Saturday, 17 September 2016

The Durrells for Spring 2017

The spring 2017 catalogue of Profile Books announces the publication of The Durrells of Corfu by Michael Haag.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Arabic Edition of Alexandria: City of Memory Published in Egypt

The Arabic edition of Alexandria: City of Memory
by Michael Haag has been published in Egypt this August by the Supreme Council for Culture along with the National Centre for Translation.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Upstairs Downstairs

Fitzjohn's Avenue rising to Hampstead.
I came upon this postcard recently and though it is well over a hundred years old I immediately recognised the scene.  Directly ahead is Fitzjohn's Avenue rising to Hampstead, one of the highest points in London.  The avenue was laid out in 1876 and lined with chestnut trees and handsome villas in a variety of often fanciful styles; already in 1883 it was described by Harpers Magazine as 'one of the noblest streets in the world'.  Its early inhabitants included Lloyds underwriters, shipowners, auctioneers, silk manufacturers, a wine merchant, a director of Hull Docks, an Arctic explorer, an Islamic scholar and several artists.

The same scene today.
I went to the spot and took this photograph to compare it with the postcard.

The postcard shows a water trough in the foreground for horses about to make the climb. And to the left there is a fountain under a conical roof.  Today the trough is gone and the fountain serves as an occasional flower stall.

A winter's day.
This monochrome photograph, dating to about the same period as the postcard and taken on a winter's day when the trees were bare, shows the scene clearly.  To the left is an open plot, no house stands on it.  Today it is built upon by a Territorial Army centre.  Beyond the fountain is a house whose address is 3 Fitzjohn's Avenue.  You can see the same house through the trees on the face of the postcard.

To Florrie Sambrook c/o Lady Salt.
From this house at 3 Fitzjohn's Avenue my postcard was sent by Lucy to her friend Florrie on 3 September 1907.

From Lucy at 3 Fitzjohn's Avenue.
Lucy's message reads:

3 Fitzjjohns Avenue
Hampstead NW

Dear Florrie
I am afraid you will think I have quite forgotten your tie pattern, but hope to send it the end of the week, been so very busy.
Goodbye  Love to all.

This message on the back of a postcard is almost all we know about Lucy.  She is in service at 3 Fitzjohn's Avenue; in what little spare time she has she is working on a pattern borrowed from her friend Florrie who also is in service but far away in Staffordshire.  'Love to all' suggests that Lucy knows not only Florrie but others there.  It is tempting to think that they 'all' know each other from Staffordshire, that they all come from there, but as we shall see they probably first knew each other not in Staffordshire but in London.

Isaac Lewis, diamond merchant and financier.
The addresses in London and at Walton on the Hill tell us more, if not about Lucy and Florrie then about the people who employed them.  The house at 3 Fitzjohn's Avenue was built in 1876 in the Arts and Crafts style and first bought by Isaac Lewis, who was born in Lithuania, then part of Russia, and in 1870 went to South Africa where he made his living as a travelling merchant with his cousin Samuel Marks. Their fortunes flourished when they found themselves among the first to be at the Kimberley diamond field as it was being opened up; they sold provisions and equipment to the miners and soon ventured in diamonds themselves.  In 1873 he came to England where he married Sarah Ann Tickton, the daughter of a rabbi of Sheffield, and returned with her to South Africa where he and Marks built up a large financial and industrial enterprise.  In his later years he lived in London to oversee his company's affairs in Britain and on the Continent before returning to Cape Town where he died in 1927.  He is buried, however, at the Jewish Cemetery in Willesden, London.

At some point before 1916 Lewis sold 3 Fitzjohn's Avenue to August Ries, a banker born in Wurtemberg and a British citizen. Ries was a partner of L Hirsch & Co, a firm that made its money from South African gold mines and British coal mines.  Ries and Lewis must have known one another through their business affairs: the London business addresses of Lewis and Ries were the same, Warnford Court, Throgmorton Street.

But I do not know when Lewis sold 3 Fitzjohn's Avenue to Ries.  Was it before or after Lucy sent her postcard in 1907?  Whatever the date and whether her employer was Lewis or Ries, Lucy was working for an extremely wealthy man with business dealings in South Africa, England and on the Continent.

c/o Lady Salt
Lucy's friend Florrie was working for Lady Salt in Staffordshire.  Lady Salt's husband, who was knighted for his services to banking, died in 1904.  That is when she moved out of London to Walton on the Hill, to the house where she had lived as a girl.  So quite possibly Lucy and Florrie knew one another first in London, but when Lady Salt removed herself to Walton on the Hill she took her staff with her.  These would be the 'all' that Lucy sends her love to.

Lady Salt at Walton on the Hill
Lady Salt's mother was the daughter of a West India merchant who became Governor of the Bank of England.  Her mother's older brother, that is Lady Salt's uncle, was Henry Edward Manning, a high Anglican Church clergyman who famously converted to Catholicism and became Cardinal Manning.  Helen, which was Lady Salt's name, remembered the family visits her uncle would often make when she was growing up at Walton on the Hill.

Cardinal Manning
Like her friend Lucy in London, Florrie in Staffordshire was serving a family of bankers, though by the time Florrie went to Walton on the Hill, Cardinal Manning, son of a governor of the Bank of England, had long since gone to his maker.  Lady Salt lived at Walton on the Hill until 1920 when she returned to London; perhaps Florrie and Lucy enjoyed a reunion then and exchanged more sewing patterns.

Then in 1921 August Ries sold 3 Fitzjohn's Avenue to Philip de Laszlo, the society painter who lived there and used it as his studio. De Laszlo was born into humble circumstances in Budapest but his ability as an artist got him a long way, including marrying Lucy Guinness of the banking branch of the Guinness family.

Philip de Laszlo's self portrait; he married a banker's daughter.
Among the people who had their portraits painted by de Laszlo at 3 Fitzjohn's Avenue were Andrew Mellon, President Calvin Coolidge, Lord Louis Mountbatten and his wife Lady Edwina Mountbatten, Queen Marie of Romania, King Alfonso XIII of Spain, King George VI of the United Kingdom and his wife Queen Elizabeth when they were still the Duke and Duchess of York, and their daughter Princess Elizabeth, the future Queen Elizabeth II. You can see a film of him painting a mannequin of Lady Duff-Gordon's fashion house in 1928.

De Laszlo's portrait of the then Duchess of York, mother of Queen Elizabeth II.
De Laszlo also painted a man I have mentioned elsewhere in this blog, the diplomat and great desert explorer and wonderful writer Ahmed Hassanein, author of The Lost Oases

Ahmed Hassanein
The house at 103 Fitzjohn's Avenue has recently been converted into flats.  And to give it a cachet it has been named De Laszlo House. 

The home of Isaac Lewis, August Ries and Philip de Laszlo.

A blue plaque identifies the house as that of Philip de Laszlo.

A blue plaque honouring Philip de Laszlo on 103 Fitzjohn's Avneue.

Lucy and Florrie are remembered by their postcard.

The old fountain turned flower stall.  Beyond it is the Territorial Army centre and beyond that is the house where Lucy wrote her postcard to Florrie.

Sunday, 28 August 2016


A postcard from a friend.  Hope the voyage is a long one.
As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

(C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992)  

Book a Greyhound bus to Ithaka now.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

The Durrells of Corfu Cover

This is the cover artwork for The Durrells of Corfu.  From left to right are Larry, Leslie, Gerry, Louisa (Mother) and Margo - as they really appeared when they lived in Corfu in the late 1930s.  The book will be published in early 2017.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Postcard of a Man with a Bow Tie

Man with a bow tie.
I recently received this postcard of a man wearing a bow tie.  Thank you.  You know who you are.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Not in the Footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor

The Taygetus range in spring rising like a wall above Sparta.
Over the years I have spent quite a bit of time in the Mani, that central finger of the southern Peloponnese.  Down its spine runs the Taygetus range, its highest peak Profitis Ilias, which though rising to only 2404 metres is the highest mountain in the Peloponnese and the third highest, after Olympus and Parnassus, in Greece. On the eastern side of the range is Sparta and the Laconian Plain; on the western side, in what is known as Outer Mani, is the small town of Kardamyli and numerous villages along the coast or on the mountain slopes behind them.

My first full view of Viros Gorge from the village of Tseria near Kardamyli whetted
my appetite for the traverse a year later.  Profitis Ilias is in the distance at the
upper left of the photograph.
From many places along the coast and in the foothills of Outer Mani I would catch sight of Profitis Ilias, which always fascinated me because its peak looked snow-covered even in summer, or shielded in electrum as the ancient Egyptians used to do with the Pyramids.

That fascination led to a desire - and it was a desire, something like a lust and a need - to traverse the Taygetus range from east to west, from Sparta down into Outer Mani.

My copy of Mani.
I had read Patrick Leigh Fermor's Mani and had followed most of his adventures, to the towerhouse villages of Kitta and Vathia, for example, and Old Kardamyli, and also out onto the Tigani peninsula with its ruins of a Villehardouin castle and the bones of Latin knights visible in the opened crypts.

Patrick Leigh Fermor's house outside Kardamyli.
But Leigh Fermor's description of his traverse of the Taygetus range offered little clue to his route.  All he says is that with the help of a guide he followed a gorge down into Kampos well north of Kardamyli.  Otherwise he is entirely unhelpful and vague.

Recently at the Durrell conference at Rethymnon I met Chris White who is an expert in Leigh Fermor's exploits in Crete and has tracked down his routes and hideouts from the time when he and the resistance kidnapped the German commandant General Kreipe.  I asked Chris about Paddy's traverse of the Taygetus and he agreed that his description is vague, most probably because he never did it, instead that he made several shorter explorations and then linked them up in his book to look like a traverse.

Which confirms what I began to suspect at the time.  After poring over maps looking for Paddy's possible route I eventually gave up and decided that the only thing to do was to keep it simple and direct.  I would climb Profitis Ilias from the Sparta side and then come down into Outer Mani along the Viros Gorge with spills imto Kardamyli and the Messenian Gulf.

Wending my way up Profitis Ilias.
That winter back in London I talked about my idea with my friend Neville Lewis and he agreed to join me in the traverse.  Meanwhile I bought a pair of stout boots and did some walking across the south of England and also in the Greek islands in preparation.  At the end of August we met up in Athens and drove down to Outer Mali via Sparta and the Langada Pass through the mountains to Kalamata and so down to Kardamyli and beyond.

Having shown Neville the eastern approach and the western flank of Taygetus and had a good look at the peak of Profitis Ilias and the Viros Gorge, he announced himself game and we set off, friends driving us back to the Sparta side.  If they did not see us again soon, they were to do something, though none of us knew what.

Michael atop Profitis Ilias.
Climbing Profitis Ilias from the Sparta side is easy enough.  The Spartans used to do it all the time and worshipped at the top.  Even the Orthodox Church has constructed a ramshackle chapel up there with a tin roof for the occasional ceremony.

Neville looking for a way down.  There is no way down except the gorge.
Getting down is another matter.  I discovered that what had appeared as a snow peak in summer, or a cap of electrum, was actually scree, that is loose stone which covers a considerable amount of the upper part of the mountain.  Being loose underfoot, it makes it difficult to descend without slipping, which I did, destroying my water bottle at the same time.  Even a bottle each was too little, it soon became apparent.  This was early September and there was no water anywhere.  And we now had one bottle of water between us for a descent that I hoped could be accomplished in a day but maybe not.

Neville after navigating the scree slope.
Just follow the gorge, it was as simple as that, I thought.  But the gorge was a torrent in the late winter and was filled with gigantic boulders.  Sometimes you could walk round them but more often than not you had to climb over them.

In the gorge, climbing over boulders.
By late afternoon we had no more water.  Neville was hallucinating and shouting for a beer.  Fortunately as it got dark a full moon rose to illuminate our way.  Just keep going along the damn gorge; it will take us eventually into Kardamyli, I told myself.  Then Neville spotted a path rising off to the left, a rocky defile rising out of the gorge and up past streams of water pouring from the rock face where we drank ourselves silly before continuing into the village of Exochori.

The long dry descent.
At Exochori there is a pantopoleion which doubles as an ouzeri and general drinking hole.  We went in for a beer.  Next to us two men were sitting.

We finally reach the tree line but still no water.
They asked us where we had come from.  From Sparta, we said, over the top of Profitis Ilias and down through the gorge.  They said nobody has ever done that before.

Two days after our traverse of Taygetus, myself and Neville at Old Kardamyli at the mouth of the Viros Gorge, somehow alive and well.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

The Feast of Mary Magdalene and the Oldest Story Around

Q: What surprised you most along the way of researching Mary Magdalene and writing this book?

A: I suppose what surprised me most was how important the story has been in the course of 2,000 years, its inventions and reinventions, and how much it still matters to us today. That suggests to me Mary Magdalene has a significance, a power, greater than the Gospels tell, greater than the Church. It is the old story of death and love and rebirth. Take that carnally, take it spiritually, take them together as one, but it is the oldest story around.

The oldest story.
22 July is the Feast of Mary Magdalene.  The Religion News Service has interviewed me for an article about my book The Quest for Mary Magdalene that will be distributed to newspapers, magazines and broadcasters round the world.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Clea Badaro Resurfaces in United Arab Emirates Exhibition

Aphrodite by Clea Badaro.
Gulf News reports an exhibition at the Sharjah Art Museum in the United Arab Emirates which is unusual, possibly unique, in one respect.  It includes among its works paintings by Clea Badaro, the Alexandrian artist who served as a model for the character of Clea in Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet.

A 2007 photograph of the wrecked studio behind the Villa Ambron where Clea Badaro painted.
Until now, as far as I am aware, Clea Badaro has been deliberately ignored in the Middle East.  The Museum of Modern Egyptian Art in Cairo does not have a single one of her paintings.  She was born in Cairo to a Lebanese father and Greek mother and lived out her adult life in Alexandria - but on the rising wave of populist Arabism and Islamism, that cosmopolitan world has been ignored and even denied by Egyptians and Clea Badaro has ceased to exist.

But this new exhibition changes that.  The Gulf News writes:
The visual narrative continues with a selection of portraits and landscapes from different decades and different parts of the Arab world that indicate how quickly the artists moved to a more accurate depiction of their own culture and surroundings. The eclectic collection includes works that are significant in the personal journeys of the artists or in the art history of this region, such as an early portrait by Syrian artist Marwan Kassab Bachi, painted soon after he moved to Germany, and depictions of the changing urban and rural landscapes by masters such as George Sabbagh, Saliba Douaihy, Yousef Kamel and European Egyptian artist Clea Badaro.
Clea Badaro, centre, with other Alexandrian artists.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Souvenirs of the Lawrence Durrell Conference at Rethymnon

The Venetian Harbour at Rethymnon.
The most recent Lawrence Durrell conference was held at the Rethymnon campus of the University of Crete in the hills above the town, whereas the participants accommodated themselves down below, some in the new quarters of Rethymnon along the beachfront, others like myself in the old Venetian town which has been somewhat overlayed by Ottoman features.

A street through the old town.
The interior courtyard of a Veneitan house.
In the heat of the day.

A Ventian fountain abutted by an Ottoman vault.
Anna Lillios at the end of conference dinner.
The conference was organised by Anna Lillios, professor of English at the University of Central Florida.  She herself comes from Crete.

Among the people I met up with again at Rethymnon was Ian MacNiven, who edited The Durrell-Miller Letters which I co-published with Faber and Faber in 1988.

Ian MacNiven with his wife Peggy Fox of New Directions, New York. The speaker is Linda Rashidi, professor of linguistics at Mansfield University, the outgoing president of the International Lawrence Durrell Society.
My hardback copy of The Durrell-Miller Letters.  I found the cover photograph in a shoebox at Durrell's house in Sommieres.
Eve Durrell thought she ought to add herself to the correspondence with this inscription in my paperback copy.
A night street in the old Venetian quarter of Rethymnon.

Noah's Ark

Booking now for a world cruise.

A thoughtful friend has drawn my attention to the Second Coming of Noah's Ark.  Possibly the last chance to get on board.

 The Ark is a faithful reconstruction of Noah's original as detailed in the Bible, Genesis 6-9.

Unlike the Ark of Genesis which came aground on Mount Ararat in Eastern Turkey - slap in the middle of all that Middle Eastern danger and turmoil so distressing to tourists and the faithful - this Ark is conveniently located in Kentucky.  And to save yourself from the wrath of God all you need is $40.  Pets are welcome. 

Prepare to believe.
The Ark launches tomorrow, 7 July, just in time for the American presidential election campaign.  Sailing is scheduled for the first heavy rain.  No cabins for singles, however.  You must come two by two, male and female or whatever; facilities can accommodate same sex, no sex and transgender needs, though priority is given to those who go forth and multiply.

For more information about the End of the World and how to avoid going under, click here.

The Creation Museum is not far from the Ark.  Save and be saved with a combined ticket.