Tackey had no American-style
paint mixing machine. "No special orders from Athens, either,"
said Tackey, "What you see is what you get," he added,
making like Flip Wilson.
Paying no attention,
I pressed on. "Tackey, where do I get that faded blue color?"
I asked, pointing to the wisteria-blue store front across the
"That blue? It's
this can," he replied snapping up a half-liter of electric
blue enamel. "Indoors it stays bright, but outdoors it changes-
to that color."
"Oh ho, I see,"
said I, reaching to shut off the light bulb above my head. The
Greek sunlight which inspires poets, bewitches photographers,
and tans tourists also fades paint!
said Tackey. And then showing off a bit of esoteric trivia, he
added, "Ultra-violets-from the sun. Screws up the pigments."
The next day found
me lurking in the alleyways of Poros with my beat-up Hasselblad
trying to capture some of the most pleasing pastels on film. As
I took aim at an outstanding powder blue doorsay, a booming voice
yelled out, "Deutch?"
"Are you German?"
is still the first question asked by many Greeks whose memories
stretch back to the Occupation. "No," I replied, "American."
Oh, oh! Ogden, Utah! Union Pacific! God Damn. Son of a bitch,"
exclaime the voice, anxious for me to know he spoke English. Then
he appeared through the doorway-aman well into his sixties wearing
pants two sizes too large, held up by a belt that missed all but
two loops. Tipping his snap-brim hat and looking me straight in
the eye, he said: "Long time ago I work for the railroad.
Nineteen twenty-five. Long time ago. My name is John," he
added, waving a cane, "John-with-the-stick."
It never occurred to
John-with-the-stick to question why I wanted to photograph his
powder blue doorway. He knew it to be one of the subtler tones
of blue on the island. The color, he said, was a stroke of luck.
He bought a can of bright blue from Tackey, not knowing the exact
shade it would fade, but hoping for the best.
"I keep fingers
crossed," he said, showing me two pork sausage digits. "Hey,
come in. We have Fix. We talk."
unfolded his life story. The third son in a family of five boys,
he went to sea at the age of sixteen. In San Francisco he jpmped
ship and aided by friendly Greeks made his way to Ogden, Utah.
At the mid-continent layover, he scrubbed the steel sides of passenger
cars headed for California. "I see wwhole world," he
told me, "but now I come home to die."
Not wanting to die
an ignorant man, John spent his idle hours voning up on ancient
Greek culture-especially architecture. he proved an apt student,
informing me the business of painting Greed doors and windows
goes back three thousand years.
Those stark-white temples
we now see on the Acropolis were originally brightly painted,
he told me in his brand of Union Pacific English. Blues and browns
predominated, but green was the favorite color of the Ancients.
John told me how the green was created and applied. First glassmakers
made glass, mixing into it salts of copper. Then they shattered
the glass and ground it into a fine powder. Painters mixed this
powder into hot beeswax and painted it directly onto the temple
walls. The results, according to John-with-the-stick, were stunning
walls of bright copper-green.
And then, showing more
pride in the ancient temple walls than his own powder-blue door,
he added, "Hey! Let me tell you. That wall...he never fade."
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