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Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure – the biography of Paddy by Artemis Cooper. Published 11 Ocotber 2012.
Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915-2011) was a war hero whose exploits in Crete are legendary, and above all he is widely acclaimed as the greatest travel writer of our times, notably for his books about his walk across pre-war Europe, A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water; he was a self-educated polymath, a lover of Greece and the best company in the world.
Artemis Cooper has drawn on years of interviews and conversations with Paddy and his closest friends as well as having complete access to his archives. Her beautifully crafted biography portrays a man of extraordinary gifts – no one wore their learning so playfully, nor inspired such passionate friendship.
Paddy’s masterpiece. In 1933, at the age of 18, Patrick Leigh Fermor set out on an extraordinary journey by foot – from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople. A Time of Gifts is the first volume in a trilogy recounting the trip, and takes the reader with him as far as Hungary.
It is a book of compelling glimpses -of the events which were curdling Europe at that time, its resplendent domes and monasteries, its great rivers, the sun on the Bavarian snow, the storks and frogs, the hospitable burgomasters who welcomed him, and that world’s grandeurs and courtesies. His powers of recollection have astonishing sweep and verve, and the scope is majestic.
The acclaimed travel writer’s youthful journey – as an 18-year-old – across 1930s Europe by foot began in A Time of Gifts, which covered the author’s exacting journey from the Lowlands as far as Hungary.
Picking up from the very spot on a bridge across the Danube where his readers last saw him, we travel on with him across the great Hungarian Plain on horseback, and over the Romanian border to Transylvania.
This is Patrick Leigh Fermor’s spellbinding part-travelogue, part inspired evocation of a part of Greece’s past. Joining him in the Mani, one of Europe’s wildest and most isolated regions, cut off from the rest of Greece by the towering Taygettus mountain range and hemmed in by the Aegean and Ionian seas, we discover a rocky central prong of the Peleponnese at the southernmost point in Europe.
Bad communications only heightening the remoteness, this Greece – south of ancient Sparta – is one that maintains perhaps a stronger relationship with the ancient past than with the present. Myth becomes history, and vice versa.
Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Mani compellingly revealed a hidden world of Southern Greece and its past. Its northern counterpart takes the reader among Sarakatsan shepherds, the monasteries of Meteora and the villages of Krakora, among itinerant pedlars and beggars, and even tracks down at Missolonghi a pair of Byron’s slippers.
Roumeli is not on modern maps: it is the ancient name for the lands from the Bosphorus to the Adriatic and from Macedonia to the Gulf of Corinth. But it is the perfect, evocative name for the Greece that Fermor captures in writing that carries throughout his trademark vividness of description. But what is more, the pictures of people, traditions and landscapes that he creates on the page are imbued with an intimate understanding of Greece and its history.
From the French Abbey of St Wandrille to the abandoned and awesome Rock Monasteries of Cappadocia in Turkey, the celebrated travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor studies the rigorous contemplative lives of the monks and the timeless beauty of their monastic surroundings. In his occasional retreats, the peaceful solitude and the calm enchantment of the monasteries was passed on as a kind of ‘supernatural windfall’ which A Time to Keep Silence so effortlessly records.
On an Aegean island one summer, an English traveller meets an enigmatic elderly Frenchwoman. He is captivated by a painting she owns of a busy Caribbean port overlooked by a volcano, and, in time, she shares the story of her youth there in the early twentieth century. Set in the tropical luxury of the island of Saint-Jacques, hers is a tale of romantic intrigue and decadence amongst the descendents of slaves and a fading French aristocracy. But on the night of the annual Mardi Gras ball, catastrophe overwhelms the island and the world she knew came to an abrupt and haunting end.
Paddy’s only novel, The Violins of Saint-Jacques captures the unforeseen drama of forces beyond human control. Originally published in 1953, it was immediately hailed as a rare and exotic sweep of colour across the drab monochrome of the post-war years, and it has lost nothing of its original flavour.
In this, his first book, Patrick Leigh Fermor recounts his tales of a personal odyssey to the lands of the Traveller’s Tree – a tall, straight-trunked tree whose sheath-like leaves collect copious amounts of water. He made his way through the long island chain of the West Indies by steamer, aeroplane and sailing ship, noting in his records of the voyage the minute details of daily life, of the natural surroundings and of the idiosyncratic and distinct civilisations he encountered amongst the Caribbean Islands.
From the ghostly Ciboneys and the dying Caribs to the religious eccentricities like the Kingston Pocomaniacs and the Poor Whites in the Islands of the Saints, Patrick Leigh Fermor recreates a vivid world, rich and vigorous with life.
In 1971 the celebrated traveller Patrick Leigh Fermor accompanied five friends on a remarkable journey into the high Andes of Peru. His adventure took him from Cuzco to Urubamba, on to Puno and Juli on Lake Titicaca, down to Arequipa and finally back to Lima.
The expedition was led by a writer and poet and the party included a Swiss international skier and jeweller, a social anthropologist from Provence and a Nottinghamshire farming squire – all seasoned mountaineers. The other two participants – the author himself and a botany-loving duke – were complete novices. As the group travelled from Lima into increasingly remote parts of the country, Leigh Fermor captured their experiences in a series of letters to his wife Joan.
In Tearing Haste: Letters Between Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh Fermor edited by Charlotte Mosley
In spring 1956, Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire – youngest of the six legendary Mitford sisters – invited Paddy to visit Lismore Castle, the Devonshires’ house in Ireland. This halcyon visit sparked off a deep friendship and a lifelong exchange of sporadic but highly entertaining letters.
There can rarely have been such contrasting styles: Debo, unashamed philistine and self-professed illiterate (though suspected by her friends of being a secret reader), darts from subject to subject while Paddy, polyglot, widely read prose virtuoso, replies in the fluent, polished manner that has earned him recognition as one of the finest writers in the English language.
Prose notwithstanding, the two friends have much in common: a huge enjoyment of life, youthful high spirits, warmth, generosity and lack of malice. There are glimpses of President Kennedy’s inauguration, weekends at Sandringham, stag hunting in France, filming with Errol Flynn in French Equatorial Africa and, above all, of life at Chatsworth, the great house that Debo spent much of her life restoring, and of Paddy in the house that he and his wife Joan designed and built on the southernmost peninsula of Greece.
Words of Mercury by Patrick Leigh Fermor edited by Artemis Cooper
This book brings together some of Paddy’s best writing from his books as well as essays and magazine articles. It includes Abducting a General, his report for the Imperial War Museum and the evocative and emotional Romania – The Last Day of Peace which describes that fateful day of 3 September 1939 when Paddy and his lover Balasha embark on a picnic with some friends, something that would never be repeated as the darkness fell on Romania and the continent.
Whether he is drawing portraits in Vienna or sketching Byron’s slippers in Missolonghi, the Leigh Fermor touch is unmistakable. Its infectious enthusiasm is driven by an insatiable curiosity and an omnivorous mind – all inspired by a passion for words and language that makes him one of the greatest prose writers of his generation.