Jean, October 2, 2011
I am French and my name is Jean. I was in Matala in 1964. According to me what you call the Myth of Matala started the year when I was there, with a man called Anasthase, who was German or Austrian, a good-looking man who spoke fluently Greek because he had spent some time at the hospital in Hiraclion suffering of a jaundice. He was very gifted for learning foreign languages. (Later, I know that he ruled a café in Berlin).
A Cretan fisherman, who was a true wise man, working only for his needs, not more, Manoli, lived in the caves where he farmed chicken. He was in love and lived there with an American girl that everybody called ‘Petaluda”, butterfly. I became friends with this man.
Anasthase left a few days after I arrived, and I remained there with a British girl I had met. Her name was Janet; the greek people called her Ioanna. And I was Yanni for them. I married her the same year in Paris in December.
After my meeting with Janet we went for a week to Athens and then came back to Matala. One night, very drunk, I started to dance for the first time, Zebekiko, that kind of dance which is an inner expression. And that was the beginning of nights and nights of dancing, drinking, playing music. At that time there was no electricity and water came with a diesel pump which was working all day. Little by little the party that I gave every night became famous, and a few people from elsewhere used to come, as far from Hiraclion, mainly on Saturday night. Wine and fruits were very cheap and it was easy to invite anybody to share food and wine with us. Janet had quite enough money and she had given me her wallet! It was great! Fantastic parties in Manoli’s cafénéion, but not the fisherman I was talking about before... many Cretan people had the name Manoli.
When we were leaving in October, this man cried because he was exhausted, longing for some sleep. Myself, after being in Greece for about six month and drunk every day the last month, I was not taken by the army, which made me, of course, very happy.
I came back the next year with my wife, and had also a good time, with some different people, I mean ‘tourists’ people, specially a German boy, Hans, who became a good friend.
I don’t agree with the ‘hippie’ definition. In 1964 and 1965 we were ‘on the road’, travelers, bums, maybe ‘beatnicks’ but certainly not hippies, and we did not want to be so. This seemed to me ridiculous, and I discovered after sometime that many hippies (at least here in Europe) were only lazy persons, fashion victims, or crooks.
It took me very long to forget Matala and free myself from it. I came back many times, but the magic disappeared even if the place was still beautiful, and the more I was there the less I could find something equal to what it had been. Too many tourists, of course. Even the true people of Matala were banished. Many of them remained in Pitsidia, even in summer. (Two villages, one for winter, one for summer. It’s a model of economy one finds also in Sicily).
The last time I came was in 1980, divorced, with another girlfriend. I met someone from the village who recognized me, and I was given a house, for as long as I would stay. An old man whom I knew, the last saddler, I think, in the all Crete, invited us for a meal in one of those ugly new restaurants. As we were not served as fast as he considered to be normal - he, a true old cretan man with his natural and strong sens of human respect - he got a terrible fit of anger and made a real scandal. The manager and the staff apologized very much. He acted like a king. We agreed together that the spirit of Matala had gone.
I hope this small account will be useful to you.
October 3, 2011
Dear Elzo, (carrying on with the myth...)
What I wrote to you is not what I would publish myself if I had the idea to tell what Matala was for me in 1964. Of course, I would tell much more, and try to explain exactly what it was. You see, many things happened and I met so many people there, like, for instance, that Austrian man, searched by the police in his country, as he said, friend of the executioner in Tel-Aviv (!), who was working as a diving man in Kuweit and spent a few days with us. A very dark, frightening man, but who showed a little respect to me, God knows why, which made me, I must say, a little proud. Childish maybe, but I was 23 or 24, I don't remember exactly. (I should look for dates in my documents.) Was his story true or not? And there were so many like this, it would take a book. Maybe I’ll write it one day...
Writing to you, I thought you knew already a lot about Matala, and I just tried to evocate it. Since yesterday I realize that the people on your site - and yourself - went in Matala only in 1967 the earliest, that is to say when it was almost finished for me, the spirit I mean!
When electricity came it could not be the same life as it was for those who drank day after day during months hot water from an old jar (that is why, maybe, we drank so much wine), washed themselves without soap (not to pollute) at the pump - the washing being only to swim in the sea, and had light at night in the cafes with fish boat lamps. I used to cook my corned-beef omelet (second year) in Xenophon’s, paying once in a while without knowing exactly the bill - and I am sure I wasn’t robbed. Eggs were almost the only food with the obligatory tomato salad drowning in olive oil. One night Xenophon was so happy (and drunk) that he decided to make a bonfire with his house! And almost all the village had to came to persuade him not to do so!
I remember one beautiful morning, so pure and clear, when the fisherman Manoli, on top of the caves cliff played a kind of music concerto firing a shotgun with the echo while Xenophon, on the beach was responding beating a can. Because - this is important - it was the Cretan people who gave us the example. They showed us - at least to me - a state of mind which I needed deeply to know, being in lack of it since I was born. The state of mind of true, authentic people being not degenerated like in France: right, proud, honest, frank, generous, strong, unaffected and, of course, a bit crazy like anyone living in a place of constant beauty, famed for that special Greek light which exists truly, untouched by ‘civilization’, always sunny, sometimes too much windy with a hot, nervous wind, where you feel really, like in very ancient times, close to God(s)!
I think the Spanish people with his ‘duende’ (read Garcia Lorca) is pretty the same! To me this discovery at twenty years old was a revelation!
There must be for sure something particular in Matala, since you and other people, not only me in a far past, still feel it. How strange !