This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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Happiness

Crete-9The light in the Mediterranean is unique. In contrast to many tropical landscapes where sunlight blends with humidity or dust into a soft haze, the Mediterranean sky is as neverending blue as the sea. There is sharp contrast between the rugged rocks and the fluffy green pines, and the white houses and the pink oleanders. Yet what draws painters and dreamers is the blazing sunlight that bounces off every surface, enveloping every object and surface in a soft gleam like watching the world through a camera obscura.

Crete-6Lapping up the mid-morning sunlight I thought of the painters and dreamers who came to the Mediterranean to seek happiness. I thought of the Greek who seem to live longer than most people, allegedly due to olive oil, yoghurt, and happiness. I thought of people who change professions, relationships, and countries in pursuit of happiness without ever searching inside themselves first. And I asked myself whether happiness really can be found by rearranging the external factors in our lives? By attaching happiness to the environment it will be brought by and whisked away by circumstances beyond our control. Perfect happiness will be followed by equal amount of loss and grief, such is the law of our world.

Before the sun slowed my thought I asked myself if the definition of happiness did not contain a fleeting, temporal component, and perhaps I was better off seeking something else altogether? Maybe leaving the shoes by the door and stepping inside would be a good first move?

Crete-4(Agios Pavlos, Crete, Greece; August 2014)


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Hot hot hot

CreteviewToday is so hot you can smell thyme, sage, and pine needles in the air. Car tires exude fumes of rubber. Wine in a glass is too warm in ten minutes. Even the fish in the rocky pools float around languorously.

Triopetra-2(Triopetra beach, Crete, Greece; August 2014)


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Searching for the waterfalls

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We hopped off the boat at a lush palm beach. A stream ran through the beach sand, down into the ocean. The water was cold and fish darted around dodging our bare feet as we crossed. We followed the stream up into a leafy forest where it widened into a little river. The water was green, as if the bottom was covered in emerald sand.

Clambering upward along the path we passed a few quiet pools where fish swam in circles. Our voices echoed off the walls. And then we hit a cliff and had to turn back. I switched into water shoes and we waded into the river, continuing our way through the water.

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Finally we reached the soft boulders, moulded pillow-like by tons and tons of water rushing down the gorge from the peaks above. Cold mountain water gushed down the rock pile, cascading in white foamy little waterfalls. The only way up was bouldering. In bikinis. Some of us were over 60 years old. All of us were ashtanga yogis so agility and strength was no issue.

We climbed the rocks and swam across the pools like children. I tore my bikini bottoms on the rocks while sliding down a cascade of water and stone. Some of us disappeared up the gorge for well over half an hour, while others floated down among the little fish in the cold clear water. In the middle of the boulders and cascades we met a group of gray-haired German backpackers who had hiked down following the river, all the way from the spring up above. They were swimming with shoes and backpacks, tumbling down into the water from the boulders, cackling with laughter, and not fearing hurting themselves.

And I could not help but wonder who sets the behavioral codes for those of us middle-aged and older? Who said proper grownups should not climb or be daredevils? Who said you must believe that you will hurt yourself if you climb a pile of slippery rocks when you are over sixty? And why is it that only a few of us care so little about societal limits that they stay strong and curious instead?

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(Preveli Gorge, Crete, Greece; August 2014)


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What happened to the Minoans?

Festos-2Once upon a time a powerful kind of people reigned on Crete. Nobody knows exactly where they came from. Nobody knows what they called themselves, but we call them Minoan based upon one of the legendary kings. We know how they wrote but we cannot decipher what they wrote, nor how they spoke.

With their plumbing, construction knowledge, rituals, and art they were perhaps even more sophisticated than the ancient Greek. They traded, fought wars, and sailed the seas. Like so many ancient civilizations they worshiped a mother goddess, before the world gave way to male main deities. They loved bullfighting thousands of years before the Spaniards.

AgiatriadhaAnd then the Santorini volcano blew up into a cloud of fire and ash, shook the grounds and seas, and threw never-ending walls of water against the coast of Crete. Villages were wiped away in by the tsunamis and ports and ships were shattered against the mountains. Badly crippled, the Minoan empire could not keep the Mycenaean invaders away. And when everything was almost lost, the Dorians arrived and wiped out the remains. And so what once was self-evident became fable. A thousand years later, Homer and Plato were reciting stories old as legends.

Standing over the ruins of the once story-spun palace of Festos, I cannot help but think how things would be today should Minoan smarts have survived. How would the world have turned out if they had not taken the secret of plumbing and flushing toilets to the grave 3500 years ago?

The answer is lost in the cacophony of afternoon cicadas and drifts away in the scent of dry pine needles and hot earth.

Festos-1(Festos palace and Agia Triadha village, Crete, Greece; August 2014)


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Today is life. Tomorrow never comes.

matala-2“Welcome to Matala George. Today is life. Tomorrow never comes” with daisies on a dazzling white wall. Lazy afternoons grooving underneath a thatched roof. Tripping by the flipped A inĀ  “Hakuna matata”. Happy people dancing, toes twirling in the beach sand, under the Matala moon. Soul searchers like Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens, Janis Joplin, and maybe also George, the Beatles George. The tired ones retreat to their caves in the rock and sleep on beds once carved out for the Roman dead. At each creeping dawn, tomorrow peered at the Flower Children over the rock ledge and decided to go elsewhere instead, if just for a day.

One day tomorrow came, along with those who thought the ancient tombs were better held sacred when prawled by tourists in swimsuits. Curious people came in throngs, too, to feel just a tickle of the magic without ever daring to throw themselves into living for the day. Matala became a site of pilgrimage, where the last remaining hippies were photographed as they ambled about their homes.

I stayed just for day, too. Maybe, just maybe, after I and the hundreds of tourists had gone, somebody lit a fire on the beach. Maybe a few dark shadows with smiles gathered around the flames. A guitar, a drum, and a few breaths while staring at the blackened water. Then music swirling up towards the milky way, voices, joy, and chasing today beyond midnight.

Who knows, perhaps some are still searching their souls under the Matala moon.

matala-1(Matala, Crete, Greece; August 2014)


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In the mouth of the sleeping dragon

sleepydragon-1Once upon a time a giant dragon circled the mountain tops of Crete. It had come a long way and was exhausted to the core. But the valleys were crowded with noisy goats and crown of thorns, and the slopes were hot and uncomfortable. The dragon was sleepy, so sleepy, when it finally spotted a nice shallow sandy beach, like a warm bath. It landed, folded its wings, lay down its huge head, and fell into a deep sleep.

Today the dragon is still sleeping at the Agios Pavlos bay, head in the water, nostrils flared, and dorsal sail pointing towards the sky. If you are really quiet and on tiptoe, you can walk across its neck and enter its huge jaws. The daring ones are rewarded with a surprise: the dragon’s mouth is a vivid hue of purple.

sleepydragon-2Peering through the open jaws the view is magnificent: open ocean all the way to Libya somewhere in the far distance. The endless clucking of the waves makes even the curious guests drowsy. Stay too long and you will join the sleeping dragon in endless dreaming.

sleepydragon-3(Agios Pavlos, Crete, Greece; August 2014)


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Date with the fish

Crete-23When the sun is up and breakfast has settled, it is time for a date with the fish. The crystal water looks shallow when viewed from a rock; dive in and suddenly a world of blue depth opens. The shallowness is just an illusion of perfect clarity.

Among the rocky reef, green-and-blue-marbled ornate wrasses bustle like costumed dancers going to a samba carnival, while scorpion fishes stealthily hang onto the undersides of rock, blending into the shadows. Diving into a submerged cave, tarantula-like Sally Lightfoot crabs scuttle away between the boulders on long, yellow-striped legs. And in the sandy beach bottom, a flounder is completing the camouflage-transition to invisibility.

Floating among the shoals of little deep blue fish I cannot quite decide which kind of life would be better: the zestful, endless ocean exploration of sardines or the quiet, world-observing meditation of the starfish. In the end, which is preferred? To truly be content with simple and less; or to spend one’s life exploring and chasing dreams?

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(Agios Pavlos, Crete, Greece; August 2014)