Thursday, August 30, 2007

Painting update

Work on the big painting has ground to a halt. First, it was the series of thunderstorms that made it difficult to work in a garage where the only light comes from the open garage door which can't be opened because the rain is wailing. Then it was the set-up - working on a 4' x 5' canvas on a hard cement floor covered with a plastic dropcloth is not optimal. The plastic bunches up and makes unexpected lines in the paint - not always a bad thing, but mostly annoying. The whole thing slides around and the plastic sticks to my sweat-covered self. (It is August in New Jersey.) The cement hurts my knees. Who knew knee-pads were crucial painting gear?

But after a few days away from the painting, I figured out the real problem was the feeling that I was painting a request. K wanted something that would "go with" the greenish-khaki of the office decor and didn't want anything remotely representative. "Think Rothko - just colors." I don't do Rothko, but I gave it a go. After a few days of painting what I had was a swirl of completely undistinguished blues and greens, with a few accents of burnt sienna and yellow ochre. Pretty colors, totally uninspiring.

Something that was, maybe not inspiring me, but nibbling at me: the collage I'd done a couple of months ago and blogged about here. It came about after some friends and I posted childhood pictures of ourselves. Comments one of my friends made inspired me to make a copy of the picture, alter it with some screen printing and writing, then build this collage around it. The process was totally different from anything I'd ever done, it was fun, I liked the result, and wanted to do more - but work and life intervened and I hadn't returned to it. Frustrated with the whopper, I decided that now was the time to do something else.

I'd been remembering a little scrap of a practice painting that I'd done over a year ago from a sketch of my face. Instead of going back to the childhood photos, I thought I'd start with that. I also wanted to work on a slightly larger scale so a 2' x 3' piece of hardboard became the backing for the collage. Grubbing through my test pieces and rejected paintings, I came up with a few more to rip into strips, but the textures and colors weren't exactly right. Whatever. I wanted to get started and figured I'd fix it later.

After much ripping, pasting, and moving around, I had the hardboard covered. It wasn't coming together in the way the first one had though: too many different colors and textures (aka, whatever bites me in the butt). So, I pulled out the stencils and added some texture that covered several pieces at a time. More unified, but too busy. I left it for a couple of days and when I looked at it with fresher eyes, I thought the problem was that there was no sense to the color arrangement. One of the things I like about the first collage is the color progression from dark red-brown to blue-yellow, to the sepia of the photo. The colors of the canvas strips in the new piece weren't organized as coherently. Well, that's what paint's for, so I added some washes over some of the canvas strips to unify their colors. I think it's done, at least for now.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

White Tops

Writing the last two posts, and the responses to the first one, motivated me to do some research on my father's career. You'd think with a past like this I'd have written about it before, but in this case familiarity bred a lack of interest. As usual, Google revealed a treasure-trove of resources, among them, White Tops, a magazine put out by the Circus Historical Society. Browsing through the archives I was stunned to find an article titled "1960s Boom-Boom's Bandstand". (You'll need to click on the picture to be able to read it.)

I've been searching for a copy on eBay but haven't found it yet. I may have to look for it in an archive and actually go xerox it - so primitive. I will track it down though.

I also posted a request for information on the CHS message board and already received one helpful response with some suggestions for getting in touch with people who might have worked with Boom-Boom. I'm not sure where all this will ultimately lead, but at the very least, there should be a few more circus posts.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Circus life

We didn't travel with the circus, which is both the good news and the bad news. On the bad side, it meant that I wasn't part of the magical circus world. When I was very young, I watched Circus Boy on Saturday mornings, wishing that I could run away with Corky (played by Micky Dolenz - yup, that Micky Dolenz, the one in the Monkees). It also meant that my father was gone for nine months out of the year. We saw him once or twice a season when the circus came to our area of central Texas, but that was just for a day at a time. I allegedly went through a stage, at around 4, when I called any man who came to the door "Daddy". During the winter, when the rest of the circus was in winter quarters in Sarasota, Florida, he made money by playing in local dance bands, which often meant that he was on the road traveling to gigs a couple of days a week. So, the memory of helping him glue glitter and letter manila folders is one of the few father-daughter activities I actually remember.

On the up side, by not traveling with the circus I was able to go to school. True, it didn't seem like such a great deal at the time, but I can see the benefits at this point. Circus folk, the performers anyway, typically did travel with their families. Often the entire family, including kids, was part of the act. The Flying Wallendas are one of the best known family acts. My father was especially fond of the Wallendas and worked with them in various circuses throughout his career. (I always thought it was odd that they were called The Flying Wallendas when their act was tightrope walking. I thought "flying" should be reserved for the aerialists, who were my favorite performers.) I suppose circus kids went to school during the winter and there might have been some who were tutored during the season, but it's hard to believe they got a great education. Also, traveling with the circus wasn't, and probably still isn't, glamorous -- unless we're talking Cirque du Soleil, which is a fabulously glamorous circus that might actually provide glamorous accommodations for the performers.

The performers, musicians, and circus hands lived in trailers, which would be parked every which way out behind the tent, far enough away so that they wouldn't be bothered by nosy audience members and upwind of the elephant pen. It was a little immigrant neighborhood, not just because they were itinerant performers, but because most of the performers were actual immigrants. Walking back to my dad's trailer through the dust or mud -- it was always either dusty or muddy, because trucks and trailers tore up the fairground -- I heard half a dozen different languages punctuated by the big cats roaring, sniffed odd cooking smells and the occasional whiff of an elephant pile. You could never really escape the smell of the elephants.

As a child I found these visits behind the scenes strange and a little disturbing. Partly it was the feeling of being in an unfamiliar, rather seedy neighborhood that didn't look like a place I'd be allowed to hang out in under normal circumstances. Partly it was the clowns. They typically didn't take off their make-up in between shows, but they would, of course, take off their clown suits. It's pretty disturbing to see a man in full clown make-up, a stained undershirt, worn corduroy pants held up with suspenders (not the funny clown kind), and a receding hairline smoking a cigarette while he polishes his shoes. Also, the clowns always seemed to be frowning and unfriendly.

Other people were friendly though. There are dozens of people who saw me every year when the circus passed through Texas and I'm sad to say I don't really remember any of them. I do remember what they'd say when they saw me though: "Boom Boom! How did such an ugly guy like you end up with such a pretty daughter?!"

Monday, August 20, 2007

Going to a flea market and ending up at a circus

Today I got up ridiculously early and set out for a large flea market on the New Jersey-Pennsylvania border. Mainly I went to buy ephemera - I'm not sure what's going to come of it but I've been collecting old photographs, pamphlets, and illustrations for a couple of weeks. I also thought I might find some useful tools. What I ended up with was a stack of old photos, two books, a wonderfully weird "silver-tone" belt from probably the 60s (I like the way the links interlock), and three different types of African trade beads. I don't normally use African trade beads in my jewelry, but these caught my eye because they look like stacks of miniature 45s. I exchanged cards with the seller, a gentleman who was very excited to hear that I made jewelry using Adinkra symbols.

I hadn't been to the flea market in ages and the whole experience was bizarrely nostalgic. Partly it was the weather - chilly and misty, it was more like late September than mid-August. And September means the start of school and, more importantly, the end of summer, which is a moment of multi-layered nostalgia. All those childhood summers when you could see the beginning of school bearing down on you like a red plaid steamroller kicking up a flurry of orange and gold leaves. Being part of academia, I've never really escaped the feeling that the year starts in September. What really made it nostalgic though, was the poster for the Clyde Beatty Circus prominently displayed at one of the booths. (This isn't the exact poster I saw, but it was similar to this one.)

My father was a drummer in the circus. He had gone to Julliard but dropped out to become the drummer in the Ringling Bros. Circus when it was still under canvas, when it was still a real circus. Later, when Ringling stopped traveling, he moved to the Clyde Beatty circus. Clyde Beatty was a lion tamer who was killed by his favorite lion. I used to have two claws from an earlier favorite lion who went rogue and had to be put down. I kept them in cotton in a white box like the ones you get from a jewelry store. They looked like dirty pointed yellow toenails.

My father's nickname, Boom-Boom, was given to him by a non-English-speaking circus hand who accompanied it with the appropriate drum-beating gesture. I think it stuck because it suited him: he had a booming voice and a personality to go with it. His belly was round and solid, he smoked big cigars, and wore his hair in a short flat-top, tight on the sides. He imagined he was Jackie Gleason: "One-a these days, Alice..BOOM!" He imagined he was Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich and Johnny Carson. He imagined he was famous and, I suppose, in the circus world, he was famous, a little.

After some years the band leader who hired my father retired and Boom-Boom became the band leader as well the drummer. This meant that he was responsible for arranging all the music that played during the performances, hiring all the musicians, and working with the acts to coordinate their musical cues and highlights: Drumroll! as gymnast #1 clambers to the top of the human pyramid. Rimshot! as he lands on the see-saw that flips gymnast #2 into a somersault. Fanfare! as gymnast #2 flies to the top of the same human pyramid and lands on a pair of shoulders.

For me one summer, it meant that I could help him with his work. He carried the music for all the musicians in a big wooden chest. That summer I helped him organize the music by writing the names of the songs and the parts (bass, organ, trumpet) on manila envelopes. That summer he also built short wooden screens that sat in front of the first row of musicians, hiding their music stands. They were about three feet tall and he painted them with musical notes in bright colors. I helped him glue glitter onto the notes. As the band leader, he wore brightly colored jackets and shirts with ruffles down the front. It was generally agreed that he was the best in the business.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Surplus heaven, with bacon

At jewelry camp we teased the instructor for constantly referring us to Harbor Freight as a source for cheap tools - we figured he had to be getting a cut for sending students there. It is indeed a great source for tools and supplies of all kinds. However, my hands down favorite cheap surplus-type place is American Science & Surplus. I got a package from them yesterday that contained an excellent set of riffler files, a bunch of small magnifying lenses of different powers and thicknesses that I hope to turn into pendants, a couple of amber bottles for storing liver of sulfur and other nasty potions, a set of 15 tiny drill bits, a universal chuck key (for when I lose the one that came with my flexshaft), two cheap but fun little kaleidoscopes, a bag of ten mini-spirographs complete with pencils, and a "hand grip massager" -- all for under $25. The kaleidoscopes and spirographs are for a box of toys and art supplies I keep on hand to amuse visiting children. The hand grip massager was intended for K but it's pretty useless so it's going into the pile of truly weird stuff we keep for Christmas re-gifting swaps.

But wait, there's more. This morning I was looking through the print catalog they included in the package and discovered several must have items:

-- Gummy bacon. Actually, they have gummy pork sausage as well, but bacon is, well, bacon.
-- Bacon bandages. For when you slice your bacon for real...
-- Bacon tape. Also in pork sausage flavor.
-- A pigapult, for flinging miniature pigs, which you can also purchase.

You might sense a porkish theme developing here. I have long said that the first axiom of southern cooking is "Everything is better with bacon." It's also my personal motto.

More good stuff:

-- a mirage maker (one of my personal favorites for obvious reasons)
-- 2.5" miniatures of the terracotta Chinese warriors
-- a pulsating body part
-- plasma bulb heart nightlight
-- a working model of a steam engine

and tons of flasks, bottles, pipettes, magnets, robot parts, telescopes, microscopes, toys, office supplies, gizmos, and whatchamacallits. It strikes me that much of this stuff would make excellent fodder for mixedspecies, four guys who need no help at all in generating some of the weirdest stuff on the planet. I have a soft spot for these guys because they share my bacon obsession. A couple of weeks ago I bought three sets of their Murder and Mayhem coasters and they are totally fabulous. I could do one of those blog interview things, but that's not really my style or theirs. Better they should speak to you in their own way.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Big canvas

With all the traveling and jewelry making I've done this summer, there hasn't been much painting going on. Then K, whose staff just moved into a new set of offices, asked if I'd like to make some very large paintings for a 30 foot long wall in one of their reading rooms. Not exactly a commission, but an expression of support that provided a much needed kick in the pants. Yesterday after the bead show I hit Pearl Paint, aka heaven on earth, and bought 6 yards of primed canvas, some large jars of acrylic paint in my usual colors, and a few other sundries. Then on to a hardware store for some rollers, wallpaper brushes, super-sized scrapers, drop cloths, and anything else I thought might be useful.

This morning, in spite of the fact that it's Sleep-in Sunday, I popped awake early, anxious to get started. I set up shop in the empty garage, thus furthering my ultimate goal of taking over all the space in and near the house for my art and jewelry-making. I lined up my pots of paint and gels and matte medium on some chairs that are stored along the wall of the garage. The big door was wide open and sunlight streamed in.

My paintings have always been smallish - I think the largest was something like 36 x 40. One time a woman who was at our house for some reason I forget asked me if all my paintings were this "comfortable, human scale." She was, of course, from Manhattan. Perhaps I imagined the patronizing tone, but in the spirit of those Gary Larson "what we say, what they hear" cartoons, what I heard was "Are all your paintings this bourgeois dilettante size?" Things were about to change. I tore off 5 feet of canvas and the rrrrip gave me shivers. Laid out on the floor it looked huge and I wondered where to begin.

One thing I sometimes do is put down a layer of matte gel for texture, so I decided to start there. As a first step it was perfect: I could start to get the feel of working on the canvas without making any color commitments. Twenty minutes later I had used two-thirds of the big jar of medium and I was pretty happy with the result. I figured I'd let it dry for half an hour and then start laying on washes of color. I didn't reckon with NJ humidity: after half an hour it looked as wet as it had when I put it on. I decided to work on jewelry. I strung a necklace, worked out a design for a fused wire pendant and cut up the silver wire, re-strung the necklace, took pictures of a new necklace, listed said necklace on Etsy, noodled around in various forums, and finally, in desperation, did a variety of chores I would really rather not have done. Four hours later it was finally dry.

By this time I knew that I wanted to work mainly in blues and greens on this canvas and I was rarin' to go. I used the roller, the wallpaper brush, scrapers, sponges, and balled up newspaper. It was great. After half an hour, I and everything I was wearing, including the ugly but very comfortable Teva sandals I had bought in Greece when my old sandals blew out, were covered in paint. Apparently, big canvas = big mess. That layer dried more quickly, being quite watery, and I was able to put on two more before the light gave out and the mosquitoes set in.

Working on a large scale is definitely different. It made me realize that I have characteristic gestures that work for the scale of paintings I'm used to making. How to translate those gestures into the larger size? A larger implement is just part of the solution - the gesture itself has to be larger or else it has to be broken down into smaller component parts. Or maybe the old gestures just aren't right for this scale. This painting may end up being a "do over" - thank heavens for gesso - but that's ok. It's thrilling to have a new problem to work on and to be painting again. It's also pretty great to have a partner who's as excited about this process as I am.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Bead Show Blues

The bead show was a great disappointment. I thought it would be full of suppliers and instead it was full of what seemed like local bead shops. Maybe big local bead shops, but nonetheless. Lots of dyed freshwater pearls of low to middling quality. Lots of stone bead strands, very few of which were at all interesting. Lots of Swarovski crystal - not that I have anything against it, I sometimes use it, but you can find it everywhere. There were only a couple of dealers who had cabs and only one had cabs worth buying, though even they weren't anything really special. Nevertheless I found a few things to take home.

My favorite stone, right now at least, is blue chalcedony and I especially love a blue chalcedony druzy. I picked up a quite nice strand of good sized ones, some botryoidal, that will make excellent pendants.

I also bought several other strands: striped agate teardrop beads
teeny 1-1.5mm peachy pearls, small 3mm silver grey pearls, small labradorite teardrops - these I'm going to use as chain substitutes for some of my silver pendants

five different kinds of vintage lucite beads - I have a retro streak that doesn't really fit with the style of jewelry I'm making now and that no one else seems to be interested in because every retro piece I've made has failed to sell - but why let that stop me?
four very small cabs: three white opal and one pink tourmaline - opal is my birthstone and these not very flashy ones remind me of a pendant I had as a child

and a hank of silk cords - scrumptious colors.

Grand total? My lips are sealed.

There's one other thing I bought that I'm really excited about: a Paraiba tourmaline crystal that hasn't been polished. It's pink and blue and frosty and absolutely gorgeous. It also cost way too much and is responsible for putting me over my self-imposed spending limit for the show. These pictures don't really show how luminous it is.

Maybe this is just buyer's remorse (not an a usual affliction for me) but, I've been reading a little about Paraiba tourmalines in the couple of hours since buying it and I'm starting to think that it might not actually be one. It looks suspiciously like this regular tourmaline.

(This picture is in the public domain and comes from Wikipedia and you can see it in context here.) True, this one's not frosty, but that might just mean it's been polished. However, the non-pink areas on mine are more blue than green and Paraiba tourmalines are known for being more blue than green, so I'm not going to worry about it. My new tourmaline is a beautiful piece of rock and I've already started sketching ideas for how to use it - another example of "love the stuff".

Friday, August 10, 2007

Crazy for stones

Auctions on Ebay used to annoy me. Do I have time to sit around waiting for the time to run down with my finger poised on the "bid" button? No. But so many of the good stones on Ebay are sold via auctions and the "Buy it now" stones never seem like that much of a bargain. That's all changed now and the tipping point happened in Greece. We were in one of the many jewelry stores we investigated there and K admired a necklace that consisted of a black druzy on a silver cable choker. Totally simple and shockingly expensive. I said, "Don't buy it - I can make it for you, easy." Give a girl a few days in jewelry camp and she thinks she can do anything.

The first step, obviously, was finding a nice black druzy. The one we saw had a druzy pocket in a smooth, shiny black oval, like the one in the picture below (which is a spoiler since now you know that I did find such a stone, but this is a blog, not a mystery). I checked all my usual stone sources and discovered only a couple and they were too expensive. So I checked out Ebay. There they were - lots of them and beautiful ones. Trouble was, they were all being sold via auctions. Quelle drag!

Then I discovered AuctionSniper, one of the many programs that bid for you. It offered three free "snipes", so I gave it a try. I won three stones for roughly half what I thought they'd cost if I bought them through a regular online store. These two are my favorites. They're from a seller call aroc55, who mainly seems to sell slabs. Now I have the black druzy -- all I need to do is figure out how to get it onto a cable with no visible setting showing. I can't recall if the one in Greece was drilled or what, but this one isn't so I'll have to be creative. The other agate druzy is my favorite though - great translucence in the surrounding stone and the druzy really sparkles, but not so much as to look artificial, which I think is a problem with some of the coated druzies.

The third stone is a pyrite druzy that's a beautiful gold color with rainbow highlights. (And, yes, I do have a thing for druzies. It all started when K gave me a gorgeous druzy ring for Christmas. I had never seen one before and it seemed like a magical stone.) It's a beautiful stone, but I had a hard time figuring out how to set it since the height varies a lot from one part of the stone to another. Also, it just didn't look good next to silver, not even oxidized silver. I'm not ready to shell out the money for gold at this point so it seemed like brass was the answer. Fortunately I had some brass sheet left over from jewelry camp and this is what I came up with. I'm pretty happy with the design, but I need to remake it because the metal got pretty marred while I was playing around with it. One thing I learned making this is that sketching really only works for me as a way of keeping track of ideas. When I'm in the throes of working out a design it's much more useful to make models of stiff paper.

Shopping success is a great convincer so I signed up with AuctionSniper and went a little crazy. I bought a nice apricot druzy, two matched druzies that look like little geodes, four chalcedony cabs, a ruby cab, and two druzy pendants. The apricot druzy, also from aroc55, is great - good size, good color, nice even height. The little geodes are very cool, but I was so smitten with the picture I neglected to notice how teensy they are. The size was right there in the description but the beautiful macro shot was so mesmerizing I missed it. Also, they're quite round in the back, which means they'll be difficult to set, and the backs are also very cracked and unstable looking, so they can't be used without a setting that covers the entire back. The chalcedony cabs could be chalcedony, but they're dyed such a violent blue that they could be anything. Fortunately, they only cost me $4.01, of which $3.95 was postage. The ruby cab arrived today and looks ok, except that I think it has a bubble in it. Do real rubies have bubbles? The last two druzy pendants haven't arrived yet - they're coming from Brazil. I hope they aren't a disappointment.

Things were clearly getting out of hand. At one point I had 16 snipes waiting to happen. After the tiny geodes and chalcedony cabs arrived on the same day, I canceled all my outstanding snipes and tried to get a grip. That was three days ago and so far I'm still on the straight and narrow. There have been a couple of close calls, like yesterday when I decided I had to have some plume agate and sniped six listings before I could stop myself. They've all been deleted though. Staying on the wagon is difficult but knowing that I'm going to a bead show tomorrow, where there will be lots of people selling beautiful stones, helps a lot.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Oia and away...

Santorini is so beautiful it's difficult for me to imagine how people can bear to live there year round. Every time I looked up I felt like I got hit in the head with a beauty stick and consequently walked around in a daze most of the time. Besides the gargantuan striped cliffs, the black volcano sulking in the caldera, and the ubiquitous white houses with blue, green, and aqua shutters, there's the ocean in seven different shades of blue-green with an occasional bit of purple thrown in just to confuse the tourists. In the evening a haze on the horizon blended the sunset colors into watercolor washes over a third of the sky.

K, who lived in California for 10 years, was a little nervous hanging out on the edge of a crater and the towns certainly do look as if they're poised to slide right into the caldera at the first sign of a tremble. I bought two photos of the volcano smoking, one from 1926, the other from 1935. Imagine waking up and looking out your front door to see this:

We met some lovely people in Oia and two of the nicest were Assia, who works at one of our favorite jewelry stores, and her son Toni, who works at our hands down favorite restaurant in Santorini. We met Assia while shopping for gifts. The store, Lithos, like most of the jewelry stores in Santorini, has lots of lava bead jewelry, but they also have other really wonderful jewelry by Greek artists - we thought it was the best jewelry store we'd seen since 21st Century, our favorite store on Hydra. Assia was charming and helpful and, when we'd finished buying way too much, we asked her where to go for a good, not so expensive, dinner. (This was on our first night in Oia, after the sunset I wrote about last time. As we walked the main pedestrian street getting oriented and looking for dinner, we were struck by how expensive and upscale the restaurants were -- not the usual tavernas we'd come to expect and love.) She recommended Thomas Grill, where her son Toni works.

Thomas Grill turned out to be a family-style restaurant that was busy, but not so busy we couldn't find a table. A friendly looking young man approached and we asked if he were Toni. No, but he called Toni out to seat us. K said, "Your mother sent us" which caused the staff and half the customers to laugh out loud and Toni to blush bright red. He recovered, seated us, and we had a truly fantastic meal followed by a very nice conversation with Toni. Turns out that he and his mother are Bulgarian and they only live on Santorini during the tourist season. We had a wonderful time and went back there for dinner the next night as well. At that point we might as well have been family. The host took us to "our table" and, after another great meal, Toni came out not just with complimentary ouzo, but also with two bright yellow Thomas Grill t-shirts for us. Pictures were taken, followed by handshakes all around. (That's Toni on the left and Thomas in the center. I'm afraid I don't know the name of the woman.)

On the way back to the hotel we stopped in at Lithos to tell Assia how much we liked the restaurant. She was helping a customer but when she looked up and saw the Thomas Grill t-shirt I was holding up she started laughing and came to give us hugs. The customer was pressed into service as a photographer and we went on our way, promising to send copies of the pictures.

Our three days on Santorini started with the worst hotel experience of the entire trip, but we ended up feeling that we had come to a magical place. Much too soon we were on our way back to Athens and then a hellish 10 hour flight on Olympic Airlines that started by being four hours late getting off the ground and deteriorated from there. A hint if you're planning on traveling anytime soon: don't watch the two hour pilot of Lost the day before you have to get on an airplane or you're likely to end up clutching your partner's arm yelling "Oh, shit!" when you hit turbulence. In my defense I'll say that it was pretty serious turbulence and the older couple next to us were busy crossing themselves repeatedly while I was expostulating.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

From Firostefani to Oia

We awoke, determined to make the best of things, only to find that the shower didn't work: no water. I dress and track down the owner. He fiddles with the thing and gets a small stream of water to come out. "Oh, it was a little broken. Now it's fixed." Leaves. We can't get more than a little stream to come out and, even more distressing, it's not even warm. I can deal with a lot of things, but a day without a hot shower isn't one of them. Back out to find the owner, who first goes to check the boiler, which is working. He runs the water for several minutes, telling us that you need to run the water for several minutes. We tell him we have. "Sometimes when a lot of people are taking showers, you know..." Right. The water apparently warms up a little and he says triumphantly, "There, see? Hot now." Leaves. The water isn't close to hot, more like room temperature. While we're puzzling over this, the trickle fades to a few drips. Back out to find the owner, who's getting almost as annoyed as we are. He tests the water and finds both the water pressure and the temperature satisfactory, doesn't understand why we don't, no one else has ever complained. Leaves. Breakfast arrives and it is, predictably, the worst food we've had in Greece. Coffee is a pot of warm water and a few packets of Nescafe.

We decide we must escape. Will we be able to find another room for just two nights? Will he try to make us pay for all the nights we've reserved? The price for this hellhole is 135 Euros/night - not cheap! It seems that the price of hotels in Fira/Firostefani is generally high, especially if you have a view of the caldera. The view is great, but not without a hot shower to back it up. I call a hotel in Oia that I see advertised on our Santorini map: The Museum Spa Wellness Hotel. Against all odds they have a room available for the next two nights, which I promptly reserve. We pack.

We set off to face the owner together, agreeing that I'll take the lead and K will play bad cop if necessary. We find him and I say bluntly but nicely, "We want to check out. We're leaving." He looks bewildered, confused. "What? Why?" "We're not happy here," I say. K says, "The shower isn't good." Not very bad cop-like, but true. He seems hurt, doesn't understand, no one else has ever complained. But then he takes us to the office and gives us a refund...and offers to call us a cab...and takes our luggage up the million steps to the street...and waits with us until the cab comes (extremely awkward), loads our luggage, and gives us hearty handshakes as if we're old friends leaving after a great visit. All the way to Oia we talk about how awful we feel for leaving and how thrilled we are that we left. Vacationing can be emotionally complex.

In spite of having a few too many words in its name, The Museum Spa Wellness Hotel turn out to be a lovely place. Not, perhaps, as lovely as the pictures on the website suggest, but nice enough that we almost tear up when we see the bright, airy room and the lovely pool area. Into the pool, then the shower (hot! excellent water pressure!), then to schedule a massage and facial for the next day, then off to find an iced cappuccino. The vacation is back on track.

That night we have drinks at the rooftop bar of the Pelekanos Restaurant, like half of the other tourists in Oia, so as to watch the sun set. For some reason, that evening has a particularly festive feel. People are introducing themselves to each other, offering to take pictures of other couples, and Mr. Nikos, Bar Man (as it says on his lapel pin), is the master of ceremonies. If he likes you, he'll mix you a shot glass of his mysterious fuschia-colored cocktail. As the sun nears the horizon, it feels like we're watching the ball drop in Times Square on New Year's Eve. We applaud when the last sliver of red disappears.