Thursday, 16 November 2017

Inspired by Greece

The Durrells of Corfu, published earlier this year by Profile Books in London, will be published in Greek translation by Patakis in Athens in 2018.

Patakis will also be launching next year my Alexandria: City of Memory, first published by Yale University Press in London and New Haven in 2004.  It was published in Greek by Oceanida in Athens in 2005; now Patakis are making a fresh translation and are issuing the book as a trade paperback.

These two books, The Durrells of Corfu and Alexandria: City of Memory, are closely associated with one another and with my curiosity about the Durrells as I explain in this Waterstones blog post. It pleases me immensely to see them published in Greece, the country that inspired the remarkable Durrell family and such friends of theirs as Henry Miller.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Hallowe'en Here and There

Friends have sent me photographs of the season. These skulls and bones 
were stumbled upon in a garden in Providence, Rhode Island. 
A café in Main Street, Walnut Creek, California.
Service at a London fruit and vegetable shop. 
Orange and ghostly pumpkins in London.
Pret-a-porter graveyard in Lafayette, California.
Blue-green pumpkin in Providence.
Autumn at Rogers Lake, Connecticut.

London sky.

Friday, 20 October 2017

In and Out of the Roman Empire

The north gateway to Chesters cavalry fort, the entrance to the Roman Empire.

I took the opportunity of my visit to Hexham in Northumberland for the Book Festival there in April to go see the northernmost frontier of the Roman Empire. I have been along the Rhine, the Danube and the Euphrates and I have travelled up the Nile to Aswan and beyond, but I had never been to the Roman frontier along the River Tyne.

The plan shows the north gateway to Chesters;
the fort is traversed by the Wall which crosses the Tyne at this point.

A few miles north of Hexham are the partly excavated remains of the Roman cavalry fort at Chesters, one of a series of garrisons along Hadrian's Wall which marches east to west across England just north of the Tyne - and which here at Chesters actually crosses the river. The Wall was a retreat of sorts, or a consolidation; the Romans had pushed far further north than that.

Hadrian's Wall crossed the Tyne at Chesters.
It began when Julius Caesar invaded Britain in 55 BC and again in 54 BC during the Gallic Wars; his purpose was to punish those British tribes which were giving support and refuge to the tribes resisting the Romans in Gaul. Ninety years later, in AD 43, during the reign of the emperor Claudius the Romans invaded Britain again, this time to stay and enjoy the agricultural and pastoral wealth of the land.

Demonstration of Rome's long term intentions was given by Agricola, the governor of Britain from 77 to 85, who subdued the whole of what is now England and Wales and established numerous forts as deep into Scotland as Aberdeen and Inverness and even sailed to Orkney and took its surrender, a voyage which incidentally definitively established that Britain was an island.  But the cost in manpower was considerable; altogether the Empire was manned by thirty legions, four of these in Britain alone, whereas the powerful Persian Empire was opposed by just six legions and wealthy and populous Egypt was controlled by only two.

And now, as Tacitus wrote in his history, 'the conquest of Britain was completed and then let slip' when the emperor Domitian withdrew one legion, a short term saving with huge long term costs.

Roman baths overlooking the River Tyne.
Disturbances in the provinces were more than three legions could handle and when the emperor Hadrian visited Britain in 122 he ordered the construction of a wall across the narrow Tyne-Solway isthmus, abandoning everything to the north to the barbarians.  Hadrian's Wall, completed in just four years, was a remarkable achievement, an immense stone barrier requiring the moving of some two millions tons of rock and soil, lined by castles at every mile along its 80-mile length with turrets in between and large fortresses at intervals, and garrisoned by over ten thousand men in all.

The wall marked the northern boundary of the Roman Empire until the legions withdrew from Britain three centuries later.  In that sense it was a success but the cost of manning the wall was a drain on Rome's resources; in 410, the same year that the Romans abandoned the island, Rome itself was sacked by the Visigoths. The Roman Empire in the West collapsed completely in 476.

The crypt of Hexham Abbey is built with stones from Hadrian's Wall.
Now you walk across a field north of Hexham and through the ruins of a gate in the wall of the cavalry fort at Chesters and you are entering the Roman Empire, and returning to the ticket office and the attached café for a cup of tea you leave. In and out of the Roman Empire was never so easy.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Last Photographs of the Interior of Lawrence Durrell's Tower in the Rue Mamoun

Bent Christophersen was the last person to photograph inside the Villa Ambron in Alexandria before it was destroyed last month. I have posted some of Bent's photographs earlier; now he has kindly provided more (the copyright is his). Here is one of the corridor leading to the base of the tower, several of the stairway leading up, and the Rue Mamoun street sign which is all that remains of the past.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

St Joseph's School in Darjeeling Honours the Wrong Durrell

Wrong Durrell in box at bottom right.

Lawrence Durrell, who was born in India, attended the Jesuit-run St Joseph's School at North Point in Darjeeling for two years, 1921-22, before coming to England to continue his education. 

But it seems St Joseph's knows nothing about this and has instead honoured Gerald Durrell as the 'well known author' among its North Point alumni.  Gerry, however, left India in 1928 when he was three; he never went to St Joseph's.  It is nice to know that Jesuits sometimes get things wrong.

Gerald Durrell left India at three; he never went to St Joseph's.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Margo Durrell at Malvern Girls' College

Malvern's pupils' ledger for spring term 1929.
Margo Durrell was at Malvern Girls' College (now Malvern St James Girls' School) from spring term 1929 to summer term 1935 when she blew it all and went to Corfu.

She was always in two minds about whether it had been right to leave Malvern Girls’ College. ‘Corfu was an escape, in a way,’ she recalled. ‘I was doing very well at Malvern. I could have had a career, you see, which I sometimes wish I had done.’

She might have been an actress or a ballet principal as the school magazine for summer 1930 shows, when Margo appeared in the school ballet Joy Incarnate in the role of a snowdrop.  

Malvern lost a snowdrop but gained an illustrious Old Girl.

Margo Durrell as a snowdrop.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Lawrence Durrell at Canterbury

Lawrence Durrell was at school at St Edmund's in Canterbury from 1926 to 1927. The school has dedicated a study-bedroom wing, formerly a dormitory wing, to him.

The Lawrence Durrell Wing at St Edmund's.

Lawrence Durrell, once of Watson House,
commemorated at St Edmund's.

View over Canterbury and its cathedral from
Lawrence Durrell's dormitory window.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Today all the Egyptian newspapers are talking about the Villa Ambron and Lawrence Durrell

Zahraa Adel Awad tells me: 'Today all the Egyptian newspapers are talking about the Villa Ambron and Lawrence Durrell'.

Zahraa and her friends and fellow activists (see previous post) have long campaigned to save the Villa Ambron, the place where Lawrence Durrell began writing The Alexandria Quartet, with the aim of turning it into a museum or cultural centre dedicated to Alexandria's recent cosmopolitan period.  But today their photographs appear throughout the Egyptian press to record its destruction.

Corruption and ugliness have ruined a once beautiful world class city.

Here are some thumb shots with links.

مسلسل اغتيال الفيلات التراثية بالإسكندرية مازال مستمر بهدم فيلا أمبرون

Friday, 22 September 2017

The Sad End to Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria

Zahraa Adel Awad has sent me more photographs of the destruction of the Villa Ambron (see previous post) where Lawrence Durrell lived in a very different Alexandria during the war. These photographs were taken by her friends Dr Mohamed Adel Dossouki and architect Sherif Farag. All are campaigners for the preservation of Alexandria's heritage and all are very sad. 

This little room, how well I know it!
Now they’ve rented this and the next door one
As business premises, the whole house
Has been swallowed up by merchants’ offices,
By limited companies and shipping agents …
O how familiar it is, this little room!
Once here, by the door, stood a sofa,
And before it a little Turkish carpet,
Exactly here. Then the shelf with the two
Yellow vases, and on the right of them:
No. Wait. Opposite them (how time passes)
The shabby wardrobe and the little mirror.
And here in the middle the table
Where he always used to sit and write,
And round it the three cane chairs.
How many years … And by the window over there
The bed we made love on so very often.
Somewhere all these old sticks of furniture
Must still be knocking about …
And beside the window, yes, that bed.
The afternoon sun climbed half way up it.
We parted at four o’clock one afternoon,
Just for a week, on just such an afternoon.
I would have never 
Believed those seven days could last forever.

- Constantine Cavafy's The Afternoon Sun, translated by Lawrence Durrell

'Were it not to see you again I doubt if I could return again to Alexandria. I feel it fade inside me, in my thoughts, like some valedictory mirage — like the sad history of some great queen whose fortunes have foundered among the ruins of armies and the sands of time!'

- Clea, the final volume of The Alexandria Quartet, by Lawrence Durrell

Zahraa says: 'I am so sad for the villa especially I used to take my tourists group around for Lawrence Durrell tour in Alexandria; now it is totally gone.  The developer is Mr Abdel Aziz who will build a new apartment building called Al Amraa Palace (Royal Princes Palace)'.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Lawrence Durrell's Home in Alexandria Destroyed: The End of the Villa Ambron

19 September 2017
I have received the news tonight from Zahraa Adel Awad in Alexandria that the Villa Ambron where Lawrence Durrell lived from 1943 to 1945 was torn down yesterday, 19 September 2017.

In the octagonal tower of the villa Durrell wrote Prospero's Cell about Corfu and the first pages of what was to become Justine, which grew into The Alexandria Quartet.

Zahraa is wonderful tour guide in Alexandria who takes a special interest in the city's cosmopolitan and literary past. Both photographs in this post were taken by her.  Thank you, Zahraa.

For more on the Villa Ambron and the long campaign to save it and to turn it into a museum of Alexandria's cosmopolitan past, see here.

June 2017

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Talking Templars

The Templars: History and Myth is now an audio book.
You can  now listen to The Templars: History and Myth by Michael Haag while washing the dishes, driving the car, or whatever.

The audio book runs for 11 hours unabridged and is available directly from the publisher Tantor in North America and via Amazon and other online outlets worldwide.

The reader is Guy Bethell, an Englishman who lives in Arizona.  For an audio sample of the book, click here.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Tragedia templariuszy

Bestseller in Poland

Astra in Poland (Wydawnictwo Astra) have acquired the Polish rights to The Templars: History and Myth, following their publication last year of The Tragedy of the Templars which has become a bestseller. The Polish edition of The Templars: History and Myth will be published in 2018.