Wednesday, August 19, 2009

It's Greek To Me

Dinner was scheduled for the Greek community of Tarpon Springs, a fishing community on the Anclote River. This is where Greeks came to live and make a living in the US in the early 20th century. So the main drag down the old fishing port is named for the origins of the first settlers:Dodecanese Avenue meanders alongside the river and is home to the Greek theme of Tarpon Springs. The Dodecanese Islands in Greece have had a pretty mixed up history (Dodecanese means twelve in ancient Greek I am told) including a spell under Italian rule from 1912 to 1945:Which probably accounts in part for the eagerness of some Greek sponge fishermen to emigrate to Tarpon Springs in the period of occupation to build a burgeoning industry in the New World. A red tide in 1947 killed off a large part of the sponges and the industry today is very much a tourist attraction. These are real sponges for daily use: Though there are of course ample opportunities for the shoppers in the family to add to their collections of dust catchers:Language is of course the foundation of a culture and if the young'uns forget their roots the culture is lost:
And the Anclote River continues to be an active commercial fishing port:
Greek is the language spoken by people who operate the restaurants and tourist shops, though owing to the fact that I don't speak Greek I couldn't say exactly what sort of Greek it might be. Italian Americans who think they speak Italian handed down from their grandparents frequently are speaking a minor dialect incomprehensible outside the originators home towns. If it's the same with Greek I would never know.
I found Dodecanese Avenue surprisingly good to look at, with it's curved layout and relaxed open air stores. Perhaps in winter everything is more crowded but in summer it was really quite pleasant to wander, though not everyone seemed to find the wait for the shoppers to be so alluring:The current inhabitants of these few historic blocks remember this man as the founder of the sponging trade:
And the way they used to do it was originally free diving and then by clumping around under water in huge diving suits:
Sponge fishing is also carried out in the Keys, by pulling sponges off the bottom with a hook into the boat. When you have squeezed a real silk sponge in your hand modern artificial imitations pale by comparison. My wife is also a fan of Greek food so we stopped off to take a look:We picked up some camping supplies so the next bunch of people we camp with will find themselves sampling canned Greek food, grape leaves, sardines (yuck!) and assorted olives and peppers. The candy that closely resembles Turkish delight did not survive to make it home I am sorry to say. The wine did and we bought half a dozen bottles after Yanni gave us a taste. Interestingly there was a lot more on offer than pine cone flavored wines one hears so much about. Some of the wines were quite young and too tart for my wife, but there were more refined and smooth wines that can compete decently with modern table wines from the western states or France:He was a youthful looking 75 year old and he attributes his good health not to genetics but to a nightly sip of sweet Greek dessert wine of which we took home a bottle. Very good it is too and I can quite feel myself growing more spry each day. Interestingly enough I noted he and his granddaughter exchanged commands in Greek so I hope Fisher Price is helping secure the culture for future generations. We resisted the shark but my wife could not resist some carved jewelry. She manages to make anyone smile including this saleswoman, a facility I am happily not endowed with.
This dude was prowling for pictures. I wondered what he got:
I snagged this guy wondering what he was thinking back in 1945 as he posed on his work boat:
We drove around a bit penetrating into the hinterlands of Tarpon Springs, the regular suburban tracts of ordinary homes and gardens that butt up to the few blocks of Aegean architecture in the tourist district and then we settled for Mama Maria's for a shared plate of Greek food and some rather toothsome Greek beer. It's not bad but to me it tends to taste like Italian food gone a bit odd. Most Italians would throw a fit of you presented them with lasagna made of soft pasta filled with unspiced ground lamb or over cooked macaroni mixed in with ground meat and no spicy tomato sauce to be seen. I am less hung up so I can dig in with the best of them and eat grape leaves and lamb patties and odd custard-like spinach pies. Nver having been to Greece I am not completely certain what it is they eat in the modern mother country (McDonald's, too doubtless). On the way out we passed this church which put in an appearance on a number of postcards but we were on our way to lake Wales and Bok Tower and the Nissan was urging me on. Ah, the Great Florida Road Trip. It was Monday so it had to be Tarpon Springs. And I had to be at work Tuesday night.