Tag Archives: Greece

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.

Patrick Leigh Fermor: his final journey

Artemis Cooper and Colin Thubron on PLF walkColin Thubron introduces an exclusive extract from Patrick Leigh Fermor’s ‘The Broken Road’, the concluding part of his account of his teenage walk across Europe.

By Colin Thubron with Patrick Leigh Fermor

First published in the Telegraph 1 September 2013.

Patrick Leigh Fermor never quite completed the long-awaited third volume of his youthful journey across Europe. He was 18 when he set out to walk from Holland to Turkey in 1933, but the first two magnificent books recording this epic – A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water were published only in 1977 and 1986 respectively. The second ended with the implacable words “To be Concluded”, and for years expectations ran high that a final book would follow, carrying its hero from the Iron Gates, on the Romanian-Bulgarian border, to Constantinople.

But for Paddy (as friends and fans called him) a long ice age set in: a writer’s block that dogged him for the rest of his life. On completion of the second volume he was already in his seventies, and the pressure of expectation, the demands of his highly wrought style and his own perfectionism were overwhelming.

Yet ironically a near-complete draft of the third volume – written in pen on stiff sheets of paper – had been lying for years on a shelf in his study, in three black ring binders, all but forgotten. It had been composed following a request from Holiday magazine in 1962 that he record his whole trek in a 5,000-word essay. Paddy abandoned this essay when it reached the Iron Gates, but then launched into a full-scale retrieval of his trek’s last stretch: a work he eventually gave the stopgap title of A Youthful Journey. Then this, in turn, was abandoned, with the realisation that he must start all over again, and describe his walk from its beginning.

The initial two volumes were written virtually from memory: a prodigious feat of recall coupled with a rich imagination. His first diary of the journey was stolen in a Munich youth hostel in 1934. His later diaries went missing during the Second World War. But a final one, covering the last stretch of his trek, was preserved by his first great love, the Romanian princess Balasha Cantacuzène, who hurled it into her suitcase in the few minutes allowed her by communist officials when she was ejected from her estate in 1949.

Patrick Leigh Fermor at the Rila monastery, Bulgaria, autumn 1934

Patrick Leigh Fermor at the Rila monastery, Bulgaria, autumn 1934

Yet this diary, recovered from Balasha in Romania during a clandestine visit by Paddy in 1965, did nothing to cure his writer’s block.

Perhaps its callow text conflicted with the more mature writing of A Youthful Journey; or perhaps the factual discrepancies in the two versions troubled him. Only in 2008, when already in his nineties, did he seriously begin, painfully and intermittently, to revise the Great Trudge, as he called it. But by now he was suffering from tunnel vision, and his stamina was failing. He died in 2011 at the age of 96, still working on the narrative in a fragile hand.

So it fell to two of his three literary executors, his biographer Artemis Cooper and myself, to prepare the text for publication.

A Youthful Journey was largely written between 1963 and 1964, in prolix bursts of enthusiasm, and its grammar, punctuation and even its style were far from what Paddy considered finished. In our revision we laboured to preserve his inimitable style, while clarifying and refining the text in a process as close as we could get to his exacting practice. There is not a sentence that is not his.

But The Broken Road is our own title. It acknowledges not only that Paddy never, in the end, continued his written journey to Constantinople – it stops 50 miles short of the Turkish frontier – but also that this is not the exuberantly polished volume that he would have most desired. Yet it includes passages perhaps as fine as any he wrote. Its editing was aided by our sense of Paddy’s previous work, of course, by our knowledge of the man himself, and by his few hints and tentative suggestions. And here his journey must rest.

Map accompanying The Broken Road

Map accompanying The Broken Road

Extracts from Patrick Leigh Fermor’s ‘The Broken Road’

“The party went with a bhang”

The lights of Tirnovo were beginning to twinkle in every window, the sun had set, and the prospect of my St Jerome-like hermitage loomed rather bleakly, especially compared to the gleaming interior of the grocer’s: the barrels of anchovies, the hanging flitches, the lamplight refracting a battery of bottles, the dried figs impaled on skewers of bamboo, the kegs and crates and jars and the pyramids of wares from Germany and Austria, the scarlet bacon slicer with its flashing disc of blade, the huge cheeses and the cubistic mounds of halva. It glowed like Aladdin’s cave.

But the shop was empty. A boy of about my own age who had been sitting reading a book on the doorstep got up and followed me in. Where was I from? Whither bound?

Cheerful alacrity and a friendly glance accompanied these questions. We were soon perched on the edge of barrels, clinking slivo glasses and exchanging autobiographies. Gatcho was the grocer’s son, and he was looking after the shop while his father was at some ex-officers’ anniversary celebration, a reunion of old comrades from the Balkan wars.

This particular season, once more, seemed to be crowded with holidays and parties and religious feasts, which kept us up late and beset the mornings with headaches. Gatcho demonstrated a way of finding out if the next day was going to be a feast day, by a method about as reliable as predicting a stranger’s arrival by tea leaves. He found my sheepskin kalpack among the heaped-up chattels on my bed. He pounced on it with glee, crying, “Let’s see whether tomorrow is a prazdnik” – a feast – then lifted it above his head and flung it on the floor, which it struck with a dull thud. His brows knitted with vexation. He repeated it several times. If the hat hit the boards fair and square, he explained, it would give a loud report like the explosion of a paper bag. “There we are,” he said. “All’s well. Prazdnik tomorrow.” And so it was.

In the small hours of one of these celebrations, we found ourselves with half a dozen of the blades of Tirnovo in a hut on the outskirts of the town, smoking hashish. The dried and powdered leaves were packed into the tube of a cigarette paper from which deft fingers had laboriously prodded the tobacco. Lit, and then solemnly passed from hand to hand until the clouds of smoke enveloped us with a sweetish vegetable reek, it brought on a faint dizziness and a gregarious onslaught of helpless laughter.

Bulgaria, it appeared, was one of the richest natural hashish gardens in the world. Cannabis indica thrives in embarrassing abundance. Its cultivation, which is scarcely necessary, and its smoking, my companions explained between puffs, were strictly forbidden: “Mnogo zabraneno. Ha! Ha! Ha!” But the ban seemed about as effective as legislation against cow parsley or nettles. I longed for the opportunity to say “the party went with a bhang!” The lack of opportunity to say so, however, didn’t stop me saying it, and dissolving in transports of hilarity at my own wit.

“A soul in hell”

The following days were raining off and on the whole time, soaking the lowlands and an ever-thickening crop of villages. I stuck to the main road, watching occasional cars pass, and, more temptingly, buses, with PYCCE plastered across the front – Russe, the Bulgarian name for [the city of] Rustchuk. On one of these drizzly stretches, I fell in with a fellow wayfarer heading north like me, a young barber from Pazardjik called Ivancho, threadbare and urban and with a face like a hare’s. Where was I from? Anglitchanin? Tchudesno! – “Wonderful!” This revelation was followed by a burst of talk that needed no answer. It was uttered at such speed that I could scarcely understand a word – at the same time eager, confidential and ear­piercing, and without the faintest trace of punctuation, accompanied by many gestures and with a fixed smile and those hare’s eyes projecting and rolling, as though loose in their sockets.

It continued for mile after mile till my head began to swim and ache. I tried to detach myself and draw on inner resources, merely muttering Da or Nè when a pause occurred. But these were not always the right answers and my companion would begin again, catching me by the elbow and prodding me with his forefinger with redoubled urgency and a crablike veer of his fast and tripping gait that always edged me across the road and nearly into the field, till I darted round the other side and into the middle again, only to be seized once more and harangued off the road on the other side with the same smiling urgency and with eyes peering mesmerically so that it seemed impossible to deflect them. Sometimes he was walking backwards in front, almost dancing along the road in reverse, the unstaunchable flow gushing unbroken from his smiling and gabbling lips. Once I turned round in a circle and he danced briskly round in a wider circle still talking faster and faster.

I tried to counter-attack by resolutely bawling Stormy Weather, but it was too slow. He dived in between the bars, so I shifted to The Lincolnshire Poacher, Lillibulero, On a Friday Morn When we Set Sail, and Maurice Chevalier’s Valentine, over and over again. My head was splitting and I sighed for the tomb and the silence of eternity. People had often teased me for gasbag tendencies, especially when a bit drunk. If only they could see this retribution!

There was only one hope. Ivancho belonged to some kind of pan-Bulgarian barbers’ guild – he had showed me a dog-eared card with a snapshot glued to it – and in two nearby villages that we had passed before I realised how it worked, he had entered a barber’s shop, displayed his card and emerged with a handful of leva. In the next village we came to, I took discreetly to my heels and ran full tilt along the road. Looking back, I saw him emerge, catch sight of my diminishing figure, and set off in pursuit. But I had a good start and the distance widened. I pounded on like a stag with a lightening heart and finally, when the road stretched bare behind me, slowed down, free at last. But a few minutes later a northward-bound car slowed down and Ivancho, with a forefinger wagging in playful admonition, leapt from the running-board.

There was nothing for it. All the evening, and all through dinner, the torment continued till at last I lurched to bed, but not to sleep for any time. Fortunately, though, owing to lack of room, different roofs were sheltering us. After a few nightmare-ridden hours, I got up in the dark, paid, and slipped out before breakfast, and away. But I had not gone a furlong before a waiting shadow detached itself from a tree. A cheerful voice, refreshed by sleep, wished me good morning, and a friendly hand fluttered to my shoulder. Day broke slowly.

Stunned and battered, I saw my chance early in the afternoon. We were sheltering from the rain, drinking Russian tea an inch deep in sugar in the kretchma of a large village. A battered bus was drawn up outside, and the driver-­conductor was drinking with some cronies at another table. I left the table with the excuse of the lavatory, and, outside, made a pleading gesture towards the conductor through the glass top of a door. He joined me, and I haltingly explained my case. He had heard and seen the social amenities rattling about my table; perhaps he could tell from my eyes that he was talking to a soul in hell.

Back in the main room I made the treacherous suggestion to Ivancho that we should take the bus to Rustchuk and get out of the rain: I would pay for the journey. Would he please buy the tickets, I said, handing over the money, as my Bulgarian was so bad? He assented eagerly and volubly. There was a hitch at the bus door: he insisted I should get in first. We struggled and the driver shouted impatiently. I managed to shove him in and the driver pulled the lever that slammed the door, and moved off. I could see Ivancho gesticulating and shouting but all in vain. He shot me a harrowing glance from his hare-eyes, I waved, and the rain swallowed them up. In a few minutes, I took a side-path through a field of damp sunflowers. Taking no chances, I followed a wide loop far from the dangers of the main road. The guilt implanted by Ivancho’s reproachful glance almost managed to mar the ensuing feelings of relief and liberation, but not quite. Not even the bitter wind from the east, as steady as an express train, could do that.

The Broken Road book cover

The Broken Road book cover

The book is available to pre-order from Amazon, just click here The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos

Chryssa Ninolaki – part of the Greek resistance on Crete

Chryssa Ninolaki, centre, with Stephen Verney, left, and her brother, Tassos.

By Tony Knight

First published in The Guardian, Monday 3 October 2011

My friend Chryssa Ninolaki, who has died aged 80, played a courageous part in the struggle for freedom in Crete. She was a true ambassador for her native island, which she loved.

At the beginning of the second world war, when Chryssa was a pupil at the French school in Chania, her family moved to her grandfather’s farm near the monastery of Chrysopigi on the outskirts of the city, to escape the bombing. After the fall of the island in 1941, Chryssa and her family were part of the Greek resistance and supported the work of the Special Operations Executive agents who operated in the White Mountains, Xan Fielding, Patrick Leigh Fermor and Stephen Verney among them.

Chryssa and her family spent the war living next to a German garrison. Her parents and her brother, Tassos, carried out acts of defiance at great risk. On one occasion, they moved a cache of arms buried in the orchard just hours before the property was searched. They became part of an underground network assisting, sheltering and hiding British and Commonwealth soldiers for escape attempts on the island’s south coast. “We are crazy people: we act first and never mind the consequences,” Chryssa once told me.

After the war, Chryssa started to work for holiday companies, first the Travel Club of Upminster and then Simply Crete. She was a very different type of travel representative, freely sharing her beloved Crete with many British visitors. For the 50th anniversary, Chryssa took visitors on her celebrated Battle of Crete tours. A close friend reflected the feelings of many when she said: “For me, Chryssa was Crete. She brought so much joy to so many Brits.” Chryssa is survived by her sister, Helen.

A Visit with Patrick Leigh Fermor, Part 2

Paddy. on Ithaca, 1946 by Joan Leigh Fermor

Part 2 of Ben Downing’s meeting with Paddy in 2001 at Kardamyli.  Read Part 1 here.

by Ben Downing.

This text originally appeared in issue 165 of The Paris Review, Spring 2003.

Already familiar as I was with the main events of Paddy’s military career, I asked him to fill in the gaps. What had he done while in Cairo?

“My first leave from Crete, after many months in the mountains, was at the time of the Italian surrender in September 1943. I had managed, by devious means, to persuade the Italian general commanding the Siena Division to escape from the island with some of his staff, and I accompanied them. When they’d been handed over in Cairo, I found myself quartered in rather gloomy billets known as Hangover Hall. There I became great friends with Bill Stanley Moss, on leave from the Third Battalion of the Coldstream Guards, and later my companion on the Kreipe expedition. Couldn’t we find more congenial quarters? Almost at once Billy found a positive mansion on Gezira Island, which we shared with a beautiful Polish countess called Sophie Tarnowska—she and Billy were married later on—her Alsatian, two mongooses, and a handful of close SOE friends, also on leave.

“Tara (as we named the house) was an immediate triumph. With its ballroom and a piano borrowed from the Egyptian Officers’ Club, and funded by our vast accumulations of back pay, it became famous—or notorious—for the noisiest and most hilarious parties in wartime Cairo. At one of these, fired by the tinkle of a dropped glass, everyone began throwing their glasses through the windows until not a pane was left.

“It was to Tara that we returned after the Kreipe expedition. But the rigors of a year and a half of Cretan cave life, it seems, suddenly struck me with an acute rheumatic infection of the joints, akin to paralysis. After two months in a Cairo hospital—where King Farouk once kindly sent me a magnum of champagne—I was sent to convalesce in Lebanon. I stayed at the British summer embassy at Aley, above Beirut, with Lady Spears, who was the well-known American writer Mary Borden, and her husband, Sir Edward Spears, our ambassador there. We had all met in Cairo, which at that time was one of the most fascinating gathering points in the world.

“But I was itching to get back to Crete. By the time I managed to return, in October 1944, the entire German force had withdrawn to a small perimeter in the west of the island. The outcome was a foregone conclusion, and the Germans made only occasional sorties. With their imminent surrender in view, it wasn’t ‘worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier,’ as Frederick the Great said—or of a single mountaineer or Allied soldier, for that matter.

“I went back to Cairo for a last Tara Christmas. But Tara was dissolving, and in March 1945 I was sent to England, where I joined a rapidly-put-together unit called the Special Allied Airborne Reconnaissance Force—inevitably SAARF—for an odd emergency. There was a fear that during the ‘Eclipse Period’—the predictable days, that is, between the faster momentum of the Allied advance and the final surrender of the German army—the Germans might carry prominent Allied prisoners of war off to some Tyrolean redoubt and use them as hostages or bargaining counters; and it was hoped that SAARF would be able to prevent this. Its members all had SOE and parachute experience in enemy territory. The plan was that, at the right moment in Eclipse Period, each team of three—in some cases, two teams together—would take off from an airstrip at the Sunningdale golf course, in Surrey, and drop near its allotted prison camp in Germany. Dressed in tattered POW uniforms, we would lie up in the woods, spy out the land, slip into POW working parties, get inside the camp, and then contact the senior British officer and open W/T communications with the spearhead of our advancing troops; these would then drop arms and supplies and give air cover while the garrison was overpowered or the commandant bluffed, until Allied troops arrived.

“I found myself paired with Henry Coombe-Tenant, a major in the Welsh Guards, a brilliant pianist and a member of the Athenaeum who after the war became a Benedictine monk at Downside. Our commandant was Brigadier Nicholls, nicknamed ‘Crasher’; he was impermeable as a bison. The target we were destined for was the dread Oflag IV C at Colditz, where several Prominenten were prisoners, including the king’s cousin, Lord Harewood, and relations of Churchill and Field Marshal Alexander. The castle was deep in Saxony, and there was, of course, no resistance or SOE intelligence about it—nothing but aerial photographs to go on. We desperately needed more local detail.

“At this point I heard that an old friend, Miles Reid of the Phantom Reconnaissance Force, captured in Greece during the 1941 retreat, had been exchanged on health grounds, and precisely from Colditz; so I got leave to break security in the hopes of information, and dashed to see him at his home near Haslemere. When I told him of the Colditz scheme, he exploded. Had we heard nothing of the total impregnability of the fortress, of the thoroughness and rigor of the Appells, the checks and counterchecks, the scrutinies and roll calls? As for ‘working parties,’ since the inmates were all officers, these didn’t exist. There was absolutely no hope of the plan succeeding, and we would all be goners. Continue reading

Bradt Travel Guides’ revised version of Greece:The Peloponnese by Andrew Bostock

Bradt Guide to the Peloponnese by Andrew Bostock

Bradt Guide to the Peloponnese by Andrew Bostock

Continuing the Peloponnese travel theme it would be remiss of me not to mention that the nice people at Bradt have let Andrew Bostock update his excellent guide to the Peloponnese just in time for your 2013 excursion. And rather like the paperback of An Adventure it shows a certain house. I think that Andy may have had some influence on this choice of cover!

Andy also gets in touch with me quite often, and it was he, working in close collaboration with that other Karmayli expert, John Chapman, who first picked up on the filming of the movie Before Midnight at Paddy’s house. Andy has lived in the area with his family so he is no fly-by-night travel guide author. I have a copy. I know the Peloponnese pretty well having holidayed there on three occasions. There is a lot to see and it is by no means all about the Mani, or Paddy. There is so much more. If you would like to get in touch directly with Andy about travel to the area his details are here.

Andrew Bostock: +44 7961 061 052 (cell)
Twitter: @andybostock

You can buy Greece: The Peloponnese (Bradt Travel Guides) at this link, and the blurb tells us this:

The Peloponnese contains a huge diversity of landscape, everything from the classic image of Greece – white sand beaches and sleepy white-washed villages through to the ancient sites of Olympia and Mycenae, Byzantine churches and medieval fortresses; towering mountains for hiking and skiing, olive groves which produce the finest fruit, and mountains covered in flowers.

In recent months Greece has undergone a well-publicized economic meltdown. However cheaper prices and the expense of long-haul tourism has actually led to an increase in visitor numbers. The government is keen to invest in tourism as a way to reinvigorate the country. Specific examples of this are the new year-round flights from Athens to Kalamata and a major new international spa / golf resort in Messinia.

Greece is no longer an ‘easy’ travel destination and there as been an increase in the trend towards independent travel, away from package tourism. The new edition reflects this with reviews of the plentiful new accommodation, details of independent tours and activities as well as excellent coverage of off-the-beaten-track sites and attractions.

Greek expert, Andrew Bostock leads travellers to hidden villages, sophisticated towns, and to other top attractions – one of Europe’s most spectacular train journeys and the tower houses of the famed Mani. He explores the lesser-known sites and attractions, including details of places not covered anywhere else. The guide is packed with information on agritourism spots, eco-conscious boutique hotels, camping under the stars, rustic tavernas and locally grown produce. Traditionally the tourist season in Greece is the summer, but this is fast changing, with savvy travelers discovering the wild flowers of spring, the joys of the olive harvest in late autumn, and skiing opportunities during the winter. Bird life and marine life are also a huge attraction for visitors to the Peloponnese. The guide also focuses on the colourful life of the traditional ‘paneyiri’ and those who still embrace the Greek spirit of ‘philoxenia’.

Related article:

The movie Before Midnight, featuring a certain house in a starring role

John Chapman’s April visit to Kardamyli

As many of you may know, John Chapman, the author of Mani Guide,  not only provides us with excellent pictures (here) and comments, he also a regular correspondent to the blog and contributes articles which I am always happy to share with you. Here is his most recent note to me. Clearly the man has too much time on his hands. Lucky him!

I spent the whole of April 2013 in Mani. A welcome change from that never-ending British winter. I was perched in an isolated house high above the Messenian Gulf with views over Kalamata and the distant Arcadian mountains. Often just accompanied by the tinkle of goat bells and hum of bees, and the loud meows of the two feral cats who adopted me.

Kardamili was 15 minutes drive away. I didn’t revisit Paddy’s villa, but I did talk to a number of locals, and foreigners who’d known him and the house. Prof. David Mason – Poet Laureate of Colorado, no less, was over with a group of extremely keen, bright eyed and bushy tailed students. Dave had lived in Kardamili in the ‘70s and had lived rough, with his first wife, in a small hut just above Paddy’s villa. He was soon invited for lunch by Paddy and Joan and remained a close friend and correspondent with them until Paddy’s death. I’d met Dave in Oxford some few years ago and it was great to see him again over dinner, with other locals and his students, overlooking the harbour at Kardamili.

David’s book, ‘News from the Village’ (Red Hen Press. 2010. ISBN 1597094714.) is highly recommended as a portrait of an American’s love affair with Greece and Kardamili in particular. He’d shown his students the hut he’d lived in, and they’d all swam off the same rocks as Paddy had. Frankly the Med’ in April is damned cold, and I certainly didn’t emulate them, but as one of them commented, ‘we’re tough in Colorado!’

Things were quiet in Kardamili. The Greek Easter was exceptionally late, early May. And I therefore had time to sit over a frappé or two with various friends. No-one was certain what was going to happen with Paddy’s house. Though towards the end of the month I heard, unverifiable of course, that a rich Englishman was going to restore the house, live in it for three  months of the year, and let the Benaki Foundation use it  for the remaining 9 months. We’ll see.

One myth I wanted to enquire about was Paddy’s linguistic skills. He certainly could speak Greek fluently, but some have claimed he spoke it like a native. I’ve seen TV footage of him speaking Greek and frankly his accent struck me as being very posh English. I asked someone from the Troupakis family, who knew him well, who confirmed my suspicions. Paddy had perfect Greek, but a marked English accent.

He was also an appalling driver. One of the Dimitreas family (Paddy’s Mourtzinos family) had once lovingly repainted their boat, only to have Paddy reverse ineptly into it. It seems it was a toss of the coin as to who drove the car. Joan was allegedly just as bad a driver!

Another oddity is that when Paddy signed a copy of his book about the Mani he would often draw a sketch of the coast near his house. This was reasonably accurate and certainly evocative. But he invariably added in about four or five seagulls. Very odd as they are a rarity in the Mani, and I’ve never seen more than one solitary seagull flapping over the bay in the more than twenty years I’ve been visiting the area.

Catch up with more of John’s contributions and photos by clicking here.

If you would like to send something to me to share with your fellow Friends of Paddy you can find out how in the About section.

Wartime escapades by Patrick Leigh Fermor

The Times Literary Supplement describes this as “The last Renaissance man’s account – until now available only in Greek – of how German bombs wrecked his boat but not his spirit”. Enjoy.

Translated by Adrian Bartlett.

First published in The Times Literary Supplement, 5 June 2013.

Since 1976 my family has been to a small town in the eastern Peloponnese nearly every year. Early on we heard, from the local bus driver and others, how the Germans had sunk an escaping Englishman’s boat in the local harbour in 1941. The Englishman in question was Patrick Leigh Fermor. Later we made friends with Stratis Kounias, a man from the town, a distinguished academic who also returned there every summer. Stratis had embarked on writing a wartime history of the area and on hearing that we knew “Paddy” he asked for an introduction. Leigh Fermor agreed to write an account of the event. I am quite sure he had written and talked about it many times before – some of the phrases are repeated in the biography by Artemis Cooper (reviewed in the TLS, November 16, 2012); but this time he recounted it in Greek for the benefit of Stratis Kounias, although Stratis speaks perfect English. The following is my translation.– Adrian Bartlett

And now over to Paddy …

A BRIEF ACCOUNT OF MY ESCAPE

I had arrived in Greece as a lieutenant in the Intelligence Corps in November 1940. We were a branch of the Allied Military Mission. After Christmas we drove to Albania and were based at Koritsa as liaison officers to the 80th regiment led by Lieutenant-General [Georgios] Tsolakoglou.

I went along the whole front – Pogradec, Krystallopigi, Argirocastro, Tepeleniou, Leskovik, Ioannina and so on. I stayed two months there and after the German invasion I was asked to come down to Athens with the personnel intelligence unit, under the regiment commander Peter Smith-Dorrien (son of General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien who fought in the First World War).

After the slow retreat from Perdika, Ptolemaida and so on we were for a time as if in the pass at Thermopylae, but eventually got to barracks in Athens. With the rapid advance of the Germans, Field Marshal Maitland-Wilson gave the order to prepare a second escape route from Greece, if a somewhat unorthodox one.

The Greek authorities had requisitioned for us a lovely sailing caïque. She was called Ayia Barbara, anchored at Sounion and belonging to Paulo Mela. She had a renowned captain in Michaelis Mistho from the Demon of Sparta. Apart from myself and P. Smith-Dorrien there was a wireless-operating sergeant, a very nice corporal who I think was called Costas Varthis, and six soldiers.

Our orders were to take possession of the caïque and proceed to a meeting with Field Marshal Wilson at Mili, on the east coast of the Peloponnese. We left Sounion on the afternoon of the April 24, 1941, the sergeant and I having previously destroyed our truck by pushing it into a gully at Sounion. We went past Hydra and moored off the island of Dokos.

In the morning there were many enemy aircraft, the thud of bombing, and trails of smoke in the direction of Nauplion. Later we heard they had set on fire the English ship the Ulster Prince; many British were either killed or captured. We waited till late afternoon to weigh anchor and it was night when we moored at the quay at Mili. It was very crowded there, hundreds of trucks and Greek and British soldiers in retreat. I called out repeatedly the name of the motorcyclist, Matthew, who was to wait for me there and take me to the Field Marshal, whom I finally found.

He had come from Athens with Prince Peter who was liaison officer to our mission, Field Marshal Wilson having come in another car. Also there was the government Deputy President, Vice-Admiral Sakellariou. These were going to Crete in a Sunderland aircraft. Our own aim in our present circumstances was to work our way south along the coast of the Peloponnese, to help other British and Greek military stragglers who wanted to get to Crete and had missed a ship.

Admiral Baillie-Grohman and Brigadier General Galloway joined the Ayia Barbara, and also some more men. We weighed anchor and headed south. After half an hour we pulled alongside an English battle cruiser, the HMS Bahram [Edit: Should HMS Bahram read HMS Barham which was lost at sea on the 25th November 1941?], which took all these men on board. We, with our original company from Sounion, P. Smith-Dorrien, Lieutenant Philip Scott, consul to Field Marshal Wilson, and six soldiers stayed on the Ayia Barbara and we set off at 1.30 am. Smith-Dorrien appointed Philip Scott responsible for the British personnel and me for the Greeks as I knew Greek fairly well, having travelled a lot around Greece before the war.

On the way we had some engine trouble, a blade of the propeller broke which compelled us to reach shore before sunrise. Our intention had been to head for Ieraka and hide the caïque, but in the morning of April 27, at 5.30, we arrived at Leonidion and moored at the quay in Plaka.

We hid the radio under some olive trees, took our weapons, had some breakfast. Our orders were to let no one board the caïqe during the day. Soon we would be taking up our headquarters in Crete.

At 1.30 pm a reconnaissance Fiesler-Stork plane flew over, at 2 another came and dropped four aerial torpedoes on the beach and did little damage, and then came some bursts of machine gun fire. At 2.15 they dropped another bomb close to the quay and at 2.30 a depth charge fell beside the Ayia Barbara, breaching her below decks and sinking her, with just half the mast showing above water. Luckily our boat had saved some important documents.

From then until 7pm the bombardment and dive bombing didn’t stop. One of the bombs fell close to us and wounded Captain Michaelis in the leg and damaged the radio, but to our surprise we repaired it enough to take with us, but not sufficiently to send our news to headquarters.

Some local people appeared, with bread, eggs, one or two chickens, wine and so on, and showed us much kindness, although it had been a terrible day.

P. Smith-Dorrien and I tried to buy one of the other small caïques in the harbour, but all had been damaged in the bombardment and were not fit for sea. We tried mules but failed again. We hoped to find a caïque further south. We passed the night there, in two convenient caves at the end of the beach. We went very early into Leonidion for provisions. The enemy were firing all around, but stopped at midday. I tried to salvage some things from the sunken caïque but without success. At 7 pm the Leonidion police brought and placed at our disposal a boat from a nearby village. It belonged to Panayioti Nikos Moschoviti, or Tsana, from Poulithra. The crew was the son of Nikos and another four of his relations. We agreed that they would take us to Kyparissia. Whether or not we could find a way to make progress, we had taken a decision to go for it, come what may. The local people were very keen to help us. We all boarded the boat, twenty-three of us together with the six crew, packed in like sardines, and we set off south under oar. Meanwhile the Greek crew of the Ayia Barbara set off to their respective homes while we stayed with Captain Michaelis, without whom we would have perished, Smith-Dorrien said.

The crew rowed for about six hours and at 5.30 am on April 29 we arrived at Kyparissia, coming to a dry river bed, 3–4 kilometres from the village. P. Smith-Dorrien and I tried to buy a caïque and in the evening we found one: Ayio Nikolao, 40 tons, which belonged to Pericles Meneksi, for 300,000 drachmas. After a moment we heard that the Germans had reached the village, and as luck would have it, eleven New Zealanders arrived by rowing from Porto Heli.

Many British troops had arrived in Kalamata by road in trucks and armoured vehicles. Many went to Crete on the Greek warships which were there, the others who stayed put up a fierce resistance to the advancing Germans, making an assault with bayonets, and many died or were taken prisoner. This year they are erecting a memorial in Kalamata in their honour.

The eleven New Zealanders were in a bad state of fatigue; we took them into our company and all left together at 9 pm. On April 30, we arrived at Velanidion and all had a day on the beach to recover. At 9 pm we tried to set off to Crete but the engine wouldn’t go into forward drive and broke down. P. Smith-Dorrien, Captain Michaelis and I made the steep climb to the high village, hoping to find someone to mend the engine or to find another caïque, without any success.

Meanwhile we learnt that the Germans had reached Monemvasia, Neapoli and Kalamata. The New Zealanders wanted to put to sea immediately but Smith-Dorrien forbade it. Then five more New Zealanders arrived and an Australian. A good mechanic from Velanidion, Nikolaos Kostakos, a relation of Captain Michaelis, patched up the damaged engine after many hours. We also found three Cretan soldiers who were trying to find a way to get home so we took these too. At 9 pm we set off for Cape Spatha on the north of Crete with the mechanic, N. Kostakos.

On May 2 we had extremely strong headwinds and violent storms. We were losing oil and a bearing was overheating; the engine died. We did the unthinkable and turned back with an improvised rig for the sails and got to Antikythera at 12. Smith-Dorrien, Captain Michaelis and I went to the village of Potamos and found there a very large caïque, the Despina, which belonged to Captain Nikolaos Manika from Chios and it was agreed that he would take us to Crete in exchange for 45,000 drachmas. He took all of us, leaving the following night, another four Australians having arrived there by various means. We now had 150 men, British and Greek, of all ranks. There was another caïque there which went to Crete with us. N. Kostakos stayed with the Ayio Nikolao in order to take care of the repairs and then take it on to Crete.

We weighed our anchors at 10.30 pm on May the 3rd and arrived on the 4th, mooring at Kastelli Kissamou at 5.30 am, where we organized a wonderful feast in a taverna. We were all quite ravenous, and then found a truck to take us to Chania.

P. Smith-Dorrien wrote warmly of Philip Scott and with much praise for Captain Michaelis Mistho, who later played a role in the secret transport of caïques in the Middle East, and I met him later in the war. Also we had the finest impressions of Corporal Costas Varthis and the wireless operators, always willing and with good humour in difficult moments. Lastly we felt grateful to all the Greeks who took care of us and helped us warm-heartedly in difficult times.

After sixteen days the war came to Crete in one part or another. A few months later Philip Scott was killed in battle in a western invasion, and Smith-Dorrien was killed towards the end of the war by a bomb falling on the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.

***

These notes are based on my own recollections, much helped by the account written by P. Smith-Dorrien on our eventual arrival at Chania in Crete. Following the death of Philip Scott, his father Sir Samuel Scott collected his letters and published them as a small book. One letter describes our flight and it is around this that I have written. About the night we left Leonidion he writes: “We all got into the boat, eleven English, six Greeks and the others that stayed on after the loss of the Ayia Barbara. The Greeks rowed for six hours with hardly a break. They were absolutely wonderful. We covered 15 miles and arrived at a fishing village further south”.

On our turning back after our first attempt to reach Crete, he writes:

“The caïque travelled badly and the mainsail was torn.”

He was about 20 years old, I was 26 and Smith-Dorrien between 30 and 40.

I love Leonidion and the whole of Tsakonia.

Patrick Leigh Fermor
Kardamili, August 2, 1995

Paddy’s Italian fans in the footsteps of Fermor and Moss

In the snow on top of Mount Ida

In the snow on top of Mount Ida

Some of Paddy’s fans from Italy recently struck out on an adventure in Crete to follow in the steps of Paddy and ‘Billy’ Moss and the rest of the abduction gang. They were on the route at the same time as Tim Todd and Chris White who, as regular readers will know, engage in some seriously detailed work on the route and the events of April 1944. However, the two groups did not manage to meet up in Crete, but did keep in touch with each other via the comments section of the blog!

Spiro Coutsoucos was leading the Italian group and passed me this short text explaining their motivation and a little about the journey which you can enjoy from the photographs that they sent me. The image of the crossing of Mount Ida is reminiscent of Moss’ own black and white image.

Most of us discovered Fermor (and the Peloponnese as well) thanks to “Mani”, which was the one and only book of Paddy’s translated into Italian until a few years ago. We are all good travelers and hikers and we love travel literature. Some members of the group were in Kardamili and hiked in Mani in spring 2009. We became more familiar on reading Paddy’s biography. After searching in vain for the abduction story among his other books we discovered Stanley Moss’s “Ill Met By Moonlight”. The next step was the exciting discovery of Tim Todd’s website.  And one day with Maria Cristina, who is our spring trek organizer we said… why not? Last winter we organized a meeting in Milan on the abduction story to propose the itinerary. A number of Italian fans of Fermor joined the meeting, some traveling considerable distances.

The next step was getting in touch with Cretan mountain guides to check the itinerary and locations.

We started hiking from Drossia, through Enagron, Axos, up to Anogia, Mount Ida, and down to Fourfouras, Petrochori, Ano Meros, Vrises, Ierakari. We then left Paddy’s way because we could not miss Moni Preveli. We rejoined Paddy’s footsteps again on Peristeres beach. Throughout the trek we enjoyed very pleasant weather, some very nice meetings with people related to Kreipe abduction, a huge amount of raki.  The whole team was very enthusiastic about our quest.

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