If the lifespan of a crow can be up to thirty years, it is conceivable that the grandparents of the present day crows of Cluj observed Patrick Leigh Fermor and Angéla on their clandestine assignation to the city in 1934 when they were chauffeured by the understanding István. Their journey was a secret, but maybe the crows saw all and have passed on to their offspring the story of the young Englishman and the unhappily married Hungarian woman who was as ‘nimble as an ibex’.
As the sun set this evening I emerged from a restaurant near the Orthodox Cathedral to the sight and sound of thousands of crows flying westward at rooftop level, weaving in and out of the spires of the Cluj National Theatre. It was as if they were on some raid; they were in the stream, in squadrons of one hundred or more. I could neither see where they had come from, nor where they were going to, but this lasted for more than ten minutes and somehow it made me think of Paddy and Angéla.
Cluj is today a fast growing city. The centre is dominated by crumbling Austro-Hungarian Baroque buildings. One can see that in 1934, before the darkness came that engulfed Europe and Romania, the pink and yellow painted walls would have been bright and welcoming to the small party that crept into town that warm August day.
Never missing an opportunity I have followed some of Paddy’s descriptions of his short stay in the city found in ‘Between the Woods and the Water’. He said that he and Angéla took a room near the house of Matthias Corvin who is a hero to both the Hungarians and the Romanians of Transylvania. This part of the old town has substantial houses and I wonder where in those cobbled streets, near the museum, they awoke, entwined, in their ‘handsome vaulted room’ to the sound of ‘recriprocally schismatic bells’. The bells would have sounded from the Gothic Saint Michael’s church in the Matthias Corvin square. His statue, which Paddy describes as magnificent, dominates the open space.
It was in a corner of this square that last night I set out on a search for the New York hotel, where the three of them had such fun and enjoyed an amazing cocktail, only surpassed, so István said, by the one called ‘Flying’ in the Vier Jahrszeiten bar in Munich. I was hoping that the secret of the cocktail had been passed down from generation to generation of barmen, but it was not to be. The hotel which is now named the Continental is closed, and the windows covered in posters proclaiming the Iron Maiden concert that took place last month to celebrate the success of the local football team, CFR-Cluj, in winning the Romanian league. It is a sad sight, but the building is nonetheless very grand with a turret on the corner facing the square and the Bánffy palace, which is now an art museum and next to the Melody nightclub with it’s huge neon sign, in the opposite corner.
So I did not get to sit in the seat of Patrick Leigh Fermor, nor drink his cocktail, but instead walked in good company to my favourite bar in Cluj – Insomnia – and drank Ursus beer, whilst explaining to my Romanian friends Daniela and Vlad, why Patrick Leigh Fermor is the Greatest Living Englishman.