Category Archives: Paddy's Writing

“A dangerous mix of recklessness and sophistication”: Themes of identity and nostalgic ideas of Europe in the travel writings of Patrick Leigh Fermor

Paddy after the war in Byronic costume – Benaki

Dear readers I hope that you all remain well. During what was almost a global “lockdown” I attempted to publish articles that might have been somewhat longer than usual on the basis that you might have more time on your hands to absorb them! I do wish that I had remembered to offer this masters thesis by Matthew Staite at the time, as it is a good read; absorbing and well written, exploring themes that make us think about Paddy’s work, the times he describes, and his own character. This is only a study of A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water and does not purport to analyse his other work. I commend it to you and hope that you might find the time to read it.

A PDF of the thesis can be found here: Matthew Staite Leigh Fermor Thesis.

Here’s how Matthew introduced himself to me back in April:

Two years ago I completed a masters degree at the University of Amsterdam in the field of European Studies, in a track attempting to study the Identity & Integration of Europe. As a British person with a love of travel writing, I chose to write my thesis on Patrick Leigh Fermor’s books. Very little academic scholarship exists about his writing, so I attempted to academically analyse the first two books about his European walk and look at themes of memory and how he splits Europe between East and West in the texts. I found your site very interesting and helpful when writing the thesis (I even made reference to you at one point), so I thought I would send it to you in case you found it of any interest!

If nothing else it is worth reading Matthew’s conclusion.

While this thesis has travelled across the width of the European continent alongside Leigh
Fermor, it is time for this journey to come to an end. It has been demonstrated that, while Leigh Fermor sought a Europe bound by common culture and history upon his travels, this was a nostalgic search for a Europe rooted in the past. While the texts may describe his youthful adventuring through Europe, they were written and narrated by an older Leigh Fermor who was more nostalgic for this lost past and who desperately searched for the glimpses of it that remained.

The interaction with memory that this entails proves crucial to both books. As a result of the
parallax structure, the narrative is split between the past time of his journey and the future time of his writing. As a rhetorical device it allows Leigh Fermor to jump seamlessly between the past and the present, enabling him to write in a way that both captures the younger Leigh
Fermor’s boyish charm and the older Leigh Fermor’s wisdom and knowledge. It lends narrative power to the images of lost Europe that he constructs, for Leigh Fermor has experienced this past and can contrast it with the narrative present.

The Europe that Leigh Fermor was travelling through was in many ways on the cusp of
modernity, and many of the things he describes were to completely destroyed or changed by
the effects of the Second World War. He is implicitly critical of the period under communism
that followed the Second World War in Eastern Europe; a criticism of communism (still present at the time of the book’s writing) forms the ‘elephant in the room’ of his narrative. Despite his sympathy for Eastern Europe, Leigh Fermor’s texts also conform to the tradition of writing against Eastern Europe as a backwards and savage place. While there are elements of his narrative that go against this trend, they certainly form the lesser part of his narrative.

The two tiers of class (the peasants and the elite) that Leigh Fermor encounters throughout
Europe stem from this lost past, and he only lightly deals with the contemporary changes that
were happening to the societies he travelled through at the time of his journey. Despite this
criticism, the texts remain a wonderful journey across the European continent and back into
its past. Leigh Fermor’s personality and enthusiasm for knowledge permeate the texts, and
the rich descriptions of history, literature and language that ensue read as a beautiful tribute
to European culture.

This thesis has attempted to alert scholars of the scope for analysis and research that Leigh
Fermor’s travel texts provide. However it is far from a comprehensive study of Leigh Fermor
and his writing. By conducting a close study of only A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods
and the Water, it has only looked at the themes of identity and ideas of Europe that Leigh
Fermor established between Holland and Romania. Due to the complications presented by
artificially constructed nature of the unfinished The Broken Road, there has not been the space to conduct a close analysis of it within this thesis. However that book is certainly of use to scholars, for there is certainly scope for analysis as to how Leigh Fermor includes Bulgaria
within his conception of Eastern Europe, or whether he others with it alongside Turkey as a
demarcation of the orient.

I have also not chosen to incorporate Leigh Fermor’s interpretation of Greece and its
importance within Europe. The latter half of A Broken Road is set in Greece, along with Leigh Fermor’s other travel texts Mani and Roumeli. As the south-eastern edge of Europe, and a nation where he spent a significant part of his life, it would be interesting to analyse how Leigh Fermor’s depictions of Greece correspond with the same themes of identity and nostalgia for Europe’s past that this thesis has explored.

Finally this thesis has largely treated A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water
as a single and coherent travel narrative. In doing so it has readily jumped between the two
texts despite them being published nearly a decade apart. There is certainly scope for analysis
into the effect of this time on the differences of the two books.

Inspired by Paddy: Alexander McCall Smith on reading in a time of quiet

Writer Alexander McCall Smith

A reflective piece for a Sunday morning. I enjoyed this and I hope that you do too.

By Alexander McCall Smith.

First published on The Herald.

Like many others, I have a pile of books waiting to be read. In fact, now that I come to think of it, I have more than one pile of books. I have one on the bedside table, where most people keep their unread books, but I also have two in my study – one on a chair and another on a table.

I suppose I should also count the temporary pile near the window, but that is the stack waiting to go to the charity shop. That, I fear, may be difficult to reduce in the short term: charity shops are said to be dreading the return of normal opening, as a positive deluge of stored-up donations threatens to engulf them. Barriers have been erected, we are told, and long-suffering staff are steadying themselves to turn away three months’ worth of paperback novels, out-of-date guides to Finland, and Higher English study notes. That, of course, is before they are offered last year’s political memoirs and football biographies.

By strange co-incidence, when our life changed in March and we entered this period of social isolation, I happened to have just completed a reorganisation of the books in the house. This was long overdue, as over the years I had placed books according to what might charitably be called a chronological system. This involved putting the most recently-acquired books in the front and leaving older books at the back. As a result, books on very different subjects sat next to one another on the shelf and the only method of locating them would be visual memory – “I’m sure I saw that book somewhere on that shelf” – or the recollection of when the book came into the house. Neither of these ever worked very well, and as a consequence I came to be the owner of a large number of books that I had forgotten about.

My reorganisation – carried out by a particularly competent person who agreed to take on the task for me – transformed my personal collection. Not only were books shelved according to subject, but within the classifications they were arranged alphabetically, according to author. This meant that now, if I need to find a book on the social practices of baboons, I know exactly where it is. And I do have such a book, as it happens: in fact, I see that I have two. I can also lay my hands on my Dictionary of Australian Slang and Colloquialisms – a very vivid book – or, not far from that on the shelf, my Concise Scots Dictionary. No longer do I have to spend half an hour searching for the biography of King Zog of Albania that I know I possess. There it is, next to the other memoirs of less colourful lives.

As a result of this reorganisation I discovered not a few books I had forgotten about or had never got round to reading. As isolation began, I had embarked on reading one of these recently-surfaced books, which happened to be about monasticism, and what the monastic traditions of sanctuary and quiet can do for us in our increasingly busy world. Or formerly increasingly busy world, because just as I started this book, our world slowed down perceptibly. Traffic noise disappeared; the sky, once criss-crossed by vapour trails, became inhabited only by natural clouds; delicate birdsong filled the air, as if suddenly birds felt they no longer had to shout to make themselves heard. People walked or cycled. They stopped their headlong rush; they paused to take a breath; living in the future was replaced by living now. Time was arrested. It was just the right time to read about monasticism – that curious voluntary withdrawal from the world in pursuit of spirituality.

That book was quickly followed by another on the same subject that I found on my newly-ordered shelves. This was Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time to Keep Silence. Leigh Fermor was a remarkable writer, whose books about his famous walk across Europe before the Second World War are justly celebrated. In A Time to Keep Silence he describes visits he made to monasteries in France and elsewhere in the early 1950s. He writes at some length about the implications of suddenly finding time in the day – to read, to meditate, to stay still.

It helped, and it also set the tone for my reading over the next few months of this unusual period. I found that I had no appetite for anything fast-paced or exciting. I found that I wanted to read books where there was a strong authorial voice saying something about what counted in life. In particular, I turned to poetry, and to books about poetry. Reading poetry requires an initial quietness in the mind. When you sit down with a poet, you are being addressed in a way that is intimate and direct: the poetic voice is a very personal one – somebody is talking to you, is saying “listen, this is how I feel”.

Then Zoom came along. Zoom meant that we could see and talk to friends, but it also meant that people could keep book clubs going in spite of not being able to meet others physically. I do not belong to a book club, but I started to have regular virtual meetings with four friends in which we discussed two or three poems for the occasion. One of these friends happens to be a professor of literature and an expert in 19th century poetry. That helped, but the net has been cast wide and we have included contemporary poets in our discussions. At our last meeting, we looked at Thomas Gray’s Elegy (I last read that when I was 16) but we also spent a very happy half hour talking about Edwin Morgan’s King Billy and Iain Crichton Smith’s You Lived in Glasgow. Both of these poems contain beautiful and arresting lines: I have always been struck by Morgan’s haunting opening to the King Billy poem, “Grey over Riddrie the clouds piled up…”

One cannot survive on a diet of poetry, of course, just as one cannot survive exclusively on a diet of biography or architectural history. But I did find myself concentrating on books that ask what one might call profound questions – the sort of questions that we are often too busy to address with the attention they deserve. I learned about subjects I needed to know more about – I had a sense of catching up with myself. I realised I had been too busy, too distracted, to read things I needed to read. These last few months have taught me a lesson. I hope I remember it.

A Renowned Travel Writer’s Letters From the Road

Patrick Leigh Fermor writing under a makeshift shelter in his garden at Kardamyli, Greece. Credit…Estate of Patrick Leigh Fermor

It has been a while since I posted a book review on here. Some more recent readers may wonder why I am posting a book review from 2017. One stated purpose of the blog is to bring all (suitable and relevant) material relating to Paddy under on roof, hence the reason for posting this good quality review by Charles McGrath of A Life in Letters by Adam Sisman (published in the UK 2016 as Dashing for the Post), published in the New York Review Books December 1 2017.

Though hardly known in this country, in his native England Patrick Leigh Fermor is practically a cult figure, often said to be the best travel writer of the 20th century. But Fermor — or Paddy, as he was known to just about everyone — was also a famous vacillator and procrastinator, always distractable, unable to meet a deadline, and much of the effort he might have put into books and articles went into letters instead. Adam Sisman, the editor of this volume, guesses that in the course of his very long life (Fermor died in 2011, at 96) he might have written as many as 10,000. Sisman has selected fewer than 200, but they do add up to a biography of sorts — or, rather, a scrapbook of a rich, fascinating life lived mostly out of a suitcase and in a race to the post office. Until he was almost 50, and finally owned a house, Fermor seldom stayed in one place longer than a month.

The Fermor who emerges in these letters (and in a conventional biography published in 2012 by Artemis Cooper, granddaughter of Lady Diana Cooper, one of his most favored correspondents) was a bundle of contradictions. He was a man of letters but also, like his hero Byron, a man of action — a war hero and a restless adventurer, who even swam the Hellespont when he was 69. He never finished school — his headmaster called him “a dangerous mixture of sophistication and recklessness” and tossed him out for holding hands with a shopkeeper’s daughter — but was prodigiously learned, conversant in at least eight languages and able to recite hours of poetry by heart. He was an old-school Englishman, a toff — bespoke clothes, club memberships, plummy accent, riding to hounds — who lived most of his life abroad, broke much of the time, settling down at last in Greece. He was an unabashed snob and social climber who also relished the company of peasants and shepherds. He was a famous ladies’ man and at the same time deeply in love with his wife, who patiently overlooked his wanderings. (She even lent him money for prostitutes.) And he was a tireless socializer, beloved by an enormous circle of friends, who often yearned for solitude and sometimes hid out in monasteries.

Fermor was, as he freely admitted, a shameless scrounger of invitations and of houses he could borrow. (Invited once for lunch at Somerset Maugham’s villa on Cap Ferrat, he reportedly showed up with five cabin trunks, intending to stay for weeks. Maugham dispatched him the next morning.) His letters were, among other things, a way of keeping up with his friends and repaying their hospitality. Many of them are not thank-you notes in the traditional sense, but rather performance pieces of a sort, meant to charm and entertain. The book also includes a great many letters of apology, written in “sackcloth and ashes,” as he liked to say: to his long-suffering publisher, to friends he feels guilty about neglecting (he procrastinated about letter-writing, too) and one to a girlfriend (John Huston’s wife, as it happened) informing her that he may or may not have given her crabs: “I was suddenly alerted by what felt like the beginnings of troop-movements in the fork, but on scrutiny, expecting an aerial view of general mobilization, there was nothing to be seen, not even a scout, a spy or a dispatch rider.”

In his introduction Sisman says that the letters are written in a “free-flowing prose that is easier and more entertaining to read” than that of Fermor’s travel books, which is true up to a point. The books are so original they take some getting used to. The most famous of them is a three-volume account of a journey Fermor undertook in 1933, when at age 18 he determined to walk all the way from the Netherlands to Constantinople, as he romantically insisted on calling Istanbul. It took him a little over a year, in part because he kept making side trips and detours. He slept in barns and hayricks, and even outdoors once in a while, wrapped in a greatcoat, but more often he stayed in the castles and country houses of Central European nobility, who passed him along, like a mascot, with letters of introduction. He got on not so much by his wits as by his charm, and with youthful avidity he took in everything he saw and heard.

But Fermor didn’t begin writing the first of these volumes, “A Time of Gifts,” until some 40 years later, and the third volume remained unfinished at his death. His account is both immediate and shadowed by the passage of time, evoking a vanished world all but erased by war and the blight of communism. The style is ornate and layered, syntactically complicated, and it sometimes preens right up to the edge of overwriting before pulling itself back with an arresting image or self-deflating observation. Fermor’s friend Lawrence Durrell once described it as “truffled” and dense with “plumage.”

The letters, by contrast, are spontaneous and effortless-seeming, and sparkle — a little too brightly sometimes — with puns and jokes and with the inexhaustible charm that made Fermor such a welcome guest (and bedmate). For American readers his constant name-dropping and favor-currying may prove a little off-putting: The letters are crammed with mention of the rich and titled, who all seem to be marrying and divorcing one another. Sisman, the author of exceptionally good biographies of Boswell, Hugh Trevor-Roper and John le Carré, here in a subsidiary role, provides copious and helpful footnotes not only uncovering Fermor’s many buried literary allusions but also explaining who is who. A typical example, suggesting both the scope and almost incestuous ingrownness of Fermor’s acquaintance: “Professor Derek Ainslie Jackson (1906-82), nuclear physicist and a jockey who rode in the Grand National three times. Among his six wives were Pamela Mitford, Janetta Woolley and Barbara Skelton. He left Janetta for her half sister, Angela Culme-Seymour.”

The best of Fermor’s letters, by and large, are to three women with whom he was not romantically linked but nevertheless formed deep attachments: Lady Diana Cooper; Ann Fleming, wife of Ian, the James Bond novelist; and Deborah Mitford, youngest of the famed Mitford sisters, Duchess of Devonshire and châtelaine of Chatsworth, the great country house where he loved to spend Christmas and rub elbows with the likes of Prince Charles and Camilla. All three women, not coincidentally, were splendid letter writers themselves, and like all great correspondences, Fermor’s with them took on a life and texture of its own. You sometimes feel that they enjoyed one another on the page even more than they could have in person.

It goes without saying that nobody writes letters like this anymore, and it’s a loss. Fermor could never have texted or tweeted, not just because he was a bit of a fogey, but for the same reason he often let weeks pass before answering a letter. He needed to wait until he knew what he wanted to say.

Charles McGrath is a writer and former editor of the Book Review.

A reading from Mani: In the Footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor

The travel firm Kudu Travel runs walking holidays, with some in the Mani. They are fans of Paddy! Here one of their guides reads from Mani after a drive to Gaitses, high on the western flank of the Taygettus range at the edge of the Koskarakas Gorge.

After a pleasant, three hour easy walk following the route taken by Paddy and Joan when they emerged from the overgrown gorge, after their momentous crossing of the mountain. They visited the ‘handsome old church’ on top of a knoll, and the neighbourhood where they sampled their first glass of Mani wine, and listened to a reading.

Kudu’s highly rated footsteps of Paddy tour to the Mani is due to run 10-20 October 2020.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep well.

Tom

Paddy’s account of the kidnap

Anyone who has sent me an email knows that I am notoriously slow in responding and the same sometimes goes for displaying material sent to me on the blog. I have actually been “saving” this item for a suitable occasion since it was sent to me by the ever patient Alun Davies in February 2014. Alun has probably forgotten about this now, but I thought that now really is the very best time to publish this as many of you will have a little more time on your hands if confined.

Please do also read the comment below by Chris White (co-author/editor) of Abducting a General for further information about this draft, and the others.

You can read the pdf document here – Abducting a General by PLF – typed July 2005

Alun emailed me as follows:

I had an email from Chris P*** this week asking me to send him a copy of Paddy’s personal account of the kidnap of General Kreipe. Paddy had sent it to me in 2005 when I first told him we were going to walk the route. I had his rather rough notes typed up in Cardiff and sent a copy to Chris P*** at the time. Chris has apparently lost it – and needs a copy as someone is (you may well know this) publishing another book about the Kreipe story and Chris wants to ensure that they have Paddy’s version. [Ed – I expect this is Chris White’s Abducting a General: The Kreipe Operation and SOE in Crete]

In any case as it is on my screen this evening I will send you a copy – just in case you have not seen it before.

Best wishes

Alun

You can read the pdf document here – Abducting a General by PLF – typed July 2005

 

Easter – the bridge at Esztergom, and Between the Woods and the Water free audiobook

Crowd river watching Esztergom  1934

A happy Easter to you all wherever you are and however much space in which you have to move around; I hope that you remain well. The weather here in England is lovely. The South Downs, which are a short run away for me, were soggy and treacherous for runners just four or so weeks ago. Now, after a number of weeks of dry sunny weather, the chalky soil has drained, and is even cracking apart it is so dry on the surface.

The South Downs, and Chilcomb church at Chilcomb near Winchester, England, UK, Easter 2020

Back to Paddy. At Easter time we always find we have left him mid-stream on the Mária Valéria bridge which joins Esztergom in Hungary and Štúrovo in Slovakia, across the River Danube. The bridge, some 500 metres in length is named after Archduchess Marie Valerie of Austria, (1868–1924), the fourth child of Emperor Franz Josef, and Empress Elisabeth (now she has a sad tale to tell).

Paddy crossed into Esztergom and watched an amazing Easter service led by the bishop with crowds nobles, soldiers and their ladies dressed in their finest clothes and colourful uniforms. A sight that will never be seen again.

This Easter I offer you a selection of photos of Esztergom, some from 1934, and the Audible audiobook of Between the Woods and the Water, to complement that of A Time of Gifts which I posted a couple of weeks back.

Enjoy this strange Easter as best you can. Please keep inside, safe and well, so that your medical services are not stretched to the point of collapse by this terrible virus.

Solvitur Ambulando – A Time of Gifts audio book

A Time of Gifts, 1977

Hello dear readers. I hope that you and your families are well, but I am guessing that some may have been hit by this dreadful virus and I wish you a speedy recovery. I am hunkered down in Winchester with my youngest daughter and my five month old grandson. It is a rare opportunity to for a grandpa to spend so much quality time with a grandchild; there are some blessings in all of this.

For us in the UK, this is the end of the first week of our soft “lockdown”. Perhaps further measures may come depending on the figures. Some of you will have been in a harder lockdown for longer in places like Italy and Spain. These measures will continue for some time and we all have a lot more time on our hands, so how about listening to A Time of Gifts as an audiobook? It is available on Audible if you have an account, but also it is freely available on You Tube but who knows for how long? You get two free downloads using a product like Airy https://mac.eltima.com/youtube-downloader-mac.html .

I hope that you enjoy listening. If Solvitur Ambulando, the Latin phrase which means “it is solved by walking”, is true, then perhaps some virtual walking may help us all at this time.

In the Trail of Odysseus

I shall soon be making a working visit to Odessa in the Ukraine. I’m hoping to have a few hours to walk around and make my own impressions of the city apart from the usual swift drive to the hotel and office, interspersed with a dinner in “one of the best restaurants in town”. This made me think of a post that we put up in October 2010 which covered Paddy’s introduction to a wonderful book, In the Trail of Odysseus which is the story of Yiankos Danielopoulis a Black Sea Greek. There is just one copy left on Amazon UK. If you are fascinated by this part of the world and tales of people who come through trial after trial, you will want to snap it up. Over to the old post …..

I think this is a rare treat, even for those of us who have read much of Paddy’s work. This introduction to In the Trail of Odysseus by Marianna Koromila is full of longing for the world at the edge of the Black Sea that he discovered in 1934 and which so soon was to disappear forever.

“The whole region seemed an enormous and mysterious antechamber to the whole Mediterranean, unbelievably remote and enigmatic, and ever so soon in danger of fading.”

It is the story of Yiankos Danielopoulis who died in 1987 at the age of 88. As a Black Sea Greek living through the 20th century his life was uprooted time after time, until at last he was able to settle in Mount Hymettos in mainland Greece in the 1950’s.

I have been sent some scanned copies of Paddy’s introduction, by blog corespondent James, to the English translation to the book which I hope you will enjoy and inspire you to purchase the last few copies of the book from Amazon!

To help you further, here is a short synopsis by John Colvin Body which appears to have been published in the Daily Telegraph in 1994.

“In the Trail of Odysseus by Marianna Koromila tr by Nigel Clive Michael Russell, L14.95 this modern-day “Odysseus” is Yiankos Danielopoulos, one of 12 Thracian children born in Vasiliko, a whitewashed Greek village of the Ottoman Empire in 1899, and dying in Attica 88 years later. His life has been compiled by Marianna Koromila from a privately printed family record that she acquired from his daughter. It reflects the turmoil of that region in the 20th century. Born under the Empire, Yiankos lived in Bulgaria, Romania, Russia, Turkey and Greece, surviving two nationalities, seven homes and 13 professions, all imposed by “the gale of the world”. Bulgarian violence, Bolshevik revolution, civil war and Communist take-over were his Eumenides. As a child, he “listened to the rattle of the pebbles as they were washed up by the waves”; saw woods, vineyards, wheat fields and boats unloading below his window on return from fishing. The Thracian traders and shipowners, with relations in all the Black Sea ports, he described as the seagulls which followed the fish. In winter, wolves descended from the mountains, threatening the village. “Union is strength,” said Yiankos’s father when the horses drove them off.

The Great Powers then changed lines on maps. Vasiliko came under the Bulgars, and life became untenable. Yiankos and his brothers moved to Constanza in Romania and opened a grocer’s shop. An admiral’s wife fell in love with one of the brothers. The shop received the navy’s warrant. Funds accumulated. Bulgaria then invaded and the family fled to Galatz (also in Romania) with their assets – 50 cases of macaroni. Yiankos dealt profitably in foreign exchange; money was made. But Galatz became an impossible place, what with bombing and Cossacks shooting holes in wine-cases and drowning in the alcoholic flood. The Danielopouloses escaped to Russia, packed like sardines in a stinking refugee train. Life in their new Russian home, Berdiansk, was lucrative until the Bolshevik and Anarchist massacres began, when the family escaped to Novorosisk in 1917, where the Russian fleet had scuttled. They steered clear of politics, which preserved them, but chaos came. The family escaped by tug back to Constanza, having profitably run cafe, shop and currency exchange in the middle of a revolution. Back in Romania, they enjoyed “party-time” – the annees folles of the 1920s – until the Crash of 1929. Thanks to family unity, they picked themselves up again, flourishing even during the German occupation of 1940.

But later, in 1950, when Soviet theft and odious oppression became intolerable, Yiankos, his wife and daughters left for Greece. They arrived in Mount Hymettos penniless, but went on to farm pistachio, orange, lemon and tangerine trees, cows, hens and vegetables. Yiankos had survived once more. Nigel Clive’s sparkling translation of Koromilos’s book is richly enhanced by Patrick Leigh Fermor’s introduction to that legendary world of the day-before-yesterday.”

 

Buy In the Trail of Odysseus at Amazon.

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Related article:

The mystery of The Black Sea Cave

 

 

Repeat – Kennt ihr das Land in deutschen Gauen

I guess that many of us enjoy the chapter in A Time of Gifts when the eighteen year old Paddy spent two nights in Stuttgart with two very pretty nineteen year old German girls, Lise and Annie. It was Epiphany, 6th January 1934, and they went to a party where Paddy had to pretend to be Mr Brown, a family friend. He particularly enjoyed singing a song about the Neckar Valley and Swabia. Paddy could not remember all the words but his stunning memory recalled most of them (page 66).

As we approach that time of year I thought we ought to share this delightful song. It is one of my favourite posts, so here it is again!

Even better James has found it on You Tube 🙂

Here is a link to the music sung by a German choir. The words are below so that you too can sing along! Let’s hear it now, one two three ….

  1. Kennt ihr das Land in deutschen Gauen,
    Das schönste dort am Neckarstrand?
    Die grünen Rebenhügel schauen
    Ins Tal von hoher Felsenwand.

Refrain:
Es ist das Land, das mich gebar,
Wo meiner Väter Wiege stand,
Drum sing’ ich heut’ und immerdar:
Das schöne Schwaben ist mein Heimatland!

2. Kennt ihr das Land in deutschen Gauen,
Mit Wald und Flur so reich bekränzt,
Wo auf den weiten, reichen Auen
Im Sonnenschein die Ähre glänzt?
Es ist das Land, . . . . .

3. Kennt ihr das Land in deutschen Gauen,
Wo Tann’ und Efeu immer grün,
Wo starke Männer, edle Frauen
In deutscher Kraft und Sitte blühn?
Es ist das Land, . . . . .4. Kennt ihr das Land im deutschen Süden,
So oft bewährt in Kampf und Streit,
Dem zwischen seiner Wälder Frieden
So frisch die deutsche Kraft gedeiht?Ja, wackre Deutsche laßt uns sein!
Drauf reichet euch die deutsche Hand;
Denn Schwabenland ist’s nicht allein:
Das ganze Deutschland ist mein Heimatland!

Travellers’ Century: Patrick Leigh Fermor on YouTube


Posting the Stanford awards notice the other day, made me think again about Benedict Allen’s profile of Paddy on the Travellers’ Century series which is available on You Tube.

Whilst relaxing with your loved ones over the festive period, or at any other time, why not take an hour out to watch this lovely little documentary? Perhaps it’s an opportunity to introduce the family to this mysterious Patrick Leigh Fermor. A good entry point for the uninitiated.

Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Rhineland Christmas

The restored Liebefrauenkirche in Koblenz

This has been posted once before on the blog, but if you need a Christmas Day digital fix, here is something  from A Time of Gifts.

Paddy spent Christmas, 1933, in Coblenz/Koblenz a German town on the Rhine. From A Time Of Gifts:

Coblenz is on a slant. Every street tilted and I was always looking across towers and chimney-pots and down on the two corridors of mountain that conducted the streams to their meeting. It was a buoyant place under a clear sky, everything in the air whispered that the plains were far behind and the sunlight sent a flicker and a flash of reflections glancing up from the snow; and two more invisible lines had been crossed and important ones: the accent had changed and wine cellars had taken the place of beer-halls. Instead of those grey mastodontic mug, wine-glasses glittered on the oak. (It was under a vista of old casks in a Weinstube that I settled with my diary till bedtime.) The plain bowls of these wine-glasses were poised on slender glass stalks, or on diminishing pagodas of little globes, and both kinds of stem were coloured: a deep green for Mosel and, for Rhenish, a brown smoky gold that was almost amber. When horny hands lifted them, each flashed forth its coloured message in the lamplight. It is impossible, drinking by the glass in those charmingly named inns and wine-cellars, not to drink too much. Deceptively and treacherously, those innocent-looking goblets hold nearly half a bottle and simply by sipping one could explore the two great rivers below and the Danube and all Swabia, and Franconia too by proxy, and the vales of Imhof and the faraway slopes of Würzburg journeying in time from year to year, with draughts as cool as a deep well, limpidly varying from dark gold to pale silver and smelling of glades and meadows and flowers. Gothic inscriptions still flaunted across the walls, but they were harmless here, and free of the gloom imposed by those boisterous and pace-forcing black-letter hortations in the beer-halls of the north. And the style was better: less emphatic, more lucid and laconic; and both consoling and profound in content; or so it seemed as the hours passed. Glaub, was wahr ist, enjoined a message across an antlered wall, Lieb was rar ist; Trink, was klar ist. [“Believe what is true; love what is rare; drink what is clear.”] I only realized as I stumbled to bed how pliantly I had obeyed.

It was the shortest day of the year and signs of the seasons were becoming hourly more marked. Every other person in the streets was heading for home with a tall and newly felled fir-sapling across his shoulder, and it was under a mesh of Christmas decorations that I was sucked into the Liebfrauenkirche next day. The romanesque nave was packed and an anthem of great choral splendour rose from the gothic choir stalls, while the cauliflowering incense followed the plainsong across the slopes of the sunbeams. A Dominican in horn-rimmed spectacles delivered a vigorous sermon. A number of Brownshirts — I’d forgotten all about them for the moment — was scattered among the congregation, with eyes lowered and their caps in their hands. They looked rather odd. The should have been out in the forest, dancing round Odin and Thor, or Loki, perhaps.

Paddy imaginatively and sensually explores local landscapes by drinking its wine. Notice too the glorious description of the Catholic church in Coblenz at Christmastime.  That beautiful old church, the Liebefrauenkirche, was virtually destroyed in the Second World War, but has since been restored.

Something newly discovered for Christmas – rarely seen painting of Paddy from Budapest

A portrait of Paddy done in Budapest in the 1960's

A portrait of Paddy done in Budapest in the 1960’s

I have been saving these images for some months now so that I could present them to you at Christmas; it is always good to have something new for Christmas!

Sent to me by a friend, the coat of arms is from the back of a chair that was in the von Berg house in Uri utca, Budapest when PLF stayed in 1934. It survived WW2, the Hungarian Revolution and Communism. There is a very detailed description of it in Between the Woods and the Water (pp 27, 29, 32 in the paperback edition). As we have written before:

Úri utca (Lord’s Street) is at the very heart of the Castle District and lining this ancient cobbled thoroughfare are the one-time palaces and townhouses of the old Hungarian nobility. Stop in front of number 15, a plain two-storey house, and you will be at the very core of Leigh Fermor’s Budapest. If the owner, Baroness Gloria von Berg is at home, you are likely to receive a warm welcome and a free tour of the very quarters in which PLF slept. It was her father, Baron Tibor von Berg who hosted him in 1934. From this hospitable house he explored Budapest in a way that few English travellers had achieved at that time.

The portrait is of Paddy done in Budapest during a visit he made there in the mid 1960s. It surfaced recently in the flat of an old friend of Paddy in Budapest, and has been seen before by very few people, and almost certainly its first appearance online. I hope that you enjoy it. How interesting that new items can emerge even after all these years.

The von Berg coat of arms from a chair at the house in Úri utca, Budapest

A coat of arms from a chair at the house of the von Berg’s in Úri utca, Budapest

Merry Christmas to you all, and thank you for your comments and support over this past year. We still average around 10,000 visits per month. I do encourage you to use the search facility (upper right of page); it is quite excellent. If you have something you wish to know about Paddy, tap it in and hopefully you will find something to interest and inform you from over 900 posts.

 

Joey Casey’s review of Further Letters of Patrick Leigh Fermor

Following the recent podcast including Adam Sisman, I thought that you might like to read Joey Casey’s review of his second Paddy letters compilation. This was first published in an edition of the PLF Society newsletter, and I am grateful to Joey for letting me re-publish here.

Daphne Fielding once said that Patrick ‘Paddy’ Leigh Fermor ‘should be turned into pills so that you can take him when you feel low’ and for that reason alone Adam Sisman’s books of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s letters – Volumes 1 and 2 should grace every bedside table. The sheer ebullience of them may keep you awake but you will have good dreams! Paddy wrote to Sophie Moss, wife of Billy Moss his comrade in arms in Crete, in 1950: ‘Sackcloth and Ashes…could be the title of a published volume of my letters…as all my letters start with abject apologies for lateness in answering’. However, as Sisman rightly points out, the image of a ‘dashing’ Paddy suits much better than one in mourning garb’.

In Volume 2 ‘More Dashing’ the letters span from 1938 to 2010 and display more variety and nearly twice the number of correspondents as Volume 1. There are slightly fewer ‘laugh out loud’ moments than in the first book but more breadth of subject matter with interesting intimate glimpses into Paddy’s love life, working methods and the many ways he tries, but often fails, to ward off distraction: ’I wish I were a better concentrator: feel like a grasshopper harnessed to a plough’ he writes to his friend and comrade in arms in Crete Xan Fielding (1976).

Whether as a very young man or very old with tunnel vision, Paddy’s letters entertain with drawings, comic verse and occasional cringe-making puns. They are microcosms of his books but often, Sisman writes, easier to read, and less ‘worked over’ although in most cases carefully honed with a view perhaps to future publication. Even at his most desperate, when alone on a bare mountainside in 1944 wartime Crete, he still feels the need to write complete with illustrations to a friend, Annette Crean, as if on a holiday postcard ‘Of course life is just one big whisker as usual. It’s very cold and snowy and rather beautiful, Wish you were here.’

Sisman explains in his introduction that physically Paddy was constantly away from his friends, either travelling or in Greece, and letters were just the right length both to practise his writing skills and “engage with his correspondents”. Interwoven with amusing anecdotes, quotes, references, social happenings and book recommendations plus a cast of many characters (mostly titled) the letters often require the reader to dive for Sisman’s notes. For a gregarious Paddy though they were the next best thing to a good conversation over a glass of wine. The editor’s sterling research in tracking down the most obscure references from Paddy’s magpie mind is to be applauded; he writes to Joan Rayner, who would become his wife nearly twenty years later, in 1956 that a friend has ‘sent me a remarkable Personal Religion in Ancient Greece by a Dominican called Festugiere, which is my bed and meal-time reading. Very odd for a monk. Has anyone heard of him?’ Sisman has ..and gives date, chapter and verse in the notes!

Above all it is Paddy’s lyrical sensory descriptions that really sing such as those to his ‘lady pen pal’ Diana Cooper in 1955 while staying at the Grand Hotel Bassoul in Beirut ‘lying there on enormous high beds in cool dilapidated rooms, listening to the clatter of trams, the cries of vendors clanking brass objects and muezzin answering muezzin, a faint rank whiff of kebabs and spices drifting in through those mock crusading windows’ The armchair traveller is instantly transported to the Middle East. Religious processions were another favourite of Paddy’s; in another letter to Joan Rayner in 1950 he writes:-‘10,000 people burst into a furore of clapping and cheers as the enormous Mararena virgin came out ( every one murmuring ‘Mira la, Mira la ..look at her’) preceded by a hundred Roman soldiers in full armour and huge ostrich feather plumes playing slow marches on muffled drums etc…..boys putting on velvet and gold dalmatics and ruffs, all in candlelight under white baroque vaults – the closest one could get to the Funeral of Count Orgaz’. (nb note 6 this painting was by El Greco not Goya!).

In 1970 he waxes lyrical recomposing the landscape in painterly fashion from a trip to Turkey with Damaris Stewart, a close friend along with her husband Michael Stewart, British Ambassador to Greece, and later their daughter Olivia. ‘Give me an agora choked with capers and cow parsley every time, convolvulus twirling up the shafts of columns, stylite storks, an odeum full of frogs with a Yuruk (Turkish nomad) and a camel or two for scale in the middle distance..’.

Paddy seems slightly insecure in his early descriptions of the sexual mores in bohemian
and upper class circles. He and Joan had an open arrangement which he was happy to follow but was slightly anxious that she should not! ‘How lively London sounds, everybody’s changed places. It’s like Sir Roger de Coverley …whoops! Away again and all change. I wouldn’t mind a day or two of it now, as long as neither of us performed leading roles, I don’t think I could bear any change now’. In 1950 he wrote to her ‘you as a friend and a lover are almost (not quite) equally precious things.’

In Sisman’s Volume 1 Paddy’s letters were often all innocence smitten with love such as the ‘crush’ he had on Lyndall Birch in the late 1950s. This is now replaced in Volume 2 by more knowing but nevertheless passionate declarations to his lover Ricki Huston, John Huston’s wife, who gets four long letters in two months and we feel the urgency and passion of their affair: driving from Rome to Bologna and on through France in April 1961, he describes driving through a mountain storm from motorway to country road ‘soaring through the firmament like a destroying demon out of Dante, crackling sword cast aside and mackintosh wings a-draggle, a grounded Lucifer. ‘The exciting subterfuge in the relationship is mirrored when he writes that he is staying at Viscount de Noaille’s mansion in Paris ..’Mr Sponge has fallen on his feet again’ he quips later on when mentioning ‘cadged’ friends’ houses. Hushed vistas of Louis XV furniture, labyrinths of gilt and brocade magnificence…Very grand but a bit eerie as if spies and eunuchs were observing one’s every step from inside gigantic Ming vases and through giant portraits of Noailles after Noailles’.

In another letter to Ricki he declares ( 1961) ‘I do feel grateful to life this …setting all these treasures cascading so generously and gratuitously’ but she is not fooled and replies quoting him: ‘there’s been many and many a handful of multicoloured silk and a good few chunks of alabaster for after all aren’t you a poet and a loving man?’

When trying to console Diana Cooper one month after her husband Duff Cooper’s death in 1954 we sense Paddy’s rather naive perplexity as to how to react. He starts by trying to cadge a ticket to a ball in Rome and hopes she might come and join him ..travel and changes could help..or when in doubt there is always a ‘nursery’ solution ‘a giant nanny’. He then tries distraction with a tale of his Irish ‘scrape’ and finally finishes by sending her a rather mournful 16th century poem which would probably have made her burst into tears. Paddy then proceeded to lose all her condolence thank you letters. They remained firm friends.

We feel for Paddy’s publisher, the long suffering Jock Murray who had to make sense of the spidery maze of corrections presented late along with excuses and pleas for finance. He writes to Jock in 1992 ‘Oh for Chagford or Saint Wandrille ( a hotel and a monastery where he used to take refuge keeping all temptations at bay). I’ve started clearing all this stuff, written a hundred letters I had allowed to mount up and hoping Volume 111 will get forward a bit faster’ …It never did and was eventually published from Paddy’s notes posthumously.

It is at beautiful Kardamyli, the home that he and Joan had built in the Mani in Greece, where he spent most of the year from the mid sixties writing, swimming, reading and entertaining friends.

In 1962 he describes finding the perfect spot for their house to Joan. ‘The appearance and mood of the place is half Calypso’s cave, half orchard where Odysseus found his old father at work…this interpenetration of sea and rocks with olives, cypresses, sweet smelling shrubs; marine and georgic with that hectic sunset amphitheatre of precipices behind and the phantom Taygetus ( mountains) looming’.

The last third or so of Sisman’s book deals with correspondence largely arising from Paddy’s books plus the many introductions, addresses, reviews and obituaries he had to write for dear friends. These later years are also times for sorting out his affairs and paperwork. In a letter to Rudi Fischer, his advisor and mentor on all things Hungarian and Romanian he guiltily admits in 1987 to his use of the ‘Dichtung’ (poetic licence and sheer invention) in the chapter concerning a romantic fugue with Xenia in Between the Woods and the Water. He also tries to prepare his papers for Artemis Cooper, Diana Cooper’s granddaughter, to write his biography to appear posthumously. Anxious not to hurt or upset he suggests she might like to go through all his letters to Joan ‘I’ve put lines round any over gossipy or scandalous bits with OMIT written in the margin.’

I have only given a very small sample here from Paddy’s many letters in this Volume 2 (the first PLF book to be published by Bloomsbury rather than John Murray) but, since Sisman mentions that in all there are probably around ten thousand letters including those to Joan, perhaps we can expect Volumes 3 and 4? I hope so as they are such a joy to read.

Purchase More Dashing: Further Letters of Patrick Leigh Fermor

Slightly Foxed Podcast – Dashing for the Post editor Adam Sisman

Adam Sisman

I do look forward to the emails I receive from Slightly Foxed, the specialist London-based publisher of fine reproduction books. They are always upbeat and inclusive. Their publications are varied but always popular. I have started to collect some of their children’s books for my grandchildren!

Earlier in 2019 they started a podcast which I highlighted back in June. Episode 6 includes an interview with Adam Sisman, who edited Dashing for the Post: Selected Letters of Patrick Leigh Fermor (2016) and More Dashing: Further Letters of Patrick Leigh Fermor (2018). Unfortunately the interview is not about his Paddy work, but I thought that you might like to hear Adam speak!

Listen to the podcast here.

The Man of the Mani now on BBC Sounds

In 2015, the experienced BBC reporter and presenter, John Humphrys, hosted a BBC Radio 4 programme about Paddy’s life in the village of Kardamyli in the Mani, exploring his the life and work. The programme is now available (for how long I don’t know) on the BBC Sounds website. Maybe take half an hour this weekend to listen to one seasoned veteran talk about his passion for another.

At the time the BBC website introduced the programme thus:

Fermor is arguably the most influential travel writer of the 20th Century. At the age of eighteen he took off, with notebook in hand, on a walk across Europe. During the Second World War he fought in Greece and Crete, and is still remembered in the country today for his daring exploits with the resistance. His most celebrated action came in 1944 when he led a commando operation to abduct the German General Heinrich Kreipe.

In the early 1960s he moved to Greece, to the Southern Peloponnese. He built a house in the village of Kardamyli in the Mani. It was here that he wrote much of his most celebrated work and where he remained until his death in June 2011.

John Humphrys visits Fermor’s village to explore the influence that Greece had upon his life and work, and also to consider the impact that he had on the village and the people he lived alongside. John visits Fermor’s former home, now in the care of the Benaki Museum in Athens, and discusses the plans for its future. He meets those in the village who met Leigh Fermor when he first arrived in the 1960s – a man in his nineties recalls how they “danced on the tables into the night” – and he hears tales of influential guests, great writers like Bruce Chatwin and John Betjeman, even a King and Queen.

Accompanied by Fermor’s book ‘Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese’, John Humphrys also travels into the deep Mani, one of the remotest, wildest and most isolated regions in Greece.

Visit the BBC Sounds website here for further details.

Robert Macfarlane reads from ‘The Gifts of Reading’

Robert Macfarlane is a splendid writer, and a great admirer of Paddy. His books are always worth reading. His latest, Underland: A Deep Time Journey is published today.

But I wanted to highlight a little known work of his. Called The Gifts of Reading. This essay is a joy in itself celebrating the enjoyment of reading and inspired by Macfarlane receiving a copy of a Time of Gifts as a gift. This little pocket sized book is an ideal little present for those you love, just to show that you care and wish them to share in your joy of the gift of reading. The Gifts of Reading

Obituary from 2006 – George Psychoundakis the Cretan Runner

George Psychoundakis during the Resistance

The wartime resistance fighter and SOE courier George Psychoundakis, who became a writer and literary translator, has died in Chania, Crete, at the age of 85 (2006 obituary). He won international fame in 1955 with the publication of his memoir of the Nazi occupation of his homeland, The Cretan Runner, which was translated with inimical lyricism by Patrick Leigh Fermor (later Sir Patrick), who had been parachuted on to the island to help organise the resistance.

By Simon Steyne

First published in the Guardian 21 February 2006 (and later corrected – see below)

Born in the mountain village of Asi Gonia, George had only a brief schooling before becoming a shepherd, a craft that made him familiar with the island landscape’s every feature. He joined the resistance as soon as the airborne German invasion of Crete began on May 20 1941, and operated as a messenger for Leigh Fermor, who took over command of the underground forces in western Crete from Xan Fielding in January 1942. Leigh Fermor’s wartime exploits became widely known through his own writings and Dirk Bogarde’s portrayal of him in the 1957 film, Ill Met by Moonlight, about the kidnapping of the German commander General Karl Kreipe.

George’s memoir told the story of the German occupation and the Cretan resistance from the time of the invasion to the island’s liberation on May 23 1945. His effortlessly poetic account reflected a passionate love of his homeland and its people, a geologist’s and botanist’s eye, the wonder of a young shepherd’s experiences during furlough in Egypt and Palestine, chortling bemusement at the habits of the upper-class British agents, and deep comradeship with his fellow resistance fighters – not least Manoli Paterakis and “Michali” (Leigh Fermor’s codename), who remained his lifelong friends.

George and I got to know each other in Crete in 1990. At our first meeting, he held up his map stolen from a German guard post. Against the lamp, the light shone through the pinholes left by the flags charting troop movements – and smiling with typical wryness, he displayed the helmet he had also taken from the guard “after I’d slit his throat” (an incident not recounted in his book). As a student of the German resistance, I had interviewed communists and social democrats who had been anti-fascists long before the war. But when I asked George why he had immediately joined the resistance in Crete, he looked at me as though I was from another planet and replied with one word: “philopatria” – love of my country.

George Psychoundakis in 2004(?)

George was imprisoned after the war because there was no record of any Greek military service, and in those 16 months he wrote his memoir in exercise books filched by Leigh Fermor from the British School in Athens. Dispatched to fight in the civil war for two further years, he finally returned to his village. His sheep had been stolen in 1941 – he once offered me the ruined hut to rebuild as a home in Crete – and, soon embroiled in a family feud that was to dog the rest of his life, he began a period of isolated existence as a charcoal-burner.

He worked as a navvy and was even an extra in the 1964 film, Zorba the Greek. But later, George – no leftist – was supported by friends in high places in the conservative Nea Demokratia party. Partly through that patronage and, with evident irony, in 1974 he and his friend Paterakis became groundsmen at the German war cemetery at Maleme. As he reportedly said, “I’m surrounded by Germans, but none of them will talk to me.” But George’s long service at the cemetery affirmed his respect for the war dead; he knew what life was worth.

The Cretan Runner brought George little wealth and also irritations. Some on the island appeared to resent the greater recognition he enjoyed than others who had fought. John Murray published the first English edition, but it was pirated by Greek publishers who sold many copies for which George received no royalties. Penguin reprinted the book in 1998. His translation of Homer’s Odyssey from the ancient Greek into a modern Cretan dialect was published, to much acclaim, in 1979.

May 1991 saw the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Crete, and the commemorations included an exhibition at the National Army Museum in London. Its deputy director, David Smurthwaite, and I arranged for George and his wife, Sofia, to come to the royal opening, and during the week he visited Winston Churchill’s country home at Chartwell, Kent. George always had a deep affection and admiration for the wartime British and New Zealanders; Churchill and General Bernard Freyberg, the allied commander on Crete, were his heroes, and he had his photograph taken standing by a picture of Freyberg.

Visiting George was remarkable. Apart from lazy meals in tavernas run by his extended family and at home (memorably including a kid, slaughtered and grilled for us at his daughter’s house), lubricated by home-made rakis and everyday stories, there were times of sadness and almost farcical humour. One moment he was recounting the death of comrades or pointing to villages in the Amari valley burnt in reprisal for the Kreipe kidnapping; the next he was yelling for me to stop the car. “Here,” he said, with a grin that betrayed both pride and mischief, “disguised as a woman, I took a donkey loaded with explosives through a German checkpoint.”

He is survived by Sofia, a son and two daughters, and four grandchildren.

· George Psychoundakis, resistance fighter and author, born November 3 1920; died January 29 2006.

The following correction was printed in the Guardian’s Corrections and clarifications column, Friday March 3 2006.

In the obituary above we said that Patrick Leigh Fermor parachuted into Crete to help organise the resistance. In fact he arrived at Crete by sea. We said Leigh Fermor “filched” from the British School in Athens the exercise books in which Psychoundakis had written his memoir of the Nazi occupation. In fact he first saw them in 1951 when Psychoundakis himself showed them to him. The villages in the Amari valley were not burned in reprisal for the kidnapping of the German General Kreipe; he had been kidnapped several months earlier.

Roots of Heaven – full movie on You Tube

Some may not be aware that Paddy was pressed hard by Darryl F. Zanuck to be the scriptwriter for the 1958 film The Roots of Heaven, an adventure film made by 20th Century Fox, directed by John Huston and produced by Darryl F. Zanuck. The screenplay was by Romain Gary and Patrick Leigh Fermor and is based on Romain Gary’s 1956 Prix Goncourt winning novel The Roots of Heaven (Les racines du ciel).

The film had a fine cast and starred Errol Flynn, Juliette Gréco, Trevor Howard, Eddie Albert, Orson Welles, Paul Lukas, Herbert Lom and Gregoire Aslan. Paddy describes the negotiations and some of his time on set in Chad in letters to Debo Devonshire published in the book In Tearing Haste. I think Trevor Howard was drunk most of the time and Paddy appeared to be quite struck by the beautiful French actress Juliette Gréco. It was Errol Flynn’s last film

Set in French Equatorial Africa, the film tells the story of Morel (Trevor Howard), a crusading environmentalist who sets out to preserve the elephants from extinction as a lasting symbol of freedom for all humanity. He is helped by Minna (Juliette Gréco), a nightclub hostess, and Forsythe (Errol Flynn), a disgraced British military officer hoping to redeem himself.

Patrick Leigh Fermor’s run-on part in The Roots of Heaven

The whole movie is available on You Tube (for how long who knows?). Paddy makes a brief appearance at 1 hour 32 minutes.

Budapest in the footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor

The travel writer arrived in Budapest in 1934. Author Michael O’Sullivan traces his footsteps.

By Michael O’Sullivan

First published in iNews 25 February 2019.

Standing on Budapest’s Freedom Bridge some years ago, with a Turkish friend who comes from an old Ottoman family, I heard her exhale a long, almost doleful sigh. When I asked if everything was alright, she just stared down the Danube and said, “To think that this was once part of the frontier of our old Empire!” Budapest is that sort of city; a place with a capacity to easily unleash a myriad of complex historical emotions.

Few have realised this so perfectly in print as did a 19 year old English youth who came here in 1934. Patrick Leigh Fermor was, among other things, working off his frustration at having been expelled from school when he undertook what is now remembered as a legendary walk from the Hook of Holland to the place he liked to call Constantinople.

He arrived in Budapest on 1 April 1934. He could hardly have known then, that a mere 10 years later, much of what he saw in this ancient city would be greatly altered by the vicissitudes of war, but also by the brutality which was so often the handmaiden of communism.

Can the traveller to the Hungarian capital today hope to find anything left of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Budapest to explore and enjoy? Let’s start our quest where he did; on the west bank of the river Danube on the Buda side of the city so elegantly bisected by one of Europe’s greatest rivers.

Úri utca (Lord’s Street) is at the very heart of the Castle District and lining this ancient cobbled thoroughfare are the one-time palaces and townhouses of the old Hungarian nobility. Stop in front of number 15, a plain two-storey house, and you will be at the very core of Leigh Fermor’s Budapest. If the owner, Baroness Gloria von Berg is at home, you are likely to receive a warm welcome and a free tour of the very quarters in which PLF slept. It was her father, Baron Tibor von Berg who hosted him in 1934. From this hospitable house he explored Budapest in a way that few English travellers had achieved at that time. Patrick Leigh Fermor’s passport

Go north on Úri utca and at its junction with Szenthármoság tér (Trinity Square) you will encounter an object which carries with it immense superstition for students who are about to sit exams: a statue of Field Marshal András von Hadik on horseback. Closer examination reveals the horse’s testicles to be highly polished. This comes from fervent rubbing by generations of students wishing to invoke good luck before sitting their exams.

You may regain your composure with a leisurely stroll to Leigh Fermor’s favourite vantage point for viewing the Danube, its bridges and the glories of Pest across the river. The Fisherman’s Bastion has all the deceptive appearance of an ancient cut-stone belvedere; however, this amalgam of neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque architecture was erected barely 30 years before Leigh Fermor reached Budapest. On its main terrace an eponymous restaurant, Halászbástya Étterem, offers Hungarian fare. But nearby, for Leigh Fermor devotees are two places of refreshment still thriving since his 1934 visit.

For the traveller seeking the perfect coffee break or a light lunch Ruszwurm (Szentháromság Street 7) was Leigh-Fermor’s favourite café in Buda. Still operating since 1827, it has many of its original Biedermeier furnishings, and its tiny interior offers the perfect Budapest time warp. Those seeking more hearty sustenance should head for the Fekete Holló (black raven) restaurant on nearby Országház Street 10. This is where Leigh Fermor worked with his Budapest mentor Rudi Fischer to shape Between the Woods and the Water into the masterpiece of modern travel literature which it became. Its interior has something of the feel of a Hungarian hunting lodge about it, and its speciality is fish. The fish soup is a meal in itself.

At this point, in order to follow at least some of PLF’s route on the other side of the city in Pest, take the dinky number 16 bus (stops at regular intervals throughout the Castle District) and cross the Danube via the Chain Bridge, first opened to traffic in 1849.

This mighty conduit between both sides of the city was Leigh Fermor’s daily route to Pest where, once he reached Vörösmarty Square, he often stopped at the capitals most famous Café Gerbeaud. Still operating as a café since 1870, today it represents the more expensive side of Budapest’s cafe life.

Opposite Gerbeaud is the former Teleki Palace (now the Bank of China) where Leigh Fermor made several visits to one of Hungary’s most learned Prime Ministers, Paul Teleki, who was on the team of geographers who mapped the Japanese archipelago. The foyer of this bank gives some idea of the former grandeur of this old Budapest palace.

Leigh Fermor described Pest as a modern place criss-crossed by a great swath of Oxford Streets. On one of these streets we find the house which once contained one of Europe’s most legendary nightclubs, frequented by such social luminaries as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. At 20 Nagymező Street is the house which hosted the Arizona. Today, it contains a splendid photographic museum, but a faint sense of what Leigh Fermor described still lingers: ‘’The scintillating cave of the most glamorous nightclub I had ever seen. Did the floor of the Arizona really revolve? It certainly seemed to. Snowy steeds were cantering around it at one moment, feathers tossing: someone said he had seen camels there, even elephants.’’

Despite what war, revolution and communism have done to the physical fabric of Budapest, it is still possible to find a flavour of a city so elegantly described by one of the greatest English travel writers of his generation.

Patrick Leigh Fermor: Noble Encounters between Budapest and Transylvania by Michael O’Sullivan is published by Central European University Press.

Exhibition – Painting the Southern Peloponnese: In the Footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor

Mount Elijah above Anno Boularii, Sundown

I have just been alerted to what looks like a marvellous exhibition of paintings running until 11 March in the Friends Room of the Hellenic Centre in London.

In October 2017 Toby Wiggins embarked on an adventurous trek over mountains and across arid plains to the sound of gun shot in the mornings and howling jackals by night. He retraced the path taken by one of the 20th centuries leading travel writers Paddy Leigh Fermor, who in 1951 walked the peninsula and later published his seminal work ‘Mani’. After his own odyssey, Toby returned home with a rucksack full of tiny oil studies of the places described by Paddy and in his studio he used these studies to make larger paintings, about which he says:

…they are an attempt to translate the sensation of being there, the texture of this harsh land; iron-like outcrops and intense blue skies. Then there are those moments when the harshness is transformed by intense, luminous colour into something altogether ethereal.

Profoundly influenced by Patrick Leigh Fermor and artist John Craxton, who illustrated Leigh Fermor’s books, the beguiling lure of this remote place, the southernmost tip of mainland Greece, is plain to see in the intense light, colours and textures that run through Toby’s works.

The exhibition is free to visit during opening hours, please call 020 7487 5060 to confirm (Toby advises to call first), but usually 10 am -5 pm. The exhibition opens 12st February and runs until 11th March.

To view the paintings on-line visit Toby’s website. Call Toby on 07939 661075 for more information.

The exhibition catalogue can be found here.

Location and contact details for the Hellenic Centre are here.

Royal Academy Schools trained Toby Wiggins RP is renowned for his highly-regarded portraiture. He has won awards including the BP Travel Award (NPG), the Lynn Painter-Stainer Prize for Figurative Painting and the Prince of Wales Drawing Award. His interest in landscape has spread from his native Dorset to this most austere, but compelling landscape of ‘Mani’, one of the wildest and most remote corners of Greece.

It was still a couple of hours till dawn when we dropped anchor in the Hook of Holland . . .

 

A Time of Gifts, 1977

Continuing our celebration of the 85th anniversary of Paddy setting out on his journey in 1933, we have an extract from A Time of Gifts covering his arrival in Hook of Holland.

It was still a couple of hours till dawn when we dropped anchor in the Hook of Holland. Snow covered everything and the flakes blew in a slant across the cones of the lamps and confused the glowing discs that spaced out the untrodden quay. I hadn’t known that Rotterdam was a few miles inland. I was still the only passenger in the train and this solitary entry, under cover of night and hushed by snow, completed the illusion that I was slipping into Rotterdam, and into Europe, through a secret door.

I wandered about the silent lanes in exultation. The beetling storeys were nearly joining overhead; then the eaves drew away from each other and frozen canals threaded their way through a succes­sion of hump-backed bridges. Snow was piling up on the shoulders of a statue of Erasmus. Trees and masts were dispersed in clumps and the polygonal tiers of an enormous and elaborate gothic belfry soared above the steep roofs. As I was gazing, it slowly tolled five.

The lanes opened on the Boomjes, a long quay lined with trees and capstans, and this in its turn gave on a wide arm of the Maas and an infinity of dim ships. Gulls mewed and wheeled overhead and dipped into the lamplight, scattering their small footprints on the muffied cobblestones and settled in the rigging of the anchored boats in little explosions of snow. The cafes and seamen’s taverns which lay back from the quay were all closed except one which showed a promising line of light. A shutter went up and a stout man in clogs opened a glass door, deposited a tabby on the snow and, turning back, began lighting a stove inside. The cat went in again at once; I followed it and the ensuing fried eggs and coffee, ordered by signs, were the best I had ever eaten. I made a second long entry in my journal – it was becoming a passion – and while the landlord polished his glasses and cups and arranged them in glittering ranks, dawn broke, with the snow still coming down against the lightening sky. I put on my greatcoat, slung the rucksack, grasped my stick and headed for the door. The landlord asked where I was going: I said: ‘Constantinople.’ His brows went up and he signalled to me to wait: then he set out two small glasses and filled them with transparent liquid from a long stone bottle. We clinked them; he emptied his at one gulp and I did the same. With his wishes for godspeed in my ears and an internal bonfire of Bols and a hand smarting from his valedictory shake, I set off. It was the formal start of my journey.

Extract from A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor, with thanks to John Murray Publishers

Setting out: Siân Phillips reads from A Time of Gifts

Today marks the 85th anniversary of the start of Paddy’s journey on 9 December 1933. Sian Phillips reads an extract from A Time of Gifts covering his departure “from the heart of London”.

The anchor-chain clattered through the ports and the vessel turned into the current with a wail of her siren. How strange it seemed, as I took shelter in the little saloon – feeling, suddenly, forlorn; but only for a moment – to be setting off from the heart of London! No beetling cliffs, no Arnoldian crash of pebbles. I might have been leaving for Richmond, or for a supper of shrimps and whitebait at Gravesend, instead of Byzantium.

. . . The reflected shore lights dropped coils and zigzags into the flood which were thrown into disarray every now and then, by the silhouettes of passing vessels’ luminous portholes, the funereal shapes of barges singled out by their port and starboard lights and cutters of the river police smacking from wave to wave as purposefully and as fast as pikes. Once we gave way to a liner that towered out of the water like a festive block of flats; from Hong Kong, said the steward, as she glided by; and the different notes of the sirens boomed up and downstream as though masto­dons still haunted the Thames marshes.

. . . A gong tinkled and the steward led me back into the saloon. I was the only passenger: ‘We don’t get many in December,’ he said; ‘It’s very quiet just now.’ When he had cleared away, I took a new and handsomely-bound journal out of my rucksack, opened it on the green baize under a pink-shaded lamp and wrote the first entry while the cruets and the wine bottle rattled busily in their stands. Then I went on deck. The lights on either beam had become scarcer but one could pick out the faraway gleam of other vessels and estuary towns which the distance had shrunk to faint constellations. There was a scattering of buoys and the scanned flash of a light-house. Sealed away now beyond a score of watery loops, London had vanished and a lurid haze was the only hint of its whereabouts.

. . . I wondered when I would be returning. Excitement ruled out the thought of sleep; it seemed too important a night. (And in many ways, so it proved. The ninth of December, 1933, was just ending and I didn’t get back until January, 1937 – a whole lifetime later it seemed then – and I felt like Ulysses, plein d’usage et de raison, and, for better or for worse, utterly changed by my travels.) But I must have dozed, in spite of these emotions, for when I woke the only glimmer in sight was our own reflection on the waves. The kingdom had slid away westwards and into the dark. A stiff wind was tearing through the rigging and the mainland of Europe was less than half the night away.

Extract from A Time of Gifts, with thanks to John Murray Publishers. Artwork, The Pool by Charles Edward Dixon, 1904.

Robert Macfarlane: When I first read ‘A Time of Gifts’ I felt it in my feet. It spoke to my soles . . .

On 9th December 1933, Paddy set out on the journey that would change his life, and those of many others. Today we have Robert Macfarlane and his reaction when first he picked up A Time of Gifts. 

A Plan Unfolds: Siân Phillips reads from ‘A Time of Gifts’ by Patrick Leigh Fermor

To mark the 85th anniversary of Paddy starting his “great trudge”, I would like to share some readings over the next few days. We start with Sian Phillips describing the moment that inspiration for the journey came to the young, bored Paddy one desultory November day in 1933.

About lamplighting time at the end of a wet November day, I was peering morosely at the dog-eared pages on my writing table and then through the panes at the streaming reflections of Shepherd Market, thinking, as Night and Day succeeded Stormy Weather on the gramophone in the room below, that Lazybones couldn’t be far behind; when, almost with the abruptness of Herbert’s lines at the beginning of these pages, inspiration came. A plan unfolded with the speed and the completeness of a Japanese paper flower in a tumbler.

To change scenery; abandon London and England and set out across Europe like a tramp – or, as I characteristically phrased it to myself, like a pilgrim or a palmer, an errant scholar, a broken knight or the hero of The Cloister and the Hearth! All of a sudden, this was not merely the obvious, but the only thing to do. I would travel on foot, sleep in hayricks in summer, shelter in barns when it was raining or snowing and only consort with peasants and tramps. If I lived on bread and cheese and apples, jogging along on fifty pounds a year like Lord Durham with a few noughts knocked off, there would even be some cash left over for paper and pencils and an occasional mug of beer. A new life! Freedom! Something to write about!’

Extract from A Time of Gifts, with thanks to John Murray Publishers.

Danube Institute video Noble Encounters

Many of you will have had a lot of enjoyment reading Michael O’Sullivan’s excellent book Patrick Leigh Fermor: Noble Encounters between Budapest and Transylvania which was published in the summer.

Michael gave an excellent presentation at the Transylvanian Book Festival back in September. In anticipation of the London launch next week of Patrick Leigh Fermor: Noble Encounters between Budapest and Transylvania, you may wish to dip in and out of this video by the Danube Institute featuring Michael and Dr. Tamas Barcsay (great-nephew of Miklos Banffy) talking about Paddy’s time in Hungary and the people he met there.

Find out more about the book and its background here.

You can purchase the book by clicking this link Patrick Leigh Fermor: Noble Encounters between Budapest and Transylvania.

Patrick Leigh Fermor and the monks of the west

An excellent article from the Catholic Herald by Michael Duggan; “religious references” in his work (and life). I hope that you enjoy this.

Seventy years ago, in September 1948, the English author Patrick Leigh Fermor decamped from the nightspots of Paris to the Benedictine monastery ‎of Saint Wandrille de Fontanelle near Rouen. His purpose was to work on a draft of what would become The Traveller’s Tree, an account of his voyages in the Caribbean. A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, the books recounting part of an epic pre-war walk across Europe as an eighteen-year-old that would secure Leigh Fermor’s lasting fame, were still decades away.

As his letters published last year show, ‘Paddy’ had a penchant for high living, forever drawn to the “soft hiss of the soda syphon”. His ingenious, entirely euphemistic descriptions of sex are a bawdy hoot. He once provoked a massive punch-up at the Kildare Hunt Ball and was only rescued from a true pounding by Ricki Huston, a beautiful Italian-American dancer, John Huston’s fourth wife and, not long after the near-riot in Ireland, Paddy’s lover.

His publisher, Jock Murray, once half-jokingly suggested a boarding house in Aberdeen as the ideal place for Paddy to knuckle down and finish a much-delayed volume. Even so, a monastery steeped in the ascetic rigour of the Western tradition seems like an extreme measure for a man who had just been staying at the Hotel Louisiane, around the corner from the Café Flore and the Deux Magots. Moreover, Leigh Fermor wasn’t a Catholic (though it is somewhat more complicated than that, as we shall see).

After his death in 2011, the First Things website published a touching, fulsome appreciation of Patrick Leigh Fermor written by the Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart: touching because the news of the passing of a very elderly man whom he did not know seemed to have left Hart discombobulated and bereft; and fulsome because Hart believes (as do I) that here was a writer whose prose “has few credible rivals in modern English letters”.

Toward the middle of this article, Hart makes a brief reference to the place of religion in the life of Patrick Leigh Fermor. He mentions the twentieth birthday spent at the Russian monastery of St Panteleimon on Mount Athos and praises Leigh Fermor’s book Roumeli for “some of the most illuminating writing on Orthodox monasticism in English”. But he also notes that even close friends seemed uncertain whether Paddy actually had any particular religious convictions at all.

As it happens, the matter of Patrick Leigh Fermor and religion need not rest where David Bentley Hart leaves it. Artemis Cooper’s fine 2012 biography contains an intriguing clue to her subject’s religious feelings. Though he never actually converted from the Anglicanism of his childhood, it appears that Paddy identified himself as “R.C.” on official forms right up to the end of the Second World War, when he was thirty years old. After that, his religious feelings, which at times during his childhood took the form of what Paddy called a religious mania, seemed to subside.

However, while the mania may have lapsed, the historical allure of Christendom never seemed to fade for him. The famous trilogy about his trek across Europe (the final instalment, The Broken Road, was published posthumously in 2014) is studded with episodes and incidents redolent of the continent’s historic Christian culture. Disembarking in Rotterdam in the dead of night in December 1933, at the beginning of his epic adventure, the first person Leigh Fermor saw was Erasmus, in the form of a snow-covered statue outside the fifteenth-century Laurenskerk. Not long after, he spent a night discussing, among other things, the correct pronunciation of Erasmic Latin with a couple of German students in the house of the widow of a Classics professor in Cologne. His account of arriving in Hungary on Holy Saturday 1934, crossing the bridge at Esztergom just in time to be swept up into the ceremony at the great cathedral, is unforgettable.

Leigh Fermor’s literary heroes included the French Catholic novelist, J-K Huysmans, who sparked his interest in monasticism, and St Basil of Caesarea in whom Paddy seemed to find something he craved: a fusion of Christian and classical humanism, such that “the polished Greek sentences are sprinkled with classical allusions one would expect more readily in the writings of a fifteenth-century humanist than in those of a Doctor of the Church living in the reign of Julian”. In Basil’s letters, there was “a mood of humanity and simplicity, (…) an absence of bigotry that seems to blow like a soft wind from those groves of olive and tamarind and lentisk; gently ruffling the surface of the mind and then leaving it quiet and still.”

Religion was also, of course, an indissoluble part of the Greece he loved and celebrated. According to Artemis Cooper, Paddy liked to think that he could still detect a sort of eternal, cultural Europe, untouched behind the cities and factories, where life was dictated by the rounds of the seasons and the feasts of the Church. He liked to claim descent from Counts of the Holy Roman Empire who had originally journeyed to Austria from Ireland; and he lamented the desolation caused by the Reformation, seeing the ruined abbeys of England as “the peaks of a vanished Atlantis drowned four centuries deep.”

Leigh Fermor did write one book on an overtly religious theme: a slim volume entitled A Time to Keep Silence, which records his sojourns in Saint Wandrille and two other French monasteries – Solesmes and La Grande Trappe – along with a trip to see the enigmatic, abandoned rock monasteries of Cappadocia.

Perhaps the most memorable feature of this book, first published in 1957, is the depiction of an outsider, a self-proclaimed homme moyen sensuel, adapting to the austerity of life in a western monastery. The monks Leigh Fermor had known previously, in wartime Crete where he served as a British army intelligence officer fighting alongside the resistance, were holy men who were nonetheless prone to “pouring out raki, cracking walnuts, singing mountain songs, stripping and assembling pistols, cross-questioning me interminably about Churchill, and snoring under olive trees while the sun’s beams fell perpendicularly on the Libyan Sea”.

And he did also have some brief encounters with the monks of western Europe when walking his way across Europe. As recounted in A Time of Gifts, when he made his way to the workhouse in Düsseldorf in search of a place to stay, a bearded Franciscan in clogs led him to the dormitory. There he had a night disturbed by the snores, groans, sighs and shouts of the other inmates. (“Lying in wait in the rafters all the nightmares of the Rhineland descended on the sleepers.”) The next day, the monks on duty supplied him and his companions, who were set to work on cutting logs, with axes and saws, coffee and black bread.

Later, at the great abbey of Melk in Austria, a young, learned, amusing Benedictine, speaking beautiful French, showed him around, proving to be the “ideal cicerone” for the splendours beyond the gatehouse. Further up the Danube, at the Abbey of Göttweig, he is introduced to an Irish monk “of immense age and great charm”, who “could have sat for a picture of St Jerome”.

Come 1948, his encounter with monasticism was defined, at first, by an initial descent into “unspeakable ‎loneliness”, “overwhelming gloom and acidie”, a sensation of “circumabient and impending death”. But then comes his re-emergence, still within the monastic walls, into a life of “light, dreamless and perfect sleep”, lasting five hours and coming to an end “with no harder shock than that of a boat’s keel grounding on a lake shore”; of awakenings “full of energy and limpid freshness”; and of days of “absolute vitality and god-like freedom”. (Later on, leaving the monastery, and returning to the kind of world announced by Cinzano advertisements seen from a train window, would induce a painful process of adaptation in reverse.)

Leigh Fermor was full of admiration and respect for the role that the monks of the West had played in history, for the centuries in which they were the only guardians of things he loved: literature, the classics, scholarship and the humanities. He also found that the company of the small number of living monks‎ he was permitted to speak with was like the company of any civilised, well-educated Frenchmen “with all the balance, erudition and wit that one expected, the only difference being a gentleness, a lack of haste, and a calmness which is common to the whole community”.

More profoundly, he also came to appreciate the role of monasteries in what is sometimes called the economy of salvation. It was their belief in the necessity and efficacy of prayer – “a principle so utterly remote from every tendency of modern secular thought” – that explains the sacrifices these men made. Vows embracing poverty, chastity and obedience were destined to smite “all fetters that chained them to the world, to free them for action, for the worship of God and the practice of prayer; for the pursuit, in short, of sanctity.”

Leigh Fermor smiled at the fact that the monastic habitat should prove “favourable to ambitions so glaringly opposed”: his ambition, on the one hand, to get a book finished and his publisher off his back, and, on the other hand, the ambitions of the monks. These men, he found, could still embark on those “hazardous mystical journeys of the soul” which culminate in “blinding moments of union with the Godhead”, the very inkling of which, “since Donne, Quarley, Herbert, Vaughan and Traherne wrote their poems, has drained away from life in England”.

In the Introduction to A Time to Keep Silence, Paddy grappled briefly with the question of what his experiences inside the monastery walls might ultimately signify. He wrote that he was profoundly affected by the places he described. Though unsure about what his feelings amounted to, he was convinced that they were “deeper than mere interest and curiosity, and more important than the pleasure an historian or an aesthete finds in ancient buildings and liturgy”. In monasteries, he found “a state of peace that is unthought of in the ordinary world”. Describing himself as no stranger to “recalcitrance or scepticism or plain incapacity for belief”, he implies nevertheless that he had been the beneficiary of a “supernatural windfall”.

In the end, Paddy never fully cashed in this windfall. A Time to Keep Silence was published in 1957, but there were to be no more books on an exclusively religious theme. His life (a quite extraordinary one, in ways I have barely touched on here) was filled with many different interests, pleasures and friendships, some of which would have thrown up serious obstacles to any burgeoning Catholicism.

He had an open relationship with his wife, Joan Rayner, who was also a committed atheist. While he stayed on in Rome to witness (and “swoon” at) the coronation of Pope John XXIII in 1958, his primary reason for being in the Eternal City in the first place was to conduct an affair with a young divorcee. Three pages of A Time to Keep Silence are devoted to the conflicts and mysteries of chastity.

I am speculating, of course, but perhaps Leigh Fermor’s temperament – that old, latent religious mania – sometimes led him back towards the threshold of belief, only for his appetites to lead him away again, down the path of least resistance, garlanded with pleasures, adored by friends and lovers, and adoring them in return.

Many of us know some version of this dilemma. We need a strong motive to turn our backs on the worldly delights which converged on Patrick Leigh Fermor like iron filings on a magnet, in favour of the less certain rewards that emanate from spiritual dread and spiritual joy. As Artemis Cooper has pointed out to me, Paddy (unlike, say, Evelyn Waugh or Graham Greene) “could live without answers to the big questions: what am I doing here, why is there evil in the world, what has God got to do with it. These big themes didn’t preoccupy him much.”

To those who’ve read the books and letters, this observation has the ring of truth. But could it be that Patrick Leigh Fermor was able to live a life seemingly unpreoccupied by God because of the knowledge that he had acquired at first-hand in places like Saint Wandrille and La Grande Trappe?

This was the knowledge that, all the while, in those monasteries scattered across the West, which he called “silent factories of prayer”, there were other civilized, well-educated gentlemen just like him who had succeeded in abandoning everything. And that they had done so in order to help their fellow-men, and themselves, to meet something he had intuited himself during those brief pockets of time spent in monastic cells, woods and cloisters, something which he and most of us push to the back of our minds for most of the time, and to which he gave a name: “the terrifying problem of eternity”.

The romance of the past: that’s what drives the traveller’s impossible quest

‘Kardamyli now makes most of its money from tourism. It wasn’t as immune to tourism as Leigh Fermor imagined or wanted it to be.’ Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Writing in 1958 about the little Greek town that was eventually to become his home, the travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor was satisfied to note that the Guide Bleu gave it only half a line. “It is better so,” Leigh Fermor wrote. “It is too inaccessible and there is too little to do there, fortunately, for it ever to be seriously endangered by tourism.”

By Ian Jack

First published in the Guardian

His next paragraph describes the town in early evening when, waiting for a freshly caught fish to cook on a grill, he and a few fishermen sit under a mulberry tree outside a taverna and watch the sun sink over the mountains. Caiques – the wooden working boats of the Mediterranean – rock gently “with each sigh of the green transparent water … tethered a few yards above their shadows on the pebbly bottom”. One of Leigh Fermor’s typically exact (and perhaps exacting) images follows when he describes the sea lapping over a flat rock “with just enough impetus to net the surface with a frail white reticulation of foam which slid softly away and dissolved while a new one formed”.

Some of these things still exist. The Mediterranean is clear and green and blue, and on a calm day it will rise and fall against the rocks as Leigh Fermor describes. The sun goes down as he depicts it. There is even a caique or two; and, of course, tavernas – more tavernas than ever. But in most other ways the township of Kardamyli in the Peloponnese is utterly changed. Charter flights land at the little airport in the regional capital, Kalamata, and from there a twisting, expensively engineered road takes taxis, hire cars and air-conditioned coaches over the mountains to a resort that has nice hotels, trinket shops and olive-oil boutiques, as well as pretty restaurants with tea-lights on their tables that look down on the sea. The usual story: Kardamyli now makes most of its money from tourism. It wasn’t as immune to tourism as Leigh Fermor imagined or wanted it to be, and the writer himself is partly to blame.

The tumbledown factory loomed on the shore, a picturesque ruin in brick and concrete where fig trees grew. First, he published an account of his travels in the southern Peloponnese, the peninsula known as the Mani, which was then not much visited, and invested it with the beauty and mystery of a place and people that the 20th century had passed by. Then, six years later, in 1964, he bought a plot of land there – in a bay to the south of Kardamyli – and built a beautiful villa that he lived in almost to the last day of his life, in June 2011. Today his books are available in at least three languages in the local bookshop. People go there because of him – to experience similar sights and sensations to those he saw and felt, even though they understand this can never be completely accomplished, the world having moved on.

But was it ever quite as he described it in the first place? Leigh Fermor’s view of the Mani was essentially romantic: there are few better describers of landscape, but it’s a landscape with omissions. His first sight of Kardamyli is of an enchanting, castellated hamlet at the sea’s edge, where towers, turrets and cupolas rise above houses built of golden stone. “It was unlike any village I had seen in Greece,” Leigh Fermor writes in a page-long depiction that somehow ignores the village’s tallest manmade attribute: the factory chimney of the old olive-oil works. This is difficult to miss. Look down on Kardamyli from almost any vantage point and there it stands, its bricks pale against a background of blue sea and rather more noticeable than the towers and the turrets lying further inland among the cypresses and the olive groves.

The towers date from the age of banditry, feuding clans and resistance to the Ottoman empire. The chimney has cleaner and more peaceable origins. This month I lived next door to it for 10 days in a fine little hotel, and swam morning and afternoon from a ladder bolted to the rocks. The tumbledown factory loomed on the shore behind, a picturesque ruin in brick and concrete where fig trees grew and rusting pipes sprang from the wall at odd angles. A high fence surrounded it, with warnings to keep out.

Olive oil had once been made here – not virgin, cold-pressed or estate bottled, but the roughest kind, which goes into soap. Some accounts online suggest it was owned by the Palmolive company (and when I read this I understood, for the first time, how that familiar name had come about); others say a local family were the proprietors. It used olives – and the residues left from edible oil production – from as far away as Crete, shipped to a concrete pier nearby whose size was inexplicable unless you knew its original purpose. It was said to have employed 150 workers, with steam machinery that, as well as operating its crushers, had the spare capacity to supply the village with its first electricity. Opened in 1932, it closed in either 1958 or 1975 – local memories differed – when new techniques of oil production made it redundant. Since then, a dispute among the site’s three or four owners had prevented demolition or development.

I liked the chimney; three stepped rings of brick, progressively larger in diameter, gave its top a decorative flourish. But then, I’ve always been fascinated by factory chimneys of all kinds, for reasons that I’ve never really examined, the most important probably being that I spent some of my childhood among them: the great smoking verticals of the Lancashire plain, formerly beloved of geography textbooks as the illustrations to the chapter on the textile industry. To find them situated outside what might be considered their natural homelands – the old industrial towns of northern Europe and North America – is always a surprise. They look solitary, like isolated monuments to a faraway and not properly understood revolution. One still standing on the coast of Argyll marks the site of a Victorian factory that made acetic acid from the oak and birch wood. Another on the Ionian island of Paxos served the same kind of mill as Kardamyli’s.

Smoke was most probably still drifting from the Kardamyli chimney when Leigh Fermor reached here in the mid-1950s, but he can hardly be blamed for omitting it from his picture. Like many travellers in our age, he had a distaste for modernity. (He hated radios, for instance, and was relieved that the Mani had so few of them. “Rabid wirelesses should be hunted out and muzzled or shot down like mad dogs.”) He travelled to reach some agreeable form of the past, which has been a motive for the holidaymaker since the days of the Grand Tour.

On an afternoon last week in Kardamyli, I climbed up the ladder from the sea to find three or four men inside the factory fence inspecting the ruins. One wore a pith helmet and carried a theodolite. Another unpacked a drone from its box and directed its flight to the chimney, which it hovered above rather threateningly. It looked as though change was in the offing. I’d known of the chimney for less than a week – and, really, what was it to me? But already I felt a slight alarm that it too might pass, just like the fishermen who watched the sunset with Leigh Fermor from underneath a mulberry tree.

Event 3 October 2018: More Dashing – Further Letters of Patrick Leigh Fermor

Adam Sisman will be speaking about his new book on Wednesday 3rd October at 7.15pm at The Hellenic Centre, 16-18 Paddington Street, London W1U 5AS.

If you would like to attend, please email info@patrickleighfermorsociety.org

Admission is free but non-members are asked to make a £10 contribution towards the expenses of the evening or to join the Society, which entitles members to free attendance at all events. The new book will be for sale at a special launch price.

More Dashing: Further Letters of Patrick Leigh Fermor is the follow-up of Dashing for the Post: Selected Letters of Patrick Leigh Fermor (2016) which received terrific reviews including:

‘Here is a veritable feast for fans of Paddy Leigh Fermor…. Sisman has done a tremendous job selecting and editing this treasure-trove of letters’ The Spectator

‘Adam Sisman has done an excellent job of selecting and editing these letters, almost any one of which would have been a joy to receive’ Times Literary Supplement

‘Oh joy! … No other contemporary writer could have given us so much to relish and we’re fortunate that Adam Sisman has distilled such a treat from so much rich material…. The wit, the humour, and the dazzling intelligence make this, for me, the most unputdownable book of the year’ Country Life

Anna Sándor de Kénos – BBC’s Last Word

Anna Sándor de Kénos

BBC Radio 4’s Last Word, obituary programme, speaks to Dr Michael O’Sullivan, author of Patrick Leigh Fermor: Noble Encounters between Budapest and Transylvania, about the life of the late Anna Sándor de Kenos.

Go to position 22 minutes 10 seconds here for the start of the piece (may not be available outside of UK – sorry!).