Meeting Patrick Leigh Fermor in the Mani

Recently we have been musing in some posts about following Paddy’s route. For many of his fans this is perhaps a dream, but nevertheless, something many would like to make real. Topping that of course is meeting Paddy himself. In this piece, New Zealand author Maggie Rainey-Smith unexpectedly meets Paddy on a trip to Kardamyli on Greece’s Mani Peninsula, where Paddy has lived since the 1960’s. Some of you may have read it but I think it is such a nice article that it is worth re-visiting.

First published in the New Zealand Herald 15 June 2008

The village of Kardamyli is on the west coast of the Mani Peninsula, one of the more traditional and conservative areas of Greece.Recently, I spent two months in Greece chasing the muse, searching for clues, looking for inspiration.

The Mani Peninsula region is famous for the Maniots and their resistance of the Ottoman occupation. It is isolated by the Taygetus mountain range and enclosed by the Aegean and Ionian seas.

The Ottomans failed to infiltrate, but I have to advise that the English have. As I shopped for my Twinings tea and sat outside a cafe in the village of Kardamyli, using the free internet, I lamented the globalisation of this once-remote peninsula.

I wished, for just a moment, that I was back in time when to be a strange woman alone in this small village may have attracted disapproving stares.

In the local bookshop was the very book I’d been looking for: Mani – Travels in the Southern Peloponnese, by Patrick Leigh Fermor. On my terrace overlooking the sea, I opened the book and found myself mesmerised by the most exquisite, evocative travel writing I have ever read. Not only that, I discovered that Fermor is a resident of Kardamyli.

The owner of the bookshop was unimpressed when I asked where Sir Patrick lived, and his lips remained sealed, his expression disapproving. Fermor is almost a saint in Greece.

He was a resistance fighter in Crete during World War II; his exploits were the subject of a film starring Dirk Bogarde (my father was in Crete, but a more modest hero at Maleme, the point where the island was finally lost to the Germans).

At the local cafe, where I made use of the technology, the owner (who looks like a Maniot right out of Fermor’s book, with her blanket of black ringlets and beautiful olive eyes), told me Paddy (as the locals call him) would celebrate his Name Day that very week and that he always opens his home to the locals on that day.

By then, and after one week’s residence, I considered myself a local, and everyone agreed with me.

So with joyous disbelief at my good fortune, on Thursday, November 8, I joined the local villagers at Sir Patrick’s Name Day celebration at his majestic and yet still homely yellow stone house overlooking the Messinian Gulf.

By 10.30am the service in his private chapel was over and we were seated in his lounge – books lining the walls from floor to ceiling: Nancy Mitford, Henry James, James Joyce – eating olives, meatballs, feta and drinking local wine.

On a person’s Name Day you are required to take a gift, and all I had with me was a copy of my first novel About Turns, which I gave to Paddy. He signed my copy of his own book with a personal inscription and a small drawing. We talked about Crete and my dad and his book on the Mani. I gushed, he charmed.

Then the singing began and Paddy was surrounded by adoring local women who toasted him with traditional Name Day songs.

At the end of the singing, Paddy stood and pretended to fire a pistol into the air (an old tradition where real pistols were once used). He is of English and Irish descent. Although his name is Patrick, his Greek Name Day is the day of Michali. Michael is the name he assumed while fighting for the Greek resistance.

With me was an American Orthodox nun who worked in Moscow and a Danish man of the cloth who was studying Byzantine churches. We were Paddy’s “non-local” guests and pinched ourselves to check we weren’t imagining our good fortune.

When it was time to leave, another Michael (Michali), a neighbour of Paddy’s, invited us to his home. We walked through an olive grove up the hill along the coast to another beautiful stone home.

Our new host sold Paddy the land and helped him build his house in 1964. We were feted with fresh coffee and cakes and listened to Michali’s son, who told us that when he decided to leave Kardamyli some years ago to travel, Paddy told him: “You can’t leave.”

And when he returned years later, Paddy told him: “You know we are very fortunate, we live in Kardamyli. We are fortunate – we have the mountains. We are fortunate – we have good food. We are fortunate – we have clean air to breathe. We are fortunate – we have the beautiful sea to swim in.”

“Yes, Paddy, the mountains, the food, the air and the sea,” said the young man, nodding in agreement.

And then Paddy said to him: “And for all these reasons and more, we may just forget to die.”

Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor is 92 years old, he was wearing a double-breasted navy suit when I met him, had a full head of wavy grey-black hair and was still a handsome, charming man with just a slight deafness in one ear.

He spoke with a classical English accent which rather surprised me, considering the years he has spent in Greece.

He is still writing. If you’ve never heard of him, or never read his books, now is the time to start.

By Maggie Rainey-Smith

9 thoughts on “Meeting Patrick Leigh Fermor in the Mani

  1. Evangelia Dascarolis

    ……hullo,Maggie !!Some time has passed since we communicated briefly,a lot has happened.Is your book published ?My enduring interest in PLF has not waned,I”m about to finish reading his biography,& have his other books at the ready………..Evangelia..

  2. ruth kozak

    I just discovered this blog and really enjoyed reading it. I am a writer too, who spends as much time as I can in Greece and writes historical fiction (with a Greek theme). I was in the Mani last summer but didn’t get as far as I wanted. Now after reading this blog I simply must get to Kardamyli.

  3. Pingback: The Feast of SS. Michael and Gabriel – Paddy’s name day « Patrick Leigh Fermor

  4. Maggie Rainey-Smith a

    Evangelia – yes I was lucky and have the locals to thank too for treating me as a local (Maria from the Gorgones where I was staying, who invited me to go with her to Paddy’s house, and the lovely young woman from the cafe with the internet who alerted me to the Name Day celebration) – not to mention the generous good friends of PLF (his neighbours) who invited me for coffee afterwards and this was where I heard the beautiful story, the conversation between Paddy and the neighbour’s son, which the son repeated for us. I owe a big debt of gratitude to the people of Kardamyli for taking me in as a honorary local for the ten days that I spent there. As for Kalamata, I was based there for two months, and have huge affection for this city. My new novel is based both in NZ and Kalamata. Thank you for your good wishes Evangelia. Efharisto (indeed, almost the limit of my Greek).

    1. proverbs6to10 Post author

      Maggie – don’t forget to tell me more about your new book – we can do a feature when it is ready for sale. Might sell an extra copy or two!

  5. evangelia dascarolis

    …lucky,lucky Maggie!!For years,during our summers spent in Kalamata,my husband’s birthplace,we would drive down the coast road to the Mani & I would beg Peter to stop the car at a certain spot so I could gaze at the stone Leigh Fermor villa.In kardamyli,I would search the faces-maybe I would see him shopping for supplies-well they had to eat,didn’t they!Never a sighting,but what would I have done if I had chanced to see him?Probably gushed how much I loved his written words & how my eyes had been opened to another time & another world……now I have the internet at this late stage of my life,so I will read every word I can on this remarkable man & his dearly loved wife…..good luck Maggie ,I will look for your books,too………Evangelia..

  6. Pingback: Happy Name Day Michali !!! « Patrick Leigh Fermor

  7. Maggie Rainey-Smith

    Hello Tom

    Love to receive updates – just found your blog. I am the Maggie who found Patrick in Kardamyli in 2007 and sort of gate-crashed his Name Day. I always feel a wee bit guilty now when I read that my article for the Herald has been picked up by other blogs etc, as I did not enter his house as a journalist, but as a traveller/tourist and he was so gracious and hospitable. And then, of course, being a writer, when I got home, I couldn’t resist using the material for an article but sometimes I wince at the cheek of me, accepting his fabulous hospitality and that of his neighbours, and then writing about it without their permission – ah well, as you so nicely say, it is a nice article. It was a grand moment for me and one I’ll never forget. I was in Greece doing research for a novel and I felt like the muse had brushed my shoulder and given me approval for my novel when I met Paddy. My Dad was born the same year and fought on Crete, so it felt rather wonderful. And, like you, I found Paddy late in life (I found him in 2007 in Kardamyli literally).

    I am in the final throes of final draft of my third novel which has a Greek/New Zealand theme and I am hoping that Random House will want to publish it – fingers crossed.

    Thanks for your blog – I’m a big fan – I did do a review of “In Tearing Haste”
    In case you are interested.

    Kind regards

    Maggie Rainey-Smith, New Zealand
    Author of ‘About Turns’ and ‘Turbulence’, Random House, 2005 and 2007.

    1. proverbs6to10 Post author

      Maggie – it is great that you found us, and your piece is one to inspire people. Not sure that Paddy would have minded. After all he did a similar thing, but waited 30 years!



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