........a parallel life.......

...and the Kali Kardia Taverna...

kalikardiatavernaThere's something indescribably reassuring
about settling in behind a cold drink in an unassuming, no music, no game machines, no-nonsense workers' bar like the spotless Kali Kadia taverna in Othos Fountalidou, just off the Othos Kazanzakis in the centre of Sitia in north-eastern Crete.

The Kali Kardia is a traditional taverna, not at all touristy, with streetside tables and chairs, friendly regulars, farmers, fishermen, wandering cats, a lazy old dog and the occasional nosy sparrow flitting in and out curious about the calm. And locals' drinks are served with a mezedes of broad beans and olives or, as a special treat, broad beans, tomato quarters, cucumber...and olives.
Once you have been there twice, you are a regular - and if you eat there in the evening, in front of the TV with owners Lena and Manolis, you are family - and in Greece, as it was for the ancients, life is all about family.

More than once we sat with them to watch the evening news, (delightfully indecipherable) and the most appalling TV game show where the host encourages the blindfolded contestants to pull a towel off the bikini clad hostesses then guess whether they have won an increase in their prize money for their efforts. If they lose money, the hostess shows a large 'ZONK' sign and if they win she shows the Euro sign. At certain points during the show, the host will sing along tunelessly or make strange backing noises to a once popular chart hit from the sixties in the style of Karaoke.
I have to say after watching in fascination on at least two separate evenings, we were hooked and would hoot and boo along with the Manolis family and friends until we could take no more and step into the street with tears streaming down our cheeks, our faces aching with laughter.

Most people in this friendly village town greet you as they pass. You receive a warm smile and a nod from Manolis' mother who each morning comes in to clean and often sits at a table near the counter picking over the bushes of spinach she brings in from the morning market; or a bow from the gent who slowly makes his way to his usual seat below the shelf supporting the TV; the students who carry their problems in and out of the university annex across the way, all smile their perfect smiles with "Yiassous", "Kalimeras" and wave.

Whenever we called in, we would sit amongst the Kali Kardia regulars, discussing, arguing, meditating or, well, just sitting and sipping the most amazing local lemonade we have ever tasted. Also Manolis prepares a delicious, crispy-edged omelette served with fresh local baked bread that comes from a bakery not a hundred yards down the road amongst the fresh fruit shops, butchers, barber shops and  more refreshing fruit shops.

For breakfast one day, I ordered two 'ex frie'. They arrived settled, as is the custom, in a pool of Sitian olive oil, oil of the most delicate and palest of pale green, on a small white plate this time served with soft sesame bread. I took a deep breath and then dipped a piece of the bread into the oil not knowing what to expect and popped it into my mouth. At that moment there began a new and fulfilling relationship between me and breakfast eggs or 'ex'. It was something between the taste of morning sunshine and a sense of ancient recipe. I closed my eyes and ate in silence, savouring every mouthful. No need for Flora or Meggle now.

Instead of waiting for my bill, sometimes I would go to the counter to pay. At first Manolis thought I was there to ask for something and looked puzzled, but as he got to know me he would offer a tiny cup of morning coffee, "With me - change the day!", and invite me to stand with his friends and eat more mezedes even though I'd just eaten. One day, after our lunch Manolis told me to take Sandy's orange juice across the narrow street to where she sat at our table then come back and join him and some jolly friends for a few lethal rakis. I took Sandy's drink over to her then went back for the diplomatic drink, some nuts and a taste of tzatziki but I was too scared to spend the whole afternoon with my new friends so I made my excuse, "If I stay here - it will be Iraqi for me!" They saw the joke and while they snorted and laughed I scuttled back to the safety of my Sandy.

kardiaSo there we'd sit, not so much on holiday but more just being ourselves in a parallel life and watching the street scenes unfold - the old people who stumble and stroll, or stop just to chat; the little girl who waves from the tank of her daddy's motor scooter; the cars that park in the middle of the road whilst the drivers nip into shops for cakes and bread; the important shouting along the street; the grinding of the two-stroke; the woolly old dog that slept under our table; the man with the starey eyes who looked at everything as if for the first time in his life; the mounds of the freshest and most fragrant of vegetables and fruit in dazzling natural colours, freshened on the hour with sprays of precious water - this is the stuff of everyday Sitian life. Respect according to age and for each other. Said Sandy, "It makes you want to try it yourself when you see what a quality of life they enjoy."

We lived in Sitia for seven days, strolling the streets and marina trying to understand the names and words we saw and heard, getting hopelessly confused and sometimes completely lost. We climbed the hill to the Byzantine site of the Kazamar Fortress and gazed with dizzy satisfaction over the town below, its working bay and the ancient rugged mountains guarding all its wonder.
In the Archaeological Museum of Sitia and at the settlement of Petras, we looked into the minds of an ancient, sensitive people and saw their thoughts and ideas born in tangible form. There we saw the extraordinary gifts they left to aid our positive development - art, astronomy, mathematics, architecture, science, sculpture, sport, theatre - but somehow, with the passing of time, I think we humans took the wrong path. We turned outward to technology and trading instead of inwardly to the mind. But then it takes a lot of courage to look within, and our leaders aren't at all adventurous when it comes to that kind of daring - which is why we haven't really come very far in all this time.fluffydog


One day I had my hair cut amongst the market traders in Odos Fountalidoudos at the barber's opposite the butcher's.
Barber - "Excuse me sir, but have you ever had your hair cut properly before?" Cheek! He even did my nostrils, my ears AND
my eyebrows.

But after a week I grew restless and felt the need for tranquillity because, although I grew up in a city, life has always seemed more natural amongst the trees and fields, on some strand of sand and even under the water.

So one day after snorkelling a clean but featureless sea bed, in a moment of silence whilst watching the huge Lanes Lines ferry manoeuvre stern-first up to the quay, (if you wince it looks like Dave Lines - "Ah, three-thirty, and here comes Dave."), Sandy suggested we break camp and sail the Cretan Sea to the next stage of our parallel living - and explore the village of Kritsa on the slopes of Mount Dikta, and with that she changed the day and I could stretch again.



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