(*The following is a teaser excerpt from my book Uniquely Crete: Life Redefined on a Greek Island to be released April 30 – available for preorder now on Amazon)
I have a love affair with maps: Old out-of-date ones or slick, still-crispy new ones. It doesn’t matter what condition they’re in. As long as there’s a longitude and latitude, I’m mesmerized. Wanderlust is in my family genes. My father was constantly on the move traveling for business and making it pleasure; the more exotic the destination, the better. He came home with stories of magical places and the people who populated them. His memories were the wings under my imagination from a young age. But moving to a Mediterranean island was never on my radar, and definitely beyond my imagination.
We arrived in Crete on a hot August day in 2009 during the season when the island hums with the buzz of a billion cicadas and the heat drives locals and tourists alike to the cool waters of the sea. When my husband and I decided to pick up our lives and relocate to a Mediterranean island, my idea of what to expect was vague at best. We were both old enough to be settled into our careers but still young enough to embrace change. Only married for two years, we were still navigating the difficult territory of yours, mine, and ours that is inevitable with second marriages. Your car, my car, your house, my house, your kids, my kids, your friends, my friends, your cats, my dogs. We wanted to grasp onto something that was totally, unconditionally ours. Moving abroad was an opportunity to go out into the unknown hand in hand and make it our adventure, our life, our mess…together. And at times, it was messy…very messy. Brilliantly messy.
Crete is an island like no other, knit together by family, faith and food. It is crazy and chaotic and captivating. A part of Greece, yet apart from Greece. Separated by a vast expanse of Mediterranean Sea from its mother country, Crete stands on its own with its feet firmly planted in a culture that has evolved over 5000 years. The centuries of unwelcome foreign occupation only strengthened the fiercely independent spirit of its people. This independence is exhibited in the dance, stories, food and traditions that are exclusive to the island. Crete holds to its own traditions with stubborn determination, and takes a certain pride in being dubbed the “bastard hillbilly child” of mainland Greece. Cretans are a tough group of survivalists with a creative bent. They have to be in order to eek out a living on this land. Its very landscape requires a tough hand to tame it.
At first blush, Crete seems stuck in time. Change comes slowly to the island. But it does come, as sure as the winter waves that undulate on its rocky shores; as sure as the seasons that nurture the island culture. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus said, “Everything changes and nothing stands still. The road uphill and the road downhill are one and the same.” Circumstances in our life take on different meaning depending on how we see them. Different people can travel the same road and see completely different views.
Living in Crete as a foreigner was a lesson in adapting to the unpredictable. We never knew what joys or struggles waited for us just around the corner. But one thing is certain…you can’t come to Crete and leave unchanged. This magical island in all its wackiness and wonder has the power to charm and fascinate, bend and break, redefine and recreate.