Remembering Patrick Leigh Fermor
Patrick Leigh Fermor was the last of a generation of warriorâ€“travel writers, and he shines with the Ã©lan and the effortlessly cultured glow of an apparent golden age. A war hero of polymathic exuberance, brilliant linguistic skills, and an elephantine memory, he was sometimes fancifully compared to Lord Byron or Sir Philip Sydney.
Two pairs of books came to exemplify his achievement. The first pairâ€”Mani (1958) and Roumeli (1966)â€”celebrated the Greece that held his abiding fascination and where he lived for forty-five years on a once-wild promontory in the Peloponnese. In Mani, especially, he described this backwater region as a world whose way of life had survived in a fierce and enchanted time warp.
The land he depicted is barely recognizable nowâ€”tourism, he observed, destroys the object it lovesâ€”but it was less the Greece of classical antiquity that beguiled him than the spirit and folk culture of the hinterland: the earthy, demotic Romiosyne that he once contrasted with the Hellenic ideal in a playful balance sheet of the countryâ€™s character.
In these, and in later books, the style was the man: robustly imaginative, cultivated without pedantry, unstoppably digressive, forgivably swanky, and filled with infectious learning. The impressionâ€”overflowing into elaborate footnotes and flights of learned fantasyâ€”is one of omnivorous delight in the quirks and byways of history, art, language, genealogy, myth, song, superstition, costume, heraldry, and everything else that struck his fancy.