Our family was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of a dear friend, Markos Ladomenos (1945 – 2023), from the village of Galatas. He was a great man in the same way we call such people “the small gods of Crete.” Here is a sliver of his story and my parting words for him and his family.
I’ve told the story of meeting Markos and his family a hundred times. A search for a long-lost Minoan Palace, directions my son Paul called “the hand of God,” and much more, is a part of our family history and tradition now. Several years ago, I wrote about much of it in an Epoch Times feature, for those who would care to read. Of course, my friend Markos figures prominently in our adventures in the hills of central Crete. For those who do not know him, he was a friend to hundreds of people, to every passerby, and a fixture of traditional Cretan values.
The founder and owner of the traditional Cretan restaurant To Mourelo (Το μουρέλο του Λαδωμένου), Markos was an electrical engineer by trade. But it seems to me his greatest achievement was the small restaurant he created and how his family and friends seemed to gain strength and rejuvenate from the place. Galatas, a small village of less than 100 people, has hundreds, perhaps thousands of people tied to kin folk who lived or still live in the tiny hamlet. It’s a picturesque place of great feasts since the days before the Minoan temple was built in the Middle Minoan III period (1700 BC) on a bluff overlooking the tiny town.
Sadly, To Mourelo was closed after the devastating Arkalochori earthquake. My dear friend Grigoris (the restaurant’s amazing chef), his wonderful wife Popi (Markos’ daughter), and their son Konstantinos eventually moved away to the Greek mainland. They burn to come back, but life has a way of washing us all along in its current. Many friends hope for the reopening of the amazing little restaurant and for their companionship.
The first time I had dealings with Markos was because his daughter Popi asked him to drive me up to the palace ruins in his pickup truck. We’d arrived at the family’s restaurant purely by fate, and I’d expressed an interest in the palace/temple. What was supposed to be a hitchhike up a mountainside ended as a full-fledged Galatas history lesson and tour. As it turned out, Markus had herded sheep up around the Minoan ruins as a child, and his eyes lit up every time we talked about the place.
As I said, their stories and how our families met in a miraculous style are well-written already. What still needs to be told, and secrets as yet unrevealed, is what I hope you’ll enjoy reading today. So, here goes.
The feature photo of this story shows the exuberant Markus proudly explaining how, for decades, no one paid any attention to the once glorious temple. It was not until 1997 that archaeologist Dr. George Rethemiotakis announced the discovery of a new and extensive Minoan Palace. Anyway, Markos knew everything about the place he was born and grew up in. Along with the prediscovery history of Galatas Palace, he even showed us fossils from one of the ages when the island was submerged beneath the sea millions of years ago. And there’s an instructive note for anyone who might assume Cretans can be classified as “simple villagers.”
This brings us to why I chose golden flowers to put on my friend’s final resting place. In the centuries preceding Rethemiotakis’ discoveries, it was rumored that farmers, shepherds, and villages around the site gathered vast hordes of priceless Minoan artifacts. I am not ashamed to admit I watched all the Indiana Jones films too often, so my archaeologist friends will forgive my sparkly eyes on this one. Over raki and some succulent watermelon one day, I asked a friend to translate a question to Markos. “When will you share the secret of the Minoan gold?” His answer made us laugh with eyes full of the glow of knowing. “Soon, ” he said,” with his wonderful grin. This became an ongoing tease, but one with a hook of plausibility.
When I stopped outside the village of Peza to buy some flowers for Markos, I could not help picking the brightest yellow pot of buds I could find. I tucked them in the back of my car, knowing what I would do next. The route I always take to Galatas leads right through Voni and past the famous Agia Marina Monastery, where sacred water flows from behind the rocks of the sanctuary. It became my intention to douse Markos’ flowers with these mystical waters. And so I did.
Agia Marina is the patron of sick children, and there are many incidences of healing miracles at the monastery. After sprinkling the flowers, lighting a candle, and praying for my departed friend, I started out of the sanctuary for my car. I didn’t get far before a sweet old nun stopped me to ask if I wanted her to water the flowers from the main well. I could not refuse, as it became utterly clear I was being led on some important journey.
Anyway, the sweet nun smiled and bid me farewell at the gates to the old monastery. As I began to drive up the hill to Galatas, I could not help but wonder where the cemetery was. I’d never been there, so at length, I called my friend Grigoris to ask for directions to his father-in-law’s gravesite. We talked as I drove, Grigoris giving running directions to the burial site. On a high hill, next to one of Markos’ olive groves, stood the Galatas Cemetery chapel overlooking a stunning landscape. Grigoris talked me to where Markos’ father and mother were buried, the place his remains were also laid to rest.
I was trying to figure out where to place such colorful, golden flowers. Grigoris assured me Markos would want me to put them wherever. So I hung up with my friend to share a personal moment and tears for my wonderful friend. I prayed for Markos and the family, wept a bit, and then chuckled over our old joke. “You took the secret of the gold to the other side, Markos,” I blurted out. So, I brought you these golden flowers so you’d know you were more important to me than the Minoan treasures.
Then, the strangest thing happened.
In sailor jargon, a “flat calm” is when the sea is flat as glass because there is no wind. Most places have been blazing hot this past week on Crete because not a twig on a tree rustles all day. But when I started for my car in the gravel parking lot of the cemetery, a strong breeze hit my back, causing me to turn. Something told me to look exactly where the wind was blowing. In the distance, I spotted the Byzantine-era Agios Ioannis (or the Church of St. John).
Of course, I got the distinct feeling my friend was trying to show me something. So, I cranked the car and headed toward the old church, which is at the foot of the mountain Galatas Palace sits atop. Along the way, I also realized this was the church that Markos had taken us first during our initial guided excursion with him. Back then, his daughter Popi translated all the points of interest, like the cistern once a flowing spring, where now only a stone-lined well exists.
I parked my car in front of the iron gates of the beautiful church courtyard and could not help but notice the big puffs of breeze still seeming to point me in a direction. I walked through the square past the church bell and up some stairs to a higher level where the Minoan Palace, the distant mountains, and the valleys below could more readily be seen. Still, the breezes prompted me forward. But a fence kept me from exploring further. Markos was prodding me from the great out yonder to go higher up the hill. So, I jumped in my car and took the higher road above the chapel. After a few tens of meters, I saw it, the gathering place where all the shepherds collect the sheep.
I had my answer. At least the one the reader may draw conclusions from, anyway. Unless you ask me one day, “Where’s the Minoan gold hidden?” I may smile knowingly and promise to take you there soon. Then, just perhaps.
I’ll miss you more than you ever knew, my brother. Until we meet again.