Friday, October 06, 2006

Home again.. and in culture shock. Why is the sky not lapis lazuli? why is it heavy and grey and wet, why am I damp when I'm not swimming? Why are there more cars than goats, where have all the asphidels gone? Just to remind myself it was all real, I'm posting a picture of me at Phoenix Bay 3 days ago... yes, this really was October.
This is Crete, on the south west coast, inaccessible and fiercely beautiful landscape, where Peter and I spent last week. Inaccessible that is except by boat and to the intrepid walker - we walked. Down the Samaria Gorge, longest in Europe, and all along from Agia Roumeli to Sfakia, with stopovers to swim, eat, drink, sleep, and generally enjoy. It was exhilerating, challenging, and generally mindblowing.
One of our stop-over villages was Loutro, where I've been twice to lead a creative writing course for World Spirit, and had longed to explore further along the remote cliff paths. My chance came with a writing commission - to walk 'Undiscovered Crete' and write up my diary for Greece magazine. I know... I KNOW! That is absolutely the best project a greekophile walking-fanatic writer could be offered.
So no problems with enthusing, eulogising, and generally waxing mega-lyrical about the holiday, the places, the food, the weather, the everything. Headwater, who organised the trip, extole the isolation -" tracks used only by shepherds, every visitor still a novelty"- but that's a tad over-romantic. Tourism is discreetly marketed in this corner of the island, angled to appeal to upmarket adventurous rather than the backpacker, but it's clearly the primary industry. Our hosts at the hotels in each tiny village were charming, but watching them sit with their mobiles and sleep-walking eyes, it's hard not to see the soul of a tough Cretan farmer somehow trapped in the pragmatism of modernday Cretan economy. I love the blue-and-white painted buildings and exotic blossoms, but there's a sense that some consciousness of Greece is being assiduously cultivated here for our benefit, as in a theme park. In Chania too, the elegant Venetian harbour becomes at night a consumerist theatre, almost a film set, vibrating to the strains of bazooka and the pleas of the restaurant touts. "Greek tourism is run with goat-herd mentality" Peter commented,"They get them all into one area and then they fleece them."
Not that any of these reflections could cloud our enjoyment of the week or appreciation of our generous hosts. It was blissful, whether clambering rocky paths for up to seven hours at a time, or chilling out with a Mythos trying to decide the right name for the colour of the jewel blue sea... I'll have to stop, I'm salivating with all the memories.

ps helpful friend has just emailed to point out we were probably charmed by a bouzouki rather than a bazooka in the Chania restaurant. She is right, and I bet Stratos wishes he'd stuck to stringed instruments rather than guns on his birthday night - he was bemoaning the pellet holes in his awning when we left.

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