Monday, July 7, 2014

Wildness is a Necessity

“Wildness is a Necessity. I am losing precious days. I am degenerating into a machine for making money. I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get out into the mountains to learn the news.” John Muir.

While there are times I hear the mountains call my name, this weekend I learned the ocean’s news.  The news is just as the word predicates: that which is new. The Greek island of Hydra however had something very different to tell us that was not based on the present moments but instead on the passing of time. The island itself deserves a nod to its remarkable preservation of history and process.

In its day, Hydra was one of the few islands not raided by pirates and as a result has maintained its status as one of the wealthiest of islands of Greece. Why did they manage to escape the terror? Because the inhabitants of Hydra were the pirates. Eventually their naval strength became useful for Greek redemption from the oppression of the Ottoman Empire when Greece gained its independence. The culminating battle occurred in the waters around Hydra with the help of Russian, French, and British naval fleets. The three powers were each sent to aid Greece with their revolution against the Turks to drive them out of the Peloponnese.

The history of the island as well as its ability to remain a place with “walking only” paths compelled Alex, Caitlyn and I to travel to Hydra. Our journey there was brief but allowed us nearly two days and one night to take in every inch of the island.

We set out early in the morning to catch the ferry from the port of Piraeus. With coffee in hand to establish our footing so early in the morning, we climbed into the rocking boat and took our seats. As the water met our boat, the ever so gentle ruffling of the sea propelled us onward. Eventually, the rocking of the sea settled and we drifted into the port of Hydra.
We stepped off the boat, sea legs never fully established in the two hour journey, and felt the sea air on our skin. Perhaps it was the novelty of situation or the immense and overwhelming sense of appreciation that caught us off guard, but for a moment the three of us were literally breathless. Not only speechless, but instead that feeling you get when you hold your breath without knowing, because you don’t want the moment to end for fear that it isn’t real.
Luckily for us, the reality did not dissolve as merely a matter of mind. Instead, the island grew into one of the most beautiful places any of us has had the pleasure of seeing. The horses, with their saddles in place (mainly for tourists) lined the docks housing small fishing boats proudly displaying the Greek flag. Behind the small horses, old white houses with colorful window shutters climbed the hills.
We quickly walked the edge of the port to escape the shops capitalizing on the history of Hydra and wallets of tourists to hopefully find our own bit of space. The coastline is lined with a rather dramatic cliff of rock that extends from the walking paths down to the ocean below. The path less traveled doesn’t exist in a place of so much history; the marble stones that create walking paths are smooth (and at times unexpectedly slippery) from the millions of feet that have walked there before. The thought of how many people it has taken to wear down the stones beneath our feet kept us company on our walk about the island.
Myself, Alex and Caitlyn

The three of us, Caitlyn, Alex and I each seemed to have had our own moments that culminated in an unknown feeling. Unknown feelings are powerful—you don’t know what they are until you feel it, and then you have no words for it. We are given very little preparation while growing up on how to describe our exact emotions…perhaps it is because even adults are overwhelmed by extreme emotion, or maybe it is because the novelty of the indescribable emotion means more.
Love is an example of this. There is a word for it, which probably helps us know when we are feeling it, but it still is one of those emotions that exist merely as a concept until it is felt. Each of our moments came in waves, mimicking the ocean spray from below the cliff, and each of our moments told us the news.

The moment Caitlyn, the youngest in our trio, felt was the least concrete but one of the boldest: independence. She is a pleasant and artistic soul who distantly notices every detail and is equally as enamored but the little surprises each detail has to offer.
We walked along the edge of the footpath until we swung around a corner and felt the strange comfort of isolation. The three-day weekend we had in our program  (for the Fourth of July, strangely) allowed us to travel on a Friday and avoid the masses that travel on weekends. The three of us were alone, and we embraced every second of our uninterrupted time climbing around the fringe of Hydra.
Topographically the most dense and interesting line work of a map is defined by elevation, but contrasting her normal adherence to such detail, Caitlyn’s “moment” came in the simplicity found at sea level.
As Alex and I planned our stay at the hostel, Caitlyn agreed. We rounded up a taxi and she got in. We bought tickets for the ferry and she boarded. We arrived at the island and walked up the coast and she followed. But when we reached the top of the hill, jutting out over the coast like the lifted chin of a proud face, Caitlyn was the first to the rocky edge. She peered over the edge and looked down at the flat topography of the water below, moving as a unit with liquid tendrils reaching out to grab the vertical shore. As the pull of the water drew back into its center, it guided her eyes up to the vast expanse of the open water. The sense of accomplishment she appeared to be feeling was pure and melted an invisible shell of dependence. She eventually looked back at us and we could see she was in her element. Her safety net may have been gone, but for a moment so were the shackles of adolescence.

Photography is Alex’s passion. She sees the world in stills and jumps between moments in the same way her striking photos are taken. She is an admirably capable human being who is half business and half visionary. She is a big-picture person who is, probably for the first time in her life, experiencing not knowing the big picture of her life. With little control over the current end-goal she has fearlessly grabbed the reigns of the little day-to-day things…and if days combine to form weeks, months and years then I have no doubt that she will reach whatever goal she sets her mind to.
The art program we are taking will give her enough credits to graduate from the University of Oregon, so her return to the states leaves her figuratively between waves of life. She is positioned between the sixteen or more years she knows as a student and the few any of us know about adulthood. Alex’s moment came when I saw her between waves, the literal kind. While her comfort zone is self-purported to be behind the Canon Rebel she has carried everywhere, I believe her home is in the ocean. She swam, unafraid, beyond the light edges of the shallow water into the deeper blue far away from the comfort of the shore. After watching her out there for a while, she turned around and looked at Caitlyn and me. The edges of her cheeks were tightened with the sizable smile stretched across her face. Her moment of freedom in the open water seems simple, but her ability to dive below and resurface when waves come was a moment I will never forget for the figurative resonance. 

Prison of mind is something many artists suffer from. I have learned this term from a beautiful writer and dear friend as she admirably uses words to explain certain vulnerabilities. The little thoughts and conversations we have in our heads, the overwhelming presence of mind and the inability to “let go” because of it is a daily struggle. However, my release, realization and moment came when I did the unthinkable and let go. Walt Whitman says, “I swear to you, there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell.” I often find this to be true where words just don’t fit a situation or an emotion, but it is rare for my internal conversation to be silenced. The waves that crashed against the cement block that is Avlaki beach washed away more than small stones and bits of sand; the clarity of the water and the loneliness of the beach put my mind on pause and let it experience “just being.” The water, the sun, and the new inexpressible feeling rattled my bones—and it felt right. It is not the comfortable path that I desire, but one of the unknown that shakes, rattles and ignites my bones.

“Wildness is a necessity” and the ocean brought us the news from exactly this moment where we each are. Whatever your escape may be, try to listen to your own news. We should not only be updated by the happenings of the world but also by the happenings of ourselves.

Monday, June 30, 2014

A Smile a Minute

I have never been in the middle. Some people are meant for the center, the attention, the spotlight…that generally coveted space where they feel listened to and important, but what about those who are not the listened to but instead are the listeners? What about the beauty of vision over visibility? Contrary to the center of a lollipop, the middle may not always be the best.
There are certain people who are observers—the Watchers. The Watchers are not just those people in their own world but those who are so strongly aware of the outside world that they are immersed in even its finest details. They are the people who ask questions of the world and don’t expect a response but they seek one out anyway. This is the job of an artist. Artists must be Watchers in the literal sense because they are translating the multi-dimensional world in which we live to their own medium and their own words. They watch the world in order to document and they watch it for all its unseen bits of glory such as the air between people, the way they move and the light that trails them, and most importantly the things that have nothing to do with people at all. I am a Watcher. I don’t exist in the middle. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
As Watchers, the things people realize subconsciously, or perhaps not at all, are responsibilities we take on. The not only unanswered but also unasked questions are those we must be conscious of. My internal mantra of the misleadingly simple word, “why?” is one that has remained just that: internal. There are few people that operate in the same manner or pattern of thought as myself. Perhaps it is my lack of ability to adequately express my thoughts linguistically, but I find often that conversations become states of agreement (the nod and smile). I rarely receive genuine responses or critiques to whatever theory, idea, or question I try to raise. As a result, art has become my outlet, my language and my means of asking “why?” with the hope of generating responses.
I am extremely fortunate to be living with two avid Watchers. It is a luxury to have this time to think and zone into the world. With the birth of philosophy lost in the city lights of Athens before us, it has become our nightly ritual to talk about our observations from the day. Today, we would like to share a piece of our evening conversation with you:

Greece may use the Euro as its currency and kilometers per hour to measure speed, but the true measure of currency and efficiency is in the grace of a smile. We travel at a smile a minute, and true payment comes in the form of the well-received curvature of the edges of our lips.
What is the currency you use?
How fast do the moments of your day go by?

Much love,

The Watchers.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Passion on Fire

It is not easy to describe Greece and do it justice, but being here and with the desire to remember every detail I am obligated to try.
My apartment in Athens is shared with two other girls. It is small and very space-efficient and absolutely perfect for us. There have been about three cockroach sightings thus far which have turned into a battle. Admittedly, we are often left in hysterics when trying to catch them because they are too quick for our timid approaches…we will have to up our battle strategy in the coming days.
            Outside our apartment window is the most pleasant of balconies, where I am currently sitting in fact. There is a small fenced railing where my resting feet can just peer over the edge. Beyond the tips of my toes lies the never-ending city of Athens. There are beautiful surrounding hills that lead to the sea of buildings. The Parthenon sits atop the Acropolis; it is true too, you can see the Acropolis from almost any point of the city. It’s hard to get lost when you can always orient yourself with such a monument, thank goodness.
            In the center of the landscape is the seemingly narrow indentation of land where the port meets the ocean. A couple of days ago we traveled to the port to take a ferry to the island of Aegina. The ocean’s accompanying sea breeze and sunshine were lovely to take in in comparison to the thick heat of the city. We sat up top on the exposed (but very shaded) part of the ferry, iced frappes in hand. Throughout the boat ride we cycled through conversations and then our own meditations about the disbelief of such beauty. It feels like every corner we turn has something new and unbelievable to offer….and it isn’t every day you stumble across something that is truly unbelievable.
            At the end of the ferry ride, we maneuvered into the port and began our journey to Theadora’s house. Theadora is a good friend of Judy, our professor, and has land on the island that she shares with her sister. We trekked through the old streets parallel with the coastline through years and years of history. Old windows, doors, cemeteries, pistachio farms, fish markets, and then the beach-style countryside outlined our journey to an old rusted gate. We were welcomed by Theadora and taken first to see the invited French artists she is letting share her land and cast metal jewelry from a process involving beeswax and a hot furnace. Then she brought us up to her home—the most inviting, simple and organic space. The view from her renovated home looked out over the ocean and the pistachio farm her husband tends. I have never met someone so multi-lingual and so able to express maximum passion in each language she speaks; it says a lot about passionate people…perhaps that hunger for life does not require words at all.

            We meet a lot of people each day. We meet storeowners and people working at the markets, we meet people from a far and we meet them in close proximity, and really people constantly surround us. The reason for trying to describe Theadora is because of her light. Souls have a beautiful glow, and Theadora’s is illuminated even in the most miniscule of times. She is a passionate woman, a passionate artist, who is inspiring beyond compare. I wonder if such hunger for life is inherent or if she is conscious of it. Do we grow into our inspirations? Are some people born with the ability to inspire? How do we make art that inspires viewers?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Death and Dying: Honoring the deceased

The city of Athens is buzzing with life. Millions of people meander the streets and go about their days embracing the sun and smiles that saturate the air. In the midst of all the movement, below the windows of our fourth story apartment is a forested cemetery. Today we visited the site sketchbooks in hand, of course. First we walked to the studio of a marble carver who creates many of the headstone sculptures for the deceased with the tradition of history to guide his meticulous process. He begins each piece by creating a plaster cast and then transferring the exact measurements to the marble, which is then carefully chipped away to reveal his perfected piece.

After seeing the work of the stone carver, I began to think about his work and the responsibility he must feel to his craft and to honoring the deceased. The idea of doing justice when touching art and what it means not only to me but also to others has become paramount. With this thought in mind, our group walked into The First Cemetery of Athens. We passed gravesites with elaborate temples and “οἶκος” or houses. Many had flowers, carvings, images, engravings and other details. We wandered up to the older part of the cemetery and found some steps to sit on next to the grave of Sophia, “Σοφία “ with a view of archaeologist, Heinrich Schliemann’s mausoleum. As we began to draw I felt a responsibility, probably similar to the stone carver’s, to do the best I could to honor Schliemann’s burial site. It is interesting to think about honoring the deceased while we are all dying simultaneously—perhaps a slightly morbid thought, but in truth we all have a certain amount of time left and it only gets smaller.

An important aspect of death and dying is its relation to religion. It is impossible to be sure what exactly happens to us when our bodies give out and we die, but there is something beautiful about the different spiritual beliefs people have. The religious customs, traditions and ways of honoring those that have passed away have a unique energy. Religion here is a central part of life, and being immersed in it is a strange yet inspiring feeling.

After the cemetery we spent the rest of the day wandering, making more art, going to the market for supplies for our trip tomorrow to the island of Aegina. The ocean will be refreshing after all the hiking in the heat. I must go sleep before our early morning ferry! Goodnight, all!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Thirsty Hearts

If home is where the heart is, then Athens is my home. Upon arrival yesterday afternoon, with messy hair and a thirsty heart, I made my way through the Athens airport and took a taxi to the apartment I now call home. I share the apartment with two lovely girls, just as eager for adventure and excited about art as I am. We took a little time to breathe after traveling and then immediately headed out into the beautiful landscape of the city to get to know both this new home and each other. 

When picturing Athens most people understandably visualize historical sites soaked in the charged history of Greece's becoming. However it is additionally a rather pervasive modern art form that screams for attention: graffiti. Graffiti coats every surface and has made its presence undeniably ubiquitous in streaks of color that form images and words all around. The strange juxtaposition of classical art to the more modernly accepted graffiti shows how progressive this ancient city is. 

This morning, our second day in Athens, I woke up to a sunrise only comparable to that of the sunset the night before. Streaks of subtly fading reds and oranges became blues over the sea of buildings that comprise this massive city. The sun is a large presence here. In the day it is in abundance and toward the evening it stains the sky so brilliantly it cannot be missed. No day can be bad when they all seem to end so beautifully.

After the sun fully came up and took its rightful place in the sky, my roommates and I made our way to the Athens Centre. The Centre is the school we are attending for the next three weeks but I can already tell it will not be nearly enough time. The school is elevated above the street and has a courtyard, or rather an oasis, that blocks out the noise of traffic and maintains a peaceful atmosphere. The bright natural light mixed with the native plants, friendly faces, and thoughtful architecture is the perfect environment for inducing creativity and happiness (as they are nearly synonymous). After meeting the instructor, Judy, we spent the morning drawing in our sketchbooks and hearing about all the amazing places we will travel to in these next few weeks to create art.
Athens cannot be put into words, and I am so grateful this is my home for the next three weeks and to be learning about art.

μιλήσουμε σύντομα!(Talk soon!)