Friday, 16 November 2018

The Durrells in Estonia

Durrellid Korful

The Durrells of Corfu has now been published as Durrellid Korful in Estonia by Eesti Raamat

Can Latvia and Lithuania be far behind?

See also the original English-language edition.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

The Hotel Cecil in London and Alexandria

About London's Cecil from today's Telegraph:

'One of the best contemporary descriptions can be found in Nathaniel Newnham-Davis’s 1914 book, The Gourmet’s Guide to London
'He explains how the bustling courtyard at the Hotel Cecil’s entrance, known as “The Beach”, was a popular hangout for American guests who preferred it to the gilded parlours within. “The most American spot in London” was filled with cane chairs, piles of luggage, a newspaper stall, and “in the summer-time pretty girls sunning themselves and waiters hurrying to and fro with cold drinks and long straws”.'

See here for more of this article in The Telegraph.
And see here for the Cecil in Alexandria.

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Alexia Stephanides Mercouri Who Shared the Magic of Corfu with the Durrells

Gerry, Roger and Alexia at the Daffodil Yellow Villa c1936.

Alexia Mercouri, the daughter of Theodore Stephanides, died on Sunday, 28 October, in Athens.  The funeral will be at the Proto Nekrotafeion Athinon on Friday, 2 November, at 3pm.

Alexia was Gerry Durrell's closest friend in Corfu and shared the enchantment of what she called 'another world'. She was a lovely lady and remained a delight throughout her life.

Click on this link for more about Alexia.

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Bloomsbury and Alexandria

Siegfried Sassoon; Leopold Hamilton Myers; Hon. Robert Gathorne-Hardy; Jean de Menasce; James Stephens: a leaf from Lady Ottoline Morrell's photograph album.  The snapshot was probably taken in the garden of her home in Gower Street, London

See how Jean de Menasce has something to do with Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet.

Sunday, 29 July 2018

An Artist in Corfu: Sophie Atkinson and Lawrence Durrell

Wheatfields and mountains.

I bought this watercolour the other day of wheatfields with mountains beyond, probably in western Canada. I bought the painting for its associations. It is signed S Atkinson 1926.

Signed S Atkinson 1926.

S Atkinson is Sophie Atkinson who was born in northeast England at Newcastle upon Tyne in 1876.  Both her parents were artists and both her grandfathers were too; Sophie herself went to the Newcastle School of Art and then studied under the renowned portrait painter, watercolourist, early filmmaker and Royal Academician Sir Hubert von Herkomer outside London. 

View across the strait from the Achilleion. 
Early in the twentieth century Sophie went to live in Corfu.  The fruit of her sojourn was An Artist in Corfu, published in 1911, a beautifully produced book illustrated entirely with her own watercolours and a marvellously observed account of life on the island, of that mix of Greek and Venetian culture that makes Corfu so special.

After the First World War Sophie travelled to India and later visited Denmark, Dresden and the Tyrol. In 1924 she went to California, then travelled through western Canada, and eventually settled in Revelstoke, British Columbia.

Sophie painted throughout her life, her subjects still lifes, townscapes, landscapes and Indian villages, and her work was exhibited in Victoria BC, Revelstoke, Calgary, Montreal, and in London, England.  She returned to Britain in 1968 and settled in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she died at the age of ninety-five in 1972.

Sophie Atkinson's book, An Artist in Corfu, made a great impression on Lawrence Durrell who lived on the  island from 1935 to 1939 with his wife Nancy, mostly at Kalami, while his mother Louisa and his siblings Leslie, Margo and Gerry lived here and there, in the Strawberry Pink, the Daffodil Yellow and the Snow White villas. The Second World War put an end to the family's idyll and they returned home to England, but not Larry who with Nancy and their infant child Penelope escaped the advancing Germans by sailing to Egypt.  

Paleocastrizza, a favourite place of Sophie Atkinson and later Lawrence Durrell.

There in Alexandria during the war, with Sophie's book before him, Larry wrote Prospero's Cell, his enchanting and sad tribute to Corfu, the island of his happiness.

Written in Alexandria
during the war and published
in London in 1945.
And because I am writing a biography of Lawrence Durrell, and because I know Corfu and Alexandria, and because I have loved Prospero's Cell and An Artist in Corfu, I now have Sophie Atkinson's watercolour of wheat fields in western Canada hanging on my wall. It is all about associations.

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Some Summer Postcards

I have received no postcards this summer of people lolling on beaches, no 'wish you were heres'. But I do have postcards of Chicago, the Azores, Alexandria and Galveston.

The card from Chicago was actually printed in Canada and sent from Canada too (Making America Great Again) but told me that I had been spotted by three people as I came of a Chicago restaurant.  'Only it wasn't you! There is some Haag-doppelganger in Chicago who wears socks with sandals'.  Well, that was the giveaway, I suppose; I do not wear socks and sandals at the same time.

This from the island of Pico, which is one big volcano. My brother lives on the volcano's northern flank and believes in geological time, meaning he does not expect the mountain to blow tomorrow. The town in the foreground is Madalena, named for Mary Magdalene.

A friend in Rhode Island sent me this postcard she found while rummaging in a shop in Providence.  I have never seen this view before, which is a rare event; it looks to me like somewhere in the southwest of the city towards the warehouses and the docks, but I really do not know.

A friend who was born in Texas but has not lived there since childhood sent me this old Galveston postcard.  But not as old as the 1900 hurricane which blew all the people all away.

Sunday, 22 July 2018

A Remarkable and Refreshing New Book on the Crusades

I mentioned this book before when it was still in page proofs; now I have a bound copy in my hands. 

Published this month by Yale University Press, Steve Tibble's The Crusader Armies is necessary reading for anyone interested in the crusades.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

E M Forster, Constantine Cavafy and George Valassopoulos in Alexandria

The home of George Valassopoulos at 9 Rue des Fatimites in Alexandria.
When E M Forster was in Alexandria working for the Red Cross during the First World War he came to know George Valassopoulos, a lawyer in the city and a fellow graduate of Kings College, Cambridge.  Forster often called round at Valassopoulos' home at 9 Rue des Fatimites in the Quartier Grec. There Valassopoulos would lead Forster through the poems of their mutual friend Constantine Cavafy in their original Greek and also provided him with elegant and, Cavafy felt, faithful translations. Valassopoulos became their chosen instrument for rendering the poems into English so that Forster could introduce them to the English-speaking world.

Valassopoulos' living room where Forster and Cavafy came as guests.  

Forster first became acquainted with Cavafy's poetry at the home of the poet himself at the Rue Lepsius.  One evening 'a poem is produced - The God Abandons Antony - and I detect some coincidences between its Greek and public-school Greek. Cavafy is amazed. "Oh, but this is good, my dear Forster, this is very good indeed", and he raises his hand, takes over, and leads me through. It was not my knowledge that touched him but my desire to know and to receive'.

Here is the translation of The God Abandons Antony done by Valassopoulos.

When at the hour of midnight
an invisible choir is suddenly heard passing
with exquisite music, with voices --
Do not lament your fortune that at last subsides,
your life's work that has failed, your schemes that have proved illusions.
But like a man prepared, like a brave man,
bid farewell to her, to Alexandria who is departing.
Above all, do not delude yourself, do not say that it is a dream,
that your ear was mistaken.
Do not condescend to such empty hopes.
Like a man for long prepared, like a brave man,
like to the man who was worthy of such a city,
go to the window firmly,
and listen with emotion,
but not with the prayers and complaints of the coward
(Ah! supreme rapture!)
listen to the notes, to the exquisite instruments of the mystic choir,
and bid farewell to her, to Alexandria whom you are losing.

Alexandria was the capital of Cavafy's imagination, 'Queen of the Greek world, / genius of all knowledge, of every art' (The Glory of the Ptolemies), and though the settings of his historical poems range throughout the Greek diaspora, from Italy through Greece to Asia Minor, to Syria and into Persia, ancient Alexandria claims the greatest number. It is 'Alexandria, a godly city' (If Actually Dead), where 'you'll see palaces and monuments that will amaze you' (Exiles), and where 'all are brilliant, / glorious, mighty, benevolent; everything they undertake is full of wisdom' (Caesarion) - yet in each of these poems the theme is failure.

In Alexandrian Kings, for example, published in 1912, the populace turns out in force at the Donations of Alexandria, a great festival arranged by Cleopatra and Antony, where their children were proclaimed kings of Armenia, Media, Parthia, Cilicia, Syria and Phoenicia, and where Cleopatra's eldest, Caesarion, her son and heir by Julius Caesar, was proclaimed King of Kings.  The translation is again by Valassopoulos.

... the day was warm and exquisite,
the sky clear and blue.
the Gymnasium of Alexandria a triumph of art,
the courtiers' apparel magnificent,
Caesarion full of grace and beauty
and the Alexandrians ran to see the show
and grew enthusiastic, and applauded
in Greek, in Egyptian, and some in Hebrew,
bewitched with the beautiful spectacle,
though they knew perfectly well how worthless,
what empty words, were these king-makings.

In historical fact the Donations were neither empty words nor meaningless pomp; they were part of Antony's realisable if ambitiously far-reaching design for a new Hellenistic empire based on Alexandria. All the same, we know that things did not work out that way, that Cleopatra and Antony were defeated at Actium three years later in 31 BC, that they took their lives the following year and that the victorious Octavian, addressing the same throng in the same Gymnasium, promised the Alexandrians leniency because their city was so splendid, because Alexander was its founder -- and then had Caesarion put to death ('It is bad to have too many Caesars'). Yet for all their willing delight in spectacle and their pleasure in playing along with dreams, Cavafy's Alexandrians also know: 'It wouldn't have lasted long anyway / years of experience make that clear' -- three thousand years of experience in which Greek cities and kingdoms and empires and dreams have fallen again and again to the ironies of history.

When Forster came to Alexandria he thought the war would bring an end to the civilisation he had known, but he was determined at least to fight against its 'inward death'. Now he found that Cavafy, standing on his balcony, was already surveying a wider wreckage. His exemplar was not Alexander who had founded the city but Antony who bade it farewell; fallen to Rome, fallen to the Arabs, Cavafy saw failure and loss as the central Alexandrian experience, his native city the capital of the repeatedly wounded world of Hellenism, which as he spoke could seem to connote the entire civilisation of humankind. Like the populace in Alexandrian Kings, he snatched what he could from the moment.

These photographs of Valassopoulos' house were taken after his death in 1972.

The complete translations of Cavafy's poetry by George Valassopoulos are found in The Forster-Cavafy Letters, edited by Peter Jeffreys, published by The American University in Cairo Press and available directly from them or from online outlets like Amazon.

Soon after these photographs were taken the house was pulled down.