by Rosemary Lord
Paddy’s House was finally open for visitors. It’d been long enough. For 3 or 4 years, during our summer and winter visits, my siblings and I had peered through endless tall shrubs and overgrowth at the seemingly abandoned house, wondering what was going to happen to this magical home in the middle of nowhere. It was at the water’s edge of the remote little town called Kardamyli in Greece’s southern region of the Peloponnese.
The house had belonged to British-born writer Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor – known as Paddy to friends and followers. A great traveler and adventurer, at age 18 in 1933, he walked across Europe, from Holland to Constantinople. He was travelling through Germany just as Hitler came into power and carried on to Greece at the outbreak of World War II, when he joined the Irish Guards. Having learned several languages along the way, Leigh Fermor joined the S.O.E and fought to help free occupied Crete.
Many years later the film Ill Met By Moonlight retold this wartime episode, with Dirk Bogard playing Sir Patrick.
Patrick Leigh Fermor’s first non-fiction book was The Travellers Tree, followed by his only novel, The Violins of Saint-Jacques which was published in 1953. His later books about his travels include Mani, Roumelli and A Time of Gifts. These he wrote first in longhand at his Kardamyli retreat.
Paddy began building this charmingly beautiful, rambling Kardamyli House in 1965. He paid the local youths a penny a rock to gather small and large boulders from around the craggy area and help him create a rustic hideaway. He wove rock and pebble designs throughout the floors inside and outside in the meandering seating areas. Stone benches abound, each with a different inspiring view of the sea or the towering Taygetos mountains behind the property. A series of individual guest rooms surround the main house. In the centre of the house is the large living-room with long built-in, comfy seating at either end, under the windows that cover the length of the room and overlook the craggy rocks leading down to the turquoise waters of the Messinian Gulf.
In the ensuing years Paddy and his wife Joan played host to writers Lawrence Durrell, John Betjeman, Henry Miller and painters Picasso, John Craxton, Ghiko and other literati of the day, inspired by the surroundings. This was how ‘Paddy’s House’ got its reputation.
Now Paddy’s house has been lovingly restored. It is light, airy, simple and very welcoming. Just the place to hide away and write a book. It was finally opened to the public this October and exhibits his vast book and art collection and is once again a writer’s retreat. Writer guests are chosen by a panel from UCLA, Princeton and the Banaki Museum, sponsors of this refurbishment. Elpitha, Paddy’s house-keeper for his final eleven years after his wife Joan died, gives private tours and shares glimpses into Leigh Fermor’s life. She would clean for him, cook his favorite moussaka dish, drive him places and told us that he would clamber down to the sea and swim each morning until not long before his death in 2011 at the age of 94. He spoke mostly Greek to her.
Patrick Leigh Fermor certainly had a full, well-lived life, as his books tell. Living in such a remote part of Greece – or anywhere in the Mediterranean area – would seem like a perfect place to inspire creativity; to write and paint. Or is it? It certainly is a wonderful respite from the hustle, bustle, traffic and cacophony of Hollywood or London – for a week or two. A wonderful place for me to meet up with scattered family members. A chance to relax, recharge one’s batteries and catch up on sleeping, eating – and writing. But I realize that I find my inspiration from my surroundings. The everyday tales of those I meet. The lengthy chats about youthful adventures. The revelations of the history of our surroundings.
I really look forward to my sojourns with no thoughts of any time-keeping. Instead, timeless days spent wandering through olive groves, exploring ancient ruins and unfamiliar towns. Or walking along the deserted beaches, watching the distant tide creep in and turn to crashing waves and then, later, marveling at the fierce summer thunder and lightning storms in the night. Hours spent enjoying free-flowing conversation over a simple, leisurely meal. What’s not to like? But would I want to live there?
I have a feeling that, were the opportunity to arise, I would get little work of any sort done in those surroundings. Especially writing. At my impending return to the ‘civilization’ of Hollywood, I relish the chance for another fresh attack on my next book. I look forward to sitting at my newly re-ordered and de-cluttered desk. It awaits all of the inspiration gathered during my travels. A new blank page waiting to be filled with fresh ideas and newly remembered forgotten words.
What’s not to like? How do you re-charge your batteries?