Paddy Leigh Fermor in Heidelberg by Carol McGrath.
I have always admired the writing of Paddy Leigh Fermor. He lived in Kalamitsi a short distance from the village in the Mani where I base myself during the summer. I never did get to meet him but have twice visited the villa he designed himself and part constructed with the assistance of a Greek friend who was a local builder.
My first visit was shortly after his death while it still held the manifest redolence of his long intrepid life, personal photos, military memorabilia and the eclectic artwork he collected during his lifetime. The second visit was last Autumn after necessary renovations had been carried out by The Benaki Museum with the support of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. Inevitably this resulted somewhat in the loss of the aura of the man that previously had seemed to have been inured into the very fabric of the building.
It is still a magnificent memorial to a great Hellenophile, a British War Hero and a writer of unique talent. My introduction to his writing was in the early Eighties when I read his breakthrough book A Time of Gifts which to quote the back of my 1978 Penguin edition – “Like a tramp, a pilgrim, or a wandering scholar, an eighteen year old boy set out, one wet December day in 1933, to walk to Constantinople”
A few years ago, not on foot, obviously, I retraced his visit to Heidelberg and the Red Ox Inn which today looks remarkably similar to his description of it dating back as it does to 1933. This Blog records in pictures that visit combined with Paddy’s original prose. Enjoy.
On the far side of the bridge I abandoned the Rhine for its tributary and after a few miles along the Neckar the steep lights of Heidelberg assembled.
It was dark by the time I climbed the main street and soon softly-lit panes of coloured glass, under the hanging sign of a Red Ox, were beckoning me indoors.
With freezing cheeks and hair caked with snow, I clumped into an entrancing haven of oak beams and carving and alcoves and changing floor levels. A jungle of impedimenta encrusted the interior – mugs and bottles and glasses and antlers- the innocent accumulation of years , not stage props of forced conviviality – and the whole place glowed with a universal patina. It was more like a room in a castle and, except for a cat asleep in front of the stove, quite empty.
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