Category Archives: Greece

Origins of Russia’s Old Believers

From A Journey into Russia, by Jens Mühling (Armchair Traveller series; Haus, 2015), Kindle Loc. 176ff.

In the not exactly bloodless history of Russia, the 17th century was one of the bloodiest. A bizarre religious controversy divided the country: people argued over the question of whether to make the sign of the cross with two fingers or with three. The Moscow Patriarch, who advocated for the three-finger cross, persecuted the followers of the two-finger cross viciously; he had unruly believers’ hands chopped off, and their priests’ tongues ripped out. Many rendered the mutilations unnecessary by simply chopping off their own thumbs in order not to have to blaspheme God with three fingers. Whole communities barricaded themselves in their churches, set their altars on fire and watched as the flames ate away at their hands, two fingers outstretched to the very end.

The conflict had been sparked by one man who exerted all of his dubious ambition to rectify the course of history. Around the middle of the century Patriarch Nikon, head of the Russian Orthodoxy, introduced a church reform. He invoked the origins of the Orthodox faith: the Russians had adopted Christianity from Byzantium in 988, when the Grand Duke of Kiev baptised his subjects according to the Greek rites. Over the centuries the inevitable happened: little by little, the Russian Orthodoxy developed its own, non-Greek traits, arising partly as a result of incorrect translations of Greek liturgical texts, but more often through the everyday practice of the faith. No Russians considered these characteristics to be a betrayal of their Orthodox roots. Patriarch Nikon alone was embarrassed when he received Greek dignitaries in the Kremlin, whose astonishment at the customs of the Russians did not escape him.

With his reforms, Nikon attempted to rectify the most obvious deviations of the Russian liturgy from the Greek. At first glance, they were trifles: the Trinity was no longer praised with two hallelujahs but with three; one letter was to be added to the name of the Lord, ‘Iisus’ instead of ‘Isus’; there should be not seven loaves but only one on the altar during the Eucharist; finally, the sign of the cross would no longer be made with two fingers but with three, the way the Greeks did it.

These interventions might have been accepted without complaint if at the same time much more drastic changes had not been overtaking Russia. The long isolated country was opening up to the West. Things appeared that had never been in Russia before; tobacco, tea and coffee; trimmed beards; sacred images with saints barely recognisable, so outlandishly were they depicted; foreigners, summoned by the Tsar to modernise the country, brought foreign manners to Russia, foreign languages and foreign gadgets. On the main tower of the Kremlin wall a huge mechanical clock from England appeared, the first in all of Russia. Its message was unmistakable: the times were changing.

All of these upheavals had one thing in common with Nikon’s reforms: they made Russia look bad. Many Russians did not want to admit that the traditions of their fathers should suddenly be worth less than the inventions of foreigners, be it English clocks, Dutch paintings, German books or Greek church rules. The Old Believers, as the opponents of reform were soon called, rejected Nikon’s heresies as vehemently as the ever-advancing West. Their two-fingered cross became a gesture of resistance against a Russia that was betraying its roots in every respect.

The times were changing. And perhaps, as the Old Believers in fact suspected, the world was actually approaching its prophesied end. There was evidence. As the religious controversy reached its bloody climax, people in Russia wrote the year as 7174 – their calendar started with the creation of the world. But in the West, where the years were numbered from the birth of Christ, a different number appeared on the calendar, a terrible one: 1666. There could be no doubt: the foreigners were messengers of the apocalypse.

While Russia drifted towards the west, the Old Believers fled towards the east. Persecuted by the Patriarch’s henchmen, they withdrew to the sparsely populated, peripheral regions of the Russian Empire. They founded communities where time stood still, where nothing diluted the spirit of old Russia, no tobacco and no coffee, no razor and no clockworks, not one hallelujah too many, not one altar loaf too few.

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Black Sea Neighbors

From Troubled Water: A Journey Around the Black Sea, by Jens Mühling (Armchair Traveller series; Haus, 2022), Kindle pp. 14-15:

The Black Sea is bounded by six states. Clockwise, in the order I visited them, they are Russia, Georgia, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, and Ukraine.

Six and a half, if you count Abkhazia, a renegade part of Georgia that is kept on life support by Russia to prevent Georgia from joining any Western alliances.

Seven, if you count Moldova, formerly known as Bessarabia, which lost its coastline in the Second World War when Stalin moved the border inland.

Seven and a half, if you count Transnistria, a renegade part of Moldova, which is kept on life support by Russia to prevent Moldova from joining any Western alliances.

Eight, if you count Poland – the old Poland at its point of maximum expansion when szlachta noblemen persuaded themselves that their country’s ruling class was descended from the Sarmatians, an ancient barbarian tribe.

Eight and a half, if you count the Donetsk People’s Republic, a renegade part of Ukraine, which… you can fill in the rest.

Eight and a half, if Crimea belongs to Ukraine. Eight and a half, if Crimea belongs to Russia. Nine, if you’d prefer to let Crimea stand alone.

Nine and a half, if you count the ruined empire of ancient Greece, whose vestiges I encountered on every shore in the form of weathered stones; in place names mangled by foreign tongues; in family stories of scattered Black Sea Greeks; on the menus of countless Aphrodite Restaurants, Poseidon Cafés, Olympus Hotels and Amazon Bars, written in Cyrillic, Latin, and Georgian letters; and in the deep-seated Black Sea tradition of always expecting the worst from your neighbours.

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Greek Travails, 1949-2009

From Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age, by Robert D. Kaplan (Random House, 2022), Kindle pp. 272-274:

The end of World War II brought not peace but a civil war lasting until 1949, between the Communists and the ultimately victorious right-wing loyalists, which resulted in 80,000 dead and 700,000 internal refugees. Because of the brutality on both sides, particularly against civilians, Greek politics would remain polarized for decades, divided between parties of the hard Left and the hard Right, so that a modern liberalism and a modern conservatism would find little room to emerge. Thus did Greece, abetted by its geography—as close to Moscow as to Brussels—become an ideological battleground of the Cold War.

Greece’s Cold War years were marked by weak governments as well as deep, internecine political divisions, which were further aggravated by the independence struggle on Cyprus, with its consequent calls for Enosis (or union) of the island with Greece. (Of course, this itself was an echo of the Great Idea.) In 1967, junior officers staged a coup, toppling the Greek government in Athens. This led to a particularly brutal seven-year military dictatorship in which the Athens “Regime of the Colonels” bore greater similarities to those of the Third World than to any government in Western Europe. The Colonels’ regime dissolved in 1974 after their failed political intervention in Cyprus led to a Turkish invasion and occupation of the northern part of the island.

It was only with the reestablishment of democracy in July 1974 under the conservative politician Constantine Karamanlis (who had returned to Greece from exile in France) that Greek politics began slowly—for the first time in history—to stabilize and achieve a modern, Western character. Greece, the birthplace of the West, finally reentered the West. This process was helped by the country’s admission to the European Economic Community (later the EU) in 1981.

Like membership in NATO, membership in the EU and Greece’s subsequent admission to the Eurozone represented purely political decisions on the part of the Western alliance. In fact, neither Greece’s bureaucratic institutions nor its economy was ever up to the standards of core-Europe and the West. Yet, it was felt (if never publicly admitted) that leaving Greece outside European institutions, given the country’s vulnerable geographical position and its long history of instability, would pose a greater threat to the West than bringing Greece inside them. As it turned out, the Greek variant of the Great Depression, in which the country was brought to its knees beginning in 2009 by widespread poverty, a dramatically declining GDP, and mass unemployment—leading to a far-left-wing government initially close to Moscow—was directly related to the country’s abject lack of preparedness for the rigors of the Eurozone. The Byzantine and Ottoman legacies of underdevelopment, while not determinative and always able to be overcome, still counted for something in Greece in the second decade of the twenty-first century.

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Republic of Venice, 726-1797

From Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age, by Robert D. Kaplan (Random House, 2022), Kindle pp. 74-76:

Norwich writes: “Venice, alone of all the still-great cities of Italy, was born and brought up Greek…. Long after she shed her dependence on Constantinople, she continued to turn her back on Italy and to look resolutely eastward; the nightmare tangle of medieval Italian politics, of Guelf and Ghibelline, Emperor and Pope…none of this was for her.” Doges used Byzantine honorifics. The Venetian ruler’s dress was modeled on that of the Byzantine exarch. Byzantine girls were sent to Venice to marry; Venetians sent their sons to finish their education in Constantinople. Venice’s political links with Byzantium helped shield it from the quarrels among the other city-states of Italy, with their rapidly shifting tactical alliances that were the epitome of amorality. Because a rival commercial system, run by Arabs, stretched across North Africa and the Middle East, Venice became crucial to Constantinople as a Byzantine outlet to Europe. The Venetian model of beauty, as exemplified by the low domes and small windows of Saint Mark’s, recalling Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, was mainly Eastern.

Of course, the underpinning of Venice’s fortuitous separation from the rest of Italy was at root geographical. That great lagoon, the few miles of shallow water that protected Venice from the mainland in all its aspects, allowed it to focus eastward toward Byzantium, and, in addition, was the savior against Saracens, Magyars, and other invaders in the early centuries of Venetian independence. The lagoon, by confining Venetians to so restricted a space, also fostered internal cohesion. “Among Venice’s rich merchant aristocracy,” Norwich explains, “everyone knew everyone else, and close acquaintance led to mutual trust of a kind that in other cities seldom extended far outside the family circle.” The result was efficient administration by which risky trading ventures, involving vast outlays of capital, “could be arranged on the Rialto in a matter of hours.” Neither utopian nor egalitarian, Venice represented the triumph of a closed elite. Optimism was banned, unless it could be grounded in facts and percentages. (It was from such a tightly woven merchant aristocracy that Marco Polo, the late-thirteenth-century Venetian explorer of China and Central Asia, originated—of whom more later.)

Without the lagoon and the canals—without the presence of water, that is—Venice simply would not have had the beauty that endowed its population with such love of their city-state: it was a love of the polity, rather than that of one man or king. This, and the internal peace they enjoyed, fostered a “humaneness of feeling” that, as Berenson suggests, made Venetians “the first really modern people in Europe.”

What ensues, with its succession of eighty-four doges from 726 to 1797, is a thousand-year history as long, intricate, dense, intoxicating, and overwhelming as that of Byzantium itself, mind-numbing in its constant intrigues and periodic insurrections. It is a comparatively dim and opaque canvas that produced few giants and larger-than-life heroes (Pietro II Orseolo, who governed toward the end of the tenth century, being one exception to this rule), for trade and commerce, dull as these things are, reduce the long-term impact of bloodshed and its accomplice, glory. Because it is so thematically uninspiring, Venetian history is generally hard to remember, and for the literate, non-expert public is known best through the works of Shakespeare—who uses Venice as a somewhat shameless and cynical backdrop to reveal vulnerability and passion contained in everyone, Moor and Jew alike, people otherwise depicted as one-dimensional and therefore uninteresting in his day.

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What Was Italy from 476 to 1861?

From Adriatic: A Concert of Civilizations at the End of the Modern Age, by Robert D. Kaplan (Random House, 2022), Kindle pp. 36-38:

I look at more maps in my hotel room in Ravenna: those of the greater Adriatic. Rome is eventually replaced by Western Rome and Eastern Rome; then by the Visigoths, the Ostrogoths, the kingdom of Odoacer, and Eastern Rome, all elbowing for territory; then, in turn, by the Arians and the papacy, though by the sixth century the Adriatic is all Eastern Rome. In the early eighth century the division is between the Lombards and Eastern Rome, in the early ninth between the Franks and Byzantium. In the Middle Ages the Normans, Hungarians, and Serbs, as well as the German Empire, Salerno, Naples, and Venice, all gain prominence; until by the late fifteenth century, as the Renaissance reaches full flower, it is Venice facing off against the Ottoman Empire, even as northern Italy is divided among Savoy, Milan, Genoa, Mantua, Florence, and Siena, and southern Italy between the Papal States and the kingdom of Naples.

Later on, all of these polities, too, will become shades: disappearing, literally, into the past. Voltaire said Rome fell “because all things fall.” Indeed, empires are not illegitimate simply because they eventually collapse: the wonder is that so many have lasted as long as they did. Rome’s universal civilization, with its cruel yet rational, i.e., charmed-conservative paganism, ultimately became impossible to sustain in the hinterlands; and Rome’s breakup led to the panoramic migrations, coupled with the religious passions and particularism, that we associate with Late Antiquity and the Dark and Middle Ages, with all of their attendant political-territorial complexity. Still, the geographic breadth of Rome, lasting as it did for so many centuries, remains an astonishment: an imperial domain impossible to imagine reassembled in any form. Only world governance could equal or surpass it.

In sum, the passage from antiquity to Late Antiquity registers a more confused ethnic and territorial map, with the big shifts that merit chapter breaks in history books barely noticed at the time. For example, the deposition in A.D. 476 of Romulus Augustulus by the barbarian Odoacer—an Arian Christian soldier of vague Germanic and Hunnish descent—is commonly marked as the end-point of the Roman Empire in the West, though the event elicits little mention by any chronicler of the era: its significance becomes apparent only much later in hindsight. After all, Odoacer, rather than eviscerate what remained of the empire, actually restored some facade of order and stability to it, even as he reconquered Sicily from the Vandals in A.D. 477 and annexed Dalmatia in A.D. 480. The real break with the classical past occurs only later with the Gothic War of A.D. 535–554, which devastated much of Italy with famine and chaos, and was quickly followed in 568 by the Lombard invasion, so that Italy was at war for more or less seventy years until 605. Italy would never again be united until modern times. The Lombards, a Germanic confederation with a strong Arian element that included Saxons, Gepids, Bulgars, Sueves, and others—a fascinating horde first recorded by Tacitus—truly herald the passage of Late Antiquity into the so-called Dark Ages.

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Blood Feud on Crete

From Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure, by Artemis Cooper (New York Review Books, 2013), Kindle loc. 4340ff.

As Paddy and Joan proceeded on their triumphal progress through the villages, they saw that Cretan hospitality had lost none of its over-abundance, and only the long walks and mule rides from one place to the next gave them an opportunity to rest their digestions. Groups of armed mountain men greeted them outside each village, and welcomed them with volleys of shots fired into the air.

There was also another man with a gun, though he was not mentioned in Paddy’s introduction to The Cretan Runner, nor indeed in his notebooks. At Alones they had spent a few days with Father John Alevizakis and his sons, prior to attending a feast in Rethymno. They were warned not to go on: Yorgo, the son of Kanaki Tsangarakis, had heard Paddy was there. ‘He was waiting,’ wrote Paddy, ‘with rifle and binoculars, to pick me off when I left the village.’ The blood feud was still alive, and the only way out of the village was through a deep ravine.

Yorgo was on one side, our way out on the other . . . I asked whether he was a good shot and Levtheri, Father John’s son, laughed and said ‘Yes, the blighter can shoot a hole through a 10 drachma piece at 500 metres,’ which made us all laugh rather ruefully, including Joan . . . The only thing to do in such a case is to be accompanied by a neutral figure, head of a rival clan or family in whose company nobody can be shot without involving the whole tribe.

A suitably friendly figure agreed to accompany them to safety, and ‘under his protection Joan and I crossed the blank hillside, looking across the valley at Yorgo sitting on the rock, binoculars round his neck and gun across his knees; but unable, by Cretan ethics, to blaze away . . .’ In Vilandredo they were received like kings by Paddy’s god-brother Kapetan Stathi Loukakis. When Stathi heard that the Tsangarakis men were lying in wait for his guest, he too took steps to protect them. Joan noticed that when they left the village they were guarded by lookouts posted at key points, who could challenge anyone who came within firing distance.

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Brits in Athens, 1946

From Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure, by Artemis Cooper (New York Review Books, 2013), Kindle loc. 3465ff.

Although the Germans had blown up the docks and harbours of Piraeus before their retreat, Athens had not been too badly damaged during the war. Far more severely affected were the Athenians, who had lived in a state of semi-starvation since 1941. One of the results was that almost everyone kept chickens, even those living in apartment blocks in the city centre. The crowing of cocks, added to the cries of street vendors, blaring radios and the metallic cacophony of antique trams, was enough to convince Osbert Lancaster that Athens was one of the noisiest capitals in Europe. In 1946 the Acropolis still dominated every prospect, for most people lived in modest two-storey houses. In the poorer parts of town, below Mount Hymettus, the walls were covered with Communist slogans in red.

Paddy’s immediate superior was the unfailingly affable Rex Warner, a Greek scholar who was considered one of the most promising novelists of his generation. Maurice Cardiff remembered them both. ‘At a midnight contest in a taverna, given quite difficult rhymes, he and Paddy produced passable sonnets in minutes, but Rex’s was the more perfect and metrically correct.’ As Director of the Institute Warner was answerable to Steven Runciman, whom Paddy had met in Sofia in 1934 and who was now the British Council’s Representative. Tall, fastidious and a brilliant linguist, Runciman was then working on the History of the Crusades which made his name; but his chief recreation was collecting scandals and stories. ‘Royal gossip is very good,’ he once said, ‘and political gossip is even better; but my dear, nothing beats Vatican gossip.’

They all worked in the same building in Ermou Street, and Runciman had vivid memories of Paddy. ‘He looked very good in an office,’ said Runciman, ‘but none of us could think of anything to do with him.’ Cardiff recalled that Paddy was not at work very often and when he was he seemed to be throwing a party, sitting with his feet on the desk and entertaining a stream of Cretan visitors. The Cretan economy had been almost destroyed by the occupation, and there was very little work. Paddy found menial jobs for both Manoli Paterakis and George Psychoundakis in the Institute; they and others often spent the night on the floor of his room at the Grande Bretagne, and later, in the flat he was lent in Kolonaki. His office was always blue with cigarette smoke, and the sound of loud talk, Cretan songs and rollicking laughter echoed down the passage.

This did not make him popular. ‘There was a very insensitive side to Paddy,’ said Cardiff. ‘He was very bumptious, a bit of a know-all, and his enthusiasm and noisiness could be rather wearing.’ Steven Runciman, too, had his reservations about Paddy. Cardiff said that this was because he resented the fact that Paddy knew more Greek royals than he did; but Runciman also saw how Paddy disturbed the peace of the office. ‘All the girls were in love with him,’ he said. ‘He used to borrow money from them – and I have to tell you, they weren’t always paid back. There were occasions when I had to sort out Paddy’s little irregularities myself . . .’

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Reaction to Germans in Crete, 1944

From Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure, by Artemis Cooper (New York Review Books, 2013), Kindle loc. 3060ff.

Anoyeia, well known as a centre of defiant resistance, had been united under the leadership of Stefanoyanni Dramoundanis. Shortly after Paddy had stood godfather to his daughter, the Germans had encircled the village and caught him. With his hands tied, Dramoundanis jumped over a wall and tried to escape, only to be shot in the back by the enemy. Normally, Paddy would have been welcomed; but since he was still in the uniform of a German corporal, he was given a taste of the Anoyeians’ hatred for the occupiers. Doors and shutters slammed, while the warnings rang out from house to house: ‘The black sheep are in the wheat!’ – ‘Our inlaws have arrived!’ At the café the old men fell silent, pointedly turning their backs. He did not reveal himself till he found the wife of the priest, Father Charetis, who was terrified. ‘It’s me, Pappadia!’ he whispered. ‘It’s me, Mihali!’ – ‘Mihali? I don’t know any Mihali!’ she cried, backing away. She finally recognized him by the gap between his front teeth, and hustled him and George into the house.

Paddy’s godbrother George Dramoundanis soon arrived, along with Father Charetis, and couriers were found to take messages to Sandy Rendel to the east, and to Tom Dunbabin, who was the other side of Mount Ida. It was a matter of vital urgency to get news of the abduction to Cairo, so that the BBC could broadcast the announcement and the RAF drop leaflets.

Meanwhile Billy and Manoli, guided by Strati, had brought the General within sight of Anoyeia though they could not risk entering the village. It had been a long night. They had found no water till 3 a.m., and the General moved slowly – his leg had been badly hurt, he said, as he was dragged from the car. He was also very hungry, having had no lunch: yet what upset him most was the loss of his Knight’s Cross, won in the push against Leningrad on the Russian front. Strati went up to the village and made contact with Paddy, and returned with a basket of food and wine. The kidnappers had to scramble up to a small cave with the General when they heard that Germans were in the village, a warning no doubt set off by Paddy in his corporal’s uniform.

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Leigh Fermor’s Intelligence Training, 1940

From Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure, by Artemis Cooper (New York Review Books, 2013), Kindle loc. 2085ff.

On release from hospital in early February, Paddy went to stay with his sister Vanessa. He had high hopes of joining the Karelian campaign, in which the Finns were fighting off a Soviet invasion. He had heard about a unit that was going to support the Finns and he was keen to join, but was still too weak; Finland was then forced to concede to Russia’s demands. The Intelligence Corps, on the other hand, were very interested in the fact that Paddy spoke French, German, Rumanian and Greek, and with the situation in the Balkans developing fast they offered him a commission. If he took it, he would be spared any more training at the Guards Depot, but he still clung to the hope of a commission in the Irish Guards.

He had an interview with the regiment’s commander. There was no opening for him in the Irish Guards at present, Lieutenant Colonel Vesey told him; indeed, he might have to wait for months before the opportunity arose. Although most regiments at this time were desperate for young officers, Vesey was in no hurry to commission this particular cadet: one of Paddy’s reports had described his progress as ‘below average’. The Intelligence Corps, on the other hand, were offering immediate employment and the opportunity to return to Greece.

The Intelligence Corps uniform was not very romantic, and he disliked the cap badge – a pansy resting on its laurels, as it was disparagingly known. But the lure of Greece was strong, and financially he could not afford to wait for a place in the Irish Guards. Paddy began his officer training in the Corps in early May, stationed at the 168th Officer Cadet Training Unit at Ramillies Barracks, Aldershot. Here he learned how to keep records of enemy movements, how to read and make maps, and how to assemble and coordinate intelligence. There was also much to absorb about the formation of the German army, and he tried to learn the Gothic deutsche Schrift. One of his fellow trainees was Laurens van der Post. Years later, on a television show with Paddy, van der Post recalled the moment they heard about the fall of France. The news left everyone shocked and aghast, van der Post recounted, except for Paddy ‘who was writing a poem about a fish pond in the Carpathians, and he didn’t really take it in until he had finished the poem’. Slightly embarrassed, Paddy added, ‘Well, I was pretty smitten after that.’

Soon Free French soldiers who wanted to continue fighting began to appear at Ramillies Barracks, and word went round that the Corps was looking for people who would be willing to be parachuted into occupied France. Paddy volunteered, and was rather offended when they rejected him. He spoke the language fluently and was widely read in French literature: why was he passed over? That the selectors were looking for quiet, inconspicuous people seems not to have crossed his mind. His training finished on 12 August. The final, prophetic remarks on Paddy’s report were written by his commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel R. C. Bingham: ‘Quite useless as a regimental officer,’ he wrote, ‘but in other capacities will serve the army well.’ Paddy himself had very mixed feelings about his future. ‘I looked forward to my new life with interest and misgiving. It was rather like going to a new school.’

Second Lieutenant Fermor was ordered to proceed to the Intelligence Training Centre in Matlock, Derbyshire, where he was to take two month-long courses: one on war intelligence, and another on interrogation. The training centre, filled with polyglot officers, was housed in Smelton’s Hydro – ‘a castellated, bleak and blacked-out Victorian pile perched high above the rushing Derwent’. His initial reaction to the place was ‘Bedlam in a Morte d’Arthur setting’, made more depressing by the fact that all the windows were blacked out; but there were compensations. One of the perks of being an officer was that Paddy now had a batman, Geoffrey Olivier – ‘my first soldier-servant. It was peculiar to think that I would probably never shine a button or spit and polish a toe-cap again.’

The war intelligence course was hard work. Lectures were interspersed by long spells ‘scrambling over the Derbyshire hills . . . making out strategical and technical plans for advancing to, holding, or withdrawing from various features, holding improvised conferences . . . which invariably ended with the Major saying: “Now Leigh Fermor . . . What information have we about the enemy in the sector 22314567 to 4678?”’

In between one course and the next, there was a week’s break which Paddy spent in blitz-torn London. He saw three fires blazing in Piccadilly, while in Berkeley Square, ‘the blaze of an explosion revealed two sides of that sentimental quadrangle in a disordered wreckage of wood and stone. Only one thing remained standing. Perched three stories high on a tottering pinnacle was a white marble privy, glowing shyly in this unaccustomed radiance.’

Thanks to the services of anti-Nazi and Jewish volunteers, much of the interrogation course was conducted in German. One of the secrets of a good interrogation, he learned, was to conduct it while the prisoner had an empty stomach and a full bladder. With friends such as Gerry Wellesley and Osbert Sitwell at Renishaw close by, the high point of this happy time came when someone decided to organize a ball. One of the instructors, Henry Howard, brought over a spectacular couple from nearby Chatsworth: a tall young ensign in the Coldstream Guards, and an incredibly beautiful girl. He was Andrew Cavendish, who in 1950 was to become the 11th Duke of Devonshire; while she was Deborah Mitford, whose sister Diana and her husband, Sir Oswald Mosley, were in prison as pro-Nazi sympathizers. ‘Funny, Howard bringing that Mitford girl,’ said someone when they had gone. ‘After all, this is meant to be the Intelligence Training Centre, and there is a war on.’

Another of the Matlock instructors was Stanley Casson, ‘donnish, witty and slightly disreputable’, a Greek scholar and archaeologist who had had a lot to do with the British School of Archaeology in Athens. Casson, who always spoke to Paddy in Greek, was one of the moving spirits of what was to become the Greek Military Mission. The Italians had invaded Greece on 28 October 1940, and Paddy followed their rapid advance with anxiety. When the Greek army began to turn the Italian tide a few weeks later, ‘It was joy and agony mixed’, as he put it: joy that Greece was acquitting herself so well, agony because he was not there. Stanley Casson went to London, and soon after Paddy was told to join Casson’s Greek Military Mission.

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First Greek Dance Encounter, 1934

From The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 3, NYRB Classics, 2014), Kindle pp. 240-242:

Before long Dimitri and Costa were on their feet again, involved in an intricate dance very unlike the cheerful and bawdy stampings they had just improvised. The dancers were side by side, linked at a stiff arm’s length by a hand on each other’s shoulder, their unsmiling faces hanging forward chin on breast like those of hanged men. Nothing could be less carefree or orgiastic than the perverse mood of the steps, the premeditated hornpipe, then an abrupt halt. This was broken by movements as slight as the bending and straightening of the knee; the feet, flat on the ground with heels together, opened at an angle then closed and opened again. The right feet were then lifted and slowly swung backwards and forwards. A left-foot jump brought their torsos seesawing in a right angle to balance a simultaneous kick on the ground behind them with their right. Then the dancers swept forward for an accelerated pace or two, braked and halted with their right legs lifted, knees to heels sweeping parallel to the ground in slow scything movements, and falling again. Their hands smote beneath them in a double clap, then they were almost on their knees, hands on shoulders again, gliding off sideways, then rolling forward once more at their smooth and unnaturally timed pace. The softness, the hypnotic-seeming control and union, the abrupt surging, the recoveries and the arms falling loose for an identical pirouette before joining again, the fastidious shelving of stereotype – what on earth had all this sophistication to do with Balkan or peasant simplicity? Then there was the planned anticlimax, compensated by a drilled outburst when, in any other dance, all would have been decrescendo and subsidence. The sudden asperity and vigour and speed were muzzled and hushed in mid-swoop, like the flash of steel unsheathed halfway up the blade, then allowed to slide back with a soft subsiding click of hilt on scabbard. The subtle and complex beauty of this peculiar dancing in relation to all the dancing I had seen in recent months, and coming hotfoot on the straightforward bumpkin fun of the first performance, was as much of a surprise as would be finding unheralded in a collection of folk verse a long metaphysical poem in a highly elaborate metre and stuffed with conceits, tropes, assonances, internal rhymes and abstruse allusions. I think it was just as new to the shepherds as it was to me.

At the end of the dance, Dimitri joined us by the fire and swelled the accompaniment with his own voice and another gourd. The next dance, on which Costa now embarked solo, though akin to its forerunner, was even odder. There was the same delay and deliberation, the same hanging head with its cap on the side, a cigarette in the middle of the dancer’s mouth. He gazed at the ground with his eyes almost closed, rotating on the spot with his hands crossed in the small of his back; soon they rose above his head like a vulture’s wings opening, then soared in alternate sweeps before his lowered face with an occasional carefully placed crack of thumb and forefinger as the slow and complex steps evolved. The downward gaze, the absorption, the precise placing of the feet, the sudden twirl of the body, the sinking on alternate knees, the sweep of an outstretched leg in three quarters of a circle, with the arms all at once outflung in two radii as the dancer rose again in another slow circle, gathering pace till he spun for a few seconds at high speed and then slowed down in defiance of all the laws of momentum – these steps and passes and above all the downward scrutiny were as though the dancer were proving, on the fish scales and the goats’ droppings underfoot, some lost theorem about tangents and circles, or retracing the conclusions of Pythagoras about the square on the hypotenuse. Sometimes during these subsidences, he slapped the ground with one hand and shot into the air again. A leap, after a few grave and nearly static paces, would carry him effortlessly through the air to land motionless with knees bent and ankles crossed. He would rise from this crouched posture, his trunk flung forward like a pair of scissors closing, the smoke from his cigarette spiralling round him. These abrupt acrobatics and calculated flashes of strength were redoubled in effect by the measured smoothness and abstraction of the steps that bracketed them. This controlled acceleration and braking wove them all into a single and solemn choreographic line. Perhaps the most striking aspect of it was the tragic and doomed aura that surrounded the dance, the flaunting so quickly muffled, and the introvert and cerebral aloofness of the dancer, so cut off by indifference from the others in the cave that he might have been alone in another room, applying ritual devices to conundrums reluctant of yielding their answers, or exorcizing a private and incommunicable pain. The loneliness was absolute. The singing had stopped and nothing but the jangle of the wire strings accompanied him.

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