Friday, November 28, 2008


I went for a three hour walk to the point where Vasili took us a few days ago. It is windswept and rocky, and there are low plants but not much for trees on most of it. The waves from yesterday's stormy day crashed and splashed on the rocks. The whitecaps were spectacular in the blue sea. It was reminiscent of Pemaquid or Thunder Hole or Ocean Point. I could have been homesick; instead I was right at home. The rocks, plants, soil are all different but the action is the same. I wandered around from rock to rock; the structures are pointed and knobby, as though the volcanic eruption that formed this land brought together different minerals that erode at different rates. Some of them formed cylindrical holes near the water.
I rubbed each plant I encountered. Thyme, of course. No other aromatics in the low growing areas. A tree with long slender leaves smelled camphorish, maybe eucalyptus.
The walk goes past four or five beaches, each with its own character. Where the stony parts met the waves, the sound was like a jet, or firecrackers. I had my shoes off, pants rolled above the knee, wading in the waves, and getting a little wet.
I went swimming on Wednesday at a little cove on the leeward side of a peninsula. There is a beach on the other side, too, full of waves; the winter swimmers choose the beach of the day according to which way the wind blows, and warm up on the rocks in the sun afterward.


Renee wanted a fireplace. She found one at Ela, a taberna near us, past which we had walked countless times, until she caught a glance of the fire. Live music starts at 10 pm, so we hung out somewhere else first and then went over. It was great! Four musicians, a bouzouki, guitar, accordion, and violin. Voices both together and separately. At the end, the youngest of the group got up with his microphone, the rest of them started playing the theme from Mission Impossible, and we were treated to an acappella rendition of the movie, with explosions, car tires, gun shot, motorcycles and chainsaws and all kinds of noise, all the things we saw at the A Cappella workshops in Boston. We didn't get home until after 1, and we were so happy we'd stayed for it.
We went again the next night. When we got there at 9:15, we were the only ones, so we got the best seats. The building was a soap factory in the 15thC., run by Spaniards who brought their Jews to the Evraiki, or Jewish quarter, to make soap, so the floors are stepped and the windows are set low to allow the soap to dry, and the beams are closer together than usual to support the stamping of the soap. The building had bee other things over the years, and was consumed by fire in the 1980's. The restaurant is the result.


Vasili made dinner for us last Thursday, slow-cooked lamb and vegetables, salad, feta and fresh tomatoes, a couple of kinds of bread. Red wine from a friend in a village, with overtones of cherries, very light, and better than any you could buy.No headache afterward. He makes a syrup by reducing wine to 1/3 volume and has it on bread with olive oil and it's good for sore throats; this is petimezi. Some people mix it with cold water to make a drink, or dip bread with feta, or sweeten rolls. Dessert was like Boston cream pie, with bananas. Cold, creamy, chocolate, and banana... He has his own olive trees, too, and keeps the oil in a big barrel in his kitchen, with a spigot on the side.
He has dried herbs in big bunches in his cupboards, some of which he picks in the mountains and others from friends. He rubbed bits of each one between his hands for us to smell and perhaps identify. Sage is faskolio; marjoram, oregano, chamomile and basil have familiar names, and he had bay laurel, and dittany and malotira.
He makes a "spoon sweet" from Pergamondo, a warty green citrus fruit. A little in yogurt is wonderful. Well - the fruit has a familiar scent - it's bergamot! Other fruits are used this way; it's like a preserve where the fruit keeps its integrity. I have to try it...



A quiet day, a little rainy between the partly cloudy sun. Not many people out; it has that late summer sad feel we get in late August or Early September in New England. Cooler, and breezy. The wind from the north decorated the blue, blue sea with whitecaps.
The walls around the old city in Chania have trenches next to them. I puzzled over them, thinking perhaps they were the source of material to build the walls. But why so regular, and 100 feet wide? Apparently there was once sea water in the trenches - a moat to protect the Venetian city!


We took another Greek lesson , with the new batch of students, but it was the same as our first and we didn't come back for more.
We took the bus to Rethymno, about an hour East of Chania, to take a look around. On a hill by the water is the Fortezza, an ancient fortress. We climbed the hill and saw crenellated walls with shooting holes, arched doorways through twenty-foot-thick walls, towers and turrets, a domed structure that could have been a mosque or an observatory,a little church beside it, an amphitheater, stepped ramps up the hill, views far out to sea and over the city, a sunken room beside the outer wall, with eight foot stone circles in the floor and arched stone rafters, though no roof. The museum was undergoing "urgent" repairs, and the rest of the buildings were unused, so our questions went unanswered. It was a magnificent sight.
We ate at Avli, which Renee found online. We entered a courtyard of several levels, wenth through a small dining room ( Raki Baraki), past a gourmet grocery, to a stone chamber with what looked like Venetian mosaic tile baths set into the floor and covered with thick glass to walk on. the ceiling was arched stone, and there were niches in the walls to suggest that the building had once been a bathhouse. We talked briefly with the architect; the light fixtures were abstract art and there was evidence of an artists eye everywhere. He must have enjoyed putting it all together. The conglomeration of uses took up the whole block, and above them were luxury rooms and suites to rent. The meal was artfully presented, and enough but not too much food. We shared roasted vegetables with feta and balsamic vinegar; Cretan Delicacies including Dakos, which is like bruschetta, with barley rusks topped with softened tomatoes and mizithra cheese; a wonderful greens salad, and a beef fillet over tiny potatoes, under a delicious sace, that just melted in the mouth. Most of our food adventures here have been to order several dishes and share them around.
On the way back, a bank of clouds offshore rumbled and flashed as the Gods threw thunderbolts at each other. Casseiopeia sat serenely overhead in a clear sky.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Theriso and Beach

Yesterday afternoon we took a trip to Theriso with Vasilis, to have the best lamb dinner ever! Theriso is at the other end of Theriso Gorge, a place I had wanted to visit but the buses don’t run on weekends. The gorge rises vertically above the narrow road on both sides. The road crisscrosses the ravine, and it is usual to drive wherever one pleases on the road. The cliffs are pockmarked with holes and caves. The rock looks vaguely like coral, with lots of rounded bits sticking up between grey foliage. Theriso is where the resistance against the Turks began, at the beginning of the (last) Century. On the very top of one of the cliffs flies a Greek flag; Greece only got its independence in 1913.
In Theriso, there are ten or fifteen places to get this good lamb, which is spit-roasted or oven baked or grilled lamb chops. This is a place where the Greeks go to eat, and the road into, out of, and all through the town is lined with parked cars. The tavernas are packed, and “everyone” goes there. The owner wears the traditional baggy pants, knee boots, loose shirt, and netting tied around his head, all in black.
We ate lamb cooked in its own juices, Greek salad with mizithra cheese, mizithra in hot olive oil, baby lamb chops, bread, a light red wine; our meal started with raki and white radish to “open the digestion”; Vasilis called the vegetable “rappa naije”. We finished with a pastry filled with mizithra and drizzled with honey. Renee and I were very happy, and I think Vasilis was, too, to be able to share it with us.

This morning, we walked with Vasilis for almost two hours, around over the beaches and rocks to a rocky point to the west of Chania. I was very happy scrambling over the rocks and along the water’s edge, very much in my element. Vasilis found wild thyme growing at the point and gave us each a pinch, instructing us to rub our hands together and smell it. It seems a little different from my thyme at home: thicker leaves, and a little more resinous. The soil is reddish, though the beaches are sand colored. The vegetation is sparse, and the ground is spotted with 1”snails. Some of the beach was stones instead of sand. It was a very healing trip for me, because I have been in Chania for a month and it is very manmade even if it is four hundred years old or more. The streets of the Old Town are paved from door to door. There is not much of the underneath showing. Trees grow in amphora or sidewalk squares. Some houses do have gardens, but the soil seems lifeless under the orange and pomegranate trees.
The sky was gray and promised rain. When we were about half way there, we heard thunder, looked at each other, decided we didn’t mind getting wet, and continued. It continued to rumble occasionally, and to drip softly on us as we were on the way back, but the real rain held off until we were back in our rooms. The idea of boots is appealing because the streets are paved so that it can be hard to find a part of the street that is not under water.

Hotel Sun

Hotel Sun
I have a room in the Hotel Sun for two weeks, at 10 Euro per night. The room is as wide as the length of the double bed; it is about three times as long. I have a little frig, night table, small wardrobe, two chairs, and a sink. The bathroom has a shower base with no enclosure, and a handheld spray shower, plus a toilet flushed by pushing a button on the tank overhead. The room is as wide as the shower base, so one maneuvers around the toilet to get to the shower, and leaves the towel outside the door to keep it dry. The water is solar heated, so early morning showers can be a problem, and there can be a limited amount when the skies are gray.
My shuttered window looks across to a well-maintained ruined building. It once was Venetian, with an inscription in Latin up on the wall, and now encloses a garden of sorts within its roofless pink walls. I believe the Etz Hayyim synagogue is on the far side, “sensitively” restored by Christians and others since it was wrecked during WWII. The alley below has paving stones that are slightly raised and set on the diagonal to a double line of longer stones down the center. The rain runs between the stones to the center, where it collects to make a stream down hill. Some of the streets are steeper and so have steps and terraces, and the water rushes down their centers, too. I could imagine a donkey making its way up these stepped hills; a scooter would not do well there.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Correction

I was wrong: Souda Bay was prominent in the Second World War; the song is The Band Played Waltzing Matilda, by Eric Bogle, and the bay is Souvla, the site of the Crimean War in 1915.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Beggars are everywhere, huddled on the sidewalk with a thin plastic cup or walking around with babe in arms. I gave one of them a few apples. A man tapped me on the shoulder and gave me a good fright, with his gaping mouth and sunken eyes. The man across the street must have a cleft palate, because his voice is nasal and has no real consonants, but he hangs out with the other guys next door and carries out his day just as they do. People are people everywhere.
For breakfast this morning, I had a twisted wheel of phyllo wrapped around spinach and cheese, and a box of orange juice. After I'd paid for it I noticed the machine that squeezes fresh oranges. Oh, well.
We took a trip to Iraklio/Heraklion to go to the ancient site of Knossos, but planned it poorly and had no time to see it when we got there. We had ten minutes to see some of the exhibits in the Archeological Museum, which is undergoing renovation; they set up an annex behind it and put out 400 or so items for us to see. I don't know what I was expecting, but: wow! What we saw was a bunch of Greek antiquities, just as I've seen in books and museums. I liked the fertility figures, and the snake goddess; the pottery was OK, but bland, in a way. Perhaps with more time it would have made a better impression.
The bus turns on its heel, almost, as it swings out of the station, narrowly missing the building across the street, and honking at cars in the way, whether they're parked at the bus stop or going the wrong way. The street is the width of the bus plus one car, and that's it. Music plays on the bus, a cross between Middle Eastern dance music and Ooh, Baby, Baby pop.
It's been very dry; the olive harvest usually takes place in November, but the owners are waiting for some rain to plump up the fruits to get more oil; they are shrivelled up now, looking like oil-cured olives. Along the road were tables with rows of red bags holding freshly picked oranges, the way people sell blueberries or shrimp in Maine.
The bus stops in Souda, which has a large military presence. Greek,US, I think, and probably others. The song Waltzing Matilda mentions it. Souda has a long, deep bay protected on both sides by mountains.
The bus also stops in Rethymnon, which has a largely intact ancient fort on the edge of the water, the Fortezza, they call it. I could see it from the bus station. On the way home in the dark, one of the Greek Orthodox churches had blue neon crosses on each domed tower.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008



“The winds blew down from Africa…” Joni Mitchell

We took a bus trip to Paleohora on Sunday; the name means “Old Place”. It was an hour and half ride over the White Mountains to a beach town on the southern coast of Crete. The narrow road was all switchbacks, and dropped off steeply to one side. The hillsides are about as steep as one can get and still be called “hills”. There were constructing bridges across some of the ravines to take out some of the hairpin turns, and to make the road a little wider. It became a one-lane dirt track around the same tight corners; our driver used all parts of the road to get us there. Some roadsigns just had an exclamation mark in a triangle; I felt that same way.
Olive trees are everywhere, with netting underneath to catch the fruits as the trees are beaten with sticks, or they fall naturally. November is olive harvest month, and many workers go from serving tourists directly to picking olives.
The bus stopped along the precipice several times to take on and discharge passengers. There are little chapels beside the road, no bigger than a doghouse or a mailbox, and shaped like little churches. Some of the rockier hills are covered in gray plants. Other fields held very short grapevines.
We swam in the waves in the Libyan sea, in warm breezes coming across from Africa; it must have been close to 80 degrees. We ate in a taverna, on what was their last day of the season and made a sumptuous meal of little things. We walked past an old castle on the hill, and gazed at the mountains plunging into the sea; we could really see why the pirate Barbarossa loved the place.

Saturday Night

Saturday Night

Saturday night in the Town of Chania can be a noisy place. the men next door watch a football game, and shout and cheer through the open door. Opaaa! HAHAAAA! EHHHH! (stream of Greek commentary) Opaaa!
Motorbikes race up and down the narrow streets, and their mufflers don’t do much muffling. A woman in high heels (everyone wears high heels, even the police women) clops unsteadily up to an attractive man and throws something at him, which shatters on the ground. A glass, maybe. She shouts, pushes him, grabs him. H speaks quietly, walks out with her; their conversation is heard all over the alley. The next day, he is seen with someone else.
Chairs squeal on the stone paving in the restaurant below. Voices of happy conversation, or of people strolling by. The whole town is on the street tonight, strolling along th water or sharing drinks in one of the many harborside restaurants.Dinner starts at 8 or 9 and continues late into the night. The baker across the street started around 4 to bake four cakes for a funeral, with the man’s name on top in silver dragees nestled in piped white icing. His mixer is pretty loud, 20 feet away across the street.
Renovations area taking place in the apartment above his shop, with sounds of a chainsaw or sawzall, cutting something hard. The restaurants have generators, and refrigerators, and exhaust fans. Churchbells play from a different church at sunset, a nicer tune since we are not being awakened by it. Mostly, though, the motorbikes and voices; all day, all night. It is a little quieter on Sundays.