My Greek Drama: Life, Love, and One Woman's Olympic Effort to Bring Glory to Her Countryby Gianna Angelopoulos, Wanda McCaddon (Narrated by)
Standing alone in the VIP box of the Olympic Games in 2004, Gianna Angelopoulos began to dance. The world had doubted Greece's ability to successfully stage this global event. She danced to celebrate the efforts of all Greeks-and her own-to host a phenomenally successful event, an effort that showed the world a new Greece, a Greece worthy of its illustrious heritage. Little did she know that a few years later her country would abandon the lessons of the Olympics and become embroiled in a political and economic crisis that would devastate Greece, and threaten the economic security of Europe. In My Greek Drama, Gianna Angelopoulos-known in her home country simply as "Gianna"-has written a memoir that is as much about Greece's journey as her own. From her childhood in Crete, to law school in Thessaloniki, to Athens, where she overcame male-dominated legal and political cultures to help redefine public service in Greece, Gianna worked her way into becoming one of the most respected women in Greek public life. Balancing motherhood, business, and a place in the upper echelons of world society, Gianna never lost her passion for public service and brought the 2004 Olympic Games back from the brink of catastrophe to what would later be called "unforgettable dream Games." Her life, her Cinderella love story, and her intensity of will are equally unforgettable. From stories of handing out basil seeds on the streets of Athens to entertaining royalty and political leaders in London, Zurich, and Athens, My Greek Drama captures the burning ambition of the rebellious girl from the island of Crete who "lit" the Olympic torch. Her story should help rekindle the spirit of the Greek people, and of every person who has ever struggled to change the world.
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MY GREEK DRAMA
LIFE, LOVE, AND ONE WOMAN'S OLYMPIC EFFORT TO BRING GLORY TO HER COUNTRY
By Gianna Angelopoulos
Greenleaf Book Group PressCopyright © 2013Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki
All rights reserved.
Olive trees, majestic as the sun plays on their leaves in the breezes coming off the Aegean Sea. The spicy taste of herb tea infused with fresh-picked thyme and diktamos. (This rare, expensive herb from Crete is believed to have medicinal virtues. In Virgil's Aeneid, for example, Venus heals Aeneas with a stalk of "dittany from Cretan Ida." My family too grew diktamos to brew for tea, a powerful potion that assured longevity. The locals call this herb erondas, meaning love.) The aromas of melitzana (eggplant), tomatoes, and lamb cooking over an open flame in summer, the time when it never rains. These are my memories of the place where I was born, the magical, historic island of Crete.
Greece is a country of islands. At present, four of the eleven million inhabitants of Greece live either in the capital city of Athens on the Attic Peninsula or in the mountainous northern provinces that extend to the borders with Albania and Bulgaria. But the soul of Greece lies in its twelve hundred to six thousand islands (depending on how you measure them) sprinkled across the Ionian Sea to the west, the Mediterranean Sea to the south, and the Aegean Sea to the east. Only about two hundred of these islands are inhabited, and of those merely seventy-eight have more than a hundred residents. Some of the islands are dry; they are covered in rocks, thyme, oregano, and white houses surrounded by blue sea and blue sky. Others are covered in pine trees. Rain, when it falls, falls in winter.
Crete lies three hundred miles south of Athens, in the southern Aegean. It is a true miniature of the flora and fauna of the entire Mediterranean. With more than three thousand square miles—twice as large as the state of Rhode Island—Crete is a large island, and its population exceeds six hundred thousand, rivaling that of such major US cities as Boston, Washington, Denver, and Seattle. It is the land of poets and artists. It is the birthplace of Nikos Kazantzakis, author of Zorba the Greek, who once wrote, "Happy is the man ... who, before dying, has the good fortune to sail the Aegean Sea."
The city of my birth, Heraklion, is Crete's largest city. A place Lord Byron called "Troy's rival."
An ancient fortress built behind solid ten-foot-tall stone walls that remain standing today, Heraklion has witnessed a history of invasion and cultural assimilation as Crete's natural resources and strategic location have been a pivotal point of interest for generations.
In the thirteenth century, for example, the Venetian Empire seized control of Crete and ruled the island for more than four hundred years. Renaissance culture had a pervasive influence on the island and assured the development of rich literature and arts traditions. In the latter half of the seventeenth century, the Ottoman Empire drove the Venetians from the island and ruled Crete for two hundred years.
It wasn't until 1908, the year my father was born, that Crete declared its union with Greece.
Crete's economy has always been stronger than that of mainland Greece. The island boasts agricultural and tourist industries as well as a flourishing commercial port in Heraklion. Crete's natural beauty, along with its combination of cultural and economic riches, has bestowed upon many islanders a distinct sense of superiority. Cretans sometimes believe they are the super-Greeks—stronger, wiser, braver, and freer spirits who are blessed with more of all the virtues that are associated with the Greek people.
There has always been chatter on the island that Crete should break away from the rest of jealous Greece and become an independent nation.
For a long time I shared the feeling that we Cretans were a special people. At critical junctures in my life and career, my faith in the bonds of a shared heritage was rewarded. I always believed I could count on Cretans for assistance or, sometimes, a small miracle that I required.
Over the span of my life I have traveled extensively, meeting Greeks from across my homeland, all of whom seemed to subscribe to their own notions of regional exceptionalism. As a result, I have come to believe that while Cretans have been blessed and are, to some extent, a distinct culture, what we share with all Greeks is far greater than our differences.
As a young girl, I did not fully appreciate the heritage of Heraklion. I viewed my city as drab and unattractive. I did, however, appreciate aspects of Crete's ancient history. Beginning almost five thousand years ago and for almost thirteen centuries, Crete was the pinnacle of Western Civilization, home to the Minoans, who were renowned as the first palace-builders of Europe.
The most famous of those palaces is Knossos, the ceremonial center of a city built on the island between the seventeenth and fourteenth centuries BC. It was discovered and partially restored by the British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans in the early years of the twentieth century.
I often visited Knossos during my childhood, biking there from my home, which was roughly three miles away. Most people think of antiquities as lifeless and colorless, your classic white marble structures. But Knossos was alive with color, most memorably lush red—le sang de boeuf. I marveled at the intricate architectural design that connected more than a thousand rooms, at the elaborate system of water and pipes that served to cool the palace and drain the sewage. I was dazzled by the sophisticated artistry, which included columns carved from cypress trees and stunning frescoes. But to a young girl from a conservative culture, nothing was more striking than the images of women decked out in elegant finery that left their breasts bared.
Years later, those images still resonated with me. When the director of the Opening Ceremony for the Athens 2004 Summer Olympics wanted to incorporate the beauty and sensuality of the ancient women of Knossos, I supported him. I only beat a diplomatic retreat after being warned that any nudity, no matter how deeply rooted in our heritage, might result in controversy.
However unprepossessing Heraklion's appearance, that was only a relatively minor concern of mine growing up there. I was far more distressed by what a cultural backwater the city was. I'm not talking about Minoan glories or Greek antiquities; rather, I'm talking about that 1960s and '70s youth culture—rock and roll, Hollywood movies, British fashion—with which I, like millions of young girls around the world, was totally infatuated. To be generous, I could say Heraklion gave me an appetite for life in a real city. And I would go on to spend my entire life living in major cities: first Thessaloniki, then Athens, and a decade in Zurich and London before, finally, a return to Athens.
I did not discover what it means to be truly Cretan—Cretan in heart and soul—in Heraklion. That transformation would occur in the countryside, in the tiny village of Embaros, nestled in a valley in central Crete.
When I was born, my paternal grandparents, Manolis Fazakis and Parthenia Daskalaki, had already lived in Embaros for some forty years, and it was there that they raised my father, Frixos, along with his older brother, Achilles, and sister, Ioanna.
My father viewed the family homestead in Embaros as the center of his universe. He insisted on taking my younger sister, Eleni, and me there as often as possible for vital infusions of the real Crete. So we visited during summer, during school vacations, and over holiday weekends. Sometimes my mother would entreat my father to let us stay in the city for a long weekend so that the family might partake of some more sophisticated social ac
Excerpted from MY GREEK DRAMA by Gianna Angelopoulos. Copyright © 2013 by Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki. Excerpted by permission of Greenleaf Book Group Press.
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Meet the Author
Gianna Angelopoulos is an Olympic organizer, ambassador of the Greek state, lawyer, and former parliamentarian.
Wanda McCaddon has won more than twenty-five AudioFile Earphones Awards, including for The Seamstress by Sara Tuvel Bernstein, for which she also earned a coveted Audie Award. AudioFile magazine has also named her one of recording's Golden Voices. Wanda appears regularly on the professional stage in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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I received this book for review and I was very excited to start on a new journey in my literary quest to try new genres. This memoir started off with the beginnings of a promising politician from Greece. Here Gianna Angelopoulos will share not only her story but the story of the struggles of a bankrupt country and their uphill battle to win back the summer Olympics. We are given a bit of background on past generations eventually leading up to her entry into this world, and how she grew up as one of two daughters, going through her early childhood past her rebellious years wearing clothing and makeup that no parents would condone, all the way into her college years where she laid the foundation to what would eventually be a very challenging but successful career.At first I was very interested in the story of a woman coming from humble beginnings, and working hard to some how achieve a dream that many would deem unreachable, but as the book moved on I could not help but lose interested with each page. Something was off about this work that I was not able to enjoy it as I did from the start. Maybe it was the many times she mentioned her husband that used his wealth to move mountains in her Olympic campaign, or the countless times she mention specific people (mainly men) that went out of their way to make her work a much unneeded struggle. Now I understand that what she has done is nothing short of amazing. But as a reader I could not help but be frustrated through the majority of the book.This memoir is about a strong woman that did not run away when someone told her no, it shares a story about a woman that will be remembered as someone that achieved greatness for themselves and her country.
When I spent the money for this book, I was really anticipating an erudite and serious account of this particular individual's experience working in the Greek parliament and her contribution to developing the 2004 Greek Olympics. There is a story here but it is marred by her constant detailing of her Manolo blahnik shoes; her palatial homes, her harry Winston jewels and her rich, doting husband.It made me want to to vomit! One of the absolute worst books on which I have wasted money. .and I have worked in Greece, although many years ago.