I was due to fly to Greece for a week in the Mani at Kardamili yesterday, but it became a pandemic victim. Tom Sawford’s excellent web site dedicated to Patrick Leigh Fermor, patrickleighfermor.org, reminded me that my departure would have been very close to birth date of Bruce Chatwin (13th May 1940 – 18th January 1989). Chatwin and Leigh Fermor were friends and Chatwin finished writing Songlines in Kardamili; his ashes were scattered around the tiny Byzantine church of Agios Nikolaos, Hora, a few miles to the south.
I visited Agios Nikolaos several times between 2007 and 2011; it became a place of pilgrimage for me. On 12th July 2007 I wrote:
On to Exochori where we walked along a ridge past goats and between black-trunked olives to Agios Nikolaos, Hora, treading in the footsteps of Bruce Chatwin to the final resting place of his ashes. At the end of the ridge the church of rough-hewn stone sits on a rectangular terrace bounded by a rugged stone wall. On the left the land drops into to a gully then rises up through hills covered with deciduous trees. Ahead the landscape rolls away, shimmering grey-green as the olives dance in the wind; a huge oak punctuates the middle distance; beyond the olives the hills rise up to the grey scarred scarps of the Tygetos. Far away the pale smudge of Kalamata is a pause in the blue green land which tapers into the Gulf of Messenia. A sandy track leads away and disappears round the foot of a hill; the bare, blackened skeleton of an oak reaches up through the greenery. Swifts skimmed silently overhead. Cicadas called; the breeze rustled olive leaves; a church bell rang, once; goat bells revealed an unseen procession through the trees; voices floated up from across the gully.