Odysseus and Naucicaa
Twenty five years since we crossed to begin our excavations at Butrint in Albania and had our excitement dashed by our Albanian colleagues who, to be fair, really could not grasp who we were. They were in shock at the end of Enver Hoxha’s regime and we were neo-liberals out-of-time.
In time, over nearly two decades, we prevailed, all together, thanks to the support of our donors - Jacob Rothschild, John Sainsbury and David Packard. Today, looking across at Albania from Jacob’s house at Kanonas on Corfu, the wild coast to mountain terrain is as majestic and glorious as it ever was. Now it is crystal clear that the Butrint National Park that we created in 1999 is as important to Albania as it is to Corfu - a quintessential Mediterranean landscape, steeped in history and myth. Protected. The simply obvious point is that Corfu’s over-built coastline looks out at one that the Durrells knew.
I am privileged to return to Jacob’s house to treasure these memories as he adds another episode to the many associated with this Ionian idyll.
Kanonas, his house, occupies a promontory covered in aged, olive orchards. The house was transformed exactly fifty years ago from a small farmhouse into a discrete but exquisite villa. The architecture, courtyards, art and views speak to myth, a place in paradise. The legendary artist, Ghikas, Jacob’s step-father, created this heavenly place, and in it, in so many ways, his opulent imagination lives on and like a gentle balm caresses you. Now, on this house anniversary, Jacob has had Ghikas’s maquettes of Odysseus and Nausicaa (from the 1940s) made into monumental bronze statues to grace the Straits of Corfu opposite Butrint.
On a humid but cloudless evening Odysseus and Nausicaa, who supposedly met on a Corfiot beach, are unveiled to family, friends and invited guests. To complete this magic, we are treated to arias from Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria (1639). As the baroque joy drifts and lingers over us, the sun sets far to the west, leaving us, the Straits of Corfu, Butrint and its mountains bathed in a pinkish hue.
Odysseus, grand-children & JR
The unveiling follows as Monteverdi’s joy drifts over the Straits of Corfu. The diaphanous coverings are removed and we are left marvelling at an eternal meditation on Homer’s epic, life given to a sculptural idea that transcends the ages but belongs so surely to the spirit of this place.