The first time I saw these beautiful old doors in Old Town Rethymnon on the Greek Island of Crete the year was 2008. I was travelling with a group of artists searching for things to paint and couldn't resist this as my subject. During my time in Rethymnon I sketched only these doors. Each morning I would sit in the cool quiet narrow street to draw and paint these magical textures. A soft light filtered through the twisted vines overhead casting a rich warm light. It was magical.
Old Doors in Rethymnon
On the last morning I was there I could hear someone on the balcony above me. I looked up and saw an old woman wearing black smiling down at me. I waved to her and said Kalimera. (good morning) She returned my greeting and before long she was standing at my side watching me sketch. Soon after her brother and niece arrived. She asked him to translate a question for me. She wanted to know why would I paint these ugly old doors? Ugly?!! I think they are beautiful and full of life! She laughed and then asked if I could return the next morning as she would like to invite me for breakfast. How lovely! But then I remembered I was leaving very early the next day with the group and headed to another village and sadly had to decline. Her name was Ms. Kostas. She had a wonderful smile.
My first sketches of "Sisters of Rethymnon" I completed when I first met Ms. Kostas - 2008
When I returned to Canada I painted a large canvas of these old doors.
"Sisters of Rethymnon"
48" x 36"
This is what I wrote about this very special place in 2008
Sisters of Rethymnon
I found these doors in Old Town Rethymnon on the Isle of Crete. As I sat and sketched them
in the light of the early morning I could almost imagine all of the people who have
passed by them for more than 100 years.
There they have hung, one green and one blue, different yet the same. Just like sisters.
On the last day I was there enjoying their beauty
small children passed by on their way to school. Some were curious to see my drawings; others caught up in their own world, laughing with their friends, not a care in the world.
The way life should be for the child in all of us.
The following year I returned with a framed print and gave it to her. She gave me a big granny hug which was wonderful.
Ms. Kostas hug, 2009
Last year I was on a new adventure....the cancer variety. It was a time of great challenges and there were moments when I wondered if I would be able to make my way back to this incredible part of the world.
I dreamed of returning to visit Ms. Kostas and to see the "Sisters" and also to explore more of this amazing world we live on. Dreaming big dreams helped pull me through the chemo. I kept telling myself I would make it back one day soon...and I did. I was able to visit this magical place a month ago. Thinking about it now I have to keep reminding myself that I wasn't still dreaming!
Three very important things happened.
Firstly, the doors and entire building had been renovated. I did a double take thinking I wasn't in the right place.
New "old" doors of Rethymnon - 2013
As you can see in this picture they did try to preserve some of their beauty by reusing the iron work above each door but they switched them. I wonder if I'm the only person in the world who knows this! The new stainless knobs and freshly painted wood pale in comparison to what originally compelled me to paint them. The beautiful tree and vines have also been cut down.
Secondly, Ms. Kostas didn't remember me. At first I was disappointed but then realized I do have new very short grey "chemo" hair since we had last seen each other. I also had to remind myself that it has been 4 years since we last met and her memory perhaps isn't the best.
(I know my chemo brain memory sure isn't! :)
The third thing I learned about these doors is the history of how they came to be.
On my last night in Rethymnon the rain poured down for a couple of hours just before I went out for dinner so I stayed at my hotel and sketched the doors again, the way they looked before. (I have completed so many drawings of these doors I could draw them from memory) The owner of this hotel saw my sketch and asked if I knew the true story about these doors. The only story I knew of them I had created 5 years ago!
And so the story goes about a father and his two sons....yes, they have nothing to do with sisters after all!
The history of these doors began during the time the Ottoman Turks occupied Crete in the late 1800's.
An ageing father with two sons owned this building. Originally there was one door but to be fair to his sons, in 1907 he split the building down the middle and replaced the single door with two doors,
one green and one blue, leaving half of the building to each of his sons.
When the Treaty of Lausanne was signed in1923 it was agreed that a general population exchange was held between the Turks and the Greeks and this family then had to move to Turkey and leave behind this building with the beautiful doors.
Last month, the owner of the hotel told me the grandson of one of the brothers visited with them at their hotel recently and had come specifically to see these doors. He was told stories about this place as a child and wanted to see it for himself. I would love to sit and talk to his family and learn more of their life!
Who knows, perhaps one day I will!
I am now trying to make contact with the family to give them a print of the painting I did of this very special place.
I find it interesting to think that returning here to see these old doors and Ms. Kostas was such an important part of my cancer recovery. I have learned that one must dream big to keep the mind occupied in a positive light. It sure helped me through my chemo treatments.
I also learned that even though things had changed so dramatically I was ok with this. That is life. Things change. The key to not getting bogged down and feeling disappointed is to embrace the change and be open to new opportunities.
I'm so very happy I now know the whole story behind these doors.
So you see, it was meant to be that I stay at this hotel and that the rains came that night so I could learn the story within the story of the Sisters (Brothers) of Rethymnon.