When a Greek says they’ve invited ‘just a few’ of their family members to dinner, what they mean is that you better prepare to close off traffic to a small street to accommodate everyone.
Angelo Tsarouchas admits that he may have been a little naïve to believe his cousin when he had visited Melbourne in 2016.
“One of the cousins says ‘There’s a few of us from Dafni, they want to get a lunch with you. Do you want to head to Vanilla in Oakleigh?’ I said let’s go and asked how many people he thought would be coming along. ‘Eeeh around 15-20 people’, I thought, that’s cool,” he told Neos Kosmos.
“I get to Vanilla, there’s got to be 175 people. I said ‘Who are these people?!’ He said ‘Oh you know, they’re from the village.’ I thought what happened to 15-20 people?!”
The ‘Dafnians’, like many other villagers across Greece had immigrated and made their way to all four corners of the world.
“We’re talking about a place that had 900 people max. They went to New York, Montreal, Ottowa, Toronto, Melbourne and a few other places. Melbourne had the most,” Mr Tsarouchas explained.
As the Greek-Canadian comedian got reacquainted with old names and faces, an ambitious idea to recreate the scene that unfolded before his eyes came to him.
“I got the idea right there. I said ‘Look, we’re getting older, we’re losing friends and family members. Time passes by. Why don’t we do a World Dafni Day, in Dafni, Laconia, Sparti, Greece, on August 15?’ I chose August 15 because it’s winter for you guys and the festival,” Mr Tsarouchas said.
When Mr Tsarouchas returned home he got to work creating a Facebook page, naming it “World Dafni Day 2019”, adding as many people that he knew.
As time went on the page gained more traction and before he knew it, he started getting calls from Greece the month before he was due to fly out.
“So come around June, I started getting calls from Greece. Now they’re curious in the village. ‘Let me ask you, what are you going to do in August?’ I guess people were calling them now…’We’re just doing a day, World Dafni Day, for all of us to come together and to celebrate,” Mr Tsarouchas said.
There were also concerns about the date of the celebration because of all the festivals, but Mr Tsarouchas stayed determined that the event would go ahead.
“Here’s the Greek cynicism. ‘I don’t believe anyone will come, it’s ridiculous, what are you doing?’…They’ve been beat up in Greece, I get it. I told him to have a little faith. I swear, I thought if we can get 150 people, that would be cool! I figured that much that people go to Greece anyway,” he said.
Undeterred by his cousin’s cautious pessimism, Mr Tsarouchas from pursuing his idea to honour his father’s birth place and introduce centuries of history and family to his young daughter.
Soon enough it was time to pack his bags and make his way to the airport. When he stepped back onto the shores of Greece, his phone stayed fairly silent for a while….until it didn’t.
“They didn’t say anything to me at the village, but my other cousin from there calls me and he goes ‘they’re bringing in chair from the other towns, they’re short,” Mr Tsarouchas.
“I said, how many chairs do you have? 1,200. When there’s an event, they call the taverns and book a table…Now the guy tells me they don’t have enough chairs.”
Mr Tsarouchas met up with the mayor to nut out the small details, all in the last minute.
The people of Dafni came together to build a nice stage and host almost 2,000 people in their village meant for a population of 900.
When 15 August rolled around family, friends and fans of Dafni had gathered from across the world, from neighbouring towns and islands to join in the laughs, dancing and music this small village just out of Sparta held.
More importantly, at least for Angelo Tsarouchas, was that he got to share a very special part of himself and his heritage with the next generation.
“We had a great night. My mum was there. My daughter got to play in the village and play in the streets where my father was and I said to her, ‘If your pappou were here now, he would be so proud’…I got up and did a show. It was 100 Fahrenheit (approx. 37 C) at night, I was drenched…It became like a big family reunion in the village with everybody from around the world,” he said.
“It was wonderful.”
Looking back now, Mr Tsarouchas reflects and in one way or another sees perhaps how ambitious his idea that started in a cafe in Melbourne’s South-East really was, but in the end, it just ‘felt right’.
“The egg was there and it became an omelette. That’s what life is about. If something’s weird in my life, I go with it. I don’t go against it. If it’s weird and it feels good, just go with it, you don’t know where it’s going to go.”