Unexpected reunion With the help of Adam, my daughter’s boyfriend, I negotiated a parking space that was only blocks from the renovated Temple in Hania, Crete. Although we looked for signs telling us not to park there, we didn’t see even one we could read. Who could we ask? No one chased us away. No one seemed concerned.
So we walked to the harbor, an exciting mix of restaurants and shops in very old buildings; apartments appeared to be housed in their second and third stories. But for the walls of the ancient fortress and the adjacent empty mosque at the western point of the harbor’s half circle, nothing was higher than the buildings that, but for the few interrupting streets that emptied onto the harbor’s comfortable stone plaza, shared walls seamlessly.
My daughter, MB, and Adam said goodbye as they headed toward the old synagogue. Unlike the day before when I had spent hours finding it just before it closed, we had found the building before noon. They were excited to see the 500-year-old mikveh (still in use), hidden behind an ancient wooden door I had walked past.
Then I’d met Ida Mordoh, close friend of the man, Dr. Nicholas Stavroulakis, who had been responsible for saving and restoring the old synagogue. (One of his books, Etz Hayyim Synagogue Commemorative Album, ISBN: 978-960-7459-15-2, is an excellent history.)
“Let me show you this,” Ida had said. With what seemed to be an almost magical twist and turn, she opened the narrow door. We entered the dark room; it appeared to have been carved out of stone. Ida felt along the wall to the right of the door for a light switch. When she found it and flipped the switch, I understood why she had been cautious and, also, why the room wasn’t opened to the public.
It’s space seemed to be about 8’ X 10’; on the left, just past the entry was a sloping stone path that led to the entrance of the mikveh. In the dim light, I could see the clear water, fed by an underground spring. Ida had answered my next question before I could ask.
“It’s very cold,” she said. “But it’s still in use.” A week or so before someone had taken a ritual bath.
Although I wanted a picture, the room was too dark. We backed out with careful steps.
That had been the day before. Pointing to the door of the synagogue, I told Adam and MB to make sure that they got to see the mikveh. I said that to them because I didn’t see Ida.
We parted; I explored every narrow pathway I had missed the day before. Hotels and restaurants that had been built into the shells of the old buildings enchanted me. Art galleries proved irresistible; I had to force myself to leave three of them empty-handed.
“Try this,” came a voice of a man whose mostly finished shop in a tiny building near a gallery I had just left.
Dressed in coveralls, he had come down a narrow stairs from a second floor I didn’t get to see. “It’s orange flavored Raki,” he said as he poured a tiny cup full. “A friend made it,” he told me as he handed me the cup.
It was delicious, better than any I had tasted. I told him so. Eagerly, I bought a small bottle for about $3.50. The clear glass bottle had no label. That didn’t concern me. The Raki was that good.
Although I didn’t want to leave, it was almost time for me to reunite with MB and Adam at the harbor. I forced myself to walk the last street I had not walked; it would wind back to our meeting place.
By that time, I only had one or two shots left on my roll of film. Knowing that made it a little easier. I walked more briskly, slightly uphill.
That’s when I spotted Ida. We chatted briefly; I urged her to hurry to meet Adam and my daughter. She said she would.
I didn’t ask her to open the mikveh door for them; I knew the delight she would take in doing that.
As I snapped a picture of Ida, I thought of the charming old city of Hania as being near the top of my list of places I didn’t want to leave.