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Sunday, 28 April 2013

Backwards in time

Thursday, April 28th., "Flying Cloud", at sea.

On Tuesday at 1.20 we weighed anchor for Crete, being then 6 hours in front of our scheduled time.
At about 5 p.m. we saw the mountains of Crete, 60 or 70 miles off, the highest rising to over 8,000 feet.  The wind shifted westwards and gave us a slant, but soon after died away. By 5.45 a.m. yesterday morning Crete seemed to be farther off than it had been the previous day. In fact sometimes you couldn't see it at all. I would not go up to the poop to talk to the officer of the watch because I wanted to think about what I should write about Milo which we visited on Tuesday. I wrote the 400 words by 7 a.m.

We dropped anchor in the Candia roadstead about 8.30 a.m. Knossos is the magnet that draws the inquisitive tourist to Candia. You drive two or three short miles, past Venetian fortifications and past vineyards, under a most fervent sun, and are immediately moved backwards several thousand years. The excavations and reconstructions have evidently been carried out with the greatest skill, judgement and imagination. Their achievement is to make you see and feel what at any rate the latest palace actually was.

Well, it is all very marvellous: drainage, sanitary systems, lighting, heating, feats of earthenware manufacture which would cause the potters of the Five Towns today to scratch their heads, wine-presses, flour-mills, bathrooms with baths extraordinarily like those of 1927; all dating from over 3,000 years ago. Yes, it is absolutely fascinating. But I was disappointed with the scale of the whole thing. I had expected the cyclopean, the impressive, the overwhelming, and I doubt whether in the entire congeries called the Labyrinth there was a single apartment as large as my own drawing-room. Nor is the architecture beautiful. Considering that Zeus condescended to be born in Crete (you can see the place), and that Minos was his son, I do permit myself to think that the Minoans ought to have been more grandiose than they apparently were.

The museum of Candia is unique, in that the British Museum has not - yet - spirited away any object which rightly belongs to the only Minoan museum  in the world. You can see Minoan art in the Candia museum and in no other place. Hence no student of the evolution of art who respects himself can afford not to go to Crete. There are designs which really ought to bear the signatures of Matisse or Gaugin. There are small bronzes which having seen them you will never forget and representations of ultra-modern frocks which would make the fortune of any night-club in London.

The slatternly town of Candia is thrilling in a different manner. Its chief characteristic is dust, and it has a water-cart which lays the dust about once an hour and incidentally washes every pair of trousers in the vicinity. It has Cretan male costumes which are voluminous without being elegant, but no Cretan female costumes, no Cretan beauties (so far as I could discern) and little Cretan architecture. It has no posters, but permanently painted advertisements on its Venetian fortification. It has a Venetian palace, but no trams. It has pair-horse cabs, but few motor cars. Like nearly all English boroughs it has no bookshops; but it has many straw-hat shops, and far more cigarette shops than any other city I have ever seen. Almost all the shops have wide-open fronts, - that is, no front wall worth mentioning. Barbers, blacksmiths and cobblers work industriously; you can watch them working industriously. Nobody else works. The great body of the citizens sit in cafes, and play cards all day, or backgammon or chess. The chief card game seems to be a diversion called "Hearts". The Candians have discovered a mode of life which has no apparent sound economic basis, yet Crete is flourishing.

Got back to the ship at 12.20, exhausted. Some of us bathed. We left for Santorini at 6 p.m. Slight head wind. This morning when I got up all plain sail was set, and was drawing nicely.

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