Afficher cette page en françaisΠαρουσίαση της σελίδας στα ελληνικά
 
 
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Venetian blazon, ever present in the Ionian Islands which Venetiansoccupied for four centuries and where the Turks, despite their attempts, couldn't replace them permanently except at Leucade. These adorn the fortress of Zanthe ( Zakynthos in Greek ).

Venetian blazon, ever present in the Ionian Islands which Venetiansoccupied for four centuries and where the Turks, despite their attempts, couldn’t replace them permanently except at Leucade. These adorn the fortress of Zanthe ( Zakynthos in Greek ).

The poet of Corfu

Road of arcades, typical of the Italian influence at Corfu.

Road of arcades, typical of the Italian influence at Corfu.

When I told my friends that my next trip would start there, everybody exclaimed : « Ah ! Corfu !! » But the mythical island was going to reserve some surprises for me that no guidebook mentioned.

First of all I faced two days of storms, rain and winds of force 6 or 7, to visit the places always expected to be sparkling with sunshine : Achilleon, the palace of the inconsolable Sissi, the two islets of the bay of Kanoni, the Spianada with the arcades of Liston and the two fortresses which resisted the Turks.

Visiting the art gallery, I chatted with the conservator, a friendly forty- something man, who turned out to be a poet. He even invited me for a drink that evening and gave me a signed copy of his works. He expressed a wish to be published in a French periodical and I gave him the addresses of some translators, because up to then I had only tried to translate into prose. He appeared very disappointed when I told him that the French read less and less, and, above all, very little poetry. Just as the Greeks still live with the reputation of their Ancient ancestors, we still profit from those of our former great writers.

Returned to the hotel, I discovered to my surprise, on reading the first pages, that the author is gay. Leafing through the collection, I discovered that all the poems talked about « the Greek love » – the uncharitable would call it « gay cruising » – using language more or less vulgar, but evoking anxiety, suffering and loneliness along with enjoyment. Clearly inspired by Cavafy, with whom he shares the recherche style, the references to antiquity and a similar recurring theme – body, beauty, desire, pleasure – he adds a personal angle because of his fetishism about feet (or legs, because in Greek the word is the same ! ). Reading his poems gave a rhythm to my trip, and I meditated about the total contrast between the Epinal image of a Corfu bathed in sunshine for honeymoons and that of a town with rain soaked streets harbouring a desperate quest for forbidden pleasures.

 

The best view of Ithaque : the bay of Vathy ( = deep in Greek ).

The best view of Ithaque : the bay of Vathy ( = deep in Greek ).

View of the town of Leukade where one can easily see the special positionof the island: very close to the mainland ( at the back on the right ), one gets there via two long dikes cut by a canal with a revolving bridge, in front of a Venetian fortress. Between the canal and the town a vast pond.

View of the town of Leukade where one can easily see the special positionof the island: very close to the mainland ( at the back on the right ), one gets there via two long dikes cut by a canal with a revolving bridge, in front of a Venetian fortress. Between the canal and the town a vast pond.

The teacher of Cephalonia

One of the best sites of Cephalonie : the little port of Assos to the north-west of the island.

One of the best sites of Cephalonie : the little port of Assos to the north-west of the island.

During my visit to Argostoli, the «capital» of the Isle of Cephalonia, I visited the Korgialenio museum, being particularly impressed by the photos of the terrible earthquake of 1953 which ravaged all the Ionian Islands except Corfu. Argostili has been well restored like all the isle of Zanthe ( or Zakynthos ) with its Italian arcades, its St Mark’s Square ( really ! ) and its Solomos Place, from the name of the famous poet of contemporary Greece, the author of the national anthem, born on this island.

Leaving the museum I heard snatches of a martial song mingled with whistles. I approached their source: it was a school where the pupils rehearsed, in their playtime, the parade of 28th October. Greece is, to my knowledge, the only country in the world having two national festivals !

The 25th March commemorates the general uprising against the Turkish occupation in 1821, and the 28th October, when, in 1940, the dictator at that time, Metaxas, imposed his famous « No » on Mussolini, who wanted to cross Greece with his troops. During these two festivals, apart from the religious blessings which accompany even the opening of a stadium or supermarket, schoolchildren of all ages march behind the flag.

I started a conversation with a young teacher of French who was leaning against the gate. I explained that it would be unthinkable in France, where only the army marches behind the flag on the 14th July. He admitted that it had started to be a subject of debate in Greece and that some teachers wanted to oppose it.

With us it is good to sneer at patriotic manifestations, bearing in mind its «extreme right » connotations, and the term « old soldier » is often used in a pejorative way. But perhaps we would think differently if we had lived for 450 years under the Turkish boot.

 

Statue of Solomos at Zanthe, carrying the refrain from the national anthem : « Descended from the sacred bones of the Hellenas with your bravura of yore, hellow to you O freedom ! »

Statue of Solomos at Zanthe, carrying the refrain from the national anthem : « Descended from the sacred bones of the Hellenas with your bravura of yore, hellow to you O freedom ! »

 

Church of St Charalambos at Zanthe, of Italian style, typical of the Ionian Islands.

Church of St Charalambos at Zanthe, of Italian style, typical of the Ionian Islands.

« Boarding for Cythera »

Port of Diakophti. Island of Cythere.

Port of Diakophti. Island of Cythere.

The least one can say is that mine was nothing like the famous picture of Watteau ! The weather had turned bad the previous evening and I had crossed under a deluge (« kataklysmos » in Greek ) of rain and spray. On arrival, no vehicle to hire until the following morning and, night falling, I landed up with a family of « Australians » who had been pointed out to me at the port.

In fact, they turned out to be Greeks born on the island, an aged couple who, like most of the exiles of Cythera, had emigrated to Australia. They had landed over there, barely sixteen, at the home of a vague uncle, without knowing a word of English, and had worked in various fields there, mainly as restaurateurs, the country having some 100,000 of Greek origin. Their two sons, old boys apparently, had been born there, and one of them spoke Greek with such an English accent that I had great difficulty in understanding him. They welcomed me warmly, attributing to me all the possible platitudes about France: perfumes, jewels, smart women etc … I said to them ( but they must have noticed ) that I was scarcely representative of the sort of French woman in their imagination, with my appearance of a hitch-hiker, back-pack ( not from Hermes ! ) and large boots, and that I am only interested in matters spiritual.

Abandoned house in the village of Mitata. Cythere.

Abandoned house in the village of Mitata. Cythere.

Since their retirement they have rented out rooms near the port, dividing their time between their two countries. But they spent this year entirely at Cythera, the cost of tickets and the fall in their investments being no doubt the cause. They talked to me about their village of origin, of a size inversely proportionate to the length of its name, Travasarianika, where they still have family.

I asked them where they were happiest, Cythera or Australia. The confessed that they felt themselves to be strangers here as well as there.