Matala, Crete

Carey by Joni Mitchell

The wind is in from Africa
Last night I couldn't sleep
Oh, you know it sure is hard
To leave here, Carey Read full Lyrics
Matala caves, CreteMatala caves, Crete
Songwriters get their inspiration from all kinds of places. Joni Mitchell wrote a song called "Carey," which featured on her 1971 album Blue. Before writing the song she lived in a cave as a hippie in Matala on Crete. Plenty of food for thought there, then.

The man-made caves Mitchell refers to have an interesting background. They originally housed lepers and then the Romans used them as burial crypts. But when the beatniks on their backpacker search for enlightenment arrived in the 1960s, the caves suddenly became the cheapest hotels in town. Not that there was much of a town.

Beatniks struck some people as strange, some sporting necklaces made from human teeth. We suppose you could call it ancient Roman art.

Roberta Anderson, a.k.a. Joni Mitchell, was born in Canada in 1943 and moved to New York as a young folk singer. Song to a Seagull was her debut album in 1968 and it launched her career. Although Mitchell had written for other artists, including Fairport Convention, she enjoyed writing and singing her own material.
back in the day...back in the day...
At first her orchestrations were simple, highlighting her guitar playing. Over the years she became more jazz orientated, even working with such great greats as Herbie Hancock. Later she used synthesizers and always struck a balance between songs of a romantic nature and those with a feel for the social conscious. Rolling Stone magazine described her as "one of the greatest songwriters ever."

After leaving Canada and making it in the Big Apple, the itchy feet syndrome kicked in and Mitchell took to wandering around France and Spain, finally landing in Matala, Crete. It was a tough time politically, with the Greek military junta holding sway.

While there, Mitchell met Carey Raditz, an "unforgettable character" with flaming red hair who walked with a cane and often wore a turban. They met when Raditz was literally blown through a door following an explosion which came about when he lit a gas stove. According to Mitchell, everything about him was "flaming red," from his personality to his appetite for red wine. He proclaimed himself to be a gourmet cook - inasmuch as someone could be a gourmet cook in the caves of the island - and once loaned Mitchell a pair of boots and socks for a 10-mile walk to a market for fresh produce. The socks turned her feet purple, and, because they were so big, she says her feet swam inside the boots.

In a 1971 interview with Rolling Stone, Mitchell described her stay on the island. Matala was a very small bay with cliffs on two sides. And between the two cliffs, on the beach, there were about four or five small buildings. There were also a few fishermen huts.

The caves were on high sedimentary cliffs, sandstone, a lot of seashells in it. The caves were carved out by the Minoans hundreds of years ago. Then they were used later on for leper caves. Then after that the Romans came, and they used them for burial crypts. Then some of them were filled in and sealed up for a long time. People began living there, beatniks, in the fifties. Kids gradually dug out more rooms. There were some people there who were wearing human teeth necklaces around their necks.

We all put on a lot of weight. We were eating a lot of apple pies, good bacon. We were eating really well, good wholesome food.

The village pretty well survived from the tourist trade, which was the kids that lived in the caves. I don't know what their business was before people came. There were a couple of fishing boats that went out, that got enough fish to supply the two restaurants there.

The bakery lady who had the grocery store there had fresh bread, fresh rice pudding, made nice yogurt every day, did a thriving business; and ended up just before I left, she installed a refrigerator. She had the only cold drinks in town. It was all chrome and glass. It was a symbol of her success.

Then the cops came and kicked everyone out of the caves, but it was getting a little crazy there. Everybody was getting a little crazy there. Everybody was getting more and more into open nudity. They were really going back to the caveman. They were wearing little loincloths. The Greeks couldn't understand what was happening.

The Mermaid Cafe mentioned in the song was also a real establishment, owned and operated by Stelios Xagorarakis, who is currently living in Southern California. While in Matala back in 1969, Xagorarakis was arrested for an "illegal addition on his kitchen," dragged off by the Junta, spent three days in jail, and was burned on his hands and feet with cigarette butts; torture was legal there at the time.

After four months on Matala, Mitchell found she was homesick, but the time spent living in the caves obviously made its mark on her memory, with many of her experiences tumbling out in her album Blue.

Today, Matala on Crete is a small, sleepy village, which survives pretty much on tourism. And if you were a hippie on Crete in the 1960s, we're hoping you were able to make the June 12, 2011 reunion there. Rumour has it there was a crowd of 10,000 or more jamming the streets for the 3-day festival of former cave dwellers. If you were there, we have to ask: Did you wear your genuine human tooth necklace?
~ Cenarth Fox Carey Songfacts
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Comments: 3

  • Diane Harlan from Portland, OrI hardly recognize Matala these days...when we were there in 1983, we stayed in the campground for 3 months. The General's regime was over, but Matala was VERY small and intimate. We bartered for things and got to know a few of the villagers. I painted a big menu sign board for Georgos, whose restaurant was at the eastern edge of the bay, and he paid us by making a feast for us and our friends, and at the end of the meal, brought out a HUGE bottle of Metaxa that had its own carriage for pouring. It was an incredibly magical place. The tour busses would come in from Phaistos for a couple of hours and the tourists would drop coin and then leave, and Matala was again peaceful. The outhouse in the campground cracked me was one of those squatting affairs, and right at squatting eye-level was graffiti that said "Joni Mitchell was here." When we were there, the Mermaid Cafe was still going strong, though it seemed mostly a place for the village menfolk to sit and drink. The women ran that town. I was in the yogurt store daily (the best sheep's milk yogurt I have ever had was from there!) and on one day, the woman who ran it had what appeared to be a nervous breakdown. Her daughter spoke some English, so I told her to get someone (knowing her father was at the Mermaid) but within minutes, it was the other women of the village who came to get her. After that day, her husband ran the store and I would see her occasionally, sitting in a chair by their little whitewashed house. I think it was am difficult time for many of the villagers. The young got out of there, because there weren't many opportunities for them. I think there were probably fewer than 100 villagers living there in 1983. I kind of want to go back to see it again, but it is so very changed now that I suspect I'd be saddened. Still, I am happy for the villagers if tourism has made what seemed a difficult life easier for them. They were kind and very open with us.
  • Jackiebeen there...loved it >3
  • Rania from LujhorosWhen I'm alone but pretending that I'm qelutiy sitting with someone, I sometimes close my eyes and begin singing the chorus of "Clouds" in a voice about 2.5 times too loud.Ladies of the Canyon and Blue. Those are the two I know so well I can just listen to them in my head, don't even need to own them anymore. Those records are like memories themselves, living memories.Wow, I'm doing it now (listening to "Morning Morgantown" in my head, that is...) Thanks for reminding me. (And thanks for posting some again - it nourishes, and is much appreciated.)
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