Category Archives: Uncategorized

Faraway Greek fun in the third largest Greek city

It appears that the most fun is to be had in Melbourne these days. A report by Brent McCunn of some highlights of the recent Greek Week which included talks about Paddy and his Cretan links. Be like Brent; send in your thoughts and articles (no matter how obscure) to share with fellow Paddy enthusiasts in our community.

by Brent McCunn.

Further despatches from the Hellenic outpost of Melbourne-iniki!

What a week of Greek! I remind readers that Melbourne is the third largest Greek city! Our Grecian week started with the inaugural Rebetiko Music Festival at the Melbourne Recital Centre, a prestigious venue!

After recovery, Friday night offered a performance of Cretan music from the visiting Xylouris brothers from Crete. Saturday afternoon saw a lecture by Chris White at the Greek Culture Centre in Melbourne – the topic being, ‘The Resistance of Grete’ during WW2 and in particular the history of Patrick Leigh Fermor, Billy Moss and the SOE. Of particular interest to the audience were the unique collection of ‘then and now photographs’, collated, researched and photographed by Chris White and his brother.

At this point it is important to illustrate the global reach of the PLF Blog. As a result of this correspondent’s earlier post (to this blog), advertising the above lecture, Melbourne subscribers did indeed turn up!

Chris enthralled all with his unique collection of images and has been invited back to present again to a wider audience drawn together by the cultural centres head of lectures – watch this space! I, Brent McCunn then presented details related to the main books on the Subject – Ill Met by Moonlight and Abducting a General – and how to purchase copies.

We then attended the Messines Community’s Greek Independence dinner and dance (Once they found about the lecture it was compulsory for us to attend this event – how Greek!) – Messines is the region where Paddy and Joan’s house was located. Whilst at the Messiness dinner your correspondent spent quite a few minutes on Google maps, with locals, being shown the family village and its relationship to Kardamyli!

One for the road in Greece means an impromptu music session at a local Greek restaurant! Katerina Douka, a well known Rebetiko singer from Thessaloniki, who appeared at the Rebetiko festival with her band, was still in town and gathered some local musicians and presented an enthralling session of northern Greek music. Food, wine and beer flowed of course.

Chris’s lecture became a feature story (by Jim Clavens) in the local Greek newspaper which is published in both English and Greek. A main thrust was to seek out decedents of the villages featured in the Kreipe kidnap and SOE operations. They have been asked to make contact and add their histories.

Your Philhellene correspondent in Melbourne,

Brent (alpopolous) McCunn from Passport Travel.

The ANZAC Cretan theme continues in Melbourne in the month of April with a lecture by Professor Peter Monteath. Entry is free.

When: 19 April 2018 at 19:00
Where: The Ithacan Philanthropic Society, Level 2, 329 Elizabeth Street
Synopsis: In the Second World War many thousands of ANZAC’s were sent to mainland Greece and then Crete in the hope of preventing German invasion and occupation – but to no avail. After the Battle of Crete hundreds of ANZAC’s were stranded on the island and spent weeks, months and even years trying to get off it.

This presentation looks at the experiences of those ANZAC’s who found themselves trapped, but who also discovered the extraordinary hospitality of Cretans, who offered the ANZAC’s shelter even when they themselves were enduring great hardship and danger.

Beyond that, the presentation looks at the collaborative efforts made to evacuate these ‘stragglers’ from the island, and how those efforts evolved into a series of ‘special operations’ to resist a brutal German regime of occupation. The person who occupies the centre of attention here is the Tasmanian Tom Dunbabin, an important and influential figure in the resistance in Crete through to the last weeks of the war.

Peter Monteath was born in Brisbane and educated in Queensland and in Germany. He has taught previously at The University of Queensland, Griffith University, Deakin University, The University of Western Australia and The University of Adelaide. He has also been Adjunct Professor at The University of St. Louis Missouri and the Technical University of Berlin, where he was an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow. At Flinders University he is Professor of Modern European history. His research interests span modern European and Australian history. His latest book, Escape Artist: The Incredible Second World War of Johnny Peck (New South 2017), is about an Australian who spent time in Greece and Crete in World War II.



A happy Easter

We here at the Paddy blog would like to wish you and your family a happy and peaceful Easter. This year I would like to share with you the beautiful voice of Nektaria Karantzi, a Greek singer of traditional Byzantine and Orthodox chant. Paddy was an admirer of Byzantium and I am sure also loved the music

Fine out more about Nektaria, her concerts and more video on her Facebook page.

Don’t forget to switch on the volume!

Lament from Epirus

Some readers may be interested in this forthcoming book by Grammy-winning producer Christopher C King, about the oldest fold music tradition in Europe, music that Paddy almost certainly would have come across in his travels across northern Greece.

Described as being in the tradition of Patrick Leigh Fermor and Geoff Dyer, Christopher King discovers a powerful and ancient folk music tradition.

In a dark record shop in Istanbul, King uncovered some of the strangest and most hypnotic sounds he had ever heard. The 78s seemed to tap into a primal well of emotion inaccessible to contemporary music. The songs, King learned, were from Epirus, an area straddling southern Albania and northwestern Greece and boasting a folk tradition extending back to the pre-Homeric era. Lament from Epirus is an unforgettable journey into a musical obsession which follows a genre back to the roots of song itself. As King hunts for traces of two long-lost virtuosos, he tells the story of the Roma people who pioneered Epirotic folk music and whose descendants continue the tradition today. His journey becomes an investigation into song and dance’s role as a means of spiritual healing and what this may reveal about music’s original purpose.

The book is due for release in May and can be pre-ordered on Amazon. Lament from Epirus: An Odyssey Into Europe’s Oldest Surviving Folk Music

Patrick Leigh Fermor – the journey continues

From time to time, the Benaki Museum publishes a supplement to its regular journal, and the 9th Supplement is a masterpiece dedicated to Paddy’s life.

Well bound, and coffee table book sized, there are over twenty new articles exploring a range of topics including Paddy’s intimates and friends, his walks, the Cretan resistance, wider discussions of Greece, Paddy’s writing and of course the house.

The Benaki have assembled a remarkable collection of writers including Hamish Robertson, Cressida Connolly, the Marques de Tamaron, Nick Hunt, John Kitmer, Chris White, Colin Thubron, John Julius Norwich, Adam Sisman, and Roberto Calasso amongst others.

The supplement is available from the Benaki Museum shop for 18 Euros plus worldwide DHL shipping.

Details of the contents are here.

Help needed – high resolution photos of John Pendlebury

John Pendlebury at Knossos

Hello all. I have a request from Crystalia Patouli who is writing an article for a magazine in Greek and English. She would like to include some high resolution pictures of John Pendlebury. If you can help please contact Crystalia – cpatouli[at]

Thank you.

A forlorn ultimate border of reality

Kapka Kassabova’s Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe is a timely, powerful story of immigration, friendship and travel.

By Caroline Moorhead

First published in The New Statesman

When Kapka Kassabova was in her late thirties, she decided to return to the place where she had grown up, but had not seen for 25 years: the borderlands of eastern Thrace, where Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey meet. Her parents were Bulgarian scientists who, after a spell in the UK, had settled in New Zealand, where, she writes, the Kiwi speech made “fish” sound like “fush” and “chips” like “chups”, where the stars were rearran­ged and the seasons inverted: an “upside-down world, but then it always is, for the immigrant”. It is again as an immigrant, a wanderer, that Kassabova – who now lives in the Scottish Highlands – went to find the forbidden places of her childhood.

“Forbidden” because her early years were confined by the militarised border that separated the three countries, acting as a cut-off line between the Warsaw Pact states of the Soviet bloc and Nato members, in the Western sphere of influence. Though the end of the Cold War and shared EU membership “softened” the border between Greece and Bulgaria, it was once “deadly”, she says, and it “remains prickly with dread to this day”. This is an exceptional book, a tale of travelling and listening closely, and it brings something altogether new to the mounting literature on the story of modern migration.

Kassabova started her journey on the Black Sea, dropped westwards to the border plains of Thrace, crossed the passes of the Rhodope Mountains, and made her way in a circle back to the sea again. (A better map would have been invaluable.) Everywhere she went she paused, took time to make friends and hear people’s stories, to look at her surroundings and understand them, to meditate on the nature of borders and to remember her own confined childhood, when she first became conscious that, unlike other holidaymakers to the Black Sea, she was not free to leave Bulgaria. A border, she writes, is something that you carry inside you without knowing. Like Freya Stark, who also wandered through remote parts, Kassabova has a gift for relating the past to the present: Herodotus, Atatürk and the Greek gods all accompany her on her travels.

The countryside she describes is wild, remote, sometimes scary, covered in the blackest of forests, where wolves, boar, bears and vipers are to be found, where the villages are inhabited by old people, the young having long since left, and where “entrepreneurs and consumers, desperadoes and smugglers” hold sway. She meets former border guards, traffickers, foresters and lighthouse keepers. Many of them are refugees from earlier migrations, expelled from their homes by conflicts, victims of nationalist feuds that had lain dormant for years, or the children of immigrants, whose love of their homeland is strong but who exist in a permanent sense of limbo, ever poised to flee.

With some of her new friends, she crosses backwards and forwards across the former border, travelling in cars so old it seems unlikely that they can cope with the steep mountain tracks. With others, she just sits and talks. There is Ivo the herbalist, a man with a “heroic” moustache, forced through bankruptcy to settle in what was once his holiday home, who grows aubergines as heavy as hand grenades and makes an ointment that cures everything from psoriasis to alopecia; and the divorced former teacher Ioanna, now a mountain climber, who patrols the forests for poachers, illegal loggers, drug dealers and illegal immigrants as she searches for abandoned treasure; and Mr Karadeniz, whose father was five years old when he threw a stone at a pig requisitioned by Greek soldiers and whose grandmother, fearing reprisals, whisked her son over the border to hide with Bulgarian neighbours.

Into this mix have come today’s refugees, the Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans, struggling to find safe routes to the West, their journeys truncated by new wire fences and hostile officials. “Europe,” one Kurdish woman marooned in a village on the Turkish border tells her sadly, “is where you are not afraid.” She fled with her eight children to prevent them being conscripted to fight Isis; but where she will go now, no one can say. The strength of Kassabova’s book lies in the skill with which she interweaves the narrative of these people into that of the inhabitants of the borderlands, giving the context for their lives in a way that the dozens of current books on the travels and travails of modern refugees seldom do. They enter her journey, and she listens to them, as she listens to everyone. It is an important reminder that refugees are not a separate species, moving inexorably away and towards, but part of a vast, complicated pattern of history.

Everywhere she goes, Kassabova takes stock of her surroundings, the birds and the mountains, the ruined monasteries and caves, the rock formations and waterfalls. Sometimes charmed, sometimes frightened, sometimes haunted by the ghosts that seem to inhabit these lost mountainous lands, she writes about roses, about belly dancing, fire worship and dragons. Her curiosity is limitless.

Patrick Leigh Fermor once wrote about a “forlorn ultimate border of reality beyond which a cloud of legend, rumour and surmise began”. This is Kassabova’s territory. And if, at the end of the book, it is hard to name the many characters she has met, or to recall with precision the places she has visited, she leaves a vivid image of these lands and the people who occupy them. Equally powerful is her own sense of sympathy for the uprooted and dispossessed. “I felt very strongly that within my lifetime, we may all become exiles,” she writes. “That we may all be robbed by devouring daemons disguised as policy and industry, that we may all walk down some road carrying in plastic bags our memories of forests and mountains, clean rivers and village lanes.” At a moment when Hungary has promised to incarcerate all who cross its borders ­illegally, and when asylum-seekers are adrift from one end of the world to the other, Border makes for timely reading.

Buy Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe

Patrick Leigh Fermor and the Pleasures of Places and People

Patrick Leigh Fermor in later life

We are fortunate to have a number of articles by the American writer Ben Downing on the blog. Downing specialises in nineteenth- and twentieth-century British social life and literature. His three part A Visit with Patrick Leigh Fermor can be found here. The following article is his review of Patrick Leigh Fermor: A Life in Letters.

By Ben Downing

First published in the Wall Street Journal

1 December 2017

In a 1958 diary entry, the writer and Bloomsbury Group member Frances Partridge recalled a dinner during which “the conversation turned to present-day pessimism, or cafard. Where can one look to find enthusiasm for living? I could only think of Paddy Leigh Fermor.” Called Paddy by his legion of friends, Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915-2011) struck many as a paragon of zest, a man on whom scarcely a crumb of life’s banquet was wasted. Prodigiously smart, charming, funny and handsome as well, he dazzled most who met him. His social gifts, however, threatened his literary ones: Why struggle to write at a lonely desk when you can swill whiskey on the terrace all night and talk like a Roman candle?

Fortunately, Leigh Fermor did struggle, some of the time. The result is a body of prose—travel books, mostly—radiant with his brilliance and unique experience but also with his exuberance and warmth. Especially in his magnum opus, a three-volume account of walking as a teenager from Holland to Istanbul, his erudition and descriptive skill are balanced by simple likability—never, one feels, has so much riveting detail been so beautifully served up by such an irresistible person.

Leigh Fermor published little during his last decades, but the years since his death have yielded several books by or about him. All rewarding, at least to fans, were Artemis Cooper’s biography, Wes Davis’s account of Leigh Fermor’s most celebrated military exploit (the abduction of a Nazi general on Crete) and Nick Hunt’s book about retracing his route across Europe. The real treat, though, was a book few expected ever to see: the last part of his trilogy, posthumously published as “The Broken Road.” Leigh Fermor’s inability to finish it, despite a quarter-century of fitful labor, was the great frustration and sorrow of his life, yet the manuscript his executors assembled was nearly complete and full of his usual panache.

Nor was that the last of the manna. The publication, in 2008, of Leigh Fermor’s correspondence with Deborah Devonshire (the youngest Mitford sister) had shown his letters to have many of the virtues of his books, including a more casual version of their tumbling, gloriously idiosyncratic style. But the bulk of his letters—untold thousands of them—remained unseen. Then, last year, a selection, edited and introduced by the outstanding biographer Adam Sisman, appeared in Britain. Now available here, it spans 70 of Leigh Fermor’s 96 years. Like his travel books, it amounts largely to a gushing expression of pleasure in art, history, places and people, but it also gives glimpses of his battles with indolence and the toll they took.

Addressed mainly to friends, lovers and Leigh Fermor’s longtime partner, Joan Rayner (whom he married in 1968), the letters are notable for, if nothing else, the variety of their postmarks. Even after he got a place of his own—a house in the Peloponnese that he and Joan built in the early ’60s—Leigh Fermor spent half his life as a wandering guest, and from age 18 to almost 50 he hopped constantly between dwellings, most of them romantic, secluded, and either dirt cheap or free. A 1953 letter contains a typical update: “I am established in a damp and ruined Aragonese fortress on the edge of the Tuscan Maremma, a sort of Zenda, really.”

Though he often sought isolation in order to work, Leigh Fermor’s gregariousness and polyglotism made him a poor hermit. Ensconced in a French monastery in 1948, he wrote that its chatty abbot had befriended him. “Occasionally he lapses into Latin. . . . It is the first time I have ever heard it spoken as a living language, and . . . I flog my brains to construct a sentence, feverishly trying to get the syntax right, usually a question that at last I enunciate with as much nonchalance as I can muster, to keep going the flow of this silvery monologue.”

Odd encounters were routine for Leigh Fermor. In a 1975 letter he describes one three decades in the making. After he accidentally killed a Cretan guerrilla during the war, the man’s hothead nephew, Yorgo, refused to forgive him. Revisiting “old haunts in Crete” in the 1950s, he was warned that Yorgo, a crack shot, planned to assassinate him. Intermediaries pleaded fruitlessly with Yorgo for years after that. Then, out of the blue, Yorgo asked Leigh Fermor to be his infant daughter’s godfather. (“This is the classical and only happy ending to a Cretan blood feud.”) The very next week he flew to Crete for the baptism. At the drunken banquet for 300 that followed, Yorgo hugged him and offered to eliminate “anyone you want got rid of.” “I hastened to say that there was no one, absolutely no one! ”

Not surprisingly, Leigh Fermor’s sex life was robust: With Joan’s consent, he enjoyed flings, affairs and the low delights of the brothel. This activity rarely makes it into his letters, but the exceptions can be piquant. Writing in 1958 from Cameroon, where he was on the set of a John Huston movie, he told a (male) friend: “ Errol Flynn and I . . . sally forth into dark lanes of the town together on guilty excursions that remind me rather of old Greek days with you.” One of the book’s zaniest passages is in a 1961 letter to Huston’s wife, Ricki, with whom Leigh Fermor had been sleeping. “I say,” the passage begins, “what gloomy tidings about the CRABS! Could it be me?” Riffing on pubic lice and their crafty ways, he conjectures that, during a recent romp with an “old pal” in Paris, a force “must have landed” on him “and then lain up, seeing me merely as a stepping stone or a springboard to better things”—to Mrs. Huston, that is. As comic apologies for venereal infection go, the passage is surely a classic.

If high spirits dominate the letters, pain often throbs at their edges. What Leigh Fermor termed “neurotic literary paralysis” led to spells of depression, and the pattern worsened with age. “My reaction to any demand for writing,” he confessed to his long-suffering editor and publisher, Jock Murray, in 1965, “seems to be to dig an enormous bog and flounder in it.” The acute phase began after the publication, in 1986, of the second volume of his trilogy. Istanbul in sight, he hoped his sails would fill with steady wind but instead found himself largely becalmed.

Full of self-deprecation (“I can be a terrible gasbag”) and profuse apology (most often for his slowness as a correspondent), Leigh Fermor’s letters are remarkably free of backbiting, bellyaching and other standard epistolary vices. When referring to the Oxford don Maurice Bowra, he cannot resist the mocking anagram “Eroica Rawbum.” And in 1974 he rants, ever so briefly, about the decline of Greek civilization: “I can’t help feeling there has been a serious break since the times of Theocritus.” That’s about it, though.

However appealing, Leigh Fermor’s sunny disposition somewhat constrains his letters, which lack variety of tone and the kind of frank, piercing comment on human behavior and emotion one looks for in the genre. (An exception is the handful of psychologically astute letters about his troubled mother.) It is this that makes me not quite agree with Adam Sisman’s assertion that the best ones are “as good as any in the language.” What’s more, to fully appreciate Leigh Fermor’s letters you need to be familiar with, or at least curious about, the circles he moved in. If names like Lady Diana Cooper mean nothing and you couldn’t care less about the half-bohemian, half-aristocratic world of footloose Brits in the Mediterranean (dating back to Byron and Shelley), this might not be the book for you.

Then again, it might. For all their beau monde glitter, Leigh Fermor’s letters are touching in a universally appreciable way. Writing to, among others, the widowed Diana Cooper and his former lover Balasha Cantacuzène, a Romanian princess and painter who endured many hardships under communism, he displayed a tender solicitude and eagerness to raise spirits that must have brought both laughter and tears and that are, in the best sense, chivalrous. (When he was knighted in 2004, it seemed appropriate not just to his achievements but his character.)

Most moving of all is to watch Leigh Fermor maintain his gallantry, verve and humor to the end. (He was nearly 95 when he wrote the last letter in Mr. Sisman’s selection.) Having gotten to know him in 2001, I received a few of these late letters. Embellished with drawings of clouds and birds, they seemed at first sight to be written in Linear A, but as I slowly deciphered their scrawl I found jokes, flights of fancy, extravagant mea culpas, deep learning worn lightly as silk. Thanks to Mr. Sisman, readers everywhere can have (minus the furrowed brows and headaches) a similar experience, discovering how this wonderful man made sheets of stationery, like the pages of his incomparable travelogues, glow.

—Mr. Downing is the author of “Queen Bee of Tuscany: The Redoubtable Janet Ross. ”