Thursday, October 30, 2008

Our House

Our house is about eight by twenty five feet, a little wider at the back. The ceilings are about twelve feet high. The backgammon players drink coffee at a cafenio in the next building, essentially in the next room. Across the street is a baker who makes large decorated cakes for special occasions, of which there are many in Greek life. Your birthday is not as important as your saint's name day, and you celebrate with everyone else with the same name. Next to the cafenio is a potter; down the other way, there is a weaver, across from Steki, our favorite place to eat and hang out. There are a couple of T-shirt shops, a shop with olive-wood bowls and utensils, yet another cafenio (cafe'), and several other houses, all in about one hundred feet of our little street, which is also about eight feet wide. There is a scooter across the way that has been there for years, apparently, in a pretty arched niche in the wall.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Sunday Walking Around

I wandered around the backstreets today with a camera. I will eventually get tired of ruins juxtaposed with newer buildings, but I’m not there yet. I saw archaeological excavations of Minoan structures, marked for the levels in the ground. The city was called Kidonia before the Venetians came and renamed it La Canea. I saw old monasteries. I saw a lot of partial buildings joined to other buildings. It is a little hard to conceive of so much history all in one place, coming from an area where the visible history is less than three hundred years. There are many pieces of wall with windows enclosing nothing but air and vines. (There are lovely Morning Glories blooming cascading blue down the walls.) A sign on a ruined monastery advertised rooms to rent, with bath and kitchen. The rooms were actually located in a building that was behind the roofless stone walls and gaping arched windows, which I saw only after I did the double take.

I saw minarets and old churches; Byzantine arched buildings under restoration; scrollwork wrought iron doors and balconies; blooming bougainvillea and hibiscus; what looks like poppy buds except the leaves are wrong; geraniums; ripening oranges, plums, lemons, pomegranates, roses, olives, morning glories, several varieties of palm, grapes and another vine. There is not a lot of green space in the old city, but there are a couple of small parks farther back from the harbor.

Saturday,October 25

We had a wonderful fish soup at Steki tonight. It was a special request of a regular customer who is going back to Denmark soon, and we got to share it. The broth is a sort of AvgoLemono and comes with a tray of fish and vegetables, which you then add to the broth as you please. I found the recipe in a Cretan cookbook; when we went back to buy it later, the shop was closed. I will try again; this food is really good. We were offered ice-cream for dessert, also not something they usually have. Johnny warned us that it was not fresh but frozen, and that it was served cold… We split a dish among three of us.

Camilla and Hazel were at Steki on their way to a disco party. Camilla had told us about her costume earlier, and we got to see it first hand. She is Danish and works in a jewelry shop, but is going to Denmark on Thursday. She was wearing white knee-high boots with platform soles and very high heels, over white knee socks that formed a cuff at the top. Her dress was a referee-striped halter with a fitted long bodice and a skirt about 8” long from the hip; she also wore a lacy petticoat, which extended the hem length another four inches. The dress had in its breast pocket a red card for handing out to reject a prospective suitor. Johnny made sure she also had a yellow one in case she wanted to say maybe. I don’t think she had any in green.

What We Did in Crete

Last night, three of us sat on the doorstep with our laptops, and provoked a chuckle from the neighbors. They felt better when we told them we were working and sending messages to our children; they are not keen on computer games, I think. It would have been a great photo: “What I did in Crete”. Sometimes we can get a wireless signal in the house, sometimes not. This time, we found it on the doorstep.

Smoking seems like a national pastime. Our teachers all smoke. Sometimes we have to get up and shut the classroom door, form, though they don’t smoke in the classroom, the office is right next door, or the balcony, and they don’t think about how the smoke travels. All of us students are bothered by it, but what can you do? There is often smoking at the next table when we eat. It really is everywhere. Our sheets and towels smell of cigarette smoke. We are glad to have the chance at a lot of fresh air between sessions. It will get harder as we shut the doors and windows, of course.

Day to Day

We finished the first week of classes a little incredulous; it’s hard work, and hard to believe that so much time has passed. We arrive at the school each day at 9, having been awakened by churchbells behind our house around 8 (if we slept through the set at around 7; time here is approximate) The pattern is the same, the number of repetitions varies. Some of us might write a rap song as a teaching tool, based on the churchbells.

We have a series of classes, different each day, on teaching methods, classroom management, lessons in an unknown language so we experience some of what our students go through, grammar and sentence structure, games and exercises, lesson planning, and actual teaching. We break briefly between each class, and for lunch/siesta around 2, to return at 5 to observe, to teach, or to take more classes. We finish around 8:30 for dinner, though the schedule is very fluid and changeable. Sometimes we have only an hour for lunch, so we can work on lesson planning for that evening’s students.

We have lots of homework, some of it solidifying what we already know, and drawing from our own learning or teaching experience, and others are for practicing new skills. We usually have a couple of days to do each paper, which can be up to three pages of essay.

Our house has stucco walls, tile floors, exposed beams, and a spiral staircase. It is over 400 years old. The houses are limestone, all one right against the next without any space, along the stone-paved street. The front door is a vaguely Mondrian metal grid, with a swing-away reinforced bubble glass insert, something akin to a storm door in NH. We turn on the water heater twenty minutes before taking a shower; the third floor bathroom has solar water heating, like many other houses here. Toilet paper goes in a bin, not down the toilet; the sewer systems here and in other parts of the world can’t accept paper, and the consequences have been described to us; we’re doing well remembering. All of the windows have shutters but no screens; if you want ventilation with privacy, you close the shutters and leave the window open.

The streets in this old section are narrow, wide enough for a scooter or a donkey, I suppose. A car could come through, though very slowly; there is a lot of life in the streets. Our street is called Eleftheriou Dorothea. The sidewalks on the larger streets are tiled. The streets are cobblestone of various types.

There are fewer people out and about since I came a week and a half ago. October wraps up the tourist season, and it has started to get colder these last few days. We might decide to wear socks, or to put on a sweatshirt. Today, the wind is blowing out of the north and piling the waves onto the stone-edged harbor. The restaurants around the water have all put up transparent walls to keep out the wind and spray. Some shops are packing up for the year. If we see something we like, we’d better get to it soon.

Two of our group have gone to Santorini, which is apparently a must-see, except that the ferry ride made a few passengers very uncomfortable, and the ferry coming back was cancelled because of rough weather. They’ll make a roundabout ferry trip through Athens and back to Crete, or fly instead. Santorini is an island north of Crete, perched on top of a volcano, and is very picturesque. The ride up the very steep hill from the port to the town was traditionally done via donkey; there are taxis and cars to do it now, but is just as precarious.

We often eat at Steki, or To Steki, which means “the Place”. It is a family restaurant right next door, closer than most college dining halls, and Johnny is the manager. He is originally from Albania, and we love him, as, I think, do most people who meet him. He takes our orders, serves us, brings a glass of wine, joins us between serving other people. The wine carafe is bottomless. It takes hours to eat dinner. Johnny turned 30 in September, and is training his nephews in the business. A couple of times, we’ve been to seafood restaurants beside the harbor. We walked past one where the boats come in and were offered a grilled seafood plate for four, for what we thought was 14 Euro. It turned out to be 40, but was still good deal. Not everyone heard the fish part, though, and thought there was meat in a “mixed” grill, so we had a lot left over. We had calamari rings, tiny whole octopus, six-inch tentacles, bream, snapper, shrimp, sardines, bourbonia. I wish we’d thought of asking to bring it home. The little fish were cooked whole, the way we do smelts. I was very happy.

Friday, October 24, 2008

More History

Here's a more comprehensive history of Chania:

The Minoans were here during the New Stone Age, around 2800-1150BC
During the Classical period, the city was called Kydonia, until the 7th Century.
826-961-Arab occupation
961AD - taken over by the Venetian Emperor Nikiforos Fokas
1204-1645 - Venetians
1645-1669 - Venetians build old town (castelli) in the port of Chania
1645 - 1669 - Turkish occupation
1821 - Greek Revolution against Turks (unsuccessful)
1866-1869 - bloody uprisings, Europe starts to take notice
1878 - Crete became semi-autonomous
1897 - protection of European forces
1908 - Appointed High Commissioner Prince George, headquartered in Chania
1905 - Revolution of Therisso, led by Eleftheriou Venizelos
1913 - Greek flag raised on fortress of Firka
May 20-29, 1941 - Battle of Crete, one of the most famous and memorable battles of WWII

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Cooling Off

The weather is cooler now, and we've taken out out long pants at last. The tourist season ends here in a couple of weeks, when the rainy season starts and it won't be as nice to be outside all the time. The restaurants all have tables outside. The men next door play backgammon in the street. It feels almost surreal, like a movie set. You walk in and out of places and the air feels the same. It's like the buildings are furniture within a greater space.

There is so much history here! The Venetians built here in the 13th Century, on top of Minoan walls, and possibly older cultures. The Minoans were here BC; Chania is one of the oldest continually occupied cities in the world. Noone knows exactly what happened to the Minoans, who just disappeared, but they might have been wiped out by a tidal wave from a volcanic eruption. The rocks around the shore look volcanic, with holes and irregular texture. The mountains rise quickly and steeply from the sea, and may be rather young, as mountains go. The Venetians built a walled city to protect against pirates, including the famous Barbarossa. They built a second wall a century or so later, enclosing a larger city, probably also to ward off pirates. The pieces of the wall hold corner bastions, with what look like gun turrets along the outer edge, really just holes in the wall, surrounded by strong stone to hold the guns.

The ocean below the outer wall is shallow and full of fossils, which may be sharp on the feet. The White Mountains rise up behind the city. The island is only 38 miles wide, although 168 miles long, so the mountains have to rise up and fall again in a hurry.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


Life is a Beach

We expected the weather to be cooler in October, averaging 70 degrees,as it said on the Internet, but it's been warmer most days. We decided to go to the beach yesterday, which is a fifteen minute walk around the harbor, past the fortress; past a defunct beach club with an empty pool and waving curtains; past a fishing pier; past a little park with a dirt floor and a playground under palm trees. Chania is a great mix of past and present. We paid a couple of Euros to use beach chairs and umbrella, and went into the clear, green water. Delicious! It will be worth going again. We stopped for lunch at one of the seafood places across from the beach, but, although I have happily eaten little fried fish with the heads still on, the others did not feel the same, and we may look for lamb or beef for our next meal. The salads are wonderful, and it is easy to eat well on very little.
Last night, we decided to walk around the other way and find another seafood restaurant. We were drawn in by what sounded to me like a good deal - fourteen, we thought he said, but it was forty, still a good deal for four - for a large plate of grilled seafood, and bread, and salad, and sweets. Shrimp, snapper, barbossa, sardines, something like swordfish, little whole octopus, sliced calamari, and six-inch octopus legs. I was again very happy, but the others though they'd heard mixed "grill", and hadn't caught the fish part, so there was a lot left over. We almost brought it home. There are cats and dogs everywhere in the streets, and we had three courting us as we ate. I hope they got some of what we didn't eat.

Hazel's Birthday

Friday was Hazel's birthday. Hazel is Scottish and took the TESOL course here in March. She never left, she liked it so much! She's leaving on Tuesday, and her many friends wanted to celebrate. She has a big heart, a big body, a big smile. She loves to dance, and her body swirls around her like chiffon fabric. She loves to drink, and can easily put away a bottle of Martini in an evening. When the ice clumped together so she couldn't get it into the glass, she poured her Martini into the little ice bucket and drank it with a straw.
Steki is the restaurant a couple of doors down on our little alley, and they do serve good food, and cheap. The doors are wide and usually open, to remove the boundaries between inside and out. We began with a table for six outside, and, as more people arrived, set up another and one more, until there were eighteen people, of fourteen nationalities: Scottish, Norwegian, British, Egyptian, Romanian, American, Australian, Greek, Syrian, Dutch, Polish, Danish, Georgian, and, I think, French. All speaking English in an outdoor cafe in Crete!
Hazel wanted to go to ElMondo to dance (and drink!), which is an expat bar nearby. Everything is nearby, easy walking, a block or two. It was full of obnoxious German soldiers who had been on the boat for two months. The music was too loud for my ears, I was tired of having alcohol spilled on me, and I left after a polite length of time. Bars are not my scene, though it was fun watching the people.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Last night, I walked out on the breakwater that goes across the harbor. It was built by the Venetians, out of cemented blocks of stone in a three-level amphitheater shape. There is a lighthouse at the end, but the top of the wall got too rocky to walk on, and too high to jump to a lower level, so I didn't get all the way out. I met Jusuf from Lebanon; he had come to Chania to work, but his English was very limited, and I can't say we did much real communicating.
the harbor is lined with open air restaurants and lit up at night. People promenade the edges of the water all night long. Today I want to to see a beach or two, around the other side of the harbor.

The view from my bedroom window.
Hi, all - I had an uneventful trip, except for catching a cold. Internet service is erratic in the house but should be better in the school, so I'll send what I can, and will keep trying to get the blog going. At the moment, I get a message in Greek saying it can't find it, and I should check the address.

We're in a little house, one room wide, two rooms deep, three floors high. The streets are narrow, and you take your life into your hands to cross; traffic signals go mostly unheeded, and the motorbikes go everywhere one might walk. Chania has the feel of a typical seaside town, with lots happening in a crowded area near the water, better and cheaper food a block or so back from it, and tiny shops, which sell absolutely everything. The tourist season is almost over, but the day is warm and sunny and there are still lots of people here, lots of languages. Most people speak at least some English.

The students are coming one or two at a time, and all seven will be here by the end of tomorrow, I believe. There are three Australians, three Californians, and me. We ate outside last night, across from an old ruined stone wall, and had a "crazy" salad with beets and blue cheese and nuts, mixed with greens, and a large round sandwich with falafel and other veggies, which we sliced in wedges. Most of the food is sized to share, and we'll probably try a lot of things, though we also stocked up with fruit and tea and eggs for other times.

Outside our door, a group of men hang out to play backgammon, which they call something like tavli. They play in the morning and in the evening, and talk and drink ouzo. There is a siesta in the middle of the day, when everything quiets down.

We'll have four hours of class in the morning, break around one for lunch and siesta, and return around five for another few hours, which is when we'll be teaching. The classes start on Monday. We'll be pretty busy during the week, and will have weekends off, when various trips will be organized if we're interested in seeing other places.

I still have not seen the beaches, or the harbor by daylight, but they are all easy to walk to, and there is a fort across from a castle at the mouth of the harbor, which I want to see. My head is a little dizzy from congestion or jet lag, but should settle soon, and I'll tell you more!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Starting Out

"Well, my bags are packed, and I'm ready to go. I'm standing here outside your door. Already I'm so lonesome, I could cry..."
I'm not lonesome, though; I've got awesomely generous friends and three particularly wonderful children (I am so proud of you, each one!), and resolved some of the marriage tension. My car is taken care of. I emptied the summer garden of anything we might eat. I have almost everything I need for this trip. Rose will drive me to the airport tomorrow morning and I will arrive in Chania on Wednesday night. I have nuts and fruits and a book to read to fill in the hours of waiting in airports. The TESOL class starts on October 20, so I'll have a few days to explore the town and shore, and to adjust to a seven hour time difference.