I arrived in Hania, the capital of Crete, in the late afternoon. It was a fine sunny day still and I walked with my rucksack down to the harbour and found a nice room to rent overlooking the port. Again, it even had a shower. But that could wait, I went for a walk.
Hania is a beautiful city. Based on ancient Kydon it has seen just about the entire history of Crete. The buildings are mostly venetian and turkish but a lot of building was going on in the modern fashion too. At the main Agora, the large covered market there were plenty of people milling around going about their business, All sorts of people, some looked like shepherds and others looked like businessmen in suits, There were cafes all around and hundreds of shops.
I walked up the hill opposite the Agora and at the top was a fine park. Just a little further on were all the consulates of the various countries including one for Great Britain. The flags waved along either side of the road. Down to the left along another fine street was the huge court buildings with its own square. I kept turning left and finally found myself back at the Agora. Between the Agora and the port is the old city with its narrow streets and little businesses making chairs, fitting and making boots, everyone was busy. Hania seemed overwhelming after the last few weeks wandering around Crete, but it certainly had a real spirit, a wonderful sense of place.
Finally I returned to the port as the sun was going down and I sat outside a kafeneon and ordered a greek coffee. The metrio version with a little sugar. It soon came with the usual glass of water.
As I sat there, fishing boats were coming in and selling their fish as soon as they tied up the boats. There was a great deal of noise and haggling for the wonderful fish that could not be fresher. All around the harbour were tavernas each I expect had someone out there to get the fish for tonights meals. Plus there were women there buying smaller amounts for their families. It just had this atmosphere of day to day life in Hania. I sat there completely unnoticed by anyone and that felt really good. I felt that I was a part of this great metropolis.
I looked at the map that I had of Crete and I could see where I had been but more than that I could see all the places I hadn’t been. There were so many places I had missed. To see everything would take many years I thought. I couldn’t just stay here without any income and where could I get a job? I had no idea but the germ of living here on this island had already come alive in my brain and I would somehow make it come true. First though I had to get back home and earn some money in order to return to Crete, but I certainly would return and somehow find work here.
But tonight I was going to buy a wonderful meal, a fish meal of some kind at one of these tavernas by the port. I was going to enjoy the lyre and the bouzoukia and make this a night to remember. I went back to the room I had rented and had a shower and a shave and generally tidied myself up. Then at around eight o’clock I went out for my Volta. The walk that Cretans take before dinner. From one end of the large harbour to the other I walked enjoying the night air, looking at the lighthouse built by the venetians and inspecting the tavernas. Finally I found a really nice taverna with tables outside and a small stage for the greek music. There was a notice that said that someone was playing tonight and the menu had fresh fish. That was good enough for me and in I went. I sat down and the waiter gave me a menu in Greek, English and several other languages which I looked at. I asked him if he had all these fine things on the menu. He told me no we don’t but there is only one international menu we can buy, so we buy that. I asked him what he did have and he said that today Manoli the fisherman had just had a great catch of Barbounier (red mullet) which is a Cretan specialty, plus plenty of excellent garides (shrimps) and we also have spanaki (spinach), potatoes and some lovely cakes. ‘Come and see . . .’
I went out to the fridge with him and I chose a medium size barbounier fish and said that I would have some potatoes and some spinach. It would certainly take a good half hour to cook all that as well as the other customer’s food, so in the meantime I would have a small plate of garides (shrimps) and a half kilo of wine. Then I went back to my table and sat down while the musicians started to get onto the stage and begin playing. By this time, nine o’clock, the taverna was nearly full so I sat there that warm evening enjoying life to the full. I felt absolutely happy and completely content.
The musicians were playing and singing mantinades, I started eating my shrimps and the other people on the table were sharing their mezes (starters) with me. The shrimps were divine, but so too was the tzatziki, the fried graviera cheese, the taramasalata and the crisp fresh bread. The fish came along with the other peoples lamb, lobster and plates of potatoes cooked in olive oil, the spinach and a load of other horta and lots of wine, and I mean lots of wine and it was excellent wine. I ate some of my fish and shared the rest with the others, I was given lamb and even lobster as well as some amazing salads. How could I eat it all, but I tried really hard.
Along with the food came the questions about where I came from and who I was and how many brothers and sisters I had and was I married. They told me that they were Hania people who had come for a meal and the music as they often did. I told them something of my experiences around the island and they were amazed that I had been to so many places. We kept on eating until most of it was gone. One by one the men got up to dance on the harbourside and they dragged me along as well. I watched them dance and I followed. Of course I couldn’t do the acrobatics but nobody minded. Here too the women danced, arms on each others shoulders as the music rose almost to a frenzy. Where in the world could I have experienced this except here?
Around two a.m the men started their slow graceful expressive dancing and I watched amazed. I remembered in the Amari how they danced like this – with parea (ambience) and it was incredible. All around people were full of food and laughing and joining in the mantinades. Often they made up or offered little rhyming couplets that reflected their own lives. It was an absolutely amazing evening in a place where I felt completely at home.
Sometime after three o’clock the bills had to be paid but the group on the table I was on called for ‘to logoriasmo’ (the bill) and paid it all for the table. I protested, surely I had to pay my own bill, but no, this was Crete, I was a wonderful and interesting companion to them so forget the bill, it is paid. I seem to have gone through Crete, and even here in Hania, hardly having to part with anything except what I had to say or just to be. Of course I had to accept it with thanks or perhaps offend. But somehow they seemed really pleased that I was there, that I had done something for them, what I may never know except just enjoy their superb company.
We said goodnight and went our seperate ways. As soon as I got back to my room and asked for an early call in the morning I was asleep.
The next day I caught the big bus to Iraklion and that evening I was on the ferry to go home. I had the money for a single flight on Olympic Airways Athens to London and there I had to find a job to earn enough money to come back to Crete in a year. Could I do it, at that moment I had no idea. But yes, somehow I would do it and this time I would stay.
On the way to London my mind was full of mountain villages, Venetian castles and the overwhelmingly wonderful Cretan people. The germ that was growing in my mind gave me the incredible desire to live in Crete, to become a part of it and that was my ambition. Did it happen? We’ll see . . .