Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Around Me and Inside

I have been head-over-heels in love with Greek music since I was a teen.  At first I was taken in by rembetika, underground "urban folk" music from the early 20th century, Greek traditional music transformed by the influences of millions of refugees coming from Asia Minor and settling in the slums of Athens and Peiraias. I met my husband through that music and am greatly indebted to it.  Listening to it triggers in me nostalgia and longing, as it did for the original musicians.

My husband Giannis introduced me to another style of modern Greek music called entexna, which means poetic, artistic, or a combination of the two.  These songs are based on modern Greek poetry set to music by some of the most gifted composers in the cosmos. This music swept me away totally, as did my (then future) husband, with every song he shared over the seven years that we were online friends.

Today I'm sharing a magical song from one of my favorite albums entitled Γύρω Μου Κ΄εντός (Gyro Mou K'endos) which means Around Me and Inside.  The title of the song is Ανταπόκριση (Antapokrisi) which means Response.  The music was composed by Mixalis Nikoloudis with lyrics by Giannis Kouyioulis.  The song is performed by Giannis Haroulis, a very gifted young musician from Crete, and Anastasia Moutsatsou who was born in Laconia in the southeastern part of the Peloponese peninsula. The word laconic is derived from the name of the region by analogy—to speak in a concise way, as the Spartans were reputed by the Athenians to do. (I got that last bit from Wikipedia). 

The song was translated by
me with help from Giannis :)


Silent calming moonnight
beyond, the sea spread out, and the heart quiet

Some secret hovers upon the water
and the pale moon torments itself to learn it

Renowned seductress, sea lady
my soul's lullabyer and secret joy

Inside me, as in your waters, light trickled
and the longing, on your sands, the foam slowly erased

Some secret hovers upon the water
the moon torments itself to learn it

Renowned seductress, sea lady
my soul's lullabyer and secret joy

Σιωπηλή γαληνεμένη φεγγαροβραδιά
πέρα η θάλασσα απλωμένη κι ήσυχη καρδιά

Κάποιο μυστικό πλανιέται πάνω στο νερό
να το μάθει τυραννιέται το φεγγάρι ωχρό

Ξακουσμένη ξεμυαλίστρα θάλασσα κυρά
της ψυχής νανουρίστρα και κρυφή χαρά

Μέσα μου όπως στα νερά σου στάλαζε το φως
κι ο καημός στην αμμουδιά σου σιγοσβήνει αφρός

Κάποιο μυστικό πλανιέται πάνω στο νερό
να το μάθει τυραννιέται το φεγγάρι ωχρό

Ξακουσμένη ξεμυαλίστρα θάλασσα κυρά
της ψυχής νανουρίστρα και κρυφή χαρά

Sunday, November 17, 2013

About Me

Here are twelve random facts about me, prompted by a Facebook challenge.  They rolled out of my head upon awaking from an afternoon nap, before I had a chance to put my filters on.  My friend Yael suggested I share them here...

1. I was born on an island (in Canada) and spent my first night at sea when I was a few days old. I moved to another island (in Alaska) when I was one year old, then went inland with my family when I was four. I moved to a third island (in Greece) in my forties and never want to live far from the sea again.

With my brothers and sisters in Prince Rupert Canada.  (The baby is me.)

2.  I am inspired by my Grandma Ruth who loved to beachcomb and agate-hunt, painted on r
ocks and drift, made seashell art, created jewelry from her own lapidary, had a candy shop, was an epic thrift shopper, and believed that her soul would live on in her descendents.

My grandmother Ruth Blomgren in the 1970s at Portage Glacier, Alaska

Painted by my grandmother on an old cedar fishing net
float that she found on the beach in Ketchikan Alaska

 3.  I am in awe of my kids and grandkids. I think they are the most brilliant creatures in the world and am thrilled that I had a part in creating them.
baby Em (Emily), my newest grandchild

4.  I met my husband and some of my best friends through online music sharing sites at the end of the 20th century. My husband and I didn't speak the same language when we first met. I learned his language in order to learn him.

My small slim Greek wedding

5.  I am enchanted by the Greek language and would love to translate modern Greek literature into English. I can translate Greek karaoke songs while singing them, given the right combination of substances.

Giannis and me karaoke DJing at a seaside cafe/bar

6.  I like to collect dirt, rocks, driftwood, moss, shells, bricks, lumber, seaweed, relics, and other inanimate objects. Set me loose on a mountainside and I can gather dinner in an hour, plus tea.

On a winter rock-hunting expedition

Fresh wild greens, foraged in our mountainside olive grove

7. I got my first camera, a Kodak Instamatic, for my 8th birthday. My dad gave me an Olympus SLR for my highschool graduation but it was stolen during the Big Lake fire. (I recently found the first photo I ever took with that, a wild rose with nice bokeh.) I received a 16 megapixel Sony Cybershot for my 46th birthday from my son Nick. That's the one I use to take photographs, incessantly.

On my eighth birthday in Wasilla Alaska, circa 1974.  My loot included a a topsy turvy doll that my grandma Ruth made for me and a Kodak Instamatic X15 camera

8.  In the last six years I've eaten more fresh fruit and vegetables than the rest of my years combined. I've also supped on snails, goats, sheep, tentacles, brains, and faces. Most everything I eat is soaked in olive oil. I haven't been sick once in the six years that I've lived in Greece.
My husband Giannis cooking snails in our kitchen in Lesvos Greece. 

9.  I'm constantly trying to find a way to shorten the distance between Greece and Alaska.

I wish that I could find a wormhole...

10.  Bob Dylan, Cat Stevens, and Seals and Crofts were my idols during my formative years. Some of my favorite lines from them, respectively, are "I've got a headful of ideas that are driving me insane," "I listen to the wind, to the wind of my soul, where I'll end up well I think only God really knows" and "Go east of your dream and farm, let peace and silence spin your yarn, with ease be off and wander in yon wilderness of cloves."

Me during my Dylan phase in the early 1980s, in front of our house on Wasilla Lake.
 11.  I believe in God, angels, daemons, nymphs, fairies, and sprites.
Someone is helping me find these things!

12.  The last thing I expected to see when I walked out of the bathroom this morning was a swarthy gypsy woman sitting cross-legged on my kitchen floor.

I was too shy to photograph the gypsy (Roma) woman, so here's me in our olive grove on Mount Strovolo.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

November Creations

Some buns that have come out of the oven this week...

Back to School

In an earlier post I wrote about finding an old bottle/can dump at the base of a hill beside the sea.  Scattered about were interesting things that looked like they had been tossed there at least a couple of generations ago.  I rescued a crackly old piece of brown vinyl that was probably once a school bag.  The children scampering across the bag reminded me of characters I had seen in vintage Greek schoolbooks called alfavitaria, for learning ABCs (or ΑΒΓs, in this case).  

There is a charming little girl with a lunchbox and braids, a little boy carrying a palette and paintbrush, and a happy frolicking dog.  Their tracks lead back to a little shop upon which can still be faintly made out the word Artopoleion (that's Greek for bakery).  My husband and I think the bag is probably from the 1960s.   

It was all curled up and very fragile, and in a couple of pieces.  I softened them with the heat of a blow-dryer (from about the same era!) and was able to get them flattened without breaking them.  I mounted them onto an old driftwood board, painted blue long ago. The pieces fit perfectly, an imprinted line on the vinyl even matching up with a similar one on the board.  Finally, I gave the vinyl and the little steel buckles a coat of Renaissance Wax so that they don't deteriorate any further. 

I doubt anyone would appreciate this piece as much as I do, so I think I will hang it in my studio to remind me of our outing by the sea. 

Blue Heart Earrings

I really enjoy playing with wire and the evenings usually find me wrapping rocks and shells at our little living room/dining room table.  This time I bent some little shapes and soldered them closed.  They needed something more, and I happened to have one small package of cobalt blue polymer clay that I splurged on last winter.  It was just the right color to fill in my slightly wonky copper hearts.  

Raffia Snail

I find empty snail shells often when I'm rambling or working in the woods.  I've also witnessed snail lovefests after the autumn rains, when the little beauties emerge from their subterranean hideaways for mating, usually in large clusters, on the surface of the damp earth.  They are prime prey for villagers who fan out through the olive groves as soon as the rain lets up, picking them up by the sackful.  They feed them on flour for a few days, rinse them of their ubiquitous slime (great for the skin, by the way) and cook and serve them in many delicious ways.  We like them with spaghetti and home-made sauce.

This little snail didn't suffer that fate, but stayed in the woods to be bleached by the summer sun.  I fell in love with its delicate colors and pattern so I wrapped it in a net of raffia.  I really like how the natural fiber circlet sets off the shell's spiral.


Learning to Weave

I love baskets, so close to the earth and to the hand.  My husband and I have a lot of really beautiful old baskets woven from local twigs and reeds.  One of the most charming products of our island, these hand-woven baskets were used in our annual village olive harvests. They were made long ago by a local master using wild-harvested split reeds and a shrub called "ligaria" whose root word means supple in Greek. In Latin the reed is called arundo donax and the shrub is called vitex agnus-castus.

These baskets were toted through the olive groves by the village women who collected olives from the ground while singing, laughing and sharing the latest gossip. Just ahead of them, the men threshed the olives from the trees with long chestnut poles. When my husband Giannis was a youngster, he gathered olives with the women alongside his mother. He and I still use baskets like these for harvesting windfallen olives in our mountain olive grove.

We decided that we better try our hand at this ancient craft because it is so intriguing and we have all the materials we need right here.  So yesterday morning we hopped on our Kawasaki and headed for a seaside estuary where rushes grow.  

We brought home a bundle just to try them out (these particular plants were traditionally used to make baskets for straining cheese).  For bigger baskets, we'll take another trip just outside the village to collect ligaria and giant reeds.

Here is the result of Giannis' first try at basket weaving, with its uprights still unresolved.  I'm very proud of him!  I just love the color of these rushes and I hope it doesn't fade away.

Where the Forest Meets the Sea

Ideas often come to me in the morning before I completely wake up.  When I am still in a half-dreaming state, I start thinking about art and jewelry and all of the things I have collected.  They float around in my unconscious and then flash in my mind as completed pieces, which I never would have thought of in a waking state. This little olive tree came to me that way a few days ago. 

Its trunk is a gnarly piece of olive wood that has been sculpted by the sea.  On top of that I mounted a sea sponge that I collected from a beach (the one where we got the rushes). I found a craggy seastone with a tiny hole in it that matched up nicely with a hole in the base of the trunk.  I pegged them together and planted the little bonsai tree in a pinched pottery dish filled with beachcombed pumice pebbles.  The dish was made of clay that I dug at an estuary by the sea and fired in a wood-burning kiln, which we built on a mountainside a few years back.

This piece reminds me of olive trees tenaciously growing on the rocky seashores in the most seemingly uninhabitable places.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Little Sea

Μιά Θάλασσα Μικρή (A Little Sea), a very tender song by the beloved Greek composer and performer Dionysis Savvopoulos.

A little sea
a little sea

is my summer,
my love, my pain

A little sea
in your two eyes shines
every morning

A little sea 

in the tear, the song
in your every kiss
a little sea

A little sea
a little sea
and in the corner my jug
for a summer

it was you 

I sang you
like the strings of the wind
in your black hair

I followed you
like the tall grass,
like the wind
I sang you

A little sea,
a little sea

sadly faired you well
it waits for you
A little sea

 (Translated from the Greek by me)

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A Song for a Seashell

I just love this song, it inspires me.  Ween is in a category all its own.  (I learned about them from my kids who have great taste in music.)


Yesterday Giannis took me for a morning outing around a hill known as Vatsina (pronounced Vacheena).  It looms above Skala Loutron, our sister village, a harbor town that was settled by refugees from Asia Minor in the early 20th century. On its crest is the tiny chapel of Panagia Apsili (Madonna on High).  If you want you can climb the 100+ stairs to visit the church and enjoy the awesome panoramic view from her heights. Our quest was to circle around and make our way to the southern slopes where it is said that there is an ancient quarry and stone walls dating to the pre-Christian epoch. 

We parked our vintage Yamaha Townmate by the shipyard near the center of  the village and followed a little trail that winds between old workshops and olive groves, through beds of giant reeds, and emerges quickly at water's edge.  There, in front of the shipyard, is a floating iron dock and the vestigal remains of ships and boats, like this one who is still managing to keep somewhat afloat.

Natural springs of sweet water flow out from beneath the limestone mountain, providing a fertile environment for little creatures.  The rocky shoals are stained vibrant green and purple by the rich waters of the Gulf of Geras, one of two huge bays that stretch far inland, cutting the island into a wonderful convoluted shape.  Our bay is almost enclosed and its warm Aegean currents nourish an incredible variety of sea life.  It also provides us with endless wild shores to roam.  



Giannis decided to test the waters for fish, giving me time to explore, gather and photograph.  Below you can see the road that runs beside the harbor of Skala Loutron, and our village, Loutra, in the distance.

I found plenty of treasures, as I do everywhere we wander. Tiny green sea urchin shells were tucked into the drift, blown ashore by the wind and waves.  Giannis pointed out a tonna galea (giant sea snail) tossing in the waves, which I was just able to reach with a long stick. It was empty but a little slimy, so it's going into the compost pile to be cleaned by microorganisms.  Just down the way we saw a live one, and I found one more, an empty shell as big as my outstretched hand. That one also came home with me. 

As we maneuvered the rocky cliffs that encircle the base of the mountain, we came across openings that revealed small meadows and steep walls of limestone rock, crowned by sinuous olive trees.  These weren't the ancient quarries I had hoped to find, but were the remains of limestone quarries that were active until the mid-1900s.

Nearly hidden in the thick brush beneath them were deep round caves of drystacked stone, the remnants of lime kilns.  Giannis' father and many other villagers worked very hard to turn the local limestone mountains into quicklime for building and plastering.  They cut and carried great bundles of thorny oak down the mountainsides to fire the kilns. We run across old lime kilns nearly everywhere we roam, but these were the biggest I have seen.  There were four of them, mostly in beautiful condition, stone arches and all. 

Rounding the western side of Βατσίνα, we came across a little boat that had been blown ashore, made of flimsy fiberglass and pink styrofoam.  It didn't look very seaworthy but made for a lovely photograph.  

We continued around to the southern side of Βατσίνα where we headed inland.  There we found a crumbling farmhouse at the foot of the hill, a few of its plastered stone walls were still standing. 

We didn't climb to the top of the mountain (yet) to find the ancient quarry, but we did discover a section of an ancient marble column in the collapsed porch of the old farmhouse.  It made a convenient plinth to hold up a bearing post and quite likely was a remnant of worked marble from the old quarry that tumbled down or got broken in transit and left behind.

Just as we reached the road, I discovered a trash dump amidst the rubble at the base of the hill.  It contained parts of old clay water jars, rusty cans, broken bottles, old shoes, and other wonderful little remnants from the village that lay just beyond.  My favorite find was a little piece of printed vinyl from a schoolchild's satchel. I rescued it, of course.

Loaded down with goodies, we decided to call it an adventure and head back home for lunch and a siesta.  Next time we'll take the stairs to the chapel and roam around the top of the hill to see if we can find those ancient sites.  In any case, I get just as excited by slightly less ancient ones.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

A Gift from the Sea

A trip to the seashore will always empty my mind of its shadows.  I feel elated just preparing to go, and if something interferes, it pains me greatly and illogically.  Fortunately, there are seastrands in every direction, a mile or two away.  The destination and frequency of my outings are determined by our olive harvesting schedule, the weather, and whether there is a hill close-by on which to park (the starter on our vintage Renault hasn't worked in months). I prefer the beaches in winter as there is not another soul to be found there.  Also the temperatures then are usually ideal for an Alaskan. 

Giannis gathering firewood in the gulf of Geras near Kountouroudia

Wherever I go, the sea has retracted the bounty it previously spread and has churned up and spewed out a whole new assortment for my perusal.   I stroll systematically, trying to cover as much ground as possible and to bring everything into my range of focus  I open my eyes and open them again, not wanting to miss a softened nugget of bright beach glass or maybe a heart-shaped stone.  With each pass I slow down and stoop and look more intensely. Things that weren't visible the first time around suddenly leap into existence: a keyhole limpet, a whole carpet of tiny luminous monodonta sea snails, a gnarly driftroot with anthropomorphic features.  I bend to look at one thing and out of the corner of my eye something even more awesome appears.

A tiny aqua-blue bottle bottom

Agios Ermogenis in January

Everywhere I go there are sea-softened pottery shards that ask to be flipped over lest there is a glazed patch, some throwers marks, or very rarely, an etched design underneath. Once on a lonely beach I found a small terra cotta piece on which some ancient potter had drawn geometric stairsteps and meanders.  It was submerged for eons and then resurrected at my feet.  Another time I flipped a creamy curved shard and gasped to see a blue anchor on the bottom side. ( I researched the design and learned that the little shard contained an entire story which I'll tell later).  My highlight thus far was when my husband Giannis smilingly handed me the side of a pale yellow-glazed bowl upon which was incised the head of a Byzantine peacock  He asked "Is this what you were looking for?"  I nearly swooned.

Blue anchor from the Royal British Navy circa WWI

A Byzantine peacock and something yet more ancient

Sometimes the courses of events are truly awesome. Last winter I was enticed to the shore at Xaramida after a stormy week.  It is wide open to the Aegean and rarely produces much more than wonderful rounded rocks and driftwood.  On this day, however, I  found myself zigzagging across the mile-long beach from one beautiful seashell to another, as if something was pulling me to them. My favorite find that day was a barnacle-covered clay jar handle, the remainder of a storage vessel.  Exactly one year later, Giannis and I went there just before dusk in search of firewood and/or dimensional lumber.  I left the car running (it's flat there) and didn't take but five steps when I saw another barnacley handle in about the same place that I found the one the year before.  When I brought it home and put them together, I realized they are so much alike that they probably came from the same pot.

Twin pot handles found a year apart

I have to restrain myself from bringing the whole beach home because my upstairs studio/storage room is starting to burst. Giannis says it's going to come crashing down on us one day.  But there are so many creative possibilities in every shell or humble stone, and I know that an idea will come to me in my dreams that incorporates them in ways I could not foresee.  However, I try to keep in mind the following:

 "The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach - waiting for a gift from the sea." ~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh

And always, I thank the sea for her gifts, just in case she might be listening. 

Orpheus the Wanderer, 2012
Driftwood, pumice, haliotis tuberculotis, a sea urchin and its stoma,
barnacles, monodonta shells, arca noae shell, and sea silk

Some of my favorite seathings

The gifts of a one-hour stroll