01 May 2019

The sun sets on another
holiday in Rethymnon

The sun sets behind Rethymnon last night … seen at Pavlos Peace in Platanias last night (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

The sun has set on yet another holiday in Greece.

It is late on Wednesday evening [1 May 2019], and I am at the airport in Chania, where I arrived last week, waiting to board a late-night flight to Dublin.

This is been the eighth consecutive year I have stayed in Rethymnon, and this is the fifth year in a row that I have stayed in Platanias, just 4.5 km east of Rethymnon on the long sandy beach that stretches for miles along on the coast.

Last night at sunset, two of us walked along the beach at Platanias watching the sun set in the Mediterranean beyond the Fortezza in Rethymnon to the west.

After a very busy time through Lent, Holy Week and Easter in the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes, two of us were back in Rethymnon to experience Orthodox Holy Week and Easter, which fell a week later in Church calendars in Greece this week.

On Good Friday, we visited a dozen churches in Rethymnon to see the decoration of the Epitaphios or bier of Christ, and in the evening followed the colourful processions through the streets, in which the Epitaphios was led by bands, colour parties and robed clergy and followed by countless numbers of people carrying candles.

The processions converged in the square in front of the Church of the Four Martyrs before returning to their respective churches.

On Saturday night, we attended the liturgy of the Resurrection on Saturday night and Sunday morning in the parish church in Tsesmes, the hillside village above La Stella, the boutique hotel in suburban Platanias, where we have been staying.

Each morning, I have enjoyed breakfast on the terrace by the pool at La Stella. Although the temperatures have been in the mid-20s for the past week, the peaks of the White Mountains are still snow-capped, the sea is still cold, and I did not get to swim in the Mediterranean during the week.

The first rain began to fall this afternoon, just before leaving Platanias for the airport. But there have been walks by the sea each day, mainly on the beach in Platanias, and at the harbours in Rehtymnon and Panormos, and there has been time by the pool too.

Platanias is only a 10-minute, €9 taxi journey into the centre of Rethhymnon, and there have days strolling around the back streets and narrow alley ways, browsing in the book shops, and seeping in the architectural and archaeological legacy of this Venetian city.

My walking averages each day have been 5.6 km, and with the healthy food I have been eating in the local restaurants each evening, it feels as though this has been a good holiday for my health. There have been long lingering lunches and dinners that seemed to last for hours with friends and in some of my favourite restaurants. Once again, the warm hospitality and genuine and generous welcome from our Greek friends and hosts have been overwhelming.

This afternoon, there was time for one last walk on the beach in Platanias before catching the bus back to Chania Airport.

I am going to the one-day Ireland v England cricket match on Friday. The journey from Dublin to Askeaton on Saturday morning may take as long as the flight from Crete to Dublin tonight.

I have a busy week next week, with three Easter Vestry meetings in the parishes. Later next week [9 May 2019], Tamworth and District Civic Society has invited me to give a lecture in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth, on the history of the Comberford family and the Moat House on Lichfield Street in Tamworth. The week after includes a meeting of USPG trustees in London, and a three-day meeting of the General Synod of the Church of Ireland in Derry. This has been a welcome week off before returning to a hectic schedule.

I have known Rethymnon since the 1980s, and although I have been to Greece 40 or 50 times, I keep returning here as if this was my home town in Greece. It constantly offers refreshment, reinvigoration and time for rest, retreat and reflection.

But I shall be back on another island in Greece later this year for a holiday in Corfu at the end of summer.

The snow-covered peaks of the White Mountains this morning … seen from the balcony outside my room in La Stella in Platanias this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Two poets who speak to
the heart of Rethymnon

In the side streets of Rethymnon on a sunny morning this week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Following Monday’s beautiful evening in Rethymnon, I spent another few years in the narrow streets of the town again yesterday [30 April 2019].

As well as a centre of tourism, Rethymnon is also a university town and a cultural town, with bookshops, live music, theatre, libraries, writers, artists’ studios, cinema and concerts.

Rethymnon is also known as the home of two great modern Greek poets: Archbishop Stylianos Harkianakis (1935-2019), who died in Australia a month ago, and the poet and writer Manolis Xexakis, who is about three or four years older than me.

Archbishop Stylianos Harkianakis (Στυλιανός Χαρκιανάκης), who is spoken of with affection here in Platanias, was the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Australia, and a monk of Vlatadon Monastery, which I visited when I was spending Orthodox Easter in Thessaloniki last year. He was the first chair of the Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Churches in Australia, Dean of Saint Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College, and a theologian specialising in ecclesiology as well as an award-winning poet.

Stylianos Harkianakis was born in Rethymnon on 29 December 1935. He studied theology at the Theological School on the island of Halki, and was ordained deacon in 1957 and priest in 1958. He did his postgraduate studies in systematic theology and the philosophy of religion at the University of Bonn (1958-1966), where his lecturers included Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI. He thesis examined the theory that the Orthodox Church possessed infallibility when it acted together in conciliarity or at the Ecumenical Councils.

While completing his postgraduate studies, he was appointed Professor of Theology at the University of Athens in 1965. In 1966, he was appointed the Abbot of Vlatodon, where he was a founding member and later president, of the Patriarchal Institute of Patristic Studies. He also lectured in systematic theology at the University of Thessaloniki (1969-1975).

He became the Titular Metropolitan of Militoupolis in 1970, while remaining at Vlatadon, and was responsible for church matters in Northern Greece and Mount Athos.

He became the Archbishop of Australia in 1975, and became involved with inter-church dialogue, especially with the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches. He died in Sydney after a lengthy illness on 25 March 2019.

A noted poet, he was awarded the Gottfried von Herder International Award in 1973, and the Award for Poetry from the Academy of Athens in 1980. One of his poems, After Ephialtes, was set to music by the Greek-Australian singer-songwriter Costas Tsicaderis (1945-2004).

Rethymnon is a city of tradition, the arts and poetry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The poet and writer Manolis Xexakis (Μανόλης Ξεξάκης) was born in Rethymnon in 1948, and studied at the University of Thessaloniki.

In the early 19080s, Xexakis also attended a course on the poetry of Solomos at the University of Thessaloniki taught by George Savidis of Harvard who worked with Edmund Keeley on translating the poems of CP Cavafy. He has worked as a journalist and as a teacher.

His work has been translated from Greek and introduced to English readers by the writer John Taylor.

As well as writing The Death of the Cavalry (1977, 1980), which includes the 12 interconnected prose poems in Captain Super Priovolos, Xexakis has published three volumes of poetry: Mathematical Exercises (1980), Erotic Shipways (1980) and Mirrors of Melancholy Speech (1987). He has also published two books of poetic prose, Where the Cuckoo? Where the Wind? (1987) and Sonata for a String of Worry Beads (2000). His collected poems, Poiimata 1972-2006, was published in 2008.

The 12 interconnected prose poems of Captain Super Priovolos are simultaneously set in three crucial periods of Greek history: the War of Independence (from 1821), the Civil War (1945-1949), and the years of the Junta (1967-1974), during which Xexakis wrote the sequence, specifically between 1970 and 1974.

His work weaves together two main themes: the hubris of political leadership and the people’s relationship with political power. He juxtaposes the Civil War that followed World War II, the uprising against Turkish rule and the colonels’ dictatorship.

His characters include Captain Priovolos, a Communist guerrilla leader in the Civil War, and Aris Velouhiotis, the legendary Resistance hero ‘Captain Aris,’ one of the original leaders of the National Popular Liberation Army (ELAS) in the Greek Civil War who was expelled from the Greek Communist Party (KKE) for ‘adventurism’ before killing himself two days.

In some of his poems, Xexakis evokes the Cretan-born leader, Eleftherios Venizelos (1864-1936), who was prime minister several times, and Panayiotis Kanellopoulos (1902-1986), the last constitutional prime minister before the colonels’ coup in 1967. He has also been inspired by the death of Grigorios Lambrakis in the protests in Thessaloniki in 1963 that inspired the Costas Garvas movie Z.

In one poem, he uses the phrase ‘And he who thinks of resurrection candles lit in the cellar is the same one whose cleverness once struck an entire army,’ which recalls Kanellopoulos, who had been Professor of Sociology at the University of Athens.

Kanellopoulos maintained a critical stance against the colonels throughout the years of the junta, but is also remembered for his declaration at the end of World War II: ‘Makronisos is the new Parthenon.’ He was referring to the island on which left-wing guerrilla fighters had been imprisoned and tortured: ‘As if the island were the font,’ adds Xexakis, ‘in which all Greek should be rebaptised!’

In a colourful sidestreet in Rethymnon this week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)