Progress on the house at Kardamyli

If anyone was wondering I hear that there is news of a sort.

As you may recall, the Benaki Museum was seeking approval for funding of the proposed renovations. From my sources it appears the the proposal as submitted has been turned down, and the museum has now re-submitted the proposal in a reduced form. Quite what this means no-one seems to know. No real surprises there then.

My own view, which has not really changed for a few years, is that the only way forward is for a group to seek to either buy the house outright, or lease the house for the remaining few years that the Benaki have the right to create the writer’s retreat, do that job for them, and then purchase the house outright at the end of the term which may be 2024 if I recall correctly. Any takers?

Tom

Event – Patrick Leigh Fermor and SOE in Crete

Costas Mamalakis at the Historical Museum of Crete. Photo: Mike Sweet.

Patrick Leigh Fermor and SOE in Crete – Costas Mamalakis is giving the next PLFS lecture. Costas Mamalakis is Crete’s leading expert on the Second World War and the resistance in Crete. Consultant in Modern History to the Historical Museum of Crete, Costas has been the moving force behind the publication of several memoirs of the resistance, including the most recent: ‘Tom J. Dunbabin: An Archaeologist at War’.

Costas will be spending the week prior to this presentation reviewing documents in the PLF Archive in Edinburgh, and will be able to bring new insights to the many documents in Greek that have yet to be properly evaluated. He will be supported by Chris and Peter White and Gabriella Bullock.

Monday 1 February, 7.15pm at Great Hall, Hellenic Centre, 16-18 Paddington St, London, W1U 5AS. Contact info@ patrickleighfermorsociety.org.

Paddy’s World – Transcript of John Julius Norwich’s talk for the PLF Society

Many blog readers and members of the PLF Society were privileged to her John Julius Norwich give a very personal account of his memories of Paddy at the Hellenic Centre in London on 10 November. My account of the evening is here

I am very lucky to be able to present the full transcript of the talk. Didn’t I say we had some good stuff coming up? Enjoy this :-)

On 22 February 1951 my mother wrote to me: “Just off for my jaunt to Passy sur Eure to spoon with P. Leigh Fermor. Shy. Fluster.” At that time she had only just met Paddy and hardly knew him, and she would have been – as indeed she confessed she was – extremely nervous. But all was well. The next letter read:

Well, the gallivanting was a red letter. It took me a good two hours cross-country by Pontoise and Mantes. Strange little village house in which he lives – the loan of a Lady Smart – was warm and welcoming and I really felt myself back in the pond I was raised in. Fascinating conversation with a male man who delights in one. Paddy was superb. Cultured, funny, telling wonderful sagas, zealous. We had a charming filthy little lunch over the stove of sardines, Pernod and vin ordinaire and afterwards we walked for two hours over low wooded downs in sparkling sun, talking ten to the dozen about people, grievances and enthusiasms

That was the beginning. My parents saw quite a lot of Paddy and Joan – whom my mother thought looked just like Joan of Arc, except that Joan of Arc didn’t wear sun-glasses – in the next year or two. I was at Oxford at the time, and I remember seeing them once or twice during vacations, and being invariably knocked sideways – as everyone was – by the sheer brilliance of Paddy, and the glorious fun of him. Every time he walked into a room it was as if the sun had come out; never have I laughed more uncontrollably round a luncheon or dinner table, and as for his erudition, never have I met anyone who knew so much about everything under the sun, yet wore his learning so lightly. There seemed to be no language he could not speak, or indeed sing songs or recite poetry in: French, German, Italian, Spanish, Greek and Rumanian for a start, but there were probably several others as well.

Then, in the summer of 1955, a wonderful thing happened. By then I had joined the Foreign Service. My first wife Anne and I were by that time living in Belgrade, where I was Third Secretary at the British Embassy. Another letter arrived from my mother. She had been lent a Greek caïque by the ship-owner Stavros Niarchos for a fortnight’s sail through the isles of Greece. Paddy and Joan were coming; could we come too? As far as we were concerned, it was a question of “can a duck swim?” At the end of August we drove down from Belgrade – which in those days had no airport – to Athens, and thence to the Piraeus, where we boarded the Eros.

It was my first time in the Aegean, and Paddy gave it a whole new dimension. It was the first time I had seen him, as it were, on his home ground, and it was wonderful. He lived and breathed his beloved Greece – fluent in its language, encyclopaedic in his knowledge of its history, its customs and its literature. But nobody – and that was the wonder and joy of him and – I know I’ve said this before – nobody has ever carried his learning more lightly. His conversation was consistently dazzling. As we sailed from island to island – and in those days there were virtually no tourists, and I can’t begin to tell you what a difference that made – he talked about Greece, about Greek history, about Greek beliefs and traditions, about Byron and the Greek War of Independence, with those monstrously magnificent Greek heroes – men like Mavromichalis and Kolokotronis whose names roll so satisfactorily across the tongue – and about the Greek Orthodox Church and its quarrels with the west over more of those words, like filioque and ͑ομοούσιον; but his talk roamed far wider than that, taking in the whole eastern Mediterranean and, in particular, Byzantium.

Now in England Byzantium has always had a terrible press. The great nineteenth-century historian W.E.H. Lecky wrote that it constituted, “without a single exception, the most thoroughly base and despicable form that civilisation has yet assumed…. There has been no other enduring civilisation, he claimed, “so absolutely destitute of all the forms and elements of greatness”. He went on,

Its vices were the vices of men who had ceased to be brave without learning to be virtuous…. Slaves, and willing slaves, in both their actions and their thoughts, immersed in sensuality and in the most frivolous pleasures, the people only emerged from their listlessness when some theological subtlety, or some chivalry in the chariot races, stimulated them to frantic riots…. The history of the Empire is a monotonous story of the intrigues of priests, eunuchs and women, of poisonings, of conspiracies, of uniform ingratitude, of perpetual fratricides.

Strong words indeed – although to modern ears that last sentence makes Byzantine history sound not so much monotonous as distinctly entertaining. But that long campaign of denigration continued well into the twentieth century. It was only in the time of which I’m speaking – the fifties – that the writings of people like Robert Byron, David Talbot Rice and Steven Runciman, together with the new-found ease, speed and relative comfort of travel in the Levant, made the glorious heritage of the Byzantine Empire at last generally accessible. Now, thank heaven, the Empire has come into its own again, and is seen as a worthy successor to the two mighty civilisations which it followed and so beautifully combined, the Greek and the Roman.

The trouble was, for most of us, that we knew so little about it. Those old attitudes died hard. During my five years at Eton, the entire subject was the victim of what seemed to be a conspiracy of silence. I can’t honestly remember Byzantium being once mentioned, far less studied; and so complete was my ignorance that I should have been hard put to define it even in general terms till I went to Oxford. And, for heaven’s sake, why? After all, it was not even the successor, it was that same old Roman Empire of Augustus and Tiberius and Claudius and the rest, which continued to exist in its new capital of Constantinople for another one thousand, one hundred and twenty-three years before it was finally captured by the Ottoman Turks on that fateful day, Tuesday 29 May 1453, after one of the most heroic sieges in all history. It was Paddy and Paddy alone who revealed to me its mystery and its magic, although he also recommended to me, among much else, that I should read an extraordinary book by Robert Byron, The Byzantine Achievement, which that most precocious author wrote when he was twenty-five. I read it with utter fascination, and ended up completely captivated. When I got home I devoured every book I could find on the subject, and the following year Anne and I drove to Istanbul for a week. Twenty years later I was to write a History of Byzantium myself – three volumes of it, which were necessary if I was to cover more than a millennium; but I very much doubt whether, had it not been for that fortnight on the Eros, those three volumes would ever have been written.

One evening, I remember, Paddy was talking about a poor fisherman at Kardamyli – this was long before he went to live there – a friend of his called Strati Mourtzinos, who, he told us, might just possibly have been the last heir to the imperial throne of Byzantium. Suddenly his imagination took over, and he built a magnificent castle in the air. It seemed, by some miracle, that the Turks had restored Constantinople to Greece. Byzantium was reborn and Strati Mourtzinos was formally crowned as its Emperor. Paddy was later to work up the idea further in his first book about Greece, Mani:

Bells clanged; semantra hammered and cannon thundered as the Emperor stepped ashore. Then, with a sudden reek of naphtha, Greek fire roared, saluting in a hundred blood-red parabolas from the warships’ brazen beaks….. In the packed square of Constantine, a Serbian furrier fell from a rooftop. An astrologer from Ctesiphon, a Spanish coppersmith and a money-lender from the Persian Gulf were trampled to death; a Bactrian lancer fainted and, as we proceeded round the Triple Delphic Serpent of the Hippodrome, the voices of the Blues and Greens, for once in concord, lifted a long howl of applause. The imperial horses neighed in their stables, the hunting cheetahs strained yelping at their silver chains. Mechanical gold lions roared in the throne room, gold birds on the jewelled branches of artificial trees set up a tinkling and a twitter. The general hysteria penetrated the public jail: in dark cells, monophysites and bogomils and iconoclasts rattled their fetters across the dungeon bars. High on his Corinthian capital, a capering stylite, immobile for three decades, hammered his calabash with a wooden spoon….

Would you like a bit more? All right: Continue reading

Event – The Hospitallers (Knights of St John) in Mainland Greece, the Aegean and Turkey: 1306-1522

An illustrated lecture at the Hellenic Centre, London, by Michael Heslop, Royal Holloway, University of London accompanied by an exhibition of photographs entitled Broken Teeth Point at the Sky: Peloponnesian Castles at War in the 14th century.

Free entry; booking essential on 020 7563 9835 or at press@helleniccentre.org Organised by the Hellenic Centre

Catching up

Journey's end with Billy Moss' daughter Isabelle and Jody Cole Jones at Winchester Cathedral

Journey’s end with Billy Moss’ daughter Isabelle and Jody Cole Jones at Winchester Cathedral

I have returned. Some of you may have wondered if I had disappeared in a bog on my long walk before Christmas, others perhaps that there is nothing more to add to the Paddy blog.

Fortunately neither is true although the walk was massively hard. I suffered a bout of flu the week before and was quite uncertain if I would be well enough to start on time. The main symptoms did disperse, but I was very weak and probably not strong enough to tackle the hills and terrible ground conditions that we found (see this video here). It was not really until we reached drier conditions in Hampshire in the last two days that I had recovered my strength enough, but aided my by walking companion, my son Patrick, and the ever-present need to meet the target and raise money for the two chosen charities, we pressed on. We were joined by Billy Moss’ daughter Isabelle and his grand-daughter Jody Cole Jones for the last 10 km into Winchester. They wished to support the causes, and Combat Stress in particular, as they wanted to highlight their belief that Billy probably suffered from some form of post-traumatic stress which may have led to his early demise. The Just Giving page remains open for any final donations here.

Since then I have been in Germany celebrating Christmas with my youngest daughter Harriet, and then preparing for a new job which I started in the New Year. So I am now ready to get back in harness and present you with some fascinating material. As ever I am grateful to those of you who have been in touch with ideas and material. I look forward to a successful 2016 for us all and send you my best wishes.

Tom

Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Rhineland Christmas

This may just be a little late but I guess it is still “seasonal”. I have been recovering from the long walk (raised over £3,600 so thank to all who pitched in) and then my very own time in Germany up to Christmas with my youngest daughter Harriet followed by an English Christmas. All very hectic. I have promised myself a calmer 2016, with hopefully more time for the blog. Thank you for your continued readership, kind thoughts and ideas. A very Happy New Year to you and those you love.

Tom

Paddy spent Christmas, 1933, in Coblenz/Koblenz a German town on the Rhine. From A Time Of Gifts:

Coblenz is on a slant. Every street tilted and I was always looking across towers and chimney-pots and down on the two corridors of mountain that conducted the streams to their meeting. It was a buoyant place under a clear sky, everything in the air whispered that the plains were far behind and the sunlight sent a flicker and a flash of reflections glancing up from the snow; and two more invisible lines had been crossed and important ones: the accent had changed and wine cellars had taken the place of beer-halls. Instead of those grey mastodontic mug, wine-glasses glittered on the oak. (It was under a vista of old casks in a Weinstube that I settled with my diary till bedtime.) The plain bowls of these wine-glasses were poised on slender glass stalks, or on diminishing pagodas of little globes, and both kinds of stem were coloured: a deep green for Mosel and, for Rhenish, a brown smoky gold that was almost amber. When horny hands lifted them, each flashed forth its coloured message in the lamplight. It is impossible, drinking by the glass in those charmingly named inns and wine-cellars, not to drink too much. Deceptively and treacherously, those innocent-looking goblets hold nearly half a bottle and simply by sipping one could explore the two great rivers below and the Danube and all Swabia, and Franconia too by proxy, and the vales of Imhof and the faraway slopes of Würzburg journeying in time from year to year, with draughts as cool as a deep well, limpidly varying from dark gold to pale silver and smelling of glades and meadows and flowers. Gothic inscriptions still flaunted across the walls, but they were harmless here, and free of the gloom imposed by those boisterous and pace-forcing black-letter hortations in the beer-halls of the north. And the style was better: less emphatic, more lucid and laconic; and both consoling and profound in content; or so it seemed as the hours passed. Glaub, was wahr ist, enjoined a message across an antlered wall, Lieb was rar ist; Trink, was klar ist. [“Believe what is true; love what is rare; drink what is clear.”] I only realized as I stumbled to bed how pliantly I had obeyed.

It was the shortest day of the year and signs of the seasons were becoming hourly more marked. Every other person in the streets was heading for home with a tall and newly felled fir-sapling across his shoulder, and it was under a mesh of Christmas decorations that I was sucked into the Liebfrauenkirche next day. The romanesque nave was packed and an anthem of great choral splendour rose from the gothic choir stalls, while the cauliflowering incense followed the plainsong across the slopes of the sunbeams. A Dominican in horn-rimmed spectacles delivered a vigorous sermon. A number of Brownshirts — I’d forgotten all about them for the moment — was scattered among the congregation, with eyes lowered and their caps in their hands. They looked rather odd. The should have been out in the forest, dancing round Odin and Thor, or Loki, perhaps.

Paddy imaginatively and sensually explores local landscapes by drinking its wine. Notice too the glorious description of the Catholic church in Coblenz at Christmastime.  That beautiful old church, the Liebefrauenkirche, was destroyed in the Second World War.

Two tramps walking!

patrickI am very pleased to announce that I will be joined by my son Patrick on the walk this year. Patrick is a platoon commander with the Royal Irish Regiment and has a close affinity with the aims and objectives of our walk which are to raise awareness of mental health issues and homelessness amongst veterans, and to raise £5,000 for two charities that assist them.

By Tom Sawford.

The walk dates are now set at 14-19 December, starting in Ottery St Mary in Devon and ending early Saturday afternoon at Winchester Cathedral. If you would like to join us for a day or so please get in touch.

You can support the two if us in our walk and the charities that we support by giving on our Just Giving page here. We would like to start the walk with £2,000 raised and have a way to go to reach that so please, please consider giving something – the Just Giving site takes all major currencies. Every donation helps, no matter how small or large!

Combat Stress is the UK’s leading Veterans’ mental health charity. Mental ill-health such as PTSD affects ex-Service men and women of all ages. Right now, the charity supports over 5,900 Veterans aged from 18 to 97, and spends over £15 million per annum delivering its unique range of specialist treatment and welfare support which is always free of charge.

Winchester Churches Nightshelter provides a vital lifeline to the homeless, and remains the only night shelter offering direct access emergency accommodation in Hampshire. They support up to 200 homeless people annually. There is a direct link between mental health problems such as PTSD and homelessness. Money raised will go direct to the homeless which I feel may be a better outcome than through a larger charity.

We hope that you will feel inspired to support the fundraising and make some (doubly !!!) generous contributions at the Just Giving page where you can choose to split your donations between the two charities if you wish.

There is a public Facebook page if you want to follow the progress. https://www.facebook.com/walkinghomeforchristmas/

Thank you all very much. Please donate here. https://www.justgiving.com/teams/likeatramp

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