An irregular, irreverent, post-modern account of the surreal, the ordinary, and the bizarre happenings on and around the Felia lavender farm in Crete

Monday, December 05, 2005


While at the bazaar this week end Gill was told a very sad story. A French friend of Maria's who is a shiatsu practitioner was explaining how one of her friends, and elderly Englishwoman, had gone back to the UK, ostensibly for Xmas, and would, in all probability not be coming back to Crete.

Her story started when she was befriended while working in the UK by a court worker who seemed to share her love of Crete. Let us call the elderly Englishwoman C and the new best friend L. C had had a recent history of heart trouble and was thinking, she confided to L, of going to live in Crete where the climate and diet would be much better for her health.

L and her then boyfriend and later husband, let us call him R, a metal worker and sometime semi-pro musician, were themselves soon to move to Crete having had enough of England. L became C's "best friend" and when she and R moved to Crete she kept in touch by post. C would later discover that she was one of the few people that L&R kept in touch with.

Time passed and C had another minor heart attack. She now qualified for a disability pension and besides which her boyfriend was also just settling down in Crete. L and R had been living in Crete for 3 years now and C asked if they could help her find somewhere to live. She had decided to move out to Crete at last. Her boyfriend came back to the UK and they married. L wrote to say that she had just the thing in mind for C. She and R were moving to a beautiful apartment in a small mountain village having exhausted what the city that they had been living in for the past 3 years had to offer, and lo and behold, the apartment next door was vacant. She was sure that C would love it and they could then be assured of wonderful neighbours.

C and her new husband visited the following month and were impressed by the little apartment. He had some doubts about the L&R couple but it would be a good place to start he thought. Back in the UK they decided to go ahead with the move and set about selling up C's house and the thousand and one other things that had to be sorted out before they could live in Greece.

And then, quite unexpectedly, C's new husband had a massive heart attack and he did not survive. Heartbroken, she decided that there was nothing to hold her in England: her son had been awkward about her re-marrying; the house was under offer; the only real friends she had seemed to be L&R and they were in Crete. There was, however, a problem: C did not drive and the mountain village was quite isolated and, in common with most remote Cretan villages, was not well served by public transport.

Not to worry, assured L&R, we'll drive you any where you need to go until you learn to drive. That's what friends are for. Rest assured we'll look after you. Touched and grateful she carrie don with the move. The die was cast.

When Annie, the French shiatsu practitioner, had met C she was living in a small apartment in a predominantly British occupied seaside village. She was taking Greek lessons and was finding it hard making ends meet. Life, she explained, had been much cheaper in the mountains. And the villagers there had been much friendlier too! Annie was flummoxed. Why had she, C, left her mountain eyrie then to live among ex-pats whom she clearly had no great love for?

Things, she explained, had been good in the mountains for the first few months. She had made friends with some shop keepers, and a taverna owner's wife (she had become a kind of unofficial aunty to their youngest child) and also the young owner of the ceramics factory but things with L&R had begun to go wrong.

Soon after moving in she had sensed that L was becoming withdrawn. She seldom ventured out alone and seemed to resent C's growing friendships in the village. R was working part time in the black economy nowadays and village gossip had it that he only did that to get away from L. The villagers could not understand her aloofness and resented the fact that she made no attempt to speak Greek to them. A odd mixture of shy and surly.

More and more R was not able to take her, C, to the shops. He often, nowadays, made a very big deal out of giving her a lift anywhere. And both of them were, she sensed, avoiding her. She tried to reduce her reliance on them: tagging along but once a week when they went to shop; fitting around their schedule and trying to "bother" them less. But the rift was cut and it continued to widen. Soon L would turn away if she saw C, even if she were only on her balcony. R darted to the car and drove off in a rush if he thought she saw him. Occasionally she would try to raise the subject of the growing estrangement in the car on their weekly shopping outing but they would always reply that there was nothing wrong and that they were just a little busy. And so C carried on trying to make her new home in the tiny mountain village.

Until, one day, in high dudgeon, L had knocked at her door early in the morning just after R had driven off to work throwing a happy smile and a cheerful wave to C as he left. Red in the face and literally shaking, L had unceremoniously announced that they could no longer be friends because, as she explained it, C had taken advantage of their, L&R's, good nature. She, C, was, simply using them while she gathered around her a network of Greek friends with whom, L was sure, she talked about them behind their backs! From here on in it was all downhill for C. Trapped in the village, for R no longer spoke to her let alone proffered lifts, C was thrown back on her own resources. She discovered a bus that ran twice a week to the nearby city: it left her village at 7 in the morning and returned at four in the afternoon, long after the shops had closed. She took to using this bus as her lifeline. She would cope.

Winter came and winter went. She managed. She survived. Her friendships in the village grew in warmth and her Greek improved marginally. Her adopted niece's English improved. The bus service did not improve, but she learned to live with it as the locals did. The relationship with L&R likewise did not improve - if anything it deteriorated. She learned to live with that too.

When a short and glorious spring gave way to the heat and drought of summer things turned again. L&R had visitors. The visitors ignored her cheery Hellos. She, C, had visitors. R&L ignored their cherry Hellos. The atmosphere was thick with hostility but where this hostility had come from she didn't know. They seemed, next door, to have perfected ways of coming and going that made them perfectly invisible to her. Only her visitors occasionally reported a grey haired, miserable looking, grey woman staring at them with thinly disguised hatred. And then she would "huff!" loudly as she turned and disappeared back indoors.

Strong though she had become she was finding this constant war of hostility wearing her down. Even the deathly silences grated at her nerves. They never spoke now. She rarely encountered anything but traces of them - a puff of exhaust smoke as they took their Thursday shopping trip - a door slamming as she opened her front door to water her plants. She saw, if truth be told, more of their coterie of cats than she did of them, and the cats were always leaving unwelcome presents in her bedding borders. She knew better than to burden her new-found Greek friends with her troubles and eventually decided to move to somewhere more accessible. It meant saying goodbye to her friends but the attrition was playing havoc with her nerves. And at least this new little apartment was well served by buses. What little money she had left at the end of the week was now going on Greek lessons rather than driving lessons. She would make new friends. In her new village most people spoke English -they were English after all!

But it was not to be. The British in her new village were unwelcoming. She missed the peace and quiet of her mountain village and the warmth of the Greek welcomes. She missed little Eleni. Suddenly she found herself missing her husband again. And finally, she began to long for the psychic comfort of English life. She would, no matter how hard, go back to England and make up with her son. Her dream now lay in her hands like so much broken crockery in the ceramics shop where she had recently spent afternoons talking with the young owner in his halting English, and the taste of ashes filled her mouth every moment of the day. Something was badly damaged and she knew that it could not be mended. Time, with heavy heart, to move on again.

(to be continued ....)

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