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Jack Smith

Updates on a day--and a night--in the shortened but still sensuous life of our man in Crete

March 16, 1987|Jack Smith

A cardiologist's fantasy of the man who lives a long and sensuous life on the island of Crete, free of cardiovascular deterioration, has been shattered.

Evidently Crete is not the salubrious Elysium described by my correspondent, Dr. Henry Blackburn, in his paper on the "low coronary-risk male."

The man most unlikely to suffer a heart attack, Dr. Blackburn said, is a Greek shepherd, farmer, fisherman or beekeeper living on Crete.

He described the rhythms of this fellow's life--the satisfying work, the lunches with the local wine, the festive family dinners, Sunday church, and on Saturday night the passionate midnight dancing in the grain fields.

"In his elder years," Dr. Blackburn said, "he sits in the slanting bronze light of the Greek sun, enveloped in a rich lavender aura from the Aegean sea and sky. . . . "

Antoinette Dungan of Visalia has evidently been to Crete, and found it less than idyllic.

"Our senior citizen of Crete," she writes, "must use a quart of insect repellent every day and must sleep under a mosquito net in order to live the blissful life you so eloquently describe.

"Thank goodness for our Tulare County Mosquito Abatement District, which indirectly helps me live the peaceful life here in Visalia!"

"I truly believe," writes Joyce Helfand of Tujunga, "that you are being deluded if you think for a moment that you could live longer if you retired to live on the Greek island of Crete, especially if you lived the life of a typical man of Crete.

"Dr. Blackburn does not know what he's talking about. To take issue with each of his points would give me a heart attack. But let me tell you this: The passionate midnight dance he refers to lasts well into the morning hours of church-going Sunday. Most often it is a dance called 'Pentozali,' and literally means 'five dizzy steps.' I have danced it and seen it danced, and I assure you it can make strong men weak and weak men die.

"As far as food is concerned, and eggs in particular, no one said it better than the great Nikos Kazantzakis, himself a passionate Cretan. I quote from his work, 'Freedom or Death':

"There are three sorts of men: those who eat eggs without the shells, those who eat eggs with the shells, and those who gobble them up with the shells and the eggcups as well. The third kind are called Cretans. . . . "

Sofia Adamson, founding trustee of the Pacific Asia Museum, writes to warn me that life in Crete is much more complicated than Dr. Blackburn supposes.

(Mrs. Adamson, by the way, is the author of "Gods, Angels, Pearls & Roses," the Gods standing for her Greek heritage, the Angels for her Los Angeles childhood, the Pearls for Pearl Harbor and Manila, where she was taken prisoner in World War II, and the Roses for Pasadena, where she is a prominent citizen and volunteer.)

"It is no longer just 'dancing passionately in the moonlight.' " she says. "We discovered last August at the El Greco Hotel in Rethymnos, Crete, that hundreds of buxom, blond hausfraus of Germany, Sweden and Britain and other cold-swept reaches of Northern Europe come to Crete to soak up the sunshine, topless, on its alluring beaches.

"My husband and I had an eyeful. He had open heart surgery in 1979, and I feared for him. Our hotel balcony had a full view of these developments. . . . "

Actually, Mrs. Adamson hasn't said anything so far that would prohibit my going to Crete, at least not for medical reasons. I, too, have had heart surgery, but that was two or three years ago, and I think I have now recovered to the point where I could quite safely view the developments she speaks of.

In fact, there might actually be a rehabilitating force in the sight of rows of topless Northern European hausfraus displayed voluptuously in the slanting bronze light of the Greek sun.

I might not be able to dance the Pentozali, but a little innocent voyeurism would probably do me good.

Mrs. Adamson continues: "Also, on the south side, facing Libya, the hippies of 10 years ago took to living in caves and creating the nude bathing beaches, which surely have given quite a few of the Cretans heart attacks. Now, the suddenly affluent village of Plakia has been filled with curiosity seekers. Two major new hotels are being built to accommodate the curious Greeks.

"So, Mr. Smith, there goes Crete and its low-coronary-risk males; there's a new version of 'passionate dancing in the Cretan moonlight' complicated by hausfraus and hippies.

"I'm keeping my husband in Pasadena."

As I noted, I had no intention of leaving home and going to Crete, even if it might mean a longer life. I was not attracted to dancing in the moonlight and eggplant meals with the local wine. I prefer the complexity of life in Los Angeles, where I have the Dodgers, and my newspaper, and those trashy miniseries on TV.

Among the communications I received about Dr. Blackburn's theory was a telegram from the actor Eddie Albert, evidently a man of healthy appetites. I have mislaid Mr. Albert's message, but as I remember, it read something like this:

"WOW! CRETE! WHEN ARE WE LEAVING?"

I don't know how Mr. Albert will feel about Crete after he reads Mrs. Adamson's letter, but maybe we could both slip over there for a couple of weeks this spring. I could leave my wife in Pasadena.

Of course we'd have to remember to take some insect repellent.

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