Perusing the internet looking for local events, I discovered that the annual Greek Fest was being held that weekend in Knoxville. I have heard positive things about the festival but always seemed to miss it during years past. I decided this year would be different. Finishing my work for the day I headed away from downtown and began looking for one of the limited parking areas organized by the local churches and some retailers.
I parked in a designated parking area at a nearby church and hustled to catch the shuttle before it pulled away. The short drive to the festival location was a scenic one through one of Knoxville’s older, upscale neighborhoods and I enjoyed looking at the fine, old houses as we made our way to St. George Greek Orthodox Church where I was soon to get my Greek on. Soon the bus turned into the parking lot and disgorged the nearly full contents of festival-goers.
I headed to the entrance gate to pay the modest two-dollar fee eager to just be able to catch a cooking demonstration scheduled to start in just minutes. My mistake, once I reached the septuagenarian handing out the tickets, was paying with a twenty-dollar bill. The well-meaning cashier took what seemed an eternity to count out my change while I anxiously kept an eye on my timepiece and watched the minutes racing by threatening to have me miss out on how to prepare Greek delicacies. Eventually I was able to pocket my change as I raced into the building get a good seat. I needn’t have worried. An elderly lady took a look at the camera around my neck and offered me a seat next to her on the front row that had originally been commandeered as a pedestal to support the very large handbag she had carried in with her. From my newly-acquired vantage point I was able to closely observe the demonstrating cook prepare…twisted sugar cookies. Not exactly the culinary event I was expecting.
Next on my agenda was a quick tour of the church. I had heard of the spectacular iconography collected inside the sanctuary and was eager to view the different items. I was immediately impressed as I entered the foyer. The artifacts and artwork on display in the foyer were neatly displayed and I spent several minutes moving from one item to the next studying the intricate details of these remarkable and brilliant works. The gilded items were breathtakingly beautiful and I was unprepared for just how I would be affected by seeing them. The mosaic on the rotunda ceiling was visually stunning and I gazed upward at it until I had an uncomfortable strain in my neck.
Outside the sanctuary is where the majority of the festival was being held. I stopped at the first booth and sampled some Greek coffee. The dark, viscous liquid was extremely sweet, owing to the copious amount of sugar added to the drink, and a bit gritty from the grounds that were poured into the cup along with the strong brew. I still prefer my café au lait.
Music was playing and I headed to the large open area where two gentlemen were playing stringed instruments in a rousing and upbeat duet. Shortly after their performance dozens of children and teenagers, all dressed in regional costumes, gathered at the spacious dance platform and began demonstrating local dances, all of which were very colorful and performed with great grace and an entertaining flare.
I had worked up an appetite watching the festivities so far and with great eagerness turned to my most anticipated component of any festival, the food! I wandered through the various food tents taking in all the options and finally settled on an order of souvlaki, roasted pork and veggies covered with tzatziki sauce and served in a piece of pita bread for convenience. I chose to accompany my “sandwich” with an order of saganaki, the liquor-soaked, pan-seared cheese dish served with a healthy dose of theater as the brandy was set alight and the chees flambéed, some stuffed grape leaves, and a Mythos beer to wash it all down.
Ending my tour of the festival I reflected on the afternoon’s events as I picked up an assortment of baklava and other Greek sweets and climbed aboard the shuttle heading back to the parking lot where I had left my vehicle. Was I ready to rush out and book passage on the first available means of transportation to the Greek Isles? No. But it was nice that a small part of that culture had made its way to me. Opa!
© 2014 G. Scott Brinkley. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.