An interesting comment recently added to the Your Paddy Thoughts section of the site by Lawrence Freundlich. I wanted to bring it to the attention of a wider audience and hopefully spark a debate. I agree with much of the sentiment in this comment:
Now that the last of PLF’s memoir of the grand trek is published and we can expect no more, I am left with abiding feelings and wonderments. First, if I had been his friend or if indeed I had loved him, after a while, I would have wanted him to be quiet. Also, I would have wanted him to be sober. I would have wanted these things, because without them I would believe that we could not be intimate and touch souls. I am left, also, speculating on what it is that drove PLF to monasteries and their isolation and enforced abstemiousness. Was it that he, too, was looking for silence and sobriety in which intimacy with a lover would be possible? And, deep down, because he never found this, is not this the tragedy which drives his achievement? He could conquer, but he could not surrender.
Let’s get going and debate this. Add your comment below.
“I would have wanted these things, because without them I would believe that we could not be intimate and touch souls.”
I, on the other hand, would have been at a loss, without those things. You see I deem it unfeasible to be intimate and touch souls, all there is to do is have an interesting conversation. Give meaning to dumb minutes, or hours, over a glass of tsipouro, or ten, regardless.
I adore the books but you do find yourself questioning who he really was behind the carefully constructed persona. I suspect he was a bit of a flake, but they can be fun friends, up to a point. By “flake” I mean he would charm the pants off everyone (literally, or otherwise) but then he’d flit off to the next shiny thing. With people like that I find I have to be very careful about investing too deeply or, um, falling in love! I strongly suspect that in Myers-Briggs typology terms he was an ENFP or possibly an ENTP, if that tells anyone anything.
I am just thinking aloud here, by the way, and I am very open to the idea that I could be totally wrong. Obviously I never knew him (haven’t read the biography yet, either) and for me the main thing is just that the books are fantastic.
PLF’s work is inspirational and that for me remains the focus. I first came across ‘A Time of Gifts’ whilst working on a building site in Germany. With a bottle of beer in one hand I sat on the scaffold and read spell bound. The realization that i would never be able to speak German with such depth and fluency and allusion as I witnessed in his work lead me back to my own language. I am now just a freelance journalist and I edit a trade mag. He made me realise how rich language could be. To explain: I could probably have told a girl back then in a Saturday night bar in Stuttgart: ‘You have pretty blue eyes ‘ Thanks to Fermor I started to imagine saying fjord blue eyes, I tread water in them, drowning above the last Viking broad sword you sharpen on my longing …’ Frightful guff I grant you and it didn’t work much better back in London than it had in Stuttgart – although my wife does have blue eyes… PLF also inspired me to read works that paint colour with words – Colin Thubron, James Lee Burke, Pat Conroy. The value of this to a jobbing writer is incalculable. In a way I owe him my living. Although I never met him I went to PLF’s funeral to pay my respects. The man’s character failings matter not to me. As the mourners murmured god bless and I whispered, ‘Schoene reise.’
He was my great-uncle. My grandmother was his sister, Vanessa. I only met him a few times, (I grew up in Canada), but corresponded by letter with him over the years (incidentally his handwriting was almost illegible! – that said, he was an old man at this time). He was not at all the boorish type you would meet. I read the biography that Artemis wrote with some trepidation (she came to my house to sift through some boxes I had), and left feeling feeling ill at ease at how obviously horrible his mother (my great-grandmother) was (and I already knew this). This unfortunately seemed to follow down the chain. He was someone who had you not pressed him, you’d never have known his accomplishments, not boorish at all from what I knew, although I never got drunk with him!
Sarah – sounds like you were the only one NOT to have got drunk with him! Thank you. Tom
Having read ( and reread ) the Artemis Cooper biography , I found myself liking him a lot less than before .
Which I suppose was only to be expected , Idols found with clay feet , and so forth .
( but as an aside , not half as much as I disliked her extensive spasms of name dropping in that biography .
Quite why she imagined that the information that his / their companions on such and such an occasion included the honorable Augustus Scrote , Letisha Ffont-Howitzer , Caspar Blumenfenster-von-der-Kriesparkasse , or Willie Puddleglum , eighth cousin twice removed of the Dowager Emperess Hildegard of HaasenPfeffer , would be of the slightest interest to most of us I cannot imagine .
Who the devil ARE these people ? – no-one I know or care about . Perhaps their relatives were intended to go out and buy the book .
– – – I blame the editors )
As regards PLF , I think he comes across as a very restless personality , who constantly gets onto the track of something or other , and then has to run it down until his interest shifts .
He obviously had a less than ideal childhood ( well , a lot of us have been there ) and I think his ” noisy performances ” in public are really the effect of wishing to be liked and to be found pleasant company by those around him , to appear to be the clever , knowledgeable , educated man .
Feeling disliked in childhood , he fears dislike .
You can see from all those posed costumed photographs that here was a man unhappy with what he saw as his real self – hence the constant re-invention as someone much more attractive , the embroidering of experiences ;
( the rhine ” barge ” trip on his long walk was probably actually a trip on the more prosaic passenger boat , his ” cavalry charge ” was against a foe who he knew had already left , his horse ride across Hungary on his own admission ” Sexed up ” )
to make them better stories .
Well , who hasnt been guilty of that ?
I think the retreat into monasteries is arguably another ” trying out ” of a fantasy , another seeking for an alternative life , from someone subject to profound feelings of disatisfaction with his current actuality .
Bedevilled with restlessness .
So am I .
Time for a large and comforting stiff Ouzo then . Stin ee Yia mas !
Christos. Good stuff. Yes, I think many of us are restless. More than we will admit to those closest to us. Few take the step out of the warm cocoon. It is a brave and lonely thing to do. The alternative is another Ouzo, and up for work in the morning.
My first response is a simple one: can he be classed as an alcoholic? It’s obvious that he was ‘one of the boys’, could be great company and enjoyed a good time, but to what extent was his drinking a problem, and did it ever become a genuine impediment to his written work?
Secondly, if anything I would have preferred him to be LESS quiet when it came to the printed word. All the praise extended to “The Broken Road” makes me think of how he may have enjoyed this had it come his way in his lifetime. If only the necessary compromises could have been effected to help him see it to press himself when alive. But then again I wasn’t there, so I don’t know how delicate or intractable the issues were surrounding his ongoing written silence after “Between the Woods and Water” (collections of letters and reviews notwithstanding).
Aa regards the attractions of monasticism, there may be a couple of further clues in his 1982 introduction to the re-issue of “A Time To Keep SIlence”. He wrote that when he was first drawn to the idea of spending time in a monastic setting (early 1950’s) he was “living a lot in France, much under the influence of Huysmans, and I haunted quays and bookshops and libraries.” This creates the impression that he was cultivating a sense of peace and quiet, in which he could focus on himself, his own thoughts and his work. As he wrote in the book itself, “I was […] in search of somewhere quiet and cheap to stay while I continued work on a book.” It seems that a monastic setting could at least provide a hassle-free environment in which to get his head down and resume the struggle with the pen and page.
It perhaps wasn’t so simple as ‘getting away from it all’ to get some work done, however. Later on in the 1982 introduction he wrote that “as time advances, the stress of work and the threat of outside distraction make the need for silence and privacy more urgent than ever”. This gives me the impression that at times he found writing just as difficult as turning down an invitation.
Maybe he should have drunk and socialised less and written more, but he was what he was: it can’t have been easy to be someone on the one hand driven to get out and just do things, while on the other being equally driven to prove himself as a writer. On balance it seems fortunate to me that someone who lived such an interesting life should also have had the talent to record so much of it so well.
Last sentence well made.
I think Paddy would have been great company in a pub for about ten minutes and then after blowing his own trumpet for too long one may have found him impossibly boorish. I don’t know and I hope I’m wrong on that one, because I never had the pleasure of his company, however, I’m only saying this by the impression I get of reading about him.
I believe his companionship and him talking of his adventures would be best as a one to one experience shared whilst walking on the road without him having to “show off” to others.
I recall reading that during the time of the “Enosis”, Paddy was in a Greek taverna and sensing hostility from locals sang the Greek national anthem in impeccable Greek,standing up with his hand on his heart,thus embarrassing the friends that accompanied him. It must have been quite hard work to put up with that kind of personality and too overbearing for me personally. I must say though,I do love Paddy’s life and I do love his writing ; a unique hero who will never be equaled.
I never had the privilege of meeting PLF. I should have loved so to have done.
My question is this: was he never quiet nor sober? Only someone who knew him intimately could say ochi or ne, and I’m not about to ask them, if I even knew who to ask.
I suspect that he could have been a bit of a pain (in fact Artemis Cooper alludes to this) but, for me, his writing shines through and leaves the lasting impression of a polymath whom I should have liked to have met.
The only polymath that I have met is somewhat troublesome, but I love him not even slightly the less…
From the grocer’s daughter in Canterbury to a number of incidents on the great trek there are huge hints of a romantic nature in PLF but what counted for him most in life was companionship – less ruinous and compromising. Intellectual stimulation and cheery drinking companions trumped the bedroom !
Good idea. It also poses the question of what each of us who follow this blog think we are following, because we are each projecting something, presumably not all the same thing. Here are some of my thoughts.
I also suspect that I would quickly have found him ‘too much’ in personal company, but that’s OK, I only know him through books, which are a filter. I think Artemis Cooper does a good job of keeping some of his less admirable traits visible, while being overwhelmingly positive about him overall. It is important to me not to canonize him, he was a bit larger than life, and that is not just positive.
Clearly, what drove him was the fight with his own demons. We are lucky that the available records of the fight are great art. In this he is of course far from unusual. Make your own list. ‘My parents didn’t want me so they made me a star.’
Alcohol and sex both played a large role in his life. Try that statement on the people in your list, although you may have to allow other drugs than alcohol.
I often find that I can like people who have attributes I don’t like, as long as I feel that the person is authentic, is ‘of a piece’, and none of it is a facade. My impression of Paddy is that even the contradictions come straight from the heart. Can you ask much more?
Finally, when searching for personal reasons why he appeals to me, I think it has to do with his deep rootedness in his own culture, combined with his deep love for the foreign cultures which were the contents of his active life and writings. He strives for some kind of synthesis, and gets as close as only great men and women do. Again, make a list, this one will be shorter. My first candidate is T.E. Lawrence.
To Weltbuehne’s insightful reply, my candidate to add to the list which includes PLF and T.E.
Lawrence, is Duff Cooper.
PLF’s life was an adventure. Living on the edge. I’ve seen this before oftentimes inflamed by Combat. Smoking and drinking are a sedative. Intimacy is a secondary human need. Isolation is a means to recharge the battery.
Robert claims that intimacy is not an essential attribute of the human condition. Yet, the first experience a human has of life is its closeness to mother, on whose ministrations his life depends. If that intimacy is defective, what the child learns about life is forever planted in his psyche. Defective intimacy is the source of human conflict: its greatness and its misery. PLF had that in spades. When religious people yearn for intimacy with God, they are seeking the ultimate healing from the human condition, where conflict ends. Perhaps in those monasteries, to which PLF was so powerfully drawn, he was looking for a place to rest from the dythyrambic exertions he threw in the face of his anxiety. And, if that it what he did, does that make his writing less great? No. And, would that have made him less of a boon companion? No.