There lived a lonely woman
There is a lonely woman who lives by the sea. Her home is now open to all, guests who never come and family who never stay long. The entire town is now desolate. Their scenic views and historic treasures went out of style with peasant tops and daisy chains. Matala is as disturbingly lonely as it is disturbingly beautiful. The shores are peaceful and even the ocean dare not let its incessant lapping reach a decibel above a baby’s coo. A large cafeteria in the center of town holds the town’s population most days and they serve fried foods and cold coffees while watching old soccer games on the large corner tv. An old man looks up at us, the picture of youth and hope, four young tourists who have somehow come back to this spot. A small glimmer in his eye suggests hope, a wish that we were the first of many to come. That tomorrow he would wake up and find life breathed back into his world. But the sparkle quickly fades and he asks us with a self deprecating laugh what has brought us here of all places. He says here as if it were nothing but a pit of despair. As if there was no golden sand, lush vineyards, and endless hiking trails. We explained that we had come to Crete on holiday and after touring Iraklion, the most popular port, had intended to go on to Santorini but had been prevented by the off season suspension of boats. We kept the exact reason, that Matala had sounded like Nutella when the boat captain had said it and we simply loved the hazelnut treat, to ourselves. We left him and his comrades to finish their beers and dreams of yesterday and set off to our hotel. Angelique was older in disposition than she was in life and her hair had more brown than gray tied up in that pony. Stray cats congregated at the door, meowing for supper but refusing to cross some invisible boundary. Little furry vampires that could not enter without permission. Angelique yelled at them harshly but fed them anyways. She had a son but he lived far away and rarely visited now. She offered us coffee and toast and sucked up the conversation and companionship as if it would keep her alive a few more years. Her portrait called to mind rapunzel with hair long and free and a soul locked up with a house and a dying town. She offered her guests a shuttle to Phaistos, a neighboring ruin and home of a sort of Greek Rosetta stone aptly named the Disk of Phaistos, we accepted and after a harrowingly quick twenty minute drive along the cliffs and coasts of Greece we arrived at the park and said goodbye to Angelique, who’s cheeks already looked a bit rosier at the prospect of leaving town for lunch with a friend.
Traveling in the off season is certainly full of pros and cons, an obvious con being buses and ships abandon all schedule and its easy to be stranded. We were so enamored with the pro (we had the ruins all to ourselves) that we lost sight of the single other tourist family and soon found ourselves rather hungry and lost and without a clue how to return to this century. Sitting on some large steps that we liked to imagine were once a bustling Minoan thorough fare, we decided that instead of waiting for the night bus (a wait of almost six hours) we would walk back, the car ride was short and we were sure it couldn’t take that long to hike. Off we went collecting flowers for our hair and singing songs we barely remembered from back home. The sky was dark but did not rain and the weather held steady without breeze or heat. We came to a fork in the road, and though we did not take it, we read the sign and were happy that we were on the right trail, 12 km to Matala. Along the way we met a goat and two ponies who had been tied up in an orange grove, although their presence suggested we were always near people we never saw a soul. Hours passed and still no one, every half hour or so we’d find a sign saying that Matala was only 12km away. It was like walking on a treadmill, i was fairly certain i’d once seen an episode of are you afraid of the dark like this, but i didn’t dare mention it allowed. I had no intention of joining the midnight society tonight, not in the middle of an island once known for cyclops, minotaurs and gorgons. A few silences began to fall into the conversation. We stopped collecting flowers or singing songs, we didn’t discuss travel or work, we simply took a few moments to walk. The damp mud beneath our feet seemed to slow us down and every time we left a sign behind we feared we were terribly and irrevocably lost. Suddenly there was a new voice amongst us, a low humming accompanied by the rough swish swish of a broom. We took a sharp turn around a stable and found an old woman hunched over and clearing her stoop. The large white house behind her was connected to the field that had been visible on much of our journey. She looked up at us and smiled, a toothless grin distracting from her full beard. Opa! She screamed, the national cry which we had come accustomed to imitating. She ushered us into the house which had a small sign next to the door suggesting they served the best oozo in town. The front room had been cleared out for two tables and a computer. Several young men were hovered around the computer which sold access for a half hour every ten cents. They each created a facebook page in turn. She yelled at them in Greek and one relented and brought us menus that hadn’t been used in months. She yelled out the back door and a man appeared and fired up the stove, she pushed the menus into our faces and we pointed with no comprehension of what we were to get. The young boy put placemats before us, they were small maps of the island and they turned out to be the most accurate indicator of where we were, they said we were halfway to Matala. We ate what we believe was lamb patties and fries and when we left the bearded woman looked a bit disappointed and gave us oranges and shots of oozo for our journey. We attempted a polite goodbye in an odd combination of english-greek-and sign. A few hours later we were back in Matala, the stars just beginning to twinkle. We sat on the beach and watched the dusk take over the sky. The ocean turned periwinkle in the light and we decided to climb the rocks a bit before it was too dark to see.
There travelled a lonely man. We stopped when we saw him. He was grey and hunched over, not from any visible disability but from a deep sadness that started at his brow and worked his way down. He touched the rocks, deep incisions had been made in them. Peace signs, ying yangs, and initials. Evidence of the hippies that had once slept here, made love here, and brought life to this inlet. He missed a life that had disappeared with changing times, his steps were slow but never unsure, he had been here before, he had been here many times. He walked to the shore and disappeared into the settling twilight. We sat on the ledge and discussed those who had sat there before us. Who he was then and who he was now. Where we would be in twenty years and if wed ever come back. We made a pact then to return in ten years, a pact none of us were sure wed ever manage to keep. Before us flower children had stared at the stars and dreamed of equality and freedom to be whomever they wanted, before that Roman soldiers had been laid to rest in the caves, souls that would forever dream of the freedom they had fought for and the home they could never return to.
There exists a lonely inlet. It is isolated by its stark beauty and inaccessibility. The kind people who live there will never leave it. You will just have to come.
There lived a lonely woman