May 26, 2014

And They All Went Off To The Beach

Painting The Hora and the surrounding mountains

Go with the flow wherever you are.  It’s wisdom.  When I went down to the bakery this morning for the wonderful fresh bread that comes out of the Greek ovens, Olympias called to me as I was headed back home.  She was on her own at the school yard making strides on the last part of the mural—the Hora.   “Won’t you come and paint with me?” she said, so I went home and changed and returned to the schoolyard.  Now I am getting my first taste of Greek summer heat.  I couldn’t keep up the painting for too long as the heat radiated off the concrete basketball court and the concrete wall and the fluid loss was just too great.  So I had to finish for today.  Off to the beach.  Olympias remembered the film, “Never On Sunday” which ends with Melina Mercouri saying, “And they all went off to the beach.”  So that’s what we did.

A natural face in the rock
Mythic face
The weather is now warm enough for swimming although if you stay in the water for too long you do get chilled.  Five minutes on the sand and you are recovered.  It’s an amazing sea; the water is magical and like silk.  I’m thinking of renting a kayak if I feel motivated enough to put down my book, get off my beach chair, and sweat a little out on the bay.  These next and last days are quite leisurely.  I watch the Aegean Speedlines ferry come in and out of the port and feel some reticence about leaving.  I can stand on the upper deck as the boat pulls out and look back at the bays I’ve visited.  The boat will stop at Milos and Sifnos before continuing to Pireaus where I’ll taxi on to Athens. 

Profile of a man
A natural foot and hand sculpture
Yesterday I spent some time photographing the rocks that form a barrier between the port of Livadi where I live and the Livadakia Bay and beach where I frequent.  I’m taken by the natural sculptures of the stone and the carvings made by the sea and wind.  The stones are like mythic faces of gods and characters from the Odyssey.  Also in antiquity, Serifos was known as the Island of Mute Frogs.  No one can tell me anything about this and I cannot find a record of mute frogs (there is such a species) outside of North America.  But as I photographed and examined the rocks, they seemed like multiple frog sculptures as the wind causes the rocks to be rounded and sometimes form a froglike face.  I wonder if this was the story from antiquity and this is how it got its name.  It may not be, but I like the idea.  The rocks inspired the thought of paintings and certainly sculptures and I’ll be glad to be in a place where I can execute something if the mood touches me.

May 24, 2014


Cafe at Mega Livadi.  Typical to
have such lovely tavernas on the shore.

Just as images of Greece entered my mind before coming, thoughts of Olympia USA are arriving without effort as my stay here comes toward a close.  It’s natural to have this happen.  Here in Serifos the tallest trees are royal palms although the tallest tree I saw, a giant eucalyptus, stood behind the tribute to Constantinos Speras.  The tree looked old enough to have been there when he was alive.  In Olympia, it’s all trees. trees, trees.

My supermarket and a black cat on the road looking
like a he's ready for a shootout in Dodge.
I have not been in Livadi entirely as a tourist.  Every day I have simply lived here in somewhat the way the Greeks live here.  Granted I’m not Greek so it’s presumptuous of me to say this.  But I’ve done my laundry and hung it out to dry, shopped at the local markets with the regulars, cooked food that made sense to me even though it wasn’t truly Greek flavors, cleaned my house with the tools that are used here, endured the wind the same as everyone, walked around, rode the bus, carried away my trash, did everyday life.  So I am feeling a certain connection here that is warm and I’ll take back a sense of relatedness.  At the same time, I have not done much talking, just listening to the world here, taking it all in.  When I did speak with people I generally asked questions.  I was typically not asked questions in response.  I won’t mind being in company again with known friends and taking up another kind of everyday life.

Old door at the Hora.
Yet five and a half days to go on Serifos.  I return to Athens by boat on Friday evening.  On Saturday it will be at the National Archeological Museum.  Sunday morning, June 1, I fly out from Athens to Toronto to Seattle.  There is always more one could do or could have done but I’m not the sort to have to conquer every detail of a place.  I saw a couple at the Hora who were looking at the hiking map of the island with some sense of distress and they were saying, “Oh, we didn’t go on this trail.  Maybe we should do that one.  And we didn’t go on the west trail.  We didn’t see it.”  It seemed as if they had a need to gobble up every inch of the island to say that they had actually seen it. 

Pretty much, having driven around the whole island, it is the same although there are some different spectacular views from one place to another.  Being content with what one has seen and holding it as one’s own experience is quite fine for me.  I don’t have to say that I’ve walked every inch.  I prefer to say that where I walked was realized.  On days when I stayed downtown and helped with the mural, I was entirely content with that adventure.  On days when I battened the shutters against the wind and stayed home, I felt equally content.  Some days I just stayed home, wrote, walked downtown, sat on the patio and looked at the bay.  I’m getting old and simple and a little can go a long way.  But I think what I’ve seen and felt was a lot and I feel enriched for having experienced the antiquities and to have carried the mythic stories to this place.  I can only think that when I watch the Perseid Meteor Shower in August, the constellations of Perseus and Andromeda will offer new meaning and I’ll have the treasure of having stood on this ground where people believe that the real people of Perseus and Andromeda actually walked.

There are eleven cats in this collection
that run around all day pestering for food.
During siesta they will not
move even if I begin work
in my kitchen.
They've obviously just been fed.
And these cats, there are actually eleven of them, will have to find a new source to beg from.

The White Tower and Constantinos Speras

The Hora is that black and grey dot at the upper right.
I thought I had gone as high as I could go on the island with my climb at the Hora, but I went out with Leonardo again who stopped by his home to pick up something on the way to Mega Livadi.  This was the view from his place, looking down on the Hora and the edge of Livadi where I'm staying.  Utter silence and stillness except the far cry of a hawk and a bit of wind.  A breathtaking moment.

We drove then across the island and stopped at the White Tower.  Towers such as these were built  in many parts of Greece but were numerous across the Cycladic islands from the 4th Century BCE in order to protect the resources of the islands against marauders.  This tower appears to be protecting the area of the island that was rich in metals and thus used for mining.  Judging by the artifacts that were found at the site when archeologists began a partial reconstruction, this tower was built in the 4th century BCE and was in use until the 7th century CE.  The massive local white marble is reminiscent of stones at the Acropolis which were commonly used in construction.
The White Tower under reconstruction.

The diameter of the circle is about eight and half meters.  The blocks were skillfully joined and set with no binding agent. It likely had three stories and was twelve meters tall.  This is surmised by the 750 marble blocks that are sitting beside it in a kind of block marble graveyard.  In the early part of the 20th century, when mining was again at its peak, a cemetery was built on the site using some of the marble as headstones, as well as a small church.  Unlike the experience in Athens where guards are everywhere to keep people from touching the marble at the Acropolis, you can walk inside this White Tower and put your hands right onto the marble from these ancient times.

Tribute to Constantinos Speras at Mega Levadi
On we went for lunch at Mega Livadi and a brief history lesson about the mining symbols we are painting on the mural downtown.  I learned about the Mine Strike of 1916 from the people who run the taverna in the square.  When the mine workers on Serifos were desperate for help, they called on Constantinos Speras, a man who had been born in Serifos in 1893 and was working to assist the labor movement in Athens and on another island.  Speras returned and organized The Union of Working Men and Miners of Serifos, and as its president, he defended the rights of the workers, ultimately calling a strike in 1916.  The workers had almost no rights, worked during all light hours, seven days a week, and as was reported by the man who lives at the mines and told this history, the men were not even permitted to take a moment to pee.  When the workers put down their tools, the owners of the mines called in the police.  This escalated into a face off between the two groups and the miners were given five minutes to make their decision to go back to work.  When they refused, violence broke out.  Three miners were killed and one policeman.  In this melee, the wives of the miners and the women of the town came to the assistance of the miners by throwing stones.  A pregnant woman who participated in the fight, took responsibility for the death of the policeman and she went to prison where her daughter was born.  This daughter had a son who now lives on the same mountain today.  Speras was also arrested and put in the jail on the site.  He was not there very long as the miners tore down the door of the jail and released him.  Ultimately, Speras and the workers won and their demand for an eight hour work day was agreed to.  This tribute to Constantinos Speras stands in the little square at the village on the site where the tragedy took place.  The matter of the mines and its history is right now being painted on the mural wall in downtown Livadi, as you've already seen.  The wall is coming along; it's coming toward its magnificent finish.
Mega Levadi almost the same today
as it was then.
Part of the mine railway
and its ruins 
History books record Speras as an anarcho-syndicalist and a pioneer in the working class trade unions in Greece.  A man of great courage and determination, he was arrested, imprisoned, and exiled an impressive 109 times in his lifetime.  He was ultimately assassinated in Athens in 1943.

An example of a contemporary anarcho-syndicalist is Noam Chomsky.  There is plenty of information to find online if you are interested in this political theory.

May 22, 2014

The Mood to Climb

The top of the Hora

I thought I had outgrown the need to climb to the top of things, but apparently not.  Where there’s a staircase, it begs to be climbed.  Don’t ask what prompted me to dash down to the bus for the afternoon run to the Hora, the town at the top of the mountain overlooking Livadi.  Wind was howling with gusts at 35-40 mph.  Perhaps I wanted to know what it was like up there on a day when the wind was at its full power.  But then, it’s a thing about moods.  If you can’t or won’t respond to the moods, then you don’t get to play with the Greek gods.  Something moved me and off I went.

Old Windmills near the top
There were three things I wanted to do.  One was to climb to the very top.  The second was to go to the Archeological Center and the third was to eat souvlaki at The Blue Dream, recommended by a few locals as the best souvlaki in Serifos.  The Archeological Center was closed.  That’s all, just closed.  I can telephone tomorrow to find out when it might be open, but it is pre-season so perhaps they are taking a rest.  So, I went on to the climb which I thought might earn me an appetite for the souvlaki later on.

Towers are found throughout
the island, but several are seen on top
no doubt used to guard the island
from marauders.
A typical staircase street
It’s hard to describe the Hora.  It has narrow staircases that wind up the mountain with homes that form narrow corridors that feed through passageways to the top.  You can touch the walls on either side as you pass the doorways into private areas of the dwellers on this mountain.  I was alone the whole time and passed no one and saw no one.  It seemed a ghost town of sorts and only one time I heard some kitchen sounds from an open window.  As I got higher and higher the silence became deeper and the view more awesome.  Oddly, although there were times when I was nearly pushed over by the wind, when I got to the top, I didn’t feel it so much.  Perhaps because it’s protected by the church at the very top and I was standing behind the wall.  I don’t know.  It was all so mythic and mysterious.

Rock piles and ruins are everywhere.  In an enlargement
you can see the island of Sifnos through the window.
I felt an urge to spend time up there, but I’d have been better to have gotten an earlier bus, planned to stay on top and sit up there and write and then catch the late afternoon bus back.  Walking down is the hard part.  That’s where my knees could give out so although I’d be glad to climb up, I’d prefer to ride the bus down.  The Canadians warned me against the climb down all the way to the port although that’s what most people do thinking that it’s easy.  So, I made my way to the Blue Dream which took some doing against the wind.  I had certainly earned my meal.  Argghhh.  No go.  They only serve souvlaki on Friday and Sunday.  Argggh.  So I had a lemonade and rode the bus home.

Selfie at the top!
So what happened that was tucked inside the call to follow the mood?  What was the payoff of all this? What happened is that I got an idea!!!!!  I got it on the bus while I was riding up.  Something hit me.  I’d been waiting for an idea for weeks now, some inspiration to follow in writing.  I’d been saying, “Hermes, you messenger of inspiration and ideas, where are you?”  Of course I cannot say what this idea is because it must sink in and take root, and who knows if it will play out, but by the time I got back home I had about six more ideas.  I’ve jotted them all down so they’ve not been lost.

Ah, life is good, the moods are afoot.  The wall is getting painted.  The winds are beginning to quiet down and they’ll be very soft over the weekend and good for swimming as the weather begins to warm up just about when I’ll be packing for the trip back home.

May 19, 2014

The Look in the Eyes of Greek Women

If I were to try to express what is, to me, the real Greece, it would be in the eyes of older women.  Two older women today brought me to near tears because of the depth of the look in their eyes.  I cannot dare photograph them because it would be an intrusion into their souls and it would be a betrayal of what was exchanged between us.

The first is a woman who keeps a small market down the road from my house.  She is slow and sits quietly in the dark corner near the cash register just behind the door as you enter the store.  The markets are crammed with goods and you have to go sideways down the aisles to clear the clutter. I’m told that her son died a few weeks ago at age 45 of multiple sclerosis.  Some people may live much longer, but on Serifos there are generally no doctors, no hospitals, no treatment centers.  If you get sick, there is every possibility that you could die.  People could die here of an appendicitis attack. Of course, you could die in a hospital too.  Life makes no guarantees.  Many people have sicknesses and are healed by faith.  There are numerous stories I’m told of such happenings.  But this man died at a young age.

The woman lives upstairs from the shop.  She is as wrinkled and old as currants.  Her white scarf covers her white hair and she wears all black sweater and long skirt.  When I went in a few days ago she was not there and I asked the man at the counter if she was all right.  He said, yes, of course, she is upstairs.  The reason I asked that day is that I heard when her son died, she completely wrecked her apartment, throwing all of her dishes at the wall, destroying lamps and everything she had in her terrible grief.  But this morning she was there.  This was my second time to look her in the eye.  Greek women look into your soul.  We had a sweet exchange.  She smiled and thanked me for my purchases.  She gave me the change and forgave the 40 euros because she didn’t have the coins to pay me back.  So I looked into my purse and found 50 euros.  She laughed and then slapped another 10 euros change on the counter.  We both laughed.  I'm just being as honest in my debts as Socrates, after all.  With that, she touched my arm to say thank you and gazed in that deep way that tears you apart.  And then I touched her hand too.  So simple, so deep, and unforgettable.

The second woman is the woman who swims every day out, out, out into the sea.  Of course, the sea here is not dangerous.  There is no tide or undertow to sweep you away.  But still, she swims alone and I suppose, she might as well die out in the sea where she is enjoying herself as well as die on the land.  What’s the difference except that we’ll mythologize the event and make something of it because she went out and never came back.  But it’s that she does it even today when it was cold and raining.  She just walks directly into the water without hesitation.  Still in the greyness she went out.  We were in the school yard when she returned from the beach and I immediately recognized her because it was yesterday that we encountered one another on the beach when I was playing with the stones and making a tribute to Hermes.  When she approached today, the others immediately called to her and she came over.  I went to her to shake hands and said my name as she also recognized me.  It was the look of the sea in her eyes that swept me away out as far as she herself had gone.  Such contained and exceptional self-knowledge is how she seems to me.  She knows herself and she carries her being in her life on this island.  She does not have to go anywhere else. She has no itching search for anything else and yet her life appears deep and complete.  No doubt she has her suffering.  Sometimes the one who has suffered the most has the sweetest and most beautiful countenance.

This is the Greece that I will completely remember.      

Rain By Any Other Name. . .

By now I'm on a first-name basis with the friends who are painting the wall at the high school.  Today, as it was quite cloudy, I put on my painting clothes and went down to help.  It's a community project, so anyone is invited to participate.  I was assigned a spot and I studiously painted my section while I chatted with two others who were also engaged in their own areas.  So many people speak English here.  Others shouted encouragement out their car windows as they sped by.

The design of the mural is by Olympias Kelaidi, (find her on Youtube well worth viewing, see links below) the art teacher for the grade and high school, who had painted Icons in the Greek Orthodox style in order to earn a living in art until she developed a hump in her back from being bent over a table for twenty years.  She gave it up and became an art teacher first in Lesbos and then in Serifos.  She was born in Athens and then in her early years, she went to Brussels to study Mexican style mural painting, her first love and of which she has extraordinary accomplishment.  In addition, she went to Korea around 1992-3 (some of the same years that I was in Japan) where she studied traditional Korean brush painting.  Korea is an Asian leader in progressive modern art techniques in brush painting completely modernizing and experimenting with the forms.  She also paints using egg tempera which she makes herself.  Six years ago she came to Serifos, loves it here, and has remained ever since.  She feels she is making an important contribution to children's lives teaching them the values of aesthetics and artistic expression.  I haven't gotten her permission to use her photo here yet but I will soon along with the finished mural.

As we were painting, it began to rain and there was no choice but to close down and go off for a coffee which on Serifos means a beer.  Olympias told me that the weather patterns have changed in Serifos.  They had a very wet winter because the direction of the wind has gone from north to southwest bringing much humidity and clouds with it.  The air is also about ten degrees cooler than usual.  I found it a relief to have a change of weather and especially to enjoy the smell of the hills in the rain which added an herbal, medicinal tinge to the air.  For the rest of the day, I'm quietly tucked in to read and write.  Land art with Olympias Kelaidi  Klimpt 30 second video with Olympias Kelaidi's face

Another Youtube video I recommend is not Olympias' but is a very sweet video, about 10 minutes and tells a story of the children who live in Hora, the top of the mountain.  The scenery is also lovely.