In early March Gastromos magazine visited Kardamyli, to prepare their Easter issue, aiming to bring to life the most authentic Greek celebration of the year in nature and the labyrinthine house of Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor. They brought along their own photographer Alexandros Antoniadis, and all images are by him. The following is an auto-translate from the Greek, complete with all errors (set your browser to auto translate).
by Vivi Konstantinidou
First published in Gastronomos
Shortly before the mid-1960s, Patrick Le Fermor, an intellectual, traveler, writer and award-winning war hero with a decisive role in the Resistance in Crete, on one of his many trips to Greece was in Messinian Mani, in Kardamili, in a cape where “there was nothing on it but olives on the terraces, donkeys, daffodils and no turtles ever.”
A genuine Manichaean landscape, but it was to capture him and become the location where he would build his iconic home – his first. Kardamyli seemed completely different from any other village he had seen in Greece, with “houses built of golden stones”. With this stone and with the help of local craftsmen and stonemasons, but also with the decisive contribution of the modernist architect Nikos Hatzimichalis, the construction of the main house will begin in 1964, as Le Fermor supervises and monitors impatiently for two whole and full of enthusiasm. years, installed in a tent in the cove. When it was completed, she settled there happily, with his wife Ioanna (Joan Rainer), a professional photographer.
He wrote books for this band, lived happily ever after and hosted good friends. The people of Kardamylia used to come here, who every year on the feast of the Brigadiers on November 8, after the service in the homonymous church, came to his house to wish him well. You see, for the people of Mania – and earlier for the Cretans – Patrick Le Fermor was “Mr. Michael” or “Philandem”, names he acquired in the two years he lived in the mountains of Crete, organizing the Resistance on the island and participating in one one of the most important military operations, the abduction of the island’s military commander, Lieutenant General Heinrich Kraipe. Gradually, however, the house inevitably fell victim to the wear and tear of time.
Today, after the total repair undertaken – with the generous support of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation – the Benaki Museum, in which Patrick and Joan Le Fermor granted the entire complex with a donation in 1996, his house lives a second brilliant life and us waiting to meet her up close.
Love for Mani and nature
Spring is undoubtedly the best time to be in Mani. Its wild and windswept landscape is sweetened by the eruption of herbs and wildflowers and the spring sun emphasizes the golden color of the local land. So in the spring we visited the Le Fermor House, to prepare our Easter issue, to bring to life the most authentic Greek celebration of the year in this nature and in the labyrinthine building complex of the house. Also, to discuss the construction and its unique architectural and decorative features with two excellent ladies, who guided us to its premises: the president of the Board of Directors of the Benaki Museum, Irini Geroulanou, and the head of the house, Myrto Kaouki.
In the large kitchen, all kinds of festive dishes were cooked at a hectic pace by the immovable food stylist Alexandra Tassounidou and the photographer of the mission, Alexandros Antoniadis, was concerned only with one issue: where to lead the dishes, having to choose between countless angles, or carved tables and chairs, windowsills, pebbles (designed by Lee Fermor’s good friend, Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Gika), gardens full of wildflowers and rosemary.
Within a few hours it rained and rained down, giving way to bright sunshine and sweet warmth. But every now and then Le Fermor House remains a place of unexpected calm, welcoming like an open arms, with each window and balcony facing a different side of the bay low and the sea in front of it, the olive groves that connect it from three sides and the vertical one. Terrible end of Taygetos to the east.
In every space, in every niche and corner, the immense love that Patrick Le Fermor had for this house, the care and the importance he gave to detail, is visible. “In his correspondence, while the house was being built, one can see his obvious impatience to complete the building,” Ms. Geroulanou explained. “Every fragment and fragment he collected from demolished buildings in the area, but also throughout the Peloponnese, every impression and influence from his countless trips to Greece, the Mediterranean and Asia have been carefully and lovingly integrated into this home,” he added. . So it is: The covered galleries that connect the wings of the house are clearly influenced by Mediterranean monasteries, the wooden ceilings with hundreds of panels and the loggia on the southeast side of the great hall are continental influences, the built-in cylindrical fireplaces are inspired by Persian architecture, the endless spaghetti pacifiers are reminiscent of the Aegean, the unusual. No one is satisfied to enjoy the beauty of the huge hall, with the built-in sofas and the view, different and fascinating from each window, the floors paved with Pelion tiles, the whitewashed walls with the paintings of Craxton, Hadjikyriakos-Gikas, Robin Iro , the built-in libraries that house the more than 5,000 Le Fermor books. I inevitably focus on the stone rotunda in the center of this stunning room. This all-marble table, “Inspired by the marble of Freya Stark (explorer, traveler and writer of Anglo-Italian descent) in Venice”, he writes to his wife Ioanna, he is inspired by a tondo (s.s. artistic Renaissance term that refers to a round work of art – in Italian “rotondo”) in the church of St. Anastasia of Verona, its decoration depicts white flames of Udine stone to be emitted from the center of the design, of gray-colored stone and red marble, “Vera 3” writes with obvious enthusiasm.
The books on the shelves around the table are not at all randomly placed around this navel of the house, from dictionaries and scriptures to architecture, ancient Greek literature, painting, sculpture, but also for “birds, wild animals, reptiles, fish and trees, because if one is going to settle in the wilderness, a dozen shelves with encyclopedic books are the minimum that will be needed, and they must be located near the dining table where disagreements arise, which will be resolved either by at that moment or never “4, Paddy wrote.
House maintenance has proven to be extremely difficult. The Le Fermor couple did not pay much attention to practical matters. He preferred to host numerous groups and enjoy their company. The house was open to everyone – sometimes not just to people: “From time to time, a hen that has lost her way enters, looks around, and no cat or damage comes out. Last month, a white goat came out of the yard and after a while six more were lined up behind it, walking inside their house, tapping their feet on the floor […], crossing the gallery, descending the twenty steps and they are lost again in nature, ”wrote Le Fermor.
This attitude inevitably had a cost: the house gradually fell victim to the wear and tear of time and the elements of nature. Le Fermor’s relationship with people at the Benaki Museum, such as Irini Kalliga, Nikos Hatzikyriakos-Gikas and Angelos Delivorrias, certainly influenced his decision to donate it to the Museum. But it was Tzannis Tzannetakis, his close personal friend, who convinced the couple that this decision was the right one.
Patrick Le Fermor passed away in 2011 and since then a true Golgotha has been on display for the museum. “The challenge was huge,” says Irene Geroulanou. “The wood, the walls, the windows, everything was in a miserable condition. The repairs were of a very large scale “, he adds. Myrto Kaouki points out that “the idea was for the house to remain exactly as it was and for the repairs to be done in such a way that its original atmosphere is not altered in the slightest.”
And that’s exactly what happened, despite the terrible difficulties. The Stavros Niarchos Foundation undertook the huge cost of repairs and equipment of the house, while, according to the terms of donation of Le Fermor, which stipulate that the house will be used for the purposes of the Museum, but also according to the wishes expressed, the Museum plans fellowships, honorary hospitality of important personalities from the field of letters, arts and sciences, as well as the organization of educational activities in collaboration with universities in Greece and e oterikou as the Freie Universitat, Princeton Univesity and UCLA.
Working hours were set at two times a year, one in the fall and one in the spring. It all started with the hosting of the first seminar organized by Princeton University last summer. “At the same time, the cooperation with the company Aria Hotels starts this year, with the rental of the property during the summer months, as provided in the donation, in order to secure part of its operating expenses”, says Myrto Kaouki.
Le Fermor House is open to the public on certain days and hours of the week, with organized tours, by appointment (T / 210-36.71.090).
1, 3, 4, 5: Translation from the book: Alvilde Lees-Milne & Derry Moore, “The Englishman’s Room”, Viking / Penguin Books 1986, pp. 91-95. 2: Patrick Lee