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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Observations on Cretan Village Life, or enjoying a bit of ethnographic travel

The people of Crete are proud of their villages, the village way of life, and their traditional customs. The image here of an elderly village couple hangs on the wall at one of Chania's chicest restaurants. City dwellers return to their villages every chance they get - for the olive harvests, religious celebrations, and their village's saints day. Drive around Crete and you'll inevitably pass through a few villages - right through their heart, where the highway has narrowed to a single lane and the walls of the old stone houses jut against the curb to form a canyon. Where you have to drive through at a snail's pace in case someone opens the door of their home, because they''ll be stepping straight out on to the road. If you're in the passenger seat you'll enjoy catching glimpses into people's houses, seeing the yellowed lace curtains on the windows, the embroidered tablecloths and vases of flowers on crooked wooden tables, the old framed black and white portraits of long-gone loved ones on the walls, and an elderly woman or man perched on a stool by the door so they can watch the passing traffic while taking in the sun. We see old men and women on donkeys riding through the main street and capped farmers driving tractors through town, their wives up there with them right by their side. Men less busy are seated around wooden tables playing backgammon and cards in the local kafenion (traditional cafe) while old women dressed in black, wearing head scarves tied beneath their chin, sweep the road with handmade brooms. Old ladies carry loads of firewood and olive branches on their backs or climb the rocky hills on the outskirts of town in search of wild herbs. Driving through Crete is an ethnographer's dream.

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