I have just watched ‘Who Pays the Ferryman’, the 1977 TV series filmed in and around Elounda, Crete. Watching any story that is nearly forty years old can be poignant, especially if it’s a classic that we watched years ago and want to see again for our own nostalgic reasons. Often we make judgements about dress, accents, attitudes and moral values. Dress is seen as too formal, accents too posh, attitudes too affected or old-fashioned and morality
Yes, much of ‘Who Pays the Ferryman’ was like this. However, although told in the typical manner of the ‘70’s, the storyline could be just as compelling today. Boy meets girl during overseas conflict, boy returns home, girl discovers she is pregnant; boy writes, girl’s mother hides letters, local man takes on pregnant girl; gives birth to daughter later orphaned, marries and has a son of her own; much later boy returns to find he's a grandfather...Anyway, it would be just as plausible and topical these days.
Yet behind the ‘old-fashioned’ panoply, lies something that has not changed at all; in fact it goes back much further than forty years, beyond living memory.
When I decided to write the book that uses Crete as a backdrop, my initial thought for ‘Discrete Reversal’ was ‘Shirley Valentine for the older woman’. Shirley, as portrayed by Pauline Collins, is a woman ignored, a piece of ‘matrimonial furniture’ so desperate for interaction, she speaks to her wall...remember?
Okay, speaking to a wall sounds daft but it is figurative because many people speak to themselves or to some other focal object that cannot talk back. As a child I would go with my mother to tend her parents’ grave and thought that everybody spoke to their silent loved ones as if they could hear. People may not tend graves with such reverence anymore, but in times of trouble or distress may well speak to a photograph or something symbolic of a loved one. In some respects, while we may deride bygone times, within us all are those very emotions that connect with our roots.
After my first two years in Crete, I likened village life to how it was in my England fifty years ago. Only people that grew up in or around British villages would truly understand and maybe in some of our more remote settlements, many still do. We were brought up believing in our Christian heritage, we went to church...though I admit sometimes reluctantly, we respected our elders, did as we were told, helped our neighbours and we didn’t lock our doors. That is still the reality in much of Crete today.
While the British cast of The Ferryman may look jaded by today’s norms, the film depicts Cretans almost timelessly. Their clothes, particularly the black favoured by older ladies, can still be seen in many villages to this day. For people that come to Crete as tourists, there is little or no chance of being part of this reality; in fact tourists in All-Inclusives that switch on their televisions and catch a snippet of The Ferryman, could well believe that such life outside their hotels no longer existed, but it does.
Crete is an island with a chequered history, much like Britain’s. Settlement by outsiders and even invasion has been endured, including by Venetians and Turks in more recent history. Yet it is a remarkably homogenous society, whose people are warm and give their friendship long before it is returned, sometimes to the point that makes visitors wonder why. In Crete though, hospitality and generosity is the norm, undiluted by the foreigners that settle in their midst. The warmth transcends the barrier of language if the settler will cast off natural reserve and the typical ‘stiff upper lip’.
This friendliness to strangers or filloxenia is still alive and well in Crete just as portrayed in the 1977 film, but you won’t find it poolside or in the main resorts. You have to go out and track it down, often in the mountains. You are unlikely to experience anything like it yourself on a fortnight’s holiday, but you can witness it...you can be assured that filloxenia is still alive and well in modern-day Crete.
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