Tag Archives: Mani

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 )

Meeting Patrick Leigh Fermor in the Mani

Recently we have been musing in some posts about following Paddy’s route. For many of his fans this is perhaps a dream, but nevertheless, something many would like to make real. Topping that of course is meeting Paddy himself. In this piece, New Zealand author Maggie Rainey-Smith unexpectedly meets Paddy on a trip to Kardamyli on Greece’s Mani Peninsula, where Paddy has lived since the 1960’s. Some of you may have read it but I think it is such a nice article that it is worth re-visiting.

First published in the New Zealand Herald 15 June 2008

 
The village of Kardamyli is on the west coast of the Mani Peninsula, one of the more traditional and conservative areas of Greece.Recently, I spent two months in Greece chasing the muse, searching for clues, looking for inspiration.

The Mani Peninsula region is famous for the Maniots and their resistance of the Ottoman occupation. It is isolated by the Taygetus mountain range and enclosed by the Aegean and Ionian seas.

The Ottomans failed to infiltrate, but I have to advise that the English have. As I shopped for my Twinings tea and sat outside a cafe in the village of Kardamyli, using the free internet, I lamented the globalisation of this once-remote peninsula.

I wished, for just a moment, that I was back in time when to be a strange woman alone in this small village may have attracted disapproving stares.

In the local bookshop was the very book I’d been looking for: Mani – Travels in the Southern Peloponnese, by Patrick Leigh Fermor. On my terrace overlooking the sea, I opened the book and found myself mesmerised by the most exquisite, evocative travel writing I have ever read. Not only that, I discovered that Fermor is a resident of Kardamyli.

The owner of the bookshop was unimpressed when I asked where Sir Patrick lived, and his lips remained sealed, his expression disapproving. Fermor is almost a saint in Greece.

He was a resistance fighter in Crete during World War II; his exploits were the subject of a film starring Dirk Bogarde (my father was in Crete, but a more modest hero at Maleme, the point where the island was finally lost to the Germans).

At the local cafe, where I made use of the technology, the owner (who looks like a Maniot right out of Fermor’s book, with her blanket of black ringlets and beautiful olive eyes), told me Paddy (as the locals call him) would celebrate his Name Day that very week and that he always opens his home to the locals on that day.

By then, and after one week’s residence, I considered myself a local, and everyone agreed with me.

So with joyous disbelief at my good fortune, on Thursday, November 8, I joined the local villagers at Sir Patrick’s Name Day celebration at his majestic and yet still homely yellow stone house overlooking the Messinian Gulf.

By 10.30am the service in his private chapel was over and we were seated in his lounge – books lining the walls from floor to ceiling: Nancy Mitford, Henry James, James Joyce – eating olives, meatballs, feta and drinking local wine.

On a person’s Name Day you are required to take a gift, and all I had with me was a copy of my first novel About Turns, which I gave to Paddy. He signed my copy of his own book with a personal inscription and a small drawing. We talked about Crete and my dad and his book on the Mani. I gushed, he charmed.

Then the singing began and Paddy was surrounded by adoring local women who toasted him with traditional Name Day songs.

At the end of the singing, Paddy stood and pretended to fire a pistol into the air (an old tradition where real pistols were once used). He is of English and Irish descent. Although his name is Patrick, his Greek Name Day is the day of Michali. Michael is the name he assumed while fighting for the Greek resistance.

With me was an American Orthodox nun who worked in Moscow and a Danish man of the cloth who was studying Byzantine churches. We were Paddy’s “non-local” guests and pinched ourselves to check we weren’t imagining our good fortune.

When it was time to leave, another Michael (Michali), a neighbour of Paddy’s, invited us to his home. We walked through an olive grove up the hill along the coast to another beautiful stone home.

Our new host sold Paddy the land and helped him build his house in 1964. We were feted with fresh coffee and cakes and listened to Michali’s son, who told us that when he decided to leave Kardamyli some years ago to travel, Paddy told him: “You can’t leave.”

And when he returned years later, Paddy told him: “You know we are very fortunate, we live in Kardamyli. We are fortunate – we have the mountains. We are fortunate – we have good food. We are fortunate – we have clean air to breathe. We are fortunate – we have the beautiful sea to swim in.”

“Yes, Paddy, the mountains, the food, the air and the sea,” said the young man, nodding in agreement.

And then Paddy said to him: “And for all these reasons and more, we may just forget to die.”

Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor is 92 years old, he was wearing a double-breasted navy suit when I met him, had a full head of wavy grey-black hair and was still a handsome, charming man with just a slight deafness in one ear.

He spoke with a classical English accent which rather surprised me, considering the years he has spent in Greece.

He is still writing. If you’ve never heard of him, or never read his books, now is the time to start.

By Maggie Rainey-Smith

Publication of Mani from Kathimerini

Selection: Michalis Katsigeras

First published in Kathimerini October 17, 1958

PATRICK LEIGH FERMOR: The latest book by the distinguished British writer and philhellene Patrick Leigh Fermor, titled “Mani,” is to be released in London on December 1. The book describes the region of Mani, its history and customs with the sympathy and wit that generally characterizes all his writing on Greek issues. Leigh Fermor came to Greece for the first time 1935. He has none of the reserve that is usually a characteristic of the British people [Ed –  Huh!!!] and fell in love with Greece at first sight. He learned to speak Greek very quickly and the next year, in 1936, translated Rodokanakis’s “Odysseus” into English. In the years before the war, he travelled a great deal. During the German occupation of Greece, he was sent to Crete where he played a leading role in the abduction of the German General Kreipe. He now lives in Crete, among his Cretan friends.[Ed – not quite true – Paddy was nomadic at this time eventually settling near Kardamyli in the mani] (Ed. Note: “Mani” was translated into Greek by Tzannis Tzannetakis in 1973 when he was in internal exile during the military dictatorship.) POPE PIUS XII: Vatican City – Vatican City’s radio station issued an official announcement today that Pope Pius XII has passed away. His death came at about 3.50 a.m. local time. Italian President Giovanni Gronchi and Prime Minister Amintore Fanfani ordered a period of national mourning.

A chronicler of a bygone age a rememberer of things past

An interesting background piece from Kathimerini which mentioned that Vol 3 was due in 2007! This is the first time I have come across a possible publication date. Obviously missed now, and who knows if that is due to editorial problems, being incomplete or perhaps this too will be delayed like his biography until after his death?

Patrick Leigh Fermor keeps alive in shimmering prose the spirit of the Greece he reveres

by Willard Manus, a freelance journalist who lives in the US and spends time in Greece

First published in Kathimerini 20 July 2006.

Reading Patrick Leigh Fermor today is both an exhilarating and depressing experience. Exhilarating because of the depth and brilliance of his prose, depressing because the Greece he portrays so memorably has been hammered to dust by the march of time.

Fermor, who was knighted in 2003, is best known in Greece and in his native Britain, where he was born 92 years ago. «The Traveller’s Tree,» published in 1950, dealt with the journey he made around the Caribbean islands in 1947-48. It won the Heinemann Foundation Prize for Literature, and established him as a writer of note.

His next two books were «A Time to Keep Silence» (1952), which described his stay in various European monasteries, and «The Violins of Saint-Jacque» (1956), a novel. A decade later, he published two books on Greece, «Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese» and «Roumeli: Travels in Northern Greece,» which quickly earned him a reputation as the pre-eminent non-native writer on 20th century Greece.

Fermor’s attachment to Greece goes deep. His first experience of the country dated back to 1933, when, as a rebellious and untamed 19-year-old, he dropped out of Sandhurst and set out on a walking tour of Europe whose eventual destination was Constantinople. Envisioning himself as «a medieval pilgrim, an affable tramp with a knapsack and hobnailed boots,» he embarked, in midwinter, on a journey that eventually spanned three years and took him through the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania and, eventually, Greece.

Remarkably, Fermor did not write about his picaresque adventures in pre-war Europe until many years later. «So when ‘A Time of Gifts’ appeared in 1977 and ‘Beneath the Winds and the Water’ in 1986, the life of the mid-30s that he described had been utterly destroyed,» his biographer Artemis Cooper has noted, «and much of the land he had walked over was in the grip of communism for years. Yet his memory recreated this world with an astonishing freshness and immediacy, and recaptured the young man he was then: full of curiosity, optimism and joy in the vibrant diversity of the world.»

The concluding volume of Fermor’s trilogy is scheduled for publication (by John Murray Ltd) in early 2007. Continue reading

Profile of Patrick Leigh Fermor by Max Hastings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walking towards Byzantium

A Review of Artemis Cooper’s “Words of Mercury” by William Dalrymple published in the Guardian.

First published in the Guardian 13 December 2003

William Dalrymple relishes Words of Mercury, a selection from the work of Patrick Leigh Fermor, Britain’s greatest living travel writer.

Skill with the sword usually precludes much competence with the pen. For all that Sir Philip Sidney could write sequences of Petrarchan sonnets as well as lead buccaneering raids on the Spanish Netherlands, or Siegfried Sassoon write his anti-war memoirs while also winning the Military Cross, bookishness and military machismo are rarely found roosting together (after all, it’s no secret, as the old joke goes, that military intelligence is a contradiction in terms).

The great exception to this rule in our own time is Patrick Leigh Fermor. For though he is one of our finest prose stylists and – since the death this summer of his only possible rival, Norman Lewis – without question our greatest living travel writer, he was also responsible for one of the most audacious special operations coups of the second world war.

Leigh Fermor’s own account of the abduction of General Kreipe, the German commander of the Nazi occupation forces in Crete, is published for the first time in Artemis Cooper’s wonderful new anthology of Leigh Fermor’s work, Words of Mercury. The story is a famous one, and in the film version, entitled Ill Met by Moonlight, Paddy was played by the dashing Dirk Bogarde. But in Leigh Fermor’s own account, the climax comes not as the general’s staff car is stopped at night by a British SOE party dressed in stolen German uniforms, nor as the Cretan partisans help smuggle the general into the Cretan highlands and thence to a waiting British submarine; but instead as “a brilliant dawn was breaking over the crest of Mount Ida”: “We were all three lying smoking in silence, when the General, half to himself, slowly said: ‘ Vides ut alta stet nive candidum Socrate’. It was the opening lines of one of the few Horace odes I knew by heart. I went on reciting where he had broken off … The General’s blue eyes swivelled away from the mountain-top to mine – and when I’d finished, after a long silence, he said: ‘Ach so, Herr Major!’ It was very strange. ‘Ja, Herr General.’ As though for a moment, the war had ceased to exist. We had both drunk at the same fountains long before; and things were different between us for the rest of our time together.”

It is an archetypal Leigh Fermor anecdote: beautifully written, fabulously romantic and just a little showy. For Leigh Fermor’s greatest virtues as a writer are also his greatest vices: his incantational love of great waterfalls of words, combined with the wild, scholarly enthusiasms of a brilliant autodidact. On the rare occasions he gets it wrong, Paddy has been responsible for some of the most highly coloured purple passages in travel literature. But at his best he is sublime, unbeatable.

For as well as being a war hero, one of the world’s great long-distance walkers, and as tough a traveller as you could find, Leigh Fermor has always been a writer of great intelligence, sensitivity and profundity. Here he is, for example, describing a French Cistercian monastery, where he says he discovered “the capacity for solitude and the recollectedness and clarity of spirit that accompany the silent monastic life. For in the seclusion of a cell – an existence whose quietness is only varied by the silent meals, the solemnity of ritual and long solitary walks in the woods – the troubled waters of the mind grow still and clear, and much that is hidden away and all that clouds it floats to the surface and can be skimmed away; and after a time one reaches a state of peace that is unthought of in the ordinary world.”

Words of Mercury is a cornucopia, full of the rarest gems, but it is also a rather odd book: part collected journalism, part greatest hits anthology, with a few other surprising odds and ends thrown in, such as a memoir about the eccentric Scottish genealogist Sir Ian Moncrieffe of that Ilk. This tells of Moncrieffe’s huge pleasure in discovering that he was directly descended from “The Blood Countess, Elizabeth Bathory, Monster of Csejthe [who] was convicted in 1610 of the slow murder – in order that their blood might magically preserve her beauty – of more than six hundred girls.” In a similar mood, there is also a letter from Paddy to the editor’s grandmother, Lady Diana Cooper, and a footnote directing the reader towards the “strongly recommended” work of the military historian Antony Beevor, who just happens to be the editor’s husband (though in fairness, it appears that this warm endorsement comes from Leigh Fermor rather than Cooper).
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Philhellene’s progress: The writing of Patrick Leigh Fermor

As you know I trawl the net for Paddy related material to create the best online source of information about PLF and his friends and associates. Some of you may have come across this essay that attempts to analyse Paddy’s style and his literary achievement. In my view it is just one of many that emphasise how great the man is and how unequalled is his prose.

First published in New Criterion, Jan, 2001 by Ben Downing

I have carried the soldier’s musket, the traveler’s stick, the pilgrim’s staff. –Chateaubriand (what a great quote for Paddy!)

The captive must have been exhausted and afraid, but when, on the fourth day of his grueling forced march across Crete, he saw dawn break behind Mount Ida, the sight was so beautiful that it brought to his lips the opening of Horace’s Ode I.ix: “Vides ut alta stet nive candidum/ Soracte,”(1) he murmured. Then, just as he trailed off, one of his captors came in to take the poem over, reciting the rest of its six stanzas. At this, the captive’s startled eyes slanted down from the peak to meet those of his enemy, and, after a long thoughtful silence, he pronounced, “Ach so, Herr Major.” For the captive was a German soldier–the commander of the island’s garrison, no less. General Karl Kreipe (to give him his name) had been abducted on April 26, 1944 by a band of Greek guerrillas led by two English commandos. Over the next three weeks, the kidnappers picked their way across Crete, eluding the thousands of Nazi troops who hunted them, until eventually they were met by a British boat and whisked to Cairo, where Kreipe was handed over and the two commandos promptly awarded the D.S.O. One of these men was W. Stanley Moss, who in 1950 published a riveting account of the escapade, Ill-Met by Moonlight, later filmed by Michael Powell. The other was a certain Patrick Leigh Fermor. Disguised as a shepherd and (like Zeus in his Cretan boyhood) living largely in caves, he had spent much of the previous two years on the island organizing the resistance. Leigh Fermor it was who finished the quotation.

But where had he, who’d never completed high school, learned Horace so well? Had Kreipe asked him this, Leigh Fermor could have answered, savoring the irony, that he’d committed the odes to memory during his teenage Wanderjahr a decade earlier, when, just after Hitler’s rise to power, he’d walked clear across Germany (among other countries) with a volume of Horace for his vade mecum, often reciting the poems to himself as he tramped. About that experience he’d not yet written a public word, and would not do so for many more years. Similarly he held off recounting his aubade with Kreipe. At last, however, in the 1970s, he broached the subjects of his continental traverse and, in an aside to that account, of his fleeting bond with Kreipe. Some things are best waited for: the book in which Leigh Fermor set these matters down, A Time of Gifts (1977), along with its sequel, Between the Woods and the Water (1986), represent not only the capstone of his career but, in my opinion, the finest travel books in the language and a pinnacle of modern English prose, resplendent as Soracte or Ida in deep snow.

The deplorable fact that most Americans, even well-read ones, have never even heard, as I also had not until recently, of a figure who in Britain (to say nothing of Greece, where he lives to this day) is revered and beloved as war hero, author, and bon vivant; who is, in Jan Morris’s words, “beyond cavil the greatest of living travel writers”; and who, in those of the historian John Julius Norwich, “writes English as well as anyone alive”–all this spurs me to correct our oversight of the sublime, the peerless Patrick Leigh Fermor.

His turbulent early life is recounted in the introduction to A Time of Gifts. Shortly after his birth in 1915, his mother and sister went to join his father in India, while he was left behind “so that one of us might survive if the ship were sunk by a submarine.” For four years he was billeted with a Northamptonshire farming family, an experience that proved “the opposite of the ordeal Kipling describes in Baa Baa Black Sheep.” A halcyon period, this, but the taste for boisterous freedom he acquired in the fields made for trouble later on: “Those marvelously lawless years, it seems, had unfitted me for the faintest shadow of constraint.” Especially intolerable to him were academic strictures of any kind, and there ensued a long series of dust-ups and expulsions, hilariously related. At ten he was sent to “a school for difficult children,” among which misfits he lists

the millionaire’s nephew who chased motorcars along country lanes with a stick, the admiral’s pretty and slightly kleptomaniac daughter, the pursuivant’s son with nightmares and an infectious inherited passion for heraldry, the backward, the somnambulists … and, finally, the small bad hats like me who were merely very naughty. Continue reading

Writer and WWII hero honoured with Order of the Phoenix

Report of the presentation of the Greek Order of the Phoenix to Paddy

First published Ekathimerini online 3 March 2007

By Helbi

Patrick Leigh Fermor (right) with Colonel Mark Blatherwick, the British defense attache in Athens

The week that passed brought both joy and sorrow to those close to two British heroes who fought for Greece during World War II and whose love for the country never dimmed. The writer Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor, author of famous books such as “Mani” and “Roumeli,” “A Time of Gifts” and “Between Woods and Water,” even settled in Greece, near the Mani village of Kardamyli. This week President Karolos Papoulias bestowed upon him the Order of the Phoenix in the New Year honors for 2007. Ambassador Tassos Kriekoukis, director of protocol for the Foreign Ministry, spoke of “Sir Patrick’s love of writing and traveling but also for Greece, for whose freedom he fought at the side of Greek and British commandos. Who can forget his part in the kidnapping (in wartime Crete) of (German) General Kreipe?” Colonel Mark Blatherwick, the British Defense Attache in Athens, accompanied Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor to the event.

Literary legend learning to type at 92

An old interview for our archive. First published in The Guardian Friday 2 March 2007 18.12 GMT

By Helena Smith in Athens

Patrick Leigh Fermor in 2005 - Photograph: Eamonn McCabe

In a rare public appearance, the revered travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor has revealed that he is only now – aged 92 – learning to type, in order to finish the trilogy that has been at the centre of his writing life for more than 30 years.

Leigh Fermor usually avoids the spotlight these days, to concentrate on his work, but this week made an exception as Greece, his adopted home, awarded him its highest honour, Commander of the Order of the Phoenix

Leigh Fermor, widely acknowledged as Britain’s greatest living travel writer, was unexpectedly told of the award in a letter from the office of Greece’s president last month. “I have no idea why they are doing this but I am deeply honoured and moved,” he told the Guardian after receiving the medal at a lavish ceremony in Athens.

“I think they’ve enjoyed reading my books and heard I was an eager participant, who got in the thick of things during the war,” said the author, who is also known for pulling off one of the greatest coups in Nazi-occupied Europe, orchestrating the capture of General Kreipe, the military commander on Crete – a feat immortalised by the book and film Ill Met by Moonlight.

Friends say Leigh Fermor, who has chronicled Greece for more than 60 years, is these days acutely aware of the passage of time and put aside precious writing time to make the trip from his home in the Mani on the southern Peloponnese. When he was handed the prestigious Travel Writers’ Guild award in 2004, he dispatched his biographer Artemis Cooper to pick up the gong.

Since the second half of the 80s, he has being toiling to complete the third volume of a trilogy depicting his extraordinary journey on foot from Rotterdam to Istanbul at the age of 18.

His painstaking perfectionism means his output has not been prolific. He wrote the first volume of the trilogy, A Time of Gifts – widely considered his greatest work – nearly four decades after the odyssey in 1977. The second, Between the Woods and the Water, was released in 1986. Ever since, fans have been desperate to read the third.

Like many of his generation, the acclaimed soldier-scholar has always written in longhand – delivering his masterpieces to his publisher in great flourishes of scrawl. It’s a process that has been widely blamed for the long gestation periods.

But help is at hand. Paddy, as he is known to his friends, has finally decided that with his handwriting degenerating into unreadability, it is time to type. This year he invested in a 1951 Olivetti (“I wouldn’t get a computer,”) and is currently working his way around the machine’s keyboard, according to friends.

“I’m going to finish that book,” he said. “I’m going home and I’m going to work really hard.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Paddy” came first in 1952 by Mani 

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

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

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

Patrick Leigh Fermor in Berlin

The knocking does not answer 

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

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

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

Leigh Fermor is tattooed like a sailor 

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

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

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

The family left behind her son with strangers 

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

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

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

1933 – the first trip to Istanbul 

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

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

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

On the trip report, the fans are waiting until today 

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

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

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

Where Chatwin’s old typewriter? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In 1944, he kidnapped a German general 

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

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

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

About the death, he never speaks 

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

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

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

The stones for the house came with the donkey 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original article here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more here!

I say, old chap, that’s my favourite Horatian ode too! By Justin Cartwright

A review of Words of Mercury by Patrick Leigh Fermor, ed Artemis Cooper first published in the Independent

Sunday, 2 November 2003

The overwhelming impression this book left on me was of a lost world of aesthetic public schoolboys, powerful newspaper editors, friendly ambassadors, and an unspoken understanding of what it meant to be upper- middle-class and English. What it meant was easy access to embassies and aristocratic houses around Europe, bicycle polo in Hungary, and the possibility that the next shepherd you met would be an Etonian Special Operations officer, speaking classical Greek. Here you will find the term “middle class” applied in a pejorative sense, rather than in the current usage which has such a wide catchment. That John Murray, the publishers of this book and upper-middle-class publishers par excellence, are no longer family-owned, perhaps confirms that this world has passed. And with it a love of language and literary decoration.

To quote Jan Morris, Paddy Leigh Fermor is beyond doubt the greatest of living travel writers, although the term “travel writing” barely does justice to the beauty, the lustrousness and sensuality of his writing. Take this, for example, speaking of how Greek temples once looked before they were stark ruins: “But the reality of the ruins, re-cohering in cobalt and blood-red, studded with metal, gaudy with idols, shiny with spilt honey and blood and reeking with sacrificial smoke, will have replaced the tinted ivory artefacts that had stolen their place and the void between the cutting of the flutes on the columns and the laying of the tramlines begins to fill up with people and events.”

There are about 40 short pieces divided into headings: Travels, Greece, People, Books and Flotsam. Many of these pieces are from Leigh Fermor’s great books, Mani, Roumeli and A Time of Gifts. (In 55 years he has only written eight books.) Others are from scattered newspaper pieces and obituaries. All the major phases of his life are represented here: the wandering schoolboy heading for Istanbul, the two years just before the war he spent in Romania with a doomed aristocratic family after meeting the daughter of the family in Athens (the woman Artemis Cooper describes as the love of his life), the extraordinary exploits in war-time Special Operations in Crete, where he captured the German General, Heinrich Kreipe, and his post-war exploration of Greece, particularly Mani where he has lived for 40 years in a house he built with his wife Joan, who died recently. Their story will be told by Artemis Cooper in a biography to be published after his death.

Read more!

Joan Leigh Fermor – Obituary from The Independent

Published Tuesday, 10 June 2003

Muse who enlivened a distinguished generation

Like all adorable people Joan Leigh Fermor had something enigmatic about her nature which, together with her wonderful good looks, made her a very seductive presence.

Joan Elizabeth Eyres Monsell, photographer: born London 5 February 1912; married 1939 John Rayner (marriage dissolved 1947), 1968 Patrick Leigh Fermor; died Kardamyli, Greece 4 June 2003.

Like all adorable people Joan Leigh Fermor had something enigmatic about her nature which, together with her wonderful good looks, made her a very seductive presence.

She was also naturally self- effacing. Even in a crowd she maintained a deep and private inner self. In fact I know she regarded every agora with phobia. Paradoxically, she loved good company and long and lasting friendships. It was her elegance, luminous intelligence, curiosity, understanding and unerring high standards that made her such a perfect muse to her lifelong companion and husband Patrick Leigh Fermor, as well as friend and inspiration to a host of distinguished writers, philosophers, painters, sculptors and musicians.

Cyril Connolly described her in a letter to his mother in 1949 as “a person with whom I have everything in common – friends, tastes, intellectual interests – and very beautiful: tall, fair, slanting eyes, yellow skin”. For the future editor of the Times Literary Supplement Alan Pryce-Jones, 17 years earlier, she was

very fair, with huge myopic blue eyes. Her voice had a delicious quaver – no, not quite quaver, an undulation rather in it; her talk was unexpected, funny, clear-minded. She had no time for inessentials; though she was a natural enjoyer, she was also a perfectionist whom [aged 20] experience had already taught to be wary.

When I first met her in 1942 through Peter Watson, owner and founder with Connolly of Horizon magazine, she was living as his neighbour in the only modern block of flats in London, 10 Palace Gate, designed by Welles Coates. She was a dazzling beauty and I, an awkward 20-year-old, was utterly stage-struck when she invited me to dance with her one evening at the very smart Boeuf sur le Toit night-club. The manager tried to remove me as I was wearing sandals, but was promptly reprimanded by Joan.

By wonderful good fortune she was already in Greece when in May 1946 I turned up for the first time in Athens, where she introduced me one evening to Paddy Leigh Fermor, who with his knowledge of the Greek countryside near Athens was instrumental in finding me a place to live and paint on the island of Poros. Joan’s love of Greece and the Greeks started, like mine, from this time.

Athens just after the Second World War was host to a unique group of marvellously talented men and women that included the philhellenes Steven Runciman, Maurice Cardiff, Lady Norton and Osbert Lancaster (whose secretary she had been), the Anglophile Greek painter Nico Ghika, the poet George Seferis and George Katsimbalis, Henry Miller’s colossus of Maroussi.

Anyone who thought foolishly that Joan herself was not really doing anything was as far from the truth as it is possible to get. Her unwavering empathy, generosity, taste and intelligence made her a creative catalyst to all who became her friends. Later on, Constant Lambert, Giacometti, Francis Bacon, Dadie Rylands, Louis MacNeice, Stephen Spender, Balthus, Maurice Bowra and Freddie Ayer, to name only a few, were all devoted admirers.

Joan herself was at that time one of the finest amateur photographers in England. Her photographs were first published, through her friend John Betjeman, in the Architectural Review, and then in Horizon, and are to be found in her husband Paddy’s books about Greece – Mani: travels in the southern Peloponnese (1958) and Roumeli: travels in northern Greece (1966). In 1948 she was employed by Cyril Connolly to be his photographer for a guidebook to south-west France, a book he never wrote, perhaps because, as he recorded in his journal, he “fell very much in love”, distracted by

her dark green cardigan and grey trousers, her camera slung over her shoulder and her golden hair bobbing as she walks, always a little fairer than you think, like the wind in a stubble-field.

During the war she was commissioned to take photographs of buildings vulnerable to bombing. After it a favourite subject was cemeteries – in Paris (Père la Chaise), notably, and Genoa. Somehow I never dared ask her why she gave up photography. It was always foolish to ask Joan a question when one already had a jolly good idea of what the answer might be: probably she did not think she was good enough.

At one time she owned a large convertible Bentley, appropriately nicknamed Moloch. It guzzled petrol as a row of thirsty Lombardy poplars needs water. One summer we set off in it with Paddy to drive to Italy, Joan at the wheel all the way, to meet up with Tom Fisher, Ruth Page, Freddy Ashton and Margot Fonteyn at the Villa Cimbroni in Ravello. We made frequent stops to explore Romanesque churches and eat unforgettable meals in little out-of-the-way restaurants, serving exactly the kind of French cooking admired and written about by Elizabeth David, whom Joan herself so much revered.

Joan and I shared a lifelong affection for cats. Paddy had less admiration and called them “interior desecrators and downholsterers”. Greek cats are good examples of a feline Parkinson’s Law. They prosper. Joan managed to have a large and endearing accumulation of them. One could not call them a collection; they were more like a flock, with Joan their shepherdess, handing out free meals. They repaid her generosity by offering her in winter a duvet of living fur for her bed.

With her beloved brother, Graham Eyres Monsell, she shared an exceptionally good and discerning ear for music. Her collection of eclectic and legendary performances of records was a constant joy for her and all her musical friends. Unfortunately, the vinyl long-playing discs made themselves irresistibly attractive to Greek dust.

She was born Joan Eyres Monsell in 1912, the second of three daughters of Bolton Eyres Monsell, the Conservative MP for South Evesham, later First Lord of the Admiralty and first Viscount Monsell. He had adopted the “Eyres” on his marriage in 1904 to Joan’s mother, Sybil Eyres, heiress to Dumbleton Hall in Worcestershire (subject of two Betjeman poems). Joan went to school at St James’s, Malvern, where in seven years she regretted that she learnt no Latin or Greek; all they taught, she said, was how to curtsy. She was “finished” in Paris and Florence.

When Alan Pryce-Jones fell in love with her in 1932, the First Lord saw him off. “I gather you want to marry my daughter,” he said. “What is your place? And what job have you?” Pryce-Jones had no “place” and no job. “And so, Pryce-Jones, having nothing, without prospects, without a home, you expect to marry my daughter, who has always had the best of everything . . . No, no, Pryce-Jones, come back in a few years when you have something behind you.”

Instead, two months before war broke out in 1939, she married John Rayner, then features editor of the Daily Express, but the marriage did not last, and they divorced in 1947. She served as a nurse, and then worked in the cipher department of embassies overseas, in Spain, then in Algiers and in Cairo, where she moved in the set that included Lawrence Durrell, Robin Fedden and Charles Johnston. It was in Cairo that she met Paddy Leigh Fermor.

She was happiest living with Paddy in what must be the most beautiful house in the Peloponnese, at Kardamyli in the Mani, which she and Paddy built of stone for themselves by the sea on a low promontory between two small bays. “Of course that big room,” John Betjeman wrote to the Leigh Fermors in 1969, “is one of the rooms in the world.”

John Craxton

Joan Leigh Fermor was one of the most remarkable people I have ever met. Apart from beauty and acute intelligence, she had to an unusual degree genuine goodness, both natural and willed, which informed all her actions and relationships. Her great generosity was as natural as discreet, based on her perceptive understanding of those less privileged or lucky than herself.

I first met Joan and Paddy when I married my English husband and settled in London in the early 1960s. Their house in Chelsea was always full of guests, and Joan was the most gracious and informal of hostesses. But unlike some hostesses she did not care whether her guests were successful or not, famous or obscure. I never heard her pronounce a second-hand opinion about a book or a picture. She helped both maternally and with friendship many an impecunious writer and artist whose work she liked, and her sympathy extended to all those to whom life had dealt less favourable cards.

Joan was not religious – just saintly. And although not a believer she was deeply spiritual, to me an example of alma naturalis Christiana. Although she had no children, she had a few daughters and sons – among whom I hoped to be counted – who adored her. She made one feel that, as long as she was there, all was not ill with the world.

Shusha Guppy (whose obituary can be read here)

From The Independent

Joan Leigh Fermor – Obituary from Daily Telegraph

Published: 12:00AM BST 05 Jul 2003

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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