Category Archives: Other Writing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep well.

Tom

In the Trail of Odysseus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Buy In the Trail of Odysseus at Amazon.

Page 1

 

 

Pages 2-3

 

Page 4

 

Related article:

The mystery of The Black Sea Cave

 

 

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.

The Pontic Shores to Salisbury Plain, and Rimini by Rudyard Kipling

Salisbury Plain on Tuesday

As my son Patrick and I tramped south this week from Barbury Castle, past Avebury and Stonehenge, and across the great barren openness of Salisbury Plain, we crossed many Roman Roads. From Old Sarum, we mainly followed the old Roman road that connected the early incarnation of Salisbury with Venta Belgarum, modern-day Winchester. It made me think of Kipling’s poem, Rimini, which reminded me of Paddy and those hundreds of thousands of Legionaries tramping to and fro, from Britain and Gaul, to the Pontic Shores. Paddy also quoted the poem in his introduction to the marvellous In the Trail of Odysseus by Marianna Koromila. His introduction is full of longing for the world at the edge of the Black Sea that he discovered in 1934 and which so soon was to disappear forever. Read Paddy’s full introduction in this blog article from October 2010.

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

In the Trail of Odysseus is the story of Yiankos Danielopoulis who died in 1987 at the age of 88. As a Black Sea Greek living through the 20th century his life was uprooted time after time, until at last he was able to settle in Mount Hymettos in mainland Greece in the 1950’s. A marvellous story which I highly recommend (only two copies in stock on Amazon).

Back to Rimini. This is my Christmas gift to you all, and a special thank you to all of you who donated once more to help raise money for the homeless and those suffering from combat induced mental illness. If you would still like to make a donation please visit our Just Giving page. Merry Christmas to you all and your families. Thank you for visiting the Paddy blog in 2017. Plenty of good things to come in 2018. By the way, we have now had almost 1.5 million visits to the blog since we started!

Rimini

by Rudyard Kipling

When I left Rome for Lalage’s sake
By the Legions’ Road to Rimini,
She vowed her heart was mine to take
With me and my shield to Rimini—
(Till the Eagles flew from Rimini—)
And I’ve tramped Britain, and I’ve tramped Gaul,
And the Pontic shore where the snow-flakes fall
As white as the neck of Lalage—
(As cold as the heart of Lalage!)
And I’ve lost Britain, and I’ve lost Gaul,
And I’ve lost Rome and, worst of all,
I’ve lost Lalage!

When you go by the Via Aurelia,
As thousands have travelled before,
Remember the Luck of the Soldier
Who never saw Rome any more!
Oh dear was the sweetheart that kissed him
And dear was the mother that bore,
But his shield was picked up in the heather
And he never saw Rome any more!

And he left Rome, etc.

When you go by the Via Aurelia
That runs from the City to Gaul,
Remember the Luck of the Soldier
Who rose to be master of all!
He carried the sword and the buckler,
He mounted his guard on the Wall,
Till the Legions elected him Cæsar,
And he rose to be master of all!

And he left Rome, etc.

It’s twenty-five marches to Narbo,
It’s forty-five more up the Rhone,
And the end may be death in the heather
Or life on an Emperor’s throne.
But whether the Eagles obey us,
Or we go to the Ravens—alone,
I’d sooner be Lalage’s lover
Than sit on an Emperor’s throne!

We’ve all left Rome for Lalage’s sake, etc.

Armenia, Nicolas Bouvier and Paddy

This post is dedicated to Elizabeth who will enjoy listening to the French. My on-off hiatus on the blog continues due to personal circumstances but I had to write this short update before I depart to walk across Armenia. I was inspired to travel there by reading Nicolas Bouvier’s wonderful book, The Way of the World. Paddy buffs will know that he wrote the introduction to the English version.

Bouvier’s work describes his journey with his artist friend Thierry Vernet in a Fiat Topolino (like a 2CV)  from Geneva to Afghanistan in the 1953-54. It is a journey that would be impossible today. The book is beautifully written and such fun to read. He spent a lot of time writing about the Armenian community in north-western Iran which got me thinking about going to Armenia, and here I am going to Armenia.

I always like to make some spurious link to weave a bit of a yarn, and here I have it. Bouvier writes book including Armenians; Paddy writes introduction to said book; I travel to Armenia; and blog corespondent Mark Opstad (a long time ago) sends me a link to a French TV programme that includes Bouvier and Paddy. The latter speaking wonderful French but as ever struggling with technology; this time the microphone. Paddy suddenly appears around 29:10 (maybe he got stuck into the bar in the green room?) and proceeds to tell his story, but struggles to keep the microphone near his mouth. Note the “third hand” at 34:38 trying to keep it in the right position. At 47:00 Paddy inevitably ends up singing a Greek song.

Enjoy the video. As ever there is much more to come on the blog and I thank all of you who have got in touch with me. I just don’t have the time to keep up at the moment, but each and every one will receive a reply in due course.

Nicolas BOUVIER, Jacques LACARRIERE, Michel LE BRIS, Patrick LEIGH-FERMOR from Etonnants Voyageurs on Vimeo.

Wartime escapades by Patrick Leigh Fermor

The Times Literary Supplement describes this as “The last Renaissance man’s account – until now available only in Greek – of how German bombs wrecked his boat but not his spirit”. Enjoy.

Translated by Adrian Bartlett.

First published in The Times Literary Supplement, 5 June 2013.

Since 1976 my family has been to a small town in the eastern Peloponnese nearly every year. Early on we heard, from the local bus driver and others, how the Germans had sunk an escaping Englishman’s boat in the local harbour in 1941. The Englishman in question was Patrick Leigh Fermor. Later we made friends with Stratis Kounias, a man from the town, a distinguished academic who also returned there every summer. Stratis had embarked on writing a wartime history of the area and on hearing that we knew “Paddy” he asked for an introduction. Leigh Fermor agreed to write an account of the event. I am quite sure he had written and talked about it many times before – some of the phrases are repeated in the biography by Artemis Cooper (reviewed in the TLS, November 16, 2012); but this time he recounted it in Greek for the benefit of Stratis Kounias, although Stratis speaks perfect English. The following is my translation.– Adrian Bartlett

And now over to Paddy …

A BRIEF ACCOUNT OF MY ESCAPE

I had arrived in Greece as a lieutenant in the Intelligence Corps in November 1940. We were a branch of the Allied Military Mission. After Christmas we drove to Albania and were based at Koritsa as liaison officers to the 80th regiment led by Lieutenant-General [Georgios] Tsolakoglou.

I went along the whole front – Pogradec, Krystallopigi, Argirocastro, Tepeleniou, Leskovik, Ioannina and so on. I stayed two months there and after the German invasion I was asked to come down to Athens with the personnel intelligence unit, under the regiment commander Peter Smith-Dorrien (son of General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien who fought in the First World War).

After the slow retreat from Perdika, Ptolemaida and so on we were for a time as if in the pass at Thermopylae, but eventually got to barracks in Athens. With the rapid advance of the Germans, Field Marshal Maitland-Wilson gave the order to prepare a second escape route from Greece, if a somewhat unorthodox one.

The Greek authorities had requisitioned for us a lovely sailing caïque. She was called Ayia Barbara, anchored at Sounion and belonging to Paulo Mela. She had a renowned captain in Michaelis Mistho from the Demon of Sparta. Apart from myself and P. Smith-Dorrien there was a wireless-operating sergeant, a very nice corporal who I think was called Costas Varthis, and six soldiers.

Our orders were to take possession of the caïque and proceed to a meeting with Field Marshal Wilson at Mili, on the east coast of the Peloponnese. We left Sounion on the afternoon of the April 24, 1941, the sergeant and I having previously destroyed our truck by pushing it into a gully at Sounion. We went past Hydra and moored off the island of Dokos.

In the morning there were many enemy aircraft, the thud of bombing, and trails of smoke in the direction of Nauplion. Later we heard they had set on fire the English ship the Ulster Prince; many British were either killed or captured. We waited till late afternoon to weigh anchor and it was night when we moored at the quay at Mili. It was very crowded there, hundreds of trucks and Greek and British soldiers in retreat. I called out repeatedly the name of the motorcyclist, Matthew, who was to wait for me there and take me to the Field Marshal, whom I finally found.

He had come from Athens with Prince Peter who was liaison officer to our mission, Field Marshal Wilson having come in another car. Also there was the government Deputy President, Vice-Admiral Sakellariou. These were going to Crete in a Sunderland aircraft. Our own aim in our present circumstances was to work our way south along the coast of the Peloponnese, to help other British and Greek military stragglers who wanted to get to Crete and had missed a ship.

Admiral Baillie-Grohman and Brigadier General Galloway joined the Ayia Barbara, and also some more men. We weighed anchor and headed south. After half an hour we pulled alongside an English battle cruiser, the HMS Bahram [Edit: Should HMS Bahram read HMS Barham which was lost at sea on the 25th November 1941?], which took all these men on board. We, with our original company from Sounion, P. Smith-Dorrien, Lieutenant Philip Scott, consul to Field Marshal Wilson, and six soldiers stayed on the Ayia Barbara and we set off at 1.30 am. Smith-Dorrien appointed Philip Scott responsible for the British personnel and me for the Greeks as I knew Greek fairly well, having travelled a lot around Greece before the war.

On the way we had some engine trouble, a blade of the propeller broke which compelled us to reach shore before sunrise. Our intention had been to head for Ieraka and hide the caïque, but in the morning of April 27, at 5.30, we arrived at Leonidion and moored at the quay in Plaka.

We hid the radio under some olive trees, took our weapons, had some breakfast. Our orders were to let no one board the caïqe during the day. Soon we would be taking up our headquarters in Crete.

At 1.30 pm a reconnaissance Fiesler-Stork plane flew over, at 2 another came and dropped four aerial torpedoes on the beach and did little damage, and then came some bursts of machine gun fire. At 2.15 they dropped another bomb close to the quay and at 2.30 a depth charge fell beside the Ayia Barbara, breaching her below decks and sinking her, with just half the mast showing above water. Luckily our boat had saved some important documents.

From then until 7pm the bombardment and dive bombing didn’t stop. One of the bombs fell close to us and wounded Captain Michaelis in the leg and damaged the radio, but to our surprise we repaired it enough to take with us, but not sufficiently to send our news to headquarters.

Some local people appeared, with bread, eggs, one or two chickens, wine and so on, and showed us much kindness, although it had been a terrible day.

P. Smith-Dorrien and I tried to buy one of the other small caïques in the harbour, but all had been damaged in the bombardment and were not fit for sea. We tried mules but failed again. We hoped to find a caïque further south. We passed the night there, in two convenient caves at the end of the beach. We went very early into Leonidion for provisions. The enemy were firing all around, but stopped at midday. I tried to salvage some things from the sunken caïque but without success. At 7 pm the Leonidion police brought and placed at our disposal a boat from a nearby village. It belonged to Panayioti Nikos Moschoviti, or Tsana, from Poulithra. The crew was the son of Nikos and another four of his relations. We agreed that they would take us to Kyparissia. Whether or not we could find a way to make progress, we had taken a decision to go for it, come what may. The local people were very keen to help us. We all boarded the boat, twenty-three of us together with the six crew, packed in like sardines, and we set off south under oar. Meanwhile the Greek crew of the Ayia Barbara set off to their respective homes while we stayed with Captain Michaelis, without whom we would have perished, Smith-Dorrien said.

The crew rowed for about six hours and at 5.30 am on April 29 we arrived at Kyparissia, coming to a dry river bed, 3–4 kilometres from the village. P. Smith-Dorrien and I tried to buy a caïque and in the evening we found one: Ayio Nikolao, 40 tons, which belonged to Pericles Meneksi, for 300,000 drachmas. After a moment we heard that the Germans had reached the village, and as luck would have it, eleven New Zealanders arrived by rowing from Porto Heli.

Many British troops had arrived in Kalamata by road in trucks and armoured vehicles. Many went to Crete on the Greek warships which were there, the others who stayed put up a fierce resistance to the advancing Germans, making an assault with bayonets, and many died or were taken prisoner. This year they are erecting a memorial in Kalamata in their honour.

The eleven New Zealanders were in a bad state of fatigue; we took them into our company and all left together at 9 pm. On April 30, we arrived at Velanidion and all had a day on the beach to recover. At 9 pm we tried to set off to Crete but the engine wouldn’t go into forward drive and broke down. P. Smith-Dorrien, Captain Michaelis and I made the steep climb to the high village, hoping to find someone to mend the engine or to find another caïque, without any success.

Meanwhile we learnt that the Germans had reached Monemvasia, Neapoli and Kalamata. The New Zealanders wanted to put to sea immediately but Smith-Dorrien forbade it. Then five more New Zealanders arrived and an Australian. A good mechanic from Velanidion, Nikolaos Kostakos, a relation of Captain Michaelis, patched up the damaged engine after many hours. We also found three Cretan soldiers who were trying to find a way to get home so we took these too. At 9 pm we set off for Cape Spatha on the north of Crete with the mechanic, N. Kostakos.

On May 2 we had extremely strong headwinds and violent storms. We were losing oil and a bearing was overheating; the engine died. We did the unthinkable and turned back with an improvised rig for the sails and got to Antikythera at 12. Smith-Dorrien, Captain Michaelis and I went to the village of Potamos and found there a very large caïque, the Despina, which belonged to Captain Nikolaos Manika from Chios and it was agreed that he would take us to Crete in exchange for 45,000 drachmas. He took all of us, leaving the following night, another four Australians having arrived there by various means. We now had 150 men, British and Greek, of all ranks. There was another caïque there which went to Crete with us. N. Kostakos stayed with the Ayio Nikolao in order to take care of the repairs and then take it on to Crete.

We weighed our anchors at 10.30 pm on May the 3rd and arrived on the 4th, mooring at Kastelli Kissamou at 5.30 am, where we organized a wonderful feast in a taverna. We were all quite ravenous, and then found a truck to take us to Chania.

P. Smith-Dorrien wrote warmly of Philip Scott and with much praise for Captain Michaelis Mistho, who later played a role in the secret transport of caïques in the Middle East, and I met him later in the war. Also we had the finest impressions of Corporal Costas Varthis and the wireless operators, always willing and with good humour in difficult moments. Lastly we felt grateful to all the Greeks who took care of us and helped us warm-heartedly in difficult times.

After sixteen days the war came to Crete in one part or another. A few months later Philip Scott was killed in battle in a western invasion, and Smith-Dorrien was killed towards the end of the war by a bomb falling on the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.

***

These notes are based on my own recollections, much helped by the account written by P. Smith-Dorrien on our eventual arrival at Chania in Crete. Following the death of Philip Scott, his father Sir Samuel Scott collected his letters and published them as a small book. One letter describes our flight and it is around this that I have written. About the night we left Leonidion he writes: “We all got into the boat, eleven English, six Greeks and the others that stayed on after the loss of the Ayia Barbara. The Greeks rowed for six hours with hardly a break. They were absolutely wonderful. We covered 15 miles and arrived at a fishing village further south”.

On our turning back after our first attempt to reach Crete, he writes:

“The caïque travelled badly and the mainsail was torn.”

He was about 20 years old, I was 26 and Smith-Dorrien between 30 and 40.

I love Leonidion and the whole of Tsakonia.

Patrick Leigh Fermor
Kardamili, August 2, 1995

Summer reading – The Transylvanian Trilogy by Miklós Bánffy

New BanffyMore Miklós Bánffy propaganda to make you go out and buy these fantastic books! They have recently been republished by Everyman’s Library.

You can buy them here. They were counted.The Transylvania Trilogy. Vol 1.

And of course, Elisabeth Jelen Salnikoff,  the elder granddaughter of Miklós Banffy will be speaking about her grandfather, his life and work at the exciting Transylvanian Book Festival 5-9 September; see you there!

by Julian Glover

First published in The Guardian , 5 August 2011

A few years ago a friend sent me three very large paperback novels – a trilogy about Hungary before the first world war – which he said I should read.

The Writing on the Wall, as the books are known (better than “the Transylvanian Trilogy”, the inadequate English alternative), did not look promising. Their covers were relatively austere and their author was a dead Hungarian aristocrat of whom I then knew nothing. They sat ignored until, by chance, I took the first of them to Spain one summer and, having nothing else to read, opened it.

Since then their author, Miklós Bánffy, has never been far from my mind. The elegiac wisdom of his writing makes him one of those people whose life you wish could have ended in something other than calamity. His three great novels, which are really one and should be read as such, are significant and addictive works. Word of their excellence is spread largely by private recommendation. I know no one who, having begun them, has not charged through to the end.

The three books – They Were Counted, They Were Found Wanting and They Were Divided – are at one level a sort of Austro-Hungarian Trollope, with sleigh rides in place of fox hunts and the Budapest parliament instead of the House of Commons. So far, so dull, you might think – except that Bánffy was a great storyteller (his factual account, in his book The Phoenix Land, of the 1916 coronation of the last Hungarian monarch is spellbinding), and wrote as a member of a class and the citizen of a country that had both been brought to ruin.

Bánffy published his books in Hungarian between 1934 and 1940. By then, the pre-first world war aristocratic tradition he describes was dead; or at least the political part of it, for the trappings lingered on – not least at Bánffy’s own great family castle of Bonchida, by then in Romania and destined to be partly destroyed by the Germans in 1944.

Bánffy died in 1950, his papers burned, his books out of print. One of the connected delights of this trilogy is that his daughter was one of the joint translators, and Bonchida (thinly disguised as Denestornya in the novels) is being brought back from a roofless ruin.

That will not return to us the Hungary of which it was once a part, and only a third of which remained in Hungarian hands after the 1920 Treaty of Trianon (an ill-deserved robbery). As Bánffy describes, some of this disaster was his fellow citizens’ fault – the product of their incestuous politics, their semi-subservience to the emperor in Vienna, and above all the closed nature of Hungarian society, which did not know how to deal with the continent beyond its borders. That remains true today: there is something mysterious about Hungary, and not only because of its isolated language.

If I have made these sound sour books, or purely political ones, then I have misled you. More than anything, they are human, and beautiful, and descriptive, and rooted in a land and its natural environment that are both gone forever and less far away than we might think. “The radiant afternoon sunlight of early September was so brilliant that it still seemed like summer,” the trilogy begins. This summer I urge you to read on …

Related articles:

Read more about Miklós Bánffy on the blog by clicking this link.

Miklós Bánffy’s Transylvanian trilogy to be published in new edition by Everyman’s Library

Count Miklós Bánffy

Count Miklós Bánffy

Many of the longer term readers will know that I am a true fan of the work of the great Hungarian-Transylvanian writer and statesman Miklós Bánffy. His Transylvanian trilogy is a masterpiece, and the autobiography, The Phoenix Land, re-published last year offers an insight to the character and soul of this intelligent, hardworking, and resourceful man.

Read more about Miklós Bánffy in the articles on the blog which you can find at this link.

I was recently contacted by blog reader Scott Walters from San Francisco who informed me about a new version coming out in 2013.

As you seem to be the go-to resource for all things Patrick Leigh Fermor, I thought you might be interested to know – assuming you haven’t heard already – that the English translation of Miklós Bánffy’s Transylvania trilogy (They Were Counted, They Were Found Wanting and They Were Divided), for which Paddy wrote an introduction and which you’ve blogged about on occasion – is going to be reissued this summer in hardcover by Everyman’s Library. Publication date is in July.

I’m thrilled about this – I’m a great fan of the trilogy and have long bemoaned the price of the existing paperback editions, which despite being reissued in 2010 still seem difficult to obtain at a reasonable price (though a Kindle edition is now available). That Everyman’s Library has opted for the work suggests that it’s finally attained the recognition it deserves. I posted an announcement on my blog, but should you put one on your Fermor blog I expect word will get out to more people who may be interested. All best, and a very happy new year.

I am grateful to Scott for getting in touch. Not so sure about the price issue as it affects UK readers. You can buy good copies of his work on eBay for around £8-£10. The Everyman versions appear to be coming out in July 2013 with a website price tag of $26 for a hardback edition.

All I can say is it is great that more people will read Bánffy, and that prices of books vary enormously depending upon where you are. Moral of the story is look around for bargains and read some Bánffy now!

Re-opening of Bánffy exhibition at Budapest Opera House

Zsuzsanna Szebeni, who is the curator of the Count Bánffy exhibition at the Budapest Opera House, contacted me to say that the exhibition has re-opened at the opera house from 3 April 2012. If my Magyar is up to scratch it appears to run until 24 June, but I could be wrong about that! From the 16th of July the exhibition will move to a larger location in the city of Sepsizsentgyörgy or Sfântu Gheorghe (in Romanian), a city which is predominantly Székely Hungarian, and lies to the north-east of Brasov in Transylvania.

Miklos Bánffy was a Transylvanian Count and director of the Budapest Opera House at the end of the Great War. At the same time he planned the very last coronation of a King of Hungary, the last Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Charles I. This is all wonderfully described in the English Translation of Bánffy’s memoirs, The Phoenix Land, published by Arcadia Books.

As you will know by now, Paddy wrote the introduction to the English translation of Bánffy’s fictional Transylvanian Trilogy which is wonderful and an absolute must read. Cluj gets many a mention. You can read more about Count Bánffy here on the blog.

You can contact Zsuzsanna as follows: Mobil: +36 20 3304070 and Office: +36 1 3751184/128.

For those of you who speak Magyar you will find this video of interest. For those who don’t I hope that you will enjoy the colourful images!

Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor and The Folio Society

Paddy and George Psychoundakis the “Cretan Runner”

From the Folio Society website.

Ten years ago, The Folio Society decided to publish a book by William Stanley Moss, entitled Ill Met by Moonlight. It told the story of a daring war-time adventure in Crete, in which Moss and Patrick Leigh Fermor, two young SOE officers, kidnapped a German general, spirited him away across the mountains and into captivity. The book was based on the detailed diary kept (entirely against the rules) by Moss, and its undeniably romantic aspects were highlighted when, in 1957, a film was made starring Dirk Bogarde as the dashing Leigh Fermor.

When we planned the book, it occurred to us that Patrick Leigh Fermor, known to his friends as Paddy, had never contributed any kind of comment on it in writing. We assumed there was a good reason for this – a certain delicacy perhaps, since, at the time of the operation, he was already embedded in Crete in a cave under Mount Ida, with the role of facilitating Commando raids on the island, and was dependent on the friendship and loyalty of the local partisans. But we wrote to him anyway and asked if he would contribute an introduction.

He rang up from his home in Greece. It was indeed, he said charmingly, ‘delicate’ and for various reasons he’d always felt the less said the better. We parted genially, my suggesting that we might ask Michael Foot, historian of the Special Operations Executive and an old friend of his, to do it instead. This we did. A week later, Paddy telephoned again. He’d been thinking about it, and he felt that there were things he would like to say: the coup had, in his view, been diminished by being reduced to the level of a ‘tremendous jape’ and he hoped to restore the balance by providing something of the context for the enterprise. He did not wish to interfere with Michael’s introduction, but would contribute a short Afterword, describing his own experience. It would be 500 to 1,000 words. It eventually emerged at 6,500 words, all of which had to be wrested from him in hand to hand combat, so anxious was he that nothing could be misinterpreted. Michael Foot, in the meantime, was triumphant to be able to tell Paddy that General Kreipe (who was not the intended victim of the kidnap, as that gentleman had been moved on) was so unpopular that, when they heard he had been snatched, his officers broke open the champagne.

Most Folio books have their unexpected rewards, but this one had more than most. Through it we met Billy Moss’s daughters who showed us photograph albums and the original diary; Sophie, their Polish mother, a formidably attractive SOE operative who had been based, with Moss and Leigh Fermor, at Tara, the Cairo House; Michael (M R D) Foot, whose own experiences as prisoner of war were at least as hair-raising as the exploits he went on to chronicle; and of course Paddy himself – courageous, witty, modest, famously attractive and – both with this book and The Cretan Runner – a good friend to The Folio Society. We will miss him.

Related article:

A Meeting between Paddy and George Psychoundakis the “Cretan Runner”

Christmas reading as recommended by Paddy – James Knox’s biography of Robert Byron

In 2003 Paddy recommended James Knox’s biography of Robert Byron in the Spectator’s Christmas book selection. It is still available from Amazon. Maybe some of you will add it to your letter to Santa for this year.

by Patrick Leigh Fermor

James Knox’s biography of Robert Byron (John Murray) is a book we have been waiting years for, and it surpasses all expectations.

Outside strictly academic circles, in the early 20th century Byzantium was little known in England, but after the Great War things began to change. In the 1920s and ’30s, there was Steven Runciman at Cambridge and, at Oxford, Robert Byron. His was the Brideshead generation. How they managed between corks popping all day and parties all night to do more than hunt for Victorian china fruit in the afternoon remains a mystery.

In the heart of this chaos, fervent extra-curricular study was at work. Abstruse historical byways were trailed and notebooks were filled up. Byzantium was the goal, and soon, in his early twenties, Robert Byron, with several of his friends, set out on corroborative journeys, and on return published his findings. Europe in the Looking Glass — a sort of pan-European Three Men in a Boat — was soon to be followed by the brilliant Byzantine Achievement. The magic of Byron’s name opened every door in the Greek world, and The Station, a monumental and marvellous description of Mount Athos, remains unsurpassed. The Birth of Western Painting — an analysis and history of the earliest Byzantine inklings to the last of El Greco — is a defence and an assault. Classical Greece and the Renaissance both get it in the neck; so do Western Christianity and the Crusades, especially the Fourth. Some of his Quixotic giants turned out to be windmills, but much good was done and Byzantium emerged in glory. Youthful flair and high sophistication marked all his writings, and recondite knowledge was leavened by the surprising bonus of a hilarious narrative gift.

There’s a connecting chain running through all his travels: India, Afghanistan, Persia, Tibet, Russia; then he would bury himself in Savernake Forest for a winter of writing and hunting, setting out eastward again in spring. We are lucky to have James Knox to set down the details of this dynamic and many-sided figure, with his energies and angers and his unorthodox passions and his laughter.

In 1941 Byron was heading east again by the northern detour when a U-boat torpedoed his ship. He was 36. We can never know how many brilliant sequels to The Road to Oxiana were sunk off Stornoway.

The magnetic John Pendlebury

Archaeology’s first modern hero was dazzling in life and heroically defiant in death. Paddy wrote the foreward to the 2007 book – The Rash Adventurer: A Life of John Pendlebury by Imogen Grundon.

J. D. S. Pendlebury, excavator of Amarna, Curator at Knossos, he of the glass eye and the swordstick, who died defending Crete from German invasion in 1941, is archaeology’s first modern hero: brilliant, magnetic and self-aware. In The Rash Adventurer, Imogen Grundon gives us the substance behind his dazzling brief career. John Pendlebury evidently possessed an extraordinary determination to overcome obstacles, demonstrated after he had lost an eye as the result of a childhood accident. In spite of this handicap, his Cambridge years included a blue in athletics and a first class in the tripos. Grundon reveals his early interests in archaeology, and the enormous workload he undertook soon after leaving university. His career included excavation both at Akhenaten’s capital of Amarna and at Sir Arthur Evans’s site at Knossos, as Pendlebury moved from one to the other with the seasons of work. By the age of twenty-five he occupied a unique position in Mediterranean archaeology, holding simultaneously the posts of Curator at Knossos and Director of Excavations at Tell el-Amarna.

by Jane Jakeman

First published in the Times Literary Supplement, 17 October 2007.

The relationship between Egypt and Crete was of particular interest to him, and his Aegyptiaca: A catalogue of Egyptian objects in the Aegean area is still an important resource. At Amarna, the historical background was still very unclear when Pendlebury became Director in 1930, and he was able to extract a possible chronology and a history of that remarkable city. There was a wide gulf between Bronze Age archaeologists and Egyptologists, and Pendlebury had to endure much criticism in Egyptological circles, particularly over his theories concerning the invasion of Egypt by the “sea peoples”, whose leadership he ascribed to Agamemnon. It was not uncommon at the time to look for relationships between mythology and archaeology, but this approach evidently appealed to Pendlebury’s love of Homeric story. It was also a romantic perspective, and from it he viewed his beloved modern Cretans, sometimes presiding over dinner wearing a Cretan cloak and striding through the mountains to meet kapetanoi, the old brigand leaders.

He clearly relished his swashbuckling self-image, but Grundon shows him capable too of subtle and complex achievements. At Knossos, he skilfully negotiated a difficult relationship with Evans, whose colourful reconstructions Pendlebury sometimes disagreed with, in spite of his own imaginative streak. He was in fact working in a new archaeological era: the age of the great individual “dig” patrons was passing, in favour of a more modern system where the locals were no longer regarded as mere workmen, and foreign governments were recognized as significant entities. Pendlebury showed himself well able to manage this transition and he was realistic in matters of archaeological politics and finance, very aware of the importance of finding subscribers to the Egypt Exploration Society, and new sources of funding. Grundon is good on the complications of organizational funding and personalities, academic intrigues and quarrels.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Pendlebury returned to Britain, enlisted in Military Intelligence and was drafted into Military Intelligence (Research). He went back to Crete in 1940 as a British Army captain, in order to organize resistance to invasion in the mountain regions. He was “adopted”, to use Grundon’s appropriate word, by the highly secretive “D” section of MI6, whose task was to train agents, conceal supplies for sabotage, and handle anti-German propaganda. There is no doubt that he loved the atmosphere of mystery and intrigue, as also the adventure of rallying his kapetanoi.

Pendlebury’s part in the Battle for Crete was, however, tragically short-lived: in 1941, he was wounded, then captured, propped up against a wall and shot. Again, Grundon has followed these events very carefully, presenting as much evidence as can now be garnered – although her wider picture of the background to the invasion of Crete is too kind to General Bernard Freyberg, the New Zealander in command of Allied forces on Crete. Antony Beevor’s Crete: The Battle and the Resistance brings out clearly the later Lord Freyberg’s disastrous support for seaborne invasion, and the obstinate misinterpretation of “Ultra” intelligence, which contributed to the loss of the island to the Germans. The downfall of Crete was horribly unnecessary. So was Pendlebury’s death, a tragic waste, except perhaps that his premature decease itself took on an iconic quality. His image has remained unencumbered by the aura of his snobbish wife and untarnished by entanglement in post-war politics.

The Rash Adventurer is a thorough and authoritative biography, based on detailed research, which gives us at every point the facts underpinning the myth of the man. As well as reaching deep in archives and libraries, Imogen Grundon seems to have interviewed almost every survivor in the field. There is one story she omits, however, perhaps because none of her elderly interlocutors cared to repeat it – the story passed down among Egyptologists, that, as he faced the firing squad, John Pendlebury’s last words were “Fuck you!”.

Rare video of Pendlebury excavating in Egypt as well as showing off his athletic prowess.

Audible

A review by Paddy of Artemis Cooper’s book Cairo in the War

Artemis Cooper’s introductions and accompanying text to Duff and Diana Cooper’s published letters, A Durable Fire (1983), and to Lady Diana’s Scrapbook (1987), had a strong dash of her grandmother’s humour and lightness of touch; but only a most clairvoyant critic could have predicted Cairo in the War, 1939–1945. Her account, though it sticks punctiliously to fact, is as hard to put down as good fiction . The research is wide, detailed and scrupulous. She lays hold of the military background – the dramas unfolding just off-stage, but threatening to break out of the wings at any moment – with a soldierly grasp; and she seems to have talked at length with all the surviving dramatis personae.

By Patrick Leigh Fermor

First published in The Times Literary Supplement 1 September 1989 (republished online 15 June 2011)

Unleavened by personalities, military history can be heavy on the hand, and politics too, once the urgency has gone. The author’s skill redeems them both. As for the complex country and people on whom the war had impinged, she has segregated the strands with great discernment – the Copts, the Arabs, the Mamelukes, the Ottomans, all the sects and enclaves of the Mediterranean and the Levant, the Helleno-Judaeo-Ptolemaic nexus of Alexandria, the fellahin and the effendis and the nationalists, the rivalries of the Western European powers, with their local allegiances and clients and phobias, and, above all, the reigning Albanian dynasty and the predominating British presence and tutelage.

The author is particularly helpful and fair about the tensions between the last (in the persons of the young King Farouk and the proconsular Ambassador, Sir Miles Lampson), which culminated with British tanks all round the Palace, near-abdication and an enforced change of government: the German advance in the desert was the raison d’état. The enemy was held and driven back; certain froideurs remained at the top; but, astonishingly, the surface of the luxurious, dazzling and hospitable social life was hardly ruffled. At times this resembled the Duchess of Richmond’s ball before Waterloo, at others the Congress of Vienna: “The Kings sit down to dinner and the Queens stand up to dance . . .”. The pool at the Gezira Sporting Club sluiced hangovers away, the willow smacked the leather, polo-balls whizzed there all afternoon, and roulette-balls plopped at the Mohammed Ali after dark. There were enticing restaurants and enterprising night-clubs, party followed party and bedtime often coincided with the first muezzin’s call from the minaret of Ibn Tulun. Guilt about rationed London bit sharp now and then, but for those on short leave from the Desert, not deep.

Among the missions and staffs and the permanent officials, intrigue and gossip were as intense as in Mrs Hauksbee’s Simla. The author is eerily well informed about Groppi’s Horse and the Short-Range Shepherd’s Group and, a fortiori, about GHQ at Grey Pillars and SOE at Rustam Buildings (particularly the latter) and all the cross-currents, promotion-mania and the clashes – eg, “Bolo” Keble and Fitzroy Maclean – the political schisms of Southern Europe and their repercussions in Egypt. The pages on spies and counterespionage and raiding forces are one of the most impressive parts of the book.

The author is perceptive about the frustrations and amusements of all ranks of the assorted armies. There were shaming moments, but on balance it seems that arrogant behaviour towards the Egyptians may have been more frequent among the commissioned than the other ranks. In the case of a pasha who was insulted beyond endurance by a very drunk officer, nemesis was brisk and condign. The oblivious offender was inveigled to the pasha’s house. Most would have kept quiet, Artemis Cooper observes, but he was soon telling everyone, “You’ll never guess what happened to me last night — dashed unpleasant. I got buggered by six Nubians.”

In spite of the strains on high, the diplomatic world, the military, the cosmopolitan, the purely decorative and the intellectual interwove to a surprising degree, and lasting friendships were formed. The contribution of Greeks such as Seferis, and transplanted Greece-addicts like Lawrence Durrell and Robin Fedden, were important here. Poets and writers teemed, and Personal Landscape, the Nilotic equivalent of Horizon, was impressive. The author unfolds the catalogue of personalities with humour and understanding, though she is unduly dismissive of Sir Charles Johnston: cf his sonnet “The Lock”, and his Pushkin translations. The only omissions I can spot are Elizabeth David, the painter Adrian Daintrey and the writer-painter Richard Wyndham. Perhaps she should have included an eccentric cavalryman called Colonel Wintle, who got into hot water for taking a surrendered Italian general to luncheon, in full uniform, at the Turf Club.

The book ends with the calamitous post-war aftermath. Like the abstruse anecdotes, the range and choice of the photographs will promote sighs of delighted recognition and occasional ground teeth, and it is hard to think, on finishing, how this demanding book could have been handled better, more lucidly or more entertainingly.

Related articles:

Sophie Moss Obituary from Daily Telegraph

One Man’s Great Game: Lieutenant Colonel “Billy” McLean

Lawrence Durrell and Patrick Leigh Fermor by Thos Henley

The Phoenix Land: The Memoirs of Count Miklós Bánffy

A reminder that Arcadia Books will be republishing Count Miklós Bánffy’s memoirs “The Phoenix Land” in June 2011. The book is already available for pre-order in bookshops such as Waterstones in the UK. and of course on Amazon. Arcadia first published this in 2004 and you can read a Spectator review here.

Bánffy’s memoirs were translated from the Hungarian by his daughter Katalin Bánffy-Jelen and Patrick Thursfield,winners of the Oxford Weidenfeld Translation Prize. Paddy once more offers a foreward. The blurb describes the book as follows:

“The thousand year-old year-old kingdom of Hungary, which formed the major part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the last Habsburg fled in 1918, was finally dismembered by the Western Allies by the terms of the peace treaties which followed the First World War. Phoenix-like the Hungarian people survived the horrors of war, the disappointment of the first socialist republic, the disillusion of the brief but terrifying communist rule of Béla Kun, and the bitterness of seeing their beloved country dismembered by the Treaty of Trianon. This is the world that Miklós Bánffy describes in The Phoenix Land.”

I contacted Gary Pulsifer at Arcadia for some further background and to ask him to explain more about why Bánffy is one of their authors. He sent me this, including a little vignette about Paddy and the writing of his introduction:

Tom, two reasons, one general, one specific. The first is that Arcadia specialises in translated fiction. The second is the story and this is it:

When I worked at Peter Owen Publishers I was invited to Tangier by the Hon David Herbert, one of Peter’s authors. He took my partner and me to lunch with his neighbour Patrick Thursfield, who as you know is the Bánffy co-translator. After lunch Patrick gave me the manuscript of THEY WERE COUNTED, which I read while I was on holiday, and was hooked. I tried to persuade Peter Owen to publish the trilogy, but no go, so when I started Arcadia in 1996 volume one was one of our early titles. I became quite close to Patrick, stayed with him in Tangier and saw a lot of him in London and he even once came along to the Frankfurt book fair. He was overjoyed when THEY WERE DIVIDED won the Weidenfeld Translation Prize (this happened at an awards ceremony in Oxford, when Umberto Eco presented the prize).

A funny aside is that Paddy’s forward was written in longhand and he came into our tiny offices to have Daniela de Groote, now our associate publisher, word-process it. Daniela, who is Chilean, hadn’t been in the UK all that long – she had been studying for a PhD here prior to working at Arcadia – and she had some difficulties in understanding Paddy’s upper crust accent as he dictated the foreword. Daniela was also catching a plane to Santiago that afternoon and the whole thing was a little much for her. So much so that I had to leave the office until they were finished . . .

Xan Fielding Obituary

I am reposting this obituary to Xan Fielding at this time as he was Paddy’s very good friend, the one to whom Paddy wrote his open letters at the start of A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water. Those who have found this site for the first time might wish to read about his friend. At the end is a special tribute written by Paddy.   I believe this to be the only on-line copy and it now includes newly discovered photographs.

==============================================================

After much searching I can bring you what I believe to be the only on-line obituary to Xan Fielding which I have retyped from the Daily Telegraph Second Book of Obituaries: Heroes and Adventurers. This includes a special tribute from Paddy to one of his closest friends.

First published in the Daily Telegraph 20 August 1991

Xan Fielding, the author, translator, journalist and adventurous traveller, who has died in Paris aged 72, lived a charmed life as a Special Operations Executive agent in Crete, France and the Far East during the Second World War.

Short, dark, athletic and a brilliant linguist, he was God’s gift to operations in rugged mountainous regions and wherever his languages were needed.

Major Fielding was awarded the DSO in September 1942, “for going into a town”, as he said later with a typical modesty.
He had a boyish, slightly rebellious spirit which he shared with many of his contemporaries in SOE. His self-confessed, or self-proclaimed, amateurishness certainly belied a tough professionalism, great resourcefulness and bravery in action. Fielding was the sort of man one would be happy to go into the jungle with.

While still in his early twenties he was responsible for clandestine and subversive activities in large areas of enemy-occupied Crete. He survived numerous encounters with German forces, only to be rumbled by the Gestapo in France towards the end of hostilities in Europe.

Even then his luck held. Locked in a death cell at Digne in 1944, he was “sprung” in an audacious move by Christine Granville (nee Krystyna Skarbeck) whose SOE exploits matched his.

Alexander Wallace Fielding was born at Ootacamund, India, on November 26 1918. His family had long links with the Raj and his father was a major in the 50th Sikhs.

Xan’s mother died at his birth and he was largely brought up at Nice, where his grandmother’s family had considerable property. Fluent in French, he subsequently became a proficient classicist at Charterhouse and then studied briefly at Bonn, Munich and Freiberg Universities in Germany. He saw what was happening in that country and was so shocked at the attitude of the Chamberlain government that he came close to joining the Communist party.

At the end of the 1930s Fielding – who had recently been sacked as a sub-editor on the Cyprus Times and was by now unsuccessfully running a bar – found himself a misfit in the Mediterranean colony. Colonial officials abhorred his refusal to adopt their disdainful description of Cypriots as “Cyps”. That he was also reasonably fluent in Greek rendered him suspect to district commissioners, who could not speak the language of the people they administered.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, haunted by the thought that he might find himself trapped in Cyprus for the duration, he fled to Greece and found asylum on St Nicholas, an island owned by the anthropologist, Francis Turville Petre. Fielding dreaded not so much the battlefield as joining the conventional officers’ mess. But eventually news of the fall of France, the Dunkirk evacuation and the Battle of Britain induced a “stab of guilt”.

He returned to the colony and was commissioned into the Cyprus Regiment, which appealed to him on account of its perverse refusal to have any regimental pride.

On hearing in Cairo that Cretans had taken up arms against the Germans, he yearned, as he wrote later, to help lead “this concerted uprising of the technically non-combatant”.

When Crete fell, Fielding was interviewed in Egypt by SOE. He was asked: “Have you any personal objection to committing murder?” His response being deemed acceptable, Fielding was put ashore in Crete with a load of weapons and explosives by Cdr “Crap” Miers, VC, skipper of the submarine Torbay.

Fielding, who had adopted the style and dress of a Greek highland peasant, was accompanied by a First World War veteran, who was inseparable from his solar topee and unrecognisable as the village schoolmaster he was supposed to impersonate.

Fortunately it was not long before he teamed up with the far more kindred spirit of Patrick Leigh Fermor. Sporting a royal blue waistcoat, lined with scarlet shot silk and embroidered with black arabesques – and singing folk songs in several languages – “Paddy” Leigh Fermor enlivened their meetings in desolate mountain hideouts.

Fielding understood the need for reliable intelligence and communications, and he daringly set up his headquarters near Crete’s northern coastal road in the proximity of German units. He experienced, as he put it, a childish excitement in “brushing shoulders with the Wehrmacht” in the corridors of the town hall when calling on the mayor of Crete’s capital, Canea. And he found it entertaining to attend parties given for the Germans by Cretan associates feigning fraternisation.

Operationally, Crete had become a massive transit camp to reinforce the Afrika Korps. Among his intelligence successes Fielding signalled the timetable of transports taking off from the airfield at Maleme, enabling the RAF to intercept them.

After six months he was picked up by a Greek submarine and given a breather in Cairo. This gave him a chance to niggle about the inaccuracy of RAF air drops.

As a result Fielding was invited to observe, from the front turret of a Wellington, a drop arranged for Leigh Fermor high up in the White Mountains. Considerably shaken by the experience – not least the anti-aircraft fire- he returned to the island by Greek submarine at the end of 1942 and never complained again.

Following the Crete mission, he parachuted into the south of France in the summer of 1944. Bearing papers announcing him as Armand Pont-Leve, a young clerk in the Electric Company of Nimes – but codenamed “Cathedrale” – Fielding was received by Francis Cammaerts (alias “Roger”) and also by Christine Granville.

Fielding found them an “imposing pair”. Still in uniform, he felt “rather like a novice in the presence of a prior and prioress”. The canister containing his civilian clothes, with poison pill sewn into the jacket, was missing and he felt something of a freak in the baggy Charlie Chaplin trouserings produced by “Roger”.

Shortly afterwards he was in the Cammaert’s car when it was stopped at a road block near Digne. Questions revealed that SOE staff in Algiers had failed to stamp a current date on his otherwise impeccable papers. Worse Fielding had split a large sum of French money between “Roger” and himself, and the enemy twigged that the notes were all in the same series.

Christine Granville was not with them and news of their arrests reached her on the Italian border. Earlier she had been arrested, but had managed to convince her German interrogators that she was a local peasant girl.

She arrived at Digne prison and passed herself off as “Roger’s” wife – and, for good measure, as a niece of Gen Montgomery. She persuaded an Alsatian named Albert Schenck, a liaison officer between the French prefecture and the German Siercherheitsdienst, to co-operate by reminding him that the Allies had already landed on the Riviera.

Schenck put Christine on to a Belgian, Max Waem, who agreed to help, though his price was two million francs. SOE in Algiers dropped the money in. As a result Fielding and “Roger” were led out of prison. Believing themselves on the way to be shot, they were astonished to be welcomed by Christine who was waiting with a car.

Fielding was awarded the Croix de Guerre in France in 1944. Before the war in Europe ended, he returned to Crete; he was one of the first into liberated Athens.

During the war Fielding would often pass through Cairo, which became a sort of SOE headquarters for the Mediterranean and Middle East, and meet up with kindred spirits such as David Smiley, “Billy” McLean (qv), Peter Kemp (qv) and Alan Hare. In 1945 they decided the place to be was the Far East. As Fielding put it: “I was at a loose end and wanted to see what was going on out there.”

He spent some months in Cambodia, with a Japanese driver fighting the Vietminh. Then came as six-month stint with the Special Intelligence Service in Germany, and an appointment as United Nations observer in the Balkans.

Peacetime, though, brought disillusionment and a disturbing sense of misgiving. But in 1948 an encounter with the Marchioness of Bath at what she described as an “hilarious lunch” predestined the course of much of the rest of his life. She had recently taken up photography in place of painting; he was planning a book on Crete. The upshot was that Daphne Bath accompanied his return to the White Mountains to illustrate the book. They married in 1953.

Xan and Daphne Fielding with Dirk Bogarde on the set of Ill Met by Moonlight

Soon there was another and more welcome distraction. Michael Powell was filming Ill Met by Moonlight – the story of Paddy Leigh Fermor’s wartime abduction of Gen Kreipe, the German commander in Crete – and Fielding was hired as technical adviser. Dirk Bogarde played Leigh Fermor and Fielding lent him his Cretan guerrilla’s cloak and coached him in the part.

Patrick Leigh Fermor writes: After an early essay at painting, Xan Fielding wandered to Greece and the islands, added Greek to his list of languages and acquired a lasting attachment to the Greeks.

His life took on an adventurous and peripatetic turn. Early in 1942 he was landed in plain clothes and by submarine in German-occupied Crete. Germany was in full advance on all fronts and Crete was a strongly galvanised Luftwaffe base for the Desert War. The mountains were full of stray British and Commonwealth soldiers who had broken out of PoW camps or been left behind after the Battle, a mortal danger to the Cretans who hid and fed them.

Gathering and evacuating them from remote caves was among Xan’s first tasks. Establishing a network of agents and signalling information back to Cairo came next followed by parachute drops to the growing guerrilla bands and the e organisation of sabotage, and propaganda while maintaining liaison with the island Resistance leaders.

Light and fine-boned when suitably cloaked and daggered, Xan could be taken for a Cretan. With his determination, humour and intuitive sympathy and his quick mastery of dialect and songs, he made countless friends, and worked there precariously for two years.

In 1944, the war moving west, he was dropped in the Vercors region to the French maquis. He returned to Crete for a final two months before the liberation, then headed for Cambodia on further SOE missions and spent some time on the Tibet border before returning to the West Bank in Greece.

Xan commanded a mixed Allied unit supervising the 1946 elections, and during prolonged leave in Rhodes, his friend Lawrence Durrell – who was press officer there – insisted on printing a set of Fielding’s poems, which make one wish he had written many more. Chafing at Oxford life as a demobilised undergraduate, he worked for a spell with the Beaverbrook Press and found it even less congenial.

These years were perplexed by tangled Dickensian lawsuits in Nice: family property had been unrecoverably misappropriated in the occupation. During that harassing time he wrote Hide and Seek, an exciting account of his experiences in Crete.

Soon after he married Daphne Bath, and they travelled all over the island (of Crete) for his long book The Stronghold, a combination of travel and history.

They first settled in Portugal. Then a long sojourn in the Kasbah of Tangier – perhaps inspired by the film Pepe le Moko – gave rise to his book Corsair Country, the history of the pirates of the Barbary Coast.

Near Uzez in Languedoc, their next long halt, his excellent French suggested translation as a profession and he put more than 30 books into English, including many by Larteguy and Chevalier, and Malrauz’s Les Noyers d’Altenborg [Ed: and perhaps better known Planet of the Apes and Bridge on the River Kwai]

After a friendly separation from Daphne he married Agnes (“Magouche”) Phillips, daughter of Adml John II Magruder, of the United States Navy. They were extremely happy.

Xan and Magouche took root in the Serriana de Ronda, which looks across Adalusian ilex-woods to the Atlas. There he edited the correspondence of his friend and neighbour, Gerald Brennan, with Ralph Partridge, and continued his translations.

Xan’s own book, The Money Spinner, about the Monaco casino – the hazards of gambling had always fascinated him – came out in 1977. Later, Winds of the World gave free rein to his interest in atmospheric commotions and their mythology.

In the winter of 1990 One Man and his Time appeared; it described the life, and the Asian, Ethiopian and Arabian travels, of his old friend “Billy” McLean (qv), the wartime commander of the SOE mission in Albania.

At almost the same time Xan was smitten by cancer and he and Magouche moved to Paris for therapy. Though fatally stricken for the last eight months, he was suddenly, three months ago, granted a reprise which exactly coincided with the ceremonies for the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Crete and the Resistance.

At a special parade of the Greek navy at Souda, he and six Allied officers were decorated with the commemorative medal of the Resistance, and for 10 days he visited scores of mountain friends from 50 years before. His return was everywhere greeted with feasting and songs.

Xan Fielding was a gifted, many-sided, courageous and romantic figure, deeply committed to this friends, civilised and bohemian at the same time, with a thoughtful style leavened by spontaneous gaiety and a dash of recklessness. He was altogether outstanding.

August 20 1991

Audible

Ox Travels: Meetings with Remarkable Travel Writers

Read some great travel stories by some of the best travel writers, including Paddy’s account of the Black Sea cave, and help Oxfam projects at the same time. Introduction by Michael Palin.

As the Oxfam website says ….

“OxTravels is our fantastic new compilation of short travel stories, produced in collaboration with Profile Books and Hay Festival.

When Britain’s most lively, critical and thought-provoking travel writers are asked to recall a significant encounter – one that has enriched them as a writer – the result is a book that will broaden everyone’s horizons. In the words of Michael Palin, who introduces the book, “It’s impossible to read their contributions without wanting to go and get the rucksack out.”

OxTravels has a stellar line-up of contributors. Featuring stories from Paul Theroux, Patrick Leigh-Fermor, Colin Thubron, Dervla Murphy, Chris Stewart, Victoria Hislop, William Dalrymple and thirty other leading travel writers.

Its RRP is £9.99, but Oxfam shops have a special price of £8.99! All the writers have donated their royalties to Oxfam and all proceeds go towards funding Oxfam’s work fighting poverty and suffering around the world. Ox-Tales, OxTravels’ predecessor, raised more than £130,000 for our work!

For a review of Ox Travels click here.

Related article:

The mystery of the Black Sea cave 

Obituary: Jock Murray

Jock Murray in 1983 (Mercer photography)

by Patrick Leigh Fermor

First published in The Independent 24 July 1993

John Arnaud Robin Grey (Jock Murray), publisher: born 23 September 1908; MBE 1945, CBE 1975; Senior Director, John Murray 1968-93; married 1939 Diana James (two sons, two daughters); died London 22 July 1993.

JOCK MURRAY took such trouble about his authors, and in so many ways, and so unobtrusively, that perhaps they – or we , for I am one of them – were inclined to take it for granted, writes Patrick Leigh Fermor. But not quite: other publishers at home or abroad – not that I know much about them as I have only had one – would remind us now and then of our luck and our spoiled and privileged estate. This was because of Jock’s passionate interest in the work of his authors, his great kindness, and his gift for friendship. Nobody, in the Doctor Johnson sense, kept his friendships in a state of better repair.

It is hard to think of a more apt setting for him than No 50 Albemarle Street, with its beautiful rooms, and portraits and books and cases of mementoes, and its mixture of archaic style and informality, of activity and unhurried leisure. The traditions of Byron’s friendship with Jock Murray’s ancestor played a great part in the life of No 50, and the poet’s spirit seems to pervade those rooms. Looking through typescript, then galleys then page proofs there with Jock was a great delight. Especially when they were tossed aside to make room for tea or sherry or whisky and soda, and Osbert Lancaster on the way back from drawing his daily caricature would wander in full of marvellous gossip; or Kenneth Clark with an armful of illustrations or John Betjeman with news of a new Early English discovery in some remote Fenland parish – could they talk about it with John Piper? (Betjeman and Jock shared an expert knowledge of campanology.)

Cannon Lodge, halfway between Hampstead Heath and a slender steeple, with its Keats’-eye view of all London, had a similar uncontemporary charm. At the end of a day of last- minute corrections, under one of the tall trees, or by a blazing fire, any of the above might come to dinner, or Freya Strak fresh from Asia Minor, Ruth Jhabvala from Rajasthan or Dervla Murphy from the Andes and, very often, Jock and Diana’s favourite neighbour, Peggy Ashcroft.

Jock and Diana came several times to Greece and it was a great surprise to discover that Jock was an accomplished tree surgeon: one glance at an ailing growth would send him shinning up into the branches and putting things most knowledgeably to right with saw, twine, bast and tar.

Five weeks ago we were talking about the ravages of time that we noticed in ourselves and he said, halfway between a sigh and a laugh, ‘Yes. Old age is not for sissies.’ He confronted his own with great Stoicism, and leaves us all diminished.

The Phoenix Land: The Memoirs of Count Miklós Bánffy

I am just ten tantalising pages away from the end of Miklós Bánffy’s Transylvanian Trilogy (They Were Counted, They Were Found Wanting and They Were Divided) published by Arcadia books. If I have time I will write a short review very soon.The books are lively, and Bánffy writes so well about love, life, and politics in Transylvania and Hungary in the ten years leading up to the start of World War One, an event which was to tear apart the lives of so many, and which ended the comfortable existence of Hungarian aristocracy in Transylvania.

The story will almost certainly end in tragedy and sadness but that does not deflect from from what Patrick Leigh Fermor describes in his foreward to the Trilogy as a story that is “beyond question, dramatic.”.

One cannot read these books without wanting to know more about the author whom Paddy characterises as “such a deeply civilised man.”

The good news is that very soon we shall be able to do so once more when Arcadia Books re-publish Bánffy’s memoirs “The Phoenix Land”. Due for publication on 23 June 2011 the book is already available for pre-order in bookshops such as Waterstones in the UK. Arcadia first published this in 2004 and you can read a Spectator review here.

Bánffy’s memoirs were once again translated from the Hungarian by his daughter Katalin Bánffy-Jelen and Patrick Thursfield,winners of the Oxford Weidenfeld Translation Prize. Paddy once more offers a foreward. The blurb describes the book as follows:

The thousand year-old year-old kingdom of Hungary, which formed the major part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the last Habsburg fled in 1918, was finally dismembered by the Western Allies by the terms of the peace treaties which followed the First World War. Phoenix-like the Hungarian people survived the horrors of war, the disappointment of the first socialist republic, the disillusion of the brief but terrifying communist rule of Béla Kun, and the bitterness of seeing their beloved country dismembered by the Treaty of Trianon. This is the world that Miklós Bánffy describes in The Phoenix Land.

In preparing this post I contacted Gary Pulsifer at Arcadia for some further background and to ask him to explain more about why Bánffy is one of their authors. He sent me this, including a little vignette about Paddy and his introduction:

Tom, two reasons, one general, one specific.  The first is that Arcadia specialises in translated fiction. The second is the story and this is it:

When I worked at Peter Owen Publishers I was invited to Tangier by the Hon David Herbert, one of Peter’s authors.  He took my partner and me to lunch with his neighbour Patrick Thursfield, who as you know is the Bánffy co-translator.  After lunch Patrick gave me the manuscript of THEY WERE COUNTED, which I read while I was on holiday, and was hooked.  I tried to persuade Peter Owen to publish the trilogy, but no go, so when I started Arcadia in 1996 volume one was one of our early titles.  I became quite close to Patrick, stayed with him in Tangier and saw a lot of him in London and he even once came along to the Frankfurt book fair.  He was overjoyed when THEY WERE DIVIDED won the Weidenfeld Translation Prize (this happened at an awards ceremony in Oxford, when Umberto Eco presented the prize).

A funny aside is that Paddy’s forward was written in longhand and he came into our tiny offices to have Daniela de Groote, now our associate publisher, word-process it.  Daniela, who is Chilean, hadn’t been in the UK all that long – she had been studying for a PhD here prior to working at Arcadia – and she had some difficulties in understanding Paddy’s upper crust accent as he dictated the foreword.  Daniela was also catching a plane to Santiago that afternoon and the whole thing was a little much for her.  So much so that I had to leave the office until they were finished . . .

You may enjoy browsing the current Arcadia 2011 catalogue which is here as a pdf.

Arcadia_2011

Related articles:

Paddy’s Introduction to the Transylvanian Trilogy by Miklos Banffy

If food be the music of love … Bánffy’s lover in Cluj (Kolozsvár)

If food be the music of love … Bánffy’s lover in Cluj (Kolozsvár)

I am currently reading two books. The first is a little known series that Paddy contributed to in 1962 about which I will say more very soon. The second is volume two of Bánffy’s trilogy. I am convinced of the semi-autobiographical nature of these books and I have become obsessed with trying to find the house in Cluj of the married woman, Adrienne, who becomes the lover of the hero Balint.

There are many clues, including street names, but Bánffy has been able to mix fact and fiction, and what is more, many of the street names have been changed from the traditional Hungarian to new Romanian names since 1918. I was discussing this with one of my work colleagues in Cluj, Boglarka Ronai, and I happened to say that I was convinced that Bánffy also had a lover in Cluj, and that Adrienne’s house in the story may have been based on this woman’s house.

We are not sure about the house part, but Bánffy did indeed have a long-term lover in Cluj, and Boglarka sent me the following article about her: Baroness Elemér Bornemissza née Karola Szilvássy. Quite bizarrely it is about a cookbook that she wrote. What is interesting is how the writer of the article positions the contributors to the cookbook within the context of the decline of the Hungarian nobility of Transylvania, and in some cases this had tragic endings. It was into this world that Paddy walked in 1934 as he enjoyed his long summer in Hungary and then Transylvania. I have not had the time to cross-check, but Paddy may well have met some of the characters mentioned in the article and written about them in “Between the Woods and the Water“. Many of those mentioned in the article were writers and members of a Hungarian-Transylvanian writer’s group, the Erdélyi Helikon. In the picture below I believe Count Miklós Bánffy can be seen second right sitting on the chairs.

Photo made at the second Erdélyi Helikon meeting at Marosvécs in 1927 (Banffy seated second from right?)

Here is the article by Iván Bächer from the Hungarian Quarterly. If ayone knows any more about the story or the people involved please get in touch with me:  tsawford[at]btinternet.com

The Taste of Old Transylvania

Baroness Elemér Bornemissza: Kipróbált receptek (Proven Recipes). Edited and with an Introduction by Ildikó Marosi. Csíkszereda–Budapest, Pallas—Akadémia Könyvkiadó, 1998, 153 pp.

A friend of mine brought a heartrending cookery book from Transylvania. At first sight the slim little volume looked ordinary enough; I expected some amusing oddity when I picked it up and read the name of the author—Baroness Elemér Bornemissza née Karola Szilvássy—and the title: Proven Recipes.

The cover showed a copperplate print of Marosvécs in the last century—I was able to identify it by the four sturdy corner towers. This Renaissance building on the site of the Roman castrum was, until recently, in the possession of the Kemény family—the descendants of János Kemény (1607–1662), Prince of Transylvania, who had fought the Turks and had been abandoned by the Habsburgs and Montecuccoli.

When I read the first recipe, I still thought I would be treated to a bit of “blue-blooded” diversion. Who in their right mind could take a recipe of Goose-liver paté à la Salzburg seriously, which requires three whole goose livers, of which two have to be soaked in lukewarm milk overnight, then fried with onions and white bread rolls previously also soaked in milk, then pounded in a mortar, pressed through a sieve, mixed with finely sliced truffles which had been soaked in sugared wine, then with more wine added, with cloves and pepper, and the whole mixture finely layered with the third goose liver, which had been fried, cut into thin slices, and then the whole thing finished in a hot oven.

Who would have time for all that today?

It was only when I read the foreword of more than thirty pages and then went through the recipes that my heart suddenly sank. Every single recipe permeated the air with transcience and death. What I held in my hand was the frozen, fossilized evidence of a social class, a culture and a world, which have been obliterated from the face of the Earth.

This class was the Hungarian aristocracy of Transylvania, which, as well as distinguishing itself in the culinary arts, maintained an extremely rich Hungarian tradition, culture and literature.

As Ildikó Marosi’s Introduction reveals, the book is the first publication of a hand-written cookery book. Besides being a fascinating document, an original collection of recipes found among the estate of János Kemény, the last titled resident of Marosvécs, it is invaluable also because in the case of most of the recipes the author also names the source: when and where the baroness had learned the secrets of preparing the dish concerned. And if we use Ildikó Marosi’s guide to keep track of the sources, then the book will, indeed, make heartrending reading.

Let’s get a foretaste of the names of people who cooked for Hungarian writers, poets and editors in Transylvania between the two world wars.

The author of the cookery book was Baroness Bornemissza née Karola Szil-vássy, daughter of the landowner Béla Szilvássy and Baroness Antónia Wass.

Karola’s character was captured in two novels by two twentieth-century Transylvanian writers of aristocratic blood, Count Miklós Bánffy (1874–1950) and Baron János Kemény (1903–1971).

Ever since her youth, Karola was a stunningly beautiful, unbridled and proud woman with a passion for fine food as well as for interesting, eccentric and talented people. She liked to have excitement around her, and when there were no scandals at hand, she personally intervened to remedy the situation. For many years, Karola had a housekeeper, who had been a convicted murderer’s lover, and whom she took into her house along with the hanged man’s child. Accompanied by one of her friends, herself a baroness, Karola travelled to South Africa—on rail, by boat and on a donkey—to erect a tombstone for her cousin, Albert Wass, who had died there while fighting for the Boers.

This extraordinary woman had a difficult time to find herself a husband; eventually she married Baron Elemér Borne- missza, but the marriage was a failure, and their only child died, so they lived separately, with Karola receiving a handsome allowance from her husband.

Between the two world wars, Karola made herself the heart and soul of the Kemény Zsigmond Society of Marosvásárhely, the publishing house Erdélyi Szépmives Céh, and the magazine Erdélyi Helikon. (Erdély is the Hungarian name of Transylvania.)

The society, which bore the name of the Kemény family’s greatest son, the novelist and liberal thinker Zsigmond Kemény, was formed after the writer’s death in 1876, and functioned until 1944. It acquired a unique role after Transylvania’s annexation by Romania in 1918, organizing and rallying the Hungarian writers and maintaining links with the mother country.

Erdélyi Szépmíves Céh was the most prestigious book publisher in interwar Transylvania, and Erdélyi Helikon, the magazine started by János Kemény, was published by them.

The writers who were associated with the publisher and the magazine—Károly Kós, Aladár Kuncz, Károly Molter, Jenoý Dsida, Benoý Karácsony and many others—annually gathered in János Kemény’s château in Marosvécs. On these occasions, Karola’s attendance could always be taken for granted, and all the memoirs name her as the spirit of the company. (below Karola is fourth from right)

In the castle park (Marosvécs?) 1942 From left to right: István Asztalos, László Szabédi, Albert Wass, Karola Bornemissza, Elemérné Szilvássy, Gizella Kemény, Berenice Kemény, Jánosné Kemény

In this way, Karola, the compiler of our cookery book, was at the centre of Transylvanian literary life, and her kitchen produced, from “proven recipes”, the fine food enjoyed by the writers and editors. Continue reading

Paddy Reviews “Along the Enchanted Way: A Romanian Story “

Paddy reviews  William Blacker’s book about his eight years living in rural Romania and is so inspired he let’s himself go “sends (my) thoughts winging back to earlier Moldavian scenes – to ghostly hospodars with their nearly mythical princesses in tall branched crowns, trooping around the walls of fortress-monasteries in frescoed processions.”

First published in the Sunday Telegraph 30 August 2009

Along the Enchanted Way: A Romanian Story

By William Blacker

‘Transylvania, the Banat of Temesvar, the Tatra mountains, Bukovina, Moravia, Bohemia, Wallachia, Moldavia, Bessarabia, the Carpathian range, the Maramures …’ these were the place-names in East Europe where William Blacker, a young, civilised and erudite traveller, hoped to settle and take root. The last of the names (pronounced Maramooresh) is a precipitous and ravishing Romanian region, where Blacker made his life-determining plunge into Europe, immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

The moment it fell, he headed for Dresden and then Prague, then further east still; he was in search of an older and wilder Europe. Soon he was hobnobbing with the descendants of Saxon families, brought there eight centuries earlier by Bela of Hungary to guard his eastern frontier from the Tartars, a transplanting which had changed everything. Seven western medieval cities had sprung up, monasteries and churches had followed, and the whole apparatus of the Middle Ages had come into being in the Carpathians.

An elderly Saxon couple took Blacker under their wing on sight, so did many others. The story teems with odd characters. One of them is an engaging, dissolute descendant of a Hungarian family who is the father of two fascinatingly beautiful girls, with a Romanian gipsy mother, with both of whom in succession William fell in love. Apart from their spirits and fine looks, these girls brought with them the whole geist of the gipsy world – its dialects, its manifold skills, its amazing singing and dancing and magic and, of course, as a tribe, its challenging knack of being forever at odds with the civic authorities. The wandering of their ancestors had brought the gipsies all the way from north-west India, through Persia and Egypt and the Levant, and scattered them over the West.

It was not just the Saxons and the gipsies that fascinated the new arrival. The Romanian influence proved equally strong. With the Magyar language to the west and Slavonic to the north and the south, and the Black Sea to the east, the Romanians speak the only Latin language in Eastern Europe, and they are proud of this linguistic heirloom. In AD 103 Trajan led his legions over his great Danube bridge, defeated King Decebalus and added the Dacian kingdom to the Roman Empire and the bas-relief of his victory was sent spiralling above his Forum in Rome and stands there still.

Romania is an extraordinary country. I remember it with great clarity, when I was 19, trudging from Holland to the Bosporus, those unending beech forests where the brooks fell from ledge to ledge, gathered in pools, or tumbled in waterfalls, where one could sleep in clearings among hollowed tree-trunks or ‘swing wells’ and scores of lambs, and be woken up by an old shepherd blowing down a bronze horn three yards long, a half-muffled and half- echo sound, like the trumpets of Tibetan shepherds. It was a world of icicles, birds calling, hayricks and scythes.

Perhaps to balance the complexities of his two love affairs, Blacker threw himself into raising funds for the upkeep and repair of the ancient buildings he had settled among. Like his friends, he was outfitted in rough white homespun and the padded and cross- gartered cowhide moccasins – opinci – which the upland shepherds wear all year.

William, who grew up on the South Downs and the north country and Ireland, brings all the skills of his unfettered upbringing to bear on Romania – horse-breaking, tree felling, haymaking and rick building – which, with a passion for the classics and literature and history, seem to have been a perfect run-in to this strange chapter of his life.

The rigours of snow covered the whole of his first winter. It was a time of rugging up soon after the early sunset and diving straight under the blankets and into The Brothers Karamazov and Anna Karenina by lamplight; in a later season the day would end with rowdy evenings at the Krcma – drinking tavern – of amazing dancing and song. I wonder if some of the evenings revolved, as in my young days, around a klaka of a hundred crones in a barn, all with spindles and distaffs and an endless gift for storytelling? One had to look out for the prints of wolves and bears on the way home.

This is a wild and captivating story, ending in great thanks to his neighbours in Maramures and Sighisoara – we are spared Vlad the Impaler – and also to his parents, who gave him such free reign in childhood. William Blacker has written a book close to this reviewer’s heart, and sends thoughts winging back to earlier Moldavian scenes – to ghostly hospodars with their nearly mythical princesses in tall branched crowns, trooping around the walls of fortress-monasteries in frescoed processions. With a change of pace these are followed by the author and his swarm of friends in a cantering troop of near-Lippizaners through the autumn beech woods. Nowadays it looks as though he might branch out much further south – down, down into Italy where, historically speaking, his nearest apposite neighbour might be Lars Porsenna of Clusium.

Paddy recalls his time on set with Errol Flynn and Orson Welles for The Roots of Heaven

Errol Flynn in The Roots of Heaven

In 1958, Patrick Leigh Fermor wrote the script for the film The Roots of Heaven, produced by Darryl Zanuck and directed by John Huston. In 2001, he recalled some of his time spent on location, during the shooting of the film:

‘The heroine of the film was Juliette Gréco, to whom Darryl [Zanuck] was deeply attached. I had seen her earlier, spinning round dance floors like a beautiful raven-haired mermaid in caverns full of jiving existentialists in St.-Germain-des-Prés. She was very well read, loved literature, and was full of interesting and amusing stories about Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. She was a friend, too, of Raymond Queneau, whose books I had a passion for, and we shared a taste for the poems of Jacques Prévert. We became close friends, and still are.

After three weeks, we flew to Bangui, in what was then still French Equatorial Africa but was soon to become the realm of the wicked Emperor Bokassa. The little town clustered on the north bank of the Obangui River, a tributary of the Congo, and on the edge of a dense rain forest full of elephants—our main theme. A race of intelligent smiling pygmies dwelt there, armed with bows and arrows, twangling cheerfully on strange stringed instruments known as equatorial pianos.

John Huston and Darryl Zannuck on location

One day a small party of us were waiting for a canoe to take us somewhere, when a large crocodile was spotted, basking on an island in mid-stream. John [Huston], on the alert at once, dashed to his quarters and returned with a weapon about the size of a Bren gun, opened the front struts, flung himself down, took careful aim, and fired. The bullet kicked up a puff of sand just above the reptile, which leapt into the water and swam vigorously downstream. John got up, ejected the shell, and said, “Well, he’ll thrash around for a quarter-hour or so, maybe twenty minutes. But that’s a dead croc, kids.” The phrase gained immediate currency, sometimes altered to “That’s a dead kid, crocs.”

There were a lot of late parties, and at one of them—the last, as it turned out—I remember John singing “Johnny, I Hardly Knew You” and “The Streets of Laredo” with captivating verve. In the end, oblivious of forest dangers, I fell asleep under a baobab tree and woke up at dawn criss-crossed with hundreds of spiders, like the captured Gulliver in Lilliput.

On the last day of filming in the forest, enormous black clouds gathered and then broke in a deluge. Instantly soaked to the skin, we drove slithering and sliding back to Bangui and its one hotel, a modern skyscraper soaring above the treetops like an upended mouth organ. Indoors, the lights fused as we entered, and the floor was nearly a foot deep under a gleaming mattress of broken-off termites’ wings. A hundred termite-eating frogs were leaping in parabolas among their prey, and Juliette’s mongoose was whisking about in this sudden abundance with frogs’ legs sticking out of its jaws on both sides, peering round for more. The thunder sounded as though the sky were breaking in half, and the shuddering flashes of lightning lit up a vision of diluvial apocalyptic pandemonium.

Juliet Greco, Errol Flynn and Trevor Howard

The next day we were back on the Champs-Élysées and the rue de Rivoli.’

-recorded in ‘A Visit with Patrick Leigh Fermor,’ by Ben Downing, in The Paris Review, no. 165. From this website.

Related article:

Patrick Leigh Fermor scriptwriter for The Roots of Heaven

A Meeting between Paddy and George Psychoundakis the “Cretan Runner”

 

George Psychoundakis in 2004(?)

A bond deeper than blood. The friendship forged in wartime Crete between Patrick Leigh Fermor and shepherd George Psychoundakis was commemorated in George’s memoir about the Resistance, The Cretan Runner. With the book republished, it was time to meet again.

by Allison Pearson

First published in The Daily Telegraph, Saturday 13th June 1998

Two old men sitting at a table talking about the war. A Cretan and an Englishman. A voluble eye-popping tenor and a growly teddy-bear bass. “Remember the sick doctor we disguised as an old woman and carried for miles to get help?” “Yes, and remember when you dressed up as a general and kidnapped a real one!”

They interrupt each other. They sigh for the dead. They laugh for dear life, knowing exactly how much it can cost. Although one of the men speaks only Greek, I think I can detect a rhythm to their reminiscing: the Cretan talks everything up and the Englishman plays it right back down again. The sudden memory of one “bad Greek” acts on the Cretan’s weathered face like a drawstring, pulling it taut to a scowling walnut. But the Englishman, all silky diplomacy, jumps in and offers a more optimistic assessment of the fiend in question: “I think he just lost his head a bit.”

Later, when the Cretan mentions the Englishman’s name in the course of what sounds like a pretty fulsome tribute, his friend stops translating for me altogether. What did he say? “He was more than kind about me.” Yes, but what did he say? “Oh, I couldn’t possibly repeat it.”

The bashful Briton is Patrick “Paddy” Leigh Fermor, traveller, scholar- gypsy, war hero and writer of genius. His fiery friend is George Psychoundakis, author of The Cretan Runner, an extraordinary account of the anti- Nazi Resistance on the island, which was translated by Leigh Fermor and is now republished.

The Cretan Runner

There have been other memoirs of wartime Crete, such as Xan Fielding’s Hide and Seek and Ill Met by Moonlight, W Stanley Moss’s record of the kidnapping of General Kreipe (later made into a movie, with Dirk Bogarde assigned to fill Leigh Fermor’s dashing boots). But those were visitors’ books. George’s story, as Leigh Fermor points out in the introduction, is unique. It is no longer the locals who are colourful aliens, but the Allied officers and their wireless operators – good sorts and good sports in the main but, none the less, foreigners with some very dodgy customs. “A most peculiar man,” George says of one buffer. “He had pyjamas and a washbasin.”

Even more baffling for the Cretans, who think Nature is a place where you go and shoot things, the buffer turned out to be an amateur botanist and geologist: “He was not only in love with different kinds of weeds but with stones as well.”

Paddy and I have been sitting in the front room of George’s small vine-clad house, outside Khania in western Crete, for more than two hours now. At least one of us is reeling under the bombardment of Cretan hospitality. Celestial cheese tarts made by Sofia, George’s wife, have given way to nuts, glistening sweetmeats and, as if that weren’t enough, shots of tsikoudia, a spirit so lethal it feels less like drinking a liquid than sipping scalded air. After three of these, I am not entirely sure whether the spools on my tape recorder are going round: after four, I don’t care.

George – one eye sleepy, the other coal black with embers of mischief – is joking about whether he should have given lessons in sheep stealing (a local speciality) to one of the wireless operators. “So when he got back to Scotland he could have organised sheep rustling.” Paddy pretends, unconvincingly, to be shocked.

Through the window behind them, you can see the White Mountains – a range so towering and snowy, even on this May day, that it is hard to tell where rock stops and cloud begins. More than half a century ago, those slopes were Paddy and George’s stamping-ground. “George’s life was dangerous and absolutely exhausting,” explains Paddy. But George is having none of it: “I felt as if I were flying. Running all the way from the top of the White Mountains to Mount Ida. So light and easy – just like drinking a cup of coffee.”

George has difficulty walking now – at 78 he leans on a stick as gnarled as himself – but his mind can leap from memory to memory, as if he were still flying. I ask George what he thought the British had learnt from the Cretans and vice versa. “What they learnt, because there was very little to eat, was to drink a lot and to dance and to shoot for joy in the air. We saw how much they loved our country and it made us love it still more. The fact that they loved Crete so much gave us even greater courage.”

The first time George Psychoundakis met Patrick Leigh Fermor he thought he was very tall. The young Cretan had just crawled on all fours through thick bushes into the heap of boulders where the officer was hiding. In fact, the Englishman was not especially lofty (a touch over 5ft 9in, according to his passport). It was the Greek who was tiny. “As fine-boned as an Indian,” recalls Leigh Fermor. “Lithe and agile and full of nervous energy.”

Anyway, height didn’t matter much back then. It was the July of 1942 in occupied Crete and the stature of men was not measured in inches, rather in a bewildering range of abilities. These included: keeping cool when a member of the Gestapo approaches your mule while it is carrying a combustible load of wheat and wireless; keeping warm in a cave-bed with a canopy of stalactites; and finding the courage to tuck into a dinner of local produce – grass cooked with snails. “We took the grass blade by blade, picked off the broken shells and ate it with much laughter,” recalls George.

Psychoundakis was a runner for the Resistance – a vertical postman, he delivered messages and equipment at barely credible speed. On a map, Crete doesn’t look too daunting – a sirloin steak beaten to a succulent sliver by a butcher. But it rises so sharply into such broken-toothed cragginess that it is pointless to measure it in miles: the islanders calculate distances in the time taken to smoke cigarettes. George’s wartime business was mainly conducted at eagle-height, or as he felt his way down the vertebrae of his homeland towards some hiding place where even goats didn’t dare.

He was 21 years old when he first met the 27-year-old Leigh Fermor. George addressed Paddy as Michali (all the Allied soldiers had Greek nicknames) or sometimes Mr Michali in half-amused respect (irreverence being the key to the Psychoundakis psyche). Paddy, meanwhile, code- named George either the Clown or the Changeling, for his cockeyed wit, his impish insubordination and a magical ability to spirit himself out of trouble.

Patrick Paddy Leigh Fermor and Billy Moss

The two men were not just worlds apart: a glance at their biographies suggests you would need to hire a time machine to bring them together. Born in Asi Gonia, a village with a long history of giving invaders a hard time (asi is Arabic for uncommandable), George lived the kind of peasant life that had not changed for centuries. His family slept together in a single room with a beaten earth floor. After a scratchy education at the local primary school, he followed his father on to the mountains as a shepherd. By the time German parachutes blotted out the sky in May 1941, he had visited only two of Crete’s towns and had never seen the capital, Heraklion.

By contrast, Leigh Fermor was born into a smart Anglo-Irish family and educated at prep school and King’s, Canterbury. [Just like someone else we know] By 1939, he had walked across every country between London and Constantinople – a stroll commemorated in his two dazzling volumes, A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water – and also appeared to have drunk in most of their national literatures.

Scrape through what Leigh Fermor called his “Fauntleroy veneer”, though, and you find a rougher grain. With his parents abroad for the first four years of his life, Paddy was entrusted to the family of a small farmer and, left uncultivated, he ran wild. The experience, he later wrote, “unfitted me for the faintest shadow of constraint”. His behaviour at a flurry of schools led to his being sent to two psychiatrists, although it is unlikely that either rivalled Paddy’s clinical diagnosis of himself as “a very naughty boy”. He was finally expelled from King’s for crimes that included “trying to be funny” and holding the hand of a greengrocer’s daughter. His housemaster’s report noted: “He is a dangrous mixture of sophistication and recklessness, which makes one anxious about his influence on other boys.”

Almost 70 years later, I find it hard to improve on that verdict, save to replace the word dangerous with delightful. As it turned out, his influence on other boys was all to the good, and the most remarkable boy of all was George Psychoundakis.

While Paddy was in Kent writing “bad and imitative verse” and lapping up ancient Greek because it was a passport to a world of heroes, George was scavenging books from the village priest and the doctor, and occupying the long woolly hours by the sheepfold composing patriotic poems and beady skits on local life. (An early effort entitled Ode to an Inkspot on a Schoolmistress’s Skirt sounds distinctly Paddy-like in its high- flown cheekiness).

Although George’s father, Nicolas, was illiterate, he could recite by heart the whole of the Erotocritos, the 17th-century Cretan epic poem that comprises 10,000 lines of rhyming couplets. And the rhythm lodged in the son’s head and on his tongue: poetry to these people was not the object of solemn study but a spur to the spinning of legends and the cue for a bloody good song.

George Psychoundakis during the Resistance

Which is to say that when the ragged and practically barefoot Cretan wriggled into the hiding-place of the Englishman in 1942, they had more in common than an enemy. George spoke only one perfect sentence of English – “I steal grapes every day” – but Paddy soon extended his repertoire. On long marches to the coast to meet supply vessels or during the dark hours awaiting a parachute drop, the Britons taught the Greeks folk-songs and the Greeks taught them mantinadas – waspish local couplets with a sting in the tail.

On their first trek together, Paddy recalls how George recited a poem he had written on the unambitious theme of The Second World War So Far. “It covered the invasion of Poland, the fall of France, the German invasion of Greece and Rommel’s final advance. It lasted more than two hours and finished on a note of triumphant optimism and presage of vengeance, which he emphasised by borrowing my pistol and firing it into the sky with the remark that we would soon be eating the cuckolds alive.”

Leigh Fermor, meanwhile, attempted to satisfy Psychoundakis’s ravenous curiosity about the world. What was Churchill like? Why do the Scots wear kilts? How about astronomy, religion, trains? How many sheep does the average Englishman own?

The task of the British Special Operations Executive in Crete was to assist the local Resistance. Having spent centuries in revolt against the Venetians and the Turks, the islanders didn’t actually need much encouragement. During the airborne invasion in 1941, when many young Cretans were away on active service, descending parachutists were met by old men, women and children – by anyone, in fact, who could point upwards and shoot. “Aim for the legs and you’ll get them in the heart,” ran the local wisdom. Four thousand Germans died. Those who survived took swift revenge. Reprisals, read one Wehrmacht memo, “must be carried through with exemplary terror”. Between May and September of that year, 1,135 Cretans were executed.

The Cretan Runner begins with the invasion. “Out of the sky the winged devils of Hitler were falling everywhere … the aeroplanes came and went like bees in a bee-garden.” One grounded plane is set upon by furious locals till it resembles “a bit of bread thrown on to an ant-hill”. From the opening pages, you get a pungent impression of the Psychoundakis style – a vertiginous mix of the epic and the demotic, the Homeric and the homely. Of the enemy, George writes: “They reached to our very bowels and provoked a storm in the soul of the race like the hiss of a poisonous snake about to strike.” No British account of the battle of Crete could contain a sentence like that. Too purple. Too embarrassing, frankly. But it feels utterly true to George and the hot-blooded rhetoric of his race.

Perhaps the greatest surprise of a book that documents the burning of villages, the casual slaughter of comrades and a life of mesmerising danger is how often it makes you smile. No stranger to hardship anyway, George embraces discomfort as though it were a shy friend with a lot to offer. We see George at the end of a knackering three-day trek using pieces of wood to mime someone hobbling. We hear him enthusing over yet another dank hiding-place as though he were writing for some actionable travel brochure: “The cave was perfect. We collected our drinking and washing water from stalactites. We arranged luxurious couches for ourselves from the branches of various shrubs that were better than the softest mattress!”

Best of all, there is George richly enjoying his British friends, not least their congenital inability to walk over the rocky landscape. (In one incident, Leigh Fermor threw himself pluckily at a high stone wall in emulation of local bravado, only to fall off backwards: the Cretans in the party walked around the side of the wall, shaking their heads and laughing.)

SOE officer Ralph Stockbridge (centre, in the spectacles) with some of his comrades in Crete

“It was plain that George was enraptured with the excitement of our secret life,” says Paddy. The same could be said of all of them, I think. As a boy Leigh Fermor confessed to being guilty of “a bookish attempt to coerce life into a closer resemblance to literature”. In this case, the literature was Greek. The Cretans, for their part, seemed all too willing to live up to the legends the Englishmen had imbibed at school. Most battles look romantic only in retrospect, if then: Crete was different. It seems to have struck its leading men as touched with an air of romance, even as the drama was unfolding. As they approached by boat on a moonless night, the first the soldiers knew of the island was perfume, the scent of wild thyme that wafts miles out to sea.

Once on shore, they changed into local costume – breeches, black bandanas, embroidered waistcoats and spiffy jackboots. There were lessons in how to curl their new moustaches. They were an extraordinary bunch – poets, archaeologists, free spirits thirsty for adventure. SOE chose them because they had some knowledge of ancient Greek. But, as Leigh Fermor explains, since Greek was no longer compulsory at school, those who opted for it had already marked themselves out as “a perverse and eccentric minority”.

I cannot get enough of the photographs of the Resistance taken through those years in the mountains. Remember, these are snapshots captured at a time when to have a likeness of yourself in existence was itself a threat to that existence. There is the legendary Xan “Aleko” Fielding, looking uncannily like the young Hemingway. Gimlet-eyed and bare- chested, he regards the lens with Olympian amusement. And there is Yanni Tsangarakis, one of the bravest and most trusted guides, slightly woebegone behind a Zebedee moustache, and the redoubtable Manoli Paterakis, whose unforgettable profile suggests he may have been the love-child of Montgomery of Alamein and a peregrine falcon. [I think he’s trying to say he was nasally overendowed]

Looking at the smiley countenance of Tom Dunbabin – a fellow of All Souls in peacetime – you can see why he inspired such love; ditto the gaunt saintly faces of Aleko Kokonas, the schoolmaster of Yerakari, and his wife, Kyria Maria. And then, of course, there are Paddy and George: the first as debonair and unfeasibly handsome as Errol Flynn casting about for a galleon to capture; the second apparently auditioning for the role of Puck.

In Louis de Bernieres’s novel Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, set in wartime Cephalonia, there is a posh Englishman who lives in a cave and comes out declaiming ancient Greek. He is a bit of a joke. And, to be sure, there is something potentially laughable about the Boy’s Own aspect of all this dressing up and blowing stuff up. What redeems it from absurdity, what transforms it into real rather than fantastical heroism, is the nagging presence of death, which circled above these lives like a hawk. There was nothing comic-book about Anton Zoidakis, captured by German soldiers, tied to their vehicle and dragged along the road until his face and his life were wiped away. And even George’s account of merry scrapes is pulled up short when 20 Gestapo visit Asi Gonia: “They said I was wanted for interrogation and if didn’t go to Retimo before January 17 they would set fire to the whole village.”

Three of George’s fellow runners were executed, two after what the Wehrmacht would probably have considered exemplary torture. In his superb book Crete: The Battle and the Resistance, Antony Beevor points out that the penalty for a shepherd caught whistling to warn of the approach of a German patrol was death.

War had transformed George Psychoundakis’s life. In February 1943, it enabled the former shepherd boy to travel abroad for the first time. He was spirited off to SOE headquarters in Egypt, where he was knocked sideways by wonders, not least the grass in the Gezira gardens: “Fat, short grass like green velvet carpet.” As for the zoo, “I could almost have deemed that I was in the middle of paradise”. The most misguided character in the whole of The Cretan Runner is the soldier who advised George not to climb up the Pyramids because it was “very tiring and tricky”. A short hop later, the Cretan runner got out his stiletto and “cut my name and fatherland” into a stone at the top.

Moss, Kreipe and Paddy

On the day the war was over, a “high-spirited Mr Leigh Fermor” bought a dubious Mr Psychoundakis a lot of drinks. “If I drink all that I’ll be drunk,” protested George. “But my child, what is drink meant for? It’s no use for anything else,” replied Paddy.

Soon after, in a school where a whole village was gathered together, George recited a heart-stopping poem he had written on the lovely village of Yerakari, now destroyed, where once “white houses lay like doves asleep along the sill of heaven”. He had survived, but for a while it was hard to see what for.

Fortune, who had smiled on George in a time of insane adversity, appeared to doze off once the shooting stopped. Because of missing documents and in spite of his British Empire Medal (awarded in 1945), he was arrested as a deserter and imprisoned for several months. One can scarcely imagine the wound inflicted on his pride. Over three days, that great shaggy helmet of hair all fell out. Subsequently, he had to do two more years of fighting in the civil war. Returning at last to Asi Gonia, George found all the sheep stolen and his family in gruesome poverty. The Changeling had run out of magic.

George took a job as a navvy working on a road. At night, he sheltered once more in a cave and by the light of an oil lamp began to fill notebook after notebook with a furious, cramped hand. “I think he undertook this task as a kind of exorcism of the gloom of his circumstances, ” says Paddy. When they met up again in 1951, George gave his friend the completed work: Pictures of Our Life During the Occupation. Better known as The Cretan Runner.

Leigh Fermor, now living on the Greek mainland, took the precious grime-covered manuscript home to translate. George, meanwhile, was working to help his old friend, too. In 1943, with a German patrol approaching, Paddy, who was checking what he thought was an empty rifle, accidentally shot Yanni Tzangarakis in the leg. He died soon afterwards, but not before absolving his friend of all blame. Paddy was devastated: imagine killing the proud son of a country for which you were willing to lay down your own life.

This wretchedness was deepened by foolish rumours that eventually led to a vendetta being declared by some of Yanni’s relatives. This was only laid to rest after years of delicate negotiation by George, who found a very Cretan solution to the Englishman’s impasse: Paddy Leigh Fermor became godfather to Yanni’s great-niece. In Greek society, this bond is deeper than blood.

Two old men sitting at a table talking about the war. A Cretan and an Englishman. “We’d better censor that, George, it’s libellous,” says Paddy, trying to sound stern. As usual, he fails.

George goes off into the bedroom and comes back with a rifle. It is nearly as tall as he is, and its working parts are in similarly creaky order. As George poses with the gun, the photographer asks him to smile. George scowls and spits out a guttural retort. “Oh dear, oh dear,” says Paddy, shaking his head and laughing. What did George just say? “He said he won’t smile because he’s killing Germans.”

At the front of A Time of Gifts, Leigh Fermor quotes from Louis MacNeice’s great poem:

For now the time of gifts is gone
O boys that grow,
O snows that melt,
O bathos that the years must fill.

Since the war, both men have found satisfactions. Leigh Fermor, though unfairly saddled with the label of travel writer, has become one of the greatest exponents of English prose.

Psychoundakis, meanwhile, has translated both the Odyssey and the Iliad into Cretan and been honoured by the Academy of Athens. Still, I can’t help wondering whether the time since their great adventure had been an anti-climax.

“To some extent all our lives were in those years,” admits Paddy. “Of course, one went on to do interesting things, but … ” George has come up now and stretches out his fingertips to reach the shoulders of his friend, the tall Englishman. “Ah, George says to tell you that those years up in the mountains were the best years of his life. He’ll never forget it. Never. And that’s why he wanted to commemorate our days together.”

Just as we are getting ready to leave, George gives Paddy a photograph. It is of George himself and Xan Fielding, taken somewhere in the mountains. You can just make them out. The emulsion is breaking up and great snowy specks of it are blizzarding them into oblivion. Yet looking back at the Cretan resisters, we see only a thrilling clarity. Their existence was both mortally serious and a great wheeze – perhaps a definition of the best kind of life you can hope to lead.

Years after the war ended, George Psychoundakis sang for his friend Patrick Leigh Fermor a mantinada. This is what it said:
With patience first and patience last, and doggedness all through,
A man can think the wildest thoughts and make them all come true.

Related articles:

The obituary of George Psychoundakis aka The Cretan Runner

General’s long trip home

Related category:

Ill Met by Moonlight

Patrick Leigh Fermor scriptwriter for The Roots of Heaven

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.

I have a Spanish produced copy on DVD (English with Spanish subtitles available on eBay or Amazon) but the whole film (bar one scene) is available on You Tube. The quality is very good and you may like to watch it. It is scene eight that is missing.

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On the Pontic shores where the snowflakes fall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Buy In the Trail of Odysseus at Amazon.

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Related article:

The mystery of The Black Sea Cave

 

 

Paddy’s Introduction to the Transylvanian Trilogy by Miklos Banffy

You may be interested in Paddy’s introduction to the trilogy written by Miklos Banffy. I have been able to find it on the web for you to enjoy. Paddy wrote this whilst staying with the Devonshire’s at Chatsworth, Christmas 1998.

 

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Related article:

Andrew Nurnberg to handle world rights for Miklos Banffy’s The Transylvanian Trilogy