“And All the World Brought Wreaths of Laurel”: Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915 – 2011).

Sir Patrick Michael Leigh Fermor, DSO, OBE

11 February 1915  – 10 June 2011

Durrell 2012 honors the life and work of the inimitable Paddy Leigh Fermor — traveler, scholar, soldier, philhellene, and dear friend of Lawrence Durrell.

Lawrence Durrell and Paddy Leigh Fermor first met while stationed in Cairo in 1942.  A shared appreciation for good talk, good wine, and Greek culture made the two men fast friends for life, and Durrell came to relish the many subsequent visits from Paddy and Joan Leigh Fermor.  At the Villa Cleobolus on Rhodes, at Bellapaix on Cyprus, and later, at the Mazet Michel — no matter what new address Durrell had taken, he could always look forward to his old friend’s sudden materialization on the doorstep.

For Paddy Leigh Fermor, the mercurial Larry Durrell proved to be an essential element of Mediterranean life.  He was, Paddy said, “a man who pumped the oxygen back into the air.”

Near the close of Bitter Lemons of Cyprus (1957), Durrell looked back on one of those “improvident and happy afternoons” spent in the company of his friend, Paddy Leigh Fermor.  The chapter bears a fitting title — “The Vanishing Landmarks.”

I lingered for a while in the quietness of the loggia enjoying the distant boom of the sea on the cliff-head and thinking how pleasant a place Fortuna would one day be in a future empty of politics and the shabby discontents and cruelties it engenders.  Janis had unlocked the rooms where Marie lived and idly I entered them to note how dusty the bookshelves had become, and to tell over the various treasures whose histories I knew and which would one day find a place in the great house:  the Spanish chest, the Moorish lattice, Indian paintings and stuffs[. . . .]  These are the sorts of things which the writer carries about like talismans, to remind him of lost experiences which he must one day re-evoke and refashion in words[. . . .]

Here stood the little bamboo hut which served both as a changing-room and as a summer bedroom[. . . .]  My eye noted the empty Chianti bottle, the red fan, and the gourd dippers — they echoed those improvident and happy afternoons of two years ago; a striped towel and a Penguin history of Architecture, stained and cockled with sea-damp, lay on a seat fashioned from the trunk of a palm tree.  They repeated, more clearly than words could, the names: “Pearce and Dante.” An empty bottle of Riesling with a sediment of oil in the bottom said: “Paddy Leigh Fermor” (here during a tremendous freak thunderstorm we had sat, drinking wine and oiling ourselves against the sunlight we knew would follow it, while the rain slashed the slatted bamboo roof to ribbons and Paddy sang the trailing, ululating songs of the Cretan mountains, punctuating each strophe with a swig of Chianti).  On a nail hung a tear-bottle. . . .

Clear skies and safe flight, Paddy.  And may the reunions be many, joyous, and full of wine and song.

So they joined his hands and closed his eyes
And now the whole wide world is weeping;
Weeping for his dew-sprinkled youth
Which was as clear as the cool waters of May.
Bravery was in his step, his motion was that of an eagle,
His face was that of an angel, his beauty like that of the Virgin Mary’s.
His bravery leaves us deeply in his debt,
For it was for the honour of Greece he came.
What will his mother and sisters do without him?
We arrayed our fearless captain like a bridegroom
And men armed with guns bore him along the streets,
And all the world brought wreaths of laurel
So that this hero should be buried, as it was fitting,
Among the olive trees of St. Saviour.

— “Miroloy for the English Airman,”
translated by Patrick Leigh Fermor,
Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese (1958).

Read “A war hero and a travel writer of grace,” Jan Morris’ reflections upon Paddy Leigh Fermor’s life and work.

Read “The Last of the Scholar Warriors,” Christopher Hitchens’ tribute to Paddy Leigh Fermor.

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