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

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Color Purple

We spend all winter outdoors when the weather permits, harvesting olives on a steep mountainside. Once the rains start to fall in November, a transformation begins and the summer-baked earth comes to life.  We rake and hoe and clear beneath our 700 olive trees so we can find every plump purple olive when it falls. It's something like an intense Easter egg hunt.  Each olive tree has its own stone terrace, along which we construct earthberms to hold in as much rainwater as we can.  Despite our raking,  and as the winter progresses, the terraces continuously produce new growth as though we have spread seeds and watered them.  No matter how many times we clear them to catch the windfallen olives, by March the terraces are knee deep in greens, mostly edible. Come April it is impossible to find the olives beneath the dense carpet of growth that covers the mountainside, so the remaining olives stay and become fertilizer for the trees.

Along with the greens appear an  impressive and ever-changing array of wildflowers.  Tiny yellow radikia  (related to dandelions) are the first to emerge after the first drops of rain, like they had been waiting just beneath the surface to poke their heads up for a drink.  In the sheep pasture above our olive grove, fragrant saffron crocuses spring up in the most unlikely hard-trodden rocky places. They are followed by drifts of anemones (windflowers) in soft shades ranging from white to blue to pink to purple.  Among those are great patches of brilliant white daisies.

Fluffy wild daffodils, planted by Giannis' father long ago, glow in the sunlight, their heady scent meandering along the drystone walls. Just as the anemones are becoming faded and tattered, up pop clusters of tiny grape hyacinths, so purple they are almost black.  In the seasonal river gullies are pasxalia (Easter flowers), globular starry clusters scented like heaven.  Almost everywhere stand tall white asphodels, the legendary flowers of the dead in the ancient Greek underworld.  These pale beauties formed the garland crowning Hade's bride, Persephone.

Every day we hike down through a high mountain meadow to get to the edge of our property.  Last week, on our evening walk back to the car, we were surprised to see the whole clearing covered with delicate purple irises. We hadn't seen even one on the way down in the morning.  I guess they prefer the evening sun.  And I musn't forget to mention the snowtufted blossoms adorning wild pear trees that stagger down the mountain like thorny lichen-covered trolls. I always say hello and pat my favorite as I pass it, anticipating it coming into full bloom so I can finally sit down and paint it, with the sea in the distant background.  But that is another story.

Wild Greek Saffron in November
The saffron likes to grow where the sheep have trodden
Little Nora amidst yellow radikia buttons
Anemos (Άνεμος) is Greek for wind;  this is an anemone (windflower)
Another anemone
Daffodils (I think)  planted by Giannis' father Giorgos
A few of our olive trees on the east side of the mountain
A wild pear overlooking Kolpos Geras, an inlet of the Aegean Sea
An unopened asphodel in the mountain meadow
Edible tamus communis in the river gulley (well, just don't eat alot of it)
Purple-black grape hyacinths

Petimezi and my favorite pear tree
A harvest of fresh wild greens to be made into savory pie
A sprinkling of daisies (in Greek they're called Margarites)

Pasxalia in the river gulley

Tiny irises (or they may be orchids) gracing the sheep pasture

A treeload of dark purple olives ready to be pressed into golden olive oil

The Most Beautiful Sea

To celebrate my maiden voyage into the blogosphere, I'll share a song that was instrumental (pun intended) in convincing me to leave everything behind for life on a Greek island.

The most beautiful sea is the one
we haven't sailed yet
The most beautiful child hasn't grown yet

The most beautiful days
The most beautiful days of ours, we haven't lived them yet
We haven't lived them yet

And what's more beautiful,
And what's more beautiful I would like to tell you
I haven't told you yet, I haven't told you yet...*

En güzel deniz:
henüz gidilmemiş olanıdır,
En güzel çocuk:
henüz büyümedi.
En güzel günlerimiz:
henüz yaşamadiklarımız,
Ve sana söylemek istedigim en güzel söz:
henüz söylememiş olduğum sözdür...

These exceptionally lovely lines were written by the Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet in 1945.  Several decades later they were translated into Greek by the poet Giannis Ritsos and made into a song by the Greek composer Manos Loizos.

The Most Beautiful Sea is from Loizos' album of songs inspired by the poetry of Hikmet entitled "Grammata stin Agapimeni" (Letters to the Beloved). I hope you enjoy it!

*my translation from the Greek version

Η πιο όμορφη θάλασσα είναι αυτή
που δεν την αρμενίσαμε ακόμα.
Το πιο όμορφο παιδί δε μεγάλωσε ακόμα.

Τις πιο όμορφες μέρες,
τις πιο όμορφες μέρες μας, δεν τις ζήσαμε ακόμα.
Δεν τις ζήσαμε ακόμα.

Κι ό, τι πιο όμορφο,
Κι ό, τι πιο όμορφο θα 'θελα να σου πω,
Δε στο 'πα ακόμα, δε στο 'πα ακόμα.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Joining of Unrelated Things

My small attic studio tends to get very chaotic.  That works for me because when I walk through, something will catch my eye, and something else too, and something else again.

This fat little robins-egg-blue shank button was saved by my husband's aunt Kleopatra who passed it on to me.  The broken gourd, with its long stem, washed up on a tiny seastrand and I put it in my pocket.  The driftwood nubbin seemed too beautiful to pass up as well.

A quick glance around the chaos of my "atelier" brought these three pieces to my attention.  They leaped into synergy in my mind's eye so I joined them together to make a tiny sculpture that speaks of the sea.  To me they seem like they were made for one another:

Seapod:  Dried gourd, driftwood, and vintage button

  Press here to see this item my Etsy shop