Going to the Mani, Mirthfully; Patrick Leigh Fermor's MANI

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 12, 2003 | Go to article overview
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Going to the Mani, Mirthfully; Patrick Leigh Fermor's MANI

Byline: Ann Geracimos, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The title of a 1958 nonfiction book by British-born author Patrick Leigh Fermor, "Mani," refers to a distinct region of the Peloponnesus in southern Greece characterized by mountainous terrain pierced through with stone towers. Forbidding land, to say the least. Normally, a person speaking about the area, would say he was "going to the Mani," a singularly desolate but captivating part of the world. There probably is no better book ever written about the region and, in this writer's biased opinion, no more affectionate and learned portrait ever drawn of a country and its people The author's special personality and talent show through on every page.

"Mani" only hints at his gifts. Among other claims to fame, Mr. Leigh Fermor was - and is - a storyteller and traveler of first rank. To the Greeks, especially to the Cretans, he has achieved near mythic status for his derring-do as a major figure in underground resistance forces during World War II. For readers of his classic books about his adventures walking across Europe as a young man and then much later in wanderings around Greece, he is a model to read and possibly to envy. Better known among his works are "A Time of Gifts," the 1977 account of his travels by foot between Rotterdam and Hungary in the 1930s, and its 1985 sequel, "Between the Woods and the Water," about the journey on to Constantinople. With good reason, critics at the time were bowled over by both.

He is still working on the third of what once was a projected trilogy.

The original Harper & Brothers version of "Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese" contains black and white photographs by Joan Eyres Monsell, who became Mr. Leigh Fermor's wife. Title page and frontispiece are drawn, as is a sketch map of the region. No traveler headed south of Kalamata or southwest of Sparta into the middle of the triangular promontory that makes up Greece's southernmost boundary should neglect to read the vivid pages of description and reminiscence.

If nothing else, "Mani," like all of Mr. Leigh Fermor's nonfiction, provides a field day for an amateur etymologist. The vocabulary is a feast of language offered up by a man drunk on words, with a mind that works as fast as a bullet - except when he is recovering from frequent celebratory bouts of fun.

Worth the price of the book alone is his exposition in chapter 15, titled "Ikons," of the intricate and arresting images of the Greek Orthodox Church and some of the digressions into liturgy and music. The appeal of his writing is his ability to make a reader feel he or she is part of the Greek tribe. If you weren't born Greek, you soon will feel that way.

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