The final gift of Patrick Leigh Fermor

We’d met him for the first time a few years ago at the memorial service for Earl Jellicoe in Athens, in his nineties but still handsome and charming. “You must come to our simple home”, he had said.

By Lauren O’Hara

First Published in Cyprus Mail 25 September 2011

I’d noted the “our” for I’d been told that although his beloved wife Joan had died in 2003, her room untouched and undisturbed.

It’s true the house nestling into the cliffs and olive groves just beyond Kardimyli has a simplicity, but as we gathered last week to raise a glass to the life of Patrick Leigh Fermor and his legacy for the future, with its arched walkways and pebbled courtyards, it was one of the most beautiful houses I had seen in Greece.

A place to find hidden stone benches, or cushioned window seats, to curl up with books: a place at which to reflect, as the cragged mountains of the Mani deepen to red and each angle on the Aegean provides another view.

We never made it there while he lived, so it felt strangely intrusive to wander at will through rooms still alive with his life, now he was dead.

The shepherd sacks from Crete, the stacks of hardbacks, the black and white photos of the many visitors who had sat on the same sofas. It was as if he has just popped down to Lela’s tavern for a gin and would be back soon.

So it is a relief to know that the house has been left in his will in the secure hands of the Benaki Foundation, to be used not as a place of pilgrimage, although there are many who would happily make that journey, but as a ‘study centre’.

One can’t help but wish that everything will remain unaltered, for it feels perfect as it is. A monument in our madcap e-world to another way of living: a world of books and blotters, of conversation and contemplation.

Of desks with inkwells and the time to handwrite notes laden with stories and sketches.

Around the garden as the sun dipped and the moon rose, people formed and reformed into casual groups: academics and locals, tradesmen and scholars.

It was as if the place itself had absorbed the personalities of its owners, still able to offer warm hospitality to all even though they had gone.

Nancy Mitford apparently once wrote to Evelyn Waugh that “Paddy” was “wasting his excellent language on Greek peasants.”

But as I listened to the conversations drifting into the night air, I thought that is exactly what she had misunderstood.

He may have come from a privileged background, but why he is so loved here in Greece – why he is so loved by so many people everywhere – is that he knew, like all great writers, including his close friend Bruce Chatwin, whose ashes are scattered nearby, that class is no owner of wisdom.

A Time of Gifts indeed…

Related articles:

John Chapman’s photos of Paddy’s house 

Paddy’s Gloucestershire home for sale for £2.5m

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