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Journal Entries

light bulbs: crete, greece 2011

Stella Johnson

I was walking to Chania from the village of Perivolia in search of photographs. I stopped in a graveyard. A worker shoveled dirt from a grave. The gravedigger was a small figure in the background of my frame. I didn' t approach or speak to him. On my way out he screamed, "photo, photo" and pointed to himself. He got himself into the foreground. No dice, though. The images were somehow unremarkable.

I continued on my three-mile walk on this brilliant wintry day. Sunlight bounced all around me. I saw an orange house. Orange drapes hung on a balcony. I started photographing. The owner of the house had a head of orangey red hair. She invited me in for a glass of orange juice and introduced herself. Her name was Stella. Nice to meet you Stella, I said. And my name is also Stella. The day was getting interesting. This is when orange became my new favorite color.

Back on the road, I looked up and saw light bulbs hanging in the sky and took the accompanying photograph. The sky was so blue it was startling, hyper real. I thought, OK, take the photograph, it is beautiful, not really my thing, but I had to have it. Memory persisted in replaying the countless afternoons I took my mother to the Charles River in Boston to see the sky, the trees and the birds. At the bottom of the frame is a pink blanket. Pink was my favorite color before I discovered orange.

Before reaching Chania, I stopped at a bakery to buy spanakopita. I sat down outside to eat. The baker came out to offer me some sweet bread. Suddenly, he ran inside and returned with a bottle of water for me. I thought this is Philoxenia, the Greek custom of giving hospitality to strangers. It was unexpected, even a little shocking, and amusing. A series of spontaneous and unrestrained demonstrations of hospitality warming me right up. And so not like Boston.

I offered to take the baker' s portrait. He changed into a clean apron and baker' s hat and posed in the doorway of his shop.

These encounters were particularly touching because my mother had died a few short weeks before my trip. Strangers were taking such care of me.

Stella Johnson

swimmers: crete, greece 2011

Stella Johnson

Xrissa Kapagioridiou swims in the ocean every day in Chania, Crete. It's cold in January, around forty to fifty degrees. She swims with a posse of like-minded amphibians whose friends and families think they are crazy. I agree, but she thought I was crazy to walk the three miles from her house in Perivolia to Chania until she did it herself one day. And that led to swimming in the ocean in the middle of the winter. I knew why Xrissa was doing it, maybe a need to eat life whole, but I wanted to see for myself.

We arrived at an inlet. People in bikinis were power walking and playing paddleball on the beach in a questionable attempt to warm up before plunging into the Mediterranean. Xrissa says the water temperature is warmer than the air. Looking at them made me cold.

So I walked up onto the cliffs overlooking the bay, watching them swim. I took what I thought was yet another workman-like photo, something that caught my eye, but unusable since the swimmers were tiny in the frame. Seems the opposite turned out to be true. The tiny swimmers are it.

A change in the way to photograph. These friends in Crete are the ones who are leading me there but they don't know it yet.

P.S. Amphibian is a Greek word that literally means a creature who lives both on land and in water.

Stella Johnson

Bus driver, crete, greece 2011

Stella Johnson

I took a bus from Chania to Anogia, a village in the mountains of Crete. I expected a recycled yellow American school bus like the ones I had ridden in Mexico and Central America. I was wrong. This was a fresh new luxury coach, with comfortable upholstered seats. The roads snake around the edges of the mountains. Great views, of course, and a mild nausea that goes with the possibility of plunging off a precipice, or meeting another car head on at a blind curve. Village streets barely accommodate the scale of our bus. Because these streets were intended for transportation by donkey. In fact, on one curve, the driver gets out of the bus, removes his oversize rear-view mirror, attaches a smaller version, returns to his seat, drives around a corner, stops the bus again, gets out and switches back to the oversize mirror.

This driver excels at being busy and driving an obstacle course. He seems to take a precise pride in squeezing through tight spots and assuming responsibility for a long list of demands. He's the man - chain smoking, talking on a cell phone, helloing his regulars by their first names, dropping off mail to post offices on his route, serving as an adhoc "UPS/Fed Ex" guy, watching over the round-trip comings and goings of about 25 children who attend schools as far as two hours from their homes. No missing brats, no dents, or scratched paint jobs. He might even love this job.

In Anogia, the driver dropped me off in front of my hotel, not at the bus stop. He just does that. Welcome to Greece.

Stella Johnson

Foosball: mytilene, greece 2011

Stella Johnson

My cousins were gifted a foosball table for Christmas. Christos, 12 and Themis, 8, played foosball with their friends for hours. So did I. I tried desperately to make a photograph of this thing, of the children, aunts and uncles screaming, gesturing, winning and losing. They played inside and out, in the sun and under the clouds. Hours and days went by. I got better at the game, but no photos.

One morning I arrived at the house. The children were not there. The table had been moved. The light was pouring in the window.

Stella Johnson