Category Archives: Mani

Anthony Lane’s New Yorker article on Fermor is now free to view

Anthony Lane's New Yorker article, May 2006

In trying to make this blog a focal point for all information related to Paddy I have had some problems accessing all on-line material. The one I most sought is the acclaimed May 22, 2006 profile by Anthony Lane which was published in the New Yorker.

This has sat behind their subscriber firewall, tempting us with one-off subscriptions. Now it appears that (possibly marking Paddy’s death?) this is no longer the case. You can now visit their archive, read the article in full on-line, print it or possibly even download it.

There are many profiles of Paddy. This is probably one of the longest and best, and includes interview material with him that many will have not seen before.

Take a trip to the New Yorker website and have a read.

Editor’s Note:  the pdf download appears to be no longer available – click on the article to magnify to read and then drag your cursor to move around the page.

Scholar in the wilds – a profile of Patrick Leigh Fermor

A comprehensive profile of Patrick Leigh Fermor.

By James Campbell. First published in The Guardian 9 April 2005

As a teenager, Patrick Leigh Fermor walked through Europe to Turkey, sleeping in hayricks and castles. Forty years later he wrote two pioneering books about it; a third is still in progress. He lived in Romania, met his wife in Egypt, and was decorated for his wartime exploits in Crete. Now 90, he continues to work in the house he built in Greece in the 1960s.

“So here’s the traveller,” a Hungarian hostess greets the teenage Patrick Leigh Fermor as he trudges towards her Danubian country house. The year is 1934 and Leigh Fermor is four months into his walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople, undertaken to shake off what he refers to, 70 years on, as “my rather rackety past”. The journey is captured, with erudition and fond detail, in A Time of Gifts (1977) and Between the Woods and the Water (1986). They are unique in several respects, not least that they were written more than 40 years after the events described. Leigh Fermor derived the former title from a couplet by Louis MacNeice, “For now the time of gifts is gone – / O boys that grow, O snows that melt”, which encapsulates the double vision involved in evoking one’s own adolescence from a distance. A concluding volume, which will take the boy to his destination, has long been promised.

Leigh Fermor is not a “travel writer” – like others, he disavows the term – but there is no denying he is a traveller. After Constantinople (as he still insists on calling it, though the name was changed to Istanbul in 1930), he moved to Romania, where he stayed for two years, barely conscious of the inklings of war from beyond the Carpathian mountains. In the 1950s, he explored the then-intractable southern finger of the Peloponnese known as Mani, where he lives, followed by a similar journey in the north of Greece, making his reports, in characteristically exuberant style, in the books Mani (1958) and Roumeli (1966). His stays in French monasteries, where he achieved “a state of peace that is unthought of in the ordinary world”, are recorded in an exquisite book of fewer than 100 pages, A Time to Keep Silence (1957).

Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese

Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese

He is also a scholar, with a facility for languages so prodigious that he would amuse himself on his footslog by singing German songs backwards and, when those ran out, reciting parts of Keats the same way: “Yawa! Yawa! rof I lliw ylf ot eeht”, etc. “It can be quite effective,” he says. After a lunch of lemon chicken at home in Mani, accompanied by an endlessly replenished carafe of retsina, he entertains his guest with a rendering of “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” in Hindustani.

In addition, Leigh Fermor is recognisably that figure many writers of the past century have yearned to be, the man of action. When the inklings could no longer be ignored in 1939, he abandoned his Romanian idyll and enlisted in the Irish Guards. A major in Special Operations Executive during the second world war, he was awarded the DSO for heroic actions on German-occupied Crete. Few writers are entitled to include in their Who’s Who entry: “Commanded some minor guerrilla operations.” His publisher, John Murray, whose father, the late “Jock” Murray, edited most of Leigh Fermor’s books, describes him as “almost a Byronic figure. If you met him on a train, before long he would be reciting The Odyssey , or singing Cretan songs. He loves talking, and people are always absorbed by him.”

Known as Paddy to the acquainted and unacquainted alike, Leigh Fermor has turned 90. He is still sturdy, with an all-round handsome appearance. Here is a man who at 69 swam the Hellespont (or Dardanelles), two kilometres wide at its narrowest, in emulation of Byron and Leander, who swam it nightly for the love of Hero. Leigh Fermor swam it under the concerned watch of his wife Joan, who followed in a small boat, and averted her eyes as he narrowly missed being sunk by a liner. An innocent sweetness hovers about his face, which finds a focus in his eyes as he makes a joke or stumbles on a happy recollection. There is a dash of the old soldier, clubbable and courteous, in his approach, his speech punctuated by “Look here …” and “I say …”, and not much of the “rather rackety” figure he claims to have been before he cured his ills by walking. When, relatively late in life, he became a mentor to Bruce Chatwin, the younger writer adopted Leigh Fermor’s motto, solvitur ambulando – it is solved by walking.

Paddy at home in the Mani

After more than six decades in the country, Leigh Fermor is inextricably tied to Greece. His command of the language extends to several regional dialects. He is an honorary citizen of the Cretan capital Heraklion, and of the village of Kardamili in Mani, and is a proud godfather to children in both places. In the mid-1960s, as if to lay the foundation for a committed life, he built a house that reflects the various aspects of his personality. Perched on a peninsula jutting into the Gulf of Messenia, it overlooks a small uninhabited island, behind which the sun sets nightly. He has described how he and Joan camped in tents nearby as the works progressed, studying Vitruvius and Palladio, but admits that the design was largely the result of improvisation. Ceilings, cornices and fireplaces allude to Levantine and Macedonian architecture. Hard by the commodious living room, an L-shaped arcade, which might have been built centuries ago, provides a link to the other rooms and gives on to an olive grove below. Out of nowhere, cats materialise on chairs and divans, prompting Leigh Fermor to remark on “interior desecrators and natural downholsterers”. The great limestone blocks of the main structure were hewn out of the Taygetus mountains, visible in the background, as the sea is present in the foreground. A weathered zigzag stone staircase leads down to a horseshoe bay. “There was no road here at all when we came. The stone had to be brought up by mule. We got most of the tiles from another part of the Peloponnese, after an earthquake. They were happy to be rid of them – couldn’t understand why we wanted this old stuff. They wanted everything new.” The master mason behind the house was a local craftsman, Niku Kolokatrones, whom Leigh Fermor met by accident while out walking. “I spotted his bag of carpenter’s tools and told him I was looking for somebody to help me build a house. He said, ‘Why not take me? I can do everything.’ And he was absolutely right.”

It was finally fit for habitation in 1968, and the couple “lived very happily here for 30 years”. Joan Leigh Fermor, daughter of the Conservative politician and First Lord of the Admiralty in Ramsay MacDonald’s coalition government, Bolton Eyres Monsell, died in 2003 at 91, after a fall. The couple met in wartime Cairo. She took the photographs for several of his books, including the first, The Traveller’s Tree (1950), an account of a journey through the West Indies, and for Mani and Roumeli – although these pictures have sadly been omitted from later editions.

He was born in London in 1915, to Sir Lewis Leigh Fermor, who became director-general of the Geological Survey in India, and Eileen Ambler, who was partly raised there. His childhood relationship with his parents was “rather strange, because I didn’t really know either of them until I was about three-and-a-half. My mother returned to India after I was born, leaving me with a family in Northamptonshire. I spent a very happy first three years of my life there as a wild-natured boy. I wasn’t ever told not to do anything.” When his mother returned, at the end of the first world war, “my whole background changed. We went to live in London. And she was rather unhappy, because I didn’t really know much about her, or my father or my sister, who had been born four years earlier. They hadn’t seen me since I was a few months old.” He claims he was “more or less tamed after that”, though he has written that his lawless infancy “unfitted me for the faintest shadow of constraint”.

Patrick Leigh Fermor at school, Kings Canterbury

His mother “adored anything to do with the stage” and wrote plays that were never produced. She made friends with Arthur Rackham, who painted a picture inside the front door of their house in Primrose Hill Studios “of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, being blown along in a nest with a ragged shirt for a sail”. He wonders if it’s still there. When the time came to think about school, the “wild boy” re-emerged, and he was beaten from one educational establishment to another. “I didn’t mind the beatings, because there was a bravado about that kind of thing.” At one stage, he was sent to a school in Suffolk for disturbed children – or, as he puts it, “where rather naughty children went” – and later to King’s School, Canterbury, the oldest public school in England, where the unruly old boys included Christopher Marlowe. “It was all rather marvellous,” says Leigh Fermor, who casts a rosy light on almost all experience, “but my discipline problems cropped up again. Things like fighting, climbing out at night, losing my books.” Among his contemporaries at King’s was Alan Watts, who later wrote popular books on Zen Buddhism and became a hippie guru. In his autobiography, Watts recalled Paddy “constantly being flogged for his pranks and exploits – in other words, for having a creative imagination”. Watts confirms the familiar tale that Paddy was expelled “for the peccadillo of taking a walk with the daughter of the local greengrocer”. Leigh Fermor recalls: “She was about eight years older than me – totally innocent, but it was a useful pretext for the sack. I think it was very kindly meant. Far better to get the sack for something slightly romantic than for just being a total nuisance.”

Believing that the best place for a nuisance was the army, his parents tried to direct him towards Sandhurst, but his academic failures put paid to that too. The military historian Antony Beevor, who was an officer cadet at Sandhurst, and has known Leigh Fermor for many years, believes he would not have prospered. “I think he may have had a romantic idea of what army life was like, but he would have found the peacetime garrison incredibly stultifying. Army life in the 1930s was very staid. Paddy was too much of a free spirit.”

It was then that Leigh Fermor came up with a scheme “to change scenery”. Envisaging himself as “a medieval pilgrim, an affable tramp with a knapsack and hobnailed boots”, he decided to walk across Europe to Turkey. “It was a new life. Freedom. Something to write about.” To make it even more improbable, he set out in December when, as he states in the opening paragraph of A Time of Gifts, “a thousand glistening umbrellas were tilted over a thousand bowler hats in Piccadilly; the Jermyn Street shops, distorted by stream ing water, had become a submarine arcade.” When his ship docked in Rotterdam, “snow covered everything”. He dossed down wherever he landed, on one occasion outside a pigsty to the sound of “sleepy grunts prompted by dreams, perhaps, or indigestion”.

In addition to his sleeping bag, Leigh Fermor packed the Oxford Book of English Verse and a volume of Horace. An allowance of £4 a month was to be collected along the way. “My general course was up the Rhine and down the Danube. Then to Swabia, and then into Bavaria.” At the time, he had published a few poems (“dreadful stuff”), but was inspired to switch to travel writing by Robert Byron, whose book about a journey to Mount Athos in north-eastern Greece, The Station , had recently been published. “I was keeping copious notes, songs, sketches and so on, but in Munich a disaster happened. I stayed at a Jugendherberge and my rucksack was pinched, with all my notes and drawings.” And then comes the Paddy stroke: “In a way it was rather a blessing, because my rucksack was far too heavy. It had far too many things.” His sleeping bag was lost too -“good riddance, really” – and his money and passport. “The British Consul gave me a fiver – said pay me back some time.”

Leigh Fermor has pursued his literary career haphazardly. His Caribbean book was originally meant to be a series of captions for photographs. Then came his only novel, The Violins of Saint-Jacques (1953), followed by A Time to Keep Silence and Mani , all written in the mid-50s, after which he restricted himself to one public outing per decade. However, the 40-year interlude between the events of his European journey and the writing of the books enhances their appeal. At times, the hero of A Time of Gifts seems like a boy faced with a tapestry on which the entire history and culture of Europe is portrayed, unpicking it thread by thread. Byzantine plainsong; Yiddish syntax; the whereabouts of the coast of Bohemia (it existed, for 13 years); the finer nuances of regional architecture – “the wild scholarly enthusiasms of a brilliant autodidact”, as the writer William Dalrymple says. Theories are worked out, set down and often jettisoned, before another day’s walking begins. No one modulates as energetically from speculations on the origin of Greek place names to the “not always harmful effects of hangovers” as Leigh Fermor does. “If they fall short of the double vision which turns Salisbury Cathedral into Cologne,” he writes of his sore heads, “they invest the scenery with a lustre which is unknown to total abstainers.” When it came to writing about the journey, Leigh Fermor claims that “losing the notebook didn’t really seem to matter. I’d got all the places I’d been to noted down in another little notebook. Early impressions and all that sort of thing would only have been a hindrance.” It is impossible to say where imagination gets the upper hand over memory, and aficionados are adamant it does not matter.

Dalrymple, who as a student set out to follow the route of the First Crusade in emulation of Leigh Fermor, says: “I can’t think of any younger writers who have tried to write like Paddy, who have succeeded in the attempt. Not that I haven’t tried. When I set out on my first long journey in the summer vacation I had just read A Time of Gifts and I tried to write my logbook in faux-Paddy style. The result was disastrous. Just last summer I visited Mani and reread his wonderful book, and found myself again trying to write like him. I should have learned my lesson by now.” Dalrymple feels that the strongest influence of Leigh Fermor on the younger generation of travel writers “has been the persona he creates of the bookish wanderer: the footloose scholar in the wilds, scrambling through the mountains, a knapsack full of good books on his shoulder. You see this filtering through in the writing of Chatwin and Philip Marsden, among others.”

According to Jeremy Lewis, author of a biography of Cyril Connolly, with whom Joan was friendly, “Occasionally, one comes across some unromantic soul who objects to Leigh Fermor on the prosaic ground that he couldn’t possibly remember in such persuasive detail the events of 60 years ago.” Lewis suspects that “quite a lot of it is made up. He’s a tremendous yarn-spinner, and he has that slight chip on the shoulder of someone who hasn’t been to university. Sometimes one gets the feeling that he’s desperate to show he’s not an intellectual hick. He’s quite similar to Chatwin in that way. With Chatwin I find it irritating, but not with Leigh Fermor.” Lewis adds, “There is also a strong boy-scout element about him, which annoys some people, singing round the campfire and so on. I doubt if there was ever anything very rackety about Paddy.”

Balasha Cantacuzene

He has been asked many times why the composition of the books was delayed for so long, and has finessed the reply to his characteristic self-effacement: “Laziness and timidity.” He had a shot at writing during his sojourn in Romania in the late 1930s, “but I thought it was no good, so I shoved it aside. And I was right, actually, because when I tried it much later it all began to flow.” His companion in Romania, the first love of his life, was a young painter, Balasha Cantacuzene, whose family was part of an “old-fashioned, French-speaking, Tolstoyan, land-owning world. They were intensely civilised people. I spent the time reading a tremendous amount … when I wasn’t making a hash of writing. I felt rather different at the end of it all, from the kind of person I’d been before.”

After the communist takeover at the end of the war, the Ceausescu government branded the Cantacuzenes “elements of putrid background” and forced them to leave their property. Leigh Fermor made it his mission to rescue them from their new dismal circumstances, eventually succeeding in slipping into the country on a motorcycle and contacting Balasha and her sister. They met for only 48 hours. “We dared risk no more, and during that time I was unable to leave the tiny flat where they were then living, for fear of being seen.” He found that their early thoughts of leaving Romania had lapsed, “partly from feeling it was too late in the day; also, they said that Romania, after all, was where they belonged”.

His war service was spent mainly on Crete. After the British retreat from the island in May 1941, Leigh Fermor was among a small number of officers who remained, helping to organise resistance to the occupation, “living up in the mountains, dressed as a shepherd, with my wireless and so on”. In the spring of 1944, after an onslaught on villages “with fire and sword” by German troops in reprisal for the rash actions of some Cretan guerrillas, Leigh Fermor conceived a plan to kidnap the general responsible for the carnage, and to spirit him off to Cairo. The idea was to make a “symbolic gesture, involving no bloodshed, not even a plane sabotaged or a petrol dump blown up; something which would hit the enemy hard”. Together with a select band of associates, British and Cretan, he succeeded – except that the officer they were after, General Müller, had already left Crete, and they found themselves taking charge of his replacement, a milder figure by all accounts, General Kreipe. After three weeks of trekking through the mountains, they managed to get the captive on board a vessel bound for Egypt.

The events were drawn into a book, Ill Met by Moonlight (1950), by Leigh Fermor’s comrade in the operation, W Stanley Moss, and an inferior film in 1957, with Dirk Bogarde playing Paddy. He is polite about the actor, whom he met, but it is clear that Bogarde’s performance as Major Fermor failed to impress. “I didn’t go to the opening, or anything like that. It was all so much more interesting than they made it seem.” The military historian MRD Foot has referred to the Cretan escapade as “a tremendous jape”, which in Leigh Fermor’s opinion puts it in a “rather frivolous perspective”. Beevor, whose book The Battle for Crete (1991), pays handsome tribute to Leigh Fermor’s actions, feels the description of the kidnapping as a “jape” is unjust. “What was very clever about the Kreipe operation was that it was planned meticulously to give the Cretans a tremendous boost to morale. They needed to do something that would damage the Germans, but was not going to provoke civilian casualties. They were absolutely scrupulous about this.” Certain accounts of the exploit have suggested that it resulted in reprisals against the local pop ulation, but, says Beevor, “they are completely wrong. I’ve been through all the relevant documentation, and there is nothing to suggest that the kidnapping of General Kreipe provoked direct reaction from the Germans. It wasn’t just a jape. When I was researching my book, a member of the Cretan resistance told me, ‘The whole island felt two inches taller’.”

Captor and captive, stuck together in freezing caves (the general had to sleep between Leigh Fermor and Moss, all sharing a single blanket), found a common bond in the Odes of Horace. In a report written at the request of the Imperial War Museum in 1969, published in Artemis Cooper’s anthology of Leigh Fermor’s writings, Words of Mercury (2003), he described what happened: “We were all three lying smoking in silence, when the general, half to himself, slowly said: ‘Vides ut alta stet nive candidum / Soracte …’ [You see how Soracte stands gleaming white with deep snow]. I was in luck. It is the opening line of one of the few Odes of Horace I know by heart. I went on reciting where he had broken off: ‘… Nec iam sustineant onus …’ and so on, through the remaining five stanzas to the end.”

Moss, Kreipe and Paddy

The heroics in eastern Crete had a surprise sequel, which throws into relief the absurdity of war. Some 30 years later, Leigh Fermor was asked to take part in a Greek television programme based on This Is Your Life , in which the subject was to be General Kreipe. “I felt quite certain when I heard about it that it was not on the level, and so I found out General Kreipe’s number and got on the telephone to him. I said, ‘It’s Major Fermor’. He said, ‘Ach, Major Fermor, how are you? It seems we are going to meet again soon.’ I said, ‘So you are coming?’ He said, ‘Yes, of course I’m coming. Tell me, what’s the weather like? Shall I bring a pullover?’ And you know, it was the most terrific success. They were all there.” The exception was Moss, who died in 1965; and it is probably safe to discount the Cretan guerrillas who carried off the general’s chauffeur and slit his throat, much to Leigh Fermor’s displeasure.

He writes in a small studio apart from the main house. Dictionaries, volumes of Proust, books of verse in various languages and back issues of the TLS occupy every surface. Asked if he has a title in mind for the promised last volume of his European trilogy, he looks suddenly pained and answers no. He describes himself as “a very slow writer”. His pages are laboriously revised and readers who revel in his florescent style may be surprised to learn that the finished sentences are pared down from something the author considers “too exaggerated and flowery and overwritten”. Murray says: “It’s rather like a musician: each time he changes a word, he has to go back and change all the other words round about it so that the harmony is right.” Murray recalls “seven versions of A Time of Gifts being submitted to my father. And each one would be written-over, with bubbles containing extra bits. The early manuscripts are like works of art themselves.”

As he is writing, Leigh Fermor thinks of one or two friends “that it might amuse. How would they respond? Where would they sneer?” He refers to his old notebooks for things like dates and place names, but relies on memory for a clearer vision of the walking boy and the snows. “I’ve written quite a large amount. For some reason, I got a sort of scunner against it several years ago. I thought it wasn’t any good. I always think that. But now I think I was wrong. I’m going to pull my socks up and get on with it.”

Patrick Leigh Fermor

Born: February 11, 1915, London.

Education: 1929-33 King’s School, Canterbury.

Married: 1968 Joan Eyres Monsell.

Employment: 1945-46 deputy director British Institute, Athens.

Books: 1950 The Traveller’s Tree; ’53 The Violins of Saint-Jacques; ’57 A Time To Keep Silence; ’58 Mani; ’66 Roumeli; ’77 A Time of Gifts; ’86 Between the Woods and the Water; ’91 Three Letters from the Andes; 2003 Words of Mercury.

Some awards: 1944 DS0; ’47 honorary citizen of Heraklion, Crete; ’58 Duff Cooper Memorial Prize; ’78 WH Smith Award; ’86 Thomas Cook Travel Book Award; ’91 Companion of Literature; 2004 Knighthood.

A review of Mani from Time written in 1960

“When God had finished making the world,” say the natives of Mani, “he had a sack of stones left over and he emptied it here.” Petroprolific Mani is the middle tine of a twisted three-pronged peninsular fork that jabs into the Mediterranean from Greece’s Peloponnesus. About as remote from the 20th century as the people of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Maniots dwell in a kind of telescopic time capsule that includes Homer but little more than a hint of the Industrial Revolution. Few Maniots read or write. They have no radios, movies or telephones, and the family vehicle is the donkey. Matching the man of Aran in his barebones existence, the Maniot is scorched black by the fierce summer sun and lashed in win ter by the tramontana, a fearsome wind that tosses marble slabs about like pebbles.

First published in Time magazine, July 18 1960

From the Tower. Other Greeks shudder when they mention the Mani, and few ever go there. In his mad-dog-and-English-man way, Britain’s Patrick Leigh Fermor not only went but also brought back a fascinating traveler’s account of this bypassed pocket of civilization. Author Fermor, a passionate philhellene, has roamed Greece for 20 years, including a stint as a British commando, and his book is steeped in myth and history, which sometimes slacken the pace but rarely dim the interest of his chronicle.

Maniot girls are shy, grave and graceful, with large, luminous black eyes that reminded Fermor of the Madonnas in Byzantine icons. The men shave once a week, and some of them sport the black, eight-inch handlebar mustaches of their piratical forebears. Descendants of the

Spartans, the Maniots are famed for their blood feuds. From the iyth century on, they built tower dwellings resembling the Italian campanile, and the status symbol of the day was to have the highest tower. It was also a key vantage point from which to rain down rocks on an enemy neighbor’s marble roof. As soon as one member of a family was killed, clan warfare was declared, with the towers as citadels. When gunpowder was introduced, cannon fired away at point-blank range across the narrow streets, and not a move could be made by day without a fusillade of gunshots. Food and ammunition were smuggled into the towers by night, and since the feuds sometimes went on for years, each newborn boy was hailed as “another gun for the family.” Meanwhile, entire families of innocent bystanders resignedly moved out of town.

The Moles of Fate. The legendary patriot leaders of Greece’s struggle for independence from Turkey—Theodoros Kolokotronis and Petrobey Mavromi-chalis—campaigned from the Mani. Indeed, Mavromichalis was a Maniot who, in countless forays against the Turks, lost 49 relatives. He nailed the heads of Turks whom he killed around his own tower until it was studded with skulls. In the light of their rebel heritage, the Maniots of today are remarkably royalist. In private homes, Fermor found pictures of Greece’s King Paul and Queen Frederika right next to those of George VI and Elizabeth II. In one Maniot home, such pictures were flanked by a 1926 fashion advertisement of the “Be Smart Tailors of Madison Avenue.”

This probably seems like the height of modernity to a people who like to point out the island where Paris took Helen the first night after he stole her from Menelaus, and who still retain the purest links of Greece’s pagan past. Old Maniots are convinced that Nereids haunt the local fountains, and mothers believe that the three Fates hover over an infant’s cradle to write invisible destinies on the child’s brow (moles are known as “writings of the Fates”). Seafarers claim that Gorgons grip their caiques in a storm and ask in ringing tones, “Where is Alexander the Great?” If the captain shouts, “Alexander the Great lives and reigns!”, the sea turns calm. Otherwise, the Gorgon tilts the boat toward sea bottom, and all hands drown.

Couplets for Hector. Mani’s most cherished art form is the miroloy, the dirge with which keening womenfolk usher the Maniot out of a harsh world that neither man nor God seemingly made. More a lament for a hero being taken to the underworld than for a Christian going to his reward—even as she makes the sign of the cross, the grieving widow will say, “Charon took him”—the miroloy mirrors in its 16-syllable line the lament of Andromache over the body of Hector. At graveside, the chief mourner’s voice becomes a howl of hysteria (“Oh, my warrior! The arch and pillar of our house!”), her hair tumbles in disorder, and she tears at her cheeks with her fingernails till they are crisscrossed with red gashes and running with tears and blood. In the mesmeric half-trance of the dirge, the singer has been known to drift far out and lament high taxes, the price of salt, the need for roads, and the Bulgarian frontier—all in faultless couplets. Sans couplets, but with 20/20 sight and insight, Author Fermor has fashioned a durable portrait of the enduring people who inhabit the mythical rock garden of the gods.

Tracing a writer’s journey through Greece

There are many authors of articles that stake a claim to follow in Paddy’s footsteps (I have even written my own!), but I never tire of the new perspectives that people bring to these places, some of which I doubt I will ever have the time to visit. They also are standard bearers for Pay’s work, bringing his wonderful work to the attention of a new generation who may be inspired by the man who is The Greatest Living Englishman.

First published in The Boston Globe, October 17, 2010

By Heidi Fuller-love

Areopoli (above) is a tiny town in Greece that helped inspire author Patrick Leigh Fermor to write “Mani.’’

KARDAMYLI, Greece — Named for Phrygia’s mythical king, Pelops, who is said to have conquered this savage region before his father had him chopped to pieces and fed to the gods, the Peloponnese region stretches a fat hand out from the bottom of Greece and points bony stone digits toward the Cyclades, Turkey, and Crete. “When God had finished making the world he had a sack of stones left over and he emptied it here,’’ the Maniots are fond of saying.

Passionate philhellene Patrick Leigh Fermor, the Irish adventurer-turned-travel-writer played by Dirk Bogarde in the classic war opus “Ill Met by Moonlight’’ (later called “Night Ambush’’) visited the middle “finger’’ in the 1950s . Impressed, he wrote “Mani,’’ his fascinating account of a journey by foot, mule, and “caïque,’’ or wooden boat, to the heart of this arid peninsula cut off from the world by the Taygetus mountains and dotted with stark stone towers inhabited by fiercely feuding locals.

Hiring a car at Kalamata to follow in his footsteps, I arrive 60 years later, via lush countryside spiked with cypress spears, at Kardamyli, where Fermor settled with his wife, Joan, after his Mani adventure. Fermor, now in his 90s, still lives in the pretty village that was once a major Spartan port.

Giorgos Giannakeas, the son of Lela, Fermor’s former housekeeper, runs a seaside taverna. He tells me that the sprightly writer is often seen striding down the main street lined with driftwood-decorated cafes. “Our village attracts hikers who come to climb the peaks of Taygetus mountain range, but our main visitors are British people who come seeking the great man,’’ he says, doling out a fragrant ladle of Lela’s moussaka .

Half an hour’s drive from Kardamyli, the tiny harbor of Gytheion, once the main seaport of ancient Sparta, bears little trace of its former glory. Worn marble steps climb to a warren of alleys where cats prowl hungrily and storekeepers sell feta cheese from grime-rimmed buckets.

Unable to feed their families, countless Maniots traveled from here to find work in the New World at the turn of the 20th century. “Our fathers had no choice. It was that or die of hunger,’’ says Zafeirakos Zafeiris, who owns a hotel overlooking the Laconian Gulf.

On leaving the port, they would have passed the Kranae peninsula where Paris and Helen shared that epic night of love whose belated climax was the Trojan war. As the sun descends over this weed-blown strip of land, fishermen beat squid like laundry and ink spurts out, staining the rocks.

Gateway to the Mani, Gytheion signals a dramatic change in scenery. Climbing steeply into the fierce sun, my rental car groans and spews clouds of cheap Greek diesel. At a gas station where I stop to fill the tank, pump attendant Adonis Grigorakakis, who, like many Maniots, grew up in the United States, tells me. “The thing you have to understand is it’s all mountains here, see? The only way you could get to one of the villages here was with a boat. And it was like that right up till, say, 20, 30 years ago.’’

I climb higher until the sea looks like shards of a broken mirror and I’m surrounded by scree-strewn slopes spiked with purple-flowered thyme where scrawny sheep, their udders ripe with the raw substance of the pungent local Sfela cheese, jingle fist-sized bells. It is the bleak scenery described so lovingly in Fermor’s book.

Just outside Areopoli — named for Greek war god Ares, I spot my first “pyrgospita.’’ Tall and square, these eyeless towers were once strongholds for a vendetta-loving local aristocracy. “Feuds lasted for centuries and were ended either by the destruction of a whole family in battle, or by the surrender of an entire clan who were then required to kiss the hands of the victors who had lost ‘guns’ (male children) in the battle,’’ a leaflet at the village’s eclectic war museum explains.

When Fermor arrived in Areopoli 60 years ago sporting rucksack, shorts, and a charmer’s grin, he met people who had never seen anyone from outside the Mani before. Nowadays, this atmospheric jumble of towers and tavernas woven together by skeins of bougainvillea attracts a multinational rag-bag of visitors who stop for “meze,’’ or snacks, before visiting the Diros grotto, a subterranean wonder world of salmon stalagmites sheltered in a booming sea cave beneath the village.

Vathia, farther along the coast, has changed too. The lively village where Fermor was teased by a shepherd girl is a ghost town where one or two renovated pyrgospita glitter, amid a brooding huddle of ruined towers. I peek into one of them. Cramped as a windmill, dank as a cave, it’s easy to imagine the misery of those feuding families who, as The Earl of Carnarvon reported in 1839 : “. . . have been born and married, have lived for 20 or 30 years, and in some cases . . . have even spent their whole lives within the enclosure of these gloomy walls.’’

High above a deeply indented coastline littered with shrines erected in the memory of those who lost control of their vehicles on these perilous roads, I reach the mule track leading to the remains of the Temple of Poseidon where sailors, about to round the dangerous Cape Matapan, once prayed for a safe passage. One of the mythical entrances to the Underworld, this is where Fermor ended his trip.

As a wind shrieks across the Taygetus’s scrub-covered shoulder blades, I contemplate the darkening stretch of sea where Fermor came in a caïque more than half a century ago. I imagine him jumping overboard and swimming into the tiny cave in pitchy blackness, hands feeling the splintered walls, seeking the crack that led down to Hades, and I suddenly feel very cold.

In the gathering gloom I drive back to Areopoli along a road lighted only by the flickering candles of accident-victim’s shrines. Entering a taverna I order Fermor’s favorite tipple as a pick-me-up.

Raising my tumbler of Retsina I drink a silent toast to the man who braved the capture of German General Kreipe during WWII, but was perhaps braver still in choosing to settle in this stunning, yet still savage region, whose history is one of constant strife.

Heidi Fuller-love can be reached at heidi.fullerlove@gmail.com.

Don’t forget your pith helmet by Mary Beard

An interesting, if somewhat lengthy, review of Mani and Roumeli by Mary Beard in the London Review of Books from 2005. She contrasts the advice and style of Victorian travel books and guides with the modern. Mary Beard is also a noted classicist and her views are always worth a read.

First published in the London Review of Books 18 August 2005.

‘In the language and manners of every Greek sailor and peasant the classical scholar will constantly recognise phrases and customs familiar to him in the literature of Ancient Hellas.’ So the anxious tourist was reassured in the preface to the 1854 edition of Murray’s Handbook for Travellers in Greece. The message was simple: on a Greek boat you will find yourself back with Odysseus (‘the nautical contrivances and tactics of the ancients may be observed in daily use … the Greek seas are still as fickle as ever’); in a country cottage you will find yourself entertained by someone who could pass for Homer’s swineherd Eumaeus. ‘Even the ferocious attacks of vermin, which soon find out an Englishman, are exactly described in the graphic accounts given by Aristophanes of similar sufferings in Greek houses of old.’

Recapturing this world of antiquity was not, of course, without its hazards and difficulties, and the Handbook tried to demonstrate its own indispensability with some very lurid warnings about what could happen to the traveller who ventured to Greece unprepared. Health, indeed survival, was top of the agenda. ‘The abundance of fruit is a temptation to foreigners,’ it warned, ‘but nothing is more pernicious, or more likely to lead to fatal consequences.’ Protection against the Aristophanic vermin could be achieved only by means of a cheap but enormously complicated mosquito net whose daily assembling must have defeated all but the most obsessive and dexterous: ‘I have found that the best mode of entering it is to keep the opening in the middle of the mattress, and, standing in it, draw the bag entrance over my head.’ The problems of travel came a close second. Was it worth taking an English saddle? On balance yes, since they were so much more comfortable, but they did tend to injure the backs of the animals, given ‘the wretched condition’ of Greek horses. English servants, on the other hand, were better left at home, or if not at home, then in Corfu: ‘They are usually but little disposed to adapt themselves to strange customs, have no facility in acquiring foreign languages, and’ – revealing the characteristic blindness of the elite to the habitual discomforts of the working class – ‘are more annoyed by hardships and rough living than their masters.’ It was far more ‘agreeable and advantageous’ to hire a local, so long as no antiquarian knowledge was expected, let alone trusted if offered. For that, (hand)books were the thing. Continue reading

Mani: A Guide and History

As I was killing time doing some web searches for Paddy related material, I stumbled across this website which the creator John Chapman claims as a comprehensive guide to the history, geography and sites of the Mani. It is linked to a German language Mani travel site .

Having had a quick scoot around it certainly looks very comprehensive so if you are planning on a visit to the Mani you may wish to use it. The navigation is a bit clumsy, but the content looks very comprehensive indeed.

I found an apartment on the accompanying site where my family stayed on two occasions in the 1990’s near the quiet fishing village of Agios Dimitrios. Right by the sea with wonderful sunsets it is a great place for a holiday enabling you to visit the wider Peloponnese as well. Little did I know at the time that a lovely beach we found near Kardamili, that was overlooked by an inviting looking stone house was none other than the beach where Paddy swims and that the house was his.

Visit —> Mani: A Guide and History by John Chapman

Reisen nach Arkadien

Apart from the obvious interest in Paddy from Britain, and some from North America, it is the Germans who seem to have taken Paddy’s work to heart. Maybe it is due to the fact that a major part of Paddy’s 1934 journey was through Germany? This combined with his part in the kidnap of General Kreipe in Crete seems to hold their interest in him. Here is a recent piece about Mani from the Hamburger Abenblatt

Der britische Autor Patrick Leigh Fermor ist ein begnadeter Reiseschriftsteller, der wie kein zweiter die Eindrücke seiner Reisen nach Griechenland unmittelbar und atmosphärisch beschrieben hat. Längere Zeit verbrachte er als britischer Agent auf Kreta während des Zweiten Weltkriegs. Anfang der 50er Jahre kam Fermor auf die Halbinsel Mani auf der Peleponnes. Damals eine einsame Landschaft ohne Touristen, in der das mythische Griechenland und orientalische Byzanz lebendig scheinen.

Beim Dörlemann Verlag sind bereits zwei Bände mit seinen berühmten Wanderungen erschienen. Neu ist nun sein Buch “Mani – Reisen auf der südlichen Peleponnes”. Nie habe ich eine so wild-schöne Geschichte des Johannes-Festes gelesen wie hier:

“Die freudige Festtagsstimmung und die wahnwitzige Temperatur ließen die Luft vibrieren. Die Steinplatten am Wasser, wo ich mich mit Joan und Xan Fielding zum Essen niederließ, strahlten die Hitze ab wie ein Bratentopf, wenn man den Deckel abnimmt. Einer plötzlichen, stillschweigenden Eingebung folgend, wateten wir voll bekleidet ins Meer hinaus und trugen den eisernen Tisch ein paar Schritt weit ins Wasser, dann holten wir drei Stühle, auf denen wir, bis zur Taille im kühlen Naß, um den hübsch gedeckten Tisch Platz nahmen, der jetzt, wie von Zauberhand getragen, eine Handbreit über den Fluten zu schweben schien. Als der Kellner einen Augenblick später auftauchte, starrte er verblüfft auf den leeren Fleck am Kai; als er uns dann entdeckte, kam er, das amüsierte Aufflackern seiner Miene sofort wieder unter Kontrolle, ohne Zögern ins Wasser, näherte sich, selbst bis zur Taille eingetaucht, würdevoll wie ein Butler und verkündete nur lakonisch: ‘Dinnertime’.”

Fermor ist ganz der griechischen Welt verfallen und findet, die griechische Sprache inzwischen meisterlich beherrschend, Zugang zu den Menschen. In seinen Büchern verbindet er gekonnt persönliche Eindrücke und Ausflüge mit den geschichtlichen Zeugnissen, die diese bedeutsame Landschaft in Überfülle bereit hält.

Patrick Leigh Fermor Mani. Reisen auf der südlichen Peloponnes. Deutsch von Manfred und Gabriele Allié. Dörlemann Verlag. 24,90 Euro

In “Aufgeblättert” stellen im Wechsel Rainer Moritz, Annemarie Stoltenberg (NDR) und Wilfried Weber (Buchhandlung Felix Jud) Bücher vor.

(for a faintly humorous translation from Google translate copy and past the above into here )

Publication of Mani from Kathimerini

Selection: Michalis Katsigeras

First published in Kathimerini October 17, 1958

PATRICK LEIGH FERMOR: The latest book by the distinguished British writer and philhellene Patrick Leigh Fermor, titled “Mani,” is to be released in London on December 1. The book describes the region of Mani, its history and customs with the sympathy and wit that generally characterizes all his writing on Greek issues. Leigh Fermor came to Greece for the first time 1935. He has none of the reserve that is usually a characteristic of the British people [Ed –  Huh!!!] and fell in love with Greece at first sight. He learned to speak Greek very quickly and the next year, in 1936, translated Rodokanakis’s “Odysseus” into English. In the years before the war, he travelled a great deal. During the German occupation of Greece, he was sent to Crete where he played a leading role in the abduction of the German General Kreipe. He now lives in Crete, among his Cretan friends.[Ed – not quite true – Paddy was nomadic at this time eventually settling near Kardamyli in the mani] (Ed. Note: “Mani” was translated into Greek by Tzannis Tzannetakis in 1973 when he was in internal exile during the military dictatorship.) POPE PIUS XII: Vatican City – Vatican City’s radio station issued an official announcement today that Pope Pius XII has passed away. His death came at about 3.50 a.m. local time. Italian President Giovanni Gronchi and Prime Minister Amintore Fanfani ordered a period of national mourning.

Profile of Patrick Leigh Fermor by Max Hastings

A personal view by Max Hastings who thinks that Paddy’s best book is Mani.

First published in the Daily Telegraph 12:01AM GMT 04 Jan 2004

Not long after the Second World War, an English couple chanced upon a remote taverna in the mountains of Greece. As they ate their simple lunch the proprietor, perceiving their nationality, remarked: “We had another English couple here once, before the war. They stayed for weeks. They were so beautiful and so in love. And every night they dressed for dinner!”

It was this last foible that had plainly captivated him, and indeed conjured for his listeners an enchanting vision of young lovers in “the full soup and fish”, as P G Wodehouse would have said, in this lonely Greek inn. All became clear when the innkeeper added: “His name was Lefemor.”

This was, of course, the inimitable Paddy (he has never been known as anything else), though the innkeeper was wrong about the nationality of his other guest – she was in truth a Romanian princess, Balasha Cantacuzene, with whom he enjoyed a romantic idyll through the last few years before the war.

Legend has it that “Lefemor’s” distraught family ordered him home, finally cabling the fare when he pleaded poverty to explain his inability to return. He merely used the money to protract the affair.

Like many stories told both by and about Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor – as he became this week at the age of 88 – this one may be a trifle fanciful, owing as much to soaring imagination as to historical fact. No matter. It is the sort of story about Paddy which ought to be true.

He richly deserves his honour not only for what he has written – some of the finest travel books of all time – but for what he has been. In prose, as I heard one of his oldest friends put it recently, “he possesses an extraordinary gift for expressing beauty in words”.

He has fulfilled the dream of so many upper-class Englishmen of his generation, to live, love, play the hero, sage and wit with a lightness of touch which, translated into the milieu of the kitchen, would produce a souffle of genius.

He was the son of Sir Lewis Leigh Fermor, a geologist who travelled widely and made his reputation in India. “His tall, straight figure might often be seen dancing in Calcutta,” the DNB observes playfully. Paddy’s somewhat erratic schooling terminated at King’s Canterbury, from which he was sacked for some misdemeanour – “holding hands with the greengrocer’s daughter” is his own version, which will serve as well as any other.

Rejecting parental plans for Sandhurst and the Army, in December 1933 at the age of 18 he set out instead to walk to Constantinople, with very little money but some rather grand letters of introduction. The consequence was that for the next 18 months, he was wafted from schloss to schloss across old Europe, plunging his insatiable social, cultural, intellectual and linguistic curiosity into a river of happy encounters.

These he has described in the two volumes, A Time of Gifts (1977) and Between the Woods and the Water (1986). A third instalment of the journey has been long in preparation, but it is unlikely that anyone except his publisher expects it to get finished.

He has always been a slow writer, each of the eight books in his modest output requiring long and painful labour. His dilatoriness has been reinforced, perhaps, by indifference to money. Though he has never had any, somehow God or friends have eagerly provided. He has practised a superior brand of Micawberism, founded upon the belief that something or somebody would turn up, which in his case it always has.

When war came in 1939 he left Baleni, the wonderful Romanian mansion where he had been living with his princess, to join the Irish Guards. Instead, however, he was commissioned into the Intelligence Corps as a Greek speaker. He spent the winter of 1940 as a liaison officer with the Greek Army.

Affectionately sceptical friends say that Paddy’s linguistic fluency is a trifle exaggerated. Sixty years ago an Englishman who heard him gassing away nineteen to the dozen said to a neighbouring Greek woman: “Is he as fluent as he sounds?” She replied: “No. He is simply making a wonderful noise.” This is a little unjust, and of course he has indeed become a master of the Greek language after living in the Peloponnese for so long. He possesses a gift for communicating with his fellow man of any nationality, class or condition, without need for anything as vulgar as a phrasebook. Continue reading

Philhellene’s progress: The writing of Patrick Leigh Fermor

As you know I trawl the net for Paddy related material to create the best online source of information about PLF and his friends and associates. Some of you may have come across this essay that attempts to analyse Paddy’s style and his literary achievement. In my view it is just one of many that emphasise how great the man is and how unequalled is his prose.

First published in New Criterion, Jan, 2001 by Ben Downing

I have carried the soldier’s musket, the traveler’s stick, the pilgrim’s staff. –Chateaubriand (what a great quote for Paddy!)

The captive must have been exhausted and afraid, but when, on the fourth day of his grueling forced march across Crete, he saw dawn break behind Mount Ida, the sight was so beautiful that it brought to his lips the opening of Horace’s Ode I.ix: “Vides ut alta stet nive candidum/ Soracte,”(1) he murmured. Then, just as he trailed off, one of his captors came in to take the poem over, reciting the rest of its six stanzas. At this, the captive’s startled eyes slanted down from the peak to meet those of his enemy, and, after a long thoughtful silence, he pronounced, “Ach so, Herr Major.” For the captive was a German soldier–the commander of the island’s garrison, no less. General Karl Kreipe (to give him his name) had been abducted on April 26, 1944 by a band of Greek guerrillas led by two English commandos. Over the next three weeks, the kidnappers picked their way across Crete, eluding the thousands of Nazi troops who hunted them, until eventually they were met by a British boat and whisked to Cairo, where Kreipe was handed over and the two commandos promptly awarded the D.S.O. One of these men was W. Stanley Moss, who in 1950 published a riveting account of the escapade, Ill-Met by Moonlight, later filmed by Michael Powell. The other was a certain Patrick Leigh Fermor. Disguised as a shepherd and (like Zeus in his Cretan boyhood) living largely in caves, he had spent much of the previous two years on the island organizing the resistance. Leigh Fermor it was who finished the quotation.

But where had he, who’d never completed high school, learned Horace so well? Had Kreipe asked him this, Leigh Fermor could have answered, savoring the irony, that he’d committed the odes to memory during his teenage Wanderjahr a decade earlier, when, just after Hitler’s rise to power, he’d walked clear across Germany (among other countries) with a volume of Horace for his vade mecum, often reciting the poems to himself as he tramped. About that experience he’d not yet written a public word, and would not do so for many more years. Similarly he held off recounting his aubade with Kreipe. At last, however, in the 1970s, he broached the subjects of his continental traverse and, in an aside to that account, of his fleeting bond with Kreipe. Some things are best waited for: the book in which Leigh Fermor set these matters down, A Time of Gifts (1977), along with its sequel, Between the Woods and the Water (1986), represent not only the capstone of his career but, in my opinion, the finest travel books in the language and a pinnacle of modern English prose, resplendent as Soracte or Ida in deep snow.

The deplorable fact that most Americans, even well-read ones, have never even heard, as I also had not until recently, of a figure who in Britain (to say nothing of Greece, where he lives to this day) is revered and beloved as war hero, author, and bon vivant; who is, in Jan Morris’s words, “beyond cavil the greatest of living travel writers”; and who, in those of the historian John Julius Norwich, “writes English as well as anyone alive”–all this spurs me to correct our oversight of the sublime, the peerless Patrick Leigh Fermor.

His turbulent early life is recounted in the introduction to A Time of Gifts. Shortly after his birth in 1915, his mother and sister went to join his father in India, while he was left behind “so that one of us might survive if the ship were sunk by a submarine.” For four years he was billeted with a Northamptonshire farming family, an experience that proved “the opposite of the ordeal Kipling describes in Baa Baa Black Sheep.” A halcyon period, this, but the taste for boisterous freedom he acquired in the fields made for trouble later on: “Those marvelously lawless years, it seems, had unfitted me for the faintest shadow of constraint.” Especially intolerable to him were academic strictures of any kind, and there ensued a long series of dust-ups and expulsions, hilariously related. At ten he was sent to “a school for difficult children,” among which misfits he lists

the millionaire’s nephew who chased motorcars along country lanes with a stick, the admiral’s pretty and slightly kleptomaniac daughter, the pursuivant’s son with nightmares and an infectious inherited passion for heraldry, the backward, the somnambulists … and, finally, the small bad hats like me who were merely very naughty. Continue reading