- 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, its blue waters resting in the horseshoe of the white pebble gradually opened its scenic beauty. A few stone houses with the washed–out roofs guarded its nap in the afternoon heat, looking out from the opulent bushes of cercis (known as Judas tree), bougainvillea and myrtles. A steep path following the arrow “To the beach” leads through the thicket of the olive trees, pine–trees and shaggy vines, landing on a plateau of rocks high above the transparent sea changing its color from shallow blue to azure to deep navy. Looks like there is no way down from here. 'It was a good exercise!' – I say to Mark as we are going back up the hill through scratchy vegetation suddenly giving 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 of its quietness like ballerinas in the Swan Lake. Right in front on the vast terrace towers a strawberry pink villa.
It's sitting graciously in the Mediterranean garden, the unpretentious slender porticos overlooking the Ionians, and is so inviting that I instantly want to settle down here.
Another road curve ends up in the seclusion of the Calami town. A handful of the terracotta colored houses and svelte cones of cypresses are scattered on the green hill running up to the sky. The heat has reached its peak, making the holidaymakers hiding under the tents of two taverns. 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. In the ransparent water little fishes snootily wiggling their tails among the stones clinging to each other. 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….!”. Ouch! Splash. Cold water is refreshing, delicate and smooth, making me stroking energetically over its surface, and I emerge with body crunchy and sticky with salt.
Still damp, with water dripping down, 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 running across the snowy white facade. It’s palpable even from a distance that the insides of the house are dark and cool, having absorbed over the years the salty smell of tide, shyly hiding behind the olives trees. Nowadays it serves as a guesthouse. A clay owl is watching the guests entering stone staircse, with an array of pots 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 of fantasy. The shelves next to the receptionist shelter the rows of books written by the famous brother of the famous animalist Gerald, whose stories about his childhood years on the island of Corfu, “My family and other animals”, 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, and 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 he “found his voice” according to his own words, 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 same hill which took us half–an–hour to descend. The books are pricey, and the one that catches my attention is the priciest as it is 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.