Monday, 11 August 2008

The colours of Fournes: orange August (Τα χρώματα του Φουρνέ: πορτοκαλί τ'Αυγούστου)

(This is the first in a monthly series of colour and texture studies based on the village of Fournes, an orange and olive producing area in Hania. The idea is based on an inspiration from the work by Calliope in her Spectral Studies series.)

Fournes is the second-to-last village that you will meet on your way to the famous Samaria Gorge, the longest ravine in Europe (the last village is Lakki). It sits below the Lefka Ori mountain range. Its location, on a flat fertile plain just before the long and winding road leading to the mountains, is its greatest asset. The message one receives on passing it on their way to the Omalos valley where the gorge is located is that it has seen better days. The neo-classical designs in the old houses on the main road attest to a certain grandeur that has now become all but lost. The fields of Fournes are covered in olive and orange trees, but they often have a neglected look to them, some of which have been turned into construction sites. The atmosphere hints at a sign of modern times: the demise of agriculture.

Fournes was once considered very wealthy because its location was easily accessible, and agricultural produce was an important source of wealth. Back in the days of wealth and prosperity, people showed off their money by decorating their homes ornately, indulging in the latest fashion and dining out on a regular basis in the town. It is said that a man would get a new suit sewn every month, even if he didn't get a chance to wear the suit he had bought in the previous month. Those days are over. Olives are found strewn uncollected under the trees, oranges remain on the tree even when it is producing new crops, wild thorny blackberry vines strangle olive and orange trees. The decay is obvious: rural decline in favour of urban progress.

orange fournes

Despite its drawbacks, Fournes still manages to lure locals and foreigners alike. The number of residents has grown slightly over the years since foreigners and wealthier citizens started building new houses in the area. This is all due to its proximity to the main town, and the stunning views in amongst the peace and quiet of a village location. It also offers plentiful opportunities in agricultural occupations. In the appropriate season, there is olive picking and orange packing, and if one is not averse to the sweaty toil of fieldwork, there are plenty of seasonal jobs available in the way of cleaning up fields by getting rid of thorny bushes and weeds under the trees, and generally maintaining the land, enticing in this way the many economic migrants who have taken up residence in the old derelict houses.

In August, the colour orange is strongly represented in Fournes, which is located in a wider area well-known in Greece for orange production. The summer sun anoints everything animate and inanimate, encasing it all in a shade akin to the golden globes found hanging on the dusty trees. Orange shades emerge in the terracotta urns that lie abandoned in the gardens of the old brick-orange houses, the chickens under the orange trees, the fallen citrus crop that nobody bothered to pick, the weeds that dry up in the scorching heat. Even the pick up trucks, the packing crates and irrigation pipes cannot evade the hue that Fournes is most well-known for for. The sun parches the ground, scorches the trees and burns the life out of the fallen crops. Yet without it, there would be no crops and rural life would cease.

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