Friday, September 4, 2009

Notes on Greece - first impressions

At the age of 13, I began reading Gerald Durrell. Since then, one of my abiding dreams has been to visit Corfu, memoralised in that minor classic "My Family and other animals". And so it came to pass that some three decades later, I finally did. The first thing that strikes you on reaching Athens's Eleftherios Venizelos airport (what a dramatic name - though it just the name of a local politician) is seeing the Greek alphabet not in an equation but in actual writing. It also means you can read what is written though you may not understand what it says (unless it's a known thing - like, say, McDonalds...). Corfu airport (which only has signs that say Kerkyra leading me to suspect for a moment that I had taken the wrong flight! ) divvies up the luggage of people coming from EU and non EU countries. Thus, even though I came through Athens, my luggage (which was checked in direct from Chennai) landed up on the international carousel. Since I couldn't find this place, I asked a worker in the airport who shook his head, said 'no English' and then said haltingly "Urdu, 'indi? ". It turned out he was an Afghan working in the airport who had picked up these two languages by watching Hindi movies. He was so pleased to make my acquaintance that he helped me find my luggage, insisted on taking it to the Taxi Stand and got into a fight with a taxi driver for serving some people further down the line, before me. I almost thought I had my Spiro....

The Corfu Holiday Palace is a resort hotel with a dream like location, overlooking the Southern coast of Corfu in an area called Kanoni, home of Theodore Stephanides. My room opened into a balcony that led to a garden which fell steeply down to the sea. (Being the 21st century, the hotel had installed a sloping elevator track to lift people directly up from the beach below to the hotel swimming pool! )

Corfu clearly has changed much since Durrell's days and one doesn't need to belong to Mensa to figure that one out. It's become a highly developed tourist destination, and I mean that in its purely pejorative sense. It's also been a traditionally popular destination for the British, and so most locals speak English. Whether this popularity is derived from Durrell's books or whether from the fact that Corfu was a British colony in the early years of the 20th century I am not certain -- perhaps the latter. The over-developed tourism was epitomised this morning by one of those hideous sights of toy trains that run along the roads in many cities in Europe, giving tourists (mostly American, Europeans prefer to walk) a 'walking tour' of the streets, without needing to use their legs. To make matters worse, this one in particular had a large red banner emblazoned with the words 'McDonalds'. I can't help thinking Gerry would have thought of his unspoilt paradise.

Corfu town is a bustling market town, with cars, public buses and those monstrous tourist buses (from which tourists in air conditioned comfort peer out to look at the local fauna), all jostling for space on narrow streets. To make matter worse, people parallel park on both sides of the roads, reducing the width of the streets even further.

This being Greece, one can't walk anywhere without stumbling across the ruins of a Temple of Artemis or say, a Temple of Hera from around the 4th century B.C.E. In fact, both of these can be seen along the route from the hotel to the conference centre at Mon Repos, a distance of little more than a kilometer. In addition there are numerous other ruins strewn around various places which are not even 'labelled'.

I will eventually put in some photos. Unfortunately I find that I have left the cable that connects my camera to the laptop (no, it's not standard mini-USB) at home. So enthusiastic visitors to this blog - sorry, but you will have to wait till I get back in a few days.

6 comments:

CaliforniaKat said...

"My family and other animals" is also a favorite of mine, though I've never been to Corfu.

Have a great time!

AmOK said...

Did you visit the The Durrell School in Corfu, established in 2002? Marvellous place to visit, takes you back to the days of Gerald. There are a number of other types of Durellia, next time do take your time to visit and you can the converse with me once you are caught up. I can see you missed a lot, OLO! (L=learning).

Rahul Basu said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sourendu said...

So when did the Corfu toll the knell of parting day?

Rahul Basu said...

When the lowing bird winds slowly o'er the sea...

The airstrip came right upto the harbour below our hotel. So one could see the aeroplanes land and take off over the water at all times of the day -- so I guess not only when the knell of parting day has been tolled...

Olga said...

Hope one day I can also visit Corfu. There must be a single tiny place where tourists do not invade...