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Hail to new sibling city, Big Al and great food

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By ERNEST HOOPER, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published August 21, 2002

Another month, another international event for Mayor Dick Greco.

On Thursday, Greco will sign a Sister City agreement with the cities of Veracruz and Boca del Rio, Mexico.

The agreement is the city's first with a city in Mexico, and it's part of a three-day trade mission that begins today.

"The interest started port to port because Veracruz is one of the largest ports in Mexico," said sister cities commission president Dr. Henry Fernandez, who just returned from Agrigento, Italy, another of Tampa's siblings. "They already have been doing business with our port, and about a year ago, somebody said this is the perfect time to do Veracruz as a sister city."

Mexican delegates will meet with Tampa Bay business leaders to explore future trade opportunities between the two regions. The signing ceremony is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. at the Wyndham Harbour Island Hotel.

This will bring the number of sister cities to eight, including Agrigento; Cordoba, Argentina; Granada, Nicaragua; Izmir, Turkey; Le Havre, France; Oviedo, Spain; Baranquilla, Colombia; and Jaixing, China, another new addition.

I guess we're a pretty big family -- and maybe one with a city father who can't slow down.

* * *

Happy birthday to baseball Hall of Famer and Tampa native Al Lopez Sr., who celebrated turning 94 Sunday at the home of his son, Al Lopez Jr. The younger Lopez said his dad is doing fine, despite an ailing back.

Do you realize it's been 10 years since Horizon Park was renamed for Lopez? A hero in the local Latin community who spent 18 years as a major league catcher and another 18 managing the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians, Lopez was honored in October of 1992.

* * *

Fifty restaurants will offer up entree and dessert samples at the 11th annual Gourmet Feastivaland Silent Auction on Thursday from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Tampa Convention Center. Tickets are $40 in advance and $50 at the door, and the cost covers food and drinks, including beer and wine.

Outback, Carabbas, Salt Rock Grill, Columbia, Shells, Samba Room and Melting Pot are among the restaurants.

Profusion will be there with an added offer: a drawing that gives entrants six chances to win an invitation to the restaurant's December private party being hosted by co-owners Keyshawn Johnson and Hazel Mah. Each invitation is good for four people.

Proceeds benefit the Centre For Women.

* * *

Here's another nighttime attraction for Thursday: The Columbia in Ybor is beginning a series of liquor tastings with "Glorious Gin." For $20, you can sample various gins and partake in Columbia appetizers. Subsequent evenings will feature bourbons, cognacs and scotch.

After writing those two items, I feel like singing These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things. Beer, liquor and food are tantalizing -- but how smart is it for me to mention those events when the paper is hoping somebody (anybody) will come to a "Meet Ernest Hooper" function at the Jan K. Platt Library on Thursday?

To avoid embarrassment, I had considered filling the audience with friends and family, but my wife pointed out that she met me a long time ago and it is a rather overrated experience. Someone else noted I don't want pals present because if no one shows up, I can lie to my friends and say the room was packed.

For those who might show up, all I can promise is coffee at 6 p.m., a presentation at 7 and my unyielding gratitude. However, I am lobbying for a spirit a little stronger than coffee.

That's all I'm saying.

-- Ernest Hooper can be reached at (813) 226-3406 or

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