I then saw it again in 1991, when I returned on what I thought was going to be another short holiday to Greece. At the time, I wouldn't have believed anyone if they told me that, in less than a decade, I would end up living 3 kilometres away from this beach.
After 34 years, the area has changed drastically. The traffic that plies the road must have increased 1000-fold. The mountains can hardly be seen for the apartment blocks - everyone wants to live by the sea. The number of trees has been increased, while the whole coast has seen an accelerated rate of development in the tourism sector. The large white hotel complex was opened up only two years ago. The breakwater barrier and the electricity post above it are the only two things that seem to have remained constant.
George's parents came to Crete as children, refugees from the Smyrna crisis of 1922. He was born in Hania. Apart from a short spell in the inland village of Manoliopoulo, George has lived all his life by the sea. In the late 1940s, he came to live at Kalamaki Beach, on a plot of land donated by the government to his family (as was the case with most refugees from the Smyrna crisis). At the time, because the land next to the sea was considered infertile, it was also considered useless: sandy soil where nothing could be grown, no orange or olive trees to cultivate, not even a tree for shade. The trees in the photos were planted after the house was built. The land is now worth at least a million euro per 500 square metres. George eventually moved to Thessaloniki, where he married and had children. After his marriage broke up, he moved to Tampa, Florida, where he spent 24 years making swimming pools and other fibreglass models (like the ones he has on the roof of his house), before coming back to Crete to live with his mother (she is now 105 years old).
I first met George (his house is right behind the tallest tree in the first colour photo, but it is not visible) when he noticed me coming to the beach every day with my children (close to where they took their swimming lessons). I was using a hidden path, partly obscured by tall canes, which I discovered when I saw some tourists using it; there are small pension-type hotels dotted all around the area. He noticed that while the children played in the water and made sandcastles, I sat on a deck chair reading a book, which George immediately took as a sure sign that something was wrong in my life (?$*!#(%?). His house was directly behind the part of the beach that I particularly liked - save the barking dogs he kept on his property. Over the summer, I met an interesting person, the children were served refreshments after their swim, and George's dogs stopped barking when they saw us, a sign that we were now familiar to them. George loves to couple good company with good food, and his yard, looking more like a furniture scrapyard than a private home, is always ready to hold a BBQ without too much notice. Today, he's staging a small beach party for us to mark the end of summer.
When weather and time permit, he takes his boat (he made it himself) out into the sea for a little cruise, and sometimes goes fishing. He only does this with company, otherwise, he says, it's boring for him. He likes to be a tour guide to the friends he has made along the way at Kalamaki Beach.
The master chef began working under the shade of a tamarisk tree, hidden from the view of the deck-chaired beach bar customers behind the net.
We ate a bit of this...
... and a bit of that.
The variety of dishes was really quite amazing.
A traditional dressing for grilled fish was used: finely chopped parsley and thinly sliced onions, piled on the fish, over which a lemon-olive oil-salt dressing was poured.
The adults enjoyed themselves...
... and so did the children...
... who even had a midnight swim!
When Greeks come back from their vacation and go back to work, they wish each other a happy winter.
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