Write and act with your heart
Text: Stavroula Papaspirou | Photos: Stavros Niflis
Kostas Gouzelis is a well-known figure in Paros. For those unfamiliar with him that’s how he introduces himself in “A House in Cyclades”, published by Pontoporos editions -another of his activities on the island: “Kostas Gouzelis studied architecture in Rome and sculpture with Emmanuel Herzl. He designs and constructs houses mainly in the Cyclades-Greece. He has exhibited his sculpture in various galleries. He has restored old Greek traditional sailing vessels and produced documentaries regarding the Aegean Sea and its people.”
Speaking of his formal studies however transmits too little information. As he brings me to his front door, after nearly two hours of lively and intense conversation and despite his exhaustion -he had just returned from a journey-, Gouzelis gives me a copy of the above-mentioned publication. It is a book of strong opinions about architecture and life and a collection of his poems, “Ode to the sailing vessel Athena”. The dedication reads “Write and act with your heart”. This phrase is absent from his formal curriculum, although it encapsulates the philosophy of his life.
Here are some of Kostas Gouzelis’ reflections when asked about his ties with Paros, about what tradition can offer us, what his intuition tells him and his thoughts for future plans. But most of all, about his memories -of what he has done with his heart.
“My first time in Paros was as a child, when I came with my mother one summer to my grandmother’s house in Drios. I have kept many fond memories but my relationship to the island was firmly established only later, in 1969. I was then in my first year of architectural studies in Rome, when an Irish friend of mine, Desmond O’ Greidy, poet and professor at the American University of Rome, told me, “I’ll be in Paros, come and find me.” He wasn’t the only one who referred to Paros. In the foundry of Herzl, whose assistant I was, all the sculptors -most of them in their fifties- spoke only of Paros. It was an excellent company of inspiring artists.
I remember the night I arrived in Parikia. I was restful. I had invented a contraption, something like a hammock, which I hung between two bars on the boat, and during the whole journey no one bothered me! It was the “Night of Fish and Wine”. I was amongst thousands of people in an amazing festive island ambience. I got so drunk that the police came to arrest me. But I woke up tucked in a sleeping bag in a small passageway in Naoussa, with the braying of a donkey in my ears. Magical! I guess that was the moment I decided that one day I would live here on Paros. But back then I was still traveling between Italy and Greece. We had the junta, we had a struggle, but every time I arrived in Paros I felt that I met a “normal” Greece. I felt secure. My friends from Rome and the locals –young people, fishermen, politically active people that remain my friends to this day– were a wonderfully explosive mixture. It was heaven!”
Kostas Gouzelis was born in Athens but went to elementary school in Baghdad where his father, an engineer, worked for the office of Doxiadis. Kostas arrived in Rome with a diploma from Athens College and as an accomplished Volos sailor with an already deep connection to the sea. When the political changeover came and the army asked him where he wanted to serve, instead of the Pentagon, he chose the small island of Simi. “I wanted a place without officers, without anything… In Simi we built palisades, and I built my first boat in my free time. I bought one for next to nothing, chicken feed really, and after one and a half years I gave it back almost brand new. In exchange, I was able to build my own boat, the “Evagelistria”. When it was finished, I had only 50 drachmas left. But I managed to sell an old jackhammer for an unreasonably high price and then, trading rugs between Naoussa and Bodrum, Turkey, I became a king! Back then, in the 70s, I put two tents on the property that my mother had left me in Drios, one tent from Monastiraki, and one from the gypsies which I used as a bathroom. Within a year I built a very nice house, fruit of my great creative need which received a very high award in a Panhellenic contest when Tritsis was Minister for Housing, Planning and the Environment.
Gouzelis put his roots down in Paros. Instead of working in or opening an architectural office, he sold the house to a Swiss agent of classical music, and started building the next one and the next… In his first architectural steps he stayed close to the design principles of Dimitris Pikionis and Aris Konstantinidis but also of Kyriakos Krokos, a valuable interlocutor. “The important thing is to approach everything with respect”, he insists. “You try something that will keep up with the beauty of life, not for reasons of exploitation, but because you really like it, just as you would do with a sculpture. From the beginning of the 90s many architectural offices from Athens that drafted blueprint, in no time, started to open in Paros. Was it ever possible that something right would have come out of it? You have to know the land, its people, and its needs. There must be a balance, and you cannot just build on the mountains whatever comes to your mind. But the government has raised their hands high, because when the islands have no schools, no marinas, they are open to every con man that promises development. Even if you don’t think like that, at some point you will play the game. I am not an aristocrat, nor dogmatic –I also built two blocks – but the situation was out of control. The current economic crisis was a salvation from this point of view…”
How did this affect the quality of the people in the meantime? “It changed a lot, mainly because of the war against fishery, with totally false allegations, and the mass destruction of the boats that followed. Until ’85 there were over eighty fishing boats in Naoussa. In the 90s there were only fifty, and today they are not over four. This means that about half of the population of the town, who worked in the fishing industry, was brought down. “Destroy the boats”, said the Community Directive, and they did it! This has never happened anywhere else. Not in England, not in France, not in Italy, nowhere. And we, as a sea nation, did nothing to protect this important traditional art. If we hadn’t shot the documentary series “Aegean Forever” with Kolozis there would be no trace of this art left.”
How does he understand tradition? “Tradition is a force that gives direction. Tradition concerns the deeper being of things, in the way that they are conceived, perceived, and realized- in the ideology that they carry. In our days, we settle for listing, copying, broadcasting, as if we don’t realize the Essential, as if our insides were rotten. The fall of man lasts for years. We see around us more need for show than for love. Today creation and success are linked with money and projection on TV. So much has gone “off-course’.
We cannot even talk to one another, not to mention the cancer and the neuroses that rule the world. Nevertheless, as long as some people do what they do with their hearts, the game is not over. This is how I lived my life and how I wish to proceed. I would like to create more beautiful houses, to immerse deeper, to become a better person. In small places, like Paros, you perceive it more easily: only our acts count, they show our real relationship with the world. I am glad when young people ask for my company and even more when I feel that we can communicate!”