“Dervla is the real thing. In an age of gimmicks and promotions, she has travelled for the sheer love of it, for enjoying spectacular scenery away from the crowds, and for meeting people away from the trappings of civilisation. Her 26 fascinating books are a secondary consideration, a natural outcome of her desire to share her experiences and political views (politics are as interesting to her as other lands and cultures).
Dervla’s rejection of comfort is well known, and this has enabled her to travel and live as close to rural people in the developing world as is possible for an outsider. In her 88th year this award is richly deserved.”
Some may not be aware that Paddy was pressed hard by Darryl F. Zanuck to be the scriptwriter for the 1958 film The Roots of Heaven, an adventure film made by 20th Century Fox, directed by John Huston and produced by Darryl F. Zanuck. The screenplay was by Romain Gary and Patrick Leigh Fermor and is based on Romain Gary’s 1956 Prix Goncourt winning novel The Roots of Heaven (Les racines du ciel).
The film had a fine cast and starred Errol Flynn, Juliette Gréco, Trevor Howard, Eddie Albert, Orson Welles, Paul Lukas, Herbert Lom and Gregoire Aslan. Paddy describes the negotiations and some of his time on set in Chad in letters to Debo Devonshire published in the book In Tearing Haste. I think Trevor Howard was drunk most of the time and Paddy appeared to be quite struck by the beautiful French actress Juliette Gréco. It was Errol Flynn’s last film
Set in French Equatorial Africa, the film tells the story of Morel (Trevor Howard), a crusading environmentalist who sets out to preserve the elephants from extinction as a lasting symbol of freedom for all humanity. He is helped by Minna (Juliette Gréco), a nightclub hostess, and Forsythe (Errol Flynn), a disgraced British military officer hoping to redeem himself.The whole movie is available on You Tube (for how long who knows?). Paddy makes a brief appearance at 1 hour 32 minutes.
An article about the house that explains a little about how you, my dear readers, might stay there!
The house is preparing to open as a luxury boutique hotel for three months of every year. The Benaki will collaborate with Aria Hotels, a hotel and villa company that offers so-called authentic retreats in restored, historic Greek properties.
From 2020, people can rent the villa throughout the summer period in parties of between two to fourteen people. More specifically, there will be five guestrooms, each including a bedroom, an independent workplace (equipped with basic office equipment) and bathroom. Three of the guestrooms will be in the main house where the bedrooms are connected by an arched colonnade, an intentional echo of the Greek monasteries that Leigh Fermor had visited. The fourth guesthouse will be located in the studio where he used to work and write; and the fifth,, at the secondary stone house. To foster sociable interactions in the tradition of the Leigh Fermors, there will be communal spaces such as the main living room that has coffered Ottoman ceilings and ogive fireplaces inspired by Paddy’s Eastern travels. Outdoors, scattered amid the lush gardens, there will also be several scenic sitting areas – some punctuated by serpentine pebbled patterns designed by the great Greek artist Nikos Ghika. (Insider has been told that rates will range from €300 a night for the individual houses – including breakfast, concierge and cleaning, and use of the outdoor pool – and from €2,200 per night for exclusive use of the entire villa.)
Read the entire article here.
How did you first hear about the nocturnal mass deportations of the Transylvanian nobles?
In 2006 I was writing an article about illegal logging in Transylvania for a Dutch newspaper and I was talking with a 63-year-old man on this subject in a shabby restaurant in Sepsiszentgyörgy/Sfântu Gheorghe. The man then told me he was an aristocrat and shared his story with me. He was only six years old when during the night of March 3, 1949 he and his entire family had been taken away in the middle of the night from their house. Police roused him from his bed and when he had to go to the loo one of them went with him with a gun at his back. The whole family was deported that night and took refuge in basements afterwards.
What made you decide to write a whole book about the topic?
As a Dutch I had a general interest in what happened to the nobility after the WWII in Hungary and in Transylvania, and I always thought somebody should write about it, but nobody did. So when I heard about the 1949 nighttime deportations, I just knew that I have to do it. Another reason was that my wife’s grandmother – who was a baroness and had her own stories – died around that time. Even though she was an aristocrat in Hungary and not in Transylvania, she had a very similar fate and – after the Hungarian Communist regime nationalized all of her family’s properties – she had to work for the rest of her life as a cleaning lady in hospitals. But she still remained full of energy with a good sense of humor for which I admired her very much. When she died, I realized that with all these people dying a whole archive of stories was about to disappear. This was the point when I decided to start interviewing people.
How did you start the work?
First I enrolled at the Central European University’s Department of Social Anthropology to learn how to research the topic in a more professional way. I thought an institute could help me show how properly conduct interviews and how to give the book a better structure. And I was right about it, I had very good professors. One of them, for example, a Turkish professor had studied the secret life of the Armenians who lived in Istanbul. And the situation of the Hungarian aristocrats in Transylvania during Communism was very similar. These people had essentially been erased from society, and they had to live underground. They were literally living in basements, and had to abandon their peerages, but secretly they still stuck to their traditions, even during the hardest of times. These people were doubly persecuted: first for being aristocrats and second for being Hungarians.
How many interviews did you conduct?
I interviewed about fifty people. Besides the members of three generations of the noble families, I also talked with researchers, professors and experts trying to get as comprehensive a view on the topic as possible. I found many of young people who – after the Romanian state returned their properties nationalized between 1945 and 1989 – went back to Transylvania, and had the energy and courage to rebuild at least some of their heritage. Then there was the second generation that grew up during Communism, whom I named “the lost generation” because they were already too old and exhausted to rebuild anything. And there was the third – and oldest – generation, which lived through all these things and which still remembered the time before Communism. These people were the hardest to find and I had to hurry because they were passing away even as I did my research.
Why did you choose Erzsébet, a 92 year old countess to be the main character of the book?
I once got in contact with three ladies. Two of them were already over 100 years old at the time, and Erzsébet was the „young” one. She was “only” 92 when we first met in her panel building apartment in Hungary. She was quite reluctant at first, but by the end of our first meeting we found out that my wife’s family is related to her family, and from that point on I was her cousin, her “Lieber Neffer” and she opened up eventually. I visited her 20 or 25 times to interview her and we always spoke German, but I also gave her my previous books in Dutch. And despite being 92 years old, she learned Dutch so she could read them… Her favorite was my first novel, Tachtig (Eighty). She especially liked my love for a bird which I found wounded in the forest, something that probably reminded her of her father (who loved animals) and of her happy days. She was full of amazing stories – like the one about the pet bear, Nicolai – and she also had a fascinating way of recounting them. This is the reason why I chose her to be the main character and I consider myself lucky that she was so generous as to share her life story with me.
Was Erzsébet her real name?
No. The oldest generation was the most afraid to speak with me, because they were still afraid of the secret service, afraid that the properties they got back under the restitution process could be expropriated again, should they talk to me about the past. That’s why some of them – including Erzsébet – have pseudonyms. But Erzsébet went even further: she also insisted that the book cannot be published in Hungarian as long as she is alive, so the Hungarian translation only came out after she died in 2013. Following her death I met her son, who told me that his mother normally didn’t trust anybody. There were only two or three people in her entire life she really trusted, and I was one of them.She even asked you to help her in the restoration of their centuries-old castle, recently returned by the Romanian state. Has it happened yet?
Unfortunately not, and it is a really sad story. Every time I go back there, it is deteriorating further and I just don’t understand why the Romanian government cannot cooperate with Hungary to restore these mansions and castles. The Transylvanian cultural heritage is so vast and it deserves to be restored – I think abandoning it is a crime. A good number of Romanian architects and art historians who would like take part in this and it would also benefit tourism in the region. This would be good for both Hungarians and Romanians.
How was the book received?
I chose a subject which really captured my imagination but I was sure that I would be the only one. I thought nobody would be interested in such a book, but I was wrong. After it was published in 2010 it became a bestseller in the Netherlands and has since been translated into English, French, Hungarian and Romanian.
If readers like Comrade Baron so much, can we perhaps expect a sequel?
I’m thinking about it, yes. I have many more stories from Erzsébet than the ones included in the book The reason is that at a certain point I had to publish it, but I still kept visiting her even afterwards and she kept telling her stories. So one day I would like to publish these as well. In this future book I also would like to trace the life of the youngest generation. I would like to show their struggle to restore and maintain ruins of castles and manor houses out of loyalty to their ancestors: to repair a broken chain.
For more information about the book and Jaap’s suggested Transylvanian tour go to: www.comradebaron.com
Thank you to all of you who indicated an interest in the proposed showing of the film to marl the 75th anniversary of the Kreipe kidnap. We have explored a number of options, and looked at costs. To hire somewhere would have required more commitments than we received, and meant that we would have had to enter into contracts that required large deposits up front. The decision has therefore been made to withdraw the proposal.
We shall keep you updated with any other events that are planned to make this anniversary.
The travel writer arrived in Budapest in 1934. Author Michael O’Sullivan traces his footsteps.
By Michael O’Sullivan
First published in iNews 25 February 2019.
Standing on Budapest’s Freedom Bridge some years ago, with a Turkish friend who comes from an old Ottoman family, I heard her exhale a long, almost doleful sigh. When I asked if everything was alright, she just stared down the Danube and said, “To think that this was once part of the frontier of our old Empire!” Budapest is that sort of city; a place with a capacity to easily unleash a myriad of complex historical emotions.
Few have realised this so perfectly in print as did a 19 year old English youth who came here in 1934. Patrick Leigh Fermor was, among other things, working off his frustration at having been expelled from school when he undertook what is now remembered as a legendary walk from the Hook of Holland to the place he liked to call Constantinople.
He arrived in Budapest on 1 April 1934. He could hardly have known then, that a mere 10 years later, much of what he saw in this ancient city would be greatly altered by the vicissitudes of war, but also by the brutality which was so often the handmaiden of communism.
Can the traveller to the Hungarian capital today hope to find anything left of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Budapest to explore and enjoy? Let’s start our quest where he did; on the west bank of the river Danube on the Buda side of the city so elegantly bisected by one of Europe’s greatest rivers.
Úri utca (Lord’s Street) is at the very heart of the Castle District and lining this ancient cobbled thoroughfare are the one-time palaces and townhouses of the old Hungarian nobility. Stop in front of number 15, a plain two-storey house, and you will be at the very core of Leigh Fermor’s Budapest. If the owner, Baroness Gloria von Berg is at home, you are likely to receive a warm welcome and a free tour of the very quarters in which PLF slept. It was her father, Baron Tibor von Berg who hosted him in 1934. From this hospitable house he explored Budapest in a way that few English travellers had achieved at that time. Patrick Leigh Fermor’s passport
Go north on Úri utca and at its junction with Szenthármoság tér (Trinity Square) you will encounter an object which carries with it immense superstition for students who are about to sit exams: a statue of Field Marshal András von Hadik on horseback. Closer examination reveals the horse’s testicles to be highly polished. This comes from fervent rubbing by generations of students wishing to invoke good luck before sitting their exams.
You may regain your composure with a leisurely stroll to Leigh Fermor’s favourite vantage point for viewing the Danube, its bridges and the glories of Pest across the river. The Fisherman’s Bastion has all the deceptive appearance of an ancient cut-stone belvedere; however, this amalgam of neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque architecture was erected barely 30 years before Leigh Fermor reached Budapest. On its main terrace an eponymous restaurant, Halászbástya Étterem, offers Hungarian fare. But nearby, for Leigh Fermor devotees are two places of refreshment still thriving since his 1934 visit.
For the traveller seeking the perfect coffee break or a light lunch Ruszwurm (Szentháromság Street 7) was Leigh-Fermor’s favourite café in Buda. Still operating since 1827, it has many of its original Biedermeier furnishings, and its tiny interior offers the perfect Budapest time warp. Those seeking more hearty sustenance should head for the Fekete Holló (black raven) restaurant on nearby Országház Street 10. This is where Leigh Fermor worked with his Budapest mentor Rudi Fischer to shape Between the Woods and the Water into the masterpiece of modern travel literature which it became. Its interior has something of the feel of a Hungarian hunting lodge about it, and its speciality is fish. The fish soup is a meal in itself.
At this point, in order to follow at least some of PLF’s route on the other side of the city in Pest, take the dinky number 16 bus (stops at regular intervals throughout the Castle District) and cross the Danube via the Chain Bridge, first opened to traffic in 1849.
This mighty conduit between both sides of the city was Leigh Fermor’s daily route to Pest where, once he reached Vörösmarty Square, he often stopped at the capitals most famous Café Gerbeaud. Still operating as a café since 1870, today it represents the more expensive side of Budapest’s cafe life.
Opposite Gerbeaud is the former Teleki Palace (now the Bank of China) where Leigh Fermor made several visits to one of Hungary’s most learned Prime Ministers, Paul Teleki, who was on the team of geographers who mapped the Japanese archipelago. The foyer of this bank gives some idea of the former grandeur of this old Budapest palace.
Leigh Fermor described Pest as a modern place criss-crossed by a great swath of Oxford Streets. On one of these streets we find the house which once contained one of Europe’s most legendary nightclubs, frequented by such social luminaries as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. At 20 Nagymező Street is the house which hosted the Arizona. Today, it contains a splendid photographic museum, but a faint sense of what Leigh Fermor described still lingers: ‘’The scintillating cave of the most glamorous nightclub I had ever seen. Did the floor of the Arizona really revolve? It certainly seemed to. Snowy steeds were cantering around it at one moment, feathers tossing: someone said he had seen camels there, even elephants.’’
Despite what war, revolution and communism have done to the physical fabric of Budapest, it is still possible to find a flavour of a city so elegantly described by one of the greatest English travel writers of his generation.
Patrick Leigh Fermor: Noble Encounters between Budapest and Transylvania by Michael O’Sullivan is published by Central European University Press.
A weekend communication from the Benaki states that the repairs are complete and all on time! This is a very welcome achievement. Well done to all involved.
Here is the full press release:
The repair works at the Patrick & Joan Leigh Fermor House have now been completed, well within schedule. They had begun in August 2017 and were fully funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF).
The main objectives of the repair works were maintaining the ambience of the House and improving its facilities in order to enable its operation as a residency centre. The garden was revived; where necessary, damaged plants were replaced and new ones were added, chosen among Mediterranean and Greek species.
The project proved successful thanks to the efforts of the team involved: the contractors, Ballian Techniki, the study and supervision team Maria Kokkinou, Andreas Kourkoulas, Pandelis Argyros, Dimitris Pastras and Helli Pangalou, as well as the consultant Efi Delinikola from STADION.
The Benaki Museum would like to extend particular thanks to the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and to all those who participated to the realization of the project.
It is worthwhile visiting the House section of the Benaki website. It looks like it has been updated and there are some interesting sections, inclusing notes on conservation of the furniture etc.
For visitors to the Mani, it seems that the house will once more be open for viewing in summer 2019.