Tag Archives: Greece

Obituary: Longtime litigator and Bayside resident William Spanakos


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Longtime litigator and Bayside resident William Spanakos died on Aug. 11 at the age of 86, according to his family, after suffering a major heart attack the day before.

“He liked his work and he continued his job until the last minute,” William’s brother, George, said. “He always tried to help people through his job and in his personal life.”

William was a practicing attorney for over 50 years and had an office in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. He specialized in criminal defense but also served the Greek immigrant community in legal matters. He was one of seven sons and his parents immigrated from Greece.

He graduated from St. John’s Law School in 1953 and soon after that he opened a law firm in 1956 with his brother John, who died last year.

As a defense lawyer, William always rooted for the underdog, according to George.

“He was known for his charitable works,” his brother said, and in 1990 William established a scholarship fund in honor of his parents that serves to assist financially challenged individuals of Greek descent to become doctors.

William is survived by his girlfriend Sheila Silverstein; his children, Michael Spanakos, Stella Spanakos, Lillian Spanakos, Helen Spanakos-Weitman and Athena Spanakos-O’Riordan; and three brothers, George, Peter and Nick.

 

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Queens World Cup fans get pooped on by Triumph the Insult Dog


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Screenshoot via teamcoco.com


Instead of taking a trip to South America, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog paid a visit to western Queens last week to poop on World Cup fans.

The character puppet, voiced by Robert Smigel, aired the first of his World Cup segments on TBS’ “Conan” Tuesday night where he joined Colombian, Greek and Uruguayan fans in Astoria and Jackson Heights.

In the June 24 segment Triumph begins his “pooping” journey in Astoria in front of the bar and restaurant Basurero on Steinway Street celebrating with and insulting Colombian fans.

“As soon as the teams are done jogging and warming up they are going to start the game,” he said before moving away from the camera. “Oh wait I’ve just been informed that this is the game and I’ve actually been watching soccer for the past two hours.”

He then makes his way to another Astoria bar filled with Greek fans and pokes fun at the Greek economy and the idea that all Greeks work at diners.

Triumph ends his segment in Jackson Heights with Uruguayan fans at La Gran Uruguaya Restaurant and El Chivito D’Oro where he makes fun of the “Easter egg” colors of the country’s flag and even gets an insult shot at him by one die-hard fan.

“You know they say that soccer is less exciting than football, American football, but that is really selling it short. Don’t you think?” he questions some fans watching the game. “It’s also less exciting than basketball and baseball and bowling and backgammon and miniature gold and yahtzee.”

The video ends with viewers being promised that the World Cup “pooping” will be continued.

 

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Queens native explores borough in new children’s book


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Illustrations © Rick Sanders

Demetra Tsavaris-Lecourezos is taking young readers on a journey around the world with the first magical stop in Queens.

Tsavaris-Lecourezos, who was born in Jackson Heights and raised in Woodside, is the author of a new children’s book and series titled “Young World Travelers and the Magical Crystal Globe,” where a group of kids from Florida are transported to any time period they want, wherever they want.

The first book of the series debuted Sunday at the World’s Fair Anniversary Festival. It takes these young world travelers back in time to experience the site of the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fairs, the Queens County Farm, before it was a museum, and a Civil War fort in Fort Totten.

“You pick up books in the bookstore and you are learning about the Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building, but never about the structures in Queens,” Tsavaris-Lecourezos said.

The concept of the “Young World Travelers” series began nine years ago when Tsavaris-Lecourezos gave birth to her daughter Katerina, the year after marrying her high school sweetheart. Together with her husband, Constantinos (Gus) P. Lecourezos she began to come up an initial concept of writing a movie script that would be educational for children and revolve around traveling to Greece.

After realizing the large costs that involved turning the script into a film, Tsavaris-Lecourezos decided to create a children’s book. She wrote four books in total with the characters traveling to places in Egypt, England, Greece and New York.

In 2009, her husband passed away and Tsavaris-Lecourezos moved to Tarpon Springs, Florida with her daughter.

At the end of last year a friend suggested she take her concept to a publisher and when Tsavaris-Lecourezos approached publisher thewordverve inc. her ideas were accepted.

“It was all falling into place, I had no idea,” she said. “I’m rolling with it and I’m really excited.”

The “Young World Travelers” series is dedicated to Tsavaris-Lecourezos’ husband and mother. In the book the children receive a magical crystal globe, which allows them to time travel, from Mrs. Eva, who was named and inspired by Tsavaris-Lecourezos’ mother.

The 43-page book’s illustrator Rick Sanders is also a Queens native. Though Tsavaris-Lecourezos and him first met through thewordverve, they were coincidentally born in the same hospital.

During the World’s Fair Anniversary Festival, Tsavaris-Lecourezos held two readings to share the book with visitors of all ages.

“I was so honored to have been invited to such an event,” she said. “It was amazing and an opportunity of a lifetime to be able to debut my book there.”

To preorder “Young World Travelers and the Magical Crystal Globe,” click here.

 

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Cavo: A little bit of something for everyone


| editorial@queenscourier.com

Photos by Bradley Hawks

It is a juicy hamburger stuffed with decadent, velvety foie gras—like a gigantic beef ravioli nestled on fluffy brioche.  It sits on a bed of crumbled feta and is topped with a ribbon of kefteri cheese and pickled onions.  It is the filet mignon of burgers, and it is just the tip of the iceberg at CavoAstoria’s premiere restaurant, complete with garden, lounge and club.

For years, Cavo has been serving elevated Mediterranean cuisine in one of the most sophisticated dining rooms this side of the Hudson—and the current menu is certainly no exception.  A front bar splits off to additional seating areas on the side, before opening up to a vaulted dining room with giant cloth-covered chandeliers.  Beyond that, steps descend into a sunken garden with waterfalls and foliage cascading down two-story walls.

Cavo showcases a lovely blend of favorite dishes primarily from Greece and Italy intermixed with accents from all over the world—under the direction and expertise of Omari Dacosta, most recently of Danny Meyer’s barbecue hot spot, Blue Smoke.  Dacosta has also worked in the kitchens of Trestle on Tenth, Pera Mediterranean Brasserie, and Red Rooster in Harlem.

At Cavo, the Greek influences are certainly the most pronounced.  Ravioli is stuffed with Greek cheese and arrives under a blanket of creamy feta with white truffle essence. Exceptionally tender octopus is charcoal grilled with lemon and extra virgin olive oil, presented simply, yet still an outstanding dish.  Jumbo lump crabmeat is forked into hearty cakes, and stacked with fennel shavings and celery root puree.

A watermelon salad sings with tomato and feta, and jumbo shrimp arrive wrapped in phyllo dough.  Entrees range from plates of pasta loaded with fresh seafood, to an artichoke feta risotto, Chilean sea bass, and even a filet mignon with lemon potato gratin.

Desserts are equally sublime.  A granita of strawberries sits on a Greek yogurt panna cotta, dressed with shavings of lime zest. Nutella crepes are stuffed with walnut banana compote.

Cocktails range from Cavo’s famous sangria, to a cucumber basil Collins or lychee martini.  Sweeter spirits range from a chocolate martini to a sparkling raspberry watermelon diva martini.

From start to finish, dining at Cavo will leave you wanting to return.  Perfect for an intimate weekday dinner or a weekend evening of dancing, there’s a little bit of something for everyone.

Cavo
42-18 31st Avenue, Astoria
718-721-1001
Closed Mondays
Open daily at 5 p.m.

BRADLEY HAWKS

 

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Crisis at home leads to new wave of Greek immigrants


| editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Sophia Rosenbaum

BY SOPHIA ROSENBAUM

Dimitris Velitsianos couldn’t find work in his Greek homeland, so he left to seek a better life in Queens.

“I don’t think things are going to get better in Greece soon,” said Velitsianos, 20, a full-time student at John Jay College and a part-time waiter at Agnanti. “I don’t see any future in Greece.”

Four decades ago, a political coup brought thousands of Greeks to Astoria. Now, a failing economy that’s more than $400 billion in debt is fueling a recent wave of immigration.

Numbers are hard to come by, but the signs of a Greek surge in Astoria are everywhere: Enrollment numbers are up at the local Greek-American elementary school. Greek restaurants are flooded with job applications. A local nonprofit immigration center has seen a 25 to 50 percent increase in recently arrived Greeks.

“People tend to gravitate where they feel comfortable,” said Antonio Meloni, the executive director of immigration advocacy services at the Immigration Outreach Center on Steinway Street.

Astoria’s Greek population peaked in the 1970s – with about 250,000 Greeks arriving between 1965 and 1980. But the area has since turned into a mosaic of cultures, said Nicholas Alexiou, a professor at Queens College who studies the Greek conflict and Greek-American life.

For many Greeks, smells of pungent olives, sharp feta and savory lamb at authentic restaurants in Astoria are reminders of their homeland.

Lifelong Astoria resident Fay Lanbrianidis, 29, recently opened a café across the street from Agnanti, her parent’s restaurant, which has seen an increase in job seekers from Greece.

“Within the past three months, people just walk into the restaurant asking for a job,” she said. “We could say a good three to four per day that are coming in to ask for jobs.”

Betsy Sideris, assistant principal of St. Demetrios Elementary in Astoria, said the spike in Greek students has gone from three to 15 students this school year.

Sideris said in the past, the Greek government funded teachers from Greece for three-year teaching stints, but discontinued that program this year.

“The loss of the Greek government’s assistance added $250,000 to our budget to pay teachers’ salaries,” Sideris said.

While Panourgia acknowledged Greeks gravitate to Astoria because of the tight-knit community, she added that this same sense of community is what is keeping many others in Greece.

“Things are desperate in Greece,” she said. “But there is a real commitment to the country.”

The people feeling the biggest squeeze by the current crisis are the old and young, as programs get slashed and new opportunities dwindle, said Anthanasios Aronis, the president of the culture committee at the Federation of Hellenic Societies.

Like Sideris, Aronis gets calls from young professionals desperate to leave Greece and come to America. But, Aronis said, the reality is that these educated workers wind up getting jobs as waiters and cashiers.

“These people that are hurting right now are college graduates and it’s very difficult for them to come here and be a waiter,” he said.

While many Greeks are headed towards America, Lanbrianidis and Panourgia still dream of one day living in Greece.

“It’s actually one of my big dreams because the quality of life is ridiculous,” Lanbrianidis said. “You won’t get that quality of life here, unless you’re super rich.”

 

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‘Draw’ing inspiration from Astoria


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

ROOFTOP Actionw

A blank canvas – lacking a defined identity and purpose – can be a daunting task for any artist. Many grow to hate its vacant stare, praying for inspiration to end the monotony of its colorless complexion. Often, it can lead to hasty or unimaginative work.

Such dilemmas are nonexistent for Louie Gasparro, who adores his canvas as much as, or perhaps more than, his work – because his canvas is his city.

Gasparro, an urban contemporary street artist born and raised in Astoria, found his feet in art in a nontraditional manner.

“When I was a kid, I would ride the ‘RR’ train to Queensboro Plaza and the No. 7 to Main Street, and that’s where I first saw bubble writing and cartoons on the train,” Gasparro said. “The fact that it was moving on a train, it was like a flying cartoon in front of me.”

Following his fascination for the flying images he observed, Gasparro grew to create icons of his own. He began visiting train yards after dark to spray paint – a practice he continued for roughly six years. He would draw his tag name, “KR.ONE,” or whatever images he viewed in his mind’s eye, aiming to evoke the same joy in other subway riders that he experienced as a kid.

“I tried to take this flowing and fantastical lettering and combine it with my graffiti style lettering,” he said. “Graffiti when it began was name based. It was all about how many different ways I could draw my name and bend the alphabet.”

In his early years, Gasparro credits cartoons, comic books and the rock and roll album covers his brothers gave him for motivating his artistic creations. Artists he admired include Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso.

A classic western Queens kid, Gasparro received his entire education in Astoria and Long Island City schools. His art edification he left to his own studies, having never received any official training.

As Gasparro grew in age, and as an artist, he never struggled to find inspiration – wherever he looked, it was in view.

“I’m inspired by good people, truth, music and nature,” said the 46 year old. “I get inspired easily, I guess because I still have this childlike approach to it all. I get inspired so easily because there are so many things I appreciate that are all around me.”

His greatest inspiration, however, will always be his hometown – where he discovered his craft and found his first professional work as an artist.

“Where I grew up was the perfect vantage point for me to view all the different graffiti styles happening at the time,” he said. “From 1974 to 1983, I absorbed all of that which was going on with graffiti. I wouldn’t trade when and where I grew up for anything. I grew up around the corner from Kaufmann Astoria Studios. I met Aerosmith when I was 12. I saw Michael Jackson and Diana Ross making “The Whiz” when I was a kid. I was immersed in art growing up – it was around every corner I turned.”

Beginning in the early 1980s, Gasparro was commissioned to paint murals across western Queens, and he was particularly well known in Astoria. He painted frescoes for neighborhood spots such as the Beebe Diner, Boutique 92 and a schoolyard located at 28th Street and 36th Avenue in Dutch Kills, affectionately known as 204 Park. He has also been featured numerous times at L.I.C.’s 5Pointz Aerosol Art Center – an outdoor art exhibit space considered by many to be the Mecca of graffiti.

Gasparro’s most common graffiti topics are assorted lettering fonts – which he considers the purist form of the art – and subjects pertaining to New York. Along with his urban contemporary street art, Gasparro also enjoys creating abstract and fantasy pieces.

What he relishes most, he says, is the process of combining many genres and forming a free flowing finished product – allowing the piece to come together on its own.

“Fifty percent of the time I’ll be bold, and I’ll look at the canvas and just go immediately. I just go for it,” Gasparro said. “I get in an improvisational flow – like jazz. You have to take chances and you will make mistakes, but you have to make mistakes to achieve perfection.”

Gasparro has also pursued a career in his second passion – music. He joined the band Murphy’s Law in 1982 and traveled the world performing as a drummer. Regardless of where he went, his true love was never far away.

“I went to Europe and I was amazed. Europe really grabbed graffiti and held it to its bosom and nurtured it,” Gasparro said. “Europeans have had art and culture for centuries, so they have more of a vision. America is a much younger country when you compare it to a country like Greece. Graffiti is huge in Greece, Italy and Germany.”

Despite its international popularity, Gasparro is proud that graffiti is from New York, and his neighborhood was a leader in the art’s rise to fame.

“Graffiti is a worldwide phenomenon. It is probably the biggest art movement in the world, and it is from New York,” he said. “The phenomenon that it has become is because of New York. I don’t know of any other art movement that so many people were doing at the same time.”

Gasparro does not appreciate the negative connotations often applied to the word “graffiti.” The art was never about breaking the law for him, but meant something more than the paint in the can.

“When people asked me why we were doing graffiti, I told them we had to express ourselves,” he said. “What we felt was so deep that we had to go big. We were expressing ourselves in a big way. There is the graffiti problem, but what about the art side? We can’t always look at the negative. Why can’t we get kids who are acting out and get them to express themselves through this art form?”

Now an accomplished artist, Gasparro is frequently commissioned to work on clothing, furniture, cars and even private homes. He has been published in several anthologies, and is currently in the process of writing a book of his own – chronicling the life and work of Don 1, an influential graffiti artist.

He was recently re-welcomed to the site of his artistic genesis, when his work was displayed in an exclusive show – Bringer of the Kolor Storm – on March 10 in L.I.C. More than 100 people attended the event – which featured Gasparro’s urban, contemporary, fantasized, graffiti-style art – and every painting was purchased. Due to its success, Gasparro is currently planning a subsequent show.

“For me to come back and do a show in my hometown, where I practiced and started – the place that turned me on to art – was amazing,” said Gasparro. “It is great that LIC has become this artistic place when an artist like me can show my stuff.”