My shifts at the hotel on Crete were usually split, four hours each breakfast and dinner, not allowing much down time for anything but writing letters and working on my tan.
I must have had one or two days off a week, even though I can’t remember now, because I wrote to my mum of some of my sight-seeing.
Something I particularly enjoyed was going to nearby Aghios Nikolaos to watch the fishing fleet return each day and sell their catch directly to the villagers from their moorings. Aghios Nikolaos is part of the region of Lasithi. One night I was invited to join a big festival in a nearby village in the mountains. I’ve recorded the name of the village as Lasithi also, but perhaps that is a mistake. Anyway, I was the only non-Greek there for this festival. The singing and dancing went on all night. I love to dance, and the rhythmic music of Crete is very inspiring. It is not hard to learn one of the popular folk dances for both sexes. The dancers rest their arms on each other’s shoulders, or hold raised hands, and move in an eight-step circle back and forward, with the circle always making incremental moves to the right. The dancer on each end is free to improvise, with the men usually showing off their athleticism. The music increases in tempo as the dance progresses, with the dancers driven on by the urgency of the various stringed instruments such as the mandolin and lyre. Even when I returned to Australia a few years later, I still had these movements in my blood. Sadly, not much chance to use them now. But when I lived on Crete, it was not at all unusual to be hanging out at a local taverna when suddenly a group would feel inspired to get up and dance wherever there was space, even if that was in the middle of the road.
I struggled to find a video on the net that gives a reasonable demonstration. Most of them are Cretan dances performed only by men, or the well-known “Zorba’s dance”, which we also did when feeling particularly energetic, or had too much retsina. Here is one that comes close. You can see how the lead dancers change regularly, and the women also get their moment in the sun.
Mohos, the village about ten miles behind Stalis (where I was working) was also known for its festivals, and in the middle of August there was one that lasted two nights. In hindsight I realise it was a religious festival; and I notice from Tripadvisor that this festival is now on the tourist route!
At the time I was there, 1979, the tourists’ exposure to Greek culture was usually from the safety of their hotels, and took place one or two nights a week. Part of our duty as waiters and kitchen staff was to collect the chipped and cracked plates so that we could smash these while professional dancers performed. It fitted the stereotypical image of the time. You get the idea in this short video clip. It’s a minute in before they get to the serious business of smashing the crockery. In our version, all we waiters stood around in a circle and lobbed them in to the hapless dancers. Sotto voce we would be asking each other how many plates we had left, and sharing them amongst our friends so we could be finished sooner and get the heck out of there to go off to our own entertainment. But the tourists seemed to love it.
Modern music was also popular, and one of the local Greek bands asked me to give them the English words to two popular songs at the time. They gave me the tapes and I played them over and over until I could transcribe what the artists were singing. All I will say about that – to all you aspiring singers – is that enunciation is key. I am happy to report that Gloria Gaynor, with I Will Survive was not only easy, but inspiring – – – almost an anthem. Oh heck! What am I saying? There is no doubt in this world that that song was an anthem!
Chris Norman and Suzi Quatro with Stumblin’ In was a challenge. Our love is alivvvve, people. Otherwise it gets transcribed as ‘Our love is a lie‘ which is an entirely different concept. Much as I love Suzi Quatro, particularly the head-bangin’ Devil Gate Drive, and Can the Can, my transcription of Stumblin’ In did not make sense for an awful long time. I’ll also mention in passing, that the haircut she sports in the Stumblin’ In clip was known in Australia as the ‘Shaggy Dog Haircut‘, short on top and long underneath, and for a brief time when I was fourteen or so, I had just such a haircut.
In exchange for the transcription, I asked the group to teach me some traditional Greek songs, and one I have never forgotten is Maria me ta kitrina. In honour of Paol Soren’s recent post on Nana Mouskouri I have linked to her version, even though I don’t find the enunciation as clear as that which I learnt on Crete – such as this one, which I prefer also for the bouzouki music.
So I’ll leave you with this ringing in your ears, in my rusty Cretan and rough English translation:
Maria me ta kitrina – Maria with the yellow dress
pshon (?) agapas kalitera – who do you love more
pshon (?) agapas kalitera – who do you love more
ton antra sou – your husband
o ton gitona – or your neighbour (lover)