Earthquakes are frequent here. Most go unnoticed, but now and then there’ll be a shocker. The last truly big one was in 1956. 1953’s destroyed much of Kefalonia and raised the whole island by 60cm.
Last Saturday as I was completing the blog the dog started shaking with fear, next thing she’d jumped up on the seat beside me, leaning in heavily. The van began rocking as if in a gale, but there was no wind. We were having an earthquake.
It was reported online almost immediately as hitting 5.0 on the Richter Scale. That’s not huge, but it was exciting to me.
On the road we feel as if we’ve created a longer life simply by cramming every waking minute with sights, culture, food, learning, excitement.
More life lived in the same period of time.
The last five weeks have been the complete opposite. I have never done so little, and the time flies by.
There’s good in everything though. It’s been years since I last talked to friends as often, read as much, or spent as much time learning.
Grey pebble, grey pebble beach.
We all know that dogs have a far greater sense of smell than humans, but less sense of colour. It’s only when it’s demonstrated that we begin to contemplate what it means.
Polly has been lame for 16 months.
She takes it in her limping stride and only notices her bad leg after too many cat chasing expeditions.
On the beach to replace the ball chasing that she once loved we create new stimulus.
The most impressive game is Grey Pebble, Grey Pebble Beach.
Pick a pebble, any pebble, rub it in your hand to give it a hint of your smell.
Throw it among the thousands of similar pebbles on the beach. Send in the dog.
For a moment your pebble is visible, but in her exuberance Polly leaps at it, covering it in a shower of similar stones.
She’ll nose those stones out of the way. She’ll get frustrated and dig with her paws. The digging often kicks the sought-after pebble out behind her, and given that it looks the same as the others she doesn’t see it go.
But she quickly realises that it’s no longer under her nose.
She’ll search the area until she picks up the scent again, eventually picking up the correct pebble and bringing it back to you.
This can take ten minutes. It can take longer.
This morning I thought she’d lost it and after a full lesson of Greek while Polly scrabbled in the sand I got up and started to walk away. She didn’t follow, but instead upped her search. Eventually she came trotting along. Pebble in mouth, to drop it at my feet.
Here’s her favourite. We’ve had this one for over a week. It’s distinctive on the London Underground fabric of the van, but immediately lost among its companions on the beach.
PLF. Our sweep’s recommendation.
Our friend Will installs woodburners and sweeps chimneys around St Just. He’s a distinctive figure in his ancient Mk1 Land Rover and sweep’s blackened togs. Occasionally he scrubs up immaculate for a night in town. It was during a chat with Will on the day before we left home that he suggested reading Patrick Leigh Fermor (PLF).
That chat has opened doors and at times determined our route.
PLF was a gentleman adventurer, what we’d now term an adrenalin junky. For him the Second World War was a time of joy and loss in equal measure, bringing levels of excitement beyond anything us mere mortals could stand.
At 18 he’d been expelled from school, and was uninterested in university. He was bored. He set off to walk from London to Istanbul in 1933 and in so doing set the scene for three of his books and shaped the rest of his life.
Greece became his first love and once in the army he was enlisted to Churchill’s “ungentlemanly fighters” the Special Operations Executive. PLF was largely based on German occupied Fortress Crete, frustrating the enemy.
In the way that one book leads to another I have read numerous titles relating to his and his compatriot’s adventures. Few get far before mentioning his audacious abduction of a Nazi general on the island, and that story opened new doors this week. It turns out that the other Englishman on our site is writing the screenplay for a new film adaptation of the drama. I was delighted. Several books have since changed hands between us and learning Greek has been set aside as I devour more tales of PLF.
His exploits lead me to ask, how can anyone spend months of extreme adrenalin activity where life and death flash before you many times a day then settle back to anything like a normal life? PLF suffered depression through many of his subsequent years, but that’s not a condition reserved for adventurers.
Easter. From a different world.
Around 60% of Greeks live in urban areas, considerably less than the 85% in the UK. Those towns and cities are small in comparison to much of the developed world, only 8 towns have populations over 100,000 and even Athens sounds tiny with 650,000 residents. Everyone else is spread thinly across its mostly mountainous terrain in small towns and thousands of villages.
Perhaps it’s that thin spread of people that makes it such a tremendously sociable nation.
Family is everything and every excuse for a gathering is taken. Saint’s name days, birthdays, Epiphany, Christmas, Easter (western and Orthodox), Protomagia, Assumption, three special celebration days in the lead up to Lent, National Day, Independence Day, christenings and funerals. If any of those are more than a week away then they’ll celebrate Sunday like a holiday.
Of every special day in a calendar of special days, Easter is the big one.
It’s for Easter that people head to wherever they consider their spiritual home, that’s generally wherever the oldest surviving mother lives.
They visit their dead. They feast on lamb. They make presents of sweet cheese cakes and red painted hard boiled eggs. They eat quantities that would leave us incapacitated, especially of hand made sweets.
Right now the butchers and patisseries are crammed with food. The first aisle of the supermarket has cakes and biscuits floor to ceiling.
Delivery vans and scooters buzz around ensuring that no one goes without, even if the strict travel ban means that this will be the loneliest Easter many have experienced.
In the city the village experience has to come on the coach. The bus stations are crowded with people eagerly waiting for parcels of lamb, cheese, oil, Tsiporo and the Easter cakes Tsoureki.
We’re not missing out.
The campsite owners visited last Sunday and presented each van with a gift of painted eggs, cakes, chocolate and more vegetables.
Our Easter Sunday fell on the 72nd birthday of Max, a German who has been on the road for many years in his awe inspiring wagon, Geriatrix II. We celebrated with a small outdoor dinner where the Germans demonstrated their incredible appetite for meat.
It’s likely we’ll turn Orthodox and repeat the performance this weekend.
Don’t mention the war.
With two of us reading war related Cretan history WWII was bound to rise in conversation. Although it’s a topic that feels awkward in this company I believe that the Brits are more uncomfortable than our German friends.
We were surprised to hear that none had learned about WWII in school. Perhaps the subject was still too raw in the 1950s when that generation were children.
Max recounted one tale of beautiful irony related to his former work place in Munich. It had been a Gestapo headquarters until the end of the fighting, but when he was based there it had come full circle and was a school for handicapped children.*
It’s wonderful to be called to account by people’s comments and emails.
I have hardly mentioned the strange world that is VanLife for some time now.
When we started out it was all so unusual.
And that time was most special.
It was when we noticed everything that was different from what we knew before.
It was when cooking with everything we own within reach was a joy, and a challenge.
It was when snuggling down in a cocoon, where our whole inside world was smaller than any bedroom, was exciting beyond any imagining.
Like anything, VanLife becomes normal. But that doesn’t stop it being exciting. It only takes one of us to ask “What are we doing?” for us to both realise the joy of this experience.
There’s also the challenge of living so close to the other when one, or both, want, need, to be alone. You can’t believe how valuable a separate room can be in times of stress. Our separate room is called walking the dog.
Tougher Easter restrictions.
The Greek effort to contain the spread of the virus has been more successful than any other European nation and their death toll has only crept above 100 this week.
The authorities are determined not to relax and this weekend the on the spot fines for unnecessary travel have been doubled to €300. Some areas will enforce a complete motor transport ban, and drones are being used to extend the eye of the police.
This week the deputy mayor of Chania chose to go fishing with friends. He was caught. His foolishness was rewarded with a €5,000 fine.
It’s not often that Greece is the best at anything administrative. They’re not letting this proud crown slip.
This week’s bounty.
The generosity of the Cretans during this tough time astounds and delights us time and again.
Yesterday as we walked past a (closed) bar the owner pointed to his garage and suggested we help ourselves to the crates of fruit and veg there. He wasn’t satisfied with the couple of peppers and tomatoes we picked up so he stuffed a carrier with tomatoes, peppers and aubergine, thrust that at me, then loaded Minty with cucumbers.
Tzatziki morning, noon and night.
Thank you! We’ll be with you for dinner as soon as you’re allowed to open, and we’ll bring all of our friends from the site.
On this warm Saturday morning the mile and a half beach beside us is completely empty. The sea is beautifully clear, sparkling for no one but Polly and me.
Music to scrub to: Bowie’s magnificent challenging last album. Black Star.
Music to blog to: DJ Shadow. Although it’s hard to write against such brilliance.
* Nazi strategy imagined what it considered a racially and genetically pure and productive society. It embraced unthinkable methods to eliminate those who did not fit that vision, beginning with the forced sterilisation of the mentally or physically disabled. It got much worse from there on.