The eyes of the saint were following me. The colours of his clothes were perfectly coordinated, white, gold and ruby – a deathless tradition. His portrait was hanging on the wall, letting the sun smooth its uneven surface.
His expression was full of understanding, result of complete surrender to God. His face, divided by a crack in an old wood, was sleek and peaceful. In one hand he was holding a Bible; the other was hidden away. A painting of two more saints was resting at his invisible feet.
The proportions in the icons are never preserved. The head is usually two small in relation to the rest of the body. However the eyes are always aquiline, sharp and piercing. Wherever you go, they follow you. They are the most remarkable part of the icon. They truly are a mirror of the soul. The question is – whose?
The body is flat, painted in one line; even the wings of the angels will not add any perspective to the portrait. The cloths are always too big; there is no shape in the body, which is wrapped up in countless shits of colours. The only parts of the body you are able to see are faces, hands and feet. The rest is hidden behind bulks of colours.
You are not able to see the women’s hair, hidden under the scarf. Men have beards but the angels are smooth. Like children they do not age. No one smiles, all wearing the same sad expression. There is no joy, only peace with a hint of suffering, the necessary part of life.
The Monastery of Paleokastritsa is full of people. Visitors who crossed the gate are observed very carefully. There are scarfs you can wear if your arms are showing and your skirt or trousers are too short. After coming in you are surrounded by a thick cloud of calm sadness, but at the same time sense and fulfilment. You are in a good place to gather your thoughts, to pray if you wish to or just sit under the blossoming tree, admiring one of the most wonderful views in the world.
In the central part of the monastery sits a church. People are praying; lighting long and thin candles, sticking them into the bowls full of sand placed inside the church. The sun is leaking through the door as there are hardly any windows in a small temple. The altar is full of portraits of saints, the Virgin Mary and Jesus. Crosses are an integral part of the décor, as the lamps full of frankincense but lacking any light. They hang from the ceiling like spiders, slowly moving – touched by the light wind the crowd is bringing in.
I am leaving the temple to sit on a bench in a part of the monastery not many people are coming to. It’s quiet and hot, but the trees and bushes give some shelter from the sun. The rock-solid bench is cold, like the sea below. The road which leaded us here was twisted, but buses were still coming, trying not to crash with the cars and each other on the bends. The climb was worth the effort as it always is if you can find a peaceful corner for yourself, escaping crowd storming tourist attraction.
I am meeting the rest of our party near the entrance. I kneel down to take the pictures of two kittens playing with each other – the pure joy of the carefree afternoon. Their mother is lying on the bench, observing the youngsters. As always with the scene like that, people’s hearts soften. The joy is contagious and hard to ignore. One of the kittens just found a beetle and its curiosity grows. Perhaps he has never seen a beetle before? It reminds me that there is still many things, feelings, dreams I have not experienced. If they come along I wish I could look at them the same way as the kitten is looking at the beetle – no fear but excitement and curiosity.
Getting there: Corfu is a lovely island and the best way to explore it is by car. Go towards Paleokastritsa, on the north western side of Corfu, and you will see the signs directing you to the monastery. You can leave your car at the car park nearby and get climbing. The Monastery sits on the top of a winding, curvy road with just ample parking for buses. The entrance to the monastery is free, but ladies are required to cover their shoulders and knees (shawls are supplied) when visiting the Monastery.