July is World Watercolor Month

For those who did not read my post last year,  World Watercolor Month is the brainchild of Charlie O’Shields of Doodlewash fame. It’s a challenge designed to encourage anyone who joins in to post a watercolor painting each day of the month of July. It’s a fun thing, with very relaxed rules – there are no prizes, or obligation to post each day.

 

Day 1: Bunnies – Present for a child’s christening (part 1)

 

We do have a list of prompts, but nobody’s obliged to follow it, they’re only meant to help people with inspiration. The idea is to bring together artists of all levels, from all parts of the world.

 

Day 2: Ducks – present for a child’s christening (part 2)

 

WWM started in 2016 and proved a great success, prompting Charlie to greater efforts this year. The project, which has attracted sponsorship from various well-known art supply brands, has also teamed up with The Dreaming Zebra, a non-profit foundation  that provides underprivileged schoolchildren throughout the world with art and music supplies.

 

Day 3: Mountain village – the view from the window. Quick evening plein air sketch.

 

I joined in last year, and the results were beyond my expectations. It got me into the habit of drawing or painting every day, which I’ve kept up since. It made me open an Instagram account, and inspired me to follow many artists from whom I’ve learnt so much. I’m self-taught, so the encouragement, tips, comments, ideas and support I’ve been getting have proven invaluable. I’ve met new people, improved my technique and, most of all, had so much fun. I’ve now started getting commissions, and am even thinking of opening an Etsy shop.

 

Day 4: result of a walk in the fields

 

I’m so grateful to Charlie, who has shown that you don’t need more than enthusiasm, new ideas and a lot of TLC to make a real difference. His site, Doodlewash, hosts watercolor artists from all over the world (I was extremely proud to be included, here) and every Saturday there is a post where artist Jessica Seacrest reviews art supplies that she has tested. We’re talking types of paper, brushes, paints – very addictive, although bad for the wallet! And, of course, Charlie never fails to post his own daily doodlewash, with an amusing story to accompany it.

 

Day 5: Starfish. Watercolor and oil crayon over comic strip glued in tiny sketchbook.

 

I’m getting stuck in again this year, even if some days it will mean just splashing some paint around for a few minutes. I will post my output at the end of each week, and you can tell me what you think. What you see today is this week’s output.

 

Day 6: Summer fields. Mini landscape in tiny sketchbook.

 

I urge any of you with a creative streak to join in. You can jump in at any time, post as little or as much as you like. Just tag your work #WorldWatercolorMonth

 

Day 7: the tools of the trade

A mountain town shaded by ancient trees

Metsovo is a beautiful town in northern Greece, perched in the Pindos Mountains, 1000m above sea level. Its traditional houses, stone-built and adorned with tile roofs and wooden porches, are built in a natural amphitheater and nestle between tall trees. It was a good destination for escaping the heatwave and piles of rubbish in Athens.

The central square is kept cool by the refreshing shade of ancient plane trees.

 

More than 1000 years old

 

Metsovo owes a lot to two benefactors:  Michael Tossizza, a wealthy and eccentric man who left his fortune to the town, and Evangelos Averoff, a prominent politician and Prime Minister of modern Greece, whose friendship with the former and passion for the town, resulted in the establishment of the Tossizza foundation.

 

Village elders take the air on the square

 

The BARON MICHAEL TOSSIZZA FOUNDATION was founded in 1947 with the aim of maintaining Metsovo’s cultural heritage and sustaining its economic growth.
The foundation implemented many projects, building schools and roads, a hospital and a ski resort; renovating and maintaining traditional buildings, churches and monasteries, planting trees, and creating student housing in Athens for students from Northern Greece. It established a timber factory, and a cheese factory (today Metsovo cheeses such as Metsovone, a type of provolone, are famous in Greece and one of the must-buy products for visitors). There is a Folk Art Museum and the Katogi Averoff Wine Factory, which also houses a hotel.

 

Barrels of wine in the Katogi factory

 

There was a wedding going on, and it was fun to watch the traditional procession through town.  There was much playing of music, and stopping for impromptu dancing.

 

 

Young and old alike dressed in traditional finery.

 

Little girls wearing the beautiful national costume

 

The Church of Saint George is a beautiful stone building, surrounded by a variety of shady trees.

 

 

After the ceremony, a feast was held under the trees in the park, involving the roasting of umpteen lambs on the spit.

 

Sticking to tradition means spurning the use of electricity to turn the spits!

 

The meat was supplemented by home-made pies and local cheeses. Wine and beer flowed freely.

 

The wearing of traditional dress does not preclude the use of modern appliances

 

A lovely place to visit, and so different from the Greek islands.

 

Children run free around town. The plane tree in the background is a lot older than the one in the first photo

 

 

New Q&A – The journalist

Lina Giannarou writes great articles on all kinds of interesting subjects. I’ve always been a fan, so I was delighted when I contacted her through Instagram and she immediately, and very kindly, agreed to do the Q&A.

Tell us a little about yourself

I was born in Athens, I grew up in Athens and I’ve never moved from here, except to go on holiday. For a while I toyed with the idea to go to England for post-graduate studies, but I managed to find a job just in time and thus an excuse not to leave my comfort zone. That was in 1977, and the job was at the METRO magazine. Having studied sociology I’d never considered a career in journalism, but journalism considered me, in the shape of some good people who – apart from the prospect of having to live in some Northern European campus with TOTAL STRANGERS – saved me from the necessity of having to decide what to do with my life! Because finally that was it. Since 2000 I’ve been working for the daily KATHIMERINI, doing free-lance reportage, mostly human interest stories. Besides that, I try to fit my personal life into the gaps, like everyone else.

 

What were the major difficulties you’ve faced in the last five years?

Seeing some of my friends emigrate, others lose their jobs or being obliged to tolerate unacceptable working conditions because “there’s a queue of candidates out there.” I also found exhausting, as well as terrifying, the social clash which had obviously been brewing but which exploded with the 2015 summer referendum, and which rages to this day. We’re all pretending things are as before, which they glaringly aren’t, and this cannot be very beneficial to good health.

Did anyone in particular inspire you or help you?

My family has proved resistant to difficulties (we do less well when things are good) and I’m generally very lucky with the people who surround me. I will say, however, that the cinema has often been a great savior.

What are your hopes/plans for the future?

I’d like life’s surprises to be good ones; perhaps to work a little less, to succeed in writing the stories that lurk in my head, and not to see my country destroyed.

 

What are your hopes for Greece? What changes do you hope to see happen?

I’d like to see the prevailing mood of suspicion about everything abate. Greater transparency in the public sector, exploitation of resources with more wisdom and inspiration. Cooperation between services for better service to the public. Better schools, less exhausted doctors. Not to have to use the emergency lane.

Have you considered leaving? If so, where would you like to go, and why?

For many years the prospect of emigration was my ultimate nightmare. Lately the thought raises my pulse rate a little less. This is thanks to our government, the feedback from friends who are living in normal countries and the people with whom this step, if it should be taken, would be taken. As to where, I’ve no idea – now you’ve got me stressed again!

If you had already decided to leave, what would make you stay?

A simple “Don’t go.”

Are you actively doing anything to help with the situation? Is there something you would like to do?

I do the minimum to help, but the minimum would be enough if everyone did it. Through my work, I try to promote good practices, to showcase positive examples, to expose the things that are wrong in our society – all of which is obviously not a huge achievement. I try not to complain too much in public, and thus to avoid adding to the general atmosphere of despondency. To be polite, conscientious and to recycle. I would also like to be more involved with the refugee crisis, besides through reportage.

Portrait by Nikos Kourtis

How do you see Greece in 5, 10 years?

I don’t believe a lot will have changed by then. If bankruptcy has been avoided, some basic reforms will have been made which will perhaps improve the workings of the state and help entrepreneurship.

How do you cope with obstacles and frustrations in your everyday life ?

By wailing “WHY ME??” Yes, I’m a big drama queen, I lack sang-froid, I easily let my nerves get the better of me, as my desk mates will attest.

What are the positive sides of living in Greece? Have you had any good experiences lately?

Yes, I bought some great vine leaves the other day, they were organic and totally fantastic. Soon I will make my first visit to an outdoor cinema this season and in about a month I will get on a boat and go to an island. Little, everyday, emotional things.

 

The result of Lina’s shopping spree: yummy stuffed vine leaves

You can read some of Lina’s articles in English here and here.

 

Broiling and filthy

While we are awaiting a major heatwave in Greece, we are surrounded by piles of rubbish, since garbage collectors have decided to go on strike. In fact, they have been on strike for some time and, following days of protests, rallies, occupation of public car parks and camping outside city halls, yesterday they voted to carry on, unhappy with the terms of their employment. The government, as usual, is dithering, wavering between the country’s needs and the demands from the Troika, while every decision taken is delayed by the usual bureaucratic tape.

As neighborhoods are being asphyxiated by piles of bin bags, some cities – such as Thessaloniki, which boasts a very active mayor – are looking to hire private firms to do the job, something which is not looked upon kindly by the syndicates. The impact on tourism is incalculable.

A street in the town of Tripoli (source: Google)

Meanwhile, citizens already suffering from heatstroke and inhalation of toxic fumes are to be dealt another major blow: taxes for employees, farmers, pensioners and the self-employed are due another whopping rise, since they will now be calculated in a different, ‘new’ way. Speaking of which, the government has taken to inventing creatively named ways of fleecing the population – such as the ‘claw-back’ and the ‘solidarity tax’. I leave it to your imagination to make out their meaning.

This is the result of demands for more and more money from our lenders, which will go to paying back what we owe. But the well is running dry, and the economy, instead of being revived, is being driven underground. I know a lot of people who already use barter – the dentist putting fillings in the plumber’s teeth in return for having the shower fixed, and so on. Back to basics, I suppose…

Meteora Greece

I know I’ve written about the Meteora before (https://athensletters.com/2015/10/31/road-trip-to-meteora/) but I find this place magical, and enjoyed reading a post on the blog Kritsa, at the heart of it all, written by Yvonne, who shares her time between the U.K. and Crete. Take a look, it might inspire you to visit!

Kritsa, at the heart of it all

In early May we set off on a road trip around central Greece…what an adventure.

RICOH IMAGING

We drove aboard the overnight Minoan car ferry from Heraklion, Crete to Pireaus, the main port near Athens. Bright and early next morning  found us zooming up the excellent motorway on a four hour trip to odd peaks named Meteora. Our aim was to see the monasteries that ‘balance’ between heaven and earth.  For the Greek Orthodox faith, this Holy area is second only to Mount Athos.

After checking in to the Kastraki Hotel for two nights ‘Wow’ was a common term.

I’d pre booked asunset tour and it proved to be an excellent way to see many of the monasteries perched atop the peaks.  Hard to believe the top of the rocky towers were once the bottom of a lake. Close up you can see they’re an aggregate of mud and rocks.

RICOH IMAGINGRICOH IMAGINGRICOH IMAGINGDay Two – Meteora Hike

After a breakfast we set…

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Nice art – pity about the venue

There is plenty of art on show in Athens these days. As well as the Documenta project, which is spread all over town, from May 26 to 28 there was also Art Athina, a three-day fair open to the public.
Fifty eight galleries, mostly from Greece but quite a few from abroad (Paris, Istambul, Vienna, Zurich, and even as far away as Dubai, Australia and Mexico) offered modern art for sale in a wide range of prices.

 

Art Athina venue: the Olympic Tae Kwon Do stadium (photo from Google)

 

The fair was held at the Tae Kwon Do Stadium in Faliro, on the coast not far from the center of Athens, a venue built especially for the 2004 Athens Olympics. It is a modern and spacious structure benefiting from a wonderful location next to a marina full of yachts. Nowadays it is used for various purposes, such as concerts, and even provided shelter to refugees at the worst of the crisis.

Inside, the galleries had set up their booths, and it was fun wandering around looking at the art on offer.

The view from the top floor

 

Sadly, I was extremely dismayed, if not disgusted, by the state of the building’s interior. I decided not to post any photos, thinking it too depressing. But I was aghast at  the unpainted, stained walls, the dirty floor, the missing or broken fixtures… I don’t understand how some funds could not be raised to at least freshen it up a little.

 

Whimsical pen and ink drawing by Greek artist Leonidas Giannakopoulos

 

The whole issue of the Olympic venues is shameful. Most have been left to rot – and when I think of what Greek taxpayers forked out for them (they were grossly overpriced) it makes me grind my teeth. What’s more, the labyrinthine governmental system means that any attempt at exploiting them is resisted. Apparently the National Shooting Federation wanted to take on the Olympic Shooting complex and keep it functioning and upkept, but their offer was refused. The racetrack and equestrian centre have become totally decrepit, despite racing being a potentially profitable business. Etc, etc. – and we are talking about state-of-the-art, modern installations that could benefit Greek athletes who usually have to train in less than ideal conditions. It beggars belief.

 

Another by the same artist, called Sky Adventures

 

I can only console myself with the thought that, thanks to the Olympics, we have at least got a new, very functional airport, a good subway and a much improved road system. These had been planned for over twenty years (!) but had never materialized and would not have been finished but for the games. Part of the problem being that, wherever you dig, you find antiquities, and work has to stop until the Archaeological Society decrees what is to be done. A couple of museums were filled with what was found on these sites – but that is another story!

 

Outside, a band was tuning up for one of the performances on offer

 

If you are interested in more detail about Art Athina, pop over to the Art in Athens blog, there is a very interesting article here.

 

An altered book by a Greek artist whose name, unfortunately, I did not note. I loved his work, though

 

Medical tourism

There were storks strolling on the runway as my plane taxied to the terminal in the airport of Kavala, a town in Northern Greece to which I flew in order to catch the ferry to the lovely island of Thasos.

Seagulls accompanied the boat on the 35-minute crossing, and a gaggle of kids on a school outing ran around screeching, while I had my coffee sitting in the sunshine.

 

Arriving in Thasos

 

I came here to visit my doctor, Athina Mavromati (she was one of my Q&A subjects, read about her here) who, with her husband, decided to quit the rat race and move to this lovely spot. They took their sailing boat and their dog, and have never looked back. Athina’s family come from this island, so it was an obvious choice.

 

 

This is the picturesque old port.  Under a huge, ancient plane tree, a fisherman was mending his nets.

 

 

The island is large and green, with pine, olive and plane trees coming all the way down to the crystal clear sea. The beaches are of fine, white sand.

 

 

It was a good time of the year to come, since the season has only just started, so it was not too busy – and also not too hot yet, although the weather was beautiful. However, there were plenty of tourists already, most of them Russian.

This tiny island looked like something in a Japanese painting

 

There is one street with ‘tourist-trap’ shops selling local produce such as honey, olives and oil, sponges; as well as clothes, straw hats, and hideous articrafts made of sea-shells. The rest of the town is quiet and full of cafés and little restaurants – there’s even a shop selling frozen Greek yogurt!

Greek salad and stuffed vine leaves at a shady spot in town

There are many places to visit along the road going all around the island – lovely monasteries, and ancients ruins scattered everywhere, since Thasos was famous for its white marble and olive oil and thrived both in Ancient Greek and Roman times. There are also lovely little mountain villages and hiking trails in the forest. All this was explained to me by Athina and Yannis, who very kindly took me out to eat in a little taverna by the sea, where we had the most amazing fish, accompanied by various local delicacies. Unfortunately, I did not have much time, so I only managed to swim in the sea. But I will definitely be back!