I’m soon to venture into the Mani peninsula of the Peloponnese so I’m reading Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Mani, one of the great travel books of the 20th century, written by a man so urbane and well-traveled, so erudite and witty, so encyclopedic and self-taught, so extraordinarily confident that on page 3 of his book he had the sheer nerve to write this, my favourite ever paragraph, which delights me with its music and its show-offiness and its eye-twinkling reminder of all the inexhaustible wonders of this world.
It comes as he is preparing to set out to the mountain village of Anavryti. He has heard the stories that the people of Anavryti are all somehow Jewish, and although he doubts this:
“Yet the Greek world, with all its absorptions and dispersals and its Odyssean ramifications, is an inexhaustible Pandora’s box of eccentricities. I thought of the abundance of strange communities: the scattered Bektashi and the Rufayan, the Mevlevi dervishes of the Tower of the Winds, the Liaps of Souli, the Pomaks of the Rhodope, the Kizilbashi near Kechro, the Fire-Walkers of Mavrolevki, the Lazi from the Pontic shores, the Linomvaki – crypto-Christian Moslems of Cyprus – the Donmehs – crypto-Jewish Moslems of Salonika and Smyrna – the Slavophones of Northern Macedonia, the Koutzo-Vlachs of Samarina and Metzovo, the Chams of Thesprotia, the scattered Souliots of Roumeli and the Heptanese, the Albanians of Argolis and Attica, the Kravarite mendicants of Aetolia, the wandering quacks of Eurytania, the phallus-wielding Bounariots of Tyrnavos, the Karamanlides of Cappadocia, the Tzakones of the Argolic gulf, the Ayassians of Lesbos, the Francolevantine Catholics of the Cyclades, the Turkophone Christians of Karamania, the dyers of Mt Ossa, the Mangas of Piraeus, the Venetian nobles of the Ionian, the Old Calendrists of Keratea, the Jehovah’s Witnesses of Thassos, the Nomad Sarakatzans of the north, the Turks of Thrace, the Thessalonican Sephardim, the sponge-fishers of Calymnos and the Caribbean reefs, the Maniots of Corsica, Tuscany, Algeria and Florida, the dying Grecophones of Calabria and Otranto, the Greek-speaking Turks near Trebizond on the banks of the Of, the omnipresent Gypsies, the Chimarriots of Acroceraunia, the few Gagauzi of eastern Thrace, the Mardaites of the Lebanon, the half-Frankish Gazmouli of the Morea, the small diasporas of Armenians, the Bavarians of Attic Kerakleion, the Cypriots of Islington and Soho, the Sahibs and Boxwallahs of Nicosia, the English remittance men of Kyrenia, the Basilian Monks, both Idiorrythmic and Cenobitic, the anchorites of Mt. Athos, the Chiots of Bayswater and the Guards’ Club, the merchants of Marseilles, the cotton-brokers of Alexandria, the ship-owners of Panama, the greengrocers of Brooklyn, the Amariots of Lourenco Marques, the Shqip-speaking Atticans of Sfax, the Cretan fellaheen of Luxor, the Elasites behind the Iron Curtain, the brokers of Trieste, the Krim-Tartar-speaking Lazi of Marioupol, the Pontics of the Sea of Azov, the Caucasus and the Don, the Turcophone and Armenophone Lazi of southern Russia, the Greeks of the Danube delta, Odessa and Taganrog, the rentiers in eternal villaggiatura by the lakes of Switzerland, the potters of Syphnos and Messenia, the exaggerators and ghosts of Mykonos, the Karagounides of the Thessalian plain, the Nyklians and the Archamnomeri of the Mani, the little bootblacks of Megalopolis, the Franks of the Morea, the Byzantines of Mistra, the Venetians and Genoese and Pisans of the archipelago, the boys kidnapped for janissaries and the girls for harems, the Catalan bands, the Kondaritika-speaking lathmakers of the Zagrochoria, the Loubinistika-speakers of the brothels, the Anglo-Saxons of the Varangian Guard, ye olde Englisshe of the Levant company, the Klephts and the Armatoles, the Kroumides of Colchis, the Koniarides of Loxada, the smugglers of Ai-Vali, the lunatics of Cephalonia, the admirals of Hydra, the Phanriots of the Sublime Porte, the princes and boyars of Moldowallachia, the Ralli Brothers of India, the Whittals of Constantinople, the lepers of Spinalonga, the political prisoners of the Macronisos, the Hello-boys back in the States, the two pig-roasting Japanese ex-convicts of Crete, the solitary negro of Canea and a wandering Arab I saw years ago in Domoko, the Chinese tea-pedlar of Kolonaki, killed in Piraeus during the war by a bomb – if all these, to name a few, then why not the crypto-Jews of the Taygetus?
(Patrick Leigh Fermor, Mani, John Murray, 1958)
Three ages of Paddy – aged 25, 63 and 93
2 thoughts on “My favourite paragraph”
I loved the Mani – the landscape is austere but at the same time, majestic, and so isolated and rugged, particularly at the peninsula. But I think you need to spend the time to try to find the wandering quacks of Eurytania!
They are very hard to pin down.