Crete -- unspoilt and spoilt
After Athens, we took the boat to Crete. Instead of the 40 minute flight, this is the leisurely way. You get on the boat at Piraeus around 8.00 at night, and wake up in your little cabin at 5.30 in the morning as it chugs into Souda Bay.
This was partly a chance to do some reading and writing in the sun (up early, work till lunch; eat and swim at the beach; work again before supper). It was partly a return to old haunts. For years when they were young we took the children to the house (above) of some good Greek friends in a village outside Chania. A decade later we wanted to go back – and also see how much it had changed.
For us, there was good news and bad news.
Some of it had changed much less than we had expected. “Our” village (Tsikalaria) had grown some vast Hollywood style houses on the margins, but for the most part it was the same as we had left it a decade ago. “Our” beach was much the same too, so long as you didn’t notice a vast new hotel a couple of hundred yards away.
But there were pockets nearby which seemed to have been taken over by “A Place in the Sun”. The generally seedy village of Kalives (not far from Chania) was just as seedy as ever. The only difference was that it was now almost entirely populated by the British. The major High Street store was now an estate agency called “Hellenic Homes” and there were loads of advertisements for “The English Builder” – who was presumably responsible for many of the identikit concrete boxes overlooking the sea.
It would have been a mistake, I suspect, going into a café there and ordering in Greek. (No bad thing for me, I should confess, as I struggled to remember the third person plural present indicative . . . )
I couldn’t quite work out how bad I thought this was – or how snobbish about the concrete boxes I could let myself be (I'm a tourist myself, after all). Maybe in 50 years time these little enclaves of the British will be as quaintly exotic as the Patagonian Welsh.
All the same, it was marvellous. The hire car didn’t actually collapse. Fed up with the multi-national companies, we had found a local car hire company on the internet. All seemed fine – until they asked for just 160 euros in cash for five days with fully comprehensive insurance (shouldn’t that cost 160 euros on its own, I thought) and the driver’s mirror fell off on the first day. But we fixed it with some sellotape (our attempts to ask for string in the local store having resulted in the purchase of a washing line). And we escaped minus incident, unscathed.
We also did a load of work. My aim had been to read a book on laughter (ancient or modern) per day. That proved to be easier, of course, with the short books than the long…Bergson’s essay on Le Rire at under a hundred pages being significantly speedier than Bakhtin’s two hundred or so.
There was nostalgia here in another sense. I felt back to being an undergraduate again and to all that over-promising I had made to my Director of Studies. Yes, I would try to read a couple more plays by Euripides during the summer, I would say at my end of term interview …and the first thing on my agenda was to discover which plays were the shortest.
In fact, for a few years, I had an enviable knowledge of the shortest works of all the major classical authors. Who said students were getting lazier?