Report from Greco*

CAVOGRECOI sit with my back against the chapel’s north wall.  The chapel is blue and white. The sea is blue. The rocks are white. It’s very hot. Enter a blonde mother and child, in white. They are tourists. The little girl is eating an ice-cream cone with one huge blue scoop. The woman asks if I will forfeit my seat on the single bench placed in the shade, for her little girl to have her picture taken against the matching church wall. She peers from behind dark sunglasses. She shrugs, but she’s not really apologetic: “Blue window, blue ice-cream, you know? It’s very Greek!”

“Of course!” I get up and out of their frame. I make the connection that she is thinking “greek” like the cape, Cavo Greco. This blue-domed chapel of the Holy Unmercenaries is, after all, part of the Cape’s nature park, though not exactly at its tip, hence -one may be forgiven for thinking- painted in the national colours!

Whenever I’m here I somehow think of a Wind Compass and its cardinal points of Venetian inspiration. Tramontana for North, because to a Venetian that wind would be blowing through mountains, its opposite being Ostria from the latin auster for South. Levante for the point of the rising sun, Ponente -meaning reclining– for its setting. The SE nautical wind is still known all over the Mediterranean as Greco, or Grecale because to an Italian it comes from the direction of Greece.

Italian nautical sites place the centre of La Serenissima’s compass on Zante (Zakynthos), an Ionian greek island that spent a good part of 600 years of its more recent history being passed between Naples and Venice. I, perhaps unreasonably, defer to a long-time favourite of mine, Patrick Leigh Fermor who decided that:

“The heart of this wind-rose seems to be somewhere off Sicily, the heart of the Mediterranean in fact 

(…) a legacy from the Venetian maritime empire. The same nautical lingua franca holds good, irrespective of nationality, from the Pillars of Hercules to the Red Sea and along the southern Euxine coast as far as the Caucasus.

from his book Mani, Travels in the Southern Peloponnese (1958).

In either case, when the wind is Southeasterly, we know it as Greco. Call me mad by any wind you like, but looking at these cliffs, on this inverted curlicued question mark of a coast, one knows it’s the SE wind that sculpted them! Now look at a map, and Cyprus’ two easternmost peninsulas will seem like the beak of a strange bird, open wide towards the Greco wind.

From cape to wind, from wind-rose to Fermor. Seems an easy leap to Seferis, who purportedly wrote a famous poem about the very same white cove to my left. After all Fermor and Seferis were part of the same Katsimbalis circle of Anglo-Greek intellectuals in the 30’s and 40’s. (Though “cooled” considerably by the Cyprus crisis of the 50’s which divided the group along a nationalist rift, Seferis’ and Katsimbalis’ estimation of Paddy Fermor seems to not have suffered permanently: it turns out he was alright!)

CHAPEL.jpg
Agioi Anargyroi, or the Holy Unmercenaries

Strange reverie on such a bright, early afternoon. I move away from the tiny church: the coolness of its shadow was more symbolic than effective, anyway. Up ahead beyond jagged rocks, lies the big blue sea, delicious and cooling to the eye. I think about the illustration I’m going to make: I want something simple, more abstract this time. Perhaps I could combine the map of the cape with the strange rock formations, the kingfishers and hawks, juniper and crithmum.

I think I’ll call it Holding On To Summer. August may be almost over, but Beach Weather? Far from it! Make a mental note to carry forward.

*As opposed to Report To Greco, by Kazantakis (but that’s another story)

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It’s not black or white

CABOASPRO
Never as good as the actual thing, Cape Aspro this evening.

Night-Day: Pissouri-Aspro

Looking at the chalky cliff of Cape Aspro in the morning, caught in the beams of the rising sun, the origin of it’s name is as plain as day: aspro, the common greek word for white – though borrowed from the Latin for “rough silver coin” sometime in the Byzantine era – is pretty accurate. Catch it in the late afternoon, however, and the Cape looks anything but white, as it blocks the opalescent sunset sky. Violets, pinks, metallics and tinges of apricot cloud roll off it, tinting its sediments in rapid succession, as darkness descends.

How bizzare, then, I’ve always thought, that the village associated with this beautiful bay and sparkling white cape, should be called something synonymous with pitch-black! Pissouri: named so because its position makes it seem as though night falls earlier there? Good theory, but it’s so sunny and bright from sunrise through most of the day, that it hardly seems a likely explanation! Searching online, there’s intrigue and exoticism in fables of exiled monks making a crossing in pitch-darkness, or Alaman (German) Crusaders bent on sainthood, landing their boats by blackest night… I’m going with the more mundane origin story: extensive extraction of sap from pine trees (‘pissa’) in the region, an industry that begun during Byzantine times and continued all the way to the late Middle Ages, or the Frankish Period of Cyprus.

PISSA
Descendants of said pines? From the chapel of St Alexander, overlooking Pissouri Bay.

 

Stay Cool!

MOLESKINE

Though with some degree of distortion, this is fairly accurately what it felt like, sitting on the beach, looking at swimmers float by. This watercolour sketch was done on the spot, at Aphrodite Beach, near the Akamas peninsula, where the crystal sea gets deep quite near the edge, allowing the clandestine artist to capture quick scenes with seemingly augmented clarity.

August 15, the (real or symbolic) height of the Greek Summer! Staying cool, usually near some delicious blue water, is advised. Enjoy!

What’s Behind the Green Door?

DOORPOST

I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked why I am fascinated by old doors. What’s there not to like? The unromantic answer would be: they’re ready-made compositions, especially for my instagram feed. They have great colour, wonderful texture, contrast, and more!

But also, they are compact, atmospheric pieces of living history. Their fragility is their fascination. Each time a favourite old facade is refurbished, it’s  bittersweet: on one hand someone has made sure it will last for many more years; on the other, that gorgeous patina of time-worn wood and flakey paint is wiped away for ever.