Tag Archives: Mani

A reading from Mani: In the Footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor

The travel firm Kudu Travel runs walking holidays, with some in the Mani. They are fans of Paddy! Here one of their guides reads from Mani after a drive to Gaitses, high on the western flank of the Taygettus range at the edge of the Koskarakas Gorge.

After a pleasant, three hour easy walk following the route taken by Paddy and Joan when they emerged from the overgrown gorge, after their momentous crossing of the mountain. They visited the ‘handsome old church’ on top of a knoll, and the neighbourhood where they sampled their first glass of Mani wine, and listened to a reading.

Kudu’s highly rated footsteps of Paddy tour to the Mani is due to run 10-20 October 2020.

The official opening of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s house in Mani: “As a Cretan I feel double debt” Mitsotakis

Kyriakos Mitsotakis at the inauguration of Patrick and Joan Le Fermor’s home INTIMENEWS / DG / PAPAMITSOS DIMITRIS

Yesterday I was dreaming of warmer climes whilst having to spend the weekend working on a project. I had previously received a kind invitation from the Benaki museum to attend the official opening of Paddy and Joan’s house, which took place on Saturday 19 October, but had to decline. The Prime Minister of Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, and many other dignitaries were in attendance. Enjoy this report first published in protagon.gr and translated by Google 🙂

Mitsotakis at Patrick Lee Fermor’s house in Mani: “As a Cretan I feel double debt” The Prime Minister attended the inauguration ceremony of the renovated house donated by the British writer to the Benaki Museum. And he talked about the “Paddy” of the Resistance and his attachment to Crete, Mani, Greece … Πηγή: Protagon.gr

It was an evening when Mani honored her biggest friend. The iconic writer Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915 – 2011), who loved the land and its people and spent most of his life there after World War II. On this warm Saturday night in Kardamili, amidst stones and trees, Kyriakos Mitsotakis inaugurated the renovated home where the British writer lived with his beloved Joan. And the Prime Minister diagnosed a thread in all this.

“I am pleased to see that the initiatives of institutions and individuals in the field of culture and historical memory are multiplying. Twenty days ago we had the inauguration of the Pagrati Museum of Contemporary Art, which houses the unique collection of Basil and Eliza Goulandris. Today we had the opening of the house of Patrick and Joan Lee Fermor. Our government will stand by all such action, because we believe in a culture, a carrier of double growth, economic when combined with our history and culture, but also social, when it forms cultivated people, that is, true citizens. ”

Mr. Mitsotakis emphasized this, among others, speaking at the inauguration ceremony of the renovated house donated by Patrick Lee Fermor and Joan at the Benaki Museum.

Speaking about Fermor, Mr. Mitsotakis pointed out that “all Greeks owe Patrick Lee Fermor, but as a Cretan I feel double debt, because” Paddy “, as his friends called him, during the Nazi occupation and for two years was Michalis, supposedly the shepherd of the mountains of Crete, who was also the link of the allies to the resistance on the island and of course the orchestrator of the great and emblematic business in the history of World War II, namely the kidnapping of the German general Heinrich Kraipe » . As he added, “this impressive energy then upheld the morality of all free consciences in Greece and everywhere in the world.”

The Prime Minister also said that “Patrick Lee Fermor chose to stay in Kardamili, after a hectic and certainly extremely interesting life, perhaps because the harsh landscape of Mani reminded him of Crete and the time of action for Crete. freedom, but unfortunately he never wrote the story of those years spent in Crete. ”


Continuing, Mr. Mitsotakis gave his own explanation: “Patrick Lee Fermor may have come here to Kardamili, because he loved genuine Greek values, authentic folk, Cretan kouzlada, modest hospitality, manic hospitality, in their wisdom. ”

At the same time, he pointed out that Patrick Lee Fermor “showed us how a particular way of life, which he himself adopted, can be transformed into a pole of attraction for an entire country, starting with the natural environment, passing on daily living, dieting, stopping at culture and tourism and finally reaching what we call mild sustainable development. ”

Elsewhere in his speech, the Prime Minister stressed that “Patrick Lee Fermor’s wish came true with the care of Benaki Museum executives, the assistance of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and the cooperation of the children of Giannis Tzannetakis, who was also her supervisor. donation. ”


“All of them, ” he added, “honor his memory in the best possible way, and I want to thank them warmly and at the same time assure them that I and the responsible ministry will be with them.”

Earlier, the Prime Minister visited the town hall of West Mani, in Kardamili, where he was welcomed by locals and agencies. There he had the opportunity to discuss with the mayor, Dimitris Giannimara, the city council and residents about the problems facing the area.

The Man of the Mani now on BBC Sounds

In 2015, the experienced BBC reporter and presenter, John Humphrys, hosted a BBC Radio 4 programme about Paddy’s life in the village of Kardamyli in the Mani, exploring his the life and work. The programme is now available (for how long I don’t know) on the BBC Sounds website. Maybe take half an hour this weekend to listen to one seasoned veteran talk about his passion for another.

At the time the BBC website introduced the programme thus:

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 Sounds website here for further details.

Exhibition – Painting the Southern Peloponnese: In the Footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor

Mount Elijah above Anno Boularii, Sundown

I have just been alerted to what looks like a marvellous exhibition of paintings running until 11 March in the Friends Room of the Hellenic Centre in London.

In October 2017 Toby Wiggins embarked on an adventurous trek over mountains and across arid plains to the sound of gun shot in the mornings and howling jackals by night. He retraced the path taken by one of the 20th centuries leading travel writers Paddy Leigh Fermor, who in 1951 walked the peninsula and later published his seminal work ‘Mani’. After his own odyssey, Toby returned home with a rucksack full of tiny oil studies of the places described by Paddy and in his studio he used these studies to make larger paintings, about which he says:

…they are an attempt to translate the sensation of being there, the texture of this harsh land; iron-like outcrops and intense blue skies. Then there are those moments when the harshness is transformed by intense, luminous colour into something altogether ethereal.

Profoundly influenced by Patrick Leigh Fermor and artist John Craxton, who illustrated Leigh Fermor’s books, the beguiling lure of this remote place, the southernmost tip of mainland Greece, is plain to see in the intense light, colours and textures that run through Toby’s works.

The exhibition is free to visit during opening hours, please call 020 7487 5060 to confirm (Toby advises to call first), but usually 10 am -5 pm. The exhibition opens 12st February and runs until 11th March.

To view the paintings on-line visit Toby’s website. Call Toby on 07939 661075 for more information.

The exhibition catalogue can be found here.

Location and contact details for the Hellenic Centre are here.

Royal Academy Schools trained Toby Wiggins RP is renowned for his highly-regarded portraiture. He has won awards including the BP Travel Award (NPG), the Lynn Painter-Stainer Prize for Figurative Painting and the Prince of Wales Drawing Award. His interest in landscape has spread from his native Dorset to this most austere, but compelling landscape of ‘Mani’, one of the wildest and most remote corners of Greece.

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.

Painting Paddy’s Greece

Gerolimenas by Katyuli Lloyd (Source: Oldie magazine Aug 2017)

Some readers have advised me that there is an article in this month’s Oldie magazine by Katyuli Lloyd about her meeting with Paddy, and her work on the illustrations for Folio editions of Mani and Roumeli.

An example of her work is above and I’m pretty sure that’s Gerolimenas on the Mani, a place where I stayed on holiday last year.

You can access the article here online by subscription or if in the UK you ocan probably buy the magazine from your local newsagent.

Walks amid the watchtowers of the Mani

An early 19th-century watchtower, now the Tainaron Blue Retreat guesthouse, overlooking the coastline of Cape Matapan

The most recent of quite a number of articles about visiting the Mani that I have seen of late. This being the best, written by William Dalrymple.

First published in the Financial Times, 28 August 2015.

I first came to the Mani through the pages of my literary hero and travel writing guru, Patrick Leigh Fermor. Paddy, who was once described by the BBC as a “cross between Indiana Jones, James Bond and Graham Greene”, published Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese, in 1958. It was the first non-fiction book he wrote about Greece, and in many ways it is his most passionate: a love song to the middle prong of the trident-shaped southern coast of the Peloponnese. This was the place where he had been happiest, and the destination he would eventually pick in which to settle down, and spend the final years of his life.

For Paddy, the Ottoman Mani was to Greece what Cornwall was to 18th-century Britain: the most remote of places, cut off from the rest of the country by distance, unpredictable tides and wild cliffs, the abode of brave brigands, chivalrous smugglers and gentleman pirates. It was, he liked to point out, the southernmost point of mainland Greece: only a few islands intervene between Cape Matapan, the tip of the peninsula and location of the cave which the ancients believed to be the Mouth of Hades, and the shoreline of north Africa.

Many years later, shortly before his death in 2011, I went to stay with Paddy at the house he built in the Maniot village of Kardamyli. His villa was the most perfect writer’s house I have ever seen, designed and partly built by the man himself in an olive grove a mile outside the town, and with a view out to a small coastal island. Each morning, until a heart bypass prevented him, he would swim around the island, before returning home for breakfast.

Since Paddy’s death, however, the house has been given to the Benaki museum in Athens, and on my most recent visit I could only drive past it with a melancholic wave. Instead I headed on a further 90 minutes southwards, past tavernas hung with vine trellising, past chapels with red pepper pot domes, through stripfields and a patchwork of walled olive groves. These lower slopes rose to steep and arid hilltops, and it was on one of these, above the whitewashed village of Kotronas, that lay the beautiful house where I would be staying. It dominated a blue, mirror-like bay on the south-east coast of the peninsula and it was here, watching the ships come and go below, and with the mountains rising on all sides, that I planned a succession of treks into the deep Mani to see for myself the landscapes that Paddy had described so lovingly in his book.

To my surprise, the more I walked in the cactus-haunted hills, through spires of yellow verbascum and the seed heads of dried grasses as straight as miniature cedar trees, the more I found that the wildness of the Mani reminded me less of the bucolic Mediterranean than the bleakly beautiful mountains of the north-west frontier of Pakistan. For both the turbulent Maniots and the Pashtuns have an ancient tradition of blood feuds, which has led them to live in the fortified towers that are still the dominant architectural feature of their regions. In both, every man is a chieftain, and every farm a fort.
Tourism bounces back

“In these contests,” wrote Paddy, “the first blow was never struck without warning. War was formally declared by the challenging side. The church bells were rung: We are enemies! Beware! Then both sides would take to their towers, the war was on, and any means of destroying the other side was fair.” These included, apparently “bombarding them from above with boulders and smashing their marble roofs; so the towers began to grow, each in turn, during periods of truce, calling his neighbour’s bluff with yet another storey.” Paddy was fascinated by the proximity of the combatants in these feuds, “the equivalent, in distance, of the cannonading of Brooks’s by White’s, Chatham House by the London Library . . . or of the Athenaeum and the Reform by the Travellers’.”

There was apparently only one thing that could reconcile the warring hamlets of the Maniots: “a Turkish inroad, when, suddenly, for brief idyllic periods of internal harmony, their long guns would all point the same way.”

Such a moment came in 1826 when the Ottoman commander Ibrahim Pasha arrived, intent on crushing the resistance of the most independent-minded of all the Sultan’s Greek subjects. From the point of view of the Sublime Porte, the Maniots were merely pirates and brigands, and a thorn in the flesh of honest Turkish shipping going about its business in the Mediterranean. The Maniots had a rather different view of themselves: as the flower of Hellenic chivalry and the last pure-blooded descendants of both the ancient kings of Sparta and the emperors of Byzantium. Both sides were spoiling for a fight; and they got it.

To block Ibrahim’s advance, the Maniots concentrated their forces at Verga, the entrance to the desolate passes of the Taygetus mountains, in the extreme north of the region. Ibrahim therefore decided instead to launch a surprise marine attack on Areopolis, far to the south, which the patriots had left undefended. Ibrahim successfully landed 1,500 Egyptian troops on the shingle beaches in Diros Bay, south of Kardamyli, a magnificent natural cauldron where the peaks of Taygetus dip down to the blue waters of the Aegean, so clear, even today, that it is said you can still see the wrecks of galleys lying on the seabed below. Soon the Ottoman troops were marching inland, up the coastal paths, looting as they went, and heading for the walls of Areopolis.

Ibrahim Pasha had achieved complete surprise; but he had not taken the women of the Mani into his calculations. As the church bells pealed from their Byzantine belfries, several hundred women who had been out in the fields harvesting converged on the Ottoman rear with their sickles and farm instruments. In an indignant song still sung in the region, the woman allegedly declaimed:

O Turkish men, have you no shame
To war with womenfolk?
We are alone, our men are gone
To fight at Almiro.
But we with sickles in our hands
Will lop off your heads like corn!

Within a few hours, those Egyptians who lived to tell the tale were running headlong for their boats. Only a third were rescued; the rest fell where they stood on the beach. That, at least, is the version of the story they tell today in the Mani.

Modern travellers to the region may end up feeling a certain sneaking sympathy with the Egyptians; for the descendants of those feisty Maniot women are still alive and well, and today they guard the keys to their village churches as determinedly as they once defended Areopolis. As Paddy knew, and wrote about so beautifully, the Mani contains some of the most ancient and Byzantine chapels and basilicas in Greece, dotted around olive groves above steep coastal cliffs; but any traveller who wants to get inside and see their celebrated frescoes must first find the guardian grannies who keep the keys, and then persuade them to disgorge them and to let you into their carefully tended holy places.

Watchtowers in the town of Vathia

Watchtowers in the town of Vathia

This can be more difficult than it sounds. On one occasion, trying to get inside the famed 11th-century church of the Taxiarches at Charouda, I was directed to the door of Antonia, a black-clad matriarch in widow’s weeds who looked so ancient she could almost have lost her husband to Ibrahim Pasha’s Egyptians. Yes, she said, with deep suspicion in her voice, she did hold the keys, but no, this was the time of her lunch. I should come back in an hour. I did as I was bid, only to find she was taking her siesta. Deciding to walk along the coast until she woke, I returned only to be told she was unable to take me to the church as she was feeding her great-grandchildren. Then she was putting out fodder for her donkeys: wouldn’t I like to come back tomorrow morning?

It was well past 7pm when, after a lot of begging and pleading, a huge primeval key was finally, reluctantly flourished and I followed the bent-backed matriarch to the church on the edge of the village. The sun was now slowly sinking over the hills at the end of a hot day; from the higher slopes, the tinkle of unseen goat bells cut through the background whirr of cicadas as shepherds led the flocks back for their night.

The church — in truth it was barely larger than a chapel — was very small, but very beautiful. It had a domed, tiled roof and round arcaded windows, whose brick tiles were made from fired red mud. It lay in a rocky graveyard dotted with oleanders and ilexes at the edge of olive groves, and was built from stone the colour of halloumi cheese. Only when Antonia finally ground the key in the wards of the ancient lock, and had crossed herself several times, was I allowed to step inside.

Nothing prepares you for the darkly melancholic and baleful beauty of the wall paintings of the Mani churches; but remote as it is, the church of the Taxiarches at Charouda is especially fine. The anonymous painter had a particular quirk of giving some of the saints a black triangular lower eyelid. The intention seem to be to enhance their gaunt asceticism and melancholic sadness, but I thought it gave them a look oddly like the buffoonish Pierrot in the Commedia dell ’Arte.

A grim-faced Christ Pantocrator glowers down from the decorative brickwork of the dome, hands opened and upheld as if in surprise at the wonders of his own creation. Below him, ranks of cherubim and seraphim stand with their wings raised. A phalanx of prophets line the lower drum; nearby stylites preach from pillars; and patriarchs in monochrome vestments like Malevich abstracts grip their bibles and proudly display the instruments of their martyrdom. More martyrs have their flesh ripped and eyes gouged out over the walls of the nave, the background landscapes to both virgins and saints as high and mountainously craggy as the Taygetus themselves, the men and the jagged rocks of the mountains sharing a clear affinity, and a similar angularity.

The most beautiful images of all lay at the west end, near the porch where the matriarch Antonia still stood silhouetted by the last rays of the sun. That light, reflecting off the foot-polished stone floor, illuminated a pair of youthful Byzantine soldiers: a young, swaggering St George astride his white charger, all glittering armour and levelled spear, while standing at ease slightly to his left, leaning on his javelin, was a swarthily beautiful St Demetrius with a glistening mail coat, a bow slung over his shoulder and sporting a single, rather dandyish earring; the very model of Maniot resistance to the encroachments of the outside world.

Looking both at Antonia, and the St Demetrius, it was no longer impossible to believe the old legends: that these remarkable, tough, independent Maniots really were the last descendants of Spartans who took refuge here when their hegemony beyond the Taygetus was finally destroyed, their struggle finally over.

Read more about where William Dalrymple stayed here.

Audible

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.

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

John Chapman’s April visit to Kardamyli

As many of you may know, John Chapman, the author of Mani Guide,  not only provides us with excellent pictures (here) and comments, he also a regular correspondent to the blog and contributes articles which I am always happy to share with you. Here is his most recent note to me. Clearly the man has too much time on his hands. Lucky him!

I spent the whole of April 2013 in Mani. A welcome change from that never-ending British winter. I was perched in an isolated house high above the Messenian Gulf with views over Kalamata and the distant Arcadian mountains. Often just accompanied by the tinkle of goat bells and hum of bees, and the loud meows of the two feral cats who adopted me.

Kardamili was 15 minutes drive away. I didn’t revisit Paddy’s villa, but I did talk to a number of locals, and foreigners who’d known him and the house. Prof. David Mason – Poet Laureate of Colorado, no less, was over with a group of extremely keen, bright eyed and bushy tailed students. Dave had lived in Kardamili in the ‘70s and had lived rough, with his first wife, in a small hut just above Paddy’s villa. He was soon invited for lunch by Paddy and Joan and remained a close friend and correspondent with them until Paddy’s death. I’d met Dave in Oxford some few years ago and it was great to see him again over dinner, with other locals and his students, overlooking the harbour at Kardamili.

David’s book, ‘News from the Village’ (Red Hen Press. 2010. ISBN 1597094714.) is highly recommended as a portrait of an American’s love affair with Greece and Kardamili in particular. He’d shown his students the hut he’d lived in, and they’d all swam off the same rocks as Paddy had. Frankly the Med’ in April is damned cold, and I certainly didn’t emulate them, but as one of them commented, ‘we’re tough in Colorado!’

Things were quiet in Kardamili. The Greek Easter was exceptionally late, early May. And I therefore had time to sit over a frappé or two with various friends. No-one was certain what was going to happen with Paddy’s house. Though towards the end of the month I heard, unverifiable of course, that a rich Englishman was going to restore the house, live in it for three  months of the year, and let the Benaki Foundation use it  for the remaining 9 months. We’ll see.

One myth I wanted to enquire about was Paddy’s linguistic skills. He certainly could speak Greek fluently, but some have claimed he spoke it like a native. I’ve seen TV footage of him speaking Greek and frankly his accent struck me as being very posh English. I asked someone from the Troupakis family, who knew him well, who confirmed my suspicions. Paddy had perfect Greek, but a marked English accent.

He was also an appalling driver. One of the Dimitreas family (Paddy’s Mourtzinos family) had once lovingly repainted their boat, only to have Paddy reverse ineptly into it. It seems it was a toss of the coin as to who drove the car. Joan was allegedly just as bad a driver!

Another oddity is that when Paddy signed a copy of his book about the Mani he would often draw a sketch of the coast near his house. This was reasonably accurate and certainly evocative. But he invariably added in about four or five seagulls. Very odd as they are a rarity in the Mani, and I’ve never seen more than one solitary seagull flapping over the bay in the more than twenty years I’ve been visiting the area.

Catch up with more of John’s contributions and photos by clicking here.

If you would like to send something to me to share with your fellow Friends of Paddy you can find out how in the About section.

Paddy’s Italian fans in the footsteps of Fermor and Moss

In the snow on top of Mount Ida

In the snow on top of Mount Ida

Some of Paddy’s fans from Italy recently struck out on an adventure in Crete to follow in the steps of Paddy and ‘Billy’ Moss and the rest of the abduction gang. They were on the route at the same time as Tim Todd and Chris White who, as regular readers will know, engage in some seriously detailed work on the route and the events of April 1944. However, the two groups did not manage to meet up in Crete, but did keep in touch with each other via the comments section of the blog!

Spiro Coutsoucos was leading the Italian group and passed me this short text explaining their motivation and a little about the journey which you can enjoy from the photographs that they sent me. The image of the crossing of Mount Ida is reminiscent of Moss’ own black and white image.

Most of us discovered Fermor (and the Peloponnese as well) thanks to “Mani”, which was the one and only book of Paddy’s translated into Italian until a few years ago. We are all good travelers and hikers and we love travel literature. Some members of the group were in Kardamili and hiked in Mani in spring 2009. We became more familiar on reading Paddy’s biography. After searching in vain for the abduction story among his other books we discovered Stanley Moss’s “Ill Met By Moonlight”. The next step was the exciting discovery of Tim Todd’s website.  And one day with Maria Cristina, who is our spring trek organizer we said… why not? Last winter we organized a meeting in Milan on the abduction story to propose the itinerary. A number of Italian fans of Fermor joined the meeting, some traveling considerable distances.

The next step was getting in touch with Cretan mountain guides to check the itinerary and locations.

We started hiking from Drossia, through Enagron, Axos, up to Anogia, Mount Ida, and down to Fourfouras, Petrochori, Ano Meros, Vrises, Ierakari. We then left Paddy’s way because we could not miss Moni Preveli. We rejoined Paddy’s footsteps again on Peristeres beach. Throughout the trek we enjoyed very pleasant weather, some very nice meetings with people related to Kreipe abduction, a huge amount of raki.  The whole team was very enthusiastic about our quest.

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Remote places and landscapes in Greece – Walks in the footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor: Part 2

The second of Christian Peter’s walks.

2.    The old Kalderimi to the village of Altomirá – Exo Mani

a.    I have often been thinking which way Paddy and Joan might have taken when they first walked over the Taygetos Mountains into the Mani in summer 1952.  Starting in Anavriti they probably headed towards Pighadia and Altomirá. That means they must have come down the fantastic Kalderimi from Altomirá to Kambos. For me this is even today the most impressive way to reach the Mani.

I felt like staying there for ever

A short extract from Paddy’s masterpiece about Greece, the Mani, and a lost way of life. And of course he did stay.

Beyond the bars of my window the towers descended, their walls blazoned with diagonals of light and shade; and, through a wide gap, castellated villages were poised above the sea on coils of terraces. Through another gap our host’s second daughter, wide-hatted and perched on the back of a wooden sledge and grasping three reins, was sliding round and round a threshing floor behind a horse, a mule and a cow – the first cow I had seen in the Mani – all of them linked in a triple yoke. On a bank above this busy stone disc, the rest of the family were flinging wooden shovelfuls of wheat in the air for the grain to fall on outstretched coloured blankets while the husks drifted away. Others shook large sieves. The sun which climbed behind them outlined this group with a rim of gold and each time a winnower sent up his great fan, for long seconds the floating chaff embowered him in a gold mist.

The sun poured into this stone casket through deep embrasures. Dust gyrated along the shafts of sunlight like plankton under a microscope, and the room was full of the aroma of decay. There was a rusty double-barrelled gun in the corner, a couple of dog-eared Orthodox missals on the shelf, and, pinned to the wall above the table, a faded oleograph of King Constantine and Queen Sophia, with King George and the Queen Mother, Olga Feodorovna, smiling with time-dimmed benevolence through wreaths of laurel. Another picture showed King Constantine’s entry into re-conquered Salonika at the end of the Balkan war. On a poster, Petro Mavromichalis, the ex-war minister, between a pin-up girl cut-out from the cover of Romantzo and a 1926 calendar for the Be Smart Tailors of Madison Avenue, flashed goodwill from his paper monocle. Across this, in a hand unaccustomed to Latin script, Long live Uncle Truman was painstakingly inscribed.

I felt like staying there for ever.

From Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese, by Patrick Leigh Fermor which you can buy here,

Order Paddy’s biography Patrick Leigh Fermor:An Adventure by Artemis Cooper here.

‘A Tonic and a Treat’ – Patrick Leigh Fermor: A Celebration

Last Wednesday over seven hundred people packed out the main lecture hall of the Royal Geographic Society to hear Colin Thubron question Artemis Cooper about Paddy’s life in a joint event with the Royal Society of Literature, of which Colin is President. The event, sponsored by Art Tours, was entertaining, if perhaps a little shorter than one would have liked.

By Tom Sawford.

Artemis revealed how difficult it was to get Paddy to talk about his life, his experience and friends until on one visit to Kardamyli after Joan’s death she found every horizontal surface of his study, including the floor, covered with groaning piles of books, magazines, journals and personal correspondence (and I daresay some unpaid bills!). She offered to help him create some order and in doing so she started to ask questions: ‘I didn’t know that you had met so-and-so’ at which point Paddy, always happy to be distracted from his Herculean struggle with Vol Three, would brighten and start to expound on this outing, that visit or other glittering adventure. It was in this way that Artemis was able to make notes and get behind what she describes as the ‘waterfall’ of banter when asked directly to talk about his life.

It appears also that Paddy was perhaps always happy to receive visitors and recount old stories as he suffered both from bouts of personal depression and writer’s block.  Colin Thubron described the time that he and Paddy went for a long swim at Kardamyli and when well away from the house and others he talked to Colin about his struggles with this block, and his inability to understand this and his state of mind. Artemis said that Paddy was not ‘an intellectual’ and did not think too deeply. He was a ‘polymath’, less inclined to ask why, but rather dazzled, entertained, and fascinated by outward appearances and the sheer joy of being.

The other great excuse for not working was his correspondence with the three great correspondents of his life: Debo Devonshire, Annie Fleming and Diana Cooper. They were an ‘entertainment’ which Paddy approached with great enthusiasm and which ‘took up a lot of his time’ enabling him to divert his energies from his other writing.

We were also given a glimpse of The Broken Road (Vol Three) which is being edited jointly by Artemis and Colin. As the biography tells us it will be based almost entirely on the work that Paddy wrote in the early sixties for a US magazine ‘A Youthful Journey’ which was meant to be no more than 5,000 words. Once Paddy had reached the Romanian-Bulgarian border in this retelling he was suddenly gripped by a passion to write down this story in great detail, the result being over 50,000 words about the leg from Romania to Istanbul, although Colin said that the account does not include his time in the City.

Colin told us that this is difficult work, and they are being most careful not to add their own words. There is much work to be done but as I was told last week by Roland Phillips from John Murray, the publication date remains September 2013, not far short of the 70th anniversary of the start of Paddy’s youthful journey.

During the question and answer session a variety of subjects were raised from the condition of the house at Kardamylli – things are moving forward – to whether or not the Horace ode recitation actually did happen – yes it did but it may not have been on Mount Ida.

When it came to the last question a rather large man, wrapped in colourful braces stood up and shouted out that this was not a question but a statement, a Traveller’s Tribute. I think I could hear the whole audience groan quietly in apprehension, but all turned out well. Holding up a copy of the biography he boomed ‘This book is nothing short of a tonic and a treat! It kept me sane today during a long and boring train journey from Scotland!!’ Cue laughter and applause.

The event was sponsored by Art Tours who are arranging a tour of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Mani in the spring of 2013. Places are limited and already about half are taken so if you wish to go on this tour, which will include Artemis Cooper as a guide and key speaker, please make contact with Edward Gates at Art Tours as quickly as you can edward[at]arttoursltd.com

In addition Art Tours have 15 signed copies of the biography Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure to give away in a competition. To have a chance of winning, please send your Name, Postal Address, email address, and telephone number to Edward. Winners will be contacted in early November.

If you would like to know more about the Mani tour please download this pdf or contact Edward Gates at Art Tours Ltd on +44 (0)207 449 9707 or by email edward[at]arttoursltd.com

 

John Chapman’s ManiGuide

The publication this week of the article by Kevin Rushby about his search for the memories of Paddy and Bruce Chatwin in the Mani prompted a degree of comment; not much of it particularly flattering. There were many unfavourable comparisons made with the excellent work of John Chapman in his ManiGuide website.

Back in 2010 I did a feature about the Guide saying ‘Having had a quick scoot around it certainly looks very comprehensive, so if you are planning on a visit to the Mani you may wish to use it…  the content looks very useful indeed.’

Following the comments about Rushby’s article I thought it would be a good idea to bring John’s work back to your attention, particularly as he has now become a regular contributor to the blog, having provided some excellent photographic material and articles.

As I said ‘ …. if you are planning on a visit to the Mani you may wish to use it.’ In fact I would recommend it. Visit —> Mani: A Guide and History by John Chapman

Related articles:

On the trail of Patrick Leigh Fermor in Greece

John Chapman at Kardamyli

John Chapman’s photographs of Paddy at home in Kardamyli 2005

To guidebook or not to guidebook

I just received this message from Andrew Bostock who authored the Bradt guide to the Peloponnese. It seems he is heading off there now. Paddy appears to have had some views on guidebooks; what are yours?

There are people who always seem to be fated to end up in their eventual career; children whose endless games of doctors and nurses or Lego translate into later careers in medicine or engineering. I used to think that I didn’t fit into this category, but now I’m not so sure.

In a week’s time I head out to the Peloponnese, the southern mainland of Greece, to complete the research to the second edition of my guide to the area, due to be published in early 2013 by the award-winning publishers Bradt. The first edition was written whilst I lived in the area, and whilst my daughter, who was born in Kalamata, grew up. Now I’m heading back for six weeks to show her where she comes from, and to introduce her one-year-old brother (middle name Telemachus) to the country.

How I ended up doing this seems to be due to huge smatterings of good luck and coincidence; but thinking about it there was an element of fate involved. This was mainly due to my mum, who instilled in me an early love of Greek mythology and history. It was also on her shelves that I first found the books of Paddy Leigh Fermor. I must have been about 14 at the time, and I devoured them. This quickly led to backpacking trips round Greece, sleeping in olive groves and abandoned tower houses, and eventually working there as a teacher, tour guide and writer.

Fate continued to intervene and my small family ended up living in a house on the headland above Kalamitsi bay, where Paddy had built his beautiful Greek house. In truth I had never really wanted to meet him, expectations are too easily let down, but in the end it seemed inevitable. He turned out to be just as affable, engaging and generous as the books would lead you to think.

He wasn’t really that keen on the idea of a guidebook to the Peloponnese, and I do see his point; but it was his books that guided me there. I think that if people are to travel, then a least they should travel with knowledge and understanding.

I’m pretty proud of my book, and hope to spend the next few weeks making it even better.

Andrew Bostock

07961 061 052 (cell)
Twitter: @andybostock
Website

Patrick Leigh Fermor in Greece – a talk by Artemis Cooper

Paddy’s biographer and good friend, Artemis Cooper, will talk about his life in Greece at the Gannadius Library in Athens at 7.00 pm on 24 May 2012. 

Full details of the event can be found here.

Biographer Artemis Cooper, who is preparing a biography of Patrick Leigh Fermor, will trace his life, experiences, and legacy in Greece from his early travels to the end of his life, on 10 June 2011. She will talk about what drew Patrick Leigh Fermor to Greece in the first place; his ‘participation’ in the Venizelist rebellion of 1935; his early travels in Thrace and Macedonia, and first encounters with the Sarakatsani; his experiences in the war on the Albanian front and Crete, as well as the post-war explorations of Greece that produced Mani and Roumeli. She will also touch on the Cyprus years; his friendship with George Seferis, George Katsimbalis, and Nicos Hadjikyriacos Ghika; how he and his wife came to settle in Kardamyli, and built their house with the architect Nicos Hadjimichalis; how the Greek translation of Mani was undertaken by Tzannis Tzannatakis, while he was in exile in Kythera under the Junta of the Colonels. She will also reflect on his position in the village of Kardamyli and how he is seen in Greece today.

PS – I have been told that there will be a webcast available after the event. I will post the details when I have them.

Patrick Leigh Fermor’s 1998 interview with Amalia Negreponte

Amalia Negreponte

I was alerted to this interview by Mark Granelli. As ever we have to be cautious about things that may have got lost in translation but I was a little suspicious about this interview as Paddy appears to go further out on a limb than recorded elsewhere. You will understand what I mean when you read it. Is she being totally honest? 

My reply to Mark was …

Mark – thanks for being such a good sleuth! I will put it up but I am slightly suspicious of this one. Paddy appears more political than I have ever read before. Maybe he opened up to her because she is very pretty, if a little thin.

But without further ado let’s go to the interview which can be found online at Amalia Negreponte’s website on 20 July 2011 ….

War hero, great hellenist, major British author, scholar and soldier, who played a prominent role behind the lines in the Cretan resistance during World War II (kidnapped German general, heading Nazi troops invading Greece). He was widely regarded as “Britain’s greatest living travel writer”, with books including his classic “A Time of Gifts” (1977).  A BBC journalist once described him as “a cross between Indiana Jones, James Bond and Graham Greene”

Patrick Leigh Fermor’s interview to Amalia Negreponti, published in my book:“Hellenists: Greece does not wound them” (LIVANIS publishing company, 1998), pre-published in “TA NEA” in 1998

Born: In England. First traveled to Greece: When he was 19 years old, in 1935, during his tour of Europe. Main bibliography: “Mani”, “Roumeli”, “The Violins of Saint-Jacques”, “Between the Woods and the Water’, “A Time of Gifts”. Lived most of his life after World War II: In Mani (Kardamyli); frequently travelling to England, where he recently passed away, 40 days ago. He will be remembered by all- and certainly by us Greeks- with gratitude, admiration, love.

Five images. A man dressed in a British Army uniform, alone, on a snowy mountain – he is in Albania, in 1941. He speaks fluent Greek. The Greek soldiers endearingly call him “The Englishman”. Whenever he can, he talks of poetry and literature. Second image, the same manly uniformed figure, next to Giorgos Seferis, in Cairo. He has just arrived, right after the tragic Battle of Crete. His sorrow is vividly reflected on his face. Third flash. Haifa, 1942. The officer, the blackboard and the class of uniformed men. It is one of the war lessons the officer with the penetrating gaze gives to the Allies.

Crete, 1944:While the British commando takes off the German Army uniform he has deceptively worn, his five Cretan companions and a British officer hold a German officer captive. He is General Heinrich Kreipe – the commander of the German Occupying Forces in Crete – recently kidnapped by the men. On peaceful nights, the captive and the English officer-kidnapper talk of Homer and the great tragedians.

Last image: Mani, 1998, in a small cottage. The man sets aside, just for a moment, his writing – the bookcase is full of his highly acclaimed books. His eyes sparkle. “Greece was in danger. She was suffering. I did what anyone else would have done. Nothing more, nothing less”. Without any need for introductions, he is Paddy. Michael. Filedem. Patrick Leigh Fermor.

Ramrod-straight, soft-spoken, keeping his youthful impetuousness intact. “Dear God! It was nothing!”, he says every once in a while, with extreme modesty and reserve, as soon as he is reminded of his legendary status and heroic activity. He talks of his books with the excitement of a small child.

Whenever he talks of the historical battles – always playing the leading role – he fought in Greece during World War II, he never uses the pronoun “I”. It is always “we”; whether he talks of British soldiers and fellow officers – he keeps mentioning Christopher “Monty” Woodhouse, Xan Fielding, John Pendlebury, the archaeologist-hellenist who died, fighting heroically, during the Battle of Crete – his Cretan companions – George Psychoundakis, Manolis Paterakis, George Tyrakis – or the whole of Greece.

We meet Patrick Leigh Fermor in mid-July at his home, in Kardamyli, Mani, where he permanently lives during the last few decades with his wife, in a cottage he built by himself. The 83-year-old Anglo-Irish Fermor, having fought for Greece throughout his life, throughout her difficult moments with vigour, self-sacrifice and passion that transcends heroism; awarded with all the possible military distinctions for his actions in battle; highly valued throughout the world for his books – they are considered “masterpieces” by the most severe European and American critics – and living a reclusive life, exclusively dealing with what he has been dreaming of since he was a child: book writing.

At the moment, he is fervently preparing the story of his adventures during the entire war. His achievements are known through official documents (Foreign Office), as well as his companions’ and historians’ memoirs. He, however, has remained silent until now.

“Since I was a child, I was determined to become a writer; that’s for sure”, Patrick Leigh Fermor – Paddy, to his friends – remembers. “For that reason – to collect experiences and meet different people and things – and since I wasn’t particularly good at school, I set out, when I was 18 years old, on a journey to Constantinople, a journey that would mark and determine my life”.

The journey lasted a whole year and included the whole of Europe. Alone and moneyless, Fermor sailed from England to the Netherlands and went on, through a snowy landscape, to Germany. He followed the course of the Rhine upstream and turned eastwards, towards the Danube. He crossed the borders to Austria and Czechoslovakia. He borrowed a horse in Hungary, crossed Transylvania, Romania and Bulgaria, over the Balkan mountain range and reached the Black Sea coast: Varna, Nesembar and Burgas; then, across the borders of Turkey, towards Edirne. On January 1, 1935, he reached Constantinople.

At the monasteries

His next stop was Greece. “My love for her was unconditional”. He lived in monasteries of Mount Athos, in Thrace and Macedonia, in Peloponnese and Athens. The few words of ancient Greek he had learnt at school turned, almost magically, to fluent modern Greek and Greece got an eternal hold on him. “And then, around 1936, I returned to England.

The months away from Greece seemed intolerable. That’s why when, in 1941, I joined the Intelligence Corps, I asked to be transferred to Greece, fighting at the time against Italy in Albania. It so happened”. And Patrick Leigh Fermor became an integral part of the Albanian Epic. And, right after that, of the Cretan Resistance. From 1941 until the bloody Battle of Crete, Fermor was there, in the first line, along the Cretan warriors who considered him “more Cretan than the Cretans”, he says with pride. “Where can I begin?

The long night marches, the growth of the Resistance form village to village, from mountain top to plain? Waiting for boats in secluded coves, waiting for drops of ammunition in plateaus, visiting intelligence gathering networks in cities, sending commandos on sabotage missions, escaping German raids, on the mountains, the eagle nests and the crags we used to live… Since the first Axis invasion of Greece, we English felt that we were allies of the only nation left to fight darkness and tyranny.

The rest of the world remained neutral, defeated “in peace” or, worse still, had joined the enemy – through alliances and treaties. When the war came to Crete, the solitary allies – Greece and England – fought hand in hand. And then came 1942. In horror and despair. England was being devastated by heavy bombardments, the Germans were marching at full speed towards Stalingrad, Erwin Rommel’s tanks and canons were hammering our lines in the desert, pushing us back towards our last line of defence, El Alamein; and the USA had not entered the war yet.

My men and I, driven out of Crete after the Battle of Crete on May 20, 1941, crushed and shattered, had escaped towards the Middle East. First Alexandria and Cairo. And then Haifa, near Palestine, where I taught allied officers in a war college. What did I teach? The essentials. Secret landings, sabotage, using enemy arms and ammunition, parachute drops, commando raids, evasion tactics, setting mobile radio stations – everything.

My heart and thought, however, were with Crete, suffering more than ever. Villages were being burnt. Thousands of Cretans were being taken captive. Inhuman tortures and mass executions were on the agenda every single day. But the Cretans had not given up. They were continuing the Resistance, in any possible way, with vigour and stoicism. But not only that. They were also helping, risking their lives and the lives of their own people, the English allies who had been trapped in the highland villages and mountains of Crete. They were taking care of them as if they had been their own children.

It was a great honour. We became and still are the children of the Greek people. I am grateful for that – to be part of such a brave and noble kind of people was the greatest honour for me. We were strangers who came to Greece from afar to take part in the battle, to fight, to shed our blood on your mountains. We, however, risked – of our own accord – our lives, whereas the Greeks who helped us at the time of our greatest weakness did not only risk their lives, but also the lives of their families and the destruction of their villages, their motherland. Therefore, let’s not talk of our own sacrifices…”. “I could no longer resist staying away from Crete – I longed to return there”.

Thus, on July 24, 1942, at midnight, he returned from the Middle East to Crete by fishing boat, assigned a special mission in Central Crete. “Hard times. We were cut off from Africa and any supply shipments, whereas the Germans ravaged Crete, killing and torturing civilians whenever the Resistance struck a blow against them. The only good thing for our Crete out of that period, until 1944, was that we were not affected by the Civil War raging in mainland Greece – we were not aware of it”. At the beginning of 1944, Filedem – who lived on the mountains of Crete, organizing the Resistance disguised as a Cretan shepherd – is ordered to return to Alexandria. “I didn’t want to leave”. However, he couldn’t help it. No matter how reluctant he was, Fermor finally left.

He returned a few months later as the leader of a highly important mission for Crete in particular and Greece in general: the kidnap of the German military governor of Crete. Unfortunately, the target, General Friedrich-Wilhelm Müller, was replaced by General Heinrich Kreipe just before he arrived.

“On February 4, 1944, I was parachuted into Lasithi, Crete. The rest of the team – Stanley Moss, Manolis Paterakis and George Tyrakis – couldn’t follow due to bad weather. During the next two months, they kept trying to join me, but it was impossible. Finally, on April 4, they arrived in Soutsouro by sea. We immediately started hatching the general’s kidnap plan.”

The kidnap

Fermor finally came up with an idea – dressed as a German soldier, he stopped the general’s car on his way home at what was supposed to be a routine check point; the rest of the team took care of the driver and drove the car and the general away – met with success.

Hunted by German patrols, the team moved across the mountains and villages of Crete “in order to evacuate our captive safely, making sure that no reprisals were taken against the civilian population”. Whenever he got off the car, Fermor was met with murderous stares and open enmity by the Cretans due to the German Army uniform he was wearing.

“I realized then what it meant to be a German. I felt lucky not to be one. Upon arriving in Sphachta, where my friend father Giannis Skoulas lived, his wife came out of their house and stared at me in disgust. Full of joy, I tried to embrace her. Get away! She screamed. It’s me, Michalis, I said. No point… It took some time for her to recognize me and get over the repulsion the German Army uniform was causing her”.

The outcome of the mission? General Heinrich Kreipe was sent to Cairo, safe and sound. “We treated him with respect, honour and care! After all, he was our captive”.

Fermor met Kreipe decades later – to discuss World War II. The atmosphere was genial… “He was well-versed in poetry, Latin and ancient Greek – I realized it when we kidnapped him. We had drunk from the same fountains, we had sprouted out of the same roots, well before the war started – and that changed things”. Even the usual reprisals were avoided.

Fermor left a letter to the Germans when he abandoned the general’s car: “Gentlemen, your Commander was taken captive by a British Battle Force under our command (editor’s note: Fermor and Moss). When you read this, the General will be in Cairo. We want to point out that the operation was conducted without any kind of help from the Cretans… Any reprisals against the local population would be unjustifiable and unfair. Auf baldiges Wiedersehen! (editor’s note: the two signatures). PS: We are sorry to leave the car”.

Fermor (his code names during the war were Michalis or Filedem), who was idolized by the Cretans because he constantly put his life at risk for Greece, seems to have been left alone, a symbol of an era of heroes. He transcends the meaning of the term hellenist; he is a philhellene, with all the idealism and struggle the term includes.

He reacts when I ask him whether Greece wounded him. “Of course not! How could she? I devoted my life to Greece; to justice. My success is my greatest satisfaction. I’m hurt when I see people attacking Greece – usually unjustly. I’m hurt when I see strangers treat her contemptuously and scornfully. I’m hurt when they ignore, use and distort history to strike a blow – for example, when they support FYROM.

The Turks

“I don’t want to hear anything more about “bad feelings” of the Greeks towards the Turks. For God’s sake! The Turks seized and illegally occupy Northern Cyprus – it’s a well-known fact. Fewer and fewer Greek are living in Constantinople anymore – as a direct result of the rioting, looting, extermination, murder, coercion and general pogrom they suffer.

Europe should never forget what Greece has offered and act accordingly. I’m not talking of ancient Greece; I’m talking of modern Greece – World War II Greece. Greece prevented the whole of Europe from collapsing when the sky blackened.

They should all remember what Greece stands for. Because ideas change, people die and monuments collapse with the passing of time.

What can’t be destroyed, however, is the spirit of the Greek people – it includes all virtues, it inspires, it shines – just like the light that shines on the Greek mountains: your mountains. Our mountains”.

“In 1941, those of us who survived the Battle of Greece fled to the Middle East. First Alexandria and then Cairo. Right there on the bank of the Nile and the city of Alexander the Great, I had the chance to meet and befriend Giorgos Seferis, who had also taken refuge there. His hard features betrayed an anxiety and a sorrow that transcended our everyday stress about the outcome of the war. In the Middle East during that critical phase of the war when everything seemed lost, Giorgos Seferis was giving his personal battle: in politics and letters – poetry”.

Seferis wrote the poem “Days of June 1941” when Fermor arrived in the Middle East, right after the Battle of Crete.

“The new moon came out over Alexandria with the old moon in her arms while we were walking towards the Gate of the Sun in the heart’s darkness–three friends”.

“There are times when I feel I’m still there”, says Fermor. “Feeling the sorrow for my dead companions and the lost battle, seeing that man with the dark eyes driving away the clouds with his words.

Just words. Words of an educated and scholarly man who had experienced the horror of broken bodies and the pain of loss”.

Fermor takes out an old photograph, depicting the poet and him. Both men are thoughtful. With heavy gazes. “We didn’t stay together long”, Fermor recalls, “I was always on the run – missions and training… “You have to reckon how to move. It’s not enough to feel, to think, to move”, he used to say – exactly the way he wrote.

He was always reserved and cautious. He didn’t talk much; you never got tired of listening to him. Modest and discreet. I respected him at the time. I loved him as a poet later. He was educated and had a breadth of knowledge transcending the borders of nations and civilizations.

Giorgos Seferis recorded our experiences with accuracy and sensitivity. Yes, we had come from all around the world, as he says in the poem “Last Stop”, “from Araby, Egypt, Palestine and Syria”. Although he was very reserved, he never got detached. You could see the accumulated strength inside him”.

Der letzte englische Gentleman

I have at last made a start on the book review section. This is an attempt to bring together as many online book reviews as I can find. Most are pretty formulaic, repetitive and dull, but in the quest to build as complete an on-line archive as possible it has to be done. 

This is my most recent addition, to add also to the content of the site which is in German. There is nothing startlingly new here I am afraid, but it is an opportunity to practice your German (if you have any!).

Copy and paste into Google Translate if you need to.

by Sven Boedecker

First published in the Sonntags Zeitung, 4 July 2010

Abenteurer, Kriegsheld und Künstler: Mit Patrick Leigh Fermor können wir ein Griechenland entdecken, das inzwischen verschwunden ist

Als Hitler kam, ist er gegangen. Wie ein mittelalterlicher Pilger ist er 1933 von London nach Konstantinopel gewandert, hat in Scheunen und Schlössern übernachtet. Da war er gerade mal achtzehn Jahre alt. Über diese Reise hat er Jahrzehnte später zwei Bücher voller Esprit, Wissen und Lebenslust geschrieben – «Die Zeit der Gaben» (1977) und «Zwischen Wäldern und Wasser» (1986) haben Patrick Leigh Fermor zur Schriftsteller-Legende gemacht.

Aber der Engländer kann mehr als nur gut schreiben, er vollbrachte auch Heldentaten, für die er bis heute in seiner Heimat wie in Griechenland verehrt wird. Denn als Soldat sprang er im Zweiten Weltkrieg über dem Nazi-besetzten Kreta mit dem Fallschirm ab, lebte dort verkleidet als Berghirte und organisierte den kretischen Widerstand. Und dann entführte er 1944 in einer Nacht-und-Nebel-Aktion einen General der deutschen Wehrmacht und schmuggelte ihn nach Libyen. Dieser Coup machte Leigh Fermor später sogar zum Leinwandhelden, gespielt von Dirk Bogarde. Continue reading

John Chapman’s photos of Paddy’s house

A little nugget from a friend of John Chapman (of Mani Guide fame) about the handover of Paddy’s house to the Benaki. This prompted me to ‘reveal’ John’s excellent series of photographs of Paddy  and his house taken during a visit on 2005.

Hi John,

Two days ago we went to Patrick’s evening with the Benakeion Institute taking over ceremony so to speak and a kind of farewell for Paddy..The President of the institute gave a lovely speech in Greek, well thought and with very high appreciation for Fermor’s personality and character and his love for Greece..He regarded him as much more of ”kardamyliotis than British man” because he ”lived here longer and loved this place a lot”.

In any case I had a couple of British friends with me and we all enjoyed it.

To see more of the photographs click here (and scroll down a a bit).

Main Mani Guide site here.

Related article:

Mani: A Guide and History

Πάτρικ Λι Φέρμορ:«Πατρίδα είναι εκεί που έχει κανείς τα βιβλία του»

Paddy contemplating a fine read

It roughly translates as “Patrick Leigh Fermor – Homeland is where one’s books are” and it is about “Unknown details of life, action and work of British writer of travel literature, as recounted specific ‘Tribune’ reporter Joy Kiosse”. You can enjoy in the Greek or if appalling at it like me use Google Translate. It is quite a good article. I like the first paragraph ….

In mythology, heroes were not immortal, and some are in today’s life. The memory but Patrick Leigh Fermor, Paddy’s, like shouting his friends, the Sun-Michael for Mani and the Cretans, will remain immortal. Written with a broad humanitarian education, self-taught, untamed, hero, kind and generous friend peculiar humor, fearless and bold, persistent traveler with an insatiable thirst to discover the world, polyglot and general man with deep knowledge of the classics and history, the Fermor took all these elements to the end of his life.

by Joy Kiosse

First published in Tovima on 2 July 2011.

Από την Πέμπτη 16 Ιουνίου ο σερ Πάτρικ Λι Φέρμοραναπαύεται στο μικρό κοιμητήριο που βρίσκεται στον περίβολο του ναού του Αγίου Πέτρου στο Ντάμπλτον της Αγγλίας, δίπλα στο μνήμα της συζύγου του Τζόαν. Είναι μια ήσυχη πράσινη πλαγιά περιτριγυρισμένη από ψηλά δέντρα.

Στη μυθολογία οι ήρωες δεν ήταν αθάνατοι- και κάπως είναι και στη σημερινή ζωή. Η μνήμη όμως του Πάτρικ Λι Φέρμορ, του Πάντι, όπως τον φώναζαν οι φίλοι του, του κυρ-Μιχάλη για τους Μανιάτες και τους Κρητικούς, θα μείνει αθάνατη. Συγγραφέας με πλατιά ανθρωπιστική μόρφωση, αυτοδίδακτος, ατίθασος, ήρωας, καλός και γενναιόδωρος φίλος με ιδιότυπο χιούμορ, άφοβος και παράτολμος, επίμονος ταξιδιώτης με ακόρεστη δίψα για να γνωρίσει τον κόσμο, πολύγλωσσος και γενικότερα άνθρωπος με βαθιά γνώση των κλασικών και της Ιστορίας, ο Φέρμορ κράτησε όλα αυτά τα στοιχεία ως το τέλος της ζωής του.

Ακόμη, είχε το χάρισμα να σαγηνεύει τους συνομιλητές του και ήταν εξαιρετικά αγαπητός σε όλες τις παρέες. Την τελευταία ημέρα του στην Καρδαμύλη, το μεσημέρι στο τραπέζι απήγγειλε με τη βραχνή πια φωνή του ένα μεγάλο ποίημα του Γουίτιερ. Ναι, είχε μνήμη! Οχι όμως μηχανική. Ακούγοντάς τον να απαγγέλλει και ταυτόχρονα να υποδύεται τον ήρωα του ποιήματος είχες τη βεβαιότητα ότι γνώριζε σε βάθος το νόημα κάθε στίχου, κάθε φράσης, κάθε λέξης.

Στο νοσοκομείο της Αθήνας την πρώτη φορά βαφτιστήρια και φίλοι από την Κρήτη και τη Μάνη βρέθηκαν δίπλα του, λες και είχαν ειδοποιηθεί με σήματα μορς. Ανάμεσά τους υπήρχε μια αυθόρμητη σχέση αγάπης και σεβασμού- όπως και εκείνος αγάπησε και σεβάστηκε την Ελλάδα. Ναι, το σπάνιο στοιχείο αυτής της σχέσης του με την Ελλάδα ήταν ο σεβασμός που έδειξε στον τόπο.

Μετά την πρώτη επέμβαση επέστρεψε στην Καρδαμύλη, ελπίζοντας ότι είχε ξεπεράσει για κάμποσο καιρό το πρόβλημα της υγείας του και ότι θα πρόφταινε να τελειώσει το βιβλίο του. Τρεις εβδομάδες αργότερα, την ημέρα που ο δήμαρχος της Καρδαμύλης θα του έδινε το χρυσό κλειδί της πόλης, χρειάστηκε να επιστρέψει εσπευσμένα στο νοσοκομείο. Και ύστερα από μια δεύτερη επέμβαση πήρε την απόφαση να γυρίσει στην Αγγλία, γνωρίζοντας πως δεν θα επέστρεφε ποτέ πια. Το ταξίδι είχε τελειώσει.

Ο Πάντι τιμήθηκε στη ζωή του όσο λίγοι συγγραφείς ή ακόμη και ήρωες. Την πρώτη φορά που θέλησαν να του απονείμουν τον τίτλο του ιππότη (ΟΒΕ), αρνήθηκε, λέγοντας ότι δεν τον άξιζε. Τελικά έγινε σερ το 2004, «κα θώς δεν θα ήταν… ευγενικό να αρνηθεί δεύτερη φορά». Πάντως ποτέ δεν ακούστηκε κάποιος να τον αποκαλεί «σερ». Ολοι τον φώναζαν Πάντι και στην Καρδαμύλη και στην Κρήτη «κυρ Μιχάλη»- ήταν το ψευδώνυμό του στα βουνά της Κρήτης και το δεύτερο χριστιανικό του όνομα, που κανείς δεν το ήξερε, παρ΄ όλα αυτά όμως οι Ελληνες το γιόρταζαν.

Διακρίσεις, διπλώματα- όσα δεν πήρε στα μαθητικά του χρόνια-, ασημένιες πλακέτες και πάλι διακρίσεις υπάρχουν στη Μάνη, περισσότερο ως έργα τέχνης, καδράκια σπαρμένα στα διάφορα δωμάτια. «Κυρ Μιχάλη, πρέπει να πιείτε αυτό το φάρμακο», «Κυρ Μιχάλη,έξω περιμένει ο τάδε, να έρθει;», «Κυρ Μιχάλη,ήρθε η βαφτιστικιά σου η Αγγλία»… Και ο κυρ Μιχάλης έγνεφε καταφατικά.

Του άρεσε να έχει κόσμο όταν δεν ήταν σκυμμένος στα χαρτιά του. Κατά βάθος του άρεσε και το «κυρ-Μιχάλης», καθώς στο πίσω μέρος του μυαλού του υπήρχαν πάντα η Κρήτη και οι συναγωνιστές του. Βαριά άρρωστος στο νοσοκομείο, τις νύχτες έβλεπε πως ήταν στη σπηλιά στα Ανώγεια και έτρεχε στο μπαλκόνι να το σκάσει, και άλλοτε πως τον κυνηγούσαν και έτρεχε για να μην τον πιάσουν.

Υπό τους ήχους μιας γκάιντας

Εκείνη την Πέμπτη ο καιρός ήταν χαρούμενος στη μικρή πολίχνη του Ντάμπλτον. Ο ήλιος μπαινόβγαινε στα σύννεφα πάνω από την εκκλησία όπου συγκεντρώθηκαν φίλοι και συγγενείς και παλιοί συμπολεμιστές του. Οταν έφθασε η σορός σκεπασμένη με τη βρετανική σημαία, ο ιερέας βρισκόταν στην άκρη του φράχτη περιμένοντας να δώσει την τελευταία ευχή. Μετά προχώρησαν μαζί στην εκκλησία, όπου στην πόρτα περίμεναν να αποδώσουν τιμές βετεράνοι της Ιρλανδικής Φρουράς. Μέσα στον ναό η τελετή ήταν σύντομη, χωρίς λόγους.

Η σοπράνο Σάρα Γκάμπριελ τραγούδησε ασυνόδευτη ένα απόσπασμα από τον «Ντον Τζιοβάνι» του Μότσαρτ, το εκκλησίασμα έψαλε δύο ύμνους, διαβάστηκαν δύο σύντομα αποσπάσματα από την «Κήπο του Κύρου» του σερ Τόμας Μπράουν και από το «Απόκρυφο Βιβλίο» του Πρωτευαγγελιστή, και το εκκλησίασμα ακολούθησε τη σορό στον περίβολο της εκκλησίας υπό τους ήχους μιας γκάιντας. Κοντά στο μνήμα ένας μουσικός της Ιρλανδικής Φρουράς σάλπισε το σιωπητήριο. Αυτό ήταν. Η σημαία διπλώθηκε, η σορός κατέβηκε, ενώ την έραιναν ροδοπέταλα και μια χούφτα χώμα που ήρθε από την Ελλάδα. Μετά σιωπή.

Δίπλα στο μαξιλαράκι με τα παράσημα- ανάμεσά τους ξεχωρίζει ο ελληνικός Φοίνικας- βρίσκονταν τα στεφάνια. Εκείνο από την Ελληνική Πρεσβεία στο Λονδίνο (άλλωστε ο πρέσβης κ. Α. Σάντης παρέστη στην κηδεία), ένα δάφνινο από το Μουσείο Μπενάκη με την ευχή «στο καλό Πάντι», ένα από τον αρχηγό του Γενικού Επιτελείου Στρατού της Ελλάδος, ένα από τους Βυρωνιστές, άλλα από την οικογένεια του συναγωνιστή και φίλου του λόρδου Τζέλικο, από την Αδελφότητα των Ελλήνων Βετεράνων, από το Βritish Council της Αθήνας, από βαφτισιμιές… και πολλά μικρά μπουκέτα αγριολούλουδα από φίλους.

Καρδαμύλη, «το σπίτι του»

Τους τελευταίους μήνες της ζωής του ο Πάτρικ Λι Φέρμορ τούς πέρασε στην Καρδαμύλη της Μάνης. Εκεί ήταν «το σπίτι του». Οταν τον ρωτούσαν οι δημοσιογράφοι ποια από τις δύο χώρες θεωρούσε πατρίδα του, ποιο από τα δύο σπίτια ένιωθε περισσότερο δικό του, εκείνο της Αγγλίας με τον παλιό μύλο, το ρυάκι και τα πανύψηλα δένδρα ή το άλλο, της Μάνης, «Πατρίδα είναι εκεί που έχει κανείς τα βιβλία του» απαντούσε. Και η αλήθεια είναι ότι τα βιβλία του Ντάμπλτον δεν μπορούν να συγκριθούν με τις βιβλιοθήκες της Καρδαμύλης. Εφέτος, στις αρχές του χρόνου, ο Πάτρικ Λι Φέρμορ επέστρεψε στην Καρδαμύλη, όπου προσπάθησε απελπισμένα να τελειώσει τον τρίτο τόμο της τριλογίας του. Πρόκειται για το τελευταίο μέρος του οδοιπορικού ενός 18άρη που ξεκίνησε από την Ολλανδία για να διασχίσει με τα πόδια όλη την Ευρώπη, ως την Κωνσταντινούπολη. Οι πρώτοι δύο τόμοι που εκδόθηκαν με τις αναμνήσεις αυτής της περιπέτειας, «Α time of Gifts» (1977) και «From the Woods to the Water» (1986) – έχουν μεταφραστεί στα ελληνικά-, γνώρισαν μεγάλη επιτυχία.

Σε αυτό το ταξίδι ο Φέρμορ μόλις που πρόλαβε να γνωρίσει έναν κόσμο ο οποίος, με τον Β΄ Παγκόσμιο Πόλεμο, θα χανόταν για πάντα. Ενα συστατικό γράμμα σε κάποιον ευγενή στη Γερμανία άνοιξε τη μία μετά την άλλη τις πόρτες των αρχοντικών και των κάστρων της Μεσευρώπης με τις πολύτιμες συλλογές έργων τέχνης και τις παλιές βιβλιοθήκες. Λίγα χρόνια αργότερα, μετά τον Πόλεμο, τίποτε από αυτά δεν υπήρχε. Ολα είχαν χαθεί, μαζί και ο τρόπος ζωής των φεουδαρχών αρχόντων και του αγροτικού πληθυσμού. Οι βομβαρδισμοί και το σοβιετικό καθεστώς έσβησαν έναν ολόκληρο κόσμο από τον χάρτη της Οικουμένης.

Οι Βρετανοί είχαν από καιρό ανακηρύξει τον Πάτρικ Λι Φέρμορ τον μεγαλύτερο ταξιδιωτικό συγγραφέα τους- ίσως τον κορυφαίο σε ολόκληρο τον κόσμο. Ο Φέρμορ δεν ήταν όμως μόνο ένας εξαιρετικός ταξιδιωτικός συγγραφέας. Οι περιγραφές του δεν περιορίζονταν στη διαδρομή. Τον ενδιέφερε η φύση, αλλά και ο άνθρωπος, οι ιστορίες που έλεγαν οι πέτρες και τα κτίσματα. Τον σαγήνευαν οι μικρές αφηγήσεις που άκουγε στα καφενεία. Τον βοηθούσαν να καταλάβει τους ανθρώπους και να κατανοήσει ό,τι κράτησαν από τον πολιτισμό τους. Σε αυτό τον βοήθησε πολύ και η ευκολία του στην εκμάθηση ξένων γλωσσών. Ακόμη και πρόσφατα διόρθωνε εκφράσεις και λέξεις συνομιλητών του στα ρουμανικά. Και εκείνοι δεν πίστευαν στα αφτιά τους…

ΓΙΑΤΙ ΔΕΝ ΕΠΕΣΤΡΕΨΕ ΣΤΗΝ ΚΡΗΤΗ – Η ΑΠΟΚΑΛΥΠΤΙΚΗ ΒΙΟΓΡΑΦΙΑ

Ο Πάτρικ Λι Φέρμορ καταγόταν από προνομιούχο οικογένεια.Ο πατέρας του,ο σερ Λούις,ήταν διευθυντής του Γεωλογικού Ινστιτούτου στην Ινδία,με αποτέλεσμα αυτός και η γυναίκα του να κρατηθούν για ένα πολύ μεγάλο διάστημα μακριά από τον γιο τους.Παιδάκι τον εμπιστεύθηκαν σε μια αγροτική οικογένεια και μεγάλωσε ελεύθερος στη φύση.Σε αυτή την ελευθερία οφείλεται ίσως ο ατίθασος χαρακτήρας του,αλλά και μια περίεργη,αυστηρή πειθαρχία,προσαρμοσμένη όμως στους δικούς του όρους.

Οταν,μετά τον Α΄ Παγκόσμιο Πόλεμο, μαζεύτηκε η οικογένεια,στο σπίτι γινόταν πολλή κουβέντα για πουλιά,για λουλούδια και για τόπους μακρινούς.Η μητέρα του,θέλοντας να του ανοίξει τους ορίζοντες- αφού το ένα μετά το άλλο τα σχολεία τον έδιωχναν-,του διάβαζε ποίηση και κλασικούς.Η οικογένεια τον προόριζε για στρατιωτικό.Γι΄ αυτό και εκείνος αποφάσισε να φύγει για την Ευρώπη.Χωρίς χρήματα,χωρίς χρονικούς περιορισμούς,σχεδόν χωρίς πρόγραμμα.Στο σακίδιό του είχε την κλασική ανθολογία ποίησης των εκδόσεων Οξφόρδης,τις Ωδές του Οράτιου,ίσως και κάποιο έργο του Σαίξπηρ.

Για να κρατά συντροφιά στον εαυτό του, όσο περπατούσε απήγγελε ποίηση,με αποτέλεσμα να τη μάθει απέξω,ενώ επαναλάμβανε όσα πρόφταινε να αρπάξει από τη γλώσσα κάθε τόπου από τον οποίο περνούσε.Κοιμόταν σε καπηλειά και αχυρώνες με την ίδια άνεση που έμενε σε πύργους και άκουγε τις ιστορίες των ανθρώπων που συναντούσε αναζητώντας τις ρίζες και τους μύθους των τόπων τους.Για να κερδίζει κάποια χρήματα έκανε ό,τι δουλειά έβρισκε- ενώ σχεδίαζε και προσωπογραφίες.Κάποια στιγμή έφθασε στον προορισμό: την Πρωτοχρονιά του 1935 τη γιόρτασε στην Κωνσταντινούπολη.Αλλά κάπου κατά τη διάρκεια του ταξιδιού οι σημειώσεις είχαν χαθεί.

Εφυγε από την Κωνσταντινούπολη με ένα ακόμη συστατικό γράμμα στην τσέπη.Αυτή τη φορά ήταν από τον έλληνα πρόξενο προς τον Πέτρο Σταθάτο στο Μόδι της Μακεδονίας.Υστερα από έναν σταθμό στο Αγιον Ορος,προχώρησε στο Μόδι.Η ατμόσφαιρα ενός ελληνικού σπιτιού και η αρχοντιά του οικοδεσπότη τού άνοιξαν τις πόρτες της Ελλάδας.Με ένα άλογο τριγύρισε στη Μακεδονία.Πλησίασε τους Σαρακατσάνους- για τους οποίους και έγραψε-,ώσπου κατέληξε στη Θεσσαλονίκη,όπου βρέθηκε στη μέση μιας σύρραξης ανάμεσα σε βασιλικούς και βενιζελικούς.Καθώς οι Σταθάτοι ήταν βασιλικοί και το άλογο ήταν δικό τους,προσχώρησε- πού αλλού;- στο στρατόπεδο των βασιλικών.Πάντως ο Φέρμορ δεν ήταν πολιτικοποιημένος.Αλλά ακόμη και αν ήταν,το έκρυβε τόσο καλά,ώστε κανείς δεν μπορούσε να τον τοποθετήσει σε «στρατόπεδο».

Το περιστατικό που τον σημάδεψε

Για τη ζωή και τις περιπέτειές του έχουν γραφτεί πολλά και έχουν ειπωθεί περισσότερα.Για την ιστορία της Κρήτης ο ίδιος έχει μιλήσει πολύ λίγο,ενώ δεν έχει γράψει τίποτε.Επρεπε να βρίσκεται παρέα με πάρα πολύ στενούς φίλους και να έχουν πιει πολύ κρασί για να πιάσει τη διήγηση.Και πάλι όμως,έκανε την ιστορία του ελαφριά,σχεδόν διασκεδαστική και εξωπραγματική.

Υπάρχει ένα τραγικό περιστατικό σε αυτή την ιστορία,που χάραξε τη ζωή του Φέρμορ και για το οποίο ο ίδιος δεν μίλησε ποτέ,ενώ ούτε ο υπαρχηγός του,στρατηγός Στάνλεϊ Μός,το αναφέρει στο βιβλίο του «Ιll met by moonlight» («Κακό συναπάντημα στο φεγγρόφωτο»),που είναι αφιερωμένο στην απαγωγή του στρατηγού Κράιπε.Το έψαξε η βιογράφος του Αρτεμις Κούπερ στα αρχεία του υπουργείου Πολέμου.

Στη Μάνη ο Φέρμορ διάβαζε και ξαναδιάβαζε το χοντρό ντοσιέ με τα χειρόγραφα και τις δακτυλογραφημένες σελίδες που ήταν γεμάτα διορθώσεις με τα τρεμουλιαστά και όπως πάντα δυσανάγνωστα γράμματά του.Ο τόμος είχε σχεδόν τελειώσει.Ηθελε ίσως κάποιο «χτένισμα» και υπολογιζόταν να κυκλοφορήσει πριν από τα Χριστούγεννα του 2011. Την επιμέλεια είχε η Αρτεμις Κούπερ,η οποία είχε επιμεληθεί και την έκδοση του «Words of mercury» το 2003.

Οι Βρετανοί έχουν από καιρό ανακηρύξει τον Πάτρικ Λι Φέρμορ τον μεγαλύτερο ταξιδιωτικό συγγραφέα τους- ίσως τον κορυφαίο στον κόσμο.Ο Φέρμορ δεν ήταν όμως μόνο ένας εξαιρετικός ταξιδιωτικός συγγραφέας.Οι περιγραφές του δεν περιορίζονταν στη διαδρομή.Τον ενδιέφερε η φύση,αλλά και ο άνθρωπος,οι ιστορίες που έλεγαν οι πέτρες και τα κτίσματα.Τον σαγήνευαν οι μικρές αφηγήσεις που άκουγε στα καφενεία.Τον βοηθούσαν να καταλάβει τους ανθρώπους και να κατανοήσει ό,τι κράτησαν από τον πολιτισμό τους.Σε αυτό τον βοήθησε πολύ και η ευκολία του στην εκμάθηση ξένων γλωσσών.Ακόμη και πρόσφατα διόρθωνε εκφράσεις και λέξεις συνομιλητών του στα ρουμανικά.Και εκείνοι δεν πίστευαν στα αφτιά τους…

Gone for a walk in Greece

“YOU had better look out if you are going up to Anavriti.” The familiar words sound wonderful when spoken aloud in this cavernous, haunted and as yet sunless gorge. I repeat them, savouring their powerful energy.

Suddenly, I picture the streets of “roasting Sparta” and the Greek barber who, encouraged by his colourful customers, issued the warning as he clipped the dusty hair of a man now regarded as one of the world’s finest travel writers.

The barber’s words subsequently provided the opening salvo of what many believe is the best book in English about Greece.

by Ian Robert Smith

First published in The Australian 30 July 2011

Published in 1958, Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese is a dense, erudite and hugely entertaining account of the author’s peregrinations in a region that, at the time, was remote, untamed and singularly archaic. Mani is also, more broadly, an affectionate portrait of a rural Greece where centuries-old customs were fast disappearing — “hammered to powder . . . between the butt of a Coca-Cola bottle and the Iron Curtain” — and for which today’s traveller hunts in vain.

I, too, am going up to Anavriti. And like Leigh Fermor when he came this way with his partner (later wife) Joan in the mid-1950s, I intend to use the village, perched on a spur of the Taygetos range, as a stepping stone into the Mani.

A battered copy of Leigh Fermor’s book resides in the top flap of my rucksack, both talisman and inspiration. Handily within reach in the side pocket is the Anavasi map of the region. Its bundled contours, crossed by the black-dotted lines of footpaths, reflect the momentous regions that await overhead.

Rich in myth and history, the Taygetos dominates the Spartan plain over which it looms like an impenetrable barrier. The northern foothills rise in the wilds of Arcadia. They shoot upwards into a vast, serrated ridge that culminates in the peak of Mt Profitis Ilias — at 2407m, the highest point in the Peloponnese — before dropping away through the Mani Peninsula.

Foothills clad in oak, hornbeam and black pine and daubed with villages buttress the eastern slopes. But the west is wild. Ancient gorges provide means of egress into this planetary world.

Some say this gorge is where the ancient Spartans left unwanted children to die. The rumble of plunging water resounds along its length.

In a large cave, a frescoed chapel, painted ox-blood red, crouches among icons and vases of the white Madonna lilies that grow wild on the slopes. Climbing further, past a sudden and terrifying drop, a curious sound wafts towards me; incoherent initially, it develops into an ethereal chanting that, echoing off the cliffs, sounds strange and beautiful in this wilderness. Bewilderment turns to rapt appreciation as I recognise the monks at Faneromeni Monastery, high above, conducting a Sunday morning service.

Beyond the monastery and a couple of antique threshing floors, Anavriti appears. Dwarfed by the glittering and snow-streaked Taygetos, several belfries and a cluster of stone houses adorn a hillside plumed with walnut, plane and cherry trees.

Not so long ago Anavriti had a thriving tanning and leather-goods industry and a population of several thousand. Nowadays, like most mountain villages in Greece, it is barely inhabited.

I amble along the main street, seeking wide balconies reached “by boxed-in staircases on wooden stilts”. In one such edifice, Leigh Fermor and Joan spent the night. Something similar faces a solitary taverna. Light-headed at finding myself in Anavriti at last, I lunch on spaghetti with rooster and abundant rose wine and, as a jovial crowd materialises, observe clouds thickening around the mountaintops. The taverna owner shrugs when I inquire what they portend, then asks, unhelpfully, whether I have a raincoat, before advising: “Go towards the good.”

This I attempt, only to become drenched, then unpleasantly steamed when the sun reappears, conjuring wondrous aromas from the glistening earth. The experience is chastening and, toiling upwards through fir forest, I conclude that following in the footsteps of literary legends can be tricky. Writing in Mani, Leigh Fermor gives fair warning.

“Feet became cannonballs,” he recounts, “loads turned to lead, hearts pounded, hands slipped on the handles of sticks and rivers of sweat streamed over burning faces and trickled into our mouths like brine.” I arrive, similarly challenged, at the author’s “unattractively alpine wall of mineral”.

It is the flank of Spanakaki Peak and also a crossroads. Intent on the Mani, Leigh Fermor bypassed Profitis Ilias and headed off to the right. Determined to tackle the summit, I veer left, up over a spur with a derelict sheepfold and across a meadow that, as thunder rumbles and rain buckets down, tilts vertically to the watershed. I reach this, hand-over-foot, but discover the view of the Messenian Gulf beyond obscured by thick mist breaking over the ridge.

Visibility shrinks to nothing as I’m engulfed, precipitating a tedious descent, followed by a forced march to the EOS refuge, where I meet a group from Athens who provide food, wine and spirited conversation. Occasionally the talk turns to Greece’s economic troubles and, predictably, as these are young people from the capital, nearly everyone has a sobering tale. They are related simply, without rancour and often with humour; but beneath the levity, disappointment and uncertainty are palpable.

The evening proves unexpectedly affecting and our farewells the next day, when I renew my assault on the summit, are heartfelt. I ascend through meadows thick with ferns, thyme and wildflowers, which give way to barren, stratified limestone, before an opening leads over the watershed. It might well be a door into another world.

Jagged pinnacles roll away to the north. Westward, rumpled slopes sundered by ravines plunge to the shores of the Messenian gulf. Silence reigns. Nothing moves except the clouds rolling across the peaks. I climb through them, tentatively over scree, on to a desolate platform scattered with stone huts and a roofless chapel dedicated to the prophet Elijah and crammed with icons, melted candles and votive offerings left by midsummer devotees.

The moment evokes a heady elation, tempered by disbelief that I am here, alone, atop the Peloponnese. Finally the sight of Kardamyli, fathoms below, reminds me it is time to catch up with Leigh Fermor. A headlong descent begins. Nightfall finds me in the Viros gorge. It is the ancient route to the coast: a massive, 14km-long canyon enclosed by fir-tufted cliffs and paved with boulders worn smooth by winter torrents, and not particularly restful.

Escaping next morning to Exochori, I locate a small chapel with a battered turret astride cicada-haunted olive terraces looking out to sea. In this lovely place, appropriate for a man who wrote so beautifully, the ashes of author Bruce Chatwin are scattered. I pause to pay my respects.

Kardamyli appears, its blond towers jutting above the sea. A cobbled path curls below the ancient acropolis. Nearby, adjacent to the reputed tombs of Castor and Pollux, I fall into conversation with a friendly English couple. Inevitably the name of Leigh Fermor comes up. We are speaking of the blood feuds in Mani when the woman says abruptly: “We’ve heard the funeral is on Thursday.”

Seeing my uncomprehending look, she adds, “You didn’t know? Paddy died last week.”

It was the day before I set out, ostensibly in his footsteps. The news fills me with sadness coupled with bewilderment at the workings of providence. I enter Kardamyli in a valedictory mood, passing through an arched gateway into a dusty square flanked by byzantine towers and a church.

In Mani, Leigh Fermor writes that Kardamyli was “unlike any village I had seen in Greece”. He and Joan loved it so much that they returned several years later and built a house in an olive grove.

Kardamyli remains laid-back and relatively unspoilt, with a long pebble beach, pretty stone houses, a small fishing harbour and friendly people. It is popular with trekkers who tackle the hinterland trails. But my walking days are over for now and my stay is marked by restlessness and an odd nostalgia. Each morning I swim to the wooded islet with the fortified wall and ruined chapel, a few hundred metres offshore. I scribble in cafes, drink with other travellers and dine out every night, once at Lelas, the waterfront taverna owned by the woman who was Leigh Fermor’s original housekeeper. Everyone, it seems, has a Paddy story to tell.

One morning, a strange impulse takes me. Just outside town, a path leaves the road and winds downhill through olive groves throbbing with cicadas. It continues, away from recent development higher up the slope, into a wilderness of trees and yellow grain fields where I pass a whitewashed chapel and, just beyond, a long stone wall, above which a mottled tile roof protrudes. Finally I come to a beach.

It lies just over the rocks, a hermetic cove enfolded by cliffs. A shiver sweeps through me when I realise: this is the place. Pushing through a wooden gate marked Private, I climb a stone staircase that zigzags up to a sprawling garden. Olive trees bestride ancient terraces.

The aromas of rosemary and cypress mingle in the hot, pulsating air. Paths of pebble mosaic thread between judiciously placed tables and benches of slate and a rambling house, built of golden stone, empty now, yet with the accumulations of a long and abundant life in place. An air of recent abandonment prevails. Leigh Fermor died in England.

Standing on the clifftop, beside one of those tables where so many delightful moments must have unfolded, I gaze out past the island to the distant peninsula, a smudge on the horizon. An age passes before I tear myself away.

Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese was first published in 1958. The acclaimed war hero and travel writer died on June 10, aged 96.

The man who fell for Mani’s charms

Patrick Leigh Fermor in Greece in 2001. (Thanassis Stavrakis/Associated Press)

Travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor, who died last week, called this Peloponnese peninsula home. Andrew Eames makes a pilgrimage.

By Andrew Eames

First published in The Independent, 18 June 2011

Somewhere about 100km beyond ancient Olympia I chucked my navigator out of the window; figuratively speaking, of course. She’d long since lost touch with reality, telling me to do U-turns and take sharp lefts where such things would only have ended in motorway carnage. Underneath me, the A7 unrolled its great tongue of Tarmac imperturbably towards Kalamata and yet she would have had me off the road and into the goat tracks among the prickly pears, so I gave up on her, imagining her left behind, sitting on a rock, still insisting that I recalculate my route.

I had another reason for wanting to enter the Mani peninsula, that middle finger of the southern Peloponnese, without the insistent voice of an out-of-date GPS. I was following the trail of a British writer who had been inspired and nourished by this once-wildest and most isolated region of Greece for well-nigh 50 years. Patrick Leigh Fermor hated wirelesses. He wrote in his book Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese, that he “dreaded the day when the metalled highway would appear through the hills blocked by a column of motorlorries each of them loaded with a howling menagerie of wireless sets for the silent Mani.”

That’ll be me, then. So the silencing of my (wireless) navigator was a tribute, in a way, even though Leigh Fermor himself had just left.

I have long been an admirer of Leigh Fermor, who until his death last week at 96 was, in my opinion, Britain’s greatest living travel writer. My most recent book, Blue River Black Sea, was a journey made partly in his footsteps down the length of the Danube, and it had always been in my plans to make a trip to the Mani sooner or later, with the hope that I might get to meet the great man in his “perfect writer’s house” down by the sea beside Kardamyli. Tragically, I was a couple of days too late, so my journey became something of a pilgrimage instead, a celebration and a comparison between the Mani that Leigh Fermor wrote about in 1958, and the Mani of today.

When Leigh Fermor, with his wife Joan, first crossed into the Mani, he had done so on foot led by his navigator, a taciturn goat-herder called Yorgo, who took him up over the barrier of the Taiyetos mountains, through a “dead, planetary place, a habitat for dragons”, an inferno of rocks whose only living organisms survived “on a memory of water”.

Historically, the Mani’s very inaccessibility had made it an enclave of refugees, feudal villages, vendettas and turf wars. Its rugged infertility meant agriculture was virtually impossible, so its inhabitants tried their hand at everything from piracy to slave trading in order to survive.

For Leigh Fermor, that isolation translated into what he called “an Elysian confine” from the moment he first arrived in Kardamyli, a castellated hamlet on the edge of the sea “whose quiet charm grew with each passing hour”, which became his home. He believed he had found a place “too inaccessible, with too little to do, for it ever to be seriously endangered by tourism”. I would have liked to have asked him if he ever regretted that sentence.

Crossing the Taiyetos today is still something of an ordeal – if you are a car. The A7 fizzles out at Kalamata and it falls to a nimble-footed minor road to try to avoid the worst the mountains can do. The reward for getting through is an eagle’s view of the Mani, across mountains that tumble to the sea, with villages as barely-tolerated ochre encrustations on their elongated toes.

The English have bought houses here, undoubtedly some of them partly due to Leigh Fermor’s book. Package tourism has been drawn inevitably to the village of Stoupa, 7km south of Kardamyli, by the presence of a perfect horseshoe-shaped beach, but it is package tourism in its more restrained manifestation, and very contained.

Just along the coast, tourism is more select and discreet at Agios Nikolaos, a fishing harbour bobbing with caique boats, where the morning recreation is watching the fishermen return and set out their catch beside the harbour wall, a wall that will be lined with fish-restaurant tables when the sunset comes.

Kardamyli itself is not that much changed, largely thanks to its lack of beach; the 17th-century fortress houses are still there, in a more or less tumbledown state and the rest of town is a peaceful web of cobbled lanes, vegetable gardens, and balconied stone houses whiskered with vines and bougainvillea.

Tavernas line the shore, including one run by Lela, Leigh Fermor’s veteran housekeeper. The great man’s property itself, down by the beach at Kalamitsi, 1km south of Kardamyli, is no longer alone, but newer buildings maintain a respectful distance.

There’s talk of turning it into a museum, because the writer was as much revered in local life as in the wider literary world. “We called him Kyr Michalis,” says George Giannakeas, Lela’s son, who grew up as a little boy in the writer’s house. “He used to walk into Kardamyli every day to get the papers, often completely lost in his thoughts.”

I catch up with George as he is readying himself for the journey to the UK for the funeral, so I put the question to him: would Leigh Fermor have regarded the modern Mani as spoilt?

“He didn’t like the changes, but he never criticised. He could understand that everyone needed to benefit. If he didn’t approve of something, he would make positive suggestions. Lots of people spend one or two years here then start complaining, but he would never do that. He could sit and talk to anyone about anything. One of his best friends here was the petrol pump attendant. Every year he invited the villagers to his house for his name day, as he did this year, too. He will be sadly missed.”

Even into his 90s Leigh Fermor remained a great walker, said George, so partly out of tribute to him I tackled a couple of the local trails. From Kardamyli up to Agia Sophia, on a well-made path up through cicada-rich olive terraces, with the shoreline opening up below. And then up the Nupati Gorge, a resinous, scented ravine where I had to walk bent double much of the time, scrambling through ankle-snapping rocks the size of elephant’s skulls, a quick reminder of just how tough it was to move about before the days of roads.

Plenty of early- and late- seasonvisitors do a lot of walking here; the views are magnificent, the landscape pungent with ancient sweat. At this time of year, however, the heat is oppressive, the going too tough to be anything but an ordeal. Far better to stay in the sea breezes and read a good book. If you do, there’s one author I’d recommend.

Home truths on abroad – where now for travel writing?

William Dalrymple recalls an encounter with Paddy in the Mani in 2008, discusses the impact of Bruce Chatwin, and asks where next for travel writing.

First published in The Guardian, 19 Sep 2009

William Dalrymple

What is to become of travel writing now that the world is smaller? Who are the successors to Chatwin, Lewis and Thesiger? William Dalrymple names a new generation of stars and sees a sparkling future for the genre – one less to do with posturing and heroic adventures than an intimate knowledge of people and places

Last year, on a visit to the Mani in the Peloponnese, I went to visit the headland where Bruce Chatwin had asked for his ashes to be scattered.

The hillside chapel where Chatwin’s widow, Elizabeth, brought his urn lies in rocky fields near the village of Exchori, high above the bay of Kardamyli. It has a domed, red-tiled roof and round arcaded windows built from stone the colour of haloumi cheese. Inside are faded and flaking Byzantine frescoes of mounted warrior saints, lances held aloft.

The sun was sinking over the Taygetus, and there was a warm smell of wild rosemary and cypress resin in the air. It was, I thought, a perfect place for anyone to rest at the end of their travels.

My companion for the visit was Chatwin’s great friend and sometime mentor, Patrick Leigh Fermor, who was Chatwin’s only real rival as the greatest prose stylist of modern travel writing. Leigh Fermor’s two sublime masterpieces, A Time to Keep Silence and A Time of Gifts, are among the most beautifully written books of travel of any period, and it was really he who created the persona of the bookish wanderer, later adopted by Chatwin: the footloose scholar in the wilds, scrambling through remote mountains, a knapsack full of good books on his shoulder.

Bruce Chatwin, 1940-1989

Inevitably, it was a melancholy visit. Not only were we there to honour the memory of the dead friend who had introduced us, but Leigh Fermor himself was not in great shape. At dinner that night, it was clear that the great writer and war hero, now in his mid-90s, was in very poor health. Over dinner we talked about how travel writing seemed to have faded from view since its great moment of acclaim in the late 1970s and 80s, when both Leigh Fermor and Chatwin had made their names and their reputations. It wasn’t just that publishers were not as receptive as they had once been to the genre, nor that the big bookshops had contracted their literary travel writing sections from prominent shelves at the front to little annexes at the back, usually lost under a great phalanx of Lonely Planet guidebooks. More seriously, and certainly more irreversibly, most of the great travel writers were either dead or dying.

Wilfred Thesiger (1909-2003), who was in many ways the last of the great Victorian explorers, produced no less than four exemplary books in his final decade. More remarkable still, Norman Lewis was heading for his centenary when he published The Happy Ant-Heap in 1998, a characteristically bleak collection of pieces about trips to places so obscure, so uncomfortable and often so horrible, that they would tax anyone, never mind a man in his early 90s who should by rights have been shuffling around in carpet slippers, not planning trips to visit the smoked ancestral corpses of the highlands of Irian Jaya, or the torture chambers of Nicaragua, or any other of the grisly diversions Lewis settles on to bring “some stimulation and variety” to his old age.

One typical adventure of the nonagenarian Lewis took place on a trip to Kos. On reading a story in the local paper about a police investigation into rumours that “women on the small island of Anirini were disposing of unwanted husbands by throwing them down dry wells”, he merrily set off on a boat with three sponge fishermen and a prostitute they had picked up on the Piraeus waterfront (“they spent the crossing sleeping, eating and making love – the last on a strict rota”) in search of this barren island populated by homicidal widows. Before long Lewis, then aged 92, had hopped ashore, rented a room from one of the chief suspects, and was soon cheerfully peering down well-heads in search of rotting cadavers. Continue reading

Meine Suche nach Patrick Leigh Fermor

This title from a book by the German author Michael Obert hits the spot for me. Like Michael I am also engaged in a ‘search’ for Paddy and I know from your comments and emails that many of you are finding your own ways to follow in Paddy’s footsteps and to understand and enjoy his works.

Following the publication of the Wolfgang Büscher video just a few days ago, I was contacted by Christian from Koln (Cologne) saying how pleased he was to see the video and at the same time sending me a couple of other articles from German newspapers and magazines. Christian made the point that in recent years there have been many features and articles published in Germany about Paddy, including Michael Obert’s book which provides the title to this article. Chatwins Guru und ich: Meine Suche nach Patrick Leigh Fermor by Michael Obert is available from Amazon.

I have pdfs of two more articles and those of you who followed the blog in its early days may remember that I have previously featured a further article by Wieland Freund. Therefore, perhaps for the first time in one place, a collection of German (and Swiss) material about Paddy.

Der letzte Byzantiner by Wolfgang Büscher, first published in Die Zeit 24 May 2006

Wolfgang Büscher discussing A Time of Gifts video

Mit der Feder im Rucksack durch die Welt by Georg Sütterlin, first published in Der Bund 30 Aug 2005

Besuch beim Haudegen des Peloponnes by Wieland Freund first published in Welt Online 8 July 2007

A review of Mani from Time written in 1960

“When God had finished making the world,” say the natives of Mani, “he had a sack of stones left over and he emptied it here.” Petroprolific Mani is the middle tine of a twisted three-pronged peninsular fork that jabs into the Mediterranean from Greece’s Peloponnesus. About as remote from the 20th century as the people of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Maniots dwell in a kind of telescopic time capsule that includes Homer but little more than a hint of the Industrial Revolution. Few Maniots read or write. They have no radios, movies or telephones, and the family vehicle is the donkey. Matching the man of Aran in his barebones existence, the Maniot is scorched black by the fierce summer sun and lashed in win ter by the tramontana, a fearsome wind that tosses marble slabs about like pebbles.

First published in Time magazine, July 18 1960

From the Tower. Other Greeks shudder when they mention the Mani, and few ever go there. In his mad-dog-and-English-man way, Britain’s Patrick Leigh Fermor not only went but also brought back a fascinating traveler’s account of this bypassed pocket of civilization. Author Fermor, a passionate philhellene, has roamed Greece for 20 years, including a stint as a British commando, and his book is steeped in myth and history, which sometimes slacken the pace but rarely dim the interest of his chronicle.

Maniot girls are shy, grave and graceful, with large, luminous black eyes that reminded Fermor of the Madonnas in Byzantine icons. The men shave once a week, and some of them sport the black, eight-inch handlebar mustaches of their piratical forebears. Descendants of the

Spartans, the Maniots are famed for their blood feuds. From the iyth century on, they built tower dwellings resembling the Italian campanile, and the status symbol of the day was to have the highest tower. It was also a key vantage point from which to rain down rocks on an enemy neighbor’s marble roof. As soon as one member of a family was killed, clan warfare was declared, with the towers as citadels. When gunpowder was introduced, cannon fired away at point-blank range across the narrow streets, and not a move could be made by day without a fusillade of gunshots. Food and ammunition were smuggled into the towers by night, and since the feuds sometimes went on for years, each newborn boy was hailed as “another gun for the family.” Meanwhile, entire families of innocent bystanders resignedly moved out of town.

The Moles of Fate. The legendary patriot leaders of Greece’s struggle for independence from Turkey—Theodoros Kolokotronis and Petrobey Mavromi-chalis—campaigned from the Mani. Indeed, Mavromichalis was a Maniot who, in countless forays against the Turks, lost 49 relatives. He nailed the heads of Turks whom he killed around his own tower until it was studded with skulls. In the light of their rebel heritage, the Maniots of today are remarkably royalist. In private homes, Fermor found pictures of Greece’s King Paul and Queen Frederika right next to those of George VI and Elizabeth II. In one Maniot home, such pictures were flanked by a 1926 fashion advertisement of the “Be Smart Tailors of Madison Avenue.”

This probably seems like the height of modernity to a people who like to point out the island where Paris took Helen the first night after he stole her from Menelaus, and who still retain the purest links of Greece’s pagan past. Old Maniots are convinced that Nereids haunt the local fountains, and mothers believe that the three Fates hover over an infant’s cradle to write invisible destinies on the child’s brow (moles are known as “writings of the Fates”). Seafarers claim that Gorgons grip their caiques in a storm and ask in ringing tones, “Where is Alexander the Great?” If the captain shouts, “Alexander the Great lives and reigns!”, the sea turns calm. Otherwise, the Gorgon tilts the boat toward sea bottom, and all hands drown.

Couplets for Hector. Mani’s most cherished art form is the miroloy, the dirge with which keening womenfolk usher the Maniot out of a harsh world that neither man nor God seemingly made. More a lament for a hero being taken to the underworld than for a Christian going to his reward—even as she makes the sign of the cross, the grieving widow will say, “Charon took him”—the miroloy mirrors in its 16-syllable line the lament of Andromache over the body of Hector. At graveside, the chief mourner’s voice becomes a howl of hysteria (“Oh, my warrior! The arch and pillar of our house!”), her hair tumbles in disorder, and she tears at her cheeks with her fingernails till they are crisscrossed with red gashes and running with tears and blood. In the mesmeric half-trance of the dirge, the singer has been known to drift far out and lament high taxes, the price of salt, the need for roads, and the Bulgarian frontier—all in faultless couplets. Sans couplets, but with 20/20 sight and insight, Author Fermor has fashioned a durable portrait of the enduring people who inhabit the mythical rock garden of the gods.

Tracing a writer’s journey through Greece

There are many authors of articles that stake a claim to follow in Paddy’s footsteps (I have even written my own!), but I never tire of the new perspectives that people bring to these places, some of which I doubt I will ever have the time to visit. They also are standard bearers for Pay’s work, bringing his wonderful work to the attention of a new generation who may be inspired by the man who is The Greatest Living Englishman.

First published in The Boston Globe, October 17, 2010

By Heidi Fuller-love

Areopoli (above) is a tiny town in Greece that helped inspire author Patrick Leigh Fermor to write “Mani.’’

KARDAMYLI, Greece — Named for Phrygia’s mythical king, Pelops, who is said to have conquered this savage region before his father had him chopped to pieces and fed to the gods, the Peloponnese region stretches a fat hand out from the bottom of Greece and points bony stone digits toward the Cyclades, Turkey, and Crete. “When God had finished making the world he had a sack of stones left over and he emptied it here,’’ the Maniots are fond of saying.

Passionate philhellene Patrick Leigh Fermor, the Irish adventurer-turned-travel-writer played by Dirk Bogarde in the classic war opus “Ill Met by Moonlight’’ (later called “Night Ambush’’) visited the middle “finger’’ in the 1950s . Impressed, he wrote “Mani,’’ his fascinating account of a journey by foot, mule, and “caïque,’’ or wooden boat, to the heart of this arid peninsula cut off from the world by the Taygetus mountains and dotted with stark stone towers inhabited by fiercely feuding locals.

Hiring a car at Kalamata to follow in his footsteps, I arrive 60 years later, via lush countryside spiked with cypress spears, at Kardamyli, where Fermor settled with his wife, Joan, after his Mani adventure. Fermor, now in his 90s, still lives in the pretty village that was once a major Spartan port.

Giorgos Giannakeas, the son of Lela, Fermor’s former housekeeper, runs a seaside taverna. He tells me that the sprightly writer is often seen striding down the main street lined with driftwood-decorated cafes. “Our village attracts hikers who come to climb the peaks of Taygetus mountain range, but our main visitors are British people who come seeking the great man,’’ he says, doling out a fragrant ladle of Lela’s moussaka .

Half an hour’s drive from Kardamyli, the tiny harbor of Gytheion, once the main seaport of ancient Sparta, bears little trace of its former glory. Worn marble steps climb to a warren of alleys where cats prowl hungrily and storekeepers sell feta cheese from grime-rimmed buckets.

Unable to feed their families, countless Maniots traveled from here to find work in the New World at the turn of the 20th century. “Our fathers had no choice. It was that or die of hunger,’’ says Zafeirakos Zafeiris, who owns a hotel overlooking the Laconian Gulf.

On leaving the port, they would have passed the Kranae peninsula where Paris and Helen shared that epic night of love whose belated climax was the Trojan war. As the sun descends over this weed-blown strip of land, fishermen beat squid like laundry and ink spurts out, staining the rocks.

Gateway to the Mani, Gytheion signals a dramatic change in scenery. Climbing steeply into the fierce sun, my rental car groans and spews clouds of cheap Greek diesel. At a gas station where I stop to fill the tank, pump attendant Adonis Grigorakakis, who, like many Maniots, grew up in the United States, tells me. “The thing you have to understand is it’s all mountains here, see? The only way you could get to one of the villages here was with a boat. And it was like that right up till, say, 20, 30 years ago.’’

I climb higher until the sea looks like shards of a broken mirror and I’m surrounded by scree-strewn slopes spiked with purple-flowered thyme where scrawny sheep, their udders ripe with the raw substance of the pungent local Sfela cheese, jingle fist-sized bells. It is the bleak scenery described so lovingly in Fermor’s book.

Just outside Areopoli — named for Greek war god Ares, I spot my first “pyrgospita.’’ Tall and square, these eyeless towers were once strongholds for a vendetta-loving local aristocracy. “Feuds lasted for centuries and were ended either by the destruction of a whole family in battle, or by the surrender of an entire clan who were then required to kiss the hands of the victors who had lost ‘guns’ (male children) in the battle,’’ a leaflet at the village’s eclectic war museum explains.

When Fermor arrived in Areopoli 60 years ago sporting rucksack, shorts, and a charmer’s grin, he met people who had never seen anyone from outside the Mani before. Nowadays, this atmospheric jumble of towers and tavernas woven together by skeins of bougainvillea attracts a multinational rag-bag of visitors who stop for “meze,’’ or snacks, before visiting the Diros grotto, a subterranean wonder world of salmon stalagmites sheltered in a booming sea cave beneath the village.

Vathia, farther along the coast, has changed too. The lively village where Fermor was teased by a shepherd girl is a ghost town where one or two renovated pyrgospita glitter, amid a brooding huddle of ruined towers. I peek into one of them. Cramped as a windmill, dank as a cave, it’s easy to imagine the misery of those feuding families who, as The Earl of Carnarvon reported in 1839 : “. . . have been born and married, have lived for 20 or 30 years, and in some cases . . . have even spent their whole lives within the enclosure of these gloomy walls.’’

High above a deeply indented coastline littered with shrines erected in the memory of those who lost control of their vehicles on these perilous roads, I reach the mule track leading to the remains of the Temple of Poseidon where sailors, about to round the dangerous Cape Matapan, once prayed for a safe passage. One of the mythical entrances to the Underworld, this is where Fermor ended his trip.

As a wind shrieks across the Taygetus’s scrub-covered shoulder blades, I contemplate the darkening stretch of sea where Fermor came in a caïque more than half a century ago. I imagine him jumping overboard and swimming into the tiny cave in pitchy blackness, hands feeling the splintered walls, seeking the crack that led down to Hades, and I suddenly feel very cold.

In the gathering gloom I drive back to Areopoli along a road lighted only by the flickering candles of accident-victim’s shrines. Entering a taverna I order Fermor’s favorite tipple as a pick-me-up.

Raising my tumbler of Retsina I drink a silent toast to the man who braved the capture of German General Kreipe during WWII, but was perhaps braver still in choosing to settle in this stunning, yet still savage region, whose history is one of constant strife.

Heidi Fuller-love can be reached at heidi.fullerlove@gmail.com.

Don’t forget your pith helmet by Mary Beard

An interesting, if somewhat lengthy, review of Mani and Roumeli by Mary Beard in the London Review of Books from 2005. She contrasts the advice and style of Victorian travel books and guides with the modern. Mary Beard is also a noted classicist and her views are always worth a read.

First published in the London Review of Books 18 August 2005.

‘In the language and manners of every Greek sailor and peasant the classical scholar will constantly recognise phrases and customs familiar to him in the literature of Ancient Hellas.’ So the anxious tourist was reassured in the preface to the 1854 edition of Murray’s Handbook for Travellers in Greece. The message was simple: on a Greek boat you will find yourself back with Odysseus (‘the nautical contrivances and tactics of the ancients may be observed in daily use … the Greek seas are still as fickle as ever’); in a country cottage you will find yourself entertained by someone who could pass for Homer’s swineherd Eumaeus. ‘Even the ferocious attacks of vermin, which soon find out an Englishman, are exactly described in the graphic accounts given by Aristophanes of similar sufferings in Greek houses of old.’

Recapturing this world of antiquity was not, of course, without its hazards and difficulties, and the Handbook tried to demonstrate its own indispensability with some very lurid warnings about what could happen to the traveller who ventured to Greece unprepared. Health, indeed survival, was top of the agenda. ‘The abundance of fruit is a temptation to foreigners,’ it warned, ‘but nothing is more pernicious, or more likely to lead to fatal consequences.’ Protection against the Aristophanic vermin could be achieved only by means of a cheap but enormously complicated mosquito net whose daily assembling must have defeated all but the most obsessive and dexterous: ‘I have found that the best mode of entering it is to keep the opening in the middle of the mattress, and, standing in it, draw the bag entrance over my head.’ The problems of travel came a close second. Was it worth taking an English saddle? On balance yes, since they were so much more comfortable, but they did tend to injure the backs of the animals, given ‘the wretched condition’ of Greek horses. English servants, on the other hand, were better left at home, or if not at home, then in Corfu: ‘They are usually but little disposed to adapt themselves to strange customs, have no facility in acquiring foreign languages, and’ – revealing the characteristic blindness of the elite to the habitual discomforts of the working class – ‘are more annoyed by hardships and rough living than their masters.’ It was far more ‘agreeable and advantageous’ to hire a local, so long as no antiquarian knowledge was expected, let alone trusted if offered. For that, (hand)books were the thing. Continue reading

Mani: A Guide and History

As I was killing time doing some web searches for Paddy related material, I stumbled across this website which the creator John Chapman claims as a comprehensive guide to the history, geography and sites of the Mani. It is linked to a German language Mani travel site .

Having had a quick scoot around it certainly looks very comprehensive so if you are planning on a visit to the Mani you may wish to use it. The navigation is a bit clumsy, but the content looks very comprehensive indeed.

I found an apartment on the accompanying site where my family stayed on two occasions in the 1990’s near the quiet fishing village of Agios Dimitrios. Right by the sea with wonderful sunsets it is a great place for a holiday enabling you to visit the wider Peloponnese as well. Little did I know at the time that a lovely beach we found near Kardamili, that was overlooked by an inviting looking stone house was none other than the beach where Paddy swims and that the house was his.

Visit —> Mani: A Guide and History by John Chapman

Reisen nach Arkadien

Apart from the obvious interest in Paddy from Britain, and some from North America, it is the Germans who seem to have taken Paddy’s work to heart. Maybe it is due to the fact that a major part of Paddy’s 1934 journey was through Germany? This combined with his part in the kidnap of General Kreipe in Crete seems to hold their interest in him. Here is a recent piece about Mani from the Hamburger Abenblatt

Der britische Autor Patrick Leigh Fermor ist ein begnadeter Reiseschriftsteller, der wie kein zweiter die Eindrücke seiner Reisen nach Griechenland unmittelbar und atmosphärisch beschrieben hat. Längere Zeit verbrachte er als britischer Agent auf Kreta während des Zweiten Weltkriegs. Anfang der 50er Jahre kam Fermor auf die Halbinsel Mani auf der Peleponnes. Damals eine einsame Landschaft ohne Touristen, in der das mythische Griechenland und orientalische Byzanz lebendig scheinen.

Beim Dörlemann Verlag sind bereits zwei Bände mit seinen berühmten Wanderungen erschienen. Neu ist nun sein Buch “Mani – Reisen auf der südlichen Peleponnes”. Nie habe ich eine so wild-schöne Geschichte des Johannes-Festes gelesen wie hier:

“Die freudige Festtagsstimmung und die wahnwitzige Temperatur ließen die Luft vibrieren. Die Steinplatten am Wasser, wo ich mich mit Joan und Xan Fielding zum Essen niederließ, strahlten die Hitze ab wie ein Bratentopf, wenn man den Deckel abnimmt. Einer plötzlichen, stillschweigenden Eingebung folgend, wateten wir voll bekleidet ins Meer hinaus und trugen den eisernen Tisch ein paar Schritt weit ins Wasser, dann holten wir drei Stühle, auf denen wir, bis zur Taille im kühlen Naß, um den hübsch gedeckten Tisch Platz nahmen, der jetzt, wie von Zauberhand getragen, eine Handbreit über den Fluten zu schweben schien. Als der Kellner einen Augenblick später auftauchte, starrte er verblüfft auf den leeren Fleck am Kai; als er uns dann entdeckte, kam er, das amüsierte Aufflackern seiner Miene sofort wieder unter Kontrolle, ohne Zögern ins Wasser, näherte sich, selbst bis zur Taille eingetaucht, würdevoll wie ein Butler und verkündete nur lakonisch: ‘Dinnertime’.”

Fermor ist ganz der griechischen Welt verfallen und findet, die griechische Sprache inzwischen meisterlich beherrschend, Zugang zu den Menschen. In seinen Büchern verbindet er gekonnt persönliche Eindrücke und Ausflüge mit den geschichtlichen Zeugnissen, die diese bedeutsame Landschaft in Überfülle bereit hält.

Patrick Leigh Fermor Mani. Reisen auf der südlichen Peloponnes. Deutsch von Manfred und Gabriele Allié. Dörlemann Verlag. 24,90 Euro

In “Aufgeblättert” stellen im Wechsel Rainer Moritz, Annemarie Stoltenberg (NDR) und Wilfried Weber (Buchhandlung Felix Jud) Bücher vor.

(for a faintly humorous translation from Google translate copy and past the above into here )