- Posted June 8, 2014 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Photo essays: Your stories in pictures
Durrell's White House
“A white house set like a dice on a rock already venerable with the scars of wind and water.”
Sparkling Calami bay, blue waters resting in the horseshoe of the white pebble, gradually opened its scenic beauty. A few stone houses with the washed–out roofs look out from the opulent bushes of cercis (known as Judas tree), purple bougainvillea and dark green myrtles, guarding its nap in the afternoon heat. A steep path from the bus stops runs through the thicket of the olive trees, pine–trees and shaggy vines, landing abruptly on a plateau of rocks high above the sea, which changes colors from shallow blue to azure to deep navy. Scratchy vegetation on the sides of the path suddenly gives way to a beautifully mended patch. The bay is now visible again, flashing its cosmic blue through spiky leaves of old palm tree, elegant silhouettes of yachts are dancing right in the middle like the little swans. On the vast terrace, built into the hill, graciously sits a strawberry pink villa, surrounded by the cool Mediterranean garden. Its unpretentious slender porticos dreamily overlook the Ionians, and its imposing look baits a desire to immediately settle down.
Another road curve finally ends in the seclusion of Calami town with a handful of the terra-cotta colored houses scattered up the green hill running into the sky, amidst the svelte cones of the cypresses. The heat has reached its peak, holidaymakers are hiding in two taverns crooking on the sea brim. Delicate heads of the young poppy flowers, bright scarlet and sunny yellow, spur from the ground right next to the blue wooden locker with the broken door. I change immediately into a bikini, slowly ducking in the water waving my arms as I’m sliding on the mossy pebbles. “Oh! Oh, no! Noooo! Ahhhh….!” Splash. In the transparent water little fishes run away, snootily wiggling their tails among the stones clinging to the bottom. Cold water is refreshing, delicate and smooth, making my strokes more energetic, and I emerge with body sticky with salt. Still damp, water dripping down the crispy skin leaked by the burning sun, we head along the narrow string of the beach toward the huge mossy rocks, where on the very end of the narrow outcrop sits the White House.
A few sleek boats gracefully lined up in the marina among the boulders dappled in the shallow lagoon. The house is square and solid, two strings of disproportionately small windows run across its snowy white façade, hiding behind the olives trees. It’s palpable even from here that the insides of the house are dark and cool, having absorbed over the years the salty smell of tide. Nowadays it serves as a guesthouse. A stern clay owl is watching those entering the stone staircase, an array of pots is lining up on the paved little piazza enclosed with the wrought black hedge. Diving under the arch of succulent grape wines, we get into the beautiful world of Lawrence Durrell.
I adore the books – I love to breathe in soft smell of the fresh print, burying my nose in crispy pages, anticipating hours of traveling in the unreal worlds. The shelves next to the receptionist shelter the rows of books written by the famous brother of the famous animalist Gerald, whose “My family and other animals”, a story about his childhood years spent here, on the island of Corfu, are known worldwide. Lawrence moved to Corfu in 1937 making it his home, and was lifelong friends with Henry Miller and Thomas Elliot. I’m greedily sweeping the volumes, seeing some titles for the very first time, and turn the pages, tasting the words, trying to get a flavor of the story. All of the books look equally appealing: “The bitter lemons” tells the story of the Cyprus island during the years of the fiery fights, “The Greek Islands” features a stunning dark blue cover with blazing white domes of Santorini churches, while the “Black Book” hides the dark secrets of love, hate, envy, sex and violence spilled in the first true novel of the writer, where according to his own words he “found his voice”, and which was banned for dozens of years in Britain, seeing the light of publishing only in 1973. I’m quickly turning pages in a rush to get a few of the most appealing books in time to catch a bus, as we still have to climb up the hill. The books are pricey, and the one that catches my attention is the priciest of all, as it’s the most alluring one, with mixture of a political intrigue under the fleur of two love stories intertwined during the days of creating the state of Israel. Its cover features Sophia Loren in a movie filmed along its lines here, in Corfu. It’s a “special edition” by the Durrell’s school. I grab it for its lively plot as much as for the juice of a political detective and a romance. The other one is the famous “Prospero’s cell”, a poetic writing full of facts and memories about Corfu, written when Lawrence fled to Egypt at the onset of the Second World war and recorded his nostalgic memories about the lands he thought he’d never see again.
‘Isn’t it amazing! I’d get all of them if I only could!’ I sadly smile, addressing the blond receptionist. ‘Yeah, right,’ she nods admittedly, ‘I know, so much waste paper!’ I’m shocked, we say goodbye and head for our bus mounting up on the familiar road. The sleepy Corfu, Corcyra, as Durrell (and the Greek) calls it dozes in the afternoon – no noise, no wind, no movement. Our bus is 15 minutes late and while the sweat is dripping down under my silk dress I’m trying to see the hazy mountains of Albania as Lawrence Durrell saw them upon arriving to Calami in April 1937.