Mount Pelée, the La Soufrière volcano and The Violins of Saint-Jacques

The ex-convict, Louis-Auguste Cyparis (aka Ludger Sylbaris), as billed as the last survivor of St. Pierre on this Barnum and Bailey Poster

The news this week of an eruption of the La Soufrière volcano on the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent, made me think about Paddy’s novel (and second book) The Violins of Saint-Jacques published in 1953.

Reading this BBC article I see that local media have also reported increased activity from Mount Pelée on the island of Martinique, north of St Vincent. It was the devastating 1902 eruption of this volcano that inspired Paddy’s novel, which was subsequently turned into an opera by Sir Malcolm Williamson.

You might want to catch up with blog articles about the Mt Pelée eruption, especially the short piece about the only survivor, Louis-Auguste Cyparis.

If you don’t have a copy you can buy The Violins of Saint-Jacques: A Tale of the Antilles here.

Sponsored Post Learn from the experts: Create a successful blog with our brand new courseThe WordPress.com Blog

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A milestone: over two million views

Some of you may be interested to know that sometime over the last few days the blog passed the point of two million views since I started it on 21 March 2010. The first post being about Ralph Stockbridge and not Paddy!

There are now 1,007 posts, and we have over 452,000 visitors to the site in that time. I do have around 250 posts in some form of draft state. I guess many of them may be duplicates or redundant now, but there is some life left in us yet!

You made this happen and thank you to all visitors for your support over these eleven years.

Don’t forget if you wish to publish something just get in contact with me atsawford [at] gmail .com

Your ideas for the marking of the 10th anniversary of Paddy’s death

Thank you all for the terrific response to suggestions to mark Paddy’s upcoming anniversary. They came in by email and comment, and I have summarised the ideas below. Please feel free to continue to submit your ideas by comment on this article or contacting me at atsawford [at] gmail .com

NOTE – THE POLLS I CREATED DO NOT WORK . SOME WORDPRESS NONSENSE. PLEASE IGNORE AND JUST ADD A COMMENT INDICATING YOUR PREFERENCE IE INTERESTED/ATTEND/ATTEND AND OFFER TO HELP. I MAY BE ABLE TO DO SOMETHING TO FIX THIS OR PROVIDE AN ALTERNATIVE BUT NOT TODAY! MY APOLOGIES. IF YOU HAVE SUBMITTED A POLL RESULT PLEASE NOW ADD A COMMENT.

PLEASE INDICATE IF YOU ARE WILLING TO ORGANISE, OR HELP TO ORGANISE, AN EVENT. I SHAN’T BE DOING ALL THIS BY MYSELF!!!

Online Conference

Chris O’Gorman suggested ” a virtual Paddy mini-conference. It is very short notice I know, but equally there are some very knowledgeable people around who might have talks that they have already written, ready to go? It would also be good if we could get some press coverage – or maybe there could be a PLF anniversary crowd fund for something Paddy would have cared about? Maybe for the Benaki, or for Greek or Cretan veterans?”.

Julie Vick echoed this idea. She wondered “if it would be possible to have a virtual conference where members could volunteer to give short talks on some aspect such as Paddy’s life and history, his writings, Greece, as well as why he is important to them.”

This is a great idea, but perhaps time is short.Having a reliable platform to use would be key. A Zoom licence for up to 100 participants is around £120 pa. If everyone made a small pro rata donation the cost per person could be kept very low; just a few pounds. The event could be recorded and hopefully accessible afterwards.

One alternative might be to encourage those who have material to make a video or audio file to upload to a selected You Tube channel. Have a think.

Please comment and show your interest by adding a comment.

A Detailed Bibliography

Stefan at Southwing Fine Books in Australia has suggested a proper, and very detailed bibliography, or as he says, a “proper” one! I’m working with Stefan to enable this.

Event in France (or anywhere else for that matter)

Nicolas Ruelle has offered to see if something can be arranged in France. Over to you but please signal interest here and I’ll pass on your email details to Nicolas.

If you wish to run an event of any kind (dinner, conference etc) please contact me and I’ll help suggest a format for you to promote it.

A lunch at Dumbleton Hall

Alun Davies has made the marvellous suggestion of a lunch the Dumbleton Hall hotel. I recall going there after Paddy’s funeral (16th June) and it would be a marvellous, and obviously appropriate, venue. Current UK Coronavirus restrictions to end “all social distancing” may come into effect on 21st of June so a proper lunch may be possible after that.

If you are interested in a lunch, or dinner at the hotel during the period 23rd to 26th June please add a comment.

Contribute anything!

James Down wrote to me with this “

I’m not sure it would be of interest, but just after I graduated, in fear of never having the chance again, I did a trip in 2014, starting at Paddy’s House, then hitchhiking up through the Balkans to Croatia, catching a boat across to Italy, then walking all the way back home, to Sussex on my own. The thing I thought may appeal or be relevant to the anniversary is that I have some pictures of Paddy’s house as it was before anything was updated as part of the Benaki project. I also fell asleep there, to escape the heat, inside the arched entrance way and had an amusing encounter with a very shocked Elpida.

I’d be happy to contribute them, captions, or an explanation as a stand-alone item, or perhaps as a part of wider mosaic of your reader’s personal interactions or memories with Paddy and his wider orbit.

I love the idea of doing something in fear of never having the chance again,. Perhaps that should be the theme? Paddy in a sense did that. It does not have to be Paddy related, just something that is important to you that you would like to share? I can post it anonymously for you of you wish.

I’ll be asking James to get his stuff together and make his contribution! It would be great if any of you felt you would like to contribute something (you know we have a very wide editorial brief so come on 🙂 )and I will make a very special, extra effort to get it out there in your name on the blog in a timely fashion! Best to send to atsawford [at] gmail .com

A Greek themed dinner in London.

Like Alun’s suggestion above, Dr Chris Joyce has suggested an event involving refreshment. Possiibly a “Greek Themed” dinner somewhere in London with the sort of food, and most importantly, the drinks that Paddy liked. If you are interested please add a comment.

Travel Writing World podcasts

Eric Newby on the trip that would make him famous: a climb up Mir Samir in Afghanistan in 1956. Credit...Hugh Carless/Press Association, via Associated Press

Eric Newby on the trip that would make him famous: a climb up Mir Samir in Afghanistan in 1956.
Credit…Hugh Carless/Press Association, via Associated Press

I was recently directed to this excellent site following a mention in the Eland Books newsletter. Travel Writing World is an award-winning podcast and website featuring interviews with travel writers, book reviews, author profiles, and resources for travel writers and their readers.

To date I have enjoyed a discussion about Eric Newby’s A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush, and Peter Fiennes, former publisher at Time Out, talking about his 2020 publication Footnotes: A Journey Round Britain in the Company of Great Writers.

There are no discussions (yet) about Patrick Leigh Fermor, but I am looking forward to listening to Colin Thubron talk about the recent death of his friend Jan Morris, travel writing in general, and the tenth anniversary of his book To A Mountain in Tibet. An excellent group was assembled to remember Bruce Chatwin on what would have been his 80th birthday.

I hope that you enjoy listening to an episode or two.

Visit Travel Writing World

Medieval Pilgrimage

Are those of us who are locked down like those in medieval times who coud not actually go on pligrimage and were only able to imagine it?

In the always fascinating BBC Radio 4 programme, In Our Time, Melvyn Bragg (who in 1989 interviewed Paddy on The South Bank Show – short extract here) and guests discuss the rise of pilgrimage for Christians in Europe in the Middle Ages and options for those who could only imagine pilgrimages and imitate them at home.

The podcast archives go back many years, divided into categories like ‘Culture’, ‘Religion’ and ‘History’. The Margery Kempe and Thomas Becket episodes are brilliant too, both linked to pilgrimage.

Lock yourself away and give 45 minutes to fascinating discussion, where you are sure to learn a few things.

Listen to the episode here.

There are almost 900 episodes in the In Our Time archive which you can browse here.

Marking the tenth anniversary of Paddy’s death

This coming June it will be ten years since Paddy’s death. I feel it is appropriate that we should somehow mark this anniversary in one or more ways.

I have a few related items which I may be able to post, but I would like to ask you, loyal readers, for any ideas that you may have or anything that you wish to share.

Let’s open the floor to anyone, any idea, and anything, and let June be a blitz of Paddy related memories and material.

Send me your ideas via the comment facility here, or email me as found in About & Contacts. Whilst we are on that subject, I have recently discovered that BT Internet appears to block emails originating from Gmail accounts. There is nothing I can do about this. So if you have mailed me and I have not replied it may be that I never received the email. You can also send me email via atsawford [@] gmail.com  and that should get through.

Winter walks

Winter scene, drover track near Alresford

How quickly the seasons change. Just two weeks ago I escaped lockdown for a long exercise session and ended up walking 42 km – this was not planned, I just kept going! – on a lovely winter’s day, complete with warm sunshine on hard frozen ground, snow underfoot in some places, quickly followed by dark clouds and flurries of snow, as well as a final period walking over the South Downs back into Winchester in the dark, having to watch my footing to avoid an ankle twist in the frozen ruts of the path. As I write, Spring has arrived and the first daffodils are about to burst open in my garden, lagging somewhat behind the more enthusiatic crocuses.

Nevertheless, I thought that I would share some pictures of that long day which was inspired not only by a burning urge to spend a long time outside, but also a marvellous BBC 4 series called Winter Walks. Five familiar faces take us on gentle walks over 30 minutes of relaxing and absorbing television, exploring landscapes in Yorkshire and Cumbria in a series of immersive and intimate documentaries. The series kicks-off with the Poet Laureate Simon Armitage, on a coastal walk to Robin Hood’s Bay. The others include broadcaster and campaigner Selina Scott, the Reverend Richard Coles, radio and TV presenter, late of 80’s band the Communards, politician Baroness Warsi, and author and broadcaster Lemm Sissay. These are perfect little programmes for watching over a tray supper. You can watch the series here on BBC iPlayer if you are in the UK, or, by using a VPN, you can spoof your location to the UK.

My walk exercised me hard and cleansed my mind. I didn’t look at a phone all day and just bathed in the beautiful countryside around Winchester. The route, if any of you are interested, was east along the south bank of the River Itchen towards the little village of Easton. Then on through Avington Park, on towards Ovington, turning to cross the Itchen near The Grange Vineyard. A long walk along old drover tracks took me to the part ruin of The Grange, former home of the Baring family with its Palladian portico for a lunch stop. Then out of the park, south towards Alresford, the source of the Itchen and the football field sized watercress beds. I continued southwards as the sun started to set towards the tiny village of Tichborne, famous for its ‘valueless Tichborne bonds‘. As Orion rose to my left I walked in the dark up to the South Downs Way, crossing through rich farmland towards Cheesefoot Head, and thence through lovely little Chilcomb and then home.

Perhaps you have stories to tell of your own winter walks wherever you are in the world?

Paddy’s Great Walk: A great author, adventurer remembered in print

A recent artilce about Paddy to add to our blog collection.

By Alan Littell
First published in Olean Times Herald Dec 12, 2020

I met him only once.

It was 21 years ago, in Athens, Greece, on the occasion of a speech he gave growing out of his wartime exploits as a British special agent serving with Greek resistance fighters in German-occupied Crete.

At the time of the talk he was a world-famous author, traveler, and cultural and historical polymath. And what should have been, for me, the pleasure of a long-anticipated conversation about his singular brand of literary magic turned instead to dismay and embarrassment on my part and obvious anger on his over a question I had put to him.

His name was Patrick Leigh Fermor. According to the people closest to him, the failure of the late war hero and travel writer known familiarly as Paddy to complete the third and final memoir of his extraordinary mid-1930s walk across Europe was for decades a gnawing source of pessimism and wounded pride.

The author had set out as an 18-year-old schoolboy to make the journey — from the Dutch coast to Turkey — but it was not until some 40 years later that the memoirs would begin to appear. “A Time of Gifts” was published in 1977 and “Between the Woods and the Water” in 1986. They won immediate acclaim. The New York Review of Books, for example, praised the works as incomparably “vivid, absorbing, and beautifully written.”

On the night I met him, Leigh Fermor, a brilliant prose stylist yet notoriously slow writer, was widely rumored to be struggling to finish the third volume of the trilogy.

As we chatted over drinks at the end of his talk, I asked how he was getting on with it. His response was immediate and explosive.

“Oh, don’t ask me that!” And he turned on his heel and stalked off.

I was aghast not so much at his reaction to what I had said as at my inexcusable want of tact. I had caused pain to this remarkable man.

We know now that the writing Paddy had done on volume three had not even come close to achieving a publishable manuscript. For as hard as he had tried — and as old age, debility and a crippling case of writer’s block held him in their grip — the task confounded him.

Two books tell the story of Patrick Leigh Fermor and of the last leg of that celebrated trek — what commentators invariably refer to as Paddy’s Great Walk but which he himself offhandedly dismissed as The Great Trudge.

The first is Artemis Cooper’s handsomely crafted biography, “Patrick Leigh Fermor,” published in Britain in 2012 and a year later in the U.S. In it, Cooper relates the life of a trim, square-shouldered, curly-haired adventurer of enormous charm and courage.

She had known Paddy for most of her life. She admired him as an author whose books on travel — particularly his works celebrating an enduring love affair with Greek culture, language and landscape — were triumphs of 20th century literature and scholarship. But at no time does she let her personal friendship and affection for Paddy blunt a balanced portrait of a sometimes moody, sometimes depressive, sometimes bumptious character addicted to women, alcohol, endless talk and round-the-clock partying.

“He had always resented going to bed,” writes Cooper “[He] revelled in the smoky world of tarts and nightclubs, all-night cafés, seedy bars and chance encounters.”

Paddy was also afflicted by an almost pathological need for distant travel. As Cooper makes clear, he was essentially rootless. He wrote his books in getaways that ranged from Greek islands and French monasteries to a clutch of English country hotels and private estates. In late middle age he built the only home he would ever possess, in a shaded olive grove overlooking the sea in his beloved Greece.

The second of the two recent works is the one that Paddy on his own was unable to finish. Assembled and published posthumously from existing manuscripts and diaries by biographer Cooper and the travel writer Colin Thubron, it tracks the conclusion, in 1934, of his European ramble. The book appeared in 2014. Its title is “The Broken Road.”

While lacking some of the youthful exuberance of Paddy’s first two memoirs, the final volume is told in the author’s distinctive voice. He continues his trek as the traveler and observer we have come to know — historian of art and architecture, geographer, antiquarian, ethnologist, speaker of Balkan languages, scholar of classical literature. Above all, he continues as a peerless story teller.

“‘The Broken Road’ may not precisely be the ‘third volume’ that so tormented him,” note his literary executors, “but it contains at least the shape and scent of the promised book.”

Still, of all Paddy’s writing, it is a much earlier work, “Mani,” that strikes me as his most personal and idiosyncratic. A dazzling account of a season of travel in a remote corner of southern Greece, it wonderfully captures the spirit of place: a bare, desolate upland terrain peopled by a breed of dark-visaged relics of ancient Sparta.

The book also traces Paddy’s lifelong quest for order and tranquility in a career of frenetic wandering. Order and tranquility, however, are oxymorons. They are attributes he rarely attained. In a revealing passage of longing for an irrecoverable past, he takes the reader with him on a Zen-like jaunt among the “smashed and scattered masonry” of antiquity.

“A spell of peace lives in the ruins of ancient Greek temples,” he tells us.

“As the traveller leans back among the fallen capitals and allows the hours to pass, it empties the mind of troubling thoughts and anxieties. …

“Nearly all that has happened fades to a limbo of shadows and insignificance and is painlessly replaced by an intimation of …simplicity and calm which unties all knots and solves all riddles and seems to murmur a benevolent … suggestion that the whole of life, if it were to unfold without hindrance or compulsion or search for alien solutions, might be limitlessly happy.”

Alan Littell is a longtime contributor to the Times Herald. He lives in Alfred. Note: All of the books mentioned in this piece as well as others by Patrick Leigh Fermor are still in print. They are available in larger bookstores and on Amazon.

Shortlist revealed for Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year

The shortlist has been announced for this year’s Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year prize.

This year’s eight-book shortlist includes Without Ever Reaching the Summit by Paolo Cognetti (Harvill Secker), The Border by Erika Fatland (Quercus), Shadow City by Taran Khan (Bodley Head) and Travelling While Black by Nanjala Nyabola (Hurst).

Also in the running are Wanderland by Jini Reddy (Bloomsbury), The Lost Pianos of Siberia by Sophy Roberts (Transworld), Along the Amber Route by C J Scholar (Sandstone Press) and Owls of the Eastern Ice by Jonathan Slaght (Allen Lane).

Part of the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards, the £2,500 prize is run in association with the Authors’ Club. The judging panel features author Lois Pryce, explorer Benedict Allen, author and past recipient of the Edward Stanford Outstanding Contribution to Travel Writing Award Colin Thubron, journalist and author Monisha Rajesh, and author Nick Hunt.

Vivien Godfrey, chairman and CEO of Stanfords, said: “We’re delighted to announce the shortlist of such varied and truly unique titles. These books act as a tonic for us all during these times when travel has been halted and adventures have been limited.

“It’s been a tough year for Stanfords and travel writers, and the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards this year are a much-needed boost to our spirits and a great excuse to celebrate what the genre has to offer.”

Held in March, the awards will also crown the Bradt Travel Guides New Travel Writer of the Year, from a list of four finalists who have submitted original writing of between 600 and 800 words.

The winner of the Edward Stanford Outstanding Contribution to Travel Writing Award, previously scooped by authors including Bill Bryson, Michael Palin and Paul Theroux, will also be announced on the night.

Breaking lockdown – let’s dash to the Red Ox in Heidelberg!

The author Carol McGrath in the Red Ox in Heldelberg

The author Carol McGrath in the Red Ox in Heldelberg

I don’t know if the Roter Ochsen is actually open or not at the moment, but when author Carol McGrath sent me a link to her blog post from early 2020, before all this crap descended on us, I just had to dream of a return visit to the Red Ox. I thought that you might like to run away there too and have virtual Pfälzer Bauernbratwürste and ein großes Bier vom Fass. 

Paddy Leigh Fermor in Heidelberg by Carol McGrath.

I have always admired the writing of Paddy Leigh Fermor. He lived in Kalamitsi a short distance from the village in the Mani where I base myself during the summer. I never did get to meet him but have twice visited the villa he designed himself and part constructed with the assistance of a Greek friend who was a local builder.

My first visit was shortly after his death while it still held the manifest redolence of his long intrepid life, personal photos, military memorabilia and the eclectic artwork he collected during his lifetime. The second visit was last Autumn after necessary renovations had been carried out by The Benaki Museum with the support of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. Inevitably this resulted somewhat in the loss of the aura of the man that previously had seemed to have been inured into the very fabric of the building.

It is still a magnificent memorial to a great Hellenophile, a British War Hero and a writer of unique talent. My introduction to his writing was in the early Eighties when I read his breakthrough book A Time of Gifts which to quote the back of my 1978 Penguin edition – “Like a tramp, a pilgrim, or a wandering scholar, an eighteen year old boy set out, one wet December day in 1933, to walk to Constantinople”

A few years ago, not on foot, obviously, I retraced his visit to Heidelberg and the Red Ox Inn which today looks remarkably similar to his description of it dating back as it does to 1933. This Blog records in pictures that visit combined with Paddy’s original prose. Enjoy.

On the far side of the bridge I abandoned the Rhine for its tributary and after a few miles along the Neckar the steep lights of Heidelberg assembled.

It was dark by the time I climbed the main street and soon softly-lit panes of coloured glass, under the hanging sign of a Red Ox, were beckoning me indoors.

With freezing cheeks and hair caked with snow, I clumped into an entrancing haven of oak beams and carving and alcoves and changing floor levels. A jungle of impedimenta encrusted the interior – mugs and bottles and glasses and antlers- the innocent accumulation of years , not stage props of forced conviviality – and the whole place glowed with a universal patina. It was more like a room in a castle and, except for a cat asleep in front of the stove, quite empty.

Continue reading here

A paean to Paddy for his birthday

This short paean to Paddy was written in both English and Greek by the writer Maria Mavroyenneas on her Facebook page and shared to a Paddy Facebook group. It celebrates Paddy and marks his birthday on 11 February 1915.

The wonderful British author and last great philhellene, was born on this day in 1915. He lived in #MANI and we all knew him simply as “kir Michalis”, Mr. Michalis. I idolised him as a child but, over the last twenty something years of his life, my husband and I became firm friends with “kir Michalis” and his wife, Joan; or “kiria Joanna” to all us locals.

After being knighted on his 90th. birthday, he called us. His usual British reserve slipped as his pride and pleasure shone through. He was, in every sense of the word, a gentleman and we, too, were all pleased for him; not to mention proud. Other than his foreign circle of friends and dignitaries, he mixed with us local people, showing his love and concern for his fellow villagers. Sir Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor were beloved members of the community. I have so many happy memories of them both.

It is difficult to find the words to describe the man, a living legend with all the attributes of children’s fairy tales. His enjoyment of life was unique, his passion, his thirst for action and adventure; right to the end. Speaking in excellent Greek, showing the great depth of his knowledge of Greek idiom, as he got older, he would say to us,

“I have eaten the bread allocated to me,” before adding with a rueful smile, “and some bread allocated for others!”

It was as if he did not age, did not tire of life; his hunger for life was so strong that it could have spanned ten lifetimes, a thousand years. The slightest thing inspired his curiosity, his enthusiasm and he enjoyed sharing it with others. I struggle to describe him; an incurable romantic, a dreamer, an intellectual brimming over with feelings and ideas but, also, possessed of a childish innocence. Ever the heart and soul of a party, he would steal the show with his humour, laughter and songs. He would, however, disguise his own sadness so as not to dampen others’ spirits when, one after another, people he loved departed; friends, comrades-in-arms, his beloved wife.

He was a wanderer of the intellect and of dreams, who could never get his fill of knowledge or reflection. Always on the go, a perfectionist, on occasion stubborn. In the middle of a conversation he would jump up and fetch one his many books, all well read by the way, to reinforce an argument or emphasise a point. Talking to him could, sometimes, be like an interrogation, “what do you think of …. what about ……. what is your opinion of ……… ?” His attention would always be fixed on the answer, as if the speaker were imparting some fascinating insight. Just like in his great youthful voyage, he listened to ordinary people, touched their lives, was not afraid of adventure, to get involved. Later in life, assisted by his wonderful soul-mate, he started to write, drawing on his incomparable wealth of words, places and experiences. He made his home in Mani, then still hidden away and undiscovered, far from his merrymaking friends in Crete where, at the sound of one of their mantinadas, he would abandon his pencil and paper to set off to eat, carouse and drink “white bottoms” (“down in one”) with them.

His daily life was simple and uncomplicated. Never one to cause offence, he showed great respect for local customs and traditions. A friendly greeting was always on offer. He never said a bad word about anyone. Without being directly asked, he never spoke of himself. “I” was not his favoured pronoun, wherever possible it would be replaced by “we”. Honour and friendship were, I think, his two favourite words. To him friendship was to the death, which he proved by his deeds. He was a complete, wonderful human being.

On our last visit, we found him writing. The chance to break off for a friendly chat made him happy. He tried to sing an old Greek folk song but his vocal chords, affected by illness, struggled. We knew it was time to go. After all, he should not even have been talking. Our last conversation was by telephone as he lay in a hospital bed, accompanied by his friend and housekeeper, Elpida, able only to listen, not to reply. We were all emotional as we told him that everyone in the village asked after him, sending their love and best wishes. When would he be back?

One of the most moving memories we all share in the village is of kir Michalis standing at attention in the village square and singing proudly, along with the rest of us, the Greek National Anthem. To him it was a duty and an honour to attend our National Festival Days. His example showed us the way. On the 25th. March, 2011, he made his last visit. He left us shortly after, on the 10th. June at the age of 96.

He was handsome like any true man of spirit should be, an authentic intellectual who inspired us all.

The Canyon’s Echo, my e-novel, is devoted to Sir Patrick & Joan Leigh Fermor for their kind support and guidance.

Σαν σήμερα γεννήθηκε ο σπουδαίος Βρετανός συγγραφέας κι ο τελευταίος μεγάλος φιλέλληνας ΣΕΡ Πάτρικ Λη Φέρμορ ή απλά κυρ Μιχάλης (11 Φεβρουαρίου 1915 -10 Ιουνίου 2011), ο οποίος, έζησε στη Μάνη. Τον θαύμαζα απίστευτα από παιδί, αλλά τα τελευταία είκοσι και πλέον χρόνια, εγώ κι ο άντρας μου υπήρξαμε πολύ στενοί φίλοι του ίδιου και της γυναίκας του, Τζόαν ή κυρίας Ιωάννας. Όταν στα 90α του γενέθλια χρίστηκε ιππότης απ’ τη βασίλισσα της Αγγλίας μάς πήρε τηλέφωνο να μας το ανακοινώσει, και ήταν τόσο συγκινημένος, ενθουσιασμένος και περήφανος για τον εαυτό του που δεν μπορούσε να το κρύψει· το καύχημα και ο κομπασμός δεν άρμοζε στους τρόπους ενός αληθινού, με όλη τη σημασία της λέξης, τζέντλεμαν που ήταν. Πέρα απ’ τον αριστοκρατικό του κύκλο (που ο ίδιος διέφερε κατά πολύ!) συναναστρεφόταν και με μας τους ντόπιους όπου με κάθε τρόπο μας έδειχνε την αγάπη και το ενδιαφέρον του.

Αλήθεια, τι να πρωτοθυμηθώ;

Το λεξιλόγιο φτωχό για να περιγράψεις αυτόν τον “ζωντανό” θρύλο με τις ιδιαιτερότητες ήρωα παιδικού παραμυθιού. Δεν έχει ξανα υπάρξει άλλος με τέτοια φλόγα, τέτοιο πάθος για ζωή, τέτοια δίψα για δράση, για περιπέτεια… μέχρι το τέλος! Θυμάμαι που μας έλεγε: “Εγώ τα έχω φάει τα ψωμιά μου”, και συμπλήρωνε με αυτοσαρκασμό, “και… τα ψωμιά των άλλων!” Δεν έχετε δει άνθρωπο να μη μεγαλώνει, να μη χορταίνει τη ζωή, να θέλει να ζήσει δέκα ζωές, 1000 χρόνια, να ενθουσιάζεται με τα πιο απλά, με το κάθε τι και να το εκδηλώνει κιόλας! Ένας αθεράπευτα ρομαντικός, ονειροπόλος, γεμάτος συναισθήματα και με μια αφέλεια παιδική. Η ψυχή της παρέας, ο “κλέφτης” της παράστασης που σ’ έκανε να γελάς και γελούσε και αυτός περισσότερο, αλλά που θα καταπίεζε τη δική του θλίψη με γενναιότητα για να μη σου χαλάσει τη διάθεση, όταν, ο ένας μετά τον άλλον, “έφευγαν” οι αγαπημένοι του: φίλοι, σύντροφοι συμπολεμιστές, η λατρεμένη του γυναίκα…

#Ένας_ταξιδευτής_του_νου_και_του_ονείρου, που δε χόρταινε να ρουφάει τη γνώση και να στοχάζεται. Αεικίνητος, τελειομανής και πεισματάρης. Εκεί μου σου μιλούσε, ξαφνικά άφηνε το ποτό και πεταγόταν για να φέρει κάποιο βιβλίο απ’ τα εκατοντάδες διαβασμένα που είχε, το οποίο, περιείχε κάτι σχετικό με την κουβέντα. Ήξερε που ακριβώς να το βρει, ακόμα και που ήταν το κομμάτι μέσα στο βιβλίο που αναζητούσε. Η κουβέντα μαζί του ήταν τύπου… “ανάκρισης”: πες μου γι’ αυτό, για το άλλο, τι πιστεύεις γι’ αυτό, για εκείνο… και σε άκουγε μαγεμένος λες κι έλεγες το πιο σπουδαίο πράγμα του κόσμου. Έτσι και στο νεανικό μεγάλο ταξίδι του ΑΚΟΥΓΕ τους απλούς ανθρώπους, χωνόταν στις ζωές τους, δεν φοβόταν να βάλει τον εαυτό του σε περιπέτειες, να μπλέξει… Και ώριμος πια, με τη βοήθεια και τη συμπαράσταση της υπέροχης συντρόφου του ξεκίνησε να γράφει αναπολώντας λόγια, τόπους και εμπειρίες, κρυμμένος στην άγνωστη μέχρι τότε Μάνη, μακριά απ’ τους γλετζέδες Κρητικούς φίλους του που με μια μόνο μαντινάδα τους, πέταγε μολύβια και χαρτιά κι άνοιγε πανιά για φαγοπότια, μπαλωθιές κι άσπρους πάτους μαζί τους!

Ο βίος του λιτός και απλοϊκός, δεν προκαλούσε, έδειχνε σεβασμό στα ήθη και έθιμα, θαύμαζε τους πάντες και ποτέ δεν έλεγε κακό λόγο για κανέναν. (Όχι ότι δεν είχε κατά καιρούς τις διενέξεις του, αλλά έκρινε πράξεις/συμπεριφορές κι όχι ανθρώπους) Ποτέ δεν μιλούσε για τον εαυτό του, εκτός κι αν τον ρωτούσες. Η λέξη “εγώ” δεν υπήρχε κι αν χρειαζόταν να υπωθεί πάντα έβρισκε τρόπο να την αντικαταστήσει με το “εμείς”. Οι πιο ιερές του λέξεις ήταν ΦΙΛΟΤΙΜΟ και ΦΙΛΙΑ, πιστός φίλος μέχρι θανάτου και το αποδείκνυε με πράξεις, ένα ολοκληρωμένο παράδειγμα ακέραιου, άριστου ανθρώπου…

Όταν πήγαμε να τον δούμε τελευταία φορά τον βρήκαμε να γράφει. Η συζήτηση τού έδωσε τέτοια χαρά που όπως έκανε πάντα, άρχισε να μας τραγουδά ένα παλιό ελληνικό τραγούδι. Καταλάβαμε, τότε, ότι ήταν ώρα να αποχωρήσουμε· είχε καρκίνο στις φωνητικές χορδές και δεν έπρεπε καν να μιλά. Η τελευταία μας επικοινωνία τηλεφωνική και μονόπλευρη, εμείς μιλούσαμε εκείνος άκουγε. Η φωνή πρώτη τον εγκατέλειψε. “Κυρ Μιχάλη μου, όλο το χωριό σε περιμένει και ρωτάει πότε θα ξανάρθεις”, κι ήταν να μην τού λεγες τίποτα για τους ανθρώπους και το χωριό (#Καρδαμύλη) που τόσο λάτρευε…

Απ’ τις πιο συγκινητικές στιγμές που έχουμε όλοι να θυμόμαστε ήταν η στάση προσοχής που έπαιρνε στην πλατεία του χωριού όταν δακρυσμένος σιγοψυθίριζε μαζί μας τον Εθνικό Ύμνο. Θεωρούσε καθήκον και τιμή να παρευρίσκεται στις Εθνικές μας γιορτές· η 25η Μαρτίου 2011, ήταν η τελευταία φορά, “έφυγε” τον επόμενο Ιούνιο στα 96 του χρόνια.
Ήταν ωραίος, όπως πρέπει να είναι ένας άνθρωπος του πνεύματος, ένας αληθινά διανοούμενος, και βέβαια, όπως πρέπει να είναι ο καθένας μας…

#SirPatrickLeighFermor #MANI #MESSINIA #MarMorStories

Abducting a General – locations by each day

Over the next few weeks I am honoured to be able to share with you some work by Chris White, co-author of Abducting a General, who has spent many weeks and months on Crete over the years tracing the precise route and locations of the kidnap. In 2020, Chris posted this series on Facebook. He has approved it being repeated on here. Stories will pop up from time to time, and will run virtually day-by-day during the time period of the kidnap. I hope that you enjoy it.

Over to Chris ….

We start on February 4th 1944. Paddy parachuted on to the Katharo Plateau and was met by Sandy Rendel, whose base was in a cave a few miles away. The cave is now known as the Spiliaou ton Anglikon, the cave of the English. This week I have been exploring the area around the plateau and visited the cave…..a long stony walk through woods and ravines and along the sides of steep valleys.

The photos: the first shows where the cave is (centre of picture) in the landscape; the next three show the cave in more detail.

Picnic papers

Words of Mercury by Artemis Cooper

Hello All,

It’s been a while since I last made a post. A combination of factors is the cause, including, if I may say, partly due to Lockdown lethargy. It is all getting a little boring now, with the highlight of the week being a choice of which supermarket to visit just for a change. In fact, we are enjoying visiting all the different good quality independent bakers, butchers and green grocers who appear to be doing a booming trade.

Regular correspondent Brent McCunn sent me this a little while ago, which is the first post of 2021, a year which will mark the tenth anniversary of Paddy’s death.

Many will have a copy of Words of Mercury (the link takes you to my Amazon seller page where you can buy very good condition first editions), the 2003 compilation, edited by Artemis Cooper, of some of Paddy’s lesser known works including magazine articles. On page 51 we have Rumania – The Last Day of Peace, which is from the introduction to Matila Ghyka’s, The World Mine Oyster, 1961. It is a haunting piece, that last day of true joy before the darkness that would fall over all of Europe, and change the Between the Woods and the Water world forever.

Brent has found this slighty longer version which appeared in Picnic Papers, published in 1983, compiled and edited by Susanna Johnstone and Anne Tennant.

Brent says:

You may have come across it, but if not here attached are scans of his contribution. The book comprises offerings from many of literary, artistic and upper crust society. The likes of Diana Cooper and Derek Hill also included recipes related to their favoured picnic food. None were forthcoming from Paddy. Interesting in that Derek Hills’ portrait of PLF is in Gika’s house museum in Athens, if I recall correctly. Hill painted many from society and the arts. I met Hill in 1980. I was working at a stately home in Yorkshire and he came to paint the owner’s portrait. I had several interesting chats and was allowed to watch parts of the painting procedure.

I am a keen hobby cook hence the cuisine section.

Cheers
Brent McCunn

Links to the pdfs for you to download and read follow.

Keep safe and well.

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Your responses – out of print travel and nature books

Dear Readers,

I hope that you are well. It is a colder day here in Winchester, with wintry showers, sleet and rain, suddenly interspersed with dazzlingly low and bright sunshine. Despite the virus, there’s a lot of activity as people in this little city prepare for Christmas. I shall be putting up the tree tomorrow.

The response to the call for your lists of out of print books produced some interesting ideas. I thought that it woul dbe useful to list all the responses. So here they are, culled from your comments appended to the post, or sent to me by email.

The sharper ones of you have already joined some dots, linking this to our friend Nick Hunt’s assignment for John Murray which may see some of these books published next year to mark the tenth anniversary of Paddy’s death.

John Monahan

I offer “Journey to Khiva” by Philip Glazebrook and “Vanished Empire” by Stephen Brook.

Robert M Davison

Xan Fielding’s Hide and Seek
Sandy Rendell’s Appointment in Crete
Mary Chubb’s City in the Sand

City in the Sand is connected because Mary was (in the 1930s) associated with the British Egyptology Society’s excavations that were led by John Pendlebury, another larger than life character in the Cretan theatre.

One more – Theodore Stephanides – Climax in Crete

Incidentally I have copies of all the books I mentioned (and many more besides) but it is sad to see them so long out of print.

Over the years, in different places, I was able to collect quite a few books related to the Cretan war – from many different perspectives. The German perspective is well (and humanely) told in von der Heyde’s Daedalus Returned.

David Sanderson

Two out of print travel books which I think Paddy in particular would approve of are Kiwi At Large and Kiwi Vagabond by E S Allison.

Errol Allison was born in NZ in 1918. He served with the 20th Battalion in Egypt, Greece, Crete and Libya. Captured in 1941 he went from prison camps in Italy to Germany. After escaping twice and being recaptured he spent weeks in a Gestapo gaol and eventually took the identity of a Belgian and met up with the Russians in action. He returned to NZ and resumed teaching.

(Taken from the dust jacket)
In 1954 he embarked on the travels described in Kiwi at Large. Leaving home with £80 he wanders 22,000 miles alone in twenty countries, to see places he had a lifelong curiosity about, and to satisfy his longing to see places where he had fought. He travels rough in seamy third class Indian trains, in crowded Arab coaches, on donkeys and on foot. His bed, sometimes under a tree or in a Persian stable, is more often in peasants’ cottages, in Greek monasteries, in Arab dives, in cheap hotels of shady character, in deserted ancient cities – though occasionally in wealthy homes.

Kiwi Vagabond is the sequel, telling of the journey from England across Europe and Asia.

I read both books some time ago and loved them. They are little known and deserve to be read by a much larger audience. I believe Errol subsequently worked at a quite high level for the Red Cross. He comes across as a marvellous individual. Highly recommended.

rlindsaybrown

Anything by John Hillaby, who I think has been rather forgotten since his death in 1996, but a big favourite travel writer of mine in my childhood and teens. Slow burn and not so showy, but a genuine love of outdoor and place comes shining through in his writing and a rare focus on the local when exotica was the thing.

Dr JP Simpson

One of the most interesting travel books I have (and it took some getting) is ‘John Blades Currey: Fifty Years in the Cape Colony’, one of 1,000 copies superbly edited by Phillida Brooke Simons and published by the Brenthurst Press, South Africa in 1986. Brasenose, Oxford-educated Currey’s account of his travels in Outeniqualand and Namaqualand and his involvement in the Eighth Frontier War cover the period 1850-56 and are immensely enhanced by his watercolour illustrations. The book is remarkable for its balance and impartiality at a time when the indigenous inhabitants, Boers and British were increasingly pitted against each other for rich farmland, gold and diamonds. The book is historical “gold dust” because Currey was private secretary to Cecil Rhodes. In the flyleaf of my copy is a handwritten copy of a letter dated March 27th (1902) from the Archbishop of Capetown to Currey that reads in part: “….So our friend is gone from us! It was like him that being owner of large mansions and estates he should die in a simple cottage. He was in death what he had been in life. Now that he is gone, I trust the rancour of his enemies will cease to pursue him. I am dreadfully grieved that I never was allowed to visit him and pray with him and that Jameson did not keep the promise he had conveyed to me through Michell.”

antoon van coillie

Black Lamb & Grey Falcon , Rebecca West : such an incredible book on the lost world of Yugoslavia just before the Second World War & any of Freya Stark’s books….

John Rigby-Jones

George Bean’s books on Turkey

Stefan

What a wonderful idea. I have spoken here before so some will know that I’m a bookseller and book collector. I’ve managed to travel fairly widely in my seventy-odd years and I’m still a bit fit. I always said you travel to faraway places only to see if it’s worthwhile going back again. There are five places on earth which I hope to see again before I die. Only one concerns us here. I lived in Crete in 1977. We rented a house in Xaniá on Psaromilingon St which cost us all of 2000 drachs a month— about thirty quid. I wonder what the rent would be now, just off the harbour. I have managed to pick up a good collection of Crete and PLF but I’ve never been able to afford a decent Pashley: Travels in Crete or Spratt’s Travels and Researches…

In my opinion the best modern writing about Crete is still Llewellyn Smith’s The Great Island. It did get a second edition and you can pick it up at a reasonable price. Do so, because you will never prise my own copy out of me. Some people read Tolkien every year. I read Crete. Another excellent work is easier to find and cheap: Gail Holst’s Road to Rembetika. I had been back to Crete (I’ve been back many times) with a party of four and we walked from Chora Sphakion to Xania via Pachnes. It was only February and what a February we picked. I have never seen such snow. The locals in Chora Sphakion said we could do it in day. But you don’t believe Cretans, do you? Four days later, we came down with broken backs and broken tents, exhausted, to a small spring in the woods below the snowline. We knew we must be getting close. We were soon in Zoúrva. My diary at the time got stolen so I cannot recall the name of the kyría who served us. She was wonderful. There were no tourists at that time of year. Three of us were vegetarians but that was no problem. We intended to continue our journey but large amounts of krasí and retsína meant we camped overnight. Later, we were back in the kafeneion. Zoúrva is still only a tiny village but that evening, with only four tourists, some old men walked in. They had the lyra and bouzouki and one was playing some kind of drum. Yes, they were playing for us but, somehow, they seemed far away and were playing themselves into some kind of mesmerism.

I am not particularly interested in the Minoan and archaeological stuff although Dilys Powell, The Villa Ariadne, is superb. The dark ages are not well covered in Cretan literature but by the time we get to the Turks and Venetians we are starting to hear Cretan voices. This was when Cretans became Crete and there are lots of titles to read.

A work of fiction, Prevelakis’s The Sun of Death, ought to be on the pantheon of world literature. It is apparently not so much fiction either.

There is a little-known work by Tasos Dourountakis: Anezina and Me: A True Cretan Story. It’s a family history of the kind all too prevalent in the English-speaking world but not often found in Crete. It would be for the better of all if Cretans, however old or young, started writing their family histories. You don’t have to write well; you just have to write. Go for it!

Dr JP Simpson

In reply to Stefan.
You mentioned Dilys Powell in a post. Is her ‘An Affair of the Heart’ still in print? I re-read my copy almost annually!

Stefan
In reply to Dr JP Simpson.
Yes, that’s another excellent work. It’s still available in those wretched print-on-demand things but decent first editions are still inexpensive.

Stefan

I’m back again. I shall mention another area I’ve been fortunate to spend quite some time in—Ladakh in the far north of India in the Himalaya.

Most of the old travel books can be found in the print-on-demand industry but I much prefer “real” books. Where Three Empires Meet is by E.F. Knight (not a female). It’s Victorian but is immensely readable and was very popular. It went into many editions. A first is becoming expensive but some of the later editions are reasonable. Get one with the author’s photographs.

Lieut-Colonel Torrens’ Travels in Ladâk, Tartary and Kashmir is another surprisingly readable Victorian work. If you can afford it, make an investment and buy yourself a first edition.

And the book that set it all off for me was Zanskar: the Hidden Kingdom by Michel Peissel. All his books are worth reading.

You mention nature books too, Tom. So, closer to home, I have to admit I was very late stumbling across John Wyatt’s The Shining Levels. What a superb piece of writing! All of these books and many more still continue to bring joy as you get older. I shall confine any future post to just a list of titles.

Dr JP Simpson

In reply to Stefan.
‘Ancient Futures: Learning from the Ladakh’ by Helena Norbert-Hodge… the humanism of old ways? Would that be a fair summary?

Stefan

In reply to Dr JP Simpson.
She gave me a lift once when I was on my way to Choglamsar. I found her intellect intimidating but I would say “the humanity of old ways,” a superb expression, thank you. I think Tom, and PLF, would understand. In 1986 I had befriended a Tibetan refugee. We did some serious drinking together. In 1989 I tracked him down. He was in a broken condition with an older wife and a very young child. I got him out of the gutter and he acted as guide and interpreter for my wife and myself for a few months. In 1998 they were all doing fine and their young girl was growing to be a proud Tibetan. She spoke Ladakhi, Tibetan and English (as well as I! Albeit with a US accent).

Modern travel narratives on Ladakh tend to be the “look-at-me”, Lonely Planet stuff. Nevertheless, two works on Alchi stand out:

Alchi: Treasure of the Himalayas. Ladakh’s Buddhist Masterpiece by Peter van Ham, Amy Heller & Likir Monastery; Hirmer Verlag, Munich; 2018. This is outstanding and cheap! Publication was heavily sponsored. (Available in English language edition).

Alchi: Ladakh’s Hidden Buddhist Sanctuary. The Sumtsek by Roger Goepper; photography by Jaroslav Poncar; Shambhala Limited Editions, Boston, 1996. 1500 copies. This will cost you a few bob more but don’t bother with the later New Delhi paperback imprint.

A slightly dry, but still fascinating work is A History of Western Tibet, A.H. Francke; Partridge, London 1907.

We ought to include also some biographies. Nicholas Shakespeare’s debunking of Chatwin. I don’t mind reading Chatwin but I am aware that some (a lot?) is fiction. Julian Evans’ biography of Norman Lewis: Semi Invisible Man: the Life of Norman Lewis is superb.

Dr. JP Simpson

Well, Stefan, your memories of Ladakh brighten a dull Irish Sunday evening! I think Helena Norbert-Hodge self-publishes now but it was her editor and friend of 30+ years ago, Tessa Strickland, who put me on to her. And, yes, Nicholas Shakespeare’s QUALITY biography of Bruce Chatwin scrubbed the scales from off my eyes but even so, I cannot ‘diss’ him, just as I cannot ‘diss’ T.E.Lawrence.

Stefan

In reply to Dr. JP Simpson.
I knew, but forgot to point out, that it’s “Norberg”.

Chatwin will be worth reading for generations to come but I fear readers will be lovers or haters. My own sister is a bookseller in the north of England. Her husband is a book tragic also. He is a PLF fan (and has a collection I envy) but my sister thinks PLF is awful. She thinks Chatwin is the bee’s knees. Her husband doesn’t and I don’t.

I read Lawrence about 45 years ago and found him hard going. I still have a copy somewhere so I shall go rummaging. He is not the flavour with bookbuyers at the moment because of his prejudices so collectors (and booksellers with nous and shelf space) should be snapping things up.

Do you know what?—I have never finished Byron’s The Road to Oxiana. I have tried and tried but it’s boring. His story is tragic, yes. In my opinion his achievement was a seemingly trivial guide he wrote in the 1930s for London Underground for London’s sightseers.

Tom has invited us to dine on on travel, environment and nature. This is probably half the British Library but I think many more of the PLF subscribers should be helping Tom out with his list here.

Stefan

Obituary: Jan Morris, a poet of time, place and self

Jan Morris, who has died aged 94

One of the true greats of travel writing and journalism, Jan Morris, has died. She is also known as a pioneer, changing her gender whilst maintaining her relationship with her partner Elizabeth for over 70 years.

First published on BBC News 21 NOvember 2020.

Jan Morris, who has died at the age of 94, was one the finest writers the UK has produced in the post-war era.

Her life story was crammed with romance, discovery and adventure. She was a soldier, an award-winning journalist, a novelist and – as a travel writer – became a poet of time and place.

She was also known as a pioneer in her personal life, as one of the first high-profile figures to change gender.

Born 2 October 1926 in Somerset, it was while sitting under the family’s piano – at the age of three or four – that Morris made a decision. Feeling “wrongly equipped” as a boy, there was only one conclusion. Morris should have been a girl.

Morris attended Lancing College in West Sussex and then the cathedral choir school at Christ Church in Oxford, attending lessons in gorgeous “fluttering white gowns”. “Oxford made me,” she later wrote.

The heady mixture of High Anglican ceremony and the city’s architectural majesty sensitised Morris to an aesthetic that was to influence her as both a writer and a human being.

As a teenager, training as a newspaper reporter in Bristol involved interviewing the victims of bombing raids at the height of the Second World War.

Morris tried to join the Navy but was ruled out by colour-blindness, instead joining the 9th Queen’s Royal Lancers.

A spell at Sandhurst was followed by a posting as an intelligence officer that led to stints in Italy and Palestine by way of two more cities that came to be inspirations: Venice and Trieste.

Demobbed in 1949, Morris returned to Christ Church to read English, and seized the opportunity of a 12-month fellowship at the University of Chicago to visit every state of the union.

The result was a first book, Coast to Coast. “I love the idea of America,” she later wrote. “It has let itself down very badly since in many ways, but that doesn’t mean to say I don’t admire and love the core values.”

In the same year, Morris married Elizabeth Tuckniss, the daughter of a tea planter. It was, they both recalled, love at first sight – and a partnership that would produce five children and last for 70 years.

Everest scoop

Upon graduating, Morris indulged a fascination with the Arab world by taking a job at a news agency in Cairo. That experience eventually led to a job at the Times.

In 1953, Morris brought the newspaper a world exclusive, travelling with Edmund Hillary as far as the base camp on Everest to witness the historic attempt on the summit.

Morris greets Edmund Hillary on his return from the summit of Mount Everest

It was a physically arduous assignment. “I was no climber, was not particularly interested in mountaineering. I was there merely as a reporter.”

When Hillary and Tenzing Norgay returned in triumph, The Times had exclusive access to the expedition – but the reporter was terrified that someone else might break the news first.

Morris sent a coded message from a telegraph station: “Snow conditions bad stop advanced base abandoned yesterday stop awaiting improvement.” Back in the newsroom, they knew what it meant.

The news was famously splashed on the day of the Queen’s coronation. The world’s highest mountain had been conquered and a new Elizabethan age had begun.

Suez shockwaves

In 1956, Morris left the Times – unable to support the newspaper’s editorial line in the Suez crisis. After joining the Manchester Guardian, as it was still called, the journalist set out to witness the looming conflict first-hand.

The reports Morris sent from the Suez crisis caused great difficulty for the British government. Allegations that Britain and France had secretly persuaded Israel to launch an invasion of Egypt had been hotly denied by all three countries. Morris discovered evidence that this was a pack of lies designed to give the two European powers an excuse to intervene and re-take the all-important canal.

Morris witnessed the fighting in the Negev desert and canal zone before flying to Cyprus to file a dispatch and escape Israeli censorship. While waiting for a flight, the writer struck up conversation with French pilots who said they had played a pivotal role in the attack.

“They told me quite frankly that they had been in action in support of the Israelis during the Negev fighting and had used napalm,” Morris later recalled. British pilots, they claimed, had also been involved.

The Manchester Guardian went with his story. It sent shockwaves through the British establishment and shamed both nations into withdrawing their forces. It was an incendiary revelation that caused huge embarrassment to Prime Minister Anthony Eden. A few months later, he resigned.

A writer who travels

In the 1960s, Morris left journalism, preferring to be simply known as a “writer who travels” rather than a “travel writer”.

Morris wrote about places that were inspirational – Oxford, Venice, Spain and the Arab world – with the dream of capturing the history, style, spirit and challenges facing every major city in the world.

Most dear of all was the trilogy on the history of the British Empire: Pax Britannica. Morris described it as “the intellectual and artistic centre-piece of my life”. Later, the author would reject the suggestion of being too kind to this period of history.

“There was a whole generation of very decent people, many of whom were genuinely devoted to the welfare of their subject peoples,” she later said. However, she conceded, the end was a mess.

In the same year, Morris began taking female hormones in the first stage of the life-long ambition to become a woman. Elizabeth, who had always known of her husband’s conviction, was supportive.

Morris had a high public profile and the publicity that surrounded her decision was stressful. As same-sex marriages were not then possible, they were required to get divorced. But as a family, they stayed together and remained tight-knit.

Jan Morris was legally required to divorce her wife, Elizabeth, but the couple remained together. Morris wrote about the process in her worldwide bestseller Conundrum – published in 1974. It describes the clinic in Casablanca where she had surgery and her subsequent adjustment to life as a woman with a female partner. She was generous to those who found it awkward and “the kindly incomprehension of sailors and old ladies”.

She was forced to ignore warnings from doctors that the procedure could change her personality and even affect her ability to write. The book was the first to be published under the name Jan. There was a sense in which all that travelling was a symptom of forces beyond her control. It was “an outer expression of my inner journey”.

The couple moved to a remote corner of north-west Wales. Jan embraced her father’s Welsh identity – becoming a convinced nationalist – and continued to write. Her output was prodigious. In all, she wrote more than 40 books – so many that she was often a little hazy about the exact number.

There were works on places she had visited, essays, memoirs and some well-received novels. One work remains unpublished because she did not want it made public until she died. “It’s at the publisher’s waiting for me to kick the bucket,” she breezily told one reporter.

On Oxford – the first city to inspire her – she wrote: “The island character of England is waning as the wider civilization of the West takes over. Soon it will survive only in the history books: but we are not too late, and Oxford stands there still to remind us of its faults and virtues – courageous, arrogant, generous, ornate, pungent, smug and funny.”

And on Venice – perhaps her most celebrated work – she recalled the “smell of her mud, incense, fish, age, filth and velvet” and predicted that “wherever you go in life you will feel somewhere over your shoulder, a pink castellated, shimmering presence, the domes and riggings and crooked pinnacles”.

Her biographer and agent, Derek Johns, described what he thought made her writing so distinctive. “She involves the reader,” he wrote, “while she remains unobtrusively present herself; who uses the particular to illustrate the general, and scatters grace notes here and there like benefactions. She is a watcher, usually alone, seldom lonely, alert to everything around her.”

In 2018 – by now in her tenth decade – Jan Morris published In My Mind’s Eye, a personal work collecting the musings of her everyday life.

The world had become kinder to people who had changed their sex, she told one journalist. Kindness and marmalade were her two essentials in life.

She was still living with Elizabeth – with whom she had entered a civil partnership – although the “subtle demon of our time, dementia, is coming between us”, she wrote.

As far as death was concerned, though, they had prepared for it. As a writer, Jan had chosen the words for their eventual headstone with some care. “Here are two friends,” it will say, “at the end of one life.”

Listen to Jan Morris discuss her classic travel book Venice on BBC Sounds.

Do not do battle with Greeks

My thanks to Stephen who added a comment a while back about Paddy’s experience amongst the Greeks, and offered an entertaining link to a rousing You Tube video which you might enjoy.

Hello, to PLF readers. To gain an insight into the nights in the Psiloriti mountains that PLF partook, he was inspired by its people. The Cretan musicians here play, “Do not do battle with Greeks,” played in the mountains among its people.

The art of David Walsh truly speaks to the walker in me

Across the Chalke Downs, Spring by David Walsh

One of the pleasures of running this blog is the opportunity to meet people who I would probably never come across in my day to day life. It is also quite surprising how many of them know Blandford Forum’s greatest travel writer, the ubiquitous Harry Bucknall. And so it was when a brochure for an art exhibition of David Walsh’s work dropped through my letterbox a couple of weeks ago.

I was immediately struck by how David brings real life and depth to his work, much of it being from the downland of Hampshire and Wiltshire. His skies are amazing and absolutely resonated with me as someone has walked on those same hills and Ox Droves. He also spends a lot of time in Italy and he has many works from there on display.

When I rang David to make an appointment to visit his studio we talked about how he may have come across my address and our main vector was Harry; everyone seems to know Harry!

Since then I have visited his studio and bought one of his paintings, something to remind me of the freedom, and the space and emptiness of the Ox Droves above Cranborne Chase close to where David lives. His planned London exhibition has had to be postponed due to Covid, but he is welcoming visitors by arrangement (Covid regs permitting).

If you are looking for something to remind you of better times (ironically much of his work was painted during the brilliant weather we had during the first lockdown with contrail-clear skies; probably a never to be repeated opportunity), please do drop David an email david@david-walsh.net or phone: Studio 01722 780097, Mobile 07806 750748. Do mention the Paddy blog if you do contact him. His work is selling quite quickly so do make contact if you are interested. All his paintings come framed in beautiful handmade frames by a craftsman in Florence.

Visit David’s website to view more of his work for sale as well as those he has sold. David is available for commissions.

Late Summer, Looking towards Salisbury by David Walsh

List your favourite out of print travel and nature books

Once Upon Another Time by Jessica Douglas-Home

As a fan of the Eland approach to seeking out and republishing out of print travel books, I had a recent discussion with a friend where we mused about our favourite out of print travel books. I came up with Jessica Douglas-Home’s Once Upon Another Time which is really enjoyed reading.

We thought that it might be fun to ask you to submit a list of your recommendations for out-of-print travel and environment books that you might want to see brought back into publication. The remit could include classics that have been forgotten about, to obscure works of eccentric genius that never saw the light of day. Not just old-school travel writing but nature writing also. This might be twentieth century stuff, but could be from earlier.

If you have anything that leaps to mind please email me (see About and Contact) or add a comment to this post; please say why you would like to see it published. I’ll publish a definitive list of your recommendations before Christmas. Perhaps we can have more than just recommendations for early twentieth century and late nineteenth century female travellers, mostly (for some reason) in the Middle East and Central Asia. My friend’s list appears to show that whole region crawling with intrepid women fighting off bandits, dressing as men and crossing deserts!

We are very much looking forward to your recommendations and the discussion they may bring.

Love walking? Looking for a walking related job in UK?

This may be of interest to a reader in the UK (south) who wants to work on establishing a new pilgrimage route to Canterbury.

A job for a practical Pilgrim working with the British Pilgrimage Trust. Looks good!

Click here to find out more.

Walking on

Dear Readers,

I apologise for the radio silence over the last few weeks. Things have been very busy with my walk, the aftermath of that, lots of busyness at work, my eldest daughter’s wedding, and a few Covid moments.

My thanks to those of you who offered sponsorship for my walk to Gloucester. Things went pretty well for a couple of days but then I picked up some sort of injury and my left leg basically decided it didn’t want to carry on! By day four I was making just about two miles an hour which was not enough and it was all a little painful. This was meant to be enjoyable; I am no longer as young as I once was, and no longer a soldier and decided that a pause for healing might be the best option! I was rescued and taken back home. I’m all fine now and plan to complete the last three days once the latest UK lockdown is over in December, weather permitting. A few pictures are below, and a nice proud dad wedding photo or two 🙂

In other news, you might be interested to know that Michael O’Sullivan, Paddy expert, and author of Patrick Leigh Fermor: Noble Encounters between Budapest and Transylvania was installed as a Papal Knight in October in a socially distanced ceremony at the Coronation church in Budapest – see photo. Congratulations to Micheal.

I’m looking forward to getting back into regular posts on here, and as ever, I welcome your contributions and comments.

Keep safe and well.

Tom

Dr Foster went to Gloucester

Hello all – it’s that time of year when I have holiday remaining, the leaves are turning, and I need to get a few miles under my feet before winter arrives. So I’m off walking again and raising money for Combat Stress and ABF: The Soldiers’ Charity. I’m also dedicating this walk to the late Ray Washer RE, who died suddenly last weekend. I’m walking around 110 miles from Winchester to Gloucester over six days.

My route will be the Roman road north-west out of Winchester, past Andover (Icknield Way) then to the Kennet & Avon canal, turn west for two days then north towards Stroud around Bradford-on-Avon. Passing through Laurie Lee’s home village of Slad before I drop downhill into Gloucester. I have no idea where I shall sleep but the Lord will provide! If you live along this route maybe say hello!

I hope that you might give generously to encourage me! In the past, readers of the blog have raised many thousands of pounds for these charities (and Shelter). My thanks for that and in anticipation of your generosity this time around.

The link to the Just Giving page is here https://www.justgiving.com/team/Winchester-Gloucester

All the best

Tom

 

Hydra: a haven for international artists from Aussie bohemians to Leonard Cohen

An Australian perspective on the idyllic island of Hydra, home of Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika, Leonard Cohen, and frequented by Paddy, Durrell, and John Craxton.

From Neos Kosmos.

Historically, the small rocky island of Hydra has been closely associated with the Greek War of Independence, in which it played an important role, being a prosperous shipping centre at the time; the sea captains’ mansions that ring the island’s harbour are a testament to its heritage. In more recent decades, however, Hydra has come to be known primarily as an artistic hub, its heyday being in the 1950’s and 60’s, when numerous writers, musicians and painters were drawn to its rugged charm.

Hydra’s appeal to artists can probably be traced back to Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika, the most famous Greek cubist artist and key figure in the Greek modernist movement known as the “Generation of the ’30s”. Ghika was a native, coming from an old and prominent Hydriot family, which had in the past contributed many naval officers and captains in the Greek Revolution. In the 1950s’and 60’s, exhibitions of his work across the globe won him international acclaim; he befriended other artists and intellectuals, and would host them in his Hydra home for extended periods of time.

His 18th century 40-room mansion, perched on a steep hillside, housed such names as Henry Miller, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Lawrence Durrell, Norman Mailer, Edmund “Mike” Keeley, Giorgos Seferis, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Le Corbusier, John Craxton, Rex Warner and Cyril Connolly. Painters, such as Craxton and Ghika himself, were greatly inspired by the island’s unique scenery, as evidenced in their work. Leigh Fermor, spent two years there, writing a large part of his book Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese and translating the Greek Resistance memoir The Cretan Runner.

Hatzikyriakos-Ghika Nikos (1906 – 1994), Memories of Hydra, 1948-1976 Mixed media on paper mounted on canvas. Source: The National Gallery – Alexandros Soutsos Museum

In his celebrated travelogue The Colossus of Maroussi, Henry Miller, who was hosted by Ghika in 1939, lauded Hydra’s “naked perfection” describing it as a “rock which rises out of the sea like a huge loaf of petrified bread. It is the bread turned to stone which the artist receives as reward for his labour when he fist catches sight of the promised land”. In 1961, the Ghika mansion was destroyed by fire, prompting the owner to leave Hydra and never return. By that time, however, a colony of expatriate artists and writers had already been established on the island.

Inspired by Miller’s journey, an international bohemian community of artists and writers had begun to form on Hydra; central figures to this circle were Charmian Clift and George Johnston, a married couple of writers from Australia who moved there in 1956, after some time living on the more remote island of Kalymnos. Their Hydra house soon became a destination for several others looking for a primitive landscape and an unconventional lifestyle.

During their years on the island, they both wrote some of their most important works: Johnston’s My Brother Jack, a classic of Australian literature, and Clift’s Peel Me a Lotus, where she describes her family’s life on Hydra. My Brother Jack’s sequel, Clean Straw for Nothing, was written after Johnston had left Greece, but drew heavily on his experiences on Hydra.

Their dramatic lives, marked by creative fever, substance abuse, tempestuous lovers’ quarrels and eventually tragedy (with Charmian committing suicide) has inspired several authors, who have put special focus on the couple’s years on the island. In her play, Hydra, Australian writer Sue Smith recounts “the passion and intensity of the near mythical ‘King and Queen of Hydra’”; the couple also has a central role in the book Half the Perfect World: Writers, Dreams and Drifters on Hydra, 1955-1964, which details the lives Hydra’s expat community, as well as in Polly Samson’s novel A Theatre for Dreamers, which captures the “hazy, sun-drenched days” of that same group of people. In both these books there is, of course, another central character: a young Canadian troubadour and aspiring writer who has arguably come to be linked with the island of Hydra more than anyone else.

Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen arrived on Hydra in 1960, at the age of 26; he met Clift and Johnston, who in fact offered to host him at the beginning of his stay. Soon, Cohen would buy a house on the island for $1500, using a bequest from his recently deceased grandmother. He liked it although it was run down and had no running water. In a letter to his mother, he wrote “I live on a hill and life has been going on here exactly the same for hundreds of years. All through the day you hear the calls of the street vendors and they are really rather musical”; he also noted that the Aegean Sea was 10 minutes from his door.

On Hydra, Cohen met Marianne Ihlen, who soon became his first great love as well as his muse. Ihlen had arrived on the island in 1958 with her then-husband, Norwegian writer Axel Jensen. Soon after the birth of their son, Axel Jr., Jensen left her and the island, and not long after Ihlen moved in with Cohen, along with her baby. Cohen lived with Marianne throughout the 60’s, and for the first seven years he would commute between New York, Montreal, and Hydra.

Marianne in Cohen’s home in Hydra, on the back cover of the album Songs from a Room, which features “Bird on the Wire”

At the time, his ambition was to become an established writer. While on Hydra, he would wake up every day around 7 a.m. and work on his writings until noon; in the evenings, he would meet with his friends –including Clift and Johnston, Redmond and Robyn Wallis and many others- in local bars and taverns, such as the Katsikas Bar, where he would give his first live performances, years ahead of his debut. During his time on Hydra, Cohen published the novels The Favourite Game (1963) and Beautiful Losers (1966), and the poetry collection Flowers for Hitler (1964).

His works were met with mixed reactions and only sold few copies, and he gradually shifted his focus towards songwriting, eventually leaving for the USA in 1967 to pursue a career in music. At the end of that same year he released his first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen, which features one of his most iconic songs, “So Long, Marianne”, written for Ihlen.

Source: Greek News Agenda

Retracing an 80-year-old journey along the river Shannon

The river Shannon

Part of my family come from Kilrush, on the shore of the Shannon estuary (next parish New York) in south-west Ireland. This article appealed to me as many of us find that our travels are yet again being restricted by Covid-19. It reminds us that we can still travel in our mind’s eye through the enjoyment of good travel writing.

By Paul Clements

First published in The Street Journal.

The Ireland of the 1930s was an austere place in which barefoot children played in the streets of a young country where the Catholic Church was all-powerful. Electrification of farms and rural houses was still some way off, and many areas suffered badly from tuberculosis as well as mass emigration.

Despite the poverty, there was another, more carefree side to life which respected the arts, heritage and traditions. People gathered at the crossroads for ceilidhs and made the most of what they had.

This was the Ireland that captivated Richard Hayward (1892-1964), who, although born in Lancashire, grew up on the Antrim coast and became a lover of Ireland. Noted for his travel books on the country, he explored the Shannon in August 1939, just two weeks before the outbreak of the second World War. He set off from the Shannon Pot in Co Cavan in a 12-horsepower Austin car and drove the back roads trailing a caravan hired from the Irish Caravan Company at a cost of £10.

The Shannon is largely the same river that Hayward admired in Where the River Shannon Flows, published in 1940. He was one of the first travellers to write about it in the 20th century. The book’s title came from a song by James Russell, sung by his brother John. It was released around the turn of the century when the Shannon was labelled “The Irish Swanee River”. The song was later recorded by John Count McCormack and by that honorary Irishman, Bing Crosby.

Time-travel, or footstepping, involves recreating an earlier journey, linking the past to the present

That summer Hayward’s book was reviewed by Maurice Walsh in The Irish Times and was top of the paper’s non-fiction list under a section called “What Dublin is Reading”. A prolific author, Walsh was acknowledged as a brilliant storyteller. His novel The Key Above the Door (1927), set in Scotland, sold more than a quarter of a million copies.

Walsh’s books were popular not just in Ireland but in Britain and America. The Quiet Man was originally published by the Saturday Evening Post, for which Walsh received $2,000. It was later included in his story collection Green Rushes (1935) and became an enduring film in 1951.

There was a spirit of camaraderie among writers, who supported each other in difficult times. Walsh was president of Irish PEN and its authors adopted the organisation’s ideals to “maintain friendship between writers in every country in the interests of literature, freedom of artistic expression and international goodwill”.

Time-travel, or footstepping, involves recreating an earlier journey, linking the past to the present. It brings a destination, as well as another era, to life. Many writers have been inspired by shades of travellers long past and the world they experienced. Some of the most celebrated subject names that crop up in the genre include Alexander the Great, Robert Louis Stevenson, Ernest Hemingway, Graham Greene and, more recently, those who have followed Patrick Leigh Fermor’s trail of his long walk across Europe which started in December 1933.

The painter Cecil Salkeld, the writer Richard Hayward, the novelist Compton MacKenzie and the writer Maurice Walsh at a function in Dublin in the 1950s

My time-switching involved transporting myself back to the late 1930s to try to capture Hayward’s spirit and follow in his footsteps, tyre tracks and ripples.

One of the worst roads in Ireland then was the dirt track from Rooskey to Tarmonbarry in Co Roscommon, which had seen cartwheels, hoofs and boots. Hayward recounted the misery created by the clouds of limestone dust as his party drove along it. He wrote that they aged 30 years in five minutes because of the grime that got into their hair and eyebrows. (The road has since taken on a new lease of life and been rebranded the East Roscommon Scenic Drive.)

The timing of Hayward’s book has parallels with today, since people were not travelling because of the war, which began at the start of September 1939. One reviewer, James Stephens, author of The Crock of Gold, said of it: “For some time now we must do all our travelling by book, and this one will carry you to the real Ireland.”

This summer, many aspects of travel were thrown into the spotlight because of the pandemic. But nearly 50 years ago, in the early 1960s, Elizabeth Bishop wrote in her remarkable poem Questions of Travel about why people went abroad.

“Think of the long trip home./ Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?” her tourist narrator asks. “What childishness is it that while there’s a breath of life/ in our bodies, we are determined to rush to see the sun the other way around? [ . . .] And have we room/ for one more folded sunset, still quite warm?”

The edgelands may be regarded as an eyesore, but frequently they are filled with nature and wonder.

Few pause to explore the Shannon sunset or its in-between places, the overlooked and the marginal, known as the edgelands. At first glance there may be little aesthetic appeal in the bauxite factory at Aughinish, the cement factory in Mungret, ruined castles, derelict hotels, old quaysides, abandoned locks or corroded barges – but they all come with their own rich tapestry of history. Some of the most absorbing locations include the estuary and its unkempt mudflats, as well as the precious habitats of the callows and boglands.

The edgelands may be regarded as an eyesore, but frequently they are filled with nature and wonder, somewhere to watch birds, study wildflowers, stare into the water or perhaps just dream a little.

In his poem A Disused Shed in Co Wexford, Derek Mahon celebrates them as “places where a thought might grow – / Peruvian mines, worked out and abandoned [ . . .] Indian compounds where the wind dances”, and the shed itself, “Deep in the grounds of a burnt-out hotel,/ Among the bathtubs and the washbasins/ A thousand mushrooms crowd to a keyhole.”

Shannon Country: A River Journey Through Time by Paul Clements is published by the Lilliput Press and is out now. His biography Romancing Ireland: Richard Hayward 1892-1964, is also published by Lilliput

Yale snaps up biography of artist John Craxton

John Craxton working on Pastoral for P.W., 1948 Photograph by Felix Man

Yale University Press will publish the first biography of British artist John Craxton (1922–2009) in spring 2021.

Mark Eastment, editorial director at Yale University Press London, acquired world rights (excluding Greece) from David Godwin at David Godwin Associates.

John Craxton: A Life of Gifts will be written by the trustee of the John Craxton Estate, Ian Collins, and will come a year ahead of the centenary of Craxton’s birth.

Craxton spent much of his early adulthood in Greece and was well travelled. His contemporaries included Edmund White, Lucian Freud, Patrick Leigh Fermor and David Attenborough. As well as a painter, Craxton was also a book illustrator in the Neo-Romantic style. The biography is compiled using letters from the artist’s life, as well as from interviews conducted before his death.

Collins commented: “John Craxton banned any book on his hedonistic life from 1948 onwards, so I began to make notes for mine in secret on the day we met. We became friends, he relaxed his veto and we recorded many interviews before his death in November 2009. Craxton was erudite, anarchic and hugely entertaining and it has been the honour and pleasure of my life to be allowed to tell his story.”

Eastment said: “There is a growing interest in this fascinating artist and we felt now was the right time for a fully-fledged biography to be published on Craxton. His work is being reassessed and appreciated by more and more people.”

The extraordinary travels and art of Jacques Gregoire

Jacques Gregoire

In 2015, inspired by Artemis Cooper’s biography of Paddy, Dutch artist Jacques Gregoire decided it was ‘time to go walkabout’ and follow in Paddy’s footsteps walking to Constantinople. Unlike some others, Jacques recorded his adventure not in words but in amazing watercolours. From 15-26 September, some of Jacques’ work will be on display at the Osborne Studio Gallery.

In these Covid times, it is probably best to contact the gallery if you wish to visit:

The Osborne Studio Gallery
2 Motcomb Street
London
SW1X 8JU
gallery@osg.uk.com

+44 (0)20 7235 9667

The gallery tells us a little about Jacques and his work:

A tremendous storyteller and traveller who takes notes in form of sketches and watercolours to record life as it changes. He has a deep admiration for wildlife and is a highly skilled painter. The exhibition will show his little gems of sketches from his extensive travels this year.

Dutch artist and wayfarer Jacques Gregoire records nature and the undisturbed landscape wherever he goes, sketchbook in hand. His sketches depict a loving recreation of forests, fields, beaches, lakes, hills and dales highlighting the beauty of nature but also the significance of climate change. Jacques is a highly skilled painter and a true archivist of nature.

The exhibition will showcase Jacques’ stunning watercolours and oil paintings taken from his travels covering his journey of 3000 kilometres in the footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor as well as his most recent walk of 1000 kilometres from Amsterdam to the west coast of Ireland.

‘Back in my studio I try to make the landscapes I have seen come alive again. For me they are not a depiction of a landscape, they are the landscape’.

Further details here.

The exhibition catalogue can be viewed here.

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