Friday, September 11, 2009

Kanoni and Corfu Town

Kanoni, where we stayed is at the southern end of the town of Corfu. It has a beautiful view of the sea, the mountains and the Albanian coast can be glimpsed in the distance. It also has a view of the Monastery of Vlacherna and Mouse Island, a scene that in all travel brochures seem to symbolise Corfu.

Durrell enthusiasts (yes, this will be a recurring theme) will recall how Theodore Stephanides was fascinated by the seaplanes landing on water, every Thursday evening when he came for tea at the Durrells'. The seaplanes are long gone, but there is still the thrill of watching planes take off and land (many times in the day now) on the narrow strip of runway of Corfu airport that runs parallel along and at the edge of the coast that is clearly visible from Kanoni. The enormous jet liners of today sweep down, barely missing the water and touch down at the edge of the tarmac. Even today it's a fascinating sight.

Corfu Town is a mixture of many different styles, representing the different powers that occupied it over the centuries -- the Venetians, the French, the English -- and evolved around the Old Fortress around the 14th century, though the beginnings date from the fortified Byzantine site of Corfu around the 6th century. In order to protect the town and its harbour from the Ottoman Turks, a New Fortress was built in the 16th century by the Venetians. The area between these two fortresses comprises the old town of Corfu and is a beautiful place to walk, to wander and to sit in a cafe next to the water.

Like many Indian cities, Corfu Town has its own Esplanade or Spianada. shown above, built in the Italian Renaissance style.

Between the Esplanade and the Old Fortress, is a garden, a recreational place for Corfiots to walk and relax. This is called the 'Bosketto' and running alongside it, true to Corfu's British heritage, is a cricket ground. The Bosketto was renamed Bosketto Durrell in 2006 commemorating the brothers Gerald and Lawrence Durrell. There is a plaque on the gate with the inscription "Lawrence Durrell and Gerald Durrell writers and Philhellenes lived in Corfu 1935-1939", and inside are two bronze bas-relief busts of the two writers.

There is also a Durrell School of Corfu which according to its web page "seeks to provide a learning experience steeped in the culture and history of the Mediterranean, and drawing on the issues important to the Durrells". I wrote to them and received a polite reply from their administrative head, inviting me to visit them in town and meet their Director. Unfortunately, by the time I got the mail, I had already left Corfu.

We sat for a time in a cafe near the waterfront, facing the old fortress jutting out into the sea. As the sun went down behind the mountains the moon rose over the water, and the fortress turned to gold. Despite being so close to the bustling town nearby, for a moment it was possible to imagine the idyllic world of Gerry's childhood that, though long gone, is immortalised for his readers.

Tailpiece: For those who would like to read a short and somewhat more contemporary account of Durrell's life see here.

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