Archive for the ‘Crete’ Category

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Driving in a foreign language

June 19, 2007

Way, way back when we were planning our move to Crete, R wanted to rent a car in London and drive down. It didn’t work out that way, which was something of a relief to me because I was terrified of driving in Italy. I still haven’t driven in Italy, but after driving on Crete I wonder if there’s anything to it. I have nothing to back this up, but I’ve heard that Greece has the highest rate of traffic fatalities in Europe – so really, how bad can Italy be?

What brings this all to mind is that yesterday I was driving back from the grocery on our two lane country road. It is well paved and substantially wider than any country road I ever saw in Greece. I heard a siren and soon saw a Gendarme van coming from the opposite direction, lights flashing.

I actually never experienced anything like this in Greece. I actually never saw a police car with its lights flashing, let alone running a siren or going somewhere. I reverted to my training from childhood and slowed down while pulling to the right. Granted that the van had no obstacles and could easily continue on its way without me pulling over, but I have always pulled over – better safe than sorry (plus, it is the law.)

There were two cars behind me and they seemed (from my rear view mirror) to be confused by my behavior. I never got to a full stop and the Gendarmes went their way quickly.  But it caused a little panic – what is the right thing to do? The thing is, if it is not common practice to pull over and stop in this scenario, I could cause accidents.

In Greece, a friend told me that Greeks drive like the people in Thailand. She said it’s more like a dance, drivers do what they want/need to do and others react and respond. Obviously if the data re: traffic fatalities is correct, the Greeks need some dancing lessons. In truth, though, the most dangerous people I saw behind the wheel in Crete were the tourists who had heard that ‘anything goes’ in Crete and paid no attention to other people on the road.

But now we’re here, in France, and I face driving in a third language. In France, for some reason, people entering a road from the right have right of way. I can’t figure how this is good, or even how it works – do you slow down to allow entry?  Do they charge out in front of anyone no matter what? I don’t know.

A big adjustment for me has been crosswalk etiquette (and law). In Greece, there were crosswalks, but they were equally ignored by both pedestrians and motorists. In France, if it even looks like you might be going to cross at the ‘zebra,’ motorists stop and wait. Even when traffic is heavy and they are going quickly. This has been a difficult thing for me to remember – but I haven’t clipped anyone yet. Back in the states, I never drove in the city much, and when I did crosswalks generally were equipped with lights telling pedestrians when to go (and motorists when not to go).

Here, people just step into the street when they want to cross, and all traffic simply stops.

I’m gearing up to get my driver’s license here in France.  After all these years of driving, it seems like this should be an easy thing. I think it will not be.

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Three differences between France and Greece

May 31, 2007

1. The grocery store is rarely out of something in France. If they are, it is replaced within a few days. I once waited 3 weeks for rice to arrive at our local grocery in Greece, and regularly had to go to 4 different groceries to find Geena’s favorite dog treats.

2. In France, I have yet to see a gas station where someone will pump your gas. In Greece, I never once saw a gas station where you were allowed to pump your own gas.

3. In Greece, presenting a bank card or credit card for any purchase threw people into a tizzy. Mostly they didn’t accept them, and if they did, it was an ordeal. In France, even our local village bar takes bank cards, without a fuss.

That’s it for today.

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I’ve Got A Bad Latitude

May 28, 2007

About a year after moving to North Carolina (35°N) it dawned on me that I’d been doldrums-free for a very long time. I loved North Carolina, and one of the things I loved best was that it didn’t get too dark in the winter and never suffered from the low level but unpleasant depression that had been a part of my entire adult life.

I’d lived in NE Ohio (41°N) and Eastern PA (39°N) and both left me slightly bereft for 3 or 4 months of the year. I was happy to have left it behind.

Crete, Greece is approximately on a par with North Carolina (35°N). My mood was generally good there.

Tonight as I stood outside at 10 pm I realized that I could read a book by the daylight remaining. It only just occurred to me to check the latitude. It’s not good news. We’re sitting here in the mid forties. That’s like living in Canada!

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The Big Storm

May 27, 2007

We had lived in our house on Crete for 5 months when our dog showed up in our garden on Christmas day, 2005.

Geena

Up to that point she wasn’t our dog, she was ‘little barky dog’ and she lived next door. She never left her driveway and spent the majority of her time barking at the road.

We didn’t know then was that she was homeless. We naturally assumed that she belonged to our neighbors, as that was where she lived. The story came about much later: She was originally owned by a German but when she was about three, began to spend increasing time with her second family who eventually took her on full time when the German left the island.

She was with them for about 4 years when they had their first child. At the same time, they moved across the village to a new house they’d built. The combination of having children and a new house proved too much for this 1/4 Greek family and Geena found herself living outdoors (in a very nicely built dog house/garden.) Her previously cushy life of sleeping on the couch and watching TV became a distant tantalizing memory. But the final straw was that the new house was near to a hotel which hosted parties all summer. These parties were loud, with music, fireworks, and gunfire. Geena went home – to her previous address.

Her family came and picked her up, but she repeated the trip over and over until they got the message. A neighbor offered to look out for her, and she was allowed to sleep in ‘her’ garage. At this point she was still spunky and adventurous, though afraid of loud noises. She often took herself 2 kilometers up the hill to participate in the milking of a local farmer’s sheep and enjoy the archaeological site.

This footloose and fancy free existence came to an end in the summer of 2004, when she was attacked and nearly died of her injuries by a crazy neighbor’s crazy dog (nickname: Bad Dog). After recovery, she refused to leave the safety of her driveway – Bad Dog was allowed to roam free despite being a danger because the owner was crazy enough to cause trouble for anyone (and everyone) who would oppose her.

Holidays and celebrations on Crete are loud and usually involve loud music, gunfire, and sometimes fireworks or at least firecrackers. Christmas 2005 was no exception. During a break in the gunfire we stepped onto our patio. There she was, little barky dog who never left her driveway, laying in our garden quivering.

We brought her in the house where she politely curled up on our doormat and shook until the gunfire stopped a few hours later. When she had calmed down, I opened the door and she went home.

The next morning, I was sipping my first morning coffee and surfing the web when I heard a ‘woof’ outside the kitchen door. Not barking, just one single woof. I pulled back the curtain and there was little barky dog, sitting confidently in expectation. I opened the door and she pranced in as though she’d always visited us. After a short visit, I opened the door and she went home.

The next morning was the same. The third day I was going shopping so I went out the door with her. I opened the car door and turned to talk to a neighbor. When I turned back, she was sitting in the passenger seat and wouldn’t budge. From that point forward she’s lived with us. By the next day, the neighborhood was abuzz with the news and my fears of having stolen someone’s pet were assuaged (she was no one’s pet, everyone was glad we’d adopted her.)

The point I’m slowly getting to is that we’ve known since day one about her fear of loud noises, so when she quivered at thunder and lightning, we weren’t surprised. If we had a thunderstorm, I’d build her a cave and we’d sit in there until the storm passed. On Crete, most thunderstorms pass very quickly, in perhaps an hour. One particularly bad one last fall lasted nearly 4 hours and I feared for her life. Sustained terror is difficult, but our girl managed to quiver and pant for the entire storm. I got some doggie Valium after that.

Which brings us to now.

Our landlord stopped by Thursday to pick up a misrouted piece of mail and mentioned that there would be a ‘beaut’ of a thunderstorm on Saturday. I dug out my doggie Valium, but because I don’t like what the pills do to her, I waited to see how bad the storm would be and how she’d react. The storm came Friday night and lasted into Saturday afternoon, and a beaut it was. Thunder & lightning – the works.

Geena

And she didn’t raise an eyebrow.

I think France might be good for us.

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What A Difference

May 20, 2007

Our absentee landlords arrived in the area late on Wednesday; Thursday was Ascension day. I celebrated with another headache, this time bad enough to make me nauseated. As I stood steaming my head over the electric kettle (a wonderful invention – every home should have one!) I heard some shouting at our gate.

Thankfully, despite my sick headache I’d changed out of my pajamas because it was our newly arrived landlord. What I hadn’t done was anything else. I hadn’t put away the groceries, washed dishes, cleaned the stove, put away the laundry or taken out the trash. I’m not exactly a neat freak, but the house was a disaster even by my standards.

I welcomed him and explained that I had a migraine and R was still abed battling to sleep after several days’ insomnia. He was ‘on the fly’ and just wanted to check in. I stood with the heel of my hand pressed hard against my brow, hoping that my skull would cave in.

“Do you have our number?” He asked

“Um…no, not the local one.” I said. I knew where this is going. I would have to get a pen, and I couldn’t tell him to wait outside.

“I’ll give it to you.”

“Um, okay. Well, come in, the house is a wreck because I’ve been fighting with my head…” I start to explain.

He shrugs and cuts me off, “It’s your house now.”

Back in Greece I panicked every time our landlords or neighbors appeared. I knew that no matter how clean and neat the place was, there would be something that they would not only see, but comment on. If the floors were clean, the stairs were dusty, if the stairs were clean, the sink needed scrubbing, if the sink was clean, the balconies needed to be hosed, and if all else was perfect, there were always the fingerprints on the doors.

And while one would think that with such picky landlords the house would be in perfect condition, the rain coming under the front door, the thirty year old sofa with torn upholstery, the sprung and mildewed mattress, and the water pouring out of the fuse box in the living room would tell the truth.

So, while this house is certainly no palace, it is probably more livable than the Greek houses we rented. It doesn’t hurt that I’m not afraid of my landlord, either.

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My Soapbox

May 16, 2007

I was going to write a wonderful post about the delight that is 50% off day at our local patisserie, but that will have to wait. I’m dizzy with anger and I’ve got to say something.

4 year old Madeleine McCann was stolen from her room in Portugal nearly two weeks ago. This is a tragedy, but that’s not what I’m angry about. I don’t know how much press this case is getting in the States, but here in Europe it’s a very big story.

Two days ago, the English news media announced that there was an official suspect. I certainly hope this man is guilty, as his life is never going to be the same again. His name, face, family and personal history has been broadcast all over the news.

The sewer rats that are ‘the press’ have proceeded to dig up his history, interview anyone who’s ever had contact with him, and ruin his reputation. Everything he’s said in his own defense is printed in quotation marks to ensure the impression that he’s guilty as sin. It makes me sick.

It feels good to believe that police around the world will only name a suspect if there’s a good reason. It feels good to think that innocent people won’t be accused of crimes if there isn’t reasonable suspicion. It is decidedly uncomfortable to believe that completely innocent people can be named in criminal cases without any good reason. If we admit to ourselves that this can happen, that means it can happen to us, and we don’t want that.

The end result is that this man has been convicted by public opinion, despite the fact that the police say openly that they don’t have enough evidence to gain a court approved charge against him.

“But,” you might say, “they must have good evidence or they wouldn’t have named him a suspect.” You aren’t alone, this is something I’ve heard (or read) on more than one occasion about this crime and others. It’s the excuse people give in order to feel safe in their environment.

The Portuguese police might indeed have such evidence, but if they do, they aren’t saying anything. And I take it as a given that innocent, completely innocent, people are arrested all over the world all the time. If you have any doubt about that, have a look here.

That site, FTA, only talks about the lucky few who are fortunate enough to find and make contact with them. The rest are dangling in the winds, subject to the whims and political maneuverings of the corrupted (or inept) individuals that comprise many of the world’s justice systems.

There are many reasons why the police might have taken this step. One is that they actually have some reason to believe that he’s involved in Madeleine McCann’s abduction. They also might have felt desperate to take some action in a case with no leads growing increasingly cold. They might have decided to take the first person who was close to the case. They might be bumbling idiots.

I don’t know. For me that’s key. The teeming masses don’t know either, but they think they do; they want to think they do. It’s a scary world when not only can our police not solve crimes, but also can destroy innocent people without any reason.

I’ve got news: we live in that scary world.

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One Thing I Loved About Living In Crete

May 6, 2007

When we were living in Crete, I never got sinus headaches. Typically I only get sinus headaches when the sky goes from clear (high pressure) to overcast (low pressure.) I have no data to back me up, but I can only assume that Crete rarely experiences ongoing low pressure, because I think I got maybe 3 sinus headaches in all the time we were there.

Yesterday, I woke up with a twinge which turned into a full blown nauseating headache within an hour. I swallowed the last of my imported Tylenol sinus. By the time I took the pills, the headache was so bad that they only took most of the pain away. Off to the pharmacy where I spent 10 euros on salt water to spray up my nose. How can salt water cost 10 euros? I suppose I should be moderately grateful, as when I asked for saline in Crete the only thing they had was some fancy aerosol with bee pollen and purified sea water (all natural!) It, too, was 10 euros.

By bedtime the pain was gone and I was only really dizzy. I truly believe that nothing feels as good as the absence of pain. As a side effect of the sinus medication I’m up at the crack of dawn (5:30) and can’t sleep.

We’ve been living in France for just over a month and I’ve already had as many sinus headaches as I had in the entire time we were living in Crete. I’m doomed.