Monday, 19 April 2010

A wet day in April

A slow day made slower by the almost absence of the subliminal rumble of aircraft - a quiet that draws attention to itself. The volcanic eruption cloud from Iceland has afforded our atmosphere temporary relief; unscratched by the glint of styli trailing vapour across the blue, hidden today by clouds gliding through the cypress trees below the village and up the mountain behind us. From the village we can see only as far as the church of the Prophet Elias. Beyond it weather from the south has brought a matte white that obscures the sea, the mainland and the familiar southern mountains.
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I'm working my way through John Waller's latest book, Walking the Corfu Trail (Yiannis Books, 101 Strawberry Vale, Twickenham TW1 4SJ email: john@yiannisbooks.com), dedicated to a co-founder of the Trail, Hilary Whitton Paipeti, ‘who loves her island so much’, standing on John's right. Some stand up comedians insinuate the meat of their act between promises to play the musical instrument in their hands; thus John, presenting a book about The Trail, looks to be about to impart an account of its origins and route, except he’s ever pausing to write about ‘friends, flowers and food’, tending to leave the maps, colorful photos and sketches to look after themselves. Last Wednesday evening we were upstairs at the Durrell School, off narrow Philhellene Street in town, surrounded by books – served wine, delicious canapés and enjoyable chatty company - for the local launch, introduced by Richard Pine, of Waller's latest book. I suspect this one's a slow burn publication rather than one that will shoot off shelves in weeks, though they were going pretty well on Wednesday; a book to be borrowed and not returned, swiftly resold if displayed second hand at one of Corfu’s familiar table-top sales, becoming a valued souvenir and an essential companion for residents and visitors to Corfu - guiding those, armed with post-it notes to mine it for details, when planning long walks on the different stages of the trail from Cape Koundouris near Kavos in the south to Cape Agios Ektarinis west of Kassiopi in the north, explaining some of what they'll see, especially flowers, and providing advice on places to stay, and names of local dishes, slipping in, almost unnoticed, observations on the many different ways more people, local and foreign, are thinking about 'their' environment. Walking the Corfu Trail is amusing in an artfully unintentional way, littered with quotes – Edward Lear especially - cameo incidents, bus times and pen sketches of walking companions, people met on the trail and figures from Corfu’s past – with no hint of name dropping, a reminder of transient and permanent talent within its small compass (see a tiny sample under ‘the characters’ listed on p.6). Even with his daughter’s devoted editing, Waller’s book is like one of the trails on which he and his companions often lose their way, distracted by diversions, missing signs and sections that seem still under construction, grown over or abruptly blocked by claims of people with no more respect for ‘rights of way’ than they have for ‘ancient lights’. It brings to mind the classic Diary of a Nobody, written by two Victorian sophisticates, using Mr Pooter, his wife Carrie and their friends and neighbours to tease their real life equivalents. By the end of their book The Nobody's have become real enough to outlast a legion of celebrities.
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The other day John Martin, sent me a picture of him and Annie Guthrie, cycling in Leeuwarden. They've just got back to Australia, after attending conferences in Denmark and the Netherlands, having avoided the groundings. John's planning a further joint working tour in Australia, and even New Zealand, on political-management leadership this November. We spoke on Skype the other morning (their evening) discussing, in passing, the numbers of people who'd be using rail, sea and other ways of getting about Europe and US. This unpredictable event, which so far as I know has caused no deaths or injuries, but much inconvenience, may prove a cloud with a silver lining, setting off serendipitous events - love affairs, conceptions, new ideas, different ways of doing things, new business opportunities, and eureka moments for those seeking answers to insoluble problems, including my feckless reliance on air travel.
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Richard Pine's latest piece in the Irish Times LETTER FROM GREECE that begins '
The horrendous debt of every man, woman and child has brought hostility and resistance on to the streets...
Graffiti on a wall above Pyrgi since at least 2006

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