What to Do on a Rainy Florida Day: Party with Nisyrians

True to their heritage, the Nisyrians of Florida won't let a little rain spoil their celebration. (PHOTO: Constantinos E. Scaros)

SAFETY HARBOR, FL – The Nisyros Society of Florida, in its 25th year, had a picnic on May 20 at Philippe Park in Safety Harbor, one of the many Florida Gulf Coast towns in the Tampa/Clearwater area with a noticeable Greek population – the heaviest presence being in Tarpon Springs.

But the weather did not cooperate. Overcast skies and light rain filled most of the afternoon, resulting in fewer than half of the Society’s 100-plus members attending.

There are several domed areas – shelters – at Philippe Park to prevent plans from being cancelled because of rain, and so as I entered the park, I saw a sign that read: “Nisyros Society – Shelter 7.” I made my way to what I presumed was the Nisyrians’ shelter, and as soon as I exited my car, there was no mistake about it: blaring from a large speaker was the familiar sound of a rip-roaring fiddle playing Nisyrian instrumentals. I was welcomed by those who knew me, such as Society President Nick Intzes and Treasurer Manos Papaemmanouil, and introduced to many others. Papammanouil’s wife, Maria, in true Nisyrian hospitality and flair, literally took the plate from my hands just as I sat down to eat. “You don’t have enough food on your plate,” she said, “I’ll be right back.” A couple of minutes later, she brought the plate back, overflowing with food.

Nisyros only has four villages:  the capital Mandraki, Emporio, Nikia – where my parents were born – and Pali. All four were represented at the event.

Intzes, who is from Emporio, told me the Society proudly clings to all Nisyrian traditions, and holds an annual event celebrating the liberation of the Dodecanese Islands.

The Papaemmanouils are both from Mandraki, with her roots also from Pali. They explained that the Society was much larger, but as the older generation dwindled, the younger Nisyrian-Americans did not replenish the membership. Perhaps if they actually go to Nisyros and see it for themselves, I said, they’ll fall in love with it, as I did, and will want to identify more with their Nisyrian roots. They agreed.

Manos Kontoveros, from both Nikia and Pali, just moved to the area last October from New York. He lived on Long Island, but said the warm weather in Florida is incomparable. And he is happy to be surrounded by fellow Nisyrians. He also told me he misses being able to buy The National Herald (I directed him to our website, and told him he can read it every day online).

The community patriarch, 97-year-old Nikos Costidis, also from Emporio, was on hand. He came to the United States 79 years ago, and fought for the United States in World War II. A suicide commando ranger, he survived 58 combat missions in the Philippines. His memory still sharp, he explained that he was wounded on October 19, 1944.

“I’ve been going back to Nisyros every year since 1993,” he said. “And I’m going back again this year.”
I had emailed my cousin, who lives out of state, about the event, asking her to consider coming into town for it. “The Nisyrians are getting together in Clearwater,” I wrote (Clearwater is a better-known city near Safety Harbor). “There are Nisyrians in Clearwater?” she wrote back. “There are Nisyrians everywhere,” I replied.