Monday, September 6, 2010

Chania, Crete, Greece

Dry air, blindingly bright sun, an occasional cool breeze.  Glittery turquoise water turning white when it crashes against rounded rocks.  A semicircle harbor edged by houses bleached pastel by years of sun.  A rainbow of painted wood shutters.  Remnants of sand-colored fortress walls tucked between the tumble of buildings, a whitewashed stone lighthouse keeping watch over the whole scene.  Palm trees and brilliant pink bougainvillea.  A tourist carriage pulled by a horse wearing a straw hat, his twitching ears sticking up through holes cut in the brim.

Women are bare-shouldered and tanned the color of toasted almonds.  Postcard-perfect puffy white clouds float in an otherwise unblemished pale blue sky.  As I sit in a deeply cushioned chair at the edge of the harbor sipping a glass of dry peach-colored greek wine, I listen to the background music of multiple languages and the clanking of silverware being sorted before the dinner rush. 

A boy walks by playing an accordion.  A man stands at the edge of the crowd with an array of toys spread on the ground around him; he’s selling puffs of rabbit fur with eight plastic legs attached.  The furry fake spiders hop at tourists when the man squeezes the attached cords.  Just as I’m thinking that my brother’s cat Oliver would love to play with those spiders, a skinny grey kitten dashes out from under my chair and across the plaza.  

Yesterday we drove our rental car south across the island, an hour and a half ride of twisty skidding turns, ascents and descents along a road cut into the rocky mountains.  Shaggy long-limbed wilds goats scrambled along the ledges overlooking the road.  Following the recommendation of our Chania hotel proprietor, Nectarios, we stopped periodically to ask directions to Anydri, a tiny village perched in the hills above the blue-green coast. 

We parked in front of an old stone schoolhouse turned cute café.  Sitting in the shade of an overgrown olive tree on brightly painted wood chairs, we selected a late four o’clock lunch of assorted meze.  We tore into tender melt-in-your-mouth braised pork in a cinnamon-sweetened stew of prunes, whole almonds, and caramelized onions. We groaned in pleasure over the feta-stuffed aubergine rolls smothered in a thick sundried tomato paste.  

I told Mohit about my mom’s friend, who, upon returning from a recent trip to Greece, dismissed the food as passable and declared “you don’t travel to Greece for the food.”  We can’t imagine that she visited the same country we’re in now, because we couldn’t disagree more.  We’re in food heaven.  I spotted my first ever pomegranate tree as we climbed back into the car.  

We carefully navigated a dusty rutted road sandwiched between bleached-out cliffs and the pebbly beach below, then parked next to a tripped-out hippie van and marveled at the nearly deserted crescent of beach laid before us.  Settling into lounge chairs set out in front of a ramshackle beach shack, we read for hours and watched the sun slip into the ocean.  I’ve never heard any sound quite like the echoing rumble of thousands of rounded pebbles rolling back into the water after every wave. 

We carefully made our way back up and over the 2-km high mountains, this time in the dark.  Back in Chania, we washed up quickly and then hit the cobblestoned alleyways in search of dinner.  Deciding against a dining room heavy with after-dinner cigarette smoke, we found an outdoor table tucked against a weathered chipped-paint wall under climbing grape leaves.  Later, after plates of warm stuffed “wine leaves”, flaky meat pastries, wrinkly black olives, and dollops of thick garlicky tzatziki on homemade bread, we lingered over a complimentary plate of sliced watermelon and shot glasses of raki. 

In our post-dinner haze we meandered the dark streets a bit lost, guessing at turns on narrow streets.  Following our ears, we made our way toward music and the murmur of a crowd, thinking we’d finally found the busy harbor area near our hotel.  Instead, the happiest accident of our time on Crete: we found ourselves in the middle of a street we’d never seen before, light bulbs strung overhead from window to window, musicians perched on stools, a woman with wild curly hair clutching a microphone, people pulling up chairs into the street, passing plastic cups of homemade wine and ouzo.  With a cup of wine and a glass of beer from a closet-sized bar, we grabbed our own seats in the street and melted into the crowd, swaying to the music, smiling at small children running by, and toasting to a fortunate life.  

1 comment:

  1. Sounds fantastic; after two weeks of being on the go in Alaska, I'm ready to sit down on a beach in the Aegean and enjoy life at a slower pace. Thanks for taking me there.