John Chapman is a regular contributor of material to the blog – you are all welcome to do so at any time; see Contact. Most notably John’s photographs of a visit to Kardamyli to meet Paddy in 2005 have been very popular with you all.
A while back he sent me some more photographs with some comments about the state of the villa at Kardamyli, and John’s personal thoughts about one of Paddy’s friends who died in May 2012.
In May this year I made a return trip to Kardamili and Mani. I hadn’t been there for four years and this was just a week long catch up. Mani is still as effortlessly beautiful and tantalisingly fascinating as ever. One location I always visit is the church of St. Nicholas in Chora, where Paddy scattered Bruce Chatwin’s ashes in 1989. Still a remarkably special place.
At Paddy’s Memorial service in December I’d been sitting quietly in a pew as I could recognise some of the great and good but was not expecting anyone I knew to be there. I was suddenly clapped on the shoulder by a firm hand and an American accent bellowed ‘Well how you doing buddy?’ It was my old friend and correspondent Jon van Leuven. We had started writing to one another some 12 years earlier as we both were fascinated by the conundrum of the location of the Frankish castle of Grand Magne and various other puzzles in Mani’s medieval history. We’d since met on a number of occasions exploring cave churches near Langada and getting hideously lost in the Sangias Mountains in Mesa Mani.
With Jon was another Englishman, we were introduced but, I apologise, I’m useless with names. He had been attempting to catalogue Paddy’s books and papers. I asked if he knew what the Benaki Foundation intended to do with the house at Kalamitsi. “I’ve no idea”, was the reply,”…and I doubt if they do either”.
After the service Jon and I said our farewells. Jon was a long time friend of Paddy’s. He long had a house at the hamlet of Gournitsa (a Slavic name, lit. ‘the place above’) though nowadays often referred to as Agia Sofia, after the pepper-pot domed church which perches over Kardamili. The house itself had few comforts, Jon was adamant that he wasn’t go to pay any ‘damned taxes’ for electricity. But it was comfortable and clinging to the cliff top edge of the Viros Gorge it was a precious eyrie where Jon would stay from June to September, although his family and home were now in Gothenburg, Sweden.
I told Jon I was going to Mani and he asked me to give his house a quick look to see if all was OK. I replied I would. He emailed me on the 8 April.
‘Glad to hear you can get get up to Gour and give the hacienda a glance. Also in town I hope you hear what’s going on at Paddy’s villa these days – if you know Elpida the housekeeper she’d know better than anybody’.
I don’t know Elpida and anyway by the time I got to his Hacienda in Gournitsa I’d been given the sad news that Jon had died of complications of leukaemia. I’d known he was ill but had presumed he was indestructible. He could certainly outpace me on expeditions in Mani and was at least ten years my senior – I guess in his early seventies. On the 17 April he’d sent me his last of hundreds of emails. I might just publish them sometime…I’d asked if he’d ever met Bruce Chatwin, I was reading Chatwin’s letters.
The email was entitled ‘Drip Feeding’
Just a note between hospital visits…but thanks for your epistles as ever. No, I never met Chatwin, but I once met Elizabeth at Paddy’s, and of course again in London in Dec tho she didn’t recognize me (nor I her but for Olivia’s tipoff)…Now I am taking a long pause from the airwaves to suck my thumb and medicine.
He died on the 2 May 2012
Jon was very wary of telling much about Paddy, he was a very private man and felt that there were too many people trying to grab a bit of Paddy’s aura. I was undoubtedly one of them in his judgement, so I didn’t pry and he didn’t tell., and frankly we had enough Mani stuff to keep us going for years. I did learn that Jon had first met Paddy as he was interested in ancient shrines to Artemis in the area, and had hoped (vainly) that Paddy could assist his researches. Jon helped Paddy construct the bookshelves in ‘that room’. He located picnics he had shared with Paddy and Joan, and, on very rare occasions, entrusted me with Paddy’s opinions on other ‘travel writers’. On one occasion when I briefly met Paddy striding towards Lela’s Taverna I mentioned Jon was a friend of mine. Paddy beamed and confirmed he was a very old and trusted friend, but Joan was very ill at the time and Paddy hurried on.
One evening this May we wandered down to Kalamitsi. It’s still filling up with more villas and concrete but somehow manages to remain beautiful. And on the cliffs stretching along the road to Proastio high above Kalamitsi more excrescences of domestic concrete demonstrated more concern for their owners’ views of the Gulf of Messenia than those below looking up. I delight in a domed church on a promontory (and Kardamili has three), but hate to imagine John Betjeman’s reaction to these lumpen edifices.
However Paddy’s villa is still a discrete surprise when you do chance upon it. The north wall of the garden has fallen down and we could have wandered the gardens, but resisted, though we’d been before and had had Paddy as a guide. A peer through the small window in the gates of the villa show that someone is tending the garden. Though there is a sad lack of flasks of retsina in the vestibule. The ‘Private Property’ sign has gone, maybe from neglect. Above the gateway there is a small stone hut. It was unlocked, so we guiltily crept in. A broken armchair, an old bed and some damp volumes which had obviously over spilt from the villa were on some shelves and in boxes. Hungarian Studies magazines, a history of Canterbury Cathedral, and a few gems. An offprint from a dictionary. In pencil at the top ‘In great appreciation Christmas 1958, New Year 1959 Eric Partridge.’ Naturally they were left there.
In the village no one I talked to had very much more knowledge of what was going to happen to the house than I did. And as one said – the Benaki are not as rich as they may appear. The house needs a fair bit of repair. After all it is, now, over fifty years old and shutters are beginning to disintegrate. If they want a librarian who’s soon to retire to look after the place, well, I might just volunteer.