Saturday, January 12, 2013

sheep on the island of Crete

I look out the window. School children, passing below. They could be schoolchildren back home (except that in most any country in Europe, young kids, boys included, will be holding hands and walking in pairs; I've never seen that in the States).

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The skies look like they're clearing. The promised showers may dissipate.

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The weather changes here quickly, unexpectedly. Were we perfect travelers, we would get going early, when the sun is most promising. But we are not perfect travelers. One of us stays up too late, another wakes up and works on a blog in the middle of the night, we get up late, eat breakfast even later.

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(Today, in addition to all those breads, cakes, cheeses, eggs and endless glasses of freshly squeezed juice, Matina's helper offers us a pancake stuffed with fennel from the hills.)

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Matina joins us at the table. We have so many questions for her! Is your farmhouse as pretty as the Mama Nena? Do you live together? Do you eat together, all of you, your brother, sister, mother? (The answer to the last two is no -- they have their own homes, though within 200 meters of each other.) How many olives do you pick from each tree? How many bags of olives does it take to make olive oil? (A tree can shake down five bags of olives, two bags of olives will give you a kilo of olive oil.) Where do you sell your oranges? At the market? In Athens? (Mostly in Crete, though they sell them for orange juice concentrate as well.) Are you concerned about Greece? About its participation in the EU?

On that last set of questions I got a long pause and then the comment about Crete living under a different god...

And when we're finally ready to head out, the skies turn blue and I have great hopes for staying clear of the predicted rain. We're not ambitious today, but we do want to hike some. Our great walking treks have fizzled in the last few days. We want to move more.

We spin the car south of Chania, along the New National Highway. That's their name for it. It's Crete's attempt at a limited access road, though my oh my, it is not what you and I are used to back home. You see a little wear and tear on the signage, for example. Or, graffiti completely obliterating what is written there.  
There is an exit! I tell Ed.  
Our exit? -- he asks, sensibly!  
I don't know!

You get used to it. And the road is so much better than the mountain twists and turns, were fallen rocks often are there to greet you after a hairpin turn and missing sections cause the underbelly of the car to groan in dissatisfaction. I don't ever get used to the tailgating that drivers do here, but really, we are fine, we are fine. Ed continues to drive and I try to put my passenger terrors to rest.

We turn off the little stretch of the New National to visit the coastal villages just south of Chania.

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olives everywhere!

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And we stop at the supermarket to pick up a bottle of Crete wine (because it's so fun to look at the options in grocery stores in other countries!) and to study the prices of olive oils.

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five liter containers

Who would buy at a store, when Matina tells us it's so much cheaper to buy directly from a mill? Well, you run out, I suppose and you don't always have time to go directly to the producers. But also, there is the matter of the expats. In the coastal villages, we hear English, again and again. British English. Here's a family where (I am guessing this)  they're visiting the expat grandma and grandpa and the mom and dad have promised their sons a swim in the sea, no matter what the weather (because, really, why else would you go in the water when it's in the fifties outside).

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And these two English men -- they are here for a sail and though it takes them a while to get started, they have a glorious run of it, out in the protected bay!

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And Ed gets wistful. Ah, to sail again! And we go into our routine -- one that we have repeated so many times, in so many places!
Wouldn't it be wonderful to have a small house here, with a view towards the bay... 
which one?  
How about that one, with a terrace toward the sun! 
Yes, okay, a little too big for us though, no? 
...and I would stay home and write and you could go sailing every day.... 
even if it rains? 
Well, no maybe not then... we would study our Greek then.
You're better at languages...
And so on and so forth. There was a time when I thought the game had at least a touch of seriousness to it, but I've learned a long time ago that Ed loves to speculate and imagine the unusual, the grand, the impossible and then he puts it aside and we come back to our everyday routines.

We walk up the hills above the sea and pick the perfect spot for a house... there, away from the others, facing the see... Sigh... Then we turn in, Ed pets a mule (the face is that of a donkey, but the tail is almost that of a horse) and retreat to the car.

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I had an idea that we could hike along the coast here, but paths are elusive and roads are narrow and have the presence of the occasional car, which is not pleasant for contemplative trekking. Giving up on this, I direct us to a lake, thought to be quite special and not too far from the coast.

On the way, we pass lovely old beehives and were I buying things to take home, I would certainly buy honey from Crete because it is rich with the aromas of the herbs that grow on the hills here and so very intense!

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And we pass flocks of sheep. Again and again.

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Including these guys. (First they ran away, then they stood, transfixed, staring at me in unison.)

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And I pause, perhaps feeling that I did sheep a disservice yesterday when I called them dumb. So I offer you probably the last clip of this trip -- and again, forgive the quality of it because though I was no longer leaning across Ed's lap to film it, I was battling a wind that is unfortunately audible in the one minute fragment that I post for you here. But forget the wind and listen to the voluminous song of the bells and note, please, how in their behavior, sheep are less charming than goats.

Though perhaps I am not one who should be commenting on the sharpness of others. Many would not think that a hike by a lake at the foot of these hills would be a good idea, given the tumultuous clouds galloping in from all sides.

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But, we want to walk some more and the lake offers at least the possibility of a trail (hiking is not really practiced much here: trails are few and markings are even fewer).

We get out of the car just as the gentle showers come down on us. And we persevere! Now, take these sheep: they know to seek shelter!

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Not us -- we are so determined to hike that we keep on walking. I think about the radiators at the Mama Nena, feeling very grateful that we have a way of drying off quickly.

And we give up not because of the rain, but because the path ends without warning, without reason really. (Here's a photo of Ed gallantly searching for anything that looks like a trail, finding only a farmer's field, nothing more. And the rain comes down.)

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Though not everywhere. There is a patch of blue, giving us a nice, gentle rainbow over the olive groves...

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And so we become determined and we attack the lake (yes, there is a lake...)

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... once again, now from the other side. Initially with some success. (The smell of a damp forest here is fantastic. In fact, the rain brought out all the scents of the roadside shrubs and herbs so forcefully that when we pulled up to the side of the road for a quick nap -- we like to do that sometimes -- an open window gave us a heavenly blast of mint, sage, oregano and who knows what else.)

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But here, too, the trail ends. This time at a goat shed. With goats. Good looking animals. And so smart, too! (I avoid ordering goat meat at the tavernas here. It's always an option, but somehow I can't get myself to enjoy the thought of a roasted goat.)

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So we give up. I tell myself that we had two short hikes instead of one long one and that tomorrow we'll try harder for something more challenging. For now, we have errands in town to run -- procuring a bus schedule is one of them, for possible treks that avoid the use of a car -- getting cookies is another.

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Dinner? We eat at a taverna (called "Tamam") right next to the Mama Nena. Matina likes it and we like it as well. It has a limited menu, but as always, the Greek salad is tremendously good...

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...and we love the wild mushrooms here as well, so we eat a plate of those too and then, wanting to get my fill of Greek seafood, I once again order grilled calamari.

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...and I cannot not finish it, though it is without question as fresh and honest as you can have it. (Ed asks for the last little piece to be wrapped up for home. I look at him questioningly. For the cats, he whispers to me. Maybe for the one with the moustache...)