Travel

Lost and Found in Crete: Part Two - The lost art of getting lost.

stoneperson

I'm still here and "...still feeling safely tucked under the ancient olive tree that resides high above Loutro bay in Crete. Stretched out against it’s cracked skin, gazing out over the Libyan sea, I’m drifting off behind the distant mountains with the sun." As began the last blog post, weeks ago.

Time stretches easily in to tomorrow, next week, next month. Winter knocks gently at the door for a day or two before balmy warmth rocks up again so I never quite know what to wear outside. Always over-dressed or under-dressed. I can hardly remember the days that go before today when friends or acquaintances ask me to list what I've been up to…errrrr...can't really remember. They've been good but they're melting in to a soft ball of slowing down, sleeping, re-connecting and looking in to the mirror and saying 'hello Dal, there you are!" Yes, here I am. Still.

The Crete trip was profound and it's soul seems to have leapt in to my bones and settled there. Earlier this year I’d found a writing retreat online in Loutro, Southern Crete, where Loutro was described as a soporific place, breathtakingly quiet, full of history and a haven for writers. Only accessible by foot or boat. Those words stuck in the forefront of my memory as I read more about Loutro in Lonely Planet, Rough Guides and online. They all said the same - sleepy, soporific, going back in time. That is exactly where I needed to be. I would create my own Loutro retreat experience.

writing-spot

So, one spontaneously booked flight and frantic online room searching later, I arrived on Crete. After a sleepless night in a friendly little hotel in Chania with a very handsome receptionist called Stavros (honestly), a wibbly-wobbly coach journey sat next to a Cretan woman repeatedly signing crosses on her chest, I boarded the small ferry from Chora Sfakia which took me to Loutro bay. Along with what seemed like hundreds of other tourists. I arrived in a knackered heap, with aching ribs and some kind of lingering virus.

Loutro is absolutely lovely in many ways. There is not much to do there except eat, drink, sleep, walk, swim and BE. It is paradisaical. It is gorgeous. I can see how it would be a writer's haven. BUT with hundreds of other tourists. You’ll get away from it all with everyone else getting away from it all. Hmmmm. Good people watching then.

The best thing about thinking 'hmmmm' was getting lost. After a couple of days of sea gazing from the balcony, catching up on sleep and tears and being blessed by Julia, the studio caretaker, "I bless you not once, not twice, but three times with all the love in the world" followed by a hug and a kiss, I went walkabout with the firm intention of finally getting away from it all.

labrynth

The Sfakian coastline overlooking the Libyan Sea is SPECTACULAR. The water is like pure crushed crystals. The mountains arid and wise, scattered with thousands of sea squills that light up every night at dusk. Mountain goats are everywhere, the bells a constant melodic tinkle being flung up to the sky and in to weary ears. Eagles and vultures fly high above deserted mountain villages. There are no cars. Just the odd hum of a boat engine. I found it so stunning that tears regularly filled my eyes.

themysterymachine

I got thoroughly lost. Well as lost as is possible on a coastline. And found a little slice of heaven created by a hippy called Vangelis who ran the most basic of guest houses, nestling all by itself on a truly soporific stretch of coast. Complete with hammocks, swinging chairs, stone people and eclectic guests including a man from Paris who had spent the previous month sleeping under a two thousand year old olive tree. Utter heaven. It was QUIET. No pandering to tourists. Vangelis had inherited this little house from his grandfather and he and his wife had left Athens to live there. Just being in his presence felt calming and magical. I remember his big slanting kind eyes and his effortless slowness. The soft sea was medicinal balm for my weary soul. The Milky Way felt like it was going to fall from the sky and wrap me up in stardust. I was utterly BLOWN AWAY.

Writing this here and now feels difficult, to put in to words exactly what this whole trip felt like. What it meant. Feelings. It was more about feelings, presence, connection, healings. Less about words. Though words seeped through the pen to paper.

seasquill

I wrote this pantoum, a hypnotic and repetitive form, hugely pleasing to write:

I rest against a creased olive tree amidst labyrinthine ruins the Sfakian sun begins his descent and suddenly, my eyes are on fire by a thousand sea squills.

Amidst labyrinthine ruins soaking up vanishing daystar rays and suddenly, my eyes are on fire by a thousand sea squills I wonder, do they dance like this at sunrise too?

Soaking up vanishing daystar rays twilight deepens, sea squills fall in to sleep I wonder, do they dance like this at sunrise too? Heartbeat slows, saltwater runs across my cheeks.

Twilight deepens, sea squills fall in to sleep the Sfakian sun begins his descent heartbeat slows, saltwater runs across my cheeks I rest against a creased olive tree.

Getting lost and finding my little Cretan paradise helped me to re-connect to many parts of me that had split off in the preceding 18 months. I'd forgotten how to get lost. I started having conversations with random strangers and making contacts, connections and links, broadening my horizons and viewpoints. I revelled in daily sea swimming and felt as if I was being washed from the inside out. I spent hours gazing at the setting sun under ancient olive trees. I got lost yet again in Chania, finding myself in the ancient synagogue on Jewish New Year, being fed and watered and invited back to teach some creative writing. All these experiences reminded me just how narrow and tired my life had become as a result of trauma and loss.

it taught me that getting lost is so vitally important to living. actually having no destination at all is completely freeing. who knows where you’ll end up.

When we were little, my sisters' and I always used to shout 'get lost!' when we annoyed each other. 'Go away, get lost and don't come back' is what we really meant. Returning to Motherland 2 - Crete was about going away, getting lost and frankly I didn't want to come back! Yet I did. It feels like a subtly different me that came back. A me that has re-kindled some old dreams of spending more time amidst the goats and sea squills, of swimming in turquoise infused wetness and befriending old old trees. Of getting lost more often nearer to home too.

Not everyone is comfortable when you leave the safe shores of certainty to go lose yourself. It is deeply unsettling to them. They'll try to pull you back to shore. To the safe job. To the same old routine. But if you need to do it, to cut the ropes and see where you'll float off to - then do it. Bite that rope with your teeth if you have to. Fuck the destination, it doesn't matter. Destinations can be overrated anyway. Especially if everyone is going there. Stop reading guide books. Revel in the unknowingness of it all and speak to improbable people. It's not about being reckless. It's about being wise. It's about fuelling your soul, your spirit.

Now it's time for me to get lost again.

And to all of you beautiful beings that feel like my online sea squills, 'get lost!'.


Lost and found in Crete ~ Part One: Homecoming

Dal under Olive Tree
Dal under Olive Tree

I WENT

I showed no restraint.I gave in completely and went.

To the delights, that were half real,

half wheeling in my mind,

I went in the luminous night.

And I drank of the heady wines, just

as sensuality's stalwarts drink.

C.P. Cavity (translated by David Connolly)

These days, I'm still feeling safely tucked under the ancient olive tree that resides high above Loutro bay in Crete. Stretched out against it's cracked skin, gazing out over the Libyan sea, I'm drifting off behind the distant mountains with the sun.

In reality, I'm sat here at my kitchen table in Yorkshire, back on morning caffeine kicks (oh how I love this ritual) but somehow it feels I left a big part of me over there...happily so.

Or could it be I was always there and just needed to go back and meet myself again?

In the Sfakian Mountains
In the Sfakian Mountains
"Crete's mystery is extremely deep. Whoever sets foot on this island senses a mysterious force branching warmly and beneficently through his veins, senses his soul begin to grow." Niko Kazantzakis

Crete's mystery first oozed into my veins in September 2002. Battered and weary from an abruptly ruptured relationship, I found myself doing Ashtanga yoga and line dancing at a small retreat in Agios Pavlos. As the taxi wound down in to the little village, I was utterly entranced by the arid mountains and little houses dotted around. I was the most immobile human amongst the wind-breaking, steaming yogis despite the muscle-melting heat. But surprisingly good at line dancing.

Much time was spent losing myself in sea-blue skies, shining water and being hypnotised by tinkling goat bells. This momentary pause provided respite from the real-life entanglement I found myself in. And stoked my curiosity for this magical island... Fast forward 6 years or so and I'd discovered Iyengar yoga, a practice where battered bodies and un-stretched limbs were welcome - using blocks, props and multifarious sound effects to ease out knots and pains. And I discovered Marios Argiros, a lean, olive skinned and incredible yogi who ran Iyengar retreats in Kissamos Bay near Chania. It was enough to just visit a place called Kissamos. Kiss-a-moss. The name rolled around my tongue like a Cretan honey wrapped cloud. And so did the place for the next 4 years as my sister and I stretched and walked and swam in paradise for a week before returning home floating on raki, clouds and wearing sun-kissed skin.

Sfakian Sea-people
Sfakian Sea-people

But it was more than that. Year by year the soul of Crete was nestling itself surreptitiously in to a part of my psyche so that every time I left I would be longing to return. Some places just do that to you. I felt a love and safety amongst the Cretan people I met, who still beheld the spirit of filoxenia towards their visitors.

Filoxenia (philoxenia) ~ a generosity of spirit that welcomes and takes care of strangers in one's home. One local described it as welcoming visitors to their island as 'mini gods'. The English translation doesn't do filoxenia justice. It's something you have to experience and feel - and mostly, it feels very real in Crete. Like a big cup of cocoa and and a hot water bottle warming your bones and radiating outwards.

My longing continued and grew in to fantasies of spending whole summers in Crete. Yet slowly, as time passed  the fantasies and longing got buried beneath other countries that called me. Morocco, Cuba, America and Australia, almost tempting me to languish there for months or even years.  As life hurtled on, another relationship ended and so did my father's life. It seems if you don't act on a impulse or intuition fast enough it will quietly say 'stuff you then' and go hide. Until.

Death is an awakening force that pierces directly in to the truth of who, where, why and what-the-f**k. If we allow it to. Crete started murmuring ~ come...come back and the gentle sing-song of goat bells haunted my ears by night once again. Crete remained alive in my veins, waking me up.  I needed the sea to infect every part of me and the mountains to bring me home. I needed bursting nectarines and blistering heat. I needed to hear the perfumed lullaby of a middle-aged bearded Greek man with sea-creased, jade-soaked eyes and rough hands to bring me salads with far too many tomatoes for one. I needed feta with everything. And for raki to heat my throat and burn my words. I needed sweaty walks up steep hills to mountain villages and to scratch the little lumps tattooed on my arms by the generosity of Cretan mosquitos. Alive. I wanted thorough aliveness. I wanted to reach up and grab the Milky Way and wrap it around me, a blanket of warm remembering of my deepest ancestors. And to fly with vultures and eagles again. I needed to sit under 2 thousand year old olive trees enveloped by their wisdom and fearlessness. This drenching, this absolute drenching that Crete gives and gives and gives. I needed to thoroughly, completely and utterly soak myself and lose myself in this.

And what alchemy happens when you listen to that whisper...

It began 30,000 feet in the air ~ out of the blue, amidst the blue. I began to write about how I couldn't write about what happened in the 11 months between Dad having his stroke and Dad dying. About how I just couldn't write about any of it at the time. But 'that time' felt lodged firmly in my body and pushing out of my ribs, ever increasing in size. Especially those first 10 days in the Punjabi hospital which kept re-playing in my head, in my dreams, tainting everyday living moments.

from the journal, 30,000 feet high:

"I couldn't write then. The hurt was so deep I couldn't access where it was located. The shock so visceral that it took up permanent residence in my cells and started to push words through my pores so finally my face spoke the pain that languished like an unwelcome house guest, the poltergeist within, throwing and moving things about in the only direction it could - skin. 

Internally, I was exploding at atomic velocity, composure decomposing, deconstructing. I felt the very threads keeping me strung together withering daily along with Dad's achingly slow demise. And whilst inside molten rock was surging, the gurgling heat was sluggishly fading. I was slowing too. Myelin sheath rubbed raw by a covert grief leaking all over me like a sullen pen spelling it's ink all over my fingers and blotting the page with it's petulance, refusing to allow for clarity of words."

"The star holds the sky. We share the same lineage the same familiarity. Dad too. Maybe that's what needed to happen. That part of me that couldn't BE with what was happening in THAT 11 months needed to fly back to familiar territories along light years, to be safely kept until the moment came when I could again unfold."

By the time the plane thumped on to Chania runway something had shifted. Writing about not being able to write - it works. Mid-air I'd re-united with part of myself again.

I think of Cavafy's Ithaca and pray that my journey ahead is long and infused with treasures...

I wish this for you too.


Gritstone to Loutro and the middlings...

Strange Edge
Strange Edge

Since the last blog post I can report that simmer time is officially here. But how hard is to go from a fast boil to just a little sizzle?

Hard. My first two weeks of simmering allowed for long forgotten walks in the Peak District. That tenacious landscape thrilled and ignited my cells to come out of hiding, infusing themselves with heather-laden air. A re-grounding and re-wilding of internal affairs, catching the last blast of purple ling. Remembering the 'oh this is me' me. Simultaneously, the anticipation of walking a new edge was building with my masters course due to begin, knocking at my heart like Autumn hues. Step after step after step.

It was feet atop flagstones and gritstone. My hand barely held a pen unless it had to.

Endings. Middlings. Beginnings. Middlings. In that order. Loss is a big middling. And on the 7 month anniversary of Dad's grand departure I arrived in Bristol for the unknown unknown. A teenage dream finally realised. Bittersweet. 'They' say that grief gets easier. When? It's not getting any easier. And I would like to politely add 'f**k the cliches'. If I was previously inhabiting the ghostly space of liminal fug I'm not quite sure where I'm at right now. It feels like sticky cobwebs, a crippling slow ache, toffee fog and an unhealed scab. It feels like Dadly visitations in sleep time that keep me awake all night. It's like 'OK Dad, time to come home now, you've been in the Punjab long enough'.

Except he's not. Dad is really not coming home. That complete and utter disappearance of Dad is repeatedly shattering. Repeatedly. Shattering.

I feel like an intergalactic traveller flying amidst a weird and wonderful nebula of loss, enchantment, wonder, hope, laughter, tears. Death sharpens like nothing else. It is a rude awakening and a rude unforgetting. A wild alivening. Some days I don't feel big enough to hold all of these opposites. But they are not opposites. They're just shades. Shades of being. The contradictions that we all juggle.

If Dad hadn't passed away 7 months ago, I wouldn't have been sat in a room with 7 other powerful word-warriors that day in Bristol. Nor would I have been invited in to a hot-tub later, an invitation I chose to decline (another story). Death sharpened me. Dad gifted me an edge that I never had before. I have no idea where it'll lead. Thank you Dad. Then I think of gritstone and edges and middlings, of being a tiny being perched on Dad's hip looking over the 'pani' (water) at Redmires..

The day after my body remembers it's absolutely exhausted, I struggle to walk far and somehow a virus has snuck in to my ribs (says the osteopath). Or maybe my heart has got so overwhelmed by all of those juxtapositions that it's pushing my ribs out. Getting a rib virus (a what?!!) is a strangeness I'd rather not repeat. Simmer Dal, simmer. If you won't turn the heat down yourself then we'll do it for you. But just one more thing to do...get on that airplane.

Here I am now. Sleepless in Loutro, fragments of dreams lurking, tea cooling, darkness lightening, ribs aching. Pinching myself that I'm actually here. Everything is S L O W in Loutro. Except me, for now. The only thing to do here is to embrace the simmering.

And as folks slowly waken to the day, the waning moon still hanging amidst altocumulus, the sky suffused with sunrise and a distant boat bringing in the dawn catch ~ I will go back to sleep and see where it takes me this morning.