I’ve always wanted to go to Greece but my budget doesn’t allow any more travel at the moment, so I did the next best thing; I went to the Greek Glendi Festival being held right here in Sarasota. For 24 years, St. Barbara Greek Orthodox Church has held this event to celebrate the Greek culture, traditions, and Orthodox faith. This year’s theme focused on the Greek Islands in the Aegean and Ionian Seas and it was vastly different from the fairs and festivals that are held every other weekend in downtown Sarasota. From the tongue-twisting names of the Hellenic Folk Dancers to the aisles of mouth-watering food and pastry, this festival was spectacularly Greek.
My friend, Joan, and I began with a tour of the church, the interior of which was decorated with intricate mosaics, iconography, and a ceiling mural depicting golden-haloed saints.
Just outside the church was the children’s corner, where some kids rode on Shetland ponies, while others rode on their father’s shoulders:
The vendor tent offered a variety of merchandise so different from what is normally found at fairs that I just had to take photos of some of it:
Since she owns a commercial kitchen, Joan is naturally curious about the ingredients in any specialty food item, but there were no ingredients listed on this dressing. Wondering how they could sell a food product without disclosing the ingredients, she approached the woman working at the booth:
“Can you tell me what’s in the salad dressing?”
“You don’t think Popi’s going to tell us what his secret ingredients are, do you?” the woman replied.
“How do I know if I’d like it if I don’t know what’s in it?” Joan pressed.
“You can taste it if you want.”
“Well, what if I’m allergic to something in it?”
“Oh, well, if you’re allergic to it you certainly don’t want to taste it.”
She finally gave up and instead bought an obscene chocolate dessert, which she forced me to share with her:
When the first raindrops began to fall we ducked into the entertainment tent and listened to the Peter Lambropoulos Band perform traditional Greek music as we waited in line for our traditional Greek dinner. For me it was Spanikopita (spinach pie), dolmakes (rice in grape leaves), and rice pudding; while Joan opted for roasted lamb shank that was so good she “sucked the bones.”
By this time the rain was coming down by the buckets-full and the circus-size tent was leaking; rivers of rainwater were running through the food lines and under the dining tables. People had crowded into the tent to get out of the rain and it was pure pandemonium under the big-top, with ladies gingerly stepping through shoe-sucking mud and diners juggling trays full of food as they looked for an available seat.
Our timing continued to be perfect. Just as we finished dinner the dancing began. We watched young kids, the intermediate group, and young adults perform the intricate steps of dances from all over Greece, each group decked out in lavish costumes like those still worn in Greek villages.
Occasionally during the performances, spectators dashed onto the dance floor and tossed dollar bills at the dancers.
Others showed their appreciation with whistles, cheers, and repeated “OPA’s.”
It wasn’t the real Greece, but it was as close as I could hope to get while straying right in my own backyard. Some day I’ll get to the real Greece, but in the meantime the only thing I have to say about the Greek Glendi Festival is OPA! Now would somebody please find a wheelbarrow and roll me to the car?