Cretan diary, 9 May 2022

Avdou, Crete

Avdou: the village is small uneven streets, winding between low houses. The centre where we are must be old. The small stone-built houses are built to no obvious plan, fronting straight onto the uneven concrete laid track-ways. Concrete now: originally I image they were stone and hard-trodden earth, muddy in winter. The small space we are in is stone-built: a kitchen and sitting area, three meters by five at its widest and longest; high ceilinged to open beams. A bedroom above is approached by a spiral stair-case. I think it is all quite new, but – thank goodness – it is all of stone, (not eg plaster washed breeze-blocks).

Cats of all colours and sizes – mostly not domesticated, I suspect – patrol the streets. We ate our first lunch here at a small dark tavern run by an old Greek lady, and – I think – her husband (though he seemed to leave her to most of the work). We ate Greek salad with white wine and water, bread and chicken brochette. She gave us chips, perhaps that is what western Europeans are expected to eat. When he found out I was English he mention Carlos Chaplin.

If they are both native Cretan, I reckon they would be old enough to have been here in the Second World War, as small children. Perhaps they remembered the short disastrous (for the English) battle for Crete. Even if I could speak Greek – which I can’t – I would love to have found out what they could remember.

Cats wandered around in the sun in the lanes leading away from the tavern. At one point I reckon I counted ten. Two or three came to see if we’d give them any food. I had a small piece of chicken. One took it away and carefully kept it from his or her fellow cat urchins.

Trees grow in most available spaces in the village: vines, bougainvillea, medlar, fig, wall-nut, jasmine and roses – and geraniums, of course. Most street areas are gently surveyed by carefully pollarded mulberry trees. Their leaves spread and their shade deepens as summer goes on. There are a few orange and olive trees in the village, though these are mostly outside the village and up into the mountains. And the mountains: that is another story of Crete….

To me one of the saddest things about old Avdou is the signs everywhere showing what I take to have been the occupation of the owners each shop over the past hundred years or so. Each sign shows what I assume was a picture of their occupation – food, tailor, carpenter etc – their name or title of the shop and the period when they were there. A lot of buildings by the streets were once shops: you can tell from their windows and doors. Now tourism (I imagine the majority of properties here are let, not owner-occupied) has taken over. Not even a baker survives. There are only tomatoes and apples and onions as fresh fruit and veg: not even oranges. The small supermarket stocks bare survival necessities: little more.

People here – or anywhere else for that matter – no longer take their sewing machine to the mender; or to have clothes repaired or made, or shoes cobbled or a new chair or two made by a carpenter. They drive to IKEA, or to the local super-market and stock up; or in the 21st century – worse still, except for postpersons – they get it all on-line. Local shops and shopkeepers are starved. So what is left? The small ‘Super Market’, a tourist olive oil press (with all tourist treats: nothing of use to any locals); three taverns…

Oh, yes and there are three churches, which grow in size and vulgarity as they move from 14th Century, to 19th to 20th. The first has stunning small faded murals over its low ceilings. I have seen no-one go near the middle one, just our side out from door; still less anyone go inside. Does Avdou’s life now survive with its churches now little more than a relic of a past which fades as we look on; and as all of us fade too?

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