VIDEO: Ridge woman keeps Cretan husband’s memory alive tending to his miniature creation
A deceased Bay Ridgite’s labor of love is being kept alive by his widow, who wakes every morning at 6 am hoping to preserve her husband’s creation.
The late George Kortsolakis meticulously fashioned a miniature replica of his homeland, the Mediterranean island of Crete, out of thousands of pebbles, shells, and plastic figurines outside his home on the corner of Ridge Boulevard and 79th Street. But since Kortsolakis passed away in April, his wife Flora Kortsolakis has taken the reigns and tends to the creation as an homage, she said.
“Its become a memory of him, and I keep that memory going,” said Flora. “That was his pleasure, and it was something he wanted others to enjoy. So I treasure it and keep it going for him.”
But it’s not just for her sake — Greek cultural schools take field trips to see the model, and tourists occasionally drop by to check it out neighbors said.
“He made people curious and through that he introduced people to Crete,” said neighbor Kostas Panagopoulos. “It was his Shangri-La.”
Kortsolakis’ Crete first took shape in 2002 out of concrete fragments pieced together in a patch of deep blue flowers — since replaced with sky blue aquarium pebbles — that mimicked the Mediterranean sea, said Flora.
Hunks of rock eventually formed into a topographically detailed, 7-foot-long island of Crete that became populated with palm-sized figurines, plastic toy cars, and ceramic lighthouses.
It wasn’t long before the sculpture grew to include neighboring islands, and today, is a massive network of isles sheltered in an ornate, handmade Plexiglas and wood gazebo.
Creatures of Greek mythology persist, including Alexander the Great’s mermaid sister off the coast of Spinalonga and the mythic Icarus — who escaped prison on wings of wax but flew too close to the sun and plummeted to earth — is stationed in Crete’s capital city of Heraklion as a toy solider.
George was born in the village of Vamos, came to the U.S. in 1955, and worked as a tailor until he retired in 1990. George and Flora were married for 55 years before he became ill and died of a broken heart after his daughter passed away from cancer, said Flora.
The attentive wife tends to George’s creation every day, watering the island’s foliage, washing the gazebo’s murky Plexiglas, and making sure George’s world — and her memories of him — do not crumble, she said.
“He was really proud of what he did,” said Flora. “And so am I.”