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Latest news from the Benaki Museum – PLF Project
- The Board of Trustees of the Benaki Museum has decided to form a three-person Executive Committee which will be in charge of the Institution’s management (in place of the previous director). The members of the committee are Irini Geroulanou, George Manginis, who is also a member of the PLF Society and Haris Siampanis, the Benaki Museum’s Chief Financial & Operating Officer.
- Now that the renovation cost and the cost of the necessary equipment for the operation of the Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor Centre have been secured by the generous donation from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and the planning of the works has been completed, the next stage is the formulation of the exact management process of the PJLF Centre. This will be completed over the next year or so and will be made public when the final version has been approved by the Board of Trustees of the Benaki Museum. Providing any information before this time would be inappropriate since it is likely to change.
- The proposed event in London, where the audience will be informed about the future use of the PLF House, will be organized a bit later this year in order to celebrate the start of the repair works at the house.
- The A.G. Leventis Gallery and the Benaki Museum are happy to announce the opening of the exhibition titled Ghika, Craxton, Leigh Fermor – Charmed Lives in Greece at the Leventis Gallery in Nicosia at the end of February. The exhibition will next be presented at the Benaki Museum in June and at the British Museum in March 2018.
- Any member of the PLF Society who wishes to be added to the Benaki Museum-PLF Project mailing list, in order to receive updates regarding the house and project, can send their contact details at the following email address: email@example.com
More information can be found at the Benaki Museum’s website.
The seventh issue of The Philhellene has been sent to PLFS members today.
The sixth issue of The Philhellene has been sent to PLFS members today.
In Paddy’s Footsteps: The Patrick Leigh Fermor Society’s Tour of Greece, June 2016
We met in Athens amid high excitement, and during a heat wave onerous even for June. From the rooftop bar of the Herodion Hotel, we could see tourists tottering around the Acropolis like stupefied ants. The stones of the Parthenon had been soft-lined and yellow at dawn. Now, they were bleached sharp and white by the noontime sun. We reconsidered our best-laid plan, a mid-afternoon assault on the Acropolis, and sheltered in the Acropolis Museum.
The heat had resolved the ordering of context and content—to see the site before its artifacts, or the museum before the ruins? The museum’s success raised the philhellene’s greatest dilemma, the integrity of the Parthenon Marbles. Viewed from above, the museum, which opened in 2009, is grounded on the southeastern slope of the Acropolis with the grace of a beached ocean liner. Once inside, however, the visitor enters a unique space, carefully constructed to replicate the experience of ascending the nearby site.
By protecting the friezes against earthquakes and atmospheric pollution, the museum has undone what used to be the best case for keeping the Elgin Marbles in London. If the marbles are not presented, as their Roman admirers would have said, in situ, they are presented in the next best place. The museum’s light-filled, spacious top floor lays out the entire sequence, some of it at eye level. As you circle the marbles, the Parthenon is a continual presence, sometimes ahead of you, sometimes over your shoulder.
With the first hint of dusk, the stones of the Parthenon became blurred and suffused with a pinkish glow, as if discharging their accumulation of heat into the smog-thickened air. We retreated to the roof of the Herodion for cocktails and dinner. By the middle of our meal, we had to admit that the only good reason for keeping Elgin’s haul in London was that returning it to Athens would precipitate a host of similar demands, and the collapse of the world’s major museum collections. Not for the first time, we had discovered that while you can argue with Greeks, you cannot argue with Greece.
We climbed uphill early the next morning, to be astounded in the familiar way, and broiled on the hot stones of the pavement. At noon, we crawled down into the shade of the Stoa of Attalos, reconstructed in the 1950s by the American School of Classical Studies, and scuttled around the Agora like shade-hungry beetles. After weaving through the Plaka, we ate lunch at one of Paddy’s haunts, Tou Psaras, with an Oxford scholar at large in Athens, Dr. Roderick Bailey, who will be familiar to PLFS members for his introduction to Abducting a General. It was fascinating to hear of his research into PTSD among SOE veterans, and his current work on British ‘monuments men’, including Tom Dunbabin, in Athens in the immediate aftermath of the war.
Later that afternoon, we sought out the house-museum of Nikos Hadjikyriakou-Ghika, the leading artist of the interwar generation who introduced Modernism to Greece. After admiring Ghika’s studio and his pastel portrait of Paddy, several members of the group absconded, possibly inspired by Paddy’s words in Roumeli, ‘I crossed the blazing Syntagma to the Hotel Grande Bretagne, thirsting for a consolation drink.’
In 1941, the ‘Hotel GB’ became first the headquarters of the retreating British Army, and then the home of the Gestapo. The PLFS renegades consoled themselves in the recently restored bar, immortalized in Olivia Manning’s Balkan Trilogy. Eventually, we regrouped at the Herodion for a briefing from the Athens-based journalist John Psaropoulos.
John’s childhood nanny was from Ano Meros in the Amari Valley of Crete. She lost her father in the massacres that preceded the German retreat to Chania. John argued that the Kreipe kidnapping was “strategically worthless”, which elicited a vigorous and highly informed response from the group, many of whom pointed out the strategic value of propaganda and symbolic defiance. John also suggested that for Paddy, the operation was a way of atoning for Britain’s abandonment of its Greek allies. The conversation continued over dinner at Mani Mani, a nearby restaurant specializing in Maniot cuisine, and would have continued for longer, had not the group been reduced to stupefaction by vast amounts of food and red wine.
We left Athens the next morning, the excitement in the party undimmed by the late hour of our bedtime and the early hour of our departure. Our Athens agent, Peter Cocconi of Vikings, saw us off, equipping us with Sophia and Athanassis, the first of a series of expert guides and careful drivers. Off we set for the Peloponnese. At Corinthia, we paused for coffee at Pindar’s ‘bridge of the untiring sea’, then pressed backwards into the past, from Corinth to Mycenae, two sites that are half an hour and, quite frequently, two millennia apart. Mycenae perches on its inland fastness, the rough stones of its fortifications almost seamless with those of their natural foundations. The palace is really a fort, defensive against the distant sea, and aggressively dominating the plain of Argos. Corinth is open to the sea, its baths and shopping colonnades welcoming the Roman world.
We lunched at the famous Belle Helene at Mycenae, where one of our group, Patricia Walker, had bumped into Paddy in the late Seventies. Our host, Agamemnon Dasis, was the great-great grandson of the couple who opened the business by providing bed and breakfast for Heinrich Schliemann and his aides as they dug at Mycenae. A small museum of snippets from the guest book presents the history of the twentieth century.
If the restorative waters of Epidauros had still been available, we would have used them to digest the large meal taken at La Belle Helene. Instead, we waddled up the banked sides of the amphitheatre, to marvel at acoustics that can carry a whisper up to the gods and the trees beyond. We had planned for this occasion, and carried an actress in the party. Toni Harrison obliged with Lady Anne’s speech from Richard III, and received an echoing ovation from the surprised tourists dotted around the stalls.
Our new base was Nafplion, a town whose prettiness belies the exploitative nature of Venetian rule in Greece. From there, we traversed the farm country of the Argolid, descended towards its humid southern coast, and took a taxi boat to Hydra. Our objective was Ghika’s ruined mansion, a tiered wonder of a house, set high up at the back of the town with magnificent views of Spetses and the Gulf of Argos. Paddy called it the ‘perfect prose factory’, and wrote the early drafts of Mani there. Henry Miller, a factory of imperfect but evocative prose, wrote The Colossus of Maroussi there too.
Aided by GPS maps and advice from William Blacker, we located the house. According to local legend, it was destroyed by arson after Ghika’s housekeeper had taken umbrage at the latest permutation of his employer’s love life. The arches of Ghika’s north-facing studio, against which Joan Leigh Fermor photographed Paddy in the 1950s, survived the fire. We opened a crumbling door, to be repulsed by the savage barking of dogs from the overgrown grass. Patrick Horton, our semi-official photographer, volunteered to feed himself to the beasts if needed. Cautiously, he probed the path to the house, and established that the barking came from three small spaniels, roped to a wall. We tiptoed in fearlessly after him to take our photographs. If it is possible for a spaniel to look contemptuous, these ones did.
Emboldened by our trespass, we lunched on grilled sardines at Kodylenia’s, then bounced back across the strait on our taxi boats for a greater challenge. In 1935, Paddy and Balasha Cantacuzene lived in a watermill in the lemonodassos (lemon grove) above Galatas. Again, William Blacker provided some clues. Then again, as these included a photograph of an olive tree with the words, “If you see this tree, you’re nearly there,” finding a ruined building in an overgrown wood was like finding a pine needle in a haystack.
Our quest was further hampered when Athanassis discovered that our coach was too big for the track that led into the lemonodassos. We picked another rough track, and pursued it until the coach was wedged between two olive trees and Athanassis furious with disapproval. Dismounting, we picked our way uphill along a path, listening for the sound of water, and tracing the irrigation system uphill, past deserted villas and overgrown lemon trees. Disorientated and hot, we came to a T-junction. It was a desperate moment, but the group excelled itself.
Robert Davison marched off to establish that the right turn would lead back to the impassable first road. Several others retraced our steps to the impassable second road, to ensure that the stragglers did not spend the rest of their lives wandering around the wood. Hugh Bullock deployed his iPhone, and established the coordinates of the objective. Into the bushes we scrambled, uphill through the undergrowth as the sound of running water got louder. Finally, we spied a ruined wall among the cypress trees.
Hauling each other up a sheer slope of crumbling earth, we found a roofless stone shack, one wall smeared with smoke from a cooking range. Next to it was one of a series of decayed rooms, stacked one on top of the other, their back walls the declining side of a cliff. Below us was a giant hollow tree trunk, garlanded with fantastical vines. The watercourse, half hidden in the grass, dropped the water into the tree trunk and down onto the mill wheel in the room below. This too was crumbling, but we could make out its machinery, rusting in the undergrowth that covered the floor. Ahead, we looked out over the leafy carpet of the lemonodassos to Galatas, and then the sliver of water dividing the coast from the green hump of the island of Poros.
We managed to get back down without injury, and found our bus too, Athanassis and Sophia observing our dusty, sweat-stained return with amused disbelief. We were back in Nafplion in time for William Stanley Moss’ daughter Isabelle Cole to join her sister Gabriella Bullock and the party. The next morning, we set off southwest across the Peloponnese to Sparta, that most modern of ancient cities, and then Mystras and the Mani.
The stones of Mystras, tumbling down the mountain beneath the Frankish fortress, are a Byzantine ghost town. Inside the cool and broken churches of the upper town, ghostly apostles crumble on skims of plaster. Outside, the paths are the streets of a city that no longer exists. In the lower town, we examined the double-headed eagle on the floor of the church of St. Demetrios, marking the spot where Constantine XI Palaiologus, the last emperor of Byzantium, was crowned in 1451. In Mani, Paddy whimsically appoints a fisherman named Strati Mourtzinos the heir to Constantine’s defunct crown.
Weaving up and over the dizzy bends of the Langada Pass, we skirted Mount Taygetus and descended to Kalamata for ice cream and coffee by the water. As we left town on the final leg of the journey to Kardamyli, we had the first of several readings from Mani over the bus’ PA system. The first reading, naturally, was the episode in which, dining by the shore at Kalamata during a heat wave on the night of the summer solstice, Paddy, Joan and Xan Fielding carry their table into the water, soon to be followed by their waiter, and joined by a flotilla of bibulous fishermen.
Only afterwards did we realize that, apart from the heat wave, the day was also that of the summer solstice. It was a strange, serendipitous doubling of life and art, and not least because of the synthetic nature of Paddy’s set pieces. The layering in his writing is not just that of rewriting, but also that of remembering, an accumulation of memories and images. Quite by accident, we had added an extra layer to our own remembrance of his writing. In Kardamyli that evening, we settled into the Kalamitsi Hotel, where Nicos and Theano Ponireas still preside. This time, our guests for dinner were Paddy’s Spanish translator Dolores Payas, her film-maker cousin Francisco, and Paddy’s last housekeeper, Elpida Beloyanni. Our three days in Kardamyli were to be the hinge of our journey, and a pause between two phases of busy travelling. For some, like Isabelle, Gabriella and Hugh, this was a return to the home of a lost friend; for others, a momentous arrival. We ate and drank under the vines late into the night.
It was a smaller and slightly bedraggled group that convened the next morning for the first of two explorations with Ruth Hackney. Ruth, a longtime inhabitant of the Mani, leads walking tours of the region. We picked her up at the junction of the Areopoli-Sparta road—she and her husband live nearby—and were relieved to learn that it was far too hot for serious hiking. Instead, Ruth took us for a gently instructive stroll around Areopoli. Tourism has given Areopoli affluence unimaginable at any point in its history, and the town makes a begrudging effort to appeal to foreigners. But the essential harshness of the region and its historic life is everywhere obvious. The fortified towers arise like cacti. I was reminded of Almeria in Spain, another semi-arid, semi-depopulated region on the edge of Europe, broiling in summer and wind-wracked in winter.
After punting through the damp and stalactitic underworld of the caves at Pirgos Dirou, and remembering to tip our Charon, we paused on the road south of Areopoli to consider the location of the lost castle of Grand Magne. Built c.1250 by William II Villehardouin, the Frankish prince of Achaea, Grand Magne was one of the ‘Three M’s’ ceded to the Byzantines after William’s defeat and capture at Pelagonia in 1259. The other two, Mystras and Monemvasia, survive to varying degrees, but Grand Magne has vanished. In Mani, Paddy suggests Tigani, the ‘frying pan’ where he encounters salt-gatherers scratching the harshest of livings. As Ruth reminded us, Tigani lacks a natural harbor. Perhaps it was supplied via the nearby ports, like Gerolimenas. We ate a long lunch at Akrotainaritis in this little village, set in the deep bowl of a horseshoe bay. By the door, a framed cover of Mani reminds visitors of Paddy and Joan’s long association with Spiros Theodorakakis and his parents. “He was such a clever man,” Spiros recalled. “Sometimes he came with writers, sometimes with film people, sometimes with politicians.”
Ruth returned the next day. She led us through the hill villages behind Kardamyli—Proastio, Exochori, Chora—to the church of Agios Nikolaos, where Paddy scattered Bruce Chatwin’s ashes. The location is improbably beautiful, the church at once placidly solid and perched on the edge of a hill like the prow of a ship. As Ruth observed, the smooth hewn rectangular blocks in the church’s lower courses tend to confirm Chatwin’s claim that Agios Nikolaos was erected on the site of an ancient temple.
Back at Kardamyli, we dispersed for siestas and swimming in the coves. Billy Apt distinguished himself by swimming around Metopi, the deserted island that sits in front of Kardamyli; we expect that this was part of his preparation for his imminent crossing of the Hellespont. Later in the afternoon, we gathered at the hotel, then marched through the olive groves to the PLF house, where we were met by Elpida, and representatives of the Benaki Museum in Athens. It was a long and poignant visit. The house still resounds with the traces of its inhabitants and guests, but it is fraying at the edges, and still contains masses of Paddy and Joan’s private belongings. Elated and reflective, we walked over to Lela’s, founded by Paddy’s earlier housekeeper, and run by her son and grandson, to eat as the sun went down on the Messinian Gulf. The first news of the Brexit vote came in as we meandered back up the road to the hotel.
Early the next morning, we drove to Athens, debating the future of Europe whenever we stopped for coffee. We reached Crete in time for dinner on the roof of the large and luxurious Megaron Hotel, overlooking the Venetian harbor fortifications at Heraklion. There, we were joined by the last member of the party, Jody Cole, one of William Stanley Moss’ three granddaughters.
As we entered the second phase of the tour, our focus changed from Paddy’s postwar travels to Crete’s wartime travails. Already, every member of the group had demonstrated advanced knowledge of the works of PLF. But now, further layers of expertise appeared. This was evident not just when the names of Fielding, Rendel, Dunbabin, Psychoundakis and Pendlebury bounced around the bus along with those of Tsangerakis, Müller and Kreipe as we drove to Knossos, or when Brent McCunn recounted his researches among ANZAC veterans of the Battle of Crete. It was also evident as, working through an epic lunch at Peskesi, the group discussed the differing interpretations of Knossos and Minoan civilization advanced by our guide Ioanna and our guest, Dr. Don Evely, the British School at Athens’ curator at Knossos. Generously, Don took us into the grounds of Villa Ariadne, and gave us a vivid account of the house in 1941, when German planes flew past almost at eye level on their way to strafe Heraklion, and Arthur Evans’ elegant garden overflowed with wounded soldiers and partisans.
Like Roderick Bailey in Athens, Don was just one of the many experts who appeared all along our path, happy to share their knowledge and time. Two more appeared that evening, after we had visited Heraklion’s recently restored Archaeological Museum. Both will be familiar to PLFS members: Costas Mamalakis, late of the Historical Museum, Heraklion and now leading specialist tours of andarte and SOE sites, and the indefatigable and infallible Chris White, whose mapping of these locations is already a superb resource for historians.
The next morning, instead of taking the coast road for Rethymnon, Chris took us on one of his magical history tours, into the Amari Valley: the ‘Lotusland’ of SOE, and a site of fierce resistance to the Germans, as well as appalling reprisals. Driven by the auspiciously named Mihalis, we cut along the coast to Peristeri, a regular site for SOE drops by submarine, then climbed up the valley to Moni Arkadi, the monastery that symbolizes Cretan resistance to the Turks. From there, we wove along the eastern edge of the Amari Valley.
Below the almost sheer rock of the ‘Eagle’s Nest’, we stopped at the village of Fourfouras, to be greeted with a tray of tsikoudia under a pergola on whose metal supports the words ‘Krupps’ and ‘Essen’ could be made out. The supports had been repurposed from the rails used to load German tanks onto flat bed trucks. We had come to see the home of George Tyrakis, now in ruins, where Paddy and George had sheltered as they searched for a radio station while Kreipe party sought to escape the German dragnet. A small car lurched towards us, its driver honking the horn. He jumped out, an old photograph in his hand, and pointed to an old man in the front seat. His father, ninety-four year-old Stephanos Tsimanderas, had as a teenager aided the Kreipe kidnappers on their ascent to the top of the valley. It was a remarkable moment, and a privilege: the sort of encounter with living history that time will soon render unrepeatable.
As we climbed to Agios Ioannis at the top of the valley, Chris White traced the kidnappers’ route, which brushed the edge of the villages and cut across the road through ravines and riverbeds. The accounts in Ill Met By Moonlight and Abducting a General make it clear how difficult the terrain is here, but to stand in the middle of it, and imagine climbing these steep, rocky paths in daylight and in peacetime really brings home the heroism of the SOE agents and their Cretan supporters in the antistasis. The same thought came to mind later that day when, after a wonderful lunch at the top of the valley in Agios Ioannis’ only taverna, we stopped at Manoura’s Arch, the Venetian bridge where George Psychoundakis hid from German soldiers in January 1943.
We descended along the western edge of the Amari Valley, pausing at the chilling memorial to the massacre at Ano Meros. Our next stop was the village of Patsos, which hid the Kreipe party for two days. In Ill Met By Moonlight, Moss describes how their host, a ‘fine, old-fashioned Cretan type’, declined an offer of gold sovereigns, and how his son Giorgos Harokopos joined the kidnappers and left with them for Egypt. Giorgos is now ninety-eight and living in Athens. His octogenarian cousin Zacharenia Pattakos, whose parents were killed in the German reprisals, joined us for dinner.
Our host at Patsos was Giorgos’ nephew, Vasilis Psiharakis, a retired lieutenant-colonel in the Greek special forces. The village has erected a plaque at the site in the nearby groves where the kidnap party hid, ‘a stone-walled hut which has been built against the base of a steep cliff, so with trees on three sides and the cliff behind us we could not have found a more sheltered position’. Today, only the plaque leads the visitor to the hideout; otherwise, it is invisible until the last moment. Some thirty people sat down to dinner on the terrace of Vasilis’ taverna, for a convivial and moving night of speeches and toasts, as well as a rousing performance of ‘Happy Birthday’, first in English, then in Greek, for Patricia Walker. It was a memorable dinner, testimony to an enduring link between families from different countries, thrown together by war, and held together by shared memories.
At the foot of the valley, we reached the pretty boutique hotels and bars of Rethymnon as though passing from one age to another. We awarded ourselves a long deserved day off. The hardier types among us attended the opening session of the International Lawrence Durrell Society’s conference up the road at the University of Crete, where Chris White was one of the plenary speakers. Most of us, however, spent the day prone in hotel rooms and on beaches. In the evening, the Moss quartet attended the awarding of the William Stanley Moss Prizes. The Moss Prizes, now in their second year, were created by Gabriella Bullock and are endowed from the royalties from Billy Moss’ books. The prizes are granted annually to two exceptional students in the Humanities, and honour the people of Crete in Moss’ name.
At the Heraklion Museum the next morning, we encountered Chris White and Costas Mamalakis, herding some forty members of the Durrell Society—the ‘Durrellians’, as they call themselves. Our dozen were tagging along. From the museum, an excellent collation of Crete’s long and cruel history, we went to the German headquarters at Archanes, and then to the Kreipe kidnap site on the road from Archanes to Patsides. The bushes and ditches of 1944 have been filled in and removed, and the sharp bend where Kreipe’s Opel slowed and the kidnappers appeared is now part of a roundabout serving a slip road on a new highway north from Heraklion. The memorial that marks the spot is also a modern oddity, an eccentric construction of brute concrete and vaguely Vorticist wire. None of this transformation, however, reduces the spine-chilling feeling you get when you imagine the bravery required to commandeer the car, and then, as Moss did, to drive it through twenty-two checkpoints and roadblocks on the way through Heraklion.
A friend of a friend of Chris White’s secured us access to the interior of Villa Ariadne, the home of Sir Arthur Evans, John Pendlebury, and of course Heinrich Kreipe too. We hurried down there, the Durrellian hordes on our trail. Stavros the caretaker pointed out bullet holes on the building’s façade and the nearby palm trees, then walked us through the almost deserted house. “Blebbery’s room,” he said, pointing to a dining room. I knew what he meant, because Dilys Powell’s memoir Villa Ariadne describes how the Cretans, unable to pronounce ‘Pendlebury’, referred to ‘Blebbery’. It was another small but weighty moment in which the distance of years collapsed.
We sidled out of the grounds, past the concrete swimming hole that the German officers installed in their brief tenure, and a reconnaissance party of Durrellians, working their way up the drive. Driving away from the coast and up along the eastern flank of Mount Psiloritis, we stopped at Anogia, another village razed by the Germans in August 1944—and yet another village at which the mention of the names of Leigh Fermor and Moss elicited only an enthusiastic effulgence of philoxenia. At the Arodamos taverna, the proprietor whisked up warm lumps of myzithra cheese and handed them around—the start of another epic feast, this time of succulent lamb, with musicians playing the mandolin and its long-necked larger sibling, the laouto. Wine was taken with the food, the PLFS membership took to the dance floor, and our tour leader discovered a facility on the mandolin that surprised all concerned, including himself.
The Durrellians, investigating the Nidha plateau to our south, missed this spectacular lunch, but they made it to Anogia for dinner. We, meanwhile, were back in Rethymnon, taking the lightest of suppers, and planning our final day. This logistical wonder saw us taking to four different hire cars, and tracing four different paths to our final rendezvous. Some of us walked the Imbros Gorge, others searched out SOE locations with Chris White around Asi Gonia and Kallikratis, and others headed for Hora Sfakion, the main evacuation point in 1941. We all met up for a late lunch at a café on the beach at Rodakino, where we were joined by Vasilis Psiharakis, and swam in the Libyan Sea. Next to our table, a monument recorded that the Kreipe party left this beach for Egypt on the night of 14 May 1944. This site, the beginning of the rest of the lives of the remarkable personalities whose tracks we had traced, was a fitting and thought-provoking end to our travels.
The tour ended that night with a joint dinner with the Durrellians in the shadow of the fortifications of Rethymnon. This time, our guests were the family of Evi Dmitrakaki, an inaugural Moss Prize winner, and the granddaughter of a legendary partisan. Introduced by Billy Apt, Gabriella and Hugh Bullock described how they had recovered the rights to Billy Moss’ memoirs from a disobliging publisher, prepared a new edition of Ill Met By Moonlight, and organized new editions in four languages, including the first ever reissue of A War of Shadows. The inaugural PLFS tour ended in a flurry of watermelon wedges, tsikoudia toasts, plans to meet tomorrow in Chania, and promises to meet again soon.
For information on future PLFS tours: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The fifth issue of The Philhellene has been sent to PLFS members today.
The fourth issue of The Philhellene has been sent to PLFS members today.
The third issue of The Philhellene has been sent to PLFS members today.
The second issue of The Philhellene has been sent to PLFS members today.
The first issue of The Philhellene has been sent to PLFS members today.
© The Patrick Leigh Fermor Society 2014-2017