The earth is all before me. With a heart
Joyous, not scared at its own liberty,
I look about and should the chosen guide
Be nothing more than a wandering cloud,
I cannot lose my way. I breathe again!
                                     ~ Wordsworth  

 

 

 

 

 ...it was Corfu...

Summer 1980

my first visit to Greece

 

I woke up in Corfu.
Last stop for Odysseus before Ithaka.
Was it a dream or did we stop over in Athens?
But then, that first awareness in our Gouvian villa...

We spend the day swimming and fooling around with our cameras on the beach and in the shallows.

A smart sail boat passes and slowly, but insistently, separates me from the shore until I stand chest deep in the sea.

Then I sense something trailing past my thighs - like an eel or a shark

or...er...maybe just a hawser.

      Early evening patio, we sip our crassis watching birds,

Brimstones and Commas.

Next morning the window doors are wide open,

and outside,

everywhere enshrouded in mist.

Not a sound and nothing moves.

A Tyrian Purple Dawn.

I stare into the morning

and I swear,

in the crumbling old archway down at the end of the garden,

I see the image of a warrior -

plumed helmet, shield and sword,

one arm raised -

waving me forward

on into Greece.

 

I am amongst flowers and friends and strange creatures.

We share the same focus of care

and a coffee, bread and apricot jam breakfast;

then down to the Ionian sea,

no pausing just leaping,

then lounging in sheer warm pleasure

then lying, drying,

remembering the warrior and the early clotted bloody mist.

 

More swimming and fooling with cameras on the beach and in the shallows.

Delighted lush Swallows,

are sweeping and fluttering above.

Lazy grey velvet guard cats snore softly on the floor.

Wasps, flies, geckos - what life is here this warm summer's evening.

And Begonias in deep luscious yellows grow alongside roses of cerise and deepest crimson.

Last night a warm rain washed the gentle old face of Corfu and now

the air is heavy with fragrance from the eucalyptus and pine.

I drift with blossoms on the patio.

My left ear is blocked. It niggles.

 

 

Thank you, dear Magdalini                                                     efharisto Magdalini, agapi mou


I ask Magdalini, our gypsy lady neighbour, for help

and she offers olive oil to drip in the hole.

I hope it works.

And we have no corkscrew so I ask

and she has one so I open my wallet

but she calmly she refuses with a voice like a cinder under a door

and grins at my clumsy Scouseness.

I apologise.

Magdalini smiles,

and shakes her head when I proffer a glass of crassis.

She has teeth like broken tombstones

and twinkling dark brown eyes

I nod my broken knows.

And learn a little more...


We wait in dusty red heat for a bus to Paliocastritsa and board the very first one to stop which then continues on to Dassia - way past the turn-off for our destination - so we get off at a kafeneion and have some coffee then take another bus back to where we started, by now feeling a little foolish, but once armed with a map we eventually find the right bus which is crammed with joyful humanity.

In the seat in front of me a little girl stands on her father's knees and, thinking I am the conductor, she smiles and offers me some money from his pocket so I let her put some in my hand - and then some more and even more. When she looks away I return it to the father's shirt pocket and he nods and winks. Next to me an elderly gentleman stands up ready to get off. His face is from the mountains and to me he wears a tribesman's turban and is carrying a pistol but in reality he just hands me an enormous cabbage to hold while he makes his way to the exit and I follow obediently. From the road he reaches up for the cabbage and I place it within his grasp. He takes it from me then walks off without a nod or a smile. At first I'm surprised by this then relish the country way of stranger helping stranger without any fuss.

We sit in the wide arc of huge rocks that face the beach and once below the surface of the Ionian Nissia it's impossible to touch the kale or the shells without wearing weights. The sand down there is powdery, almost white; the sea is crystal. Back on the beach I throw myself down amongst the others and follow my breathing to relax. I feel the warmth of sun. Then, to everyone's surprise, it begins to rain - but very, very gently - and no one makes a sound. Until stranger smiles at stranger sharing silence.

Already the others want to eat and have a beer but I'm restless and want to look round. Behind us, high above the beach, I notice what appears to be an old church on a crag. I really like old stonework and buildings so I decide to go and see what's what. I find the lane and climb until eventually I discover the church is in fact a 16th century monastery, set a little way back from the edge and standing in a garden. There's no one else around so I step inside and find a peaceful cavern of shadows and shafts of light where I'm able to take a leisurely gaze at the icons and frescoes of haloed saints that cover the walls and ceilings and the beautiful wood carved iconostasis that seem to be everywhere. Above my head hangs a huge filigreed silver chandelier which I guess is a fairly recent addition compared to the rest. Outside again and the stillness stays with me. I crunch across to the perimeter wall and look down at the beach to see if I can spot my friends but there's no sign of them anywhere.


It's at that moment that I raise my eyes to an intensely blue turquoise sea fading perfectly into a misty blue sky without the slightest trace of horizon in between. Is this an illusion, a mirage? With eyes screwed up and shielded by my hand I stare and rest my eyes, confused, in the deep and pensive silence of my mind. No boundaries. One dynamic vastness. I realise a great stillness. My mind is still, no thinking, no calculating and no self-reference.
Up there high on the crag there is only the slightest wafting of the breeze in the plane tree.The suchness of the moment hangs before me and I am free.

A positive clarity shining from everything being just as it is,
always was,
and always will be.

The universe, always quietly on the move in its own way and if I flow with it, everything remains at peace, there for the taking.

My mind had switched off its perpetual self-referring judgement and like a child, I just took what I saw
and let it in. I've no idea how long I stood there but by the time I return to my chums I am famished.

And still my ear is blocked.

After supper of Greek salad and fresh orange juice the sky crowds over again and we decide to go home. On the way down the hill to our villa, grape-sized raindrops warm and charm us into mad laughter as we run and then, almost as if the sky was joining in, it turns the grapes into plums and so we run faster, avoiding traffic and ever-increasing puddles. By and by, we pass our local taverna with its sprinkling of safe dry tourists staring in astonishment at the silly wet fools splashing past but already I'm a gleeful, silly child wondering why grown-ups always have to be so adult. We pass a young lady, obviously a little tired and lying in a puddle whilst her jolly friend is kicking water over her laughing, happy face.

So into the yard and off with our clothes and out again with the Imperial Leather for a good lather in the rain. Then under the shower in the yard and a shampoo before coming indoors for a hot spray in the bath. One by one, we place our chairs in front of the open door and once we're showered, washed and dried, there we sit and sip hot sweet tea in absolute friendly silence.

Later we catch the local bus to laze for a couple of hours in a Corfu kafeneion  watching pretty young ladies from who knows where wandering by as the finest foreign diplomats in the world.

The best news of all is me buying a rubber syringe with which I can clear my ears at last.

We find a typical Corfian restaurant and are shown round the kitchen by the gentleman owner and his wife. I have to tell him I'm a cook in England and he's suitably impressed.

  As well as an amazing main course of minced lamb, onions and rice all wrapped in vine leaves and covered in a garlic sauce, I order a side dish of taramasalata, plus another of the usual delicious Greek salad because here it is served with goat cheese instead of feta - irresistible - and a bottle of the local Retsina which leaves my lips numb and my throat stinging.

Once back at the villa I syringe my ears to crystal sharpness and enjoy the hissing 'esses' loud and clear before popping in next door to thank our lady neighbour, 'Kyria, the oil has worked its magic on my ear. I thank you.' She twinkles and grins and nods.

Our Saturday beach is cloudy and wet and there's no point sitting in wet clothes - I've forgotten my towel - so I lay on my clothes after my swim and immediately begin to feel cold and trembly. We return to our Villa Mimi and I bathe then rinse what's left of my hair with water and the juice from a lime. The skies open again but not for longer than it takes to drench the fields and lanes and beaches and houses and trees and flowers. Some of the trees are huge and must need a lot of watering so if we want beautiful trees and flowers and grapes then we must accept the refreshing rain. Anyway, it doesn't last long and soon we're out sunbathing again. I think the t-shirt I left drying on the line must have fell off into the cactus bush at some time because when I put it on all I can feel is a million tiny prickles, a most unpleasant experience. I have to rough rub myself all over with an old cloth until I feel a little better.

On our last day we are invited to join a wedding reception in Magdalini's garden and the trumpeter in the band borrows my hat to use as a mute. I dance and wheel and really have a good old laugh and when I kiss my Magdalini on the cheek, she squeals and pushes me away.

Six months earlier I'd back-packed down through California and crossed to Hawaii, and before that rambled over Germany and France but until that moment in Greece, nowhere had given me such a sense of being as did the island and people of Corfu. In Corfu I sat quietly and listened and looked and learned. In Corfu I swam and slept and stared into absolute silence and was reassured and - as I said - it was there that I woke up.

A kindly tour operator gives us a lift back to Gouvia in the rain but by the time we arrive the sky is clear and the sea is calling again. We get down to the sandy beach and throw off all the unecessaria then quickly immerse ourselves in the liquid blue and green for a reassuring council with our mother, the sea.

Tony Brown, Falmouth, Sept. 1980

 

   

 

www.grecofilia.co.uk 
 

 

©2016 - PERMISSION TO COPY. The content of this website is the Copyright of Tony Brown and is protected by international copyright law. You are welcome to copy it for personal or non profit, or educational purposes only and you have my permission to do so, provided it is copied and re-published in it's entirety complete with copyright notice and website address. If you wish to copy it for electronic publication on an intranet, website, blog or Newsletter you may do so provided the article is copied and re-published in it's entirety with all html, copyright information and hyperlinks intact and unaltered in any way with no redirects. If you wish to copy it for any other purpose please contact me for permission first.