My last trip to Greece was a Grand one. My husband Mike and I spent three weeks in Greece in May 1998. We spent ten days of that time island hopping. We took a small bag with us and jumped on the ferry. Each day we would get off and barter with dozens of guys who were standing on the dock trying to get people to "stay at my place," It was great fun because we never knew what we were going to end up with even though they all promised us a great view of the water. I think we only saw a great view of the the water once, but in all places we could see a bit of blue between the trees or buildings. Hey, the price was right and we did have fun.
In early January of 1994 we returned to Saudi after our vacation. We had to put my mother in a nursing home just before we left and got back home to discover Gizmo, our favorite cat ever, had died while we were gone. This was all pretty traumatic until the next day when Mike went to work only to discover they had done away with his job while he was gone. Aramco, the company we worked for was famous for not being able to tell you to your face that you were going to be jobless. More often than not, you were surplused and sent back to the US. However, they told Mike not to fear, they did everything in their power to find him another job, and something had turned up in YANBU.
"Front Gate in Yanbu"
Yanbu was an industrial city and very different from the Aramco compounds on the Eastern side of the country that resembled US military bases. Being sent to Yanbu was like being sentenced to hell if you were a woman. Unlike the compounds, women could not drive. We were living in an Arab town. They preferred us to wear an abiyah, and be covered in black like the Saudi women. I refused. We ended up living in Yanbu five years and I spend most of that time in my house or in my yard behind my wall painting.
Once we got back from vacation, Mike left immediately for Yanbu and I remained in Ras Tanura to begin packing things up. On January 31 my mother passed away. I returned to the US and spent the next two months there helping my dad and doing all the necessary things to settle her estate.
When I returned to Saudi in late March I went to visit Yanbu for the first time. Before I got there, Mike made it sound so romantic. He said, "They have mountains there, on the weekends we can go to the mountains and you can paint and I'll lay on the ground next to you and read a book." "And, if you don't like that, there's the Red Sea." For some reason I envisioned the mountains would be like those here in NC, with trees and beautiful scenery. Instead I found mountains that looked like giant rocks, the entire place was rock; you could not even dig in the ground. The actual town of Yanbu looked like the aftermath of a bombing strike; buildings were falling down and rubble was everywhere. Luckily the Royal Commission (the industrial city) where we lived was neat and clean.
"Another View of the Front Gate"
As it turned out, Mike was fairly high up in the company when we got to Yanbu, so we were allowed to look at a number of villas and select the one we wanted to live in. These villas were Arab style houses, big enough for a wife or two, a bunch of kids, servants and the works. Since Mike and I were going to be the only people living in this house, I was feeling very guilty taking the house we did when there were families with lots of kids in much smaller places. My friend Sherry who had lived there about five years by the time I got there said, "Don't feel guilty about the big house, it is all you will have here and you are going to spend a LOT of time in it." Boy was she right!
Our house was a mighty fine house surrounded by an eight foot wall. We had an entry hall big enough to live it, a living room, dining room, kitchen, den, sitting room, and servants quarters on the ground floor. Upstairs we had another living room in the middle of the house surrounded by seven bedrooms. In all the house had five bathrooms. If I had to guess I would say it had about 5,000 - 6,000 sq. ft. What did we do with all that space? One bedroom was used as closet because storage space in that gigantic house was lacking. Americans have much more stuff than anyone else in the world I've discovered. One room was my studio, one room was where I taught art. One room was our office, One room was our bedroom and I gave Mike a room all for himself that he could do whatever he wanted in and never keep clean. And, I think it only got cleaned twice in the five years we were there.
So I spent lots of time painting in my yard, and the last thing I did before we left there was throw myself an art show entitle "Behind the Wall." The paintings on this blog page are some of the works from my yard.
"View From the Back"
It isn't often you get to be in the middle of a war, and it is certainly something to make you appreciate life. Eventually the war ended, the US military packed up and went home, and life was back to normal; as if nothing ever happened.
The above painting is of the patio at the "Surf House" The Surf House was the big community recreation facility in Ras Tanura. When I was a kid in Ras Tanura, the kids used to hang out there, and some things never change with time; my kids used to hang out there too.
Here's a painting of the "Patio with an arts and craft sale taking place.
The sun rose over our beach and it was often quite unbelievable to see. I used to walk down the beach every morning for exercise, and many of the paintings I did were inspired by those walks.
The following painting of the RT beach path is like the patio, it has been there for generations; I walked on it when I was a kid as did my kids. I think this path was one of the unforgettable features of Ras Tanura I can't begin to tell you how many people commissioned me to paint that path. It is still popular today and requested by people who used to live there.
Those who know me also know I spend 30 years living in Saudi Arabia, 10 as a kid and 20 as an adult. People always feel sorry for you when you tell them that, but the majority of it was a great experience. We were fortunate to make some really good friends with other expatriates who lived in our community, and then there was the travel. Because we lived there and went on vacation once a year, we have traveled to many places in the world that are the dreams of most, but reality for few.
The above piece was painted right outside our back door in the Arabian gulf town of Ras Tanura. How miserable can you be when you are living about 30 paces from the water's edge?
My husband Mike and I were eating lunch one day in 1990, looking out at this beautiful view when we heard on BBC shortwave that Suddam Hussein wanted to invade Kuwait. At that time Mike said, "ah, he will never do it, his bark is worse than his bite." Within a couple of days we were hearing that troops were massing in Iraq on the Kuwait boarder. You have to take into account if you did not listen to BBC shortwave, and you lived in Saudi, you didn't know a thing about all of this because all news going in and out of that country was censored in those days. By this time Suddam was saying he planned to take Kuwait first and then move on to Saudi. Okay, so I was getting a bit concerned even though Mike still insisted Suddam would not be that stupid! It was a Thursday morning and I was taking an art class at our local art group when I found out Suddam had indeed made his move and invaded Kuwait.
Going into all the details about what resulted in our lives next would be the subject of another blog. There were some times while that war was going on we were scared out of our minds, but it general we weren't nearly as scared as our kids who were away at boarding school and college, and our parents who were in the US listening to it all of it unfold on CNN. Believe me when I tell you it is easier to live through it in person than it is to hear it on TV and not be able to do anything about it.
The following photo was one I sent my parents and kids while all of this was going on, and I still don't understand why no one thought it was funny but me. Where was their sense of humor?
If you remember the history of the 1st Gulf War, you know that at the end, just because he could Suddan ordered his army to burn the oil wells in Kuwait. As the crow flies, that was just up the beach from us, so it got pretty nasty on our beach as well. The following photo is interesting once you realize what you are seeing. That white line on the horizan is actually what was left of the regular sky color after the black smoke from the fires floated down the beach to our area. It just closed in on us from the top and shut out the light. Sorry, no plein air painting today!
Here's a pastel looking up the beach in the opposite direction as the painting above.
The last time we went to Greece was in 1998. We decided to spend our last vacation from Saudi in Greece and Turkey. It as pretty amazing. We spent the first week on Syros as usual, just laying around, enjoying the tavernas and great food and doing nothing. This might sound boring to you, but after being in Saudi for a year, we enjoyed doing nothing.
After the week was over we decided to go see the rest of Greece, so we headed down to the port and caught a ferry to the next island. We did not have a plan or a reservation, we just left. We had heard from those who came before us, this was the way to do it. When we got off the the ferry, there were dozens of guys holding up signs with the names of their establishments on them; they were trying to entice us to go stay at their inn. Everyone wanted you to be their guest, so they were all negotiating with you for the best price. What fun it was! And so we spent the next two week going from island to island and really enjoying the experience On each island we rented a motorcycle and did our on personal tour of the island. I was mortified because in my mind motorcyles translated to "death." One thing we noticed was how different the tzatziki was from island to island, so we decided to eat it everywhere and do a test to see who had the best. In the end, we actually decided our little village of Kini on Syros Island had the best.
The light in Greece is absolutely amazing! We went there several times and never tired of it. The light was great, and if you went at the right time of year, not only was the weather perfect, but the tourists had not yet arrived and you could actually enjoy the experience.
Many times over the years we would take off and go visit different islands, but we always used Kini as out home base. This tiny village was perfect because you could walk everywhere and there was a painting on every corner. The painting above entitled Kini Bay overlooks the bay and the village.
One of the very neat things about painting on location on the Island of Syros was the varied subject matter We were lucky to know someone who lived there and Trudy showed us all of the fantastic locations we never would have found on our own. In one area there were dozens of deserted mansions that has been standing empty since WWII. This tiny island must have had lots of money prior to World War Two for it to have so many huge places. It didn't take much to let your mind wander and invision what life must have been like back them. The following work entitled "From Days Gone By" was painted in this location.
Back in the 90's I was living in Saudi Arabia, and since outdoor painting opportunities were slim, we used to escape to Greece to paint. My friend Trudy, who I met in Saudi was married to a Greek fellow and when they retired they opened a sweet little inn on the island of Syros where we used to go paint. Trudy and Kirk had plans to build a house on the other side of the bay from their inn. When I painted the previous painting all they had built was the bedroom with a porch; their private getaway. The above painting is entitled "Trudy's Escape."
The town on Syros where the inn was located was Kini. It was a quaint little fishing village where very little English was spoken because it was not a tourist destination for foreigners, but a beautiful spot where the Greeks went to vacation to escape from all the tourists. The work below is just one of the many beautiful site in the tiny village of Kini.