- 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.”
The scenic beautiful bay of Calami gradually opened to us its spectacular sparkling blue waters resting in the horseshoe of the white pebble beach, guarded by few stone houses with the washed–out roofs looking out from the opulent bushes of cercis (also known as Judas tree as Juda hanged himself on its branch), bougainvillea, and myrtles. We smartly cut the way following the arrow “To the beach”, gingerly negotiating the steep path leading to the immense blue waters amidst the thicket of the olive trees, pine–trees and shaggy vines, only to land on the plateau of rocks towering high above the flatness of the sea. I can see how the waters are changing their color from shallow blue to azure to deep navy. It looks like there is no way down from here. “Oh, OK, it was a good exercise!” – I say to Mark. We go back up the hill in another direction through scratchy vegetation, which suddenly gives way to a beautifully mended patch. The view of the bay appearing through the spiky leaves of the palm tree, with the snowy white yachts parked in the middle of its quietness takes my breath away. Suddenly the path opens to the vast terraces of a strawberry pink villa. It sits so cozily in the neatly trimmed Mediterranean garden overlooking the Ionians that I instantly want to settle down in it. We pass through its grandeur emptiness admiring the clear cut of the correct geometrical forms and gracious unpretentiousness of slender porticos.
The road curves one more time bringing us to the seclusion of the picturesque Calami town with a handful of terracotta colored houses scattered on the green hill running up to the sky, tall cypresses shooting up with dignity their svelte cones to the endless blue. It’s lunchtime, and the heat has reached its peak, driving the holidaymakers under the tents of two taverns sitting right on the narrow string of the beach. 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. The heat is getting to me after the two kilometers walk from the bus stop and I change immediately into a bikini, slowly ducking in the water, waving my arms in panic as I’m sliding on the mossy fat pebbles. “Oh! Oh, no! Noooo! Ahhhh….!”. Ouch! Splash. And the water is so transparent I can see every stone on the bottom tidily clinging to its neighbors, with little fish snootily wiggling their tails.
The cold salty water is extremely refreshing, making my strokes over its silky surface robust and energetic. The current divides the water in the layers, cool, warm, cold, water is delicate and smooth, and when the bath is over, my whole body is crunchy and sticky with the salt. Still damp, with water dripping down from the coquettish bows of the swimsuit, while the Sun is working on drying us up, we head to the White House. Here it is, tightly sitting on the edge of the rock, on the very end of the narrow outcrop, a few sleek boats gracefully lined up in the marina among the boulders dappled in the shallow lagoon. It looks square and solid, and snowy white, with two strings of disproportionately small windows keeping their shutters opened to let in the daylight. It’s palpable that the insides of the house are dark and cool, the olives hanging over it, and may be they have absorbed over the years the salty smell of the tide. An array of pots is nicely arranged on its paved little piazza enclosed with the wrought black hedge. Nowadays it’s made into a guesthouse with the attached restaurant offering exquisite cuisine under the low roof of the adjoining terrace. “Villa for rent”, I read a simple sign at the column leading to entrance, as a clay owl watches me closely from the top of the white stone stairs.
We dive under the arch of the succulent grape wines and into the beautiful world of Lawrence Durrell. …I love the books – I just adore them, breathing in the soft edgy smell of the fresh print burying my nose in their thin crispy pages, the smell which offers the hours of sweet elusion, traveling in the unreal worlds of fantasy, emanating from the even rows of inky black letters tightly wrapped in the sentences and suggesting the enjoyment of the story they are about to tell. The shelves next to the receptionist shelter the rows of books written by the famous brother of the famous animalist Gerald, whose stories of his childhood years on the island of Corfu, “My family and other animals”, are known worldwide, fresh from the minting press. 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, grasping the plot, 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 puritans 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 for which we have to climb up the same hill which took us half–an–hour descending. The books are pricey, and the one that catches my attention is the priciest as it is the most alluring one, offering the mixture of a political intrigue and a fleur of two love stories intertwined during the days of creating the state of Israel. In addition, it features a photograph of Sophia Loren on its cover referring to a movie filmed along its lines and says it is a “special edition” by the Durrell’s school. I grab it for the appeal of lively plot, as much as for the juice of a political detective and a romance. The other one I’m getting 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.
“It is amazing! I would get all of the books if I only could!” – I exclaim in joy to the blond swishy–haired receptionist, smiling sadly at the impossibility of it. “Yeah, right, – she nods admittedly, – I know, so much waste paper!”. I’m shocked, and she quickly corrects herself grasping my astonishment, mentioning that one of the books indeed is “limited edition” and may be not yet available in the UK, so I’ve made a good choice. 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.