Monday, 31 December 2018

White City


Several times in The Alexandria Quartet Lawrence Durrell describes Alexandria as the ‘white city’ as in this excerpt from the third volume Mountolive.

A sea-wind chaffered and tugged at the sea-limits of the estuary. Higher still roamed packages of smoking, blood-stained cloud throwing down a strange radiance into the streets and squares of the white city. Rain was a rare and brief winter phenomenon in Alexandria.

Ibrahim Abdel Meguid does the  same in his novel No One Sleeps in Alexandria.

In the evening he told Magd al-Din about the city where he had spent all that time, white Alexandria, where foreigners from all over the world and poor Egyptians from all over the land went.

Alexandria’s whiteness is in contrast to the dustiness of Cairo, a city blown by desert winds, shrouded in sand,  whereas Alexandria glistens with salt crystals from the evening breezes off the sea. 

Which made me think of other cities called white.  Tel Aviv for example and Nicosia which in Greek is called Lefkosia, literally the White Place.

But what about that part of my own city that I never think about at all nor do I ever go there?  That rundown area shoved up against Shepherd’s Bush and amputated from Holland Park and the heart of London by a motorway.  How did White City get its name?

Only recently, seeing a set of striking postcard scenes of the 1908 Franco-British Exhibition celebrating the new alliance between the countries did I understand. 

The 1908 Franco-British Exhibition.

The exhibition is indeed a fabulous white city.  And the name was further popularised when the Olympic Games were held next door in the same year.  The 1908 Olympics were meant to be held in Rome but the explosion of Vesuvius caused the Italians to direct their attention to the devastation round the Bay of Naples.  Runner-up London quickly stepped in, a running track was built, and the Olympics and the Franco-British Exhibition ran side by side at what was now indelibly called White City.

1908 White City Marathon.
The exhibition was torn down and the Olympic track given over to dog racing.  Then the motorway finished it off.  But not quite because the BBC built a hideous television studio there which I gather is now protected as a national treasure, and a vast shopping centre has been erected there.  I gather it is even quite trendy to live in White City these days.

BBC Television Studios.

Maybe I should jump on the 31 bus and take a look.

Monday, 24 December 2018

Saturday, 15 December 2018

The Durrells in Poland

My book The Durrells of Corfu has now been translated into Polish as Durrellowie z Korfu and published in Warsaw by Noir sur Blanc.

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.

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Curate's Egg on His Face: Mahmoud Manzalaoui's Attack on the Veracity of Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet

Because he was Egyptian and from Alexandria and was an academic, Mahmoud Manazalaoui's attack on the veracity, the honesty,  of Lawrence Durrell's portrait of Alexandria has largely gone unchallenged in the academic world since he wrote his paper Curate's Egg: An Alexandrian Opinion of Durrell's Quartet in 1962.  Shamefully his views are still cited by uncritical academics today.  In fact Manzalaoui's opinion is nothing more than an ignorant rant written by a man who clearly knew next to nothing about the city he claimed as his own.

Click here to read my rejoinder, Egg on His Face, to Manzalaoui (sometimes misspelt Manzaloui).

And click here to read Manzalaoui's original Curate's Egg.

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Alexander the Great Founds Alexandria, 331 BC

Alexander the Great Founds Alexandria, 331 BC
Plutarch, late first century AD
[adapted from: Plutarch, Alexander, Lives, Vol. VII, Loeb Classical Library translated by Bernadotte Perrin Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1919.]
- from An Alexandria Anthology
edited by Michael Haag

The Persians overran the Middle East, including Egypt, and twice attempted to invade Greece but were repulsed.  Alexander the Great launched a counterattack, and in 331 BC, after driving the Persians out of Egypt, he founded a new city on the Mediterranean shore. 

After his conquest of Egypt, Alexander wished to found a large and populous Greek city which should bear his name, and by the advice of his architects was on the point of measuring off and enclosing a certain site for it. Then, in the night, as he lay asleep, he saw a wonderful vision. A man with very hoary locks and of a venerable aspect appeared to stand by his side and recite these lines from Homer’s Odyssey –

There is an island in the surging sea, which they call Pharos, lying off Egypt.  It has a harbour with good anchorage, and hence they put out to sea after drawing water.

Accordingly, he rose up at once and went to Pharos, which at that time was still an island, a little above the Canopic mouth of the Nile, but now it has been joined to the mainland by a causeway. And when he saw a site of surpassing natural advantages (for it is a strip of land like enough to a broad isthmus, extending between a great lagoon and a stretch of sea which terminates in a large harbour), he said he saw now that Homer was not only admirable in other ways, but also a very wise architect, and ordered the plan of the city to be drawn in conformity with this site.

There was no chalk at hand, so they took barley-meal and marked out with it on the dark soil a rounded area, to whose inner arc straight lines extended so as to produce the figure of a chlamys, or military cloak, the lines beginning from the skirts (as one may say), and narrowing the breadth of the area uniformly. The king was delighted with the design; but suddenly birds from the river and the lagoon, infinite in number and of every sort and size, settled down upon the place like clouds and devoured every particle of the barley-meal, so that even Alexander was greatly disturbed at the omen. However, the seers exhorted him to be of good cheer, since the city here founded by him would have most abundant and helpful resources and be a nursing mother for men of every nation, and so he ordered those in charge of the work to proceed with it.

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.