Autumn, elections, swimming, biking…even photography!

*It has taken me some time to get back on the horse.  I was out the other day with my Voigtlander, exposing some film…it felt good…gentle.  No urgency, no great time-line to follow.  So I took some pictures.  I have some ideas.

*I have been combing through my negative notebooks, trying to find images of my mother’s office.  I have found some.  I know there are others.  I would like to print some of these this winter.

*I need to type up my mother’s newspaper articles.  I keep on saying that to myself…siga-siga…it’ll happen.

*I developed the 4 rolls of Tri-X that I shot when I was back in America in July.  The camera I had on hand was a medium format Holga, so that’s what I used.  I guess that sums up a philosophy…The best camera I could use is the one I am using.  People talk a lot about camera X, or  lens Y.  They list the many attributes and the technical aspects…these things never made a photographer better, or even good.  That has to come from within.  Ansel Adams said something about that…good gear, bad photography…I can’t remember the exact quote.  Liz knows.

*It is autumn, and we have had some cooler weather, but not right now.  It is Little Summer and the scirocco blows a steady Force 5, gusting to 6.  The air is hazy and hot and feels like 26C.  I was out for a bit of mountain biking and then a swim in the sea.  People here say the water is cold, but they haven’t been in Cape Cod in August.

*The election for the next American President is today.  Polls have begun to open, voters are lining up to cast their ballots. There is so much at stake in this contest.  I am not sure anyone can really guess everything that hangs in the balance.  I mailed in my absentee ballot well over a month ago.  We shall see.  I am more concerned about the potential for aggression and actual violence at the polls.  America will be divided whatever the outcome.

–JDCM

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Thoughts meander…

The sun rose golden peaches as I departed the Port of Pireaus 3/4 of the way through September.  I have been back in Greece and on Paros since the middle of August.  Through a window of the Blue Star Delos and across the gulf the mountains surround Attica.  How I love this place.  Ancient rocks cradle my heart and timeless seas ferry me home…

I haven’t blogged in a long time and I apologize.  Sometimes I have had too much on my mind and to sort out any coherent thoughts and to put them down seems daunting.  What I need is time to let the events of the past year-and-half filter out into something resembling…something, something solid.

I return to the island after a long weekend wth friends on another island, another archipelago.  This marks the last of my long-term commitments for 2016 and I finally feel like I can relax.  The deeply emotional yet business-like events of laying my mother to rest and selling the family home are behind me.  My inherited furnitures, works of art, books and homewares are tucked away in storage units.  I packed my bags with those things that I could smuggle and left America.  Oddly enough, I feel no sadness in leaving the house I called home for so long.  With my mother’s absence, the place felt empty and hollow.  She had been its heart and soul and without her it was just a shell.

I have finally found an ear doctor who has offered anything like a solution to my labyrinthitis/Meuniere’s/tinnitus…Dr. Peraki’s prescription has improved my hearing almost 10% over the past month so I have been told to keep at the regimen and we shall see what is what in about 2 months, just before Christmas.

Speaking of that…one novel feeling…I am not thinking about plane tickets back to America.  This time, during the past several years, I would begin looking at dates, routes, etc…not today, thank the gods.  I am looking forward to being here through all of December and January, February, without the interruption of having to leave.

And so on I ramble…

—JDCM

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Flowers…

I haven’t updated in a long time.  Much has happened in the past 2 months.  I have written list after list, big and small.  All but a few items have been crossed off.  I have much to say but words fail…

 

yucca

yucca

lilies and hydrangea

lilies and hydrangea

by the pond

by the pond

reflection of the Pink Barn

reflection

Pink Barn

Pink Barn

Queen Anne's lace

Queen Anne’s lace

 

 

lilies and wall

lilies and wall

sunflowers

sunflowers                                                                       –JDCM

 

 

 

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Kythnos and a change of plan…

–There is a lot to see and do on Kythnos and by the time I leave on Friday I will have seen and done most of it.  Superb hiking, archaeological sites (mesolithic, Byzantium, 19th century mining…), good eats, friendly folks…The weather was so-so for the first two days but then the sun came out, the winds shifted and there was fine weather for getting lost on the donkey trails and photographing more stone walls than I knew what to do with.  I am pretty much saturated with walls at the moment.  I have a feeling I will finish up the roll I have in my camera today and be done with this island for the time being.  I have one more long hike to do tomorrow (12 km) so perhaps I will try to use one more roll.  Maybe I will, maybe I won’t.

–I found an excellent little taverna on the port of Merichas.  Typical family-run, spitiko, without all the frippish tom-foolery of frankish cuisine.  I ate roasted goat in lemon sauce last night; grilled fresh sardines the night before…local, mild feta on my salads.  I’ll go there again tonight.  Funny thing…when Kostas, the owner’s son, heard I was from Paros, he told me that his cousin Giorgos worked in a fish taverna in Paroikia…Hmmm…I know Giorgos well!  We had a good time and then Kostas called Giorgos and he and I had a quick chat.  I love these alliances.  So Yalos Byzantio is my spot.  I dine there again tonight.

–My lodging has been excellent.  My small studio overlooks the harbour of Merichas.  The ferries dock just a few hundred meters away and the ins-and-outs of tourist sailors in their small rented sailboats make for interesting comedy-drama.  Only some seem to be good sailors.  The rest look like they are trying too park their cars.  Oh well…I wish them all the fun in the world.  The Aegean is a lovely place to sail.

–I am tired.  I am tired of living out of my luggage.  I will have a lot more of that this summer so I suppose I should get used to it, but for the moment…

I left Paros on May 10th, after a four-day general strike which threw all my plans into the air.  As a result of this strike, I was forced to use one of the High-Speed ferries that runs around the Aegean.  I hate these things for many reasons.  The only other time I was on one was in 2006 and I picked up a terrible respiratory bug just by being shut inside the interior for several hours with no fresh air.  True to form, by the time I reached Evia on Thursday the 12th, my throat was scratchy.  By Saturday I was on antibiotics, decongestants…sick.  11 days later I am finally off the meds.  I need to go home.  I feel great, but it is time to sit on my own terrace, sleep in my own bed…

As luck would have it, the same ferry that would have brought me to Syros, continues on home to Paros.  So I will leave Kythnos Friday morning and be home in time for tea…

Pezoules, walls and and Agios Anathasios, Kythnos, 2016

Pezoules, walls and and Agios Anathasios, Kythnos, 2016

 

 

–JDCM

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Travel notes, May 2016…Kea…

–The short ferry ride from Lavrio to Kea is, despite its single hour, quite remarkable.  As a student of 20th century Balkan History I had heard of, and read about, the concentration camp island of Makronisos, but I had not realized it lay so close to the mainland.  As we slowly sailed past I could see the ruins of buildings and structures…political prisoners, social dissidents and members of the military suspected of being “infected” with dangerous ideas were sent to Makronisos during the Greek Civil War (1946-49).  For a more detailed and moving account of this time, read Kevin Andrews’ The Flight of Ikaros: a journey into Greece.  Ironically, I re-read this book only a few weeks ago…

–Kea is a rugged place.  Smaller than Paros, yet it feels bigger.  The Port of Korissia is small and around the port are a number of meadows heading inland, but only for a short distance.  After that it is a long climb to the chora, Loulida, perched along the ravine.  The streets in the chora are steep and car-free.  It is pretty little town and the archeological museum is supposed to be one of the best in Greece.  It is, however, only open on Friday from 08:00-15:00 and so I will miss it.  Kea reminds me of a smaller and greener Naxos.

–The flora of Kea is very much the same as on Paros and many of the other islands with one lovely exception: the pedunculate oak.  For centuries, Kea supplied the tanners of Greece, Rome, Venice, etc… with acorn caps.  By the end of the 19th century this practice had been replaced with less expensive synthetic processes so the acorn was not needed and the thriving industry collapsed.  Thank God they didn’t cut down the trees!  You know what…go here instead.  These folks know more about it than I do and are a big part of the new sustainable Kea.

–Kea is still a thriving agricultural island and this is evident when one hikes along the well used donkey paths and other by-ways.  Pommes de terre are numerous!   The xcero-lithia that crisscross the island are lovely, beautiful, crafted…some are so old that the moss and lichen that cover them are dissolving them, turning their hard edges round and soft.  New wall construction is in the old fashion, so the technique is being preserved.

–I will have shot three rolls of 35mm film when I leave on Friday as well as  fair amount of digital.  I have been hiking a lot although I did rent a car.  It is a good idea so at least get up and out of town into the interior before setting out walking to a cove or mountain top.  This time of year it is quite empty outside the port, so it has been rare to see anyone else but the occasional goat.  Most of the others I have seen are, I think, French and English.  I cannot be sure.  Athenian day sailors like Kea too.

–If I had brought my mountain bike, I would have rented a car anyway for the same reasons as above.  Mountain biking on pavement is a drag and bad for the tires.  Best to load the bike into a car and drive inland, park, and bike on the dirt roads.  For road biking, anyone who wants constant interval training on hills, come to Kea.  The fun never ends.

–JDCM

Kea walls and oaks                  Kea walls 2

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Hopping my way back home…

I have spent the last weekend on the island of Evia, northeast of Athens, for a non-sectarian weekend of fun, food and fellowship.  I saw people I had not seen in months, years and even decades.  A superb time!

My goal was to ride my bike there but the 4-day ferry strike two weekends ago prevented me from leaving Paros on the day I wanted, so I had to hoof it instead.  Ferries, taxis, busses, etc…I got there.  That’s all that’s important.

This morning I accepted a lift from a friend back to Athens where I caught the regional bus to the Port of Lavrio where I will take the Marmari Express to the island of Kea.  I will spend a few days there and then head to Kythnos.  Due to the ferry schedule I am on Kythnos for a week.  From there I head to Syros.  I have about 10 rolls of 35mm film and also my Fuji X-t1.  The weather is looking so-so…It is, after all, only mid-May which means anything could happen.  The reports say 22-25C with Beaufort 3-5 all week.  Being the Kyklades, this means almost nothing, but it sounds good.  Currently I am in a cafe waiting for the boat to take me on…good Greek coffee!

On the way back to Paros I am getting back into photographing the ‘xerolithia’ (schero-lithia), the dry stone walls of which I am so fond.   After Kea, Kythnos and Syros, I will only have to visit Tinos and Andros.  I think I might try to put a book together someday…

sun beams

–JDCM

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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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