JANUARY 1, 2017. For many years now I've kicked off the new year with Chuck Prophet's brilliant "New Year's Day," a song that resonates for me in ways so deep that I've never really been able to put my finger on them. Perhaps it's the idea of the guy who returns home to his parents' house over the holidays, then winds up staying with them for more than a year, eventually obtaining a janitor's job at his former high school to make his meager ends meet. Or maybe what I find compelling is one of my favorite couplets ever in lyrics writing: "I woke up in my Nissan/ To the static on the radio." What a brilliantly concise, poignant description of a soul who has run off the road, mired in one of life's ditches.
2016 was that kind of year for me. Grave health problems were compounded by the losses of so many of my baby boomer contemporaries -- personal friends and celebrity heroes alike -- not to mention the ugly resurgence of racism, misogyny and rank stupidity in the country of my birth. Slowly but surely I'm climbing out of my personal ditch. Within the next few months I expect to be walking again and I have plans to enjoy a long vacation with Marti on Spetses, our favorite Greek island in the Argolid.
Today after church Marti is bringing a Greek picnic for us to share in my hospital room: Ouzo, pita bread, Volos olives, feta, dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), fava (yellow split peas puree), eggplant, red pepper and cucumber dips, slices of roast lamb prepared by our neighborhood butcher on his rotisserie, traditional holiday pastries. Last night at midnight we downed Champagne and Vasilopita (Saint Basil's cake), the sweet New Year's Day bread containing a hidden trinket said to bring good luck to the receiver.
The good luck token was in Marti's piece of the cake. After all the love and support she's given me in this past year, she certainly deserved it.
Our New Year's Day Greek picnic in my hospital room. A tasty success! First course: Volos olives, feta, melitzanosalata, tzatziki, spanakopita, htipiti, dolmades. Accompanied by ouzo and pita bread.
Rotisserie lamb shoulder, fava (yellow split pea puree) doused in olive oil.
Amorgion Psimeni raki. A sweet aperitif/ digestif only produced on Amorgos, the easternmost island of the Greek Cyclades. I think we found this little bottle in Nafplio. Perfect with the dessert pastries. At top: melomakarono, an egg-shaped treat made mainly from flour, olive oil, and honey. The bottom item is a mystery pastry that our neighborhood Greek traiteur Lakis turned Marti on to. Flavored like baklava, the center stuffing consists of raisins, pistachios, figs. It's a new one on us; she didn't catch the name.
I provided an hour-long iTunes mix as a soundtrack to our New Year's feast. Along with classics by Hadjidakis ("Never On Sunday") and Theodorakis (Themes from "Zorba The Greek" and "Serpico"), I included favorites by Michalis Embeoglou, Giannis Vardis and Andreas Georgiou. Our dear friends Marina Deligianni (Plastikes Karekles) and Giorgos Tompaziadis (Taxideftes) got a spin too.