Saturday, September 08, 2007

Images from the past

Fifteen months after purchase, I finally got around to unpacking and installing a scanner that scans slides and photo negatives a couple of days ago. I bought it not long after Rachel's wedding, meaning to start the task of producing a digital archive of family photographs, but never felt well enough to get to grips with the project. We have thousands of hardcopy images from the sixties to the end 2000. I bought my first digital camera in 2001.

In one of the containers where I keep my travel photos, I found some loose negatives and slides that were dirty and scratched, dating back to the early seventies. There were pictures of Clare and I with Katherine and Rachel, both under three, that someone with us had taken and passed on to us. We couldn't afford much photography in those days. Two pictures in particular we could date back to the summer of 1968. That famous 'Summer of Love' we spent, a second year running, back-packing in Crete.

The first year we met an olive farmer, Yanni Moutakis, who befriended us gave us hospitality. The photos were of him, smiling and giving a thumbs-up, and of us with him and his mother and the wife of our companion on the second occasion, Sylvia. Her husband Laurie, a fellow student took the photo slides, and thanks to the scanner they came back to life again on my computer screen some thirty nine years later.

The first year, we stayed a week, the second time a fortnight on his farm. I was bearded, but not yet long haired, nor attired as a hippie, though we knew all the Beatles songs - let's face it, we were both pretty 'straight'. I was studying Greek, being at St Michael's Theological College Llandaff, and taking an interest in Orthodoxy. Clare was much more confident than I was about communicating, using the only Greek phrasebook available to travellers in those days. That was fine for Yanni. Despite language limitations he knew who we were as a young married couple. I was the 'theologos apo Galles', so we were welcome guests at Betrothal and Baptism celebrations in mountain villages, and attended the usual Sunday Liturgy in the local parish church, not to mention the Feasts of the Transfiguration (our wedding anniversary) and the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, both occasions of local village 'festas'.

Every social gathering was a family event, accompanied by wild Cretan music and dancing, in which we endeavoured to join - Clare excelling herself in an emulation of the Highland Fling to a hot Cretan dance called the Sousta, meriting the smashing of many plates beneath her feet. We were the only foreign visitors, and their hearts opened to us. In that Year of the Colonels' time of dictatorship, friends from outside meant something to the older people who'd fought for their freedom. There was freshly killed and roasted lamb, cucumber and feta cheese and much, in retrospect, horrid pink local wine to wash it down with. Not a bottle of lager in sight, and the water was cool pure, straight from mountainside wells.

Yanni took us out and about to visit Moni Arkadi, now a famous tourist site, then a simple monastery with a story to tell about resistance to the Nazi occupation, 25 years earlier. We met monks who had helped the partisans, if not actually been partisans, and we learned to drink Raki, and survive. On one occasion he took us to a photographer, and we were invited to robe in Cretan national costume for a formal photo. That black and white image still sits on the window shelf in the lounge, as it has done wherever we've gone in the years since it was taken. Most who don't know its story don't recognise us, posing therein as warrior and maiden.

When we returned to Crete after a 25 year absence, we went looking for Yanni. We found that the tiny hamlet of Platanos outside Rethymnon on the north central coast of the island was now a small town, with a substantial holiday complex attached to it - Village Moutakis. We asked around and found that Nicos, Yanni's brother ran a hotel with a bar near what had been the bus stop in the village where Yanni had first greeted us in his inimitable broken English: "Goodbye, you must be Eeenglish, come stay with me."

Here we learned that Yanni had died young in the early eighties, having worked with the family to take the village from peasant subsistence farming to a sound place in the island's international tourism economy. He took us to see Yanni's tomb, also to see the farmhouse where Laurie had snapped Mama, Yanni, Sylvia, Clare and I, with a huge green mound of freshly picked bamias (okra) taking pride of place in the foreground.

Sadly, with the onset of children and decades of economy camping holidays, our hoped for return was over-long delayed. We lost touch, as Yanni didn't have enough English to reply to our letters, and must have been busy anyway, developing his land and his community, to have time to think of us, although he did once send us a large can of olives as a present, and a much treasured reel tape of Cretan music, which made it to cassette and then to CD. For years it was the only 'foreign' music we played, reminding us of adventures which opened us to Europe and initiated us into the way meetings and hospitality influenced the way we live, right down to today. Our lives owe so much gratitude to that big hearted man who befriended us. It's hard to believe that it's already forty years ago last month since we first met.

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