Behind the scenes at the Benaki

dsc07322The debate about the state and status of the house at Kalamitsi continues. Despite asking for input I have heard nothing from the Benaki. However, I received a very nice email from Michael Torrens who wishes to offer a different perspective to my own in the article below, and is critical of my stance and that of others who appear to lack patience with the Benaki or who may, in his opinion, have got their facts wrong. We shall see how things turn out. I disagree with some of his comments e.g. the state of security during the visit, and the tone is resonant of those who believed that Britain would not vote for Brexit and the USA would vote for Hilary; when will they listen?  I remain dismayed that the Benaki cannot respond officially.

I was reviewing some recent articles and was reminded that in June 2016, Dominic Green wrote a similar report to mine which I published here.

Following my article some suggested that we should write an email in Greek to the Benaki to seek a response and to ask for reassurance that items will be removed and the house properly secured. If you would like to draft something for me (and that you could all send to the Benaki) to send in Greek please get in touch. See how in the About and Contact page.

Michael’s email went like this:

Dear Tom,

I must first congratulate you on your blog. It is, de facto, the most important and widely read vehicle for communication between those who appreciate Paddy and wish to have a finger on the pulse of developments. It must be a lot of work for you but it is irreplaceable.

However that makes accuracy all the more important. That is why I respectfully ask you to read through the attached document and publish it on the site.

As I intimate, I have been concerned at the degree of misinformation and the level of dissatisfaction, which I decided to investigate in my own way, totally independently. I know a lot more than I can state, but it is essential to be diplomatic and let some things evolve in their own time. I may be able to answer any personal questions of yours as long as I do not overstep my confidentiality agreements.

It is really very important over the next months to repair the damage and set up an atmosphere of trust and reconciliation so that fundraising for the functional stage of the Centre can get started efficiently.

That is why I hope you will be objective and supportive even though the document may appear mildly critical even of you. It is supposed to reset the balance.

Thanks for your time,

Regards,

Michael

By Michael Torrens

I visited the Kardamyli house this summer with a group from the Patrick Leigh Fermor Society. The condition of the property was surely the same as when Tom Sawford went but my conclusion was rather different to that which he communicated recently. Certainly major refurbishment is indicated but my impression was that there is no urgent structural work necessary to protect the place until the whole integrated renovation project starts. Therefore replacing (e.g.) broken shutters separately would be an inefficient use of funds.

I, too, have been interested by what is now called the PLF Project and aware of certain differences of opinion. Rather than contribute my own unsubstantiated view I decided to discover what problem, if any, actually existed. I was fortunate (as a resident of Athens traveling frequently to London) to be able to initiate personal, face to face, ongoing discussions with both the staff at the Benaki museum and also the trustees of the Patrick Leigh Fermor Society. All have welcomed me and been exceptionally cooperative for which I wish to express my thanks. I would also like to thank John Kittmer, the British Ambassador, for meeting me and giving his advice.

The only problem that I have been able to identify is a profound general lack of trust and confidence, associated with inadequate information, distortion of information and false conclusions.

Perhaps I am in a good position to be objective about the situation and so I venture these comments.

  • Anyone familiar with the combination of raising a huge sum of money and performing renovations of old buildings (I once worked in an ecclesiastical architect’s office) will know that it takes time. A long time.
  • The renovation project is now fully planned and funded. I consider that the achievements of the Benaki up to the present, bearing in mind the current economic climate, are little short of miraculous.
  • I have been privileged to see the formal AEA feasibility study, architect’s drawings and business plans and consider, within the limits of my experience, that everyone should be reassured that the project will be managed at an international level and stop moaning.
  • Benaki has had a security policy in place, especially when there were more than ten visitors; the fact that someone did not see it is perhaps how it should be. Items of more significant value have already been removed. Perfect security would require no access at all. Those concerned about danger this winter should know that all the contents are now in the process of being packed for storage and/or restoration during the building work.
  • It has been suggested to the Benaki that information should be provided more frequently. I would also suggest that anyone who feels the need to criticize such information because they believe they know better should just keep quiet and await results. I have been privileged to learn a lot of confidential information, for example on the proposed management structure. Please be patient, all will be revealed when appropriate.

Paddy had many personal discussions with the Benaki on his vision for the future of Kardamyli. The property was finally left to the Museum at the start of the financial crisis without any form of endowment. It is necessary to re-emphasize that the Benaki museum has the total legal and financial responsibility. I hope that everyone can be persuaded to help this project and create a favorable climate for fundraising when the Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor Centre opens and needs additional funding for running costs in a couple of years’ time. I have examined the relevant documents and collected as much objective information as I can. I am satisfied that the Benaki have proceeded exactly according to the wording of the deed of gift. Those who are not satisfied with the speed of response should spend more time appraising the practical difficulties.

The making public of a private opinion may be said to be justified by the concept of freedom of speech. However it is, in the age of blogs and the Internet, also a form of journalism. I would like to suggest that the quality of journalism depends most particularly on the veracity of the source material. What was it Alexander Pope said about ‘a little learning’?

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18 thoughts on “Behind the scenes at the Benaki

  1. Amb

    You People are very funny. And if you think the museum will do anything about Patrick’s place you are also stupid or you dont have any idea of the greek mentality. I know the place very well and also the People who are involved. It will be sold to some greek oligarch for his Family lying in the sun. They dont give a shit about Patrick’s legacy. The only Thing that Counts in greece is Money under the table.

    Reply
      1. proverbs6to10 Post author

        Amb – I have some sympathy for what you say, but do you have any basis for these statements? It is most important that we understand.

        Reply
  2. JANE

    Thank you Michael Torrens for your timely CALM DOWN ! comments. A re-reading of the Kardamyli chapter of Mani can put things in perspective, patience !

    Reply
  3. Harriet Bridgeman

    As a source at the Benaki Museum has said and this is a view with which I totally identify ‘ it is really sad that the negative comments on this blog always come from England and at the same time there hasn’t been any offer of help at all, even though everybody knows that the house was given to the Benaki with no funds for maintenance and during the economic crisis we are still going through.’
    It would have been so much better if we could invest our energies in raising money for this wonderful memorial to Paddy Leigh Fermor’s legacy rather than unfairly sniping at the Benaki who have done their very best despite the difficult circumstances.
    The excellent news is that my same source says ‘ the good thing is that we are completely ready to start the renovation work which the Stavros Niarchos Foundation agreed to fund together with the necessary equipment for the future use of the house. The works will start as soon as we have all the permits from the Greek state- in fact there is only one still missing….. It seems like a miracle!’ And given all the problems with which theBenaki have had to contend, I agree, it is a miracle!
    I think it is also very unfair to accuse the Benaki of being secretive. They have a website
    Http//wwwbenaki.gr/index.asp? on which they are totally transparent and upload additional information as and when it happens.

    Reply
    1. proverbs6to10 Post author

      Harriet – that all sounds good, but when asked to comment the Benaki have said nothing. I am vey happy to share all they say verbatim. There have been many offers of support from the UK over the last five years. The PLF Society has been the most recent,and if they would accommodate support from the UK, many commentators here on the blog have stated that they would help. If you have good contacts ask them to get in touch with me and I will share the good news.

      Reply
  4. Stephen Johnson

    Visiting the Fermor house last month was a joy and Elpida humane and courteous. What an exceptionally lovely house, so so unique drawing from all the writer’s influences and jorneys. I was reminded of iTatti, Bernard Berenson’s house in Fisole nr Florence and John Ruskin’s house, Brantwood in the English Lake District in that they were fashioned to the tastes of their famous occupants, men of letters too with sensitive souls, whose houses have survived intact and gone from strength to strength as ‘attractions’ of one sort or another. iTatti is run by Harvard University I think and Brantwood by a Trust and ‘Friends’ group. Could lessons be learned from their experience and success?
    The Benaki is a public museum so surely it’s plans and actions must be transparent and for all to see on a formal,regulated basis. What is there to hide? PL-F and his house were open to all the winds…

    Reply
  5. Nicky Locke

    I am extremely suspicious of all the confidentiality. A nasty plan for the renovation and the management may be presented and it will be too late to change once the damage is done. I was horrified some time ago when I read about conference facilities being proposed. It is all very sad. I have been to the house and thank goodness have the memories and photos as I do not doubt that there will be a vulgar commercial slant to what is going to take place .

    Reply
  6. Triantaphyllo

    Thank you Tom for this post. It helps to give clarification.

    Thank you Mr Torrens for improving our understanding of activities related to the Kardamyli house and well done to the Benaki for the good progress they have made.
    Having previously heard some of the plans, in the company of the architect, I am looking forward to seeing the ideas come to fruition.

    I am sure that the many good followers Tom has amassed on this great blog, will now have the opportunity to get on side with the Benaki. As we all have the goal of wanting to support the Fermor’s wishes regarding the future of the house under the care of the Benaki. Creating a supportive and welcome environment can only be conducive to good communication with the museum. I am sure they will inform us of many ways we can support them at the appropriate time.

    For those who have felt negativity here. I encourage you, the next time you go to Greece, spend more time at the cafes, restaurants, bars etc having conversations with Greek people. Find out their views on philosophy, life, etc. If you do, you will find their wisdom and magic. It will enhance your life as it did to so many including PLF (and me). It uniquely has inherent influences from so many cultures and if you look, you will find a wise being on every corner. If you don’t then you are not engaging openly enough and putting yourself at risk of the disease of negative assumptions!

    Reply
  7. Richard Robinson

    Well it is good to know from you that everything is all right; strange I feel slightly patronised! I have visited the property four times in the last three years and having no privileged information I am utterly appalled by the inaction. Much as I would have like the amazing atmosphere preserved I understand that Paddy and Joan did not want a museum to themselves. I think it probably best that the literary contents of the house are passed to the Murray Archive where they will be properly indexed and conserved and available to all.
    The house certainly needs repairs but the original Euro 500k budget smacks of other over spec’d projects of which there are several local examples.
    The Benaki’s “need” for secrecy is inexplicable and engenders the views you object to. “It will be alright on the night” is not good enough. If things are as good as you believe, then why does the Benaki not tell us..

    Reply
  8. Willie Scraggs

    Perhaps Mr Torrens knows a great deal more than anyone about this sorry business, but I doubt it considering the weakness implicit in his exhortation that those who ‘believe they know better should just keep quiet’. It is the classic approach of a diplomat anxious to shut down discussion for fear of the escape of a dreadful truth.

    Here is the dreadful truth as I see it. The house is suitable only as a villa for some wealthy family. I cannot see any merit in providing for effete, wannabe writers wafting around the place with pretentious notions, sporting smoking jackets and lapping up the luxurious atmosphere in which PLF indulged himself. PLF himself did not feel sufficiently strongly about the ‘writers-residence’ idea as to accompany the bequest with an endowment for repair and upkeep of the place. Why not let the villa return to private hands, and use the proceeds of sale for some more deserving purpose such as one of Tom’s charities looking after homeless people?

    Reply
    1. labeldesalis

      it’d make a great writers’s retreat or centre, plenty of small rooms and places to write and exercise and a large communal room.. If he didn’t endow it that be because he didn’t have that much to leave.

      Reply
    2. Pietro

      Finally a bit of common sense !
      Also, thank you Mr. Torrens for the much needed clarifications.
      And, Tom, dare I to say it? I have the strong impression that the Benaki people see your blog more like a nuisance than help. They have their own timing and know better than anybody else what’s needed, what the plan is and how to get there. They have so many things to take care of while you have this, admittedly very worthy agenda of fostering PLF’s image.
      They probably see your pushing and shoving more like an intrusion than support.
      Maybe a bit of more positive attitude will elicit a reaction from them (as instead of threatening them into giving you answers and status reports).
      No need to feel hurt but a more positive, cooperational attitude on all sides might achieve what we all hope for.
      Just saying.
      PS I personally agree with Mr. Scraggs. If PLF had really strongly felt about the house, he would have provided it with an endowement (for which he had the means for). In reality the house might never become the writer’s retreat he envisioned but did not provide for. What about the fact that it is very faraway from any meaningful library or research center?
      I also suggested, a long time ago, that the heirs step up and provide some support. This would be much less burdensome now that Benaki, through the Niarchos foundation, have done the heavy lifting. They could provide some kind of yearly upkeep contribution or scholarship.
      Wouldn’t this be a worthy way of keeping alive the spirit, memory and admiration for PLF?

      Reply
        1. gemellaggioradda

          Yes! But not by Greek standard… And I don’t mean it in a derogatory way. It just is a different system (more burocracy, more time for enjoying life, etc.) and possibly that’s why PLF chose it as his adopted country. My feeling? Relax! It Will be done if it can be done. Just a bit later…
          But by all means, do keep up the flame , we all enjoy and are thankful for your efforts and work. However, as I said, the heirs should add a meaningful voice to the choir. They could really provide some real impetus and inspiration and show everybody else that they care.
          PS I have no idea who they are but cannot underestimate how important their contribution would be perceived by all who care about the future of the house. If they received no meaningful amount of money they could at least be supportive, vocal, alive…So far their silence has been deafening.

          Reply

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