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!

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