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Posts from the ‘Crete’ Category

A Cretan Odyssey | Part 5 – Spinalonga, The Island of No Return

As my last few posts have hopefully demonstrated, the bay of Mirabello in Eastern Crete is every bit as beautiful as the name suggests. And yet its coastline, fractured by little spin-offs of mini mountain islands tracing the coast yet a water’s breadth apart, holds a darker, more ugly secret: Spinalonga. The name sounds like the setting for a fairy tale – a spindle perhaps, upon whose thorny point a princess pricks her finger. But this is no fairy island. It is a place which, up until as recently as 1957, was an island cut off from the mainland not just by sea but by law and stigma: it was the home of Crete’s leper colony, an exile for those afflicted with history’s most devastating illness.

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Those of you who have read Victoria Hislop’s bestselling novel, The Island, will already know about Spinalonga. Once a fortified stronghold created by the Venetian occupiers of Crete and later taken over by the Ottomans, it was put to use as an island on which to keep leper suffers forcibly separated from the rest of society. Once diagnosed as having the condition, suffers would be flagrantly torn from their families and shipped off to the island. Few would ever leave it.

As Hislop describes, as the decades went on, Spinalonga went from an utterly savage backwater completely devoid of civilisation to a thriving little town in its own right fit with electricity, shops, a theatre, even a hairdresser. And when the discovery of a cure for leprosy meant that the island was finally abandoned in 1957, all of that civilisation was forsaken to the elements. It was in that state of utmost dilapidation that we found Spinalonga when we took a boat from nearby Eloundia to visit this most dejected of locations.

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Barren, sun-roasted and rocky, the island on one side was little more than a fortified wall with stark cactus-filled cliffs. However turn landwards and amongst the rubble you could start to see the ghosts of former houses, their shutters half hanging on rusty hinges and their contents long since pillaged. Stone staircases were collapsed under the weight of fallen rubble and punctuated by weeds; the bare bones of wooden beams indicated where once a roof had stood. There is no doubting the feeling of melancholia and claustrophobia which pervades this small tumbledown space, yet few could deny the beauty which was also visible in the stark contrast between rubble and ramshackle, and the stunning turquoise seas which surround the island, and cut it off from the rest of the world.

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We left Spinalonga utterly captivated by the historical significance and emotional impact of the leper island. You cannot escape the sadness which permeates the very fabric of this island of imprisonment and social rebuff. Yet across the Cretan winds, uplifted by the deep ultramarine blue of the island’s surroundings, there is the smallest hint of hope – for Spinalonga’s desertion indicated mankind’s dominance over a disease which had ravaged millions since the beginning of time. And that is surely a cause for celebration.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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A Cretan Odyssey | Part 4 – Nymph Beach and other wonders

When we had had our fill of our perfectly proportioned, utterly private pool (when that was possible – it actually amounted to being dragged away by the fear that we might otherwise be addressed as the kind of philistine pool-huggers who see nothing of the countries they visit on holiday) we only had to stroll 5 minutes down a little lemon and pomegranate tree lined lane to get to the beach. And what a beach it was. Utterly secluded, populated only by the small number of guests from a nearby hotel, a walk some 10 metres along the shingle shore meant complete privacy in waters as clear as Evian. We became accustomed to visiting the beach both first thing in the morning and in the dying light of day. On both occasions there was a tangible magic to the place as the sun, either in its rise or its descent, sent golden sparkles bouncing across the mirror-like waters. It felt mystical, as though Apollo, god of music and harmony, were present.

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Characterised by its rocky promontory, the beach was cosy, enclosed, a safe harbour from winds and an utterly magical place to be. But the mere presence of that promontory had our explorer’s curiosity peeked, and it wasn’t long before we started expiring the cliff tops, an entire plateau covered with olive trees and harsh stones, an ancient biblical landscape tinged with the gold of the Cretan sunshine. We trekked through the landscape, unsure what we would find as the cliffs undulated down to the sea. What we never expected to discover was another beach. This one caught between the dramatic overlap of rocky outcrops and descending hills.

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The beach was perfect. It was completely private. Not a sole around, no one in sight, apart from the mystery of a lone towel abandoned on the shore. That mystery was solved a few minutes later as a lady, perfectly toned, wonderfully naked, appeared on the horizon and glided steadily towards the shore. As she approached the edge of the beach she rose from the water, the sparkling sea sliding off her perfectly tanned and silky skin, and she reclined upon that same towel, almost oblivious to our presence. This was no human. Surely this was a nymph, so perfectly was her body adjusted to the molten waters of the bay.

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We strongly felt that we had entered some kind of mystical place when we swam out away from the shore and came face to face with towering craggy cliffs backlit by the descending sun. Once again Apollo’s touch was here, and when we turned back to shore, no sign remained of the nymph, as though the apparition of her fleeting presence had dissipated into the heady evening air. But we never doubted her existence. Nor the magical moment of our visit to what we now know as Nymph Beach. I won’t tell you where it is. Only that it exists, ripe for discovery by those curious enough to find it.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Terracotta Collective: Poolside on Mirabello Bay

I can well imagine how Hockney must have felt, when he first left the subdued isles of the UK and arrived in Los Angeles to an explosion of colour characterised by vibrant tropical plants, uninterrupted blue skies, flashy modern architecture and of course those dazzling turquoise pools, rippling and reacting to the burning ball of sunshine overhead. No wonder those pools in their respective post-modern garden spaces inspired Hockney to commit them to canvas. What a startling sight those rectangles of electric blue are for any artist… and yet it’s funny to think that before Hockney, few had ever tried to capture the pool in a painting. Perhaps they were scared of the insuperable challenge of capturing sun on water. Not me. The moment I laid eyes on our rectangle of cerulean happiness, I knew I would paint it, ripples, reflection and all.

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Poolside on Mirabello Bay (©2018, Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, acrylic on canvas)

Continuing the theme of my previous Cretan artwork, working up from a painting base splashed with a terracotta undercoat, I committed myself to capturing every aspect of our marvellous villa, and the view which made it such a stunning place to stay. So having tackled the pool, which thrusts its vivacious way into the canvas like an electric eel fully charged by ultraviolet, I moved onto the mountainous landscape which so masterfully framed our view. For me, the vision of overlapping mountainous strata, in every shade of mauve and pale ultramarine, is the very archetype of Greece. And here we had the perfect specimen, to enjoy every day, and now to capture on canvas.

So with a few touches of stone surround and aspects of the lush greenery which kept our garden fresh, I finished this ode to our paradise pool. Much inspired, and as wide eyed with poolside wonder as Hockney must have been when he first arrived in LA, I decided that this pool painting would be only the first. And true to my instinct, I have already started the followup… a true homage to the pool and the beauty of Crete which surrounded it.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit http://www.delacybrown.com 

A Cretan Odyssey | Part 3 – The Paradise Pool on Mirabello Bay

The weather in Crete was peculiar for the summertime. We basked in sunshine most of the time, but always looming close by, like the sword of Damocles threatening to unload itself on our holiday, were dark clouds foretelling of dramatic thunder. Perhaps we should not have been surprised – Crete is the birthplace of Zeus after all, so why shouldn’t he be able to throw a thunderbolt or two down on his homeland, just for reasons of pure nostalgia? Hugging Poseidon’s coast seemed to protect us from Zeus’s sport, but as we drove deeper into the mountains, our encounter with storms was guaranteed. It was under one such dramatic downpour, and having traversed the island from Chania in the West to Agios Nikolaos in the East, that we arrived into the lush, humid valley of our new location near Istron. What we found there may have been wet (but perfumed by the utterly, verdantly fresh fragrance characteristic of post summer rain), but as we arrived at our villa and home for the remainder of our holiday, we knew that we had arrived in paradise.

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A little self-contained house on two floors with lounges upstairs and down looked onto the most incredible views over Mirabello Bay. There was an indication of other villas nearby, but the lush vegetation meant we felt utterly secluded in this mountainous Elysium… and as we were to learn, the nearby villas were sparsely occupied. But best of all was our pool. 4 by 6 metres of joyous, turquoise happiness all to ourselves. We could swim by day, we could swim by night. It was like a painting by Hockney come alive for our sole and exclusive enjoyment.

Before we could even unpack our beachwear, we inflated our must-have flamingo inflatable, as well as his baby (niftily designed to hold a drink). Ian Flemingo, as he became known, was a welcome point of additional colour in a landscape which we gazed over in awestruck wonder every morning, lunch, night, dusk and dawn during the four days that followed. And when we had had enough of our pool (not that we ever truly could), it was a mere 5 minute stroll down the lane to the private beach of the swanky hotel in whose grounds our villa was located. The beach, like the valley, was like a mythical paradise to behold…but more about that another day. 

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In the words of Coldplay, this was para…para…paradise, and the dazzling, sparkling cerulean rectangle of happiness that was our pool played centre-stage. 

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

My Travel Sketchbook: Chania Harbour

It’s been a long time since I took out travel sketchbook. Not since Aix-en-Provence have I set pen to paper, and yet I suppose there’s plenty of argument for London being sufficient source of sketching inspiration. Sadly, this life of ours does not provide time for everything, but our Cretan Odyssey was one such occasion which felt apt for a little sketching. So to Crete we return (after our brief sojourn in Sussex) and onto the pages of my sketchbook which had turned their sights in the direction of Chania’s stunning little Venetian harbour.

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Chania’s Venetian Harbour, looking East (©2018 Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen on paper)

When we first arrived out our hotel in Chania, and stepped onto the balcony, light met our eyes with a dazzling intensity as the Grecian sunshine reflected off the cerulean sea and onto the glimmering whites and creams of the painted harbourside buildings. As an artist, spoilt for choice was to put it mildly. I could have painted and sketched and taken inspiration from 50 or so details of the awe-inspiring views set out before us. But sadly, time was short. With only 4 days to enjoy the vistas, I set about painting the view looking East in the evenings, when the sun from the West illuminated the mosque and the surrounding buildings, and in the mornings, I would turn Westwards, to this beautiful view of the harbour curving its way around the sea, like a mother’s embrace of the ocean – her favourite child.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit http://www.delacybrown.com 

A Cretan Odyssey | Part 2 – Chania’s Labyrinth

Crete is an ancient land. Its very rocks breathe a thousand tales of nymphs and satyrs, of the birth of Zeus and the anger of Pasiphaë. But the most famous tale of all is spun from the endless twists and turns of the renowned labyrinth, built by master craftsman Daedalus to house the bloodthirsty Minotaur, bastard son of King Minos’ queen. There, somewhere in the labyrinthine grounds of the great Palace of Knossos, Ariadne spun her thread to lead Theseus out of the complex maze, but only after his bravery put the Minotaur to death. Today, there remain many theories about exactly what shape the labyrinth might have taken; some even suggest it was the Palace of Knossos itself. However, one things is certain in modern day Crete: head to the utterly quaint, twisting and convoluted streets of Chania’s old town, and you will feel like you have found the ancient relics of Daedalus’ mastery.

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We adored Chania. How could it be otherwise? With cosy little streets, strung with canopies of the pinkest bougainvillea, offset against yellow, blue and dusky pink houses and white-edged cobbled streets, it is a town of picture-perfect quality. Everything about the archetype of postcard Greece is embodied here: the bright blue rickety wooden chairs set outside cafes and tavernas serving Greek salad on blue and white checked table clothes, wine in terracotta pitchers, and lazy cats strewn languidly across the streets in the afternoon sun. Unlike many places which have fallen foul of the ravages of tourism, Chania has upped its game. Its shops and restaurants are positively up-market; there is a real feeling of Capri town or the Amalfi Coast about this town. And our unbroken record of finding perfect eateries, night after night, only confirmed the consistent quality of the place.

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So while Chania’s true highlight may be its dazzling Venetian harbour, just behind the front line of seaside houses, this maze of quaint alleyways will ensnare with equal charm. This is one labyrinth to enthusiastically get lost in. 

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Terracotta Collective: Chania Harbour

Those eagle-eyed amongst you might have noticed a painting in progress hidden in amongst the photos paying homage to Crete in Tuesday’s post. Perched on a little travel easel on the balcony of our hotel in Chania, a canvas, quickly filled with the sun-soaked colours and gently bouncing water which filled our view. So lucky we were to enjoy such an extensive and exclusive platform from which to enjoy Chania’s harbour at all times. It would have been a travesty not to have painted it.

So the very same afternoon I set about erecting my easel and filling my bite-sized canvas. I started with the background – a broad, roughly applied swathe of terracotta, colour of the rich soil which underpins the geography of Greece. Next, the sea and the sky, roughly applied with ultra marine, brush stroke daubings still visible across both. Then came the houses and the mosque which characterise the view – that pink blancmange dome and the gently crumbling whitewash of nearby houses. I tried to capture something of the delicate, transient beauty of the place, with roughly applied dappled paints and terracotta roofs allowing that original tone to shine through from the base of the canvas.

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Terracotta Collective 1: Chania Harbour ©2018 Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, acrylic on canvas

This is the first painting in my new Terracotta Collective. Painted on a terracotta background whose rich earthy colour is allowed to shine through amongst surface brush strokes of differing thickness, it is a collection which references the rich ground which underpins the life and vivacity of the wider Mediterranean. 

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit http://www.delacybrown.com 

A Cretan Odyssey | Part 1 – Chania’s Venetian Harbour

You’ll excuse the long absence of The Daily Norm from your inboxes and browsers: We’ve been on an adventure; an Odyssey if you like, to the birthplace of Zeus and the land of the entrapped Minotaur, haunt of Olympian gods and roaming mystical beasts. For as the year rolls on and the summer reaches a glorious pinnacle, our 2018 travels continue – we’re off to the delectable Greek island of Crete.

Laced with mythological connotations, imbued with the smell of wild oregano, and jangling to the sound of wild goats and the sea which swishes upon its mammoth mountainous coastline, Crete is one of the longest continuously inhabited and historically relevant of all European destinations, as well as one of the Southernmost located. Yet for our summer holiday, it provided all of the luxuries, the aesthetics and the charm that could possibly be required of a modern holiday. Daily Norm readers: I welcome you, to Crete.

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We start our adventure in Crete’s second city: Chania. Sprawling along the coast on the North-Western side of the island, Chania doesn’t feel like a city at all when you’re nestled inside the ancient walls of its richly-encircled old town. The sensation is one of a quaint little village, with picturesque roaming streets winding steadily down to a waterfront which is the beating heart of the city.

This harbour, so called Venetian because of time of its construction under the dictate of La Serenissima, is understandably the focal point for the city. It is alive at all hours with the bustle of its bars and restaurants whose collective unity beguiles the visitor with a harmonious panoply of sun-drenched little buildings hugging the shore. It is a waterfront which sparkles and ripples as water bounces off the crystal clear sea and makes fun of the straight lines adjacent, and a place imbued with a historical ambience translated through the presence of ancient stone houses and cobbled pavements. But pulling focus on the harbour is undoubtedly the Küçük Hasan Pasha Mosque, a leftover from Ottoman rule, and which today looks like a perfectly balanced candy-pink blancmange which turns ever so butterscotch in the golden evening sun. 

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We were lucky: our hotel room enjoyed the most stunning balcony views over this harbour, affording us the opportunity to revel in the changing faces of Chania’s ancient heart as it metamorphosed from slow and sleepy morning village to a bustling evening spectacle whose lights sparkled across the deep inky waters. We saw its colours dance vividly in the morning sun, and bathed in the golden light of early evening. And we breathed the deliriously fresh seawater perfume which pervaded the entire harbour, morning till night.

Chania’s Venetian harbour was the perfect way to commence our Cretan Odyssey, promising great things were in store from this island of plenty.

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.