A blog about living in Corfu, Greece, and living in Prince Edward County, Ontario, Canada; getting older and enjoying the perspective it gives you,being grateful for family, finally having time to sort out the photographs in the boxes under the bed, and having the freedom to flirt outrageously with younger men.
Monday, June 11, 2012
SUMMER SUNDAY IN CORFU
SUNDAY BY THE SEA
That’s just what most of us who live in Corfu are able to enjoy almost every weekend in summer.
A Sunday by the sea, with family or friends or, if you feel so inclined, just a good book, for company.
Living in, or on, Corfu has one huge advantage – you are never far from the sea. Your nearest beach may be just across the road, or down a lane, while your favourite beach may be as much as an hour’s drive away, but it will be a quiet drive with little traffic, and when you get there, except for the month of August, it will be uncrowded and pleasingly un-organized, By which I do not mean ‘disorganized’, I mean free from fences and entry gates, free of hustlers and pedlars, free of commerce.
We went off to what has always been a favourite of mine. So unspoiled that I refuse to tell you the name of it in case the word gets out. Mind you, we gave directions to another friend and expected him to join us but when he saw the steepness of the road leading down to it, he bottled out, as some of us say, and decided not to risk life and limb and put his faith in rented-bike-brakes.
It’s not really dangerous, though people arriving by hired car to spend a holiday in one of the seaside villas have been known to park their cars at the main road and sweat their way to the villa, loaded with luggage, rather than risk the gradient. As for taxi-drivers – they pretend that they have never heard of it and refuse to go.
It isn’t that bad – I have driven up and down that hill for so many years without incident. It just needs nerves of steel.
As always, it was worth the effort.
Embraced by steep tree-covered hillsides on which a few smart villas are sheltered by the greenery, there is just a hamlet, too tiny to be called a village, its few houses washed in pastel colours, built above and beside each other without any discernible plan, a couple of cobbled and stepped alleys connecting them.
The beach is small but stunning. A crescent of pale pebbles, south-facing, enclosed by two rocky shoulders, the sea a vision of merging blues and greens, scattered with a few small boats. It looks like the idealized seaside we used to paint as kids when our teachers exhorted us to paint a scene from our holiday.
It’s a friendly place – the same inhabitants, the same holidaymakers returning year after year because of its quiet perfection. It is perfect for children.
Last year our Child needed armbands – this year he wears Robert Redford trunks and has developed an appreciation of Nature!
There are a couple of tavernas overlooking the beach and the sea – over the years rumours have arisen pertaining to the opening of a new bar or restaurant but it never happens. There are few regrets.
Lunch by the sea is one of Corfu’s best experiences. It need not be a gourmet experience – a meal of grilled fresh sardines, deep-fried squid that may be fresh or frozen but is always good and, surprisingly appeals to children, a colourful Greek salad, tangy tzatziki and fat golden chips, accompanied by ouzo, ice-cold beer or retsina, is good to look at and better to eat.
Jamie Oliver would purr with approval over the lavish use of thick lemon slices and oregano.
It was really hot – around 37 degrees C we thought. The sea was like silk, with the occasional wave coming, literally out of the blue, to take the toddlers by surprise. A baby was tenderly lowered into a blow-up duck for its first taste of the sea; an old woman on two sticks was just as tenderly helped in and out of the water by her caring family. It’s not a trendy beach, but it is a friendly one.
Nothing remarkable happened - but that was the joy of it. No demands were made on us, no-one wanted to tell us their life story, no-one intruded on our quiet time. I hadn’t been there for a while, I was welcomed back and came away with those wonderful gifts, so generously given – a bottle of home-produced olive oil, a bag of freshly dug potatoes.
It’s not just the bottles of wine or oil, the bags of lemons, potatoes or eggs, that are so freely given by human friends, that make life in Corfu so delightful.
The Sundays by the sea are rich in offerings from the sea itself.
I used to spend Sundays with friends who had a small caique.
We would potter along the coast, bathing, boating, drinking more than was good for us, and every now and then the husband who was a great fisherman would bring up some clams or crabs for us to snack on.
Paula showing me how to open and eat a clam
He would bring up sea urchins too, careless of the spines, open them with a knife, apply a generous squeeze of lemon and tip the live contents, taken by surprise, down his throat.
Nikos even brought up the occasional barnacle-encrusted amphora ...
There has always been so much bounty fresh from the sea on those, and other, trips over the years.
Mussels for example
Octopus too – though it needs a lot of preparation before it can be eaten. If you are spending all day at the beach and catch one early enough, you could beat it on the rocks to tenderize it, spread it over a rigani (oregano) bush to dry out in the sun, and come, sundown, sear it over a fire. Delicious!
My parents had connections with Essex and the East End of London, where cockles, whelks and winkles were a popular ‘street food’. Not to mention the famous jellied eels.
Here in the sea off Corfu, cockles at least are abundant. They are called kydonia and are often to be seen in the market too.
Those of us who have lived here for many years still mourn the passing of what we called ‘Fish Alley’ – the winding alley in the centre of the town where fishmongers were to be found, and small establishments that used to fry fresh fish every day, to be sold as a snack in twists of paper – tiny shrimps too, all locally caught. In those days you could fish in the harbour (Old Port) and catch octopus and kefalos (grey mullet).
Not exactly fruits -de -mer, more legumes de mer perhaps, is rock samphire that grows on many beaches and rocky shorelines in Corfu. Delicious steamed, stir-fried, sautéed or lightly boiled as an accompaniment to fish, or raw in a salad, it needs no additional salt when being cooked or served. It is high in nutritional content.
One sea creature that sounds harmless and even useful is the sea cucumber, but we have found over the years that they can cause painful weals or rashes if trodden on while bathing. I wouldn’t touch one with a bargepole myself, but needless to say they feature in Chinese cuisine! Is there anything that doesn’t?
They are to be found all over the world, vary in size and appearance and, according to some reports can have a Viagra-like effect when eaten.
Be that as it may, they do not in any way appeal to me!
Perhaps my own favourite fruit-de-mer is a slice of icy watermelon cut from a melon that has been towed along in the sea behind a yacht! Bliss.
Aah – back to the beach I think.
I've just taken delivery of a couple of hundred paperbacks (at least) so there should be no lack of a good beach read for the next few Sundays!
I just had to share this photo with you – from the menu of another seaside taverna – I am still trying to come to terms with the ‘gobbage salad’! I think we can guess what it is though!
Thanls for the use of photos other than my own to Kate, Joanna, Frosso et al - whoever he may be.
The two beautiful paintings are by Allan Kingsbury.