The people of Crete have a proud history as a fiercely independent people with a unique and complex culture. There are many books about Crete and its history, but very few about the lives and thinking of Cretan people as they live their daily lives and tell their own stories. Timeless People in a Changing Time is a you-are-there walk through the streets, quays, and countryside as you meet everyday people whose lives are being seriously impacted by modernity and tourism wealth. Meet colorful characters, listen to their joys and worries, work alongside them at their jobs, dine in their cafes, listen to their histories. Laced with humor and wit, the scenes are described with literary grace and cultural accuracy. Crete and its people have never before been portrayed as vividly as in this memoir.
Douglas Bullis’s book is the best account of modern Crete I have ever come across. Crete is known mainly for Knossos, Theseus, and the Minotaur—the culture of the ancient Cretan people. Douglas Bullis has seized a golden opportunity to write about Crete’s people living and working today. The Crete of the Minoan heroes is still alive in today’s average weaver, shepherd, and cafe waiter. ~Bataaf Westerhuis, artist, Amsterdam
This is more than mere travelogue, more than sharp observation: Bullis all but lives the lives of Cretans, gets inside their crafts and conversations, deftly weaves in history and myth, and manages to be both contemporary and elegiac.
This magical evocation of Crete in ‘A Cretan Journal 1998-2021’ relates the author’s life in the coastal port of Xania, with its amazing variety of personalities and glimpses into the soul of the people. I was enthralled by the cornucopia of the author’s descriptions, his myriad poetic evocations of moods and landscapes, seascapes, buildings, and daily-life activities.
On the first read-through the chapters centring on the character Marlena evoked such a powerful image of self-contained womanhood that I thought these would be worth many repeat visits in years to come. The real-life person named Marlena Vardakis emerged so fully from the eponymous chapter that introduces her early in the book, to the parting glimpse at her in ‘Rodhopou and Diktynna’ that I was not at all surprised when Mr. Bullis revealed that he returned the following year hoping to court her, only to be crestfallen that she had moved to Athens with no forwarding address.
On the second read-through the most memorable chapters turned out to be ‘Jenny's Place’ with its poetic accumulation of images as a restauranteur goes about the tedious chore of washing the vegetables for that night’s menu. Then on to the personality portrait in ‘Apostolis's Shop’ in which a veritable relic from the long forgotten ‘Transfer’ of 1912, who endured so many searing memories that it will amaze readers how he rebuilt his life into the warm-hearted man with a wicked sense of humour today. And finally the kaleidoscope of scribbled glimpses orchestrated into ‘A Day on the Quay at the Kyma Cafe’, in which I stopped counting when the one-sentence verbal snapshots reached 100 with half the chapter yet to go. It is surely the wittiest seaside tourist-trap portrait to be found in literature today.
The final chapter — the nostalgic paean ‘Cretan Wine’ — which was first penned during the author’s visit there in 1970 raises an important question. Why, with memories as richly detailed as his of an island so fabled in the popular mind, did he wait half a century to return?
=Margot Beard, Professor of English Literature, Rhodes University, South Africa
This is not a book as much as literary cinema. The sharp details take you into a cultural landscape that lies somewhere between National Geographic and being there. I’ve never seen Crete so accurately portrayed.