A Christmas tale…

 

 

 

 

 

I have always loved Christmas.  Not necessarily the gift giving, although when one is young getting stuff is always fun, and Santa Claus is real and the magic of the lights on the tree in the family living room enchanted a little boy who stayed up too late…

There is something about it I like.  Something deep.  Thanksgiving is fun, but Christmas has some kind of special, ancient magic.  Maybe it’s the hopeful twinkling lights or that it falls around the Winter Solstice and I am very in tune with the moon and or that here on Paros it so quiet and so cold and today we are expecting glorious rain, rain, rain…the island has become an emerald dotted with oranges and lemons.

The Greeks celebrate Christmas in a traditional way and a modern way, but also in their own way.  They are quick to adopt any celebration that involves staying up late and carousing with friends so they have taken the northern European Christmas to heart in so much as they are playfully opportunistic.  Gift giving is supposed to happen on January 1st, which is St. Basil’s Day in the Orthodox Church.  And then it is only for children.

St. Nikolas (December 6th), the patron saint of sailors, archers, children, brewers, repentant thieves, pawnbrokers and merchants is an historical figure dating back to the 3rd and 4th centuries AD.  He worked some miracles, and gave way presents to children, hence the legend of St. Nick, etc…there is more to read here…

The Christmas tree is a northern, Scandinavian thing, dating back to the pagan era when the locals would light big pine trees on fire during the solstice, beckoning the sun to return.  You get it, right?  Trees on fire and drunk Vikings…Ok?   Works for me.

Here it is the tradition of the St. Nikolas boat, which is really the point of this blog.  The Greeks don’t use a tree, not really.  Being a mostly seafaring folk, this makes sense.  They lost this tradition for a while but it is back in vogue as a pleasant and pretty thing to do and I am sure all the gia-gias are ok with it.  I have wanted a St Nikolas boat for a while and this year was determined to find one.  And I did–made from an empty 5L olive oil can, a couple of sticks and some string…perfect!  It was for sale in a booth at the seasonal bazaar.  Ideally, one should display their boat on the 6th of December and take it down after January 6th (Epiphany).  I put mine up a bit late…Sorry Nick.  I’ll keep it up and twinkling until after the 6th.  I bought the lights in Athens. They are LEDs which are really super.  One setting blinked so fast I thought I was going to have a seizure!

Christmas Eve I am having dinner with some Greek friends.  I’ll bring some sweets as a gift.  Christmas Day I am making dinner for some non-Greek friends.  Pork roast with candied apples…something else.  That’s it really.  A quiet Christmas that rolls into the New Year and before you know it…

Well, I wish you all, wherever you are, however you mark the day, a very Merry Christmas and the Happiest of New Years!

 

–JDCM

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Deep into December…

I wrote the following a few weeks ago as a draft…not all of it applies today but I find it oddly poetic.  So I kept it as is…no new header image yet.  I like the moving train.

I finally got around to making that salad that has been on my list for a week or so.

I have been back and forth from Athens a lot in the past 10 days–fun and business.

Thanksgiving was tasty and I spent it with close friends and some lively students.

I have given up on a darkroom project I began two years ago.  The negatives are unprintable.

Today is sunny and breezy and dry, a perfect day to open all the windows. 

Now I can begin something new and add that to the list where ‘make salad’ used to live.

The reality…it is a blustery, cool and wet morning here on Paros.  A perfect day for indoor activities.  The sun wants to come out.  Right now it is playing hide-and-seek with the clouds.  I am heading back to Athens in about a week to re-photograph a commercial photoshoot, this time with some really nice LED steady lights so I can do away with the glaring overheads of the room.  Better light, more control and a different set of lenses will make all the difference.  I will also pick up a big batch of digital work I have had printed.  One project under the belt!

My ongoing darkroom experiment with the Photo Club is really a blast!  So far there have been some excellent images produced and they love the magic of the darkroom.  An enthusiastic and mature bunch to be sure.  I am thankful for the opportunity.

So…the news…we have all been reading it, right?  I am assuming this is the case.  Our gods are tumbling from their Olympian realms.  Those assuming their positions are as bad as they come.  Is this it?  Is this the crux?  The tipping point?  If the tide is turning, who else will get dragged down by the undertow?  The One Person who deserves it the most seems to be a Teflon Don.  What will 2018 bring?

–JDCM

 

 

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Kalo mina!

It’s November 1st and here on Paros the weather is decidedly cold and chilly this morning.  The winter is beginning to set in.  99% of the tourists have left and the few that remain wander around the empty streets, looking in the windows of closed shops, shuttered tavernas…the island has been returned to those who live here.  Thank the gods!

Here are the bullet points…

— I am going to Naxos this weekend for a mountain bike race, my third on that island.  27km around a mountain and through the town of Sangri, high above the port.  The weather predictions are good–high pressure, 14-18C, sunny, breezy.  Perfect for biking.  We have had some rain which will keep the dust down and reduce the amount of loose, gravely ruts.  I’ll go and have fun.

— I am grateful and happy to have joined up with the Photography Club of Paros.  They are a good bunch of photography-loving folks with excellent eyes who love to take pictures.  I will begin a long-term darkroom project with them tonight.  For most of them, it will be a first in this digital-automatic age.  Each week, a member gets a 35mm camera (Pentax K1000/f.2 50mm lens) and roll of 35mm film (Ilford Pan 400) and shoots the roll.  Then we (me and the group member) go into the darkroom, develop the film, print, etc…all in a week.  So far there are about 10 people signed up, but that number, I predict, will jump to 20 quickly.  The project will go until the end of April and then they will look at the assembled portfolio and hang a small show.  For more reasons than I can count, this is a superb thing/event/group/happening with which to be involved.

— My own work is moving along.  The year-long Canon G-11 project is ticking away.  I am ready to print a new portfolio of abstract pieces.  I have to re-shoot or otherwise re-evaluate a b/w still life idea.  I am unhappy with several of the pieces due to their DoF, i.e. focus.

— My gym membership is paying off.  I have been going 2-4 times a week for either Hip/Abs classes or just to burn off calories on the treadmill.  After only a few weeks I can once again fit into my 34″ green Levis.  I will go this morning and push some more limits.  That, plus the biking, is keeping me fit and sane.

— The world?  Well…we all read the news and while it isn’t all bad, it isn’t great.  Leaks in the dam…death and disease, as Polly Jo would have said.

My life is Greece is expanding and growing every day.  I am eternally thankful to the wise woman who advised me over 5 years ago that if were to stay here on Paros, I would need to build a life around me.  And so I have.  Biking and exercise, photography and fellowship, the arts and humanities, connections in the community.  Thank you Liz!

–JDCM

 

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Happy Autumn!

I meant to post this yesterday right at the moment of the Autumnal Equinox…oh well…

The summer has ended, autumn has arrived.  Outside it is a brisk 27C (80F) at 22:00 (10PM) and the aroma of wet burning leaves fills my nose…well, no, not really.  But the temperature is correct.   Let’s face it, I do not miss the chilly, damp autumn from whence I came.

I was on the Saronic island of Aegina last week for a get-together with like-minded individuals, many of whom are close friends.  It was a nice 4 days of conversations, coffee and pistachios.  Aegina (Egg-in-a) is famous for the little nuts and, since my friends and I are all a little nuts, a good time was had by most.  It was also the weekend for the annual Pistachio Festival and the paraleia (seafront) was lined with booths and sellers of every permutation of pistachio of which one could imagine.  Skip the obvious food section and go right to body scrub, candles and even, I kid you not, interpretive modern dance.  I brought back a few kilos.  Of nuts, not interpretive modern flammable body scrubs.

Aegina also boasts (and rightly so) the Temple of Aphea.  I lingered for an extra day so I could go see it and it was worth the wait, despite the crushing heat and humidity.  Today’s header image is from that ancient place.

The world is going to hell in a hand basket but you don’t need me to tell you that.  Read the news.  Or not, that is your choice.  Burying one’s head in the sand sometimes seems to be as effective as almost anything else these days.

Here’s a simple hypothesis.  We (the species) have come to another tipping point and like all junctures of import, the voices always seem loudest and the urgency always most dire.  Not that these aspects don’t apply–they do.  The paradigm is turning and the shift is most fearfully felt by those who would seek to stop the wheels.  The conservative, sectarian, reptilian-brained dinosaurs will always cry the most as they are sucked into the tar pits.  They will fight back and struggle in the most violent of ways while the more clever, more evolved beasts watch on with a sense of…I don’t know, a sense of something.  Not satisfaction, but understanding perhaps.  “We are lucky. It could be us in the mucky mire,” they say to themselves.  It could still bite us in the ass, by the way, so keep the wheels turning, push the shift and blossom.  And stay away from the edge of the tar pit and don’t take this chance for granted!  Grab hold of a spoke and give it a heave-ho!

I have joined a photography group here on Paros.  It is group of “amateur” photographers from the local community who get together and talk about their work, have coffee…I like these folks for a few reasons, the most important being that they have few preconceived notions about themselves as “artistes.”  They work, play, take pictures, take their time, practice.  They support each other and have fun.  I like that.  I will always remember something my father said about writing…”Once you are known as a literary writer, your career is finished.”  He was right.  I try to avoid the folks who traipse about with high-priced gear and have little or no sense of the machine, it wide functionality and tell people “I’m a photographer” when really they are just playing at it.  The paradox is that to be an artist, one must have artistic sense.  I am not sure this can be taught, but one can be guided.  Perhaps “artist” is the wrong word.  I would rather be an illustrator of moments, a tracker of time, a collator of instances.  Then nothing else matters.  I can do what I want.  I am free.

–JDCM

“The Wedding Dance”
© John D.C. Masters
2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What a year…

Today is August 12, 2017.  It is an anniversary.  A year ago today I drove down the driveway of my childhood home for the last time.  I boarded the big plane and returned to Greece.  It has been a full year since I have been away from America and, while I have travelled a bit outside of Greece, I have not felt the need to return to that dark and fractured fortress.  I actually have not felt the need to leave Paros.  Everything I need, everything I want, is here.

Summer turned to Autumn, ushering in the green and wet winter.  By the time spring rolled around I had been adopted by a pair of cats and now, at the edge of summer’s end, with its heat, crush and crowds, I have my simple and healthy routine.  Most if this involves avoiding said crush and crowds.  I move through them as gently as I can, reminding myself that everyone is having fun, on vacation…Is it misanthropic to wish that they would all just go home?  Perhaps.  I am not alone, it seems.  Scan the newspapers for anti-tourist articles.  Hvar, Barcelona, Venice, Florence, Rome…I imagine there are many more cities but these are the top destinations that are fighting back against the overwhelming tide of cheap tourism.  Something must be done, if only to save the fragile ecologies that, indeed, seem to be the reasons for going to these places.  It is a Moebius strip of dilemma and solution.

The ultra-wealthy dream of the stars and colonization.  New energy techs butt heads with the global dinosaur juice cartels.  The concept of human identity and gender have been revealed to be as fluid as water.  New paradigms rise up, have been rising for decades.  In response to what threatens their withering grasp, the old paradigms of fear and warlord thinking shake their sabres more loudly than ever.  They seem to say, “If we can’t have it our way, then we are all going to go down in flames.”  How will humanity be saved?  Not by Jesus.  Not by Exxon.  Not by Coca-Cola.  Not by Little Green Men.  It has to be unilateral and evolutionary.  The minds of the trumpkimputins must go.  The old paradigm must fade if we, as a species, are ever to survive.  Humanism is the only hope for us.  We must take responsibility for our lives.  We must put aside our big, thinking and very stupid arrogant brains and finally understand that we are just another organism on this planet, no better or worse than any other.  We are subject to the same natural laws as the cockroach I liberated from my bathroom last night.  My cactus has more humility and true sense of place than most people.  What arrogance we have, thinking we are so special!  This will be our undoing, as it always has been.

So it has been a year…and what a year it is shaping up to be.

–JDCM

 

 

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Much to say…or maybe not…

It has been over a month-and-a-half since I last posted and so much has happened in the world and I have taken so many notes that I do not know where to begin.  The political news has made me almost numb to the idiocies of the American President and his sometimes-dangerously bizarre antics.  The heat waves and weather changes obvious here on Paros are indicative of the Anthropocene.  That I have been able to compile, and look forward to printing, four new photography portfolios is a real plus.  I will begin printing in September.  The typing and collating of my mother’s newspaper articles is ongoing.  I am struggling to learn the Bookwright software from Blurb.  I hope to figure it out.  I think there is something I am not doing that will make it easy.  Someday the book will be made.   So it’s bullet points this time.

–“Drumpf”–We all know it.  It is a fine example of onomatopoeia…the flatulent early-warning of someone who eats too much red meat…the sound of a fat drunk collapsing at the bottom of the stairs…the porcine grunt of a hog at the trough…a bamboozled public scoffing at the truth…the slow con hustle of the American Dream.

–I have been biking and swimming a lot.  Xionidaki and Kiri Marmalada start squeaking for their breakfast early, so I am up around 06:00.  Coffee, vitamins, email, the morning scan of the news…I am out on the bike by 07:00, swimming afterwards, coffee at a favourite cafe after that.  Obviously the routine is not that precise.  Suffice to say I am finished before it becomes too hot to exercise.  And it has been hot.  A few weeks ago Athens hit the mid-40sC and Paros was not far behind.  I had to use the AC in my flat, something I am not keen on doing since it  increases my carbon footprint.  It was either that or not sleep.  Thankfully is has been dry.  The prediction for next week is more heat.

            Xionidaki snoozing in the shade

 

–I have some work in a small group show this October in Hudson, New York.  I sent the 13 photos, matted and framed, a few weeks ago and they all arrived safely.  I will not be attending.  I also now have a good contact on the island of Antiparos for the photo show next summer. She really likes what I do and wants to hang it.  I was impressed by what I saw at the exhibit this year.  I still have a couple of irons in the fire for some events in between now and then.  I shall keep poking at them.

                 Kiri Marmalada

–Fish and vegetables.  That’s what I eat these days.  The local produce here on Paros is stunning.  Melons, tomatoes, peppers, zucchini…the cherry season seems to have lasted forever and I eagerly await the fresh figs in a couple of weeks.

–Oh yes…perhaps most important is that this month marks the first full summer I will have spent on Paros.  In the previous years I have always gone back to America to see my mother.  When August 12th comes around it will be a full year outside the walls of the Fortress.  I am happy for this.  It feels solid and right.

                Out biking…07:30 or so…

–I had a contrast MRI a few weeks ago in Athens to determine if there was anything I didn’t know about my Meniere’s Syndrome.  It was an easy procedure and I was in the clinic in the morning and back on Paros in time for supper.  Thank the gods for cheap flights!  The results are…nothing!  No tumors, no cysts, no aneurysms, no brain clouds, no small dwarves, no swelling of either labyrinth.  According to the ENT specialist, I have what they like to call a “Meniere’s-like Syndrome.”  Ha!  This will be the last investigation I will do.  I have the CD-ROM with the pictures but I do not have a DVD player or the required software to look at them.  I promise you all, I will sort this out.

After all, who doesn’t want to see the inside of their head?

–JDCM

 

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What’s happenin’….?

Kalo Mina!  I haven’t posted anything in well over a month.  Why?  Just being lazy, I suppose, because there is so much to talk about!  I should probably just get some stuff out of the way.

I am appalled by the behaviour of the current US President and his smarmy,  creepy entourage.  His European trip is finished (probably his only trip here) and he acted poorly–immature, arrogant–the worst kind of visitor.  I am not the only one to be shocked and amazed at his ignorant, insulting and banal actions.  We have all read the news.  We have all seen the clips.  I am not going to link to anything.  I am appalled and disturbed to know that there are people in the US who believe this kind of behaviour is acceptable.  Educated, well-read, professionals who feel that this is how an American President should act.  I even know some of these folks.  How ashamed I am to be connected to the US at times like these.  Phew!  Enough of that…

I have been invited to show some of my work in a small group exhibit in September.  It will be in Hudson, New York and the woman who is organizing the event asked me to send a few pieces.  I have 7 new prints from the darkroom and will send an additional 6 from previous shows that I already have matted and framed.  A Baker’s Dozen of b/w darkroom work, some of Greece and some of the area where the show will be held.  I will price them well and my instructions to her are to not send any of them back!

I have decided I need an agent to sell me and my work.  I cannot do it well.  Other people see things in my work that I do not and are better at that kind of ‘retail’ mentality.  So I will ask around.  It needn’t be a full time job or even the first and last agent I have.  Just someone to get the process off the ground.

I competed in the 7th Round of Paros bicycle race last Sunday and I did very well.  The morning was perfect for the race, with light breezes from the north, sun and clouds.   In short, not too hot.  I was able to ride the 61km course in 2:31:45, which is a 6 minute improvement over my best time on the same route.  I placed 59th out of 99 bikes and 12th out of 18 in my age-group.  I am happy with these numbers.  Now I begin working towards the 40km mountain bike race on Paros towards the end of September which will be  gruelling.  Plus, the sea is wonderful so there is swimming every day.  In fact, I hope to do both–bike and swim–as soon as I post this missive.

I have begun yoga.  Odd…yoga has been around my life for so many years, people urging me to try it and all that.  I think my mind and heart were not ready.  There was too much I had to let go of before I could open up and do it.  Death, tumultuous change, perceived uprooting…On the surface it is allowing me to stretch muscles that I have been using in a way that actually stretches them.  I have discovered that those calisthenics and stretches I learned in high school were mostly wrong and don’t really stretch anything at all.  Deeper inside..I don’t know.  I have only taken three classes (once a week) so I’ll let you know what rises to the surface.  I know that I have moved on from where I was.

Uphill and off the saddle in Kostas

–JDCM

 

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Olivetti repair, part 2…

From Padova to Firenze I came…my lovingly repaired Olivetti in my baggage.  Now I am in Florence visiting with my sister and my niece and some friends–which has been super.  We have seen some beautiful sights but most of all we have eaten well and have had a great visit with each other.  We depart this city in a couple of days–they to America; me onto Venice.   I feel like I am in a variation of a Cole Porter musical…

To sum up the typewriter repair…after disassembly, Alessio removed all the rubber pieces and then bathed the ornate and beautiful chassis in a gentle flow of aeronautic petrol mixed with a very fine lubricant.  This removed all the dust, ink, paper and grime that had built up over the years.  The high octane solution evaporated in the outside air, leaving behind the machine oil.  Then he cleaned up the paper roller by attaching it to a lathe and sanding it gently with fine-grit sand paper.  He cleaned and wiped down the external casing.  After reassembly and insuring mechanical perfection, he adjusted the letter ‘a’ (it wasn’t striking well), attached a new ribbon, typed a test piece of paper, and gave the machine a final swipe with the cleaning cloth.  Presto! Fini!  There was more to it obviously.   The whole repair process took about four hours.  Grazie Alessio!

I will leave for Venice on Sunday, my bag filled with cheese….but that’s another story.

–JDCM

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Buona Pasqua da Padova…!

Padova is a lovely place to visit.  It is not a touristic town—all the tourists are in Venice, just north of here.  The current groups are mostly Italian, here for the Easter weekend.  There are lovely basilica (Basilica Pontificia di Sant’Antonio di Padova, etc…), some outstanding frescos (Cappella degli Scrovegni housing the most important…).  The restaurants are good to excellent.  My lodging is fine–the Hotel Donatello–a clean and neat family-run place right on the piazza opposite ‘Il Santo’….It has that thing that all 3-star Italian hotels seem to have–a sense of slightly frayed and rundown charm.  I’ll write a more comprehensive review of food, lodging and sights later.

The real reason I came here was to have my mother’s Olivetti Lettera 22 repaired and refurbished by Alessio Vescovo.   When the Olivetti was stripped down it was revealed to be more complex and more interesting than a modern computer.  He disassembled, cleaned and the reassembled it,  making the necessary needed repairs along the way.  He did all of this with a great sense of confidence and care. Today’s post only has photos of the disassembly.  Later will come photos of the cleaning and reassembly.  We found out some things.  It was built sometime between 1952 and 1954 and had been repainted a slightly darker shade if green before my mother bought it used in the mid-60s.  Interesting, no?

So Happy Easter, Kalo Pascha, etc…It’s all about renewal.

–JDCM

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