Sunday, April 17, 2005

Spring in Corfu

Sunday reading. Gerald Durrell, the legendary British naturalist, grew up on the little Greek island of Corfu with his mother, two brothers and a sister, and a plethora of indigenous flora and fauna, and his account of that existence, described in his book My Family and Other Animals, surpasses any other account of childhood I have read. Durrell was an exceptionally good writer - it may have been something in the genes, for his brother Lawrence went on to become a well-regarded novelist - and the descriptions of Corfu in of My Family and Other Animals are as heady as wine. A paragraph:

With March came the spring, and the island was flower-filled, scented, and a-flutter with new leaves. [...] Waxy yellow crocuses appeared in great clusters, bubbling out among the tree-roots and tumbling down the banks. [...] Vetch, marigold, asphodel and a hunded others flooded the fields and woods. Even the ancient olives, bent and hollowed by a thousand springs, decked themselves in clusters of minute creamy flowers, modest and yet decorative, as became their
great age. It was no half-hearted spring, this: the whole island vibrated with it as though a great, ringing chord had been struck. Everyone and everything heard it and responded. It was apparent in the gleam of flower-petals, the flash of bird wings and the sparkle in the dark, liquid eyes of peasant girls. It the water-filled ditches the frogs that looked newly enamelled snored rapturous chorus in the lush weeds. In the village coffee-shops the wine seemed redder and, somehow, more potent. Blunt, work-calloused fingers plucked at guitar strings with strange gentleness, and rich voices rose in lilting, haunting song.

Durrell wrote several other excellent books, including a couple of sequels to My Family... and several accounts of his expeditions to remote parts of South America and Africa; my favourite among these is Catch Me A Colobus.

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