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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “Another year, another Greek festival, another slab of cheese”

    The St. Demetrios Panathenian Dancers display authentic Greek folk dancing during the Greek Festival on Sunday, Sep. 27 at the St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church. Festival-goers were also able to enjoy authentic Greek music and cuisine.
    The St. Demetrios Panathenian Dancers display authentic Greek folk dancing during the Greek Festival on Sunday, Sep. 27 at the St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church. Festival-goers were also able to enjoy authentic Greek music and cuisine.

    Along with a steadily sinking temperature and sidewalks streamed with crisp leaves, no Tucson September would be complete without a visit to the annual Greek Festival, now in its 34th year.

    And no Greek Festival would be complete without the buildup, which is so prolonged that it makes the final payoff all the more satisfying.

    First, there’s the search for parking near St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church on Fort Lowell Road, where the festival always takes place, followed by the inevitable decision to park in a nearby neighborhood. Then there’s the line to get a ticket, which vaguely resembles one of Pac-Man’s mazes. Then there’s the line to get food, which is so convoluted I doubt even Pac-Man would know where to go. 

    Since we went late on a Saturday night, when the excitement was beginning to wind down, none of the lines were as formidable as I’d remembered them being last year. But the sheer sight of them is enough to make me catch my breath.

    While we were waiting in the second line, we saw something whirling through the air like a discus. It turned out to be a vendor hurling plastic-wrapped t-shirts, which prompted much of the crowd to explode with excitement. The woman behind me seemed particularly insistent upon getting one, hopping up and down like she was at a Rolling Stones concert and Mick Jagger had just winked at her. Finally one fell at her feet.

    Photos by Lisa Beth Earle/ Arizona Daily Wildcat

    “”I can tell you really wanted one,”” I said, smiling. She looked at it and promptly deposited it in my arms. “”You can have it!”” she said.

    I stared at it. It wasn’t a Greek Festival shirt, as I — and, I assume, she — had hoped. It was one of those paper-thin Bud Light shirts people wear to sporting events. Since I hate sports and the only beers I like are Czech exports with unpronounceable names, I couldn’t imagine ever wearing it.

    “”Want a shirt?”” I asked the vendor who sells me a can of RC Cola. “”No,”” he responded, in a friendly way.

    My wife and I finally wound our way through the line and found an empty table to sit at. We were sitting across from an enormous bucket of feta cheese, which I idly imagined as having the appearance and consistency of cement. With that in mind, we dug into our saganaki.

    Saganaki, for those who haven’t had it, is a Greek appetizer that consists of a half-inch-thick slab of cheese that’s been fried — or, more accurately, set on fire — until it’s surrounded by a thin, crunchy border. It’s far and away the highlight of the festival for me, and I spend a substantial portion of the 52 weeks between festivals anticipating it. It didn’t disappoint.

    After the usual gyro, we tried some Greek donuts, also called loukoumades. These honey-coated concoctions manage to be fluffy and crunchy at the same time, and they’re utterly delicious. We washed it down with a small paper cup of Greek coffee, which is so smoky and tangy it makes regular coffee taste like water flavored with cigarette ashes.

    As the closing hour drew near, we sat and watched the band perform fabulously loud, boisterous Greek music. Even though there wasn’t a hint of Southwesternism in the air, it felt like a very Tucson moment. One somehow can’t imagine this festival working in Phoenix. Only Tucson — sprawling, diverse, and full of the sort of laidback, friendly people who like to go to festivals like this — could make it work. We finished our food and tramped back to our car, cheerful, content and — as usual — vowing to go every single day of the festival next year.

    By the way, anyone want a shirt?

    — Justyn Dillingham is the arts editor of the Daily Wildcat. He can be reached at arts@email.arizona.edu.

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