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Loren D. Morrison
- Publié sur Amazon.com
Lawrence Durrell is best known as a novelist, in particular for the four novels that make up his ALEXANDRIA QUARTET. In addition, he is both a poet and a travel writer. THE GREEK ISLANDS, though not one of his better known works, is much more than an ordinary travel guide. As he says, "the modern tourist is already well provided for in that respect." How, then, would you describe this book?
For starters, it is an island by island discussion of the physical characteristics, history, mythological importance, and peculiarities of each island. Durrell blends these together so well that, by the end of each section, you feel that you know what makes each island unique and that traveling there would be more like returning to the home of an old friend than making a first visit. He also relates those experiences that might be a warning to skip one or two of the smaller islands. In this respect he tells of an island so small that the only place to sleep was on the floor of a small chapel. This, in itself, was no reason to stay away, but the bed bug bites and fleas were. Luckily this sort of experience was the exception, not the norm.
During an extensive period before World War II, Durrell was an employee of the British Foreign Service and lived and traveled in the Greek Islands for several years. After the war, he spent several more years in a similar position for the Allies. He got to know the native inhabitants much more intimately than most foreigners ever do. He lived in some of their homes, hiked and camped in their less populous areas, and absorbed the ambience of many of the islands. During that period he kept extensive diaries. In preparing this book, these diaries along with contacts with many old friends still on the scene provided the basic information for the book.
There are two books that I wish that I had read before my visits to the Greek Islands in the early and mid '80's. This is one and Kazantzakis' REPORT TO GRECO is the other. Each provided its own outlook, and together they give an unbeatable overview. Most of us see ruins, particularly on islands such as Delos, the legendary birthplace of Apollo, drink, dance, and shop on islands such as Mykonos, eat the food and drink ouzo and retsina wherever we go, but we don't go out of or way to meet the "before the tourist came" natives. Durrell talks of going to out of the way islands and villages where one finds a room by finding the mayor who, in turn, introduces you to someone who takes you into their home as if you were a friend of the family. To do this, you have to be more of a risk taker than most of us are. I'm not sure that I fit that mold by the time I was there in the '80's, but I'd like to think that I might have. I certainly did when I was younger and living in the Philippines. Then, I (foolishly?) knew no fear, and even slept, one night in a carabao pen. (A carabao is a domesticated water buffalo.) Any port in a storm when you're young and adventurous.
To summarize, Durrell presents a picture of the Islands that integrates a place, a people, an ancient history, a mythology replete with warring gods and goddesses, and a modern history, including wars and rebellions, and freedom and slavery, into an experience worth reading about, and worth seeking out. If I'd read THE GREEK ISLANDS before my trips, I would have been more on the lookout for that world. I think that it's still there for those of us who really seek it out.