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Wednesday, 22 January 2014


Mimosa - the tree that knows you're there

I feel this place fixing in memory, filling up those parts of my head that store happiness, edging out others once in fuller occupation – places now so changed they would, if revisited, only beget despondency – blighted by golf courses, executive estates, urban kerbed and straightened country roads, dual carriageways with out of scale EU signage. It happens almost everywhere. Yet even as I grouse, I know little’s worse than a place fixed in the amber of nostalgia. Better take it as it comes since what matters in any landscape, however drab or sublime, is its people. A dose of psychogeography has taught me the gems to be discovered walking through a littered car park under pylons to where some break in the chain-link leads to the remains of an unmarked path ending in a deserted junkie space of cans, plastic bottles, shards, shredded sleeping bags given over to vigorous proliferating weeds and their flowers – a reminder of what rust and moth corrupts, fecund nature recovers.
The western outskirts of Ano Korakiana

So laced is this village and its outskirts with paths, tracks and roads, the permutations available for our walks, are, if not numberless, unexhausted after six years of almost daily strolls in all seasons and weathers.  Private space and public space mingle to exclude severing walls or gates with a minimum of cul-de-sacs – matching unself-consciously, and without their intervention, urban planners’ recommendations for ‘livability’. This is not because there is no crime or its notorious equivalent ‘fear of crime’. There are plenty of spiked fences and locked gates and notices warning of guardian dogs. Somehow the need for domestic security has not blighted our village’s delightful permeability. 
“Is that a path we’ve not been along before?” Lin wonders as she inserts herself into a alleyway between high walls. I wait while she reconnoitres.
“Yes! It goes on through” 
I follow, skirting porches, shutters, window boxes, perhaps a parked scooter, chairs at a table and other personal belongings before our way opens into more shared space.  
“Let’s try this way?” I suggest as we see an untried track between fences off a road running below the village
“Where does it go?”
“Not sure. Let’s see”
Paths lead to small pastures off which run other paths which turn into dirt tracks then a road we recognise off which run other tracks in a general direction that more or less matches our wish to return at some stage to Democracy Street.
“Shall we try it?”
“But of course. I suspect it may comes out or go by Eklisia Paraskevi”

Sure enough. It’s the church just beyond the abandoned car that a few years ago looked quite run-down, now with a bell tower designed and built by our neighbour Lefteri and relatives; the whole joined together with a finely finished matte paint, many mitred wooden doors glistening Corfu green. Just over the track that runs beside the church is its cemetery where we expect to see the grave of Lefteris’ brother who died in 2011.
“This is also where we’ll find Arestides Metallinos and his wife Angeliki” 
Angeliki, their grand-daughter, had told us they were laid there. 
“That is our church”
It sits amid olive and cypress trees about half a mile on the flatter slopes below the village. 
“I’ve never really liked graves with photos and plastic or withered flowers and dead candles” I said to Lin “but I’m coming round to the idea that it might be comforting to visit an actual place where bones are interred below a memorial bearing a friendly gently smiling photo of the person who’s gone.”
Lin said nothing. I wondered if I could imagine such a place for my mum. I thought not, but wasn’t sure.

But Arestides Metallinos was someone who lived all his life in this village and is, like our neighbour
Lefteri, inalienably linked to Ano Korakiana.
The sculptor and his wife, Angeliki

Ήλθες στην πρόσκαιρη ζωή
κι έφυγες όπως όλοι
το γέρικοσου το κόρμι
ελύγιζαν οι πόνοι
Κι αν απ’τον τόποσου
έφυγες λιγάκι πικραμένος
ας ειν’το χώμα ελαφρύ
που είσαι σκεπασμένος*
My mother made the many and varied spaces we lived as children into our places. She was the place where she was with us.
Theodora Barbara - mum in 1917
I cannot associate her with any one place – rather with many special places where we were happy long ago -, in the heart of London, along the chalk streams of Hampshire and Berkshire, on the heathered moors and peaty waters of Inverness-shire, of the aching beauty of Ross and Cromarty; the places we went on childhood holidays, Exmoor, the dark jag-rocked white sanded Pembrokeshire coast, and later, when went together with her - Lin and I - to Istanbul, Cairo, Alexandria, Rajasthan, Crete, Venice. Like me and countless others who left the village centuries ago I have no ‘place’ where I’d wish, or even feel entitled, to have my remains interred - no place I can claim as especially mine. This is not a matter for regret. Being geographically unplaced means my places are ones of imagination, of many many memories. Perhaps that’s why people in my circumstances prefer cremation – illegal in Greece – so that if our relatives are so inclined our remains, as ash, may be spread among reminiscences, born on wind or water. Ironic that all my professional life I’ve been preoccupied with local government, and the elusive challenge of what’s now called ‘localism’. Lin is more determined than I. 
“I want no funeral’ she asserts “The refuse men can remove my corpse. Take it to the dump”
“Yeah well not my problem” I say “since I shall make a point of dying before you, and anyway I’ve donated my body to the NHS”
On the way home to Democracy Street, as we walk along National Opposition Street a woman sees us gazing up and murmuring admiration at her swirling flowering mimosa that hangs from her garden over half the road.
“Perimeni wait a moment” she says through her garden fence, then hands down to Lin two generous twigs of the yellow flowers and their delicate leaves.
** ** **
After the visit to the Metallinos Museum with Irini Savvani the Saturday before last I wrote:
Dear Irini. I’m so pleased we met. Lin too. That stone shoe seems a ‘transition’ between craft and art. Lin suggested Arestides might  have copied it from a real shoe that he had made.
Is there a Greek word for a man who has many crafts? Metallinos was good at shoemaking, building, furniture making, carving olive-oil millstones. Then in his last years - sculpting in stone and marble.
I think we are agreed that there is unlikely to be an expert or ‘authority' out there who can give any ‘certificate of value’ for this work.
I say - as one rather dependent on the opinion of others for my opinions about art - that the point at which a carved object becomes art has always been for those who see it to decide.
In the case of Arestides Metallinos there are still so few who have had the opportunity to make up their minds about him. We are nearly on our own, which makes me nervous amid my enthusiasm. My ‘qualification’ is that my interest was invited by the sculptor’s family; that Lin and I live in Ano Korakiana for many months of the year; that we love the village and Greece in ways that are far more than romantic or sentimental. (I know quite a lot of the history of modern Greece and of Corfu in particular).
Your qualifications? You are an art historian, critic and curator. You were born in the village. You are Greek, Corfiot and you met the artist when a child, and I’m sure there are other qualifications…One other thing we share; we are both ‘qualified’ by happy coincidence, in that in going to buy bread in the village we met in the centre of Democracy Street a few days ago. Had you or I left home a few minutes earlier or later this would not have happened. So. I treat luck in this matter as an asset.
I’m assuming you will write something about Aristedes Metallinos. I will be happy to get anything you draft sent to me to be translated (tho’ I know your English is very good). I imagine the challenge is to find the words and phrases to capture and convey to others something of the essence of this man’s art.
Thanks for the things you pointed out - especially the similarity of many of the faces to the artist’s own…I cannot get over the resonances of this ‘uneducated’ man’s talent. He understood Pygmalion - in that relief of him carving a woman and those words incised below  “Do not trouble your old bones…”. Also that 1984 sculpture of the ram which appears unfinished, but intentionally so. It’s a lesson in carving stone – ‘pitching’ (with that large chunk of rock left with point-chisel marks on the animal’s back)....
...‘roughing out’ with a claw chisel (I believe) and the process of ‘rasping’. That piece remains unpolished - the final stage. It makes me wonder if Arestides, like the great Italian sculptor, sought to release a form trapped inside his raw material…Kindest regards, Simon
Continuing with the project I contacted John Petsalis, so far only an internet acquaintance. Since the prospect of finding exhibition space remains for the time-being remote despite enquiries I felt that John’s ‘virtual museum’ would be a way of widening the audience for the work, providing links to an inventory that can evolve into a catalogue, and as a means of at least making images of the work accessible even if though its essence exists in dimensions and weight that can only be experienced directly. 
On Thursday Lin and I met John for coffee and cakes on the Liston – bathed in shade and bright sun. I showed him some pictures of the sculptures. The upshot was a meeting this Tuesday morning at the museum in Ano Korakiana. Angeliki arranged for her and her parents to be joined by her cousin Tassos. John Petsalis arrived with his wife Tina and an assistant Effie Stathia a photographer, studying for a history Phd.
John, Angeliki, Tina, Effie, Simon and Linda outside the Arestides Metallinos Museum in Ano Korakiana

As we assembled in Anna’s sitting room, I sitting between Linda on one side to nudge me if I talked out of turn and her husband Andrea. I could not have been more delighted as introductions were made. Tassos, John and Effie slipped easily between Greek and English. We had almost enough Greek to avoid being obtuse.
Angeliki and her cousin Tassos with one of their grandfather's works
Enthusiastic debate – some of which I could follow – as we enjoyed Anna’s coffee and cake, then we went out of one side of the house and back in through the door reserved for the display of sculptures. I don’t think I could ever become jaded by this rich collection, augmented on this occasion by the pleasure of seeing others looking at it for the first time.
"I did not know this man existed" said Effie as she strolled the collection planning a photographic record.
We wandered about the small room full of carved marble and stone - the Greeks helping me understand even more of Arestides’ art.
Mark said over a beer at the bar in the village last night
“I bet you never thought when you came here a few years back you’d be in this position”
“I know I know. This man has made a record of a world that's disappeared. He lived amid change from a pastoral society to the modern world, fuelled by mass tourism. And that’s just part of his work. There’s all the other things I’ve yet to understand! God, in whom I don’t believe (as if that would worry him in the slightest) works in mysterious ways sending such marvellous unanticipated gifts to me who loves this country and will never cease wanting to learn more about it”
I didn’t voice that last sentence but I sensed he agreed and sympathized. 
Before we left the museum after two hours continuous and excited conversation John thanked me for arranging for his meeting with the sculptor’s family and the opportunity to visit the museum. I and Effie exchanged emails so that we can stay in touch from England. I was almost glad to leave as I could see Lin getting gently frustrated at my impulsive effusiveness, exactly the un-English thing in me that I needed her to keep in check.
“You must stop saying ‘sorry’” said Angeliki at one point, as I apologized again for arranging the meeting at such short notice
“Sorry” I said “It’s an English habit”
“I know” she replied.
I have been entrusted with several papers from Tassos and Angeliki, two academic articles in Greek, one a chapter from a book, written in the late 1970s when the sculptor still had years more carving to do, and an inventory, one in Greek and one in English, twenty pages, listing – not in chronological order - all 252 pieces in the museum.

I confirmed that the stone shoe we’d seen on our first visit back in November last year, the first thing – so far as we know - Arestides carved; dated by the artist ‘25 September 1928’ when he was 20 years old, nearly 50 years before, as an old man of 67, he would invent himself as the sculptor of Ano Korakiana.
Irini remembered encountering this lion as a child when visiting the museum with her parents
*Last four lines - my translation: 'And if you leave this world a little embittered let the earth lie lightly on the place where you are buried'
*** ***
Google maps team sent me a message after I’d said the two main roads through the village had names different from those on the actual street signs...
Your report near Eparchiaki Odos Agiou Vasiliou in Ionian Islands
Hi Simon. We've reviewed your problem and you were right! The default view in Google Maps has already been updated to reflect your suggested change, as shown below.
The road was called Eparchiaki Odos Agiou Vasiliou because the village of Agiou Vasiliou lies on what used to be the main route to Corfu from Ano Korakiana. The lower road - National Opposition Street Οδός Εθνικής Αντίστασης - was unnamed on Google and previously called the district road from Pyrgi to Ano Korakiana Eparchiaki Odos Pirgiou-Korakiana.

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Simon Baddeley