Good Reading : August 2001
wordof mouth travel This month, Sarah Anderson, founder of the Travel Bookshop in London which inspired the film Notting Hill, selects favourite books about Greece. The first ever Rough Guide was the one to Greece, published in 1982 – nearly twenty years later and now it its eighth edition Greece, The Rough Guide remains the most readable and reliable overall guidebook. The section at the end which includes the historical framework, archaeology, mythology, wildlife, music and books has just the right amount of detail to make you feel like an instant expert. For the islands, try the Cadogan series: Corfu, Crete, Cyprus, Dodecanese, Mykonos, Rhodes and Santorini – a series which has good background information and is a reliable gauge of what should not be missed. Knowing even a smattering of Greek mythology makes any trip to Greece more rewarding. The Greek Myths (Penguin) compiled by Robert Graves is in two volumes or is also published in an illustrated version. The adventures of the important gods and heroes make riveting reading and are crucial to a sense of the spiritual power of places such as Mycenae and Delphi. Lawrence Durrell was writing about Greece in the 1940s and 50s. In Reflections of a Marine 40 Venus (Faber), Durrell indulges his poetic sense and writes eloquently about the landscape, people and history of Rhodes. The marine Venus of the title was a statue found by sailors in their nets at the bottom of Rhodes harbour and Durrell regarded her as the ‘presiding genius’ of the place. In Prospero’s Cell he describes Corfu, the island where he grew up, while Bitter Lemons of Cyprus completes his Greek trilogy. Another of the great travel writers of the twentieth century has also written about Greece, where he now lives. Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Mani (Penguin), subtitled Travels in the Southern Peloponnese, is a glorious mixture of travel, history and inspired imagination. The people of the Mani have roots which stretch back to Byzantium and the area was, until relatively recently, remote and untouched; no traveller could have caught the feelings and the experience of the Maniots as well as Leigh Fermor. His other book on Greece, Roumeli, sadly, is out of print. It is Patricia Storace’s curiosity which makes Dinner with Persephone (Granta) so appealing. She travels throughout the country with engaging openness – eager to learn the manners and traditions of the places she visits, darting into the history and mythology of ancient Greece, and using this knowledge to illustrate her experiences without ever sounding pretentious. Novels are another great way of getting to know a place and Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis (Faber) is surely the ultimate Greek novel with its swashbuckling and enduring hero, Zorba. Set in the Peloponnese in the 1920s, the work was praised by Lawrence Durrell as ‘a really great book, a marvellous evocation of landscape’. Anne Michaels’ Fugitive Pieces (Bloomsbury) is half set in Greece, and half in Canada. It is a remarkably compassionate and thoughtful first novel written by a Canadian poet. Her descriptions of Greece and the heat of the sun are seductive: ‘Olive leaves store the sun relentlessly, the strong Greek sun, until they become so dense in colour that the green turns purple, the leaves bruised by their own greed’. Lastly, for a wonderfully lingering and sensual sensation, The Greek File – Images From A Mythic Land by William Abranowicz (Rizzoli), a collection of black and white photographs ranging over the landscape and people of Greece is an absolute must.