Return to Greece, 2016. Part Three: Eleusina, Ancient Mysteries

This is the third post in a series about my trip to Greece, June 30-July 20, 2016 — an amazing journey of history, family and discovery. Previous posts can be found here.

When my daughter, Kathy, requested that we visit Eleusina, I nonchalantly said, “sure,” not knowing anything about the history or mysteries of this ancient city. Some speed reading before our trip gave me a general overview, but it wasn’t until we set foot on this ground that I felt the power and spirit that emanates.

Peering into the ancient site of Eleusina, July 2016

Peering into the ancient site of Eleusina, July 2016

Giannis Michalakakos, Eleusina, July 2016

Giannis Michalakakos, Eleusina, July 2016

My friend, historian Giannis Michalakakos, kindly volunteered to be our guide. We were extremely grateful for his insights and knowledge–without which, our experience would not have been as rich or meaningful.Our photos could be mistaken for any ancient site without a brief summary of Eleusina:

The Eleusinian Mysteries, held each year at Eleusis, Greece, fourteen miles northwest of Athens, were so important to the Greeks that, until the arrival of the Romans, The Sacred Way (the road from Athens to Eleusis) was the only road, not a goat path, in all of central Greece. The mysteries celebrated the story of Demeter and Persephone but, as the initiated were sworn to secrecy on pain of death as to the details of the ritual, we do not know what form this celebration took. We do know, though, that those who participated in the mysteries were forever changed for the better and that they no longer feared death….Virtually every important writer in antiquity, anyone who was `anyone’, was an initiate of the  Mysteries1.

Wow! No wonder we felt a strong presence as we walked around fallen columns, peered into troughs and wells, tried to decipher ancient Greek inscriptions, and studied elaborately carved  edifices.

Eleusina ruins, July 2016

Eleusina ruins, July 2016

There are signs in Greek and English which describe the structures that had originally been on the site. Some signs have diagrams which enabled us to visualize the grandeur of the buildings.

Sign that explains, and diagram that depicts, the West Triumphal Arch. Eleusina, July 2016

Sign that explains, and diagram that depicts, the stately West Triumphal Arch. Eleusina, July 2016

The ancients were meticulous and elaborate stone masons. The carvings, even after 3,500 years, have retained their intricacy. One can only imagine the elegant edifices that enclosed the initiates as they performed sacred rites.

Masterpieces, carved by stone masons. Eleusina, July 2016

Masterpieces, carved by ancient artisans. Eleusina, July 2016

No ancient site is without its statues. Exploring the human experience lies at the heart of Greek philosophy, religion, and culture. Stately men and beautiful women grace monuments and temples, depicting God’s ultimate creations in man’s earthly kingdom. Their lives, conflicts, and loves are exhibited in intricate friezes and imposing sculptures.

Frieze, Eleusina, July 2016

Frieze, Eleusina, July 2016

 

Carving, Eleusina, July 2016

Carving, Eleusina, July 2016

 

Vase carving, Eleusina, July 2016

Vase carving, Eleusina, July 2016

 

Elegance. Eleusina, July 2016

Elegance. Eleusina, July 2016

 

The Museum at Eleusina is brimming with treasures excavated from the site. A model of the ancient city brings it to life.

Model of the ancient site. Eleusina, July 2016

Model of the ancient site. Eleusina museum, July 2016

 

Showcases of artifacts, displays of statues, and enormous vases breathe life into the city.

Artifacts excavated and showcased. Eleusina, July 2016

Artifacts excavated and showcased. Eleusina museum, July 2016

 

5001. Statuette of Dionysos holding a kantharos in his right hand. Roman period. Eleusina, July 2016

5001. Statuette of Dionysos holding a kantharos in his right hand. Roman period. Eleusina museum, July 2016

 

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Left: 5144. Portrait head of the emporer Hadyian, AD 117-138; 5262, marble head; 5286-5142-5143, three marble heads of bearded men. Eleusina museum, July 2016

Larger than life statue, with Kathy Lynard. Eleusina, July 2016

Larger than life statue, with Kathy Lynard. Eleusina museum, July 2016

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Vases used for both liquids and grains. Eleusina museum , July 2016

 

Experiencing Eleusina has given me the incentive to explore lesser-traveled sites and study diligently in preparation to visit them.

As Giannis so wisely counseled me, “Be a traveler, not a tourist.

l-r: Andrew Soper, Ben Soper, Carol Kostakos Petranek, Giannis Michalakakos. Eleusina, July 2016

l-r: Andrew Soper, Ben Soper, Carol Kostakos Petranek, Giannis Michalakakos. Eleusina, July 2016

 

1 Joshua J. Mark, “The Eleusinian Mysteries: The Rites of Demeter,” Ancient History Encyclopedia, last modified January 18, 2012, http://www.ancient.eu /article/32/.

Links for additional reading:  http://www.crystalinks.com/eleusinian.html
https://www.britannica.com/topic/Eleusinian-Mysteries
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eleusinian_Mysteries

 

Return to Greece, 2016. Part Two: Acropolis Museum & Plaka

This is the second post in a series about my trip to Greece, June 30-July 20, 2016 — an amazing journey of history, family and discovery. Previous posts can be found here.

The Acropolis Museum is the beautiful new home of the artifacts, friezes, statues and archaeological treasures that graced the Acropolis’ magnificent edifices. During my first trip to Greece in the 1996, fragments of the friezes graced the top of the Parthenon, enabling me to visualize its magnificence during its days of glory. Now, only the columns remain.

left: Parthenon, 1996; right: Parthenon 2016

left: Parthenon, 1996; right: Parthenon 2016

The Museum has 50 meters of the original frieze, with 80 meters in the British Museum. How sad that so many pieces remain outside Greece!

Frieze, replica. July 2016

Frieze, replica. Acropolis Museum, July 2016

Just walking up to the Museum is an archaeological wonderland. A clear glass pathway reveals the treasures beneath; remnants of everyday life, millennia ago, have been meticulously preserved. It made me wonder how man could build on top of the historical cache below.

Under the Acropolis Museum, July 2016

Under the Acropolis Museum, July 2016

Wandering through the halls and viewing the displays is a historical feast. The photos below are but a sampling of the riches within. Photography is not allowed in most sections of the Museum, so our pictures are very limited. However, the Museum’s website has many magnificent photos:  http://www.theacropolismuseum.gr/en.

The Metopes and artifacts, July 2016

Artifacts, July 2016

The Metopes, depicting battle scenes; July 2016

The Metopes, depicting battle scenes; July 2016

 

Andrew Soper, Kathy Lynard, Ben Soper in front of the Karyatides, July 2016

Andrew Soper, Kathy Lynard, Ben Soper in front of the Karyatides, July 2016

 

Ancient beauty, July 2016

Ancient beauty, July 2016

Windows encasing the museum provide astounding views of the area around the Acropolis, known as the Plaka. Waiting until the cool of evening to explore the Plaka is a wise move in July! The area is filled with hundreds of shops and tavernas. Both tourists and locals throng the area long into the night; shops don’t close until midnight and the tavernas stay open long after. You can buy anything from trinkets to precious jewelry to replicas of ancient artifacts. Accenting the streets are yet more monuments–a constant reminder of where you are and what this city has been, as well as what it is today.

A constant reminder of where you are! Plaka, July 2016

A constant reminder of where you are! Plaka, July 2016

Plaka, July 2016

Plaka, July 2016

 

Return to Greece, 2016. Part One: Athens

This iAcropolis flag 07-01s the first in a series of posts about my trip to Greece, June 30-July 20, 2016 — an amazing journey of history, family and discovery. This trip builds upon the research I conducted during my previous visit in 2014; those posts can be read here.  

The Acropolis never fails to move me. Through its 2,500 year history, the structures (Parthenon, Erechtheion, Propylaia, and temple of Athena Nike) have stood as beacons of majesty and edifices of glory.

Acropolis, July 2016

Acropolis, July 2016

I am beyond thrilled to have the opportunity to bring my Greek grandchildren to the land of their ancestors. My daughter, Kathy, joined me as she did in 2014. Last time, we took her daughters, Elli and Christine; this time we brought her older sons, Ben and Andrew.

l-r: Carol Kostakos Petranek, Kathryn Lynard, Ben Soper, Andrew Soper, July 2016

l-r: Carol Kostakos Petranek, Kathryn Lynard, Ben Soper, Andrew Soper, July 2016

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l-r: Ben Soper, Kathy Lynard, Andrew Soper, July 2016

Although it was just two years ago that I stood on these grounds, I was elated to return and absorb the spirit that radiates from every column and piece of marble. I feel the “collective unconscious” of this land (Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness); the pride of the Greek people; their triumphs, defeats and revivals.

Immersion in history is comprehending the timelessness of the human experience; connecting oneself with the whole of mankind. It is astounding and humbling–never to be dismissed or forgotten.

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Sunlight on the Acropolis; photo by Kathy Lynard, July 2016

Acropolis collage

Pure majesty, July 2016

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Old Museum on Acropolis site; July 2016

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The flag of Greece flies proudly on the Acropolis, July 2016

Greece in July is hot! I quickly learned that 40 Celsius is 104 degrees Farenheit! It doesn’t matter that the heat is dry; I found myself wilting in the sun. Rather than walk, we decided to hop on a tour bus to take us around the city — a wise and refreshing choice.

Athens is a mixture of old and new; classic and modern. The contrast of stately Grecian columns with flat, square, concrete residential buildings is glaring. Sadly, graffiti covers many statues and buildings, detracting from their elegance. Churches are everywhere, as are motorcycles. Driving in the twisting, narrow streets is a nightmare. Several times, my GPS and Google Maps were as lost as I was!

Athens City

Athens City, July 2016

Many families in all parts of Greece have apartments in Athens. Work, school, and the need to conduct business in the city has created a massive urban sprawl, radiating from the city center into the foothills.

Overlooking Athens, July 2016

Overlooking Athens, July 2016

Monastiraki Square, in the center of Athens and adjacent to the Plaka, is a lively place to spend an evening. Our friends, Gregory Kontos and Giannis Michalakakos, met us for drinks and dinner. The rooftop restaurant gave us a breathtaking view.

Drinks at dusk, Monastariki Square. l-r: Kathy Lynard, Giannis Michalakakos, Gregory Kontos, Carol Kostakos Petranek, Andrew Soper, July 2016

Drinks at dusk, Monastariki Square. l-r: Kathy Lynard, Giannis Michalakakos, Gregory Kontos, Carol Kostakos Petranek, Andrew Soper, July 2016

And just when you think it can’t get any more beautiful, night falls on the city.

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View of the Acropolis from Monastiraki Square, July 2016

 

Papou’s House in Sheepshead Bay

I love going to the home of my Kostakos grandparents in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. Sitting on a very rare double-wide lot, it was spacious and airy inside with beautifully manicured lawns and gardens surrounding it. I have happy childhood memories of exploring all of its nooks and crannies with my cousins.

Last weekend as we were scanning my grandparents’ photos, we came across this rare treasure: a picture of my grandfather, John, standing proudly at the side of his house.

Andrew John Kostakos, standing on the side of his home at 2669 East 26th Street, Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, NY, 1953

Andrew John Kostakos, standing on the side of his home at 2669 East 26th Street, Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, NY, 1953

Looking at a similar view of house today (below), I honestly think it has lost some of its grandeur. The original color was a Williamsburg blue with hardwood siding which lent an air of aristocracy, not evident in the gold cedar shake shingles pictured below.

Sheepshead Bay House, side view, 2016

Sheepshead Bay House, side view, 2016

We calculated that Papou and Yiayia bought their home in 1950. We all agreed with my cousin, John, who said, “it was the most beautiful house I had ever walked into.” This home had amenities not seen in the average residence. On the first floor was a large living room enhanced with a three-dimensional fresco of three horses hanging over the fireplace. The fresco was raised, and it looked as if the horses were jumping out of the wall, headed right towards you. There was a dining room with a butler’s pantry, a breakfast room, a big beautiful kitchen, and as seen on the right above, a sun porch. There was even a wine cellar in the basement. The second floor had three bedrooms – a master bedroom and two smaller ones. John said, “the one thing I couldn’t get over was that the sink and toilet were in separate rooms from the tub,” a most unusual feature in the 1950’s.

Cousin Marianne remembered that there were crawl spaces all over the house; in the attic and even in bedroom closets. One day, she found a stash of Colorforms and Gulliver’s Travels cutouts as she was exploring.

The house sat on an unheard-of double lot situated three blocks from the Sheepshead Bay waterfront. As other homes were encircled in concrete, Papou’s house was surrounded by green, manicured lawns and flower gardens. We cousins sprinted around the property playing all types of games, not realizing as youngsters what a rare treat that was in the city.

John recalled hearing that our grandfather paid $25,000 for the house in 1950, bargaining the owner down from his asking price of $30,000. Looking ahead to the time when the big house would inevitably be too much to care for, Papou built a two-family brick house on the property in 1963. Eventually, this became the home of his daughter, Alice, who cared for both of her parents throughout their lives. My cousin, John, now lives in the apartment upstairs and he watches over Alice who lives on the first level. It is the home where we gathered last weekend for our scanfest.

Sheepshead Bay House (2)

Sheepshead Bay house with 2-story home on property, 2016

This house is my grandfather’s testament of attaining the American dream. As an illiterate 17-year-old orphaned immigrant from a village outside Sparta, Papou traveled on a ship alone, coming to the new world to join his older brother, Vasileios. Papou went from push-cart vendor to Coney Island kiosk owner, to proprietor of a successful seafood restaurant in Williamsburg and owner of many properties in Brooklyn and Long Island. His is a legacy that brings continued pride and inspiration to his many loving descendants.

 

Scanfest: Saving Yiayia’s Photos

When Hurricane Sandy flooded Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn in October 2012,we worried about the water damage in our aunt’s basement and the reconstruction that would be required.

Gianna Doukas

Gianna Doukas

But, when my cousin’s daughter, Gianna, dashed to the house, she saw that something even more precious was in danger of being destroyed — my grandparents photo albums. She gathered up the water-logged treasures and spread them out on sheets and towels. She tried to separate the ones that had already begun to stick together, and to remove the ones that were in those awful “magnetic” photo albums. Although some photos were lost, thanks to Gianna, over 400 were saved.

My cousin, John, mentioned to me that he was concerned about the state of these pictures. Many had curled when they dried, some were getting black mold, and others were brittle. I offered to come to the house with a flat-bed scanner and digitize every one of them. Last weekend, I made the drive from Maryland to Brooklyn.

Verazzano Narrows Bridge linking New Jersey and New York

Verazzano Narrows Bridge linking New Jersey and New York

Our “scanfest” began on Saturday morning at the Sheepshead Bay home of my Aunt Alice Kostakos. When John retrieved the box of photos, it didn’t look like this would be such a big job, but it took 2 days and over 10 hours!

Kostakos family photos, rescued from the flood

Kostakos family photos, rescued from the flood

We set up shop at Aunt Alice Kostakos’ kitchen table and began by retrieving oldest  black and white photos.

Working hard! l-r: Marianne Doukas, John Stakis, Georgia Kostakos Doukas, Alice Kostakos. Kitchen of Alice's home, Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, June 11, 2016

Working hard! l-r: Marianne Doukas, John Stakis, Georgia Kostakos Doukas, Alice Kostakos. Kitchen of Alice’s home, Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, June 11, 2016

Thanks to Aunts Georgia and Alice, we were able to identify every person in every photo! We affixed post-it notes to the bottom of each, identifying people, dates and places. The photo and post-it note were then scanned as one image, ensuring that the information would not be separated from the picture. Over the coming months, I will crop each photo and add its identifying information into the metadata. This photo shows my grandparents sitting in front, Hariklia Aridas Kostakos and John Andrew Kostakos — surrounded by their children, grandchildren, and extended family members.

1953; Brooklyn; Kostakos home.

1953; Brooklyn; Kostakos home. My grandparents, Hariklia Aridas Kostakos and John Andrew Kostakos (front), surrounded by family.

Every photo tells a story, and thanks to our Aunts, we heard many great ones. My family moved from Brooklyn when I was five, and one great blessing to me was hearing about many of the relatives in these pictures whose names I had heard, but whom I barely knew. This photo is among the earliest we found, dated 1934: on the left is my father (age 17) and my godfather, Peter Aridas, age 50). You can see how the ink on the back of the photo bled through when the photo was  wet.

My father, Andrew Kostakos (left) and my godfather, Peter Aridas (right), 1935, Brooklyn, NY

My father, Andrew Kostakos (left) and my godfather, Peter Aridas (right), 1934, Brooklyn, NY

We worked for eight hours on Saturday, and even ordered in lunch so we would not have to take time to go out. We enjoyed dinner at a Greek (of course!) restaurant at the waterfront on Saturday evening, and on Sunday morning, regrouped for day two. This time, we set up shop on Aunt Alice’s dining room table which gave us much more room to spread out.

Day two at the dining room table. l-r: Georgia Doukas, Marianne Doukas, Carol Kotakos Petranek, John Stakis, Alice Kostakos. Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. June 12, 2016

Day two at the dining room table. l-r: Georgia Doukas, Marianne Doukas, Carol Kotakos Petranek, John Stakis, Alice Kostakos. Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. June 12, 2016

By using both a flatbed scanner and a portable Flip-Pal scanner, we digitized 400 photos. These raw and unedited images are now online in a private Flickr account, with links sent to all of our cousins. It will take time to crop and electronically tag each photo, but everyone now has access to what we accomplished.

I’m headed to Sparta, Greece, at the end of the month, with the hopes of finding additional documents on my family. My long-term goal is to create a family history book, incorporating many of the photos we scanned and the documents I obtained, along with some family stories. The next generations — Gianna and beyond — will not know their ancestors unless our generation does its part.