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Daily Mammal Book Club: MFAOA 3

Posted on Mar 31, 2009 by in Book Club | 7 comments

Spanish-language cover of My Family and Other Animals

Hi Mammals! Welcome back to the book club! (The previous meetings are here and here.) Today we have a guest club leader, my husband Ted. (By the way, if anyone is interested in kicking off the discussion with a guest post in this or any other possible future book club series, just let me know!) Here’s Ted on My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell:

I’m rather behind in my reading of our current Book Club offering, My Family and Other Animals. But I wanted to share a little about the character of Spiro, for I believe I may have once met his grandson.

Spiro seems to have adopted them as his own from the moment they set foot on land, as their loyal manservant — limo driver, real estate agent, bodyguard and family counselor. Presumably he’s being paid a salary, or tipped well, for his services, though the book doesn’t go into this. The appearance is that Spiro simply latches onto them like a puppy for the sole purpose of helping them in every way. Is this realistic, or is Gerald Durrell offering us an overly rosy, idealized view of things?

I visited Greece for a couple of months about twenty years ago, with Eudokia, a girlfriend at the time who was Greek, and who was living in an apartment in Athens near family. We’d met in Art School, and she decided to move there for about six months to paint and reconnect with Greece; I cam along for a couple of months to stay with her. So though we did a fair share of sightseeing and touristy things, I lived there as a resident, not a tourist.

The Greek people are extremely warm and inviting to strangers, generous with their time and their hospitality, and do indeed seem to form quick loyalties to those they deem as friends. I remember one young man, a friend of a friend, who took on the task of host for us when we went out to a large, late dinner with a group of Eudokia’s friends, as the Greeks often do. I remember that he was an avowed Communist who nevertheless wanted nothing more than high-status American goods — when he came to visit the States a few months later he spent all his time looking for Timberland shoes and the best VCRs.

Anyway, he was gregarious and energetic, greeted me with a hug and a slap on the back, and from that moment he was my best friend and loyal advocate for the evening. At one point when the group’s conversation had gone back to nearly everyone’s native Greek, he stopped everyone and said, “my friends, we have a guest here! He is from America! We must speak only English tonight!”

His name was Niko, but it might as well have been Spiro. I’ll never forget him.


  1. So now it’s your turn. Who’s your favorite Greek? Or Turk? Or Englishperson? Who’s your least favorite — besides Larry? Does anyone in the book remind you of someone?

  2. That’s a nice post and a nice story. I have some thoughts on it. I’ve found that when I have traveled to other countries (admittedly, not too many), there’s always someone who is willing to show me patience, warmth, and a welcoming enthusiasm. Even if it’s something as simple as when we were in France, Ted, and I told you “Ne touche pas!” and all those French senior citizens cracked up. There’s always a way to bridge the gap. In Italy, the owner of the trattoria where my group ate every day would do elaborate pantomimes to let us know what he was serving. (His swordfish was our favorite. Not to eat, but to see acted out.) In Iceland, I was taken in by a German girl and the hockey team she was on.

    I haven’t really had the opportunity to take foreigners under my wing here, but I love to have conversations with other people in the wrong language for one of us: in Italian for me, for instance, or English for a Japanese visitor. You end up having the most basic conversations—”What do you like to eat?”—with big grins on your faces.

    And here’s a 2003 article from the NY Times about a trip to Corfu inspired by the writer’s and his son’s love for MFAOA! It’s not long but very nice and, of course, quite appropriate to our discussion. Interestingly, there is very little mention of the locals.

  3. I like Ted’s story. There are people everywhere who are caring and warm, I think. I love Spiro and the way he takes charge of the Durrells. I also enjoy the various eccentricities of the characters and the way they seem to just accept each other.

  4. I enjoyed your post, Ted. I have found many “natives” to be very helpful when I am visiting their home cities.
    I loved the part of the book about when Dodo came to live with the family. I thought it was hilarious. I think the Durrells must be the most tolerant family EVER. And I still can’t imagine that Gerry would have so much freedom. It is wonderful for him, but his mom must have been the epitome of laid-back! Besides his excursions on the island, I find it interesting that he goes all alone to meet each new teacher who is lined up for me.

  5. I meant to say “lined up for him” – not lined up for “me”. Maybe my envy is coming through.

  6. Grace, I think the mom is the most interesting character in some ways. Larry and Leslie, and Margot, to a lesser extent, are so mean to her! And she puts up with it so good-naturedly. And even while they’re pushing her around, it’s clear how much the kids love and adore her. I think she just really wants them to be happy and would do anything for them. Like other moms I know…

    I haven’t gotten to Dodo yet, but I’m looking forward to it. I liked the scene of the family gathering on the porch to read their mail and how they have to read it aloud to each other to get its full effect, even though no one is listening to anyone else. It’s much like that at my house:

    TED: In Second Life—let me show you—I found a way to make the roof of my lighthouse with only two prims instead of four. See?…Look, someone made Daleks that fight in Second Life! And look at this guy: he’s dressed like Doctor Who!

    JENNIFER: Apparently, Miley Cyrus and Radiohead are in this weird beef…Look at Lourdes, Madonna’s daughter! She’s only 12! She looks 18! She’s beautiful, though.

    TED: I made new eyebrows for my avatar…Look, my avatar is taking a boat ride!

    JENNIFER: The celebrity baby names are really boring this week…

  7. Also, Ted, I LOVE Larry. He’s hilarious. (Maybe it’s how you love Coach on Survivor and I hate him with great vitriol.) And he reminds me of myself, sad to say, so I have to be gentle toward him.

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