Ann and I have been walking in the valleys below Troumpetta and Horepiskopi, where the Melisouli river runs. We found abroad track beyond the village of Valanio, which led deep into another valley. There are so many folds in these olive cladded rock based hills that lie juxtaposed with deep ravines so you can’t often get from one into the other, the sides are too steep. Along this track we were delighted to find a stream with water still running in it. It is August, remember. It came in several places from under the rocks. One trickle was led along a little cemented runnel into a small square basin, overflowing into another basin below it. It was just beside the track. These cisterns conserve the water above the plots of land where they grow maize and cabbages.
Attracted by a dark place among overhanging rocks and the sound of trickling water we discovered another enchanting water source, forming deep pools caught among the fallen boulders – about 3 basins with water in them gently trickling . Some ugly plastic piping led away from it, but the magic of the source was not lost.
We continued on the track. Met a man who told us it went to Zigo. In catr we came out on the road between Zigo and Klimatia. Another track leads off to Sokraki which we must explore another day. We were attacked unmercilessly by horse flies, sharp stabs they gave us, but the bites did not materialize.
When we got back to the car, we went along the road towards Kiprianades, seeking other walkable tracks, and found a beautiful place down by the small river, with an old bridge. A path went off to the left and the stream beyond the bridge ran into gleaming deep green pools – sap green with some small fishes. [Isn’t this where we saw the terrapins resting on the rocks?] Great batches of Colts foot grew there taking the sunlight as in a Gauguin painting. A path leads on into rock bound ways among olive trees. We will try them next time.
Before getting back into the car I took a look over the Bridge to the right – horrible sight greeted my eyes – it was thick with bags of rubbish and stagnant with scummy water. The water on the other side was perfectly clear having passed through this filtre of rubbish. The villagers just chuck their unburnable garbage into these places off the road – probably chucked from cars. We have see that often enough. The beautiful places are made squalid this way.
N.B. 2008 : I think this valley is now being made into a giant reservoir for the island, so all
this valley will be underwater eventually.
WALK ANO PAVLIANA Jan. 1993
Splendid Thursday walk starting just beyond the village of Ano Pavliana from where you can see the island southwards and northwards – an unusual view of the rocky coastline on the west coast. Sea blue, sun bright – heavy frost this morning so temperature not too hot – a celestial day. We didn’t take the obvious track newly bulldozed, but a more attractive one which took us on the sea side of the mountain, high above Paramona and Pentati with charming dry stone walled vine plots. The wide track petered out as they so often do – but we persisted along a foot path which continued toward olive trees. By persisting we descend by tortuous paths weaving down the shelves of olives groves, quite treacherous. Then it straightened out so we could continue on level ground. It debouched on a distinct ‘way’ going up and down the hillside. We went up hope to strike another track we could see in the distance, but it took us on up and up to the dinosaur us back of the mountain, and Joy! Joined the track we might have taken from the point where we had started. This continued on toward the head of the mountain circling around its throat at the highest point. It is only a small mountain. Magnificent views across the breath of the island East to the Mainland mountains looking like nougat with traces of icing on them – snow. The body of the island at this point is all furry with olive and cypress and not a modern thing in it as it heaves itself up in a green wave set against the blue sea in the straits. We could see our Pantokrator mountain, and the cone of Pelekas to the north, and right down to Paxos , free floating off the bottom of our island.
We get higher than this on Pantokrator, but not with this much of the unspoilt island as a sea of green below us, rising up in a grand sweep set against the far mainland mountains. ~~
Feb 25, 1993
A Thursday walk with Ann (Nash). Dull cold day. Snow on mainland mountains – slate blue bases with snow peaking against heavy grey sky. The whole panorama of it. Don’t remember seeing this effect before.
We drove to Strongili . We picked up a track round the base of Ay. Deka we scouted out last week. – an old established trace suggested by the way the dry stone walls are part of the way – unlike the bulldozed tracks that smash existing ways. My intuition led us left at a junction of tracks by a shed. Sometimes it leads only into an Olive grove – but this went on, becoming a narrow path running along its own little shelf beside the stone wall through vegetable plots and olive trees. Winding in and out we came into an enchanting landscape of olive trees and rocks. Unusual to have so many rocks. You could have said it was a rock grove with trees. It was like a series of stage sets for A Midsummer Night’s Dream or The Magic Flute. The path led us through corridors of rocks on this side of the mountain which may be and extinct volcano.
There was a consciousness in these rocks – not rocks so much as natural concrete stuck with large pebbles, There were scoops and baths in the formation of them showing where water or larva had swirled . A petrified activity in the descending and ascending vistas of rocks perched on top of each other, scooped and hollowed. It was weird and magical – totally enclosed with olive branches meeting over head.
There was no light in the day but it wasn‘t dull. What must it be like in here with full sunlight making shadows and illuminating the greenery. Ferns and sages grew out of the rocks, and all kinds of things.
The path went on and on winding about until we swung right round and were ascending towards the village of Ano Garouna on the back of the mountain. , and the opposite side to where we had left the car. From this elevation we had views out over the landscape to the sea – a grey smudge today. We entered the village – years since I had been there. The old Venetian Chimney built across the descending alley is still in use. We cam out again on the broad track which brought us to the place we had picnicked last week, when I had noticed a descending ’way’. We followed this which brought us back to the beautiful rock formations where we picnicked. It is a place to make you believe in fairies. I said to Ann ’ if a ’little person’ popped up on the top of that rock to look at us, would you be surprised?’
It is the longest trail we have been on that is so untouched by the modern world. We walked for four hours in a world unchanged for at least 150 years to put the minimum time scale on it. Of course the village is being brought up to date, but all the area of the hillside is untouched. [No longer, alas!]
The almond trees are in blossom around the village. We diverted yet again on the way back to the car, by going down toward the valley and then a good pull up again by a cobbled stairway that brought up to the road and the car. It was one of the best walks we have ever done. I long to do it again in full sunlight.
[ The way up to the village has since been bulldozed.]
The ‘Ozymandias’ Walk : Kata Garouna
From Kata Garouna up the mountain across the top to find ourselves among ancient terraces of vines like in boxes as in a theatre, All carefully tended. Only two houses – one modern, and one genuine, and a little church beside what might be the ruins of its older self. Then we followed a path up onto the shoulder of the mountain and round to the other side where the good wide track suddenly ended in an olive grove. But we picked up a path which led us down steeply – only just passable – through Arbutus trees to a small olive grove in the centre of which was a great hunk of rock as big as a building. It had the shape of a great head with a nose and a deep, deep eye socket – the nose had two holes for nostrils. It was lying on one ear like a fallen colossus – the head of Ozymandias, King of Kings. The fallen Pharaoh. Look on my works ye mighty and beware….
1st April, 1993. The Thursday walk. Day absolutely clear sun- cold brisk North wind. Did the Monastery on Ay Matthias., coming down again to the right of the village and stumbled on a charming little church in its own little rock on the edge of an olive grove. A ruined house was part of the complex. The little church and the little house in a small walled area – just like the earliest temples. We were able to see into the church because the new ironwork door had not glass in it. The place had been decked for Easter – with bay leaves scattered on the floor. Red and white ribbons tied onto the transverse rods from which hunk lots of oil dip monstrance’s. Ribbons pinned over the icons in the Iconostasis. These simple chapels have a sweet charm.
Their icons have much more dignity than plaster statues.
We walked back to the car through the upper levels of the large village which is rapidly turning into a small town. The transformations of the villages is now going on at such a rate – all the old character going..going… gone. Pebble-dashing the old walls, new plastic paints in the wrong colours, facing things with marble – over ornate ironwork doors* and even porch lighting. The old Corfu village has gone.
[the aluminium doors were yet to come….]
We found an unpromising track through the new buildings at the edge of the village. A battered tin sign, completely rusted, is the only indication of a ruined abandoned village down here. We came to a church with a beautiful lemon grove behind it. The trees heavy with the nippled lemons. We filled our back packs with these. A bit further on we came to another little church – these two churches probably mark the extent of the old village. The second church was also sweetly located with old orange orchards above it, and ancient olive trees below it. A sort of rainforest of orange. Lemon and olive trees and ruined walls covered in ivy. Loquat A side door with glass in it, enabled us to see into the interior with its wall of frescoed saints.
A tree in front of the church had lemons and oranges growing from the same tree. There was a walnut tree and an ancient Loquat. Comfrey grew like a carpet all over the area round about. It was a magic place.
Starting from below Strongili across the valley in the opposite direction from the Paviliana walk to the foothills of Ag. Matthias. Edward Leary olive groves with splodges of acid yellow oxalis, mauve geranium, orange marigolds, interlaced with white flowers of all kinds. The silhouette of a donkey against the bright light beyond the trees with the pure pigment yellow colour, a black faced black legged Moreno sheep poised regarding us, standing in a meadow of small white flowers like snow. Tiny tadpoles wiggling in a little stream of water like animated crochets. The spring hissing into a cauldron container – we were attracted to it by the sound. Contained in a receptacle like an upright drain pipe it literally boiled. We put our hands in to feel the pressure of it. Flower….flowers… I am struck by the intensity of a flower’s being for its short moment. Looking into a flower with a magnifying glass one shares the intensity of its perfect existence. I’ve come to the conclusion that flowers are the best thing in the Planet. Animals are too near us in behaviour and temperament. We can use and cause them and they can pander to our emotions, but flowers are different. They are while they are, and while they are, they are simply perfection each in its individual way. They bud, they bloom they pod , they die and the come again next year – until we totally ruin the planet. Each species unfolds in its own way, it’s colours are a filter of it accepts and rejects from the sun’s light.
Birds are beautiful too, but birds and insects reflect the cruelty of Nature of which we , too, are too much a part. I know there are predatory plants, but on the whole they are innocent.
The walk became more and more varied as we followed the tracks or cut across to discover other tracks. We met, in all, about five people in that large area. They were more surprised to see us than we were to see them. ’pou pas??’ the peasant lady screams, leaning on a hoe in the middle of nowhere – her donkey grazing nearby looking at us with equal astonishment. When we mention the name of the village across the valley, she is silent, before saying almost in incredulity : ‘ me ta pothia?’ with your feet?
Presuming foreigners have cars – why on earth would we go on our feet.
The beauty of this island in the interior is still breathtaking, but now it must be won on foot. There are vistas yet which rise and fall like green waves in which no cement flotsam is visible, though it may be there. And we discover with our feet how many hidden pockets of timeless ravines there are even in a relatively small area. Constantly we find our way blocked by a steep ravine of olive, cypress or bramble, ilex and arbutus as impenetrable as a rainforest. Sometimes we labour down steep walled terraces, or find ourselves boxed in by arbutus places where the neglected olives have been overcome by the unchecked ivy and brambles.
We saw a peach coloured Hoopoe with startling black and white wing spread, a long tailed it by a little chapel in the woods. We keep coming upon these little duck like chapels in the middle of nowhere. In fact we were trying to get back to the one we found last week. We didn’t, but found two others. Wherever we go in the wildernesses of Corfu we come upon these touching examples of human spirituality in the form or tiny white chapels, often far from human habitation. Yet at the run up to Easter you will find a dip lamp burning – some little old woman has toiled here from the nearest village to light the lamp – and decorate the place with red and white ribbons, the table set in the body of the chapel covered with a decent cloth and few fresh flowers and the oil dip lamp burning. Beside the chapel was a runnel of water purling over stones in low water falls and making across the cemented trace making a ford less than an inch deep. We stand watching it trickling through its runnels – fortunately it was litter-free. We come upon the most appalling sights and sites. The first bridge we crossed over a tiny river, where a cement weir had been made. After the latest rain it was running strongly though at no great depth. We looked down from the bridge to see old cookers, washing machines, prams and chairs. It was sickening. So wherever we go in the wildness of Corfu, we come upon these things, usually in the best view. When you come to a view with any kind of drop away from the track, never look down. Old bedsteads, fridges, …. Ugh! Anywhere you can drive a truck to will be filled with junk.
The Golden Oriole
April 1993: This day I did see a Golden Oriole. I thought I was fated never to see this bird, though Ann has them in the tree her garden. I know what it looks like in the Bird book but I had no idea how bright it would be in real life. A pure cadmium yellow. The bird is an bright as a Parrot. I had a good sighting of it – in fact there were two. We saw them several times. It stayed for a long time in a tree so I go my glass on it. It was like seeing the Blue Bird of Happiness – or the Bird of Paradise. It’s the Yellow Bird of Happiness.
We took the way up from Strongili to the little chapel on the rock called St. John of the Pigeons. It was hot toiling up the gorse covered hillside. It isn’t gorse but spiny Broom. Looking down at the olive groves with Judas trees isolated mauve among the grey green froth. It was looking down on a terraced slope that I saw the flash of cadmium yellow. The bird was in a burnt olive tree. Two birds very busy there in open ground, unusual for them.
We returned to the shade of the olive clad hills following pathways among the terraces which brought us out in a cypress wood. We pushed through very prickly buses to retain our path. One has the feeling of being uniquely privileged exploring the island this way – or penetrating deeper and deeper into the animal pelt of the island escaping the mangy sores of tourism!
The Spring like a flowered Leopard is taking great leaps forward.
….We came down through the old small clutch of houses called Mengoulas, on the side of the mountain. The houses beautifully stone built with archways, places for shade, protection from sun and wind; deep sheltered verandas protecting from the heat, sun and wind. It is quite high on the mountain looking at Albania from where the cold wind comes. I am so impressed by the way these old places are sited and thought out. They are not thrown into existence as the modern villas that take nothing into consideration but their own pretentiousness, and are built on the most exposed positions so that all the world can see them, and with the best views – never mind the sun and the wind, they have air conditioning and central heating. Badly conceived, badly built and disgustingly vulgar. The only comfort one can take is that they will not stand the ’test of time’ as these good old stone building have done with little maintenance.
My ’Evil Eye’ alone ought to be enough to dissolve them. I will go into ’that dark night’ raging against Salmon pink pretentious villas that stick out like Christmas candles on a once nutritious well made cake. I will work on them from ’that other dimension’ – they shall not escape my wrath, along with their moulded Lions stuck on gate posts. ’Rage …rage against he dying of the Right … Rage, rage against the prevalence of the Wrong!’ I will turn into a meteorite and blast them out of existence like the Dinosaurs. They will not survive more than 30 years. Most of the buildings built in the last 30 years are in very poor condition – I.e. the blocks of flats in Kanoni where I live. They are knocking down hotels built 30 years ago and building them anew. ’ A waste of money in an expense of chicanery’ to paraphrase Shakespeare’s: ’An expense of spirit in a waste of shame is lust in action.
Corfu : 22 December, 2007
–Laura here from Athens for Christmas. She digs me out for a trip around the villages. I am so agoraphobic, and know that when she says she will pick me up in half an hour, it will more like be an hour, which it is, so I’m grumpy but she says she’s used to that with me.
We took the road to Vrioni , missed and came to it by another way. I wanted to get to Varipatades and Kalafationes to identify old sketches I made there long ago. The villages are changing, the buildings being modernized and those awful stark white shiny aluminium doors are everywhere. They even put them into the classic arched doorways which have the stone frame and the keystone often carved with a motif. Now they manage to fit the aluminium door into the middle and surround it with plastic frosted glass. It must cost a lot of money to do this, but it is a status symbol, and once one starts they all follow. But we did find some good old stuff which of course is going derelict. The only parts of the villages to retain the character are the blocks of old cottages which presumably belong to families who emigrated long ago and have no interest in them. Thank goodness, because these are the only bits of artistic merit. We found a lovely bit in Kalafationes just below the main street, At least 3 to 4 abandoned houses, which will eventually collapse. An unusual Bodzo with a beautifully carved stone set into the wall leading up to the bodzo which in itself was quite crudely done, but the decoration on this piece of stone was very sophisticated. One marvels at the craftsmanship that went into these houses, and their bits of decoration.
Laura takes photos; she has a good eye and a good digital camera, but I prefer my own eye and my rough scribbles. When I put my camera to my eye, I am thoroughly irritated at the limited view. It has no sense of perspective. My memory and a rough scribble serves me much better. What I remember has more value – even if it isn‘t exactly correct. The camera just takes the picture, it doesn’t ‘t see it as the eye sees it. They always say it‘s not the camera it’s the eye of a good photographer
I was very pleased that coming upon something special I could usually shout out: ‘I‘ve Got That!’ Particularly the spectacular door tucked away down a steep path, and hardly on view that one wonders about the history of it. This very special door of handsome carved blocks of stone and a very ornate deep keystone with complicated motif carved on it. This door must have been a status symbol as the mass produced aluminium doors are today but think of the Art that went into it and the craftsmanship of the stone masons.
We had a thoroughly good time. Going about with Laura I realise is rather like going around with Cristo in the old days, because she engages with the people, and the next minute we are being invited inside to look at some old store room full of old things which she photographs. We were invited to climb up the wooden stairs to the empty top floor – the treads of the wooden box staircase were only half the length of a foot. The charming little man who had invited us in owned several premises around a back alley we had stumbled into. We were invited to take coffee in the other similar dwelling where he and his wife live. The main room had been the Apothiki – was very simply furnished but they had everything :fridge, washing machine, and the Telly, as well as a old 1950‘s radio which I recognise from childhood. You often find one of these ’Wirelesses’ in little taverna, carefully protected by a chintz cover specially made for it. [’Wireless’ now has been recreated and refers to some technical sophistication on computers.] There were interesting old pots and stone jars for carrying the water in and oil, and jugs for the homemade wine. When I showed interest in these things, the wife said she had to carry water up from the pump in a jar like that balancing it on her head when she was nine-years old. . She wasn‘t that old, probably in her Sixties. He was 72. They were married in 1965. They showed us wonderful wedding photographs – the photographer must have been standing right behind the priest, and photographing their faces during the ceremony, so that it was like a video…. The man had been a good looking chap at 32, with good features, and she a rather glum apprehensive young bride with a slight moustache. Her face that of a village girl, but she is a lovely person full of humour now that she has survived 43 years of the marriage.
Then we got to Varipades, or was it the other way round? After quartering the village and finding some lovely old ruins, with vistas over the rolling landscape with shadows falling across the wide expanses of tree covered hills… both villages are on a high ridge with fine views towards the sea – we could see the Pontikonissi as it is in old paintings.
Then I said I needed an ouzo – and we found a little tavernaki – very simple where a middle-aged lady was playing tavli with her 3 year old grandson. Nobody else in the place. The interior had some old shelves painted a vile but traditional green. She called an old man to come in and serve us. She was merry and nice,. He came in with this overcoat draped over his shoulders as the old men always do in winter and with a cap stuck on his head which never comes off except when he goes to bed. He had only two teeth left in his lower jaw. Of course, they are curious about us, surprised when Laura says she is Greek – From which village? Kontokali. I am always supposed to be her mother. Laura makes their day by being able to engage with them, and mine too, as I can sit and look and listen as I used to do with Cristo. The old man began to tell fascinating stories of his youth in the army, being sent up into the mainland mountains during the Civil War, and having to live two years in a tent, and having no proper boots and clothes against the cold. When he came back, his child didn’t know him and rejected him. Then he and his wife had twins, but off he had to go again. When he came back he told her they must make another child – they had three now – but with a fourth child, he would be able to get out of the army. [Never heard that before]. So they did.
But he gets no pension of any kind for his time in the Army. Only 200 euro a month for being a Farmer – I.e. Having olive trees. It was really interesting. I told Laura she should keep a diary of this sort of stuff. It is historical.
And so she brought me home in a far better mood than I started out and very grateful for her friendship knowing that I don’t deserve to have any friends.