September 1983 was my first visit to Crete. In short order I was besotted with her people, food, music, culture, passion, and myself…the way I was there. Numerous times, over decades, I returned. My time in America was spent counting minutes and pennies until I could return “home”. My experiences there were life affirming and lush.
For years I heard about the “Boot Fair.” Held in early Spring. it was famous. People came from all over the island to buy and sell goods. It sounded amazing.
In 2018 I moved to Crete for almost a year, fulfilling a decades-long dream, and rented a small house on a steep hill in Almyritha.
Spring arrived and “buzz” about the Boot Fair started up. I was excited to experience this “famous” event. Greek friends warned me: “Victoria, there is nothing for you there. Forget about it”. But I stubbornly went about my plans. When would I leave my house? Should I walk or drive? If I bought a bunch of stuff walking back up the steep, very steep, hill would be difficult in the heat. Or without the heat, to be honest. Okay, car then. Where should I park? I mean…this thing sounded huge.
The day of the fair finally arrived. The lot was crammed with about a million cars, trunks wide open, full of stuff. Loaded tables in front of cars as well. I walked up one side and back down the other. There was nothing for me here. “BOOT FAIR!” Who calls the car trunk a boot? The English. What is largest group of ex-pats on the island? English. I was looking for Greek treasures, not tea cozies and marmalade. My friends were right. Sigh. Chagrined and disappointed, sweaty and tired…I crossed the lane next to the sea, plopped down on a bench, and watched an exchange that made the day worthwhile.
Directly across the road from me was an ancient shepherd, dressed in what must have been his Sunday finest. Suit too large. Perhaps he had shrunk with age. Maybe it was a gift from a friend or a cast off. So worn it was shiny. Arms hid fingers. Trousers’ hem puddled at his feet. He had a table right on the street, which was swaybacked under heavy rounds of his goat cheese.
He was offering samples. Chunks of delicious cheese, skewered on long, thin sticks. Most people pretended not to see him. Some gladly took the wonderful treat then moved quickly on. The old shepherd stood with his cheese, in the heat…in his old, wool suit. I watched as the sweet story unfolded.
A small gypsy girl, perhaps 9 0r 10, was to one side of the old man. She stood silent, still, and straight, arms at her sides, gazing in his direction. Looking straight out to sea, his arm extended in her direction…cheese at the end of the long stick. She pulled it off, ran back to her mother, sat on the concrete and they ate. They ate together, savoring, smiling, chewing, nodding. Girl returned to man. Offer of cheese repeated. 1
He didn’t look at her or fuss over her. That would have attracted attention to his generosity, which was a private thing. Or…perhaps draw attention to her need, which could have shamed. His rickety old arm, straight out, simply extended, with cheese at the end of a stick. She did not beg him, thank him or need to.
The gift was offered without expectation or obligation. Kindness without fanfare is natural behavior here. There is time and room for everyone. Old and young are protected and honored. Cretans notice need and respond to it. They are alive, with open hearts passion for life.
I watched until I felt full, with the tenderness of it…knowing I had received the greatest prize that day…a memory I could harvest for the rest of my life.
I bought my cheese, took it home, sat on my terrace watching sea and mountains, grateful…satisfied. No regrets about the Boot Fair. I had found what I didn’t know I was looking for. Heart. Nobility of spirit. Lessons in kindness for strangers in need.
At long last…I was home.