and Good Reading
The Chania Town News: Author: David Bullis.
Chapter six (Apostolis's Shop) is a pearl. If you are coming, or have been to Chania you must read this! All is most definitely not what it seems on 'Odos Machairadika.' Or Odos Sifaka as it is now known. Far from being the ancient Greek knife maker his presentation indicates - Apostolis (the knife maker) turns out to have
been born (of Greek extraction) in Turkey, makes mostly knife handles these days and does not sell a special kind of knife called an 'Armenis.' He and his father took 'Armenis' - meaning Armenian - as their trade name when the locals who bought their knives began to call them 'Armenis Knives' because Apostolli and his father (who could not then speak Greek) were at first taken to be Armenians! This chapter is
full of "now you see it, now you don't" - a real eye-opener, real life and real history. A pearl.
The next couple of chapters - 'Yorgos's Bakery' and 'Spring Rain' - both about what the titles suggest are nice! The Description of Yiorgo and his wife baking the days bread is almost poetry. Spring Rain is a thunderstorm as the author sits in a Chania park - a bird bathing in the huge droplets. The author seems to combine a description of an airline flight avoiding such storms
and his own feet on the ground experience in the park without any incongruity. The pictures which accompany both also seem to fit the text perfectly.
Chapter 12 - 'A Day on the Quay' (at the Kyma Cafe) is to my mind an illustration of what Douglas Bullis is not at his best at. Describing people...... He seems to turn his description of a whole day on the harbour-side into a hotchpotch of Americanised neologisms, then into, at times, pure flights of fancy (have a look at the 'Volta Hour' - particularly his descriptions of the balloon seller and particularly the descriptions of the balloons).
'Musical chairs' Is a neat but impossibly short sketch with the snippets of conversation between Douglas and Marlena - real though they may have been - seeming totally improbable.
'Time Immemorial' (Chapter 15) is another of those magical mixes of conversation Douglas Bullis is best at. This time two separate conversations during a car journey. One with Michaelis (Rokka Carpets) brother-in-law Manoulis . One with Michaelis himself - mostly about some of the old Cretan customs; about weaving; about wool; about dyes; about the past in Chania. About olives. The
first, with the ancient and maybe cantankerous Manoulis ("thirty years in Chicago ........... thirty years is too long anywhere!") is based upon Manoulis's unabashed and unstoppable homespun philosophy, which sounds like it came straight from Al-Capone himself. Good reading.
'Sunday Morn' (Chapter 17) A word painting in prose and poetry. I think that this is part of the true Bullis writing aim. It clicks - you can see the pictures he describes as you read. Share his vision..... I liked it a lot.
Chapter 18 'The menu of the Hands.' Outstanding. The evening Volta in the Venetian Harbour - is about the realities of working the cafe's and tavernas; about the best 'Shill' (taverna tout) in Chania - a superb description of the man at work, well worth a read. Not forgetting the disguised 'fishing boat' with an unusual turn of speed....
'Down by the Docks' (Chapter 22). Take a walk with Douglas down to the east end of the Venetian Harbour while he waxes (or for me wanes) increasingly lyrical from a brilliant start to what can only be a poetically rhetorical question. I was disappointed with this one - but you might like it.
Chapter23 (Rodhopou And Diktynna). Dinner with Marlena at the Fortezza restaurant on the sea wall side of the Venetian harbour. If you have visited the harbour and had one of those illustrated 'Fortezza' cards pushed into your hands on the landward quay, and then walked on - this is what you were missing. A magnificent sunset (most of them are in summer) over the Rodopos Peninsula - the magnificent Lefka Ori Mountains facing the restaurant to the south; the illuminated old harbour opposite and to the right, and in the book at least, the legend of Dytynna - as related by Marlena. Nothing is said about the food or the restruant itself, but then Douglas was getting ready to leave Crete and maybe is was distracted by the poignancy of the situation....
'The Groves of Episkopi' (Chapter24). Sheep-shearing at Episkopi. Australian sheep-shearing films can be fascinating - power shears and all. Cretan sheep shearing is still for the most part done with manual sheers. This chapter gives a magnificent description of shearing at it's very best - complete with photographs and once again gives the reader the impression of being there - even down to the special meal which takes place afterwards. Sadly this latter is not included in the description apart from a couple of photographs. I liked this chapter a lot.
Chapter 25 (Cretan Wine). The final chapter is based upon the day of October 8, 1970. Perhaps on Douglas's first visit - I am not sure. It describes harvesting the grapes for Cretan wine - and claims historical records going back as far as 1420 for it's export. Full of historic detail, the chapter is also full of the life. The preliminary breakfast; gathering the crop; lunching in the fields; taking the crop home; the traditional treading (which still goes on in the mountain villages); and the evening celebratory meal. By which time many of the participants are fairly full of Cretan wine themselves. Having done this personally, and having my own barrel of Cretan wine - and a large exhibited photograph taken of the juice filtering from an old press as the grapes were troden, this chapter was definitely for me. Very real. Even now. If you can never experience this event - more itself not a day out of your life but rather an additional day in, you can at least get a bottle of Cretan wine and read this chapter while you drink it!!
So is the book worth a read? On the whole, as the sum of it's parts, maybe not.
The book is really, for me, an amalgamation of four different views of life in Chania.
The second view appears on the many of pages as what seem to be factual side notes. Almost mini pages within pages. Maybe these are the authors' own notes - straightforward and factual. Useful. I liked these.
The third and fourth views are the very old illustrations and modern (mostly looking like digital paintings) photographs. (Or maybe paintings looking like digital photographs). Anyone wondering about the history of Chania will find the illustrations interesting. The modern pictures - not for me. Maybe because I like colour. One or two are good and to be honest the majority do fit the overall style of the book.
Did I buy a copy - I certainly did.