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Friday, October 25, 2013

Paintings of Xerokampos and the Libyan Sea

Today I spent a few hours going through my sketchbooks and paintings I did last month. Every picture I looked at brought back so many wonderful memories. 
I thought I'd share a few with you here.

I completed these paintings on a beach in Xerkampos, Greece last month. The variety of blues in the water was both a challenge and a joy to paint. 

Xerokampos Beach
Acrylic on Linen

Rocky Shores
Acrylic on Linen

On my last day in Xerokampos they were expecting Beaufort 8 winds. Now that's windy! 
I think I saw Toto fly by in a basket!! 

Crashing Wave - Lybian Sea
Acrylic on Linen

In this painting I tried to capture the wild winds. In fact, the winds were so strong that I had to tape down my palette and sketch while I painted so they wouldn't blow away! 
What an artist will go through for the sake of painting on location!

In coming weeks I'll be creating more art from this trip as well as some from my incredible helicopter tour I had in the Bugaboo Mountains with Canada's finest artist, Robert Genn. It still feels like a dream when I think back to the beautiful vistas and experiences I had there. 

Looking through some of the photos I took on that trip made me realize just how fortunate I've been in my life. Not only have I had these amazing opportunities to paint in such exotic locations in the world, I've had the honour and privilege of painting with some of the world's finest artists who also just happen to be very fine and genuine people. 

Some say I've been lucky to have experienced the things I have in my life. Personally, I believe that by having faith and trusting that I'm in the right place at the right time and being open to the day, opportunities will unfold. 

Also, by surrounding myself with family and friends who believe and support me makes my life full and filled with wonder as I continue on my Artistic Journey....

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

"Sisters (Brothers) of Rethymnon"

The first time I saw these beautiful old doors in Old Town Rethymnon on the Greek Island of Crete the year was 2008. I was travelling with a group of artists searching for things to paint and couldn't resist this as my subject. During my time in Rethymnon I sketched only these doors. Each morning I would sit in the cool quiet narrow street to draw and paint these magical textures. A soft light filtered through the twisted vines overhead casting a rich warm light. It was magical.

Old Doors in Rethymnon

On the last morning I was there I could hear someone on the balcony above me. I looked up and saw an old woman wearing black smiling down at me. I waved to her and said Kalimera. (good morning) She returned my greeting and before long she was standing at my side watching me sketch. Soon after her brother and niece arrived. She asked him to translate a question for me. She wanted to know why would I paint these ugly old doors? Ugly?!! I think they are beautiful and full of life! She laughed and then asked if I could return the next morning as she would like to invite me for breakfast. How lovely! But then I remembered I was leaving very early the next day with the group and headed to another village and sadly had to decline. Her name was Ms. Kostas.  She had a wonderful smile.

My first sketches of "Sisters of Rethymnon" I completed when I first met Ms. Kostas - 2008

When I returned to Canada I painted a large canvas of these old doors. 

"Sisters of Rethymnon" 
48" x 36"
Original Acrylic
This is what I wrote about this very special place in 2008

Sisters of Rethymnon
I found these doors in Old Town Rethymnon on the Isle of Crete. As I sat and sketched them 
in the light of the early morning I could almost imagine all of the people who have 
passed by them for more than 100 years. 
There they have hung, one green and one blue, different yet the same. Just like sisters. 
On the last day I was there enjoying their beauty 
small children passed by on their way to school.  Some were curious to see my drawings; others caught up in their own world, laughing with their friends, not a care in the world. 
The way life should be for the child in all of us.

The following year I returned with a framed print and gave it to her. She gave me a big granny hug which was wonderful.
Ms. Kostas hug, 2009

Last year I was on a new adventure....the cancer variety. It was a time of great challenges and there were moments when I wondered if I would be able to make my way back to this incredible part of the world. 

I dreamed of returning to visit Ms. Kostas and to see the "Sisters" and also to explore more of this amazing world we live on. Dreaming big dreams helped pull me through the chemo. I kept telling myself I would make it back one day soon...and I did. I was able to visit this magical place a month ago. Thinking about it now I have to keep reminding myself that I wasn't still dreaming! 

Three very important things happened. 

Firstly, the doors and entire building had been renovated. I did a double take thinking I wasn't in the right place.

New "old" doors of Rethymnon - 2013

As you can see in this picture they did try to preserve some of their beauty by reusing the iron work above each door but they switched them. I wonder if I'm the only person in the world who knows this! The new stainless knobs and freshly painted wood pale in comparison to what originally compelled me to paint them. The beautiful tree and vines have also been cut down.

Secondly, Ms. Kostas didn't remember me. At first I was disappointed but then realized I do have new very short grey "chemo" hair since we had last seen each other. I also had to remind myself that it has been 4 years since we last met and her memory perhaps isn't the best. 
(I know my chemo brain memory sure isn't! :)

The third thing I learned about these doors is the history of how they came to be. 

On my last night in Rethymnon the rain poured down for a couple of hours just before I went out for dinner so I stayed at my hotel and sketched the doors again, the way they looked before. (I have completed so many drawings of these doors I could draw them from memory) The owner of this hotel saw my sketch and asked if I knew the true story about these doors. The only story I knew of them I had created 5 years ago!

And so the story goes about a father and his two sons....yes, they have nothing to do with sisters after all!

The history of these doors began during the time the Ottoman Turks occupied Crete in the late 1800's. 
An ageing father with two sons owned this building. Originally there was one door but to be fair to his sons, in 1907 he split the building down the middle and replaced the single door with two doors, 
one green and one blue, leaving half of the building to each of his sons.

When the Treaty of Lausanne was signed in1923 it was agreed that a general population exchange was held between the Turks and the Greeks and this family then had to move to Turkey and leave behind this building with the beautiful doors.

Last month, the owner of the hotel told me the grandson of one of the brothers visited with them at their hotel recently and had come specifically to see these doors. He was told stories about this place as a child and wanted to see it for himself. I would love to sit and talk to his family and learn more of their life! 

Who knows, perhaps one day I will!

I am now trying to make contact with the family to give them a print of the painting I did of this very special place.

I find it interesting to think that returning here to see these old doors and Ms. Kostas was such an important part of my cancer recovery. I have learned that one must dream big to keep the mind occupied in a positive light. It sure helped me through my chemo treatments. 

I also learned that even though things had changed so dramatically I was ok with this. That is life. Things change. The key to not getting bogged down and feeling disappointed is to embrace the change and be open to new opportunities. 

I'm so very happy I now know the whole story behind these doors. 

So you see, it was meant to be that I stay at this hotel and that the rains came that night so I could learn the story within the story of the Sisters (Brothers) of Rethymnon.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Returning to Crete

For the first part of my September adventure I was with a group of artists painting our way around the Greek islands of Lesvos and Chios ending in Athens. We trekked our way through ancient villages and old harbours with brushes and sketchbooks in hand and had a fantastic time!

Windmills - Chios, Greece

Chios, Greece - Night Reflections
Greece Ruins

Old Fishing Boat - Lesvos, Greece

On the 14th of September the rest of the group flew out of Athens and I headed to Crete on my own. I flew into the Chania airport (pronounced Hania) and took the bus downtown to connect with a later bus that would bring me to Rethymno, the old town I would be staying in for a few days.

When I saw they had lockers available at the bus station, I couldn't resist leaving my luggage to stroll again through the narrow streets and old harbour I first visited 5 years ago.

Below are pictures I took just a few weeks ago and the paintings I completed of them in 2008.

Narrow streets of Chania, Crete

A Walk Through Time - Original Watercolour 2008 
30" x 22"

It was surreal walking through images I had painted years before. What a magical experience!

Greek Boat - Chania Habour, Crete

Even my old boat was still there! It was a bit bedraggled but then again, who isn't after five years!

Boat of Pappous - Original Acrylic 2008
24" x 24"

I'm so glad I took the time to revisit this beautiful town. I would like to have stayed for a few days to paint and sketch here again, but it was time to move on. I wanted to return to Rethymno, an old town filled with winding narrow streets, incredible architecture and old doors with so much character.

It is the home of "Sister's of Rethymnon", a painting I did of two beautiful old green and blue doors and an old Greek woman named Ms. Kostas. I will talk more of that experience in my next post.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

My Cretan Driving Adventure...

After leaving Rethymno I decided to rent a car to drive to the south east side of Crete. I must admit I was a little apprehensive but the thought of spending countless hours on a bus that would stop for every person on the side of the road for miles convinced me this would be best. I also wanted the freedom to explore some hilltop villages and knew I would require a car for this.

I was told by a friend that this part of Crete was quiet and not very touristy. A perfect combination for my painting and writing!

First let me say that when in Greece you must request a car with an automatic transmission....not in North America. That was my first mistake. Then there was some confusion as to when the car would be returned. All I can say is I'm sure the rental agency was glad to see me go! I claim chemo brain for an excuse! It really comes down to doing your homework before travelling. Something I plan to do more of in future travels!

And so my next adventure begins...

I drove from Rethymno to Xerokampos, which is not on the map above but is close to Zakros on the right side of this map.

Overall the roads were in good shape and I enjoyed the drive through the central mountains. I had to ask directions a couple of times but found my way fairly easily. The challenging part with the road signs was on my map the towns were spelled one way, and many of the signs were spelled in old Greek so the words didn't match up. For instance, Lerapetra and Ιεράπετρα- Agios Nikolaos and Αγιος Νικόλαος - Sitia and Σητεία meant the same thing!

It did make things kind of tricky at times but I am good with a map and not afraid to ask for directions.

Even though the cars drove on the right hand side of the road, there was one very big difference. The roads are very narrow compared to Canadian standards and at some areas, for instance, around hairpin turns on mountaintops, they are only one lane wide which makes for some extra unwanted excitement! Thankfully on these really bad corners they have installed mirrors so you can see if anyone is approaching. Also, there aren't many guardrails.

Switchbacks to Xerokampos

Another big difference is the fact that even though they are only 2 lanes wide, the centre line turns into a passing lane no matter if there is oncoming traffic or not. So to be safe always drive to the far right of the road with one tire close to the outer edge of the pavement. At first I found myself holding my tummy in when cars would pass by...(not that this would do any good whatsoever!!) but I soon settled into the Cretan driving rhythm and found myself enjoying the ride.

Narrow mountain highway

Look carefully and you can see a car on the narrow highway above.

Then there are the highway decorations, namely goats. Granted they aren't the size of moose but on such narrow roads they get the right of way...they know who's boss!

Slowly, slowly is the only way to go. The goats have it all figured out...

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Istanbul's Grand Bazaar

Grand is an understatement when it comes to describing Istanbul's Grand Bazaar! With more than 3,000 shops and 61 covered streets surrounding it makes this place a mecca shopping experience. It attracts between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors daily. Wow!

First impressions of the Grand Bazaar

Oh the people!!
The sensory overload is intoxicating. Not only is the architecture interesting but you can find everything you can imagine within the building and surrounding narrow streets.
Lights galore!

Including things I've never imagined! 

"Seeing Eye" icons of Turkey

Ceramics next to spices and silk scarves!

Istanbul Spice Bazaar

A short walk away is the Spice Bazaar. I'll talk more about that magical place in my next post.

When walking from the Grand Bazaar only moments ago I came across this Maple Leaf...a reminder of home.

Today is my last day in Istanbul. I begin my journey home tomorrow flying via Copenhagen then on to Canada. I look forward to sharing many more stories in coming days of my incredible journey that has taken me far. 
Thank you so much for joining me on my Artistic Journey!

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