Category Archives: Paddy’s Houses

The Benaki comes out fighting – progress at Paddy’s house

In late September the Benaki museum carried out an extraordinary publicity drive in London in an attempt to counter the ongoing criticism of its tenure of the house and progress with renovations. On 26 September I attended an event at the Hellenic Centre which was, I am told, similar in content to an exclusive evening held the night before at the Traveller’s Club.

by Tom Sawford

After an extraordinary period of silence, like an old boxer absorbing the body-blows of criticism for many rounds, the Benaki came out with all guns blazing in an attempt to explain how things were now really moving with the house project. No less than two of Her Majesty’s former Ambassadors to the Hellenic Republic were on the five person panel to ensure that we agreed it must be so.

To make sure we were in the right mood, we were first treated to the Benaki promotional video which portrays the museum as one of the most important cultural institutions in Greece, and indeed it certainly has a fine collection and many responsibilities including looking after the house of Nikos Ghika, which must be where Paddy and Joan got the idea in the first place. I encourage you to watch it here.

Irini Geroulanou, a member of the Executive Board of the Benaki, explained the details of the bequest and ran us through the events that have taken place since Paddy’s death six years ago. We do have to appreciate the serious financial circumstances that have existed in Greece and some of the tortuously slow bureaucratic steps that needed to be taken to secure permission to work on the house. Key events were the 2015 business plan for the house produced by AEA Consulting which outlined how the Benaki could make it self-funding, and the 2016 donation by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation which at last made money available to commence the works.

Ms Geroulanou went on to show glimpses of plans but, curiously, only a very few photographs of work on the house. The intention is to create five independent “units” including a work area and en-suite facilities to foster privacy, focus and creativity. A Common area will be centred on the “world’s room”. Winter will be a maintenance period; in the spring there will follow two months of academic residence; there will be two periods in the late spring and early autumn for “Honorary fellows” to use the house as the writers’ retreat that Paddy foresaw; in the summer, three months will be set-aside for holiday rentals, this forming the main part of the annual income. The house will become known as The Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor Centre, and the Benaki plans to start a charity in the UK to create a dedicated endowment fund.

This was all very encouraging. But, as I say there were very few pictures showing actual progress at the house. Apparently the roof is being replaced but workers were reluctant to be photographed. The museum would do itself a lot of favours if it were to publish regular updates, with a few photographs on the House section of its website.

Ms Geroulanou also made time to counter the criticism made against the Benaki. She was passionate and very detailed in her rebuttal – countering the reports that had apparently appeared in newspapers (so not this blog then!) that donations had been turned down – giving us a detailed breakdown of all three or so donations which seemed to add up to the value of a good night out at a taverna in Kardamyli. There were other mentions of criticisms on “websites and blogs” (OK – guilty) which seemed to have struck hard at the Benaki, leading to “an unpleasant climate of suspicion”. I stand by the criticism I made a year ago about a lack of care of many of the smaller items in the house, but that is all now in the past.

It is encouraging to report that things are now happening. It is also good to know that the Benaki is a distinctly reputable and experienced organisation, and now with the funding it has, Paddy and Joan’s vision may be achieved within 18 months or so. I look forward to updating you on progress, as I also look forward to the Benaki sharing plans, reports, updates and photographs on its website so that the nasty “unpleasant climate of suspicion” does not return.

PS – apologies for the delay in posting this update. I have been working very hard, and away for a time on a personal pilgrimage on foot from Winchester to Exeter via Salisbury, Wells and Glastonbury. I encourage others to go! I can supply my route information.

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Benaki report on progress with Paddy’s house

Although there are no new updates on the Benaki website, there does appear to be progress. Some readers have been in touch to report that work appears to have started, and indeed, the house has been closed to visitors to permit the work to commence.

On 26 September, the museum will report to interested parties in London at an invitation only event. I’ll try to update you immediately afterwards on progress.

A recent visit to Paddy’s house

An update on the house from blog reader Nigel, who was recently in Kardamyli with his wife and visited Paddy and Joan’s house.

I still greatly enjoy your e-mails. Keep them coming.
Just a brief note to say that my wife and I were in Kardamyli as usual in May this year and went to visit Paddy and Joan’s house.
We have walked past for years, including when he lived there, and always wanted to see it.
The house is of course stunning as indeed are the gardens.
The Benaki museum will make it into a wonderful centre I am sure but it was good to visit before the changes start whilst it is still as he left it and retains the atmosphere of his time.
We were shown round by Elpida Beloyianni who is in charge of the restoration and was charming and most hospitable.
I just thought that you would be interested to know that all of Paddy and Joan’s effect have now been moved to Athens and the house is empty. Restoration can now start!
The exception is the amazing table in the main room, which I’m sure you know. It is too heavy to move.

There will be a huge amount to do to upgrade the house for its future role. I commented on the lovely but ruined wooden windows and Elpida said that all they needed in the past was painting now and then but Paddy never bothered!

Benaki update on Paddy’s house

The Benaki museum have provided an update on Paddy’s house. You can visit the webpage on their website. The highlights are as follows:

– the Benaki Museum has applied for the necessary permits to the Greek State (Structuring Service – Municipality of Kalamata) and is waiting for their issuing so that the works can start.

– the informative event planned for November 2016 in London has been rescheduled for early 2017, so that the availability of the speakers of the event is confirmed. The final dates of the event will be announced soon.

– discussions with educational institutions regarding collaboration in the future operation of The Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor Centre are progressing.

– a book in honor of Patrick Leigh Fermor, dedicated to his life and work, is in preparation and will be completed within the first semester of 2017. Another publication on the house in Kardamyli is also scheduled to be published soon.

The scope of the repair works:

According to the study and the proposal of the future and considering that the PLF house can provide ideal accommodation for up to 5 people/couples at a time, minor building interventions will be carried out without altering the form of the house. More specifically, the 5 guestrooms will each include a bedroom, an independent workplace and bathroom. (Basic kitchen equipment will be provided in the guesthouses located outside the main house). This setting ensures that all guests will be offered a large separate living space, perfect for isolation and uninterrupted concentration. Moreover, common spaces will be used as places of assembly and not as workplaces. All spaces created – apart from the basement, which may be considered the least privileged – will include large openings, a view and plenty of light and ventilation.

Apart from the fireplaces in some of the rooms, the house hasn’t had any other form of heating up till now. A heating and cooling system will be installed underground or through the roof, in order to keep the façades intact. The plans also include the full replacement of the electrical, plumbing and sewerage system, as well as the repair of the bathrooms and kitchen. Furthermore, repair and partial replacement of the roofs as well as reconstruction of the hencoop are also planned.

Along with the construction works, the garden shall be thoroughly cleaned, properly pruned and any damaged plants will be replaced. The current form of the garden will not be altered. Members of the Mediterranean Garden Society, who have visited the house, have expressed their interest in helping with the works in the garden.

Visit the Benaki website here.

 

A Ghika rock painting at Kardamyli?

image001I was sent this picture by email from Jeffrey Cox. I don’t recall seeing it during my recent visit. Does anyone else know anything about it? Is it some mythical character?

Greetings Tom.

I read your notes on your recent tour of Paddy’s house near Kardamyli.

Last April my wife and I also arranged a private tour of the house through Elpida. I had been alerted to a portrait painted by Paddy’s friend Nikos Hadjikriakos-Ghika on a rock exposed in the wall just inside Paddy’s front door. Here it is. To my mind it’s an amazing work – quite 3 dimensional.

Last weekend Britain based travel writer Dominic Green did a piece for our National broadsheet (The Weekend Australian) entitled “On the trail of Patrick Leigh Fermor” – plenty on Nikos but no mention of this portrait. Are you aware of it? Regards, Jeffrey Cox

Behind the scenes at the Benaki

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

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

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

Michael’s email went like this:

Dear Tom,

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for your time,

Regards,

Michael

By Michael Torrens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to respond to a Greek tragedy

My post yesterday about the condition of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s house in Kardamyli – A Greek Tragedy? – appears to have stirred up the proverbial hornets nest which can be evidenced in the comments below the article and in the PLF groups on Facebook. Whilst everyone appears to share the disappointment, there is a split between those that say that “this is Greece and it will get sorted out in a Greek way” which appears to be a euphemism for “a long time”, and those who hold up their hands and say “something should be done”, and quickly.

dsc07296Let’s continue the debate on here. Many useful suggestions have been made. Some have talked about crowdfunding. Whilst this sounds good it is worth noting that the funds to restore the house are very substantial indeed; that attempts have been made to assist (see PLF Society aims); and maybe that funding is not the issue as the Stavros Niarchos Foundation appear to have offered the cash. Others have suggested raising the profile and mentioned contacting the BBC journalist John Humphreys who owns a house in the Mani and broadcast a BBC Radio 4 programme about Paddy and his Mani life a couple of years ago. If anyone has a direct line to him, then please go ahead as all publicity or pressure must surely help.

Unsurprisingly I have come in for some personal criticism for even mentioning the state of the house and appearing to blame the Benaki. A few have even gone so far as taking what I have written as implicit criticism of Greece, its people, Nana Mouskouri, and the Greek way of doing things. It is certainly not the latter but I am very critical of the Benaki who could at least take some basic measures like properly securing the house and its contents against the weather and intruders, and closing it to visitors until such time as proper arrangements can be made. They could also be more effective in their communications and keep to their stated timetable with regards to public updates.

One person has suggested that the most effective thing would be for all concerned to address their concerns directly to the Benaki. You can do this by emailing plfproject@benaki.gr

What I can assure you is that the Paddy blog remains independent of all organisations and pressure.  The views expressed are mine, and often yours. I will support the Benaki when it communicates effectively with all of us and demonstrates some real progress, for we, his fans and admirers, are stakeholders just as much as the Benaki management.