Monday, July 30, 2007

Fermor and Durrell, together on Rhodes.

Attentive readers will have figured out that I've been taking a literary tour of Greece, first with Patrick Leigh Fermor's Mani and then with Lawrence Durrell's Prospero's Cell and Reflections On A Marine Venus. It turns out that Fermor and Durrell were acquainted, and Fermor once wrote a short piece in which he described visiting Durrell on Rhodes during the postwar period described in the latter book:
When the war was over, I read Prospero’s Cell in its actual literary setting of Corfu, during that first miraculous summer, and soon Xan [Fielding] and I and the Corn Goddess (as Larry called her; we eventually married) went to see Larry on Rhodes. We found him settled into the Villa Cleobolus among old Turkish tombstones and elaborate black-and-white pebble mosaics dappled with the shadows of leaves. It was an amazing sojourn, spent in talk and music and feasting, and one afternoon, in the ruins of ancient Camirus, wine-sprung curiosity set the four of us crawling on hands and knees through the bat-infested warren of underground water-conduits. We climbed out covered in droppings and dust and cobwebs, and our exploration reached an extraordinary climax when Xan leaped a couple of yards from the coping of a high ruined wall on to the top of an Ionic column twelve feet high which rocked frighteningly on its stylobate for several seconds. At last, as we watched with held breath, it became static with its new arrival poised on the capitol – for some reason, but most appropriately, with nothing on – like a flying stylite.

Reflections on a Marine Venus, which captures these Rhodian months, was an admirable successor to Prospero’s Cell. Each island gave birth to a book and a new sheaf of poems, and they made one look at Greece with a different glance and the same excitement and zest as the Tyrrhene coast and Calabria prompted in the pages of Norman Douglas. We visited him later in Cyprus and the midnight echoes of the vaults of Bellapaix Abbey resound in the memory still.
Patrick Leigh Fermor, "Reflections on a Marine Vulcan," 33 Twentieth Century Literature no. 3 305, 306 (Fall 1987). I guess I should have turned to Norman Douglas next, but instead it's Ryszard Kapuscinski.

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