Sunday, August 20, 2006

The boys are all in the air for Tsamiko
I suddenly find myself with a little free time as the summer winds down, largely thanks to the conclusion of Folkfest. We had been practicing pretty much every night for it, plus of course the event itself took three nights. But that makes it sound bad when in reality it was actually a lot of fun and a great time. This year, we danced something Dimitri dubbed 'Tsigaida' since we mixed the steps from some other dances with Gaida. We also did Partalo, an old classic (except I hyperextended my leg doing a stomp), Zonorathiko (one I pretty much got back on the setlist), and of course my long time favourite, Tsamiko (flips and kicks, woohoo!). There were a few added to my repetoire that have been done before but not by me, like Pentozali (tricky!), Zorba (also classic), and, I believe, Zaiko. And then some that we debuted this year like Fesothervenagas (aka the ferry dance). I'll be happy to never dance that one again. But enough talk about the dances, here's my rundown of the Greek pavilion this year and thoughts on the matter:

Guys and girls dance the kalamatiano
The dancing was good this year, in fact I heard from many people that it was better than it had been for years, but I would simply stick to good but not great. I actually felt that we'd done better in previous years and that the show has gone together better before. I think part of this is actually because we didn't really do enough with the crowd either as dancers or with our MC. I do not blame her, she wasn't the original intended MC but filled in with no warning right away. And she certainly did well with no notice, but it could've been better with some preparation and more effort spent getting people visiting into the show. I think that next year we need to have something going on between sets to teach people how to do some of the basic steps like Kalamatiano and Trio-trio.

Gaida seems to be a fun one to watch, and we mixed it up a bit this year by combining is with another step
And as for the dances, there are a few like the ferry dance that I'd cut out and some old-school ones with skits that should come back - anybody else remember how the senior boys used to light a table on fire with 151 or ouzo or something and dance on it? The intermediate dancers should've finished earlier as well, they had plenty of dances up 'til the last set and when we were younger it was always the seniors closing out the night. I actually heard this from a few people that they felt they couldn't get into it as much with younger kids on the stage that late into the night. This is all the critical stuff I guess, but there were good things worth pointing out, too. The zembekiko this year was one of - no - THE best I'd ever seen. Mostly thanks to a lot of broken plates and Dimitri doing an amazing flip, landing on his knees in front of the ouzo glass, drinking it, throwing the glass away and kicking it from behind his back... all on time and as though it were perfectly choreographed. Amazing. Dress the Greek was alright, but went a little on the long side with the Amazing Race people coming through.

Sure it's not Greek food, but we Greeks are happy so long as there's something
Without a doubt one of the main reasons that people visit us at the Greek pavilion is the food. How could they not? Unfortunately, this was probably the biggest disappointment this year. On the positive side, the pork souvlaki was very nice, and so were the meatballs. I didn't try the chicken souvlaki but heard mixed reviews. And the baklava was very nice, if I may say. But, woefully absent were my personal favourites, and much more rare but traditional Greek dishes like Pastichio and Gemista (stuffed peppers). This in itself was a problem. But aside from the meatballs, which were tasty but rather unoriginal and not especially Greek (they were done sweet and sour, not like Aunt Marina's much more delicious/famous spiced ones), they didn't replace these dishes with anything. On top of this gaping hole in the food lineup were some really poorly done dishes like the Spanakopita (spinach pies) which were try and lacking flavour. I felt embarassed to even be associated with the Greek pavilion when we were charging for these things - didn't we taste test a few before we bought them? And the dolmathes were served cold which is an option but in my opinion not the best way to eat them.

You don't get seats like this at the Ukranian pavilion
I personally love the venue - we host it at the Army and Navy hall on 1st Avenue and have done so for years. The venue is small, cozy, and intimate, and reminds me of a Greek tavern. Yes, it's hot. The AC is no match for all of us in the basement, though sometimes I think that the people we rent from turn it off when they rent to us to save money. But the only thing more annoying than a hot venue is people complaining to me that they're never coming back because it was too warm. Give me a bloody break. Try dancing up on stage under the lights and see how warm it is, but we're here every night dancing for you anyway. Try visiting a tavern in Greece and see how high the AC is. Are we so spoiled?? I'm not saying that AC that could keep up wouldn't be welcome, but come on!

The show must go on
That said, plans have been in the works for a new church, though thanks to some surprisingly childish (and really, that word is far too nice for the reprehensible behaviour coming from some of the so-called community leaders) attitudes, I won't hold my breath. Still, I do hope that we can somehow all agree that steps need to be taken to promote a bigger and better Greek community here in the city. And if the church were to go through, one of its features would be a large basement which we could use to host Folkfest with better capacity and of course it would facilitate other uses besides just Folkfest and hopefully would promote more Greek nights.

Our work here is done
In spite of the critical look I've taken here, I don't want to come off as negative about the event as a whole. There was room for improvement, there were mistakes, but in the end, I, at least, enjoyed the heck out of it this year. I had a blast dancing, I enjoyed bartending and helping out where I could, and most of all, it was nice to just see all the people out, Greeks and otherwise. There were a lot of Calgarians and others in town for it and it was great to see them all. A highlight of 2006? Quite possibly. So, in that respect, I would like to thank the organizers, the volunteers, and the other dancers, especially those who helped get the show running in the first place.

Next year will go one of two ways. Either it will not happen, and it will be the first time the Greeks haven't had a Folkfest pavilion since Folkfest started, or we will take our mistakes from this year and go all-out to produce what could very well be the best pavilion we've hosted in Folkfest history. That choice will come from the volunteers, the people who put the blood and sweat into making it a reality every year. Yes, recent divisions have created a sect of people who would love to see it fail, but anyone who is truly proud of being Greek, anyone who really hates to have something Greek be anything less than excellent, will get on board with everything they've got to make next year better. Already, 'retired' women talk of coming back to help make the food next year. Already, dancers talk of getting some new and really excellent dances lined up. And already, the seeds are sewn for a successful year in 2007. So here's to a well deserved vacation, a really fun three-day party, and the beginning of a new and better Folkfest next year.

<Folkfest 2006 Photos>



Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Our sleeping huts
Summer's always a busy time where people are coming and going from vacations and summer jobs and various activities here and abroad. Whether it's the Stampede in Calgary, one of the many festivals here in Saskatoon (like FolkFest coming up this week - I'll be dancing at the Greek pavilion), or jetting away to one of Saskatchewan's many lakes, there's always something going on. About a month ago, Darren, a friend of mine who'd moved back to his home town of Kamsack to work at Duck Mountain Provincial Park called me to invite me down camping. Given my large amount of experience camping, I took him up on the offer. Yes, a *lot* of camping experience right here. There was the time I camped on Pacific Ave overnight for Phantom Menace tickets (lots of fun), that time I slept in the backyard of our old Cochin cabin in the tent with some cousins, and I even visited with my cousins for a couple hours on my uncle's deck in Greece in the tent they were staying in when I was there in 2001. So needless to say, camping was a new experience.

More along the lines of what I was expecting
I didn't really know what to expect. I somehow imagined it much more remote and disconnected from society. Sort of a spot in the middle of nowhere. Looking back, my expectations seem ludicrous given it's a park and on a lake, but I really did have this image of wilderness and wandering through it until we found a nice spot to set up our tent and rub some sticks together to make a fire. Instead of being off the beaten path, we were actually off a small gravel road. About a ten minute walk away from a public beach, five minutes from a little ice cream/burger shop (with a really beautiful young lady (yes, that's code for me being too old) working there), a five minute drive from the Manitoba border, and maybe ten minutes from Darren's home, which is actually between Kamsack and the park. Now it's important to remember that all these drive times are at-the-speed-limit estimates. I did no such thing that weekend. In fact, I made the four hour drive to Kamsack in 2.5. Highway 5 is really pretty and also fairly quiet so I had no compunctions about putting some distance between here and me as a friend of mine once put it.

Darren uses his infrared vision to light the fire
So I showed up and by coincidence, Darren was just about to leave as I zipped by his place into the park, so he caught up to me (I had slowed now, since I had no idea where I was going) and took me right to the camp. I put up my tent, we created a fire with a little 'persuasion'. Darren almost lit the jerry can (did you know that the term 'jerry' was British slang for German soldiers, who were the first to use these cans) on fire - the nozzle was burning but luckily the whole thing didn't blow up in his hand. I hung out with him, Nathan, Rachel, and a few other girls who sort of came and went that night and awoke to a LOT of beer cans/bottles on the table. We had some muffins and orange juice for breakfast, went to the beach for a few hours (where there were more lovely and ... less lovely ... girls about) and off to the ice cream shop for a burger and cone. We visited the girls in the 'interpretive centre' and went to check out the bigger beach. We also popped into Kamsack and town to get pillows (which I had forgotten in my preparations) and some ice for our coolers. The weather all weekend was amazing, by the way.

Dusk falls
That night we called it pretty early, the sun having sapped us, but I wasn't really tired, just exhausted. I read for a bit in the tent until it finally got dark around 11 and then I put my head outside the tent and laid there for about half an hour looking at the stars. We get a pretty decent view at home, but this was incredible. Incidentally, the first signs of impending winter have begun. The other day I came home and the northern lights were flashing in probably a 120 degree arc in the night sky over Saskatoon. They were probably the most incredible northern lights I've ever seen, very very bright and lively. Unfortunately, as with my photos of the night sky, these ones didn't turn out either. Monday I came home, but I went for breakfast and hung out with Darren at the beach and around the park for the better part of the afternoon. Just as I finished taking down the tent, the first drop of rain for the whole weekend fell. Talk about a great weekend for camping.

The long road home
As for what is keeping me so busy, well, I'm not entirely at liberty to say, but what I can tell you is that I'll be dancing with the senior group in Folkfest again this year at the Greek pavilion (where else?). Which has meant some practice time and me realizing that the desk life is doing nothing for my fitness. I'm also revitalizing the mix for the deck, lots of new stuff to add and questionable stuff to remove. The problem with adding new stuff is I know that half of it will go from 'cool' to 'annoying' in the course of a year and require the job to be redone yet again. I'm trying to avoid the most annoying of the pop stuff and on the plus side it means getting to add some new indie stuff, so there is a rainbow at the end of the tunnel. Yes, that's right.

And for no reason, the Saskatchewan version of the Windows XP background
Soccer just wrapped up last week since we didn't make the cut for playoffs. Not because we're no good, no no, just that we seem to have a problem completing our plays. Our second-last game was a prime example. We spent 90% of the first half in their end (I want to say 95% but I'll leave a little room for error) and didn't score. We had quite a few good shots, but nothing. They, on the other hand, got two goals against us, and almost three. They had beaten John, who was doing time in net, and shot it and I was behind him to cover and running full tilt. At the last minute I knew I wasn't going to get to the ball in time and sort of dove in front of it and spun my body around. I went to grab the ball as I was laying right behind the line and the ball was ahead of me and about to cross the line, but instead headbutted it (ever seen an egg rolling contest?) and saved the goal. I looked up and shouted "No hands!" and was back on the field to run the ball up. Sadly, my antics were wasted and even more sadly, non-televised. Damn you TSN!

But, I should get doing all those things that are keeping me busy. See you in a week! Don't forget to check out the photo gallery which includes such greats as the Saskatchewan version of the Windows XP Desktop background (shown left).

<Kamsack Camping Photos>