Patrick Leigh Fermor on taking a town for the first time

In response to this site’s airport walks, as well as perhaps some other triumphal entries, HtH has kindly contributed the opening of the last chapter of Mani – Travels in the Southern Peloponnese by Patrick Leigh Fermor:

The timing, manner and mood of a private assault on a new town are a serious matter. If the town should be one of the world’s wonders, it is crucial. To arrive at Constantinople by air, for instance, and reach the city by the airport bus is to be swallowed up by the saddest and most squalid of Balkan slums. It must be attacked from the sea and the haggish but indestructible splendour, crackling with all the atmospherics of its long history, allowed to loom slowly across the shining Propontis. Care should be taken with such cities, for the vital rendezvous of anticipation and truth can never be repeated. The maidenhead in question is flawed for a lifetime. Lesser towns should be broken into and entered by night; burgled, as it were; for like this there is the impact of two different towns: one in which the shapes of lamps and signs and lighted windows burn golden holes and parallelograms in the huge nocturnal mystery, drawing the eye indoors and filling it with unrelated fragments of detail; and another in the morning when all is dark indoors but the whole town’s anatomy, sprawling or soaring or grovelling, is laid open by the sun.

None of these predicaments applied to our private rapport with Gytheion, for the town had been deflowered by earlier contact.

Like many of you, I wanted to be Patrick Leigh Fermor, but urban ingress, particularly as a sexual metaphor, has never been my forte. Perhaps my greatest disappointment of all came when pedalling into Budapest during a (happily) unsuccessful attempt to get from Holland to Bagdad dressed as a pantomime dame, only to discover Michael Jackson, the greatest pantomime dame of all, filming History on one of the bridges. So it is with the intention of affording brief amusement, rather than depicting a comprehensive ravishing, that I offer you ****this free, self-guided walk from Schiphol to where Calvinism meets Islam in one of the world’s better-known fleshpots.**** Take care.

I once went walking in Mani with a statuesque girl who while modelling in Athens had made the acquaintance of a captain in the Greek army and thus acquired an entire collection of the nation’s top-secret military maps, as one does. By the end of our first, long day in the Peloponnese we had come to the conclusion that the cartographers must have been working on the assumption that their work would be acquired by the Turks, who would fall into ravines and starve on remote hillsides because of the total incongruity of representation and reality.

Night and the thermometer fell with no settlement in sight, and so we were immensely relieved to see a column of smoke rising from one of the valleys. There, amidst the ruins of a hamlet, we found a shepherd and a baker who now lived on the coast but travelled every year to the place where they had been born, and where their families had died in German reprisal killings during the war.

Lamb and wine followed, and eventually we wondered whether there was somewhere we could sleep. “Of course,” they said, “you can have the bed,” and they led us to a small barn with, indeed, a bed in the corner. We fell asleep to the sound of their voices and the smell of wood-smoke, only to be awakened half an hour later when they climbed in too.

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Published
Last updated 01/10/2018

This post pre-dates my organ-grinding days, and may be imported from elsewhere.

Budapest (1):

Mani Peninsula (1): The Mani Peninsula, also long known by its medieval name Maina or Maïna, is a geographical and cultural region in Greece that is home to the Maniots.

Patrick Leigh Fermor (1): Sir Patrick Michael Leigh Fermor, DSO, OBE, also known as Paddy Fermor, was a British author, scholar, soldier and polyglot who played a prominent role behind the lines in the Cretan resistance during the Second World War.

Peloponnese (1): The Peloponnese or Peloponnesus is a peninsula and geographic region in southern Greece.

Sinterklaas (3): Sinterklaas or Sint-Nicolaas) is a legendary figure based on Saint Nicholas, patron saint of children.


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