Category Archives: Uncategorized

Remembering Steven Runciman by Patrick Leigh Fermor

Steven Runciman with his parakeet, photographed by Cecil Beaton c.1923.

Paddy remembers Steven Runciman in this 2001 article from The Spectator

by Patrick Leigh Fermor

First published in The Spectator

13 January 2001

It was on 12 September 1934, in Sofia, that Steven and I first met. He was 31 and I was 19, and I was trudging across Europe, heading for Constantinople. Having a drink in the Bulgaria Hotel, 1 found myself talking to my bar-neighbour, who was the dead spit of Holbein’s Erasmus; he turned out to be Thomas Whittimore, the famous Bostonian expert on Byzantium and the saviour of the St Sophia mosaics. He was in Sofia, he said, as part of a general congress of Byzantinists and art-historians. Two fellow delegates soon joined him, Roger Hinks and Steven Runciman, both of them impeccable in panama hats and white suits of the wonderful Athenian raw silk that used to be spun by Gladys Stewart-Richardson; their bi-coloured shoes were spotlessly blancoed and polished; and they both belonged far more aptly to the deck of an Edith Wharton yacht or to the cypress alley of a palazzo in a novel by Henry James than to this hot little Balkan capital. As I had just been scrambling about the Rhodope mountains and sleeping out on the way to Rila monastery, I must have been even filthier than usual. (Later on Steven often teasingly remarked, ‘You were a very grubby boy.’) Their conversation was dazzlingly erudite and comic and we met several times, and when the end of the conference scattered the delegates, they left for Italy: ‘Just off to stay in a Tuscan villa with one of those beautiful Italian gardens. You know, solid mud all winter and in summer, nothing but dust.’

We bumped into each other now and then in London later on, and after the war Steven was appointed British Council Representative in Athens; the novelist, poet and translator of Euripedes, Rex Warner, was in charge of the British Institute and I was rashly created his deputy director. It was a fascinating time to be in Athens. The war was over and the later troubles had not yet really begun. It was the Athens of the songs of Sophia Vembo and the rebirth of bouzottki; the place was full of Greek and English friends, and there were wonderful parties and newly discovered tavernas every single night. When it was thought that i might be more useful outside the capital. I was sent to lecture all over the mainland and the islands. This involved six months in the remotest places I could find. They were of the greatest possible value for literary purposes later on. But I was far from an ideal deputy director, and when this became plain and departure loomed, not an atom of blame attached to Steven. When we next met I had been nearly a year in the Caribbean and Central America. In London we often met in friends’ houses, and our shared devotion to Greece was always uppermost of both our feelings.

Before the war, the captivating books of Robert Byron were, for many people in England, their first introduction to Byzantium. He was soon caught up by Steven’s perhaps more academical approach, and after the ship carrying Robert Byron to Greece during the war was torpedoed and sunk (by the Scharnhorst, off Stornoway), Steven’s writings remained the unchallenged beacon in this particular field. There seemed to be no aspect of the Byzantine empire — its sovereigns, its Church, its saints and heresies, its wars and disasters and recoveries — that was left unexplored; and when his dazzling books on the Crusades began to appear, the skill of the writing, the vast range of his scholarship — even, here and there, the witty asides and brackets — called the name of Gibbon to many minds. To those of us who were brought up on the romance and glamour of the Crusades, there was something stimulating, salutary, and brand-new in the suggestion that these centuries of war and conquest were, in fact, the last of the barbarian onslaughts on the surviving civilisation of the Roman and now Greek empire and the lands of the cultivated Arab caliphate, Everyone rejoiced at the honours which were heaped on him; we still do, and how fitting it is that a street in Mistra now bears his name? When about 20 years ago I got a literary prize. I was very touched that the generous words spoken at such occasions were uttered by Steven, at his request. I felt that all my earlier sins had been forgiven. He came to stay in the Morea several times.

His generosity was extraordinary. The recent restoration of the tower of the Protaton church on Mount Athos was a gesture of the greatest magnificence and his arrival from the sky, followed by the blessings of the glittering dignitaries conducting the dedication service of the tower, and then Steven’s farewell and departure back into the air, belonged to a sweep of monastic wall-painting of the Cretan or Macedonian school, involving flights of archangels and seraphim and fanfares of long trumpets.

He seemed, somehow, in a curious fashion, to be in touch with the supernatural. He studied arcane matters and he loved telling fortunes with a pack of Tarot cards and — half in joke, or only a quarter, perhaps — he hinted at the mastery of magic powers; his catlike smile and the sudden surprised lift of his eyebrows seemed to underline the suggestion. Perhaps it was just a tease.

A month and a half ago, a Cumberland neighbour and an old friend of his and of mine, Pamela Egremont, drove me across the Solway Firth into Scotland to spend the afternoon at his massive tower, with its many thousands of books, at Elshieshiels in the Scottish Lowlands. He was not very mobile physically, but mentally he was as active as he had ever been, and there was much laughter. My grubby apparition of 66 years earlier was joyfully recalled — it always was — and the three of us talked for hours. Upright in his armchair, he was still, as it were, enclouded in Athonite glory. He told us that he was determined, if he was spared for another three years, to celebrate his 100th birthday by a large and cheerful party in Madame Tussaud’s (that famous waxwork gallery of past celebrities can be hired for such occasions, it seems). He gave us a cheerful wave as we left, and, assisted by his mood as we drove south, we played with the idea of Steven’s warlock privilege of summoning shades from the past to ask them to his centenary festival, and we wondered, could this sorcery be switched to the returning of such supernatural visits? Where would these imaginary journeys carry him? Whom would he choose?

As we motored through the Cumbrian dusk, we imagined him helping to plot the circumference of the dome of St Sophia, before a late supper with the Empress Theodora, or — he had a soft spot for crowned heads — advising Princess Anna about the accuracy of the Alexia& in other scenes, he was shaking his head over the wilder tenets of the Bogomils and persuading a team of iconoclasts to drop their hammers; or calming rebellious prelates at the Council of Ephesus. In yet other scenes, he was reasoning with Bohemond at Antioch; or counselling Richard Coeur de Lion about his policy at Acre; or playing chess with Saladin, in his tent; then, a bit later, rallying Bessarion for accepting the filioque clause at the same time as a cardinal’s hat; consoling the eastern Comnenes for the loss of Trebizond; or, under Mount Taygetus, exchanging syllogisms with Gemistos Plethon as they strolled along the future Runciman Street. Later on still, we imagined him hobnobbing with Phanariot hospodars in the snows beyond the Danube … It was hard to stop.

As we know, Fate arrived too soon and all we can now do is to express our gratitude for the life and the work of the astonishing man we are all assembled to mourn, and, still more, to celebrate. What a shame he can’t see us all, gathered in his honour! Perhaps he can.

Advertisements

A pilgrimage to Kalamitsi

We love to receive your input and proposed articles for the blog. Let’s start 2018 with something from our blog community. Dawn Mitchell sent me this and hopes that you all enjoy it.

In the Spring of 2001, my daughter, my then husband and I drove from Athens down the Peloponnese peninsular. A leisurely journey, visiting Olympus, then remoter sites inspired by PLF’s writings. We arrived at the hotel Kalamitsi in Kardamili on Easter Thursday. Like many before and since, this was a romantic pilgrimage to the spot Paddy, the wanderer, had chosen to put down roots.

It did not disappoint: olives, fruit trees, cypress, orchards running down to the rocks, the glittering sea beyond, enticing views of mountains across the bay. The hotel and the LF house lay on the peninsula beyond the village, in a completely rural area sixteen years ago. (I’ve never been back). The other hotel guests were all Greek, staying for the Greek Easter holiday, which coincided with ours that year.

The purpose of the pilgrimage was not intrude on Paddy,but more to enter the magical world he conjured up. Of course I’d been entranced by the walk across a vanished Germanic world, been warmed under the summer sun of the Hungarian harvest…, but the moment of absolute surrender came with ‘A Time to Keep Silence’. He wrote about the eternal struggle to reconcile spirituality with the human condition, reconciling the deprivations and absurdities of the monastic rule with a reluctant admiration for the sacrifice these extraordinary men had made over the centuries. Standing on a cold winter’s day in St Wandrille, I had marvelled at his perception. (Nowadays, reading his letters, his discomforts and his longing for his lover, give a rather different perspective.) I’d also been inspired by a girlfriend who’d driven alone to Greece with a copy of Roumelli as her travel guide!

Things did not go quite as planned; I’d started a cold en route, which turned into an incapacitating flu and raging temperature the next morning. I was bed bound, so my husband went into the village to look for some medication. In the newsagent he found himself standing next to PLF! Thinking that he lived elsewhere it was quite a shock to see him. He asked my husband what brought us to Kardamili. The latter, quite tongue tied with surprise, simply pointed to the window display where copies of “Mani” were piled up. PLF asked, how did it read nowadays? Not too many purple passages? Weakly my husband said no, not at all; when what he meant to say was how much pleasure the book had given him. Typically British he said nothing-not even remarking on the weather, or wishing a Happy Easter! Before he could regain his composure a young man carrying a heap of newspapers ushered PLF out of the shop. Imagine my chagrin, meeting such a legendary hero: ‘what more?’ I asked. He told me that Paddy had spilled egg down his pullover, that he was accompanied by a very tall young man, nothing more!

However there were more excitements to come: on the Saturday night there was a massive thunderstorm which took out the electricity in the whole region for 24 hours. Disaster, on Sunday, as the Easter lamb was to be roasted. Suddenly the hosts and the guests all came together: three old fashioned spits had been set up in the garden, and everyone worked turning these for several hours. Despite the relentless drizzle and only a single umbrella, the atmosphere was festive. Alcohol and high spirits ensued, and as the party ran into early evening, I realised that we had indeed entered Paddy’s magic world.

Dawn Mitchell
10/12/17

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.

At it again – walking from Avebury to Winchester

Despite my protestations, my son Patrick has drawn me out of retirement again to take on another walk at Christmas, to live like tramps, and to raise money for the homeless.

This year we will walk a modest 60 miles along the Great Stones Way to Salisbury and then back to Winchester. I’m hoping we can complete this in not much more than three days. Perhaps four.

We will be raising money for again for Combat Stress and Shelter. If you would like to donate please visit our Just Giving page where they take all currencies!

Merry Christmas!!

Nick Hunt weathers the storms of Europe

Where the Wild Winds Are: Walking Europe’s Winds from the Pennines to Provence by Nick Hunt

It’s good to see that people are still enjoying Nick Hunt’s book and finding a resonance with recent weather events. An article from The Spectator.

By Kathleen Jamie

First published in The Spectator

Irma, the storm that recently caused such damage in the Caribbean, was the ninth named tropical storm of the 2017 season, hence the initial I. You can while away a fascinating time on Wikipedia, learning how storms area named, when and why and by whom. There is, of course, a committee: the hurricane committee of the World Meteorological Organization. A list of names chosen by them operates on a six-year cycle. Since feminist protests in the 1970s, male names are also included. Later this year the tropical Atlantic region may be threatened by a storm called Sean. As in Connery. And as the season closes, Whitney. Quite a party. Next year we might meet Patty, which sounds more like the touch of an annoying breeze. Non-meteorologists have also taken to naming storms. In 2011 the great gale that hit Scotland was dubbed Hurricane Bawbag, not a name that features on any officially sanctioned list.

All of this is a digression, although one that exposes how the skew of our times and media means we in the UK now know more about seasonal tropical hurricanes than we do about the named winds of old Europe, which have shaped our cultures, architecture, and even our personalities and mental health. Perhaps we are too confined to cars to be wholly wind-aware. Indeed, until I opened Nick Hunt’s book, I hadn’t known there is a named wind in England: the Helm of Cumbria.

Read more here.

Buy Where the Wild Winds Are: Walking Europe’s Winds from the Pennines to Provence
By Nick Hunt
Nicholas Brearley Publishing 258pp

‘My darling wretch, you are as nearly perfect as can be’

It’s a long time since we had a Daily Mail article on here to raise the tone, so I thought I’d correct that (!!!) and the lack of features about Simon Fenwick’s book about Joan.

Which rather lucky woman managed to catch and keep hold of Patrick Leigh Fermor, the dashing travel writer who, while in Crete during World War II, famously managed to kidnap a Nazi general and was awarded an OBE for his heroism?
It was a woman called Joan. Not the most exotic of first names, but Joan Eyres Monsell, born in 1912, the daughter of Sir Bolton and Lady Eyres Monsell of Dumbleton Hall, Worcestershire, was not only stunningly pretty — ‘a beautiful ideal, with the perfect bathing dress, the most lovely face, the most elaborate evening dress’, as one suitor described her — she also stood out from the upper-class beauties of her day in that she supplemented her mean rich father’s allowance by earning her living.

She, like Leigh Fermor, was a roaming spirit, and the two beautiful people were, this book shows us, made for each other.

Read more here.

Buy Joan: The Remarkable Life of Joan Leigh Fermor by Simon Fenwick

The must-see art museums of Athens

23-hamish-bowles-guide-to-art-in-athens-greeceVogue’s Hamish Bowles visits the Must-See art museums of Athens.

This year I sandwiched a blissful break on a remote Greek island in between trips to Athens—a city that, although beleaguered by the country’s economic travails, remains a hotbed of creative activity and cultural excitement.

As ever, it is the pluperfect place in which to explore millennia of creative achievement. My first stop was the National Archaeological Museum of Athens and its embarrassment of treasures, along with the Acropolis Museum (with a surprising and stirring exhibition, “εmotions”). I also explored the fascinating Byzantine and Christian Museum for the first time—and found it to be still further testament to Greece’s many layerings of cultural influences.

Hidden away in the basement galleries, I might almost have missed the Techni Group exhibition, a tribute to the centenary of the group show of artists led by Nikolaos Lytras and his friends (among whom I particularly admired the work of Pavlos Mathiopoulos, Konstantinos Parthenis, and Lykourgos Kogevinas) that established modernism in Greece under the patronage of the visionary prime minister Eleftherios Venizelos. Thank goodness I managed to see it, because the work of the artists—evoking by turns the fashionable swagger portraits of Boldini and Sargent, the theatrical drama of Bakst, and the charm of the plein air painters of late-19th-century France—comes together as a powerful statement for a new national identity through art.

Onward to the Benaki Museum—one of my favorite museums not only in Athens but in the world. After my first visit a decade or so ago, I was so inspired by its beautifully displayed collections of vernacular Greek costumes (among many other treasures that span the millennia) that I raced to Paris to tell John Galliano about it. He sent a posse from his design team to research—and subsequently based one of his eponymous collections on the pieces (think: stiff wool dirndl skirts and rich embroideries). The museum has recently expanded its displays, so there are even more treasures to admire in its intimate rooms, and on this latest visit I was also lucky to catch the exhibition “Ghika, Craxton, Leigh Fermor: Charmed Lives in Greece,” which is centered around the friendship of the artists John Craxton and Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika, whose spiky, highly colored works exemplify mid-century style, and the brilliant travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor, who met one another in the 1940s after the war and were drawn together not least by their love of Greece.

The show, elegantly curated by Evita Arapoglou, Sir Michael Llewellyn-Smith, Ian Collins, and Ioanna Moraiti (and in collaboration with the Leventis Gallery and the Craxton Estate), brings together not only their work but also images of the remarkable houses that they created: Nikos and Barbara Hadjikyriakos-Ghika’s Baroque colonial finca on Corfu and Neoclassical mansion on Hydra; the ineffably stylish stone house that Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor built above the craggy coastline of Kardamyli in their beloved Mani region of mainland Greece; and Craxton’s modest fisherman’s house on the Venetian harbor of Chania in Crete. Video—along with still images of these enduringly inspiring places and interviews with friends of the late artists—brought their worlds of fecund imagination brilliantly to life and created a moving tribute.

Thence to the truly astonishing Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, the inspiring new home to the Greek National Opera and the National Library of Greece. Difficult as it is to imagine without the photographic evidence, the original site was apparently grim—a flat expanse of wasteland and concrete latterly used as parking for several of the stadiums built for the 2004 Athens Olympics and hemmed in by motorways that blocked the view of the Bay of Phalerum and the sea beyond. With a flourish of his pen and a giant bound of his imagination, master architect Renzo Piano envisaged the plot as a verdantly planted hill rising in a gentle slope the length of the site, and at its 33-meter peak it now soars far above the choking Athenian traffic below and offers heart-stopping views not only of the Aegean waters but a panorama of the city itself, along with its famed hills and the Parthenon. Beneath the slope, Piano placed the National Library of Greece and a sprawling, soaring cultural complex of performance and concert, dance, and operatic rehearsal spaces to house the Greek National Opera. (The ensemble that Piano has planned is meant to evoke the cultural meeting place of an ancient Greek agora.) The heart of the opera house is the 1,400-seat Stavros Niarchos Hall. The theater’s cherrywood and its scarlet fabrics evoke a classic 19th-century theater, but its state-of-the-art acoustics and Platinum LEED rating, along with Susumu Shingu’s mobile (which rises before performances much like the Swarovski Sputnik chandeliers at Manhattan’s Metropolitan Opera), place it firmly in the 21st century.

Social spaces and terraces on the upper floors, meanwhile, provide breathtaking panoramic views of the sprawling city itself and of the newly created park, the work of landscape architect Deborah Nevins, whose spectacular plantings of Mediterranean cypress, olive, almond, and pomegranate trees and stalwart maquis vegetation—including the sage, laurel, and rosemary that give the Greek islands and mainland landscapes their unique fragrance—have created a throbbing green heart in the city. I cannot wait to see a performance here.

Read the full article and look at the lovely images here.