The Tale of Two Houses in Greece

My husband is 100% Greek ethnicity, although an American citizen. We have been on vacation in Greece twice since we’ve been married, and over the progression of those two vacations, an incredible story of coincidence and fate occurred.

The first time we went was in 2011. We based ourselves in Nafplio, where Kosta’s aunt lives. From there we took two road trips–one north and one south. On the southern trip I wanted to stop in a tiny out-of-the-way village called Monemvasia. It is a medieval walled city that sits on a rock off the coast and is connected by a tiny causeway.

Monemvasia: The Gibraltar of Greece

Apparently it used to be part of the Peloponnese but broke away in an earthquake in the 600s. The town almost completely died out in the 1970s but it has had a revival in the past few decades. Folks are starting to rebuild the ruins into livable houses and there are a scattering of cute little shops selling local goods, a few hotels and restaurants. Plus the streets have no cars and no bicycles, only foot traffic.

The medieval streets of Monemvasia.

The medieval streets of Monemvasia.

We almost didn’t go. We were due back in Nafplio and weren’t sure it was worth the trip but I convinced my husband that we should do it, even though it was really out-of-the-way. He took two steps through the main gate and turned to me and said, “Oh, we’re staying two nights!”

The door to our hotel room in Monemvasia. Are you dying yet?

The door to our hotel room in Monemvasia. Are you dying yet?

We spent two days wandering around this little jewel of a town. There is an old town, which is all in ruins, at the top of the rock. You can climb up there (and it is a hot, stinking climb) but the views are amazing. When we were about halfway up, I stopped and turned and took the following picture:

This is THE HOUSE in Monemvasia.

This is THE HOUSE in Monemvasia.

We had walked by it on our way up and you can’t see it, but the back door is open. It had been gutted, but had been wired for electricity at one time. We fell in love with this house almost at first sight. When we got home we got one of those photo canvases made of Monemvasia (a different picture, but the house is still in it) which hangs on the wall over our TV. We still look at it everyday and dream of buying it, fixing it up, and living in it.

That’s the first house.

The second house belonged to an Englishman named Patrick Leigh Fermor, although he was known to everyone as Paddy. He was a wild young man looking for adventure that took him all over Europe. During WWII was instrumental in organizing the resistance on Crete after it had been invaded by the Germans. He spoke Greek like a Greek and German like a German and he and Stanley Moss actually kidnapped a German general on Crete and delivered him to Egypt. That in itself is quite a tale, though not entirely relevant here.

Paddy Leigh at his house in Kardimyli.

Paddy Leigh Fermor at his house in Kardimyli.

Paddy settled in Greece after the war. He wrote several travel books and was one of those rugged, live by your wits kind of men who could set off into the bush on foot with a hunting knife and live quite happily. But he did build a gorgeous house right on the water in a couple hours’ drive from Monemvasia called Kardimyli.

Paddy Leigh sitting on his terrace.

Paddy Leigh Fermor sitting on his terrace.

My husband has been obsessed with Paddy and his life, his books, and the house. Paddy died in 2011, just a few months before we were there the first time. He donated his house to the Benaki Museum in Athens, in hopes that it would be turned into a writers’ retreat. Holy Mother of God, could you imagine? But since the Greek economy is in the toilet and has been for years, the house sits empty.

It's a big, sprawling place with spectacular views of the Aegean.

It’s a big, sprawling place with spectacular views of the Aegean.

Now here comes the interesting part. Kosta had heard that some movie director had used the Fermor house to film part of a movie. It turned out to be the picture Before Midnight with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.  He was reading about it online and mentioned that when we got the movie in at the library we should check it out so we could get a good look at the house and its grounds. Good idea, right?

One day I am sitting at the Reference Desk. Kosta runs up to me with an astonished look on his face. He asked me, “Do you believe in signs from God?” I said of course I did. Then he pulled out a copy of Before Midnight  and handed it to me:

Before Midnight

Do you see it??? OUR HOUSE in Monemvasia!

I think I gasped and dropped the movie like a hot potato. I still get goosebumps when I look at it. And we did check out that movie and I watched the whole damn thing, and not once, not once, did they show that house in the film. It was just a photo they photoshopped for the cover.

Come on, right? Of all the houses in the world, even all the houses in Greece, and they pick this one. Also, if you notice, the photo is taken in the same damn spot I took mine.

When we went back in 2014 we decided to see if we could peek at Paddy’s house. We peered through the gate, and no one but a yowly old cat was inside. Then we went down to the beach and I had a thought. Wouldn’t there be steps leading down to the water from the house? By gum, there were, and I found them.

The steps leading to the beach at Paddy Leigh Fermor's house.

The steps leading to the beach at Paddy Leigh Fermor’s house and our friend.

Yep, we did it. The gate wasn’t locked so we crept up the stairs to get a better view of the house. It was drool-worthy.

Kosta sitting illegally on the terrace at Paddy Leigh's house.

Kosta sitting illegally on the terrace at Paddy Leigh Fermor’s house.

One more time, side by side.

One more time, side by side.

What does it all mean? I still don’t know. But I take it as a sign that I should keep fighting for my writing career because someday I want to be on the balcony of that house sipping retsina, eating olives, and watching the Milky Way appear in a glittering swathe above my head. I’d even let Kosta come too.

The story’s ending is still unknown. But if I ever get to be a famous author I’ll invite you all over for olives and wine. You’ll know where to find me.

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