Friday, 15 December 2017

Fortnum and Mason's Christmas Windows 2017

The Advent calendar.

As I do at this time of year I passed by Fortnum and Mason which has been decorating its windows at Christmas for over three hundred years and continues to present the most imaginative windows in London.  The theme in 2017 is ‘Together We’re Merrier’.

To illustrate this message, Fortnum’s has brought together a cast of fanciful characters starring in a narrative of Christmas moments across the eight windows of its Piccadilly facade, from the opening of an advent calendar to the dressing of the tree and the popping of the champagne cork.  

Animals and inanimate objects come to life,
all working together to make Christmas happen. 

The wolf regales the sheep with song.

The endless feast.

The popping of the cork.

A cosy tale by the fireside.

An elephant, a lion and an ostrich deliver hampers
via rocket ship to the ends of the earth.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Lawrence Durrell's Diary and Rough Notes Cyprus 1955

Durrell's daughter Sappho features prominently.

Sold at Sotheby's, London, today at well above the estimate.  I wonder who got it.

The Penelope in Sotheby's description is not Durrell's daughter
who was only 15 at the time and not in Cyprus.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Friday, 1 December 2017

The Durrells and Corfu Tourist Services

Spiro takes Margo, Gerry and Louisa for a spin in his Dodge.
Corfu Tourist Services was founded by Michalis Chalikiopoulos, the son of Spiro 'Americanos', famous as the taxi driver, mentor, protector and friend of the Durrell family when they came to live in Corfu in 1935. Still family-run today, Corfu Tourist Services is the outfit to contact if you require knowledgeable assistance when planning a visit to Corfu, and also their website provides an interesting account of the relationship between the Chalikiopoulos and Durrell families - illustrated by their own delightful collection of photographs.

Fun with a gun: Pat Evans, Larry Durrell, Spiro Chalikiopoulos
and Leslie Durrell. Pat (called Peter in My Family and Other Animals)
was Gerry's tutor for a while and had a broken romance with Margo.  

The story of the Durrells and Spiro is told in my book The Durrells of Corfu.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Durrell's Alexandria Dissolves

The Times 25 November 2017.

Today The Times, in an article written by Richard Spencer, its Middle East correspondent, roused itself to publish some old news, first reported in this blog over two months ago.

‘Time is memory, they say; the art however is to revive it and yet avoid remembering. You speak of Alexandria. I can no longer even imagine it. It has dissolved.’ 
   - Balthazar speaking at the end of Clea

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Inspired by Greece

The Durrells of Corfu, published earlier this year by Profile Books in London, will be published in Greek translation by Patakis in Athens in 2018.

Patakis will also be launching next year my Alexandria: City of Memory, first published by Yale University Press in London and New Haven in 2004.  It was published in Greek by Oceanida in Athens in 2005; now Patakis are making a fresh translation and are issuing the book as a trade paperback.

These two books, The Durrells of Corfu and Alexandria: City of Memory, are closely associated with one another and with my curiosity about the Durrells as I explain in this Waterstones blog post. It pleases me immensely to see them published in Greece, the country that inspired the remarkable Durrell family and such friends of theirs as Henry Miller.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Hallowe'en Here and There

Friends have sent me photographs of the season. These skulls and bones 
were stumbled upon in a garden in Providence, Rhode Island. 
A café in Main Street, Walnut Creek, California.
Service at a London fruit and vegetable shop. 
Orange and ghostly pumpkins in London.
Pret-a-porter graveyard in Lafayette, California.
Blue-green pumpkin in Providence.
Autumn at Rogers Lake, Connecticut.

London sky.

Friday, 20 October 2017

In and Out of the Roman Empire

The north gateway to Chesters cavalry fort, the entrance to the Roman Empire.

I took the opportunity of my visit to Hexham in Northumberland for the Book Festival there in April to go see the northernmost frontier of the Roman Empire. I have been along the Rhine, the Danube and the Euphrates and I have travelled up the Nile to Aswan and beyond, but I had never been to the Roman frontier along the River Tyne.

The plan shows the north gateway to Chesters;
the fort is traversed by the Wall which crosses the Tyne at this point.

A few miles north of Hexham are the partly excavated remains of the Roman cavalry fort at Chesters, one of a series of garrisons along Hadrian's Wall which marches east to west across England just north of the Tyne - and which here at Chesters actually crosses the river. The Wall was a retreat of sorts, or a consolidation; the Romans had pushed far further north than that.

Hadrian's Wall crossed the Tyne at Chesters.
It began when Julius Caesar invaded Britain in 55 BC and again in 54 BC during the Gallic Wars; his purpose was to punish those British tribes which were giving support and refuge to the tribes resisting the Romans in Gaul. Ninety years later, in AD 43, during the reign of the emperor Claudius the Romans invaded Britain again, this time to stay and enjoy the agricultural and pastoral wealth of the land.

Demonstration of Rome's long term intentions was given by Agricola, the governor of Britain from 77 to 85, who subdued the whole of what is now England and Wales and established numerous forts as deep into Scotland as Aberdeen and Inverness and even sailed to Orkney and took its surrender, a voyage which incidentally definitively established that Britain was an island.  But the cost in manpower was considerable; altogether the Empire was manned by thirty legions, four of these in Britain alone, whereas the powerful Persian Empire was opposed by just six legions and wealthy and populous Egypt was controlled by only two.

And now, as Tacitus wrote in his history, 'the conquest of Britain was completed and then let slip' when the emperor Domitian withdrew one legion, a short term saving with huge long term costs.

Roman baths overlooking the River Tyne.
Disturbances in the provinces were more than three legions could handle and when the emperor Hadrian visited Britain in 122 he ordered the construction of a wall across the narrow Tyne-Solway isthmus, abandoning everything to the north to the barbarians.  Hadrian's Wall, completed in just four years, was a remarkable achievement, an immense stone barrier requiring the moving of some two millions tons of rock and soil, lined by castles at every mile along its 80-mile length with turrets in between and large fortresses at intervals, and garrisoned by over ten thousand men in all.

The wall marked the northern boundary of the Roman Empire until the legions withdrew from Britain three centuries later.  In that sense it was a success but the cost of manning the wall was a drain on Rome's resources; in 410, the same year that the Romans abandoned the island, Rome itself was sacked by the Visigoths. The Roman Empire in the West collapsed completely in 476.

The crypt of Hexham Abbey is built with stones from Hadrian's Wall.
Now you walk across a field north of Hexham and through the ruins of a gate in the wall of the cavalry fort at Chesters and you are entering the Roman Empire, and returning to the ticket office and the attached café for a cup of tea you leave. In and out of the Roman Empire was never so easy.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Last Photographs of the Interior of Lawrence Durrell's Tower in the Rue Mamoun

Bent Christophersen was the last person to photograph inside the Villa Ambron in Alexandria before it was destroyed last month. I have posted some of Bent's photographs earlier; now he has kindly provided more (the copyright is his). Here is one of the corridor leading to the base of the tower, several of the stairway leading up, and the Rue Mamoun street sign which is all that remains of the past.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

St Joseph's School in Darjeeling Honours the Wrong Durrell

Wrong Durrell in box at bottom right.

Lawrence Durrell, who was born in India, attended the Jesuit-run St Joseph's School at North Point in Darjeeling for two years, 1921-22, before coming to England to continue his education. 

But it seems St Joseph's knows nothing about this and has instead honoured Gerald Durrell as the 'well known author' among its North Point alumni.  Gerry, however, left India in 1928 when he was three; he never went to St Joseph's.  It is nice to know that Jesuits sometimes get things wrong.

Gerald Durrell left India at three; he never went to St Joseph's.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Margo Durrell at Malvern Girls' College

Malvern's pupils' ledger for spring term 1929.
Margo Durrell was at Malvern Girls' College (now Malvern St James Girls' School) from spring term 1929 to summer term 1935 when she blew it all and went to Corfu.

She was always in two minds about whether it had been right to leave Malvern Girls’ College. ‘Corfu was an escape, in a way,’ she recalled. ‘I was doing very well at Malvern. I could have had a career, you see, which I sometimes wish I had done.’

She might have been an actress or a ballet principal as the school magazine for summer 1930 shows, when Margo appeared in the school ballet Joy Incarnate in the role of a snowdrop.  

Malvern lost a snowdrop but gained an illustrious Old Girl.

Margo Durrell as a snowdrop.