Monday, 3 October 2005

Tzeli Katzidimitriou

Last week I met Tzeli Katzidimitriou, a writer and photographer from Lesvos. It was an exceptional meeting because this Greek woman was so open minded that in ten minutes I had the feeling I was talking to a friend I already knew for years. Tzeli was very busy because she had to travel from one part of the island to the other part, from Eftalou, Petra to Eresos to meet people for her work. She is working on a book on Lesvos and that does not progress as quickly as she wants because at many points she has to make choices about what she will write about and what not. When you know the island as well as Tzeli does, it is difficult to know what is interesting for people who do not know the island.

It will not be the first book Tzeli gets published about Lesvos, although it will be her first written book about the island. Two books already published by her might be known by visitors to Lesvos: '39 Coffee Houses and a Barber's shop' and 'Sacred Water, The Mineral Springs of Lesvos', which are two tasteful photo books about kafenions and a barbershop on Lesvos and about the hot springs of Lesvos.

The photographs are taken with a strong feeling for colour, composition and especially with warm feelings. Tzeli presents a piece of the timeless life of the island. Who does not know the small coffee houses on the island? There is no village without a kafenion and for a lot of Greeks there is no life without a kafenion. For many old men these coffee houses are like a living room. They love to sit whole days long on the front step in order to see the village life passing by, commenting on it and feeling their life fading into eternity.

Kafenions are coffee houses and no place to booze, although that may pass once in a while because of course you can get ouzo there. A kafenion is a common living room where you can dwell for hours with one drink, where commentating on the television programs is a national sport, where you can take all your time to spell out the papers, where politics are discussed with the other villagers but where first of all you can get all the hot gossip about the village.

Tzeli did not photograph the usual clients, but she immortalized the interiors of many old kafenion. Maybe at first sight these drinking quarters all look the same from the outside, on the inside you will see that all of them have their own characters.

They have sparkling blue, rose or other bright colors. They have walls full of old fading pictures of family or old Greek historical people. Some walls have shelves full of bottles from exotic brands. They have wooden counters which look like Turkish doors or showcases with articles that are not touched for ages. Their tables can have fine embroidery or just have funny plastic cloths. As well as some barbershops which can look like small museums.

Lesvos is known for its' ouzo, not for its' kafenions. Those you will find all over Greece. Lesvos has something else which is not that typically, but certainly very special for the island. They are the hot springs you will find in several places on the island.

Do not think that these are luxurious spa-centers, or big health resorts, because in Greece still nobody got the idea to commercially exploit the hot baths. In the pictures from the photo book 'Sacred Water, The Mineral Springs of Lesvos' by Tzeli you can see how picturesque these springs still are. Some are in decline, some may not look that attractive, but they all are warm and when you have been enjoying their hot mineral water you certainly come out purified and healthy. And that is the idea of a hot bath.

Funnily enough these baths are not too popular with the islanders. Maybe that is due to the old life when going to the springs was part of the Turkish life, a life that most Greeks want to forget. So only a few Greek people take advantage of these hot springs and that is maybe why they are still not only a blessing for your physical health but also a heaven for the mind because it is always quiet and peaceful there.

Tzeli's website has the name 'odoiporikon' what means 'always on the move'. Tzeli is always travelling. She moved from the island to the big city of Athens where she made a living with photographs of modern architecture. She went abroad to Italy where she studied and she travels to countries like India, Egypt and Korea. In between she returns to her island where she gets inspiration from the quietness, the stillness and the places where time seems to have stopped.

Tzeli's photo books reveal a part of the secret life of the island and not many people notice that these are so characteristic for Lesvos. When you open her books you will immediately recognize the atmosphere, even when you do not know the kafenion or the hot spring she captured on her photographs. Tzeli's pictures are as food for the soul. Check it out on her website:

Copyright © Smitaki 2005

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