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Mani, Kardamili: The legacy of Patrick Leigh Fermor

Travel writer Sir Patrick Fermor & his wife Joan loved Greece so much they built their dream house in Mani.

For the locals of Kardamili, he was Mr. Michalis the “Englishman,” their humble, open-hearted friend. To the rest of the world, he was Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor, the famous writer with a storybook life. He loved Greece with a passion, and he was loved like few others. His spirit still lives on in Mani.

Ask anyone of a certain generation in Kardamyli about Mr. Michalis and they will have a memory, a tale, to tell you. Most people remember his presence at national holiday parades—a dignified old man, elegantly dressed, standing, singing the national anthem with gusto and emotion. Others recall the festivities at his house on November 8th, his name day (not St Patrick’s!), to which the whole village was invited. He adopted the code name “Michalis Philendem” while working with the Cretan Resistance in World War II—he even added it to his passport.

Greece became a magnet for the restless young Anglo-Irishman with a romantic soul and inexhaustible courage. In 1933, at the age of 18, a failure at school and not wishing a career in the military, he decided to walk from the Netherlands to Constantinople. (He never called it anything else.) He would cross Central Europe with a few possessions and books, and would record in his notebook features of an old world just before it was lost forever.

The adventure would end two years later but that was by no means the end of the journey. Paddy, as he was known to friends, would continue his wanderings on Mount Athos, in Macedonia, and in Thrace. And when he returned to Britain in 1935, he knew he wanted to write. He revisited his adventures several decades later in two books (A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water), which together with earlier and later books about the Caribbean, the Andes, and Greece, would place him among the most important travel writers of his generation.

The Second World War found him in Crete, where he lived for about two years in the mountains with members of the Resistance. In 1944, he organized the kidnapping of Heinrich Kreipe, the German Commander of Crete, one of the most famous and controversial events of the war (for Kreipe, a decent guy, had only just replaced the hated target). Paddy never regarded himself as a hero, feeling the pain that the reprisals caused the local population.

He settled in Mani in the early ’60s with his wife Joan Eyres Monsell and it became their home. He was Mr. Michalis and she was Mrs. Ioanna. People of exemplary simplicity and at the same time cosmopolitan, their circle included celebrities of the time, scholars, and artists, such as Giacometti, Francis Bacon, Ian Fleming, Seferis, Ghikas, Bruce Chatwin. Fermor was the best ambassador for Mani, which he introduced to the public through his book Mani in 1958, illustrated with photographs by Joan.

What remains of a legendary life beyond the literary work? Memories. People close to him speak of his genuine kindness, generosity, childlikeness, and inexhaustible curiosity. That was Mr. Michalis—a Levantine gentleman. And of course his presence is still felt in his house, built by local stonemasons in an olive grove next to the sea. He oversaw every detail of its construction and it reflects the couple’s philosophy—their simplicity, love of nature, spirituality, love of books, and faith in friendship.

Today, the house is the property of the Benaki Museum, bequeathed to it in Fermor’s will. Renovated with a grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, it will soon start hosting writers, artists, and researchers, as Patric Fermor wished.

Elisavet Laloudaki

Directed by Matteo Pizzocaro

Matteo Pizzocaro is a Greek-Italian filmmaker. He studied film at Edinburgh Napier University (Screen Academy of Scotland, BA, with Honors) and in Brooklyn College, City University of New York, Film Department. He is based in Athens. He is the co-owner of Happyant Productions, focusing on documentaries and short films. He is currently working on his first feature film.

His short films have been presented at the Drama International Short Film Festival (Greece) the Athens International Film Festival (Greece), the Olympia Film Festival for children and young people (Greece), Microμ (Greece), Clit (Portugal), the International Silk Road Film Festival (Istanbul, Turkey) and the San Francisco Greek Film Festival (USA). His short films include “Just a thought”, “The Thief”, “Next Stop” and “Hi There”. He films in development include “Canary”, “Sono un Ribelle Mamma” and “Better Days are Coming”. He is currently working on his first feature film.

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