Going to the local Greek Festival reminds me that we plain white folks just don’t have much ethnic culture to preserve. My maternal ancestors were Jewish. But I didn’t go to Hebrew school in the afternoons to learn another language and another religious text. We weren’t Irish, so there was none of that Riverdance foolishness. We didn’t spend Friday nights at church like my Greek friends learning the folkloric dances of the Aegean.
But this past Saturday afternoon I sure enough joined hundreds of other people under a big tent erected at Norfolk’s largest Greek Orthodox church for their annual festival of Greek food and culture.
Our next door neighbors at our last house were an elderly Greek couple. They spoke little English, so our communication consisted mostly of the occasional neighborly wave. Every Christmas, though, Mr. N---- would beckon me to the fence that separated our yards and hand me a bakery box that looked so greasy and worn that I wondered if it had traveled all the way from Greece. I was even a little put off the first year until I opened the box and found a tasty mix of Greek pastries. I will admit now, years later and when diabetes prevents me from enjoying such delicacies, that not all of those pastries made it into the house. And when my wife got hold of what was left in the box there was nothing left by the next day.
I’m a great fan of people who make an effort to preserve elements of their ancestral culture. It gives children roots and a sense of place in the world. As I said, I don’t think of us regular plain white folk as having any ethnicity to protect. My ancestors came from northeastern England in the Eighteenth Century. They didn’t get very far from where they landed and were, in any event, trying to get away from the home culture. Thank goodness. At least I didn’t have to go to school to learn Morris dancing.
I knew the food would be good at the Greek Festival. I even succumbed to a beautiful Greek woman’s entreaty to buy a little triangle of baklava, which I really shouldn’t have. A single bite off one corner flooded my body with a buzz of such sugary sweetness that I can only imagine it must be like one’s first heroin high. (My doctor needn’t worry, though. I split the baklava with the eminent artist and fellow sugar avoider Wally Torta. Between the two of us we ate barely a quarter of that piece of baklava.)
What I really wanted to see was the dancing. Greece has such spirited and colorful folkloric dancing. I wanted to photograph the dancing. Specifically, I wanted to photograph the dancers using a slow shutter speed. We’ve all seen enough Greek dancers to know what they look like. I wanted something different.
I’m still working on getting into crowds and getting close to my photographic subjects. On Saturday I just didn’t have the nerve to push proud parents and grandparents out of the way while their offspring bounced and bumped across the stage. I mean, really. They’re the folks who’ve been carting those kids back and forth to church on Friday nights to learn the dances. So I didn’t get quite the swirls of color I wanted. Maybe next year.