Winter Escape

Snow drifts are blocking the back door. The front steps are too slippery to navigate and the driveway is an ice covered rink. Escape is not possible until the thaw comes. Books are my respite, especially books that bring in the sunshine and warmth of places like the Greek islands.

 Gerald Durrell spent five childhood years on the Greek island of Corfu and wrote about it in My Family and Other Animals. Reading his memoir on a cold winter day is the perfect escape to warmth and beauty and exotic scenery. He was quite right when he said, “Living in Corfu was rather like living in one of the more flamboyant and slapstick comic operas.” His five year experience helped him to become a world renowned naturalist, animal collector, and conservationist. He was entranced by the fauna of the island but the flora did not escape his notice. He is a beautiful writer, every bit as good as his novelist brother, Lawrence.

“With March came the spring, and the island was flower-filled, scented and aflutter with new leaves. The cypress trees that had tossed and hissed during the winds of winter now stood straight and sleek against the sky, covered with a misty coat of greenish-white cones. Waxy yellow crocuses appeared in great clusters, bubbling out among the tree roots and tumbling down the banks. Under the myrtles, the grape-hyacinths lifted buds like magenta sugar-drops, and the gloom of the oak thickets was filled with the dim smoke of a thousand blue day-irises. Anemones, delicate and easily wind-bruised, lifted ivory flowers the petals of which seemed to have been dipped in wine. Vetch, marigold, asphodel, and a hundred 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.”

Masterpiece Theatre made a series from Durrell’s memoirs. It’s called The Durrells. The eccentric family is wildly entertaining even though the writers add a lot of romance which never appears in the written version.

Gerald was allergic to formal education which led to his mother frantically searching for the right tutor to give him some smattering of learning. The thing is he gave himself a splendid education in the subjects that interested him. He did have some help from tutors who discovered ways of including animals in history and math and literature lessons.

Before Gerald, ancient Greek author, Homer, extolled the singular virtues of Corfu.

“Here great trees cool-shaded grow, pear, pomegranate, rich apple, honey-sweet fig and blossoming olive, forever bearing fruit, winter and summer never stripped, but everblowing the western wind brings fruit to birth and ripens others. Pear follows pear, apple after apple grows, fig after fig, and grape yields grape again.”

It seems that forever people have known the lush beauty of this island The only thing better than reading Gerald Durrell’s memoir or watching the Masterpiece series, is booking a trip.

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