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Almost excellent - but not quite
on 31 December 2013
When I read (and reviewed) Patrick Leigh Fermor's companion volume 'Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese' I found myself disappointed with the way in which, for many, many pages, we were taken on a journey far beyond Greece, the Peloponnese and Byzantium as he recounted - in great and erudite detail - the ancient history of the entire region and the role played by the Gods of classical mythology. In those pages the mountainous regions of Mani and its inhabitants simply ceased to exist.
'Roumeli', as I'd hoped, is very different and is a beautifully written and fluent description of the people (frequently near nomadic) he meets on his journey. In these pages Paddy draws a fascinating and skilful pen picture of the history, customs and languages - to say nothing of their genuine and open friendship - of the inhabitants. He also takes us to the war-torn mountains of Crete and, with equal fluency, describes the months he spent as an SOE officer living with the guerrillas and fighting the Nazi invaders.
Chapter 5 of the book is a delightful and amusing tale of an evening spent - after an excellent meal with an acquaintance he'd met on the journey - in a lamp-lit taverna with a group of near-ancient locals as they describe the begging skills and contortions that, over the years, had become almost a way of life in that part of Greece. At the end of the chapter Uncle Elias leaves them `with a wide and flattering wave of the hand and vanishes into the dark'. It's pure Paddy.
Then comes Chapter 6 (my Kindle tells me I've read 87% of the book) enigmatically entitled 'Sounds of the Greek World'. Although it's beautifully written it seemed (to me) to have little relevance to his travels through that part of Greece. For example, I found it puzzling to learn that 'Mystra is a swoop of kestrels amongst cypress trees, a near platonic syllogism under provincial purple.' And, a few pages later, that 'Crete is the rhyming of couplets to the three-stringed lyra, the bang of gunfire, the roar along canyons of a landslide loosed by the leap of an ibex' and (perhaps more easily understood) that `Kalamata is a piling of crates and a pattering of olives'.
Associating place names (MYSTRA - a Peloponnese city and fortification dating back to the Middle ages; CRETE - once the center of the Minoan civilization (c. 2700-1420 BC) and the largest and most populous of the Greek islands; KALAMATA - the second most populous city of the Peloponnese peninsula) with sounds is an intriguing idea but...
Yes, you'll definitely enjoy the first five chapters; they're Leigh Fermor at his very best.
But you might find that skipping that final Chapter 6 (plus the two highly erudite appendices entitled `Derivations of Sarakatsan' and `Glossary of Boliaric Vocabulary') to be an excellent suggestion.