Spice: The Last Believers

Thank you to James Hamilton for highlighting this short radio clip from BBC Radio 4 which is available (I hope to all) on BBC Sounds for about another four weeks. This is one of five specially commissioned tales revolving around the possibilities of the word spice.

In this story by Alex Preston called the Last Believers, the writer looks back at a visit to Corfu in his youth and the magical, mythical power of certain spices. Set in Corfu in 1978, the narrator is invited to a book festival by Larry Durrell and Paddy.

Over you you and I hope you enjoy. I shall catch up with it soon!

Listen here.

“A dangerous mix of recklessness and sophistication”: Themes of identity and nostalgic ideas of Europe in the travel writings of Patrick Leigh Fermor

Paddy after the war in Byronic costume – Benaki

Dear readers I hope that you all remain well. During what was almost a global “lockdown” I attempted to publish articles that might have been somewhat longer than usual on the basis that you might have more time on your hands to absorb them! I do wish that I had remembered to offer this masters thesis by Matthew Staite at the time, as it is a good read; absorbing and well written, exploring themes that make us think about Paddy’s work, the times he describes, and his own character. This is only a study of A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water and does not purport to analyse his other work. I commend it to you and hope that you might find the time to read it.

A PDF of the thesis can be found here: Matthew Staite Leigh Fermor Thesis.

Here’s how Matthew introduced himself to me back in April:

Two years ago I completed a masters degree at the University of Amsterdam in the field of European Studies, in a track attempting to study the Identity & Integration of Europe. As a British person with a love of travel writing, I chose to write my thesis on Patrick Leigh Fermor’s books. Very little academic scholarship exists about his writing, so I attempted to academically analyse the first two books about his European walk and look at themes of memory and how he splits Europe between East and West in the texts. I found your site very interesting and helpful when writing the thesis (I even made reference to you at one point), so I thought I would send it to you in case you found it of any interest!

If nothing else it is worth reading Matthew’s conclusion.

While this thesis has travelled across the width of the European continent alongside Leigh
Fermor, it is time for this journey to come to an end. It has been demonstrated that, while Leigh Fermor sought a Europe bound by common culture and history upon his travels, this was a nostalgic search for a Europe rooted in the past. While the texts may describe his youthful adventuring through Europe, they were written and narrated by an older Leigh Fermor who was more nostalgic for this lost past and who desperately searched for the glimpses of it that remained.

The interaction with memory that this entails proves crucial to both books. As a result of the
parallax structure, the narrative is split between the past time of his journey and the future time of his writing. As a rhetorical device it allows Leigh Fermor to jump seamlessly between the past and the present, enabling him to write in a way that both captures the younger Leigh
Fermor’s boyish charm and the older Leigh Fermor’s wisdom and knowledge. It lends narrative power to the images of lost Europe that he constructs, for Leigh Fermor has experienced this past and can contrast it with the narrative present.

The Europe that Leigh Fermor was travelling through was in many ways on the cusp of
modernity, and many of the things he describes were to completely destroyed or changed by
the effects of the Second World War. He is implicitly critical of the period under communism
that followed the Second World War in Eastern Europe; a criticism of communism (still present at the time of the book’s writing) forms the ‘elephant in the room’ of his narrative. Despite his sympathy for Eastern Europe, Leigh Fermor’s texts also conform to the tradition of writing against Eastern Europe as a backwards and savage place. While there are elements of his narrative that go against this trend, they certainly form the lesser part of his narrative.

The two tiers of class (the peasants and the elite) that Leigh Fermor encounters throughout
Europe stem from this lost past, and he only lightly deals with the contemporary changes that
were happening to the societies he travelled through at the time of his journey. Despite this
criticism, the texts remain a wonderful journey across the European continent and back into
its past. Leigh Fermor’s personality and enthusiasm for knowledge permeate the texts, and
the rich descriptions of history, literature and language that ensue read as a beautiful tribute
to European culture.

This thesis has attempted to alert scholars of the scope for analysis and research that Leigh
Fermor’s travel texts provide. However it is far from a comprehensive study of Leigh Fermor
and his writing. By conducting a close study of only A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods
and the Water, it has only looked at the themes of identity and ideas of Europe that Leigh
Fermor established between Holland and Romania. Due to the complications presented by
artificially constructed nature of the unfinished The Broken Road, there has not been the space to conduct a close analysis of it within this thesis. However that book is certainly of use to scholars, for there is certainly scope for analysis as to how Leigh Fermor includes Bulgaria
within his conception of Eastern Europe, or whether he others with it alongside Turkey as a
demarcation of the orient.

I have also not chosen to incorporate Leigh Fermor’s interpretation of Greece and its
importance within Europe. The latter half of A Broken Road is set in Greece, along with Leigh Fermor’s other travel texts Mani and Roumeli. As the south-eastern edge of Europe, and a nation where he spent a significant part of his life, it would be interesting to analyse how Leigh Fermor’s depictions of Greece correspond with the same themes of identity and nostalgia for Europe’s past that this thesis has explored.

Finally this thesis has largely treated A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water
as a single and coherent travel narrative. In doing so it has readily jumped between the two
texts despite them being published nearly a decade apart. There is certainly scope for analysis
into the effect of this time on the differences of the two books.

Inspired by Paddy: Alexander McCall Smith on reading in a time of quiet

Writer Alexander McCall Smith

A reflective piece for a Sunday morning. I enjoyed this and I hope that you do too.

By Alexander McCall Smith.

First published on The Herald.

Like many others, I have a pile of books waiting to be read. In fact, now that I come to think of it, I have more than one pile of books. I have one on the bedside table, where most people keep their unread books, but I also have two in my study – one on a chair and another on a table.

I suppose I should also count the temporary pile near the window, but that is the stack waiting to go to the charity shop. That, I fear, may be difficult to reduce in the short term: charity shops are said to be dreading the return of normal opening, as a positive deluge of stored-up donations threatens to engulf them. Barriers have been erected, we are told, and long-suffering staff are steadying themselves to turn away three months’ worth of paperback novels, out-of-date guides to Finland, and Higher English study notes. That, of course, is before they are offered last year’s political memoirs and football biographies.

By strange co-incidence, when our life changed in March and we entered this period of social isolation, I happened to have just completed a reorganisation of the books in the house. This was long overdue, as over the years I had placed books according to what might charitably be called a chronological system. This involved putting the most recently-acquired books in the front and leaving older books at the back. As a result, books on very different subjects sat next to one another on the shelf and the only method of locating them would be visual memory – “I’m sure I saw that book somewhere on that shelf” – or the recollection of when the book came into the house. Neither of these ever worked very well, and as a consequence I came to be the owner of a large number of books that I had forgotten about.

My reorganisation – carried out by a particularly competent person who agreed to take on the task for me – transformed my personal collection. Not only were books shelved according to subject, but within the classifications they were arranged alphabetically, according to author. This meant that now, if I need to find a book on the social practices of baboons, I know exactly where it is. And I do have such a book, as it happens: in fact, I see that I have two. I can also lay my hands on my Dictionary of Australian Slang and Colloquialisms – a very vivid book – or, not far from that on the shelf, my Concise Scots Dictionary. No longer do I have to spend half an hour searching for the biography of King Zog of Albania that I know I possess. There it is, next to the other memoirs of less colourful lives.

As a result of this reorganisation I discovered not a few books I had forgotten about or had never got round to reading. As isolation began, I had embarked on reading one of these recently-surfaced books, which happened to be about monasticism, and what the monastic traditions of sanctuary and quiet can do for us in our increasingly busy world. Or formerly increasingly busy world, because just as I started this book, our world slowed down perceptibly. Traffic noise disappeared; the sky, once criss-crossed by vapour trails, became inhabited only by natural clouds; delicate birdsong filled the air, as if suddenly birds felt they no longer had to shout to make themselves heard. People walked or cycled. They stopped their headlong rush; they paused to take a breath; living in the future was replaced by living now. Time was arrested. It was just the right time to read about monasticism – that curious voluntary withdrawal from the world in pursuit of spirituality.

That book was quickly followed by another on the same subject that I found on my newly-ordered shelves. This was Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time to Keep Silence. Leigh Fermor was a remarkable writer, whose books about his famous walk across Europe before the Second World War are justly celebrated. In A Time to Keep Silence he describes visits he made to monasteries in France and elsewhere in the early 1950s. He writes at some length about the implications of suddenly finding time in the day – to read, to meditate, to stay still.

It helped, and it also set the tone for my reading over the next few months of this unusual period. I found that I had no appetite for anything fast-paced or exciting. I found that I wanted to read books where there was a strong authorial voice saying something about what counted in life. In particular, I turned to poetry, and to books about poetry. Reading poetry requires an initial quietness in the mind. When you sit down with a poet, you are being addressed in a way that is intimate and direct: the poetic voice is a very personal one – somebody is talking to you, is saying “listen, this is how I feel”.

Then Zoom came along. Zoom meant that we could see and talk to friends, but it also meant that people could keep book clubs going in spite of not being able to meet others physically. I do not belong to a book club, but I started to have regular virtual meetings with four friends in which we discussed two or three poems for the occasion. One of these friends happens to be a professor of literature and an expert in 19th century poetry. That helped, but the net has been cast wide and we have included contemporary poets in our discussions. At our last meeting, we looked at Thomas Gray’s Elegy (I last read that when I was 16) but we also spent a very happy half hour talking about Edwin Morgan’s King Billy and Iain Crichton Smith’s You Lived in Glasgow. Both of these poems contain beautiful and arresting lines: I have always been struck by Morgan’s haunting opening to the King Billy poem, “Grey over Riddrie the clouds piled up…”

One cannot survive on a diet of poetry, of course, just as one cannot survive exclusively on a diet of biography or architectural history. But I did find myself concentrating on books that ask what one might call profound questions – the sort of questions that we are often too busy to address with the attention they deserve. I learned about subjects I needed to know more about – I had a sense of catching up with myself. I realised I had been too busy, too distracted, to read things I needed to read. These last few months have taught me a lesson. I hope I remember it.

The Mani Sanctuary of A Hero-turned Scholar

A meal with friends around the dining-room table designed by Fermor himself. His house was frequently visited by leading figures of the arts and letters.


Another profile of Paddy and the Mani from 2015, this time by by Sofka Zinovieff. First published in Greece Is.

A modern-day Odysseus, Patrick Leigh – Fermor spent the most peaceful days of his remarkable life in a now-famous house near Kardamyli, surrounded by olive groves.

When people talk about Patrick Leigh-Fermor, they often use superlatives: “the greatest British travel writer,” “the most daring wartime secret agent,” “the last great romantic.” I first met him when I came to the Peloponnese to do research as an anthropology student nearly 30 years ago and I went to stay with him in Kardamyli. Although I then knew little about his life, I was, like so many, immediately won over by his charisma. Paddy, as he was always known by English friends (Greeks called him Michalis, his nom de guerre), lived with his wife Joan in a house just outside Kardamyli that they built in the 1960s. At that point, Mani was still an extremely remote, even wild corner of Europe – the inaccessible middle peninsular of the Peloponnesian three-fingered “hand,” with its striking stone towers reflecting centuries of blood feuds and the dramatic, rocky landscape of Mount Taygetus.

The couple gradually created their remarkable home – a mix between a Byzantine monastery and an English country house: carved stone arches, comfortable armchairs, walls covered in books and paintings by Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas. Cats (and sometimes goats) prowled over the beautifully designed stone terraces with paths made from smooth pebbles. They had picked their spot carefully – close enough to Kardamyli to have neighbors, shops and a few tavernas, but isolated enough to have the peace they desired. Steps lead from the house down to a beautiful little cove from which they and their friends would set out on long swims. And all around them, olive groves.

Over the years, Paddy became a friend, and I gradually read all his books and learned more about him – the fast living that recalled his hero, Lord Byron, and the daring and resourceful- ness that conjured up a modern-day Odysseus. Wonderfully handsome as a young man, he was always beautifully dressed and remained charming, witty and courteous to the end. A man of action and of letters, Paddy was just as comfortable in grand English drawing rooms or mountain shacks in Crete and he was irresistible to women. A BBC journalist once described him as a mix between Indiana Jones, James Bond and Graham Greene.

Paddy was one of the most cultured people I have met – constantly interested to learn about the people and places he encountered. He not only read literature and poetry but adored reference books. At dinner in Kardamyli, he would jump up to find a dictionary to illustrate a point or an atlas to locate the precise name of something.

An autodidact, he didn’t attend university, but in 1933, aged 18, walked across Europe. Carrying only a rucksack, he started in Holland and made his way through Nazi Germany, Hungary and on to Constantinople.

During the war, Paddy served in the Intelligence Corps and helped organize the resistance to Crete’s Nazi occupiers. He grew a large mustache and dressed as a shepherd with baggy pantaloons and a dagger in his belt. In 1944, he devised a bold, even crazy plan that has fascinated people ever since. Using German uniforms as disguises, he, Billy Moss and a group of Cretans kidnapped the Nazi chief of staff on Crete, General Kreipe. Living in remote caves, they avoided detection for two weeks, ultimately escaping with him back to Egypt.

It was in Cairo that Paddy met Joan, a tall, blonde intellectual and photographer, the daughter of Viscount Monsell. The pair traveled together – in the Caribbean in 1949 (resulting in Paddy’s first book, The Traveller’s Tree) and then in Greece. In Athens they became friends with many artists and writers of the day, including Giorgos Seferis and Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas, and discovered Greece on foot and by mule, bus and boat. These explorations are described in Paddy’s two masterpieces, Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese and Roumeli: Travels in Northern Greece. Richly erudite but also humorous and anecdotal, they remain among the best things written about Greece by a non-Greek. Mani is also a eulogy to the place that Paddy and Joan chose as the ideal place to make their home. Although it was one of the most inaccessible parts of Greece, they quickly became friends with many of their neighbors and there was a stream of visitors from Athens, England and around the world. By the time he died aged 96 in 2011, Paddy had been awarded medals and honors by both the Greek and British governments (he was knighted in 2004). He left the house at Kardamyli to the Benaki Museum, with the intention that it should be used as a writers’ retreat.

If these walls could talk… Furniture, books, personal items, mementos of an adventure-filled life, have remained untouched in the home of Patrick and Joan at Kardamyli. © Julia Klimi

Characterized by contrasts, Paddy was playful and scholarly, he drank impressive quantities and could sing folk songs in countless languages, but he regularly went into silent retreats at Cistercian monasteries. Set between the silvery olive groves of Mani and the lush, green fields of Worcestershire, Paddy’s remarkable life would be almost unbelievable in a novel: walking across Europe, falling in love with a princess, abducting a general, taking the best from Greece and England and becoming the finest travel writer of his generation.

Sofka Zinovieff is a British author • http://www.sofkazinovieff.com

Dervla Murphy’s lore

Dervla Murphy at 88

Although some have questioned why she is featured on the blog, I know that others enjoy reading about this intrepid lady, who is perhaps a more intrepid and accomplished travel writer than our very own Paddy. Her books are available via the website of our friends, Eland Publishing. Dervla celebrated her 88th birthday mid-November 2019. Isabel Conway met her for a chat about her extraordinary life and adventures.

by Isabel Conway

First published in Business Post.

I’m in Lismore, Co Waterford. A wilderness of greenery cloaks a couple of stone outbuildings that have old iron artefacts leaning up against them, behind a pair of high gates. The undisturbed scene is a flashback to the past, offering no sign at all of human occupation.

A local man gives directions, pointing towards the secluded laneway. Dervla Murphy, as he puts it, is “one of our own”, and she lives up this laneway in a collection of 17th-century buildings.

For more than 50 years, Ireland’s greatest travel writer of modern times has travelled the world, mostly alone and by bicycle, returning home from Peru, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Africa, India, Israel, Palestine, Laos, Siberia and many more far-flung places to write 26 internationally acclaimed books.

The indefatigable Murphy’s vicissitudes on the road are the stuff of legend. She was attacked by wolves in the mountains of Yugoslavia on that first journey by bicycle to India. Luckily, she was carrying a .25 revolver that Lismore’s gardaí had shown her how to use before setting out during one of the coldest winters on record in 1963. She succeeded in shooting one wolf dead and frightening the others off.

In her time, Murphy has been stoned by youths, stung by a scorpion, assaulted in Azerbaijan and narrowly escaped with her life after being robbed three times in Ethiopia.

Invasion by bedbugs and tick bites were unavoidable when bedding down in mud huts, kraals and doss houses, or wherever gave protection from ferocious extremes of weather and other dangers. Malaria in the African bush, dysentery in Pakistan, brucellosis in India, hepatitis in Madagascar, broken ribs in a couple of countries, a fractured coccyx and a broken foot in Romania, a new hip after a fall in Palestine.

Ever the stoic, Murphy would usually get back on her bicycle after she was patched up. It’s the measure of this extraordinary woman, called a “goddamn nutcase” by an American tourist when she refused his offer of a lift while hiking along a desert road in the burning heat.

With trepidation, I locate her back gate and follow the overgrown path to a stone structure. An admirer of Murphy all my life, I am nervous about meeting this most intrepid of travellers, who celebrates her 88th birthday next Thursday.

The much-loved author of Full Tilt, her debut remarkable story of cycling 4,500 miles from Ireland to India rarely gives interviews. Our meeting has been organised via a longtime friend of Murphy’s, based in London. They met 40 years earlier, trekking in the mountains of Peru. The friend cautions me: “You’ll find Dervla courteous and hospitable, but she doesn’t suffer fools gladly and hates being called courageous or brave.”

I arrive at a collection of several unconnected stone buildings across a cobbled courtyard, a forge, piggery, cow house and store converted into a study, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom. The door of the first building is ajar. An entire wall is taken up by a packed bookcase with lots more books lining smaller shelves, including more than two hundred titles Murphy read while researching her last book Between River and Sea, published in 2016 and focusing on the Israel/Palestine conflict.

The room has two desks, one on which Murphy wrote all of her books first in longhand, later typewriting before delivery to her mentor and publisher of more than four decades, John Murray in London. She acquired an electric typewriter to speed the work up a bit, but has never used a PC. A cherished old Tibetan flag that the Dalai Lama gave her in gratitude for her work with Tibetan refugee children covers the typewriter.

A sheathed dagger lies on a side table, and dotted around are handicrafts brought home from the ends of the earth. Framed photo collages of Murphy with her three granddaughters Rose, now 23, Clodagh, 21 and Zoe, 19 , have pride of place.

A sturdy, somewhat stooped woman with short white hair, wearing loose trousers, a body warmer and open toed hiking sandals crosses the cobbled yard and enters her study. She is welcoming and delivers a firm handshake. Her eyes are penetrating, those of a professional observer who misses nothing. She also has that invaluable writer’s gift of being an expert listener and communicator, one who has charmed her way into the affections of people – from influential diplomats and the like, to the poorest of the poor – who gave her friendship and assistance on her journeys.

A bench covered with a warm rug is the domain of Wurzel, her beloved elderly terrier. Two young cats streak after each other’s tails.

“I don’t know what I’d do without my animals,” Murphy says. “I used to have six or seven cats and four and five dogs at a time. I was always so delighted to see them when I came home at the end of long journeys, glad to be back in my territory and be starting on the next book.”

In her 80th year, Murphy had spent a long period travelling between Israel and Palestine researching the follow up to her widely acclaimed Gaza travelogue A Month By The Sea. Next, she switched her sights to Jordan, visiting Syrian refugee camps, as usual delving deeply into the region’s politics and history as well as its people and culture with visits to Petra and Wadi Rum.

“I had to come back after fracturing my pelvis,” she says. “It wasn’t a fall but a silly way of slipping, as I was sitting down.” Since then, a combination of emphysema and arthritis in her neck have put a stop to both her travels and her writing. “There’s no good having angst about it,” she says. “You realise these things are inevitable as you get old. I won’t be going anywhere; I might as well face it, but that’s okay.”

The only child of intellectual and unorthodox parents, Murphy’s lifelong stamina may owe something to her childhood diet, which involved plenty of raw beef and raw liver. She never saw her invalided mother stand. As if her mother foresaw that Murphy was destined to conquer massive distances and daunting physical challenge she would never know herself, she encouraged her to get out and see the world.

It was only after her mother passed away that Murphy could realise her dream to travel and write about her journeys. At 16 she was already cycling around England and, by the time she was 18, she had biked alone through post-war France along the Rhine to Germany.

She gets up at 5am, eats only once daily, and usually is in bed by 9pm. She possesses neither a TV, central heating nor consumer comforts and goods the rest of us take for granted. It smacks of a strict monastic lifestyle. “Oh, not at all,” she laughs, pouring herself a beer. “It takes me two hours to eat that one meal. I have an absolutely colossal breakfast with plenty of my own brown bread.”

I can vouch for the excellence of Murphy’s soda bread and the nourishing soup containing at least six vegetables she has made when I make a return trip a few weeks later. Since our last meeting, the British Guild of Travel Writers has awarded her its prestigious Lifetime Achievement prize.

Though she has received many awards, and can count the likes of Michael Palin among her many admirers, Murphy is visibly overwhelmed by this most recent recognition. The founder of Bradt Guides, Hilary Bradt, has hand-delivered Murphy’s framed citation from England. It reads: “Dervla is the real thing. In an age of gimmicks and promotions she has travelled for the sheer love of it, for enjoying spectacular scenery away from the crowds and for meeting people away from the trappings of civilisation.”

After lunch, Murphy sips a glass of beer, Wurzel next to her, and shares her strong opinions on a variety of topics.

She is a fervent opponent of mass tourism, pointing to its negative contribution to the climate problem with the never ending increase in air traffic. She also believes that it does little to improve the economies of formerly remote enclaves.

“Mass tourism exists for nothing else than to make profit,” she says. “It tries to sell itself as being so important to local economics. In my experience, the reverse is actually true.”

She cites Pakistan’s Baltistan as a location where so called intrepid travellers “stay in hotels staffed by people brought in from outside because the locals don’t have the training”. When she travelled to the remotest corners of the region, taking her young daughter Rachel and writing Where the Indus is Young, there was no electricity nor cash economy.

“People were advanced in other ways,” she recalls. “They had enough food and they were sustainable. Now they have little or nothing in winter when the fruit and vegetables are sold to feed tourists, and they’ve bought consumer goods that are pretty much useless with the money they earned.”

In her ideal world, everyone would cycle and cars would be taken off the roads. “Cars are the curse of our age,” she declares, adding that it may be too late to do much about rescuing the world and reversing climate change.

As a grandmother she does not want to express too much pessimism, so as “not to depress young people too much about the future”. At a time when the vast majority of women who can afford to travel in comfort couldn’t imagine staying in hostels and cheap guest houses, these are places where Murphy has been happiest. “I loathe hotels, always have,” she shudders.

Does she believe young people today travel as she has done – curious, fearless, adventurous? “ The first thing I see them do is plugging in their laptops or getting on the phone to Mummy and Daddy at home,” she says. “It drives me insane. Why do they bother leaving home if they miss Mummy and Daddy so much? But I blame the parents too, telling them: ‘Remember now to get in touch every evening so we know you’re okay’.”

Her daughter Rachel went travelling in India at the age of 17 for six months. How often did she contact Murphy on that trip?

“Once,” Murphy replies.

A phone call?

“Oh, there were no phone calls. It was a letter.”

Murphy does, however, say that it is now more dangerous for a woman to travel solo. “It’s riskier now in certain countries where people have suddenly acquired these mobile phones and see these pornographic videos and depictions of sexual violence against women,” she says.

“And yes, there are places where I would worry about the safety of my granddaughters. It’s a great shame but, sadly, the way the world has gone. I was so lucky, but we must always believe in the goodness of people in general. Far from intending to hurt us, most people are humane, helpful and don’t intend us harm.”

Eleven of Dervla Murphy’s titles are in print through Eland Publishing, including the classic Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle, her autobiography Wheels within Wheels: The Makings of a Traveller, and her last two books on Palestine and Israel. For a full listing of these titles and for more information, visit travelbooks.co.uk/dervla-murphy

A Renowned Travel Writer’s Letters From the Road

Patrick Leigh Fermor writing under a makeshift shelter in his garden at Kardamyli, Greece. Credit…Estate of Patrick Leigh Fermor

It has been a while since I posted a book review on here. Some more recent readers may wonder why I am posting a book review from 2017. One stated purpose of the blog is to bring all (suitable and relevant) material relating to Paddy under on roof, hence the reason for posting this good quality review by Charles McGrath of A Life in Letters by Adam Sisman (published in the UK 2016 as Dashing for the Post), published in the New York Review Books December 1 2017.

Though hardly known in this country, in his native England Patrick Leigh Fermor is practically a cult figure, often said to be the best travel writer of the 20th century. But Fermor — or Paddy, as he was known to just about everyone — was also a famous vacillator and procrastinator, always distractable, unable to meet a deadline, and much of the effort he might have put into books and articles went into letters instead. Adam Sisman, the editor of this volume, guesses that in the course of his very long life (Fermor died in 2011, at 96) he might have written as many as 10,000. Sisman has selected fewer than 200, but they do add up to a biography of sorts — or, rather, a scrapbook of a rich, fascinating life lived mostly out of a suitcase and in a race to the post office. Until he was almost 50, and finally owned a house, Fermor seldom stayed in one place longer than a month.

The Fermor who emerges in these letters (and in a conventional biography published in 2012 by Artemis Cooper, granddaughter of Lady Diana Cooper, one of his most favored correspondents) was a bundle of contradictions. He was a man of letters but also, like his hero Byron, a man of action — a war hero and a restless adventurer, who even swam the Hellespont when he was 69. He never finished school — his headmaster called him “a dangerous mixture of sophistication and recklessness” and tossed him out for holding hands with a shopkeeper’s daughter — but was prodigiously learned, conversant in at least eight languages and able to recite hours of poetry by heart. He was an old-school Englishman, a toff — bespoke clothes, club memberships, plummy accent, riding to hounds — who lived most of his life abroad, broke much of the time, settling down at last in Greece. He was an unabashed snob and social climber who also relished the company of peasants and shepherds. He was a famous ladies’ man and at the same time deeply in love with his wife, who patiently overlooked his wanderings. (She even lent him money for prostitutes.) And he was a tireless socializer, beloved by an enormous circle of friends, who often yearned for solitude and sometimes hid out in monasteries.

Fermor was, as he freely admitted, a shameless scrounger of invitations and of houses he could borrow. (Invited once for lunch at Somerset Maugham’s villa on Cap Ferrat, he reportedly showed up with five cabin trunks, intending to stay for weeks. Maugham dispatched him the next morning.) His letters were, among other things, a way of keeping up with his friends and repaying their hospitality. Many of them are not thank-you notes in the traditional sense, but rather performance pieces of a sort, meant to charm and entertain. The book also includes a great many letters of apology, written in “sackcloth and ashes,” as he liked to say: to his long-suffering publisher, to friends he feels guilty about neglecting (he procrastinated about letter-writing, too) and one to a girlfriend (John Huston’s wife, as it happened) informing her that he may or may not have given her crabs: “I was suddenly alerted by what felt like the beginnings of troop-movements in the fork, but on scrutiny, expecting an aerial view of general mobilization, there was nothing to be seen, not even a scout, a spy or a dispatch rider.”

In his introduction Sisman says that the letters are written in a “free-flowing prose that is easier and more entertaining to read” than that of Fermor’s travel books, which is true up to a point. The books are so original they take some getting used to. The most famous of them is a three-volume account of a journey Fermor undertook in 1933, when at age 18 he determined to walk all the way from the Netherlands to Constantinople, as he romantically insisted on calling Istanbul. It took him a little over a year, in part because he kept making side trips and detours. He slept in barns and hayricks, and even outdoors once in a while, wrapped in a greatcoat, but more often he stayed in the castles and country houses of Central European nobility, who passed him along, like a mascot, with letters of introduction. He got on not so much by his wits as by his charm, and with youthful avidity he took in everything he saw and heard.

But Fermor didn’t begin writing the first of these volumes, “A Time of Gifts,” until some 40 years later, and the third volume remained unfinished at his death. His account is both immediate and shadowed by the passage of time, evoking a vanished world all but erased by war and the blight of communism. The style is ornate and layered, syntactically complicated, and it sometimes preens right up to the edge of overwriting before pulling itself back with an arresting image or self-deflating observation. Fermor’s friend Lawrence Durrell once described it as “truffled” and dense with “plumage.”

The letters, by contrast, are spontaneous and effortless-seeming, and sparkle — a little too brightly sometimes — with puns and jokes and with the inexhaustible charm that made Fermor such a welcome guest (and bedmate). For American readers his constant name-dropping and favor-currying may prove a little off-putting: The letters are crammed with mention of the rich and titled, who all seem to be marrying and divorcing one another. Sisman, the author of exceptionally good biographies of Boswell, Hugh Trevor-Roper and John le Carré, here in a subsidiary role, provides copious and helpful footnotes not only uncovering Fermor’s many buried literary allusions but also explaining who is who. A typical example, suggesting both the scope and almost incestuous ingrownness of Fermor’s acquaintance: “Professor Derek Ainslie Jackson (1906-82), nuclear physicist and a jockey who rode in the Grand National three times. Among his six wives were Pamela Mitford, Janetta Woolley and Barbara Skelton. He left Janetta for her half sister, Angela Culme-Seymour.”

The best of Fermor’s letters, by and large, are to three women with whom he was not romantically linked but nevertheless formed deep attachments: Lady Diana Cooper; Ann Fleming, wife of Ian, the James Bond novelist; and Deborah Mitford, youngest of the famed Mitford sisters, Duchess of Devonshire and châtelaine of Chatsworth, the great country house where he loved to spend Christmas and rub elbows with the likes of Prince Charles and Camilla. All three women, not coincidentally, were splendid letter writers themselves, and like all great correspondences, Fermor’s with them took on a life and texture of its own. You sometimes feel that they enjoyed one another on the page even more than they could have in person.

It goes without saying that nobody writes letters like this anymore, and it’s a loss. Fermor could never have texted or tweeted, not just because he was a bit of a fogey, but for the same reason he often let weeks pass before answering a letter. He needed to wait until he knew what he wanted to say.

Charles McGrath is a writer and former editor of the Book Review.

Virtual journeys – Winchester to Exeter via Salisbury, Wells and Glastonbury

The Clarendon Way from Winchester to Salisbury

I hope that you are all well and starting to enjoy getting out and about after the lockdowns. Many restrictions remain in place, varying country by country, and there is definitely uncertainty about travelling to other countries. I recently tried a bit of a long distance walk, but it is difficult with no real hospitality available for bed, or board, or even water which was much needed here in England as recent temperatures have been very high; only three Summers have had as much sunlight as this Spring here in England since sunlight records began, I think, in 1923.

In the autumn of 2017, having some time on my hands I decided to make one of my “step out of the door journeys”, taking a pack and a good pair of boots to make my own pilgrimage to somewhere. I like these journeys. They may not be exotic, but as a walker you really feel and experience the ground, the sounds and smells all round you. You see things that travellers on other modes of transport do not, meet and get to talk to people as you pass by, and make your own journey, unconstrained by way-marked walks, just using footpaths that take you in the direction you wish to go.

This journey was to be a “pilgrimage” from Winchester (from my door via the cathedral) to Salisbury cathedral, to the tiny city of Wells with its magnificent cathedral, thence on to the head of the River Exe via the ancient and mysterious holy place of Glastonbury, down the river valley to Exeter and its Gothic cathedral. It took me seven days of walking.

The route:

Day 1 – Winchester to Salisbury 34km. Slept in Sarum College (they will do low cost accommodation) with the best location in Salisbury right in the enormous Cathedral Close. This is a pleasant if long first day along the soft beech lined route of the Clarendon Way via Kings’ Sombourne and the River Test.

Day 2 – Wilton to Maiden Bradley 38 km. A short taxi ride out of the city to Wilton and up out striking west through a very large forest with a straight Roman road running through the middle for miles and miles. I barely saw a soul; Wiltshire can be bleak and is very sparsely populated in the rural areas. I ended up at a place called Maiden Bradley, the only place around with accommodation which turned out to be full. Taxi to Frome to find B&B and a hot meal.

First glimpse of Glastonbury Tor

Wells Cathedral School

Day 3 – Frome to Wells 36 km. A lovely walk in the sunshine after the “harshness” of Wiltshire the day before. I caught my first glimpse in the distance of Glastonbury Tor, an objective for the next walking day. I ended up in Wells just after dusk and stayed in a hotel in the gatehouse of the cathedral close. The next day I took some RnR and looked around the Bishops’ Palace, the cathedral school close, and the ornate cathedral itself. Really worth a day out if you can make it.

Wells Cathedral

Day 4 – Wells to Glastonbury 18 km. A short walk on the Somerset levels to the magical Tor with its magnificent 360 views. I could even see Wells cathedral in the distance. The town itself is a strange place with more shops selling crystals and other “magical” things than I have ever seen. One bookshop had a window display devoted to whittling wood! The next leg was to be to Bridgwater. I had agreed a rendezvous with a friend for a cup of tea and needed to push on, but the maze of drainage ditches and the flat emptiness of the Levels was at the same time going to take some time to navigate and was not an attractive prospect so I took a bus to Bridgwater which is a pretty enough town with statues to men who had struck out for the New World and brought trade to this place. Grabbing a coffee the next morning from Starbucks a lady there was celebrating 10 years’ service as a barista. Good on her; she was happy in her work.

Exmoor stag hunt

The stag that got away

Day 5 – Bridgwater to Wivelescombe 31 km. The landscape changed as I approached Exmoor National Park, meeting a lady from Surrey who had settled in a village but was unhappy as the locals did not easily accept incomers. The day was dominated by coming across a stag hunt. Riders everywhere, with scouts on quad bikes and in 4x4s using walkie-talkies to direct the hunt. The stag kept well ahead of the huntsmen and women who often ended up in the wrong place. They were suspicious of me with my camera but polite. At one point the stag charged out of undergrowth just a couple of hundred yards from me, pursued by just two hounds. With quick reactions I was able to get a shot of the stag in flight running for a small valley full of trees and bushes, well away from the main body of the hunt. I probably saw more of the stag that day than did most of the hunters. Wivelescombe is a tiny village in the middle of nowhere but had a welcoming inn.

Tiverton

Day 6 Wivelescombe to Tiverton 31 km. A pleasant if unmemorable day of walking with nothing really standing out. Tiverton had clearly been a prosperous place in the past with its wealth being founded on the wool trade, having some very ornate public buildings. It is now dominated by the Heathcote textiles factory and many pubs. I experienced my first Wetherspoons drink and meal. A pint of beer being just £2.40, and a special “curry night’ meal and a pint for £5.99!

Choristers practice at Exeter cathedral

Day 7 Tiverton to Exeter 28 km. A pleasant enough walk but my vision of a lovely walk along the banks of the River Exe were not to be. There is no path as such, and a lot of time was spent high up looking down into the valley and walking on roads. It was a little disheartening to see that the final push into Exeter meant a steep climb up to the hill that bears the Roman signal station, or a very long walk around. I chose straight up and eventually found myself walking through the small suburbs of the city, into the ugly modern centre (Exeter was badly bombed by the Germans in April and May 1942 as part of the so-called “Baedeker raids”, in which targets were chosen for their cultural and historical, rather than their strategic or military, value). My goal, the cathedral was worth it, and afterwards, having a pint in a nearby pub, I bumped into an officer serving in the same Regiment as my son, and his fiancé, who were to be wed in Exeter the next day. It was a very good way to end my 216 km (134 mile) odyssey.

If you are able, I thoroughly recommend this mode of walking. Have an idea of a place to walk to. Grab a few Ordnance Survey maps and plot a route with accommodation stops on the way. I was very ably assisted by Booking.com, only making my bookings during the afternoon of my planned stay to ensure I knew that I would make a location.

Happy walking. Real or virtual!

See more of the journey here in this shared Google Photo Album

Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Greek villa prepares for its first guests

Paddy’s house is open for guests from 1 July, but the costs are high, and most “adoring fans” are unlikely to be able to afford the prices. This article sums it up  – ‘the house has been modernised to entice the kind of people wealthy enough to rent it’. It strikes me that we should suggest to the Benaki to set aside 2-4 weeks per season for lower cost rental and application by lottery for those less able to afford it. Are these prices in-line with the spirit of Paddy’s wishes? 

By Alev Scott

First published in the Financial Times 23 May 2020

It was February, and I was inching towards the waves that lap Kalamitsi beach, just south of the village of Kardamyli. The brilliant morning light — sharper than the haze of summer — fell on cliffs fringed by cypress trees; beyond them were orange and lemon groves, and the distant bleat of goats. There was no sign of human life. I am usually a fair-weather swimmer but the blue-green water was exhilarating, clear to the white sand and rocks below.

I looked back to shore; peeking out of the treetops was the honey-coloured house belonging to the English adventurer, Hellenophile and former second world war spy Patrick Leigh Fermor.

He designed and built it in the mid-1960s with his wife Joan and their architect friend Nikos Hatzimichalis. Most of the stone, prised from the foothills of the Taygetus range, was brought by mule; some large pieces were manhandled by Leigh Fermor and his team of local masons, “sweating and tottering” as they moved them into position.

About 500 metres from the beach below the house is a small, forest-covered island. Every day, until two years before he died in 2011, aged 96, Leigh Fermor would swim around the island and back, emerging “svelter and browner with every passing day”, as he wrote in a letter in 1985. I took a few, frozen strokes in its direction before swimming as fast as I could back to shore.

The house is almost as celebrated as the man himself, and there has been much excitement about its reopening. With no children to inherit it, the writer bequeathed it to the Benaki Museum, an Athens art museum founded by his friend Antonis Benaki. Leigh Fermor specified that he wanted his home used as a writers’ retreat, while acknowledging that this would be expensive, and granting permission for its rental in summer months.

After a painstaking renovation, it will finally receive its first paying guests on July 1, a fortnight after the easing of lockdown restrictions allows Greece’s seasonal hotels and villas to open up. It can be booked in its entirety, for up to 10, or as three self-contained parts: the main house, for six, and the guest house and “traditional house”, both sleeping two.

When I knocked on the imposing double gate, a smiling, middle-aged lady opened it — Elpida Belogianni, who worked as Leigh Fermor’s housekeeper in the final decade of his life. Behind her, workmen strolled around a manicured garden stretching down to the sea, and electricians checked newly installed air-conditioning units. “Come,” said Elpida, ushering me in.

I knew from photos that the house was beautiful, but I was unprepared for the way it lays itself open to the sea and sky.

Medieval arches wind around the main house, mimicking a Byzantine monastery. The walls, a metre thick to keep out the summer heat, are covered in art (the most valuable paintings by Leigh Fermor’s friends — Edward Lear, John Craxton and Nikos Ghika among them — have been replaced with facsimiles). On the terrace, the pebble mosaics reveal paw prints (cats were Joan’s favourite animal) and a winding snake (Patrick’s), while painted snakes grace almost every room of the house.

In his study, I noticed an anachronistic-looking copy of Gone Girl (second edition, 2013), presumably abandoned by a passing visitor but nevertheless duly catalogued by the Benaki Museum; Leigh Fermor’s signature in Greek characters had been stamped on its inside page.

Inevitably, the house has been modernised to entice the kind of people wealthy enough to rent it — each bedroom now has a television, and a newly built swimming pool is visible in the lower garden, just above the beach (“Paddy would have hated it,” Elpida confided). Leigh Fermor was house-proud, but also liked the shabbiness of his creation, as he explained in the 1986 anthology The Englishman’s Room: “The room and its offshoots sound grander than they are; but from the stern Mitford test — ‘All nice rooms are a bit shabby’ — the place comes out with flying colours [thanks to] time, wear, and four-footed fellow-inmates.”

When the Leigh Fermors arrived in Kardamyli in the 1960s, they had very few neighbours — the tiny chapel near their house, dedicated to the archangels Gabriel and Michali, was almost a personal one. Now, in part due to its extraordinary natural beauty and in part to his legacy, the bay has become a popular destination for both Greek and foreign tourists, especially for hikers.

The morning before my swim, I had set out on the mountain trail from Kardamyli to Sparta, a path much trodden by Leigh Fermor himself, and described in his book Mani (1958). I climbed up past medieval tower houses, surrounded by colour: almond blossom, anemones, irises and mysterious wildflowers; soon, the sea fell away behind me and ahead of me the last of the snow was visible on Mount Taygetus. For those wanting to experience the magic that kept Leigh Fermor here for nearly half a century, the view from the mountain to his house will reveal even more, perhaps, than the view from the sea to his house.

Al Hakawati الحكواتي (The Storyteller)

As ever I enjoyed the latest newsletter from the wonderful and very clever people at Eland books. They highlighted a series of readings on The HandsUp Foundation website which is a young charity raising funds and awareness for aid to Syria. They have recently launched a series of stories, read by some of the UK’s best-loved voices, including the likes of Levison Wood, Mishal Husain, Petroc Trelawny, David Dimbleby, Clare Balding (of course!) amongst others.

You might enjoy listening and perhaps contribute to their fundraising (listening is free). Start listening here.

A reading from Mani: In the Footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor

The travel firm Kudu Travel runs walking holidays, with some in the Mani. They are fans of Paddy! Here one of their guides reads from Mani after a drive to Gaitses, high on the western flank of the Taygettus range at the edge of the Koskarakas Gorge.

After a pleasant, three hour easy walk following the route taken by Paddy and Joan when they emerged from the overgrown gorge, after their momentous crossing of the mountain. They visited the ‘handsome old church’ on top of a knoll, and the neighbourhood where they sampled their first glass of Mani wine, and listened to a reading.

Kudu’s highly rated footsteps of Paddy tour to the Mani is due to run 10-20 October 2020.

Kim Wilkie chooses Two Figures and Setting Sun by John Craxton as favourite painting

‘Two Figures and Setting Sun’ by John Craxton. Copyright of the John Craxton Estate, all rights reserved, DACS 2019.

When asked to choose his favourite painting for Country Life’s ongoing series, My Favourite Painting, landscape architect Kim Wilkie chose Two Figures and Setting Sun by Paddy’s book jacket illustrator and friend, John Craxton.

Says Wilkie, ‘Landscape, for me, is more about light, sound and stories than appearance. You really can hear, smell and taste this painting. The vibrating patterns are mesmerising; they root a fleeting moment in a timeless place. The setting sun pulses, the motion in the waves and figures is slowly rhythmic and the mountains float on the horizon. I have stared at the painting for hours and it draws you in deeper. It drifts into your imagination.’

John McEwen on Two Figures and Setting Sun by John Craxton:

John Craxton first came to prominence in the early 1940s as a neo-Romantic painter in the pastoral tradition of the 19th-century Samuel Palmer. Craxton disliked being labelled, but, to his friend and collector Sir David Atten-borough, he ‘grudgingly admitted’ he would accept ‘Arcadian’ (John Craxton by Ian Collins, 2011).

John Leith Craxton was born into a musical family. His father was a pianist, musicologist and professor at the Royal College of Music and his mother, a descendant of Benjamin West, the second president of the Royal Academy, gave up a career as a violinist to mother her family of five sons (John was the fourth) and one daughter, the future oboist Janet Craxton. John was brought up in St John’s Wood, where his parents kept open house to young and old in an atmosphere of benign bohemian disorder. That spirit prevailed when, in old age, he presided over his parents’ later Hampstead home, the music room of which is still used by professional musicians.

For much of his life, Craxton lived and worked in Greece, latterly in Crete—suitably for an Arcadian, as Arcadia was originally a region of southern Greece. He was the artist counterpart of his friend, the Greek-based travel writer Patrick Leigh-Fermor, whose book jackets he illustrated.

Craxton took 15 years to paint this Arcadian homage to his adopted land, due to much revision, including the loss of a figure. A boy flings an octopus onto the quay: ‘The subject is Greek in its bones but what amuses me is the old romantic English love of mood coming out in me,’ he wrote.

Further articles about John Craxton here.

Creforce: the Anzacs and the Battle of Crete

Creforce book cover

I was recently contacted by Melbourne-based journalist Stella Tzobanakis whose parents are both from the Greek island of Crete. She has written Creforce: the Anzacs and the Battle of Crete, the release of the second edition of which coincides with Anzac Day 25 April 2020, and the 79th anniversary of the Battle of Crete 20 May 2020. Some of you may be interested in this new book written with children in mind.

Creforce: the Anzacs and the Battle of Crete is the dramatic story of the second Anzacs and their role in one of the biggest battles in the military history of Australia, New Zealand and its Allied forces during World War II.

The book is written for children 10 and up and explores the real-life `adventures’ and misadventures of more than 14,500 young Australian and New Zealand soldiers who were sent to the Greek island of Crete – famous for myths, Minotaurs and labyrinths – under the second formation of the Anzac Corps,to help defend it against Nazi Germany.

The book includes never-before told, first-hand accounts of those that lived through the battle, and reveals the author’s personal Anzac story, discovered whilst writing this book. It also weaves in the battle stories of extraordinary and real-life `characters’ including:

Roald Dahl: the famous British novelist and children’s author who was a fighter pilot.

Charles Jager: the 20-year-old amateur lightweight boxer from Richmond, Melbourne who loved the racetrack and Greek classical stories.

Charles Upham: the educated sheep farmer turned valuer from New Zealand who was single-minded, persevering, swore a lot and hated injustice. Upham is one of only three men to have won the VC twice and his obituary is here.

Reginald Saunders: the 19 year-old soldier who was the first Aboriginal Australian to be commissioned as an officer in the Australian Army.

Horrie the Wog Dog: the little terrier who became an unofficial mascot. He was smuggled into Greece, evacuated, bombed off his ship and carried messages for the Allies.

The people of Crete: who have been likened in the book to Ned Kelly for their outlaw-style tactics as part of the Cretan resistance. The most notable is The Cretan Runner, George Psychoundakis, an uneducated, poor, young Cretan shepherd who became a decorated war hero for aiding British soldiers, including author, scholar, Patrick Leigh Fermor.

You can purchase the book at https://stelitsahome.bigcartel.com . For further information on where to find the book contact info@stelitsa.com.au or try messaging Stella via Facebook Messenger

South Bank Show on Vimeo

Ever wary that material on You Tube etc may be taken down (there are too many broken links in the Video category), I’m posting this as a separate post just in case the You Tube version I published on 9 June 2019 (was it really almost one year ago?!!!!) is removed.

South Bank Show 15 minute excerpt from the 1989 show. Thank you to Freddie Gage for this.

Leigh Fermor, Southbank Show. from Freddie Gage on Vimeo.

Ten years of the Patrick Leigh Fermor blog and Sex O’Clock High

Paddy by Mark Gerson, bromide print, February 1954 (National Portrait Gallery)

In all the excitement (or is it boredom) of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, I failed to complete a post I was drafting in mid-March to mark ten years since starting this blog. So here it is!

By March 2010 I had been “blogging” for a year on my other site MyByzantine. It was a new world for me and I had enjoyed seeing that site grow from four visits in February 2009 to 1,600 a month one year later (and remaining over 2,000). That site has clocked up over 460,000 visits since its launch.

During that time I had also read all three volumes of John Julius Norwich’s Byzantium history series, losing one volume into the Shkumbin river in Albania when a laden donkey fell into the thrashing river losing my baggage during my journey to find the Via Egnatia in Albania and Macedonia (you can read an account here). The insurance claim process was amusing, but I digress.

Through John Julius Norwich I had discovered Paddy and started to read and enjoy his books. Doing a little bit of Googling I found out that Paddy had no website like most other authors, and from what I read was very unlikely to start one at his age. I had also found a lot of interesting material about him, and by him, scattered across numerous sites on the web. I decided to use my “skills” from the Byzantine blog to bring all this material together into one place. The idea of the Patrick Leigh Fermor blog was born.

The first post was not about Paddy at all, but an obituary of his SOE colleague Ralph Stockbridge. This was published on 21 March 2010, and has had over 800 views since then. This was followed by a couple of obits about Sophie Moss. Many other obituaries followed of George Lane, Paddy’s wife Joan, and John Craxton. It was a “soft launch”, but visits had risen from a massive 23 in March 2010 (I recall wondering if there was any interest in this aging writer), to over 2,200 by May. Since then there have been over 1,850,000 views!

It was very sad that Paddy died in the following year. By then the blog had a strong following with over 14,000 visits on the day that his death was announced. There are now 970 posts on the blog and I do have a great backlog of genuine Paddy related material, as well as the more prosaic that I now post that is, mostly, well received by you my dear readers. You continue to send me new material, and I can’t really keep up, especially now that I have to wash my hands every five minutes 🙂 .

Thank you for your continued support. I have to say that having this “audience” during the lockdown has in some way helped me through this difficult time of being apart from many of those I love, and I do hope that the posts have in some way helped you to get through the first part of this difficult time.

I would like to finish by reposting the first article of new Paddy written material that I found and posted on 2 April 2010. It is from the Spectator and called Sex O’Clock High. Some of you may have been following from the start, others stumbling across this crazy site more recently. However long you have been reading I do hope that you all enjoy reading Sex O’Clock High. For some of you this might be the very first time you have read this amusing, and so typically Paddy piece.

Keep well.

Tom

Virtual journeys – a pilgrimage to St Peter-on-the-Wall

St Peter-on-the-Wall

The restrictions are starting to come down around the world now. Soon we can start to think of roving further than the local park. Whilst we still remain generally confined, here is another, short, virtual journey for you to enjoy.

In June 2018, during that very long, very hot summer that we experienced in the UK, I needed to get away. My relationship with my partner of four years had suddenly ended not long before and I thought that some sort of pilgrimage might help me to see things in a better light. Where was I to go?

I am actively interested in The British Pilgrimage Trust and searched their site for suggested routes. I only had a few days. Their routes page has some lovely suggestions – do you know that 2020 is designated the year of British Pilgrimage (sigh)?

The route I selected was a three to four day walk in Essex called The St Peter’s Way. This pilgrimage leads you from the heart of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Essex, from the oldest wooden church in the world, St Andrew’s, Greensted, to Ongar Castle all the way to one of Britain’s most ancient and remote churches – St Peter’s-On-The-Wall, which has attracted pilgrims over the flat expanse of saltmarsh at Bradwell for over a millennium. I had arrived from London via the Central Line, taking it to its terminus, and then a taxi to Ongar.

The route follows in the pilgrim footsteps venturing through some of the most spectacular countryside in Essex – and it is good – through ancient woodland, over commons and hills, and down to the salt marshes on estuaries – Maldon Sea Salt anyone? – and coastline.

I walked across some of Britain’s most fertile farmland, weaving my way along the wildlife-rich River Roding, via the 12C church at Blackmore, and from the fragments of the lost Writtle Forest toward the bird-rich waters of Hanningfield Reservoir. I paid my respects to the rescued 14C Mundon Church where I found a pair of birds trapped inside (and shooed out), and the skeletal limbs of the Mundon Oaks beckoned me toward the sea.

Mundon Church

Passing a wedding reception in a lovely field setting, I walked through the village of Tillingham where I stopped to watch a gentle game of cricket on the green. The last few miles were very hard. It was so hot and the marshes induced disorientation. I had to use the sea wall as a guide, until eventually Saint Peter’s lonely shrine appeared in the distance. This church was built by a Lindisfarne monk, Bishop Cedd in 654 incorporating the Roman bricks and stones for the Saxon Shore fort, half of which still remains, the other half having been consumed by the sea.

The weather throughout was gorgeous, and so hot that I just slept out in my sleeping bag in woods, or overlooking the sea. At St Peter’s I settled down into what I think must be the pilgrim shelter, listening to the soft singing of a group from the Othona community, who welcomed me in to join in their prayer. For the rest of the evening and night I was alone, watching a beautiful sunset, except for a family of hares out to graze. I watched amazed as the male engaged in a hard fought battle with a stoat. I cannot remember who won.

Hare

In the morning I walked to a local town and caught a train back to Liverpool Street in London. Were my troubles solved? No. But I had an extraordinarily good walk in a part of England that may often be dismissed by walkers. I thoroughly recommend it.

Follow my route via this Google photo album.

Download a route guide here.

Finally, I wanted to say thank you to all those who have recently made small donations via the Donate button on the blog. You are very generous and I hope that you continue to enjoy the content of the site. Many of these donations go towards the cost of site hosting and the growing cloud storage costs for the pictures and other content. We remain the world’s leading site for content relating to Patrick Leigh Fermor which was my goal when I started this site back in 2010.

A video of the church.

Patrick Leigh Fermor in Crete – a reminder of better times

Members of the International Lawrence Durrell Society & Patrick Leigh Fermor Society visit Crete in 2018, following Paddy’s paths… The meeting took place in Heraklion Crete in a historical farm… and features our good friedn Chris White in his straw sun hat and white beard!

I just thought i would share this as it reminds us of those far off sunny days when we were able to travel and to share good food and drink together.

Virtual journeys – Istanbul to Edinburgh

One of my favourite posts is about Owen Martel’s journey from Istanbul to Edinburgh. Posted in 2012 I have always enjoyed this video; I guess it lets me imagine myself on such a long, epic walk. Maybe it does the same for you too.

His video is an all-time favourite and it brought the excellent band Darlingside to my attention with their beautiful song “The Ancestor”. Their harmonies are superb.

The crazy Owen subsequently walked for seven months across the US pulling a cart.

Part of a series of posts to help you escape during the Covid-1 lockdown/travel restrictions.

Cooking for Patrick Leigh Fermor

Elpida Belogianni was Patrick Leigh Fermor's cook from 2001 to his death in 2011

Elpida Belogianni was Patrick Leigh Fermor’s cook from 2001 to his death in 2011

Elpida Belogianni, the cook at the Leigh Fermor house in Kardamyli, recounts memories of the late author, and his particularities when it came to food.

by Vivi Konstantinidou

First pubished in Greece Is April 16th, 2020

A man of simple tastes, who ate his meals at the same time every day, could hold his drink, and was an avid smoker. That’s how Elpida Belogianni, who worked as a cook for the late writer from 2001 until his death in 2011, describes Patrick Leigh Fermor.

She approached Paddy, or “Kir Michalis” as he was known by everyone in Mani, about the job at his house in Kardamyli when she heard that the previous cook had left her position. Being an old acquaintance of her father, Giannis Belogiannis, Leigh Fermor hired her on the spot.

For health reasons, Leigh Fermor’s wife Joan made sure that he stuck to a strict diet, Elpida recalls. When she passed away however, he loosened the restrictions and made new rules, personalized to his tastes: he started eating a lot more meat, which he loved (particularly pork chops with butter and onions, and oven-roasted lamb with vegetables), as well as dishes like moussaka, baked gigantes beans, and eggs sunny-side up with bacon. He created his own dietary plan, which he then stuck to happily and religiously.

In the mornings, he would have one cup of Chinese tea, one orange, and three slices of toast: one with orange- or Seville orange marmalade, a second one with butter and marmite, and a third one with gentleman’s relish (a type of anchovy paste).

At 11.00, he would have a “medium-sweet” cup of Greek coffee. For lunch he ate whatever Elpida cooked. His afternoon snack consisted of another cup of tea with two Digestive biscuits. Then dinner.

He was never a fan of elaborate delicacies; he preferred simple meals, even when hosting large groups of people. He often declared that nothing could beat a plate of lentil stew drizzled with olive oil or a freshly fried fish, dipped briefly in seawater to achieve the perfect saltiness.

Famously gentle, he was always polite and good humored, never angry or irritated, and he showed no desire to try other types of food, so Elpida avoided experimenting with new dishes. “Any time I did cook something new, his response would either be: ‘Very tasty, I’d like to have this again’ or ‘Very tasty, but I don’t want to have it again’,” she laughs.

Asked if she remembers any moment in particular from cooking for Paddy, she ponders for a while, then enthusiastically recalls: “One evening – he was widowed by then – I had cooked him his favorite lamb in the oven, and I thought to recite the poem “The Lamb” by Alexandros Katakouzinos. He listened to it carefully, and it led to a discussion about Greek poetry that lasted all night, as we sat in front of the fire and had large amounts of wine.

“He was an experienced drinker, but I got really dizzy, and woke up in the morning with the worst headache. As we sat down for lunch that day, I couldn’t speak from the pain. He, on the other hand, was completely fine. Eating his meal in silence while reading a book, he looked up every now and again, shook his head with guilt, and muttered: ‘Poor Elpida, poor Elpida…’”

A request – download the Kings’ College Covid-19 tracker app

Hello All,

Today I’d like to share a direct appeal with you. Many of you may be aware of and are using the Covid-19 tracker app from the team at ZOE and Kings’ College London. Over 2.6m people report their health daily to the site. They are looking to increase this number and have asked that users share a request on Facebook. I thought that I would extend that request to here.

The app can be found on Google’s Play Store and Apple’s App Store. Follow the link here (from your phone)

A Lockdown walk to see the Micheldever bluebells

Bluebells in Itchen Wood, 23 April 2020

First of all I hope that you are all well, and those that you love. We must all be having differing experiences of the lockdowns in our various countries. Some may not have them at all. Others may be under much tighter restrictions than we have here in the UK. I have a friend in Milan who must be into his seventh week or more (don’t you find that getting a grip on time is such a problem?) and they really can hardly go out.

In the UK we are seeing the end in sight – we hope – and perhaps are learning how to adjust our behaviours, and understand better what our instructions mean we can and can’t do. There has been a strong emphasis on taking daily exercise. Here in Winchester we are fortunate that it is a very small city (a population of just 45,000), and we are surrounded by beautiful countryside. For many it will be within not more than a 5-10 minute walk, and we have no major developments of apartment blocks. Most people have (now very clean) air and space.

Nearby we have Micheldever Woods (with its smaller cousin Itchen Wood next to it) which is famous for its bluebells at this time of year. We are discouraged from driving to exercise spots, and I wanted to see the bluebells even in these strange times. So, on St George’s Day, 23 April, I set off late in the afternoon to walk through the beautiful Itchen Valley, past the villages of Easton, Avington (pop. 72), and Itchen Abbas, and up onto Itchen Down to approach Itchen Wood from the south. It was a stunning day. Very warm sunshine, the ground hard and dusty in places (it is only April!). The pretty villages had well-tended gardens. Hand-drawn and painted rainbow pictures, our symbol of hope in our National Health Service (which has done a magnificent job), were in many windows.

There were few people about, but a lot of cyclists taking advantage of the quiet roads and the beautiful countryside to take their exercise. A brand new telegraph pole gave out a strong smell of creosote, a smell that always takes me back to my childhood; the smell of recently maintained fences each summer. I stopped in the beautiful, bucolic Avington Park with its large lake, and the elegant house that was once the home to the Shelley family.

Sometimes I heard families talking in hushed tones behind hedges in their green gardens. An occasional ladder propped against a wall for some essential maintenance task that perhaps could wait until tomorrow, or even the day after that. The birds seemed especially happy singing and chirping to each other, constantly crossing my path. The only other noise was the sound of farm machinery at various places; reassuring that some economic activity is still taking place.

Avington House and park

After about 3-4 hours of walking, passing hares out for their evening socials, I reached Itchen Wood, which is mainly a beech wood, managed by the Forestry Commission to encourage healthy timber and excellent conditions for the bluebells. I decided just to stay there for a while. I have always preferred this smaller wood to it’s larger neighbour Micheldever Wood. In normal times the car parks there would have been full, and cars are parked along the roadside, with many families walking out to enjoy this marvellous blue and green sight. Most miss the smaller Itchen, even at busy times, where it is possible to find peace.

On this occasion I was essentially alone. I did spy one or two other walkers or runners, like ghostly figures some way off in the dappled evening light. Birds sang and I just rested, enjoying the purple-blue carpet all around me, inhaling the subtle perfume of these amazing flowers. I stumbled across some white flowers and had to get closer. Were these some sort of ‘albino’ bluebell? Later research tells me that they indeed were, being quite rare, only one in 10,000 bulbs being albino.

Angel on my shoulder, Itchen Down, 23 April 2020

Eventually I made my way back home via a slightly different route. Looking back the sun was slowly setting and I took more photos, capturing an image of an angel, hopefully looking after us all. My dinner was a can of cold beans (the walk was planned in haste and I grabbed what I had at hand!) as I sat on the edge of Itchen Down overlooking this really beautiful valley with, perhaps, the finest chalk stream (it is a significant river, but we call it a stream) in the world. The trout certainly think so.

As dusk fell I revelled in the fading light and then the darkness. I enjoy walking at night. I dipped back down to the now silent road that runs through from Winchester to Alresford, and joined a path that has many boardwalks to take me across a wide reedy marsh that contains many pools and tributaries of the river until they all join as one before Easton, the closest village to Winchester. In the dusk light I could see many bats flying fast and sure to wherever they were going. Most other birds were now silent. Yes, there was an occasional owl call. Venus was bright in the western sky and was there to accompany me all the way home, slowly descending on its downward arc.

As I crossed onto the small minor road that runs to the south side of the river, there was some excitement amongst the sheep near Avington house. What it was I do not know. With just a mile or so to go I pressed on in the dark, past pretty brick cottages with bright orange-yellow lights, shining out through leaded windows, never seeing the families within. I really was the only person abroad. It was thrilling. Occasionally I was illuminated by house security lights that would pop on, casting my giant shadow across the road, or sometimes on to a house wall opposite making me look 12 feet tall.

Finally I came to the barrier of the M3 motorway, took the underpass and was greeted by an illuminated sign to drivers telling them to keep journeys only to essential ones, a reminder that our life has changed so much so fast. I had crossed from country to town by taking that tunnel. Stopping at the petrol station I bought some beer to have once at home. A policeman was there to buy a snack. We spoke. I asked how things were going and if he and his colleagues were well. He told me it was all fine and the the people of Hampshire were doing what they were told with very few problems. ‘Normal’ crime was way down. There were two police cars. The other was driven by his colleague. Patrolling is now done by social distancing and that means two cars per patrol to keep each officer separate from the other.

The few hundred yards home passed quickly as I walked up what used to be Winnall Down, now a housing estate. The windows of the fire station were covered in children’s rainbow pictures of thanks to all the workers in the NHS who have risked their lives for us.

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I never meant to write so much. It was just meant to be a quick introduction to the photo album which catalogues this short journey. Many of you enjoyed the pictures I posted of my long walk on the Ridgeway last autumn, so I thought that you might like this. Perhaps a little escapism. Excuse the selfies, this album is also for my children. That is my ‘apocalypse beard’. It will go when all this is over. The pictures were taken only with my Samsung smartphone and my technique is pretty much point and shoot. Sometimes you get lucky. I may make up a few more albums to share from my long walks if you wish, so please send me your comments.

The photos can be found here in this Google album. Keep safe and well.

And here is a bit of a map of the route from my Strava.

Finally, a short tour of the grounds of Avington park which shows some of the route. It is a beautiful part of the world.

Easter in the golden Kardamili – cooking at Kalamitsi

In early March Gastromos magazine visited Kardamyli, to prepare their Easter issue, aiming to bring to life the most authentic Greek celebration of the year in nature and the labyrinthine house of Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor. They brought along their own photographer Alexandros Antoniadis, and all images are by him. The following is an auto-translate from the Greek, complete with all errors (set your browser to auto translate).

by Vivi Konstantinidou

First published in Gastronomos

Shortly before the mid-1960s, Patrick Le Fermor, an intellectual, traveler, writer and award-winning war hero with a decisive role in the Resistance in Crete, on one of his many trips to Greece was in Messinian Mani, in Kardamili, in a cape where “there was nothing on it but olives on the terraces, donkeys, daffodils and no turtles ever.”

A genuine Manichaean landscape, but it was to capture him and become the location where he would build his iconic home – his first. Kardamyli seemed completely different from any other village he had seen in Greece, with “houses built of golden stones”. With this stone and with the help of local craftsmen and stonemasons, but also with the decisive contribution of the modernist architect Nikos Hatzimichalis, the construction of the main house will begin in 1964, as Le Fermor supervises and monitors impatiently for two whole and full of enthusiasm. years, installed in a tent in the cove. When it was completed, she settled there happily, with his wife Ioanna (Joan Rainer), a professional photographer.

He wrote books for this band, lived happily ever after and hosted good friends. The people of Kardamylia used to come here, who every year on the feast of the Brigadiers on November 8, after the service in the homonymous church, came to his house to wish him well. You see, for the people of Mania – and earlier for the Cretans – Patrick Le Fermor was “Mr. Michael” or “Philandem”, names he acquired in the two years he lived in the mountains of Crete, organizing the Resistance on the island and participating in one one of the most important military operations, the abduction of the island’s military commander, Lieutenant General Heinrich Kraipe. Gradually, however, the house inevitably fell victim to the wear and tear of time.

Today, after the total repair undertaken – with the generous support of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation – the Benaki Museum, in which Patrick and Joan Le Fermor granted the entire complex with a donation in 1996, his house lives a second brilliant life and us waiting to meet her up close.

Love for Mani and nature
Spring is undoubtedly the best time to be in Mani. Its wild and windswept landscape is sweetened by the eruption of herbs and wildflowers and the spring sun emphasizes the golden color of the local land. So in the spring we visited the Le Fermor House, to prepare our Easter issue, to bring to life the most authentic Greek celebration of the year in this nature and in the labyrinthine building complex of the house. Also, to discuss the construction and its unique architectural and decorative features with two excellent ladies, who guided us to its premises: the president of the Board of Directors of the Benaki Museum, Irini Geroulanou, and the head of the house, Myrto Kaouki.

In the large kitchen, all kinds of festive dishes were cooked at a hectic pace by the immovable food stylist Alexandra Tassounidou and the photographer of the mission, Alexandros Antoniadis, was concerned only with one issue: where to lead the dishes, having to choose between countless angles, or carved tables and chairs, windowsills, pebbles (designed by Lee Fermor’s good friend, Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Gika), gardens full of wildflowers and rosemary.

Within a few hours it rained and rained down, giving way to bright sunshine and sweet warmth. But every now and then Le Fermor House remains a place of unexpected calm, welcoming like an open arms, with each window and balcony facing a different side of the bay low and the sea in front of it, the olive groves that connect it from three sides and the vertical one. Terrible end of Taygetos to the east.

In every space, in every niche and corner, the immense love that Patrick Le Fermor had for this house, the care and the importance he gave to detail, is visible. “In his correspondence, while the house was being built, one can see his obvious impatience to complete the building,” Ms. Geroulanou explained. “Every fragment and fragment he collected from demolished buildings in the area, but also throughout the Peloponnese, every impression and influence from his countless trips to Greece, the Mediterranean and Asia have been carefully and lovingly integrated into this home,” he added. . So it is: The covered galleries that connect the wings of the house are clearly influenced by Mediterranean monasteries, the wooden ceilings with hundreds of panels and the loggia on the southeast side of the great hall are continental influences, the built-in cylindrical fireplaces are inspired by Persian architecture, the endless spaghetti pacifiers are reminiscent of the Aegean, the unusual. No one is satisfied to enjoy the beauty of the huge hall, with the built-in sofas and the view, different and fascinating from each window, the floors paved with Pelion tiles, the whitewashed walls with the paintings of Craxton, Hadjikyriakos-Gikas, Robin Iro , the built-in libraries that house the more than 5,000 Le Fermor books. I inevitably focus on the stone rotunda in the center of this stunning room. This all-marble table, “Inspired by the marble of Freya Stark (explorer, traveler and writer of Anglo-Italian descent) in Venice”, he writes to his wife Ioanna, he is inspired by a tondo (s.s. artistic Renaissance term that refers to a round work of art – in Italian “rotondo”) in the church of St. Anastasia of Verona, its decoration depicts white flames of Udine stone to be emitted from the center of the design, of gray-colored stone and red marble, “Vera 3” writes with obvious enthusiasm.

The books on the shelves around the table are not at all randomly placed around this navel of the house, from dictionaries and scriptures to architecture, ancient Greek literature, painting, sculpture, but also for “birds, wild animals, reptiles, fish and trees, because if one is going to settle in the wilderness, a dozen shelves with encyclopedic books are the minimum that will be needed, and they must be located near the dining table where disagreements arise, which will be resolved either by at that moment or never “4, Paddy wrote.

House maintenance has proven to be extremely difficult. The Le Fermor couple did not pay much attention to practical matters. He preferred to host numerous groups and enjoy their company. The house was open to everyone – sometimes not just to people: “From time to time, a hen that has lost her way enters, looks around, and no cat or damage comes out. Last month, a white goat came out of the yard and after a while six more were lined up behind it, walking inside their house, tapping their feet on the floor […], crossing the gallery, descending the twenty steps and they are lost again in nature, ”wrote Le Fermor.

This attitude inevitably had a cost: the house gradually fell victim to the wear and tear of time and the elements of nature. Le Fermor’s relationship with people at the Benaki Museum, such as Irini Kalliga, Nikos Hatzikyriakos-Gikas and Angelos Delivorrias, certainly influenced his decision to donate it to the Museum. But it was Tzannis Tzannetakis, his close personal friend, who convinced the couple that this decision was the right one.

Patrick Le Fermor passed away in 2011 and since then a true Golgotha ​​has been on display for the museum. “The challenge was huge,” says Irene Geroulanou. “The wood, the walls, the windows, everything was in a miserable condition. The repairs were of a very large scale “, he adds. Myrto Kaouki points out that “the idea was for the house to remain exactly as it was and for the repairs to be done in such a way that its original atmosphere is not altered in the slightest.”

And that’s exactly what happened, despite the terrible difficulties. The Stavros Niarchos Foundation undertook the huge cost of repairs and equipment of the house, while, according to the terms of donation of Le Fermor, which stipulate that the house will be used for the purposes of the Museum, but also according to the wishes expressed, the Museum plans fellowships, honorary hospitality of important personalities from the field of letters, arts and sciences, as well as the organization of educational activities in collaboration with universities in Greece and e oterikou as the Freie Universitat, Princeton Univesity and UCLA.

Working hours were set at two times a year, one in the fall and one in the spring. It all started with the hosting of the first seminar organized by Princeton University last summer. “At the same time, the cooperation with the company Aria Hotels starts this year, with the rental of the property during the summer months, as provided in the donation, in order to secure part of its operating expenses”, says Myrto Kaouki.

Le Fermor House is open to the public on certain days and hours of the week, with organized tours, by appointment (T / 210-36.71.090).

1, 3, 4, 5: Translation from the book: Alvilde Lees-Milne & Derry Moore, “The Englishman’s Room”, Viking / Penguin Books 1986, pp. 91-95. 2: Patrick Lee

Free listening

It is quite amazing how quickly we humans adapt. Almost within hours of lockdowns starting around the world, individuals and companies were going online. Everything from yoga classes to virtual drinks parties. Technology has enabled much of this and I have to say the situation would be harder to bear without the internet.

There is much talk of people spending their days on sofas watching endless box sets on Netflix or Amazon Prime, but the television is a problematic medium. It requires one to sit still and do little else. Radio and audio on the other hand enable us to do other things at the same time, and to me, there is little to equal the sound of a good story being narrated well.

I am sure that you will have been bombarded through emails and social media about all sorts of free stuff, but I wanted to share a few that I am aware of. If you have some good suggestions please add to the comments section of this post so we can share with others,

A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water audiobooks

These are available for free listening at the moment. See my recent posts.

Gresham College

Gresham College is amazing. Founded in 1597 it has been providing free lectures within the City of London for over 400 years.

The College was established out of the will of Sir Thomas Gresham, one of the most influential and important men across the Tudor and Elizabethan periods. As well as founding the Royal Exchange, Sir Thomas left proceeds in his will for the foundation of Gresham College.

Today the College upholds its founding principle in maintaining the highest possible academic standards for all of its appointed Gresham Professors, Visiting Professors and visiting speakers. In recent years three additional Professorships have been added in Business, Environment and Information Technology.

The College’s 130 annual lectures and events are free and open to all. There are now over 2,000 lectures freely available online on the College website and on its YouTube channel.

Artemis Cooper giving the 2014 Stavros Niarchos Foundation Lecture at Yale University.

Audible children’s stories

During the crisis, Audible is making a number of children’s stories free to listen. All stories are free to stream on your desktop, laptop, phone or tablet. They include Winnie the Pooh and Harry Potter as well as many more new and classic reads. They are in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, Italian, and Japanese. Have a look here.

Paddy’s account of the kidnap

Anyone who has sent me an email knows that I am notoriously slow in responding and the same sometimes goes for displaying material sent to me on the blog. I have actually been “saving” this item for a suitable occasion since it was sent to me by the ever patient Alun Davies in February 2014. Alun has probably forgotten about this now, but I thought that now really is the very best time to publish this as many of you will have a little more time on your hands if confined.

Please do also read the comment below by Chris White (co-author/editor) of Abducting a General for further information about this draft, and the others.

You can read the pdf document here – Abducting a General by PLF – typed July 2005

Alun emailed me as follows:

I had an email from Chris P*** this week asking me to send him a copy of Paddy’s personal account of the kidnap of General Kreipe. Paddy had sent it to me in 2005 when I first told him we were going to walk the route. I had his rather rough notes typed up in Cardiff and sent a copy to Chris P*** at the time. Chris has apparently lost it – and needs a copy as someone is (you may well know this) publishing another book about the Kreipe story and Chris wants to ensure that they have Paddy’s version. [Ed – I expect this is Chris White’s Abducting a General: The Kreipe Operation and SOE in Crete]

In any case as it is on my screen this evening I will send you a copy – just in case you have not seen it before.

Best wishes

Alun

You can read the pdf document here – Abducting a General by PLF – typed July 2005

 

The Passion of Christ goes digital – from Athen’s Byzantine and Christian Museum

I first discovered Paddy through my interest in Roman and Byzantine history. In fact through the excellent three volume work, Byzantium, of Paddy’s great friend John Julius Norwich. Some of you know that I run a parallel blog about Byzantium, and I thought that on this occasion I would share a recent post; I wondered how both Paddy and John Julius might have enjoyed it, and so, I hope, do you. If nothing else the music is sublime

In time for this (Orthodox) holy week period, the Byzantine and Christian Museum in Athens is offering a digital tour of some of its best works. 

This gold-embroidered Epitaphios (liturgical vestment) dated to 1751 from the famous workshop of Mariora in Constantinople stands out among other exquisite works of art in this digital exhibition which draws on the collections of the Byzantine and Christian Museum in Athens. Hidden in its linings, conservators found the original signatures of the embroiderer and of the person that donated it – Mariora and Timothea. The masterpiece of Byzantine art is a long-term loan from the Exarchate of Jerusalem in Athens.

The digital exhibition, which visitors to the museum’s website can view this week, is a 33-minute video featuring 95 works from the museum’s collections on the Passion, Burial and Resurrection of Christ, and is accompanied by some wonderful music.

This unique digital presentation of museum objects of different places, eras, styles and materials aspires to contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of the centuries-old illustration of the leading events of the Divine Economy, as described in the Scriptures. The works, mostly portable icons, are thematically distributed according to the chronological sequence of historical events and their theological symbolism, beginning with Lazarus’ Sabbath and ending with Easter Sunday.

 

Easter – the bridge at Esztergom, and Between the Woods and the Water free audiobook

Crowd river watching Esztergom  1934

A happy Easter to you all wherever you are and however much space in which you have to move around; I hope that you remain well. The weather here in England is lovely. The South Downs, which are a short run away for me, were soggy and treacherous for runners just four or so weeks ago. Now, after a number of weeks of dry sunny weather, the chalky soil has drained, and is even cracking apart it is so dry on the surface.

The South Downs, and Chilcomb church at Chilcomb near Winchester, England, UK, Easter 2020

Back to Paddy. At Easter time we always find we have left him mid-stream on the Mária Valéria bridge which joins Esztergom in Hungary and Štúrovo in Slovakia, across the River Danube. The bridge, some 500 metres in length is named after Archduchess Marie Valerie of Austria, (1868–1924), the fourth child of Emperor Franz Josef, and Empress Elisabeth (now she has a sad tale to tell).

Paddy crossed into Esztergom and watched an amazing Easter service led by the bishop with crowds nobles, soldiers and their ladies dressed in their finest clothes and colourful uniforms. A sight that will never be seen again.

This Easter I offer you a selection of photos of Esztergom, some from 1934, and the Audible audiobook of Between the Woods and the Water, to complement that of A Time of Gifts which I posted a couple of weeks back.

Enjoy this strange Easter as best you can. Please keep inside, safe and well, so that your medical services are not stretched to the point of collapse by this terrible virus.

Teach yourself map reading

For the times to come, for when we can get outside, being able to read a map well is a skill that can be as important, and more fun, than being able to swim. The UK’s Ordnance Survey have produced a teach yourself map reading course and it is here in this pdf.

For the walkers and the virtual walkers here I hope that you enjoy it and find it useful.

map-reading

Update – The Transylvanian Book Festival 4th Edition

A message from Lucy Abel-Smith to update all on the situation re the Book Festival and Covid-19, with an appeal to let her know – lucy@realityandbeyond.co.uk – if you are thinking of attending just so they can get an idea of numbers; no commitments.

Bron Riley and I thought we would write to everyone involved in the Transylvanian Book festival in September – to all our speakers, musicians, hosts and patrons – and the wonderful team who help with the smooth running of the festival, welcoming everyone, creating delicious meals and providing beautiful venues and excursions.

We are still planning to go ahead with the festival with the hope that the virus and its effects will be clear by September, one of the best months to be in Transylvania, when there is usually golden early autumn weather. We will make a final decision at the beginning of July.

As with past editions the programme is varied, relevant and stimulating.

We strongly suggest that you do not book your flights for the moment (although recent experience has shown that most airlines are being flexible at present). We will keep your deposits safe and our wonderful travel manager, Laura Vesa, will retain all our bookings in the local accommodation. So do let us know whether you are thinking of coming so that we can get an idea of numbers.

As usual, we promise good cheer.

In addition, Bronwen Riley is leading a visit to the outstanding Romanian painted monasteries immediately after the end of the festival. We will be delighted to arrange any specialist or private tours before the 10th of September and will shortly be sending you details of a thrilling new tour to Serbia planned for October.

We do hope that you all keep well and remain in good spirits in these strange times and very much look forward to seeing you in September, if not before.

Lucy
lucy@realityandbeyond.co.uk

Pilgrimage – the road to Istanbul

Some of you, at least in the UK, may have watched the previous two programmes of BBC’s Pilgrimage series, and might like to watch the third installment which has just started on BBC2.

Hot on the heels of their predecessors, who journeyed to Santiago and Rome, seven new celebrities are set to embark on their own journey of discovery – this time to Istanbul. I’m not sure this is an actual pilgrimage route as such, but what the hell. It runs through a beautiful part of Europe and it features Dom Jolly who is always fun.

Taking part is journalist Adrian Chiles, a converted Catholic; former politician Edwina Currie, a lapsed Jew; Olympian Fatima Whitbread, a Christian; broadcaster Mim Shaikh and TV presenter Amar Latif, both Muslims; and two confirmed atheists, comedian Dom Joly and actress Pauline McLynn.

Donning backpacks, the group will spend just over two weeks living as simple pilgrims following an ancient 1,000km military route, which has been transformed into a modern-day path of peace.

Starting in Serbia’s capital city Belgrade, the pilgrims will travel through Bulgaria and the mountainous Balkans, before crossing the border into Turkey, with their goal of reaching Istanbul and the Suleymaniye Mosque.

I have yet to watch this and don’t know which old route they may have followed, but some of it will probably cross places visited by Paddy, and they may even use parts of the Via Egnatia that I started to walk ten years ago; I must finish it sometime!

Find out more and watch (if your location permits) here. If you use a VPN package like Nord VPN (which is top grade VPN) you can connect to the UK.