img352It’s nearly twenty years since I moved to Holland. I hadn’t been able to find work in Ireland, my painting had stalled and I had left it behind completely when some artist ‘friends’ told me I wasn’t really an artist like them. Holland was a new start away from the crabs-in-a-bucket mentality that was (and is) small-town Ireland. But it had been tough. Tough finding work, nearly impossible to find a place to live, but eventually, after a year, I found myself with a tiny bit of disposable income and decided to take a much needed holiday.

The inspiration was in part the book Captain Corellis’ Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres which is set on the Island of Cephalonia (or Kephalonia or Kefillinia) off the west coast of Greece. I had learned about this book from a Scottish artist I had met when I was working for my keep at a Christian Hostel in the Red Light district…that’s a whole other story.

Alex must have been in his 50s at least. He used to sell prints of Amsterdam outside the Van Gogh museum in the summer and then winter on the proceeds in Cephalonia. It sounded like a nice life but he was more or less homeless really, hence the hostel. His course in life had been hampered by a drink problem which was still in evidence but his description of Cephalonia inspired me to read Captain Corelli which in turn inspired me to go there.

I was a bit scared to head off into the unknown for a week. My confidence wasn’t great and this was the early days of mobile phones and internet and well before social media so I would not have been in immediate reach of a friendly voice but with the reassurance from my brother back in Ireland that he was on the other end of the phone, I took courage and headed off.

I have no photos from this time. I was actively avoiding any sort of imagery, determined to leave the painting life behind. But halfway through the week I picked up a notebook to write a few lines and of course I could not resist a few sketches. At this time I had more confidence with line than colour and I had no real interest in spending time shading in anything. I think these line drawings were in lieu of a camera, visual notes of a landscape that was more striking than expected, a record of the horizon I found myself surrounded by.

The small bit of writing I did when I was there is awash with the colour I found around me and just looking through these few pages I realise this was when my painting began to reboot, because of course I would never be able to leave it behind.


I have retouched some of the sketches as the notebook is small and ring bound and most of the drawings spread out across the spirralling wire but I have included some shots of the notebook as it is.

Friday October 9th 1998img351A

My fifth day in Kephalonia-only two more to go. I have been tired but now I am beginning to get into the swing of it. Two or three weeks would have been better…

Already I have forgotten I was scared to be away for  whole week..

Yesterday began with a true Kephalonian experience, an earthquake! I was lying sleepless in my heavy pine bed when, at about 1am, it started dancing around the tiled floor of my studio. I went to the door, thinking of the protection of the door frame and narrowly escaped being savaged by the owners two dogs which charged me as soon as I opened the door…

If it’s not one thing its another…KEFALLONIA BEACH

The owner has been inviting me to coffee all week with her deckchair attendant son…pimping?I have been avoiding them like the plague and now they are getting pretty weird on me. I hired a moped yesterday..

What I didn’t say in my diary was that I had only a provisional Irish licence, and I didn’t really know how to drive. The moped shop owner said it was not enough for me to rent a scooter but in a rare moment of determination and confidence, rare for that time anyway, I threw a fit in the moped shop and refused to leave until I got one. I do remember being terrified while I figured out how to drive the damn thing.


I made it to the turn off for Assos but had to turn back as I was all but blown off the road. Very scary experience. Stopped at Myrtos. Incredible blue sea and white sand but I only stayed for ten minutes because I had left my medication behind. I am miserable.

But things began to pick up the next day…

I travelled across the island to Sami on an absolutely beautiful road and Sami was divine. I have been staying in the wrong place!


Sami Skyline (click to embiggen!)

Took a dip off the towns’ little pebble beach in such clear water surrounded by beautiful mountains, some of which belonged to Ithaca to the west…

Ithaca has been identified as the home of the mythical Odysseus…

I then travelled on the heart-stoppingly beautiful road to Fiscardo in the north. Tiny villages and cypress trees clotted the slopes down to the sea. So much like the west coast of Scotland only more beautiful.

Fiscardo was lovely… I sat on the quay on a blue chair beneath a white shade sipping a fresh orange juice with scrawny cats darting around my feet, watching the fish in the clear blue water of the harbour


I bought a dolphin ring and bracelet in silver..

I still have the bracelet…

…sat on a rock by the sea listening to two young, Greek fishermen shouting at each other as they erratically steered their blue and white vessel out of the bay.

Buzzing back to Argostoli I took in Assos on the way..

I remember stopping and not being able to start the moped, trying not to panic, but luckily I had broken down near a garage and someone managed to start it for me.

…but east is best in this case. Although the harbour of Argostoli is very reminiscent of beautiful Dingle..

I have changed my mind about Dingle since then, I now find it claustrophobic and dull compared to the rest of that penninsula…

..and in the evenings the hills towards Sami look like the Twelve Bens of Connemara. I want to buy a house here! I think I might come back in Spring…

I never did though but I have visited the Mediterranean quite a bit since and I still want a house there. Somewhere…



23 responses to “THE ROAD TO SAMI

  1. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin has got a lot to answer for. I loved it so much that I gave a copy to my cousin, who also loved it and had a paragraph or two read at her wedding. It must be 20 years since I read it, but bits keep coming back to me. Very few books live with me like that.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a cool tour through your sketchbook! I particularly liked the lines in your sketch titled: pusscat on my grecian bed.
    Isn’t it wonderful to see how much detail we can hold on to, even after 20 years, when we write/sketch the experience (rather than take and forget photos)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great piece of writing Claire, brilliantly complemented by the sketches. I’d say you would never have realistically been able to stop the painting. Those “friends” got the artist thing badly wrong 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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