeno”/”Destiny”)  as sung by Yiorgos Dalaras.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sZdR-gyrT5Q

7.  Edmundo Ros, “The Wedding Samba”.
8.  “Ximeroni ke bradiazei”/”The eyes that I love”, as sung by Yiorgos Dalaras.   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A7Sp8k6ajCw
or by Vassilis Tsitsanis – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CpcK2vYqsCY.
(I know I’m getting nerdy here, but JJ actually learned how to sing this Greek song by himself by listening to the Tsitsanis version, once he knew what the words meant. [At the end of this Email, you will find the English translations]).
9. “The Way Old Friends Do” by ABBA (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Vbo1_hDRtU.  This version is 3:11 long).  JJ sang this very nicely to and by himself in a tenor voice (but see below for the disclaimer).
10. “The Jack@$$ Song” by Harry Belafonte (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-OAB3kpb2YM – this version is 2:56 long.
11. Tango to Evora – Loreena McKennitt (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7mnY-lWpstw. This version is approx 5 minutes long).
12. “Bella Ciao” as sung by Yves Montand (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mPUlB5qy7w0).
13. “Jerusalem” as sung by Emerson, Lake and Palmer (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qVu9qIIkdGs.  This version is 3:22 long).
14. “I’m looking through you” by the Beatles on the Rubber Soul album.  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5nGVaLkCQAg  . This version is 2:27 long)
15. “The Great Pretender” as sung by Freddie Mercury (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZRKn4MYArXU&feature=fvst: . This version is 3:26 long.
Oh, and how might be a good time to clarify that JJ was not really a fan of ABBA.   By which I mean to say he definetely did not know all the lyrics to 50 per cent of the songs on my 4-CD ABBA retrospective when we first moved in together.  He had certainly not memorised all of the lyrics to the Super Trouper album, um, let’s say back in 1981 when it was released.
(And lest you read this last paragraph and believe that I am outing JJ as a closet ABBA fan, I think that he managed to out himself quite well in that regard when he performed a three song set at the karaoke at the Wallace Tavern a couple years back.  The song list, you might well ask?  Chiquitata, I Have a Dream, and Waterloo.  In all fairness, I had signed him up for Chiquitita without him knowing, but the two encores were all his doing.)
Oh… and another song that JJ detested?  “Donald where’s your trousers” – which did not stop him from humming or singing along every time he heard it! (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pDJflQfNUE8)
All this to say, his musical tastes were rather eclectic.  I thought I would share my ideal JJ songlist with you.  If listening to any of those tunes, perhaps you could spare him a thought!
Warmest regards,
Kristina
PS.  Another song I would have liked to add to the list – JJ really enjoyed the music of the Axes of Evil (an informal musical group here in Toronto), and particularly their cover of “Dead Flowers” by the Stones.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a weblink.
*******************
To pepromeno (Destiny)
Στο πεπρωμένο σου να δίνεις σημασία / Always mind your destiny,
και να προσέχεις πώς βαδίζεις στη ζωή / and be careful with your way of life,
όταν κοιμάσαι άλλος γράφει ιστορία / someone’s writing history while you are asleep,
και κάποιος παίζει τη δική σου τη ζωή / and someone’s gambling with your own life.Όλοι έχουμε γραμμένο που το λένε πεπρωμένο / We all have a future (a karma), which is called “destiny”,
και κανένας δεν μπορεί να τ’ αποφύγει / and nobody can avoid it…
δεν υπάρχει θεωρία ούτε τρένα ούτε πλοία / there’s no theory, neither trains or ships… *
κι ο καθένας το παλεύει όπως ξέρει και μπορεί / and everyone fights for their life the way they know and the way they can.
από παιδί στον ύπνο μου έβλεπα φωτιές / I was dreaming of fires, since I was a kid.Για την αγάπη όσα κι αν δίνεις είναι λίγα / What you give for love is never enough,
και να το ξέρεις πως δεν έχει ανταμοιβή / and know that there is no reward for it,
δώστα και φύγε και μη χάνεις ευκαιρία / just give it and go and, don’t spend your chances,
στο περιθώριο μη βάζεις την ψυχή / don’t put your soul aside.Όλοι έχουμε γραμμένο που το λένε πεπρωμένο / We all have a future (a karma), which is called “destiny”,
και κανένας δεν μπορεί να τ’ αποφύγει / and nobody can avoid it…
δεν υπάρχει θεωρία ούτε τρένα ούτε πλοία / there’s no theory, neither trains or ships… *
κι ο καθένας το παλεύει όπως ξέρει και μπορεί / and everyone fights for their life the way they know and the way they can.
από παιδί στον ύπνο μου έβλεπα φωτιές / I was dreaming of fires, since I was a kid.
Pay attention to your destiny

be careful how you walk in life
while you are sleeping someone’s writing history
and someone else is robbing your soul

For love, no matter how much you give, it’s too little,
and, learn this, there is no reward
give and leave and never miss a chance
don’t set your soul on the margin

We all have something written in our lives,
Called  destiny
and nobody can avoid it
there’s no theory neither trains or ships
and everybody fights the way he knows and can
Since I was a child I have been dreaming fires

happy new year from Cleo and Patch!

Hi all:

Happy new year!!! Bonne annee!!! Kali hronia!!! miaow miaow miawo brrrppp… (English, French, grik and cattish, in case you didn’t know).

Yes, yes, we know we are a  bit tardy in wishing you all the best in 2012.  Explanation, not excuse: we are, after all, cats.  We operate on a different schedule from you guys.  In addition, we have been extremely busy napping, checking out wrapping paper, eating, napping again and hitting the hydroponic catnip from Niagara Region that our dear slave Kristina brought us for Christmas.

Having said all that, we thought it was time to emerge and show you some photos of us:

The King and Queen of Broadview (King on the left)

Cleo "Banana" Brouhaha

Patch "Ali Pasha" Brouhaha

Help! It's Cleo here!! That evil woman who lives here is keeping me prisoner in this shoebox!!!"

"Worry not, my fair Cleo! I, Patch Ali Pasha Gaspacho, shall save you from the dreaded wench and her evil shoebox!!!"

"Yeah, whatever, big bad macho Patch cat.... I've managed to escape by myself... as usual."

"Oh... heh heh... oops... sorry hon. I was caught up finishing this photoshoot for the Ecco shoe store chain!!!"

Anyway, time to have another nap…er, sign off.  So, on behalf of me, Patch and the evil lady who does not give us anything like enough treats (3 times a day is hardly adequate for snacks, don’t you all agree?!?!)…

Cleo Brouhaha

Mail chauvinism… hee hee hee

For the first time in a (way too long) time, I had a good laugh when reading the Toronto Star today.

(In fact, who should I call at the Star office to complain about nasal damage due to snorting a mouthful of Diet Coke through my nose?? But I digress…).

Why the belly laugh? Today I learned that Canada Post, our erstwhile… er, flagging public mail service, does not accept job applications by… you guessed it… mail!!!

Ah, the irony. In fact, if one makes the egregious error of actually mailing a resume to Canada Post, apparently an HR person calls back and offers support on accessing the online application service.

Which begs one… nay, two questions:

(a) how seriously do you think the telephone supported online application form will be treated; and

(b) how can Canada Post actually expect one of their spokespeople to answer questions on such an issue with a straight face??? (no wonder they went on strike!! But now I’m really digressing.

Thanks to Vanessa Lu, the reporter who brought us the story, and to the intrepid job applicants who brought it to light in the first place. (Here’s the weblink to the story: http://www.thestar.com/business/companies/article/1025158–canada-post-tells-jobseeker-to-stop-mailing-resume). And note to the Star: light stories about bureaucratic stupidities are always welcome on the front page by at least this one subscriber. I have a list of for-profit companies you might like to write about as well…

Cheers,

KB