My daughter Kristina spent almost two years in Turkey at Incirlik Air Force Base and I lived vicariously through her the whole time, learning everything I could about their culture through her eyes. I drooled with envy the whole time and one of my most treasured possessions is a trinket she sent to me from Turkey: an “evil eye” charm.
I’ve had the charm hanging in my car from the rearview mirror since then, along with my sparkly faceted cut crystal and my bouncing Buddha (enlightenment on a spring, don’t ya know) on the dashboard. I’ve never seen anything like it until I went to Tarpon Springs, a cute and kitschy Greek fishing village here in the Tampa Bay (I drag all of my out of town visitors to the Tarpon Springs sponge docks). I saw evil eye charms for sale in all the stores there, in all shapes and sizes, because the Greeks share the belief in them.
Today, I dragged another friend from out of town to Tarpon Springs with me to eat some amazing Greek food at Costas, my favorite restaurant there, to tour the sponge docks and to pick up another evil eye for our second car (the Volaré that kept breaking down on our road trip … sure coulda used one back then, eh?).
There really is no way to do justice in the telling to Tarpon Springs. It’s a splendid mixture of beautiful scenery, legitimate history (see the historical marker pic), excellent food and goofy fun with a “roadside attraction” feel. If the Tampa Bay had a Greektown, Tarpon Springs would be it. The restaurants are plentiful (many feature belly dancing) and most of the shops sells handmade olive oil soap and hand lotion, sponges of every shape and size, and, of course, evil eye charms. And then there is the Spongeorama, my favorite place in Tarpon Springs just because of its name. It’s the reason I drag my friends here.
My friend Clark, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, is someone I’ve known for almost 20 years. I haven’t seen him in about eight years, but we’re the kind of friends who just pick up where we left off, as if we saw each other yesterday. He’s one of those people who lights up a room with his fun and laughter, and I couldn’t think of anyone who would enjoy the kitsch of the Spongeorama Sponge Museum more than Clark.
After an excellent lunch, we walked around town and enjoyed the exquisite Florida fall afternoon. The temperature was a rare perfect (many people think Florida is paradise year-round, but we actually only have about four weeks out of the entire year of really gorgeous weather—summer is too hot, winter is very rainy, spring and fall are both only about two weeks long) and we were both in a really good mood. It would only get gooder when we found our way to Spongeorama.
If you’re ever in Tarpon Springs, you really have to take the time to visit the Sponge Museum and see the movie about how sponges are gathered in the Gulf of Mexico. Yes, it’s educational, but the sheer entertainment factor is what I go for. The movie was made in the middle of the last century and it shows. Clark said it felt like watching a movie in fifth grade that was even old back then. It’s true. It’s so tacky that you can’t tear your eyes away, especially when they begin extolling the virtues of sponges at the end of the film and chanting, “Need it. Need it. Need it!” But that’s second only to the sample of olive oil hand lotion that one of the employees squirts into your hands as you go into the theater.
Here are a few pictures of the various exhibits in the museum that I will allow to speak for themselves:
I don’t think I really need to say much more, do I? Oh, here’s a picture I took of the door of the ladies room in the little mall in the center of town. I think it sort of blends with the feel of the rest of the day, don’t you?
And in case you’re wondering whether I found a suitable evil eye charm for the Volare, here it is: