Sister city's mayor welcomed warmly
By KATHERINE GAZELLA, Times Staff Writer
TARPON SPRINGS -- As the mayor of Kalymnos walked through the streets of his new sister city on Friday, people who were born on the Greek island reacted as if they were seeing a famous actor or baseball star.
Kalymnos natives stopped their cars on Athens Street and reached out for Dimitrios Diakomichalis. He leaned into their car windows and greeted the old friends in Greek, then shook hands and hugged people on the sidewalks and in the coffee shops.
"Every time I come here I feel like I see Kalymnos away from Kalymnos," he said through interpreter Emmanuel Gombos. He previously visited for Epiphany in 1996.
Diakomichalis was here to sign a Sister Cities proclamation between his island and Tarpon Springs, which has a large Kalymnian population. Kalymnos, known for its sponge divers, is a rocky island in the Dodecanese chain in the Aegean Sea. About 17,000 people live there. During the early part of the last century, many Kalymnians were part of the influx of Greeks into Tarpon Springs; many others have come to Tarpon in the decades since then.
Diakomichalis attended a church service at the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral and posed for photographs, holding pieces of bread that symbolized the Biblical feeding of the multitudes.
From the church, he rode the new trolley and planned to go on a boat tour in the Anclote River. He never made it onto the boat.
At the Sponge Docks, he opted to see some old friends, including Themis Tsougranis at a coffee shop on Athens. In the late 1960s, the two men were classmates and roommates at an Athens school.
"It was quite moving," Diakomichalis later said of the reunion with Tsougranis.
He ate lunch at the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art at the Tarpon Springs campus of St. Petersburg College, where dancers from the city performed for him and other dignitaries. On Friday night, he attended performances by the St. Nicholas Kalymnian Society of Attica from Greece and Kalymnian singer Katie Koulia at the Tarpon Springs Performing Arts Center.
A Glendi, or Greek festival, sponsored by the Kalymnian Society is scheduled in his honor from noon to 10 p.m. today at the Sponge Docks in Tarpon Springs. The free event features dancing, Greek food and dance instruction.
The mayor offered ideas to further the cultural partnership between Kalymnos and Tarpon. He suggested setting up a traveling exhibit about Kalymnian heritage and sponge diving that could be displayed in the city, said Kathy Monahan, cultural and civic services director for Tarpon Springs.
"There's really some good ideas coming out," she said. "For us, (the trip) is a big deal to solidify the relationship. I think he sees how interested we are in retaining the culture."
-- Times photographer Scott Keeler contributed to this story. Katherine Gazella can be reached at (727) 445-4182 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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