Mon Repos Palace, cradle of Prince Philip

Next summer 99 years ago the German Princess Alice van Battenberg in the Mon Repos Palace in Corfu gave birth to her fifth child. After four girls she and her husband, Prince Andreas of Greece on June 10th 1921 welcomed a son, Philippos. By birth he was Prince of Greece and Denmark. From the balcony on the second floor of the small, but elegant palace, in his mother’s arms young Philippos will have seen the eternal blue of the Ionian Sea and the mountains of Epiros beyond. For two summers only. The Greek monarchy was young and there was revolution in the air.

On September 22, 1922, Philippos’ uncle, King Constantine I of Greece, was forced to abdicate the throne. The military government arrested Prince Andreas. In December Andreas was banned from Greece for life and settled with his family in Paris. In 1930 Philips’ mother was committed to a psychiatric institution, while his father relocated to Monaco, maintaining limited contact with his family. He died in Monaco in 1944, while Princess Alice spent most of the rest of her life in Athens.

From palace to palace
Being educated in France, Germany and Scotland Philippos – now Philip – excelled in the Royal Naval College and served in the British Navy during World War II. Preparing for his marriage in 1947 with Princess Elizabeth he abandoned his Greek and Danish royal titles. On the morning of his wedding he was made Duke of Edinburgh. Five years later when Elizabeth succeeded her father King George VI, as Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, Philip was a Prince once more. Quite a way to go from a revolution in Greece to the British throne, and from Mon Repos Palace in Corfu to Buckingham Palace in London. In 1967 Philip’s mother Alice came to stay in Buckingham Palace, where she would die two years later at the age of 84.

Mon Repos Palace
Unlike Buckingham Palace Mon Repos Palace and its lovely park are easily accessible for the public. The palace, now housing a museum and rooms in use by the Corfu Municipality, was built in 1824-1826 to serve the British Lord High Commissioner Frederic Adams and his Corfiot wife Nina Palatianou. When the famous German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann visited Mon Repos in July 1868, it took him no time at all to identify the park and surroundings with the ancient city of Palaiopolis and the very spot of Mon Repos as the place where the mythical palace of Homer’s Phaeacians would have been.

There is no proof of Schliemann’s claim to this day, though in the park several ancient buildings have been uncovered, like the Temple of Hera, one of the earliest archaic temples in Greece (610 BC). Built on top of Analipsis Hill it must have created an impressive view for ships entering the harbour of ancient Corcyra. Last Summer and in the Summer of 2018 archaeological excavations have been conducted in the park. They yielded some interesting finds, but nothing spectacular. New excavations have been announced for 2020.

Erikousa’s wartime secret


Erikousa, one of the Diapontian islands off the northwestern tip of Corfu, for seventy years kept a secret. From June 1944 until the end of WW II the few hundred inhabitants of a 5 km2 islet managed to keep a Jewish family hidden from the nazi’s. Even when German soldiers came searching from door to door, they bravely cooperated to not give the secret away. Each at the risk of losing their lives.

After the war the surviving family emigrated to Israel and the bravery of the Erikousa population would have been lost in time. If it wasn’t for a Greek grandmother, sharing the story of her life with her American born granddaughter. Who happened to be Emmy Award winning writer and producer Yvette Manessis Corporon. Yvette decided to honour the brave activities of her grandma and the other islanders in a novel. Five years of hard work later – besides her professional and family activities in New York – Harper Books published When The Cypress Whispers (2014).

Fatal June 9th 1944
In her novel Yvette Manessis Corporon interweaves myths and magic with the tragic events of the Summer of 1944 . On June 9th the German occupying force starts rounding up the Jewish inhabitants of Corfu. Almost everyone of the 2.000 men, women and children is deported off the island in small boats. 91% of them will be executed in the concentration camps. A Jewish tailor, Shabtai (in Greek: Savvas), just in time escapes the pogrom in town. He takes his daughters to Erikousa. He knows his way well out there as he visited the tiny adjacent islands regularly to sell clothing and offer his tailoring service.

The inhabitants of Erikousa welcome Shabtai and his family, share the little food there is and by constantly hiding them save some of the very few Jewish lives in WW II Corfu. A story of courage, loyalty, kindness and hope, but it does not end with the novel. From the moment she started to work on her novel it was author Yvette’s ambition to let her family and the people of Erikousa know what had become of tailor Shabtai and his family.

My Heritage
Armed with just the first names of the family members after several attempts Yvette tries her luck with the Holocaust Museum in Jeruzalem and the platform for family history My Heritage. The founder of this platform, Gilad Japhet, helps her out and identifies Shabtai’s three daughters, a living grandson and several other descendants in Israel and Los Angeles. None of whom knew anything about the way their ancestors survived wartime in Corfu/Erikousa.

In 2016 Yvette arranges a meeting between descendants of both the Jewish survivors and some Erikousa families. Yvette produced a film documentary about her quest, Searching for Savvas and also wrote another book: Something beautiful happened.

In the last part of this second book Yvette admirably deals with a cruel tragedy. A brutal murder took place three days after the meeting that meant so much to the new generations of Israelis, Greeks and Greek Americans. Yvette’s 14 year old nephew and his grandfather were killed by a neonazi gunman in a parking lot in Kansas, who was out to kill Jews. Confronting her with the question: can we defeat great evil?

EXTRA
Yvette Manessis Corporon currently works as a Senior Producer with the syndicated entertainment news show, EXTRA. She lives in New York with her husband and two children, but her heart is also somewhere else: “Erikousa and Corfu are not just the setting of When The Cypress Whispers, they are truly my favourite places on Earth.  There is a magical quality to these islands that I think everyone should experience at least once in their lives.”

When The Cypress Whispers was translated in 13 languages. The sequel Something beautiful happened (2017) so far was published in English, Hebrew and Serbian. More information is to be found on the website of Yvette Manessis Corporon. The role of My Heritage is explained in a short video (6 min., 23 sec.), and the family members in Israel can be seen in another video (7 min., 10 sec.).

An afternoon on the film set, Corfu Town, September 1979


In the beginning of August 1979 I got off the ferry from Brindisi, Italy to set foot in Corfu for the first time. Unaware I was to stay for seven weeks, camping in an olive grove near the beach of Kontogialos, beneath the hill of Pelekas. The beach life agreed with me so well I literally had to drag myself up the 272 metres high hill once in a while to get on the bus to Corfu Town. To sniff some culture.

According to my travel diary on Thursday September 13th I found the Archeological Museum closed until 4 o’ clock, for the lunch break. I wandered past the Old Fortress – closed as well – and near the Esplanade slipped into the shade to watch a cricket match. Just then a buzz of voices and shrieking car tyres drifted around the corner. Before I knew I walked into a film set and found myself on a narrow sidewalk surrounded by crew, actors, shop owners, residents and tourists like myself.

Annie Girardot
For the next hour and a half we would watch this dusty Renault taxi hit a three-wheel moped loaded with cardboard boxes, then crash through a newspaper stall and cause a pick up truck to send its entire load of watermelons all over the asphalt. Over and over again. With intervals of around fifteen minutes, needed to rehearse the scene and glue all the pre-cut watermelons together again etc. It was during such a break I spotted Annie Girardot.

Philippe Noiret
Or at least I thought I recognised the most popular French actress of the seventies, hiding beneath a white summer hat. Or maybe I just read her name, scribbled on an assistant’s scrapbook, along with Philippe Noiret’s, another favourite actor of mine. Just two years earlier Annie had won her first César for best actress, while Philippe scored that success a year before her. Through all the excitement I don’t really remember what I did and did not see.

IMDb
That is why I am really happy the unsurpassed IMDb (source for movie and TV content) filled me in on all the details about On a volé la cuisse de Jupiter (in English that would be something like They have stolen Jupiter’s buttocks, a rather unusual title. Quite French, I’d say). So I learned the movie was shot in Kalabaka (near the Meteora monasteries), in and around Corfu Town and – much to my surprise – in Pelekas, the village where I had jumped on the bus in the first place. And where I somehow missed all the film set fun during those weeks.

The comedy, directed by Philippe de Broca, was released in February 1980. Soon after that Annie Girardot (1931-2011) sort of withdrew herself from the screen, doing four films only during the eighties before she made a real comeback in the nineties. Her last part she played in 2007. Philippe Noiret (1930-2006) starred in a great number of French and Italian movies until an illness forced him to quit the scene in 2003.

Trailer
I am not sure wether to recommend On a volé la cuisse de Jupiter. IMDb rates it with 6,2 out of 10. For lovers of the scenery: at least the lighthearted comedy was filmed entirely in Greece, and mainly on Corfu. A three minutes trailer can be viewed here. You might still find me standing there on the sidewalk, watching the splashing watermelons.

Corfu Counts its Caves

The stunning beauty of the first chamber in the Platesgourna cave

While the majority of Corfu’s visitors look up at the sunny sky and look out over the blue sea or at the lovely architecture in Corfu Town, something is happening underground that very few are aware of. Caves! The island has more than 213 of them, of which 89 are ‘under study’ by Dutch speleologist René van Vliet. He searches, explores, photographs and describes the underground treasures and shares his experiences with the Corfiots and the general public. He often writes articles about the caves of Corfu and their stories for Greek newspapers, magazines and news sites (in 2019: 85 publications). His articles are also published in Athens and by the National Herald in New York.

Besides sea caves and a waterfall cave, Corfu has land caves in various shapes and formats. Some are like holes, big and small. In Greek they are called spilies, in Corfiot dialect: graves. Deep openings in rocky terrain are known as varathra. Also sinkholes katavothres can be found on Corfu. Some caves have been in use through the ages for practical purposes as storing milk and vegetables, thanks to their constant temperature and darkness. The locals would call these kaves. A number of caves were lived in during the Palaeolithic Age and Neolithic period, or provided shelter against pirates, like the impressive Katsouris cave in Glyfa, or against Italian and German bombing during World War II.

Speleo Corfu
The folklore, oral tradition and the personal stories about the caves are the favourite subject of the Dutch speleologist. He studies old Greek literature, analyses old maps and talks to villagers, shepherds and foresters. Researching caves in Corfu is not an easy task. Many caves are hidden, some already for many decades like for example the Panadograva cave in Sgourades. For generations stories had been told about this cave, until René proved it was not a legend but just deeply hidden in the forest. It took him three years to find it, but with the help of the chairman of the village and a local guide, the speleologist could visit the cave during his summer expedition.

Latest news
While talking, René van Vliet receives a message from a Greek friend that a cave with a unique history has been found. The news clearly excites him. He says: “This cave was hidden for decades and is of great historical value to the local community. I heard that there were lots of bats in the cave. I can’t wait to explore the cave and to see the flora and fauna!” 

As mentioned above, (at least) 89 caves are still waiting for a visit. To find and explore those caves many Corfiots help René van Vliet to clear dense vegetation or to guide him through forests or on heights. Only with the local help Corfu’s hidden caves can be discovered or rediscovered. After visiting a cave, often aided by special equipment, the speleologist shares his information, pictures and videos through his website www.speleocorfu.com. Thus also serving archaeologists, geologists and biologists. René van Vliet is always available for lectures about his research and the hidden natural beauties on the island of Corfu. 

Man with a mission…
In April and August-September 2019 René van Vliet was out again exploring caves in Corfu. He calls speleology his hobby, but he is clearly a man with a mission. He wants to mark out all the caves on the island, record their beauty and history and preserve this valuable information for future generations. What’s more, he reckons there are still hidden caves to explore, time capsules with traces from Corfu civilisations from thousands of years ago, untouched and with valuable information. 

When I ask him about his goals for the long term he promptly answered: “Keeping the vulnerable caves with their unique flora and fauna clean, to make and keep them accessible, and to inform the younger generations about the treasures of their island.” These places with a long history must be passed on in good condition to the next generations!

René van Vliet crawling and exploring the Platesgourna cave (April 2019)

Recent discovery in Spartilas
René van Vliet’s lively enthusiasm clearly shows in the article in Corfu Magazine, issue 23 (October 2019) in which he described the various caves he visited this year, standing out by their natural beauty. Amongst them is the Platesgourna cave in Spartilas, discovered by Nikos Gisdakis in the winter of 2018.

Nikos Gisdakis and René van Vliet after their visit to the Platesgourna cave (April 2019)

René went up to northern Spartilas to visit this cave for the first time in April: “The Platesgourna cave is hidden in an olive grove and has two small entrances. (…) After a small hall follows the first chamber, with stunning beauty.” (see the main picture above this article). In August, the speleologist visited the cave for the second time and this time with special lamps so he could map and photograph the cave. A few days later he visited the Platesgourna cave for the third time. “I was in the upper level of the cave and suddenly I saw an open space. Behind a big monolith and beneath the first chamber there is a second chamber with stalactites hanging from the ceiling and a group of four stalagmites, the tallest about 1,5 metres high! (…) I would not be surprised if there is also a third chamber.”

Unfortunately the speleologist could not go further down, because he lacked a vital piece of equipment, a drill. During a next expedition he will continue his exploration of the Platesgourna cave.

Beautiful decoration in the Platesgourna cave (April 2019)

Support the important research of the caves! 
Sponsorship is very important for the research of the caves of Corfu. The two caving expeditions this year were materially supported by companies from The Netherlands (CanyonZone), France (Aventure Verticale), Spain (Rodcle), Italy (Climbing Technology), Greece (Vasilikos / Nitecore). Fresh- All Day Food Bar in Gouvia offered the speleologist to support his next caving expedition. René van Vliet hopes that travel organisations, hotels and car rentals will support him too, so he can make his next caving expedition in the spring of 2020. For information and contact with the speleologist: see the wonderful website of Speleo Corfu.

As every bit of information can lead to new discoveries, René van Vliet calls on locals and visitors to contact him if they know a cave or cave story. Even a rumour or myth is very welcome. He can be contacted in Greek or English at  info@speleocorfu.com or on Facebook: VlietVanRene.



Achilles’ Triumph, a painting by Franz Matsch

‘Triumph des Achill’ (1894), a 10 x 3 metres (!) fresco by Franz Matsch in Empress Sisi’s Achillion Palace in Corfu.

The tragic life of Empress Elisabeth (Sisi) of Austria and Queen of Hungary (1837-1898) has been subjected to many books and films. Her heritage on Corfu consists of stone and bronze, gardens and terraces, sculptures, ornaments and paintings: Achilleion Palace. Designed in Dorian, Ionian and Pompeian styles by two Napolitan architects and built between 1889 and 1891 the ‘Achillio’ to some is a monstrosity spoiling the lovely landscape, to others a fine piece of living history. Either way the neo-classical building – now Museum Achillion – keeps drawing coach loads of tourists to the village of Gastouri. Some of whom may well be interested in the resident who acquired the palace some years after Sisi’s death and turned it into a centre of European diplomacy: the German Emperor Wilhelm II.

For your eyes only
Some other time I might take you through the 72 lavishly furnished rooms, halls and chapel of the museum, for now I content myself taking you through the gardens and up a flight of stairs. Come see the grand terrace on the back that levels with the palace’s second floor. See the dazzling grey and white pattern of the floor tiles, remember the scene in the casino in the James Bond movie “For Your Eyes Only”, admire the row of busts of the blind poet Homer and the Greek philosophers, Shakespeare and the Nine Muses, and then…

Then gaze through the windows to catch a view of the upper part of the main hall, a view that is hidden to you from the inside of the palace, as the stairway to the second floor is closed for the public. But there it is: ‘Triumph des Achill’, as Sisi and the painter called it in German, ‘Achilles’ Triumph’. Homer again!

Ten metres by three…
Even from where you are on the terrace, quite a bit away, you most likely cannot help being overwhelmed. The Austrian painter Franz senior Matsch worked on this panoramic, ten metres by three fresco at intervals during the years 1892 to 1894. He had worked for Sisi before, decorating the Hermes Villa near Vienna and this time he choose to depict one of the cruelest scenes from Homer’s Iliad. But he was instructed carefully how to picture it.

We stare at the Greek hero and warrior Achilles racing on his horse drawn chariot around the walls of Troy. The warrior is showing off the helmet that Hector, Troy’s king Priamos’ son, was wearing when he killed him in a duel. Hector’s lifeless body is being dragged behind the chariot through the dust, for all to see from high upon the walls of Troy, his parents, his wife and new-born son…

Rage and horror
The rage of Achilles is there, who has seen his best friend Patroklos slain the other day by the same Hector. It flashes like the helmet he holds out to the sun and shines in the sweaty skin of the dark horse. The vengeful jubilation of the Greek warriors is there, swaying their weapons and running after the chariot. And the horror and dismay of the Trojan spectators is there, even though Matsch protected Hektor from the bloody fate that Homer created for him: his head is out of sight and none of his multiple wounds is visible (see: Homer, Iliad, 22, verses 375-404).

The empress wanted her Achilles should not be a muscular warrior. And he is not. Perhaps with his angelic face he had to counterbalance the sculpture by Ernst Herter (1884) further down in the garden, a dying Achilles that pulls the fateful arrow out of his heel. In fact Achilles is omnipresent, inside the palace and outside.

Hidden failure?
Many years ago, as I was going to the “Achillio” for the first time, I was prepared by a born islander. He wanted me to detect the painting’s hidden failure. A fatal failure, that caused the painter to kill himself soon after he had finished his long labour. On my return I admitted to my friend I hadn’t got a clue. Ah, but it was in the wheel of the chariot, he said. It showed no movement, it looked like a photograph taken at a shutter speed of 1/1000 sec.

Then I dug into Franz Matsch. Born in Vienna in 1861 he enjoyed a fruitful career as a painter, sculptor and instructor. He studied and worked with the painters Gustav Klimt and Ernst Klimt, decorating theaters throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Around 1891 the artistic trio fell apart. Franz Matsch devoted himself to portrait painting, which he did with some success. Gustav Klimt became very popular with his own personal style of painting.

The “Anker-Uhr
From 1893 to 1901 Matsch was a teacher at the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts. In the years 1911-1917 he designed the landmark “Anker-Uhr” clock in Vienna’s first district on the “Hoher Markt”, where it can still be seen today. Franz Matsch lived to be 81 and died of old age in 1942, half a century after the unveiling of his monumental fresco in the “Achillio”. And yes, the style of his triumphing Achilles resembles the art practice of an “action shot”, popular throughout different periods in the history of art. Although it’s true the left part of the painting shows considerably more “movement”.

Rudolfs suicide
There was someone else who took his life. Empress Elisabeth’s son, the crown prince Rudolf von Habsburg, did in January 1889. Thirty years of age he had just caused the death of his mistress, 17 years young. Shortly after these horrendous events Elisabeth decided to make Corfu her home. She had her Achilleion Palace built and in the memory of her beloved son she idealized Achilles, the strong and divinely beautiful hero. The demigod that would have been immortal if it wasn’t for that vulnerable spot at the back of his heel.

P.S.
A remarkable feature is to be seen in the upper right hand corner of Matsch’ fresco. Above the gate in the wall there is a swastika. Of course in 1894 there was not such a thing as a nazi symbol. This abstract figure – that probably originates from an ancient culture in India – was one of the symbols of the city of Troy.

Empress Elisabeth of Austria was stabbed and killed on the quay of Lake Geneva on the 10th of September 1898 by the Italian anarchist Luigi Lucheni.

Casanova: a young adventurer in Corfu

The cover of one of many biographies on Casanova (1725-1798)

In March 1741, not even sixteen years of age, Giacomo Girolamo Casanova sailed from Venice, destination Constantinople. In the harbour of Corfu – Venetian territory of course – he left the ship to explore the town. We know what happens next thanks to his own unfinished Memoires, written in French from 1790 onwards (Histoire de ma vie) and only published long after his death in 1798.

Before we follow his footsteps I have to disappoint the reader who expects a series of erotic Corfiot conquests. It may be true that in the 12 volumes of his autobiography Casanova describes in detail the 122 ladies that he courted in his life and times but a good deal of his writing is also devoted to his adventurous life as priest-student, doctor in law, spy, rambling violinist, chemist, prisoner, gambler, organizer of a French lottery, diplomat, spy for Louis XV and librarian. Driven by an ever eager curiosity he pursued these activities all over Europe.

No-one else but the leading European Prince De Ligne – who was seeing Casanova as often as he could – remarked: “Every word he utters is a revelation and every thought a book.” Modern historians have claimed that if humanity would have lost all the writings from the 18th century except the unfinished memoires of Casanova, his extensive and yet intimate account could well fill us in on the morality and social behaviour in the Europe he explored inside-out.

Escaping arrest
Meanwhile back in Corfu 1741. After getting into a fight with an impostor claiming to be a French prince he avoided arrest by ‘borrowing’ a vessel in Corfu Town’s harbour. Taking it out to open sea he was taken aboard a sailing ship bound for Kassiopi harbour in the northeast of the island. He soon set up an enjoyable life in ‘Kasopo’, as the Venetians called the town. Where he got the money from he doesn’t mention, but he specifically describes the seamstresses he assembles around him to replace the wardrobe he so hastily left in town.

Then an officer arrives on this idyllic scene, meaning to take the young rogue back to the authorities in town. Much to Casanova’s relief the impostor La Valeur appears to have been found out and it is not prison awaiting him, but recognition for exposing the swindler. It doesn’t keep him in town for very long; soon he boards another ship and resumes his trip to Constantinople.

Thrown overboard
The next time Corfu appears in his memoires is in 1745. The now nineteen year old hero of his own tale nearly gets drowned during the sea voyage from Venice to Corfu. He got himself thrown overboard by the crew as a result of upsetting a priest. Arriving safe and sound in Corfu Harbour by the end of March he is well in time for the Easter festivities, which he enjoys from Good Friday 16th of April through to Easter Monday April 19th. On the 1st of July he sails with the ‘Europa’, once more to Constantinople.

Corfu Carnival
Due back home again later in the year he sailed from the Ottoman capital on October 12th and once more stops over in Corfu, well in time for the annual Carnival. “It is a long period, this time,” he writes. And so it was, kicking off at December 26th 1745 and stretching till February 23rd 1746, eight and a half weeks in all. He is very specific about this, since he is acting as impresario for a group of actors. Having negotiated a fee equalling two days of receipts per week he ends up cashing the troupe’s income of seventeen days.

Thinking of the famed masked pleasures of promiscuous Venetian Carnival, who would expect a young and strong, 1 meter 80 tall Casanova to dwell on his earnings? But perhaps this only adds to the credibility of his romantic adventures at other times and in other places.

Anthony Quinn, how Greek can you get?

Mexican actor Anthony Quinn (left) playing ‘tavli’ with a villager in Corfu’s Pelekas, during a break while shooting The Greek Tycoon in 1977

In 1964 the movie Zorba the Greek (and the soundtrack!) stormed and conquered the hearts of film fans around the world. ‘Zorba’ – based on a novel by Greece’s Nobel Prize winner for Literature Nikos Kazantzakis – won three Oscars. While much appraised leading actor Anthony Quinn had to satisfy himself with a nomination. Although surely his role as Alexis Zorba added enormously to his popularity.

Mexican born Antonio Rudolfo Quinn Oaxaca had played Greek characters before, like in Ulisse (1954) and in the hit The guns of Navarone (1961). Now by his acting and dancing (sirtaki!) in ‘Zorba’ he convinced many cinema visitors that he was at least partly Greek. More Greek in looks and behaviour than some Greeks anyway.

The Greek Tycoon
Still we would have to wait until 1978 to see multitalented Quinn (also film director, painter and sculptor) in his next Greek role. In The Greek Tycoon he is Theo Tomasis, a character based on Aristoteles Onassis. British actress Jacqueline Bisset plays Liz Cassidy, the beautiful widow of the assassinated president of the United States. So we are looking at a romanced account of the courtship and marriage of Onassis and Jacqueline (Bouvier) Kennedy. A relation that begun even before John F. Kennedy became president and lasted for almost two decades.

Negative reviews
The Greek Tycoon (budget 6,5 million dollars, running time: 107 minutes) was met with a lot of critical reception: “As witless as it is gutless” (The New York Times); “You have watched the headlines, now you can read the movie” (Variety). TV Guide rated the movie one star and had only one favourable comment: “If scenery, greenery and lavish living are what you like to see, you may enjoy The Greek Tycoon.” An positive exception is made for the final scene, in which Anthony Quinn’s once more shows his great sense for dance.

The scenery of Corfu
“The scenery” and “the greenery” was shot on location in Corfu and Mykonos. The Corfu landscape gets a fair and lavish share. And is anyone familiar with the the background of the photo above? It shows Anthony Quinn in a corner of the village square of Pelekas, entertaining himself during a break in the filming. In The Greek Tycoon you might recognize this setting when Tomasis gets out of a car and slowly walks towards the door of a café on the other side of the square. This café was no more than fifteen meters from Anthony’s playing table. In 1980, some three years after this scene was shot, the café was turned into a bar, known as the ‘Zanzibar’.

Today the Zanzibar is a bar with a both local and international clientele. It’s cocktail menu today proudly shows the photograph above. If even a footnote in the life and times of Anthony Quinn (1915-2001), an icon in the film industry, who twice won the Oscar for supporting actor but never for best actor. And who for a wide audience was more Greek than some Greeks. See for yourself in the final scene from The Greek Tycoon.

The Dylan Project in Corfu

Stills of the singer, songwriter and artist Bob Dylan, about 1965

An attentive reader from France commented the other day on the front page of The Corfiot Magazine, that I used as an illustration for my post about its on line archive. Did he read a headline saying “The Dylan Project in Corfu” and would I elaborate on that?

So quoting from Paul McGovern’s article in The Corfiot’s September 2009 issue I will gladly fill in the gaps in our memory. The Dylan Project was a band formed around the millennium by Steve Gibbons and Dave Pegg, who knew each other from the Birmingham band The Uglys. The Dylan Project was the headline of Agiotfest 09, the premiere of a music festival taking place on the village square of Agios Ioannis from September 7-12 2009. The line up for their live performance was: vocalist Steve Gibbons and lead guitarist PJ Wright (both from the Steve Gibbons Band); bass guitarist Dave Pegg (Fairport Convention, formerly with Jethro Tull); keyboardist Phil Bond (a Dylan regular and Greek music fan); drummer Brendan Day (late replacement for Gerry Conway).

Review
On the website of Agiotfest there is a review of all the performances on that Saturday night September 12th. A wonderful evening it seems, when it rained everywhere on Corfu, apart from Agios Ioannis. The Dylan Project, together with the bands East of Memphis (two folksingers from Edinburgh), Omega 5 (an experienced British band from Corfu) and The Good Old Boys was to entertain the all seated audience in the Central Corfu village for five hours. Spyros Hytiris remembers the ‘wonderful evening at the family-friendly plateia of Agios Ioannis, where you had the once-in-a-lifetime chance to see quite a few legendary figures from mainly seventies folk-rock and blues bands.’

I quote from Hytiris’ review: “The Dylan Project are delayed by previous sets, but finally they are away. I’d never seen them live before, so was hopeful but slightly apprehensive for them, following such a strong supporting cast. I needn’t have worried. Consummate professionals, they had the audience in their palms and people up and dancing on the improvised dancefloor below the stage. What performers, what a tight sound. Yes they played Dylan, but not exclusively.* Numbers tumbled out effortlessly, some of which were probably unfamiliar to the appreciative listeners.”

“The Dylans come back for their final set. They are obviously enjoying themselves, as they go way past closing time and then beyond one o’ clock, before wrapping up with ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, during which they invite all artists up onto stage for a grand finale. ‘More, more’ is being shrieked at the end.
It is over, like a dream. The crowd disperses, all smiles.”

*From The Corfiot Magazine we learn the repertoire of The Dylan Project – apart from Bob Dylan numbers – comprised (no surprise) renditions of Jethro Tull and Fairport Convention, as well as own new compositions.

Agiotfest 2020?
Agiotfest did very well since the start in 2009. On August 30th and 31st 2019 the 11th edition rolled by, this time near a camping site just outside Agios Ioannis. The dates for the 2020 edition have not yet been revealed. ‘So keep your eyes wide, the chance won’t come again’: https://agiotfest.com

Poster of the first Agiotfest, once pinned to an olive tree and taken home by yours truly

A Black Sun

The shrine for Odysseas Grekousis, by the side of The Corfu Trail between Pelekas and Sinarades.

Of the many roadside shrines that once adorned the Corfu landscape, in Pelekas too only a few stood the test of time. Some were erected honouring a saint, others remind of tragic events: a traffic accident, a sudden death in a nearby field. More and more the shrines’ windows will be broken and icons fallen over or faded from the light of the merciless sun and the smoke of the small oil lamps. If the lamps are intact they are now seldom kept alight. One of the miniature chapels however that is honoured to this day can be found right on the route of Corfu’s long-distance footpath ‘The Corfu Trail’.    

Coming from Pelekas you will stumble upon it about a hundred meters before the path meets the asphalt road from the village of Sinarades to the – long ago shut down – hotel Yaliscari Beach. From the centre of the shrine a sepia photo portrait in a frame of a melancholic looking boy stares at the passing walkers. The marble plaque at the foot of the monument reads in ruthless katharevousa: ‘Born 2-11-1977, murdered 4-6-1994’. Seventeen years old was Odysseas Grekousis, according to the partly erased lettering. From the dates I gather he was just sixteen, but the intention will be that he was in the seventeenth year of his life.

Wreaths and withered flowers
Every time we pass here we pause for a moment. But on a rainy day in the Spring of 2017 we somehow had to halt a little longer. Perhaps our attention was drawn by the wreaths and withered flowers laid in a rectangle of white stones at the right side of the shrine. Or because the oil lamp in the niche with the icons flickered as if the wind could extinguish it at any moment. It was then it dawned on me yesterday had been the day the young lad met his death. I crossed myself instinctively, only just remembering the orthodox rite: touching the forehead with two fingers, then the right shoulder, the left shoulder and finally the belly. It can’t do any harm and it may do some good.

A few steps behind the small monument a ravine unfolds. For tens of meters on down we see a stream of spring mattresses, rusty fridges and washing machines, wrecks of mopeds and plastic bags with garbage. Sticking out like sore thumbs against the dripping fresh green of the fir trees and pines. Would he have crashed down there, somewhere, young Odysseas? And was he now buried beneath that neglected rectangle besides the monument?

One ominous day
An hour and a half’s walk down the road we gratefully positioned ourselves beneath the roof of the terrace of a taverna. Watching the wind and the rain reigning over beach and sea. Sun beds remained empty, waves were white-crested. Before we ordered our beers I asked our friend, host of the taverna, about the history of Odysseas. He gazed out upon the sea for some time before he got himself to respond.
“Yesterday I could hardly think of anything else,” he started off. “Why? you may ask. Because I am in some way guilty too.”
There was no way we could hide our surprise.
   “Odysseas took part in a boys gang, stealing mopeds and motorcycles. One ominous day he decided to quit. May have even threatened to tell his parents. Whatever, the lad that threw him down the ravine was his age. This boy went to my school, a few classes behind me. Never will I be able to forget that one day I passed the open door of a class room and his teacher called me inside. If I wanted to have a look at a drawing the boy had painted. It was a seascape with a black sun. A black sun… I recall it as if it were yesterday. Both the teacher and I had a loss for words. A few years later, after the killing and the trial, the teacher addressed me and spoke in a rather melancholy way: ‘But who is to punish us’?”
“Punish you? How could you have seen this coming?” I reacted, trying to somewhat cheer him up.      
“That is not what it is about, both of us still felt guilty. We had looked at that frightful sunset and had done nothing at all.”
“So did the teacher never speak to the parents?”
“The boy was from a poor family. Strange people, who kept to themselves. They lived at some distance from our village, always busy with their chicken, goats and sheep. You wouldn’t see any of his parents near the schoolyard. When we were children we didn’t dare to even approach their house.”

Everybody deserves a second chance
A seagull landed on top of a folded parasol, right before our eyes.
   “What happened next?” I inquired. “Surely he was too young for a jail sentence?”
“I never laid eyes on him again. After serving a long term in the underground prison near town he vanished from the island. He’s living on the mainland now, married, children. I am happy for him.”
I hesitated, only too aware that my friend had no wife or children.
  “Everybody deserves a second chance,” he went on. “When this lad’s grandmother had died he secretly sneaked back to the island during the night just to sea his beloved dead one more time and bid his farewell to her. Now you tell me: a person paying his respect in such way cannot be thoroughly bad, can he?”
“Will we see at least any sunshine today?” I said, in an attempt to change our moods. He shrugged his shoulders. The seagull had flown off while we were unaware of it. I am sure in that moment we were all thinking of one and the same thing. How a sixteen year old boy briefly hang in between us. Just before he started his gliding flight down to the garbage in the abyss.

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