Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Beautiful Stonework of Molyvos on the Island of Lesvos in Greece

A typical detail in an Ottoman wall in Molyvos, with raised pointing
Each winter I travel for 3 months to different parts of the world.  I have been focusing on the Mediterranean region for the last 6 winters.  This time I am exploring the beautiful islands of Greece.

I have two adventurous English friends that I met over 10 years ago in South America who travel extensively on epic journeys usually spanning years rather than months.  We are kindred spirits in that regard, although my explorations are broken up in to shorter periods of the year than theirs.  They are currently cycling across Europe and Asia, having started in Norway above the Arctic Circle, with their ultimate destination being Japan.  This journey will take over 3 years to complete.  Last year I met up with them in Palermo, Sicily, and when they told me they would be spending the fall of the next year in Greece, I decided to meet them again before they moved on to Turkey.  They have been cycling in Greece now for 3 months and the island of Lesvos will be their departing point from the country since it is a short ferry ride to Ayvalik in Turkey, from where they will be cycling to Istanbul.

John and Gayle on hewn rock steps in the town of Petra
I spent a marvelous and far too brief week in Paris, stopping off as my Air France flight to Athens had a connection there.  It was my second time to Paris and I have fallen in love with the city.  I went to the Louvre on a quiet day for the first time and nearly wept in the Italian painting galleries.  I was amazed that they actually let you photograph the art so I catalogued everything that moved me.  I also spent a spectacular afternoon at Versailles and visited the wonderful Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, all deserving of their own essays.  The light in late fall is so magical and the crowds of tourists are smaller so it is a great time to visit the city.
Leonardo Da Vinci's stunning painting Madonna of the Rocks
In order to meet up with my friends I booked another flight from Athens to Mytilini on the island of Lesvos rather than staying in Athens, which I visited 4 years ago.  I'll spend more time there before I return home in March.  Gayle and John had based themselves in the beautiful town of Molyvos on the northern coast of the island, so I took a bus there the next day and met them at the bus stop.
Molyvos from the road to Petra
It is always wonderful to connect with them.  We can talk endlessly of travel and the many experiences we have had throughout the world.  All in all I have spent over 8 years of my life exploring foreign countries, almost always in the months of December through March.  These adventures have immensely enriched my life.  As an designer and artist I doubt that my work as a builder of gardens would be anything like it is without the profound influences of the places I've visited.

Lesvos is the third largest island in Greece, and was the home of the famed poet Sappho, who lived during the 7th Century BC.  She was one of the first women to attain fame as a lyricist, writing poetry that would be performed with the accompaniment of a Lyre.  Her poetry was considered to be so beautiful that Plato elevated her to the status of a Muse.  Her writings are best known as odes to other women.  The loving bond between the same sexes was believed to have been common and accepted at the time.  The words Lesbian and Sapphic are derived from the island and the poet.  "If you forget me, think of our gifts to Aphrodite and all the loveliness that we shared…all the violet tiaras, braided rosebuds, dial and crocus twined around your young neck…myrrh poured on your head and on soft mats girls with all that they most wished for beside them…while no voices chanted choruses without ours, no woodlot bloomed in Spring without song."
A statue of Sappho in the city of Mytilini on Lesvos
Molyvos is an ancient town that has been inhabited for many centuries.  The name has been changed back to the old one, Mythymna, but the locals still call it Molymos.  Just by the bus stop is an excavated area that dates from the 8th Century BC, with remnants of stone foundations and sarcophagi.
8th Century BC ruins in Molyvos
The town's hill is dominated by a fortress that takes much of its present form from the time of the Byzantine empire, which was centered in Constantinople, now the city of Istanbul in Turkey.  In the 12th Century it passed in to the hands of the Venetians who ruled maritime commerce in the region during Venice's golden era.  The island was then transferred to the control of a Genoese Lord after an arranged political marriage with the sister of a Byzantine ruler in the 14th Century.  Lesvos is known for its fine olive oil, considered to be the best in Greece, and Molyvos was an important port for exporting the product for at least 2,500 years.   Today the Island is known for the production the the Anise flavored liquor Ouzo, which we have taken to drinking nightly before dinner.
Inside the Fortress at Molyvos
A view of the Olive Press from the Fortress
A crenelated wall on the fortress
When the Ottoman Turks took control of the island the fortress underwent further expansion in the 15th Century for a period of more than 200 years.  The town on the slopes of the hill below the fortress is predominantly Ottoman in style, with handsome stone houses with red tile roofs and shuttered windows, which are often painted a wonderful shade of dark purplish red.
This shade of red is the predominant color of paint in Lesvos
An estimated 500,000 Muslim Turks were expelled from Greece in the population exchange that occurred after the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923 while 1,500,000 Orthodox Christians were forced to leave Turkey.  It was one of the largest population exchanges in history.
Ottoman houses spilling down to the sea in Molyvos
Red Shutters on fine Ottoman building by the harbor
Much of the stonework in the buildings here is very handsome and artfully composed.  My favorite walls are those built with a mix of the pastel shades of volcanic stone found on the island's beaches.  There are pinks and greens and grays, with a rough texture that can be easily shaped.
A lovely wall in the nearby beach town of Petra
In America stone work is usually used as a decorative feature.  But in Europe and Asia stone and brick have always been the preferred material if you overlook the ugly concrete buildings that have become so much more common in modern times.  There is still a workforce of masons that build with stone.  Some of them are talented artisans with high standards.  One of the reasons we based ourselves in Molyvos for a over a week is because the town is so beautiful, and one of the main reasons the town is beautiful is because of its stone work.  There must be a building ordinance because new construction tends to blend fairly well with the older town.
Stepped stone lanes meander past handsome stone Ottoman era houses and shops
A cobbled street reflect light in the late afternoon
Molyvos is volcanic in origin and is quite rocky, but the soil is rich and fertile.  The beach between the comfortable Michaela's Apartments where we stayed and the town is made up of a variety of colors of stones.  Whenever I walk on it I catch myself scanning the stones for shapes and colors since I was doing this almost daily while I worked on the Labyrinth project on Bainbridge Island for the two months preceding this trip.
Pastel volcanic beach stones in the clear waters of the Aegean in Molyvos
Eventually I would give in to inspiration and compose a mosaic on a patch of sand on the beach by the apartments, just because I couldn't help myself.  It only took an hour to compose and I didn't aim for perfection, but the stones are so lovely that it turned out to be quite beautiful.
The mosaic I created using beach stone
As I become intimately engaged with the beach, I couldn't help but want to make it a better place by picking up the trash that had washed up along the shore line.  Greece is not a particularly clean country and there is garbage everywhere.  Plastic in our seas is one of the great environmental problems we face today.  I made a very small impact but I cleaned a good quarter mile of the beach near where I am staying and it looks all the more lovely as a result.  I encourage everyone to do the same on a regular basis and to teach your children to do the same.  Giving back to the gorgeous planet is the greatest gift we can give to ourselves and the environment we inhabit.

One colder day we were walking the four kilometers to the Eftalou hot spring, one of many on the island.  The baths at most of the springs date from the Ottoman era and this one is quite charming, being by the sea.  Just on the edge of town there is a large garden with stone terraces and tiled patios that were obviously built by an artisan with a great love for patterns and fine composition.  There is a bench near that road that I found to be extraordinarily beautiful in the way stone and brick were combined.

The back side of a wonderful stone and brick bench
One of the nicest stone benches I've ever seen
Passing lush green fields and well tended olive groves, the road follows the shore line and is collapsing in many places in to the sea as water levels rise and erode the coast.  So this charming old bath house may not be around in 100 years, but we spent a divine afternoon soaking in water that has chloride and radium in it (which makes it somewhat radioactive).  The springs on the island have been used curatively for many centuries and this one is believed to relieve a number of ailments ranging from arthritis and rheumatism to skin diseases.
Eftalou Hot Springs
Gayle and John and the resident cat at Eftalou Hot Spring
The interior of the simple whitewashed masonry vaulted enclosure has pierced holes in the ceiling to allow light to penetrate, and a nice stone ledge around the perimeter of the rectangular pool who's floor is covered in smooth black pebbles that feel lovely to wriggle your feet in.  The very kind old Greek sailor who was attending the place for his wife that day lit candles to set in the niches and a stick of incense which made the room atmospheric and rather idyllic.

The pierced vaulted ceiling allows atmospheric illumination of the room
A cat who loves to be petted kept us company while we soaked, and we did cold plunges in the sea, which is still relatively warm even though it is the middle of December.  It was a wonderful way to spend the day and we were so relaxed we wound up going to bed early that evening.

Even though Molyvos is very quiet in the winter and many of its inhabitants have gone to Athens for the winter I never seemed to tire of walking through the town.  The light is always changing.  Sometimes it is blustery and windy.  Other days are sunny and calm.  It must get quite hot and busy with tourists in the summer, but the streets in the center are covered with pipe trellises tangled in Wisteria, Parthenocissus, and grapes forming a shady canopy.  It must be extraordinarily beautiful in the Spring when the Wisteria is in bloom.
Twisted old Wisteria vines line a street in the town center.
Parthenocissus quincifolia with rich red fall color trailing over a wall

But in the mid December there are still brilliant red leaves on some of the Parthenocissus and clusters of grapes on the vine.   The streets are paved in stone cobbles, sloping toward the center to keep water away from the buildings.  On the steeper slopes the lanes turn to quiet steps devoid of scooters and cars.
Rustic stone steps climb the slopes between houses
The lanes twist and turn in the Medieval style, which made it harder for invaders to navigate if they were to raid the town during times when the population would retreat to the fortress for protection.

If a path is seldom used then lush growth may fill it like a garden, blending the man made with the wild.
An unused flight of steps becomes a garden
I love old towns where houses are sometimes abandoned.  If the roof collapses then a stone house becomes something like rock formations harboring an ecosystem of colonizing plants.  A view through a window can frame a wild garden that has taken over inside.  The town of Ragusa in Sicily is like that.  You can read about Ragusa in my essay from last year at:
An abandoned house and garden turning in to a thicket of trees
Remnants of an old house wall

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When buildings are very old they often undergo many incarnations and changes.  Doorways and windows are sometimes filled in leaving a footprint of what was once there.  If the mason is talented the results can be interesting.
An old doorway is filled in creating a work of stone art
Old walls take on the character of the skill used by a variety of masons
The old Ottoman Mosque in the center of town is now an auditorium.  The minaret has been taken down and only the base remains.  On Saturday nights they show movies there, which in the winter seems to be the main social event.  We went to see "Lady Sings the Blues" this last weekend starring Diana Ross in a biopic of the singer Billie Holiday (a strange choice).  The building is large and the narrow street passes underneath it in an atmospheric tunnel that has windows piercing the outside wall that frames views of the sea.  It is artful details like this that add to the magic of the place.

The base is all that remains of the minaret of the old mosque
The street passes under the old Mosque in the town center
There are fine old Ottoman fountains scattered around the town that provided water to the houses before the advent of indoor plumbing.  They always have a pointed arch and a niche in the center and a basin for animals to drink from.

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The oldest known pebble mosaics in the world are found in Greece and I hope to see many fine examples while I am here.  They don't seem to be such a popular art form in Molyvos although there are a few to be found, usually a little vignette or pavement made by somebody who has the desire to try their hand at it.

Oil jars set in masonry are a common way to create a planter in a paved area
The logo for a Hotel Molymos is set in pebble mosaic at the entrance
There is a beautiful old house that has been turned in to a branch of the Athens School of Fine Arts which has an entry done in the classic white pebble mosaic with black details.  These pebbles were imported from another island where white marble pebbles are common.
The entrance to Molyvos' Athens School of Fine Arts
Greece is known for its cats.  They are everywhere, in every color and personality.  Sometimes they are wild and wary, or affectionate and wanting to be petted depending on how much kindness is bestowed on them.  They often cluster around the garbage bins waiting for appealing discards.  People often feed them so the majority aren't too dreadfully mangy although the population is huge.  Sometimes they want to follow you home if you indulge them with petting.  I like to interact with them but have never wanted to have one as a pet.

Cats with collars are relatively rare
Every day I go for a walk up in to the labyrinth of streets and always discover something new.  The views across to Turkey and to the north are beautiful and the Autumn skies in the late afternoon often have a divine quality to them, with Angel ladders descending from the heavens.  It will be hard to leave this wonderful place, but I have many islands to explore this winter.  Chios, to the south is my next destination.
One of a number of breathtaking skies that make it understandable why Greece is the home of so many Gods
Thanks for reading always, Jeffrey

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Halls Hill Labyrinth, The 6th Circuit, The rings of Saturn

This is the last of 6 essays about the work I have been doing on the Halls Hill Labyrinth on Bainbridge Island.  Its a good idea to read the others first.

"Nature is a labyrinth in which the very haste you move with will make you lose your way."
Francis Bacon Sr."
A natural color photograph of Saturn taking by the spacecraft Cassini in 2004
The 6th circuit of the Labyrinth is dedicated to the 6th Planet in the Solar System, Saturn.  This is the second largest of the planets, after Jupiter.  Known best for its rings which are made up mostly of ice crystals, this gaseous planet is 95 times larger than Earth.  The pale yellow color of the surface is caused by a layer of ammonia crystals.  Saturn has 62 known moons orbiting it, the largest of which is greater in size than the planet Mercury.    It was the most distant of the 5 known planets besides Earth in ancient times, and takes about 29 1/2 years to orbit the sun.

Astrologically, the Saturn return is a significant event that occurs when the planet returns to the point in its orbit where it was located at the moment of one's birth.  This period signifies the crossing of a major threshold in life's development.  The first return at the age of 28 signifies the passage from youth to adulthood.  The second is passage in to maturity.  That is coming up for me.  I will finally be mature!  The third return represents the passage in to old age and hopefully wisdom, and is usually the last to occur in one's lifespan.

Saturn was named after the Roman God Saturnus, the God of Agriculture, who was derived from the Greek God Cronos.  The day Saturday is named after this deity as well.  It is the planet of Capricorns.  Saturn is an ancient deity with connections to the early Vedic Gods of the Indus region of Pakistan and India.  He is the God of generation (Brahma), dissolution (Shiva) and plenty (Lakshmi), wealth, agriculture (the main source of wealth at the time), and periodic renewal and liberation.  He also represents Time.  He is often depicted as a mature man with a flowing beard and a scythe, used for reaping grain.  This became the prototype for Father Time.
Cronus, or Saturn
Saturn devouring his children
In Greek mythology, Cronus, or Kronos, castrated his father at the request of his Mother, Gaia, Goddess of the Earth to put an end to her having to sire more terrible children.  It was prophesied that he too would be deposed by one of his own children and therefore ate them all at birth.  Being a God is not all lounging around on clouds...  This was famously depicted in one of the 'Black Paintings' by the Spanish painter Francisco Goya, believed to be an allegory for the strife that was occurring in Spain at that time.  The painting, which hangs in the Museo del Prado in Madrid, is disturbing and impressionable.

Saturn's wife, Os, or Rhea eventually deceived him by handing him a stone swaddled in cloth, thus sparing the life of Zeus, who's Roman incarnation is Jupiter after which the 5th Planet is named.  As the prophesy implied, Zeus overthrew his Father to become the King of Gods.

As a God of Plenty, Saturn's rule was depicted as a Golden Age of prosperity.  The Roman treasury in the Forum in Rome was located in the prominently placed Temple of Saturn.  Tall columns mark a remnant of its former glory.  Saturnalia was the most important of Roman holidays and was celebrated for a week around the Winter Solstice in December with wild, decadent abandon.  In the 4th century, in order to entice people to convert to Christianity, the birth of Jesus was celebrated on December 25 to supplant Saturnalia.
The Temple of Saturn in the Foro Romano
Saturn was later considered the God of Time as well.  For some reason that stuck in my mind and I started to research Mayan calendars.  But I couldn't visualize a way to convey the ideas in the mosaic work.  The calendar itself is breathtaking to behold and is worth researching on your own to learn more.  There is a lot of simple math involved, and marvelous cosmology, and with its concentric rings and radiating lines has many aspects of a Labyrinth.

The Mayan Calendar
So I looked at clocks.  They are much more familiar to me and it seems like I could mark the numbers with lance shaped stones.  So that is what I started doing, but that pattern was eventually abandoned as it didn't read well.  I also wanted to incorporate symbols of prosperity and agriculture with the goal that it be compatible with the health of the planet.

So basically I went to work with no idea of what I was about to create.  Before I left that morning I heard that my friends Sia and Kurt became the proud parents of a twins, a boy and a girl.  So the first thing I did was commemorate this beautiful event by making two little interlocking starfish in the section of the yellow stone path that parallels the entry that will connect to the 6th circuit when I reach the other end.

This part of the path is centered on the East-West axis parallel to the entrance path, in line with the Budding Trees Moon and the Ducks Fly Moon.  This is between the points where Spring and Autumnal equinoxes of the yearly calendar cycle occur in the Medicine Wheel of the design.  Joy's memorial stone, that I would like to dedicate to all Mothers lies in the West and the flat granite slab that is the threshold for the entrance lies in the East.  The two little starfish lie intertwined where this yellow stone path crosses the arc of the 8th Neptune circuit, and passes the 7th circuit to turn in to the 6th.  It will loop up to the North, then turn back to the East-West axis and turn West to run to the center of the Labyrinth, the Sun.  I'll build that part next year.  Best to look at the plan in the first essay to figure out what I am talking about.

It was Veterans day with marvelous unseasonal warm autumn weather, so a steady stream of people came by.  Most of them were told they had to come see the project by others who've visited.  They all wanted to talk so I didn't get very much mosaic work done.  I spread some gravel in the gaps between the paths where I am working so I wont have to fall in the holes anymore or have to tell people what is going in there.  I moved the forms and bent 2-20 foot pieces of rebar to shape.  I'm glad nobody was here for that part as it is a ridiculous thing to do by yourself, but I manage to get it to fit in an irregular way.  There are always two strips in the path and I think I've gone through about 600 feet so far.

Niel and Hilaria
It was hard to decide on a way to start the mosaic so I just did it, framing the edges with larger stones and then filling in the interior like I always do.  I marked where 7 o'clock would be if the entrance was 6 o'clock, using a lance shaped stone.  I also made a little compass like flower which I dedicated to a girl named Eassen who came with her Dad and watched me work for some time.
Eassen and her Dad
Eassen's Clock Flower
My cousin Libby came to help me pick stone on South Beach as It will soon be time to do another pink/red/purple arc, Rockaway Beach is pretty picked over now for those colors.  So we drove over Toe Jam Road (ewe, that name) and parked on one of the precarious little lawn strips at the top of tall bulkhead walls above the beach.  I've only been here once before.  Its a beautiful setting and Mt. Rainier was visible across the water.  Libby barked expertly at the three sea lions that swam by as we scoured the rubbly beach for red rocks.  A lot of them are weathered bricks, but I am desperate for material in that color range so I am including brick pieces that have character.  My desire for a good selection led to the heaping of 6 buckets that I had to lug up to the road.  I'm guessing they weighed up to 100 pounds each.
My cousin Libby walks amongst giant pebbles on South Beach
The street is very narrow and some of the older houses are special along this stretch of coastline, and the precarious water front terraces are sometimes nicely appointed with artifacts from the beach.

It was dark by the time we got back to the park.  I unloaded the rock, cleaned up and ate dinner, and went to get a much needed hour and half massage.

It was much quieter at the site the next day, and the weather was nice, so I made good progress on the 6th circuit, building the two loops connecting to the 7th circuit in the direction of the Southern Cardinal Point.  I'm back to making flowers that are in a way like little clocks or compasses.  It will be good to take a break from the project as I am getting weary of going round and round through the color wheel.  Pink and red are hard because they don't come abundantly in great shapes and the mosaics are not as well composed as I would like, although the colors are beautiful to the eye.

Building the loops from the 7th circuit to the 6th at the Southern Cardinal Point
When it got dark I hauled buckets of gravel down the slope in my trusty, squeaky old wheelbarrow, to fill in more of the spaces between the paths.  Having them filled makes it much easier to walk on the Labyrinth without stumbling in to the gaps.  Safety first...eventually.

I'm sleeping better again and made it to the site an hour earlier than normal the next day, so I was able to move the forms and set enough stone to make my way around to the Western Cardinal Point, passing through red and purple and in to the brown area of the color wheel.  Early on I had a number of visitors who were entranced with the project and stayed for a long time.

Morning visitors
I made clock flowers for them all.  The weather continues to be mild and dry, unusual for this time of year.  Global warming is definitely happening.  This must be the warmest and driest Autumn in history for this region.
Three Clock Flowers for three Labyrinth Lovers
Then I drove over to Manitou Beach and collected 4 buckets of stone, mostly black, white and silver colors for those sections.

Manitou Beach
After that I drove to the building materials store and bought enough rebar and mortar to supplement what I have to finish the 6th circuit by the coming weekend.  After that I got another massage.  I made a nice Flower-Clock for Mishabae, the excellent masseuse who has been counteracting the abuse I have been inflicting on my body during this project.  It is in line with the Western axis and the Stone dedicated to Mothers.  She has 3 daughters.

Mishabae's Flower-Clock
It was raining lightly in the morning.  I've been so lucky with the weather but it is mid November so I'll bear with it.  I left the frame for my shelter up so I can clamp a big tarp on it.  I knew if I took it down it would start raining again so I left it in place out of superstition.  Its getting pretty cold out so took a bucket of hot water to the site with me to dip my waterproof gloves in to warm up my hands.  Winter is coming.

The Terry's came to visit again and shoot some more video but light rain shortened our visit.  It gets dark so early so we bade farewell for the year.  I'll be visiting their beloved Crete this winter!  I worked my way in to the white stones of the north where I left a gap for the loops that will happen there to that connect to 5th circuit that I'll build in the Spring.  I made flowers for my good Eric and his Mother Marion, and brother Colin who passed away one year ago today.  The clouds of Heaven are filled with Angels.
Flowers for Colin, Marion, and Eric
A beautiful Baroque marble Angel in a church in Rome
Barb's Flower-Clock

The next day I finished the circuit using up the very last of the mortar with just enough to make the turn in to the path that runs parallel to the entrance.    A visitor stepped in the wet mosaic after I repeatedly said not to walk in that area.  The fresh work looks so solid to the eye and there seems to be something so irresistible about it.  She seemed bewildered by what happened so I made her a flower clock after I fixed the squished section.  I hope she doesn't feel bad!  I'm done setting stone for the year!

In the morning I removed the forms and used a pick to rough up the space between the paths to improve the drainage and filled it with gravel.  Then I separated the loose stones in the center to give a rough idea of what the rest of the labyrinth will look like.  Then I washed the mosaic work in the outer 5 rings with Muriatic Acid to remove the mortar film so that the colors shine through.  Then I walked the path to make sure it works.  Most of the beginning of the walk happens in the inner circuits that I haven't built yet.  Its quite a journey, walking over all the stories and special moments that have come with building this.

Dividing the loose stones to create the form of the path for the inner 5 circuits
I washed the mosaic work in the outer 5 rings with Muriatic Acid to remove the mortar film so that the colors shine through.
View of the Labyrinth from the East at the entrance
I rolled up the hose and loaded all of my tools in to the truck and visited with some people who have become friends who came by to see me before I left the island.  If the Gods are willing I'll be back again next year just before the Spring equinox to finish the project.  Blessed be.  It has been an amazing experience to create this rather daunting project.  My body has held up remarkably well for its age with hopefully no irreparable damage.  The work has been an act of penance and I am deeply moved by it.
6 completed circuits
Before I left a went around and captured images of some of the more memorable parts.  The path is so rich with special moments and implied meaning, a stone painting of time and space.  Now its time to go home.  Thanks for reading, Jeffrey

The Ducks Fly Moon, dedicated to my Mother

Blue Green stones in the Northeastern part of the Neptune circuit

The flower dedicated to Suzinne Weiss's Mother

Circuits transitioning from black to white in the North

The Clouds of Heaven and the Earth Renewal Moon
Orange stones in the direction of the Freeze up Moon in the Northwest

An orange flower sprinkled with Douglas Fir Needles