AGIA GALINI, Crete – At night, myths rove about us on this island. They come out when the sun is setting, emerging from their caves and from the sea, to wander through the olive orchards and sit under the bougainvillea, luminous in the moonlight: the Minotaur, Icarus, Kronos and Rhea, Zeus and Europa.
It is strange and fitting that the birthplace of the Western Imagination should be a scruffy island of goats and olive trees, the dry terrain of fierce clans and hospitality in the shade, of villages built on cliffs and a mesmerizing blue sea that is always, always calling you further and further out.
We are here at the villa of a German music producer. Part work, part pleasure, the purpose of our visit is to talk about a possible CD project and so, between dips into the ocean and toasts with raki, a local spirit made from the leftovers of the wine crush, we talk about the music, the all-important contract details and the mystery of how emotion is transmitted through music. And then we toast again with raki.
Raki, by the way, is much more than high-proof alcohol. First off, no Cretan buys it in stores: everyone makes their own, then gives it as a gift to their friends. The container of choice for home-brewed raki is an ordinary 1.5 litre plastic water bottle. Since Raki is also transparent, you’d better be careful before you grab what you think is a mere bottle of water to quench your thirst. Our hosts have a cupboard full of their friends raki offerings and they have written on each one who gave it to them so they can remember their friends when they raise their glasses.
Each afternoon, in the last two hours before sunset, we go down to the Libyan Sea and swim. The water is placid and transparent near the coast, but treacherous for sailors further out. Though this is Greece in summer, I have yet to see a sailboat on the south coast of Crete. This is the time of year when furious winds churning with red dust come unexpectedly out of the Sahara and chase sailors off the sea and force Cretans to take refuge inside their homes.
Off the coast, there are two uninhabited islands. They do not seem so far away — I think a strong swimmer could make it – so each day I go a little further toward them. I suspect that the myths come out at night on those islands too.
But only in my dreams can I swim that far, so I turn back a bit wistfully when I feel myself too far from shore and go back up the cliff stairs and have dinner on the terrace of the villa with my new friends. At the end of the night, when we raise our glasses of raki, I toast my friends and our good fortune, and then silently I make a toast to the islands and to those who inhabit them in the night.