Before I travelled to Greece for the first time, I met a Greek-Canadian named Gideon who said something like, “Once you’ve been to Greece, it will haunt you.” He was right. Greece has been calling me back ever since I set foot on the island of Crete in 1978.
Finally, this April, I returned to Crete with The Consultant, in anticipation of all we remembered from back then – spontaneous Greek dancing, shop owners beckoning from their doorways, older gents sitting outside a kafenío with their Greek coffee and kombolói beads, rhythmically dispelling their worries.
Of course, a lot has changed in thirty-seven years.
The little village of Ierápetra, we’ve held so fondly in our memories, was barely recognizable to us. We had trouble getting our bearings so we could retrace the route we’d walked from the Cretan Villa down to the sea almost daily. It has turned into a bustling town with upscale shops and seaside bars.
Oh well. This was a new trip with new villages waiting to be discovered. It didn’t take us long to find that many of Crete’s wonderful qualities are still there, we just had to search a little harder.
We explored almost everyday and at the end of each day, I asked myself, “Where is the love?”
Here’s where I found it –
Scenery and Views – Crete is a beautiful island with every terrain you can imagine. There’s always a view in every direction. Towns perched on hillsides, rocky shores, sandy beaches, farmland, snowy mountains, flower-covered meadows and the bluest sea. I don’t know how many times one of us said, “Look at that. I love this!”
The Land – There doesn’t appear to be a speck of property that isn’t tended in some way. Whether it is an olive grove, a fruit orchard, pastures for sheep and goats, or a rock wall in the middle of nowhere. There is always an indication that someone is close at hand or has recently visited to tend an area with love.
The Historic Village of Kritsá – Here you get a sense of Cretan culture and the pride they have in their identity. Kritsá’s goal is to preserve historical Crete. This is where we first found the food we were looking for, the welcoming shop owners, and the Greek feel we remembered. Olive wood products, table linens, crocheted items all available and all made with love.
The Cretan Villa – the villa we lived in last time we were in Ierápetra, has been made-over from a quaint pension to a sweet hotel. The love is in the ownership. When we stayed, a schoolteacher named Vasilious owned it. Now it’s his son, Manoulis, who has added his own vision to update it yet keep it authentic.
The Food – fresh, simple and good. That hasn’t changed since we were there. We had forgotten about mezédhes – a little plate of olives, cucumbers or other appy offered with every drink – how nice. Last time we were there we didn’t have what I came to call “The Dessert Surprise.” After almost every meal, a little something came with the bill, usually a traditional Greek sweet – cake drizzled in honey, warm halva covered in apple sauce to name a couple. I started to leave room in anticipation. What’s not to love?
Our Vathy Bay Villa rental and its owners, who were also our neighbours. Cretan pride was most evident in the two dinners we were lucky enough to enjoy with our landlords. If it wasn’t for their hospitality – suflaki barbequed over olive wood coals by Michalis (Mike), goat and artichoke stew made by Maria, homemade olives, wine and raki – and the house they so lovingly tended, we’d never have enjoyed such a genuine Cretan experience.
At each meal, Mike pointed out which parts of the meal were from Crete and which were not. Most were.
He also made a point to sum up his philosophy of life for us, “No money; no problem.” With gestures this translates to, “You have a roof, you have food – don’t worry about money.”
The People – bring it all together. They are the same welcoming, helpful, trusting and laidback people we met all those years ago.
“Don’t worry,” they say.
“Don’t worry, we’ll help you find your villa,” says Manoulas and Thelxi at Friends Café and Pub.
“Don’t worry about the weather. Some days, we have rain. Some days you get sun. Some days windy, some days cloudy, some days warm. Don’t worry,” says the owner of the Traditional Cretan Product store in Eloúnda.
“Don’t worry about the earthquake,” says the owner of Zygos Taverna walking quickly out of the kitchen with his arms outstretched, palms down as though he had the power to calm the earth himself.
“Don’t worry. No one will come up here,” says Manalous of Votsalo Snackbar and Rooms as he muscles our freshly painted bedroom window closed for us. “Don’t worry. Pay me tomorrow,” he says.
“Don’t worry if soup is not on the menu. We’ll make lentil soup just for you,” says the owner of MeRaki Restaurant.
It wasn’t long before we learned to limit worry and relax into laughing more. How could we not? It’s easy to adopt the attitude that surrounds you. We felt loved and trusted everywhere we went.
Greece has a heartbeat. It comes from its people whose lives are all about love – for their land and their food, their culture, traditions and history. Love for each other and love for their visitors, even if they can only call them “friend” for a short period of time.
Now, what about The Consultant and me?
It’s not about whirlwind romance anymore. It’s about noticing the value of a rich and “old” relationship.
- my confidence in The Consultant’s driving on those crazy roads and his confidence in me to navigate us through.
- catching sight of the animated Consultant communicating through gestures with locals who don’t speak English well, then all of us laughing together when they “get” the message he is trying to convey.
- his respect for the quiet time I needed every morning to write my observations of the previous day.
- how he carried all the items I needlessly carried along on the hike up to Dhiktean Cave to make it easier on me.
- laughing together as we’d round the corner of an intensely exciting road somewhere back in the hills to come upon surprises like a herd of sheep or a quaint village square.
- sitting on the beach in the cool air, fully clothed, watching the consultant bob around in the waves, just like I did in 1978.
- about the last olive left in a bowl just for me.
- losing count of the number of times one or the other of us said, “I was just going to say that!” or “I was just thinking the same thing,”
I think Louis de Bernières describes my feelings best in this quote from his novel set in Greece, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin –
“Love is a temporary madness. It erupts like an earthquake and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have become so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion. That is just being “in love” which any of us can convince ourselves we are. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. …, we had roots that grew towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossom had fallen from our branches we found that we were one tree and not two.”
We didn’t fall in love all over again on this trip. But, we had to travel back so we could recognize the one true love we’ve shared all along.
Our roots touched on the Island of Crete in April 1978. Since that time, they’ve intertwined and tangled our strengths and weaknesses, differences and sameness, best and worst all up in each other. While the roots have kept us grounded through everything, the nourishment for our one tree is our acceptance and appreciation for each other as we are.
We could not stand on Cretan soil and immerse ourselves in its culture without its love spilling over on us. It was easy to look at my connection with The Consultant in relation to our surroundings. Our love is like the land itself, it has cured well with time.
During our one month in Crete, I searched. I know what Gideon meant now. I discovered what had been haunting me all this time – the love. I found, there’s still plenty on this isle. Can we travel back before thirty-seven more years go by? Please?
(Special thanks to my cousin David who reminded me of the love quote from Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by having it read at his recent wedding)