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Carlos Freire - Le Mont Athos - Photographic book

George Tsatsos - Acrobats Exhibition


On Monday, 7 October 2002, the artist Heloisa Novaes and her husband, the photographer, Carlos Freire arrived from Paris. Their entire conversation concerned Greece and it took me a few moments before I could discover why. I later understood as Carlos Freire gave me his latest work, a huge magnificent book called LE MONT ATHOS, containing his photographs and with text by Jacques Lacarriere. He wrote to me in the book: "Le Mont Athos que eu vi, para voce Vera, com a minha amizade e o carinho pela pessoa que voce e. Amitre. Toujours. Carlos Freire - Londres 10.2002." Which translated reads: "Le Mont Athos that I saw, for you Vera, with my friendship and affection for the person you are. Amitre. Toujours." AHHHHHH!!!!! What a lovely dedication!

Carlos originally left Brazil intending to stay in Paris for only four months. But apparently he forgot his way back. So, he has remained in Paris for the last 34 years. His book, which I have previously mentioned, concerns the sacred mountain in Greece call Mont Athos, where no female animal - including myself - is allowed. This photographic work is fantastic. Because I am not permitted go there to see it for myself, I am grateful for his photos through I can visualise the sacred mountain. It is as am seeing through his eyes: the atmosphere of the place with its twenty monasteries and the monk giving a welcome with a small glass of water. The streets on the mountain leading from one monastery to another caught my eye with the large paving stones along with similar stones are used for the houses. The stones come directly from this Le Mont Athos, which lies in the middle of the sea. Some skulls can be seen around the place showing life was there at some stage in time. The insides of the churches are full of breathtaking icons and incenses that - having been to Greece - I can still smell when looking at Carlos' photos. His best photos are the Priests of the Orthodox Greek Monastery of Mont Athos, all with beards and with their heads covered in black, their faces are tranquil - without stress- but their hands show hard work. Some hands hold a rosary; some are holding icons, sticks and candles. They have a hard, reclusive and solitary life; but above all a mystical life. A portion of the photos are dedicated to Easter time around the mountain and some photos to the restoration of the frescoes and the icons. One monastery name that caught my eye is Monastere de Xenophotos, the name of my grandfather. The Brazilians love Greek names, my sister's name is Grecia - Greece - so you can see our love for that country, cultural and civilisation. There is a huge colony of Greek in Brazil.

Darlings, the book is magnificent and can be purchased at Imprimerie National Editions, Paris 2002 ISBN 2-7433-0432-4. So, with his work of Le Mont Athos, Carlos has become a Greek by adoption - at least with heart and camera.

As I have said, Heloisa and Carlos arrived on Monday morning, bearing gifts of food, chocolates, cheeses and wine (all for me, of course). They also brought me a copy of a photograph that Carlos took of me last year. During the evening they went to the opening of Fred Boissonnas: Images of Greece 1900-1920 at the Hellenic Centre in Paddington Street, London.

The next day was the vernissage of George Tsatsos at the Robert Bowman Gallery in Duke Street, St James's. Heloisa sent me the invitation direct from Paris. I am saying this because I found it ironic to be invited from Paris to a London exhibition. How posh!!! The envelope - like the invitation - was decorated with the artist's designs. I was delighted to be going with Heloisa and Carlos. The exhibition was called Acrobats - in fact, the artist is like an acrobat himself, going from engineering to painting. George comes from a famous intellectual and artistic family; his uncle was one of the most important Greek painters of the 20th century. George has been painting for the last 20 years but it's only been after much thought and preparation that he has decided to have his paintings on exhibition for the first time. As I arrived at the exhibition, I greeted George with the words: "Your painting are beautifully coloured."

Heloisa told me that George's painting has a lot of forms from his work in engineering: tube forms, geometric forms, mosaics, spanners and acrobats around the painting, with some animals such as bulls and birds. He paints in acrylic, very colourful, and contemporary, using a lot of red and full colour doodles. His artistic combination of colour and shapes is visually stimulating and extremely interesting. I had stopped at the desk of the Gallery and noticed some T-shirts with George's design of letters of the alphabet printed on them. Which reminded me that George has also produced a wonderful children's book, An Alphabet for Analphabe. All book and T-shirts sales went to George's favourite charity, KIDS, which is a charity for children with disabilities the UK. I really loved George's work for the children - the alphabet in its many forms and colours are magical.

Soon after, I met George's wife Zoe, his very nice children and some of his friends, most of them beautiful Greeks. Which made me a bit self-conscious despite that fact that Heloisa did my make-up and my hair. It still felt like a "bad hair day". Anyway, I went on to have a pleasant evening; the food was to die for! We were served delightful juice cocktails, champagne and delicious decorated canapés of all sorts from salmon to pates. I loved the flower decoration of the trays; one was a flower from South Africa. (Before I left it was actually given to me. I still have it - it looks like an artichoke but with some pink in it.)

I also met an interesting couple, Loula and Michael Kailas; they taught Greek dance. Heloisa had previously spent an evening at their school of dance, very much in "Zorba the Greek" style! She said that she arrived home feeling like a true Greek Goddess Dancer and went on to show me how they dance - they don't move their hips, just arms and feet. Michael, professor of dance, said, "the first thing I look at in a woman is the feet… I am a dancer so the woman has to have the right feet." Hah! Those fetish feet!!! Michael is also is in the business of icon and painting restoration, he has even restored works for the British Museum. They have a niece called Antigone - she is an artist too, lives in Munich and has a strong sculptured Antigone face with large eyebrows. I will never forget her very Greek name, every time I go to see this Greek piece, I will be reminded of her.

Later I met John Michell - he introduced himself as a painter of watercolours. Searching the Internet I found that he has written Who Wrote Shakespeare. (Perhaps in future he will tell me who really did write it). A very lovely man - I thought we had some "chemistry" but he left me for a blonde!!! On his Internet site, I also saw his paintings, which I found very geometric. Heloisa told me they are Mandalas (circular figures as religious symbols of the universe). I also discovered that he was educated at Eton and Cambridge. He seemed quite a bizarre Englishman with a strange-smelling cigarette - very "Ladbroke Grove". I later saw him from my bus in Ladbroke Grove while visiting my mother who is in hospital there. What a small world!

After John had left and I was feeling almost dead, David arrived. I didn't get the surname, but I could tell he was an Englishman, a very charming Englishman, at that - blue eyes, great detail as regards to his dress, brown shoes and, above all, for me coming from Italy, long socks. He had an electrifying confidence, an almost conceited persona. "Oh, God" I said to myself, "he is talking to me." I became very alive and surprised at all the attention he was offering my direction. But just a few moments later he left me and was throwing about the same charm to all the women in the Gallery. I found him on bender knee to all the women in Duke Street - a serial seducer if ever there was one. Amazing - poor Istanbul "Penelope" left there waiting for her man - I hope she doesn't have to wait 20 years. Now, I too have discovered that Englishmen are seductive.

Carlos introduced me to another very, very charming man, Laurent Baudou. He was a Frenchman and was the director of the very famous shop in Mayfair "By Royal Appointment" to all the Royal Family: Thomas Goode. I've never been in that shop because I am intimidated by it. After we were introduced I said: "Carlos and I are of the same generation. We have been friends since teenagers in Brazil." Then I looked at Carlos and I found him a little too old with his head of white hair. Looking at Laurent I said: "not really, I am younger than Carlos, a generation after!" (I later told this story to Carlos and Heloisa and we laughed like crazy.) I also jokingly said to Laurent: "Carlos brought me here because he is trying to marry me off to a rich man." After I said that he left (as the saying goes "he left the building").

Anyway, believe it or not, being in Duke Street - in the heart of Mayfair - at the George Tsatsos opening was really something: a real 'happening' of a variety of people. I was then privileged to meet the Bishop Theodoritos from the Orthodox Greek Church - he was the first and only Orthodox Bishop that I have ever met. We had our photo taken together. I showed the photo to my platonic Greek neighbour and I told him that I asked the Bishop to marry us and he fainted, because his brother is already married to a Brazilian girl and his mother said, "not another Brazilian in this Greek family." So I suppose there is not a chance for another Big Fat Greek Wedding. What a shame for me!!!

Returning to George Tsatsos's opening, the Greek singer Elena Kelessidi arrived straight from her success in Turandot at the Royal Opera House, which I had seen only days before. I nearly died when we kissed and had our photo taken together. Gosh! Rubbing shoulders with the cast of Turandot at Covent Garden and being with all these amazing people, I was unable to sleep all night - it was absolutely thrilling!

To my surprise, we were invited to Zoe and George's house in Hamilton Terrace, St John's Wood for dinner. The house's enormous existence and perfectly designed gardened lined with rich greenery left me without words. It is difficult to describe such glorious architecture and elegant decorative taste with words. Michael - the icon specialist - was also at dinner; he showed Heloisa and I the work of restoration he had done to the icons on the wall. They were simply DIVINE! I found it all to be very overwhelming and I said, "I have two icons but it has nothing to do with those, my icons are on wood and silver." Michael said, "Icons are always painted on wood." I said, "Mine are from Poland but really those are another story". I looked around and found that George had painted something that looked like Easter Eggs: smooth, oval shapes in a plethora of colours and sizes. They were placed on top of the fireplace, around each room. In every corner of the house was a piece of his work. I saw a large limousine painted with his trademark motifs.

As I was having dinner in this Greek household, I told my favourite story of my trip to Greece with my lovely daughter, who had done classical studies in Rome; there she studied Greek and Latin, - we went in the middle of all these classicism studies. We arrived in Greece by ship from Brindisi, Italy. I had brought her along with me in attempt to cheer her up; she failed in her Greek studies that year at college. On 24 September, by coincidence, we were in Epidaurus Theatre. She went on the top of the Theatre to test the Theatre's acoustics, for which it is famous. I stayed at the bottom, in the middle of the arena and when she reached the top, I was so inspired by the place that I began acting, pretending as if I was Greek performing on this infamous stage for a listening audience. I whispered, "Today my lovely daughter Francesca, who is 15 years old, can everybody wish her Happy Birthday, please." My small whisper was transformed and was carried through the Theatre so that everyone could hear - even my darling Francecsa, who had climbed so high up to the top. After I spoke all the tourists in the Theatre went "Happy Birthday Francecsa". Being 15-years old she was mortified and never forgave me. She didn't talk to me for the rest of the day; I must have embarrassed her again! (she will tell you that I have embarrassed her so many times that she could not recite them all). I found it liberating to be acting on that Theatre stage - like the Greeks of old time. For me, Epidaurus Theatre is the most impressive one, the most acoustically perfect theatre that I have been in. Anyway, after eating a gorgeous dinner, I left Zoe and George's house, but not before kissing 'seducer' David.

In the afternoon of the very next day, I had an appointment with Carlos and Heloisa at the Thomas Goode shop with Laurent. I arrived there excited to be actually going inside the famous shop. I love things for the house. I said to Laurent: "Are you making money with this beautiful place?" He answered "I am trying to get rich for you!!!" God! You have to be French to be so charming. It made my day. Then we went to have a drink next door in an amazing, very English, traditional old place in the heart of Mayfair, with the old English décor. Laurent was next to me and I kept touching him while Carlos was destroying me with horrible things like a brother would say; it was really just an excuse to touch this charming Frenchman. OUI! OUI! OUI! I went saying all my way home.

Later my cousin called. I began talking about these men that I had met but in which had no luck with and she said I sounded very desperate! I said with all those men talking to me that my hormones must still be there somewhere and that they could smell them. She said: "But Vera, we are young!"


Oh! Dear! Like my cousin, I am looking for romance, even if I am happily divorced.

Verinha Ottoni.




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