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A week in Kardimyli

Basil- the taste of Greece

Basil- the taste of Greece




The olive groves were silent, the blue sea rolled below, still  queasy after the night’s storm and no one was around as I walked around Patrick Leigh Fermor’s  house absorbing the atmosphere and trying to find traces of the late writer’s presence. Although I couldn’t see into his garden, I managed to get a shot of the interior of the house.


From his private cove I could see the stone stairs he descended to swim to the opposite island. I believe he swam every day even when he was in his nineties.

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“Oh, he was so handsome! Even in his 92nd year. He gave a talk in the village and I was captivated.” Geraldine who runs the Liakoto Hotel with her husband Ilyas told me her eyes sparkling, her face alight with enthusiasm. It’s her normal expression and never have I quite met a couple so warmly interested in their guests as these two. They have their own ocean-view apartment on the top floor, where Ilyas made a delicious Mexican lunch one afternoon: a change from the Greek salad, Baba Ghanoush and Tzaziki on the menus of the village tavernas. I found the Liakoto on the back pages of the LRB.  The  wording was reassuring, ( Read Leigh Fermor’s “Mani” and follow in his footsteps“. …)unlike the convoluted and untruthful lonely hearts ads (I confess to answering one from a man who liked to eat not one but two almond croissants with his latte every morning. It was the biggest turn-off you can imagine. Oh, and the  confession as a jokey aside that his morbidly obese sister had a TV set next to a microwave oven in every room of her Kentucky home).

I cycled to Elies’ beach in the morning and soaked up the sun before a delicious swim in the crystalline water.  One morning an itinerant Chinese masseuse was oiling and pummelling bodies on the beach. She and her husband had been in Greece for four years, travelling from beach to beach.  Her oil was plain Johnson’s Baby Oil, but her fingers were magic.  At three or four in the afternoon I had a tasty lunch under the olives with Patience and Sara, who had also been kneaded by the Chinese couple,  and cycled back for a shower to the hotel. The sun rose to the left of my bed and set over the sea in spectacular glory, with the Taygetus mountains to the East and the wine-dark water to the West.

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Antheme, the daughter of Kiki, who is the expert cook at Kiki’s Taverna, told me that her family- one of the oldest and most respected in the Mani- live in a tower, one of many dotted around the Mani. The season was over and Antheme would be harvesting olives at the week’s end, as would most of the village. Rural Greece isn’t as badly hit by the crisis  as Athens and other big towns, since almost everyone is able to grow something to eat. And Kardimyli, while not crowded or touristy, has its regular visitors who come to walk and swim year after year. Things quieten down after October, but they pick up again in April; the locals have learned to hoard their material and food resources like squirrels to tide them over from season to season.

Everyone knew Paddy Leigh Fermor of course. “I was his driver,” Niko confided as he drove me from Kalamata airport. Yannis, owner of the cave-like shop that sold herbs, teas, face-creams, carob syrup, soap- all made by Yannis himself- showed me the photo of his father and mother in Paddy Leigh Fermor’s “Mani.” My Kindle edition  didn’t carry the pictures of the original.   “Elies  (who owns the beach cafe)is the son-in-law of Lela,  Paddy’s original housekeeper.”

Then on my way back from Paddy’s house, where I took pictures of his old tin trunk and climbed over the fossil studded rocks to his beach, as I was still a way from the main road – and it was a very steep climb with Yannis’s hired bike to push as well- I saw a lady watering her roses in a wayside  house.


She claimed that her young daughter had been much favoured by Paddy; and of course they had the special status of being his closest neighbours. Like many villagers she and her husband had migrated to the New World (the U.S. in their case) but still owned land and houses in Kardimyli. Would I like to buy a house? It had just been renovated- marble floors and spanking new bathrooms. After all movie stars loved the village and the climate was perfect. Perfect! Later in the day I reluctantly accompanied them to the glamorous house. Alas, it faced a decrepit little supermarket and many dustbins. “Only 240,000 euros. It’s a bargain!” Remembering my friends’ threats to never speak to me if I bought a house anywhere foreign again, I declined as politely as I could.

I was reading Artemis Cooper’s biography of  Patrick Leigh Fermor on my Kindle (it’s great to be able to do an instant download of fanciable books) and marvelling at his supercharged energy and multiple interests alongside his book on Kardimyli and environs (“Mani) when I came across reference to  the tradition of vendetta and feuding, which could extend across generations.  “Many of the indestructible (village)  elders remember (the village wars) clearly; and much of their discourse revolves longingly round those old battles between rough-hewn grandees in their grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ days: the wars of the Mavromichali and the Mourtzini…” And even now in casual conversations I was impressed by the dismissal of one local by another. “Oh him…did you know he doesn’t even farm his own honey.” Or else an ostentatious lack of opinion on another’s goods or services. I had quite a few conversations, since the Kardimylians are always ready for a gossip.P1010873

It was really hard to tear myself away from the sea but the one longish walk on the only damp day took me uphill to Aghia Sophia, said to have some splendid murals. I never made it to my destination, since the rain came down, but on the way I passed the tomb (it is said) of the Heavenly Twins, Castor and Pollux.

Imagining how the pantheon of gods emerged from the Ancients’ consciousness of their own place in the firmament of sea and sky takes on a reality. The sea that starts navy blue on the edge of the horizon, shading into emerald and jade, the immense sky and dramatic cloudscapes, the sun dipping into the west and the background of the Taygetus Mountains behind the village, all these scenes awaken awe and inspiration. Next time I will go for three weeks and explore the hinterland and more of the coastline. A very enticing prospect.



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