Category Archives: Paddy's Writing

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.