Objectively speaking, Crete has been characterized as the cradle of European civilization and the birthplace of some of the greatest Greeks who ever lived - from the Ancient Minoans to the more modern intellectuals like Nikos Kazantzakis and Eleftherios Venizelos.
Subjectively speaking, however, Crete has served as a personal oasis and holds a special place in my heart. The confines of this introduction will never allow me to do justice to this island, but I do hope that some personal anecdotes and descriptions will at least pave the way for your imaginations to wander to better times in our past and, hopefully, in our near future.
As 50% Cretan, Chania was where I spent the majority of my summers - at my yiayia Marika and my pappou Georgio’s house. Their home was the central meeting place for my mother’s immediate family - a typical, cool 100 people or so - both because of its location and because my yiayia made the best biftekia and my pappou made the best french fries (an unbeatable combination). The memories I made there are still incredibly vivid: from playing “γατα, γατουλα, τη χρωμα ζητας;” with my cousins in the αυλη, to feeding the horses, goats and chickens (they loved the watermelon rinds!), to racing out to the street at 12pm sharp after the honking of the local fournari’s white van signaling the arrival of freshly baked bread to the neighborhood.
It was always my job to make sure I had the exact change (in drachmas, of course), to buy the still-hot-from-the-oven bread. I would run back to the house, bread in hand, where my pappou and Eraklis, my brother, would meet me at the kitchen table with a plate of homemade mizithra mixed with olive oil from the family grove, lemon from the χωραφι, local sea salt, and just a touch of wild oregano that we had brought from my father’s island, Limnos. My brother and I made the best eating partners, he wanted the ψιχα, and I wanted the κρουστα. That was my paradise.
Crete is a place where the concepts of pride, hospitality, generosity, philoxenia and loyalty still hold their traditional Hellenic meaning. It is a place where your word is gold and family comes before everything. Where respect - whether it be for food, for the land, for your elders - is paramount. It is a place where guests and travelers are always welcome and no one feels like an outsider. It is a place where no good deed is ever forgotten - and is repaid tenfold, without a second thought.
Crete makes you feel like you’ve never felt before: laughter always comes from your belly, tastes are experienced with all of your senses, singing is done at the top of your lungs, and crying is embraced whether mourning a death or celebrating a life.
From the Old Port of Chania, to the Rakadika of Rethymno, the luxury of Elounda, the local tavernas of Theriso, and the pristine waters of Loutro, I hope this insert transports you to a mindset filled with nostalgia and hope for tomorrow - as much as writing this introduction did for me.
I leave you, dear readers, with these thoughts about Crete from Nikos Kazantzakis’ Report to El Greco (Doménikos Theotokópoulos - also originally from Crete) where he encapsulated and articulated the true essence of Crete in just a few short phrases: “There is a kind of flame in Crete - let us call it ‘soul’ - something more powerful than either life or death. There is pride, obstinacy, valor, and together with these something else inexpressible and imponderable, something which makes you rejoice that you are a human being, and at the same time tremble.”
I hope you all get to feel Crete’s soul one day very soon.