TARPON SPRINGS — Thousands of miles of ocean and time zones apart, city leaders came together to share holiday blessings.
It took a little maneuvering to set up the 45-minute video call Thursday between the mayors of Tarpon Springs and its sister city of Kalymnos, Greece. The Floridians moved their laptop across the room to avoid the glare from sun streaming through the windows. The Greeks wiped their camera lens.
Numerous invitations to travel to each other's cities flew back and forth. The mayors promised to try to visit before their respective terms end.
"Hopefully we'll see you back over on this side very soon," said Tarpon Springs Mayor David Archie.
In his fluent Greek, Tarpon Springs Vice Mayor Chris Alahouzos discussed the Sister Cities program, which connects the city with four Greek communities, including the island of Kalymnos.
Kalymnos Mayor Dimitrios Diakomihalis suggested sharing lists of what his city and Tarpon Springs can provide to bolster each other's culture, education and economic development.
St. Petersburg College recently renewed an agreement with Kalymnos in the hopes of starting a study abroad program by 2014. Though the framework for the exchange has been in place, the program planned for 2010 didn't work out because of a lack of funds and student interest, according to Tarpon Springs campus provost Conferlete Carney.
A new effort will also forge virtual connections between elementary schools. A school in Hora, a village on the island of Kalymnos, will receive an iPad and Smart Board from Plato Academy in Tarpon Springs, where Alahouzos serves on the board. Like the elected officials, the students can meet over video chat.
Amid the chattering in Greek with a smattering of English, Kalymnian leaders oohed over the introduction of Karen Lemmons, Tarpon Springs' economic development director.
"You must have good experience that you can share with us," the Greeks said, according to Alahouzos' translation.
The Greeks asked for a blessing. Alahouzos wished them a happy new year and prosperity, with a speedy recovery from Greece's economic crisis.
At the end of the call, Alahouzos translated a message from the Kalymnos mayor to the Tarpon Springs mayor: "He wants you to know you have lots of brothers and sisters in Kalymnos."
"Tell him he has plenty of brothers here in Tarpon Springs," Archie said.
Stephanie Wang can be reached at (727) 445-4155 or firstname.lastname@example.org.