It was unusually hot for the time of year, they said in Chania last week. Thirty the day we went to the beach and island at Elafonisi, separated by the world’s biggest paddling pool. As we waded across we saw a shoal of five tiny fish, the only sign of wildlife except for a passing swallow and a couple of crows. Is the sea so clear around Crete because little lives and dies in it any more?
In the evening the temperature dropped to 22 and Chania harbour seemed filled with oil reflecting the lights of restaurants and the lighthouse with Van Gogh ripples but there was no starry night. The tourists numbers were holding up and there seemed to be no reflection of Greece’s deep economic crisis. Until the day of the general strike when several thousand marched down the streets of the real town. Until the taxi driver who took us to the war cemetery told of his fears for his family. The tourist numbers had actually dropped and the income he needed to winter over was down. The real crunch would come in the new year, he said. Then there would be more than a general strike. He said he’d lived in Upper Hutt for six years as a kid and we said maybe he should go back. Too big a family, he said.
At Knossos a few days later a well-dressed woman in late middle age approached us to take us on a guided tour of the palace. We agreed but then she was told to wait her turn by the other women looking for business. She was clearly humiliated by the need to hassle and we declined another offer and went on by ourselves. Then she caught up with us and, they had let her go, perhaps sensing the air of desperation we had picked up, in a woman who had been a teacher all her life, had lost her job in the savage austerity cuts and now had to hassle at the gates of Knossos for a few euros to make ends meet. On the Aegean flight to London, the service was lousy, the stewards almost surly. Have they been paid, will they be paid, what will the new year bring?