Azure, cobalt, cerulean. Ochre of the earth and of limestone, a fragment of white marble blinking ferociously into the sunlight. Long shadows, jagged cliffs. Olive green and pale rose. One more week of August, but Summer still reigns in glorious Cyprus colour palettes. There is still time to take off, be a culture vulture or a beach bum. And on every adventure, out of the corner of the eye, an oleander: white, garnet, peach or pink, the quintessential flower of Cyprus. Unwilting in heatwaves, and forgiving of negligence. Anthropomorphised as heroine in distress, and sung of in medieval ballads. Deceivingly fresh looking, and treacherously toxic. Rosebay or Rhododaphne in greek, Arodaphne in the local dialect. Nerium Oleander, the laurel-rose of the ancients.
A ship sails into shore, a rusty well pulley moans
A blue plume of smoke on the rosy horizon
The image of a crane’s broken wing
Armies of swallows await to welcome the brave
Bare arms raised with anchors tattooed in the armpits
And a distant church bell saturates the sky with indigo
Amorgos, by Nikos Gatsos, 1943*
I’m glad I’ve been keeping sketchbooks. I wish I had painted more of these, but I am never going to wish I’d painted fewer. Some were done in cheap children’s water colours, some in fancy W&N. They are mostly from summers in the Aegean, and some from Cyprus. Here’s hoping the marine theme will get me in holiday mood. Two more days of school, for us teachers! Unwinding is a long process…
The translation of the poem (fragment) by Gatsos is my own. It’s from the rather long poem Amorgos. I couldn’t find the lines I wanted to quote online, so I translated as it suited me. Some of the vignettes here are scenes from Amorgos, the island. The cubist villages, geometric pigeon coops and stark whitewash around cobblestones,
…the eyes of the seaweed are turned to the sea
Big black sea with so many pebbles around your neck, so many gems in your hair*
A good fortnight of clear skies and sunshine has just ended, and winter is back! Halcyon days, they were, but now they’re over. Today is going to be the coldest, or so they say. Already I’m hearing about snow on the outskirts of Nicosia, which doesn’t happen every day!
Thank god it’s Friday! Thank god for sketchbooks, too: this is a watercolour sketch, made from life many summers ago, on the island of Ios. This was the most amazing little break on an unexpectedly dazzling little Aegean island. Good friends, coffee and backgammon on the beach after dark, cross legged under a thatched awning. Food everywhere was spectacular, as I recall.
Sketchbooking is a practice I never stop trying to cultivate in my students. Not just because it provides an illustrated sort of diary full of vivid memories for a rainy day, but mainly because it is steady input into our visual data base. Observation and cultivating skills are the best way to stay creative and inspired.