Coming to America

I have some really big news. It’s somewhere in between the moon landing and the discovery that there are now dark chocolate Kit Kats… To quote Julia Roberts, “Big. HUGE.”

I’m moving to America**! (**Depending on how it works out, this might just be an extended holiday, in which case, I’ll see you all in a couple of months.)

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My close friends and family know this has been on the cards for some time, and now it’s finally here!

I doubt this will be much of a surprise to anyone… On average, I’ve been travelling to the US at least once a year since 2007. My grandfather has even asked me if I have a secret African American boyfriend over there. “Well, you know what they say, Papou,” I told him. “Once you go Black, you never go back.” (By the way, it doesn’t sound half as catchy in Greek.)

I love it there! I feel American in my soul. Every time I visit, it feels like home. (Except in Florida. That place is a shit hole and no one should EVER go there!) When I left LA last year, I was holding back the tears at the airport. The only thing that got me through was knowing I was going to the One Direction concert a couple of days after I got back to Sydney… For real.

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Damn you, Zayn!

Finally, after years of travelling back and forth, the stars aligned, and I won a Green Card through the visa lottery! Whenever I tell people I’ve been gifted with a US Green Card, the most common response is: “Oh my God! That is so exciting!” Yeah… But it’s also shit-your-pants terrifying and stressful.

This is without a doubt the scariest thing I have ever done, but I am so incredibly grateful and blessed to have this opportunity, and I know I would be completely – not just a little bit – insane to let it pass me by. It would be like winning the Golden Ticket to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory and then saying, “Nah, I don’t really feel like chocolate anymore.” (Also, I really hope they have chocolate rivers in America, although I’ve been there enough times to know they don’t.) I don’t want to have any regrets. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

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That said, the whole thing is really starting to stress me out, maybe more than I even realise… (If anyone knows of a stress-free way to neatly pack up your life and move it overseas, please, do tell.) For the last few days, my jaw has been really tight and sore. The last time this happened, the doctor told me I had been clenching my jaw and grinding my teeth in my sleep. He prescribed me muscle relaxants and Valium. And just the other night, I woke up in tears for no apparent reason.

Don’t get me wrong – this is something I’ve wanted ever since my parents took my sister and I on a nine-week road trip across America when I was 11 years old. They really only have themselves to blame for this… But I’m not going to sugar-coat it. Leaving behind everything you know and everyone you love is really f***ing hard!

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The enormity of what I am about to do has well and truly dawned on me, and I am under no false illusions as to just how difficult and challenging it will be. (Also, by constantly telling myself how difficult it will be, I’m hoping it will be easy.) I was for a little bit, but I’m definitely not anymore…

I remember talking to a guy at a party about my Green Card. “It’s not going to be like on Friends,” he told me, matter-of-factly. “It’s going to be really, really hard! You’re not going to be living in Monica and Rachel’s apartment, spending your days drinking coffee at Central Perk with Ross and the gang. You’ll probably end up living in a tiny, rat-infested apartment, stressing about how you’re going to pay the rent.” This guy was a real buzzkill. “I know that!” came my annoyed reply, along with a slight roll of my eyes. But my internal dialogue sounded more like this: “OH, SHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIT!!! @#$%&^!!!! WHAT ARE YOU DOING, DEMETER?!”

The reality is, up until that moment, I actually did think my life in New York City would resemble a Friends episode, complete with Phoebe playing “Smelly Cat” in a hip-but-quaint café. (Yes, I know she’s not a real person.) Not anymore. Thanks, Party Guy!

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Which brings me to my next dilemma – NYC or LA? I’m still not sure where I’ll live, and this is stressing people (specifically my mum) out.

NYC Pros:

  • It’s NYC!
  • There’s a slight possibility Jake Gyllenhaal will come and stand next to me while I’m snoozing on the subway. (There’s also a larger possibility that he won’t, and I’ll be mugged while snoozing on the subway.)

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NYC Cons:

  • It’s super expensive, and I’m not so sure a rat-infested shoebox can be considered “bang for your buck”.

LA Pros:

  • The weather – it’s almost always warm in LA.
  • Disneyland! (ANNUAL PASS, BITCHES!!)

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LA Cons:

  • You have to drive everywhere, which means I’m going to have to marry an Uber driver. Or buy a car…

So that I don’t COMPLETELY freak myself out, I’m trying to put as little pressure on myself as possible. My plan is to tough it out for a year, but I’ll go over there and see what it’s like. Living somewhere is very different to holidaying there – same shit, different scenery. If it doesn’t work out/if Trump gets elected President, I’ll come back early after doing some travelling. If it does work out, I might stay longer. Either way, I won’t be gone forever – I promise, Mum!

Aside from the fact I’m going to miss my friends and family more than I can even put into words, all of my stuff is here, and I really like my stuff. Plus, there’s only so much you can pack into two 23-kilo suitcases.

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If anyone has any tips or suggestions, please send them my way – I feel like I’m navigating this one blindfolded. (Pleeeease tell me how to live my life!) Also, if anyone knows of any media jobs going or any apartments, please let me know. Central Park is great and everything, but I don’t really want to wind up sleeping on a bench there…

So, what’s next? Well, my tickets are booked, and I will be flying into LA on November 3 with my mum, who is going to help me get settled/make sure I don’t completely freak out like the time I tried to do a runner when I got my ears pierced. I was 21, by the way. (True story.)

My friend, Lea has suggested I have a going away party on Saturday, October 22 – mainly because she was free on this date. (She literally asked me if I would be able to make it, which was thoughtful and considerate of her.) I would love to see you all there – even if I’ve never even met you. There’s no time like the present, right? More details will follow soon.

Just promise you won’t forget about me when I’m gone. As for me, I’ve already forgotten half of your names. (Kidding.)

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Dear Bachelor…

You may have noticed I have a lot of feelings about The Bachelor finale… Specifically rage.

I promised myself I wasn’t going to get sucked in by this pathetic excuse for a TV show – I was watching it strictly for work purposes only – but somewhere in between Richie mouthing off about “cool bananas”, I got hooked.

Apparently I wasn’t the only one either. Like the rest of Australia, I quickly found myself rooting for Nikki. In a group full of bitchy, desperate, jealous, attention-seeking drama queens, Nikki somehow managed to rise above all of it. Not only was she the best option for Richie, she was the only option.

Then he went and picked Alex, leaving Nikki – and the rest of Australia – heartbroken.

My therapist told me I should write it out. (Just kidding – I don’t have a therapist. Yet.) So, I’ve decided to write open letters to Richie, Alex and Nikki…

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Dear Richie,

You asshole.

I think I stand with the rest of Australia when I say you picked the wrong girl.

It’s fine. You have a right to pick whoever you like, but why did you lead Nikki on for so long? You knew she’d fallen for you. God knows she told you enough times that she was madly in love with you! She lit up like a neon sign whenever she was around you. To keep her around until the very last minute just to dump her on national TV was nothing less than cruel.

Especially since you later said you knew Alex was “the one” when you became aroused during your second kiss with her. I don’t have a penis, so I wouldn’t know, but is it really that powerful? I mean, really?

You went on this show saying that you were looking for someone you could spend the rest of your life with. Someone with who you could travel and share adventures with.

Well, guess what, Richie – Alex has a child. The closest you’re going to get to traveling now is taking him to and from school. As for adventures, does watching him throw a tantrum in the supermarket count?

I don’t know how you forgot about him, especially given that Alex mentioned him almost as many times as Nikki told you she loved you. And no, constantly referring to him as “the little fella” instead of by his name will not make him any less real. While we’re on the subject, I find it a little weird that you still haven’t met him, even though it’s been months since you told Alex you wanted to spend the rest of your life with her and her son. It seems to me like you’re a little bit in denial about the whole situation.

There’s no denying that what you had with Alex was steamy, but long-lasting relationships aren’t built solely on sex (and while we’re on the subject, good luck with that area when there’s a small child squeezed in between you both in bed). What you had with Alex is the stuff flings are made of. What you built with Nikki is the stuff of forever.

You said it yourself – everything with Nikki was so easy! The two of you just fit perfectly together. Your family loved her and vice versa, you live in close proximity to each other… And yet you still went ahead and chose Alex.

Good luck with everything, but something tells me you’ll wake up one day soon and realise you made a huge mistake.

Yours Sincerely,

Demeter

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Dear Alex,

Well played. You were out to win this thing from the very beginning, and you did exactly that.

But unlike Richie, I didn’t fall for your fake laugh and over exaggerated smile for one minute. Everything about you felt forced, fake and manipulative to me. Did you have a genuine moment the entire time you were on this show?

Also, you were so jealous and possessive! Let me remind you – you went on a dating show with 20-something other girls. This is not a show for jealous types.

But you won. So now what? Do you genuinely love Richie or are you just happy you came out on top? Are you going to sit Richie on your mantelpiece next to all of your other trophies?

Girls like you give the rest of us a bad reputation.

Yours Sincerely,

Demeter

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Dear Nikki,

You were too good for this show and definitely too good for Richie!

Don’t look back for one second. You exuded so much class, grace and elegance throughout this whole crazy circus, and you have such a sweet, good and pure heart. You were so real, open and honest! From what I saw, your only fault was that you put Richie’s happiness before your own!

So here is my advice. I know you are still heartbroken, but take this whole experience as a lesson. Grow from it, and don’t make the same mistakes twice. Learn to love yourself first and foremost, because you are enough!

Oh, and if Richie ever decides to come crawling back, make sure you tell him to shove his rose up his ass, thorny side up.

I wish you nothing but good things in life, because you deserve it.

With Love,

Demeter

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Modern Muses

Whenever people ask me who my role models are, I usually say, “Myself.” But the truth is I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by many, many inspiring women, who have all helped shaped the amazing person I am today. I’m even luckier to call them my family and friends.

And then there are those women who I don’t actually know, but who I look up to anyway. I’m sure it would be reciprocated if they knew I existed…

Julie Andrews

I realised something while watching Mary Poppins (again) the other night – Julie has a one of the kindest, gentlest faces you will ever see. No wonder she played a nanny in both Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music. I’d trust her with my kids, too. If I had any.

I was lucky enough to see Julie in person the other week, and she was everything I wanted her to be and then some more – gracious, elegant and funny! Fraulein Maria has a wicked sense of humour. I’m pretty sure that’s why she got kicked out of the convent…

And she’s so passionate about what she does – I could’ve listened to Julie talk all day.

At several times, I wanted to stand up in the Sydney Opera House auditorium and yell, “Adopt me, Julie!” But I could never imagine Julie Andrews raising her voice, and I didn’t want her to judge me. Also, I was sitting next to my mum, so that could have been awkward…

“Use your knowledge and your heart to stand up for those who can’t stand, speak for those who can’t speak, be a beacon of light for those whose lives have become dark.” – Julie Andrews

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Oprah Winfrey

True story – Oprah was a big part of the reason I became a journalist. I always wanted my own talk show, mainly so I could give out free cars…

I find everything she has accomplished in her life – and everything she has managed to overcome – so inspiring.

In December, I was lucky enough to see her talk in Melbourne. It was like being at a motivational speaking convention. I really wish I’d been taking notes, because that woman dropped so many truth bombs!

If I were Oprah, I’d start a cult. I’m not even kidding. If anyone can run a successful cult, it’s Oprah. And then I’d appoint me her deputy.

“Create the highest, grandest vision possible for your life, because you become what you believe.” – Oprah Winfrey

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Meryl Streep

Is there anything Meryl Streep can’t do? No. No, there is not.

I’ve always been a fan (I mean, who isn’t?), but the film that really won me over was Mamma Mia! (It’s a really good movie – don’t judge me.) Meryl was a treasure in that film.

I remember going to the Sydney press conference for Mamma Mia! and aside from being completely star struck (Colin Firth was in the room, too – you try being anything but star struck), I was blown away by how gracious and graceful Meryl was. People talk about that “X factor” – Meryl has it in spades.

“The minute you start caring about what people think is the minute you stop being yourself.” – Meryl Streep

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Michelle Obama

Aside from her excellent taste in men, Michelle has done so many amazing things during her time as First Lady, most notably for me, her campaign to educate girls, not just in the US, but all around the world.

If I were First Lady, I’d probably just sit on the White House balcony, having high tea all day. I mean, have you seen the view from that balcony?! Neither have I.

She’s strong, smart, confident and inspiring – Michelle for President.

“When you’ve worked hard and done well and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you. You reach back.” – Michelle Obama

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JK Rowling

For obvious reasons… The way JK managed to turn her life around is – I’m just going to say it – nothing short of magical. One minute she was a single mum, living in public housing. The next, she’s gifting the world with Harry Potter and is richer than the Queen!

If I could sit down with JK, I would thank her for all she’s given us and then politely ask her to stop. Because does the world really need to know what Harry and his friends are up to in their 40’s? Probably not.

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well have not lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.” – JK Rowling

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Audrey Hepburn

Yes, I know Audrey is dead, but it’s not like any of these other ladies are going to come to my dinner party either… Julie might, but that’s just because she’s got a kind face and would probably feel bad about turning down my invitation. That would be it though!

The way Audrey lived her life – especially in her later years, when she devoted so much of her time to UNICEF – is so inspiring to me.

She really was one of those rare souls who was the whole package – beautiful, gracious, talented, compassionate and kind.

“For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others. For beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness. And for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone.” – Audrey Hepburn

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Citizen of the World

I recently took a DNA test. It wasn’t one of those Maury Povich DNA tests, because I’m almost certain my dad is my father – this was a DNA test to determine my cultural heritage.

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It’s showtime!

Despite being raised as a Greek-Australian, I’ve always been skeptical when my yiayia tells me (in a heavy Greek accent), “You are Greek. Only Greek.” That’s a nice idea, Yiayia, but can anyone claim to be only one ethnicity? I mean, really?

Also, it’s been really hard – if not impossible – to trace my family’s roots. Firstly, the Greeks are not known for their exceptional organisational skills. Secondly, whatever records did exist were mostly destroyed during World War II. Finally, Greeks…

My Papou was just a few months old when his mother passed away, and he’s never even seen a photo of her! All we know is that she apparently looked similar to my mum, but taller. Given that we have no records of my great-grandmother ever even existing, the chance of us finding out anything beyond that is slim to none.

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My grandparents with my mum and uncle, Arthur.

And despite my yiayia’s insistence that I am “only Greek”, I can honestly say that no one has ever picked me for being Greek in my entire life. If anything, they’re shocked when I tell them I am. I’ve been told I look Russian or Italian or “Aussie” (whatever that means), but never Greek. Weirdly, I mainly get told I look Asian or Eurasian… I cannot even begin to tell you how many times I’ve had this happen! I don’t see it, but I get it all the time – more than any other ethnicity.

I’ve had an old, Chinese-speaking lady looking for directions on the train come up to me and study my face for some sort of recognition.

In Chinatown in New York City, I once had three Chinese women come up to me separately and start speaking to me in their native dialect, while waving pamphlets with Chinese lettering in my face.

I’ve had a taxi driver tell me I look Japanese, and then listened to him go on for the rest of the trip about how surprised he was when I told him I wasn’t. “Are you sure you’re not Japanese?” he kept asking me.

While buying bandaids in a supermarket in Melbourne, the guy at the checkout told me I looked Eurasian. When I told him I wasn’t, he proceeded to argue with me until I told him, “Fine! I’m Eurasian! Can I have my bandaids now?”

And while clearing customs in Hawaii once, the customs officer complimented me on my “excellent knowledge of the English language”. I looked at him with confusion and said, “Uh… Thank you.” It was only after he had a proper look at my passport that he looked at me with surprise and said, “Oh! You’re Australian! I thought you were Japanese.” My friend, Sarah, who was travelling with me said, “You need to ask your parents if there’s something they’re not telling you…”

So it all made sense when my cousin, Sini had knee surgery to repair her torn meniscus. After the surgery, the doctor told my aunt, Fiona, “Oh, I didn’t realise you were Japanese.” My aunt told him, “We’re not.” He then proceeded to explain that most people have a crescent-shaped meniscus, but Sini’s meniscus is round, which is only found in people with Japanese heritage, and even then it’s rare.

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With my cousin, Sini and uncle, Arthur.

Curious, my aunt went away and traced her side of the family – nothing. Which left us with my uncle’s – my mum’s youngest brother’s – side of the family. I’ve already mentioned that details are scarce on this side of the family. But, as Fiona observed, a few of us – myself included – have the blood type AB Positive. Aside from AB being a rare blood type, A is a common blood type in Europe, while B is a common blood type in Asia – combine the two and you get AB. (I think. Maybe check with a scientist on this…)

Anyway, it was enough for me, and it felt like as much of an explanation as I could ever hope to have. I’d finally tapped into my secret gene pool! I felt like Indiana Jones when he raided the lost ark. But most importantly, I couldn’t wait to tell my yiayia, who dabbles in occasional racism and still maintains we’re “only Greek”. “I’m going to have my camera ready when I tell her,” I told my family. “This is going to be gold!”

I told all my friends about my possible Japanese heritage, and while most them were skeptical, I didn’t care. In my mind, I had a great, great aunt who was a geisha – or more likely, a great, great uncle who was a sumo wrestler.

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Whaddup, fam?

While speculating about my cultural heritage had been fun and everything, I decided to try and find out what I was – for real. I went on Ancestry.com and bought a DNA test.

Within a week, a DNA kit arrived on my doorstep. I completed my profile online and then proceeded to spit into a tube. (Yes, it was as disgusting as it sounds…) After mixing it with a blue solution, I sealed it up and sent my spit off in the mail. Then I waited. And waited. Until finally, this week, I received an email telling me my results had come in.

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Here goes… Spitting it out.

After weeks of speculating, I finally had some definitive answers… Drum roll, please!

I am 78 percent Greek and Italian (with possible traces of French, Swiss, Portuguese, Spanish, Serbian, Hungarian, Bulgarian, Austrian, Croatian, Bosnian, Romanian, Turkish, Slovenian, Algerian, Tunisian, Montenegrin, Albanian, Macedonian and Kosovan). I’m 12 percent Eastern European (with possible traces of Polish, Slovakian, Czech, Austrian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Moldovan, Lithuanian, Latvian, German and Estonian). And while I do have Asian, there’s no Japanese. (Sorry, Sini – I think you might be adopted. Sorry you had to find out like this.) I’m nine percent West Asian (with possible traces of Armenian, Azerbaijani, Georgian, Iranian, Iraqi, Syrian, Jordanian, Kuwaiti, Palestinian and Turkmenistan). The remaining one percent is Finnish and Russian (with possible traces of Swedish).

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Chart showing where my DNA originated from…

At the risk of sounding completely ignorant, I can honestly say I probably didn’t know 40 percent of those countries even existed, and now I’ve discovered I have their blood coursing through my veins! I mean, seriously… Turkmenistan? Azerbaijan? Isn’t that the prison in Harry Potter?

And while I’m definitely not “only Greek”, according to this, I have more Greek and Italian DNA than most native Greeks and Italians – 78 percent to the average 72 percent. I’m seriously considering going back over there and claiming land rights…

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This is mine. All mine…

As for the Italian, after sharing my results with my dad, he said, “Now that I think of it, your grandmother probably had more Italian than Greek… Her maiden name was Italian, and the Italians occupied Ithaca [the Greek Island where my dad’s family is from] for around 40 years.” Thanks for the insight, Dad. You could have saved me the $179 for the DNA test if you’d told me this sooner…

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As a baby, with my late paternal grandmother.

I called my sister and shared my results with her. “Armenian?” she asked. “Do you think we’re related to the Kardashians.” No, Patrice. I don’t. She then went on some rant about how we’re all refugees…

Meanwhile, Mum is still in denial…

“We really are a mixed bag,” I told her.

“Yes, you are,” she said.

“Are you still claiming ‘only Greek’?” I asked her.

“Yep! The rest is all from your father’s side…” she said.

Then she told me Moldova was the country where Julie Andrews was queen. I think that was Genovia, and I also think that country is fictional, but whatever…

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Bow down, bitches.

I was both surprised and amused by the fact I had Eastern European in me, especially given I had spent the last four years sitting next to an Eastern European girl at work. Marta is Polish, and she’s famous for her stories about life in “war-torn Poland”. She’s always telling me how shit Eastern Europe is. “Never hire a Polish plumber. And never ever hire a Polish electrician!” she warned me. So as soon as I found out about my Eastern European heritage, I sent Marta a message and told her the chances of us being cousins were high. (They’re not. I made that up.)

Speaking of cousins, along with my genealogy, they also matched me with 49 distant cousins! Yep – 49! (Sadly, Marta’s not one of them. That I know of.) Because if there’s one thing I need more of, it’s cousins. (Jokes – I love you all. All 476 of you…)

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With my cousins, Gina, Fotini and Dimi at my sister’s wedding.

So, what did I learn from this whole experience? Aside from the fact I’m not Japanese after all (go ahead, laugh, Andree), I learnt the world really is a small place, and we’re all interconnected in some way. I think that’s especially important to remember with the current world climate – we’re all entwined. Also, some serious shit has gone down – and continues to go down – in some of those countries. And I’m not just talking about war-torn Poland. The fact that my family was able to survive through all of that proves the resilience of the human spirit. I also discovered I have another 49 cousins (at least) I knew nothing about. So the next time you’re thinking of hooking up with someone, ask yourself, “Are we related?” and know that the answer is, “Probably.”

 

UPDATE: After posting this blog, I received a message from my aunt, who told me the following:

“On your dad’s side of the family there is lots of Venetian! And your grandmother’s maiden name [Pefani] was of Italian origin. I looked it up, and even asked some native Italians and they said, yes, it is very Italian, from the north. I also investigated further and found that those (with that surname) were a group of singers named ‘The Befana’, who originally went around to all the villages singing for the Epiphany.

The name – as it is known now – ‘Pefani’, came to those Islands from Italy as ‘Befani’. There is no ‘b’ sounding letter in the Greek alphabet, so when written in Greek it’s ‘Mpefani’. Over the years, human spelling errors, as well as assimilation, the ‘M’ was omitted. Hence, ending up with ‘Pefani’.

There are other bits of info that may indicate French and Dutch on your dad’s dad’s side, and Russian and Mongolian on your dad’s mum’s side. But that’s further back.

I looked up your mum’s maiden surname, Banbas, too. I found ‘Banbasarian’, which is Armenian. So if it was originally that, then when they migrated to Greece, the ‘arian’ was dropped. I also found that lots of people who have the surname ‘Banbas’ were around the Indian region.”

UPDATE #2: A second email from my aunt:

“The Venetian side is something I have heard is VERY common in the Ionian Islands. While the rest of Greece was under the Ottoman Empire, the Ionian Sea was under the Venetian Empire.

The English and Austrians also came onto the island [Ithaca] for years. It’s said they were there to mine for coal. The little village my dad was from is called Colliery, left by the English when they were excavating there. Colliery is very small now and hardly anyone lives there anymore. There are signs of it having sunk… (Underground digging?)

Both my parents have Venetian in them. And Ithacans have told me that all people whose name ends in “ato” are of Italian origin. ‘Angolato’, ‘Marcantonato’, ‘Apostolato’, ‘Lovato’, ‘Kekato’ etc. Just add an ‘s’ at the end of each of those names and you have Kefalonian/Ithacan surnames. [Our original surname was ‘Stamelatos’.]

Cousins and Mum herself told me about the Befani origin. But ‘The Befana’ and them being singers, etc. I found via Googling. It’s also uncanny that Mum had a good singing voice! I found out from cousins that her dad (my grandfather) had an amazing singing voice! And then I noticed that lots of my cousins from Mum’s side either sing in bands, have sung or have good singing voices. That in itself is interesting…

Angie (my youngest daughter, whose appearance is a darker version of my mum), has a pretty alright singing voice. She’s going to sing a solo in a concert coming up in a couple of weeks time. I find genetics incredible! I can’t sing, my husband can’t sing, and none of his family are musical at all, yet these kids of mine are all into the performing arts or music in one way or another. I know it’s a genetic trait from my parents. Kiruna [a cousin] is an actress, and a couple of my father’s cousins were actresses and poets.

When I was in my teens, I heard my mum having a chat with my dad about my dad’s origin. My dad had said he was given a nickname as a young kid, ‘Gerondi’, from the Greek word ‘Gerondas’, which means ‘very old man’. Apparently my dad had very light blonde hair. It was almost white! So the white hair reminded people of an old man. Anyway, as I was hearing their conversation, my mum turned to my dad and said, ‘But wasn’t your great grandmother Dutch?’ My dad replied, ‘Yeah, it was something like that.’ I asked my dad later on, and my dad said it was something from up north like either Dutch, Danish or English. He kept saying, ‘But who knows?’ No one really knows for sure!

When I started doing a family tree, Mum was going berserk about it and didn’t want me to record things on paper at all. It was crazy! I know that your dad tried drawing up a family tree too, which mum was not happy about. Then, mysteriously, both mine and Jim’s [family trees] went missing. I will hazard a guess as to who got rid of them… I do not know why she was upset about a family tree. I had gathered up quite a bit of information, too. But I get a sneaking suspicion there are a few skeletons in the closet…

One of my cousins told me something about my maternal grandfather, which I had no idea about. It was an affair he had that bore a child, prior to meeting my grandmother. The cousin who told me this urged me, ‘Just know who your parents and grandparents were, and don’t worry about the rest.’

One of the latest things I found out [about] was my dad’s surname. The name Stamelato was passed down by a woman, not by the man. (Something to do with politics or something of ‘importance’.) The surname we should have had from that father back a couple of generations is ‘Bretto’. I remember vaguely, my dad, while on a trip to Ithaca, frequented his cousin, who was a doctor in the village. His surname was Bretto. He kept telling my dad to change his name to what it should’ve been – Bretto.

Anyway, I plugged in the name Bretto on Google and kept surfing until I came up with something which made me go, ‘WOW!!!’ The name Bretto is a direct derivative of the French name ‘Bretton’. There are names very similar all around Europe, especially [in] Italy!

The Brettons were a group of military soldiers from Brittany, France, who were sent out during the 1500’s to southern Europe. After the war, lots settled in Italy and in the Ionian Islands – especially in Ithaca. The name started assimilating into the culture all around Europe . The name turned into ‘Vretto’, ‘Bretto’, ‘Brettoli’, ‘Breten’, and on and on… There’s even a family shield!

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Another cousin (my mum’s side) also mentioned something about ‘White Russian’.

[On your Mum’s side], lots of people with the Banbas surname live in India or within that region. I’m not going to say its origin is [in] India, but it is interesting.”