“Other countries may offer you discoveries in manners or lore or landscape; Greece offers you something harder – the discovery of yourself” Lawrence Durrell – ‘Prospero’s Cell’
Some claim that Corfu is a Shakespearian island and the setting for what scholars believe to be his final play ‘The Tempest’ and the path took us through an olive grove with gnarled black trunks each with a knotted witch hiding in the branches and it was all rather like walking through Act 4, Scene 1 of Macbeth.
The children didn’t notice this as they made their way to the sea past grand villas with rusting iron balconies, peeling stucco and creaking fading plaster once certainly crimson but now bleached and faded pink by the relentless and unforgiving summer weather and I was reminded of an observation from Durrell – ‘Corfu is All Venetian Blue and Gold – and utterly spoiled by the Sun’.
Through the narrow alleyways dainty butterflies were dancing, swallows were swooping in and out of their nests to feed their recently hatched young and nervous crickets were jumping as we alarmed them with our noisy approach until we walked through a taverna with green check tablecloths and onto a white pebble beach with a gentian blue sea and a daffodil yellow sun scattering diamond dust on the dazzling surface of the water that disappeared into a thousand shimmering shards immediately on impact that I am certain were valuable but were impossible to capture.
On the beach our feet crunched through fine shingle and clattered over polished pebbles as we walked past people sunbathing and whose length of stay could be assessed by the extent of their suntan – through various shades of bronze depending on how long they had been here lounging in the sun from deathly white (arrived yesterday) and then like walking through a Dulux paint chart through the full colour spectrum to tango orange (been here for quite some while). We walked a short way in that conspicuous pasty legged sort of way that new arrivals do and then we selected some beach furniture and settled down for the afternoon.
Now, I’m not much of a beach person I have to confess but with two small children to amuse I had reconciled myself to the prospect of long days of hard work but here was a place to be by the seashore listening to the sound of the sea frolicking at the water’s edge, teasing the shingle and constantly rearranging the pebbles and although I wasn’t absolutely looking forward to spending more time on a beach in a single day than I would normally do in a fortnight as I looked out over the picturesque bay I thought that it really might not be that bad after all.
Boats were gently swaying in the whispering breeze and resting on a multi coloured sea which was butter milk cream over the wave polished stones, vivid blue over the butterscotch sand and imperial purple over the swaying weed and all I needed was a Mythos to make this moment perfect so when everyone was settled I made my way to a nearby beach bar and made the essential purchase that would make the moment absolutely wonderful!
As I suspected it was a long stay at the beach as the two girls made friends and played in the water and at the shoreline but that provided an opportunity for a late lunch of Greek specialities consisting of deep fried courgettes, spinach pie and taramasalata and a couple more Mythos as the sunbeams danced on the water and the rasping shrill song of the agitated cicadas reached a mid afternoon crescendo. Apparently a single insect can achieve a sound level of one hundred and twenty decibels which is the equivalent of a lumberjack’s chain saw which, it has to be said, is a very impressive ratio of sound to body weight. A human shouting like that would probably sound like Krakatoa erupting and the only man who can get remotely close to this is probably Brian Blessed.
After everyone had tired of the beach we collected our belongings and took the short walk back to the apartments stopping for a while on the way to do more swimming but this time in the hotel complex pool and after an hour or so we returned to the room.
From the balcony the view was, if possible, even more magnificent, the green sweeping hills, the sea in its multi coloured splendour and the bleached beach, a crescent of sparkling shingle, decorated with white umbrellas like upturned scallop shells each sheltering a pale creature who had come here in search of the sun but now retreating from its remorseless intensity. As I surveyed the view over and over again, and even after only a few hours of being here, I was happy to declare it to be one of the best places that I have ever chosen to stay.
There were to be no sunset pictures here though because our view was to the east and eventually the sun began to slide away behind Mount Pantokrator to the west which at over nine-hundred metres is the highest mountain on the island and gradually the day slipped through twilight and dusk. The day visitors packed their belongings and left as darkness descended, the raucous chant of the cicadas was replaced by the spooky whistles of the Scops Owls and the twinkling lights of the sea front tavernas began to illuminate the edge of the beach inviting diners to drop by like candles attracting moths.
We returned to the place where we had enjoyed our lunch and chose plates of Greek traditional dishes and sat by the water’s edge next to the sea, lit up now by a copper moon, a bottomless ink black and silent but for the sound of the occasional wave.
As I looked across to the White House I imagined Lawrence Durrell sitting on his balcony and enjoying exactly the same view while searching for literary inspiration and discovering himself.