Tag Archives: An Adventure

Patrick Fermor, aventurero del siglo XX

Spanish an adventureA review of An Adventure in Spanish from La Aventurade la Historia.

Viajó a pie por toda Europa, organizó la resistencia cretense en la Segunda Guerra Mundial, secuestró a un general alemán y escribió espléndidas obras relatando sus viajes. Dos libros recuerdan su increíble periplo vital

A los 18 años Paddy Fermor decidió abandonar su renqueante trayectoria estudiantil y atravesar Europa a pie. Salió de Londres, cogió un barco hacia Rotterdam y desde allí caminó hasta Constantinopla. Entre 1933 y 1934 cruzó el viejo continente durmiendo en cobertizos, habitaciones prestadas y tabernas. También se hospedó en castillos y casas señoriales. Su alegría innata, combinada con unos exquisitos modales le abrieron todas las puertas, y su infinita curiosidad atrajo todo tipo de compañías.

Patrick Leigh Fermor Nació en Inglaterra en 1915 y falleció en el mismo lugar en 2011. El margen vital de su dilatada existencia le permitió atravesar medio mundo y escribir brillantes libros de viajes. Recientemente se ha publicado en castellano su biografía (Patrick Leigh Fermor, RBA, 2013), a cargo de Artemis Cooper, y un pequeño texto escrito por su traductora, Dolores Payás (Drinking Time!, Acantilado 2013), que enriquece el relato de su vida con las charlas que mantuvo con él pocos meses antes de su muerte.

Read the full review here.

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Mapping a Life, and Finishing a Long Trip

Artemis Cooper

Artemis Cooper

How Artemis Cooper Wrote Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Biography

by William Grimes.

First published in the New York Times, November 8, 2013.

Great storytellers can be terrible interview subjects. Patrick Leigh Fermor, the British travel writer, was one of them. Artemis Cooper, the author of “Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure,” recently published by New York Review Books, found out the hard way.

Leigh Fermor’s classic two-volume account of his yearlong walk across Europe in the early 1930s, “A Time of Gifts” and “Between the Woods and the Water,” disgorged a cornucopia of colorful characters, historical curiosities ancient and modern, reflections on geography and national psychology, and sparkling dialogue.

To a biographer, Leigh Fermor presented a series of tantalizing incarnations: the wayward child expelled from one boarding school after another; the footloose traveler across a darkening Europe; the wartime undercover agent in Crete, where he engineered the kidnapping of the island’s Nazi commander; and the celebrated travel writer, ranked by many critics among the greatest of the 20th century.

No wonder that Ms. Cooper headed into her assignment believing that she had taken on, as she put it in a recent interview, “one of the jammiest jobs in English biography.”

Not exactly. Leigh Fermor, who died at 96 in 2011, lived up to his reputation as a talker, but he turned out to be a maddeningly reticent and evasive one. On regular trips to his house in the Greek seaside village of Kardamyli, Ms. Cooper posed questions. Leigh Fermor ducked and weaved, charmingly.

“Paddy was not telling me anything he wouldn’t tell any journalist,” Ms. Cooper said. “He hated talking about himself. He hid behind this dazzling conversation, and I wasn’t getting anywhere.”

A breakthrough came when Ms. Cooper, 60, who has written books on wartime Cairo and the food writer Elizabeth David, volunteered to help Leigh Fermor organize his study. He would sit at his desk, pretending to be hard at work but dying to be distracted. Ms. Cooper would drop comments as she sifted through manuscripts and letters, causing Leigh Fermor’s ears to prick. Conversations ensued.

“It was no longer an interview,” Ms. Cooper said. “Tidying the room was a fig leaf. That is how I began to get pieces of the story.”

One piece was the unexpected discovery of an early version of that cross-Europe trek, which allowed Ms. Cooper and the travel writer Colin Thubron to bring the narrative to completion after Leigh Fermor’s death. “The Broken Road,” which picks up where “Between the Woods and the Water” ends, with its narrator still 500 miles from the city he always called Constantinople, was published in Britain in September. New York Review Books, which has made a cottage industry of reissuing Leigh Fermor’s work, plans to publish it in March.

Even after the ice was broken, Leigh Fermor still threw up obstacles and obfuscated. Ms. Cooper quickly learned that any woman he described as “a terrific friend” was almost certainly a lover. There were many. In a relaxed mood, he would spin enticing yarns, only to pull up short and plead with Ms. Cooper not to use the material. Of course not, she assured him.

The writer Artemis Cooper said: “It’s a terrible thing being a biographer. One is such a rat.”

Connecting the dots and filling in the outlines, Ms. Cooper executed a detailed portrait that Christopher Benfey, in The New York Times Book Review, described as “affectionately intimate, informative and forgiving.”

It could hardly help being intimate. Leigh Fermor had popped in and out of Ms. Cooper’s family orbit ever since she was a child. He knew her grandparents, Lady Diana Cooper and Duff Cooper, and her father, the writer and television producer John Julius Norwich.

Leigh Fermor made a deep impression on Ms. Cooper, she said, when she visited her grandmother on the Greek island of Spetses during a school holiday. She was 17. Leigh Fermor, revered by the local residents for his wartime exploits, loomed a Zorba-like figure, always in the thick of things whenever a bottle of ouzo appeared, and the dancing started on the beach. This was the man whom the travel writer Robert Macfarlane, reviewing Ms. Cooper’s book in The Guardian, called “a mixture of Peter Pan, Forrest Gump, James Bond and Thomas Browne.”

Ms. Cooper was entranced. “I developed a schoolgirl crush from which I’ve never really recovered,” she recalled.

Initially, her husband, the historian Antony Beevor, proposed that he write Leigh Fermor’s biography, but when other projects got in the way, the task fell to Ms. Cooper. She quailed.

“I was daunted by the books and his reputation as a great prose stylist,” she said. “There were those great chunks of history. I thought, ‘Oh, God, I can hardly put Moldavia and Walachia on a map.’ I thought I’d have to know as much history as he did. But it turned out to be not so difficult.”

In 2008, at the offices of John Murray, Leigh Fermor’s lifelong publisher, Ms. Cooper came across three black ring binders containing a typescript with the title “A Youthful Journey,” the basis for “The Broken Road.” It was Leigh Fermor’s overenthusiastic response to a 1962 assignment from Holiday magazine, which had commissioned him to write 2,000 words on the pleasures of walking.

Leigh Fermor responded with 84 pages describing his trip across Europe, getting as far as the Romanian port of Orsova. Then, in a long burst, he generated a small book’s worth of prose on the final third of his journey.

With “A Youthful Journey” in hand, thanks to Ms. Cooper, Leigh Fermor regained a sense of purpose. Although nearly blind and deaf, and clearly at the end of his very long life, he began working on the manuscript. Ms. Cooper and Mr. Thubron finished the job.

“All the energy was there, and all the words,” said Mr. Thubron, who did the bulk of the editing. The manuscript was written in the stage that Leigh Fermor called “letting it rip,” and that Ms. Cooper calls “the first whoosh.”

“It is raw compared to the polished gems of the first two volumes,” she said. “But Paddy never said at any point, ‘This is not working, I don’t want this to come out.’ He knew that it would be published. Maybe it made it easier to leave the world, knowing that it would appear, and that we would tidy it up. “

Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure – paperback publication

Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure paperback cover

Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure paperback cover

For those of you who could not stretch to buying the hardback, or who now want to shower your friends with copies of Artemis Cooper’s fine biography, the time is almost upon us when you can purchase the paperback, just in time for summer holiday reading.

It is apparently due for release on 27 June 2013, but as ever is available for pre-order. You can order the paperback version of  Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure here.

As you can see it has a distinctly different cover with the famous view of the house at Kardamyli, whilst still showing our hero at the peak of his powers.

Dashing hero – champion sponger

Ooops! I have a feeling Mr Peter Lewis will not be on the Cooper-Beevor Christmas card list.

By Peter Lewis

First published in the Mail Online, 25 October 2012

When he died last year at the age of 96, Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor, DSO, OBE, inspired long and admiring obituaries. They described him as an intrepid traveller, war hero and ‘the greatest travel writer of his generation’.

All this is borne out in this admiring biography by Artemis Cooper, granddaughter of Lady Diana Cooper, who knew ‘Paddy’ since her childhood. So Artemis’s knowledge and access to his papers, letters, and many friends is unrivalled.

There is one disadvantage to being so close to your subject – a certain blindness to their shortcomings. Fermor was known above all for a charm that most people found irresistible. It allowed him to get away with selfish and unfeeling behaviour that wouldn’t have been liked in ordinary mortals.

And Sir Patrick was certainly no ordinary mortal. He decided when he was 18 to walk across pre-war Europe, from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople, as a tramp with only £1 a week to live on.

Later, as an SOE (Special Operations Executive) officer during the war in Crete, he carried out another audacious plan: to kidnap and deport General Kreipe of the German occupying army. This escapade is the highlight of the book.

After ambushing Kreipe’s car, Paddy – wearing German uniform – and his SOE partner Billy Moss, drove through Heraklion, the German headquarters, clearing checkpoint after checkpoint with the General pinned down in the back of the car. Paddy even issued curt orders to the sentries in excellent German.

After some grim hungry days and nights crossing the mountains with the entire German garrison searching for them, they were taken off in a boat to Alexandria. By then General Kreipe and Paddy were almost friends, having discovered a mutual love of the Latin odes of Horace.

Paddy won his DSO for his part in the plot, which was written about by Billy Moss in his book Ill Met By Moonlight. His account was subsequently filmed, with Dirk Bogarde playing Paddy.

Yet Paddy’s start in life was inauspicious. He hardly saw his father, who was an archaeologist working in India. His mother fostered him out for his first four years then despatched him to prep schools that he hated.

Wild by nature, Paddy was nothing but trouble – expelled from school after school and failing every exam. He wound up at 18 as an incorrigible drunk and party-goer.

Then he turned his back on all that to tramp diagonally across Europe and write about its gypsies, remote towns, forgotten villages and colourful peasant customs – indulging his insatiable curiosity for foreign languages, history and architecture. He had few advantages but youthful ones: great looks and physical fitness (like a Greek God, said an admiring Freya Stark); a natural ebullience and eagerness to learn; a quick ear for languages; and an amazing memory for detail.

Wherever he went, women and men – whether peasants or aristocrats – took to him and offered him hospitality. One introduction led to another.

He sometimes slept rough in stables and barns but this was interspersed, we now learn, with sojourns in the castles and country houses of the eccentric, amusing, minor nobility of Bavaria, Hungary, Bulgaria and Rumania (as Cooper spells it).

It was a very superior form of tramping. And at the end of it, he was swept off by a Rumanian princess who took him to live with her in her manor house. Most of his hosts had splendid libraries that he ransacked for knowledge of local history and customs, on which he became a living encyclopaedia. He also had a great capacity for carousing, whether with peasants or princes, talking all night and singing songs in many languages.

Cooper chronicles many a riotous evening among Greeks and Cretans with near-unpronounceable names, until they dissolve into an indistinguishable blur.

The trouble is there is just too much of Paddy’s charm and charmed life, and they begin to wear thin after the halfway point.

Delightful company as he no doubt was, he made a wide range of upper-class friends in England and abroad, in whose houses he was welcomed. In short he was a champion sponger. There are also awkward questions that are not satisfactorily answered, such as an ugly incident in Crete when he accidentally shot dead one of his partisans by easing the bolt of a rifle that had – unbeknown to him – a round up the barrel.

He made profound apologies to the man’s family, which unsurprisingly they did not accept. No trained rifle handler would fail to notice a cartridge in the breech nor test the gun’s action other than by aiming at the sky.

Also, the 1944 kidnapping of Kreipe led to savage German reprisals on Cretan villages, which were razed to the ground. In fact it served no strategic purpose other than to raise morale.

Paddy was welcomed back to Crete as a hero (though not by the family of the man he shot) but one wonders how happy he was about his jape in retrospect. It may be why he never published his version of the story.

There is also his cavalier attitude to money. He was always borrowing it, even from the adoring office girls of the British Consul in Athens – and not often paying it back. Chronically short of finance for his incessant travels, he never stooped to earning any, except for the occasional magazine article.

For years he was financed by the love of his life, Joan Rayner – a photographer he met in Cairo in 1944. She fell hopelessly in love with him, and they travelled together in Greece and the Caribbean, and shared her homes in London and Athens.

She was the ideal travelling companion, his best listener, who tolerated his late-night binges and even his affairs with other women. She was seen to give him money, saying: ‘That should be enough to get a girl.’ But he would not marry Joan, though she plainly wanted it. He  preferred what he called ‘intermittent concubinage’ with vague ideas of marriage, ‘which we talk of and then forget’.

They finally wed in 1968, 24 years after they met, ‘because it seemed idiotic not to’. By then they (or rather she) had bought land in a Greek bay and had built a fine house to settle in. Joan, it seems to me, is the real hero of this book.

The biggest and perhaps unanswerable question that nags throughout is: why did Paddy not get on with the writing, given his power with words? He had an ideally patient publisher, Jock Murray, who made him advance after advance on promised manuscripts, which Paddy spent on yet another journey or party.

When his books on Greece did appear, he got rave reviews and won prizes. Yet the magnum opus, the account of his youthful walk to Constantinople, remained unwritten for decades. The first part, A Time Of Gifts, was finished in 1977, followed by part two in 1986, more than 40 and 50 years respectively after the journey they described.

I have to admit that, dipping into them again, I would never guess that a man of almost 60 was describing his experiences at 19. And the last words of the epic were ‘To Be Concluded’. It never was.

Cooper’s biography, though enjoyable and spirited, is essentially a flawed book about a flawed character.

Many writers have remorselessly neglected or exploited others in their compulsion to write. Fermor did so while producing surprisingly little. What there was, however, was worth it.

Life with Paddy Leigh Fermor – the Times Literary Supplement review

Paddy at Dumbleton

Paddy at Dumbleton

by Peter Green

First published in the Times Literary Supplement 14 November 2012.

Patrick Michael Leigh Fermor was born on February 11, 1915 in London, one year into the world war that changed the face of Europe for ever. Within four months, the Lusitania had been torpedoed and the first Zeppelin air raids carried out over London. At his birth, the attendant good fairy seems to have been in a generous mood. She lavished on him striking good looks, a strong streak of imaginative creativity, physical vigour, a long and – despite an outsize addiction to both cigarettes and alcohol – largely healthy life (he died last year), linguistic skills well above the average, a phenomenal memory, daring courage, an outgoing and exuberant, almost Herodotean fascination with the oddities of the world (not least its more eccentric and obsolescent aristocracies), and an equally exuberant ability to charm a remarkably wide range of people, most notably (though far from exclusively) women.

The bad fairy, watching all this with a sourly malevolent eye, did what she could, which was quite a lot, to minimize the effects of such prodigal largesse. She began by ensuring that the wunderkind, however percipient about the remote marvels of the world he explored, never, in all his ninety-six years, acquired the taste, much less any real ability, for self-analysis. Unable to diminish his creativity, she saddled him with a perfectionist’s crippling demands, and the infinite time-wasting occupations of the born procrastinator. By rendering him impervious to all formal external discipline – much helped by his being allowed to run wild as a child in Northamptonshire while his parents were in India – she both sidelined him from any professional career in the normally accepted sense, and made it inevitable that his prodigious learning (which she could do nothing to stop) was at least of the autodidactic variety. She saw to it that his undeniable charm was frequently interpreted as an attribute of the freeloading gigolo with a weakness for titled ladies, his infectious high spirits as boring bumptiousness, and his very real courage as egomaniacal self-promotion, often – this a contribution from her irredentist Greek cousins – in the service of imperialist politics.

It follows that any prospective biographer of so remarkable a character (frequently labelled “the last Renaissance man”, and for once the cliché is at least understandable) will have an unusually hard row to hoe, and some very tricky decisions to make. This is no less true of one who, like Artemis Cooper, knew him from childhood: such intimate familiarity may in fact have made her task appreciably more difficult. Paddy (as he was known, in Cooper’s prefatory words, “by all the hundreds of people who knew and loved him” – and, one might add, by many more who didn’t) presents the daunting problem of having become a public legend in his own lifetime.

As a teenager (a term he detested) he walked from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople, and used the experience to write a unique elegy to the not-quite-lost, and ultra-Chekhovian, country nobility of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire (A Time of Gifts, 1977). As a Special Operations Executive (SOE) operative on German-occupied Crete in 1944, and against all predictable odds, he not only kidnapped a German divisional general and got him safely away to Cairo, but formed a personal bond with him by smoothly capping one of his Latin quotations. Finally, when almost seventy, and faced with a strong current, he successfully swam the Hellespont.

These and other experiences have been rubbed smooth by much telling, often inaccurate as well as humdrum, and it is very much to Artemis Cooper’s credit that she irons out the inaccuracies, and places each anecdote in its proper context, backing it up with careful documentation. This historicization of what was rapidly becoming myth may take off a little of the lustre, but it also deepens perspective. We can see, for example, not only how extraordinary that moment in the White Mountains of Crete was when Horace’s Soracte Ode created an instant cultural and personal rapprochement between British captor and German captive, but how strikingly it symbolized the final flare-up before extinction of a code of international culture that had endured for over two millennia; how it indeed formed a wonderful, if unintentional, postscript to the dying worlds so memorably evoked in all Paddy’s writings. At one level the extraordinary, and moving, fascination of his work consists in the fact that from start to finish, from the doomed Creole aristocracy of The Violins of Saint-Jacques to Count Jeno, “scion of one of the great Hungarian houses of Transylvania” in Between the Woods and the Water (1986) – not to mention his portraits of the Sarakatsani nomads in Roumeli (1966) or the fierce individualists of Mani (1958), who, in their scorched and rocky peninsula, preserved an ancient way of life beyond the reach of the Turks – what he is chronicling is the end of an epoch, a loving and nostalgic farewell to civilizations that were dealt their quietus by a single pistol-shot in the fateful summer of 1914.

It is easy to forget, because of his much-touted heroism in the Second World War, that what Paddy actually inherited as an impressionable child was very much a pre-1914 view of life. His passion for heraldry, old houses, even older families, and the colourful pageantry of royal processions; his happy embracement of a Europe in which an infinite number of languages, customs and migrant peoples made a transparency of political frontiers and showed a happy indifference to passports; his polyglot adventurousness, his philhellenic romanticism, his taste for crowned heads and ancient titles: all this stamped him unmistakably as a latter-day Edwardian, drawing comparisons with Rudolf Rassendyll, or Sandy Arbuthnot in John Buchan’s Greenmantle, and revealing beyond these fictional characters his basic affinity with the no less astonishing real-life characters who had inspired them, such as T. E. Lawrence or Aubrey Herbert (who was twice offered the throne of Albania). He is in his element at the 1958 enthronement of Cardinal Roncalli as Pope John XXIII, dashing off a postcard from Rome to Diana Cooper (Artemis’s grandmother), in ecstasy over “the silver trumpets, the ruffs, the cloaks with Maltese crosses, the morions and slashed doublets . . . . I’m swooning”. His inspired idea, when still eighteen, of walking to Constantinople (never, even at that age, thought of as Istanbul) was not entirely a lucky guess: precocious reading and bred-in-the-bone instinct played their part too. Psychologists will also note how periods of great emotional tension are followed by months of recuperative illness: scabies and pneumonia after initial training in the Guards Depot; near-fatal polyarthritis after the successful abduction of General Kreipe from Crete.

When we ask ourselves how, in essence, the two published volumes of the Great Walk trilogy represent (as is generally, and I think rightly, believed) a higher literary achievement than Paddy’s other work, this sense of their being a powerful and emotionally loaded requiem for an all-but-lost world – artfully strengthened by the way in which the author’s older self, familiar with the bitter end of the story, plays that off against the omnivorous excitement of his innocent youth – is surely the dominant factor. Other major characteristics, from the antiquarian’s delight in exotic historical arcana to sharp portraits of eccentric individuals and a detailed knowledge of local slang and social habits, are all present in Paddy’s other books from the start. The penetrating study of Caribbean voodoo practices in that now much underrated first book of his, The Traveller’s Tree (1950), is a nice case in point. He learned, very early, that to sing successfully for his supper, not just personal charm, but having a genuine interest in the lives and activities of his hosts, were tremendously helpful.

But the other major aspect of A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water that surely guaranteed their capacity to enchant so many readers, and their survival as classics of twentieth-century literature, is the immense, time-consuming, and, to his publisher, maddening care their author devoted to fashioning the sentences in which they were written. However much we write off as procrastination, the final subtly crafted verbal achievement is what gives these texts their magical allure, and goes far to justify the long years spent on them. Paddy, as he made unforgettably clear in a famous passage of Mani, was in love, in an almost physical sense, with words:

“I often have the impression, listening to a Greek argument, that I can actually see the words spin from their mouths . . . the noble shapes of the Greek letters, complete with their hard and soft breathings, the flicker of accents with the change of enclitic and proclitic and the hovering boomerangs of perispomena sail through the air . . . . As the argument kindles and voices wax louder, the lettering matriculates from italics to capitals and out like dangerous missiles whizz triangles and T-squares and gibbets and acute angles, pairs of Stonehenge megaliths with lintel stones, and half-open springs . . . .”

What a word is this, Homer remarks in a recurrent formulaic line, that has escaped the barrier of your teeth. That metaphor comes nearer to a kind of unexpected reality in Paddy’s collected works than most of us would ever have surmised. The climax of his prose poem “Sounds of the Greek World”, the concluding chapter of Roumeli, with its caressing description of “the abruptness of asyndeton” and “the swell of hyperbole”, is in the same mode.

And here we begin to see some of the very real problems confronting his biographer. In Paddy’s expert hands the Great Walk becomes an ongoing, and infinitely seductive, quest for the Earthly Paradise, all the more compelling for the rich glimpses of it to which we are treated in his hypnotic and tessellated prose. No accident, I suspect, that he set out for Constantinople in the December of 1933: the year Hitler came to power, but also (and surely related) the year in which James Hilton published Lost Horizon, the novel that made Shangri-La a symbol of the Edenic refuge from modern conflicts. Paddy’s hosts along the way are presented as part of this paradisal world. But the biographer’s business is factual, with the result here that Cooper’s black-and-white functional prose (always in sharp contrast to Paddy’s own richly coloured version), just as it demythicizes the anecdotes, also gives us a walk that is just a walk, and characters who, charming though they may be, are in fact the last survivors of an anything-but-paradisal landowners’ regime. The biography, going about its proper business, is always looking at the Realien behind Paddy’s magically evocative vision, and thus, quite unintentionally, and probably inevitably, ends by steadily cutting him down to size throughout.

Where this becomes a real, and potentially threatening, problem is in the matter of the long-awaited third volume of the trilogy, never published in Paddy’s lifetime, and for years a task with which he struggled in an increasingly pessimistic mood. The crucial question is, does even a first draft of the trilogy’s conclusion exist? Paddy himself talked, on numerous occasions, of working at it. Visitors report seeing a pile of manuscript variously estimated at eight or twelve inches high. Some kind of text is promised for publication in 2013. Yet in her appendix on sources, Cooper lists, for the final stretch, only the “Green Diary” (left behind by Paddy in Romania in 1939, but recovered after the war), and an early (1963–4) version of the Great Walk, about 60,000 words in length, that grew out of a commission from Holiday magazine on “The Pleasures of Walking” (see the 1963 letter to Xan Fielding in Commentary, pp16–17).

It is this last item, we are told, “that will form the bulk of the posthumous conclusion”. But did its final third, from Orsova to the Black Sea, which was, Cooper reports, “covered in detail”, ever get any of the painstaking revision, the cutting and splicing and verbal thaumaturgy that gave the two earlier volumes their enduring magic? What, in fact, were those piles of paper? In what did Paddy’s unfinished labours actually consist? Here, once again, the factual details of Cooper’s biography are suggestive, hinting at possible reasons for non-completion beyond the obvious ones of age, burn-out, and the cumulative ravages of compulsive socializing and over-indulgence.

The quest for the Earthly Paradise needed a fairy princess; and, in a very literal sense, it duly found one. In 1935 Paddy met in Athens, and fell head over heels in love with, Princess Balasha Cantacuzene, who “belonged to one of the great dynasties of eastern Europe”. She was sixteen years older than Paddy, but seems to have reciprocated his adoration with equal fervour. Like many European aristocrats of the period, she maintained a country estate (at Bäleni in Moldavia), while at the same time being virtually penniless. This was no fly-by-night affair. The two lived together – at first in Greece, where they shared a watermill near Galatas, and for a while in England, but for the most part on the Moldavian estate – for nearly five years: writing, painting, translating, travelling, and enjoying each other. It was only the outbreak of war in 1939 that tore them apart, sending Paddy, a natural patriotic adventurer, headlong back to England to join the Irish Guards. This, as Balasha presciently foresaw, was the end of the affair. Cut off, first by the war, then by the brutal initial years of the Communist regime in Romania, which evicted Balasha and her family from the estate, they didn’t meet again until 1965, by which time the one-time princess was a broken wreck of a woman in her sixties, looking much older, and soon to die of breast cancer. But it was she who had preserved the Green Notebook, and at that last meeting she returned it to him.

It is, I think, at least possible that this horrific end to the happy idyll that had formed the climactic conclusion to the Great Walk was one factor, and not a small one, in helping to create so massive a writer’s block in Paddy over the final volume of the trilogy. It will have joined that other nightmare of the Mediterranean expatriate: recognition of advancing age, the ultimate failure of the dream of eternal youth, when the sunlit world is less easily mastered, and the physical self, once so carelessly taken for granted, begins to fail. Paddy defied the clock better than most (a photo of him taken on Ithaca in 1946, when he had a tough war behind him and was in his thirties, makes him look a teenager still), but the determined mountaineering of his later years, not to mention his swimming the Hellespont, had their inevitable limit. His increasing melancholy as time passed hints at a characteristic Mediterranean timor mortis lurking behind the still upbeat bonhomie, and this, too, cannot have encouraged the literary pursuit of paradisal dreams recollected in a mood increasingly removed from tranquillity.

It is also possible that, in some sense, he never fully recovered from the loss of Balasha. His subsequent record of Don Juanism does nothing to disprove this; nor, more surprisingly, does his lifelong relationship with Joan Eyres Monsell, which Cooper charts with an unsparing eye. We watch Joan’s hope for marriage and children being thwarted by a combination of the freedom dream and the writer’s demand for creative solitude (this last being helped out at tight moments by her trust fund). While their companionship grows ever stronger, a time comes when she nevertheless abjures sex with Paddy, and indeed takes to giving him cash handouts to pay for pick-ups. By 1968, when they finally marry, they are both in their fifties, and Joan has had a hysterectomy. Curiously, nothing better emphasizes the subtle gap between their life and that of the Greek world where they spent half of each year than the reaction to their wedding of the citizens of Kardamyli in the Peloponnese, where they had built themselves a legendary house. When they returned from London as a married couple, they found the single bed in Joan’s bedroom, at the other end of the house from Paddy’s, “covered with rose petals and sugared almonds”. Joan, Cooper reports, “was embarrassed and amused”. The amusement, I suspect, was hard work. Artemis Cooper’s biography is subtitled “An adventure”, and in its understated way it spells out just how much, for all its undeniable glamour, that adventure cost.

Peter Green is the Dougherty Centennial Professor Emeritus of Classics at the University of Texas, Austin. He is a professional translator and an occasional poet and novelist. He currently serves as a member of the Classics Faculty at the University of Iowa.

Russians on Crete, oligarchs and controversial journalism

"Billy" Moss with his Russians

“Billy” Moss with his Russians

I was woken from my post New Year slumber by an email from someone called John Helmer who claims to be the longest-serving western journalist in Moscow. He said that he wanted to write a review of An Adventure and asked for the Paddy Blog community’s help in clarifying one or two points about mentions of Russians in Crete and whether or not Paddy had fired his weapon on any other occasion other than the unfortunate accident that led to the death of Yannis Tsangarakis. This all sounded fair enough and the Russian angle was clearly one that would make his article interesting for his Russian readers.

The experts on this subject generally are those involved in trying to prove the actual route of the kidnap in Crete as they have amassed a huge amount of general evidence in their years of research. Billy Moss mentions the Russians in Ill Met by Moonlight (and is pictured with them) and in his sequel, War of Shadows, they are mentioned regularly, forming a key part of his strike force in the vehicle ambush that Moss leads (see War of Shadows).

We passed on this information to Helmer who then wanted to dig deeper into the Russian angle. The problem is very little evidence exists, but Moss, who spoke Russian, mentions them time and time again. Helmer  remained unconvinced, stating that they may have been Bulgarians which is clear nonsense.

There are references to escaped Russians serving in ELAS units (see Sarafis, 1964) on the Greek mainland. When this was mentioned to Helmer he seemed to think that Moss was recruiting Russians as some sort of counter-propoganda move by the British against communists. Clearly Moss saw them as well-trained and aggressive fighters. Other sources have said that in other post-war SOE accounts mention is also made of Russians fighting alongside Cretan partisans.

Unless documentary evidence exists we may never know the extent of the number of Russians prisoners used as forced labour on Crete as they may well have been slaughtered by the retreating Germans (but where are they buried?). Any that did survive and fell into British hands were probably shot by their own side upon return to Russian control as happened in so many places. In war life is cheap; Russian life even cheaper.

Whilst these arguments were put to Helmer he clearly decided that was going to write a most extraordinary review full of venom and hyperbole. Some sources have previously questioned the Australian journalist’s balance and indeed it is said that he has a controversial reputation in Moscow with apparently inappropriate contacts to a number of Russian oligarchs. This short article appears to sum up what some think of his work and character.

Helmer makes some good points about the weaknesses in Paddy’s character, and Artemis’ biography, but it is a pity that he wraps up his prose with so much pent-up spite that the meaning is lost. Quite a lot of the ‘Paddy Magic’ has been lost as Cooper has revealed much more about the man behind the curtain, but his achievements and the pleasure he gave to so many cannot be taken away. It is certain that Helmer has missed a trick by not pursuing the Russians in Crete idea further.

This review is one to add to the list of reviews of the book, and a negative view is always welcome. You just wish that he could have done it with some style. Paddy would have liked that.

Read Helmer’s review here or click the picture.

From The Tablet – Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure

My thanks to David Platzer who wrote this review of An Adventure for the 1 December issue of The Tablet. It is the first time an article from the Catholic organ has made an appearance on the blog.

By David Platzer.

At the beginning of this splendid biography, Artemis Cooper tells us that one of the very first books Patrick Leigh Fermor, Paddy to his friends, ever read was Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill,  a  favourite to which Leigh Fermor yearly returned, along with another Kipling gem, Kim, until the end of his long life.  There was a bit of Puck in Leigh Fermor. To this was added a Buchan hero’s dash and a spice of Byron in good looks, a reputation as  heroes in Greece and both being published by John Murray. Byron and Leigh Fermor possessed as well a sympathy for Catholicism without ever converting even if Leigh Fermor identified himself as ‘R.C.’ during the Second World War.

The war made Leigh Fermor famous when, while fighting with the Greek Resistance he led the kidnap of General Kreipe, German Divisional Commander in Crete.  Any other  writer would have wasted little time in turning his wartime adventures into a book as did Fitzroy Maclean  did with regard to his experiences in Yugoslavia. Leigh Fermor was happy to let his comrade-in-arms, William Stanley Moss, tell their story; as it happened, Moss’s Ill Met by Moonlight, filmed by Michael Powell with Dirk Bogarde playing Leigh Fermor,only enhanced Leigh Fermor’s legend.   Leigh Fermor made his literary fame with The Traveller’s Tree, one of the few books that  James Bond is known to have read.  Years later Leigh Fermor finally did he accept a commission to write an article about his war; typically, the chronically dilatory Leigh Fermor was eleven months late in filing 36;000 words of  ‘Abducting the General’, well over the 5,000 limit specified. Cooper, Antony Beevor’s wife,  discusses in detail Leigh Fermor’s war. This included two darker moments, Leigh Fermor’s accidental shooting dead of a Cretan resistant and the killing, to Leigh Fermor’s horror,  of General Kreipe’s driver by the two Greeks guarding him.

Leigh Fermor’s dilatoriness was the cross of the long-suffering John Murray who died, still waiting for the third volume of the trilogy of Leigh Fermor’s masterpiece portraying his walk in his late teens from Holland to Constantinople in the Thirties. The always hard-up  Leigh Fermor approached his work as if he was a leisured gentleman writer,  blessed with unlimited time in which to write and re-write, his ‘Penelope-ising’, as his friend, the poet George Seferis, put it. He was fortunate indeed in his wife Joan, Wendy to his Peter Pan, who possessed the private income he lacked. Artemis  Cooper, who knew her subject  as a family friend, doesn’t shirk mentioning that Joan not only looked the other way to her companion’s sexual infidelities but even encouraged them.  Though Joan gave up sleeping with Leigh Fermor fairly early in their relationship and long before their marriage, she didn’t expect him to be celibate.  One is reminded of the biographer’s own grandparents, Duff and Diana Cooper, also bound together by a deeper link than the merely physical.

Other than his army pay in wartime and a brief stint at the British Council in Athens, Leigh Fermor never earned a salary and Cooper quotes Somerset Maugham’s description of him as ‘a middle class gigolo for upper class women.’  Maugham, always touchy about his speech impediment, was miffed by Leigh Fermor’s bibulous jokes about stammerers at the octogerian author’s table; nevertheless,  Maugham’s fiction often celebrates cheeky adventurers triumphing at the expense of rectitude and the remark may  have been more a compliment than a barb.  Friends and lovers found he earned his keep through his kindly thoughtfulness. ‘Most men are just take, take, take,’ Ricci Huston, one of Leigh Fermor’s loves said, ‘…with Paddy, it’s give,give, give.’ A few of Leigh Fermor’s  acquaintanceship found that his boisterousness, the frequent singing in nine different languages, often for his supper, and  the dazzling flow of erudition a little too much of a good thing. For the overwhelming majority, however, whether aristocrats or peasants, he was always welcome.  This enthralling biography may well convert even those sceptical to the charm of this endearing sprite, luckier than any Jim,  who succeeded in his early ambition of making his life into a novel.