This is probably it! Official Benaki pictures of Leigh Fermor house

In keeping with my mission to host all that is relevant about Paddy in one place on the web, I offer you these high quality photographs of the the house sent by the Benaki museum. We have had quite a few, so these may be the last. Probably, but no promises! Enjoy them.

This is the official press release issued by the Benaki which details the background to the endowment, and the story of the works with the role of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation explained. Read it here.

Tom

The unmasking of Blunt

I read this today and had to share it. John Betjeman was a friend of Joan’s in her youth, and it was he who after staying at the house in Kalamitsi made the statement that we now recognise about the living room being “one of the rooms of the world.” So I have no hesitation in sharing something a little different. It might make you smile, which has to be a good thing!

By Richard Ingrams in The Spectator’s Books of the year – part two. Ingrams writes:

A book that gave me great enjoyment (for all the wrong reasons) was Harvest Bells: New and Uncollected Poems by John Betjeman (Bloomsbury Continuum, £16.99). The compiler, Kevin J. Gardner, professor of English at Baylor University, Texas, claimed that all the poems in the book had been subjected to his ‘rigorous scrutiny’; yet somehow a spoof Betjeman poem, published in Private Eye after the exposure of Anthony Blunt as a Russian agent in 1979 (for which I was partly responsible), had found its way into the professor’s ragbag of a compendium:

Who’d have guessed it? Blunt a traitor
And a homosexualist,
Carrying on with tar and waiter —
There’s a sight I’m glad I missed.

‘Betjeman,’ Gardner writes, ‘replicates the unmasking of Blunt in the exposure of his own subconscious feelings, which lurk behind a typical Betjemanesque facade of moral and aesthetic superficiality.’ It’s hard not to feel delighted when a pretentious academic (particularly an American one) comes a cropper in such a memorable way. And it’s not hard to imagine Betjeman, who would have hated this book, howling with laughter at the poor man’s discomfiture.

In fact we have our own unpublished Betjeman poem, written on the back of an envelope and now available online in Paddy’s archive at the National Library of Scotland.

Unpublished John Betjeman poem on back of envelope

Nicolas Bouvier – So It Goes: Travels in the Aran Isles, Xian and places in between

So It Goes coverPerhaps I have not read widely enough amongst the travel writing genre, or exposed myself to a wide enough variety of travel authors, but for my money, Nicolas Bouvier is one of the top travel writers of the twentieth century. At his best he surpasses Paddy, for he brings a rare sense of humour to his writing, something that Paddy, for all his marvellously detailed prose, is not noted for.

Some of you may have come across Bouvier by reading his best known work, The Way of the World, or perhaps you might recall a few mentions on this site, including, Armenia, Nicolas Bouvier and Paddy. It’s been over twenty-five years since a new work by Switzerland’s master travel writer has been translated and published in English. It would appear that Rose Baring at that lovely publishing house, Eland, has made it her personal mission to get this collection of shorter travel stories published. I have enjoyed everything I have read so far, and I think you will too. Buy a copy for someone for Christmas. At 180 pages it is manageable for all. Don’t just take my word for it.

‘Nicolas Bouvier was a writer of rare grace and subtlety. Every essay here shimmers with imaginative insight and wry humour. He has long been known to cognoscenti. Now, perhaps, his stature will be more widely recognised: one of the most brilliant, penetrating and individual travel writers of his time.’ Colin Thubron

‘Bouvier writes with such verve and style and carries his erudition so lightly. This is the perfect literary travel companion for the Aran islands, Xian and point in between. The Japanese Chronicles are next on my list. Bravo Eland and Robyn Marsack for this brilliant translation.’ Natania Jansz, publisher of Sort of Books

‘Passionate curiosity, appropriate seriousness and a comic sense are kept in balance by a wide, tolerant and most unusual cast of mind. He has the intuitive gift of capturing landscapes, atmospheres and personalities in a flash, and he finds himself totally at home in the heart of heterodoxy and strangeness […] he catches scenes and atmospheres with a painter’s eye and a poet’s ear.’ Patrick Leigh Fermor in his introduction to the first English edition of L’Usage du Monde.

Rose Baring, in her publisher’s foreword to So It Goes, explains what drove her to get this lovely collection translated into English by Robyn Marsack, the final part of Eland’s homage to Bouvier:

Only twice have I read a travel book and immediately wanted to speak to the author. The first time it was Ogier de Busbecq’s Turkish Letters, and I was well aware that I would never get through to the sixteenth-century Habsburg ambassador to the court of Suleyman the Magnificent. The second time was when I finished The Way of the World by Nicolas Bouvier in 2006. It didn’t take long to discover that Bouvier had died in 1998, and I entered a period of mourning for this man I had never met.

Despite his brilliance, Bouvier had largely slipped back beneath the Anglophone waves. Tracking down and publishing the works which had been translated – The Way of the World, The Japanese Chronicles and The Scorpion-Fish – allowed me to spend time with his words if nothing else. I tried, and largely failed, to trace the field recordings he had made of music from Zagreb to Tokyo. I looked at the images he had collected from around the world, the photographs he began to take in Japan in the 1960s, the poetry he wrote. I watched, much more than once, the film made about him in 1993, Le hibou et la baleine, and other snippets on the internet. I still long to have met him, and feel quite envious of the translator of these stories, who did.

So It Goes is the final element of Eland’s homage to this exceptional chronicler of the world – a selection of his shorter pieces of travel writing, and an essay on the childhood which catapulted him into the world equipped with such fertile curiosity. It contains all the hallmarks of his particular genius: an acute, painterly eye for the details which escape many others, an ear attuned as much to the qualities of a wind or the soft exhalation of a carthorse as to the nuances of conversation, and a willingness to open himself totally to the experience of a place, even when it threatens to unhinge him.

The title, So It Goes, is a phrase which crops up like a mantra throughout the book. Bouvier borrowed it from Kurt Vonnegut, whose writing he hugely admired. In Slaughterhouse Five (1969), the phrase implies that even faced with the horrific destruction of war, no good will come of shirking the truth. Bouvier is as good as his word.

Rose Baring

Extract from So It Goes
Scotland: Travels in the Lowlands

‘I ate some mussels with French fries in the dimly lit saloon bar, back turned on a huge pool-table where three couples were playing, their laughter high-pitched and loud, as though the inn belonged to them. The women, absurdly made-up for such an out-of-the-way place, pocketed their balls, fags in their mouths. The owner and his wife, who seemed to know them well, greeted each win with smarmy compliments. After a bit they came to my table with a bottle and three goblets. They seemed more fragile than the glass. I said, ‘A nice place you have here,’ meaning, ‘The natural surroundings are enchanting.’ She leaned towards me and whispered in my ear, ‘They kill me – this whole damn business is killing, simply killing,’ and disappeared into the kitchen, dabbing her eyes with her white apron. He remained. He told me he’d been trying to put the place back on its feet for several months, without success, and that his wife couldn’t stand it any more. Then, I don’t know why, he talked about the death of the poet Robert Burns (that colossal genius whose eyes shone with drink) in the doll’s house that the Customs administration, by whom he was employed, had offered him in Dumfries as a mark of their esteem. As he spoke, big tears rolled down his cheeks. I know that Burns makes the whole of Scotland cry, but there was something more going on here. I instinctively touched the back of his hand with my fingertip; he clasped mine and held it between his enormous paws for the time it took to swallow back something rising in his throat. What was he struggling against? I remembered the unexpected scene from several hours earlier: those two lost and frantic girls, their hair crested with red, opposite the unsightly woman calmly making an effort to set them back on their feet. Precarious, flawed little lives beneath the sky, a glittering sky tonight: theirs, hers, mine too. All looking, with what help we could find, for an honourable way out. So it goes.’

You can purchase So It Goes from Eland here. Why not treat yourself and buy The Way of the World at the same time?

To celebrate the publication of Nicolas Bouvier’s So It Goes Eland will be hosting a seasonal pop-up shop from 5pm on the 28th November, to be followed by the return of the Travellers’ Film Club at 7pm. They will be showing a film which they feel honours the spirit of Bouvier, The Lovers’ Wind by Albert Lamorisse, an extraordinary film, shot entirely from the air in Iran in 1970. Join them at The Holy Redeemer Church Hall, 24 Exmouth Market, EC1R.

Watch Bouvier talk about his favourite books in 1993.

Walking the Ridgeway

I’ve just been tidying my garden in preparation for the winter. It is a lovely English autumn day and I have sat down with a cup of tea after my labours. My body is still recovering from my 90 mile walk of the Ridgeway long distance national trail, and now it has stiffened further after the gardening! So I have time to share a few thoughts about the Ridgeway walk I have just completed.

Following a route used since prehistoric times by travellers, herdsmen and soldiers the 90 mile long Ridgeway passes through ancient landscapes through downland, secluded valleys and woodland. It is a trail of two contrasting halves, separated by the Thames. The western part of this National Trail largely follows the route of a prehistoric ridge track along the crest of the North Wessex Downs and passes many historic sites, including Barbury, Liddington, Uffington and Segsbury Castles (hill forts), Wayland’s Smithy (long barrow) and Uffington White Horse. Near the western end start of the route, that is at the Sanctuary, is the Avebury World Heritage Site (a joint Site with Stonehenge).

The eastern part at Streatley crosses and then follows the River Thames for five miles before heading east into the Chiltern Hills, mainly along the north-western escarpment. The walking on the eastern half is more varied, along tracks and paths, across open downland, and through farm and woodland, passing Nuffield, Watlington, Chinnor, Princes Risborough, Wendover and Tring, ending up at Ivinghoe Beacon.

Whilst generally fairly level, the walk can be deceptively hard, as on a couple of days one needs to walk around 30km to find accommodation that is on, or very close to the route. I did not want to travel 2-3 miles off the route to find bed and breakfast. This is particularly true of the western half between Avebury and Streatley.

I completed the walk in five and half days last week. I love walking in England in the autumn. There was some rain, but the worst part was the very soft going underfoot which made it quite tiring at points, particularly as I was carrying a large pack. If you do decide to walk the route and don’t wish to carry everything with you, there are bag carrying companies that will take your large bags to your next BnB enabling you to walk with just a day sack.

A few tips from me if you want to walk this lovely route across southern England:

Given the sparsity of on the route accommodation, it may be best to plan the route a little more than I did (I just set off with no forward planning!) and then to choose and book BnB places; at busy times of the year, finding somewhere may be hard to find.

Buy a copy of The Ridgeway Adventure Atlas by A-Z. It has the whole route in Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 mapping in one map sized book that is easy to slip into and out of your trouser pocket or waterproof jacket map pocket (I had plenty of practice). It is all you need map wise and is designed to last at least one walk of the route. Buy The Ridgeway Adventure Atlas

Avoid The Ridgeway: Trailblazer British Walking Guide. It has lots of information and may be useful for pre-planning, but it is useless on the route. I carried it for 90 miles and did not open it once.

Research the route on the National Trails site and the Long Distance Walking Association site.

My route and accommodation:

Start point was at Ivinghoe Beacon. I stayed at a hotel near Tring (direct train from London Euston) and took a taxi to the Beacon in the morning.
Night one I stayed at the Red Lion in Wendover.
Night two at England’s Rose pub in Postcome which is about two miles off the route, but if you call the landlady, Shelia, she will collect and return you to the route.
Night three was a stay at The Swan in Streatley which was very good.
Night four at Hill Barn BnB right on the route at Sparsholt Firs.
Night five at The Sanctuary in Ogbourne St George.
End point at the Sanctuary (Overton Hill near Avebury) and then walked to the Red Lion at Avebury for lunch. I was collected but there is a regular bus service direct to Swindon train station.

A few photos to review if you have nothing better to do on a Sunday evening!

Patrick Leigh Fermor house – further images courtesy of Micheal Torrens

I’m so glad that you have been enjoying the photographs of the house. It has been ‘improved’, and may have lost some of its character, but that was entirely necessary, to make it into the functional building that Paddy envisaged. The Benaki supported by the funding of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation have done a great job.

Michael Torrens, whose photographs I used before, has provided a few more for us to enjoy over the weekend. Thank you Michael.

Some new photos from the Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor house

I have been able to compile a photo montage for you of the renovated house, and its opening, from various sources including Facebook (Stavros Niarchos Foundation and Micheal Torrens/Facebook) as well as elculture.gr . Enjoy them all.

Nomad – reminder, you have five days left to watch

Just a quick reminder that the Werner Herzog film about Bruce Chatwin is only available until Saturday 26th October on iPlayer. It is really quite absorbing, combining Chatwin’s often beautiful text with Herzog’s amazing cinematography; sometimes it is as if time stands still as we observe landscapes or wait for interviewees (especially when discussing Songlines) to respond.

Watch it here.

Read the original blog article here.