June 05, 2016
Kolympari, Crete, Greece
The beginning of June in 2016
Summer comes - with warm everything – weather, sea, and Cretans, and me.
Some words about some of the photos on my most recent Facebook page:
Illustrations of the Greek and Czech alphabets. (I’ll explain . . . later on.)
Wild poppies on the edge of a remote beach in early morning.
The beach at dawn where the poppies grow.
Daily bowls – one for coffee, one for cereal, one for fruit – all Cretan made.
My tango shoes, as used at my birthday party Saturday evening.
My Cretan friends at that party – Tango Night at the Taverna Argentina.
And me, on the last day of my 79th year – in dancing mode.
And now, this:
COMING AND GOING – HITHER, AND THITHER, AND YON
Knock, Knock, Knock
“Yes, who is it?”
“We are the Exit Interview Delegation from the Office of the Olympic Gods.”
“What do you want?”
“We are here to begin the necessary passport procedures for those in the waiting room for the After Life Bus Express.”
“This is the first day of the 80th year of Robert Lee Fulghum, and we wanted to contact him to make a more formal appointment to make arrangements.”
“Sorry, but he’s not here.”
“Where might he be?”
“He’s out – said he was going hither, and thither, and yon.”
“What does that mean?”
“Damned if I know – he says things like that.”
“When will he be back?”
“Probably not for a long time – he said it’s quite a distance between hither and thither, and nobody knows how long it takes to get to yon, but I don’t expect him back anytime soon.”
“We’ll note that down on the interview form.”
“Who did you say you represent?”
“Zeus Services, L.L.C – It’s the Greek division of an international conglomerate.”
“I’ve heard of you – but I didn’t know you were still in business.”
“The brand names change, but the product is the same.”
“Do you offer anything special?”
“No, everybody gets the same ride out on the same bus for the same destination. It’s just that the waiting rooms differ in their décor from time to time and place to place. The Tour Director speaks all languages, of course. But the destination remains the same as it’s always been.”
“Well, I don’t think Mr. Fulghum is at all interested in talking to you anytime soon. He did say that someone from your organization might drop by, and to tell them that whatever they were selling, he was not buying.”
“Well, sooner or later, he has to deal with us.”
“He knows. He said you would have to find him first and then try and catch him.
“We just want to reserve him a place on the bus.”
He doesn’t have any interest in bus rides, actually. He’s traveling on his own.”
“Did he leave any forwarding address or an itinerary?”
“No, he’s fallen in with some Bohemian gypsies and they are never any one place at any one time for long.”
“Well, we’ll be back.”
“Don’t hurry – he won’t be interested in talking to you for a long time.
He did leave a poem for you, by the way. Here it is:”
Give me a seven, give me a nine
Give me a hug, give me a sign
Open the bottle, pour out the wine
Goodtime Bobby’s doing just fine!
Give me an 8, give me an O
Give me a Yes, don’t need a No
There’s no status in status quo!
Goodtime Bobby is on the go.
Look in China, look in France –
Speak to Luck, speak to Chance
Looking for Bobby?”
He’s off to the dance.
“Interesting - but he’ll have to get on the bus, sooner or later.”
“Only if he can be the driver.”
“Is he qualified?”
“Yes. He knows the Way to Yon.”
This is the last web-posting from Crete until next March.
I’m leaving on Wednesday for Prague – to begin a 6 week tour of the Czech Republic, celebrating the publication of a new book, “Crisis in the Cheese Aisle” and performing onstage with the Listovani Flying Circus of actors and dancers.
Bohemians, in every sense of the word.
It’s not such a big shift to move from Greece to what is now called Czechia.
About 10 million citizens in each country. Both with a long history of being overrun by invaders, being dominated by Emperors, Dictators, Popes and Patriarchs, Communists and Fascists, and both victims of the Nazi Germans during World War Two. They know about religious conflict and political persecution first hand. Yet they remain steadfastly just who they are – independent, defiant, strong. They not only have survived the vicissitudes of history, they have prevailed.
Czechs and Greeks are more alike than they are different.
Which is why I feel so at home in both countries.
And to top it all off, the Czech language is based on the Glagolitic Alphabet, invented by two Greek Christian missionaries from Constantinople in the 9th century – St. Cyril and St. Methodius. There is a resonance in the words I hear spoken by Czechs and Greeks. Look at the alphabets – they are more similar in nature than you might first think.
A final set of thoughts and images:
When I first came to Crete and was first exposed to Greek dancing, I was intimidated. When the music began, everybody joined in the line of dance – old people, little children, teenagers - everybody got up and in.
Except me. The fancy footwork done in unison was beyond my skill set.
And I sat.
An old lady came over and said that she knew I was feeling foolish for not dancing, and would feel foolish if I tried, so if I was going to feel foolish anyhow, why not dance? Besides, if I would not dance, they would know I was a fool.
And I thought to myself, “These are Cretans. They are not afraid of the Turks or the Italians or the Germans or the tourists or even Almighty God if they disagree with His policies, and if I am going to be one of them, then I must not be afraid either – certainly not of dancing.”
So. I danced.
Last night at my birthday party two instructors and I demonstrated tango, and then invited the Greeks to give it a try. Nobody moved. So I gave my speech.
“You are Cretans – if not all by birth, at least by conviction – and Cretans are not afraid of anything – certainly not dancing. Get up. Dance.”
And they did.
(All except one lady who was trying to crawl under the table after protesting that she was from Thessaloniki - not a Cretan.)
And then I remembered a night in Prague when some dancers and I demonstrated tango and invited the audience to join us for a lesson.
Nobody moved. And then I said,
“What? You are Czechs! Afraid of nothing. And certainly not dancing. Come on!”
They flooded the floor. And danced.
One more reason why I think of Cretans and Czechs with the same affection.
Afraid? Not them. Of dancing? Never!
One more reason why leaving Crete to go to Prague is an easy journey.
Being there is like being here – dancers abound.
And when we all get to heaven after the bus trip. I will ask to manage the seating arrangement in the Great Hall of Eternity.
The front rows of chairs will be reserved for dancers.
Probably a lot of Czechs and Cretans . . . . . even the lady from Thessaloniki.
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May 29, 2016
Kolympari, Crete, Greece
The end of May, 2016
Calm sea, calm sky, and calm me. . . .
Ongoing news: The katsikis, having seen the tiger move, have not returned to assault the marigolds on my porch. My leaving the fake tiger skin draped over a chair at night seems to have served its purpose. It might spring to life again . . .
But goats are wily little buggers, and when they figure this out, they’ll be back.
STONED IN CRETE – plus snapshots and postcards from the life . . .
First, an explanation of some of the photos on my Facebook page:
Itinerant Albanian stone masons are building a wall along the road to my house.
I watch them with pleasure as they perform a rhythmic acrobatic ballet – lifting a stone, measuring it in its destined place with the experienced eyes – swinging it back to the ground – shaping it with blows of a hammer – troweling on a layer of cement – and then swinging the stone up and into place, where it fits perfectly.
This is fine art.
There are stone walls still standing all over this island that were built across thousands of years of human occupation.
Walls still in use.
I wish my art could stand that test of utility and time.
I wonder if the Albanian stone masons ever think how long their work will last.
This island of Crete is largely limestone – gazillions of tiny sea creatures dying and floating down to layer a seabed over gazillions of years, which was thrust up by tectonic movement into land that is now quarried for stones for walls and buildings that last almost forever.
My house is one of these stone structures – unique in that, when excavating into the cliff face, a spring of water was found in the rocks, and we included that in the back wall of the living room – as the photos on my Facebook page show.
In a way, you might say I live stoned in Crete.
SHORT MORNING VIDEO
There is a bug in my bathroom sink.
It is struggling to climb out of its slippery ceramic trap.
What kind of bug? – I don’t know – I don’t care – a bug, that’s all.
You know – you’ve had bugs in your sink.
In the early morning mood of an irritated alligator, I instinctively react to the bug.
Turning on the water full force, I sluice it down the black hole of the drain into the oblivion of the underworld – out of sight, out of mind.
I can wash my face now without the threat of an insect in my space.
Another damned bug – in the kitchen sink this time – struggling to climb the white walls of its doom – falling back – desperately trying to find a way out.
Meanwhile, I have slowly emerged from the nocturnal mindset of a reptile into something more wholly human as I moved between the bathroom and the kitchen. Something in my better nature stays my hand from automatically washing another tiny creature away.
This is not just a bug, but a roundish armored tank the size of a bean – but even its many legs cannot move it up the white walls of the sink. Again and again and again it climbs up, only to fall back, rolling itself into a small ball as it falls.
I call it a “pill bug” – I don’t know what it calls itself.
Holding a small piece of paper towel in front of it, I offer it a safe rescue.
When it climbs aboard, I take it outside where I have noticed other creatures like it.
Live and let live.
Returning to the bathroom to finish my morning ablutions, I find the first bug is back in the sink, having survived the deluge and heroically climbed up out of the drain to resume its assault on the summit of the sink.
I notice it now – really look at it - a singularly small spider with black and white polka dots on its back and orange and white stripes on its head.
A highly complex creature whose ancestry is far, far older than mine.
It can make silk and spin a web that is strong, symmetrical, and utilitarian.
The same cannot be said about me.
And. It, too, has a will to live – to prevail – to survive.
It does not register my presence.
All I have to do is turn on the really hot water and cook it into oblivion, and then wash it down the sink.
I am Doom. I am Death. I am the Destroyer of Bugs. I am God!
Or was – earlier in the morning.
But now, admiring the spider’s tenacity, feeling a solidarity with its will to live, astonished at its courage to fight on, I stand back to think.
I become the Agent of Mercy and Grace.
If not me, who?
So I place my little finger just in front of it so that if it is to climb on up, it must climb up on me.
Is it silly to say I feel accepted, forgiven and trusted?
Yes. But I do.
Carefully I put my finger down in a corner of the bathroom and the spider climbs off and on to its destiny.
When I look around after my shower, the spider is moving on up the wall.
Alive . . . like me.
When I was in high school I was a voracious reader – and the librarian took note and selected books for me that I might not choose for myself. One of these was by Albert Schweitzer in which I found this sentence:
“The most immediate fact of man’s consciousness is the assertion “I am life that wills to live in the midst of life that wills to live” – it was the basis for his great notion of Reverence for Life.
(If you don’t know about or have forgotten about this extraordinary human being, go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Schweitzer before reading on.)
The test of my integrity is not in how I perform on the stage of the world before the audience of my fellow human beings.
The test of my values must always come when I am alone – when nobody else is looking or can know.
When I must act in the smallest, most ordinary ways, if my beliefs are to be brought to life and expressed in deeds, not just words.
So why am I telling you this?
Not to display my virtues – for my reverence for life does not extend to mosquitos.
But because you, too, are alone sometimes in the early morning.
And you, too, are confronted with a bug in your sink.
And you might take comfort at knowing that somewhere in the world, at even the same time, a man is considering a bug – reaching for the better part of himself, to have reverence for his own life as well as that of the bug in the sink.
Lest I become too serious, here’s the goofy side of life with bugs.
An account from a previous time in Crete.
“So what is it you do in Crete?”
People often ask me that.
As if to imply that it would be boring sitting on a beach in Greece doing nothing year after year.
A funny thought, since, outside, as I write tonight, it is cold and windy and raining. And the closest beach is too rocky to sit around on, anyhow.
So what do I do?
Last night some silly friends and I drank a little too much wine and out of desperation for entertainment, started the Bug Olympics.
The first event is the Rolling Down Hill and Walking Away Contest.
Each one of us found one of those little fast-crawling armored pill bugs.
We touched them gently to make them roll up into a ball, and then using a piece of paper, scooped them up, held them in line at the top of an inclined cookie sheet, and let go at the count of three.
The bugs rolled down and out onto the stone floor.
The first bug that got up and walked away was the winner.
My bug, Manolis, won 5 times in a row.
A Gold Medal Bug.
Another night. Another round of wine and bug racing.
A truly fine wine.
Dark, almost black, red wine - Aghiorghitiko grapes from Nemae in the Peloponnnese region, near Corinth.
Three glasses and now it is Olympics Time.
“Let’s find some bugs, and race them again.”
“I already have mine – the gold medal winner from last time: Manolis.”
“How do you know it’s the same bug?”
“Do not insult my coaching integrity. I know my bug. Look, he’s over there in the corner, running in circles. He’s pumped.”
“Looks like a bigger bug to me than the one you raced last time.”
“He has been in training.”
“How do we know he isn’t using supplements or steroids?”
“So find your own bigger bugs. The Mighty Manolis takes on all-comers!”
While my wonky friends are scouting for talent around the porch, I get Manolis ready. A little pep talk from the coach: “Now these other guys will be big, but they won’t be fast, and they don’t know the drill, so roll as far as you can, and then don’t wait, get up and run like hell.”
So the cookie tin was produced and set in place; my two companions found the biggest free-ranging pill bugs on the porch; the three little armored contestants were held at the starting line; and on the count of three, let go to roll down the slope and across the stone floor.
The two big bugs stayed in a rolled up position, but the Mighty Manolis was up and running in a nanosecond.
Go Manolis! The winner and champion once again.
I went to find a very tiny olive leaf to crown the victor, but by the time I got back he was gone – too shy for the glory, I suppose.
Humble bug. Class act.
The other two big bugs were still there tucked up in a ball. My desperate friends resorted to stimulants - put a drop of wine on each one to get them up and going. Nothing. Maybe the bugs are drunk. Or possibly dead. Besides, giving your bug a stimulant is bug-doping – against the rules. Banned from further racing.
So now you know why I was so careful to rescue the pill bug in the kitchen sink.
Might be the Son of Manolis . . . .
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May 20, 2016
Kolympari, Crete, Greece
Friday, the 20th day of May, 2016
Grey sky, leaden sea, muggy air – the promise of an afternoon thunderstorm.
Update: The Katsikis have seen the tiger.
They have not returned . . . HA!
WEAVING THE LIFE . . .
The photos posted on my Facebook page are from my collection of antique Cretan items made as bridal dowries.
Families raised the goats and sheep; men sheared the animals; women spun the wool, dyed it with natural colors, and wove these fabrics on hand-looms.
The intensity of the work, the skill and talent and artistic taste involved astound me. Most were created in the early 20th century – some are even older.
Such things are not created today.
My friend, Costas Liapakis, has found these items in various villages, and passed them along to me because I appreciate them, unlike many modern Cretans who
prefer synthetic materials which are much easier to clean.
These beautiful fabrics were created by young brides with the help of their sisters, mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and cousins – as part of the dowry they would bring with them to furnish their new home after their marriage.
Some of the material has the soft, faded look and feel that comes from long use.
And some look brand new as if they have never been used.
Each piece has a history – a story – out of the lives of those who created them.
The used pieces have had a long life.
The new pieces tell a sad story – having been made for the betrothal or marriage to young men who went off to the Second World War and never returned alive.
The brides became instant widows, who put dowry goods away in a trunk, never to see the light of day until they too, died or desperately needed money in old age.
If these beautiful weavings could talk, they would have tales to tell.
As it is, they only speak to me in my imagination – leaving me sad sometimes when I take them out of my chests to air them and enjoy their loveliness.
I treat these artifacts of love and marriage with respect – knowing they don’t belong to me – but being willing to preserve them and give them to a museum someday.
And in the meantime, listening to the eloquent, but mute, language they speak.
It is my honor to be in their presence.
Their history is woven into mine.
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May 18, 2016
Kolympari, Crete, Greece
Wednesday, the 18th day of May, 2016
A clear day – sky the indelible blue of the Greek flag, reflected in the calm sea.
KATSIKI COMBAT CONTINUES
The photos on my Facebook page are an odd collection.
I will explain.
To bring color to the drab stones of my porch, I bought a flat of 9 marigold plants.
I forgot that these flowers are intoxicating to the katsikis – the gang of goats that hang about the ridge above my house – but I know what happened.
“Look, he has put out dessert! Tonight, after dark, we go . . .”
And so they came.
At three a.m. – bong, bong, bong.
Fuljumakis was up and out and at them – wielding a broom, shouting obscenities in
Greek and English and unknown tongues.
And Fuljumakis tied a string across the top of the stairs, with one end attached to a plastic pail filled with metal kitchen utensils.
They came again – at four a.m. – stealthily down from the cliff, up over the back wall onto the porch – bong, bong, bong.
Fuljumakis arose to the fray, rushing out onto the porch again with broom in hand,
And – you can see this coming, can’t you – he got tangled up in his string trap and pulled over the bucket of kitchen utensils with a mighty clanged clang.
Scaring him spitless and even driving the katsikis away.
He moved the remains of the marigolds into the house for safety.
Undaunted, the katsikis came again – at five a.m. – bong, bong, bong.
This time, Fuljumakis only taunted them from inside the house – HA! Ha!
But the gang of goats are hard to intimidate – they will be back.
And Fuljumakis will be ready for them.
This explains the photos of him in his tiger outfits – imitation feline rugs he found in a children’s toy store in Kastelli.
The katsikis have probably never seen a tiger – there are none in Crete.
Until now. . .
You can imagine what will happen tonight - a night for the katsikis to remember.
“RUN RUN RUN! What the hell was that?”
Maybe . . .
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May 16, 2016
Kolympari, Crete, Greece
Monday, the 16th of May, 2016
Rain and wind cleared away the dust from the Sahara, leaving a cloudless
sky and the air sweet with the smell of oleanders in bloom.
I’ve been reading through essays and stories written from Crete more than 10 years ago – wondering what has changed and what has not. There was a time when sheep and goats regularly invaded my yard – especially at night.
I laughed when I re-read those encounters. And then . . . last night, just at dusk, I saw the sheep and goats on the hill above my house. They have not changed. Here we go again . . .
Three in the morning. My mind is unthreading. I’ve just come from the back veranda where I’ve glimpsed a retreating horde of four-legged rugs. All white. I swear to God I think they were sheep.
It’s bad enough to be under attack by goats. But sheep?
Another clue: Goats meander around with bongety-bong-bong bells and make a variable pitched sound as they come: “nyah-eh-eh-eh-eh” – like bursts of distant machine-gun fire. Sheep wear bingly-bangly-bingly bells, but do not, as you might believe, go “baa-baa.” Actually, they make a wretched vomiting noise: “bluhech-ech-eheh-ech.”
And what was on my porch were sheep.
Or goats with a chronic smoker’s cough.
Maybe the goats hang out with a renegade band of mutant feral sheep. I can imagine the conversation: “Hey. Want to have some fun? Go up on this guy’s porch tonight. We’re driving him mad. A sheep visitation ought to kink his hose good. And there’s always some interesting stuff to eat.”
This particular night I had decided to test a local expert’s conviction that “goats will eat anything – cardboard, tin cans, glass – anything that has the flavor of food on it.” Right.
Resorting to scientific research, I bought several bunches of faded artificial flowers (made in China.) And left out bait - two unwashed tuna-fish cans, an empty Cheerio’s box, the dead end of a jar of peanut butter, an apple juice carton, a slab of moldy tofu left behind by a guest, and several tiny bars of hotel soap.
Come and get it.
And come they did.
The rancid little buggers chewed up most of my largesse, and scattered the rest down the driveway, having gnashed chunks out of everything they didn’t consume completely. Apparently ate the tofu, the artificial flowers, and the soap. Even smashed up the peanut butter jar - pieces were missing. And the tuna-fish cans had toothy dents in them. Scary.
Maybe they were white goats, you say.
Maybe they were the legendary saber-toothed sheep, I say.
No such thing, you say.
Well, I’ve seen what I’ve seen.
I know what I know.
The “katsikis” – goats – have been grazing around the house in the middle of the night again. They always seem to find a way through the fence. And they like my fuchsias. The big “Iatros” – the black Billy goat capitainos - gives his group away because he has a huge bell hung around his neck. Last night I left the kitchen door wide open, with a cooking pot and a ladle handy. When I heard the bong-bong-bonging around two a.m., I moved stealthily through the house in the dark, picked up the pot and ladle, and charged out the door into the patio. WHANG WHANG WHANG YOU EVIL LITTLE SONSABITCHS!
And found myself between the Iatros and his clan. The old Billy charged me, head down and bonging big time. Naked and shoeless, I fled down the back ramp and up the steps to the front door. Which, of course, was locked. There in the moonlight, the Billy and I confronted each other. I threw the pot and ladle down the stairs at him and he was off. But where? The bonging had stopped. He was out there somewhere. Waiting. Creeping down the stairs with a porch chair held in front of me, I set a record for the around-the-house-naked-in-the-midnight-moonlight event. As I crawled back into bed I heard the Billy’s bonging going off down the hillside. I guess he and his herd had enough amusement for one night.
The katsikis will be back. They are hard to intimidate. I am not about to go back outside again to chase them off. But I have put the stereo speakers in the kitchen windows. A full blast of the Rolling Stones ought to give the arrogant little four-legged mothers something to think about. I need their album, “Goats Head Soup.” (To be continued . . .)
That was then.
This is now.
And this morning I noticed the goats and sheep a little closer – staring down at me with their slanty eyes.
I wonder if they remember?
Bring them on.
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