Back in the 80s, life for me as a young girl visiting Corfu, used to be simply heaven. Often, I’d spend as long as three whole months there with my grandparents in the idyllic village of Moraitika. Just like my heroine Sofia in my trilogy, The Lady of the Pier, I’d spend my days there swimming, sunbathing, enjoying breathtaking surroundings and… thanks to my gran, eating homemade delicacies to my heart’s content, too. Basically, I used to live the life of Riley!
Having said that, in a way, I was working as well as holidaying there, although even my working hours were mostly fun too, since they gave me the chance to meet lots of tourists, make friends and polish my English in the process.
You see, for the biggest part of the 80s, my family owned a guesthouse where tourists (mostly Brits) came to stay for 1-2 weeks at a time. My experience cleaning the rooms daily with my younger sister under the supervision of my gran Antigoni, is what brought to being the fictitious guesthouse “Pallada” in my debut novel, The Necklace of Goddess Athena. What’s more, Mrs Sofia, the Corfiot pensioner who runs it in the book, is a character I’ve created with a lot of affection, having modeled her after my Gran Antigoni; a woman of an equally explosive temperament, a melodic, vocal expression, and a kind, giving heart.
Having met a multitude of people from various countries in our Corfiot guesthouse, I have a wealth of memories to treasure from those days. Somehow, my most favorite ones are the most hilarious among them.
Today, I thought I’d blog about it and share a couple with you.
Before I begin though, I should explain first that my Gran’s command of English didn’t go much further than “yes”, “no”, “hello”, and “thank you”. However, she had the incredible ability to communicate anything to the guests effectively, using hand gestures – that is, when I wasn’t around to translate for her. And although she’d often go out of her way to accommodate guests with all their needs, she wouldn’t give an iota to anyone if they broke the house rules!
I remember one morning, all three of us had just arrived to clean the rooms when Gran spotted a young man she didn’t recognize on one of the first floor balconies. What’s more, his hair was tousled, and he seemed only half-awake. Gran saw red, seeing that this room had been assigned to two girls and no guy. She dashed inside and knocked on the door loudly, conveying the message to the guests inside that they were in big trouble. Through the paper-thin walls, we heard a mighty scuffle while the girls rushed the young man to the balcony. Luckily for him, it was situated very close to the external staircase leading to the yard below. Being young and athletic, he managed without much exertion to escape, before my Gran could rush outside again to catch him and give him an earful.
What’s more, the girls then opened the door, engaging into a fiery shouting match with my Gran, which was just too delightful to interrupt, seeing that Gran spoke melodic (yet irate!) Corfiot while they spoke English with a heavy Scottish accent. In the end, they slammed the door on Gran and that was the end of it. I did speak to them at a later point and told them they weren’t allowed guests, and they promised not to do it again.
Yet, Gran kept fuming about the whole affair and finally calmed down about it, but only after their departure. As we prepared the room for the new arrivals, Gran was delighted to find a small film camera under one bed. She saw it as a sign that she was right and they were wrong to treat her so insolently that day. Gran may be quick to start a fight, but she’s got a solid sense of justice. If this is how she thought divine justice had been served, who was I to argue? Besides, the camera had the coolest pink color ever! My sister and I got the full benefit of its use for years to come. The readers of my book will easily spot a nod to this incident in a similar, fictitious episode that takes place in “Pallada”.
In our Corfu guesthouse, we had mainly British, German and Italian tourists. Some of them became dear friends and although we rarely met any of them again, in many cases, we wound up corresponding back and forth for years to come.
For example, there was this kindly German family that got to be good friends with mine, and it all started with a very funny incident. The father was sitting on his balcony one afternoon while my parents and I just enjoyed the cool breeze, sitting in the front yard below. Suddenly, he started to shout with a heated volley of German, which none of us spoke. The man’s eyes grew huge as he spoke to us, while gesturing with his hands and pointing to the far end of the yard at a flowerbed.
Mystified, we all stared blankly back at him and all the while, he wouldn’t stop shouting and gesturing. He had turned dark red in the face, and we started to worry he was going to have a heart attack.
Thankfully, his son came in from the street and saved the day by translating. His father had spotted a giant rat scurrying away along the cemented ledge by the flowerbed. We started to laugh and the man immediately calmed down and laughed as well. It turned out he wasn’t at all concerned about vermin, just plain frustrated that we couldn’t understand him! As for the rat, we didn’t worry. The village is surrounded by fields and forestland, crawling with snakes (even adders), large lizards and massive rats. No surprise there!
Over the years, some of our guests, especially the young ones, were quite difficult to handle. They drank too much, messed up the rooms badly and managed to cause mischief in various ways. Two Italian boys from Napoli sharing a room at one time certainly stand out in memory for their sheer naughtiness alone. One of the two was particularly vocal and sang love songs in his language all day long. One afternoon, he got out on his balcony over the yard wrapped in a small towel, put out his hands and started to sing at the top of his lungs, baritone-style: “La più bella del mondo per meEEEE!!” (You get the picture!)
My uncle (he stayed on the ground floor) was outside at the time with me, my sister and two cousins, who were just small children back then. Uncle stood under the boy’s balcony, looked up and started to scold him irately, while making sharp shooing gestures. He was particularly concerned to protect our eyes, he later explained, seeing that as he saw for himself, the sight of the boy from that angle was far too shocking for innocent young girls. The Napolitano lad didn’t speak any Corfiot, but my uncle’s angry expression surely made him understand, and he scuttled back in his room. Although he never came out on the balcony in the same fashion again, he still managed to cause concern. We suspected for days that he and his roommate had brought a gas cooker and prepared food in the room, but despite our best intentions to catch them in the act, we never succeeded. We only got the proof in the end. After they vacated the room, we found a singed doily on the dresser and stains of tomato sauce in a few places. No doubt, the Napolitano had been singing every evening while cooking all his favorite Italian meals!
Did you enjoy this post? Would you like to know more about my Corfu holidays in the 80s?
Check out this post on my website: A lifetime of Corfu summers: old photos and memories.
You may also enjoy my travel guide to Moraitika.