Category Archives: Paddy’s Death

Ten years of the Patrick Leigh Fermor blog and Sex O’Clock High

Paddy by Mark Gerson, bromide print, February 1954 (National Portrait Gallery)

In all the excitement (or is it boredom) of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, I failed to complete a post I was drafting in mid-March to mark ten years since starting this blog. So here it is!

By March 2010 I had been “blogging” for a year on my other site MyByzantine. It was a new world for me and I had enjoyed seeing that site grow from four visits in February 2009 to 1,600 a month one year later (and remaining over 2,000). That site has clocked up over 460,000 visits since its launch.

During that time I had also read all three volumes of John Julius Norwich’s Byzantium history series, losing one volume into the Shkumbin river in Albania when a laden donkey fell into the thrashing river losing my baggage during my journey to find the Via Egnatia in Albania and Macedonia (you can read an account here). The insurance claim process was amusing, but I digress.

Through John Julius Norwich I had discovered Paddy and started to read and enjoy his books. Doing a little bit of Googling I found out that Paddy had no website like most other authors, and from what I read was very unlikely to start one at his age. I had also found a lot of interesting material about him, and by him, scattered across numerous sites on the web. I decided to use my “skills” from the Byzantine blog to bring all this material together into one place. The idea of the Patrick Leigh Fermor blog was born.

The first post was not about Paddy at all, but an obituary of his SOE colleague Ralph Stockbridge. This was published on 21 March 2010, and has had over 800 views since then. This was followed by a couple of obits about Sophie Moss. Many other obituaries followed of George Lane, Paddy’s wife Joan, and John Craxton. It was a “soft launch”, but visits had risen from a massive 23 in March 2010 (I recall wondering if there was any interest in this aging writer), to over 2,200 by May. Since then there have been over 1,850,000 views!

It was very sad that Paddy died in the following year. By then the blog had a strong following with over 14,000 visits on the day that his death was announced. There are now 970 posts on the blog and I do have a great backlog of genuine Paddy related material, as well as the more prosaic that I now post that is, mostly, well received by you my dear readers. You continue to send me new material, and I can’t really keep up, especially now that I have to wash my hands every five minutes 🙂 .

Thank you for your continued support. I have to say that having this “audience” during the lockdown has in some way helped me through this difficult time of being apart from many of those I love, and I do hope that the posts have in some way helped you to get through the first part of this difficult time.

I would like to finish by reposting the first article of new Paddy written material that I found and posted on 2 April 2010. It is from the Spectator and called Sex O’Clock High. Some of you may have been following from the start, others stumbling across this crazy site more recently. However long you have been reading I do hope that you all enjoy reading Sex O’Clock High. For some of you this might be the very first time you have read this amusing, and so typically Paddy piece.

Keep well.

Tom

Paddy’s birthday

Paddy would have been 105 today. Let’s take a moment to remember him.

Here are a few pictures from a colourful life.

 

Five years on – the house at Kalamitsi

The house in Kalamitsi, September 2014 (John Chapman)

The house in Kalamitsi, September 2014 (John Chapman)

Today marks the fifth anniversary of Paddy’s death, an opportunity to ponder a little on his full and colourful life, and to think about his memory and all that he left us. This includes the house at Kalamitsi which to this day remains in some sort of limbo: uncared for; mouldering away; and its future unsecure. Most importantly, nowhere near meeting Paddy’s intentions that it should be available as a writers’ retreat and part-time holiday home to provide an income. To mark this anniversary I am happy at last to publish some thoughts from regular correspondent Dominic Green, FRHistS, who is a writer and critic who resides in Newton, Massachusetts. Dominic wrote to me following reports of frolicking nudes at Paddy’s house in 2014. It retains its relevance two years on. Dominic discusses an idea that I had shortly after Paddy’s death that the house be leased to a UK based charity or society that will carry out his wishes.

Dear Tom,

It was reading your website that sparked my interest in writing about the posthumous saga of the PLF house. So I’m delighted to return the favour by contributing some personal reflections.

I spoke with Irini Geroulanou, the deputy director of the Benaki, a couple of times on the phone, and also sent her lists of queries. She always replied promptly and helpfully. Without her help, I wouldn’t have been able to get inside the house, and might have suffered the disappointments of Max Long. Irini is, by the way, a reader of your site.

My impression is that Irini and the Benaki are committed to honouring the terms of the bequest, but on their own terms. My impression is also that this may take many years, if it’s done according to the Benaki’s current plan for what Irini calls a ‘holistic’ solution; ie, that no work be started until all the funds are secure. When I asked if the Benaki, having failed to raise funds, would sell the house, she insisted that this would not happen.

As we know, the Benaki has had severe financial problems. The outgoing director, Angelos Devorakis, has spoken of severe salary and budget cuts. Irini told me that the financial problems are not solely due to the expansion in Athens: since the crash of 2008, the museum has been obliged to restructure its relationship with the Greek government. I’m not an economist, but this also suggests that not much will happen for a long while.

Another of the questions I raised with Irini was whether the Benaki would be amenable to working with a British-based charity, which could raise funds for the restoration. I had heard that something along these lines was proposed to the Benaki a couple of years ago, and that the museum turned it down. Irini said she hadn’t heard about this offer; perhaps Angelo Devorakis might know.

Irini, though, was against the idea anyway. She said the museum preferred to receive direct donations, and a request directing the money to the PLF house, as opposed to the Benaki’s numerous other projects. She was under the impression that donors could do this through the Benaki’s website. But, at the time of going to press, this was not the case, at least on the English website. To me, this shows how high the PLF house ranks on the Benaki’s to-do list.

I thought that a combination of money troubles and institutional inflexibility might be the source of the problem, and that both might reflect high professional ambitions. So I was astounded to find that the house has no resident caretaker, and that many of PLF and JLF’s personal possessions are still in place [as seen recently by Rick Stein]. Having read PLF’s books and Artemis Cooper’s biography, I was able to identify some of the items as biographically
important. Anyone could break in and walk off with them.

While Benaki has stored the most important books, the majority of PLF’s possessions, including almost all of his books, items of handmade furniture and clothing, and many original photographs, are not secure. It is this majority of items that preserve the ambience of the house. If the Benaki is allowed to rent out the house, then there is no reason for it not to install a local person or a couple of interns as permanent caretakers. I suggested these ideas to Irini, and she rejected them.

This is not a safe state of affairs, andnot one I had expected to encounter, given that the Benaki is a major museum.

Clearly, the Benaki cannot find the relatively small amount of money needed for restoration – or even to secure the place in the meantime. Therefore, it should either sell the property to a institution capable of fulfilling the terms of the bequest; or allow a foreign ‘Friends of Paddy’ group to raise funds – perhaps on the understanding that it wouldn’t have a say in how the Benaki spends its donations. But I have the strong impression that the Benaki would rather do nothing in the hope of dealing with other institutions: EU funding was mentioned. To me, this is the wrong kind of inflexibility: the kind of bureaucratic inertia that is creating a dangerous situation at Kalamitsi.

I am not unsympathetic to the Benaki’s financial troubles, not all of which are of its own making. But I left the house deeply concerned by the risks the Benaki is running in its handling of the bequest, and disheartened by the apparent absence of prospects for improvement. Three and a half years have passed since PLF’s death. Publicity from the publication of The Broken Road and Artemis Cooper’s biography has created a unique opportunity for fundraising. But the Benaki seems determined not to use it. Perhaps my article will stir things up a bit. If the Benaki changed tack, and invited a British group to raise funds, I would contribute immediately. I’m sure that many other PLF readers would too.

Finally, I was greatly impressed by Elpida Beloyannis and Christos the gardener. Both have both done their utmost to keep the house going. Shutters aside, the interior is clean and cared for. It was a privilege to visit the house, and see their devotion to it and the memories of JLF and PLF.

With thanks for your website,

Dominic

Lecture: Curating the Paddy Leigh Fermor archive

General archive itemsThe inaugural lecture of the Patrick Leigh Fermor Society will take place on Monday 19 January 2015 at 7.15pm.

David McClay Curator of the PLF archive (and those of Joan Leigh Fermor and Xan Fielding) at the National Library of Scotland will present the Library’s recent acquisition of Paddy’s extensive and outstanding archives, including their recent activities and future plans at the Hellenic Centre, 16-18 Paddington Street, Marylebone, London W1U 5AS.

All are welcome to attend but for the sake of crowd control please RSVP (and enquiries) as follows:

tel: 020 7563 9835
fax: 020 7486 4254
e-mail: press@helleniccentre.org OR info@patrickleighfermorsociety.org

Paddy’s headstone unveiled

He was of that excellence which is of Greece

He was of that excellence which is of Greece

Paddy’s headstone was unveiled during a short service at Dumbleton on 8 November, his name day in Greece, the feast of the Archangel Michael (the Heavenly Brigadier as Paddy called him). It is Portland stone, like Joan’s.

The Greek inscription reads

‘HE WAS OF THAT EXCELLENCE WHICH IS OF GREECE’

Olivia Stewart, one of his executors chose it. The line is from a poem by Cavafy.

Among the friends gathered you can see Colin Thubron, Rita Walker (with poppy) who was with Paddy when he died, and Philippa Jellicoe (in black with hat), Bridget Kendall, married to Robert Kendall, Joan’s nephew. Also there were Cressida Connolly and her husband Charles Hudson (he’s the one holding the umbrella over Rev Nicolas Carter (who also toook Paddy’s funeral service), Olivia Stewart, Elizabeth Chatwin, Joey Casey (widow of Michael Casey, who was also Joan’s nephew), Martin Mitchell who was Paddy and Joan’s solicitor, Judith who designed the stone, and Artemis Cooper whose thumb is in the picture!

Paddy's headstone rear.

Paddy’s headstone rear.

Remembering Patrick Leigh Fermor 1915-2011

Today is the second anniversary of Paddy’s death and we miss him as much as ever. As we have seen with yesterday’s announcement of the death of Magouche Fielding, his generation of friends still with us is becoming smaller, but I know from the many comments that you make that Paddy, and his generation still have the ability to inspire us to read, to travel, and to experience new things in life.

I am sure that he would have enjoyed reading Artemis Cooper’s biography, if perhaps feeling somewhat embarrassed about certain revelations, but smiling at so many of the memories from his long and full life. No doubt he would have been eagerly awaiting the final installment of the story of his 1934 European adventure, The Broken Road, which is due out this September.

Here are a few pictures from my archive of Paddy and friends. May he, and all his friends, rest in peace.

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At Home in the World

Paddy at the house in Kardamyli. Photo by Joan Leigh Fermor, Courtesy the New York Review of Books

War hero, self-made scholar and the greatest travel writer of his generation, Patrick Leigh Fermor lived on a remote peninsula in the Peloponnese until his death in 2011. From a humble house he built himself, now being restored by an Athens museum, he explored Greece’s romantic landscape—and forged a profound link to its premodern past.

by Lawrence Osborne

First published in the Wall Street Journal Magazine 27 September 2012.

A famous anecdote, told by Patrick Leigh Fermor himself in his book Mani, relates how on one furnace-hot evening in the town of Kalamata, in the remote region for which that book is named, Fermor and his dinner companions picked up their table and carried it nonchalantly and fully dressed into the sea. It is a few years after World War II, and the English are still an exotic rarity in this part of Greece. There they sit until the waiter arrives with a plate of grilled fish, looks down at the displaced table and calmly—with an unflappable Greek stoicism—wades into the water to serve dinner. Soon the diners are surrounded by little boats and out come the bouzouki and the wine. A typical Fermor evening has been consummated, though driving through Kalamata today one has trouble imagining the scene being repeated. The somniferous hamlet of the far-off 1950s is now filled with cocktail bars and volleyball nets. The ’50s, let alone the war, seems like another millennium.

Fermor, or “Paddy,” as many educated Greeks knew him, died last year at the age of 96. He is remembered not only as the greatest travel writer of his generation, or even his century, but as a hero of the Battle of Crete, in which he served as a commando in the British special forces.

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“For as long as he is read and remembered,” Christopher Hitchens wrote upon Fermor’s death, “the ideal of the hero will be a real one.” Hitchens placed Fermor at the center of a brilliant English generation of “scholar warriors,” men forged on the battlefields of the mid-century: This included poet John Cornford, martyred in the Spanish Civil War, and the scholar and writer Xan Fielding, a close personal friend of Fermor’s who was also active in Crete and Egypt during the war, and a guest of the aforementioned dinner party. When Fermor said Fielding was “a gifted, many-sided, courageous and romantic figure, at the same time civilized and bohemian,” he could have been describing himself.

But Fermor was a man apart. Born in 1915 into the Anglo-Irish upper class—the son of a famous geologist—Fermor, literally, walked away from his social class and its expectations almost at once. At 18, he traveled by foot across Europe to Constantinople—a feat later recorded in his books A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water. In the ’30s he traveled through Greece, mastering its language and exploring its landscapes with meticulous attention. He fell in love with a Romanian noblewoman, Balasha Cantacuzene (a deliciously Byzantine name), and the outbreak of war found him at her family estate in Moldavia.

Because of his knowledge of Greek, the British posted him to Albania. He then joined the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and was subsequently parachuted into German-occupied Crete. In 1944 Fermor and a small group of Cretan partisans and British commandos kidnapped General Heinrich Kreipe, commander of the German forces on the island, and drove him in his staff car through enemy lines disguised in German uniforms. (They would have been shot on the spot if discovered.) Kreipe was later spirited away to British Egypt, but as they were crossing Mount Ida, a legendary scene unfolded. Fermor described it himself:

“Looking across the valley at [the] flashing mountain-crest, the general murmured to himself: ‘Vides ut alta stet nive candidum Soracte.’ [See how Mount Soracte stands out white with deep snow.] It was one of the [Horace odes] I knew! I continued from where he had broken off… The general’s blue eyes had swivelled away from the mountain-top to mine—and when I’d finished, after a long silence, he said: ‘Ach so, Herr Major!’ It was very strange. As though, for a long moment, the war had ceased to exist. We had both drunk at the same fountains long before; and things were different between us for the rest of our time together.”

After the war, now decorated for his heroism, Fermor settled in Greece. He and his wife, Joan Rayner, a well-traveled Englishwoman whom he’d met in Cairo, built a house just outside the village of Kardamyli, a few miles down the jagged coast from Kalamata, in the wild and remote Mani. It was a place that, even in the early ’60s, almost no one visited. “Homer’s Greece,” as he put it admiringly.

“It was unlike any village I had seen in Greece,” he wrote in Mani. “These houses, resembling small castles built of golden stone with medieval-looking pepper-pot turrets, were topped by a fine church. The mountains rushed down almost to the water’s edge with, here and there among the whitewashed fishermen’s houses near the sea, great rustling groves of calamus reed ten feet high and all swaying together in the slightest whisper of wind.” It was timeless. Kardamyli, indeed, is one of the seven cities that Agamemnon offers a scowling Achilles as a reward for his rejoining the paralyzed Achaean army at Troy in The Iliad.

“Not a house in sight,” Fermor later wrote of his adopted view, in a letter to his friend the Duchess of Devonshire, “nothing but the two rocky headlands, an island a quarter of a mile out to sea with a ruined chapel, and a vast expanse of glittering water, over which you see the sun setting till its last gasp.”

The house, still largely untouched from when Fermor lived there, was bequeathed to the Benaki Museum in Athens. As I walked through it alone during a visit there this spring, it reminded me in some ways of Ian Fleming’s Goldeneye in Jamaica, a spartan but splendidly labyrinthine retreat devoted to both a productive life and to the elegant sunset cocktail hour. In one bedroom stood a set of Shakespeare volumes with painstakingly hand-penned spines; on a wall, a painted Buddhist mandala. In the living room there were faded wartime photographs of Fermor on horseback, armed and dressed like a Maniot. The whole house felt like a series of monastic cells, their piety replaced by a worldly curiosity, an endless warren of blackened fireplaces, bookshelves and windows framing the sea.

Fleming and Fermor were, perhaps predictably, close friends. Fleming’s Live and Let Die freely quotes from Fermor’s book about the Caribbean, The Traveller’s Tree. It was Fermor who made Fleming (and, of course, Bond) long for Jamaica. But where Fleming retreated to Jamaica to knock out six-week thrillers, Fermor lived in his landscape more deeply; he explored with dogged rigor its ethnography, its dialects, its mystical lore. His books are not “travel” in the usual sense. They are explorations of places known over years, fingered like venerable books and therefore loved with precision, with an amorous obsession for details.

Fermor led an active social life, and the house in Mani, however remote, was a place that attracted many friends, literary luminaries and even admiring strangers over the years. His circle included the historian John Julius Norwich and his daughter, Artemis Cooper; the literary critic Cyril Connolly; the Greek painter Nikos Ghika; and the writer Bruce Chatwin. In an obituary for Fermor in 2011, The New York Times put it thus: “The couple’s tables, in Mani and in Worcestershire, were reputed to be among the liveliest in Europe. Guests, both celebrities and local people, came to dine with them. The journalist and historian Max Hastings called Mr. Leigh Fermor ‘perhaps the most brilliant conversationalist of his time, wearing his literacy light as wings, brimming over with laughter.’ ”

Standing on Fermor’s terrace, with its fragments of classical sculpture and its vertiginous view of a turquoise cove of stones, I felt as if the inhabitants of 40 years ago had momentarily gone inside for a siesta and would soon be out for a dusk-lit gin and tonic. It seemed a place designed for small, intimate groups that could pitch their talk against a vast sea and an even vaster sky.

It also had something neat and punctilious about it. While sitting there, I could not help remembering that Fermor had once sternly corrected Fleming for a tiny factual error in his novel On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Didn’t Fleming know that Bond could not possibly be drinking a half bottle of Pol Roger? It was the only champagne, Fermor scolded, never sold in half bottles. It was exactly the sort of false note that Paddy never missed, and that the creator of Bond should not have missed either. Truth for Fermor lay in the details, and his books show the same straining eye for the small fact, the telling minutiae.

I noticed, meanwhile, a handsomely stocked drinks cabinet inside the house, in the cool, cavernously whitewashed living room lined with books—the selection dominated by a fine bottle of Nonino grappa. On the mantelpiece stood a card with the telephone numbers of his closest friends, Artemis Cooper (whose biography of Fermor is being published this month) and Deborah Mitford, later the Duchess of Devonshire.

Fermor had been at the heart of many aristocratic circles, including those of the notorious Mitford sisters. The youngest of the Mitfords—”Debo,” as she was known—became Fermor’s lifelong intimate and correspondent. Their polished and witty letters have recently been published in the book In Tearing Haste.

He was a frequent visitor at her country estate, Chatsworth, and the two were platonically entwined through their letters well into old age. They were, however, strange epistolary bedfellows. The Duchess hated books (“Quelle dread surprise,” she writes upon learning that a famous French writer is coming to dinner), while Fermor was the very definition of the dashing, encyclopedic gypsy scholar. In one letter the Duchess boasts that Evelyn Waugh gave her a signed copy of his latest book, which turned out to have blank pages throughout; he knew she hated reading. But the gardening-mad Duchess slyly understood all her correspondent’s erudite gags.

Their gossip was gentle and civilized, and underneath it flowed a kind of unrequited love. In his first letter of the collection, written in 1955 from Nikos Ghika’s house on Hydra, Fermor proposes having himself turned into a fish by a young local witch and swimming all the way from Greece to Lismore Castle in Ireland, where the Duchess was staying.

“I’m told,” he writes, “there’s a stream that flows under your window, up which I propose to swim and, with a final effort, clear the sill and land on the carpet…But please be there. Otherwise there is all the risk of filleting, meunière, etc., and, worst of all, au bleu…”

The Mani, meanwhile, was a far cry from English country houses and fox-hunting parties. Its remoteness and austerity—especially immediately after the war—were truly forbidding. As Fermor pointed out, this was a place that the Renaissance and all its effects had never touched. It was still sunk in Europe’s premodern past—a place still connected by a thousand invisible threads to the pagan world.

Above Kardamyli rise the Taygetus range and the forests that Fermor loved to wander. Steep paved footpaths called kalderimi ascend up into half-abandoned villages like Petrovonni and, above it, the church of Agia Sophia, which looks down on the Viros Gorge. In Mani Fermor remembers that it was here, near the city of Mistra, that Byzantium died out a few years after the fall of Constantinople, and where the continuously creative Greek mind lasted the longest. It is a delicate, luminous landscape—at once pagan and Christian.

Fermor discovered that Maniots still carried within them the demonology of the ancient world, filled with pagan spirits. They called these spirits the daimonia, or ta’ xotika: supernatural beings “outside” the Church who still—as Nereids, centaurs, satyrs and Fates—lived in the streams and glades of the Mani. They still believed in “The Faraway One,” a spirit who haunted sun-blazing crossroads at midday and who Fermor deduced to be the god Pan. The Mani was only Christianized, after all, in the 10th century. Fermor also described how an illiterate Greek peasant, wandering through archaeological museums, might look up at ancient statues of centaurs and cry, immediately, “A Kallikantzaros [centaur]!” To him, it was a living creature.

I hiked up to Exohori, where Bruce Chatwin had, 25 years ago, discovered the tiny chapel of St. Nicholas while he was visiting Fermor. (I had, in fact, been given Chatwin’s old room in the hotel next to Fermor’s house.) Chatwin venerated the older writer, and the two men would walk together for hours in the hills. Fermor, for his part, found Chatwin enchanting and almost eerily energetic. Yet Chatwin was inspired not just by Fermor but by where he lived. When Chatwin was dying, he converted to Greek Orthodox. It was Fermor, in the end, who buried Chatwin’s ashes under an olive tree next to St. Nicholas, in sight of the sea of Nestor and Odysseus.

Exohori felt as deserted as the other strongholds of the Mani, its schools closed and only the elderly left behind. It possesses an atmosphere of ruin and aloofness. I remembered a haunting passage from Mani in which Fermor describes how villagers once scoured out the painted eyes of saints in church frescoes and sprinkled the crumbs into the drinks of girls whom they wanted to fall in love with them. So, one villager admits to Fermor that it wasn’t the Turks after all.

As a former guerrilla of the savage Cretan war, Fermor felt at home here. It was a thorny backwater similarly ruled by a warrior code. Its bellicose villages were, almost within living memory, frequently carpeted with bullet casings. It was a vendetta culture.

The Mani was for centuries the only place in Greece apart from the Ionians islands and Crete (which, nevertheless, fell to the Turks in 1669) to remain mostly detached from the Ottoman Empire. Its people—an impenetrable mix of ancient Lacedaemonians, Slavs and Latins—were never assimilated into Islamic rule, and their defiant palaces perched above the sea never had their double-headed Byzantine eagles removed. Here, Fermor wrote, was “a miraculous surviving glow of the radiance that gave life to this last comet as it shot glittering and sinking across the sunset sky of Byzantium.” Mani, therefore, explores wondrous connections in our forgotten Greek inheritance (it argues, for example, that Christianity itself was the last great invention of the classical Greek world). But Fermor’s philhellenism was not dryly bookish. It was intensely lived, filled with intoxication and carnal play.

His contemporary and fellow Anglo-Irish philhellene Lawrence Durrell was, in so many ways, his kindred spirit in this regard. They were also close friends and had reveled together at the famous Tara mansion in Cairo during the war. Mani, in any case, stands naturally beside Bitter Lemons and Prospero’s Cell as love songs to the Greece of that era. In Ian MacNiven’s biography of Durrell, we find an enchanting glimpse of a riotous Fermor visit to Durrell in Cyprus just after the war. The two men stayed up half the night singing obscure Greek songs, rejoicing in shared Hellenic lore and making a lot of noise.

“Once as they went through Paddy’s vast repertoire of Greek songs far into the night, the lane outside the house filled with quiet neighbors, among them the usually boisterous Frangos, who told Larry, ‘Never have I heard Englishmen singing Greek songs like this!’ ” Their shared virtuosity in the Greek language was remarkable.

Greece, for some of the young prewar generation, held a special magic. It was a youthful Eden, a place linked to the ancient world that was doomed to disappear in the near future. It’s a mood cannily incarnated in Henry Miller’s The Colossus of Maroussi, which records journeys that Miller and Durrell undertook together in 1939. But no one sang Greece more profoundly than Fermor, and no one tried more ardently to argue its core importance to Western culture, both now and—a more radical argument—in the future.

Roumeli and Mani are his twin love songs to Greece, but it is in Mani that he most eloquently lamented the disappearance of folk cultures under the mindless onslaught of modernity and celebrated most beautifully what he thought of as an immortal landscape in which human beings naturally found themselves humanized.

Consider his illustration of the Greek sky that always seemed to hang so transparently above his own house: “A sky which is higher and lighter and which surrounds one closer and stretches further into space than anywhere else in the world. It is neither daunting nor belittling but hospitable and welcoming to man and as much his element as the earth; as though a mere error in gravity pins him to the rocks or the ship’s deck and prevents him from being assumed into infinity.”

The Longest Journey Will Always Lie Ahead

Last of the wartime generation of travel writers: Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor in 2011

Whilst digging around I came across this charming obituary to Paddy by Justin Marozzi who is famous for his book The Man Who Invented History: Travels with Herodotus, in which Justin describes an account of a lengthy retsina fuelled lunch with Paddy when he visited Kardamyli in 2007.

By Justin Marozzi.

First published in StandPoint July-August 2011

The longest walk has finally come to an end. After the most dashing life of literary wanderings, in which he crossed a continent on foot, fell in love and ran away with a beautiful princess, galloped into battle in a Greek cavalry charge, secluded himself silently with Trappist monks, kidnapped a German general, became one of this country’s greatest war heroes, swam the Hellespont and built a sun-filled house in the Peloponnese where he wrote what may yet prove to be one of the finest trilogies in modern literature, Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor’s ultimate journey was the return home to die in Worcestershire at the age of 96, an Englishman to the last.

The death of Leigh Fermor — friends and fans called him Paddy — removes the last link to that generation of travel writers who fought with such distinction in the Second World War. The prospect of that elusive final volume, which would see our footsore traveller and philhellene complete his serendipitous, marathon-walking tour from the Hook of Holland to reach the city he insisted on calling Constantinople, sometimes Byzantium, never Istanbul, is little short of exhilarating. All his fans who cherish the densely beautiful prose of A Time of Gifts (1977) and Between the Woods and the Water (1986) will be thrilled to hear the news from his biographer Artemis Cooper that an early draft “will be published in due course”. The posthumous gift cannot come soon enough.

The celebration of a life so well lived is likely to bring a renewed flash of interest in travel writing, a genre that has, almost from its very outset, been revered and reviled in equal measure. We may not know what sort of reception greeted the “publication” on clay tablets of the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh, the earliest forerunner of travel writing, if not of literature itself, but we are certainly familiar with the mauling received by the Ancient Greek Herodotus, the first great travel writer and historian, an exuberant pioneer of anthropology, geography, exploration, investigative journalism, tabloid hackery and foreign reportage in the 5th century BC. Within little more than a century, Cicero’s “Father of History” had become Plutarch’s “Father of Lies”, a classical harbinger of the suspicion which has bedevilled the first-person travelogue ever since. From Herodotus to Leigh Fermor via Marco Polo, John Mandeville and Bruce Chatwin, the hostile image of travel writer as self-indulgent fantasist and fibber has never been shaken off entirely.

In May, the doyen of American travel writers. Paul Theroux dropped in at the Hay Festival to promote his latest work, The Tao of Travel, an engaging distillation of travellers’ wisdom and a vade mecum worth popping into the Globetrotter suitcase this summer. The blaze of publicity surrounding Paul Theroux’s handshake that ended a 15-year feud with V.S. Naipaul, another writer who has excelled in the genre, suggests that contrary to many predictions, travel writing is in robust health. From one generation to the next it shrugs off with insouciance the obituaries that are written for it periodically by writers as diverse and removed from each other as Joseph Conrad and Claude Lévi-Strauss. Indeed the temptation must be to conclude that travel writing, like the poor, will always be with us.

In Britain, which has a proud heritage in this field, the ranks of great travel writers have been sadly thinned in recent years. The monumental Sir Wilfred Thesiger, author of Arabian Sands and The Marsh Arabs, last of the latter-day Victorian explorers, died in 2003. The same year saw the passing of the magnificent, under-appreciated Norman Lewis, whose Naples ’44 is one of the classic literary accounts to emerge from the Second World War.

In 2006, they were followed by Eric Newby, best remembered for his brave and hilarious A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush, a book that closes with the 20th century’s equivalent of the Stanley-Livingstone encounter. Newby and companion bump into Thesiger halfway up a mountain in Afghanistan, the formidable explorer trailing retainers and pack-animals bearing chests marked for the British Museum, bemoaning the declining standards of Savile Row and gleefully recounting his amputations of gangrenous fingers and removal of diseased eyes. They strike camp for the night. “The ground was like iron with sharp rocks sticking up out of it. We started to blow up our air-beds. ‘God, you must be a couple of pansies,’ said Thesiger.”

Profoundly different in their styles and interests, these three writers were bound nevertheless by the shared generational experience of war and their direct participation in it. Thesiger fought behind enemy lines in North Africa with the SAS, Newby was one of the earliest recruits to the Special Boat Section, as the SBS was then known, and Lewis was an intelligence officer in Naples.

Then there was Paddy. The last of his era was also surely the most admirable and admired of all, a Byronic incarnation of what Greeks call leventeia, defined in one of his most life-enhancing books as a “universal zest for life, the love of living dangerously and a readiness for anything”. His housemaster at King’s School, Canterbury detected “a dangerous mixture of sophistication and recklessness”. Leigh Fermor was the leading literary light among that band of travel writers who fought in the war and were coloured by it, whose lives and writings bear, to some degree at least, the imprint of that vast, world-changing hurricane. The justly celebrated Jan Morris, who caught the closing years of the war as an intelligence officer in Italy and Palestine, is already at a generational remove.

War may not have defined Leigh Fermor or his writing entirely (it brought to an end the first of his two great loves, a dreamlike romance with the Romanian princess Balasha Cantacuzene), but his quintessentially dashing, devil-may-care war record certainly underpins much of the affection with which his devoted fans view him today. In some instances, such as that of “The Greatest Living Englishman” blog that was published in his honour, it is a devotion that blossoms into outright adulation.

Meeting Paddy at his home in the Greek fishing village of Kardamyli in 2006, it was very difficult not to succumb entirely to hero-worship. My first sight of this unforgivably handsome man was sitting in what he called his hayati, a sun-bleached, south-facing winter chamber off what Betjeman called “one of the rooms in the world”, strewn with atlases, dictionaries, lexicons, icons, sculptures, lamps, flokkati goat-hair rugs, Turkish kilims and creased armchairs. He was clasping a Loeb edition of Herodotus. At 91, lunch remained unthinkable before two large vodka and tonics. Cigarettes were thoroughly approved of and an unstinting stream of retsina flowed alongside our conversation for hours. The polymath and oenophile was unstoppable. As the post-prandial ouzo shot to my head like a tracer-bullet, I had to pinch myself to remember that this debonair specimen of the literary man of action was the nonagenarian version of the 18-year-old adventure-seeking “tramp and pilgrim” who in 1933 had set out on his life-changing journey across Europe after a high-spirited farewell with friends in London: “A thousand glistening umbrellas were tilted over a thousand bowler hats in Piccadilly; the Jermyn Street shops, distorted by streaming water, had become a submarine arcade.”

If the prose-poetry of his books is riveting, at times sublime, very occasionally purple, the narrative of his war record is scarcely less vivid. Its crowning moment came at 9.30pm on April 26, 1944, when he stepped out on to a road in the heart of the rough Cretan countryside, intercepted a German staff car and kidnapped General Heinrich Kreipe with a team of Cretan resistance fighters and a fellow British officer in the Special Operations Executive (SOE). From a literary perspective, the glory of this episode had to wait until A Time of Gifts, the first instalment of his epic walk — a version was written in 1969 for the Imperial War Museum. In it Leigh Fermor described the terrifying, 18-day manhunt by German forces sweeping the island. At dawn one morning, surveying the crest of Mount Ida, the general started murmuring his way through a Horace ode. Recognising it as one of the few he knew by heart, the Englishman picked up where the German left off, reeling off the five remaining stanzas in perfect Latin.

“The General’s blue eyes swivelled away from the mountain-top to mine — and when I’d finished, after a long silence, he said: ‘Ach so, Herr Major!’ It was very strange. ‘Ja, Herr General.’ As though, for a long moment, the war had ceased to exist. We had both drunk at the same fountains long before; and things were different between us for the rest of our time together.”

Mani and Roumeli, which describe Leigh Fermor’s wanderings in southern and northern Greece respectively, were hailed by the FT as “two of the best travel books of the century” and contain numerous references to the courage, loyalty, humour and generosity of the Cretans among whom he fought. Artemis Cooper writes in Words of Mercury of the “unbreakable bond” war had forged between the Cretans and the SOE crowd. Typically, Leigh Fermor was not slow to acknowledge it.

In a touching tribute to the Cretan resistance, he translated the wartime memoirs of George Psychoundakis, his shepherd-guerrilla comrade-in-arms, and saw them into print. How many soldiers would have had the literary sensibility-or modesty-to recognise the value of an account told by a local resistance fighter, rather than a self-aggrandising story by yet another officer dropped behind enemy lines? In his introduction to The Cretan Runner, written in 1954, Leigh Fermor likened it to the Rualla Bedouin penning an Arab version of Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom (the contrast with the self-promoting Lawrence, a very fine writer on the desert, is instructive). “For the roles were reversed, and the British officers and their signallers and NCOs, not the stage-mountaineers of most Resistance writing, were the foreign oddities; and it seemed to me that they were far better and more soberly appraised than their equivalents in English war books.”

Barnaby Rogerson, author and co-owner of Eland, a specialist publisher of travel literature classics, says war seared an indelible sense of place for this select group of writers. “I think the war gave the best of these travel writers a very intense relationship with one region, where their literary souls got mingled with a place apart, also a sense of writing for the dead others. This is obviously true of Paddy, who could sing, dance and drink as well as any Greek shepherd. I never could work out whether he was a reincarnation of Byron or Pan — probably both. Then there’s Norman Lewis with Naples and Sicily. Thesiger similarly bonded with Ethiopia in a totally passionate way as a boy and later as an adult soldier — and of course his best books are set in southern Arabia and Iraq.”

Thesiger was always more warrior than writer. It is only thanks to the persistent pressure of publishing friends, decades after his dramas in the desert, that we have his granite prose. He had seen wartime service under Orde Wingate in Abyssinia, served with SOE in Syria and then the newly-formed SAS in North Africa. In My Life and Travels, he wrote of his “passionate involvement with the Abyssinian cause”. Letters to his mother in 1943 describe how “bitter and discontented” he was not to have played a part at El Alamein. War was “exciting and exhilarating”.

During a lunch with Thesiger in the incongruous setting of his retirement home in the wastelands of Surrey suburbia, his misanthropic growl suddenly lightened into an animated purr as he spoke of his role in the Allied campaign in North Africa, having persuaded David Stirling, founder of the SAS, to take him on. “I said to him, ‘I hear you’re going to make a raid behind enemy lines. I speak Arabic and I know the desert. Three days later we were 150 miles or so behind lines. I came upon a tent packed full with people. Luckily there was no one on guard. I just raked it with machine gun fire a couple of times. It felt rather like murder.” The glacial blue eyes glowed.

The experience of war also formed a critical part of Lewis’s literary hinterland. He wrote in Naples ’44 of a decisive encounter that “changed my outlook”, shattering his “comforting belief that human beings eventually come to terms with pain and sorrow”. On November 1, 1943, contemplating a menu offering either disguised dogfish or horsemeat, he watched a group of blind orphan girls enter the restaurant scavenging for food. Each child was sobbing. “I knew that, condemned to everlasting darkness, hunger and loss, they would weep on incessantly,” he wrote. “They would never recover from their pain and I would never recover from the memory of it.” His horror of the war, combined with its alluring and unrepeatable intensity, propelled him into a lifetime of far-flung reporting from dangerous parts. It led also to his championing of the rights of indigenous peoples in “Genocide”, a seismically shocking Sunday Times article that resulted in the foundation of Survival International, the movement for tribal peoples, in 1969.

War likewise left its mark on Newby’s writings. It also brought him love. He fought gallantly with the SBS and was awarded the Military Cross for his courage during numerous sabotage missions along enemy coasts. Love and War in the Apennines, another Newby classic, tells the story of his time on the run after one dramatic and abortive SBS expedition, when he was smuggled out of a prison camp and later rescued by a young woman, Wanda, his future wife.

The travel writer Tim Mackintosh-Smith, who has spent most of the past decade writing an on-the-road trilogy in the footsteps and footnotes of his hero Ibn Battuta, the 14th-century Muslim traveller, says the war may have fostered a certain detachment among these writers. “War is death to, among other things, enthusiasms,” he says. “If you’ve been through it, nothing matters quite as much anymore. For someone writing travel, I think this may give a sort of lordly detachment to one’s observations, which isn’t a bad thing. I’m not sure that post-war generations can quite achieve this.” For John Gimlette, author of At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig, war may have been an influence that “discouraged introspection and informality”. Today’s writers, he argues, have become less detached in their work, “using more humour and self-deprecation to place themselves amongst their subjects”.

The Second World War was only part of these writers’ stories. Theroux, who lists Leigh Fermor, Redmond O’Hanlon, Dervla Murphy, Colin Thubron, Lewis, Thesiger and Chatwin among those travel writers he most admires, believes there was another more important literary influence. “It wasn’t just the war, it was also the colonial world that defined them. They were writing with an imperial confidence.” We are talking in the bowels of the Royal Geographical Society, Britain’s Mecca for explorers and travel writers, and for a moment he could be speaking of Sir Richard Burton, another soldier-scholar, who made the haj to Mecca in disguise in the 1850s. “The end of the war also brought an end to this colonial mentality. Somehow the sense of superiority was dented during the course of the war. The bloom was off the rose. Brits could no longer travel as lords and sahibs and colonial masters.”

As the metaphorical baton passes from Leigh Fermor to Thubron, a master of lyrical prose, we lose a literary connection to that all-defining conflict of the 20th century and the more heroic age it encapsulated. The memory of it lives on, recorded in the words of historians, poets, journalists, soldiers, generals, biographers and travel writers alike. It was precisely in order to ensure that the “great and marvellous” deeds of another, much more ancient conflict were not “forgotten in time” or “without their glory” that Herodotus wrote his landmark Histories of the Persian Wars, 2,500 years ago. It is surely profoundly important that the world’s first history book, a fizzing masterpiece of storytelling, relied so heavily on experiential travel. Thucydides needed to get out more.

Scanning the horizon, there appears to be little reason to fret for the future of travel writing. A genre that seeks to understand a constantly changing world, with recourse to history, geography, politics, economics, biography, anthropology, philosophy, psychology and reportage, among other disciplines, is in little danger of losing its relevance. If you want to know what life was like in late 1930s former Yugoslavia, it is hard to beat Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, a meta-travel book (1,100 pages) of astonishing compass and vitality. For Iraq in the 1920s, who better than Freya Stark and Gertrude Bell to paint a many-layered portrait? The best travel writing opens up parts of the world that other disciplines can struggle to reach — and explain to a wider audience.

Consider the turmoil in the Middle East. While the breathless media rush to report the next dictator to catch Arab flu, leaving post-revolutionary countries like Egypt largely unreported in their wake, the field is left open for writers with more time and literary space on their hands to make sense of an irreducibly complicated society and situation. Digital communications, mass travel and the supposed shrinking of the world offer only the deadly delusion of a homogenised “global village”. News articles, foreign policy reports and jargon-filled government briefings on “failed states”, “post-conflict environments” and “stabilisation operations” pay only lip service to real-life complexities. What would Paddy have made of the Foreign Official who spoke to me the other day about “ground-truthing” in Benghazi? We should always beware of what Mauriac called “la tendance fatale à simplifier les autres”. Travel writing celebrates the world as it is, with nuance, shading and uncertainty.

William Dalrymple, who sped to fame in the late 1980s, after Theroux, Chatwin, Thubron, O’Hanlon and Jonathan Raban had blazed a renaissance trail of travel writing a decade earlier, points to the proliferation of fine writers of the genre far beyond these shores. It is parochial in the extreme to see this as a British or Western format. Among those with Indian roots alone Dalrymple lists Shiva and Vidia Naipaul, Pico Iyer, Amitav Ghosh, Vikram Seth, Pankaj Mishra and the novelist Rana Dasgupta, now working on a study of Delhi. Dalrymple says it will inevitably be a completely new take from his own City of Djinns, published in 1993, before Delhi and India had cast loose and surged forward at breakneck speed. “Each generation sees the world very differently,” he says.

Earlier this year, Kamal Abdel-Malek, Professor of Arabic Literature at the American University of Dubai, published America in an Arab Mirror, an anthology of Arab travel writing in the US during the past century that is at once unexpectedly illuminating and disquieting. OxTravels, a new anthology of writing co-edited by Rogerson, reveals a multicultural cast of 36 authors including Aminatta Forna, Oliver Bullough, Sonia Faleiro, Peter Godwin and Rory Stewart. “We could easily have added another three dozen, in a separate collection tomorrow, who would all be in the front rank,” says Rogerson. The compulsively readable Dutchman Cees Nooteboom would surely be among them. Ongoing translation of hitherto inaccessible foreign writers such as the fabulously curious, effervescent 17th-century Ottoman traveller Evliya Çelebi, author of the ten-volume Seyahatname or Book of Travels, only confirms the universality of the genre.

For a final verdict from the man Jan Morris called a “transcendentally gifted writer”, I travel to West London, where the two tribes of Holland Park and Shepherd’s Bush collide. Thubron is the first travel writer president of the Royal Society of Literature, a tribute both to his virtuoso skills and, if this is not wishful thinking, the enduring significance of the genre. His latest book, To a Mountain in Tibet, was published earlier this year to a symphonic swoon from the critics. It thrust the reader into an enchanted world of sky-dancers and demons, landscapes of fearful majesty and “charged sanctity” that clung to Thubron’s plangent prose. At the Tibetan border “the ebbing waves of the Himalaya hang the sky with spires while ahead the land smoothes into an ancient silence”. Nearing the lung-shredding, wind-haunted summit of his holy pilgrimage, “the mountain valley closes unsoftened around our strange heterogeneous trickle of beasts and humans drawn up like iron filings to the pass.”

Beyond the cool, book-lined sitting room, French windows open on to the blinding clatter of summer: shades of MacNeice’s sunlight on the garden. At 72, Thubron sounds a confident note. Travel writing’s long history of successful adaptation over many generations stands it in good stead, he says. “The genre is very flexible. It will always meld itself to what is there and available, which is abroad, and whether it’s more familiar or less familiar, it’s still going to need a voice to tell us about it. I do think the world has to be reinterpreted constantly, the impetus to explain it is just a human impulse. I don’t think any other genre has that opportunity.”

From Babylon to Ancient Greece, through the Middle Ages and into modern times, history suggests this: that for as long as the world continues to change and human nature remains the same, this curious international tribe will continue to go out and travel and write and tell stories that people want to read, fuelled by what Baudelaire called “la haine du domicile et la passion du voyage”. As Robert Louis Stevenson put it, “The great affair is to move.”

Paddy, of course, put it differently. One of his favourite sayings, which expressed his own creed as well as our preternatural need to travel, harks back to St Augustine. He personified it with élan: solvitur ambulando — it is solved by walking.

Related article:

Marathon Man – which includes the account of the retsina fuelled lunch with Paddy.

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An obituary to Paddy in German

Greichenland Zeitung obituary

This obituary in German has been lurking in my drafts folder for too long. Christian Peters lives in Köln, Germany (Cologne) and keeps in touch regularly. I am not sure if he met up with Nick on his walk but I am sure Christian will tell us.

Dear Tom,

Thank you for bringing me in touch with Nick Hunt. I have had the plan to contact him for more than two months now, but now it came the other way around …

After Paddy’s death I tried to publish an article in the German newspaper in Athens called “Griechenland-Zeitung”. But a couple of days before my  article reached the editorial staff, they had published a much better one by Wolf Reiser. The chief editor was so nice to send me a copy of the first part of the article. Maybe that is interesting for the “German section” of your blog.

I am really pleased about your blog, day by day.

Next year I am gonna have a sabbatical in order to complete my dissertation on skateboarding . I am planning to write parts of it either in Kardamyli or in Sfakia /Crete, the region Xan Fielding has been writing about which is kind of my Greek homeland.

Thank you for your work.

Best from Cologne

Christian

Click the image to enlarge the text.

A Poetic Tribute to Paddy by John Pinschmidt at the Whitehouse Bar, O’Connell Street, Limerick

I have just returned home from a trip to Kilrush in Co Clare, Ireland to visit the place of my father’s birth, and to see some of my family there. It has been far, far too long since I was there; I won’t say exactly, but far too long! The people were so friendly and by God the Guinness was good!

By pure chance, whilst I was in Ireland, a poet, John Pinschmidt from Limerick, which is just 40 miles away from Kilrush on the Shannon, stumbled across my blog and added a comment into the Your Paddy Thoughts section. It was a poem he wrote at the time of Paddy’s death in June 2011 and hs John’s personal tribute. Given that Ireland is a land full of saints, poets and scholars I thought it too much of a coincidence with my visit to leave it languishing in the tributes page so here is John’s poem …

A HIMBEERGEIST TOAST TO PATRICK LEIGH FERMOR

“Live, don’t know how long,/And die, don’t know when;
Must go, don’t know where;/I am astonished I am so cheerful”.
—A Time of Gifts, 1977

Oh, to read your restless spirit had set off on its last journey,
Age 96, sent me into the parlour for A Time of Gifts
And back to 1933, your age-18 trek across Europe
As clouds gathered above a soon-to-be lost world,
Which changed your life as much as my age-21 Europe
Hitchhiking Summer of 1968, my time of gifts too.

Oh, to see again your rich cascades of words,
Riffs on decaying schlosses, Passion artworks,
Architecture as music, the drunken Breugel-like chaos of
Munchen’s Hofbrauhaus—where I had gone in ’68—the debauched
Bavarian Brownshirts portending days far darker than that night.
And later, in bitter weather near Linz, you had your first Himbeergeist.

Oh, that riff sent me searching the yew cupboard for an old bottle
From Deutschland, and I froze it and a Waterford glass,
And late that night, by fire and candlelight, drank too much of your
Clear spirit, reading your words out loud to you and all,
Young or old, who set out on life-changing journeys:
“Oh for a thimble full of the cold north! Fiery-frosty potions,
Sequin flashers, rife with spangles to spark fires in the bloodstream,
Revive fainting limbs, and send travellers rocketing on through
Snow and ice. White fire, red cheek, heat me and speed me”.

Prost, Siar go Deo, Paddy!

And just to embarrass John further, I have found a video on You Tube of him reading the poem at the Whitehouse Bar, O’Connell Street, Limerick.

Patrick Leigh Fermor’s archive acquired by the National Library of Scotland

From a National Library of Scotland press release dated today.

The archive of one of the most important travel writers of the 20th century and a war hero whose exploits were made into a major film has been acquired by the National Library of Scotland (NLS).

Sir Patrick (Paddy) Leigh Fermor, who died last year at the age of 96, is regarded as a central figure in understanding and appreciating mid-20th century culture.

To describe his life as colourful does scant justice to the reality. At the age of 18 he set off to walk from the Hook of Holland to Istanbul , a year long journey described in his books A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water. The Independent described the former as “rightly considered to be among the most beautiful travel books in the language.”

His war record is equally impressive. After the fall of Crete in 1941, he was sent back to the island to organise guerrilla operations against the occupying Nazis. He spent much of this time disguised as a Cretan shepherd, living in freezing mountains caves.

In 1944 Leigh Fermor organised one of the most daring feats of the war when he kidnapped the commander of the German garrison on Crete . This was made into a film Ill Met by Moonlight in 1956 starring Dirk Bogarde.

The archive consists of literary manuscripts and typescripts, correspondence with leading figures including the poet Sir John Betjeman, photographs, passports, portrait sketches and personal papers including visitor books and various honours awarded to Leigh Fermor. One of the star items is the only surviving notebook from his youthful trek across Europe .

It offers an unrivalled insight into his life and writings and adds to the wealth of travel literature at NLS. Acquisition of this archive is seen as helping to establish NLS at the forefront of 20th century travel literature research collections

“This is a fantastic collection which will be made available at NLS,” said David McClay, Manuscripts Curator. “We hope it will excite people who know of Paddy and introduce him to a whole new generation of people who may not be aware of his work.”

Its arrival at NLS comes just before a new biography of Leigh Fermor by the British writer and family friend Artemis Cooper is to be published.

Leigh Fermor died before he could complete the third volume in his travel trilogy. Artemis Cooper has worked on the uncompleted manuscript and this third volume – entitled The Broken Road – is expected to be published in 2013. This will all add to the interest in Leigh Fermor’s life and in the NLS archive.

The archive has been bought with a grant from the John R Murray Charitable Trust which assists NLS in the care and promotion of access to the Library’s John Murray Archive. Leigh Fermor was published by the Murray family.

The connection with the Murray publishing house was one of the reasons NLS was chosen by Leigh Fermor’s executors as the home for his archive. He also knew the Library, having donated his wife’s photographic collection to NLS just before he died.

NLS has also taken possession of the personal archive of Leigh Fermor’s close friend Xan Fielding, an author, translator and traveller who also fought in Crete . This has been donated to the Library by Fielding’s family.

Patrick Leigh Fermor’s estate auctioned by Christie’s: A Life’s Collection

The auction house Christies will present the principal contents of Mill Farm, Dumbleton for auction at their sale rooms at 85 Old Brompton Road  London, Greater London SW7 3LD, on Tuesday 15 May 2012.

The collection includes furniture, books, silverware, and many works of art. How many of these were collected by Joan and Paddy, and which came from their families is difficult to assess.

You can view the e-catalogue here.

Remember that you don’t have to be present to buy but can bid on-line as described in the catalogue. I hope that some of you have the opportunity to make a purchase.

Estate of Dumbleton travel writer Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor could fetch £150,000

THE estate of travel writer and extraordinary war hero Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor is set to fetch £150,000 at auction.

Sir Patrick died in June 2011, aged 96, and now the first 100 lots of his estate, Mill Farm in Dumbleton, will go under the hammer in May.

It will include decorative objects, books, furniture, modern British and old master pictures, as well as silver objects.

Sir Patrick was a travel writer, who was most famous for his account of his year-long walk from Rotterdam to Istanbul in 1934, when he was 18 years old.

The journey was later published in his popular books A Time of Gifts (1977), and Between the Woods and the Water (1986).

He lived in caves in the mountains of Crete disguised as a shepherd during the Nazi occupation from 1941.

In 1944 he and fellow writer Bill Stanley Moss avoided capture by dressing as German police officers and bluffing their way through 22 different check-points.

After the war, Sir Patrick journeyed around Greece with his wife Joan, devoting much of his time to writing and staying with his artistic and creative friends, including the artist Nico Ghika.

Both Sir Patrick and Joan were very sociable personalities, and some of their many eminent friends and admirers included Alberto Giacometti, Lawrence Durrell, John Betjeman, Lucian Freud and Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, many of whom frequently visited The Mill House where they shared and cultivated a love for the arts.

The auction, at Christie’s in South Kensington, is on May 15. Edit – I can’t find anything specifc on the Christie’s site so I advise contacting them.

From This is Gloucestershire

Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor and The Folio Society

Paddy and George Psychoundakis the “Cretan Runner”

From the Folio Society website.

Ten years ago, The Folio Society decided to publish a book by William Stanley Moss, entitled Ill Met by Moonlight. It told the story of a daring war-time adventure in Crete, in which Moss and Patrick Leigh Fermor, two young SOE officers, kidnapped a German general, spirited him away across the mountains and into captivity. The book was based on the detailed diary kept (entirely against the rules) by Moss, and its undeniably romantic aspects were highlighted when, in 1957, a film was made starring Dirk Bogarde as the dashing Leigh Fermor.

When we planned the book, it occurred to us that Patrick Leigh Fermor, known to his friends as Paddy, had never contributed any kind of comment on it in writing. We assumed there was a good reason for this – a certain delicacy perhaps, since, at the time of the operation, he was already embedded in Crete in a cave under Mount Ida, with the role of facilitating Commando raids on the island, and was dependent on the friendship and loyalty of the local partisans. But we wrote to him anyway and asked if he would contribute an introduction.

He rang up from his home in Greece. It was indeed, he said charmingly, ‘delicate’ and for various reasons he’d always felt the less said the better. We parted genially, my suggesting that we might ask Michael Foot, historian of the Special Operations Executive and an old friend of his, to do it instead. This we did. A week later, Paddy telephoned again. He’d been thinking about it, and he felt that there were things he would like to say: the coup had, in his view, been diminished by being reduced to the level of a ‘tremendous jape’ and he hoped to restore the balance by providing something of the context for the enterprise. He did not wish to interfere with Michael’s introduction, but would contribute a short Afterword, describing his own experience. It would be 500 to 1,000 words. It eventually emerged at 6,500 words, all of which had to be wrested from him in hand to hand combat, so anxious was he that nothing could be misinterpreted. Michael Foot, in the meantime, was triumphant to be able to tell Paddy that General Kreipe (who was not the intended victim of the kidnap, as that gentleman had been moved on) was so unpopular that, when they heard he had been snatched, his officers broke open the champagne.

Most Folio books have their unexpected rewards, but this one had more than most. Through it we met Billy Moss’s daughters who showed us photograph albums and the original diary; Sophie, their Polish mother, a formidably attractive SOE operative who had been based, with Moss and Leigh Fermor, at Tara, the Cairo House; Michael (M R D) Foot, whose own experiences as prisoner of war were at least as hair-raising as the exploits he went on to chronicle; and of course Paddy himself – courageous, witty, modest, famously attractive and – both with this book and The Cretan Runner – a good friend to The Folio Society. We will miss him.

Related article:

A Meeting between Paddy and George Psychoundakis the “Cretan Runner”

An interesting drawing (not) by Paddy

In a recent sale by auctioneer Dominic Winter, there were a number of lots sold from Paddy’s estate. The full list with sale prices can be found at this link. This drawing appears to have sold for £200.

The sale included pictures and books, and one drawing (originally thought to be) by Paddy of a woman, perhaps past her prime, looking forlornly into a mirror and maybe seeing her younger self, or has she been stood up and sees her younger rival staring back at her out of the mirror?

Described as …

489 *  Fermor (Patrick Leigh, 1915-2011). Room interior with seated female figure, pen and ink on paper, some correction fluid, unsigned, 35 x 50 cm (13.75 x 19.75 inches)

It is unsigned but does include some Greek lettering which I can’t make out. Perhaps one of you can help? See comments below about the origin of this drawing!

A Year of Memory: the top ten posts on the Patrick Leigh Fermor blog

As the year comes to a close it is time to reflect upon what has passed and to look forward to 2012. I make no predictions for the coming year. There are some things which are almost certain such as the continuing Euro crisis and the much anticipated publication of Artemis Cooper’s authorised biography about Paddy, but forecasts tend to be overtaken by events and are quickly forgotten.

What we can do is to look back on this year in the life and times of Patrick Leigh Fermor. The major event of course was Paddy’s death on 10 June at the age of ninety-six. A sad event for his family and close friends, but also for those of us who admired him for his writing and the life he lived. As the year closed it was time to celebrate his life at his Memorial Service held on 15 December in London.

As I hoped the blog has become a significant source of material about his life including rarely seen video. There have been over 228,000 visits over the last year and you have made it a much more interactive experience by using the comment facility to exchange information, provide your own memories of Paddy, and to express your admiration for him. At the time of his death I opened a page where you could express your thoughts about Paddy which has run to over 120 comments.

Paddy would probably have been somewhat bemused by the whole idea of the blog, but perhaps even more so by the interaction we now have with social networking sites with nearly 4,500 visitors finding the site from Facebook, and 850 via Twitter.

To conclude the year, and as the 365th post on the blog, let us take a look at some of the most popular articles over the last twelve months. Perhaps I can make one promise to you all which is that there is much more to come on the blog in 2012 which includes a lot of material submitted by you the readers of the blog.

The Funeral Service of Patrick Leigh Fermor, 16 June 2011 

Paddy’s funeral service was held on a typical English summer’s day at his home in Dumbleton. He returned to England just one day before his death and is buried beside his beloved Joan.

Obituary from The Independent by Paddy Leigh Fermor’s biographer Artemis Cooper 

Perhaps the definitive obituary.

Patrick Leigh Fermor … This is Your (Ill Met by Moonlight) Greek Life 

The amazing video from the Greek TV programme which reunited the participants of the Ill Met by Moonlight kidnap including Paddy, many of the Andartes, and General Kreipe and his wife.

Anthony Lane’s New Yorker article on Fermor is now free to view 

One of the most comprehensive profiles of Paddy which is now freely available to all. (the pdf download appears to be no longer available – click on the article to magnify to read and then drag your cursor to move around the page)

Intimate portraits from Kardamyli by Miles Fenton 

A series of personal photographs sent to me by Miles Fenton who is Paddy’s nephew and who now lives in Canada where he works as an artist.

Patrick Leigh Fermor recounts the kidnap of General Kreipe on video 

The ever popular video where Paddy talks in some detail about the Kreipe kidnap. (press play on Battle of Crete 7).

Colonel David Smiley 

David Smiley was a fellow occupant of Tara in Cairo with Paddy and Billy Moss et al who continued his military career with some distinction after the war and even led Japanese soldiers in a charge against VietMinh rebels!

Paddy’s eye for detail: Ian Fleming, Bondage, James Bond and Pol Roger 

It is probably the James Bond/Ian Fleming association which maintains the popularity of this article.

If food be the music of love … Bánffy’s lover in Cluj (Kolozsvár) 

No list of popular posts can be complete without the compelling combination of my passions for Paddy, Romania, Miklós Bánffy, and Cluj.

Patrick Leigh Fermor Memorial Order of Service 

The order of service from the joyful occasion that was Paddy’s Memorial Service.

Finally I would like to thank so many of you for your encouragement and support during 2011, and wish you all a very Happy New Year!

Tom Sawford

Why the lowly shepherd is the one who gets to hear the angels

Remembering honourable lives helps us understand the birth we celebrate on Christmas Day.

by Charles Moore

First published in The Telegraph 24 December 2011.

Tomorrow we celebrate the most important birth in human history, so forgive me for writing about a funeral and a memorial service.

Both occurred in this Christmas season. The memorial service, in St James’s, Piccadilly, was for Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor. Paddy, as all his friends knew him, was a man of unique distinction and unique charm. He won the DSO in the Second World War for his part in the celebrated kidnap (filmed with Dirk Bogarde in Ill Met by Moonlight) of the German General Kreipe in occupied Crete. He became famous as a writer. His best-known books, A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, describe his slow walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople, begun in December 1933 (he spent Christmas that year in Bingen, in newly Nazi Germany) and not completed until January 1, 1935. His prose, at once romantic and scholarly, ornate and exact, could have no successful imitators, but it has tens of thousands of fans.

In his life as well as his writing, Leigh Fermor was, though he would have disliked the phrase, a role model – brave, handsome, witty, multi-lingual, widely and deeply read, a gifted singer, reciter and drinking companion, a traveller in exotic places, a man who gave delight. When he died, aged 96, this newspaper’s obituary described him as “one of the few genuine Renaissance figures produced by Britain in the 20th century”.

The funeral, the week after Paddy’s service, was for Tony Woodall. Tony was a woodman and neighbour of ours in Sussex. Unusually for a rural family in the South East, the Woodalls are Catholics (I am told there was an Irish grandmother in the case). Every Sunday at our Catholic church, Tony would pull a surplice over his open-neck shirt and frayed working trousers and serve, his huge hands carefully placing the chalice and the patten on the altar. He would ring the little altar bells with a shake as strong as that of a dog with a rabbit. At the intercessions, where people are invited to propose further prayers, it was most commonly Tony who did so. He tended to ask us to pray for people who might not be automatically popular, such as Myra Hindley. His compassion was radical, and universal. He never stopped working. He dropped dead outdoors a couple of weeks ago, aged 79.

Tony Woodall was not known beyond his small corner of rural England, but, like Paddy, he commanded people’s love. The church where he served fits only 120 people, but 200 came to the funeral and many had to stand outside. It fell to me to help flank the hearse as it arrived, trying (and failing) to hold up a candle without it blowing out. I had to pick my way to my place through wild-haired countrymen wielding chainsaws. As Tony’s wicker coffin was lifted up and carried into the church, the saws, by way of tribute, roared into synchronised action.

Both men’s services did justice to the person commemorated. In the case of Paddy Leigh Fermor, there were readings in four languages. Robin Lane Fox read Horace’s Ode 1.9. These were the lines which Paddy heard his prisoner General Kreipe reciting to himself as they watched the cold dawn break over Mount Ida in May 1944 (“See how resplendent in deep snow Soracte stands…”): Paddy knew the Latin words and completed the recitation, forming a bond between enemies. William Blacker chanted a Romanian ballad. Then John Julius Norwich and his daughter Artemis Cooper led us in one of Paddy’s specialities – his own translations of English songs into comically unsuitable foreign tongues. “Do ye ken John Peel, with his coat so grey?” became “Conosce Gian’ Peel, con sua giacca tanta griggia?”

The gospel was from Luke 12: “…take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on. The life is more than meat, and the body more than raiment.”

At Tony’s funeral, the gospel was Matthew’s account of the Beatitudes, the list of those who are blest for their meekness or mercy, poverty of spirit or purity of heart. Of them Jesus says: “Ye are the salt of the earth.”

Tony’s son John spoke to us. He remembered the night of the Great Storm of 1987, when he was 10 years old. At two in the morning, Tony came into his bedroom, grasping a chainsaw. “I’m going out,” he told him, “to saw up these trees that are falling and blocking the way. If the roof blows off, come and get me.” A tree fell on his arms that night, but he kept on sawing.

John recalled his father’s goodness, which included caring for his permanently sick wife. “Crikey,” he said, “if only more people were like Dad, I reckon the world would be a hell of a better place. Pardon my language.”

We more than pardoned it, of course. “Thank you for coming,” he said, “You are all honourable men and women.” Whether we were or we weren’t, we felt a renewed confidence that the old-fashioned word had meaning: it was shown in the life of the dead man.

The Romanian ballad recited at Paddy’s memorial service is called the Mioritza. It concerns a shepherd about to be murdered by rivals. He instructs his ewe-lamb, who has the gift of speech, to tell others no word of his death. She must tell them only that “I married tonight a king’s daughter”: “At my wedding, tell/ how a star fell,/ that the sun and the moon were holding our crown,/ how the guests at the feast/were maples and firs”.

At Tony’s funeral, when John had spoken, he moved from the lectern. Just as he was about to rejoin the congregation, he stopped by his father’s coffin. “That evening,” he said, “I stood at the spot where Dad had died. The moon was up, and I saw a firework. But then I realised it wasn’t a firework, because there was no noise. It was a meteorite. I thought: ‘That was Dad.’ ” He went back to his place.

Paddy Leigh Fermor wrote that he loved the Romanian ballad because “its magic lies in its linking together of directness and the tragic sense, its capture of the isolated feeling that surrounds shepherds and the forlorn exaltation that haunts their steep grazings and forests”.

After a life well lived, we can all look back on it with that directness, especially when we attend services such as these. As if from those “steep grazings”, we can see the life laid out, shining plain. We may forget that, for the people who lived it, it often did not seem plain at all. As we sang at Tony’s funeral: “Through many dangers, toils and snares,/ I have already come.” The achievement of something grandly simple is an endlessly complicated process, a lifelong work of trial and error.

Anyway, as I said at the beginning, tomorrow marks a birth, not a death. Another Telegraph obituary, this one of the 7th Earl of Yarborough, related how, at his village carol service, he read the lesson about the shepherds deserting their flocks to see the baby in Bethlehem. “I’d just like to say,” he told the startled congregation, “that if these men had been my shepherds, I’d have sacked them.” One must be glad that the earl was not present 2,000 years ago. The shepherds were the best people to receive the message of the angel. With their linking of “directness and the tragic sense”, they understood what the strange birth would mean.

Patrick Leigh Fermor Memorial Order of Service

The memorial service that took place on 15 December at Saint James’s, Piccadilly was a moving tribute to Paddy, whilst at the same time being a tremendous celebration of his life, and the music, poetry and people that he loved. The order of service is here for you to see.

If there has to be a highlight it was John Julius Norwich and his daughter Artemis Cooper singing versions of D’Ye Ken John Peel and Widdecombe Fair translated into Italian by Paddy. After this Lord Norwich gave a lively and affectionate Address about his good friend of over fifty years.

Artemis has to be congratulated for organising such a successful memorial service which gave a nod to Paddy’s boyhood by including the excellent Crypt Choir of King’s School Canterbury.

There was a final message to us all from Paddy himself:

“Love to all and kindness to all friends, and thank you all for a life of great happiness” – Patrick Leigh Fermor

Let’s celebrate a full life, and one well lived

From left: Tom Fisher, Paddy, Joan , John Craxton, Margot Fonteyn, Frederick Ashton and Ruth Page. Photo: Costas Achillopoulos in Ian Collins’ book on the life of John Craxton

Today we can celebrate the memory of Patrick Leigh Fermor, whether we attend his memorial service in London, or are just able to take a moment to reflect on all he gave to his family, his many friends, to us his admiring readers, and of course his service to his country and to Greece.

I thought the best way to mark this day on the blog is to feature this fine photograph sent to me by John Chapman. It is from Ian Collin’s book about the life and work of John Craxton, the artist who illustrated most of Paddy’s book covers.

John tells me that Craxton “met Joan in wartime London years before he met Paddy, but became enamoured of Greece and for a large part of his life lived in Chania, Crete. It was both an escape from dull northern climes and a chance to express his sexuality.”

Craxton designed the sets for Daphnis & Chloe at the Royal Opera House in 1951 where the lead ballerina at the time was Margot Fonteyn. According to rumour they had an affair, and in the summer of 1951 they cruised together around the Meditterranean. Paddy was their guide to Greece, and it was at this time that this delightful photograph was taken which shows Paddy looking very happy, with good friends, and his much loved Joan.

The photograph shows Tom Fisher (a New York attorney and husband of Ruth Page) Paddy, Joan, John Craxton, Margot Fonteyn, Frederick Ashton and Ruth Page (choreographer). It was taken in the theatre at Epidavros, and is attributed to Costas Achillopoulos.

The last of a magical breed

From Judy Stove who writes for The New Criterion.

“Readers may like to know that there is an excellent article by David Mason about PLF in The New Criterion, September 2011.  Unfortunately the online version is for subscribers only or by purchase.

Mason, as a young man, and his then wife visited PLF and Joan at Kardamyli.  He tried to impress with quoting Waugh and Anthony Powell, only to find that PLF and Xan Fielding actually knew these people…A funny and poignant memorial, one of the better PLF tributes going around.”

David Mason’s article begins thus:

The death of Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor on June 10 at age ninety-six has been mourned in virtually every major newspaper in the English-speaking world. He has been celebrated as the last of a magic breed, the Byronic hero, a man of action who was also one of our most vigorous writers. The fuss would have surprised Paddy, who never assumed his contributions were admired and became nonplussed when anyone heaped praise on his head. The long-refused knighthood he finally allowed to be conferred upon him in 2004 did nothing to elevate him above Greek shepherds or the myriad visitors to his villa in the southern Peloponnese. Paddy was youthful and convivial to the end, with an attractive and genuine interest in the world outside himself. People couldn’t get enough of him.

Yet his readers had to learn patience as the books arrived from his pen at a snail’s pace—he didn’t learn how to use a typewriter until in his nineties …

If you are a subscriber you can read the article here. If not go to the same link and you can access this one article for $3.00.

Charles Moore on Paddy

‘The intellect of man,’ Yeats famously wrote, ‘is forced to choose between perfection of the life, or of the work.’ Patrick Leigh Fermor, who has just died aged 96, managed to refuse this choice and achieve both.

He was what is now called a role model — a war hero, an intrepid traveller, a witty guest, a man with whom women fell in love, a Byronic romantic without Byron’s unkindness — but he was also a writer with the most exacting standards and unique imagination. His highly wrought prose was not affected: it expressed his delight in and minute attention to life and art, places and people — the stranger the better; and it inspired that delight in others.

All the letters I have from him overflow with enthusiasms. There is a silly idea for a cartoon he has sketched out in which a spherical man and a thin one with a hawk on his wrist stand outside a castle gate, staring disconsolately at a castle gate on which is pinned the notice ‘No Hawkers, No Circulars’. There is a poem called Message to Skopje:

Your claim to the name “Macedonia”

Could scarcely be flimsier or phonier

If you want an old name

For your state, what a shame

Not to bring back the real one, Paeonia.

He writes about ‘marvellous girls in tricornes’ hunting in France, and to recommend (he was always generous in advancing the careers of others) a self-taught village boy who has translated the whole of Homer into ‘wonderful Cretan rhyming couplets, taking just about the same time over it as Pope in his villa at Twickenham’.

Paddy was the best companion. Once, when he was already well into his seventies, we had him to dinner in London. As he was reciting a comic poem, his chair leg snapped. we were horrified that our furniture might have done for him, but Paddy managed an athletic parachute roll and ended up in the corner of the room with his back against the wall, laughing like a boy.

From the Spectator

The Carpathian Snail

Patrick Leigh Fermor...British soldier and travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor, 25th April 1966.

Paddy Leigh Fermor (obituary) was a man of many dimensions. He had an unquenchable curiosity about people and culture; when he met remote groups, be they Saxons in Transylvania, Vlachs in northern Greece or gypsies in Hungary, he would not just learn their language and song but remember it for the rest of his life. At Paddy’s last birthday party in London, William Blacker quoted two lines of a Romanian ballad in a speech about him; at the age of 96 Paddy sang the song in its entirety. There seemed no occasion at which he could not enliven the party by an adroit performance, or reminisce in half a dozen European languages.

by Patrick Reade.

First published in The Independent, 14 June 2011

For me it always involved a meal: the conversation would come to a point when there would an extraordinary outpouring of remembered verse or prose. He sang “Do you ken John Peel” in Italian once over tea in Dumbleton to entertain us – the verses were far more numerous than I had realised. And Peter Quennell told me many years ago of how Paddy pulled out of his memory an entire landscape of Cretan folk songs as they walked in the Abruzzi. He was known in Greece for his spontaneous ability to respond instantly to another table’s rhyming couplets – mandinathes, a feature of traditional party entertainment in which tables would compete for wit and content in the couplets.

His ear for language never failed him and he was interested in etymology, linguistics and semantics till the very end, correcting my own misattribution of medical terminology from Latin to Greek and then reciting in Ancient Greek the moment in Homer’s Iliad when Troy fell to the Greeks. He loved laughter, too, and in the Dean’s Close at Canterbury I heard him performing an entertaining parody of a John Betjeman poem in the garden where Thomas à Beckett’s assassins escaped. He had just been awarded an honorary degree by Kent University in the Cathedral and we were having tea with Jock Murray, his publisher.

He was the most generous person in spirit and in kind – he must have entertained thousands in his home in the Mani in southern Greece over many years – the names tumble out of the Dictionary of British Biography: academics, politicians and myriad writers, journalists and scholars, all ate at his table. He and his wife Joan were also extremely generous where they saw need and gave with an open hand.

Until last year he swam daily from his house, and swam across the Hellespont at the age of 70 – an astonishing feat, dodging the great liners from the Black Sea and coping with the current and the cold water and the Russian submarines beneath the surface.

On 1 June this year, 10 days before his death, he gave a small lunch party in the cool, stone-arched loggia of his home in Messenia and in the course of conversation we discussed our favourite 16th century pieces of poetry; he declaimed Sir Thomas Wyatt’s entire poem “They flee from me that sometime did me seek”.

For many he will be remembered for his correspondence as much as for his books – because by any reckoning he was a fabulous letter writer and responded to almost all who communicated with him until last year. From my first remembered encounter with him in 1961 when he pressed 12 shillings into my hand, until 50 years later, when he raised his wine glass to absent friends over lunch on the anniversary of Joan’s death, I can say that no other person I have encountered has shown such an embrace of laughter, learning, language and life as this towering genius of word and action. The great memorial will be his writing and a great excitement is that the third part of his trilogy about crossing Europe is due soon – I have seen it, and many have waited years for this crafted reminiscence so long in gestation, about which Paddy in self-mockery called himself “The Carpathian Snail”.

Better a Hero Than a Celebrity

Taki Theodoracopulos

Always a modest man, Taki Theodoracopulos, the great playboy and socialite, is someone who knows everybody, and it is no surprise that he too met Paddy as he recounts in this piece from his online Taki Magazine which humbly describes itself as being about ‘Cocktails, Countesses and Mental Caviar’! I am not sure if Taki gets the irony in the title 🙂 Beware some glaring errors.

First published in Taki Magazine 4 July 2011

I first met Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor in the summer of 1977 in Corfu. I was onboard Gianni Agnelli’s boat, and the charismatic Fiat chairman asked me to go ashore and bring “a very smart Englishman whose ancient Greek is much better than yours.” I knew “Paddy,” as everyone called him, by sight, because among us Greeks he was on a par with our ancient heroes. Leigh Fermor was not only famous for his books on Greece—Mani and Roumeli—he was renowned for his incredible heroics in a guerrilla operation in Crete in May 1944. Having spent two years disguised as a Cretan shepherd in the island’s rough mountains harassing German troops, Paddy dressed as a German police officer and stopped a car carrying General Karl Kreipe, the island commander. Having killed the general’s chauffeur, Leigh Fermor proceeded to wear the general’s hat and managed to bluff his way through Heraklion and 22 subsequent checkpoints. Kreipe was stuffed under the backseat while Leigh Fermor’s bat man and three hefty Greek rebels sat on him. For three weeks the group managed to evade frantic German search parties, finally marching the general over Mount Ida, the mythical post-birth hiding ground of Zeus.

“Heroics aside, Leigh Fermor was often compared to Lord Byron for being both a man of action and learning.”

One moonlit night high up, Fermor was guarding the general when Kreipe, gazing up at the snowy peak, recited the first line of Horace’s ode, Vides ut alta stet nive candidum…—“ You see how [Mount] Soracte stands out white with deep snow.…” Leigh Fermor then continued the poem in perfect Latin until the end. The two men stared at each other, realizing, as Paddy later wrote, that they had “drunk at the same fountain.” The German and the Englishman then made a pact. Kreipe gave his word as an officer that he would not try and escape; in return, Leigh Fermor never turned Kreipe over to the firing squad.

What follows came straight from Paddy to me in Corfu. Six months after Kreipe’s kidnapping, Leigh Fermor landed yet again on the island to celebrate its liberation. He was taken behind Heraklion’s main square, where the general who succeeded Kreipe was about to be shot. Paddy was aghast because the German was cool as ice and when Paddy introduced himself, the condemned said: “Ah, Leigh Fermor, you were lucky. Kreipe was an intellectual, a softie; I would have killed you on the spot.” When Paddy asked him if there was anything he could do for him, the German asked for one last cigarette, thanked him, smoked it while inhaling rather deeply, then said goodbye and went off and got shot ramrod-straight.

Heroics aside, Leigh Fermor was often compared to Lord Byron for being both a man of action and learning. His very good friend, Robert Byron (no relation), was a travel writer who greatly influenced Paddy, whose most celebrated book, A Time of Gifts, told the story of his walk across Europe from Rotterdam to Constantinople at age 18. Leigh Fermor continued writing travel books, and they stood out for rendering the past visible, for their evocation of youthful exuberance, and for the joy one felt reading them. He was a very good-looking man, an Anglo-Irishman whose adventures in Crete were made into a film back in 1957, Ill Met by Moonlight. The irony was that he was played by Dirk Bogarde, an outrageous homosexual whose greatest talent was spreading terrible rumors about others.

Leigh Fermor was 96 when he died but lived vigorously until the end. Three years ago his correspondence with the last surviving Mitford Girl, Deborah, dowager Duchess of Devonshire, was published to great acclaim. What a cast of characters in that book. Norman Douglas—another great influence—Steven Runciman, Osbert Lancaster, Cyril Connolly, Bruce Chatwin, and many others rich and famous and literate. Paddy was a hell of a ladies’ man, although he married only once—to Joan Rayner, who was his close and understanding companion until her death in 2003. The word ‘understanding’ is key. He also wrote the script for John Huston’s The Roots of Heaven, a vastly underrated film in which Errol Flynn made a comeback by playing a has-been of sorts, a character Flynn repeated successfully to the end.

One of Leigh Fermor’s great regrets was that while cleaning his weapon in the mountains of Crete it accidentally went off and killed his trusted guide. He told George Seferis, Greece’s first Nobel Prize winner for Literature, that this death was probably his life’s lowest point.

Leigh Fermor and his wife designed and built a beautiful but very simple house in Kardamyli, deep in the Peloponnese and overlooking the sea, and they lived there for most of his adult life. I was lucky to have met him, and now that I am of a certain age I realize how much better it must have been to have lived during heroic times—no matter whose side one was on—than today’s empty, horrible celebrity culture. Paddy, Rest in Peace.

The final gift of Patrick Leigh Fermor

We’d met him for the first time a few years ago at the memorial service for Earl Jellicoe in Athens, in his nineties but still handsome and charming. “You must come to our simple home”, he had said.

By Lauren O’Hara

First Published in Cyprus Mail 25 September 2011

I’d noted the “our” for I’d been told that although his beloved wife Joan had died in 2003, her room untouched and undisturbed.

It’s true the house nestling into the cliffs and olive groves just beyond Kardimyli has a simplicity, but as we gathered last week to raise a glass to the life of Patrick Leigh Fermor and his legacy for the future, with its arched walkways and pebbled courtyards, it was one of the most beautiful houses I had seen in Greece.

A place to find hidden stone benches, or cushioned window seats, to curl up with books: a place at which to reflect, as the cragged mountains of the Mani deepen to red and each angle on the Aegean provides another view.

We never made it there while he lived, so it felt strangely intrusive to wander at will through rooms still alive with his life, now he was dead.

The shepherd sacks from Crete, the stacks of hardbacks, the black and white photos of the many visitors who had sat on the same sofas. It was as if he has just popped down to Lela’s tavern for a gin and would be back soon.

So it is a relief to know that the house has been left in his will in the secure hands of the Benaki Foundation, to be used not as a place of pilgrimage, although there are many who would happily make that journey, but as a ‘study centre’.

One can’t help but wish that everything will remain unaltered, for it feels perfect as it is. A monument in our madcap e-world to another way of living: a world of books and blotters, of conversation and contemplation.

Of desks with inkwells and the time to handwrite notes laden with stories and sketches.

Around the garden as the sun dipped and the moon rose, people formed and reformed into casual groups: academics and locals, tradesmen and scholars.

It was as if the place itself had absorbed the personalities of its owners, still able to offer warm hospitality to all even though they had gone.

Nancy Mitford apparently once wrote to Evelyn Waugh that “Paddy” was “wasting his excellent language on Greek peasants.”

But as I listened to the conversations drifting into the night air, I thought that is exactly what she had misunderstood.

He may have come from a privileged background, but why he is so loved here in Greece – why he is so loved by so many people everywhere – is that he knew, like all great writers, including his close friend Bruce Chatwin, whose ashes are scattered nearby, that class is no owner of wisdom.

A Time of Gifts indeed…

Related articles:

John Chapman’s photos of Paddy’s house 

Paddy’s Gloucestershire home for sale for £2.5m

British Philhellene author, Patrick Leigh Fermor, donates Kardamyli home to Benaki

Late author, Patrick Leigh Fermor, has chosen Benaki Museum to donate his home in Kardamily. The donation was made through Giannis Tzanetakis, while the author was still alive and his home became the property of Benaki Museum after the death of the great British Philhellene on June 10th 2011.

Last Saturday, in honor of Patrick Leigh Fermor, Benaki Museum held an event at the late author’s home in Kalamitsi, Kardamyli, gathering acquaintances and friends from Greece and the UK, among them, UK Ambassador, Dr. David Landsman, Director of the British Council, Richard Walker, the executors of his will and his biographer.

Patrick Leigh Fermor lived for many years in Mani, in his home that he personally built, based on Nikos Chatdjimichalis designs.

His relationship with Benaki Museum dated years back; he kept contact with Antonis Benakis and Irini Kalliga later, while he maintained close friendly relations with the Institute’s director, Angelos Delivorias. Several years ago, it was decided by the donor and the museum, that his home would be used for the purpose of hosting researchers, poets and writers, visiting Greece to work for a few months. At the same time, for specified time periods, Benaki Museum will have the option to rent the author’s home, to obtain funds for maintenance and hosting. In the coming months, once recording procedures for the library and archives are complete, and all necessary maintenance activities are performed, the Administrative Committee of Benaki Museum will be announcing how the building will operate.

Source: ANA – MPA

Paddy remembered by the Marqués de Tamarón

Long time Blog followers may remember the article written for the Spectator by the Marqués de Tamarón when he was the Spanish Ambassador to London between 1999 and 2004. The Marqués reads this Blog and sent me an article he wrote for the Spanish daily newspaper ABC. There is no English translation, but following our recently established convention, I reproduce it here in Spanish.

Por el Marqués de Tamarón

First published in ABC, 2 July 2011

GRACIAS a no haber ido a la universidad, Patrick Leigh Fermor llegó a ser uno de los mejores escritores ingleses del siglo XX. Todo comenzó porque lo expulsaron del colegio al ser descubierto cogido de la mano con la hija del tendero de ultramarinos. Luego se empeñó en ir andando hasta Constantinopla (no quería decir Estambul) y ahí empezó a completar la nada desdeñable educación secundaria recibida. Emprendió el camino con 18 años, en 1933, y dos años después llegó a Constantinopla. Dormía en albergues de jóvenes, en un pajar o en los castillos de la nobleza centroeuropea, que brindó generosa hospitalidad y amistad —y amor en más de una ocasión— a aquel guapo y simpático muchacho inglés. Después prolongó el viaje por Grecia, donde participó en una carga de caballería contra un golpe de estado republicano y, más importante aún, conoció a la Princesa Balasha Cantacuzeno, una rumana hermosísima bastante mayor que él. Se enamoraron en el acto y pasaron dos años juntos viviendo en castillos remotos, mientras ella pintaba y él traducía libros. Hasta que estalló la Segunda Guerra Mundial y Patrick Leigh Fermor volvió apresuradamente a Inglaterra para alistarse, primero en la Guardia Real y luego en el Special Operations Executive. Se había disipado para siempre el peligro de ir a la universidad y aprender a hacer auditorías o el uso del aoristo. Podía seguir aprendiendo a ver, a vivir y a escribir, sin asomo de jactancia.

Su educación fue pues verdadera y honda: enriqueció y adiestró sus ojos, su mente y su corazón. Le sedujo el mosaico de lenguas, paisajes y arquitecturas que entonces aún sobrevivían en Europa, y sus gentes, tribus y naciones. Como era generoso brindó sus recuerdos y saberes, de palabra y por escrito, a propios y extraños.

Cuando celebramos sus 85 años en Londres se pudo comprobar por el ambiente durante la cena y por la subsiguiente oratoria de manteles que la imagen que todos tenían de su viejo o nuevo amigo (las edades de los comensales oscilaban entre los cien y los treinta cinco años) coincidían en varios rasgos: su alegría y su generosidad, y también su simpatía en el sentido más hondo, etimológico de la palabra. Curiosamente dieciséis años después, en su entierro, los comentarios fueron muy parecidos. Aquella noche en Londres el primero que habló, su amigo Jellicoe, dijo de él que la virtud que en grado menos relevante lo adornaba era la castidad. El anfitrión recalcó la generosidad de Paddy (ya para entonces nadie en Inglaterra llamaba de otra manera al distinguido escritor y héroe de guerra) recordando su insólita capacidad de querer y apreciar a todos los grupos nacionales o sociales que en general se detestaban entre ellos. Paddy admiraba a griegos y turcos, magiares y rumanos, judíos y alemanes, incluso a sus propios enemigos en tiempo de guerra, como el General Kreipe al que hizo prisionero en Creta y con quien recitó la oda I.ix. Ad Thaliarchum de Horacio contemplando las nieves del Monte Ida, en latín, claro. El propio anfitrión, siempre inquieto por el riesgo de pasar la eternidad en el cielo mal colocado al lado de algún pelmazo, le advirtió a Paddy que su virtud se vería recompensada doblemente, puesto que ya en el paraíso debían de estar esperándolo tantos amigos que él cita en sus viajes y tan distintos como los turcos viejos en la isla danubiana de Ada Kaleh, o las dos muchachas campesinas en Transilvania que descubrieron a Paddy y a su amigo nadando desnudos en el río y luego retozaron felices tras un pajar, o el Hermano Peter con quien jugó a los bolos, o los rastafarios caribeños con quienes habló sobre Haile Selassie, o el sabio danubiano de Persenbeug, o Dom Gabriel Gontard, septuagésimo octavo Abad de Saint-Wandrille.

Pero quien mejor definió en aquella larga y alegre sobremesa el carácter y el estilo de Patrick Leigh Fermor fue Norwich, cantando su peculiar versión de You´re the top aplicada a Paddy, que parodiaba a la vez al popular Cole Porter y al culto Browning con versos aliterativos y de rima interna tales como You´re the bubbling bard who finds it hard to stop / which is why we murmur, Fermor, you´re the top!

Sin embargo y con ser todo esto por completo verdadero además de risueño, no era toda la verdad. Dentro de este conversador brillante, ameno y alegre había un trabajador infatigable que corregía pruebas hasta agotar a su editor. Tenía la convicción —acertada por lo demás— de que el ritmo de la prosa requería cambiar varias palabras si se cambiaba una sola, con lo cual se producían unas cascadas de longitud incalculable. Cuando se vió aquejado por esa desesperante dolencia que es la sequía de la pluma del escritor —calculo que en su caso, como en otros, eso ocurrió cuando abandonó los cigarrillos, esos mismos que lo llevaron a la tumba hace unos días— y cada vez que le preguntaban por el volumen pendiente sobre su caminata a Constantinopla se enfadaba o entristecía, y a veces se refugiaba en mentiras inocentes, como cuando algunos amigos le sugerían que no intentase, por una vez, escribir con todos los esplendores barrocos de su prosa habitual, y que fuese menos ambicioso en este su probable último libro. Pero desarmaba a todos contestando con manso y modesto orgullo: «Es que yo no sé escribir de otra manera. No puedo». No era verdad; nunca es verdad cuando un escritor viejo dice eso. Paddy escribía maravillosas cartas llenas de humor y de amor, ambos expresados con sencillez al final de su vida. Y nunca perdió la gracia, en todos los sentidos de la palabra. Por dos veces, en estos últimos y tristes días después de su muerte, una vieja y querida amiga suya que expresamente desea ser citada, Debo Devonshire, me dijo «cuando escribas sobre Paddy cuenta cuánto hemos reído ». Dicho queda, o al menos apuntado.

Eterno caminante por la Via Pulchritudinis, buscó la belleza en lo pequeño y en lo grande. El mismo adolescente que acompañaba sus primeros pasos por los caminos fríos de Alemania a principios de 1934 con una reserva cuantiosa de poesía en la memoria, recitaba a veces a Lewis Carroll y otras el Stabat Mater o el Dies Irae. Y el mismo muchacho, ochenta años después, fue despedido en un funeral de honda belleza, ordenado por él en música y textos que incluían el Protoevangelio de Santiago. El cura anglicano terminó el oficio de cuerpo presente con un «Descansa en Paz y levántate en la Gloria». En exacto paralelo —Muerte y Resurrección— un corneta de su antiguo Regimiento de la Guardia Irlandesa acompañó la inhumación con los dos toques de ordenanza, Silencio y Diana.

El entierro coincidió con un rompimiento de gloria.

The above article scanned from the newspaper as a pdf can be found here, and as it appears on the Marqués’ blog.

Related article:

He’s the top

Πάτρικ Λι Φέρμορ:«Πατρίδα είναι εκεί που έχει κανείς τα βιβλία του»

Paddy contemplating a fine read

It roughly translates as “Patrick Leigh Fermor – Homeland is where one’s books are” and it is about “Unknown details of life, action and work of British writer of travel literature, as recounted specific ‘Tribune’ reporter Joy Kiosse”. You can enjoy in the Greek or if appalling at it like me use Google Translate. It is quite a good article. I like the first paragraph ….

In mythology, heroes were not immortal, and some are in today’s life. The memory but Patrick Leigh Fermor, Paddy’s, like shouting his friends, the Sun-Michael for Mani and the Cretans, will remain immortal. Written with a broad humanitarian education, self-taught, untamed, hero, kind and generous friend peculiar humor, fearless and bold, persistent traveler with an insatiable thirst to discover the world, polyglot and general man with deep knowledge of the classics and history, the Fermor took all these elements to the end of his life.

by Joy Kiosse

First published in Tovima on 2 July 2011.

Από την Πέμπτη 16 Ιουνίου ο σερ Πάτρικ Λι Φέρμοραναπαύεται στο μικρό κοιμητήριο που βρίσκεται στον περίβολο του ναού του Αγίου Πέτρου στο Ντάμπλτον της Αγγλίας, δίπλα στο μνήμα της συζύγου του Τζόαν. Είναι μια ήσυχη πράσινη πλαγιά περιτριγυρισμένη από ψηλά δέντρα.

Στη μυθολογία οι ήρωες δεν ήταν αθάνατοι- και κάπως είναι και στη σημερινή ζωή. Η μνήμη όμως του Πάτρικ Λι Φέρμορ, του Πάντι, όπως τον φώναζαν οι φίλοι του, του κυρ-Μιχάλη για τους Μανιάτες και τους Κρητικούς, θα μείνει αθάνατη. Συγγραφέας με πλατιά ανθρωπιστική μόρφωση, αυτοδίδακτος, ατίθασος, ήρωας, καλός και γενναιόδωρος φίλος με ιδιότυπο χιούμορ, άφοβος και παράτολμος, επίμονος ταξιδιώτης με ακόρεστη δίψα για να γνωρίσει τον κόσμο, πολύγλωσσος και γενικότερα άνθρωπος με βαθιά γνώση των κλασικών και της Ιστορίας, ο Φέρμορ κράτησε όλα αυτά τα στοιχεία ως το τέλος της ζωής του.

Ακόμη, είχε το χάρισμα να σαγηνεύει τους συνομιλητές του και ήταν εξαιρετικά αγαπητός σε όλες τις παρέες. Την τελευταία ημέρα του στην Καρδαμύλη, το μεσημέρι στο τραπέζι απήγγειλε με τη βραχνή πια φωνή του ένα μεγάλο ποίημα του Γουίτιερ. Ναι, είχε μνήμη! Οχι όμως μηχανική. Ακούγοντάς τον να απαγγέλλει και ταυτόχρονα να υποδύεται τον ήρωα του ποιήματος είχες τη βεβαιότητα ότι γνώριζε σε βάθος το νόημα κάθε στίχου, κάθε φράσης, κάθε λέξης.

Στο νοσοκομείο της Αθήνας την πρώτη φορά βαφτιστήρια και φίλοι από την Κρήτη και τη Μάνη βρέθηκαν δίπλα του, λες και είχαν ειδοποιηθεί με σήματα μορς. Ανάμεσά τους υπήρχε μια αυθόρμητη σχέση αγάπης και σεβασμού- όπως και εκείνος αγάπησε και σεβάστηκε την Ελλάδα. Ναι, το σπάνιο στοιχείο αυτής της σχέσης του με την Ελλάδα ήταν ο σεβασμός που έδειξε στον τόπο.

Μετά την πρώτη επέμβαση επέστρεψε στην Καρδαμύλη, ελπίζοντας ότι είχε ξεπεράσει για κάμποσο καιρό το πρόβλημα της υγείας του και ότι θα πρόφταινε να τελειώσει το βιβλίο του. Τρεις εβδομάδες αργότερα, την ημέρα που ο δήμαρχος της Καρδαμύλης θα του έδινε το χρυσό κλειδί της πόλης, χρειάστηκε να επιστρέψει εσπευσμένα στο νοσοκομείο. Και ύστερα από μια δεύτερη επέμβαση πήρε την απόφαση να γυρίσει στην Αγγλία, γνωρίζοντας πως δεν θα επέστρεφε ποτέ πια. Το ταξίδι είχε τελειώσει.

Ο Πάντι τιμήθηκε στη ζωή του όσο λίγοι συγγραφείς ή ακόμη και ήρωες. Την πρώτη φορά που θέλησαν να του απονείμουν τον τίτλο του ιππότη (ΟΒΕ), αρνήθηκε, λέγοντας ότι δεν τον άξιζε. Τελικά έγινε σερ το 2004, «κα θώς δεν θα ήταν… ευγενικό να αρνηθεί δεύτερη φορά». Πάντως ποτέ δεν ακούστηκε κάποιος να τον αποκαλεί «σερ». Ολοι τον φώναζαν Πάντι και στην Καρδαμύλη και στην Κρήτη «κυρ Μιχάλη»- ήταν το ψευδώνυμό του στα βουνά της Κρήτης και το δεύτερο χριστιανικό του όνομα, που κανείς δεν το ήξερε, παρ΄ όλα αυτά όμως οι Ελληνες το γιόρταζαν.

Διακρίσεις, διπλώματα- όσα δεν πήρε στα μαθητικά του χρόνια-, ασημένιες πλακέτες και πάλι διακρίσεις υπάρχουν στη Μάνη, περισσότερο ως έργα τέχνης, καδράκια σπαρμένα στα διάφορα δωμάτια. «Κυρ Μιχάλη, πρέπει να πιείτε αυτό το φάρμακο», «Κυρ Μιχάλη,έξω περιμένει ο τάδε, να έρθει;», «Κυρ Μιχάλη,ήρθε η βαφτιστικιά σου η Αγγλία»… Και ο κυρ Μιχάλης έγνεφε καταφατικά.

Του άρεσε να έχει κόσμο όταν δεν ήταν σκυμμένος στα χαρτιά του. Κατά βάθος του άρεσε και το «κυρ-Μιχάλης», καθώς στο πίσω μέρος του μυαλού του υπήρχαν πάντα η Κρήτη και οι συναγωνιστές του. Βαριά άρρωστος στο νοσοκομείο, τις νύχτες έβλεπε πως ήταν στη σπηλιά στα Ανώγεια και έτρεχε στο μπαλκόνι να το σκάσει, και άλλοτε πως τον κυνηγούσαν και έτρεχε για να μην τον πιάσουν.

Υπό τους ήχους μιας γκάιντας

Εκείνη την Πέμπτη ο καιρός ήταν χαρούμενος στη μικρή πολίχνη του Ντάμπλτον. Ο ήλιος μπαινόβγαινε στα σύννεφα πάνω από την εκκλησία όπου συγκεντρώθηκαν φίλοι και συγγενείς και παλιοί συμπολεμιστές του. Οταν έφθασε η σορός σκεπασμένη με τη βρετανική σημαία, ο ιερέας βρισκόταν στην άκρη του φράχτη περιμένοντας να δώσει την τελευταία ευχή. Μετά προχώρησαν μαζί στην εκκλησία, όπου στην πόρτα περίμεναν να αποδώσουν τιμές βετεράνοι της Ιρλανδικής Φρουράς. Μέσα στον ναό η τελετή ήταν σύντομη, χωρίς λόγους.

Η σοπράνο Σάρα Γκάμπριελ τραγούδησε ασυνόδευτη ένα απόσπασμα από τον «Ντον Τζιοβάνι» του Μότσαρτ, το εκκλησίασμα έψαλε δύο ύμνους, διαβάστηκαν δύο σύντομα αποσπάσματα από την «Κήπο του Κύρου» του σερ Τόμας Μπράουν και από το «Απόκρυφο Βιβλίο» του Πρωτευαγγελιστή, και το εκκλησίασμα ακολούθησε τη σορό στον περίβολο της εκκλησίας υπό τους ήχους μιας γκάιντας. Κοντά στο μνήμα ένας μουσικός της Ιρλανδικής Φρουράς σάλπισε το σιωπητήριο. Αυτό ήταν. Η σημαία διπλώθηκε, η σορός κατέβηκε, ενώ την έραιναν ροδοπέταλα και μια χούφτα χώμα που ήρθε από την Ελλάδα. Μετά σιωπή.

Δίπλα στο μαξιλαράκι με τα παράσημα- ανάμεσά τους ξεχωρίζει ο ελληνικός Φοίνικας- βρίσκονταν τα στεφάνια. Εκείνο από την Ελληνική Πρεσβεία στο Λονδίνο (άλλωστε ο πρέσβης κ. Α. Σάντης παρέστη στην κηδεία), ένα δάφνινο από το Μουσείο Μπενάκη με την ευχή «στο καλό Πάντι», ένα από τον αρχηγό του Γενικού Επιτελείου Στρατού της Ελλάδος, ένα από τους Βυρωνιστές, άλλα από την οικογένεια του συναγωνιστή και φίλου του λόρδου Τζέλικο, από την Αδελφότητα των Ελλήνων Βετεράνων, από το Βritish Council της Αθήνας, από βαφτισιμιές… και πολλά μικρά μπουκέτα αγριολούλουδα από φίλους.

Καρδαμύλη, «το σπίτι του»

Τους τελευταίους μήνες της ζωής του ο Πάτρικ Λι Φέρμορ τούς πέρασε στην Καρδαμύλη της Μάνης. Εκεί ήταν «το σπίτι του». Οταν τον ρωτούσαν οι δημοσιογράφοι ποια από τις δύο χώρες θεωρούσε πατρίδα του, ποιο από τα δύο σπίτια ένιωθε περισσότερο δικό του, εκείνο της Αγγλίας με τον παλιό μύλο, το ρυάκι και τα πανύψηλα δένδρα ή το άλλο, της Μάνης, «Πατρίδα είναι εκεί που έχει κανείς τα βιβλία του» απαντούσε. Και η αλήθεια είναι ότι τα βιβλία του Ντάμπλτον δεν μπορούν να συγκριθούν με τις βιβλιοθήκες της Καρδαμύλης. Εφέτος, στις αρχές του χρόνου, ο Πάτρικ Λι Φέρμορ επέστρεψε στην Καρδαμύλη, όπου προσπάθησε απελπισμένα να τελειώσει τον τρίτο τόμο της τριλογίας του. Πρόκειται για το τελευταίο μέρος του οδοιπορικού ενός 18άρη που ξεκίνησε από την Ολλανδία για να διασχίσει με τα πόδια όλη την Ευρώπη, ως την Κωνσταντινούπολη. Οι πρώτοι δύο τόμοι που εκδόθηκαν με τις αναμνήσεις αυτής της περιπέτειας, «Α time of Gifts» (1977) και «From the Woods to the Water» (1986) – έχουν μεταφραστεί στα ελληνικά-, γνώρισαν μεγάλη επιτυχία.

Σε αυτό το ταξίδι ο Φέρμορ μόλις που πρόλαβε να γνωρίσει έναν κόσμο ο οποίος, με τον Β΄ Παγκόσμιο Πόλεμο, θα χανόταν για πάντα. Ενα συστατικό γράμμα σε κάποιον ευγενή στη Γερμανία άνοιξε τη μία μετά την άλλη τις πόρτες των αρχοντικών και των κάστρων της Μεσευρώπης με τις πολύτιμες συλλογές έργων τέχνης και τις παλιές βιβλιοθήκες. Λίγα χρόνια αργότερα, μετά τον Πόλεμο, τίποτε από αυτά δεν υπήρχε. Ολα είχαν χαθεί, μαζί και ο τρόπος ζωής των φεουδαρχών αρχόντων και του αγροτικού πληθυσμού. Οι βομβαρδισμοί και το σοβιετικό καθεστώς έσβησαν έναν ολόκληρο κόσμο από τον χάρτη της Οικουμένης.

Οι Βρετανοί είχαν από καιρό ανακηρύξει τον Πάτρικ Λι Φέρμορ τον μεγαλύτερο ταξιδιωτικό συγγραφέα τους- ίσως τον κορυφαίο σε ολόκληρο τον κόσμο. Ο Φέρμορ δεν ήταν όμως μόνο ένας εξαιρετικός ταξιδιωτικός συγγραφέας. Οι περιγραφές του δεν περιορίζονταν στη διαδρομή. Τον ενδιέφερε η φύση, αλλά και ο άνθρωπος, οι ιστορίες που έλεγαν οι πέτρες και τα κτίσματα. Τον σαγήνευαν οι μικρές αφηγήσεις που άκουγε στα καφενεία. Τον βοηθούσαν να καταλάβει τους ανθρώπους και να κατανοήσει ό,τι κράτησαν από τον πολιτισμό τους. Σε αυτό τον βοήθησε πολύ και η ευκολία του στην εκμάθηση ξένων γλωσσών. Ακόμη και πρόσφατα διόρθωνε εκφράσεις και λέξεις συνομιλητών του στα ρουμανικά. Και εκείνοι δεν πίστευαν στα αφτιά τους…

ΓΙΑΤΙ ΔΕΝ ΕΠΕΣΤΡΕΨΕ ΣΤΗΝ ΚΡΗΤΗ – Η ΑΠΟΚΑΛΥΠΤΙΚΗ ΒΙΟΓΡΑΦΙΑ

Ο Πάτρικ Λι Φέρμορ καταγόταν από προνομιούχο οικογένεια.Ο πατέρας του,ο σερ Λούις,ήταν διευθυντής του Γεωλογικού Ινστιτούτου στην Ινδία,με αποτέλεσμα αυτός και η γυναίκα του να κρατηθούν για ένα πολύ μεγάλο διάστημα μακριά από τον γιο τους.Παιδάκι τον εμπιστεύθηκαν σε μια αγροτική οικογένεια και μεγάλωσε ελεύθερος στη φύση.Σε αυτή την ελευθερία οφείλεται ίσως ο ατίθασος χαρακτήρας του,αλλά και μια περίεργη,αυστηρή πειθαρχία,προσαρμοσμένη όμως στους δικούς του όρους.

Οταν,μετά τον Α΄ Παγκόσμιο Πόλεμο, μαζεύτηκε η οικογένεια,στο σπίτι γινόταν πολλή κουβέντα για πουλιά,για λουλούδια και για τόπους μακρινούς.Η μητέρα του,θέλοντας να του ανοίξει τους ορίζοντες- αφού το ένα μετά το άλλο τα σχολεία τον έδιωχναν-,του διάβαζε ποίηση και κλασικούς.Η οικογένεια τον προόριζε για στρατιωτικό.Γι΄ αυτό και εκείνος αποφάσισε να φύγει για την Ευρώπη.Χωρίς χρήματα,χωρίς χρονικούς περιορισμούς,σχεδόν χωρίς πρόγραμμα.Στο σακίδιό του είχε την κλασική ανθολογία ποίησης των εκδόσεων Οξφόρδης,τις Ωδές του Οράτιου,ίσως και κάποιο έργο του Σαίξπηρ.

Για να κρατά συντροφιά στον εαυτό του, όσο περπατούσε απήγγελε ποίηση,με αποτέλεσμα να τη μάθει απέξω,ενώ επαναλάμβανε όσα πρόφταινε να αρπάξει από τη γλώσσα κάθε τόπου από τον οποίο περνούσε.Κοιμόταν σε καπηλειά και αχυρώνες με την ίδια άνεση που έμενε σε πύργους και άκουγε τις ιστορίες των ανθρώπων που συναντούσε αναζητώντας τις ρίζες και τους μύθους των τόπων τους.Για να κερδίζει κάποια χρήματα έκανε ό,τι δουλειά έβρισκε- ενώ σχεδίαζε και προσωπογραφίες.Κάποια στιγμή έφθασε στον προορισμό: την Πρωτοχρονιά του 1935 τη γιόρτασε στην Κωνσταντινούπολη.Αλλά κάπου κατά τη διάρκεια του ταξιδιού οι σημειώσεις είχαν χαθεί.

Εφυγε από την Κωνσταντινούπολη με ένα ακόμη συστατικό γράμμα στην τσέπη.Αυτή τη φορά ήταν από τον έλληνα πρόξενο προς τον Πέτρο Σταθάτο στο Μόδι της Μακεδονίας.Υστερα από έναν σταθμό στο Αγιον Ορος,προχώρησε στο Μόδι.Η ατμόσφαιρα ενός ελληνικού σπιτιού και η αρχοντιά του οικοδεσπότη τού άνοιξαν τις πόρτες της Ελλάδας.Με ένα άλογο τριγύρισε στη Μακεδονία.Πλησίασε τους Σαρακατσάνους- για τους οποίους και έγραψε-,ώσπου κατέληξε στη Θεσσαλονίκη,όπου βρέθηκε στη μέση μιας σύρραξης ανάμεσα σε βασιλικούς και βενιζελικούς.Καθώς οι Σταθάτοι ήταν βασιλικοί και το άλογο ήταν δικό τους,προσχώρησε- πού αλλού;- στο στρατόπεδο των βασιλικών.Πάντως ο Φέρμορ δεν ήταν πολιτικοποιημένος.Αλλά ακόμη και αν ήταν,το έκρυβε τόσο καλά,ώστε κανείς δεν μπορούσε να τον τοποθετήσει σε «στρατόπεδο».

Το περιστατικό που τον σημάδεψε

Για τη ζωή και τις περιπέτειές του έχουν γραφτεί πολλά και έχουν ειπωθεί περισσότερα.Για την ιστορία της Κρήτης ο ίδιος έχει μιλήσει πολύ λίγο,ενώ δεν έχει γράψει τίποτε.Επρεπε να βρίσκεται παρέα με πάρα πολύ στενούς φίλους και να έχουν πιει πολύ κρασί για να πιάσει τη διήγηση.Και πάλι όμως,έκανε την ιστορία του ελαφριά,σχεδόν διασκεδαστική και εξωπραγματική.

Υπάρχει ένα τραγικό περιστατικό σε αυτή την ιστορία,που χάραξε τη ζωή του Φέρμορ και για το οποίο ο ίδιος δεν μίλησε ποτέ,ενώ ούτε ο υπαρχηγός του,στρατηγός Στάνλεϊ Μός,το αναφέρει στο βιβλίο του «Ιll met by moonlight» («Κακό συναπάντημα στο φεγγρόφωτο»),που είναι αφιερωμένο στην απαγωγή του στρατηγού Κράιπε.Το έψαξε η βιογράφος του Αρτεμις Κούπερ στα αρχεία του υπουργείου Πολέμου.

Στη Μάνη ο Φέρμορ διάβαζε και ξαναδιάβαζε το χοντρό ντοσιέ με τα χειρόγραφα και τις δακτυλογραφημένες σελίδες που ήταν γεμάτα διορθώσεις με τα τρεμουλιαστά και όπως πάντα δυσανάγνωστα γράμματά του.Ο τόμος είχε σχεδόν τελειώσει.Ηθελε ίσως κάποιο «χτένισμα» και υπολογιζόταν να κυκλοφορήσει πριν από τα Χριστούγεννα του 2011. Την επιμέλεια είχε η Αρτεμις Κούπερ,η οποία είχε επιμεληθεί και την έκδοση του «Words of mercury» το 2003.

Οι Βρετανοί έχουν από καιρό ανακηρύξει τον Πάτρικ Λι Φέρμορ τον μεγαλύτερο ταξιδιωτικό συγγραφέα τους- ίσως τον κορυφαίο στον κόσμο.Ο Φέρμορ δεν ήταν όμως μόνο ένας εξαιρετικός ταξιδιωτικός συγγραφέας.Οι περιγραφές του δεν περιορίζονταν στη διαδρομή.Τον ενδιέφερε η φύση,αλλά και ο άνθρωπος,οι ιστορίες που έλεγαν οι πέτρες και τα κτίσματα.Τον σαγήνευαν οι μικρές αφηγήσεις που άκουγε στα καφενεία.Τον βοηθούσαν να καταλάβει τους ανθρώπους και να κατανοήσει ό,τι κράτησαν από τον πολιτισμό τους.Σε αυτό τον βοήθησε πολύ και η ευκολία του στην εκμάθηση ξένων γλωσσών.Ακόμη και πρόσφατα διόρθωνε εκφράσεις και λέξεις συνομιλητών του στα ρουμανικά.Και εκείνοι δεν πίστευαν στα αφτιά τους…

Patrick Leigh Fermor remembered by Colin Thubron

When I was asked to select a passage from his work that encapsulated the spirit of Paddy Leigh Fermor, who died last Friday, a crowd of images leapt to mind, from his encounter with the grotesque burghers of Munich in A Time of Gifts to the eerie vespers of A Time to Keep Silence, to the gongs of Byzantium and the gambolling of dolphins in Mani.

By Colin Thubron

First published in The Spectator, 18 June 2011

Almost any page of his work glitters with the ebullience and precision of his style, and its almost choreographic way with sentences. And his writing was the ideal instrument for his omnivorous love of things: his encyclopaedic delight in history, genealogy, heraldry, costume, the quirks and byways of folklore and language.

This was a man who seemed to embody panache. From boyhood he was a renegade. The housemaster at his public school, from which he was predictably sacked, called him ‘a dangerous mixture of sophistication and recklessness’. In his youth he walked across Europe in the first year of Hitler’s coming to power, and during the war lived for over two years in the Cretan mountains disguised as a shepherd before famously abducting the German military commander of Crete. Later, during the Greek civil war he joined a royalist cavalry charge, and at the age of 70, in emulation of Lord Byron, he swam the Hellespont — with his wife in a boat behind him — sitting on her hands (he wrote) in order not to wring them.

I believe he was erudite rather than intellectual — he embraced and celebrated experience more than he analysed it, and his descriptions even of obscure history and customs were lit up by a playful vitality. He wrote, of course, at a time when the world seemed less accessible than now and when to plunge into the Taygetus mountains of the southern Peloponnese, for instance, was a more remote experience than an Andean trek today. In this he seems the product of an earlier age, as he does in his wide learning, his immersion in his chosen subject, and his eschewing of the psychological.

Always there was this zestful inventiveness and cultivated pleasure in fantasy — not whimsical fantasy, but rather the product of a full-blooded imagination. Almost the last time I saw him, he had returned from hospital after an operation for suspected cancer. I was worried that I’d find him depleted and his old flare gone. At first he was indeed a little subdued, eating lunch. Then suddenly he perked up and said: ‘You know, there is an apple lying on a table in the hall. It’s been there all weekend… Wouldn’t it be marvellous if it cocked a snook at Newton, and simply took off into the air!’

Then I knew he was himself again.

He had few disciples. It was hard to emulate such writing, and rather dangerous. He was a master of that rich and sculptured style: but I think nobody else was. What he gave to travel writing was less a specific following than his unique personal stature: as near as we are likely to come to a Renaissance man. He bestowed on the genre his innate dignity, his literary brilliance, his polymathic mind, and his generous heart.