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A Crash On Crete

May 25, 2010

The mediterranean has always attracted me.  I had been eurocentric for most of my life.  Asia did not grab me till in my 50’s.  It was closer but I never felt the draw.  How wrong that was to be later in my life.

Europe was the holiday destination and apart from one trip to London, I managed to take the school holidays and travel to Europe three times in about fifteen years.  As an ex seminarian, Rome was my psychosexual capital.  France did not excite me the in the way that Italy and Greece did.  Having studied Latin, along with French, and later Ancient Greek and Hebrew, I had some idea of linguistic derivatives we so often find in English.

I had turned 40 and like all teachers, was entitled to Long Service Leave.  It was my plan to find some Greek Island in the Aegean and stay put, anchor myself rather than be constantly on the move.  My first trip to Europe was the usual twenty countries in 6 weeks on a Euro Pass.  This time I wanted to immerse and it was to be Greece.  I had previously been to Athena and Mykynos but I wanted a new destination.  To this day I cant recall how I arrived at the decision to go to Crete.  This time I was to travel alone.  I was comparitively young and healthy and felt comfortable with a solo journey.  I had some basic Greek language skills from years of teaching Greek students and spending time with Greek friends.  I enjoyed the language, the music, and in the immortal words of Mikis Theodorakis, the ‘whole catastrophe’.  Melbourne, my home town, is the third largest Greek speaking city in the world.  I had been exposed to many a Hellenic Happening.

The journey began in Athena.  It was my third visit so it was not entirely unfamiliar to me.  This time I wanted to be near the azure of the Aegean and Crete fitted the bill.  I needed to find a small village, close to the coast, and stay in an inexpensive Pensione.  There was no internet to do research.  I had to wait until Athena till I could make my way across to Crete by ferry.  Heralklion is the capital city of this backward island, lost somewhere in the 1950’s.  I arranged with a travel agent to find a part of the island that would suit my needs.  I did not have the money for any upmarket resort and was happy enough to be able to find a quiet village on the south coast near the Psiloritis Mountains, not far from the Palace of Knossos.  It was beginning to sound like an Odessy.  I was excited yet apprehensive.  An adventure in every sense of the word.  After a short respite in Athena I embarked on the ferry to Crete.

Olive trees went forever and stony roads and paths wound across the Cretan landscape.  There were steep hills and the rustic charm soon embraced me.  The village was small, a general store, a cafe and restaurant and quite a few tourists.  I would not be totally isolated for the month.  I had a few books, a sketch pad and winter clothes.  The pensione was a two story cement edifice.  Simple yet comfortable with a large room.  There was a view from the window and a glimpse of the sea.  It seemed more of a tourist spot than where I had chosen to stay.  I walked up the steep cement drive way to be greeted by Maria, a single Greek woman in her 40’s who ran the Pensione.  She had no english at all and I managed to make myself understood with my limited Greek vocabulary.  It was to be home for the next month.

It was 1986 and Ronald Reagan was running America.  Dark times!  There were several rooms on both floors of the pensione.  Before long I had met Americans, Germans, Italians, but no Australians.  We gathered together for meals in a large room around a long table.  Wine flowed and laughter soon filled the white stuccoed walls.  I was feeling relaxed not knowing what was to unfold in the next few days.  Greg and Stepahanie from San Diego were a young couple travelling for a year, they were to become close friends in the ensuing weeks.  Others came and went.  We dined at the Taverna, took long walks and spent the evenings around the communal table.  Days passed and friendships developed.  They were all immpressed with my Greek.  I became a conduit between Maria and the other guests who just could not communicate with the perceived ease that I, the lone Australian, was able to do.

There was to be a birthday party.  It was for Greg, the gentle American who wore an Anti Reagan button on his mohair jumper.  This relieved me greatly to see his politics displayed in such a proud way.  Stephanie was a cabaret singer back home, and they were very much in love.  The day of the party we had decided to hire motor bikes and go out of the village for a picnic.  Sitting on stony ground overlooking the Psiloritis Mountains we broke bread and breathed the fresh mountain air.  It was oxygenating to say the least.  I wanted it to last for days.  We were far from the Madding Crowd in every sense.  The silence only punctuated by our quiet chatter amid the olive groves that festooned the undulating hills.  I was riding a motor cycle alone, Greg and Stephanie shared one between them.  It was a matter of numbers and cash.  After lunch we ventured to another village for an afternoon drink.  This was to be a mistake.

As the afternoon closed in I suggested that I ride ahead and prepare some things at the pensione for the evenings party.  I had followed them on the motor cycle so the idea of riding alone back to our pensione and leaving them to follow was invigourating.  I had never ridden a motor cycle before but had managed without any problem earlier in the day with my companions always in view.  This was to be my ‘Easy Rider’ experience.  I maintained a sensible speed and the bike was more of a scooter than a throbbing Harley.  Up the steep terrain on decent roads, winding around bends, along straight stretches with the wind blowing through my hair.  Oh the joy of it all.  King of The Road!  But it was not to last long.

Anyone who has ridden a motor cycle or driven a car or even a push bike knows one important rule, if you are on gravel never put on the breaks.  Alas I failed.  I was travelling too fast when the gravel surface appeared.  Panic.  I hit the breaks.  My entire body gripped with fear as I felt the bike fall from under me.  I was thrown off the bike on to the gravel road and slid close to the edge of the winding road.  It all happened so quickly.  From carefree bliss on the Cretan road to lying with the bike almost on top of me.  I then noticed two things.  There was a car near me coming in the opposite direction and that my right knee was bleeding through my jeans.  My worst nightmare.  The couple in the car had seen the entire drama unfold and rushed to my side.  They were travelling in the opposite direction and could not take me to any clinic.  But all was not lost.

It was a van, a people mover, sliding side doors.  It arrived in minutes and stopped.  I said farewells to the Americans and was greeted by a family of Cretans.  There was the father, the son, the daughter and another male friend.  They saw the bloody mess I was in and said would drive me to a doctor.  I fell into the back of the van, clutching the knee of my jeans as blood dribbled from the wound.  I was in agony.  This was the end of my life.  Dead in the back of a van on a remote road on the Island of Crete.  The journey began and the young 10 year old son, George, held my hand.  The compassion so deep within this young soul astounded me.  My distress became their distress.  The talked a lot in Greek none of which I understood.  They finally were able to tell me that no, we are not going to a doctor, we are taking you to a hospital.  Spiralling, hyperventilating, angst levels to the ceiling, I lay on my side holding on to George while I writed in pain.  The trip to the hospital will take about 40 minutes.  I had no choice.  The loving kindness of George during that trip was one of the most spiritual experiences of life.  This boy was healing me in a way.  The connection was deep.

A wheel chair was brought out from the hospital.  George took charge and insisted on pushing me in the wheel chair into the hospital  and to find some doctors who could attend to my wounded knee.   George had virtually ignored his fathers request that he leave me at the hospital and go back to his father.  No, he was going to sit with me untik I saw a doctor.  I understand the term “old soul” and I had met yet another.  The doctors and nurses in this small rural hospital came and went.  I continued to sit with George in my wheel chair and played some games on paper.  I had still not seen a doctor and there was a loss of blood.  I was tense and fearful.  George was keeping me sane.  A young German lad walked by and asked what was going on.  I explained and he immediately opened the door of the operating room and said in loud, clear english, ‘Do something”  It worked.  I was wheeled into the the operating room,put on a bed and two doctors were leaning over me.

No english.  Greek or Italian only.  I was in for a linguistic medical discorso.  We worked things out and the aim was to clean the wound of gravel and foreign particles, sew it up, and  “Yassou!”   The pain was excruciating but I had been given some narcotic, but there was pain.   The three way conversation with the Austalian Traveller, and then two Greek Rural doctors.  The word “dramatica” came up from time to time and I knew in the Greek culture men dont cry.  I did.  A Greek drama at its best.  However it was a Hosptial Theatre, sadly not a Performing one.  But I am sure my performance would be talked about for some time in the hospital gossip.

Then a plaster cast.  Oh no.  It was a partial plaster cast.  Just a piece of plaster at the back of the knee to keep the knee straight and allow it to heal.  But walking was not easy.  Spent lots of time supine.  I had a large room back at the pensione so I possibly could entertain from my bed.  It was to happen. The German Angel appeard again to see how I was doing.  I was on crutches, bewildered  but vertical.  ‘Could you go to a paharmacy and get these medicines” I asked him.  This rural Greek Hospital did not hace a pharmacy.  My friend took the presecriptions and headed for the nearest pharmacy and this was late at night, on the Island of Crete, a German, a youth, but a warrior.  This lad reached out.  Saw the wounded Aussie in a wheel chair and reacted in a human way.  Another gift had been given me.  My life has been both gifted and full of gifts.  The list was growing, Stephanie, Gregory, George, Maris, and the German.  And this in less than one week in the rural village at the foot of the Psilirites Mountains, a short journey from the Palace of Knossos.   The journey was happening.   I had packed a lot into less than a week, from boarding a ferry alone, finding somewhere to live, paying the rent in advance, and having my knee in plaster.  And it was far from tapering off I was to later find out.

The only way from Hania, in the North of Crete, to my pensione in the south was taxi.  It was late at night.  I was alone and an hours journey ahead of me with a driver who did not speak my language and a passenger, crippled and vulnerable.  It worked.  We laughed and chatted. I was sprawled on the back seat so I could throw my leg across the seat.  We seemed to get my desitination organised and set on our way.  I had pain killers, antibiotics, and some friends back at the pensione.   The taxi driver was a large man, a strong man, luckily for me.  After some doubts and errors we found my pensione.  What was to happen next was to move me in the same way as when I met George with his father some hours before.

The taxi driver carried me up the steep cement driveway.  What kindness.  Before I left the operating room I was sitting up in the bed with my knee in plaster when the door opened, slowly.  It was George and his family, the ones who had picked my up in the van and probably some other friends whom they wanted to bring along.   These Greeks came bearing gifts.  George handed me a packet of biscuits from a nearby store.  Their act rocked me.  I said “It is I who should be giving you a gift for your care of me since the accident.”  They did not reply.  I remember receiving a plastic key ring from George.  I carried it for over 20 years.  A symbol, totem, of the wonderful connection with this caring young boy.  These meetings are the stuff  travel is made of.  The people are more important to me than the art galleries, a bit of both is fine.  The Hospital saga, the taxi journey, and now I was home in my room surrounded by my adoptive family.  All the guests came to wish me well as I conducted it all from the bed.  I was being brave.  I had come to Crete to rest,now I was forced to rest, I had no choice, for more than a week.  My holiday was ebbing away from me and there was 6 weeks left.  Another 3 on Crete and the remainder in Paris, yes I succombed, I had been offered shelter so it seemed eminently sensible to go.

I was to spend the rest of the time in Crete mainly in my room.  I was able to walk and the plaster was removed in a primitive, rural clinic.  It was like a trip back to the 50’s, but it was 1986, in Greece on The Island of Crete.  Free of the plaster I could manage to walk.  It was now time to leave just as I became well enough to walk.  A  ferry took me to Athens and then it was to travel to Paris, in Winter.  Although I crashed in Crete it was another experience in understanding that there are some people who are able to connect with compassion despite cultural differences.  There have been subsequent meetings with Greeks by the name of George with the same compassion.

Europe was wonderful,  Asia was different.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 29, 2010 2:41 am

    If only more people could read this..

  2. dyoll09 permalink*
    May 29, 2010 6:11 am

    My dear friend, have just risen from my bed in Melbourne Australia.
    The blog has been going for over one year now but there was a slow down when diagnosed with bowel cancer while living in my beloved Bangkok…writing is my therapy and my friends have said Lloyd you must publish and to read such encouraging comments from you have lifted me higher….my deep gratitude and do pass on the blog to your friends.
    Keep reading

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