Monday was Greek National Day and here in Tirana, the Greek Embassy went all out with their celebrations. Recognizing the 1832 establishment of Greece as an independent and free state, the day's festivities included a performance by the Dora Stratou Dance Theater highlighting the traditional dances and music from Greece's diverse regions. Greece is a relatively small country with just under 132,000 square kilometers but is much more diverse than the stereotypical western images that Mamma Mia! and My Big Fat Greek Wedding bring to mind. From its kilometers of aquamarine shoreline and sun filled islands to the ruins of ancient Athens and its mountainous northern border shared with Albania, there is a diversity amongst Greece's geography, culture, and people and all of this was reflected in the evening's entertainment.
The vibrant costumes, the varied dances, and the music were impressive. The program included traditional music and dances from all of Greece's regions. From the northern area of Macedonia (not to be confused with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) to the Ionian Islands and Epirus and everywhere in between, each region was represented. The costumes and dance of the Macedonian region reminded me of the traditional songs and dance of southern Albania; this shouldn't be surprising since the two areas share a mountainous border. These dancers wore bold black and red costumes while the dances representing the Ionian Islands were equally vibrant but more colorful and varied. The music and dance steps from this region were lighter and far more elegant than their interior cousins. The costumes accompanying the dances representing the Northern Thrace and Asia Minor regions were less ornate but reflective of the influences from neighboring Turkey and Bulgaria.
The performance was just the first part of the evening. Following the concert guests were invited to partake in a reception in the lobby of the National Opera House. Upon hearing this I had visions of spanikopita, baklava, olives, and other Greek delicacies. This thought kept me going through the long, cold (there really wasn't adequate heat in the theater) interludes between performances that allowed for costume changes. But because this is Albania, while there was Greek wine, there wasn't any Greek food to be had at the reception. Instead, the food was your typical Albanian reception food providing an array of Albanian and Chinese (??) appetizers that were washed down with either Greek wine or Heineken beer. The wine was decent, the food not so much. This didn't stop other guests from heaping their plates with so appetizers that I wondered whether they had eaten that day. All of this was accompanied by the unappetizing aroma of cigarette smoke. Yes, people were actively smoking inside the lobby of the National Opera but in a strange way, I've come to expect this type of behavior.
So unless I make it myself, my hankering for authentic Greek food will have to wait until our two upcoming trips to Greece. First up will be the Ionian island of Corfu in early July followed by a road trip through northern Greece at the end of the month. It is still a few months away but I can already hear the music and taste the food. I can't wait.