Several little incidents helped us to integrate. On the day that the family arrived, a delegation of village women came to welcome the newcomers. The Cretans are a social people and are quite unashamedly nosey, so the initial welcome was more to satisfy their curiosity than to make the foreigners feel at home. We found the best Greek villas at http://www.greecevillasrentals.com/. Discovering an insurmountable language barrier, the delegation departed – to return some time later with their own interpreter, Poppy, a university professor who is the daughter of one of the village’s World War II Resistance heroes.
By cheerfully enduring a level of squalor worse than anything a villager would put up with, we defined ourselves as ordinary people who were struggling to get by, just like everybody else. We couldn’t have pretended to be “superior” if we had wanted to, so the village accepted us. We were still “tourismos” not villagers, but the people seemed to be comfortable about our presence.
In retrospect, I think it does no harm to be proud owner-occupiers of the most dilapidated house in a Cretan village. The locals have no special love of worldly goods. Many of the people are a salesman’s worst nightmare, content to make do with what their parents had half-a-century earlier, augmented by perhaps a couple of dozen useful items from the modern world. And those items, they expect to last: in 2001, our immediate neighbour roared with laughter each evening in appreciation of the soap opera on her black-and-white TV.
We bought in absentia, after Vida arranged power of attorney with a local lawyer. When the summer came, she and the children arrived at our new home that only she had ever seen. As the gate opened, 12-year-old Eleanor cried out in horror: “Mother! You bought this? Are you insane?” Yet before the summer of ‘98 was over, Eleanor was in love with both the village and our ruin.
As much again might be needed to repair it; but for us then, the most important thing was to stake our claim to a home, a few square metres of the Earth’s surface that would be there if we needed it. The rest we would deal with later.
For all its shortcomings, the house had three important attributes: its location; its size (at 100sq metres it was large enough to live in); and that its asking price – 8.5million drachmas (about 17,000 pounds at that time) was within our grasp, even allowing for the additional 4,000 pounds that went on tax, lawyers’ and estate agents’ bills.