The coronavirus pandemic has changed us. It’s a sad reality we must face. Even so, in some ways, this is not an altogether bad thing. For my family and me, the divisiveness spread along with COVID-19 affords us all a unique opportunity. A friend named Anna Karfaki reminded us just last night that true friendship is unshakable and constant as the stars.
Last week my wife Mihaela got a message on Facebook. “Mig, you and Phil come to celebrate my birthday with me again this year.” Anna Karfaki, who we met because Mihaela demanded we stop to eat at picturesque Taverna Mitato in Amoudara, has been our friend since we walked across the threshold of her traditional taverna/museum. There’s no building on this Earth where more love, history, beauty, and tradition are shared for those who’ve never been. More on that later, you need to be reminded, like I was, of the “small gods of Crete.”
I know that I am mortal by nature, and ephemeral; but when I trace at my pleasure the windings to and fro of the heavenly bodies I no longer touch earth with my feet: I stand in the presence of Zeus himself and take my fill of ambrosia, food of the gods. – Ptolemy –
First of all, Leos are genuinely the kings and queens of the zodiac. I am the lion, so is Anna, my wife Mihaela, and my sister Rosemary back in America. I mention this because all lions share an unmistakable quality – our hearts are great, great big. And Anna’s has overflowed on the main drag of touristy Amoudara Beach. Two years ago, I wrote a story about Anna and the saying she coined one afternoon as we sat chatting beneath the grapevines over her terrace. Our conversation back then turned ideas of God and to the unique spiritual character of Crete island, when Anna looks up at me and says, “We are all small gods here on Crete.”
I won’t go into why this is so unquestionably true because today’s story is about Anna. Let’s just say, if I wanted to, I could move my family into an authentic Garden of Eden here, at any moment. But more on that in another report. What’s most important today is revealing how lesser gods act, even when the world’s pressures become saddlebags filled with iron ingots. You see, the godlike character I speak of is absoluteness. Friendship, real kindred spirits, exude a relentless, uncompromising, and through and through allegiance. Most of you reading this understand what I am talking about. It’s the light in the eyes of the person when you approach them unannounced. Anna Karfaki lights up like a little lighthouse every time we visit her. She’s unique on an island running over with friendly people.
“Since we cannot change reality, let us change the eyes which see reality.” ― Nikos Kazantzakis
But wait! How do these small gods express their holy essence in the material world? Well, there’s the cuisine here on Crete. Most experts say it’s the healthiest diet on Earth, the core of the so-called Mediterranean Diet Americans back home rave about. Let me express what I am driving at, even though it may read as bragging. You see, I am a TripAdvisor level 41 restaurant expert. Okay, this does not make me Gordon Ramsay’s advisor or something, but it does mean I’ve dined at dozens and dozens of places across Europe, and especially on Crete. This qualifies me to advise you that the very best Cretan cuisine is art created by a small god. Love and a kind of unearthliness are involved. Being “the best” in anything is mainly about this. Excellence is about love.
So, you arrive at Taverna Mitato after a day in the sun by the Cretan Sea, a few meters away. The all-inclusive buffet fails somehow to enthralled you anymore. You may recall all those ads and marketing speel about Cretan cuisine, local traditions, etc. And there she is, smiling as you stumble inside. She motions you to a sturdy wooden chair with a seat padded by a colorful woven rug. Lush plants, attractive woven fabrics, and Cretan heirlooms hang all about you. All around, there are antiques and iconic trinkets that reflect life here on Crete and the journey Anna herself has made.
She will cringe a bit when I tell you, many years in Germany were not soft on her spirit. But, small gods never wither, now do they? Look at the photos I have shared here. Try and taste the hundreds of years of food tradition and hear Cretan songs being sung in sing-along fashion and locals and visitors. Ritual! Aha! I write about it when reporting on Minoan archaeology or the metaphysics that are so alive here.
I called Anna “The Oracle of Amoudara” a couple of years ago because she helped set me on a course to find the true nature of the divine. We’d moved here, in part, because of the mystic nature of Crete, the Minoans, and because my wife and I love puzzles. Of course, there are other prophets of the spirit here too, but yesterday was Anna’s birthday party, so she gets the spotlight now. It’s the reader who receives the revelation here, especially those in search of that over-spun term “travel experience.”
I predict this. Eat at the all-inclusive beachfront buffet your first night in Heraklion. Have breakfast and lunch the next day, too. Then hail a taxi or drive to well-worn Amoudara Beach (a Blue Flag BTW) and Taverna Mitato. When you walk in, greet Anna and tell her “Filipos sent me,” and catch that sparkle of the spirit of which I speak. Then, sample ambrosia handed down in person, by a godlike and genuine friend you will love too.
Thanks for your counsel and friendship, Anna!