The joyful sound of children running and laughing is the music that surrounds us as we learn to appreciate on a sunny Sunday in tiny Ano Asites.
My dear friend Minas is saying something to me, but my focus is drawn to his wife Kallia as she sets the table and does double duty as a child sentinel. Then, sweet little Anna Maria catches my attention as she pets one of the gentle cats that belong to the whole village.
I can’t take my eyes off her as she casts gorgeous brown eyes on the animal in a look of innocent wonder. The scene envelops me, and I recognize an essence from my childhood, something worthy of respect, admiration, and even awe.
My friend, Kallia Merkoulidi, embodies everything that is pure and good. She is, like her husband Minas, the product of the Cretan land, its traditions, and treasured families. Sometimes, I jokingly call her a Minoan princess, but only she knows I’m not kidding. Surrounded by an extraordinary ménage, she bonds two Cretan clans like the mysterious Minoans connected civilizations.
Living among these people, in this land of the ancients, I am reminded not only of the archaic past but of my youth and of the bonds that held my own family together, way back when.
Minas and Kallia, they’re my human robin egg blue Crayolas in a brilliant crayon box of life. And their colorful grandparents, parents, and siblings are close-knit and side by side in the same way. There’s Ioannis the gifted surgeon, loving Agapi the educator, and Kallia’s beautiful sister Eva, who carries the latest family addition in her tummy now. They are the archetypical Cretan family, with roots that run as deep as the bedrock beneath this island blessed with so many varieties of trees. We’re honored to have sunk our roots here and to have been grafted into the world these little tribes.
For some reason, I cannot stop thinking of an old American adage my Mom once told: “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
Like the Old South in the ’50s and ’60s
Now, Ioannis Liapakis’ wife, Elina, runs past with tiny Maria in her arms as she chases down little Annoula. Kallia joins the chase, and so does Agapi, Minas’s sister. This is how it works, the ritual of life here in the land of the mysterious Minoans. The balance is elegant, blissful, and intact regardless of outside forces. Crete is not unlike the Old South way back in the ‘50s and ‘60s: it’s imbued with the same sense of friendliness and charm, peaked by a good dose of decency, myth, and wonders.
The women here multi-task as they chide their children endlessly. While the patriarchs of the island talk politics and sport before gazing off into the wilds of Crete and the golden sunset, it’s the girls and women like Kallia who cement this culture. Interestingly, the men are the first to admit the mothers and daughters are the treasure of the island. Minas’s father, the brilliant and tender-hearted Manolis Liapakis said it best when we chatted just the other day: “I do what I have to do. But without my wife, Anna, nothing good in our lives would be possible.”
Manolis is truly a fascinating human being. Retired now, he was once one of Greece’s most prominent attorneys. Now, his contentment shows with every gleaming, gentle smile, as he takes up his patriarchal position in the wings of each event. I’m telling you this because of one virtue the Cretans seems to honor above all others—humility. I am pretty sure it’s in the Cretan DNA—something accentuated by this astonishing island spirit.
When we first moved to Crete, Minas and Kallia invited us to the family’s beach house in remote Tsoutsouras. A sacred place that once held an ancient Minoan harbor, this is where Kallia’s father, Nikos Merkoulidis, spent years building a summer retreat. I will never forget the place for many subsequent visits, but the girl I call “Minoan Princess” proved her royal lineage on that day.
After the greetings with Nikos and Kallia’s wonderful mom Maria, we all went down to the beach. The day was like many others. The south coast of Crete is right out of a Kazantzakis story. Travelers can expect Anthony Quinn or Zorba himself to step right out of a quaint seaside cottage at any moment.
I’ll always remember when we were ready to leave, Kallia motioned me closer to whisper, “Be careful when you sit in your car, there is something at your feet.” When I sat down in my car seat, a magnificent shard of pottery stared up at me big as you please.
Since I am something of a Minoan archaeology aficionado, you can imagine my shock and surprise. I recognized it instantly as a piece of a handle from a pre-Palatial period jug or urn, at least 4,000 years old. Samples of these jars grace Heraklion’s Archaeological Museum. Picking it up, it took me a few moments to understand what Kallia had done. Glancing up, I saw that wry smile she gives everyone, and I knew. Kallia, you see, studied archaeology in college, and she’d paid attention to me and Minas discussing those ancient Minoans.
Observant, and considerate almost to a flaw, this is who the Cretans are. Like my aunts and uncles back in the ‘60s, they respond in kind to all those who show an interest in their heritage.
Sundays on Crete
Every Sunday on Crete, there’s this family ritual. It’s like those reunions I remember back when I was a kid. The tradition back then was an indescribable type of spirituality. It’s like that here, but it goes beyond mornings at the Orthodox church or cathedral. It’s as if they see God in each other.
The Cretans share a kind of love and dedication to one another, that has nothing to do with a progressive value system. Their ethics, ideals, morals, and standards are so concrete and unbreakable that they seem foreign to the modern world we’ve come to accept.
My last thoughts are with my beloved grandparents and parents who’ve long since passed away. It is my hope that we can once again find our way back to our roots.
Phil Butler is a publisher, editor, author, and analyst who is a widely cited expert on subjects from digital and social media to travel technology. He’s covered the spectrum of writing assignments for The Epoch Times, Huffington Post, Travel Daily News, HospitalityNet, and many others worldwide.