Archive | quiet islands

Emerson, beauty and hiking…

I have been hiking some more through the dry heat of the island and enjoying the sweat and the feeling of the hot air going into my lungs as I breathe.  Most of the walks have been around 12 km and primarily on well-traveled paths or roads.  That is a drawback since walking on pavement is terrible for my legs and back.  Tomorrow I head back out to Kolimbithres, but this time I will skirt the rocky edge of the island, bushwhacking through the dry, thorny underbrush.  The goal will be the same: the beach and swimming.  I’ll try to get some pictures.  I must say that I am enjoying the solo hiking.  It allows me to clear my head and think thoughts both shallow and deep.  I guess I just let them come and go as I walk, similar to a walking meditation in Buddhism.  Awareness of the steps I take and the objects to use and avoid while hiking is part of the meditation.  John Pack, the director of the Aegean Center believes that hiking is one of the ways we exercise the brain.  I can see his point.  As I walk though the uneven surfaces of rock, dirt and thorn my brain is calculating and sending millions of mathematical signals to my muscles and tendons, making sure I do not fall or slip.  Mindful awareness and the physical world.  Emerson would like that.

Speaking of the poet, I was reading him this morning and in his essay ‘Domestic Life’ he discusses the concept of beauty.  For him, beauty is all but indefinable and certainly transient.  Beauty, as he would agree, is in the eye of the beholder.  He wrote, “Beauty is, even in the beautiful, occasional,-or as one has said, culminating and perfect only a single moment before which is unripe, and after which it is on the wane.  But beauty is never quite absent from our eyes.  Every face, every figure suggests its own right and sound estate.”

Beauty is fleeting, random, changeable like the weather.  Thus have been my affections, although their emotional imprint remains fossilized and frozen in time.  I look back on the record with wistful, sometimes misty, eyes and wonder what would have been had the timing been different, the light at a different angle, something…Beauty, though, to me at least, remains fixed.  I still think of past loves as beautiful, for there was beauty in the thinking and acting.  None of them, I must admit, retain any angelic nature of memory.  Certainly nothing devious either, and I have never fooled myself into thinking that there was anything other than a normal, human connection at work.  To think otherwise would be to elevate these affections atop a pedestal and denigrate my own existence beneath them.  Neither of these are real.  So I will remember Emerson’s observation that beauty, like the cherry blossoms below, is real and on the vine yet subject to the shifting climate.


Cherry blossoms, Manassas, Virginia, 2008


Walking across Paros and flying through space…

Since I have returned to Paros I have taken two excellent, long and hot walks.  On Saturday I walked from my apartment in Paroikia along the back roads to the northern tip of the island.  This area is called Kolimbithres and is host to three lovely beaches, an Eco-Park, a famous monastery and a fascinating boatyard, if that is your sort of thing.  The whole walk was about 12 km ( about 7.5 miles) and I covered the stretch in about 2 hours.  I had a quick swim and began hoofing it back to the bus stop.  It really has been very hot here and even though I stayed well hydrated I felt it was alright to take the bus back to town.  I tried some hitchhiking but there was no luck until a nice English couple pulled over and gave me a lift in their converted postal van.  An excellent day of excersise.   It was wonderful to experience the aroma of all the cedars and pines baking in the blazing Greek sun-a combination of resin and marble dust.  Lovely.

Today I went for another long walk, this time from the small hill town of Lefkes, over the hills and down to the beaches on the eastern side of the island, namely Kalogheros, or as many folks call it, the Clay Beach.  This is due to the massive clay deposits that make up the walls facing the sea and the nearby island of Naxos.  You can smash small bits and mix it with seawater to form a paste and then spread it over any exposed skin.  After letting it dry you dive into the water and wash it off.  Your skin feels silky and smooth after having this spa treatment.  To think that some people spend thousand for this elsewhere!  It was wander through the parched, golden hills, dotted with old windmills, tiny churches, monasteries and miles of ancient olive groves.  It is fascinating to think that these groves have withstood hundreds of years of raging wind, rain, snow and heat and are just now coming into their prime as fruit-bearing trees.  I stopped by a small mountain spring I know of off the track and behind an old church and found the cold water flowing from the spigot at a healthy trickle in this hot, dry August.  It was lovely to see the stone walls running through the vista.  Some of them are also centuries old but are identical in many ways to those constructed more recently.  I took some pictures and, once again, stayed hydrated. Once I made it to the beach I jumped in the water and swam about a bit then headed back to the bus stop in Prodromos for a leisurely ride back to Paroikia.

All of today’s journey began this morning in the upstairs ‘Big Room’ at the school.  John Pack (and Gabriel Pack), our director (and son), had set up the projector so we could observe the landing of the most recent Mars rover ‘Curiosity’.  There was coffee, homemade doughnuts and palpable excitement.  It was a tense thirty-five minutes and, for me here on Earth, a reminder of how important these excursions can be, if not for humanity then at least for the idea that there is something out there that can still hold our human fascination.  After that I began my own small journey, from one place to the other.  Maybe not as pioneering a trip to Mars, but essential in re-establishing my own sense of place on a swiftly turning planet.



Melancholia atop the Hotel Attalos…

I am once again in Athens after a long boat ride from Paros.  Tomorrow I fly to Vienna, en route to America and a month in the green, lush Hudson valley and my mother’s home.  I was saddened leaving Paros today.  I sat at a cafe and said goodbye to a new friend from Paris and as I walked to the port I hugged a fellow student farewell as she opened up the small cafe where she worked.  The crowd to get on the Blue Star Paros was large and I waited in the sun for about 15 minutes until we boarded.  One of our teachers at the school was boarding another ferry on his way back to Amsterdam and he was being helped by a good friend (to many of us) who, in a few weeks, will be saying goodbye to Paros forever.  Her life path has shifted and will no longer include Greece or the Cyclades.  I was struck by a melancholic mood as these interactions occurred and as I boarded my ferry I received a text from a friend who had arrived too late to say goodbye in person.  We spoke on the phone and it was good to hear his voice.  A few minutes later another friend sent me a ‘bon voyage’ text.  So some of these ‘farewells’ were from a distance and not face-to-face.  It felt as if something was missing. There is no substitute for the real thing.

I have come to an odd point in my journey through Greece.  I have many questions and my future on Paros suddenly seems less certain than it did a year ago.  There was a time where I needed university credit-that is no longer necessary.  It is essential I establish my own existence outside of the Aegean Center if I am to survive happily on that little island.  I am a photographer and need to be so with or without the Aegean Center connection.  To rely on that resource for too much support (of any kind) would be unfair to them and detrimental to my own sense of self and stunt my intellectual and social growth.

I have made friends and lost friends at the Aegean Center over the past two years.  I have made terrible errors of judgement regarding friendships and even recently the possibilities of love.  This has had the effect of pushing me further into myself, thus finding an easier path to isolation and solitude.  I know this is not always a good place for me to be, but I feel as if I have no choice.  If I am to be emotionally secure then I have to be very wary, almost suspicious, of others.  As my father has warned me, I can be too naive regarding people.   Yes, there are some people I can trust, but more to avoid or at least be careful around.

So I leave Paros with a heavy heart.  Few real farewells and only one or two ‘kalotaxidhis’ have left me wondering what my future in Greece will entail.  I will work through the year since I have made that commitment to myself and others, but after that it may be time to move along.  We shall see…



Paros news, part II, and travel ahead…

Once again I find myself at Mikro Cafe updating this electronic epistle, free to whomever wishes to read it and in doing so, please respond.  I arrived after my 12 day island-hop with fifteen rolls of exposed 120 film and I have developed it all.  This is important because it means that I may not have to bring my heavy medium format camera to Italy in the fall, which also means no tripod, no film, etc…What a literal load off my shoulders!  I can concentrate on digital color and get to know my new Leica M8 during the Italian session.  There was an issue in the darkroom, however, dealing with the near-tropical conditions. In short the water coming out of the tap was 24-25C  and I need the chemistry to be 20C.  The ambient room temperature was also 24-25C which meant that all the metal canisters and film reels were all 24-25C.  The upshot is that even if I drop the chemistry temp to 20C the second I put the soup in the can, the temp will rise 2 degrees at least, thus dropping the developing time.  This was my solution:

I made the initial film rinse at 16C, thus dropping the can/reel/ temp to 20C.  Then I can add the 20C soup and it will at least be stable for a couple of minutes before the ambient room temperature raises the can of soup a degree or so.  Now, since I have been under developing my PlusX by N-2 anyway in this darkroom I have to adjust the time again, this time for ambient temperature.  For this round of work I dropped the time to N-5 and the effects are very nice indeed: good separation in the shadows, nice highlights that are not overexposed and a balanced contrast.  Considering that many of the images were made in the height of the Greek sun (10:00-15:00, or 5800K) I am very pleased with the results.

Paros is much the same.  The Watercolor Workshop and the Digital Photography Bootcamp finished and hung a small exhibition last Friday which was lovely.  I was impressed by the photographers and enchanted by the watercolorists.  Some of the photographers had never worked in this kind of digital dynamic before and their work was terrific: all illustrated an excellent use of negative space, lovely light/shadow, texture and elegant composition in the work.  The watercolors were ethereal and splashed with colors, bright and soft.  There were some students who had never worked in this medium as well but that wasn’t apparent.  This is a testament to both their innate skill and that of their instructor.  There are more tourists on the island, but it is not crammed with people.  I am sure this is making some business owners nervous about their futures, but the summer hasn’t really arrived and the July and August crowds will write the book on this piece of marble in the blue sea.

I leave Paros for the USA in about a week.  I would like to think I will have a relaxing time back in New York but my time will be short and I have much to do, many people to see and commitments to keep.  I will be off-island and out of the EU for a month and then return at the very beginning of August.  As the plan goes I have about three weeks here and then I am off to visit a friend in England for a couple of days and then head to Italy, Ravenna and finally Pistoia and the Villa Rospigliosi where I meet up with the rest of the school for the Italian Session.  I have a lot of work to do for the fall.  My portrait project must continue and I need to push that a bit if I am to stay on schedule for the beginning of printing in October.  I am thankful for all the work I have done so far and I am a little ahead of schedule in the darkroom, but I must not rest on my laurels.  My role as student/intern is unwritten but the future looks bright, at least from this vantage point.



Paros homecoming…

As we left Sifnos I waved goodbye to that pretty island and began my short journey home via the Aqua Jewel, a ferry I have come to know very well.  The northern wind whipped up the waves and as we sailed due west we were in a beam sea most of the trip.  This caused a fair amount of pitch and roll and, although I am not one to get seasick, I kept my eyes on the horizon to keep my inner ear on an even keel.  The trip was, as I said, supposed to be a short 3 hours, but it went for an additional 45 minutes due to that weather.  As we came into closer sight of Paros, we turned south, the seas calmed and the rolling ceased.  The following sea pushed us and as we sailed past The Doors and I felt like I had come home.  A friend met me at the port and we caught up with others at Pebbles for a sunset.

This morning I loaded a large pile of laundry into the machine, opened up the doors of my flat, shook the rugs out, swept, mopped and generally re-opened the place after having it closed up for almost two weeks.  I then headed to the market and picked up some essential stuff and went out to Drios to pick up the rental car I had lent to my friend Jeanne.  It was great to see her and some other folks.  When I returned back to Paros I realized that I had accomplished what I needed to do for the day and had little choice but to head to the beach for some swimming and lazing about.  Not really, of course.  I did a hundred or so crunches and bicycle pumps, swam a few ‘laps’, read a bit (a biography of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius) and then headed back to Paros for a shower and quick nap.

As I write this I am back at Mikro Cafe.  Colin has made me a wonderful iced latte and offered me an apricot from a friends garden.  “They were falling off the trees, he said…”  There is chill music on the stereo, the weather is balmy with a light southern wind and I have plans to be in the darkroom tonight to begin developing the film I shot while I was hopping about the Cyclades.

Ah yes…back home and back to work!



Sifnos, hiking and going home…

I left Serifos almost three days ago.  It was sunny and warm and the northern wind was Force 7.  The ferry arrived shortly after 12:00 to take me to Sifnos and off I went, rolling a bit in the sea, but enjoying being back on the road, so to speak.  How do I describe Sifnos?  If Serifos is the rugged, rough and rocky island then Sifnos is its more quiet, calm and well-preserved cousin.  It is not as if either are not developed, but Sifnos has been developed in a more thoughtful way while Serifos will always bear the scars of 19th and 20th century industrial manhandling. In short, Sifnos is lovely.  The towns are small, the island running roughly north-south and the ambient charm all Greek, all Cyclades, all the time.  Sifnos is the ‘Island of Potters’ and the number of ceramic workshops dotted across the landscape speak to that, but this was not always the case.  At one time Sifnos was an island of gold and other metals which made it very wealthy.  Each year the inhabitants gave a golden egg to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi.  The end came around 500BC when, as legend has it, the Sifnains gave a gilt egg instead of a solid one and so brought on the wrath of the god who flooded the mines thus ending their prosperity.  Just a warning from history about taking shortcuts!  In any case, the island was eventually part of the Duchy of Naxos, then suffered under the Turks and then finally liberated in 1830 along with the rest of Greece.  The history is more complex than what I have just written and you can read a bit more here.

My stay so far has been relaxed yet very active.  I have been taking pictures and have only a single roll of Plus-X 120 to shoot.  If I don’t manage it I won’t kick myself because I know I will be back here soon but I would like to finish up the pack.  The quality of the walls here on the island is magnificent and I have been documenting them extensively.  Like most of the islands there are stone walls everywhere but the level of preservation here is well above the others.  I imagine this has more to do with the importance of agriculture when compared to other islands.  More agriculture means infrastructural relevance which translates to a pragmatic upkeep of existing bulwarks and boundaries.  There are olive groves covering open areas and along myriad terrace farms while fields of barley grow wherever flat ground can be tilled.  One striking short journey is from the port of Kamares to the primary town of Apolonia.  Through the long winding uphill valley the olive groves line the road, hugging the steep hillsides, their silvery green-grey leaves standing out in stark contrast to the dried golden hue of the surrounding flora.  The Port of Kamares is small. I like port towns and it is quiet when one compares it to Adamas or Paroikia. There is something about being so close to the hub of travel that excites me.  Once again I am reminded of the millennia preceding me and the countless footsteps that have traveled the path I now tread.  Not much has changed, I think.   Not really.

I have been staying at Simeon’s Rooms and Apartments. It is clean, neat, the terrace of my double room looks out over the bay and I have a lovely view of the sunset.  The owner and his family have been very helpful during my stay and I highly recommend the place.  They also seem to run a small taverna about 100 meters from the dock where I have been happily eating for the past two nights.  I tend to stay away from overly-complex new-wave Greek cuisine in favor of local home cooking and I have found it here.  The kolokithokeftedes I had two nights ago were fluffy on the inside and crisp on the outside.  They were a perfect match to the garlicky tzatziki. I could spend a week here and really explore the restaurants but in the end I am a creature of habit and when I find a place I like, I stick with it.  I’ll be there again tonight, this time for imam baldi, salad and something else to be decided upon later.

Sifnos is also noted for its hiking.  There are many well-marked trails running throughout the island and all of them well maintained.  I have been on two jaunts so far, the same one really, but tough enough to make the second time as challenging as the first especially in hot weather.  My choice has had more to do with the high northern wind and my search for a quiet beach away from whatever crowds are here.  I chose the path that runs on the southern tip of the island from the small seaside village of Vathi to Fykiada Bay.  The hike to the bay was mostly downhill and I covered the 3km in about 25 minutes.  The return trip took 40 minutes.  I brought 1.5L of water, some fruit, sunblock and other beach necessities.  The fine, sandy beach is nestled in a quiet cove and I saw no other humans the entire time, including during the hike.  The only other souls were a few goats running around the scrubby, rocky hillsides and the beach.  There is an abandoned farm behind the beach and an olive grove stretches another half kilometer to the NE.  I loved walking through the grove, feeling very much like I had discovered this place for the first time.  In the middle sat the old farmhouse, crumbling stone barns and other outbuildings.  I wandered around the place for a while today, snapping pictures.

This is my last evening of my island hopping adventure.  I have been away from Paros for less than a fortnight  yet it feels like a month since I have sat at Mikro Cafe for coffee or watched the sunset from the terrace of Pebbles.  My friends at the Aegean Center have been busy with their watercolor workshop and their digital photography boot camp.  I have been working as well, but at a different pace.  Tomorrow afternoon I board the Aqua Jewel for the three hour voyage to Paroikia, a place I hope is becoming my home.  I have loved my break and there have been moments when I have lost track of time.  This has been a cure for my restless mind.  I have met some very interesting people and I hope to see them again in the future but as I write this my thinking is already beginning to shift. After over a week of being off-island I need to clean my apartment and air it out;  I need to finalize some details with my mentors regarding the fall; preparations need to be made for my trip back to the USA in two weeks;  I have to develop 15 rolls of Plus-X…the list could go on, but you get the drift.  Reality seeps back in to the fantasy of life on the road and reminds me where I need to be standing.  I can have my head in the clouds all I want but my feet need to be firmly attached to the earth in order to properly fix my position with the wandering stars.




Charmed by Serifos…

Some would say that Serifos is a desolate place, barren and dry with few amenities.  I have found the opposite to be true.  It has just the right amount of  mod-cons for me.  It has one bank, one petrol station, wonderful and accessible beaches, excellent hiking, beautiful vistas, local grocery stores (no franchises) and a very friendly and hospitable local population eager to help an intrepid traveler from across the sea.  There are many restaurants, most of which fall into the middle-of-the-road category, a few that are trying to impress and at least one where I wish I had been eating all along.  First, the bad news…

I ate at ‘Aloni’ last night.  This place is situated on the hillside just below the Chora, overlooking the harbor. It is a lovely view and the restaurant itself is relatively new having opened in 2007.  I was pointed in its direction by a local business owner and I must admit it has many qualities I found enjoyable.  I sat outside and ordered simply: saganaki and a half-kilo of lamb chops with fried potatoes. The sagankai was perfect-crispy on the outside and gooey and hot inside.  I didn’t need to ask for lemon as it was served with a large chunk on the side, same with the lamb.  This, for those who don’t know, is something I have had to ask for on both Ios and Milos.  It is traditional.  The lamb chops were alright, a bit overdone, but the fat was crunchy and the meat still tasty if a bit dry.  The potatoes were decent.  Now, the downside.  I chose to sit next to two Greek men about my own age who were loud and boisterous, always on their mobiles and every third word out of their mouths seemed to be ‘malaka’.  I know it has multiple meanings and was probably being used in an affectionate and friendly manner, but I don’t need to hear it all through my meal at such a high volume.  Plus, how do I know it was being used affectionately?   In any case, back to the meal.  After finishing my entree I sat for at least 35 minutes with no sign of the waitress (not uncommon, and normal, so no big deal) but when I called her over she disappeared into the restaurant and returned with my check, which I had not yet asked for.  I guess I wasn’t having dessert.  I paid the bill and left, feeling as if I had been given the ‘bum’s rush.’  I was let down, to say the least.

Tonight, however, I found a secret restaurant, hiding in plain sight.  Next door to my hotel is the Hotel Cyclades.  The Hotel Cyclades is located away from the main cluster of the port restaurants and not in Chora, so they seem to be a little in the background of the hustle and bustle that is downtown Serifos.  I was overjoyed at being able to have a starter of melitzanosalata (acidic and rich) then a mixed dish of gigantes, imam and roast pork in lemon sauce.  I even ate the bread, which I usually try to avoid.  It was the best I have had here, chewy and flavorful.  The dessert was a traditional sweet cake and they brought me an excellent double espresso to wash it down.  Really superb and my kind of Greek food.  No pretense, no flash and no trying to ‘out-restaurant’ anyone else.  Just good Greek home cooking.  I cannot speak of their rooms but I imagine that they are as basic, clean and neat as these kind of family establishments tend to be.  Next time I visit Serifos, I will try to eat there more often.

As I sit outside at the Serifos Yacht Club, listening to a mix of world groove and enthusiastic action from the European Football League playoffs on the big screen I am washed in a balmy breeze from across the small harbor.  The parade of life that is Serifos on a Friday night wander past, off to dinner, cafes or coming home from one of the same.  I have yet to pack my bags for my short boat ride to Sifnos tomorrow at noon.  I have to return my trusty Suzuki Vitara in the morning and pay my hotel bill.  Yes, I will say ‘ephcharisto para poli’ and ‘yassou!’ to Serifos but only for a short time. I am looking forward to returning, perhaps in the fall when the crowds have thinned out and Serifos is once again the Serifians.  I will hope to find some sun in the gradually shrinking days of autumn, dine at the Hotel Cyclades and find a less aggressive light in the whitewashed streets of the Chora to photograph.  I will bathe in the sea, still warm from the summer heat and count my lucky stars that I have been able to experience this place, this small island of Serifos.