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American Aphrodite

From Modeling to TV to Politics, Yvette Jarvis Is a Goddess in Her Adopted Homeland of Greece

By Peter Carlson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 16, 2004; Page C01


Uh-oh, it looks like Yvette Jarvis is in trouble. Three cops are huddled around her car and they don't look happy.

This isn't surprising. Jarvis has stopped her silver Hyundai right in front of the Grande Bretagne, the fanciest hotel in Athens, a place so security-conscious during these Olympics that you have to pass through a metal detector to enter the lobby. Nobody can stop here, not even for a minute.

"After 22 years, I'm one of them," says Jarvis of her acceptance in Greece. "They don't see me as black or American. They just see Yvette. Yvette is Yvette." (Michael Robinson-chavez -- The Washington Post)

Jarvis knows that, but she wants to pick up some folks. So she starts sweet-talking the cops in her Brooklyn-accented Greek, smiling, gesticulating, laughing. It works. Pretty soon, the cops are smiling, too. And Jarvis buys enough time to pick up her passengers. She pulls away, smiling and waving goodbye to the cops.

"I do my celebrity thing," she explains, "and they leave me alone."

Jarvis, 46, is famous here -- a one-name celebrity like Oprah or Madonna, known to Greeks simply as Yvette. She's the black Renaissance woman from Brooklyn who has done nearly everything since she arrived in 1982: professional basketball, modeling, TV commercials, a talk show, a sitcom, nightclub singing. Now she's a member of the Athens City Council, elected in 2002.

"After 22 years, I'm one of them," she says. "They don't see me as black or American. They just see Yvette. Yvette is Yvette."

Now, Yvette is punching numbers into her cell phone with one hand and steering through the horrendous Athens traffic with the other while somehow pointing out the new greenery the city planted for the Olympics.

"We planted about a half-million trees -- no joke -- all over Athens," she says. "We spent a fortune."

She's looking for a demonstration she wants to join -- a protest against Arab countries that don't permit women to participate in the Olympics -- but the voice on her cell phone tells her it has been canceled. So she turns down an alley, parks her car, schmoozes with the parking lot attendant, then walks into a park called the National Garden. The park is a cool oasis of trees in the middle of sweltering Athens, but Jarvis thinks it should be better.

"It belongs to three different agencies so, as you can imagine, nobody takes responsibility for it," she says, sounding very much like a city official. "So we as a municipality are saying, 'Let us take care of it.' "

She leaves the park, heading toward the Zappeion, a mustard-colored municipal building where the mayor and other officials are holding news conferences. Clad in a long brown dress, she walks with a regal bearing, her 5 feet 10 inches held high, her head topped with a sporty straw hat.

A guy in a gray suit spots her. His face lights up.

"Yvette!" he says. He gives her a kiss on both cheeks. They chat in Greek for a minute, then she moves on. She gets only a few steps down the sidewalk and more people spot her.

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