I DISCOVER GREECE by Harry Franck
Reviewed by Flavia
Wherein an Incurable Nomad sets forth what befell him
and an artist friend during a labyrinthine summer journey through Modern
BY HARRY A. FRANCK
Ninety-seven Illustrations from Photographs by the Author and a Frontispiece
by His Companion
THE CENTURY CO. NEW YORK LONDON
A LONELY JOURNEY TO CRETE
I TOPPED off my Grecian interlude with a moonlight sail to the classic
isle of Crete, alone. The artist was moonlighting on the Acropolis, bidding
the Parthenon a last sad farewell before sailing on the morrow for the
heathery land from which came his ability to economize, sometimes. In
the not too early morning I awoke on a deck bench to find our Egypt-bound
steamer within sight of Greece's largest island. The range of barren,
almost completely deforested mountains was different from other Greek
isles only in that it stretched from horizon to horizon. For Crete is
fifty miles long.
Unfortunately, two thirds of its 3326 square miles are sterile rock.
The deforesting of past centuries has left it little but bare mountain
slopes, down which the rare rains roar quickly into the sea, carrying
with them any arable particle of earth they meet on the way. Hence most
of the men have gone to the United States or elsewhere, and women and
children and the old and the infirm make up much of the population. Yet
350,000 people find a livelihood of some sort on Crete, and thousands
of them consider it the nearest approach to an earthly paradise.
About nine we stopped outside a tiny harbor of horseshoe shape, not
large enough even for such small steamers as ours. Among the swarms of
boatmen who came out to us were two blacks, the first and last Negroes
I ever saw in Greece. Once, under the Turks, hundreds of them were brought
over from Africa. Canea, second port and capital of Crete, must have been
very Turkish before the island was restored to Greece in 1913. There are
still several minarets, many graceful old domes, queer old houses in queer
old streets, even hubble-bubbles in the cafes. A coffee-house spreads
far and wide beneath a huge old plane-tree, from which a chorus of crickets
perpetually promises rain; any one who has seen Crete knows they are lying,
or at least mistaken. Hot as all Grecian coast towns, was Canea; yet there
were patches of snow on the near-by mountain tops, though it was already
run out early and often to Khalepa, a suburb at the base of Akrotiri Peninsula,
long the best residential section; and it cost me precisely two cents
to be set down exactly in front of the home of Venizelos. The "Grand
Old Man of Greece"-except to the royalists and the partizans, if
any are left, of Pangalos-was overseeing the restoration of the home and
garden-orchard of his fathers (or fathers-in-law), which he then thought
was to serve as his last residence.
Meanwhile the little more than a bungalow in which he lived at the end
of the bus line was an astonishingly simple home for so famous a man.
Our interview was short; in fact, his first words were the assurance that
he would not be interviewed, which spared me the embarrassment of saying
that I could not stay long enough for such a formality even were I given
But everything in its place. First, a brief general chat, in English,
with the former and future premier's secretary in a tight little office-studio
crammed with many evidences of scholarly tastes. Then the sudden appearance
of a man dressed in white, a still hale and hearty gentleman of scanty
white hair and snow-white beard, looking very much like a college professor
on his vacation, or in retirement. A smiling reply to my first query,
(that on the whole he preferred to converse in French rather than in English.
A stroll through part of the grounds of the ancestral home, impersonal
now in the throes of extensive repairs; a kodak portrait, another for
safety's sake, before an influx of friends and callers, some of them obviously
politicians direct from Athens, with important things to fray, or hear,
sent me back to the two-cent bus. Besides, my steamer was not to remain
Plainly a man with a certain not unjustified sense of his own importance,
yet quite as evidently a man well above the Greek average. Eleutherios
Venizelos, though his family originally came from Sparta, was born in
the little village of Mournies, ten minutes away from where he was planning
to end his days. Only the walls of his birthplace remain; but inside them
his fellow-islanders, to whom he is still the Grand Cretan, have made
a tiny garden, with a commemorative stela in the center, and on the ruined
back wall is a white-marble plaque which tells us in golden letters that
Venizelos first saw the light of day there in 1864.
His return to his native isle, more than four years before, had aroused
great enthusiasm among the undemonstrative Cretans, Every living being
in Canea knows and is proud to point out where he lives; nothing to thai
prophet in his own country stuff in this case. It had been sixteen years
since he lived in Canea, where he wished, so he had recently said, to
end his days in the island of his childhood and youth, "far from
the noise and false alarms of this world. I want no more to do with the
politics of Greece. So many hatreds are still accumulated against me that
my re-entrance into the political arena might mean civil war. Henceforth
I wish to live in calm and peace, and much as I like Athens, or Paris,
I love better my Cretan native land. Nevertheless...." Ah, yes, there
is usually a nevertheless in such retirements..."nevertheless, if
the Greek people force my hand and oblige me again to take part in politics..."
Though even then half the men in the Zaimis coalition government were
"Venizelists," there was an atmosphere about the end of that
Canea bus line which made it no surprise to hear not long afterward that
the savior of modern Greece had quitted his isle of Elba and returned
As you should, though you may not, know, this Lycurgus of present-day
Greece, educated as a provincial lawyer, was the leader in the revolutionary
plots against the Turks who so long prevented the Cretans from politically
rejoining their fellow-Greeks. He landed in Athens in 1910, united the
Balkans against Turkey, and was the chief single instrument in making
the Greece of to-day what it is. He quarreled with King Constantine, the
Kaiser's brother-in-law, and helped to exile him and bring in the armies
of the Allies. He matched wits with the keenest political minds of Europe
at the Paris Peace Conference, so called, and won for Greece the rich
city of Smyrna and the hinterland. But there were plots and counterplots,
and in 1920 he fell from power- Then Constantine pushed his armies too
far into Anatolia, and when they were overwhelmed by the Kemal-driven
Turks, the Venizelos party returned to power under King George and repaired
as best it could the disasters others had wrought.
Looking back upon it, I suspect that M. Venizelos, on the day I saw
him playing the country gentleman revamping the ancestral estate, had
already made up his mind that he must once more lay aside his Thucydides
and go back to Athens to do over once more the work he had already twice
done. Just why he picked the day following the earthquake disaster of
Corinth to overthrow the ministry led and manned by has best political
friends, or at least by men to whom he had voluntarily turned over the
government, is too complicated a story to interest deeply any one but
a specialist in Balkan politics. Not merely Venizelos himself, it seems,
believed that those to whom he had handed the reins of state had made
a mess of the Liberal party, that the republican regime was in danger
of being choked to death, that those in power were sacrificing the country
to foreign moneyed interests-mainly another word for Italy.
The Grand Cretan was soon to win an almost unprecedented victory over
all opposition groups, a victory which means a turning toward France as
against Italy, a victory for the pro-Yugoslavia element over the pro-Mussolini
combination, for Venizelos has always been a believer in the Balkans for
the Balkan people. It probably means a more favorable attitude toward
the free harbor for Yugoslavia at Salonika, perhaps toward that promised
the Bulgarians at Kavala or Dedeagatch And to the outside world, to the
European powers with whom he has long dealt and who admire and even trust
him. as far as one statesman ever trusts another, the return of Venizelos
is evidence that Greece is ready at last to settle down and go to work
in earnest on her innumerable weighty problems of post-war reconstruction.
But since the days of Aristides the Greeks have been notoriously fickle.
It remains to be seen whether they will stand behind their greatest modern
leader long enough for him to make present-day Greece what it might be.
But though now, at sixty-four, the man who has seen ten revolutions
and taken part in eight has entered upon his third period of power, there
is little doubt that he would prefer to go back to Crete, with its roses
and its asphodels, its wild marguerites and its rhododendrons, its olive
orchards and the buried palaces of the kings of Knossos, to his little
crowded den and the leisurely study of Thucydides. Yet if republican Greece
is to be done with puppet monarchs and opera-bouffe dictators and constant.
political turmoil, it must have a stabilizer, and his name is Venizelos.
So Thucydides, who has already waited twenty-four centuries, must wait
a little longer.
Pangalos I did not see, though he also was living in Crete. It would
have taken an hour or two by auto-bus along precipice-bordering roads
to reach his residence, perhaps fully as long to get into it, and possibly
even longer to get out again; for so at least it has proved to Mr. Pangalos
himself. For his residence Is the famous old Izzedine prison, inside an
enormous fortress built on the flank of a mountain at the southern end
of the Bay of Souda. There he lives in the apartment of the prison director,
with a balcony as his share of the outside world, permission to walk twice
a day in the big court-garden for exercise, the right to receive books
and newspapers. Those privileges may long remain the only freedom of action
of a man who for a year ruled Greece with a heavy hand. Most Greeks admit
that Pangalos was merely a self-seeker urged on by an ambitious wife;
and most of them agree that Venizelos, though he may have made mistakes,
is a sincere and honest patriot, of whom there are not too many in the
political circles of modern Greece.
The steamer plodded on eastward along the almost perpendicular coast.
Rethymno, where we anchored far out, in the hot haze of midday, also has
its ancient fortress and several minarets-pointed, unusually high and
slender minarets, like sharpened pencils-as against one church tower.
A small town, enclosed by an old sea-wall, with a lighthouse at one end,
a few greenish fields spreading upward beyond it a little way up the skirts
of repulsive mountains rising to a lofty point adorned with the inevitable
white chapel, due to be visited on August 15. We loaded bags of caoba
and plodded on along the coast.
A stony, mountainous, mostly infertile island, soaring into mountains
beautiful at a distance, especially in the purple lights of morning and
evening, towns and villages, mainly white, tucked away in the lower laps
of them. One mountain piles up in a series of domes which you might fancy
the inspiration for the great Constantinople mosques. Here and there stretches
of olive-green along- The lower foot-hills, always quickly ending 'n barren
heights not worth terracing. I saw no terraces in Crete, only ash-heaps,
sometimes faintly sprinkled, barely prickled, with green, for long distances,
without a sign of man or any other animal.
Candia, which the Greeks now call Herakleion, also has. a tiny stone-walled,
horseshoe-shaped harbor calked with a lighthouse and a fortress at the
respective ends, and big enough for only the tiniest steamers and sailing
vessels. The town was less interesting than Canea. Here there was a rage
for "improvements," wide but still unpaved streets, garages
in corners of the ancient city wail. The stubs of minarets rose above
the rest. On the main street the Greeks had cut down trees from which
the Turks were given to hanging them; they were digging up the principal
mosque and building something else in its place. The population of Crete
used to be fifty-fifty; to-day there is not a Turk on the island.
( Lion's Square in Heraklion in 1938 )
A well-dressed Cretan boy
The Hotel Minos, owned by an ex-American and announcing itself, far
out beyond the harbor, in "Broadway" electric letters two feet
high, is perhaps the best hotel on the Aegean islands, and ranks high
among the hostelries of Greece. The proprietor is a modernist; but of
what use are bathrooms when there is no running water, because there is
no water to run ? The youth who pumps what there is may resemble the Minotaur,
but even Theseus could not help him, though he might, with Ariadne's patronage,
be useful in guiding one through the labyrinth of Candia's outer streets.
Herakleion has many automobiles but also some bone-twisting closed carriages;
there is a little railway, too, but it carries only freight. Here flies
bite like hornets-too hot for them in Greece proper? Or perhaps, since
Crete is half-way to Egypt, the Egyptian flies summer there. At sunset
the whole town turns out and strolls along the beginning of the main road
to the interior, past the park in which hundreds sit at cafe tables and
outdoor movies and where you have merely to consume rather than pay admission
But you must come by nine to be sure of a seat, and wait until nearly
eleven before the foolish shadow dramas begin.
Cafe and restaurant tables under white awnings about the old Venetian
four-clog stone fountain in the center of town; another farther down the
main street toward the harbor. I shall never be surprised to read under
a Herakleion dateline that a waiter has been killed in line of duty by
an automobile. For the tables cover both sidewalks, not only before the
restaurant itself but before the bank building opposite, and waiters carrying
food and drink dash back and forth through the traffic descending the
street to the little harbor, shouting "Mia peponia!" (which,
as I have said before, means a slice of cantaloupe) and that other national
war-cry of Greece, "Ma'ista!" meaning "At once!" in
the dictionary and "Whenever I get around to it" in practice.
Snails were sold in pailfuls now, because during the fifteen fast days
of "Little Easter" the pious eat no meat, and snails have no
Some of the million and a half refugee Greeks from Asia Minor and elsewhere
have built shack shops in Herakleion, and their makeshift homes are stuck
like hornets' nests against the old city ramparts and other protective
structures which spare them the building of a back wall. Moreover, there
is a whole new town m the usual bone-dry suburb reached by rattling motor-bus.
Out there a dozen cloth-sail windmills, the largest that of a grist-mill
with an interesting scene in the stone-lower interior, to which wheat
is brought on the hacks of donkeys and other burden-bearers, [he others
drawing water, were toiling away in a little depression. The bare streets
of the government-built refugee suburb are identical with those elsewhere
Women haul up water by hand in the middle of one of them, standing on
the stone or mud-brick uncovered well-curb several feet high. Though there
are far too many people in Crete for the island to support, the raising
of children seems to be the main industry even among the refugees. Between
the new settlement and the main town are the finest beaches imaginable,
water unsurpassed, where bathing- suits are unnecessary.
The costumes of Crete are a mixture of the old and the modern, the old-fashioned
male garb one of the most picturesque ones left in the Near East. The
principal cloth is the most delicately blue navy-blue I have ever seen
on a man, just a little too blue for even the most showy of us to wear.
It is expensive, finely woven of pure wool, many times too thick for my
summer taste, and is made-in England. Many are the little open-den tailor
shops that turn this cloth into the garb still worn by most countrymen,
especially of the older generation, even by boys. The embroidered Jacket
. . . Oh, come now, you surely can't expect me to labor over another costume
description this late in the day-see the photographs. It would require
an expert-tailor program-writer or a taxidermist or something of the sort
to describe adequately the Cretan male costume.
the male costume of Crete
The voluminous trousers serve as a carry-all. Like the kangaroo with
its marsupial pouch, the men seem not at all to mind a load like a cow's
heavy udder swinging between their legs. Bread, cheese, olives, anything
needed along the way go into and wabble about in the capacious slack of
the trousers. The wasp-like waists of the men of Crete have been famous
for many centuries, as we shall soon see, and the alzarine or lilac-purple
silk sash about the waist costs a lot of money, as money goes in Crete.
So do the high boots which malic the Cretan bootblack's life miserable
Most of these are black, well-made riding boots, though not many men ride,
boots worthy our proudest army officers. The real swanks wear white sheepskin
boots, not only because those are more showy but because, since they are
more expensive and less durable and easily soiled, to have them whole
and clean is an evidence of wealth. A couple of inches of bare, not always
washed, sunburned-as-the-face knees between the high boots and the skirt-trousers
seems to be de rigueur among those who pose as he-men. Women also wear
the heavy boots, and have their own ideas in dress, but they by no means
achieve the circus-parade aspect of the men.
Auto-buses run from Herakleion to various parts of the island. The front
seat is tolerable, if you can capture it; but two travelers besides the
driver generally crowd into it. The rest of the vehicle is commonly a
truck in which passengers sit on the bare floor, or at best on narrow
little loose-board seats that have a way of frequently breaking down.
But discomfort means nothing to this people.
Personally I preferred to walk. I hate to come home from a trip abroad
with my legs already rested; if only one could have the real hardships
at the last moment and then fly home ... at least it would be a little
longer before the call of the open road became imperative again. My tramping
shoes had succumbed to Parnassus; my walking clothes and country hat had
passed into oblivion. But there is no curing a bad habit. Like the naughty
little boy who no sooner gets all dressed up than lie goes out and plays
in the mud.
I found myself taking a dusty, sweaty tramp of twenty hot and stony miles,
which should at least help to keep me contented during the long sea voyage
An hour's walk out the evening-promenade road brought me to Knossos.
By (lay the blazing while, soft, glaring limestone of which most of Crete
is made powders the grapes and everything else along the edge of the well-traveled
highway, and soon gives the pedestrian the appearance of having climbed
out of a flour-barrel.
(ruins of the Minoan Palace of Knossos in Crete )
Men, sometimes an immodest woman, jogged by, sitting sidewise on their
donkeys, swinging their heavy boots. Two-wheeled one-mule carts rumbled
past, each with eighteen pigskins bursting full of new red wine, the drivers
asleep. Smaller carts drawn by donkeys reminded one of Ireland.
All are stopped, searched, taxed at the octroi-station on the edge of
Herakleion. For to-day, far from exacting from Athens seven brave youths
and as many fair maidens yearly as fodder for her bull-headed monster,
Crete sends tribute to Athens. Cart-loads, wagon-loads, truck-loads of
the splendid big grapes of Crete were just then being shipped from the
principal port of Greece's long island. They came down to the wharves
in new baskets with heaped-up woven tops, on all manner of Cretan conveyances,
so that the rattle of cart-wheels loose on their axles sounded along the
descending main street all night long.
hardly need remind you that Crete was one of the chief seats of the Mycenaean
civilization which nourished before the rise of the Hellenes, reaching
its height about fifteen centuries before Christ. Hence for the archaeologist
the island is notable mainly for the ruins of ancient Knossos, the traditional
capital of Crete, with its remnants of an advanced civilization older
than that of Greece. Knossos was entirely modern in its insistence upon
hygiene and comfort, on proper drainage, even on daily baths. The palace
of its king was famous for its winding stairways, its immense banqueting
hall, for a cellar where grain and wine and olive-oil were Stored, so
vast that it gave rise to the labyrinth story. To this day it is not clear
just what caused the downfall of Knossos. No doubt the savages from the
banks of the Danube, who later became the ancient Greeks, having learned
many things from the men living behind the high walls of Mycenae Tiryns,
Knossos, destroyed this highest form of Aegean civilization as having
outlived its usefulness.
The Knossos ruins lie close to the main road. There are long rows of
earthenware jars in stone-faced trenches, many of them big enough to hold
a short man standing upright. Others arc scattered about the ruins, the
heavier with a dozen or a score of handles. Supplies kept in them? If
so the jam had long since been eaten when the archaeologists found them,
or the corpses had disintegrated, no contents left; SO the scientists
can only guess what purpose they served. They carried the mind back to
similar huge jars, hewn out of solid granite, on the plains of Xieng Khuang
in French Indochina. Those uncovered at Knossos are of earthenware, yet
in a way an even more remarkable feat in the making, so huge are they
and so intricate with handles and decorations; and in many cases one marvels
no less at the way they have been expertly patched up.
The Minoan Prince with the Lillies, fresco
The English archaeologist responsible for the unearthing of Knossos
has tried to restore, not without success, enough of its ancient buildings
and their decorations to make them tangible to the layman of feeble imagination.
The brilliant colors of the restored wall paintings are the most impressive
part of this work, to the popular taste; and one would be inclined to
credit that Englishman with a gift for exaggeration equal to his self-confidence,
were there not in the Candia museum remnants enough of the originals
to prove the incredible as to colors, and as to the men's waists. The
slender waists of the men in those strikingly bright restorations of
the wall-paintings of ancient Knossos are still, after so many centuries,
one of the specialties and chief prides of the male Cretan. They do not
seem to use corsets; evidently they are just naturally built that way.
I recommend to the seeker in quest of the picturesque the old aqueduct
which strides in huge stone arches across the ravine and the old stone
road Just beyond the ruins of Knossos. The modern road, for carts and
wagons and panting automobiles, sneaks down through the valley and out
again by a long detour, a roundabout shirking of the climb, like most
modern roads. The ancient atone one stalks sturdily down through the
little river and straight up over the hill beyond, with the directness
and scorn for easy going of ancient or primitive peoples.
That old road seems to lead on over the horizon to romance. But it does
not, as usual; for I plodded on in the hot, dry sunshine clear over the
crest, to a commonplace village, with soldiers and an outdoor lunch-room,
then on and on again, without finding any him of romance. Yet something
dragged me still farther, hour after hour, for all the heat and dust and,
toward the end, feet wearying from the incessant impact with the stony
road ; on by a strange trail over a stony ridge to Arkhanes, with its
vast fields of flat-topped grape arbors, heavy with ripening fruit, beyond
which the Minotaur we call time forbade me to stray. No one in the fields,
any more than in the expensively restored ruins of Knossos, during the
hot hours of the day; but men and girls were all picking ripening tobacco
in the shadows of the hills at sunset.
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