On Alkyonis Street

My wife Maya grew up in a neighborhood in Athens called Palio Faliro. The street she lived on was Alkyonis Street. I know that because we happen to have a street sign that reads Alkyonis hanging over our back patio. Maya always told me that the day she and her mom moved from Greece back to America, there was a storm
that blew the sign over and they kept it as a souvenir. I have another theory of how the street sign came into their possession, but why quibble, especially when your mother-in-law is involved. I love that little sign, if for nothing else than it gives me a chance to see if my grasp of the Greek alphabet has improved any over the past ten years. (Answer: not so much.)

I mention this street sign because, in my world of serendipity and kismet, it came into play at last week's wedding of Mario Kontomerkos and Helise Owens. Mario and Helise were married at St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church in Washington, one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the region. If you ever attend a wedding there and don't have the fortune of speaking Greek, don't worry. You can pass the time staring at the amazing ceiling above. I've done it myself.

I met Mario's parents in his hotel room before the wedding and they told me that they lived in Athens.

Oh, I said, my wife grew up there. In Palio Faliro.

Palio Falio? Mrs. Kontomerkos asked. That's where I'm from!

I desperately racked my brain to remember the name of the street Maya lived on but I was drawing a blank. The street sign, I thought! It's on the street sign in our backyard! But to avail. I'll call her later and find out, I promised the Kontomerkos clan.

Later that evening, during the cocktail hour, I quickly phone Maya and asked her about that street in Athens. "Alkyonis," she replied. I quickly found Mrs. Kontomerkos and told her and she said, "It's the next street over from mine! The very next street!"

Years ago I would have marveled at the small-world-ness of this. But this stuff happens to me all the time. (Remember, someone once came up to me in the middle of the Saudi Arabian desert during the Gulf War to ask me if I went to SUNY-Binghamton.) So with each new encounter of chance, I am less and less surprised and more and more amused.


Helise and Mario had one of the most gorgeous late summer/early fall weather days of the year for their wedding. They also had, through kismet, one of the kindest clergymen I can remember to marry them. A conflict had arisen for the family priest in Connecticut and Rev. Steve stepped in. Without getting into details which might be considered "inside baseball"--too behind the scenes--let's just say that St. Sophia is not known for being particularly accommodating to photographers. But Rev. Steve was so kind, so polite, so accommodating I almost felt guilty about the wonderful access he was providing me.

Later in the evening, at the reception, I thanked Rev. Steve for his approach.

"Brother, we all have a vocation. I have a vocation, you have a vocation. The fact of the matter is that because I trusted you, I didn't notice you the entire service."

I'm not the most religious guy on the block, but I say amen to that.


Well, as Helise and Mario soak up the sun in Fiji right now, I've got some quick housekeeping stuff to take care of. First off, and most importantly, our Photo Marathon is only a week and half away. It will take place on Sunday, September 30 at the Old Town Alexandria studio. I sent out a massive email letter yesterday, but I'm so unscientific that it mostly went to anyone who happened to be in my inbox. So I'll repeat it here for those of you who need more info. Anyone who can't make it to Old Town on the Sunday can still make a donation. Please read below for info:

Dearest friends:

It's that time of year again! We're going to be staging yet another installment of Photo Marathon, our annual day of photographic giving, at the Old Town studio on Sunday, September 30. I'll be taking portraits from 9:00 in the morning until 7:00 in the evening without a break. (Not as impressive as Houdini dangling from a high-rise, I know.) And as always, every cent we raise will go to a worthy cause. This year we've designated the college funds for the children of two soldiers killed in Iraq.

Here's how it works and here's how you can help:

Photo Marathon began a few years back with the death of Michael Kelly, a journalist, in Iraq. I know Michael's sister Katy dearly and was at a loss as to how to comfort her. Without much thought, I decided to hold a photo fundraising event for Michael's two young boys, Tom and Jack. People responded -- as they always do in times of need -- and we raised $14,000 in one day of portrait shooting. Subsequent fundraisers went towards MS and tsunami relief.

This year we're going to be helping four young children:

In addition to his regular duties, Capt. Brian Freeman spent the last months of his life trying to obtain a visa for a young Iraqi boy who desperately needed heart surgery in America. The day that visa came through, Capt. Freeman was kidnapped and executed. He leaves behind a wife, Charlotte, and two children, Gunnar, 3, and Ingrid, 14 months. Similarly, Capt. Christopher Petty was en route to a school renovation project in January, 2006 when his convoy was attacked. Capt. Petty leaves behind his wife, Deb, and two wonderful boys, Owen and Oliver, all whom I've had the pleasure of meeting and photographing. You can read more about Capt. Freeman and Capt. Petty in a previous post, where I've also included external links about these two brave men.

We're going to salute Capt. Freeman and Capt. Petty's commitment to children in faraway lands by helping their own children right here at home. One can only guess at what a college education might cost in 15 years. So let's ensure that Owen and Oliver and Ingrid and Gunnar have no worries when those college days roll around. Here's how you can help:

If you can make it to Old Town on Sunday, September 30, drop by the studio. It's at 600 Madison Street in Alexandria, Virginia 22314, literally on top of the Royal restaurant. Look for the black side door. Starting at 9:00 I'll be shooting portraits as fast as I can. Leave the ties and sport coats at home--these will be relaxed portraits. In the past I've shot people and their dogs, children, mothers and daughters, etc. Anything goes, though I do ask you all to keep the number of people in a single image to no more than four. (This is not a hard and fast rule. We'll accommodate everyone.)

In order to take part in Photo Marathon you'll need to make a donation of $250 (more is great!) to the college funds of the Freeman and Petty children. We'll have people on hand to tell you which fund to make the check out to. (We're going be very unscientific and just alternate.) There are no time slots needed--just show up and have a good time. We'll provided coffee and snacks. I'll shoot a cool portrait and you'll receive a beautiful signed and dated 11 x 14 print. See? Easy as pie. (The fine print: This is charity event, not a substitute for a one-on-one portrait session with me. We're going to go as fast as we need to. And you'll get a cool, funky portrait, so I probably wouldn't come thinking you'll knock off your Christmas card photo!)

If you can't make it to Old Town on the 30th you can still help. Please mail a check made payable to either the Brian Freeman Memorial Fund or the Oliver and Owen Petty College Fund and send it to:

Matt Mendelsohn
3823 N. Chesterbrook Road
Arlington, Virginia 22207

If you're making a donation but not attending, any amount is acceptable and greatly appreciated.

I hope to see you in Old Town on the 30th! And one last request: We don't spent a cent on advertising on Photo Marathon. It's all word of mouth. So please forward this message to anyone you know has a big heart.

Thanks as always,



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