Whew! Well, with the first session of the season behind me, I have a few days off now – and can finally come up for air!
What a busy couple of months it’s been!
Straight after Easter, I returned to London for what should have been just a ‘flying’ visit (to attend a wedding) and found myself at the mercy of the volcanic ash crises. It was almost three weeks before I could return, which left precious little time to prepare for the arrival of my first painting guests. There was still so much to do! But somehow it all got done (well almost!).
As soon as I arrived back and before I could begin, however, I was whisked off to paint a mural on the austere OTE (telephone) building, on the main road between Troulos and Koukounaries.
‘Just 7 metres of wall’ I was told! 7 m turned out to be 27 metres!!! Talk about pressure…but what a day! It was hard work but great fun too, especially as it was a public holiday (one of the many ‘Saints’ Days) and it seemed everyone on the island passed by us at some point, waving, tooting horns or stopping to look or chat. It was scorching hot but we were well supplied with drinks, hats, and support.
Children who stopped to look were handed a paintbrush and invited to join in the fun. It was a charitable event on behalf of the local ‘ALKI’ charity which supports children on the island with special needs. Their committee’s newly elected chairman is my dear friend Despina Mitselou and that day, together, we tackled the wall.with welcome assistance from friend ‘Vasso’, (Vasso, Picasso! was one of the many comments hurled from a passing vehicle)
Unbelievably, our efforts somehow warranted a mention in the National Newspaper; ‘I Kathimerini’! Teo Tsoumas masterminded this event and thought of everything to make our full day out in the blazing sunshine more comfortable; chairs, umbrellas, a constant supply of refreshments and even some music! One of the sponsors , Mrs Santikos, the owner of the Skiathos Princess and Aegean Suites hotels came along, having first got her chef to bake us a few batches of delicious cookies! And another committee member, Eleni Lampadariou, kindly supplied us with large straw hats!
The event was also organised in conjunction with ‘ Politistikos Syllogos Skiathos’ a local organisation with a passionate mission; to clean up and conserve the natural beauty of the island. (the accompanying. photos are courtesy of them too). Organiser, Teo Tsoumas led a team of dedicated volunteers, young and old, drawn from the community. They worked tirelessly over several weeks on a series of incentives to clean up Skiathos prior to the start of the tourist season. Firstly, they tackled:
The beaches (and there are many!!):
Then the forests:
and Skiathos town, where flower beds in the Main Street (Papadiamantis St.) were weeded and colourfully planted up:
All the willing participants can feel all rightly proud of their monumental achievements! They even organised a boat trip to the neighbouring island os Skopelos, to further their ‘Green Action’ policies, where they drummed up local support and helped to clear the forests there too!.
Alas I couldn’t join them – I had too much work of my own waiting for me back at the villa. My first priority was the old Kalivi/woodstore/ workshop. Its roof had finally collapsed over the previous winter and the whole building was in dire need of repair. It was completely emptied (a week’s work in itself!) before restoration work began. Once again Villa Nicara was turned into a building site. The entrance was virtually impassable with huge piles of wood, sand, cement and builder’s rubble everywhere. The villa (inside and out!) and the whole garden began to look like the volcanic ash cloud had followed me to Kolios. But in just a few short weeks the Kalivi was transformed:
Inside, went from this:
‘Painting Skiathos’ now has a wonderful new art studio space and I loved its austere simplicity so much, that I was loathe to move all my art paraphanalia into it, – but I did – eventually!
Then there were the usual post winter jobs to be tackled: stone terraces to be sealed, walls to be white-washed and windows to be painted. Patios had to be pressure washed too and ,shutters, oiled, Flower beds had to be weeded and planted up, grass to be cut, the pool to be maintained, studios to be spring-cleaned and, as if that wasn’t enough, even a new stone barbeque to be built! Luckily I’d just got the second coat of stone sealant down when, as if right on cue, the heavens opened up and the mother of all thunderstorms arrived, accompanied by driving rain – the likes of which haven’t been experienced in living memory!
The dramatic electrical storm that circled the island for days brought with it floods and utter mayhem. The streets of Skiathos town turned into fast-flowing muddy rivers!
Basements were flooded and roads became impassable. My heart went out to the shopkeepers who had only just finished painting their store fronts and stocking up their summer wares. I felt for the poor holiday makers who had just arrived too, in search of a week of sun and sand (especially those who had left a heat wave back home!) But, I have to admit, I couldn’t help but be pleased that, in all the chaos, every last ounce of cement dust I’d been choking on for weeks was instantly washed away in one fell swoop!
Thankfully not a single drop leaked through to the studio bedrooms below and now with the sterna full once again, I won’t have to buy in water for a while, thank goodness! Wells and springs are full to bursting. The deluge has drained away as quickly as it arrived, leaving behind an island fresh, and lush – with the promise of an unusually heavy olive crop later in the year, judging by the pre-storm blossom that had weighed so heavily on every tree.
Tree fruits like peaches:
and tomatoes ( well, at least the ones that didn’t get washed away):
will no doubt will be bigger and juicier than ever as a result, too! We’re already enjoying the first crop of spring vegetables:
(Thanks to friend Ian – a ‘townie’ expat who is – very successfully – cultivating his first ‘Mediterranean garden’ in the corner of the olive grove.
It could be the result of Greek sunshine and rain or his own green fingers but personally I put it down to the sunny disposition, charms and serious expertise (in the tasting department) of his young assistant:
As June approaches, the island is once again bathed in such glorious sunshine that the humidity, as the damp evaporates, is unusually high and in the sweet-scented, steamy olive groves and meadows, the wild flowers:
Show no sign of giving way to the dry impending summer just yet.
The yellow broom is particularly glorious this year:
The hillsides are still ablaze with golden yellow:
yet the pollen count has, thankfully, returned to a more tolerable level
Before my first guest of the season arrived, I was joined by Irish artist Mary Dillon, who was visiting for ten days – a week of which, before giving her water colour master class, she spent painting new works for her own forthcoming exhibition (next August, in her Gallery, The ‘Almond Tree’ in Roscrea, County Tipperary, Ireland) She found plenty of material to inspire her again this year:
and Passion Flowers:
in full bloom and running riot at every turn. On the wettest of days
she retreated to the studio to paint.
Her awe and enthusiasm for the natural world is boundless – and very contagious, as her students were soon to discover. This year, after a day in the studio and garden:
and a night on the town, getting to know each other:
we were all up early the next morning to set off, via the scenic route, to set up a work table in the beautiful gardens of Aghios Ioannis church, on the remote north side of the island:
(‘Creams’? – Ponds? No. 7?)
Following a morning of painting, they braved the steep, rocky and narrow mule path, that leads down to the beach where they enjoyed a leisurely afternoon swimming in the crystal clear water:
I’d gone on ahead hoping to get a few hours of peaceful painting in myself but it was the first day Apostolis had opened the taverna and the ’round the island boat’ day trippers had arrived before me.
I didn’t mind – they were a jolly bunch, a big tour group from Australia and among them was their leader, Lynne, who’d been my first painting student of the year!
We’d enjoyed the previous day together exploring and sketching in Skiathos Old Town:
Lynne is particularly interested in architecture and enjoys painting buildings, so she loved the tiny narrow streets and old houses in the Plaka neighborhood. She was overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of the towering Bougainvillea everywhere: ” A fabulous photo op. at every turn!'” was how she described it, while constantly snapping away:
After a morning of making quick preparatory sketches, we enjoyed a long leisurely lunch at ‘Kabourelia’,on the ‘Paralia’, over-looking the harbour:
Then Lynne settled down to an afternoon of serious painting:
She got so involved in her work that even after we returned to the studio in the early evening, she wanted to carry on and finish it off. Here’s the result :- a beautiful painting, started and completed in one afternoon, with its very proud (and rightly so!) happy ‘new’ artist, Lynne:
I also now have a very talented young girl under my wing. She comes for private lessons with me every Monday and is an absolute delight to teach; not only does she have an impressive natural talent but she’s like a sponge soaking up everything I teach her with great maturity (that belies her ten years!) and then executes it with total ease. Joy! I look forward to posting some of her work soon (if she’ll allow me to, that is!).
My week closed with the return of one of my Irish painting guests, keen to learn more and find the confidence to continue expressing herself through her art. Learning how to paint the sea and sky was her challenge and after just a few short hours in the studio:
she left with a beautiful painting – a seascape…..with a promise to return….and I think she will!
Oh dear, That’s the problem with leaving it so long between posts, you simply store up far too much information then run the risk of boring evryone to death with it….
I still have so much to tell you, but for now, I’d better come to a close. Thank you for reading this far, and do pop back soon after I fill you in with the rest.
Finally, sorry to leave you on such a sad note but last week, Despina’s Mother passed away. Regular readers will remember her, she’s often appeared on this blog :
….I shared many a meal with this charming and gracious lady….. and reported on it here. She was such a lovely, sweet woman; kind and generous to a fault – she always worrying that I wasn’t eating properly so regularly cooked an extra portion with me in mind – and sent Despina to deliver her special dishes to me; wonderful Greek specialities the likes of which you’d never find in a Taverna!
Sometime soon I’ll dedicate a post to her memory and share some of her unique recipes with you. Modest and unassuming as she was, I think she would be quietly thrilled by that.
She was greatly loved by all who knew her, and is very, very much missed….. R.I.P. Dear Friend….