Sunday, 9 September 2012

Greek colours: Mediterranean (Χρώματα του Μεσόγειου)

I find it difficult to match colours; even when someone points out my mismatches to me through my clothes, I still can't understand why it is that certain colours don't go well together. I believe this has to do with being very frugal - when you're frugal, you don't really care about the colours; you care only about the cost.

So when my husband, who has a much keener sense of what colour goes with what, asked me about what colours we should paint the house, I thought he was just being nicely democratic about the issue. which of course, concerns all of us. At the moment, our house is painted in an off-white colour, with little to differentiate it from other houses on the area. It doesn't stand out like the bright green colour over stark grey concrete which a villager didn't bother to stucco before it was painted; not does it look like that garish purple-mauve choice of our feminist neighbour. Being located on a hill, our Mediterranean home does not have the traditional blue-windows white-walls imagery tourists often associate with Greek islands - we are not near enough to the coast for that.

 A store in the old town of Hania: the colours are typically Mediterranean, similar to our own house. These yellow-orange colours suit the homely Greek house look, and they go well with wooden doors and windows.

I would have thought (with my frugal mind) that we would stick to the same colours that the house was already painted in - why change something good that has, to date, proven its worth? As the painter was preparing the house for the colours to be applied (which meant a lot of sanding down of the rough gritty concrete and stucco, creating more white dust which unavoidably enters the house and sits, highly visibly, over all the surfaces), he bought out a paint-brand brochure showing those typically mesmerising colours in all their shades and hues, with a few ideas of how to combine a number of different colours on one exterior surface.

The combinations included some very bright colours, creating a greater contrast for the various surfaces of a house, something I've always associated with more modern constructions. The same building can be painted in a completely different colour set, which will give off a different image: blue-grey hues give a modern urban look, while the yellow-orange-terracotta colours fall within the Mediterranean colour range. This colour set goes well with the natural wood colour of our doors and windows, despite their shambolic state after the rip tear and bust antics of the Greek builders who preceded the Albanian painters. My husband naturally went for the latter which fits quite nicely with our garden's year-round greenness in its rural setting. I agreed, although I wasn't sure about that dark terracotta red - it reminded me of the more modern houses being built in the area, which are all painted to look like villas with the colours of Arthur Evans' Knossos palaces. Not that I didn't like the idea of such a bold look, but I was worried that the house would eventually look like an archaeological relic (ie ruin) if we didn't constantly maintain the paintwork every time it acquired a nick here and there. Where would we find the slaves needed to preserve it intact?


The painter found a solution for our dilemma once we showed him our choices: "Don't choose terracotta," he said, "because it shows up marks and imperfections. And it's difficult to keep clean," he added. I would have thought a dark colour would hide scuff marks, not show them. He explained that the pigment used in teerracotta red had something to do with this. Not all colours are pigmented in the same way. Since I wasn't too keen on this colour, I felt at least that I had an excuse not to use it after all. The terracotta look is often used as a substitute for the lack of natural brickwork in the house , such as a tiled roof, for example, which is actually an expensive addition to a Greek home. This is why most houses in Crete have a ταράτσα (taratsa - flat roof); since it hardly ever snows in Crete, a sloping roof is unnecessary. Quite a different story up north, where it does snow a lot, hence the preponderance of the triangular sloping roof there. Snow collecting on a flat roof for days on end causes cracking and eventually destroys it.

Ακρυλικό χρώμα ArtakrylWe decided instead to go for an orange colour for the balconies and staircases to maintain a contrast, to make a small μπαμ (bam, as in the sound of a 'bang') as Greeks like to put it, with yellow hues for the walls and an airy off-white shade for any ceiling surfaces (eg above the balconies), to create a sense of greater space with a light colour. We noted down the numbers on the brochure and showed them to the painter, an Albanian living and working in Crete for almost as long as I have been here myself. He's much younger than us, although his children are much older; for this reason, we feel a certain solidarity with him, since we see him as having passed through more of life's channels that we have yet to go through.

"Orange?" He had a shocked look on his face. "No no no no no no," he uttered, repeating the syllable rapidly, at the same time as shaking his head. He pointed instead to a shade of orange-brown, with a greenish hue which looked too grassy to me. I questioned him about his aversion to the bright orange colour - maybe that one left marks too, or didn't clean well either. He shook his head slowly, showing as if he didn't want to speak, but he knew he had to give us an explanation.

"It's something personal," he said. "I've never painted in that colour."

"And you don't want orange to spoil the colour array of your worker's smock?" I joked with him.

"It's too... gay," he whispered, as we burst out laughing. So much for the μπαμ that we wanted to make - in his eyes, the house had already exploded. Albanian immigrants to Greece tend to have similar conservative tendencies as those of Greek immigrants of the 1960s to other countries.

The colours aren't too bright, nor too subdued - they suit the leafy green garden and brown-red soil.  

Eventually we settled on an earthy ochre blend that seemed to match the yellow-beige colours of the colour combination we had chosen. But I can't help thinking it would have been easier to stick to the same colours...

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