For most Americans, Christianity is contrasted between Protestant and Catholic. In the past, or so it seemed, you were born into one or the other, and in my neighborhood, it took a long time to mix. Even now I find many people are surprised to discover how much variety exists on the other side of the line. (Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, etc., or Italian, Irish, Polish, German, Hispanic, French, French-Canadian, etc.)
It takes some doing to realize just how different Eastern Orthodoxy is from the strands of Western Christianity we’ve known. And then you get into the variations there, starting with Greeks and Russians.
In my new novel, What’s Left, the family lives at a distance from the nearest Greek Orthodox church, so its connection to the faith is stretched thin at the beginning. Still, it’s part of their identity.
While I do relate some of the customs they rediscover, I don’t do much with the dietary limitations for Advent and Lent – essentially, vegan with no oil or alcohol. How’s a professional cook supposed to do his job if he can’t sample the food? (Any of you facing this conundrum are invited to tell us how you address it.)
So what about other traditions of dietary limitations? Kosher, for instance?
Do you observe any dietary restrictions? What’s your experience? Have you ever fasted? How long?
When it comes to sex, love, and relationships, my new novel, What’s Left, offers a full range of examples over its four-plus generations of her family.
Her mother’s line in the New World begins with a round of scandal. Her great-grandfather and his brother break tradition by marrying sisters against the wishes of their parents and their village, and then flee Greece altogether for Indiana. Her other great-grandfather marries a non-Greek, a Cuban he loves intensely amid another scandal, and relocates to Chicago.
Her grandparents’ marriage includes sibling rivalry and another scandal, as well as a packet of letters from the war years that Cassia discovers wrapped in lace ribbon.
Her parents’ generation includes sparkles of free love before her father-to-be is introduced to the family in what might be considered both love at first sight and an arranged marriage, thanks to her aunt Nita’s role as a matchmaker. Then there’s the whirlwind when her uncle Barney falls hard for her aunt-to-be Pia. In contrast, her uncle Tito and aunt-to-be Yin present a much more restrained story off in San Francisco. As for her uncle Dimitri, we’re back to scandal, as far as many in town would be concerned.
Cassia’s father leaves a rich photographic history of these events, along with three years of daily love letters to his wife-to-be. Maybe there are things a daughter would rather not see? Or is temptation too much to resist?
Well, however much their story can resemble a fairy tale, not everything turns out happily ever after.
As for her own generation? Times and traditions have changed, right?
Cassia’s is a much livelier family than many I see around me. I imagine it could be pretty demanding, as well as rewarding in its own way.
Would you like to marry into this family? Why – or why not?
My wife and I have listened to some restaurant pros relate their perspective on reviewing the ideas bantered about hopefuls – folks who have no idea how to clean an oven or pass health inspection regulations.
It’s enough to make me quiver.
Quite simply, the seasoned pros say you don’t begin with a set of menus. You have to think about pricing, for one thing. Fair enough.
My new novel, What’s Left, includes a family-owned restaurant that’s facing big shifts in public tastes and consciousness.
One of the basics they look at closely is bread. And buns and rolls. Especially as these relate to hamburgers. The right answer, of course, could improve everything. But, as they realize:
Where would we find them at an affordable price?
As I’ve already posted, I believe a great baguette alone would have assured France an honored place in the culinary hall of fame. But these aren’t especially cheap, and they demand bakers who are committed to long hours and hard work – something, so we hear, that’s shamefully harder and harder to find even in Paris.
A stop in Warren, Maine, where we found what might be the perfect Reuben, thickens the plot. It wasn’t just the delightful sauerkraut, which might have come from Morse’s a few towns over, but rather the way the bread was toasted without being overdone or soggy – such a fine line! And let’s not slight the Swiss, either.
Well, a sandwich is such a basic of American cuisine, from baloney to hamburgers to ham itself and on down the line to wieners.
As far as you’re concerned, what’s makes the world’s best sandwich? And just what kind would that be? Anybody want to argue for wraps or flatbreads?
Bella brings a love of reading to the family. She comes to campus to become a teacher, but other events intervene and she instead becomes the anchor of the family and its restaurant, where she runs the front of the store while her husband, Stavros, manages the kitchen. It doesn’t take long before she seems to know everybody in town. She’s that kind of person.
But that doesn’t prevent her from usually having an open book close at hand. She always manages to find time to read.
I’d credit both her daughter Nita’s success as a newspaper columnist and daughter Manoula’s founding of an influential small publishing house to her inspiration. The family does buy a bookstore, for one thing, before sending it on its own anew.
Bella also has enough Greek heritage to pass along some of the tradition. Here’s a bit of interaction between Cassia and her aunt Nita I cut from the final version:
They always called me Koukla, by the way, the same thing I sometimes call you.
What’s it mean, exactly? I know it’s a term of endearment, but I’ve just never followed up.
Thea Nita laughs. Oh, something like beautiful doll or baby doll, but it’s always full of affection. Koukla!
For many of us, daily life includes a lot of juggling, one activity or interest in contrast to another. Are you a multi-tasker? Or do you look at the term with derision? Tell us two or more things that frequently compete for your time. Do you have any tips for pulling it off?
I’ve waffled at times on my decision to add her other maternal great-grandparents to my new novel, What’s Left. It was already a big book with a big story when their role expanded, even as I was repeatedly pondering what else could be eliminated without detracting from the whole.
One bold quick cut would take Ilias and Maria out altogether. The story line would be tighter if Bella’s parents had simply rejected her when she tells them she’s marrying into Cassia’s family. But Ilias the Cypriot Greek and his wife, the Cuban-born Maria, insist on inserting their own spicy ingredients to the stew.
For one thing, they strengthen Bella’s emerging role as the family matriarch. For another, they loosen the symmetry of the brothers/brothers-in-law and sisters/sisters-in-law at the helm of the family restaurant that had hired Bella at the outset of the war years. And, my, how they dote on her baby Dimitri and then his brothers and sisters as they come along.
Their embellishments add humanity and warmth. And so they move in – and stay.
I’ve become a big believer in adopting people into the family – one’s who aren’t blood relations but belong all the same. Is that something you, too, do?
Who is your favorite family member? What makes that person special? How do you think that individual sees you in return?