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weddings and christenings are good, along with the wine-making and olive harvest
on 3 December 2016
The style is reminiscent of letters home from an expat - it's not about Crete, it's about the impression Crete made on the writer (who is the central character, along with her daughter). The descriptions of the Easter celebration, weddings and christenings are good, along with the wine-making and olive harvest, and I mooted giving an extra star for that, but it was counterbalanced by the lack of Oxi Day and by the accounts of friends visiting from abroad (and I thought the criticism of the bus company was unfounded - yes the internet timetable details were a mess at one time, might still be, but the printed timetables from the bus station are correct, though buses can always be delayed by unforeseen events).
Wannabe emigres may find the information Christie supplies useful, it's pretty much as things are and as many expats see them but it leaves the impression of Britain with sunshine, olives and people who are nicer than us which is probably a misconception, considering the feuds and crimes some of them engage in - but they are nice to foreigners.
But the vision of Crete as being about beaches, barbecues and pool parties is very shallow, considering what the island offers, while regarding the wildlife, even if it is only the 6-leg and up wildlife, as just being in need of extermination is sad. She flicks big blue(?) centipedes from the salad bowl into the garden, though these may well be poisonous Scolopendra, and slaughters harmless darkling beetles that just want to eat decayed vegetation. A fence is needed to keep snakes out (would that work?) though there are no dangerous Cretan snakes. She doesn't mention the scorpions which are admittedly hard to find unless you root around in dank dark holes. She suggests that black clothes are a fashion choice (the olive stains don't show), when they are usually an obligation showing respect for a deceased relative or partner.
Crete is magnificent: in its small expanse it contains mountains that dwarf those of Scotland, plunging gorges, highland plateaus, lowland plains and great valleys. Much of its flora and fauna is unique. Its history is tremendous, both geologically and in human terms. Yet this is not even acknowledged.
Today, a buzzard swooped straight at my car, then soared to settle in a carob tree beside me, I could see the mottled belly plumage before it flew off. A little further on, a farmer had half a sheep carcass hanging from a bulldozer bucket, the entrails steaming in a tin bath nearby. Beyond that grisly scene the vast panorama of the snow-capped Lefki Ora mountains spread out before me, while cloud funnelled like steam down the valley from Kalikratis to Argiroupolis. Cloud shade dulled the olive trees but each one had a silvery halo as the light caught its topmost leaves, covering distant hillsides with faint silver orbs. Near Filaki, the limestone blocks edging the terraces look so regular and large that they could be the walls of an ancient city rather than a rocky outcrop - perhaps they are, Crete is awash with ancient ruins. Over towards Chania, the turning to Aptera takes you to the huge walls at the entrance to the pre-Roman city, up there are gigantic cisterns built by the Romans to secure the water supply and nearby are the tumbled columns of a Roman villa, and an amphitheatre too, while the ancient city wall meanders for miles, most of it just a ruinous stump of its former glory.
Surely these sorts of things (or there are lots of them) deserve a mention in a book for people who might think of moving to Crete, because it would not be hard to get very bored if your horizon is bounded by the sea on one side and the beachside tavernas on the other.
On the food side (and I don't know how she lost weight, either!) there are some good recipes, not all Greek by any means, but I disagree with her insistence that you don't need to peel or seed tomatoes, it really does improve a sauce and scoring the skin and putting each tomato in boiling water for 10 seconds isn't hard. There's no Imam Baildi, no Papoutsakia, no Fak'es, no Moussaka, no Pastitsio or Meat in Red Sauce very little use of flat-leaf parsley (which is ubiquitous) ... but maybe that's how she lost the weight!
Unlike her I find Crete very cheap to live in, but it depends how you live. Eating out is pricey, as are exotic (i.e. British) food ingredients, but pork is very cheap - 2.30 euros a kilo for belly pork or a shoulder that will make a decent joint or stew. Whole chickens are cheap, too, and can be jointed to make several meals - buy buying just breasts or legs is expensive. Veg from the farmers' markets is cheap (20p a pound for good tomatoes is not pricey) and excellent if you stick to the staples - aubergine, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, potatoes, parsley, cauliflower etc but cheeses are expensive, so are cooked or processed meats and pots of Fage yoghurt. Bread flour (type 505) from Lidl is only 65c a kilo so you can make a split-tin loaf for 30c, which is much better than the everlasting, semi-stale "tost" loaves they sell (with sell by dates stretching into months, sometimes) and means you can make British-style sarnies if you like. Fresh Greek breads are very good but need eating immediately and cost four times the price of making your own, the flaky pastry pies - sweet bougatsa or savoury zambon me tiri (ham and cheese ) - are good, too, but fattening.
Beef and lamb are costly and mostly as tough as old boots. The Cretan trick of boiling them for ages in olive oil, red wine and tomatoes saves them but roasts or even a British stew tend to be a disaster. Fish is expensive but should be good. What did she say about mountains of meat on a barbecue with plenty of good wine every Saturday? That could knock a 100 euro hole in the catering budget each week.
The wine is not expensive, either, if you drink the very variable local brews that come in plastic bottles at less than 3 euros for 1.5 litres (equivalent to about a quid for a standard bottle), but if you want a carefully standardised Cretan wine with a proper label and glass bottle you could pay 5, 10 or 15 euros for 0.7 litres.
In short, live like a peasant, cook everything for yourself and stick to the cheap options and you can live very cheaply, try to keep up with the expats, eating at tavernas constantly and looking for all the stuff you're used to and it gets expensive.
Finally, if you're thinking of buying in Crete, be aware that the large, new-build villas with swimming pools outside the old town limits are subject to all sorts of hefty taxes. The small, old stone houses inside traditional villages are lightly taxed (but uninsurable as they don't have any earthquake-proofing).
Oh, and the constant attention required by swimming pools is costly and annoying. Most people find that they don't like having them after they've got them.