We take the same picture every year at the St. Demetrios Greek Festival, and it looks like this. An urban-idyllic glow, soft sepia hues, a crowd of festival-goers suspended in time, raising forks to mouths, the festival’s frenzy of activity and din of conversation quieted by the medium of photography.
The odd thing is that the photo we snap each year – even at the very moment it is being shot – is simultaneously the defining image of my memory of the event. If it is possible to take a contemporaneous, in-the-moment photograph of a memory, this picture is evidence of that phenomenon.
This picture is also my defining image of Astoria. Two weeks after my own personal ‘discovery’ of the neighborhood (each person has their own narrative of a place), we glimpsed the formidable spokes and metal carriages of a Ferris Wheel, erected in bizarre proximity to the facade of a cathedral. Now how does one not investigate that?
What we found when we arrived was a clamorous riot of people, spilling out of the festival’s tent onto the sidewalks, shifting foot to foot on long lines for carnival rides and a bountiful buffet of Greek food, and shouting over the sheer roar of it all to be heard by family and friends. It was the smell of the souvlaki on the grill and the gyro spinning on its spit that drew us into that fray, which we might have otherwise eschewed. And we were rewarded with one of the best, biggest and most affordable meals I have ever had, with the opportunity to eat it out-of-doors, and with the neighborhood enveloping us.
Some related musings on what to order: Get the gyro with everything. And the honey-soaked, cinnamon-dusted Loukoumades, or Greek donuts – the “small order” holds over 15 of these beautiful sweets for a mere $4. Also the flaky Tyropita, a large but delicate filo puff stuffed with feta. The Souvlaki, too, this year provided raw and cut for grilling from the festival’s neighbors, the Souvlaki King of Astoria. Maybe if you have room, the raft of Galaktoboureko, overflowing with sweet custard. This year they have even added a beer tent, affixed to a beer truck, pouring Coors Light, Sam Adams, Brooklyn Lager and Blue Moon.
The St. Demetrios Greek Festival is something to see for yourself, and I encourage all Astorians to go. Because who knows, perhaps within the chaos of it, you’ll sense some of those things that make our neighborhood interesting and good. The mix of young people and elders, the celebration of culture, traditions, food, and a sense of fun and civic pride. Maybe you will take a picture of it and right at that second burn into your memory the enduring beauty of it all.
And on the topic of temporality, below is a Loukoumades photo essay bonus:
Visit the festival this weekend, Saturday & Sunday, 1-11 pm, and 31st Avenue and 30th Drive