Hello Everyone, Happy New Year or Xronia polla!
Christmas at home in London is always such a busy and wonderful ‘family’ time and this year, thankfully, was no exception. We had the added thrill of sharing the festivities with good friends visiting from abroad, including the Tzoumas family from Skiathos. So this New Year’s Eve, standing alongside 250,000 other revellers in Parliament Square, watching the fabulous firework display as Big Ben chimed in 2011 was particularly memorable:
Unfortunately though, most of my Christmas was spent trying to shake off one of the many dreaded ‘flu viruses currently plaguing the UK this winter. It was so debilitating and left me with such a constant, heavy fatigue that I just kept falling asleep – everywhere and anywhere! I decided to return early to Skiathos, eager to breathe in the fresh, unpolluted air once again and hopefully restore myself back to good health!
I arrived full of good intentions to bury myself away in the studio, uninterrupted, to paint, paint, paint….(always the best therapy!). But ever since I’ve arrived, the unseasonably glorious, sunny weather has been too hard to ignore so a good part of each day is now spent dog-walking, instead, either high up in the hills (video link):
or along the many deserted beaches (video link):
I may have done little actual painting thus far but time is far from being wasted. Long walks, feeling completely at one with nature and left alone with one’s thoughts, is such a necessary part of the creative process for me; it’s the first stage when all sorts of ideas and impressions begin to fill my head. They come at me so thick and fast I don’t even try to make sense of them or figure out where they might be leading me at this stage, I just soak them up like a sponge. I’ve learned over the years that to just ‘go with the flow’, blindly, is often the only way to best make use them. I store them away knowing that eventually, at just the right moment, they will inevitably re-appear and find their way into my work – somehow. It’s also inspiring to know that on many of these walks I’m following in the footsteps of several notable figures in the world of the Arts that Skiathos has had a long, if sometimes quiet, association with. Artists from different disciplines, who traversed this island long before me but also found inspiration in its natural beauty:
Dimitris Pikionis (1887 – 1968)
“As we walk upon this earth, our hearts experience anew that rapturous joy we felt as children when we first discovered our ability to move in space – the alternating disruption and restoration of balance which is walking.
We rejoice in the progress of our body across the uneven surface of the earth and our spirit is gladdened by the endless interplay of the three dimensions that we encounter at every step, the shifting and changing that occurs with the mere passage of a cloud high up in the sky. We walk past a rock, or a tree trunk, or a shrub’s tufted foliage; we move up and down, following the rise and fall of the ground, tracing its convexities, which are the hills and mountains, and its concavities, which are the valleys…………..” [Excerpt from Dimitris Pikionis, Architect 1887-1968 ‘A Sentimental Topography’, Architectural Association, London. Can be read in full here: ‘A Sentimental Topography’]
Dimitris Pikionis is not a name one immediately associates with Skiathos. An esteemed artist and architect (whose life work is currently being celebrated in an exhibition in the Benaki Museum in Athens) he was the architect of the unusual and daringly contemporary church, on Skiathos’ Tsougria island which today draws many holiday makers and is an increasingly popular church with young couples exchanging their wedding vows:
See Dimitris Pikionis’ stone pathways in Athens: ‘Paths of Stones, Enclosures of Dreams’
Alexandros Papadiamantis (1851 – 1911)
Skiathos’ most famous son is the revered literary talent, the writer Alexander Papadiamantis.
“It has been said that his literary individuality was more imposing than that of any other writer of modern Greek fiction. At once idealistic and realistic, he was one of the very few who has introduced pure narrative in a setting of present-day Greek life and folk custom” (quoted from ‘Greece of the Hellenes’ by Lucy J.M.Garnett)
Greek writer Pavlos Nirvanas, 1906
Throughout Greece his short stories fed the imagination of generations of readers, young and old alike.
There’s a collection of his short stories, translated into english. The book can be purchased through Amazon. Click Here
His home, just off the main street that bears his name, is today a museum open to the public, preserved just as he left it:
“The other evening, the snow had spread a sheet all over the long narrow alley.
– White sheet… to whiten us all in the eye of God…to whiten our inner core…that we might not have bad feelings inside us…
He dimly fancied an image, a vision, a wakening dream. As if snow were to level and whiten everything, all sins, all the past; the ship, the sea, the top hats, the watches, the chains of gold and the chains of iron, the harlots of Marseilles, the debaucheries, the misery, the wrecks; to cover them, to purify them, to enshroud them, that all of them might not be present naked and bare, and as if issuing out of orgies and Frankish dances, in the eye of the Judge, the Ancient of Days, the Thrice Holy……..” (excerpt from ‘Love in the Snow’, by Alexandros Papadiamantis, English translation by J.Coggin & Z. Lorenzatos)
You can read his full biography, by Denise Harvey, HERE
Alexandros Moraitides (1850 – 1929)
Another famous son of Skiathos was a writer of a similar vein, whose stories are “Redolent of the soil and air of Hellas” (quoted from ‘Greece of the Hellenes’ by Lucy J.M.Garnett) was Alexandros Moraitides. A prolific writer of short stories, he remained withdrawn in the last years of his life retreating to the monastery of Aghios Charalambos, in a picturesque landscape, surrounded by some magnificent icons.
Memorial Statues of both these literary greats stand at the entrance to the Bourtzi islet, the cultural centre of Skiathos.
In the area of Monasteraki in Athens, across from Hadrian’s Library, lies hidden a small church named Agiou Elissaiou (St. Elisha).
It was in this church that St. Nicholas Planas (1851-1932) liturgized daily with the two famous Greek authors from Skiathos, Alexandros Papadiamantis (1851-1911) chanting in the right choir and Alexander Moraitidis (1850-1929) in the left choir. (see a short video of this church HERE)
Zizis (Zaharias) Economou (1911-)
This notable Greek poet was born on Skiathos and after spending the war years sailing the Aegean, he returned to live out his retirement in the olive groves of his beloved island home where he found the inspiration for his most memorable works, among them ‘The Death Of Hypatia (415 AD)‘, ‘In the Palace of Knossos‘ and my personal favourite, ‘NAUSICAÄ’*:
“……For me the sea is desolate and empty
The river flows, a child tumbling and laughing,
Leaping on pebbles or carefree
Climbing up to eternity, collapsing…..”
“…….But he who stepped on the utterly pure
and foam-washed island of Nausicaa
Confined in one of his hideouts after
The long voyage and the storm
When the land was desolate and empty,
He, in the mind’s solitude, is strong and courageous”
‘Nausicaa’ Oil on Canvas 1879 by Frederic Leighton, 1st Baron Leighton (1830–1896)
Returning to Skiathos has indeed been the best medicine and in just a few short days, already there’s a spring back in my step and I’m beginning to feel like my old self once again – well almost.
January is usually a time I look ahead and excitedly make plans for the coming year. I’m finding that quite hard this month (hence the delay in publishing this year’s timetable!). Instead my thoughts are pulling in the opposite direction; I find myself looking back, trying to get a sense Skiathos’ history, recent and ancient, and how it was in days gone past. In the 36 years that I’ve been visiting the island although Skiathos has undoubtedly undergone quite radical changes, these have never worried me before, perhaps because I tend to ignore them; only seeing what I choose to see; the natural beauty and the traditional way of life – and there’s still plenty enough of those! This year however, as a result of the economic situation no doubt, there is a pervading sense of unease that’s becoming hard to ignore. Too many of the old familiar business have closed down. Too many shop fronts are boarded up. Not unusual for out of season, you may think, but this year they have ‘for Rent’ or ‘For Sale’ signs plastered all over them and the sad reality is that they are likely to remain that way for the forseeable future. Talking to my Greek friends, there is an air of despondency, futility and apathy I’ve never witnessed before and that is a worry. I can only hope that as spring gives way to summer everyone will be able to shake off what may after all only be a bad case of ‘winter blues’. I hope so but, to be uncharacteristically negative for once, I’m not holding my breath….
On a more positive note, there are several occasions to look forward to and celebrate this year. As I’ve mentioned before, Skiathos will be host town to the British Special Olympics teams so there will be a buzz of excitement on the island in June when the teams and their entourages arrive and all the planned activities will be in full swing.
2011 is the 100 year anniversary of the death of Alexandros Papadiamantis and although plans to honour one of Greece’s greatest literary figures have yet to be announced, no doubt they will suitably befit Skiathos’ most famous citizen and the whole island and visitors from all over Greece and beyond, will celebrate accordingly.
Before that we have the promise of another glorious spring ahead and of course, Easter to look forward to – always a very special occasion here on Skiathos. In between, days will be filled once again with art classes, visitors old and new and another year of island adventures and excitement.
I’ll do my best to keep you posted – its good to be back!