This week, I waved a fond farewell to the last of my summer visitors and as I watched them take to the skies, I found myself once again filled with mixed emotions…..
I always feel a bit sad when yet another season comes to a close and, as usual, pretty (but always pleasantly!) exhausted too – but this year, given the current economic crisis and political climate, life on this beautiful island has taken a turn that I’m not altogether comfortable with at the moment. There have been, as always, good and bad times but understandably perhaps, although quite unprecedented, rather more of the latter this year, unfortunately.
But, like a rock on the shore, I’ve clung on resolutely to the hope that my (and other artist’s) cultural, creative and ecological endeavours here on the island, might, if only in a small way, make a difference by raising people’s awareness and spirits and, hopefully, bring some respite and diversion during these gloomy, hard times. One has to feed the soul as well as the belly! To be honest though, this year it’s too often felt like an uphill struggle and, well even futile at times… Perhaps it’s just tiredness talking…. but right now I feel the time has come to address that and make some decisions – but more on that later…….
First, my final review of the year:
The last of my guests this summer included the lovely Deirdre from London, whose irrepressible sunny disposition, boundless energy and infectious enthusiasm did much to lift my own spirits during some of my more challenging moments.
Already an accomplished artist and draughtsman, she was nevertheless keen to put into practise anything new I could teach her and, as a result, produced some really wonderful work which included fine, detailed sketches and drawings:
numerous vibrant water colours:
and a couple of large canvasses in acrylics, painted en plein air while battling with the elements:
One, a seascape, on a very blustery day at Kastro:
And a harbour scene, which was initially painted in situ outdoors but, because of a sudden downpour, had to be continued back at the studio:
Thankfully the rain and thunderstorms left as suddenly as they’d arrived so the following day, we could still take to the sea on board the Calypso and enjoy a round the island boat trip as planned.
We visited the beautiful, unspoiled beaches of Lalaria:
and our day ended with a visit to Tsougria island – but not before enjoying a delicious seafood lunch in the tiny pretty harbour of Kati Georgi, on Pelion, over on the mainland ( less than 2 miles away).
We were accompanied by my dear friends Judith and Alex, who’d arrived from Texas, keen to visit Skiathos as soon as they could as they’d been unable to attend my daughter’s wedding on the island last summer. During their stay they celebrated their anniversary and I presented them with a small caricature I’d painted of them, as a memento:
Also on our trip was Gina, a good friend for many years, particularly to my mother, and long-term resident of Skiathos:
Other outings included a trip to Evangelistria Monastery, Kechrya, Mandraki Elias beach and everyone’s favourite taverna, ‘Olive Land’, high in the hills above Katsarou, with its fabulous food and breathtaking panoramic views:
Dinners at home were taken on the terrace, by candlelight making the most of the last of the balmy evenings, with good friends, putting the world to rights fuelled by plenty of traditional home-cooked dishes such as Shrimp Giouvetsi and Imam Bayildi and copious amounts of wine!
Over the course of several evenings we visited favourite restaurants both close by, such as Infinity Blue and Mesostrato and in Skiathos town: the ouzeria, Kabourelia, on the waterfront and Taverna Alexandros in the narrow back streets, with its authentic atmosphere, live bouzouki music and generous welcoming hospitality:
On the Bourtzi, we visited a collaborative photography exhibition, where I met up with dear friend and fellow artist, Chrissy Marie from England:
Chrissy, and her partner Andy, had visited me earlier in the week and presented me with 2 amazing portraits of my pets:
Chrissy is an amazing artist, incredibly talented and she’s captured them so perfectly – I was simply blown away! Thank you so much again, dear friends! Your generous, thoughtful gifts were a ray of pure sunshine on a gloomy day – I’ll treasure them always!
Earlier still, I took another short trip to the mainland, Volos this time:
Here, graffiti as in all Greek cities and towns, blatantly covers almost every available surface, particularly in the back streets. As everywhere, it’s not just an often skilfully executed art form but a cry, a demand to be heard, from those without a voice……
Greece is under enormous pressure economically and financially right now and the effects of its new tough austerity measures are already filtering down to those who can least afford them; the levying of additional taxes on just about everything tangible, chased up relentlessly by civil servants (who are clearly, in turn, under pressure with new quotas to meet) and the ever-tightening noose of the banks demanding repayment of the loans extended too easily to an already over-extended population who’d survived for too long solely on credit; robbing Peter to pay Paul. Well the day of reckoning has arrived. All these measures combined, have created a climate of panic and despair for the common, hardworking man who feels utter desperation, in some cases, now that his back is firmly against the wall and there’s nowhere to run to or hide.
While such drastic measures are understandable to a degree, beneath a cool, nationalistic and proud exterior, resentment simmers so it’s hardly surprising that tempers flare at all too regular intervals these days. The transformation, the sudden irrational behaviour of old and once trusted friends; their increasingly angry, unprovoked confrontations (not to mention some seriously questionable business practises!) leaves a bitter taste of disappointment and not a little disillusionment in those who find themselves helplessly in the firing line…..Desperate times call for desperate measures, I guess, but even so, nothing exposes the true character and integrity of a man more than watching how he conducts himself in the face of adversity…..
Hopefully, it’s a temporary sign of the times, things will settle down and common sense and civility will resume. God forbid it’s a taste of even worse things still to come, for, in such a climate, any dreams of a peaceful existence, in a law-abiding and just society, become entirely untenable! The result will be either a massacre or a mass exodus – of citizens and visitors alike (myself included!) to more conducive climes (a process already begun by many of the university graduates in Athens who, regretfully, can see no future for themselves in their beloved homeland).
In the words of William J. H. Boetcker, 1916 (though often attributed to Lincoln):
“You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
You cannot help small men by tearing down big men.
You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich.
You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer.
You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than your income.
You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatreds.
You cannot establish security on borrowed money.
You cannot build character and courage by taking away a man’s initiative and independence.
You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.”
There was so much evidence of misery and anger on every corner that I found it all very depressing but at the risk of sounding flippant, at such times the simplest of pleasures can do much to lighten one’s mood, superficially at least. Like most women, my reaction was to indulge in a bit of retail therapy and when I stumbled upon a simple, inexpensive aluminium tray, it cheered me up no end! it is so basic and practical in its design, I just love it! It now takes pride of place in my kitchen:
Being creative, every day is an adventure on Skiathos as I never know what’ll turn up! One day I received a call from a yoga teacher visiting from London. She was running a retreat at the Mandraki Village hotel, in Koukounaries and wanted some photos taken for her new website. So off I went, armed with camera and extra batteries etc. and I spent the most delightful morning snapping away as her charming group went through the motions on the lush green lawns between the palm trees, with only the sound of birdsong and the soothing splashes from a water fountain. For a short while inner calm, peace and utter tranquility reigned……A welcome respite from a hectic schedule, Thank you Katerina!
Back home at the studio, Despina’s icon painting class was in full swing with Sam, who was visiting from New Zealand and making her way around Europe for 6 weeks, taking a variety of decorative art courses along the way:
and when I returned, under Despina’s expert guidance, she had just completed her first beautiful icon:
Now, once again the island is becoming quiet, with the last few tourists soaking up the very last of the summer sun as the shop keepers begin rolling down their shutters for the last time this year, in preparation for the return, for so many of them, to the mainland. I’ve mentioned it before but it’s amazing how the whole island quite literally shuts up shop at the end of the summer season.
In a few weeks Skiathos will once again resemble a ghost town. I can’t help feeling what a missed opportunity it is, for the islanders that remain, to generate much-needed income – especially at this time when every penny clearly counts.
Skiathos has so much to offer out of season that would delight, ramblers, bird-watchers and plantsmen alike, to name but a few. There’s plethora of migrating bird species that pass through here on their way to and from warmer climes. Botanists and botanical artists from around the world would take huge delight in discovering, identifying and recording (and protecting) the many indigenous flora and fauna that have evolved in this, for the most part untouched for centuries, micro-climate.
Species of Insects peculiar to this island alone, abound!
Yet, until Skiathites themselves recognise and value the true treasures they have to offer and put an infrastructure in place to support and accommodate these out of season visitors, as well as those in search of summer sand and sun, such valuable visitors simply will not come………I’ve discussed this often with numerous Skiathites who share my passion for this subject and work tirelessly, voluntarily to preserve Skiathos’ natural treasures. But our views only fall on the deaf ears of those with the power to instigate change. ‘There is no money’ is a feeble excuse because it just perpetuates a vicious circle – and only adds to our frustration……So, sadly nothing is ever done about it. Hopefully one day someone in a position to make a difference, will see the light…..
I’m now looking forward to a couple of weeks peace and quiet and the opportunity to paint myself, with 2 commissions to complete before I too, pack up and head for home. Before then, I can take time out to enjoy the island’s natural beauty as autumn sets in, and I welcome some solitude, with only my animals for company. Lately a family of chickens, complete with fluffy offspring, have also joined the menagerie! Timid at first, they’re getting bolder by the minute and, fearlessly ignoring the dog and cats, come right up to the house. I filmed them scratching their way around the base of the figs trees outside the back door yesterday but the file’s too big to upload here, so here’s a photo instead:
I’ve had the privilege of meeting some wonderful and extraordinarily talented people this year and enjoyed visits from some very dear friends. Now I have many happy memories to keep me going through the cold winter months ahead because, all in all, despite any difficulties, it has been another remarkable and ultimately fulfilling year.
That said, I feel the time has come for me to take a break….Next year I’ve decided to travel in search of new horizons and inspiration in order to not only develop myself as an artist and write too, but in so doing, armed with a fresh perspective on life as a whole, hopefully, I’ll return as a better teacher, with much more to offer as well!
So please note:
PAINTING SKIATHOS IS TAKING A SABBATICAL AND WILL NOT BE TAKING ANY BOOKINGS FOR ART COURSES IN 2012, UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE
I will, however, continue to keep you posted and update this blog from time to time with my new adventures….wherever they may lead me…. and I’ll be popping back to Skiathos from time to time in between – so watch this space!
Have a good winter everyone!