much happened since our last post. both of our laptops were broken in the hands of ryanair. foot pain from a previous surgery caused me to tentatively schedule surgery for december 29th. and the blog was missing in action.
please hit fastfoward with me past our secluded apartment on syros. through some terrible flights on ryanair (“thank you, but no, for the hundredth time, i would not like to buy £300 perfume on this £30 flight.”) through a week in grey scotland with sunny friends.through a week in serbia spent primarily outside coffee shops with blankets and conversation for warmth. and all the way to the city of iraklio (i said time was wonky before. now do you believe me?).
after two days in the port city of iraklio, we went from tourists to hosts. using guide books and internet lists, we completed an itinerary just minutes before our friends’ plane touched down: museums, wineries, palaces, and seaside forts awaited them. we felt pressured to show them the “real” crete (whatever that meant) and to leave them with the “right” story to tell about the island. quickly, we remembered our friends were visiting us from london. as long as sun had been in the storyline, they would have been satisfied.
on their last morning, looking to eek out whatever final drops of sun greece had to offer them, we hopped in a taxi. we asked the taxi driver if there was a particularly good part of the beach near the city to visit. his monosyllabic answer was “no.” still, he drove us to the subpar beach. still, our friends described their last morning as perfect.
over and over from guide books, from pharmacists, from cab drivers, we’ve been told that iraklio is not particularly great. but each promises something better over the next hill or the one after that.
over the next hill, five kilometers to the south, is the minoan palace of knossos. knossos is a historical site where layers of history have been carved, placed, painted, baked, broken, cemented, restored, and rerestored. its history is knotted and entwined with mythology and with modernism and with greece and with england and with its many visitors who each leave with a different story. here is one of ours:
at knossos, the signage is aware it’s telling a story. less a story of the distant past (though parts of the palace date back to 2000 bce and radiocarbon dates on axes and knives found on the site go back as far as 7000 bce) and more a story of the comparatively recent past (think late 1800s and early 1900s, oh so common era).
one of the first signs visitors encounter is entitled: “the excavations at knossos and their protogonists.” while the sign mentions the first man to perform a systematic excavation at knossos–a greek archaeologist named minos kalokairinos–it quickly jots onward to the english archaeologist arthur evans. and while the sign goes on to mention other people, the name evans is by far the most frequently used on signs around the site. we counted. his name appears at least 48 times (we may have missed a few but we tried to find them all for you, dear reader.) his visage is also waiting for visitors just through the vines.
so who is this /protagonist/? well, according to our tour guide:
the signs all around mention the various way evans interpreted what he encountered at knossos. but our guide was silent on the matter. the signs still describe virtually every room in the palace with a name that refers to what evans’ imagined occurred there. one room is still called the throne room after evans’ interpretation despite the sign acknowledging it was likely a space for worship. another is called the school room (again named by evans) although the sign acknowledges it was more likely used as a workshop for ceramics.
instead of evans, our guide told us four things we must remember from the palace:
- the people of knossos were peaceful and had no slaves. this, he said, was known because there weren’t any fortifications, so the rulers weren’t afraid of invaders or their underlings.
- the people of knossos respected women and nature. this, he said, was visible through the high number of priestesses and their frescoes of dolphins.
- the people of knossos imported precious metals from europe, asia minor, and cyprus.
- knossos is the “basement” of western civilization.
and we do remember them. though the validity of the first has been called into question and the last is nothing if not dubious (we now believe after wading through more conflicting stories on the internet).
the internet told us more about evans too. his excavations of the palace brought the first reinforced concrete to the island of crete. he poured £250,000 of his own money into the work. his interpretations and methods are contested by many archaeologists and historians. and he has influenced writers and thinkers (including freud and joyce). reinforcing our tour guides’ view that knossos is indeed the basement or at least the foundation of “western civilization” (at least as imagined by evans). his particular retelling may have had certain questionable ends in mind rather than just a playful reimagining of the past.
now press the rewind button, back before the wave of stories that sedimented over one layered historical peak to another island, and another place layered in the past: scotland. scotland was our first non-greek destination and it was in the layers of graves in edinburgh’s greyfriar kirkyard that another story tied into our own.
our friend in scotland loves to warm the souls of those who visit her with the story of greyfriar’s bobby. the story goes that a loyal little terrier (named bobby) stayed in the kirkyard (think ‘churchyard’) by the grave of
his owner for fourteen years out of pure devotion. bobby even has his own grave and a statue outside of a local restaurant whose nose purportedly gives good luck when rubbed.
it was just this kind of happy story we expected when stan-lee, our delightful hobbit of a poltergeist tour-leader, stopped by bobby’s grave on the way to the most haunted place in edinburgh. with growing apprehension and horror we listened as he told us bobby was a product of the american society for bobby, that someone with the same name as the dog owner was here (but a different occupation), and unless that dog could read and was just confused, there was no connection that would keep him there. as we walked away from the kirkyard, shaken by the tale about bobby (also the poltergeist), we decided that we liked bobby just fine before stan-lee’s story and rubbed the nose of his statue for luck. then, we agreed not to look into it any more.
then we looked into it, and it seems that this place, this famous and honest movie company, and this guy all have different stories to tell, so we’re not sure where the ‘truth’ of bobby is. but we’re still more or less satisfied with the first story we knew (less at the moment, but we’ll forget what we googled eventually).
back to knossos. as we were looking at the last few signs on the palace grounds today, an older british couple caught us tallying the instances of evans’ name. they laughed and told us a few more stories of evans’ invented stories, of tiny fragments of paintings believed now to be floor tile expanded into wall art in random rooms on the site by dutch painters. and we all felt smug for a moment in our knowledge.
eventually though, guilt brought us to the admission that sometimes we tell stories about ourselves to make order out of the chaos of our own pasts. i told the couple of my father: “my dad went to greece when I was just a child. he saw that fresco of the dolphins. you know, the one you said was probably floor tiling. and it made the past feel real to him. the way they looked at dolphins with wonder wasn’t far from the way he did. and that tale of his brought me to greece. or at least that’s what i tell myself.”
“what a nice story” the woman said. or did she?