I’m hoping this first pic will go some way to explaining (and, hopefully, excuse!) my long silence. Getting ready for a new exhibition is always time-consuming – what with the sheer body of work one has to complete – This year my chosen theme is ‘From the Sea’ and my studio has been filled with an ever-growing collection paintings:
depicting everything from the peeling paint of old wooden fishing boats:
to soggy sponges:
Add into the mix a constant stream of house guests, visitors and art students, a large, over-grown garden that desperately needs taming, a house with never-ending walls to white-wash (only to be washed away with yet another of the sudden downpours we’ve been experiencing lately!) a shaggy dog that needs constant attention not to mention exercising (and grooming!) and you’ll have some idea what my life has been like for the last couple of months (Gosh! THAT long? REALLY?!!)
Not that I’m complaining, of course! As I look out over my terrace at the sparkling blue sea, and breathe in the heady scent of wet earth after yet another torrential downpour – and as the warm sun rises in a now impossibly clear blue sky, believe me, I know just how fortunate I am to be here on this beautiful little Greek island….as summer (finally!) gets underway. No more hearty stews and warming soups for me! My diet now consists of lots of healthy Greek salads, fresh fish:
and, now that nectarines, apricots, local honey and hazelnuts have appeared in the only recently opened ‘out of town’ supermarkets, my favourite: yoghurt ‘specials’:
Ever since my arrival, just in time for the Orthodox Easter at the end of April (a month later than back home) the island has been slowly springing back to life in preparation for another busy summer ahead. Villas, hotels, restaurants and coffee shops have been undergoing their annual facelift, acres of walls have been repainted and land, beaches and kerbs, tidied. Now, at last, the cacophony of strimmers, drills and chain saws is beginning to fall silent . Despite the economic downturn, some very exciting new businesses have opened in Skiathos town this year. Among them ‘Ergon’, in the main street, a trendy new eatery and Deli (a la Mr Oliver) which wouldn’t look out-of-place in London’s West End:
It even offers daily cooking classes which are proving to be very popular:
Just opposite, ‘Ephemeris’ is a beautiful new store filled with fresh and exciting handmade creations: gifts, jewelery and objets d’art.
Happily, many of the familiar stores continue to survive, such as ‘Punendes ‘ where fine artist, Asia Bresan and her husband:
continue to delight and amaze with their fabulous and original hand painted designs on ceramic, stone and wood:
Do beware of nearby shops selling cheap imitations though, all genuine pieces of Asia’s beautiful and original designs carry her own signature:
Today is Friday and I’d know that even without looking at the calendar; simply by the sudden increase in traffic noise on the main road beyond my garden wall. Today is the main ‘change-over’ day, when more than 16 charter flights will arrive and deposit hopeful, excited (and decidedly pale) tourists onto the steaming tarmac of our little airport runway…. before transporting a lesser amount of relaxed (and now decidedly bronzed) holiday makers back to reality…. and a constant stream of tour buses will hurtle past my gate, in both directions, overtaken only by the kamikaze taxi drivers who burn up and down the 12 k road like there’s no tomorrow….
But, thankfully by tomorrow, for a few days at least, ‘peace’ will resume: the beaches will be lined with book-reading, briefly clad bodies (thunderstorms permitting!) the tavernas will be emitting strains of bouzouki along with delicious aromas of Moussaka and Kleftico and, in the town, the tills in the tourist shops will, once again, be ringing up happily.
The only ones seemingly unfazed by this sudden population invasion are the dozens of swifts who presently soar through the skies regardless and dive-bomb down to their nests built high in every available nook and cranny, to feed their young. Even they have begun to bravely venture out on their first tentative flights……A sure sign that summer has indeed begun…….
It’s an exciting time; there will be old familiar faces to welcome back and lots of new acquaintances to be made, one of whom was a very familiar face from British television, Valerie Singleton (of ‘Blue Peter’ fame). A charming companion, she shared many a story of her incredibly interesting life with me over a glass of wine and were delighted to discover we had not only friends in common but the fact that we’d even attended the same school!
At the same time, two dear friends from England, Gunilla and Pauline, paid me a long-promised visit and provided a welcome chance for me to down brushes and play ‘tourist’ myself for once. All together we laughed, lounged about and wined and dined at every opportunity:
We explored the island and visited many of the then still relatively quiet beaches such as Mandraki:
We even enjoyed a day trip on the ‘Mamma Mia!’ tour boat, visiting the neighbouring islands.
First Skopelos with its now famous church perched on a rock, up 200+ very steep steps! (can’t believe Meryl Streep actually ran up them!):
The view from the top revealed the clear turquoise waters below:
Then it was on to the charming old harbour town, the capital of the Sporades; Chora:
with its maze of narrow cobbled and glorious bougainvillea clad streets:
colourful pottery shops, and surprisingly chic boutiques and waterfront cafes.
Photo opportunities awaited us around every corner:
and I even managed a bit of sketching. The American owner of this charming old house suddenly appeared as I was working and bought it on the spot!
Our last stop was Alonnissos where I left my friends to make the short bus trip up to the newly restored hilltop village and artists colony:
while I took myself off to the local museum (visit www.alonissosmuseum.com). It is beautifully curated and well worth a visit, brimming as it is with social history: everyday domestic and professional artefacts from bygone days, memorabilia from both WWII and the days when Barbarossa and his fearsome pirates relentlessly besieged these islands, centuries before. Back on the Patitiri port, a favourite shop, ‘Loulaki’ (tel: +30 6977706209) which I thought had closed down but, thankfully, has only moved, was a happy re-discovery:
Its friendly, welcoming owner, Claudia Tobias, continues to sell unique and beautiful items for the home, mind and body: including decorative antiques, natural herbal soaps (made locally) and exquisitely scented candles:
A new art gallery, ‘Fayoum’, has also opened this year, showcasing the amazing works of acclaimed Alonissos-born artist and iconographer, Stamatoula Kalogianni (tel +30 6973040262).
Heading home, aboard the ‘Ag. Nikolas’ with Gunilla at the helm (under the watchful eye of Captain Kyriakos!):
and with the excellent and informative commentary of our guide, Victoria Sandels, interspersed with strains of the ‘Mamma Mia!’ film soundtrack softly emanating from the ship’s speakers, we sleepily rode the gentle waves in the hope of seeing a dolphin or two as we passed through the Marine Park:
Alas, this time we were to be disappointed…but nevertheless, three happy sailors had enjoyed a fabulous day :
and, joined once again by Valerie, we soon made up for any disappointment by enjoying an indulgent treat (gooey baklava and ice cream, drenched in syrup and calories!!)
(have you ever seen more guilty looking faces?!!)
before early an evening Tsipouro (or two) and delicious meze, back in Skiathos’ old port:
Classes began this year with two very enthusiastic new students: a dear local friend, Magda (from Taverna Alexandros and Mustang Car Hire) and her lovely daughter, Kaliope:
The first of my past students to return this year was the delightful Ann:
Having recently visited Cape Verde, she was keen to paint a memory of her trip while it was still fresh in her mind.
The collage she completed during her week with me made a welcome change from the Skiathos scenes we usually tackle and, filled as it was with bright, vibrant and happy colours, it’s inspired me to add that exotic island off North Africa to my own ‘must visit’ list: