Sunday, 31 July 2011

Meet me at o'clock

Yesterday a tough little kid came up to me with his brother and said "you - me - cat - tomorrow - o'clock." I understood this to mean" Please, if you don't mind very much, could you paint me a cat on a stone and I will come tomorrow to collect it."  I immediately set to task because he looked quite no-nonsense about it - in fact I toiled until very late into the night with only my adopted cat ( another story) and swarms of mosquitoes for company. Fortunately, I was right because today at o'clock (the exact same time as yesterday) the boy was back and asked for his stone. He was very happy - and I was relieved. Even the little Greeks have attitude - I like it!
Finished Work
Happy Greek

Actually this whole stone painting lark is beginning to take on a life of its own. Every day I am visited by an increasing number of Greeks (old and young) eager to see what the latest creation will be. Some of them have explained that it is now part of their daily ritual to inspect my stones!   
Argh the pressure!!
I have even started feeling bad when I have nothing new to show because I have been too busy working on commissioned pieces. Today I managed to finish a turtle and two cats in a hot air balloon though so that should keep the masses sated.

Last night I went and danced on the beach all on my own to one of my favourite pieces of music by Loreena McKennitt I then skimmed stones across the sea - who knows how far they went.

Friday, 29 July 2011

beach dog date and bush lurking

The other night beach dog (also known as Tutu) asked me if I would like to come to town with her. How could I say no? We were actually quite good for each other on the walk up the hill because neither of us is very good at keeping to the side of the road so we gently nudged each other every time one of us gravitated to the centre in defiance of all traffic ( car or donkey.) Anyway when we got to town  the black poodle welcomed us into the streets and then vroom my beach dog date was gone. I didn't find her for many hours and when I did she had her nose very firmly planted up the backside of shaggy black mutt she had met in the square. I didn't see her again that night. Happily though I went to one of my favourite restaurant's on the beach last night and found beach dog had safely returned.


Other than keeping up with beach dog I have been enjoying some quiet days down by the beach swimming and painting stones. Yesterday I got commissioned by a very determined three year old to paint a picture of a cat for her. Both three year old and parents were very happy with the result which meant peace for everyone at least for half an hour. 

The only embarrassing point I can think of so far was when I got caught in the bushes behind Cafe Ferogia trying to get wi-fi on my telephone while a private party was going on. I hadn't realised the blue light of my phone was dancing like a firefly in the dark and I felt mortified when Banana Smoothie Boyfriend (BSB) came out to see who was lurking in the bushes. He laughed but I was embarrassed. Then later the same night I locked myself out of my room ( while the party was still going) which was even worse because I really did not want to interrupt the party again. Fortunately Banana Smoothie Girlfriend (BSG) saw me  lurking in the shadows (again!!) and came to my rescue. The next morning BSB and BSG gave me a lovely big cappuccino and piece of cake and told me not to worry at all. For some reason their kindness made me cry into my coffee. (Fortunately they were stealth tears and only the coffee knew.) I think I felt frustrated with myself because locking myself out etc had made me feel like a child and I don't want to feel like a child - i want to feel like a fearless stone painting writer woman with excellent knowledge of English grammar.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

welcome back smoothie

D left yesterday and I spent most of the day wandering the streets of Athens taking in the sights and smells. There are a lot of people suffering here. Ragged men with wild beards, shopkeepers counting every euro, women begging with babies in their arms. My hotel - the Hotel Acropolis House (which by the way was one of the friendliest I have ever stayed in) told me how low the numbers were. How they wanted me to tell people that Athens is safe: that tourists are welcome. Athens is safe but it is in crisis. I hope this crazy, beautiful city finds its way out. I mean only in Athens could you find a quaint little church crouching under a high rise building.
Now I have returned to Skyros.  I realised that I wasn't looking for an island-hopping booze fest but for a place that brought me tranquil seas, tasty cheese and a plethora of cats and dogs. Skyros ticks all these boxes so I took a flight out of Athens this morning. (I am almost a commuter now.) I even had a Mallory Towers moment in the taxi as it came around the bend and the white icing cake layers of Skyros town first came into view. I could have been Darrell - as head girl of course.  I had a beautiful welcome back too and when I came back from a swim I found a banana smoothie sitting under my hat waiting for me.

Friday, 22 July 2011


So I have come to Athens for a few days with D as he has been on holidays in Greece too and we decided to meet up and conquer the Acropolis together.
Actually we started by watching the changing of the guards at the tomb of the unknown soldier in Syntagma square ( scene of recent protests). Don't really know how to describe the guards' ceremony but they appeared to move in the manner of pom-pom-wearing-sloths-doing-a-course-of-knee-extending dressage.
Honestly if these guards ever went to war and confronted enemy soldiers they would only have to do this very special dance and the enemy would die of laughter. Of course it is a very solemn ceremony so I did not dare laugh at the time and I was very excited to have my photo next to one of the stars once the show ended.  

The following day D and I made out way to the Acropolis via the New Acropolis Museum which was a pleasing oasis of air-conditioning and artifacts. On the top floor is the Parthenon's Doric frieze with the parts currently in the British museum (courtesy of Lord Elgin) done in white caster. Their absence was referred to a wound and a cultural hole so no love lost there.
Then it was on to the Acropolis which was a very hot and tiring affair for laydees who have spent their last two weeks going for short paddles in the sea and drinking banana smoothies. It was exciting to see the Parthenon though. One of those sights that you know so well from books and documentaries and is always a joy to see in the flesh. The view across Athens out to the sea was spectacular too and I did much 'oohing' and 'ahhing' to show my appreciation.
 The heat was quite oppressive though so I kept my Parthenon joy to a minimum so I could descend back down in search of cool bar.

I also met a rather handsome man in one of the streets of Athens too and we shared a moment.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Banana smoothies and bruised testicles

I have moved down from Skyros town to the beach and have a lovely little room with a balcony where I can paint stones and watch the sea. The room belongs to the owner of Cafe Ferogia, Aleko, whom I prefer to refer to as my  banana-smoothie boyfriend. We will never be any more intimate than this but when he makes me a smoothie and I drink it  - it is true bliss. Actually, I have a banana-smoothie girlfriend too. Her name is Vicki and she is from Russia.  Yesterday her sixteen year old son got hit in the testicles with a football and after a short course of death he wincingly got up and continued to play despite obvious serious impediment. I complimented Vicki on her most courageous son. 
banana smoothie bf
banana smoothie gf
I like being down by the sea. I have never been a beach gal but the other morning I even went kayaking voluntarily across the bay. And last night I was taken for a walk by a restaurant dog. Sea-life suits me and I have even found myself triple-booked for dinner on two occasions (if you count the dog who took me for a walk.) It's ridiculous I have a healthier social life here in Skyros after three weeks than I do in Basel after three years.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Getting stoned

 Now my computer has gone I have decided to start painting beach pebbles so I have something creative to do. I need to be creative otherwise I use my imagination for evil instead of good (which generally involves copious amounts of self-torture and the occasional sly hand in a game of cards!) I also feel that painting stones is the right medium for me right now because, if  I am honest, my heart feels like a stone right now. My grieving unfortunately is not yet done. I hope that maybe if  I can decorate these beach stones then I might also learn how to decorate my own heart as well. Perhaps dress up her scars in some bright new paints and happy sketches. It's not that I expect to get rid of my scars but if I do this - if I decorate my heart - then maybe the wounds won't be so prominent. They won't be the thing that first catches my eye.

On a side note I have discovered that there is a special festival that happens on Skyros that none of the guide books seemed to have mentioned. Basically, it involves every single mosquito on the entire island indulging in a two day feast-of-Joanna where they feed themselves silly until they are as fat as birds. Can't say I am a big fan of this festival but then I imagine the mosquitoes are not going to be that keen on the dance-of-the-fly spray which is due to commence very soon.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

New friend

Today a tiger washed up at my feet. 
I searched for his owner but I suspect he has been on quite an epic journey and his owner may never be found.
I have told him he can stay with me as long as he keeps his teeth to himself.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Skyros ends

Actually perhaps I should qualify the above heading for any cartographers out there. Skyros has not actually ended - it should still appear on Google Maps but maybe without the beautiful bright light that has shone out of the town for the past ten days.
The last day was wonderful though. Our Director (regard man in red nose)  gently reminded us to enjoy the present moment instead of dwelling on loss and I think that helped us persevere through the day - knowing that goodbye was inevitable.
Our last writing session took place at the museum which perches above the village. Such a slog but worth it in the end. Each of us wrote a piece about an artifact from the museum and shared it with the group. I feel that this is the right moment at which to acknowledge our supportive, talented and wonderfully human tutor Sam who guided us so gently over the past ten days.
I know he was kind with us - that perhaps in another writing environment he would have been more critical -but he understood why we were there and he taught us such essential techniques for beautiful writing that I think he hit the note perfectly.

I feel I should just share the last night we had together which first involved writing 'appreciations' on each others backs (Obviously this was not the place for "your face looks best from space" type comments!) As you can see everyone got well into this and wore their appreciations like superman capes upon their backs.
 After dinner we had a soiree which was quite hilarious. Wonderful original stories were read, poetry performed, songs sung and I did something I never knew I could do. Perform without fear. Normally I wouldn't want to share the results but in the spirit of Skyros I shall share my obvious talent for Schlag music with the world. Watch and weep...or should that be wince!!

Saturday, 9 July 2011


I have started doing something called co-listening with another participant on the course. Actually we call it co-whining but the principle remains the same. Basically you take turns at speaking to your partner about whatever is on your mind for ten minutes. During this time the person listening does not speak, comment or interact. They just listen.  At the end of the ten minutes they reflect back what the person has said but at no time offer advice, give judgment, approval etc. It is an amazing thing to do especially if you do it each day with the same partner.  It has made me realise how rarely we really listen to each other and how often we seek answers in others that are in ourselves the whole time.
On a side note – the snout festival continues.  I may need to fill up one of my lungs soon or eat less. (I think the lung option sounds easier.)

Friday, 8 July 2011

laugh, eat, beach.....oh and write

I’m beginning to find my swing now. That’s not to say there aren’t times when I don’t feel despair but there are times here when I laugh and laugh and laugh. We had a game of Mafia last night under the stars. Lots of gruesome deaths -  I can't remember many of  them now - but I know that A (one of the staff on the island) was stuffed to death with scones. He actually bakes the most beautiful scones so I think that could have been a very lovely death. It was a wonderful night though where conversation and wine flowed with joyous abandon.
villagers solving a murder
evidence of wine-flowing

Evidence of snouting
Apart from laughing I seem to be eating for the entire island. I think I have eaten more here than I have for the past six months. Feta cheese, filo pastries; bread; cucumbers; lentil soup; black-eyed beans; lokum; peaches; apples; potatoes; spinach – how’s that for some concrete nouns! 
Vasso- snouting culprit - such a great cook
Writing class continues to challenge me – but in a good way.  Have even written new descriptions about one of my characters – Philomena Philpott – that I hadn’t really thought before.
I spend quite a bit of time on the beach too!!

It's quite rare in life to have a gang of friends you can just spend the afternoon with swimming, chatting and discussing important topics such as where to have dinner.  I'm not really a lie about by the sea kinda girl but the people here make it so much more interesting - as does a glass of rosè wine and chocolate ice-cream. (There I go with the food again.)
"Where shall we eat?"

mm eating!
I have decided to stay on in Skyros after this course ends. I had planned to go island-hopping around Greece but I think there are probably enough places for me to hop between just on Skyros itself: beach – ice-cream-bar-beach-bed for example. I also feel safe here physically and emotionally and it’s good to feel safe for a change.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

topographical changes

I have discovered (because I am such an amazing explorer in that way) that there is wi-fi down by the sea so today I am writing from my sun-lounge down by the bay. I have a delightfully scarred upper leg now too after spending the other night contorting myself through a tiny bathroom window to help out K (a participant on the course) whose key was locked in her room. There was a moment when I had one knee above my head and the other twisted against the window sill and I thought that I might actually have to stay like this for the rest of the holiday. They could have brought the next group that came to island down to see me and described it as some sort of really advanced yoga move so as not to alarm them.


Did an epic walk two days ago from Atsitsa Bay to the Skyros Centre. I spent most of it looking at my feet because it was so hot but I did manage to tick the first thing off my to-do list - finally! 
I believe the entire topography of the island may have changed as a result.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

waiting for movement

This is the view I am looking across to right now. The sea is actually a lot closer than it looks as there is a bay which curves round the side of the hill and is quite easy to walk to. I was told if I swam out immediately in front I would reach Troy in Turkey. I have put it on my to-do list but my list is rather full right now with other tasks such as: 
1. Bowel evacuation (no luck since I got here) 
2. Washing my food-dribbled shirt from yesterday's lunch 
3. Trying to write something other than my blog before I leave here.  Each day my desire to write seems to be dwindling a little more. Not my desire to write in general – just here.  If I am honest I feel a little bit like the odd one out because everyone else seems to be gunning for bestsellers, mysteries, romances or some other melodrama. Somehow stories about walking dogs, mystic ex-lawyers and rogue elephants seem to belong in another place. This is not to say that everyone is not welcoming or enthusiastic but today I was told that my writing was very lyrical and rhythmic (and it sounded as if they felt that this was something I should change.) Of course I won’t change this –this is how I write but it's hard not to take everything to heart – its hard to learn how to sift through what you find constructive and what you don’t.

But I do love it here. I love the sounds and smells. I love the food and the wonderful communal area we meet for lunch and dinner. I love that in the morning I wake up to do yoga on the terrace outside my room and I can hear the roosters crowing and old Greek men shouting as they begin their day.

Last night we went to the local museum which hangs on a cliff on the top of the village. We were given a sample of wine and were asked to guess what it was made from. I guessed it was rose wine which I hope was because of my love of rose petals and not some sort of alcoholic intuition. They then asked how it was made and I gave them a blow-by-blow account of how they would make it ( I modelled it on limoncello.) It turned out I was right which made the local creator look almost a little miffed. Like I had outed his most precious secret and revealed it to be rarver simple. Anyway I added by way of appeasement what a difficult task it was to perfect the rose wine the way he clearly had.  (Obviously I am a graduate of smarm school.)

Sunday, 3 July 2011

not a baked bean in sight

 Last night we all went out fo a meal together on top of a roof terrace overlooking Skyros.  The food was gorgeous – especially the salads and the grilled courgette. Oh and also the rosè wine which everyone drank in joyous amounts (although we all felt a little less joyous this morning over breakfast.) I have met a woman here that I feel like I have known her for a long time. She actually lived in Florence in 1966 during the flood and we both share a passion for all of her streets. It was enjoyable to talk with unbridled glee about all the things we adore. I have also met a very sweet gingery dog who trots over for adoration every time I pass. The writing part of the course is interesting. I tend to learn a couple of new concrete things each day which I find very helpful. The creating-on-the-spot aspect though is quite daunting but I know everybody else  feels the same way. Actually I don’t find this as daunting as the mime classes. Yesterday I went and I hated it. I felt completely devoid of any sort of creativity and I wanted to run screaming from the room. But then we were all given clown noses and I quite like my clown nose so I decided to stay at least until the end. I’m not sure if I will continue with this part of the course. This time might be better spent patting cats and sampling ouzo.

I continue to fall more deeply in love with the island. It really is such an idyllic world. My only experience of Greek islands before has been the more touristy islands of the Cyclades. This place is completely different. Everything is still actually written in Greek for one thing and there is not a single baked bean in sight. Daily life seems undisturbed by tourists of which - other than those at the Skyros Centre  - there do not seem to be very many. I also feel that the Skyros Centre works very hard to make sure its impact is both minimal and helpful.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Skyros begins

So yesterday I arrived in Skyros after one train ride, two flights and a vomit-inducing car ride up to Skyros Centre. And yes I actually did vomit.  My taxi driver literally hugged each corner of the winding road like a long lost relative – hurtling so enthusiastically from one bend to the next that in the end I had to get him to stop so I could feed the ants in the bushes. :-( Note:  I hate arriving on writing retreats with my head down the toilet  (as I am inclined to do –actually this is not true as this is the first time it has happened and probably can’t be classed as an inclination –yet!!)But I am pleased to say that after closer inspection my toilet seems to be fully functional and not on strike – like the rest of Greece.
At least the rest of the journey was  a little less uneventful although I was amused to encounter a lady at the Athens' Airport HelpDesk who said she only spoke English sometimes. I suppose I was lucky to catch her at one of those times. Oh and I was also followed through a security scanner by a black cat who was travelling on the plane with its master. It was very unconcerned with the whole thing and just sat in a plastic tray lapping up attention and cuddles.
The flight to Skyros was on a tiny plane – the second smallest plane I have ever been on. The smallest one was in Peru where I flew over the Nazca Lines. I remember clapping the pilot as we came in to land and he told me not to clap until we had actually landed. Anyway the plane was very cute and had a most glamorous flight attendant who flirted with the pilot and filed her nails throughout the whole journey. She was very lovely though and when I thanked her at the end she gave me a cuddle like an old friend. 
But enough on travel and more about Skyros. It is a very beautiful island – quite rugged and unspoilt. There are plenty of cats and quaint narrow streets with whitewashed houses and flowering jasmine trees. The local people are incredibly friendly and the whole town seems to come alive once the sun has gone to bed.
The Skyros Centre where I am based is also very nice. The staff are friends and very un-staff like. The man in charge, Julian, reminds me of Terence Stamp in Priscilla Queen of the Desert minus the wig and dress.  And I am very proud to report that last night at the dinner table when the conversation turned to poo –it was not at my instigation.

Now of course the real work begins – I might even have to write something soon – or even worse share!!