THE PYTHIAN ORACLE
After returning from our Paris trip I was tired of the craziness of the Amsterdam scene so I accepted an invitation from Mr. Aristide Skylitzis, the director of the Greek advertising agency “Greca” to work there for three months. Simon wanted to come along so we soon were on a flight to Athens. Stepping out of the plane, I was amazed at the clear bright light, so different from anywhere else in Europe, there seemed to be more oxygen in the air. Aristide was waiting for us at the airport with his American Cadillac Coupe Deville and drove us to the fancy apartment he had rented for me on Iraclitou Street, right below the Parthenon, dedicated to Athena Parthenos.
Across the street a bakery provided us with delicious croissants, quiches and baklava pastries for our repast. Aristide allowed us to acclimatize for a few days and then I had to go back to work. “Greca” was located in a modern building on Kolonaki Square in the middle of town and I was installed in an enormous basement containing a large drafting table, separate from the other employees on the ground floor in order not to be disturbed.
I walked to the Greca building each day through a lovely park, then crossed over the expansive Syntagma Square where the Presidential “Evzones” sentinels guarded the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, decked out in their traditional uniform wearing kilts, white pleated shirts with balloon sleeves and pompoms on their clogs, changing the watch every hour on the hour. They didn’t blink an eye when I walked by in my mod outfits but unbeknownst to me, a journalist caught me on camera and a picture of me appeared in the local paper the next day. In the same paper I noticed a picture of George Harrison and Patti Boyd announcing they were married…
I worked on a diverse variety of advertisements. Greece was still stuck in the 50’s and I tried to modernize the output somewhat, after all, that was why Aristide had hired me. He was a kind man but authoritative and still conservative when it came to decisions about my designs. At night Simon and I would dine in the little tavernas around Old Plaka where I discovered falafel and hummus, ideal dishes for a vegetarian like me. On the weekends we climbed up to the Parthenon and admired the Doric temple, with its Ionic frieze, imposing even in its diminished state and enhanced by the still gorgeous Caryatids.
Aristide took us on a trip to Mount Olympus, abode of the Gods, its dry foothills at Lithochoro covered with chaparral. That was a bit of a disappointment, none of the Greek gods made an appearance. Apparently the eastern part of the mountain has more biodiversity and rich flora that we did not get to see because it was winter.
Much more interesting was our visit to Delphi, the seat of the Pythia oracle Priestess and the temple dedicated to Apollo, where the Pythian games, competitions regarding music, visual arts and poetry also took place. The outstanding archaeological museum there displayed sentient antiquities, including the blue-green “Charioteer” with glass eyes, as well as other pertinent vestiges of the Greek Archaic Age.
It was great to see all that Doric, Ionian and Corinthian art I remembered from art history classes with my own eyes! In the National Archaeological Museum of Athens we saw many other astounding Hellenistic art objects among which the awesome Artemesion bronzes depicting a “Horse with Jockey” and “Zeus” (or “Poseidon”), it is disputed who…
Aristide would also take us for lunch in the typical rustic Greek taverns in the countryside where we became acquainted with the Grecian indigenous landrace dog Alopekis, a very cute smallish dog with short legs, stand up ears and large bright eyes. Throughout the ages Alopekis dogs were very common in Greece, mentioned by Xenophon, Aristophanes and Aristotle, unfortunately they now run the risk of extinction.
Aside from its traditional role of exterminating small vermin and protecting baby domestic ducks and chickens from foxes, it is believed to have been used for controlling aggressive bulls in training sessions and games of bull-leaping in Greece and Crete. Looking at Cretan art studying art history at the academy, I felt that I knew it already and had lived there in another life, inspiring me later to paint the painting “Ariadne”.
On another occasion we had reason to dress to the max and Aristide (himself a bachelor) treated us to dinner in a fine Athenian restaurant overlooking the city lights to introduce us to his friend Dimitri, the vice president of Olympic Airlines, and his wife Marcella. Sometimes, just for the fun of it, Simon and I would take to the streets with flute and tambourine to entertain the people lounging on the terraces drinking coffee, Ouzo or Retsina, causing raised eyebrows.
While I was working, Simon would hang around town with some English guys and a girl called Lucy he had hooked up with. Finally my workload became uninspiring and I did not wish to extend my contract when Aristide asked me to. Since Simon had a gallery show planned in Madrid for March, we decided to take a short detour to Morocco first.
A direct flight to Casablanca on Olympic Airlines was arranged through Aristide’s friend Dimitri. I expressed my pleasure at having been able to be of service to Greca and see so much wonderful classical art and wished them both a fond farewell. We experienced a lot of turbulence over the Atlas Mountains on the rickety plane and I had to use the barf bag but we survived and arrived in one piece.
To be continued….