There are times when life throws you a curve ball.
It can come straight out of left-field without warning and you know nothing of it, till it smacks you on the head and leaves you wondering what on earth hit you…..
Or, it’s clearly in your line of vision, you see it coming and you may, or may not, have enough time to prepare and decide what to do. Either way, choice is limited; you can either face it head on, brace yourself for the inevitable impact and hope and pray you’ll come out on top – or at least still standing:
Well, If you can imagine yourself standing centre-field and not one but ten of these beauties start coming at you fast and furious, all at once…. you’ll begin to have some idea of how my life has been this past month and a half. I won’t bore you with all the details, the most important point is that: Hey! I’m still here and NOT drowning but waving (just!) – a bit battered and bruised perhaps and certainly in need of lots of R&R! But, I’m here nonetheless; more resilient and optimistic than ever. In fact, I’m all fired up and ready to go, even better-equipped to face whatever next might be heading my way…..so BRING IT ON!
(No, no! I’m kidding! – enough is enough, thank you very much!)
Like I said, I won’t bore you with any details of some of the more frustrating and tedious aspects of Greek island life but, putting humour to one side for a moment, one of those curve balls, more than all the others put together, deserves more than just a passing mention; the loss, recently, of my dearest, darling Mother.
Mere words cannot possibly do justice to the wonderful, beautiful person she was, inside and out, or can even begin to describe the roller coaster of emotions and the deep sense of loss I’m experiencing – so I won’t even attempt to find any.
Instead, feeling as I do, closer to my mother amongst nature, especially in her beloved garden, more than anywhere else, I’ll simply share with you a poem I’ve found that goes some way to expressing how weighed down my heavy heart is right now:
By Carole Ann Duffy:
I’m here now where you were
The summer’s grass under my palms is your hair.
Your taste is the living air.
I lie on my back. Two juggling butterflies are your smile.
The heathery breath of the moor’s simply your smell.
Your name sounds on the coded sound of the bell.
I’ll go nowhere you’ve not.
The bleached dip in a creature’s bone’s your throat.
That high lark, whatever it was you thought.
And this ridged stone’s your hand in mine,
and the curve of the turning earth your spine,
and the swooning bees besotted with flowers your tune…
I get up and walk.
The dozing hillside is your dreaming head.
The cobblestones are every word you said,
The grave I kneel beside, only your bed.
Yvonne Magdalena Katharina
1923 – 2011
The kindness, support and outpouring of sympathy we’ve received has been simply overwhelming and has helped me and my family enormously through this difficult time. Thank you so much, everyone!
Despite personal anguish, and with precious little time or space to grieve, Life had to somehow go on and commitments had to be met so, upon returning to the island, the summer season resumed. First, there was an exhibition, held jointly with my friend Despina Mitselou, in honour of the 100 year anniversary of the death of the famous Greek prose writer, Alexandros Papadiamantis. We showed our new works at the ‘Little Gallery’ in Skiathos Town:
before, once again painting guests and visitors began arriving from all quarters.
Earlier in the summer, Pam & Christiana from South Africa had spent a day painting with me in the garden:
and she too created some wonderful work. Then, together with Tanja, all the way from Toronto, Canada and accompanied by her mother, she enjoyed Despina’s icon painting classes and they both showed amazing skill!
and enjoying delicious lunches al fresco; ‘Olive Land’ in Katsarou with its fine cuisine, friendly hosts, George and (another) Despina and its fabulous panoramic views, was a firm favouriteWe also managed an outing to Kastro in the north of the island:
Where we met the taverna’s newest resident:
Kastro Beach’s colourful re-vamp this year inspired me to finally finish an oil painting I’d begun some time ago:
On a visit to fellow (American) artist Lauren Cook’s fabulous hillside home and studio:
as well as some wonderful hospitality, guests were treated to an evening of open air ‘performance art’, given by some of her visiting guests; young dancers, all the way from her home in Maryland VA in the USA, who had choreographed a moving, musical interpretation of her latest series of paintings:
And later in Skiathos Town, in the open air theatre of the Bourtzi Cultural centre we enjoyed another evening of brilliant performances given by talented local dancers, singers and musicians; a wonderfully entertaining benefit concert, now an annual event, in aid of the island’s Cat and Dog shelters, was organised and directed by my friend Vasilis Koralis.
I think I’ve already mentioned the two new additions to the family in the shape of two tiny kittens that someone had abandoned and dropped over my garden wall:
Well, sadly the little white one with the eye patch (whose name we changed from Pax to Pandemonium because of the havoc she caused) is no more. She was such a character, the fearless leader of the two, who’d developed the annoying (and frankly painful!) habit of propelling herself several feet up into the air and clinging on to the nearest receptacle (usually my back, right between the shoulder blades!) with her razor-sharp claws. Well unfortunately, in my absence, she flung herself one giant leap too far; right off the garden wall into the path of an on-coming taxi and was killed outright. Her little brother still seems lost without her although Piccolina has become more accepting of him and can actually pass him by now without dishing out one of her customary vicious whacks:
Every year, the evening before, a traditional ceremony is held at the church dedicated to his name; Aghios Fanourious. It is a beautiful church situated above the acropolis, on a commanding hilltop position, overlooking the whole of Skiathos Town and harbour below:
My friend Sam who lives in the neighbourhood, kindly invited me along to learn about, and join in, the celebration in which each member of the local community bakes a special cake or ‘pitta’, called a ‘Fanouropitta’, for the occasion:
It must be made to a strictly adhered-to recipe, consisting of 7 or 9 ingredients including flour, soda, olive oil, nuts (walnuts) sultanas, cloves, cinnamon, orange juice (and zest) and sugar – but no eggs. Some add a honey liqueur or ouzo but with or without, It’s delicious! It is similar to a heavily spiced but light sponge cake and is offered firstly to the church (to be distributed amongst the poor) with prayers and wishes:
and then to the gathered congregation of friends and neighbours seated outside:
Sam, as well as her own cake, had thoughtfully baked one for me to take along too – and I was honoured to be able take part in this age-old tradition, to pray for my own recent losses, make my wishes and share my offering with new friends and some old familiar faces.
She enjoyed working in the studio and her kind, effervescent personality provided me with some much-needed support, as she witnessed the difficulties I was facing first-hand. but most of all, she seemed to really enjoy painting ‘en plein air’ in the seclusion of the olive grove:With only a few more weeks of this season still to go and some final guests yet to arrive, the weather shows no sign of changing just yet. Temperatures outside continue to soar and inside, air-conditioners are still going full blast. We’ve had the occasional hint of a thunderstorm but no sign yet of the much-needed rain….So the island, rather like myself, I fear, is looking dried-up and dusty and very, very tired…..
The figs, very late this year, drop off the trees the instant they ripen and, in complete contrast to last year’s bumper harvest, there’s not a single olive in sight but that’s no cause for concern. It’s all part of the natural cycle. When I look at the gnarled old olive trees and think of how many years (hundreds in some cases!) they’ve been witness to change, to the wars waged, won and lost, to the generations that have come and gone, enduring a constant battering by the elements, withstanding both good and bad times, well, I’m in awe that they continue to stand sentinel over this ancient land and remain so resilient.
Seeing them stand proud and upright (well, almost!) and beautiful, with their roots ever more deeply entrenched, regardless, sets a fine example of victory over adversity and it helps me, in noting a parallel with my own situation here, to keep a sense of perspective. Any problems I may have suddenly pale in significance, by comparison. Peace and above all Hope reign once more…..
So, yes, ‘It’s an ill wind…….’ as they say in Scotland and indeed:
“If Life gives you lemons……just make lemonade!”