After ten weeks in Florida, we left earlier this week, heading west, taking the gift of the friendship of friends and family along with us on our pilgrimage to here. The theme of this New Year is shaping up to one of connection to friends and family in the new places we are discovering.
Just after New Years, in the first of three 2016 reunions, we met up with friends from New Hampshire. They wrote in late December to say they would be near St. Petersburg and asked where we might be. One of the great things of this gypsy lifestyle is that we can usually manage to move our accommodations (read Airstream) to a new town. We got to spend a couple of days with them visiting St. Petersburg and Tarpon Springs, the latter known for its sponge industry, largely founded by Greek immigrants, which started there at the end of the nineteenth century. It is rumored that Tarpon Springs has the largest concentration of Greek/Americans of any town in the country.
Tarpon Springs is the only town in the country that celebrates the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6) in a very particular way and they have been doing it for 110 years. The morning of the feast day starts with church services in the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral, a blessing of the waters, and then a procession down to the sponge docks.
There on the docks, a dove is released in the air, and then the “cross retrieval” begins. Here, a cross is blessed and tossed into the chilly waters of Spring Bayou. A frenzy of young men, all under 18, dive into the chilly waters searching for the cross. The young man who retrieves it, emerges from the bayou and kneels before the archbishop to receive a blessing that is believed to hold for the entire year. Then, the victor is carried on the shoulders of the other participants to the festival, offering Greek food, music and dancing. The festival draws about 20,000 people a year these days and while we missed the January 6 events, we did catch a wonderful dinner at one of the many Greek restaurants in this attractive little town.
While in St. Petersburg, our friends joined us for one more dinner with my son, and the next day we headed north to the panhandle. We were attending our first Airstream meet-up, called the Canopener, at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park. We heard about this event from some folks we met when camping one year ago at St. George’s Island State Park. We were Airstream-wannabe owners back then and they were celebrating their first anniversary with their Airstream. They were the first people we emailed after we had decided to buy T2 and that’s when they told us about the Canopener and suggested we come. The added incentive was we would get to see them again since they were escaping their wintery home near Chicago.
Topsail is a lovely campground on the Gulf and it’s an amazing experience to arrive at a campground and see pretty much nothing but Airstreams. We had hoped to tour other Airstreams during the weekend but heavy rains changed the plans and the open houses were cancelled. That meant we got to spend a delicious amount of time visiting our friends and learning so much from their experience as Airstream owners. The really priceless part? Hours of conversation, a wonderful home cooked meal, and basking in the warmth of friends.
Our third reunion occurred these past three days when we headed to New Orleans to meet up with other New Hampshire friends who wrote to us to say they had rented a house in the Big Easy for a couple of months. We switched our reservations around and got a place at Bayou Segnette State Park on the west bank of the mighty Mississippi. We had a great time with them walking through their uptown neighborhood to a favorite restaurant of theirs where I had the most wonderful cheddar biscuits EVER.
The next day included walking around the French Quarter, eating gumbo and beignets (OMG!) and experiencing the vitality of Bourbon Street – music, mime, even a poet who would create a poem on demand based on a single idea (check out Peter’s Facebook page). We received an unexpected gift when our friends revealed they had been “introduced” to a couple we also knew (but hadn’t seen in a couple of years) who have a second home right on Jackson Square. This reunion included a tour of their lovely condominium and a view of the crescent of the Mississippi from the rooftop of their condo building. Breathtakingly beautiful and beyond words.
We are now in the space in between these kind of visits with friends, a hollow stretch of about three weeks where we quietly reflect on the grace of these ties, and are grateful to know that you all are continuing to travel right along with us.
Peter and Liz continue their pilgrimage to here, reuniting with dear friends along the way in their travels across the U.S. in their Airstream. Thanks to Medora Hebert for taking this photo of us which is light years better than our selfies!