In a Cretan village

 

Chania, middle of November. It΄s early morning and the narrow streets in the old town are silent. No people, not even cats yet.

As we sick sack our way down to the harbour, just 150 metres away from our house, we can feel the wet air on our faces.Chania light house

The sea is still sleeping, it seems. Not moving at all, maybe just a little, as if it is breathing in and breathing out slowly, slowly.

The white thin mist is like a light gossamer blanket on its surface. Some sea-gulls have started their morning procedure; washing and dipping their heads, wings and tails. The sea must feel it like a tickling on its back.

The sun is trying its best to look down into the water mirror below but no my friend, you have to be more patient today.

The houses and the light-house with its break-water pier are vaguely outlined in this misty light, the view is fantastic almost dream-like.

We leave the harbour and start heading for our car, parked in the garage under Marinoupolos on Pireaus Street.

Καλημερα σας

Καλημερα

The boys and the girls working in the garage are always smiling and are always very friendly and very helpful.

«Where are you going today?»

«We´ll tell you when we get back, ok, we don´t know yet!»

I tell them the truth, we really don´t know.

It might be a good idea to go the mountains and leave the wet air along the coast behind.

 

We drive eastwards and when we reach Vrises we turn right and soon we are on the road to Askifou.

After just a few minutes of driving there is sign saying Alikambos. I turn left and am now following the road to the village.

“Why are we going to this village?” my co-driver ask.

Why? What will I answer her now? Do I know something about this village? Yes they make wine here but the place is closed at this time of year anyway, so?

An old church is usually a safe way out, shall I take that chance again? I guess, I saw a sign when we turned, did I not?

“There is an old church dear! is my convincing answer.

?????

I am not sure she believed that.

Behind next bend we get company on the road.

I have to concentrate, not so much on the road, but on the “oza” (flock of sheep) running and jumping in front of the car.

There is no chance to pass, not to right nor to the left. I have learned that passing in the middle is mission impossible.

I slow down and we wave to the shepherd to take it easy with his animals.

After a while in a right turn the sheep continue straight on into an open place, where they stop to have water from, as it seems, an old Venetian fountain.

We stop the car and approach “o voskos” the Cretan shepherd.

Did you know, that sources of history dating from the Minoan era certify that the oldest Cretan profession is the one of shepherd?

He is maybe 55 – 60 years old, has grey hair and a nice grey beard. His skin is brown and he looks very healthy.

He is wearing black boots, black trousers, a grey shirt and an almost worn out blue jacket. Around his neck he has the binoculars, on his back one from wind and sun bleached “sakouli” and he has of course his own made “mavkoura (or verga or glitsa. It has many names)”, his stick with him.

He is curious, wonder where we come from, why we are here, what we are doing and where we are going.

We have a nice chat about this and that and then like a lightning from a clear blue sky:

“Are you looking for Panagia, the old church?”

I almost kissed him right on his mouth. He saved my day.

“What did he say? Eklissia something?” it´s my co-driver again.

Yes the church, you know, the one I told you about !!!”

We leave the shepherd with his sheep and head for the “Eklisssia something”.

It is a small, white Byzantine church kept in good shape. Unfortunately it is closed as are many of these churches nowadays.

We return to our car and soon we are in the village, where there in the middle is an open area almost like a market surrounded by houses, an other church, a memorial and a kafenion.

 

The kafenion is accomodated in a white traditional house and has a blue-painted door. Outside is a veranda made of cement. In front some trees to fix the shadow during hot summer days.  I think the name of those trees is mourna.

The branches are cut every year. The leaves are given to the sheep and the empty branches to the katsikas. 

We park our car next to a small red embossed Toyota.

The weather is now warm and nice and on the verandra in the sunshine (the trees are already cut) some old men enjoy their cup of “metrio” or a glass of tsikoudia.

Three sit to left of the blue door and one to the right, all on plastic chairs in different colours.Alikambos

They are dressed like old men are, warm and with dirty big boots.

It is quite, very quite.

Every step we take is closely observed by the men as we approach them. It would be  easy to hear a feather fall to the ground.

“Maybe they are looking at your bare brown legs honey?

I say this because we are both dressed in shorts.

I get a friendly smile back.

As we enter the veranda we salute the men with “Kalimera sas.”

Geia sas” The answer is said in low voices.

Inside the kafenion we meet Maria, a nice lady with a big smile and quick dark eyes. We ask for two beers and join the men on the

outside again.

It is time to say something, not only “Kalimera” or “geia sas”, something to engage them and to answer.

“To xorio sas einai poli oreo” and then the question; “einai poli palio; ( is it very old?)”Alikambos priest

Standard phrase to get Cretans look up and wonder.

They all look at each other.

Who is going to answer? 

The man to the right of the door gives the answer and tells that his village is very old and has a very old church and many old houses. Alikampos was a revolutionary village and against the Venetians, who destroyed it and also prohibited the people to rebuild it. 

He is the oldest of the men and speaks with dignity in a slow pace and we can follow him quite well. His name is Nicolaos and seems to know everything about his village

As we tell him about our visit to Panagia of Alikambos, Nicolaus points at a short, round man approaching the kafenion. He wears a blue dre ss reaching to his feet and has a white, well tented beard. It is the village priest. 

He is a very nice person and also he talks with low voice. If we want to, he will show us the old church Panagia. We answer, that we are grateful but it is enough if he tells the story about it and he does. ( A year later he showed us the old church, it was impressing).

 

Suddenly we are interrrupted by one of those cars driving around to the villages with every kind of requirements or necessaries there might be in this world.

Just of a sudden the village is full of life. Women from the near by houses show up to make a good bargain.  Also Maria is out from the kafenion to look for something “special”. The car is absolutely full. It is almost impossible to understand how they can find something out

ot that mess. Everything from boots, trousers, underwears, petticots to dish-washing brushes and hair ribbons seem to be just thrown

into the car.

The young well dressed salesman though knows exactly where to look to find what his customers ask for. It is a mystery, how he manages to find anything at all.

Our company, the gentlemen on the veranda watches this “happening” with big eyes but make no comments what so ever.

Quite often we notice men sitting in kafenions maybe for half an hour or even more without saying a word to each other. What are these men philosophizing about, where are their thoughts and minds? Then they leave the kafenion without a word.

 

Our beers are finished and we bid the men farewell and thank them for their nice company.

We start to explore the village on foot. There are many interesting old village houses with Venetian remains, just as Nicolaos has told us, most of them are white and well looked after.

In a street corner we meet an elderly couple, we bow and greet them, they do the same.

Without no reason they invite us to their home. Of course we accept and then we introduce us to them and tell where we come from.

His name is Vassilios and her name is Kristina.

They have a nice house situated on a small hill with view over the village. We meet their son Antonis, a tall very good looking young man. 

The house is big and looks quite new. To the left is a small area surrounded by a fence. This is where animals are kept which we can feel from the smell. It is not bad but clearly evident.

 

Our newfound friends bring a table and some chairs out into the yard in front of the house. A few minutes later Kristina

brings a tray covered by a very nice cloth.

Yes she has made it, when she was young.Alikambos

There are also five glasses, a beautiful carafe with tsikoudia, a plate with a cake and biscuits and finally one small plate with karidia.

From where we are sitting we can enjoy the nice view of the village but also the high mountains to the south.

We talk about daily life in a village like this, about the approaching winter with snow and cold weather and make some comparisons between our two countries.

It is a fantastic and a gifted way to get to learn and know more about Crete and the very hospitable people living here.

Quite often when we are invited to a home or into a garden like now, we, my co-driver and I, have the same strange feeling. It is as if we have been here before and that we have known this people for ages. Maybe we have…….who knows?

 

Two of our old friends at the kafenion still enjoy the sunshine on the veranda as we return to our car.

“Καλη ανταμωση”

“Τα λεμε”

We are both silent as we leave the village.

Out of our sheer curiosity we have again experienced Crete as we like it best.

Life is good, that´s for sure.

 

We pass the plateau of Askifou and the quite villages there. Before we reach Imbros, we choose to go back via Kallikratis, where we intend to see our old friend Nikitas.

The road is ok now , not like the first time we came here many years ago:

“On the road again and when we reach Argiroupoli, we stop and ask for the road to Kalikratis and if it is ok to drive there at this time of the year. The answer is positive and we carry on.

There are two roads to Kalikratis and we choose the left one. After 1 kilometre the asphaltroad is changing into a dirtroad and after 1 kilometre more this dirtroad is turning into "dirtriverroad with huge holes".

The face of my wife is also changing………….its colour while the Samurai and I are smiling together.

Finally we have found an exciting road and it is even without grass in the middle. This looks good!

As we continue my wife is screaming out loud that we have to turn around and go back.”

 

“My wife has survived and tells me to stop at Nikitas Manouzelis kafenion next to the church.Nikitas

Maybe she will have a raki or two and then enter the church to say her prayers.

No, she runs towards the kafenion, enters and disappears. When she comes out again, she looks relieved. No wonder………maybe?

During the time she is disappeared, we, the Samurai and I, have come to the conclusion that a raki maybe would calm her down.

While I am using my video camera, my wife and Nikitas, have a good time drinking raki together. When I get back food is on the table. A whisper from my wife: "I think it is liver, you have to eat it all". Poor girl, it is not her day today, she hates liver and I love it”

 

                                                                                                                                                                                           Nikitas milking his "oza"

Those were the days. Today I really don´t know what kind of road would frighten my brave co-driver.

Ever since I some years ago made the choice to drive back from Agia Irini to Chania via the dirt road Meskla, Zourva and Therisso she is absolutely not afraid anymore, what ever I try and I try very hard.

It was a dark evening and the rain was pouring down. She was screaming all the time and saw eyes of sheep and goats (or was it ghosts?) everywhere.

 

End of another fantastic day. We returned to the village a year later with some photos and met all our friends again. Again we had some great moments at the kafenion when the men laughed at each other as they looked at the photos. The people of Crete are very easy to get to know and to love and we do. They give and you give back, that is, what it is all about and it is a great feeling.

 

lars and Sofia

Kriti stis kardies mas

                                                                           

                                                                                              The Byzantine church Panagia.