• Author: Jim Toner
  • Date: Oct 2, 2013
  • Location: Crete

It’s Wednesday morning, October 2nd. I’m sitting on a balcony in Crete that looks down on a pedestrian walkway and looks outward to the sea.


Really, what am I doing here? What is Crete? Yesterday I was in Rome, in familiar Rome with all the Catholic codes that I know so well, with an alphabet that makes signs easy to read and with a menu that has packed on the weight for Dolora and me as we head eastward to more unusual places.


And now Crete. It sounds irresponsible to me that we’ve dropped ourselves onto an island that means nothing to us, that we’ve not read guide books about and not written up a list of sites. But here we are, in the western part of the island in the city of Chania, without a place to stay. It’s times like this that we send out our prayers to our ancestors on the other side—my parents, Dolora’s father Charlie, my sister Kathy and Aunt Loretta, Judith Weldon—to do the scout work for us and put everything in place.


Our flight from Rome at 8am is delayed… and delayed. In true Ryan Air form, they tell us nothing about the cause of the delay or the estimated time of leaving. That would cost extra. One hour becomes two, and we are turned into a hall of refugees: sprawled on the floor, expressions from exasperation to doom to indifference. Will be here for another day, another month, a full year? Will the United Nations airlift our supplies to us? Will Doctors Without Borders swoop in to take care of my cold?


I wish—just as I wish to be in prison for 5 days. You know, for life experiences, characters, depth to the soul. Instead of that drama we’re up in the air by 11am, first crossing over the width of Italy. Dolora cries. She is Italian, she loves all things Italian, she knows that from here on out we’re in the realm of the unfamiliar. The land gives way to the sea and off to the great beyond we go, our eastward circle around the globe really happening. Down below through the gauze of clouds land reappears and I’m confused. Is that the boot heel of Italy? Is that an island? Where are we? A part of me needs to know these things, the same part that needs to know where we’re laying our heads every night.


So this adventure is a leap into our version of the unknown.


We descend into Crete. From above it looks rocky and arid, with cliffs that drop into the sea. Where are the beaches? Where is the tropical lushness? It looks enormous, when what I want is an island the size of Alcatraz that can be easily navigated.


We land. The air that meets us as we step out of the plane is humid and warm, maybe mid-80’s, with a stiff wind that is full of the sea. As my foot steps onto land I say, “Greece. This is Greece” and have an impulse to act like the pope and kiss the ground. We walk through the terminal and all the signs are in Greek letters with English beneath, though in some places it’s just Greek. This surprises me (for reasons I should really keep to myself): I just figured that Greek lettering was a quaint artifact of the past, that it might still exist like Gaelic names exist on Irish street signs, but that it’s been tucked aside for the more universal English.


We take a bus into the town of Chania. Along the side of the road is the stereotype of Greece: endless rows of olive trees and sheep. This gives way to the city, and the images are of mild neglect and widespread graffiti. Greece is ground zero for the world’s economic collapse, now going on 6-7 years. All I read about is the disaster that is Greece: 27% unemployment in general, over 50% for the young. One story in the New York Times described a municipality that held a work lottery; if your name was called, you got paid to clean the streets for one day a month.


I’m on the lookout for signs of this. Will there be pods of people huddled together in looks of despair, their cheeks hollowed, their stares vacant?


We arrive at the Chania bus station. We hoist our packs on our backs and walk the half-mile to a place recommended by Lonely Planet—a place that never responded to my emails. On our walk the first impressions were of a run-down Italy: still pastel colors, still winding streets of cobblestones—but the scooters spewed out thick fumes, and the small cars looked old and dented, and the shutters went unpainted.


A few paragraphs above I wrote that we ask for Judith and others to help guide us. Well, they guided us past that first recommended pension, a true dump, to a place around the corner, to Nora’s, run by a Scottish woman named Natalie who left Glasgow 8 years ago when she saw Chania in passing on the television. She led us upstairs on a spiral staircase built by the Venetians during their period of occupation, and into a lovely clean room with shutters that open up to the sea.


I put down my pack. “This’ll work.”


“Thank you, Judith,” Dolora says.







  1. Stefan

    Catching up on your blog posts and all I can say is:

    πολύ ικανοποιητικό (with a j inserted somewhere between the ικ and the αν.

  2. Susan Day

    Good to know you are safely there and have found a what sounds like a wonderful place to stay. Looking forward to reading about Crete each morning as I eat my breakfast. So much better and more soulful and enlivening than the news.

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