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.

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.

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.

Kaiser Wilhelm II postcard

Postcard showing Kaiser Wilhelm II (black hat and binoculars) and Prince zu Fürstenberg at the Kaiser’s Throne, Pelekas

The undated postcard above shows the German Kaiser Wilhelm II (left) and Prince zu Fürstenberg. The kaiser is checking out the surroundings with binoculars. The two men are stood a little below the actual ‘Kaiser’s Throne’ where Wilhelm would often sit to admire the sunset. Today this spot would be found under the metal construction that accommodates the thousands of tourists that visit the summit of Pelekas Hill every year to check out the 360 degrees view. The photograph is taken in the direction of the mountainside of Pantokrator.

Kaiser Wilhelm (1859-1941) had a Corfu summer residence in the Achilleion Palace, that he purchased in 1907 from the daughter of Empress Sisi of Austria (1837-1898). Until the start of World War I in 1914 he would come and stay in the Achilleion every spring. In 1911 he was in charge of the excavations by archeologist Wilhelm Dörpfeld of the famous Artemis Temple in Garitsa.

Who knows more?
Anyone who can shed light on the occasion or date when the photograph for this postcard was taken is kindly asked to leave me a message!

Warren Curry’s 22nd (!) Corfu Painting Holiday


Very few contemporary artists will have enhanced the reputation of picturesque and dazzling Corfu more than the Australian painter and sculptor Warren Curry. In May 2020, for the 22nd year in a row, he will be treating a group of aspiring artists and non-artists to his Corfu Painting Holiday.

For 15 days he will offer the tour company sketching and painting tutelage, balanced with sight-seeing, swimming, wandering around villages and Corfu Town, and enjoying meals together at the gorgeous Levant Hotel, where tour members stay. 

Second home
After Warren Curry spent three months painting in the village of Liapades in 1981 he returned in 1998 to make Corfu his second home. He bought a house in the old village of Pelekas, where he spends part of the year painting in his studio. Living on Corfu he explored the natural wonders, fascinating villages and the grand, historical architecture of the island. He dug deep into its intriguing history and culture and is more than happy to share his knowledge and understanding with the members of his tour company.

Corfu Discovery Tours has not only attracted keen artists looking to draw on Warren Curry’s expertise and fine tuned, personalised tutelage for guidance, but has regularly included a varying proportion of non-artists just for the magic of the Corfu experience. Greek dancing has become a component of the Tour agenda with the opportunity to perform in a local village dancing festival.

The Tour group enjoys the convenience of its own bus which ferries the artists to their destination each day: villages, beaches, cruising, historic sites, enchanting tavernas, an evening in Corfu Town. Optional extras for participants are a one day cruise to Paxos and Antipaxos and a one day tour to Albania.

Major art awards
Warren has held thirty eight Solo Exhibitions in Australia and won over thirty major art awards. His work is represented in Australian Government (Art Bank) Regional Collections, Corporate and overseas collections. In Australia, he works from his studio located in the small fishing village of Port Albert in South Gippsland, east of Melbourne.

For more information: http://www.warrencurry.com and www.corfudiscoverytours.com

…still summer out there

The view from Pelekas village towards the west, Friday morning October 18th 2019 (photo: Andreas Monopolis)

And of course, while in the Northwest of Europe we are well on our way in autumn, collecting chestnuts and mushrooms, on Corfu it is summer as ever. Temperature today was 25 Celsius and Andreas who sent me this picture said the village of Pelekas this morning was very quiet and peaceful.

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