You’ve been warned.
I’m writing this on the ferryboat from Crete back to Piraeus. After 5 months in Athens, spending my evenings either studying for my 1st semester of linguistics or guiltily perusing all sorts of mmmmaybe-linguistics-related internets filled with attractive links just begging for a click, mood a bit emptier and more tired every dragging week of winter, I finally, to the self-professed end of finishing (and beginning to be awfully honest) the writing of the undemanding 6-page essay for my linguistics class, took a week off (which is all I was entitled to), and spent it at my friend Eva’s place in Chania. The assiduous, bilingual and hypermnesic reader will have noticed that she has moved away from Irakleio since we last met, and that’s great, because while Crete is a bloody paradise all over, Chania is a smaller and many times cuter town. In fact it’s possibly the cutest town I know in all the Western hemisphere? And of course I still don’t have a camera… but Google will do the job.
The old town is a mess of twistey tight little streetlets radiating steeply away from the fancy old harbour with its odd (and very cute) little mosque, its long sea wall sheltering the sailboats (some of them cute) from the mediterranean breakers (which are probably too cute waves to be called breakers anyway). The quirky old houses (some frankly crumbling) are all merrily painted and a-blossom with almost tropical flowers, cacti, herbs, shrubs. There’s a wonderful squat, the Rosa Nera, in its 10th year of occupation right above the harbour with a ridiculously cute view, and plenty of friendly little bars and clubs where, more often than not, you get live rebetiko with your heartwarming homemade rakomelo (and I’ll stop there because I’m beginning to sound just like the Lonely Planet).
On a little walk down the coast to the east, the seafront is occupied by old abandonned leather workshops right by the sea, and with all the saddening thoughts these might bring up, I couldn’t help but love them. Perhaps because I just love abandonned factories in general?
And anyway, it’s Crete, and in Crete the air just makes you happy, cuz it’s warm and salty and clean (well, I do live in bloody Athens), and the people might pretend to be grumpy but they are actually super generous and funny and their deadpan attitude is just for pulling your leg, and the oranges and avocados and wild salad and cactus pears are to melt for, you can (and I did) go for a swim without catching your death, the snowy peaks of Lefka Ori mesmerize you, a T-shirt is not an absurd thing to wear in early January… OK, are you getting a bit tired of this?
So yep, I did have work to do. The one compulsory essay I had to send was actually not an essay at all, I was only supposed to choose a topic having whatever I wanted (just not nothing) to do with linguistics, and find 5 scientific documents about that topic, and write a summary of each, along with an explanation of why I chose them. Being unceasingly fascinated with the history of the modern Greek language, I decided to focus on the funny situation they had here until 1976 and which is colloquially referred to as “the language question”: when what was then Greece (less than half of today’s territory) won its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1832, it adopted for official purposes an artificial, supposedly nation-building language, its lexicon cleared of its foreign (chiefly Turkish) loanwords and its grammar heavily modelled on Ancient Greek. It was called Katharevousa: the “purified” language. The everyday language wasn’t dignified with a name until its proponents and zealous grammarians decided to call it Dhimotiki (“public” language), and it was never recognized officially until 1964 when for a short time it became the language of primary education, before the Colonels’ dictatorship reverted the reform 3 years later. Only when the Colonels fell in 1974, thanks to the combination of a very active students’ and workers’ Left and a military fiasco in Cyprus, was the Katharevousa officially buried.
I enjoyed my research a lot, found some fascinating articles through the university library’s online platform, and writing the summary was only as difficult as it was meant to be (“argz 10 pages!!? surely I can’t summarize any MORE than THAT??!”). And in the calm of Eva’s flat – she works most days from 8 to 4 – the conditions were tip top.
Cool things I did besides reading and writing included eating. Oh boy oh boy. I have mentioned the fruits and veggies, but there was also a lovely organic tavern high on the slopes of Lefka Ori in a village called Drakonas (the drive there was just as tasty as the food). Stelios the blinking cook insisted we visit his kitchen, and we went home with enough leftovers for another two days packed in aluminium foil. And a Stanbuli restaurant in the old town called Tamam (which i’m pretty sure means “OK” in Turkish?) where we had an Iranian pilaf, unbelievably tasty broad beans from the oven, grilled pleurotus, and one of those fantastic Cretan wild salads called stamnagathi, the whole thing vegan as far as we (and the waiter) could tell. It all sounds pretty fancy but we barely pulled out 20E each time.
OK we did spend one pretty miserable hour and a half – when, in cinema-going mood, we decided we could do worse than Scorsese’s latest, “The Wolf of Wall Street”, about the real-life rise and fall of a trader in the 90’s (based on said sociopath’s memoirs, who thus took his cut in royalties). Oh the film is 3 hours long, we just didn’t feel like exposing ourselves to the full brainfuck of it, once we’d caught the gist. Di Caprio is pointlessly mean, the directing is a shabby splatter of complacency and voyeurism, the script carefully picks out and lines up the most well-trodden clichés, and OK we can guess he gets caught by the FBI for the amazing amount of money he illegally removed from credulous pockets, but does this moralistic ending (meh) justify the endless drag of mindless conspicuous spending? The testosterone- and cocaine-fuelled stroboscopic pageant of the young and beautiful 0,0001%? And hey, um, where are the victims? Oh, perhaps we see them at the trial… the aggrieved LAW-ABIDING stock trading firms, those who destroy the world wholesale WITHOUT insider trading, and who declare the gross monstrosity of their lootings to the IRS? well OK, yes, I didn’t watch till the end, I am giving my opinion on half a movie. If the strategy was to sicken us with a strict diet of luxury yachts, women objectification, real estate porn and obscene sequences of drug-crazed “leadership” and nihilistic “team spirit”, before the real-life damages of finance are somehow alluded to, OK, my bad for not getting it. It’s kind of an expensive strategy though, and perhaps a bit mmmmmm perverted???
Anyway, we snuck into another movie and watched the last hour of Mikra Anglia. It’s a story of undying love thwarted by family and destiny in the small, sea-battered island of Andros in the first half of last century. The men all spent their lives at sea, and the women all spent their lives waiting and praying. It’s sensitive, sad, the cinematography is beautiful and the acting delicate. It did wonders to our mood :)
And that’s it for tonight! The captain said the sea would be rough but really so far it’s been on its best behaviour, and it seems warm enough that I can sleep here on the top deck, which has a roof but is open at one end. This week of holidays was pure honey, and I hope you will excuse the thick sirupy taste of this note, but I am feeling very much revived and smoothed-out and ready for the last few months in Athens before I pedal home, so I will be leaving you now to go and smile quietly at the sea.