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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 31 March 2018
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 31 MARCH 2018 21 FEATURE The Leigh Fermor Estate in Kardamyli, which is now closed to the public and undergoing restorations so that it can operate as a cultural centre. man, fluently shifting from one language to another, like there's nothing to it, a testament of a brilliant mind at work. It's not only in the writings of historians fixated on the World Wars that Leigh Fermor's spirit lives on, nor at the tourist destination newsstands; seven years after his demise, the writer seems to be everywhere, from his native London to his beloved Kardamyli. It is hard to escape him. This month, the exhibition 'Charmed Lives in Greece' opened at the British Museum, showcasing the writer's friendship with painters John Craxton and Niko Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas, both also synonymous with a particular sense of love for Greece, its light and wilderness. Having previously been presented in 2017 at AG Leventis Gallery in Cyprus and then at the Benaki Museum, which handles the bequests of both Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas and Leigh Fermor, the exhibition brings to life a very specific era in Greek history; the time when the country was emerging after the war, trying to heal the wounds brought by the Nazi occupation and the even more damaging civil war. It was a time of rapid urbanisation and modernisation, but also a time when Greece was starting to realise the potential of tourism as its main industry. People came from all over the world to soak up the history, culture and, yes, the sea and sun. It was also a time of an unparalleled cultural boom, when Mikis Theodorakis and Manos Hadjidakis redefined the sound of Greece, when Karolos Koun taught us what theatre is, when Moralis' visuals gave shape to modern Greece, when poetry was sung by everyday people – all this, by now, seems like the inevitable cultural stereotype, as heavy on our shoulders as the Parthenon is, a legacy that Greek artists have yet to surpass. And when all this was happening, Paddy Leigh Fermor and his wife Joan were setting up their artist haven in the southern Peloponnese, partaking of Greek culture and forever making their mark on it. Their house is now a cultural centre; a place where writers and artists and thinkers will be welcome to stay and create and interact, pretty much as they did when Paddy and Joan were still around, and the property is open to the public for select periods of the year. Of course, the public has already seen the inside of the Leigh Fermor house, ar- guably one of the most exquisite villas in Greece, as it was featured in the 2013 film Before Midnight, in which Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy reprise their roles as Jesse and Celine. In the film, the couple is staying at a writer's house in Mani, with cinematographer Walter Lassaly playing the elderly host Paddy. The film's setting is not insignificant: the glorious Greek light and summer colours offer a stark counterpoint to the couple's claustrophobic relationship. This kind of contrast has often been part of the cinematic narrative, more recently in Suntan, Argiris Papadimitropoulos' equally claustrophobic drama, set against the sunsoaked Antiparos landscape. Suntan is one of the trademark products of modern Greek cinema, particularly the so-called 'Weird Wave', almost single-handedly created by Yorgos Lanthimos. In a sense, Weird Wave has reanimated interest in Greece as a cultural hub, something only made more poignant by the ongoing crisis. There is an abundance of stories of artists coming from all over the world to be inspired by the particular type of adversity the country faces, which have now become a new Greek stereotype, one that challenges the old, enduring stereotype created in the 60s. Last year, it was another arts exhibition, ‘Documenta’, that turned Athens into the place to be for creatives from all over the world, including Australia (I was contacted by a small cohort of Melbourne creatives – choreographers, musicians, writers and theatremakers looking for insight and contacts within the Athens scene, who came back impressed by the vibrancy of the arts sector in Greece). More importantly, Greece is slowly making a comeback after the crisis, profiting fromthe same thing that made it grow after the war - tourism. It is too soon to tell what will come out of it, whether this kind of boom will create the material for another 'Charmed Lives in Greece' exhibition, thirty years into the future. We can only hope. Or we can still delve into nostalgia, into the iconic Greece of the 60s. And we can always count on Greek summer, which is just around the corner once again, to be the eternal source of inspiration. As long as it's there, we've nothing to fear. Not even the judgemental gaze of the Craxton eye on the cover of Leigh Fermor's Mani.
24 March 2018
7 April 2018