Memories of a Greek childhood

molyvos

In some ways, my childhood wasn’t dissimilar to Gerald Durrell’s. When I was ten, I lived on the Greek island of Lesvos for six months while my mother was doing academic research there.

Being home-schooled, I was brought up with the luxury of having the freedom to learn outside a classroom. And while my textbooks accompanied us to Greece, I spent a lot of time — like Durrell — observing the animals on the island.

I watched the colonies of red ants that scurried to and fro, carefully noting their habits; fed the masses of stray cats curled up lethargically in the shade; and painstakingly recorded my very own wildlife ‘documentary’ on a dictaphone.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the Durrells and their background, Gerald Durrell was a pioneering conservationist and celebrated author. In 1935, the family (Mother, Larry, Leslie, Margo and, of course, Gerry) decamped en masse to the Greek island of Corfu, spurred on by the English climate.

‘…we sold the house and fled from the gloom of the English summer, like a flock of migrating swallows’ (The Corfu Trilogy, 2006, p. 13, published by Penguin Books)

greek-villa

On the island, eight-year-old Gerry spent his days exploring, swimming in the crystal clear sea, wandering through olive groves, and gathering a motley assortment of animals, from gulls to tortoises.

My Family and Other Animals is his enchanting account of his time in Corfu, and for me, it captures the essence of idyllic Greek life. I first read it when I was about nine or ten, and since then I’ve turned its pages countless times.

Gerry’s anecdotes are hilariously funny (the other members of the family weren’t always happy with his menagerie of creatures taking up residence in the villa), and the descriptions of Greece remind me of my time there.

‘Each day had a tranquility, a timelessness about it, so that you wished it would never end. But then the dark skin of the night would peel off and there would be a fresh day waiting for us glossy and colorful as a child’s transfer and with the same tinge of unreality.’ (The Corfu Trilogy, p. 38)

greek-photo-1

Chairete,” he called in his deep voice, the beautiful Greek greeting, “Chairete, kyrioi . . . be happy” . . . The island was drenched with dew, radiant with early morning sun, full of stirring life. Be happy. How could one be anything else in such a season?’ (The Corfu Trilogy, p. 91)

Although we were only there for a few months, in my memory it feels like much longer. I still treasure the memories of the months I spent in Greece — the smell of baked earth and dry Mediterranean heat under a cloudless sky. Dark squares of halva — a traditional post-dinner sweet — and the sweetest, juiciest watermelons delivered by a man driving the cobbled streets in a dusty pick-up truck, the back piled high with melons.

In the morning, we would walk to the bakery to buy delicious currant buns, down the cobbled streets, past the jewellers with their displays of hand-crafted jewelry and Orthodox crosses.

greek-street

Elderly Greek ladies, dressed in black, would proffer endless amounts of fresh figs as welcome and greeting. After a while, I remember getting rather tired of having to eat yet another fig, but it was rude to refuse their hospitality.

In the afternoons, when the sun was at its hottest, the air was filled with the ceaseless thrum of cicadas — siesta time.

And then, as the air grew cooler, we would get ready to go out and spend evenings at the tavernas by the harbour. Memories of the wonderful food — olives, spanakopita (spinach and feta filo pies), dolmades (stuffed vine leaves), gigantes plaki (beans in tomato sauce), tzatziki, and baklava — still make my mouth water.

greek-taverna

For me, it was an idyllic time, and I have no doubt that if we had stayed longer, or moved there permanently, I would have ended up speaking Greek. Perhaps my interest in the natural history and wildlife on the island would have led me to become a conservationist.

It was truly a formative experience, and it taught me the value of living in and experiencing another culture. Plus, Greek food is still my favourite!

Have you ever lived abroad? Did it change your outlook on life or give you a new perspective on your home country?

 

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22 thoughts on “Memories of a Greek childhood

  1. Oh yes, we lived in China (Shanghai to be specific) for 4 years before moving to the Netherlands (fondly called Holland). The contrast could not be expressed! LOL.
    But perspective it certainly gave us to cherish what we have here in our little red dot!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Yes indeed! I have spent my childhood between Italy (more specifically Sicily) England and Spain (Barcelona), mostly on a “one year here, one year there” basis! Confusing at times, but today I cherish all those memories and the experiences, I learnt three languages very early 😀
    The home base was always Italy, and it is were I currently live!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Your descriptions have only increased my desire to go visit Greece and I also love Greek food as well. You know my history well enough by now that yes, living abroad and experiencing another culture is absolutely a formative experience and I feel like I’m a better person because of it. Sure, there were challenges and plenty of things I missed about being back home, but it’s also in living in an unfamiliar place with an unfamiliar culture that you realize how one-sided your own perspective of the world is. Love that ended your post with descriptions of the food, my mouth is already watering! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you enjoyed my post. 🙂 The photos (taken by my mother) are all from my time there as well.

      Oh yes, the food is so delicious! There aren’t any Greek restaurants where I live, which is a shame. But I have tried making some Greek dishes at home, like the spinach and feta filo pies, and they’ve turned out pretty well.

      I hope you get to visit Greece before too long.

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  4. Love this! I lived in Cuernavaca, Mexico when I was 14 for six months and remember it very well — even went back and found our old apartment building in 2005, unchanged!

    I loved Durrell’s book and have been really enjoying the BBC series.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Your delightful post has me wanting to travel to Greece, a country I’ve yet to visit. Yes, my husband and I lived for six months in the Dominican Republic…it was a wonderful experience that we are both very happy that we got to experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. What a wonderful post, wonderful memories and wonderful pics…
    My memories of living abroad, began with Belsen, and living in the Beast of Belsen’s digs in bleak postwar Europe… refugees from East Germany walking sadly past our house, Berlin airlift etc etc… !!!
    Later, Malaya was a mix of beauty and hardship… travelling in steel boxes on wheels, called ‘coffins’ by us on our way to boarding school in the highlands, hoping not to be ambushed by Chinese’ bandits’…
    I find your blog addictive and will continue to work my way backwards… at the moment I have to fold the washing !!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Goodness, what amazing stories you must have to tell! I have followed your blog and I’m looking forward to reading your posts.

      Thank you for all your lovely, thoughtful comments on my posts. I’m flattered! I’m so glad that you’re enjoying my blog. 🙂

      Like

  7. Pingback: Books I Read in June | Cultural Life

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