May 29, 2016
Kolympari, Crete, Greece
The end of May, 2016
Calm sea, calm sky, and calm me. . . .
Ongoing news: The katsikis, having seen the tiger move, have not returned to assault the marigolds on my porch. My leaving the fake tiger skin draped over a chair at night seems to have served its purpose. It might spring to life again . . .
But goats are wily little buggers, and when they figure this out, they’ll be back.
STONED IN CRETE – plus snapshots and postcards from the life . . .
First, an explanation of some of the photos on my Facebook page:
Itinerant Albanian stone masons are building a wall along the road to my house.
I watch them with pleasure as they perform a rhythmic acrobatic ballet – lifting a stone, measuring it in its destined place with the experienced eyes – swinging it back to the ground – shaping it with blows of a hammer – troweling on a layer of cement – and then swinging the stone up and into place, where it fits perfectly.
This is fine art.
There are stone walls still standing all over this island that were built across thousands of years of human occupation.
Walls still in use.
I wish my art could stand that test of utility and time.
I wonder if the Albanian stone masons ever think how long their work will last.
This island of Crete is largely limestone – gazillions of tiny sea creatures dying and floating down to layer a seabed over gazillions of years, which was thrust up by tectonic movement into land that is now quarried for stones for walls and buildings that last almost forever.
My house is one of these stone structures – unique in that, when excavating into the cliff face, a spring of water was found in the rocks, and we included that in the back wall of the living room – as the photos on my Facebook page show.
In a way, you might say I live stoned in Crete.
SHORT MORNING VIDEO
There is a bug in my bathroom sink.
It is struggling to climb out of its slippery ceramic trap.
What kind of bug? – I don’t know – I don’t care – a bug, that’s all.
You know – you’ve had bugs in your sink.
In the early morning mood of an irritated alligator, I instinctively react to the bug.
Turning on the water full force, I sluice it down the black hole of the drain into the oblivion of the underworld – out of sight, out of mind.
I can wash my face now without the threat of an insect in my space.
Another damned bug – in the kitchen sink this time – struggling to climb the white walls of its doom – falling back – desperately trying to find a way out.
Meanwhile, I have slowly emerged from the nocturnal mindset of a reptile into something more wholly human as I moved between the bathroom and the kitchen. Something in my better nature stays my hand from automatically washing another tiny creature away.
This is not just a bug, but a roundish armored tank the size of a bean – but even its many legs cannot move it up the white walls of the sink. Again and again and again it climbs up, only to fall back, rolling itself into a small ball as it falls.
I call it a “pill bug” – I don’t know what it calls itself.
Holding a small piece of paper towel in front of it, I offer it a safe rescue.
When it climbs aboard, I take it outside where I have noticed other creatures like it.
Live and let live.
Returning to the bathroom to finish my morning ablutions, I find the first bug is back in the sink, having survived the deluge and heroically climbed up out of the drain to resume its assault on the summit of the sink.
I notice it now – really look at it - a singularly small spider with black and white polka dots on its back and orange and white stripes on its head.
A highly complex creature whose ancestry is far, far older than mine.
It can make silk and spin a web that is strong, symmetrical, and utilitarian.
The same cannot be said about me.
And. It, too, has a will to live – to prevail – to survive.
It does not register my presence.
All I have to do is turn on the really hot water and cook it into oblivion, and then wash it down the sink.
I am Doom. I am Death. I am the Destroyer of Bugs. I am God!
Or was – earlier in the morning.
But now, admiring the spider’s tenacity, feeling a solidarity with its will to live, astonished at its courage to fight on, I stand back to think.
I become the Agent of Mercy and Grace.
If not me, who?
So I place my little finger just in front of it so that if it is to climb on up, it must climb up on me.
Is it silly to say I feel accepted, forgiven and trusted?
Yes. But I do.
Carefully I put my finger down in a corner of the bathroom and the spider climbs off and on to its destiny.
When I look around after my shower, the spider is moving on up the wall.
Alive . . . like me.
When I was in high school I was a voracious reader – and the librarian took note and selected books for me that I might not choose for myself. One of these was by Albert Schweitzer in which I found this sentence:
“The most immediate fact of man’s consciousness is the assertion “I am life that wills to live in the midst of life that wills to live” – it was the basis for his great notion of Reverence for Life.
(If you don’t know about or have forgotten about this extraordinary human being, go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Schweitzer before reading on.)
The test of my integrity is not in how I perform on the stage of the world before the audience of my fellow human beings.
The test of my values must always come when I am alone – when nobody else is looking or can know.
When I must act in the smallest, most ordinary ways, if my beliefs are to be brought to life and expressed in deeds, not just words.
So why am I telling you this?
Not to display my virtues – for my reverence for life does not extend to mosquitos.
But because you, too, are alone sometimes in the early morning.
And you, too, are confronted with a bug in your sink.
And you might take comfort at knowing that somewhere in the world, at even the same time, a man is considering a bug – reaching for the better part of himself, to have reverence for his own life as well as that of the bug in the sink.
Lest I become too serious, here’s the goofy side of life with bugs.
An account from a previous time in Crete.
“So what is it you do in Crete?”
People often ask me that.
As if to imply that it would be boring sitting on a beach in Greece doing nothing year after year.
A funny thought, since, outside, as I write tonight, it is cold and windy and raining. And the closest beach is too rocky to sit around on, anyhow.
So what do I do?
Last night some silly friends and I drank a little too much wine and out of desperation for entertainment, started the Bug Olympics.
The first event is the Rolling Down Hill and Walking Away Contest.
Each one of us found one of those little fast-crawling armored pill bugs.
We touched them gently to make them roll up into a ball, and then using a piece of paper, scooped them up, held them in line at the top of an inclined cookie sheet, and let go at the count of three.
The bugs rolled down and out onto the stone floor.
The first bug that got up and walked away was the winner.
My bug, Manolis, won 5 times in a row.
A Gold Medal Bug.
Another night. Another round of wine and bug racing.
A truly fine wine.
Dark, almost black, red wine - Aghiorghitiko grapes from Nemae in the Peloponnnese region, near Corinth.
Three glasses and now it is Olympics Time.
“Let’s find some bugs, and race them again.”
“I already have mine – the gold medal winner from last time: Manolis.”
“How do you know it’s the same bug?”
“Do not insult my coaching integrity. I know my bug. Look, he’s over there in the corner, running in circles. He’s pumped.”
“Looks like a bigger bug to me than the one you raced last time.”
“He has been in training.”
“How do we know he isn’t using supplements or steroids?”
“So find your own bigger bugs. The Mighty Manolis takes on all-comers!”
While my wonky friends are scouting for talent around the porch, I get Manolis ready. A little pep talk from the coach: “Now these other guys will be big, but they won’t be fast, and they don’t know the drill, so roll as far as you can, and then don’t wait, get up and run like hell.”
So the cookie tin was produced and set in place; my two companions found the biggest free-ranging pill bugs on the porch; the three little armored contestants were held at the starting line; and on the count of three, let go to roll down the slope and across the stone floor.
The two big bugs stayed in a rolled up position, but the Mighty Manolis was up and running in a nanosecond.
Go Manolis! The winner and champion once again.
I went to find a very tiny olive leaf to crown the victor, but by the time I got back he was gone – too shy for the glory, I suppose.
Humble bug. Class act.
The other two big bugs were still there tucked up in a ball. My desperate friends resorted to stimulants - put a drop of wine on each one to get them up and going. Nothing. Maybe the bugs are drunk. Or possibly dead. Besides, giving your bug a stimulant is bug-doping – against the rules. Banned from further racing.
So now you know why I was so careful to rescue the pill bug in the kitchen sink.
Might be the Son of Manolis . . . .
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May 20, 2016
Kolympari, Crete, Greece
Friday, the 20th day of May, 2016
Grey sky, leaden sea, muggy air – the promise of an afternoon thunderstorm.
Update: The Katsikis have seen the tiger.
They have not returned . . . HA!
WEAVING THE LIFE . . .
The photos posted on my Facebook page are from my collection of antique Cretan items made as bridal dowries.
Families raised the goats and sheep; men sheared the animals; women spun the wool, dyed it with natural colors, and wove these fabrics on hand-looms.
The intensity of the work, the skill and talent and artistic taste involved astound me. Most were created in the early 20th century – some are even older.
Such things are not created today.
My friend, Costas Liapakis, has found these items in various villages, and passed them along to me because I appreciate them, unlike many modern Cretans who
prefer synthetic materials which are much easier to clean.
These beautiful fabrics were created by young brides with the help of their sisters, mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and cousins – as part of the dowry they would bring with them to furnish their new home after their marriage.
Some of the material has the soft, faded look and feel that comes from long use.
And some look brand new as if they have never been used.
Each piece has a history – a story – out of the lives of those who created them.
The used pieces have had a long life.
The new pieces tell a sad story – having been made for the betrothal or marriage to young men who went off to the Second World War and never returned alive.
The brides became instant widows, who put dowry goods away in a trunk, never to see the light of day until they too, died or desperately needed money in old age.
If these beautiful weavings could talk, they would have tales to tell.
As it is, they only speak to me in my imagination – leaving me sad sometimes when I take them out of my chests to air them and enjoy their loveliness.
I treat these artifacts of love and marriage with respect – knowing they don’t belong to me – but being willing to preserve them and give them to a museum someday.
And in the meantime, listening to the eloquent, but mute, language they speak.
It is my honor to be in their presence.
Their history is woven into mine.
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May 18, 2016
Kolympari, Crete, Greece
Wednesday, the 18th day of May, 2016
A clear day – sky the indelible blue of the Greek flag, reflected in the calm sea.
KATSIKI COMBAT CONTINUES
The photos on my Facebook page are an odd collection.
I will explain.
To bring color to the drab stones of my porch, I bought a flat of 9 marigold plants.
I forgot that these flowers are intoxicating to the katsikis – the gang of goats that hang about the ridge above my house – but I know what happened.
“Look, he has put out dessert! Tonight, after dark, we go . . .”
And so they came.
At three a.m. – bong, bong, bong.
Fuljumakis was up and out and at them – wielding a broom, shouting obscenities in
Greek and English and unknown tongues.
And Fuljumakis tied a string across the top of the stairs, with one end attached to a plastic pail filled with metal kitchen utensils.
They came again – at four a.m. – stealthily down from the cliff, up over the back wall onto the porch – bong, bong, bong.
Fuljumakis arose to the fray, rushing out onto the porch again with broom in hand,
And – you can see this coming, can’t you – he got tangled up in his string trap and pulled over the bucket of kitchen utensils with a mighty clanged clang.
Scaring him spitless and even driving the katsikis away.
He moved the remains of the marigolds into the house for safety.
Undaunted, the katsikis came again – at five a.m. – bong, bong, bong.
This time, Fuljumakis only taunted them from inside the house – HA! Ha!
But the gang of goats are hard to intimidate – they will be back.
And Fuljumakis will be ready for them.
This explains the photos of him in his tiger outfits – imitation feline rugs he found in a children’s toy store in Kastelli.
The katsikis have probably never seen a tiger – there are none in Crete.
Until now. . .
You can imagine what will happen tonight - a night for the katsikis to remember.
“RUN RUN RUN! What the hell was that?”
Maybe . . .
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May 16, 2016
Kolympari, Crete, Greece
Monday, the 16th of May, 2016
Rain and wind cleared away the dust from the Sahara, leaving a cloudless
sky and the air sweet with the smell of oleanders in bloom.
I’ve been reading through essays and stories written from Crete more than 10 years ago – wondering what has changed and what has not. There was a time when sheep and goats regularly invaded my yard – especially at night.
I laughed when I re-read those encounters. And then . . . last night, just at dusk, I saw the sheep and goats on the hill above my house. They have not changed. Here we go again . . .
Three in the morning. My mind is unthreading. I’ve just come from the back veranda where I’ve glimpsed a retreating horde of four-legged rugs. All white. I swear to God I think they were sheep.
It’s bad enough to be under attack by goats. But sheep?
Another clue: Goats meander around with bongety-bong-bong bells and make a variable pitched sound as they come: “nyah-eh-eh-eh-eh” – like bursts of distant machine-gun fire. Sheep wear bingly-bangly-bingly bells, but do not, as you might believe, go “baa-baa.” Actually, they make a wretched vomiting noise: “bluhech-ech-eheh-ech.”
And what was on my porch were sheep.
Or goats with a chronic smoker’s cough.
Maybe the goats hang out with a renegade band of mutant feral sheep. I can imagine the conversation: “Hey. Want to have some fun? Go up on this guy’s porch tonight. We’re driving him mad. A sheep visitation ought to kink his hose good. And there’s always some interesting stuff to eat.”
This particular night I had decided to test a local expert’s conviction that “goats will eat anything – cardboard, tin cans, glass – anything that has the flavor of food on it.” Right.
Resorting to scientific research, I bought several bunches of faded artificial flowers (made in China.) And left out bait - two unwashed tuna-fish cans, an empty Cheerio’s box, the dead end of a jar of peanut butter, an apple juice carton, a slab of moldy tofu left behind by a guest, and several tiny bars of hotel soap.
Come and get it.
And come they did.
The rancid little buggers chewed up most of my largesse, and scattered the rest down the driveway, having gnashed chunks out of everything they didn’t consume completely. Apparently ate the tofu, the artificial flowers, and the soap. Even smashed up the peanut butter jar - pieces were missing. And the tuna-fish cans had toothy dents in them. Scary.
Maybe they were white goats, you say.
Maybe they were the legendary saber-toothed sheep, I say.
No such thing, you say.
Well, I’ve seen what I’ve seen.
I know what I know.
The “katsikis” – goats – have been grazing around the house in the middle of the night again. They always seem to find a way through the fence. And they like my fuchsias. The big “Iatros” – the black Billy goat capitainos - gives his group away because he has a huge bell hung around his neck. Last night I left the kitchen door wide open, with a cooking pot and a ladle handy. When I heard the bong-bong-bonging around two a.m., I moved stealthily through the house in the dark, picked up the pot and ladle, and charged out the door into the patio. WHANG WHANG WHANG YOU EVIL LITTLE SONSABITCHS!
And found myself between the Iatros and his clan. The old Billy charged me, head down and bonging big time. Naked and shoeless, I fled down the back ramp and up the steps to the front door. Which, of course, was locked. There in the moonlight, the Billy and I confronted each other. I threw the pot and ladle down the stairs at him and he was off. But where? The bonging had stopped. He was out there somewhere. Waiting. Creeping down the stairs with a porch chair held in front of me, I set a record for the around-the-house-naked-in-the-midnight-moonlight event. As I crawled back into bed I heard the Billy’s bonging going off down the hillside. I guess he and his herd had enough amusement for one night.
The katsikis will be back. They are hard to intimidate. I am not about to go back outside again to chase them off. But I have put the stereo speakers in the kitchen windows. A full blast of the Rolling Stones ought to give the arrogant little four-legged mothers something to think about. I need their album, “Goats Head Soup.” (To be continued . . .)
That was then.
This is now.
And this morning I noticed the goats and sheep a little closer – staring down at me with their slanty eyes.
I wonder if they remember?
Bring them on.
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May 13, 2016
Kolympari, Crete, Greece
Friday, the 13th of May, 2016
Dusty, blustery warm south wind – the Livani – blowing out of Africa
Explanations and/or excuses:
The travel gods gave me the worst case of jet-lag I’ve ever had, making a shambles of whatever goes on in the meat between my ears. Even I don’t understand what
I’m thinking. And, besides, I have been lazy – which is part of why I’m here.
The rule is that one should not try to write when one feels one should write, but only when the muse is alert and ready. Like now . . .
My postings are going to be somewhat disjointed from Crete. My webmaster is 10
time zones away in Seattle, and it’s too much hassle to try to launch Facebook photos and website text at the same time. So I’ll put up pictures from here, and Barbara Witt will post writing there – and you will just have to click back and
forth to assemble the pieces as they come along.
CRISIS IN THE CHEESE AISLE:
That’s the title of a new volume of my stories and essays being published this week
in the Czech Republic (now called Chechia). The contents were chosen by Czechs to appeal to Czech sensibilities, translated into Czech, and on sale to Czech readers. The title essay seems universal to me – and describes why I came first to Crete to prepare myself for the book tour beginning in Prague on June 8.
Here’s the story:
It was mid-December in the City Market in Moab, Utah.
A small boy – in the five-year-old bracket - pitched a full-blown hissy-fit in the cheese section of the store.
He did not want cheese – he wanted candy canes – NOW!
His mother ignored him.
So he played an ace.
Came unglued - screamed, and fell on the floor kicking his legs.
The cheese shoppers retreated.
The kid ratcheted up the volume of his screams.
Having once-upon-a-time been both the parent and the child in one of these grocery store melodramas, I knew this could get ugly.
I felt like warning the kid: “Watch out, kid, you’re about to get whomped.”
His mother turned.
She stood still, looking down at him.
Here it comes, kid, I thought, You are dead meat.
She kneeled down.
The kid went ballistic, bawling and kicking and flailing about.
In silence the mom reached out, locked her hands on the kids arms with a firm grip a mature lobster would have admired.
Slowly . . . she lifted the little monster up off the floor.
The kid played another ace - went limp, moaning, oozing tears, spit and snot. .
She’s going to drop him on his head, I thought.
Or toss him into the cheese.
His mother played her cards.
Slowly . . . she lifted the kid in the air, held him inches from her face, and said, oh so softly and gently:
“Bobby. . . you . . . have earned . . . a time out.”
Then she kissed him tenderly, wiped away his tears, and hugged him close.
The kid went silent, and snuggled up under his mom’s chin.
She abandoned her shopping basket, and walked up the aisle and out of the store into the snowy day.
Silence in the cheese aisle.
How utterly wise and sane, I thought.
She didn’t punish him – she rescued him from himself.
Last week, standing there pissed off in the cheese aisle, I remembered.
The mother’s calming words to her child came back to me.
“Bobby, you have earned a time out . . .”
It’s been a wild, stressful year for me – not bad, just manic.
Lots of big changes.
Pulling a full load for a long way.
Leaving me physically and mentally drained, and generally edgy.
Ready to fall on the floor and come unglued in the cheese aisle.
(Maybe somebody should drop me on my head . . . but don’t throw me in the cheese display – what I want isn’t in there, dammit.)
Bobby, you’ve earned a time out. . . I said to me.
But who is going to take me in their arms, hug me, and make it all better?
That would be me, I guess.
And I thought, Bobby you don’t need cheese, you need ice cream
And that’ what I got.
And that’s why I am here in Crete – taking a time out – and now on my way to the supermarket to get pagato (that’s Greek for ice cream.)
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