Tag Archives: Patrick Leigh Fermor Society

Paddy’s World – Transcript of John Julius Norwich’s talk for the PLF Society

Many blog readers and members of the PLF Society were privileged to her John Julius Norwich give a very personal account of his memories of Paddy at the Hellenic Centre in London on 10 November. My account of the evening is here

I am very lucky to be able to present the full transcript of the talk. Didn’t I say we had some good stuff coming up? Enjoy this 🙂

On 22 February 1951 my mother wrote to me: “Just off for my jaunt to Passy sur Eure to spoon with P. Leigh Fermor. Shy. Fluster.” At that time she had only just met Paddy and hardly knew him, and she would have been – as indeed she confessed she was – extremely nervous. But all was well. The next letter read:

Well, the gallivanting was a red letter. It took me a good two hours cross-country by Pontoise and Mantes. Strange little village house in which he lives – the loan of a Lady Smart – was warm and welcoming and I really felt myself back in the pond I was raised in. Fascinating conversation with a male man who delights in one. Paddy was superb. Cultured, funny, telling wonderful sagas, zealous. We had a charming filthy little lunch over the stove of sardines, Pernod and vin ordinaire and afterwards we walked for two hours over low wooded downs in sparkling sun, talking ten to the dozen about people, grievances and enthusiasms

That was the beginning. My parents saw quite a lot of Paddy and Joan – whom my mother thought looked just like Joan of Arc, except that Joan of Arc didn’t wear sun-glasses – in the next year or two. I was at Oxford at the time, and I remember seeing them once or twice during vacations, and being invariably knocked sideways – as everyone was – by the sheer brilliance of Paddy, and the glorious fun of him. Every time he walked into a room it was as if the sun had come out; never have I laughed more uncontrollably round a luncheon or dinner table, and as for his erudition, never have I met anyone who knew so much about everything under the sun, yet wore his learning so lightly. There seemed to be no language he could not speak, or indeed sing songs or recite poetry in: French, German, Italian, Spanish, Greek and Rumanian for a start, but there were probably several others as well.

Then, in the summer of 1955, a wonderful thing happened. By then I had joined the Foreign Service. My first wife Anne and I were by that time living in Belgrade, where I was Third Secretary at the British Embassy. Another letter arrived from my mother. She had been lent a Greek caïque by the ship-owner Stavros Niarchos for a fortnight’s sail through the isles of Greece. Paddy and Joan were coming; could we come too? As far as we were concerned, it was a question of “can a duck swim?” At the end of August we drove down from Belgrade – which in those days had no airport – to Athens, and thence to the Piraeus, where we boarded the Eros.

It was my first time in the Aegean, and Paddy gave it a whole new dimension. It was the first time I had seen him, as it were, on his home ground, and it was wonderful. He lived and breathed his beloved Greece – fluent in its language, encyclopaedic in his knowledge of its history, its customs and its literature. But nobody – and that was the wonder and joy of him and – I know I’ve said this before – nobody has ever carried his learning more lightly. His conversation was consistently dazzling. As we sailed from island to island – and in those days there were virtually no tourists, and I can’t begin to tell you what a difference that made – he talked about Greece, about Greek history, about Greek beliefs and traditions, about Byron and the Greek War of Independence, with those monstrously magnificent Greek heroes – men like Mavromichalis and Kolokotronis whose names roll so satisfactorily across the tongue – and about the Greek Orthodox Church and its quarrels with the west over more of those words, like filioque and ͑ομοούσιον; but his talk roamed far wider than that, taking in the whole eastern Mediterranean and, in particular, Byzantium.

Now in England Byzantium has always had a terrible press. The great nineteenth-century historian W.E.H. Lecky wrote that it constituted, “without a single exception, the most thoroughly base and despicable form that civilisation has yet assumed…. There has been no other enduring civilisation, he claimed, “so absolutely destitute of all the forms and elements of greatness”. He went on,

Its vices were the vices of men who had ceased to be brave without learning to be virtuous…. Slaves, and willing slaves, in both their actions and their thoughts, immersed in sensuality and in the most frivolous pleasures, the people only emerged from their listlessness when some theological subtlety, or some chivalry in the chariot races, stimulated them to frantic riots…. The history of the Empire is a monotonous story of the intrigues of priests, eunuchs and women, of poisonings, of conspiracies, of uniform ingratitude, of perpetual fratricides.

Strong words indeed – although to modern ears that last sentence makes Byzantine history sound not so much monotonous as distinctly entertaining. But that long campaign of denigration continued well into the twentieth century. It was only in the time of which I’m speaking – the fifties – that the writings of people like Robert Byron, David Talbot Rice and Steven Runciman, together with the new-found ease, speed and relative comfort of travel in the Levant, made the glorious heritage of the Byzantine Empire at last generally accessible. Now, thank heaven, the Empire has come into its own again, and is seen as a worthy successor to the two mighty civilisations which it followed and so beautifully combined, the Greek and the Roman.

The trouble was, for most of us, that we knew so little about it. Those old attitudes died hard. During my five years at Eton, the entire subject was the victim of what seemed to be a conspiracy of silence. I can’t honestly remember Byzantium being once mentioned, far less studied; and so complete was my ignorance that I should have been hard put to define it even in general terms till I went to Oxford. And, for heaven’s sake, why? After all, it was not even the successor, it was that same old Roman Empire of Augustus and Tiberius and Claudius and the rest, which continued to exist in its new capital of Constantinople for another one thousand, one hundred and twenty-three years before it was finally captured by the Ottoman Turks on that fateful day, Tuesday 29 May 1453, after one of the most heroic sieges in all history. It was Paddy and Paddy alone who revealed to me its mystery and its magic, although he also recommended to me, among much else, that I should read an extraordinary book by Robert Byron, The Byzantine Achievement, which that most precocious author wrote when he was twenty-five. I read it with utter fascination, and ended up completely captivated. When I got home I devoured every book I could find on the subject, and the following year Anne and I drove to Istanbul for a week. Twenty years later I was to write a History of Byzantium myself – three volumes of it, which were necessary if I was to cover more than a millennium; but I very much doubt whether, had it not been for that fortnight on the Eros, those three volumes would ever have been written.

One evening, I remember, Paddy was talking about a poor fisherman at Kardamyli – this was long before he went to live there – a friend of his called Strati Mourtzinos, who, he told us, might just possibly have been the last heir to the imperial throne of Byzantium. Suddenly his imagination took over, and he built a magnificent castle in the air. It seemed, by some miracle, that the Turks had restored Constantinople to Greece. Byzantium was reborn and Strati Mourtzinos was formally crowned as its Emperor. Paddy was later to work up the idea further in his first book about Greece, Mani:

Bells clanged; semantra hammered and cannon thundered as the Emperor stepped ashore. Then, with a sudden reek of naphtha, Greek fire roared, saluting in a hundred blood-red parabolas from the warships’ brazen beaks….. In the packed square of Constantine, a Serbian furrier fell from a rooftop. An astrologer from Ctesiphon, a Spanish coppersmith and a money-lender from the Persian Gulf were trampled to death; a Bactrian lancer fainted and, as we proceeded round the Triple Delphic Serpent of the Hippodrome, the voices of the Blues and Greens, for once in concord, lifted a long howl of applause. The imperial horses neighed in their stables, the hunting cheetahs strained yelping at their silver chains. Mechanical gold lions roared in the throne room, gold birds on the jewelled branches of artificial trees set up a tinkling and a twitter. The general hysteria penetrated the public jail: in dark cells, monophysites and bogomils and iconoclasts rattled their fetters across the dungeon bars. High on his Corinthian capital, a capering stylite, immobile for three decades, hammered his calabash with a wooden spoon….

Would you like a bit more? All right: Continue reading

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Paddy’s World

None who attended the talk by John Julius Norwich on Tuesday were disappointed, as he gave a wonderfully warm and personal tribute to Paddy. One Greek lady praised John Julius so highly for his talk and his work as a Byzantine historian that she described him as “the loveliest man living”!

By Tom Sawford.

Apart from a few hearing difficulties there was little to indicate that age had slowed John Julius. His voice was strong and his recall of the times he spent with Paddy and Joan was vivid. He quoted a lot from letters between Paddy and his mother, Diana Cooper, to emphasise the range and scale of Paddy’s intellect.

This was no hurriedly put together speech. Reading from prepared notes, it was clear that John Julius had planned the talk in detail and kept to his subject clearly answering the question “what was Paddy’s world?”. It appears that the answer was Europe, in particular, its more easterly reaches, with Greece, and the lost past of Byzantium of course, at its centre. Paddy rarely travelled beyond its boundaries, the same boundaries that I often describe as the widest extent of the Roman Empire. He travelled only once to South America, recalled in his Three Letters from the Andes, and visited North America on a single occasion at the invitation of the Greek diaspora. Apart from his wartime experience he never ventured into the Levant. Paddy’s world was the one that he had walked through in 1934, but one that he mastered by speaking all of the main languages and developing an encyclopaedic knowledge of its history and customs.

John Julius ended on a very personal note, and holding back some tears, he said that he was blessed to have known Paddy and clearly misses him. During questions he described Paddy as the least self-centred of men, rarely talking about himself, happier to entertain people with his stories and singing, and only talking about the Kreipe kidnap when pushed into a corner. We can probably recognise this Paddy; despite extensive writing we know little of his personal thoughts. Apart from his introductory letters to Xan Fielding, John Julius said that Paddy never spoke about his life before his “great trudge”.

Thank you to John Julius Norwich for a wonderful presentation, and to the PLF Society for organising a very successful evening.

PLFS event – Paddy’s World with John Julius Norwich

John Julius Norwich in 2008

A reminder to you all that John Julius Norwich, who is patron of the Patrick Leigh Fermor Society and knew PLF for more than fifty years, will be giving a presentation at the Hellenic Centre on 10 November. This is a unique opportunity to hear from one of Britain’s greatest historians, and one of Paddy’s few remaining close friends.

DATE: Tuesday 10th November 2015 TIME: 7:15pm

LOCATION: Great Hall, Hellenic Centre, 16-18 Paddington St, London W1U 5AS

RSVP info@patrickleighfermorsociety.org

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Upcoming PLF Society events

A couple of dates for your diary from the PLF Society. A daughter and dad act for the autumn.

Patrick Leigh Fermor in Greece – Artemis Cooper

DATE: Tuesday 8th September 2015 TIME: 7:15pm

LOCATION: Great Hall, Hellenic Centre, 16-18 Paddington St, London W1U 5AS

RSVP info@patrickleighfermorsociety.org

Paddy’s World – John Julius Norwich

John Julius Norwich is patron of the Patrick Leigh Fermor Society and knew PLF for more than fifty years.

DATE: Tuesday 10th November 2015 TIME: 7:15pm

LOCATION: Great Hall, Hellenic Centre, 16-18 Paddington St, London W1U 5AS

RSVP info@patrickleighfermorsociety.org

 

 

The House of the Mani

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

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

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

Leaving Kastamonitsa for the kidnap – Chris White talk 19 May

Some of the kidnap gang leaving Kastamonitsa April 1944

Some of the kidnap gang leaving Kastamonitsa April 1944

It is with great pleasure that I am able to release these images sent to me by Abducting a General co-editor, Chris White which show the locations photographed in April 1944 of the team leaving Kastamonitsa in preparation for the kidnap a few days later. Chris has sent me colour pictures taken by him on a recce to Crete just last week of the same locations for comparison.

Chris and his brother Peter are the experts on the kidnap and the route taken before, during and after the kidnap. They edited Paddy’s account which was published last year as Abducting a General: The Kreipe Operation and SOE in Crete, and have spent many months on the ground in Crete over recent years finding new information and making contact with the survivors from the time and the now aged offspring of those directly involved in the Kreipe kidnap and the resistance to the German occupation.

The brothers will be presenting their most up to date findings using newly discovered material from Paddy’s archive at the National Library of Scotland and the Liddell Hart Archive at the next PLF Society event to be held at the Hellenic Centre near Paddington on 19 May. Further details in this link. They make the whole thing come alive so if you want to find out more do please come along one and all. There is plenty of room at the venue.

Buy Abducting a General: The Kreipe Operation and SOE in Crete here.

Initial fundraising for Kardamyli

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

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

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

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

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

Read the full initial fundraising PDF here.