Here you go…
Here you go…
There are only a few days left until the Autumnal Equinox and it feels like it here on Paros. The crushing summer heat has fled, and in its wake the days have become clear and sunny, with cooler breezes. The tourist crowds have thinned considerably and our island is slowly being returned to us. There is nothing quite so lovely as the change of seasons.
So much has happened in the past 4 months. After my father died things changed. A re-assessment of my life, goals, raison d’etre…Once again I am looking into what makes me ‘happy’. Life, for me at least, is no longer about hitting myself with a hammer while thinking that the next blow wouldn’t hurt. Time to stop doing what I do not like, when at all possible.
I am also moving house. I have everything boxed up and ready to go save for my clothes, some small amount of kitchen stuff and what art is hanging on my walls. I move at the end of October and assume all of my own bills and rent. That will be a relief and a freedom I have missed.
Here are some still lives from a friend’s back terrace…
My header image is from a short bike trip I took to Antiparos recently. It is a reminder of two of the things I love to do and have been neglecting the past few months. It is also a reminder that William Henry Jackson may have had his mules but I have my mountain bike.
The streets of Athens feel empty at 04:00. This ancient city is sleeping.
I have returned home from my father’s memorial service in Provincetown. It was a lovely and moving weekend laughter and tears. On Sunday we scattered his ashes in the bay. We boarded the rented schooner and set sail on a foggy and grey afternoon, light winds from the south. As the skipper cut the motor and the crew raised sail, I was struck by how calm and peaceful the air had become, silent but for the waves lapping at the hull. Light mist settled upon us with caring hands. As we came about my sisters and I stood against the gunwale and poured him into the briny blue-green, the water turning momentarily milky as the ash melted into the deep. And he was gone. Afterwards we gathered with friends and told tales of the man. We watched a moving short film prepared by his widow, and ate some food. We all agreed he would have enjoyed it. He would have also exclaimed, at one point, “Enough already!”, his modesty finally outweighing his pride. So long, weary traveler! Kalo taxidhi!
I have been musing on happiness–again. I have heard that it is an ‘inside job.’ If so then what are the external expressions? I know that I am happy yet my world, to some, may look messy, chaotic, perhaps unsystematic. There is nothing neat and orderly about it. It is not sanitary or perfectly aligned. Maybe a need for external neatness, a desk of neatly sharpened pencils and carefully arranged in/out boxes is actually a cry for help? I know my father’s office, even when he was young and dementia had not taken its toll, was what would have been thought of as messy and disorganized. In fact, everything was exactly where it needed to be. His internal life, his ethos, was ship-shape and trim. His morality and sense of self were in alignment and he was happy. And he left a desk of unfinished work–a sign of a life well-lived.
I celebrate the dust and disorder of the external and understand how it feeds my imagination. It is a zen geometry, creating an oblique stack of books, random pieces of folded paper, a crumbling temple on a rock overlooking the noise and chaos–all precarious. It allows me to get lost, discovering the jewel in the mud that others will never discover. I have permission to get muddy. To find joy and laughter in the lack of right-angles, the subtle aspects of color and shades of grey…That is fun. That is happiness. Creation is messy work, full of uncertainty and risk.
I have recently been examining some of the bits and bobs that make up my past. Some are quite old–worn gears that skip teeth, and clank around rustily bent. If I listen too close, I can hear them late at night. They can keep me awake. Most of the time I pay them little heed, but they are still there. Here are a couple…
In 1975 my father began his first teaching position as Writer-in-Residence at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. A year later he convinced my mother to move with me to be with him for a year. We packed up the family car and moved from the idyllic, bucolic, verdant village of Ancramdale, NY to the suburbs of Des Moines. There were few trees then, many plastic houses, minuscule back yards. I was 11 years old. I was pulled from the familiar and dumped into what I felt was a terrifying experience. I was very unhappy. my very cool bicycle was stolen from school and the school did nothing to help even thought they knew who had stolen it. I was beaten up outside my homeroom and the teachers did nothing then as well. I acted out in all the ways that children do when they have been traumatised–I lied, stole, lied some more, failed at school, snuck around at night dressed in black. But being the 1970s, I fell through the cracks. Our shitty suburban rental seethed with anger, fighting and disappointed expectations. My parents were in the painful middle stages of a separation that 9 years later ended in divorce. I became a latchkey kid. I learned to be a ghost and disappeared into the background. We left Iowa in the spring of 1977 and moved back home. Thank God.
That summer my parents sent me to summer camp. They needed some time alone, I think. For me it was more terror, yet I was resigned to my fate. Camp Berkshire was a horror. The counselor who oversaw our little cabin was a drunk and when I alerted the head counselor that this guy had been drinking a lot while driving us all around, he was fired. One night I was shaken awake by this guy. He smelled of booze. He whispered that he knew it was me that had snitched. He held a knife to my throat and told me that if I ever did that again he would kill me. So I kept my trap shut. A few weeks later my parents came to visit me. My father took this picture. I have only recently seen this photograph. It says a lot, I think. Even back then I was white-knuckling it.
Gouna is a traditional Greek fish dish–sundried mackerel, seasoned and grilled. Fasolakia are a type of green bean, like haricot vert, but much longer. They make an excellent salad. Together they make an excellent dinner with friends, family and loved ones. Especially overlooking the bay of Paroikia at sunset.
I have so much on my mind…so many things to say that seem extremely important to pass along. When I feel this way I become verbose and sophomoric. Best to say nothing. I will say, however, that the inevitability of change has been on my mind for the past month or so. I can let it go.
One choice I have to is to try to stay ahead of the curve. Although I have never surfed, I feel an apt metaphor lies in that activity. I can either ride the wave or let the wave ride me. I have let many waves ride me over the years. Time to shoot the curl.
It goes something like this…
Let me tell you a story of a man who went down to the sea in ships, of an imaginary knight who took to the sky, of the struggles and joys of a man possessed by love and all things worth living for…
I knew my father. I knew him as only his son and friend can. As father and son we attempted to fly, to join up. But it was as comrades and friends that we finally earned our wings. As an only child in what would today be called a “dysfunctional family” he came to us with whatever he had learned from his grandfather, an old 19th century cavalry soldier: deep morality, sense of duty and a set of standards to which perhaps even he could never rise. Hard work was forever its own reward. This was sometimes bitter and angry when mixed with his love for us, yet that never stopped us from loving each other, as only great and deep friendships can attest. He was, after all, my father.
He was a sailor, a skier, a swimmer, a writer, a newspaper man, an historian, a photographer. He learned how to build with wood, cement, paper, plastic, paint. He drove his Morgan Plus-4 with joy and calm excitement. His love of history and adventure drew him to the stories of the great aces of the First World War, an age of modern chivalry when derring-do flew hand-in-hand with honor and comradery. He became Dilly O’Dally, the Irish ace of the skies over the Western Front in 1917. He was, after all, my father and I knew him for 50 years.
Writing was his real work, although he taught for many years to pay the bills. “One must always work,” he would say to me. This ethos kept him laboring, pushing, grinding away at his desk every day, word by word, sentence by sentence. I do this now, but in a different medium, as do my sisters. He was, after all, my father and I knew him for 50 years as he taught me of these things.
When I saw him just a month or so ago, he said to me, “Tell your mother that I love her…” Despite a painful and long separation and divorce, he asked about my mother often. Maybe some regret plagued him, a guilt that only he could really ever know. Or perhaps not. I think it was just love bubbling up from below, or a memory of love, a memory of green trees in the Hudson Valley or a beach on Cape Cod, of three children and a home, a family unlike the family he had known as a child. He was, after all, our father for well over 50 years and we loved him in the only way we had ever been taught.
Like Greek drama, there is no surprise finish. At the end of the story the great ace of the skies, the sailor, the man who loved life ends the struggle and, running low on fuel and mortally wounded by the betrayals of age, banks his delicate spruce and canvas craft and heads west. He was, after all, my father and I loved him and knew him for 50 years.
Not much to report these days. More of the same–photography, working in the darkroom, mountain biking, road biking…a life beyond my wildest dreams.
I entered and raced the Athlos Nikolaos Stellas Memorial Mountain Bike Race last Sunday. I (phyllo 3, Mastero, John) came in 4th in my age group and event (35+, bike only) at 59:50. For some reason I cannot add links today. Go to https://twitter.com/poparou and click around…However, the scores listed have me coming in 6th in the 16-35 year old group. I am flattered. I haven’t been 35 in a long time.
I took the ferry to Naxos the other day for a day trip and rode over 90 kilometers on my mountain bike. It was stunning. Spring in the Kyklades is not to be missed.
I will be replacing the front forks of my mountain bike this week as well as the rear derailleur. This will be an expensive, but very necessary job. After almost two years of strenuous biking (with a bike that was well-used when I bought it) the current forks are worn out and have lost their lubrication. Unfortunately they are a sealed unit which means I cannot re-grease, etc…so out they go! After this big job I will have replaced almost everything except the frame. Necessary maintenance.
I have inventoried my works in progress for my new portfolio. I have a few more prints to make, however this will not stop me from beginning the selenium toning process. I will be finished with this by the middle of May. It is an interesting portfolio, very abstract, and I sure many people will not understand it, or perhaps not understand what I see. So be it. We all bring ourselves to these things. It is not my job to guide people or tell them what they are viewing.
I will begin training in earnest for the 2015 Circle of Paros road race on June 6th this week. I have ridden the route many times since last summer. The rumor is that this year we ride the opposite direction. Clockwise…
Many years ago, when I was writing and playing my own music, I conceived a piece entitled “God; Family; Work.” The premise was that all of us (i.e. human beings) were influenced by these three aspects of modern life. It was to be a rock ‘n’ roll symphony in five movements. I never finished it.
I have been googling the term ‘artist’ and have come up with nothing relevant beyond a definition that everyone has heard before. The jist is that someone has achieved this status after years of labor perfecting their skills and craft. I know some artists here on Paros, people of curiosity and brightness. I have been working with some other young photographers as of late, perfecting our technical skills. If someone wants to call what we are doing ‘art’ then that is their business. I would rather call it ‘work’. I get up in the morning, go to work, have some leisure time away from work, etc…
Of course, there are some who hear the term ‘work’ and run for the hills. I, on the other hand, find great satisfaction “in a job well done.” I share this joy with family and friends.
Greek Easter was splendid and filled with the aroma of roasting lamb. We paid homage to the spirit of the lamb and honored its sacrifice. Our food had a face. We connected the source with our bellies.
Here is an interesting link regarding Francis Bacon…
Slow Art Day at the Paros Archeological Museum was wonderful. About 12 people showed up and we viewed three different works each for ten minutes a piece. The kouros below is a small statue that I enjoyed a great deal.
This weekend I will jump back into the darkroom and, I hope, print at least 6 new pieces. I also have 4-6 rolls of film to develop. Next week I am off to the nearby island of Naxos for a couple of days. There is a 75km mountain bike ride I wish to take.
It has been the wettest and coolest spring that many can remember. Since March there have been more clouds than sun, more rain than not. Yes, this may seem acceptable to friends in more northern climes, but around here it makes people nervous. Paros is, for the most part, an arid climate and our primary agricultural gifts (olives, grapes, figs, tomatoes, etc…) demand that the soil be dry and the water stop falling from April to October. I am hoping that by the middle of the month the rains will cease.
I have been printing a lot and I have 30 pieces so far for my exhibit next fall. Another 20 and I can begin editing, then selenium toning, then off to the framers they go. I will most likely use a local company here in Paroikia, but I must demand a better frame quality. The most recent batch were inexpensive, lightweight and thinly lacquered stock and some people have brought this to my attention. I will be a little more struct with this next exhibit. What have I been printing? Old stuff, new stuff, 35mm, medium format. A little bit of everything.
I am going to invest in some archival storage for my collection of portraits that are still in their frames, in a box, in my bedroom, in my flat. I should get them out of this situation and into something more manageable. Plus, it will free a cubic meter of living space.
I have been biking a lot lately, which I need to do. I have been working on my hills, getting advice, pumping the pedals. There is an 18km mountain bike race in a couple of weeks that winds its way from Marpissa, through Piso Livadi, along Molos, through the valley to Glyfada and back to Marpissa. I rode it yesterday with some very fit pro-am folks and we rode it in 1:16. This included taking two wrong turns and not really going too fast. I hope to ride it in an hour. It is a solid goal. Other than that, I have been out on the road bike and digging that, getting ready for the Circle of Paros road race on June 6th.
Orthodox Easter is next Sunday. I will view the proceedings at Panagia Ekatontapiliani for Friday and Saturday nights, then at midnight on Saturday will break the fast with some friends at a local taverna! Paidakia, kokoretsi, patates, salates…Yum! Then the next day there will be a big feast at a friends home with whole lamb on the spit, chicken, sausages, pork chops…Yum again…
Two days later I hope to be swimming in the very chilly Aegean for my first swim of the season. I feel a need to be anointed in wine dark sea…
I am happy that February is almost done. It is the shortest month and here on Paros it has been very cold, but also quite beautiful with lots of rain, green fields promising spring. March harkens, change is just around the corner.
I guess this is a bullet-point post…
–I turned 50 a couple of weeks ago. Some friends took me out to dinner at one of our favorite tavernas and I was truly touched by their generosity and warmth. Thank you, thank you…50 years on the planet, half a century. Hmmm…there were moments that I didn’t think I was going to make it, probably a couple where I tried not to. Dark times, indeed, and a lifetime ago. Rearview mirror stuff.
–I have been printing a lot in the darkroom. Nothing really specific, just printing, going through negatives from 2006, ’07, etc…current work too…35mm, 120…lots of stuff. It is for an exhibit I would like to have next fall. Some wise friends reminded me to not be too concerned with content because it was art schools that put forth the idea that a solo exhibit must have a theme. There will always be a common thread running through the show. At the very least, it is all my work. I can’t help it if people get confused. I’m not.
— I have been getting ready for a mountain bike race this weekend in the hill-town of Kostos and have already biked the route a few times. I am eagerly looking forward to it–13 km of ups and downs, rocky, gravely, sandy farm roads, washed out and rutted. There are some short stretches of paved stuff, but thankfully not so much. I have biked it already three times and my best time so far is 53 minutes, and that is after a 9 km uphill ride to get there. I hope to catch a ride with some friends, so I’ll be fresh. The weather this week is rainy off and on. I am hoping for light winds and sun on the day. It’s going to be a fun and muddy ride.
–That’s it, really. Not much else to report.