Dining out

We frequent our local fish shack all winter, too, when the interior is cosy and your clothes end up smelling of fried fish, and sometimes salt spray hits the windows. But now they’ve put their tables out, by the rocks.


Its name is Xypolitos, meaning ‘barefoot’.

Fishbones and wine. When darkness falls, they switch on the lights.

 

A blue evening. Around fifteen minutes away from where we live. Worth the drive?

Summer colors


I love this season, and can’t resist posting about it each year. The swallows have arrived, geckos are running up the walls. As everything is drying up, colors burst all around .

My agapanthus is out.

 

Oleander bushes are the best things to plant in Greece, since they don’t need water once they’ve had a good start in life. They can grow to be huge, and flower all summer long.

 

Bougainvillea – bright as flames.

 

Even roadside weeds are pretty.

 

And the figs are coming along nicely.

#ilovesummer

Experiments in eco printing


I tried eco printing some time ago, having seen some interesting posts on Instagram. Eco printing consists in creating marks on paper or cloth, using vegetable material. As you can imagine, depending on the type of paper or cloth, the results vary widely. Cotton will dye differently from silk, and watercolor paper differently from rice paper. Various plants and flowers also leave more or less color, in more or less distinct patterns. Apparently red cabbage makes bright blue marks, something I have yet to try.

 

 

It is necessary to use a mordant such as alum powder or rusty metal to help the color adhere to the material better. After that, the plants are placed upon the paper, tied in bundles, and either left in the sun for a day or more, boiled, or steamed. Some people place paper sheets flat between boards, others roll them up in a bundle tied with string. The whole thing is a lot of fun since you can never be sure of the result—only perhaps if you have done this for years? But even then, I saw on Instagram that people are always getting surprises. The idea is to experiment as far as your fancy takes you.

 

The first time I tried it, I soaked the paper in water with alum and used dead leaves, mostly maple and oak, since it was the autumn. The results were quite satisfying, and I painted moths and insects on top, and even a lizard.

This time I wanted to created material I could use for collage, in a series of paintings I’m planning about Greek nature. As some of you might know, I’m very into layers and textures at the moment, so I thought this would provide an extra dimension. I wanted to try rice paper, because of the transparency, so I used some of that, plus normal watercolor paper I had left over from last time and kadhi paper, which is made from cotton rag. At the last minute, I threw in some tissue paper too.

 

For the plant material I gathered a collection of fresh green leaves and flowers: bougainvillea, oleander, lavender, along with fig, olive and plane tree leaves. And some sprigs of rosemary.

As I wanted to get quite a subtle effect, I used vinegar and rusty metal as a mordant instead of alum. The results were full of surprises, as always.

Strangely, the bougainvillea flowers left almost no marks on the paper, despite their bright coloring. Generally colors were a lot less bright than on the paper which had been soaked in the alum solution, and marks a lot more distinct on watercolor paper than on the rice paper.

The rice paper sheets stuck to each other and tended to tear when I tried to separate them. Of course, I did so while they were still damp, so maybe I should have been more patient and let them dry first. The tissue paper came out like a wad of used Kleenex, and I only managed to salvage a few scraps.

 

As seen above, the results look rather a sorry lot. However, they will still do my job, since I will be tearing pieces off, glueing them to my paper and painting or drawing on top. So I have ended up with a large pile of very interesting material to experiment with, and can’t wait to get started!

I have not here included instructions for making eco prints, as these vary wildly and there are many to be found easily by googling. However, I will recommend two Instagram sites: Fallowflora and book.and.paper.arts have some great examples and are worth taking a look at.

If anyone has done or does this and has some tips or remarks for me, I would be very pleased to have them!

 

Some news

Summertime living makes things seem less grim, especially if one can get away for a day or two. For Greeks, though, life continues to be a struggle, with ever-rising taxation, constantly changing rules and laws, and a failing infrastructure. A quick glance at the papers reveals the following:

– The dramatic worsening of the Italian economic crisis has put a damper on the government’s hopes to stage a smooth exit from the bailout program in August. The political earthquake in Italy has caused shivers in the whole of Europe, given that its economy is the third largest in Europe, and nearly ten times larger than that of Greece.

 

Consolation

 

– In Lesvos, refugee arrivals from Turkey have not abated, resulting in the hotspot of Moria being inundated by 7.300 people (for 3.000 places). There have been clashes between migrants from Arab countries and Kurdish residents over religious differences, and hundreds of people have dispersed over the island, sleeping rough in parks and woods. Fearing for their safety, they are refusing to return to state-run camps. Plans have been made for the creation of more reception facilities, but the local authorities have reacted forcefully against these. It is true the islanders have borne more than their fair share of this burden, but nevertheless  immediate solutions must be found.

 

More consolation

 

-Meanwhile, the leader of the opposition Kyriakos Mitsotakis presented his business model for the country. His message was: No to more taxes and social contributions, yes to investments and new jobs, but also to healthy entrepreneurship. Amen to that? Well, I’m not getting my hopes up, we’ve heard this before. Many times, by all sides.

To end on a better note, there is something we can be proud of:
In its annual report, the European Environmental Agency has said that 95.9 per cent of all coastal bathing waters in Greece are of excellent quality. Off to the beach, then, to drown our sorrows in the crystal clear waters.

 

A beach in Thasos, Greece


 

Catch a boat to an island

From most places in Europe, at least, Greece is a very accessible destination. A couple of hours on a plane (around four for the furthest countries) and you’re in Athens. Starting this month, there are even direct flights to some islands, such as Corfu and Crete.

 

June is an ideal month to visit: cool enough to wander about ancient sites, warm enough to swim. Still green, but with summer blossoms such as oleander and bougainvillea in full bloom. School’s not out yet, so it’s still pretty quiet and prices are lower than in the high season.

There are plenty of things to see and do in Athens itself, and there are many beautiful mainland sites worth a visit, such as the Meteora or Mycenae. However, one of the most fun things to do is catch a boat to an island.

 

Get a room by the beach.

 

Watch the sunset. Wispy clouds and lavender mountains.

 

Sit by an ancient olive tree.

 

Eat outdoors.

 

These pictures are from Thasos, a large, wooded island in the North Aegean. But with a couple of hundred inhabited islands to choose from, there’s something for every taste.

 

Gulls follow the boat.

 

 

Have I tempted you?

High Society

Having been invited to Amsterdam for the birthday of a dear friend, a group of us were lucky enough to visit a temporary exhibition at the Rijksmuseum entitled High Society.

 

The lovely Amsterdam architecture on one of the central canals

 

The exhibition features a collection of 35 full-length, life-size portraits of monarchs, aristocrats and rich citizens, by great masters in art history. It spans four centuries (from early 16th to the start of the 20th), and is styled as a party—featuring power, wealth, and massive egos. Because of the time and expense involved in painting such large canvases, this was a form of portraiture reserved for royal and noble subjects and, in later years, for what would now be known as ‘the one percent’.

It is also a timeless, fascinating, international fashion show, since people dressed in their best finery for the occasion. The paintings are full of symbols of the subjects’ wealth and power. Cloth of gold, lace, embroidery, large and intricate jewelry. There are also lots of accessories and plenty of dogs—lap dogs to show pampered luxury, fierce hunting dogs as symbols of strength.

 

 

See, above and below, how the painter Lucas Cranach (c.1472-1553) portrayed, for the first time in Northern Europe, a couple standing, life-size, and full length. They were Catherine of Mecklenburg (1487-1561) and Henri the Pious, Duke of Saxony (1473-1541), and the painting was commissioned in honor of their marriage in 1512.

 

 

He wears a wreath of red and white carnations to show he is a groom and, surprisingly, he’s neither clean-shaven nor bearded, but sports a very modern stubble.

Then there are Rembrandt’s wedding portraits of Marten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit – his only life-size, standing, full-length portraits. Painted in 1634, they were a joint 2016 purchase by the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Republic of France from the Rothschild collection, and they have just been restored. They are not as handsome as the previous couple, but their wedding black is accessorized with the most intricate lace collars and matching flower belt buckles.

 

Source: Google

It must be noted that, at the time, the wearing of black showed ostentation, not restraint: black was the most expensive material, had to be laboriously dyed and was difficult to upkeep. It was therefore a symbol of status which could, moreover, show off silver buckles and lacework to advantage.

 

 

The most powerful man of Europe, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, (1500-1558), had himself painted life-size by Jacob Seisenegger (1505-1567), showing just how important this type of portrait had become. Note the very wide shoulders, another symbol of strength, and the hunting dog.

 

 

An austere and powerful portrait, of Don Pedro di Barberana y Aparregui (1579-1649) by Velázquez (1599-1660). Don Pedro moved in powerful circles in 17th-century Spain, was comptroller of the royal treasury and sat on the King’s secret council. Note the plain background, contrasting with others that are richly decorated, and the tip of the sword lifting his coat at the back.

 

 

In a looser mode, the enchanting portraits, by Veronese, of Count Iseppo da Porto (c.1500-1580) with his son Leonida. The Count was one of the most influential figures in the town of Vicenza in the 16th century.

 

 

And that of his wife, Countess Livia da Porto Thiene, also descended from a noble family, and her daughter, Deidamia.

They are portrayed in ‘everyday’ clothes, which, although luxurious, are not too showy. It is rare these portraits can be seen together, since, sadly, his is in the Uffizi Gallery, while hers is in the Art Museum in Baltimore. A great shame, since being displayed next to each other greatly enhances the emotional import.

 

 

Moving on to more recent times, the portrait, by the English artist Gainsborough (1727-1788) of the beautiful Mary, Countess Howe dressed in what would have been the height of fashion in the mid-1700s. Her pale complexion is enhanced by the black ribbon on her wrist and her arsenal of expensive accessories also attest to her aristocratic status. Gainsborough only yearned to paint landscapes, but these would not earn him a living, so he was obliged to paint the local gentry, moving to another town with all his family in search of more clients, once he had finished one lot.

 

 

This portrait by John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) was a rare treat, as it is domiciled in Los Angeles, where women are said to swoon before it. It depicts the exceedingly handsome Dr. Samuel-Jean Pozzi (1846-1918), who was the founder of modern French gynaecology and an incorrigible womanizer. Sargent, an American artist who moved to Europe, appropriately painted him in a scarlet dressing gown and embroidered satin slippers. Pozzi was killed by one of his clients, a man whose impotence he had failed to cure. He nevertheless had a long and distinguished medical career, and consorted with many creative people, such as Sara Bernhardt, who was briefly his lover and remained a lifelong friend, and Marcel Proust.

 

 

Giovanni Baldini’s Marchesa Luisa Casati with a Greyhound (1908) catches its subject in what is, for Casati, a relatively understated outfit: she once wore a dress of lightbulbs wired up to a generator. She was once described as the Lady Gaga of her day.
The card next to the painting says: Six feet tall and thin as a rake, and with bleached skin, heavily made up eyes and hair dyed either a fiery red or emerald green, Luisa Casati’s appearance was unforgettable. At the many legendary parties thrown by the flamboyant and eccentric marchesa the champagne flowed freely and there was no shortage of cocaine and opium. Boldini painted Casati wearing haute couture and accompanied by her favourite greyhound with his characteristic, ‘slashing’ brushstrokes.

 

 

A last highlight was the portrait, by Kees van Dongen (1877-1968), of Anna, Comtesse de Noailles (1876-1933), a writer and leading figure of Parisian society. The portrait was considered shocking, if not offensive, at the time, because of the plunging neckline revealing a hint of nipple, and the fact that she irreverently wears the ribbon of the Legion d’Honneur (a great honor conferred by the state) as a choker around her neck.

 

 

It was a rare treat to see these portraits assembled in one place—and fascinating to compare the mores and fashion of each era. To finish, I wanted to share a video of the Museum’s wonderful  Shylights, a light installation created, out of silk, by Studio Drift. 

If you click on the video, it will magically right itself, for some mysterious reason.

Minoan Tastes

I’m still working on my next post—but, meanwhile, I thought any foodies or cooks amongst you might be interested in this post on one of my favorite blogs, Evolving Life. Sampling the food of the Minoans—some of you may have read my post on the ancient Palace of Knossos in Crete.

An Evolving Life

Recently we were invited to attend a demonstration on Minoan Cuisine – appropriately held near the Palace of Knossos on the island of Crete. Jerolyn Morrison, a trained archaeologist and one of the creators of Minoan Tastes, reenacted cooking techniques from ancient times. Minoan Tastes organises cooking events for people to (as she prints on her card) “experience the flavors of the land, sea, and sky of ancient Crete”.

The cooking pots she uses are custom made on Crete, based on pot shapes and ceramic fabric found in archaeological contexts – including the iconic tripod cook pot of the Minoans.

Before cooking, the unglazed pots are prepped by soaking in water, and charcoal is heated to the white heat stage.

The pots are then surrounded with the hot charcoal and diligently monitored, adding more coals when required to sustain the long, slow cooking process.

The food is also carefully…

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