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Saturday, 15 April 2017

Fifty Years of Corfu and Paxos

It's just occurred to me that this year marks the fiftieth anniversary of my first visit to Corfu and Paxos - and to Greece. I'd accepted the offer of a teaching post on Corfu before the military coup of 21 April, 1967. Was I full of  thoughts of "the isles of Greece"? "Eternal summer gilds them yet,..I dream'd that Greece might still be free...I could not deem myself a slave" (Lord Byron).

"Fill high the bowl with Samian wine! 
   On Suli's rock, and Parga's shore, 
Exists the remnant of a line 
   Such as the Doric mothers bore".

On my way to teach in Corfu, Greece, 1967

From a letter from C.M. Bowra, Warden of Wadham College, Oxford:

It was quite a change from London and '67 psychedelia :

The seas around Corfu and Paxos proved to be more mind-expanding
 and 'psychedelic' than anything London had to offer...

From a diary, 19 October, 1967:

"I came here to be free...I was persuaded by the writings of Lawrence Durrell and Henry Miller that Corfu was a constant spring of inspiration for anyone weary of metropolitan bohemia".

I'd brought with me my guitar and a small selection of books about Greece. A philosophy of 'personal freedom' rang rather hollow in the context of the Colonels' coup, when we began to hear about the Junta's harsh treatment of artists (poets, actors, writers, composers and intellectuals) in Athens - although it has to be said that the people I met on Corfu seemed relatively unconcerned about the dictatorship at that stage, in 1967, and many even seemed to welcome the stability and disciplined new order, especially as they could obtain house and hotel-building loans more easily. Tourism was developing fast and the local economy was doing well. Disappointment had set in by December 1967. People complained about the banning of the records of  Mikis Theodorakis. Reports of arrests and torture only reached us the following year.

August-September, 1967: I moved from a small tent in a deserted seaside olive grove in undeveloped Roda, to another spot near Gaios, Paxos, thence to a tiny monastic cell (or cellar), a few metres from the water's edge beside the pebbly cove of Nissaki (a blissful existence), to a rented room in noisy San Rocco Square. In October 1967 I moved to an unfurnished bungalow in Odos Anapafseos, little realising that it was very close to the main cemetery of Corfu Town. Perhaps that explains why the rent was so cheap...but that is where I stayed for most of the year, trying to write in the mornings or in my spare time, when I wasn't required to teach.

Roda Beachside Olive Grove, Tent

Plateia San Rocco, Room:

Odos Anapafseos, Garitsa:

Not quite Leonard Cohen on Hydra, but that kind of thing!

"Like a bird on a wire...
I tried in my way to be free"

"To dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free..." (Bob Dylan)

Or two hands:

Ἐλευθερία! (for some).

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