March 26, 2007

Key Exchange Binds Ithaca to Greek City

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Yesterday, the mayors of Ithaca, New York and Elios Proni, Greece exchanged city keys to symbolize their new relationship as sister cities. The occasion was the keynote event in the “Getting to Know Europe” project organized by Cornell’s Institute for European Studies (IES).

“We’ve been striving and striving to make a formal connection and today will be the day,” said Ithaca Mayor Carolyn Peterson.

The two cities have reconnected over the last few years after scholar Gail Holst-Warhaft, now the director of the Mediterranean Initiative at IES, translated the works of Nikos Kavadias, the Greek island’s native son. However, the ties between Greece and Ithaca go back much farther than that. Greek immigrants have been settling in Ithaca for a long time. In fact, Louis Zounakos of Louie’s Lunch fame was born in Sparta and came to America in the early 1900s.

Aside from the key to the city, Mayor Peterson presented Elios Proni mayor Gerasimos Metaxas with a basket of other gifts including dark chocolate and a book about the area. Mayor Metaxas also presented Mayor Peterson with gifts, including a bust of Odysseus.

Elios Proni is on the island of Cephalonia and is close to where the ruins of the palace of Odysseus, the famed kind of Ithaka, are being excavated. Like Ithaca, New York, Elios Proni has abundant fresh water resources, is an important wine producer and is frequented by tourists.

“There are many similarities between the two areas,” Metaxas said.

David Wippman, vice provost for international relations, was excited about the international pairing.

“I really look forward to the events that today will launch,” Wippman said.

During his remarks, Wippman stressed the importance of international connections. He said he believed that opportunities for global exchange better prepare students for the more interdependent real world.

“We have made strengthening Cornell’s international relations a priority,” Wippman said.

The “Getting to Know Europe” project was made possible by a $100,000 grant from the European Union Commission in honor of the E.U.’s 50th anniversary. Future events will highlight the connections and similarities between the two cities and educate about the different cultures.

“This is just the beginning,” Peterson said.