heatherfromthegrove’s non-fiction spotlight for today: “Endangered Pleasures: In Defense of Naps, Bacon, Martinis, Profanity, and Other Indulgences” by Barbara Holland

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Let’s wrap up non-fiction week, here @ heatherfromthegrove, with a little humor.

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159367“Joy has been leaking out of our life… We have let the new Puritans take over, spreading a layer of foreboding across the land until even ignorant small children rarely laugh anymore. Pain has become nobler than pleasure; work, however foolish or futile, nobler than play; and denying ourselves even the most harmless delights marks the suitably somber outlook on life.”

Barbara Holland, Endangered Pleasures: In Defense of Naps, Bacon, Martinis, Profanity, and Other Indulgences

There’s nothing like a little hedonism on a hot summer day. Endangered Pleasures is an unabashed and irreverent ode to self-indulgence. In defense of small vices and taking time to smell the roses, the late Barbara Holland reminds us that we should loosen our ties, kick off our shoes and… live a little bit.  Have some fun. If only Barbara Holland had met someone like Alexis Zorba (Zorba the Greek)… they would have shared quite a few dances together!

This beautifully written book contains essays that extol every simple, little joy – from waking up in the morning to padding barefoot around the house and yard. Holland’s wry sense of humor comes through, loud and clear, making us realize that sometimes we take ourselves way too seriously.

Here are a few Barbara-isms (her endangered pleasures):

“The cold and limey rattle of a vodka-tonic being walked across the lawn.”

“Finishing our tax returns.”

“The smells of the morning paper, cut grass, and old leather jackets.”

“A glass of cold champagne and a perfectly ripe pear, perhaps with a spoonful of caviar eaten straight from the jar.”

“Singing to ourselves in the car.”

I’m so happy that I came across this book, but sad that the author has since passed away. Endangered Pleasures is a great summer read, so kick off  your shoes, pour yourself a glass of something and have a good chuckle. Life’s too short.

heatherfromthegrove’s story spotlight for today: “The Fratricides” by Nikos Kazantzakis

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Monday, July 15 – Saturday, July 20


@ heatherfromthegrove!

Enjoy some good summer reading.

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“Their life is an unceasing battle with God, with the winds, with the snow, with death. For this reason the Castellians were not surprised when the killing began, brother against brother. They were not afraid; they did not change their way of life.  But what had been simmering slowly within them, mute and unrevealed, now burst out, insolent and free. The primeval passion of man to kill poured from within them. Each had a neighbor, or a friend, or a brother, whom he had hated for years, without reason, often without realizing it. The hatred simmered there, unable to find an outlet.  And now, suddenly, they were given rifles and hand grenades; noble flags waved above their heads. The clergy, the army, the press urged them on — to kill their neighbor, their friend, their brother. Only in this manner, they shouted to them, can faith and country be saved! Murder, that most ancient need of man, took on a high mystic meaning. And the chase began — brother hunting brother.”

Nikos Kazantzakis , The Fratricides

To the rest of the world, the brilliant Greek writer and philosopher Nikos Kazantzakis is best known for his masterpiece, Zorba the Greek.   But to the Greeks, he remains a national treasure.  His body of writing is a clear attestation of the deep love he felt for his country and his people.  This passion, along with his devotion to his faith, and  a profound fascination with the magnetic power of charismatic leadership  ―  all come into play in his final curtain call, The Fratricides

The Fratricides (the act of a person killing his or her brother), was Kazantzakis’  last novel. The story takes place in a remote mountainside village (Castellos) in Macedonia, during the Greek Civil War (December  1944 – January 1945, and from 1946-49) when Greek communists tried (unsuccessfully) to gain control of Greece.  The novel’s central figure, the village priest (Father Yiannaros), tries to reconcile the two warring factions ― the monarchist troops who are in control of the town and the communist guerrillas who are trying to infiltrate the area.  Although sympathetic to some aspects of the communists’ vision of society, he is repelled by their acts of savagery. Their inhumanity goes against his moral and religious beliefs, yet Father Yiannaros takes steps to negotiate a settlement, with tragic results.  Enough said. 

Told by a master storyteller, The Fratricides is a gripping account of a turbulent time in Greek history, when brothers were (figuratively and literally) pitted against brothers.

Other novels by Nikos Kazantzakis:

* adapted into a film (1988) by the same name; directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Willem Dafoe (as Jesus), Harvey Keitel (as Judas) and Barbara Hershey (as Mary Magdalene).

** adapted into a film (1964) by the same name; directed by Mihalis Kakogiannis and starring Anthony Quinn (as Alexis Zorba) and Alan Bates (as Basil)

In addition, he wrote a vast body of work:  plays, poetry, and a wide selection of non-fiction works (travel books, translations, anthologies, memoirs, essays and letters).

My favorite Nikos Kazantzakis quote:

“I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.”


Santa, a Greek? The Feast Day of St. Nikolaos – a Day of Celebration … of Freedom!

Today, December 6th, is the Feast Day of St. Nikolaos  − or Nicholas, Nick, Ἅγιος Νικόλαος (Greek for Saint Nikolaos), and also known as Sinterklaas (Dutch for Santa Claus).

Yes, Santa Claus was (Oops! I meant, is!) Greek.

After all, didn’t everything and everyone originate from the Greeks?  At least that’s what my family (the Greek side, by marriage) keep telling me … didn’t the father in the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, say that the Greeks invented Windex?  But, not all of it is said tongue-in-cheek.  Such as:

Medical terminology …  derived from Greek.

Catholicism …  Greek roots (I’ve had some heated discussions on that one – being the Roman Catholic that I am!).

Geometry …  Greek.

Yes, this ancient, brilliant and culturally rich civilization is the birthplace  of many great things and people, not the least of which is our beloved Santa Claus.

Born (≈ 270 A.D.) in  the Greco-Roman town of Myra (in Lycia <of Asia Minor> – now part of modern-day Turkey), Nikolaos was a very pious man.  He was also extremely practical, generous and kind. The youngest man ever to become a priest (and later, a bishop), Nikolaos performed many kind deeds, such as throwing bags of gold coins down chimneys to aid the poor and providing dowries for women to save them from lives of lechery. He is often depicted (in art) as wearing dramatic red robes and holding three gold coins. His “Name Day” is the anniversary of his death (December 6) and this day is still a gift-giving date in many countries, although December 25th has become the de facto date for gift exchange within the Christian faith.

St. Nikolaos had a reputation for secret gift-giving and is considered the patron saint of sailors and children, butchers, bakers, and judges. He is also the patron saint of Greece.

What really made him so special? He was a generous soul whose generosity was born of an understanding and empathy for those in pain (physically, emotionally and spiritually). He was persecuted and imprisoned for his faith, which made him all the more compassionate and an ardent supporter for people who were battling a loss of freedom.

Freedom.  We live for it. We fight for it. And, we die for it.

Anthony Quinn, as Alexis Zorba, in the film (Zorba the Greek), directed by  Michael Cacoyannis.

When that brilliant writer from Crete, Nikos Kazantzakis, wrote his novel, Zorba the Greek, he depicted “freedom”  (Greek-style)  as:

Alexis Zorba: Damn it boss, I like you too much not to say it. You’ve got everything except one thing: madness! A man needs a little madness, or else…
Basil: Or else?
Alexis Zorba: …he never dares cut the rope and be free.

Which brings me to modern-day Greece.  And these are my own personal, editorial comments….

On October 28th, since World War II, the Greeks celebrate Ohi Day (Επέτειος του «’Οχι» Epeteios tou “‘Ohi”, Anniversary of the “No”) when the then Greek Prime Minister, Ioannis Metaxas rejected the ultimatum made by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini on October 28, 1940, which “demanded that Greece allow Axis forces to enter Greek territory and occupy certain unspecified ‘strategic locations’ or otherwise face war.”

Today, Greece is embroiled in an economic crisis that is threatening the freedom of their country.  The choice:  become deeply indebted to the European Union, but maintain solvency OR go into insolvency, but maintain a degree of independence.

In my lifetime, I’ve experienced economic prosperity and not-so-prosperous situations, like: being indebted, and therefore enslaved AND being cash-poor, yet − amazingly  − free.

Greece is a proud, gloriously unruly (Zorba-esque), and resilient nation. My personal belief, is that they stand true to who they are and say:

όχι (No!)

And then, slowly and steadily, pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and start fresh.

Back to St. Nikoloas – his name means “victory for the people” − very apropos. I will leave it at that.

One more word, to my own, special and beloved Nick ….. as well as all the other Nicks in the world who celebrate their Name Day today ….  χρόνια πολλά (hronia polla / Happy Name Day) !