Thirty years ago the ferry from Corfu was a beaten-up tub with rust streaks weeping from its hawse holes.
The day we made the journey, the deckhouse was only half full - a mechanic in overalls, two fishermen with teak forearms, a white-bearded Greek Orthodox priest. If there were any tourists besides us I cannot remember them.
Sara and I sat by the open window, drinking Mythos beer from the bottle, delighted with life. The warm wind buffeted us and the sapphire sea stretched away towards the coast where Byron had breathed his romantic last. By the time the old steamer came bucketing into the harbour, lights were springing on in the quayside tavernas.
Madame Lily was a little old harpie in black who seized us like prey as we stepped ashore. She hooked one claw through my arm and dragged me through the steep alleys of the port, muttering darkly in Demotic.
The hydrofoil planed in past the mole and settled down into the water, burbling the last few yards to the quay.
'Ithaca?' Sara said, tightly. 'Is this our anniversary present?'
'I thought we needed one.'
She stared out of the window. 'It's changed,' she said.
A supermodel stewardess ushered us off. I looked at the other passengers, but failed to detect any fishermen or orthodox priests. A lot of expensive sunglasses, though, and designer denims, and Louis Vuitton bags. We emerged blinking into a glaring afternoon. Absurdly, I had expected it to be evening. We stood on the hot stones with our expensive luggage piled up behind us. I was sweating from the effort of dragging it all off the hydrofoil.
'You're the Coopers, yes?'
She was smiling with all her teeth, and standing exactly where Madame Lily had stood, a young woman with a dangerously tight tee-shirt over a bikini made of dental floss.
'Lula?' I said. 'You're Madame Lily's granddaughter?'
'Right!' That dynamite smile again. 'Also, I am sex bomb.'
She led us to a new BMW sports which stood with the top down and pop music I didn't recognize blasting out of the CD player. I squeezed into the back and Lula dropped the clutch. I remembered tavernas with striped awnings and tin tables set out on the road, and puttering motorbikes and fish shimmering on marble slabs and old men playing dominoes over brown jugs of wine. Now I saw jewellery boutiques selling the latest in Ionian chic, and trendy bars with English names and bored, beautiful hostesses.
Sara didn't speak. I was getting a bad feeling about this.
Lula parked the car, jumped out and led us into through a fancy glass door. A reception desk with a computer screen glowing on it stood in a foyer of fake marble. One wall was adorned with an hysterical painting of the Parthenon. A hand lettered sign by the stairs read 'Rooftop Disco, all is Welcome'. I could already hear the thump of bass notes drifting down the stairwell.
This must have been Madame Lily's sitting room. It had opened directly onto the street. It was dark and cool then, crammed with overstuffed furniture and dried flowers under glass. There were sepia photographs on the wall of moustachio'd men with hunting rifles and tasseled kneeboots, and an enormous colour print of her dead husband, Erasmus, who had blown himself up in a boat trying to dynamite fish. Erasmus, she had told us with elephantine understatement, had not been a lucky man.
We had slept in the tiny room just at the top of those stairs. The room was spartan, with a single light bulb, plaster peeling from the walls and a damp stain in one corner. The narrow iron bed jangled like a xylophone. There'd been a squall in the middle of the night and the faded blue shutters had blown open so that rain came blasting through the room like buckshot. Sara and I had sat up in bed with our arms around one another, sipping retsina from a bottle and watching the caiques jostle on the restless black water below.
I stared down at the composite floor with its lurid tessellated design. I could remember the warmth of Madame Lily's bare boards under my bare feet.
'I can't stay here,' I said.
Lula's smile drained away. She jerked her chin contemptuously. 'No rooms in town. No hydrofoil until tomorrow.' I took Sara's arm and turned to the door.
We found a shabby café several streets back from the port. A cool youth with snake hips and wrap-around sunglasses brought us beer.
'I'm sorry,' I told her. 'This was stupid.'
'What were you trying to do? Go back to the way it was?'
'That would be good, wouldn't it?'
She looked away. 'Don't you know that never works?'
'It was worth a try,' I said, losing patience. 'It was worth that much.' I got to my feet, angry with myself and with her. 'I'm going to see if I can find us a room.'
In the dim bar I found Snakehips channel surfing on the wall mounted TV.
'Town's full to bustin', man.' He flicked the TV off. 'Sorry, gotta close early. I'm on my Dad's fishing boat all night.'
'Where do you live?'
'Me? Here. Over the cafe.'
'So your room's empty tonight?'
He started to laugh 'That's a joke, right?'
Then he stopped.
He had warned me it was shabby: a single bed, a shuttered window looking over the old town, a stack of Heineken crates in one corner and a clutter of snorkelling gear in another. It smelled faintly of fish.
Snakehips was embarrassed. 'I could change the bed for you, man, but...'
A house martin flitted under the eaves and a chute of westering sunlight fell through the shutters. Dust motes danced in it. I heard Sara step into the room behind me, her footfalls hollow on the bare boards. She slipped her arm through mine.
'Could he find us some retsina?' she asked.