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Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Charmian Clift, Expatriate Life on Hydra in 1955; Peel Me a Lotus; Hydra, Greece; Ghika; Henry Miller, 1939

A blog posting by Bentley Rumble. from August, 2017

I look forwarding to spending some 'literary' days on Hydra in September this year.

Charmian Clift and George Johnston, Hydra 1960: the “lost” photographs of James Burke - Paul Genoni Curtin University of Technology Tanya Dalziell The University of Western Australia (pdf) 

 "In Peel Me a Lotus (1959), the memoir that deals with the first year she, George Johnston and their family lived on the Greek island of Hydra, Clift writes at times with the descriptive precision of a documentary photographer as she dwells on the town’s physical beauty: [Hydra] rises in tiers around the small, brilliant, horseshoe shaped harbour—old stone mansions harmoniously apricot-coloured against the gold and bronze cliffs, or washed pure white and shuttered in palest grey: houses austere but exquisitely proportioned, whose great walls and heavy arched doors enclose tiled courtyards and terraced gardens. The irregular tiers are broken everywhere by steep, crooked flights of stone steps, and above the tilted roof-tops of uniform red tiles rise the octagonal domes of the churches and the pierced and fretted verticles of marble spires . . . (25-26)".

Australians in Aspic: Picturing Charmian Clift and George Johnston’s Hydra Expatriation, TANYA DALZIELL University of Western Australia, PAUL GENONI, Curtin University (pdf)

Hydra as Intimate Theatre, Paul Genoni, Australian Book Review

A selection of James Burke's Hydra photographs

More photographs, from Getty Images

Drawing by Nancy Dignan

George Johnston, from the short story "Vale. Pollini!" (written early 1960's, published 1965), on unwelcome newcomers on Hydra:

"The upsetting intrusion into this world began some time in February...It was a drift at first, but with a swift acceleration, so that before very long there must have been about eight of the newcomers sharing our tables in the taverns we favoured...The rocks were under annexation and a transistor radio was playing. They were all there...- all there on the rocks, on our rocks, like a slime of stranded jellyfish."

George Johnston and Charmian Clift’s Hydra years revisited, Susan Johnson, The Weekend Australian

A particularly interesting document is the long letter that Cynthia Nolan wrote to Pat Flower in March/April (?) 1956, included in The Oxford Book of Australian Letters, 1998. See some excerpts here The Nolans were renting the house that belonged to the painter Ghika. Cynthia writes unguardedly about Hydra, Greece and about Charmian and George.

Henry Miller on Hydra, 1939

Hydra: Simple pleasures on an 'aesthetically perfect' island, The Independent

Henry Miller, from First Impressions of Greece, 1973:

Photo of Henry Miller on Hydra by George Seferis
(MIET, Cultural Foundation of the National Bank)

"George photographed Miller leaning against the upturned keel of a boat, with a backdrop of masts and sails in the harbour" - Roderick Beaton, George Seferis, Waiting for the Angel, A Biography (2003)

"What were you looking for? why don’t you come? what were you looking for?" 
(George Seferis, from Hydra poem in Mythistorema, translated by Edmund Keeley)

"Aesthetically it is perfect, the very epitome of that flawless anarchy which supersedes, because it includes and goes beyond, all the formal arrangements of the imagination.This purity, this wild and naked perfection of Hydra, is in great part due to the spirit of the men who once dominated the island...At a place like Hydra, for example, one knows that when a man dies he becomes part of his native rock...Hydra was entered as a pause in the musical score of creation by an expert calligrapher".

Henry Miller, The Colossus of Maroussi, 1941.

Henry Miller and Katsimbalis, Hydra, November, 1939

Paintings by Ghika, from Rex Warner, Views of Attica and its Surroundings, 1950:

A poster design by Ghika: 

From Charmed Lives, British Museum, Ghika, Hydra:

Paddy Leigh Fermor on Hydra, by Ghika (Benaki Museum Exhibition)

Sidney Nolan, Boat, 1959 (Hydra)

Sidney Nolan, The Greek Series

Sidney Nolan, Hydra

Sidney Nolan, Hydra

"The Nolans were visiting Hydra long before it became one of the most popular places in the Mediterranean for foreigners to buy holiday houses at bargain prices...Hydra had yet to become a painter's cliche or to be exposed by Hollywood, and most of the developments of the twentieth century had passed it by". "Sidney Nolan, Such is Life, a Biography by Brian Adams", 1987

A French Impression of Hydra, 1970,
 from SOUS LE SOLEIL DES ILES GRECQUES, by Jean-Christian Spahni:

Μιχάλης Βιολάρης (YouTube)

Εκεί στης Ύδρας τ’ ανοιχτά και των Σπετσών
να σου μπροστά μου ένα δελφινοκόριτσο... 
(O. Elytis)

 (arranged by L. Kakis/A. Serper; with an English translation)

From Songs of Greece, A Companion for Travellers,
Hilary Pym (collection and translation), The Sunday Times, 1968
Drawing (detail), Rosemary Grimble

From Songs of the Greek Underworld, The Rebetika Tradition, Elias Petropoulos, tr. Ed Emery (2000)

by Henry Denander

"Kamini Press was started in 2007, named after a small village on Hydra island. The editor has had his summer house there for 12 years and the name is in homage to some former “neigbours” in the village. In 1939 Henry Miller arrived together with Katsimbalis (the Colossus himself) to visit the artist Ghikas in his mansion overlooking the Kamini harbour. Miller describes this in “The Colossus of Maroussi”. The ruins of Ghikas’ house are still there. The poet, author and singer Leonard Cohen’s house is also close by in the Kamini village. It was there that he wrote many of his songs and books. The beautiful photograph on the back cover of “Songs From a Room” was taken in his Kamini house.
Kamini Press publishes fine poetry in handmade, self assembled chapbooks, usually together with original cover art. Most books also come in limited editions with watercolors" - Henry Denander.

Martin Johnston interviewed by Hazel de Berg in the Hazel de Berg collection [information about a sound recording] -  Martin Johnston speaks of his mother, Charmian Clift and father George Johnston ; the family move to the Greek islands of Kalimnos and Hydra where he lived for 10 years ; the foreign artistic colony living on Hydra ; the reasons why his parents left Greece (pdf) - and much more...

Two extracts about life on Hydra (Martin Johnston speaking):

"The foreign community was getting bigger and bigger, and beginning to tear itself apart from internecine squabbles and bitchery and...all sorts of sexual and alcoholic tangles, and generally beginning to be a pretty unhealthy sort of a place in which to live."

"It was certainly fascinating to go back to Hydra. It had been eleven years, just about, since I had last been there, and the island had totally, totally changed. I made the mistake of going there in summer...The kind of society that evolved there was quite frightful...Greece in general hadn't changed as radically as Hydra had, because Hydra from being one of the most primitive had become one of the most trendy corners of Greece, and it was still, I found, the place that really I wanted to live in".

Martin Johnston, Poems

In Transit: A Sonnet Square

From (2), Biography:

It is all 
tentative, and these days the Island supports

Charmed Lives, Telegraph Review - on Ghika, Craxton and Leigh Fermor

"Before the Sixties, the three men – who met at the end of the Second World War – mostly gathered in Ghika’s ancestral home, or “family ziggurat”, as Paddy called it, an 18th-century mansion on car-free Hydra in the Saronic Gulf, “that still inviolate island – long may it remain so! – as empty of wheels as pre-Columbian America” (Leigh Fermor again). This was the setting for many extraordinary summer parties: fascinating black-and-white photographs at the BM document some of the ebb and flow of guests, including the writer and critic Cyril Connolly. Margot Fonteyn, the English ballerina, and sometime lover of the predominantly homosexual Craxton, was another visitor.
Tragically, Ghika’s idyllic enclave on Hydra burned down in 1961".

John Craxton, Hydra, 1960, photograph by Wolfgang Suschitzky

Craxton on Hydra: “diverting Greek café life and social entrapments” (quoted in John Craxton, by Ian Collins).

From το κορίτσι με τα μαύρα, The Girl in Black, Cacoyannis

Australian Bohemians on Hydra, Neos Kosmos

Leonard Cohen, Hydra

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