The New Orleans Greek Festival
The New Orleans Greek Festival is held on the Memorial Day weekend May 26th -28th, 2017 and presented by the Holy Trinity Cathedral located at 1200 Robert E. Lee Blvd and that’s the first thing that you need to know. The second thing that you need to know is the word Efharisto (eff-kaar-EEs-toe!) and you need to be able to say it all in one breath; repeat after me Efharisto!!! The word is Greek and the meaning is “Thank You!” and you’ll want to say it often and with vigor as you attend New Orleans’ equivalent of a painting by Georges Seurat (e.g. ‘A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grande Jatte’). It’s a family thing, an eating, drinking, dancing, neo-impressionistic, milling about, lounging, laughing, smiling, music thing. In case you’re worried about vehicular congestion; there is free offsite parking about a half a mile down the road, with shuttle buses to and from the event or you can trust your parkma (Parkma: transportive verb: that chance that there will magically be a parking place waiting just for you where and when you need it) for a spot on the roadway to get in closer. The hours of operation are: Friday 5:00-11:00. Saturday 11:00-11:00, Sunday 11:00-9:00. Be there or be tetragono (square).
Greek, you say? All you of limited knowledge will be surprised to know of Greeks arriving here in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. In 1760s a wealthy Greek merchant married a local woman of mixed Acadian and Native American lineage; when their daughter married a Greek native in 1799 it became the first Big Fat Greek wedding in North America. The Greek Orthodox Church here is the oldest established in the North AND South America (1867). The areas that I work and live in (6th, 7th ward) was, until 1971, a predominantly Greek neighborhood and the original site of Holy Trinity Church was at 1222 N. Dorgenois St. Also in this area were Syrians, Russians and Lebanese, their culture a distant memory to all but a few of my neighbors; it is fitting that we should have a festival commemorating that part of our background, culture and language.
For the kids there is an area called The Athenian Playground with a climbing wall, face painting, crafts and one of those bouncy tent things where you allow the little darlings to work off all of the extra steam that they seem to wake up with. Kids twelve years old and under have free admission (the rest of us kids pay $8.00). There are three day passes available and anyone arriving dressed in toga on Sunday gets in gratis.
There is live (Greek) music and dancing in the Hellenic tradition; you can come and show off your stuff, learn the steps or just watch and be amazed by what you see. You can rent canoes for bayou cruising, there are contests, raffles and even a ‘Toga Sunday’ pageant with prizes. There are tours given of the Cathedral that allow you view artifacts of the faith.
And food? Food is everywhere; indoors and out, as well as, wine, beer, ouzo, pomegranate iced tea and the ever popular Metaxas to fill your soul with Hellenic gladness. Greek yogurt and frothy iced Greek coffee at the Loukoumades Café will be served. Food demonstrations and classes, a full meal of Kieftethes (Greek meatballs), tiropita, spanakopita, pastitsio and Greek salad with dolma from inside the hall or from outside food stands: Gyros served with tzatziki and grilled onions served on warm pita bread, or booths with calamari, lamb, feta fries, goat burgers, souvlaki and beverages. AND, not to worry, we know how kids are, and there will be some of the non ethnic foods available (hot dogs etc.). Besides vegetarian plates being available, this year, in the grocery section, a small walk-around container featuring four appetizers (Meze) are being offered in a limited number of servings; the first three hundred lucky customers will have the opportunity to purchase them and then the rest of us latecomers will be out of luck. Also in the grocery store will be cheeses and herbs, oils, olives, homemade dips, tee shirts, posters, prints and Hellenic imports. I always make sure that I pick up their lemon-pepper seasoning blend for my kitchen at home. Also indoors a selection of twenty different pastries, cakes and cookies line tables that, as you pass the length of the gamut with your ‘ticket of transit’, picking one of these and two of these and your personalized selection grows with baklava, kourmabiedes, galaktobourikos and heck, I stop trying to find out all the names and just say yes to everything that looks good to me because I know they will be, and my friends and neighbors will reap the benefit of my eyes being bigger than my stomach.
Here’s another word for you: Philihellenism. It means the lover of all things Greek; if you’ve been to the festival before, you can feel the meaning of that word in your heart, if this will be your first time to go to this celebration, be prepared to experience a kinder, gentler New Orleans experience and consider while you are there that there is actually a Greek island where the citizens literally forget to die and live on to be centennials and older, healthily and actively. When I go to the Greek Festival, I myself wonder why anyone who could live the Hellenic lifestyle would ever want to take the chance that heaven would be a better place.