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Photo by Ryan Spencer on Unsplash

I got stuck on the island of Crete once. I was traveling with my French girlfriend in a van I had outfitted to live in. It had a bed, a chemical toilet and a way to cook. It came on a ship from New York to Le Havre, France, in January of 1972.

I was used to Texas winters. The cold was a surprise, we couldn’t get warm enough. We kept heading south.

We spent a week near Paris with her family friends and then headed south looking for warmer climes. Spain was still ruled by Franco in those days; it had a “closed” feeling. Guardia Civil was everywhere, and they kept tabs on us.

We stayed in camps usually, although we rented a house briefly near Barcelona, where I bought a cheap guitar, but we couldn’t get away from the cold. Retired Brits were everywhere, living placid lives along the coast and Barcelona itself was full of Americans looking for a home. We kept heading south.

Finally we took an Italian ship from Malaga to Piraeus, stopping in Livorno and Palermo. I could have lived on that ship, the Michelangelo, the rest of my life. The food, the celebrating Italians, the warmth both physical and emotional — it was sad to arrive in Greece, as stupid as that sounds.

Beautiful, humane Greece, where it was still cold, by the way, where the Colonels were still in power, where there really is a rosy colored dawn. We spent a week seeing Athens and then took an overnight freighter bound for Crete, sleeping in rooms with segregated bunks where everyone smoked, thinking it would surely be warm there. It wasn’t. It was cold, and the heat was turned off every evening, regardless.

I remember being very restless in those days. She sat knitting in the front seat, Marion, never looking up, even when we got lost in the Greek vineyards. The peasants there stopped working and waved and smiled big at us as we rolled by, quickly checking out our Texas license plates. She kept her focus on her knitting needles. We could have gone over a cliff and she wouldn’t have looked up.

Crete was swarming with hippies. We drove all over the island. You couldn’t get lost; it was an island, after all. We went up into the mountains to order a loom for my girlfriend. She wanted to make rugs.

First we went to a bar full of men in a tiny mountain town known for its weaving. The men sat around drinking retsina and playing dominos. They were all five feet tall and three feet wide. We found an English speaking fellow — it wasn’t hard, so many Greeks have spent time in the US — who took us to a house full of women weavers. The loom itself was in a tight little basement, barely big enough to house it. We had to descend into the room by ladder.

There was a lot of animated chatter among the hefty women, who were vastly entertained by this event. Most of the foreigners stayed down on the coasts, and nobody had ever come up here to order a loom before. They said it would take two weeks to make one. We gave the carpenter fifty percent in a wad of drachmas. We returned at the appointed time, got a demonstration to assure us we had bought a functioning loom, then it was dismantled and stored in our truck.

We couldn’t live in the van anymore because it was now crammed with large pieces of wood. What to do? I didn’t want to go back to the States after only six months in Europe, but we suddenly felt lost, having been evicted from our little home on wheels. We rented an empty room in Iracklion and moved our bed and cooking equipment into it, but it wasn’t a life. Something had to give. We decided to go back.

We took another freighter to the States from Piraeus, which first went up to Dubrovnik where we walked over the famous bridge — a fellow passenger said there would soon be a war there — and then back around the Italian boot to Marseilles, crossing some rough seas at times. There were other Americans on board who divided themselves into opposing factions over politics (Nixon versus McGovern), the food was exceptionally bad, the captain took an unwelcome shine to my blonde girlfriend, the van stayed on deck to be washed by waves for a month — starting severe rusting, but we made it to Houston in one piece with a Greek loom that worked.

I discovered the gas tank had been slightly crushed in the loading process because they used a net instead of a platform. I replaced the tank and drove it a few more years.

When we got back Marion started weaving up a storm and selling everything she made on the Drag in front of the Co-op. We rented a little stone house on a river where we fought rattlesnakes and invading mouse families. We went separate ways within the year. We had separate dramas waiting for us.

These were the early years of being disabused of my illusions, of leaping before looking, of circling my true self without finding it, of wondering where home was.

The advice on Medium is to not write about yourself, but if you do, be sure to say something helpful to your reader before you close. So, here’s my advice: Never run away with the wrong girl.

Written by

I occasionally write fiction and also about creativity, loving, language learning and travel. I’m a longtime painter and reader.

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