Seven days, five artists, a Cretan family villa, Lorraine the organiser supreme, me and lots of sun, sea and copious amounts of food and wine, such was the auspicious mix of ingredients.
The course almost faltered before it started as all the materials needed were shipped over prior to commencement, and became firmly stuck in Greece. They claimed not to be able to find the villa in Crete. Fortunately they did, eventually, as did we!
The villa was set down a rickety old track that twisted and turned over rutts and gulleys until it finally ended in a wonderful terracotta structure that had many rooms and sun traps, including a large stone veranda that looked out over the sea. It was bathed in constant sunshine and cooled by a light sea breeze. We were greeted by Mary and Costas both Cretan born and bred. Costas was a quiet, gentle soul who pottered about doing chores such as tending his small vineyard, distilling Raki (a potent local spirit), and fixing the wooden steps that led down the precarious volcanic rock slope to the sea.
Mary on the other hand was larger than life. She had been a successful film and TV producer in her earlier life, but now dedicated herself to growing organic produce, making cheese, cooking authentic regional family food and tending her cats that lived outside in an open hut. Her knowledge and passion for all things Cretan was huge, as she showed on the two excursions we undertook as a group. We visited a village famed for its many potters and artists where we were treated to a demonstration of 'throwing' by a man who had the rare honour of a licence to make traditional and historic pots. Many of the artifacts were ingenious contraptions, such as a honey pot that had a built-in water trough to keep out ants - Crete seems to be a popular destination for these little critters.
We also visited a town full of jewellers and witnessed the amazing sight of a man in his eighties making filo pastry the traditional way. Mary explained everything, translating with gusto, and filling in the history bits along the way.
Our first evening at the villa was quite an event. There was a whole lamb cooking over an open wood fire, a raft of arty film people who had been shooting a piece at the villa during the day, and some Cretan musicians. They took up their instruments and treated us to some local folk music. Of course once the Raki and wine settled in I was compelled to try Greek dancing - not a pretty sight! The lamb by the way was the best I have ever eaten.
The whole environment was honest and rustic with a capital 'R'. No fancy frills just an opportunity to share real Cretan life and eat real Cretan food - we never saw a kebab! Lots of salads, local yoghurt and honey along with many of Mary's family dishes that ranged from a sausage and bean stew to spaghetti with fish and spices. Lunches were simple and plentiful. One day for example we ate French beans cooked in olive oil and herbs with home made feta and bread. I didn't know beans could taste so good.
With the painting we worked inside as it was too hot outside. Disaster struck early on as I had ordered some Jacksons quick drying medium for the oils and in the heat it dried as quick as acrylics - I kid you not! Fortunately we were able to rustle up some linseed and turps as a replacement. Everyone put in a lot of hours painting each day and we were each able to complete 2 paintings - Freddie, one of my 'victims' was as usual on a mission to fill a gallery and got into 3 or 4. We managed a couple of still lifes, a horse and a portrait all round.
We even had one non-painter, Steve, who swam in the sea everyday - we watched him enviously whilst we painted, fished with limited success and wandered off to do his own thing as he pleased. He also helped out with teas, coffees and general good cheer with his booming voice and infectious laugh!
Also present were Alison, who seemed more popular with the mozzies than the rest of us, she painted a cracking still life. Then there was Doll (not her real name, I gave her that because she had an Essex accent) who excelled herself with a picture of an old Indian tramp and a horse (the horse was a separate painting). Last but certainly not least was Tex, well Shannon really, but as she was Texan, how could I resist? She hammed up the 'ole Texan twang to amuse us all, drank for Texas and produced a great portrait and produced her first ever still life.......amen to that!
We are back in October for more of the same, so if you like the idea of a rustic venue, organic and seasonal food and a great atmosphere filled with painting, and punctuated by cultural excursions, this could be for you!
In the kitchen!
Throwing a honey pot
Freddie contemplating life!
Off to dinner!