Category Archives: Mani

Painting Paddy’s Greece

Gerolimenas by Katyuli Lloyd (Source: Oldie magazine Aug 2017)

Some readers have advised me that there is an article in this month’s Oldie magazine by Katyuli Lloyd about her meeting with Paddy, and her work on the illustrations for Folio editions of Mani and Roumeli.

An example of her work is above and I’m pretty sure that’s Gerolimenas on the Mani, a place where I stayed on holiday last year.

You can access the article here online by subscription or if in the UK you ocan probably buy the magazine from your local newsagent.

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Following Michalis in Mycenae

13694300_10105313766032178_664315251_oSoon I will be travelling to the Mani and will make my first visit to Paddy’s house, something that is rather belated, but an experience that I am looking forward too very much. My friend Ryan Eyre from Seattle has been on a long trip to Europe this summer. Not long after he stayed with me here in Winchester, he travelled to Greece and found himself in historic Mycenae. What he discovered was a virtually moribund tourist industry, and an interesting story about Patrick Leigh Fermor.

By Ryan Eyre

On a recent visit to Mycenae, the Oreia Eleni Hotel seemed the obvious place to stay. The Oreia Eleni, also known as La Belle Helene and the House of Schliemann, is a simple hotel but rich with historical associations. Heinrich Schliemann lived in the building during his excavation work at Mycenae in the 1870s and a generation or more later it was converted into a hotel. Agamemnon Dassis is the current proprietor and is the third-generation of his family to run it. He lives in a house next door with his wife and young daughter. A youthful looking man in his late 40s, Agamemnon is an energetic and quite attentive host.

Mycenae is one of the most visited archaeological sites in Greece but Greece’s economic woes have definitely affected business in the modern village half a mile below the citadel. The number of tourists has declined in recent years and most people who currently visit Mycenae do so as a day-trip and pass through the village without stopping. The owners of the almost empty shops, restaurants and hotels in Mycenae sit rather forlornly, waiting for customers who largely never appear.

I was the only guest at the Oraia Eleni during my two-night stay and Agamemnon told me that I was in fact the first guest they had had in three weeks. This was in July. As a guest, I benefited from being able to talk to Agamemnon at length.

The second day of my stay he showed me the small museum that is on the ground floor of the building. Agamemnon’s father photocopied famous people’s signatures from the guestbook and they are displayed in note-card size form behind glass. He pointed out the signatures of Agatha Christie (I was staying in the same room she supposedly did), Virginia Woolf, Stephen Spender, Carl Jung, Jean-Paul Sartre, Alec Guinness, Charlton Heston and J.K. Rowling (among others) and provided some anecdotal information about each visit. I was interested to note that Albert Speer, Heinrich Himmler, Joseph Goebbels and Herman Goering all passed through in the 1930s (it was unclear whether they visited separately or together).

Up to that point Patrick Leigh Fermor’s association with the hotel hadn’t crossed my mind. Thinking about it for a moment it seemed obvious he must have stayed here. I asked Agamemnon whether Leigh Fermor’s signature could be found anywhere on the display. “Oh, yes, I forgot to mention him”, Agamemnon said before pointing out PLF’s name scrawled in his own and dated from 1960.

“He came here many times over the years. He came in the 1950s, and in the 1960s and many times afterwards I remember when I was a young man he telephoned and asked me whether I was George. I said no, I am his son. Who is this? This was in Greek but I could tell from the accent that it was a foreigner. He said, tell George that Michalis from Kardamyli called. I was a little confused. Later I met him. As I said, he came here a number of times. I also visited him in Kardamyli. One time when his wife was in England he came and stayed for a week. He was a great man, a very great man. I last saw him in 1998. When I came back here in 2007 after some years living abroad I did not contact him before he died. I regret this.”

I didn’t immediately tell Agamemnon my own story about meeting Patrick Leigh Fermor in Kardamyli in 2009. That evening at the dinner table and after drinking an ouzo and some wine, I asked him to sit with me because I wanted to tell him something. I began to recount my last trip to Greece when I had gone to the Mani to try to meet the author, who was then 94 years old.

“You met him in the end?” Agamemnon asked before I could go on much further. I told him I had written PLF a brief letter that I had dropped off at his house and ended up being invited to lunch the next day, where I spent several hours drinking, eating and talking with the great man.

I acknowledged I was extremely lucky. Agamemnon agreed and opened up more. He told me about how Paddy would come to Mycenae and disappear for the entire day, only returning at night. Paddy didn’t tell people he was a famous writer; Agamemnon only discovered this on his own.

Paddy was pretty self-deprecating and didn’t take himself so seriously. He was happy to talk to all sorts of people and showed genuine curiosity in their lives. “He had this constant curiosity about people and the world. That’s why he lived so long,” Agamemnon remarked.

He told me about various friends of Paddy’s who have stayed at the Oraia Eleni and that the Patrick Leigh Fermor Society had also passed through in the last two years.

Moving into more salacious territory, he then told me that he was going to tell me something about Paddy that most people haven’t heard. He didn’t have the heart to tell the members of the PLF Society when they visited. Agamemnon asked me to keep it off the record so I can’t fully disclose what I heard. What I will say is that it was an anecdote that I have very reason to believe is true and confirms that well into his 70s Paddy was sexually active with women who were not his wife and were considerably younger than himself. Agamemnon and I agreed that Paddy’s mixture of looks, charm and erudition was remarkable. “He really had the mentality of a teenager,” Agamemnon added.

Drinking wine and hearing these stories as the only guest in an atmospheric place gave me the thrilling feeling of luck and leventia, or feeling of lightness, that Paddy would refer to in connection with Greece. It was an evening that reminded me why I travel.

Walks amid the watchtowers of the Mani

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

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

First published in the Financial Times, 28 August 2015.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watchtowers in the town of Vathia

Watchtowers in the town of Vathia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more about where William Dalrymple stayed here.

Audible

2014 Stavros Niarchos Foundation Lecture at Yale University: “Patrick Leigh Fermor In Greece”

Artemis Cooper presenting the 2014 Stavros Niarchos Foundation lecture

Artemis Cooper presenting the 2014 Stavros Niarchos Foundation lecture

Artemis Cooper giving the 2014 Stavros Niarchos Foundation Lecture at Yale University.

A video is available on YouTube here or via the embed below. The blurb introduces things as follows:

Patrick Leigh Fermor’s first travels in Greece took place before the outbreak of the Second World War, and he already spoke fluent Greek by the time he was parachuted into occupied Crete in 1942 to help the Cretan Resistance, which in May 1944 resulted in the abduction of a German general. Leigh Fermor settled in Greece in the 1960s, and lived there until his death in 2011. His books Roumeli: Travels in Northern Greece and Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese are two of the best travel books in the English language. The talk is about his life and friends in Greece, and how much the country meant to him.

Mark Granelli brought this video to my attention and had this to say:

It is quite fascinating, and includes a beautiful extract from ‘Mani’ where Paddy is accompanied by dolphins on a ferry trip.

It focuses a lot on Paddy’s time in Crete.

The Q&A at the end turns up some personal information about Paddy and also references Olivia Manning and Fitzroy Maclean.

Salmagundi Magazine special feature on Patrick Leigh Fermor

Paddy at BaleniI am grateful to Marc Woodworth for sending me this feature about Paddy posted in Salmagundi Magazine.

It includes excerpts from three essays:

  • Joanna Kavenna on memory and the past in A Time of Gifts
  • George Prochnik on Byzantium and style in Mani
  • Bina Gogineni on exoticism in The Traveller’s Tree

Plus exclusive online contributions from Nick Delbanco, Nick Delbanco, our very own Nick Hunt (Following Fermor in Romania)
and a Micro-Anthology selected by Michael Ondaatje, Thomas de Waal, Michael Gorra, Andrew Eames and photographs of Kövecses by Andrew Hillard.

Download the pdf here … salmagundi magazine

Bradt Travel Guides’ revised version of Greece:The Peloponnese by Andrew Bostock

Bradt Guide to the Peloponnese by Andrew Bostock

Bradt Guide to the Peloponnese by Andrew Bostock

Continuing the Peloponnese travel theme it would be remiss of me not to mention that the nice people at Bradt have let Andrew Bostock update his excellent guide to the Peloponnese just in time for your 2013 excursion. And rather like the paperback of An Adventure it shows a certain house. I think that Andy may have had some influence on this choice of cover!

Andy also gets in touch with me quite often, and it was he, working in close collaboration with that other Karmayli expert, John Chapman, who first picked up on the filming of the movie Before Midnight at Paddy’s house. Andy has lived in the area with his family so he is no fly-by-night travel guide author. I have a copy. I know the Peloponnese pretty well having holidayed there on three occasions. There is a lot to see and it is by no means all about the Mani, or Paddy. There is so much more. If you would like to get in touch directly with Andy about travel to the area his details are here.

Andrew Bostock: +44 7961 061 052 (cell)
Twitter: @andybostock

You can buy Greece: The Peloponnese (Bradt Travel Guides) at this link, and the blurb tells us this:

The Peloponnese contains a huge diversity of landscape, everything from the classic image of Greece – white sand beaches and sleepy white-washed villages through to the ancient sites of Olympia and Mycenae, Byzantine churches and medieval fortresses; towering mountains for hiking and skiing, olive groves which produce the finest fruit, and mountains covered in flowers.

In recent months Greece has undergone a well-publicized economic meltdown. However cheaper prices and the expense of long-haul tourism has actually led to an increase in visitor numbers. The government is keen to invest in tourism as a way to reinvigorate the country. Specific examples of this are the new year-round flights from Athens to Kalamata and a major new international spa / golf resort in Messinia.

Greece is no longer an ‘easy’ travel destination and there as been an increase in the trend towards independent travel, away from package tourism. The new edition reflects this with reviews of the plentiful new accommodation, details of independent tours and activities as well as excellent coverage of off-the-beaten-track sites and attractions.

Greek expert, Andrew Bostock leads travellers to hidden villages, sophisticated towns, and to other top attractions – one of Europe’s most spectacular train journeys and the tower houses of the famed Mani. He explores the lesser-known sites and attractions, including details of places not covered anywhere else. The guide is packed with information on agritourism spots, eco-conscious boutique hotels, camping under the stars, rustic tavernas and locally grown produce. Traditionally the tourist season in Greece is the summer, but this is fast changing, with savvy travelers discovering the wild flowers of spring, the joys of the olive harvest in late autumn, and skiing opportunities during the winter. Bird life and marine life are also a huge attraction for visitors to the Peloponnese. The guide also focuses on the colourful life of the traditional ‘paneyiri’ and those who still embrace the Greek spirit of ‘philoxenia’.

Related article:

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

Remote places and landscapes in Greece – Walks in the footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor: Part 10

The last of Christian Peter’s walks. In my view you can’t go wrong if your walk involves visiting a monastery. I would like to thank Christian for all the work he put into this series. I am sure that he would welcome your feedback and comments in the Comments section below.

10  . Patmos

One of the most impressive and intense places in Greece for me is the atrium of the Monastery Agios Ioannis o Theologos in Patmos . The Monastery of St. John the Divine is a fortified Orthodox monastery dominating the highest part of the Chora of the island. It was and continues to be one of the most important monasteries in Greece.  Its interior is like a  muli-leveled building complex with  interior courtyards, colonnades and narrow corridors. From time to time Paddy used to live in monasteries for a while. In the introduction of his monastery-book “A Time to Keep Silence“ (1957) he describes longer visits to Wandrille de Fontanelle, La Grande Trappe and the monasteries of Cappadocia, but also mentions that he has visited all the important monasteries of the Greek word. You can about his visits to Mount Athos and monasteries of Meteora, and I am pretty sure he has been to Patmos.