Magazine article The Spectator

Diary: Andrew Marr

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary: Andrew Marr

Article excerpt

Credit: Andrew Marr

A week away in Crete: I've come for the archaeology and culture -- little patches of Minos, ancient Greece, Byzantium and the Venetian Republic are scattered around this most southern sentinel of Europe. It hasn't gone quite as I'd hoped; when it comes to monuments, the Greek rule seems to be 'close early, close often'. But I've much enjoyed the food, a just-swimmable sea, and the benign, gracious hospitality of the locals. At first sight, like much of the eastern Mediterranean, Crete appears to be a matriarchy. Stern women in black still dominate village squares; they travel on tiny, exhausted donkeys as they always have done, whacking them with walking sticks; and they seem to run all the shops, tavernas and businesses. But look harder and you find the men. The elderly men, in particular, sit around at the back of tavernas or under the shade of awnings, apparently doing nothing at all except smiling. Sometimes they are embroiled in arguments, mostly about football. More often they sit silently, gazing into the middle distance. When the time comes, I think I want to be an old Greek man.

They reminded me of an Edwardian Punch cartoon, the magazine at its most patronising. A 'kind lady' is visiting the oldest inhabitant of the village, and asks him how he keeps himself busy. 'Well, ma'am,' he answers, 'sometimes I sits and thinks... And then again, sometimes, I just sits.' It struck me that this is, I suppose, more or less what the Dear Leader, DC, is hoping to achieve during his yoga break on Lanzarote. But do we want our leaders to be seeking 'mindfulness'? Better than mindlessness, I suppose, but these retreats rarely seem to go down well with an irritable and practical-minded public. Do you remember something about Tony Blair, meditation and hot tubs in Mexico?

Anyway, despite the ruined towns and fortresses, modern Crete, like modern anywhere hot, is far more marked by mass tourism than by thousands of years of rising and falling empires. Reinforced concrete was brought to the island in around 1905 by the British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans, as he cheerfully rebuilt the Minoan palace of Knossos. But the locals have taken it to their hearts with great enthusiasm. So increasingly Greece looks like Spain -- looks like Italy -- looks like Turkey -- looks like southern Russia... …

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