We did it. Against the odds, during a global pandemic and with a Mediterranean tempest thrown in for good measure, we gathered on Corfu for a few wonderous days and nights for Corfu Literary Festival 2020.
This wasn't any ordinary Lit Fest - in a myriad of ways (and with a little help from the Olympic Gods?) we bucked a trend, kicked Covid into a corner, defied cancellation and managed for a short while to be fully human again. What a joy to see rapt but spaced audiences intently listening to fabulous speakers, games of good cricket and relaxed raucous chatter in around bubbled tables groaning with food. Added to that were boat rides to shoreside Nikolas Taverna, safely masked visits to the Archaeological Museum and the Achilleon Palace, socially distanced tours and tastings at the Governor Olive Oil Estate and Lazaris distillers and confectioners, courtyard cocktails in a grand old Corfu mansion, swimming, hiking or just gentle wandering and bird watching - including Corfu's seasonal guest migrating flamingos.
Our speakers more than rose to the challenge, not only getting to the island in the first place but managing to give such inspiring and fascinating presentations. despite the unamplified outdoor locations, to fully booked out audiences, hungry to hear real people talking about huge topics. We could have sold twice as many tickets, but the restricted gathering size somehow made it even more special - how particularly lucky we were to be there.
At such a unique occasion, we didn't shy away or stay safe and the events tackled big subjects: The environment, racism, populism, history, intolerance, culture, literature, social exclusion, commerce and, naturally, cricket. All present were left with much to think upon but, most importantly for us, people came together, discussions were held in person, old friendships were refreshed and fostered and many, many new ones made.
We are indebted to our welcoming and generous sponsors and hosts, without whom we couldn't realise the Corfu Literary Festival, and we all recognise that this year was particularly difficult for all of them - so we are especially grateful to The Kontokali Bay Hotel and Spa, Ionian Estates and The Cavalieri Hotel for their generous and warm hospitality.
We could not have pulled this off without the support of our spectacular venue hosts and, when confronted with totally unexpected rain after three months of a tinder-dry summer, their willingness and flexibility to let us move en masse to wonderfully elegant alternative shelter was so appreciated. The Director of the Asiatic Museum, the Municipal Gallery of Corfu and the Deputy Mayors of Culture and Tourism all rallied, miraculously & immediately cutting through the usual paperwork so that our events could go on unhindered and sincere thanks are sent to Gymnastikos Sports Club and all at Ionian Estates for hosting their events with such particular charm & style.
We thank all those who provided lavish meals, jugs of wine, visits, gifts and hire cars, under such hard, local circumstances and who helped showcase Corfu as the truly remarkable and beautiful island she is - Homer was the first to use the word "Philoxenia" when Odysseus was washed up on Corfu's shores and we believe our island still continues to offer this same extraordinary hospitality to her honoured guests. Corfu - you rock and always shine!
And to our visitors & audiences.........you encouraged, you took a risk, you believed, you hoped and then you came. We salute and thank you for your part in making Corfu Literary Festival 2020 a real highlight in a blighted and benighted year. #SeeYouNextYear 💙
Corfu Literary Festival 2020
Day One - started with a delightful boat trip to the tiny cove of Agni, where our host Pericles Katsaros welcomed us to a splendid lunch at his Nikolas Taverna and where tense hearts and tight shoulder muscles began to relax and Peter Frankopan held a zoom conference at a corner table. A very promising start.
After 90 days continuous Corfiot sun, the rain started, forcing the first two events to be urgently relocated to the shelter of the Municipal Gallery and Palace of St Michael & St George’s elegant colonnade and, with all Covid security measures in place (audience temperatures taken, maximum gathering numbers checked, chairs spaced and anti-bac points on entry), we commenced with Dr Lee Durrell and Kostas Kaloudis discussing the environment and ecosystems of Corfu, the Ionian, and beyond, chaired by Tom Holland. A practical but hopeful debate which was, according to those in the know, the ONLY non-virtual literary festival event happening anywhere… what a great moment.
The second session was an uncompromising and informative presentation by Sarah Churchwell and Alex Preston on the US election, its possible result and how the outcome might affect America and the wider world. What an amazing start and how refreshing to be amongst real speakers and actual company and debate, which was continued over the tavern tables….
Day 2 - and whilst some went swimming, a group of us visited the olive oil estates of The Governor, enjoyed a tour and tasting and took a walk to nearby C14th Gardiki Fortress, where the local trees are up to a 1000 years old and still producing exceptional oil. On the way back we stopped off at Lazaris’ distillery and confectioners for cocktails and loukoumi.
The Authors XI, having yet to win a match on the island, retuned to Kerkyra and, perfectly for their 2020 tour, gloriously won their first match against the locals Greek team
Again, that evening’s events had to be hurriedly moved from their intended venue as the edges of Midicane Ioana struck Corfu, but the elegant façade of Corfu main square’s handsome palace provided a stage for the first session. Chaired by Charlie Campbell, panel members Jon Hotten, David Owen, Matt Thacker and Tom Eadon discussed the challenges facing keeping and developing cricket as a sport for all. An illuminating debate exploring social, ethnic and economic exclustion.
The second session, Writing History – Fact and Fiction, was flair-Charied by Anthony McGowan and explored how and why James Holland and Sebastian Faulks brought the past to life to the contemporary reader. Stoically battling over the noise of the rain and some local sheltering teenagers, our speakers kept their audience captivated, engaged and enthused. Another exceptional night of coversation, after which we dashed through the rain for an exceptional supper at cricketers’ favourite, the Pergola Taverna, complete with rousing live Greek music.
Day 3 – Hurrah, the sun returned and some of us visited the Achilleon Palace, built by Empress Sissi of Austria and later home to the Kaiser, then run as a casino by the Red Baron’s grandson and now a museum. A fascinating tour and warm welcome from Director Diavatis. Tom Holland most taken with the Kaiser’s desk chair, fashioned into a articulated saddle device….
The second cricket match and, despite being full of Achillean spirit, the Gods were with the Corfiots this day, but a tremendous afternoon enjoyed by all nevertheless
The evenings two literary events were held at the Gymnastikos Sports Club, the first, moderated by Charlie Campbell, being an entertaining and surprising insight into how two very different authors, Sabine Durrant and Anthony McGowan, write and structure their creative processes.
The second session, Why Is Everyone So Angry, was chaired by Alex Preston and brought together Tom Holland, Adam Rutherford and David Goodhart. A sparky and stimulating discussion, covering topics from the BLM movement, white privilege, social media and the rise of populism. The Q&A could have gone on all night but, due to curfew measures, we had to rush to dinner where the debate continued apace and where - remarkably – Restaurant Rex managed to serve three delicious courses and still got us out by midnight (to avoid a €10k penalty fine!).
Day 4 – the Festival’s final day was bathed in hot sunshine and the bluest of skies and we gathered in Corfu Town’s main square in anticipation of the final cricket match on the historic pitch, in use since 1823. Serendipitously, the Authors XI tour to the island coincided with their 125th Anniversary. With the spectators comfortable in the Liston’s café, with their ouzos, coffees and mezze to hand, the game was afoot.
During the interval between batting and fielding innings, Skipper Charlie Campbell was presented with commemorative plaques and gifts from the Municipality of Corfu, the Hellenic Cricket Federation and CricketCorfu.Com and he and his team were formally thanked for touring Corfu and participating in the Corfu Literary Festival, congratulated on their long history and embraced as true and treasured friends to the island.
Following the match, the authors wanted a last swim and sunkissed siesta so took a boat out for the afternoon…………rumour has it the team compared sartorial speedos and apparatenly sailed into a porn film shoot on the Albanian coastline, but not all these reports can be verified….
The Festival final event was hosted by Ionian Estates in their beautiful private home and headquarters in the heart of Corfu Town. The theme Who Owns Culture was debated in a magical garden, lit by flaming torches, complete with delightful canapes and cocktails, by Professors Peter Frankopan and Nikolas Papadimitreou. An extraorindary and unique event to end what had been a remarkable four days together.
The whole crowd then walked, full of good heart and feeling inspired, to the Cavalieri Hotel – where else? - for drinks on their remarkable rooftop bar and to wish each other Kalo Taxidi until next year ……………….
Corfu Literary Festival
Thanks to all those who kindly sent us their photographs of their time at the Corfu Literary Festival