I have received a very interesting email from Bo Nensén in Sweden. He recounts a story from the work of the prolific Swedish travel writer Håkan Mörne, about Joan and Paddy travelling onwards to mainland South America after their travels in the Antilles. I think this is something that we know little about. It raises the question of how do we find out more about this episode in their travels? Take a look at Bo’s message and let’s see if we can find out more together.
[Edit: something this morning reminded me that Paddy once wrote about speaking Greek in South America – was it in Roumeli, Mani or even Three Letters? This may give us a clue. … Further edit – found it: the start of Chapter 3 of Roumeli when in Panama City]
Like many others I was also delighted to find your PLF blog. I must have missed it when I made a search for PLF last year but in any case I then noted the existence of “In tearing haste” and ordered it even if I haven’t read it until two months ago when I first learned about his death.
I first discovered PLF when I in a Swedish English language book-club found “Between the Woods and the Water” in early 1988. Soon I ordered “A Time of Gifts” as well. Later in the 90’s I read the books again in correct order. Later I also ordered “Mani” and “Roumeli” but never really got to read them in full. Still earlier I even bought “A Time to Keep Silence” but it remains unread. In the later part of the 90’s I discovered through the Internet “Three Letters from the Andes”. A year before, 1996, when following my son to a shop for second-hand comics when investigating the shelfs for ordinary books I to my surprise found a Swedish translation of “The Traveller’s Tree” from 1954! Price 2:- SEK, i.e. approx. 20 p! This of course only covers the Antilles and as far as I know he has not written anything about the part of the travel through Central America(?)
I had no idea about his visit to the mainland until I happened to read a book by a Finland-Swedish travel writer by the name Håkan Mörne (1900-1961). In one of his books he describes how he on a ship on Lago de Nicaragua meets Joan and Patrick (and Costa) and how they travel together to the Atlantic coast. This part comprises 30-40 pages and there is even a picture of PLF when singing(!) Mexican songs.
Are you aware of this book? I don’t know if anything by Håkan Mörne is translated into English. The version I’ve got is called, in translation, “Volcanoes and Bananas” but there is a previous, somewhat longer edition titled “TheGilded Poverty” (which I’m now about to order from an antiquarian bookshop.
Bo Nensén, Örnsköldsvik, Sweden
I happened to be reading The Traveller’s Tree for the first time when I read this post, so I noticed another possible reference to PLF’s South American travels. On page 82 of my edition, Fermor has just written a long paean to Pere Labat, the monk whose memoirs he carried on his trip through the islands, when he writes: ” It is noteworthy that another monk, an English one this time, the amusing renegade Father Gage, should fill the same gap for the Central American republics as his French colleague for the Caribbean islands.” This would seem to suggest that he was researching Central America, perhaps with a view to writing on the subject, but never followed through. Maybe by the time he had finished The Violins of Saint-Jacques (1953) he had lost interest in the region, and was already planning a book on Greece.
I wonder if he might have been a little put off by some negative (-ish) comments on The Travellers Tree ?
He certainly makes reference to Guatemalan and Honduran architecture (ie colonial Spanish, of course) and Mayan ladies’ regional and local patterns of their dresses in, I think, both ATOG and BTWATW.
Maybe something will emerge in due course ? I really hope so
So he did have the intention to write about the travels through Latin America.. but obviously that didnt materialize..
There is also a comment on Greek spoken in South America in the third letter from the Andes:
Lima, August 31:
“Andre and I have a secret advantage in shops where English is spoken, i.e. the Greek tongue. But we’re bound to catch it one day when the patron turns out to be an emigre from Corinth or Kalamata”
Yes Nikos. Good find. Paddy is probably thinking back and referring to his previous encounter.
I remember a story in one of PLF`s books about a restaurant in Panama, where he suddenly heard Greek spoken. It turned out that the restaurant was run by exile-Greeks, and PLF relates his joy of hearing and being able to speak the Greek language again. He obviously felt that he could not communicate with the people around him the way he could with Greeks. This story is related at the beginning of Chapter Three in “Roumeli”. He explicitly states that this encounter happened during a year he spent in the Caribbean and the Central American republics.
I have, by the way, just ordered a Norwegian translation of the book by Håkan Mörne refered to above, “The Gilded Poverty”, from an antiquarian bookshop here in Norway. I am looking forward to read about the impression PLF made on the Finland-Swedish author.
It was known that they went on to the ‘Spanish Main’, as PLF calls it, after their stay in the Caribbean. After all, in his preface he writes: “… the little space devoted to the Spanish background is a serious deficiency , and one which I hope to remedy when the time comes to describe subsequent travels through the Central American Republics.”
And in the final chapter: “All that lay ahead was Spanish, of which I knew very little, and Indian of which I knew nothing at all; a region of great rivers and swamps and steaming forests…(…), baroque cathedrals and ruined cities of the Spaniards.”