At Greek Fest, It's Eat, Dance and Be Happy

It's a weekend event the two Homers would enjoy immensely.

Homer the poet would savor the nonstop Greek dancing, the music, the lore, the vitality.

Homer the Simpson would savor the loukomathes--honey-soaked Greek doughnut holes, the baklava, the kourambiethes, the galaktobouriko and all the other tongue-twisting delights dished up at the Ventura County Greek Festival.

"People come from all over for the wholesome food made from strict Greek recipes," said Father Cyril Loeb, pastor of St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, which puts on the event. "If there's such a thing as kosher Greek, this is it."

The pungent aroma of roasting chicken, kalamata olives and feta cheese wafted from booths set up on the grounds of the church at the Camarillo Airport. In an open-air tent with a sign 'Taverna,' ouzo, the licorice-flavored Greek liqueur, was selling briskly at $3 a shot.

"Ooh, mama!" said a woman as she felt the sweet burn of her first-ever sip. "They sell this stuff in bars?"

Nikos Padelides, a Woodland Hills systems engineer who volunteered for a shift as bartender, smiled.

"Trust me," he said. "They sell it in bars."

As a band called Hellenic Sounds played Zorba-like music that could have drifted over from Corfu, a crowd did traditional circle dances on a portable parquet floor. Earlier, waiters from The Greek restaurant at Ventura Harbor had balanced glasses of ouzo on their foreheads as they danced with their backs almost parallel to the floor.

Every now and then, someone yelled "Opa!"--an exclamation that seemed to capture the entire affair, now in its 22nd year.

The English equivalent is elusive.

" 'Hooray' doesn't quite get it," acknowledged Phyllis Fenger, a "Greek at heart" who lives in Carpinteria. " 'Opa' has a certain je ne sais quoi."

At a booth where he sold Greek trinkets and T-shirts, Nick Nicholson groped for the right English word.

"Ole!" he suggested.

About 10,000 people are expected to attend the weekend festival, said its chairman, Christo Pulos of Port Hueneme. The 30,000-plus pieces of homemade pastry will likely vanish, he said. Proceeds will go to the church and to overseas missions.

Meanwhile, 250 volunteers will keep dishing out the gyros and the spanakopita--and, in a nod to a land Plato never envisioned--the Dove bars.

"We have all the ingredients of a Greek party," said bartender Padelides. "We've got great live music and great food. Everyone's happy."

The festival runs from noon to 7 p.m. and admission is $2.

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