Richard Clark, A Traditional Existence (A Day in Crete)

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From Richard Clark, The Greek Islands – A Notebook, Occasional journeys through Crete, Corfu, Rhodes and other islands, pp. 243-7


My back felt as though it would go into spasm as we hit yet another pothole on the road which led out of Heraklion to Archanes. Perched with my bum just inches from the rear mudguard of the oldest, single cylinder 250cc BMW motorbike I had ever seen, I wondered how it had managed to survive so many years. It was made of sturdier stuff than I was.

It was only a short journey I had been assured by Vasilis, the proud owner of the redoubtable machine on which we were bouncing uphill at an alarming rate. Ten miles might not seem far but, back then, this particular Cretan road was something of a challenge. To top that off, the late-autumn wind cut to the bone, making the short trip appear to last an eternity.

Vasilis had asked me to accompany him back to his village, as he had to return to vote in an election. He was a friend who worked as a waiter in my local taverna and I had been teaching him English. He said his mother would welcome the chance to show me some philoxenia, the traditional kindness of welcoming strangers.

When we arrived, despite the cold, she was outside sweeping the step up to her doorway. Vasilis was about my age, in his early twenties, but his mother was already a widow, dressed in the traditional black weeds. If I’d been asked her age I would have said around 70 years old, but common sense told me she was a lot younger, maybe by as much as 30 years.

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