Greece 1935-1938: Involuntary Testimonies

For the really significant history is that grass roots history which reveals the everyday life of people, in their homes, and at their retreats, in their work and in their play, in turbulence and in repose.
Theodore C. Blegen, 1948

“I suppose you have heard about the Revolution which is taking place here. It began last Friday night -March 1st. During dinner we heard various rumblings and shots out in the city, but didn’t think much about it, believing them just the ordinary noises of the city. But afterwards they became so pronounced that we knew something was happening. So Betty [Dow] and I went down-town, in the direction from which the shots came. We met many troops marching through the streets, and finally came to the region where the firing came from – near the Akropolis. A revolution is such a strange thing here – everyone takes it as a matter of course, and a little as a joke – and the firing isn’t widespread at all. We were able to approach so near –without any danger – that we witnessed a tank storming a barracks for soldiers, and saw the firing on both sides… after the attacks on the barracks which we saw (we were in a crowd of about 25 – the sole witnesses), we saw other tanks, at close range and finally came upon battalions of soldiers drawn up with guns and bayonets in the streets and ready for action… ” wrote Richard (Dick) H. Howland, age 25, to his family back in America.

Most of Howland’s letters carry the “Stadium” stamp, which was issued in 1932 as a supplementary stamp of the 1927 “Landscapes” set. The “Stadium” was withdrawn from sale in 1939. Photo: ASCSA Archives, Richard Howland Papers.

The attempted coup d’état of March 1, 1935, a failed Venizelist revolt against the government of Panagis Tsaldaris, would hasten the collapse of Greece’s short-lasting parliamentary democracy (1924-1935) and the return of the king in November that same year. Fifteen months later, on August 4th, 1936, Howland, Gladys Davidson, and a few others from the School would look desperately for a taxi to take them to Piraeus to catch the boat to Istanbul. Howland reported to his family that they managed to arrive in the harbor “despite the fact there was a taxi strike in town and a general strike of all workers because the premier of Greece had just made himself dictator. Soldiers in the streets everywhere, but no goings-on. No newspapers published at all that day. I have learned since, of course, that it all went off quietly and things settled down, but as we left, it looked as though we were going to miss a big revolution.”

Having come to Greece in the fall of 1933 to attend the year-long program of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter), Howland and his peers at the School became “witnesses in spite of themselves” to critical events in the political history of the nation (Ricoeur 2006). Their “involuntary testimonies” (and the “target of a historian’s indiscretion”) may or may not add new information to what was already described in the press at the time but they suggest real potential for any systematic study of mundane history which lies unacknowledged or hidden in archival reserves. This is a type of social history, one that starts from the bottom rank of social agency, even if, in our case, the agents were privileged foreigners living protected lives within the walls of the “white tower” of academia.  This is also “applied history” in the sense that it engages and connects its readers with “large history,” and allows, as in novels, “one’s own mind to be temporarily inhabited by that of another person” (Phillips 2017).

The King Does Not Eat Better Food Than We Do

“I haven’t met the King yet, but then, none of the American School, even the Director has. We trade at the same grocery, however, and the King has no better food to eat than we do. Very often, when we stop by in the evening for a box of crackers, some cheese, or wine, we see the King’s kitchen buying a can of peaches or something similar for the royal dessert” Howland wrote on Feb. 9, 1936. A week later, at the School’s Open Meeting, “his highness, the Crown Prince Paul sat down in front, and left as soon as it was over, not stopping to talk to anyone except to say a word to Dr. Shear and Dr. Capps, the Director” he reported to his family with some disappointment, not perhaps realizing that there was probably a better explanation for the Crown Prince’s lack of interest in socializing with the leadership of the American School. It must have been known to the royal family that both T. Leslie Shear and Edward Capps had been ardent supporters of former Prime Minister Eleutherios Venizelos. In fact, immediately after Venizelos’s death on March 18, 1936, Stuart Thompson, the architect of the Gennadius Library, was asked, most likely by Capps, to draw up plans for an extension to the building which would be named after Venizelos (“Μουσείον του Ελευθερίου Βενιζέλου”). (The plans, long-forgotten, were discovered in a closet of the Gennadius Library during construction work in 1999; see Kalligas 2004).

Plan for the “Venizelos Library and Museum” next to the Gennadius Library, July 20, 1936. Photo: ASCSA Archives, Architectural Plans.

Howland’s wish to meet or, at least see, King George II up close was granted a year later, at the Open Meeting of the French Archaeological School. Howland noted (February 19, 1937) that “the king, who sat in a chair about 15 feet away from mine, looked tired and thin and yellowish, as if he was getting jaundice. He left the minute it was over, of course, as a King can’t stick around to chat with people… ”.  A month later he would find King George attending the Archaeological Society’s meeting “where the lecture was delivered at break-neck speed – in order not to tire the King…” (March 21, 1937). Deserted by his wife, Queen Elizabeth (the former Princess Elisabeta of Roumania), who divorced him in July 1935, and childless, the King cultivated a reserve that was noticeable to everybody.

From a late visit of King George II to the ASCSA in 1940. Front row (left to right): Theodore Leslie Shear, ?, King George II, Annette Stevens, Lincoln MacVeagh, Gorham P. Stevens. Photo: ASCSA Archives, Administrative Records.

Howland’s descriptions of the royal family’s aloofness provide a sharp contrast to the narratives of other members of the School from the earlier 20th century. The letters of Nellie Marie Reed (1895-1896), Ida Thallon (1899-1901), Theodore Heermance (1903-1905), and those of long-time Athenian residents Carl Blegen and Bert Hodge Hill describe the court as lively and hospitable during the reign of King George I and Queen Olga, and later during the short reign of King Alexander (1917-1920). But back then, the royal family had not yet experienced long periods of ­­­exile and the extent of Venizelos’s power over the Greek people.

Looking Like an English Lord

Richard Hubbard Howland (1910-2006) was born and raised in Providence, Rhode Island. He studied at Brown (B.A., 1931), Harvard (M.A., 1933), and Johns Hopkins (Ph.D., 1946) universities. Following the end of WW II, he made a career in historic preservation in the U.S., the U.K., and Ireland. He served as the first president of the (U.S.) National Trust for Historic Preservation (1956-1960) and served for many years in various positions at the Smithsonian Institution.

From 1933 until 1938 Howland lived in Athens, first as a student and later as a fellow of the ASCSA, excavating both at Corinth and the Athenian Agora. Having lost his mother in 1932, he addressed most of his letters to an extended family (“Dear Folks”), the Hubbards and the Howlands, who lived in a “two-family,” eight bedroom house (according to the State of Rhode Island Historic Property Search) on 89 and 91 Whitmarsh Street, Providence.  There he took great care of his appearance — always impeccably dressed— and surroundings. Tall, blond, and handsome, he was often mistaken for a noble Englishman during his time in Greece. In a few cases he was even mistaken for the Crown Prince and “treated to much embarrassed formality, which fled when they found out I wasn’t,” he wrote after a week of vacation at Corfu in July 1938.

Richard Howland outside Loring Hall, ca. 1934. Photo: ASCSA Archives, Richard Howland Papers.

During his second year in Greece he met Carol Bullard, whom he initially described as “a Chicago debutante with lots of money and no ideas at all of archaeology. Her aunt [Ada Small Moore] gave the new Corinth Museum, and thought her niece might enjoy a year in Greece…” Soon after, however, he would take Carol to late dinners and dancing at the Cosmopolite Roof, the Fix Brewery “where there is an excellent restaurant run by a Hungarian, in connection with the brewery,” and the Glyphada Casino (July 27, 1936).

Carol Bullard and Richard Howland clad in Skyrian costumes, Skyros ca. 1935. Photo: ASCSA Archives, Richard Howland Papers.

By the 1930s Glyphada, a newly developed suburb on the south side of the city, had become the preferred recreational destination (including night swims) for Americans and other foreigners living in Athens. In July 1937, Henry Beck, the U.S. Vice Consul, hosted a big party “at his villa in Glyphada – a buffet cocktail and supper on the terrace, with musicians in a balcony above. Afterwards dancing and at midnight, when the moon came up, everybody got into a small boat and were paddled, with the musicians, to the Glyphada casino, for more dancing. It was quite a brawl” (July 17, 1935 to Gladys Davidson, with whom he shared a close friendship). After two years of courtship, he and Carol were married in 1937 setting up their first household on the second floor of a house behind the School on Dinokratous Street. The uncertainty of the times, however, forced them to return to America in 1938. After their divorce in 1942, Howland did not remarry but continued to lead a vigorous social life that contributed to successful fundraising for the institutions he served. As chairman of the School’s Managing Committee (1965-1975) he persuaded Claire Woolie Mayer to donate her house in New York to the American School in 1974. The so-called Mayer House housed served for years as the School’s base of operations in America until it was sold for $5,850,000 in 1998, thus enriching the ASCSA’s endowment.

But for Classical archaeologists (and I have to admit it took me some years to realize this) his most lasting contribution to the field was Greek Lamps and Their Survivals (Princeton 1958) —a.k.a. Agora IV. Sixty years after its publication it remains one of the most important reference volumes in Greek archaeology. Very few, however, are aware of the man behind H[owland]T[ype] 24, or HT 25 Prime.

An Innocent Abroad

I was, however, fortunate to meet Howland in 1996 on his last journey to Greece — an elderly, distinguished man who walked into the Archives and introduced himself as Dick Howland. He had brought with him his collection of photos from his various times in Greece. He had already entrusted his personal correspondence to his old friend and Trustee of the School Doreen Canaday Spitzer. (His photographic collection, as well as that of Gladys Davidson Weinberg, was digitized as part of a recent ESPA project.) Although there are a number of photographic collections from the 1930s in the School’s Archives, Howland’s letters to his family are perhaps the only written record preserving information about the daily activities of the small “colony” of American expatriates living in Athens during that decade. Dorothy Burr Thompson’s diaries at Bryn Mawr College also exist, but after 1933 these accounts are limited to descriptions of summer visits. There also are the M. Alison Frantz’s papers in the Firestone Library at Princeton, which I have not yet had the pleasure of reading.

A few years ago Kostis Kourelis published a rich and multi-layered essay exploring the avant-guard leanings and bohemian background of several of the School’s members, including directors Rhys Carpenter, Richard Stillwell, and Charles Morgan, artists Piet de Jong and Georg von Peschke, and their occasional interactions with members of the Greek “Thirties Generation” through the extended social circles of Eva Palmer Sikelianos and Joan Bush Vanderpool (Kourelis 2007).  Howland did not belong to this group, either because he was too young, just “an innocent abroad,” or perhaps because the “others” (i.e., the Carpenters and the Stillwells) were an exception to the rule. His letters rarely mention social interactions outside the orbit of the American colony in Athens. Although he and others from the School were invited to parties at Olga Cheimonas’s new apartment on Speusippou street — Mme Cheimona being the Russian widow of Greek-Russian painter Nikos Cheimonas (1866-1929) — where they might have met Greek artists, these encounters seemed not to have generated new ones (July 17, 1935 to GD). (I must mention here that the School owns two paintings by Nikos Cheimonas, which are currently on display in the dining room of the Director’s residence.) On another occasion, he, Gladys, and Ted Erck (Assistant Librarian at the Gennadius Library) “were invited to the Vanderpools for dinner. The Sikelianos were there…; we had a good dinner down in their garden” (July 27, 1936), but again he did not seem to have been able to reach out further  into contemporary Greek intellectual circles.

The program from Dimitri Mitropoulos’s Concert at Old Corinth, 1936. Photo: ASCSA Archives, Oscar Broneer Papers.

On Sunday morning, September 27, 1936, Howland and others from the School visited Corinth “as the Athens Symphony Orchestra with Mitropoulos directing, gave a concert in the ancient theater, at old Corinth” attended by 3,000 people. “The concert was very good, Beethoven’s 1st and 7th Symphonies and was well appreciated, despite the rain which immediately preceded it.” (The program from that event has survived in the papers of Oscar Broneer, who also must have been in attendance.)

A few months later, during the week of April 17, 1937, Howland represented Brown University at the festivities for the 100th Anniversary of the University of Athens. There is a great photo in the Howland papers commemorating the event, which was attended by many members of the School who had been appointed delegates of American Universities.

Ida Thallon Hill, Charles Morgan, Oscar Broneer, Elizabeth Pierce Blegen, Hazel Hansen, Arthur Parson, U.S. Minister Lincoln MacVeagh, and Richard Howland at the 100th Anniversary of the University of Athens, 1937. Photo: ASCSA Archives, Richard Howland Papers.

But most often, when Carol Bullard was not in Athens, Howland would dine with Rodney Young, Gladys Davidson, Alison Frantz, and Mary Zelia (Philippides). Other guests on these evenings might have included junior members of the U.S. Legation such as vice-consul Burton Berry (1901-1985), Henry Beck (died in 1939), and Harold Schantz, all bachelors with a laissez-faire attitude to life and a preference for Balkan or Eastern Mediterranean posts. Ambassador Charles W. Yost, in his memoirs, described Beck, upon his arrival in Alexandria in 1931, as a “natty little man in a Panama hat and tropical suit” who introduced him to the talents of an Egyptian belly dancer. Burton Berry who spent many years between Istanbul and Athens before he was appointed Ambassador to Iraq (1952-1954), is mostly known today for his valuable textile collection (Art Institute of Chicago) and his coin collection (American Numismatic Society).

As a couple, Howland and Carol socialized with the Joneses, the Kohlers, and the Rankins. G. Lewis Jones (1907-1971), Assistant Commercial Attaché at the U.S. Legation in Athens (1935-1939) would later become Ambassador to Tunisia (1956-1959) and Assistant Secretary of State; Foy D. Kohler (1908-1990), the Legation’s Secretary from 1936-1941, who would conclude his diplomatic career as Ambassador to the Soviet Union (1962-1966); and Karl Rankin (1898-1981), the Commercial Attaché (1932-1939), would later be appointed U.S. Ambassador to China (1950-1953) and Yugoslavia (1953-1957). To a mover and shaker like Howland these early brushes with the diplomatic corps must have come in handy later in his career, as the head of U.S. cultural foundations. (With this new information in mind, his chairmanship of the ASCSA Managing Committee deserves to be studied anew.)

The Magic of Old Corinth

If life in Athens required compliance with a certain decorum, the rural environment and simplicity of life at Old Corinth not only freed the School’s students from the city’s dos and don’ts, but also encouraged contact with the locals during excavation or time at the dig house. Apart from the local hospitality, this was for many their only opportunity to practice Greek, or even learn αρβανίτικα. “It is spoken in Corinth very much, as most of the natives for miles around are of Albanian descent. It causes them great amusement to hear me speak it… I have had one ‘lesson’ from Argyrie, my pot mender. The maid, Helene, nearly dropped the soup when I talked to her in Albanian, and returned to the kitchen where she told the cook and the other maid about it with great astonishment. She’s my friend for life,” he wrote to his family with pride (Oct. 28, 1934).

Richard Howland and the Lekkas family after the baptism,  Old Corinth 1935. Photo: ASCSA Archives, Richard Howland Papers

And indeed, young Richard did not hesitate to form a life-long relationship with one of the local families, when Evangelos Lekkas, the foreman of the dig, “asked me to baptize and be godfather to his daughter aged 10 months… In Greece it is quite a thing to be a Godfather… So according to customs and much advice from Greek friends in Athens, I went down to Corinth armed with a complete Baptismal outfit… all nicely embroidered, seven candles to use during the ceremony, a cake of soap, oil and incense, [and] some forty tin crosses to give to each guest as a souvenir, and last but not least a cash present to start a bank account for the baby. Any money I may have spent was certainly worth it, for I never had such a time in my life” (Jan. 21, 1935). Proof that he was not an “accidental” godfather, sixteen years later, in 1960, Howland would become again νονός, this time to Lekkas’s grandchild; and every time he came to Greece, even during his last visit in 1996, he would travel to Corinth to spend time with his Greek family.

Richard Howland baptizing Lekkas’s grandchild, 1960. Photo: ASCSA Archives, Richard Howland Papers.

 


References
I have borrowed the terms “involuntary witness” and “witnesses in spite of themselves” from Paul Ricoeur’s Memory, History, Forgetting, trans. K. Blamey and D. Pellauer, Chicago 2006.
Blegen, T. C. “The Saga of Saga Hill,” Minnesota History 29 (1948), pp. 289-299.
Kalligas, H. “1936: Μουσείον του Ελευθερίου Βενιζέλου,” The New Griffon 7 (2004), pp. 33-35.
Kourelis, K. “Byzantium and the Avant-Garde: Excavations at Corinth, 1920s-1930s,” Hesperia 76 (2007), pp. 391-442.
Phillips, S. “Should you Feel Sad about the Demise of the Handwritten Letter?” Aeon Magazine April 12, 2017 (https://aeon.co/ideas/should-you-feel-sad-about-the-demise-of-the-handwritten-letter, accessed April 30, 2017).

 


Athens at the Turn of the Century: A Sentimental Capital and a Resort of Scholars

On February 17, 1901, a young American archaeologist and member of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter) was “roaming over the city in search of Mr. Kavvadias, the general ephor of antiquities in Athens, in order to get a permit to begin work at Vari tomorrow” (letter of Charles H. Weller to his wife).  Together with a small group of students from the School, he had conceived of the idea of conducting a small excavation at the Vari Cave on the southern spur of Mount Hymettus, near the ancient deme of Anargyrous. Known since the 18th century, the cave had been visited and described by several European travelers who were particularly taken by the reliefs and inscriptions carved on its walls.

Vari Cave interior with sculpted figures, 1923. Source: ASCSA Archives, Dorothy Burr Thompson Photographic Collection.

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Expat Feasts in Athens on the Eve of the Balkan Wars

One of Zillah Pierce Dinsmoor's letters to her mother, October 1910

One of Zillah Pierce Dinsmoor’s letters to her mother, October 1910.

“Maybe I asked you before, but will you save all my letters, dear, for I may want to use some of the material in them” Zillah Pierce Dinsmoor (1886-1960) reminded her mother a month after her arrival in Greece (Oct. 20, 1910). And because Emma Pierce respected her daughter’s wish, a valuable collection of private correspondence describing the daily life of a young American bride in Athens in the early 20th century has been preserved in the Archives of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA).

This is the second time From the Archivist’s Notebook features an essay about Zillah Dinsmoor.  In February 2014, guest author Jacquelyn Clemens published an account of Zillah’s Greek experience, mining information from her letters. “Students and scholars who study at the American School… have often been accompanied by their spouses, significant others, and children who live with them here in Athens. In the early 20th century, Zillah Pierce Dinsmoor was one of these women who traveled to Athens along with her husband, architect William Bell Dinsmoor” wrote Clemens in her introductory paragraph. (Read J. Clemens,”Letters from a New Home. Early 20th Century Athens Through the Eyes of Zillah Dinsmoor“)  Barely 24 years old (and away from home for the first time), this fashionable young woman from Massachussets wrote long letters once a week to her mother about her new life in Athens.

Zillah Dinsmoor, ca. 1910

Zillah Dinsmoor, ca. 1910

Considered “as somehow inferior, less political, or less significant texts,” familial letters have been neglected by historians.  In the past decade, however, there has been an upsurge of scholarly publications studying social issues, such as the rise and strengthening of the middle class in America and Britain, based on private correspondence. I mention in passing Sarah Pearsall’s Atlantic Families (2008), Eve Tavor Bannet’s, Empire of Letters (2005), and Konstantin Dierks, In my Power: Letter Writing and Communications (2011).

I recently revisited Zillah’s rich correspondence, especially the letters she wrote from 1910-1912, looking for information about daily interactions, social and professional, between American and German archaeologists working in Greece at the end of the 19th/early 20th century. Yet, what caught my eye were Zillah’s detailed descriptions of dinners she hosted or attended in Athens. Because she was particularly interested in cooking and entertaining, her letters trace the culinary profile and social aspirations of the city’s upper middle class, a mixture of foreign expatriates and a local westernized aristocracy.

The rise of professionalization at the end of the 19th century did not leave cooking unaffected. Although recipes still passed from mothers to daughters (sometimes as well-kept family secrets), the Boston Cooking School project –which was initiated in 1876 and the first to categorize different kinds of food, standardize quantities, and study the relationship between food and health– elevated cooking to a science. In the spirit of the time, an Italian cook Pellegrino Artusi also published La Scienza in Cucina e l’ Arte di Mangiar Bene (1891) which was soon translated into many languages including German. A few years later, in 1896, Fannie Farmer published the Boston Cooking School Cookbook. (See Alex Ketchum’s, “Fannie Farmer and the Boston Cooking School Cookbook [1896]: A History of Science, Gender, and Food”). Interestingly enough, Bert Hodge Hill, director of the ASCSA from 1906-1926, owned a copy of Farmer’s 1918 edition. Although it does not show any signs of wear (unlike my own cookbooks), except for occasional checks in pencil, it must have been consulted by the School’s hosts and hostesses before dinners.

Bert Hodge Hill's own copy of Fannie Farmer's Cookbook. ASCSA Archives, Bert H. Hill Papers

Bert Hodge Hill’s own copy of Fannie Farmer’s Cookbook. ASCSA Archives, Bert H. Hill Papers

Zillah’s time in Athens coincided with the rise of Nikos Tselementes (1878-1958), perhaps the most famous and influential Greek cook, who took it upon himself to “clean” Greek cuisine of oriental influences, thus banning olive oil from cooking and introducing butter and creamy sauces. Moussaka and pastitsio, signature dishes of modern Greek cuisine, were his creations. Originally from Siphnos, Tselementes learned to cook in his uncle’s hotel, the luxurious “Aktaion” in Phaleron. After spending time in Vienna, Tselementes returned to Athens to establish himself as the best cook in town, working for the Austrian Embassy (and other embassies later). Talented, ambitious, educated, and trendy, he soon distinguished himself from the other local cooks by publishing the first Greek cookbook in 1910 (Οδηγός Μαγειρικής και Ζαχαροπλαστικής).

“Fortunately I have not met the octopus yet”

After spending several days with her husband Bill (the architect William Bell Dinsmoor) and other members of the American School in Central Greece, Zillah described the local food as monotonous. “They soak everything that they possibly can in tomato sauce and while that is very good in itself it becomes a little tiresome when it flavors everything.” She continued with a description of the local products available for sale on the stores: “The front of all the stores are the same, one keg of pickled herring, a [?] of ripe olives, a big barrel of cheese, a big barrel of tomato sauce and a confection made of honey and sesame seeds called halva. Fortunately I have not met the octopus yet.” But she raved about the Greek honey, “[it] is the most delicious I have ever tasted. You almost think you are eating flowers.” (Oct. 20, 1910).

Zillah’s Chafing Dish

Zillah travelled to Greece with her own chafing dish, and she tried to use it to make fudge. Although it came out “beautifully creamy,” it tasted funny because she and Bill couldn’t make the shop keeper understand that they wanted unsweetened chocolate. “…We came home with some miserable Greek sweet chocolate.” While in Corinth at the excavation house, she cooked their breakfasts in the chafing dish, but her attempt to cook lamb proved unsuccessful: “the roast lamb was a fizzle. The oven was too hot at first and by waiting for it to cool enough to put the meat in, it was not hot enough to cook it through…” she complained to her mother (Nov. 15, 1910).

dinsmoor_chafing_dish

“I wish you could see my kitchen. Dirt floor, a long zinc table in the middle…, candles for light…, and about half of the room is piled up with excavation picks, shovels, baskets, etc. I have a box with a hinged cover to keep groceries in and I can’t leave a bit of milk or meat there for the two cats get in through the window the minute I leave the place… Even the hens walk in the kitchen when I am there and the goat has pushed his nose in inquisitively on several occasions.” Unlike other Americans who describe with disgust the goat’s milk, Zillah enjoyed the flavor, eggs, and local bread. “It is a pleasure to cook with it and the eggs also. Scrambled eggs puff up as light as a feather.” “I wonder how they make bread here. They only bake once a month but the bread seems fresh. It is very different from ours rather brown with a hard crust but I like it.”

Zillah Dinsmoor in front of the Corinth Excavation House, ca. 1910. ASCSA Archives, William Bell Dinsmoor Papers.

Zillah Dinsmoor in front of the Corinth Excavation House, ca. 1910. ASCSA Archives, William Bell Dinsmoor Papers.

“Evangelos is a Genius”

Zillah spared no words when it came to praising Evangelos, the School’s cook. Unfortunately, no picture of him survives; we don’t even know his last name. But Evangelos must have belonged to the new generation of Greek cooks like Nikos Tselementes, who were willing to experiment and learn from their foreign employers.  I was surprised to read some of the seven-course menus he prepared more than a hundred years ago. (When was the last time more than a three-course dinner was served at a formal meal at the ASCSA?) For Thanksgiving in 1911, Evangelos served a fish soup, followed “by cold jellied pigeon with little individual salads with whipped cream, turkey with chestnut dressing, another kind of salad, potato ball, quince jelly, and the most remarkable ice in fancy shape, salted almonds…” (Nov. 27, 1910)

Two months later, in February 1911 when Zillah and Bill Dinsmoor hosted their first dinner at the American School, which was attended by Mr. and Mrs. Steele of the U.S. Legation, Miss Nicholls (a teacher at the Palace), professor Alice Walton, Dr. Georg Karo of the German Archaeological Institute, and Dr. Chester Alan Johnson, “Evangelos cooked himself with glory.” “We had a thin consommé…, then tarts with mashed birds on them (purée of snipe), then fish made into pears covered with crumbs and fried a perfect golden brown, potatoes, carrots and peas all cut in small round balls (but the peas). After that came roast of turkey with salad of apples, lettuce and nuts and mayonnaise, then ice-cream chocolate made into big eggs with sugar browned and made into fine strings over the top to represent straw and the nest of cake. It was very pretty. Fruit came last and on the table were salted almonds, peppermints…” reported a happy Zillah to her mother a few days later (Feb. 7, 1911).

The Dining Room of the ASCSA, ca. 1915. Indoor photos are very rare in people's personal papers until well into the 20th century. ASCSA Archives, Administrative Records.

The Dining Room of the ASCSA, 1915. Indoor photos are very rare in personal papers until well into the 20th century. ASCSA Archives, Administrative Records.

“Tour la Reine”

Fancy dinners but with a limited wine selection. White or “green” Rhenish was the wine of choice for all courses. On one occasion Samian wine was served at a dinner in the U.S. Legation (Mar. 24, 1912). For their first formal dinner Bill and Zillah went shopping for wine, cigarettes, and flowers. “Wine is very cheap here (the only thing) and we bought the kind Mr. Hill always serves, a very light wine called ‘Tour la Reine.”

The wine took its name from a royal estate in Attika (near Nea Liosia) built by Queen Amalia as her personal getaway. At some point in the late 19th century it was bought by the Serpieri family and transformed into a plantation producing many goods including wine. (Ο Πύργος της Βασιλίσσης has now been renovated and a visit there is a wonderful weekend excursion. Read here about Queen Amalia’s gardens in Greece.)

Six, Seven, and Eight-Course Dinners

The multi-course dinners described by Zillah started with a soup (beef consommé, chicken or fish soup). During lunches and informal dinners Zillah would also serve fish chowder which “Evangelos makes as well as I do now.” (Feb. 17, 1911). “I cook the fish first, then take it from the stove and remove skin and bones; put it back and add one onion and sliced potatoes. When these are cooked, I add milk and before taking them from stove put some butter… I think I must have gotten the recipe from you at some time” she wrote to her mother a few days earlier (Feb. 7, 1911).

For the second course Evangelos usually served game, either cold, jellied pigeon or tarts with mashed birds, which Zillah also described it as “purée of snipe.” There is a great recipe of “Purée of Snipe a la Creole” in David S. Shields’s Southern Provisions: The Creation and Revival of a Cuisine (2015, p. 88). One must use fresh snipes which “should always be kept four days at least, before cooking. Never pluck them until you are ready to cook them…”. For Cyrus Ashton Rollin Sanborn’s birthday (Sanborn, aka CARS, was the School’s Secretary until 1912), Evangelos served fish as a second and game as a third course: “a pretty dish with mashed partridges made in a jelly mould with daisies near the top of the jelly, the petals made of hard boiled white of egg…” (Mar. 20, 1912).

"Birds on Canapes" from Fannie Farmer's Cookbook (1918, p. 375)

“Birds on Canapes” from Fannie Farmer’s Cookbook (1918, p. 375). ASCSA Archives, Bert H. Hill Papers.

Game and fish alternated as a second and third course, or game was skipped when the courses were fewer than six. For fish, Mrs. Gale, the wife of the U.S. Consul, served sole fried in batter; Mrs. Steele (whose husband was the manager of the Lake Copais Company) offered fry red mullets (μπαρμπουνάκια), while the incoming director of the German Archaeological Institute, Georg Karo, spared no cost serving broiled live lobsters with mushrooms (Mar 24, 1912 and Apr 20, 1911). On another occasion, Evangelos served “a delicious fish dressed with cream sauce and garnished with mushrooms and potatoes.”

Meat came next, served in one or two courses. Turkey with chestnut dressing was served for the School’s Thanksgiving of 1910, “roast turkey with salad of apples, lettuce, nuts, and maynonnaise” for Zillah’s first dinner at the School as a hostess, and “a big fat bird from Lake Copais” for Mrs. Steele’s dinner. Since the director of the School, Bert Hodge Hill, was a bachelor, the wives of the Visiting Professors would frequently act as hostesses for the School’s parties, or when the director was absent, Zillah and Bill would also be allowed to host parties at the School.  Roast beef, steaks or lamb was the other choice. In addition to mushrooms, artichokes were a favorite side-dish of the local cooks and their foreign mistresses. On two occasions, chicken was served after the beef: at Karo’s dinner it was served broiled with lettuce salad, while at Mrs. Gale’s in the U.S. Legation, the “roasted chicken came with wonderful salad and currant jelly, delicious French peas” providing “a course by themselves” according to Zillah’s description (Mar. 24, 1912). This, after they had already consumed fried sole and roast beef with mushrooms and artichokes.

The "saloni" in the Director's House, 1910s. A rare indoor photo from the ASCSA Archives.

The “saloni” in the Director’s House, 1910s. A rare indoor photo from the ASCSA Archives.

To describe these dinners using modern dietary terms, I would say they were rich in protein and fiber and low in carbs, since starch was limited to potatoes. Rice was completely absent. In Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking School Cookbook, although there are a couple of recipes for Turkish pilaf, rice does not constitute an important ingredient in North American cuisine. Likewise, the new generation of Greek cooks such as Tselementes and the School’s Evangelos, wishing to modernize the Greek cuisine by removing any Turkish influence, would have been equally happy to ban recipes with rice from the menu.

Dishes with macaroni or spaghetti are also missing from Zillah’s accounts. Although there are a few recipes for macaroni in Fannie Farmer’s cookbook, pasta may have been considered too ethnic and thus inappropriate for these social settings. In Greece, egg pasta such as χυλοπίττες, was also considered peasant food which had no place at a formal dinner, especially one prepared for foreigners.

What’s for Dessert?

It wasn’t pudding or cake or pie (although Zillah herself made delicious mince pies), but ice cream. The Boston Cooking School Cookbook lists a host of recipes for making ice cream in many flavors. For Zillah’s first dinner at the ASCSA, Evangelos outdid himself by serving a chocolate ice cream “made into big eggs with sugar browned and made into fine strings over the top”. On another occasion, a dinner she hosted at the “Continental Hotel,” the dessert was orange ice cream, while Mrs. Gale’s guests at the U.S. Legation were offered “ice cream with preserved ginger and sauce” (Mar. 24, 1912). There is also mention of Evangelos serving “Spanish cream filled with candied fruits and nuts” (Feb. 12, 1912). Cakes were reserved for special occasions, such as birthdays.

Dessert was followed by fruit, candies, salted almonds (Zillah does not miss a chance to mention the latter), and port. At Mrs. Gale’s dinner “coffee was served in an odd way. Instead of bringing in the cup quite prepared on a tray” coffee, milk, and sugar were brought in separately so that the guests could fill their cups as they wished (Mar. 24, 1912).

Recipe for Spanish Creme from Fannie Farmer's cookbook (1918, p. 423). ASCSA Archives, Bert H. Hill Papers.

Recipe for Spanish Creme from Fannie Farmer’s cookbook (1918, p. 423). ASCSA Archives, Bert H. Hill Papers.

 

Letters Do Count

I started writing this post just before Christmas while cooking and baking for the holidays, and finished it in Rome between Italian lunches and dinners. It never felt like the work was spoiling the vacation.

Although Virginia Woolf, an avid diarist herself, remarked that women’s letters did not count in history writing, the letters of the School’s women, students or companions, do count.  They are troves of microhistory which can be expanded into larger social history once enough information and context have been gathered (see Susan Whyman’s review of Sarah Pearsall’s Atlantic Families: Lives and Letters in the Later Eighteenth Century). Nellie Reed, Ida Thallon, Zillah Dinsmoor, and Dorothy Burr were keen observers of local life and customs, whether travelling in the country or living in a Balkan capital.  “The people and modern things [as opposed to the ancient things that interested her husband Bill] interest me so much through the customs and habits” wrote Zillah to her mother during her first month in Greece (Oct. 20, 1910).

The transcription of Zillah Dinsmoor’s letters is an ongoing project which so far has depended on volunteer efforts.  Her letters continue well into the 1920s, so there is much still to transcribe.  This challenging work will, however, make valuable information available to scholars addressing gender and mobility studies, and the early history of the American School.

Καλή Χρονιά (και καλή όρεξη)! – Happy New Year (and bon appétit)!


The Man from Damascus, the Good Wife, and Baby Solon: R.I.P. at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens

ASCSA Library, 1902

ASCSA Library, 1902

“You enter a reception hall of marble and go up a flight of marble steps which give the effect of entering a museum, as there are marble busts and old sculptures round that have been dug up…” Major A. Winsor Weld wrote to his wife on October 26th, 1918, upon entering the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or School hereafter). He and six other officers of the American Red Cross including Lieutenant Colonel Edward Capps would live in the School’s premises until July of 1919. (At the time one entered the Library through the Director’s residence.) Although the ASCSA was already building a small collection of antiquities –mostly pottery sherds and other small objects picked up on walks and informal surveys– the antiquities Weld described are of a different scale. The busts he refers to must have been plaster casts of originals similar to the one displayed above the fireplace mantle in the Library in a photo from 1902. I believe that the other “old sculptures” on display, the ones that “have been dug up,” were three Roman marble funerary reliefs unearthed in 1894, at the corner of Vasilissis Sophias (then Kephissias) and Merlin (then Academy) street, exactly opposite the Palace (now the Greek Parliament), during the construction of a mansion by Charles Edward Prior Merlin (1850-1898). Named after one of Merlin’s French ancestors, the “Hôtel Merlin de Douai” has housed the French Embassy since 1896.

“Hôtel Merlin de Douai” (French Embassy at Athens)

The “Hôtel Merlin de Douai” (French Embassy at Athens)

“In digging for the foundations of the large house which Mr. C. Merlin, the well-known artist and photographer of Athens, is building at the corner of Academy and Kephissia Streets, the workmen came upon considerable remains of an ancient cemetery. At my suggestion Mr. Merlin made over to the American School the right of publishing these discoveries, and afterwards generously presented to the School three reliefs and one other inscribed stone, together with some smaller fragments. The finds were made in the autumn of 1894. Only a part of them came under my observation at the time; hence the description of the graves and their location rests in part upon the accounts of Mr. Merlin and his workmen” reported Thomas Dwight Goodell a year later (American Journal of Archaeology 10, 1895, pp. 469-479).

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Communism In and Out of Fashion: The American School of Classical Studies at Athens and the Cold War

Posted by Jack L. Davis

Jack L. Davis, Carl W. Blegen Professor of Greek Archaeology at the University of Cincinnati and a former director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (2007-2012), here contributes an essay about attitudes of the ASCSA and its members toward Communists and Communism in the 20th century.


“Feeling they were witnessing the demise of capitalism, many writers moved left, some because their working class origins helped them identify with the dispossessed, others because they saw socialism or Communism as the only serious force for radical change, still others because it was the fashionable thing to do; they went where the action was.”
Morris Dickstein, Dancing in the Dark (2009), pp. 16-17.

DancingDark_smallIn 1974, when I first arrived at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter), we youngsters were told that we should not express our political views in public. The ASCSA’s institutional mission might be hurt, were it perceived not to be neutral. In September 1974 that was certainly a reasonable position for the ASCSA to assume. Yet I was curious. In 1974, I was myself radicalized, and had definitely headed left. I could not condone U.S. policy in respect to the Junta, or the suppression of the Left in Greece. Could I say nothing? Had the ASCSA always maintained a position of strict neutrality? Or were its postures more convenient than sincere? Read the rest of this entry »


“Dollars and Dreams”: American Archaeologists on the Hunt for Greek American Money in Chicago

A still from The Aunt from Chicago (Η θεία από το Σικάγο) with the eccentric aunt (played by Georgia Vasileiadou) in the middle.

A still from The Aunt from Chicago (Η θεία από το Σικάγο) with the eccentric Greek American aunt (played by Georgia Vasileiadou) in the middle.

The Aunt from Chicago is one of the most beloved films in the history of Greek cinema. Produced in 1957, it became an instant hit and remained in demand for many decades. The movie had all the ingredients of a successful production: a great set and superior performances by the best actors of its time. As much as the film is a satire on the conservatism of the Greek family, it is also a subtle mockery of the “aunt’s” Americanization.

Proud of their successful relatives in America, but also feeling uncomfortable with their rapid assimilation by American culture, Greek intellectuals such as novelists Elias Venezis and Yorgos Theotokas tried to rationalize the loss of national identity by the Greek migrants.  If, before WW II, stories of hardship and suffering prevailed over stories of success, after the war America’s new supremacy left little room for a narrative of failure. Instead, a new transnational narrative wanted Greek migrants — with their age-old values and in light of the bravery they had demonstrated during the war — to have contributed to the building of a new America. Novelist Yorgos Theotokas in his Essay on America (Δοκίμιο για την Αμερική), in the wake of a visit to the United States in 1953, would go so far as to claim that “From now on, the American people will be—to a small, but considerable extent—descendants of Greeks also” (Laliotou 2004, p. 86). (For a thorough study of the Greek migration in America, see Ioanna Laliotou, Transatlantic Subjects: Acts of Migration and Cultures of Transnationalism between Greece and America, Chicago 2004.)

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Skyromania? American Archaeologists in 1930s Skyros

Skyros, house interior, 1931. ASCSA, Dorothy Burr Thompson

Skyros, house interior, 1931. ASCSA Archives, Dorothy Burr Thompson Photographic Collection

“The island of Skyros is fairly remote and inaccessible, on account of the winds. One consequence of its geographical location is that there is very little information about the island in the ancient authors, and the picture also given by the travelers is also fragmentary,” archaeologist Efi Sapouna-Sakellaraki could write in her archaeological guide to Skyros, as recently as 1998. Before her, American archaeologist Hazel Hansen, in writing about prehistoric Skyros in 1951, similarly described the island as “one of the most solitary islands in the Aegean for nearly all the other islands are nearer to one another or to the mainland.” Its isolation and the capricious sea between it and the mainland and Euboea are the reasons why Skyros is far less frequently visited…”.

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