09 July 2016
‘Where shall I find you, how shall I see you, what
gift shall I bring you to make you remember Crete?’
One of my favourite journeys by bus is on the road from Iraklion to Rethymnon in the evening sunshine. As the bus winds its way up through the mountains, clinging to the coast, the summer sun spreads sparking shimmers along the waves of the Mediterranean. Below, on the old road, there are little rocky coves, sometimes a sandy one, where small groups of people, never more than three or four, can be seen swimming in the sea as if they had found their own private resort.
As the bus gets nearer to Rethymnon, the sun is preparing to set towards Chania. One after another, the names of popular and pleasant resorts are called out, providing yet another opportunity to appreciate the view of the coast below.
But I wonder, as they hop off, how many passengers notice the fortezza of Rethymnon, with its dome and Venetian fortifications, rising above the horizon as the sun continues to set.
This is one of those journeys that I have come to appreciate since the 1980s. And it was more pleasant and more enjoyable yesterday after a pleasant and lingering lunch three of us had in Iraklion earlier in the day [8 July 2016].
We met first of all at the Morisni Fountain in Lion Square, the popular name for Platía Venizélou and once the piazza in front of San Marco, the city’s former Venetian cathedral.
The square is ringed by bustling cafés, popular with tourists and local people alike at this time of the year. We headed for a quieter corner, near Aghios Titos Church. But the small taverna in a former Turkish house was closed for the afternoon, and so we headed back across Lion Square and through El Greco Park, with its statue of Domenikos Theotokopoulos (El Greco), to Peskesi on Kapetan Haralampi street, close to the Theatre of Crete.
This restaurant only opened in 2014, which explains why I have missed it before. It serves exclusively authentic Cretan cuisine, based on the diversity and values of Cretan life.
Peskesi is in a restored historical mansion in the centre of Iraklion. This traditional Cretan house was once the home of Captain Polyxigkis, a Cretan freedom fighter from the 1860s who features in Freedom and Death (Ο Καπετάν Μιχάλης, Captain Michalis), the 1953 semi-historical novel by Crete’s most famous writer, Nikos Kazantzakis.
The name of Peskesi (Πεσκέσι, ‘Gift’) is inspired by Nikos Kazantzakis and his fictional autobiography Report to Greco («Αναφορά στον Γκρέκο»), where he addresses his Cretan ‘grandfather,’ Domenikos Theotokopoulos:
«Μὰ εἶχες γίνει φλόγα. Ποῦ νὰ σὲ βρῶ, πῶς νὰ σὲ δῶ, τί πεσκέσι νὰ σοῦ φέρω νὰ θυμηθεῖς τὴν Κρήτη καὶ ν’ ἀνέβεις ἀπὸ τὰ μνήματα; Μονάχα ἡ φλόγα μπορεῖ νὰ βρεῖ μπροστά σου ἔλεος· ἄχ, νὰ μποροῦσα νὰ γίνω φλόγα νὰ σμίξω μαζί σου»
“But you had turned into a flame. Where shall I find you, how shall I see you, what gift shall I bring you to make you remember Crete, to make you raise from the dead? Only the flame can be at your mercy; oh, if only I could become a flame to meet you.”
The philosophy at Peskesi has been inspired by Crete’s traditional ancient culinary traditions and is the result of studies over the years of the characteristics of the Cretan diet, such as the collection of food, the way of cooking and the seasonal variations in food products.
Recently, Peskesi was ranked among the 80 best Bar-Restaurants of the world and in the top 10 restaurants in Europe in the ‘Restaurant & Bar Design Awards,’ the world’s only event dedicated exclusively to the design of food and drink spaces.
We had coffees first, then lunch, which was everything the menu promised, with local wine and conversations that continued for most of the afternoon.
We walked back by El Greco Park to Odhós 25 Avgoústo, the pedestrianised street that leads from Lion Square down to the sea front. Laden down with generous gifts to remember Crete and friends in Crete, two of us strolled out along the sea wall to the Venetian Fortress guarding the old Venetian harbour.
The waves were battering the sea wall, but the summer sunshine was still at still shining strongly as we made our way to the bus station.