Cretan Heat: Rethymno Old Town at Night


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I was last on Crete in Summer 2015. Here, taken straight from my 2014 journal, is a description of a late night in Rethymno. I have removed only those parts which refer directly to family and friends.

Giant sun giving way to a tracing of thinnest gold through mid-evening sky, a wedding band from Day to Night – hand-fasting of the twenty-four hours; down into Rethymno, along the sea front, huge concrete jacks ready to tumble onto the harbour’s checker-board; young people, two to a motor-bike, shirt sleeves, no helmets, happy, relaxed; the air-scented strongly, in snatches, of thyme, Crete’s olfactory signature tune; neon eyes winking purple, blue, green, red, gold; my body stiff with over-heated irritation – temperature twenty-eight at nine in the evening, down from thirty-eight during the day; striding ahead, in long green-patterned Indian dress, caught between youth and middle-age, I wanted to run and cry and scream and laugh and have fun, be spontaneous – Oh, the weight of adulthood upon my reluctant bones and wild spirit.

Lowest tide: Dinosaur-like bones of rock straddling the sea’s bed, yawning their way into the brash night-light of the twenty-first century; the Fortezza arrow-slitting us back into the unvasions of the oceanic imagination we all inherit and ignore at our peril; modern-day Pirate Ship Jack-Sparrowing its way across the bay, tilting its cutlass at the fragrance of herb-release under Cretan sun.

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Later, at Goran’s taverna, food shared, whilst the beggars came a’calling with their tacky wares and stegosaurus hides: A tall young woman, sack full of glitter-strewn Disney monstrosities, and her little sister, garish in green and ghastly upon the accordion – metaphorical leprosy’s anaesthetised, nerve-damaged touch upon music’s transcendent keys. All ignored.

Serbian delicacies – Alvar, the delectable red pepper dip; the richness of tiny meatballs; octopus; jazzed-up potatoes; organic red wine – and, amidst this wonder of taste, the faulty stop-start of conversation’s damaged exhaust pipe.

And then, suddenly, a rough diamond in the great jeweller’s shop of artifice, there he was: A tiny boy, seven or so, dark of complexion and hair, trying to coax ‘Never on a Sunday’ out of the recalcitrant crimson and cream keys of the accordion he had slung round his neck. But he voice, when he sang, was deep and true – mesmerising for this irritating wee scrap of humanity who, waif-like, insinuated himself closer and closer to the people at each table, singing little snippets of song and crying, quite blatantly, ‘Money! Money!’

A member of staff, using his arms as a gentle broom, tried to brush this little urchin away – but he would not go. Our laughter revitalised him, and he mugged for the invisible camera, until he was shooed inside and told to find the kitchen and the warm goodies therein.

Off he went then, down Cat Alley, still singing, still cheeky and insouciant and somehow brave and rather sweet: Such spirit and determination, such boldness; I couldn’t help warming to him!

We wandered back, seeing a young lady, pliant as a pipe-cleaner, clad in Harem Pants and scanty top, juggling two torches; we stopped for ice cream – and, oh, the succulent softness of the flavours on offer left me entranced, englamoured almost; I wanted all of them – the smooth mauve, the tempting toffee, laid-back coffee, rich and deep chocolate!

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How to decide?! Ah! Chocolate won in the end. Cone clutched in left hand, I licked and luxuriated and, in the twenty-five degree heat of midnight, allowed great splashes of melt to bleed onto hands and chin and dress – and so walked on until, back on the long promenade, I wandered, gazing at the darkness of sea and the lights of all the tavernas and shops still open.

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