Hippies in Crete
Coming from the United States, from Germany ,…) A handful of young people make road towards the small village of Matala, the history of which they are going to upset for ever.
Coming from the United States, from Germany (two of the cradles of the hippy current… ) A handful of young people make road towards the small village of Matala, the history of which they are going to upset for ever. These « baby boom » children of immediate post-war years, avid to escape from materialism and consumerism of a society which they denounce peacefully, are going to write in flashy colored letters a long page of about twenty years of the story of Crete. Matala, small hamlet of the South of Crete, is going to exchange its fishermen’s rags for flowery shirts. The blue caps screwed on faces engraved by the sea sprays of the sea of Libya are going to become infatuated with flower crowns in the sound of improbable musics mix of cretan lyra and psychedelic beats. Two worlds are gradually going to coexist to turn these neolithic caves into a small « flower power » paradise
The hippy movement, partially arisen from the international political context caused by the American intervention in Vietnam, wants to flee ” the american way of life “. Some young people decide to dash into the adventure. They take a plane for Athens, the boat for Heraklion.Without real purpose and goal. Maybe Kathmandu, in Nepal as many more hippies. The adventure, why not, according to the wind? They opt for the second solution and jump into the first bus until the terminus, without knowing where this bumpy vehicle will lead them.
Soon, the Heraklion road gives way to the secondary ways and to the landscapes of the Cretan hinterland: the scattered vineyards of Peza roll past before being replaced by an unknown rural world for our “flower power”. These endless laces of dusty paths, crushed by the sun and glorified by an unrivalled light, strewed with small villages where the life stood still, of archeological sites, small lost on hills churches.
And then the shock of images for ever engraved in their memory: the bus stops on a small dusty square, in the middle of nowhere. Doors open, the backpack on the shoulder, they go out, exhausted by the journey, welcomed by the hot wind which ruffles their bristly hair. This wind of Libya immortalized by the singer Joni Mitchell in her song ” Cary “.
Eyes fell on a deep blue sea , which an azure sky underlines. Then these yellow sandy color rocks speckled with dark points, so many small caves of which they will make gradually their dormitory, their rooms, A little piece of heaven, far from the consumer society, the Cretans and their warm welcome and hospitality: one does not need more to create a legend. The rumor swells, the paradise becomes known. They come from all over the world to settle down to Matala in the old Roman cave graves.
Their life is simple, community. The newcomers often share their assets. A turntable, fed by batteries bought in community throws regularly psychedelic musical notes. Records, white-hot by the Cretan sun, sometimes have some wanderings, but it does not matter. And then, there are these guitars, these evenings with wood fire camps on the beach.
The hippy youth gets acquainted with “Retsina” and its particular flavor of pine resin, being a surprise at first sight. The wine is cheap, as well as fruits. And then, there is menu works to perform to fill the wallet. They harvested the grapes or olives in the good mood for a handful of dollars and it was enough. Some did not hesitate to go to Heraklion or Athens to give their blood in exchange for some drachmas, between 250 and 400 according to the blood group but it was enough.
This small world very fast got organized: they installed a diesel pump for the water, which was working non-stop. Two or three small stores to buy the main part: bread, cheese, yoghurt, wine… Very fast, hippies take their habits. The ” Mermaid café” becomes very fast a kind of headquarters where ouzo, raki, retsina throne on tables and, for those among which pockets ” are not too much pierced ” the possibility of ordering the famous ” patato omeleta “, the omelet in potatoes. They also go on the beach for the barbecues of ” Delphini ” restaurant. The life seems simple, timeless, but shows itself often rough for this youth.
Hippies in Crete
Joni Mitchell’s song: Carey
Joni Mitchell recovers with difficulty from a painful separation with the singer composer Graham Nash. During her stay to Matala, she meets Cary Radditz, nicknamed Carrot Raditz because of his blazing red hair. He does not go unnoticed with his cane, his red hair and his headband, dressed of white cotton. He was a shoemaker but also a cook. Joni tells that he would moreover have had a part of his beard and eyebrows blown during an explosion in a kitchen.
Hippies in Crete
Interview of Joni Mitchell in Rolling Stones magasine, early 1971
“Matala was a very small bay with cliffs on two sides. And between the two cliffs, on the beach, there were about four or five small buildings. There were also a few fishermen huts.
“The caves were on high sedimentary cliffs, sandstone, a lot of seashells in it. The caves were carved out by the Minoans hundreds of years ago. Then they were used later on for leper caves. Then after that the Romans came, and they used them for burial crypts. Then some of them were filled in and sealed up for a long time. People began living there, beatniks, in the fifties. Kids gradually dug out more rooms. There were some people there who were wearing human teeth necklaces around their necks,” she said with a slight frown.
“We all put on a lot of weight. We were eating a lot of apple pies, good bacon. We were eating really well, good wholesome food.
“The village pretty well survived from the tourist trade, which was the kids that lived in the caves. I don’t know what their business was before people came. There were a couple of fishing boats that went out, that got enough fish to supply the two restaurants there.
“The bakery lady who had the grocery store there had fresh bread, fresh rice pudding, made nice yogurt every day, did a thriving business; and ended up just before I left, she installed a refrigerator. She had the only cold drinks in town. It was all chrome and glass. It was a symbol of her success.
“Then the cops came and kicked everyone out of the caves, but it was getting a little crazy there. Everybody was getting a little crazy there. Everybody was getting more and more into open nudity. They were really going back to the caveman. They were wearing little loincloths. The Greeks couldn’t understand what was happening.”
Then during a performance at The Troubadour, Joni introduced the song “Carey” with the following story (transcribed from the tape by Kakki).
“I went to Greece a couple years ago and over there I met a very unforgettable character. I have a hard time remembering people’s names like so I have to remember things by association, even unforgettable characters, I have to remember by association, so his name was “Carrot” Raditz, Carey Raditz, and oh, he’s a great character. He’s got sort of a flaming red personality, and flaming red hair and a flaming red appetite for red wine and he fancied himself to be a gourmet cook, you know, if he could be a gourmet cook in a cave in Matala. And he announced to my girlfriend and I the day that we met him that he was the best cook in the area and he actually was working at the time I met him – he was working at this place called the Delphini restaurant – until it exploded, singed half of the hair off of his beard and his legs, and scorched his turban, melted down his golden earrings.
Anyway, one day he decided he was going to cook up a feast, you know, so we had to go to market because like in the village of Matala there was one woman who kind of had a monopoly – well actually there were three grocery stores but she really had a monopoly and because of her success and her affluence she had the only cold storage in the village, too, so she had all the fresh vegetables and all the cold soft drinks and she could make the yogurt last a longer than anyone else, and we didn’t feel like giving her any business that day. Rather than giving her our business we decided to walk ten miles to the nearest market.
So I had ruined the pair of boots that I’d brought with me from the city because they were really “citified” kind of slick city boots that were meant to walk on flat surfaces. The first night there we drank some Raki and I tried to climb the mountain and that was the end of those shoes. So he lent me these boots of his which were like Li’l Abner boots – like those big lace-up walking boots and a pair of Afghani socks which made my feet all purple at the end of the day and I laced them up around my ankles and I couldn’t touch any – the only place my foot touched was on the bottom, you know, there was nothing rubbing in the back or the sides – they were huge and he wasn’t very tall, either, come to think of it was kind of strange – I guess he had sort of webbed feet or something but we started off on this long trek to the village, I forget the name of it now, between Matala and Iraklion – and started off in the cool of the morning and by the time we got halfway there we were just sweltering me in these thick Afghani socks and heavy woollens and everything, so we went into the ruins of King Phestos’s palace to sit down and have a little bit of a rest and while we were there these two tourist buses pulled up and everybody got off the buses in kind of an unusual symmetry, you know, they all sort of walked alike and talked alike and they all kind of looked alike and they all filed over to a series of rubblely rocks- a wall that was beginning to crumble – lined themselves up in a row and took out their viewing glasses, overgrown opera glasses, and they started looking at the sky and suddenly this little speck appeared on the horizon that came closer and closer, this little black speck.
Cary was standing behind all of this leaning on his cane and as it came into view he suddenly broke the silence of this big crowd and he yells out “it’s ah MAAGPIE” in his best North Carolina drawl. And suddenly all the glasses went down in symmetry and everybody’s heads turned around to reveal that they were all very birdlike looking people. They had long skinny noses – really – they had been watching birds so long that they looked like them, you know – and this one woman turned around and she says to him (in British accent) “it’s NOT a magpie – it’s a crooked crow.” Then she very slowly and distinctly turned her head back, picked up her glasses and so did everybody else and we kept on walking. Bought two kilos of fish which would have rotted in the cave hadn’t it been for the cats.
When we got back from that walk Stelios, who was the guy who ran the Mermaid Cafe, had decided to put an addition on his kitchen which turned out to be really illegal and it was so illegal, as a matter of fact, that the Junta dragged him off to jail and torture was legal over there – they burnt his hands and his feet with cigarette butts mainly because they hated, you know, all of the Canadians and Americans and wandering Germans living in the caves but they couldn’t get them out of there because it was controlled by the same archaeologist that controlled the ruins of King Phestos’s palace and he didn’t mind you living there as long as you didn’t Day-Glo all of the caves and everyone was like putting all of their psychedelia over all this ancient writing. So they carted him off to jail…”
Hippies in Crete
The Mermaid Café
Immortalized by the singer Joni Mitchell in its song ” Cary “, Mermaid Café is the meeting place of the ” Peace and love ” hippy youth. We’ll meet there to have a drink, discuss around a bottle of retsina and change the world smoothly and in the good mood.Sometimes, the newcomers land with daily papers of the country and they comment on the USA politics in the Vietnam conflict. And then the peace of mind of Matala gets over it.
But for some, the Mermaid café is more than a place, it was the symbol of a that period of freedom, sharing and Freedom from care.
The owner of the place, Stelios Xagorarakis, shared the ideals of hippies and became very fast a personality of these places. He was imprisoned by the police and the Greek military junta. The reason: illegal addition of a kitchen in its business. He left then Crete for California. He lives to Costa Mesa with his wife and has two children and 3 grandchildren. If he always shares the ideals of the period of this Matala beach rocked by the hot wind of Africa, he developed in California some fair stores projects and the projects dealing with water resources in favour of Africa. The wheel of Fortune is turning, but sometimes returns to its place of departure… The wind of Africa !
Every year, since 2011, is held a big festival on the beaches of Matala. Three days of concerts of all kinds: reggae, former young, Greek names of music group rock, covers, … And a soft atmosphere, deluded with the memories of the hippy period. Streets are decorated, people compete in creativity there to decorate the streets of huge drawings in the symbols flower power, peace and love and other messages of peace and enjoyment. The festival meets certain success because they were a little more than 40.000 people in 2016.