Joni Mitchell, Καλημέρα, etc
My mom gets it.
In case you missed my mother’s spot on Joni ref, I’m writing today from Crete. This island is famous for many things, but to my mother and I there is one alone: Crete is the former landing spot of Joni Mitchell, and a key backdrop to her legendary album Blue. If, somehow, you don’t know this album, now’s your chance. Get tf on it. On our end we’ve arrived here, and it is magical.
Greece has been on my mind for a while.
Legitimately the moment I found out we were going to live in Europe I set my eyes on Hydra, famously home to Leonard Cohen for many of his most fruitful writing periods. But when JJ did some research he found it might not be the best fit for him and suggested Crete instead. I considered this a fair trade because as you can now see I pick my Grecian isles based on their songwriting history above all other things.
I have no regrets (, coyote). The songwriters have steered me correctly.
The trip, other than a very stressful hiccup with a not great airbnb host, has been beauteous so far. Our host continuously neglected to give us even one detail about the extremely remote house we’re staying in, so when we finally arrived here after the four hour drive through unimaginably high/winding one lane mountains roads it was … a lot.
As we tried to make use of our one bar of service and figure it out, the other tenant on the enormous lot, an elderly woman in a house dress that I would very much like to borrow, began trying to help. With not a word of shared language between the three of us this was no easy feat. Unfazed by the sweltering 115 degree weather she was intent on fixing it for us, loudly, in Greek.
It did not matter to her that we didn’t speak Greek. She needed this fixed. Eventually we realized she wanted us to come to her house while it got sorted. This couldn’t happen, of course, because of COVID realities. Try explaining that to the lady screaming as she tries to good-naturedly help you in Greek. I loved her, so much, and also wanted to rip my hair out. When we moved past the stress of it all, I recognized it for what it was: Story gold.
I don’t know her name, mostly because we first met under these unideal circumstances. But despite it all, the issues were fixed. The house has turned out to be wonderful and she and I are now very good friends.
She is a treasure. I peg her likely aged anywhere from 85-95, with a husband of roughly the same age. Every morning she walks through the property, feeds the cats and picks fruits and vegetables for herself and her husband.
Inevitably she offers some to me. She wants me to eat the grapes she picked, sure, but mostly she just wants to chat.
If your eyebrows raised at the word “chat,” you would have some correct eyebrows. It is a loose use of the word. She still admirably and stubbornly refuses to accept that I don’t speak Greek. So every morning as she brings these spoils to me we have very long “conversations.”
It begins with the one word I now know, Καλημέρα, or “Good Morning” (pronounced, roughly, ‘kalimera’). We both say this word. That is the end of the conversation by any standard dictionary definition.
What follows next is a perfect theater of the absurd piece. She tells me all sorts of things. Sometimes she’s tired, sometimes animated, sometimes she clearly is making jokes. I nod. I laugh when she laughs. I say things like “totally,” and “absolutely.”
The conversations last anywhere from three minutes to ten minutes. Eventually she decides we have communicated enough and heads back to her house. So far this has happened every morning, I suspect because she moves so slowly. Whether I’m doing my morning pages at 7 am, 930 am or anywhere between, I’ve been on hand for this theater of the absurd piece each time. I treasure her and her little white cat (my favorite of her brigade), who also stubbornly refuses to believe I won’t feed him this time.
I don’t have any photos of her.
I have no photos of any of her cats.
And I have exactly zero photos that do justice to our deeply remote weird ass house in the olive grove on top of the enormous mountains with unobstructed views of the sea.
I know, because I scoured my phone to see if this was indeed the case or if I was just typing hyperbole.
Nada. I have just this one, of the world’s cutest bobi under one of the olive trees.
The trip has been like that. Everything seems very cleverly designed to discourage internet sharing, and I am here for it.
The house, as I mentioned, is nestled at the top of mountains with nothing surrounding it. For our first four days here Greece was in its worst heat wave in 30 years. I’m talking 115 degree temperatures. We made it work, buying coolers and reusable ice packs, going to the beach very early, testing the limits of our airbnb’s air conditioning and trying not to die.
Then the heat wave broke. All of a sudden 90 degrees felt like an October fall day. It was perfection. The beaches became dreamscapes. And arguably the best part was that their waves returned, enough so that we could hear them from our house even high up in the mountains.
This can’t be filmed or documented though, due to an absolutely comical abundance of cicadas having a venerable summer sex fest. The fornicating cicadas are wondrous, unpredictable, and more often than not deafening when they’re really at it.
Elafonissi, pegged as one of the most beautiful beaches on earth, is an hour away. It was the first place we visited, making the enormous mistake of arriving at 2 pm on one of the 115 degree days. Through some miracle of human persistence we found a parking spot in its tourist mobbed parking lot and limped to the beach to find a bustling/COVID unsafe shit show.
We walked for about a mile, found one space that felt safe, and went into the water for about eight seconds before stress leaving. With our lesson learned, we returned later at 8 am on the first day the heatwave broke. Another treasure. We had the entire beach to ourselves and got a cabana right at the front.
Elafonissi is known for its crystal clear waters, but more so for its spectacular pink sand. It can’t be filmed or documented though, because human beings are a little bit the worst and have stolen so much of the pink sand that it is now just barely there.
Though this is tragic, it somehow made it even more overwhelmingly beautiful for me. The pink comes in hints. You stare at it and see it seemingly only when the sand feels like you should see it.
And god help you if you try to film it.
The day we went I watched hundreds of people point their phone at the sand, waiting, waiting, to document those hints of pink. When they couldn’t capture it they didn’t return to swim in the most beautiful water on earth. I don’t know where they ended up going after their failure to impress their social networks, but either way it was deeply depressing.
So when José wanted a photo of me I told him fine, but it’ll have to be a watermelon phone one. What’s a watermelon phone, you ask?
Like I said. I’ll do a photo, but it’ll have to be from the world’s worst former influencer. Leave the curation to the professionals.
The trip refuses to be documented, so we have to live it instead. I am very happy with this reality. We non professional curators are here, slowly slowly unpeeling the onion of the past two years. Laughing, diving and weeping into the same sea Joni Mitchell did.
The elderly woman slowly walks in garden boots every morning and gathers her crops. She says Καλημέρα. I say it back. I finish my coffee, tell the cat yet again that he will not be eating any of my food because he’s already pushy enough as it is. Maybe I could learn something from him. Eventually he might get what he wants.
In the evenings we walk down the mountain to the beach where a fisherman named Fidia has a tiny perfect restaurant called Captain Fidia’s. He cooks and sells the things he and his sons catch that day. We eat as the sun sets, each night not believing our luck. Fidia’s voice is extremely high and quiet, but he says hi every time we visit. His caught octopi are strung up on a fishing line next to an enormous outdoor oven. They are delicious enough to make me feel like I’ve never eaten the dish before in my life.
The sun sets, we slowly learn to catch our breath again one second at a time. Each day feels a bit easier. See you next week.
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