Corfu, Wrong Turn #1: Douglas

By: | Post date: June 10, 2023 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Culture, Greece

My sense of direction proved unexpectedly challenged in Corfu. In Larisa, I had an excuse: the landscape was flat, every piazza corner looked like every other piazza corner. In Corfu Town, I kept getting lost so systematically, I don’t think I can blame the terrain any more.

In fact, the contrast with Zante Town makes me realise my sense of direction only copes with one dimension. Salonica downtown is a few streets parallel to the Via Egnatia. Zante Town is a few streets back from the harbour. It’s a line. Old Corfu Town on the other hand is a grid, and getting to Old Corfu Town from New Corfu Town (I was near the border, the erstwhile Porto Reale) involved me turning around a corner on San Rocco Square, which I assiduously kept missing.


San Rocco Square, now renamed Georgiou Theotoki Square. It took me three days to work out I had to turn around the corner, to head northeast.

I certainly didn’t work that out the first day. I ended up heading south down Alexandra Ave, noting to Facebook in my befuddlement:

Right now, I have no earthly idea where I am and what I am doing here. What I know so far is
  • there are a few faded 19th century houses among the standard 20th century brutalist stuff,
  • there is a tourist bus and a tourist horse coach doing the rounds,
  • the sing song accent of the locals, that I have only known from shadow puppet plays in its Vaudeville edition, sounded curiously Cypriot to me out of the city’s taxi drivers.

(We’re coming back to the accent of the locals at the end of this cycle.)

I got so utterly lost, I kept going till I hit the sea, and ended up at the Douglas obelisk, a monument to the British high commissioner of the Ionian islands, 1835 to 1841.
The column of “Dooglas”, as it is known locally, and of “Duglasius”, as the ancient Greek inscription has it.
May be an image of monument
May be an image of monument
Ὀυάρδῳ Δουγλασίῳ, to “Oüardus Duglasius” (Howard Douglas).
The inscription is on the Hellenic Monuments website:
To Oüardus Duglasius, knight, general, high commissioner, who has become benefactor to all Seven Islands of the Ionian, through increase of the academic offerings and the establishment of the Ionian High School and the improvement of Primary Schooling, but also through the establishment of the Ionian Bank and the Savings Banks (?), and through the preservation and compilation of the laws, and the extension and completion of public roads; and especially in Corfu, for opening up the seaside road, bringing no small benefit to those dwelling  both in the town and the countryside, and for placing cemeteries for both the Eastern Orthodox and Roman  churches, and for ensuring houses of refuge for the indigent and the insane, and for founding the hospital, and the prison, and for repairing and improving the aqueduct constructed by Fredericus Adamus, and for lending aid to the merchants building the Stock Exchange, and for establishing communication between the city and the outskirts, by ensuring ease of construction in having marshes dried and building bridges: the Commons of Corfiots, in eternal gratitude, have erected this in the year 1843.
… Eternal gratitude, sure, but the statue was moved here to the edge of the Old Town, when Greece took over. Although it was replaced by a worthy subject.

I am in some ways a Pavlovian creature. I hear κολώνα του Ντούγκλα (column of “Dooglas”), and I immediately think of an old rebetiko song, I’m not going back to prison.

We know the prison and prison warden it name-checks, from the 30s. We know that the first person to record the song in the 50s was in primary school when that warden was running the Old Army Barracks jail in Athens, so it can’t be his lyric, and the song must have gone unrecorded before him. («Δεν ξανακάνω φυλακή με τον Καπετανάκη»: Ποιος ήταν επιτέλους ο Καπετανάκης, but see also revisionist account in Η ιστορία του ”Δεν ξανακάνω φυλακή…”)

I’m not going back to prison (Δεν ξανακάνω φυλακή), 1951. Lyrics: Panagiotis Michalopoulos (?). Music: Leonardos Bournelis. First Performance: Panagiotis Michalopoulos.
I’m not going back to prison
with Kapetanakis,
and his Dooglas moustache.
We’ve talked it over, we’ve made a deal.
My poor mother,
you’ve given her poison to drink,
you did, Kapetanakis.
Let her not wear purple [for mourning] any more.
I wake up, I see iron bars
fastened to the ground,
those  poor men!
We’ve talked it over, we’ve made a deal.
That time around, the “Dooglas” was contemporary movie star Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Who had a lot more of a moustache than Sir Howard.
Douglas Fairbanks Jr. - Rotten Tomatoes
This Dooglas, at least, was so pronounced because Athens Greeks before WWII were more familiar with French than English. The Corfu folk pronunciation of Dooglas, I find a little more perplexing. Did they hear it from Sir Howard with a Scottish accent? He was brought up near Edinburgh…
I will admit, I did misread Google Maps as I walked my way here, and thought that the Howard Dooglas obelisk was going to be a Dooglas Fairbanks obelistērion, a souvlaki joint. The song would fit in, at least…

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