Losing the Artist, Saving Her Art (Part 1)

August 30, 2012 | By | 8 Replies More

Losing a friend or loved one suddenly is always a shock.

The greater the vitality, creativity and ingenuity of the individual, the harder it is to accept the fact that you will only be seeing them in your memories.

Jovanka (aka Jovi or Niobe) was dynamic, multi-faceted, and multi-talented. She had traveled the world with impervious tenacity, making friends and discoveries along the way. Her incredibly diverse experiences permeate all of her works, writings, and landscape photos showing an incredible sensitivity.

We had lived on the same island for 4 years, but didn’t actually meet until I moved to Crete.

One of Jovi's photos, titled "Agamemnon's Agony"

One of Jovi’s photos, titled “Agamemnon’s Agony”

Jovi wanted help with an application to the Onasis Foundation for a multi-media production of her verse and incredible images taken throughout the Aegean Sea – themes related to ancient myths and legends. The director of the International Parian Art Circle (IPAC) asked her, “Don’t you know Victoria?”  Though members of the same group, we had never been present at any event at the same time.

Our first telephone conversation lasted nearly 2 hours.

Sometimes people just click; I was seeing what she wanted to produce just by hearing her describe it. She e-mailed me a few of her images, a sample of her verse, and her bio so I could have a more complete picture when we spoke again.

A few days later I called her; she was really enthusiastic about my first impressions and ideas. At the time, I was teaching in a private language school with two full weeks off for the winter holidays, so I suggested she come and spend Christmas with us, as that would give us enough time to put the grant proposal together.

On December 18th, 2009, I greeted Jovi at Heraklion Port and drove her east along the coast to our home. Luckily my family is accustomed to my occasionally bringing home stray artists. We drafted all of the key elements for the grant proposal and I re-worked her bio, until all that remained was the final selection of the photos. I would edit the verse for her while she was choosing the images back on Paros. She stayed over New Year’s as well, and I was touched to see how close she was to her mother – they spoke each day using Skype. Although they were speaking Serbian, I enjoyed listening to the effervescent lilt of her voice. Jovi’s child-like enthusiasm was contagious.

We spoke once a week from then on. The grant proposal was finally complete and off to pass through various committees (a process, we were to discover, that takes ages). In the interim, she had given me a few manuscripts in varying stages of development. She asked me to be her editor, which was an honor considering how well-educated and well-travelled she was. We set to work on the story which we both felt had the potential to reach the broadest audience.

Jovi's photo titled "Thanato's Surrender"

Jovi’s photo titled “Thanato’s Surrender”

During the spring of 2010, two significant events occurred: I finally got a literary agent thanks to the covert efforts of my co-conspirator in NYC, and Jovi bought a boat. There was a pause in our creative collaboration while I feverishly implemented the editorial suggestions made by the agent to my own manuscript, and Jovi began her labor of love.

I hadn’t realized what a fixer-upper Jovi’s “African Queen” was; her descriptions had been so full of buoyant enthusiasm. Gradually I realized that she was describing it as it would become, not as it was. The frustration began seeping through in our phone conversations – being a petite, albeit fiery lady in her 50s made it difficult for her to deal with the hard-nosed shipyard technicians on Syros.

One bright spot came in the middle of the summer heat – her grant made the first cut and would go on for review by individual board members at the Onasis Foundation! That was a vital injection of self-confidence. She stuck to her guns, sanding and polishing along with them, to get the technicians working with her rather than against her.

On December 17th, 2010 Jovi called me at 10 p.m.

I had never heard her so happy. She had finally made amends with her former lover, a rift that had caused her tremendous pain and self-doubt. Her project had been shortlisted for the grant and she had finally located the original builders of the boat and could refit her properly. She excitedly told me that as soon as the Halcyon days arrived, she was sailing down to Crete to abduct me for a celebratory cruise.

On the morning of December 18th, 2010, exactly one year to the day that we met face to face, I received a call from Jovi’s cell phone.

It was the Paros police: Jovanka Starchevich was dead. Since I was the last person she had called on her cell, they thought that I might be a relative.

I was shattered; I didn’t know what to say. I only knew her mother’s name was Eugenia and that she lived in Tucson, Arizona. Graeme, the yacht technician who had gotten the boat situated on Paros, was away for the holidays.

Jovi in 1962

Jovi in 1962

The U.S. Embassy managed to contact her mother, who at 83 had to be hospitalized upon learning the news. Friends on Paros made the initial burial arrangements; the headstone would be sorted out later. I asked Graeme for Eugenia’s address. I thought it important she know that, although her daughter had departed in her prime, at least she had reached a state of happiness and contentment.

Thus began my on-going communication with that very heroic figure living the tragedy of losing not only a daughter but her best friend.




Continue to Part 2


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Category: Contemporary Women Writers, Friendships between Women Writers, Women Writers Across Cultures, Women Writing Non-Fiction

Comments (8)

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  1. rlewis9 says:

    I love the specificity of this piece. The dates and times really place the reader at the moment. I cannot imagine being on the receiving end of such a call, and hope I never have to be. Thank you for sharing this, Victoria.

    • The day you left your comment there was a gas explosion at my in-laws’ house in Athens so I only saw it now. My apologies for not having reached out sooner it is always such a gift to see that someone has appreciated one’s offering. All the best to you, and I do also hope you never need to receive such a call.


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