At the end of July 1987, Gerald and his wife Lee flew out to Corfu to watch the filming of the BBC ten-part series of My Family and Other Animals.
Douglas Botting refers to the trip towards the (rather rushed) latter section of his (rather good apart from the rather rushed latter section) biography of Durrell, noting that the BBC had some problems with filming because Corfu had changed so much since Gerald’s idyllic childhood there in the 1930s.
On this trip, Gerald appears to have been so upset about the changes – something he remarked on during previous visits to Corfu (known colloquially as “Cor, Phew” in Britain in the late 1980s, if my childhood memories serve)- that he was moved to write an article about the devastating effect of tourism on the island and its wildlife for the Sunday Times newspaper, published as part of its Impressions in the Sand travel series, around July 1987.
(Thanks to The Corfu Blues blog whose author very kindly sent me a photocopy of the article – you can read his take on it here and see a scanned image of the first page. The blog is well worth checking out in any case, as it has more insights into Corfu, Greek Islands and the Durrells, like this recent one about Lawrence Durrell and Cyprus.)
The article features anecdotes of the Durrells’ sojourn on Corfu – as one would expect – as well as some insights into Gerald’s failed attempts to ward off the tourist industry. There is a photograph of Durrell in 1987 during his trip to Corfu , plus some photos of Gerald as a child on the island, including one of him dressed up to attend lessons with one of his tutors.
Anyway, here are a couple of extracts:
I have had a most extraordinary affair of the heart. It started when I was eight years old and I fell deeply and irrevocably in love with a ravishing creature who was mature and beautiful. She gave me joy, brightness, freedom of spirit and opened my eyes to beauty, scents, colors, knowledge, love and laughter.
Her name was Kerkyra, the island of Corfu, and she is probably several million years old.
Going back to her recently was like paying a visit to the most beautiful woman in the world suffering from an acute and probably terminal case of leprosy – commonly called tourism.
It is, of course, ridiculous to expect the places of your youth to remain unchanged while you yourself get older and more withered but somehow, with land and seascapes, if they are untarnished by man you expect them to be immutable, like a beautiful painting.
“Never go back to a place where you were happy,” my brother Larry once said to me, and it is an offered fruit of wisdom with a kernel of bitterness enshrined in it, for have been back to many places where I have been happy and been happy again.
But the place that gave me the greatest joy and enchantment was Corfu and so I have been back many ties and suffered as I watched her demise.
Tourism is a curious modern disease. It attacks the shoeless man, the man of meagre wealth and the bloated man of affluence, whereupon it becomes an epidemic like the Black Death that stalked through Europe in the Middle Ages. It now ranges all over the world.
The people of Corfu were bless with a magnificent, magical inheritance, an island of staggering beauty, probably one of the most beautiful islands in the whole of the Mediterranean. What they have done with it is vandalism beyond belief.
We had only one horror of tourism in those days: the cruise ship – a sort of floating casino that used to arrive once a week, milk-white and crackling with tourists. I think it came from Venice, but maybe Trieste. As, hooting like a friendly drunk, she dragged herself to rest near Customs House, all of us old hands immediately went to ground. Those Corfiots who relied on this tourist convict ship for trade would put out hopeful and evocative signs that said SOUVOONEERS CHEEP or HERE WITHIN BEST BARGAINS HAPPEN, and the never-to-be forgotten IF YOU HAVE KNOW SANDILLS HERE WE SELL. IF YOUR SANDILL BROKE HERE WE REPAIR IT WITH LOVE.
Durrell’s description of how the tourists who invaded the island came in “two colour varieties -bright scarlet or fish-belly white” reminds me of the busloads of British tourists who would be disgorged onto Gibraltar for an afternoon visit during their holiday in Spain, and a gaggle of whom I once ended up on a dolphin-watching “safari” with. After we had sailed out, one gentleman, clad in an “England” shirt and wielding a can of lager, declared the trip to be “borin’, innit” and “not ‘alf as good as what we saw in t’Blackpool Sea Life Centre”.