Darkness and light…

It is Easter here.  The symbolic nature of the the life/death/life cycle are not lost on me.  My grief over the death of both my parents last year will continue to shake my psyche for some time.  This week I have been particularly sad.   My father and I had a troubled and difficult relationship.  Still, I miss his little emails about what he would be making for dinner, what he was reading…My mother?  Ah, yes…mama…

She was my center.   She was stability and gentleness, support and unconditional love.  Regardless of my age or maturity, she was there.  I would come home and she would greet me at the door with a hug.  If I had telephoned beforehand, she would have always asked, “What do you want for dinner?”  There was always food, hugs, warmth, encouragement.  Roast chicken. Pot roast.

Panagia

Amidst this crushing grief,  my family and I are all but forced to sell her house, the house where I grew up and, for 47 years of my life, the only home I have ever known.  It is a matter of practicality since none of us can afford to live there and pay the taxes–and for this I am ashamed.  I can only speak for myself.  I have had to reduce a source of protection, nurturing and golden memory into a commodity, something to be passed on to strangers.   May they find the same hub of stability there that I have known forever.

I decided 3 years ago to move to Paros full time, to make my home here, to try to sink roots in this rocky land.  The deaths of my parents has rendered my old compass obsolete and my maps out of date.   Previous points of reference have faded and mean too much or nothing at all.   My new compass is a thing of beauty–bronze, marble, sunlight and the wine-dark sea.  My new maps are crisp and unmarked.

So darkness and light, death and life…we grasp for handholds on our respective islands.  We find ourselves in treacherous waters, between rocks and the hardest of places.  Tonight at midnight the lights will go out and from behind the curtain the magic appears…a single trembling flame–hope for the hopeless, a light in the darkness.

Kalo Pascha!

–JDCM

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Deep in the Ancient City…

Below my hotel balcony the city breathes deeply.  Tribal drums motivate interpretive dance, guitars reverb surf music through metro tunnels, amplified bouzoukis in Syntagma stir a metallic thrum, mingling the aromatic sounds into a heady stew.  And the smells!  Food, concrete, diesel, piss and old, old stone.  Athens is alive!  In the distance I hear a saxophone, I imagine the player–sunglasses at night, hat on the sidewalk at his feet, the slow crooned blue woodwind wail runs through the ancient marble veins.  Voice carry up from the street–all the languages I have ever heard and many from central Asia, east Asia, Eurasia…The Cosmopolis…the world as a city.  It is here. I am here.  It is my home.  I am blessed.  I wear the sign of the anointed.  If you have to ask, you’ll never know.

I was in taxi and the driver and I were talking.  He told me had two jobs and was raising his three children by himself.  “You have three jobs then, ” I said.  He laughed in agreement.  “I think this is the beginning of something”, he said.  “There is only one choice now for us and it is that things will improve.  There is no other alternative.”  It must be the truth.

This is the beginning of something.  It is all happening here.  The Pope came to town.  There are rumbles of possibilities and energy flows, rich static arcing through the crowds in Monastiraki, Psirri, Exarchia, Sygrou Fix, Thissio, Keramikos…We wait for the great popular firework display, crescendos of chrysanthemums and showers of sparking lights heralding a New Age.  The Emperor will emerge, naked. The applause will be deafening, the laughter unending.  The party is always starting…

I have worked for the past few days deep in a secret archive in the city, a vault of imagination and celluloid.  We are alchemists turning crystals into precious metal.  Magicians.  The dancer moves across the page, fading into view.  Her body leaves atomic molecules, drifting bits of herself, richly perfumed droplets of life.  She bursts from her black background, glowing, free and transcendent.   This is what it is all about.  We plant our collective flags and cry “This is me, this is who I am!” We glow, shine and dance through the traffic, gathering stars in our arms, passing them out like leaflets to the big show.  Entasi!

dancer 1

 

–JDCM

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The hazy shade of winter…

After a few weeks of unseasonably warm and dry days, the weather has turned back to winter here on Paros.  The rains have started, the clouds have rolled in…the wind has shifted from the north.  We need the water badly.  I am sitting at Port Kafe, waiting for the boat to come and take me to Athens for a couple of days.  The schedules have changed for today so I have a few hours to wait.  Still, I would rather wait here than in my flat.  Pericles makes an exceptional Greek coffee and he knows me well.

Today is the first day of Lent in the Greek Orthodox Church.  For the next 40 days there should be seriousness, sadness, contemplation.  Also no oil, no animal products, no leavened bread,no meat with a backbone.  No weddings, no christenings, no birthdays, no name-days…Thank the gods for octopus and chorta, fresh clams and beans with lemon juice!  Like most traditions co-opted by the Church, the idea began long before Christianity.  It falls around the same time of the year when the stores of food would begin to run low.  The fall and summer harvest’s bounty is beginning to be used up and it is too early for the new lambs…the seas perhaps too rough to fish.  So for the next 40 days we scrimp and don’t eat so much.  Or so we should.  I think, maybe, considering everything that is happening in the world,  we should do it just to experience a little starvation.   Many people don’t have this luxury.

Today is also my mother’s birthday.  She would have been 92 today and we would have gathered and helped her to celebrate with flowers and cards.  I can still celebrate the day.  She was very proud of me and my sisters, loved us dearly and without conditions, without judgment.  She worried, like all good mothers can and do.  She rushed to our aid when she could.  She let us go as we needed.  She gathered us in her arms when we returned home for a holiday, a weekend or a much needed break from all the difficulties that taxed her children’s existence.   For me, she was the parent I turned to for help.  In times of trouble she would look me in the eye and say, “Listen, this is all going to be over soon…” or  “You have always been able to just do it, just go out there and make your own way…!”  and eventually “The last thing I want you to do is waste your life taking care of me…I’m alright.  You get on with it.”  She was quite the woman.  Quite the mother.  My mama.  Our mama! I miss her every Goddamn day…that would have been something she would have said too.  She was brilliant, caring, gentle and could curse like a longshoreman.  Happy Birthday mama.  Many kisses.

Below are some images from the past few weeks–pictures drawn by the children of some friends for my birthday, a photo of me at the bike race receiving the 3rd Place Bronze…Mom would have been tickled pink to see these things and to be at the party.  I would like to think she was.

DSC_0677

bday pic 2

 

bday pic 3

 

bday pic 5bday pic 6

–JDCM

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Another year…

I am 51 and a day today.  This past year has been one that is still hitting me in waves, endless ripples from countless stones tossed in my emotional pool.  I contemplate making a phone call and suddenly realize there is will be no one on the other end of the line.  I imagine a voice and the softness of a cheek…and they are gone.  My mother will no longer look up from the New York Times Sunday crossword, over her glasses, and announce, “Well, that’s done!”  My father will no longer smack his lips after taking a sip of something tasty and raise his glass.  He was always one for toasts.  “Hear, hear,” she would chorus during better times.

Polly and Hilary in Provincetown, 1970. photo by Sara Ballard

Polly and Hilary in Provincetown, 1970.

I was thinking the other day that I have never been the “cool” guy.  Never hip, never dressed in the latest fashion…I was feeling down that day.  Then I realized I didn’t  care.  When I was younger, maybe, but then again I was envious of those around me who had better or more or newer or sexier (or so I believed)…not much weight there.  Pretty superficial stuff.  I hope they are happy in their respective lives.

So these days I do what I am wanting to do and this makes me happy.  I am not treading on the lives of others and I am moving forward and slightly uphill.  I am honouring my mother and my father in my life and activities.  I am finally getting around to reading a short biography of St. Augustine given to me by my sister a few years ago.  I am reading some Epicurus.  I am back to building fine scale WW 1 aircraft which give me great joy and satisfaction, not just in their execution but in the research involved.  I am in training for a very tough mountain bike race being held here March 6th.  I have a photo shoot coming up next week which I have been looking forward to for months.  It will be several hours of intense work, and then that stage will be done.  Then I develop the film.  Then I choose what to print, etc…intervals and stages, tension and release.  One day I am 50, and then the next day…

Biking here on Paros is a good metaphor for my life.  The stress of the uphill slogs are rewarded by not only the accomplishment but also the release of the inevitable downhill run, slaloming around rocks and through washed out sections of red dirt roads.  Then it is uphill again.

It all feels pretty cool to me.

–JDCM

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January on Paros…

The header image is from New York, a view of the family property in Ancramdale.  It is a winter scene.  Looks pretty cold and all but monochromatic.  That where I had been since December 1st, 2015.  Much has happened since then.  You all know that.  Life and death.  Pretty important.

I have been back in Greece since January 22 and today is February 1, 2016!  Kalo Mina everyone!  I am back on Paros and the weather has been lovely–mid-teens Celsius with light breezy winds.  It was pretty cold when I arrived.  It will get cold again, I think.  I am a fortunate man.

A view in Marathi, Paros, February 1, 2016

     A view in Marathi, Paros, February 1, 2016

It is so quiet here, so perfect.  In a couple of weeks I will begin a new photo project and I am looking forward to that.  There is also a mountain bike race on March 6th for which I am training.  After two months out of the saddle I need some time to get fit, but hey, it’s like riding a bike, right?  Ha!

One would think that I have some great wisdom to impart, but really I don’t.  I guess I’ll have to paraphrase my friend Jac who reminds us all to follow your heart, do your exercises, and eat your peas…or whatever.  The food is relative.

–JDCM

 

 

 

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Moving along…

I believe that the most important aspect of my life today is that I not get mired in a lot of questions or dilemmas over which I have no answers or control.  I cannot control the feelings or actions of others; I cannot change my past or past events;  I cannot pretend that life today is the same as it was a few weeks ago.  To even bring it up in conversation sometimes seems like a waste of time and energy.

I can take responsibility for my own actions, my own past, and not be a victim.   I can see quite clearly that the only constant in my ‘life’s equation’ has been me.  Time and time again I placed myself in positions either to be hurt or to be taken advantage of.  I think we are all like that, even if we think an event is some random occurrence.  Looking honestly, I can see where I was the one who turned right instead of left and found myself on an undesirable path.  Through stubbornness, selfishness, arrogance or pride, I disregarded the warnings right in front of my face.  I am not alone.  I know a lot of people like this.  Some of us are better at life than we used to be.  Some of are not.  Thankfully there is not much I can do about it either way.

Anyway…that’s it.  Time to get moving.  Time for some footwork.

–JDCM

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Polly Jo Masters March 14, 1924 — December 4, 2015

 

 

Polly Jo and JDCM, Provincetown 1967

Polly Jo and JDCM, Provincetown 1967

 

We mourn the passing of Polly Jo Masters of Ancramdale, NY who died peacefully at home on December 4, 2015 surrounded by her children, at the age of 91.  The family thanks the community of caregivers and friends who encircled her with love, companionship, laughter and music since 2008: Diane, Keavy, Joni, Elizabeth, Gaye, Peggy, Lolly, Anne, Julia, Jackie, Mandy, Mary, Carol, Brian, Becky, Harold, Gregg, David and Terry.

Born in Beckley, West Virginia on March 14, 1924, she was the daughter of Dr. John H. McCulloch and Effie Lajo Stalnaker.

After graduating from the University of Kentucky fate ushered her through the doors of Beckley’s WJLS radio station where, as “Side-Saddle Sue”, she hosted a weekly radio program.   She played banjo and ukulele, singing cowboy music, reading local news and engaging in easy humor.  A year or so later she departed for New York City, where she pursued a career in musical theater.  She sang cabaret, stage managed many productions including “Oh, Captain!” and was a principal in the summer traveling company of ‘Brigadoon.’  In 1951, she and a business partner, the director George Quick, renovated several old stables and barns on the Vanderbilt Estate in Hyde Park, NY, establishing the Hyde Park Playhouse.  While in Hyde Park she also assisted the late Eleanor Roosevelt with the NY State Literacy Project.  When theatrical success required a press agent, she and Quick hired a young writer, Hilary Masters.  Polly and Hilary fell in love, married and ran the Playhouse for the next 7 years.

In 1960 they sold the Playhouse and moved to their new home on Woods Drive in Ancramdale, New York.  From the mid-1960s she was very active in her community.  She volunteered for the American Cancer Society, worked with the local PTA and was a friendly and welcoming face at the polls during election time.  In 1968 she ran successfully for President of the Pine Plains Board of Education, becoming the first woman in local history to hold that honour.  She held that post until 1975 and was, among many other things, instrumental in the conception and building of the Stissing Mountain Junior-Senior High School, also the first of its kind in the region.  From 1979 until the mid-1990s she contributed a regular column for a local newspaper, the Roe-Jan Independent, under the heading “One Side to Everything”.  She wrote about politics, local and national education, television, rural homeownership, the origins of linguistic memory and the diminutive interior dimensions of the original Ancramdale Post Office.

She is pre-deceased by her brother, John H. McCulloch Jr., her parents and her former husband, Hilary Masters, whom she divorced in 1985.  She is survived by her sister-in-law, Carolyn McCulloch of Beckley, W. Va., as well as her three children, Joellen Masters of Lexington, Massachusetts, Catherine Masters of Deer Isle, Maine, John D.C. Masters of Paros, Greece and a grand-child, Kaolin R.E. Pitcher of Portland, Maine.  She was a mother, a grandmother, a prescient community leader, a lover of Broadway musicals, English mysteries, a fount of knowledge and a source of no-nonsense unending love and support to all.  She covered the ground she walked on.

–JDCM

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Need for beauty…

With all the horror, pain and uncertainty in the world, I need to remind myself there is real beauty in the world.  It is just down the street, around the corner or on the table in a bowl, sun shining…More can be found here

Cypress cones, Paros, Greece...November 2015

Cypress cones, Paros, Greece…November 2015

Local clementines, just picked, sunshine, glass, marble...

Local clementines, just picked, sunshine, glass, marble…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pomegranates, lemons, bay leaves from a nearby tree and a pear...

Pomegranates, lemons, bay leaves from a nearby tree and a pear…

–JDCM

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New spaces…

After waiting over 6 months and living surrounded by boxes of books, photo stuff, odds and ends, and clothes I have finally moved to my new flat.  What relief!  I had lived (gratefully, mind you) in the previous apartment for so long and grown so accustomed to being crammed into an old building in need of serious repair that this new space really twists my head around.  My light fixtures do not need re-wiring, the plumbing doesn’t smell of bacterial rot and shutters are not decaying and falling off of their hinges.  These were everyday living conditions before last week.  I also have almost twice the amount of room as well as an apothiki (‘warehouse’), so that much of what I had lived with before can now be tucked away–boxes of negatives, portfolios, seasonal clothes, extra stuff…all of this is now out of sight and out of my living area.  And I feel no need to fill up the new and open spaces with stuff.  I am enjoying the freedom of movement.  I have an IKEA order coming, but it is not so much and only replaces some of what my current landlord has supplied.  I want to put my own touch on things so I have purchased a new dining room table, some rugs, an easy chair and footstool, some lamps, a clock.  I also bought some traditional taverna chairs down the street and stained them a yellow tone.  As they dried I realized they turned a bright yellow ochre.  It made me think that maybe I should have used the tetrachromy for my design.  Just an idea.  Next time maybe.

The move has also affected my dreams.  Maybe it is because my bed now faces due north (it faced south for almost 3 years), but my dreams all week have been vivid, complex and memorable.  Sometimes even a bit disturbing.  I am not complaining, just keeping notes.

I think my overwhelming feelings are ‘Finally!’ and also ‘What now?’  This applies to my physical as well as emotional states.  So many endings, so many beginnings, so many new spaces and ideas.  There is plenty of room for all of this thinking and action.  I’ll post some photos once the IKEA goods have arrived and are assembled.  My current landlord walked into the flat the other day and exclaimed “So much light!”  I’ll try to keep it that way.

 

4 new chairs

4 new chairs

–JDCM

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Just an update…

I have always loved the change of seasons.  Whether in the Hudson Valley where I grew up or the small island in the Aegean Sea where I now live.  I welcome each new season with joy and relief, only to say good riddance three months later after weariness sets in.  This autumn is no different and there are many changes to go along with the weather.  Clocks have been set back.  Tea time seems more meaningful as darkness falls.

I have been living in an apartment full of boxes for the past two months.  All of my books, shelving, camera gear, odds and ends…have been packed up and ready to be moved.  At first it was an exciting feeling, to come home to this pyramid of brown cardboard.  It has grown stale as the day approaches when I can finally begin to move from one side of town to the other.  As one friend remarked last night, moving house is inspiring and makes one reevaluate routines.  Like the change of seasons, this move will give me a new perspective.  I need it.

My small photo show was, on many levels, a superb success.  Many people came to the opening and I was struck by the wide variety of people I know here on Paros: people involved in the arts, those I know through the local biking community, others I have come to know over the years, students from a local art school…people who would ordinarily not mix.  They crammed into the space provided by a small Italian restaurant and had a good time.  I guess that was the point, really, to have a small gathering on a night in mid-October when there was ordinarily little to do.  Many compliments, many questions…alas, not a single sale so I am stuck with 22 framed and matted photos.  So I will choose one to put up in my new apartment.  There is a part of me that wants to just burn the rest.  But what to do with the frames and glass?  Eventually I will get around to scanning the photos so people can see them online, which suddenly feels like cheating.  Now I don’t want to do that.  If you missed the show, you missed it.  Is that so selfish?

I wasn’t asking a huge amount for these photos.  They were priced inexpensively.  If I had sold five I would have broken even on the costs.  I think many people have no idea of the work that goes into a single image.  Even had these been digital images, the work would have been substantial.  They are not, of course, so we are talking days of labor to get the picture right and that is before matting, framing, the overall cost for the exhibit opening…I guess I am taking page from Robert Fripp’s advice to artists–work for free–an expensive venture.

My list for today is as long as my arm and I must get it all done.

–JDCM

 

 

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