Tag Archives: Joan Eyres Monsell

Profile of Patrick Leigh Fermor by Max Hastings

A personal view by Max Hastings who thinks that Paddy’s best book is Mani.

First published in the Daily Telegraph 12:01AM GMT 04 Jan 2004

Not long after the Second World War, an English couple chanced upon a remote taverna in the mountains of Greece. As they ate their simple lunch the proprietor, perceiving their nationality, remarked: “We had another English couple here once, before the war. They stayed for weeks. They were so beautiful and so in love. And every night they dressed for dinner!”

It was this last foible that had plainly captivated him, and indeed conjured for his listeners an enchanting vision of young lovers in “the full soup and fish”, as P G Wodehouse would have said, in this lonely Greek inn. All became clear when the innkeeper added: “His name was Lefemor.”

This was, of course, the inimitable Paddy (he has never been known as anything else), though the innkeeper was wrong about the nationality of his other guest – she was in truth a Romanian princess, Balasha Cantacuzene, with whom he enjoyed a romantic idyll through the last few years before the war.

Legend has it that “Lefemor’s” distraught family ordered him home, finally cabling the fare when he pleaded poverty to explain his inability to return. He merely used the money to protract the affair.

Like many stories told both by and about Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor – as he became this week at the age of 88 – this one may be a trifle fanciful, owing as much to soaring imagination as to historical fact. No matter. It is the sort of story about Paddy which ought to be true.

He richly deserves his honour not only for what he has written – some of the finest travel books of all time – but for what he has been. In prose, as I heard one of his oldest friends put it recently, “he possesses an extraordinary gift for expressing beauty in words”.

He has fulfilled the dream of so many upper-class Englishmen of his generation, to live, love, play the hero, sage and wit with a lightness of touch which, translated into the milieu of the kitchen, would produce a souffle of genius.

He was the son of Sir Lewis Leigh Fermor, a geologist who travelled widely and made his reputation in India. “His tall, straight figure might often be seen dancing in Calcutta,” the DNB observes playfully. Paddy’s somewhat erratic schooling terminated at King’s Canterbury, from which he was sacked for some misdemeanour – “holding hands with the greengrocer’s daughter” is his own version, which will serve as well as any other.

Rejecting parental plans for Sandhurst and the Army, in December 1933 at the age of 18 he set out instead to walk to Constantinople, with very little money but some rather grand letters of introduction. The consequence was that for the next 18 months, he was wafted from schloss to schloss across old Europe, plunging his insatiable social, cultural, intellectual and linguistic curiosity into a river of happy encounters.

These he has described in the two volumes, A Time of Gifts (1977) and Between the Woods and the Water (1986). A third instalment of the journey has been long in preparation, but it is unlikely that anyone except his publisher expects it to get finished.

He has always been a slow writer, each of the eight books in his modest output requiring long and painful labour. His dilatoriness has been reinforced, perhaps, by indifference to money. Though he has never had any, somehow God or friends have eagerly provided. He has practised a superior brand of Micawberism, founded upon the belief that something or somebody would turn up, which in his case it always has.

When war came in 1939 he left Baleni, the wonderful Romanian mansion where he had been living with his princess, to join the Irish Guards. Instead, however, he was commissioned into the Intelligence Corps as a Greek speaker. He spent the winter of 1940 as a liaison officer with the Greek Army.

Affectionately sceptical friends say that Paddy’s linguistic fluency is a trifle exaggerated. Sixty years ago an Englishman who heard him gassing away nineteen to the dozen said to a neighbouring Greek woman: “Is he as fluent as he sounds?” She replied: “No. He is simply making a wonderful noise.” This is a little unjust, and of course he has indeed become a master of the Greek language after living in the Peloponnese for so long. He possesses a gift for communicating with his fellow man of any nationality, class or condition, without need for anything as vulgar as a phrasebook. Continue reading

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Lawrence Durrell and Patrick Leigh Fermor

I have been trawling again for PLF linkages and found this on James O’Fee’s blog on Impala Publications. O’Fee makes many references to Paddy and his blog section is worth a trawl. I like the last quote in particular.

In Bitter Lemons, the writer Lawrence Durrell describes a visit from Patrick Leigh Fermor –

“In that warm light the faces of my friends lived and glowed….Freya Stark…Sir Harry Luke…Patrick Leigh Fermor and the Corn Godess, who always arrive when I am on an island, unannounced and whose luggage has always been left at the airport (‘But we’ve brought the wine-the most important thing’).” [pp102-3]

“Last night the sound of the front door closing upon breathless chuckles and secretive ranting, then the voice of Patrick Leigh Fermor: ‘Any old clothes?’ in Greek. Appeared with his arm round the shoulders of Michaelis who had shown him the way up the rocky path in darkness. ‘Joan is winded, holed below the Plimsoll line. I’ve left her resting half way up. Send out a seneschal with a taper, or a sedan if you have one.’ It is as joyous a reunion as ever we had on Rhodes.

“After a splendid dinner by the fire he starts singing, songs of Crete, Athens, Macedonia. When I go out to refill the ouzo bottle at the little tavern across the way I find the street completely filled with people listening in utter silence and darkness. Everyone seems struck dumb. ‘What is it?’ I say, catching sight of Frangos. ‘Never have I heard of Englishmen singing Greek songs like this!’ Their reverent amazement is touching; it is as if they want to embrace Paddy wherever he goes.” (pp 104-5)

Related website:

James O’Fee blog at Impala Publications

Visit to the veteran of the Peloponnese by Wieland Freund (from Welt Online)

A 2007 interview with Paddy by Welt Online. The Germans have almost the same fascination for Paddy as we do. Afterall his first adventures took place in Germany (A Time of Gifts) and his part in the kidnap of General Kreipe has a particular fascination. 

He also confirms that “Volume Three” is being written – translated by Google – Oh yes, “he says in the rich sunshine,” I will write this book. There is to end on Mount Athos. From there, I have notes for every day. 

So here is the Google translated version. The original in German for the purists and the linguists is the next article below. 

Stop Press! I have had an offer to translate this properly and when I receive it I will replace the trash from Google. In the meantime, my apologies and enjoy trying to make sense of it!

Resistance fighters, hikers, travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor went to Istanbul as a young man, kidnapped in 1944 in Crete an army general and now lives in Mani. There he kept on the typewriter by Bruce Chatwin. 

Since the sixties, the home of Patrick Leigh Fermor: the Mani peninsula in the Greek Peloponnese. 

That there could be his house did not think you would have to climb into a closet or throw himself into a rabbit hole in order to achieve it – this idea comes with the darkness and returns, turned back into the Enchanted. 

The way to Patrick Leigh Fermor, the Herodotus of the 20th century, leads, it seems, to the edge of the world and then one step beyond. The shimmering leaves of the olive grove, the giant lemon and the red, Greek past of heavy earth might as well be the props of a dream. 

“Paddy” came first in 1952 by Mani 

We keep a vigilant group of cypress trees and follow the overgrown path until a sky-blue gate. Do I need a spell, so it opens and appears Fermor, the travel writer, war hero, the legend? Knocking at least seems too little. 

With 92 years, Patrick Leigh Fermor of immortality as close as it is today even comes close. His way of fame is just off the beaten track to have the world, behind firmly closed doors or in such places as the taciturn Mani. 

Paddy, like not telling the familiar without reverence, came here in 1952 for the first time. How the Spartans and the Byzantines, who fled from Slavs and Turks, and of which he knows everything, he climbed the passes of the up to two and a half meters Taygetos, the Mani, the middle finger of the Peloponnesian hand, centuries made for a natural fortress.

Patrick Leigh Fermor in Berlin

The knocking does not answer 

The back of the slopes wrinkly rich almost to the bay. Bruce Chatwin, who came to Paddy as a “guru to worship” or how to overthrow a king, saw eagles soar over the house of Leigh Fermor. Twenty years later, Paddy Chatwin ashes buried – next to a crumbling Byzantine church not far from here. The Mani is famous for its action songs. 

Southward, on the faded, twinkling towers over the tiny villages, run, it means that a chasm into Hades. Leigh Fermor found it flooded. “Phosphorgefiedert,” he wrote, dip it into the cold depths and swim “through the heart as a huge sapphire. 

We knock in vain to dare us to elaborate the cobbled courtyard and whisper with the housekeeper. It leads us through the garden open arcades, which might as well bend over a cloister. 

Leigh Fermor is tattooed like a sailor 

Leigh Fermor has written so many monasteries in Europe, in towers of “solid ivory, and if anyone here was an escapist, The doors to the rooms, however, the numerous tables, which depends on the sound of glasses and laughter as a smoke curtain, speak a different language. 

Leigh Fermor speaks many. Photographs show it once hung over bursting with charm and zest for life, sometimes almost professorial, and again obviously as a sailor and tattooed. 

We wait under the coffered ceiling of the spacious, wonderfully cluttered living room, from which the English poet John Betjeman once wrote that it was “one of the rooms of the world.” On one wall hang paintings by Nicolas Ghika and John Craxton, leaning on a shelf worn, faded volumes of the great English stylist. On the floor there is a band “Sherlock Holmes”. “Enchanting easy, right?” 

The family left behind her son with strangers 

This could be Merlin: a jumble the gray, wavy hair, sharp features and eons of age in the eyes. Leigh Fermor carries the threadbare sweater a garret of scholars and the trousers of an artist in his studio. 

He is of overwhelming kindness, perfectly shaped “upper class”. In the sunlit bay he called almost everyone who comes to the question, “marvelous”: writers, painters, musicians. “They all knew.” – “I am,” he says mildly, “that old.” 

“For at least one of us children would remain alive, if a submarine sank the ship,” Paddy was in the care of a small family back in England. 

1933 – the first trip to Istanbul 

“I ran,” he says, “shouting and screaming across the yard. I never learned discipline. I was a difficult student. “-” Lazy? “-” Disobedience. “Even a psychiatrist who also treated Virginia Woolf was consulted. Paddy still flew from the school. He had kept up with the daughter of the greengrocer’s hands. 

The autumn of 1933 found him in a room not far from trouble blowing from London’s Shepherd Market, where he should have been cramming so that at least the military school would take him. 

Instead, he took a verse of George Herbert at his word: My way is free, free to the horizon, / Much like the wind. “In December 1933 he embarked for Holland. From there, he wanted to walk into a “green dragon”, Byzantium, which he never called Istanbul. 

On the trip report, the fans are waiting until today 

He is famous for getting lost in the widely spread European history, which he knows like no other. In Mani, one of his best books, the “opposite of a travel guide,” as he says, there is a footnote, the sheer joy of the strangest here, “and there crafty peoples’ lists of Greece: the Melevi Dervishes of” Tower the winds “, the fire dancers from Mavroleki, the hiking quack Eurytaniens. With the gypsies, whom he met in 1934 in the highlands of the Carpathians, said Patrick Leigh Fermor Latin. 

Paddy arrived on New Year’s Day of 1935 in Constantinople, and had better things to do than to write about his trip. He is one of the great English stylists working, slowly, life itself seems always in your way. 

It was not until 1977 “was published, the time of the gifts,” which describes his journey from Hoek van Holland to the middle Danube, nine long years later, “between forests and water”, which leads to the Iron Gate. The third book, the description of the phenomenon must last up to Constantinople, is still expected with such longing that leave a few words from the mouth of Paddy’s heave a sigh British press today. 

Where Chatwin’s old typewriter? 

When Sir Patrick, as he was allowed to call since 2004, was awarded in March in Athens the “Order of the Phoenix,” he told his casual way that he, because his handwriting was always bad, just learn to touch type. 

Oh yes, “he says in the rich sunshine,” I will write this book. There is to end on Mount Athos. From there, I have notes for every day. “We are walking through the garden, the Gulf of Messinia in a dozen colors of light blue. On the burnt grass stretches herself a hangover: “His great-grandmother one day was just there.” 

The studio is housed in an outbuilding. In an iron chest, which bears the inscription of “Traveller’s Club” that tape, books are stacked on the wall a faded French hunting scene. Somewhere there must be also Chatwin old typewriter, a 51er Olivetti. But where? Where? 

Soldier, he was happy because “was always something going on” 

On Mount Athos celebrated his 20th Birthday, then went to Athens, as he later went to Paris and Rome. With a Romanian princess, he lived in an old water mill in the Peloponnese, and followed her to finally Balení, the seat of her family in northern Romania. 

Russia and the horrors of communism were suddenly within reach. “Many of your friends were communists at that time.” – “I did not speak up,” he says. “ “I was so apolitical.” 

In Balení reached him of the war. He, which six years earlier at the Shepherd Market has become clear, “how little I was good for soldiers in peace time,” volunteered. The departure was hasty. “Not even my notebook I took with me. We were so naive. In a few months ago we believed us again. “It took decades. “Were you like a soldier?” – “In a way, yes. “ There was always something going on. ” 

In 1944, he kidnapped a German general 

Books are also in the bathroom and somewhere between them is a plaque commemorating the Battle of Crete. When she was lost, went back Leigh Fermor as major of the Special Operations Executive to Crete. One and a half years he lived disguised as a shepherd in a cave – “wrapped in white cloth from goat and horribly dirty” – and organized the Cretan resistance against the German occupiers. 

The rest is legend, one of the most daring commando raid of the Second World War. One night in April 1944, a large Opel on the road to Knossos, Paddy in a stolen German uniforms on the way. A scuffle and then, at the roadblocks, again and again the cry of “General car. 

For days wandered Leigh Fermor, the people and kidnapped the German General Kreipe through the mountains until they reached the coast, and finally Libya (Egypt). On the difficult journey Kreipe murmurs once verses of Horace. Leigh Fermor is one. „Ach so, Herr Major“,  

About the death, he never speaks 

Paddy has never really written about it. “Ill Met by Moonlight,” the book that tells this story in full, comes from Bill Stanley Moss, his former deputy, and was filmed with Dirk Bogarde as Leigh Fermor. 

When it first appeared in 1950, just came Paddy’s first book, “The Traveller’s Tree,” a description of his travels in the Caribbean out. DThen he was – in the UK, famous in Greece “He embodied an idea of the Renaissance,” writes Cooper, Artemis, “a man of action, which is just as much a scholar.” 

Cooper, the friend and daughter of a friend is writing Paddy’s biography, when he, as he says, “is just gone.” “But now that you mention it: We never really talk about it.” 

The stones for the house came with the donkey 

For lunch there are lemon chicken, tzatziki and Retsina. We sit on chairs Andalusian, a Venetian table at the foot of a guillotined by the passage of time Roman Sibyl. Leigh Fermor has picked up in Rome on the way, he collects nothing. 

He tells the story of Niko Kolokotronis, the Mauerermeister that the contract was to build his house, because six generations were Kolokotronis wall masters, and played all the violin. That was the beginning of the sixties. In the bay there was no electricity, donkeys brought the stones, and Paddy and his wife Joan were living in tents, until the house was finally finished. 

“I scribble in the studio in front of me,” reads a letter from the most beautiful, vibrant with life days in the bay.”Through the window I can see Joan, their army cats invites you to dinner; mass meows to rise, and their tails make waves like the sea.” 

A picture of his wife Joan (cats) in her hand 

Leigh Fermor demands a picture of the mantel, Joan in the forties, which he portrayed with a pencil. “Come on!” She called from a boat, as Paddy, like his hero, Lord Byron swam the Hellespont. “It took three hours.” 

Joan died in June 2003 here.”She was,” he says, his drawing in hand, “in truth much more beautiful. 

Original article here.

Besuch beim Haudegen des Peloponnes Von Wieland Freund (Welt Online)

Widerstandskämpfer, Wanderer, Reiseschriftsteller: Patrick Leigh Fermor ging als junger Mann nach Istanbul, entführte 1944 auf Kreta einen Wehrmachtsgeneral und lebt heute auf Mani. Dort bewahrt er die Schreibmaschine von Bruce Chatwin auf.

Dass es sein Haus gar nicht geben könnte, dass man in einen Schrank steigen oder sich in einen Kaninchenbau stürzen müsste, um es zu erreichen – dieser Gedanke kommt mit der felszerklüfteten Dunkelheit und kehrt tags, ins Verwunschene gewendet, zurück.

Der Weg zu Patrick Leigh Fermor, dem Herodot des 20.Jahrhunderts, führt, scheint’s, an den Rand der Welt und dann noch einen Schritt darüber hinaus. Die flirrenden Blätter des Olivenhains, die riesenhaften Zitronen und die rote, von Vergangenheit schwere griechische Erde könnten ebenso gut die Requisiten eines Traums sein.

“Paddy” kam erstmals 1952 nach Mani
Wir halten auf eine Gruppe wachsamer Zypressen zu und folgen dem zugewachsenen Pfad bis vor eine himmelblaue Pforte. Braucht es einen Zauberspruch, damit sie sich öffnet und Fermor, der Reiseschriftsteller, der Kriegsheld, die Legende erscheint? Klopfen jedenfalls scheint zuwenig.

Mit 92 Jahren ist Patrick Leigh Fermor der Unsterblichkeit so nahe, wie man ihr heute noch nahe kommt. Seine Art Ruhm ist nur abseits des Weltenrummels zu haben, hinter fest verschlossenen Türen oder an so verschwiegenen Orten wie der Mani.

Paddy, wie die Vertrauten nicht ohne Ehrfurcht sagen, kam 1952 zum ersten Mal her. Wie die Spartaner und Byzantiner, die vor Slawen und Osmanen flohen und von denen er alles weiß, erklomm er die Pässe des bis zu zweieinhalbtausend Meter hohen Taygetos, der die Mani, den Mittelfinger der peloponnesischen Hand, Jahrhunderte lang zu einer natürlichen Festung machte.

Read more here!

The Friendly Isles: in the Footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor by Robin Hanbury-Tenison

Wake up. Stretch. Open eyes and look around. We’re in the most comfortable bedroom imaginable, physically and aesthetically. A great bed, soft sheets, pastel grey woodwork, white upholstery. Through the open French windows is a dream beach: a perfect crescent of pristine sand lapped by clear blue water and shaded by tall palm trees. A barefoot 50 paces across tightly mown grass and we are in the warm sea. It doesn’t get any better than this.

How different it was for Patrick Leigh Fermor and his companions 56 years ago. With Joan Eyres-Monsell, the woman who was to become his wife 20 years later, and Costa, the great Greek photographer, spent six months travelling through the Lesser and Greater Antilles. Then, the many islands they visited were thoroughly run down. The great buildings of church and state and planters’ wealth were mostly ruinous and rotten. The future in the depressed economic climate just after the Second World War looked bleak and, indeed, “King Sugar” was about to die, as it had on the abolition of slavery – only this time as a victim of sugar beet and the macro politics being played out between America and Europe.

Yet, Leigh Fermor still managed to reveal the romance and the magic of the archipelago and so start the obsession so many have since had with visiting the “Friendly Isles”. His vision saved them by helping to create a climate in which tourism could grow, and tourism has been the salvation of the Caribbean ever since.

In those immediate post-war days, the few hotels and boarding houses were grim. The tourism industry was embryonic and only when they stayed in some of the grand privately owned great houses, built by rich planters, “were we redeemed from the usual squalors of our island sojourns”. Most of these have now become hotels or “plantation inns” and they are delightful places to stay, combining old-world elegance with modern luxury.

Earlier this year, my wife, Louella, and I decided to follow in Leigh Fermor’s footsteps to see how much the islands had changed. Our pace was less leisurely than his and we were able to visit only 10 of the 15 islands he saw, but with his books as our vade-mecum we found our eyes, ears and all our senses opened and enhanced.

We started in Antigua and headed straight for the Carlisle Bay hotel. There, Gordon Campbell Gray has achieved the same understated excellence on a Caribbean beach as in his highly regarded One Aldwych in London.

Antigua has changed radically since Leigh Fermor’s day. Then, Nelson’s dockyard was in ruins. “The timbers were so eaten away,” he wrote, “that we had to step from beam to beam, for the boards between them had fallen to powder, or still hung from rusty nails in rotten fragments.” English Harbour, the great 18th-century naval base favoured by Rodney, Cochrane and Nelson and perhaps the prettiest and safest harbour in the whole Caribbean (the view of it from Shirley Heights is without equal), had no facilities whatever.

Read more here!

Joan Leigh Fermor – Obituary from Daily Telegraph

Published: 12:00AM BST 05 Jul 2003

Joan Leigh Fermor, who has died aged 91, created a remarkable house in southern Greece with her husband, the writer Patrick Leigh Fermor, which attracted a host of distinguished figures from the literary and social spheres.

Joan Leigh Fermor was a noted beauty, with a ready gift for company and a sharp intelligence; her friends and admirers included Maurice Bowra, Cyril Connolly, Stephen Spender, Giacometti, Lawrence Durrell, and what sometimes seemed like almost every figure from the literary and scholarly worlds who gathered around the Mediterranean after the Second World War. She was also one of the most distinguished amateur photographers of her generation, and provided the illustrations for several of her husband’s books.

Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Mani (1958), an account of his travels with his wife in the southern Peloponnese, was illustrated with Joan’s photographs; eight years later, the couple produced Roumeli, devoted to the north of the country. In addition, Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Three Letters from the Andes (1991), an account of his mountaineering expedition 20 years earlier, were addressed to his wife. They provided a picture of the gentleman traveller, stoical in the face of all hardships (other than the preparation of a hard-boiled egg at altitude).

Joan Elizabeth Eyres Monsell was born on February 5 1912 at Dumbleton, Gloucestershire. Her father was Bolton Eyres Monsell, the Tory MP for South Worcestershire who went on to become Chief Whip and First Lord of the Admiralty before being created Viscount Monsell in 1935. He had added the name Eyres on his marriage to his wife (Caroline Mary) Sybil, who was lady of the manor and patroness of the living at Dumbleton.

Joan was educated at St James’s, Malvern, and at finishing schools in Paris and Florence. Afterwards she became keen on photography, concentrating – on the advice of her friend John Betjeman – on architectural studies. The first among these were published in Architecture Review; she went on to become a contributor to Horizon.

On the outbreak of war, Joan Monsell became a nurse, and also took photographs of architectural sites which were thought vulnerable to bombing. She then joined the cypher departments of the British embassies in Madrid, Algiers and then Cairo, where she became friendly with Lawrence Durrell, Robin Fedden and Charles Johnston, and where she met Patrick Leigh Fermor. From Cairo, she managed to escape on leave in order to travel in Kurdistan, before moving to Athens, where she became secretary to the cartoonist Osbert Lancaster.

Joan Leigh Fermor was passionately fond of cats, eight of which were settled about her her bed on her last morning. She was also addicted to chess, and kittens were reprimanded only if they had the temerity to muddle the pieces. She was accommodating, too, of her husband’s derring-do – though she watched him swim the Hellespont (at the age of 69) “sitting on her hands so as not to wring them”.

She died on June 4 after a fall in the Mani, where she and her husband had settled nearly half a century before, living in tents while constructing their home. The house, centred on a great room full of books (and often also music), stands on a wild peninsula on the southernmost tip of Greece, looking out on olive groves and cypresses toward the sea, against a backdrop of mountains. There the Leigh Fermors entertained many visitors, plying them with large quantities of wine and the sea-green olive oil from their own trees.

She married, first, in 1939, John Rayner, features editor of the Daily Express; but the match did not survive the war, and was dissolved in 1947. She married Patrick Leigh Fermor in 1968.

Billa Harrod writes: Joan and I met when we were both 18 and remained great friends for more than 70 years. Neither of us was quite the sort of daughter our mothers would have hoped for (luckily they had others). We were very lucky in our backgrounds of big comfortable houses – which we did not always treat as well as we should have, once breaking off an arm of a dignified candelabrum at Dumbleton. (Though when Joan’s father was First Lord of the Admiralty and they lived at Admiralty House in Whitehall, we did appreciate the beautiful fish furniture.)

Joan had more money than most of her friends and was quietly but largely generous when she saw that it would be helpful. She was beautiful and elegant, and also a highbrow, who had the highest standards, and did not suffer fools gladly. Although her actual schooling was rather feeble, she had read a vast amount and had an excellent memory. Music and literature were her real interests, but she was also a superb cook, and taught others to be. The food in her various houses was always delicious.