A Greek tragedy?

dsc07302It comes as no real surprise that the follow-up to the announcement made by the Benaki Musuem in July of this year (see Stavros Niarchos Foundation to Fully Repair and Restore Patrick Leigh Fermor’s House) regarding the donation of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation is, well, what should we say? Non-existent.

by Tom Sawford

The July press release did state that commencement of repairs were dependant upon the issue of certain “licences” but nothing appears to have happened, and worse, the house faces yet another winter in a condition that one can only describe as dilapidated.

In August, Elizabeth and I visited the house which was being used by an Italian writer and his family as a summer retreat. The Benaki arranges tours. Naively I imagined that the tour, led by Elpida, would be for perhaps 4-6 people. In the end we had around thirty visitors milling around picking up what they liked whilst Elipda spent about half an hour writing out receipts by hand for the Euro 10 entrance fee. There was more concern about “take no photos” than for the house and its movable – or should I say, removable – property.

Dismayed was how I would describe our feelings when we found Patrick Leigh Fermor’s house in Kardamyli house in such a very poor condition. Window frames and shutters were rotting. Furniture was worn and torn, and getting worse by uncontrolled use. Most distressing of all, despite the Benaki’s statement that “artworks and valuable books have been transferred to the facilities of the Benaki Museum in Athens for conservation and safekeeping,” I found almost his entire library of first editions were available to pick up and read, mark with greasy hands, and who knows, perhaps pocket? Items that most of us would categorise as valuable, at least for their symbolism and sentimental value, such as medallions and small photographs of Paddy and Xan etc, were lying insecurely on shelves and mantelpieces. One would think that most people who visit would be respectful, but who knows, someone may be tempted to remove a few of these small items.

We have to hope that real progress will be made, but the events mentioned in the original press release, including a talk in London in November to update us all on progress have not occurred – your Blogger has heard of no plans. At this rate, by the time anything happens and work commences, the initial ten year period that the Benaki is required to implement Paddy’s wishes will have passed. My understanding of the bequest is that the cash-strapped museum will then be free to sell the property if it so chooses. We can each make up our own mind about what might happen then.

A selection of photographs that I was not supposed to take follow.

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25 thoughts on “A Greek tragedy?

  1. Pingback: The Benaki comes out fighting – progress at Paddy’s house | Patrick Leigh Fermor

  2. Sally Chester

    Visited last night and there still seemed to be a fair amount of personal property left around…and wonderful books. Elpida still spent most of her time writing receipts. The party…maybe 15 or so…
    were free to wander at will which was worrying but delightful. However, we were told that the house was shutting towards the end of the month so that restoration could begin.

    Reply
  3. Marjory McGinn

    Interesting blog post Tom Sawford. My partner Jim Bruce and I are both journalists and visited the house in 2011 after Paddy died to write a story and take photos. Jim eventually sold a piece to the Telegraph. The house was okay then, just a bit worn, but nothing like you have just described or what we see now in your pics. What I find most worrying is that there was so much memorabilia around in 2011, especially in the study: old postcards, personal and rare photos, and a lot of Joan’s personal things sitting on a dressing table in her old room. I wonder if it’s all still there. At the time we were there, a Benaki representative was cataloguing the 100s of books, mainly, and told us they would be removed. But it seems they are still there. I would suggest that the UK committee for the house, finds a way of getting the Benaki to give all the memorabilia over to the UK so that it can be housed in a museum for Paddy here, otherwise it will all disappear. There is no way to guard it against hoards of visitors unless it’s all locked up and that defeats the purpose. It’s true that the Benaki has suffered during the crisis too, and Paddy left no provision for upkeep of the house, but the Benaki have not done what they promised to do. With respect Dolores, but ‘siga siga’ in Greek is not an excuse to be negligent, or lacking in integrity. Very sad!

    Reply
    1. Helen Anderson

      My thoughts exactly, I was horrified to see so many precious small possessions just casually lying about when we visited a year ago. I was alone in Joan’s bedroom & other rooms at various points and could easily have pocketed something had I a mind to. Poor Elpida can’t be expected to enforce security on her own; all the smaller memorabilia must be photographed & catalogued or listed then moved into safe keeping, till they can be displayed or kept available for view by the public in a suitably secure place. The house is now, in effect, a museum to one of our great writers, and its contents are precious and must be treated as such.

      Reply
  4. Dimi Laleas

    What an absolute disgrace! I was born in Australia but my parents come from Mani (Tseria and Exohori). I love Mani and have visited many times and this sort of inaction and lack of respect for the significance of this property makes my blood boil. No wonder Greece is in the state it’s in and is the laughing stock of the world. Care factor zero.

    Reply
  5. Dolores

    Thanks, Triantaphyllo. Sensible words, I agree with you. One of the Greek life charms is that time goes by slowly, no much rush in many things (sigá sigá). It’s probably one of the reasons Paddy chose to live here instead in a more “efficient” country. He was happy among Greeks, and Joan and him donated their home to them. The house needs works and investment. But this is hardly a new thing; it was already a rather battered home when he was alive and living on the premises. Part of its huge charm laid precisely in this; one could quickly understand that priorities laid in other things. I am not saying it must be left in this state, of course. But things will be done…at Greek pace (Paddy was not fool; sure he could suspect how things would evolve -the slow pace of it!!)
    Agree with you, Tom: Elpida and the 10 euros recipes is pure madness. But she’s asked to do like this…ay ! It happens the same in all tours
    Kind regards

    Reply
    1. proverbs6to10 Post author

      Dolores, I’m sorry but five and half years later with virtually nothing achieved, incorrect statements made (about securing valuables etc), and the chaotic visiting arrangements which raise but a few hundred Euros per month in the summer and may lead to further loss and damage, cannot be ignored. There is a tendency to defend the indefensible if one appears to be in any way criticising the sacred memory of Paddy, Elpida, the Benaki, Greece or the Greeks. I don’t subscribe to that, and I would bet that Paddy would be dismayed no matter how much he loved Greece and “sigá sigá” whatever that may be.

      Reply
      1. Dolores

        No, no…I am not defending anything specific. But, you know? it is useless to fuss about. We can do nothing about it. Benaki decides because Joan and Paddy wanted so. And that’s all. By the way, Paddy himself was not a prodigy of efficiency and procrastination was one of his best skills. “Sigá sigá”…means “piano piano”, and relax! It’s nearly a leit motif in Greek life. Greetings

        Reply
        1. proverbs6to10 Post author

          Hi Dolores – thank you. I did not know that you lived around there. I thought you may live in Spain!! Anyway, I was pretty upset by the state of things and we had to drive back to Geralimenos where we were staying. It was the day of the very heavy rain storm mid-August. An interesting drive!!

          Reply
  6. Nicola Cairncross

    As someone whose first visit to the Mani 20 years ago was greatly enhanced by 2 books; a copy of the Rough Guide and a copy of Patrick’s book (he was still alive then I believe) and as I now live in Stoupa, I”m interested in getting involved and helping if I can. Is it a matter on money or will? Where can I come up to speed with the story of the renovation quickly? What about a Kickstarter campaign? Warm regards, Nicola Cairncross

    Reply
      1. proverbs6to10 Post author

        But we can do something. We can lobby the Benaki. We can provide help in terms of time and expertise. We can embarrass them into action. Doing nothing is always an option but rarely achieves the result one would like.

        Reply
  7. Triantaphyllo

    Dear friends
    I can see that this is an emotive subject for some but let us not be too hasty in our judgements.
    My understanding is that PLF chose to leave the house to the Benaki Museum and perhaps to Greece in gratitude for the love and experience he gained in his time there. His purpose was, in part, to provide a place for new writers to use ( in appreciation for the accommodation that he was offered in his life) and, I would imagine, to offer the possibility of new great works to be written. I cannot imagine him saying that he wanted his belongings preserved as a museum to worshippers. It feels uncomfortable to read the casual scorn thrown at those at the Benaki. PLF had great respect for Greece and it’s people, and those of us who share that love and experience, understand exactly why he made that choice. Let us join with our fellow Greeks and try to support them in bringing his house in to being as a womb of new creative births and their other good plans for it.
    If what PLF stood for means something, then we could support and champion the Greek spirit and allow it’s magic to embrace those that may be fortunate enough to stay there in the future

    Reply
    1. proverbs6to10 Post author

      Fine words butter no parsnips. We have had five and a half years of deterioration and neglect; hardly hasty. It is a scandal. I am making no comment on Greece or its people, but those within the Benaki that allow this situation to persist day by day. You appear to speak as a proud Greek, and I therefore encourage you to speak to the Benaki and tell them that they are shaming Greece and that it is time to get on with things.

      Reply
      1. Triantaphyllo

        Thank you for your response.
        May I correct you on a couple of facts. I am English and I am doing some things to support the Benaki in realising PLFs intentions. My post being one of those.
        PLF left his house in need of substantial repair and at the same time Greece fell to its knees during the financial crash. We cannot blame either of these on the Benaki museum. So I am suggesting that positive and supportive attitudes and actions to those PLF has selected to be at the helm of his vision will be more productive than blame.

        Reply
        1. proverbs6to10 Post author

          Alternatives have been suggested to help the Benaki with this process and to raise funds from as early as within the first year of his death, and I was involved in that. Assistance was offered but turned down on more than one occasion. Positive and supportive attitudes will not help in the absence of action. The best thing that the Benaki can do is to secure the house against the weather and intruders, and to close it to visitors until proper arrangements can be made. Just because Greece has had a hard time in recent years (and by no means the worst in its history) does not mean we cannot expect more of the Benaki. This reticence to call them to account only encourages the inadequate status quo.

          Reply
  8. David Aslin

    Very sad. Clearly deteriorated a lot since my visit with Artemis Cooper and a small group of friends in May 2013. If someone with the right experience and connections could get a grip on this, I’d be happy to contribute in some way.

    Reply
  9. Alison O'Brien

    I walked by the blue front door and even held the door in respect.This was when Paddy was alive. This is pretty shambolic. People touching their books, personal objects and a coca cola bottle left on the table!! People making themselves at home!! Thanks for taking the photos. Keep on posting, best regards, Alison

    Reply
  10. David Sanderson

    Can I suggest we try and get broadcaster John Humphreys involved. He loves the Mani and has a home there and very much admired Paddy.

    Reply
  11. poetrymuseum

    Thanks -who wrote this report? Well done you. Needs an urgent committee meeting of those still alive who were really Paddy”s friends and have experience in getting things done and haved influence. Max Hastings might advise? Rosie Brocklehurst 01424 435 032 (prepared to do admin and have friends who speak and write fluent Greek and are plugged in to political scene a bit ). Seems a travesty that Paddy’s wishes might not be realised.

    Reply

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