Corfu | Siren Song
I'd like to say, out of family loyalty, that I keep returning to Corfu to catch up with my cousins. But that's only partly true. The cousins are four sisters who live on a hill in neighboring pink and peach houses. On my first visit, when I was 18, the youngest told me about turning down her American boyfriend's marriage proposal when he mentioned she'd have to move to Maine. "My sisters asked him, 'Wouldn't you rather come back to Corfu and live with us?'" she explained, shrugging.
She is 10 years older than I am, and perhaps wiser. But I knew, already, after a week of narrow, winding streets that open suddenly onto ocean views, long lunches of well-spiced shellfish beside a warm, cobalt sea, and frothy iced coffees under colonnaded walkways, that I would choose Corfu over the vast majority of men. Now, more than a decade later, I have yet to meet the man for whom I would trade the island.
Corfu is so alluring that centuries of visitors and rulers felt compelled to make it their own, to leave something of themselves behind.The Venetians carved the lion of Saint Mark on the city walls and erected not one but two fortresses thrusting into the sea. The French modeled the archways and swinging gas lamps of the Liston, Corfu town's main drag, on their Rue de Rivoli. And the British left the island a cricket ground, an affection for ginger beer (known as tzin tzin birra), and the Palace of St. Michael and St. George, now the Museum of Asiatic Art. All these donations are the obligation of a ruling power, I reasoned, as I sat under an archway on the Liston, drinking my tzin tzin birra, watching cricket, and selecting black-market CD's of Greek music from a Senegalese vendor. I didn't owe the island anything more than the price of my drink. I could let it seduce me. I did.
One bright afternoon, I visited the British Cemetery. The supervisor, George Psailas, was born on the grounds in 1927; his father, one of many Maltese settlers, had been the cemetery's caretaker before him. Mr. Psailas led me past rare wild orchids to a marker honoring 44 British soldiers lost at sea when a mine exploded as they were returning from World War II. Equally moving was the loyalty of dozens of expatriate Brits who wanted their remains laid to rest here. One man engraved his wife's headstone with GOOD NIGHT, MY LOVE, I'LL BE ALONG LATER.