After a good night's sleep in Likos' almost-new hotel and an unusual breakfast of a thick creamy rice soup, the four of us climbed in the red jeep, and with Likos as our chauffeur, we set off to explore the town. The best way to describe our morning in Samarina is to call it a love fest with strangers. To all the people we met, we were the Pispirikos girls (poor Bruce), and we had our introductory letter that my cousin wrote in Greek to back us up. In some instances, we produced the family photos, and even though no one knew us, there were a lot of oohs and ahhhs and even more hugging and kissing. To the Samarina villagers, we were their long-lost Vlach-American kissing cousins.
|SOUP FOR BREAKFAST?|
|SUSAN TALKING WITH 86-YEAR-OLD ALEXANDRA WHO REMEMBERED MY PARENTS WHEN THEY WOULD COME TO SAMARINA TO VISIT|
That morning we had an experience that can only be called one of those six degrees of separation things. Here's what happened. While having coffee in the platia (plaza) in front of Likos's restaurant, we met Zisis Davaras, who spoke pretty good English. He overheard us talking, so he pulled up his chair next to ours and asked if we were from the United States. "I have a second cousin who lives in Haverhill, Massachusetts," he said. "Perhaps you know him." Under different circumstances, I would have politely laughed and said No, the United States is a big country, and we live in California, thousands of miles away, blah, blah, blah. But this time I told him my parents lived in New Hampshire, and they had many Vlach friends who lived in Haverhill. "His name is Mike Valhoulis," Zisis said. "Do you know him?" "Mike Valhoulis," I shrieked. Really, Mike Valhoulis?" I was shocked. "Of course, we know Mike Valhoulis. He and his family were very close friends with my Mom and Dad, and I knew him too--a long time ago."
|DRINKING COFFEE IN THE PLATIA WITH ZISIS AND LIKOS'S BROTHER|
|LIKOS AND ZISIS DAVARAS READING OUR LETTER OF INTRODUCTION|
|(L-R) ZISIS, MADDY, SUSAN, BRUCE & LIKOS'S BROTHER|
When Zisis heard my reply, he reached for his cell phone and punched in the number for Mike Valhoulis in Massachusetts, and lucky for us, Mike answered. In Greek or most likely in the Vlach language, Zisis asked Mike, "Do you know the Pispirikos family from New Hampshire?" "Of course, I do," Mike replied. "Well, there are three members of the Pispirikos family here with me in Samarina right now." Then Zisis handed me the phone. For the next ten minutes, we had a reunion with Mike, catching up on our lives, as Susan and I passed the phone back and forth between us. Mike not only knew my parents well, but also my brother, who is Susan's father and Maddy's grandfather.
|ZISIS CALLING MIKE VALHOULIS IN MASSACHUSETTS|
|HELLO, IS THIS MIKE?|
|AFTER OUR TRIP I SENT MIKE VALHOULIS THIS PICTURE MADDY TOOK OF SAMARINA|
This small world story will underscore something that most of my close friends already know about me: I have six degrees of separation and small world encounters often. Some of the stories might make an interesting post, but until that time, I will tell you one more that relates to this Samarina story.
A few months ago I went to see a new doctor about my sore shoulder. He was a young guy with a long name that ended in "ouros," so, of course, he was Greek. We took a few minutes to exchange details about our roots, and although his family was from the south, he was familiar with the village names of Samarina and Vouvusa because he thought that his in-laws' family may have come from there. He gave me their email address and encouraged me to contact them. In an email reply from his aunt, I learned that her parents were from Samarina and Vouvusa (formerly Biasa) too, and that their best friends in Haverhill, Massachusetts were the Valhoulis.
So, that's the story of reconnecting with my Vlach heritage. A few days ago I was with a friend who had read the first installment of my "roots" blog, and I was touched when she said, "Your blog made me realize that I too have a tribal heritage." I guess in some way we all do.