Gillian Bouras
An Australian
Writer
Living in Greece

September 2014

It took me a long time to get to Crete, even though it is not far from the Peloponnese, where I live. Seven years had elapsed since my move to Greece, and it was only then that I went on a three-generation excursion to Crete (I’ve done some mad things in my time) with my parents and with my youngest son, who was just five.

 

Alexander ate his way round Crete on a diet of green beans in olive oil and tomato puree: in Chania, Rethymnon and Heraklion it was all he wanted. My parents were very happy to try all sorts of Greek food, but were cautious about drink, having been brought up teetotal, and not seeing much point in changing their ways. But eventually my father decided he rather liked retsina. And then there was the waiter who had lived in Sydney.

We were out to dinner in Heraklion one night, and this particular waiter was just delighted to find us: he reminisced as much as he could, and kept on bringing jugs of wine to the table, while making sure that Alexander’s bean supplies were unfailing. Mum was very disapproving, but Dad and I did our best with those jugs. And then came the moment of reckoning. And of truth. Dad found it hard to get up from the table and, when he finally managed it, stood there with a silly grin on his face.

‘Bill, you’ve disgraced us all,’ intoned my mother.

‘Walk that line,’ I commanded, while being doubtful as to whether I could walk it myself.

I don’t think Dad ever disgraced us again, but then he didn’t come across any waiters from Sydney again, either.

In 1991 I went to Rethymnon to meet my friend Elizabeth, with whom I am still in touch after many adventures and peregrinations undertaken by both of us. Separately: Elizabeth now lives in Darwin. That year was the 50thanniversary of the Battle of Crete, and we skirted around the edges of all the commemorations, much enjoying the sight of Cretan veterans in their best navy-blue breeches, knee boots and lacy headdresses.

The most exciting moment came when we were sitting in a restaurant in Chania. Mikis Theodorakis walked in. There was an entourage, of course, because Mikis was and is a Greek icon. Not that you would ever find his image on the wall of a church. He’s like a god, old Mikis: that leonine head, that straight carriage. In a way Mikis decided my fate, because the film Zorba the Greek, for which he wrote the memorable score, was all the go when I was at an impressionable age and stage. One night a handsome Greek taught me Zorba’s Dance, and the rest, as they say, is history.

After 1991 there was a long gap, but in 2004 I went back to Crete and walked the Gorge of Samaria. Now there’s an experience, and I would like to repeat it before I become too decrepit. Point to note: going down is often much harder than going up. As my mother and I discovered when in Rethymnon, there is a phenomenon we called Minaret Knees, and it is not necessarily restricted to minarets.

2006 found me in Heraklion, where I made an attempt to research the life of Nikos Kazantzakis, author of Zorba the Greek among many other works. Hard yakka, that: such a rich life to document.

Then my middle son, who is in the Greek Army, was posted to Crete, and I lost count of my visits during the next four years. He and his family lived near Chania, a pretty place with an enchanting little port and lots to see and do. The Maritime Museum alone can keep one occupied for hours on end, recording as it does practically every naval battle that Greece has ever known and taken part in.

And right now I am recently returned from my youngest son’s wedding near Heraklion. He and Nina have been married for quite some time and have baby Orestes, but only church would do for the Cretan in-laws. A wedding and a christening. Both went off in fine style, and I’m pleased to report that Orestes survived his ordeal by water in good shape, despite being surrounded by 700 guests.

My brother and his wife, who live near Geelong, Victoria, Australia, also seemed to survive culture shock, although it was touch and go when a waiter (not from Sydney) produced some raki, the Cretan fire-water. Teetotal brother clearly felt Australian honour was at stake. He tossed the thimbleful of strong drink down. We waited during the customary moment. Sure enough, he coughed and then gasped. ‘That’s the sort of stuff I put in my lawn-mower,’ he said, amid general hilarity.

But I noticed he was willing to give the fire-water another go.

 

Gillian Bouras

 

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