Category Archives: Paddy’s Houses

Stavros Niarchos Foundation to Fully Repair and Restore Patrick Leigh Fermor’s House

Patrick Leigh Fermor working at his home studio on 3 October 2004, then aged 89. Kardamyli. by Sean Deany Copyright 2012

Patrick Leigh Fermor working at his home studio on 3 October 2004, then aged 89. Kardamyli. by Sean Deany Copyright 2012

At last some very good news about the house at Kardamyli. The Benaki museum has made the following announcement in a press release as follows.

The Stavros Niarchos Foundation has approved a grant to the Benaki Museum to fully cover the repair and restoration works as well as the cost of the necessary equipment for the Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor House in Kardamyli. This unique property will soon start operating as a centre for hosting notable figures from the intellectual and artistic worlds as well as a centre for educational activities in collaboration with Institutions in Greece and abroad.

The donation of Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor

For many years Patrick and his wife Joan Leigh Fermor lived in Kardamyli in Messenian Mani, in the house which was designed by the architect Nikos Hadjimichalis in close collaboration with the Leigh Fermors.

In 1996, Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor bequeathed their home in Kardamyli to the Benaki Museum, while still in life, with the intention that ownership of the house would be transferred to the Museum after their deaths. The option of donating the property to the Benaki Museum was suggested by their close friend Tzannis Tzannetakis. The bequest was accepted unreservedly by the Benaki Museum, particularly given Leigh Fermor’s close relationship with the Museum’s founder Antonis Benakis and his daughter Irini Kalliga.

According to the donation contract, the property must be used to foster the success of the Benaki Museum’s work, based on the decisions of its Board of Trustees. In addition, it may be used to host researchers seeking a quiet and welcoming place to work, while there is also provision for the option of renting the property for three months every year in order to secure its operating costs. Taking into consideration the donor’s personality and standing, the Museum added certain categories of guests such as writers, poets, artists and so on.

The Museum acquired full ownership of the property after the donor’s death, in the autumn of 2011. After receiving the gift, a study on its future use was initiated, and in parallel, a preliminary study on the repair and restoration of the property’s buildings was undertaken in collaboration with architects Andreas Kourkoulas and Maria Kokkinou and a budget was also drafted for the project. The Stavros Niarchos Foundation, in response to the Museum’s initial request for funding for the repairs and the acquis ition of the neces s ary equipment for the operation of the hous e, commissioned—and funded—a feasibility study, which was conducted by AEA Consulting, a firm specializing in the organization and management of cultural institutions. This study, which was based on the Benaki Museum’s proposal for the future operation of the house, led to a number of changes, mainly in regard to the financial planning respecting the sustainability of the project.

The Stavros Niarchos Foundation announced the approval of the Benaki Museum’s request to fully cover the repair works and the restoration of the Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor House as well as its equipment, so that it can start operating as soon as possible.

The Benaki Museum’s Board of Trustees would like to once again thank the Stavros Niarchos Foundation for its continued and very generous support, and the inclusion of this project in its arts and culture grants. The unique location of the Leigh Fermor House, its distinctive architectural form and the luminance bestowed upon it by the author himself, in conjunction with the Benaki Museum’s supervision and the support of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, guarantee the creation of an exceptional centre which will gain a high place among the many similar centers in Europe and the United States.

The property

The property is located in the Kalamitsi area on the outskirts of Kardamyli, in Messenia, and has a total area of about nine stremmata, a little over two acres. It is, by general consensus, one of the most beautiful properties in Greece. Its direct contact with the sea—narrow stone steps lead to a small pebble beach just below the estate—the low, discreet, stone buildings and the Mediterranean garden that goes down to the water, comprise an ideal environment for focus and the creative process.

In short, a sojourn in this place is a great gift that Greece can offer to notable figures from the intellectual and artistic worlds.

The vision

The creation of a centre in Greece (working title: The Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor Centre), the operation of which, will commence in stages and planning of the following years will be based on evaluation of its activity.
The operations of the Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor Centre will include:

– hosting of young writers and scholars for work and research purposes,
organization of higher-educational activities in collaboration with Universities and Institutions in Greece and abroad,
– honorary hosting of notable representatives from the fields of literature, the arts and other fields,
– organization of educational and cultural events for the general public and residents of Kardamyli,
– scheduled tours of the property, focusing on the donors, the history of the house and its use by the Benaki Museum,
– short term honorary hosting of benefactors and major supporters of the Benaki Museum.

As per a decision by the Museum’s Board of Trustees an international committee is to be set up, which will form and advise on the operation program of the Centre. The advisory committee will be unpaid, it will monitor the project underway and it will make recommendations regarding the selection of guests.

The Benaki Museum’s legal, financial and other services (including departments such as Educational Programs, Sponsorship and European Programs, Public Relations and Communication, and Conservation among others) will support and assist the project taking place at the Leigh Fermor House.

The Benaki Museum is aiming for the creation of an endowment based on third-party donations, which will be able to cover operating expenditure of the Centre and allow the proposed educational activities to evolve and grow.

Brief history – Up to date
– the archival material found in the house has been delivered to the executors of the will, in order for it to be handed over to the National Archives of the United Kingdom, as stipulated in the will,
– the staff selected by Leigh Fermor himself have been retained to ensure the ongoing care of the buildings and surrounding area are on a daily basis,
– the property has been insured,
– cataloguing of the library has progressed,
– detailed photography of the house and the recording of the household effects have been carried out,

– artworks and valuable books have been transferred to the facilities at the Benaki Museum in Athens for conservation and safekeeping, until completion of the requisite repairs,
– detailed mapping of the property has been completed as has the architectural and electromechanical study for repair of the buildings and maintenance of the gardens, with the principle of maintaining all those elements that render the property so unique (study team: Maria Kokkinou-Andreas Kourkoulas, Pantelis Argyros, Dimitris Pastras, Helli Pangalou),
– the process of legalizing buildings on the estate has been completed,
– the feasibility study by AEA Consulting on the future use, operation and viability of the house has been completed with funding from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation,
– two successive disinsectisations have been carried out for the protection of the house and
household effects, and in particular the wooden elements of the house such as the ceilings of the rooms, furniture, and so on,
– one bank account has been set up in Greece and one especially activated in the United Kingdom, in order to facilitate donations,
– discussions with Greek and foreign educational institutions regarding collaboration in the future operation of the Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor Centre have been initiated,
– an implementation study for the repair work is in progress,
– a book in honor of Patrick Leigh Fermor, dedicated to his life and work, is in preparation and will be completed in 2016, and another publication about the house will follow,
– finally, a short—for the time being—presentation of the Leigh Fermor House has been uploaded onto the Benaki Museum website. A separate website for the house is currently in preparation, where detailed information about the project’s progress, the operation of the house, and scheduled events and guided tours will be posted. These presentations will also provide all the necessary details for donations to the endowment for the future operation of the Centre,
– from the day the Leigh Fermor residence came into the ownership of the Benaki Museum, the Museum has organized and/or coordinated a particularly large number of visits. During many of these visits, individuals working with the Museum have informed the guests about the house’s prospects and future programs. Revenue from visitor tickets is used exclusively for the needs of the house.

From now on:

– The commencement of the repair work is entirely contingent on the issue of the permit. It is anticipated that work will be completed in about 12 to 18 months from its commencement. Until such time as the preparation of the house for the repair work begins, the organized visits, upon arrangement with the Museum, will continue. (www.benaki.gr)
– The Benaki Museum is in the process of creating an endowment for the collection of donations, which will ensure that the operational expenditure of the Centre is covered and that the proposed educational activities will continue to evolve and grow.
– With the dual objective of informing the public of developments and the collection of donations, the Benaki Museum is planning a series of detailed presentations on the progress of the project and its future operation.
– More specifically, it is organizing a detailed presentation in early November 2016 in London, where there is a keen, ongoing interest in the author and the Kardamyli House, while in the interim, similar presentations are planned for Athens and Kardamyli.

For information about the Leigh Fermor House please contact Irini Geroulanou or Myrto Kaouki at the Benaki Museum, on the following numbers: 210 3671010 and 210 3671090, or by email: plfproject@benaki.gr

Download the full press release here.

Who was Stavros Niarchos?

What is the Stavros Niarchos Foundation?

Five years on – the house at Kalamitsi

The house in Kalamitsi, September 2014 (John Chapman)

The house in Kalamitsi, September 2014 (John Chapman)

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

Dear Tom,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With thanks for your website,

Dominic

Benaki appoints new director, and visiting Paddy’s house

Olivier Descotes

The Benaki museum have a website page dedicated to Paddy and Joan’s house which you can view here. It includes details of how to arrange a visit to the house.

Furthermore, the Benaki has appointed as its new director, Olivier Descotes, who has been director of the French Institute in Athens from 2011 to 2015. He takes up his post in March. An announcement about the future of the house will be made in April. Ekathemerini reports:

Olivier Descotes, artistic creation inspector at the French Ministry of Culture, has been appointed new director of the Benaki Museum, the organization’s board of trustees has announced.

Descotes, formerly director of the French Institute in Athens, will replace Angelos Delivorias, who headed the museum for 41 years before stepping down in 2014.

Descotes was among 82 candidates who applied for the position through an international competition carried out pro bono by global executive search firm Egon Zehner.

The Benaki Museum was founded by Antonis Benakis in 1930 and subsequently bequeathed to the state.

Progress on the house at Kardamyli

If anyone was wondering I hear that there is news of a sort.

As you may recall, the Benaki Museum was seeking approval for funding of the proposed renovations. From my sources it appears the the proposal as submitted has been turned down, and the museum has now re-submitted the proposal in a reduced form. Quite what this means no-one seems to know. No real surprises there then.

My own view, which has not really changed for a few years, is that the only way forward is for a group to seek to either buy the house outright, or lease the house for the remaining few years that the Benaki have the right to create the writer’s retreat, do that job for them, and then purchase the house outright at the end of the term which may be 2024 if I recall correctly. Any takers?

Tom

Rick Stein served moussaka by Elpida at Paddy’s house

Stein at Paddy'sThe global reach of the “celebrity chef” Rick Stein is unknown to me, but certainly for those of us in the UK he is a well known figure and is perhaps almost single-handedly responsible for the gentrification of the beautiful port of Padstow in Cornwall.

Unfortunately for most of you outside the UK you will remain unaware of the qualities that make Rick such an attractive figure (!!) as I understand that BBC iPlayer is unavailable outside of the UK.

But if you use your imagination, in this episode from Stein’s current TV programme – From Venice to Istanbul – he arrives in the Peloponnese, visits the obligatory taverna followed by Paddy’s house at Kardamyli, where he takes a tour and Elpida cooks him moussaka to her secret recipe. Apparently Paddy did not like moussaka, but one day Elpida served it to him, he loved it and the dish was then a firm favourite. We also discover what is Elpida’s favourite English dish. Angelica Deverell describes the whole scene is “quiet moving”.

Watch the episode here. Dive in at 33 mins 30 seconds if you don’t have time to watch it all. Only available until about the 9th of October under iPlayer rules.

Print

Walks amid the watchtowers of the Mani

An early 19th-century watchtower, now the Tainaron Blue Retreat guesthouse, overlooking the coastline of Cape Matapan

The most recent of quite a number of articles about visiting the Mani that I have seen of late. This being the best, written by William Dalrymple.

First published in the Financial Times, 28 August 2015.

I first came to the Mani through the pages of my literary hero and travel writing guru, Patrick Leigh Fermor. Paddy, who was once described by the BBC as a “cross between Indiana Jones, James Bond and Graham Greene”, published Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese, in 1958. It was the first non-fiction book he wrote about Greece, and in many ways it is his most passionate: a love song to the middle prong of the trident-shaped southern coast of the Peloponnese. This was the place where he had been happiest, and the destination he would eventually pick in which to settle down, and spend the final years of his life.

For Paddy, the Ottoman Mani was to Greece what Cornwall was to 18th-century Britain: the most remote of places, cut off from the rest of the country by distance, unpredictable tides and wild cliffs, the abode of brave brigands, chivalrous smugglers and gentleman pirates. It was, he liked to point out, the southernmost point of mainland Greece: only a few islands intervene between Cape Matapan, the tip of the peninsula and location of the cave which the ancients believed to be the Mouth of Hades, and the shoreline of north Africa.

Many years later, shortly before his death in 2011, I went to stay with Paddy at the house he built in the Maniot village of Kardamyli. His villa was the most perfect writer’s house I have ever seen, designed and partly built by the man himself in an olive grove a mile outside the town, and with a view out to a small coastal island. Each morning, until a heart bypass prevented him, he would swim around the island, before returning home for breakfast.

Since Paddy’s death, however, the house has been given to the Benaki museum in Athens, and on my most recent visit I could only drive past it with a melancholic wave. Instead I headed on a further 90 minutes southwards, past tavernas hung with vine trellising, past chapels with red pepper pot domes, through stripfields and a patchwork of walled olive groves. These lower slopes rose to steep and arid hilltops, and it was on one of these, above the whitewashed village of Kotronas, that lay the beautiful house where I would be staying. It dominated a blue, mirror-like bay on the south-east coast of the peninsula and it was here, watching the ships come and go below, and with the mountains rising on all sides, that I planned a succession of treks into the deep Mani to see for myself the landscapes that Paddy had described so lovingly in his book.

To my surprise, the more I walked in the cactus-haunted hills, through spires of yellow verbascum and the seed heads of dried grasses as straight as miniature cedar trees, the more I found that the wildness of the Mani reminded me less of the bucolic Mediterranean than the bleakly beautiful mountains of the north-west frontier of Pakistan. For both the turbulent Maniots and the Pashtuns have an ancient tradition of blood feuds, which has led them to live in the fortified towers that are still the dominant architectural feature of their regions. In both, every man is a chieftain, and every farm a fort.
Tourism bounces back

“In these contests,” wrote Paddy, “the first blow was never struck without warning. War was formally declared by the challenging side. The church bells were rung: We are enemies! Beware! Then both sides would take to their towers, the war was on, and any means of destroying the other side was fair.” These included, apparently “bombarding them from above with boulders and smashing their marble roofs; so the towers began to grow, each in turn, during periods of truce, calling his neighbour’s bluff with yet another storey.” Paddy was fascinated by the proximity of the combatants in these feuds, “the equivalent, in distance, of the cannonading of Brooks’s by White’s, Chatham House by the London Library . . . or of the Athenaeum and the Reform by the Travellers’.”

There was apparently only one thing that could reconcile the warring hamlets of the Maniots: “a Turkish inroad, when, suddenly, for brief idyllic periods of internal harmony, their long guns would all point the same way.”

Such a moment came in 1826 when the Ottoman commander Ibrahim Pasha arrived, intent on crushing the resistance of the most independent-minded of all the Sultan’s Greek subjects. From the point of view of the Sublime Porte, the Maniots were merely pirates and brigands, and a thorn in the flesh of honest Turkish shipping going about its business in the Mediterranean. The Maniots had a rather different view of themselves: as the flower of Hellenic chivalry and the last pure-blooded descendants of both the ancient kings of Sparta and the emperors of Byzantium. Both sides were spoiling for a fight; and they got it.

To block Ibrahim’s advance, the Maniots concentrated their forces at Verga, the entrance to the desolate passes of the Taygetus mountains, in the extreme north of the region. Ibrahim therefore decided instead to launch a surprise marine attack on Areopolis, far to the south, which the patriots had left undefended. Ibrahim successfully landed 1,500 Egyptian troops on the shingle beaches in Diros Bay, south of Kardamyli, a magnificent natural cauldron where the peaks of Taygetus dip down to the blue waters of the Aegean, so clear, even today, that it is said you can still see the wrecks of galleys lying on the seabed below. Soon the Ottoman troops were marching inland, up the coastal paths, looting as they went, and heading for the walls of Areopolis.

Ibrahim Pasha had achieved complete surprise; but he had not taken the women of the Mani into his calculations. As the church bells pealed from their Byzantine belfries, several hundred women who had been out in the fields harvesting converged on the Ottoman rear with their sickles and farm instruments. In an indignant song still sung in the region, the woman allegedly declaimed:

O Turkish men, have you no shame
To war with womenfolk?
We are alone, our men are gone
To fight at Almiro.
But we with sickles in our hands
Will lop off your heads like corn!

Within a few hours, those Egyptians who lived to tell the tale were running headlong for their boats. Only a third were rescued; the rest fell where they stood on the beach. That, at least, is the version of the story they tell today in the Mani.

Modern travellers to the region may end up feeling a certain sneaking sympathy with the Egyptians; for the descendants of those feisty Maniot women are still alive and well, and today they guard the keys to their village churches as determinedly as they once defended Areopolis. As Paddy knew, and wrote about so beautifully, the Mani contains some of the most ancient and Byzantine chapels and basilicas in Greece, dotted around olive groves above steep coastal cliffs; but any traveller who wants to get inside and see their celebrated frescoes must first find the guardian grannies who keep the keys, and then persuade them to disgorge them and to let you into their carefully tended holy places.

Watchtowers in the town of Vathia

Watchtowers in the town of Vathia

This can be more difficult than it sounds. On one occasion, trying to get inside the famed 11th-century church of the Taxiarches at Charouda, I was directed to the door of Antonia, a black-clad matriarch in widow’s weeds who looked so ancient she could almost have lost her husband to Ibrahim Pasha’s Egyptians. Yes, she said, with deep suspicion in her voice, she did hold the keys, but no, this was the time of her lunch. I should come back in an hour. I did as I was bid, only to find she was taking her siesta. Deciding to walk along the coast until she woke, I returned only to be told she was unable to take me to the church as she was feeding her great-grandchildren. Then she was putting out fodder for her donkeys: wouldn’t I like to come back tomorrow morning?

It was well past 7pm when, after a lot of begging and pleading, a huge primeval key was finally, reluctantly flourished and I followed the bent-backed matriarch to the church on the edge of the village. The sun was now slowly sinking over the hills at the end of a hot day; from the higher slopes, the tinkle of unseen goat bells cut through the background whirr of cicadas as shepherds led the flocks back for their night.

The church — in truth it was barely larger than a chapel — was very small, but very beautiful. It had a domed, tiled roof and round arcaded windows, whose brick tiles were made from fired red mud. It lay in a rocky graveyard dotted with oleanders and ilexes at the edge of olive groves, and was built from stone the colour of halloumi cheese. Only when Antonia finally ground the key in the wards of the ancient lock, and had crossed herself several times, was I allowed to step inside.

Nothing prepares you for the darkly melancholic and baleful beauty of the wall paintings of the Mani churches; but remote as it is, the church of the Taxiarches at Charouda is especially fine. The anonymous painter had a particular quirk of giving some of the saints a black triangular lower eyelid. The intention seem to be to enhance their gaunt asceticism and melancholic sadness, but I thought it gave them a look oddly like the buffoonish Pierrot in the Commedia dell ’Arte.

A grim-faced Christ Pantocrator glowers down from the decorative brickwork of the dome, hands opened and upheld as if in surprise at the wonders of his own creation. Below him, ranks of cherubim and seraphim stand with their wings raised. A phalanx of prophets line the lower drum; nearby stylites preach from pillars; and patriarchs in monochrome vestments like Malevich abstracts grip their bibles and proudly display the instruments of their martyrdom. More martyrs have their flesh ripped and eyes gouged out over the walls of the nave, the background landscapes to both virgins and saints as high and mountainously craggy as the Taygetus themselves, the men and the jagged rocks of the mountains sharing a clear affinity, and a similar angularity.

The most beautiful images of all lay at the west end, near the porch where the matriarch Antonia still stood silhouetted by the last rays of the sun. That light, reflecting off the foot-polished stone floor, illuminated a pair of youthful Byzantine soldiers: a young, swaggering St George astride his white charger, all glittering armour and levelled spear, while standing at ease slightly to his left, leaning on his javelin, was a swarthily beautiful St Demetrius with a glistening mail coat, a bow slung over his shoulder and sporting a single, rather dandyish earring; the very model of Maniot resistance to the encroachments of the outside world.

Looking both at Antonia, and the St Demetrius, it was no longer impossible to believe the old legends: that these remarkable, tough, independent Maniots really were the last descendants of Spartans who took refuge here when their hegemony beyond the Taygetus was finally destroyed, their struggle finally over.

Read more about where William Dalrymple stayed here.

Audible

Views of Dumbleton Church

Thank you to Brooke Rozorio for sending me these recent shots of Dumbleton church to share with you all.

From Mystras to Kardamyli: A hike in honour of Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor

John Kittmer, the UK ambassador in Greece,recently completed a four-day hike, together with the Danish ambassador, from Mystras to Kardamyli, recreating part of PLF’s similar walk described in Mani.

The blog post starts as follows:

This morning, thanks to the Benaki Museum, I was standing in the study of the great man – war hero, romantic, philhellene – who wrote these words. Scanning the bookshelves of Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor, whose love of Greece was nurtured by wartime experience, by a lifetime of conversation and friendship with Greek people, and by deep reading and learning, I felt an inestimable sense of good fortune, veneration and humility. I fell in love with Greece because of Greece. But every would-be lover needs friends who encourage and nurture the love affair. For me, my teacher Gerald Thompson, about whom I wrote (in Greek) in February, and the travel-writer Patrick “Paddy” Leigh Fermor, whom I never met, were those such friends. In the past five days, I repaid through imitation the great debt I owe to Sir Patrick.

You can read more on John Kittmer’s English blog and one in Greek.

The House of the Mani

paddys house at kardamyliI wonder what John Humphrys will say about Paddy’s house in the programme on Monday? In fact I wonder more what the Benaki will say. I want to highlight a comment on a recent post from Michael Hanson, which if correct describes a property that is falling apart. Given that Paddy probably did little restoration and it has now been four years since his death, during which nothing appears to have been done, one can imagine it must look dilapidated and in serious need of attention.

I was in kardamyli recently and visited paddy’s house covertly. It is in a decrepit state, shutters rotten and falling off. Garden overgrown. Totally unloved and a disgrace, given that paddy gave it to the Benaki Foundation to be used as a haven for writers. Hopefully this programme will shame the Greeks into doing something. They say it will cost over £100,000 to restore. Nonsense!
We photographed paddy’s child hood public school trunk languishing in his study. Heartbreaking!

The PLF Society want to raise funds to cover immediate repair work and you can donate. Read how here. The higher figures mentioned above are not just for restoration and repairs but to cover renovation and reconfiguration to prepare the house so it can be used as a conference centre. The Benaki are due to report In July on whether it has been successful in raising finance for the main renovation works planned for the house which are expected to cost some € 630,000.

John Humphrys presents Paddy’s world on BBC Radio 4

John Humphrys on the Today programme

A little while ago I was approached to help provide some background information to help with research for a one-off Radio 4 programme about Paddy and his life in and around Kardamyli which will be presented by John Humphrys.

Kevin Dawson from Whistledown productions has confirmed that all is on schedule and the programme should be transmitted at 11.00 am on Monday 22 June. It will include interviews with Artemis Cooper and her father John Julius Norwich, as well as a contribution from the Benaki which may update us on progress about the house.

John Humphrys has a property in the Kardamyli area and is a fan of Paddy’s work. I believe that this may be his own idea which is great and will go someway to making up the deficit of BBC programming about one of our greatest writers.

Initial fundraising for Kardamyli

The PLF Society has been moving forward quickly in its dealings with the Benaki over Paddy’s house. Achieving its restoration, and Paddy and Joan’s goal of turning it into a writer’s retreat is one of the main aims of the Society. Today they report on progress and are making an appeal for initial funds to finance critical works at the house until funding for the long-term work has been raised. The Benaki have come up with a plan which encompasses many uses which if achieved would meet the goals of Paddy’s bequest.

A summary of the PLF Society’s appeal is below, with further details to be found on the attached PDF.

Steady progress is being made on the Kardamyli house. The Benaki Museum has now sent us a document that sets out its plans and we have finalised the team that will look after the interests of the Society and its members: our lawyers Watson Farley & Williams are now supported by an experienced architect and we have appointed Grant Thornton as accountants.

You will see from the attached summary that we are now able to proceed with raising 20,600 € (about £15,000 or US$24,000) for preliminary things that need to be done at the house. As the amount of this initial fundraising is relatively modest, we are hoping that it will be possible to raise it from our members and others associated with the Society.

In July the Benaki will know if it has been successful in raising finance for the main renovation works planned for the house which are expected to cost some 630,000 €. In the event that some or all of these funds are not raised by the Benaki, the Society has pledged to find the remainder and for this we have made contingent plans to extend the fundraising to include external sources.

Read the full initial fundraising PDF here.

Paddy’s drinks cabinet

Kalamitsi drinks' cabinet 2010 by Rodolp de Salis

Kalamitsi drinks’ cabinet 2010 by Rodolp de Salis

I thought that you might enjoy this picture taken by Rodolph de Salis at Paddy’s house in 2010.

Maybe you are reading this just before lunch or ‘after the sun has passed the yardarm’ and it will accompany you as you settle down for a relaxing Drink Time!

Buy Drink Time!: In the Company of Patrick Leigh Fermor: a Memoir by Dolores Payás (translated by Amanda Hopkinson)

The house is not always empty …

It appears that some lucky people have been allowed to stay in the house at Kalamitsi. Who are they and did they pay? From a lovely new blog by Max Long.

Eventually I did find a room, and wallowed in the privilege of having a bed, a balcony overlooking the mountains, a table to write on. On my first night I had considered, in utter disappointment and desperation, going to Paddy Leigh Fermor’s house just a few kilometers south from the main village, to find some comfort by camping there. As I was to find out two days later, it was a very good thing I didn’t.

A few years ago, a Guardian journalist came to Kardamyli with similar intentions. He swum to Paddy’s house from the harbour, and I decided that it would be a nice idea to do the same. Following the footsteps of a footstep-follower.

I am not a confident swimmer, and have barely swum out a few tentative strokes in all the beaches I’ve been to so far, so it was quite a mental struggle for me to embark on what was to be a half hour swim along the rocks to the little pebble beach with a flight of stone steps leading up to the house. When I got there, there was a couple on the beach, but they spoke little English and could not confirm that this was Paddy’s house, so I walked up the steps anyhow, and soon the pebble mosaics on the floor, the large house of stone and painted grey-blue French windows, the seating area looking over the bay, confirmed that I was indeed at the right place.

However, it was with utter horror that I saw the freshly trimmed garden plants and trees, the recently used hosepipe… the open windows, the sound of plates watering the mouths of lunchers… the exposed breasts sunning themselves in the corner. I scuttled away, undetected but nevertheless thoroughly embarrassed. I later made for the front door. I could hear voices, evidence of clear use. I felt for a moment I might have traveled back in time to a former splendor of the wonderful house. All the reports by journalists and bloggers online had been of a desolate, abandoned home. I inquired at the front door. Yes, this was his house. No, I couldn’t visit. I walked away, burning with disappointment, but also with curiosity. The house is now in the hands of the Benaki museum, and my understanding is that it will be converted into a writer’s retreat or museum of its own. Who were these people who had the privilege to enjoy the place in the meantime?

(I visited the house again on my last morning and it was only after a lot of pleading that a disgruntled, shirtless, hairy and sandalled old gentleman allowed me a brief – less than two minute – look at the place. None of the moments of contemplation I had hoped for. The insistence with which he refused to allow me to access the house, and the simplicity of my request, made me think he could only be an extraordinarily cruel man. Sitting in Paddy’s study surrounded by books, he refused to give me either his name or any inkling of the Benaki’s future plans. I left, once again, in a rage.)

Full article here.

Another correspondent in an email to me this week coroborates the fact that people seem to be staying at or using the house …

I too was in Kardamyli in August.  I too walked around the outside of the house and up the steps from the beach.  I didn’t want to trespass, but when I realised there were people living there I decided to knock at the gate and ask them what was happening to the house.  Two twenty -something year old Greek girls in bikinis were there, and obviously staying there.  They wouldn’t let us visit.  I’ve no idea who they were.  My first reaction was that Paddy and Joan would surely be upset that their wishes are clearly not being respected.  On the other hand, perhaps it is good that someone is there because there are clearly a lot of Paddy pilgrims, and sooner or later there will be someone with less honorouble intentions, who enters the house and takes something away with them.
I can only assume they were local girls and that his old housekeeper or someone local must have an eye on who is there.  The place is obviously in need of urgent attention.
Mark

A Place in the Sun – The very slow progress toward a permanent retreat

The house in Kalamitsi, September 2104 (John Chapman)

The house in Kalamitsi, September 2104 (John Chapman)

It appears it is the time for discussion about Paddy’s house at Kalamitsi to recommence. I was surprised when the article about his English home did not provoke any comments about the house in Greece which moulders away as the Benaki continues to drag its feet and struggle with its finances. The whole affair is a bit of a mess. It has been three years since the house was handed over to the Greeks but they appear to have done absolutely nothing with it. A house needs care. A house by the sea, even the Mediterranean, requires even more care. As Dolores Payas comments in her lovely book, Drink Time!, which I reviewed at the weekend, the house needs an awful lot of work and now the bill can only be higher.

Regular blog correspondent John Chapman who spends a lot of time in the area sent me this update at the weekend:

I sauntered down to the house at Kalamitsi. Absolutely no change since I last had a look around a fair few years ago. Still a bit of a mess. A cat mewled from within, so therefore someone feeds it and tends the garden. I could have leapt over the back wall into the garden, but decided against it. No-one I’ve talked to can make out what the Benaki are actually doing, or planning to do. The idea of a writers’ retreat is fine and dandy, but someone is building another vast edifice above the bay and the sound of a pile driver wouldn’t be too conducive to creativity!

And recently this article was published in the Weekly Standard.

By Dominic Green

First published in the Weekly Standard, 29 September 2014

Under the peak of Mount Taygetus, the wooded Vyros Gorge tumbles into the Gulf of Messinia at the small port of Kardamyli. Around the headland is a blue cove and the hamlet of Kalamitsi. A flock of low, white houses, their pantiled roofs the color of burnt orange, huddle under stripes of gray-green olive trees. A stony track declines sharply from the road. Then, as stones turn to sand, a narrow path forks uphill along the flank of a promontory. From the house at its summit, the olive terraces slide seawards towards a cliff.The Mani, a rocky peninsula hanging from the southern coast of the Peloponnese, is often compared to the Highlands of Scotland. The landscape is mountainous and mottled with scrub. The people are insular and excel at the arts of feud and hospitality. Their homes are crenellated with towers and battlements, fortifications against the Franks, the Turks, and the neighbors. The exterior of this particular house is a thick-walled cross between a farmhouse and a fortress. A door of medieval solidity stands sentry at the gatehouse; a metal grille permits parley with strangers.

Passing the gatehouse, however, the lines soften and the stone curves. On the left, a Moorish colonnade marches to the sea, past a file of bedrooms and a dozing cat, the last arch framing a blue half-circle. Along the central axis are more bedrooms. In one, a weathered tweed jacket and a pair of walking boots wait in the closet; on the lavatory wall is a sun-paled genealogy of the kings and queens of England.

The right wing is a single oblong, a library-cum-sitting room. Bookcases are cut into stone recesses. A table dressed in Cycladic swirls of green and white marble carries enough booze to float a battleship or an English house party. At the shaded eastern end of the room is a cushioned divan; at the western end, a wooden, windowed balcony of Balkan provenance floats over the azure sea like the cabin of a pirate captain.

The mantelpiece is jammed with photographs, souvenirs, and scraps of paper with friends’ phone numbers. On the Cycladic table, the host’s favorites, Famous Grouse and Stolichnaya, wait among half-empty evocations of the British Empire: Rose’s Lime Juice Cordial, Angostura bitters, a Greek variant of tonic water. But the bubbles in the tonic have long evanesced into the lemony Greek air: The host, the legendary soldier, traveler, and author Patrick Leigh Fermor, died in 2011; his partner, Joan Eyres Monsell, predeceased him in 2003. Their house is empty but for the cat, the orphan of Joan’s once-plural brood. The Leigh Fermors’ housekeeper, El-pi-da Bel-o-yan-nis, tends their home like a shrine. Outside, the gardener, Christos, clips and prunes beneath a straw hat.

The British are famous for removing ancient monuments from Greece, not for donating modern ones. The Leigh Fermors bequeathed their house to the Benaki Museum of Athens as a retreat for writers. But its future is not written in stone.

Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor, OBE, DSO—known to friends, retainers, and a global army of readers as Paddy—was the last living contender for the kingdom of literature’s Habsburg crest, the double-headed crown of man of letters and man of action. A conscientiously Byronic inheritor of the British romance with Greece, Leigh Fermor was a warrior-writer in the line of Philip Sidney and T. E. Lawrence. He was also one of the great stylists of 20th-century English prose.

Leigh Fermor’s writing, like his biography, is one of the last monuments of the imperial age, when the British were not merely worldly, but global. His tone is a late outcrop of Bloomsbury—delicate, languid, melodious, precise—but purged of provinciality. His clauses flow with a French rhythm, the décadence of Second Empire Paris, and are studded with a cosmopolitan glitter of linguistic borrowings and historical speculations. Leigh Fermor was a travel writer in the sense that Pepys was a diarist. Every turn of his road evokes reflections on history, art, religion, and language. Investigations of folk songs, dances, and cheeses lead to anecdotal hunts for a pair of slippers that might once have shod Lord Byron, or a fisherman who might be the lineal descendant of the last emperor of Byzantium.

Always the language rises to the occasion, be it scenic, romantic, antiquarian, or philological. Always the present is excavated to reveal the fragments of memory. No philhellene has written better on Greece than Leigh Fermor in Mani (1980) and Roumeli (1973). Few have eulogized lost youth and interwar Europe more elegantly than Leigh Fermor in A Time of Gifts (1977) and Between the Woods and the Water (1986), the record of his walk, aged 18, from the Hook of Holland to the Iron Gates of the Danube. A posthumous and incomplete third volume, The Broken Road (2014), carries the narrative into Greece through shepherds’ huts, urban mansions, and fishermen’s caves.

Leigh Fermor wrote his “great trudge” trilogy at Kalamitsi, in his writing studio and on collapsible tables in his garden. He also hosted several shelves-worth of scholars, artists, and travelers, including George Seferis and John Betjeman, the poets laureate of Greece and Britain. The house, its contents, and the books that were written here are the complete works of a unique sensibility and a museum of a literary era. If the house were in Britain, the National Trust would already have restored it. There would be a ticket booth in the gatehouse, a shop selling organic figs and artisanal olives, and perhaps a tea room as well. But the Benaki is a private museum. Along with many properties in Athens, it is akin to a penurious Getty or an expansive Stewart Gardner. The Leigh Fermors left no endowment. The Benaki did not create one in the three decades between the bequest and Leigh Fermor’s death. It did, however, fund its expansion with a bank loan of €15 million (around $20 million). In 2008, the Greek economy collapsed, and so did the Benaki’s finances.

Beyond the colonnade, the July sun flattens the sea into a two-dimensional blue wall. An island, necklaced with ruined walls and vegetation, floats in the bay like a green brick. From the cliff, a staircase snakes down the rock to a small beach. “Paddy used to swim around the island and back,” Elpida explains proudly and unprompted. She exhales in mourning.

Outside, the crickets clatter, a maraca orchestra so loud and constant that it becomes unheard. The fringes of the house abound in shaded spots for between 1 and 20 people: solitary nooks for contemplation and reading, sociable niches for sitting and dining. It is a home to be shared—when not struggling scrupulously at his writing studio, Leigh Fermor was a relentless entertainer—but it is empty of life. The stones, saturated in a human presence as strong and invisible as the crepitations of the crickets, are silent, crepuscular.

In September 2011, the Benaki commissioned plans for the restoration of the house, costing an estimated $800,000, and catalogued its library and papers. They fumigated and stored the most important items in Athens, including that poignant testimonial to sedentary toil, a first edition of Betjeman’s High and Low (1966), inscribed by the “pile-ridden poet.” The Benaki also signed a five-year memorandum of understanding with the Seeger Center for Hellenic Studies at Princeton for planning lectures on Paddy-related topics. Meanwhile, the publication of both The Broken Road and a biography by Artemis Cooper revealed a vast reservoir of affection. In Britain, a committee of Paddy’s friends offered to create a charity to raise funds for the restoration.

And then nothing happened.

Part of the garden wall fell down, and visitors trickled in through the breach. In Britain, the natives grew restless. A Guardian journalist climbed the cliff stairs and peered through the locked windows. The Daily Telegraph described the house as “sad and neglected,” its shutters “rotting and falling off their hinges.” Artemis Cooper, a lifelong visitor, responded that the Benaki was doing its best, but Greece was amid “economic catastrophe.” The plans had not been abandoned, and the house, always a little ramshackle, was not neglected. Guests had stayed there, and Richard Linklater had filmed parts of Before Midnight (2013), with Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, there.

Tom Sawford runs an unaffiliated website for Paddy’s admirers. The talkbacks describe books moldering in an outhouse. There are offers of money and help, sympathy for the Benaki’s problems, and allegations of mismanagement. Sawford believes that if the museum had accepted the British group’s offer, the house would be “up and running” by now, its future secure: “Instead, the Byzantine structure of the Benaki has resulted in the house being left to rot.”

The Benaki’s English website places 16 individuals in the “front ranks of its benefactors” for giving “considerable property” to the museum. Patrick Leigh Fermor is not on the list. The museum has launched a global fund-raising campaign. On the website, donors can choose among 10 projects. Patrick Leigh Fermor’s house is not among them.

Irini Geroulanou is the deputy director of the Benaki. She returns my phone call immediately, puts me in touch with Elpida, and volunteers her own cell phone number, just in case. The Benaki, she says, has “finalized” its restoration plans and engaged a local firm of builders. There has been “positive” but “not final” interest from universities and foundations in Britain and America, and from the British Council and other foreign institutions in Athens.

“We plan to have five writers in the winter months, when Kardamyli is quiet,” Irini explains, “so they can keep each other company.” At other times, two “famous writers” will have the run of the place; presumably, the Benaki will check whether they are on speaking terms. There will be events for the villagers and an annual or biennial symposium, featuring “prominent artists and academics.”

All this is a thorough and conscientious reflection of Leigh Fermor’s wishes. But the “first and basic problem” remains: “the funding of the restoration.” The house is cooled only by its walls and the breeze. The wiring is erratic, a museum piece from the first age of electrification. The plumbing is functional, but explosive. The window frames and roof need replacing. The bedrooms are spartan: a bed, a table, a sink in a closet, and shelves of books. Writers would enjoy living and working in these hermit cells—the literary traces are an inspiration—but who else would want to squat among the ruins of someone else’s life? The electrics contravene EU regulations, and strangers keep climbing the garden wall.

Recently, Elpida Beloyannis un-locked the medieval door and found a young Englishman asleep in the gatehouse. He was resting before walking from Kalamitsi to England, in a pedestrian tribute to his idol. Paddy’s books have this effect on people.

Patrick Leigh Fermor lies in a Worcestershire churchyard, like a knight returned from the Crusades. But his readers, a pagan cult drawn to the gods of literature and the English ideal, come to Kalamitsi. They telephone Elpida at home, asking politely for access. They wish only to pay tribute, to inhale the atmosphere. They seek no material souvenirs here, or at the subsidiary shrine, the chapel in the hills above the village, where Leigh Fermor scattered some of Bruce Chatwin’s ashes.

Unfortunately, there are uninvited visitors, too. Snoopers are drawn by the barbaric talisman of celebrity, especially since the Benaki advertised the house by renting it for Before Midnight. The place is architecturally and historically unique, but the Benaki refuses to install a resident caretaker. Though the Benaki’s long-term commitment cannot be doubted, the house’s isolation and emptiness are tempting fate. Sooner or later, there may be damage: by the elements, by admirers, by looters. Byron’s slippers survived; Leigh Fermor’s books and boots may not.
If the Benaki opened the house to visitors, ticket sales might support a resident caretaker. If Paddy Leigh Fermor’s readers could donate to an online fund, the house could be repaired. If writers or interns lived there while the Benaki finds donors, the house would be guarded and its new life could begin.

“We are all quite optimistic that things will go as planned,” Irini Geroulanou says from Athens. “The PLF House will be open again to the public and used in the way that PLF desired and stated in his will.”

At Kalamitsi, the crickets rattle among the olives. Patrick Leigh Fermor’s legacy is caught in the aspic of its significance and the stagnant Greek economy. A secure posterity, or an avoidable scandal? In an example of life imitating art, I bump into Julie Delpy on returning to my hotel. “You’ve been there?” she asks. “The house is so beautiful. It’s my favorite place in the world.”

Dominic Green is the author of The Double Life of Doctor Lopez and Three Empires on the Nile.

I’m speechless!

Dumbleton from Miles 1

Miles Fenton who is Paddy’s nephew has commented about the house and is not happy with what has been done to it.

What have they done to the interior? Gutted it? I’m speechless!
And, as for the short back and sides to the exterior, all charm savagely removed.
So sad.

He sent me some pictures of how things used to be on the outside.

Dumbleton from Miles 2

Paddy’s house at Dumbleton up for sale again

Paddy's former home in Dumbleton

Paddy’s former home in Dumbleton

The Mill House at Dumbleton which was home to Paddy and Joan in the UK is up for sale again.

Set in idyllic countryside, the house was sold by his estate following his death in 2011, and is back on the market for £1.8m. It looks to have been extensively refurbished. Interestingly the guide price last time was £2.5m.

Some details here.

Patrick Leigh Fermor profile: ‘Glitteringly told, impossibly romantic, unrepeatable today…’

As the long-awaited final volume of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s memoirs is published, Jonathan Lorie celebrates the brilliant travel writer.

By Jonathan Lorie

First published in The Independent, Saturday 14 September 2013.

“This is the Byron Room,” murmured John Murray the seventh, ushering me into the Regency drawing room of his publishing house in Piccadilly, where marble busts perched on carved bookcases under a white rococo ceiling. “And that fireplace is where they burned Lord Byron’s papers after he died.” He smiled sheepishly, for it was his own ancestor, John Murray the second, who committed one of the great vandalisms of literary history – burning the poet’s scandalous memoirs instead of publishing them. “And here,” he said with some relief, “is Paddy.”

Paddy, as Patrick Leigh Fermor was always known to friends, was a great crag of a man, scowling at a wooden desk, where a page of lopsided writing in black ink was refusing to do his bidding. “It’s no good,” he raised his tousled head and glowered at us, a handsome man with dark, mischievous eyes. Then he burst out laughing. “It’s a poem in medieval French I want to send to the Spanish ambassador, but I can’t remember the end of it!”

Leigh Fermor strode briskly over, despite his 89 years, shook my hand and launched into an unstoppable reminiscence of tramping across Europe in 1933. “I borrowed £15 from somebody and caught a boat to the Hook of Holland, heading for Constantinople. I got somebody to give me a letter to a very nice baron in Bavaria and I went to stay with him … And then I borrowed a horse off somebody and crossed the whole of the great Hungarian plain on this horse – it was the right way to see it – it was totally unspoilt then … At the Iron Gates I caught a ship for about 50 miles, then stayed with a very nice consul in Sofia …” And he rattled off the names of places and people that must have vanished long before I was born, in a lost world of feudal Europe, as though it were all just yesterday.

Patrick Leigh Fermor in later life

Patrick Leigh Fermor in later life

That epic journey and the power of his storytelling will be in many people’s thoughts this weekend, as Leigh Fermor’s final book of travel memoirs is published. Fans have been waiting three decades for this. The Broken Road is the last, missing volume in a trilogy that many thought would never be completed. It concludes the story he told that day in the Byron Room, of a youthful trek from London to Istanbul in 1933, catching the last echoes of an older order before the Second World War changed everything.

Across this vanished world Leigh Fermor had walked aged 19, meeting monocled aristocrats and ragged chimney sweeps, sleeping in cowsheds or in castles, dodging gypsy encampments, cadging lifts on cargo boats, falling for pretty girls, dancing and drinking and talking his way to the heart and soul of central Europe. The journey was enchanting, the writing rich and vivid.

But he never finished the trilogy. The two previous volumes – A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water – appeared in 1978 and 1986 to huge acclaim. They prompted Jan Morris to hail him as “the greatest of living travel writers”. Then the words stopped, 500 miles from Istanbul. For years, friends and fans pestered him to finish it. He never did. Perhaps it was the failing powers of old age, perhaps it was the pressure of living up to expectations, perhaps – like that medieval French poem – he could no longer recall enough of the ending. When he died in 2011 – seven years after our meeting in Piccadilly – it seemed another great loss to literature.

But three years before his death, his biographer Artemis Cooper had stumbled across a 45-year-old typescript filed at John Murray’s office. It was called “A Youthful Journey”, and it was Leigh Fermor’s early attempt to describe the post-Danube part of the route. Her interest rekindled his, and slowly he began to sift his way through this fading text, revisiting the great journey, reworking the words, a man in his nineties taking one last shot.

He never finished. The final manuscript was a mass of revisions and expansions that petered out just days from Istanbul. But Cooper and the travel writer Colin Thubron took it upon themselves to sort it into best order and present it to the world. It was perhaps a homage to their friend as much as a literary laying to rest. And John Murray published it, a posthumous memoir saved from oblivion at last.

The result is The Broken Road. It’s as charming as its predecessors, a fascinating glimpse of a vanished era. Leigh Fermor drifts through the pre-war Balkans, meeting White Russian officers, dancing at diplomats’ parties, falling in love with a French-speaking student, drinking slivovitz with coachmen and concierges. On a moonless night by the Black Sea he nearly drowns, but stumbles his way into a cave where a ragged gang of fishermen and sailors sitting around a fire take him in for a night of wild drinking and traditional dances. It is perhaps the emotional heart of this book – a moment from an ancient myth, which his derring-do and joie de vivre have brought to life – glitteringly told, impossibly romantic, unrepeatable today.

The book is also a little rougher in parts than its predecessors. I asked the editors about this. “What we were dealing with was very much a first draft, by his standards,” says Colin Thubron. “Neither we nor anyone else could finish the trilogy as Paddy would have wanted. It is, inevitably, less uniformly polished – or ‘buffed up’ , as Paddy might have said – than the previous two books. But there are passages as fine as anything he wrote, and it also reveals a certain, rather charming, youthful vulnerability.”

“It is much rougher in texture,” agrees Cooper, “but it is also unmistakeably Paddy. As a writer he is quite unique. That fusion of memory and imagination and landscape, nobody has ever achieved that with such immediacy.”

Patrick Leigh Femor sharing lunch with friends in Kardamyli

Patrick Leigh Femor sharing lunch with friends in Kardamyli

Quite how far he fused memory and imagination is an interesting question. All three of these books were written decades after the fact, with only a tattered map as aide-memoire. He had lost all but one of his diaries – some on the road, some in a neglected storeroom at Harrods. Like that other fine travel memoirist of the 1970s, Laurie Lee, you can’t help wondering how much of this actually happened.

Cooper has a theory: “Paddy once told me that everything that ever happened to him from the ages of five to 21 was etched on his mind, and to a certain extent that was true. But memory is not a CCTV camera in your head – it changes, develops, shrinks or expands or becomes more elaborate – especially if you write about it.”

Thubron agrees: “I think the vividness of his memory merged seamlessly with the richness of his imagination.”

It was an imagination fed by the life that he chose to live. What other travel writer can claim to have ridden in a cavalry charge across a castle drawbridge with sabres drawn, as he did during a Balkan rebellion? Or lived in a manor house with a Romanian princess, who he met on reaching Istanbul? Or kidnapped an enemy general and driven his staff car through 22 enemy checkpoints, as he did in wartime Crete?

The latter was his most famous exploit, and you can visit the place where it happened – a remote stretch of road beside an olive grove where Leigh Fermor lay in wait with a band of Cretan partisans. The episode was made into a book and film, Ill Met By Moonlight, starring Dirk Bogarde as Leigh Fermor. For years afterwards, Leigh Fermor was fêted throughout Greece for his wartime service with the partisans, when he had lived for months in mountain caves, organising resistance to the German occupation.

The war left him with a profound attachment to Greece and its people, and in the 1950s he and his wife Joan built a house there, on the Mani peninsula. It was famed for its elegance and its house guests. John Betjeman described the library, which looked over the sea, as “one of the rooms of the world”. The travel writer Bruce Chatwin chose to have his ashes scattered on the hills above, by Leigh Fermor.

Here he wrote two luminous books on Greece – Mani and Roumeli – and slowly began the trilogy which has now, finally, been completed. He nicknamed this work “The Great Trudge” – a view understood by his editors.

“It feels wonderful to have completed the trilogy,” says Cooper. “Paddy always felt a huge regret that he did not finish this book. But by the end of his life I think he knew that we would see it was published. Perhaps, on some level, he was able to leave the world knowing that it would see the light of day.”

“There is, in the end, nobody like him,” concludes Thubron. “A famous raconteur and polymath. Generous, life-loving and good-hearted to a fault. Enormously good company, but touched by well-camouflaged insecurities. I would rank him very highly. ‘The finest travel writer of his generation’ is a fair assessment.”

Before Midnight, Telegraph review “a brave and blistering triumph”

Julie Delpy as Celine and Ethan Hawke as Jesse in Before Midnight

Julie Delpy as Celine and Ethan Hawke as Jesse in Before Midnight

Before Midnight, the third film in Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset series, finds Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke at their blistering, bickering best, in and around Paddy’s house.

by Tim Robey

From the Telegraph, first published 20 June 2013.

The last time we saw Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) together on screen, they were shooting the breeze in Paris, in Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset (2004), a sequel to his gorgeous Viennese brief encounter, Before Sunrise (1995). A plane was missed, but a vital connection was re-established, and Linklater had faith in this pair’s future, handing them one of the best, most romantic endings in the history of the movies.

Nine years later, the couple are living out the consequences of that decision, for good and bad, in Before Midnight. They’ve settled down in Paris, as the unmarried parents of twin girls, whose bobbing blonde locks could hardly fail to gladden the heart. We catch up with the family on holiday in the Peloponnese, where Jesse, fully established as a novelist, pitches ideas to friends, and Celine, an environmental activist whose latest wind-farm project has just been vetoed, ponders a potentially stressful career change.

The first half of the movie is mainly sweetness and Mediterranean light – there’s Greek salad at the dinner table, and bumper ensemble chats about what lasts in life and what doesn’t. Linklater has always been a garrulous sort of filmmaker, never one to cut short his characters’ windier musings, but in this early phase of the film he makes us ever so slightly nervous we’re in for a mid-level Woody Allen-style travelogue, with a yoghurty side dish of seasoned philosophising.

We needn’t worry; these hints of complacency are all grist to the eventual mill. Right from the start, there are rumblings of the things that have worked out less well for the lovers. Leaving his first wife for Celine meant Jesse more or less abandoned Hank, his son from that marriage, who’s now in his early teens and based in Chicago. Though Hank has joined Celine and Jesse for part of their trip, their adieu at Kalamata airport, where the film starts, is a typically poignant one for Jesse, since it involves sending his son, as Celine puts it, “back behind enemy lines”. Jesse sacrificed a lot to move to Europe, and quick-tempered Celine picks up, with nuclear sensitivity, on his yearning to be a better dad, along with all the resentments and retaliatory demands this might entail.

Hawke and Delpy, who are both credited on the script too, have never found co-stars to bounce off more nimbly or bring out richer nuances in their acting. As in the earlier films, all the best sequences here are long, snaking duologues – the difference being that Celine and Jesse now know each other inside out, and exactly which buttons to push. As a gift from friends, they get a night to themselves, and the movie’s tone shifts at the key moment when they’ve walked to a local village and the sun sets, as if inviting the real sequel to begin. There’s a long and brilliant scene in a hotel room, plotted like great theatre, in which foreplay gets interrupted by mild irritation, sarcasm becomes a full-on domestic row, and soon we’re at Defcon 1.
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Where we might have expected a gentle or rueful coda, we get a battle of the sexes as blistering as the best of Tracy/Hepburn, and infinitely more frank. The pair take turns to be witheringly funny about each’s others foibles, delusions, and vast deficiencies, which only billow when this sort of combat draws them out. In a breath, Hawke can be magnificently caustic – just wait for his quip about Celine’s “agony in the trenches of the Sorbonne” – and a clumsy stirrer of the hornet’s nest. Delpy is a mistress of the half-joke with a whole artillery of grievances at her fingertips, and the emotional capacity to fire them all at once. The way men and women can trample on each other’s dreams, even without intent, is a brave subject for this movie to unpick, given the wispy, tender optimism of those dreams when Celine and Jesse last met, and indeed first met. Each film asks whether this generation’s most durable movie couple will make it – only now, they’re asking the same question of themselves.

John Chapman’s April visit to Kardamyli

As many of you may know, John Chapman, the author of Mani Guide,  not only provides us with excellent pictures (here) and comments, he also a regular correspondent to the blog and contributes articles which I am always happy to share with you. Here is his most recent note to me. Clearly the man has too much time on his hands. Lucky him!

I spent the whole of April 2013 in Mani. A welcome change from that never-ending British winter. I was perched in an isolated house high above the Messenian Gulf with views over Kalamata and the distant Arcadian mountains. Often just accompanied by the tinkle of goat bells and hum of bees, and the loud meows of the two feral cats who adopted me.

Kardamili was 15 minutes drive away. I didn’t revisit Paddy’s villa, but I did talk to a number of locals, and foreigners who’d known him and the house. Prof. David Mason – Poet Laureate of Colorado, no less, was over with a group of extremely keen, bright eyed and bushy tailed students. Dave had lived in Kardamili in the ‘70s and had lived rough, with his first wife, in a small hut just above Paddy’s villa. He was soon invited for lunch by Paddy and Joan and remained a close friend and correspondent with them until Paddy’s death. I’d met Dave in Oxford some few years ago and it was great to see him again over dinner, with other locals and his students, overlooking the harbour at Kardamili.

David’s book, ‘News from the Village’ (Red Hen Press. 2010. ISBN 1597094714.) is highly recommended as a portrait of an American’s love affair with Greece and Kardamili in particular. He’d shown his students the hut he’d lived in, and they’d all swam off the same rocks as Paddy had. Frankly the Med’ in April is damned cold, and I certainly didn’t emulate them, but as one of them commented, ‘we’re tough in Colorado!’

Things were quiet in Kardamili. The Greek Easter was exceptionally late, early May. And I therefore had time to sit over a frappé or two with various friends. No-one was certain what was going to happen with Paddy’s house. Though towards the end of the month I heard, unverifiable of course, that a rich Englishman was going to restore the house, live in it for three  months of the year, and let the Benaki Foundation use it  for the remaining 9 months. We’ll see.

One myth I wanted to enquire about was Paddy’s linguistic skills. He certainly could speak Greek fluently, but some have claimed he spoke it like a native. I’ve seen TV footage of him speaking Greek and frankly his accent struck me as being very posh English. I asked someone from the Troupakis family, who knew him well, who confirmed my suspicions. Paddy had perfect Greek, but a marked English accent.

He was also an appalling driver. One of the Dimitreas family (Paddy’s Mourtzinos family) had once lovingly repainted their boat, only to have Paddy reverse ineptly into it. It seems it was a toss of the coin as to who drove the car. Joan was allegedly just as bad a driver!

Another oddity is that when Paddy signed a copy of his book about the Mani he would often draw a sketch of the coast near his house. This was reasonably accurate and certainly evocative. But he invariably added in about four or five seagulls. Very odd as they are a rarity in the Mani, and I’ve never seen more than one solitary seagull flapping over the bay in the more than twenty years I’ve been visiting the area.

Catch up with more of John’s contributions and photos by clicking here.

If you would like to send something to me to share with your fellow Friends of Paddy you can find out how in the About section.

The movie Before Midnight, featuring a certain house in a starring role

If you never get the chance to visit Paddy and Joan’s house in Karadmyli, it looks like you can have an extended viewing if you go to see the movie Before Midnight.

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Before Sunset sequel, Before Midnight movie shooting in Greece at Paddy’s House

Intimate portraits from Kardamyli by Miles Fenton

At Home in the World

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

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

by Lawrence Osborne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Encounter with Patrick Leigh Fermor

Patrick Leigh Fermor working at his home studio on 3 October 2004, then aged 89. Kardamyli. by Sean Deany Copyright 2012

Patrick Leigh Fermor working at his home studio on 3 October 2004, then aged 89. Kardamyli. by Sean Deany Copyright 2012

I was alerted to this article when its author, Sean Deany, posted some very nice comments on the blog. Thinking that this was one to share (there are some lovely pictures) I asked Sean if I could post on the blog. He very kindly said yes. Sean tells me he is off on a 1,700 km walk from Arles to Santiago de Compostela in 6 weeks time; so if you see an Aussie pilgrim reading A Time of Gifts wish him g’day.

by Sean Deany

In early 2001 restless and tired of my uneventful life I had the ambition to take a long walk and think things over. Hearing my complaints a good friend suggested to me that I should read Patrick Leigh Fermor’s two books “A Time of Gifts” and “Between the Woods and the Water”. Who? Was my reply. A bit surprised of my ignorance, he later supplied me with a tattered copy of the first book which would become a huge inspiration behind my travel ambitions. A few weeks later I discovered a near new copy of the second in the series of a planned trilogy. Then I had a great idea! I would write to Penguin Australia and naively ask them to forward my hand written letter to the author seeking his advice for my proposed walking tour across Europe.

This could have been the end to the matter. However and quite unexpectedly some weeks later a tiny envelope from Greece arrived into my post box. Inside it contained a two page hand scrawled response to my request  from the author himself Patrick Leigh Fermor. Common sense explained that I should not merely follow the same route he had taken all those years ago, since the world had changed to that of his youth when in hob nail boots he tramped across 1930s Europe. There and then he was really heading into the unknown! Instead he advised I should nonetheless traverse Europe, but perhaps begin in Portugal, Spain or France and head towards Eastern Europe by way of Poland and the Baltic States, before entering into Russia. From there I should swing down into the Crimea before plunging into the Caucasus. From there I could logically enter Turkey via Trebizond, following Xenophon’s Anabasis in reverse – all Greek to me –  before heading westwards to along the Turkish coastline! These were places he had always wanted to travel to, but now time was catching up on him and he doubted it would be possible. My head was by this time spinning in excitement with conflicting ideas into where and indeed when I should go.

Click here to read more …..

Crisis nips at the Benaki’s heels; what future for Paddy’s house?

Angelos Delivorias, director of the Benaki Museum.

Angelos Delivorias, director of one of the Greece’s foremost institutions, tells it like it is. These guys are the custodians of Paddy’s house. I can’t see conversion being on the top of their to do list for a while.

By Dimitris Rigopoulos

First published in Ekathimerini, 10 December 2012.

“How can you ask me if I’m well? Why would I be?” Dr Angelos Delivorias has no time for formalities on what promises to be another difficult day at the office. The director of the Benaki Museum is bitter and very, very angry. “I have to fire another 30 people by the end of December,” he practically spits.

In the three years since the onset of the crisis, it has all come tumbling down for the most dynamic museum in the Greek capital. During the boom of 2000 the Benaki opened its Pireos Street annex, the Museum of Islamic Art and the Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika Gallery, but now it has had to reduce its opening hours, let personnel go, put the remaining staff on a four-day rather than a five-day week to reduce costs, and cut salaries by 40 percent.

“While I’m still feeling a modicum of optimism, I have just one goal: to keep the door open,” says Delivorias, letting out a long, troubled sigh.

Kathimerini spoke to Delivorias ahead of the upcoming publication of a book in which he lets all the skeletons out of the closet, fearlessly exposing politicians and providing a plausible answer for how the Benaki reached its current situation.

Titled, “An Account and an Apology,” the book, which is in Greek, goes over his own career as director of the Benaki for the last 40 years. The apology refers to “the degree of responsibility that lies with me and which I am not trying to shirk,” with him admitting that his biggest mistake was probably being overoptimistic.

Despite the sorry state of the Benaki today, Delivorias says that he would not take back some of his most important decisions if he had to do it all over again: not the huge boost to the preservation and research work carried out by the museum, not the main concept governing it, not the move to open new departments in other parts of the capital, not the independence of each individual department, and not the way he chose to administrate it.

“I never wanted to be the top dog; it is a matter of idiosyncrasy, family tradition and ideology,” Delivorias says.

“I have a very particular view on what Greece represents,” he continues. “A Greece that should not be just about its ancient past, if only in words… not just about Byzantium, nor the periods of foreign occupation. It should be about all this and about the present.”

Today, Delivorias has been accused of hiring when it was not absolutely necessary back when the museum was doing well. He doesn’t deny it. “I may not have needed all of them, but not hiring them wouldn’t have saved me,” he says. “And being kindhearted has never hurt.”

The worst part of his job today is having to go down lists of people who are up for the ax. “I just can’t take it,” says Delivorias. “I’m almost 80 after all.”

The Benaki’s financial woes are essentially due to the reduction of state subsidies, which went down from just over 2 million euros in 2010 to 842,000 last year. The changes this dramatic drop in funding caused sent shock waves through the institution that it may not be able to recover from, especially given that it is servicing a 15.3-million-euro bank loan worth.

“By law, the Benaki belongs to the state but it retains its administrative independence. The state has a legal obligation to cover the payroll as well as the museum’s operational costs. If you consider the payments we make in taxes and social security contributions, meanwhile, the state gets back what it gives and then some,” says Delivorias.

The Benaki Museum’s payroll currently stands at 5.3 million euros. State subsidies cover 6 percent of its expenses and the rest comes from sponsorships, ticket sales, the gift shop and bequests. The latter does not always go straight into the museum’s coffers as relations often contest the terms of bequests and drag the issue through the courts, a process that can take as long as 10 years, according to Delivorias.

As clouds continue to gather over the Benaki’s flagship in Kolonaki, Delivorias and his associates are now busy banging on doors asking for help. In one of his most recent initiatives, he asked a major charitable foundation to adopt one of the museum’s buildings for at least one year. He has also set up a committee of volunteers to try and drum up interest in sponsorships from Greeks in the US and Australia, though such initiatives normally take time to get results.

As far as private or corporate sponsorships are concerned, the crisis has seen many of them dry up.

“New money in Greece has never been renowned for its cultural and intellectual pursuits. There used to be a middle class that had a vision of modernization and of a different kind of Greece. This class is now gone,” says Delivorias. “What exceptions we have seen normally come with an unbearable quid pro quo.”

According to Delivorias, the Benaki desperately needs 2 million euros to stay afloat.

“I just a call from the accountant, who said we can cover the cost of November’s salaries from the gift shop revenues. But we can’t continue to operate this way,” explains an exasperated Delivorias, adding that he would like to see the institution change its legal status to that of a private entity that receives state funding.

“This is not a museum or an organization that expects everything from the state. I would say that a 50-50 split would be ideal, because this institution has potential,” he argues.

Despite its financial troubles, the Benaki is trying to stay active. It has several exhibitions organized and is planning to expand into new buildings with funding from the European Commission-backed National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF).

“Unfortunately, the NSRF can’t give me money to pay my staff’s salaries,” says Delivorias.

Before Midnight movie premieres at the Sundance Film Festival

Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in "Before Midnight"

Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in “Before Midnight”

Things appear to have moved fast with the Before Midnight movie. In September we reported that filming had just taken place in Greece and at Paddy’s house at Kardamyli. The film appears to be complete and is currently premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah (yes Utah).

The blurb from the festival says:

We meet Celine and Jesse nine years after their last rendezvous. Almost two decades have passed since their first encounter on a train bound for Vienna, and we now find them in their early forties in Greece. Before the clock strikes midnight, we will again become part of their story.

Director Richard Linklater continues his enchanting tale of a chance meeting between two strangers, bringing to it a nuanced perspective only gained by years lived. As it does in each film in the series, life carries with it new responsibilities and attitudes, forcing the two dreamers to reassess what they want next. Bolstered by an increasingly refined onscreen chemistry between lead actors Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, Before Midnight is a fitting third chapter in one of the great love stories of American independent cinema.

Apparently the next showing will be at the Berlin Film Festival.

Related articles:

Before Sunset sequel, Before Midnight movie shooting in Greece at Paddy’s House

The ultimate pilgrimage to Paddy’s house in the Mani?

Paddy with Goat! Photo by Joan Leigh Fermor, from the Trustees of the National Library of Scotland

If you wanted to make a trip to see Paddy’s house at Kardamyli and to visit the wider Mani this may be the one for you. In the company of Paddy’s biographer, Artemis Cooper, this six-day tour will take in Mistra, Monemvasia, and Paddy’s house in Kardamyli, as well as other sites in the Mani.

This tour has been arranged by Art Tours (sponsors of the Royal Geographic Society event about Paddy 24 Oct) and is designed to celebrate Paddy’s life, whilst exploring the dazzling, rocky region he loved best in Greece, and where he and Joan lived for over forty years.

It is a celebration of his life and travels and is planned to run from 7-12 May 2013. Artemis will bring a unique insight into Paddy’s life and personality, and to cover the wider history of the region she will be joined by art historian James McDonaugh.

If you would like to know more please download this pdf or contact Edward Gates at Art Tours Ltd on +44 (0)207 449 9707 or by email edward[at]arttoursltd.com

Writer’s last wish falls victim to the Greek recession – and response

A poorly researched article was featured in the Daily Telegraph on Monday which many of you may already have read. It concerned the perceived lack of progress towards meeting Paddy and Joan’s wishes with regard to the use of the house at Kardamyli, and  ‘state of disrepair’. This is a subject that I know many of you are concerned about. In response to an article by John Chapman following his spring visit to the house, there were many offers of help to which there will soon be a response.

Following the article below as is the summary of a response by Artemis Cooper which was posted on her Facebook page and a letter by Artemis has been written to the Telegraph to emphasise that work is being done behind the scenes and it is expected that an announcement can be made soon which will be clearly featured on this blog.

More than a year after the death of Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor, the seafront home in Greece where the travel writer spent most of his adult life is falling into disrepair, and his wish that it should become a writers’ retreat has not been honoured.

By Jim Bruce in Kardamili

First published in the Daily Telegraph 8 October 2012.

When Leigh Fermor and his wife, Joan, designed and built the house in the mid-60s their friend John Betjeman called it “a book in itself”

But now it is locked up and looks sad and neglected, its wooden shutters rotting and falling off their hinges.

Surrounded by sprawling gardens dotted with olive trees, the seven-bedroom house in Kardamili, in the Mani region of the southern Peloponnese, is estimated to be worth £1 million.

Leigh Fermor – who was awarded the DSO for one of the most daring feats of the Second World War, kidnapping the commander of the German garrison in Crete in April 1944 – had no children. He bequeathed the house to the private Benaki Museum in Athens, stipulating that it provide a home for writers visiting for a few months.

He also left it all the contents – including 7,000 books and several valuable paintings. But so far the Benaki does not appear to have begun to act on his wishes.

Greek locals and British expats in the picturesque tourist village are disappointed at the lack of progress, but mainly blame a lack of funds caused by the country’s severe economic slump.

Maria Morgan, a children’s author, who lives in Kardamili and was a close friend of Leigh Fermor and Joan, who died in 2003, said: “It makes me, and other villagers, very sad to see the house in this situation. If Paddy were still alive today, he would be extremely disappointed that his wishes for a writers’ retreat have not been carried out. Because of the economic crisis in Greece there’s no money for this sort of thing.”

She said that the Leigh Fermors received numerous visitors from around the world, including their close friends Betjeman and George Seferis, poets laureate of Britain and Greece respectively.

The library includes a first edition of Betjeman’s High and Low, with the handwritten inscription: “For Paddy and Joan inscribed with undying devotion by the pile-ridden poet John, 1969.”

But the house had always been open to local people. “All the villagers were friends of Paddy and Joan. They loved us to drop in and talk about our lives,” Morgan said.

David Rochelle, a British expat who runs a tourist shop in Kardamili, said: “The house was a massive party zone for the glitterati, with many famous visitors. It’s a beautiful house, but now it’s falling into ruin, and that’s very sad.” Elpitha Beloyiannis, housekeeper for Leigh Fermor for 11 years, has been kept on by the museum to look after the interior. She said: “The museum is trying to raise money for repairs, but it’s difficult with the economic crisis. I’m sure the museum will honour Paddy’s wishes.”

Last year, a notice on the museum website stated: “Over the next few months the Board of Trustees will announce how the house will be used.”

No announcement has yet been made however and the museum did not answer numerous calls and emails about the house.

The response by Artemis Cooper posted on her Facebook page on 8 October is as follows:

There was another piece, also in today’s Telegraph (‘Writer’s last wish falls victim to the Greek recession’, 8.10.12) about PLF’s house at Kardamyli. I have written a letter to the Editor which I hope will be published, because I felt it was very unfair – both to the Benaki Museum, and the people who look after the house. Just because the shutters are falling off (they’ve been like that for at least 15 years), people imagine nothing is happening.

The Benaki are determined to honour PLF’s wishes to use the house as a place for seminars and writing courses, as well as a writers’ retreat. The project has been outlined, costed, and a committee of ‘Friends of the House’ has been formed to help it come about. But at a time when Greece is undergoing a period of economic catastrophe, to expect the whole house to be refurbished and turned into a hub of literary endeavour in sixteen months is frankly unrealistic.

… and Artemis’ letter published in the Telegraph on 9 October:

SIR – Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor’s wish that his house in Kardamili, Greece, be turned into a writers’ retreat has not been abandoned (“Writer’s last wish falls victim to the Greek recession”, October 8).

Lola Bubbosh, who has close links with the Benaki Museum, to which Sir Patrick bequeathed his house, has outlined and estimated the cost of turning it into a retreat, while a committee, which I am on, has been set up in Britain to see it through.

Since Sir Patrick’s death over a year ago, people have stayed at the house, and Richard Linklater has just made a film there, with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.

Things are moving forward. But in a time of economic catastrophe, one cannot expect the Benaki to refurbish the house and turn it into a full-blown writers’ retreat within a year.

Artemis Cooper
London SW6

John Chapman’s ManiGuide

The publication this week of the article by Kevin Rushby about his search for the memories of Paddy and Bruce Chatwin in the Mani prompted a degree of comment; not much of it particularly flattering. There were many unfavourable comparisons made with the excellent work of John Chapman in his ManiGuide website.

Back in 2010 I did a feature about the Guide saying ‘Having had a quick scoot around it certainly looks very comprehensive, so if you are planning on a visit to the Mani you may wish to use it…  the content looks very useful indeed.’

Following the comments about Rushby’s article I thought it would be a good idea to bring John’s work back to your attention, particularly as he has now become a regular contributor to the blog, having provided some excellent photographic material and articles.

As I said ‘ …. if you are planning on a visit to the Mani you may wish to use it.’ In fact I would recommend it. Visit —> Mani: A Guide and History by John Chapman

Related articles:

On the trail of Patrick Leigh Fermor in Greece

John Chapman at Kardamyli

John Chapman’s photographs of Paddy at home in Kardamyli 2005

Before Sunset sequel, Before Midnight movie shooting in Greece at Paddy’s House

Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke in Before Sunrise

The Paddy network is very wide and not much goes on without someone knowing something about anything Paddy related, and then getting in touch with your favourite blog. A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by our spy on the ground in Karadmyli to say that he had heard rumours that Paddy’s house was being used as a film set. Further investigations revealed this to be filming for a movie to be called Before Midnight which will star the actor Ethan Hawke, and co-start Julie Delpy. It is the third in a series of movies which I guess one could call the ‘Before Series’.

As we know the house was left by Paddy to the care of the Benaki museum and there have been some concerns voiced about the approach to essential maintenance at the house. Sources close to the museum and to Paddy’s family have confirmed that shooting has been taking place in the garden of the house and that Mr Hawke has been relaxing on the beaches playing his guitar whilst during some relaxed evening barbeques with fellow cast and crew and some locals.

The good news is that there should be a substantial fee for the use of the house which we hope will be put toward the essential maintenance, an issue highlighted only in July by John Chapman in his piece about a recent visit.

The movie series started with the 1995 film Before Sunrise which is all about a young man and woman who meet on a train in Europe, and wind up spending one romantic evening together in Vienna. Unfortunately, both know that this will probably be their only night together. But we all know that this can’t be the end, after all this is Hollywood, and nine years later the characters Jesse and Celine encounter one another during the French leg of Jesse’s book tour, and that film was called Before Sunset. I have no idea how that movie ended but it is possible that as travellers they had come across Paddy’s work and became true fans. Upset to hear that he had died each of them decided to make a summer pilgrimage to his house to make a ‘connection’. Whilst Celine gazes at the sunset across the bay from Paddy’s patio after sneaking in through the rickety blue gate, Jesse arrives with Elpida (Paddy’s housekeeper who has been kept on) and from then on they only have eyes for each other, and the local ouzo.

There is speculation that Hawke, who has apparently been in the area since late July, has plans to stay until early September so if you are quick you may be able to join as an extra. If it is of interest there are no reports of sightings of Delpy, so anything could be happening. So exciting! We will keep you posted.

John Chapman at Kardamyli

 

John Chapman is a regular contributor of material to the blog – you are all welcome to do so at any time; see Contact. Most notably John’s photographs of a visit to Kardamyli to meet Paddy in 2005 have been very popular with you all.

A while back he sent me some more photographs with some comments about the state of the villa at Kardamyli, and John’s personal thoughts about one of Paddy’s friends who died in May 2012.

 

Hi Tom

In May this year I made a return trip to Kardamili and Mani. I hadn’t been there for four years and this was just a week long catch up. Mani is still as effortlessly beautiful and tantalisingly fascinating as ever. One location I always visit is the church of St. Nicholas in Chora, where Paddy scattered Bruce Chatwin’s ashes in 1989. Still a remarkably special place.

At Paddy’s Memorial service in December I’d been sitting quietly in a pew as I could recognise some of the great and good but was not expecting anyone I knew to be there. I was suddenly clapped on the shoulder by a firm hand and an American accent bellowed ‘Well how you doing buddy?’ It was my old friend and correspondent Jon van Leuven. We had started writing to one another some 12 years earlier as we both were fascinated by the conundrum of the location of the Frankish castle of Grand Magne and various other puzzles in Mani’s medieval history. We’d since met on a number of occasions exploring cave churches near Langada and getting hideously lost in the Sangias Mountains in Mesa Mani.

With Jon was another Englishman, we were introduced but, I apologise, I’m useless with names. He had been attempting to catalogue Paddy’s books and papers. I asked if he knew what the Benaki Foundation intended to do with the house at Kalamitsi. “I’ve no idea”, was the reply,”…and I doubt if they do either”.

After the service Jon and I said our farewells. Jon was a long time friend of Paddy’s. He long had a house at the hamlet of Gournitsa (a Slavic name, lit. ‘the place above’) though nowadays often referred to as Agia Sofia, after the pepper-pot domed church which perches over Kardamili. The house itself had few comforts, Jon was adamant that he wasn’t go to pay any ‘damned taxes’ for electricity. But it was comfortable and clinging to the cliff top edge of the Viros Gorge it was a precious eyrie where Jon would stay from June to September, although his family and home were now in Gothenburg, Sweden.

I told Jon I was going to Mani and he asked me to give his house a quick look to see if all was OK. I replied I would. He emailed me on the 8 April.

‘Glad to hear you can get get up to Gour and give the hacienda a glance. Also in town I hope you hear what’s going on at Paddy’s villa these days – if you know Elpida the housekeeper she’d know better than anybody’.

I don’t know Elpida and anyway by the time I got to his Hacienda in Gournitsa I’d been given the sad news that Jon had died of complications of leukaemia. I’d known he was ill but had presumed he was indestructible. He could certainly outpace me on expeditions in Mani and was at least ten years my senior – I guess in his early seventies. On the 17 April he’d sent me his last of hundreds of emails. I might just publish them sometime…I’d asked if he’d ever met Bruce Chatwin, I was reading Chatwin’s letters.

The email was entitled ‘Drip Feeding’

“Hi John,

Just a note between hospital visits…but thanks for your epistles as ever. No, I never met Chatwin, but I once met Elizabeth at Paddy’s, and of course again in London in Dec tho she didn’t recognize me (nor I her but for Olivia’s tipoff)…Now I am taking a long pause from the airwaves to suck my thumb and medicine.

Best, Jon”

He died on the 2 May 2012

Jon was very wary of telling much about Paddy, he was a very private man and felt that there were too many people trying to grab a bit of Paddy’s aura. I was undoubtedly one of them in his judgement, so I didn’t pry and he didn’t tell., and frankly we had enough Mani stuff to keep us going for years. I did learn that Jon had first met Paddy as he was interested in ancient shrines to Artemis in the area, and had hoped (vainly) that Paddy could assist his researches. Jon helped Paddy construct the bookshelves in ‘that room’. He located picnics he had shared with Paddy and Joan, and, on very rare occasions, entrusted me with Paddy’s opinions on other ‘travel writers’. On one occasion when I briefly met Paddy striding towards Lela’s Taverna I mentioned Jon was a friend of mine. Paddy beamed and confirmed he was a very old and trusted friend, but Joan was very ill at the time and Paddy hurried on.

One evening this May we wandered down to Kalamitsi. It’s still filling up with more villas and concrete but somehow manages to remain beautiful. And on the cliffs stretching along the road to Proastio high above Kalamitsi more excrescences of domestic concrete demonstrated more concern for their owners’ views of the Gulf of Messenia than those below looking up. I delight in a domed church on a promontory (and Kardamili has three), but hate to imagine John Betjeman’s reaction to these lumpen edifices.

However Paddy’s villa is still a discrete surprise when you do chance upon it. The north wall of the garden has fallen down and we could have wandered the gardens, but resisted, though we’d been before and had had Paddy as a guide. A peer through the small window in the gates of the villa show that someone is tending the garden. Though there is a sad lack of flasks of retsina in the vestibule. The ‘Private Property’ sign has gone, maybe from neglect. Above the gateway there is a small stone hut. It was unlocked, so we guiltily crept in. A broken armchair, an old bed and some damp volumes which had obviously over spilt from the villa were on some shelves and in boxes. Hungarian Studies magazines, a history of Canterbury Cathedral, and a few gems. An offprint from a dictionary. In pencil at the top ‘In great appreciation Christmas 1958, New Year 1959 Eric Partridge.’ Naturally they were left there.

In the village no one I talked to had very much more knowledge of what was going to happen to the house than I did. And as one said – the Benaki are not as rich as they may appear. The house needs a fair bit of repair. After all it is, now, over fifty years old and shutters are beginning to disintegrate. If they want a librarian who’s soon to retire to look after the place, well, I might just volunteer.