The Foot of Time
“We’re getting a dividend from some investments,” my husband, Bob, stated one afternoon, opening a letter.
“So what are we talking about,” I responded, leaning over a pot of spaghetti sauce.
“Two thousand,” he answered casually.
“What!” I hooted. “How did that happen? Did we rob the bank!”
“Na,” he answered. “I just took a chance on a new thing and it paid off. So ...? Where to me’love?”
He well knew my penchant for travel, because the first thing I did after completing two years of teaching, was to apply for civilian instructor jobs with the US forces overseas. I got four offers. The Army offered Germany, and off I went because this country was centrally located. So started the wandering foot adventures. He also knew that I rejected “grand” tours because I wanted the gamble of happening onto things, places, and meeting regular folks, who live in those places.
“Just dump me off and let the adventure begin,” was my travel motto.
“Crete!” I answered my husband enthusiastically, as if I’d just been given free reign to rob a chest of gold. “It’s the beginning of civilization. Zeus was supposedly born there. Did you know that they constructed pipes that brought water down from their mountains? Those pipes were installed into the bathing rooms of their homes and rock plugs, when pulled from the walls, released water that rained down on their bodies! They took showers a couple of thousand years ago while we were still whopping each other over the head in the caves!”
I carried on with what I’d read about Greece because of a penchant for certain kinds of history and certain places. I’d read their myths to my school kids and taught them to make up their own. They did. We entered contests and they won prizes.
Bob held his hand up and asked for a pause, but in three days, we had reservations for Athens, with a connection onto Crete, taking off for this magical island during my spring school break.
The little plane we’d boarded in Athens bumped and swayed in the air, waltzing through the ocean currents. It was a clear, cloudless day and the sky matched the blue of the Aegean over which we were now flying. Passengers were all speaking Greek interspersed with English. The guy in the aisle seat next to us, began talking, telling us he’d been living and working in New York City for a couple of years, and now he was going home to his family for a vacation.
“I miss my home, my island so much,” he shared. “Can’t wait for my mother’s Fasolada soup and the Greek wine! My friends! My family!” He gave us some great suggestions for not-to-miss places on Crete, with a bit of history on each. We listened carefully and didn’t mind the bump and roll dance that ended none to gently on the ground. Departing, we saw a guy holding a sigh that said “Bucher,” and knew it was our taxi driver the airline ticket agency hired, who would deposit us at our Athens hotel with a continuing flight onto Crete. That next day, it was an hour ride in the little two engine plane, landing at Heraklion, Crete’s capital. Deplaning, we saw another guy in a suit and tie, holding yet another sign with our name and soon we were in his spotless taxi navigating the twists and turns of this beautiful place that was unveiling itself with each mile. At our hotel, we decided not to take a nap, and just get used to the time change, taking off for a gentle wander. We boarded a bus that was headed fro Chania.
The air smelled of oregano and olive oil. People were laughing and talking close to each other’s faces and many were hugging. Everywhere one looked there was the blending of the ancient and the new. The statues were heart-stopping. It was an easy thing to find the travel office and discuss trips for the week. That next day, we boarded a rickety bus that bumped and squeaked up the narrow dirt roads, ending in tiny little mountain town Heraklion where we’d stay for a week. There were no tourists on the bus save us and our tour guide. We were soon dumped off at a huge ancient ruin - a city built by the Romans.
“The people knocked to get out of their homes,” our guide stated, “because the streets were so narrow. Couldn’t open a door and bash a person in the face!”
We said goodby to him and from there, on our own, our lives were filled for a week with this beautiful place, its views, its companionable people, many of whom spoke English, and who wanted to tell us about their American relatives. We rode local busses in town and to all points on this island, traveling with the natives. We saw the ancient artifacts in their museums, were stunned by Phaistos and the Minoan Palace. We sat at the ocean’s edge and that day, had supper at the street cafes and drank wine at sunset served by spotlessly dressed guys. Stray cats were everywhere and lots of people fed them. A few did a hello-do-you-have-bit-of-something-wrap-around-our-legs under our lunch and supper tables. First time one did it, I jumped and hooted, almost spilling my wine, until I peeked under the table and looked into the face of a companionable midget tiger. We boarded boats for Chania, Santorini and Agios Nikolaos. We became easy with just doing things ourselves.
One day, we took off down a street in Chania and trudged up into the surrounding hills. We walked past adobe homes, whose windows were open, and whose residents often motioned to us to come sit, drink and eat with them.
“The first adobes were built in Babylon - 800 BC,” I told Robert, while thanking them kindly, in a mixture of English and the few words in the Chanian dialect I’d managed to pick up in those few days. So, with hand gestures, and that smattering of words, I relayed that we’d return soon and would be happy to share lunch with them.
This day though, while wandering carefully amongst the green of the surrounding hills, admiring the view and the remains of a Greek temple high above us, my foot hit a rock. When I looked down I saw that it wasn’t a rock, but a rock FOOT!
“Bob!” I whooped. “Look!”
I picked it up and held it with two hands. It was a perfectly carved and preserved piece of Cretan marble, probably over 2,000 years old. Maybe it washed down from some temple during its time of decomposition. I turned it, reveled in its beauty, shook my head with the knowledge of its age and its lasting artistry. The toes had cuticles, and were perfectly set with nails that looked real!
“When these Greeks were creating and carving these artifacts, writing in their ancient scripts,” I remarked excitedly to Bob, “America was populated by cave people who were still bopping each other over the head!” After a pause, I continued, speaking quietly to my foot masterpiece. “Crete was the center of western civilization. Maybe this foot belonged to Zeus,” I whispered to Robert. “Maybe ‘Europe’. Folk lore.’” I added. Not the country - it was a woman named same. She was born here and the then, so goes the mythology, all the unnamed world got named after her. ‘Europe.’ I placed the foot carefully where I’d found it. But - truth be told, I so wanted to stick it down the front of my shirt and steal it.
The days drifted by. We ate wonderful meals. We wandered and had adventures. We found the people who’d invited us and sat down for a meal to which they invited their entire family. The joy swelled our hearts to overflowing. We took tours and learned history. Some ancient towns were built underground amd we wandered the first labyrinth King Minos built to house the Minotaur - a mythological creature with the head of a bull and the body of a man. We enjoyed sunrises and sunsets, the gift of true sharing with each other, and the sharing of stories with our tour guides. We also shared with the inhabitants of this beautiful place, so preserved, so real - so alive and living, because some spoke English and knew the USA or England. They wanted to share with us stories about their transplanted relatives. We were so glad we had the adventure spirit. We were so glad we chose to do this beautiful island on our own, no tour company.
In life, sometimes the smallest things are the most unforgettable.
When I think that many of us consider a foot as a negative object, likening it to the stomping of a heart - a kick in the fanny, I think of that 2,000 year-old Greek work of art, made of marble, that endures, hopefully in that green meadow where I returned it. Because of that foot, I will always be walking amongst my most vivid memories, with it as the exquisite bedrock of my knowledge of human evolution.
The foot of time.
The foot of . . . mine.
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