Category Archives: Paddy’s Death

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…


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.

Gone for a walk in Greece

“YOU had better look out if you are going up to Anavriti.” The familiar words sound wonderful when spoken aloud in this cavernous, haunted and as yet sunless gorge. I repeat them, savouring their powerful energy.

Suddenly, I picture the streets of “roasting Sparta” and the Greek barber who, encouraged by his colourful customers, issued the warning as he clipped the dusty hair of a man now regarded as one of the world’s finest travel writers.

The barber’s words subsequently provided the opening salvo of what many believe is the best book in English about Greece.

by Ian Robert Smith

First published in The Australian 30 July 2011

Published in 1958, Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese is a dense, erudite and hugely entertaining account of the author’s peregrinations in a region that, at the time, was remote, untamed and singularly archaic. Mani is also, more broadly, an affectionate portrait of a rural Greece where centuries-old customs were fast disappearing — “hammered to powder . . . between the butt of a Coca-Cola bottle and the Iron Curtain” — and for which today’s traveller hunts in vain.

I, too, am going up to Anavriti. And like Leigh Fermor when he came this way with his partner (later wife) Joan in the mid-1950s, I intend to use the village, perched on a spur of the Taygetos range, as a stepping stone into the Mani.

A battered copy of Leigh Fermor’s book resides in the top flap of my rucksack, both talisman and inspiration. Handily within reach in the side pocket is the Anavasi map of the region. Its bundled contours, crossed by the black-dotted lines of footpaths, reflect the momentous regions that await overhead.

Rich in myth and history, the Taygetos dominates the Spartan plain over which it looms like an impenetrable barrier. The northern foothills rise in the wilds of Arcadia. They shoot upwards into a vast, serrated ridge that culminates in the peak of Mt Profitis Ilias — at 2407m, the highest point in the Peloponnese — before dropping away through the Mani Peninsula.

Foothills clad in oak, hornbeam and black pine and daubed with villages buttress the eastern slopes. But the west is wild. Ancient gorges provide means of egress into this planetary world.

Some say this gorge is where the ancient Spartans left unwanted children to die. The rumble of plunging water resounds along its length.

In a large cave, a frescoed chapel, painted ox-blood red, crouches among icons and vases of the white Madonna lilies that grow wild on the slopes. Climbing further, past a sudden and terrifying drop, a curious sound wafts towards me; incoherent initially, it develops into an ethereal chanting that, echoing off the cliffs, sounds strange and beautiful in this wilderness. Bewilderment turns to rapt appreciation as I recognise the monks at Faneromeni Monastery, high above, conducting a Sunday morning service.

Beyond the monastery and a couple of antique threshing floors, Anavriti appears. Dwarfed by the glittering and snow-streaked Taygetos, several belfries and a cluster of stone houses adorn a hillside plumed with walnut, plane and cherry trees.

Not so long ago Anavriti had a thriving tanning and leather-goods industry and a population of several thousand. Nowadays, like most mountain villages in Greece, it is barely inhabited.

I amble along the main street, seeking wide balconies reached “by boxed-in staircases on wooden stilts”. In one such edifice, Leigh Fermor and Joan spent the night. Something similar faces a solitary taverna. Light-headed at finding myself in Anavriti at last, I lunch on spaghetti with rooster and abundant rose wine and, as a jovial crowd materialises, observe clouds thickening around the mountaintops. The taverna owner shrugs when I inquire what they portend, then asks, unhelpfully, whether I have a raincoat, before advising: “Go towards the good.”

This I attempt, only to become drenched, then unpleasantly steamed when the sun reappears, conjuring wondrous aromas from the glistening earth. The experience is chastening and, toiling upwards through fir forest, I conclude that following in the footsteps of literary legends can be tricky. Writing in Mani, Leigh Fermor gives fair warning.

“Feet became cannonballs,” he recounts, “loads turned to lead, hearts pounded, hands slipped on the handles of sticks and rivers of sweat streamed over burning faces and trickled into our mouths like brine.” I arrive, similarly challenged, at the author’s “unattractively alpine wall of mineral”.

It is the flank of Spanakaki Peak and also a crossroads. Intent on the Mani, Leigh Fermor bypassed Profitis Ilias and headed off to the right. Determined to tackle the summit, I veer left, up over a spur with a derelict sheepfold and across a meadow that, as thunder rumbles and rain buckets down, tilts vertically to the watershed. I reach this, hand-over-foot, but discover the view of the Messenian Gulf beyond obscured by thick mist breaking over the ridge.

Visibility shrinks to nothing as I’m engulfed, precipitating a tedious descent, followed by a forced march to the EOS refuge, where I meet a group from Athens who provide food, wine and spirited conversation. Occasionally the talk turns to Greece’s economic troubles and, predictably, as these are young people from the capital, nearly everyone has a sobering tale. They are related simply, without rancour and often with humour; but beneath the levity, disappointment and uncertainty are palpable.

The evening proves unexpectedly affecting and our farewells the next day, when I renew my assault on the summit, are heartfelt. I ascend through meadows thick with ferns, thyme and wildflowers, which give way to barren, stratified limestone, before an opening leads over the watershed. It might well be a door into another world.

Jagged pinnacles roll away to the north. Westward, rumpled slopes sundered by ravines plunge to the shores of the Messenian gulf. Silence reigns. Nothing moves except the clouds rolling across the peaks. I climb through them, tentatively over scree, on to a desolate platform scattered with stone huts and a roofless chapel dedicated to the prophet Elijah and crammed with icons, melted candles and votive offerings left by midsummer devotees.

The moment evokes a heady elation, tempered by disbelief that I am here, alone, atop the Peloponnese. Finally the sight of Kardamyli, fathoms below, reminds me it is time to catch up with Leigh Fermor. A headlong descent begins. Nightfall finds me in the Viros gorge. It is the ancient route to the coast: a massive, 14km-long canyon enclosed by fir-tufted cliffs and paved with boulders worn smooth by winter torrents, and not particularly restful.

Escaping next morning to Exochori, I locate a small chapel with a battered turret astride cicada-haunted olive terraces looking out to sea. In this lovely place, appropriate for a man who wrote so beautifully, the ashes of author Bruce Chatwin are scattered. I pause to pay my respects.

Kardamyli appears, its blond towers jutting above the sea. A cobbled path curls below the ancient acropolis. Nearby, adjacent to the reputed tombs of Castor and Pollux, I fall into conversation with a friendly English couple. Inevitably the name of Leigh Fermor comes up. We are speaking of the blood feuds in Mani when the woman says abruptly: “We’ve heard the funeral is on Thursday.”

Seeing my uncomprehending look, she adds, “You didn’t know? Paddy died last week.”

It was the day before I set out, ostensibly in his footsteps. The news fills me with sadness coupled with bewilderment at the workings of providence. I enter Kardamyli in a valedictory mood, passing through an arched gateway into a dusty square flanked by byzantine towers and a church.

In Mani, Leigh Fermor writes that Kardamyli was “unlike any village I had seen in Greece”. He and Joan loved it so much that they returned several years later and built a house in an olive grove.

Kardamyli remains laid-back and relatively unspoilt, with a long pebble beach, pretty stone houses, a small fishing harbour and friendly people. It is popular with trekkers who tackle the hinterland trails. But my walking days are over for now and my stay is marked by restlessness and an odd nostalgia. Each morning I swim to the wooded islet with the fortified wall and ruined chapel, a few hundred metres offshore. I scribble in cafes, drink with other travellers and dine out every night, once at Lelas, the waterfront taverna owned by the woman who was Leigh Fermor’s original housekeeper. Everyone, it seems, has a Paddy story to tell.

One morning, a strange impulse takes me. Just outside town, a path leaves the road and winds downhill through olive groves throbbing with cicadas. It continues, away from recent development higher up the slope, into a wilderness of trees and yellow grain fields where I pass a whitewashed chapel and, just beyond, a long stone wall, above which a mottled tile roof protrudes. Finally I come to a beach.

It lies just over the rocks, a hermetic cove enfolded by cliffs. A shiver sweeps through me when I realise: this is the place. Pushing through a wooden gate marked Private, I climb a stone staircase that zigzags up to a sprawling garden. Olive trees bestride ancient terraces.

The aromas of rosemary and cypress mingle in the hot, pulsating air. Paths of pebble mosaic thread between judiciously placed tables and benches of slate and a rambling house, built of golden stone, empty now, yet with the accumulations of a long and abundant life in place. An air of recent abandonment prevails. Leigh Fermor died in England.

Standing on the clifftop, beside one of those tables where so many delightful moments must have unfolded, I gaze out past the island to the distant peninsula, a smudge on the horizon. An age passes before I tear myself away.

Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese was first published in 1958. The acclaimed war hero and travel writer died on June 10, aged 96.

Remembering Patrick Leigh Fermor, travel inspiration

This article is from the Lonely Planet site. It is pretty standard fare, but stands out for its last line …. “The excellent is highly recommended.” How could I possibly disagree?!!

by Tom Hall, Lonely Planet author

‘My spirits, already high, steadily rose as I walked. I could scarcely believe I was really there; alone, that is, on the move, advancing into Europe, surrounded by all this emptiness and change, with a thousand wonders waiting.’
From A Time of Gifts

It remains one of the finest adventures: Patrick Leigh Fermor, eighteen, restless and craving adventure, hops on a steamer in the shadow of Tower Bridge and, upon arrival at Hook of Holland, sets out for Constantinople on foot. It is 1933. His journey takes him through old Europe, a continent fast falling into war and never to be the same again.

Leigh Fermor’s account of what he called ‘Shanks’ Europe’ is told – though not in full – in the books he is best remembered for, A Time of Gifts (1977) and Between The Woods And The Water (1985). Remarkably, the author wrote them decades after the events described, years which honed his prose but retained the sense of wonder at discovering new lands, languages and cultures, soon to be altered forever.


The Times Literary Supplement: Patrick Leigh Fermor

First published in The Times Literary Supplement, 6 July 2011

There was a time in the early 1950s when, upon arrival in the TLS office of a book about cannibalism or Voodoo, the editor would drop it in an envelope and say, “This is one for Paddy”. Patrick Leigh Fermor, who died last month at the age of ninety-six, is now best known for his connection to Greece and his youthful trek across Central Europe in the direction of Constantinople (as he insisted on calling it). But in his first book, The Traveller’s Tree, an account of a journey by schooner through the Caribbean islands published in 1950, he was in pursuit of “the whole phenomenon of Afro-American religion”. Before long, the TLS was commissioning the former mountain guerrilla fighter and Intelligence Corps Liaison Officer to write on related matters. He could open a review of a book on Haiti in 1953 by telling readers that “The bibliography of Voodoo – or Voudoun, as some purists insist, with little basis, on spelling it – mounts impressively”. A discussion of cannibalism in the correspondence columns of the TLS was just the sort of thing to elicit a contribution from Fermor: “Apropos of the recent letters about the ethical and culinary aspects of cannibalism, may I quote from a book I wrote years ago . . .”.

There followed a list of the gustatory advantages of various folk, according to the palates of the Caribs who “invaded the Caribbean chain, eating all the male Arawaks they could lay hands on and marrying their widows”. The book he wished to quote from was, of course, The Traveller’s Tree (it was by now 1980), which included this pre-Columbian version of a restaurant review:

“French people were considered delicious, and by far the best of the Europeans, and next came the English. The Dutch were dull and rather tasteless, while the Spanish were so stringy and full of gristle as to be practically uneatable.”

In later years, Paddy – as he was known to friend, reader and stranger alike – wrote for this paper on various topics, including Crete, scene of his wartime adventure. In the common run of Grub Street, there are many people one could call on to evaluate an anthology of nonsense – but Poiémate me Zographies se Mikra Paidia, which Paddy reviewed in 1977, was nonsense in modern Greek. In December 1979, he contributed a clamorous, ringing poem on the subject of Christmas:

What franker frankincense, frankly, can rank
in scents with fawn-born dawning
Weak we in Christmas week, lifetime a shriek-
ing streak – lend length and strengthen!
Poultice the harm away, charm the short
solstice day! Send strength and lengthen!

Among other curiosities we found on rooting through the archive was this plea from May 1968: “Patrick Leigh Fermor, author, traveller: biographical information, letters, personal reminiscences for biography”. The requester was J. Marder, writing from Athens. What became of it, and him? An authorized biography by Artemis Cooper is expected to appear at the end of next year.

We have received this “personal reminiscence” from a correspondent:

“In 2005, I was commissioned by a newspaper to write a profile of Patrick Leigh Fermor. A preliminary meeting took place at the West London home of Magouche Fielding, widow of Xan, PLF’s comrade-in-arms, but my editor insisted that no piece about Fermor could appear without a first-hand account of the house which he designed and helped build in the mid-1960s in Mani, at the southernmost tip of the Peloponnese. So it was that, after an overnight stay in Athens and a five-hour drive to the village of Kardamyli, I rang Paddy from a seaside pension.

“‘Good Lord. You’re here already!’ he exclaimed, though all proper warning had been issued. ‘Look here. Come to supper straight away. It’ll be a rotten supper. But come to supper straight away.’ Desiring nothing more than an ouzo followed by a soft pillow, I had the presence of mind to resist. Paddy was understanding. ‘Look here. Come to lunch tomorrow. It’ll be a much better lunch.’ Suppers and lunches, it transpired, were prepared by different maids.

“At about one the following day I set off for the two-kilometre walk from Kardamyli, with directions from a villager. ‘As the road bends to the left, you take the footpath to the right. Go through the olive grove, and arrive at Mr Fermor’s door.’ What could be simpler? There was indeed a bend in the road and a footpath to the right. But there was also another, closer to the bend, up ahead. Then another. After involuntary exploration of hitherto uncharted olive groves and what seemed a sizeable stretch of the Mediterranean coast, I squelched into Paddy’s house from the shore, to find him seated on the sofa reading the TLS. ‘Good Lord. I think you’re the only creature, apart from a goat, who has come in that way. We must have a drink straight away.’ The last was among his favourite phrases.

“Lunch lasted some six hours. (Lemon chicken, with litres of retsina or red Lamia.) Songs in various languages were sung, including a rendering of ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’ in Hindustani. Lost lines of poems were sought. An anecdote about my lately deceased father and his claim to have seen salmon leaping in a narrow Perthshire stream, confirmed only after his death, threw Paddy into a search for the perfect epithet: ‘The corroborating salmon. The justifying salmon. The proving salmon’. Well into the evening, I prepared to leave. ‘Look here. Come to lunch on Sunday’ (this was Friday). I said I would on be on my way back to Athens. He was startled. ‘Good Lord. You’re leaving already? Then come to supper tomorrow.’ I did so, after an all-day hike in the Tagetos mountains which rear up behind the house that Paddy built, as the Gulf of Messenia opens before it. This time, I arrived punctually, to be admitted by the allegedly rotten cook (in fact supper tasted very good). She directed me to Paddy’s study in a separate building in the garden. I knocked before entering, to find him at his desk, alone in Mani on a late March evening, dressed in Jermyn Street shirt, pullover and grey flannels, reading a Loeb Horace. Towers of manuscripts could not obscure him. Among them, perhaps, was a draft of the third and concluding part of his epic walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople – the first, though not the last, heroic adventure of Patrick Leigh Fermor.”

Wanderlust magazine obituary: Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor

Thought you had read all the obits you can and learn nothing new? Well this one is worth a read for Jonathan Lorie’s account of a chance meeting with Paddy at his publisher, John Murray.

by Jonathan Lorie

First published in Wanderlust, 14 June 2011

The death of Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor in June has robbed the travel world of its last great romantic. Here, Jonathan Lorie explains why

Which other travel writer can claim to have ridden in a cavalry and charged across a castle drawbridge with sabres drawn? Lived in a Romanian castle with a princess? Kidnapped a Nazi general and driven his staff car through 22 enemy checkpoints disguised in his uniform?

At 19, Paddy walked across Europe from Rotterdam to Istanbul. At 70, he swum the Hellespont from Europe to Asia. And in between, he lived one of the boldest lives and wrote some of the finest travellers’ tales of the 20th century.

He will best be remembered for the two books that recalled his journey across Europe in the 1930s – an epic walk on foot, sleeping in barns one night and ancestral castles the next, entering an older world of peasants and forests, gypsies and counts, which stretched back unbroken to the days of Charlemagne – but was about to be engulfed by war.

The two memoirs, A Time Of Gifts and Between The Woods And The Water, were written decades later: but their vivid sense of that lost order, their boyish high spirits and their learned yet lyrical prose established them as instant classics. The distinguished author Jan Morris has called him ‘the supreme English travel writer’.

A third book was always planned, but never published. It would have told how he reached that journey’s end, fell in love with the princess and lived on her feudal estate until war separated them. But it would not have recounted his wildest exploit, when he parachuted into war-time Crete to run Resistance operations against the German occupiers. Months of hiding as flea-ridden shepherds in caves culminated in the dramatic kidnap of the enemy general, a feat immortalised in the film Ill Met By Moonlight.

He never went back to the princess, but returned to Greece to build a permanent home in Mani, which became legendary for its elegance and its house guests. John Betjeman called his library overlooking the Mediterranean as ‘one of the rooms of the world’. Travel books followed, on the Caribbean and Greece, then the memoirs in the 1970s and 80s which brought the acclaim of the world. By then, Mani had become a magnet for writers and artists – notably Bruce Chatwin – paying homage to the grand old man. In 2004, aged 89, he was knighted by the Queen.

I met him the next day, in the fading grandeur of his publisher’s office, a peeling stucco townhouse near the Ritz. He was sitting in the Byron room, a Georgian salon filled with bookcases and marble busts, where the great poet’s executors burnt his scandalous letters. It was a fitting setting for a modern writer who loved action and romance and Greece.

Paddy looked up. His handsome face was scowling, but his eyes twinkled as ever. “It’s no good,” he spluttered, jabbing at a letter he was scribbling in fountain pen. “I just can’t remember any more.” What, I asked. “I’m writing to the Spanish ambassador. A poem in medieval French. And I can’t remember the end of it.” He frowned, and then burst into laughter.

Rumours abound that the final, missing volume has been written. Ardent fans pestered him for 30 years about it. He promised he would get round to it. We can only hope he has.

Sir Patrick “Paddy” Michael Leigh Fermor, DSO, OBE

11 February 1915 – 10 June 2011

Economic Times of India: Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor’s next room relationship to India

Patrick Leigh Fermor

One of the most original of Paddy’s obituaries, with a real Indian perspective. It discusses his relationship with his parents and India, where Paddy’s father, Sir Lewis Leigh Fermor, was director of the Geological Survey of India.

by Vikram Doctor

First published in Economic Times of India, 28 June 2011

Patrick Leigh Fermor , who passed away recently at 96, was the most incomparable of travel writers. Yet his reputation rested on relatively few books, which hardly seemed to cover the geographical range that might have been expected of a writer of his reputation and lifespan.

Fermor’s first published book, The Traveller’s Tree, about a Caribbean trip, got an unexpected endorsement from Ian Fleming , in Live and Let Die, James Bond’s Caribbean caper, as one of the great travel books. He wrote two books, Mani and Roumeli, set in Greece, where he was to live most of his life. There was a short book on an Andean trip, another short one on monastic life and a single novel, based on that Caribbean trip.

And then there were the two books that he was most celebrated for, based on his decision in 1932, aged just 18, to walk across Europe from the coast of Holland to Constantinople, as he romantically still referred to Istanbul. The first, A Time of Gifts, took him to the Hungarian border, and the second, Between the Woods and the Water, across Eastern Europe to the edge of the Islamic world. Fermor did make it to Istanbul, but never finished his proposed trilogy.

But this was it really – no North America, no Africa, no Middle East, no Far East, no India. Of all these omissions, India stands out because it was the one that might most likely have happened. Fermor had, as he put it in A Time of Gifts, a “voices-in-the-next-room relationship to India” thanks to his father, Sir Lewis Leigh Fermor , a geologist who devoted his life to India, becoming director of the Geological Survey of India, president of the Indian Science Congress and of the Asiatic Society of Bengal .

His obituary, written by another distinguished geologist, M.S. Krishnan, credits him with pioneering the scientific study of geology in India, and in particular with identifying the manganese ore deposits of central India, the coal deposits of Bokaro, the chromite and copper deposits of Singhbum and the iron ore deposits of Goa and Ratnagiri. (Coincidentally, Sir Lewis is not the only Indian geologist with a famous writer in his family. John Auden , the older brother of poet W.H. Auden, also worked as a geologist in India and there is a pass called Auden’s Col in Garhwal named after him).

As Fermor acknowledged, he could easily have become like Kipling, with a glorious Indian childhood, then exile back to a lonely, dreary life in England. It didn’t happen that way because he was never taken to India at all. Perhaps jokingly Fermor wrote that after he was born, his mother and sister left him back in England to ensure that in case their ship sank, someone in the family would survive. He was left with a family on a farm, where he had such a glorious childhood that he never really took to conventional family life when his mother came back.

Her return was also a separation from his father, and this must have been the other reason why, unlike the children of other Empire families, Fermor never made it to India. His father only came ‘home’ on furloughs every three years. Fermor did recall, in A Time of Gifts, a trip with his father to the Italian Alps: “Laden with his field glasses and his butterfly net, I would get my breath while he was tapping at the quartz and the hornblende on the foothills of Mount Rosa with his hammer and clicking open a pocket lens to inspect the fossils and insects of the Monte della Crocea¦ What a change, I thought, from those elephants and the jungles full of monkeys and tigers which I imagined, not wholly wrongly, to be his usual means of transport and habitat.”

This holiday apart though, Fermor’s father hardly features in his work. He made sure that a letter to his father was only sent after he set off on his trip across Europe, with the hope that he would accept his son’s fait accompli and send the occasional infusions of money to help it along. “I would travel on foot, sleep in hayricks in summer, shelter in barns when it was raining or snowing and only consort with peasants and tramps. If I lived on bread and cheese and apples, jogging along on fifty pounds a yeara¦ there would even be some cash left over for paper and pencils and an occasional mug of beer. A new life! Freedom! Something to write about!”

Fermor doesn’t record Sir Lewis’ reaction. He was, for all that he wrote of his own journeys, not an autobiographical writer. While one gets a vivid sense of his personality, as reflected through both the high spirit and sensitivity of his writing, actual personal details are sparse. The few given in A Time of Gifts are only to set the context of the journey, and Fermor never wrote about perhaps the most amazing episode of his later life – of how during World War II, while living and fighting with the partisan resistance to the Germans in Crete, he organised the kidnap of the German general in charge of the island.

This almost impossibly dashing episode was made into a film, Ill Met By Moonlight, yet Fermor himself only referred to it once, in a footnote. There was clearly much more in his life he could have written about – his three-year relationship with a Romanian princess and his participation in a Greek cavalry charge, both after he finished his trip to Istanbul – but he didn’t, and no one else dared tread on such a superb writer’s turf while he was alive. A biography will now presumably come soon, and some version of the last book in his trilogy – both much anticipated.

A biography might explain more about his relationship with his father and India, but at least one link could be made. Fermor’s exuberant style often runs the risk of becoming too lush and self-indulgent, yet it is saved, each time, by detailed description and a focus on facts. Perhaps it was this love of observation, a precision that grounds the poetry and puts the object observed, rather than the observer, in focus that he picked up from his scientist father? His father used facts to build theories about the forces that formed the Deccan, and his son used facts too, gleaned from conversations with everyone from innkeepers to aristocrats, to build his picture of a Europe both ancient, yet soon to vanish forever.

Fermor doesn’t labour the point though, and it is one reason why he is such an attractive writer. You know the fate, between Nazis and Communists, that would come to the Jewish woodcutters and Hungarian counts that he meets, but these tragic ends don’t have to define their lives, and it is their happier vitality that he enshrines. Perhaps it was best that he never came to India where the rigid hierarchies of Raj life would have constrained him in a way that he never had to be, walking across Europe, voyaging through Caribbean or Greek islands, living and writing of a life that we can only envy and enjoy through his books.

Fermor’s work is studded with passages of stunning writing, but many are too long or need too much explanation of context to give in short. This passage though, from A Time of Gifts, marks one of the few times he took the train on his trip (for an off-route visit to Prague) and, quite casually, it paints a vivid image of a train in motion: “A goods train at another platform indicated the sudden accessibility of Warsaw.

PRAHA – BRNO – BRESLAU – LODZ – WARSZAVA. The words were stencilled across the trucks; the momentary vision of a sledded Polack jingled across my mind’s eye. When the train began to move, the word BRNO slid away in the opposite direction then BRNO! BRNO! BRNO! The dense syllable flashed past the window at decreasing intervals and we fell asleep and plunged on through the Moravian dark and into Bohemia.”

In search of a hero and friend of Greece

Patrick Leigh Fermor, outside his Greek home in 2001 where he and his wife lived for more than 40 years before her death in 2006

PATRICK Leigh Fermor, who died last weekend at the age of 96, was regarded by many as the greatest travel writer of the 20th century. But he was so much more. A distinctive prose stylist with deep reservoirs of erudition unclouded by self-regard, he was blessed with two qualities that no one ever taught at creative-writing school: a talent for friendship and a taste for hardship.

By Luke Slattery

First published in The Australian, 18 June 2011

Contemporary literary people tend to live rather sedentary lives. Paddy was different. He played a key role in the Greek resistance against the Reich, and was awarded the DSO for heroism. After the war he settled in Greece, on the barren western shore of the Peloponnese, and scratched out in longhand a brace of poetic and highly charged books about journeys rather than destinations.

A little less than a decade ago I called on him at the pretty fishing village in southern Greece that had for many years been his home. But arriving late in the day at Kardamyli, a warren of stone towers at the foot of Mount Taygetus, I discovered he was in Britain.

I was given a London number, which I called from a public phone amid piles of unwashed tomatoes and wilting lettuce outside the village store: “Should I wait in Kardamyli for your return?” I asked.

With scant appreciation of the nature of long-haul air travel – 28 hours from Sydney to Athens via Heathrow – he replied in a bright yet fragile tone: “Next visit.”

In his 88th year and recently bereaved, he explained he was “all awhirl”. His reticence was understandable. It was not a good time. But it had taken an age to get here!

Paddy lived from 1964 with his wife Joan just south of this sleepy seaside sentinel at the entrance to the Mani: a region of rust-coloured hills silvered by olive groves, which erupts here and there into insular hilltop villages that not long ago festered with clan feuds and rang with rifle fire. The writer found the place in an age when electricity was uncommon south of Kalamata, and saw it flourish into a favourite of middle-class British and German tourists.

His first sight of the village is evoked in Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese, one of his two famous Greek books (the other, Roumeli, relates his adventures in the north):

“Several towers and a cupola and a belfry rose above the roofs and a ledge immediately above them formed a lovely cypress-covered platform. Above this the bare Taygetus piled up.

“It was unlike any village I had seen in Greece. These houses, resembling small castles built of local stone and 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 10 foot high and all swaying together in the slightest whisper of wind. There was sand underfoot and nets were looped from tree to tree. Whitewashed ribbed amphorae for oil and wine, almost the size of those dug up in the palace of Minos, stood by many a doorway.”

My fascination with Leigh Fermor began some time in the late 1980s when I read A Time of Gifts, the first of two mesmerising accounts of a journey on foot across pre-war Europe. His youthful memoirs have a distinct flavour imparted by the circumstances of their composition: worked up from long-lost diaries discovered by chance when the author was middle-aged, they are as much a celebration of lost time as anything by Proust or Anthony Powell.

His journey began on a wet December day in 1933. Paddy was just 18. Putting school troubles behind him (he’d been a good scholar but a free and untamed spirit) he set out for Constantinople on foot with only a rucksack and an old army greatcoat to keep out the snow. A boat took him overnight from London to Rotterdam, and his trek began at first light: “My spirits, already high, steadily rose as I walked. I could scarcely believe that I was really there; alone, that is, on the move, advancing into Europe, surrounded by all this emptiness and change, with a thousand wonders waiting … I halted at a signpost to eat a hunk of bread with a yellow wedge of cheese sliced from a red cannon ball by a village grocer.”

A Time of Gifts is shot though with a sort of double-barrelled nostalgia. The writer remembers himself as a youth, and the 18-year-old he recalls is already full of remembering. Young Leigh Fermor registers the presence of the past keenly and so senses, in these pre-war years, that an ancient pattern of life is disappearing.

On the road from Cologne he spies the fringes of the Ruhr: “a distant palisade of industrial chimneys”. Dark clouds loom on the horizon. From the side street of a small German town files a column of SS troops. And the song that keeps time to their crunching tread? People to Arms!

The prose style is often ornate, yet the sensibility shaping Leigh Fermor’s verbal arabesques is robust, never prissy. The next instalment of his trek across Europe is titled Between the Woods and the Water. It leaves him at the door of Romania. I’m still waiting for a final leg of the trilogy, which promises to deliver both writer and reader to Constantinople in 1935. Paddy had been working on it for years, and his publishers have guaranteed posthumous publication “in due course”.

From Romania and Bulgaria, Paddy journeyed down the Black Sea coast, spending a night among piratical Balkan cave-dwellers.

Legendary Hellas beckoned, and he began to dream of Greece and the Greeks. He spent his 20th birthday in a monastery atop Mount Athos, his curiosity about such haunts later bearing fruit in a book about monastic life titled A Time to Keep Silence. He discovered an aptitude for Greek, took part in a minor military skirmish, roamed the country and fell in love with it. In 1940, as Mussolini bore down on the Albanian frontier, he was working as a liaison officer to Greek forces. When the Germans entered Greece he was dispatched by British special operations to Crete to organise local resistance.

By the spring of 1944, when the order went out to kidnap Hitler’s man on the island, Paddy had been on Crete for two years. General Karl Heinrich Kreipe was comfortably installed in the Villa Ariadne, (home to Arthur Evans during his excavations at Knossos), and drove there each day from German HQ. With a band of Cretan “brothers-in-arms” brandishing rifles, glinting eyes and ferocious whiskers, Leigh Fermor (by now a 29-year-old captain) abducted the general from his staff car and made off into the hills.

On the third morning the captive and his captors wake among the crags, the sun cresting over Mount Ida. The general smokes, gazing over the valley below, and murmurs the melancholy lines of Horace’s ninth ode, a lament for youth, inspired by the sight of another mountain range far away.

Leigh Fermor picks up the thread when the general leaves off, intoning the remaining five stanzas. Paddy later recalled the moment when Kreipe’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. 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.”

An academic recording oral history in western Crete heard a version of the Kreipe story sung in 1953. A mere nine years after the events it narrates, the tale had become a celebration of patriotic derring-do. Cretan folklore credits local guerilla Lefkaris Tambakis (not one of those responsible) with the heroic kidnapping, diminishes the British involvement, and inserts a fiction about a beautiful Cretan girl who sleeps with Kreipe solely to procure for the guerillas his itinerary.

While Leigh Fermor in this re-telling of his story is combined with another British officer and relegated to almost observer status he would not, I think, have been disappointed by its mythical afterlife. In Greece before the advent of mass tourism he found a place alive to the past, and to myth – and simply alive!

This passage from Mani is celebrated for its effervescence:

“Soon the delighted cry of ‘Delphinia!’ went up: a school of dolphins was gambolling half a mile further out to sea. They seemed to have spotted us at the same moment, for in a second half a dozen were tearing their way towards us, all surfacing in the same parabola and plunging together as though they were in some invisible harness. Soon they were careening alongside and round the bows and under the bowsprit, glittering mussel-blue on top, fading at the sides through gun-metal dune-like markings to pure white, streamlined and gleaming from their elegant beaks to the clean flukes of their tails. They were beautiful abstractions of speed, energy, power and ecstasy leaping out of the water and plunging and spiralling and vanishing like swift shadows.”

Soon after reading A Time of Gifts, in the late 1980s, I asked Leigh Fermor’s publishers about the possibility of an interview: nobody even knew of him. So when, in 1995, I met a retired Greek general of Leigh Fermor’s generation at a waterfront restaurant in Sydney, I was keen for news. Yes, he knew Paddy. The two were old friends, having met in Palestine in 1941. They had both, I later found out, helped blow up a bridge over the Gorgopotamos in 1942 in an early strike for special forces.

I left that meeting with a phone number and what sufficed for an address in Kardamyli. I called and spoke to Paddy briefly. He asked me to pass on a curious message to the general, whom he called Themi (short for Themistocles): “Tell him I’ve got the maps.” He was referring, I believe, to charts of Gorgopotamos.

I sent a letter to Paddy and received a reply, written on the back of a photograph of the author’s open-air study with a cat sitting beside his writing desk, as artfully posed as an Egyptian funerary decoration. This was Tiny Tot “who has gone to a better world and is now mousing above the clouds”, he explained, and went on to fill in a few details about the war. I still have that note. And it led me in time to his home.

Having finally arrived, I was in no great hurry to leave. I rented a cottage by the beach with a view of the millpond Messenian Gulf. I got burnt. I went brown. I swam half a kilometre out from the pebbled beach and starfished on my back gazing at the sun.

While shopping one day for provisions, the store owner cried that Leigh Fermor had returned after his convalescence in London. My admiration for the writer was genuine, and I had come a long way. And hadn’t he once been gracious enough to write? So I should surely try one last time to arrange a meeting.

But then I caught myself. I looked down at my dusty sandalled feet, and up at the line of gums and power lines surmounted by bald-headed Taygetus.

Leigh Fermor’s life had been a procession of adventures. My journey to Kardamyli had been a much more modest quest, but then I lived in an unadventurous age. I was grateful for Kardamyli, and to Paddy.

I returned from Greece with that phone number in the pocket of the jacket I was wearing the day I decided, finally, to be content with the man I knew from the writing I loved.

Paddy’s memorial service

Just a very quick update to inform many of you who have enquired about a date for Paddy’s memorial service.

It is likely that this will not take place until late 2011, perhaps even in December. When I know more I will update you all.

In the meantime there may be a service in Kardamyli but nothing is set yet.

Leigh Fermor’s hidden letters to see the light

It has been 15 years in the making but at last Artemis Cooper’s official biography of Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor has got a publication date. Cooper was first contracted to write an account of the life of her friend, the great travel writer, back in the Nineties but Leigh Fermor had requested that it was not to be published until after his death, which came last Friday at the grand age of 96.  Cooper, wife of historian Antony Beevor and daughter of John Julius Norwich, is now expecting the book to come out late next year with John Murray, also Sir Paddy’s publisher. The delay is believed to be down to a number of private letters — possibly to his late wife, Joan Leigh Fermor— which he did not want to be in the public sphere while he was still alive. Sir Patrick was in his eighties when the book was commissioned and friends confess that they did not expect such a long wait. As a young man he walked across Europe and swam the Bosphorus. He lived for many years in the Peloponnese. Recently, his correspondence with the Duchess of Devonshire, edited by Charlotte Mosley, was published.Cooper, administrator of the Duff Cooper literary prize in memory of her grandfather, is still holding back the exciting details of the book. “It’s not finished yet,” she tells me, dodging questions about the content. “We’ll do it in time for Christmas next year.” Leigh Fermor’s funeral will be held on Thursday in the village of Dumbleton in Gloucestershire, where Joan is buried.

From the Londoner’s Diary in The Evening Standard, 14 June 2011

Economist obituary: Paddy Leigh Fermor

Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor, traveller, writer and war hero, died on June 10th, aged 96

First published in the Economist, Jun 16th 2011

ONE evening in the spring of 1934 19-year-old Patrick Leigh Fermor, making his way on foot from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople, found himself taking tea under flowering horse-chestnut trees at the kastely of Korosladany, in Hungary.

“We sat talking until it was lighting-up time, and indoors pools of lamplight were being kindled with spills along the succession of lavender-smelling rooms. It lit the backs of bindings, pictures, furniture which had reached exactly the right pitch of faded country-house shabbiness, curtains laundered hundreds of times over and music open above the keys of a piano. What music? I can’t remember; but suddenly, sailing into my mind after all these years, there is a bowl on the piano of enormous white and red peonies and a few petals have dropped on the polished floor.”

Wherever he went, the dusty young traveller stumbled on scenes like this. His hosts in the oddest corners of central Europe dressed in black tie for dinner, played ferocious bicycle polo in the courtyard, or catalogued their butterfly collections in cavernous libraries where he could lose himself deliriously among folios, almanacs and scrolls with dangling seals. They lent him pearl-handled pistols and a superb chestnut horse “with more than a touch of Arab to his brow” to take him across the plains. Long Turkish nargileh were indolently smoked, Tokay swigged from cut glass; while, upstairs, staff would be neatly laying out on his bed the rumpled canvas trousers and thin tweed jacket which were the smartest clothes he had, purchased for his odyssey from Millet’s army surplus in the Strand.

He had set out on his great walk for a jumble of reasons, but mostly to have fun. He felt “preternaturally light”, as he left London, “as though I were already away and floating like a djinn escaped from its flask.” Formal education didn’t suit him; the wild, noisy boy couldn’t bear to be hemmed in with rules or bounds, and had been expelled from King’s Canterbury for holding hands with a greengrocer’s daughter. Yet he loved books, especially the tales of Sir Walter Scott and Charles Kingsley’s “Heroes”, and could now see himself as a knight or a wandering scholar, going from castle to castle or, just as happily, sleeping in woods and barns or under the stars.

In his rucksack he carried, besides pencils and notebooks, poetry. As he went he recited Keats, Marlowe and Shakespeare, astonishing the rustics he met—just as he would later amaze his dinner guests, in Worcestershire or in his Elysian house by the sea in deepest Greece, with non-stop recitations, arcane facts, stories and songs, not infrequently ending with “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” sung in Hindi.

He was a compulsive autodidact, wanting to know the names and nature of everything. Entering a strange region, he would grapple with its history, rifling through the Encyclopedia Britannica and Meyers Konversationslexicon to trace the movements of tribes and the collision of cultures, producing in his books whole page-lists of Klephts and Armatoles, Kroumides and Koniarides, Phanariots of the Sublime Porte and boyars of Moldowallachia, until his readers swooned. With the same high-spirited eagerness, and a flask full of local fire-water, he would run into taverns, caves, shepherd huts and gypsy camps, hungry to pick up the unknown language and join in. Dashing and courteous, splendidly handsome, he wished often for the strange hats he saw, bowler or thin-brimmed, foot-high or scarlet-plumed, in order to flourish them high to all the people who wished him well.

Critics of his two best-loved books, “A Time of Gifts” (1977) and “Between the Woods and the Water” (1986), complained that he swanned through 1930s Europe without noticing the clouds. His visit to the Munich Hofbräuhaus mostly described the enormous girth and appetite of ordinary Bavarians, barely mentioning the black-clad SS men in another room. An encounter with orthodox Jews in Transylvania focused on a reading, which thrilled him, of the Song of Miriam in Hebrew. Though both books were written decades after the event, he added no politics to them. Culture, beauty, romance and laughter were what he saw and cared for.

By the same token, he never wrote about his wartime experience as a liaison officer with the partisan guerrillas in Crete—except to mention the swagger-black boots and mulberry sash of his disguise, and the evenings of drinking raki and cracking walnuts outside their mountain hideouts. He earned his DSO for crazily kidnapping a German general; but the moment he remembered was when that general, one dawn of his captivity, suddenly quoted a line of Horace, Vides ut alta stet nive candidum/Soracte; and Captain Leigh Fermor, aka Michali, finished the next five stanzas for him.

He refused a knighthood almost to the end, pointing out that he had written only a slow handful of books. This was true. He had become famous largely for chronicling a Europe that had been swept away, and had spent a charmed life without a regular job, fed—as he liked to put it—like Elijah, by the ravens. But he had done more. His wandering, writing life evoked the essential unity of Europe, the cultural and linguistic intertwinings and layer upon layer of shared history; and all with a lightness, and an infectious joy, that inspired many others to set out in the same way.

Traveller’s Rest

"I have been lost again in a forest of whiskers for about three weeks, and my old mountain chums are down in the plains now, looking incredibly wild and shaggy"

From the personal blog of John Stathatos, who knew Paddy well and is a photographer based in the Greek island of Kythera.

Patrick Leigh Fermor, ‘Paddy’ to his many friends as well as to the numerous readers for whom he became an admired and much-loved figure, died on June 10th at the age of 96. He had fallen gravely ill in Greece towards the middle of May; when the end became inevitable, he asked to be flown back to England, arriving with less than a day in hand.

Paddy was loved as much for himself as for his writing, not only in England and Greece, his adopted second country, but seemingly also everywhere in the world his books had penetrated. It is almost impossible to think of an equivalent public figure of whom it could be said that throughout a long life lived at high physical and intellectual intensity, he showed true malice towards none, encountering little if any in return.

This delightful sketch of himself in Cretan dress was penned at the top of a letter to my mother dated 17th November, 1944; as he explains, “I have been lost again in a forest of whiskers for about three weeks, and my old mountain chums are down in the plains now, looking incredibly wild and shaggy”. Ελαφρύ το χώμα που τον σκέπασε.

John Stathatos

Le Monde: Mort de l’écrivain voyageur Patrick Leigh Fermor

By Jean Soublin

First published in Le Monde 17 June 2011

En 1944, le jeune Leigh Fermor, issu de la grande bourgeoisie anglaise, organisait en Crète la résistance contre l’occupant allemand. Il parvint avec ses maquisards à capturer un général SS et l’emmena pour le cacher dans les montagnes avant de l’acheminer vers la mer, d’où on l’enverrait en Egypte. Alors que le soleil apparaissait derrière le mont Ida, l’Allemand murmura le début d’une strophe latine dans laquelle Horace célèbre cette montagne. Le jeune Fermor, bon latiniste lui aussi, continua la strophe. “Ach so, Herr Major !” lui glissa le SS. Cette émotion partagée par deux hommes enracinés dans les mêmes valeurs littéraires a sans doute marqué le jeune Anglais : presque tous les ouvrages qu’il a publiés sont empreints de ce qu’on pourrait qualifier de “Désir d’Europe”. L’envie de connaître, de comprendre, et finalement de chanter sa patrie européenne, ses origines grecques, son histoire commune, ses valeurs partagées.

Son premier ouvrage, publié au début des années cinquante, est pourtant un récit de voyage aux Antilles : The Travellers Tree. Fermor donne ici sa première leçon, magistrale, sur la manière de voyager, de ressentir, de partager et de décrire ce qui compte : les paysages, naturellement, mais surtout la vie des gens, leurs espoirs et leurs découragements. De Trinidad à la Jamaïque, avec un long et passionnant passage sur Haïti, toujours attentif aux croyances : ses commentaires sur le vaudou sont fascinants. On retrouve cette même veine antillaise dans son unique nouvelle : The Violins of Saint Jacques, un petit chef-d’œuvre d’observation attristée, sa seule œuvre de fiction.

Les ouvrages suivants, sont écrits surtout en Grèce, où l’auteur s’est installé au cours des années cinquante et où il passera la plus grande partie de sa vie : Mani et Rouméli décrivent les paysages et les personnages du Péloponnèse. C’est aussi de cette époque que date A Time to Keep Silence : une réflexion religieuse. Fermor y observe la vie monacale dans diverses abbayes françaises et termine en les comparant aux communautés monastiques de Cappadoce. Continue reading

Πάτρικ Λη Φέρμορ, «Ελληνας» από επιλογή, πολίτης του κόσμου

From John Stathatos

An article about Paddy pubished on the 15th in Kathimerini, the leading Greek broadsheet newspaper. The last paragraph is particularly interesting: “The stone-built house which he raised with his own hands in Kardamyli has been left to the Benaki Museum. According to the museum’s director, Angelos Delivorias, “It was his wish that that the house should provide hospitality and a place to work in for a few months to writers and poets visiting Greece” (my translation).



Του Σπυρου Γιανναρα

Λίγοι άνθρωποι αξιώνονται να μνημονεύονται ως θρύλοι πριν από τον θάνατό τους. Λίγοι έχουν την ευτυχία να ζήσουν έναν πολυκύμαντο και δημιουργικό βίο σαν του Πάτρικ Λη Φέρμορ. Ο αυτοδίδακτος λόγιος στρατιωτικός, που από ήρωας πολέμου μεταμορφώθηκε σε μεγάλη προσωπικότητα των γραμμάτων, τίμησε με το έργο του τη γενέτειρά του, αλλά και τον επίλεκτο τόπο της καρδιάς του, την Ελλάδα. Ο μεγαλύτερος συγγραφέας ταξιδιωτικής λογοτεχνίας της εποχής μας, σύμφωνα με Βρετανούς ομοτέχνους του, όπως ο Ουίλιαμ Νταλρίμπλ, έγραψε βιβλία για τη «Μάνη» (1958) και τη «Ρούμελη» (1966) σε μια θαυμάσια πρόζα που ενέπνευσε μεγάλους συγγραφείς του είδους, όπως ο διακεκριμένος μαθητής του, Μπρους Τσάτουιν. Δεν είναι τυχαίο, άλλωστε, ότι ο Φέρμορ ήταν εκείνος που σκόρπισε τις στάχτες του Τσάτουιν σ’ ένα βυζαντινό παρεκκλήσι κοντά στο σπίτι του στην Καρδαμύλη. Continue reading

King’s School Canterbury: Death of Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor

Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor, one of the school’s most distinguished former pupils died on Friday 10 June.

Published on the King’s School Canterbury website 12th June 2011

Born in 1915, Paddy Leigh Fermor was in The Grange from 1929 to 1931, when his school career came to a premature end. For his own view of the school see the final passage in Memories of King’s. He had a distinguished war career, especially in Crete. His involvement in the kidnap of General Kreipe was later the subject of the film Ill Met By Moonlight, directed by another OKS Michael Powell.

He is widely regarded as the best travel writer of the twentieth century. A Time of Gifts (1977) and Between the Woods and the Water (1986) describe his journey across Europe in the mid-1930s.

He returned to the school on several occasions, most recently in 2007 to open the new Grange boarding house.

Many tributes to him can be seen here: Patrick Leigh Fermor.

Related articles:

Some Memories of King’s .. And the final word goes to?

Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor opens new facility at King’s School Canterbury

An account of Paddy’s funeral

I drove over to Paddy Leigh Fermor’s funeral at Dumbleton today. I have no connection with the family. What follows is just a series of observations for other fans who could not be there, separated only by time and distance.

This account of Paddy’s funeral was written and submitted by’Andy’.

Dumbleton is a small Cotswold village set in green pastoral of unripe wheat fields and hay meadows. The honour guard  was provided by veterans of the Intelligence Corps, PLF’s old regiment. Two uniformed Intelligence Corps soldiers complete with green lanyards were also present.

The church was full – many men in dark suits and several Greeks among them. A cheery woman welcomed us and a choir in blue smocks crammed into the stalls. As the coffin was borne in by four local undertakers the priest, the Rev Nicholas Carter, intoned, ‘I am the resurrection and the light. Whosoever believeth in me shall never die,’  always the most stirring start to a Church of England funeral.

Sarah Gabriel sang, ‘Amazing Grace,’ her voice  filling the church, capturing, perhaps, the loneliness of death and departure. Then Colin Thubron read Sir Thomas Browne – The Garden of Cyrus with its admonition to ‘close the five ports of knowledge.’

We then stood to sing ‘The King of love my shepherd is…’ The second reading was taken from the apocryphal Book of James, chapter XVIII verse two. Mary is just about to give birth to the Christ child. Everything comes to a standstill, frozen for an instance, as the author of their motion is born of woman. The piece was read very competently by Robert Kenward, concluding, ‘And of a sudden all things moved onward in their course.’

The most challenging part of the service must have been the sermon. How does one write and then deliver a eulogy for a man widely revered as the greatest writer in the English language, certainly of his generation, if not the entire cannon?

The genial Reverend Carter mounted the pulpit and cast off with aplomb and  bonhomie.  Comparing PLF’s life to a ‘wine goblet overflowing with rich red wine,’ he paid tribute to PLF’s wide range of interests and uncanny ability to put people at ease – be they mountain shepherds or English aristocrats. ‘He saw himself first as a solider,’ said Carter.  Second he was a writer, using ‘a rich panoply of words.’ Most importantly  he paid tribute to PLF’s love of Greece, the country, its culture, its people and ouzo. The vicar startled the congregation briefly by urging us to take up where Patrick Leigh Fermor had left off. Various journalists and writers shifted uneasily in the pews. The day seemed suddenly hotter. ‘….By swimming the Hellespont aged 70,’ Carter went on. A much more realisable aspiration than equalling PLF’s literary fountain.

Of equal importance was his marriage to Joan, daughter of local family, Eyres-Monsell.  ‘Joan was a soul mate and it was one of the happiest of marriages with always a deep love and affection between them.’ Sir Patrick, as he was referred to throughout, was always, ‘generous of spirit,’ – the sixth sense still extant in the absence of the other five. Deeply compassionate, PLF, was ‘always an English gentlemen, always impeccably dressed and unfailingly polite….He gave of himself unstintingly to all who needed him.

Quoting St John, ‘I am come that you might have life and have it to the full,’ Carter said, it was as if PLF, ‘picked up this quote and shone a torch on it..’  Nicholas Carter went on, ‘He was in constant celebration of being alive.’ And then ended with a traditional Greek blessing. ‘On touching sand may it always turn to gold.’

After the Lord’s Prayer and a rather wonderful hymn written by J. S. B. Monsell 1811 – 1875. Sarah Gabriel sang again. This must have been planned by the ever humorous PLF a while ago. Sarah Gabriel sang  ‘Vedrai Carino,’ from Mozart’s Don Guiovanni.  Reading a translation is well worth it. In the song the peasant girl,  Zerklina, promises to comfort her lover. ‘You’ll see, dearest, if you’re a good boy what a lovely remedy I’ll give you…’ Clearly Patrick Leigh Fermor’s idea of the kingdom of heaven is wonderfully at variance with that of more serious theologians. The song continues, ‘Do you want to know where I keep it?’

The undertakers and Intelligence Corps had taken up their position, ramrod straight before the coffin, before the song commenced. At its conclusion they bore Patrick Leigh Fermor to his final resting place in the east of the country churchyard as Dr Alastair Kiszeley played the ‘Flowers of the Forest’ on the bagpipes outside. A bugler from the Irish Guards – PLF’s first regiment – immaculate in mirror finished boots, scarlet tunic and Bearskin, delivered the Last Post…note perfect.

Afterwards we approached the grave and threw pecks of confetti down. The sun shone throughout.

Behind the church an elderly couple were watering their garden. Despite his many travels and the inspiring association with Greece, Paddy Leigh Fermor lived and died an Englishman. An officer and a gentleman, he lies at home beside his adored wife deep in the English countryside. England may not always realise it but she is the richer for his courage, his bravery and his superlative blessing of her language. Rest in peace.

Related articles:

The Funeral Service of Patrick Leigh Fermor, 16 June 2011

 He was in constant celebration of being alive

From Hellenic Voice: Reflections on the life of Sir Patrick

By Alexander Billinis.

First published in The Hellenic Voice, 15 June 2011

I never had the honor of meeting Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor in person, though I know he often spent time in Hydra, my ancestral island, and I imagine that I must have raced by him some summer, a kid on the way to the rocks we called a beach there. Gone is Greece’s greatest biographer, perhaps the greatest travel writer in history, but his beautiful prose provides him with immortality.

Sir Patrick was born in 1915, in the thick of the First World War. He spent his first years in the English countryside, developing an independent, noble spirit that is the hallmark of the best of English eccentrics. Not for the structure of school, he had his own higher education on foot, traveling at 18 from the London docks via barge to the Dutch coast, and then traveling, mostly on foot, from the Netherlands to Constantinople. He stayed in haystacks, houseboats, small inns, and as his charm, good looks, exceptional facility for languages, and genuine intellect became better known, in palaces and castles.

He chronicled these travels in three books: “A Time of Gifts,” chronicles his travels from the Dutch coast to the Danubian frontiers of Slovakia and Hungary. His second, “Between the Woods and the Water,” describes his journeys and adventures through Hungary and Romania, ending, again, at the Danube bridge at Ruse, thence into Bulgaria. His third volume, about Bulgaria and Turkish Thrace, is currently in manuscript form and we can hope that it will be released as a posthumous tribute to Sir Patrick. I have had the benefit of visiting many of the places Sir Patrick describes, and his books are the perfect companion.

After successfully completing this journey to Constantinople, Sir Patrick went to Greece, the start of his lifelong association with the country. After spending some time in 1930s Greece, he went to Romania with his first great love, the Phanariot-Romanian princess Balasha Cantacuzene. With the coming of war in 1939, Sir Patrick returned to Britain to serve his country.

Sir Patrick’s knowledge of the Balkans resulted in a liaison posting to Greece, where he witnessed firsthand the heroism of the Greek counterattack of the Italian invasion. After the fall of Greece to the Germans, Sir Patrick worked with the Resistance in Crete, spending the greater part of two years as “one of them” and earning the lasting affection of the Cretans, which was mutual. Here “Patrick” became “Michali” as he was affectionately known thereafter in Greece.

It was in Crete that Sir Patrick/Kyrios Michalis, with the help of a small band of British and Greek commandos, and the general constant support of the heroic Cretan people that he pulled off his greatest coup – the capture of the German commandant of Crete, Gen. Kriepe. After a roadside carjacking near Iraklion, on Crete’s north shore, Sir Patrick and company hauled their quarry across Crete’s sheer and beautiful mountain spine to the southern shores where a British ship whisked him to British headquartersin Egypt. Sir Patrick recalls one morning, high in the Cretan mountains, when the general quoted passages from the Roman poet Horace, in Latin. Sir Patrick finished the verse, and the general and he, in the chaos of war, suddenly realized they once, as Sir Patrick said, drank from “the same fountains long before.” Years later, when meeting Sir Patrick again, Gen. Kriepe said that Sir Patrick treated him “wie ein Ritter– like a knight.”

Postwar, Sir Patrick knocked about in various places, including the Caribbean, but by the mid 1950s his center of gravity became Greece. He wrote two books, “Mani: Travels in Southern Greece,” and “Roumeli: Travels in Northern Greece,” which are exceptional biographies of a land he came to love as his own. Many consider them the finest travel books ever written. He and his wife, Joan, an accomplished photographer, eventually chose the Mani for their home, and designed and built a house by themselves in Kardamyli.

Sir Patrick wrote prolifically in a prose from another time. His is an era outside the digital, soundbyte age – an era steeped in the Classics and elegance. It is easy to picture him as a youth in an Austrian schloss, charming his Triestine Greek hostess, dancing in a prewar club in Budapest, or composing

mantinades over raki and cracking walnuts with a pistol butt on some cliff off Mount Ida in Crete. He was at home in all these circumstances, and we have the privilege of vicarious attendance via his rich prose. He remained, as we say in Greek, a

gero potiri,a “tough glass,” and writer Anthony Lane wrote, in 2006, “If you think that you can match him ouzo for ouzo, on a back street in downtown Athens, you better think again.”

His love and knowledge of Greece was profound and profuse, and while his love did not make him blind to her darker sides, his ability to express Greece so beautifully and fundamentally, together with his plethora of friends and admirers in all places, no doubt enhanced Greece’s tourist appeal in the initial stages of the tourism boom. It is a pity that Greece of today, again in profound need, lacks such an erudite, elegant advocate. We could use one.

When writing about the passing of Georgos Katsimbalis, his dear friend, an intellectual giant, and a champion of Greek letters, Fermor wrote, “These pages are filled with landmarks that have vanished, but George, in a very special sense, is not one of them.” The same can be said for Sir Patrick.

Alexander Billinis is a Greek American writer living in Serbia. For readers unfamiliar with Sir Patrick’s writing, he recommends “Words of Mercury,” edited by Artemis Cooper.

Patrick Leigh Fermor: A Personal Memoir

One of the downsides of getting older – I am now 62 – is that one’s friends die. Friday, it was the turn of Patrick Leigh Fermor, aged ninety-six, and I am having trouble accepting that he is gone.

By Paul A. Rahe

First published in Ricochet on 12 June 2011.

I first met Paddy in the summer of 1983. I was working then – oddly enough, as I am working right now – on a book on classical Sparta, and I had a grant and a hunch. The Spartan way of life was based on something like slave labor. The Spartans ruled the southernmost two-fifths of the Peloponnesus and drew their livelihood from farms worked by their helots (the word in Greek means captives), who reportedly outnumbered them seven-to-one. In their realm, there were and are two river valleys – one in Laconia and the other in Messenia – divided by a mountain range named Taygetus, and there was and is mountainous terrain elsewhere in Messenia. I had read extensively about the history of slavery, and I was persuaded that there must have been gangs of runaway helots in the hills of Messenia, as there later were in early modern Jamaica and in other locales where servile labor was the norm and there was wilderness nearby. I knew that the Greek resistance during the Second World War had operated in the mountainous country of northern Greece, but I knew little about their operations in the Peloponnesus. A fellow ancient historian who had lived in Greece for some years and had tried to make it as a novelist said to me, when he heard of my hunch, “You ought to talk to Paddy Leigh Fermor. He lives down there, and he fought with the resistance on Crete. He lives in Kardamyle. You should look him up.”

And that is precisely what I did. With the grant I had been given, I bought a plane ticket, and I spent some weeks in the company of a former student who hailed from Thessalonica, exploring the Peloponnesus – by boat, in a rental car, and on foot. Kardamyle was in the Mani – the southernmost prong of the Taygetus range, and it was one of the towns that Agamemnon had offered Achilles in an attempt to get him to take the girl back. When we got there, however, Paddy was away. So I mailed him a brief note and moved on. When we returned, I telephoned him – and he immediately invited the two of us to lunch.

Leyla, who had long been their cook, produced a sumptuous feast. We ate, and we drank, and then we drank some more – and the next thing we knew it was 5 p.m. Paddy and Joan, fearful that we were too intoxicated to successfully traverse the half-mile on foot back to Kardamyle, offered us beds. It was one of the most delightful afternoons that I have ever spent. The historian and journalist Max Hasting has observed that Paddy was “perhaps the most brilliant conversationalist of his time.” Never have I encountered anyone as entertaining.

Paddy was – there is no other word for it – a hero. He lived the strenuous life. There was in him an exuberance that could not be contained. Christopher Marlowe, who was of a similar temperament, managed to make it through the King’s School in Canterbury, but Paddy did not. There was some hanky-panky with the daughter of a greengrocer, but that cannot have been the whole story. “He is a dangerous mixture of sophistication and recklessness,” his housemaster wrote in an official report, “which makes one anxious about his influence on other boys.” I would have been anxious myself.

Not long thereafter, with the support of his mother, who mailed him a fiver from time to time, Paddy set out in December, 1933 by ship for the Hook of Holland – and walked from there to Constantinople and on to Mount Athos and its monasteries. It took him more a year, and you can read about his adventures in two of the books that he later published – A Time of Gifts (1978) and Between the Woods and the Water (1986) – which together constitute what the Germans call a Bildungsroman. In those volumes, you will encounter a world of peasants and aristocrats, of socialists and fascists that no longer exists.

Balasha Cantacuzene

On that journey, Paddy met an older woman. He was nineteen. She was married and thirty-one. You can find a description of the beginning their affair in the second of the two volumes mentioned above. Her name was Bălaşa Cantacuzino, and she was a Romanian princess descended from the Byzantine royal house. When his trip was over, they settled down together, oscillating between Athens and at her country house in Moldavia. Then came the Second World War, and he volunteered for the British army. The two would not meet again until after the fall of Nicolae Ceaușescu in 1989.

During the war, Paddy fought in Albania, Greece, and on Crete. After being evacuated to Cairo, he joined the Special Operations Executive and spent much of the remainder of the war running guerrilla operations in the mountains of Crete. He left the island in May, 1944 under truly exceptional circumstances. On 26 April 1944, on a bet made with friends back in Cairo, Paddy, W. Stanley Moss, and a group of Cretan shepherds kidnapped General Karl Heinrich Georg Ferdinand Kreipe, the German commander on the island.

The two Englishmen dressed up as German police corporals and stopped Kreipe’s car as he was making his way back one evening to his villa near Knossos. Having eliminated the chauffeur, Paddy put on the general’s hat, and Billy Moss drove the car. Kreipe was hidden beneath the back seat – on which three hefty Cretan andartes sat. They then bluffed their way through Heraklion and an addition twenty-two checkpoints before ditching the car and hiking into the mountains – where, for three weeks, they evaded German search parties before being picked up by a British motor launch on the south coast.

At one point, as they neared the top of Mount Ida at the break of dawn, Kreipe quoted the first line of Horace’s ode Ad Thaliarchum – “Vides ut alta stet nive candidum Soracte” (See how Soracte stands white with snow on high), and Paddy finished the poem to its end. “At least,” the general remarked, “I am in the hands of gentlemen.” In the days that followed, before they were evacuated to Cairo, the two discussed Greek tragedy and Latin poetry. In 1972, they would meet again in Athens to tape a television show. Afterwards, Paddy once told me, they went out to dinner and sang old German drinking songs. Well before that time, however, Billy Moss had published a book on the incident entitled Ill Met by Moonlight, and Michael Powell had made a movie with the same name in which Dirke Bogarde was cast as Paddy.

Before the war, Paddy had begun his literary career with a translation of of CP Rodocanachi’s novel Forever Ulysses (1938). Afterwards, he began to write books of his own. The first of these was a travel book, focused on the West Indies and entitled The Traveller’s Tree (1950). It won the Heinemann Foundation Prize for Literature. Soon thereafter he published a novel set in Martinique entitled The Violins of Saint-Jacques (1953), which was turned into an opera by Malcolm Williamson; a meditation on monasticism entitled A Time to Keep Silence (1957); and two travel books focused on two of the wilder regions of Greece: Mani (1958) and Roumeli (1966). That all of these remain in print is no surprise. Five years ago, Paddy was described to me by an Oxford don as the greatest living master of English prose.

In 1984, I was offered by the Institute of Current World Affairs a fellowship two years in length, which would take me to Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus, and I jumped at the chance to situate myself in Istanbul (where I lived in the neighborhood in which Claire Berlinski now resides) and to explore the landscape and experience the seasons in the world within which the ancient Greeks had made their home. I spent most of my time in Turkey, exploring its nooks and crannies and writing long newsletters about contemporary affairs. From time to time, however, I hopped a plane to Greece, interviewed various figures in Athens, and partied with some journalists I knew (Robert Kaplan was based in Athens in those days).

On those occasions, I always took a bus to Kardamyle and spent a few days with Paddy and Joan. Their house, which Paddy had designed himself, was built out of stone and situated on a bluff overlooking the sea. We rose when we chose, ate breakfast separately, and Paddy put pen to paper while Joan saw to the management of the establishment – and I read a novel, a travel book, or something pertinent to the composition of my first book Republics Ancient and Modern (which Paddy would later review for the Christmas books section of The Spectator).

After lunch, where we drank a considerable amount of wine, we would nap. Then, we would go back to work, and, at about 5 p.m., Paddy and I would head off for an extended walk in the mountains. He was about seventy at the time, but he was astonishingly vigorous. Every day he would go for a long swim, disappearing into the drink and reappearing a half hour later. On his seventieth birthday, he swam the Hellespont – something that very few men half that age could manage. (I know. I watched from a motor launch once while a thirty-something friend gave it a try).

Before dinner, there were drinks. “C’est le moment,” Paddy would say, quoting Victor Hugo, “quand les lions vont boire.” Dinner itself was a feast, and it often ended with the singing of songs. Paddy taught me The Foggy, Foggy Dew, and I taught him They Call the Wind Maria. After a week or so, I would take the bus back to Athens and head on to Greek Cyprus or back to Istanbul. On one such occasion, I carried to the British embassy the manuscript of Between the Woods and the Water. From there, I gather, it was sent on by diplomatic pouch to Paddy’s publisher in London. He had served his country well, and his compatriots took good care of him. He was offered a knighthood in 1991 and finally accepted one in 2004.

In the 1990s, when I came to Greece in the summer, I would fly in to the Athens international airport, and then I would generally take a bus across to the domestic airport, go up to the counter, look over the available flights, and book a ticket for an island that I had never visited. Then, after a week or so on, say, Paros, I would go down to the harbor and catch whatever boat there happened to be – for Lemnos or Andros or some other unfamiliar spot. Eventually, after having spent three or four weeks exploring, I would return to Athens and go down to the Mani to see Paddy and Joan. The routine in Kardamyle was the same – except that, towards the end of the millennium, Paddy was less able to hike in the mountains.

After I got married, there was less traveling. In 2003, however, I did manage to see Paddy in England at their country house in Gloucestershire (Joan was the daughter of a Viscount). Ours was a subdued lunch. Joan had died at the age of ninety-one in Kardamyle hardly more than a week before. I last saw him in Kardamyle in March, 2006. I had spent Michaelmas and Hilary Terms as a Visiting Fellow at All Souls College, Oxford, and I was about to take up a similar fellowship at the American Academy in Berlin. There were, however, two weeks in which we had no place to call our own. So my wife, our daughters, and I flew to Greece, rented a car, and, after a brief visit to Athens, headed to Delphi and on from there to the Peloponnesus – where we stopped at Olympia, the Apollo Temple at Vassae, Mycenae, and other sights. I tried to call Paddy, but the Greeks had added a digit to the old number, and I could not figure it out. So we drove to Kardamyle and then out to his house on the outskirts of town, and I rang the bell.

Paddy at home

And there he was – older, quite a bit slower in his gait, but very much himself. “Paul Rahe,” he said. “I don’t believe my eyes. Come in, my dear boy.” And when I mentioned my family, his response was immediate: “Bring them in. You can all stay here.” And so we did. That night we took him to dinner at the restaurant in town that Leyla now runs, and we sat up late talking and drinking. His eyesight was not good. He had glaucoma and in the candlelight at one point was not sure that we were still there. He had had a heart attack and had a pacemaker. He could hardly walk up the drive to the highway. But there was still a twinkle in his eye, and he was as alive as ever.

He was also writing, and in his nineties, after decades of resistance, he had actually learned how to type (no one could read his handwriting). A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water were intended to be the first two parts of a trilogy. With the third part, he had had a terrible time. After 1989, he had returned to Roumania and Bulgaria to retrace his steps, and it was not as he remembered it. When I visited in the 1990s, I would ask about the third volume, and Joan would pull me aside and tell me not to mention it. “He is having trouble with it. He is very frustrated. That trip back to review his path robbed him of the confidence he had in his memory,” she once said.

When I saw Paddy in 2006, however, he was halfway done with the manuscript, and he was going over it to look for things that could be cut. I gather that somewhere in the house at Kardamyle there is a manuscript and that on the cover it reads “Volume Three.” I wonder what he called it. That last night just over five years ago, he, my wife, and I tried to come up with a title, and we could not think of anything satisfactory.

If and when the third volume of his trilogy does come out, I will buy a copy. Reading it will, I am confident, bring back the man. His other books do. I doubt, however, whether I will ever meet the like again – and that I very much regret. Perhaps the biography that Artemis Cooper is writing will relieve my gloom.

36 Hours only! – Colin Thubron talks about Paddy on BBC Radio 3 Night Waves

At last a (somewhat) decent discussion about Paddy from the BBC. The travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor died last Friday and his death has been followed by an outpouring of respect and admiration from fellow writers. Colin Thubron talks to Philip Dodd about the man and his writing.

Available to listen on iPlayer only until 10:47PM Mon, 20 Jun 2011.

The discussion starts at 38 Minutes and 10 seconds into the programme. Just click on the picture and then slide the cursor to that point to play. It will buffer very quickly.

The Humanist in the Foxhole

Not so sure about the ‘minor’ bit ….

By Robert D Kaplan

First published in the New York Times, 15 June 2011

PATRICK LEIGH FERMOR, who died last week at age 96 at his home in England, was one of the great minor men of the 20th century. A hero for helping undermine the German occupation of Crete during World War II, he went on to become one of the greatest travel writers of his era.

At first glance, Fermor seems a throwback to the age of derring-do imperialists like T. E. Lawrence. But he did not simply glorify king and country; rather, he combined the traits of a soldier, linguist and humanist, and he appreciated history and culture for their own sake even as he used that wisdom to defend civilization. In today’s world of overly specialized foreign-policy knowledge, in which military men, politicians and academics inhabit disconnected intellectual universes, we need more generalists like Fermor.

Trained in the classics before being expelled from the King’s School in Canterbury, Fermor was the last member of an English-language literary Byzantium, which included Robert Byron, Freya Stark and Lawrence Durrell. Travel writers all, these children of empire had as their lair the Eastern Mediterranean and the greater Middle East.

The absence of electronic distractions gave these writers time to read and hone their intellects, allowing them to describe cultures and landscapes in exquisite but not needlessly florid language. Here is Fermor in his 1966 travel book, “Roumeli,” describing the sounds of the various regions of Greece: “Arcadia is the double flute, Arachova the jingle of hammers on the strings of a dulcimer, Roumeli a klephtic song heckled by dogs and shrill whistles, Epirus the trample of elephants, the Pyrrhic stamp, the heel slapped in the Tsamiko dance, the sigh of Dodonian holm-oaks and Acroceraunian thunder and rain.”

Unlike the young Winston Churchill in Sudan or the Prussian general Helmuth von Moltke journeying through the Ottoman Empire, Fermor and his friends refused to reduce the world to questions of strategy and national interest: they were more taken by culture and landscape, which in fact made them more valuable than most intelligence agents.

Following the Nazi occupation of Crete, Fermor, fluent in both classical and modern Greek, infiltrated the island to help organize the resistance. He and a small band of British agents spent years in the mountains disguised as Cretan shepherds, complete with black turbans and sashes and armed with silver-and-ivory daggers. Fermor organized and carried out the daring 1944 kidnapping of Gen. Heinrich Kreipe, the German commander in Crete, whom Fermor’s group marched to a boat that spirited them to Egypt.

Fermor could have settled comfortably into the War Office, or gone on to an illustrious diplomatic career. But his interests lay elsewhere: he traveled in the Caribbean, lived with French monks and wrote about it all.

He returned to Greece in the 1950s, where he produced his greatest works, “Mani,” about southern Greece, and “Roumeli,” about the north. Here we see his knowledge on full display: in “Roumeli” we are treated to disquisitions on Eastern monasticism, the dying dialect of the Sarakatsan tribe and the secret language of the Kravara, a region north of the Gulf of Corinth.

These are great works of travel, but they are also the gold standard of area expertise. Such expertise can only be built on devotion to subject, with no ulterior motive.

Because America’s own security will rest in a world where tribes matter as much as Twitter, Fermor is an icon of the kind of soldier, diplomat or intelligence expert we will need: someone who can seamlessly move from any one of these jobs to another, who is equally at home reading a terrain map as he is reciting the poetry of the people with whom he is dealing. The more depth and rarity of knowledge we can implant in our officials, the less likely they are to serve up the wrong options in a crisis.

But as Fermor shows, knowledge can’t be selectively learned for utilitarian ends. He was driven by the kind of appreciation of beauty with which life itself is sanctified.

I once visited his house in the Southern Peloponnese, where I fell into his library, pungent from the wood burning in the fireplace. Battered old bindings lay in recessed shelves piled to the ceiling.

At one point I mentioned the Neoplatonist philosopher Georgios Gemistos Plethon. I was suddenly regaled with a disquisition, between sips of retsina, of how Plethon’s remains were exhumed in 1465 by Sigismondo Malatesta, the mercenary commander of a Venetian expeditionary force that held the lower town of Mistra in the Peloponnese. Malatesta, Fermor recalled, refused to withdraw ahead of a Turkish army without first claiming the body of his favorite philosopher. Here was the erudition that flavors every page of Fermor’s books.

The British Empire lasted as long as it did partly because it produced soldier-aesthetes like Fermor, who could talk about medieval Greece as easily as he could the Italian Renaissance, for comparison is necessary for all serious scholarship. America needs men and women like Fermor if it is to maintain its current position in the world.

Robert D. Kaplan is the author of “Mediterranean Winter: The Pleasures of History and Landscape in Tunisia, Sicily, Dalmatia, and the Peloponnese.” He is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a correspondent for The Atlantic.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: June 17, 2011

An Op-Ed article on June 15, about the travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor, misidentified the German general he helped capture during World War II. It was Heinrich Kreipe, an infantry commander operating in Crete, not Werner Kreipe, a Luftwaffe commander. The article also incorrectly stated the school from which Mr. Fermor was expelled. It was the King’s School, Canterbury, not the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst.

He was in constant celebration of being alive

Yesterday we buried Paddy in the rich, copper coloured, breccia marbled soil of Worcestershire, next to his wife and soulmate, Joan. Their graves overlook the entrance to the small churchyard of Saint Peter’s in Dumbleton which dates from Norman times.

by Tom Sawford

Amongst the one hundred or so mourners were members of his family, his friends, and many others  who came simply to pay their respects to a man who had given so much to them either through his friendship, his wartime activities, his writing, or just his simple acts of kindness and support.

The service, led by the Reverend Nicholas Carter, was moving, absorbing, and in fact quite conventional. But was it Paddy who added the interesting twist of a reading not from the New Testament, but from the Apocryphal Book of James, otherwise known as Protevangelium? This was read by Robert Kenwood.

The young British Soprano Sarah Gabriel started the service singing Amazing Grace unaccompanied, which was followed by Paddy’s friend and fellow writer Colin Thubron reading The Garden of Cyrus by Sir Thomas Browne. This was an interesting choice associated as it is with Hermetic wisdom. Whilst it was lovely to listen to, I certainly felt none the wiser after hearing it. As Colin returned to his seat he placed a hand on the Union Flag draped coffin as one might when passing a friend and patting them on the shoulder or forearm.

The first hymn was Baker’s The King of Love My Shepherd Is. It took a little while for the choir and the congregation to get into rhythmic step but once achieved it was sung with passion and meaning.

The hardest job of the day fell the Vicar, the Reverend Nicholas Carter, who like Paddy is apparently something of an exile, spending time living in France as well as ministering to the souls of those fortunate enough to live in the beautiful Vale of Evesham.

It was fortunate that Rev. Carter was a mature, ebullient, slightly rotund man, with a strong character and a voice to match. He admitted that he was ‘between a rock and a hard place’ when trying to say something about Paddy whose life had been full of words; a life as full as a ‘wine goblet overflowing with rich red wine’. How would he be able to do him justice? Wisely he kept the address short and flowing, talking about Paddy’s (or Sir Patrick as he constantly referred to him) achievements as a soldier, writer, walker, friend and most of all as someone who was ‘in constant celebration of being alive’.

The address was followed by prayers and the J S B Monsell hymn To Distant Friends and Close. Sarah Gabriel sang Vedrai Carino from Don Giovanni. A piper in the churchyard played Flowers of the Forest as the pall-bearers carried Paddy’s coffin out of the church, his medals, and his honour of the Order of the Phoenix laying colourful and shining upon a cushion. Members of The Intelligence Corps formed a Guard of Honour as we made our way out into a slightly overcast afternoon.

Paddy’s body was laid to rest with full dignity as a bugler from the Irish Guards played Last Post. After the Silence we looked up in joy and relief as he played Reveille, that tune which summons all old soldiers from their slumbers to join their comrades.

The sky threatened rain as we started to depart; but it hesitated, and finally submitted, with the clouds parting to reveal a blue sky, permitting a warm sun to shine on such a beautiful and peaceful corner of England. After all, how could it rain on the final parade of one who was in constant celebration of being alive?

Related article:

The Funeral Service of Patrick Leigh Fermor, 16 June 2011

Sir Patrick “Paddy” Michael Leigh Fermor, DSO, OBE: 11 February 1915 – 10 June 2011

'A dangerous mixture of sophistication and recklessness': Patrick Leigh Fermor in Saint Malo, France, in 1992 Photograph: Ulf Andersen/Getty Images

Patrick Leigh Fermor at school, Kings' Canterbury

Billy Moss and Paddy Leigh Fermor, Crete 1944

Paddy in uniform

Paddy in Ithaca in 1946 photographed by Joan

Paddy in 1966

Patrick Leigh Fermor with Joan Rayner after their wedding 17th January 1968. (Photo by Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Leigh Fermor will be remembered as someone who lived and talked as well as he wrote

At home in The Mani

Paddy on his 94th birthday (February 11, 2009)

Debo and Paddy 2008

Paddy and Debo 2008