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Art & Architecture Greece (Skopelos)

A Visit to Rodios Pottery in Skopelos

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A Greek pottery master continues a family legacy

Yes, you can call Nikos Rodios a Greek pottery legend, but you can also call him the juggler of Skopelos. When we arrived at his studio Saturday morning in Skopelos Town, Rodios was waiting for a large bowl to dry on his “extra” potters wheel. (He uses a traditional kickwheel for the majority of his work. ) The bowl was slowly acquiring the malleability needed to remove it from the wheel without collapsing. It wouldn’t be long. The mild Aegean breeze flowing through the open doors of the studio would see to that.

At the same time, Rodios was also polishing and finishing a load of pottery that had been unloaded earlier from his brick kiln (it burns olive tree wood) that stands just outside the door behind his studio. The pieces were arranged on a counter… an assortment of vases, animal figures, and bowls. And then some visitors walked in: us. See what I mean when I use the term juggler?

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Jill Somer, associate director of Skopelos Foundation for the Arts, and Mitch talk with Nikos Rodios about a vase made by his grandfather.

But juggling is the nature of ceramics… it’s a busy, start-and-stop process that requires both flexibility in one’s routine, and a keen eye for scheduling and working a medium that waits for no one and simultaneously takes its own time. The Rodios family knows this routine very well.

Our visit had been arranged by Jill Somer, associate director of the island’s Skopelos Foundation for the Arts, also known as Skopart. Somer interpreted conversations about techniques, clay bodies, and terra sigilattas (slip-like liquids) between Rodios and my husband, Mitch, who is serving an artist’s residency at Skopart.

Rodios and Mitch are each testing the practicability of using terra sigillatas with both Skopart’s red earthenware clay, which Mitch is using during his residency, and Rodios’ proprietary claybody.

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The family has printed this brochure in both Greek and English.

Fans of ceramics in general and contemporary Greek pottery in particular revere Nikos Rodios for carrying on a tradition begun by his grandfather, Nikolaos Rodios. In the early 1900s, Nikolaos focused on producing decorative forms reminiscent of classical Greek pottery.

At the same time, he desired that his work feature a permanent, bold black surface. After experimenting to find the precise combination of clay bodies, colorants, and firing temperatures—potters are chemists in disguise, if you didn’t know—Nikolaos was awarded a patent for his technique in 1930. You can view the patent certificate, assigned the number 2981, on display in the workshop.

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Rodios inspects some pieces from his most recent firing. On the wall near the door, you can see the patent certificate awarded to Nikolaos Rodios in 1930.

As the years continued, Nikolaos passed the family secret to his son, who in turn passed it down to today’s Nikos Rodios.

After we spent a short while admiring Rodios’ newly fired pottery, he led us to a large wooden display case hanging on another wall.

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This case contains pottery made by Nikos Rodios’ grandfather and father.

It contains a diverse collection of pottery made by the previous two generations of Rodios. Vases of all heights are on display. Some are short and bulbous, others are elongated and elegant. Each alludes to classical Greek forms.

It’s humbling to witness the current members of a family respect the hard work and innovation accomplished by their ancestors. It’s also gratifying to know that the next generation, Nikos’ daughter Magda, is building on the legacy left to her.

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Magda spends time in the studio alongside her father, Nikos.

At a workbench near the sunny back window, Magda helped her father polish some of the items from the kiln.  She adds her own creative flair to the family business with bright, colorful earthenware mugs, serving pieces, jewelry, and decor items.

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Mitch shares images from his Instagram accouint with Maria, Rodios’ wife.

After greetings us, Magda took a break from her work to retrieve a plastic water bottle that she had filled recently with a mixture of water and a local black clay. She explained that she hopes the mixture will someday soon yield an interesting clay. She brushed a bit of it onto a pottery shard. The watery part of the mixture instantly soaked into the shard and left a gritty residue on the surface.

Who knows? With time and attention, the sludgy, gritty solution may indeed transform itself into a native Skopelos clay.

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Art enthusiasts will find their own Rodios creation in the gallery.

We then walked across the street to the pottery shop that bears the Rodios name. The shop carries a wide variety of both decorative and functional ware, from wall hangings to coffee mugs and jewelry.

Inside, Maria, Rodios’ wife greeted us and spoke briefly with her husband about the wares he had carried over from his studio. He added a few pieces to the stone-and-glass shelving units, and agreed to motor over to Skopart in a few days for a quick visit with Jill and the artists working there (students from Gulf Coast State College, painter Victoria Phillips from Macon, Georgia, and Mitch).

Then he said his goodbyes and sauntered back to his studio across the street. He had some more juggling to do.

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The Greek letters spell out “Rodios Pottery” on the front of the family-run gallery.

Thanks for reading! Click “like” if you found this interesting and click “follow” for daily posts from our “workation” in Greece. After the residency concludes, we’ll be continuing our visit on the mainland and south to Crete (we think).

Categories
Greece (Skopelos)

A Quick Getaway to Glifoneri Beach

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Glyfoneri Beach is referred to as Agios Konstantinos Beach on the road signs around Skopelos.

We downsized our Sunday afternoon with a walk to this nearby beach

We had planned to go to Stafylos Beach, about one mile away across Skopelos Island. However, that would require a bus, and we didn’t know if there would be buses running on a Sunday, since Greek Orthodoxy does play a major role here in Sunday activities.

In fact, every Sunday morning, you can hear Greek Orthodox monks chanting via loud  speakers throughout the “bowl” that is Skopelos Chora (the main town).

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At one point, our walk down to the Glifoneri Beach followed this concrete road. 

From my vantage point high up on the hill overlooking the harbor and town, however, I would say that yes, the buses do run on Sundays, since I don’t see any down below parked at the bus station on the main street. I’m assuming they must be out and about. Oh look, one is pulling in right now, in fact.

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So instead, we walked down to Glifoneri Beach. We passed houses (some beautiful, some ramshackle),  chicken coops, and abandoned stone sheds along our way.

The beach is about a half-mile walk away, all downhill. It’s named after the small “taverna” that operates across the little street from the beach; however, it’s also known as Agios Konstatinos Beach for the church that is on the hillside above. I haven’t seen the church, but there are so many (around 123) on the island of all shapes and sizes that it’s possible I’m just not seeing it.

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On the outcropping on the far right in the photo, you can barely see the white churches that overlook Skopelos Harbor. The most prominent of these is Panagitsa Tower, the Church of the Virgin Mary.

When we arrived, the water was quiet. It was stunningly aqua in color, but quiet and serene. Approximately thirty people were there. Kids played in the waves, middle aged couples lounged and slept in the sand, and young twenty-somethings ventured out further into the waters.

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A Hellenic Seaways ferry makes its way into the Skopelos harbor.

Around 1:30 p.m., however, a procession of waves began rolling in. First, the waves were small, but then they gradually built in size to the point where I turned around to see if the water was reaching our backpack and beach bag.  It wasn’t, but it was only about a foot away.

We sat at the edge and watched the water roll in, bringing with it bits of leaves, sand, tiny stones and sand. Eventually we decided to dog paddle over a narrow band of larger rocks to where Mitch said the bottom was covered with a fine, white sand. He was right. The bottom was soft to walk on and firm.

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And, of course, our return meant we had to do it all again… only going up. This photo shows just a short part of the trip. There were several more escalating hairpin curves to arrive at our studio apartment that overlooks the town and harbor.

We swam out about twenty feet and felt the mixture of currents rolling in from the Aegean. Distinct layers of icy cold waters mingled with warm. We didn’t know whether to relish in the sensation or climb back onto the beach.

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Stella Taverna is in the lower part of the large white house in the photo. It’s a little oasis with incredible views.

We saw a Hellenic Seaways  ferry glided around the island from the south and entered the Skopelos Harbor, disappearing from view around Panagitsa Tower, the Church of the Virgin Mary. As it chugged into town, four bright white streams of seafoam trailed behind it, vivid against the inky blue Aegean waters. Ten minutes later, it emerged again and continued on to its next stop, probably Glossa (the next largest town on the island) or Skiathos Island next door.

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Stella Taverna was quiet in the middle of a Sunday afternoon. Just two more couples were there.

After spending about an hour and a half at Glyfoneri, we began our walk home back up the hill to Mayorca Studios, where we are staying.

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Fresh, fried squid. We usually call it calamari.

On the way, we stopped at Stella Taverna and ordered some fried squid (calamari) and two Cokes.

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Look at these super cute little ice cream bars. The perfect touch!

Sesame-encrusted bread was served alongside the squid and complimentary miniature chocolate-covered ice cream bars were given to us after we paid our €12 bill.

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And, yes, there was even this picturesque boat anchored nearby.

We interrupted our steep walk back home with several breaks to enjoy the view and rest our aching knees and calves. Skopelos terrain will challenge anyone!

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Alonnisos Island, the third of Greece’s Northern Sporades Islands, sits in the distance. 

Thanks for reading! My husband is serving an artist’s residency at Skopelos Foundation for the Arts on Skopelos Island, Greece. I’m writing as much as I can about our trip and working on some other projects as well. On the agenda for tomorrow: securing ferry tickets for my trip on Thursday to Venice, Italy to see my daughter, who is serving an internship at the Venice Biennale U.S. Pavilion. I have a direct flight out of Skiathos and plan to stay there for five nights.

 

 

Categories
Greece (Skopelos)

Greek Dancing in the Dark

A slice of Skopelos life

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An adult dance class shows their footwork. These uniforms were the most complex of those performed in during the night.

Last night, after a dinner down by the harbor at Στου Δημητράκη (by the way, where we dined on giouvetsi, mousaka and ekmek—more on that later), we ventured up the hill to the City School to watch a night of traditional dancing. The show started at 9 p.m. and lasted to midnight and was hosted by the Cultural & Folklore Association of Skopelos.

Jill Somer, assistant director of Skopelos Foundation for the Arts, told me that this is the first night of three end-of-year recitals for a local teacher who currently has 200 Skopelos dancers, including children to adult age groups. Here’s a poster for the festival, which I retrieved from the Skopelos News blog.

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The Skopelos News blog has been a real help while we’ve been in town. Check it out for interesting articles.

As you can see from the poster, the festival continues through Sunday night and will feature ballet, modern dance, gymnastics, and musical performances.

The concert was held in a large concrete amphitheater. Dance teams performed traditional dances from various locales and regions of Greece in the dresses and suits of the respective areas.

When we arrived, many people were there, watching in the stands or chatting on the large plaza behind the dancers. People filtered in and out of the stands all throughout the night. Parents and grandparents scurried to and from the dance floor to take close-up pictures on cell phones and tablets. Some kids played in a large concrete plaza off to the side of the amphitheater.

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The high school dance class

Others practiced their dances while they waited their turn to perform, adjusting their dresses and suits as they prepared. Of course, the occasional cat wandered through.

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This adult dance class wound themselves slowly into a spiral and then released from it gradually.

It seemed to mostly be a local crowd, but there seem to be so many people visiting and re-visiting the island, that the definition of a “local” might be a little blurry here. (And let’s be real, that probably depends on who you ask!)

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These kids make it look easy wearing their traditional Skopelos everyday wear.

At midnight when the concert concluded, we walked back to Mayorca Apartments. It was a long trek, but much of the town was still awake, talking quietly in the streets and tiny walkways. Two or three random scooters with bright headlights zoomed past while we stepped aside.

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The sixth grade dance class also performed in traditional Skopelos everyday clothing.

Google Maps refused to refresh our trek, and we finally gave up, deciding instead to just keep going up and over to where we knew we would eventually find our apartment. At one point as we climbed, the stairway before me continued as far as I could see. Envision Jacob’s Ladder or the Stairway to Heaven and you’ll get the picture! Eventually, we found a landmark (what we call the stone wall), took a left, and knew we only had one final push to the summit.

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Zoey, daughter of Jill Somer, associate director of Skopelos Foundation for the Arts 

The night was breezy and mild. The music was loud. The culture was “full steam ahead.”

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One of the elementary school classes

Footwear varied, as it often does at kids’ dance recitals back in the United States. Some kids opted not to wear traditional dance shoes. Some girls wore black shoes and some wore shimmery pink shoes instead. A few boys wore Nikes and Converse instead of black loafers.

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Another adult dance class lines up to perform.

I was fortunate to be able to see this slice of authentic Skopelos culture. Being a teacher, I had wondered where the school was located and was surprised that it was nestled right in with the hotels, homes, and businesses of this beautiful little town.

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The night concluded with this final number from the adult class.

Thanks for reading! I’m planning to post a story daily on my blog while we’re in Skopelos and on the mainland. Follow my blog to get updates on new posts!

Categories
Greece (Skopelos)

Casual Chaos: A Ferry Tale

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This is the ferry we took from Skiathos to Skopelos last weekend. You can see a red semi-tractor trailer driving out of the ship’s hold. This photo was taken from our apartment that overlooks the Skopelos harbor.

We had to pay attention. We had to think.

Traveling to new places can make you appreciate or at least think differently about the rules and procedures of your own country. And when it comes to safety procedures, sometimes I think the United States tries too hard to keep people safe. We’ve gone so far in the name of safety (and in the name of avoiding lawsuits, too) that Americans no longer need to think for themselves. That wasn’t the case on the Greek island of Skiathos last weekend.

Last Saturday, my husband Mitch and I took a 30-minute flight from Athens over the Aegean Sea to Skiathos Island, the smallest of three isles that compose Greece’s Sporades Islands. After a three-minute taxi ride down dusty, narrow lanes from the Skiathos Airport to the harbor, we confirmed our passage at a ferry ticket office and then made our way across the crowded main street to an assemblage of casual chaos.

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The port of Skiathos as our ferry departed from the harbor.

The noonday sun beat down on the dusty parking lot filled with tourists carrying luggage and others just out for a weekend excursion. Music from the row of restaurants drifted from across the busy street, an incongruous backdrop to the hectic activity of the dock.

As we approached the crowd of waiting passengers, a young man was backing up a semi tractor into the lower hold of the ferry. He craned his neck left and right to peer into his rear view mirrors, guiding the tractor cab in reverse toward the gaping hold of the ferry. He jostled and bumped his way onto the ramp, clearing the opening on both sides and above by less than a foot and then disappeared within the ship.

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A lighthouse on the southern tip of Skopelos Island.

About two minutes later, he emerged with a fully-loaded trailer of goods. Brushing his sweaty forehead with one hand and steering with the other, he maneuvered the rig, first in drive and then in reverse, to the edge of the parking lot near where we stood. And then he did it all over again, four more times to be exact.

All the while during his performance, a stream of disembarking ferry passengers had been descending the staircases along the side of the hold. A quiet procession of bag-bearing zombies, they inched down the staircase, watching their feet with each step, one step at a time. Once they reached the last stair, they wandered across the tractor’s loading area, where ferry workers, professionally dressed in white shirts, ties and dark trousers, ushered them along, guiding them out of the path of the semi that was soon to emerge from the ship.

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Pulling into Skopelos Town, the largest city on Skopelos Island.

It was very casually run for being so chaotic. There was no yelling. No running back and forth. Just a toot of the semi’s horn when one man stopped in the middle of the path to check his phone. Just an occasional raising of a dockhand’s arm to direct people along and keep them out of harm’s way.

We talked quietly between ourselves about how different this would be in the states. There would be a beep screeching from the semi tractor every time it backed into the hold. There would be traffic cones arranged to keep the area clear.  Passengers would likely be contained in a holding area off to the side. But not here. Here, apparently, you have to pay attention and watch.You have to think.

Finally, with the ship’s hold empty, it was time for passenger boarding. We fell into a line and inched up the yellow-painted staircase where we slung our bags into loosely formed stacks and onto odd-shaped ledges and shelves that lined the stairway. There was no exchange of baggage receipts, no record that we had dropped off a bag at all. It would be our responsibility to retrieve our luggage when we descended upon reaching our destination. When we arrived in Skopelos, we would have to remember and pay attention. We would have to think.

Ascending the stairs, I placed my new, shiny wheeled carry-on onto a wobbly stack of suitcases and thought about how differently this procedure would be handled back home. There would be tags to keep track of or a ticket to scan. Thought would be taken out of the process. Without a doubt, I would get my bags back, but I wouldn’t have to think to make that happen.

“Leave here. Get later,” I heard a Greek ferry worker say to some passengers climbing up behind me.

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An even closer view of Skopelos as our ferry entered the harbor.

Thank you for reading! My husband is serving a three-week artist residency at Skopelos Foundation for the Arts on Skopelos Island in Greece. I’m along for the ride, writing and posting and otherwise enjoying my summer off from teaching middle school English Language Arts. Follow this blog for more articles and find me on Medium.com under Parenting, Education, and Travel.