Tuesday, September 13, 2011


To make the transition from the wonderful island of Vis to the Besarabka nuthouse a bit more bearable, I've decided to re-read Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals, one of my very favorite childhood books.

I've always remembered Durrell's descriptions of the Greek island of Corfu: mention an olive grove to me, for example, and even now I would still immediately think of his book.

But six years ago, in 2005, when we first went to the Assos/Çanakkale/Küçükkuyu area, which is relatively far from Corfu, but is still totally part of the same ancient, amazing land, I realized something funny: as a child growing up in Ukraine, where it rains pretty often in summer, I could never imagine a land so dry - and it turned out that all those images from Durrell's book that I had kept in my mind all those years had to be sort of re-painted, desaturated, once I found myself in the more or less actual setting of the book.

I think I first realized it when we took a walk from our friends' house, located above a mountainous village, down to the sea, passing some of the olive groves along the way. I remember looking at the olive trees and thinking: so sturdy, they seem to grow out of rocks and are capable of withstanding powerful winds - and there's no emerald green grass growing anywhere around these trees, or anywhere at all here...

Back in the Ukrainian village where I was reading Durrell's book as a kid, there was a river, and the grass covering its banks was indeed emerald green - and so lush. And even though we used to spend many of our summers back then in Crimea, in Sevastopol, a land that's probably as dry as the Mediterranean, my mind somehow chose to cling to the more "northern" imagery, found nowhere in Durrell's book, obviously.

I've been thinking of this curious perception error all these years, including this summer on Vis. And now that I'm finally re-reading Durrell's book, I first see my initial, childish, picture of the place, the wrong one, the greener one - and then, as vividly, I see the real picture, so familiar to me now as well, so dear. And so beautiful, in a totally different kind of way.

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