Stories from Crete: „Jorgos, the shepherd.“

„Jorgos, the shepherd.“ By guest author Paul Gourgai.

Sipping our welcome drink, the Tsipoura, we tried to explain to Athanasios, the innkeeper of the tavern „To the Good Heart“ that we were living in one of the apartments at the far end of the village. But he seemed to be puzzled. Even more, when we tried to tell him that it was very close to that beautiful stone house where the road bends sharply to the right before going straight up to the village at the foot of the mountain. Jorgos is the name of the owner, we added. Still no response.

„The Jorgos with the lambs“ Maex tried again – and indeed, the penny (drachma, cent) dropped. Yes, of course, he knows him, said Athanasios, Jorgos was the shepherd at the other end of the village. That’s where we lived.

Often, when we saw some sheep plucking and nibbling somewhere on a parched shrubbery we asked the animals. „Are you the Jorgos‘ sheep?“ They just stared indifferently at us foreign languagers. Of course, we should have talked to them in Greek.

Actually, we had been warned a little of Jorgos. We were told he would be somewhat strange; once it happened that two families arrived at Jorgos’ with a lot of luggage after the one-and-a-half-hour drive from Chania Airport to find out that to their horror the apartments were already occupied. Indeed, Jorgos had made a mistake and assigned the apartments twice …

We liked it, the thirty-year-old strong, dark shepard greeted us nicely, was short and sweet, and luckily soon gone. In our case, nobody knocked at our doors in the next two weeks who wanted to move in with us. But something else knocked.

During the second, a stormy, night there was no thought of sleep, because of an irregular, recurring knocking on the wall – a sound that resonated in the whole apartment.

It was a wooden sound “tock tock tock”, the origin of which could simply not be detected. The storm roared so violently that we had the impression somewhere on the flat roof a cable or a piece of loose iron was repeatedly hitting onto the concrete.

In the morning, I met Jorgos in the room where he used to sleep sometimes and explained our night’s adventure to him. Of course in Greek, because he didn’t understand any German, probably no French either and no Italian, and English only about twelve words, all in all a little too little to adequately understand the complexity of the situation. Hence everything in Greek, with hands and feet. Jorgos regretted that we felt so disturbed, he assured me that he could imagine how unpleasant it was to sleep so badly. And that was already the whole answer

Silently we had hoped that Jorgos might investigate the roof thing. But far from that. He didn’t do anything. And the „tock tock tock“ continued, because the storm continued to roar for a total of another three days.

In the afternoon, we heard Jorgos arrive driving over the crunching stones with his big black pick-up, onto which he had mounted a huge wine barrel.

Though quite tired and slow and dressed only with light trousers and worn out shoes, I ran immediately into the direction where Jorgos had already disappeared. Suddenly he stood in front of me, quickly asking me by himself if the sound was still audible. I nodded and suggested to climb the roof together with him for inspection.

Jorgos did not hesitate a moment. From a pile of planks he pulled out a ladder which seemed to be a bit too short for our climb. He let me go first. When I was standing on the penultimate rung, I could just look over the edge of the roof. The last rung, however, was so skewed that I did not dare to trust stepping on it with my weight.

Jorgos understood immediately, told me to step down again, and with his extraordinarily strong hands he bent the last rung into a kind of platform, then put the thing back against the house wall for me to climb up again.

This time, I was more courageous. I climbed on the top metal platform which left only one meter to the edge. Intending to pull myself up I got my right knee over the edge while carefully watching not to slip in the flip-flops I was wearing. The exercise succeeded! Jorgos was directly behind me and jumped onto the roof. We started the search.

Solar systems, water tanks, television antennas, various cables and pieces of iron seemed to be well fixed; and still, following Jorgos this cable or that support wood, and this piece here and that piece there might need a little more fixation to resist the violent storm blowing over us. He would fix all of it. But first I should get back down from the roof. Jorgos quickly climbed down in order to hold the ladder for me. I lowered myself from the edge until I could read the top rung with my flip-flop, and then walked down decently.

Quickly Jorgos was on the roof again and after only a few minutes he had finished the work. At first no knocking could be heard but as soon as the storm increased in strength the well-known „tock tock tock“ started again. I was desperate.

Considering what is best to do, we started moving the beds into the living room, since in there the sound was not so penetratingly loud. Jorgos was contemplating while watering the flowers in front of our apartment. When he got into talking distance he asked whether everything was okay. Unfortunately we had to say no.

With almost one big jump he was up again on the roof trying every single branch of the enormous, yet magnificent bougainvillea plant, which grew tightly over the entire width of the terrace up to the roof. He bent every trunk, swung it back and forth until, indeed, he found the one which was hitting the rood edge producing this annoying „tock tock tock“. Maex with her fine hearing immediately identified the culprit and Jorgos treated it, cut it, bent it, tied it up so that it could never do any damage ever again.

This was the moment we started to love Jorgos – and, most likely he loved us, too.

When we said goodbye at the end of our stay, Jorgos unexpectedly brought us a gift: a bulging one-and-a-half liter plastic bottle, which he gave to Maex with the shy but clearly proud words: „Είναι το δικό μου κρασί!“

We thanked him and assured him that we were looking forward to tasting the wine at home. As unusual the story with Jorgos was, as unusual was also his wine. A test glass at home in Vienna convinced us that this dark rose colored vine juice reflected the character of its producer: earthy and simple, full of bitter warmth.

In the years that followed, we kept visiting Jorgos the shepherd. But we could never identify which ones were his sheep …

Paul Gourgai (more stories from Paul on our website

By the way: there are about 2 million sheep and 300,000 goats in Crete.

A lamb or goat „Tsigariasto“ is one of the most popular dishes in Paleochora. You can find it in almost every tavern.