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A Fading Art

The Golden Age of Sifnos

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A Fading Art-
Robert & Teresa Payne
Robert & Teresa Payne do free-lance writing and photography

FORGET IT! Forget Rome, forget Venice, and forget Dubrovnik. Too smoggy, too expensive, and too crowded," he said, taking a yellowing National Geographic may of The Balkans from his backpack. With a blue felt tip pen he made a series of check marks beside a string ofislands south of Athens.

"Go here," advised the well-traveled young Californian. "Take to the back alleys of Aegina, Spetsai, or Poros. Keep an open mind and just poke around asking questions and talking to the locals. It's fun because with Greek villagers, you never know what to expect."

As our train rolled toward the Adriatic, our new found friend explained his back-alley theory of travel: "Travel is about the only adventure left in the modern world. And the essence of adventure is not knowing exactly what will happen next. For that reason, I never take any guide books, and I even promise myself I won't ready anything in English...especially the European edition of the Herald Tribune. Take my advice. Latch onto something local that catches your interest and investigate."

Following his advice, we settled in Poros, an island village only two hundred yards off the coast of the Peloponnesus. After renting a ten-dollar-a-day room at the HOtel Galatea, Teresa and I boarded a nine-foot water taxi and putt-putted across the two hundred yard strait to have a beer at Demetro's Cafe.

Demetre had stretched his blue and white awning over the sidewalk, and in its shade we drank a chilled bottle of Fix, the beer on the Aegean.

Sitting back, we noticed Demetre's awning picture-framed the white-washed building that rambled up Galatea's steep slopes just across the strait. Doorways and windows- all painted different Easter egg colors- looked so perfect it would have been easy to believe some high-powered decorator from the pages of Architecural Digest had been paid for the job.

"How do they do it?" asked my curious spouse. "How do those Greeks mix such perfect pastels? This island has no paint store. Nobody's going to take a ferryboat ride to Athens just to get a quart of pastel paint."

"Humm," I asked, stewing on her puzzle. "No paint store could mix colors like that anyway. Must be an artist in town." Butter yellows, powder flues, and faded olives-all different; yet each seemed to come from the palette of Chagal or Dufey.

I brooded further on her little mystery, finally decided it could prove fun to track down the mixer of all those crazy colors. Tomorrow I would take to the back alleys and slip about this island asking questions. That decision made, I ordered another Fix.

The next day confirmed the fact no paint store existed on the island of Poros. But I did locate the source of all paint sold here: a tiny general store offering evrything from Jap-flap sandals to kerosene lanterns.

A brassy little eleven year old named Tackey tended the store while his dad was off to Athens. Tackey had the earnest look of Star Wars' Luke Skywalker. This, combined with his smart-aleck brand of English learned from youthful American visitors left me wondering if I would get a straight story from him.

"Paint, paint, paint, have we got paint," he announced, whisking me to the paint department which consited of a pair of two-foot shelves in the rear of the store.

The upper shelf held half-liters of enamels- reds, blues, greens, and yellows; the lower shelf held the tatexes- also all primary colors. Not a pastel was to be seen.

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