Wednesday, June 28


Perhaps you remember the Macy’s flap that took place several weeks back. You’ll recall that Macy’s caved in to pressure from the Article 8 Alliance and removed a portion of their Pride window display that Article 8 found offensive.

I wrote this letter to Macy’s, which I sent to the executive offices in New York.

Although Macy’s East Chairman and CEO Ron Klein has since admitted that removing the mannequins was a mistake, the result of “an internal breakdown in communication,” and not the result of pressure put on Macy’s by Article 8, the letter I received from Macy’s executive offices the other day tells a different story:

June 19, 2006

Dear Mr._____,

Thank you for your recent letter to our Executive Office. Your letter has been referred to me for review and response.

I was sorry to learn of your decision to close your Macy’s account and shop elsewhere as a result of your disappointment with the Boston window display. We certainly did not mean to offend you, as shown by your decision to close your account, as that was never our intention. As advertising is integral to the success of our business, it is always a concern when one of our customers is not satisfied with the content of one of our window displays. Macy’s is very proud to have a diverse workforce that mirrors the communities in which their stores and offices are located. Macy’s actually markets to and advertise to their diverse customers, and we understand the important business advantage that diversity in our customer base provides us. Unfortunately, while many people share your views about the content of the window display, many others do not. They too, are our customers. I hope you can appreciate our position on this subject, even though it may differ from your own.

Mr._____, your patronage is important to us, and we appreciate your providing this invaluable feedback. We regret this matter has escalated to this point. If I may be of further assistance, or you would like to reconsider closing your account, please feel free to contact me personally at the telephone number listed below.


Toni Cole-Lane
Macy’s Executive 0ffice
1-800-264-0069 Extension 2738

“They too are our customers.” Interesting. I called Ms. Lane this morning, as she invited me to do in her letter, to tell her that, while it might seem important in theory to respect the views of all their customers, such a policy is neither practical nor ethical.

For example, if a group of White Supremists began bombarding Macy’s with a steady stream of letters, phone calls, and emails demanding that the store remove its African-American mannequins because they are offensive and because, after all, everyone knows that black people are stupid, lazy, drug-addicted criminals on welfare, would Macy’s respond by removing all of their African-American mannequins?

In this hypothetical example, Macy’s would almost certainly refuse to validate the ludicrous demands of said White Supremists. And yet, in theory, they too are Macy’s customers. Clearly, some demands are too ridiculous, too offensive to be granted any legitimacy whatsoever. When I presented this hypothetical scenario to Ms. Lane, she responded that she wasn’t prepared to address hypotheticals. My point was made, however.

And the point is that racism, at least in theory, is no longer acceptable (though in practice, it is still widespread), while homophobia is still acceptable. Macy’s chose to validate Article 8’s homophobia, and thus they have contributed to the perpetuation of homophobia in both theory and practice as a legitimate ideology. They put their stamp of approval on it.

That this is the position taken by Macy’s—that they would defend their actions by affirming their need to validate the homophobic demands of the Article 8 Alliance because “they too are our customers” confirms that Macy’s is no place for me to be spending my hard earned money.

Monday, June 26

Rest in Peace

This morning following a brief memorial service, Sophia Amelia Peabody Hawthorne’s remains were interred in the Hawthorne family plot at Sleep Hollow Cemetery in Concord. For the past 135 years, the remains of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s widow and those of their firstborn daughter, Una, had lain in London’s Kensal Green Cemetery. After Hawthorne’s death in 1864, Sophia took their three children and moved to England where she died six years later.

Sophia Peabody (1809 – 1871) was one of three sisters who are probably best known from The Peabody Sisters of Salem, written by Louise Hall Tharp in 1950. The family belonged to 19th-century New England’s cultural and literary elite. Sophia’s older sister Mary (1807 – 1887) married educator Horace Mann. The eldest of the three, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody (1804 – 1894) was a champion of reform and was well known for her involvement in the Transcendentalist movement and early Feminism.

I first learned about Sophia Peabody Hawthorne during my days as a tour guide at The House of the Seven Gables in Salem. Although she never lived in the house, her portrait (shown above) hung in an upstairs bedrooms (it probably still does) named for Phoebe, the main female heroin in Hawthorne’s book. When the frail Sophia met the brooding young author in 1837, a passionate romance ensued. They were married five years later and moved to Concord where their social circle included Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the family of Bronson Alcott. It has been said that when Hawthorne wrote The House of the Seven Gables, he based the character of Phoebe on his beloved Sophia.

Before he began courting Sophia, Hawthorne often visited his aunt who lived in the ancient many-gabled house (which at the time was missing some of the seven since a few gables had been removed some decades earlier). His visits inspired him to write his famous romance in 1851. Don’t call it a novel. Hawthorne was careful in his preface to designate his work a romance: “the book may be read strictly as a romance, having a great deal more to do with the clouds overhead than with any portion of the actual soil of the County of Essex,” he admonished.

Notwithstanding Hawthorne’s disclaimer, Caroline Emmerton, who was a female reformer in the tradition of the 19th-century Peabody sisters, was hoping to capitalize on the association with Hawthorne when she purchased the old house in 1908. She restored it to its 17th-century grandeur (or her version of it) and opened it as a museum a few years later. She used the proceeds to finance her settlement house work with the area’s working class immigrant community. The Gables’ long term association with Hawthorne was heightened in the 1950s when the museum’s trustees purchased Hawthorne’s birthplace, which was subsequently moved to the site.

I have very fond memories of the summers I spent as a tour guide at the Gables. It was there that I met my good friend Kate. Even though I thought she was a troublemaker, and she thought I was a nerd (I was), it was kismet that we would become great friends. Such was the magic of The House of the Seven Gables.

Hitler or Coulter?

My friend G (god bless him) sent this to me. I got 11 out of 14 right. Not that it’s easy to tell the difference between Hitler and Coulter. I just happen to be a very good at making educated guesses, I guess. Plus some of the quotes just sounded so first half of the 20th century to me.

Click here to be appalled.

Thursday, June 22

while she’s here

Got this from my friend J...

Date: Jun 21, 2006 7:12 PM
Subject: i’m at a cafe on the corner of 17th and church

in san francisco’s mission district
windows open cool breeze
longest day of the year
sun on my back the entire time
came for the chai (which was sweet-savory-sweet-savory
and milky-spicy-milky-spicy)
stayed for the hot jordanian boy working the counter
they’re playing devotional music now
but we’ve heard from the talking heads
and milli vanilli
going outside to enjoy the light
renting a mini convertible tomorrow to go to sonoma
getting in a day of summer while she’s here
and thinking of you boys.

Tuesday, June 20


Now that lawmakers on Beacon Hill have tackled universal health care, they’ve decided to move on to the next most pressing issue: Fluff.

Representative Kathi-Anne Reinstein (D, Revere) has filed a bill in the House to designate “Fluffernutter”—a mixture of Marshmallow fluff and peanut butter—as the official sandwich of Massachusetts. This was in response to Senator Jarrett Barrios’ proposed legislation that would allow Fluffernutter sandwiches to be served in public schools only once a week.

How often were they serving it? And does Massachusetts really need an official sandwich? Maybe now that Massachusetts has legalized same-sex marriage, we should have an official lube too. I vote for KY Brand Warming Liquid!

I like fluff as much as the next guy—after all, I did grow up in Lynn, where it continues to be produced—though I admit, every time I hear the word “fluff,” I think of the 2003 film (The Fluffer) by Richard Glatzer and Wash West about the gay adult film industry and the behind-the-scenes… er, work of one crew member, “the fluffer,” whose job it was to keep the male actors… well… “fluffed” (if you don’t know what that means, just watch the film).

But as much fun as that sounds, it does qualify as work. The boy in that film worked… hard. That’s more than I can say for Reinstein and Barrios who are wasting our tax dollars with this nonsense.

Rembetiko of the Month

In last month’s post, I included a reference to Kostas Masellos (1890-1972, a.ka. Nouros, shown left in the 1930s) in my discussion of Rita Abadzi’s Ο Ψύλλος. At the end of the song, a male voice yells out a greeting (as was common in Rembetika), “Γειά σου, ρε Ρίτα” (Yassou, Rita), to which she responds, “Γειά σου, Νούρε μου” (Yassou, my Nouros), so we know that Nouros was in the studio.

In that post, I concluded that Nouros was playing guitar or bouzouki. Whether it is in fact a bouzouki that’s being played is itself not clear. But this is a separate question from what Nouros is doing in the studio. Clearly he was there, but why was he there? These may seem like uninteresting questions, but to Rembetika lovers, they’re fascinating (really, they are). I figured that he must be playing an instrument. My cousin G disagreed.

He said Nouros was a singer and explained to me that there’s no indication that he played either the guitar or bouzouki. He checked with some experts (the guys who produced Rembetika: Historic Urban Folk Songs from Greece), and they agreed with him that Nouros wasn’t playing an instrument. It seemed unlikely to me that Nouros was just “hanging out” in the studio, but I guess it’s possible. There just doesn’t seem to be any evidence that Nouros played an instrument.

To be honest, I didn’t know much about Nouros prior to my last Rembetiko of the Month post. I had heard the name—and actually have at least one 78rpm of Nouros from the 1930s—but that’s about it. My exposure to male singers of Rembetika focused more on the great Andonis Diamantidis (a.k.a. Dalgas), Dimitris Atraïdis, Yiorgos Papasideris, and even Yiorgos Katsaros. Certainly less is known about Nouros than some of these others. However, I don’t think it would be fair to say that he was obscure, since in his day he was a celebrated and quite prolific singer of αμανέδες.

Nouros began recording in 1926, just four years after arriving in Greece from Smyrna, where he had grown up. In Smyrna he had been singing in the port town’s famous music café’s since the age of eighteen. It has been said that Nouros’ style of singing is reminiscent of a ψάλτης (PSAL-tis) or cantor in the tradition of Byzantine music. I myself find Nouros’ voice more refined and less earthy than some of the other male singers of Rembetika and αμανέδες. Nouros was known to have a great love of Byzantine music and even spent some time at the Vatopedion monastery on Mount Athos.

I recently picked up a CD of some of Nouros’ early recordings, just to get a feel for him. Moreover, I was intrigued by my cousin’s suggestion that Nouros was a homosexual. He pointed to the photographic evidence showing Nouros in the company of young men (one example is the photo to the left, which shows Nouros with an unnamed Turkish soldier in Istanbul in 1950), but to me the photos seem ambiguous. Far more compelling is a version of the Ταμπαχανιότικος Μανές (ta-ba-ha-NIO-ti-kos ma-NESS) recorded by Nouros for Columbia around 1928. For the record, Nouros recorded several different versions of the Ταμπαχανιότικος, as did other artists, including Roza Eskenazi, who first recorded the song in 1929. What makes Nouros’ 1928 recording interesting is Stellakis Perpinadis’ “Νά πεθάνεις, πούστη” (Drop dead, faggot) at the end of the song.

The term πούστης (faggot) is a derisive term in Greek. At the same time, it would be a mistake to conclude that Perpiniadis intended to express hostility to Nouros. I think Perpinadis was being playful, albeit in that bawdy and edgy way that characterized the Rembetes. On the other hand, I have a hard time believing that Perpiniadis would go so far as to use the term jokingly on someone who was not believed to be a homosexual, because that could be insulting. The word πούστης is sometimes thrown around in jocular fashion, but it’s not something that one hears in Rembetika recordings.

As far as I know, Nouros’ 1928 recording of the Ταμπαχανιότικος Μανές is the only instance of such a thing. The use of the term in this case is funny only if Nouros was actually known among his circle of friends and colleagues to have enjoyed romantic and sexual dalliances with men and received some good-natured ribbing for it. While we can’t know for sure, I think a good case can be made for Nouros’ alleged homosexuality.

However, my interest in Nouros goes beyond mere speculation about his sexuality. In the end, I don’t think one can say with any certainty what Nouros’ erotic preferences were. Regardless of his sexuality, however, the lyrics to some of Nouros’ αμανέδες have a decidedly queer sensibility and resonate with my queer ears. Two in particular, Χουζάμ Μανές (hou-ZAM ma-NESS) or Ποιός έχει μάυρη την καρδιά, “Whoever has blackness in his heart,” and Χετζάζ Μανές (he-TZAZ ma-NESS) or Ο κόσμος με κατηγορεί, “The world condemns me”—both recorded in the early 1930s—evoke that sense of “the love that dare not speak its name.”

Click here to listen.

Χουζάμ Μανές

Ποιός έχει μάυρη την καρδιά, νά γίνουμε συντρόφοι
νά περπατάμε σ’ερημιές νά μη θωρούμε ανθρώποι.

Whoever has a blackened heart, let’s stay together
and wander the wastelands and hide ourselves from the world’s gaze.

Click here to listen.

Χετζάζ Μανές

Ο κόσμος με κατηγορεί, δίχως νά ξέυρει λέει—
αν ήξευρε τον πόνο μου μαζί μου θε νά κλαίει.

The world condemns me without knowing me—
if they knew my pain, together they would cry with me.

If Nouros were a homosexual, these lyrics would have had a special poignancy for him. Whether or not he actually loved other men, his αμανέδες speak to contemporary queers (at least those of us listening to Rembetika) about our experience of being marginalized and condemned because of whom we love.

Recommended Listening:
Ο Δημήτρης Ατραΐδης καί ο Κώςτας Νούρος τραγουδούν αμανέδες καί ρεμπέτικα (Dimitris Atraïdis and Kostas Nouros sing amanedes and rembetika)

Monday, June 19

Bikes and Roses

It’s summer and if you’re reading this blog right now, stop it, shut off your computer and go outside. OK, I know that for some of you, it’s winter, so you can keep reading, but for those of you for whom it’s summer, come back when the summer’s over :)

This time of year, I’m outside all the time (except when I’m at work during the day). After work, I’m out in the yard. On the weekends I’m out in the yard or at the beach. That’s probably why my posts have been more sporadic recently. I’ve also noticed that I’ve had fewer visitors. Of course, it’s possible that it’s not summer at all that is behind the drop in my stats. It could be that people are getting bored with me.

Anyway, Joe and I spent the weekend up at Singing Beach in Manchester (by-the-Sea). It’s a lovely beach. The water was unseasonably warm. The air temperature was in the upper 80s on Saturday and in the low 90s on Sunday, which might explain why the water was so warm. It was great. We swam and played in the surf for long stretches at a time, we ate, we napped. A few friends joined us as well.

Today after work, Joe and I rode our bikes to Dedham. I picked up my new bike last Friday. I can’t get over how easy it is to shift gears compared to my old ten speed. If I’m feeling ambitious later in the week—and it’s not in the 90s—I may ride my bike to work. It’s probably about an hour or so, but a pleasant enough ride. I’m a bit concerned about how much energy I’ll have to bike home after work, but we’ll see.

After our ride, I watered the plants outside and noticed that two new rose bushes that I planted this season had finally bloomed. I really love roses. I’m not a fanatic about them, and I don’t recall what either variety is called, because I didn’t save the tags. But I’m very meticulous about caring for them once they’re in the ground (though I did lose two bushes this past winter because they weren’t properly wrapped, but that’s because I was in Ukraine for six weeks in the fall). I fertilize, I prune, I spray. I enjoy.

Although neither was as fragrant as I’d hoped, they’re both beautiful. I think I prefer the pale yellow, almost whitish one to the red. I also planted a climbing rose that hasn’t bloomed yet, but it’s doing very well. I’ll post some pics of that one as soon as it blooms.

Thursday, June 15

Πάλι Μεθυσμένος Είμαι

I am slightly hungover this morning after our rehearsal last night with Mike the drummer and P the fiddler. P hosted us at his place—he doesn’t live too far from us. Joe brought a bottle of wine, but I brought a bottle of Barbayannis ouzo.

The Barbayannis family has been making ouzo on Lesbos since Efstathios Barbayannis arrived from the Black Sea port of Odessa, Ukraine in 1860. Their distillery is located in Plomari, which has historically been the center of ouzo production on the island. They even operate an ouzo museum! Plomari isn’t far from the hill town of Agiassos, where my maternal grandfather was born and raised.

P was very happy—he’s an ouzo drinker like me, which is cool. Needless to say that by the end of the night, I was wasted. I was still able to play though. P knows many of the same songs we know from Lesbos along with a repertoire of music from Crete and the Dodecanese Islands, more of which I’d love to learn. P will be joining us tonight at Café Apollonia in Roslindale.

A couple of P’s Greek neighbors heard us playing and stopped over, including N who has a lovely singing voice that is reminiscent of Kostas Nouros, who I’ll be featuring in my next Rembetiko of the Month.

Monday, June 12

Catching up

I’m completely exhausted, and that’s having skipped Pride this past weekend because of the rain. I can’t imagine how tired I’d be right now had we been downtown on Saturday. As it is, it seems like we’ve been going non-stop since last Thursday.

Thursday night Joe, Mike the drummer, and I played at Café Apollonia. Thursday are normally Joe’s and Mike’s gig, but because we were all heading to a concert later that evening, it was easier for me to come along than have Joe pick me up at home afterwards. I didn’t play sandouri, just spoons and zils. We’d also had a pretty late night on Wednesday jamming with P, a very charming young man who’s a student in Boston and is active in the Greek folk music scene. He typically plays laouto, which is a type of Greek lute, (and some lavta, I believe), but he’s also a fantastic lyra player (so we’ve heard) and a very talented violinist, which is what he played at our place on Wednesday night. It was lots of fun, and our housemates G and CL really took to him.

Friday’s concert was at Dionysos, a Greek restaurant and supper club located inside the Radisson Hotel along Memorial Drive in Cambridge. The concert was put on by Dünya and featured a Turkish ensemble that included a clarinet player (who also is a fantastic oud player and happens to be Outiboy’s teacher), a percussionist, an oud player/vocalist, and two violinists. Their music seemed to be a mixture of Ottoman classical and Turkish urban folk music. It was a great show, but it started late, and it was already after 11pm by the time they finished their first set.

Joe was anticipating a busy day on Friday, so we left during the intermission. Joe was disappointed because it meant we were going to miss the Hicaz (Hejaz) set. The concert was organized as a series of fasıls. A fasıl is a suite of songs in the same makam or mode. The first half of the show featured a fasıl in Uşşak (Oussak) and one in Huzzam. Because they were playing Turkish art music, their playing was microtonal; that is, it included the microtones (half flats and half sharps—the notes in between the Western notes) that constitute an integral part of Turkish music, but have gradually disappeared from Greek music.

I worked a half day on Friday (so what am I complaining about?), but had a gazillion chores to do at home. I’ve also been trying to squeeze in some spring cleaning, which we’ve been deferring for too long. Joe and I had planned a little date for ourselves Friday night, since Saturday was our anniversary (that’s another blog post). We went to see A Touch of Spice (Πολίτικη Κουζίνα, 2003) at the West Newton Cinema. The actual name of the film in Greek means “Constantinopolitan cuisine,” though it could also mean “political cuisine” with a slight shifting of the accent. Greeks typically refer to Istanbul not as Istanbul or even Constantinople, but simply as η Πόλη (i PO-li) or “the City,” because for centuries, there was for Greeks only one city, namely Constantinople, which in many ways remains the spiritual capital of the Greek-speaking world, more so than Athens.

It is the story of a Greek family forced to leave Istanbul in the 1960s. During the turbulent period leading up to the Turkish invasion of Cyprus and the subsequent United Nations partition of the island into its northern (Turkish) and southern (Greek) zones, tensions between Istanbul’s Greek minority and the local Turkish population reached a crisis. Beginning in the mid 1950s and throughout the 1960s many Greeks were forced to leave Istanbul, while others left voluntarily and migrated to Greece or became part of the Greek Diaspora living abroad in the United States, Australia, or Canada.

In spite of the troubled context in which the story is set, the film is primarily about food, as its title suggests. The main protagonist, Fanis, spends much of his free time as a child in his grandfather’s spice shop where he learns about the complex relationship between food and feelings. He learns, for example, that one should use cinnamon in one’s κεφτέδες (meatballs), rather than the more customary cumin, because cumin is strong and it makes people turn inward, whereas cinnamon makes people open up and look each other in the eye.

When Fanis and his parents are forced to leave Istanbul, his grandfather stays behind. Fanis also leaves behind the lovely Saime, his Turkish playmate whose mother Aishe was his mother’s best friend and a frequent visitor to his grandfather’s store. Although they are only children, it is clear that they were destined to be married one day.

One of the more poignant elements of the film is the prejudice that Fanis and his family faced in Greece following their arrival from Istanbul. Although they were ethnically and linguistically Greek, Greeks migrating to Greece from Asia Minor were derisively referred to as “Turks” by their neighbors. Their music and their culture—including their cuisine—was regarded as foreign and oriental. This was as true for Constantinopolitan Greeks who migrated to Greece in the 1950s and 60s as it was for the tens of thousands of impoverished Anatolian Greek refugees that flooded Greece in the 1920s (about whom I have written in my Rembetiko of the Month series).

In Athens, the melancholy Fanis copes with his ξενιτιά (homesickness) and σεβντάς (heartache) by cooking. Though his culinary skills are remarkable for a child his age, his parents ban him from the kitchen when they begin to worry that cooking isn’t a suitable activity for a little boy. Thus begins Fanis’ pursuit of his other great love, astronomy, which his grandfather used to tell him was separated from gastronomy by a single letter.

When Fanis’ aging grandfather falls ill in Istanbul and later dies, Fanis returns to the City and at his grandfather’s funeral is reunited with Saime, grown into a beautiful, seasoned woman with a daughter of her own. Saime is separated from her husband, Mehmet—another of their childhood playmates—who is a military doctor in Ankara. When Saime informs Fanis that it is her daughter Aishe’s birthday, Fanis, still a wonderful cook, prepares the feast. When Saime’s estranged husband shows up uninvited to the birthday party and tastes the meatballs, he notices that they are flavored with cinnamon—the spice that Fanis learned from his grandfather is the one that makes people look each other in the eye. The film leaves us to wonder whether Fanis used cinnamon in order to make Saime fall in love with him or if perhaps he anticipated Mehmet’s arrival—it was his daughter’s birthday, after all—and was trying to patch things up between Saime and her husband because he knew that she was still in love with Mehmet, in spite of their separation.

Joe and I enjoyed the film very much. The food and the music woven into the story of Fanis and his family are familiar to us both and are an intimate part of the way we live. The outsider theme and the way in which Fanis and his family were marginalized for being different resonated with us. Likewise, Istanbul is a city that we both love and have visited twice. Several of the film’s scenes took place in the hamam, which made us long for Istanbul’s hamams of which there are many still in operation.

We ended the evening with dinner at Ten Tables. We were disappointed to learn that it was Shane’s night off, as his charm, knowledge, boyish good looks, and attentiveness have become an important part of why we eat there. Still, the food was delicious as always. We chatted briefly with the chef after our meal, who let us know about some changes that they’ll be making to their summer menu. Overall, they’re a very friendly staff. It has quickly become my favorite place to eat in the city.

We had been planning to do some Pride-related activities on Saturday early in the day, although we did have my cousin’s wedding to attend late Saturday afternoon, which meant we would have to miss the block party. However, the rain that morning made us hesitant to venture downtown. Instead we did some cleaning and errands—very unromantic, since it was our anniversary, after all. I got a call from Dave’s Bike Infirmary in Milton that the bike I had ordered was in. I’ve been riding a 1980 Schwinn since I won it in the Kellogg’s “Stick-up for Breakfast” contest (does anyone remember that?) when I was just a kid.

My mom had convinced me to choose the ten-speed over the child’s bike, even though I had to wait many years before I could fit on the ten-speed, while I would have been able to ride the kid’s bike right away, but would have quickly outgrown it. She was wise, because that bike carried me into adulthood, though it had become a bit of a clunker as of late, falling apart piece by piece. Joe and our housmate G have been on my case for many months to get a new bike, and after some research I finally decided on a Raleigh hybrid (good for city riding as well as distance riding). I was going to get another Schwinn, but the Raleigh model seemed like a better bike in the end. I didn’t end up bringing it home on Saturday, because they’re going to install some accessories, but I’ll pick it up this week.

When the rain didn’t abate, we eventually scrapped our Pride plans altogether and got ready for my cousin’s wedding. The ceremony took place at Saint Vasilios Greek Orthodox Church in Peabody (pictured left, ca. 1918), right outside of Peabody Square, which was badly flooded a few weeks back. My cousin made a lovely bride. After the ceremony, Joe and I went to the Greek coffeehouse/taverna located across the street.

Joe was dying for a Greek coffee, and we used the opportunity to inquire about the prospect of our playing music there—though Peabody is a trek from where we live—and they explained that they already have a singer on Saturday nights, but they asked about our ensemble nonetheless. I explained that I played sandouri, that we have a drummer and an accordion player and possibly a violinist, and that Joe plays oud. I was saying all of this in Greek, and when I mentioned the oud, the owner’s wife frowned and said, “Τό ούτι? Τούρκικο είναι,” meaning, “The oud? That’s Turkish.” I thought it ironic that we had just seen A Touch of Spice, which portrayed the way in which many Greeks have often looked at the Greek culture of Asia Minor, which includes the oud, as Turkish.

The reception was lots of fun. In lieu of a Greek band, there was a DJ who played a mixture of house music, disco favorites (what you’d expect to hear at a wedding, minus the Electric Slide and the Macarena, thank God), with a couple of lengthy sets of traditional Greek dance music in between. I was glad because I thought there wouldn’t be any Greek dancing. I like house music as much as the next homo, but it was a Greek wedding after all (well, the bride is half Greek). Almost my whole extended family got up to dance. It was really rather poignant. Many of my mother’s siblings are getting on in years, and it was nice to see them and all my many cousins on the dance floor. Joe and I try to bring the family together every other summer for a big party at our place, but we don’t usually dance. There’s something so human about a folk dancing and line dancing especially—concentric circles of interconnected people celebrating life and expressing their joy in unison. Greeks (and Greek Americans) tend to be very exuberant that way.

It was interesting because in addition to some of the more traditional line dances, the DJ played (probably by request) some of the couples dances that were more common to the islands and Asia Minor. My extended family on my mother’s side traces its roots to Lesbos. I danced an απτάλικος (aptalikos) dance with Joe and then with my cousin Julie and then a ζεϊμπέκικος (zeimbekikos) dance with my mother. My mother is still a great dancer. Most of what I learned about Greek dance I learned from her. They played Απτάλ Χαβασί (Aptal Havası), which was a nice tribute to my maternal grandfather (the bride’s great grandfather), as it was one of his favorites. That’s the one Joe and I danced together.

The απτάλικος and the ζεϊμπέκικος (pictured right) were traditionally danced by two men or by a solo male. Once upon a time, women would never have thought of dancing either of these dances. It is also these very dances that would be regarded by mainland Greeks as Turkish and oriental. Again, an odd connection to A Touch of Spice. Speaking of Turkish dances, they also played a couple of τσίφτε τέλλια (belly dances), to which I shook my thang, probably to the horror of my parents. I don’t really feel constrained by traditional notions of gender, and I’m not really all that concerned about embarrassing my parents. Besides, I’m a damn good belly dancer. I think also that if children never do anything to make their parents uncomfortable, then they’re doing something wrong. Progress happens when old ideas and values are challenged.

We got home very late, but instead of sleeping in Sunday morning, Joe and I were up early and on the road to Lynn to help my parents clear out their basement in anticipation of their move. I also wanted to see my nephews, who weren’t at the wedding. In between loading boxes onto a rented van, Joe and I played with them, mostly with the older one, who’s now 2½ years old and talking quite a bit and a delightful child.

We ended the day attending a work function for Joe. We were both pretty tired, but it ended up being quite a nice affair. The food was great. It was at the home of one of his colleagues who lives out in Wellesley, which couldn’t be more different from our neighborhood. Well, I guess it could be even more different, but our neighborhood ain’t no Wellesley. But we love it anyway.

Thursday, June 8

Damage Control

As I made my way down Winter Street this morning, I walked past the now infamous Macy’s gay pride window display. I noticed right away that, while the gay mannequins are still conspicuously absent—could they have gone somewhere less public to fuck??—the websites for the Boston Pride committee and the AIDS Action Committee are back up. Nothing is more tacky than damage control, Macy’s. Too bad I already cut up my Macy’s card.

As is typical of those caught in the middle of the Culture Wars, an entity trying to please both sides has ended up pleasing neither side. MassResistance is angry that Macy’s didn’t take down the entire pride display, while queers are appalled that Macy’s would have removed any part of the display in response to MassResistance’s shrill morality crusade against cross dressing mannequins (though I myself do not consider a rainbow flag wrapped around one’s waist as evidence of cross dressing).

If only Macy’s had stood by its original display. I hope they learn a valuable lesson from all this. Namely, next time they should use two female mannequins. We all know what a turn-on that is for otherwise homophobic straight men.

Wednesday, June 7

No Way to Shop

James E. Gray
Macy’s East
151 West 34th Street
New York, NY 10001

Dear Mr. Gray:

I am writing to you because of the recent decision by Macy’s Boston store to remove a portion of its window display celebrating Boston’s gay pride festival (June 2 – June 11). Specifically, the store removed the two male mannequins dressed in “pride attire,” one of which was wearing a rainbow flag around its waist. In addition, the websites for the Boston Pride Committee and the AIDS Action Committee were also erased from the display. Macy’s decision to censor the display came in response to complaints made by the Article 8 Alliance, a Massachusetts group that has been vocal in its opposition to same-sex marriage and GLBT equality.

Macy’s defines itself as a “Diverse and Inclusive Organization.” You state:
“Diversity within our workforce, customer base, and community and vendor relationships distinguishes Federated from other retailers and gives us a clear competitive advantage. On a day-to-day basis, diversity manifests itself in the respectful way we treat our customers, vendors, members of the community and one another.”
However, Macy’s decision to censor its Boston Pride window display demonstrates that its commitment to diversity is tenuous and more than a little fraudulent.

While I understand that you can’t please everyone in the Culture Wars, I find it saddening when companies with as distinguished a heritage as Macy’s cave in to pressure from the Far Right. If one must choose between bigotry and a commitment to diversity, why choose bigotry? If you offend the members of the Article 8 Alliance and those like them, you can do so knowing that your commitment to diversity prevents you from concluding, as they do, that there is something disgusting about a gay pride display featuring two male mannequins. Instead, you have chosen to offend the GLBT community by siding with the forces of bigotry, fear, and hate. It was an unwise and unethical choice.

Therefore, I am cancelling my Macy’s credit card and until Macy’s can demonstrate a genuine commitment to diversity, I will do my shopping elsewhere. I have no desire to give my patronage to a company that clearly puts the warped sensibilities of small-minded bigots ahead of my dignity.

Sincerely yours,

Sandouri Dean Bey

Bring Democracy to America

While it’s admirable that our soldiers are sacrificing their lives in the struggle to bring democracy to Iraq, might someone step forward to bring democracy to America?

Thanks to the hipsters over at Queer Today for posting a link to a recent article by Robert Kennedy Jr. in Rolling Stone about the disturbing events that took place during the 2004 election.
Click here to read the article.

If what Kennedy asserts is in fact true (and he lays out a compelling case) and the will of the people was subverted by a systematic and partisan campaign to commit election fraud, then we are no longer living in a democracy.

Perhaps once we’ve brought democracy to the people of Iraq, they can come over here and bring it to us.

Monday, June 5

Göz Lokum

I honestly don’t recall how I came across the works of Pierre Paul Prud’hon (1758–1823). It was recent and I should remember, but I don’t. In any event, something about him triggered my interest and I eventually stumbled upon his nude figure studies, which immediately seduced me.

Prud’hon was a French painter whose works contain elements of both Neo-classicism and Romanticism. He is best known for his allegorical paintings and portraits, which included a portrait (c. 1805, oil on canvas, Musée du Louvre, Paris) of Joséphine de Beauharnais (1763–1814), who was the first wife of Napoléon Bonaparte. Prud’hon painted scenes from Greek mythology as well as religious themes. His Crucifixion (1822, oil on canvas, Musée du Louvre, Paris) originally for the Cathedral of St. Etienne in Metz, is recognized for its striking use of chiaroscuro. I myself find it strangely erotic.

Prud’hon’s work was notable for its realism, which was a characteristic of the Romantics, who were inspired by the natural world and strove to show it in realistic detail. Romanticism and Neo-classicism were long understood by art historians as opposites, though more recently scholars have begun to see connections between the two schools. Prud’hon’s figure studies contain elements of both. The drawings themselves are decidedly classical in their subject matter—the poses, the muscularity, and nudity of the figures hearkening back to classical works of art. However, the inclusion of pubic hair is a nod to the realism of the Romantics and signals Prud’hon’s connection to modernism.

These sketches were done using a combination of charcoal and chalk on blue paper. However, it is their combination of Neo-classicism and Romanticism that makes these works so alluring. The handsome faces with their classical features and the athletic bodies capture the classical ideal of male beauty. The pubic hair draws the viewer’s eye to the figures’ genitalia, so that each appears less sculptural than previous male nudes and more alive—more fleshly. This element of realism, though subtle, renders the figure naked as well as nude.

Prud’hon was a friend of Gustave Courbet (1819-1877), whose L’Origine du Monde (1866, oil on canvas, Musée d’Orsay, Paris) might be considered göz lokum for lesbians and straight men, but not for me. L’Origine du Monde could very well be the most striking example of pubic hair in art prior to the 20th century.

Because they have nothing better to do…

And also because they’re a bunch of assholes, conservative Republicans in the Senate, backed by Bush, have begun their push for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage… again. The last time was in July 2004, when they tried and failed. Most political pundits agree that the measure has just as slim a chance of passing this time around.

For a little while anyway it has made Bush and conservative Republicans all lovey-dovey again—after somewhat rocky relations between them in recent months over issues like the war in Iraq, the Dubai Ports deal, and Bush’s expansion of presidential powers. Same-sex marriage is one issue that still rekindles their old flame.

I cannot help but think that this will backfire for the evangelicals to whom the proposed amendment panders. Plenty of Americans are uncomfortable with the idea of same-sex marriage, but plenty of those same Americans also recognize that this amendment demonstrates our government’s cock-eyed priorities. The Culture Wars may work well for the Right at the state and local levels, but many Americans do not want to see them occupy precious time and energy at the federal level, especially as American soldiers continue to lose their lives in Iraq.

Americans understand that they have the evangelicals who have hijacked the Republican Party to thank for this amendment. While many so-called “morality” battles are fought at the local level in places where evangelicals constitute a majority, the proponents of intolerance and a “Christian America” are subject to greater scrutiny when the debate moves into the federal arena. The national spotlight is far less flattering to the Religious Right and their “Take Back America for Jesus” movement.

Locally (in some places), their agenda may have broad support, but at the national level evangelicals are still perceived as a group of bigoted fanatics who bear an uncanny resemblance to the Taliban. The evangelicals still haven’t learned that there is such a thing as bad press. You’d think they would have learned their lesson from the Scopes Trial.

Friday, June 2

The Carnival Is Coming

On July 10 I’ll be hosting the Eighth Edition of the Carnival of Bent Attractions, which is published monthly and features posts submitted by queer bloggers on subjects of interest to the gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender and queer communities. If you’re not familiar with this fabulous smorgasbord of GLBT blogging, check out this month’s edition over at 2sides2ron.

Anyone wishing to submit a post should do so by visiting this link and clicking on “Submit an Article” in the upper left-hand corner. Submissions must be received by midnight, July 1.

Thursday, June 1

Ο Ξυπόλιτης Γιούνης

It’s interesting to me that Γιούνης (June) is the only one of Tsarouchis’ months who’s barefoot. I love being barefoot whether it’s at home, in the yard, or at the beach. I also find that my feet stink less in the summer when they’re less likely to be trapped in socks.

With the advent of summer, I’ll be spending more of my lunch breaks out on Boston Common reading and napping. While I can’t really strip off too much (public decency laws), the shoes and socks always come off. It’s too bad the Boston Common isn’t more like Munich’s famous English Garden.

The Colorful Dead

This evening after work, Joe and I met up with our former housemate P to attend a lecture by D. Brenton Simons, the head of the Massachusetts Historic Genealogical Society. Simons spoke on his recent book, Witches, Rakes and Rogues: True Stories of Scam, Scandal, Murder, and Mayhem in Boston, 1630 – 1775. I picked up the book several weeks ago at Calamus and intended to have finished it in anticipation of this evening’s talk, but I’ve been reading Strangers: Homosexual Love in the Nineteenth Century by Graham Robb, and it’s taken me longer to finish than anticipated.

Simons signed my copy, and I asked him if it contained any tales of sodomy, which certainly falls under the category of scandal for the period covered by his book. He admitted that he didn’t really attempt to cover this topic—though there were plenty of sodomy trials during the colonial era—because a book on this very topic is currently being written. I shared with him a reference I came across many years ago in the journal of Francis Higginson, a Puritan minister who arrived in Massachusetts in 1629. On board the Talbot, Higginson discovered “six beastly sodomitical boys,” and when the ship arrived in Salem, Higginson turned the boys over to John Endicott, the acting governor. Rather than arresting the boys, Endicott simply sent them back to England. At the time, English law would have allowed him to exert a much harsher punishment, but he chose to show leniency, which was not atypical of the period, even for Puritans.

Afterwards, Joe and I drove to Lynn to see my parents. It seemed only fitting after attending a lecture by the head of the Massachusetts Historic Genealogical Society (and because this past Monday was Memorial Day) that we would pay a visit to Pine Grove cemetery to inspect the recently tended to gravesites of my ancestors. The last time I visited the cemetery was last Thanksgiving. That day, we visited only a few sites—my grandparents’ graves and the gravesite of my father’s cousin who was killed as a teenager in a vendetta as part of a love triangle.

Today, we visited everyone: my grandparents (both sets), my great grandparents (maternal grandmother’s parents), my father’s cousin, three of my uncles, my godfather, and my great uncle Jimmy Vranas (maternal grandmother’s brother, pictured left circa 1919). I can never remember the exact spot where he’s buried. I relied on my dad to find it, though Joe also remembered its location.

Uncle Jim never married. He bounced from odd job to odd job, his older sister (my grandmother) slipping him extra money whenever she could. He drank and gambled, but was a kind soul by all accounts. I’ve never heard any tales of womanizing. When I came out to my parents ten years ago, almost immediately my mother said rather pensively, “Well, Uncle Jim never married. Maybe he was gay,” as if she were looking for a genetic explanation for my homosexuality.

I don’t know whether Uncle Jim was gay or not. I don’t know whether in his day a confirmed bachelor was viewed with suspicion. I don’t know whether homosexuality was visible enough to the Greek-American community during the first half of the twentieth century for anyone to have given much thought to his perpetual bachelorhood. Surely they were aware of men having sex with other men, but probably didn’t talk about it. Certainly gay men prior to Stonewall did not have the freedom to come out and love each other openly, as gay men (in some parts of the world) can do today.

If Uncle Jim were gay, he kept his secret well hidden, or at least that’s how it seems to me. I’ve never been able to learn much about him from my mother’s older siblings. All they ever seem to say is that he lived “from hand to mouth.” My grandmother has been dead almost two decades, and I don’t ever recall her talking much about him, though clearly she had a soft spot for him. Perhaps she knew the secrets that he kept hidden away in his heart. Our lives never overlapped; he died three years before I was born.

The sun had just about set as we drove along the gracefully curving and tree-lined roads to the section where Uncle Jim is buried. On the car stereo we were listening to Manes Neva Tsifte Telli, recorded in 1934 by Dimitris Atraïdis accompanied by Dimitris Semsis (Salonikios) on violin, Agapios Tomboulis on oud, and Lambros Savaïdis on kanun. Atraïdis sings:

Αμάν, το Χάρο τον ρωτήσανε πεντ’έξη μερακλήδες
δίχως κρασί πώς την περνούν στον Άδη οι μπεκρήδες.

Aman, fifty-six μερακλήδες asked Charon
how drunken bums manage in Hades without wine.

Click here to listen.

I have not yet found a satisfactory English translation of μερακλής (pl. μερακλήδες), pronounced “me-ra-KLEES.” It refers to someone who is passionate and who has experienced pain and longing enough to know that life is short, and so pursues pleasure whenever s/he can. In a way, to be a μερακλής is to be a bit manic; to move between the extremes of great sorry and depression, on one hand, and great joy, on the other.

In Greek mythology Charon is the spirit who ferries souls across the River Styx to the Underworld, or Hades. What better song to listen to while driving through a city of the dead to visit a great uncle who was the quintessential μερακλής? When I look at his photo as a young man (the only photo I have of him) I see sadness and longing. His face betrays his loneliness. What did he long for? And, more importantly, how is he getting on in Hades without it?
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