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At home in Greece - and Grafton A conversation with Nick and Joan Gage.

Byline: Pamela H. Sacks

As summer gets under way each year, Nick and Joan Gage pack their bags and leave Central Massachusetts for their home in Greece. The departure for Gage's native land is part of the rhythm of their lives, and their two grown daughters are part of the tradition.

The Gages lived in Athens with their three children in the late 1970s and early 1980s. For much of that period, Gage was the chief of the Eastern Mediterranean bureau of The New York Times. But the deeply felt connection to Greece stretches a good deal farther back than those intense, fast-paced years.

As summer gets under way each year, Nick and Joan Gage pack their bags and leave Central Massachusetts for their home in Greece. The departure for Gage's native land is part of the rhythm of their lives, and their two grown daughters are part of the tradition.

The Gages lived in Athens with their three children in the late 1970s and early 1980s. For much of that period, Gage was the chief of the Eastern Mediterranean bureau of The New York Times. But the deeply felt connection to Greece stretches a good deal farther back than those intense, fast-paced years.

Gage quit the Times in 1980, and the family remained in Athens while he researched the imprisonment, torture and execution of his mother at the hands of Communist guerillas in 1948. Her killing was retribution for arranging the escape of her children to freedom. Gage, who was 9 at the time, spent the rest of his childhood in Worcester, with his father and four sisters.

"Eleni," Gage's account of his mother's life, was published in 1983 and became a best-seller. He went on to co-produce a movie of the same title.

On a cool and cloudy morning, shortly before their departure for their small Greek village, the Gages chatted amiably with a reporter at their 18th-century farmhouse in North Grafton. Seated in Gage's study, a room filled with family photos and books, they said that they often work as a team - a habit that stretches back to the earliest years of their marriage. Mrs. Gage, who is also a journalist, was exceedingly helpful when Gage was reporting from Europe and the Middle East and communications were anything but instant.

Gage remarked that in 1979, just before the Iranian Revolution, he had the last interview with the Shah, and the first interview with the Ayatollah Khomeini. He noted that as a foreign correspondent he faced a new situation nearly every day.

Gage said he could not have done what he did without his wife's assistance. "I was the only reporter covering the Iranian revolution who never missed a deadline," he said. "You had to phone in your stories. She would call and call and ultimately get through."

Gage's investigative reporting centers largely on issues connected with Greece, a nation in which violence simmers just beneath the surface. Athens was the scene of riots late last year after a 15-year-old boy was killed by police. Gage travels to his homeland every few months to lecture and visit with friends. Mrs. Gage speaks Greek and recently published a book of her photographs, "The Secret Life of Greek Cats."

Yet the couple also expressed a deep connection to their Massachusetts home, which is set on three acres and includes a 19th-century addition and a guesthouse that they built. The property so intrigued the Gages that they delved into deeds, tax records and genealogical information in Grafton and Shrewsbury and produced an article titled, "The Search for the Roots of a 200-Year-Old House" that was published in 1977 in The New York Times. They wrote lyrically of their new home, pointing out that it "seemed to fairly ooze history."

"It had the original hand-hewn beams; burnished pumpkin-pine floors, each plank cut exactly to room's length and pounded down with crude square nails; and in the basement, walls of breathtaking boulders, stacked on each other like leftovers from Stonehenge," they wrote.

In 1982, not long after their return from Athens, the Gages decided to make North Grafton their main residence.

"We were living in New York City with small kids and every move had to be programmed," Mrs. Gage explained, adding that the children loved being able to run around the property. The Gages' daughter, Eleni, lives in Manhattan; their two other children, Christos and Marina, reside in Los Angeles.

As Gage worked on investigative projects and films - he was an executive producer of "The Godfather: Part III" - he and his wife went about making certain changes to their home, some of which added a Mediterranean flavor. They put in a walkway, a garden and an arbor way with grapevines. They installed a pool, making use of huge stones that had once been part of a set of stairs and a barn foundation.

Building the guesthouse served several purposes: "I wanted a refuge and also a guesthouse," Gage explained. "The guests could be nearby, but not in the house. I also wanted something that would connect to the pool."

Gage's study houses a captivating melange of artifacts reflective of his professional life and his roots. Photographs of him with former presidents at state dinners hang behind a walnut desk made in Greece. An intricately woven carpet from the Epiros National Handicraft League is set off by light blue walls. Ionic columns stand as emblems to his production company, Ionic Productions.

Two panels from a mural that decorated the children's playroom on Aristotle Onassis' yacht hang in the entryway. Gage bought the artwork when it was auctioned at Sotheby's. A Greek hope chest is a focal point of the living room in the main house; Eastern Orthodox icons decorate the walls.

Gage recalled that he was in his study listening to Maria Callas sing an aria on the radio when he got the idea to examine the opera diva's romance with Onassis.

"They were the two most famous Greeks in the world, and there were so many errors about them," he said. "I decided to do something definitive. I sat down and did a 15-page proposal." His ensuing book, "Greek Fire," was published in 2000 and, like the story of his mother's death all those years ago in his native land, was quickly optioned for a movie.

In 2005, Gage wrote a piece for Vanity Fair magazine on Onassis' granddaughter, Athina, just before her marriage to a Brazilian Olympic equestrian. He delved into Athina's finances, her relationship with her father and her fiance's motivations. He drew a captivating portrait of the young woman, who had once been dubbed "the richest little girl in the world."

Two years later, the same magazine published Gage's investigative story on a Greek terrorist group called November 17, which for nearly 30 years had assassinated Americans and Greeks with impunity. The group's members would likely have upended the Olympics in Athens in 2004 if they had not been captured. Gage's account outlined how police finally put an end to the violence. That story, too, is likely to become a movie.

Asked if he prefers writing or film work, Gage replied, "I'm not Hollywood. I'm East Coast. I like doing movies in an alternating way. With a book, you research by yourself. When you're with high-maintenance people, you're ready to go back into a room by yourself."

Each investigative project takes about four years. "It's fairly lonely work," Gage noted. "Joan helps a lot."

Gage, who is 69, is currently spending a good deal of time on the lecture circuit delivering talks on Onassis and Callas, with background on Greece.

"His project takes him between Rome and Athens," his wife said. "I will put together a PowerPoint presentation."

"I'm terrified," she added, laughing.

Along with assisting her husband, Mrs. Gage keeps up with numerous projects of her own. Her interests are eclectic. She is a painter as well as a photographer and a writer, and she recently had a solo show in Worcester.

She and daughter Eleni go to Mexico on cooking tours every winter. Greece has a magnetic pull on Eleni, as well as her parents. She has written a book based on a year she spent in her grandmother's village, and her agri-tourism articles have focused on the Greek Isles.

In the course of a year, the Gages travel far and wide, but they are always happy to return to North Grafton.

"It's a little Eden here," Gage said with a smile.

Gage quit the Times in 1980, and the family remained in Athens while he researched the imprisonment, torture and execution of his mother at the hands of Communist guerillas in 1948. Her killing was retribution for arranging the escape of her children to freedom. Gage, who was 9 at the time, spent the rest of his childhood in Worcester, with his father and four sisters.

"Eleni," Gage's account of his mother's life, was published in 1983 and became a best-seller. He went on to co-produce a movie of the same title.

On a cool and cloudy morning, shortly before their departure for their small Greek village, the Gages chatted amiably with a reporter at their 18th-century farmhouse in North Grafton. Seated in Gage's study, a room filled with family photos and books, they said that they often work as a team - a habit that stretches back to the earliest years of their marriage. Mrs. Gage, who is also a journalist, was exceedingly helpful when Gage was reporting from Europe and the Middle East and communications were anything but instant.

Gage remarked that in 1979, just before the Iranian Revolution, he had the last interview with the Shah, and the first interview with the Ayatollah Khomeini. He noted that as a foreign correspondent he faced a new situation nearly every day.

Gage said he could not have done what he did without his wife's assistance. "I was the only reporter covering the Iranian revolution who never missed a deadline," he said. "You had to phone in your stories. She would call and call and ultimately get through."

Gage's investigative reporting centers largely on issues connected with Greece, a nation in which violence simmers just beneath the surface. Athens was the scene of riots late last year after a 15-year-old boy was killed by police. Gage travels to his homeland every few months to lecture and visit with friends. Mrs. Gage speaks Greek and recently published a book of her photographs, "The Secret Life of Greek Cats."

Yet the couple also expressed a deep connection to their Massachusetts home, which is set on three acres and includes a 19th-century addition and a guesthouse that they built. The property so intrigued the Gages that they delved into deeds, tax records and genealogical information in Grafton and Shrewsbury and produced an article titled, "The Search for the Roots of a 200-Year-Old House" that was published in 1977 in The New York Times. They wrote lyrically of their new home, pointing out that it "seemed to fairly ooze history."

"It had the original hand-hewn beams; burnished pumpkin-pine floors, each plank cut exactly to room's length and pounded down with crude square nails; and in the basement, walls of breathtaking boulders, stacked on each other like leftovers from Stonehenge," they wrote.

In 1982, not long after their return from Athens, the Gages decided to make North Grafton their main residence.

"We were living in New York City with small kids and every move had to be programmed," Mrs. Gage explained, adding that the children loved being able to run around the property. The Gages' daughter, Eleni, lives in Manhattan; their two other children, Christos and Marina, reside in Los Angeles.

As Gage worked on investigative projects and films - he was an executive producer of "The Godfather: Part III" - he and his wife went about making certain changes to their home, some of which added a Mediterranean flavor. They put in a walkway, a garden and an arbor way with grapevines. They installed a pool, making use of huge stones that had once been part of a set of stairs and a barn foundation.

Building the guesthouse served several purposes: "I wanted a refuge and also a guesthouse," Gage explained. "The guests could be nearby, but not in the house. I also wanted something that would connect to the pool."

Gage's study houses a captivating melange of artifacts reflective of his professional life and his roots. Photographs of him with former presidents at state dinners hang behind a walnut desk made in Greece. An intricately woven carpet from the Epiros National Handicraft League is set off by light blue walls. Ionic columns stand as emblems to his production company, Ionic Productions.

Two panels from a mural that decorated the children's playroom on Aristotle Onassis' yacht hang in the entryway. Gage bought the artwork when it was auctioned at Sotheby's. A Greek hope chest is a focal point of the living room in the main house; Eastern Orthodox icons decorate the walls.

Gage recalled that he was in his study listening to Maria Callas sing an aria on the radio when he got the idea to examine the opera diva's romance with Onassis.

"They were the two most famous Greeks in the world, and there were so many errors about them," he said. "I decided to do something definitive. I sat down and did a 15-page proposal." His ensuing book, "Greek Fire," was published in 2000 and, like the story of his mother's death all those years ago in his native land, was quickly optioned for a movie.

In 2005, Gage wrote a piece for Vanity Fair magazine on Onassis' granddaughter, Athina, just before her marriage to a Brazilian Olympic equestrian. He delved into Athina's finances, her relationship with her father and her fiance's motivations. He drew a captivating portrait of the young woman, who had once been dubbed "the richest little girl in the world."

Two years later, the same magazine published Gage's investigative story on a Greek terrorist group called November 17, which for nearly 30 years had assassinated Americans and Greeks with impunity. The group's members would likely have upended the Olympics in Athens in 2004 if they had not been captured. Gage's account outlined how police finally put an end to the violence. That story, too, is likely to become a movie.

Asked if he prefers writing or film work, Gage replied, "I'm not Hollywood. I'm East Coast. I like doing movies in an alternating way. With a book, you research by yourself. When you're with high-maintenance people, you're ready to go back into a room by yourself."

Each investigative project takes about four years. "It's fairly lonely work," Gage noted. "Joan helps a lot."

Gage, who is 69, is currently spending a good deal of time on the lecture circuit delivering talks on Onassis and Callas, with background on Greece.

"His project takes him between Rome and Athens," his wife said. "I will put together a PowerPoint presentation."

"I'm terrified," she added, laughing.

Along with assisting her husband, Mrs. Gage keeps up with numerous projects of her own. Her interests are eclectic. She is a painter as well as a photographer and a writer, and she recently had a solo show in Worcester.

She and daughter Eleni go to Mexico on cooking tours every winter. Greece has a magnetic pull on Eleni, as well as her parents. She has written a book based on a year she spent in her grandmother's village, and her agri-tourism articles have focused on the Greek Isles.

In the course of a year, the Gages travel far and wide, but they are always happy to return to North Grafton.

"It's a little Eden here," Gage said with a smile.

ART: PHOTOS

CUTLINE: (1) Joan and Nick Gage at their 18th-century farmhouse in North Grafton. (2) Nick Gage writes in his study. In the background are framed photographs of him with former presidents. (3) After researching their house's history, the Gages wrote "The Search for the Roots of a 200-Year-Old House," which was published in 1977 in The New York Times. (4) The Gages' North Grafton home has been their main residence since 1982. They built an addition and made other changes to farmhouse, some of which added a Mediterranean flavor. (5) Gardens grace the grounds of the property. When the Gage children were young, they loved being able to run around outdoors, Mrs. Gage said. (6) The pool makes use of stones that had once been part of a set of stairs and a barn foundation.

PHOTOG: PHOTOGRAPHY BY TOM RETTIG
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Article Type:Interview
Date:Mar 4, 2009
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