Seven years ago, Peggy and I made a trip to Europe and cruised the Mediterranean along with her brother John, his wife Frances, and two of their friends Lee and Kathi. Now that our wings are clipped due to coronavirus, I decided a little armchair travel might help satisfy my thwarted desire to travel. Instead of ‘wandering through time and place,’ I am wandering in place. You are invited along…
“The sea is high again today, with a thrilling flush of wind. In the midst of winter you can feel the inventions of spring.” Lawrence Durrell
I was visiting the Pioneer Bookstore in Placerville when I was first introduced to Lawrence Durrell and the Greek Island of Corfu. The bookstore was a favorite hangout of mine during my senior year in high school in 1960 and George Yohalem, the owner, had become a mentor, helping guide my 17-year-old mind to a number of good books. He and his wife Betty had retired to the foothills of California after long careers in Hollywood where George had worked as a screenwriter and she as an actress.
I had picked up a new book that had just arrived and read the first couple of pages. Since it looked interesting, I carried it over to George for advice. “It’s quite good,” he had told me, “but don’t tell your mother that I recommended it.” That caught my attention.
The book was “Justine” by Lawrence Durrell. The quote above is the first line in the book and Durrell is describing Corfu. He had lived there from 1935-40 and fallen in love with the island. “Justine” became one of my first ventures into serious literature and definitely my first venture into erotic literature— thus George’s admonition. The book transfixed me, not so much by the sex (well, maybe a little), but by the sheer mastery of the language and the sense of the exotic. I was picked up and dropped into Corfu and then Alexandria… the main setting for “Justine” and the other three books in the Alexandria Quartet. It was magic.
Durrell wasn’t the only author to find Corfu a touch exotic. Homer had the ship wrecked Odysseus land on the island during his long journey and Shakespeare used it for the setting of Prospero’s magical realm in The Tempest. In Corfu’s long history Corinthians, Romans, Venetians, French and English had occupied the island as a gateway to both the East and West. At one point, the feared pirate Barbarossa laid siege to Corfu and succeeded in enslaving a substantial portion of its population.
Corfu’s location in the Ionian Sea sets it apart from its Greek cousins Santorini and Mykonos in the Aegean Sea. We found no more sparkling white washed buildings perched on treeless terrain. Corfu is an island covered with over a million olive trees and its buildings are multi-hued with a well-lived-in look. Two massive forts serve as bookends for its main town, also known as Corfu. We wandered through its winding narrow streets, visited an Asian museum housed in a colonial British mansion, checked out a Greek Orthodox Church, and climbed the steep hill to the top of the Old Fortress overlooking the town.
There are some things that I am almost guaranteed to photograph when I travel…
FRIDAY’S POST: We made it up to Crater Lake National Park last week, practicing social distancing the whole way. Snow added to its natural beauty.