“Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts”
But some clever wag amended it to
“Beware of Gifts Bearing Greeks”
General Crete Stuff
Crete, or at least the capital, Heraklion, presented one of the most fascinating first impressions on the whole trip: none of the toilets I saw had seats or lids, just bowls.
Well, it’s certainly a kind of change from Turkey, where as you know, there are mostly porcelain holes in the floor with helpful, but somewhat redundant, foot impressions—I mean if you can’t figure out what the hole is for or where you feet have to go, maybe you’d just better stay home. . . .
The Turkish approach makes a great deal more sense than the Iraklion approach--- talk about your basic Thigh-Master bathrooms!
For the first two full days, anyway, Crete has the worst of both options.
Finished and Unfinished
You’ll notice, if you came here, while it’s like Turkey in many ways, it’s also different.
A lot of houses are similarly unfinished--- blocky, all cement-and-rebar first two stories done with rebar sticking out of the columns that will be extended when there’s more funding from cousin Spiros in Chicago or cousin Nikos in Detroit, or . . . .
Discouragingly, in some of them the lower sections of the columns are already flaking away and losing little (looks like rough pieces of bark having fallen or been stripped from a tree) poorly made sections. . . .
Looking around though, you’ll see this is a much more finished place (although not quite totally finished) than Turkey. It’s a lot tidier, if that’s not too prissy a term.
I was getting pretty used to Turkish— bombing around in it with my language sheets just like I blundered around the country, but the switch to Greek has me bumbling much more.
I can remember the Greek phrases for Hello, Yes, No, Please, You're Welcome, OK, Thank You, Good Morning and Good Afternoon from when I was here on my very first big trip in 1960, and the few days Susan and I spent in Greece last year certainly reinforced them.
But it’s so much harder to find them in my brain after two months of Turkish. . . .
Languages are so much harder when you are older— and the ten I dealt with last year (with ten little language sheets) were tough enough---
But after two months of gradually getting slightly comfortable bombing around in Turkish as I was bombing around in Turkey. . . .
Now, talk about flopping on the beach like a trout. . . .
The Agony of Anogia
I stayed Wednesday PM in a town in the hills of Crete called Anogia.
I stayed in the upper town, the new town, where the domatia (rooms) and banks and post office all are, but the lower old town is pretty unchanged, so I’ll be going down there later to check it out.
In WWII, some partisans kidnapped a German General not far from here, so they (there really are good reasons why people hate Germans) rounded up every male inhabitant within a kilometer or two from the village who was over about 12 and shot them all in the main square, about 50 meters from where I am.
The women re-created the old embroidery and crocheting handcrafts in order to make a living with no men around (although even now I’ve mostly seen the women do all the work and the men mostly do all the sitting around) and now that’s a re-established tradition here, 60+ years later.
When I walked down to the edge of the cliff between the upper and lower towns, I could see some old women with white hair dressed all in black up on their balconies overlooking the main street and who appeared to be the right age to have been suddenly widowed in August of 1944 during the reprisal.
I stopped at the memorial (which is just down the street) and there were three dates on it and lots of names: the dates were 1823, 1867, and 1944.
The first Greek War of Independence (from the Turks) took place in the 1820s— Byron, the poet, died assisting the Greeks, and 1944 was clearly WWII, and, of course, 1867 was another uprising against the Turks, and since 17 British soldiers were killed by a Turkish mob fearing their rights (much lower taxation rates, for example, for Muslims) would be lost under independence, the British hanged 17 Turkish ringleaders and created a government that slid slowly (and much less violently) toward Greek independence, which occurred at the end of WWI.
I’m Way Too Old for All This (Damn!)
In the space of about an hour this AM, I got invited into four women’s bedrooms, and then later, this afternoon, I got called “sweetie” a couple dozen times.
Well, the women inviting me into their bedrooms seemed to average about 287 years old, although that’s probably good, because trying to keep up with some young cutie could probably burst all my remaining gaskets. . . . if I even lasted that long. . . .
This was down in the lower part of Anogia (see below), and I’d stopped there because of all the linens and such hanging outside the houses,
and the old women sitting in chairs next to the road, so I grabbed the camera, got out, and started walking.
I was in one shop and there were four women in there, and they asked me to sit in a chair, and when I did, I was as tall as Maria, here, holding up a table runner.
And I got many more positive responses to “Photo OK?” than I thought I would. Even with the success of Turkey, I was a little hesitant the evening before asking these old men
with the black headbands and pants tucked into boots and furious mustachios (See “Zorba, the Greek” which was filmed here in the middle-sixties using mostly locals to see what they were like), but this AM I did OK.
As I shared recently, I’m not nearly as fluent (the word “fluent” is a vast overstretching of what that word means) in Greek as I am in Turkish, where I maybe have about 60 words at some level of command, but I have tried to learn the words for “handsome” and “beautiful” and “distinguished” to start to work up to the ones I want to shoot.
The WWII Battle of Crete Museum was closed when I went by, so I’ll be hitting it as well as a couple of other places back in Heraklio at the end of June after I turn in the car.
Crete is interesting militarily for an interesting policy shift between the combatants.
The Germans took Crete away from the British pretty quickly and efficiently with a classic vertical envelopment, which started with paratroopers dropping on an airfield, capturing it pretty quickly, then the already-in-the-air troop transports landed, and in a couple of hours, the Germans had a potent force on the ground, and pretty much rolled up the British defenders.
But here’s the irony: the German vertical envelopment was very successful, and the Allies, much impressed, stole that page from their play-book. The Allies mounted more and more, and significantly larger, parachute drops throughout the war, including Sicily, Normandy (Band of Brothers is about one company of one regiment of one of the American Airborne divisions, the 101st), Holland, etc. The last mass jump of the war, for Operation Market-Garden, (two complete Airborne divisions—almost 25,000 troops as I remember) was a bust, but that’s a completely separate issue.
Many more jumps were planned and within days (or sometimes hours) of being carried out, but often the ground troops were over-running German positions faster than the airborne plans could get made or implemented, so many of the drops just didn’t happen.
The Germans never used paratroopers as the advance troops after Crete.
It Wasn’t the Hittites that Invented Drama. . . .
I got back from my walk down to see the memorial and the sunset, and discovered that the overhead light in my room didn’t work.
So I took my G-E E-G dictionary down to the managers of the place I’m staying (“pensiyone” in Turkey, “soba” in the Balkans, but “domatia” (as in “domestic”) in Greece.
And there’s the old guy- 75 or so, and his wife, and she did all the work to show me the room and check me in and all that while he sat in the shade, but a burned-out light bulb is clearly a really big deal, because he shoos her inside their part of the place and tells me to follow her, which I do. And the room I enter is full of same pretty lovely fabrics—crocheted edges on table-cloths, cross-stitch embroidery, etc., etc.
And she gets her glasses and I show her the word for “light” in the dictionary, and she tells him and so we all go upstairs, and he takes charge, of course, and flips the switch (in some kind of grand manner) in my room and nothing happens.
Se he tells her something which takes lots of words, and she teeters off to steal a light bulb from an empty room, and has to go downstairs to get the key and then come back upstairs and then stand on a little desk chair to reach the bulb, standing on this rickety-looking chair with her arms over her head as she’s short and it’s hard for her to reach the bulb, and all the while he’s standing next to me, taking up space in the universe for no apparent reason, and calling out to her every 30 seconds or so in a way that sounds like he’s issuing instructions telling her either what to do or to hurry. . . . .
In Anogia this AM (Thursday), I saw a variation on the weekly markets I so enjoyed (and enjoyed shooting) in Turkey.
In this system, in the villages apparently too small for a big even weekly tent set-up, changing villages every day, making a one-week circuit, there were about four or five full-size pick-ups coming through loaded with various vegetables, and the drivers hawking their wares with PA systems on the trucks.
And this, interestingly, in a little town where it seemed, about every little shop that wasn’t selling hand-crafts was a little grocery. In the 300 meters or so of the street through the upper (newer) town, there must have been a dozen little markets.
Harsh Lands, Sometimes Harsh People
I went to a cave today, which was pretty cool— in more ways than one, being 61 degrees down there, rather than the 90 or so it was everywhere else--
But this one had a local history as well. During one of the wars between the Greeks and the Turks, when the Turks appeared the locals all went to the cave for sanctuary.
And after some palavering, the Muslim commander started blocking air access to the cave, and every night, the local Greeks would open up more.
So he sent some emissaries down to negotiate, and then a few hours later, angrily set huge fires which suffocated all the people inside the cave—-- almost 300 of them.
The skeletons were discovered years later, apparently.
And before you jump on the Turks here, or the Muslims, you should probably know that the locals shot the two armistice/capitulation emissaries. . . .
On the way back out of the little town where the cave is I saw a bunch of signs about a local olive oil operation, so stopped in to learn what I could.
I learned all about virgins and extra-virgins so I’m now the expert in those nuances. . . .
You take the olives, leaves, etc. that you shake from the tree into a net and grind it up in (historically donkey-powered,
now diesel-powered) grinders.
Then you put the slurry in a mesh bag and press it pretty significantly, (the mesh bag is in the bottom of this big squeezer)
and the oil and water get squeezed out and the leaves and pits and all that stay behind, and the oil is lighter than the water, so you slowly strain it out like those two-level gravy separators. . . .
The woman who kept calling me “sweetie” runs the place, and does the oil for her own trees, as well as almost 400 other local growers, for which she gets part of the oil.
It takes about 5 kilos of olives, pits, leaves, etc., to make 1 kilo of oil.
She feeds the leaves to her sheep and, of course, eats the sheep, and burns the crushed pits in a kind of (world’s smallest pellets) pellet stove during the winter.
She’s from Massachusetts, grew up in Alabama, and came back to run (and modernize) her father’s operation here. She said that when she moved to rural Alabama and was telling her new classmates where she was from, about 40 or so years ago, many of them thought that was a foreign country.
And they could have been more right than they knew.
Virgin olive oil comes from the first, very gentle pressing of the mush of olives, leaves, and crushed pits.
Extra-virgin just means that the acid content is below .08.
And here’s a 4-star room (on my scale, anyway) in the coastal village of Balί on the north coast.
It gets one star for the fridge (not even counting the rest of the kitchen!), but it’s a three-star bathroom.
One star for a shower pan, one for a place to hang the flexible shower head, and the third because you don’t have to use your knee to hold the lid up off the seat.
I have graduated, it seems, to real toilets, but often here, as in Turkey, they’re at the 90 to 95% efficiency level. They work and all, but the tank is too thick or the seat is too far back, and, well, I’m sure you get the idea.