Tag Archives: Greece

My roots burnt with Greece

A team of firefighters from Serbia tries to extinguish a wildfire in the village of Glatsona on the Greek island of Evia. Photograph: Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP/Getty Images

We have all watched the wildfires around the globe with some degree of horror and awe this summer, perhaps even real trepidation about the future of this warming third rock from the sun that we inhabit. As I think about a trip to the Mani later this year, my thoughts have also been about what we might find there; will the hills around Kardamyli be fire blackened? How will things have changed? This moving article by David Patrikarakos gives us some idea of the impact beyond the dreadful burning of forests. It speaks of the personal impact, and how close things have come to places many of you know in the Mani.

By David Patrikarakos

First published in The Spectator

On 11 March this year my father passed away from prostate cancer after several weeks in a hospital in central Athens. As we sat around his bed, I remember thinking that I was watching 3,000 years of Greek history slowly perish before my eyes. My father was an only child, and I am British. His line of Greeks is at an end.

Now fires have ravaged Greece and the olive trees that stood in my ancestral village for centuries have burnt to the ground. This year has seen the almost literal burning away of my roots: because if I am British, I am also a Greek — of sorts. This much is inescapable. My name is Patrikarakos, Pa-tri-ka-ra-kos, which falls — like a slab of Cycladic marble — between me and those I meet. So luminously foreign, so palpably un-English. I remember as a child reading that Ian Fleming had chosen the name James Bond for the main character of a spy novel he wanted to write because its two blunt monosyllables were, he said, ‘brief, unromantic, Anglo-Saxon and very masculine’. What then of my endless syllables and vulgar vowels, which fuse together in ululating cadences, and sound so alien — and presumably feminine — to British ears?

If my name screams ‘foreign’ to the British it signals something else to Greeks. Its stem — ‘akos’ means only one thing: that I originate in the Mani, a region of the Peloponnese in southern Greece. The origins of the word ‘Mani’ mean ‘a sparse and treeless place’ — and it’s apt. The land is hot and arid, the terrain mountainous and inaccessible. It was only relatively recently that a road able to reach many of its villages was built. Previously they had been accessible only by sea.

The people, who claim descent from the ancient Spartans, are notoriously ungovernable. Mani is home to vendettas. For centuries families killed each other through the generations over long-forgotten disputes. When my father died, we pondered what to do with the old family rifle that had been passed down to him. It was beautiful: rich brown wood married to deep grey metal. I had visions of it hanging on my wall, speaking to a history that, though distant, is not forgotten. I called a contact at the police to check out the legality of this.

‘Hmmm,’ he told me over video call, scratching a stubbly chin. ‘Theoretically you need to take it to a police station where they can confirm it’s been decommissioned and then register it.’

He paused. ‘The thing is… this is from the Mani, right?’

I replied that it was.

‘Yeah, the problem is that every so often we get a gun in from there and it turns out to have been used to shoot someone in a vendetta years ago, which causes no end of problems. I’d just bin it if I were you.’

I binned it.

Since ancient times Maniots have been pirates and warriors — impossible to enslave. The Mani is mentioned in Homer’s ‘Catalogue of Ships’ in the Iliad, while the Maniots supplied Augustus with troops for his battle with Mark Antony and Cleopatra at Actium. During the Greek war of independence against the Turks, the Greeks emblazoned ‘Freedom or Death,’ on their flags. The Maniots, though, replaced ‘Freedom’ with ‘Victory’ because, of course, the Mani had always been free.

If the Mani is famous for war, it is also famous for its olive trees. Mine were in my ancestral village of Skamnaki — the name means little stool — in the region’s east, close to Gythion bay in the plateau between mount Taygetos and the sea. The olive groves stood among some fields down a slope not far away from the thick stone house that my pappoús, my grandfather, and his family grew up in.

Their loss has scarred the entire village. Some are inconsolable; these people grew up in the shadow of trees that are now reduced to ash. For Maniots, olive trees symbolise a deeper emotional relationship with place: if the Mani is unconquerable, it is in large part thanks to its olives, through which the people could trade and feed themselves. Mani’s famous independence is inseparable from its trees. When enemies want to hurt the region it is the trees they attack. During the 1821 war of independence, Ibrahim Pasha ordered his army to burn several Mani villages to the ground, torching the olive trees in each one. The local population starved to death.

Patrick Leigh Fermor, the English travel writer who lived in Mani, talks about the importance of the olive harvest there. ‘Each tree has its personality,’ he tells us. ‘Every branch and knot and hole is familiar, and to damage one is an unlucky, almost a wicked act.’ This is because if the trees mark this land they also demarcate its people. Maniots are not Cretans for many reasons, but not least because they don’t beat their olive branches to make the olives fall as Cretans do — they don’t want to bruise the trees. They have a deeper connection with them. They know that trees surround their houses, their buildings, their churches.

And if the trees sit at the heart of community life, they have also powered social progress. For years, women were barred from taking part in almost all activities outside of the home except for the harvest: then they would put on old clothes and go out into the groves with the men and children. Everyone understood this relationship, which was clear and synergistic. The people tend the trees, and in return the trees give them olives — the source of life.

In the end, we cannot escape our roots. Here, it is the roots of the trees that sit deep in the ground, anchored to the soil and the story of families. Every Maniot understands that their history is interwoven with the olive trees — the two sets of roots perennially intertwined, indivisible from the land. It is something that I too now finally understand — if only in their demise. The fires in Greece have meant for me, not just the destruction of some vines but a rupture with history itself, and for my family, they have meant that once again we will come together this year to mourn death.

Dorset, in a Mediterranean light

John Craxton in Hydra, Greece, 1960. Photo: Wolfgang Suschitzky

This second article about John Craxton discusses Craxton’s personal and professional journey towards the happiness and creativity he found in Greece. It is written in the context of the 2016 Salisbury Museum exhibition that I know many of you attended. I have left the article as is so do excuse the references to events long past in a different world!

Remember the new biography by Ian Collins – John Craxton: A Life of Gifts  – is published by Yale University Press.  Craxton was book cover artist for most of Paddy’s books, friend to Paddy and Joan, as well as Lucian Freud, and lover of Margot Fonteyn.

By Maggie Gray

First published in Apollo Magazine, April 2016

Before he moved to Crete, before the sparkling light of the Mediterranean permeated his world view and his canvases, John Craxton painted rather more morose depictions of his native England. The artist was born in London to a cosmopolitan family, but from a young age lodged at his aunt and uncle’s house in rural Dorset where, if his early paintings and drawings are to be believed, he spent a lot of time wandering and sketching the landscape, immersed in his surroundings and his own thoughts. In early works he cuts a lonely figure – for it is difficult not to read his solitary shepherds and poets as self-portraits of some kind – among the ancient hills and gnarled trees, with only the birds for company. This brooding but lyrical vision of England won him recognition as a young talent in the neo-Romantic school – though like all good neo-Romantics he disliked the term. Craxton eventually strayed a long way from the fold, both geographically and stylistically, settling in Crete and pursuing a lighter and highly distinctive style. But the sense of being within a landscape – of drawing one’s own energies and emotions from its larger rhythms – that he established in chilly Cranborne Chase never left him or his work.

Poet in Landscape (1941), John Craxton. © Craxton Estate

Poet in Landscape (1941), John Craxton. © Craxton Estate

Craxton’s reputation faltered towards the end of his life but was revived somewhat at the end of 2013, when the Fitzwilliam Museum mounted a retrospective at which his colourful Cretan paintings were a revelation. A number of these kaleidoscopic canvases are now on display at the Salisbury Museum (until 7 May), but the show – curated by Craxton’s biographer and executor Ian Collins, and on the second leg of a tour that started at the Dorset Museum in spring 2015 – is a decidedly more local affair. On view alongside examples of his major works are Craxton’s childhood sketches; a series of paintings by his uncle, Cecil Waller (all for sale); a selection of items from the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Farnham, whose collection fascinated Craxton as a boy (it closed in the 1960s); and a set of portrait drawings he made of local children that have only recently come to light. Craxton’s designs for cards and book covers (most famously for his friend Patrick Leigh Fermor) add a further note of personal domesticity.

Knowlton Church (1941), John Craxton. Private collection

Knowlton Church (1941), John Craxton. Private collection

This eclecticism makes for a less cogent show than the Fitzwilliam’s (which also benefitted from a simpler layout and higher ceilings than is possible in Salisbury’s 17th-century building) but the odd combinations do result in surprising insights. In the second of the main exhibition rooms, for example, are several paintings and drawings of rural landscapes and buildings (and a startling image of a dead hare on a tabletop, made when Craxton was living with Lucian Freud in London, which is an interesting diversion). They range from grey and moody visions in ink, to more controlled and colourful variations, including one, Alderholt Mill (1943–44), in which the house is painted in blocks of brilliant red, white and green. It’s an unexpected injection of colour that foreshadows Craxton’s later paintings (to which the curators have established a direct line of sight). It’s also a detail that is picked up in the bold wall colours selected for the display, which switch from a deep slate blue to brilliant yellow, marking Craxton’s departure for sunnier shores.

Alderholt Mill (1943–44), John Craxton.

Alderholt Mill (1943–44), John Craxton.

The artist’s first inkling that there might be a life for him outside the UK seems to have come from a visit to the Scilly Isles in 1945, after which he swiftly upgraded to the Mediterranean proper, travelling to Greece in 1946. Crete became a regular base for the artist, and while he did not officially relocate until 1960, the island replaced his home country in his affections quickly and completely. ‘I can work best in an atmosphere where life is considered more important than Art – where life is itself an Art’, he commented in 1948:

Then I find it is possible to feel a real person – real people, real elements, real windows – real sun above all. In a life of reality my imagination really works. I feel like an émigré in London and squashed flat.

Craxton’s ambitious Four Figures in a Mountain Landscape (1950–51) serves as a centrepiece and turning point in the Salisbury display, which gathers several of his later paintings into its final two rooms. The large painting is an unashamedly Arcadian depiction of Aegean life, woven with colour, which encapsulates much of what changed in Craxton’s art after he went away. The smaller pictures surrounding it tell us a bit more about how and why his style evolved. Greek Fisherman (1946), made after his trip to the Isles of Scilly, but before he got to Greece, is an important reminder that the artist’s efforts to lighten his palette predated and probably inspired his first trip. He was already asking questions of his art – and was clearly predisposed to find his answers in the Aegean.

Four Figures in a Mountain Landscape (1950–51), John Craxton. © Craxton Estate. Photo: Bristol Museum, Galleries & Archives

Four Figures in a Mountain Landscape (1950–51), John Craxton. © Craxton Estate. Photo: Bristol Museum, Galleries & Archives

Two Greek Dancers (1951), meanwhile, reveals an important innovation that he would only make once he got there. The deceptively simple composition depicts two figures in outline against a pale grey-blue ground – but what astonishing outlines they are, changing colour as they feel their way around their subjects, indicating the local hues that have otherwise vanished into the airy surroundings. This technique recurs in various inflections throughout his later paintings, and few approaches so elegantly express both the hot, crystal clarity of the region’s light and the scattering, vibrating colours that it produces. Four Figures in a Mountain Landscape is, in reality, no more colourful than some of his British scenes: deep, dark blues and greens dominate the foreground as the sky turns to sunset overhead. But the whole thing is held together by silvery, shifting and vibrant threads of paint. They transform the image, laying down the memory of the warmth and brilliance of the day just ending, but also the expectation of another such day to come. You don’t see that in Dorset very often.

Buy John Craxton: A Life of Gifts here.

Swish! Swish! Swish!

Paddy’s observations on the Mani olive harvest, the war stories of old men, and where to find the best olive oil! A Paddy original recently surfaced. 

By Patrick Leigh Fermor (unknown provenance sent to me by a friend)

‘Where are you off to? Sit down.’ One of the two cheerful old men, who were smoking crosslegged under the branches, patted the ground beside him. Silvery vistas of gnarled and half-hollow olive trees opened fanwise all round them and there was a cicada grinding and scraping on every branch. A donkey under a wooden saddle grazed a little way off, trailing his long rope through the stubble. A wide hat with green muslin sewn to the brim lay beside one of the old men, and a rusty tin smoke-gun, fitted with primitive bellows that beekeepers fuel with dried dung. He was on his way to his beehives: one of those rows of faded blue wooden cubes that one sees high up in the heather in the summer months.

When I was beside them on the ground and about to light a Papastratos No. 1, the mule owner said: ‘Put it back, boy. Try one of ours from Kalamata.’ I took a Karelia from his packet. He lit it with flint and steel and a long yellow wick and I lay back in an aromatic cloud. It was a baking day with long needles of sunlight piercing the brittle shade of the leaves. The Deep Mani! It had never seemed hotter.

The beekeeper took a pitcher of water out of a little cave among the roots and passed it. I took a long pull of water from the cool and clammy vessel. ‘There’s nothing worse than thirst,’ he said, putting it back. ‘I’ll never forget when we were fighting the Turks on the river Sangarios, the day we captured the mountain of Çatal Dag – you remember, Petro?’ Petro nodded. ‘The confusion was terrible! Our chaps here, the Turks there, dust and smoke everywhere. Dead men, dead horses, wounded men, everyone covered with dust; caps, helmets, fezes – all lost, everything all over the place and upside down! It was a hot August, just like today. And thirst, po, po, po! Never ask! One of our boys who had lost touch with his company, suddenly spied a spring up the mountainside. He ran and flung himself down and started to drink. Then another one arrived and lay down beside him. They made room for each and went on drinking. When they had drunk their fill they sat up and looked at each other with a sigh of contentment. Suddenly our boy realised that the other was a Turk! Panayia mou! A young infantryman, just like him! And, at the same moment, the other realised he was sitting beside a Greek!’ He paused. ‘Just think! A Romios and a Turk, side by side! And the battle still going on all round them. Cannons! Horses! Flags! Shouting! Sabres! Bayonets! Bugles!’

‘Yes, but what did they do?’ The tension was intolerable. Barba Stavro’s eyes were twinkling in their lined sockets.

‘The whistle of bullets – we still had the old-fashioned single-shot Gra rifles then – orders and counter-orders shouted in both languages … mortars, shells, explosions! Wounded and dying all over the place.’ He clicked his tongue. ‘War is a terrible thing!’

‘But what did they do, Uncle Stavro? You are torturing us!’

‘Especially with modern weapons, amán! amán!’ He was gazing into the distance, pensively twisting his white moustache with his forefinger. ‘They say the atom bomb – my granddaughter read me all about it, from the Kathimerini – the last atom bomb, I mean, that they exploded at – what’s the place called? Bikini? – in the Pacific Ocean.’

I seized him by the knees. ‘Yes, but what did they do?’

‘Who? Ah yes, our chap and the Turk … I’m glad you asked …’ There was a long pause. ‘Well,’ he said, taking pity on us at last, ‘they did exactly what you or I would have done. They jumped up and ran away from each other as fast as they could!’

We all laughed. In Albania, in 1941, I asked an old friend what the retreat in Asia Minor had been like, and without hesitation, he said: ‘Like the retreat of the Grande Armée from Moscow, but with sand instead of snow.’ One catches the atmosphere in a flash. It is from the uncomfortable, the haphazard, the comic, that one learns what things were really like.

I wish Anna Comnena had possessed a single spark of these old men’s spirit. But Byzantine chroniclers lacked this blessing: hieratic formality and a slowly fossilising language stifled it; it was beneath their dignity. If Barba Stavro and Barba Petro had been there in 1259, when the Byzantines beat the Frankish army at the Battle of Pelagonia, it would be more than just a date. They would tell us about a Burgundian baron’s charger casting a shoe, or a squabble between two Thracian archers over a plate of beans, and all would be different. Xenophon had the life-giving gift; so did Makriyannis. These old Maniots idling the morning away with me under the hot leaves had it to a supreme degree. The bell round its neck clanked every time the donkey moved to a new patch of stubble, while we were marching in imagination with the Peloponnese Division all over Asia Minor.

These marvellous old men abound, but they will be getting scarce soon. I mean the ones who, in about 1912, received ten years of wars as a coming-of-age present: unambiguous, self-reliant, upright, humorous and philosophical men; weathered by a thousand hardships, and often illiterate, they are equipped with an intelligence that leaves their native simplicity intact. It was in Crete that I first came across these indestructible old men, with their white moustaches and their clear eyes; and, later on, all over rustic Greece and the islands. They gave one a hint of what Kolokotrones must have been like. Nestor, perhaps.

Until that morning, the Asia Minor campaign, which had ended thirty years earlier, had always seemed as remote as the Anabasis. Now, it might have ended last week. Their reciprocal memories egged each other on: the laundry lost in the Meander river … the deaf lance-corporal in Ortaca … Trouble with the town commandant of Süsürlük … Leave overstayed in Smyrna … The over-zealous sergeant-major at Ushak and the confusion caused by his orders, given in mangled Katharévousa.

The tale of a calf ‘acquired’ by a hungry platoon before the battle of Afion-Kara Hissar reminded me of another I had heard a couple of weeks before in the Outer Mani; it had been told me by the hero of the anecdote, who had been on sentry duty at night in a trench as a newly arrived recruit in the Halka Bunar line, in front of Smyrna. I repeated the story: how, all of a sudden, through the darkness, he had heard steps drawing closer from the direction of the Turkish front line. Perhaps it was the spearhead of a night attack! (No password! It couldn’t be one of our night patrols. No answer to my challenge; so I fired. Down went the enemy!) Alerted, the whole front stood to arms, fire broke out all along the line and continued till daybreak, when the raider turned out to be a donkey which had strayed between the two armies. (‘I know the man who told you this!’ Petro said. ‘I’m from the Outer Mani too.’) ‘Ever afterwards,’ the storyteller had concluded, ‘the whole regiment used to tease me about being the heroic donkey-slayer.’ I didn’t tell the story very well, but they laughed politely; and as I finished, the donkey grazing nearby let out a series of desolate brays. Barba Stavro put a finger to his lips: ‘Quieter, Mihali,’ he said. ‘He heard you.’

After a moment, Barba Petro went on. ‘Some people think trees can understand what we say. They like company. At least they like being close to human beings.’ It was an interesting idea. I suggested that it might limit conversation: one didn’t want to corrupt our benefactors. ‘They don’t really hear us, of course,’ he went on. ‘It’s because the trees near to a house always do best. It’s probably all the dirty water the women throw out of the doors, and the mules and donkeys tied up under the branches. Chickens, ducks, pigs, it all helps … And another thing: the trees talk as well as listen!’ He laughed. ‘Do you know what an olive tree says to its master, to help him get a good crop? No? Well, first it says: “When you plough me, you caress me.” Later on in the year it says: ‘When you manure me, you ask me a favour.” But at harvest time it says: “When you prune me, you command me!”’

Throughout this peninsula the olive tree reigns unchallenged. All life revolves round them. They are treated with respect and love: the respect that is accorded to sovereigns and the love that is bestowed on one’s family. Each tree has its personality: every branch and knot and hole is familiar, and to damage one is an unlucky, almost a wicked act; when a plan for the building of a new road or the widening of an old one condemns thousands of them to death, the grief is deep and general. On the eve of such a slaughter I came on a woman wandering among her olives. She had come to say goodbye. ‘They won’t be here tomorrow,’ she said, laying her hand on the rough bark, dry-eyed, but only just. ‘Twenty of them are coming down. I’ve known them since I was a little girl. They were my dowry.’ Next day the destruction began, and on the day after, kilometres of trees lay uprooted to make way for another broad band of asphalt to tear its way through those once silent groves.

I asked my companions how the olives were gathered: did they beat them from the branches with long reeds or poles, as I had seen it done in Crete? They were horrified. Beat them down? Only from the lopped branches on the ground. On the tree itself they were all picked by hand, to avoid bruising the twigs and the shoots: a long task. ‘In some of our Outer Mani villages,’ Barba Petro said, ‘they have started using an instrument like the comb people have for carding wool after the sheep-shearing – it’s just a bit of wood with some nails through it, really, and a handle. It does the work in half the time. You just comb the branches.’

‘Is that so?’ Barba Stavro was as impressed as though he were learned of the discovery of steam power for the first time. When they had discussed it in detail, he turned to me and said: ‘You must come back when they are gathering them. It’s a fine sight.’

I have seen it now. After the first brief rains a note of preparation runs through the Mani; the whole atmosphere begins to change. The blacksmiths hammer away at the great containers which have replaced the old amphorae, and in the olive presses you hear the first trial thumps of the engines which now do the work of the blindfold circling mules. Spraying has delivered the crop from the onslaught of the dacus fly. But the autumn sky has returned to its summer emptiness: ‘Will God rain on us?’ the question goes up. The clouds which at last assemble along the crests of the Taygetus resemble the sails of a relieving fleet after a long siege. At last the first drops fall on the dust like dark scattered stars that soon join and overflow in puddles. By the time it ends, young grass has sprung up in a haze between the tree trunks; sea-squills expand their dark spikes, cyclamen are sprouting among the rocks; and the branches, which have steadily been losing their angular distortion, droop in semicircular arcs under the weight of their berries, like the trees on a willow pattern plate. All has been washed clean and all that the dust and the distance veiled through the hot months leaps forward in glittering detail. Now and then a light wind travels through those thousands of trunks and lifts the pointed leaves so that the silver undersides flicker and flash in the thin November sunlight as though a shoal of millions and millions of fish, prompted by a subconscious mass decision, were changing direction. The ripple dies down and all is still again.

A few mornings later there are sudden voices among the trees after a whole year of silence and the olive groves fill up with figures and animals. Great rectangles of sacking, helped out by a bright blanket here and there, are spread out under each tree in turn like rafts of colour. Ladders ascend into the boughs, the figures group and regroup, men shout from the branches and the women, standing about or sitting in a ring below, beat the lopped and fallen twigs with sticks. The unflagging swish! swish! swish! is the predominant sound all through the harvest. The olives that patter on the cloth like rain are piled in pyramids; children who are too young to be left alone in the empty village chase each other between the trees; dogs bark, mules nibble the new grass and white goats tear the leaves from the stripped twigs that cover the ground.

The women wear their oldest clothes. They are patched again and again, and except for dark pleats and folds that retain their earliest colours, have been faded by the sun and bleached by a hundred washings to pale harmonious hues. Similar groups are assembled in the great level groves; they are scattered on the ascending ledges of terrace that climb until the last trees disperse among the high rocks like puffs of gunfire. The groups, the colours, especially those on the ledges of the perpendicular mountainside, compose themselves like the biblical scenes frescoed on church walls; almost – with the seated and standing figures, the waiting animals and the criss-cross of ladders – into crucifixions infinitely reproduced, except that all is cheerful here. Then men plying their small curved saws at the top of the ladders engage the women beside and beneath them in banter; flocks of girls perch invisibly in cages of leaves. Their songs drift charmingly along the groves. Loaded with bursting sacks and goaded by the cheerful blasphemies of their drivers, strings of mules labour through the dappled light and shade down the lanes to the olive presses; the throb of their engines has suddenly become the heartbeat of all the villages.

Everything gathers here. Animals stamp and neigh and collide and rear, swift hands disentangle them; strong backs are bent double under the sacks. Greetings are shouted and gossip has to be exchanged in voices of thunder to overcome the din of the engine and the roar of the great turning stones. Each peasant watches his cataract of olives poured into the wooden jaws; and when at last the pale jade-green jet of the first oil gushes from the spout below, he dips into it a piece of bread and munches it, feeling the happiest of mortals.

These are private and local scenes, cut off from the outside world. Everyone who doesn’t belong here has fled long ago, at the same time as the swallows. (Not quite everyone, or these lines would not be being written.) One morning there is a confetti of snow on the high peaks of the Taygetus; in a day or two they are an unbroken white, a dazzling background to the oranges with which the village trees are now heavy. The harvesting goes on through the winter solstice until the cut twigs and branches cover the ground and choke the lanes. The aromatic smell of bonfires drifts through the clipped and lightened branches; plumes of pale smoke ascend into the bright air. At night the stars sparkle like icicle splinters. Then the cypresses shudder in anticipation, and the wind comes and drenching rain. Tremendous waves roar up the inlets like an invasion to boom and echo in the caves with which the whole coast is undermined. The waves soar along the cliffs, opening in fans that cover the headlands and offshore islands with canopies of water and foam, to collapse and fall back with a gasp of pebbles. The onslaught reverberates through towers and archways and rooms like the sound of a battle offstage. Nowhere does one feel more cogently the succession of the seasons and the tilt of the earth’s axis. By now every house has its new oil stored in giant containers; the household is safe for another year. The windowpanes are streaming. The stripped trees stretch their roots through the soaking dark red soil; their torpid subterranean energy will cover the branches again by Easter with millions of pale, minute and star-like flowers.

But a shadow falls over these scenes, a small one during that summer day years ago while Stavro and Petro were talking; longer now. For the flight from the Mani continues, and each year the population that gathered the olives grows less. Sometimes, to replace them, troops of women come down from Western Thessaly, strange and fascinating costumes appear in the lanes, the Karagouni accent is heard, even a phrase or two of Koutzovlach. But they are no solution. The great flocks have already vanished from the high summer pastures of the Taygetus. In the north, the brushwood folds of the Sarakatzans, their customs and costumes, and their conical wigwams – those last surviving symbols, perhaps, of the most ancient Greek way of life in the country – have vanished from the Zagora ranges and the Agrapha, and the bells of their flocks sound fainter and fainter every year. Are the olives of the Mani to follow? Some pessimists think so: ‘Where are the hands to harvest them?’ they ask. Where indeed? Ask in Kalamata and Athens, ask in Essen and Düsseldorf, in Duisburg and Cologne and Friedrichshafen, in Melbourne and Adelaide and Sydney; ask in Toronto and Montreal …

Will the day come when the best oil on the planet ceases to flow; when the silver cord is loosed, as in the last chapter of Ecclesiastes, and the grinders cease because they are few and the doors shall be shut in the streets?

The best oil on the planet. Stavros and Petro had no doubts about it. We all agreed that Greek olives were the best. I said, ‘What about Amphissa?’ They turned on me with pitying tones. No, no. The Mani was the place. But where in the Mani? ‘Here!’ Stavro said. His forefinger, which was as hard as a goat’s horn and nearly as wrinkled, gave the ground a gnomic tap. Then he gathered his beekeeping gear and got up, stretching himself and yawning. ‘We’ll go home and try some. And swallow an ouzo or two to revive us after our labours.’ We all laughed; we were streaming with sweat, but not from toil. We had lain there talking for more than three hours. Petro collected his mule, which had wandered away some distance.

‘Stavro,’ he said as we set off. ‘Deep Mani olives are good. I’m not saying they’re not. But the best are the ones in the Outer Mani. The whole world knows it. It’s not just because I come from those parts – far from it. But it’s everybody’s opinion.’

‘So be it,’ Stavro said. He gave me a secret dig with his elbow and the ghost of a wink. I asked Petro where the best in the Outer Mani come from. ‘From Liasínova,’ he answered without hesitation. There was a scarcely audible chuckle from Barba Stavro. I asked Petro where he came from. ‘Me? You mean where do I come from?’ Then, in airy tones of slight surprise at the unexpected coincidence, he said: ‘From there. From Liasínova, that’s to say.’

It was a splendid illustration of local prejudice. But now, after many years and mature consideration, I think there was a lot in what he said. Certainly, the best olives in Greece come from the Outer Mani; and definitely from the region of Liasínova. But from Liasínova itself? I think a truly impartial and objective opinion might place the actual pinpoint of unsurpassable excellence a little further down the coast – only three or four kilometres away. More towards Kardamyli, perhaps.

Editor Note: Since publication some of you have come forward with ideas about the source of this. I like the one from Pietro Basile best:

Hello Tom,
here’s the current source for Swish, swish, swish.
Apparently it was written for a Greek edition of Mani but never published.
No mention of who found it, but great piece, if one actually actually knows Greece.
My guess is that he wanted to have it it included as a special homage to his area but whoever was the editor thought it was a bit corny…
Regards,
Pietro

The art of friendship in post-war Greece

Still Life with Three Sailors (1980–85), John Craxton. Private collection. © 2018 Craxton Estate/DACS

Still Life with Three Sailors (1980–85), John Craxton. Private collection. © 2018 Craxton Estate/DACS

 

The first of a few articles reminding us of the genius of John Craxton as his new biography by Ian Collins – John Craxton: A Life of Gifts  – is published by Yale University Press.  Craxton was book cover artist for most of Paddy’s books, friend to Paddy and Joan, as well as Lucian Freud, and lover of Margot Fonteyn.

By Tom Fleming. First published in Apollo Magazine June 2018.

John Craxton disliked being described as a ‘neo-Romantic’ artist, preferring to be known as a ‘kind of Arcadian’. He spent most of his life in Crete, where his enjoyment of the Mediterranean lifestyle was in inverse proportion to the rate at which he finished his paintings (he termed it ‘procraxtonation’). He never quite shed the label of a promising talent who had failed to develop. But he did not regret moving away from England. His work may not be as celebrated as that of his friend Lucian Freud, with whom he first went to Greece in 1946 (and later fell out), but it has a joie de vivre that speaks of a life well lived, one in which Greece played a fundamental part. As he wrote later, he preferred to live ‘in an atmosphere where life is considered more important than art – where life is itself an Art’.

Those last words could be the strapline for ‘Charmed Lives in Greece’ at the British Museum. It focuses on three friends – Craxton, Patrick Leigh Fermor and Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika – who met just after the Second World War and remained close for almost 50 years thanks to a shared attachment to the pleasures of Greek life. Through artwork, letters, photographs and notebooks, the exhibition builds up a kind of group biography, structured loosely around the various homes they made for themselves.

Pine trees in Poros (1949), Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika. Ghika Gallery, Benaki Museum, Athens

Pine trees in Poros (1949), Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika. Ghika Gallery, Benaki Museum, Athens

The most spectacular of these was Ghika’s family villa on the island of Hydra, with its nine terraces dug into the steep hillside overlooking the harbour. Born in 1906, the son of a distinguished admiral, Ghika was an elegant and much-liked painter who had studied in Paris during his youth, returning to Greece in the 1930s. Like several of his generation, he brought modernist sensibilities to bear on the renascent national culture of the period, and was a busy presence in Greek life. He set about restoring the Hydra house in 1936 and with his first wife made it a stopping point for anyone and everyone.

Leigh Fermor and his girlfriend (later wife) Joan became regular guests after the war. Paddy, as he was known, was famous around Greece for his exploits with the Cretan resistance against the Germans. In the early 1950s he and Joan stayed at Ghika’s house for two years while Ghika was travelling, during which time Paddy (never a stranger to using other people’s houses as writing retreats) constructed most of Mani (1958), his book about the southern Peloponnese. A product of his near-exhaustless curiosity about Greek history and culture, Mani is full of the lyricism and ebullience that defined his prose. Quotations from his writings are displayed around the exhibition, as evocative in their way as the many images. It was Craxton who illustrated the cover for Mani, and he did the same for all of Leigh Fermor’s subsequent books.

Moonlit Ravine (early 1970s), John Craxton. Private collection © 2018 Craxton Estate/DACS

Moonlit Ravine (early 1970s), John Craxton. Private collection © 2018 Craxton Estate/DACS

Craxton, too, stayed for long periods at Ghika’s house. He was impressed by the way Ghika’s art fused Cubist and Byzantine elements, and their influence on each other is clear when you see their paintings side by side. They both enjoyed painting the dramatic Hydra landscape. Craxton developed a palette that included near-fluorescent greens and blues, using them to convey the heat and light of the Greek terrain. A Hydra panorama from 1963–67 and a Cretan ravine painting from the early 1970s are some of the exhibition highlights.

In 1960, Craxton moved permanently to Crete, occupying an old Venetian house in the port of Chania. A photograph taken by John Donat from Craxton’s terrace that year, with the artist’s aluminium teapot on the stone in the foreground, a few fishermen in the harbour below and the sea stretching out above to fill most of the picture, magnificently evokes the Cretan atmosphere. A year later Ghika’s house in Hydra burned down, and soon afterwards he and his second wife converted an old olive press in Corfu. Around the same time, the Leigh Fermors built a home on the Peloponnese coast, near Kardamyli. A photograph from 1965 shows Leigh Fermor in a traditional dance with the local masons. They lived there for two years before getting a phone line or electricity.

From left: Tom Fisher, Paddy, Joan , John Craxton, Margot Fonteyn, Frederick Ashton and Ruth Page

There is pleasure – and a pleasurable sense of envy – to be had in this. It will be a rare visitor who steps out of the central London traffic to see ‘Charmed Lives in Greece’ and does not come away wishing that they too could live in a house by the sea with no phone or electricity. But there is also, perhaps inevitably, something too idyllic about it all. Political context is non-existent: there is no mention of the devastating Greek Civil War of 1946–49, for instance. On a personal level, we learn almost nothing about either Joan Leigh Fermor or Ghika’s two wives, or of what went on in their marriages, or about the sources of the money that enabled their lifestyles. The result is undeniably charming, but also superficial.

This is particularly noticeable in the catalogue. Ian Collins contributes an excellent essay on Craxton in Greece, but elsewhere critical faculties seem to have been abandoned. Thank-you letters comprise a significant primary source, and not even Leigh Fermor can be interesting when tossing out those. The focus on houses and decoration is reminiscent of World of Interiors. Given that one of the author-curators, Michael Llewellyn-Jones, is a former British ambassador to Greece, it is no surprise that the whole thing occasionally feels like an act of Anglo-Greek diplomacy (a field in which the British Museum has not always excelled).

From the left: Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas, John Craxton, Barbara Hutchinson-Ghika, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Joan Leigh Fermor, 1958

Still, the book contains a wealth of archival documents and images, including some fine photographs that will be manna to Leigh Fermor’s many fans. Any exhibition that provides a chance to see Craxton’s paintings is enough to improve the mood. It’s in his Arcadian spirit that ‘Charmed Lives in Greece’ is best enjoyed.

Click this link to purchase a copy of John Craxton: A Life of Gifts 

Video from the dinner held to mark the 10th anniversary of the death of Patrick Leigh Fermor

Things have been so very busy since the 24th June that I’ve not been able to provide a report about the dinner held at the Aphrodite Taverna, London, on that evening.

Suffice to say it was a great success. Many thanks to Chris Joyce who arranged it all. There were around 24 of us in attendance, including a number of notable writers: Artemis Cooper, Antony Beevor, and Alan Ogden. Former Coldstream Guards officer Harry Bucknall was also present, making a public confession which made The Times the next day.

Following requests from some of you to make a public record, here are some videos from the event which I hope you will enjoy. They are in “running order”. Enjoy!

Tom Sawford on the Paddy blog and some tributes posted ten years ago.

A little continuation of that one here starting with a memory by Nick Jellicoe, the son of George Jellicoe …

Chris White talking about the kidnap route and a proposed film documentary

Alan Ogden and the legacy of the kidnap

Artemis and Paddy’s charm …

Antony Beevor and the story of when Paddy met Helmut Kohl 🙂

Harry Bucknall’s confession …

Paddy’s thorough reading of They Were Counted …

And to conclude the fantastic evening, Isabelle Cole, one of Billy Moss’ daughters, offers a rendition of It’s a Long Way to Tipperary in French, as sung by Paddy.

Updated – The Art of Travel with Patrick Leigh Fermor

We originally posted this recording in March 2012. It really does not seem so long ago! David Turner had found a recording from somewhere and converted it to digital. I uploaded it to Soundcloud where it resides to this day. 

The recording is from a BBC Radio 4 programme entitled “The Art of Travel” (broadcast c.1990-1992) in which Annette Kobrak interviewed Paddy for about 26 minutes concerning his early life and his journey to Constantinople. There are some good discussions about his travels after Between the Woods and the Water, about Bulgaria and into Constantinople.

However, an even better digital version is now available on BBC Sounds here, and at this time of remembering Paddy it’s good to hear his voice once more.

https://patrickleighfermor.org/2012/03/11/patrick-leigh-fermor-the-art-of-travel-broadcast-c-1990-1992/

If the BBC prevents you from listening because you are abroad, try my Soundcloud version below.

I am indebted to David Turner for taking the time to convert this to digital and very successfully too – the sound quality is excellent!

You can listen online or download (press the downwards pointing arrow on the right hand side menu bar of the player).

A new photograph to mark the 10th anniversary of Paddy’s death

John Craxton (left) and Patrick Leigh Fermor (right), Serifos, Greece, 1951. Photo (detail): Joan Leigh Fermor, National Library of Scotland
John Craxton (left) and Patrick Leigh Fermor (right), Serifos, Greece, 1951. Photo (detail): Joan Leigh Fermor, National Library of Scotland

At least this is new to me. I discovered it recently appended to an article about the new John Craxton biography (more on that later). I thought that we might all enjoy this image of two young men in their prime, two great friends, just larking about in their favourite place.

Do not do battle with Greeks

My thanks to Stephen who added a comment a while back about Paddy’s experience amongst the Greeks, and offered an entertaining link to a rousing You Tube video which you might enjoy.

Hello, to PLF readers. To gain an insight into the nights in the Psiloriti mountains that PLF partook, he was inspired by its people. The Cretan musicians here play, “Do not do battle with Greeks,” played in the mountains among its people.

A reading from Mani: In the Footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor

The travel firm Kudu Travel runs walking holidays, with some in the Mani. They are fans of Paddy! Here one of their guides reads from Mani after a drive to Gaitses, high on the western flank of the Taygettus range at the edge of the Koskarakas Gorge.

After a pleasant, three hour easy walk following the route taken by Paddy and Joan when they emerged from the overgrown gorge, after their momentous crossing of the mountain. They visited the ‘handsome old church’ on top of a knoll, and the neighbourhood where they sampled their first glass of Mani wine, and listened to a reading.

Kudu’s highly rated footsteps of Paddy tour to the Mani is due to run 10-20 October 2020.

Easter in the golden Kardamili – cooking at Kalamitsi

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

The Man of the Mani now on BBC Sounds

In 2015, the experienced BBC reporter and presenter, John Humphrys, hosted a BBC Radio 4 programme about Paddy’s life in the village of Kardamyli in the Mani, exploring his the life and work. The programme is now available (for how long I don’t know) on the BBC Sounds website. Maybe take half an hour this weekend to listen to one seasoned veteran talk about his passion for another.

At the time the BBC website introduced the programme thus:

Fermor is arguably the most influential travel writer of the 20th Century. At the age of eighteen he took off, with notebook in hand, on a walk across Europe. During the Second World War he fought in Greece and Crete, and is still remembered in the country today for his daring exploits with the resistance. His most celebrated action came in 1944 when he led a commando operation to abduct the German General Heinrich Kreipe.

In the early 1960s he moved to Greece, to the Southern Peloponnese. He built a house in the village of Kardamyli in the Mani. It was here that he wrote much of his most celebrated work and where he remained until his death in June 2011.

John Humphrys visits Fermor’s village to explore the influence that Greece had upon his life and work, and also to consider the impact that he had on the village and the people he lived alongside. John visits Fermor’s former home, now in the care of the Benaki Museum in Athens, and discusses the plans for its future. He meets those in the village who met Leigh Fermor when he first arrived in the 1960s – a man in his nineties recalls how they “danced on the tables into the night” – and he hears tales of influential guests, great writers like Bruce Chatwin and John Betjeman, even a King and Queen.

Accompanied by Fermor’s book ‘Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese’, John Humphrys also travels into the deep Mani, one of the remotest, wildest and most isolated regions in Greece.

Visit the BBC Sounds website here for further details.

Holiday Planning? Crete, between the mountains and the sea

View from the village of Kapetaniana, Asterousia.

Thinking of going to wild and rugged Crete this year? It is the 75th anniversary of the Kreipe kidnap and there will be a lot going on. A nice little article here about one family and their efforts to create a unique holiday environment in Heraklion province.

By Michael Sweet.

First published in Neos Kosmos

On the Orthodox Feast of the Holy Cross, every September 14, the faithful from villages near Mount Kofinas climb its peak to observe an ancient rite. On the summit, three small trees – a species of white-beam – bear fruit at this time of year. The fruit, which looks like cherry-sized apples, is gathered, soaked in water, and blessed, before the priest shares the tiny ‘apples’ with the worshippers. They eat them not only as a holy Eucharist, but for their believed healing properties. Predating Christianity, this ritual dates back more than three thousand years, for here at this Minoan peak sanctuary, one of more than twenty across Crete, the echoes of deep history are carried in the wind.

What attracted the Minoans to settle at this sacred place is what brought the founder of Thalori Retreat – Marcos Skordalakis here: a spiritual energy which weaves its way through the peaks and passes, before sweeping down to the beaches that lie a dizzying thousand metres below.

The village of Kapetaniana, perched high on the western approach to Kofinas, is where Marcos began building (or rather rebuilding) Thalori in 2001. For six years the former restaurateur set about transforming a dozen ruined houses into some of the finest holiday accommodation available in Heraklion province. Combining rustic authenticity with contemporary comfort, Thalori opened in 2007 and today comprises 20 houses, a restaurant, and a working farm with riding stables.

“It was my dream to make a place that felt like a home, for my family and for my guests,” says Marcos, as we talk at one of the restaurant’s exterior tables and look out to the Libyan Sea. “I wanted it to be a place where guests could explore nature – all the special things the mountain and the sea has to offer.”

Below Thalori is the village of Agios Ioannis. Connected to Kapetaniana by an 8 km dirt road that spears downwards in a series of hair-raising bends, it’s a journey not for the faint-hearted. This is where Marcos keeps his boat, and it’s the set-off point for the remarkable cruises he offers along this wild shore. For adventurous types, in the summer he’ll even take you to your own beach (with cave) for the night, and pick you up the next day. [Read more]

The romance of the past: that’s what drives the traveller’s impossible quest

‘Kardamyli now makes most of its money from tourism. It wasn’t as immune to tourism as Leigh Fermor imagined or wanted it to be.’ Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Writing in 1958 about the little Greek town that was eventually to become his home, the travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor was satisfied to note that the Guide Bleu gave it only half a line. “It is better so,” Leigh Fermor wrote. “It is too inaccessible and there is too little to do there, fortunately, for it ever to be seriously endangered by tourism.”

By Ian Jack

First published in the Guardian

His next paragraph describes the town in early evening when, waiting for a freshly caught fish to cook on a grill, he and a few fishermen sit under a mulberry tree outside a taverna and watch the sun sink over the mountains. Caiques – the wooden working boats of the Mediterranean – rock gently “with each sigh of the green transparent water … tethered a few yards above their shadows on the pebbly bottom”. One of Leigh Fermor’s typically exact (and perhaps exacting) images follows when he describes the sea lapping over a flat rock “with just enough impetus to net the surface with a frail white reticulation of foam which slid softly away and dissolved while a new one formed”.

Some of these things still exist. The Mediterranean is clear and green and blue, and on a calm day it will rise and fall against the rocks as Leigh Fermor describes. The sun goes down as he depicts it. There is even a caique or two; and, of course, tavernas – more tavernas than ever. But in most other ways the township of Kardamyli in the Peloponnese is utterly changed. Charter flights land at the little airport in the regional capital, Kalamata, and from there a twisting, expensively engineered road takes taxis, hire cars and air-conditioned coaches over the mountains to a resort that has nice hotels, trinket shops and olive-oil boutiques, as well as pretty restaurants with tea-lights on their tables that look down on the sea. The usual story: Kardamyli now makes most of its money from tourism. It wasn’t as immune to tourism as Leigh Fermor imagined or wanted it to be, and the writer himself is partly to blame.

The tumbledown factory loomed on the shore, a picturesque ruin in brick and concrete where fig trees grew. First, he published an account of his travels in the southern Peloponnese, the peninsula known as the Mani, which was then not much visited, and invested it with the beauty and mystery of a place and people that the 20th century had passed by. Then, six years later, in 1964, he bought a plot of land there – in a bay to the south of Kardamyli – and built a beautiful villa that he lived in almost to the last day of his life, in June 2011. Today his books are available in at least three languages in the local bookshop. People go there because of him – to experience similar sights and sensations to those he saw and felt, even though they understand this can never be completely accomplished, the world having moved on.

But was it ever quite as he described it in the first place? Leigh Fermor’s view of the Mani was essentially romantic: there are few better describers of landscape, but it’s a landscape with omissions. His first sight of Kardamyli is of an enchanting, castellated hamlet at the sea’s edge, where towers, turrets and cupolas rise above houses built of golden stone. “It was unlike any village I had seen in Greece,” Leigh Fermor writes in a page-long depiction that somehow ignores the village’s tallest manmade attribute: the factory chimney of the old olive-oil works. This is difficult to miss. Look down on Kardamyli from almost any vantage point and there it stands, its bricks pale against a background of blue sea and rather more noticeable than the towers and the turrets lying further inland among the cypresses and the olive groves.

The towers date from the age of banditry, feuding clans and resistance to the Ottoman empire. The chimney has cleaner and more peaceable origins. This month I lived next door to it for 10 days in a fine little hotel, and swam morning and afternoon from a ladder bolted to the rocks. The tumbledown factory loomed on the shore behind, a picturesque ruin in brick and concrete where fig trees grew and rusting pipes sprang from the wall at odd angles. A high fence surrounded it, with warnings to keep out.

Olive oil had once been made here – not virgin, cold-pressed or estate bottled, but the roughest kind, which goes into soap. Some accounts online suggest it was owned by the Palmolive company (and when I read this I understood, for the first time, how that familiar name had come about); others say a local family were the proprietors. It used olives – and the residues left from edible oil production – from as far away as Crete, shipped to a concrete pier nearby whose size was inexplicable unless you knew its original purpose. It was said to have employed 150 workers, with steam machinery that, as well as operating its crushers, had the spare capacity to supply the village with its first electricity. Opened in 1932, it closed in either 1958 or 1975 – local memories differed – when new techniques of oil production made it redundant. Since then, a dispute among the site’s three or four owners had prevented demolition or development.

I liked the chimney; three stepped rings of brick, progressively larger in diameter, gave its top a decorative flourish. But then, I’ve always been fascinated by factory chimneys of all kinds, for reasons that I’ve never really examined, the most important probably being that I spent some of my childhood among them: the great smoking verticals of the Lancashire plain, formerly beloved of geography textbooks as the illustrations to the chapter on the textile industry. To find them situated outside what might be considered their natural homelands – the old industrial towns of northern Europe and North America – is always a surprise. They look solitary, like isolated monuments to a faraway and not properly understood revolution. One still standing on the coast of Argyll marks the site of a Victorian factory that made acetic acid from the oak and birch wood. Another on the Ionian island of Paxos served the same kind of mill as Kardamyli’s.

Smoke was most probably still drifting from the Kardamyli chimney when Leigh Fermor reached here in the mid-1950s, but he can hardly be blamed for omitting it from his picture. Like many travellers in our age, he had a distaste for modernity. (He hated radios, for instance, and was relieved that the Mani had so few of them. “Rabid wirelesses should be hunted out and muzzled or shot down like mad dogs.”) He travelled to reach some agreeable form of the past, which has been a motive for the holidaymaker since the days of the Grand Tour.

On an afternoon last week in Kardamyli, I climbed up the ladder from the sea to find three or four men inside the factory fence inspecting the ruins. One wore a pith helmet and carried a theodolite. Another unpacked a drone from its box and directed its flight to the chimney, which it hovered above rather threateningly. It looked as though change was in the offing. I’d known of the chimney for less than a week – and, really, what was it to me? But already I felt a slight alarm that it too might pass, just like the fishermen who watched the sunset with Leigh Fermor from underneath a mulberry tree.

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

Jan Morris review of Nick Hunt’s Where the Wild Winds Are

Nick Hunt reads from his new book at the launch at Stanford’s bookshop, London on 6 September 2017

Jan Morris’ review of Nick’s new book, Where the Wild Winds Are: Walking Europe’s Winds from the Pennines to ProvenceFirst published in The Literary Review. She is effusive in her praise, concluding …

Hunt’s own summing-up of the whole venture expresses it better than I can, anyway. He says that he and his senses have been washed, scoured, scrubbed, frozen, heated, pummelled, pounded, downcast, uplifted and animated by the Winds.

And so, in a way, have mine, by reading his book.

This extraordinary work is a prime example of that contemporary genre, the ex-travel book. Travel writing as such being a bit obsolete now, since so many readers have been everywhere, the form has evolved into something more interpretative or philosophical. Where the Wild Winds Are: Walking Europe’s Winds from the Pennines to Provence is a work of this sort – a thoughtful (and perhaps rather too protracted) relation of a journey on foot across half of Europe – and it contains much admirable descriptive writing of the old sort. It is also, however, something far more interesting than most such enterprises: it describes an expedition into the Winds!

The Winds? Yes, four European winds, sometimes with a capital W, sometimes not, into which, one by one, Nick Hunt goes. He wants to experience and explore them all. Each is rich in history, myth, folklore, superstition and effect. Many of us have travelled across Europe, but as far as I know nobody has hitherto so deliberately explored the kingdoms of the great winds. Scientists, geographers, glider pilots, artists, poets and theologians have investigated and commemorated them, but travel writers never before. Hunt immerses himself in those Windlands and manages to give his readers a blast, a sigh, a shiver of each.

He chooses four named winds out of dozens, four being a geographical sort of number. His first and smallest wind, one I have never heard of before, blows across a northwestern corner of England. It is called Helm, and its headquarters, it seems, is a desolate plateau called Cross Fell in a particularly uninviting stretch of the Pennines. Helm is the only named wind blowing across Britain. It sounds perfectly awful and its reputation is frightful: it howled for fifteen days in 1843, it demolished a castle tower once, everybody complains about its psychological and temperamental effects and for centuries the countryside it rules was plagued by vendettas, pillagings, rapes, cattle-rustlings and murders. Hunt relates an awful curse that a 16th-century archbishop cast upon the place: it ran to more than a thousand words and finally declared that the souls of the local miscreants should be condemned to the deepest pit of hell, their bodies to be torn apart by dogs, swine and wild beasts.

Of course Hunt does not blame Helm for all this, but the wind does seem to have a baleful influence upon people, even now. He never experienced it for himself, diligently though he tried, tramping the high fells in search of it and miserably camping out, but his description of the experience is sufficiently vivid. It seems to me that the whole of Helmland is blown through with scoundrels and demons.

Less baleful, thank goodness, seems the influence of Foehn, which the novelist Hermann Hesse once described as the south announcing news of spring to the snowbound north. It is a warm wind (katabatic, Hunt helpfully explains, meaning that it blows downslope, not anabatically), and although it is said to cause migraines and depressions, it is also associated with clear skies and warmth. It sounds an ambiguous sort of wind. Our author starts his walk through its realm in Zurich in late March. He hopes to catch the wind doing what Hesse said it did, and he gives us some classic travel-book stuff on the way (‘flocks of sheep clanged their bells in a satisfyingly Alpine way’). When he gets to Liechtenstein he finds an entire exhibition devoted to Foehn. ‘We say’, announce its curators fondly, ‘that Foehn is the Oldest Man of Liechtenstein.’ This lively exhibition seems to reveal a different sort of attitude to the wind from anything Helm inspires in the bitter Pennines – more considerate, more affectionate perhaps. As Hunt walks on, though, he finds that while his front is growing warmer, his back is getting cold, and I take that to demonstrate that Foehn is a two-faced sort of wind.

It apparently is responsible for an illness of its own – Föhnkrankheit (‘Foehn-sickness’). Citizens complain of wind-induced depressions, anxieties and headaches. Farm animals grow fretful when Foehn blows and schoolchildren become uncontrollable. Hunt saw for himself a horse ‘excitedly’ performing ‘a small dance in its field’, and took this to mean that Foehn was on its way. When he told one elderly citizen that he was hoping to experience the wind for himself, the old boy scowled, tapped out his pipe on his trouser leg and simply said schlecht (‘bad’).

When our author did at last encounter Foehn in person, as it were, sure enough it was an ambiguous fulfilment. The energy of its gusts was evidently thrilling: ‘Now that I had found the wind, I had to follow it.’ But with Foehn, he says, came a powerful sensation: ‘Melodrama was everywhere: in the lake, the trees, the grass, the birds, the mountains, the sky, the light.’ He was, he says, ‘worn ragged from the struggle … I had come a long way to find the wind, but now for the first time … I had the strong sensation of wanting it to stop.’

Ah, but Hunt’s fourth wind (I will get to the third one later) is the Mistral, and we all know that one. The very name whispers holiday, art and the warm south. Van Gogh, Hunt tells us, painted his Summer Evening specifically because the Mistral was blowing through the Midi that day. ‘Aren’t we seeking intensity of thought’, Van Gogh asked a friend, ‘rather than tranquillity of touch?’ Intensity is evidently a hallmark of the Mistral. Both the French and the Spanish have warships named after it. Van Gogh himself, of course, eventually went mad.

Hunt knew all about the Mistral when he began his exploratory walk at Valence, where the wind is popularly supposed to start, and he had no difficulty in finding it for himself. It hit him in the face the moment he went out, and all around him, he tells us, passers-by ‘walked at forty-five-degree stoops, their hair-styles heading south’. Was this indeed the Mistral? he asked one of them. The reply was definitive: ‘Oui … This is the place with the most wind in France.’

He need not have asked. Throughout his stay in Provence, the Mistral was boisterously and proudly with him, and everyone talked about it. It used to be called ‘the idiot wind’, he learned. In the town of Orange in 2004 it blew for sixteen days without stopping, and it regularly blows there for one in three days throughout the year. ‘It makes us nervous – angry, even. Yes, it makes us angry! He enjoys this! He likes the passion! Me, I hate it.’ It had lately changed its blowing patterns, some said, while others suggested that in the law courts judges sentence more leniently if the Mistral is blowing hard.

One connecting theme of Hunt’s book is the subject of madness and its supposed links with particular winds. Van Gogh spent a year at Arles in Provence and painted two hundred pictures there – scenes all distinguished, Hunt suggests, by ‘the restlessness of the air’. Van Gogh himself called the Mistral merciless and wicked, but he loved the clear light of it, and it was not in Mistral country but in northern France where in the end he shot himself.

Nick Hunt reads from his new book at the launch at Stanford’s bookshop, London on 6 September 2017

I have left to the end Hunt’s second Wind, the Bora, because it is the one I have personally experienced, and because it seems to me the one most dramatically associated with a particular city. The Bora is a terrific climactic phenomenon that periodically storms down the mountainous coastline of the Adriatic and bursts through gaps in the highlands to fall upon places on the coast. Hunt calls it the ‘enfant terrible of the Adriatic’, and at its worst it can reach hurricane strength.

The Bora is intimately associated with Trieste, a city of tangled nationality, mingled fortunes and pungent character. I have known the place myself for seventy years and have written about it often, but until Hunt’s book reached me I had never heard of the Bora Museum, which is in a back street near the docks and contains 150 bottled winds from the four corners of the world.
Trieste and the Bora have become almost synonymous and they are proud of each other.

Everyone in the city has tales to tell of the wild and boisterous Bora, its rolling over of trams, its stripping of roofs and all its extravagant goings-on – such a contrast from the sometimes melancholy suggestiveness of the city itself. The Bora is fundamental to the self-image of Trieste. There is a street named in honour of it, artists repeatedly celebrate it, you can buy comic postcards of it and local historians like to claim that a nearby battle fought under its influence in AD 394 led directly to the fall of the Roman Empire. I forget exactly why.

I can myself testify that the Bora has the usual deleterious wind effects, including odd sensations of desolation or enervation. Nevertheless, after finishing this fascinating work, it seemed to me that the Bora is the happiest and jolliest of all Hunt’s Winds, the only one, perhaps, with a sense of humour.

Where the Wild Winds Are is full to the brim with learning, entertainment, description, scientific fact and conjectural fiction. It is travel writing in excelsis, and if I have judged it to be too long, that is perhaps because I have had enough of the genre itself. Hunt’s own summing-up of the whole venture expresses it better than I can, anyway. He says that he and his senses have been washed, scoured, scrubbed, frozen, heated, pummelled, pounded, downcast, uplifted and animated by the Winds.

And so, in a way, have mine, by reading his book.

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

Roumeli revisited? The Last Transhumance, a documentary film on shepherds


When I heard about this film it immediately made me think of the wonderfully compelling start to Roumeli and the story of the Sarakatsani, transhumance shepherds of Greek origin. This film by Romanian filmmaker and photographer Dragos Lumpan documents some of the last transhumance shepherds in Europe and Turkey. It is a record of something that will possibly completely die out in the next few years. Those Sarakatsani that Paddy mentions have almost all been absorbed into mainstream Greek society and the very first Romanian family that Dragos filmed gave up this lifestyle in 2008. It is interesting to note that despite writing for over forty pages about their origins, way of life, and most famously the details of their wedding ceremony, Roumeli is not directly mentioned in the Wikipedia references or bibliography; something that should perhaps be corrected.

Dragos Lumpan has 100’s of hours of footage from a project that has taken many years to complete, and he is now seeking some additional funding to help with post-producton costs. You may wish to help. Perhaps we can continue Paddy’s work by helping out a little? Dragos explains the importance of the project:

The title of the film wasn’t chosen for the sake of its dramatic sound. These ARE the last transhumances. These people and their way of life are not to be forgotten. Shepherds are strong enough to move mountains, which they actually did. They never back down and they never surrender to any obstacle. This is how they made their way into our history and this is how the history must remember them. The importance of this project goes beyond its artistic value. This film will be the last record of one of the things that shaped our history, out culture and ultimately our humanity.

The shepherds who still walk for hundreds and hundreds of miles in search of available pastures for their animals sleep outside most of the year, usually around their flocks protecting it.  They live in a parallel world not because they reject the modern times but because they embrace tradition. But the ones who still do it are fewer and fewer. The film will show the yearly cycle of life within these communities, showing their direct connection with nature cycle, with the astronomical calendar and with the people around them.

Transhumance represents a cultural heritage that has moulded for centuries the cultural landscape. Nowadays, transhumance is replaced by sedentary forms of sheep breeding. In many regions it is already extinct. The disappearing of transhumance affects not only the spiritual, social and cultural life, but also the mountain regions’ biodiversity.

To assist you can visit the Indiegogo page here. There are many rewards to those that can offer even modest amounts and a second movie trailer.

Dragos also has a website about the project with a number of photographs.

Meeting Paddy at the 40th anniversary of the Battle of Crete

sutherlandJeanne Nutt and Iain Sutherland began their careers as professional diplomats in Moscow when Stalin was still alive. Although both had studied the language, literature and history they arrived in Moscow separately. Three decades later they would leave the city together, after three ageing leaders had died in a row and just as things were about to change for ever with Gorbachev’s perestroika.

By then, Jeanne’s career was long over. When she and Iain had married in 1955, she had been obliged, under rules not finally abolished until 1972, to resign. From then on her fate had been to pack and follow her husband wherever his career took him. She continued to take a lively and intelligent interest in the people and the politics of the places where she and her husband lived, and where they witnessed some of the turning points of the Cold War.

In her book From Moscow to Cuba and Beyond, A Diplomatic Memoir of the Cold War, she gave a flavour of the sometimes bizarre life diplomats led in those distant days.

The Sutherlands served in Cuba, Washington, Yugoslavia, Indonesia and Athens, where Iain was ambassador, and this is where they met Paddy. Her book focuses on their three tours of duty in Russia. The highlight of their first stint in Moscow was the death of Stalin in March 1953. That morning their maid arrived in their apartment shattered by grief. She made an inedible breakfast, broke down in tears, and fled. The old woman who guarded the front door was sobbing into her shawl. The following day the ambassador, the splendidly named Sir Alvary Gascoigne, went with his staff to pay their respects to Stalin as he lay in state in Moscow’s Hall of Columns. The ambassador insisted that all should wear top hats, wholly unsuitable headgear when the thermometer stood at -20C, and the diplomats were ushered past the coffin so fast that one of them missed Stalin altogether.

This account is taken from her diary of the events around the 40th Anniversary of the Battle of Crete.

Thursday, 21 May 1981

Lord and Lady Caccia arrived to take part in the Crete activities, this being the 40th anniversary of the battle. The Olympic (airlines) strike threatened to leave us without transport to Chania so we were all – the Australian and New Zealand delegations, Paddy Leigh Fermor and ourselves – given seats in the Minister (Averoff’s) plane which took off from Tatoi about 6. We arrived about 7.30 in Chania and poured into the already crowded Porto Veneziano Hotel. There were obviously too many, even of the British Delegation, to have a quiet taverna dinner altogether so we collected our party and Paddy and Johnny Craxton and had a fish meal at the taverna near the hotel.

The ceremonies of the next few days seemed never-ending as we toiled round with over 100 veterans, three Ministers of Defence and Mitsotakis, Scottish pipers, Australian buglers and Greek military bands. It was tiring, interesting and at times particularly moving, as in Galetas which was in the centre of the battle, and Souda Bay where the Australians broke into singing God Save the Queen as the anthems were played.

Sunday, 24 May 1981

The ceremony of the laying of the plaque dedicated to the members of the resistance in Crete who lost their lives, was delayed yet again and finally unveiled at 7.30 p.m. There were short speeches by Averoff and Iain and by Paddy Leigh Fermor at greater length after much agonising. (The story about the glass of water at the British Council lecture was true, he told me. When the attendant topped it up with more water it became cloudy and revealed to all that he was keeping up his courage with ouzo!)

Monday, 25 May 1981

The party set off from Heraklion for Mount Ida and the village of Anoya to meet Paddy Leigh Fermor’s resistance friends for a lunch in the mountains and to hear stories of how the men folk were shot and the village burned in reprisal for the acts of sabotage perpetrated by the SOE fighters. We collected the mayor and Dilys Powell in the Rolls and took it up the rough road to Psiloriti near the Cave of Zeus. Here the air was fresh and crisp, and together with the veterans of the underground resistance, we sipped raki and ate local cheese outside and then went inside for crisp hot lamb and more local wine; all this accompanied by playing of the lyre (lira) and singing by Paddy and his companions.

The climax was the ‘simple taverna party’ in the evening outside town for the veterans. It was given by Kefaloyannis, the large burly moustachioed Cretan (whom at the lunch I had taken to be a former shepherd and not a hotel owner), in his 600 bed hotel. Twenty or thirty of us were wined and dined, given champagne, serenaded by the hotel singers (more Filaden, Filaden), watched dancing and plate throwing and finally our host’s firing bullets through his hotel windows. Paddy told me the story of Kefaloyannis, who had abducted a young Cretan girl in the 1950s, the daughter of a Venizelos supporter and therefore a declared enemy, as K was a Royalist. When the island was on the brink of civil war over it he came down from the mountains, gave himself up and went to prison. Later they were married, but this did not last and he is now married to the sober black-dressed lady who was sitting on Iain’s right. Sitting opposite me was Paddy’s god-daughter whose father was shot, trying to escape from the village of Anoya, after sheltering Paddy several times during the war.

Home at 2 a.m.

Extracted from Jeanne Sutherland’s diaries and her book, From Moscow to Cuba and Beyond, A Diplomatic Memoir of the Cold War. Published by The Radcliffe Press in 2010 (p 276-277).

Accounts of audacious abduction of Nazi General Heinrich Kreipe now in Greek

Coincidence always plays a special role, particularly in times of war. One example is the abduction of German General Heinrich Kreipe in occupied Crete in World War II by Patrick Leigh Fermor, Stanley Moss and their Cretan comrades: Kreipe had not been their initial target. Two chronicles of what is probably the most famous kidnapping of WWII are now available in Greek, the first Fermor’s own “Abducting a General” and the second Moss’s “Ill Met By Moonlight,” telling the tale of the fascinating adventure as experienced by the two protagonists (both by Metaixmio publications and translated by Myrsini Gana).

By Elias Maglinis

First published in Ekathemarini

Who was Fermor’s original target? The despised General Friedrich-Wilhelm Muller, commander of the Nazi forces in Iraklio and responsible for the massacres at Viannos. Yet even the idea of the abduction was a matter of coincidence: Following Italy’s capitulation to the Allies in September 1943, the Italian commanders on Crete, and particularly General Angelico Carta, became aware of the danger they were in. Carta asked for a private meeting with Fermor to discuss the terms of his surrender to the British and, more importantly, his escape from the Greek island.

Indeed, Fermor and Carta came to an agreement and, according to plan, the Italian general was spirited away by boat from a remote part of the island to North Africa, together with Fermor who briefly accompanied him. In Cairo, Fermor came up with the idea that they could orchestrate something similar with Muller – though this time without the occupier’s acquiescence. Fermor thought of the plan after the Allies had made it clear that they had no intention of landing on Crete; he believed the scheme would provide a much-needed boost to the Cretans’ morale and ridicule the Germans to boot.

Fermor presented his plan to his superiors, got the green light (though not without some reservations), formed his team and was promoted to the rank of major. After his return to Crete in early 1944, the scheme was put into action, but a chance occurrence nearly scuppered the entire operation: Muller was being transferred to Hania. Instead of calling the whole thing off, Fermor and Moss simply chose a different target: Muller’s replacement in Iraklio, Kreipe. No one knew much about the German general other than that he had just arrived from the Russian front.

Working with Cretan resistance fighters Manolis Paterakis, Giorgos Tyrakis, Stratis Saviolakis, Michalis Akoumianakis, Ilias Athanasakis, Antonis Zoidakis, Mitsos Tzatzas, Grigorios Chnarakis, Nikolaos Komis, Antonios Papaleonidas and Pavlos Zografistos, Fermor and Moss embarked on their ambitious, audacious plan. As Artemis Cooper writes in her comprehensive biography “Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure,” the two Britons were shocked by what they were about to do, excited and terrified at the same time.

The chronicle of the kidnapping reads like a novel, full of moments of uncertainty and unexpected humor, plenty of drama (such as the death of Kreipe’s driver) but also humanity (how Fermor and Kreipe developed what could almost be described as a friendship in the rugged conditions of Mount Psiloritis).

The abduction was carried out at Knossos on April 26, 1944. The team managed to reach the southern coast of Crete and escape to Egypt on May 14 after a monumental trek filled with danger, deprivation and bold achievements. German retribution was swift and brutal, and many today question the wisdom of the plan. After the war, however, Fermor was informed that when news of Kreipe’s abduction reached the German barracks in Iraklio, many a soldier popped open a beer and celebrated: Kreipe had not been a popular commander.

Ultramarathon on the kidnapping trail

Stanley Moss’s “Ill Met By Moonlight” brought fame to the achievements of the small band of resistance fighters. It became a best-seller in the UK and was made into a film in 1957, with Dirk Bogarde in the role of Fermor. More ethnographic than historical, the book is the romantic narrative of a man who experienced the events firsthand. The publication includes maps of the area and a wealth of photographic material.

Patrick Leigh Fermor’s “Abducting a General” tells the tale of those events through the eyes of the great British writer. The two friends had agreed that Moss, who kept a journal throughout the course of the operation, would be first to tell the tale, so Fermor didn’t write his book until 1965. It includes war reports Fermor sent from Crete, as well as a recent guide by Chris and Peter White with all the information needed to follow the abduction trail.

This chapter of World War II history remains so popular that the British company ECR Sport Limited this year is organizing an ultramarathon on Crete along the route, dubbed the KreipeRun 2016. On May 20 and 21, 250 runners will cover the same 154 kilometers as Fermor and his band in a maximum time of 30 hours.

Reg Everson and his powdered egg breakfast for General Kreipe on Mount Ida

From time to time I plan to re-publish some of the best blog posts as we have over 700 posts on here and many get lost. This first re-post was inspired by my attendance last night at the presentation by Dr Roderick Bailey – Hazardous Operations: British SOE Agents in Nazi Occupied Greece – which was both informative and entertaining. The story of Reg Everson and powdered egg was first published on 10 June 2012 …

At Paddy’s funeral last year, I stayed afterwards for a drink with a small group at the hotel  which used to be the Dumbleton estate manor house, originally home to Joan’s family. A man from Wales introduced himself as Vince Tustin. I recognised the name as I had been in touch with Vince by email in the preceding weeks on the subject of his father-in-law who was in the SOE.

‘Reg Everson, my father-in-law, spent three years on Crete and much of that time he worked closely with Paddy as a radio operator.’ said Vince.

His wife then joined us and after a while she said ‘I asked my mum and dad why I was called Patricia. It was an unusual name for a girl in Wales at the time. And my dad told me I was named Patricia after his good friend Patrick Leigh Fermor. They had served together in Crete.’

Such was the impression that Paddy made on people. It is a lovely story in itself, and perhaps serves a reminder on this first anniversary of his death, that Paddy affected the lives of  many, in different ways, as a man as well as a writer.

Vince told me that in the 1950’s Reg was interviewed by a local reporter.

I am sure that Reg didn’t want it to sound as if he was alone [on Crete]. He was a quiet mild mannered gentleman, and was in the Royal Signals from 1931 to 1946 and like so many servicemen lied about his age to get in, he was only 15 when he enlisted. For the three years he was on Crete his wife didn’t hear from him. His commanding officer was the only contact she had. People in the village even thought Reg had left her!

It wasn’t until I wrote a piece in the local paper that people understood where he had been because he didn’t speak about it. In the newspaper cutting from the 50s Reg talks about his involvement in the kidnap of General Kreipe and how he cheered up the General by making him some powdered egg for breakfast on Mount Ida.

We have his forged Cretan papers here, also a leaflet that was dropped by the Germans. He was awarded the Military Medal and Africa Star among other medals. He was also presented with a solid silver medal for bravery from the Maharaja of India.

Reg Everson deployed to Crete with Xan Fielding, and Xan refers to this in his account of his time in Crete “Hide and Seek”.


In the newspaper interview Reg describes how he was summoned with his radio to Mount Ida to join the kidnap gang, but he had to wait for his heavy radio batteries to arrive so he made himself useful and he made breakfast for the General on Mount Ida …

“The General was pretty glum, but he perked-up a bit when I made him some breakfast with egg powder. Paddy Leigh Fermor and the others had to go on the run again with General Kreipe before my batteries arrived: so we couldn’t get the news [of the successful kidnap] back.”

Whilst we often hear the stories of the officers in SOE, we should not forget that they were supported by a large team including signallers such as Reg Everson who were especially brave. They risked being located by the Germans who were constantly trying to find the source of their signals to destroy the radios, and capture the highly skilled and valuable operators.

In Paddy’s Footsteps: Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Greece and Crete

The PLF Society are arranging a cracking tour of Greece and Crete between 17-30 June. The outline is as follows.

In Paddy’s Footsteps has been designed exclusively for members of the PLFS and is a unique journey into Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Greece and Crete. Between 17th and 30th June 2016, a group of no more than twenty travellers will visit major sites in PLF’s life: from his favourite restaurants and hotels, to the homes where he lived and wrote; from Classical monuments to the caves in which the Kreipe kidnappers hid. Guides will include several Leigh Fermor experts.

The tour begins in Athens, including a meal at Tou Psara, where Leigh Fermor and George Katsimbalis often met. It then travels through Mycenae and Epidavros to Leigh Fermor’s preferred hotel in Nafplion. From there, it visits Hydra, where much of Mani was written, and the mill at Lemonodassos where Leigh Fermor lived in 1935-36. Then, after stopping at Mystras, it will visit Leigh Fermor’s house at Kardamyli and explore the Mani. Next, it travels to Crete where, after visiting Knossos and the Kreipe kidnap site, it will trace the kidnappers’ journey into the mountains, and tour the Resistance sites of the Amari Valley. The journey ends at Rethymnon, where it will link up with the International Lawrence Durrell Society for dinner at the Old Fort.

• Four-star hotels, air-conditioned private transportation.
• Expert speakers and guides, including Chris White (contributing author of ‘Abducting a General’), Costas Malamakis (former curator, Historical Museum of Crete), and Simon Fenwick (archivist who has been researching the Leigh Fermor and Xan Fielding archives).
• Private visit to Leigh Fermor’s Mani home, guided by his housekeeper Elpida Beloyanni.
• Guided tours of the Kreipe abduction site and escape route, and the Resistance sites of the Amari Valley.
• Entry to the International Lawrence Durrell Society’s conference, On Miracle Ground, whose theme is ‘British Writers in World War II Crete’.
• Optional tours of the Benaki Museum,the Hadjikyriakos-Ghika House, the town of Chania, and the Samaria Gorge.
• The tour is strictly limited to PLFS members, and for a party of no more than 20 travellers.
• Cost: 2965 Euros per head, including hotels, breakfasts, 16 lunches or dinners, conference fees, guide fees, Athens-Heraklion flights and all private ground transportation.

To register or request further details from the organisers, please email the PLFS at info@ patrickleighfermorsociety.org.

Event – Paddy Leigh Fermor and Friends: Explorations in his Archive

An illustrated lecture by Sir Michael Llewellyn-Smith (former UK Ambassador to Greece 1996-9)

Thursday 25 February, 7.15 pm at Hellenic Centre, 16-18 Paddington St, London.

Free entry. Further information and bookings on 020 7862 8730 or at office@hellenicsociety.org.uk. http://www.hellenicsociety.org.uk. Organised by the Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies.

Event – Hazardous operations: British SOE agents in Nazi-occupied Greece and the strain of clandestine warfare

During the Second World War, small teams of elite Allied soldiers were dispatched into Occupied Greece to fight alongside local guerrillas. Most were agents of the Special Operations Executive, a secret British organisation tasked with encouraging resistance
and carrying out sabotage behind enemy lines. From Crete to Thessaly and Thrace, SOE personnel shared the dangers and straitened circumstances of the Greeks they had come to help – and suffered accordingly. Illustrated with images from declassified files, this lecture discusses the nature and impact of the mental and physical stresses and strains to which SOE agents in Greece were exposed.

Dr Roderick Bailey is a Wellcome Trust Research Fellow at Oxford University’s Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine. A specialist in the study of the Special Operations Executive, he is currently researching the medical aspects of SOE’s work. His particular focus is the processes by which candidates were recruited and screened for this high-risk, high-strain, unconventional employment, the psychological stresses inherent in SOE work, and the procedures in place for diagnosing and treating survivors who returned from the field with psychological problems.

Monday 8 February, 6.30 -8 pm at Anatomy Lecture Theatre (K6.29), King’s Building, Strand Campus, London WC2R 2LS. Free to all.

Sons of Odysseus by Alan Ogden

Layout 1Sons Of Odysseus is a fascinating study of SOE heroes in Greece. Respected SOE expert and author Alan Ogden recounts how SOE missions through their courage, patience and determination, attempted to come to terms with reconciling British political and military objectives in the cauldron of internecine Greek politics.

From the very beginning, ‘political headaches’ abounded as SOE tried to establish a unified Greek resistance movement. For most Missions, it was a steep learning curve, accelerated by the experience of finding themselves in the middle of a bitter civil war during the winter of 1943 – 44, having to endure attacks by Axis occupation forces at the same time as being caught in fighting between EAM-ELAS and EDES guerrillas.

Living behind enemy lines for long periods of time, SOE officers and men were nevertheless able to bring off a series of spectacular sabotage acts and with the assistance of Greek partisan forces doggedly harassed German forces as they withdrew North in the autumn of 1944.

Ogden has been in contact with many of the families of these SOE heroes and has had access to letters, photographs and diaries. Drawing on these sources as well as official archives and published memoires, Sons Of Odysseus profiles the service records of nearly fifty SOE officers and men as they battled against a ruthless enemy, endured the privations of the Greek mountains and struggled to prevent civil strife. Their extraordinary stories illustrate the many and varied tasks of SOE missions throughout the different regions of Greece from 1942 – 44 and thus provide a fascinating collage of the history of SOE during the Axis occupation and in the run-up to the tragedy of the Greek Civil War of 1944-49.

Buy Sons Of Odysseus

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Rick Stein served moussaka by Elpida at Paddy’s house

Stein at Paddy'sThe global reach of the “celebrity chef” Rick Stein is unknown to me, but certainly for those of us in the UK he is a well known figure and is perhaps almost single-handedly responsible for the gentrification of the beautiful port of Padstow in Cornwall.

Unfortunately for most of you outside the UK you will remain unaware of the qualities that make Rick such an attractive figure (!!) as I understand that BBC iPlayer is unavailable outside of the UK.

But if you use your imagination, in this episode from Stein’s current TV programme – From Venice to Istanbul – he arrives in the Peloponnese, visits the obligatory taverna followed by Paddy’s house at Kardamyli, where he takes a tour and Elpida cooks him moussaka to her secret recipe. Apparently Paddy did not like moussaka, but one day Elpida served it to him, he loved it and the dish was then a firm favourite. We also discover what is Elpida’s favourite English dish. Angelica Deverell describes the whole scene is “quiet moving”.

Watch the episode here. Dive in at 33 mins 30 seconds if you don’t have time to watch it all. Only available until about the 9th of October under iPlayer rules.

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Walks amid the watchtowers of the Mani

An early 19th-century watchtower, now the Tainaron Blue Retreat guesthouse, overlooking the coastline of Cape Matapan

The most recent of quite a number of articles about visiting the Mani that I have seen of late. This being the best, written by William Dalrymple.

First published in the Financial Times, 28 August 2015.

I first came to the Mani through the pages of my literary hero and travel writing guru, Patrick Leigh Fermor. Paddy, who was once described by the BBC as a “cross between Indiana Jones, James Bond and Graham Greene”, published Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese, in 1958. It was the first non-fiction book he wrote about Greece, and in many ways it is his most passionate: a love song to the middle prong of the trident-shaped southern coast of the Peloponnese. This was the place where he had been happiest, and the destination he would eventually pick in which to settle down, and spend the final years of his life.

For Paddy, the Ottoman Mani was to Greece what Cornwall was to 18th-century Britain: the most remote of places, cut off from the rest of the country by distance, unpredictable tides and wild cliffs, the abode of brave brigands, chivalrous smugglers and gentleman pirates. It was, he liked to point out, the southernmost point of mainland Greece: only a few islands intervene between Cape Matapan, the tip of the peninsula and location of the cave which the ancients believed to be the Mouth of Hades, and the shoreline of north Africa.

Many years later, shortly before his death in 2011, I went to stay with Paddy at the house he built in the Maniot village of Kardamyli. His villa was the most perfect writer’s house I have ever seen, designed and partly built by the man himself in an olive grove a mile outside the town, and with a view out to a small coastal island. Each morning, until a heart bypass prevented him, he would swim around the island, before returning home for breakfast.

Since Paddy’s death, however, the house has been given to the Benaki museum in Athens, and on my most recent visit I could only drive past it with a melancholic wave. Instead I headed on a further 90 minutes southwards, past tavernas hung with vine trellising, past chapels with red pepper pot domes, through stripfields and a patchwork of walled olive groves. These lower slopes rose to steep and arid hilltops, and it was on one of these, above the whitewashed village of Kotronas, that lay the beautiful house where I would be staying. It dominated a blue, mirror-like bay on the south-east coast of the peninsula and it was here, watching the ships come and go below, and with the mountains rising on all sides, that I planned a succession of treks into the deep Mani to see for myself the landscapes that Paddy had described so lovingly in his book.

To my surprise, the more I walked in the cactus-haunted hills, through spires of yellow verbascum and the seed heads of dried grasses as straight as miniature cedar trees, the more I found that the wildness of the Mani reminded me less of the bucolic Mediterranean than the bleakly beautiful mountains of the north-west frontier of Pakistan. For both the turbulent Maniots and the Pashtuns have an ancient tradition of blood feuds, which has led them to live in the fortified towers that are still the dominant architectural feature of their regions. In both, every man is a chieftain, and every farm a fort.
Tourism bounces back

“In these contests,” wrote Paddy, “the first blow was never struck without warning. War was formally declared by the challenging side. The church bells were rung: We are enemies! Beware! Then both sides would take to their towers, the war was on, and any means of destroying the other side was fair.” These included, apparently “bombarding them from above with boulders and smashing their marble roofs; so the towers began to grow, each in turn, during periods of truce, calling his neighbour’s bluff with yet another storey.” Paddy was fascinated by the proximity of the combatants in these feuds, “the equivalent, in distance, of the cannonading of Brooks’s by White’s, Chatham House by the London Library . . . or of the Athenaeum and the Reform by the Travellers’.”

There was apparently only one thing that could reconcile the warring hamlets of the Maniots: “a Turkish inroad, when, suddenly, for brief idyllic periods of internal harmony, their long guns would all point the same way.”

Such a moment came in 1826 when the Ottoman commander Ibrahim Pasha arrived, intent on crushing the resistance of the most independent-minded of all the Sultan’s Greek subjects. From the point of view of the Sublime Porte, the Maniots were merely pirates and brigands, and a thorn in the flesh of honest Turkish shipping going about its business in the Mediterranean. The Maniots had a rather different view of themselves: as the flower of Hellenic chivalry and the last pure-blooded descendants of both the ancient kings of Sparta and the emperors of Byzantium. Both sides were spoiling for a fight; and they got it.

To block Ibrahim’s advance, the Maniots concentrated their forces at Verga, the entrance to the desolate passes of the Taygetus mountains, in the extreme north of the region. Ibrahim therefore decided instead to launch a surprise marine attack on Areopolis, far to the south, which the patriots had left undefended. Ibrahim successfully landed 1,500 Egyptian troops on the shingle beaches in Diros Bay, south of Kardamyli, a magnificent natural cauldron where the peaks of Taygetus dip down to the blue waters of the Aegean, so clear, even today, that it is said you can still see the wrecks of galleys lying on the seabed below. Soon the Ottoman troops were marching inland, up the coastal paths, looting as they went, and heading for the walls of Areopolis.

Ibrahim Pasha had achieved complete surprise; but he had not taken the women of the Mani into his calculations. As the church bells pealed from their Byzantine belfries, several hundred women who had been out in the fields harvesting converged on the Ottoman rear with their sickles and farm instruments. In an indignant song still sung in the region, the woman allegedly declaimed:

O Turkish men, have you no shame
To war with womenfolk?
We are alone, our men are gone
To fight at Almiro.
But we with sickles in our hands
Will lop off your heads like corn!

Within a few hours, those Egyptians who lived to tell the tale were running headlong for their boats. Only a third were rescued; the rest fell where they stood on the beach. That, at least, is the version of the story they tell today in the Mani.

Modern travellers to the region may end up feeling a certain sneaking sympathy with the Egyptians; for the descendants of those feisty Maniot women are still alive and well, and today they guard the keys to their village churches as determinedly as they once defended Areopolis. As Paddy knew, and wrote about so beautifully, the Mani contains some of the most ancient and Byzantine chapels and basilicas in Greece, dotted around olive groves above steep coastal cliffs; but any traveller who wants to get inside and see their celebrated frescoes must first find the guardian grannies who keep the keys, and then persuade them to disgorge them and to let you into their carefully tended holy places.

Watchtowers in the town of Vathia

Watchtowers in the town of Vathia

This can be more difficult than it sounds. On one occasion, trying to get inside the famed 11th-century church of the Taxiarches at Charouda, I was directed to the door of Antonia, a black-clad matriarch in widow’s weeds who looked so ancient she could almost have lost her husband to Ibrahim Pasha’s Egyptians. Yes, she said, with deep suspicion in her voice, she did hold the keys, but no, this was the time of her lunch. I should come back in an hour. I did as I was bid, only to find she was taking her siesta. Deciding to walk along the coast until she woke, I returned only to be told she was unable to take me to the church as she was feeding her great-grandchildren. Then she was putting out fodder for her donkeys: wouldn’t I like to come back tomorrow morning?

It was well past 7pm when, after a lot of begging and pleading, a huge primeval key was finally, reluctantly flourished and I followed the bent-backed matriarch to the church on the edge of the village. The sun was now slowly sinking over the hills at the end of a hot day; from the higher slopes, the tinkle of unseen goat bells cut through the background whirr of cicadas as shepherds led the flocks back for their night.

The church — in truth it was barely larger than a chapel — was very small, but very beautiful. It had a domed, tiled roof and round arcaded windows, whose brick tiles were made from fired red mud. It lay in a rocky graveyard dotted with oleanders and ilexes at the edge of olive groves, and was built from stone the colour of halloumi cheese. Only when Antonia finally ground the key in the wards of the ancient lock, and had crossed herself several times, was I allowed to step inside.

Nothing prepares you for the darkly melancholic and baleful beauty of the wall paintings of the Mani churches; but remote as it is, the church of the Taxiarches at Charouda is especially fine. The anonymous painter had a particular quirk of giving some of the saints a black triangular lower eyelid. The intention seem to be to enhance their gaunt asceticism and melancholic sadness, but I thought it gave them a look oddly like the buffoonish Pierrot in the Commedia dell ’Arte.

A grim-faced Christ Pantocrator glowers down from the decorative brickwork of the dome, hands opened and upheld as if in surprise at the wonders of his own creation. Below him, ranks of cherubim and seraphim stand with their wings raised. A phalanx of prophets line the lower drum; nearby stylites preach from pillars; and patriarchs in monochrome vestments like Malevich abstracts grip their bibles and proudly display the instruments of their martyrdom. More martyrs have their flesh ripped and eyes gouged out over the walls of the nave, the background landscapes to both virgins and saints as high and mountainously craggy as the Taygetus themselves, the men and the jagged rocks of the mountains sharing a clear affinity, and a similar angularity.

The most beautiful images of all lay at the west end, near the porch where the matriarch Antonia still stood silhouetted by the last rays of the sun. That light, reflecting off the foot-polished stone floor, illuminated a pair of youthful Byzantine soldiers: a young, swaggering St George astride his white charger, all glittering armour and levelled spear, while standing at ease slightly to his left, leaning on his javelin, was a swarthily beautiful St Demetrius with a glistening mail coat, a bow slung over his shoulder and sporting a single, rather dandyish earring; the very model of Maniot resistance to the encroachments of the outside world.

Looking both at Antonia, and the St Demetrius, it was no longer impossible to believe the old legends: that these remarkable, tough, independent Maniots really were the last descendants of Spartans who took refuge here when their hegemony beyond the Taygetus was finally destroyed, their struggle finally over.

Read more about where William Dalrymple stayed here.

Audible

From Mystras to Kardamyli: A hike in honour of Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor

John Kittmer, the UK ambassador in Greece,recently completed a four-day hike, together with the Danish ambassador, from Mystras to Kardamyli, recreating part of PLF’s similar walk described in Mani.

The blog post starts as follows:

This morning, thanks to the Benaki Museum, I was standing in the study of the great man – war hero, romantic, philhellene – who wrote these words. Scanning the bookshelves of Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor, whose love of Greece was nurtured by wartime experience, by a lifetime of conversation and friendship with Greek people, and by deep reading and learning, I felt an inestimable sense of good fortune, veneration and humility. I fell in love with Greece because of Greece. But every would-be lover needs friends who encourage and nurture the love affair. For me, my teacher Gerald Thompson, about whom I wrote (in Greek) in February, and the travel-writer Patrick “Paddy” Leigh Fermor, whom I never met, were those such friends. In the past five days, I repaid through imitation the great debt I owe to Sir Patrick.

You can read more on John Kittmer’s English blog and one in Greek.

The Man of the Mani – BBC Radio 4 Monday 22 June

johnhumphMS2010_468x402Final scheduling for the John Humphrys’ BBC Radio 4 programme about Paddy is available on the BBC website. It will broadcast at 1600 hours on Monday 22 June and will be available later on the BBC website. Which tells us …

John Humphrys travels to Greece, to the village of Kardamyli in the Mani, to explore the life and work of travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor.

Fermor is arguably the most influential travel writer of the 20th Century. At the age of eighteen he took off, with notebook in hand, on a walk across Europe. During the Second World War he fought in Greece and Crete, and is still remembered in the country today for his daring exploits with the resistance. His most celebrated action came in 1944 when he led a commando operation to abduct the German General Heinrich Kreipe.

In the early 1960s he moved to Greece, to the Southern Peloponnese. He built a house in the village of Kardamyli in the Mani. It was here that he wrote much of his most celebrated work and where he remained until his death in June 2011.

John Humphrys visits Fermor’s village to explore the influence that Greece had upon his life and work, and also to consider the impact that he had on the village and the people he lived alongside. John visits Fermor’s former home, now in the care of the Benaki Museum in Athens, and discusses the plans for its future. He meets those in the village who met Leigh Fermor when he first arrived in the 1960s – a man in his nineties recalls how they “danced on the tables into the night” – and he hears tales of influential guests, great writers like Bruce Chatwin and John Betjeman, even a King and Queen.

Accompanied by Fermor’s book ‘Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese’, John Humphrys also travels into the deep Mani, one of the remotest, wildest and most isolated regions in Greece.

Visit the BBC website here for further details.

‘The Ariadne Objective:’ Spooks, Germans and the battle for Crete

Ariadne-jacket-453x680A review of Wes Davis’ recently published book by Alexander Clapp.

First published in Ekathimerini.com 8 March 2014

On May 27, 1941, days after the first airborne invasion in history, the German army hoisted a Nazi flag atop an abandoned mosque in Hania, western Crete. The gesture was poignant. Crete – which had overthrown three centuries of Turkish rule just three decades prior – was again under the heel of an occupying power.

The Cretans were unshaken. The island’s peasantry armed itself with muskets and daggers and took to the crags and caves of the White Mountains. The campaign of sabotage that followed – an echo of repeated revolts against the Ottomans, Venetians and Arabs – marked the first mass civilian resistance to Nazi rule in Europe. “We had encountered for the first time an enemy that was prepared to fight to the bitter end,” marveled a German lieutenant.

Wes Davis’s “The Ariadne Objective” (Crown, 2013) traces the British intelligence service’s collaboration with this hardscrabble fifth column. The plans to wrest Crete from Nazi control formed part of a larger wartime strategy to “set Europe ablaze” through the Special Operations Executive (SOE), “Churchill’s secret army.” In Crete the stakes were particularly high. Cretan restlessness proved crucial to delaying Hitler’s march to the East. As the war in North Africa came to a close, the island was to become a strategic linchpin to the European theater. By 1943, the British naval command looked to Crete as a promising base from which to retake the Aegean and the Continent at large.

“The Ariadne Objective” distills existing accounts of the Cretan conflict – W. Stanley Moss’s “Ill Met by Moonlight,” George Psychoundakis’s “The Cretan Runner,” Antony Beevor’s “Crete” – into a thrilling, highly readable narrative. The book benefits from a remarkable group of protagonists. Just as the Greeks of 1821 attracted a spirited cast of Western philhellenes, so too did the Cretan resistance become a curious meeting ground for a platoon of Anglophone scholars. Most were Classicists who had scraped together the rudimentary basics of Modern Greek. Many – N.G.L. Hammond, Thomas Dunbabin – went on to hold distinguished academic posts after the war; others – Evelyn Waugh, Lawrence Durrell, Patrick Leigh Fermor – were to become the literary giants of their generation. “It was the obsolete choice of Greek at school which had really deposited us on the limestone,” recalled Leigh Fermor.

Davis weaves in and out of these figures’ fascinating back-stories. The book narrates Leigh Fermor and Xan Fielding’s respective hikes across Europe in vivid detail; the one-eyed Cambridge archaeologist John Pendlebury provides an excursion into the British excavations at Knossos; a chapter on life in wartime Cairo – including a detour into the rowdy antics of the “Tara villa” inhabitants – acts as a kind of comic relief from the grittiness of the Cretan front.

Sporting shepherds’ crooks and cork-dyed mustaches, these British guerrilla leaders spent months sleeping in caves, organizing resistance bands and smuggling supplies to the beleaguered islanders. Over time their efforts paid off. In the words of a German commander on Crete, the Nazis made the mistake of “regarding a quite substantial partisan movement as nothing more than a few gangs of cattle thieves.”

This thinking was not entirely unfounded. Some Cretans chose to collaborate with the Germans against their countrymen. Those who did resist were internecine and uncertain of their objectives. The available weaponry was hopelessly antiquated. “Stand still, Turk, while I reload” was still the threat of choice among the elderly fighters.

But if the Germans underestimated the determination of this ragtag uprising, so too did they misunderstand its means. In order to deny the Germans any legitimate right to bring reprisals against the local population, the British SOE commanders concentrated the Cretans’ efforts on disrupting Nazi supply lines, provoking discord between Axis commanders and draining the occupiers’ morale through a carefully crafted propaganda campaign. “We want not so much to kill Germans as to terrify and bamboozle them,” advised SOE resistance leader Tom Dunbabin. The smuggling of Italian commander Angelo Carta from Crete to Cairo in 1943 was one such bloodless blow to the enemy’s morale. It was also the dry run for a more devastating attack on German confidence – a ruse that forms the theatrical climax of the “The Ariadne Objective.”

On April 26, 1944 Patrick Leigh Fermor, W. Stanley Moss and a team of Cretan partisans abducted the German commander of Crete, General Heinrich Kreipe, from his headquarters at the Villa Ariadne in Iraklio. Passing through 22 enemy checkpoints, the team worked their way to the southern coast of Crete, sheltering in caves by day and evading German search parties by night. By May 15 Kreipe was in Alexandria; two weeks later he was a prisoner of war in Canada.

“The galvanizing effect of the mission could still be felt in the tense months that followed the end of the war,” writes Davis. “As the rest of Greece plunged into civil unrest – pitting factions of Communist partisans against each other and against various stripes of nationalists – Crete remained relatively calm.”

An intriguingly highbrow current runs through the book’s otherwise soldierly narrative. Greece was not merely a shared strategic prize for German battalions and British spies; it was also an intellectual middle ground for two competing nationalisms, each of which claimed the cultural mantle of the Classical world as its own. Evidence of this mutual enthrallment to antiquity resurfaces throughout “The Ariadne Objective.” The German invasion of Crete is code-named “Mercury.” The British cruisers stationed in the Eastern Mediterranean are named the Orion and the Dido. Shipping out to the front line, Pendlebury reads Edward Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall” for a crash course in military strategy. Following their conquest of Crete, the Germans import their archaeologists to tend to the island’s historical sites. The diary entry of a German commander flying out of Crete: “just as Daedalus had done so many centuries ago.” “Minotaurs, bull-men, nymphs of Ariadne, kings of Minos, and German generals – a splendid cocktail!” writes Moss after abducting Heinrich Kreipe.

The most arresting example comes a few days following the general’s capture. In a well-cited incident on the slopes of Mount Ida, Kreipe quietly quotes the opening lines of Horace’s “Soracte” ode. Taking up where the general had paused, Leigh Fermor, Kreipe’s captor, recites the rest of the poem’s 24 lines.

“It was a reminder that the war itself was the aberration, interrupting something far more important and lasting. The moment of connection he and the general had just shared had sprung from a deep-running current of literature, art, and civility,” notes Davis.

The incident – like much of the clash in Crete – represents a strange last flowering of the world of the 19th-century imperialist scholar. “The Ariadne Objective” examines that story ably and admirably. This is necessary reading for anyone interested in Greece in the Second World War.

A new book by Patrick Leigh Fermor- Abducting a General – to be published in October

'Billy' Moss and Paddy Leigh Fermor

‘Billy’ Moss and Paddy Leigh Fermor

I have just learned that we can look forward to a new book by Paddy relating the events of the Kreipe kidnap. Based upon his own account called Abducting a General, the book is due to be published by John Murray in October 2014. A pity it misses the precise date of the 70th anniversary, but welcome nonetheless.

We will be blessed with a lot of new material about the abduction and its key players this year. We have already had the new book by Wes Davis, The Ariadne Objective, which contains a lot of new material after painstaking research, and ‘Billy’ Moss’ account of his time in SOE after the exploits on Crete, A War of Shadows, is also due for republication in April.

The John Murray website tells us this:

A daring behind-enemy-lines mission from the author of A Time of Gifts and The Broken Road.

One of the greatest feats in Patrick Leigh Fermor’s remarkable life was the kidnapping of General Kreipe, the German commander in Crete, on 26 April 1944. He and Captain Billy Moss hatched a daring plan to abduct the general, while ensuring that no reprisals were taken against the Cretan population. Dressed as German military police, they stopped and took control of Kreipe’s car, drove through twenty-two German checkpoints, then succeeded in hiding from the German army before finally being picked up on a beach in the south of the island and transported to safety in Egypt on 14 May.

Abducting a General is Leigh Fermor’s own account of the kidnap, published for the first time. Written in his inimitable prose, and introduced by acclaimed SOE historian Professor Roderick Bailey, it is a glorious first-hand account of one of the great adventures of the Second World War. Also included in this book are Leigh Fermor’s intelligence reports, sent from caves deep within Crete yet still retaining his remarkable prose skills, which bring the immediacy of SOE operations vividly alive, as well as the peril which the SOE and Resistance were operating under; and a guide to the journey that Kreipe was taken on from the abandonment of his car to the embarkation site so that the modern visitor can relive this extraordinary event.

The publication date for Abducting a General is set for 9 October.

Paddy’s headstone unveiled

He was of that excellence which is of Greece

He was of that excellence which is of Greece

Paddy’s headstone was unveiled during a short service at Dumbleton on 8 November, his name day in Greece, the feast of the Archangel Michael (the Heavenly Brigadier as Paddy called him). It is Portland stone, like Joan’s.

The Greek inscription reads

‘HE WAS OF THAT EXCELLENCE WHICH IS OF GREECE’

Olivia Stewart, one of his executors chose it. The line is from a poem by Cavafy.

Among the friends gathered you can see Colin Thubron, Rita Walker (with poppy) who was with Paddy when he died, and Philippa Jellicoe (in black with hat), Bridget Kendall, married to Robert Kendall, Joan’s nephew. Also there were Cressida Connolly and her husband Charles Hudson (he’s the one holding the umbrella over Rev Nicolas Carter (who also toook Paddy’s funeral service), Olivia Stewart, Elizabeth Chatwin, Joey Casey (widow of Michael Casey, who was also Joan’s nephew), Martin Mitchell who was Paddy and Joan’s solicitor, Judith who designed the stone, and Artemis Cooper whose thumb is in the picture!

Paddy's headstone rear.

Paddy’s headstone rear.