Finding Amira.

Finding Amira.

Decades before I decided to visit Tangier and let alone move here, Paul Bowles wrote:

‘A town, like a person, almost ceases to have a face once you know it intimately, and visual modifications are skin deep; and a good deal of time is required to change their attitudes and behaviour.’  He concluded, ‘Tangier is still a small town in the sense that you literally cannot walk along a principal street without meeting a dozen of your friends with whom you must stop and chat.  What starts out to be a ten minute stroll will normally take an hour or more’.

Tangier has become home for me, quickly and kindly.  We’ve melded together over five short months, and the characters who make each day here interesting and ultimately, incredibly fulfilling, were not even known to me a year ago when I wrote a piece titled 11/9 here: https://pinningmywords.com/2017/09/12/1109/

That piece was centered around life and where it may take you; love and my failings in finding it, accepting the circumstances we are granted in the precious little book that is our lives and most of all, making the most of each day.

During a short visit to Paris last month, a year to the day since I wrote 11/9, I re-read it, reflecting on how much can happen in just a year.  Over a dinner at a favourite cafe on my final night in Paris, my dinner companions teased me under twinkling fairy lights as we sipped through a bottle of wine, ‘you’ve basically created your own version of Eat, Pray, Love, in your move to Morocco’.  

I laughed, advising that while I like to eat, and I am certainly surrounded by a lot of praying (five times daily to be precise) – the one thing I have really found, is love.

Not with one person in particular, but a whole lot of people.  Most importantly, I explained, I’ve truly learnt to understand myself in a way I have never experienced in my entire life, and for me, this has been a huge turning point.

The following day I flew home on one of the twice weekly AirArabia flights direct from Paris to Tangier.  As we glided over Spain, I flung open my laptop to write a blog about love and finding a new home, only to find the laptop dying a slow and painful death from a flat battery, at which point, I settled for a tin of Pringles and a glass of water and took in the beautiful dusk that blanketed Europe.  Butterflies danced in my stomach as we crossed the Strait of Gibraltar before landing on North African turf at sunset.

‘I think I’d like to take in a street kitten,’ I told the server at my favourite restaurant a week after returning from Paris.

I’ve never much liked cats, actually, I find them quite intimidating and clever.  One even lifted its leg on my best pink jeans at a cafe earlier in the summer, spraying me with the most fowl smelling scent just as I was about to head out to lunch.  But living in Tangier has seen the street children and street kittens kidnap my heart – and at this point in time, it would seem a cat is a more feasible option.

A day after I vaguely indicated that I might like a kitten, I answered the door and there stood the waiter from the restaurant with a shoe box that screamed a little tune, suspiciously kitten like.  ‘She found me last night drinking coffee with a friend,’ he explained as I flashed a look of not knowing whether to laugh or cry, ‘I drove her home on the back of a motorbike, you have to take her’.  

‘You cant just give me a cat,’ I laughed.  But he did, and after about 30 seconds, I wasn’t about to give her back.  We bundled her into my shopping basket and headed to the best vet in Tangier, bouncing around in a shared taxi with two old women who flashed suspicious glances towards my crying basket. 

The vet looked at me like I was a wet blanket, lunatic foreigner who had been hoodwinked by a kitten and a waiter. ‘You explain in Darija,’ I told the waiter, ‘I’ve got no hope’.  I went on to learn that she was probably about two months old and in good health, and the cries that she bleated as her little heart was tested, inoculated and tested again, almost broke my own.  I held her tiny head as we treated her for every possible mite and worm, and an hour later, the kind vet was filling out her papers.

‘What is her name?’ He asked.  

‘Amira,’ I replied, ‘she is Amira’.  Arabic for princess, and as it turns out, every bit true to who she is.

Amira spent the following days munching on cigarette butts out of ashtrays and drinking water from my glass – a kitten who had spent her first months living in the doorways of cafes, she was also a survivor who initially showed absolutely no interest in the scientifically developed packaged food that promised ‘rapid growth and a happy heart’.  Her common little voice would bleat from her cot when I went off to bed each night, and she could hardly bare to leave my side.  

I was housebound, threatened with the ailment that comes with kitten ownership, commonly known as ‘crazy cat lady-itis’.  After a few days, Amira found her purr and a healthy appetite and has since driven me mad with clever tricks and games of hide and seek, usually just as I am desperately trying to leave the house in a rush and as usual, late for wherever it is that I’m meant to be.

She is also becoming very fat.

The man who comes to the flat for three hours, three days a week, cried with happiness when he met Amira.  I have a sneaking suspicion that he’d rather like to work in a homewares store like Pottery Barn, but with a lack of any such place lining the streets, boulevards and alleyways of Tangier, he comes to me instead, bossing me around and rearranging the furniture when he’s not watering the plants, or mopping the floors – and he always sings along to the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory soundtrack in Arabic.

Our relationship is an odd one, with him believing that I know absolutely next to nothing about anything –  ‘you don’t understand,’ being his favorite criticism.  When I had people for drinks the night after I arrived home from Paris, I complained of being too tired to even open the door – summer in Tangier had almost killed me.  ‘Go,’ was his only instruction, pointing towards the bathroom, ‘I fix everything’.  I returned ten minutes later and with ten minutes remaining before 30 people descended upon my dining room, only to find an outfit of his choice had been selected from my wardrobe and ironed, and was now hanging proudly on the kitchen door.  He, on the other hand, was busy making carrot fritters that I had by no means asked for, nor did I actually want. 

His love for Amira is heaven to watch, and when I leave the flat for a walk down the street, I return to a happy home and a kitten that reeks of his perfume after loads of kisses during serenades of love songs sung in Arabic. 

Last week following lunch with friends, the two of them greeted me at the door looking suspiciously sheepish, like something might have been wrong.  She glanced at him, he at her.  ‘What happened,’ I laughed, before being shown to my newly arranged dining room, the table precisely not where it had been, and all the kitchen chairs transported from the kitchen to join their dining room cousins in a melange of ‘half Berber, half Spanish farm house/chaotic chic’.

Earlier this week, as we finished hanging pictures in my study, I observed that the dialogue between us had completely changed from ‘you don’t have any… insert required cleaning product,’ to ‘we don’t have any… insert required cleaning product.’  After I’d farewelled him that night, I caught a glimpse of pink on the dining room table.  He’d not only rearranged the roses that were looking rather limp in their vase, chopping their stems and changing the water, but he’d lovingly scattered the remaining petals over the white table cloth.  They are still there as I don’t have it in my heart to move them. 

Tangier has taught me that the most unusual of people will enter my life, many of them culturally so different but all of us with shared complexities.  

Mustapha who drives the taxi always asks after my family.  When I advise that they are well, he always responds with a smiling ‘hamdulillah’ (Arabic for ‘thanks to God’).  Mohamed, who guards the street, bustles towards me with a key to the door and an extra set of hands to help carry my baskets.  I thank him profusely to which he responds with a huge smile and a hearty ‘hamdulillah’.  

The ancient man who runs the bottle shop around the corner has just one tooth remaining and is insistent that I learn to count in classical Arabic – not the local dialect of Darija.  He hisses through the tooth with his tongue and shouts ‘BON-JOUR’ when I walk through the door.  I have no idea what he is saying, ever, but the sparkle in his eyes is ultimately very telling.  When I leave him with ‘a bientot’ he always responds with a loud, hissing ‘hamdulillah’.

Each morning, I am woken as the first call to prayer the ‘adhan’ sounds well before the sun is due to rise.  Cries of ‘Allah Akbar’ echo across Tangier in an un-synchronised fashion from mosque to mosque.  It is a beautiful alarm clock, and when the second call is made about an hour and a half later, I know it is time to rise and face a new day – never sure what it may hold.

But, one thing is for sure, Paul Bowles was spot on with his observations.  A short walk home always turns into a social outing, and for this, I feel ultimately very grateful. 

As I finish typing in a smoke filled cafe overlooking the Boulevard Pasteur, huge threatening rain clouds loom overhead.  A rainbow has formed over the Medina below, casting shades of pink across two large cargo ships chugging  through the strait, and Spain is barely visible in the distance.

It is a moment of magic and reflection. 

This one is for my dear Dad who, upon hearing about Amira, warned ‘a dog has a master, a cat has a servant’.  He’s always full of wisdom and this week, I am particularly grateful for his health after a rough trot over the past week or so.  He too, is proving to be cat like.

Hamdulillah.

Inshallah.

Inshallah.

This morning I set out to buy clothes pegs.  Sadly, the man at the store just moments from home was out of clothes pegs but, Hassan over the way would have them he was quick to assure me.

‘Hassan over the way’ sort of drives me a bit mad because he is always wanting to connect on WhatsApp, and I’m running out of excuses as to why I can’t connect today, yesterday and all the days before.  But, there is nothing I loath more than wet washing sitting in a pile for more than 35 seconds before being hung out to dry, so I tempted WhatsApp fate and braved Hassan.

‘Madame, bonjour’, he cried ‘ça va bien’ and on it went.  ‘Tu est Christina, oui?’ ‘non, je suis Virginia’ I reminded him, before making squeezing motions with my fingers explaining ‘laundry’ because I couldn’t remember the word for ‘peg’.  

‘Ah oui, des pinces à linge,’ he reminded me laughingly, ‘un moment Vir-jee-nah,’ which is the way my name is both spelt and pronounced by most Moroccans.

Another much smaller man appeared and was bossed towards the back shelves by Hassan.  An exchange in darija (which I couldn’t understand), led me to believe that perhaps they didn’t have clothes pegs, but if the man stayed under the shelf for long enough shouting up at Hassan, perhaps Vir-jee-nah would believe that they indeed did, and she’d stand there long enough to be tempted by a chocolate bar, or a can of deodorant.  There was no chance I was getting out of there without buying something.

Moments passed, turning into minutes which soon became several minutes, and all that was happening under the shelf was a whole lot of rustling and a little bit of shouting.  Two older women entered and hemmed me in against a fridge full of UHT milk, and a box full of further UHT milk blocked my only exit.

‘Oui, ou non, Hassan?’ I squeaked, feeling like a big rat in a field of tiny mice, whispering ‘excusez moi’ to the two women in front of me, as I planned my escape.

‘Excusez moi,’ I repeated, slightly louder this time, which was met with little to no movement and with that, I picked up the huge box full of UHT milk, placed it behind me and bid farewell to Hassan.

Aziz down the hill also has a multi purpose store which sells everything from milk to clothes pegs, so he became my plan C, by which time it was at least half an hour since the washing machine had bleated ‘finished,’ and where I was beginning to develop a twitch that comes with ‘wet washing in basket for too long,’ syndrome.

I first met Aziz on Monday afternoon this week, when I decided that it was high time I connected the stove to a gas bottle as a means to the beginning of actually settling into my kitchen.  The store of Aziz is like a wonderland, with piles of laundry detergent mixed amongst packets of cigarettes, mops, buckets and every other imaginable piece of equipment you could ever need in your house.  Including, a long line of gas bottles out the front.

Admittedly, I’d been putting off connecting the stove as I was beside myself with fear at the thought of going home with a gas bottle and joining it up to a potentially faulty appliance that was supplied with the apartment.  ‘Does it work?’ I’d asked, as I signed the rental contract weeks ago, ‘yes of course, Inshallah,’ was the response.  Inshallah translates to ‘god willing,’ and it is used at the end of every sentence in place of where I would use ‘I hope,’ if I wasn’t sure, or ‘of course,’ should I be feeling slightly more confident.

‘À bientôt,’ I say, as I wave goodbye to the waiter after a nice meal in a restaurant, or the shopkeeper following a successful time in a hardware store, ‘oui, inshallah,’ comes the response, nine times out of ten.

Inshallah, used in the context of fitting gas to a stove, hadn’t really been filling me with complete confidence, so I’d left the oven to last.  Pillows have been filled with feathers sourced from Mongolia, and my garden now blooms following a trip to a garden centre seemingly 700 kilometres from Tangier, but when it has come to making a basic coffee in the morning or steaming a piece of fish, I’ve been willing to either go hungry, or outsource the task.  

Exaggerations aside – inshallah I’ve painted a complete picture of the extent of how unwilling I was to find myself in a room alone with a gas bottle and a stove that could potentially really hurt me.

On our first meeting I greeted Aziz with a jolly ‘bonjour,’ followed by ‘Salaam alaikum’ which is a nice greeting in darija meaning ‘and unto you, peace’.  I use it daily and it is always met with a smile.

And smile Aziz did, before advising that he only speaks a little bit of French followed by the question I so often face, particularly when dealing with older Moroccans, do I speak Spanish?  I laughed, before advising that I absolutely do not, but he didn’t mind, surprising me with ‘I love to speak in English’.  His English was about as good as my French, but I was so grateful that in the midst of ‘gas gate’ I would be able to fully understand what was going on, rather than 35% or perhaps even, 23%.  A nod and feigned comprehension (a state in which I so often find myself), wasn’t going to cut it on this occasion.

A call was made and rapid ‘something’ was spoken, before a man arrived in the store.  He smiled incredibly broadly, and Aziz advised that ‘this man, he speak not a language, no words’.

I walked up the hill with my new friend, obviously in complete silence, as he carried a gas bottle on his back and I felt somewhat awkward that I couldn’t even entertain him with some useless but polite offerings of thanks, or even a silly observation about the weather.  Once inside the lift in my building, we stared blankly at the wall and the chug up to the fourth floor took seemingly forever.  

As I opened the door to my apartment his eyes flashed wide and he smiled at me, a pot of roses here, some pictures there, and I quickly concluded that if he could speak, he would probably say nothing at all anyway.  Once inside the kitchen I found my iPad still running the BBC loudly, and as his arm brushed up against it’s screen in the moment where he hoisted the bottle onto the ground, my screensaver – a pretty picture of Paris- flashed up as brightly as his eyes did in shock.

A procedure followed where he took a tool to the washer and banged the old bottle off the pipe and fixed the new one in with a fresh rubber bearing.  I was beside myself with happiness.

Saying nothing, he kissed his hand and touched his heart, before waving me out of the room.  I left, obediently, peaking around the corner as he turned the gas on and lit the pipe. It went up in gentle flames.  Genius I thought, a kind one at that.

Catching me spying from the hallway, he motioned for a knife by pretending to chop his left hand off with his right, and I scrambled through the kitchen drawer and found a pair of scissors.  My silent friend cut the end off the hose before jamming it onto the mouth of the gas bottle so tightly, and then repeated the process – a kiss of his hand before touching his heart and a wave for me to leave the room, before he held an open flame over the bottle.  Nothing exploded or caught fire.  He then turned on the stove and voila!  The burner lit up, and we were in business.

Aziz had a second bottle waiting in the store (always have a spare gas bottle in the house, I’ve been told over and over), and during the short walk down the hill to collect it with my new favourite person, I concluded in my mind that I’d found not one, but two gems in a very short space of time.  Aziz and his friend had gone out of their way in a task to them probably so normal, but for me, nothing short of mortifying. 

As I waved the silent man goodbye following his second delivery, he made a telephone motion with his hands – and in English I responded, ‘of course you’ll be the first person I’ll call when I next need gas, inshallah’.

This morning when I returned to Aziz he gave me a big smile before asking ‘how the gas,’ to which I responded, ‘better than ever Aziz, shukran’.  I went on to explain that I needed not one, but three packets of clothes pegs – ‘you do much washing madame,’ he laughed.

If only he knew.

Sometimes when I’m asked ‘why Morocco,’ I find it a very difficult question to answer.  But the moments spent in silence where no one speaks any common language, provide me with a feeling I find very hard to describe, and maybe that is the best answer.

The kindness I experience in this country, day after day, and quite often in complete silence or perhaps in a melange of languages which often results in utter confusion, is the best kindness of all.

Pictured: the beautiful Rue d’Italie at dusk.

 

From Croissants to Cous Cous.

From Croissants to Cous Cous.

A beautiful cool breeze is delivered through the window of my study directly off the Strait of Gibraltar, causing four pretty aubergine hued dahlias in a vase on my desk to flutter, before it drifts across my face.  The breeze is a welcome treat as I sit here at my new desk fashioned from a Berber work bench, on the third day of actually living in my glorious old, but newly restored flat in Tangier.

‘Have you moved to Tangier?’ ‘Did you buy the flat?’ ‘How long will you be there for?’ ‘What on earth prompted this?’.

I feel as though I’ve answered, yes, I have decided to move to Tangier, and no, I didn’t buy the flat and I have no idea how long I will be here for, quite a few times now throughout the past three or four months.  What prompted this move?

The latter is the only question that I have enjoyed answering, for seemingly the twenty thousandth time, because it is a response that fills me with pure happiness.

Morocco had always danced quietly in the corner of the world map, just below Spain and positioned conveniently between Africa and Europe.  When I decided to move to Paris, I had no idea how long I would be there for either, it was a decision made in a moment of partial haste, and driven by a hunger for something more.  

I loved my time spent in Paris; from the frustrations I found with the language, the dear friends I made, the challenges I faced, and the differing opinions I became privy to when reading the newspapers, conjugating endless verbs as I did so.  I love the way the French debate, and I became very fond of eavesdropping at cafe tables – an affair here, an argument there.  The French both write and speak in such a florid manner, and I quite often kick myself for being so linguistically challenged, particularly as I’ve left my run into learning their language to this seemingly late stage in life (it is late, when you consider the brain not being quite so malleable as it was, say 30 years ago).

With Morocco being a short flight from France, I decided to spend some time here in March this year.  I landed in Marrakech and made my way towards Tangier, via Essaouira and Fes.

‘Come to Tangier for Easter,’ Jonathan sweetly wrote in an email.  I did just that, and ended up staying for two weeks.  Jonathan Dawson, a much loved Tangier local of over 25 years, is sharp in both wit and mind and was the most generous host for my first visit to this wonderful place.  I met some incredible people and most of all, laughed a lot.  Laughter, fun times and enjoyable lunches aside, I also identified in Tangier, a place where I could write and feel inspired in a totally different environment to the one that I’d grown very fond of in Paris.

Towards the end of my stay in Tangier, I was shown through an apartment in what was once the European Quarter.  We meandered down streets lined with beautiful old buildings influenced by the Spanish and on the next corner, the French.  When we reached my building, a post war wonder designed by an Italian, my breath was taken away by an expansive entrance hall, with brass hand rails leading up six flights of marble stairs.  The lift, broken on the day and since repaired, now chugs up to the top of the building where a roof terrace allows views spanning the city.  

A man proudly flung the door open to my flat, where I was met with overflowing ashtrays, empty juice cartons, holes in most of the walls, a draft so fierce I wasn’t sure I wouldn’t blow across the Strait to Gibraltar, and a bath sitting on the bathroom floor, unplumbed and in a pile of rubble.  Fruit sat rotting in bowls, and grey velour furniture was littered throughout the dining room.  High polished mahogany beds were unmade in every bed room, and a wet towel had dried into a stiff sculpture on the spare bathroom floor.

‘Don’t buy in Tangier until you’re really sure – you must rent first,’ everyone had said.  At the end of my first viewing, I wasn’t even sure that I was willing to come back.

A sleepless night followed, where I sat up in bed scrolling through photos that I’d taken of the flat earlier that day, with flashbacks of the train journey from Fes to Tangier playing like a silent film in the back of my mind.  I recalled a feeling of complete wonder as we drew into Tangier at dusk two weeks earlier, where I’d felt a sensation of butterflies in my stomach as rolling green hills reached down to a glorious ocean below.  Whitewashed buildings appeared stacked one upon the other, and larks filled the sky.

Jono and his right hand man, Tariq, had met me at the train and as we whizzed through the streets towards what Jono calls his ‘Racketty Old Flat,’ I took in looming office buildings with tiny old whitewashed houses wedged between them, appearing pink at dusk.  Later on, I discovered the Medina and the Kasbah where the architecture was completely different, ancient and whitewashed, and higher up the hill, shuttered villas stood tall amongst palm trees, overlooking abundant park lands.  Echo’s could still be heard from a bygone era, I heard it if I stood still for long enough and just listened, taking it all in.

I spent days taking long walks between enjoyable lunches, and sunset drinks.  I was captured by the light, enamoured by the people, and my heart was utterly kidnapped by Tangier in general.  Hours before I flew back to Paris towards the end of April, I paid a rental deposit and promised to return in June during the final days of Ramadan.

‘Are you a vegetable Madame?’.  

‘I beg your pardon?  Am I a vegetable?’ I laughed, ‘did you say vegetable?’.

‘Yes Madame,’ Ahmed nodded, ‘and you still haven’t answered my question, are you a vegetable?’.  Not sure where this was going, I leant up against the kitchen bench covered in plaster dust, and sneezed.  ‘Nope, I’m not a vegetable,’ I assured the plasterer.  

‘Well, why you have vegetable food in your cupboard?’ he finished earnestly, before adding that he doesn’t like ‘vegetables,’ just people who eat meat.

The vegetable food was a jar of Vegemite, a little piece of Australia that I very rarely travel without.  I think what Ahmed was trying to establish was, ‘am I a vegetarian’.

Each day in Tangier, I find myself having multiple ‘vegetable’ conversations.  Hassan, who runs the little shop downstairs and speaks French, wants to know why I live alone, where did my husband and children go? Did they stay in Australia or France, and would I like to go jogging with him?

The chess champion of Morocco, who also happens be a waiter and serves my coffee at the beautiful old Cafe de Paris each morning, tells me that ‘Madame makes him a fine day, a happy day’ as he breaks my hand, shaking it furiously.  One day, a policeman gave the chess champion 12 dirhams for his coffee, and left without saying goodbye.  The chess champion turned to me, reminding me that I am lovely and I make his day, before explaining that the policeman is not a nice man ‘he like lin and he make me like tigger’ before inviting me to learn to play chiss with him.  ‘And where John?’.

Taxis are shared in Tangier, you wave one down, the driver pulls over, an address is exchanged and he either nods, signalling that I get in, or just drives off if he isn’t going in my direction.

I love travelling in the little blue taxis, swaying around on the back seat as women in headscarves boss the driver around in the front seat.  Sometimes a daughter sits silently in the back.  I’ve never felt so huge in my life and my basket, full of tools, lists and a measuring tape, takes up the other third of the backseat.  

On the eve of my arrival back to Tangier, Jono wrote and very generously invited me to stay for as long is it may take to repair my flat.  He would been travelling between London and Gibraltar for at least another month, and Birdy (the house cockerel), would love the company.

I imagined that I’d finish the flat in two weeks and that I would be completely independent, not too reliant on anyone and I would quietly go about the restoration – it’d be a breeze.

I arrived in Tangier one Sunday afternoon in the middle of June.  Jono had sent Tariq to collect me, and as I emerged through customs I was delighted to see his broad Saharan smile grinning at me from the gates outside the airport.  He waved me down with a huge hug, and was like Rambo hoisting my suitcase onto his shoulders and grabbing my cabin luggage in his spare hand.  I staggered behind him, shattered from carrying over 50 kilos of luggage since I’d left the apartment in Paris that morning.

As we wheeled towards Tangier, sweeping around boulevards lined with palms, and dodging blue taxis, Tariq assured me that he was happy to help with anything I may need.  ‘Are you sure?’ I asked, not wanting to be too reliant on anyone.  ‘Everything will happen, slowly, slowly Madame Pinq’.

After three attempts at retrieving the keys to the apartment in the days that followed, we finally opened the doors on the Wednesday and work began the following Tuesday.

Ahmed took to cleaning the walls with a spatula before filling gaps and repairing the holes.  An electrician, who also doubled as a plumber, began works on light switches and installing new pipes.  Mohammed would be in charge of mixing the lime (gyr) and adding the tint, in order to create the colours that I’d dreamed of following my first visit to the apartment months earlier – a petroleum blue from my favourite doors in Paris, the rose pink found somewhere on almost every exterior wall around Tangier, and the green from the doors on mosques and the tiles on their rooftops.  There would be smatterings of white; the spare bedroom was suddenly like heaven, and the bathroom completely fresh.  My bedroom soon became a deep blue den, and the dining room the same.  The pink began to fill the hallways and my study, and the green turned the kitchen into a cosy and warm space where I often sit at a tiny cafe table found behind the train station.

Tariq oversaw the entire process, and when he wasn’t wielding a paint roller, he was whizzing around Tangier organising deliveries or negotiating situations for me, in a way that only he can and I never could.  I suddenly realised (after about five minutes following my arrival in Tangier), that he was going to make my life so much easier.  He calls me Madame Pinq, and I will never correct him because I actually like Pinq.  There is loads of it throughout the flat.

‘The hallway will be pink Tariq,’ 

‘Just like your name Madame’.

I wrote to Jono about a week into the works, and told him that if I had a brother, I’d want him to be just like Tariq.  He smiles all the time, even when I’m sure he probably wants to kill me.  No task is ever too big.  He has re- taught me the importance of kindness and that patience really is a complete virtue.  There is no point being frustrated or angry, because those emotions will never increase the pace at which things will happen.  Here, it will more likely prolong them.

When I grab my hair and start to pull it out, because one wall has three coats of paint and the other, two, Tariq reminds me ‘don’t worry for this’.

And within days, there are three coats on every wall and consistency has returned.

Some things just never happen, and I’m becoming used to this being the norm and really, why did they need to happen in the first place?

As part of my rental contract, I made a clause that I would complete the works in a fashion that I desired – this is still the norm in Morocco, and a huge part of taking the flat in the first place.

Last week, on the eve of my move into my new home, a very dear Tangier friend sent his plumber after I described my frustrations with the bathroom, the only room that was seemingly never going to come together.  Within three days, another Mohammed – who looks like a philosopher and makes tinkering seem an art form, had installed a beautiful new enamel bath and tiled it in complete with new taps.  The original replacement bath had been plumbed in the week before, still wrapped in the shop wrapping and too small for the space.  The bathroom was the only space in the entire flat that saw a momentary lapse in sense of humour on my part, but at four in the afternoon, the very day I was to move in, Mohammed unveiled his handy work.  I almost cried.

Just as he left and I set about making my bed, Tariq flicked every light switch and none of the lights came on.  I almost cried a different variety of tears, and he reassured me with that familiar line, ‘Madame Pinq, don’t worry for this,’ and within hours the flat had been completely rewired.  

The hospitality shown by people I’d met on my first visit to Tangier has been more than generous; a drink here, dinner there, lunch before dinner and so on – it’s been an incredibly fun first few weeks.  When I’m not in a hardware store with Tariq, or checking paint mix in the bedroom, I’m madly rifling through my suitcase trying to find something that is not my standard work uniform of white trousers and white shirt.  I feel very much at home and will be forever grateful for the warm welcome that Tangier and it’s residents have shown.  Now, I look forward to repaying all of their hospitality.

As I finish typing, it has been three nights since I moved in.  There is still a long way to go, but I will be forever grateful for Jono and the Racketty Old Flat, which provided a beautiful home away from home for the duration of my fist five weeks in Tangier.  The company of Birdy is always enjoyable, particularly as he staggers around the flat looking for another foot to peck to death.

My transition from a life of croissants to cous cous, has been more than enjoyable.

Plenty more to come.

Pictured: moving day.

White noise.

White noise.

This morning I woke early to the sounds of revellers returning home after a night out.  I wouldn’t normally wake to such things as I’m an incredibly good sleeper, but following the earliest night had since I was probably about 11 years old, I was ready to go at 4am when the Marseillaise could be heard from the street below.

Don’t get me wrong, I can survive on the littlest of sleep, but last night after completing what felt like the millionth unpack since December, I spent ten minutes listening the BBC World Service bringing myself up to speed with the latest on Stormy Daniels and Polio (polar opposites, but in the same news segment), before falling into the longest and deepest slumber I’ve experienced in a very long time.

4am brought with it many thoughts and contemplations.  The news had shifted to Ebola, and Stormy had become to the newest holder of the keys to the city.  Trump’s lawyer was in question after a meeting with the President of Ukraine was found to be apparently fixed with cash, and the daughter of the Russian spy who, along with her father, was nerved agented in Salisbury earlier this year, had finally spoken. 

The birds were just beginning to chirp as I did a quick mental exercise of six verbs in past, present and future tenses.  In recent weeks, my French has slipped from almost bearable to completely unbearable, and as I took my first sips of tea I contemplated what could possibly be going wrong.

Language is a funny old thing, and as a latecomer to the joys of verb conjugations and being paralysed when spoken to, I am slowly beginning to join together some very important dots.  In situations such as the visits to the visa office or the highly glamorous podiatrist’s surgery, I find myself suddenly able to ‘do it’.  Yesterday on a trip to a store not far from home I chatted like a love bird at feeding time, making little jokes about being forgetful when I found myself unable to find the word for ‘I think’ which came to me ten seconds after I’d needed to say ‘I think,’ by which time we’d moved onto a completely different topic.  

I have no doubt that when I speak in my accented French it hurts French ears for miles around, but I am always incredibly grateful for those who just continue to speak – in French – which is far more encouraging than saying (in English) ‘sorry, WHAT?’, which is exactly what happened after I left the podiatrists surgery earlier in the week.  I won’t go into the not so exciting details about why I had to visit such a place, except that the large feet I’ve often written about have been known to deal me a less than savoury trial when it comes to many things, not just shoe sizes.   

Staggering to the door of the surgery that I’d often observed just a short walk from home, I placed a gentle knock on the frosted window pane and was overjoyed when a bubbly Doctor answered the door.  Explaining that I had a problem sans appointment, she patted the chair and hoisted it towards the ceiling, telling me smilingly that she had half an hour between appointments and she’d be more happy to help.  We discussed everything from my life in Paris – what brought me here and do I like it? before her eyes flung wide open when I told her of my plans to spend more time in Morocco.  Were my shoes from Morocco she wondered, and when I responded affirmatively she asked if I would fill a suitcase with raffia pumps and bring them back to her on my next visit?  We laughed about my abysmal French, but not once did she back down and offer even a lick of English, rather, she spoke reassuringly about the importance of just speaking and while many of her rapid sentences en français were as good to me as white noise, I can quite honestly say, I’ve never enjoyed a trip to a podiatrist more in my entire life.

Patting my shoulder and wishing me good luck, with the addition of an invitation to visit whenever I may need to, I left her surgery with a new found skip in my stride – and not just because she’d fixed my poor foot.  As I stepped outside, it began to pour with rain and I took shelter at a cafe just moments away.  

‘May I have a glass of water and a menu,’ I asked confidently (in French) which was met with ‘sorry, WHAT?’ (in English).  And there I sat as I do so often in France, polarised and spinning fifty miles backwards on the never ending road of progress, or lack there of.

Repeating myself, the waiter walked off returning five minutes later with an English menu and a glass of water.  

I contemplated telling him that I’d just had ‘a corn removed in French,’ (oh god, sorry, I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t write that) but decided against it because chicken and sweet corn soup was the plat du jour and I didn’t feel like chicken and sweet corn soup, rather, I opted for a glass of wine and waited for my lunch date to join me- no one was going to destroy what had otherwise been a very successful first half of the day.

This morning as I weighed up the news of the world and my thoughts shifted to my linguistic pursuits which feel as though they are in rapid decline, I tallied up my interactions had with Parisian natives throughout the week, before arriving at a total of about 25.  Ten of which have been successful and the rest, well, they’re the ones that see me more determined than ever to get my tongue around this language.  

Today I’m off to visit Guernica at the Picasso Museum along with a friend whose acquaintance I made at the Sorbonne last year.  We enjoy frequent hilarious lunches together where we thank waiters profusely and tell them they are so kind, before wailing with laughter when nobody is looking, agreeing that they could have just offered to send us to the guillotine and we would still respond with sweet offerings of ‘Vous êtes très gentil’.

C’est la vie, and today I’m wearing a pair of shoes that have stared at me blankly from the corner of my bedroom for at least a year – I’m happy to report that they feel like clouds on my feet.  More to come…

Pictured: the wonderful view from my bedroom – every day in Paris.

Being 39.

Being 39.

The phone rang on Sunday morning just as I was busying myself with the five millionth photographic update from the wedding.  No need to explain whose, unless (say) you’ve been without power for the past six months.

‘I’m just sifting through the Sunday papers,’ my sister told me, before adding that she was particularly interested in an article about a woman about to turn forty who packed up everything and travelled to India to have her future read by a Guru in Mumbai.

‘Oh I did that once, in Rishikesh when I was 23,’ I explained laughingly, ’a cross – legged man on the edge of the Ganges told me that I’d meet a nice man when I was 27 and he’d gift me three beautiful children by the age of 30.  After this rendezvous, thrilled with news of my bright future, I went for a long celebratory swim at the top of the river and a human skull floated past as I was performing a gentle breaststroke.  Three months later, in Istanbul, I was still keeling over with a most horrific stomach ache,’ I finished.

All that came from my palm reading in India sixteen years ago, was a brutal parasite.

It’s probably quite obvious that my palms didn’t tell the truth and when I explained to my sister that, ‘perhaps Mr 27 was kidnapped, and this is why he didn’t eventuate,’ she giggled and responded with a long ‘hmmmmm, maybe you should write about this’.

There’s not much more to say about Mr 27, or the reading overall, except that the cross-legged man did say that my palms suggested a long life blessed with excellent health – and not once have I questioned his integrity because I’m still alive and I feel exceptionally healthy.

On the eve of my own 40th birthday (just eleven months away and counting – do love a milestone), I returned to Paris last week which signalled the end of two and a half incredibly enjoyable weeks in Greece with my parents –  part of which I wrote about in my last piece.  Had I been blessed with one child per year between the age of 27 and 30, not only would I have been exceptionally busy in the birthing suite, but there is also probably slim to little chance that I would have been able to enjoy all the little things that have become very important in my life, now that I’m 39.

Arriving on Corfu from Crete via Athens, was like stepping back in time.  I’d visited Corfu ever so briefly at the age of 19 and had never returned.  In my teens, I read Gerald Durrell’s ‘My Family and Other Animals,’ a book I revisited soon after my palm reading in Rishikesh.  Last week on Corfu I savoured for the third time in my life, every page of this paperback favourite.

Winding around wide boulevards from the airport as dusk edged its way into the later part of the day, my eyes darted from building to building with paint peeling off ancient facades and shutters stood wide open and obedient against tired walls. 

Throughout the ages, the Cavalieri Hotel has been a meeting point for writers, actors and poets, statesmen, businessmen and travellers. Originally built in the 17th century as a nobleman’s mansion belonging to the ancestors of Count Flamburiari, it opened it’s doors as a hotel in the late 1960’s.  The Cavalieri is situated on the edge of Durrell Park, home to the Corfu Cricket Pitch and Enoseos Square, all framed by the lush greenery of the Kapodistristou Boulevard.  

On arrival, I felt further transported into another era with the town’s Old Fortress standing proud just moments away, and as we enjoyed our first dinner on the hotel’s rooftop later that evening, I explained to my travel companions (also known as my dear parents, squared off with the added bonus of one of their oldest friends), that these types of places really have an impact on me.  It was a memorable moment made even more special by the company kept.

The week was spent exploring all that is the glory of the old town and island, in its unique architectural blend of Byzantine, Venetian, French and English influences – history would suggest that almost everyone has tried their hand on Corfu, and while the island looks (in part) exhausted, it is a place brimming with history and if each tired wall could talk, I’m sure we’d have heard some unbelievable stories. 

Throughout the week, we followed narrow alleys lined with pots filled with healthy geraniums and enjoyed lunches in the beautiful, warm spring air.  One afternoon, I found Mum positively breathless after an impromptu meeting with a group of women at the incredible Municipal Art Gallery of Corfu.  A new book, ‘The Gardens of Corfu,’ carefully curated by English writer and Corfu resident Rachel Weaving, and beautifully photographed by one of the worlds finest garden photographers, Marianne Majerus – was due to launch at the gallery later that night.

Following an early evening apéro at the old Liston Hotel, where Mum, Dad and I chatted about life with even more vigour than a man bowling a ball on the cricket pitch across the road, we attended the book launch before enjoying a glass of retsina with Corfu locals, both English and Greek, under ancient fig trees in the gallery gardens.  Here, we were further spoilt with breathtaking views across the Ionian Sea towards mainland Greece and to the left, the mountains of Albania.

One morning we visited the Reading Society of Corfu, founded in 1836 by a group of intellectuals whose principal goal was to stay informed about European scholarly and cultural developments. Today, the core of the Reading Society is the main reading room and valuable library of over 30,000 volumes in seemingly as many languages, including the important holdings in the Ionian Island collection and the Guilford Archives.  Chalk pink hallways lined with maps and pretty light fittings and a reading room in perfect Giverny green, had me in further conniptions. 

Days later, Mum and I travelled to the village of Old Perithia, a tiny, rambling town built in the 14th century while the island was under Byzantine rule, and one which sits on the northern flanks of Mount Pantokrator at about 400 meters above sea level.  Our driver, Giannis (you can call me John), was not only one of the most heavenly people I’ve ever met, but also incredibly informative when it came to the history of the island, and patient with every request to stop and photograph another wildflower or sweeping vista.  On the way home, he insisted on shouting us a cup of tea at the White House, the last Corfu home of Lawrence Durrell and his wife Nancy.  

The following morning, Dad and I set off on foot to Mon Repos, a villa built in 1831 as a summer residence for the British Lord High Commissioner of the United States of the Ionian Islands, Frederick Adam, and his second wife Diamantina Palatino.  Adam and his wife had to vacate the villa soon afterwards in 1832 when he was sent to serve in India, which saw the house rarely used as a residence for the later British governors. In 1833, it housed a school of fine arts, and in 1834, the park was opened to the public. 

After the union with Greece in 1864, Mon Repos was granted to King George I of the Hellenes as a summer residence.  

Empress Elisabeth of Austria stayed at Mon Repos in 1863.  Here, she fell in love with the island, which resulted in her building the Achilleion Palace, another wonderful villa and surrounding garden that we explored during one of our first days on Corfu.

At Mon Repos, Dad and I wandered around the now wild gardens, agreeing that it wasn’t hard to imagine generations of children running free along winding pathways amongst established, European trees with views across the Ionian Sea flanked by tall pencil pines.

Towards the end of our time on Corfu, we sailed to the tiny island of Paxos for a day trip.  On our way home that afternoon I gazed out to the horizon, one that holds a future not yet known to anyone, perhaps not even a cross – legged man on the edge of the Ganges.  

As we approached Corfu at dusk, I sat between my parents (quite literally my oldest friends), and contemplated the words of Lawrence Durrell who described Corfu as ‘this brilliant little speck of an island in the Ionian with waters like the heartbeat of the world itself’.  

When it comes to understanding tomorrow, I quite like the idea of relying on the ocean, nature, history, beauty, friendship and laughter – all of which I’ve been delivered in spades during two and a half incredibly special weeks.

A Cretan odyssey.

A Cretan odyssey.

Dad was in, so was Mum.  I’ll come too, I agreed, after the email was sent to Dad’s sister Janet and her husband Lachie, along with another friend Dougie and his brother Norm, their wives Jule and Joy – they wanted to walk in the steps of their uncle Doug.  Jo and Paddy were on their way from Perth to a sixtieth in Rome – Crete wasn’t too far out of the way, Steena and James live in London, they also thought it was a good idea, as did cousin Sophie who would be in London at the time, and another dear friend of the family Julie, she was also in and then there was Russell, he’d be driving around Italy at the same time, he was keen too.

With a shared interest in botany, literature and history, suddenly we were a team of 16 on the island of Crete staying at the Hotel Doma.  Each morning we’d arrive one by one to the most heavenly of breakfast rooms with cedar chairs bound in raffia complimented by jars of homemade marmalade adorning each table laden with the whitest of linen cloths.

At Doma, if you’d slammed the loo door shut you’d almost expect to see graffiti reading ‘Truman was here’ or ‘Paddy L-F lives,’ or perhaps ‘Ernest H, ‘57’.

It’s just that type of place.

Each morning after breakfast, I’d take the last sips of my coffee down to the garden where I’d find Ioanna weeding pots of geraniums in her dressing gown.

As I wrote last week, the Doma Hotel was built in the late 19th century and overlooks the Bay of Chania.  The hotel started its life as the Austro Hungarian consulate before being purchased in 1933 by the grandmother of the present owners, Irene Valyrian and Ioanna Koutsoudaki.  In 1940, the British Consul took a shine to the property and persuaded the reluctant residents to move out, leaving most of the furniture behind.  The house was finally returned to its rightful owners in 1955, following the German occupation throughout the Battle of Crete in the 2nd World War.  To this day, Ioanna and her sister Irene run the hotel, both are well into their 80’s and it is hard to imagine them ever not being there.

Another final piece in the puzzle is Jim Carstairs, a second cousin of my grandmother (Dad and Janet’s mother), and great uncle to their cousin Sophie.  Jim died in Australia in 2007, but spent six months behind enemy lines in 1941, including four weeks at Patsos where at times he hid out in the same cave that was later occupied by famed English writer, Paddy Leigh Fermor and the kidnapped German General Kreipe, in 1944.  This tale has always rather fascinated me, but it wasn’t until we actually arrived and began our travels around the island, that I realised just how incredible the early 1940’s on Crete really were.

Jim wrote each and every detail of his endeavours on Crete in diaries, on slips of paper and also into the insides of cigarette packets, all of which were later built into the walls of a Cretan family home in fear that had they been found, they’d jeopardise the propaganda machine and overall efforts that are the reality of any war.

Historian Mike Sweet writes of Jim relating that, ‘after spending about four weeks at Patsos, by November he was told to move to a holding area close to the south coast. A key figure in arranging this was the famed resistance leader Kapetan Petrakogiorgis, based in the village of Magarikari, who controlled the area where the Amari Valley joins the Messara Plain.

It was this area that became the vital route, not only for Carstairs, but for scores of later evacuations and insertions of agents and supplies for the resistance, linking villages in the Amari with landing beaches on the coast.

In his diary, Carstairs relates details of how he conferred with the resistance leader, giving a unique insight into the workings of such relationships. This period was a fraught time for Carstairs, and his journal records how his leadership skills were sorely tested.

He faced enormous challenges. They began with leading more than 80 men safely from Patsos to Magarikari (a three-day trek), keeping them secure and fed when they arrived (for at least three weeks), and then making another, even more gruelling three-day trek to the coast.

The final leg involved crossing the Messara Plain, heavily-garrisoned by the Germans, and then up and over the towering Asteroussia mountains, to the isolated beach of Treis Ekklisies, 60km due south of Heraklion. This is where Carstairs’ Cretan odyssey reached its dramatic conclusion. In the dead of night on the 26/27 November, HMS Hedgehog embarked 90 passengers, almost all of which were the group Carstairs had led.

The nominal roll for the voyage to Alexandria identifies 28 Australians, 28 New Zealanders, 11 British, 11 Cypriot, four Greeks and eight others. One of the passengers was Evangelos Vandoulakis who Carstairs had smuggled on board’.

In Mike’s notes the part that struck me the most, was that it was Evangelos Vandoulakis who had cemented Jim’s war notes into the walls of his family home.

Shortly after the war Jim’s tattered notes were returned to him and following this, he typed a memoir of his incredible WW2 experience.  In 1991, Jim made the journey back to Crete where he rekindled friendships with the families and friends who had aided him in his Cretan exile.

Last Sunday, we ventured to Patsos and met the Harokopos family who are the second family in Jim’s story, and the same family who protected Paddy Leigh Fermor in his own Cretan odyssey.

George Harokopos was a school teacher in Patsos.  A proud man, and by no means wealthy, he owned a small house in the centre of town in the province of Rethymno.  When we arrived last week, his nephew, Vasillis led us straight to Jim and Paddy’s cave which has been widely documented in Paddy Leigh Fermor’s writing.  Later that evening George’s sister Maria (Vasillis’ mother) made us a delicious dinner to mirror what they fed Jim when he was hiding from the Germans in their attic just above the kitchen.  As the night drew to a close we enjoyed a highly necessary glass of raki straight from a 150 litre plastic barrel (no fine oak here) posititioned under that very attic. We made to toast to Jim before collapsing into beds decorated with a million stuffed teddy bears in two village homes, each belonging to Vasillis’ brother and cousin.

Even though George is no longer here, his sister and her son took us in for the night showing the same hospitality and kindness that both Jim and Paddy were recipients of over 70 years ago.

In the days leading into our pilgrimage in memory of Paddy and Jim, we also enjoyed meanders through Cretan gardens organised by my mother who has a Mediterranean thumb, after building her second garden in the harshest of climates on the south west coast of Australia.  These gardens and the people who have built them in earth so ancient, were a highlight as we took in sweeping views across land and sea brimming with history.

Our week on Crete was not an organised tour assembled by anyone in particular – rather a coming together of people with varying interests, brought together by friendships dating back many years.  As the youngest of the group, I have learned a lot from my Best Marigold Hotel experience and I will never forget the stifled laughter teamed with moments of sobriety and wisdom brought about by gruelling memories and the beauty found on an island that has survived the harshest of conditions in both a military and climatic sense.  The botany in Greece is beautiful, as are the people with so many stories to share.

I arrived with Mum and Dad, my aunt and uncle, and a handful of their very dear friends and I finish typing this on Corfu.  We have formed precious memories out of much laughter, lessons learned and overall the importance of camaraderie.

This is for Mum, Dad, Janet, Lachie, Julie, Soph, Dougie, Joy, Normie, Jule, Steena, James, Paddy, Jo and Russell.

For those in our convoy, I will say one last time – ‘where is Russell?’.

Pictured: the beautiful breakfast room at Hotel Doma.

Harvesting Lavender.

Harvesting Lavender.

‘So you’re moving to Athens as well,’ they laughed, before chinking another glass in recognition of my apparent inability to sit still at the moment.

‘No, I’m not moving to Athens, just Tangier this year,’ I assured them, before we settled in for dinner.  

I know, it does seem as though I’ve been on the move quite a bit lately.

Those taunts in jest were made a week ago in Paris, at what was supposed to be a quick dinner and a catch up over drinks before I hit the shores of Greece.  A long night of laughter and too many glasses of wine followed with friends whose acquaintance I made at the Sorbonne towards the end of last year – an understandably pessimistic bunch, they listened intently as I told them all about my journeys through Morocco and plans to spend more time in Tangier over the next twelve months. 

The following morning, before the birds had found the chance to tune their voices in time for morning song and the sun had woken, stretching her arms in time to deliver a new day, my alarm sounded at 3.58am with the ferocity of a fog horn, or a siren hailing an emergency.  I was bound for Athens to meet my parents for two weeks in Greece, in particular Crete, on a trip that was born from a dinner of fresh salmon and salad in Australia just over two months ago, before I returned to Paris for (what was supposedly) another year. 

‘Shall we do it?’ we sang in unison between bites, resulting in a spontaneous email being sent to a smattering of their friends who had shown an interest in retracing the steps of the likes of Paddy Leigh Fermor and Australian, Jim Carstairs, on an island littered with wildflowers, goats and sheer cliff faces. 

In that moment we weren’t to know that Tangier would kidnap my heart just a handful of weeks later, and that our journey to Crete would become not only a special reunion together but also, perhaps our final rendezvous for 2018.

On Sunday morning, my father rounded the corner of the Athens Gate Hotel in all his colourful glory, followed shortly by my mother – chic as ever, who immediately requested a mineral water upon learning of our preordered gin and tonics.  It was heaven to hug them tightly and enjoy rapid chatter, no one daring draw breath in fear that we miss something.  Later that evening we enjoyed dinner overlooking the temple of Zeus under a perfect night sky, joined by my aunt and uncle as well as a very dear friend of our family who had all flown in that day. The following morning, joined by another wonderful couple who’d arrived late the night before, we returned to the birth place of civilisation, as we paid a visit to the ancient ruin of Delphi on the same day that I celebrated my 39th year.  This was a moment so special and one that will be hard to forget, as will the conversations had in the car that transported us there and back.

Athens is a magnificent city that I’d not visited for 20 years, and as I rounded corners in the beautiful, private garden of Sparoza on Tuesday morning, enjoying views towards the mountains in the company of the garden’s custodian Sally – a charming Englishwoman of more than 80 years-  I was reminded of the beauty that is earned with age, in both people and landscapes.

At Sparoza, paths were strewn with cuttings of lavender – ‘I grow tired of making piles while I harvest the lavender’ Sally quipped, as she trod on clippings under foot releasing a scent that transported me back to childhood-  before adding that the olive trees in her  garden are simply ornamental, ‘talented hands are required elsewhere- there is little time to harvest the olives’.  I pondered their age, ‘are they old?’ I thought out loud, ‘Oh no, they’re only 50 years,’ Sally replied, as she took my hand and showed me more plantings in her Mediterranean garden designed to survive the harshest of conditions – allowing it to retain an effortless air in keeping with all that she is, and remains determined to embody, in all of her work.

The past few days have seen our group double in size, with more arrivals of friends as we reached the island of Crete and better still, the Doma Hotel late on Wednesday afternoon.  When I spoke to one of my sisters during the week, I explained that my life is becoming reminiscent of the Best Marigold Hotel, one of my favourite films and one that I could watch over and over after developing a deep love for all of the characters following my first viewing a handful of years ago. 

Built in the late 19th century, the Doma Hotel overlooks the Bay of Chania.  The hotel started its life as the Austro Hungarian consulate before being purchased in 1933 by the grandmother of the present owners, Irene Valyrian and Ioanna Koutsoudaki.  In 1940, the British Consul took a shine to the property and persuaded the reluctant residents to move out, leaving most of the furniture behind.  The house was finally returned to its rightful owners in 1955, following a brief German occupation during the Battle of Crete in the 2nd World War.  

‘We must stay at Doma,’ Dad announced as we began planning our journey, ‘it’s one of my favourite hotels in the world’.

By Wednesday afternoon, cars began to draw in and the characters reminiscent of those from the Best Marigold spilled out.  Sensible walking shoes, greying hair, suitcases lightly packed and loud voices filled the foyer.  Breakfast of homemade marmalade will be served on toast from 7.45am each day, gin and tonics are enjoyed from 5pm, do we need a car, yes we do, or do we?  Are you happy to dine out each night, yes we are, but where?  

Following check in, I ricocheted to my room where I was met by the young manager of the hotel.  Dying to lie down on my bed I stood instead, swaying upright, as he explained that he understood me well, ‘You are so young’ he told me, as I eyed off my single bed under sweeping shutters dying to be opened, ‘all of these people older than you, they ask so many questions!’.

 Crete is a wonderful place, made even better by my travel companions and the two, incredible sisters who live at Doma and still have an active role in the day to day running of the hotel. On arrival, I spotted someone in a dressing gown gliding down a hallway well after midday, hair damp following a swim in the ocean below (I suspect Ioanna), and this morning at breakfast I enjoyed the most delicious toast and homemade marmalade I ever did eat.  

As we drove around the island on Thursday, spilling down gorges before stopping for   moments of reflection for those who fell during times of war – Crete is a place of harsh conditions and ultimately, survival- it became more apparent than ever, when harvesting lavender and life en general, there is so much to consider.  Brakes were slammed on, causing a near rear ending of our convoy of cars, as an exotic wildflower emerged from ancient earth, or a goat trod in our 21st century path.

All worth admiring, all worth pondering.

More to come…

Pictured:  with two of my favourites, reunited in Athens.