Memoir of an Expat
Richard Clark first moved to Crete to teach in the 1980s and he’s returned time and again. What this does for the book is give a loving portrait through time of the people and places of Crete. He is both part of the culture and not and what could have been a guidebook turns into a personal story. Together with Clark, you get to experience the philoxenia, the kindness of welcoming strangers. He doesn’t tell you about how locals might buy you a drink or offer you water, he shares endearing stories about the many many times it’s happened to him all over the island.
Woven into the narrative are reminders and retellings of your favorite Greek myths and where they happened. Zeus was born on Crete and hid here from his father, Kronos, before he overthrew him. He seduced Europa nearby and fathered King Minos. Remember the minotaur? You’ll feel the story come alive as Clark visits the remains of the palace where that story originated. I even learned some things about Icarus I didn’t know.
History of Crete
From Chania, a town that’s been inhabited continuously for 5,000 years to the ruins of a palace abandoned in 1900 BC, Crete has an incredibly rich history. The island has been under Byzantine, Venetian, and Ottoman rule and parts of The Odyssey are thought to have been set here. Clark does a nice job of summarizing how these waves of influence have shaped each location and the people at large. There’s even an essay at the end on the current Greek fiscal crisis.
No less turbulent than the politics, Crete’s geologic history has included a major volcanic eruption, a part of the island that’s sinking, and an upthrust that caused one major port to rise above sea level and become uninhabitable. Reading about these violent changes somehow made the island seem even more enticing to visit.
At it’s heart, this book is a travelogue and you’ll learn words like “ouzerie” (place that serves ouzo) as you salivate over goat salads and Greek coffees. Clark describes the unique aspects of town after town and somehow manages to not make it all repetitive. You’ll get to know local characters like Nikos Kazantzakis and Ross Daly. Clark even touches on a few of the surrounding islands including Santorini for good measure.
If you’re looking to finally plan a trip to Greece or just need to read about someplace else, try Crete: A Notebook. You’ll learn more than you can imagine and be entertained all the way through.
If this review made you want to read the book, pick up a copy of Crete: A Notebook from Powell’s Books. Your purchase keeps indie booksellers in business and I receive a commission.
Jerry Soffer saysJune 5, 2013 at 2:37 pm
” … Chania, a town that’s been inhabited continuously for 5,000 years … a palace abandoned in 1900 BC”
That’s mind boggling to the American brain. I was awed to find modern Romans living and working in areas of the city that were up to 1000 years old, but Crete appears to be older by orders of magnitude. Crete must be a blanket from the cradle of western civilization. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be there and feel connected to people and events that ancient.
Isla McKetta, MFA saysJune 5, 2013 at 4:04 pm
I was totally floored by that too. It took me right back to art history. Amazing. Let’s run away right now 🙂