Thursday, 7 July 2016, The banquet and the raffle

Written 14 July 2016

I had another lazy day, mostly working on the diary. The organizers got started late selling tickets to the Swedmark Fund raffle—they only became available this morning, and the raffle is tonight, at the meeting banquet! Participants from all over the world bring items to contribute as raffle prizes, and sale of the tickets benefits the Swedmark Fund, which subsidizes travel to the meetings by students in the field. It's a worthy cause, so I bought my usual 15 euros' worth.

lunch desserts So the day's tourism starts with lunch, which was provided at the hotel as part of the meeting, as usual. The smoked salmon reappeared as small wrap sandwiches. In addition, I chose two cucumber chunks hollowed out and filled with a creamy cheese mixture, some tubular pasta with a meat sauce and grated hard cheese, a little broccoli, a single roasted potato wedge, an excellent grilled skewer of pork, a wedge of red plum, and a few fresh sweet cherries.

I passed up the dakos, the ham-lettuce-tomato sandwices, and the chocolate pudding, but I finally took the chance to try those dome-topped, chocolate-covered items that have been on the dessert table all week. They turned out to be round-topped cylinders of yellow cake sliced in half horizontally, filled with chocolate mousse, reassembled, and coated all over with chocolate. Very good.

aquarium octopus Then it was back to the diary for a while, until it was time to get ready for the bus trip to the banquet, which was held at "Cretaquarium," about half an hour east of the city and next door to the marine science institute that is hosting the meetings.

They're both part of a complex of building occupying a small fraction of a vast tract of land that used to be occupied by an American base but now belongs to the Cretan government.

The photo at the right shows the huge octopus that decorates the main entrance. To the right of the octopus, you can see that the logo of the aquarium is also a parody of the Phaisto disc.

grouper rose fish The aquarium had quite a nice collection, mostly of fish but with some invertebrates as well. The dog-tooth grouper (Epinephelus caninus) at the left here was not as blue as my photo makes him look. He was really more gray with brownish stripes.

The colors in the photo of the blackbelly rosefish (Helicolenus dactylopterus) at the right are much truer to nature.

golden bream The labels identified this guy at the left here as a goldblotch grouper (Epinephelus costae). The labeling was excellent, where it worked. Unfortunately, for many of the tanks, the backlighting that was supposed to make the labels legible in the aquarium's low light was burned out or too dim.

One example was the tank harboring this handsome seabream of some sort. I couldn't be sure just what species it (or the other fishes in the tank) was or whether the bulging around its head was normal.

moray holothurian This moray was more obliging than most about posing for the canera—they usually lurk in holes so that you can't see the whole thing at once.

The object in the photo at the right was lying on the sand near the moray's tail. I was pretty sure it was an animal, but I asked David just to be sure; he assured me that it's a holothurian (i.e., a sea cucumber).

Of course, what you see here is the fish willing to hold still long enough for my camera to focus in the low light. They had a beautiful cobia, but it was in constant motion, as were most of the aquarium's other denizens.

It's always great to have Jean-Yves around when the labels aren't legible. I asked him what those big brown fishes were in the largest tank. "Maigres," he said. "Those? I had no idea maigres got that big!" "Oh, yes," he said, "they eventually do if they aren't eaten first!"

whale sub The collection included a couple of whale skeletons, but I found this wooden model of a whale much more attractive.

Out front, before we went in, I got this shot of a bright-yellow apparatus. I never got the chance to ask or even to read the label. I think it's a data-collection buoy of some sort.

We could have spent twice the 45 minutes we were allowed in the aquarium—we had to hurry by the sea turtle tank and the huge fossilized nautilus shell, cut in cross section, but all too soon, it was time for dinner!

mezze moussaka As soon as we sat down, waiters presented each of us with this plate of starters: four tiny rice-stuffed grape leaves, each the size of two joints of my pinky; a pool of seasoned yogurt; two cherry-tomato halves; a small wedge of cheese (leaning on the grape leaves); and what delicious mashed potatoes with olive oil and lemon.

Next, we each got a square of moussaka, an eggplant and tomato casserole baked under a layer of cream sauce.

pasta salad After that came pasta sprinkled with grated cheese. After the individual plates of starters, each course was served on a platter to be passed around the table of five for serving. We shared a table with Laurence and Jean-Yves and with a student from the Czech republic. When the meeting organizer came around before the meal to ask whether anyone was vegetarian, she said she was, sort of, but that she was okay with fish. So far, so good.

In the photo of the pasta, you can see the branch of scented geranium leaves that was placed on each table as a centerpiece. After the pasta came this big bowl of Greek salad with pieces of rusk in it.

horta lamb To accompany the main course, we were served this plate of "horta," literally "weeds," the collective Greek term for mixed wild greens. They were chilled and seasoned with lemon and were excellent. The predominant plant had a texture like very tender kale. The plate also had a few slices of zucchini on it, and one decorative cooked carrot. We gave the vegetarian first crack at that, so it doesn't appear in the photo.

The main course was lamb with potatoes. The potatoes were roasted. The lamb, cut into large chunks and small chops, had been simmered until extremely tender, ready to fall off the bone, then roasted until very crisp. Delicious!

rice fish A few minutes later, the waiters brought each table a large bowl of rice cooked in the lamb-simmering broth (unfortunately, not quite enough minutes later, as the rice was rather uindercooked).

Meanwhile, to replace the lamb, they brought the Czech student this enormous grilled sea bream, which, even after passing it around the table, we couldn't finish half of.

fruit fritters When they brought the large platter of cut-up fruit (watermelon, canteloupe, peaches, apples, pineapple), we thought we were done, but just as we were finishing it off, they brought a platter of the most ethereally light, freshly fried round raised doughnuts, doused in syrup, sprinkled with sesame seed, and topped with globs of ice cream! That's another recipe I'm going to have to try!

The large table full of raffle prizes had been ferried over and laid out at one side of the dining room, so during dessert, our Greek host, with the help of some children who had come to Crete with their meiofauna-scientist parents, started drawing raffle tickets. The first person to win got to choose among all the prices, the second among all those that remained, etc.

The paper slips were difficult to mix by shaking in their container, so for the first half of the raffle, all the winners were among the higher numbers. Laurence was indignant; she insisted the process was unfair to those of us who bought our tickets at first opportunity. About half way through, the host dug in with both hands and forcibly separated wads of tickets that had been stuck at the bottom of the bowl. After that, things picked up. I won four items, though the selection was pretty picked over by then: a little square basket packed with a miniature bottle of ouzo, small jars of olive paste and honey, and a package of seasonings for tzatziki; a bar of soap made from olive oil and donkey's milk; a decorative metal Korean bookmark; and (the very last prize on the table) a set of four portfolios holding legal pads and decorated with the logo of an Italian institution. I gave away three and am bringing home only the last.

As happens every time, the raffle took forever—the children exhibited superior attention span—so it was about 1 a.m. before we got back to the hotel and fell into bed.

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