During my sun-warmed afternoons, leisurely watching from the comfort of my veranda the sun diving into the Ionian sea, changing a million colors, I read, once again “My Family and Other Animals” by Gerald Durrell, this time to my young boys who loved it as much as I did at their age. This was the tale that marked my memory as a child and opened the world for the most beautiful days as an adult in Corfu, the island that I now consider my summer homeland. It’s wonderful how a children’s story binds together generations throughout the world for more than 60 years. And it’s a wonder how the natural beauty of this Greek island, still unspoiled, awaken young Gerald’s interest in wildlife, a cause to which he would dedicate his life.
“My childhood in Corfu shaped my life. If I had the craft of Merlin, I would give every child the gift of my childhood.” – Gerald Durrell, My Family and Other Animals
My Family and Other Animals, is one out of the three classic tales of Gerald’s childhood on an island paradise (along with Birds, Beasts and Relative” and The Garden of the Gods, available in the single edition The Corfu Trilogy, by Penguin Books).
It is the story of the Durrell family, who just before the Second World War left England to decamp to the glorious, sun-soaked island of Corfu, where, in between silver-green olive groves and across brilliant-white beaches, ten-year-old Gerald discovered his passion for animals.
Sixty plus years later, from My Family and Other Animals first edition, this beautiful scenery of a “magical garden” remains untouched. Don’t get me wrong. There is of course civilization – this is after all one of the most popular destinations in the Mediterranean, however one can easily find the way into the “green peace”, that is Corfu far removed from package resorts and rays of tourists. Take proof from “The Durrells”, ITV’s popular series watched by 8.2 million in 2016, leading (luckily for us who are watching) to the second series last April. Based on Gerald Durrell’s novels, written by acclaimed screenwriter Simon Nye and executive produced by the Sid’s founder, BAFTA award winning filmmaker Sally Woodward Gentle, is a timeless drama full of warmth, humour and fun, filmed on the island. “The happy news is that although Corfu has been developed for tourism, it is still beautiful” states Simon Nye. “We did half of our filming there. Our locations are breathtaking. We all want to live in the Durrells’ house, even though bits are falling off it. We also filmed in the house where Prince Philip was born, don’t you know” he continues.
The three of the houses where the Durrells lived back in the 30’s are still standing – the Strawberry-Pink Villa, Villa Agazini today, bears little resemblance to the original other than color, The Daffodil Yellow Villa, a beautiful Venetian Mansion overlooking the island of Lazareto and the “Snow-White Villa”, still white, stands among brilliant blues and emerald greens in the small waterfront village Kalami. You also may come across donkeys, as it happens in The Durrells series, however that’s the charm of an island with the most dazzling sunsets and emerald bays, a “heavenly place” as Lord Jacob Rothchild owner of a stunning villa near Kassiopi describes it, where you can sail away in a classic yacht during the annual Regatta or watch a performance from Garsington Opera under the stars.
I can’t help but bringing to memory the words of Gerald Durrell, as written in his wonderful book “Rounding the cape, we left the mountains, and the island sloped gently down, blurred with the silver and green iridescence of olives, with here and there an admonishing finger of black cypress against the sky. The shallow sea in the bays was butterfly blue, and even above the sound of the ship’s engines we could hear, faintly ringing from the shore like a chorus of tiny voices, the shrill, triumphant cries of the cicadas.”