Tag Archives: Kardamyli

Benaki update: Progress of Repair Works at the Leigh Fermor House

A short update in Greek and English has been issued today by the Benaki Museum. Unfortunately no photos other than the one above appear to be available at the moment.

Works at the Leigh Fermor House are progressing very well within schedule. The largest part of the repairs has been completed using as much as possible the same traditional techniques and materials employed by the Leigh Fermors. For example, roofs were tiled anew with the original handmade ceramic tiles and the internal walls were plastered with a preparation reproducing the 1960s mixture. Furthermore, the new timber doors, windows and stone lintels, are exact copies of the originals.
The House will reopen to the public in the summer of 2019 and guided tours will be offered to the public.

The repair works are carried out thanks to the major donation of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.

If you have questions, I suggest that you direct them to the Benaki plfproject@benaki.gr . The Benaki Museum page dedicated to the project can be found here.

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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.

Benaki Museum and Aria Hotels announce alliance for the Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor House

The Benaki Museum and Aria Hotels have announced an alliance for the Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor House, situated in Kardamyli, Southeast Peloponnese, Greece.

In 1996 Sir Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor bequeathed their home to the Benaki Museum with the express wish that the house would host intellectuals and scholars who wanted to work or study in an inspiring setting. The Leigh Fermors also granted the museum the right to rent the property for a period of three months per year, in order to cover the running costs of the house. Under the alliance the museum will ensure the preservation of the house and its contents, and enable members of the public to have access to the property, while hospitality services will be provided by Aria Hotels, a hotel and villas company that specializes in the provision of authentic retreats in restored, historic Greek properties.

In the 1960s Leigh Fermor and his wife Joan chose to spend the rest of their lives in Greece and to build their home, lavishing much love and attention on it, in the idyllic coastal town of Kardamyli. At present, repair works at the buildings and the garden are underway so that the original character of the property is meticulously preserved.

The Benaki Museum-Aria Hotels partnership will be launched in 2020. Aria Hotels has pledged that it will undertake operation of the property during the rental period with particular sensitivity to its unique legacy, offering guests a rare residential experience in an environment of immense charm and character. The Benaki Museum’s collaboration with Aria Hotels for the Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor House will extend over the three-month rental period every year, in accordance with the terms of the bequest.

Aria Hotels is a family-owned boutique hotel and villas company that offers holidaymakers authentic Greek hospitality and the ultimate in simple, effortless charm. The company has several hotels and villas, all in exceptional destinations: Crete (Chania, Heraklion and Lassithi), Cyclades (Kimolos, Serifos, Milos, Santorini) and Epirus (Metsovo & Zagori). They are chosen to appeal to the discerning traveller looking for a secret hideaway in Greece. Each hotel has been selected for its architectural merit, and its contribution to the preservation of local heritage. Outstanding quality in service and accommodation are the core of the Aria Hotels experience.

A recent visit to Paddy’s house

An update on the house from blog reader Nigel, who was recently in Kardamyli with his wife and visited Paddy and Joan’s house.

I still greatly enjoy your e-mails. Keep them coming.
Just a brief note to say that my wife and I were in Kardamyli as usual in May this year and went to visit Paddy and Joan’s house.
We have walked past for years, including when he lived there, and always wanted to see it.
The house is of course stunning as indeed are the gardens.
The Benaki museum will make it into a wonderful centre I am sure but it was good to visit before the changes start whilst it is still as he left it and retains the atmosphere of his time.
We were shown round by Elpida Beloyianni who is in charge of the restoration and was charming and most hospitable.
I just thought that you would be interested to know that all of Paddy and Joan’s effect have now been moved to Athens and the house is empty. Restoration can now start!
The exception is the amazing table in the main room, which I’m sure you know. It is too heavy to move.

There will be a huge amount to do to upgrade the house for its future role. I commented on the lovely but ruined wooden windows and Elpida said that all they needed in the past was painting now and then but Paddy never bothered!

Benaki update on Paddy’s house

The Benaki museum have provided an update on Paddy’s house. You can visit the webpage on their website. The highlights are as follows:

– the Benaki Museum has applied for the necessary permits to the Greek State (Structuring Service – Municipality of Kalamata) and is waiting for their issuing so that the works can start.

– the informative event planned for November 2016 in London has been rescheduled for early 2017, so that the availability of the speakers of the event is confirmed. The final dates of the event will be announced soon.

– discussions with educational institutions regarding collaboration in the future operation of The Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor Centre are progressing.

– a book in honor of Patrick Leigh Fermor, dedicated to his life and work, is in preparation and will be completed within the first semester of 2017. Another publication on the house in Kardamyli is also scheduled to be published soon.

The scope of the repair works:

According to the study and the proposal of the future and considering that the PLF house can provide ideal accommodation for up to 5 people/couples at a time, minor building interventions will be carried out without altering the form of the house. More specifically, the 5 guestrooms will each include a bedroom, an independent workplace and bathroom. (Basic kitchen equipment will be provided in the guesthouses located outside the main house). This setting ensures that all guests will be offered a large separate living space, perfect for isolation and uninterrupted concentration. Moreover, common spaces will be used as places of assembly and not as workplaces. All spaces created – apart from the basement, which may be considered the least privileged – will include large openings, a view and plenty of light and ventilation.

Apart from the fireplaces in some of the rooms, the house hasn’t had any other form of heating up till now. A heating and cooling system will be installed underground or through the roof, in order to keep the façades intact. The plans also include the full replacement of the electrical, plumbing and sewerage system, as well as the repair of the bathrooms and kitchen. Furthermore, repair and partial replacement of the roofs as well as reconstruction of the hencoop are also planned.

Along with the construction works, the garden shall be thoroughly cleaned, properly pruned and any damaged plants will be replaced. The current form of the garden will not be altered. Members of the Mediterranean Garden Society, who have visited the house, have expressed their interest in helping with the works in the garden.

Visit the Benaki website here.

 

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. 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’?

A Greek tragedy?

dsc07302It comes as no real surprise that the follow-up to the announcement made by the Benaki Musuem in July of this year (see Stavros Niarchos Foundation to Fully Repair and Restore Patrick Leigh Fermor’s House) regarding the donation of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation is, well, what should we say? Non-existent.

by Tom Sawford

The July press release did state that commencement of repairs were dependant upon the issue of certain “licences” but nothing appears to have happened, and worse, the house faces yet another winter in a condition that one can only describe as dilapidated.

In August, Elizabeth and I visited the house which was being used by an Italian writer and his family as a summer retreat. The Benaki arranges tours. Naively I imagined that the tour, led by Elpida, would be for perhaps 4-6 people. In the end we had around thirty visitors milling around picking up what they liked whilst Elipda spent about half an hour writing out receipts by hand for the Euro 10 entrance fee. There was more concern about “take no photos” than for the house and its movable – or should I say, removable – property.

Dismayed was how I would describe our feelings when we found Patrick Leigh Fermor’s house in Kardamyli house in such a very poor condition. Window frames and shutters were rotting. Furniture was worn and torn, and getting worse by uncontrolled use. Most distressing of all, despite the Benaki’s statement that “artworks and valuable books have been transferred to the facilities of the Benaki Museum in Athens for conservation and safekeeping,” I found almost his entire library of first editions were available to pick up and read, mark with greasy hands, and who knows, perhaps pocket? Items that most of us would categorise as valuable, at least for their symbolism and sentimental value, such as medallions and small photographs of Paddy and Xan etc, were lying insecurely on shelves and mantelpieces. One would think that most people who visit would be respectful, but who knows, someone may be tempted to remove a few of these small items.

We have to hope that real progress will be made, but the events mentioned in the original press release, including a talk in London in November to update us all on progress have not occurred – your Blogger has heard of no plans. At this rate, by the time anything happens and work commences, the initial ten year period that the Benaki is required to implement Paddy’s wishes will have passed. My understanding of the bequest is that the cash-strapped museum will then be free to sell the property if it so chooses. We can each make up our own mind about what might happen then.

A selection of photographs that I was not supposed to take follow.