Perched on Greece Paxos between an easel and the deep-blue sea, Matthew Dennison, our intrepid painting-course correspondent, catches the last of the Mediterranean sun three types of person arrive at destinations of noted I prettiness under cover of darkness: smugglers, those JL dependent on public transport and, with a talent for the topsy-turvy, the British abroad. The last two obtaining in my case, I arrived by ferry from Corfu at the small harbour of Loggos on Paxos at 3am lit only by the distant headlights of one waiting taxi. The island was silent and the sea still. Paxos, the tiniest of the Ionian islands, off the southern tip of Corfu, was the scene of Antony and Cleopatra’s last night together before resounding defeat at Actium and romantic immortality. But settling into the back of my taxi for the uphill jolt to the unambiguously named Paradisos villa, I was not thinking of Antony and Cleopatra: I had until lunchtime to gather thoughts, paints, sketch pad and prepare for battles of a different nature.
I had travelled to Paxos for the first week of a two-week painting course organized by husband and wife team Paul and Shirley Millichip. Paul, a professional artist ofbenevolent, prophet-like appearance, would steer a party of mixed-ability enthusiasts through a course of sketching and watercolours, while Shirley – a youthful materfamilias for the duration -took care of the pastoral side. From first to last, their combination of kindliness, competence, enthusiasm and skill inspired confidence in one like me, who artistically had fallen by the wayside some years earlier.
A pattern emerged for the course. Each morning I made the twenty-minute jaunt along rutted paths and the coastal road, bordered by waist-high flowering thyme, to the converted manor house high above Loggos bay, in which was staying the rest of our party. An informal lesson on the terrace consumed a chunk of morning, embracing the general business oiseeingand offering guidance on the painterly techniques one can use to express that vision. The rest of the day and the evening was one’s own – all but half an hour late afternoon when, reconvening, we laid out the day’s work in long rows in the last of the sun and discussed, with offence neither given nor taken, the progress or otherwise of oneself and one’s fellows.
Paxos is an island unimproved by human hands, its ancient heritage buried under seismic rubble. Its beauty now is of a natural variety – turquoise sea; cliffs like petrified feta cheese descending in staccato terraces to the sea; olive trees with gored and pitted trunks. In the principal village of Gaios, a much-vaunted Venetian influence is faindy discernible; otherwise Paxos is an architectural nonstarter. The temples are unbuilt on this island on which olive trees ” 300,000 of them – are god. Lovely Paxos is a ribbon of green – fold after fold of olive grove – in a bright-coloured sea. Therein lies its charm.
From the windows of my villa – quiet in a local hamlet -pomegranate trees punctuated the groves. Hills on two sides gave way to white beaches. Below, around the harbour, awaited the village and a routine remarkable only for its aimlessness – Paxiots serving the British a Paxiot version of a British concept of Paxiot Greek life. Possibly I judge unfairly – my holiday was at the end of the season. There had been too many British bathers and painters. Soon ennui, or winter, would silt the blue, blue bay WAYS AND MEANS Matthew Dennison was a guest of Travel a la Carte (tel: 01635-201140). The week-long Paxos painting holiday 1999, led by Francis Farmer and Robert O’Rorke, departs on September 24 and costs £435 per person, including flights and shared accommodation. The Millichips organize painting courses in a number of locations throughout the year. For details, call 01296-713232.
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