Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Ionian Journal - The Lost Pearls

I am in Paleokastritsa, Corfu. Edward Lear described it thus:

'at this beautiful place [Paleokastritsa]...the sea perfectly calm and blue stretches right out westward unbrokenly to the sky, cloudless that, save a streak of lilac cloud on the my left is one of the many peacocktail-hued bays here, reflecting the vast red cliffs....the immense rock of St Angelo rising into the half seems to me that such life as this must be totally another from the drumbeating bothery frivolity of the town of Corfu....Not that it will last. Accursed picnic parties with miserable scores of asses, male and female are coming tomorrow and peace flies – as I shall
too ….'

That's how Lear described it in a letter he wrote in 1862 when he lived in Corfu. He's right about the colours of the water – from deep blue to purple to green, they fill a blue gap in me and I can't get enough of the sea colours. I can't imagine what Lear would think of the many 'picnic parties' who are here now but I suspect he would find somewhere more remote, a place perhaps like the bay where Lawrence Durrell and Nancy lived, in 1938-39 up in the northeast part of the island, closest to Albania. Durrell wrote Prospero's Cell when he lived here, which I've brought with me to read. But despite the restaurants, supermarkets and souvenir shops, the two-storey holiday apartments that line both sides of the road, although they're set back and mostly camouflaged with trees - and a couple of very large hotels - thought and planning has gone into what's been built, and it isn't over-developed and ugly. Of course there isn't a lot of room for building, for the mountains and the red cliffs that Lear mentions rise up just behind the bay.

20/7. Sitting on the balcony. A spectral half-moon shaped curving pale white cloud has just appeared from behind the hill, which I'm facing. It drifts, a transparent balloon. It seems that I can almost see it moving, as if it has pushed away from the hill. If it is the same as what I saw last night when I arrived in the dark, it will turn orange and rosy. But I don't see how it can possibly be the same one – its purposes seem quite different – its direction for one thing – it seems to be both rising and heading out to sea. Cloaked in an air of secrecy it seems to have abandoned its jewel-trappings. But we are complicit, Moon and I for it has shown itself to me, despite its half-draped garb, its light slipped from one shoulder so that it merges into the blue-ness of sky. The little cypresses could be made of green rock, they are so straight and so unmoving. But they are all pointing at the curved silver wraith that's sailing towards definition, to its rosy orange beacon that it will become.

It's thought – I think I read this in Durrell's book – that this curving island was formed by a volcano and it's a rim or part-rim of something greater, circular. So close to Albania at the north it's clear that it was once attached to it, a loose string linked by a flurry of now-sunken beads. And perhaps the southern pearls have fallen too far down into the ocean to be found again – yet the eye, looking at the map, can almost see them, adds little ocean droplets, little gem sparks, to complete the rim of this volcanic crater or paste in the missing pieces of its peak. Like a ripple frozen in time, then kneaded by hot fingers, this rough-handled crescent dips northern fingers into that green sea that marks the place where it was once united with the mainland. It once belonged there. It's not the water that has snipped the string lin
king the pearls, the islands, to the peaks of Acrocernia – but the human hand that likes to prise apart and to define, that delights in boundaries, perimeters, and claims nature's tousling hand running its fingers through particles of necklaces and jewels as it might through sand – as working in their favour, as being in league with them.

The Ionian islands – rocky jewel-remnants of a volcano's fruit. Like the sun, this beaded fruit, these lava contours, these black basalt gems, are inexhaustible. The sun gives out endlessly, its light and heat, the lava licorice of minerals feeds air and atmosphere and soul. Its minerals feed us, like hive honeycombs. Whether this is the secret of this land's blessedness, apart of course, from sunlight, I don't know.

The gods are still here, well of course they are – the cicadas, the near-blue olive trees, the spindle-cypresses, the wasps and ants and that filling curving sail that's turning white now high above the mountain. But the mountains these threaded pearls were pulled
from, what of them?

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