King Cake

Tinos Remains a Paradise

July 1, 2015

The tide comes in an out. The monks chant. The wind blows. The bells of the church ring. All seems to be well, normal, on the Greek island of Tinos. We have been coming here for the past six years, and these are all “normal” things indeed. This year, however, there are signs of uncertainty, signs that the economy is unwell. Signs like long lines at the ATMs, when they are dispensing money. Signs like red posters in front of the ATMs indicating that they are not working, all out of cash. No one wants to talk about it – after all, most of the people we meet are, like us, on vacation (mostly Greeks summering in Tinos), and part of the point of vacation is to forget about the cares of real life. But given the timing, it is impossible not to discuss. The mood, while not somber, is very uncertain. When we ask our new friends Georgios and Dimitra when they will come back to Tinos, the answer is “we don’t know… we don’t know what will happen tomorrow.” Our architect friend Panagyotis doesn’t know if he will have access to his money to pay his workers on the various sites he has to visit in Athens tomorrow. It is, indeed, uncertain.

Yet for all of this, the paradise that is Tinos remains a paradise. The people who live here have a deep kindness, a genuine care for others that I have never seen anywhere else. Last night, we left our favorite restaurant, Bourou, after a delicious meal, without paying. The credit card machine was down. (Does this have to do with the banking situation, who knows?). While we had cash, the maître d’h Georgios just told us to come back tomorrow morning. “The banks may close,” he said, “but we will still be here.”

For all that is going on, however, Tinos remains the paradise it will always be for me. An island in the Cyclades without an airport, it is one of the least touristy for that reason. And, in my mind, one of the most beautiful. Should you decide to explore Greece, head to Tinos – the flight to Athens, followed by a 45-minute taxi ride to the port of Raffina, followed by a 2-hour ferry to Tinos is well worth it. And when you get here, make sure you visit these addresses (and have a Greek salad at each, you will taste differences in the feta that will make you question what we call feta in the US).

-          Bourou: mentioned above, this is one of my favorite restaurants. It moved this past March closer to town (it is located between the center of town and the beach of Kionia), the food is excellent (grilled sardines are their specialty), and the décor shows a certain attention to detail and to aesthetics that I love.

-          Pranzo: in town, this is a fabulous Italian restaurant for when you need a break from Greek food. They also make their own wine.

-          O’Dinos: this is in the bay of Kardiani, a restaurant by the sea where three generations of the family work. The grandfather, Dinos, oversees the work; the father cooks; and the young son does “bus boy” tasks. Their fish soup is a must to start any meal.

-          Thalassaki: In Isternia Bay, this is the place to watch the sun set; you are literally on the water, where the magic of sunset is most powerful. Indeed, the name of the restaurant literally means “the young sea.” Try the squid ink risotto and the pasta with meatballs.

-          If you make the trip to Panormos, about halfway around the island, eat at the third taverna, Maestro. The meat is delicious, as is the homemade Tinos cheese.

Whatever happens in the coming weeks, I will return to Tinos. Every year as long as I am able. It is my happy place, it is good for my soul. You should go there too…

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'A Woman Who Does Not Wear Perfume Has No Future'

June 21, 2015

Aksenia Krupenko and Salamander Spa Director Penny Kriel (Photo by: Ada Polla) Aksenia Krupenko and Salamander Spa Director Penny Kriel

A woman who does not wear perfume has no future. Coco Chanel 

Last Thursday, the Washington Spa Alliance brought together a beautiful crowd of spa industry leaders at the French Embassy for an evening presentation: "The History of Natural Perfumery: from Cleopatra to Chanel" presented by Michael Scholes, President of Laboratory of Flowers. Scholes describes himself as an Alchemist, Therapeutic Formulator, and Natural Perfumer.

He reminded a captivated audience of key facts about the sense of smell, including that smell was the first of our senses and that the olfactory system ha a direct link to the brain which is primarily subconscious recognition. Indeed, smell is a prime mover of higher brain function: the sense of smell is wired directly into the limbic system. This is where we process emotions, memory, basic drives, hormonal responses, and a part of the brain that tells us when we have had enough. 

Anjali Dighe, Pilar DiVittorio, Heather Shaw Menis (Photo by: Ada Polla) Anjali Dighe, Pilar DiVittorio, Heather Shaw Menis

He then explored the history of natural fragrance throughout the ages while having the his listeners smell various samples, in effect making them travel on an aromatic journey through time. He passed around rare and precious oils including jasmine, rose, geranium, tuberose, narcissus, violet, orange blossom, wild orange and other concoctions that mark time, celebrate moments in history, as well as the sacred scents of biblical times. 

The mission of the Washington Spa Alliance is to act as a knowledge center, connecting spa professionals in the nation’s greater capital region. WSPA works to promote the exchange of education and innovation in the field, and to ensure that the highest ideals of spa are met through policy and action. For more information, visit Washington Spa Alliance.


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E Pluribus Unum

April 19, 2015

"Remember that all of us are descended from immigrants and revolutionists." FDR

My family has called me “the American” for quite some time. As of Tuesday April 14, they are no longer factually incorrect when doing so. This past Tuesday is the day that I became an American.

Almost exactly 20 years ago, in August of 1995, I landed at New York’s JFK airport, alone, to attend college in the US. Luckily, a dear family friend, Aileen, was there to pick me up and drive me to school. 20 years later we are still friends and she will always hold that special place in my heart – the one who picked me up and helped me start my American journey. On Tuesday, I began a new phase of that journey.

Nothing prepared me for the ceremony or emotion of that morning. The moments I will forever remember include:

Bryant W. Johnson, Records Specialist and for all intents and purposes, the Master of Ceremonies and our Entertainer for the morning. He organized us, told us where to sit (front row seat for me!), what to do, and kept us both laughing and serious as the situation demanded.

The moment when I had to relinquish my green card to a court officer. We all did. Mr. Johnson apparently knew how uncomfortable we were doing this. (The one thing I have trained myself to never, ever, lose, no matter the situation, is my Green Card. It possibly was my most prized possession until this past Tuesday.) After we had all given it back, he joked we at that moment were not quite legal, and recommended that should the fire alarm go off, we catch him!

Watching the sign language interpreter. Of course, the US being the amazingly inclusive country it is, she was there from the beginning to the end, translating he ceremony and every joke Mr. Johnson made.

The speech by Nisha Desai Biswal, Assistant Secretary of State Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs. A naturalized citizen herself, she reminded us of her favorite quote by Franklin D. Roosevelt: “Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.”

The speech by our judge. 12 weeks in the court, it was Judge Amit P. Mehta’s first naturalization ceremony, and he was appropriately (and adorably) nervous. He told us of his story, which began in India. He was naturalized when he was 10 years old. He spoke of the great journey that is America. “America is not a destination, it is a journey. It is a constant state of striving for that perfect Union.” “The story of America is fundamentally an immigrant story,” he reminded us. “This country was founded on shared values, not a specific race or religion.”

And indeed, that was reflected in the room – 50 countries were represented. All ages, both genders, all skin tones, and many languages. We were 119 altogether. A true representation of “E pluribus unum.” Most people came with friends and family members. I, however, came alone. When I left for college, I left Switzerland alone, partly as a sign of fierce independence. Being alone Tuesday morning had a nice parallelism to it, and felt completely

Perhaps because truly, I was not alone. The gentleman sitting next to me, an immigrant from Morocco, was also alone. We took each other’s pictures (all the ones in this post are courtesy of him), spoke of entrepreneurship and the American dream (he too owns his own business), and laughed together.

I also was not alone because of the amazing social media love. Never before has that touched me so much. All Facebook comments, tweets, and texts made my day so very special – some worth highlighting include:

Congrats Ada! We’re happy to have you, especially since you make us all a little bit prettier with your magical Swiss blueberries!  (JH)

Congrats Ada. Very happy for you. The last question they will ask you is what is your favorite NFL team. Although you will be tempted to say New England, if you answer Washington you will pass the test. (SA) 

Congrats–we just (the US that is…) got better looking. (LHD)

Ada, this is the nicest thing that’s happened in a while and we welcome you. (BM)

While I had not expected to feel any different (after all, I have been living and paying taxes in this country for such a long time), it does feel different. It feels wonderful. Official. Proud. Humbling. I do not feel less Swiss or less European, instead, I feel more whole.

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