A LITERARY WORLD: GREECE. An Interview with Pamela Jane Rogers
A Literary World: Greece.
An Interview with Pamela Jane Rogers
One of the reason I love doing these interviews is because I get to meet like-minded people who not only share my love of Greece and literature, but because I meet authors who also share my other passion – art. Today’s guest, Pamela Jane Rogers, definitely shares all three of these passions. Not only is she a terrific artist but her own story, written as a memoir and and peppered throughout with her own paintings, is an inspiring one. Welcome to A Literary World: Greece, Pamela.
1.Where do you live?
Thank you for inviting me to A Literary World, Kathryn. I am answering your questions today from my home in Greece. I’ve lived on Poros Island for the past 26 amazing years.
2. Can you tell us what your memoir is about and what inspired you to write it?
“Greekscapes” traces the multi-faceted journey that led me to Greece and the consequences of the decisions I made, which have been mostly positive. With the financial distress here and fear of travel to Greece growing, I read a popular book that upset me, as it was “anti-Greek”. I decided to counteract that one by writing about my own experiences here. Although I’m only one small voice, my passion for this country and protecting these people has been stronger than my self-doubts about writing.
3. Where in Greece is it set?
My journeys described in prose, poems and sometimes paintings, begin in Athens before continuing on to the islands of Skiathos, Alonissos, Skopelos, Crete, Paros, Santorini, Delos, Hydra and Thassos, as well as Nauplion and Monemvassia, with visits to ancient sites like Mycenae, Trizinia and Olympia on the Peloponnese, with Poros, the island of my serenity, in the starring role .
4. Many people choose to make a lifestyle change and explore new horizons. What made you choose Greece and in particular, Poros.
On a realistic note, perhaps I wouldn’t have fallen in love with Poros if ole Poseidon hadn’t stirred up the seas with his trident, extending my stay!
More seriously, which may sound woo-woo to some – against all well-meaning advice and much consideration about making a financially smart move after my divorce, I let my heart (and fate) lead me – to Poros.
5. You mention the Sleeping Lady in your memoir. Who is she and what impact has she had on you?
‘She’ is the name given to a mountain range just across from Poros Island on the mainland. She’s at her most exotic when the sun sets behind her, emphasizing her voluptuous figure. Maybe I identify with her because I myself was sleeping for the first part of my life…and she held onto my dream until I was ready to live it! I’m currently working on another painting that features her. I recommend The Sleeping Lady, by Yannis Souliotis, a newly published book which gives viewpoints from various other authors through many years. Link: https://amzn.com/960556002X
6. Do you have a special place to write and paint? Can you describe it for us? And can you tell a little about the Jasmin Studio Gallery?
The first villa I rented here had 100 stairs from the main road, was surrounded with the sweetly scented flowering Jasmin vines, with one large room that became a working studio for me, for classes and exhibits with friends. After 16 years there, I moved into town in a villa only 26 steps from the main road. My painting studio is the largest room in the 130 year old villa I rent, and it looks out to the Galini Villa (below). When painting out of doors, which is most often, I use a handy notebook to scribble my thoughts, and then transfer the writings to my usually trusty laptop on its Greek desk in the living room.
7. When did you first realize you wanted to be an artist?
I can’t remember the time when I didn’t paint! My mother’s story is that I was 2 1/2 when I painted her prized wallpaper with her fingernail polish. I’m grateful that my two maiden Great Aunts gave me the first set of paints and introduced me to the Impressionists before I could read. When I was eight, at an art exhibition at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, I told my parents I wanted to study art there, so that was the first time I said it out loud.
8. You have had several mentors in your life, one in particular that we have come to know as B2. How did she inspire you?
Jacquelin Jenkins (known as B2) was a fabulous artist as well as a great mentor for me, and many other women. She gave me the confidence to continue my art when I needed it desperately. Her very life was an inspiration – her kindness, her humor, her strength of purpose, and…well, I can best describe her as a goddess who walked on the earth. She also introduced me to glorious Greece, for which I’m eternally grateful.
9. Many people are fearful of travelling alone but when you began your odyssey of self-discovery, you came to the understanding that you are ”not alone, but with oneself”. Can you explain what you mean by this?
When I’m travelling with a friend/partner/or group, I’m tuned into them- how they are feeling, what they want – rather than how I’m feeling (about my own experience.) The first time I had to travel alone I admit I was a bit nervous, yet rather than being scary, it became absolutely liberating. I learned to navigate through life on my own terms, with extra help from books like “The Artist’s Way” and the suggested ‘morning pages’. The fearful part was 4 years ago when I met the love of my life!
10. Can you tell us about the time when Prince Charles visited Poros and one of your paintings was chosen to be presented to him as a state gift?
What a shock that was! I simply was doing my thing with painting, and happened to be in the right place at the right time. I don’t deny that I have been lucky. I’d love to see the piece Prince Charles painted at the lovely monastery here that day, which is why he was sleeping when the painting was presented to his secretary that evening! There was a royal thank you note sent to the Mayor, which he told me he would copy for me – but when I see him, he’s always busy and I keep forgetting to remind him.
11. About time spent with Claire Bloom –
I had admired Claire’s acting long before I met her on Poros. Her starring role as Nora in A Doll’s House with Anthony Hopkins, is one of my favourites and her autobiography “Leaving a Doll’s House” is superb. In ‘real life’ she is very kind, unassuming, a joy to be with, and she loves Greece. For Thanksgiving one year I took off ‘with myself’ to London to see her star in Six Dance Classes in Six Weeks with Billy Zane. She played a southern woman, and told me over dinner afterwards that her accent had been inspired by my South Carolina mother, who now lives in the universe. I’m sure my mother knows!
Claire will be the Celebrity Speaker this September on the cruise my art historian husband is lecturing on, and we’re looking forward to touring Greece with Claire and her daughter Anna, a brilliant opera singer. Claire played Queen Mary in The King’s Speech (made up and wigged to look much older than she does, even I wouldn’t have recognized her! ) and as the mean mother of DocMartin. She is truly a beautiful person as well as a fabulous actress.
12. Which other celebrities, writers and artists have spent time in Poros?
Henry Miller adored Poros, as evidenced in his book “The Colossus of Maroussi”, while he was staying with the Greek writer/poet/statesman George Seferis in the early 1940’s. From that time, Poros has been home to many Greek movies. Even Boy With a Dolphin with Sophia Loren begins on Poros. Our wonderful Poros reporter Babis Kanatsidis has recently researched the many films made here, if I may add this link for those interested- http://www.iporos.com/poros-greek-cinema/. Many artists have painted here too –2 well-known artists were painting in my very studio the year I was born – John Claxton and Lucian Freud. Also Marc Chagall painted here in the ‘50’s, and many famous Greek painters like Parthenis have been inspired with the beauty of life on Poros. The tranquillity and diversity of the landscape in this safe harbor in Greece generally encourages creativity in all of the arts including music. Yiannis Souliotis has a new book that’s just been published in Greek and English “The Lovers of Neorion” – which I look forward to reading. Neorion is the area on Poros by the sea, and the location of the Galini Villa.
13. How do you find life living on a Greek Island? Immersing oneself in another culture is not always easy and there are times when you feel like a complete stranger. What did you do to overcome this?
I can’t imagine not living here, and I never did have the feeling of being a stranger, even before I studied Greek. I was lucky to meet wonderful English speaking Greeks and foreign residents from the beginning. Truthfully, I felt more of a stranger living my old life in NC, and when I moved here things seemed to fall in place seamlessly. Maybe I’m a misplaced zygote?
14. You have talked about the word “Galini” – serenity, from George Seferis’s Galini Villa and that it is a word you cherish and the state of mind you seek. Have you managed to find this on Poros? If so, how long do you think it took?
After a wild bout of giggling with my art friends, the moment I stepped off the ferryboat onto Poros, I felt a peace ‘that passeth all understanding’. Poros can be a hopping island in the summer when it’s full of holiday makers, yet there are always places of serenity to escape to here because of the surrounding mountains – the scented pine forest – the gracious islanders – the landscape of blues and greens with glimmers of pale colors – the lovely swimming coves surrounding the island – the crystal deposits under Poros – the mainland just minutes away for trips to ancient sites – the olive groves – the lemon groves – shall I continue? For me, it’s a magical island of serenity. Or maybe serenity was what I was seeking in life, and what one truly seeks, one has the possibility to find.
15. With regards to painting, how do you achieve the ethereal, often translucent, veiled sky that visitors associate with Greece and in particular, the Greek Isles? Are there any particular blues to avoid?
Well, I’m still working on achieving that with each and every painting! I have limited my palette to only transparent colors, and the only blue to avoid using in Greece is Ultramarine. It’s simply too cool to capture the light here. I think one reason watercolours work best for me here is the layering the washes. My favourite Greek artist, Panayiotis Tetsis (1935-2016) achieved the light of Hydra with oils. I’ll be very happy when I can also do that for Poros with oils. I spent hours studying Turner’s oils last week in London, and I hope I’ve retained some of the visual lessons for my studio work this week.
16. What is it about Greece that inspires you and which is the medium that works best for you in capturing the Greek spirit and image?
I can’t think of Greece without being inspired! As I write in my prologue,“Change is constant, even on an island offering a mere snapshot of itself in comparison to a greater world panoramic view. Each turn of my head presents a new perspective. Each path I take offers another vision. Each moment I’m honored to live here deserves attention, and I still have much to learn. Carrying my art supplies wherever I travel, I’ve happily painted many beautiful places in the world, yet this small island has nurtured my creative spirit more completely than anywhere else.” Watercolor is a medium I love to work with, especially with en plein air landscapes: Watercolor is practical to take on location, the quick drying time suits layering colors, and shorter painting sessions are advisable under the Greek sunshine too! The Greek spirit I’ve grown to love unabashedly, through the millennia has been created by the generous sun and the sea, and that is one of the images I choose to highlight in many of my watercolors.
17. Can you tell us about the Special Needs Children’s Fund and the Poros Animal Welfare which both you and Francis have contributed to?
Our PAWS is in limbo at present, so individuals who can are contributing their time to feed and care for the stray dogs and cats and giving money and food to the priest for the Children’s fund.
Francis gives the proceeds from his lectures on art and Greek art to feed the stray cats and dogs, and my sale of prints from the painting of the Vrisoula Cats has helped, along with special donations from some of our friends to pay the vets and other costs.
The Special Needs Children’s Fund supports the school in Galatas with students from this general area. There are more than 100 destitute families who are being helped by donations of food from the Poros people through the church. Recently, Spyros Rois, one of our island’s physical education teachers swam for 5 days from Athens to Poros to further awareness of Greek children with cancer and their families. Our Scottish artist friend Dennis McCallum and his wife recently held an exhibition of his paintings on Poros. Every painting sold, and the money raised was given to Father Georgios for the poor. The beautiful thing is that through this monetary crisis, sharing whatever people can with those in need has become even more rampant than usual.
18. How did you come up with the title and the design of “Greekscapes”?
I made up Greekscapes, spur of the moment while being interviewed about my new exhibit of paintings in North Carolina. Years later when I was ready to publish my book as “Greekscapes”, a photography book was published by that same name, so I added the rest. About the cover design: Years prior to my writing journey, I was reading on my patio, put the book on the table to answer the phone, and when I returned – the light and shadows were too wonderful to resist and I quickly started painting. I had named that particular painting “The Book”, so it seemed somewhat prophetic to use it, plus the painting had sold, and been a favourite of many studio visitors who had bought the prints and cards.
19. How long did it take you to write your book?
Many moons longer than my paintings! I spent five winters writing it in between travel with Alumni Groups, then another 2 years revising it from the original novel into the memoir, with the help of my wonderful editor Bryony Sutherland. For the special edition with illustrations, I had only slides and photo negatives of my paintings from 1968 to 1998 that had to be updated, and that added more time.
20. The Greeks believed that inspiration came from the muses, as well as the gods Apollo and Dionysus. Where do you believe inspiration comes from?
I’m obviously inspired by the landscape of mountains and sea, the colors and light for my painting. Yet the artistic achievements, the food, people and their history also inspires me. The Greek cultural, artistic, literary and scientific delights continue to inspire and also caution later generations with their muses and mythology! We’re blessed to have Apollo the sun god beaming down with plenty of Vitamin D3 for energy most days, and the lovely wines of Dionysus welcoming us to evening bliss. Yes, the ancient Greeks kindly created female and male names and visuals for the invisible causes of inspiration – including the major goddesses of nature, Artemis and Demeter, and many others. I believe that inspiration comes from life –in short, discovering ones purpose in life and working to achieve it – (poof, like magic!) produces the inspiration needed.
21. The ancient Greeks created masterpieces in literature of such brilliance; poetry, tragedy, comedy and history – that have inspired, influenced and challenged writers and readers to the present day. Do you agree with this and if so, why do you think they remain an inspiration for later writers?
Nearly every year I have gone to one of the Epidavros Theatre plays – the ancient playwrights were first to put the emotional peaks and valleys of life all on the stage for an audience to laugh and cry with, and maybe even learn from. For me, the ancient plays are a reminder that, with all our technological advances, we haven’t progressed as a human race much after all. Still, yet there is always ‘hope’ that we can change the future for the better for the children of tomorrow by taking a long hard look at the past. After all the evils escaped Pandora’s box to ravage the world, hope was the one thing left. Hope allows inspiration for writers.
22. The author, Simon Worrall, states that historian, Adam Nicholson suggests in his book, “Why Homer matter’s”, that ‘a whole culture- not a single ‘Homer’ created the Iliad and the Odyssey and that it is a mistake to think of Homer as a person”. He describes these great works as a metaphor for all our lives – struggles with storms. Do you agree with this theory?
Nicholson makes a valid point, and as Andrew Dalby’s book “Rediscovering Homer” suggests as a reasonable possibly, there is historical evidence of a blind singer/poet, Homer, who shared the epic poems orally and further study gives indications that the actual writing was by a woman poet. Answering this question has made me pull two books I love off f my shelves to immerse myself in again – “Who Killed Homer?” and “Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter”.
23. Apart from the world of the gods, the Christian Orthodox religion played a significant role in shaping Greece’s culture. Do you believe that religion still plays an important role in Greek life?
Most definitely yes! The Orthodox Church is largely responsible for the Greek language surviving through the Ottoman occupation. The tiny chapel on the heart-shaped island, Daskalio (Teacher’s Island) near Poros was one of the “secret” language schools. To learn Greek, the children were hidden under nets in fishing boats and taken there at night. Zoodoochos Pighi monastery on Poros also played an important role in the Greek Independence. Every island has its stories from that period and after, when most of the parish priests showed great courage in helping people. The church is still playing an important role spiritually, and helping some of the poor families financially.
24. Greece’s history has been a turbulent one and it is often said that “a man is his ancestry”. To what extent do you think this history has shaped the Greeks?
It’s difficult to speak of “the Greeks”, because each person I know is as individualistic as the philosophies of their ancestors, and which of the tribes who settled here are considered the Greeks? Yet there are common themes in the Greek people I know: they tend to be passionate people; to live with honor (filotimo) is vital, no matter the standard of living; they love and respect the sea and nature; they have incredible stamina and resilience; they are independent in character, and curious about others. I think the Greek character has developed from history, their surroundings, the climate and their unique central location on the globe between east and west, north and south.
25. What would you say are the elements of the Greek spirit?
Sunshine and moonbeams generally, mercurial when tested, and exhibiting great resolve under repression.
26. What are you working on now? In the studio, a large oil painting, and I’ve started writing what may become my second (or third?) book of more journeys – and I trust that the actual name will be revealed to me when it’s finished.
And a few quick questions:
27. Who are your favourite Greek authors who have written about Greece?
Kazantzakis, Seferis, Papadiamantis, Penelope Delta, Gurdjieff, Eleni Fourtouni, Yannis Varoufakis
28. What are your favourite books set in Greece by Greek or foreign authors?
Old favourites are Henry Miller’s ‘The Colossus of Maroussi”, Kazantzakis’ “The Last Temptation of Christ“, “Zorbas”, and “Freedom or Death“, George Seferis’ poetry, Fourtouni’s “Greek Women in Resistance: Journals, Oral Histories”.
Recent favourite foreigner reads: “The Embroiderer” – “Things Can Only get Feta”, “Homer’s Where the Heart Is”, “A Scorpion in the Lemon Tree” – “Twice a Stranger” –Richard Clark’s “Notebook” series – “Exhilarated Life: Happiness Ever After” – “Spearfishing in Scatahori”
29. Favourite type of Greek music?
I love dancing the Zebekiko to classic Rembetika music – for listening quietly, Spanoudakis’ Thalassa (the Sea)
30. Favourite Greek film?
A Green Story
31. Favourite Greek monument, sculpture or painting?
Hermes holding baby Dionysos at Olympia
32. Favourite Greek food?
Grilled sardines with horta!
33. Favourite Greek drink?
34. Favourite holiday destination?
Ancient sites in Greece, and Scotland for cooling during August!
Thank you for being a part of A Literary World: Greece, Pamela. It’s been a delight to have you with us. We wish you continued success with your paintings and look forward to the release of another illustrated memoir in the near future.
Where can we buy the book?
Links: https://amzn.com/B00H14P86O Kindle Illustrated version https://amzn.com/1508860564 Special Edition 8 x 10” https://amzn.com/151218876X Memoir (not illustrated) 6 x 9” https://amzn.com/B00Z85DJ96 Kindle memoir (not illustrated)
NOTE: For earlier interviews, please visit my blog at www.kathryngauci.com
1822: During one of the bloodiest massacres of The Greek War of Independence, a child is born to a woman of legendary beauty in the Byzantine monastery of Nea Moni on the Greek island of Chios. The subsequent decades of bitter struggle between Greeks and Turks simmer to a head when the Greek army invades Turkey in 1919. During this time, Dimitra Lamartine arrives in Smyrna and gains fame and fortune as an embroiderer to the elite of Ottoman society. However it is her grand-daughter Sophia, who takes the business to great heights only to see their world come crashing down with the outbreak of The Balkan Wars, 1912-13. In 1922, Sophia begins a new life in Athens but the memory of a dire prophecy once told to her grandmother about a girl with flaming red hair begins to haunt her with devastating consequences.
1972: Eleni Stephenson is called to the bedside of her dying aunt in Athens. In a story that rips her world apart, Eleni discovers the chilling truth behind her family’s dark past plunging her into the shadowy world of political intrigue, secret societies and espionage where families and friends are torn apart and where a belief in superstition simmers just below the surface.
Set against the mosques and minarets of Asia Minor and the ruins of ancient Athens, The Embroiderer is a gripping saga of love and loss, hope and despair, and of the extraordinary courage of women in the face of adversity.