Tuesday, 5 July 2016
The Life Aquatic
As the lazy afternoon drifted by, we came at last to the almost deserted beach, and I could feel my heart lift. The pebble shore curved away round the little bay, lapped by gentle waves, and the jade green sea rippled seductively in front of us. It had been many years, several decades indeed, since I had been to Corfu, and I had been concerned that it would not be possible to find a beach that was not bordered and disfigured by the garish and noisy trappings of tourism. And yet, here was one that felt as it if might have come straight out of Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals, a book that has long been one of my favourites.
This beach was bounded by a little-used road, with only a couple of quiet tavernas set along it at a discrete distance from each other, both of which seemed to exist in a drowsy parallel universe, from a time long gone by. As I walked slowly into the crystal clear water, gently acclimatising myself to what felt like the cold, but which probably only felt that way in contrast with the warmth of the day, I glanced down into it. Already I could see the darting flashes of small fish, and I sighed through my snorkel in contentment, as I let myself slip into the sea.
Finally submerged, I floated for a while, entranced by the underwater soap operas being performed before me. I thrilled at the neon vividness of the ornate wrasse, as it shot between the larger pebbles, and I floated after small schools of annular sea bream, their almost translucent iridescent bodies flexing beneath where I hung in the sea above them. After a while, my submerged ears became accustomed to the clicking of the little sea bream, and I watched as they snapped at each other and other passing fish (including me). On one occasion, two little fish performed a strange ballet, swooping away from each other, before turning, dashing back, and locking mouths, with an audible snap, a performance they repeated again and again. I could not tell if they were flirting or fighting but, after watching them for a while, I thought that I should give them some privacy, and I drifted on.
A small red ragworm floated free of its tiny pebble cave, where I had seen it crawl a little earlier, and I held myself back as it was attacked by the little fish around me. It twisted and turned, as if suspended in mid-air, its centipede-like feet flailing, before it finally made its way back to the sea bed. There, presumably feeling immensely relieved after its ordeal, it wriggled itself between stones for safety and did not reemerge. A tiger-striped comber, not much bigger than my index finger, saw me, turned and swam back to the shade of an overhanging pebble, and its disguise blended it perfectly into its sanctuary. Another little fish, with brown frills like a flamenco dancer, looked up at me, and we stared at each other for a while. Slowly, it opened its tiny mouth, either in amazement, or as if it thought that it was a much larger creature, and might attack me. To spare it the embarrassment, should it attempt the feat and fail, I turned politely and swam away.
As the sun arced around the bay, and disappeared behind towering grey thunder clouds, it felt like the time had come to move on for the day. I emerged from the sea, feeling that familiar sea-salt tingle on my skin, which brought back memories of my childhood, learning to swim in the sea off the coast of Devon. Driving back along the coastal road, we spotted a sign pointing to the Durrell White House, and I turned off to see it. The house is more overlooked by other houses than it was when Lawrence and Nancy Durrell made it their home in the 1930s, but sitting on the rocks beside the terrace, it was not hard to imagine how it might have felt when they were there. Across the little bay of Kalami, and away beyond the headland dotted with olive and cypress trees, a fork of lightning split the sky, followed some time later by a far off rumble of thunder. It was time to go.