MY CRETAN ADVENTURE: JUST PICTURE-PERFECT!
By Frieda Lardinois
My Cretan adventure begins in 2001 in the South of the island. Totally burned out from my hectic job (at a newspaper), I arrive in a tiny village, in low tourist season, which I like the best. There’s one charming “big” hotel (44 rooms), a pension hotel, a tourist shop, five tavernas, a super market and no idea how many churches, but certainly more than a few.
All I need is a quiet place to read my books, with the sound of the sea in my ears, and some sun on my skin. However, I soon get “integrated” into the daily philosophical discussions between the Cretan hotel manager and a few other guests, all from different countries. He’s complaining (at that time I didn’t know it yet, but they always do) about decreasing bookings, and we try to figure out why it’s happening and what we can do to bring about a change.
It was agreed that these days there is a large market of “surplus-value-seekers” looking for “quality time” in Crete . Different ideas are brought up and, suddenly, the manager is clearly convinced of the possibility to make the plan work.
He knows I was, in a previous century, an art teacher and he understands the talent of “delegating”. We talk and talk and come to an arrangement: I will organize painting workshops, two times a year, during my vacation. And I do.
Back home in Belgium I set up a mailing to all of my contacts, and immediately my telephone doesn’t stop ringing. Most of the participants in the original workshop are women (Do you mind if I challenge Sophia Klidi to find an explanation for this phenomenon? After reading her article on the 5 S’s in a recent Crete Gazette, I’m sure she must have an insight . . . I’d like to compare her ideas with mine). The concept is a success right from the start.
The third workshop in 2004 is a special one: three male participants! One living in Belgium , two living in Crete expats as you call them. One of the expats is a famous one known for building beautiful homes on the island. You know him: Guido Pille of Belgium , who has lived in Crete for many years. With him at our side we are treated like VIP’s wherever we go. At the restaurants he arranges the best place, the best food. At the hotel he encourages the manager to improve the service and the accommodation. With reason, cause day by day the place is turning into the set of ” Fawlty Towers .”
At the end of this workshop, Guido proposes that I move my course to the North-East of the island. He seems to be a regular customer of the bar at Zorbas Beach and says that it could become an excellent base for the painting course. Before leaving back for Belgium he takes me there to introduce me to the manager, Erik, and a deal is made.
This year, in May, we had another painting course. Fun, fun, fun! On the program I listed different painting locations to offer my students a variety of landscapes.
On day one we go to Kalo Horio, at the lovely windmill there. What a view! It’s just perfect for our first exercise, to loosen our wrists. At noon we try to find some food in a local kafeneion (coffee shop). The owner looks at us as if we’re from the planet Mars, but suddenly the Mama arrives and she immediately takes charge. In a matter of minutes she organizes a tasteful meze, various small plates of local specialties. In no time half of the village enters the place to observe us, the “aliens.”
Day two we head for Kritsa. First we make a walk through this interesting village (lots of shops). We have a drink at the Olive Press Hotel, run by a fellow Belgian. Then we choose our painting spot. We are accompanied by a bunch of kids. They try to improve my Greek tongue; I help them with their English. Nice paintings are in progress. With my legendary soft but resolute guidance (ha-ha), I help my students to develop, and, hopefully, improve their paintings.
Another phenomenon: only two days passed and already friendships for life are made amongst the group. Right from the start they are on very familiar terms with each other there’s a lot of laughter, and a lot of serious talks. I mean A LOT of talking after all, we are all women in this group!
Day 3: Inevitable! A monastery is a must on the painting program. Most of them are of an extreme beauty, very well maintained. Each corner you turn is worth a painting.
The monks are very proud we chose their monastery to paint and show this by offering Greek coffee, biscuits, fruit and lemonade. No possible escape, we have to interrupt our work to eat and drink all of it! Then back to the canvass, with the monks and nuns occasionally taking a look at the paintings, muttering Oreo oreo (beautiful, beautiful) .
At night back at the apartments we have a dinner party, which is a nice occasion to look back on another beautiful day for the workshop in Crete .
The next day we drive to Heraklion. At the port we get ourselves installed for more creative activity. However, directly in front of us a Russian film crew is setting up shots for what appears to be a documentary. The reporter has a hard time, for hours he has to do it over and over again. With all this activity, the painting spot doesn’t really fit too well, and, besides, it turns to be too hot. So we decide to walk into the centre of the city to have a cool drink. However, we pass a “1.5 Euro Sop” so everyone first decides to some “mandatory” shopping.
I always try to organize something special for the last day of the course the apotheosis, so to speak. This time it will be Apo Karouzano. Such an idyllically place!
Only twenty five inhabitants. At the one kafeneion in town I ask if it is possible to have lunch at noon . They get very excited. Suddenly, people are running up and down, shouting. Three men are sent to the garden to pick beans and artichokes; another one appears with a basket of tomatoes and cucumbers. Yia-Yia (the grandmother) is in charge of the entire operation, of course, and she’s a wonderfully sweet and courageous woman. At noon she conjures up the most delightful meal on our table. This fantastic atmosphere works well for the workshop and is very inspiring. All of the students are painting right from the heart.
Later on, at the end of our last day, we display all the paintings completed during the workshop on the walls of Zorbas, and we may look back and reflect on a lovely painting holiday in Crete .