Monday, 2 September 2013

My Greek Island Home by Claire Lloyd

The cover of My Greek Island Home by Claire Lloyd · Lisa Stefan

On my birthday I got a copy of My Greek Island Home by Claire Lloyd. A thoughtful friend knew how much I wanted it. It's a beautiful book and once I picked it up I couldn't put it down. Claire lured me into her peaceful world on the Greek island Lesvos, where she bought a house with her partner Matthew Usmar Lauder. Hers is a personal account that goes straight to the heart: Not only a glimpse into life on the island, more like the touching of its core. The inhabitants of the island, the individuals she describes, stay with you after the reading.
Author Claire Lloyd in her Greek home · Books & Latte

I first learned about the book through an inspiring interview with Claire Lloyd on the blog of Carla Coulson (they are fellow Australians, both expats living in Europe). To make a long story short, Claire is an artist, designer and photographer who was feeling exhausted by her hectic life in London and after a conversation with a friend found herself on the Greek island of Lesvos where she bought a house.

After reading the book I knew I wanted to feature it on the blog and I contacted Claire who was so generous to provide photographs and answer a few questions, which you will find below.

What struck me during the reading was the respect Claire and Matthew have for the island and its inhabitants. They didn't show up on the island, waving money and bringing in a container with materials for renovation. They did nothing of the sort. Well, the funny thing is that Claire had to bring 'a bag of cash' to the island to pay for the house and after that Matthew and his friend 'worked obsessively, to the point of exhaustion, over many, many weeks to create something quirky but beautiful.' They cleared the house, painted it and reused the material already there to make what was needed.
We pared back the house, painting everything white with occasional touches of the
original turquoise colour, to bring out the simple beauty of each detail. Even the most
ordinary objects - a stone, a shell, a pair of sandals - are worthy of attention (p. 41)
The sense of peace and calm pulls you in; it's profoundly restful to sit at the water's
edge and gaze into the vivid, intense blue (p. 20)

Claire and her partner don't live on the island as outsiders; they are members of the society. Claire is even learning Greek, which she admits struggling with.

Claire, are you planning to grow old on the island?
I am not planning on getting old and I am not planning my future. I am living a life that I love. I have always lived a life I love and will continue to live a life I love in Greece or wherever I am.

Because of the news about the Greek economy, how are the inhabitants of the island experiencing the recession? In your book it appears that the island is very sustainable so it made me wonder that maybe life on the island is in a way much simpler than on the mainland; maybe the recession hasn't hit the people as hard.
The Greek people are resilient and they are tenacious, they are also very generous people. There is no denying the current crisis and the infrastructure is suffering. However, people in the villages live simply, they look out for each other. They also grow their own produce, work hard and are pretty self-sufficient. Our Greek village friends make the most of what they have and share it. They know how to enjoy themselves and don’t take life to seriously.

This island is large, in fact it’s the third largest and there are around 14 million olive trees. A lot of the land is farmed. There are goats, sheep and wonderful seasonal fruit and vegetables. The locals use the land around them to sustain themselves. I am really interested in this way of living as I feel living in big cities has disconnected us with nature, our neighbors and animals. We have lost respect for the simple things in life. There is a lot to be learned here, just being aware of the seasons and eating the food available seasonally is fantastic. When I walk the dogs down the track in early spring I find young wild asparagus growing. I can just pick it there and then and eat it raw, delicious. People as I say are generous we often find fresh vegetables on our door step and we don’t know who to thank for them. This morning one of our neighbors left 10 litres of wine she had made. She had trodden the grapes herself. I feel very privileged to be accepted in this village and to live here in Greece.
Creativity suffuses everyday life in the village - people are constantly making
lace, painting flowerpots, baking and drying herbs. It's a very self-sufficient
society - a way of life that has worked for thousands of years. I often think
we could learn a lot from them (p. 19)

See this man above? His name is Pandelis and he runs a store on the island. If you ever find yourself in his store without having had any breakfast or lunch then all I can say is: run! You will have to read the book to understand why I'm warning you. Just remember that I did warn you!

It wasn't just the photos of Claire's tranquil house on the island and life on the island that fascinated me. The design of the book itself deserves praise and I had to ask Claire about it (I'm not the only one! Everyone who has seen the book on my coffee table mentions how beautiful it is). Her answers are repeated below.

The book's endpapers are a painting of the sea in Lesvos by her partner Matthew. On the other side is a flower-butterflies print that I was very curious about. It's the same print as the cushion fabric behind the cat. Claire told me that it is a paper lining from the inside of an old suitcase that Matthew found. She loves the print so much that she wanted it to be in the book. It was Matthew who did a repeat of it so it could be printed onto fabric.

The design of the book was a close collaboration between Claire and Evi Oetomo from Penguin Lantern. Evi produced the design for the cover. Claire didn't want a photograph on the cover, as she felt strongly that there was not one photographic image that represented the book. She wanted the book to feel personal hence her handwriting and the pink tape ribbon. The cover is embossed - it was important for her to have the book tactile. She wanted the readers to have every sense touched when they held the book. She wanted the readers to be transported to a beautiful place when they turned the pages.

Trust me, it worked.

I cannot finish this post without mentioning the animal rescue on the island. Claire talks about it in her book and says that her 'love affair with four-legged creatures' started when she moved there. She and Matthew have taken on two dogs - one is the beautiful Nellie in the photo above - and a few cats. She mentions a non-profit organisation called EreSOS for Animals that is always in need of donation and volunteers.
The gentleman in the photo above passed away after the publication of the book

Thank you, Claire, for this beautiful journey that your book is. Thank you for providing images for this blog post and for taking time to answer my questions.

My Greek Island Home
By Claire Lloyd
Penguin Books Australia/Lantern
Hardback: 224 pages, illustrated
Buy here

top image mine | 2-14: Claire Lloyd - all her images appear in the book My Greek Island Home, except for No. 11 (cat + cushion). Images of Lloyd are from a private collection. Claire Lloyd: website and blog

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