Pufferfish, Pastries, & Pomegranates


When heading to Greece for a painting workshop (those of you who missed the botanicals are in luck today!) I did not expect one of the best and most surreal moments to be to the tune of the Grease musical soundtrack. But that is life for you.

Amazing botanical artist Mary Dillon (her work is GORGEOUS, check it out!) has been putting on painting workshops in different locales, and a wacky twist of fate allowed me to afford to go. The Island of Skiathos was under flood mere weeks before, and when we arrived on the island (well timed, as the airport was closed three days prior) everyone was hard at work making miraculous cleanups and fixes faster than one would have thought humanly possible. But it is their high tourist season and need the income, so needs must.

We even got to have dinner with the very exhausted mayor who had literally swum through flood waters to save his mother and sister from being marooned in their home. Life is crazy, y’all.

The island was still abundant with brambles and figs and pomegranates, however, and the workshop went on.

I was able to complete my first botanical painting in a year – of a luscious pomegranate:

Yes, I know. Image isn’t great. I have to get some good scans made.

Then, because I was on a role, I did a second one. This time I was able to choose my own (the first week I missed the foraging part of class due to avian annihilation and a small fire. Oops!) I wasn’t able to finish the second pomegranate while I was at the island (I really just needed TWO MORE DAYS), but I have FINALLY finished it at home (yes, it’s a month later, but the inevitable summer construction interfered. Are we all sick of hearing that excuse? Because I totally am!):

I need to work on my “shine” but I am still fairly pleased.

Mary is a wonderful teacher and while they are both distinctly mine, I think you can see a visible difference between the first and the second.

As for the rest –

In the middle of the week Mary schedules an “off” day where she mostly forbids you to paint. Instead, we wandered the island, taking in amazing scenery, eating our way through town, and buying things we totally didn’t need. Most of my purchases were limited to jewelry, but! In one shop we found *drumroll* taxidermized pufferfish!! (I think taxidermized is the correct word? I googled it and am still not completely sure.)

There were lots. My friend, Amy, who is also an amazing artist and attended the workshop with me (check out the Skilled Quill) and I both fell instantly in love. After a great deal of discussion and the discovery they were only $8 each (I honestly couldn’t come up with a legitimate reason to buy a puffer fish which clearly shows I am still a bit on the crispy side because, really, EVERYONE NEEDS A PUFFER FISH), Amy purchased three (which are now hanging in her office at work. You can see them in this picture which she sent to make sure I remembered their grandness and wonder what is wrong with myself for missing an opportunity to buy a pufferfish until the end of time).

We WANTS them, we do!!

As we had been out all day, we decided to pick up dessert and head back to the villa (did I mention we got to stay in a beautiful villa with a view of the sea?). We INTENDED to limit ourselves to one desert each and share them. But the bakery only had a large box and the two desserts seemed sad and lonely in all that space, so we told her to fill up the box with traditional things we should definitely try and told ourselves virtuously that we would take them all back to share with the other participants.

Armed with pufferfish, pastry, and sleep deprivation due to the night before having left the windows open so that the vampire pixies (known by entomologists as mosquitos, but they are wrong – they are vicious mini-vampires that come out at about 5:30pm and their size and wings clearly indicate a faerie influence) we proudly navigated the bus and were able to return to the villa without a single mishap.

Flushed with success we climbed the long hill from the bus stop to our villa (there are NO INCLINES in Fargo. None. My entire body is now very clear on this fact) while singing very badly and trying to compose a song (again very badly) to go with our pufferfish and pastry, because how could you not? The neighbor’s puppy featured at one point as it greeted us at the top, right before the slight bit right before our gate that I am willing to swear goes nearly vertical, and in which ALL the vampire pixies live – and apparently lay in wait – descending in one concentrated cloud of doom and forcing a change from bardic assaults to frantic screaming and swatting. Still alliterative, though, so that’s something.

We survived the experience, arrived at our door, and discovered no one else had yet returned from their adventures and the two of us were locked out (it was discovered later that someone  had pocketed the key without thinking, instead of putting it in the designated hiding spot).

Fortunately, the basket of sunscreen and bug spray was on the back veranda, so we didn’t die or get carried away to become food for vampire pixie babies (Nestlings? Hatchlings? Who knows how these evil things work?), though if either of us get sick anytime soon, we should check mosquito-related diseases. Undaunted, because, Dude! We are still in GREECE, we settled ourselves on the veranda, sat looking out over the water, picturesque lights from other villas dotting the landscape and a gorgeous moon. It could have been a peaceful scene out of a movie, but the neighbors were having a party. A loud party. And the two main musical features were the soundtrack from the Grease musical and all of Abba’s best hits (by the way, the movie Mama Mia was filmed on the island and twice a week you can watch it in the open air theater. Singing and dancing is encouraged by all, drinks are available, and it is a GRAND time!).

My phone camera was on the fritz – it is really much more beautiful than this.

Our evening was spent laughing hysterically in beautiful surroundings, singing along to old favorites, and working our way through an entire box of Greek pastries. It wasn’t our fault. We meant to share them. But we were locked out and had no utensils. And some of the pastries don’t pull apart very well, and a lot of desserts were soaked in honey, and by the time you “break” off a piece you are a sticky disaster and the pastry is destroyed and you can’t share them with essential strangers anymore because your fingers have been all in them and you can’t not try them all and really? What were we to do?

Poor Mary (whom we had contacted when we first discovered being locked out) arrived somewhat later, breathless and horrified that we had been abandoned, because she didn’t receive the text we sent showing her the box of in-progress pastry eating we felt was proof that we were properly provisioned and she didn’t have to hurry or worry about us. Oops? Then, because we are kind and wonderful people – and may have also been completely punch drunk from lack of sleep and too much sugar – we forced poor Mary to play a demented version of Show & Tell as we very loudly displayed our day’s purchases one at a time, waving the pufferfish proudly about like a special effect from a badly done B-grade movie.

I don’t actually remember anything between brandishing the pufferfish and waking up in the morning, and thinking about it, that is probably best.

Hopefully more botanicals soon!

PS-The problem with taking a glorious opportunity to paint in Greece is then you are on the newsletter for future workshops….which tell you all about 2024’s lineup – in Spain, France, Greece again, and South Africa.

I have been ruined.

Must buy lottery ticket.

All rich patrons who want to support my art by investing in more *cough* training, are totally welcome.

One Response

  1. Loved the story of your locked out experience! I could almost smell and taste the pastries even though I have no idea what they were!! Good luck on the lottery ticket to afford another great experience!

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