5. Lore and Disorder

#5  Lore and disorder

Sat here shaving my pastruma* and blessing the person who thought up that particular use for a camel, I got to considering how Greeks, and Cretans, are essentially a law abiding, religious, people.

According to the very well held local belief, Greek law concerning motor cycle helmets requires that each person on the motorbike be in possession of a helmet  while the bike is moving…it doesn’t require the persons on the bike to wear the helmet, just to have one in their possession**. This explains the common sight around the village of a motorbike/scooter/moped rider proceeding on his or her way at high speed with their helmet carried in the crook of their arm. In fact the only people who appear to wear them are the local motorbike cop (sometimes) and touring German and Austrian bikers (always).

Cretan religiosity is often observed if one sees people passing an Orthodox church; as often as not they will make a sign of the cross on their chest, using the three fingers of their right hand and going from right to left to distinguish them from those western heretics who use other than three fingers and go left to right (atheist, Presbyterian, Jewish and readers who aren’t as intrigued as I am by this sort on minutiae don’t need to bother about this particular detail).

Thus last week: a young couple i.e. younger than me but, as it happens, well out of their teenage years, driving along the road on a totally clapped out Honda 90 moped, both the man on the front and the woman on the pillion seat with their helmets over their arms. They are clearly not that used to this mode of transport and the woman in particular is looking less than happy at the breakneck speed (about 15kph) they are travelling at. As they approach the corner opposite the kafenion in which I was sat, the woman spots that there is a church on the bend and, just as the driver leans the bike into the corner, proceeds to attempt to change the helmet from on hand to the other in order to cross herself. Now, even at 15kph on a gentle corner, the act of transferring a helmet from her right hand to her left hand while simultaneously attempting to cross herself, produced an alarming effect on the stability of the moped which proceeded to wobble alarmingly as the driver struggled to retain control. He eventually managed to get round the corner, thankfully there was no other traffic around, and they continued down the road, the woman still crossing herself but this time with her eyes firmly shut. While I have no doubt her act of piety will reward her in her heaven, I couldn’t help thinking that another one like that would guarantee her arrival there somewhat earlier than planned.

As some of you may have noticed, there is a minor problemette with the Greek finances, an issue that was summed up for me by a room owner who, swearing at the fact that she now had to put the money for my overnight stay through the till rather than in the biscuit tin on the bar of the kafenion, explained it all with the immortal, and highly indignant words;

 “Greece has no money left so now I have to pay my taxes!” 

While this is undoubtedly an interesting approach to taxation, it was also one which took on a different complexion in the light of my experience with the same landlady the previous evening. (Don’t panic…it’s nothing like that.) I had need of an ironing board, I know it’s not what you expected to hear but it is nevertheless, true, and I knocked on the door of her room to ask for one. As it happens there was one just inside her apartment with a pile of clothes on the top of it and she readily agreed to allow me the use of it. I started to remove the clothes from the ironing board when she gave a shriek and jumped in to stop me moving any more. There, under the top layer of yet to be ironed clothes, lay a 9mm hand gun and a spare clip of ammunition.  Now I know that there are those who practice ‘Extreme Ironing,’ doing it on the tops of mountains, while parachuting etc. and I know one person who would probably even attempt to do his ironing at 40 metres under the Red Sea if he thought he could get away with it, and if he knew what an iron was, but this was the first time I realised that ‘Cretan Extreme Ironing, requires the participants to be armed. It also made me realise that I wouldn’t fancy being the tax collector in that particular village.


*This is an act that’s perfectly legal in Greece provided one is prepared to put up with the consequences when one ventures out in public after having done so. I recommend using a very sharp knife; the battery driven devices just aren’t up to the job.

**I’ve no idea whether this is correct….as a matter of course, being acquainted with both Cretan roads and Cretan drivers, on the rare occasion I ride a motor bike I always wear at least one helmet, two if I can get away with it.

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