When my parents and I went to the Minneapolis Greek festival in the fall, I didn’t know what to expect. My only experience with Greek culture was the craziness I’d observed in the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding, where everybody knew everyone, and visitors were a topic of conversation. Upon entering the festival, I was met with a vast array of blue and red colors and eager excitement unlike any I had experienced. Young people danced in a circle, the ribbons from their traditional garb flowing like a maypole on celebration day. Middle-aged men and women stood along tables to feed the hungry guests delicious foods—tender lamb, pastitsio macaroni lasagna, and spicy gyros sandwiches. The scene was full of life, but little did I know what else I would encounter at the festival that day.
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I wanted to try everything. The delicious food, beautiful crafts, joyous dancing, and serene chapel were all mine for exploration. We started by taking a tour of the church sanctuary. Large and well-lit, it was decorated with stained glass windows and white lace paneling like paper snowflakes. I stared at the saints peering at me from the glass, in awe of the beautiful artistry. They seemed radiant, as if they enjoyed intimate closeness with the Lord Most High. One in particular held my gaze. He wore a coat of blue, with a sword in his right hand and a Bible in his left, and stood in a sky-blue archway with an autumn forest of gold, orange, and brown hues behind him that lit up his halo. His name was written across the frame, but since I cannot read Greek, I simply assumed he was St. Peter. Who else would be holding a sword?
Next, my mom and I looked at the handmade crafts the Greeks were selling—beaded bracelets, jewels hanging on silver necklaces, and buffed rocks neatly laid on display. Strategically placed mirrors dressed each table so shoppers could examine whether the pieces made them look as beautiful as they felt in them. I was admiring myself with a pair of turquoise gemmed earrings in said mirror when in he walked—the champion of my dreams and victor of the spoils. Representative Norm Coleman. He had recently won the federal election to represent Minnesota in the House. A crowd of awestruck groupies followed close behind him. I’ve always wondered what I would do when a celebrity walked into the room. I had imagined myself nonchalantly walking past them like I were just as famous as they were and didn’t need them. Now I know my real reaction: pure elation. It took me two glances before realizing who he was; he seemed so out of place in this Greek wonderland. He wore a striped dress shirt and dark pants, and had an easy-going smile that spoke his genuine pleasure to see you. I could hardly take my eyes off of him.
I poked my mom to make her notice him. She peered over and answered with the annoyingly unfazed mother-response of, “Oh, look, there he is,” before turning back to the necklace she was sporting in the mirror. I continued to stare as the swarm of honeybees grew, buzzing louder around him. They all were eager to suck the sweet juice from the senator’s eloquence.
Finally, an eternity later (more like ten minutes), we finished our shopping and made our way over to him. A man was pushing his way through the crowd for his handicapped friend to meet the representative but was stopped by the big body guard in charge of traffic control. No luck getting past this one out of turn. After a few minutes, I was at the front of the line to meet my celebrity. He turned that genuine smile to me and my parents, shaking each of our hands. My mom told him that I wanted to be a conservative representative, and he said, “Good! We need more like you. I’ll see you in the House.”
As we walked away from my favorite celebrity, I was elated. I never imagined I would find such a treat at the Greek festival. But my icing on the cake was still to come: assorted Greek pastries. We purchased a box of the finest you’ll ever taste—Baklava with flaky layers of paper-thin phyllo, held together by a sticky, warm vanilla syrup and walnuts; kourambiethes cookies of soft shortbread, glittering with powdered sugar snow that fell between your fingertips with each gooey bite; and, a personal favorite, melomakarona cookies—these little beauties moisten your tongue with a sweet honey flavor and crushed nuts atop the best soft-baked dessert you will ever taste.
As we left the festival that day, the dancers still dancing and more food being served, I was full to the brim. Elated with celebrity bliss, awed with the artistic beauty of the saints, and stuffed with delicious food, my appreciation of the Greeks had grown three sizes, and you know, it was not too far off from My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
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