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3 Inspiration

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nd now,” said a voice over the speakers, “you will discover the inspiration of the sculptor Takis.” A cry of admiration and astonishment was heard. Comments and small talk filled the air, as people tried to find places to put down their drinks and little plates of hors d’oeuvres, in order to free up their hands. It was summer and the sculptor’s exhibit which had been organized on this Cycladic Island had all the glitz and glamour typical of such events. Tanned physiques dressed in white and colourful clothes, hair styled in the “wet look,” eyes accentuated with sultry make-up, flashy jewellery, leisurely movements and superficial smiles. A collection of people looking for artistic recognition, or at least to make their presence known in an otherwise provincial location. The lights and cameras beamed onto a rock, which had on top of it a small, carefully-shaped mound of sand resembling a pyramid. Immediately following, the audience of the Sculpture Symposium rushed toward it and started digging with their bare hands. They found this little artistic intervention to be quite brilliant and amusing. Takis had planned this interactive event in order to present his first work of art to the public. The crowd dug into the sand and pushed it away, slowly revealing a strikingly white, clay statue, with its eyes accentuated by shades of blue. The audience broke out into applause. Screams of excitement were heard, as the cameras recorded the innovative design and zoomed in on its details that were clearly silhouetted against the dark backdrop of the night and the rocky cliffs. The artist bowed next to his creation, presenting it with both hands, as if it was his partner in the performance. “I call it ‘Santa Maria’,” he declared, the crowd’s enthusiastic applause drowning out his words.

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* *

*

“Profession?” the custom’s officer asked. Takis looked over at Maria, to see if she was watching him, then leaned in close to the custom’s officer and replied, “lighthouse keeper.” He hated even to think of it, every time he was made to say it; he would never mention it of his own accord. His mind flooded with the memories of lonely times that he had spent growing up with his father in the lighthouse, at the tip of Koraka, the most northern spot on Paros. It was a cliff made up of shards of grey rock situated right over the Aegean, battered by the gregos—the infamous north-eastern wind. On days when the weather was clear, sailors who spotted land in the distance might whisper, “I’m saved.” But being eaten by a big fish would have been a better fate than what lay in store. If the waves brought them to shore, they would be beaten against the rocks like a poor octopus which has just been caught. At least that’s what the islanders said. Situated on that cliff was a lighthouse, tall and proud, with their house attached to its foundation. The legend was that the foundation had been laid by pirates. For generations back, beginning with his great-grandparents, their family had been lighthouse keepers. Only his father became a sailor and went out to sea. Before Takis was born, his mother made a vow to the “Virgin of Ekatontapyliani,” also known as the Church of One Hundred Doors. She vowed that if her child was born alive, her husband would be done with the sea and come back to live on Paros. There was no reason to doubt—her child was of course alive when he was born. But he was the first child and his mother didn’t know any other way to bring her Yannis back to her. That’s why she performed a miracle.

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As soon as he set his foot on Paros, without so much as another word, she said “your turn,” and indicated the house attached to the lighthouse. First they threw out a member of the extended family, a lazy sod from Lefkes, whom everyone called “shepherd” because he watched over the flocks on the high and barren bluffs of Paros. He had taken over the lighthouse when her father-in-law had passed away. Everyone on the island thought it was a great shame that the lighthouse keeper was not a seafaring man, in addition to the fact that he had turned the little house into a stable. They cleaned it, whitewashed it, and the family moved in. They set up their home and Takis’s father became the next lighthouse keeper of Koraka, as tradition decreed. The same last name had been shared by four generations of keepers. His father, Yannis Gregolis, used to say that the gregos, the north-eastern wind, was named after their family of lighthouse keepers back when the Venetians ruled the island. The Turks who came afterwards renamed the wind meltemi, as it is still known today. That name was also how Takis met Maria, on a ship that was making the trip from Ancona to Patra. He had introduced himself as “Takis Gregolis.” Maria, being Italian, caught the grego and started a conversation. How could he begin to explain which came first, the chicken or the egg! In other words, did the lighthouse keeper get his name from the vento grego, the wind from Greece, as the Venetians and Italians called it, or had Gregolis himself christened the wind grego, by virtue of his position as the lighthouse keeper? Needless to say, that’s how the conversation began . . . They were sitting at adjacent tables in the rear dining room on the stern side, facing a large window through which it was possible to see the foamy trail that the boat was leaving behind

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as it moved forward. Maria picked up her coffee cup to take a sip and in that moment Takis noticed that she was wearing a strange ring. It looked like a spare car part because it was made of a dark grey metal. Its glossy finish, however, shimmered with hues of green-blue. It was very wide and curved on top, engraved with a sea trident that was carved so deeply that skin could be seen underneath it. Takis studied it. The symbol seemed familiar so he said to her, in Greek, “Nice ring!” “Prego?” she responded, perplexed. That’s how he knew he was dealing with an Italian. He introduced himself and they began to “shoot the breeze,” so to speak. She told him that the ring had been a present from her husband, who was Greek. He had given it to her when he had asked her to marry him. It was made of titanium and the trident had been engraved with a laser cutter. She explained that the metal was so hard that nothing could so much as scratch its surface. When her husband gave it to her, he said, “this symbolizes the strength and duration of our love like no cliché diamond ever could.” “Really?” Takis said. “And how long has your love lasted?” He watched her count on her fingers until she finally declared, “eighteen months!” She chuckled at her own answer. She didn’t seem to be bothered by this fact. Smiling, she tried to explain that even though it was little time, this was the truth. Her Greek was pretty good and she found the opportunity to ask him, “how is it that you speak such good Italian?” “I’ve been studying in Italy for the past few years,” he told her. “Or rather I just completed my studies and am going home to my island, Paros.” They found that they had a few things in common as they chatted. He had studied ceramic pottery at an institute that

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an American had founded in San Gimignano, Tuscany. It was known as Little Manhattan because of its many tall medieval towers. She was a self-taught painter and had made quite a few gallery exhibitions in Milan, her hometown. She was in fact just returning from such an exhibition, in which she had presented her work from the last two years. Her main subject was the human nude, situated in spaces and landscapes, in all of its various expressions. She was pleased, because even though some art critics characterized her work as “postmodern pornography,” the sale of her pieces was going very well. The very thing that Takis despised—that is, life in the lighthouse—she considered to be an amazing experience. What he found monastic, isolating and introverted, she saw as an opportunity for quiet reflection and connection with the natural elements. That’s how she engaged his interest, about an aspect of his life that he had rejected ever since finishing school. His father felt compelled to name him as his successor, since he had no other children to take over the job of lighthouse keeper. Takis found Maria’s point of view on this subject to be more engaging than her looks, which was what drew him to her in the first place. Not that her beauty wasn’t impressive. She was a brunette with a cropped haircut accentuating the silhouette of her head. She had strong Mediterranean features as well as Milanese poise and style. She wasn’t dressed in the classic Italian designer labels, but her style was unique—a combination of tasteful clothes and accessories. Her mannerisms were a bit erratic and she had a hypersensitive, European air about her, but she was not pretentious. She didn’t hide the fact that she was slightly flattered by Takis’s flirtation; after all, she was obviously older than he, possibly by ten years. Next to her, Takis, with his slight, lean build, sitting cross-legged at the neighbouring table, looked like a skeleton propped up into a sitting position. He had chunky, dirty

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blonde curls that made his long, narrow head look round and light brown eyes, almost the colour of honey. He tripped over every word that came out of his mouth. His isolated, solitary existence in the lighthouse had made it difficult for him to learn how to communicate with other people. He compensated for his insecurity by incessantly smoking unfiltered cigarettes. He always had a pack of Camels in his hand and another two in his pocket. He lit one after another using small, Italian matches that looked like a candles, which he could ignite by rubbing them on any surface. He liked matches because he couldn’t stand the gasoline scent that lighters gave off. Striking up a conversation with Maria by asking about her ring was, for Takis, the equivalent of trying to swim from Italy to Paros. The effort he made was equally as great. Maria was right. He knew how to speak to seagulls, to interpret their flight patterns, to listen to the sea on the rocks, to read the clouds and the colors of the sky, but he found it difficult to say “good morning� to the person sitting next to him. There simply had been no one to talk to at the lighthouse. Another one of his habits, ever since he could grasp a pencil, was to doodle irregular shapes on paper, as many people who are introverted and feel embarrassed do. He became so practiced at doodling that, over time, he began to turn his doodles into psychedelic patterns. He would start with a dot that would morph into a magnificent eye that would then take the shape of a dragon. He had done the same thing in elementary school when his godmother had given him a box of colored clay. He had mixed it together, creating such amazing shades of color that some started to speak of artistic potential. Later his godmother, who was from the island of Sifnos, brought him a pail of soft clay from her home to see what he would make of it. And so he began, as a game at first, to practice his pottery skills, although he had no one to teach him this craft.

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His father almost threw him into the sea the time that he got a hold of some spray paint and drew graffiti all over the whitewashed walls of the lighthouse, because he liked it better that way. His father gave him a roller brush, used for painting ceilings, and made him whitewash the walls over and over again for three days straight, until the graffiti was completely covered. He did it with a heavy heart and a secret desire for revenge. Many years later he got his revenge, when he had finished his stint in the army and went back to the lighthouse. His father had died, but he, by no means wanted to get stuck with caring for and lighting the lighthouse light. There wasn’t even any lighting to be done anymore anyway, now that the light was electric and flashed automatically. But someone still had to oversee the set-up and operation of the light. “Not me,” Takis told his mother. That’s how, once again, they decided to call up old family friends, and in particular the son of the shepherd from Lefkes, who was just as lazy as his father had been. He immediately said “yes” to the offer because the job suited him perfectly. In the meantime Takis’s godmother offered him money so that he could go to Florence to study sculpture. She was aware of her godson’s artistic flair and even felt, to some degree, responsible for having uncovered it. Over the years her godson’s dreams flourished. She herself didn’t have any children and so she was like a second mother to him. That’s how Takis ended up leaving for Italy. He didn’t become a sculptor, because he didn’t do very well in the preliminary assessment, but he managed to become a ceramicist in Tuscany. His friends on the island—as a result of their summer flirtations—were seasoned as to the temperaments of women of different nationalities. They teased him because he hadn’t managed to land himself a “little Fiat,” as they called it, even though he had lived in Italy for some time. What they meant

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was that they had never seen him make his rounds on the island with an Italian woman in tow, as he would have to do in order to gain their approval. That’s why, after the first summer, he stopped returning to the island during vacation time, choosing to stay in Tuscany instead. This turned out to be a good decision because he ended up finding work at ceramics workshops. There was a lot of tourism over the summer in Tuscany as well, with a lot of demand for ceramics; workshops were always looking to hire craftsmen. He became skilled at ceramics. Despite this, he decided to return to his island. His mother had passed away and someone needed to assume responsibility for the family house and estate. If he left the shepherd’s son to mind the lighthouse on his own, he would turn it into a stable again. On his return, he decided to try to find a way to work things out so that he wouldn’t have to be the lighthouse keeper.

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The fact that Maria let him know that she was married right way, by way of the ring, ruined his mood, first, because he had put so much effort into trying to talk to her and secondly, because this was his last chance to become acquainted with an Italian woman. Now he would arrive on the island feeling like a loser. What would he tell them now? That he hadn’t found the right girl yet? They would taunt him mercilessly! He had noticed her immediately amongst the other passengers on the boat. He liked the way she moved, the way she was dressed, her subtly sexual demeanor, her scent, the way she ignored the people who were looking at her. He liked it all, and deep inside he felt that something was dragging him down, a sensation that he couldn’t quite explain. The closest he could come was to compare this feeling with how it felt to be dragged along by the

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force of the sea as it pulled back after the waves have crashed over the rocks. She made a concerted effort to continue asking him about the lighthouse and his life there, ignoring the artistic identity that had tried so hard to evoke. He finally decided to tell her a story of an experience that he had had with his father when he was about thirteen years old. He wanted to scare her and show her how terrible life at the lighthouse could be “One night, my father received a radio signal from a ship off the shore of the island. The ship’s load had shifted, causing it to capsize. It was January and the sea was churning, as fierce north-eastern winds which were reaching Beaufort force 12 swept over it. The hurricane lasted all night long, pelting down sleet and snow with such force that it could probably pierce right through your skin. That’s when I heard the captain say over the radio that they were abandoning ship. Five men from the crew and the captain’s wife got into the lifeboat, leaving the captain and two men behind who thought they might be able to save the ship if they could hold out until morning. My father spoke to them over the radio, instructing them to steer the boat south towards Paros until they saw the light, since the weather was pulling them that way anyway. We waited at the window all night long, watching for some sign of the ship—a flare, a lantern, anything at all. Nothing appeared. Outside it was pitch black and the wind incessantly howled like a rabid wolf. As dawn broke we put on our raincoats and climbed up the lighthouse tower. The sea was frothy and the gale skimmed the waves and whipped the froth into the air, which the violent wind would then blast away like heavy rain. My father suddenly saw a red boat, about a mile away, turned upside down and not a soul in sight. ‘Let’s go out to the rocks,’ he said, ‘they’ve probably been swept out to sea.’ We ran down to the rocks lining the shore. With his binoculars, my father scanned the

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sea for signs of life. Suddenly he said, ‘there at the ‘octopus,’ the captain’s wife.’ The ‘octopus’ was a large, flat rock which rose out of the sea and provided an ideal surface on which we could beat the octopuses that we caught. In weather like this the waves had completely covered the stone slab; only a piece of it could be seen protruding the sea’s surface when the undertow pulled back the waves. A woman wearing an orange lifejacket was struggling against the force of the sea, trying to make it to the rocky seashore. No one else was around her. We scrambled further down and shouted out to her, telling her to swim away from the rocks and into the open bay, so that the current would carry her into the more protected cove to the west. Then a wave rose up and crashed, slamming her onto the flat slab of rock slab, onto that place where we beat the octopuses. We stood there watching as her body hit the rock like a lifeless doll. Then, the powerful wave pulled her down. In that moment I saw her raise an arm in the air, fingers outstretched, as if she was to trying to grasp something. The wave raised her up high, lifting her out of the water from the waist up. She remained suspended for a moment, half-in, half-out of the sea, then she sank vertically into the foam, her arm extending above her head, her fingers reaching out, grasping for anything that could save her. When her hand dipped into the sea, disappearing from sight, my father hugged me and said, ‘let’s go.’” Instead of becoming frightened, Maria listened to him intently. “That’s not a story,” she said, “that’s a painting waiting to be painted.” How is it possible to make a woman like this fall in love with you and a married woman at that, he wondered as he finished his story. It didn’t matter; he had the whole trip in front of him. He would tell her other stories, because this was the first time that something like this had happened to him. This woman had something about her that opened his mind. Everything that he

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thought about when he was alone, thoughts that constantly whirled inside of his mind as he smoked one cigarette after another, his only company being the clouded shapes of smoke that wafted around his head, all came tumbling out without his ever intending them to. He mused at his own behavior. He would stop talking for a moment, halting his thoughts, and before he knew it he would be talking again. How very strange! The next day they met for breakfast in the same spot. He had thought of a million things to tell her but despite this he began the conversation with: “We seem to be talking a lot about my life. Tell me a little about yours.” Maria seemed pleased. Other than the fact that she didn’t have children and that she had been married for a year and a half, she hadn’t told him anything else about her personal life, so she began telling him about her art work and her artistic projects. She took a bunch of photographs out of her bag and began showing him some of them, one by one. The subject matter of her photographs was both surreal and bold. A naked man who was waiting at the bus stop, a couple in an erotic contortion in the middle of a cross walk of a busy street, a chubby naked woman cleaving meat on a butcher’s counter covered in blood, a nude female model being visited in a public restroom by Cupid with bow in hand . . . the pictures kept coming, one after another. Her mission was, through her art, to shatter the chasm that separated the sublime and the ordinary—to be free of the bonds of high art and become part of popular culture. She didn’t want her art to be solely appreciated by galleries and art connoisseurs; she wanted her pieces to hang on the walls of homes and cafés. “If the owner of the town café on Paros hangs one of your pictures on the wall, I’m sure that he won’t lack for business,” Takis teased.

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She laughed, and continued to explain, with passion, her point of view in terms of art theory. She told him that one of her influences is Umberto Eco, who claims that this art form can stimulate the mind through symbolism or even sheer amusement. “That’s why they characterize my work as pornographic,” she continued, “but that doesn’t bother me at all. If amusement and pleasure is invoked by even one of my pieces then it’s worth it for me and I feel that I’ve succeeded. I don’t paint for either the emperor or his palace nor do I want my paintings to hang on the wall of some gallery or museum . . . I want popular recognition.” Takis had never analyzed his own craft of making ceramic pitchers so deeply, so he didn’t feel able to respond appropriately. He felt a little waylaid and unprepared for this type of discussion. He only dared to ask, “as a woman isn’t this kind of subject matter difficult?” She smiled again, and after a sip of coffee answered, “my husband doesn’t attend my shows for that very reason. He forgets that I’m not the object being gazed at by the voyeur. In order to avoid all the stiff art connoisseurs I don’t even hold my exhibits in galleries. I sell my work for reasonable prices and exhibit it in everyday locations, from the tram station to a hospital foyer, as well as company offices, the waiting room of the airport and in one open-air market. I want people to see my paintings and buy them as they are going about their daily business. This gives me the chance to enter someone’s apartment, a real estate agent’s office and the student’s dorm. Do you understand?” Of course he understood. He wanted to sell ceramics in the open-air market too! But who would buy them? But now it was his turn to analyze his own thoughts and plans, that’s why he steered the conversation back in the direction he wanted.

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“Where are you headed to in Athens and what are you going to do there?” He asked her. She replied by asking him the same question, “you?” This was what he wanted, what he had been waiting for . . . This was the moment he had planned all night long as he lay awake. So he began speaking about the lighthouse again, describing his plans to her. He wanted to set up a ceramics studio inside. The square-shaped building was made of stone and stood three stories high. A French lantern company had built it sometime in the nineteenth century. The Germans had destroyed it and his grandfather had rebuilt it with his father. The light was on the top floor and its function wouldn’t affect the workshop in the least, which would be on the ground floor. On the ground floor, near the entrance, there was a room which he would renovate, make larger, and install shelves in order to create an exhibition space. He planned on breaking up some rocks to create a cobblestone courtyard and garden area at the entranceway. There wasn’t another ceramicist on Paros. He would buy a potter’s wheel, a kiln and tools. Slowly, one step at a time, he would work alone all winter to make pieces that he would sell during the summer months. He would buy cheap clay on Sifnos with his godmother’s help. The lighthouse tower would be his studio’s trademark logo and everybody would talk about it. He would give tours of the light tower to those who wanted one; the balcony encircling it was perfect for taking in spectacular views of the Aegean. He was thinking of setting up a shop in Naousa as well, a little fishing village with a picturesque port, where his uncle had a fishing shack, so that he could display ceramics and pottery and draw customers there as well. Just down from the lighthouse was the monastery of St. John, or Agios Yannis tou Deti, the Fixer. He was known as the “Fixer” because he had cured malaria that had once plagued the population of Naousa. Nowadays the monastery was deserted

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but each year on the 29th of August people still gather there to commemorate him. Around that time of year was when “Agios Yannis gregolia”—the name given to the northeastern winds by the locals—would subside and hoards of people would visit the area although it still wasn’t anything like how he remembered it was during his childhood. He would place signs around that would say “This way to the lighthouse ceramics workshop,” because in front of Agios Yannis there was an amazing sandy beach that many nudists frequented in the summer. “Are you serious?” Maria asked him. “Then I’ll certainly come and paint!” Maria was attractive and had such a pleasant nature that the time flew by. Sooner than he could have imagined they were arriving at Patras. They reached the passport control and soon the time to part ways would be upon them. He hadn’t even asked for her phone number or her address, and he didn’t know whether he would ever see her again. It might just end up being the kind of casual meeting that one makes on trips and nothing more. After all, he felt that he didn’t possess any extraordinary quality that would attract a woman like her. Not to mention the fact that she was married! So as soon as he told the custom’s officer his profession, he got ready to bid farewell. But she beat him to it by saying, “you’re going to Athens right? Do you want to catch a ride in my car? They’re unloading it from the ship right now because I could never have managed to do it alone.” She smiled sweetly at him revealing feminine naïveté, as she flapped her hands in the air as if to emphasize her shortcoming. “Three more hours together,” he thought. “Who knows what else could happen in three hours” and he piled into her car. But nothing happened during those next three hours. He was so nervous that he became mute all over again. She took

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him to Piraeus, all the way to the gangplank connecting to the ship bound for Paros. He didn’t even manage to ask her for her number, worrying that she might think he was a bit fresh since she had told him that she was married. Not even their common interest in art provided him with the impetus to find a way of continuing their acquaintance. He said “thank you,” opened the door, grabbed his luggage and stepped onto the sidewalk. His only remaining hope was what she had said at the height of her enthusiasm: that she would come and find him over the summer when the nudists were there! That was it.

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*

Thank God that the days when the lighthouse relied on oil were over. He had electricity and a phone line and a refrigerator. He hardly had enough time to put his things away and figure out where to begin when, in the course of the following evening, the telephone rang. Usually the phone rang when a relative was calling or when the Coast Guard or the Ministry of Maritime Affairs in Athens needed some kind of assistance. Normally they wanted to tell him about a boat that was adrift nearby or a fisherman who had gone missing, something of that sort. True to form, it was the Ministry of Maritime Affairs on the line, someone from the port authority had called. “Are you Takis?” he asked. “Yes sir,” Takis replied. “An Italian woman is trying to contact you. They told me that her name is Maria, I don’t remember anything else,” he said. “She has requested your telephone number; may I pass on your contact information?” “Of course,” Takis replied. “You don’t need to ask permission for that sort of thing.”

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“By the way,” he added, “you’re the lighthouse keeper aren’t you?” “Well yes,” Takis said. “Do lighthouse keepers have female classmates from university?” “Well what are you trying to say,” Takis uttered awkwardly. “No, I’m just asking because she said that she was a classmate of yours from Italy and that’s what I called to verify. I just wanted to double-check.” Not more than ten minutes went by before the phone rang again. Takis picked up the receiver immediately. Her voice sounded a little different. She apologized for bothering him; she was speaking hurriedly in Greek and she seemed flustered. She told him that she had decided to spend a few days on Paros and suggested that they meet up, if he was going to be there. She struggled to find an excuse for her sudden visit and finally left it at, “I need a little time to unwind . . . that’s all.” That was all? She wasn’t coming to see him, but since she would be on the island anyway she might as well see him as well? Why wasn’t she going to go somewhere else to unwind if that was what she really wanted? Takis surmised that he was probably the reason for her sudden trip. And where was she going to stay? She hadn’t said. Should he put her up at the lighthouse? Their humble village house wasn’t set up for that sort of thing. He immediately started to gather odds and ends in an effort to tidy up. He stashed things in closets, rearranged the furniture and cleaned the salty sea spray residue off the windows with newspapers. He laid out books on various surfaces, to give the house an artsy feel and covered the armchairs with throws. Then he made the beds, washed the dishes and got the guestroom ready. That is, he took over his parents’ room and designated his old room as the guestroom. He still had plenty of time until she was to arrive but he wanted

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to keep busy. He got on his motorbike and made his way down to Paroikia to find a hotel, because that was what Maria would probably be looking for. Even if she stayed at the hotel, she would definitely visit the lighthouse with everything he had told her about it already. He didn’t know what to do first. What would he do if his friends teased him when they finally saw him with an Italian woman? It would be better if he found her a room somewhere else, closer to the lighthouse. He turned back and took the route to Naousa. He had fewer friends that lived there so there would be less gossip, plus it was a more romantic locale, better suited to an artist. Yes, he would certainly take her to Naousa. She would be able to look out over the quaint harbor with its Venetian ramparts. Maria arrived the next day on the first ferry, which docked in the early afternoon. She was wearing sunglasses even though it was cloudy, and all she had with her was a small duffle bag containing a few things. Was she not planning on staying long? “I don’t want to intrude,” she told him. She seemed restrained, as if she was apprehensive about being there. She seemed edgy, but without hesitating she gladly took his suggestion that she stay in a room somewhere close to where he lived. She was nervous and kept smiling awkwardly out of politeness; it seemed that she didn’t know how to justify her presence on the island. It didn’t look like she had come just to relax. It was obvious that something was going on in her life that had compelled her to leave her familiar surroundings. By chance, Takis noticed that she wasn’t wearing the trident ring. After lunch she wasn’t able to contain herself any longer. “You see, my husband and I separated.” She waited for him to say something, but when she realized that he wasn’t going to respond, she began to nervously tap the bottom of her coffee cup with her spoon, as if she was trying to

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dissolve the sugar that she had added. When she realized that he wasn’t going to break the heavy silence between them, she continued without lifting her eyes from the coffee. “I got home early and unexpectedly, to surprise him. In fact, the car that you saw was a present that I had bought him in Italy, with money I had made from the sale of my paintings. At home a surprise was waiting for me instead,” she said as she wiped her eyes behind her large sunglasses. She stopped for a moment and then continued. “I unlocked the door and found him on the couch making love to another woman.” She spent the whole evening talking about what had happened. She gave him the play by play account; how she had thrown him out of the house with the woman in tow, how she had asked him for a divorce on the spot, how she had packed a few things and had gone to stay at a friend’s house. She told him how she had come to call him and make the decision to leave Athens for Paros. And then, all that she hadn’t said about herself, her life and her marriage on their journey together from Italy, she told him in one long continuous stream of conversation which didn’t finish until late that night. After taking her to the room that he had booked so that she could get some sleep, Takis went home to the lighthouse. He didn’t have much experience with women, or with break-ups involving complicated circumstances for that matter. He had heard, however, that women who have been cheated on want to sleep with the first man that they come across. The position that he found himself in was both frightening and perhaps even slightly demeaning. On the other hand, it would be easy to make his move on a woman in this kind of vulnerable state. She was looking for tenderness and an open embrace, things that he was more than willing and available to provide. And she must have known this. After all, she didn’t become entangled with just any random man but had come to

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him in particular. Which meant . . . Well what did this mean? Takis was at a loss. As he sat on his bed smoking his Camels, he thought about the clay pitchers, round and many-sided, that he molded on the pottery wheel. The handle, however, he attached wherever he pleased. By analogy, Takis thought that if his mind was going ‘round in circles, in order to get a grip, he would have to figure out where his desires fit in. He decided to place his somewhere around here . . . Where? Right here, in the affection and embrace that Maria needed . . . It’s not like he was going to marry her or anything. He was a man, she a woman. Just as long as she didn’t take him for a fool if he suggested that they go take a look at the lighthouse! The event that had devastated her, gave him reason to be quite pleased. To think that the day before yesterday he was disappointed by the fact that she was married and yet today she wasn’t. He hadn’t even known her phone number and now here she was by his side. He had been imagining how, when, and if, he could fall in love with her and now he was a part of her life. When she was telling him that “I found them naked, making love on the couch,” he came very close to asking her, “and why didn’t you make a drawing of them?” But it’s wasn’t right to make light of someone else’s grief. How could someone say such a thing at a time like that? But then, what does one say? He had to find something to say to her . . . Something that would make her sweetly nestle up to him. He couldn’t come up with it, no matter how hard he racked his brain. She, however, did come up with it and she told him the very next day as he was giving her the tour of the lighthouse balcony at dusk. When the lighthouse beam switched on, projecting out over the sea, she quoted him a lyric from a McCartney song. “You are my guiding light . . .” And sweetly she leaned on his shoulder.

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* *

*

A year later, everything was different. The path to the lighthouse was marked with signs that read “This way to the Santa Maria ceramics workshop.” That’s what they finally decided to call their studio. Santa Maria was the name of another well-known location nearby, and it fitted perfectly because Takis wanted to dedicate the workshop to Maria as well. Women who have been hurt will do anything to prove that they are desirable, first to themselves and secondly to get back at those who betrayed them. That was what Maria did. She was especially flattered that Takis wanted to be with her, even though he was younger than she. In fact, their age difference wasn’t very obvious. He was introverted and a man of few words, like a middle-aged man of forty-something and she was so full of life and vitality that she exuded the energy of a twenty year old. However despite their appearances and the image that they projected, Maria knew how to keep a younger man in tow. From the very beginning she breathed life into his world and took interest in his drab life. She made his dreams come true, down to the very last detail. She backed him financially and got him everything that he needed to set up his workshop. She then put forth the funds to renovate and expand the lighthouse. She had new rooms built, making the house and the other living spaces larger. She created a work space, a room with pottery wheels and benches on which other ceramicists could work, a glazing and firing alcove with kilns, a place for drying racks, and a large tiled space at the entrance with a pergola, to be used as a showroom. They landscaped the area just outside the lighthouse, choosing earth and plants that could withstand the wind and salt and leaving the rocks as they were, like natural statues. They covered the road to the lighthouse with pebbles

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and put up signs. When all of this was finished she candidly asked him, “now when do you plan on marrying me?” Marry her? Based on what reason? Everyone in the village had been calling him a gigolo behind his back. It didn’t really bother him that much, of course, for two reasons. The first one was that for him the people around him barely even existed. He didn’t see them, hear them, or care to know them, because that’s how he had grown up. He was as silent as a stone, a large rock, like the ones the lighthouse perched on. The other reason was that being called a little gigolo by his friends was almost a title of honor. So what would a wedding change? They would say that the Italian woman had managed to whip him into shape and “keep him on a short leash.” Of course he had never really been with any other woman who was anything like her. Now that they had gotten everything ready and put in so much work what could he say to her? “Drop it and leave?” Impossible! And so the wedding took place at the monastery of Agios Yannis, near the lighthouse. On Paros a wedding meant feasting and celebration. The instruments and violin music could be heard for miles around and when the songs for the traditional island dance “balos” began, they brought down the house, or in this case the monastery, so to speak! Their decision didn’t seem to be like one made in the spur of the moment or because of an impetuous summer fling. They had put in a great deal of effort and had made so many preparations to live and work together; everyone around them spoke of the perfect match. They had come together, by some karmic coincidence, at the moment in their lives when each needed the other most, leading them towards a creative future. As Takis was used to saying, “the handle has been placed on the correct spot of the pitcher, enabling the water to be poured forth.” This summarised their love story.

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Their life together and all their dreams were on track in no time due to Maria’s innate optimism, her way of making things happen using the power of her feminine will and her glance, which enabled her to see all things as wonderful and unique. The dark and unpleasant past was forgotten and the light of the Aegean brought new inspiration to her art. Nude forms remained her primary theme but the public restrooms and bus stops were gone from the background. In their place stood open windows that looked out onto the sea, the little crosses of island chapels, giant fish and octopuses, or the wicker chairs of local taverns. Her style and influence was apparent on the ceramics that Takis made as well. Instead of the traditional pitchers, urns, ash trays and vases, she suggested that he make useful everyday objects. She helped him pick out modern coffee cup designs, plates and teapots. He made them and she painted designs on them—usually octopus tentacles or fish—and glazed them. She showed him how they could make ceramic tiles adorned with different themes: the sun, the phases of the moon and symbols of the zodiac. Over the winter they traveled to Italy and visited museums for inspiration and ideas; they copied down designs and took photographs. Their work began to gain recognition. Magazines and newspapers began to write about their one-of-a-kind workshop and ask them for interviews. Even their decision to live on the island became a story, promoting the idea of de-urbanization and rural development. Maria’s work became well-known in Greece. The international visitors who visited their workshop during the summer months resulted in her work being appreciated by an even wider audience, all the way to the galleries of New York City. Over time their business grew. They hired other craftsmen and ceramicists, they even offered work to students who showed creative potential. They standardized their production

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chain a bit, and made moulds bearing sculpted illustrations of ancient Greek and Roman figures, with which they then made ceramic lighting fixtures that could be mounted on walls. They dunked them in “slip,” the solution that gives ceramics their white surface. They drew on the detailing using oxidized iron for shades of red, cobalt for blue, manganese for browns, and chromium for greens. They then fired them in the kiln, to set and shine the enamel glaze. They were truly unique pieces. It made Takis consider himself not only a potter, but a real sculptor. Every so often Maria would extend invitations of hospitality to well-known artists, both Greek and foreign, mostly Italians. They would come and work in the studio for days and then exhibit their work in the lighthouse showroom. Well-known, specialized international periodicals about architecture and sculpture published articles about them, presenting them as a cutting-edge, creative couple. Their progress and success inspired Maria to establish an event which was held each year at the end of the summer on August 29—the day of celebration for the “the gregolia of Agios Yannis.” They organized an Artist’s Symposium, for which they gathered and displayed the work of various ceramicists and sculptors in the lighthouse courtyard. They invited the television networks, journalists and a few jet-setters, ensuring that the event was significant for the whole island and even those further away. From the very beginning Maria encouraged Takis to take part in the exhibition with a piece of sculpture, since that seemed to be his secret desire. Every year he put it off because he hadn’t found his inspiration and couldn’t think of a motif that he could develop for his sculpture. The first years of their joint existence were calm because he was busy realizing his dreams and watching his plans take form. There was the occasional outburst, usually caused by one of

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Takis jealous fits. In the beginning the catalyst was the fact that Maria was an excellent dancer and she danced beautifully every chance she got. She danced everything from the traditional “balos” to the belly dance; as soon as the rhythm took hold of her she would fly out onto the dance floor. Takis found it captivating at first; in those moments she was so charming and her movements so effortless, so natural yet demure, that everyone admired and even envied her. Over time however, whenever Maria danced in public, Takis felt an inexplicable wave of emotion well up inside of him with such force that he felt completely overwhelmed. Other incidents also cultivated his feelings of jealousy. Take for example, when Maria invited models over to the house, took them up to her studio and had them pose nude in various positions so that she could draw them. Especially when the model was a man or even a couple entwined in erotic positions as Maria looked on; it made his blood rush to his head and drove him mad. Because he was introverted and secretive, he worked out hypothetical scenarios in his head, in which he imagined Maria participating in incredible physical contortions. This gave him yet another reason to be jealous. This became a source of conflict between them, even though she insisted that she’d been doing the exact same thing since before they had even met and had never actually paid any special attention to a particular model, other than to make observations for purely artistic purposes. Maria was hot-blooded and expressive—she had a true Mediterranean temperament. During their arguments she would pick up whatever was lying in front of her and hurl it straight at him. If they happened to be in the workshop or in the exhibition room at the time, she would smash everything to pieces. Bowls, serving platters, porcelain and tiles all ended up shattered to pieces because of her rage. The injustice of the

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accusations and her neurotic character combined with her refusal to submit to his will—each one of these things and all of them together—made her furious. When the fights started to become an everyday occurrence, Maria would come up with excuses to go to Italy. She had begun to communicate with her old network and had even spoken with her ex-husband a few times over the phone; they were on speaking terms again. At one point she went as far as to invite him to the island for an exhibition that they were holding. No one, other than Takis, even noticed that she had slipped that bizarre ring back on her finger—the one that her ex-husband had given her. She would spend one or two months away from the lighthouse and when she would come back, her life and work would continue from where she had left it. While in some situations, time away and distance might make a relationship even stronger, in Takis’s case it was as if there were gaps in his life that he didn’t know how to fill. Things were so tenuous that it would only take a small incident to upset the balance and make everything that they had built together come tumbling down. And that incident happened one day in Maria’s studio. As he walked in, Takis noticed a painting on the easel of himself making love to a woman on the flat rock they called the “octopus.” Instead of sea and waves, crimson blood surrounded the rock, the colour emphasizing the nakedness of the bodies and the passion of the lover’s embrace. So Maria had seen them. Takis had indeed become involved with one of the models who posed for Maria; he believed that she knew nothing about it. The model was Ukrainian with copper-coloured hair, an impressively chiselled figure, like that of a marble statue, translucent skin, striking feminine features and devastatingly beautiful eyes. They had extended hospitality to her at the lighthouse for quite some time because of her

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enthusiastic character and her need for work. She was always going about the house barefoot, wearing a black bikini under a cropped black t-shirt, covered in sequins, which revealed her gorgeous chest with every move she made just as clearly as if she was naked. Takis took her into the workshop and had her clean the ceramics that came out of moulds of any small imperfections, using a damp cloth and a sharp blade. Maria seemed not to notice the model’s presence at all, even when she would join them at the table for a meal. The explanation for her being there was that she had cooked the meal, which she had indeed done. She took on all the odd jobs. Her eagerness to please appealed to Takis. Every single time that he fought with Maria he felt that he was facing a dead end. What would happen if they separated? What would she take? What would she leave behind? What would his work be like without her? Now, Peggy solved some of his practical everyday problems. The physical attraction that they felt for each other didn’t seem to be impeded by Maria’s presence, on the contrary. The secret affair that was developing behind the façade of his married life increased the excitement around love-making, both under the stars and in the light of the sun. In the moment when Takis saw the painting, Maria was away in her native Italy. Takis, alone in the house, was left to deal with Maria’s unbelievable reaction. Instead of creating jealous scenes and episodic moments between them, she had chosen another method; that of immortalizing them in a painting, rendered in her postmodern, hyper-realistic style. What did she want to portray? Did she leave the painting exposed intentionally so that he would see it? Could she have wanted to expose him? Or is this how she wanted to compensate Peggy for her services? She usually handled that as well. What did she want to do? The music of Phil Collins was playing in the studio; he was singing about a woman, saying: “she has a built-in ability/to take

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everything she sees.” Takis was gripped by panic. Phil Collins was her favorite singer. Had she intentionally left the song playing so loudly? It seemed that she wanted to claim his soul for her canvas, to sell out his life. But where was Maria now? He stepped into the hall and started searching the rooms. He heard water running in the bathroom. He paused outside the door to make sure that she was inside. He slowly pushed the door open and saw her lying in their marble bathtub with her eyes closed. She had lit scented candles all around herself and she was lying perfectly still, fully submerged in the water, with only her head above the surface, resting against the marble. Then without speaking she opened her eyes, turned her head, and looked at him expressionless, with her large, luminous eyes. She had seen him through the crack in the door, as he stood there in silence. Takis didn’t see water in the full, pure white tub. He saw blood. It was the blood that she had painted, that surrounded him on the rock. Without thinking, in one swift move, he rushed at her, letting out a harsh, manly, aggressive cry. He threw himself on top of her before she could make the slightest move to resist, grabbed her head in his hands and with all his strength submerged it into the pool of blood. No, it wasn’t water! He didn’t see any water, just deep red, crimson blood. She desperately flapped her hands in the air, trying to grab hold of something, struggling to lift herself upward so that she could breathe. He pushed her under with even greater strength, not giving her any chance to take a breath. The air in her lungs floated to the surface in fat bubbles; water took its place. Her effort lasted but a few minutes. Her resistance slowly weakened and he started to release the force with which he was pushing her down. When every sign of life had appeared to have left her body, she suddenly heaved herself upward, lifting half of her body out of the water, her one arm outstretched, her fingers

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grasping at whatever could save her. His childhood nightmare of that freezing night that he had experienced with his father suddenly flashed through his mind. He saw the captain’s wife drowning again, in front of his very eyes. He jumped back letting her lifeless body float in the tub. He continued to gaze at her as he backed out of the room.

* *

*

It would soon be dusk. He looked for his cigarettes and found them in the kitchen. He sat down, lit one in his usual manner, picked up a carafe of wine and poured himself a glass. He downed quite a few glasses, one after the other. He was alone in the house. He thought about what he had to do. He had a lot of work to do. In a few days the celebration of Agios Yannis would be upon them, not to mention the Symposium as well. Over ten artists, friends and acquaintances of his and Maria’s would send their work to be exhibited amongst the rocks in the lighthouse courtyard. Many people were to come; cameras, journalists and critics, even foreigners. They had delegated the organization of the event to an events management office this time around. They would decorate the garden with festive lights, serve drinks and food and this year they had thought of inviting a local orchestra to play traditional island songs so that they could dance the “balos.” That wasn’t the issue. The issue was that this year they had announced, in advance, that Takis would be presenting one of his own works. All of his friends were looking forward to the event with curiosity and impatience because he had been talking about doing this for years now. Every year he put it off. The time had finally come for him to present something. He felt an astonishing clarity. In this moment his mind unblocked and started to work again, as only Maria’s presence allowed it to do. A creative rush overtook

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him, causing him to quickly sketch a design. He felt inspired. He felt inspiration coursing through his veins. He felt it in his fingers, which were making small spasmodic movements, as if they wanted something to sculpt. He phoned the staff that worked in the studio to let them know that he didn’t need them to come into work for the next week. He told them that he had to prepare for the symposium. After finishing with this task, ensuring that he would be alone for the next week, he went outside and shut the entrance gate to the lighthouse. He hung a sign that he had for such occasions that said, “The workshop is closed.” He returned to the house, went up to the bathroom and found Maria, dead, floating in the bath water. He bent down, putting his arms around her naked body and carefully lifted her out of the water. Only her fingers remained stiffly curved, from her final instinctual attempt at survival. He carefully moved her into the bedroom and laid her body on the bed. With the edge of the sheet he wiped her face dry of the remaining drops of water and combed her hair with his fingers. He stood back and observed her naked body on the bed, in the way that an artist looks at his work, examining its angles. Phil Collins voice could still be heard from her studio, he was now singing “too many people/too many problems.” He brought a large wheelbarrow from the workshop, which they used to transport clay. He put Maria in it and took her down to the ceramics studio. He lay her down on the bench after having cleared off all the half-finished pottery. He turned her head so that she appeared to be looking upward and opened her mouth. He positioned her arm in the same way that it was just before she took her last gulp of air and moved her fingers so that they were outstretched in a gesture of terror. He wanted her to be in a similar position to the one that the captain’s wife had had when he and his father had watched her drown.

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He ripped some sheets that he had taken from the bedroom into strips, wet them and began to tightly and attentively wrap the dead body, as if it were a mummy. He left only the head uncovered because he wanted to be able to see the facial expression . . . Then he took a few buckets of clay, from a pile that had been covered with wet linen rags so that they wouldn’t dry out, and emptied their contents into what looked like a meat grinder. They used this to soften the clay. He removed the softened clay and began working it like dough. With the help of a rolling pin, like the ones cooks use, he rolled out the clay into thin sheets. After having made enough, he deftly rolled and stacked them, then brought them over to his dead wife’s body. He lifted her body and carefully placed the first sheet underneath her. He then unfolded a few over her chest, her stomach and her buttocks. He painstakingly pressed the soft clay onto the contours of her body so that it would take on her shape. The damp strips of cloth helped the clay stick to the curves of her body. He melded the upper sheets together with the layer that he had placed underneath her so as to enshroud her completely in a clay cocoon. It took him a while to complete the process. He tried to smooth down all of the points where the pieces had been joined together, so that the body would appear to be a single, uniform piece of clay. He used a rib for this task, a tool that resembles a spatula, which he mainly used when working on the wheel. With this and a damp cloth he made every fingerprint disappear and smoothed the clay until the surface was perfectly uniform. Then he began to apply his sculpting talent. He worked on the details of her face and hair. He focused all his energy and managed to bring her back to life through the clay. He even filled her open mouth with clay and etched the same eerie look of terror onto the exterior surface. It took him all night

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to do this, but by dawn he was finished. He had crafted a true sculpture out of clay, a sculpture of his wife. But at the same time he had made her disappear. He still had a lot of work left to do. She had to set and dry for a day. He carefully wheeled the bench out onto the sunny veranda, which had been created outside of the workshop for this very purpose. He had enough time left to take care of some of the details of his plan. He made a few phone calls to tell his close friends that he and Maria had had another fight and that she had left for Italy as she usually did when they fought. But then he realized that no one would have seen her leave on the morning ferry, so he told everyone that friends of hers had come from Italy and that she had probably left with them on their yacht. He called the office that was organizing the symposium and told them that his wife wouldn’t be at the event because something had come up and she had to leave. As of today he would be in charge of everything. He informed them that he would be exhibiting a piece in the show and that they were to promote it in the catalogue. “What title are you going to give to your work Mr. Takis?” enquired the head of the PR team. Naming the piece hadn’t crossed his mind. What should he say? He couldn’t think of something. Then suddenly, he got a flash of inspiration. “Santa Maria,” he said at once. “How kind of you to dedicate it to your wife,” she said with a professional tone. “I want you to make sure that journalists and television networks have been invited. I want as much publicity as possible for the exhibit’s premiere.” “Don’t worry at all Mr. Takis,” she said from the other end of the line. “Your wife has already given us a list with all the people that she wanted to invite. Everything is being taken care of.”

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Continues in the pages of the book..

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