As my first full day in Corfu draws to a close my stomach begins to grumble & growl, the monster needs feeding. I’ve heard that there’s a little festival a couple of kilometres along the coastline with food and music so off I head off on my pushbike as the twilight comes, along little country lanes, wide enough for just one car, lined with trees that carry figs and walnuts growing plump and green, the verges dense with grasses and cornflowers, the real heat of the summer is yet to come, so the colours are rich and lush. This evening there are no tourists or locals for that matter, no cars, no people, where is everyone I wonder?
As I ride on in the faltering light I see small dark blobs moving on the tarmac, I eventually realise they are small frogs or toads, it seems an ignominious end for a Corfiot frog to be squashed underneath the wheels of a large Englishmans bike, so the rest of my journey I spend bobbing and weaving along the road, like a man in his cups.
I soon reach the beach, with no fatalities having occurred, as I look a few hundred metres to my left the last rays of the sun are reflected at the horizon, they are competing with flashing neon lights and the sounds of a band, to my right the coastline is much quieter with a little bay and flickering lights, I pause & wonder, which way to go? Maybe the quiet side might have a little Taverna by the water, some wine, some food, do I really want a night of noise and crowds? Sod it, I decide on the lights and the noise, why not.
I head towards the bright lights, park up my bike next to a wooden beach bar & survey the scene, a stage has been set up and a band is banging out tunes, the lead singer is a young woman, accompanied by two guitars, a drummer & a violinist. She belts out a Michael Jackson number with gusto & a thick Greek accent, in front of the stage several hundred people are seated at white plastic tables & chairs, family groups for the most part, old, young & all in-between. There is much greeting & kissing, old friends & neighbours catching up, babies being shown off, cheeks pinched, lots of chattering and laughter, teenagers shun their families and hang out together away from the dining area, teenagers like teenagers everywhere that are too cool to be with Ma & Pa, striking out for independence.
To one side of the soiree are ten or so stalls, some selling food, some plastic kids toys, some sweets. I peruse the food stalls, and stop riveted at one with a huge barbecue with four whole sheep roasting on spits. Thats the one for me. Handily the young man behind the counter speaks English, though the bottles of beer on the counter and the trays filled with hunks of bread really explain most of what I need to know. He goes on to explain that you buy the meat by the half kilo, the smallest portion being 1/2 a kilo. I order it, with mythos beer & bread. At this point the young fella calls to an older gent sitting at the back of the stall, he rises slowly from his chair, theres a fuck off big meat cleaver grasped in his right hand, he heads with determination towards the roasting lamb & proceeds to cleave a great chunk of meat off with a single blow, he takes this to the counter places it on a a wooden board then rains down five blows like an executioner who relishes his calling, reducing the joint to caveman sized chunks of meat & bone. He wraps these in a sheet of paper & I am handed the package, with my beer & my bread. Which I then take to one of the few empty tables.
I sit and unwrap my dinner & try to tear off slices with my fingers, this doesn’t work well, so I resort to simply holding a chunk in my hands and stripping the meat from the bone with my teeth. I feel rather like a barbarian from the far North, which is not helped by noticing that the diners at the surrounding tables are eating far more demurely, cutlery, corn cobs, meat on sticks, little bowls of Greek salad. Somewhat awkwardly I eat my lamb quickly and leave the table and head to the beach bar which is a little distance from the stage and much quieter. I find a comfortable seat next to three aged Greek fellas, with skins like Spanish leather, they drink their ouzo and gossip and smoke. One tries to engage me in conversation, but with no common language he shrugs his shoulders and returns to the conversation with his mates. I drink ouzo and listen to the band, who’s repertoire has now moved on to old time Greek music, violin to the fore. A bunch of young people in peasant costume dance in front of the stage. By my third ouzo I am feeling distinctly Greek. Then I order a Greek coffee to seal the deal, it arrives & tastes as sweet honey and as thick as mud. I have one last cigarette then settle my bill and salute the old boys as I leave the bar. I decide to head home before theres a rush, though at midnight the evening seems to be in full swing. I retrace my way back to my rooms, the light on my bike is just strong enough for me to see the road ahead, there are no frogs, they seem to have made it to wherever they were going, but my bike still meanders and wobbles along the road, this time ouzo fuelled.
Every few hundred metres I pass one house or another, how cosy they look, they are not simply houses, they are homes, and I think of how often on my travels I’ve asked myself the question, could I imagine living here? The answer has been, rather often, yes maybe…….
To travel is a rather wonderful thing. It must be just as wonderful I imagine to find a place where you know you belong. And off I head back to my room and my bed, with a full stomach, a light head and rather bad, but quite delightful music ringing in my ears.