I’ve been living here in Crete for just under four months now and I’ve got to say that this is one of the most remarkable places I’ve ever been; the town of Chania especially. I’ve lived in some pretty awesome places over the years; Barcelona, Marbella, Ibiza, Aix-en-Provence, Florence, Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Puerto Plata. They’ve all been great, but none of them were as healthy as Chania. I say healthy because cities are like people to me, and some cities are healthier than others. By health I’m referring to that vibe you get when you walk through a town. The smell of the air. The expressions on the faces of the people you see in the street. The way the city FEELS.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE VIBE. From the smallest village to the greatest metropolis, I’ve found that every town has its own unique combination of sweetness and bitterness. It’s as if each place were a collective creation of all the people who had ever lived there. From the residents of the distant past, to the present day dwellers. The pavement is permeated with their cumulative presence. Buildings are imbued with their collective souls. These are invisible ghosts to be sure, but I believe they’re the thing that makes you want to weep from the beauty of it all when it’s raining in Venice. Or the reason why your heart wants to explode when you see sunlight filtering down through grape vines in a village in Provence.
Along with their many blessings, cities and towns are also plagued by the ghosts of the past. Every city I’ve been in has always had its own subtle blend of emotional baggage; its own little malady that infects all of its inhabitants. Of course some residents carry it more than others, but to some degree everyone is infected with it. If you live there long enough, it begins to infect you too. Maybe it’s a certain dryness of character, or an ugly tinge of self-satisfaction. I’ve lived in cities thinly veiled in indifference. I’ve visited isolated mountain villages that were steeped in fear and distrust. I’m speaking of subtleties here, and I think that when we feel love or hatred for a city, it’s only because of the way we resonate with that city’s underlying vibe. A city is like a person. Some you love, some you can’t abide, and others you feel neutral about. And just as no seasoned person is free from emotional baggage, no city is either, at least that’s what I thought until now.
I’ve yet to be able to detect any kind of social malady in Chania. None whatsoever. This is by far the most healthy city I’ve ever lived in. You would think this would be impossible given the economic state of Greece at the time that I write this. You would think people here would be disgruntled and anti-social, but the exact opposite is true. The cafes, bars, and restaurants are always full of locals. The residents are relaxed, pleasant, and mentally stable. Sure you will see the occasional long face, and I’ve definitely seen some scowling in traffic jams, but Chania is a city on planet Earth, so that’s only to be expected. When I say healthy, I’m referring to that subtle background vibration. I’ll often find myself walking around this town with a puzzled look on my face; asking myself the same questions over and over again. What is it with this place? How can everything and everyone be so alright…?
The only theory I’ve been able to come up with revolves around life experience. How long have people lived on this island? How old is this city? I know that the Venetians built it in the sixteenth century, but it goes way back beyond that; back to the Phoenicians, and further back still to when Crete was the centre of the Minoan civilization; the oldest civilization in Europe (2700–1420 BC).
Life experience. That’s the only possible answer. The healthy vibe I feel on this island exists because people have been living here together for so long that they’ve gotten really, really good at it. Cretans are expert “livers”. Their collective consciousness is imbued with a knowledge of coexisting that supercedes anything I’ve ever encountered before. So much so that they can find themselves in the grips of a terrible financial crisis and shrug it off as though it wasn’t even a problem. Think Anthony Quinn’s character in “Zorba The Greek” and you’ll get the idea of what I’m talking about. That movie was based on a novel written by a very famous Cretan author/poet/visionary named Nikos Kazantzakis. I can only say that he knew his island very well.
It’ll be with a light heart that I leave this place two weeks from now. I know I’ll inevitably be exposed to those subtle social maladies that infect the cities and towns of the world, but I’ll be comforted in knowing that this magical island exists. If I ever grow weary of humanity and it’s ways, I’ll simply come back here to be among these people again; these “expert livers”, and that’s alright by me. While I’m able I will keep on travelling, right up until the day comes to settle down. I’ll most likely live in many more places, and experience many more cultures, but I doubt that I’ll ever find a place like this. Crete is a beautiful mountainous island on the Aegean Sea. It’s steeped in the stuff of myths and legends and ancient civilizations. I’m sure to come back to it at some point. Who knows, maybe I’ll end up here for good.