Tag Archives: Kardamyli

The Mani Sanctuary of A Hero-turned Scholar

A meal with friends around the dining-room table designed by Fermor himself. His house was frequently visited by leading figures of the arts and letters.


Another profile of Paddy and the Mani from 2015, this time by by Sofka Zinovieff. First published in Greece Is.

A modern-day Odysseus, Patrick Leigh – Fermor spent the most peaceful days of his remarkable life in a now-famous house near Kardamyli, surrounded by olive groves.

When people talk about Patrick Leigh-Fermor, they often use superlatives: “the greatest British travel writer,” “the most daring wartime secret agent,” “the last great romantic.” I first met him when I came to the Peloponnese to do research as an anthropology student nearly 30 years ago and I went to stay with him in Kardamyli. Although I then knew little about his life, I was, like so many, immediately won over by his charisma. Paddy, as he was always known by English friends (Greeks called him Michalis, his nom de guerre), lived with his wife Joan in a house just outside Kardamyli that they built in the 1960s. At that point, Mani was still an extremely remote, even wild corner of Europe – the inaccessible middle peninsular of the Peloponnesian three-fingered “hand,” with its striking stone towers reflecting centuries of blood feuds and the dramatic, rocky landscape of Mount Taygetus.

The couple gradually created their remarkable home – a mix between a Byzantine monastery and an English country house: carved stone arches, comfortable armchairs, walls covered in books and paintings by Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas. Cats (and sometimes goats) prowled over the beautifully designed stone terraces with paths made from smooth pebbles. They had picked their spot carefully – close enough to Kardamyli to have neighbors, shops and a few tavernas, but isolated enough to have the peace they desired. Steps lead from the house down to a beautiful little cove from which they and their friends would set out on long swims. And all around them, olive groves.

Over the years, Paddy became a friend, and I gradually read all his books and learned more about him – the fast living that recalled his hero, Lord Byron, and the daring and resourceful- ness that conjured up a modern-day Odysseus. Wonderfully handsome as a young man, he was always beautifully dressed and remained charming, witty and courteous to the end. A man of action and of letters, Paddy was just as comfortable in grand English drawing rooms or mountain shacks in Crete and he was irresistible to women. A BBC journalist once described him as a mix between Indiana Jones, James Bond and Graham Greene.

Paddy was one of the most cultured people I have met – constantly interested to learn about the people and places he encountered. He not only read literature and poetry but adored reference books. At dinner in Kardamyli, he would jump up to find a dictionary to illustrate a point or an atlas to locate the precise name of something.

An autodidact, he didn’t attend university, but in 1933, aged 18, walked across Europe. Carrying only a rucksack, he started in Holland and made his way through Nazi Germany, Hungary and on to Constantinople.

During the war, Paddy served in the Intelligence Corps and helped organize the resistance to Crete’s Nazi occupiers. He grew a large mustache and dressed as a shepherd with baggy pantaloons and a dagger in his belt. In 1944, he devised a bold, even crazy plan that has fascinated people ever since. Using German uniforms as disguises, he, Billy Moss and a group of Cretans kidnapped the Nazi chief of staff on Crete, General Kreipe. Living in remote caves, they avoided detection for two weeks, ultimately escaping with him back to Egypt.

It was in Cairo that Paddy met Joan, a tall, blonde intellectual and photographer, the daughter of Viscount Monsell. The pair traveled together – in the Caribbean in 1949 (resulting in Paddy’s first book, The Traveller’s Tree) and then in Greece. In Athens they became friends with many artists and writers of the day, including Giorgos Seferis and Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas, and discovered Greece on foot and by mule, bus and boat. These explorations are described in Paddy’s two masterpieces, Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese and Roumeli: Travels in Northern Greece. Richly erudite but also humorous and anecdotal, they remain among the best things written about Greece by a non-Greek. Mani is also a eulogy to the place that Paddy and Joan chose as the ideal place to make their home. Although it was one of the most inaccessible parts of Greece, they quickly became friends with many of their neighbors and there was a stream of visitors from Athens, England and around the world. By the time he died aged 96 in 2011, Paddy had been awarded medals and honors by both the Greek and British governments (he was knighted in 2004). He left the house at Kardamyli to the Benaki Museum, with the intention that it should be used as a writers’ retreat.

If these walls could talk… Furniture, books, personal items, mementos of an adventure-filled life, have remained untouched in the home of Patrick and Joan at Kardamyli. © Julia Klimi

Characterized by contrasts, Paddy was playful and scholarly, he drank impressive quantities and could sing folk songs in countless languages, but he regularly went into silent retreats at Cistercian monasteries. Set between the silvery olive groves of Mani and the lush, green fields of Worcestershire, Paddy’s remarkable life would be almost unbelievable in a novel: walking across Europe, falling in love with a princess, abducting a general, taking the best from Greece and England and becoming the finest travel writer of his generation.

Sofka Zinovieff is a British author • http://www.sofkazinovieff.com

Stavros Niarchos Foundation artists fellowship visit Kardamyli

In 1996 Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor donated their home to the Benaki Museum expressing the desire to host scholars and artists, and to remain open to the public.

Thanks to a significant grant by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF), necessary repairs have now been completed, and the House is ready to function as an educational center.

On Monday, September 23rd, 2019, ten young Greek artists participating in the ARTWORKS Stavros Niarchos Foundation Fellowship Program visited the House in Kardamyli, Mani.

This is what happened.

This is probably it! Official Benaki pictures of Leigh Fermor house

In keeping with my mission to host all that is relevant about Paddy in one place on the web, I offer you these high quality photographs of the the house sent by the Benaki museum. We have had quite a few, so these may be the last. Probably, but no promises! Enjoy them.

This is the official press release issued by the Benaki which details the background to the endowment, and the story of the works with the role of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation explained. Read it here.

Tom

Paddy’s house – some photos showing progress

As we reported a few weeks ago, the progress of repairs and restoration at Paddy and Joan’s house appear to be on track. The Benaki sent me a few more photos showing work on the exterior which is looking very good. Hopefully more to come on the interior at a later date.

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.

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.

Stavros Niarchos Foundation to Fully Repair and Restore Patrick Leigh Fermor’s House

Patrick Leigh Fermor working at his home studio on 3 October 2004, then aged 89. Kardamyli. by Sean Deany Copyright 2012

Patrick Leigh Fermor working at his home studio on 3 October 2004, then aged 89. Kardamyli. by Sean Deany Copyright 2012

At last some very good news about the house at Kardamyli. The Benaki museum has made the following announcement in a press release as follows.

The Stavros Niarchos Foundation has approved a grant to the Benaki Museum to fully cover the repair and restoration works as well as the cost of the necessary equipment for the Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor House in Kardamyli. This unique property will soon start operating as a centre for hosting notable figures from the intellectual and artistic worlds as well as a centre for educational activities in collaboration with Institutions in Greece and abroad.

The donation of Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor

For many years Patrick and his wife Joan Leigh Fermor lived in Kardamyli in Messenian Mani, in the house which was designed by the architect Nikos Hadjimichalis in close collaboration with the Leigh Fermors.

In 1996, Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor bequeathed their home in Kardamyli to the Benaki Museum, while still in life, with the intention that ownership of the house would be transferred to the Museum after their deaths. The option of donating the property to the Benaki Museum was suggested by their close friend Tzannis Tzannetakis. The bequest was accepted unreservedly by the Benaki Museum, particularly given Leigh Fermor’s close relationship with the Museum’s founder Antonis Benakis and his daughter Irini Kalliga.

According to the donation contract, the property must be used to foster the success of the Benaki Museum’s work, based on the decisions of its Board of Trustees. In addition, it may be used to host researchers seeking a quiet and welcoming place to work, while there is also provision for the option of renting the property for three months every year in order to secure its operating costs. Taking into consideration the donor’s personality and standing, the Museum added certain categories of guests such as writers, poets, artists and so on.

The Museum acquired full ownership of the property after the donor’s death, in the autumn of 2011. After receiving the gift, a study on its future use was initiated, and in parallel, a preliminary study on the repair and restoration of the property’s buildings was undertaken in collaboration with architects Andreas Kourkoulas and Maria Kokkinou and a budget was also drafted for the project. The Stavros Niarchos Foundation, in response to the Museum’s initial request for funding for the repairs and the acquis ition of the neces s ary equipment for the operation of the hous e, commissioned—and funded—a feasibility study, which was conducted by AEA Consulting, a firm specializing in the organization and management of cultural institutions. This study, which was based on the Benaki Museum’s proposal for the future operation of the house, led to a number of changes, mainly in regard to the financial planning respecting the sustainability of the project.

The Stavros Niarchos Foundation announced the approval of the Benaki Museum’s request to fully cover the repair works and the restoration of the Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor House as well as its equipment, so that it can start operating as soon as possible.

The Benaki Museum’s Board of Trustees would like to once again thank the Stavros Niarchos Foundation for its continued and very generous support, and the inclusion of this project in its arts and culture grants. The unique location of the Leigh Fermor House, its distinctive architectural form and the luminance bestowed upon it by the author himself, in conjunction with the Benaki Museum’s supervision and the support of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, guarantee the creation of an exceptional centre which will gain a high place among the many similar centers in Europe and the United States.

The property

The property is located in the Kalamitsi area on the outskirts of Kardamyli, in Messenia, and has a total area of about nine stremmata, a little over two acres. It is, by general consensus, one of the most beautiful properties in Greece. Its direct contact with the sea—narrow stone steps lead to a small pebble beach just below the estate—the low, discreet, stone buildings and the Mediterranean garden that goes down to the water, comprise an ideal environment for focus and the creative process.

In short, a sojourn in this place is a great gift that Greece can offer to notable figures from the intellectual and artistic worlds.

The vision

The creation of a centre in Greece (working title: The Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor Centre), the operation of which, will commence in stages and planning of the following years will be based on evaluation of its activity.
The operations of the Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor Centre will include:

– hosting of young writers and scholars for work and research purposes,
organization of higher-educational activities in collaboration with Universities and Institutions in Greece and abroad,
– honorary hosting of notable representatives from the fields of literature, the arts and other fields,
– organization of educational and cultural events for the general public and residents of Kardamyli,
– scheduled tours of the property, focusing on the donors, the history of the house and its use by the Benaki Museum,
– short term honorary hosting of benefactors and major supporters of the Benaki Museum.

As per a decision by the Museum’s Board of Trustees an international committee is to be set up, which will form and advise on the operation program of the Centre. The advisory committee will be unpaid, it will monitor the project underway and it will make recommendations regarding the selection of guests.

The Benaki Museum’s legal, financial and other services (including departments such as Educational Programs, Sponsorship and European Programs, Public Relations and Communication, and Conservation among others) will support and assist the project taking place at the Leigh Fermor House.

The Benaki Museum is aiming for the creation of an endowment based on third-party donations, which will be able to cover operating expenditure of the Centre and allow the proposed educational activities to evolve and grow.

Brief history – Up to date
– the archival material found in the house has been delivered to the executors of the will, in order for it to be handed over to the National Archives of the United Kingdom, as stipulated in the will,
– the staff selected by Leigh Fermor himself have been retained to ensure the ongoing care of the buildings and surrounding area are on a daily basis,
– the property has been insured,
– cataloguing of the library has progressed,
– detailed photography of the house and the recording of the household effects have been carried out,

– artworks and valuable books have been transferred to the facilities at the Benaki Museum in Athens for conservation and safekeeping, until completion of the requisite repairs,
– detailed mapping of the property has been completed as has the architectural and electromechanical study for repair of the buildings and maintenance of the gardens, with the principle of maintaining all those elements that render the property so unique (study team: Maria Kokkinou-Andreas Kourkoulas, Pantelis Argyros, Dimitris Pastras, Helli Pangalou),
– the process of legalizing buildings on the estate has been completed,
– the feasibility study by AEA Consulting on the future use, operation and viability of the house has been completed with funding from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation,
– two successive disinsectisations have been carried out for the protection of the house and
household effects, and in particular the wooden elements of the house such as the ceilings of the rooms, furniture, and so on,
– one bank account has been set up in Greece and one especially activated in the United Kingdom, in order to facilitate donations,
– discussions with Greek and foreign educational institutions regarding collaboration in the future operation of the Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor Centre have been initiated,
– an implementation study for the repair work is in progress,
– a book in honor of Patrick Leigh Fermor, dedicated to his life and work, is in preparation and will be completed in 2016, and another publication about the house will follow,
– finally, a short—for the time being—presentation of the Leigh Fermor House has been uploaded onto the Benaki Museum website. A separate website for the house is currently in preparation, where detailed information about the project’s progress, the operation of the house, and scheduled events and guided tours will be posted. These presentations will also provide all the necessary details for donations to the endowment for the future operation of the Centre,
– from the day the Leigh Fermor residence came into the ownership of the Benaki Museum, the Museum has organized and/or coordinated a particularly large number of visits. During many of these visits, individuals working with the Museum have informed the guests about the house’s prospects and future programs. Revenue from visitor tickets is used exclusively for the needs of the house.

From now on:

– The commencement of the repair work is entirely contingent on the issue of the permit. It is anticipated that work will be completed in about 12 to 18 months from its commencement. Until such time as the preparation of the house for the repair work begins, the organized visits, upon arrangement with the Museum, will continue. (www.benaki.gr)
– The Benaki Museum is in the process of creating an endowment for the collection of donations, which will ensure that the operational expenditure of the Centre is covered and that the proposed educational activities will continue to evolve and grow.
– With the dual objective of informing the public of developments and the collection of donations, the Benaki Museum is planning a series of detailed presentations on the progress of the project and its future operation.
– More specifically, it is organizing a detailed presentation in early November 2016 in London, where there is a keen, ongoing interest in the author and the Kardamyli House, while in the interim, similar presentations are planned for Athens and Kardamyli.

For information about the Leigh Fermor House please contact Irini Geroulanou or Myrto Kaouki at the Benaki Museum, on the following numbers: 210 3671010 and 210 3671090, or by email: plfproject@benaki.gr

Download the full press release here.

Who was Stavros Niarchos?

What is the Stavros Niarchos Foundation?

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

Benaki appoints new director, and visiting Paddy’s house

Olivier Descotes

The Benaki museum have a website page dedicated to Paddy and Joan’s house which you can view here. It includes details of how to arrange a visit to the house.

Furthermore, the Benaki has appointed as its new director, Olivier Descotes, who has been director of the French Institute in Athens from 2011 to 2015. He takes up his post in March. An announcement about the future of the house will be made in April. Ekathemerini reports:

Olivier Descotes, artistic creation inspector at the French Ministry of Culture, has been appointed new director of the Benaki Museum, the organization’s board of trustees has announced.

Descotes, formerly director of the French Institute in Athens, will replace Angelos Delivorias, who headed the museum for 41 years before stepping down in 2014.

Descotes was among 82 candidates who applied for the position through an international competition carried out pro bono by global executive search firm Egon Zehner.

The Benaki Museum was founded by Antonis Benakis in 1930 and subsequently bequeathed to the state.

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.

Progress on the house at Kardamyli

If anyone was wondering I hear that there is news of a sort.

As you may recall, the Benaki Museum was seeking approval for funding of the proposed renovations. From my sources it appears the the proposal as submitted has been turned down, and the museum has now re-submitted the proposal in a reduced form. Quite what this means no-one seems to know. No real surprises there then.

My own view, which has not really changed for a few years, is that the only way forward is for a group to seek to either buy the house outright, or lease the house for the remaining few years that the Benaki have the right to create the writer’s retreat, do that job for them, and then purchase the house outright at the end of the term which may be 2024 if I recall correctly. Any takers?

Tom

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.

Print

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 House of the Mani

paddys house at kardamyliI wonder what John Humphrys will say about Paddy’s house in the programme on Monday? In fact I wonder more what the Benaki will say. I want to highlight a comment on a recent post from Michael Hanson, which if correct describes a property that is falling apart. Given that Paddy probably did little restoration and it has now been four years since his death, during which nothing appears to have been done, one can imagine it must look dilapidated and in serious need of attention.

I was in kardamyli recently and visited paddy’s house covertly. It is in a decrepit state, shutters rotten and falling off. Garden overgrown. Totally unloved and a disgrace, given that paddy gave it to the Benaki Foundation to be used as a haven for writers. Hopefully this programme will shame the Greeks into doing something. They say it will cost over £100,000 to restore. Nonsense!
We photographed paddy’s child hood public school trunk languishing in his study. Heartbreaking!

The PLF Society want to raise funds to cover immediate repair work and you can donate. Read how here. The higher figures mentioned above are not just for restoration and repairs but to cover renovation and reconfiguration to prepare the house so it can be used as a conference centre. The Benaki are due to report In July on whether it has been successful in raising finance for the main renovation works planned for the house which are expected to cost some € 630,000.

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.

John Humphrys presents Paddy’s world on BBC Radio 4

John Humphrys on the Today programme

A little while ago I was approached to help provide some background information to help with research for a one-off Radio 4 programme about Paddy and his life in and around Kardamyli which will be presented by John Humphrys.

Kevin Dawson from Whistledown productions has confirmed that all is on schedule and the programme should be transmitted at 11.00 am on Monday 22 June. It will include interviews with Artemis Cooper and her father John Julius Norwich, as well as a contribution from the Benaki which may update us on progress about the house.

John Humphrys has a property in the Kardamyli area and is a fan of Paddy’s work. I believe that this may be his own idea which is great and will go someway to making up the deficit of BBC programming about one of our greatest writers.

Initial fundraising for Kardamyli

The PLF Society has been moving forward quickly in its dealings with the Benaki over Paddy’s house. Achieving its restoration, and Paddy and Joan’s goal of turning it into a writer’s retreat is one of the main aims of the Society. Today they report on progress and are making an appeal for initial funds to finance critical works at the house until funding for the long-term work has been raised. The Benaki have come up with a plan which encompasses many uses which if achieved would meet the goals of Paddy’s bequest.

A summary of the PLF Society’s appeal is below, with further details to be found on the attached PDF.

Steady progress is being made on the Kardamyli house. The Benaki Museum has now sent us a document that sets out its plans and we have finalised the team that will look after the interests of the Society and its members: our lawyers Watson Farley & Williams are now supported by an experienced architect and we have appointed Grant Thornton as accountants.

You will see from the attached summary that we are now able to proceed with raising 20,600 € (about £15,000 or US$24,000) for preliminary things that need to be done at the house. As the amount of this initial fundraising is relatively modest, we are hoping that it will be possible to raise it from our members and others associated with the Society.

In July the Benaki will know if it has been successful in raising finance for the main renovation works planned for the house which are expected to cost some 630,000 €. In the event that some or all of these funds are not raised by the Benaki, the Society has pledged to find the remainder and for this we have made contingent plans to extend the fundraising to include external sources.

Read the full initial fundraising PDF here.

Why you should never meet your heroes

Would you have been disappointed if you had met Paddy?

By Philip Sidney

First published in The Spectator 14 October 2014

As we become steadily accustomed to life in the Age of Celebrity, it’s become a truth that, as Mark Mason put it in the Speccie last month, ‘meeting your heroes is almost always a bad idea’. Reading the letters page in the London Review of Books, it seems that this advice extends to visiting any place associated with your heroes. Last summer Max Long, an undergraduate at Magdalen College, Oxford, arrived at Patrick Leigh Fermor’s old house at Kardamyli in Greece, hoping to pay homage to one of his heroes (see The House is Not Always Empty). His visit, he reports, was unideal:

‘To the hairy, shirtless, sandalled old man who occupied Paddy’s studio as though he owned the place, and who refused entry on a sweaty August morning to a travelling student, despite his pleadings (and tears): you ruined a young man’s pilgrimage.’

It’s hard not to sympathise, particularly given the hospitality with which Fermor was himself received on his travels. But this kind of disenchantment isn’t exclusive to unsceptical youth. Jeremy Clarke laments the speed at which authors’ auras disperse:

‘Nothing lingers. When they’re gone, they’re gone. Even with a commemorative plaque on the wall, one is left only with a sense of vertigo at how easily all vestiges of even the recent past are obliterated and we move on.’

Both Long and Clarke are part of a rich tradition of disappointed pilgrims which began in the late 19th century, the joint result of improved transport networks and the growth of a mass audience for literature. In those days it was possible to be rebuffed by the great men themselves, as were the rather impatient tourists that called on Thomas Hardy in 1903:

‘[…] I have given mortal offence to some by not seeing them in the morning at any hour. I send down a message that they must come after 4 o’ clock, & they seem to go off in dudgeon.’

After any famous writer goes their own long journey, the difficulties of preserving their home for would-be pilgrims become more fraught: whether a literary shrine is tended or neglected, there will always be enthusiasts claiming that their idol has not been treated appropriately. As Simon Goldhill observes in Scott’s Buttocks, Freud’s Couch, Brontë’s Grave, Charlotte Brontë would have been horrified had she seen her stockings on public display at Haworth Parsonage, but in the 21st century they’re a precious link – however creepy – to a great talent now gone.

What options remain, then, for the would-be literary pilgrim? Continue to travel hopefully, sifting the let-downs for a trace of longed-for genius loci? Or stay at home, cherishing places in the imagination? Nick Hunt’s book, Walking the Woods and the Water: In Patrick Leigh Fermor’s footsteps from the Hook of Holland to the Golden Horn, provides a possible answer. His journey across Europe in the footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor shares the landscapes through which his hero moved (not to mention the physical strains incidental to thousand-mile walks), while also conscious of the changes that have reshaped the continent in the intervening 80 years. However fervently we revere our literary pin-ups, we must remain conscious, and as far as possible accepting, of the things that stand between us and them: be they an accumulation of years, a glass vitrine, or hirsute jobsworths in shorts.

Philip Sidney is a writer and academic, specialising in travel, literature and travel literature

The house is not always empty …

It appears that some lucky people have been allowed to stay in the house at Kalamitsi. Who are they and did they pay? From a lovely new blog by Max Long.

Eventually I did find a room, and wallowed in the privilege of having a bed, a balcony overlooking the mountains, a table to write on. On my first night I had considered, in utter disappointment and desperation, going to Paddy Leigh Fermor’s house just a few kilometers south from the main village, to find some comfort by camping there. As I was to find out two days later, it was a very good thing I didn’t.

A few years ago, a Guardian journalist came to Kardamyli with similar intentions. He swum to Paddy’s house from the harbour, and I decided that it would be a nice idea to do the same. Following the footsteps of a footstep-follower.

I am not a confident swimmer, and have barely swum out a few tentative strokes in all the beaches I’ve been to so far, so it was quite a mental struggle for me to embark on what was to be a half hour swim along the rocks to the little pebble beach with a flight of stone steps leading up to the house. When I got there, there was a couple on the beach, but they spoke little English and could not confirm that this was Paddy’s house, so I walked up the steps anyhow, and soon the pebble mosaics on the floor, the large house of stone and painted grey-blue French windows, the seating area looking over the bay, confirmed that I was indeed at the right place.

However, it was with utter horror that I saw the freshly trimmed garden plants and trees, the recently used hosepipe… the open windows, the sound of plates watering the mouths of lunchers… the exposed breasts sunning themselves in the corner. I scuttled away, undetected but nevertheless thoroughly embarrassed. I later made for the front door. I could hear voices, evidence of clear use. I felt for a moment I might have traveled back in time to a former splendor of the wonderful house. All the reports by journalists and bloggers online had been of a desolate, abandoned home. I inquired at the front door. Yes, this was his house. No, I couldn’t visit. I walked away, burning with disappointment, but also with curiosity. The house is now in the hands of the Benaki museum, and my understanding is that it will be converted into a writer’s retreat or museum of its own. Who were these people who had the privilege to enjoy the place in the meantime?

(I visited the house again on my last morning and it was only after a lot of pleading that a disgruntled, shirtless, hairy and sandalled old gentleman allowed me a brief – less than two minute – look at the place. None of the moments of contemplation I had hoped for. The insistence with which he refused to allow me to access the house, and the simplicity of my request, made me think he could only be an extraordinarily cruel man. Sitting in Paddy’s study surrounded by books, he refused to give me either his name or any inkling of the Benaki’s future plans. I left, once again, in a rage.)

Full article here.

Another correspondent in an email to me this week coroborates the fact that people seem to be staying at or using the house …

I too was in Kardamyli in August.  I too walked around the outside of the house and up the steps from the beach.  I didn’t want to trespass, but when I realised there were people living there I decided to knock at the gate and ask them what was happening to the house.  Two twenty -something year old Greek girls in bikinis were there, and obviously staying there.  They wouldn’t let us visit.  I’ve no idea who they were.  My first reaction was that Paddy and Joan would surely be upset that their wishes are clearly not being respected.  On the other hand, perhaps it is good that someone is there because there are clearly a lot of Paddy pilgrims, and sooner or later there will be someone with less honorouble intentions, who enters the house and takes something away with them.
I can only assume they were local girls and that his old housekeeper or someone local must have an eye on who is there.  The place is obviously in need of urgent attention.
Mark

A Place in the Sun – The very slow progress toward a permanent retreat

The house in Kalamitsi, September 2104 (John Chapman)

The house in Kalamitsi, September 2104 (John Chapman)

It appears it is the time for discussion about Paddy’s house at Kalamitsi to recommence. I was surprised when the article about his English home did not provoke any comments about the house in Greece which moulders away as the Benaki continues to drag its feet and struggle with its finances. The whole affair is a bit of a mess. It has been three years since the house was handed over to the Greeks but they appear to have done absolutely nothing with it. A house needs care. A house by the sea, even the Mediterranean, requires even more care. As Dolores Payas comments in her lovely book, Drink Time!, which I reviewed at the weekend, the house needs an awful lot of work and now the bill can only be higher.

Regular blog correspondent John Chapman who spends a lot of time in the area sent me this update at the weekend:

I sauntered down to the house at Kalamitsi. Absolutely no change since I last had a look around a fair few years ago. Still a bit of a mess. A cat mewled from within, so therefore someone feeds it and tends the garden. I could have leapt over the back wall into the garden, but decided against it. No-one I’ve talked to can make out what the Benaki are actually doing, or planning to do. The idea of a writers’ retreat is fine and dandy, but someone is building another vast edifice above the bay and the sound of a pile driver wouldn’t be too conducive to creativity!

And recently this article was published in the Weekly Standard.

By Dominic Green

First published in the Weekly Standard, 29 September 2014

Under the peak of Mount Taygetus, the wooded Vyros Gorge tumbles into the Gulf of Messinia at the small port of Kardamyli. Around the headland is a blue cove and the hamlet of Kalamitsi. A flock of low, white houses, their pantiled roofs the color of burnt orange, huddle under stripes of gray-green olive trees. A stony track declines sharply from the road. Then, as stones turn to sand, a narrow path forks uphill along the flank of a promontory. From the house at its summit, the olive terraces slide seawards towards a cliff.The Mani, a rocky peninsula hanging from the southern coast of the Peloponnese, is often compared to the Highlands of Scotland. The landscape is mountainous and mottled with scrub. The people are insular and excel at the arts of feud and hospitality. Their homes are crenellated with towers and battlements, fortifications against the Franks, the Turks, and the neighbors. The exterior of this particular house is a thick-walled cross between a farmhouse and a fortress. A door of medieval solidity stands sentry at the gatehouse; a metal grille permits parley with strangers.

Passing the gatehouse, however, the lines soften and the stone curves. On the left, a Moorish colonnade marches to the sea, past a file of bedrooms and a dozing cat, the last arch framing a blue half-circle. Along the central axis are more bedrooms. In one, a weathered tweed jacket and a pair of walking boots wait in the closet; on the lavatory wall is a sun-paled genealogy of the kings and queens of England.

The right wing is a single oblong, a library-cum-sitting room. Bookcases are cut into stone recesses. A table dressed in Cycladic swirls of green and white marble carries enough booze to float a battleship or an English house party. At the shaded eastern end of the room is a cushioned divan; at the western end, a wooden, windowed balcony of Balkan provenance floats over the azure sea like the cabin of a pirate captain.

The mantelpiece is jammed with photographs, souvenirs, and scraps of paper with friends’ phone numbers. On the Cycladic table, the host’s favorites, Famous Grouse and Stolichnaya, wait among half-empty evocations of the British Empire: Rose’s Lime Juice Cordial, Angostura bitters, a Greek variant of tonic water. But the bubbles in the tonic have long evanesced into the lemony Greek air: The host, the legendary soldier, traveler, and author Patrick Leigh Fermor, died in 2011; his partner, Joan Eyres Monsell, predeceased him in 2003. Their house is empty but for the cat, the orphan of Joan’s once-plural brood. The Leigh Fermors’ housekeeper, El-pi-da Bel-o-yan-nis, tends their home like a shrine. Outside, the gardener, Christos, clips and prunes beneath a straw hat.

The British are famous for removing ancient monuments from Greece, not for donating modern ones. The Leigh Fermors bequeathed their house to the Benaki Museum of Athens as a retreat for writers. But its future is not written in stone.

Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor, OBE, DSO—known to friends, retainers, and a global army of readers as Paddy—was the last living contender for the kingdom of literature’s Habsburg crest, the double-headed crown of man of letters and man of action. A conscientiously Byronic inheritor of the British romance with Greece, Leigh Fermor was a warrior-writer in the line of Philip Sidney and T. E. Lawrence. He was also one of the great stylists of 20th-century English prose.

Leigh Fermor’s writing, like his biography, is one of the last monuments of the imperial age, when the British were not merely worldly, but global. His tone is a late outcrop of Bloomsbury—delicate, languid, melodious, precise—but purged of provinciality. His clauses flow with a French rhythm, the décadence of Second Empire Paris, and are studded with a cosmopolitan glitter of linguistic borrowings and historical speculations. Leigh Fermor was a travel writer in the sense that Pepys was a diarist. Every turn of his road evokes reflections on history, art, religion, and language. Investigations of folk songs, dances, and cheeses lead to anecdotal hunts for a pair of slippers that might once have shod Lord Byron, or a fisherman who might be the lineal descendant of the last emperor of Byzantium.

Always the language rises to the occasion, be it scenic, romantic, antiquarian, or philological. Always the present is excavated to reveal the fragments of memory. No philhellene has written better on Greece than Leigh Fermor in Mani (1980) and Roumeli (1973). Few have eulogized lost youth and interwar Europe more elegantly than Leigh Fermor in A Time of Gifts (1977) and Between the Woods and the Water (1986), the record of his walk, aged 18, from the Hook of Holland to the Iron Gates of the Danube. A posthumous and incomplete third volume, The Broken Road (2014), carries the narrative into Greece through shepherds’ huts, urban mansions, and fishermen’s caves.

Leigh Fermor wrote his “great trudge” trilogy at Kalamitsi, in his writing studio and on collapsible tables in his garden. He also hosted several shelves-worth of scholars, artists, and travelers, including George Seferis and John Betjeman, the poets laureate of Greece and Britain. The house, its contents, and the books that were written here are the complete works of a unique sensibility and a museum of a literary era. If the house were in Britain, the National Trust would already have restored it. There would be a ticket booth in the gatehouse, a shop selling organic figs and artisanal olives, and perhaps a tea room as well. But the Benaki is a private museum. Along with many properties in Athens, it is akin to a penurious Getty or an expansive Stewart Gardner. The Leigh Fermors left no endowment. The Benaki did not create one in the three decades between the bequest and Leigh Fermor’s death. It did, however, fund its expansion with a bank loan of €15 million (around $20 million). In 2008, the Greek economy collapsed, and so did the Benaki’s finances.

Beyond the colonnade, the July sun flattens the sea into a two-dimensional blue wall. An island, necklaced with ruined walls and vegetation, floats in the bay like a green brick. From the cliff, a staircase snakes down the rock to a small beach. “Paddy used to swim around the island and back,” Elpida explains proudly and unprompted. She exhales in mourning.

Outside, the crickets clatter, a maraca orchestra so loud and constant that it becomes unheard. The fringes of the house abound in shaded spots for between 1 and 20 people: solitary nooks for contemplation and reading, sociable niches for sitting and dining. It is a home to be shared—when not struggling scrupulously at his writing studio, Leigh Fermor was a relentless entertainer—but it is empty of life. The stones, saturated in a human presence as strong and invisible as the crepitations of the crickets, are silent, crepuscular.

In September 2011, the Benaki commissioned plans for the restoration of the house, costing an estimated $800,000, and catalogued its library and papers. They fumigated and stored the most important items in Athens, including that poignant testimonial to sedentary toil, a first edition of Betjeman’s High and Low (1966), inscribed by the “pile-ridden poet.” The Benaki also signed a five-year memorandum of understanding with the Seeger Center for Hellenic Studies at Princeton for planning lectures on Paddy-related topics. Meanwhile, the publication of both The Broken Road and a biography by Artemis Cooper revealed a vast reservoir of affection. In Britain, a committee of Paddy’s friends offered to create a charity to raise funds for the restoration.

And then nothing happened.

Part of the garden wall fell down, and visitors trickled in through the breach. In Britain, the natives grew restless. A Guardian journalist climbed the cliff stairs and peered through the locked windows. The Daily Telegraph described the house as “sad and neglected,” its shutters “rotting and falling off their hinges.” Artemis Cooper, a lifelong visitor, responded that the Benaki was doing its best, but Greece was amid “economic catastrophe.” The plans had not been abandoned, and the house, always a little ramshackle, was not neglected. Guests had stayed there, and Richard Linklater had filmed parts of Before Midnight (2013), with Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, there.

Tom Sawford runs an unaffiliated website for Paddy’s admirers. The talkbacks describe books moldering in an outhouse. There are offers of money and help, sympathy for the Benaki’s problems, and allegations of mismanagement. Sawford believes that if the museum had accepted the British group’s offer, the house would be “up and running” by now, its future secure: “Instead, the Byzantine structure of the Benaki has resulted in the house being left to rot.”

The Benaki’s English website places 16 individuals in the “front ranks of its benefactors” for giving “considerable property” to the museum. Patrick Leigh Fermor is not on the list. The museum has launched a global fund-raising campaign. On the website, donors can choose among 10 projects. Patrick Leigh Fermor’s house is not among them.

Irini Geroulanou is the deputy director of the Benaki. She returns my phone call immediately, puts me in touch with Elpida, and volunteers her own cell phone number, just in case. The Benaki, she says, has “finalized” its restoration plans and engaged a local firm of builders. There has been “positive” but “not final” interest from universities and foundations in Britain and America, and from the British Council and other foreign institutions in Athens.

“We plan to have five writers in the winter months, when Kardamyli is quiet,” Irini explains, “so they can keep each other company.” At other times, two “famous writers” will have the run of the place; presumably, the Benaki will check whether they are on speaking terms. There will be events for the villagers and an annual or biennial symposium, featuring “prominent artists and academics.”

All this is a thorough and conscientious reflection of Leigh Fermor’s wishes. But the “first and basic problem” remains: “the funding of the restoration.” The house is cooled only by its walls and the breeze. The wiring is erratic, a museum piece from the first age of electrification. The plumbing is functional, but explosive. The window frames and roof need replacing. The bedrooms are spartan: a bed, a table, a sink in a closet, and shelves of books. Writers would enjoy living and working in these hermit cells—the literary traces are an inspiration—but who else would want to squat among the ruins of someone else’s life? The electrics contravene EU regulations, and strangers keep climbing the garden wall.

Recently, Elpida Beloyannis un-locked the medieval door and found a young Englishman asleep in the gatehouse. He was resting before walking from Kalamitsi to England, in a pedestrian tribute to his idol. Paddy’s books have this effect on people.

Patrick Leigh Fermor lies in a Worcestershire churchyard, like a knight returned from the Crusades. But his readers, a pagan cult drawn to the gods of literature and the English ideal, come to Kalamitsi. They telephone Elpida at home, asking politely for access. They wish only to pay tribute, to inhale the atmosphere. They seek no material souvenirs here, or at the subsidiary shrine, the chapel in the hills above the village, where Leigh Fermor scattered some of Bruce Chatwin’s ashes.

Unfortunately, there are uninvited visitors, too. Snoopers are drawn by the barbaric talisman of celebrity, especially since the Benaki advertised the house by renting it for Before Midnight. The place is architecturally and historically unique, but the Benaki refuses to install a resident caretaker. Though the Benaki’s long-term commitment cannot be doubted, the house’s isolation and emptiness are tempting fate. Sooner or later, there may be damage: by the elements, by admirers, by looters. Byron’s slippers survived; Leigh Fermor’s books and boots may not.
If the Benaki opened the house to visitors, ticket sales might support a resident caretaker. If Paddy Leigh Fermor’s readers could donate to an online fund, the house could be repaired. If writers or interns lived there while the Benaki finds donors, the house would be guarded and its new life could begin.

“We are all quite optimistic that things will go as planned,” Irini Geroulanou says from Athens. “The PLF House will be open again to the public and used in the way that PLF desired and stated in his will.”

At Kalamitsi, the crickets rattle among the olives. Patrick Leigh Fermor’s legacy is caught in the aspic of its significance and the stagnant Greek economy. A secure posterity, or an avoidable scandal? In an example of life imitating art, I bump into Julie Delpy on returning to my hotel. “You’ve been there?” she asks. “The house is so beautiful. It’s my favorite place in the world.”

Dominic Green is the author of The Double Life of Doctor Lopez and Three Empires on the Nile.

Drink Time! by Dolores Payás

Drink timeOne of the privileges of running this blog is that from time to time I get to meet some of Paddy’s friends and relations. At the relaunch of Billy Moss’ War of Shadows in May, I was introduced to Dolores Payás who was Paddy’s official translator into Spanish. She and her publisher told me that she had a book coming out in the summer called Drink Time!: In the Company of Patrick Leigh Fermor: a Memoir which was an account of her time staying with Paddy at Kardamyli over the last two years of his life.

Before I went away on holiday to France a copy of the book arrived in the post and I took it with me and it turned out to be a great choice for holiday reading. It is a short book at 111 pages but always entertaining.

Dolores stayed with Paddy for extended periods on a number of occasions in the two years before his death. She was given Joans’s room which appeared to remain a highway for the numerous cats that continued to live in and around the house. They were often alone with only Elpida for company as she prepared meals and looked after the house. At other times Paddy still hosted dinner parties which were always lively and went on into the early hours. He was as ever the kind host:

He was grateful for whatever gifts life brought to his door, whether in the way of quality conversation, a tasty meal, books, the sun that rose every morning, and the sea roaring at his feet. Life was generous to him and he responded in kind, offering the world his own universe by way of exchange.

Whatever they were doing there were two times of the day when Paddy would interrupt proceedings and announce it was drink time, and promptly move into the living room and help himself to a large drink be it vodka or gin. These times gave some pattern to the day and we are told that Paddy looked forward to them enormously. His capacity for drink appears to have remained undiminished even to the end.

Dolores and Paddy became close friends and she delights in offering us a very intimate portrait of the man. For true Paddy fans this book will be a very welcome addition to our bookshelves. Unlike the biography which lacked the personal touch, this book is quite intimate, and about two people, both of them deaf, enjoying time together even on the occasion of a strict telling off by Paddy’s Greek doctor. We get quite close to Paddy and Dolores is able to reveal something of his character and some of his more personal thoughts as he came towards the end of his life. If you want to understand more about Paddy the man, not the writer or bon viveur, you will enjoy Drink Time!

Drink Time!: In the Company of Patrick Leigh Fermor: a Memoir by Dolores Payás (translated by Amanda Hopkinson)

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

The words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo: Meeting Patrick Leigh Fermor

Ryan Eyre lives in Seattle, and took a journey to Kardamyli to meet Paddy in 2009. He has written this article for the Journal of the Book Club of Washington, and has asked to publish it here as well. Ryan tells us, as many others have done, about Paddy’s remarkable memory, which he utilised to the full to write A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water. I have seen evidence of this myself. On a recent visit to Cluj I was able to enter the public rooms of the fabled Hotel New York (Continental) clutching a copy of BTWW and marvelled at the accuracy of Paddy’s description of its decor … but the cocktail bar was closed!

Update: I met Ryan last month (5 June 2013) in London and was able to show him the site of the original John Murray publishing house at 50 Albemarle Street. Ryan was on a holiday from his post in the Republic of Georgia where he is teaching English. He reminded me of this article which was posted in the week following Paddy’s death. It may have got lost in all the high frequency posting at that time, so I promised him that I would give you all another chance to read his account.

Meeting Patrick Leigh Fermor

by Ryan Eyre

On a February evening in 2009 I alighted from a bus in the village of Kardamyli, in the Mani region of southern Greece. I had arrived at this remote corner of the Peloponnese with one purpose: to meet the celebrated English author Patrick Leigh Fermor, one of the great prose stylists of the 20th century and arguably far less well known than he should be. Now in his nineties, Paddy (as he is known by his friends) still divides his time between England and his adopted home of Greece, where he lives in a house he designed himself in the 1960’s on a headland just south of Kardamyli. Patrick Leigh Fermor (PLF) has had an extraordinarily full and remarkable life.  For the sake of some background for those unfamiliar with him I provide a brief biographical sketch:

Born in 1915 and educated at the King’s School in Canterbury until he was expelled at the age of sixteen, he was preparing for the entrance examinations for Sandhurst when a sudden inspiration came over him. He decided to walk across Europe, with the final destination point as Constantinople, living, in his words, “like a tramp or a wandering scholar.” It was December 1933 and he was eighteen years old. He set out almost at once, catching a tramp steamer from London to Rotterdam and beginning his walk from there, passing through the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and European Turkey before arriving in Constantinople on New Year’s Day, 1935. His experiences on his thirteen-month peregrination later provided the material for his two most celebrated books A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, which were first published in 1977 and 1986, respectively.  These two volumes recount the first two-thirds of his amazing journey by foot from the Hook of Holland to the Golden Horn. Richly descriptive and full of historical and literary allusions they provide a portrait of a pre war Europe long since vanished.  Apart from the extremely high standard of prose and the author’s obvious enthusiasm for history, literature and art, perhaps the most appealing aspect of his account of this remarkable journey is that it was completed on foot. It has been said that the human mind can only properly absorb its surroundings at a walking pace.   The gradual transitions of landscape, language and culture were carefully observed by PLF because of the patient, unhurried approach that he took; a faster form of travel would have failed to capture nearly as much of the richness and complexity of the lands he passed through.

After completing this walking journey, he spent the next couple of years in Greece and Romania. He was romantically involved with the Romanian princess Balasha Cantacuzene, living with her on her estate in Moldavia until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, at which point he returned to Britain to enlist in the army. During the war he served with distinction in Greece, both during the German invasion of 1941 and afterwards during the occupation.  As a SOE (Special Operations Executive) agent he helped coordinate the resistance movement on Crete. The highpoint of his war was the celebrated kidnapping of the commanding German general Heinrich Kreipe on Crete in 1944, which he and a fellow British officer devised and accomplished with a band of Cretan partisans, abducting the luckless general from his car outside of Iraklion and spiriting him away into the mountains and eventually Egypt. After the war and in the company of his wife, the late Joan Eyres-Monsell, he travelled all over Greece, exploring the most remote rural areas on foot or mule, and developing a deep appreciation of the folk customs, dialects and traditions that have in the last half century largely vanished (see his books Mani and Roumeli).  His travels and books have never been limited to Greece, though:  his first book The Traveller’s Tree (first published in 1950) was written after an extensive journey around the West Indies in the late 1940’s.  Possibly his best book (according to New Yorker columnist Anthony Lane), A Time to Keep Silence, explores the nature and meaning of silence as he experienced it living in various French monasteries.  Whatever topic PLF has written about, his natural enthusiasm, curiosity and exquisite writing make it compelling reading.

Several years before I had been travelling in Romania and by chance a fellow American in the hostel had shown me a copy of Between the Woods and the Water, in which PLF recounted travelling through the same area in the 1934. Intrigued when I returned to Seattle several months later, I had checked A Time of Gifts out from the library and was instantly enthralled by it. The subject matter, the style and the sensibilites were immediately appealing. I can state unequivocally that PLF’s writing had a powerful influence on me. He seems almost the embodiment of an ideal-the literary man of action. Highly erudite but also a man of the world, unapologetically articulate and learned but with enough graciousness and charm to avoid being a pedant, equally comfortable with the humble as well as the high born. I’m not the only one who views him this way – Bruce Chatwin, Colin Thubron and William Dalrymple have all cited PLF as a major influence on their writing and lives. From PLF I developed a deeper appreciation of art and literature, and renewed an interest in history-particularly European. Because of him I also became a better traveller– by slowing down, more closely observing my surroundings and immersing myself in the history of a place before I visited.

I became determined I had to meet this man. I knew he was old and in declining health so time was of the essence. In January of 2009 I was in England visiting relatives and went to his literary agent’s offices in London hoping to get a formal letter of introduction. I only spoke to a secretary, who passed on an email address to which I wrote but predictably from which I heard no reply. My cousin said “The only way to meet the blighter is to show up where he lives-I’m sure you’ll be able to meet him.” I decided to take his advice and hope for the best.

Thus a month later I arrived in Kardamyli with a mixture of excitement and trepidation, after having travelled over land and water from Portugal all the way to Greece. I had done my homework: I knew his former housekeeper (a woman named Lela) ran a taverna with some rooms in the town-that seemed the obvious place to stay.  Before my arrival I had telephoned and had spoken to her son Giorgios (Lela spoke no English).  In the winter the taverna was closed, Giorgios explained, but they would make an exception for me and at a reduced rate. Giorgios, a moustachioed and world- weary but courteous man in his fifties met me when I got off the bus, and after introductions were made, he walked me to Lela’s a few blocks away. It was a simple two story building by the sea, with a restaurant on the ground floor and a few rooms upstairs looking directly out on the sea. Lela appeared from the kitchen, in her seventies but still sprightly, with a craggy and quintessentially Greek face. After showing me to my room she and Giorgios disappeared quickly, leaving me as the only guest. Strolling out from Lela’s along the water onto a jetty and looking up towards one of the clearest starlit skies I had ever seen, with the only sound coming from the waves crashing against the rocks, I understood immediately why Patrick Leigh Fermor had decided to settle here years before.

The next morning I awoke early and walked along the road going south from Kardamyli. A Greek man out in his garden saw me and gestured for me to come inside. Without asking any questions he sat me down in his kitchen and served me coffee; this was exactly the type of hospitality towards strangers that PLF had described in his books on Greece.  Somewhat timorously I broached the subject of Patrick Leigh Fermor (known as Michalis by the locals) and asked where he might be found. He gesticulated southwards, saying in broken English that PLF lived a short way down the road, in the next cove known as Kalamitsi. I thanked him for the coffee and continued walking. I had with me an anthology of PLF’s work titled The Words of Mercury, which included an article he had written on how he had designed his house in Greece.  He described it as resembling a faded Byzantine monastery, with a view framed by cypress trees overlooking a cove with a small island offshore. Down a path and through an olive grove there was a house that closely resembled this description; in fact, it had to be his residence as it looked far older than any other house in the vicinity.

Emboldened by this discovery I walked back into town, just as the villagers were exiting the church service on a Sunday morning. Approaching Lela, I tentatively mentioned PLF’s name and pointed to The Words of Mercury, with a photograph of PLF in the 1940’s on the cover.  She gave Giorgios soon appeared and I explained that I had come to Kardamyli to hopefully meet PLF, and handed him a note of appreciation that I entreated to pass along. Giorgios told me that PLF was in England at the moment, but would be back by Tuesday and would gladly give him the note once he saw him.  So my timing had been providential!  Now I simply had to wait.  I spent the next couple of days either reading (finishing War and Peace to be exact) or going on long walks exploring the myriad of small coves and hills. The Mani is very quiet in winter and felt refreshingly unexplored. Each evening I would go to the kafeneon to sit with the local men as they chatted and watched football on the television. Giorgios would be there every evening and he was quite friendly and talkative to me.  Every evening I would tactfully bring up the subject of whether or not he had seen PLF. Each time he responded he hadn’t yet.  One evening as I was returning to Lela’s she insisted on cooking me a meal in the kitchen, sitting me down in a table in the restaurant and plying me generous portions of pork, potatoes and vegetables. On a table in the corner was a pile of black and white photographs; examining them more closely I saw they were informal snapshots of Lela and her family from the 1960’s with a younger looking Patrick Leigh Fermor in a number of the them. Seeing these candid photographs gave my purpose a lot more immediacy.

Taking the bus one day into Kalamata (the nearest city-some 20 miles away) I fell into conversation with a local woman about my age. I explained that I had come all the way here to hopefully meet PLF.  She raised her head backwards and clicked her tongue, the universal Hellenic gesture for disapproval. “The Patrick Leigh Fermor is very old man, many people, journalists come here to meet him, they have to book appointment…it’s not so easy to see him.”  Discouraging words and with each passing day I realized that Giorgios was probably protecting PLF’s privacy…it was perfectly understandable but I made up my mind to take a more direct approach. I wrote another, longer letter of appreciation (I wrote about eight drafts before I was satisfied) and screwed enough courage up to go to what I was almost sure was PLF’s house to give it to whomever answered the door.  Just as I was about to knock an Englishman in his forties opened the door and walked out to the driveway. He introduced himself as Hamish Robinson and confirmed that PLF did indeed live there. Hamish added PLF wasn’t very well at the moment but he would gladly pass on the note of appreciation and went back inside. I decided to walk south several miles to the next village called Stoupa. I had done everything realistically possible to meet PLF and if I wasn’t able to at this point I accepted that it just wasn’t to be. Walking along the coastal road with its stupendous views of the Messenian Gulf to the west and the snow-capped Taygetus Mountains to the east, I felt fortunate and privileged to be there at all.

Returning to Kardamyli later that afternoon in a state of calm resignation, my interlocutrix from the bus the previous day came running down the road. “Ryan, where you been? We been looking for you all day. Patrick Leigh Fermor wanted to have a drink with you but we couldn’t find you.”  Patrick Leigh Fermor wanted to have a drink with me? Suddenly a car pulled up. It was Hamish. “We were looking for you earlier today –come round for lunch at 1:00 tomorrow,” and then drove off. I couldn’t believe my luck…all the persistence had paid off…I was actually going to have an audience with Patrick Leigh Fermor after all — it was more than I could have asked.

Paddy on his 94th birthday (February 11, 2009)

The appointed hour couldn’t come fast enough and it was in state of mild disbelief that I found myself being admitted into PLF’s house by his housekeeper and into the sitting room (which doubled as a dining room), with prodigious book shelves on three sides.  I found myself standing in front of a distinguished, slightly frail looking man wearing a blazer and a tie. It was Patrick Leigh Fermor.  Shaking my hand, he briefly mistook me for somebody else before apologizing with, “I’ve got this blasted tunnel vision and I can’t see that well…so you’re the young man…so glad to meet you.”  His hearing and his eyesight were poor and I had to speak loudly to be heard. Hamish Robinson was there as well (his presence helped facilitate conversation) and for the next two and a half hours the words flowed, abetted no doubt by the several vodka and tonics that were consumed as well as the generous glasses of retsina that accompanied lunch. Conversation ranged from Lord Byron (PLF: “I didn’t care for him much when I was younger but now I adore him”), the Greek Orthodox Easter service, and the fate of King Harald Hardrada at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066-to name a few of the topics discussed. When I told him I had visited Romania several years before he asked me, “Did you go by foot?”  Unfortunately, of course I had to answer no.  He also asked me questions about Seattle (“Where does the name come from?”). He had only visited the United States once -when he was invited by a Cretan-American association in New York as an honoured guest to commemorate the anniversary of The Battle of Crete.

PLF’s short-term memory was a bit faulty at times, he would forget the course of the conversation a bit but if I asked him about something from decades past or a literary reference he could recall it with instant clarity. For example, I showed him my copy of   The Words of Mercury and asked him the significance of the title.  “It’s from Love’s Labour’s Lost. You know that in the last act there’s a play within the play that’s performed for the amusement of the King of Navarre and the Princess of France. At the end of it they receive news that the King of France has died and the Princess and her entourage must leave. The last line of the play is ‘The words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo’. It’s rather a strange play.”

Surprisingly he seemed a little fussier and more self-deprecating than I would have thought. When I quoted from his writings a couple of times he responded, “That’s a bit fruity” or, “What absolute drivel.” I mentioned that I had tried to contact his literary agent in London but without success. His reply: “Oh do you know, I’ve never met him either.”  Time passed quickly and after the meal was finished we walked onto the terrace of his house, overlooking the sea. I thanked him for the invitation.  He replied, “If you’re ever in these parts again, do come round.”   And then he retired for his customary afternoon nap, “Egyptian PT,” in his words.  Hamish showed me the adjacent building where Paddy does his writing, giving me a recent photograph of him taken on his 94th birthday as a memento, and then with good-byes and sincere thanks, I gracefully made my exit. I felt a mixture of elation –having the extraordinary privilege of actually being a guest of the celebrated author in his home — and a bit of melancholy in seeing him in his twilight years.  It was surely the only occasion I would meet him, and there was so much more I wanted to ask that would never be said. I also suppose, perhaps there was the realization that for all this accomplishments and marvelous writing he was  still human after all.

The next day I left Kardamyli. Spending even a week in the Mani gives Patrick Leigh Fermor’s life and work so much more immediacy. When I read a passage in Mani describing the view looking out towards the Messenian Gulf with “dragon headed capes in the distance,” I know exactly what this looks like because I have seen this view myself. That means almost as much as having met the man, and both memories will last for the rest of my life.

Related article:

Images of Iasi