This article appeared in The Lennox Herald on 2 April 2015
In April, A Woman’s Place relocated high in the Apokoronas region of western Crete in the foothills of the White Mountains. April is a good time to speak of brighter things and sunnier climes. Far from Scotland’s pantone grey, these bright breezy hillsides are exploding with springtime: lambs, almond blossom and camomile. Snow still dresses the highest peaks of Kastro and Spathi to the south while the Mediterranean’s azure waters twinkle to the north beyond Souda Bay.
Crete has experienced waves of overseas invasions and cruel treatment over the centuries. Occupations by the Venetians and Turks, and later by the Germans during the Second World War are visible in hilltop forts, military roads, bullet-holed walls and in local memory. The Cretan code of filoxenia – a generous hospitality towards outsiders – camouflages a healthy caution of foreigners. Nowadays budget airlines bring gentler hordes each summer. Mainly from northern Europe, tourists delight in Crete’s sunny weather, lovely food, stunning scenery and beaches. Filoxenia accommodates and caters well but Cretan people expertly sustain their own way of life and culture alongside the whims of seasonal visitors.
The tourist season has not yet started and the village life of Crete can still be glimpsed through the boarded up beach resorts, tourist-lite tavernas and quiet alleyways. I pass the local shepherd every day. Herding his tinkling belled flock to one juicy pasture or another I often see him later, heading home for lunch, arms draped over the knarled crook he wears yoked across his shoulders. People are busy in the fields, or cleaning up the fine red dust which blows over from Africa in the winter and can turn the mountains pink; they are painting, and rebuilding after the winter’s storms, sprucing the place up for their Easter holiday weekend. A week later than our Easter, the Greek Orthodox Easter Liturgy is a deeply religious occasion when whole villages and extended families join together in religious rituals followed by feasting centred on spit-roast local lamb.
Sunset is a time of cool and calm. Folk settle in the cafes to relax and review the day. First sightings of the colourful hoopoe bird are discussed and the fruits of lemon and orange trees are exchanged. The men gradually trickle home. Women begin to drop in, they joke and laugh, they settle down and play board games late into the night. I speak no Greek, am warmly welcomed, we toast each other, we nod and smile and settle comfortably together into that special Cretan woman’s place.