My Holiday in Crete

Preparations

Two weeks before hubby and I left for our holiday, our granny stumbled on a hose, fell and broke her arm. A week before our departure, our granddad slipped on the stairs, fell and hurt his leg. He played hero for two days and when he finally let us take him to hospital, we learned that his leg was broken. The elders, now like a couple of plaster gnomes, did all they could to show that our holiday was doomed. Yet, we left them trustfully in the hands of other members of our numerous family and for holiday we went.

I packed both my and hubby’s suitcases the morning before we departed for the airport. It became immediately clear that hubby was incapable of any independent packing after he pestered me with questions where we kept this or that and blamed me for hiding his things. He calls it hiding, I call it clearing away to where it belongs.

On checking hubby’s suitcase, I discovered: a pair of hiking boots, a waterproof jacket, the complete Game of Thrones books, my toothbrush, a snorkel, five pieces of underwear for ten days and a heap of random clothes. It looked like he was going mountaineering commando in the Scottish Highlands and snorkelling nude in Loch Ness while reading Game of Thrones. In fact we were going for a beach holiday in Crete.

Considering the luggage weight limits, I discreetly removed four of the five indecently heavy books and replaced them with a pack of cards. I silently added more underwear and a pair of swimming trunks. I took back my pink toothbrush. I didn’t neglect to put in our cabin luggage: a carving knife, a shotgun and a new year’s fireworks. On second thought, I decided to go without my Kalashnikov. To the question at the check-in if I packed my luggage myself, I was determined to answer, Why, indeed, with only a little help from Uncle Osama.

Journey

The airport security people love me. Their metal detector gates love me too. They always greet me with enthusiastic beeping when they detect my heart of steel. I’m already used to being patted down and having my shoes scanned at each airport, so I was wearing my presentable new sneakers and fancy frill socks. The security lady who was harassing me spent an alarming amount of time on my bra and I thought she’d want it scanned too. She didn’t and I was cleared to board the plane.

Hubby, a planespotter and general flying enthusiast, nearly didn’t manage it on the flight. As soon as we were released on the airport apron to board, he disappeared to shoot planes. Not to shoot them down, since I left the Kalashnikov at home, but to shoot them with the camera. He beamed as I kindly and generously, which is very like me, yielded to him the window seat that was to my name. It would’ve been a quiet flight, if hubby didn’t constantly poke me to look at this or that down there. I advised him that he may only alert me to the proximity of a cat, food or an impending crash down.

After landing safely in the Crete capital city of Heraklion, we continued by bus to the south-eastern part of the island, where our family-run hotel was located. I picked the worst seats on the bus and started to suspect that our elders were right and our holiday was cursed. The seats before us were occupied by a young couple who were amusing themselves by sexual favours during the two-hour trip. The seats behind us were occupied by a young child and a bullied parent. The kid kept on kicking in my ribs to the accompaniment of mighty cries of Hallelujah! I exhausted my yearly ration of tolerance when I didn’t stab the kid in the leg with a wire from my bra while yelling Amen!

Impressions

The journey across the breadth of the island confirmed the guidebook’s claim that Crete was a site of wild and rugged natural beauty, complete with steep mountains, pebble beaches and crystal-clear sea. Too bad that the place is also strewn with litter and waste, including discarded electric appliances, abandoned car wrecks and one broken boat mysteriously perched on top of a cliff. There are more houses under construction than finished houses, and the unfinished houses are commonly inhabited. Black rubber pipes lying loose on the ground supply water heated by the sun.

The hotel where we stayed was staffed by members of an extended family and a few employees. The employees were presumably those who were working consistently, and family those who were sitting at the pool bar, playing Sorry! and working occasionally. The place had a small free-ranging dog mascot and a big bad boss, whose threatening appearance was somewhat compromised by his habit of carrying around a string of colourful beads. It turned out to be a rosary. Cretans are extraordinarily religious, and we’ve seen people crossing themselves for the length of a block when walking or driving past a church. It got a bit awkward as a religious driver stopped on the red light next to the sacred building.

Our holiday came with the all-inclusive programme at the hotel, so on the first day we were marked by a humbling plastic bracelet indicating that we have pre-paid meals and drinks. The food was excellently seasoned, but for reasons unknown not very local: we had pork, chicken, pasta and rice, but no fish or seafood that one would expect to be a staple on an island. The sea of Crete has probably run out of food, for when we went to a tavern for a special dinner, most seafood on the menu was labelled as frozen and maybe came from the Netherlands Seafood lorries that we’ve been seeing around. We had a frozen, unfrozen and roasted octopus, and now I fully expect to grow a third arm. It could come in handy.

Holidaying

The first morning we headed for the beach, just a few steps from the hotel. Hubby immediately immersed himself in what I decided was not-so-warm water. I left him playing Moby Dick in the waves (him being about as huge and as white as said whale), wrapped myself in a large scarf aka a beach burka to protect my own white skin and set off for a walk with the camera. The beach consisted of boulders, pebbles and very sharp stones. Walking on it necessitated much stumbling, swearing and arm waving. In one direction, I found an endless stretch of rocks, in the opposite direction, there were more rocks, dilapidated glasshouses and dumps. It was all very picturesque.

Though I normally avoid bathing in other than very hot water, out of excitement I managed to go in the sea and swim around twice during the ten-day holiday. The first time I accidentally breathed in a wave (because our holiday was doomed), and when I recovered from the appalling taste, I resolved not to sniff anything anymore unless I’m sure it’s cocaine. I also learned that I mustn’t sleep on the sunbed because my skeleton is apparently too old to pull off lying for too long in one position on the frivolous plastic thing. Most time I spent Baywatching, that is, spying on people on the beach with my sunglasses and an open book for a shield.

As a result of a careful observation of beachgoers in their natural environment, I created a top five worst beach crimes.

  1. Wearing bright yellow speedos. (Exceptions: absolutely none.)
  2. Wearing speedos. (Exceptions: you’re young, handsome and handsomely endowed. In that case though, I suggest not wearing swimwear at all.)
  3. Not wearing swimwear at all time. (Exceptions: you’re a young child, you’re invisible or you’re on the Sahara where swimming is improbable. See also above.)
  4. Wearing underwear instead of swimwear. (Exceptions: you’re too young or too old to make it really matter.)
  5. Wearing swimwear with tassels. (Exceptions: you’re a female child, a porn actor/actress or Native American.)

Of course, I resolutely deny all charges of being judgemental.

Trips

The village where our hotel was located comprised about fifty permanent residents, out of which roughly one third were feral cats. For a change, we made two bus-and-boat trips – both to a desert island. One of the trips was to the island fortress and former leper colony of Spinaloga, and it was a pleasantly uneventful excursion because we used the services of our travel agency. The greatest excitement occurred when hubby didn’t keep a safe distance behind me while climbing the stairs to an upper deck of the boat and carrying trays of food. As a result of his carelessness, I kicked in his tray, made his food a mess and spilled his plastic cup of wine. My tray and wine remained intact. Serve me well.

Encouraged by the success of the Spinaloga excursion, hubby decided we would go for a trip to the white beaches and cedar woods of Chrissi Island on our own. We may have saved the money we would have paid to the travel agency, but my already strained nerves were ruined. Hubby doesn’t speak foreign languages, so all the inquiring was on me, the autist, introvert and outright sociophobe. Cretans are a traditional patriarchal society (euphemism for chauvinists); they clearly couldn’t cope with a woman purchasing bus and boat tickets and kept on glancing at my husband for confirmation and trying to address him. Some of them, both men and women, seemed shocked when I bluntly asked them to talk to me because my significant other doesn’t speak English.

Our guidebook informed that though there exist bus services and timetables in Crete, the reality of service and time could be perceived differently by Greeks. Thus warned, we occupied the bus stop half an hour before the scheduled departure and I bravely stood myself in the middle of the road, ready to wave any oncoming bus down. After a prolonged period of tension, the bus arrived more or less on schedule and stopped without me having to act as a windmill and a road block in one. In the town of Ierapetra, hubby found the port because I have no sense of direction and could end up trampling in the opposite direction as far as to the opposite coast. In the port, there was nothing but stalls selling boat tickets and nothing but boats to Chrissi. I made it.

Chrissi is as lovely as publicity suggests. The sand was actually whiter than my untanned skin and the sea was the brightest shade of turquoise. As the fee for two sunbeds and an umbrella was ten euro, the equivalent of a nice dinner for two at home, I spent most of the time making use of my expensive sunbed and looking around, mouth agape. Or, I was running to and fro on the beach, jumping up and down and yelling aww!! This was as much an expression of joy at the sand and the shells as an expression of ouch because the sand was very hot. I may or may have not deliberately collapsed in a particularly tempting sand dune and started making sand angels. I bitterly regretted my silliness later when I was trying to get sand out of my bikini and body cavities.

Return

All doomed things come to an end, and so did our holiday. I was mightily excited to go home for the last five days because I was missing my cat very much, and she reportedly missed me too because she was seen pacing at the door and meowing melancholically. A fat Greek lady at the Crete airport denied the guidebook’s claim that Greeks are friendly and refused to let us board because our luggage was slightly overweight. This hurt, especially coming from a fat lady and especially because the overweight was caused by the gifts we purchased in the lady’s country. Determined to do as much for Crete’s economy as she could, she charged us twelve euro for the two extra kilos and let us go.

The current difference in temperature between Crete and Czech Republic ranges between twenty and twenty-five degrees. Guess where it’s colder. August is normally the hottest month of the year here, but something went wrong while we were on holiday. Hubby, who is always hot, untypically encouraged me to turn on the heating on our arrival and we haven’t dared to switch it off yet. Also, I can’t get my cat off my lap because she apparently fears that I’ll go away again. Despite these minor obstacles, I’m happily home and back to my beloved buttered toast, unfiltered coffee and chocolate. Lots of chocolate. Nobody is going to get me for another holiday for a long time.

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Yummy

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Ella looks like she liked her dinner.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Dialogue

The Greek island of Spinaloga from one side and the other side. In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Dialogue.

Slivovitz: Drink Me!

I’ve found that people outside of Eastern Europe are shamefully ignorant of the joys of slivovitz. To spread enlightenment, let me advise you that it’s a strong plum brandy, traditionally home-produced, and it’s the staple spirits in my area. This means that at family gatherings, everyone from youths to grandparents would drink it. So do I, of course. Read more about the slivovitz experience in this article or even better, get yourself some!

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My favourite drink. Except I have it home-produced.

The Sea of Crete

Nonsense

No

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in that—

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done.

The Inscrutable Workflows of Academic Publishing

Two months ago, I stumbled upon professor Womack, my professor protector, at a conference. This was already a minor miracle, as urban myths surrounding professor Womack speak about his virtual invisibility. I myself have faced him only a few times, even though we closely collaborate on various publishing projects. His surprising presence at this event may have been occasioned by the fact that he organised it.

He took his role of the organiser seriously, as evidenced not only by his very attendance, but also by his wearing a shirt. It’s not that he normally goes shirtless, rather, he notoriously owns only two sets of clothes. One is a thin grey sweater for winter, and the other a faded tee-shirt for summer, both to go with a well-worn pair of nondescript trousers. He has a shock of black-grey hair that he wears Einstein style. His brilliance is famed to match that of Einstein. Even more than Einstein, though, he looks very – academic.

Professor Womack was engrossed in conversation with a senior colleague as I went past him. He is the quintessential socially awkward academic, so as is his custom, he abandoned his conversation partner on the spot and went to pursue a new distraction when he spotted me. I fully expected he would abandon me, too, as soon as he sees someone more interesting, but he kept on talking. I politely followed him as far as to the speaker’s floor, where he began on a new topic. Some audience members mistook our dialogue for the start of the conference programme, and the hall gradually grew silent.

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“So, Mara, has Martin got in touch yet?” inquires professor Womack cryptically, because he assumes that everyone around shares the context of his consciousness. Having no clue what he means but not wanting to look like an idiot, I answer the question with a question: “He didn’t?” Professor Womack pays no heed to the oppressive silence in the lecture hall and threatens: “He shall.” I’m tempted to continue in our Beckettian one-word exchanged by confirming, “Indeed,” but instead I ask what the heck we’re talking about.

Me and the hundred or so people in the audience, who still assume we’re performing for them, learn that Martin should contact me shortly regarding proofs for a book he’s editing. I used to believe erroneously that it’s the editor who does the editing, but experience revealed that it’s a ghost editor who does the heavy lifting. Despite the amounts of heavy lifting that I do, I haven’t developed muscles yet. My strongest muscle being the tongue, I make use of it to inform professor Womack of the five or six tasks that I’m now working on and, oh, also my doctoral thesis. At this point professor Womack is dragged away by a member of staff and made officially open the conference.

It didn’t surprise me that I never saw professor Womack at the conference again after his opening speech. All was silent on the academic front for about another month. Then Martin contacted me. I did the heavy lifting. I didn’t hear from Martin again after I submitted the work. Then my husband calls me that professor Womack called him that he would call me because we have a thing. I find professor Womack’s diverted channelling excessive, but I accept that his ways, like those of god, are inscrutable. I have a missed call from an unsaved number on my phone, so I call back, hoping it’s professor Womack and not some pervert or phone marketer. Professor Womack doesn’t answer, probably because he doesn’t answer unsaved numbers either.

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I eventually reach professor Womack when I use my husband’s phone. Our conversation lasts about half an hour and is exasperating. Professor Womack apparently got hold of Martin’s manuscript, and the sloppy editorial work he saw gave him a seizure. Among other experimental ventures, Martin cancelled the bibliography for the book, the one that I carefully corrected before and that is essential for the book to be listed as “academic” rather than “general”. Professor Womack is very animated as he spits out that Martin also cancelled four-dot-ellipses and consolidated them into three-dot-ellipses. I say nothing but I think that Martin should be cancelled for his own benefit.

Professor Womack goes on that distinguishing between three- and four-dot-ellipses is a task that an editor performs as reflexive behaviour like Pavlov’s dog. I’m actually flattered by the comparison to Pavlov’s dog. Professor Womack throws in another of his epigrammatic witticisms, observing that we don’t want to end up like colleague Pfeiffer with the woods. Professor Pfeiffer never grew out of Indian tales, and for decades he’s been writing solely about Native Americans and the woods. I didn’t see his recent book on the woods, but I’ve seen the editorial condition his other creations. After I mentally process the ever so subtle joke, I get a giggling fit. My giggling fit throws professor Womack in his own giggling fit.

I apologise for being hysterical. Professor Womack can’t hear me because he’s laughing hysterically. When he’s done, he explains that the blame for professor Pfeiffer’s woods was limited to the department building because the book didn’t make it to academic publications databases. Martin’s book however will be submitted to the Web of Science database, hence the shame would be international. Professor Womack doesn’t like the idea of collateral guilt and refuses to spend the rest of his life hiding in gutters. Hence, he announces, he cancelled Martin by sending him for holiday and I’m promoted from a ghost editor to an acknowledged co-editor. I’m not sure if congratulations or condolences are due, but just in case, I’m already hunting for a nice gutter to hide in.

Green Mimicry

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This is Ella hiding from the heat.

Cat Companion

This is how great companions cats are. Visit this link for more photos of this Japanese elderly lady and her adopted stray cat.

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Wetlands