It seems that every day there’s at least one festival on the island–both with ancient, pagan roots and Orthodox Christian significance. Two days ago was the fire festival, which is both ancient and Christian. After dark, villagers build a bonfire for people to jump over. There’s also music, poetry, and dancing. The heart of the festival revolves around young men and women finding their future husband or wife. In addition to the fire, there’s a bowl of water covered with red cloth. Inside the water, girls place various everyday objects. Over the course of the evening, objects are pulled out and the name of the girl is announced. Then the emcee reads a poem written by the girl; the poems were usually short, rhyming, slightly dirty, and funny. I sat next to an older woman who told me some of the other rituals surrounding this festival. She spoke in the local dialect, so I didn’t catch all of it, but they were all versions of how a girl will figure out who her husband should be. The Christian side of the festival celebrates St. John the Forerunner. The people of Molyvos all know each other and there’s a lot of laughter and teasing as kids jump over the bonfire and the poems are read.
I’m posting from Molyvos–a medieval hill town in the north of the island. The houses are made of stone, leading up to a castle on the top of the hill. There’s a small harbor and a unique agora–it’s on a cobblestone street wide enough for a small car and is covered by wisteria vines–some over a hundred years old. The people here are friendly, welcoming, and helpful, as they are everywhere I’ve been in Greece (including big city Athens).
Aside from the capitol of the island, Mytiline, it’s the most cosmopolitan and cultured of the Lesvian towns.
This morning I made a start on an oil painting of a large earthenware jug in a field (it looks like an archaeological dig was started in the field), a large pine tree, houses, the sea, and mountains in the distance. Three children, Fotine (which means ‘light’ in Greek), Anita, and Raphael (named after a saint of the island) who live across the street from the field came to watch. After watching for a while, one of the girl shyly asked me how much my paintings cost, for she and her sister would like to buy one each. Very sweet.
Tomorrow, back to the same spot to continue working on the painting.
I’ve heard about the famous Meltemi wind, an annual wind that blows from the north–known in ancient times as the Etesian winds, but this is the first time I’ve experienced it. It’s a wonderful, cooling wind, but this year, it’s been blowing like crazy for the last five days–it must be blowing at least 25 nauts, gusting to 30 or more. There are several sailing yachts stranded in Plomari harbor, for it’s too dangerous to be at sea. The fisherman are not going out either. The wind has brought the temperature down and drives away the mosquitos, and since we’re in the south, the beaches are calm, so most people are happy about it!
Today, I finally found some odorless mineral spirits! I had looked in several stores in Athens and found only small bottles that would have lasted me just a few days and they were expensive. I tried to explain to one of the shop owners what I was looking for and he sold me a yellowish fluid in an unmarked bottle that smelled like fish. I was pretty desperate at that point, so I bought it, but it hasn’t been any good.
While swimming this afternoon, a Greek man and I started chatting and I discovered that he’s an artist. It’s a hobby for him, but he’s had some exhibits. I asked him if he knew of any art stores in the capital of the island, Mytiline, and told him what I’m looking for. He said he’s bought some OMS in Plomari, a hill town on the water, very close to where I’m staying. He told me what to ask for in Greek–nefti–and I was very happy to find it. It was sold in a one liter bottle for less than three euros.
This is Antonios mugging with two dogfish from his morning catch. Very nice guy. He had carried my very heavy suitcases down some narrow stone steps to the room I rented when I first arrived on Lesvos. Once again, on this morning, he came to my rescue by lending me the small wooden stool he sits on when steering his boat. By coincidence, I had chosen his caique to paint in watercolor and needed something to sit on. He finished his work before I finished mine, so he asked me to leave the stool next to a piling when I was done. Everyone I’ve encountered here shows that kind of trust. This is a place where people still leave their houses unlocked.
His caique is typical of the wooden sailing boats on the island. I’ll be painting them from time to time. In the next photo, you’ll see a cat leaving the boat with his catch in his mouth. A brood of cats had been clamoring for Antonios to throw them some fish, but this one couldn’t wait and jumped on board to help himself. Antonios, kind man that he is, didn’t mind a bit. A crowd of ducks had also gathered around the dock. Are they the new cats of Plomari?
My first week in Greece went by quickly. I’m staying with the Cosmopoulos family in Melissia, north of the center and they’ve been very sweet and hospitable, showing me great hospitality. Mostly running around buying art supplies that I couldn’t bring on the plane, buying a cell phone, and making other preparations, but I was able to visit the Parthenon museum and the walk around the Theseum. So inspiring!
Many people have asked me how I find the Greek people. Well, I can make only a few superficial, quick observations after one week. I see differences from my last trip–people are definitely much more depressed and their kefi is not as before. But, in many ways, life goes on as before. People look to find their way–both university students and school kids are in their exam period. Some people can’t get away from Athens for vacation, but many are planning their exodus to their village homes.
My path led me to two different people who offered to exhibit my work at the end of summer. One of the places is in an 19th century house in the Monastiraki district, which is now hosting the Athens Fringe Festival, the same festival that started in Edinburgh.
Finally, tonight I’ll take a ship to Lesvos! It’s a nine hour trip through the night, across the Aegean towards the north. I hope I’ll see some dolphins!
What fun to buy all this paint! I can’t wait to use it in Greece. My new box of Crayolas–and then some :).
Less than 48 hours until my departure this Sunday night and still lots to do… packing for the trip and packing up my apartment to clear it out for my subletters. The short time cuts two ways…