ZORBA THE GREEK
A couple of days before leaving for Crete I screened the black and white film Zorba the Greek with Anthony Quinn in the title role. I was full of regrets that I would never expe- rience this island, that this period was gone for good. How wrong I was! On Crete today so many of the old laws are still valid including vendettas. I had a wilderness right before my nose and didn´t know for years.
I had made three trips to Crete. But it was only this year that perhaps for the first time I pulled back the veil and discovered how the island really lives. I can´t imagine any holiday resort visited by hundreds of thousands of people where the lives of the locals are miles apart from the image presented to tourists. Our mission was clear: in one week shoot a 30 minute documentary film with cameraman Tomáš Schäffer for Czech TV. Those who have ever made a film know what a devilish brief this was. Too little time. Before agreeing, I contacted all my acquaintances including my Facebook friends to see if anyone had any connections to real Cretans. I was aware that without local help we would be doomed to failure. The replies inspired me, I had no idea how many of my acquaintances had Crete deeply inscribed in their hearts. Globetrotter Zuzka, her friend Sonja, and tons of others. My belated thanks to all of you for your willing help. We found Dimitris, a local, who agreed to devote a week of his time to us. Straight away our first meeting gave me food for thought. Dimitris did not want any money. He wanted our word of honour that we had not come to wilfully do damage to Crete or to Greece. A handshake sealed our contract. I am still wondering today if I could find someone like him here at home … I can´t even cross my heart and swear that I myself would be willing to work for free as a stringer for a Greek TV crew just in order to improve our country´s image in the world … and there I am considering myself to be great lover of the Czech Republic.
We lived in Mali. Who hasn´t been there, has no idea. For me Mali is like the Gates of Hell. A street full of bars where life only begins to culminate at midnight and you can see everything on the street … from brawls, sex, smoking marihuana cigarettes right through to drunken teenage guys on 4wheelers and inebriated teenage girls dragging their totally plastered girlfriends back into their hotel as if they were saving a wounded soldier. “Is this the face of Crete which you were going to show us, Dimitris?” I asked somewhat ironically. “No, this is the ugly aspect of my island created by foreigners. Go and talk to them and ask them where they´re from. You won´t find a single Greek or Cretan amongst them. The fact that parents from other countries let their kids come here to run riot is something I cannot influence, unfortunately. To find real Crete you´ll have to look somewhere else.
So we drove to Spinalongu, a small island in the east.
It would be a picturesque place were it not for the fact that for many years this was a leper colony. In fact even during World War II, when the Germans began their bloody occupation of the island, they left this spot untouched. “Northern Greece has the toughest laws but even these Northerners grow silent when they hear about our traditions. Crete is not Greece, my friend. Our history makes for painful reading.” True, the invasion during World War II inscribed itself into the annals of warfare as the first attempt to completely occupy a target from the air. A failed attempt. Thousands of young German paratroopers were shot down like chickens in the yard as they dangled from their parachutes and floated helplessly down through the clear air as if part of a window display. Most of their tombstones bear the same date of birth – all of them were about 20 years old. You can try to count the tombstones on the military cemetery. That is, if you can find it because the elderly locals in the region don´t really like showing visitors the way. With good reason. Hitler repaid them for their passionate defence by massacring defiant villages. The sad stories of Lidice, Ležáky or Leštiny in Czechoslovakia found their counterparts in Crete as the daily bread of the Nazi occupation.
Dimitris took us to various villages, for instance to a small village called Ethia. No remote headland but just half an hour from the capital city of Heraklion. Today there is a festivity. The biggest of its kind so far. They will be celebrating the hundredth anniversary of Crete´s union with Greece and so compatriots from the four corners of the Earth have come to take part. Indigenous ensembles from Australia and New Zealand are on hand. A large football pitch has been transformed into a gigantic dance floor. As we move with our camera among the rows of men who are dancing together the traditional figures made famous in the film Zorba the Greek I can feel goose bumps rising. Ensemble after ensemble of musicians and dancers take their turns till two in the morning. And of course, we weren´t done with yet. ”You´re coming with us, right?” Tomáš and I didn´t even have time to ask whether we cancel our lodgings for the night and plough on virtually without any sleep and there we were up on another hill inside another large restaurant where everyone was eating and drinking and above all – playing music and dancing. Altogether, like some sort of gigantic jam session of Cretan national music and dance.
At half past four in the morning we mustered our strength and staggered out of that crescendo of energy to our car and set off on our hour-long drive to our hotel in Malia where the next day at nine o'clock we began ticking off the next hours of our stay in the “land behind the tourist mirror”. Dimitris looked tired but responded in his relentless manner to each and every question or request: “I am ready to forgo all sleep for the whole week just to be able to show you my home in such a way that you will understand where so many tour guides go wrong.” We filmed local bee-keepers, horse breeders, people who still earn their living by breeding animals and agriculture. We met Maria, a young herbalist, who seemed to know every twig and illness that it could heal, we took part in various folk and religious festivities where there was no foreigner to be seen. Occasionally during our car trips we would goad our proud guide on purpose by telling him about Albania where I spent five years travelling with Mirek Náplava in order to make a film and write a book called Albania - a Beauty with a Bad Reputation. When I described how we tracked down clues about Albanian vendettas he couldn´t hold back any longer. “You think that everything here is run by the courts and the police? Real problems are dealt with by the people themselves!” “Do you mean to tell me that here, in this remote corner, that people take revenge into their own hands and kill? Surely not!” “You´d be surprised. Public statistics claim that every year six murders take place as a vendetta. And no one knows how many more are presented as unfortunate accidents.” I shake my head in amazement and can hardly believe my ears. “Here, where hundreds of thousands of people from all over Europe come to go swimming?”
“Wait, I´ll arrange a meeting,” says Dimitris, reaching for his phone and exploiting another characteristic of the local modus vivendi: here almost everyone knows ever everyone else and so it´s always possible to find someone who knows the person you´re looking for. It takes a moment before he´s nodding his head triumphantly and we turn the car around to drive back to the capital. “I´ll introduce you to someone!” We met up with writer Dimitris Guritakis who has been working on blood vendettas on Crete for years. He told us some tragic tales of families which ended up annihilating each other completely; he described how after the German occupation locals themselves killed everyone who had collaborated. A week had passed with us sleeping on average four hours a day. I am utterly exhausted but fascinated by the vivid exoticism of Crete. I had had no idea what a beautiful island this was with its rich culture and proud inhabitants. A few hours remain before take-off and I don´t know if I am sad that this wonderful merry-go-round of experiences is coming to an end or that on the contrary I am happy that I am finally going to have a good sleep and say goodbye to the incredible tempo which has not let up for a moment. Dimitris knows how often I had quoted Nikos Kazantzakis, one of the most famous local compatriots. Whether it was because of the a.m. Zorba the Greek (“If a woman sleeps alone it puts a shame on all men.“) or The Last Temptation of Christ (“My principle anguish and the source of all my joys and sorrows from my youth onward has been the incessant, merciless battle between the spirit and the flesh and my soul is the arena where these two rivals would meet and do battle.“) – another magnificent book which was turned into a magnificent film.
Dimitris has a surprise for us – we are on our way to the grave of the famous author. Our guide – and after these frenzied days, now our friend – takes out three bottles of beer and uncaps them on the edge of the tombstone. We drink together and, honouring a local custom, place the bottles on the grass covering the grave. “Wouldn´t he be angry with us?” I ask, hesitating to place my glass on the spot where this hell-raiser rests in peace. “Don´t worry, he wouldn´t be angry. He would be happy,” says Dimitris in that shy, intransigent and proud voice which all Orthodox locals use when speaking of their homeland. Time stands still, like an aeroplane which seconds before landing seems to hang suspended in the air on its wings like a manticore in the collection of a crazy biologist. I know that I must return here. Silently I take another swig and as I let my empty bottle drip its last drops onto the grass my gaze falls on the tombstone inscription: “I expect nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.“ Nikos Kazantzakis.
Fb Piranha film