Matt Barrett and Friends in Corfu
time I went to Corfu was to get my friend Jimi out of jail. He had spent a month in the island's prison for stealing
an ice-cream cone. Well, that is not the whole story. The truth is that he stole an ice-cream cone late one night
when he and his friend realized that there was an opening in the locked freezer outside the kiosk where they had
been using a nearby phone to call their girlfriends. They were hungry and did not think they were stealing. It
was more like a gift, like finding a hundred dollar bill in an ATM machine before you make your transaction. But
the next morning their hotel room was invaded by detectives and uniformed policemen and they were hauled off to
jail and locked into a room. They were left there for hours and thought that they had been forgotten. They began
banging on the door and yelling but nobody could hear them. Suddenly the panel of the door they were banging on
fell off and they just looked at each other. What should they do? Stay in the room and either gain points for not
escaping while they had the opportunity or lose points for breaking the door and maybe get a longer sentence? They
decided to split. They walked into the main lobby of the station and saw their bags just sitting on the bench so
they picked them up and walked out the front door. They began hitching to the other side of the island where Jimi's
friend's sister was staying so they could get more money and when the first car stopped they ran happily to it.
But it was the chief of police and in minutes there were a dozen cops there to arrest the escaped prisoners. It
was a big deal for the island. Jimi and his friend got a month in the prison where they met some of Greece's finest
citizens. When the Greek military government declared an amnesty for all political prisoners, neither Jimi, his
friend or many of the murders, thieves and rapists in the prison were included on the list so they staged a hunger-stike,
and even though Jimi was going to be released in 3 days he had to go a long out of solidarity for his fellow inmates.
So when I arrived in Corfu after a 12 hour all-night bus ride and a night spent with Jimi's beautiful girlfriend
in an inexpensive hotel room, he was looking fit and trim. He also had no desire to stay any longer on the island
so we left on the next boat. Jimi died in 1989.
Had this been my only experience on the island I might consider myself unqualified to write a review of Corfu,
despite having stopped there many times on my trips from Brindisi, Italy to Patras, on my way to Athens. But as
it happens I got to go there again to visit my very good friend Dino.
Dino was a Greek-American, born
and raised in the Bronx, who had moved to Greece in the late sixties and gone to the American highschool where
I met him. At first we were enemies and even had a fight, but a few years later we discovered that we were actually
good friends and went to Sifnos together and then he ended up moving to North Carolina, where he worked as a pizza
delivery guy, a counterman in a souvlaki shop called Hectors, and a floor-sander. Then he moved to New York where
he became a bicycle messenger. But Dino was really a poet and an adventurer and some of the most daring or spontaneous
things I did in my life were at his urging. But one day Dino decided he had had enough of life in the states as
a Greek-American. He went back to Greece to fullfill his military obligation. By then he was in his mid thirties
and only had to spend a few months in the army sitting on a hill somewhere watching the sea with other over-the-hill
recruits. He told me it was one of the best experiences of his life and that he will never forget his old army
buddies. When he was released from his service he was able to collect his inheritance which was several million
dollars worth of industrial property in the city of Corfu and a farm in the country.
I showed up there one sunny October day and together we explored the island in the old jeep that had been left
by his grandfather. Dino had big dreams. The factory was closed and the land was to be developed. He was going
to take the farm and make a beautiful sculpture garden of warriors of the ages and dedicate this garden to peace.
Dino was set. He had a dream, a house on one of the most beautiful islands and he had plenty of money. But when
I waved goodbye to him one morning as I got on the ferry from Corfu to Italy I did not realize this was the last
time I would ever see him. Dino had a heart attack and died while climbing a mountain in Crete with his girlfriend
and some friends. His last words were "Oh Wow!"
That was the last time I went to Corfu too. It has been over 10 years. But not much has changed. It is still crowded
with tourists in the summertime, mostly from the UK. But the interior is still relatively unspoiled as people cling
to the shores and a trip to Corfu can be one of the most interesting vacations the world has to offer. For me Corfu
will always be Dino's island. I know when I do return there I will be filled with the same love for it that Dino
had which made him want to spend the rest of his life there.