My sister wanted to know about what soï we had in Arta, so begin the Megillah

17 Dec

Your gonna have to guess whether I’m addressing my sister, who this was first intended for, including with references to previous correspondence.

Arta: My initial answer to my sister “[Our] Papou Alexandros’ oldest sister, older than him, and then four more girls, married a Manopoulos and moved to Arta.  From them came the whole Artino clan, including Polyxene who put you and your friend, Diana Biancchi up in 1972 in Corfu.”

Addendum to Arta pic: the little boy in the middle was blown up by a grenade right in the middle of the plateia in Pesta.  This was Theia Tsivoula’s and Gianni Melas’ (the man on Tsivoulas’ upper right.) son, the oldest I believe.

(The tall girl on the left is Theia Sevaste, the mother of Raki and Gregori and Taki and Polyxene in Corfu, so the little girl seated beneath her was kiled in German bombing of Arta in 1941.)

After the communists burned the house in 1943, Mela apparently forced his wife to go to into the ruins, cause it was the house she grew up in and she’d know her way around AND where her father Konstantino and brother Alexandros may have hidden the gold, cause they both operated the bakeries in Bucharest in then autonomous Wallachia, which Phanariotes and Greeks generally had been sucking the blood out of for more than two centuries before 1821.  So he apparently forced her to help him dig up the gold that people believed Papou Alexandros and GREAT Papou Konsantinos had stashed/hoarded there, the gold made from two generations of owning bakeries in Bucharest.

Soon after Gianne Mela, a shepherd and mule train guide, started buying up properties outta nowhere in Pesta and rumor had it in Jianenna as well but who knows what was happening in a large metropolis like Jiannena that was then 2 days away by mule. Then the little boy in the picture was blown up by the apparently playing with an unused grenade and Theia Tsivoula ran out to the plateia screaming and howling and scratching the earth and clutching the bloodied earth and holding the boy’s smashed apart body parts and screaming at Gianne: “Εσύ μ’έκαψες!  Εσύ Εσύ!!!  Το παιδί μααααααααςςςςς!!!! Μας έκαψες!!!!!”  And since the whole village was watching, the rumor that Tsivoula and Gianne HAD stolen the money started to enter as truth into the village canon. 

You must remember Theia Tsivoula at least, though Gianne was alive but maybe you don’t remember him that much.  (Tsivoula is Paraskeue in case you were wondering.)  After the Civil War ended in 49, they bought up almost all the bostania by the lake in Jiannena (kitchen gardens, like allotments in English cities, from Arabic Al-Bustan (remember one of the first Arab places in Manhattan in the 70s, near daddy’s store on 3rd Avenue and like 52nd Street that was called that and I think is still there).   They built big stone houses with ample gardens for themselves and their other children, who were all girls so there was now no dowry problems of what to give prospective grooms with all these properties or houses.  Then in the 70s the bostania (you remember them?) were zoned for building and are now just a whole lakeside neighborhood in Jiannena with the usual 6 or 8 apartment, 3 or 4 story, ugly concrete buildings.  That whole branch of the Melas must be, if not fabulously wealthy, then extremely so for regional standards.  This is the neighborhood today 👇.  You must recognize something 👇.  Ask me what you want?

So that’s the lineage of how our Great-grandfather Constantino’s money went into this big new real estate development in Jiannena.  It must’ve been quite an amount originally because then Papou Constantino bought the hill in Pesta that the house stood/stands on (below) from the Muslim Ağa who owned it and who used to collect his due from the Christian sharecroppers of the region.

I don’t know if Papou continued to demand a share from his own Christian sharecroppers, or if Ottoman law at the time would allow a non-Muslim to do that, even to non-Muslims.  But from stories of what a miserly, penny-pinching, gruff Epirote he was, I’m sure he didn’t let them off their obligations.

Where the original seed money came from that started this chain of events, I dunno.  Had Constantino made some in Romania already?  Could they have just saved enough from pastoral life, sheep, etc. to fund the first trip to Bucharest.  Anyway, here’s an old blog post on Istanbul Greek pogrom of 1955 where I mention in a footnote the concept of the Devil or Genius race: US! not the U.S. Us/Greeks/Romans.

My footnote to my post on Vryonis book:

* The Greek Daemon, “daemon” in the Roman sense of the word of animating genius — “To daimonio tes fyles” — is the idea that Greeks are resourceful enough to prosper anywhere and under any conditions — Patrick Leigh Fermor’s belief in their ability to “spin gold out of air” — and the repeated tragic setbacks and almost immediate comeback of the Greek community of İstanbul after nearly every catastrophe to befall it in the twentieth century tempts one to believe in its truth.  Thus, one of the most poignant elements in the Constantinopolitan story is their almost masochistic refusal to leave — what it took to finally make the vast majority abandon the city they loved so much was just too overwhelming in the end however.”

So that’s the story, what we know at leastI don’t know how Taki Mela is related to Gianne Mela–it’s one of the three or four most common last names in my mom’s village Pesta–but Taki is a wonderful man as is his wife Anthoula, who gives lie to all the nasty Epirotiko condescension about people and especially women from the Peloponnese.  She outshines everyone now, all the remaining middle-age women left in the village, whether it be through her pitta/börek or non-yeast lokma (tiganites) or her other delicious cooking.  She even uses the region’s traditional butter where appropriate though she’s from famous olive-oil producing region of Achaea.  (Yes, like those Achaeans.)  So there.  And their home is wonderful and comfortable with thick flokates and and an always-burning fire.

This may all be lies or all be truth.  жили да были.  Y vivieron felices y comieron partridges or quail or something.  Και ζήσανε oi Μελλαίοι ΠΑΡΑ ΠΟΛΥ ΚΑΛΑ κι εμείς οι άλλοι έτσι κι έτσι.


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