“The Room Seems to Have Come into Its Own at Last”: One Afternoon in the Library of Patrick Leigh Fermor (11 June 2011).

Maggie Rainey-Smith has been kind enough to share images and memories from her 7 November 2007 visit with the late Patrick Leigh Fermor.

In a recent post at “A Curious Half Hour,” Maggie has published a set of photographs and video-clips from her visit at Kardamyli, giving her readers a fine sense of Paddy’s chosen place of residence, the much-beloved house which he designed and completed in collaboration with his wife, Joan Leigh Fermor.

Maggie’s pictures show us images of the home’s grey-green stone floors, laid out with slate cut from the quarry at Mount Pelion; its hand-crafted wooden ceiling (“thirty slim beams divide the ceiling up into an infinity of squares,” in the architect’s own words); and its fine view out on to the sea from the terrace garden.

Since these photos also capture Paddy entertaining visitors on the feast of Saint Michael — his name-day — they ably convey the pleasure that the writer took in sharing his lovely home with friends, neighbors, and honored guests.

In one particular shot, Maggie captures a bit of the overlook from the terrace area at Kardamyli.

The greenscape of mature olives, cedar, and rosemary work together with the mosaic inlays and the sturdy materials of the stone benches, setting the Bay of Messenia within an intimate, personalized frame.  The view in this photograph immediately calls to mind Paddy’s recollections about how he and Joan first surveyed the rough-hewn, elemental beauty of their home-site.

Our headland jutted between a bay and a small cove and there was nothing on it but olive terraces, thistles, asphodels, and an occasional tortoise and here we pitched our tent exactly where the chief room was to be.  There was rock for building everywhere. . . .

— Patrick Leigh Fermor, “Sash Windows Opening on the Foam” (1986)

This must be the very view taken in by the couple as they sat out the afternoon heat in their tents, hunched over weathered volumes of Vitruvius and Palladio in a quest for “decent proportions.”

Special appreciation also must be given to Maggie for the way in which she offers her readers privileged glimpses into the high-ceilinged, book-lined dining room at Kardamyli.

This photo takes us into the legendary heart of the house — the “chief room,” as Paddy christened it.

‘Where a man’s Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica is, there shall his heart be also’; and, of course, Lemprière, Fowler, Brewer, Liddell and Scott, Dr Smith, Harrap and Larousse and a battery of atlases, bibles, concordances, Loeb classics, Pléiade editions, Oxford Companions and Cambridge histories;  anthologies and books on painting, sculpture, architecture, birds, beasts, fishes, trees and stars; for if one is settling in the wilds, a dozen reference shelves is the minimum;  and they must be near the dinner table where arguments spring up which have to be settled then or never.  This being so, two roles for the chief room in a still unbuilt house were clear from the start.

— Patrick Leigh Fermor, “Sash Windows Opening on the Foam” (1986)

Immediately beyond the battle-scarred (and much-toasted!) dinner table, we can find Paddy’s electric typewriter sitting in the corner.

Just behind the typewriting stand, Paddy’s bookcases rise nine feet from the floor.

Disappointingly, Paddy’s trusty Chinese step-ladder seems to be nowhere in sight.

An elephant pole of brass-bound teak made by the Hong Kong Chinese to help minor rajahs climb into their howdahs; it splits down the middle and half the pole drops away parallel with a heartening bang like grounded arms; the rungs, slotted and hinged in hidden grooves, fall horizontal and up one goes.

— Patrick Leigh Fermor, “Sash Windows Opening on the Foam” (1986)

The names and titles on the spines of these books evidence the writers and works which Paddy found most necessary to keep close at hand after he elected to “settle in the wilds.”

Reading-copies of Freya Stark, Gerald Brenan, Norman Douglas, and Henry James nudge familiarly up against a set of Macaulay’s lectures and Doughty’s Travels in Arabia Deserta — with the latter work appearing in two mismatched, much-loved volumes.  Runciman’s histories and Churchill’s The Second World War also stand at the ready.   Over to the typewriter’s right, near-complete runs of Evelyn Waugh and Aldous Huxley share out the measure of two shelves.

But Durrell 2012 readers owe Maggie special thanks for her photograph of the lower shelf sitting immediately in front of Paddy’s typewriter.

Attentive viewers will quickly pick out a copy of Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals.

Close by comes a representative sampling of titles by the writer Paddy affectionately referred to in his letters as “my old pal Larry Durrell.”  Faber printings of Mountolive, Tunc, Reflections on a Marine Venus, Clea, Justine, and Balthazar are all clearly visible, if a trifle rummaged.

Durrell 2012 extends its gratitude to Maggie Rainey-Smith for sharing these memories, photographs, and videos.   Maggie’s words and images call back to us something of the best of the man’s spirit, and we recall his own words of praise for this beloved, well-built, and well-lived room while we pore over these scenes from a time that now seems gone.

But the great advantage of a long room is that different things can go on without impinging: reading, music, letter-writing, talk by the fire, eyelids closing in the hayáti, ‘a wildcat snooze’: or chess at one end of the room and friends’ children on the floor with tiddlywinks at the other.  Every seventh of November, which is the Feast of SS. Michael and Gabriel — and also my name-day (Mihali, in Greek) — the room fills a special role.  The Archangels have a minute chapel three groves away and after the yearly Mass, a swarm of friends from the village, sometimes fifty or sixty, come in for a long chat and drinks and mézé .  Thanks to the divans — suddenly packed with venerable figures in black coifs — the room can hold them all without too much of a squash in the middle for dancing; and when, later on, the complicated steps of the syrtos and kalamantiano, accompanied by clapping and singing, begin to weave their nimble circles round the central star, the room seems to have come into its own at last.

— Patrick Leigh Fermor, “Sash Windows Opening on the Foam” (1986)

Learn more about Maggie Rainey-Smith’s writing at her author page.

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Filed under Balthazar, Greece, Justine, Lawrence Durrell, My Family & Other Animals, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Reflections on a Marine Venus

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