A Day in Corfu in 7 Quick Takes
1 A glorious day in Corfu. Walked for miles, okay 7.22 km to be exact, on the Korission Lagoon, ocean on one side, a manmade lagoon, now a nature reserve on the other. We had the beach entirely to ourselves for hours, an unexpected experience of a lonely planet.
2 The Corfiots are a truly friendly helpful people, who go out of their way to help you—driving miles out of their way and asking us to follow us to the Lagoon when their English and our Greek could not patch together understandable directions.
Philoxenia, kindness to strangers, is a value they prize—and in line with a recent New York Times article that kindness, helpfulness and generosity actually help you get ahead in business and in life, this artless philosophy is good business. Tourism is the major source of income, and nobody who comes to Corfu could fail to want to come again, or recommend it!
This openness is apparent in the airport, the most borderless I’ve seen (apart from driving into the Republic of Ireland from Northern Ireland. Turn the corner, see the EU starry symbol, and a welcome to Ireland, and there you are)! In Corfu, we just walked through a line holding up an EU passport, which an official perfunctorily eyeballed. We had a US and a UK passport on us being dual citizens, but quickly produced the British one, and we were through in seconds. No stamps, and such like fuss!
I look forward for the day when Europe will be truly one country, the United States of Europe, like the United States of America. What a fascinating powerhouse it will be!
3 Corfu has all the blessings and abundance of a beneficent climate. Every garden has a lemon tree, and often an orange and fig tree or so.
In the credit crunch, which disproportionately hit Greece, many Greeks have found it makes sense to go back to the countryside, where is easier to survive with little cash.
We saw signs of this parallel economy, living off the land, everywhere. Two older women in head scarves wandered among the lagoon, then walked back with a massive bunch of wild onions, with thick, long, leek-like leaves. Voila, a nutrient rich, anti-viral aromatic wild onion soup for dinner, and for free. Men walked into the lagoon with massive nets, an apparently fool-proof method of catching fish.
Gardens had crowded chicken coops, or flocks of kids and lamb–ethical tax-free wealth!!
I had Greek salad and little cheese pies with fresh ricotta for dinner. The restaurant owner told me that he had grown or made every ingredient in the salad himself—including the olives and the olive oil and even the yummy fresh feta!
I was charmed by the living off the land I saw, women harvesting the thyme and rosemary and sage growing wild off the fields, families with their own olives and lemons and chickens and kid goats. But the restaurant owner said sadly, “I work, work, work. I wish I could travel like you, but I may never have money to. How long do you think this economic crisis will last?”
Living off the land, working in the sun is a romantic idea, and a healthy one—but yeah, no money to travel—that would be a major drawback.
4 The Olive.
Colonization leaves behind a richness of ideas and imports and customs, even while it strips the colonies. In the big scale of things, the Columbian Exchange probably did more good than harm. (And incidentally, immigration today brings about the cross-fertilization of ideas, customs, culture and cuisine that colonization once did.)
Anyway, Corfu was ruled by the Venetians for 400 years, and they badly wanted olive oil, and olive wood for their ships. So they encouraged every family to plant some olive trees, offering peasants who planted 100 trees a cash bonus. Today, there are 3.5 million olive trees in Corfu, and every family owns a few.
The olive groves are shady and extraordinarily beautiful, and remind me of the Garden of Olives in Gethsemane, some trees 500 years old.
The Corfiots eccentrically don’t prune their trees. Saint Spirodon, the island’s beloved saint, appeared and told them it was cruel to harvest or beat trees. So the unpruned trees grow thick and gnarled, and the Corfiots spread a mesh beneath the trees, and harvest the fallen olives. We saw middle-aged men and women working beneath them with a wheelbarrow.
5 I love the donkeys on the island, and have petted every one. Yesterday, we saw a traditional olive mill in the Theotokos monastery. The acolyte explained how donkeys were harnessed to the spokes around the basin and walked around it, crushing the olives, extracting the oil.
“We saw donkeys on the island,” Roy said brightly, delighted by Corfu. The monk looked at him with infinite tact and pity. “Not the same donkeys,” he explained eventually, and very kindly. “Maybe their great-grandchildren.”
6 Corfu has its own seasons—daffodils appear in January. By April, the gardens are in full bloom, purple Judas trees blaze in the countryside, and there is a profusion of wild flowers.