THIS LIFE

Are places like peo­ple? Maybe if we are lucky we stum­ble across The One, the vil­lage that fills some space in­side us

Irish Daily Mail - YOU - - NEWS - Ella Grif­fin

THE YEAR I WAS 23, my mother’s friend backed out of a hol­i­day in Crete at the last minute and she took me in­stead. I was ex­pect­ing to spend a fort­night pin­ing for my boyfriend. I wasn’t ex­pect­ing to start a love af­fair that would last a life­time.

But when I stepped out of the plane, it hit me – the rush of heat, the glit­ter of the sea be­yond the jum­ble of the ter­mi­nal, the rip­ple of high moun­tains on the hori­zon. And with it came a jolt of recog­ni­tion so strong I had to hang on to the handrail. I fell for Greece be­fore I even set foot in it.

Our apart­ment in Agios Niko­laos was pokey and dark and damp and al­ready oc­cu­pied by a fam­ily of huge cock­roaches that scat­tered when­ever we turned on the lights, but it had a sliver of bal­cony. Af­ter my mother had gone to bed, I lay on my back on the dusty tiles in the warm night, grin­ning up at the vast river of the Milky Way that is hid­den even on the dark­est Ir­ish night. I felt as if I’d fi­nally come home.

I’ve thought about it a lot since then, that feel­ing, and won­dered if places are like peo­ple. Maybe if we are lucky, we stum­ble across The One, the vil­lage or town or coun­try that fills some space in­side us, that makes us happy just be­cause it ex­ists.

I loved ev­ery­thing about Crete. The blaz­ing light and cool pools of shade in the white­washed streets. The voice of the veg­etable seller, bel­low­ing through the mi­cro­phone on top of his van. The rocky cove where we spent our days, my mother read­ing, me star­ing love-struck at the sea, try­ing to find words for all those shade of blue.

I couldn’t shake the feel­ing of deja vu. The sense that I’d lived a whole life­time there be­fore. I hatched plans to stay for the sum­mer, to work in a bar or a restau­rant, but my mother re­fused point blank to let me. My heart broke as I climbed back up the steps of the plane. I’d had my hol­i­day ro­mance and now, I thought bleakly, it was over, but re­ally, it was just be­gin­ning.

I’ve been lucky enough to see some breath-tak­ing places since my 20s – the Sey­chelles, Bali, Mau­ri­tius, Mex­ico, North Africa – but none of them have ever held a can­dle to Greece.

I’ve been back ev­ery year since that first time, some­times twice. I’ve gone with friends and boyfriends and I’ve gone alone. I couldn’t keep away. You know it’s the real thing when re­al­ity kicks in. When the in­fat­u­a­tion wears off and you see past the cur­tain of beauty to the char­ac­ter of a place or a per­son. The nitty and the gritty and the quirky, even the down­right scary.

Th­ese things might make oth­ers run a mile, but they be­come the things you love most.

Crete has beau­ti­ful re­sorts with man­i­cured gar­dens and ic­ing sugar beaches, but I am drawn, over and over to the rugged, rocky, un­tidy south coast. I love the tiny vil­lages with their small, cool white churches. And the dusty in­dus­trial towns where farm­ers wear­ing army fa­tigues gather in the tav­er­nas and bat­tered pick-up trucks full of goats wait out­side the su­per­mar­kets.

There are lots of ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites to see but I pre­fer the re­mote ones scat­tered across the is­land where some­times it’s just you and an or­ches­tra of rowdy ci­cadas shar­ing a 3,000-year-old mo­saic or the scat­tered white bones of an an­cient tem­ple.

I would swap the most lux­u­ri­ous ho­tel suite in the world for a sim­ple vil­lage room with a big bal­cony, a cou­ple of plas­tic chairs, a wonky sun um­brella and a tum­ble of red gera­ni­ums grow­ing out of a white­washed olive oil can.

Some­times be­ing in love can be risky. The paths are steep and crumbly. The sea can turn wild on a six­pence. The roads wind around steep gorges and ev­ery sign­post is rid­dled with bul­let holes. The guns come out on cel­e­bra­tion days and you can for­get about health and safety.

Two years ago, I hud­dled with gag­gle of tourists in the church­yard of a small vil­lage to watch a wed­ding. A dozen grooms­men with semi-au­to­mat­ics fired off live rounds be­tween shots of raki. It was ab­so­lutely ter­ri­fy­ing but ex­hil­a­rat­ing too. An­other un­for­get­table me­mory.

Adding them up, cal­cu­lat­ing the days and weeks and the months I’ve spent in Greece, I re­alise that I’ve spent two en­tire years of my life there.

So maybe that feel­ing I had that very first time wasn’t deja vu at all. Maybe I wasn’t just re­mem­ber­ing the past, but glimps­ing the fu­ture. All the times in Greece I had yet to live and to love, es­pe­cially the sum­mer I met my hus­band on the is­land of Sky­ros.

But that’s an­other love story...

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