Corfu: ”this brilliant little speck of an island in the Ionian” Lawrence Durrell – ‘Prospero’s Cell’
It had been almost thirty years since my first visit to Corfu so I convinced myself that a return was long overdue. This time I chose to stay at the village of Kalami, north of Corfu Town and where the English author Lawrence Durrell once lived so I thought it appropriate preparation for the holiday to read some of his work and also that of his brother Gerald ( ‘My Family and Other Animals’) and also Henry Miller who wrote about his stay on the island in 1939 in ‘The Colossus of Maroussi’.
Well, the arrival on the island was no different at all and the plane flew in over the resort of Perama, where I had stayed previously and dad had sat for hours watching the planes come in, over Pontikonisi Island. This is the home of the monastery of Pantokrator whose white staircase resembles (from afar) a mouse’s tail and is the reason the island has acquired its popular name of Mouse Island. Then over the ‘chessboard fields’ of the Venetian salt marshes before landing on the freshly ploughed runway which gave everyone on board a rough welcome to the island and through the window I could see the same hopelessly inadequate buff coloured and tired airport terminal as the plane came to a gentle stop as the engines slowed from a high pitched whine to a gentle hum.
It was good to be in Greece again, especially so because the unpredictable English Summer had this year so far been entirely predictable with the wettest April on record, the wettest May on record, the wettest June on record and so on and so on and it was wonderful therefore to step out of the aircraft and cast off the gloom of the lost English summer and walk out onto tarmac that was hot and breathless with heat rising from the concrete like shimmering waves and after a dreadful start to the year I immediately wanted to reach down and scoop some up to keep for later.
Passport control was as casual as it ever is in Greece and the police showed customary disinterest in our documents so after passing through the arrivals hall we were soon on board our coach for transfer to our hotel. At first the driver made slow progress through the growling traffic of the outskirts of the busy city with boxcrete apartment blocks with peeling facades, sagging washing lines and precarious balconies all decorated with satellite dishes and television aerials but eventually he nudged his way through the traffic and we were on the scenic coastal road that took us through Gouvia, Dassia and Ipsos and towards the mountainous north of the island where the road climbed in extravagant sweeping hairpin bends up one side of the coastal mountains and then down the other side.
The forty-kilometre journey took much longer than I imagined it would but eventually we arrived at Kalami and after a transfer to a hotel mini-bus for the final leg of the journey we were soon at our accommodation, the Asonitis and Adonis apartments where we waited for a while in a lift shaft and I began to get that feeling of ‘have I made a mistake here?’
I shouldn’t have worried because eventually we were shown to our rooms and although they were basic in the way that I have come to expect in Greece this was more than compensated for by the magnificent view from the balcony which overlooked the crescent shaped bay like a Saracen’s sword, pine fringed with limestone layer cake rocks, boats lolling in the languid water and the White House ‘set like a dice on a rock already venerable with the scars of wind and water’ of Lawrence Durrell.
At this moment if someone had tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to pay a bit extra for this view I would gladly have done so because laid out in front of me was the silvery blush of olive trees, a cornflower blue sea, the smoky lifeless hills of Albania set against a chorus of cicadas chattering in the twisted branches of the black olive trees and the cracking of seed pods in the midday heat of the sun. It was breathtaking, it was wonderful, I was glad to be here!
It had been a long time but it was almost exactly as I remembered it but a lot more like Croatia than I knew before and quite unlike the Cyclades with which I have become familiar – red and ochre tiled roofs like the colour of the soil, soaring ragged cypress trees, stony white pebbled beaches and the same soft blue of the Adriatic Sea and the sky and I concluded that I could appreciate it all the more for what I know now that I didn’t thirty years before.
Would the Durrell’s recognise this even after eighty years or so? Yes I think they would, even though it is a holiday resort it is nicely understated, no commercialism, no silly beach attractions, good traditional tavernas and views of ravishing beauty. Lawrence himself might even recognise the White House although it has been restored of course because during the Second-World-War the Germans saw fit to bomb it for some pointless reason.
After we had settled into our rooms with the sun on our shoulders for what seemed the first time this year we took the steps down to the sea to set about establishing a routine for the week ahead…