The house is not always empty …

It appears that some lucky people have been allowed to stay in the house at Kalamitsi. Who are they and did they pay? From a lovely new blog by Max Long.

Eventually I did find a room, and wallowed in the privilege of having a bed, a balcony overlooking the mountains, a table to write on. On my first night I had considered, in utter disappointment and desperation, going to Paddy Leigh Fermor’s house just a few kilometers south from the main village, to find some comfort by camping there. As I was to find out two days later, it was a very good thing I didn’t.

A few years ago, a Guardian journalist came to Kardamyli with similar intentions. He swum to Paddy’s house from the harbour, and I decided that it would be a nice idea to do the same. Following the footsteps of a footstep-follower.

I am not a confident swimmer, and have barely swum out a few tentative strokes in all the beaches I’ve been to so far, so it was quite a mental struggle for me to embark on what was to be a half hour swim along the rocks to the little pebble beach with a flight of stone steps leading up to the house. When I got there, there was a couple on the beach, but they spoke little English and could not confirm that this was Paddy’s house, so I walked up the steps anyhow, and soon the pebble mosaics on the floor, the large house of stone and painted grey-blue French windows, the seating area looking over the bay, confirmed that I was indeed at the right place.

However, it was with utter horror that I saw the freshly trimmed garden plants and trees, the recently used hosepipe… the open windows, the sound of plates watering the mouths of lunchers… the exposed breasts sunning themselves in the corner. I scuttled away, undetected but nevertheless thoroughly embarrassed. I later made for the front door. I could hear voices, evidence of clear use. I felt for a moment I might have traveled back in time to a former splendor of the wonderful house. All the reports by journalists and bloggers online had been of a desolate, abandoned home. I inquired at the front door. Yes, this was his house. No, I couldn’t visit. I walked away, burning with disappointment, but also with curiosity. The house is now in the hands of the Benaki museum, and my understanding is that it will be converted into a writer’s retreat or museum of its own. Who were these people who had the privilege to enjoy the place in the meantime?

(I visited the house again on my last morning and it was only after a lot of pleading that a disgruntled, shirtless, hairy and sandalled old gentleman allowed me a brief – less than two minute – look at the place. None of the moments of contemplation I had hoped for. The insistence with which he refused to allow me to access the house, and the simplicity of my request, made me think he could only be an extraordinarily cruel man. Sitting in Paddy’s study surrounded by books, he refused to give me either his name or any inkling of the Benaki’s future plans. I left, once again, in a rage.)

Full article here.

Another correspondent in an email to me this week coroborates the fact that people seem to be staying at or using the house …

I too was in Kardamyli in August.  I too walked around the outside of the house and up the steps from the beach.  I didn’t want to trespass, but when I realised there were people living there I decided to knock at the gate and ask them what was happening to the house.  Two twenty -something year old Greek girls in bikinis were there, and obviously staying there.  They wouldn’t let us visit.  I’ve no idea who they were.  My first reaction was that Paddy and Joan would surely be upset that their wishes are clearly not being respected.  On the other hand, perhaps it is good that someone is there because there are clearly a lot of Paddy pilgrims, and sooner or later there will be someone with less honorouble intentions, who enters the house and takes something away with them.
I can only assume they were local girls and that his old housekeeper or someone local must have an eye on who is there.  The place is obviously in need of urgent attention.
Mark
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22 thoughts on “The house is not always empty …

  1. Pingback: Five years on – the house at Kalamitsi | Patrick Leigh Fermor

  2. Ana

    And furthermore, from the London Review of Books Letters page (http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n20/letters):

    “What’s he doing there?
    Max Long writes about being sent away when he visited the house Patrick Leigh Fermor bequeathed to the Benaki Museum (Letters, 11 September). The gentleman whom Mr Long mentions meeting there is probably Roberto Calasso, who was a friend of Patrick Leigh Fermor and publisher of his books in Italy. The Benaki Museum is collaborating with Professor Calasso, and he was staying with his family at the house throughout August. Anyone who wants to visit the house can do so on request, either directly to the Benaki Museum or to the caretakers, who live in Kardamyli and are in direct contact with us.
    Irini Geroulanou
    Benaki Museum, Athens”

    “Anyone who wants to visit the house can do so on request”, so do get over yourselves.

    Reply
    1. Max Longax Long

      Dear Ana,

      A fair reply from the Benaki, if it wasn’t for the fact I phoned, tweeted and even visited the museum itself on two occasions in order to politely request if I might be able to visit the house. No one I spoke to appeared to have any knowledge about this arrangement and I was just told to turn up at the house if I wanted to see it. I also understand that any current occupant should not be have to give guided tours of the place. But they might nevertheless be expected to be a bit more polite and understanding when they turn people away.

      Best wishes,

      Max

      Reply
  3. Ana

    From the Benaki website:
    “In order to cover the operating expenses of the house, the Benaki Museum also has the right to lease the property for a period of three months per year.”
    Quite frankly, anyone staying there has the right to do so undisturbed and I don’t think PLF would have disagreed either. He was indeed hospitable himself (I was lucky enough to have tea and biscuits with him and Joan on the balcony once upon a time) but that doesn’t mean that any current resident is obliged to do guided tours for complete strangers, especially given that they would only be staying there for a limited time themselves.

    Reply
  4. Pingback: Why you should never meet your heroes | Patrick Leigh Fermor

  5. Max Long

    My experience made me understand why a lot of people feel bitter and disenchanted with the treatment of writers’ heritage – I doubt that I would now want to stay there. I do, however, hope that this is resolved soon and that people can actually use it as a writer’s retreat, breasts aside.

    Reply
  6. Sean Deany

    Very interesting. 10 years ago to this day I myself knocked at the door of PLF and was kindly invited in to have coffee and discuss travel with the man himself. Indeed it must be very frustrating for somebody who clearly has an interest in the life and work of PLF to be sunned away. While I had mad some correspondence with Paddy some years before I was just lucky I guess back on 3rd October 2004. This said I do hope that his house can be made as a retreat for writers, but his studio should be open to the public as a small museum. A permanent presence at his home can assure that his wishes are met.

    Reply
  7. Willie Scraggs

    Tom, I’d be delighted to meet you when you’re next passing through Brasov. Would you mind dropping me a line from your private email address, and we could plan something specific?

    Reply
    1. proverbs6to10 Post author

      I will Willie but I have no plans to be in that part of Romania until possibly spring summer next year .

      Reply
  8. Dolores Payás

    Hello. Here comes some -useful, I hope- information. This summer Kalamitis house was rented to Paddy’s Italian editor, Mr. Roberto Calasso (and family). As I have a house not far away from Paddy’s house, I met all them. Needless to say Mr. Calasso is a great fan of Paddy’s work. Kind regards. Dolores

    Reply
    1. proverbs6to10 Post author

      But clearly not the most polite person who appears not to understand the significance of the house to his less fortunate fans who just want to have a look around. No matter that he may have paid; it goes with the territory. As I seem to recall the previous incumbent appeared to have no problem with visitors.

      But how can this be this hiring out the house? I think I shall apply for next year. Is this money going to the house or to the bottomless pit that is the Benaki’s debt pile?

      Reply
      1. Dolores Payás

        I really don’t know which is -or has been- the agreement between Benaki and this Italian publisher. I only know he was living there for some weeks….Must say I went to the house to give him a book -we had met the night before in a friend’s diner in the village- and had not the most friendly welcome!…Kind regards, dear friend!

        Reply
  9. Willie Scraggs

    Does anyone know the legal position? Was the house a gift to the Benaki whose executives are free to do as they wish, or is it held by the Benaki in a kind of Greek equivalent to an English charitable or public trust to carry out the late PLF’s wishes? How do we know that the present occupiers, including the informally dressed ladies, are not in fact PLF’s specifically appointed trustees? After all, he had a certain penchant…

    Reply
    1. proverbs6to10 Post author

      We should perhaps investigate Willie 🙂 Paddy’s wishes were clear and quiet specific when he made the arrangement which was done in his lifetime. Bikinis didn’t some into it but I have a feeling he would not have objected. I recall it was envisaged that the place may be hired out during the holiday period to provide a higher income, but what is being done now smacks of some form of Benaki nepotism.

      Reply
      1. Willie Scraggs

        Yes, Tom, I think that there is general agreement that the present use of the house is not very appropriate or at least it doesn’t make much sense. I think that you mentioned earlier that there is no endowment to accompany PLF’s wishes for using the house as a writer’s residence, and to some extent that reflects on PLF’s own commitment to the idea.

        If the involvement of the Benaki could somehow be undone, the house could be sold, and the proceeds used for a more worthy, focused, practical purpose, such as say endowing an annual prize in the name of the late PLF for travel writing – or perhaps to contribute to your expenses associated with this website.

        Speaking of which, I think that this website is much more relevant to the memory of PLF than his house. In my opinion, a plaque impressed on an outside wall of the house, visible from the road, would be all that’s required in Kardamyli.

        You may say, correctly, that I am an early-retired, cranky solicitor, lacking in the romantic imagination required to envisage the house if it were to be returned to the literary, fashionable glory of the days when PLF and his wife entertained the great and the good from England and the Empire. The late occupant-owners are both dead and buried, though happily their names live on. Perhaps it would be more in ease of the surviving relatives and kinder to the memory of PLF to adjust his wishes in the manner suggested above, and for someone on his behalf to turn the lock in the door at Kardamyli for the last time.

        The spell cast by PLF and his works is a powerful one; there is that sense of another world about his hike across Europe in the thirties; one wishes to be part of Leigh Fermor’s world, to be near him, to be like him, to have met him…to have visited his house. The spell affected me in many happy ways: fourteen years ago I came to settle here in Transylvania (Brasov) in order to read. And then, at least as important, I came out of the spell.

        Reply
  10. John Chapman

    Er, see my above rumour mongering…though it must be noticed, I was told a lovely Greek saying the other day. You can be at the top of a mountain and fart. The people in the village below will smell it before you hear it!

    Reply
  11. Brenton

    How utterly bizarre. Hopefully the Benaki actually do something, otherwise these squatters (what else could they be?) may turn it into the Grey Gardens of Kardamyli.

    Reply
  12. Willie Scraggs

    For all Mr Long’s embarrassment at their sight, the exposed breasts sunning themselves in the corner of the terrace may have belonged to some wonderful up and coming author, soaking up inspiration. Or perhaps she was what Mark, whose correspondence is quoted above, describes as a local girl, who might have just re-read the bit where PLF had gone swimming down a river in pursuit of a couple of lovely ladies. Those who advocate use of the house as a writers’ retreat are, I suggest, transported into a sentimental dream in which refined, literary folk sitting in the living room would occasionally raise their heads from learned tomes and notebooks by their side, to sip tea and wonder about PLF’s speculations on the references to sea-shores in The Winter’s Tale.

    The reality is that the place would become a kind of hostel for would-be literary types, which is just about anyone who imagines himself as such. Down the steps on the real sea-shore would be the wannabe writers taking a break from it all – real people of the modern world – where Mark could count himself lucky to see such extensive clothing as bikinis.

    Reply
    1. proverbs6to10 Post author

      Entertaining reply Willie but Paddy’s wishes were for a retreat. It need not be as you say. I have worked on some plans which would not be quite so dull as you imagine. Bikinis or not what are these people doing there? Is this for insiders from the Benaki?

      Reply

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