The ladies in Topolia

Today it has been raining all day.
What to do?
Why not write a little true story about a day in Topolia. It goes like this: We are passing a sign telling us that we are now entering the village of Topolia. It is mid September the time is about 10.30 and it is already rather hot. "How about something to drink, a coke or a beer?" It is my co-driver asking."Here?"The road is winding like a snake up through the village. A small chapel almost covered by a huge red bougainvillaea on our left side and on our right the local bakery and a small abandoned white house with its window shutters and door hanging off but no kafenion and no people in sight. We leave the car in the open space just in front and opposite the bakery to take a walk in the village. The road has divided it into two parts, below and above (kato and ano). Everything is very quiet as we walk down a narrow street towards the big church in the part below the road. All the houses look empty and they have not been painted for many, many years. In some gardens and on some verandas there are big bunches of grapes hanging down waiting for hands to pick them, but whose hands?From a window-bay a black cat is looking down at us with its yellow eyes, wondering what are these people doing in my village? The village is big, as is its church. From the top of the clock tower we have a good view over the landscape and the surroundings.   After a while we are walking back up towards the main road through narrow passages again and finally we find a kafenion with two tables and a couple of chairs outside on the pavement.Is it really possible to sit there almost in the middle of the road without the risk of having a car or a bus in between the tables?

Inside in the shadow four men are reading their newspapers Chaniotika Nea and another local paper. Cement floor, white naked walls except for a small mirror, some pictures yellow from age, a simple bar-desk, a silver-painted stove with its pipe leads through a hole in one of the walls, tables and chairs and from the roof hanging down in its thread, a single naked bulb, yes it is a real nice Cretan kafenion.The bar-desk is covered with many kind bottles once used for lemonade, coke, water, juice and Metaxa. The declaration of contents for these same bottles today is completely different. Tsikoudia or raki, local wine white or red would be more correct. There is also honey, some cakes, cheese and of course beers on the desk. Two of the men are deeply occupied with their newspapers but slowly one of them is looking out behind his Xaniotika Nea when we address them with: "Kalimera sas" ("good morning") "Geia." ("Hi"). A short answer and he is back behind his newspaper again.Next to the kafenion room is another dark room, a shop. Through the door opening there is a little man in grey trousers and a grey sweater coming towards us looking confused. "Tha ithelame dio mpires, parakloume" ("We would like to have two beers please") He is very pleased when I am asking him in his own language. "Mesa?" He is wondering if we like to sit inside.
"Oxi exo parakalo" ("outside please.")The cold beer tastes really nice and we ask the owner if he will join us with a glass and maybe tell us a little about his village. He does and it is the same story once more. People have moved abroad to USA, Europe or Australia or to the towns like Athens, Chania, Heraklion and so on. A sad story but not unusual. He has to leave us because the phone is ringing and soon it is quite again….or???From a distance we can hear voices and laughter from women.
We pay for the beers and continue our walk through the village. The sound of the women is getting closer and louder and there, behind the last bend are two houses with their verandas facing each other.                


                                               Mana from Heaven



It seems there is a big and nice coffee-party going on; the verandas are crowded by 8 -10 ladies in almost every age from 20 up to 80 or more.
"Ela mister kai madame" a little round lady with a big hair knot is calling. We cross the road and are invited to join the party. 

They explain that they are preparing for a wedding on Saturday and are now making the traditional very sweet kerotigana which always are presented at weddings in Crete. Before we are able to take part in the preparations, we are shown out into one of the kitchens. We are placed in a chair and in half a minute we have a huge plate with lamb in oven, roasted potatoes, Greek salad and a glass of wine in front of us. Wow this is amazing! Who called and ordered this? The black cat?We have all the trouble in the world trying to keep in shape but these Cretans always seems to think that we need some food. We really don't look that thin you know!


 Everybody has left the kitchen and returned to their work outside except our hostess, who is serving us more food and wine all the time. She is telling us that it is her son who is going to get married on Saturday in Kastelli and we are invited. An hour ago we thought that this village was almost dead but now it is full of life and of warm hospitality. We have come to the correct side of the road. After a fantastic meal we return to the other ladies and now the tempo is very high. In every corner of the two verandas there are kettles with olive oil put over any kind of heat, electric or gas.




From the opposite kitchen an old lady is running to and fro fetching and delivering (she has strips hanging everywhere all the way from her shoulders down to her little finger) 40 cm long and 3 cm wide and very thin strips of a dough made by a special team in the kitchen.
Every woman by each kettle has a small stick which has been split at one end so it looks like an Y but narrower. They put one end of the strip in the opening of the Y and then they dip it down into the very hot olive oil and then slowly start to role it and to make it into a round kerotigana. It looks very easy but you have to know how to do it not to drop the dough in the oil or to burn it. When they are ready, they are put on tables in a special room to dry. We are told that so far 1.500 has been made but there are still 1,500 to make. Can you believe it, 3.000 biscuits……….and that is only the biscuits. Are there no limits for these people?
I am using my cameras a lot and we are really enjoying ourselves and so are my lovely models. They don't mind if a tooth is missing or if one sock is down or if the petticoat is shown. They smile with their heart, with hospitality and of joy. You just have to surrender and love them. The hours have passed very fast and we have to leave the nice company. We have promised to come back with the photos and to come to the wedding on Saturday of course.

On our way back to the car we enter the kafenion/shop again in order to buy some wine and also some honey. The room for the shop is identical to the room for the kafenion but here you find everything from toothpicks to sacks of food for the goats.



 From floor to roof, along the walls, hanging from the roof yes every inch is occupied with goods. The smell is a mixture of everything. It's a pity you cannot poor it into a bottle and use it as an after shave or an eau-de-cologne. We have to buy some bread from the bakery before we leave Topolia behind us.
It looked a little sad in the beginning of the day with all those deserted houses but you never know, suddenly everything might change and it did and really continued with joy and a lot of fun. I wonder though why the ladies were laughing and giggling like small girls all the time. Was it something special in those cookies maybe? When we got back to Chania we asked Eleni and she told; yes you have to add some tsikoudia (raki) to the dough to make it the right way. So that's why! I think they tested and tasted the tsikoudia very thoroughly before they poured it into the dough. Anyway they were worth it and they still have more xerotiganas to make tomorrow.

Avrio tha exoume mia kali mera. Tomorrow we will have a nice day.

They smile with their hearts, with hospitality and of joy. You just have to surrender and love  them. 


FF More photos