Author Archives: proverbs6to10

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Interested in Byzantium and Patrick Leigh Fermor

75th Anniversary of Kreipe Capture – proposed special screening of Ill Met by Moonlight

April-May 2019 marks the 75th anniversary of the ‘Hussar Stunt’, and certain events will take place in London to mark the occasion. One idea suggested is to hire a cinema or suitable location for a special screening of the 1957 Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger movie, Ill Met by Moonlight, starring Dirk Bogarde. It would be wonderful if we could manage this during the period of the anniversary 26 April to 14 May or thereabouts.

We are looking at the possibility of this now and what arrangements we can make, but it would help enormously if we could gauge the level of interest amongst readers of the blog. The idea might be something like the following. All subject to change!

  • Special screening in a central London location.
  • Drinks reception before the screening.
  • The main event.
  • Possible panel Q&A afterwards.
  • Further drinks and fork/finger buffet to follow

We have no firm idea of what this might cost yet, but fair to say in the range £25-£50 pp.

It would help us enormously if you can complete the above poll. There is no commitment whatsoever, and you can add comments by clicking on “comments” once you have voted. For instance, some of you might like to have a similar event in another city, in your country. Why not tell us and we can work together. Poll replies at your earliest convenience would be much appreciated.

 

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Holiday Planning? Crete, between the mountains and the sea

View from the village of Kapetaniana, Asterousia.

Thinking of going to wild and rugged Crete this year? It is the 75th anniversary of the Kreipe kidnap and there will be a lot going on. A nice little article here about one family and their efforts to create a unique holiday environment in Heraklion province.

By Michael Sweet.

First published in Neos Kosmos

On the Orthodox Feast of the Holy Cross, every September 14, the faithful from villages near Mount Kofinas climb its peak to observe an ancient rite. On the summit, three small trees – a species of white-beam – bear fruit at this time of year. The fruit, which looks like cherry-sized apples, is gathered, soaked in water, and blessed, before the priest shares the tiny ‘apples’ with the worshippers. They eat them not only as a holy Eucharist, but for their believed healing properties. Predating Christianity, this ritual dates back more than three thousand years, for here at this Minoan peak sanctuary, one of more than twenty across Crete, the echoes of deep history are carried in the wind.

What attracted the Minoans to settle at this sacred place is what brought the founder of Thalori Retreat – Marcos Skordalakis here: a spiritual energy which weaves its way through the peaks and passes, before sweeping down to the beaches that lie a dizzying thousand metres below.

The village of Kapetaniana, perched high on the western approach to Kofinas, is where Marcos began building (or rather rebuilding) Thalori in 2001. For six years the former restaurateur set about transforming a dozen ruined houses into some of the finest holiday accommodation available in Heraklion province. Combining rustic authenticity with contemporary comfort, Thalori opened in 2007 and today comprises 20 houses, a restaurant, and a working farm with riding stables.

“It was my dream to make a place that felt like a home, for my family and for my guests,” says Marcos, as we talk at one of the restaurant’s exterior tables and look out to the Libyan Sea. “I wanted it to be a place where guests could explore nature – all the special things the mountain and the sea has to offer.”

Below Thalori is the village of Agios Ioannis. Connected to Kapetaniana by an 8 km dirt road that spears downwards in a series of hair-raising bends, it’s a journey not for the faint-hearted. This is where Marcos keeps his boat, and it’s the set-off point for the remarkable cruises he offers along this wild shore. For adventurous types, in the summer he’ll even take you to your own beach (with cave) for the night, and pick you up the next day. [Read more]

The forgotten war which made Transylvania Romanian

An interesting travel piece about Romania, which is actually more about history than travel. Worth a read if you want a quick overview of the formation of modern Romania. Perhaps 2019 will be the year you make your first visit. Feel free to drop me a line if you have any questions and I’ll do my best.

First published in The Telegraph

By Chris Leadbeater

Sometimes, the world can seem set in stone. You can gaze at the map and believe that it has always been that way – that the border which divides one country from another has always followed this mountain ridge or that river; that one celebrated place has always been aligned with the state of which it is declared a part; that a certain region, heavily associated with one nation, has always been a stitch in that particular tapestry.

You might certainly think this of Transylvania. There can be few segments of the European landmass which seem more closely linked to their domestic mothership. You might even argue that Transylvania is Romania, that Romania is Transylvania – a totemic emblem which defines the country in international eyes. True, the area’s image – all cape-swishing Draculas and sharp-turretted castles on lonely crags – may be a little on the Halloween side of things, but it is inseparable from the general perception of Romania; a tattoo on Bucharest’s arm which cannot be erased.

And yet, leaving aside questions of population and ethnicity, Transylvania has only been officially tied to Romania for a century. Indeed, an exact 100 years ago, in the mists of January 1919, it was, effectively, still in the process of becoming Romanian – soldiers inching west across its forested, furrowed contours, eating into terrain that was nominally Hungarian. The era of outsiders considering this enclave of vampiric legend and Gothic reputation to be a symbol of all things Romanian was still decades into the future (although Bram Stoker’s famous novel had been in print for 22 years, the broader silver-screen treatment that would turn Dracula into the stuff of global nightmares was not yet even a spark in the Hollywood directorial consciousness). Instead, the wider world did not look to Transylvania with much fascination at all. It was, rather, a region with no proper national identity; a bone for which several dogs had been prepared to fight – only without the strength to claim their prize conclusively.

Of course, it was not alone in this. The European pages of the atlas changed hugely in the second decade of the 20th century, as the firestorm of the First World War burned away a sizeable swathe of the old world and replaced it with something freshly etched. New and reconfigured states – Poland and Czechoslovakia among them – would emerge as the bullets and brutality of 1914-1918 killed off the two empires which had held much of the continent in their grip. The Austro-Hungarian realm which had extended its reach far beyond Vienna and Budapest was consigned to the past; so was the Ottoman sphere of influence, which had stretched its hands up from Constantinople (Istanbul), into the Balkans and beyond, for almost six centuries. Transylvania, which had long been caught between the two, found itself on the verge of a different dawn.

Romania itself was hardly a concrete piece of the European jigsaw as 1919 appeared. Although various parts of what now constitutes the modern country – Wallachia and Moldavia, as well as Transylvania – had existed as principalities since medieval times, a Romanian state (of sorts) had only really solidified in the late 19th century. Moldavia and Wallachia had both been under the Ottoman boot, but as the Turkish super-state entered its twilight years, so the pair had torn themselves free – initially, in 1859, as the United Principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia, a halfway house still under Ottoman suzerainty; later, in 1881, as the independent Kingdom of Romania. It was still holding this precarious position when 1914 arrived, and the globe was spilled into the inferno.

Brasov spreads out around Piata Sfatului CREDIT: HOLGER METTE/HOLGS

Brasov spreads out around Piata Sfatului CREDIT: HOLGER METTE/HOLGS

Romania survived the First World War through a mixture of denial and deception – staying neutral for the first two years, then clandestinely allying itself with the Entente Powers (Britain, France, Russia et al) in the summer of 1916 via a secret treaty. This promised to give to Romania various slices of Hungarian territory with majority Romanian populations – in exchange for a successful assault on the latter’s less guarded east flank. It was a courageous move. And also, it seemed at first, a foolish one. Romania attacked to the north-west after declaring war on August 27 1916, but this brought a swift and vicious response from the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, the Ottoman Empire et al) – to the extent that, by December of 1916, Bucharest was in enemy hands. Left marooned amongst its foes by Russia’s withdrawal from the conflict in 1917, Romania sat on its haunches to lick its wounds – and effectively conceded its independence, as well as parts of its domain to both Bulgaria and Austria, via the harsh terms of the Treaty of Bucharest, on May 7 1918.

And yet, there was still fight left in the dog. As the First World War turned finally and decisively in favour of the Entente Powers in the summer of 1918, Romania glimpsed its opportunity. And just as the rest of Europe was looking to stamp down the flames in the autumnal hours of 1918, a country which had appeared to be cowed in 1916 threw its last stockpile of fuel onto the bonfire. On November 10, one day before the Armistice on the Western Front, Romania re-declared war on the Central Powers – and, two days later, began a reinvigorated north-westerly military push into Hungarian land.

Its target was a Transylvania that, ethnically, it regarded as its own – but which had been long been a possession of either Hungary or the Ottoman Empire. It had been a formal element of the Austro-Hungarian empire since 1867 – but as the autumn of 1918 turned into another grim winter, much of it tumbled into Romania’s grasp. On December 1, the newly convened National Assembly of Romanians of Transylvania and Hungary loudly declared “the unification of those Romanians and of all the territories inhabited by them with Romania”. On December 7, Brasov (now the second biggest city in Transylvania) fell. On Christmas Eve, Cluj, the regional capital, went the same way. And as 1919 tripped over the horizon, and a distracted, weary continent felt its way towards the First World War’s flawed conclusion, the Treaty of Versailles (June 28 1919), Romania drove home its advantage. Satu Mare, pretty much on the modern-day border with Hungary, was captured on April 19. By August 4, when the gun-fire ceased, Romanian troops were patrolling the streets of the Hungarian capital.

Budapest would, inevitably, be returned to Hungary, but much of what was taken in this seismic nine-month postscript to the First World War – Transylvania included – was formally ceded to Romania in the Treaty of Trianon on June 4 1920. It is an agreement which still outlines much of the border between the two countries 99 years on.

Can you see the scars of this conflagration if you travel in the region? Not really. Romania has been through much worse in the intervening century, from a fascist government as evil as that which arose in Germany during the Second World War, to a Communist regime which was arguably the most oppressive of any behind the Iron Curtain. It is the breezeblock buildings of the latter epoch which give the Bucharest skyline its brute force (not least the gargantuan Palace of the Parliament, built by the dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, which ranks as the heaviest building on earth) – but a tour of Transylvania will take you to places where you can see little evidence of trauma. It is rustic and agricultural, fields fanning out at the side of its highways – and even its cities have a certain quiet charm. Brasov is engagingly pretty, caught in the direct shadow of the Carpathian Mountains, spreading out around the flagstones of Piata Sfatului, cafes and restaurants fringing the edges of the square. Sibiu is, perhaps, even more attractive – a regional outpost which took its time in the spotlight as European Capital of Culture in 2007 and restored its medieval centre to something which looks more akin to Italy than the Communist East, gelaterias pinned to the perimeter of Piata Mare. Timisoara – in westerly Banat rather than Transylvania, but taken in the Romanian advance of 1918-19 – will surely benefit from taking on the same artistic role in 2021.

Sibiu was European Capital of Culture in 2007 CREDIT: JEAN-FRANCOIS

Sibiu was European Capital of Culture in 2007 CREDIT: JEAN-FRANCOIS

Yet hints that Transylvania has always been a European crossroads, home to people of different languages and creeds, are there if you search for them. The colossal Black Church, a Gothic bastion in Brasov, bears the names “Schwarze Kirche” (German) and “Fekete Templom” (Hungarian) as well as the more lyrical Romanian of “Biserica Neagră” – a gentle reminder that it was constructed in the 14th century by the city’s German speakers. The Lutheran Cathedral in Sibiu tells a near-identical back-story. Brasov’s onetime German name, Kronstadt (Crown City), is visible in its coat of arms.

You even find this connection to yesteryear in Bran, on the border of Transylvania and Wallachia, where the castle loosely connected to the Dracula yarn (and the most popular tourist attraction in Romania as a consequence) was also contructed in the 14th century, by Transylvanian Saxons (the region’s medieval inhabitants of German ethnicity). You cannot quite avoid the uber-vampire here – he haunts the tomato-puree-infused menus of eateries in the town, and the souvenir stalls below the fortress. But you can, if you pay attention to its history and culture, avoid the idea of Transylvania as a bloody Romanian cliche. It is far more fascinating and varied of heritage than that.

Paddy’s house – some photos showing progress

As we reported a few weeks ago, the progress of repairs and restoration at Paddy and Joan’s house appear to be on track. The Benaki sent me a few more photos showing work on the exterior which is looking very good. Hopefully more to come on the interior at a later date.

The late Sergeant Fraser Stirling, 1 Royal Irish and the epidemic of PTSD

Sergeant Fraser Stirling, 1 R Irish

It is the time if year to thank you once more for supporting the blog and keeping interest in Paddy very much alive. A time also to wish all dear readers a very merry Christmas and a happy New year.

Many of you have got in touch commenting that I have not been on my annual charity walk this year; you seem to have missed my pleas for money! There are many reasons for this. The main one being that the subject of veteran mental health in the UK is reaching some sort of crisis point, and I don’t think that my time is best spent on just a simple fundraising exercise. I am exploring other ways of helping that may address the fundamental issues of supporting veterans.

This Christmas l ask that you consider making a donation to Combat Stress, the UK charity focused on veteran mental health and about to mark 100 years of support to veterans in 2019.

The importance of this issue is highlighted by the sad story of Sergeant Fraser Stirling, 1st Battalion Royal Irish Regiment, who, it is believed, killed himself on September 26, 2018. Sergeant Fraser Stuart Stirling, 1 Royal Irish Regiment, was just 30 years, and a fine soldier. He was the dearly loved son of Fiona and the late Karl Stirling, with a brother Eoghan, and devoted fiance Valeria. He was known as a loyal friend and colleague, and served alongside my son. Fraser was a veteran of three tours to Afghanistan, and rescued colleagues involved in an IED incident. Stirling, from Buckie in Moray, had offered to help other soldiers who were struggling with trauma-related disorders.

“He was helping me to help people with PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder],” says Trevor Coult, a former Royal Irish colour sergeant who campaigns for better mental health care for veterans. “He had reached out to say, ‘Trev, I’ll give you a hand’, but he hadn’t said: ‘I need a hand.’”

Fraser’s death is just one of an estimated more than 50 veteran suicide’s this year. The true number is unknown as the NHS and MOD do not keep any accurate records. This report in the Daily Record indicated that one veteran committed suicide every 6 days in 2018.

The subject of veteran mental health is one that is pertinent to this blog. There is a strong belief that Billy Moss suffered some form of PTSD. I am sure many others from SOE will have experienced issues. It is much more likely that non-commissioned soldiers take their lives as research shows that not all have the strong support networks that many officers have.

The video attached to this story graphically shows some of the dreadful emotions felt by these soldiers. Jamie Davies, 4 Scots, the Highlanders, was a father of two, who killed himself in August during a period of almost an epidemic of suicide amongst Scottish soldiers. Before he died, Jamie filmed a powerful video detailing his post-traumatic stress disorder hell.

Donate to Combat Stress here.

Thank you and a Merry Christmas to you and those you love. Keep them close and support them.

Tom

Paddy arrives in Cologne: “I knew I was inside the largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe . . .”

The west front of the completed Köln cathedral in 1911

A further extract from A Time of Gifts to mark the 85th anniversary of the “great trudge”.

After a first faraway glimpse, the two famous steeples grew taller and taller as the miles that separated us fell away. At last they commanded the cloudy plain as the spires of a cathedral should, vanishing when the outskirts of the city interposed themselves, and then, as I gazed at the crowding saints of the three Gothic doorways, sailing up into the evening again at close range. Beyond them indoors, although it was already too dark to see the colours of the glass, I knew I was inside the largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe. Except for the little constellation of tapers in the shadows of a side chapel, everything was dim. Women knelt interspersed with nuns and the murmured second half of the Gegrusset seist Du, Maria rose in answering chorus to the priest’s initial solo; a discreet clatter of beads kept tally of the accumu­lating prayers. In churches with open spires like Cologne, one could understand how congregations thought their orisons had a better start than prayers under a dome where the syllables might flutter round for hours. With steeples they follow the uprush of lancers and make an immediate break for it.

Tinsel and stars flashed in all the shops and banners saying Frohliche Weihnacht! were suspended across the streets. Clogged villagers and women in fleece-lined rubber boots slipped about the icy pavements with exclamatory greetings and small screams, spilling their armfuls of parcels. The snow heaped up wherever it could and the sharp air and the lights gave the town an authentic Christmas card feeling. It was the real thing at last! Christmas was only five days away. Renaissance doors pierced walls of ancient brick, upper storeys jutted in salients of carved timber and glass, triangles of crow-steps outlined the steep gables, and eagles and lions and swans swung from convoluted iron brackets along a maze of lanes. As each quarter struck, the saint-encrusted towers challenged each other through the snow and the rivalry of those heavy bells left the air shaking.

Beyond the Cathedral and directly beneath the flying ­buttresses of the apse, a street dropped sharply to the quays. Tramp steamers and tugs and barges and fair-sized ships lay at anchor under the spans of the bridges, and cafes and bars were raucous with music. I had been toying with the idea, if I could make the right friends, of cadging a lift on a barge and sailing upstream in style for a bit.

I made friends all right. It was impossible not to. The first place was a haunt of seamen and bargees shod in tall sea-boots rolled down to the knee, with felt linings and thick wooden soles. They were throwing schnapps down their throats at a brisk rate. Each swig was followed by a chaser of beer, and I started doing the same. The girls who drifted in and out were pretty but a rough lot and there was one bulky terror, bursting out of sailor’s jersey and wearing a bargeman’s cap aske on a nest of candy-floss hair, called Maggi – which was short for Magda – who greeted every newcomer with a cry of ‘Hallo, Bubi!’ and a sharp, cunningly twisted and very painful pinch on the cheek. I liked the place, especially after several schnapps, and I was soon firm friends with two beaming bargemen whose Low German speech, even sober, would have been blurred beyond the most expert linguist’s grasp. They were called Uli and Peter. ‘Don’t keep saying Sie,’ Uli insisted, with a troubled brow and an unsteadily admonishing forefinger: ‘Say Du.’

This advance from the plural to the greater intimacy of the singular was then celebrated by drinking Brüderschaft. Glasses in hand, with our right arms crooked through the other two with the complexity of the three Graces on a Parisian public fountain, we drank in unison. Then we reversed the process with our left arms, preparatory to ending with a triune embrace on both cheeks, a manoeuvre as elaborate as being knighted or invested with the Golden Fleece. The first half of the ceremony went without a hitch, but a loss of balance in the second, while our forearms were still interlocked, landed the three of us in the sawdust in a sottish heap. Later, in the fickle fashion of the very drunk, they lurched away into the night, leaving their newly-created brother dancing with a girl who had joined our unsteady group: my hobnail boots could do no more damage to her shiny dancing shoes, I thought, than the seaboots that were clumping all round us. She was very pretty except for two missing front teeth. They had been knocked out in a brawl the week before, she told me.

Extract from A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor, with thanks to John Murray Publishers

Flavours of Romania

It’s Christmastime, and yesterday evening I was out at the lovely Tichborne Arms in the (in)famous village of Tichborne in Hampshire for a drink by the fire, when I bumped into old friend Charlie Ottley. Some of you may remember that Charlie is a filmmaker, and is the leading light behind the wonderful series of films supported by The European Nature Trust, called Wild Carpathia. Charlie is planning a further film about Romania called White Carpathia. He is trying to raise funds for the movie, and has produced a film called Flavours of Romania, to help raise funds, which is a travelogue across nine great regions of this wonderful country that Paddy loved so much.

It must have been the beer, but I was persuaded to buy a copy, and have spent some of this dreadfully wet and cold English day watching the film. It is a joy, full of beautiful images of a land that I adore. It features the wild Carpathian forests, the idyllic Danube Delta, bears and wolves, traditional dance and music, and some great food.

If you would like a stocking filler for Christmas, and wish to support Charlie in his fundraising for the final “Carpathia” film, you might like to purchase a copy.

You can watch the trailer here.

If you would like to make a purchase please send Charlie a message and he will make all arrangements – message on the Facebook page here.

There are more videos from the making of the film here.

To get a further insight into Charlie’s films, and watch the very first Wild Carpathia, click below!