Junta Days Chapter 08

Junta Days Chapter 08

For a few years things went on pretty well, there was the odd hiccup (which I will explain later) and I enjoyed my time in Iraklion with Costas Travel Company. Also I got to explore Iraklion and was very impressed by the city. In many places the Venetian Walls still existed and there were so many buildings standing that came from centuries ago. But my favourite place in Iraklion was the market. It was a long but fairly narrow street that started just south of the Morosini Fountain and went quite a way further south. The street was packed with shops and stalls that extended right out that every day was packed with every fruit, herb and vegetable you could imagine and as you walked up the street you came to the butchery section with many stall selling meat and great carcasses hanging up for all to see. After the butchery section there were the fishmongers who sold fish for some of the best prices in Crete and they sold it all from prawns to swordfish and more. They too were extremely friendly people and they had mostly heard of me and often called to me to see some special deal or other. It was such a great experience to walk up there.

At the opposite end of the market from the morosini fountain there is a square called Kornaru Square and there is another fountain. It is called the Bembo Fountain and is surrounded with chairs where a fine coffee can be had from the kafeneon in Kornarou Square. The square was named after a Venetian called Kornaros who wrote the poem Erotokriti which has meaning for all Cretans.

This was my favourite place in Iraklion to sit with a coffee and watch the world go by.

Of course the travel office was open almost every day and I used to sell ferry tickets, Olympic plane tickets and even sometimes student travel passes. This was the quiet time, but when a ship came in we were very busy with the tourists and Costas used to run the shop on those days.

For me it was something else. Having arranged the Dimitri bus and driver, I used to meet him at the port where the Italian Cruise ship had docked at 9am and told the driver where we were going. Then the tourists who had booked our tour came down the gangway and were directed to the bus. For those days these were big lovely busses with comfy seats and air conditioning. Dimitri bought them from Germany.

Once the bus had filled up I would step aboard, pick up the microphone at the front and start the day. I would tell them where we were going and a bit of the history and or stories I had picked up. They had all had their breakfast and the bus would drive slowly out of Iraklion with me describing all the things we passed and we would be on our way to wherever we were going. Many of the trips did a minoan tour, down to festos and lunch and back via Knossos and dinner in a booked taverna and back to the ship by 10 pm. That was the easy trip and the most common one I did since I had all the dates and history and Festos and Knossos guides working for me so I could have a break with the driver for a while at each destination. But there were many other tours I dreamed up. The most distant one was to Hora Sphakion and FrangoCastello, a placed I loved and often went. Another one was to Arkadi Monastery and surroundings. Also there was one where I took the tourists to Ierapetra with a lovely lunch at Myrtos. Some days we would go upto the Lassiti Plateau to see where the father of the Gods, The mighty Zeus was born and have dinner in Agios Nicholas. Often I arranged a tour of Spinalonga which was very popular where they had a barbecue dinner on the beach. There were others too but not so many as we only had a day for each and the tour had to be timed perfectly to get them back to their ship by 10pm, which is when Crete really livens up.

There were some drawbacks. Mostly the tourists were retired Greek Americans and so on, going to Crete had been their dream for years and now they had finally made it they made the most of it. They were often given Rakis for free and just drank them, they drank beers and wines and often got fairly inebriated since they were not so used to them as the Cretans were, but we managed them and they were good people having the time of their life and I enjoyed making them happy.

Very occasionally we had a disaster, it was rare but we had to be back at the ship at a certain time 10pm and the cruise ship waited for no-one. Perhaps I will describe a couple of them.

But before that I will mention one thing that happened, not to the tourists, but to me.

Often in Crete, people forgot the military coup that had happened. Cretans say that Athens is a long way away, and it was. But the Junta had placed their awful signs near most villages and people ignored them. In fact in Crete we saw very little of the famous Junta activity in Athens. The deaths, the torture and so on that shocked the world. It was not real to us in Crete, after all Crete had not been part of Greece for very long. It was a world away.

Now you may remember how I told you about all my taxi driver friends in Iraklion. Well after a while I became a sort of honarary member of their group and every year thay have their annual dinner. Usually it is in some favoured Taverna in a village in the country outside Iraklion. One year I was invited as a guest to one of these nights out, and since I was free that night, I thought Why Not! Well, remember the junta law that everyone ignored about no more than so many in a gathering. Well a taxi friend picked me up and we all went to this village high up in the hills behind Iaklion for our dinner. Well there was around 200 taxi drivers that turned up and a band and we all had a brilliant meal and the dancing and so forth continued late into the night. But there was a person there that nobody knew or even noticed. Some laughed at him for wearing a mackintosh on a warm Cretan evening and he said nothing and sidled off. We carried on with dancing and drinking and having a wonderful time late into the night when we discovered that we had been surrounded by a huge force of Astinomia (Police). This quietened things down a bit and a few were a bit inebriated and tried to find out what thay wanted. Was it a Taxi?

No it wasn’t and we were all herded into several vans and transported back to Iraklion Police Headquarters. And placed in this huge room under the Police station to await our come uppance with the Magistrate in the morning. In the room where we were locked people were angry, they had done nothing wrong,what was happening? I was as confused as they were. A lot of them had run out of cigarettes as well. The windows of the room we were in were not locked and I volunteered to go down to the kiosk to get them what they wanted. At the kiosk, there is a payphone so I telephoned Costas at his home and woke him up. I told him what had happened, that I and a couple of hundred taxi drivers from Iraklion had been locked up for no reason we could see and I had a cruise ship arriving the day after tomorrow. Costas was incredibly angry. He said he would contact his friend the Chief of Police and sort it out. I went back to the room with the cigarettes and told the taxi men not to worry, as I had told Costas and he would sort it out with the Police Chief. So we sat down and waited. The Police Chief was woken up by Costas and knew nothing of this, called for a police car to fetch him and drove to the headquarters with the siren going.

Apparently when he arrived he was told what happened. The slimy man in the mackintosh was a junta agent who had called the police and the night Seargent had called out the force on that shift. Anyway the Police Chief became very angry that this had happened and ordered that we all be set free immediately and that the mackintosh man be arrested for God knows what. A few minutes later we were all set free and apologised to and went to our homes. That was that. A lot of people in Iraklion wondered where the taxis were that morning, but they were back in service by evening.

The mackintosh man has disappeared apparently.

Junta Days Chapter 07

Chapter 07

In the days and weeks that followed, I got to know much more about my job with Costa. He taught me all the requirements of the big Italian Cruise ships companies and the contracts that he had with them. He did not actually explain how much he made from these companies but he told me what was required of me. Mostly we received the proposed shipping dates when the cruise ships actually called into Iraklion and they usually came about once, sometimes twice per week from May until September and then would start again the next year. My job was when Costas gave me the years dates (each spring we were told the dates of arrivals for the year) I would make sure to book the Mann Deisel busses from Dimitrios and dream up a way to show the tourists some aspect of the island or a days tour or somesuch, get each confirmed with Costa, and make the arrangements necessary and act as the tour guide or courier for the group. No group would exceed fifty persons and I was also expected to answer all questions and spend the day on the bus microphone making sure that each tour was successful. I had to read up on the history and folk tales of Crete to be on top of my job and any tips I got I should share only with the coach driver. I knew I could do this, after all Costa had done it for the last year or so since he got the contract and I was his star performer. Now I knew why I had got the job so easily.

I knew I had a lot of work to do, and a hell of a lot to learn. I had to obey the rules ( ie all the drivers would be professional Greek drivers and be fully licenced, usually ex or moonlighting bus drivers who I trusted. None of whom spoke any English) as well as to be at the ship at 9 am for collection and return them to the ship no later than 10 pm. These rules must be obeyed to the letter and I could expect fine bonuses for my genius on each trip.

Once I started to think about all this and make my plans it scared the life out of me.

But this was my job and I was going to be good at it. In theory.

As the months went by I learned that when I said I had to have a bus and driver at the port at 9am, it may or may not happen. So after a while I had to go see dimitrios who rented us the busses. In the end I had to stand up and lay down the law with the company. I knew the contract we had with him and I threatened to cut the prices severely when he messed up the times. In the end he agreed that because they were Italian ships and I could cut the pursestrings at anytime he make absolutely sure that the times were kept without an error at all and he promised to fire any driver that didn’t match up to my expectations. This is a thing about Cretans. Stand up to them and you will get respect as long as you honour that respect yourself. From then on all busses came on time and I was addressed as Costas man when he threatened the drivers. They were good as gold from then on. Phew! After this happened, Costa agreed I could carry out my threats as long as I didn’t lose the only bus for hire company in Crete. I didn’t.

But there was more to it than that, I had to learn the folklore as well as the history. The History was covered by books and so on which I studied for hours, but the folklore?

The answer came to me from working in Freedom Square in Iraklion. Outside the office were dozens of the Iraklion Cab Company cabs. Most cabbies spent most of their days sitting in the cafes on the square chatting to other cabbies, and they were a friendly lot so I got to know them. It didn’t cost much, a few Rakis etc but because I was English, I was a bit of a novelty myself. As the weeks went by I got to know many of them, they talked about everything from their families to the price of cheese and they knew all the local stories which I lapped up. Amazing what you can learn from Cretan Cab drivers . . .

Crete for all seasons

As I slowly grow older I search for great movies that really talk about the Crete I know and love. They are rare but here is one that is very good indeed. It is about Crete in all seasons including specific journeys in autumn and winter when the beauty og the island is extraordinary. Here is the film:

 

 

I hope that you enjoy it, it is well over an hour long, but do watch it all. There is a great deal of wisdom and knowledge here.

 

Ray

The Heart of Crete.

The Island of Crete is very special to me.  I have met a few English ex-patriots who live there, perhaps for the sun, the sea and the sex, or more likely – the wine and ouzo or raki. But most of them have not travelled the island or even got to know their Greek neighbors. This is a very basic mistake. This island is special, it’s people are special. Get to know them. Here is a film that may help. . . .

 

 

These people matter to you, see how they love their land and what is in their land. You will be wiser for it.

The attack on Crete from German military Film.

There was much to the battle of Crete that is not expressed in this film but it is interesting to say the least. It is about the German attack on Crete and it is worth watching to see this.    The ‘interesting’ mistakes of the New Zealand General  ( Freiburg)  and the real stories of the great defence provided by the New Zealand contingent at hill 104.    This is a shattering story and it is hard to say what would have happened if a great man had been in charge.   But then, times change perhaps, or do they?   Would Brexit have been different with another person in charge, who knows. . .

 

 

Ray