Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Of Timeless Villages, Thyme Honey and Tryingly Tenuous Technological Threads

It's no good, something's going to have to give around here. Can't possibly stretch the 24-hour day any wider. Life was busy enough before the Internet became an obsession. Then blogging made surfing the Net seem like the carefree hours of childhood. Then Ravelry started and the meaning of black holes became a lot clearer. Now we have online competitions, events and KALs, which occupy every waking moment and, on all too many occasions, eat into sleep time too.

Yep, housework is definitely going to have to go. It's a waste of time anyway, isn't it? I mean, you dust the house and sweep the floors and tomorrow it all has to be done again. Or next week. Whatever.

Got back from Crete more than a week ago but catching up with the backlog of work took some time. That, and Rounds 4 and 5 of Sock Madness which followed each other with breakneck speed. I'm out of the front line contest now, which is a relief, but still knitting happily along with each new pattern, discovering strange techniques and ideas every time and liking at least some of them.

Getting to Crete outside the official summer season isn't all that easy. Come the end of May through to September, any travel agent will find you a nice package holiday to an over-developed tourist resort. That, however, means the searing soaring temperatures that you get so far south, and the arid, exhausted landscape that goes with it. We wanted to see Crete in spring, with all the wild flowers, but it took some searching and finagling on the Internet before we finally managed to organise a flight via Amsterdam.

Which meant getting up very early indeed on the morning of departure. Fortunately not earlier than the release of Pattern 3 in Sock Madness which popped into my mailbox a whole eight minutes before we had to leave for the airport. Had already thought to pack the wooden circulars, so knitted all the way to Amsterdam -

knitted on those moving trackways...

- and took advantage of a brief wi-fi link to post the requisite progress pic.

Didn't realise that was the last we would see of modern technology for quite some time...

Knitted all the next day as we drove through the beautiful Cretan mountains, through timeless whitewashed villages, along twisty roads through olive groves, over hump-backed bridges -

- past ruined churches -

with fragments of ancient frescoes still to be glimpsed on their ceilings.

A lovely and totally unexpected thing happened as I sat on a grassy bank in the late afternoon knitting busily while DH photographed birds coming down to drink at a tiny stream. A man drove up in a dusty little truck and nodded to me as he passed up the lane on the way to his fields. Concentrating on the stitches I heard him opening his gate, the clang as it hit against the stone wall, then the truck starting up again and moving through. The silence returned, with only the murmuring of bees collecting pollen from the wild thyme as background. Then I heard returning footsteps. Oh heck, we were blocking his access in some way. I mentally rehearsed apologies in my rudimentary Greek as they came closer. They stopped. I looked up.

He was standing there with a bunch of freshly-picked roses in his tanned fist. He held them out. 'For you', he said simply. Then he bowed, smiled, and went back up the lane and into his fields, out of sight.

I was totally taken aback. What a lovely, lovely, courteous gesture from a complete stranger.

The northern coast of Crete is pretty well developed now, with extensive tourist resorts reaching out their neon and plastic claws towards each other, but once you head into the hills and down towards the south, you enter another, timeless world, where modern life doesn't seem to have intruded at all.

This old man, his tanned face creased into a thousand wrinkles, was peacefully riding back to his home somewhere in the hills, the plastic bag containing his few groceries slung on the antique pack saddle. It probably took him half the day to get down to the nearest village, and the other half to get back. That was all right. It was his day for going to town.

And in every village you saw the black-garbed women, dignified, expressionless, but bending their heads in acknowledgement of your wave, your smile, as you passed.

Or you saw them toiling along the roadside with bundles of freshly-cut green herbage which they were taking home as fodder for their animals.

I wondered about those women. Oh you saw the young ones too, in the larger villages - slim, dark-eyed girls with long hair and seductive glances at the Adonis-like young males who roared past on their motorcycles. But when, I wondered, did one become the other? Was it on marriage? Did a young vibrant girl, full of the joys of life and fond of fun, marry a man from an outlying village and thereafter have to dress in unrelieved black, take her place in the strict code of an older world? Did she ever look back longingly to a time when she wore bright light colours and danced for sheer exuberance?

In these villages, there are always cafes, tavernas, but you never see the women sitting at the tables. Always the men, the older men, brushed and combed, their moustaches perfectly arranged (they favour moustaches on Crete). They often spend the entire day and most of the night there. I asked the man of one house where we stayed why the women didn't go to the cafes or tavernas.

'They do not like to be seen there', he said firmly. 'They have their own meeting places.' His wife, busying herself around the kitchen while he sat and talked, didn't even look up. She didn't have time.

I worked on those Round 3 socks like fury, and by Sunday afternoon - a hot, breathless afternoon, with nothing stirring in the remote mountain valley where we had stopped under the shade of some olive trees - they were done, finished, toes grafted, the lot.

DH ceremoniously took the requisite picture amid wild orchids.

Then for the first time, I wondered just exactly how the picture was going to be sent. For Sock Madness you have to post the finished socks on Flickr, then email the moderators with a link to that. Time is of the essence. We didn't have a cable to use the mobile phone, and even if we had, there was absolutely no reception amid those mountains. So where was the nearest Internet cafe?

A very good question. And one which would be posed again at increasingly frantic intervals.

Evening was falling. We drove onwards, and finally found one of those typical Cretan villages with its traditional stone-built houses. One had a sign offering rooms to rent. The black-clad lady smiled, nodded, and showed us to a scrupulously clean, whitewashed little room with threadbare but spotlessly clean linen sheets. Diffidently I asked about Internet access. She looked puzzled. I showed her my laptop. She gave a bewildered smile. In desperation I asked about television (the word does come from the Greek after all). She beamed, bustled out, and returned with two saucers of thick Greek yoghurt with honey on top.

Well the yogurt was delectable. And by the time we went down to the local taverna for souvlaki grilled over charcoal with wild herbs sprinkled on top, I had almost recovered my sense of humour. Tomorrow, I said, I would post the picture. Who knows, perhaps my fellow-competitors were having a slow day. I might still make it through.

The next day we drove right to the south coast, to Plakias, which is a fairly thriving tourist resort in summer but now was shuttered and asleep. Certainly no Internet cafes. Too late to drive further, but next day (Tuesday at this point), got as far as -

- the delightful fishing village of Aghia Galini, near the ancient Minoan site of Phaistos.


Don't know if you can read those signs, but one of them says Internet. Information. Wireless Lan. Just what we needed! They were closed, of course, as it was the middle of the day, but we were assured by a woman shaking a carpet out of a window that they would open again in the evening. In jubilation, we found a marvellous little hotel built into the side of the steep cliffs, run by a gentle East German couple with a passion for Sixties music. As soon as dusk fell, rushed back to the Zanzibar clutching my laptop.

The bartender spread his hands in gentle apology. Ah if only they did have Internet access. It would be so good for business, so popular with visitors. Perhaps this year they would get the connection. It had been applied for some time ago, some years now. They even had the signs ready - perhaps we had noticed them outside, admired how well they looked? But alas, no connection. Not even a little one.

After three chilled Mythos beers, despite myself I started grinning, and by the fourth both DH and I were laughing like idiots. What did it matter after all, when the main course was pork grilled with honey and there was more of that delectable yoghurt for dessert?

The next morning, we actually found another Internet cafe, at the other side of the town, and one that really did appear to function as such.

Appear is the term advisedly used, since, despite the fact that they advertised breakfast from 7 am, they were not open at 10 am to eager Irish travellers bearing laptops. 'Perhaps later,' said the man selling wooden toys across the street. 'He was here very late last night, Christos was.'

Eventually Christos did turn up, I did get online, posted my picture, and found, as I had expected, that the divisions had closed long since. But I didn't mind. Well - not really. Not all that much. At least I could now go back to enjoying Crete.

And there was plenty to enjoy. The flowers - ah the wild flowers of Crete in spring.

Fields of poppies like a 19th century painting.

Delicate gladioli vying for space with brilliant white and yellow marguerites.

And the orchids - dear heaven, the orchids! Shy and retiring, they remained invisible until you actually walked across a stony little field, sat down on a rock to rest. Only then did you see the delicate little bloom right at your feet.

There were so many different kinds that we were hard put to identify them all.

Oh hang on - almost forgot. Would you like to see me modelling my Sock Madness Round 3s for a group of Cretan naked men?

Thought you might.

I had every intention of posting this picture on the Sock Madness site, and calling it Cavorting With Cretan Naked Men In My Round 3 Socks , but thought that the moderators might object.

That is the correct name of this orchid, though, The Naked Man.

DH thoughtfully took this closeup so you could see why it got that name.

One aspect of life, however, which I had very much hoped to find but which, sadly, was not in evidence, was yarncraft of any kind. Spinning, weaving, knitting - nowhere was anyone practising these age-old arts. I know they were doing them in the mid-20th century - Angeluna particularly warned me to look out for spindles and distaffs - but they appear to have gone forever.

The only spindles I saw were in a museum case. I saw another set displayed in the same way in another museum, which makes me conclude that all the old traditional implements were simply gathered up and preserved behind glass forever. Not the life any self-respecting spindle would want, do you think?

More worryingly, the waitress in one restaurant was fascinated by my knitting, to the extent of coming over and touching the fabric in puzzlement. She was about forty, I would say, and simply did not know what knitting was. She knew how to crochet - I gathered that much - 'but this, what is this?' I didn't expect that total lack of recognition. Didn't take long for the knowledge to disappear, did it?

But everything else was delightful, especially the cats, which of course were everywhere. Well fed and happy, too, and clearly much loved.

This marmalade mouser was fascinated by the Addi Turbos and felt sure he could do a pretty competent job on the heel of the Falling Rain socks if I would only let him.

There were nimble-footed goats on every cliff and ravine, and great flocks of sheep moving across the landscape wherever you looked.

The young man with this flock could have posed for any of the friezes on the Parthenon. (No, I deliberately didn't show you a close-up, I have to think of your blood pressure.)

It was rather endearing that this elderly shepherd, plying a timeless occupation in a timeless landscape, should have condescended to adopt at least one modern convenience. Maybe he was making arrangements for the get together at the taverna that evening.

Yes, we did leave enough time (just) to visit Crete's greatest archaeological treasure, last vestige of the fabulous Minoan culture.

It really is rather breathtaking. My own personal opinion is that Sir Arthur Evans did us a great service by recreating parts of it as he thought it must have looked in ancient Minoan times. It gives you a real feeling for the place.

Peering into these dim interiors, you wondered how many whispered assignations, how many intrigues, how many tiptoeing feet and gasps of terror are held within their memory. I felt like trying one of those dowsing techniques - you know, the one with a ring or an amulet on a fine hair which you let hang and see which way it describes a circle - just to see what I could pick up.

OK, here it is. This is the picture we had to take. It meant nipping over a few barriers and being quick about shedding the shoes before we were caught, but here, especially for you, fellow fibre fiends is -

What else?



LaurieM said...

What a fabulous trip! Thanks for sharing it with us. I was wondering where you got off to. I'm glad that the sock madness didn't blind you to the wonderful location.

I think the naked man flower is hilarious, and I dare you to show that close up. Go on, I'm young yet...

Ambermoggie, a fragrant soul said...

brilliant trip and wonderful pictures by Richard:)
Especially the naked man and you knitting in unusual places:)

Anonymous said...

This is one of my favorite posts. :) I love the orchid pictures, but I do wish you had shown us a bit more of the handsome shepherd. ;)

Kit said...

It's a shame you weren't able to find a kiosk for internet because you would have beaten me in Round 3 quite soundly. But you did make up for it by knitting in a fabulous place. And roses! Not even the winner will receive roses!

By the way, those naked men are positively scandalous! If they weren't flowers, I'd be red to the tips of my ears! ;)

gwtreece said...

Richard wonderful pictures as always. What a wonderful place for vacation.

pacalaga said...

Those orchids are hilarious! I'm sorry you couldn't find the connection in time to progress, but my goodness, what a trip. It sounds like those vacations Americans make movies of and coo over, because we're too busy going to the plasticky, neon places...

Charity said...

Welcome home! It sounds like the most amazing trip - thanks so much for taking me along with you. The pictures are marvelous. :0)

HPNY KNITS said...

lovely travelog! I could taste the yogurt! yum.
the web is a black holes indeed!

HPNY KNITS said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marianne said...

Magnificent holiday!

knitting bean said...

So glad that you're home safe and sound. I checked your blog every day and wondering what was wrong. Then I remember that you were probably out traveling the world! What a beautiful looking trip and of course, what beautiful socks!

Acornbud said...

What a great trip. Thanks for sharing your pictures.

Linda B said...

Thanks a lot! Now I have to add Crete to my ever-expanding list of places I simply must visit before senility takes me down. I was stunned by the lack of knitting though. Stunned.

Sally said...

Oh, Jo! What a delightful travelogue! I just love reading your blog.

Anonymous said...

Your trip looks wonderful. And really, I think any of the Sock Madnessers would've taken Crete as you saw it over getting through to the next round.

Anonymous said...

This post is so full it's hard to even begin to comment - let alone briefly.

Wild beauty in an ancient civilized place.
The man riding sidesaddle on his donkey.
Stoic, busy women in black.
The Orchids - that purple-bug-face one, and nik'd man.
Shepherds, young and old tending their flocks but no spinning or knitting to be seen.
A cavalier farmer handing you roses. (Your knitting brought back fond memories of his mama.)

The post ended all too soon.

Anonymous said...

You look great and sooo relaxed. The trip pics are amazing. Thanks to Richard for taking the vacation photos and the Naked Man pics and - those are too funny!

How are the doggies since you returned? Your wonderful posts and pics were definitely missed! I was concerned you were working too hard with writing and Sock Madness. I feel rested just looking at the post and pics.

Ruth said...

What a trip! What pictures! What socks!

You've outdone yourself.

Jo at Celtic Memory Yarns said...

Ruth, I hope you realise those are YOUR Falling Rain socks which are being worked at Knossos! They were quite equal to the honour and enjoyed themselves thoroughly!

Angeluna said...

I love living vicariously through your travelogues and photos for the moment. I'll get my travelling shoes back on soon.

The old gentleman with his roses is so endearing.

Lynn said...

Oh be still my heart! It has been nearly a decade and a half since I last saw a naked man [flora *or* fauna]. Thank you for starting my day off with a giggle.

And the next time a complete stranger brings you roses, put him in a box with air holes and send him to Texas!

Barbara-Kay said...

Breathtaking! Thank you!

You should get an award in "the Wars" for effort and most unusual posting pictures.

p.s. Welcome home -- we've missed you.

Roggey said...

Now really, I'm astounded by your powers of concentration. To continue to knit among the travels in CRETE for gods sakes! I'd have completely forgotten how to knit during such a trip... And those naked man flowers are a hoot!

Needles said...

First thing this morning I look out my window to see my forest filled with magic and mystery. Then I chek out your blog and find myth and majesty.

Some days are just very very good. Lovely pictures.

Anonymous said...

What a lovely post of a lovely trip. I had to read it twice to get all the flavor. As for the socks, it is good to be reminded that there are a few things more important than sock knitting. But only a few!

Cindy/Snid said...

Great post Jo. Love the naked men orchids- we used to have a flower called "naked ladies" in California. I don't remember their real names and they probably grow elsewhere... Wonder what you would get if you bred the two?!
Looks like a fabulous trip and a great reason to fall out of SM2 ;)

Sallie said...

Thank you for sharing your trip to Crete with us. I enjoyed it so much.

Anonymous said...

When can I go? You and DH have to best travel life I have seen in ages. I dream of shrinking myself and tagging along in the suitcase.

Oh, and the socks are beautiful too.

Anonymous said...

Wow! What a wonderful trip. I almost felt like I was there. Thank you so much for sharing. You've made my day. Heidi in Reno, Nevada.

Shari said...

Quite simply a lovely post. Thank you so much for sharing.

Leslie said...

Thank you so much for the vicarious vacation -- and the full frontal view of naked men :-)

Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you, Jo!

I'm in awe of your writer's pacing -- sometimes whole days pass in a single sentence, sometimes you slow down and focus making a moment last a whole paragraph! Such a nice read! What a great trip!

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for sharing your wonderful joutney. It has been some years since I visited Crete, and reading about your trip, made me remember everything, the smell, the people and those colours. I want back...

Greetings from NorwayKate

Lindy said...

Thank you for sharing your trip. It was extra special for me as I will be there this time next week!

I visited Crete 5 years ago and found wonderful crafts at a village called Fodele. I even sent a tatting shuttle after I returned home to a girl who admired mine with a built-in hook.

I will look out for naked men!

Dez Crawford said...

Thank you so much for sharing your trip to Crete. It is fairly high on my long list of places I'd like to see someday.

n the midst of all of our technological madness it's such a comfort to know that places still exist where technology is still an option, taken in modest measure, as needed.

The naked man orchids are divine. There must be a legend associated with them, no? As with the mandrake?

Sigh. A charming gent handing roses to a visiting stranger and a handsome shepherd with his flock. Nice place.

Thanks, Richard, for the pictures.

Dez Crawford said...

Whoops, almost forgot -- Happy Beltaine!

Anonymous said...

By the way, the Greek women (older) are wearing black because they are widows. They traditionally wear black for the rest of their lives. You will see this in all of Greece, not just Crete.

TeresaB said...

Looks like you had a wonderful trip and I think I would give up getting through another round of the sock competition to see all the beauty you got to enjoy. And, btw, I'm pretty sure my blood pressure can handle the close up of the herder who could pose as Adonis. ;-)

Dez Crawford said...

Oh, one more thing ... I'm home with a bug today and casting on for Laminaria in some emerald green cone silk.

It's YOUR fault.

Mr Puffy's Knitting Blog: said...

Lovely photos. I visited Greece a few years back and it was one of my favorite vacation ever. I haven't eaten a tomato that tastes "right" since I left.

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