At a taverna I find an old timer, he’s staring at the television and the volume is loud, my position at the counter leaves me standing at an angle at which an ordinarily sighted person would notice me. “Kalimera!” No response. “Hello, yassas!” I holler. He turns to me and wonders. I say, “are you serving food?” I make an eating pantomime and smile hopefully. He frowns. He’s furrowing his brow and an uncomfortable span passes. He says, “English?” Which isn’t a bad guess I figure, with my off odor, Brooks saddle, and folding bicycle. But I shake my head, “American. USA.” He says nothing and I say it again, much louder, amusingly like a cheer, “USA!”
His eyebrows go up. He begins slowly, “I though…I heard you,” long pause. “Speaking English. Yes,” picking up wobbly speed, “sit down. We have to look out for each other,” and now a twang, “I was born in West Virginia.”
Now I’m staring dumbstruck. He says it again. “Yeah, West Virginia.” Took early retirement in ’73 and moved to his wife’s home country, this one. I’m thinking how bizarre it would be to have last lived in the States in ’73, at the end of a pointless war. We warm up, talk about his career spent in engineering, his travels. A little later I’d meet Steve, his son. Talking to him may as well have been chatting at a Mason Dixon line roadway diner.
Tipping my chin at the stem, the road upward in tightening curls and at every hairpin there’s mud and stones streaking into the roadway as a kind of prelude to when it turns officially to dirt. Getting a better vantage on the sea off the north coast, and the sounds are clunk and tink from bells and the bleeuh, BLAAA, uhwhaa of the sheep, makes me feel like I’m in a children’s story cyclocross race where I am the only competitor. Once I reach the plateau the gravely double track chases a squiggle that might have made sense the long time ago it was conceived. I marvel at the capacity of goats to fantasize that I am in pursuit of them, and since they run with terror’s purpose on the clearest path, they make it true. “Nobody is after you. Seriously.” I yell but they don’t listen.
Crete here is like a shabby unkempt northern Italy. The same geological and agricultural DNA. Beauty and hills, water blue horizons. Mountains with clouds and weather up top. Home of the Homeric gods.
* * *
Sitting in a coffee shop in the morning, a bunch of men in flat caps and field jackets are huddled around piles of mail, file boxes. It takes me a moment to place the image: they’re sorting ballots, the election three days away. Concentration and care. The file boxes are put away, a few more guys arrive, all men in the open porch, a woman in her 80’s trembling hold of plates of cheese and tomato toast moving slowly between us. Now the volume is high, they’re yelling sometimes without acrimony, one has a habit of raising his index finger higher and higher as his voice rises before he reaches the conclusion.
A man with a cane taking the smallest conceivable steps comes up. We meet and his sleepy eyes flash, greet and smile. Handsome in his chocolate sweater vest over cream and maroon flannel,charcoal jacket over that. If he’s 93 then he was wide awake for WWII. Though he sits apart from them, soon he’s yelling with the others, smiles and gestures of rhetorical one upsmanship. He is brought out a coffee and glass of water.
* * *
Scratching sleep from the corner of my eyes, collecting camp. I pick up the pot, rubbed to a semblance of clean last night, this morning full of contented snails. “You gang should be careful, you could get cooked.” I carefully unstick each one.