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.