Monday, 4 August 2014

Thought for the day

My lack is my salvation. I wrote this on my Facebook page and here on May 2nd, 2014. I'd had an insight that my very shortage of practically everything (I was then trying to live on between 5 and 8 euros a day) was in a way both a liberation, and a protection for me, a way of forcing a kind of asceticism on myself that I am otherwise too weak willed, or weak minded, too willing to be distracted by things I can pay for, to seriously undertake. Now I am even poorer (financially). I have £1 in my bank account and nil in my pocket. I have no tobacco, nothing to drink, enough food for a few days. I have a comfortable bed. I am warm and dry. If I want to go anywhere, I can cycle, or walk. And I know, if I did have any money, the first thing I would want to do is buy tobacco, or alcohol, or both. Which is why, if I do get any money, after buying myself some good food, I will use what's left to pay off those people who have been kind enough to lend me money over the past few months.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Down and out in Naxos and Corfu

Eleven months to the day, date and hour since I had first passed her in the wolf light of early dawn, I got off the ferry in Corfu. I had descended from a mountain in Naxos a few days before, where I had been pleasantly marooned for five months without access to electricity, running water or people, other than my landlord and host, a man called Hodge.
I was met at the bus station in Corfu Town by my new owner, or boss, and hauled off to her hotel, the Villa Magdalena, some twelve kilometres away, in the centre of the island. She kindly allowed me two hours rest before putting me to work with a gang of Greeks, Albanians and Glenn, another English refugee, preparing the hotel for the arrival of a group of forty or so Germans the following day. This explained why she had been so keen for me to come at once, although she did not explain this on the ‘phone. After a blissfully hot shower, my first in several months, I presented myself for work. I cannot remember when we stopped that day, but it was certainly late in the evening. We resumed at seven the following morning. I continued to work eighteen hour days for the next fortnight until the Germans left. A baptism of fire into the life of an unpaid volunteer in the hospitality business. Once the Albanians had left and the Germans arrived four of us remained to cook, feed, clean up and man the bar.
One evening I got rather drunk (I was possibly also exhausted) and compounded my felony by swearing in front of the guests and falling over one of them, who was unfortunately “rolly” (German for wheel chair) bound. For some reason my owner did not sack me.
I had left Naxos in a hurry. I’d spent my last days in Naxos City, a.k.a. Sodom and Gomorrah, and each day I inevitably spent a little more of the pittance left after eleven months. I had just enough cash to buy a ferry ticket and a small bottle of water. I disembarked in Athens with €1.50 in my pocket. I was able to touch an old work mate for a loan - he had a whip round in his office for me.
This is not an unusual situation in Greece. In January I was helping Mikhailis redecorate his house in return for a mattress and a meal, usually lentil soup and bread, and some krasi from his taverna. I asked him to lend me €10 to buy some tobacco. He declined, explaining that he had no cash until the end of the month, when he received his pension. Meanwhile he was surviving on tick from local shops and the remaining stock at his taverna, closed for the winter. I realised I knew no one on Naxos who had any money. I posted a jokey reference to this on FaceBook. A Greek American friend spotted it, and immediately offered to sub me. I subsequently heard he had done the same for Mikhaili and possibly others. He had to return to the US to apply for Greek citizenship, so he could continue to live on Naxos, and promptly had his bank accounts frozen by the IRS over some misunderstanding about his tax. The Naxos cash crisis deepened.
When I arrived on Naxos I had a wodge of money, thanks to a loan from my wife who had precipitated my departure for Greece by throwing me out of her house. For a while I cheerfully extracted cash from ATMs, assuming something Micawber-like would turn up. It didn’t, but I survived anyway. At first I had great difficulty spending the money – every time I offered a bar, taverna or shop a €50, the only notes the ATMs dished out, the retailer would run off frantically looking for change. Things perked up later, when the Germans and Scandinavians arrived and injected their cash into the Naxian economy. Once they leave, Naxians revert to tick from their friends, and the food everyone grows on their plots of land. The rest of the Cyclades disparagingly refers to Naxians as “farmers”, but at least they are not in total hock to the tourist industry for their survival. They grow four crops of potatoes a year.
Shortly after my arrival on Corfu our German guests gave us a €500 note. They wanted to make sure they could keep eating and drinking. My fellow Englander had been doing the washing up all morning and the note had got rather damp in his pocket. He fished it out with a very wet hand and gave it to Magda. Far from being delighted with the rather pretty pale lilac note, she had a total tizzy. Do €500 notes dissolve? Melt? Magda dragged me off to town (one of my jobs is to sit in her illegally parked car while she does errands) and took the note into not one but two banks to have it checked. I began to understand her distress. If the note was fake, or even damaged, she would be unable to spend it. It was the first time in my life I had seen so much money represented by a single note. In England banks refuse to accept euro notes larger than €100 because of fear of fraud. Earlier, I’d had a problem trying to use a €10 note to pay for a sandwich and a beer. It had a tiny tear on one edge, and the shop assistant refused to accept it. Her boss reluctantly agreed she could. I had only just been handed it, as change, like some hot potato.
And the other reason for her unenthusiastic reception of the note was that it was already spent. She got rid of it in the space of a half hour, drip feeding various creditors just enough to keep them happy for a few more days. She is running her business on credit cards and paying 22% interest on what she owes them. She is in a permanent state of near hysteria. I feel for her as, until I left England, I had been playing much the same game.
This is the opposite of a cash economy. I feel very much at home.

“Where are you from?”

It’s almost like talking about the weather.
An obvious opener, in a hotel full of young persons travelling, but I find it difficult to answer. Or rather, I’m reluctant to answer it. Just as I was reluctant on Naxos to agree that I was English, and would usually say I’m half Scots, half Irish (and deny Granny, who was a Lancashire mill girl, but really became Scots by adoption, living out her days in Beauly near Inverness).
The question, or its answer, sort of implies that, wherever it is, that’s where I’ll be going back to. And it pigeon-holes or labels me in a way that I don’t wish to be labelled. If I really was “from Scotland” I’d be delighted to tell them. But I could just as easily say, I’m from Eiserlohn, where I was born, and whose location, oddly, I only have the vaguest idea about. Perhaps I should visit. Or Listowel, in Kerry, which is where my FaceBook page says is my home town, the one constant as I grew up. I’m not “from” Wormingford, or Coggeshall, or Ampleforth – they’re just places where I lived for a while. Where I always felt like an alien, an interloper, a visitor, just passing through. But here I call home, without thinking, in the most innocent of contexts – writing a list of things to do when I go to England (not “back” to England) and ending with “Monday 7th July, fly home” and don’t even notice until later. Yet I have no actual “home”, no spiti – a bed somewhere, a meal from someone, for a while. But if I was sitting on a mountain in Greece, with a campfire, a bottle of krasi, and my sheet of plastic for a tent, it would feel more like home to me than any of these places. Perhaps because I chose it, or it chose me, or my “higher power” led me to it, seemingly by a series of accidents.
So what is it that makes me feel I belong here, in a way I’ve never felt anywhere else, apart possibly from Loch Spelve on Mull, or Hope in Sutherland, which I would have loved to call home.
The light. The heat. The Greeks. How I wish I could speak to them, as one of them. The fruit. The trees. The rocks. The mountains and the sea. The sea. The flowers. The ramshaklecality of it all, bodged and half finished. The talk. The shouting. The quiet. The cymballing of the goats and sheep. The magic. The madness. The way it won’t let you walk away from this present moment, its intensity and aliveness, that neither past or future has any weight, compared to the electricity of now, the intensity of it all, the assault on the senses. Only it’s not an assault, it’s a seduction, a caress. I’m in love with Ellaada, and most people I meet seem to feel the same way.
So to answer, “I’m from here”, is not a lie, not a presumption, not precious or pretentious – it’s the literal truth.

Funny Money

Funny Money

I have just moved to Corfu (Kerkira to the Greeks) to help Magda with her hotels. A few days ago, Magda was given a €500 note by one of our German guests. This was kind of them, but probably entirely self interested as they wanted us to continue feeding them. Forty Germans get through an astonishing amount of food every day and Magda and I seem to have spent the best part of half a day, every day, exploring the wealth of supermarkets and cash ’n carries in Kerkira for the best priced deals. Magda is a bogof queen. Which means she sort of assumes bogof applies to everything, and if one of something is a bargain, ten of the same must be an even bigger one. This plays hell with her cashflow.

So I was surprised at her reaction to the €500 note. Instead of being wreathed in smiles, and momentarily delighted with life, she seemed to go into a complete decline. She said in fact she was having a panic attack. Glenn, her best man, had been given the note by Katherina, a well built girl who is responsible for the Germans. This means she has the biggest tab at the bar, and unlike everyone else, has not as yet deigned to settle it. Glenn had been doing the breakfast washing up all morning. His dress code is shell / track suit / trainers and he refuses to wear the extremely smart faux leather apron I persuaded Magda to buy at the Chinese shop, so he was very wet. When he handed Magda the note fished from his pocket with a very wet hand she had conniptions. Do €500 notes melt? We immediately departed to town and her bank, which she rushed into to get the note checked. She then went to another bank and repeated the exercise. They both confirmed the note was OK.

She told me how on another occasion she had gone into her bank to pay some cash in. She couldn’t understand why they put a single €5 note through the note counting machine. Surely, she thought, they could count a single €5 note. The cashier gently explained that the note counter didn’t just count notes, it also checked them. On my way to Kerkyra from Athens, I had tried to pay for a beer and a sausage roll with a €10 note. It had a small nick on one edge. The girl on the till tried to refuse it. I protested, and her boss said grudgingly that it was OK and she then accepted it.

Within half an hour, Magda had got rid of most of the €500. She used it to make part payments on some of her more pressing accounts, and about a third of the minimum payment due on her credit card. This was probably a case of good money after badmoney down the drain. She has already had several of her cards cancelled due to her being late on her payments, and she’s desperate to keep at least one credit card alive. Once cancelled, she cannot reapply for another, and her business is kept afloat on credit cards.

Three months ago I was working for my friend Mikhailis, helping him to refurbish the shutters for his windows and doors. In return he gave me lentil soup and bread, a mattress, and the last of his restaurant’s stock of krasi, each day. I had no money and one day I tried to borrow €10 from him to buy some tobacco. He regretfully explained that he would have no money until the end of the month, then twenty days away, when his pension was paid. He meant, he literally had no money. I suddenly realised I knew no one on Naxos, where I then was, who had any money. I made a joking reference to this fact on Facebook, and a kind Greek American called Lou or Elias, depending on whether he was being American or Greek, said he’d be happy to lend me some. I subsequently found out he’d done the same for Mikhaili, who still owed Lou/Elias €500 when I left Naxos in April. Meanwhile Lou/Elias had returned to Philadelphia to apply for Greek citizenship, and had had his bank account frozen by the IRS over some misunderstanding about his taxes. So the credit crisis deepens.

Kiki, who runs the hotel really, while Magda flies around in an almost permanent panic attack, showed me the €500 note before she entrusted it to Glenn’s damp track suit trouser pocket. It’s a rather beautiful pale lilac colour and I was struck by the fact that this was the first time I had seen so much money represented by a single note. I can understand why Magda felt so nervous.

When I first arrived in Greece, I was quite flush for a time, and constantly interviewed ATMs who happily excreted bundles of €50 notes for me. But I had the greatest difficulty spending them. Invariably I would offer some hapless Greek retailer a €50 note and he or she would rush off down the street searching for someone who could give them change. This was in May, before the season had really started. It became less of a problem later when the tourists started to inject a bit more cash into the Naxian economy.

In January Mikhaili, waiting for his pension, survived on tick from friends – supermarkets, corner shops, hardware stores, petrol stations. He and his family ate and drank what was left of last year’s stock at their taverna (like much of Naxos they close down from October to April). Mike, in turn, kept a number of friends, mostly frail and elderly, supplied with free meals from the taverna when it was open. One of them was a carpenter, and reciprocated by carefully cutting out all the rot from Mike’s shutters, and refilling them with wood inserts and glue, for nothing. His painter and decorator, Giorgiou, did much the same.

Many Naxians, whom other Cycladic islanders refer to disparagingly as “farmers”, live almost entirely and exclusively off what they themselves can grow and produce – potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, several varieties of beans, tomatoes, zuchini, melanzanes, orta (Greek for weeds, wild greens), lettuce, oranges, lemons, kumquats, olives, chickens, cheese from their goats and sheep, krasi and raki from their vines. And mostly, they are extraordinarily generous with what they have.

This is the opposite of a cash economy.

Nothing on Naxos

I am sitting in my room. Outside it is raining, the sky dark with storm clouds. I am drinking an ouzo and reading a history of the Ottoman Empire. I am very happy. I feel I should be doing something else, but as it is not obvious to me what that might be, I shall, for now, continue not doing it.
So, what is nothing? No money. No plans or prospects. No regrets. Just food (enough). Warmth. A glass of krasi. Tobacco. Coffee. Something to do. Or read. Or watch. No “God”. Just whatever is, today, now, this instant.
God” went west in May. With Him (it was/is a “He”) out of the way, life became simpler. One foot in front of the other, one minute, hour, day, at a time. And the real god (we need a new pronoun for the real god) started shining through. In the kindness of strangers. In happy accidents. In children. In friends, old and new. In bus timetables, ferries, taxi drivers. And, eventually, in Naxos.
Eliot wrote “April is the cruellest month” but for me, it has always been late August. Everything dead, or dying. Crops in. Trees still green, but dull, no longer exuberant with life. But here October brings a second spring – the ground covered with swathes of wild cyclamen, autumn crocus, cistus, daisies, wild thyme, the trees greening, bees busy buzzing, fungi everywhere, the hillsides as green as Ireland, meadows and terraces covered in sorrel and dandelion – the Greeks call it all “orta” (weeds), and eat it with abandon.
So you walk. And look. And breathe. And live.
Walking is good. It takes time. You meet raki distillers. You get lifts. It gets you from A to B (sometimes) quicker than a car – they weren’t idiots, the old Greeks; nor are the new ones – they give you a lift when you ask. Modern roads cost money, and modern cars don’t like to go uphill too fast. So, not many roads, and they take the long way round to get from here to there. The old footpaths go straight, up and down hill, and get you to where you’re going in short order. And while you’re walking, you have time to notice things. The view. The flowers. The time.
I always thought sculpting would drive me mad. It takes so long. Bashing away at a piece of rock with a hammer and chisel, slowly finding a shape. Actually, it’s a kind of meditation, a complete absorption in the material, the process. And an enforced detachment – Naxos marble is beautiful, but very crystalline, so it glitters like diamonds and lets light shine through, but is also painfully liable to crack, just when you think you have made something worthwhile. It’s done it to me twice now. You just have to start again. Fail. Fail again. Fail better.
From our eyrie, 1200 feet above the Aegean, looking north and east, on a clear day, we can see Ikaria, where the inhabitants are reputed to live to over a hundred. Beyond is Patmos, where Saint John wrote his gospel and strange revelations. South east on the far horizon, between Donoussa and Amorgos, you can see Rhodes, the original home, after Jerusalem and Cyprus, of the knights of Saint John. And, after dark, we see the flashes of thunderstorms over Turkey, and the lights of Smyrna reflected on the clouds, 150 kilometres away.
We live on Lagos Raki – the Hare’s Back – a kilometre or so north of Mesi, on the northern tip of Naxos. We are off the grid – no electricity, other than what we can make for ourselves, no water other than what god chooses to let down on us by way of rain on the roof funnelled into a cistern, no heat other than sunshine and firewood. I had a bath (a wash in a plastic basin with water heated on the stove) the other day, and found out how long it takes to gather and chop enough wood to heat water for a shave and a thorough clean. About 45 minutes. It makes you think twice about turning on a tap and getting instant hot water, or getting water at all.
Ditto food. We gather – fungi from the fields, peppers, tomatoes, beetroot, beans, potatoes, from Stuart’s garden. Bread may come, from the nearest village, 6 kilometres across the valley, an hour’s walk. Fish, if we hear the fishman’s van, crying his catch, and get to him before he’s gone on to the next village. Meat from Chora, 50 kilometres and two hours’ bus ride away to the south. Some days we don’t eat much.
I run out of tobacco. To get more, I must walk for an hour down to Apollon. Hope the little shop is open. Hope Yanni has some tobacco. Walk back up the hill to the Hare’s Back. Do I really want a smoke that badly? I want to see Eleni, my sculpture teacher. Friends have a car and drop me off. I stay the night. Yanni plays his lyre and baglamas, a kind of small bouzouki. On Sunday morning, the sky is clear although it is blowing a howling gale. I look at my map. It will, I think, take 4 or 5 hours to walk home. I could go by road, and take the chance of a lift (everyone will stop, but you can walk for two hours and not see a car) or walk over Mavro Vouni, the third high mountain on the island, and have an adventure. Seven hours later, I get home. I have walked over Scottish moorland, down verdant spring fed valleys, been blown sideways by the wind, seen both sides of this little kingdom in the sea, got lost twice, and been frightened, a bit.
I am richer than Croesus. What he had could be taken from him. Having nothing, there is nothing to lose, and everything is pure gift.

Monday, 28 April 2014

 EleniKapiri is an artist on Naxos

working in sculpture, paint , photography and poetry

Eleni Kapiri was born in 1970 in Moni, on Naxos. Her father operated a marble quarry and this brought her into direct contact with the unique qualities of Naxian marble. She began to make her first sculptures at the age of 12. At 18 she studied at the Fine Arts School of Tinos.
She has spent time in Brighton, England, in Germany, and in Athens, but most of her working life has been on Naxos, which she loves with a fierce passion and pride.
  • In 2014 she will be exhibiting her sculpture, painting and photography in the Bazeos Tower on Naxos, in Athens and in Thessaloniki.
  • In 2000 she took part in an exhibition of traditional artworks in her home village of Moni.
  • In 2001 she held an exhibition of her work at the Venetian Museum in the historic old town - the Castro - of Naxos.
  • In 2004 she participated at "Dionysia", a series of activities and events organised by the Municipality of Naxos.
  • In 2007 she held an exhibition of her paintings (she began painting in 2003) at the "Naxos Cafe".
  • In 2008 she held her own exhibition in Athens, at the Art Hall.
Many of her works are in private collections. Tragically in 1996 a great deal of her work to that time was stolen from her studio.
"Elements from the African, Indian, Maori as well as from the Buddhist sculpture of the Far East make her artworks part of the contemporary global aesthetic." Stamatina Palmou
"With her work Eleni Kapiri takes the history of human art from the very beginning. She is like the Statue of Liberty - only that instead of the torch, she is holding a paint brush or a chisel." Jimmy Efthimiou
"Tracey Emin on steroids. A unique perspective. A sense of the energy and tension in things, and a powerful connection with the natural world and her home, Naxos." David Simpson
More pictures of Eleni's sculpture, painting and photography, and translations of her poems, to follow
All images copyright © Eleni Kapiri 2013 - not to be reproduced or used without the permission of the artist.
Please email to for more information. 

The Dimitra Project
To build a sustainable, self sufficient, ecologically sound community and cultural centre on the island of Naxos in the Cyclades, Greece. To make a positive contribution to the wider community of Naxos. To grow, to evolve and to give back, to the land and to the community of Naxos.
We are looking for 200 to 300 supporters who are prepared to give some of their time and invest a small amount of capital in the project.
If you cannot get involved yourself, please support us by passing this message on to as many people as you can (even if they are not interested, they may know someone who is).
Please scroll down for more information.

Photograph© Isabel Theron 2013

The Temple of Dimitra or Demeter, Naxos c. 700 BC

Dimitra (or Demeter) is the Greek goddess of fertility.Her temple on the island of Naxos was the first to be built completely of marble including roof beams and tiles. She is very beautiful.

Design Principles for the Dimitra project
  1. Off the grid; rainwater capture and conservation (Naxos receives as much rainfall annually as East Anglia in the UK); photo voltaic generators; possibly wind turbines; possibly Peldon wheel water turbines; composting toilets; grey water capture and reed bed filtration; wood fueled stoves and cooker – grow enough biomass on site to provide own fuel.
  2. Straw bale, local stone (marble, limestone, emery) minimal use of concrete other than that required by authorities to make building earthquake proof. Straw bales provide good thermal insulation for both hot and cold weather (it snows on Naxos in the winter). Natural ventilation systems (NO air conditioning)
  3. No WIFI or mobiles except for emergencies
  4. Grow own food.
  5. Permanent community of 1 – 5 bodies.
  6. Accommodation for up to 20 guests.
  7. Courses – sculpting Naxos marble, painting, poetry and writing, guided walks on Naxos, drama, eco-building and sustainable horticulture, photography, sailing, wind and kite surfing, cycling, horse riding – use local talent as much as possible.
  8. Retreats – silent, guided, meditative, yoga, Zen.
  9. A chapel / meditation space.
Click here to email Dimitra

  1. Find and purchase site (4 in prospect) – large enough and appropriately located, with access, existing buildings (ruins for preference) and water supply.
  2. Build single room and cistern, composting loo(s), site access, install stoves.
  3. Plant / restore orchards and vegetable patch.
  4. First water capture channel at top of the site, feeding the main cistern (which will also take water off the roof).
  5. Install photovoltaic generators and electric water pumps
  6. Extend house – on going.
  7. Build second cistern at base of site to receive reed bed filtration system run off for grey water plus rainwater run off from rest of site.
  8. Extend water capture system – channels and cisterns. Rebuild / repair terrace walls. Complete buildings (accommodation for 20 guests, loos, chapel, course / classroom building).
Raise enough capital to buy site and complete phases 1 to 4 above (€60-70,000). We will be putting all our available capital into Dimitra and expect to do all or most of the work in phases 1 to 4 ourselves i.e. at no charge to Dimitra (other than our subsistence costs and the cost of materials etc). Photovoltaics and other work requiring particular expertise will be sub-contracted, if necessary – ideally we will be able to recruit experts as members or temporary volunteers.
Further fund raising and guest / course revenue will be used to fund phases 5 – 8 and whatever follows.
We intend to sell shares in Dimitra at say €200 each, to raise the capital needed. Shares can be purchased by a group (we are well aware that young people would find it hard to raise €200 and we want the demographic of the community to be as varied as possible). Each share would entitle the owner to a certain number of free days in the community per year i.e. for accommodation and food. Everyone, whether staying for free or paying to stay (daily rate to be decided – may be covered in whole or part by additional work on the site), will be expected to make a contribution to the daily life of the community, in any way that they can e.g. helping with building projects, gardening, administration, perhaps running a course). We would also like to able to offer bursaries for young people, especially from Naxos itself.
The Dimitra Trust will be incorporated in Greece as a not for profit charitable trust, with a guiding board selected by the share holders. In addition it will of course have an auditor / accountant and a lawyer, publish quarterly progress reports and audited annual accounts.
Dimitra has a website, its own email address, and a Facebook page, to communicate with supporters and shareholders and to promote Dimitra and its courses and other activities to the wider world.
Permanent occupants should own at least one share and help to pay for their food and accommodation with work, money or goods and services in kind (e.g. photovoltaic, electrical, mechanical, building or horticultural skills).
Guests (excluding their free entitlement) will have to pay a certain amount each per day and help out, and pay course fees where applicable. Course charges will be transparent and kept to the lowest practicable level (i.e. to cover direct costs, plus a small contribution to Dimitra). This is another reason for using local artists and other talent to run the courses whenever possible. Course places will be open to people staying elsewhere on Naxos.
Send no money now! When Dimitra has been incorporated and has its own bank account we will be in touch again. In the meantime, if you would like to support us and participate please let us know how many shares you potentially would be prepared to subscribe for.
All of the above are only suggestions – i.e. all interested potential shareholders will agree how Dimitra is set up, financed, controlled, and its rules and constitution.
Click here to email Dimitra
Something about Naxos
Naxos is the largest island in the Cyclades, in the Aegean. It is approximately 50 kilometres north to south and east to west although actual road distances can be considerably more as it is very mountainous. It has the highest mountains in the Cyclades and gets snow and frost most years. Thanks to natural springs parts of the island are heavily wooded and, by Aegean standards, very lush.
It feeds itself, producing 4 crops of potatoes a year (it supplies most of Greece). Many family tavernas only sell their own produce, including meat, wine and cheese. Rich culture going back 7,000 years. Dimitra's temple was built in 600BC. There is an ancient aqueduct (actually a ceramic pipe) that was built at the same time that brought fresh spring water to Naxos city from springs at Flerio, 12 kilometers away. Parts of the pipe can still be seen, following the contours down from the hills.
The old city of Naxos is a warren of tiny streets and delightful little shops and tavernas, built from the 12th Century when Naxos was part of the Venetian Empire – the streets were designed to confuse pirates who were a big problem at that period. And as a result many Naxians moved inland to the mountains to avoid the pirate attacks. Thanks to the Venetian influence, Naxos boasts a fine Catholic cathedral as well as hundreds of Orthodox churches and chapels, many of them on top of mountains.
There are fine museums in Naxos City and many ancient monuments and Venetian towers all over the island. Naxos really invented monumental marble sculpture in 7th century BC (basically it's made of the stuff – they are in the process of removing the tops of two mountains which are solid marble). Naxos has a permanent population of about 20,000, which rises to 180,000 at the height of the summer season – this puts a considerable strain on the island’s infrastructure, especially its water supply which can become more or less undrinkable in July – 160,000 people taking a shower twice a day is a lot of water. Pure spring water is available through public taps around the city and the island.
Tourism came relatively late to Naxos and it has perhaps as a result retained a lot of the character and characteristics of pre-mass travel Greece, socially and economically, away from the western coast around the main town where most of the tourist resorts are to be found. However a lot of previously cultivated land has been abandoned as people have moved to the towns and jobs in the tourism industry, and to the mainland.

Apeiranthos – a traditional mountain village in the north east of the island
Kinidaros – a lush, green valley below the modern marble quarries
Naxos (Hora) – the old Venetian citadel, seen by night from the Palatia
The Portara temple, on the Palatia, whose arch looks towards Delos
Image © Eleni Kapiri 2013

Dimitra – all content © David Simpson 2013


Sunday August 30th 2009, 9:13 to 9:40 am,
in the garden at 12 Mehetabel Road
I am sitting on a wooden folding chair at the end of the garden looking back at the house. It is a sunny morning with a cool breeze blowing. I am slightly hungover.
In my notebook I write:
another lovely morning – sunny, cool breeze, oyster shell clouds. A bit stale. Half inclined to go home now.
When the Buddha attained enlightenment, everything (one) became enlightened.
The Buddha is not out there
I am / have the Buddha.
Hence if I see him, he is a delusion.”
I am looking at the blue plastic washing line tied to the white painted brickwork on the back of the house.
Thoughts come and go. I keep returning my attention to the blue plastic line on the wall. At some point, I think towards the end of sitting, I disappear. Image – a perfect mirror and I and everyone are flecks of dust lying on or just above the mirror. It seems as if I have fallen out of my fleck of dust. I see I am just pure awareness, always have been. That out of this awareness the fleck of dust arose, could not help it, when the mirror became me, whenever that was. This all happens at once. A complete understanding – intellectual, emotional, physical. It is so simple. So everyday. The blue plastic line is still there. The sun is still shining. But I, the fleck of dust above me, is transformed, the water of life seems to pour through all of me, every aspect of my self, my past, transformed, aligned in one direction. I am not forgiven, there is nothing to forgive, nothing to judge, awareness trapped in me had no way other than to become me, to struggle in the delusion and agony, unable to see itself, the I AM. I see this is the kingdom, within me and among us, each of us trapped more or less in our little fleck but in reality, all one. Yet there is still I here, just free of all the trappings of I. Seeing the fleck and all other flecks with perfect understanding and compassion, only wanting everyone to come down here. And the whole world is brilliant, sparkling, full of love and energy.
On the bus to St Marks I want to weep, and keep laughing at the wonderful shops – a shop with a stuffed ostrich and what looks like a capuchin monkey, a shop called ‘Lie down I must tell you I love you’, an extraordinary cinema like an Egyptian temple which I have never noticed before but must have passed many times. Wanting to rush out and tell everyone it’s true, the kingdom is at hand, right here and now, and they weren’t making it up (Jesus and Buddha and Eckhart and Teresa and everyone else).
At the same time, mind rushes back. I’m so lucky, special, clever – I wonder how many others have experienced this – it is just like the tempter in the desert, almost beguiling, and I know I can never stop meditating, that it would so easy to try and take possession of this, turn it in to an idol, hug it to myself. And I’m suspicious of the urge to get up and tell everyone about this – and fearful – I want them to understand, to believe me, not to think I’m bonkers or arrogant, and I don’t feel worthy or able to do that. But I’m filled with this overwhelming love and joy and peace, and everyone I look at seems to be alight, and there isn’t somehow any necessity to tell them – they are already filled with love. And it is love, somehow agape and eros combined.
Even as I am writing this, I can barely recall the experience. The mirror or kingdom has an impersonal quality – it is not me but it is not not me. I may never have such an experience again, but I know it is real, and as I meditate, as I remain mindful, walking the dog, whatever, it is there even though I am not aware of it. The parable of the wise virgins is so important – always to have the lamp filled, the wick trimmed, waiting without grasping for the moment when one falls through the crack into all truth.
In my beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and Word was God. And light came into the world, and the darkness comprehendeth it not. In all our beginnings is the Word and it is with us for ever.
In the evening my step daughter, Laura and her husband Toby tell us they are having a baby. This morning I wrote this:
every conception an Annunciation
every mother a Virgin
every child the Word made flesh
every life a crucifixion and a resurrection
in each one of us the Cosmos created anew
At the moment (however long it lasted, I think no time at all) I fell in to the Kingdom, and I was flooded with the water of life (all the images are true, I felt like a dry desert filled with fresh rains) I wanted to rush off and read all the scriptures, the psalms, the gospels, everything to see the truth that was written in them (and perhaps the falseness too).
All through the retreat, just sitting in the Zendo with my eyes open, they felt dry and gritty. Now they are filled with tears and are refreshed. And so appropriate that it is a Sunday morning, in a garden like the one where Mary found the empty tomb.
Still a question remains. Should I not have got up and shouted at everyone in St Marks, that I have been in the Kingdom and it is here with us all and it’s all true, and that Mother Julian had it exactly right only I would change the tense – all things are well and all manner of things are well and there is no sin in the world, only delusion and ignorance. Let those who have ears hear, let those who have eyes see.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

New Year's Day 2014

Almost immediately after I woke up this morning the still small voice said "I" (or perhaps it said "You"), "will never hear from her again."

I hear it quite often. It is quiet, authoritative, without an emotional edge. It is not judgemental or despairing. Sometimes it tells me not to have another drink, to stop doing something, and I ignore it. There are no comebacks. Sometimes it makes quite banal, mundane suggestions, such as "Stop this now" or "Go for a walk". It seems completely real and trustworthy to me. If I ignore it, it doesn't mind - I may beat  myself up about ignoring it, but it never does.

When I heard it this morning, I was sad. Not despairing, or grief stricken (I've done enough of that in the last eight months). I just accepted that it was telling me the truth. Not practically or literally. There will inevitably be some sort of contact, about divorce, or property, or the stuff I've left behind, but that could just as easily be through a lawyer or accountant, or one of my step daughters, on her behalf. But there will be no loving, caring, engaged, email, or letter or phone call.

I was told recently about distinguishing between "coping" and "transforming". Coping is just accepting, putting up with, suffering patiently and willingly, or otherwise. To transform requires us to truly relax and then to enter in to our painful response and engage with it. I realise I have spent a lot of my life, and of the last ten years, coping, imagining that I was surrendering to the flow, being detached. In reality I was just putting my pain or frustration or anger or despair to one side, but not moving through it, engaging with it, and then leaving it behind. Hence perhaps my drinking - numbing myself to the great crowd of supplicants in the waiting room next door.

So I spent the day feeling needy and lonely, unloved. Little new year messages on Skype or Facebook or email seemingly ignored. I worked hard at researching for stories for the next issue of the Transition Free Press, all too aware of how ignorant I am of what has been happening in "the world of media" for the last eight months.

So, at some point, I did sit down to relax and enter this feeling, turn it round, see what else was there, what other perspectives I can take. I understand that in a way I've been living in a sort of daydream for years. Clinging to times of happiness and content, of joy, of deep love, of real companionship, but ignoring or glossing over times of misery and despair and deep loneliness. And then I look ahead. Freedom. A new start. A sort of rebirth. I found my self commenting on someone's blog on Inner Transition (what does resilience, sustainability, permaculture, living lightly, mean for the inner life we lead?). She talked of a cone - the individual at the top, then immediate family, then extended family, then community, then nature, land, the earth at the bottom. How each of these sustains us and when one layer fails, the other steps up. And that sometimes we only have the bottom - nature itself - to hold us. And I realised how much of the last eight months has been about rebuilding and repairing each of those parts of my cone. Finding a new community after 25 years in Wormingford and Coggeshall. Going back to my extended family. Staying close to my children. And experiencing nature, this island, deeply, slowly, and being fed and sustained by it. Just the sheer physical pleasure of bright sunlight and sea, plants and animals, this extraordinary landscape. And until I wrote that comment, and read the blog, I had not even realised this was happening.

I jumped into the abyss (a la Castaneda) on April 29, and entered another world. I’m still falling, or floating, or flying . . .