Thursday, October 12, 2006

A slightly blurry recollection of Crete

Blame the Italian sandwiches. You see, it all started the year before.

When I was, briefly (in one of many 'former lives') a school teacher, I had to accompany a school trip on an improving Mediterranean jaunt each Spring (I was a Classicist; so we alternated each year between Greece and Italy). On the previous year's trip to Italy, 'packed lunches' had been provided as part of the tour package, but they were a disaster: dry, rock-hard bread rolls, processed cheese slices, and utterly tasteless 'salami' which seemed like wafer-thin slices of plastic, coated with grease. And really, really, really nasty chocolate wafers to accompany them.

We'd ended up spending a small fortune from the 'contingency budget' on eating lunch in restaurants. So, next time out, in Crete, we were all - teachers, parents and pupils alike - given a daily spending allowance, a kind of 'refund' from what we'd paid for the trip, to cover providing lunch for ourselves. Somehow, it was like FREE money, and we went a little crazy! And Crete is cheaper than Italy. A LOT cheaper. And I don't have much appetite in the middle of the day, especially when the weather is hot - as it is already starting to be in Crete in April. Thus, even if we did indulge in a light salad or some souvlaki, we found ourselves still with enough pocket money left over for 4 or 5 bottles of beer each lunchtime (beer is cheap in Crete; at least, it was back then in the early '90s) - or, 'liquid sandwiches' as they soon became euphemistically known.

Hence, the whole trip went past in a happy blur.

Of course, the lunchtime drinking was really quite moderate, no more than a necessary rehydration after the regular excesses of the late-night drinking. (I fell in with a particularly good crowd at the main hotel we stayed at just outside of Rethymnon.)

One night I'd been up VERY late. Eventually, our coach driver (a cheery fellow, but with barely a word of English) had joined us for one or two nightcaps of raki (in Crete, raki is a quite decent local brandy - rather than the rotgut super-ouzo which the term seems to designate in most of the rest of the Eastern Mediterranean), after a particularly gruelling evening taking another party of tourists to some 'folk dancing' event, and then having to clean the seats after one of the punters had overindulged on ouzo or retsina or whatever.

The next morning, I overslept and nearly missed the coach. We had an especially harrowing trip up into the mountains - one of those tortuous Greek roads of continuous S-bends with a sheer precipice on one side, and poignant little roadside shrines commemorating the victims of past brake failures clustered on every corner.

Noticing that I looked even more pale and under-refreshed than usual, one or two of my colleagues quizzed me as to what I'd been doing the night before.

"What did you get up to last night?"

"Oh, nothing much. Just hung out in the hotel bar."

"How late did you stay up?"

"Oh, until about 3 or 4, I suppose."

"Who was up with you that late?!"

"Oh, you know, just the usual suspects. Ritsa the tour guide [most Cretan women seem to be called Ritsa], George the bar manager, George the doorman [all Cretan men seem to be called George]..... and, er, George the coach driver."

At this point, an anguished silence fell over the the rest of the passengers - many of them, no doubt, fervently praying that George the coach driver was not feeling quite so under-refreshed as I was.

Indeed he was not; but he did look a lot happier and more composed after joining me for a 'liquid sandwich' at lunchtime.


Tulsa said...

I was determined to refrain from commenting on old posts, but this one is just tooo much....


I'm falling off my chair laughing.

Froog said...

Why, thank you, Tulsa, that's very kind of you to say so.

My mission here is to entertain, so it's reassuring to know that I have occasionally succeeded in that.

My first 'visitor' to this site was a nutter. Then I got a more conventional troll. And now.... an uber-fan!! You're almost more scary than the troll - but in a good way!

Thank you again. I hope I can continue to meet your exacting standards.


I did read it tulsa, but I think my funny standard is different to yours, cos I held myself on the chair all through the post.