Archive | Greece

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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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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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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