ANCIENT OR MODERN?
It is a red morning. 0630. The first hints of a sun in the east, a red glow below. Ahead the navigation lights and behind Scarlet, the wind vane, ready for action; surrounded by instruments lit up red against a still grey light, we’re sailing away from Crete. We pass the long lump of hard rock with the Venetian fort and more recently a leper colony.* We passed by its gape open door, framed by pillars through where the lepers made their entrance never to leave. Our visit there yesterday was a bit bizarre. We were all, Irish, Israelis, Gulf Arabs, British, and Russians wandering around this place of suffering. However there was a strong message of hope and the people confined there certainly didn’t let their disease stop them living and loving and gardening. The information boards told how they formed a strong community voice for better treatment, of marriages and of the continuation of everyday life. But how heartbreaking for families separated. Thankfully there is now a cure.
Now the Egyptian sun god Ra is up, a cruise ship is entering Ayios Nikolaos and the shelter that Elounda Bay has given us for the last week is gone. We are out on a rough sea heading for Kasos and we can reflect on our lovely week.
Elounda we knew something of already. A series in 1973 called ‘Who Pays the Ferryman’ was set here and we watched it recently on the teeny screen of my DVD player. Apart from the DREADFUL clothes of that era (we must all have been guilty!) It was quite fun and it is familiar; here are the steps the hero and others kept running up and down, there the rolling hills that surround the bay and were the backdrop for his sailing race and now the church, sadly obliterated by a holiday apartment block. But we also know of it from a chance encounter on the train home from Edinburgh after a Greek class. My ears pricked up as a young girl opposite answered her phone with an ‘έλα’. Oh so exciting! A Greek speaker to regale with my tortuous efforts. Further conversation with Emily revealed that her father came from Elounda and that for the summer he returns to work in the restaurant Olondi. Earlier in the year Andy’s brother Tom and partner Jess had been to see Kostas, now it was our turn. Frequently we meet waiters who are from Athens or Thessaloniki, hardly any from Edinburgh, but now I think we know the only one! It was lovely to meet him and we received a great welcome from all the staff, if you’re in Crete and nearby you must go to Olondi!!! We hope we’ll all meet again.
While safely at anchor here we explored the interior of some of central and east Crete. A road trip is exhausting and suddenly terrifying. In contrast to travel on Selkie Dancer where it takes a leisurely 10 minutes to travel a mile and there is space and air all around, the car is tiny, we’re going at breakneck speed and I find myself flinching at possible close contact with hard things on the side.
There is lunch beside the sea and opposite an islet with Minoan remains, there is a waterfall with a bright green ponytail, there is a beautiful little Byzantine church surrounded by cypresses and a village high in the mountains selling handcrafts. There is the site at Gortyn where the city’s laws are inscribed clearly on tablets ‘on whose principles many of the institutions of modern criminal law are based’ (guide book). Minoan Palaces abound and one of them, Phaistos, has a beautiful peaceful site with spectacular views of Mount Ida and down to the plain beyond. There is the amazing interior of the Messara plain, a garden of Eden, thickly planted with olives – clouds of them. This huge area stretches as far as the eye can see and undulates into the distance until stopped by the inevitable mountain range, everywhere you are conscious of these. The flow is broken here and there by the occasional cypress tree or a farm building and on the gentler slopes there is a patchwork quilt. Imagine green, only green, all the different shades, then make different shapes and embroider them in contrasting, neat, stitches; regimented, ordered patterns and there you have it. We drive through wide streets of agricultural towns reminiscent of rural Australia or the USA, ancient tractors and pickups, and you cannot avoid cabbages! Outside shops, cabbages like giant footballs glow burnished as a full moon, I’ve never seen them so large and in such profusion. There is the Dorian site at Lato breathtakingly positioned between two mountain peaks and commanding the comings and goings in the surrounding area.
The artists impression of how the palace of Phaistos would have looked it is hard to distinguish from a mid 20th century building; Ariadne is now a supermarket and enterprise is not dead. When we FINALLY got to the ancient Minoan Palace of Knossos after a missed turn by me and then a STUBBORN refusal to retrace steps or use our available technology but to use rusty navigation skills with limited map information to guide us there, guess who led me a merry, stressful dance up over the mountains through horribly narrow twisty mountain villages, making me reverse up a steep hill, encounter goats and ancient farm machinery, refused to use the Internet or iPad just to PROVE that he was as good as Vasco de Gama. When we FINALLY got close to Knossos we were beckoned in to park under a tree in a shady olive grove with guaranteed safety in this family run business. No sooner are you parked and realise that you are still not quite there, you are invited, nay pressured into having a coffee or a juice at their taverna which were happy to do applauding their charm and enterprise. Further down the hill we found the official car park for Knossos Palace – no steward, masses of space, free but none of the extras.
On one of the mountainside roads, just after being buzzed by an eagle we came across a memorial for five hundred villagers who were executed by the Geman Occupational forces of WW2. It was a powerful image and the tablet at the entrance read thus:
Bypasser, stay guarded
Here lie dead
Who never betrayed
Who never lied
Tyran never worshipped
Bypasser, stay guarded
and with a lucid spirit
What if you enjoy
And if you walk full
And if you love
and are loved
And whatever good
You have in life
Was offered to you by those dead.
I love the Minoans, harmonious, fun loving, artistic; a thallasocracy who guaranteed safe seas, cleared out the Pirates and had peaceful trade. I loved the museum at Herakleion, the individuality of the art – the bowl inside which was a crude representation of a shepherd and his flock of sheep, it was reminiscent of a modern Anthony Gormley piece. There was also a town mosaic, little ceramic squares, images of houses thought to be the inlay to a sumptuous piece of wooden furniture. So many of the exhibits could be mistaken for contemporary, the goddess of the poppies, the girl on a swing. It was a such an exciting museum, wonderful jewellery – the exquisite detail of the bee pendant – talent in abundance and it made me want to dance.
* Spinalonga – Victoria Hislop The Island
Suddenly there are more boats in the anchorage, we are migrating birds, travelling to our wintering grounds. We are off to ours, off to Leros.