Trip to Ag. Georgios, Selinari, Ag. Nicholaos & Lassiti in 1961.

What I have to show you here is a rare film posted by John Sooklaris on Youtube. Now John has posted several films on the web that you can see here on this site. This film, from 1961 is special. It shows a trip calling in at St George, Selinari; a celebration at Agios Nicholaos – including a diver – and loads of people. Then the bus trip goes on to the Lassiti Plateau and actually shows all the spinning windmills that were so famous there and that I mentioned here on this site a while ago.

So here is the video, I hope that you enjoy it.

Then extraordinarily, someone posted a tribute to John Sooklaris by videoing St Georges in the year 2009. Here it is:


Telling dad’s war story took years

This Anzac Day will be especially poignant for one Mt Eden author as he releases his first book about a heroic World War Two battle. Graham Power’s book, The Battle of Pink Hill – Crete, 1941, depicts the 12-day struggle on the Mediterranean island in which more than 670 Kiwis were killed.

He interviewed his veteran father Leslie Power for the book, agreeing to continue the interview at a later date. But Leslie, who was evacuated from Crete on June 1, 1941, died of a heart attack in 1995 before they finished the story. “We got as far as the landing on Crete. “The interview with my father took over an hour and we only covered the first couple of years.”

Mr Power was determined to tell the story and spent six years working on the book. He visited Crete in 2005. “Going to Crete was the highlight. It was a bit unreal – that people were killing each other left, right and centre. It is extremely peaceful now.” Of the nine veterans Mr Power spoke to during his research, four remain alive. “I concentrate on this battle, my book is hopefully balanced because it shows the German side too,” he says. Mr Power’s wife, Josephine, says her husband has had a unique experience. “He’s befriended all these vets,” she laughs. Mr Power’s daughter Hanna is also enthusiastic about the upcoming book. “Now Dad has all these crazy friends. He has learnt a lot – got a lot out of it personally that he never expected.” Miss Power says her father was humbled by the hospitality shown when he visited Crete and the overwhelming gratitude to New Zealanders who fought alongside the Cretans.

Brian Duncan, a family friend, helped to proof-read Mr Power’s book and says it is an unusual version of the battle that was neglected by media. “Graham has carefully gone about finding veterans and recording their remembrances. It is a really interesting view of the Battle of Pink Hill by the people who were there.” Mr Duncan says the author has been absolutely meticulous in his research.


The Fig Tree

Ah the wonderful fig tree. It grows everywhere and the figs appear mostly in October and November, although there are, of course, winter figs, even spring figs and summer figs I have heard. But there is something special about the fig tree. Forget the milky sap that some are allergic to, forget even the lack of rain we have and the prospect of cold this year, just remember the fig.

I can recall over forty five years ago in the rains and sleet of autumn in my school in Dunstable, Bedfordshire. Our English Literature teacher trying to warm our lives by talking of a splendid and magnificent Mediterranean sea, warm places and sun kissed beaches. All of it was a mystery to young boys dreaming of finding a girlfriend, a good job, a life.

Instead, he taught us a poem, a very special poem, simply called ‘Figs”.

It was by the splendid English poet and author D H Lawrence, and it carried me away to my island in the sun.

by D.H. Lawrence

The proper way to eat a fig, in society,
Is to split it in four, holding it by the stump,
And open it, so that it is a glittering, rosy, moist, honied, heavy-petalled four-petalled flower.

Then you throw away the skin
Which is just like a four-sepalled calyx,
After you have taken off the blossom, with your lips.

But the vulgar way
Is just to put your mouth to the crack, and take out the flesh in one bite.

Every fruit has its secret.

The fig is a very secretive fruit.
As you see it standing growing, you feel at once it is symbolic :
And it seems male.
But when you come to know it better, you agree with the Romans, it is female.

The Italians vulgarly say, it stands for the female part ; the fig-fruit :
The fissure, the yoni,
The wonderful moist conductivity towards the centre.

The flowering all inward and womb-fibrilled ;
And but one orifice.

The fig, the horse-shoe, the squash-blossom.

There was a flower that flowered inward, womb-ward ;
Now there is a fruit like a ripe womb.

It was always a secret.
That’s how it should be, the female should always be secret.

There never was any standing aloft and unfolded on a bough
Like other flowers, in a revelation of petals ;
Silver-pink peach, venetian green glass of medlars and sorb-apples,
Shallow wine-cups on short, bulging stems
Openly pledging heaven :
Here’s to the thorn in flower ! Here is to Utterance !
The brave, adventurous rosaceæ.

Folded upon itself, and secret unutterable,
And milky-sapped, sap that curdles milk and makes ricotta,
Sap that smells strange on your fingers, that even goats won’t taste it ;
Folded upon itself, enclosed like any Mohammedan woman,
Its nakedness all within-walls, its flowering forever unseen,
One small way of access only, and this close-curtained from the light ;
Fig, fruit of the female mystery, covert and inward,
Mediterranean fruit, with your covert nakedness,
Where everything happens invisible, flowering and fertilization, and fruiting
In the inwardness of your you, that eye will never see
Till it’s finished, and you’re over-ripe, and you burst to give up your ghost.

Till the drop of ripeness exudes,
And the year is over.

And then the fig has kept her secret long enough.
So it explodes, and you see through the fissure the scarlet.
And the fig is finished, the year is over.

That’s how the fig dies, showing her crimson through the purple slit
Like a wound, the exposure of her secret, on the open day.
Like a prostitute, the bursten fig, making a show of her secret.

That’s how women die too.

The year is fallen over-ripe,
The year of our women.
The year of our women is fallen over-ripe.
The secret is laid bare.
And rottenness soon sets in.
The year of our women is fallen over-ripe.

When Eve once knew in her mind that she was naked
She quickly sewed fig-leaves, and sewed the same for the man.
She’d been naked all her days before,
But till then, till that apple of knowledge, she hadn’t had the fact on her mind.

She got the fact on her mind, and quickly sewed fig-leaves.
And women have been sewing ever since.
But now they stitch to adorn the bursten fig, not to cover it.
They have their nakedness more than ever on their mind,
And they won’t let us forget it.

Now, the secret
Becomes an affirmation through moist, scarlet lips
That laugh at the Lord’s indignation.

What then, good Lord ! cry the women.
We have kept our secret long enough.
We are a ripe fig.
Let us burst into affirmation.

They forget, ripe figs won’t keep.
Ripe figs won’t keep.

Honey-white figs of the north, black figs with scarlet inside, of the south.
Ripe figs won’t keep, won’t keep in any clime.
What then, when women the world over have all bursten into affirmation ?
And bursten figs won’t keep ?

Recent Memories and Memorials


Deep in the heart of Crete, in the forever wonderful Amari Valley high in the hills south of Rethymno there are five or six villages on the western side of the valley on the slopes of the Kedros mountains. These villages, in 1944, were attacked by the occupying Germans and each one was razed to the ground by explosives. All the men were killed as well as several women. Just ordinary people going about the difficult business of farming for food for their families. No-one knows what zany reason the German troops had for decimating these peaceful villages. Some say it was reprisals for the kidnapping of the German General Kreipe, others suspect that it was to cover the German withdrawal. Perhaps there is no truth.

Outside the main village, Ano Meros, there has been erected a memorial to the many dead children, adults and old people that had nowhere to run and died by bullets in the terror that happened there. The memorial consists of a woman carving the names of the dead in stone.

The memorial to the dead of the Kedros villages in Amari

The memorial to the dead of the Kedros villages in Amari

This is a beautiful memorial in the middle of nowhere, so to speak. It attests to the immense courage and the long memories of the people of Crete. I, and I hope you too, will never forget them.

L is for Lassiti

ABC Wednesday

High in the mountains of Crete there is a plateau which once, some years ago, was famous for windmills. The scene of so many fluttering windmills was a sight to see. It used to look exactly like this.

Lassiti Windmills as they used to be

Lassiti Windmills as they used to be

In fact these were not so much windmills, but windpumps. Almost every field had one and it used to pump water up from the ground to water the fields. This picture was taken around forty years ago. Today the water is supplied by electrical or oil driven pumps and the windmills are, alas, gone with the wind.

Today Lassiti has changed. It still grows the staples of Crete, potatoes, apples, vegetables etc. But sadly without the wonderful windmills.

Lassiti Today

Lassiti Today

But do not worry, that is the way of the modern world. There is a consolation, of course. On the edge of the Lassiti Plateau were some real windmills, built many years ago to grind the corn. Today some of them have been rebuilt to house modern people. What goes around comes around.

So here they are

So here they are

Panagia Chrisoskalitissa Monastery, Elafonisi

Skywatch Friday

The monastery of Panagia Chrisoskalitissa, Our Lady of the Golden Step in English, is in the remote south west of Crete just six Kilometres from the lovely lagoon beach of Elafonisi. And it is glorious.

Panagia Chrisoskalitissa Monastery

Panagia Chrisoskalitissa Monastery

This photograph was taken when the sunset happened and thank heavens I had my camera to hand for the amount of beer that we had drunk with the priest and two English hitchikers was immense. Then came the meal with wine and a room to sleep in. But the next day we explored.

Panagia Chrisoskalitissa means Our Lady of the Golden Step. But what was the Golden Step? One of the nuns there explained to me that you have to be absolutely free of sin to see this step which is one of the ninety steps climbing up to the monastery’s front door. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see it, but the nun told me not to worry as she had not seen it either.

The monastery from the vegetable garden

The monastery from the vegetable garden

So we climbed the steps and were invited to partake of tsikoudia (raki) with two nuns and the priest. A monastery and a nunnery seems to merge into one down here. Then I was shown how to climb to the roof of the church ‘for the view’, of course.

The view south west from the roof

The view south west from the roof

This is a lovely place and we first went there about twenty years ago, then around ten years ago. We had to drive a gorge through a very old tunnel and some miles of dirt road to get to the monastery. Today the road is better, at least it is tarmacked, but one of the nuns is gone and the priest is much older than before when we first met him. But a wonderful man, nevertheless.

The priest

The priest

Here in the deep south west of Crete there is very little tourism. There are some rooms now where you can stay and near the beach at Elafonisi – perhaps Crete’s best beach with silver and rose coloured sand – there are a couple of tavernas. There are no hotels and no tavernas on the beach at all because this is one of Crete’s protected areas. But if you go there, it will stay forever in your memory.

Kalamaki Sunset

Skywatch Friday

Kalamaki, a village just north of Matala on the Messara coastline of Crete is a place that we have known for many years. Just over twenty years ago we, my wife and I, were there visiting one of the two very small tavernas that were on the beach. There were a few other buildings, but not many. We were eating shrimps just fished out of the sea, and they were superb.

This coastline faces west and you can watch the sun fall gently into the horizon as the evening wears down into night. In the taverna were some Macedonians from the north of Greece, there was toast after toast to ‘Makedon’ their home.

Today Kalamaki is much larger, but still a village. All along the front are new tavernas, bars and restaurants and today it is a holiday destination for all nationalities. But it still has the one of the finest beaches in Crete, alas not the original tavernas or the shrimps.

But still the sun winds gently into the sea as one and all stare at the beauty of this stunning moment.

Kalamaki Sunset

Kalamaki Sunset

This is a wonderful place. Enjoy!

Rebetiko, the Source of Modern Greek Music

Rebetika is one of those Greek words that has no translation in English. It has been referred to as ‘Greek blues music’ except that it is very different to what we call blues music in English. Today we can go into a Greek record shop and see rebetika music  either in its own section or just scattered around as ‘laika’ or popular music. Much of it has been written recently, it has become ‘cool’ today, so to speak.

But where did the rebetika music come from, who were the original rebetikists? In Greece around the turn of the twentieth century, the very early 1900s, sad songs were occasionally sung but it wasn’t until 1922 when rebetika music entered Greece with some force.

Just before 1922, the new nation of Greece, freed by the Great Powers just 60 or seventy years previously, decided that they wanted to protect all the many Greeks who lived in Asia Minor. The head quarters of the Greek Orthodox church was in Istanbul (known to Greeks as Constantinopolis even today). South of Istanbul, the whole of Western Anatolia – modern Western Turkey – was predominantly Greek. This is what Greeks call Mikra Asia or Asia Minor.

Support was given by the Great Powers, predominantly the British prime minister, David Lloyd George, for the Greek army to invade Asia Minor. The prime minister of Greece was the Cretan, Eleftherios Venizelos who had lobbied hard for an expanded Hellas (the Megali Idea) at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 to include Thrace and the predominantly Greek areas of Asia Minor – in particular the area of Smyrna, modern day Izmir. The situation in Turkey was politically in a shambles. The remains of the failing Ottoman Empire were vying with rebels who were trying to create a new state of Turkey.

In the massive city of Smyrna, however, life went on. It has often been said that the Greeks of Smyrna were more sophisticated, richer and more cosmopolitan than the Greeks of Greece. They supported the idea of bringing Smyrna into the State of Greece so that the future for them would be a Greek future, safe and secure in line with Romiosini. After all, Greeks had lived here since the Bronze age three thousand years ago. Then though, the young Turkish government were enacting genocidal policies towards minorities – for example the Armenian Genocide had just happened – so what better than to be a part of the State of Greece. Future in a country ruled by Turks brought only uncertainty.

It is a long story but not a very long war. Greek forces invaded Turkey through Asia Minor and secured the city of Smyrna to the delight of the Greeks who lived there. With the encouragement of Lloyd George, Venizelos gave the order to take some of the area to the east of Asia Minor to secure the region of Smyrna. Then there was an election in Greece in 1920 in which Venizelos fell from power. The new prime minister Dimitrios Gounaris appointed inexperienced monarchist officers to senior commands and King Constantine of Greece took over in Smyrna.

The rest of the war went downhill for the Greeks. A new young Turkish Army commander called Kemal Attaturk was on the rise, Britain pulled out of their agreement to support the Greeks and the new Soviet Union was helping the Turks. Having progressed almost to Ankara, the capital of Turkey, the Greeks faced a massive counter attack. The Greek lines were thin and they had little support from behind. The victorious Turkish Army marched westward gaining support from more Turks on the way. They were heading for the predominantly Greek city of Smyrna.

The Turkish cavalry entered the city of Smyrna on September 9th 1922. The Greek government resigned the same day and the Greek army was driven into the sea as Smyrna burned. The Turkish army massacred a significant number of the Christian population including the brutal lynching of the Orthodox Archbishop of Smyrna. Many simply fled taking just what they could carry on the long march north, across the Bosphorous, through Thrace to Greece.

This was followed very quickly by the treaty of Lausanne, the most important part of which was the exchange of populations between Turkey and Greece. All Christians had to leave Asia Minor and return to Greece. All Muslims had to leave Greece and return to Turkey. So during that winter a long line of Christians walked to Greece, most of whom were born in Asia Minor. Similarly a long line of Muslims from Greece walked back to Turkey, most of whom were born in Greece.

That migrating population, approximately three million of them heading for Greece made up songs that described their situation, their fear and their starvation walking through burned fields. Some of these songs can be bought today on a CD called Mikra Asia by George Dalaras. This was the core of the music of Rebetika. These refugees arrived in Greece and were allocated across the country as best as was possible. Many came to Thessalonika and Athens where they lived in tent like cities until houses could be built for them. Many too arrived in Crete and to other islands. Greece had lost around half of Thrace and all of Asia Minor. The battle that was referred to as the Megali Idea – the Great Idea, became known as the Catastrophe.

In Athens especially, which almost doubled in size with refugees, times were very hard. There was little or no work. Many decided then to emigrate and they were given support by the Greek government. They went mostly to America and to Australia where their families still live today, mostly still speaking Greek as well as English

But for some of them, living in cities like Athens and particularly Pireus, formed small groups of musicians with instruments that they had brought from Turkey, the bouzoukia for example and several others, and they sang songs in the Smyrna style which became known as Rebetika.

Rebetika, (singular rebetiko) also often written as rembetiko or rembetika, became the music of what the Greeks called the Manges. The manges were seen as usually smartly dressed men and women who spent most of their time in ouzeris, cafes, brothels and even prisons. The music was full of passion, melancholy tales of the hashish smoking habits that came with them from Smyrna, of love, death and of daily life. Mostly they had a sadness to them that spoke of the pain they had seen and the life that they now had to live. The source of the word is obscure but is often said to have come from the word Rebetis (plural Rebetes) which means petty criminal, person of the underworld which is how the manges were seen by the original people of Greece.

This was a bit unfair to people who were more musicians than thieves, but food was short and life pretty desperate for them in those early days on the mainland of Greece. As the years went on, Rebetika music became more and more popular as it expressed the individuality of people, it underlined their desire for freedom. The bigger clubs and tavernas in Athens began to employ more and more rebetika bands and records were made, some names became famous such as Sotiria Bellou and Vassilis Tsitsanis and others. The music could all be danced to by several different dances, but the most important one by far was Zeibekiko. This was an intensely personal dance, mostly quite slow and danced by one man at a time. Anyone else joining in was not welcome and anyone who applauded may well have been starting a fight. The dance originated from the Zeybek warriors of Asia Minor and was introduced into Greece following the exchange of populations. It grew very popular and in more recent times the dance has allowed men to wait until one has finished and can hand over. Today I have seen even women dance the Zeibekiko but it is not common. In this dance, a man would dance for himself. He may even stand on a glass of wine or lift a table or chair or perform other complexities, but it was just himself and the music that mattered – which is why applause was never sought, even disdained.

Rebetika was always seen by authorities, particularly fascist or extremely right wing authorities, as a bad thing. The people who sang and danced rebetika lived their own lives, nobody owned them and nobody was going to own them. When in 1936 the Greek dictator, Ioannis Metaxas took power in Greece he made rebetika illegal. But even the man who famously said ‘no’ to Mussolini could not kill rebetika. It had become the music of the heart, even the soul, and now it was going underground.

During the German occupation of Greece, which similarly banned rebetika among many other things, rebetika was still sung by the manges bands and it was growing in power. In the 1950s after the occupation and the following Greek Civil War of 1945 – 1950 rebetika music became very popular, in fact so popular that the music and songs themselves were becoming less and less rebetika and more and more laiki – or urban pop, if you prefer. There were many arguments about this, but as always, time rolls on. But it is without doubt that the music of rebetika gave birth to today’s popular music in Greece. So much so that the rebetikists of the 1960s decided that a revival was due and that rebetika was one thing and popular music was something else. So they re-recorded the old greats of rebetika and issued vinyl singles and LPs of pure rebetika.

Great Greek artists like Manos Chatzidakis and Mikis Theodorakis used the bouzoukia in its various shapes and sizes in their music and wrote songs largely influenced by the original rebetika. But there was more trouble to come. In 1967 the colonels or the junta dictatorship seized power in Greece. Many still remember the signs of the soldier in front of the phoenix rising from fire placed in every Greek village. This government also banned rebetika. It also imposed a new and cleaned Greek language called Katharevousa which had to be taught to children in schools and was the official language of Greece, even in spite of the fact that day to day almost everyone in the state of Greece spoke Dhimotiki, the language spoken before the colonels and also the language of today’s modern Greece. Mikis Theodorakis was imprisoned and then allowed to go to France in exile. Again, underground, rebetika was played secretly and passionately. Theodorakis gave concerts in France and elsewhere that came even closer to rebetika.

The Greek colonels junta was probably as stupid as King Constantine’s Smyrna ideas. They forced the independent Greek country of Cyprus to create a coup, backed by the American government whose foreign secretary was Henry Kissenger. The coup took over the government of Archbishop Makarios and put an idiot in power. His name was Nicos Sampson. This coup initiated an invasion of Cyprus by Turkey and the seizure of the north of Cyprus that exists to this day. In Greece the colonels junta fell and Konstantinos Karamanlis’ New Democracy Party was elected as the government in 1974, Karamanlis also legalised the the Greek Communist Party, the KKE. This time was known as ‘Metapolitefsi’ or the restoration of democracy. The monarchy was abolished and the third Hellenic Republic had begun. The military junta of the colonels arrested 87,000 people of whom 2.800 were tortured and they assassinated, to our knowledge, at least 88 people.

The original rebetika music was, as I said recorded on LPs but after the colonels junta regime people seemed to want a newer music, the laiki or popular music, the music of a new Greece, a Greece free of strife, a Greece moving into the new and hopefully happier world of tourism and a better income. All this came along, of course, tourism grew as did the Greek government and the world came into the 1990s and the new millennium. What happened to rebetika?

Well it is really an extraordinary story. One of the forgotten rebetakists of the 1950s and 1960s was Loukas Daralas. He did at least one great song and that was ‘To Vouno’ or the mountain. This great player of rebetiko music and songs had a son, A tiny baby boy that today is known as George Dalaras. George has done a great deal for rebetika, he is probably the most well known artist in Greece and has published many more records and CDs than anyone else. He published the very early album called Mikra Asia, as I have mentioned, and he published many more old and new rebetika songs.

Today the young people of Greece, like all young people search for what is new and what are their roots. They are being supplied by the new and the modern rebetakists. The music is not so much the need and the passion for Smyrna and a land long lost to the Greeks, but for the sadnesses of today and, of course, for the beautiful rebetika personal dance of Zeibekiko.

John Sooklaris’ Latest Video Crete 1961

I just had an email from John Sooklaris that said:

Ray, If I had realized that these movies that I sat and watched when I was a kid, and fell asleep to, as my father would show them to all of our relatives, time and time again, would create such interest in the world, I would have posted them a long time ago when my father was alive. Alas, I am happy with the interest that we have received by people like yourself, and my mother is, no doubt, flattered by the interest as well. Yes, I just happened to visit your site yesterday, before receiving this message and even changed the one about Akrotiri in which you said I was confused. I wasn’t really confused, but just ignorant to all of the places in these videos. With the help of people, like yourself, we’ll get this all straightened out so we can properly inform our viewers. But I did take your word for it and changed it to the Agia Triada in Akrotiri. I will read your other comments on the other videos as well, as I do care about the quality of information that I post. Thanks for your help, as I continue to post the remaining videos from that time. John Sooklaris

Here is the latest video from John – part 1 0f 2:

I don’t recognise the first memorial, but the second after a minute or so is certainly the memorial south of Hania on the Omalos road at the Alikiarnos junction. This is a memorial to those dead in the last war when the Germans occupied Crete. There is listed the names of those killed in around five local villages. In the basement of this memorial is a glass ossuary containing many skulls of those killed, each with a bullethole over the right ear.

Later in this movie I see the hospital in Rethymnon which was newly built in those days. The big ceremony/festival near the end of the movie is certainly in Eleftheriou Square (Freedom Square) in Iraklion. That’s the one with all the crowds and marching soldiers. If you watch carefully you will see the Iraklion Morosini  Fountain twice.

Here is part 2 of 2 of this film.

The first part of this film is obviously a trip eastwards from Iraklion towards Agios Nicholas. The first part of the film is a stop at St Georges church in the gorge of Selinari near the village of Vrahassi. I remember this place on the first bus I took when I arrived in Crete going to Agios Nicholas. No Cretan can pass this shrine without stopping. The whole busload got out and said a quiet prayer here.

Most of the rest of the film is taken in Agios Nicholas – you can clearly see the small lake with the boats that connects to the sea. The final part of the film is I feel taken on a trip to the Lassiti Plateau – you can see the windpumps/windmills.

If any of you out there can do better than me and identify more of the places in the film, of which there may be several, then I and John would be grateful. Please post a comment.

I would appreciate it and so would John Sooklaris. In memory of his father who took these great films.

Celebration at Agia Triada 1961

This is another of Anthony Sooklaris’s movies published by his son John Sooklaris.

I think that John is a little confused about the whereabouts of this movie but I see it clearly as at the monastery Agia Triada, the monastery of the Holy Trinity in Akrotiri. I don’t know if the day was a special celebration or just a welcome for the Cretan Americans but it all happened in 1961.

Here is what John had to say about this movie: “Akrotiri Chordaki Sternes 1961

This video takes place in what appears to be Chordaki Akrotiri Crete Greece, and then moves on to Sternes at the home of Kosta Verganelakis. Early on the video, I believe I recognized Themistocle Tsouchlarakis as well as Antoni Panagirakis who is the dancing Chorofilaka.

Beyond these few faces, I don’t know anyone else in the video. I would love to hear your comments and hear from you if you recognize anyone, the villages, the reason for the get-together, and anything else that you would like to share.

Because I noticed a female lyratzida, I selected the music of Tasoula to serenade you while you watch this movie clip.”

The word lyratzida means violinist.

The link to the website of Agia Triada is here

I hope that you enjoy this unique movie.