LETTERS FROM AROUND THE WORLD
Report on the Financial Crisis from Crete
I awakened yesterday morning to a sound that heralded an event for me. The cicadas, or tzitzigas as we call them, were singing their first song of summer. I leapt up, made my first frappe of the summer and knew this would also be the day of my first swim in the Aegean. That first swim is like no other, believe me. The sea is crystal clear, refreshingly cool, and when you finally take the plunge, you are cleansed of the memories of winter rains and gray days. Summer in Crete, and all of Greece, is magic.
I am an American woman and I live on the island of Crete. Have done so for the last 24 years. I can happily say that the locals call me “one of them”. I live in a little village with my partner outside the beautiful city of Chania whose harbor was built by the Venetians. My husband was Greek, who has long passed away, and we shared a son. I am content and blessed in this life I have chosen. I live simply but richly, my riches being nature, love and appreciation for all I have. Crete has a way of getting into your blood and once she does, she never lets go.
The Cretans are a life-loving people, who are famous for their filoxenia, which literally translates into “friends of strangers”. They are warm, hospitable and generous. Throughout my world travels, I cannot recall a more giving people. In a strange village, you can walk through the street and suddenly be invited into a local’s home for something to drink and eat. Sitting in a cafenion, you will be gifted with a carafe of wine or the local firewater, raki.
We are blessed with mountains that are snow covered in winter, olive groves, fertile plains, beaches that are breath-taking. Even after 24 years, I am amazed at what I see on this incredible island.
We are also blessed with the healthiest diet in the world. Study after study proves the Cretan diet is supreme. Filled with the freshest of vegetables and fruits, pulses and grains, delectable seafood, organic chicken and the occasional meat, Cretan food is a sensual explosion of culinary delights. The olive oil is liquid gold and luscious when sprinkled on homemade bread.
So yes, we are blessed. But the current economic crisis has darkened our skies. Suicides, which were almost unheard of here, abound, homelessness is showing its ugly face on the streets of Chania. For the first time in my time here, I have seen the elderly villagers scavenging through dumpsters. The empty shopfronts mirror this crisis. These incidents are indeed horrifying.
Once again the brave Cretans are being faced with an enemy of huge proportions. We are afraid of our futures. Our children have no future. And this time, it seems we are unable to find the weapons to fight this enemy, for it is within our government system and the powers that be.
There is no rioting here on Crete, there are no demonstrations. But the depth of helplessness and hopelessness felt over the rest of Greece has hit our shores as well. I myself swing from mood to mood, wondering what will become of this beautiful country, the mother of democracy. We are living in terrible social conditions. Our hospitals are running out of materials as simple as gauzes. Non-life-threatening operations are being cancelled. Our schools have no books, children are using photocopies.
The mood here now on Crete before the elections to be held in a few days? We are all holding our breaths, because our very lives are hanging from a very thin rope which can either snap or somehow miraculously be salvaged and allow us to climb up to safety. Of course, this safety will come with a very large price tag for all of Greece. I do not wish to dive into the politics of this crisis, suffice to say it is very real and very traumatic.
Socially, I have observed that of course the Cretans have cut back on their love of going out. Whereas once a table would be more than full of delicacies, we are ordering more frugally, even though it is painful and in a way, humiliating. Most people I know will not take a vacation this year. It is hard enough to meet the piles of bills and new taxes are burdening us. This winter I was unable to put heating oil into my house and depended on a wood-burning stove for heat.
The people in the tourist industry are saddened by our tarnished image of a country that is no longer safe to visit. I want to say emphatically that this is so very far from the truth. Crete has always been a safe and family-friendly vacation spot, and continues to be so. Remember the word filoxenia? It is in our blood. It is an honor for us. Those who do work in this industry work tirelessly, in their shops and restaurants, sometimes for sixteen hours a day.
In summing up our situation, we live in a natural Paradise. We enjoy a healthy lifestyle. We welcome our foreign friends and visitors and are eager to share our Paradise with them. Our saving grace is that we are known fighters. The venerable Winston Churchill said of the Cretans “Cretans don’t fight like heroes, heroes fight like Cretans”. I hope, along with the rest of Crete and the whole of Greece, that we will be able to rise again and to show the world just how resilient we are and how we shall overcome. A phoenix rising from the ashes, showing its glory and magnificence one again.
Linda Psillakis is a freeance photographer based on the Greek island of Crete. From the Atlantic Ocean, to the rolling hills of Tuscany stretching to the Mediterranean Sea and as far as the Himalayas, life has gifted me with unforgettable colors and stories which I have lovingly documented with my camera.
by Linda Psillakis
Letters from Around the World: Letter from Crete
Letters from Around the World: Report on the Financial Crisis from Crete