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.
“Christmas In Herald Square” was written in 1985 by Tony Bennett’s long-time friend and vocal coach, Tony Tamburello. The lyrics are by Joyce Vintaloro. Tony recorded “Christmas In Herald Square” in 1998 for his album The Playground; it was later collected on The Classic Christmas Album.
This weekend I've been cruising through nearly twenty years' worth of posts to my blog. Here are a few of the items I found.
March 21, 2001. Marti and I attended the opening of The Sex Obsession of R. Crumb, a major exhibition of the artist's work at the Musée de l’Erotisme de Paris. We hung out with Robert for a while, he and his friend Fabienne played a mini-set of the old-timey music he loves so much.
August 26, 2013. Our friend Michael Herrman, joined by The G Man on bass and Serigne Gueye on drums and percussion, performed a couple of tunes at the Chair de Poule. Michael told me later that he had issues with Serigne's playing, but frankly I thought it helped ameliorate that arch Portland sound in the music.
September 29, 2000. Grateful Dead Hour radio host David Gans, visiting Paris with his wife Rita & an entire posse of Northern California friends, joined several members of the Parisian tribute band Deadicace for a jam session. When David first phoned the day before, I mentioned that Marti & I had a bunch of French friends here who played Grateful Dead music. He said he'd be thrilled to meet them. So I got on the horn & within a couple of hours we had organized a gathering at Christine & Bill Giles' apartment on the Quai Malaquais. I brought along the Gurian acoustic guitar I inherited from my late brother Peter (and later restored) for David to play.
April 10, 2009. Departing Amsterdam after a pair of Bob Dylan concerts at the Heineken Music Hall.
May 28, 2012. Pentecost. A Monday holiday in France. Footage shot in the 15th arrondissement of Paris. Locations include Square Adolphe Cherioux, Place de la Mairie du XV, Rue Peclet and Square Saint-Lambert. All within a block or two of our apartment building.
February 10, 2001. Our friend Alan Merrill, who wrote "I Love Rock 'n Roll," plays at one of the acoustic jams we used to stage at the little couscous restaurant across the street from our apartment. Doug Brodoff and Marti are in the back singing along.
May 30, 2012. Chris Kenna & Melissa Cox in concert at L'inattendu, a bar-restaurant I believe they only played this one time.
June 17, 1998. Widespread Panic after party at Le Bataclan. Marti, Nikki Matheson, Christophe Rossi and John Bell.
November 29, 2007. After many years of filling out and submitting and resubmitting forms detailing just about every detail of our long lives, Marti and I were naturalized as citizens of France. This development did not affect our U.S. status in any way. Except that now we were card-carrying members of two populations that half the planet hates.
And looking ahead: the view from the balcony of the apartment I'll be renting for several months this fall and winter at Agios Mammas beach on the Greek island of Spetses.