As you may have gathered Paddy Leigh Fermor is a bit of a hero of mine although I am the only member of my family never to have met him. It is because of him that Joshua was given his middle name. His house in Kardamili has been under renovation for a number of years and although entrance is impossible I popped down to see it the other day and peaked over the wall, as you can see below.
So on Sunday as the Mrs sought a few hours to catch up on her important work, Joshua and I set off exploring with my young son on my back. Part two, the climb to Zarnata castle, I have already recorded HERE. part one was to head off around the back streets of Kambos and the pictures pain a mixed picture as you can see below.
The man from whome Joshua gets his middle name, Paddy Leigh Fermor, was not very kind about Kambos, the nearest village to the Greek Hovel, in his classic book, The Mani. I cannot remember if he described it as dull, dreary or boring but whatever word he used it was not flattering. Of course the village has changed a lot since the early fifties but I think Paddy missed a certain charm.
The first photo is of young Joshua who enjoyed our walk. it started in a back street leading off the square bordered by what was Miranda's and lovely Eleni's Kourounis taverna. Heading past the, thankfully, deserted creperie the street becomes a narrow one - not that deters locals from driving along it. Balconies from houses that were here a hundred years before Leigh Fermor hang over your head.
Heading further along we discovered what, I count, to be the seventh church in this village of 500 odd souls and it is still in occasional use. thereafter we went past houses old, houses new and a couple of quite dreadful combinations of the two. Some of the older houses in Kambos have been restored well, others maintained carefully but sadly others are ab abandoned, a testimony to Greece's insane inheritance laws, There are new houses too, some tasteful and constructed during the "good times". The odd one, cheap, ugly and deserving of a bulldozer.
At the end of our trip we found ourselves at the big new Church at the top of the village and headed back past the Mrs counting cats on the internet, the main task of all public sector workers, and out towards the castle. I include, at the end, two small abandoned shacks on that road. Folks really did live in such houses kin days gone by. and then the final house in Kambos, a ruined tower house once belonging to our most famous son, an obscure nineteenth century Prime Minister of Greece.
I was trying to think of the most obscure British PM of the nineteenth century. Resorting to Wikipedia I offer you Viscount Goderich who lasted 144 days. maybe I am being unfair on our boy here in Kambos he did distinguish himself by sending troops into the Mani to kill his fellow Maniots so he is not a total nobody. Perhaps the earl of Roseberry is a fairer comparator? But can you imagine in the UK the home of any former PM being allowed to disintegrate in this way? Particularly if it sits next to a Mycenaean Tholos (tomb). It is very odd but still a splendid relic as you walk out of the village.
As you may know, the house my hero, Paddy Leigh Fermor, built in Kardamili is being renovated as some sort of writer's retreat. The area is taped off with do not enter signs and others warning of "danger" but would paddy have been put off? Of course not. I nipped up the path at the side of the house and snapped a few photos as you can see below.
And so daughter Olaf has survived her first night at the Greek Hovel. She slept in the Rat Room, I slept in the Bat Room. She is even using the eco-loo without complaint. Meanwhile building work continues at pace as you can see below.
first up is a small stone seat that Gregori the snake killer has constructed on what was once known as the snake patio. It will be pointed in due course and surrounded by terracotta tiles by the end of next week. On the roof tiling is almost complete while the windows team has now finished its work. You will note that in accessing the second floor the scaffolding is rudimentary, there are no high viz jackets or hard hats here either. Elf 'n' safey is swapped for the idea of personal responsibility.
You will see that many of the workmen wear not baseball caps but straw hats. I wonder about these. Are they just straw hats as any tourist might buy or a a hat doff to the past. In his book, the Mani, Paddy Leigh Fermour talks of how in the 1950s when this region was largely cut off from the rest of Greece, folks all wore wide brimmed straw hats. I ponder this matter. Today more progress is promised and so Olaf and I have headed out to go pick up the Mrs and Joshua and leave the workers to get on with it.
The first 5-6 miles were along the mountain road up to Kambos. I kid you not, it is uphill all the way. Having started at c10 feet above sea level I reckon that by the time I left this road I was at least 750 feet above sea level, plausibly quite a bit more. The views down to the gulf of Kalamata were spectacular but that was of little consolation. It was a slog.
Now and again, as I passed a blackberry bush where the berries are now starting to ripen I would pick a berry and think of Joshua. On the way home from his nursery we pass an enormous blackberry bush and while English berries are still green I know they will ripen. At that point Joshua will gorge himself at the bush and we will take more home for supper.
I had been dreading this climb, worrying that I would just find it too tough and be forced back but, although I am still a bit too fat, I seem to be surprisingly fit and by the time the Mrs called me and i stopped for a water and a protein bar break the village of Kouris was in sight. Greece being Greece it remained in sight as the road looped and looped again but before I knew it I was at the turn which saw me heading downhill to Megali Mantineia.
This village is prettier than my own, Kambos, and is also far closer to the sea. And it was made famous by "Things Can Only get Feta" and so it has a genteel feel of Northern European money that Kambos lacks. There is a lovely taverna with views out to the sea where the Mrs and I have eaten as we explored this region. I rather wished she was there and called her to say as much as I stopped for a coffee, for lots of water and to top up my water bottles. I chatted to my father and to his delightfully right wing, Trump loving carer Emma and headed onwards, always downwards to the sea.
As the sea started got closer I left the Greece of old stone houses and entered the Greece I'd rather not think about. there was "Harmony Village" a half finished development of four or five fake stone houses to contemplate. The weeds at Harmony grow long and a sign outside "For sale, investment opportunity" will, I suspect, be there for many years. Worse still are the houses thrown up during the "good years" when cheap money was being thrown at Greece by the EU. A ghastly concrete mansion painted bright pink with its own private modern church was the low-point.
At this point readers may wish to avoid the next two paragraphs. As I headed on to the sea with what the maps describe as the "rema mili" (the dry river which nearer Kambos is the murder gorge) to my left, my problems started. I have a stomach bug which can cause an urgent need to visit a lavatory. it is minor affliction which will, I am sure, go away soon, but at this point it struck. I tried to suck it in, I thought of how Paddy Leigh Fermor and Bruce Chatwin would have done a walk like mine in the mountains of the Mani, before an alcohol and nicotine fuelled lunch, and then done another walk afterwards. Somehow I reached the sea.
By now I was really struggling but somehow made it to the next village and to a taverna into which I rushed, found a loo and sat there letting everything go and sweating buckets. After that I felt I deserved another coffee. Frankly i deserved a medal as well. My body was empty and I headed back to Kalamata, stopping now and again to drink water or pour it over my head to cool down. It was with some relief that I made it back to my hotel where, after a quick shower, I feel utterly refreshed.
Could I have done another circuit? The answer is almost certainly "yes." My feet are fine, my legs are okay but in this heat I would have been a wretched specimen by the end of hit. As i write the temperature is well into the mid thirties.
Assuming I shake this bug, I'd like to do one more big walk before heading back to the UK - taking the mountain road another three or four miles onto just before Kambos before heading downhill to the sea and back home. I shall try to fit that walk around the arrival of the van from Bristol.
When building his house at Kardamili, 20 miles down the road from the Greek Hovel, all round superhero Paddy Leigh Fermor decided that he needed to go back to England for some literary business. On his return, some months later, he decided that the builders, though following plans, were building his house the wrong way round. Thus he instructed them to tear it down and start again.
I arrived at the Greek Hovel this morning to meet George the Architect and to inspect work on the bat room. The builders had been hard at work creating a bathroom space. Quelle horreur! I suppose it is what was in the plans but it was not what I wanted. Bricks rather than stone had been used and the walled off area was enormous devouring far too much space in what will be my residence this summer while the rest of the eco-palace is completed.
All change. George got out his tape measure and we have agreed that there will be a small room for the eco-loo with a sliding wooden door. Next to it will be a semi-open plan shower with an external wall just five foot high to keep the water in but and spare the modesty of whoever is using it. Outside that there will be a sink with storage space. The footprint of the bathroom area has been slashed by almost a half and my bolt-hole will feel all the bigger at the end of it.
The builders were, naturally, delighted as they started to tear down their work. There is an extra day and a half of labouring in it for them. Once again I am doing my little bit for the Greek economy.
The good news is that we are still under budget even with this minor hiccup since the old house was in marginally better shape than George had feared. The even better news is that the bat room will be finished and snake secured by mid April. The rest of the hovel will be finished and ready for fit out by August or September which I take to mean Christmas.
Perhaps 2018 guests might have to think about 2019 now but as I wandered around with George we started to discus where beds will go and where power switches will be situated. We have redesigned the rat room bathroom on the hoof to take out a shower and create more space, and additional bookshelves. I can, at last, really feel my retirement home starting to take shape.
George the architect is a modernist. I am a traditionalist. And thus at every stage of the design and reconstruction of the Greek Hovel he has an idea, my heart sinks, we discuss it and we reach my conclusion. And so last week we took a trip to a windows, shutters and door factory in the neighbouring village. I say factory, it was a big shed with - as far as I could see - the boss and just one employee.
The matter of shutters was not up for dispute. The Mrs had sent over a photo of her favoured - traditional - design. George tried to suggest we look at newer ways which...I cut him off. The Mrs has decreed, we don't argue. So that was settled. Doors were also settled in that we had sent photos of the big external door at Paddy Leigh Fermor's house down the road in Kardamili. Take away the grill and we are there. Again. Don't argue with the Mrs.
So we entered the factory and George and the boss took us over to a demonstration window frame which was clearly of the modern style. Complex machinery allowed the windows to tilt open as well as be flung open to let in the snakes. I let George and the boss gabble away for a while. I was distracted by the two factory cats and a small kitten which was playing happily.
After a few minutes George and the boss looked at me. I know that the window is expensive, modern and that when the complex joints and bolts break it will cost an arm and a leg to get a little man out from Kalamata to mend it, especially as he will have to order in new parts from Germany which will take weeks. Besides which our house was first built in 1924 not 2014. So I said no and looked at the windows of the factory itself, old style and simple. The message got through.
So we moved on to discuss which wood we should use and after that I looked at the big bags of sawdust piling up and asked "what do you do with that - can I buy it from you?" The man looked puzzled, he just gives the dust away to shepherds for winter bedding for their flocks. Of course he'd be delighted to help but he still looked confused.
George had to explain to him about how you use sawdust with an eco-loo. Not speaking Greek I'm not sure into how much detail he went. But the man nodded and understood. Another problem resolved.
One day the Mrs will learn that me and the seaside really don't mix. She has booked us into a pleasant hotel, the Baywatch, which to her annoyance, is nowhere near the sea. It does, however, have a wonderful view of the bay of Kalamata, a pool which Joshua, the Mrs and I like and is relatively quiet. The guests are nearly all young couples so I am the oldest there and find the music at the bar mildly irritating. That is to say it is all post 1995 and thus, by definition, utterly crap. But the internet works so I can relax by tapping away while Joshua crawls around the floor, licks windows, pulls books apart and does all the other things that make him happy. The Mrs is reading a book on the philosophy of marriage and occasionally draws my attention to a passage which highlights one of my rare failings as a husband.
But today here we are by the sea. Why have a Caribbean themed bar with a range of cheap gin, rum and vodka cocktails here in Greece except to cater to tourists with a limited IQ? Oh for the days of old when the charm of a Greek beach-side village was that it might have just a couple of shacks where you could drink ouzo or perhaps a Fix beer with fishermen and locals. Okay the shacks had no internet but then again I can't get the internet to work here either. That always makes my blood pressure soar.
Of course the shack for the fisherman is not the Greece of my lifetime. When I first came here, the Colonels had already been ousted and with an ever plunging drachma the foreigners were already swarming in for a cheap and cheerful holiday by the sun. But away from the sea, back in the 1970s, the Old Greece still existed. Food was rudimentary and based on sheep or goat, drink was almost always local wines not beer, roads in the mountains were either bad or non-existent and so some places really were preserved from the dreaded tourist. You really were enjoying a glass of local red wine for just a drachma with shepherds and other land workers. Conversation was in German as at least some men in every village had been Gastarbeiten at some point to escape the grinding poverty of rural Greece.
But the battle of the Kambos creperie was the dilemma Paddy pondered. For the natives the creperie and toasties might seem to offer them new choices. It might perhaps bring the possibility of new jobs and income to the village. As such it is a seductive siren just as, many years ago, wall to wall Caribbean themed bars must have been where I sit now . But for those with money and a real love of Greece it just forces us further afield to places that are still Greek. With its giant banners advertising Spanish beer or Swiss coffee this bar could be anywhere. How I wish it was somewhere else. Like Spain.
You will be glad that my camera is still unable to upload photos and so sits idle in my bag. For the view here is of human bodies sweating in the sun. I cover my own rolls of flesh with a T-shirt but most folks here wander around in swimsuits. A few of our species, such as my young wife, look wonderful in partial undress. But far too many of us just expose great rolls of blubber. Others wear all in one outfits into which the blubber is poured. As it desperately fills every inch of swimsuit and tries to escape it leaves nothing to the imagination.
And so I sit here surrounded by vile bodies listening to elevator music, dreadful remixes of tunes re-designed so as not to offend seventy year olds. The meze we are offered could have come from Iceland, the store for chavs, not the Country and, as a coup de grace, the Mrs and I are offered a shot of locally produced cough mixture on the house. That is a way of saying "you are tourists so all you want is to get hammered after paying 20 Euro for some third rate junk food now piss off."
Joshua sleeps soundly through all of this.
This time next year the Greek Hovel will, I believe, be finished. We three will sit by our own pool. I shall have no cause to grumble as the only semi-clad adult body on view will be that of the Mrs, there will be quiet all around, the meze will be made by me of local produce. And if the Kambos creperie has gone bust, all will be well.
The olive trees are owned by a father and son. The young man reckons 500 to 600 Euros is about right. It is his father who wanted more - 1500 Euro. So they settled in the middle. It is the father who goes to show that, as ever, Paddy Leigh Fermor has the Greeks nailed. 99% of Greeks are the nicest, most fair and generous folks you can meet. My neighbour Charon wants no compensation and neither does the sister in law of lovely Eleni. But, as Paddy noted in his classic book The Mani, just now and again you meet a Greek who is just such a complete and utter bastard that he will serve as a reminder of how great everyone else is.
I have inspected the thirty trees which we have "pruned". In some cases the branches cut are the sort you would cut at harvest time to flail across a machine to clean off olives. They are that small and they will have regrown by the time of the 2019 harvest. So it is one year's harvest lost. In other cases the branches are bigger and it will take three years for them to re-grow.
George and I did our maths and we cannot see how the loss of income over three years is anything more than 400 Euro and that is generous. So I said I would pay 500 Euro and if the old bastard does not accept he can take me to court. Moreover I shall tell the entire village what a bastard he has been and shame him in public. It is his call and I am very relaxed either way.
Meanwhile at the hovel work continues apace. I cut frigana and the Greek Albanians work on the building and on killing snakes. As you can see the ugly concrete blocks beneath the old ugly windows have now gone as well and the one window into the bat room has been extended so that it will get more natural light. The upstairs room will be flooded with light as the windows will be be almost floor to the current ceiling. Of course when it is finished that room - which will lead into the new room above the rat room and the new wing, will have a pitched wooden roof so it should feel very spacious indeed.
As I tap out a few words on my laptop next to the bright blue sea it is about 27 degrees. It is T-shirt weather and the Mrs is forcing myself and Joshua to go for a swim in an unheated pool a bit later. It is hot here in Kardamili. But as you can see in the two photos below, in the higher points of the taygetos mountains behind us, the last remnants of the winter snow still cling on. These are not the highest points of the range but Al Gore would be mortified to see global warming still on the ground in the sourthnmost part of Europe in May. The computer models, global warming nutjobs like George Monbiot and the entire population of Canada, plus 99% of peer group approved scientists all predicted desertification not this.
It is also Islington by the Sea. Partly because it was home to Paddy Leigh Fermor and partly becuase it is just incredibly pretty, this place is swamped with middle class Brits. You might say "like you" but they are not. Next year they will be in Tuscany. Perhaps Provence thereafter. Or maybe a summer in the Hamptons. I have overheard dinner conversations here about "the Triangulation of New Labour" and comparing the olive oil to that from our place in Tuscany."
Kardamili has only a pebble beach and it is away from the heart of town. So it is not a place for families. And so my fellow visitors tend to be older then me and guardian reading tossers from Islington. Right now, most folks here are actually Norwegian as next week is the Norwegian jazz festival, but, if anything they are even older than the Guardianistas.
Having all these affluent tourists without any kids means that this town has some nice restaurants. But you pay for that through the nose. Yes we can afford it but I am happer with the simpler and much cheaper food up at the Kourounis taverna or Miranda's in Kambos. Kambos is a Greek village with no tourists. Its population is pretty much unchanged at 536 all year round. Kardamili might have three or four times that many people here in July or August but in December it has fewer folks than my home village. It lives for those Guardinista tourists.
Its beauty, the Leigh Fermor link, the food and the views make me happy enough but I'm sure that by the weekend I shall be going stir crazy. I have been given a day release tomorrow to go work up at the Greek Hovel which will be a treat. But my longing is to be back in Kambos full time. Indeed, as the Mrs plans two days with her sister's in laws, the folks who taught me goat milking, I am threatening to stay up at the hovel for a couple of nights just to see what it is like.
I have remarked many times before on Paddy Leigh Fermor's good Greek bad Greek thesis. 99% of Greeks are generous, honest, good folks. The other 1% are such complete and utter bastards that their actions serve as a stark reminder of how incredibly good their fellow countrymen are. The lying traitor of a PM, Alex Tsipras is firmly among the 1%. So too, are more than a few taxi drivers in Athens.
The Aegean flight to Athens was staffed by 99%-ers. All passengers were given a candle with a ribbon as we boarded. This was to celebrate Easter. The hostesses smiled. Not the fixed, forced and robotic grimace of a Ryanair staffer but a warm smile like they really were happy to see us and share some Easter joy with their fellow human beings. After a lovely lady handed me a pre-ordered diabetic meal as she whispered "here is your special meal," as if my condition need be kept hidden, the crew were even more kind to an ailing old man. Actually I feel greatly improved.
At Athens airport I met a 1% man.
The meter showed 50 Euro as my cab from the airport pulled up at the bus station. So I handed over a note. 5 more Euro for the toll said the driver. I have done that ride many times so know full well that tolls are not "on top". So I waved my finger and told him in "Greeklish" where to sling it. But many first time visitors to Athens will fall for what is just blatant theft. It is a bad first impression to give a visitor. It is the sort of thing that discourages a return visit. But the 1% do not care about that. They are just bastards to the core who will steal and cheat whenever they can.
But if you happen to meet such a Greek, please just smile, think of Paddy and think of the 99% who, in spite of the unforgivable misery heaped on this country by the EU, the banksters, Tsipras et al, remain the most hospitable and warmest folk on this planet.
Angela Merkel arrived at Athens the other day. At passport control she was asked "Nationality". She replied "German". The Officer continued "Occupation?" "Not this time" she replied.
The conclusion is that it was built around 1850 but why then and not earlier? Here my father and I are in agreement: it is all down to the accursed Turks. When Greece was under Turkish rule the Mani peninsula was almost autonomous. The war like folks here engaged in protracted blood feuds as they had always done and the Turks saw little reason to unite the Maniots by pulling their beard with a military invasion.
As long as they were not too naughty on the piratical front they were best left alone. They had no great wealth to plunder and the towns and villages were remote and connected by paths and tracks with no roads. The Maniots were happy with this arrangement and thus why bother to construct a bridge across the natural defence of this deep gorge separating the Mani from lands under Turkish rule. When the river flowed it would have been impassable. When it did not defending the Mani rom the steep valley on the Kambos side would still have been a sinch.
The Maniots had no need to head up to Kalamata. They were self sufficient and there were more important things to do like killing your neighbours. Besides which if you really wanted to get to Turkish lands you could always go to a coastal port such as Kitries and sail up the shoreline.
Things changed in 1821 when on March 17 the Bishop of Tripoli in the heart of the Peloponnese called for an uprising across Greece. The first to answer this call to arms were, naturally, the Maniots who decided that it would be better to slaughter Turks than each other. Thus on March 21 the Maniots arrived at Kalamata and slaughtered the Turkish garrison there, without suffering a single casualty themselves.
The Maniots fought bravely in that war including the famous incident, recounted in full by Paddy Leigh Fermour in his book The Mani, when their women slaughtered a Turkish army. The men folk were being beseiged at Verga on the outskirts of Kalamata, defending heroically they repulsed wave after wave of attacks from a much larger Turkish force. So the Turks had a cunning plan: sending a largely Egyptian force down by sea to capture the Maniot capital of Aeropolis which is way down the peninsular and a couple of miles in land. This force arrived and only the very old men and the women working in the fields with their scythes were around. Naturally the women set upon the Turks and beat them back into the sea. As other men arrived with guns and swords the slaughter was complete with Turkish forces drowning and butchered with scythe and bullets en masse. When you view lovely Eleni in the Kourounis taverna remember that she is descended from such women.
When Greece became independent and gained a new king from Bavaria there were attempts, including the use of military force, to include the Maniots in the new order but they met an inevitable conclusion.
The Mani became part of the new Greece but with a certain degree of autonomy agreed. And it is only at that point that there was any point in making the gorge passable at all points. Only then would the Maniots feel any interest in heading off to the fleshpots of Kalamata to trade their sheep and olives for more useful things such as gunpowder and bullets for the blood feuding and other matters that could now continue as normal. Hence the bridge was built and until the 1970s, when the bigger bridge above it was constructed as part of the first road heading into Kambos, it was the link across the gorge.
The path down to the dry river was not to steep but it was not the sort of path I would have walked along in summer. Undisturbed by humans it is exactly the sort of place snakes would seek out for a spot of sunbathing. But they are all asleep are they not? After about fifteen yards I heard a rustle in the bushes behind me. I did not see what it was but, though it is utterly improbable I almost convinced myself that one of the serpents had set his hibernation clock for the wrong time. I was just in that sort of paranoid mood.
Arriving at the river I looked up the gorge having horrible images of flash floods sweeping me away. There is no reason at all why this would happen but as I headed down I looked to see how I could escape if such a flood arrived.
The boulders are large in places and it struck me that, as a boy, might have enjoyed climbing across them and leavering myself along. as an almost fifty year old man my best days of clambering along such rover beds are behind me.
As I moved towards the bridge I thought of the two bodies hurled there in 2014. The men had already been shot but this was their temporary resting place. I thought also of Paddy Leigh Fermor finding a dead body on a dry river bed as he walked to Kambos. At the bottom of this valley it is darker than at the top and it seemed a gloomy sort of place where dead bodies really should be found. Looking upwards you realise how "far down" you are
The bridge is in good enough nick. as you can see I clambered through blackberry bushes up the side of the valley allowing me to walk on the bridge. a few bushes are growing out of the top and it disappears on the other side into thick undergrowth. So I guess that I am unusual in walking across it in 2017.
There was no visible datestone but I shall be asking around about it in Kambos. I realise that the events of 2014 might make this a difficult subject to broach but I am keen to find out when it was built and anything about its history. I shall keep you posted. But it is a link with an older Mani from a time before you could reach the village of Kambos by road and thus it is something I'd like to check out.
As for skeletal remains, there was something. But this dead sheep was doing no savaging.
These days there is a brand spanking new (EU funded) bridge that cross the gorge. For 90% of the year there is a dry river at the bottom, the rest of the time it is a gushing torrent. Right now, since the snow on the Taygetos Mountains has not melted it is dry.
The old bridge was built when the road to Kambos - the village nearest to the Greek Hovel - was first constructed in the 1970s. You can still access it via a road strewn with rocks but it is driveable and a simple detour from the main "highway." Hence you can dump bodies there after you have murdered someone.
For no reason at all I took a detour yesterday to the murder bridge and - for the first time - spotted an even older bridge underneath it. It looks very ancient indeed and can only be wide enough for pedestrians and sheep. It must have been used in the pre-road era and has thus been abandoned for years. I have no idea how old it is or who built it but you can see it below.
With the river dry and the snakes asleep now looks like a good time to investigate. When the heroic Paddy Leigh Fermor walked into the Mani and towards his first stop in Kambos - a village he was jolly rude about - he recounts walking along a river valley and discovering the bones of a man killed in the recently ended civil war. Paddy, like the folks in the Mani, fought with the Royalists and one assumes that the skeleton was that of a dead commie as no-one had paid it any attention.
In April the Mrs and I plan to cross the Bridge that is the real killing fields of European drama, that between Denmark and Sweden, as we take Joshua on a road trip. The Mrs used to work in Sweden so will be yakking to her former colleagues in the world of sociology, I plan to go fishing with Joshua, whose second name, for reasons you can guess, is Patrick, or Paddy. But for now it is an old bridge in the Mani that excites me.
I sit here now in Shipston with my father, trying to persuade him to come to Greece for the olive harvest in December. It is not that he would be much good in terms of picking olives. I suppose he might lean against a tree up at the Greek Hovel and bash the branches with his walking stick. But I think his role should be more concerned with drinking ouzo with the older men of Kambos so that my liver is preserved and I can play a full part in the harvest working with George the Albanian and his family.
The Greek Hovel seems a long way away. As does the house of all round superhero Paddy Leigh Fermor which I visited with my wife and my father and step mother. on June 8 It was only five weeks ago but things moved fast for my step mother on her return. She enjoyed this last Greek trip as you can see.
There are a couple of internal photos in an earlier article HERE. Below are photos of the dining area, the courtyard, the steps down to the sea and the sea itself and of myself, my father and step mother sitting inside the main entrance.
And so our party finally made it through the large blue door which marks the entrance to the house that Paddy built in Kardamili. Turning right along a terrace open on one side we found ourselves with the rest of the group in the library. This was all rather different from the Greek Hovel.
Have I mentioned how the two men met? My father was lecturing at the spectacular fortress of Monemvasia on the vlachs - a Nomadic tribe in Northern Greece. There is no connection at all between the Vlachs and Monemvasia here in the far South so I assume it was some sort of academic junket. Amazingly, thirty folks turned up and one of them - driving three hours to get there - was Paddy. There the friendship started.
My dear wife says that I have too many books. She points out, correctly, that I do not read that much and argues that she should be allowed to give them all to a Charity shop. I say that I will read more when I re-balance my life and become the primary carer for our son. Bedtime reading little one: have we finished that Ayn Rand yet? Okay time for a bit of Mark Steyn. Between Bristol and Greece we have more than enough room, in fact we need more books!
Paddy certainly had books. There are those in neat bookshelves as below and then just piles and piles of books in every room. My stepmother and I started to hunt for what would really please Dad, sight of a copy of his book on the Vlachs which he gave to Paddy. It was like hunting for a needle in a haystack and eventually we gave up. But my father was still in the library with folks hanging on his every word. Or at least that was what he said was happening as we collected him and started the trek down the long path.
At this point he was propped against me for support as we edged down the hill. On the other side was a middle aged American lady who appeared to think that she had just met the real thing. My father told an old joke about his bad greek once leaving him boasting that he had 25 penises ( he meant chickens) and the lady roared with laughter. Maybe I did too the first time I heard it but that was many incantations ago. Eventually we reached the car and the lady departed sadly.
We Winnifrith men, like Paddy himself, we know how to pull the birds in Greece.
A member of the English upper middle classes was quizzing the Greek lady in charge on how they were to fund the restoration of Paddy's place. Frankly it seems in far better nick than the houses that 99% of Greeks live in but that is not the point. This is a place where predominantly British folks can go to pay their respects to a great master of the English language who opted to make his life here in Greece. In due course the house is to be rented out for three months of the year at commercial rates as Paddy instructed. Thus the rent from loaded investment banksters will allow poor writers (me?) to use it as a retreat for the rest of the year. But what of the repairs?
The member of the British upper middle classes said loudly "have you asked the Greek Government for money?" The woman looked back amazed that she appeared to have met the one person on this planet who was unaware that the Greek Government is not exactly awash with cash. In response to her silence, the pompous member of the British Establishment asked "well what about the EU then?"
Let me translate for your benefit what this posh twit believes. Poor people across Europe but especially here in Greece should pay more taxes because as we know taxes are for little people, that is to say most are regressive. That will allow Governments which have no money of their own, or in the case of Greece no money at all, to refurbish a house built and lived in by an Englishman who wrote books that are overwhelmingly read by middle and upper class Brits so that the same rich Brits can have a more pleasant summer holiday as they visit his house. Jolly good show.
It is, of course, the way the UK National Lottery works. Overwhelmingly it is played by the poor and stupid. They put the money in and a good chunk goes to subsidise activities such as the theatre and opera which are overwhelmingly enjoyed by the upper classes.
Rather foolishly no-one took exact directions to the house of Paddy Leigh Fermor which is about three quarters of a mile outside the main area of Kardamili. My father sat in the other front seat and my step mother and wife sat in the back as I drove along the main road reliant on the fact that the Old Man had been there before. That was an error, Not for nothing does my father make regular donations to the Alzheimer's society.
Indeed, on occasion he manages a real triumph by sending a cheque to the society in an envelope addressed to one of my siblings while sending to the Alzheimer's folks a long, rambling and illegible letter in which he makes rude observations about a range of family members exempting - on this occasion only - the intended recipient.
As such the satnav skills of my father were rather lacking. He being almost totally immobile, my very pregnant wife not much better, it was thus down to my step mother and I to find a native and get directions. I take my hat off to my step mum who took directions in Greek and thanks to here we, somehow, arrived albeit rather rather late.
The house is open at certain hours and you have to get on the list to visit as part of a large group. Chez Leigh Fermor is up a rather steep track which I drove up by car to deposit the almost totally immobile and nearly immobile before somehow reversing down to secure a parking spot. A walk along a leafy path from the top of the track found the advance party of my step mother and I facing a long wall which encircles the property. Where the wall turned lower I peered over and saw a very well dressed middle class Brit and asked him how we might secure entrance.
Paddy Leigh Fermor attracts disproportionate admiration from elitist British snobs and this well bred member of the elite peered down his patrician nose to find himself staring at a man who has not shaved for two weeks and who was wearing a shirt without a collar, that is to say an Indian shirt, black jeans and sneakers. Clearly I was not the right sort of fellow and with great pleasure he answered my question "by arrangement only". I responded - we have made arrangements I just wanted to know how we get in?
But at that point the man turned on his upper class heels having spent far too long engaging with a member of the lower classes. Thinking that a man such as Leigh Fermor would have happily have sat at the Greek Hovel drinking ouzo unlike this upper class twit, I said "patrician tosser" in a voice loud enough for all to hear. The chap strode off to distance himself from the peasantry while my step mother, the daughter and sister of a Baronet and someone noted for being really rather posh, looked at me a little disapprovingly.
We headed back to the door to the compound which had been locked and somehow managed to attract the attention of a Greek. He had no reservations about speaking to a man in a beard who was wearing an ethnic shirt and entrance was secured.
I have written before about the war hero and writer Paddy Leigh Fermor. He was an all round superhero and also Mr Mani, not just for writing the book "Mani" but because he built his house here in Kardamili. There are plans to turn it into some sort of writers retreat. Those who have seen the Before Sunset trilogy with the lovely Julie Delpy will know Paddy's house well from the final film set here in Kardamili, Before Midnight. The scene below sees Paddy ( played by an actor not the man himself) holding court.
Paddy's walk to Greece which started his remarkable life was prompted by him being booted out of King's Canterbury for seducing the daughter of a local greengrocer. My sister was at that lunch and had been head girl at Kings. Paddy told her "if there had been girls like you at Kings in my time, I should never have encountered the greengrocer's daughter". What a charmer he was. The comparisons made with James Bond were not only prompted by his heroic war record.
Getting access to the house required me to engage in some negotiations with Greek officialdom. Such is life, as our existence at the Greek Hovel teaches us on a daily basis. I am sure it will be worth it and will report back later.
War hero, author, all round superhero Paddy Leigh Fermor lived down the road from where I am in the Mani and is the man who made this area famous with his book "The Mani". Today in my email in box I receive a copy of issue 5 of The Philhellene, the newsletter of the Paddy Leigh Fermor Society and there is an article in it by Tom Winnifrith - not me but my father. Just to prove that one member of the family can write properly and without swearing here you are...
Leigh Fermor, P could and should have written more about the Vlachs than he does in Mani and Roumeli. He would have written more amusingly and eloquently than Winnifrith, T does in TheVlachs and Shattered Eagles: Balkan Fragments. I begin with this school report, because it is at schools in Kent that the paths of these two travellers begin to diverge.
There were no greengrocers’ daughters to lead me astray at Tonbridge and to push me out to wander between woods and water down to the Balkans. Instead I pursued a conventional if old fashioned education in Greek, Latin and Ancient History at school and university before embarking on a career teaching these subjects and English Literature at the University ofWarwick.This institution was very kind in allowing me time and even money to travel around the Balkans when I should have been writing boring books about the Brontës. It also awarded Paddy an honorary degree, and at the ceremony we spoke to each other in Vlach.
This conversation amazed the local dignitaries, but, alas, my spoken Vlach is very poor, unlike Paddy’s. He was helped by a long stay in Romania where they speak a language very similar to various kinds of Vlach, and by his interest in and ability at all kinds of languages. Almost all Vlachs in Greece, and a number of Vlachs in other Balkan countries, speak Greek. A training in Homer and Herodotus, although useful in testing the truth of tall travellers’ tales, is of little practical help in a crowded Greek bus station or when lost in the mountains where Vlach villages are to be found. Crede experto, as they would say in Latin, but not Vlach.
So who are the Vlachs? In the first few pages of Mani Paddy draws attention to two difficulties about finding a definition, namely that the Vlachs are to be found with different names, and that many people are called Vlachs but do not speak the language close to Romanian which I have mentioned.Thus in the villages of Kampos near Kardamyli the inhabitants are called Vlachs, but this is just a term of abuse for people not like us. My son has just bought a battered house near Kampos, and says that the inhabitants are very nice. Alternatively Vlach can just mean a shepherd. I have heard a Greek bus driver swearing at a goatherd leading his flock along a main road with the imprecation “Blachos”, and I don’t think he was making a philological statement, although the shepherd was in the Pindus mountains and might have been a Vlach.
But he might not have called himself one. Right at the beginning of Mani Paddy has a long list of fringe groups associated with Greece. I am proud to say I have met in the past Greek speakers in Calabria, the Tsakonians of the Eastern Peloponnese and even Tartars in the Crimea. Propriety prohibited me from meeting the Loubinistika speakers of the brothels, chronology from meeting the Anglo-Saxon members of the Varangian Guard. But disappointingly there is only a brief mention of the Koutzovlachs of Metsovo. Metsovo in the Pindus mountains is the largest Vlach settlement, but there are many other Vlachs in Greece, other parts of the Balkans and in America, Canada and Australia.
Sometimes these call themselves Arumanians or some variant of this name, sometimes Tsintzars, a reference probably, like the addition of Koutzo to Vlach, to their sibilant speech. Some scholars call them Macedo-Romanians, adding to the confusion of one name another that is contested. In Albania I found many Vlachs who tend to call themselves by the district in which they sometimes live: Gramosteani from Mount Grammos, Farsharoti from Frasher in central Albania. The American Vlachs near Bridgeport founded a society called The Society Farsarotul, which published a very useful newsletter. Another American produced a newspaper called Frandza Vlacha, a French group a periodical called Tra Ar manami and a German group Zborlu Nostru, our word, a somewhat ambiguous title since there seem so many words for what was regarded as ours.
In his allusions to Vlach history in Roumeli Paddy mischievously mentions the theory that the Farsharots derive their name from the battle of Pharsalus where Caesar defeated Pompey in 48BC. A Latin presence in the Balkans is apparent more than a century before this date, but under the Roman Empire Greek was generally the language of administration in the East, as opposed to Latin in the West. In the West, Latin gradually replaced native languages and was even adopted by the German invaders; hence we have languages like French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. In the East things worked out differently. Slav invaders kept their own language except in Greece, Albanian survived the competing claims of Slav and Greek, while mysteriously in Romania and scattered pockets in the central Balkans people preserved a form of Latin.
In the West, Roman authority collapsed in the fifth century, but the Danube frontier was held until the beginning of the seventh, and although the administration of the Eastern Roman Empire was largely Greek there was still a Latin presence in the northern Balkans. The Emperor Justinian who ruled from 527 to 565 was a Latin speaker. His efforts to conquer Italy and North Africa, though temporarily successful, left the Balkans an easy prey for Slav invaders.We have very few records of Balkan history in the four centuries following this invasion. Justinian’s historian Procopius gives an account of forts that the emperor had built.These forts are difficult to locate, but some of them have Latin names, and it is probably from them that the ancestors of the Vlachs emerged. We get our first mention of Vlachs in 976AD when some Vlach hoditai murdered the brother of the Bulgarian emperor Samuel between Kastoria and Prespa, an area still peopled by Vlachs today.
Hodos means road, and hoditai could indicate travellers or highwaymen or people appointed to guard the roads.The last meaning suggests a degree of organization not present in the Balkans at this time, although it appeals to those who like to think of the Vlachs as descendants of Roman legionaries and forefathers of the well disciplined baggage trains of the nineteenth century. Byzantine historians after the Kastoria incident tend to give the Vlachs a bad name, suggesting the second meaning. A strong Vlach presence in Thessaly, especially after the fourth crusade of 1204, led to the province being called Vlachia. Previously the Asen family had established a powerful empire further north.The inhabitants of this empire are confusingly sometimes called Vlachs, sometimes Bulgars and even more confusingly, since the empire extended to the Danube and beyond, we cannot be sure whether we have a reference to Romanians or Vlachs or both.
The Ottomans had conquered the whole of the Balkans by the beginning of the sixteenth century. They get a bad press, not deservedly so. With strong central rule the Vlachs seem to have prospered as muleteers and merchants travelling the length and breadth of the Balkans and as shepherds making long journeys from summer pastures in the mountains to winter quarters on the coastal plains.We do not have many mentions of the Vlachs in the period from 1500 to 1800 but, as Gibbon teaches us, happy is the land which has no history.
The Ottomans were tolerant to the Orthodox faith, leaving persecutions to Catholics and Protestants in the West.There are records of churches dating from the seventeenth century and stories about the foundation of villages even earlier. Samarina north of Metsovo had four churches in 1913 and, in Southern Albania,Voskopoje or Moschopolis had many more. But at the end of the eighteenth century the Ottoman Empire like its Byzantine predecessor began to decline and fall. Voskopoje was frequently sacked by marauding Albanian brigands, although it still stands as a monument to a great city greatly fallen, and is still inhabited by Vlachs as well as Albanians. Many of the Vlachs moved from Voskopoje to other Vlach villages in the Balkans.
During the last chaotic century of Ottoman rule there were two important studies by Western scholars of the Vlachs. A German professor, Gustav Weigand, meticulously in Die Aromunen recorded in 1888 his journeys, including some stories and folk songs. A copy of his ethnological map hangs in my study. It is still very useful for locating Vlachs, although the fortunes of other races have waxed and waned. I heard some of his songs almost a hundred years later. In 1914 two English scholars, A.J.B. Wace and M.S. Thomson, produced another book with more maps, songs and a useful grammar and vocabulary.They were in the Samarina area conducting archaeological work, and The Nomads of the Balkans is a tribute to the ability of classical scholars to turn their hand to anything.
I met Wace when I was a schoolboy interested in Cretan archaeology, but between his book and my first sight of a Vlach in 1974 two generations had elapsed, during which there had been two Balkan wars, two world wars and two civil wars, one in Greece and one in Yugoslavia.The front line in many of these conflicts was very often in Vlach territory, as gnarled old veterans used to tell me, making me rather glad that I was not one of the excellent German scholars who have worked on this subject. In addition to actual battles, war and subsequent boundary changes played havoc with the rhythms of the transhumant Vlach shepherd, although mechanical transport altered the pattern of long marches on foot or with mules. Boundaries which did not exist in 1914 became a slight obstacle for Vlachs after 1918, and a real barrier after the Iron Curtain came down in 1945. Paddy was lucky to travel in the 1930s.
Poverty and Balkan wars led to emigration. Pro-Romanian Vlachs went to Romania while others were driven to the New World where they prospered more than in Romania. I have attended Vlach dances in this country and in Australia and America, all extremely respectable affairs, reminding me of suburban Surrey in the 1950s. I am sure Paddy would have displayed more agility on the dance floor while I courteously enquired about the ancestry of my partners. On another occasion after missing my train at Skopje station I lay down to sleep and woke to find myself neatly sandwiched between two beautiful gypsy ladies, often, probably unfairly, accused of having loose morals and light fingers. A proper traveller like Paddy would have made enquiries about the ethnic origins of these ladies. Gypsies, because of their wandering habits, are often confused with Vlachs. Their language like the Vlach language is rarely written and is really a medley of different dialects. They call themselves Roma, a word which has four letters in common with Aromanian. But at five o’clock in the morning with my purse and person intact I made my excuses and left.
Since 1990 travel in the formerYugoslavia has been made much more difficult, although it has become much easier to visit other countries beyond the Iron Curtain. For a time there was a great interest in minorities, and I was invited to speak on the Vlachs, being better at speaking than dancing. In these travels I did note especially in Albania and America that there was a division, as there had been in the time of Wace and Thomson, between a pro- Romanian and a pro-Greek party.The former maintain that theVlachs are descendants of people who at some stage in the middle ages moved from the plains of the Danube to the rugged Pindus mountains. Greeks suggest that Roman legionaries were stationed in these mountains, married Greek girls and begot Latin speakers with Greek ethnicity. Neither of these paths seems very promising, although I have not been able to come up with a plausible via media.
I am now too old to do much work on the Vlachs. A younger successor, more like Paddy at ease with the easy world of travellers’ tales, is needed but the world of the traveller has become much harder. Thousands of migrants from the Near East pass through Skopje station leaving little room for the odd gypsy or Vlach. Gevgelja station on the border between Greece and Macedonia has become an important staging post on the terrifying road from Damascus. I can remember waiting for a train there in the 1980s, reading Hard Times and thinking that times were not so hard as in Dickens’s day. “Tempora mutantur et nos mutamur in illis.” I have not changed much and have not learnt to translate this useful Latin phrase into Vlach, although I know that the Vlach for I change is mutu. A phrase, less useful, but easier to remember is “are mare nare” which means “he has a big nose”.
Paddy and I did not exchange these words when we greeted each other at the degree ceremony. I think we said “Ghinevinis = well come”. Even this may have been a protest against the pomposity of the occasion. This would turn Vlach into a language like Boliaric, the secret argot of thieves recorded in Roumeli, and there is some attraction in the idea that Vlach was used as a kind of code to keep outsiders in the dark. Alternatively, at the other end of the scale, Vlach might have been a lingua franca used by travellers in difficult situations.
It is after all fairly easy to learn a little bad Latin in the same way that refugees from Syria learn broken English with which they can communicate with Hungarian frontier guards. Fortuna favet fortibus, fortune favours the brave. The refugees have to be brave. I have been very fortunate. Paddy was both.
I sit with my back to the door at the Kourounis taverna typing away, writing almost anything to avoid the torture of completing the subbing of Zak Mir's book. Is it too early for an ouzo to stiffen my resolve to face the torture that awaits?
But I am trying to get Greek residency so that I can buy a car, a motorbike and a gun for the Greek Hovel. And that means that I had to go to Kardamili police station to present my papers. I took my Greek speaking wife with me for protection. Would I meet the bent cop who incarcerated me last year? Would I meet his goon of an assistant who looks like the nasty gay character in Coronation Street? I was rather nervous.
But as luck would have it it was the cop from Kambos who was in charge. He greeted me with a very friendly "yas, Tom!" The downside to him being in charge is that he does not speak a word of English. But eventually a younger policeman arrived and the Kambos cop explained that I lived in Toumbia - the area in the hills above Kambos and that he knew me well - I understood what he was saying. Between the English of the younger cop and the Greek of the Mrs we established that this time I had all the documentation bar one minor item.
In order to show that I will not be a drain on the Greek state I need a bank account with a bank in Greece showing that I have 4,000 Euro in it. As every single person in the whole of Greece rushes to empty their bak account I have to open one and put cash in. Jim Mellon says that if I do this they should build a statue in my honour. Hmmm. And so on Friday I headed to the bank in Kalamata to do my duty...
But we left the Kadamili Police station with handshakes all round. I have noted before the observation of Paddy Leigh Fermor that 99 in 100 Greeks are the most generous, kindest and welcoming folk you can meet. The other one is a complete prize shit who will screw you at every opportunity. Our time in Kardamili last year was marred by meeting two of those prize shits - the bent cop and the hotelier. But that wound has now healed. Even the Kardamili Police station is now somewhere I can view in a positive light.
Kardamili has no sandy beaches and so is not a family resort. It has no bars and cafes serving fish and chips, burgers and cheap lager. Folks seeking sun, sea, sand and burgers and a pint of Fosters head to Stoupa down the road. Kardamili is an oasis of gentility which the Mrs rather prefers - for reasons I cannot understand - to The Greek Hovel and life in Kambos. And so last week I swapped the hovel for six days in a luxury hotel. It's a hard life.
A fortnight ago Kardamili hosted a Norwegian jazz festival. All year round it attracts Paddly Leigh Fermor pilgrims. The tourists it sucks in are generally very middle class, generally a bit older than me and largely English. As a journalist I am always nosily eavesdropping in on conversations at neighbouring tables and so I bring you these delightful snippets from a few days in Kardamili:
"of course it was just a construct of New Labour triangulation."
No I am not sure what that means either.
"I am not sure that the olive oil is as good that that we enjoyed in Tuscany last summer"
Whatever. By now you should have twigged that with its Venetian and quiet charm, Kardamili in the early summer becomes Islington abroad, Tuscany by the Greek Med. I guess they are not really my sort of people but I'd raher be there than with the soccer shirt wearing Brits at Stoupa.Folks who are, let;s face it, simply Non-U. Does that make me a snob? Ok. I plead guilty as charged.
I preface this all with some comments of Paddy Leigh Fermor in his book the Mani. Paddy has just been ripped off by a mule owner who had acted like a total bastard. Paddy reflects that this happens just now and again in Greece but is made all the more memorable because 99% of the time the hospitality of the people of Greece, their honesty and generosity is unmatched. Paddy puts it rather more eloquently but is correct. And with that preface…
The Mrs decided that during her stay with me this summer we should take some time out from the Greek hovel and enjoy a bit of luxury in Kardamili. We could not leave my guest alone at the hovel with the snakes and so she was booked into one hotel in the centre of town while the Mrs and I stayed at a wonderful place the Meletsina Village at the far end of the beach road which leads away north from the town
I cannot speak too highly of the Canadian Greek family who ran our place. It was there that Julie Despy and Ethan Hawke had stayed while filming “Before Midnight” in the town and it gets a thumbs up on all counts.
My guest was not so lucky. On the first night in town she took her laptop out to work in a restaurant and was promptly followed back to where she was staying, the Papanestoras Apartments run by the loathsome Valia Papanestoros.
After waiting for her to start snoring (which she does), those who had followed her entered her room – she had unwisely not locked her door – and stole her computer and wallet (later retrieved minus 70 euro in cash).
By 5 AM my guest was reporting this to Kardamili police who at once pointed the finger at their usual suspects…Albanians. Whilst this might seem a bit unfair I am afraid that 99% of burglaries in the Mani happen in the tourist towns and are indeed perpetrated by Albanian criminal gangs. In the non-tourist villages, burglaries are less common as the Maniots have less to steal and will have guns with which they will shoot you.
In the days that followed my guest, understandably felt angry – having lost much of the book she was writing – and violated. I wish I could say that the Old Bill bust a gut for her but I cannot.
At first the owner of the hotel was sympathetic and said that my guest could leave early and pay only for the days she had stayed. My guest took her up on that and flew back to London but because the hotel had no working credit card machine had to assure her that I would pay her in cash.
And so just a few hours after my guest left, I heard a loud knock and opened the door of my hotel room. The Mrs was sunning herself on the beach. Standing in front of me was the hotelier and an enormous and menacing looking man. She instantly demanded the full week’s payment in cash. I explained that she was not entitled to that, that she had agreed to accept 5 days payment and that I would pay later. The man stepped forward a bit. “Alright I shall come up to town later and pay, said I”
That evening I went to the Police and reported her for demanding money to which she was not entitled. They called her and she came in. She admitted that the booking had only been for six days but insisted that my guest was lying in saying she only had to pay for five. Let us not forget this woman ran an establishment where burglars can just walk around stealing and shows no contrition for that.
I agreed – simply for the sake of a quiet life – to pay the six days and said I would pay tomorrow evening. The Policeman told her to agree and she did.
As I was preparing to head into town the next evening to go to an ATM and collect the cash to pay this woman a policeman arrived at our hotel. Before I knew what was happening I was being bundled into a Police car and taken to the Station. I was not allowed to go collect my cigarettes or phone but the Mrs ran and got them and passed them to me as the Policeman pushed me into the car.
While my wife managed to get lift into town to get cash, I was driven off in the Police car. On the way the Sergeant stopped for a chat with his mate. He then passed the vile hotelier Valia who was stuffing her over-tanned face at a restaurant with her old crone of a mother and two kids. The policeman pulled the car over and they joked and laughed with her in Greek. I sat in the back feeling rather despondent and a bit humiliated as folks walked past looking at the “criminal” being led away.
I was bundled out of the car and pushed into the station. There was one other cop here, a man looking a bit like the nasty gay character on Corrie (Tod), who looked hugely embarrassed as the Sergeant interrogated me and demanded I get documentation to him to prove who I was,. My passport was with John the bike man in Kalamata but he faxed over a copy and the Mrs arrived with 360 Euro. At that point the vile Valia was phoned on her mobile by her pal the Sergeant. She trotted up took her money and said “have a nice trip home”
“Oh no, I’m not a tourist, I am a Greek resident” I piped up. “You will be seeing me again.” That did not seem to make her terribly happy at all and she stormed off. She wants to rip off tourists, demanding cash to which she is not entitle, with menace, and to use her pal in the Police to enforce her actions in the knowledge that she will never see her victims again and there are always new folks to rip off next year. I guess that I don’t fit the bill.
Eventually the Sergeant said to me “Get out!! And so the Mrs and I walked the one mile back to our hotel contemplating how events had unfolded. Paddy Leigh Fermor was right about the Greeks. This one bad experience of the summer only served as a reminder of how wonderful everyone else is.
For my guest and I, this experience has tainted our feelings towards Kardamili. I now effectively boycott the town, preferring to go to the ATM in Kalamata and everything else I can do in Kambos. I know this is a bit unfair and also self-destructive. For Kardamili is a lovely town as tourist towns go.. The buildings are wonderful. As you head up the hill towards Stoupa the first restaurant on your right is the best “ordinary fish restaurant” in the region and has amazing views over the sea and a little harbour.
The Mrs, who is nicer and more forgiving than I, insists that we must visit again to purge our bad memories. I have no gripe with the people of the town who are overwhelmingly great folk. Even the Police station is staffed largely by good men, notably the chap who looks like the nasty gay in Corrie and also another Sergeant who is a Kambos resident, a regular at the Kourounis taverna and a good man. Had he been around that evening I am in no doubt that stern words would have been had with his colleague. Bullying tourists is one thing, but your neighbours? That is a whole different ball game.
Go to Kardamili. Have a wonderful time. However be warned, do not under any circumstances do business with Valia or stay at the Papanestoras Apartments. The Mani has a tradition of blood feuds, quarrels that can go on for generations. Valia you have started such a feud. You will regret it as your infamy spreads across the internet.
Back in the 1960s my uncle visited the Mani on his first honeymoon. Oddly he and his wife were joined by another couple and within months his wife had run off with the other man. That is an aside. It took my uncle more than two days to get from Athens to the Mani so remote and cut off was the region.
Here in Kambos the dirt track to Kardamili became a road back in 1965 (two years after that fateful honeymoon), roads south from there were built later. The man who brought this peninsular to the attention of the wider world was Paddy Leigh Fermor, a truly amazing man once described as a mixture of Indiana Jones, James Bond and Gerald Durrell.
Though incredibly clever, Paddy was no academic and so after being expelled from school (issues with a young lady) in 1933 he walked through Europe to Greece. Along the way he noticed that something was not quite right in Germany. When war broken out he signed up immediately and was sent into Greece since he spoke the language fluently. His most heroic exploit was in Crete where – with the partisans – he captured a German general on the North of the island and transported him across Crete to the South where he was lifted off by British Destroyer. The film, based on the episode, has Leigh Fermor played by Dirk Bogarde
In the war Paddy’s code name was Michalis. After the war he stayed on in Greece fighting with the Royalists in the Civil war. He refers to this in his two classic books on Greece The Mani and Roumeli. The latter is about Northern Greece, the area about which my father writes and so on the only Winnifrith family holiday to Greece which I did not go on, there was a long visit to Paddy’s house.
The Mani is part history but draws on a walk that Paddy and his wife undertook through the peninsular in the early 1950s. At that stage walking was what you did. There were no roads. To get down the peninsular it was simpler to travel by boat.
Paddy was rather rude about Kambos, the second village on his trek. He cannot hide how dull he finds it and how glad he is to leave. On the other hand he cannot hide how he falls in love with Kardamili the moment he spots it and it was there that he built a house. The locals all knew him as Michalis. A social fellow he smoked 80 a day, drank more than his fair share of ouzo and though married retained a lifelong interest in les femmes.
The Mrs and I fell in love with Kardamili too, as we arrived there one late summer evening. Having no real beach it has been spared the tourist plague and ribbon development of Stoupa a few miles down the coast. But it is a town and for reasons that I will discuss later our experience there was not entirely happy. Its buildings, Venetian and onwards are stunning and it has a charm of its own. If I had to live in a town here it would be Kardamili.
But it has tourists and that changes the nature of any place. Kambos has no tourists. We are just a village in the road between Kalamata and Kardamili. There are some charming old stone houses on the back streets but no-one could say that Kambos is picturesque. But it is Greek. Or rather it is Maniot. Life here has not changed in the way that it has in the towns and villages by the sea. There is no crime – other than the murders – folks all own olives and will be working at least some of the time on the land. There is no need to learn English and they look after their own. In the hills around Kambos there are wonderful places to visit, to walk to for there is no other way to get there.
The Mrs and I first met lovely Susan Shimmin from the Real Mani in Kambos – at Eleni’s taverna – as it was a half-way point between Kalamata and Kardamili. Susan lives one village away in Stavrapoula. Whilst we were charmed from the first moment by the friendliness of Eleni and her husband Nikos, we were simply passing through as Paddy did back in 1952. Kambos did not grab us. We did not fall in love with it on sight.
We fell in love with the Greek Hovel, notwithstanding meeting a snake on our first visit. But Kambos has grown on the Mrs. It entranced my guest this summer who is keen to return to a place where she is remembered fondly. And I feel at home here. It took a while. Falling off my bike at 3 MPH in front of the Korounis taverna helped. Struggling, but publicly succeeding in tackling the frigana has demonstrated that I am not just a tourist. My commitment to come back for the Olive harvest and to work on it rather than just supervise Foti is clear.
Next Spring, work starts on formally rebuilding the Greek hovel. I had a good meeting with Eleni (that is Eleni the architect daughter of lovely Susan and a woman who has to be the biggest snake coward in the whole of Greece, not lovely Eleni from Kambos) on Monday. By next summer there should be at least one room that the Mrs deems habitable and she too has fallen in love with this place. So as soon as UK-Investor show is out of the way….
For any number of reasons I have to regard Paddy Leigh Fermor as a total superstar. But I wonder if he was around today might he take a rather more charitable view of my home village of Kambos.
As one leaves the small Mani town of Kardamili the road starts to climb steeply. On the edge of town there are a couple of fish restaurants, some slightly newer housing including the house that Paddy Leigh Fermor built for himself. My family stayed there once as my father knew Paddy – it just happened that this was the one family break to Greece that I did not go on.
Paddy left his house to the Greek State to turn into some sort of writing school. You would have thought that after a lifetime here he would have known better. It is slowly decaying, neglected by a State that although bankrupt can still afford to give anyone with a couple of olive trees an annual grant of 500 Euro.
The first of the fish restaurants as one heads up the hill is the favourite of the Mrs and I. The food is great, the wine flows, the waiters are friendly and efficient and the view over the cove below is magnificent.
On one side of the cove is a small working harbour used by fisherman. At night you can see the lights on the boats as they chug slowly home. A jetty provides a breakwater for the waves although nothing much happens o it other than bridal parties posing for photos. At the far end of the cove is a concrete jetty which is totally empty. If you have seen the film Before Midnight the final scene was filmed there as it became a seaside bar for just one night.
And so the other day we wandered down to the cove along a small road with not a human in sight. At the bottom we were greeted by a white goose, a white duck and a rather fat mallard male. The goose stared at us rather stupidly. The white duck ignored us. But the mallard started to follow me in a gentle ambling sort of fashion.
The Mrs thought this rather sweet and cried out “pudding” which is her pet name for my cat Oakley whom she adores. But while Oakley is sweet the duck was not. Encouraged by the thought that it might be, I leant over to touch it at which point t moved swiftly forward and bit my leg. The Mrs thought this very funny. I moved off at a swift pace but the duck pursued me keen to have another go.
“Bloody hell I am six foot tall and eat duck. You are a duck” I said to myself, turned, faced the enemy and kicked the air in front of it. The duck beat a hasty retreat, the Mrs was still laughing. The duck should consider itself lucky to have escaped so lightly – seven weeks of Greek salads might make a man think of suitable accompaniments to Orange sauce.