Forty Nine Steps in Crete

A Bit About Me

My life is conveniently divided into two parts.  Life before Crete and Life in Crete.  The second part of my life became the only important part, with never an ounce of regret in coming to this magical island.  This island took a hold over me and pricked my subconscious mind to “come back”, “visit me”, “fall deeper in love with me” like a rogue Cupid, it speared my heart with an inexplicable need to be here.  Albeit it rather hard to clarify this love affair with Crete, which over the years (almost half of my life), has revealed all sides of it`s multi faceted coin, all it`s glory, beauty, mystery and tradition and all it`s poorer, darker, less attractive side.

Nevertheless, I packed a suitcase and returned to Crete in 1991 after my brief holiday here, a decision which could be considered perhaps more reckless than brave.  Not knowing where or what I would be doing, I just knew that Crete was the place to be.  Not going into too much detail, I eventually settled down with my lovely husband Vagelis and had my even lovelier daughter Yannah.  I worked in various jobs before eventually moving into the countryside to our new home, with 2,500 m2 virgin land, where rock abounded in great hills with unruly shrub and bush.  Being on the incline of the valley, everywhere required leveling into plains, which my husband set about doggedly with machines, sometimes with bare hands, building stone walls and leveling workable garden area.

Then, I began my career as a local estate agent representative, which gave me an incredible opportunity to experience first hand, contact with the Cretan folk.  I enjoyed meeting and chatting to both the little old lady in the village, to officials in the civil service.  My knowledge of the language improved, I gained insight into how villages became abandoned, hence leaving a legacy of ruins, which remaining owners attempted to sell.  I guess having a love of Crete and all things Cretan, this particular job was made in heaven.

Sadly, many villages were becoming reduced to just a handful, of usually elderly residents, as the younger generations were drawn to the towns, where technology ruled, jobs were plentiful, and mainly, where there were no agricultural duties to be executed.  The lifestyles, values and traditions of the Cretan people in jeopardy of been wiped into oblivion, not to mention the change of diet in the modern day Cretan, whom turned to fast food alternatives, with meat becoming a main stay of their every day life.

The true Cretan lifestyle model usually revolved around agriculture, including various animals, providing the basics to survive all year round.  An inborn ability to use everything nature offered, waste nothing.  This was one of the reasons which attracted me to Crete, I saw a lifestyle which shunned modern gadgets, modern ideals.  It didn`t seem to matter that an old pair of trousers were held up with rope, or that the family goat had to pass through the kitchen to get to it`s stable in the rear, or the kitchen table was charred black, by decades of sitting too close to the kitchen hearth.

The search for properties took me to remote villages, where a mere handful of residents lived, into derelict corners, where arches would still stand, in defiance of the destructive forces which had wrecked the remainder of the house.  Once where walls stood, grape vines flourished, gardens bloomed, I witnessed heaps of stones, occasional key, stone pillars missing, presumably pilfered, whisked away to other “under renovation” projects, the remnants of a life, strewn amongst the ruins, but ultimately forgotten.

Witnessing Mother Nature fulfilling her duties and reclaiming what`s Hers, creating a canopy of green, partially hiding the accumulated rubbish amongst the stones and with it, the life, family and dramas played out there.  I would step carefully, trying to avoid crushing the delicate chamomile sprouting between the debris, tiptoeing through the tangled grape vines at my feet, I would find once again, stirring within me, that never ending desire to reclaim and nurture these abandoned homes, make them rise again, humbly, offering refuge, life, to re-establish these old neighbourhoods.

Longing to experience and relish the traditions and lifestyle, which all elderly Cretans took for granted as being the only way to live, little did they acknowledge that their lifestyle was anything spectacular or unusual, I marvelled their simplistic ideals and versatility, their unending knowledge on how to survive the hardest conditions.  Living through war and famine and subsequent civil war, they effortlessly filled their tables and larders with the bounty provided by nature.*  They would wander through the allotments and orchards and return home with a bag full of greens, which western Europeans wouldn`t spare a second glance, perhaps only to consider feeding to the rabbits.  Wild asparagus, wild spinach, wild chicory, fennel, mallow, wild leeks, wild asparagus, poppy, nettle are some of the more common ones, with many others not so recognized in the English language, such as vlita, avronies or ovries, galatsida, stifnos, kallitses, stamnaghathi ………prepared with potatoes and served with lemon juice and olive oil is to die for!

Each family would have their own entourage of animals and a close-by allotment to provide the necessities throughout the year.  The slaughtering of an animal, for instance a pig, would be the highlight of the season, resulting in a celebration, with no part of the animal going to waste, having no refrigerators, preserving the meat was of course a necessity, easily undertaken by the lady of the house.

*Of course there were many problems during and post WW2, where families did go hungry.  A particular story comes to mind which my father in law relayed to me.  But I will come back to that another day!

Alas, just short of a decade further down the line, when the bottom more or less fell out of the real estate business, I found myself without work, nigh on 50, not a particularly great catch for prospective employers, I began to fill my time with my garden and it`s produce.  Never intending it to be anything other than a “time filler” – it grew.  Then my husband retired and began to get involved by my side, slowly taking over the land and developing and nurturing it became an everyday goal.

 Naturally, we tried our skills with animals, along with the joy of disappearing down into the garden and returning with an armful of various vegetables, we delighted in gathering chicken, bantam and turkey eggs, breeding rabbits, turkeys, partridges, not to mention the three goats we had for a period.

This new found world of home produce, filled us both with satisfaction and glee, that we were at last able to provide the main stay of our diets ourselves, without the worry of how many chemicals and hormones we were ingesting inadvertently in supermarket foods.  Although I was raised on a farm till the age of 11, I had little idea as to how things should be done, similarly, my husband was a builder, so had no experience whatsoever how to cultivate, so you could imagine the disappointments and problems we endured.  Still, we learn, even today.  What goes wrong this year, we know for next year a different course of action is needed.

So begins my next project.  Blogging.  New to me, but I`d love to share my experiences and information obtained here in my beloved Crete, with you, my fellow readers.



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