There’s a small town nestled somewhere in the mountains that’s known for its pristine forests, its great skiing and its charming culture. The town’s web site proudly proclaims it to be a great place to escape the heat in the summer, and it’s easy to imagine the smiling face of Mayor Terry Bellamy overlooking a bustling, scenic downtown.
But we’re not talking about Asheville.
Instead, this enticing description refers to Karpenissi, a village in the region of northern Greece known as Euritania. Karpenissi, despite being 5,381 miles away, has a lot in common with our own little village.
“Karpenissi is somewhat of a sister city to Asheville,” says Dino Zourzoukis, co-owner of the Three Brothers Restaurant and one of the organizers of the Asheville Greek Festival.
He should know: His parents immigrated to Asheville from Karpenissi in the early 1950s, and they weren’t the only ones. Their homeland ravaged by the post-World War II Greek Civil War, many Greeks relocated to this area, perhaps reminded of home by the mountains and cool climate.
That small group of immigrants eventually grew and became a community.
“You know, someone’s aunt and uncle would move here, and tell their relatives, and more and more kept coming,” Zourzoukis says.
These days, the major hub of Greek culture in Asheville is Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, which boasts about 150 Greek families in its registrar. Each year, Holy Trinity puts on the Greek festival in conjunction with the Asheville Parks, Recreation & Cultural Arts Department.
Now in its 21st year, Zourzoukis says that the event has become a means for the local Greek community to “share our cultural heritage with Asheville and the surrounding area.”
With a full slate of events, this year’s festival will touch on many facets of Greek culture and tradition. For instance, music will be provided by the Cleveland-based Orion Express, a quartet that performs on traditional Greek instruments such as the kemenche (Pontian lyra) and bouzouki. To accompany the band, Holy Trinity church members (and whoever else wants to) will show off their traditional dance moves.
There will also be storytellers and other speakers talking on various aspects of Greek culture, from spiritual iconography to the benefits of the Mediterranean diet.
Which brings us, of course, to the food.
“We want to share our culture and our great food,” Zourzoukis says.
You’d think someone who’s spent most of his life in the restaurant business might be tired of talking about food, but not Zourzoukis. He talks about it with such reverence that it almost seems like the topic is simply too big of a subject to fit comfortably under the umbrella of Greek culture.
Zourzoukis launches into an explanation of all of the food—in detail that comes close to that of Bubba describing shrimp dishes in Forrest Gump—describing delicacies too plentiful to name (OK, just a few: gyros, chicken, lamb, souvlaki, Greek meatballs, stuffed cabbage with rice, lamb in tomato sauce, baklava, dolmades, spanakopita, kataifi, melomakarona and more).
But you needn’t be a culinary grecophile to enjoy the festival.
In addition to the prepared food, there will also be a bakaliko (marketplace) to purchase food items to take home, as well as other traditional wares including jewelry and paintings.
Funds raised by this year’s festival will go toward remodeling the inside of the Holy Trinity Church in the Byzantine style, complete with traditional decor and iconography.
So if you can’t make that 5,381 mile trip to Karpenissi this weekend, you can at least swing over to Martin Luther King Jr. Park for a little taste of Greece.
[Ethan Clark is a freelance writer and cartoonist based in Asheville and New Orleans.]
Asheville Greek Festival
what: A celebration of Greek culture, tradition and food
where: Martin Luther King Jr. Park (50 Martin Luther King Jr. Dr.)
when: Friday, Sept. 28, through Sunday, Sept. 30. (Free. 253-4971.)