Tag Archives: Kalamitsi

Benaki report on progress with Paddy’s house

Although there are no new updates on the Benaki website, there does appear to be progress. Some readers have been in touch to report that work appears to have started, and indeed, the house has been closed to visitors to permit the work to commence.

On 26 September, the museum will report to interested parties in London at an invitation only event. I’ll try to update you immediately afterwards on progress.

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Behind the scenes at the Benaki

dsc07322The debate about the state and status of the house at Kalamitsi continues. Despite asking for input I have heard nothing from the Benaki. However, I received a very nice email from Michael Torrens who wishes to offer a different perspective to my own in the article below, and is critical of my stance and that of others who appear to lack patience with the Benaki or who may, in his opinion, have got their facts wrong. We shall see how things turn out. I disagree with some of his comments e.g. the state of security during the visit, and the tone is resonant of those who believed that Britain would not vote for Brexit and the USA would vote for Hilary; when will they listen?  I remain dismayed that the Benaki cannot respond officially.

I was reviewing some recent articles and was reminded that in June 2016, Dominic Green wrote a similar report to mine which I published here.

Following my article some suggested that we should write an email in Greek to the Benaki to seek a response and to ask for reassurance that items will be removed and the house properly secured. If you would like to draft something for me (and that you could all send to the Benaki) to send in Greek please get in touch. See how in the About and Contact page.

Michael’s email went like this:

Dear Tom,

I must first congratulate you on your blog. It is, de facto, the most important and widely read vehicle for communication between those who appreciate Paddy and wish to have a finger on the pulse of developments. It must be a lot of work for you but it is irreplaceable.

However that makes accuracy all the more important. That is why I respectfully ask you to read through the attached document and publish it on the site.

As I intimate, I have been concerned at the degree of misinformation and the level of dissatisfaction, which I decided to investigate in my own way, totally independently. I know a lot more than I can state, but it is essential to be diplomatic and let some things evolve in their own time. I may be able to answer any personal questions of yours as long as I do not overstep my confidentiality agreements.

It is really very important over the next months to repair the damage and set up an atmosphere of trust and reconciliation so that fundraising for the functional stage of the Centre can get started efficiently.

That is why I hope you will be objective and supportive even though the document may appear mildly critical even of you. It is supposed to reset the balance.

Thanks for your time,

Regards,

Michael

By Michael Torrens

I visited the Kardamyli house this summer with a group from the Patrick Leigh Fermor Society. The condition of the property was surely the same as when Tom Sawford went but my conclusion was rather different to that which he communicated recently. Certainly major refurbishment is indicated but my impression was that there is no urgent structural work necessary to protect the place until the whole integrated renovation project starts. Therefore replacing (e.g.) broken shutters separately would be an inefficient use of funds.

I, too, have been interested by what is now called the PLF Project and aware of certain differences of opinion. Rather than contribute my own unsubstantiated view I decided to discover what problem, if any, actually existed. I was fortunate (as a resident of Athens traveling frequently to London) to be able to initiate personal, face to face, ongoing discussions with both the staff at the Benaki museum and also the trustees of the Patrick Leigh Fermor Society. All have welcomed me and been exceptionally cooperative for which I wish to express my thanks. I would also like to thank John Kittmer, the British Ambassador, for meeting me and giving his advice.

The only problem that I have been able to identify is a profound general lack of trust and confidence, associated with inadequate information, distortion of information and false conclusions.

Perhaps I am in a good position to be objective about the situation and so I venture these comments.

  • Anyone familiar with the combination of raising a huge sum of money and performing renovations of old buildings (I once worked in an ecclesiastical architect’s office) will know that it takes time. A long time.
  • The renovation project is now fully planned and funded. I consider that the achievements of the Benaki up to the present, bearing in mind the current economic climate, are little short of miraculous.
  • I have been privileged to see the formal AEA feasibility study, architect’s drawings and business plans and consider, within the limits of my experience, that everyone should be reassured that the project will be managed at an international level and stop moaning.
  • Benaki has had a security policy in place, especially when there were more than ten visitors; the fact that someone did not see it is perhaps how it should be. Items of more significant value have already been removed. Perfect security would require no access at all. Those concerned about danger this winter should know that all the contents are now in the process of being packed for storage and/or restoration during the building work.
  • It has been suggested to the Benaki that information should be provided more frequently. I would also suggest that anyone who feels the need to criticize such information because they believe they know better should just keep quiet and await results. I have been privileged to learn a lot of confidential information, for example on the proposed management structure. Please be patient, all will be revealed when appropriate.

Paddy had many personal discussions with the Benaki on his vision for the future of Kardamyli. The property was finally left to the Museum at the start of the financial crisis without any form of endowment. It is necessary to re-emphasize that the Benaki museum has the total legal and financial responsibility. I hope that everyone can be persuaded to help this project and create a favorable climate for fundraising when the Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor Centre opens and needs additional funding for running costs in a couple of years’ time. I have examined the relevant documents and collected as much objective information as I can. I am satisfied that the Benaki have proceeded exactly according to the wording of the deed of gift. Those who are not satisfied with the speed of response should spend more time appraising the practical difficulties.

The making public of a private opinion may be said to be justified by the concept of freedom of speech. However it is, in the age of blogs and the Internet, also a form of journalism. I would like to suggest that the quality of journalism depends most particularly on the veracity of the source material. What was it Alexander Pope said about ‘a little learning’?

Five years on – the house at Kalamitsi

The house in Kalamitsi, September 2014 (John Chapman)

The house in Kalamitsi, September 2014 (John Chapman)

Today marks the fifth anniversary of Paddy’s death, an opportunity to ponder a little on his full and colourful life, and to think about his memory and all that he left us. This includes the house at Kalamitsi which to this day remains in some sort of limbo: uncared for; mouldering away; and its future unsecure. Most importantly, nowhere near meeting Paddy’s intentions that it should be available as a writers’ retreat and part-time holiday home to provide an income. To mark this anniversary I am happy at last to publish some thoughts from regular correspondent Dominic Green, FRHistS, who is a writer and critic who resides in Newton, Massachusetts. Dominic wrote to me following reports of frolicking nudes at Paddy’s house in 2014. It retains its relevance two years on. Dominic discusses an idea that I had shortly after Paddy’s death that the house be leased to a UK based charity or society that will carry out his wishes.

Dear Tom,

It was reading your website that sparked my interest in writing about the posthumous saga of the PLF house. So I’m delighted to return the favour by contributing some personal reflections.

I spoke with Irini Geroulanou, the deputy director of the Benaki, a couple of times on the phone, and also sent her lists of queries. She always replied promptly and helpfully. Without her help, I wouldn’t have been able to get inside the house, and might have suffered the disappointments of Max Long. Irini is, by the way, a reader of your site.

My impression is that Irini and the Benaki are committed to honouring the terms of the bequest, but on their own terms. My impression is also that this may take many years, if it’s done according to the Benaki’s current plan for what Irini calls a ‘holistic’ solution; ie, that no work be started until all the funds are secure. When I asked if the Benaki, having failed to raise funds, would sell the house, she insisted that this would not happen.

As we know, the Benaki has had severe financial problems. The outgoing director, Angelos Devorakis, has spoken of severe salary and budget cuts. Irini told me that the financial problems are not solely due to the expansion in Athens: since the crash of 2008, the museum has been obliged to restructure its relationship with the Greek government. I’m not an economist, but this also suggests that not much will happen for a long while.

Another of the questions I raised with Irini was whether the Benaki would be amenable to working with a British-based charity, which could raise funds for the restoration. I had heard that something along these lines was proposed to the Benaki a couple of years ago, and that the museum turned it down. Irini said she hadn’t heard about this offer; perhaps Angelo Devorakis might know.

Irini, though, was against the idea anyway. She said the museum preferred to receive direct donations, and a request directing the money to the PLF house, as opposed to the Benaki’s numerous other projects. She was under the impression that donors could do this through the Benaki’s website. But, at the time of going to press, this was not the case, at least on the English website. To me, this shows how high the PLF house ranks on the Benaki’s to-do list.

I thought that a combination of money troubles and institutional inflexibility might be the source of the problem, and that both might reflect high professional ambitions. So I was astounded to find that the house has no resident caretaker, and that many of PLF and JLF’s personal possessions are still in place [as seen recently by Rick Stein]. Having read PLF’s books and Artemis Cooper’s biography, I was able to identify some of the items as biographically
important. Anyone could break in and walk off with them.

While Benaki has stored the most important books, the majority of PLF’s possessions, including almost all of his books, items of handmade furniture and clothing, and many original photographs, are not secure. It is this majority of items that preserve the ambience of the house. If the Benaki is allowed to rent out the house, then there is no reason for it not to install a local person or a couple of interns as permanent caretakers. I suggested these ideas to Irini, and she rejected them.

This is not a safe state of affairs, andnot one I had expected to encounter, given that the Benaki is a major museum.

Clearly, the Benaki cannot find the relatively small amount of money needed for restoration – or even to secure the place in the meantime. Therefore, it should either sell the property to a institution capable of fulfilling the terms of the bequest; or allow a foreign ‘Friends of Paddy’ group to raise funds – perhaps on the understanding that it wouldn’t have a say in how the Benaki spends its donations. But I have the strong impression that the Benaki would rather do nothing in the hope of dealing with other institutions: EU funding was mentioned. To me, this is the wrong kind of inflexibility: the kind of bureaucratic inertia that is creating a dangerous situation at Kalamitsi.

I am not unsympathetic to the Benaki’s financial troubles, not all of which are of its own making. But I left the house deeply concerned by the risks the Benaki is running in its handling of the bequest, and disheartened by the apparent absence of prospects for improvement. Three and a half years have passed since PLF’s death. Publicity from the publication of The Broken Road and Artemis Cooper’s biography has created a unique opportunity for fundraising. But the Benaki seems determined not to use it. Perhaps my article will stir things up a bit. If the Benaki changed tack, and invited a British group to raise funds, I would contribute immediately. I’m sure that many other PLF readers would too.

Finally, I was greatly impressed by Elpida Beloyannis and Christos the gardener. Both have both done their utmost to keep the house going. Shutters aside, the interior is clean and cared for. It was a privilege to visit the house, and see their devotion to it and the memories of JLF and PLF.

With thanks for your website,

Dominic