Street art or graffiti. Like it. Love it. Hate it. De gustibus non est disputandum, as the forbears of the Venetians who occupied Crete from 1205 to 1669 years might have said. (Google it.)
My older sister, when I sent her some photos of gorgeous Old Town in Chania, made a funny face and said, “Ew! Graffiti! I didn’t know there was grafitti on Crete!”
So much for my older sister. (Sorry Sis!)
I happen to love folk art, folk wisdom and folk creativity.
Chania is a picture-post-card city of astonishing beauty. Just take a look at the other posts from Chania on this site alone, if you doubt it. But it’s also a vital, contemporary city filled with young, energetic, thoughtful and demanding young people. It is a city ready and able to express itself with a purpose and/or a sense of humor, depending on the message.
It’s a very political city and quite leftist. The anarchists are prominent and greatly admired (by many). Their organization Rosa Nera has its own building on the top of Kastelli Hill in the oldest part of the Old Town, overlooking the Venetian Port. The walls around that area are splattered up and down with graffiti, much of it quite enigmatic, funny, and philosophical. Some of it’s just blunt.
I’m not sure if “F**ck Trump New Word Order” is a wicked comment on the American president’s inability to speak his own native language coherently, or whether it is a mistake in a phrase intending to attack his “new world order.” Either way, as a native born American, I give the message a thumb’s up and a cheer every time I go by.
The residents of Chania are cosmopolitan, so you will find street messages in many languages, Greek most of all, of course, but also English, French, Italian and others. How can you not love, “I hate Nazis,” “Unfollow the leader,” “My dress is not a yes,” “Καμια ανοχη στην πατριαρχια” (no tolerance for patriarchy), “Love is the law,” and the more or less internationally ubiquitous, “Σαγαπω Ελενα” (I love you, Elena).
As for the paintings, they run the gamut from the humorous to the lyrical, from the simple to the detailed. One of my favorites is a sheepish-looking sad sack with a single fang. Maybe I’m just nostalgic – there are two versions of the guy in a neighborhood I lived in for quite awhile. He almost became a part of the family since I passed him coming and going. I love the bougainvillea plant with the kid and his dog drawn into a parking garage in the Koum Kapi neighborhood, and I really love the pig on the freestanding wall that you see when you approach the sea at one place in the Halepa neighborhood.
But if I have to choose a true favorite of all, it would be the wistful girl by the blue windows on the crumbling wall of a building in Halepa. The blue of the windows and fence are identical to the blue of the sea just beyond them. Also note the potted plants, they are painted, not real, something that can actually deceive you even when you are standing right in front of the painting.
I have to say that over the last few years the city has lost several of my favorite bits of graffiti. These were beautifully calligraphic quotes from the Cretan medieval literary classic, Erotocritos (stress on the second O). They were everywhere. Imagine what it would be like to walk around London and see Shakespeare quoted on street walls. But for some reason folks began painting over these quotes and when I went out yesterday to find some to photograph, I could not find a single one left. The best I could do was to snap a shot of a wall where someone had painted over each letter individually, making it impossible to read, but leaving an impression of what was originally there.
In any case, here is a different Chania, one I love as much as the one in the tourist guides.
All text and photos © 2020 by John Freedman. If you wish to reproduce, repost or use in any way, please ask permission.