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.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Britain Says No

The hope of Europe.
This Greek newspaper headline of some days ago reads 'Europe now hopes for a miracle'.  I am not sure what miracle they wanted.  But the news from the United Kingdom is OXI; the BBC has just announced that the Referendum has gone in favour of leaving the EU.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Karen King and Her Fake Gospel of Jesus' Wife

Harvard professor Karen King has now conceded that the papyrus she named The Gospel of Jesus' Wife is probably a fake.

Actually it is a fake, and people have been saying so for years, and providing good evidence for saying so, yet even now professor King will say no more than it is 'probably' a fake, adding that she cannot say for certain until she is presented with scientific proof - which is exactly what she did not bother to obtain before declaring the fragment genuine and ensuring that it became a worldwide sensation by gratuitously calling it The Gospel of Jesus' Wife

King's face-saving version of admitting that she was taken in by a fake came after The Atlantic magazine's website published an article that investigated the background of Walter Fritz, the man who placed the fragment in Karen King's hands.

'It appears now that all the material Fritz gave to me concerning the provenance of the papyrus were fabrications', she said. 

Professor King with her fake.
That a fraud might also be accompanied by fraudulent supporting documents would be the first thing a person of scholarship and discernment would check. Yet such is the state of scholarship in this case that it was left to a journalist to expose the truth.
Before King's admission that the fragment is a fake, I had written in The Quest for Mary Magdalene:
Faced with the charge that the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife is a forgery, both King and Harvard went mute. Professor King failed to come forward with everything she knows about the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife, including the full circumstances under which it was bought and sold several times before it came into her possession, and its shady history in Communist East Germany. Quite possibly Professor King knows nothing, for the papyrus fragment was apparently put into her hands without any proof of its provenance, and she never seemed to think that mattered.
That is the amazing and damning thing: She never seemed to think that proof of provenance mattered.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Zahar to Publish The Quest for Mary Magdalene in Brazil

Zahar publishers of Rio de Janeiro have acquired the exclusive Portuguese rights in Brazil to The Quest for Mary Magdalene.

‘We very much liked the book and we consider that this fits very well in our catalogue. Besides all our history list which is strong, we have published in the past with success Zealot by Reza Aslan. This one about Mary Magdalene would be just perfect then!’

Sunday, 5 June 2016

An Alexandria Anthology: Travel Writing through the Centuries

I have only just come upon this mention of An Alexandria Anthology in Aramco World magazine.  You can read the original by clicking here.

An Alexandria Anthology: Travel Writing through the Centuries  
By Michael Haag, ed.
2014, AUC Press, 978-77416-672-3, $18.95 hb.

Reviewed by Robert W. Lebling

'Alexandria. At last. Alexandria, Lady of the Dew. Bloom of white nimbus. Bosom of radiance, wet with sky-water. Core of nostalgia steeped in honey and tears…. Alexandria, I am here.'

This collection of short writings by travelers from Plutarch to Naguib Mahfouz depicts Alexandria from its founding on Egypt’s Mediterranean coast by Alexander the Great, to its Hellenistic golden age, to Roman rule, to the Arab conquest, Alexandria’s rebirth under the pasha Muhammad Ali and its move toward modernity amid the world wars and into today’s era. Some of the works are impressionistic, some starkly realistic, others humorous, melancholy, informative or poetic. Ibn Battuta writes of his 1326 visit, when he viewed the remnants of the legendary Pharos lighthouse. Florence Nightingale (1849) surprises the reader with adventure, as she luxuriates in Pompeian baths, wages war against mosquitos and describes riding one of Alexandria’s sturdy little donkeys, which “runs like a velocipede.” Rich portraits of early 20th-century Alexandria are furnished by the likes of E.M. Forster, Constantine Cavafy and Lawrence Durrell. Durrell’s friend Gwyn Williams describes a chilling descent into the little-known catacombs at Kom el-Shogafa. Amid all this, we are constantly reminded of Durrell’s reference to Alexandria as a “dream city,” where the glorious past hovers over the reality of a sometimes drab but ever genteel (and essentially Levantine) seaside metropolis.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Lawrence Durrell Conference in Crete

The Lawrennce Durrell conference will be held at Rethymnon in Crete this June.
At the end of June I will be at Rethymnon in Crete where I will be giving one of the keynote talks at the opening of the International Lawrence Durrell Society conference.

The theme of the conference is the Greek world during the Second World War.  At the German invasion of Greece in 1941, Lawrence Durrell with his wife and infant daughter made a perilous escape from the Peloponnese, sailing in an overloaded caique to Crete.  From there they were taken by a naval vessel to safety at Alexandria, where he wrote Prospero's Cell about Corfu and began The Alexandria Quartet.  Also while he was in Alexandria Durrell began The Dark Labyrinth (originally called Cefalù), set in a modern-day version of the legendary labyrinth at Knossos in Crete.

In keeping with the wartime theme there will also be talks and excursions to do with Patrick Leigh Fermor whose SOE unit and members of the Greek resistance famously captured the German commandant of Crete and spirited him away into the mountains and eventually into British captivity in Egypt.

I am pleased to see that during the conference Andreas Georgiadis will be exhibitng his wonderful drawings illustrating The Alexandria Quartet.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

More Journeys to the End of the Line: Travelling Through London atop Double-Decker Buses 24 and 11.

The 24 bus sets out from South End Green near Hampstead Heath.
After my journey to the end of the Metropolitan Line at Chesham, I thought I would journey through the heart of London, first bisecting the city from Hampstead in the north to Pimlico on the Thames to the south aboard the 24 bus, then bisecting it again by more or less following the twists of the Thames from Fulham Broadway in the west to Liverpool Street in the east aboard the number 11 bus. Both these routes are operated by double-deckers so you can have a panoramic view from the front seat at the top of the bus. 

At the lower end of Malden Street, approaching Kentish Town and Camden Town, we pass another number 11 bus and honk our fog horns like ships passing in the night.

After passing University College London (which Thomas Arnold, headmaster of Rugby School famously called 'that godless institution in Gower Street' because it was the first secular seat of higher learning in Britain) we enter the lower end of Gower Street, full of small hotels and bed and breakfast places now but once fashionable.  Lady Ottoline Morrell, grande dame of the Bloomsbury Group, lived on the left.

Blue Plaque at 10 Gower Street.

Lady Ottoline Morrell befriended many writers such as TS Eliot, DH Lawrence, EM Forster, WB Yeats and Virginia Woolf, and her lovers included Axel Munthe, Bertrand Russell and Augustus John.

This snapshot taken by Ottoline Morrell shows from left to right Jean de Menasce, Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and Eric Siepmann.  Menasce, a Jewish convert to Catholicism, theologian, Persian scholar and 'my best translator' in the words of TS Eliot after he did The Four Quartets into French, was the son of Baron Felix de Menasce of Alexandria, grandfather of Claude Vincendon, third wife of Lawrence Durrell.  I write about this in my book Alexandria: City of Memory.

Trafalgar Square invisible amidst people and pavilions for a classical music concert.

The 11 bus leaves behind Trafalgar Square and heads down Whitehall towards Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.  But at the first stop in Whitehall it develops a fault and everyone has to get off.  As it happens the number 11 also passes this way so I hopped on and rode to Fulham Broadway.

The 11 bus stops at Victoria Station then works its way towards Chelsea.  Here it runs along Orange Square at the bottom of Ebury Street and Chelsea Bridge Road.

After passing through Sloane Square the number 11 makes the long straight run along the King's Road, sedate and quiet on a Sunday now but the centre of Swinging London any day of the week in the 1960s. 

And so into Fulham.  Chelsea Football Club is up ahead and off to the right.  Fulham is what Kentish Town is to Hampstead, a thoroughly depressing place at the outer limits of civilised life.  I did not trouble to take any photographs.  Instead when the 11 came to the end of the line at Fulham Broadway I hopped off the bus and back on again (a ritual insisted upon by the driver who wailed he would lose his job if I stayed in my seat) to make the full journey across London to Liverpool Street Station in the east.

Having got out of Fulham as quickly as possible I am now on the eastbound number 11 passing through Chelsea.  Once upon a time I lived in a second floor flat on the left here along the King's Road.  Bus rides can be as much journeys through time as through space.  One of the things I love about London is that even today it is rarely more than three or four storeys high.  Such a great city, yet so entirely of a human scale. The bus carries us from one village in London to another village in London, each village complete in itself as Chelsea was for me.

The King's Road as it approaches Sloane Square.  Peter Jones, a department store, is on the left; it is part of the John Lewis Partnership and therefore counts as paradise.

Sloane Square.  The Royal Court theatre is partly obscured by the red double decker bus at the centre of the photograph.

Westminster Abbey and beyond it the Houses of Parliament with Big Ben.

The 11 bus goes round Parliament Square and comes face to face with Big Ben before turning left down Whitehall.  On the corner ahead, on the left, used to be a Lyon's Corner House.  I remember going there with my grandmother when she took me atop the tower of Westminster Cathedral (not Abbey) along Victoria Street, then one of the highest vantage points in London. The waitresses who worked at Lyon's Corner Houses were called nippies.

A Nippy photographed by Bill Brandt in 1942.

Late May and 8.36pm but still quite light as we zoom along Fleet Street towards St Paul's Cathedral.

Up Ludgate Hill to St Paul's.  Beautiful evening light.
The Bank of England.  It is protected by an equestrian statue of the Duke of Wellington out front.  Behind it to the right is the ovoid Gherkin, a rare success of modern architecture.

We are deep into the City of London now, which vies with New York as the greatest financial trading centre on earth, yet despite a few towering buildings much of it remains no more than four storeys tall.  Likewise the name of this thoroughfare, Threadneedle Street,  enjoys fame without grandiosity.

The forecourt of Liverpool Street Station, the end of the line for the number 11 bus.  The area and the station itself succeed in blending the old with the new. 

Monument commemorating the Kindertransport effort which rescued ten thousand mostly Jewish children from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland in the nine months leading up to the declaration of war in 1939.  Private charities brought them by rail and sea to Harwich whence they came to Liverpool Street station and were placed with families or in orphanages for the duration.  Often they were the only members of their families to survive extermination by the Nazis.

Liverpool Street station is both a mainline and an Underground station.

Modern terraces have been built into the old original arches of the station which date from 1874.

There are many ends of the line you can reach within and from London.  For example, from Liverpool Street station you can catch the Metropolitan Line to Chesham.