Thursday, January 28, 2016

Opa! Getting in Touch with My Greek DNA

It still continues to surprise me to know that I carry among the strands of my genetic makeup, Greek DNA (According to NatGeo Geno 2.0, my Primary Reference Population is German on my mother's side and Danish on my father's side. Greek is my Second Reference Population on both sides). Now it makes sense why I really needed to start shaving my legs long before sixth-grade (but was not allowed to).

A mean-spirited boy in my sixth-grade class tripped over my legs that were extended beyond the front of my desk. He then loudly exclaimed, to the entire class, that he had just tripped over the legs of a gorilla! I was mortified. I went home after school and shaved my legs without telling my mom. I remember getting a few nicks and cuts that day, but my legs were no longer those of a "gorilla".

The Colonel and I took a mini-vacation back in October of last year and one of the places we visited was Tarpon Springs, Florida. It has the highest percentage of Greek Americans of any city in the United States. It is known for its sponge industry.

In 1905, John M. Cocoris introduced the first mechanized sponge fishing boat to Tarpon Springs and brought in 500 Greek divers.

More immigrants soon followed and businesses were established to serve the Greek community such as restaurants, grocery stores, coffee shops and candy stores.

It is estimated that the sponge industry brings $2 million a year to Tarpon Springs. Its sponges are sold all over the world.
 Tourism has replaced sponging as Tarpon Springs' major economic activity. Thousands of visitors each year come to the city to enjoy the outdoors, visit the sponge docks, see professional divers in action and experience Greek culture that still permeates the city.
Visitors come to walk Dodecanese Boulevard and visit its unique Greek shops, buy sponges and feast at restaurants that serve traditional Greek food. Many of the shops are owned and operated by the descendants of the city's first Greek immigrants. Tourists bring around $20 million to Tarpon Springs each year.
As a couple of these tourists, The Colonel and I walked along the sponge docks and saw some of the sponge boats.
We visited the Spongeorama Sponge Factory, watched an informative film about sponge diving/fishing, walked through the little sponge diving museum (The Colonel had been to Tarpon Springs as a youth and the dioramas were the same ones, now a little termite-ridden and faded) and bought a sponge to bathe with.
We asked the Greek woman working at the Spongeorama Sponge Factory where the best place to eat was and she said Yianni's (we think she owned or some of her family owned Yianni's because their ads were all over the film about sponge diving/fishing). We took her at her word and ate lunch at Yianni's.
And Opa, aren't we glad we took her advice! The food was extremely delicious and the service was friendly and fast. The Colonel and I both had a starter of Avgolemono Soup, aka Greek Chicken Lemon Soup. Our main dishes were of Chicken Souvlaki with Greek Oven Potatoes. We had never had the potatoes before and were very taken with them, so much so, that we had to find a recipe and make them for ourselves when we returned home (they tasted good, but not as good as Yianni's).
After our very filling and satisfying lunch we walked along Dodecanese Boulevard and did some shopping. We saw this nice bronze statue that honored the Greek Sponge Divers. There was even a movie filmed in Tarpon Springs about sponge divers; Beneath the 12-Mile Reef (1953). I think I may see if it is on Netflix and watch it sometime. 
It is nice to know that Tarpon Springs is not too far of a drive from my home...just in case I want to get in touch with my Greek DNA...and those mouth-watering Greek Oven Potatoes, Opa!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Monday, January 25, 2016

Serendipity in Motion

Serendipity: the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for

We are experiencing some unseasonable weather courtesy of El Niño (Ay, Dios mío. Gracias por nada El Niño).

We have been having lots of wind, rain and colder than normal temps. On Sunday the 17th, our power went out around 3:30 in the morning. I slept right through the high winds, rain, flash of light and the sound of an explosion (I must have been more tired than I thought). The Colonel did not.

We made the obligatory "We have no power" call to Florida Power and Light (FPL). Never once did we speak to a real person. The recorded voice said that FPL knew of the power outage and were in the process of fixing the situation and that we should have power by Noon.

Okay, Noon, we could do Noon. We would not open our refrigerator or freezer unnecessarily and only for split-seconds at a time.

Noon rolled around and still no power. Thank God we live in Florida, so there was no chance of freezing to death because of no power. We also would not be sweltering because we were having the unseasonably cooler weather. We have a gas stove and we could make soups when we got hungry.

An automated FPL message at lunchtime told us that the power would now be on around 6PM and then another message after 6PM said, "By the end of the day". What the heck did that mean?

The Colonel and I decided then, to take some of the more "precious" foods from our refrigerator/freezer and transfer them to the refrigerator/freezer of the Blanchard House Museum (the little museum in town that we have been associated with for about 10 years).

We made the trip into town with our edible cargo and completed the transfer. We then headed back to our powerless home.

No cable, no internet, no lights...we did have candles, flashlights, books...reading by candlelight and/or flashlight is not easy on the eyes...Abraham Lincoln went up several notches in our admiration, with his reading by firelight as a child and becoming our 16th president (the next day I went to our local bookstore and purchased a bright book light...I have no desire to become president).

We still had no power by my usual bedtime (around 10PM), so I figured I could read by flashlight just as well from a supine position in my comfy bed. I eventually grew tired, turned off the flashlight and turned onto my left side and fell asleep.

The power came back on in the wee morning hours (The Colonel heard it come back on, I did not. My finely-tuned "Mommy-Spidey" senses have dulled since my kids have moved out). We had been without power for 23 hours.

After being fortified by a hot breakfast and freshly brewed coffee, The Colonel and I decided it was time to reclaim our "cached" food at the museum.

As we pulled up to the museum, we spied an artist standing behind his easel, capturing the likeness of the Blanchard House Museum, a la plein air. 

We spoke with the gentleman and found out his name was Johan Bjurman. Mr. Bjurman said he belonged to a local artist group and today some of them were involved in a competition. The rule for this plein air competition was to paint something in town within a two-hour time limit. The paintings would then be judged by the artists in the group and prizes would be awarded.

We looked over Mr. Bjurman's shoulder and liked what we saw (even though the painting was in its early stages). We asked him if his painting would be for sale and he said it would, later that day, after the judging. The Colonel and I said we wanted the painting and to please not sell it to anyone else. I told Mr. Bjurman I would see him that afternoon.

Afternoon rolled around and I went to where the art judging was being held; the Visual Art Center (VAC). The parking lot was packed! I could not find a parking space. I finally parked my car in an area that was not officially a space...I figured no one there would be alarmed or call the "parking-police" because they were all artists or art lovers and were probably more relaxed about such things. I just didn't want anyone to hit my car (and they didn't).

Outside of the VAC there were around 20 paintings on easels and they were set up in a semi-circle. I saw Mr. Bjurman again and reintroduced myself. We walked to his finished painting. It looked different from the way it did when The Colonel and I saw it earlier in the day of course. I liked it even more.

The more I talked to Mr. Bjurman, the more I liked him. He was a friendly, soft-spoken gentleman. I think he liked me too. I asked him how much he wanted for his painting of the Blanchard House Museum and he told me $250. I asked him if he would accept $200 in cash. He said, for you, yes. It made him happy to know that his painting was going to a good home and especially going to someone who had ties to the museum.

After the judging (Mr. Bjurman's painting did not place), Mr. Bjurman and I went into the VAC with his painting. We had to go into the gift shop to complete the sale. A lady entered our names into the computer to generate a receipt. This took some time...I don't think the lady knew what she was doing. Another lady came to help out, but that just doubled the time it took to make the sale. Mr. Bjurman whispered to me that this was taking longer than it did for him to paint the picture (I liked him even more).

The sale was finally completed and Mr. Bjurman and I said our farewells. When I got back home, I hung the still-wet oil painting in my dining room, where The Colonel and I could look upon it and appreciate it daily. The Colonel was also pleased with how Mr. Bjurman finished his painting of the Blanchard House Museum.

I had gotten Mr. Bjurman's business card and The Colonel and I visited his website. He had examples of his other works....murals, fine art, illustration and Trompe L'Oeil (Trick the Eye). He is a very talented artist. After seeing his other works, The Colonel and I wondered how the painting we had just bought would have looked if Mr. Bjurman had more than just two hours to work on it.

No matter...we like it just the way it is.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Friday, January 1, 2016