I have an odd superstition, picked up on some of my longer trips. I believe that, when travelling, a good day is usually followed by a bad day and, if I’m lucky, that in turn is followed by an unremarkable day, and so on.
The days after Easter looked to be unremarkable at best. A chilly wind blew through town, making sitting outside unpleasant and whipping up the waves which trashed most of our plans.
We had run out of things to do, so we eventually followed the advise of the hillwalkers with whom we shared the homestay’s courtyard. But only because the tiny village of Anidri was barely a stroll away.
Over the course of the morning, leaden clouds built up over the mountains, whisked along by the wind, but they posed no threat. At worst a few heavy drops spotted the pavement, and the clouds would keep the heat at bay. So we filled our waterbottles and set off.
The winding road was easy to walk, if a little boring. We often stopped at the verge to admire interesting flowers or make room for the goats that ran past us in small clusters, following the hooting of their master’s car in the distance. A twenty-first century approach to goat-herding
Just as it began to feel monotonous, we reached the bijou white-washed buildings of Anidri and, even better, found that the village café was open. It was lunchtime.
We were the only guests to sit in the outside garden, overlooking the green valley and the sea in the distance. A plane tree offered shade against the re-emergent sun.
It got better: one of the dishes chalked up on the board was translated as ‘fried intestines’: lamb pluckings. A rare delicacy, normally much sought after. They must have slaughtered a lot of lambs on Easter Sunday.
Although these were fresh.
The proprietor laughed. “Easter is long ago! These are from today. Kill the lamb, pull of the skin, roll up the intestines, grill over charcoal and five hours later it’s in our stomach!” He laughed again with pleasure.
It was pretty special to share.
Yanis, it turned out, had missed out on Easter altogether. The previous evening, when we went for our customary beer, he told us that he’d kept the bar open until seven, and a group of drunken Albanians nearly started a fight because they didn’t want to leave. They foolishly decided to drive back to Chania. He ended up having to call the police.
“Trouble,” he said. “Too much trouble!”
We asked him whether he’d had Easter lunch with his family and he shook his head. “My brother called at one, but I was asleep. I woke up and it was evening. Lunch was finished. Back to work.”
It hadn’t been his day. We bought him a beer and he sat down at our table, in between keeping an eye on the bar, servicing the music player and occasionally dropping by at other tables. He dipped in and out of his chair like a yoyo.
“We didn’t mean to keep you…” I began, but he had already finished another sip, exchanged a quick smile and was back behind the bar, holding the headphones to one ear while inserting a CD with his other hand. Apparently custom dictates that, when somebody buys you a beer, you finish the round in each other’s company. Now we were keeping him from his work.
But Yanis didn’t seem to mind. When we made to go, he placed two more bottles of Mythos on the table and we continued to chat in between his getting up to do a spot of DJ-ing.
Other than that, the day had been unremarkable.
So what did today have in store?
There was supposed to be a path leading from the village down to the beach. I’m glad that John thought to ask because we would have missed the hand-painted sign that looked as if it dated back to the hippy era.
We followed a cobbled alley down some steps past the tiny church where it turned into a dirt track that led past smallholdings populated by curious sheep. A beautiful white cat took a shine to John’s wooly legs, until a guard dog compelled us to move on, his rumbling barks joined by half a dozen others’ from the neighbouring yards.
We picked up our pace, like bandits hounded out of town.
Another bend and the dirt track narrowed into a footpath which abruptly ended in a boulder-strewn stream bed.
I eyed the clouds with renewed suspicion, but the higher peaks were further inland and it still didn’t look like rain.
And this was the way. Tiny cairns made from pebbles indicated where we should turn, clambering and sliding down boulders smoothed by meltwater torrents.
This was much more exciting than the road.
We passed through pockets of forest where the still, humid air became almost tropical. With the sky overcast, it reminded me oddly of Bali. Dragon Lilies blooming at our feet reinforced the feeling. This could not be any part of Europe.
But then the forest fell behind, replaced by ochre slopes where goats rested in the shadow of pine trees and before long we reached the road that ran along the deserted pebble beach. We were definitely back on Crete.
This had been a good day.
It stayed good during our evening libations, at least until it was almost midnight, when I thought it was time to go home.
“Oh Yanis, you shouldn’t!”
He grinned and set two bottles of Mythos on the table. Plus one for himself.
We had been sitting in silence for the last couple of minutes, concentrating on nibbling pumpkin seeds without getting shell splinters into our mouths (there is a nack to it), Perhaps Yanis had mistaken our concentration for sullenness.
He was soon called back to the bar and, over the top of my beer bottle, I spotted a drunken old man weave his way across to his seat at the neighbouring table, two burly more-or-less sober companions in tow. They were part of the semi-regular crowd. I’d never seen the old man walking (or sitting up) straight.
He usually paid us no heed, so I prodded John to finish his beer and make a move, when suddenly his glance fell on us.
Oh yes. I clammed up and stayed quiet. The old man took sufficient issue with John’s being English that I knew better than to mention my country of origin.
If the English have ever set a foot wrong on Crete, I heard it here first. John rose to the bait, and when he could no longer follow, the old geezer turned to his friends and muttered something in Greek.
I kept looking at their faces. They appeared to be apologetic, but their expressions were beginning to thin at the edges.
“John,” I whispered furiously. “Let’s move.”
He looked at me as if I was a fly buzzing in his ears.
I got up and stalked outside. Yanis came after me, apologising for the old guy, and I winced.
“Look,” I said. “My husband is behaving like an idiot. John, you see?” Pointing at him. “The old man is fine, but John is rising to the—never mind. He may pick a fight. Please talk to him.”
With that, I left poor Yanis standing and walked back through the deserted streets.
I poured some wine which would make my head explode in the morning but helped me to calm down and went to have a smoke on the windy terrace.
Another smoke and another glass of wine.
It was past two o’ clock. Should I go back? Should I go find out where the police station was, or should I leave John to simmer in his cell? It would do him good.
Into these furious thoughts strolled two children, holding hands, walking forlornly down the street. They must have come from the house across from us, where the light often burnt until long after midnight, but where all was dark now.
“Are you lost?” Before I knew I was doing it, I was crouching in front of them. “Come. I will find somebody, a friend…”
The older of the two, a girl of perhaps ten, hesitated.
“Friend,” I insisted.
They couldn’t have understood me, but they were swept along in my wake. I was thinking furiously. The Cosmogonia Bar was less than five minutes’ walk away, but that was practically at the other end of town, and I didn’t want to drag the children into the middle of a drunken brawl.
If only I could explain to them…
I practically jumped on the lone cyclist who was crossing the street. “Excuse me!” I shrieked, “these children! They’re lost!”
The man dismounted and fixed me with an amused stare.
“The kids, they’re…”
He held up a hand and exchanged a few words with the girl, resting his hand on her shoulder. He knew them. Of course he knew them. Palaeochora is practically a village.
“They came to see their grandmother,” he said. “But she’s asleep, so they’re going home. No problem.”
“But it’s two—”
He held up his hand again. “No problem.” For a moment, his gaze held mine. “You’re from a big city, aren’t you? Here in Palaeochora the childen are safe.”
The two were already on their way, walking back down the road we had come from. I wonder what they made of me.
The man was back on his bicycle, weaving down the crossing, biding me farewell with one raised hand without turning around.
All was quiet again.
John appeared about half an hour later, slightly drunk and with a smug grin on his face.
“Yanis and I had a nice chat,” he said. “You shouldn’t have talked to him. For a while there, he was worried I might kick up trouble.”
“I was thinking about those two burly guys at the table you chose to ignore while baiting their friend.”
“Those two Albanians? They didn’t want to say anything. Farm workers. And the old bloke’s harmless. He’s always drunk. Won’t remember a thing in the morning, but we parted as friends.”
“Yeah, I asked him how many Englishmen he thought had died on Crete.”
He looked at my expression.
“When he left he shook my hand. As I said: friends. Had I walked out with you, he’d have spat at me.”
Good day? Bad day?
I don’t know, but certainly an eventful day.Tags: Beer, Crete, Greece, Greece, Palaeochora, Pluckings, Tag Index