I must confess to a bit of an obsession with Paddy Leigh Fermor. You know that hypothetical game – “Which historical figure/famous person would you most like to meet?” Well, my answer would be Paddy.
Writer, adventurer, war hero, and traveller, he combined intelligence with charm and curiosity. I only really heard of him about two years ago when I read a review of a biography of him written by Artemis Cooper. Strangely enough, I read his biography before I read any of the books he’d actually written.
Earlier this week I finished the last book in his trilogy – “A Time of Gifts”, “Between the Woods and the Water” and “The Broken Road” – which was published posthumously. These books retell his journey in 1933, when, aged 18, he set off to walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople. The first of these books was written over 40 years after his journey and the retelling is not a teenager’s gauche diary but a tale layered with decades of literary, linguistic, and historical knowledge. His prose is rich and quite unlike pared-back modern travel writing; descriptions are baroque and fanciful and occasionally breathtaking. The trilogy is imbued with nostalgia, and one can sense the dark clouds approaching that will destroy the countries and societies he travelled through.
Paddy had a connection with Greece; after completing his trans-European journey he lived there, and during World War II he parachuted into Crete, where, as an Intelligence Officer, he commanded hazardous guerrilla operations against the occupying Nazis. In fact, the movie “Ill Met by Moonlight”, was based on the kidnapping of General Kreipe, which Paddy took part in.
He subsequently settled down in Mani, and wrote two further books about his travels in Greece: “Roumeli” and “Mani”, the second of which is packed away in my luggage, ready to enjoy when travelling around the Peloponnese.