Traveling in Greece with Clarity of Mind

As with most traveling experiences, I endured many frivolous hardships: short beds, curtainless showers, noisy streets, all things I would have complained about at home but hardly even noticed while being here. Greece was more than worth it, with its ancient ruins, dramatic landscape, and cultural depth that not only unveiled a new world but also a world of the past.

But after spending three weeks in Greece drawing and painting, I felt like I was just getting started. It took over a week to get beyond cell phones, email, Twitter, and my desire to keep up with news reports. Finally, the voices in my head stopped. This is when my mood really started to elevate, and my mind opened up. I wasn’t burdened by have-tos and should-haves, and my easy going attitude influenced my work. I wasn’t thinking about success so much as just enjoying the act of creating. I developed a new mode or rhythm and got into a zone. It was a comfortable place to be and so relaxing. I had clarity of mind, focused energy, and was completely present in the moment. It was like a meditation and it felt empowering. Relaxing. Fulfilling.

Temple of Hephaestus in the Agora, Athens

Looking around for a new subject to paint, I walk towards the Temple of Hephaestus, stepping over puddles from last night’s rain as I go. I take a deep breath. The morning air is rich with moisture and the scent of flowers. After finding a good view of the temple, I pull out my chair and unfold it. The temple, from this perspective, sits on top of a hill overlooking the Agora with green gardens surrounding it.

The Agora

(Excerpt from my book, The Artist on the Road: Impressions of Greece)

We begin our day in the Agora, an ancient marketplace just below the Acropolis. It looks like an over-grown garden with trees, bushes, and flowers but with the added bonus of architectural ruins scattered about. Although few people are present, it’s easy to imagine the crowds shopping thousands of years ago. I walk along Panathenaic Way as it cuts across the Agora. In ancient times, Greeks used this pathway not only for the market but also for the Panathenaic festival (the largest and most important festival in Athens) that was held each year in honor of Athena, the patron Goddess of Athens. The procession began at dawn, just north of here at the Dipylon Gate in the Potter’s Quarter. It then proceeded through the Agora and wound up the Acropolis to the Erechtheum where a peplos (a full length garment warn by women) was placed on the statue of Athena. Each year young women wove a new peplos specifically for the event.

Map of Plaka, Athens

This map shows the major places we visited while in Athens. The narrow, zigzagging streets resemble pedestrian pathways more than motorways, but motorcycles come zipping through the crowds at surprising speeds. Athens is also greener than I imagined and that is in part do to the abundance of potted plants and flowers that line the streets, but also because of park-like areas that break the rhythm of multi-storied buildings. These little islands of greenery appear to be excavations, with Corinthian capitals and other pieces of columns lying about. History is everywhere.

Picking and Painting Wild Blackberries

With a small basket and sketchbook in hand, I walk down the old fire road near my house to a hidden blackberry bush that’s bursting with ripe fruit. It feels good to get out of doors and breath in the fresh air. Even with the strangely cooler weather we’ve been experiencing this summer, (about 10 degrees cooler than normal) blackberries are in abundance and tastier than ever. As I walk closer to the bush, a shapeless mass of green, I smell a sweet aroma hovering in the air.

Today I plan to paint the blackberry bush before filling up my basket. Holding my art supplies in hand, I walk around looking for a good place to draw. Luckily, I find a spot under the shade of a tree. I admire the berries in various stages of ripeness with colors ranging from inky black to a brilliant red glowing in the afternoon sun. As I pull out my paints, a couple of curious bees stop by to see what I am up to but they soon buzz off to more important matters.

While letting the watercolor dry, I reach for my basket and pick the ripe fruit, berry by berry, carefully avoiding sharp thorns. Inevitably though the bush will poke me, reminding me of the pain that often accompanies life’s pleasures and keeps the easily intimidated away. I eat some berries right off the bush, enjoying each one’s distinctive taste. Some are soft and sweet, and some are firm and almost sour. But what I love most is the inviting fragrance that smells like a delicious perfume.

Mykonos From the Ferry

(Excerpt from my book, The Artist on the Road: Impressions of Greece)

On the ferry, we find seats on the top deck, but a rainstorm kicks up, so we retreat to the warm indoors near a coffee shop serving everything from sandwiches and soup to beer and coffee. The ferry keeps a steady pace and rocks gently as it pushes through waves. Fortunately, it’s not enough to upset my stomach. Sitting next to us, a large group of people keep the place lively with jokes and uncontrollable laughter. It will be a long time before we reach Athens, so I browse over my completed watercolors and sketchbook drawings.

After hours of sitting, I feel the need to stretch my legs. I put on my jacket and climb the stairs to the upper level. A cool breeze rushes by as I step onto the wet deck. The rain has stopped, at least for the moment, as dark clouds still threaten off in the distance, dumping rain into the silvery sea below. I hear a low, pulsating hum from the engine that keeps tempo with the splashing of seawater against the boat. The rhythmic weaving of sound provides the perfect soundtrack to the moody weather. I enjoy this meditative state until it gets too dark to see, and climb back down to the warm glow of the cafe below.

Stately Pelican on Mykonos, Greece

(Excerpt from my book, The Artist on the Road: Impressions of Greece)

With a full day of drawing behind me and a stomach that is unwilling to cooperate any longer, I walk back to the hotel and pick up my dad for dinner. Searching for a good place to eat, we stop at a quaint little Italian restaurant displaying fresh raviolis, tortellinis, linguini, and other pasta shapes, beautifully displayed on a table to tempt passersby to come inside. The menu outside the door lists even more tasty items: lasagna, chicken parmesan, and pizza. The smell of oregano and tomato sauce fills the air. My stomach growls, but my heart sinks when I see the prices. I must remember that staying on budget made this trip possible and creating art is the reason I’m here. Disappointed, we walk a little farther and come upon an open grassy area. To our surprise, we see a stately, four-foot high Pelican standing on a large flower pot. It looks so wise with its long bill and majestic pose. Its webbed feet wrap around the edge of the planter, and it barely budges as we move in closer, taking pictures. Few people are close by, and those who are, surprisingly, don’t notice this beautiful white bird. Perhaps they think it’s a statue.

Getting hungrier by the minute and unable to have pelican for dinner, we continue walking and find a pizza restaurant with prices more in line with our budget. The restaurant is located in a courtyard with trellises of grapevines canopying above. The weather is still warm, and the earlier threat of rain has vanished. I order a glass of chianti and a pepperoni pizza, feeling happy as a clam.

After paying the bill, we head back towards the hotel. Just up ahead, we hear loud voices coming from a crowd of people and walk over to see what all the commotion is about. Showing off and obviously enjoying the attention, we see the pelican using its bill to smooth its ruffled feathers. It spreads its wings to create some space around it, and then its real intentions become obvious. The back door to a restaurant stands open, and it walks directly inside as if it works there, proceeding behind the counter and into the kitchen, where the good stuff is. A few seconds later, a cook with a broom shoos the large bird from behind the counter and out the door. A roar of laughter erupts from the crowd. Then with a flap of his wings, the pelican flies off to his next destination in search of food. We head back to the hotel for some shut eye.