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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April 25, 2016
Pack Creek Ranch, San Juan County, Utah
The end of April, 2016
Rowdy spring weather – wind, rain - and even snow on the high mountain peaks.
Wildflowers abound in the valleys after the perfect winter for moisture.
The story that follows connects to my most recent posting – about the laughter of Jesus and the fact that I’m in motion on my way to Crete. My mind is already in Greek mode. I’m often asked how I came to be connected to that world – here’s the story – written several years ago and revised for now:
For more than thirty years I have spent several months on the Greek island of Crete. Why Crete? I might say it’s because I like history - more than 6,000 years of amazing human enterprise are piled up there. I could say it’s the beauty of the landscape – mountains, sea, and beaches. But, in truth, I go back for the people – the Cretans. I have binding connections with them, their view of life, and their way with strangers.
It all began the summer I was wandering around Europe alone while waiting for my wife to finish her medical residency. No particular agenda – just doing what came next. I went to Crete to see the famous archeological digs at Knossos, and to look in on a graduate school program at the Orthodox Academy of Crete. When I was ready to get off the paths beaten down by tourists, I went to a small fishing village on a gravel road at the western end of the island – Kolymbari.
I found a room for the night, and rose up before the sun to go running. The day was already hot, so I was dressed only in black running briefs and shoes. (It’s relevant to the story to note here that my hair and beard were white even then.)
I ran past the village coffee house where men sat drinking coffee.
They seemed surly, hostile, un-welcoming.
When I mentioned this to my landlord, he said, “Oh, no, Cretans are very welcoming to strangers – it’s an old tradition – philoxenia. But in your case the men at the kofeneion don’t know what to make of you. For one thing, your hair and beard make you look like a priest, and they have never seen a half-naked priest running through the village in what looks like his underwear at that hour of the morning. They don’t know what to say or do.”
“No problem. Smile, wave, say good morning:
Pause. See this from the point of view of the men at the coffee house. They have been drinking coffee at dawn for years without disturbance or distraction. Suddenly, without warning, the white-bearded, half-naked priest flashes by.
“What the hell was that? Damned if I know.”
The next morning I set off running with goodwill toward men in my heart.
Ready to greet the villagers.
The men see me coming.
“For the love of Christ, Manolis, here he comes again!”
Hold the moment. Parenthesis: As I said, my appearance was a bit of a surprise in the first place – the-priest-in-his-underpants look. Then there is the fact of my lack of language skills. During the night my brain changed calimera (good morning) to calamari, which means “squid.”
And then there was the matter of waving. I did not know that Cretans wave with a gentle gesture of upheld, closed-fingered hand, backside out – palm in. I did not know that the All-American hearty wave – arm extended, fingers open – is the equivalent of giving someone the finger in Crete – “up yours,” in other words.
So. Here I come.
And as I ran by the coffee house, I shout, “Calimari, Calimari, Calimari,” and give my big wave to all. From the Cretans point of view it was, “Squid, Squid, Squid” and “up yours.” From the priest in his underpants.
Well . . . They fell out of their chairs laughing.
And shouted “Calimari, Calimari, Calimari” and waved “up yours” back at me.
Greatly pleased, I ran on, thinking: “These are really friendly people after all – my kind of guys.”
The men in the coffee house could hardly believe what had happened.
“What planet did he fall off of?” they wondered. And of course they did what you and I would do next. During the day they told their friends about the bizarre stranger’s appearance. And when their friends didn’t believe them, they said, “It’s true. Come see. Have coffee in the morning.”
And sure enough, here I come again.
Noticing there are quite a few more men having coffee.
“Look, I told you, here he comes. Shout squid at him and give him the finger and see what he does.” So they did and I did and so on. Funny. Great laughter all around. I gave them the American sign for OK – thumb and forefinger forming a circle, and ran on. They laughed even harder and gave me the OK sign back.
Word gets around quickly in a small village. “You’re kidding. No, come see.”
The next morning, even women and children were there to see me.
Marvelous people, these Cretans.
But that same morning, just after I passed the coffee house, a grade school teacher stopped me in the street. Serious young man. He was upset.
“Excuse me, mister, you are making a jackass of yourself, and those idiots at the kofenion are helping you. You should all be ashamed. You set a bad example. What will the children think?”
He explained that no self-respecting Cretan man would go out of his house and into the village dressed as I was. Immodest, to say the least.
And he explained about calamari and calimera, and about how to wave.
Finally, he wanted me to know that the sign for OK in America was the Cretan sign for telling someone to stick their head up their own rear end.
Road-rage material in Crete, except with friends, of course.
I felt bad. I glanced back at the men at the coffee house. Sheepish grins. Now they knew I knew. And I knew they knew. And so, now what? I walked along wondering what to do: leave, run another way, find someone to help me apologize, What?
But I couldn’t ignore one clear fact: the laughter.
What had happened was funny. The laughter was real. Actually, my best friends
and I would have done the same. thing. These Cretans seemed like my kind of guys. I consulted my landlord. During the night my brain sorted out the problem. At first light it was clear in my mind. Still in my running shorts, I went forth.
Here I come again - but this time wearing my T-shirt with the blue and white Greek flag on it..
Solemnly, they watched me come. No gestures. As impassive as the first morning. “Look, here he is again. What do you think he’ll do now? Is he angry with us? Who knows? ”
I had asked my landlord how to insult Cretan men in that way permissible only among friends – the grossest things - trusting they know you are kidding.
In the same spirit I might say to a good friend, “You bastard.”
“Call them malaccos – masturbators – and slap the palm of one hand on the back of the other hand, with arms stretched out in front of you.”
(It suggests what they do with sheep and their mothers and themselves.)
As I got to the coffee house, I slowed down and stopped to face them.
A tense moment.
Friend or foe?
I smiled. And shouted malaccos at them and shot them my newly acquired hand gesture.
The coffee house erupted with laughter and applause. A chair was provided. “Come, come. Sit.” Coffee, brandy, and a cigarette were offered. And with their minimal English and my feeble Greek we retold and re-enacted the joke we had made together – from their point of view as well as mine. Above all, they thought my way of handling the situation – the in-your-face-with-humor - had Cretan style.
I was, after all, their kind of guy – and the feeling was mutual.
I went back to the village the next year. And the next and for 30 more years.
I built a house there – with the advice of the men of the kafenion.
They included me in the life of the village – feasts, weddings, baptisms, wine-making, and olive harvests.
For a long time they had no idea who I am or what I do, really. All they knew for sure is that I am a laugher who understands something about the gross humor and social courage of Cretan men. To me they became friends with names like Manolis, Kostas, Aecheleus, Nikos, and Ioannis. To them, I became the Americanos, Kyrios Calimari – the American, the honorable Mr. Squid.
As I say, I have been going back for more many years. I go in part because I still expect laughter – from jokes and stories that are often raw and reckless and wicked and timeless. About old age and sex and war stupidity – jokes that mask fear and failure and foolishness. They laugh big, belly-shaking laughs, not chuckles. Laughter in the face of hard and serious things.
The laughter is not incidental.
Without this laughter the Cretans would not have survived their travails and tragedies across centuries.
Cretan laughter is fierce – defiant laughter – an “up yours” to the forces of death and mystery and evil. Life is a practical joke and they are in on the joke.
They have a word for this laughter: Asbestos Gelos. (As-bes-tos yay-lohs)
A term used by Homer actually.
Unquenchable laughter. Invincible laughter.
And the Cretans say that he who laughs, lasts.
They should know - they have been around a long, long time.
And I’ll soon be there with them again.
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