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Greeks and the Sea – A Physical and Mystical Connection

December 27, 2020

I get this question often. As a Greek, they ask, do I feel a special bond with the water? The short answer is: Yes. Not quite on the order of Odysseus, who obviously didn’t follow his mother’s instructions to always go straight home after school.  

As Aegean seafarers, my ancestors trawled for tuna, octopus, and mullet. My mother-in-law, a native of Kalamata, cooked the absolute best pan-fried smelts in history. She waxed poetic more about those silvery threads than she did olives.   

My people were also landlubbers, harvesting honey and oregano and showing up at the neighbors’ doorsteps without texting first. I’ve never dived into icy water on Epiphany, hoping to be the one to pluck the gold cross from its depths. Nor do I have the funds for a motorboat – not even a rowboat.   

While I await blanket distribution of the Pfizer vaccine, I found myself in the mood to update my fascination with creatures that are finned and scaled. My appetite was whetted (pun intended) when I spent a leisurely afternoon at the Baltimore Aquarium, overlooking the Chesapeake Bay.  

Strictly from a visitor’s point of view, it was great being in a place where capacity was held to 25%. I’m sure the numbers crunchers see things differently. I was also impressed by the employees who were laser-focused on making sure guests practiced social distancing as we strolled and awed at the 2.2 million gallons of water which 750 species call home.  

Each display on each level popped. The words engraved on one reminded us that “each high tide brings a new feast to the beach,” resonated. Singular members of the underwater family are caught up in the verities of wind and waves, from seagulls to squid, horseshoe crabs to toothless catfish. Also, if you become entangled in a clump of seaweed, think good thoughts. Although it can spoil an otherwise ideal summer day at the shore, the pesky annoyance is a terrific source of vitamins and minerals. 

In the darkness-bathed atmospherics, the effect of each singular tableau was immersive. The artists palette of sapphire, ruby red, chestnut browns, and emerald floated a spiritual energy that you would be hard-pressed to duplicate. I hadn’t seen these hues since I removed the patch following cataract surgery.  

The resident dolphins are one of the reasons the Aquarium is the top tourist attraction in Charm City. I learned stuff that was never covered on Flipper, the NBC TV show I grew up watching.  

For much of my life, I assumed that every dolphin on the planet lived at Sea World in San Diego. Then I found they span 36 species and are virtually everywhere. They’re deeply relational. Like a lot of Greek guys, myself among them, they’re close to their moms and live at home for way too long. (Wait. What?) They like blowing bubbles. They have two stomachs. They dine on fish by swallowing them head first so the fish’s spines don’t get caught in the dolphin’s throat. 

Other learnable moments washed over me. There’s a compound in the skin of the poison dart frog that blocks pain better than morphine. That a quarter of the prescription drugs in the U.S. contain ingredients found in the Amazon Rainforest. Or that a female octopus can lay a clutch of up to 50,000 eggs! Then she dotes on her babies for 53 months, constantly protecting them from predators and keeping them hydrated. Then, she dies! Some reward for a lifetime of martyrdom. “No mother could give more,” asserted one marine biologist,” when I Googled it.  

While leaving, it hit me that the Aquarium was a five-minute drive from Greektown. In a sense, the proximity is a pungent symbol of the untold instances of maternal-sacrifice-on-steroids that spring from there. 

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