The grape harvest here in Crete has just passed; now it’s time to bring in the world’s best olives. Fall on our island paradise is a fascinating time. We reflect during this season. We dream of beautiful celebrations in winter to come, and are hopeful, as always, for the Spring that will renew the land of the ancient Keftiu. For me, Greece’s biggest island is a daily adventure of discovery. Today, I’d like to share some of the wonders we’ve seen, old friends and new, a kind of “harvest” of what was, is, and shall be. Here is the heart and soul of Crete island.
I started out writing the story you are reading, intending to show you more stunning landscapes. The season has changed, and I thought it appropriate to share what the Fall brings here on the island the ancient Egyptians called the “nail of the world.” Then this “silver thread” theme caught me by surprise. I find myself better able to explain to newcomers to this island what makes Crete so unique. It’s the topography, sure—the beaches and the awe-inspiring mountain plateaus too. And the people here, their uncommon love of strangers, philoxenia for lack of a better term, resides in almost every Cretan heart. But the thing that grips those who seek to understand Crete’s magnetism is that emotion or sense, not even the heart will hold. There is something boundless here. Something eternal. A gravitas stand of sensitivity undoubtedly linked to God. It cannot be understood without first understanding the winding roots that connect everyone here. My silver strands connecting our higher self are natural as the deeds of these, the small gods of Crete.
Come, friend, you too must die. Why moan about it so? Even Patroclus died, a far, far better man than you. – Achilles
When I watch Alexandra Manousakis’ shares and news flash by on social media, I often wonder how she does it. She follows in the footsteps of a legend, her father Theodore (Ted) Manousakis, who founded one of Greece’s most famous wineries back in 1943. Then I think of my father, whose accomplishments I’m not sure I’ll ever equal. Then, I look at how far down the road the Manousakis vision of the family legacy has come. And I superimpose the incredible creativity and genius of Ted’s daughter. People like this do not walk in the shadow of; they thrive in the sunshine of goodness. In the end, you can trust Cretan integrity and the products of Manousakis. I know the family is proud of this lady. And I am sure my Dad, God rest him, is proud I counseled presidents too. Even if they were Russian :)
This is a big island in so many ways. And it’s small, like a floating town of neighborhoods. In gathering Instagram love from Alexandra Manousakis, I found a wonderfully talented photographer named Vicky Tsatsampa. Alexandra always seems to find the best in everything. Vicky is not a friend yet; I just sent the invitation to connect, but here’s one of her shares, so you know. Crete has so many skilled and creative people, and I think it’s in the Cretan DNA.
Crete photographers are hugely underutilized, in my view. If ever there were a place where not enough images have been taken, Crete is that place. Of Balos, Chania, and Samaria Gorge, there are plenty. And many of the other beaches have been snapped silly by professionals and tourists alike. Still, there are hundreds and hundreds more stunning subjects, not even including the people. And angles? This makes me think of a new friend named Michalis Koulieris, whose drone pictures are spellbinding.
I became friends with Michalis while researching for another story. He’s a digital media specialist who’s currently working on the project Crete Nature. The funny thing about Michalis is, I don’t think he realizes he’s a genius. But wait, I need to explain how this ribbon of great people is connected. I said I was researching a story and found Michalis. I also mentioned Alexandra and the friend to be Vicky, but not the silver cord that connects everybody.
I’ll never forget March of 2014. It was a transformative year for me, Mihaela, and Paul-Jules. We were held prisoners by our public relations company in Germany. Marooned in a land where our personalities stuck out like sore thumbs, we traveled to Crete for our first vacation in years. It was a working vacation, and our host was a friend named Lefteris Karatarakis, a prominent Heraklion hotelier. A more ingenious, driven, and generous man I have never met. Long story short, all our Crete adventures began because of his interest in building something lasting and the relationship ribbon that began with him. I will forever be in his debt. Imagine a seafaring guy detached from the aquamarine for so long in Germany, waking up to this view you see below. You told me, “Move here for good,” and I did, Lefteris. We don’t talk much anymore, but I know you remember the red Vespa ;)
“Remember him—before the silver cord is severed, or the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, or the wheel broken at the well, and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” Ecclesiastes
Minas Liapakis is my brother. His family makes me think of an as-yet-unwritten storybook about togetherness and support. His girls are from one of those little fantasy children’s books about princesses. I met Minas through Lefteris above when we all worked on a project together. He’s the smartest, most honest person I know. A Cretan, through and through, but the worst photographer who ever lived. Asking Minas to send you a photo for a news report is like asking Fred Flintstone to be Gordon Ramsay and cook something besides brontosaurus burger instead, he He should ask my other Cretan brother, his sibling Ioannis (Amazing!) Liapakis to take photos for him. The share from him below, however, conveys one of this island’s most important facets. The spirit of God and innocent children is strong here.
Life is precarious, as we all know. The first Christmas we were here, we spent with Minas and his family on the south coast at a five-star resort transformed into a Santa village. It was magical. Then we came home to Heraklion to celebrate New Year, and I died. Twice. A basketball game, a sport I played my whole life, turned deadly when I dehydrated, and my heart went into a fatal rhythm. The amazing doctors and nurses at PAGNI saved me with God’s generous help. This is all the backdrop for my meeting another string of extraordinary Cretans, including Manolis Kanoupakis. This remarkable man, the cardiologist who installed my robotic shock machine to prevent future events, is unrivaled in his skill as a doctor, Cretan man, and a true blue friend to all. He and his family will get a whole chapter if my book, to be sure. But, since he is too busy saving lives and trying to paddleboard to run an Instagram, I created this one for him a few moments ago. Manolis, if a bus hits me this afternoon, thank you for being my pal. Somewhere up there, Hippocrates smiles down, knowing people like this exist in the heart of Crete.
It must be lunchtime. I can tell because my story is now influenced by the smell of the best moussaka on Earth. Mihaela will kill me, but cooking and eating are also about the atmosphere, that’s why our amazing friend Maria Papoutsaki at Aravanes is the moussaka champion. She’s also the breakfast champion in my book, as well. Aravanes, for those unfamiliar, is a fantastic family taverna and inn overlooking the lush Amari Valley in Rethymno Prefecture. All our friends from countries all over the world adore this place. And not just for the moussaka. Maria, Eleftheria, Tito, Manolis, Haruola, and amazing Lambros make this Crete destination iconic. For real. Go there; you’ll never want to leave. By the way, before we were even close friends when Manolis and the other doctors were trying to save me, Maria called my wife Mig to ask if she needed any money. This is Crete.
Oh my. I am out of sequence again. There’s someone who’s key to all this Crete love I’m throwing down here. Please wait for it, wait for it, wait for it, Becca, here it is. If somebody asked me to introduce them to somebody that knows everything about Crete, Santorini, or even mainland Greece, Rebecca Shevaki is that person. She’s responsible for introducing us to countless Crete friends, experiences. We found many of the places and people I’ve mentioned here because of sweet Rebecca, the most knowledgeable travel agent/consultant in Greece. Now, she’s much too busy to talk to, but later in the off-season, we’ll catch up on adventures for the coming year. I love the share below from her Crete Local Adventures Instagram account. (She has many agencies)
The Minoans! Or, more appropriately, the Keftiu is the subject that brought us here to Crete in the first place. I’ll never forget Mihaela and I discussing where to go on vacation. The classics’ studies at the College of Charleston somehow linked me to the enigmatic Minoans decades ago. Now, years into studying them up close, I can see how my “silver cord” metaphysical reference is more real than fantasy.
When I was young, I fantasized about archaeology from the movies. One of my friends is the real-life version of Indiana Jones, who discovered a new Minoan palace, another is the curator of Knossos, and yet another just launched a fantastic exhibition on Minoan seafaring. Those stories are for another time, though. Here I’m thinking about a lady named Anna Bastaki, whose grandfather worked with Sir Arthur Evans at Knossos. Everyone who knows Anna loves her. The Minoan Theater, closed since the pandemic hit, is one of the most significant cultural/educational achievements by anyone on Crete in many decades. Anna’s research and dedication to recreating a time before humanity on Crete knew war are extraordinary. And again, the silver thread reveals itself since Kallia Mercoulidi, Minas Liapakis’ wife, introduced us to Anna.
The Minoans, those pesky people who lived here at the dawn of the Bronze Age, also led me to another Crete food fantasy, and a wonderful brother named Grigoris Koudounas, another of the so-called “small gods of Crete.” Fate slung us together when I searched for the lost Minoan Palace of Galatas and when Mihaela was starved. Grigoris, for those who’ve never met him, is without a doubt the finest chef on Crete. Sadly, my friend will leave soon for Kavala, the pandemic has closed his restaurant, earthquakes ruined tiny Galatas, but his wife Popi got a professorship in the mainland before all that, so God does show his hand at times. I fear we’ll never meet again, but I pray that we will live out the future we discussed so many times. Godspeed, my dear friend. If my Malaka pal can learn to read English at all! :)
“You’ve got to follow that dream, wherever that dream may lead.” Elvis Presley
Wow! I cannot believe where this story has taken me. The reader might get the impression the author is popular or something. As much as this warms me, I can truthfully say that all the people mentioned here are far grander than I. And when I think of grand human beings, the man in this photo comes to mind. When I was in the military, my commanding officer, the Captain of the most powerful warship afloat, was one of those people you knew could be counted upon, a leader who refused to fail. When my wife Mihaela demanded I find our son Paul Jules the finest eye doctor in Greece, the gods of Crete delivered Ioannis Aslanides. Paul got the best ophthalmologist in Europe, and Yanni and I became friends instantly. Every time I’ve met pure excellence in my life, I felt the same aura of confidence, intellect, heart, and generosity. I’ll embarrass him to tell all I know about him, so I’ll leave you with this.
The heart of Crete and the silver cords. The unbreakable mysterious life-giving linkage between us and the eternal, is circular. And while there are many more souls linked to me, one is the clasp that holds this brilliant amulet of wonder in place for me. My Mig told me to “move here no matter what,” or we might have ended up in Timbuktu. In the Instagram below, she holds a living legend of Crete, Mojito, when he was a puppy. Kritikos Lagonikos, the living canine symbol from 10,000 years ago, signifies our love of Crete and our being Cretan, once and for all. And the beauty of that smile is the burning hope I have for the legend of everlasting love.
Revealing these profiles, I have neglected many more fascinating Cretans connected by this invisible, albeit tangible, strand of humanness. Akis, the baker across the street, Manolis the butcher, Kiki, and her daughters the pharmacists, Kostas and Dimitris, our brothers of the Royal Order of the Praternal Minoan Bull (for lack of a better name), and all the other archaeologists, doctors, taxi drivers, shop owners, restaurateurs, and boat captains will not count me remiss, I know.
Here’s the thing. If you watch out for those surrounding these amazing people, you’ll find thousands of people sharing so many common bonds. And being Cretan, islanders, and close to whatever you want to call this magnetism Crete has, is evidence of my silver cord theory. Or at least fodder for the making of a nice story. Wouldn’t you say?