by Panicos Peonides
I’m in the “palati” of the Stone House at Vasa and I’m enjoying the flood of light in which I’m bathing.
A recent alteration to the “palati” gave the opportunity to open up several small windows-fanlights in the long wall looking onto the street and thus the flow of light has been multiplied. This space and its details has always had a magical effect on me. The two upper rooms, the shelves of books, the old-fashioned mirrors, the scythe over the hearth, the shepherd’s leather bags in the corners and the paintings, with a strong presence of John Corbidge, the paving on the floor which was considered unique by the town planning department and thus the house is a listed building.
Sometimes here, in this long, high-ceilinged room, at least forty people were accommodated. The entire art school of Stass Paraschos, mostly English, students but also some older people, who, on their departure, left small paintings which they had done here, on the spot.
In a large album with a coloured hard cover are recorded all those who crossed the threshold of this house. Next to some names are sketches of all kinds, figures, a word which flies, rising like a balloon.
Here, near the hearth, Mikis Theodorakis had stretched out on a couch. He had come to the island for concerts. One morning I noticed that he was going to spend his time drinking coffee by the sea. I collected him and we came up the mountain. The change of atmosphere delighted him, he felt comfortable in the house and lay down and had a nap. Yes, there’s his photo in the album. John Corbidge was one of the party and the merriment that ensued was unforgettable. The conversations, the topics discussed, Mikis’ accounts of incidents on all those trips he had made with the orchestra…
The day of Tony Harrison’s visit was an intellectual crowning point. A poet, stage director, with a faultless knowledge of Greek, Tony was a treasure whom one “milked” slowly. And I had found a forgotten bottle of champagne in the refrigerator and wanted to serve it in celebratory style to my friends. I tried to open it – the champagne had disappeared. I had bought it years ago at Moscow Airport and with time it had lost its special property. Tony seized on this and, in a short time, composed a poem dedicated to the flat soviet champagne. Thus we passed culturally to the major topic of those days, the break-up of the Soviet Union.
Iakovos Kambanelis also came to this house, with his wife. It was, I recall, at the New Year, terribly cold, and we lit the fire, the sausages were placed on the charcoal and Iakovos boasted that he had cooked the best chops in his life.
Tatiana and Roger Milliex also came here with Yiorgos Skoteinos, whose stories he had on a string round his throat. There they are, in the yard, next to the oven.
And the unforgettable painter, Demetris Perdikides, who discovered in the identical Cypriot landscape what he had need of when he came back to Greece from Spain after a life there.
And the great Russian writer Yuri Nagibin, who gathered round him the villagers, who gazed at him in awe because a soviet citizen with such a name had done them the honour of visiting their village.
Who, who to remember first, the group of Bulgarian writer friends or the groups of Finns, who chose Vasa to set their inspirations down on paper?
A crowning moment for the Stone House was when we organised in the village the Synod of the Executive Council of the international organisation Artists for Peace. Then the village acquired an unprecedented liveliness, playing host to a group of internationally famous artists and the Stone House had become the mind and heart of the gathering. Among the artists was the Turkish Cypriot poet Mehmet Yiasin who, having spent the night in the house, woke up in the morning full of joy at the braying of the neighbour’s charming donkey.
Completely different was the presence of the four Americans from the famous Actors Studio, who had been guests at the house for a week and after they left a letter came from New York, from Paul Newman, full of gratitude because we had given their life “a piece of paradise”.
I think that all these wonderful stories belong to the past. Now the house is silent. Not for long, though. There, where the landscape is about to lose its light, like a flash an email from Germany, from our son Nikos, appears before me, saying that he has decided to celebrate his fiftieth birthday with friends, colleagues and fellow students at the house in Vasa. A brilliant idea, I think. The palati to be full again of youthful spirits, voices and laughter to be heard once again, stories to be told again. The house to be immersed once more in the vigour of life.
Translated by Christine Georghiades