Writer’s last wish falls victim to the Greek recession – and response

A poorly researched article was featured in the Daily Telegraph on Monday which many of you may already have read. It concerned the perceived lack of progress towards meeting Paddy and Joan’s wishes with regard to the use of the house at Kardamyli, and  ‘state of disrepair’. This is a subject that I know many of you are concerned about. In response to an article by John Chapman following his spring visit to the house, there were many offers of help to which there will soon be a response.

Following the article below as is the summary of a response by Artemis Cooper which was posted on her Facebook page and a letter by Artemis has been written to the Telegraph to emphasise that work is being done behind the scenes and it is expected that an announcement can be made soon which will be clearly featured on this blog.

More than a year after the death of Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor, the seafront home in Greece where the travel writer spent most of his adult life is falling into disrepair, and his wish that it should become a writers’ retreat has not been honoured.

By Jim Bruce in Kardamili

First published in the Daily Telegraph 8 October 2012.

When Leigh Fermor and his wife, Joan, designed and built the house in the mid-60s their friend John Betjeman called it “a book in itself”

But now it is locked up and looks sad and neglected, its wooden shutters rotting and falling off their hinges.

Surrounded by sprawling gardens dotted with olive trees, the seven-bedroom house in Kardamili, in the Mani region of the southern Peloponnese, is estimated to be worth £1 million.

Leigh Fermor – who was awarded the DSO for one of the most daring feats of the Second World War, kidnapping the commander of the German garrison in Crete in April 1944 – had no children. He bequeathed the house to the private Benaki Museum in Athens, stipulating that it provide a home for writers visiting for a few months.

He also left it all the contents – including 7,000 books and several valuable paintings. But so far the Benaki does not appear to have begun to act on his wishes.

Greek locals and British expats in the picturesque tourist village are disappointed at the lack of progress, but mainly blame a lack of funds caused by the country’s severe economic slump.

Maria Morgan, a children’s author, who lives in Kardamili and was a close friend of Leigh Fermor and Joan, who died in 2003, said: “It makes me, and other villagers, very sad to see the house in this situation. If Paddy were still alive today, he would be extremely disappointed that his wishes for a writers’ retreat have not been carried out. Because of the economic crisis in Greece there’s no money for this sort of thing.”

She said that the Leigh Fermors received numerous visitors from around the world, including their close friends Betjeman and George Seferis, poets laureate of Britain and Greece respectively.

The library includes a first edition of Betjeman’s High and Low, with the handwritten inscription: “For Paddy and Joan inscribed with undying devotion by the pile-ridden poet John, 1969.”

But the house had always been open to local people. “All the villagers were friends of Paddy and Joan. They loved us to drop in and talk about our lives,” Morgan said.

David Rochelle, a British expat who runs a tourist shop in Kardamili, said: “The house was a massive party zone for the glitterati, with many famous visitors. It’s a beautiful house, but now it’s falling into ruin, and that’s very sad.” Elpitha Beloyiannis, housekeeper for Leigh Fermor for 11 years, has been kept on by the museum to look after the interior. She said: “The museum is trying to raise money for repairs, but it’s difficult with the economic crisis. I’m sure the museum will honour Paddy’s wishes.”

Last year, a notice on the museum website stated: “Over the next few months the Board of Trustees will announce how the house will be used.”

No announcement has yet been made however and the museum did not answer numerous calls and emails about the house.

The response by Artemis Cooper posted on her Facebook page on 8 October is as follows:

There was another piece, also in today’s Telegraph (‘Writer’s last wish falls victim to the Greek recession’, 8.10.12) about PLF’s house at Kardamyli. I have written a letter to the Editor which I hope will be published, because I felt it was very unfair – both to the Benaki Museum, and the people who look after the house. Just because the shutters are falling off (they’ve been like that for at least 15 years), people imagine nothing is happening.

The Benaki are determined to honour PLF’s wishes to use the house as a place for seminars and writing courses, as well as a writers’ retreat. The project has been outlined, costed, and a committee of ‘Friends of the House’ has been formed to help it come about. But at a time when Greece is undergoing a period of economic catastrophe, to expect the whole house to be refurbished and turned into a hub of literary endeavour in sixteen months is frankly unrealistic.

… and Artemis’ letter published in the Telegraph on 9 October:

SIR – Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor’s wish that his house in Kardamili, Greece, be turned into a writers’ retreat has not been abandoned (“Writer’s last wish falls victim to the Greek recession”, October 8).

Lola Bubbosh, who has close links with the Benaki Museum, to which Sir Patrick bequeathed his house, has outlined and estimated the cost of turning it into a retreat, while a committee, which I am on, has been set up in Britain to see it through.

Since Sir Patrick’s death over a year ago, people have stayed at the house, and Richard Linklater has just made a film there, with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.

Things are moving forward. But in a time of economic catastrophe, one cannot expect the Benaki to refurbish the house and turn it into a full-blown writers’ retreat within a year.

Artemis Cooper
London SW6

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20 thoughts on “Writer’s last wish falls victim to the Greek recession – and response

  1. Pietro Basile

    Normally, no news is good news but I’m afraid that the old saying does not apply to this case…
    I was in the area in September 2013 and can attest to the state of abandonment.
    Even PLF’s car is still parked in the back and by peeking inside one suspects that Elpitha, or whatever her name is, is not doing any maintenance.
    What surprises me is that, without arguing if Paddy was a rich man, the heirs of both him and Joan have not come forward with some monetary help.
    That Greece was on a Euro fueled trip does not mean that Benaki had access to easy money. As a private institution it could possibly have had access to state subsidies but these were not a given. Obviously now these are out of question and they should resort to some more proactive and inventive funding strategies.
    I have the impression that, no matter how well stacked with respectable names the ” committee” is, it can only go forward with people who are really passionate and willing to step in.
    So, here is my proposal.
    This website, and specifically its demiurge, should promote an online committee or movement tasked with lining up funds and voluntary help in whatever suitable forms and liaising with the Benaki Museum.
    Stirring things up a bit might provide motivation and ideas to the higher-ups.
    And maybe the heirs will be shamed a bit into contributing towards making happen their benefactor’s wish.

    Reply
  2. Jim Bruce

    Dear Tom. it all seems to be very, very quiet on the Kardamyli house front, with no postings for nearly a year now. Has any progress been made on the restoration of PLF’s beautiful home? And is the Benaki Museum still going ahead with PLF’s wishes that his house be turned into a writers’ retreat? Or have all these ambitious plans been shelved, or stuck in the “too hard” basket?

    Reply
  3. Pietro

    Excuse my curiosity but I can’t quite understand why PLF left the house to Benaki without the means to actually make his wish come true.
    As far as I read, Joan had plenty of money and Paddy wasn’t poor. Nowadays all rich people who leave some significant collection, property, etc which they want specifically used in and for a non commercial purpose, provide the relative funds through a trust fund and endowments.
    Does anyone know why this was not the case with Paddy? If he had really wanted what is said that he wanted, he surely had the means to provide for it.
    Benaki surely wanted and appreciates the property but it seems like it has been saddled with a difficulty task, I mean, they cannot sell it and have to find the money to implement the wishes of the rich owner who did not leave an endowments. Sorry for sounding impertinent but couldn’t whoever inherited the bulk of their money come forward with the necessary funds which are probably just a fraction of what Joan and Paddy left?

    Reply
    1. proverbs6to10 Post author

      I am not sure that you could describe Paddy as rich. Also the arrangement was made with the Benaki when Greece was on its Euro-fuelled ‘speed’ trip annd it probably appeard to them that they would be able to cover this small expense. Now they struggle to pay the milk bill. There are other arrangement being made whcih appear to be moving.. but very slowly. Tom

      Reply
  4. Mairi Browne

    I was at the house apprx 2and a half years ago,and noticed that many of the books were piled up downstairs very damp and gathering dust, I wonder if they are still there,I live in Koroni just across the bay,and would willingly go and help to pack them up in a more secure way,until such time a decision is made about the house with the Benaki.

    Reply
    1. proverbs6to10 Post author

      Thank you Mairi – the Benaki say that they have removed most for protection and conservation. More will follow on this very soon and any help that you can offer will be gratefully received.

      Tom

      Reply
  5. r w seibert

    I assume thought has been given to a setting up a trust ot assist the Benaki-if the museum simply lacks the funds-and we will be notified re financial aid for this purpose. Also when is the US publication date for the bio?

    Reply
  6. Lemora Martin

    What about Joan Leigh Fermor’s many cats? Is any one looking after them? (I may have asked this question elsewhere, but can’t remember, if anyone responded.) Too bad there is no endowment for maintenance on the house. Thanks for your reply, but I wonder about the cats, also being a cat person!

    Reply
    1. proverbs6to10 Post author

      Lemora – I don’t know but will try to find out, but Joan died in 2003 and I doubt there will be many cats left now. Elpida the housekeeper still works there.

      Reply
  7. Roger de Brantes

    Committee – a group of men who individually can do nothing but as a group decide that nothing can be done.

    A committee is a group of people who individually can do nothing, but who, as a group, can meet and decide that nothing can be done.

    Fred Allen (and Google!)..

    As we sail into winter and 2013…

    Reply
  8. Miles Fenton

    Encouraging news to hear that there is a committee in place to help the Benaki make the necessary decisions. Also it is good to see Artemis on the committee. We have talked on occasion regarding what we could contribute in terms of time or effort.
    If I could help in any way, I would.

    Reply
  9. Jim Bruce

    As the British journalist based in the Pelponnese who wrote the story in the Daily Telegraph, I’d like to respond to the accusation that it was “poorly researched”. I visited the house last year when Benaki Museum staff were cataloguing all the books in PLF’s vast collection and spent several hours talking to them, and PLF’s former housekeeper, and inspecting all the rooms and many of PLF’s personal possessions. I have been back to look at the house several times since then and have spoken to many people living in Kardamili, including some of PLF’s old friends, about the house. I think my story accurately reflected the concern of many people in Kardamili about the state of the house’s exterior and the fact it is still shut up, 16 months after PLF’s death. I made many phone calls and emails to the Benaki Museum in Athens about its plans for the house and received no reponse. Also, the museum has still not made any public announcement about the future of the house, despite promising to do so in a post on its website one year ago.
    I also asked Artemis Cooper via Facebook if she could comment on the house, before I wrote my article, but unfortunately she could not get back to me before the story was published. In my story, I did mention that the house (the gardens and two rooms) had been used for three weeks in August as a film location for the new Hollywood movie Before Midnight, starring Ethan Hawke, but this was edited out by the Telegraph for space reasons. Finally, my story never said the plan for a writers’ retreat had been “abandoned”, as Artemis claims in her letter, just that PLF’s wish had not been honoured so far, almost one-and-a-half years after his death. I quoted housekeeper Elpitha as saying: “I’m sure the Benaki will honour Paddy’s wishes.” I’m also sure that most people would agree that a new custodian of such an important house would at least have fixed up the rotten shutters and crumbling boundary walls to make the house more secure after 16 months of ownership.

    Reply
    1. proverbs6to10 Post author

      The problem Jim is that you were too hasty. Sorry that you had a deadline but you did not wait to hear from the people that you should have done ie Artemis etc. The thrust of your argument that the recession has affected things is no doubt true, but you failed to find out about what may be being planned in the background and may soon be announced. You could perhaps have even contacted me!

      The article is, in my view, positive in the long term as it has helped bring to a head the issues with some of the key parties, but you could have done more to make it more rounded. You may even have effected some short term damage with the Benaki, but these things will be recovered in time.

      If you would like to keep in touch we may all be able to work together to achieve the wishes of Joan and Paddy.

      Reply
      1. Lemora Martin

        I’m curious as to whether or not Paddy and Joan left behind a trust fund specifically to be accessed for repairs and maintenance on their house and surrounding property. I’ve never heard this mentioned, and it sounds as though there are sufficient funds in JLF’s estate for this. Does anyone know? (From the tone of this initial post and replies, it sounds as though money is the main issue, and JLF had plenty of it, so I’m wondering what the problem is.)

        Reply
        1. proverbs6to10 Post author

          Lemora – Paddy and Joan gave the house to the Benaki but with no endowment. This is effectively the problem. We hope to present further plans in the near future.

          Tom

          Reply
    1. proverbs6to10 Post author

      Robert. Yes there is. It is a fair sum and I hope that soon we may be able to provide more information. The requirements cover immediate works to secure the fabric of the building; renovation and improvements to make it suitable as a writers’ centre; and then long term funding for building maintenance, running costs and possible subsidies for any courses that may be run there. I hope that further details may be made available soon.

      Reply
  10. Roger de Brantes

    Obviously a German plot. My bet (>40 months) still stands. Then again, PLFs’ death was so sudden and unexpected, you could hardly expect them to be unprepared..

    Reply

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