I spent the last few weeks in Greece, traveling around with Stavros and his new squeeze. Big Chrissy joined us for the first week, passing a few days in Athens, visiting the Archaeological Museum, Acropolis and Acropolis Museum–musts for new visitors, and for me so nice to revisit Papposilenus, Poseidon, Hadrian and all my other guys.
We attended a staging of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex at the open air Odeon of Herodes Atticus, built in 161 AD on the southern slope of the Acropolis. It was a joint production of the Vakhtangov State Academic Theatre of Russia and the National Theatre of Greece, directed by Rimas Tuminas. Greek actors performed the ancient Chorus in Greek, and Russian actors the lead parts in Russian. At the center of the stage was a single rusted steel tube, a little over a person’s height in diameter, that characters hopped onto and off of, rolling upstage and back as Oedipus hollers at Tiresias and Creon and slowly figures out that he can’t escape his fate. Jocasta was played by an actress who almost comically looked like Oedipus’ grandmother, slowly hobbling across the stage in a dynamite performance.
We visited the Panathenaic stadium, built around 330 BC for the Panathenaic games. It was rebuilt entirely of marble by Herodes Atticus in 144 AD, and much later, and after a complete restoration, in 1896 hosted the first modern international Olympics games. At one end of the field are two delightful herms, one of which is double-sided and double-genitaled, representing Apollo and Hermes. Herms were made to ward off bad energy, as markers, for good luck, etc… but I find their stripped down quality, just head and penis, incredibly entertaining–really, just forget about the rest of this guy.
We saw a really great show of sculpture by Ai WeiWei at the Museum of Cycladic Art. Installed in the neoclassical wing of the museum were meticulously hand-crafted pieces that conceptually addressed the current refugee crisis in Greece, various humanitarian crises in China, and a clever statue made in the style of an early cycladic figure dropping a vase, referring to Ai’s destruction of neolithic pottery in his earlier work. Interspersed throughout the rest of the museum were sculptures that visually blended in with the museum’s collection, handmade shards of pottery, ground neolithic pots, etc, made to look old but referencing contemporary concerns.
From Athens we drove through the Peloponnesos to Neapolis and hopped on the ferry for Kythira. Kythira is where Aphrodite, the goddess of love, was born. There are several versions of her origins, but my favorite has her emerging from the sea foam after Cronus chopped off his dad Uranus’ genitals and tossed them into the sea. The first thing you see on approaching the island is a shipwreck. Driving out of the port and across the barren island, it quickly becomes apparent why Aphrodite was only born here, not much to inspire procreative activity, at least on this part of Kythira. Indeed, the island’s population has dwindled from 14,500 in 1864 to about 4,000 today. In the 16th century the pirate Barbarossa invaded the island, leveled the capital, and sold the survivors into slavery. Stavros complained the whole way, “This is terrible, this tastes horrible, that’s fake.”
The scenic village of Mylopotomos once had 22 mills operating along a small stream with a charming waterfall. We hiked through the ruins of the mills, most almost completely consumed by the surrounding forest, to the seasonally dried-up waterfall and pesto pond below. We had lunch in the main square, under huge old sycamores, and then made our way to the ruins of a Venetian castle on the edge of town, and the cave of Agia Sofia with its 13th century byzantine frescoes. The current capital was founded by the Venetians in the 13th century and is crowned with a picturesque castle.
We had a fabulous dinner at Taverna Filio in Kalamos, the last customers on their last open night of the season. We ordered stuffed fried zucchini flowers, fava (puréed split peas), horta (stewed greens), lamb and potatoes, and baked eggplant, each dish so flavorful. We also had tiganopsomo, a deep fried flat bread served almost like a pizza, with toppings of cheese and tomatoes. They grow and grind their own wheat for their breads, which are proudly brought to the table fresh from the oven. The house wines are crisp and refreshing. The service is friendly and enthusiastic. All dishes are made with locally grown and sourced produce and meats.
The next day we hopped on the ferry back to Neapolis and drove to Monemvasia, a perfectly preserved byzantine gem of a city built into the side of a solid sheer rock of an island. This was my third time to visit, and my first time to stay within the castle walls. Our hotel was an outrageously fabulous restored centuries-old house, with a terrace overlooking the sea and rooftops and domes of the town. No cars are allowed within the castle walls, so you hear only the occasional donkey clomp-clomping by. It really feels like stepping back in time.
After dropping Chrissy off at the airport, Stavros and I headed to Evia, about an hour and a half drive northeast of Athens, a large island that hugs about half of the mainland’s east coast, separated from it by a narrow channel. Our first stop was Halkida (Chalcis), for a quick walk along the channel waterfront. Because of the length of the island, its proximity to the mainland, and the different flows coming into the channel from north and south, an effect called “crazy water” can be observed. Every six hours strong tidal currents reverse direction, creating strong flows of water in opposite directions. Aristotle spent his last year in Halkida and was among the first to speculate correctly about the cause of the tidal shift.
After a really nice lunch on the waterfront near Kymi, we hopped onto the ferry for Skyros island. Skyros is another of those islands not on the map for a lot of foreign travelers. Stavros and I reserved a house through AirBnB, in the village of Molos, in the shadow of the main town and close to the beach. Our hostess was the most knowledgable Skyrophile who has ever lived, having written books on the cuisine, ceramics and history of the island, the books casually scattered among our room’s furnishings. On Sunday morning, driving into town with Stavros, hours after she and her husband had taken off for church in town, we saw her sauntering back to the house, in her tight dress and high heels and perfect conch of a hairdo. To get to where she was from town, she had to have walked down through the winding streets of town–essentially down a mountain–and then several miles to where we saw her. In high heels. Not a hair out of place. I was in awe. She’s like someone Melina Mercouri would have portrayed.
The main town is perched on the slopes of a steep mountain overlooking the sea. Near the charming folk art museum, there’s a nude statue dedicated to eternal poetry and Rupert Brooke, the english poet known for his beauty and romantic war poems, serenely perched on a theatrical stage set of sea and sky. Rupert was connected to Skyros only through his death. While in the British Royal Navy, he developed sepsis from an infected mosquito bite and died in a French hospital ship moored in a bay off the island. He was buried in an olive grove in the otherwise rocky and barren southern part of the island.
Hiking up through town to the castle we were accosted by several sweet middle-aged women, Athenians closing up their houses for the season, one of whom invited us into her home. Eager to show us a traditional Skyrian home, she proudly pointed out her many ceramics and freshly polished copper wares, and served us mastiha, a liqueur flavored with resin of the mastic tree.
The island is shaped like a figure 8, with the northern part densely green and lush. There’s a neolithic settlement on the northern tip and several other ruins scattered here and there along the drive, reflecting the various architectural styles of Roman, Venetian, Macedonian and Byzantine civilizations.
The southern part of the island is very rocky and bare. Near the most southern point, along the main road, are rock formations–either naturally occurring or by human hand, not sure, but they’re very striking in the landscape–forming a (seemingly) natural abstract sculpture garden, with the occasional passing goat or wild pony.
There’s a pony that’s native to Skyros, brought to the island by Athenian settlers sometime between the 8th and 5th centuries BC, one of the rarest horse breeds in the world. The ponies may have been used by Alexander in his conquests, and might be the horses depicted on the Parthenon frieze. The ponies are semi-wild in the southern part of the island, but many have been caught and tamed for use by farmers, ranging across the island until they are needed for the grain harvest.
Driving back to Athens, we took the longer mountainous route through the heart of Evia, a beautifully scenic drive twisting through dense forests, steep gorges, and sweet little hilltop villages. I’m back in San Francisco now, where Autumn is in full swing, a little discombobulated by how swiftly my time in Greece passed, missing those placid Greek waters, souvlaki pitas, and my dear friends…
For my new photo series, Sexting, I set out to create a project that appeals to the kind of viewer who just whizzes through the gallery and spends perhaps a few seconds looking at anything in particular, and the viewer who is engaged by conceptual complexity and really spends a lot of time looking. Hopefully something for everybody.
Sexting consists of large but extremely low-resolution enlargements of graphic images shared over the internet through the course of my recent dating experiences.
From a distance, it’s almost possible to make out what’s being described, but as the viewer is drawn closer, the images fall apart into pixelated near-abstract grids of colored squares. The titles titillate: “Rob in His Bath;” “A Little More of Me;” “Tented Speedos;” etc… but like the process of seeking intimacy on the internet, the viewer’s titillation is ultimately frustrated by the experience of trying to give form to one’s imagination.
You can see documentation of the show here.
Oh good lord, how did I get to be 50? And balding and gray? Bob would make we laugh when he’d say that in his 20s he thought people over 50 never changed clothes. And now, here I am, wearing the same clothes as yesterday, genuinely puzzled about how I got here so fast and really not looking forward to colonoscopies and erectile disfunction.
For my birthday weekend in November I took my bears to the Russian River to celebrate my impending decrepitude with lots of great food, wine tasting, romps through the redwood forest and saunters along the Sonoma Coast. At Dick Blomsters in Guerneville, while savoring the last remnants of Korean Fried Crack on my fingers, our jolly waitress dragged everyone from the bar next door to sing happy birthday to me, a drunken “Happy BIIIIIRTH-daay dear in-dis-tiiiinguishable slurred naaa-aame, HAAAA-py biiirth-day toooo youuuuuuu.”
Back in town, I arranged for my annual physical with a new doctor, as my old one was not available, out of town indefinitely to take care of his ailing mom. When the bushy-bearded bear porn star doctor stepped into the examination room, I audibly gasped. This vision from the depths of my fantasy life was going to examine my prostate? I blushed and giggled through the exam like a little girl, and upon leaving nervously knocked over a file of papers and, both of us reaching down to collect the scattered documents, bumped heads with his and looked deep into his beady brown eyes as we both stood up, rubbing our heads amidst more of my nervous giggling. On returning home, and on a hunch, I checked GROWLr and there he was, shirtless, shamelessly furry, his head on a pillow, waiting to take me in his arms, my Doctor of Love… I momentarily breached doctor/patient protocol and sent him an innocuous text message that said “Hey, you look familiar (winking smiley emoticon)” He replied with a smiley face emoticon. But why couldn’t I have left it at that? I won’t tell you what I texted next, but like a true professional or someone realizing his patient may be a stalker… he responded with silence.
Since then I’ve dated a little, and there’s a new Greek on the horizon, and an Italian, as well as a dashing attorney in the picture, and the eternally out-of-reach Mr. Darcy seems to be single again, and that sexy Republican pops in and out of town every so often, but generally I remain in relationship limbo. Which I didn’t want to be going into my 50s, remember? But actually, it’s sort of hard to find a 50ish year old husband. First of all, and if he even lives in the same hemisphere, he’s single for a reason, and usually it spells trouble, like he’s never been in a relationship, or, like me, he’s been single for so long that any real person must compete with the fantasy man that he’s spent the last decade constructing. And then there’s all that logistical mess, like moving, not pooping alone anymore, his clothes on the floor, and he’s going to break my 100 year old morning tea mug I know.
The swinging bachelor of the 1970’s always ended up a kind of sad figure–alone with his gold necklaces, Mennen Dry look and tuft of chest hair. I would be more than happy to end up with that guy, but I really don’t want to end up being him.
I’ve been back in San Francisco a little over a week now, walking the dogs, meeting a few new dating prospects, getting caught up with my work, listening to Lana del Rey’s depressing new album and Rodriguez’s sublime Cold Fact from 1970, but my thoughts return to my final days last week in Greece, traveling through Elis and Arcadia. I believed myself very near heaven during those languid days in [Dimitsana]…
Our trip began in Olympia, where the original Olympic games were held every 4 years from the 8th century BC to the 4th AD. In the Temple of Zeus was a 43 foot tall statue of the seated god, made of ivory plates and gold panels over a wooden framework, the work of the sculptor Phidias, who also designed the 40 foot statue of Athena in the Parthenon. His statue of Zeus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, vanished completely in the 5th century, now in some Bond villain’s subterranean retreat somewhere.
Olympia itself completely disappeared for about 1,000 years. After a series of earthquakes, Theodosius II enforced a ban on pagan festivals and destroyed the temple. Then came plague, more earthquakes, floods and tsunamis, so that by the 7th century the entire site was abandoned and eventually completely buried.
The artifacts on display in the Olympia Archaeological Museum form one of the world’s greatest collections of art from antiquity. The friezes from the two pediments of the Temple of Zeus, created during the first half of the 5th century BC, are displayed in the central gallery, facing each other across the vast room, and surrounded by metopes depicting the labors of Hercules, as well as lion-headed water spouts from the temple.
The eastern pediment depicts the chariot race between Pelops and Oinomaos. Pelops, after whom the Peloponnese is named, and the mythical founder of the Olympic games, wanted to marry the daughter of King Oinomaos, but to win her hand he had to beat his future father-in-law in a chariot race. Oinomaos had killed the previous 18 suitors after defeating them, fearful of a prophecy that he would be killed by his son-in-law. Pelops went to the sea and appealed to his former lover, Poseidon, reminding him of “Aphrodite’s sweet gifts” that they once shared, so Poseidon gave him a chariot drawn by winged horses. After winning the race–and of course, as prophesied, Oinomaos was thrown from his chariot and dragged to death by his horses–Pelops staged chariot races to thank the gods and as funeral races in honor of his slain father-in-law. From these games the Olympics were born.
The frieze from the western pediment lively illustrates the abduction of the Lapith women by Centaurs at the wedding at Pirithous and Hippodamia, hooves and arms and legs and breasts entwined in a tour de force of sculptural narrative. The centaurs were invited to the wedding, but not used to wine, tried to rape the bride and carry off all the women and boys. The battle between the Lapiths and Centaurs is referred to many times in Greek art, metaphorically referring to the conflicts between Greeks and barbarians, or wild nature in conflict with civilized behavior.
Viewed from the large central room is the Nike of Paeonius, from 420 BC, dramatically installed in a room of blue walls, the blue of heaven, the Nike descending triumphantly from Mount Olympus.
Nearby is a delightful terra-cotta sculpture of Zeus carrying off the young Ganymede, from about 480 BC. Zeus strides confidently forward, a satisfied smile on his face, little Ganymede tucked under his arms holding a hen, a common gift at the time associated with pederasty. Actually, Ganymede’s arm sort of disappears behind the hen down into the front of Zeus’ tunic, perhaps the source of Zeus’ bemusement.
And then you turn the corner and there’s Hermes in all his polished contrapposto exquisiteness, the infant Dionysos perched on one of his arms, reaching playfully for a missing cluster of grapes dangling from Hermes’ missing other hand. My lips trembled and a single tear rolled down my cheek. The museum attributes the work to Praxiteles, created around the mid 4th century BC. The attribution is based on a remark by Pausanias two centuries later, but it was found exactly where he described seeing it, and the museum accepts it as the only original extant work by the master sculptor.
That night, after driving through scenic little village after scenic little village, we stayed in Dimitsana, a scenic little village of stone built on the side of a mountain overlooking the plain of Megalopolis. The next day we visited the Monastery of Agios Ioannis Podromos, dangling precipitously from cliffs, then on to the paltry ruins of ancient Gortys, the Byzantine bridge at Karytaina, and finally the Temple of Epicurean Zeus.
The temple was built about 450-400 BC, set atop Mt. Kotylion at 1,130 meters and has been under a big white tent for the past few decades while being restored. It was designed by Iktinos, the architect of the Parthenon, and contains examples of all three of the classical orders used in ancient Greek architecture: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian. The single Corinthian column at the far end of the naos is believed to be the first use of the Corinthian order. The massive limestone columns of the temple feel both heavy and light, porous, as if they’re about to crumble at any minute. The exterior was minimally decorated, but the interior had a continuous frieze depicting Greeks in battle with Amazons, and Lapiths trying to save their women from those Centaurs again. The frieze metopes were removed by the British in 1815 and are now in the British Museum, displayed near the other Greek cultural treasures plundered by the British in the tumultuous years of Ottoman rule.
And so my summer closes, suddenly single again, but ready for love, adventure and my impending fifties, due to arrive next month.
Stavros, Dean & Mike, and I spent a few days on Tinos last week, one of the larger islands in the Cyclades. Tinos isn’t on the radar for many non-Greeks, and perhaps because of this, the island feels somehow less corrupted by tourism. The Venetians controlled it until 1715, long after the rest of Greece had fallen to the Turks, and a legacy of the long Venetian presence is a mixed Catholic/Greek Orthodox population and elaborately designed dovecotes that dot the entire island. There’s a thriving marble folk art industry. Every door and window on the island has a carved marble transom, each house incorporating some marble decoration or detail.
Most people make the pilgrimage to Tinos to visit the church of the Panagia Evangelistria, or Our Lady of Tinos. It was built on the spot where a miraculous icon with healing powers, thought to have been made by Luke the evangelist, was found in 1823. A few years earlier, Our Lady appeared to an elderly gentleman, telling him to wake up and dig up the icon. He told a local priest of his vision, but they both agreed that it may have been the devil in disguise, so best to proceed with caution. Mary kept appealing to this guy, disrupting his sleep to no avail. She finally moved on to a local nun who was a little more receptive to her directives, and bingo, she led some guys with shovels right to it. The icon was found the day after the creation of the modern Greek state, so Our Lady of Tinos was declared the patron saint of the emerging Greek nation, and the construction of the church was its first large architectural project.
On the feast day of the Dormition of the Virgin (August 15), penitents crawl from the port up the hill to the church on their hands and knees as a sign of devotion, many seeking to be healed in some way. There are carpeted crawl-ways leading up the hill, and, at the top, a ghoulish statue of a crawling believer with outstretched arm and no face. It really freaked me out, the statue, reminding me of the Ghost of Christmas Future, the one who finally spooked Ebenezer Scrooge into buying that Christmas goose and new legs for Tiny Tim. The icon is displayed in the church under a mound of glittering jewels. I stood in line to photograph it, everyone in front of me kissing it and praying feverishly, but when I finally got there, I just sort of stared at it, not really able to comprehend what I was looking at, a mound of shiny baubles under glass. Beyond the reproduction icons and plastic holy-water bottles of the main town, ah, the magic begins. Great food, villages unspoiled by time, dramatic landscapes, fantastic beaches, charming little museums, and people living off of and sharing the bounty of the rugged landscape.
We stayed in an apartment overlooking the bronze-age acropolis of Vryokastro. Starvos and I ascended to the top of the acropolis early one morning, to see the sunrise, and got in the way of a humpy hunter chasing a cute little bunny, who seemed annoyed to see us in what was clearly his domain, shotgun shells strewn here and there along the path, his hounds barking and howling, just like a Bugs Bunny cartoon. I like to think that we saved a bunny that day.
In Kambos is a museum devoted to the work of Costas Tsoclis, an artist who creates paintings and sculptures saturated in antiquity and nostalgia, and that often extend beyond their frames. Outside he’s created a fabulous and whimsical large-scale semi-abstract depiction of St. George slaying the dragon. Inside are several room-sized painting installations. The museum is so well designed, that even the bathroom window frames a poetic installation, a single cross leaning against a corner of the empty back courtyard, blue skies and a single cloud above. The only restaurant in town was run by a man named Stefanos, an older gentleman with a wide and toothless smile, who served up cuisine of ingredients entirely home grown, including these fantastic fried wild herb “horta” balls. We ate at his son’s restaurant in the main town a few nights later, and it was just as delicious.
Driving north across the center of the island, we turned a corner and suddenly it seemed like we were on the moon. For as far as we could see, the entire landscape was filled with giant boulders, as if someone dumped a bag of giant rocks everywhere. In the center of this tremendous cyclopean rock-scape was a quaint village, Volax, with all of its houses built into, onto or around these massive stones. An artist covered the doors of vacant houses with handwritten transcriptions of various Greek poems, giving literal dimension to the weirdly poetic experience of the village.
I climbed Mt. Exobourgo one day, site of a crumbling Venetian fortress, the administrative center of the island from the 13th to 18th centuries, while Stavros slept in the car. Standing for 500 years or so, the fortress and town inside were dismantled by the Turks in 3 days.
Pyrgos, on the north central side of the island, is one of the island’s largest villages, with several museums devoted to marble art and production. The houses and streets seem to be interconnected physically and visually, as if carved from a single block of marble. There are so many villages to tell you about, each with its own unique character, charm, and history, but enough already.
As I mentioned in my previous post, Stavros and I had decided the week before departing for Tinos to be just friends. Once on Tinos, we further decided to start seeing other people by seeing the same guy, and at the same time. His name means “sugar” in Greek, and he is as sweet as they come, a sort of furry Greek Mighty Mouse: short, muscular, carpeted in fine hairs, laughing and smiling. He’s married, to a woman, and has children, but he eagerly jumped into our four arms. He was tender, passionate, and talked to us for hours, so free with the details of his life on the island. I remember looking at Stavros across our Mighty Mouse sandwich and seeing someone different, someone I hadn’t seen before, my boyfriend being passionately engaged by someone else. I felt for a moment as if I were an intruder, but then Stavros looked into my eyes, kissed me, and suddenly I felt like we were celebrating not the end of something, but a new beginning. Remember Audrey Hepburn at the end of Roman Holiday, returning to her duties as a princess? On the plane now back to my life in San Francisco without Stavros, invoking Audrey when asked about my favorite island, I say “Tinos,” Tinos without hesitation, glassy-eyed and with memories that I’ll cherish forever.
The boys, Stavros, and I took a little day trip to Marathonas last week, just a little northeast of Athens. It was here in 490 BC that the Persians were crushed by a considerably smaller contingent of clever Athenians. In a pivotal moment in European history, the victory proved that the young democracy could appoint the kind of political and military leadership necessary to repel such an ambitious empire while at the same time avoiding a return to tyranny, leading to the eventual rise of Classical Greek civilization and its continuing influence today.
Near the site of the battle, in Nea Makri, are the remains of a sanctuary and bath complex dedicated to the worship of Isis and other Egyptian/Hellenic gods. It was built around 160 AD by Herodes Atticus, the Roman consul of Athens and buddy of the Roman emperor and total heartthrob Hadrian. As far as I know, it’s the only such complex found in Greece. Herodes was inspired by a similar complex that Hadrian built at his villa in Tivoli, in turn modeled after an Egyptian sanctuary in Canopus on the Nile Delta.
On the site are replicas of the statues found there. The originals are located in the Archaeological Museum of Marathonas, a wonderful little museum nearby, which also includes finds from the area going back to 4,000 BC. The statues combine characteristics of Egyptian and Greek goddesses, and, as if designed for a Cecil B. DeMille epic, are very theatrical and seem oddly not of their time. One statue holds in her hands three small roses, symbols of both the Egyptian Isis and the Greek Aphrodite. Another Egyptian-looking goddess holds a sheaf of wheat, symbol of Demeter, the goddess of the harvest, closely tied to the change of seasons.
A few days earlier, at the Museo Archaeologico in Athens, I had seen a statue of Antinous, Hadrian’s lover, as an Egyptian god. Antinous was associated with Osiris after he mysteriously drowned in the Nile and was deified by Hadrian. The wall label indicated that the statue was found in Marathonas, so I’m assuming it was part of the temple complex there. But Antinous was pretty much everywhere during that time. The sad obsessed Hadrian not only declared him a god after his death and commissioned thousands of humpy statues of his likeness, he also built a city on the site of his death, Antinopolis. He also identified a star in the sky as Antinous, a rosy lotus that grew along the Nile as the Antinous flower, and proposed a new constellation of Antinous being carried to heaven by an eagle (the constellation Aquila. Remember Ganymede was swept up to Olympus by Zeus, in the form of an eagle, to be the gods’ cupbearer).
Ganymede was the loveliest born of the race of mortals, and therefore
the gods caught him away to themselves, to be Zeus’ wine-pourer,
for the sake of his beauty, so he might be among the immortals.
I have such a crush on Hadrian. First of all he’s exactly my type with his big face and wavy hair and beard. Secondly he turns his boyfriends into gods. He wrote an autobiography, unfortunately lost, that I am hoping turns up someday.
But anyway, back to the little Archaeological Museum of Marathonas… in addition to the Egyptian-Hellenic god statues, there are many interesting grave stele and funeral monuments, including a herm unusual for having a penis and not a head. I’ve often wondered if one day archaeologists will find a hidden room somewhere filled with all the gentle-talia that have been hacked off of old statuary. I can imagine some modern-day Shemp opening the door and all the marbles spilling out around him in a river of white willies.
I recognize him immediately, that guy who is just not the marrying type. He’s in his mid-40s, extremely handsome, never married, but he talks dreamily of marriage, spending lives together, dish patterns… I am drawn to him like bees to pollen, sure that once he samples the depths that are possible with sustained intimacy, he’ll blossom into that other guy, the one I’m certain I’ll be with forever. Then one day there’s the guy I recognized at first—the one in the wheelchair that I shoved down the stairs to make way for my fantasy—that guy who isn’t quite ready to settle down or explore perpetual commitment. Just not the marrying type at all.
I’m in Greece, visiting Stavros and traveling around with him and my buddies from San Francisco, Dean & Mike. A few days after our arrival, Stavros announced that he and I would be better off as just friends, apparently misreading my busyness and distraction over the past few months as a lack of interest. I wasn’t sure at first if it were a pre-emptive breakup based on misinformation or a genuine desire to reposition himself in the relationship, but our subsequent conversations have clarified the urgency for both of us to embrace a different kind of companionship. In a way there’s some relief on both sides. We like each other so much and have so much fun together, but he’s focused on a career that’s going to make being together a challenge. And there are those 6,000 or so miles between us. Or maybe we both knew from the beginning that we wanted different things? It’s painful and uncomfortable, but, but… actually, but nothing, it’s just painful and uncomfortable. I don’t like the idea at all of being 50 and single, so my suitors better start lining up, the twilight of my 40s is quickly slipping into the darkness of 50ness. But, soft! what hairy forearm through yonder window breaks?
Greece, on the other hand, has been a delight, and despite breaking up, Stavros and I have had a great time together as usual. Except for that brief moment when we tried to drown each other in Ormos Giannaki. We’ve been toodling around with Dean & Mike, showing them Athens and beyond, bonding with antiquity as well as the vibrance of city and village life. We visited Mycenae and the remarkable Tholos tombs there, then spent a few days with Yorgos & Filios at their getaway in Methana, then the theater at Epidavrus, the beach and ruins and Tomulus of the Athenians in Marathonas, the Temple of Poseidon at Sounio… I’ve written about these places before so won’t bore you with details, but stick around for some more entries about the rest of the trip.
So let the Dating Game begin. I’m currently accepting applications from eligible bachelors. If single and furry and slightly over-the-hill and planning to be in the San Francisco Bay Area, please send a self-addressed stamped envelope with your name and shoe size to Sanfranchrisko, San Francisco, California.
It’s July in San Francisco. Cold, foggy, drizzly. Now that my show is up and the dogs are sleeping, I’ll attempt to fill you in on some of my adventures of the past few months.
In May I spent a few weeks in Greece, exploring the northwest mainland and Corfu with little Stavros.
We visited Nikopolis, which Octavian founded following his defeat of Marc Anthony and Cleopatra. Napoleon’s troops plundered and looted the site in 1789, the treasures eventually ending up with the Ali Pasha when he defeated them. So as with most of these ancient sites, there’s not much left, save for some interesting floor mosaics, two theaters, a quaint little museum with the plunderers’ rejects, crumbling ruins and an aqueduct, all beautifully set in gently rolling hills. The stadium, buried under weeds and bright green grass, nibbled on by sheep, must have inspired several Romantic odes. A shepherd told us with a snicker that his sheep were part of the stadium restoration.
We spent the night in Parga, a hilly resort town on the Ionic. Standing up after resting on a bench by the sea, I felt my camera slip from my lap. It seemed like forever after my eyes locked with my neighbor’s that the “plunk!” that we both anticipated finally came. There was quite a scene as a local fisherman and his kid tried to get it out of the water for me. A large crowd gathered and cheered after they finally fished it out. People around town were pointing at me all night. I was able to save the images in the camera, but since the camera was on when it fell into the water, the electronics shorted out. I used my iPhone for the remainder of the trip, and realized how dependent I’d become on my camera to document and record my experience. When I first traveled to Europe in the mid 80’s I refused to take pictures. This is when I was studying photography at the Art Institute but considered myself a conceptual artist. Ideas and experience were paramount, the object inconsequential. I didn’t want anything mitigating my first Grand Tour. I wanted to experience the real things that I had read about and studied in art school, with my own eyes, that I’d seen in textbooks and in movies… I didn’t want my memories contained within photographs, they’d always be alive in my head. And of course now I don’t remember anything. Thus I’ve become one of those obnoxious tourists who takes pictures of every pre-historic thimble and my memories are fairly restricted to what has been photographed.
From Parga we traveled to Mesopotamos and visited the Nekromanteion, site of the ancient oracle of death and the door to Hades, where people came to connect with their dead ancestors. Three rivers join nearby and flow to the underworld. This is where Odysseus made his trip down under. On entering the temple grounds, visitors participated in an elaborate ceremony and were fed snacks laced with narcotics. After passing through a series of underground passageways, they’d pose their questions to the oracle, and the priest appeared to rise from the ground and fly around, the awed but quite stoned pilgrims unaware of the cranes and ropes hoisting them aloft. A busload of German women appeared at one point and pushed past me and Stavros in the underground chamber and held their hands solemnly to a crack in the wall, presumably seeking communion with lost loved ones. Then they hustled up the stairs and back on the bus.
On the way to Corfu, I read Lawrence Durrell’s Prospero’s Cell, written before WWII. Not much has changed, it’s still all “Venetian blue and gold—and utterly spoilt by the sun.” Durrell says that while other countries offer discoveries in “manners or lore or landscape,” Greece offers something harder—”the discovery of oneself.” I don’t know that I discovered any new me, but I did enjoy the manners, lore and landscape.
We stayed on the west coast, in the Lido Sofia apartments, perched on the cliffs overlooking Agio Ghordios and the sea. Our hostess Sofia was charming and hospitable, and made us feel like we were old buddies staying in her home. A panoramic view of the sea, a beautiful pool, free wifi, lovely rooms and home-cooking… all for €25/night. A week in Greece is cheaper than a weeknight dinner in San Francisco.
Seriously, every other guy in Corfu is named Spiros, after the island’s patron saint.
One night, in the beautiful little mountain village of Kastellanoi, we listened to a soulful singer play guitar and croon about love, on the main square with just a few other locals, drinking homemade wine, watching our souvla sizzle away on the grill across the street.
Old town Corfu is surrounded by three imposing fortifications, dating from the period of Venetian rule. The architecture of the old town also dates to the Venetian period. Passed down to successive French, British, and eventual Greek governments, the predominately Venetian buildings of the old town incorporate elements from each of the town’s occupiers.
The Spianada, or esplanade, in old Corfu town is a large verdant park running between the town and the old fortress, with a bandstand, fountains, statues and a cricket field. At one end of the Spianada is the Royal Palace of Corfu, now the Museum of Asian Art, a grand neoclassical building with a beautiful pockmarked Doric colonnade. Running alongside the Spianada is the Liston, a long building with gracefully vaulted galleries, archways and hanging lanterns. The Liston was constructed during French rule, designed by a French Engineer as a mini Rue de Rivoli, now lined with elegant cafes and restaurants. When first constructed only noblemen were allowed to enter and walk along the street and under the arches. A special list ensured the area was kept elite. The name “Liston” is believed to be derived from a Venetian word that referred to both this list and a wide and straight road.
La Grotta Beach Bar in Palaiokastritsa is the world’s most picturesque swimming hole. One descends a steep stairway to a terraced cafe carved out of the steep cliffs surrounding a cove of icy blue water. A sole honeymooning couple alternately dipped into the water and embraced on the rocks, making out as the water crashed around them, upright versions of Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr, the rest of us their captive audience, sipping our freddo cappucinos to the thumping chill-out lounge music.
On the slopes of Mount Pantokrator we visited the abandoned village of Old Perithia, first established in the 14th century as Byzantines moved inland to hide from pirate and mosquito attacks. As pirates and mosquitos became less of a problem, people slowly trickled back to the coastal towns, and now only about five people live there. The per capita taverna ratio is 1:1, with five tavernas operating amidst the crumbling, Venetian-style houses. The per capita ratio of churches is even higher, with 1.6 churches for every resident.
We popped in for a visit to Empress Sisi’s little retreat in Corfu, the Achilleion. Elisabeth was the wife of Emperor Franz Joseph I, the Empress of Austria, as well as Queen of Hungary and Queen consort of Croatia and Bohemia. She built the retreat in Corfu to honor Achilles and her love of Greek culture, a monument to platonic romanticism, aestheticism, and escapism. It was constructed in sadness, built after her son Rudolf’s murder/suicide, which set into motion events leading to WWI.
Of the many memorable meals on Corfu, one of the most memorable was at Archontariki, in Sinarades. Angelos, the owner, sat outside smoking and chatting to everybody who passed by, and invited us in. After ordering, and as Angelos and his son Vagellis chatted with us, we saw Spiridoula, the mom and cook, run down the street to buy items for our meal. The food at this family run restaurant gem was packed with flavor and sensation. The menu contained many of the same local specialties as in other restaurants in Corfu, but Spiridoula’s food was different: much more flavor, expertise, most ingredients grown by her and her family. Her “Grandma’s Meatballs” were exactly what I imagined my grandma’s meatballs would have tasted like, if I had had a Greek grandmother.
After throughly exploring the beaches, towns, castles, sites, sounds, and tastes of Corfu, we boarded the ferry for Igoumenitsa and drove inland on the road that connects the west coast of mainland Greece to Thessaloniki. Thessaloniki is only 160 miles away, but it takes about 5 hours for a regular person to drive there. (A Greek, 2.) The new road is a public works masterpiece, snaking through and around the breathtaking Pindos mountains and a bazillion tunnels.
And what a beautiful place to have the car break down. We stalled in a tunnel, and as soon as we pulled over a phone rang. The person on the other end asked if we needed assistance. How’s that for efficiency? We got off the main road so we could drive slower and stopped off in Dodoni. Dodoni was the site of an ancient oracle devoted to Dione, Aphrodite’s mom. Priests and priestesses interpreted the sounds of the rustling leaves prior to dispensing their oracular guidance. The theater dates to about 300 BC, but was destroyed by Aetolians, rebuilt by Philip of Macedon, destroyed again by the Romans and then rebuilt by Augustus. Archaeologists have uncovered artifacts going back to Mycenaean times (1600-1100 BC). The theater is surrounded by mountains, fields and trees, just preposterously scenic. The site was undergoing another restoration, so I couldn’t climb to the top, but above is a panoramic photo by Onno Zweers, from the Wikipedia entry about Dodona.
We stopped for the night in a little alpine village in the Pindos mountains, Metsovo. In Ottoman times, the residents were granted special tax privileges in exchange for guarding the mountain passages and servicing passengers. Indeed there were three mechanics in this quaint little town and about a million places to stay for under €40/night. Stone and wood houses are tucked into the hillside, arranged like eagles’ nests rising upwards in a natural amphitheater from the central square. The village is the center of the Greek Vlach community. The Vlachs were originally nomadic shepherds, who claim descent from Latin-speaking Wallachians of what is now Romania. At the time of our arrival kids were running up and down the stairs of the bell tower in the central square, ringing the tower bells 400 times–representing the 400 years under “slavery,” a local priest dramatically told us, or the years under Ottoman rule. Georgios Averoff was born here, considered one of the great benefactors of modern Greece, who contributed to many social, educational and infrastructure projects, including the stadium of the first modern Olympics, and a museum and school of cheesemaking in Metsovo! The butter served at breakfast was truly the most amazing dairy product I’ve ever experienced. Sweet, complex, aromas of grass and herbs… I felt briefly in communion with the cow’s olfactory and taste sensations, imagining myself chewing the cud with the other girls on those bucolic hills. We missed seeing the 14th century monastery there, but we ate a lot of butter.
Back in Athens I had only a few days to visit with my buddies: G, who works high in the Greek government and has read more english literature than anyone I know and pens highly literate pornographic tales on the side; M, a gentle half Greek/half Brit giant in search of a meaningful relationship with an ever-elusive succession of increasingly distant and increasingly older daddy bears; T, engaged with intellectual life and microbiology; and P, my froggy nurse buddy and student of English desperately seeking his Prince Charming. I didn’t get to see T, but I had a salad of baby valerian greens one night. They call it valerian, but I later discovered that it’s what we call mâche. A different species of valerian grows out of cracks in the sidewalks in San Francisco, so ubiquitous that it’s not even noticed, a tough drought-tolerant summer blooming perennial with heads of pink flowers that attracts both rats and cats and smells like cat pee. And there it was on the menu! Or so I thought, this common weed that is thought of as food by only certain moth and butterfly larvae. Remember when arugula was an exotic green? I daydreamed briefly of the valerian revolution I would ignite upon my return to drought-stricken northern California… Ah, but only mâche, already available at Trader Joe’s, and not the stuff growing out of the cracks in front of my house… G took us to Piggy-popoulo in Pagrati for souvlaki. Pagrati is a little off the beaten tourist track, with many restaurants catering to locals. In Metaxourgio, I went to a kalamaki place called Elvis, “Sweet Home Alabama” blasting in the background, and later that night met up with P for drinks at one of my favorite spots, the Dyari Cafe. The host is always charming and welcoming. This time he treated us to a liqueur that he made from the insides of the apricot pit. “Pit” is “kookoutsi!” in Greek. I love that word, and what a kooky idea for a drink! We ended up in Kerameio, a bar in a former pottery workshop in Keramikos. The bar was packed with noisy hipsters, but P and I sat alone in the central courtyard, sipping raki and talking deep into the night. The courtyard was open to the sky, a single tree sharing the sky above us with the moon, the crowded hipsters pressed against the glass walls framing the courtyard, music blaring on their side of the glass; on ours only the sound of rustling leaves, the sweet smell of jasmine, and the intimate banter of dear friends.
My new exhibition is up, in Oakland, at the Mercury 20 Gallery. If you can’t make it to Oakland, no problem, just click on over!
It’s a photographic installation that I’m calling Scylla & Charybdis, after the two sea monsters that Odysseus had to choose between and sail past as he worked his way back to Ithaca and his beloved Penelope. Choosing between “Scylla and Charybdis” has come to mean choosing between two equally unpleasant options.
I’m looking at the gallery as the setting for a kind of aesthetic journey, inviting the viewer to contemplate new ideas about beauty through a visual engagement with our subliminal and overt anxieties about the body.
At the center of my installation are two 12-image photographic grids, composed of the same 12 black and white images, but arranged in different ways to evoke abstracted versions of the two creatures. The component images are closeup photos of the same large hairy male body.
A third grid, called “Swell” is composed of closeup photos of a man’s long white beard and furry shoulders, the images arranged to echo a tumultuous seascape, and bringing to mind Poseidon, the god of the sea.
Flanking the grids are large color images of spider webs. The webs are blurry, set against a lurid red background, creating a kind of psychologically charged space. Insects wander into spider webs, only to be trapped and devoured. My installation is an aesthetic trap, the viewer lured into my world, invited to wander through and consider a very different kind of artistic subject matter.