There are things you wish you'd done, but, jet lagged after a fourteen hour flight, it's lucky you were even sufficiently alert to find your way from the bus station through the warren of little streets that led to the guest house where your host, Iannis, greeted you. For example, you wish you'd taken his picture. What you recall is a stocky man with a beard and bushy hair, and the images of Greek men gleaned from Henry Miller's Colossus of Maroussi: the olive skin, the wild hair, the mustache, the larger than life presence. Memorable phrases, too, such as:
"Greeks don't pronounce, they just say."
"When you say classics, it's not the same: classics is philosophy, Plato and Socrates. Homer is poetry, music."
"What you find around here (referring to Chania's -pronounced HAN-ya's old town) it's not Greece. My recommendation, you go to Theriso. That's real Greece, that's where you get real Cretan food."
His suggestion for a sandwich to hold you over til the morning is souvlaki, but not "down there," again meaning the old town, the beautiful Venetian harbour that is so wildly popular with tourists, even before tourist season really begins. So you venture up a block or so, out of that labyrinth of centuries-old buildings onto a main commercial road. The smell of grilling meat leads you to a gyro shop where your first encounter is with a young man who appears to be one of the refugees so sadly flooding onto Mediterranean shores. Please lady, he says, pointing to his stomach. He holds up two fingers, and you figure that means that whatever you buy, you should buy one for him, too. How can you refuse?
A day after learning what Iannis meant about the tourist focus of Chania's old town, you find a seven am bus to Theriso. The only passenger on a bus whose driver skillfully manoeuvres the twisty climbing road, you get off at the town square, and two shy schoolchildren climb aboard. Quiet. Still dim, the sun has yet to break over the lower ridges of the White Mountains. The plan was to find a coffee, walk in the gorge, see what the day would bring. But in this village of 100, no one but roosters and dogs seem to be awake. There is a single shop, closed. Two or three tavernas around the square, closed. But it is thrillingly beautiful. Perfect. For you, morning always brings a sense of possibility, of discovery and this morning does so especially. You wander around the village first, admiring the potted geraniums, the climbing roses, then find the Museum of Resistance up a few stairs. There's chair outside the entrance of the museum and the sun is finally besting the ridge, creeping just high enough to find the chair, then the still dew-damp bench where you lie down, thinking to catch up on some of the sleep you've been missing. Bees awake now, too, and swallows embroidering the air. Like the sand mandalas created by monks, the complex patterns swallows stitch disappear instantly.
An hour or so after arrival, back at the village square, a grape-vine covered taverna, with rooms to rent, has some action. Three Greek bikers, big, bearded--one of them wearing a do-rag-- order beer. When you ask the sleepy owner if this means he's open, he stops sweeping the main room, and rocks his hand back and forth in the universal gesture that says, more or less. Fortified with fresh orange juice and the more liquid portion of the sludgy Greek coffee, you head down the road to the gorge, stopping often to photograph the wild artichokes, the red poppies, the wild thyme and rosemary, and the plant you later discover is a dragon lily. Green foliage, threatening purple blossom that looks more like a spear tip than a flower. An occasional car passes, but mostly there are the bees, goat bells tinkling on the rocky mountainside, goats and sheep maa-ing and baa-ing, birds still whistling and chirping, and the sound of your footsteps.
Perfect. What you imagined when you thought of the western end of Crete. The peaceful exterior that belies its often violent history. Kydons, one of the Greek tribes that fought at Troy, according to Homer. Kydon was the son of Minos’s wife Pasiphae (the one who also gave birth to the minotaur), and Hermes. The name Kydon means "glorious"," proud" and the old part of Chania is still known as Kydonia.
Nostalgia for the morning as you pass the now-open dairy with a single broken-English-speaking dairymaid, who points to the blocks of goat and sheep cheese for sale. The shop on the square is open, too and offering some trinkets and packaged herbs, the ubiquitous olive oil soap. Finally that authentic Cretan meal, of wild greens and lamb in olive oil, complementary yogurt with honey, and raki to finish. Maybe that is the reason you miss the return bus, or it could be the political discussion you had sworn not to get into with the couple from NY. The thoughts of regret that distracted you. Or perhaps the hypnotic zzz of the bees, the blanket of sun, a little nap on the still mostly empty square.