Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Time travel in Greece

You cain't sling a dead cat without hitting a really, REALLY old pile of rocks in Greece -- something that continues to amaze this Atlanta resident. Where I come from, old is the late the 1800s. If something from before THE war (you know the one I mean) exists, it's ancient. We just don't have a lot of old sh*t laying around.

But, in Crete, you get such an appreciation for old, and for history, and for living with your past (we still tear a lot of old stuff down around here). Not to mention a sense of wonder for how anything Greek still survives, given a history that includes conquering and occupation by the Romans, the Venetians, the Turks, the Germans. The list seems endless. We think America is a melting pot, but you want to see a melting pot that stretches back centuries, go to Greece. Spend a week in Crete for a journey that will take you back thousands of years -- and that doesn't even include the Homo Sapiens Museum.


When you land in Iraklion, it's the largest city in Crete and where most planes and ships land--or dock--you immediately see the way modern architecture incorporates ancient ruins. This is the marina or harbor, I'm not so good with the ship language. The stone arches are Venetian, that makes 'em about 900 years old or maybe only 500 years old--I write, I'm not so good with math. And now cars drive under them all day long. Probably not what the Venetians had in mind when they built them.


The Venetians also built this fortress on Spinalonga, a tiny island just off the northern coast of Crete. Then one day, the Turks took over the island--along with other parts of Greece. When the Greeks finally defeated the Turks in the late 1800s, several Turkish families refused to leave Spinalonga, that is, until the Greek government decided in 1903 to make it leper colony. I don't believe the Turks let the door hit 'em in the ass on the way out after that.


Even earlier than the Venetians, the Greek gods made their mark on Crete. This is the Dikteon Cave, said to be the place where Zeus was hidden by his mother, Rhea, so his father Kronos wouldn't eat him. Kronos apparently had an appetite for baby gods to be. But, Rhea's ruse worked. Zeus grew up and defeated Kronos, who promptly threw up all of Zeus' siblings that he'd eaten earlier. The bunch of them ruled as the Greek gods from Mt. Olympus for years. Mostly, I just tried to imagine how a really pregnant woman managed to climb down into this really deep, dark hole. But, I guess she was pretty motivated.


Phaestos is a Minoan palace site (that's archeology talk for really big pile of rocks). The Minoan period was 3,000-1,000 BC. The Minoans are said to be Europe's first "civilization." That means they had real pretty stuff and some of it exists to this day. Phaestos was great. A beautiful site, gorgeous view, and we took my sister, the anthropologist who has spent a LOT of time in Crete--it's a tough job, but somebody has to do it--so we know that some of the piles of rocks that we saw might have been bathrooms or bedrooms or theaters or something. But, it was definitely a palace, they think.


All the history in Crete isn't ancient. Some of it dates to WWII. Crete is the southernmost island of Greece, not too far from Africa, which is what has made it such a desirable place over the centuries. Even the Germans wanted it during the second World War. This monastery--still in use today--was home to a band of resistance fighters, who operated an underground radio. When the radio was discovered, the Abbott of the monastery was executed.

You say time travel isn't possible yet. But I say you're wrong. In Crete, you can travel from the time of the Greek gods to World War II in a week. And find yourself wondering how there's any Greece left.



Sunday, August 04, 2013

There goes the neighborhood!

One of our new across-the-street neighbors--a family of four. You reckon our property values will go up if we talk about the wonders of free-range, fresh goat cheese right here in the 'hood?