Soapboxes, Surprises, Syrups, and Salsa!

Here we are, mid-November already and the winter nights are drawing in but, despite the clocks having gone back and the days being so much shorter, the leisurely pace we all enjoyed at the end of the season has suddenly picked up. Days are now filled with all sorts of activities: painting, gardening and hiking in the hills and valleys:

a chance to enjoy the glorious late autumn flowers and foliage.

There’s still plenty of pale pink wild cyclamen about:

and the fruits of ‘Strawberry trees’ (Arbutus unedo) have ripened now to their striking red and provide a beautiful contrast to their dark shiny green leaves, all over the island:

Roses and even more exotic flowers are still in bloom such as Daturas, white:

and pink:

and roof-high golden yellow (marguerites?):

The beaches are once again natural and deserted and the braver amongst us are till now enjoying an afternoon swim:

Or just enjoying the peace, taking time out to notice the beauty of our surroundings, however small:

At Villa Nicara, after my final visitors of the year departed:

Jackie, a wonderfully gifted artist who, while on holiday in Skiathos took a day out to come to paint for a day in my garden:

And the simply charming Edward and his lovely wife, Jane:

who had travelled all the way from S Africa (via Dubai!) only to be faced with the misfortune of visiting Skiathos during the worst week of unrelenting,  rain and thunderstorms we’d had all year! If that wasn’t enough, the entire island had closed down as well! How they managed to keep their high spirits is testament to the lovely, positive people they were and I so enjoyed their company. I particularly enjoyed Edward’s very accomplished playing on my father’s piano:

it was wonderful, and very poignant, to hear its music filling the house again

Now, a few weeks (and a good rest) later, Art classes are once again in full swing – this time enjoyed by local residents who work hard all summer in the tourist industry and only now, finally, have some time free to pursue their own interests:

Evenings are busy too! Socially, island residents have time to catch up with friends and families again and even though very few restaurants or bars are still open, they get together at every opportunity. Every weekend there are weddings and baptisms to attend and during the week, Pilates classes, Latin American dancing classes, Greek lessons and fund-raising events (for various charities including the animal shelters) such as boot sales, are all well attended. Everyone seems relaxed and chilled. There’s plenty of fun and laughter to be had, such as on this recent evening of salsa dancing, enjoyed by the ladies of the International Women’s Group:

I celebrated a birthday recently and thinking no-one knew, expected just to spend a quiet evening in front of the fire. But my dear friends weren’t going to let it pass un-noticed and completely to my surprise, suddenly appeared on the terrace, wearing hand painted tee shirts, party hats, giggling and blowing trumpets:

complete with balloons, birthday cake and champagne:

and before I knew what hit me, a mad party was underway! (Thank you, my friends!!!xx)

Yes, here is a definite buzz in the air once again. It could be down to the weather, now that the torrential rains have given way to glorious, balmy, sunny days. But more than likely it’s down to two other, quite different reasons;

Firtstly, the local elections. Voting starts next weekend and the four party’s canditates running for the Mayor’s office (and their teams) are busy canvassing, giving speeeches, making their promises and announcing their proposals at every opportunity. Discussions (and, in true democratic manner, heated debate!) abound on every street corner and in every portside cafe. I’m afraid (ashamedly so!) I’m still not proficient enough in Greek to follow all that’s being said – and in fact only one of the canditates, so far, has translated her manifesto into English, which may well give her the deciding vote, considering the quite large expat community who are all registered and keen to vote. After all, many of the major issues (such as recycling, future developments of the airport and harbour, drinking water supply etc, roads building and future commercial development) concern them just as much as the islanders – so their presence, sshouldn’t  be so ignored!

I’ve not registered to vote and so will watch keenly from the sidelines to see the outcome. It will interesting if any of the ‘promises’ will actually  materialise any time soon. With Skiathos having a huge pressing debt to manage, I have doubts that much of anything here will markedly change in the near future – not because of any lack of initiative or desire, certainly, just simply because of the lack of available funds.  Areas of particular interest to me, such as the promotion of local arts and culture, the conservation and preservation of Skiathos’ rich heritage, extending the island’s currently shrinking tourist season (by offering – and supporting –  more diverse ‘activity’ holidays) as well as  a whole host of ‘green’ and social issues issues, will, I fear, figure pretty low on any of the canditates  ‘to do’ list….. so I’m not holding my breath……I just hope, who ever gets elected, proves me wrong…..

Meanwhile, I’ll continue to try and preserve the local charm and colour in my own way, by painting, before any more beautiful old town houses receive an unsympathetic ‘modern’ make-over, or still worse (as is happening with increasing frequency) disappear altogether!. These are my latest efforts:

‘Patience’ © Yvonne Ayoub 2010. All rights reserved

‘In full Bloom’ © Yvonne Ayoub 2010. All rights reserved

The second reason for the buzz? Well, its olive harvest time!

Occurring only every second year (and having had a poor result for the last couple of harvests) this year, following an unusual amount of rainfall,  is proving to be a completely different story! Trees all over the island are bowing under the strain of their heavy crop of swelling and ripening fruit and the fine weather has brought whole families out into their olive groves, tapping the branches, picking, sorting, bagging -up, before racing up to the island’s only olive press (in Kalivia) in a constant stream, to extract their precious oil. There are plenty olives for pickling too and most of the women here are sporting stained and blistered thumbs with all the ‘splitting’ and ‘salting’  they’re spending their days doing. That’s in addition to their more regular winter activities; collecting, cooking and bottling all manner of wild fruits (quince, pumpkin, aubergine and grapes etc) to make the deliously syrupy preserves that will see them through the following year:

Caught up in the olive fever, being an artist, my first response was to try capture all the sudden activity on canvas. I felt totally inspired by it all going on around me …..and this was the result:

‘Olive Picking at Kechrya © Yvonne Ayoub 2010. All rights reserved

Not satisfied with that, I decided there was nothing for it but to join in…. So, today, for the very first time, I began to harvest the olives in our own olive grove. I was warned what a labour intensive, back-breaking task it is –  but nothing would put me off. I’m spurred on by the thought of producing Villa Nicara’s very own extra virgin olive oil and any aches and pains I might feel as a result seems a small price to pay!

So far so good!

My neighbour, Geoff, dropped in and kindly offered to help:

even Percy wanted to get involved:

and after just a few hours work this afternoon, we already have several sacks full, weighing, in total, more than 40 kilos! In a couple more days we should have stripped all the trees and have more than met basic amount required, in order to have them pressed. I’ve never felt more buoyed up and energetic! I love hard physical outdoor work; what could be better than being out in the sunshine all day and building a healthy appetite? Seeing the results of ones effort so instantly is supremely fulfilling! The greatest reward will, of course, be when I get to taste our very own olive oil (hopefully early next week). Then I’ll design a label and bottle it up.  I might even flavour some of it – I have plenty of fresh rosemary, bay, garlic, chili and wild thyme in the garden (I wouldn’t use them all together of course!)…Gosh it’s so exciting….I can hardly wait!

6 thoughts on “Soapboxes, Surprises, Syrups, and Salsa!

  1. This has been a real treat on yet another wet November day here! What a crop of olives you have, my dear! And delicious paintings to boot!
    This is just a feast for my senses, thank you once again.


    • Aw Thanks, Mary! Picked LOADS more today (Despina came to help too)….One more day should do it, if this lovely weather keeps up (sorry!) then….off to the olive press we go – Yippee!


  2. Well …firstly a belated happy Returns. I am glad you had a good time and that your friends didn’t let it pass by unnoticed 😉
    I am really enjoyed your recent artwork. The townhouse with cats outside is wonderful 🙂
    The olive picking also looks fascinating. I can imagine it being very hard work but amazingly satisfying. You can also use herbs for making medicinal remedies with the oil too can’t you? Someone very kindly helped me out with some of that when I had stood on a spiny sea urchin…
    Anyway I must off & get something done but thanks for sharing, it is like being there for a short while….
    Love ChrissyXX


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