Friday, June 28, 2019

Patrick Leigh Fermor: Visiting 'Paddy's' Place


For years we've been waiting to visit 'that' house
 Paddy's House, . . .it's just up the road in Kalamitsi. 

We'd heard and read so much about him

And, after all. . .he's the one who got us here.



Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor's home near Kardamyli July 2018


Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor, war hero and adventurer, considered by some to be the most notable travel writer of the 20th century, is known simply as Paddy or Michalis around here.  The Englishman and his wife, Joan, were early-on expats, having lived for decades in the home they designed and built in the early 1960's just outside the village of Kardamyli. 

Sir Patrick was Knighted in 2004 for his services to literature and to Greek-British relationships. In 2007 the Greek government named him a Knight of the Order of the Phoenix, its highest honor. Around here the titles don't matter; Paddy is remembered for being Paddy.

We think of him as the guy who introduced us to The Mani. . .

The 'highway' we first traveled into the Inner Mani 

The Back Story. . .

Paddy and Joan's lives have been chronicled by many a writer and the two are immensely well-known on this side of the Atlantic. Perhaps our favorite tales were written in, News from the Village, Aegean friends, a memoir by American poet David Mason, who for a time in the 1980's lived next-door to the Fermor's compound. His book brought to life the area's villages while recounting his life-long friendship with the couple.


Stoupa as it was when Fermor arrived in the 1950's and as it looks today.


It was a well more than a half dozen years ago that we read David's book and subsequently Paddy's, Mani, Travels in the Southern Peloponnese, (published in 1958). Paddy's book chronicles his first trip to the Mani, back when it was a decidedly undeveloped and remote place (just check that 1955 photo of our present-day tourist magnet, Stoupa). He came to the Mani on foot, having climbed up and over the Taygetos Mountain range to get here. 

The two books were all it took to convince us that we needed to visit this still unspoiled and rugged place on the Greek Peloponnese ourselves.


Patio at the Fermor house

Our first visit  to the Mani - Kardamyli, Stoupa, Agios Nikolaos -- in 2012 was a year after Paddy's death in England at the age of 96. Joan had predeceased him in 2003 at age 91. The two had met in wartime Cairo in the 1950's, then traveled together, and finally made their home in a picturesque seaside setting in an area called Kalamitsi, just outside Kardamyli. 

Our slice of The Mani-- The mountains Fermor crossed


Back when we first visited The Mani the idea to live in Greece wasn't a serious consideration of ours. But we were soon caught up in the area's spell. We just kept coming back. And, the fact that we ended up living so close to where they both lived, is one of those goosepimple-kind-of-coincidences that life randomly tosses at you.

Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor Center


Hallway at the Fermor house.


The Fermor's bequeathed their home to the Benaki Museum in Athens with a stipulation that it be used as a retreat center for scholars and intellectuals, (loosely defined as writers, researchers, artists, poets, etc.).  


A place to curl up with a good book off the house's great room


When it opens this fall it will  be known as the Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor Center. Although I suspect with so many in the village who still remember the unassuming couple, that around here it will continue to be thought of as 'the place Paddy and Joan lived'.


Garden restoration underway

The Center will serve as a retreat, be the site of events and also welcome the public in set tours. In order to generate funds for on-going maintenance and upkeep, the museum will rent the house for three months each year. A partnership with Aria Hotels will make that happen.


Main floor bedroom lit with morning sun



Beginning June 1, 2020 the three-bedroom house with a separate studio (once Paddy's writing studio) and another one-bedroom cottage (once occupied by his housekeeper, Lela, and her family) will be available for rent. Guests can rent the entire complex or just a room.

I did a quick check for a one-night stay for two persons next summer and found prices were 280-, 400- and 480- euro for a room, depending on the date selected. I didn't find the cost of renting the entire complex. (Several weeks are already booked.)

Visiting Paddy's House


Entryway at the Fermor house


I've been monitoring the process of turning the house into a retreat center for at least two years. Each time I'd think I could visit some rehabilitation project was slated and the house closed up again.

It appeared earlier this year that the house would be finished and open for tours in mid-June. Again that official opening has been delayed but is far enough along that the Museum is honoring requests for public tours. (Limited times and days because it is still under construction and empty.) 

Entry way and art work

Admittedly from the stories we've heard about their hospitality, it would have been far more fun to have been a dinner or lunch guest of Paddy and Joan's but visiting Paddy's house last week was a pretty special experience.  I had goosepimples walking through the massive entry.


Workers completing The Great Room renovations


While a backhoe clattered away in the lower gardens, a woman mopped the kitchen floor and workers concentrated on completing the living room - the small group of about a dozen of us were set loose to explore the house.


Gardens filled with herbs, oleander, cypress (kiparrisi) and fir trees


It was a perfect time to imagine how it must have been back in the day that these two opened their doors and welcomed guests.  One account reported that this twosome would plan their discussion topics for the evening in advance, so that there would never be a lull in the conversation.



Can you imagine sitting around this table with Paddy and Joan?


Writer Artemis Cooper, a frequent guest, and author of the 2012 book, Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure, recalled her first visit as being on a calm night with a million stars and six people at the table:


'What did we discuss that night?' she says. 
'I don't remember anything but the velvet night, the sound of the sea, the faces 
in the candlelight, the laughter and the voices - 
and the thought that nothing could be better than that moment.'
.

One of many patio seating areas at Paddy's house



And in Fermor also wrote of those gatherings that stretched long into the night:

'These summer nights are short,' he  wrote.
 'Going to bed before midnight is unthinkable and talk, wine, moonlight and the warm air 
are often in league to defer it one, two or three hours more.'


Open corridor between rooms had garden and sea views


The Fermor's L-shaped  main house is built on two-levels. Bedrooms, a kitchen and the grand room all open off an open stone corridor. Another bedroom is on the lower level. I could imagine houseguests waking  to morning sunlight streaming through the windows, later sipping coffee in the patio, perhaps taking a dip in the water just a stairway away.


Fermor's stairway to the sea



Many of those guests recall with amazement the many books in the home. One writer who toured the home estimated some 5,000 books were tucked away on built in book shelves.


'. . .dictionaries, lexicons, encyclopedias, special editions, Oxford companions, anthologies based on birds, beasts, fishes and stars in the immense libraries -- 
even the bathrooms had bookshelves. . .' he wrote.  

Cartons of books waiting to be re-shelved 


So, even though the bookshelves were bare when we toured, the mountains of boxes stacked in each room led us to speculate the books would soon be back on the shelves.  



Paddy's writing studio 



We followed our tour guide -- a woman who had worked for the Fermor's -- through the sprawling gardens and to his writing studio. It was here he wrote several of his books. His desk  to the right of the group in the photo above, seemed a shrine to the great man. The guide asked that no photos be taken of it (although all of us had photographed the room with it in it). 



The writing studio 

Our tour ended at Lela's House, at the back of the main house. Lela was a long-time housekeeper and cook.  We did have the good fortune to see her before she passed away. She opened Lela's Restaurant on the waterfront in Kardamyli after leaving the Fermor house. Even when she became too old to work in it, she sat 'guard-like' outside her eatery keeping an eye on all preparations and the comings and goings of customers.



Kalamitsi, lower right, and Kardamyli, upper right



After our tour we joined our friends for coffee in Kardamyli, I couldn't help but think of a passage Fermor wrote about the village in his Mani book:



'The Guide Bleu only spares it a half a line, 
mentioning little beyond the existence of its four hundred and ninety inhabitants.  
It is better so. It is too inaccessible and there is too little to do there, fortunately, 
for it ever to be endangered by tourism.'

The village was packed with people that morning, we had to search for parking.  Tourist season has begun.  And I chuckled wondering if Paddy ever imagined as he left his home to the Museum that his place would one day bring even more tourists to the village.

For those coming this way and who want to take part in a tour,contact:  leighfermorhouse@benaki.gr

If you want to book a hotel stay there: 

Thanks for joining us on a trip just down the road and back in time today. As always, we appreciate the time you spend with us.  Wishing safe travels to you and yours until we are together again next week.  A special thanks to those of you who've been sharing our posts with friends ~ it is the best compliment a writer can get!

Sorry about the type size changes throughout the text. Google Blogger is about to drive me to drink. . .or find a new blog platform. . .changes are coming!

Linking this week with:





















16 comments:

  1. I'll see if this comment works. I started my blog on Boomer, but our son convinced me to switch to wordpress.org as a platform. But, I digress. I have to admit I always feel a bit like a snoop when I visit house "museums", but I always look for them. It's nice to have a literary connection with your former neighbor.

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    1. Your comment came through loud and clear! One day I will get around to switching platforms/hosts. It is strange to walk through someone's home especially when it feels as though their spirits are still there. In this case, with all personal effects removed and not yet replaced it didn't seem as strange.

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  2. How cool to see the same place side by side. It must have been quite the hideaway. I also imagine how he would have felt to see tourists in his slick of heaven. I'm glad he inspired you to have a piece of that same heaven.

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    1. Since he left the place to the museum I guess he didn't mind the thought of others in his home. . .I do think he'd be gasping at the hundreds of tourists who pour into the villages this time of year.

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  3. What an intriguing place to visit. We had no idea that Paddy's existed, but now we wish we had been one of the people invited to a luncheon or dinner party. It makes us wonder just how many other house museums there are around the world.

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    1. Suzanne Fleur mentioned Hemingway's and Freda Kahlo's as places she had visited. It would be fun to compile a list of them all.

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  4. Great read.Have known many things.

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  5. My, what a great place to visit. I do love the photos you took of the old buildings. And the weather looks wonderful, too. It's good to know that Paddy hasn't been forgotten.

    My Corner of the World

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    1. Paddy certainly hasn't been forgotten in this part of the world that is for sure! Thanks for stopping by this week!

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  6. Just seeing that round table would be enough for me!

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    1. Can you imagine dining there with him and Joan????

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  7. The Patrick Leigh Fermor house looks and sounds absolutely wonderful! But I have to ask: when he said that it should be a "retreat" for writers, etc. did he actually mean that it should be a hotel? Or is the idea that it'll be a retreat some of the year and a hotel some of the year?

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  8. Yes, a provision was in the donation that in order to generate money for the upkeep and maintenance of the place (we now know first-hand that the weather does a number around here) that it be rented as a hotel for three months each year and the rest of the year it be used as a retreat center. Obviously it is being rented during the tourist season when the rates can be as high as I listed above.

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  9. I’ve got Patrick Leigh Fermor’s “Between the woods and the water” on my bookshelf waiting to be read. Having read your article I’ll dig it out and have a look at it...

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  10. Paddy's Mani may have been discovered by now but I imagine it would have warmed his heart to see that so many people share his appreciation for the area and its people. Thank you for introducing me to this fascinating couple!

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We have been having problems in recent weeks with our comment section and I am not quite sure how to fix it. Thanks for letting us know. Some comments have been coming in as emails, so I will respond to those as I get them.

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