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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 03 August 2019
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 3 AUGUST 2019 15 TRAVEL Signage explains how sponging was introduced to Tarpon Springs by John Cocoris, an immigrant from Greece. PHOTO: PIXABAY Epiphany Celebration on 6 January is celebrated far and wide; locals of all backgrounds consider it a highlight of their calendar and people come from all over. The maritime focused religious celebration has special reverence and relevance to a community largely made up of Aegean islanders. It has been going on for over a century and in 2006 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew officiated the centennial. The Greek Independence Day parades are also part of the local culture, and Eric is a fixture at such events, either in foustanella or leading Pammachon students in displaying their combat arts for the large crowds. The local high school marching band participates, and Tarpon Springs is known as "Epiphany City USA." Eager for another plate of Sponges for sale at Tarpon Springs. PHOTO: WIKIPEDIA Greek sponge boats on ways. PHOTO: FLICKR St Nicholas at Tarpon Springs. The Greek element is vibrant at Tarpon Springs. Greek seafood with the loyal companion of choriatiki salata, we repaired to the restaurant across from Mykonos to have a bayou-side meal. Toasting our retsina, a caique motored by, full of tourists and guided by a sturdy Aegean fellow in the classic black Greek fishermen's hat, which he tipped at our greeting. Then, another coffee at another café right out of a Greek seaside town. Even the waiter's surliness had a Greek authenticity which made me laugh off my annoyance. Coffeed up, Eric started driving again, through the back streets of the town, in a quiet, slightly shabby residential neighborhood. Suddenly a small church appeared made of stone and whitewashed in the timeless Aegean style. The Archangel Michael's Shrine was built by local Greeks, to celebrate delivery from the perils at sea, and to house a sacred icon brought to Tarpon Springs from the island of Symi. Many miracles have been attributed to the icon and shrine, and after lighting our candles and saying a prayer, upon leaving I touched the masonry of the building, so reminiscent of hundreds of such places I knew in Greece, and a sense of energy and warmth flowed through me and brought me to tears. As often happens in Greece, when leaving a sacred place, I felt a gentle hand guiding me out. Here, in a nondescript section of a Southern town, I felt a sensation never before felt in the New World. This was a real rooted place, and it was very Greek. Many people have been moved or healed by the Shrine, and Ted recalled the Shrine's guidance in his own life. They named their son Michael. We then went to nearby Palm Harbor, to see the Cretan Cultural Center, complete with Minoan columns and a map of Crete at the entrance. Here too, in the shaded garden, a venue for countless glendia, there was a chapel, a small testament to the devotion of the builder and the community, again, so typically and utterly Greek. This was not the storefront syllogoi halls of Chicago, New York, Toronto or Melbourne. It was a cultural center of gravity with very local, semirural roots, with all the accoutrements we would find in Greece, but seldom, if ever, in our Diaspora. There was a sense of autochthony here that I never felt anywhere else. We were running behind schedule, as I needed to get back to my hosts to get presentable for my evening lecture, but we had one final stop. On Clearwater Beach, easily one of the finest beaches in America, there stood a statue of Teodoro the Sailor, reputed to be the first Greek who set foot in what would become the United States, back in 1540! My lecture was on "Byzantium, Hidden in Plain Sight" easily had a turnout of 200 people, the vast majority local people though a few came from Chicago. What struck me about the crowd, in contrast to the number of times I spoke about this same subject in Chicago or New York, was just how local and rooted the audience was, like they just came off the street for the event. It reminded me of a lecture I did many years ago in Rhodes. People arrived either dressed up or dressed down for an event that mattered to them. One of the most interesting and telling signs of the rootedness, the autochthony of the Greeks in the area, was when a woman came up for me to sign my book she had just purchased. She spoke a mixture of English and Greek that she called Tarponezika (Tarponese). The Greeks had been there long enough, and were distinctive enough, and perhaps, for a time, isolated enough to have developed a Greek of their own, combining the island Greek of their ancestors with the assimilation of Englishisms which all Greeks in Anglophone countries do. When people would say that Tarpon Springs is like a little spot of Greece in America, I used to scoff, yet going there changed my mind. The people, their monuments, their traditions, their dialect—even their caiques—spoke of a rooted local community that made the place in their Greek image. The charm and beauty of the place, and the very Greek philoxenia found there has not gone unnoticed. The American daily USA Today named Tarpon Springs as the third best small town in the United States for culture in May 2019, and in 2018 the same publication named it the best historic small town in the country. Greeks, the sea, culture, and history. It's all here in Tarpon Springs, and it's real. Things to do VISIT ST NICHOLAS GREEK ORTHODOX CATHEDRAL The inside architecture with its colourful ceiling and walls is breathtaking, and the stained glass windows also add to the appeal. The Greek community was brought together in the 1920s thanks to the establishment of this church. REPLAY AMUSEMENT MUSEUM The giant Hercules pinball machine sets the tone at the front of the store that houses classic games such as Galaga, Donkey Kong and a table-top version of Pac-Man. If you're a fan of pinball machines, then this is the place for you. SPONGE DOCKS The Sponge Industry of Tarpon Springs was built by the Greek community, and the docks are surrounded by some of the finest Greek restaurants, markets and bakeries. LEEPA-RATTNER MUSEUM OF ART Located on the Tarpon Springs Campus of St. Petersburg College, the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art is a modern and contemporary art museum featuring works from the 20th and 21st centuries. FRED HOWARD PARK Fred Howard Park consists of 155 acres and is located on the Gulf of Mexico. It's location provides access to the Gulf by a 1-mile long causeway. The white sandy beach is a popular swim area and also provides a perfect location to view spectacular sunsets. KONGER TARPON SPRINGS AQUARIUM Among the very special attractions at this aquarium on the Dodecanese Boulevard is a shark feeding show where in the 120,000 gallon tank you can watch their diver hand feed the goliath grouper, reef bar sharks, nurse sharks, bonnethead sharks and more.
27 July 2019
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