5, December 2011 § 1 Comment
Paros is a small island, and at times it feels it. As an artist especially, we walk around living in our work and our minds. It gets real easy to spend an entire week in the town, making art, interacting with other students and the locals, until all of a sudden Paros feels like this tiny little rock comprised wholly of the little city Parikia. The Friday hikes are the weekly escape. A mental break for sure, they are an opportunity to recreate with all of the other students, to talk with them, as well as spend some quality time with John Pack. More than that, the Pack hikes are a chance to see the island outside of the town, and experience all of her rugged, prickly, life-giving beauty. When I say prickly, I mean, wear pants, you never know when the Byzantine era donkey path will be overgrown with typically Parian spiked shrubbery. When I say life giving I mean a couple things. First, bring a backpack, people lived off of this land for 10,000+ years, we find any herb a salad could want, lemons, olives that are good to eat off the tree, carob, almonds, half of Whole Foods grows here. I also mean life giving in the sense that, for some reason, nobody comes back from a hike and plops down for a 6 hour nap. It’s energizing, the land has a vitality to it.
On one hike, which was particularly full of ruins, fruit, and history, John and Jane took us to the Healing Tree, which for me, represents everything that the Friday Hikes are. This tree is ancient, with huge branches that sag to the ground and others that stretch up 20 meters. It’s a perfect tree to climb, lounge under, sit on, I could entertain myself there for hours. It got its name from a particular student in the past. She was depressed, and knew it before coming. When she got to Paros she decided she couldn’t handle being here, that she needed to go home. John convinced her to wait out the week, which included a hike to this particular tree. She saw the branches, climbed right up, stayed there for hours, and announced that she would stay. Spending time in the tree was a healing exercise for her, and she swore by it. This is what the hikes can do. They can heal you. Not to sound all New Age medicine or anything, but being in nature every Friday, led by John, is good for the soul. The time out there will inspire you and affect your work. They are an ultimate good, and I swear by them.
9, May 2011 § Leave a comment
Have you ever heard of the snowball effect? Imagine yourself standing at the top of a hill in a blizzard. The snow is perfect, heavy packing snow. You decide to construct a tiny snowball in the palm of your cold hands and roll it down the hill. As it rolls, more and more snow collects onto the snowball. It gets bigger and bigger and bigger right before your very eyes. You are shocked at what it has turned into, remembering the tiny white ball that was in your hand only moments ago. You can’t help but marvel at the outcome.
I have experienced this effect before in my life, but not quite like the one from our most recent Friday hike. The snowball effect, when involving twenty artists, is much more effective and wonderful.
After hours of hiking under our fearless director, John Pack, we finally arrived at a beach. This was our resting point for about an hour. Some students had pow wows in the sand, while others sprinted into the sea. The less daring ones slowly and nervously waded themselves into the water, which was incredibly amusing to watch.
I was giggling at the swimmers from the shore, when suddenly, a sirocco of inspiration led me to start making sand portraits.
Let the snowballing begin!
Artists tend to do unusual things sometimes. I decided to play into that stereotype and grabbed a long, wooden stick and plunged it into the sand, dragging it in a circular motion. I was making the outline of a face. Chris’s face, to be exact. He seemed a bit melancholy when he realized he forgot his bathing suit to go swimming. In an effort to cheer him up, we started building.
Jun Pierre ran right over and began building up the facial features like an olympic gold medalist, and Gabriel quickly busted out his low relief sculpture expertise. Before I knew it, there were more and more students helping to sculpt the face, contributing their priceless sand portrait ideas, and running to find beach trinkets in order to portray Chris’s accessories and facial hair.
Note: Chris is a below average model, because right as we were making progress on our masterpiece, he conveniently decided to ignore the fact that he was bathingsuit-less, and jumped into the sea with his boxers on. Impeccable timing, Chris.
The snowballing continues.
“LOOK AT THIS FOLKS!! ITS AN ART INSTALLATION!! YOU GUYS ARE DEFINITELY GETTING CREDIT FOR THIS!!” yelled John Pack, from a short distance away. He asked us how many credits we wanted. I didn’t tell him yet, but I want one million. For each of us.
The artists constructed the face. The writers discussed how a blog post should be written. The photographers (or digi-heads, as John Pack calls them) documented the whole thing on their cameras. And let’s not forget that our school director granted us as much “credit” as we could ever hope for, for our hard work. This snowballed from one wooden stick, into a memory that brought a tear to my eye as I was remembering it when I arrived back home. This experience made me realize what a team we have here. Although it was just a silly sand portrait of Chris, the amount of help, compromise, strategy, and support that went on throughout this whole process was truly moving. I could not believe the outcome, and it would not have been successful if we hadn’t all done it together. As a team. As a family.
4, May 2011 § Leave a comment
A while ago, in Creative Writing, Jeffrey explained to us that in Greek there are three words for love, each of them denoting a distinct emotion, a different phenomenon. The first two made enough sense to me: eros, romantic love, and philos, the love you feel for your family and very close friends. But then we got to the third, agape, what Jeffrey described as the love you feel for mankind in general. Now, I’m no misanthrope– of course I’ve felt a certain fondness for the human race at times– but at that moment, it struck me as odd that the Greeks would have come up with a completely different word for it. That, however, was before I really got involved in life here on Paros and at the Aegean Center.
This past Friday, the hike cut short by the Independence Day parade in the morning, we went to a place called Kolympithres. The bus dropped us off near a bay with water that I, someone who comes from a city where they dye the river ever St. Patrick’s Day, can hardly believe is naturally that ridiculous, perfect shade of cerulean. We walked along the beach until we got to a small mountain, and began scrambling, some more elegantly than others, up the boulders to the top. I was motivated by something John had mentioned earlier: there were ancient ruins at the top. And ruins there were– A Mycenaen citadel, with 5,000-year-old walls still standing waist-high and an incredible view of the bay. Eventually, we climbed back down the other slope over enormous, wind-carved boulders and began heading back along the beach, this time stopping to wade in. By the time we made it back to the bus stop, I don’t think I was alone in feeling like my heart was swelling; at the end of that hike, I just wanted to hug someone.
By this point, three weeks into the semester, I feel like I’ve begun really getting to know the other students. Before I came here, I have to say that I was anxious about that prospect, especially given some of the stereotypes about art school students. But now that I’m here, I am continually struck by how well our group gets along, and, frankly, by how much I just plain like everyone. Then there are the teachers, who are not only great at what they do, but who honestly care about the students and our work. I get the feeling that I’m surrounded by an incredible group of people, and that I am unbelievably lucky to be. In this place, and more specifically, in this group of people, I have come to understand why the Greeks need that third word for love. I think it’s safe to say that I have fallen head over heels in agape.
30, March 2010 § Leave a comment
On Friday, John led a group of students on a four hour journey from Lefkes to Aliki (towns on the island of Paros). Believe me when I say that this was truly stunning, and possibly my favorite hike with John ever.
Imagine walking on a sunny day over the flower-rich mountains of Paros, with occasional powerful yet refreshing gusts of cool wind, and no villages in sight. It was so awesome that I often found myself imagining what a bird’s-eye view of us would look like, trekking through donkey paths and stopping to drink water from a spring (I often came up with an image somewhat like “The Sound of Music”). Some images that have stuck with me are of wind whipping through fields of tall grass, fellow students far ahead of me winding up a steep and flower speckled mountain side, and drinking from a spring that John showed us. Needless to say after the four hours of hiking, most of us went to bed early.
Below is a poem that Charlie, another student here, has written about the hike.
Soles wore thin,
On the undulating trail,
Of where my feet led me,
Among the pristine pebbles I met metal.
My face neared earth,
My hands grasped nettle,
And I wondered who was right,
Nature or civilization?
Until next time, and wishing everyone a great day,
Sarah Ransohoff is a painting student here at the Aegean Center. This is her second semester.
6, May 2009 § Leave a comment
Some photos from our past several hikes.
Thanks to Chantal, Jun and Melissa for the photos.
23, March 2009 § Leave a comment
I believe I speak for all of the new students when I say that the Aegean Center and the island of Paros have been quick to feel like home. Built of matching white houses and stone streets fit for foot traffic, Parikia is as safe as it is endlessly explorable. If we walk to the bakery for a delicious filo-filled breakfast before class we’re bombarded with “Kali mera”s from countless new neighbors who already treat us like old friends, and when we return to our apartments in the Aegean village we’re greeted at the gateway by the cats who have claimed us as their own. After only two weeks, we already seem to fit here.
The sense of comfort expands by kilometers each week as John takes us on his picturesque Friday hikes, allowing us to get to know other areas of Paros. We’re always given a nice mid-hike break to take advantage of frolic-worthy clover fields, climable olive trees, scalable rocks and sketchable views of the Mediterranean sea and the surrounding Cycladic islands, past the hills dotted with sheep. On the hikes our understanding of the island grows not only geographically but botanically, as John excitedly points out instances of local flora: fresh oregano and sage which will inevitably be picked and eaten later at the students’ weekly potluck.
This life outside of school grounds only enhances our willingness to learn at the Aegean Center. Rather than serving as a distraction, all of the comfort and excitement of (mostly) clear-skied Paros stimulates the creativity, enthusiasm and mental clarity necessary for learning both in the classroom and the studio. But if a week of hard work builds up any stress or tension, we’re provided a nice venue for shaking it all out: Saturday Greek dance class, where we learn culturally meaningful new ways of getting our groove on (this new student has already gotten years of bottled-up dance out of her system).
I’m excited for this week’s surprises, but also can’t wait for more of the same.
Thanks to Alice for the photos.
11, March 2009 § Leave a comment
6 March 2009, in the mountains of Lefkes
The first hike of the season took place under a dusty sirocco sky. John led the way through overgrown donkey paths, stony river beds, and fields bespeckled with spring’s first wildflowers. A traditional meal at Flora’s Taverna in the nearby village of Lefkes sated our whetted appetites before our quiet and contemplative return to the Aegean Center, to our studios, and to the work already begun this first full week on Paros.
Thanks to Jun and Alice for the photos.
31, October 2008 § Leave a comment
Friday, 24 October, 2008. In the Mountains of Lefkes. Fotos by Alice Houston.