DAY FOUR: BROTHERS AND BAPTISMS
The fourth day of our remarkable Grecian sojourn took us deep into seriously emblematic Crete: to the shepherds and goat herders of the Idi mountains, and nearly to the top of Psiloritis, from which the coast of Libya is visible.
The Cretan hillsides are a quilt of dusty blue olive trees set against terra cotta soil, and a jumble of russets and reds, low thorny shrubs, all manners of flora, from hefty pines to feathery palm trees. As Bill Damas put it: “There is nothing we can’t grow on Crete, and anything anyone else can grow, we do better.”
Starting off at first light in order to catch the shepherds and their herds at their dawn tasks, we headed out in the solid pickup truck of Bill’s brother Eugene—a man of endless talents, including carpentry, stonework, hunting, and a special knack for cane making, as we discovered that evening. Bill followed in his Lexus van, ten years vintage but only sporting thirty thousand miles. Heads still turn when he drives that reliable machine through the villages of central Crete.
On the slopes below Psiloritis, we encountered Emmanuel, a shepherd, and toured the stone hut where his ancestors lived (and his great grandfather built in 1850). Though unoccupied now, it demonstrated the hardscrabble life that these rugged herders led, spending months and months in the mountains, far from their families with only their stock for company. Always willing to find a plus in the face of difficulty, Bill’s brother Eugene tells a series of jokes concerning the life of a shepherd in Crete… many genuinely funny.
Later that evening, Eugene would demonstrate his mastery of the cottage industry related to walking great distances across the mountainous countryside: making walking canes. In his secluded home, which lies between Bill’s hillside mansion and the town of Veni, he showed us the process: finding the precise stick, neither too dry nor too green, heating over an open fire, then a slow, patient bending over a device which he himself constructed. Our cameraman, Kevin Hewitt, was the proud recipient of the cane, a masterwork of practicality and folk art.
Throughout that night, revelry from a nearby baptism continued fast and furious, and included fireworks, wild Cretan music on the lyre and lute, and the obligatory gunfire which came around five AM: we heard many stories, some amusing, some terrifying, about this custom, which accompanies nearly every feast, festival and celebration in Crete.