Category Archives: Volume Three – The Broken Road

Postcard from . . . Bulgaria

Illustration by Matthew Cook

Illustration by Matthew Cook

In a cramped office at Bulgaria’s Rila Monastery, a black-robed monk is swiping my passport. Set in a wooded valley 70 miles south of the capital Sofia, Rila is the country’s largest and oldest Orthodox Christian monastery, and a source of intense pride for Bulgarians. Travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor stayed here in 1934 and found a place of “clattering hooves and constant arrivals and departures . . . like that of a castle in the Middle Ages.”

by Tom Allan

First published in the Financial Times

Today the clatter of hooves has been replaced by the rumbling tyres of tour buses and the monastery’s humbug-striped pillars and copper domes are one of Bulgaria’s major tourist attractions. One thing hasn’t changed: the monks still offer accommodation — there are 38 rooms available to pilgrims and non-believers alike. Stay the night and you can explore once the day trippers have departed.

The monastery was founded in the 10th century by the followers of St Ivan of Rila, a hermit who lived in a nearby mountain cave. Its library holds an important collection of medieval manuscripts and there are exceptional wood carvings, including the Cross of Rafail, which took 12 years of surgical chiselling to make, by which time its creator had lost his sight.

The surroundings are special too. The forested slopes that encircle the quadrangle are now a nature reserve with a network of hiking trails. After checking in to my room (basic but comfortable and en suite), I clump out over the cobbles and head for the summit of Dodov Vrah, a 2,597-metre peak that towers over the valley. The path ascends through a beech forest alive with cuckoos and drumming woodpeckers, eventually reaching an open landscape of tussocks, wild violets and creeping juniper bushes. This is halfway; I continue up past the tumbledown remains of shepherds’ huts to reach the snow drifts on the ridge.

From the summit I look north to the crags around the Seven Rila Lakes, then peer down to spot the red-tiled roof of the monastery, 1,500 metres below. The knee-jarring descent leaves me avoiding stairs for a week, but the river in the valley bottom provides a welcome ice bath for my feet.

No food is provided for guests, so I head to a nearby restaurant for a delicious meal of grilled local trout. A sign informs overnight visitors to return before the gates are locked at 8pm, so I gulp down my wine and rush back before curfew. With characteristic Bulgarian punctuality, the doors eventually swing shut at 9pm. Electric lights clunk on around the cloisters and the looming mountains turn a shade darker. Without the clamour of visitors’ voices, other sounds are amplified: the tinkle of the fountains, the screaming of the swifts wheeling around the courtyard, the gargled miaow of one of the monastery cats.

Church bells wake me early the next morning. I step out on to the creaking wooden veranda; overnight rain has drenched the cobbles and mist clings to the forested mountainsides. Apart from a group of doves purring and sipping from a puddle, the quadrangle is still. Inside the church, the monks have begun the morning service. They stand facing the ornate gold-plated iconostasis, a screen inlaid with icons that separates the main nave from the sanctuary, the holiest part of the church. Every so often, a robed figure appears through a door in the screen, vigorously distributing incense from a hanging censer.

After the service I speak to a monk in the reservations office, Hierodeacon Nektarii. In a soft, musical voice he tells me how he came to the monastery as a novice 10 years ago. There are just eight monks at Rila now, he says — in the 19th century there were 200. When the monastery became a national museum in 1961, the remaining monks were all moved out. “People asked: what kind of monastery has no monks? And a few years later a few of us were allowed to return.”

The gargantuan cooking utensils and 1,000-loaf bread oven displayed in the museum date from Rila’s 19th-century heyday. “On feast days the monastery attracted thousands of pilgrims,” Nektarii explains, “and we would feed them all”. Today’s operations are comparatively modest and Nektarii bakes the communion bread himself — still in a traditional ornamental mould “but we use a modern oven now”.

I pack my bags as the quadrangle begins to bustle with tourists again. As I head out past the tour groups and souvenir stands, I think about Nektarii’s description of the 19th-century monastery — a place of feasts, thronging with pilgrims — and of Leigh Fermor’s description of the carnival buzz of Rila. I feel a pang for the loss of that world but I won’t quickly forget the peace of Rila at dawn.

Details: Twin rooms at Rila Monastery cost from 50 levs (£22) and can be booked in person at the reservations office in the monastery or by phone (+359 07054 2208). For more general tourism information, see bulgariatravel.org

The gravitational pull of a unique personality

Patrick Leigh Fermor, left, met Heinrich Kreipe, his former captive, at a reunion in Greece in 1972 which included the famous Greek TV show

Patrick Leigh Fermor, left, met Heinrich Kreipe, his former captive, at a reunion in Greece in 1972 which included the famous Greek TV show

We all discovered Paddy by different routes, but if one follows the thread of certain ideas, one can often find it leads to Patrick Leigh Fermor. My own journey started with my interest in Byzantine history; the link with Constantinople and Steven Runciman being my link. It was therefore a great joy to hear from a former colleague with whom I had lost touch some years ago. Chris Wares has discovered Paddy through his interest in the work of Antony Beevor, and after finding this blog he wrote to me explaining his own Paddy journey. He has agreed to me publishing it here. How did you first encounter Paddy? Maybe you can tell us in the comments section.

by Chris Wares

Unlike probably everyone reading this I have yet to actually read any of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s books. In fact I’m ashamed to say that a year ago I hadn’t even heard of the man. But over the past twelve months I have found myself being inexorably drawn towards the man and his books. Unknowingly at first and then, after what I can only describe as a sort of literary epiphany, I realised that I was in the gravitational pull of a unique personality, a name that kept turning everywhere I looked. Gradually I came to terms with the realisation that I would be compelled to read his books.

I am sure everyone has their own story on how they became acquainted with PLF but, as I stand on the precipice of opening one of his books for the first time, I thought I would describe how I arrived at this point.

It all began about a year ago when I read Crete: The Battle and the Resistance by Antony Beevor. Beevor is one of my favourite authors and so, while not being especially interested in the war in Crete, I was confident that my investment would be rewarded. Amongst the broad sweep of battle Beevor describes the tale of a British SOE soldier who possessed a larger than life character. A man who captures a German general from under their noses and then marches him across the mountains with half the German army on his tail. It was a scintillating story but the name of the hero didn’t particularly register in my mind.

A few weeks later I read Natural Born Heroes: The Lost Secrets of Strength and Endurance by another of my favourite authors, Christopher McDougall. McDougall’s stories of long distance runners provide great inspiration for those that are needing motivation to get down to the business of training for a marathon. In the book McDougall writes of ancient Greek demigods who had discovered the secrets of endurance running. Switching to the twentieth century, he describes in reverential tones the superhuman endurance of a British soldier called Paddy who possessed the same qualities. It’s the same guy.

OK. So it’s a good tale and worth retelling but surely this was just coincidence. Sure, it’s a great yarn about the Battle of Crete and it also works as a modern day fable about god-like feats of endurance. But this was just one of those things right? The sort of tale anyone writing about Crete includes.

Then several months later I booked a romantic weekend in Brasov, Transylvania, for my wife’s birthday. A rare opportunity for us to get away without the kids and visit somewhere slightly off the beaten track. To get to know the place better I decided to do my homework and read up on Romania. These days, tied down by kids and mortgages, my wanderlust is largely restricted to armchair adventures. Travel books and histories providing an enjoyable way of vicariously travel the world.

I picked up Anthony Eales Blue River, Black Sea, a light and enjoyable read recounting his journey by bicycle and boat from the source of the Danube down to the Black Sea. Eales opens by describing how he decided to emulate the journey some guy called Patrick Leigh Fermor made in the 1930s down the Danube who also happened to kidnap a German general in Crete…. Hang on a minute? Kidnapped a German general in Crete? This can’t be the same bloke can it?

It’s at that point I turn to Google. Who was this guy? A good story can be a matter of circumstance; a combination of events that a person can just be caught up in. But appearing heroic in two separate dramas suggests a character that possesses something special. A man who “drank from a different fountain” as some might say.

I quickly found myself getting up to speed on the basics – SOE, renowned travel writer, author of three books about walking across Europe in the 1930s, the last of which was edited by Colin Thubron and Artemis Cooper. This was sounding good. I like Colin Thubron. And Artemis Cooper? That’s a name that rings a bell? Of course! – she co-wrote Paris After the Liberation: 1944 – 1949 with Beevor (which I also just read).

Another Google search and I realise that Beevor and Cooper are married and obviously share an admiration for PLF. And – just to reinforce the impression that everything was in some way joined up and connected to the man – it turns out that Cooper is the daughter of John Julius Norwich whose A History of Venice I read in August. I was beginning to get the feeling that Patrick Leigh Fermor was something special. I was in the orbit of something that deserved further investigation.

My armchair exploration of Romania continued through the Autumn and it soon felt as if all roads led to Patrick Leigh Fermor. The author Nick Thorpe talks about him in The Danube: A Journey Upriver from the Black Sea to the Black Forest while travelling along the Danube in the opposite direction to Eales. Nick Hunt follows in his footsteps in Walking the Woods and the Water: In Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Footsteps from the Hook of Holland to the Golden Horn. William Blacker quotes him extensively in Along the Enchanted Way: A Story of Love and Life in Romania (which incidentally is one of the loveliest books I have read in a long time) and Dervla Murphy contrasts 1990s Romania with his descriptions of the 1930s in Transylvania and Beyond. Georgina Harding quotes him in In Another Europe: A Journey to Romania. At times it felt as if everyone who had ever visited Romania in the past 40 years had read his books.

With his writing venerated by so many, the signs were clear that I needed to read him for myself. Here was someone who is not only considered one of the best travel writers ever but someone whose books inspired so much else that I read and enjoyed. My curiosity piqued I enthusiastically went on a bookstore spending spree and purchased all three books of the trilogy as well as his biography.

The books have sat patiently on my bedside table for some time now, but the moment of turning that first page is fast approaching. Logically the trilogy should form part of my Romanian literary journey but I have purposely set them aside and held back until the moment is right. The books may be the finalé to my Romanian odyssey but I feel as if they may also be first steps of an entirely new journey.

It’s rare to have such a sense of anticipation ahead of reading a new book. Such a build up runs the risk of the reality failing to live up to the expectation and I am nervous that perhaps I may not find his books as exquisite as I have come to imagine them to be. But on the other hand I am reassured with the knowledge that I am following in the footsteps of many others.

And now to turn that first page and follow path that is well trodden; one which all of those who are reading this will have already travelled….

Paddy’s World – Transcript of John Julius Norwich’s talk for the PLF Society

Many blog readers and members of the PLF Society were privileged to her John Julius Norwich give a very personal account of his memories of Paddy at the Hellenic Centre in London on 10 November. My account of the evening is here

I am very lucky to be able to present the full transcript of the talk. Didn’t I say we had some good stuff coming up? Enjoy this 🙂

On 22 February 1951 my mother wrote to me: “Just off for my jaunt to Passy sur Eure to spoon with P. Leigh Fermor. Shy. Fluster.” At that time she had only just met Paddy and hardly knew him, and she would have been – as indeed she confessed she was – extremely nervous. But all was well. The next letter read:

Well, the gallivanting was a red letter. It took me a good two hours cross-country by Pontoise and Mantes. Strange little village house in which he lives – the loan of a Lady Smart – was warm and welcoming and I really felt myself back in the pond I was raised in. Fascinating conversation with a male man who delights in one. Paddy was superb. Cultured, funny, telling wonderful sagas, zealous. We had a charming filthy little lunch over the stove of sardines, Pernod and vin ordinaire and afterwards we walked for two hours over low wooded downs in sparkling sun, talking ten to the dozen about people, grievances and enthusiasms

That was the beginning. My parents saw quite a lot of Paddy and Joan – whom my mother thought looked just like Joan of Arc, except that Joan of Arc didn’t wear sun-glasses – in the next year or two. I was at Oxford at the time, and I remember seeing them once or twice during vacations, and being invariably knocked sideways – as everyone was – by the sheer brilliance of Paddy, and the glorious fun of him. Every time he walked into a room it was as if the sun had come out; never have I laughed more uncontrollably round a luncheon or dinner table, and as for his erudition, never have I met anyone who knew so much about everything under the sun, yet wore his learning so lightly. There seemed to be no language he could not speak, or indeed sing songs or recite poetry in: French, German, Italian, Spanish, Greek and Rumanian for a start, but there were probably several others as well.

Then, in the summer of 1955, a wonderful thing happened. By then I had joined the Foreign Service. My first wife Anne and I were by that time living in Belgrade, where I was Third Secretary at the British Embassy. Another letter arrived from my mother. She had been lent a Greek caïque by the ship-owner Stavros Niarchos for a fortnight’s sail through the isles of Greece. Paddy and Joan were coming; could we come too? As far as we were concerned, it was a question of “can a duck swim?” At the end of August we drove down from Belgrade – which in those days had no airport – to Athens, and thence to the Piraeus, where we boarded the Eros.

It was my first time in the Aegean, and Paddy gave it a whole new dimension. It was the first time I had seen him, as it were, on his home ground, and it was wonderful. He lived and breathed his beloved Greece – fluent in its language, encyclopaedic in his knowledge of its history, its customs and its literature. But nobody – and that was the wonder and joy of him and – I know I’ve said this before – nobody has ever carried his learning more lightly. His conversation was consistently dazzling. As we sailed from island to island – and in those days there were virtually no tourists, and I can’t begin to tell you what a difference that made – he talked about Greece, about Greek history, about Greek beliefs and traditions, about Byron and the Greek War of Independence, with those monstrously magnificent Greek heroes – men like Mavromichalis and Kolokotronis whose names roll so satisfactorily across the tongue – and about the Greek Orthodox Church and its quarrels with the west over more of those words, like filioque and ͑ομοούσιον; but his talk roamed far wider than that, taking in the whole eastern Mediterranean and, in particular, Byzantium.

Now in England Byzantium has always had a terrible press. The great nineteenth-century historian W.E.H. Lecky wrote that it constituted, “without a single exception, the most thoroughly base and despicable form that civilisation has yet assumed…. There has been no other enduring civilisation, he claimed, “so absolutely destitute of all the forms and elements of greatness”. He went on,

Its vices were the vices of men who had ceased to be brave without learning to be virtuous…. Slaves, and willing slaves, in both their actions and their thoughts, immersed in sensuality and in the most frivolous pleasures, the people only emerged from their listlessness when some theological subtlety, or some chivalry in the chariot races, stimulated them to frantic riots…. The history of the Empire is a monotonous story of the intrigues of priests, eunuchs and women, of poisonings, of conspiracies, of uniform ingratitude, of perpetual fratricides.

Strong words indeed – although to modern ears that last sentence makes Byzantine history sound not so much monotonous as distinctly entertaining. But that long campaign of denigration continued well into the twentieth century. It was only in the time of which I’m speaking – the fifties – that the writings of people like Robert Byron, David Talbot Rice and Steven Runciman, together with the new-found ease, speed and relative comfort of travel in the Levant, made the glorious heritage of the Byzantine Empire at last generally accessible. Now, thank heaven, the Empire has come into its own again, and is seen as a worthy successor to the two mighty civilisations which it followed and so beautifully combined, the Greek and the Roman.

The trouble was, for most of us, that we knew so little about it. Those old attitudes died hard. During my five years at Eton, the entire subject was the victim of what seemed to be a conspiracy of silence. I can’t honestly remember Byzantium being once mentioned, far less studied; and so complete was my ignorance that I should have been hard put to define it even in general terms till I went to Oxford. And, for heaven’s sake, why? After all, it was not even the successor, it was that same old Roman Empire of Augustus and Tiberius and Claudius and the rest, which continued to exist in its new capital of Constantinople for another one thousand, one hundred and twenty-three years before it was finally captured by the Ottoman Turks on that fateful day, Tuesday 29 May 1453, after one of the most heroic sieges in all history. It was Paddy and Paddy alone who revealed to me its mystery and its magic, although he also recommended to me, among much else, that I should read an extraordinary book by Robert Byron, The Byzantine Achievement, which that most precocious author wrote when he was twenty-five. I read it with utter fascination, and ended up completely captivated. When I got home I devoured every book I could find on the subject, and the following year Anne and I drove to Istanbul for a week. Twenty years later I was to write a History of Byzantium myself – three volumes of it, which were necessary if I was to cover more than a millennium; but I very much doubt whether, had it not been for that fortnight on the Eros, those three volumes would ever have been written.

One evening, I remember, Paddy was talking about a poor fisherman at Kardamyli – this was long before he went to live there – a friend of his called Strati Mourtzinos, who, he told us, might just possibly have been the last heir to the imperial throne of Byzantium. Suddenly his imagination took over, and he built a magnificent castle in the air. It seemed, by some miracle, that the Turks had restored Constantinople to Greece. Byzantium was reborn and Strati Mourtzinos was formally crowned as its Emperor. Paddy was later to work up the idea further in his first book about Greece, Mani:

Bells clanged; semantra hammered and cannon thundered as the Emperor stepped ashore. Then, with a sudden reek of naphtha, Greek fire roared, saluting in a hundred blood-red parabolas from the warships’ brazen beaks….. In the packed square of Constantine, a Serbian furrier fell from a rooftop. An astrologer from Ctesiphon, a Spanish coppersmith and a money-lender from the Persian Gulf were trampled to death; a Bactrian lancer fainted and, as we proceeded round the Triple Delphic Serpent of the Hippodrome, the voices of the Blues and Greens, for once in concord, lifted a long howl of applause. The imperial horses neighed in their stables, the hunting cheetahs strained yelping at their silver chains. Mechanical gold lions roared in the throne room, gold birds on the jewelled branches of artificial trees set up a tinkling and a twitter. The general hysteria penetrated the public jail: in dark cells, monophysites and bogomils and iconoclasts rattled their fetters across the dungeon bars. High on his Corinthian capital, a capering stylite, immobile for three decades, hammered his calabash with a wooden spoon….

Would you like a bit more? All right: Continue reading

A Paddy centenary event in Verona – Omaggio a Patrick Leigh Fermor

Luigi Licci, who runs the bookshop La Libreria Gulliver in Verona, Italy, has contacted me to say that he will be running an event on 8 May to celebrate Paddy’s centenary and the publication in 4 June of Italian translation of The Broken Road, under the title La Strada Interrotta, published by Adelphi.

All are welcome at the event to be held at Villa Ca’ Vendri, Via Vendri 39, Quinto di Valpantena, Verona kicking-off at 8.45 pm. There will be talks by Paddy’s friend William Blacker, author of The Enchanted Way, and Matteo Nucci, a well known Italian author specialized on Greece who is also a regular contributor to the major Italian daily La Repubblica. The evening will finish with some excellent Italian food and wine.

Further details can be found on the La Libreria Gulliver website or telephone 045 8007234. If you are able to attend I hope that you have a wonderful time and only wish I could be there.

The Inspired Voyage of Patrick Leigh Fermor

Patrick Leigh Fermor in Phlomochori, a village on the Mani peninsula, southern Peloponnese, Greece (Joan Leigh Fermor/John Murray Collection)

Patrick Leigh Fermor in Phlomochori, a village on the Mani peninsula, southern Peloponnese, Greece (Joan Leigh Fermor/John Murray Collection)

“The irony of the publication of his final, posthumous work is that it creates, retrospectively and almost accidentally, something of that meaningful arc for the entire trilogy. By the end, the lacquered manner has dissolved, and a different, far more touching and sympathetic hero emerges. The whole thing couldn’t have been better structured if the author had planned it this way all along.” It is somewhat ironic that many of the best reviews and profiles, and indeed the most lengthy and detailed, come from American publications. This is one of the best of the crop using a review of The Broken Road as the vehicle for a wider discussion of Paddy’s style of writing.

by Daniel Mendelsohn

First published in the New York Review of Books, 19 June 2014

“We shall never get to Constantinople like this.” This rueful aside, which comes toward the end of the first of the three books that the late Patrick Leigh Fermor devoted to his youthful travels on foot across Europe in the early 1930s, was to prove prophetic. “Like this” ostensibly refers to the author’s weakness for detours. By this point in A Time of Gifts—written some four decades after that remarkable journey and first published in 1977—it is late in 1933, and the high-spirited, precocious, poetry-spouting eighteen-year-old, long since expelled from school (“a dangerous mixture of sophistication and recklessness,” a housemaster clucked), weary of England, and hungry for adventure, finds himself in Czechoslovakia, having walked from the Hook of Holland through the Low Countries, southern Germany, and Austria, his battered copies of The Oxford Book of English Verse and Horace’s Odes firmly, famously in hand.

His plan at this point was to follow the Danube all the way to the Black Sea, whence he would head south to Constantinople—the name by which the romantic-minded youth, his head brimming with memorized verse, insisted on calling Istanbul. But in Bratislava, with Hungary and the continuation of his southeasterly route shimmering just across the great river, he finds himself unable to resist a Czech friend’s invitation to go north to see Prague, that “bewildering and captivating town.”

Here, as often with this erudite and garrulous author—the dashing autodidact and World War II hero, considered by some to be the greatest travel writer of the twentieth century—the geographical digression becomes a narrative one. As the impecunious Leigh Fermor zigzags around the city, the guest of his better-heeled and well-connected friend (the blithe sponging off obliging students, postmistresses, madams, diplomats, and aristocrats is an amusing leitmotif of his travels), goggling at the castles and bridges, the relics and the nightclubs, the text goggles and zigzags, too. And so we carom from the murder of the tenth-century Bohemian leader we know as “Good King Wenceslas” (actually, a duke; later a saint) to the brief Mitteleuropäisch reign of James I’s daughter, the so-called Winter Queen; from swoony evocations of medieval architectural details (“in King Vladislav’s vast Hall of Homage the ribs of the vaulting had further to travel, higher to soar”) to the tale of the Defenestration of Prague in 1618; from Kabala, Rosicrucians, the “sad charm” of the Habsburgs, and the tomb of the creator of the Golem to a triumphant conclusion (via an offhand rumination about the identity of Shakespeare’s Mr. W. H.) in which the teenaged narrator believes he has solved the mystery of where the mysterious “coast of Bohemia” in The Winter’s Tale could possibly have been. It is only after all this that the Leigh Fermor of 1933 heads south once again, to the Danube and his planned itinerary.

So it is possible to take “we shall never get to Constantinople like this” as a humorous acknowledgment by the author of a helpless penchant for digressions literal and figurative, one that will be familiar to anyone who has read even a few pages of Leigh Fermor’s books: the early one about the Caribbean, The Traveller’s Tree (1950); a slender volume called A Time to Keep Silence (1957), about his visits to three monastic communities; Mani (1958) and Roumeli (1966), his two lively and impassioned books about Greece, the country he loved best and where he ended up living part-time; and of course the trilogy of his walk across Europe—A Time of Gifts and its sequel, Between the Woods and the Water (1986), the first two installments, now completed by the posthumous publication last year of an unfinished final volume, The Broken Road.

The author’s chattiness, his inexhaustible willingness to be distracted, his susceptibility to detours geographical, intellectual, aesthetic, and occasionally amorous constitute, if anything, an essential and self-conscious component of the style that has won him such an avid following. It has more than a little in common with the “centrifugal lambency and recoil” he found in Central European design, the “swashbuckling, exuberant and preposterous” aesthetic that he so extravagantly admired in a picture of Maximilian I’s knights, which he came across one night while leafing through a book on German history in the luxurious apartment of a charming girl he met and ended up staying with in Stuttgart. (The strange new city, the chance meeting, the aesthetic reverie, the hints of money and eros: this would prove to be the pattern of the young man’s progress across the continent.)

It is indeed odd that, among the many classical authors to whom Leigh Fermor refers in his writing—none more famously than Horace, verses of whose Soracte Ode the author found himself swapping, in Latin, with a German general he had kidnapped on Crete during World War II, a famous incident that was later turned into a film starring Dirk Bogarde—Herodotus does not figure more prominently. There is no writer whose technique Leigh Fermor’s more closely resembles. Expansive, meandering, circular, it allows him to weave what is, after all, a relatively straightforward tale of a youthful backpacking hike into a vast and highly colored tapestry, embroidered with observations, insights, and lessons about the whole panorama of European history, society, architecture, religion, and art.

And yet the author’s charming and useful tendency to lose track of his destination became a serious real-life problem in the case of the books about the walk across Europe—the most beloved of his works, which have achieved the status of cult classics particularly among adventure-bent youth. (“Those bibles of backpacking seekers everywhere”: so Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, a young California-based writer and geographer who wrote the preface to a recent reissue of The Traveller’s Tree by New York Review Books, which has now republished nearly all of the author’s work.) However many the detours, Leigh Fermor’s youthful journey did have a destination, which the author finally reached: he got to “Constantinople” on New Year’s Eve, 1935, a little shy of his twenty-first birthday. The two installments he eventually published committed him inexorably to writing about that climactic arrival.

For A Time of Gifts, which ends with Leigh Fermor arriving at last in Hungary—he crosses the Danube from Slovakia in the spring, just in time to witness a magnificent Easter service at the Basilica of Estergom—closes with the legend “TO BE CONTINUED.” So too Between the Woods and the Water, which follows its young hero through many a Hungarian and Yugoslavian castle’s “antlered corridor” to the Iron Gates, the gorge on the Danube that forms the boundary between Serbia and Romania; he reaches them at the end of his nineteenth summer, on the Feast of the Dormition of the Virgin. (That the climaxes of both works are marked by great religious events is not accidental: the mondain and sensual Leigh Fermor, who always knew how to find his way into a count’s castle or a duchess’s good graces—Somerset Maugham once dismissed him as a “middle-class gigolo for upper-class women”—was beguiled by religious ceremonials; and, perhaps not so paradoxically, by intense religious feeling.) This book also ends with an all-caps promise: “TO BE CONCLUDED.”

But the conclusion never came. When Leigh Fermor died in 2011, at ninety-six, he had been afflicted by a writer’s block that had lasted a quarter of a century. Already soon after the publication of Between the Woods and the Water in the 1980s, he was worried that the subject was, in the words of his friend and biographer Artemis Cooper, “stale” and “written out.”* In the early 1990s, his wife Joan wrote to a friend that he was “sadly stuck”; not long after, Charlotte Mosley, who at the time was editing a volume of Leigh Fermor’s correspondence with the Duchess of Devonshire (another distraction), observed that “it takes his mind off Vol III which is clearly never going to appear.” Given his predilection for wandering, invention, and improvisation, it’s hard not to feel, in this culminating crisis, that the public expectation of a concrete result had caused a kind of creative paralysis. When Leigh Fermor’s name appeared on the 2004 Honors List, a fan wrote a letter to the Daily Telegraph declaring that the knighthood should be conditional on finishing the trilogy.

It now turns out that the work was, in a way, already complete. As you learn from the preface to The Broken Road (edited by Artemis Cooper and the British novelist and travel writer Colin Thubron), a preliminary draft describing the last leg of his European adventure had been composed long before, in fact when the idea for the books about the walking tour first germinated. In the early 1960s, Leigh Fermor was invited by the editor of Holiday to write an article on the “pleasures of walking.” As he began to write about his youthful journey, the floodgates of memory opened; he wrote to his longtime publisher and friend John Murray that the article had soon “ripened out of all recognition.” After nearly seventy manuscript pages he’d only got as far as the Iron Gates—at which point, frustrated by the need for compression, he began to write at the more expansive, elaborated pace he preferred, bringing his narrative as far as his arrival at the shores of the Black Sea.

This manuscript, tentatively known as “A Youthful Journey,” eventually formed the basis for the whole trilogy. After setting the pages aside for a decade (during which time he published Roumeli and built a fabulous house for himself in the Mani, the Wild West–ish tip of the southern Peloponnese, about which he also wrote: more distractions), the author went back to the beginning, expanding those compressed first seventy pages into what became the richly wrought narratives of A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water.

It was only when he was in his early nineties that Leigh Fermor finally summoned the will to confront the decades-old pages covering the final third of his journey, from the Iron Gates to the Black Sea—the part he’d slowed down to treat at greater length in the original manuscript—and painstakingly set about elaborating them in his inimitable style.

The text he was working on at his death, along with excerpts from his original travel journal—brief entries covering his stay in Istanbul and a much longer narrative about his visit to the monasteries of Mount Athos—make up The Broken Road: the long-awaited “Vol III.” Precisely because its author didn’t have time to bring his text to its usual level of high and elaborate polish, this final work—plainer, more straightforward, less elaborate, and more frank than its predecessors—provides some intriguing retrospective insights into Leigh Fermor’s distinctive tics and mannerisms, strengths and weaknesses.

Patrick Leigh Fermor with Spiro and Maria Lazaros, owners of the watermill at Lemonodassos, Greece, where he first stayed in the summer of 1935 (Patrick Leigh Fermor Archive/Trustees of the National Library of Scotland)

Patrick Leigh Fermor with Spiro and Maria Lazaros, owners of the watermill at Lemonodassos, Greece, where he first stayed in the summer of 1935 (Patrick Leigh Fermor Archive/Trustees of the National Library of Scotland)

In a review of Mani that appeared when the book was first published, Lawrence Durrell referred to the “truffled style and dense plumage” of Leigh Fermor’s prose. What you think of his writing, and indeed what you make of the final installment of his most beloved work, depends on your taste for truffles and feathers.

Structural rigor was, as we know, never Leigh Fermor’s strong point—inevitably, perhaps, in the case of narratives that follow a real-life itinerary. The two walking-tour books published during his lifetime have a fortuitous coherence—he is, after all, heading somewhere—but what holds the others together are the intensity of the author’s curiosity about whatever happens to (literally) cross his path, and the brilliance of his talk about them: the “saga boys” of Trinidad in their wildly patterned shirts, “worn with a flaunting ease and a grace of deportment that compels nothing but admiration”; the nomadic Sarakatsáns of the northern Greek region called Roumeli (Roumeli opens with a dazzling set piece about a Sarakatsán wedding); the miroloyia or funeral dirges that are the only poetry prevalent in the Mani; Jewish lumbermen in Romania; the Uniotes of Eastern Europe, who observe the Eastern Rite while submitting to the authority of Rome (a recurrent object of fascination).

Small wonder that a salient feature of Leigh Fermor’s style is the long list, that most unconstructed of devices. His penchant for lengthy enumerations confirms your suspicion that what delights this writer is the sheer abundance in the world of things for him to look at and learn about. Mani memorably opens with one such enumeration, in this case of the varieties of Greek communities throughout the world (to which the author hopes to add a group of Jews who, he has heard, live in the Mani):

I thought of the abundance of strange communities: the scattered Bektashi and the Rufayan, the Mevlevi dervishes of the Tower of the Winds, the Liaps of Souli, the Pomaks of the Rhodope, the Kizilbashi near Kechro, the Fire-Walkers of Mavrolevki, the Lazi from the Pontic shores,…the phallus-wielding Bounariots of Tyrnavos, the Karamandlides of Cappadocia, the Tzakones of the Argolic gulf,… the Basilian Monks,…both Idiorrhythmic and Cenobitic, the anchorites of Mt. Athos, the Chiots of Bayswater and the Guards’ Club,…the Shqip-speaking Atticans of Sfax,…the exaggerators and the ghosts of Mykonos, the Karagounides of the Thessalian plain,…the princes and boyars of Moldowallachia, the Ralli Brothers of India,…the lepers of Spinalonga…—if all these, to name a few, why not the crypto-Jews of the Taygetus?

There is an incantatory charm about such accumulations that, among other things, neutralizes the critical faculty. I have read this book three times—it is by far his best, a work in which the author’s high style finds an appropriate correlative in the piratical dash of his favorite region’s inhabitants—and have still never bothered to find out just who the “exaggerators of Mykonos” might be. Such stylistic prestidigitation is an advantage when you are a fabulist like Leigh Fermor, who admitted late in life to having distorted and elaborated his ostensibly nonfiction works.

A related stylistic tic, born of the author’s resistance to the strictures of factuality and his relish for long concatenations of chewy words, is the occasional flights of prose in which he indulges in extended imaginative riffs that allow him to leave, briefly, whatever scene he happens to find himself in and provide a bird’s-eye view of some bit of geography or history. Some of these, like the one in Mani in which the cock-a-doodle-doo of an Athenian rooster is picked up, from bird to bird, until it spreads around the world (“swelling now, sweeping south across the pampas, the Gran Chaco, the Rio Grande…to the maelstroms and the tempests, the hail and the darkness and the battering waves of Cape Horn”), are little more than self-indulgences.

But others can be deliciously pointed. In the same book, the author excitedly pays a call on a humble fisherman named Strati who, he has heard, is a remote descendant of an imperial Byzantine dynasty. As the kindly man tediously recounts the story of a near disaster at sea, Leigh Fermor sits across from him, constructing a private fantasy in which this last scion of the Paleologues is whisked to Istanbul to be crowned at Hagia Sophia as the emperor of a restored Byzantium. The increasingly funny oscillation between the two narratives and two narrative styles—one bejeweled (“Semantra hammered and cannon thundered as the Emperor stepped ashore; then, with a sudden reek of naphtha, Greek fire roared saluting in a hundred blood-red parabolas from the warships’ brazen beaks”), the other plainspoken (“I was never in a worse situation!… There I was, on all fours in the bilge water, baling for life”)—becomes a tart vehicle for ruminating about the special burden of history that contemporary Greece has to deal with.

A drawback of these predilections is that the books can sometimes feel like agglomerations of showy set pieces. (In her biography, Artemis Cooper describes Leigh Fermor’s mother, a bright and talented woman who found herself married to a dour geologist, as someone who “sparkled a little too brightly”; the son could be like that, too.) Roumeli, in particular, is a stew in which the ingredients, delicious as many are, never quite blend. At one point the author gets so bored with the book’s nominal subject that he writes at length about his years in Crete, which clearly he felt more passionately about. John Murray once observed, as Leigh Fermor was preparing to write his first book, that “there is no doubt that he can write though sometimes rather incoherently”; the problem, he went on, was to give the book “a sense of purpose.” It would remain a problem.

A certain narrative purposefulness, an organic shape, might, in other hands, have derived from an autobiographical impulse: the tale of a young man’s walk across Europe in the years just before World War II could, indeed, have made an ideal vehicle for a stirring Bildung narrative. But between his British distaste for public introspection and his magpie’s curiosity, Leigh Fermor is at his best when he avoids emotions and hews to the bright surfaces of things. He’s fascinated by, and knows an astonishing amount about, the glamour of history, the glitter of ceremonial, the gilt on a reliquary; and he knows how to make them gleam for us, too.

Leigh Fermor’s travel books are the works of a great talker, and his strong points are those of the best conversationalists. He has, to begin with, a memorably vivid turn of phrase. Turkish loanwords in modern Greek are like “a wipe of garlic round a salad bowl”; Armenians whom he encounters in Sofia are “grouped, their eyes bright with acumen on either side of their wonderful noses, in the doors of their shops, like confabulating toucans.” His deep affection and admiration for the Greeks are reflected in particularly colorful and suggestive writing. There is a passage in Mani in which the letters of the Greek alphabet become characters in a little drama meant to suggest the intensity of that people’s passion for disputation:

I often have the impression, listening to a Greek argument, that I can actually see the words spin from their mouths like the long balloons in comic strips…:the perverse triple loop of Xi, the twin concavity of Omega,…Phi like a circle transfixed by a spear…. At its climax it is as though these complex shapes were flying from the speaker’s mouth like flung furniture and household goods, from the upper window of a house on fire.

He also has the born teacher’s gift for bringing to arresting life the remote and complicated histories that lurk beneath the landscapes, architecture, and artifacts he encounters. Early in The Broken Road we find him in Bulgaria, where for the first time he gets a glimpse of a substantial number of Turks—“the westernmost remnants” of the “astonishing race” that had forged a mighty Asiatic empire and come close to overrunning Europe. This remarkable fact, which (he implies) Europeans themselves have lost track of, is vividly present to Leigh Fermor:

When we remember that the Moors of Spain were only halted at Tours, on the Loire, it seems, at moments, something of a fluke that St Peter’s and Notre Dame and Westminster Abbey are not today three celebrated mosques, kindred fanes to Haghia Sophia in Constantinople.

He is, too, a master of the illuminating aperçu. Italian statues of the Virgin Mary, he remarks in the course of a terrific excursus in Roumeli about Byzantine icons, “woo her devotees,” but “the expression of the Panayia, even at the foot of the Cross, says ‘No comment.’” And he knows how to leaven his legendary and occasionally irritating penchant for ostensibly offhand pedantic display (“What figure could seem more remote than Swiatopluk, Kral of the brittle Moravian realm?” he wonders aloud at one point in Between the Woods and the Water) with exclamations of disarmingly ingenuous charm. “With what ease populations moved about in ancient Greek lands, in the world conquered and Hellenized by Alexander, the wide elbow room of Rome and the Byzantine Empire!”

Wide elbow room: not the least part of Leigh Fermor’s appeal to us is his concrete sense, however romanticized it may have been, of the past as a kind of mythic outback, the habitation of grander, more authentic, more liberated men than we can hope to be today. Small wonder that the people Leigh Fermor admires the most are those canny and swashbuckling Maniots, with whom he clearly identified. His worshipful description of a famous Maniot leader in the Greek war of independence is, you suspect, a fantasy that the womanizing, hard-drinking writer had of an idealized self:

His fine looks and dignity and gracious manners were the outward signs of an upright and honorable nature, high intelligence, diplomatic skill, generosity, patriotism, unshakable courage and strength of will: qualities suitably leavened by ambition and family pride and occasionally marred by cruelty.

Certainly his need to sparkle at all costs could cause him to be cruel: at least a small part of Somerset Maugham’s hostility can be attributed to an evening during which Leigh Fermor, a guest at the older writer’s table, entertained the company by making fun of his host’s stutter.

The narcissistic glitter, the aversion to introspection, can hinder some of the books from being all they might have been. There is, among other things, a startling lack of interest in the politics that were seething beneath the landscapes he so loved to describe. A Time of Gifts covers his walk through Germany in 1933—a setting that, you’d think, would inspire some broader ruminations and deep thinking in a youth so fervently interested in history. But the young author—as his older self, to his credit, would acknowledge—“didn’t care a damn”; he thrilled to the dramas of the past, without seeming to care a great deal about their import for the present. “The gloom didn’t last longer than breakfast,” he blithely writes after the assassination of the Austrian chancellor Dollfuss in 1934.

The youthful apathy eventually ossified into a staunchly reflexive, monarchist conservatism. Leigh Fermor can summon outrage about the deprivations, during World War II and the cold war, suffered by his aristocratic Hungarian and Romanian friends; but given his deep and clearly authentic love of Greece, it is disturbing to read, in Artemis Cooper’s biography, that this extravagant philhellene—a friend of George Seferis, no less—never spoke out against the oppressive right-wing regime of the Colonels in the 1960s and 1970s.

His tendency to stick to the surfaces becomes a problem even when politics isn’t an issue—as, for instance, in the underpowered and, I think, overrated A Time to Keep Silence, about the Benedictine and Trappist monasteries where he spent some time in the 1950s in order to work quietly on his first couple of books, and about his visit to the abandoned cells of Orthodox Greek monks in Cappadocia. It is hard not to find amusing the underlying premise of the notoriously voluble and social author forced to be silent for the first time, an experience that gives him a fleeting, climactic appreciation of the outside world as an “inferno of noise and vulgarity entirely populated by bounders and sluts and crooks” when he returns to it. But such aperçus feel generic. Here as elsewhere, you feel that, whatever his interest in religion and spiritual devotion, he is finally far more comfortable flourishing his eruditions. (“The gulf between the cenobites of Rome and those of Byzantium was often in my mind.”) It is hard to write profoundly about spirituality when you don’t really like to talk about the inner life.

In The Broken Road, we get many of the things we love in Leigh Fermor. Here again, he goggles and zigzags, flirts and pontificates. There are the vivid descriptions and the donnish asides; a touching near romance with a Greek girl—his first exposure to the people who would capture his imagination later—and a fantastical encounter with dancing fishermen in a cave, which affords the elderly author a chance to discourse on Greek folk choreography in a way his younger self couldn’t possibly have done. (“The other great dancers of the hasapiko and the tzeibekiko, as the two forms of rebetiko dances are severally called…”)

Still, one of the most interesting revelations afforded by the new book is that the high style of later years was already more or less fully formed by the end of his great walking tour. This is clear from reading the latter part of the book—the original entries from the journal he was keeping during his voyage to Mount Athos after he left Istanbul. (Ironically, all we have of the long-awaited sojourn in the historic capital city are terse and colorless notes.) The prose here already bristles with the flights of invention and erudite riffs we know so well from the finished books:

I thought of the triremes of all the empires that have sailed these same waters, and called to mind the tales about Perseus, Jason and Odysseus, and the Tyrants of the Archipelago; the piracy of Mithridate…

In other important ways, the Leigh Fermor of this final book of the trilogy—which, as we know, was in fact the first installment to be written, and in many ways the freshest and least mediated by subsequent authorial fussing—isn’t quite the person familiar from the earlier books. A gratifying new element is an emotional frankness, even vulnerability, that was edited out of in the earlier books. Here, for the first time, you see the flip side of the blithe self-involvement and brash charm (“Not for the first time, I concluded despondently, I have wounded somebody badly without meaning to; nor, alas, for the last. But I wish I knew exactly how”). Here you get the moments of terror that, you always felt reading the earlier books, must have been part of all that solitary wandering: “Then my guts seemed to drain right out of me,” he writes at one point, “and a fit of panic came, thoughts of passing the night there, without food in the rain.”

And whereas in A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water Leigh Fermor liked more than once to draw attention to the “ecstasy” he always felt on realizing that nobody in the world knew where he was—an emotion that travelers today are unlikely ever to have, and that surely accounts for some of the nostalgic appeal of these volumes—here he admits, for the first time, to a paralyzing homesickness:

Outside now, the moon and stars are shining brightly on the snowy roofs, and making a silver track across the inky sea. I do so wonder what everyone is doing at home now.

I have said that Patrick Leigh Fermor’s first two books about his great adventure lacked the satisfying structure of Bildung narratives. The irony of the publication of his final, posthumous work is that it creates, retrospectively and almost accidentally, something of that meaningful arc for the entire trilogy. By the end, the lacquered manner has dissolved, and a different, far more touching and sympathetic hero emerges. The whole thing couldn’t have been better structured if the author had planned it this way all along. When you put down The Broken Road you feel what he himself felt on departing from Mount Athos, another place of quiet that he had to leave in the end in order to rejoin the noisy world: “a great deal of regret.”

Why Couldn’t Patrick Leigh Fermor Finish His Masterpiece?

Photo: Sean Deany

Photo: Sean Deany

An interesting perspective is taken in this review of The Broken Road which takes as its subject Paddy’s inability to complete his trilogy and the perils of posthumous publication. By Jason Guriel First published in The New Republic, 23 December 2014 In 1933, a 19-year-old Englishman, finding himself booted from school for holding hands with a local, decided to cross Europe on foot. He had a mind to make it from the Hook of Holland down to Constantinople—unpurple “Istanbul” would never do. Even more romantic than the goal was the gear: used rucksack (its previous owner had tramped about with the travel writer Robert Byron), Oxford Book of English Verse, and ace sidekick (Horace). He slept outdoors, but in castles, too, as freshly minted friends—an ever-expanding network of social capital—reached ahead of the young traveler, by post, to ensure he would be received by the next available count or baron. But it wasn’t until the 1970s, over four decades later, that Patrick Leigh Fermor—by then, an established author and war hero—turned his full attention to writing up the European walk. A Time of Gifts appeared in 1977, followed by Between the Woods and the Water, in 1986. By the end of the first book, Leigh Fermor’s younger self had reached the edge of Hungary; by the end of the second, Bulgaria. There he waited, stalled in 1934, for decades. A cult began to fire up after the publication of these books. Blame the affable character Leigh Fermor cuts in the first two: ravenous for knowledge but willing to risk expulsion for the girl. He’s charming, too; he tries to pay his way (“…I would make a frantic flourish with two thousand-lei notes…”), but others wave him off (“These two bits of paper sank to the symbolic role of stage currency”). After decades of angry, quirky misfits, Leigh Fermor’s charming young man—the Ur-backpacker—would’ve seemed crisp. (Today, we would bloody him with the word “privileged.”) It’s unsurprising that a cult came to be transfixed; after the walk across Europe, Leigh Fermor helped carry out the kidnapping of a German general, spent time among monks, traveled in the Caribbean, erected a house in Greece (the setting for the recent Richard Linklater film Before Midnight)—his life was so colorful it seemed to stream from a prism. But he had chops, too. Vision. His prose was the slow output of an eye committed to registering exact contours, but only in original terms. “Blown askew, the Trafalgar Square fountains twirled like mops,” he writes near the start of A Time of Gifts. “Bristling regiments of lancers moved about like counter-marching cornfields,” he writes at another point. If you’re tasked with putting over a windblown fountain or marching lancers, there are no better solutions than these. At a time when plenty of upstarts have already committed to print their formative years—when trauma is trumpeted, and meta-memoir, over-Eggered—Leigh Fermor’s patient approach to prose is positively alien. His patience may have left him paralyzed, too. In 2011, when Leigh Fermor finally died, his younger self was still stranded at the edge of Bulgaria. But there was a manuscript. The intervention of editors, and the publication of The Broken Road, the final book of the trilogy—holiest of those systems by which we mete out the franchise—gets the younger self moving again. In a slightly more just universe, people would have lined up for The Broken Road with all the enthusiasm they bring to the subject of adolescent life in dystopias. On this side of the wormhole, however, The Broken Road was published earlier this year by NYRB Classics and is coming out in paperback next month. (John Murray brought it out in England in 2013.) NYRB Classics is to literature what the Criterion Collection is to film: a prestige imprint that, by issuing niche titles in handsome editions, attempts to rescue title from niche. We long ago ceded the useful word “curate” to artisanal butchers and Pinterest, but NYRB Classics curates in the best sense. (Mary Olivier: A Life, by May Sinclair, On Being Blue, by William Gass) Over the last few years, it has restored much of Leigh Fermor’s catalogue to the bookstore and done a public good. The Broken Road, however, is far from the fully realized book Leigh Fermor’s fans were hoping for. It covers the last leg of his journey, from Bulgaria to Constantinople, but as editors Colin Thubron and Artemis Cooper explain, the new book was composed before its predecessors, in the early 1960s, when a magazine invited 5,000 words from Leigh Fermor on “The Pleasures of Walking.” Leigh Fermor, then in his forties, finally began to set down the European journey of his youth, and came to focus on the final stretch. But in the mid-1960s, he abandoned the manuscript. When he resolved to return to the subject of his European travels in the 1970s, he started over, repositioning his narrator in London, the day of departure. The rest we know: Leigh Fermor’s renewed effort produced the two best works of travel writing of the twentieth century. But for the next two decades, he was unable to make headway on a book that would bring the trilogy to an end. The editors describe a “long ice age”: the “loyal and long-suffering” publisher was lost in 1993, the wife, ten years later. Leigh Fermor consulted a psychiatrist, but his energy had been flagging for some time. “The whole subject was beginning to feel stale, barren, written out, and he feared he no longer had the strength to bring it back to life,” is how Cooper puts it, darkly, in his recent biography of Leigh Fermor. Then, in 2008, the biographer turned up a copy of the ’60s manuscript, and the writer, in his nineties and abetted by magnifying glass, began to fuss with it. Not too long after, Leigh Fermor passed away. The 40-year-old text breaks off before reaching Constantinople—breaks off in the middle of a sentence, in fact, a rough edge the editors have respected. (No ellipsis sands it down.) They have supplemented the manuscript with fragments from a diary he kept, but the impressions of Constantinople are partial, and the diary firms up and expands only when Leigh Fermor finds himself among monasteries in Greece. And that’s where The Broken Road ends. The legendary destination of Constantinople, then, remains mostly unremarked upon: a rip in space around which the book, like sparkling debris, swirls—and around which thoughts of what could have been, the thoughts of the fanboy, spin. The poignant title is an imposition of the editors; the sacred text, a salvage job: recovered by apostles from the late author’s leavings and pieced together. What’s really absent, of course, isn’t so much an account of Constantinople, as a third book written by the mature author of the first two. Thubron and Cooper are clear about the lack of polish, but it’s not until you start in on The Broken Road that you realize how crucial to his prose was the mature writer’s patient, if unsustainable, perfectionism. Generic adjectives function as placeholders for yet-to-be realized images (“amazing colours,” “amazing robes,” “amazing sunset”), or serve to reel off a character quickly (“She was so pretty, kind, funny, intelligent, and good”). When he does write well, it’s often too well: a “sweep” of land “climbs and coils and leapfrogs clean across Northern Bulgaria from Serbia to the Black Sea”—a metaphor that sounds good (listen to that alliteration) but lacks the precision of Fermor’s better prose (land doesn’t have legs). “Plumed with poplars and mulberries,” on the very first page, is lovely enough, but the plume-idea comes to be plumed again and again. He is more original elsewhere. “The dome and the walls were almost intact,” he writes of a mosque, “but most of the plaster had fallen away and the minaret was broken diagonally near its base, exposing to the moon the twist of the stairs round their central pillar like the volutes of a smashed ammonite’s fossil.” That’s enough to keep you going, if you need the pellet; fans of A Time of Gifts, who will have already sought out the hardcover, will push forward on principle. The Broken Road, after all, belongs to a class of aesthetic object that includes The Beach Boys’ Smile, Orson Welles’s The Other Side of the Wind, and Nabokov’s The Original of Laura —works that benefit from their incompleteness because they spark speculation, devotion, delusion. Reviewers certainly seemed to be reassuring themselves. “Friends and fans, acolytes, devotees and disciples can all rest easy,” declared one. “In some respects this book is even more satisfying than its predecessors…” hazarded another. Why don’t they recognize that Leigh Fermor’s failure to bring off a third book—and it is a failure, let’s not pretend otherwise—only buttresses his legend? The line that weighs down the last page of Between the Woods and the Water, “TO BE CONCLUDED”—and that applied drag to Leigh Fermor’s last decades—gains even greater pull now that we know a proper conclusion cannot be provided. Had it been provided, and promptly, we might be slightly less romantic about the author. He might strike us as less tortured, less remote. Perhaps the release of recent long-gestating albums by Guns ‘n Roses and My Bloody Valentine has dissolved some of the legend that once occluded the very real humans behind those bands. Perhaps David Foster Wallace’s estate should’ve kept back The Pale King, his unfinished novel, for a generation or two. Let the corpse of work cool. Let the cult heat up. In Fermor’s case, The Broken Road is a carefully presented box of brilliant bits: a kit for keeping up one’s enthusiasm for one of the great travel writers of the previous century. It’s also part-emptied skull, part-time capsule: like its publisher, it extracts voice from void, paper from ashbin, expertly. (“Nearly all the people in this book …” Leigh Fermor observes, “were attached to trails of powder which were already invisibly burning.”) But The Broken Road is no place to begin—as Leigh Fermor himself may have sensed when he turned away from it more than four decades ago. Those wishing to fire up an enthusiasm would do well to search out any of the other books, including especially A Time of Silence: a slim, quick account of time spent among monks, whom Fermor’s fans, in their extreme, cultish devotion, can start to resemble.

The imaginary Istanbul in Patrick Leigh Fermor’s literary odyssey

An interesting discussion about Paddy’s perspective of Turkey, the Ottomans and his Constantinople with reference to his trilogy of the Great Trudge.

By Charles Sabatos

First published in The Daily Sabah, 25 August 2014

In December 1933, Patrick Leigh Fermor, 18, set off from London with the goal of crossing Europe on foot from the Netherlands to Istanbul, which he reached at the end of the following year. Decades later, he retold this youthful adventure in “A Time of Gifts” (1977) and “Between the Woods and the Water” (1986), the first two parts of a planned trilogy that made him one of the most acclaimed British travel writers of the 20th century. Yet the second book left off at the Romanian-Bulgarian border, with the tantalizing phrase “To Be Concluded,” and for almost 40 years, his readers awaited the final volume, which he left unfinished when he died at age 96 in 2011.

The conclusion of Fermor’s trilogy was finally published in 2013, posthumously edited by his friend Artemis Cooper, but as its title “The Broken Road” suggests, the account abruptly ends on the Bulgarian coast just north of Turkey. Fermor’s impressions of Istanbul were relegated to an anticlimactic few pages of notes from his original travel diary. Cooper (also the author of the definitive biography “Patrick Leigh Fermor,” 2012) suggests in her introduction that Fermor’s disappointment hindered him from describing the city: “he recounts nothing of the leftover Byzantine glories of the old capital. . . and little of its Ottoman splendor.” Instead, his journey ends with a detailed account of his visit to Mount Athos, where he went after spending less than two weeks in Turkey. Having spent the last decades of his life living in Greece, Fermor saw the fading capital of the Orient (which he always referred to as “Constantinople”) as a place whose Western heritage had irretrievably disappeared. Yet he had already discovered an imagined Istanbul before even reaching the Golden Horn, in scenes across Central Europe and the Balkans that foreshadow his imagined destination.

In “A Time of Gifts,” which takes Fermor across Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Czechoslovakia, he first encounters the Turks in Vienna. There, the museums hold relics of the 1683 siege that he describes in typically dizzying detail, including “scimitars, khanjars, yatagans, lances, bucklers, drums … the turbans of janissaries, a pasha’s tent, cannon and flags and horsetail banners with their bright brass crescents…” The destiny of Haghia Sophia is reflected in his fantasy of an Ottoman siege of London: “What if the Turks had taken Vienna, as they nearly did, and advanced westward? … Might St. Paul’s, only half rebuilt, have ended with minarets instead of its two bell-towers and a different emblem twinkling on the dome?” For most of “Between the Woods and the Water,”

Fermor is crossing territory formerly ruled not just by the Austrians but by the Ottomans, and references to the Turks reveal their legacy across the region. At the end of the second book, Fermor visits the island of Ada-Kaleh on the Danube in Romania, whose Turkish inhabitants were culturally, linguistically, and physically exotic: “Something about the line of brow, the swoop of nose and the jut of the ears made them indefinably different from any of the people I had seen on my journey so far.” At a time when the fez, the veil and the Ottoman script had already been banned in the Turkish Republic, Fermor felt the island to be “the refuge of an otherwise extinct species long ago swept away,” and their antiquated dialect is his first exposure to the Turkish language: “astonishing strings of agglutinated syllables with a follow-through of identical vowels and dimly reminiscent of Magyar … immovably lodged in its ancient mould, like a long-marooned English community still talking the language of Chaucer.” This little settlement outside of time and space symbolizes the destiny of the Ottoman Empire: “They had conquered most of Asi, and North Africa to the Pillars of Hercules, enslaved half Christendom and battered on the gates of Vienna; victories long eclipsed, but commemorated here and there by a minaret left in their lost possessions like a spear stuck in the ground.” At the beginning of “The Broken Road,” crossing into Bulgaria, Fermor truly feels that he has reached the Orient, where “clues to the recent centuries under the Ottoman Turks lay thick and plentiful on every side.” In Karlovo, he sees another group of Turks, whose “wild and uncouth look” prompts further historical reflections echoing those he had in Vienna: “It seems, at moments, something of a fluke that St. Peter’s and Notre Dame and Westminster Abbey are not today three celebrated mosques, kindred fanes to Haghia Sophia in Constantinople.”

Nonetheless, he recognizes “charm and grace” in Turkish architecture: “The Ottoman Empire has joined the eastern Roman Empire which it destroyed; but a posthumous and perhaps deceptive glow of charm and elegance pervades its mementoes.” The most evocative of these mementoes may be the abandoned mosque he discovers on a moonlit night in the Bulgarian mountains (illustrated on the cover of the British edition of “The Broken Road.”) Fermor’s trilogy, which has been translated into a number of European languages, deserves a readership in Turkish as well, for its poetic language and cultural insights. Although he held Orientalist views typical in some ways for an Englishman of his generation, and his lifelong love of Greek culture influenced his indifference to that of the Turks, his imaginary “Constantinople” was shaped not just by his classical education, but by the local people he met on his journey, as well as books by authors like Mor Jokai and Panait Istrati (both of whom describe the Ottoman influence in the Balkans.) Through these experiences, he absorbed the Central and Eastern European image of the Turks, a mix of fact and fiction, history and myth, tied not to colonial conquest, but to local folklore and its traditions of suffering and survival.

Traveller’s Century – Benedict Allen seeking Patrick Leigh Fermor

Benedict Allen

Benedict Allen

Many will be aware of Benedict Allen’s 2008 BBC documentary where he follows Paddy’s journey and eventually gets to meet with Paddy at Kardamyli. It is rarely shown and unavailable on iPlayer. However, there will be a chance for some to watch the programme at Waterstones Piccadilly on Thursday 9th October at 6.30pm.

As part of their “Traveller’s Film Club” series of events, Benedict will introduce the programme after which there will be a screening. Further details of how to book are on this web page.

The Traveller’s Film Club are also showing films on Norman Lewis (September 16) and Wilfred Thesiger (November 13). See the same list.

Thank you to Mark Granelli for pointing this out to me. See some of you there!

 

A Walk Through Time

young paddyIn the winter of 1933, an 18-year-old named Patrick Leigh Fermor set out from the Hook of Holland to cross Europe on foot. His goal was Istanbul, which he bookishly insisted on calling Constantinople. He had little more in his rucksack than a volume of Horace and a few blank notebooks. He also had a bad reputation: The masters who expelled him from school — for a flirtation with a local girl — saw only “a dangerous mixture of sophistication and recklessness.” He spent the next year charming his way through a doomed prewar landscape of landed aristocrats, feudal peasants and benevolent monks, sleeping alternately in schlosses and hayricks. It was a journey that would become legendary, not so much for the extraordinary things he saw and recorded as for his prose — an utterly unique, hybrid vehicle that combines youthful exuberance with a dense, dauntingly erudite display of verbal artifice. Unlike most authors of travel literature (a rattlebag genre that doesn’t really do him justice) Leigh Fermor does not confine his role to that of camera obscura. He builds dense whorls of wordplay to echo the carvings in an old church door; he slips into baroque historical fantasias, scattering a shrapnel of words like “gabions,” “hydromel,” “eyot” and “swingle­trees” at the unsuspecting reader. In between salvos, there are moments of ferocious humor and quiet, lyrical beauty.

By Robert F. Worth

First published in the New York Times, 7 March 2014

In part, this richness is a measure of the extraordinary gap between the experience and its narration. Leigh Fermor did not begin writing the first book about his journey, “A Time of Gifts,” until the 1970s. In the intervening decades, he had written several other books, becoming a fiercely learned autodidact and adventurer. His exploits during and after World War II — when he helped to kidnap the Nazi commandant in Crete and deliver him to a waiting British submarine — are said to have helped inspire his friend Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond novels. As a result, the travel narratives are a kind of palimpsest in which his younger and older selves exist in counterpoint. He initially considered naming the first book “Parallax,” to reflect this split perspective.

Few books have been as keenly or lengthily anticipated as the third and final volume of Leigh Fermor’s youthful travels. (A second installment, “Between the Woods and the Water,” was published in 1986.) It never appeared; burdened by writer’s block and frailty, Leigh Fermor was still working on it when he died in 2011 at age 96. But he did leave a manuscript. His biographer, Artemis Cooper, and the British travel writer Colin Thubron chose to tidy it up and publish it as “The Broken Road,” a reference to the abrupt narrative halt before the author reaches Istanbul.

“The Broken Road” narrates Leigh Fermor’s travels in Bulgaria, Romania and Greece, a more tribal and violent world than Northern Europe. It does not always have the gemlike polish of the first two volumes. But it is an unforgettable book, full of strange encounters with a prewar Balkan cast of counts, prostitutes, peasants, priests and castrati. The greatest pleasure of all, as usual, is Leigh Fermor’s own infectious, Rabelaisian hunger for knowledge of almost every kind. His memory seems eidetic; his eyes miss nothing. He seems to carry within himself a whole troupe of sharp-eyed geographers, art historians, ethnologists and multilingual poets. For anyone who has tried to document a journey, reading him is a humbling and thoroughly inspiring experience.

“The Broken Road” is also full of his signature verbal architecture: The Orthodox bishops “in copes as stiff and brilliant as beetles’ wings, and the higher clergy, coiffed with globular gold mitres the size of pumpkins and glistening with gems, leaned on croziers topped with twin coiling snakes.” Or the Virgilian evocation of a passing flock of storks in the Balkan mountains, which goes on for pages: “All at once we were under a high shifting roof of wings, a flotilla that was thickening into an armada, until our ears were full of the sound of rustling and rushing with a flutter now and then when a bird changed position in a slow wingbeat or two, and of the strange massed creaking, as of many delicate hinges, of a myriad slender joints. They benighted the air.”

In some respects this book is even more satisfying than its predecessors because it is less guarded; the narrator emerges as an angrier, more troubled and more persuasive character. One of my few quarrels with “A Time of Gifts” is the dogged high-mindedness of Leigh Fermor’s youthful self. Where is the lust? Where is the rage? This man is 18 years old, for God’s sake. He never gives way to the curse-spitting xenophobia that overcomes most travelers (certainly me) at some point in their journeys. He runs into plenty of jams, and meets plenty of pretty young girls; but there is something a little too noble about him, too much of the innocent abroad.

This time things are different, and the young man seems to break free of his older narrator. At one point, lying on the damp earthen floor of a Bulgarian peasant’s hut, he gives way to revulsion at the “noisily hibernating rustics swathed all over this stifling hellhole.” He is overcome by self-hatred and yearns for the comfort and status of his school-bound peers. Elsewhere, he meets a spirited Bulgarian girl named Nadejda and falls in love with her; their romance, though apparently unconsummated, reeks of the adolescent emotional frailty that seemed absent in the earlier books.

One of the most vivid passages in “The Broken Road” takes place in Bucharest, where young Paddy (as all his friends called him) checks into what he takes for a modest hotel, the Savoy-Ritz, giving his bags to a baffled patronne. He returns late that night and discovers that it is not a hotel but a brothel. The laughing madam ushers him into the kitchen, where four attractive young prostitutes are eating a late supper: “I was given a chair and a glass of wine, and the girls on either side cut off bits of chicken breast and offered them on their forks with friendly solicitude.” The women, charmed by his youth and innocence, feed and fuss over him for several days, telling him stories about their clients and themselves, though he remains discreetly silent about whether he got anything for free.

“The Broken Road” ends in midsentence, and the editors have chosen to follow it with excerpts from the diary Leigh Fermor wrote in early 1935, mostly at Mt. Athos in Greece. These are fascinating precisely because they are so ordinary: Suddenly we see how lucky we are that Leigh Fermor chose to wait four decades before starting. Young men have strong legs and eyes, but it is the older narrator, with his multilayered perspective, who knows how to turn memory into art.

History also played a role. “The Broken Road” is strewn with ominous, proleptic hints about the future that only we — and the older narrator — are privy to. In “A Time of Gifts,” the Nazis were a constant presence, crass and often ludicrous, waiting to inherit Europe. In this book, it is both the Soviet boot and the Balkan breakup that lurk throughout, as young Paddy listens to his Bulgarian and Romanian friends spew hatred of one another. But he also evokes a quiet, starlit world where countless eccentricities of folk art and culture bloomed in isolated villages and persisted for centuries, untouched by the glare of television and the Internet. Much of this is gone now. We can be grateful he was there to record it.

THE BROKEN ROAD

From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos

By Patrick Leigh Fermor

Edited by Colin Thubron and Artemis Cooper

362 pp. New York Review Books. $30.

The Long Journey of Patrick Leigh Fermor

fermor.broken road.jacket.inddA very nice and well balanced review from across The Pond. Slate magazine has provided some good quality material for this blog in the past. I don’t have the time myself to get stuck into it, but for some of you it may be worth signing up for their newsletters. I still don’t get that cover they chose for the US edition.

By Jenny Hendrix

First published in The Slate Book Review 3 March 2014.

Patrick Leigh Fermor, one of travel literature’s most colorful, beguiling pedestrians, famously decided to walk across Europe when he was 18. Why not? He’d failed out of every school he’d gone to, after all, had given up on joining the army, and was living a somewhat-too-dissipated life in London among the aging remnant of the Bright Young Things. So, in the winter of 1933, equipped with a rucksack, walking stick, military greatcoat, puttees, and the Oxford Book of English Verse, he hopped on a boat to Rotterdam, Netherlands, pointing his hobnailed boots in the direction of what he’d always call Constantinople (not Istanbul), where he’d arrive in just over a year.

Eighty years later, we finally have the complete account of that trip. But it was a long road getting there—a kind of parallel journey. In 1962, Holiday magazine asked Fermor to write an article on “The Pleasures of Walking,” which he took as a chance to revisit the “Great Trudge” of his youth. He managed to cover the first two-thirds of the trip in a mere 70 pages, but the conclusion ballooned into a book of its own. Fermor wanted to call it Parallax, to underline the dual vantage of adolescence and middle age. His long-suffering publisher suggested A Youthful Journey instead. As it happened, it became neither as, busy building a house in the Peloponnese, Fermor abandoned the project altogether. By the time he took it up again, 10 or so years later on, he’d decided to start from the beginning again and write not one book but three. A Time of Gifts, which covers his walk from Holland to the middle Danube, was published in 1977. Between the Woods and the Water followed nine years later, taking him as far as the Iron Gates separating the Balkan and Carpathian mountains and ending with the words “TO BE CONCLUDED.” With the posthumous publication of The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos, it kind of is.

The Broken Road is something of a stand-in for the long, long awaited third volume that Fermor planned to write. Assembled by his biographer Artemis Cooper and British writer Colin Thubron, it’s basically the manuscript of A Youthful Journey polished up a bit, though Cooper and Thubron claim that “scarcely a phrase” in it is theirs. Why Fermor couldn’t complete the trilogy himself is unclear. He was, by all accounts, a slow writer, working and reworking each sentence so diligently that a friend, according to Cooper, once accused him of “Penelope-izing”—unraveling the day’s work every night like Odysseus’s wife. But by the time he died, in 2011 at the age of 96—a real feat for someone who, by his own accounting, smoked 80 cigarettes a day for most of his life—“Volume III” had been in the works for more than half a century. Perhaps in his later years, as Cooper suggests in her biography Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure, the author may have felt that “the whole subject was beginning to feel stale, barren, written out, and he feared he no longer had the strength to bring it back to life.”

Fermor’s torment may also have been a case of writerly perfectionism gone awry, as The Broken Road will seem, by most standards, plenty alive. Fermor’s deeply layered narrative, as before, intersperses fetishistically beautiful descriptions with historical tidbits, personal asides, and fanciful imaginings. He remains endlessly fascinated by local costume, folklore, genealogy, songs, and the doings of monks and muezzins, bouncing happily from peasant village to aristocratic schloss, from student digs on the Black Sea to Romanian country villa. He meets a girl (“half captured Circassian princess, half Byronic heroine”), stomps grapes, smokes hash, witnesses a celebratory riot in a Bulgarian café when it’s announced that someone’s murdered the Yugoslavian king, downs countless glasses of raki and slivo, investigates the Hasidim, theorizes on the breeding of mermaids, and sings German songs backwards to entertain a Bulgarian maid. Arriving in Bucharest, he accidentally checks into a brothel, thinking it’s a hotel, to the great entertainment of all, then charms his way into Romanian high society—opera, heaps of caviar, an excess of brandy—and passes out on the floor of an artist’s flat. He reads The Brothers Karamazov and Don Juan, and somehow always manages to find a bed for the night, usually a free one.

Still, this is a different Europe than that of the first two books—one toward which Fermor seems more ambivalent than the Mitteleuropean splendor he’s passed. Out of the old Holy Roman Empire and the familiar shadow of Western Christendom, he’d entered the strange oriental world of the Balkans—a region so recently free of the Ottoman yoke that it remained steeped in both Turkish culture and oppression’s palpable effects. There are fewer castles and a great many more huts. There’s more racial hatred too—Jewish/Romanian, Romanian/Bulgarian, Bulgarian/everyone but Russians—a legacy of the region’s violent past. Of course, Fermor’s zestful catalogue of certain Balkan cruelties—like the blinding, by Basil the Bulgar-Slayer, of a thousand-man army, leaving one of every hundred soldiers an eye “so that the rest might grope their way home to the czar” —reveal that, for a 19-year-old at least, bloodthirstiness was part of the region’s romance.

Fermor takes obvious delight in language, picking up words as one might souvenirs: In Romania, for instance, “the best word I had ever heard for irretrievable gloom: zbucium, pronounced zboochoum, a desperate spondee of utter dejection, those Moldowallachian blues.” The Broken Road positively drips with exotic names, ethnic designations, and obscure vocabularies. A dog is “passant, sejant then couchant,” and beekeepers go about “their Georgic business…mobled in muslin, calm-browed comb-setters and swarm-handlers of the scattered thorps.” Thorps! Fermor’s linguistic revelry also results in descriptive passages that verge on the purple, with images layered one over the other in a positive conflagration of sense: “Cauliflowers sailing overhead, towing their shadows twisted and bent by the ravines, like ships’ anchors, across the whale-shaped undulations, or hovering in the high mountain passes as lightly as ostrich feathers, or sliding along the horizons in pampas plumes. The setting sun turned each of these into the tail of a giant retriever.” The passage, in case there’s any doubt, describes clouds.

Actually though, hard as it is to believe, A Broken Road is a great deal less “written” than the previous two books—it was essentially a draft, unspangled with the oodles of adjectives that customarily embellish Fermor’s Byzantine prose. A representative description of a building from Volume I, by comparison, displays his gifts at full polish: “From the massed upward thrust of its buttresses to the stickle-back ridge of its high-pitched roof it was spiked with a forest of perpendiculars. Up the corner of the transepts, stairs in fretted polygonal cylinders spiralled and counter-spiralled, and flying buttresses enmeshed the whole fabric in a radiating web of slants.” This sort of thing might seem a bit steroidal to some, but the verbal fireworks go a long way toward recapturing the rapturous enthusiasm with which the young Fermor seems to have shone. “I was unboreable, like an unsinkable battleship,” the author reflects in The Broken Road. “My mouth was as unexactingly agape as the seal’s to the flung bloater. … I might, judging by my response to phenomena for most of these thousands of miles, have been a serious drug addict.” The tumultuous rush of his prose mimics the drug-like thrill that reality had for him then, and this—getting the reader as high on his words as he was on life—was what Fermor saw as his greatest challenge, 30 years on. The Broken Road tends more toward introspection than euphoria at times, frankly discussing the periodic bouts of depression that were euphoria’s flip side and Fermor’s doubt in his memories. “Were the domes tiled or were they sheeted in steel or lead –or both, as I boldly set down a moment ago? Or is it the intervening years that have tiled and leaded and metalled them so arbitrarily?”

Often the older writer admits to recalling little or nothing about a particular time, and often he confesses to being “almost irresistibly tempted to slip in one or two balloons from a later date.” One such “balloon” intrudes during Fermor’s walk south along the Black Sea coast from Varna, Bulgaria. The unknown coastline had proved rockier and less passable than anticipated, the night was dark, and both he and his flashlight had just fallen into a pool, the latter irretrievably. Bleeding from his forehead, Fermor found himself, as he writes, “sliding, crawling on all fours, climbing up ledges draped with popping and slippery ribbons of bladderwrack,” and close to despair. Rounding a cliff, he stumbles at last into a cave, where he finds a group of shepherds and fisherman cozied up for the night with a campfire and a bunch of goats. What follows is one of the most exhilarating set pieces to be found in travel writing anywhere: Having been fed, dried, and liquored up, Fermor joins his hosts in a night of ribald fun, in which a fisherman performs a rebtiko, an ancient dance that’s like a history of the Balkans writ small: “All the artifice, the passion for complexity, the hair-splitting, the sophistication, the dejection, the sudden renaissances, the flaunting challenge, the resignation, the feeling of the enemy closing in, the abandonment by all who should have been friends, the ineluctability of the approaching doom and the determination to perish, when the time came, with style,” Fermor writes, is sublimated in movement, offering “consolation and an anodyne in individual calamity.” It’s a thrilling insight in a linguistic whirl of a scene.

It also, apparently, never happened. As Cooper reports, the scene is more or less a conflation of a night Fermor spent in a fisherman’s hut on the Black Sea and an evening lost along the coast of Mount Athos, in Greece, some weeks later. It’s reputedly not the only incidence of this sort of thing: According to Cooper, a vaunted trip on horseback across Hungary seems not to have happened either. Fermor told her he feared “the reader might be getting bored of me just plodding along” and so put himself on a horse. Such fictional accents, Cooper gently suggests, were part of Fermor’s “making a novel of his life”: He didn’t invent, per se, but created “new memories” shaded by imagination. A more convincing explanation is that by the time Fermor sat down to write about the walk, not only was it 30 years in the past, but he had lost all of his journals from the time—the first stolen, the rest left unclaimed in storage after the war—and had just memories, real or not, for reference.

The distance between living and writing is responsible too for the shadow European history cast over Fermor as he sat down to write his Trudge books. Fermor was in Germany in December 1933: Hitler was in power, and the rise of nationalism was apparent in the streets, where heil-ing stormtroopers would “become performing seals for a second … as though the place were full of slightly sinister boy scouts.” In Vienna, in February 1934, he arrived in the middle of the riots between the country’s anti-communist militia and Social Democrats, the beginning of a political shift that would culminate in the Anschluss some years on. But the young Fermor, having little interest in politics, didn’t notice at all. “I wasn’t a political observer,” he yells at a Bulgarian friend who’s rebuked him for wanting to visit the hated Romania. “Races, language, what people were like, that was what I was after: churches, songs, books, what they wore and ate and looked like, what the hell!” If the young Fermor, busy with parties, drinking, smoking, sex (only delicately implied of course—he’s British), failed to foresee the consequences of Nazism’s rise, the older one certainly does. “I am maddened,” he wrote in 1963, “by not having seen, written, looked, heard.”

And so despite the author’s obvious attempts to preserve, somewhat, the innocence of his youthful self, the books are haunted by the knowledge of what was about to transpire—the fact that, as Fermor writes in The Broken Road, “Nearly all the people in this book, as it turned out, were attached to trails of powder which were already invisibly burning, to explode during the next decade and a half, in unhappy endings.” His accounts of the colorful ways of gypsies and Jews in particular can’t help but have a foreboding, even elegiac tang, no matter how they are written, and the same is true, in The Broken Road, of the landscape itself. Returning to Bulgaria and Rumania in 1990, Cooper reports, Fermor was “utterly crushed,” refusing even to talk about what he had seen: not just poverty and hunger, but picturesque villages replaced by concrete farm-workers blocks, Bulgaria’s Turkish culture completely gone, hulking Soviet towers rising from what had once been pristine wilderness.

It is no surprise then that Fermor, toward the end of his life, despaired of recapturing the innocent joy with which he’d crossed this vanished landscape and eventually gave up trying. A Youthful Journey ends quite abruptly—in midsentence, in fact—a few days before the journey reached its ultimate goal. For whatever reason, Fermor failed to take many notes at all in Constantinople. The few he did make are included here, to represent, I guess, the “broken road” of the title: “Slept till six o’clock in the evening, then, waking up, thought it was only the dawn, having overslept twelve hours, so turned over and slept again till Jan 2nd morning,” he writes of the day he arrived. Eleven days later, he was in Greece, where The Broken Road concludes, with a coda of sorts to the official account: Fermor’s perambulation through the Orthodox monasteries of Mount Athos. (As a side note, this monastic peninsula, unlike most of the places Fermor visited, seems largely unchanged. It remains, among other things, forbidden to females of all species, with the notable exception of cats.)

The text of this part comes from Fermor’s so-called Green Diary, the sole survivor of the heap of near-talismanic journals he carted about on his walk. This one he left in Romania with his first great love, the Princess Balasha Cantacuzène, who, despite years under fascism and behind the Iron Curtain, took care of it, returning it to Fermor during a secret visit in 1965. It’s a useful document, if only for the purpose of comparing the unfiltered prose of Fermor’s teenage years with the polished, many-fretted sentences that he’d produce later on. The episode of walking along the cliffs and falling into the sea, recast so brilliantly some 150-pages back as a microcosm of Balkan life, appears here just another night really, drinking with some woodsmen in a hut. One gets the feeling that Fermor would have objected to the diary’s inclusion, but in a way it’s a perfectly appropriate end. Here, lonely, tired, and somewhat fed up with the “unilluminated literalness” of Balkan life, the boy first encounters a country that he would come to love above all. Two years later, after a charmed period of rest in Romania and Greece, he’d join the intelligence services and serve in Crete as a liaison to the native partisans, eventually masterminding a hussar-ish plan to kidnap the Nazi general in charge of the occupying forces and transporting him, by mule, over the mountains, and then to Cairo by boat. He would write two books on Greece and settle permanently there in 1964 with his wife Joan, in a small fishing village in the Peloponnese. There, as a mature perfectionist fighting a losing battle against his exuberantly prolix younger self, he’d try to write what would eventually become The Broken Road. In some ways, though, the 20-year-old Paddy we leave at Mount Athos would end up outliving him.

Patrick Leigh Fermor: journey’s end book cover

plfhome2_0A short article from the Creative Review about the book covers for Paddy’s work.  A must read as it is full of beautiful pictures of Craxton book covers. Best seen on on a big computer screen.

by Mark Sinclair

The final part of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s triology documenting his walk across Europe in the 1930s was published in September. Its cover by Ed Kluz, shown left, fulfilled an interesting brief – to offer something new but to keep in mind the tradition of Fermor’s illustrated covers, designed since the 1950s by the late John Craxton…

Read the article on the CR blogsite here.

Last leg of a joyous, erudite journey

Paddy by Patrick Kidd

Paddy by Patrick Kidd

‘The Broken Road’ is brimful of the author’s characteristic exuberance, charm and erudition, with all his stylish and inimitable prose flourishes in place.

By Patricia Craig.

First published in The Irish Times, 26 October 2013.

Towards the end of her admirable biography of Patrick Leigh Fermor, from 2012, Artemis Cooper relates an anecdote. After the stupendous success of the first two-thirds of his proposed trilogy – A Time of Gifts (1977) and Between the Woods and the Water (1986) – expectations were high for the final section. But something of a writer’s block had overtaken the author. Despite encouragement from every source – friends, wife, publisher, his eager readers – he found himself unable to complete the undertaking.

Then, after spending weeks in his study engrossed in some form of composition, he emerged one day clutching a sheaf of paper. “I knew it could be done!” he exclaimed to his overjoyed wife. But, alas, he went on, “I knew PG Wodehouse would translate into Greek.”

But all was not lost. The history of The Broken Road is complicated. It completes the story begun when the author, aged 18, in 1934, embarked on a tremendous journey. His aim, which he fulfilled, was to walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople. Years later, when Patrick Leigh Fermor sat down to make another journey backwards in time, he conceived the project as a three-volume account of his travels across Europe during those heady years of the mid 1930s. What resulted was an extraordinary feat of recollection and evocation, which placed the author among the outstanding travel writers of the 20th century. But it stopped short at the Iron Gates in Romania (the ending of volume two).

As the painstaking editors of The Broken Road recount, however, Leigh Fermor had actually written the current text as far back as the early 1960s. It, or a version of it, was lost, retrieved, abandoned, reclaimed and subjected to intermittent revision. Indeed, the author was still working on it until a few months before his death, in 2011, at 96 (PG Wodehouse notwithstanding). And, the editors say, “there is scarcely a phrase here, let alone a sentence, that is not his.”

If Leigh Fermor never brought the manuscript to a state that caused him to rejoice, it is nevertheless hard to see what there was about it that engendered so much angst. It is brimful of the author’s characteristic exuberance, charm and erudition, with all his stylish and inimitable prose flourishes in place.

The final part of The Broken Road is rather different, though, as it consists of entries from Leigh Fermor’s only surviving diary (January-February 1935), which he kept while going from monastery to monastery on Mount Athos. Immediacy rather than retrospection is the keynote here. No felicitous reflections imposed over the rough jottings, but rather a sense of the young traveller sitting down in one of his whitewashed cells each evening to write up the day’s events, the different types of monks encountered (“a surprisingly cultivated man”; “a funny little creature with a hump, very small, his frock discarded for chopping wood”), the scenery reminiscent of the Garden of Gethsemane, the hazardous walks up rocky paths through melting snow, the cypresses and orange trees and tranquil Aegean Sea.

We have the diaries and, in the middle of chapter seven, we have a short autobiographical interlude – “My childhood was spent in London, in my mother’s very exciting company” – sparked off by two letters, one from his mother and one from his father in India, which he collected from a post office on the way to Varna. Otherwise, The Broken Road is a scintillating continuation of the prodigious walk that took the young Leigh Fermor right into the heart of magically different prewar Europe and beyond, through places “teeming with history and with natural wonders”. Eleven dolphins leaping and gambolling in a bay; a wild boar in an autumn forest; black-cloaked and hooded herdsmen of a nomadic Balkan tribe. The “strange, rather sad, rather beguiling spell [that] haunted the cobbled lanes of this twinkling, twilight little town of Mesembria”.

Leigh Fermor had some considerable assets to aid him on his journey. He had a knack of falling on his feet, of getting out of scrapes and overcoming setbacks. He had high spirits, hardihood and luck on his side. Whether in the streets of some unfamiliar town or halfway up a bleak mountain with darkness closing in, he rarely failed to encounter kindness and hospitality. His gift for languages enabled him to communicate even with rough Bulgarian shepherds or Greek fishermen in a cave on the Black Sea coast.

It was a time of contrasts, all of which he took in his stride: if he’s not immersed in the social life of Bucharest (for example), living it up while staying in a diplomat’s flat (after an inadvertent sojourn in a brothel), he is sleeping under the sky or in rough-and-ready peasant accommodation.

He is, by turns, gregarious – drinking, singing and dancing half the night – and of a solitary, introspective bent. The first was of inestimable benefit to him along the road, while the second came into play once he’d started retracing his own footsteps, recalling with gusto the pungency of the past, conjuring up bygone scenes, moods, crucial encounters, histories, classical comparisons, lights and shades, exotic experiences, flights of fancy, all replete with the exhilaration of travel, of setting out. From the moment he stepped ashore on the snow-covered soil of the Netherlands, back in 1934, he was in his element.

Now, although The Broken Road peters out in the middle of a sentence, his journey is complete, his worldly task accomplished, with the whole undertaking “as thick in marvels as Aladdin’s cave”.

Ignore the xenophobic hysteria and welcome our EU neighbours

Villagers in Clinceni, Romania cover a field with what they claim is the world's biggest ever flag

Villagers in Clinceni, Romania cover a field with what they claim is the world’s biggest ever flag

Britain is in the Orwellian middle not of a Two-Minute Hate, but a Two-Year Hate.

By Boyd Tonkin.

First published in the Independent, 27 December 2013.

This may surprise alarmed observers in Sofia and Bucharest – or even in Westminster. But one of the best-loved British books of 2013 takes the form of a fervent and heartfelt tribute to the peoples of Bulgaria and Romania. War hero, writer and traveller Patrick Leigh Fermor died in 2011 before he could publish the third volume of memoirs about his “Great Trudge” though Europe in the mid-1930s. The Broken Road, which appeared posthumously in the autumn, takes the young literary vagabond from the “Iron Gates” on the Danube across both countries to the Black Sea coast.

Everywhere he walks, Leigh Fermor relishes the landscapes and the languages. He admires the culture and the customs. Above all, he comes to love the people of the Balkan peaks and plains: always hospitable and welcoming, forever willing even in the poorest backwater to greet this penniless young Englishman with unstinting generosity, feed him, shelter him and send him on his way with blessings – and with lunch.

Now, what would happen to a late-teenage Bulgarian or Romanian, without lodging, employment or any ready cash, who started to walk, say, from Dover to Glasgow in the spring of 2014? On the evidence of British public life just now, the result would not be a glorious trek across a land of smiles, fondly remembered from a ripe old age.

The Economist magazine has already issued its number-crunched fiat in their favour. Still, this column may count as an early squeak in the almost inaudible chorus of welcome for visitors or migrants to the UK from Bulgaria and Romania. More than a few of us belong to the open-hearted country of Paddy Leigh Fermor rather than the tight little island of Godfrey Bloom. If you wish to, fellow EU citizens, I hope that you will come. Should you choose, quite legitimately, to seek work here, then I hope that you prosper for as long as you stay. And most of all, I hope against hope that our morally bankrupt political class and ruthlessly cynical media will one day start to address the underlying reasons for home-grown fears: the living-standards crisis, deep-seated job insecurity, yawning chasms in wealth and opportunity, the greed and arrogance of a pampered “super-class”, and a chronic lack of decent homes for non-millionaires. Instead, they have set out on yet another sordid scapegoat hunt. Patrick Leigh Fermor Patrick Leigh Fermor

The grievances are genuine. But the actual culprits have got clean away. A useful watchword for 2014 might run: lay the blame where it belongs. August Bebel, a wise German social democrat at the turn of the 20th century, popularised the idea that “anti-Semitism is the socialism of fools”. A century on, the quarry may have changed, but not the toxic rhetoric, nor the squalid logic of victimisation. As all the 28 million people in the so-called “A2” accession countries of the EU must understand, this lather of dread has been whipped into a perfect storm by the confluence of cannily inflammatory media and the blind funk of a shaky governing party. As a result, if you’re looking for fraudulent crystal-ball predictions, outrageously deceitful hucksterism and a brisk trade in ideological scrap and junk, there’s no need to visit some mythical gypsy encampment. You can find all that and more via any visit to Westminster, TV studios and newsrooms – plus a detour, of course, to the Ukip HQ.

Crashing rollers of anti-immigrant vitriol break day after day, loud as an end-of-year storm surge, and just as implacable. Anyone who resists this tide – who says without any niggling proviso that all legal incomers from European Union member states, as from -everywhere else, presumptively deserve trust, goodwill, courtesy and fair dealing – may feel just now like the enemy within. The tone of paranoia, suspicion and targeted hatred has made British political discourse through

2013 resemble propaganda-fuelled dictatorships such as – well, let’s start with Nicolae Ceausescu’s Romania and Todor Zhivkov’s Bulgaria. As regards the citizens of those states, Britain is in the Orwellian middle not of a Two-Minute Hate, but a Two-Year Hate.

Plenty of the worried who fear this as-yet-phantom army of immigrants will have spent Christmas paying lip service at least to the festival’s religious roots. Presumably – and this, I’m afraid, is a rhetorical device shamelessly nicked from the works of Charles Dickens – their edition of the Bible fails to include the exhortation from Deuteronomy that insists “Love ye therefore the stranger, for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt”, the lines from Matthew’s gospel that run “For I was hungry, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in”, still less the advice of the Letter to the Hebrews: “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares”. A few weeks ago, Nigel Farage commented: “We need a much more muscular defence of our Judaeo-Christian heritage.” To which one might reply: precisely.

Sentimental? Impractical? Airy-fairy? No more so that than the speculative pseudo-statistics that bedevil this “debate”. As to the likely numbers involved, absolute confusion reigns. An even-handed House of Commons briefing paper recently noted that the Foreign Office’s own inquiry into probable figures (commissioned from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research) had concluded that “it is not possible to predict the scale of future migration from Bulgaria and Romania to the UK numerically”. The Commons paper, by the way, also shows why the often-quoted Migration Watch prediction of circa 50,000 net arrivals per annum from Bulgaria and Romania is skewed. The numbers rest on an untested forward projection from events after the 2004 EU entry of Poland and its neighbours (the so-called “A8” countries) on to a wholly different set of circumstances.

Among the factors that suggest “low levels of migration”, the Commons researchers cite the obvious fact that “all remaining transitional controls will expire in all EU countries at the same time”. Among factors that may pull the numbers upwards are “high unemployment rates … in those EU countries that have so far been the preferred destinations for A2 nationals”, mainly Italy and Spain. In short, we don’t yet know. Maybe the invading wave will be crested by some of the estimated 14,000 doctors and 50,000 nurses who have left Romania since it joined the EU in 2007. If so, then our steam-driven pundits should on principle refuse treatment when their apoplectic xenophobia lands them in A&E.

Even if the feared influx of low-skill job-seekers does occur, and does put pressure on underfunded services in certain areas, then public figures still have a choice to make. Some of the windier press invective that craven politicians have done nothing to deflate – especially against Roma people – pretty much amounts to incitement to racial violence.

Whoever wins the dismal numbers game in 2014, a failure to condemn that sort of hate speech opens the door to further barbarism in political life.

We have been here, many times, before. Back in 1517, Londoners rioted on “Evil May Day” against foreign workers. According to legend, the mob was calmed by the then under-sheriff of London, Sir Thomas More. About 75 years later, the event was dramatised in a multi-authored play about the life of More – the kind of stage “biopic” common in the Elizabethan theatre. In the second act, when he faces down the racist rioters of London, the play’s language suddenly leaps into life. More’s great speech makes the case against anti-immigrant agitation with a moral force that still sings out today.

“Grant them removed,” says More about the detested foreigners. “Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,/ Their babies at their backs and their poor luggage,/ Plodding to the ports and costs for transportation.” “What had you got?” he asks the mob. “I’ll tell you. You had taught/ How insolence and strong hand should prevail.” In other words, mob rule – of the kind that, these days, tries to smash international treaties and tear up EU agreements. And what if the lawless migrant-bashers had to move abroad themselves, “to anywhere that not adheres to England”? In exile, “Would you be pleased/ To find a nation of such barbarous temper,/ That, breaking out in hideous violence,/ Would not afford you an abode on earth?” Just put yourselves in the foreigner’s shoes, More counsels: “What would you think/ To be thus used? This is the strangers’ case;/ And this your mountainish inhumanity.”

There used to be almost as much heated argument around the authorship of this passage (in a script known as “Hand D”) as about the imminent levels of migration from “A2” states. Now, a kind of scholarly consensus prevails. That scene was most probably written by William Shakespeare. Across the political mountains of inhumanity, let’s hope that the latest torrent, or quite possibly, trickle of “strangers” can locate and enjoy Shakespeare’s country.

Culture aside, a well-sourced report released this week by the Centre for Economic and Business Research argues that Britain will over the coming years overtake Germany as the strongest economy in Europe. And which ace do we hold up our sleeve as the Old Continent grows even older, less productive and more state-dependent? Why, “positive demographics with continuing immigration”. On which note, we should wish even the frostiest of Europhobes Chestita Nova Godina and Un An Nou Fericit!

Patrick Leigh Fermor profile: ‘Glitteringly told, impossibly romantic, unrepeatable today…’

As the long-awaited final volume of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s memoirs is published, Jonathan Lorie celebrates the brilliant travel writer.

By Jonathan Lorie

First published in The Independent, Saturday 14 September 2013.

“This is the Byron Room,” murmured John Murray the seventh, ushering me into the Regency drawing room of his publishing house in Piccadilly, where marble busts perched on carved bookcases under a white rococo ceiling. “And that fireplace is where they burned Lord Byron’s papers after he died.” He smiled sheepishly, for it was his own ancestor, John Murray the second, who committed one of the great vandalisms of literary history – burning the poet’s scandalous memoirs instead of publishing them. “And here,” he said with some relief, “is Paddy.”

Paddy, as Patrick Leigh Fermor was always known to friends, was a great crag of a man, scowling at a wooden desk, where a page of lopsided writing in black ink was refusing to do his bidding. “It’s no good,” he raised his tousled head and glowered at us, a handsome man with dark, mischievous eyes. Then he burst out laughing. “It’s a poem in medieval French I want to send to the Spanish ambassador, but I can’t remember the end of it!”

Leigh Fermor strode briskly over, despite his 89 years, shook my hand and launched into an unstoppable reminiscence of tramping across Europe in 1933. “I borrowed £15 from somebody and caught a boat to the Hook of Holland, heading for Constantinople. I got somebody to give me a letter to a very nice baron in Bavaria and I went to stay with him … And then I borrowed a horse off somebody and crossed the whole of the great Hungarian plain on this horse – it was the right way to see it – it was totally unspoilt then … At the Iron Gates I caught a ship for about 50 miles, then stayed with a very nice consul in Sofia …” And he rattled off the names of places and people that must have vanished long before I was born, in a lost world of feudal Europe, as though it were all just yesterday.

Patrick Leigh Fermor in later life

Patrick Leigh Fermor in later life

That epic journey and the power of his storytelling will be in many people’s thoughts this weekend, as Leigh Fermor’s final book of travel memoirs is published. Fans have been waiting three decades for this. The Broken Road is the last, missing volume in a trilogy that many thought would never be completed. It concludes the story he told that day in the Byron Room, of a youthful trek from London to Istanbul in 1933, catching the last echoes of an older order before the Second World War changed everything.

Across this vanished world Leigh Fermor had walked aged 19, meeting monocled aristocrats and ragged chimney sweeps, sleeping in cowsheds or in castles, dodging gypsy encampments, cadging lifts on cargo boats, falling for pretty girls, dancing and drinking and talking his way to the heart and soul of central Europe. The journey was enchanting, the writing rich and vivid.

But he never finished the trilogy. The two previous volumes – A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water – appeared in 1978 and 1986 to huge acclaim. They prompted Jan Morris to hail him as “the greatest of living travel writers”. Then the words stopped, 500 miles from Istanbul. For years, friends and fans pestered him to finish it. He never did. Perhaps it was the failing powers of old age, perhaps it was the pressure of living up to expectations, perhaps – like that medieval French poem – he could no longer recall enough of the ending. When he died in 2011 – seven years after our meeting in Piccadilly – it seemed another great loss to literature.

But three years before his death, his biographer Artemis Cooper had stumbled across a 45-year-old typescript filed at John Murray’s office. It was called “A Youthful Journey”, and it was Leigh Fermor’s early attempt to describe the post-Danube part of the route. Her interest rekindled his, and slowly he began to sift his way through this fading text, revisiting the great journey, reworking the words, a man in his nineties taking one last shot.

He never finished. The final manuscript was a mass of revisions and expansions that petered out just days from Istanbul. But Cooper and the travel writer Colin Thubron took it upon themselves to sort it into best order and present it to the world. It was perhaps a homage to their friend as much as a literary laying to rest. And John Murray published it, a posthumous memoir saved from oblivion at last.

The result is The Broken Road. It’s as charming as its predecessors, a fascinating glimpse of a vanished era. Leigh Fermor drifts through the pre-war Balkans, meeting White Russian officers, dancing at diplomats’ parties, falling in love with a French-speaking student, drinking slivovitz with coachmen and concierges. On a moonless night by the Black Sea he nearly drowns, but stumbles his way into a cave where a ragged gang of fishermen and sailors sitting around a fire take him in for a night of wild drinking and traditional dances. It is perhaps the emotional heart of this book – a moment from an ancient myth, which his derring-do and joie de vivre have brought to life – glitteringly told, impossibly romantic, unrepeatable today.

The book is also a little rougher in parts than its predecessors. I asked the editors about this. “What we were dealing with was very much a first draft, by his standards,” says Colin Thubron. “Neither we nor anyone else could finish the trilogy as Paddy would have wanted. It is, inevitably, less uniformly polished – or ‘buffed up’ , as Paddy might have said – than the previous two books. But there are passages as fine as anything he wrote, and it also reveals a certain, rather charming, youthful vulnerability.”

“It is much rougher in texture,” agrees Cooper, “but it is also unmistakeably Paddy. As a writer he is quite unique. That fusion of memory and imagination and landscape, nobody has ever achieved that with such immediacy.”

Patrick Leigh Femor sharing lunch with friends in Kardamyli

Patrick Leigh Femor sharing lunch with friends in Kardamyli

Quite how far he fused memory and imagination is an interesting question. All three of these books were written decades after the fact, with only a tattered map as aide-memoire. He had lost all but one of his diaries – some on the road, some in a neglected storeroom at Harrods. Like that other fine travel memoirist of the 1970s, Laurie Lee, you can’t help wondering how much of this actually happened.

Cooper has a theory: “Paddy once told me that everything that ever happened to him from the ages of five to 21 was etched on his mind, and to a certain extent that was true. But memory is not a CCTV camera in your head – it changes, develops, shrinks or expands or becomes more elaborate – especially if you write about it.”

Thubron agrees: “I think the vividness of his memory merged seamlessly with the richness of his imagination.”

It was an imagination fed by the life that he chose to live. What other travel writer can claim to have ridden in a cavalry charge across a castle drawbridge with sabres drawn, as he did during a Balkan rebellion? Or lived in a manor house with a Romanian princess, who he met on reaching Istanbul? Or kidnapped an enemy general and driven his staff car through 22 enemy checkpoints, as he did in wartime Crete?

The latter was his most famous exploit, and you can visit the place where it happened – a remote stretch of road beside an olive grove where Leigh Fermor lay in wait with a band of Cretan partisans. The episode was made into a book and film, Ill Met By Moonlight, starring Dirk Bogarde as Leigh Fermor. For years afterwards, Leigh Fermor was fêted throughout Greece for his wartime service with the partisans, when he had lived for months in mountain caves, organising resistance to the German occupation.

The war left him with a profound attachment to Greece and its people, and in the 1950s he and his wife Joan built a house there, on the Mani peninsula. It was famed for its elegance and its house guests. John Betjeman described the library, which looked over the sea, as “one of the rooms of the world”. The travel writer Bruce Chatwin chose to have his ashes scattered on the hills above, by Leigh Fermor.

Here he wrote two luminous books on Greece – Mani and Roumeli – and slowly began the trilogy which has now, finally, been completed. He nicknamed this work “The Great Trudge” – a view understood by his editors.

“It feels wonderful to have completed the trilogy,” says Cooper. “Paddy always felt a huge regret that he did not finish this book. But by the end of his life I think he knew that we would see it was published. Perhaps, on some level, he was able to leave the world knowing that it would see the light of day.”

“There is, in the end, nobody like him,” concludes Thubron. “A famous raconteur and polymath. Generous, life-loving and good-hearted to a fault. Enormously good company, but touched by well-camouflaged insecurities. I would rank him very highly. ‘The finest travel writer of his generation’ is a fair assessment.”

Pure Paddy – The last book, finally

Among worldly travellers any description of improbable exploits in foreign places, ending on a note of hilarity, used to be met with the phrase “Pure Paddy!” This referred to Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor, writer, war hero and raconteur, who died two years ago at the age of 96, leaving a long hoped-for final volume of his early memoirs still unpublished.

First published in the Economist, 14 September 2013.

In the 1930s, at the age of 18, Sir Patrick set out to walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople (his preferred name for Istanbul). “A Time of Gifts”, his account of the first section of the walk was a masterpiece of wit and erudition. A good deal of time was taken up being passed between schlosses and castles by the crumbling remnants of the German and Austro- Hungarian aristocracy, while in the background, the Nazis loomed. In the mid- 1980s a second volume, “Between the Woods and the Water”, covered his 1934 walk through Hungary and Transylvania, where he was as much at home in hayricks as in the hovels of gypsies.

“The Broken Road”, Sir Patrick’s final posthumous volume, has now been edited by his literary executors: Artemis Cooper, his biographer, and Colin Thubron, a fellow travel writer and president of the Royal Society of Literature. It takes the author from the Danube’s Iron Gates to Mount Athos and Constantinople. It remained unfinished while he lived for several years with a Romanian princess, and then the second world war intervened. Sir Patrick’s exploits there were indeed legendary: with some friends he kidnapped a German general in Crete and drove him through numerous Nazi checkpoints before spiriting him off to Egypt.

The book brings together two texts: a detailed diary of his time on Mount Athos and a description of the journey there. This last was written up from memory in the 1960s as some of Sir Patrick’s contemporary notes had been stolen in Munich and the remainder were lodged in the Harrods Depository during the war and later destroyed, unclaimed. The pages are filled with brilliant evocations of his life on the road, none richer than the time he spent in a Romanian brothel. A flavour of the “Pure Paddy” style is his description of the high-pitched Russians who drive carriages around Bucharest. It turns out they are an obscure sect of eunuchs who believe that Empress Catherine the Great’s murdered son will one day return as the Messiah. A final notebook was handed back to Sir Patrick in 1965 by his princess, but he chose not to elide or collate it with his then written account.

The only part republished here is the full contemporary account of his time at Mount Athos. The book is occasionally interrupted with later asides by the author on the fate of particular places or people, which drain a portion of the magic out of the account. Sir Patrick’s entire life was a Boy’s Own adventure, but he was an important footnote to the literary genre of English travel writing, which began in its modern form in 1844 with “Eothen”, a hilarious account of Alexander Kinglake’s adventures from Belgrade to Cairo.

“The Broken Road” has an elegiac tone. None of the people described survives and the countries visited have undergone wars and revolutions, leaving them virtually unrecognisable. It is a fitting epilogue to 20th-century travel-writing and essential reading for devotees of Sir Patrick’s other works—though eclipsed by his earlier books and the world they conjured.

NYRB review – The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos

The US cover?

In the winter of 1933, eighteen-year-old Patrick (“Paddy”) Leigh Fermor set out to walk across Europe, starting in Holland and ending in Constantinople, a trip that took him almost a year. Decades later, Leigh Fermor told the story of that life-changing journey in A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, two books now celebrated as among the most vivid, absorbing, and beautifully-written travel books of all time.

First published in the New York Review of Books.

The Broken Road is the long awaited account of the final leg of his youthful adventure that Leigh Fermor promised but was unable to finish before his death in 2011. Assembled from Leigh Fermor’s manuscripts by his prize-winning biographer Artemis Cooper and the travel writer Colin Thubron, this is perhaps the most personal of all Leigh Fermor’s books, catching up with young Paddy in the fall of 1934 and following him through Bulgaria and Romania to the coast of the Black Sea. Days and nights on the road, spectacular landscapes and uncanny cities, friendships lost and found, leading the high life in Bucharest or camping out with fishermen and shepherds: in the The Broken Road such incidents and escapades are described with all the linguistic bravura, odd and astonishing learning, and overflowing exuberance that Leigh Fermor is famous for, but also with a melancholy awareness of the passage of time, especially when he meditates on the scarred history of the Balkans or on his troubled relations with his father. The book ends, perfectly, with Paddy’s arrival in Greece, the country he would fall in love with and fight for. Throughout it we can still hear the ringing voice of an irrepressible young man embarking on a life of adventure.

Quotes

By any standards, this is a major work. It confirms that Leigh Fermor was, along with Robert Byron, the greatest travel writer of his generation, and this final volume assures the place of the trilogy as one of the masterpieces of the genre, indeed one of the masterworks of postwar English non-fiction.
—William Dalrymple, The Guardian

Praise for Patrick Leigh Fermor:

One of the greatest travel writers of all time.
–The Sunday Times

A unique mixture of hero, historian, traveler and writer; the last and the greatest of a generation whose like we won’t see again.
—Geographical

The finest traveling companion we could ever have … His head is stocked with enough cultural lore and poetic fancy to make every league an adventure.
–Evening Standard

If all Europe were laid waste tomorrow, one might do worse than attempt to recreate it, or at least to preserve some sense of historical splendor and variety, by immersing oneself in the travel books of Patrick Leigh Fermor.
—Ben Downing, The Paris Review

Praise for A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, the first two volumes in the trilogy:

This is a glorious feast, the account of a walk in 1934 from the Hook of Holland to what was then Constantinople. The 18-year-old Fermor began by sleeping in barns but, after meeting some landowners early on, got occasional introductions to castles. So he experienced life from both sides, and with all the senses, absorbing everything: flora and fauna, art and architecture, geography, clothing, music, foods, religions, languages. Writing the book decades after the fact, in a baroque style that is always rigorous, never flowery, he was able to inject historical depth while still retaining the feeling of boyish enthusiasm and boundless curiosity. This is the first of a still uncompleted trilogy; the second volume, Between the Woods and the Water, takes him through Hungary and Romania; together they capture better than any books I know the remedial, intoxicating joy of travel.
— Thomas Swick, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Recovers the innocence and the excitement of youth, when everything was possible and the world seemed luminescent with promise. …Even more magical…through Hungary, its lost province of Transylvania, and into Romania… sampling the tail end of a languid, urbane and anglophile way of life that would soon be swept away forever.
—Jeremy Lewis, Literary Review

A book so good you resent finishing it.
—Norman Stone

The greatest of living travel writers…an amazingly complex and subtle evocation of a place that is no more.
— Jan Morris

In these two volumes of extraordinary lyrical beauty and discursive, staggering erudition, Leigh Fermor recounted his first great excursion… They’re partially about an older author’s encounter with his young self, but they’re mostly an evocation of a lost Mitteleuropa of wild horses and dark forests, of ancient synagogues and vivacious Jewish coffeehouses, of Hussars and Uhlans, and of high-spirited and deeply eccentric patricians with vast libraries (such as the Transylvanian count who was a famous entomologist specializing in Far Eastern moths and who spoke perfect English, though with a heavy Scottish accent, thanks to his Highland nanny). These books amply display Leigh Fermor’s keen eye and preternatural ear for languages, but what sets them apart, besides the utterly engaging persona of their narrator, is his historical imagination and intricate sense of historical linkage…Few writers are as alive to the persistence of the past (he’s ever alert to the historical forces that account for the shifts in custom, language, architecture, and costume that he discerns), and I’ve read none who are so sensitive to the layers of invasion that define the part of Europe he depicts here. The unusual vantage point of these books lends them great poignancy, for we and the author know what the youthful Leigh Fermor cannot: that the war will tear the scenery and shatter the buildings he evokes; that German and Soviet occupation will uproot the beguiling world of those Tolstoyan nobles; and that in fact very few people who became his friends on this marvelous and sunny journey will survive the coming catastrophe.
— Benjamin Schwarz, The Atlantic

Those for whom Paddy’s prose is still an undiscovered country are to be envied for what lies ahead-hours with one of the most buoyant and curious personalities one can find in English.
—The New York Sun

Mr. Fermor…is a peerless companion, unbound by timetable or convention, relentless in his high spirits and curiosity.
— The New York Times

We are aware at every step that his adventure can never be duplicated: only this extraordinary person at this pivotal time could have experienced and recorded many of these sights. Distant lightening from events in Germany weirdly illuminates the trail of this free spirit.
—The New York Times

The young Fermor appears to have been as delightful a traveling companion as the much older Fermor a raconteur.
—The Houston Chronicle

[A Time of Gifts, Between the Woods and the Water] are absolutely delightful volumes, both for those who want to better understand what was lost in the violence of Europe’s 20th-century divisions and for those who appreciate the beauty and thrill of travel writing at its best.
—The Houston Chronicle

Leigh Fermor is recognizably that figure many writers of the past century have yearned to be, the man of action.
— The Guardian

He was, and remains, an Englishman, with so much living to his credit that the lives conducted by the rest of us seem barely sentient-pinched and paltry things, laughably provincial in their scope, and no more fruitful than sleepwalks. We fret about our kids’ S.A.T. scores, whereas this man, when he was barely more than a kid himself, shouldered a rucksack and walked from Rotterdam to Istanbul.
— Anthony Lane, The New Yorker

The Broken Road by Patrick Leigh Fermor – Observer review

The late, great travel writer’s trilogy is finally complete, with a helping hand from admirers.

by Anthony Sattin

First published in The Observer, Sunday 15 September 2013.

The final volume of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s trilogy is almost as hard to review as it was to write. By the time he died, in 2011, 96-year-old Leigh Fermor had acquired near legendary status. In the second world war, he assisted in a partisan mission to kidnap a Nazi general on Crete. Before that, at 18, he walked across Europe from the Hook of Holland to Istanbul (which he still called Constantinople). And he kept notes as he walked. “My whole life had seemed to revolve around those stiff-covered exercise books,” he said. “Keeping them up to date had acquired the charm and mystery of a secret religion, solemnized daily.” The books came later… much later.

In 1962, a US magazine asked him to write about walking – a 5,000-word commission that spawned a trilogy. A Time of Gifts was published in 1977. Between the Woods and the Water, which appeared in 1986, ended with the promise that the story would be continued. Rumours as to whether Leigh Fermor had managed to complete his trilogy, or whether he had even started the conclusion, have circulated for the past couple of decades.

It turns out there was a manuscript and it picks up where the previous one ended – at the water, the Danube, and the Iron Gates, a gorge at the Romanian-Bulgarian border. It takes Leigh Fermor not to Istanbul, the intended final destination of what he called “the Great Trudge”, but to Burgas, 50 miles from the Turkish border.

Although Leigh Fermor was still rewriting the manuscript shortly before his death, the work was problematic, for reasons Artemis Cooper makes clear in her brilliant recent biography of the man. Now she and the travel writer and novelist Colin Thubron have prepared the work for publication. This, clearly, has involved more than spell-checking, although they claim that “there is scarcely a phrase that is not his”.

The first two volumes were a joy to read, not least for Leigh Fermor’s ability to recapture in later life the intense excitement of being a young man lighting out. The latest book offers similar joys. His allowance of £1 a week – bank notes arriving like manna at post offices along the way – was enough to live modestly. Travelling mostly on foot, in leather jacket, knee breeches and puttees, with backpack, Hungarian walking stick and “uncompromising” boots, carrying two books of verse in the backpack and a head full of literature and history, he has his fair share of luck and adventure in a continent that was still a mystery. There are nights in shepherds’ huts, down-at-heel hotels, palaces, and a brothel he mistook for an inn. And while his older self clearly enjoyed writing about the nights of revelry around campfires with belly-dancing Greek fishermen and other wild characters, he was also happy to laugh at the young Leigh Fermor – for not realising that the woman who welcomed him so warmly into the brothel expected more from him than his head on a pillow.

Also evident are another of the joys of the earlier books – the pyrotechnics of his writing. Exuberance is expressed in heightened suggestions: a cat is panther-like, a silence falls “like angels flying overhead” and swifts make a sound like scissors in a barber shop. The descriptions of waking in unfamiliar places are so seductive that even the most home-hugging reader will long to wake somewhere unknown. And some of the evocations of landscapes and views will live long in the memory, including one of a muezzin calling from a mosque and another of the town of Tirnovo, with its “winged insurrection of houses plumed by belfries and trees”.

The first two books were written without the help of original notes, which had been lost; The Broken Road is based partly on a diary that was returned to Leigh Fermor in 1965. So instead of writing what the editors call “memory-spurred recreations”, we see the older man trying to guess what his younger self did or why he did it. There is also retrospective comment on Europe between the wars from an author who knows that the rise of the Nazis and the coming cold war are about to transform the lives of most people he meets.

Leigh Fermor completed his physical journey in Istanbul on the last day of 1934, then continued to the monasteries of Mount Athos in Greece. The literary journey concludes without reaching its goal, hence the book’s title. The editors have included sketchy diary entries for Istanbul and more fully written descriptions of Mount Athos, although Leigh Fermor was not convinced about putting them in his story, and with good reason.

The bulk of The Broken Road was written 30 years after the journey. I am reading it 50 years after it was first put down. While it is not the literary masterpiece it might have been had Leigh Fermor been able to work his magic, it captures the joy of the open road, the fresh view he gives of Europe as it began to show the stresses that led to world war, and the glimpses of a long-lost life and innocence.

The Scotsman review of The Broken Road

In December 1933 the engaging 18-year-old drop-out Paddy Leigh Fermor set off to walk from the Hook of Holland to the city which, as a lifelong philhellene, he would always call Constantinople.

First published in The Scotsman.

With many diversions and congenial breaks in the company of woodcutters and aristocrats, the journey took him a year. Decades later it became apparent to Leigh Fermor and others that he had not only crossed the continent on foot; he had traversed a Europe which was on the brink of irreversible social and political change.

It nonetheless took him a while to write about it. Patrick Leigh Fermor’s literary career was delayed by his characteristically flamboyant wartime activities with the Special Operations Executive. After the Second World War he spent time in the Caribbean. He published his first book, The Traveller’s Tree, about the West Indies in 1950, when he was 35 years old.

Leigh Fermor settled in Greece and his next two books of serious note, Mani and Roumeli, were gorgeously articulated expressions of his love affair with his adopted country.

They also took an ominously long time to write. Mani was published in 1958 and Roumeli in 1966. That was partly due to Leigh Fermor’s painstaking search for stylistic excellence – Melvyn Bragg would later suggest that he was “trying to write the perfect book”. It was also because the author was at least as interested in living the perfect life, which involved heroic quantities of wine, women and song.

A further 11 years lapsed before he considered his account of the first third of his pre-war walk to be fit for print. A Time of Gifts took him from Holland through the simmering early months of Nazi Germany to the border between Czechoslovakia and Hungary. The second volume, which walked from Czechoslovakia to the Danube’s Iron Gates gorge between Serbia and Romania, was titled Between the Woods and the Water and published in 1986.

The exuberance, off-the-wall scholarship, characterisation and teenaged derring-do of those two books initiated and rode the high wave of the 1980s travel writing boom. Patrick Leigh Fermor was garlanded with praise and internationally recognised as one of the greatest of 20th century authors.

The world, not least that part of the world occupied by his publisher John Murray, held its breath and waited for the third and final volume. Leigh Fermor was 71 years old in 1986. But he enjoyed robust good health in his Peloponnesian retreat and he had written on the last page of Between the Woods and the Water the three promising words “To be Concluded”.

There seemed at first no reason not to hope. Only slowly did it become apparent that one of the saddest cases of writer’s block in recent times had descended on that villa in the Mani. Patrick Leigh Fermor had a towering pile of notes and draft manuscript covering his passage from the Iron Gates to Constantinople, but he was unable to convert them into the book which satisfied his own unique standards.

John Murray persuaded his author to publish collections of letters and essays. As the years passed it became clear that those were pale substitutes for the completion of what would have been an immortal trilogy. Patrick Leigh Fermor died in June 2011 at the age of 96 years. He left no third volume. He did leave the pile of notes and first-copy manuscript.

They have been worked up by his friend and biographer Artemis Cooper and his friend and fellow travel writer Colin Thubron and published as The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos.

The editors’ title, an acknowledgement that Leigh Fermor’s literary journey was unfinished, is perfect. In their introduction Thubron and Cooper are honest to the point of apology in admitting that this story cannot reasonably compare to the finished product of Patrick Leigh Fermor in midseason form.

The sentences are almost all Leigh Fermor’s, and usually recognisably so. But as Cooper pointed out in her biography, part of the brilliance of the first two volumes lay in the fact that Leigh Fermor novelised his travels. That is not to say that he made much up. It is to say that he constructed and polished his narrative; he expertly conflated characters and relocated incidents. From the fertile ground of his own irrepressible self and his glorious adventures he cultivated an astonishing Bildungsroman in a world so lost that it may as well be fictional.

The Broken Word, on the other hand, remains a draft, albeit a draft edited by skilled and sympathetic hands. It is also a Patrick Leigh Fermor draft, which makes it superior to the finished work of most other writers. The youthful joy shines through, and the deep cultural learning that was superimposed in later years is there in sufficient quantity to lend wonder to this fragmented tale.

The book is rarely less than invigorating. At times, as when our hero finds himself riotously overnighting by the Black Sea with a congregation of Bulgarian shepherds and Greek fishermen, The Broken Road has all the verve of the finished article.

It strides towards an ideal conclusion – not in Constantinople, of which Leigh Fermor mysteriously left few accounts, but on Mount Athos. There we find the boy who would come to know Greece better than most Greeks first grasping with delight the modern vernacular and the traditional ways of a land that never ceased to captivate him, and through him, his readers.

This will be the last full book by Patrick Leigh Fermor to appear in print. Anybody who loved its two preceding volumes will fall upon it hungrily. Anybody who has not read the two preceding volumes should do so without delay.

Independent review: The Broken Road, By Patrick Leigh Fermor

A road trip that is as illuminating as it is incomplete made by a traveller, warrior, and jewelled stylist.

by Boyd Tonkin.

First published in the Independent, 13 Septembet 2013.

By then almost as mythical as the heroes of his beloved Greece, Paddy Leigh Fermor – traveller, writer, warrior and scholar – died rich in years and honours in 2011. He left behind, as an unfinished manuscript, a third volume of the memoirs that recreate his youthful “Great Trudge” across Europe between late 1933 and early 1935.

As recounted in A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, this idyllic journey enshrines for countless readers two lost worlds: that of picturesque, romantic Europe before the Nazi and then Communist catastrophes, and of literary travel-writing at its most sensuous, mesmeric and iridescent – a prose equivalent of those Byzantine ikons and frescoes that he would come to love.

The Broken Road – named in token of its incompleteness by editors Colin Thubron and Artemis Cooper, PLF’s outstanding biographer – itself arrives in print after a path as rocky, faint and winding as the upland Balkan tracks across which the author strides. He had lost, forsaken or otherwise parted company with almost all his original journals. Thus every book in this (now) trilogy counts as a “jigsaw of memory”, with some pieces forever gone astray, and a “private archaeology” in which layers of pristine preservation alternate with random rubble and silt.

In fact, PLF wrote much of this final stretch of the long walk first. It covers his, as always, circuitous trek through Bulgaria and southern Romania, breaking off at Burgas on the Black Sea (not far from his final destination, Istanbul). He began it in the early 1960s; then recollection hit a wall. Other books supervened, and only after 2008, in frail old age, did he return to edit this leg. As an appendix, the editors print a diary that has survived, of his winter sojourn among the monks of a snowbound Mount Athos. Its blend of near-adolescent naivety with glimpses of a jewelled stylist in embryo confirm that the mature PLF fashioned as much as he reported.

From the “Iron Gates” on the Danube, he sweeps down through the highland “wolf and bear world” of Bulgaria to Plovdiv, where a (so we assume) chaste romance with spirited, madcap Nadejda catches the trip’s recurrent mood of sudden affection that flares for a few days and then drops into the darkness of “minor valedictions” or even “shattering deracinations”.

An autumnal tinge, historical as well as seasonal, colours the walk: many of the bewitching Balkan folk he meets were “attached to trails of powder” that would consume them during the looming totalitarian decades. The young Englishman, with his vagabond charm and bubbling curiosity, seems to enchant everyone from Bucharest toffs to Pontic shepherds in a sea-girt cave. Women and men alike fall under his sway (a later page expands on Balkan and Levantine tolerance of homoerotic friendship); but did 19-year-old Paddy, who provokes operetta-like outbursts of devotion and then sulkiness in some male companions, know how much of a flirt and a tease he might have seemed?

Along the way, the “starter’s gun” of his lifelong passions fires: for Byzantine art and culture, and the Greek world in general; for ruggedly sublime scenery and (in contrast) the aristocratic suavity that he laps up, a pampered stray, in Bucharest. Above all, the book lopes from one hallucinatory set-piece to another: the look and feel of a hillside Bulgarian town, its lanes “crisscrossed by buckled and twisted tiger-stripes of sunlight”; the thick airborne carpet of storks on their autumn migration, “a sliding pavilion of feathers overhead”; the “holy and enchanted” ruined mosque where (overcoming his usual anti-Ottoman tilt) he lingers by moonlight accompanied by an equally fabulous black dog.

If his name-dropping immersion in Romanian high society begins to grate, then even the ball-and-salon scenes will be lit by some Proustian lightning-bolt, as when he recalls the “faint and scarcely discernible warp” of the parquet floor at the Palais Stirbey in Bucharest. That shimmering warp of memory and artfully distorting hindsight – “balloons” of afterthought” – reaches a culmination in that coastal cave, after a solitary swing down the deserted combes, slopes and crests of the Black Sea coast.

In a lamplit frenzy of mystic dance and song, among Homeric fisherfolk and swains, young Paddy discovers the underground ecstasies of rebetika in all its “quintessence of fatalism”. Glimpsed from the future, he sets a course for the Greece that would keep his prose dancing ever after.

The Last Hurrah

Sound the trumpets. Let rip the Byzantine chorus of clattering bells and gongs, the thunder of cannons, drums and flashing Greek fire. Raid cellars and let champagne corks fly. Eighty years after Patrick Leigh Fermor’s epic trudge across Europe, 20 years after the death of his long-suffering publisher Jock Murray, ten years after the passing of his wife Joan, and two years after his own death, the elusive third volume that so tormented him is published at last. The travel trilogy is complete. It is, as John Murray reminds us, the literary event of the year. But for those who admire Paddy’s densely beautiful prose, can this awkward, unformed orphan live up to its billing?

By Justin Marrozi

First published in The Spectator, 7 September 2013.

There is no need to rehearse the extraordinary genesis and gestation of its predecessors, A Time of Gifts, published in 1977, the small matter of four decades after the walk, and Between the Woods and the Water (1986), both classics of 20th-century travel writing. ‘To be concluded,’ were the final words of the second volume. Ever since, silence.

Fans of Paddy wondered what was happening in his sunlit writing-room in Kardamyli in the southern Peloponnese. ‘When might the final volume see the light of day?’, I asked him there in 2006. He was 91, and the question was unfair. It was ‘all a bit grim,’ he said. Writing was ‘rather difficult’.No wonder. He was suffering from tunnel vision, was unable to type, disliked dictation and had no assistant. Strangely, the early draft of this last leg of the walk, which he started to write in 1962 and was still editing a few months before his death, predated the first two books.

How to reconcile the parallel journeys of an 18-year-old walking from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople (never Istanbul) in 1933 and the later literary travels of a much older man setting this great walk to prose? This was always the challenge — and a prodigious test of memory, for the notebooks had been lost. In the end it proved too much for him. It is odd to think that a man who reached the grand old age of 96 was outlived by the great walk of his youth.

The Broken Road finds Paddy, last seen at the Iron Gates on the Romanian Danube, tramping south east across the Bulgarian plains. Reassuringly dazzling set pieces abound. There are dreamy days exploring monasteries and forests with the frowning beauty Nadjeda, ‘a ravishing hybrid vision, half captured Circassian princess, half Byronic heroine’. And a charming cameo of the black dog that trots beside Paddy in the Great Balkan mountains, barking furiously at an enormous full moon (dog-lovers will appreciate the diminutive black quadruped adorning the handsome cover, designed by Ed Kluz in the style of John Craxton’s artwork for Paddy’s earlier books).

With Constantinople finally in reach to the south after almost a year on the road, Paddy suddenly embarks instead on a great northerly loop into Romania. After slogging up mountains and sleeping in swineherds’ huts and forest clearings, sophisticated, high-society Bucharest has him agog. He throws himself into it con brio, with ‘the zest of a barbarian padding wild-eyed with longing for luxury and corruption through the palaces and fountained courtyards of Diocletian, or of a Parthian in Antioch’. This is, after all, a man who proclaimed himself unboreable during the trans-Europe pilgrimage. ‘My mouth was as unexactingly agape as the seal’s to the flung bloater.’

This is vintage — and nascent — Paddy. Here is the fascination with foreign languages, folklore, history, genealogy, sartorial styles and, of course, pretty girls. Costumes of hook-nosed crones, dishevelled army officers, rain-soused shepherds, raki-soaked fishermen and buttoned-up diplomats are painted in technicolour splendour. Bishops and archimandrites officiate in copes ‘as stiff and brilliant as beetles’ wings’. The constitutional objection to almost all things Turkish is undimmed. Paddy reads his first Dostoevsky in these pages and takes his first steps into Greece, a country that would help define him in subsequent decades, not least after kidnapping a German general on Crete in 1944 and making his home in the Peloponnese in the 1960s.

The facility for procuring a bed for the night was always remarkable. ‘How often I ended up under some friendly roof scot free!’, writes the Anglo-Irish charmer, who seduced aristocrats, platonically and otherwise, the length and breadth of Europe.

Overshadowing all these pictures of pastoral happiness is the spectre of the forthcoming war and the knowledge that the Iron Curtain would separate him — and at the time of writing already had — from dear friends, many of whom were later annihilated.

Paddy was not given to much personal reflection and introspection in his books. It is an unexpected pleasure to find rather more of the man in The Broken Road. Perhaps later polishing would have culled these unusually revealing sections. There are frank passages on the black depressions that would recur during his life. The on-the-page wrestling with memory, confronting the distressing blanks that inevitably surge up from distant decades, exposes the tortured inner workings of the creative process. How is it, he wonders, that memory can obscure the most important aspects of a life-changing encounter but preserve crystalline irrelevances: ‘Daysprings veiled and epiphanies in plain clothes.’

The journey ends not in Constantinople but in mid-sentence. Hence The Broken Road. Bizarrely. Paddy never managed to write up the longed-for object of his pilgrimage. Did it not live up to expectations? The final section, altogether different in tone, is the unworked diary from 1935, rich in innocence and intellectual discovery among the monasteries of Mount Athos.

How fitting, for a man so young at heart, with such a boundless appetite for life, that his last published words should be those of a wide-eyed 20-year-old, embarking on what will be a lifelong love affair with Greece. His editors, Colin Thubron and Artemis Cooper, have put this book to bed with skill and sensitivity. Friends and fans, acolytes, devotees and disciples can all rest easy. It was worth the wait.

The Broken Road: retracing the steps of a wild adventure

Walking in the footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor from Rotterdam to Constantinople, Nick Hunt found that, 78 years later, everything and nothing has changed.

Interview by Adrian Bridge

First published in the Telegraph, 12 Sep 2013

Walking through the continent, Nick saw the scenic beauty of Transylvania

This month the last volume was published of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s epic walk from Rotterdam to Constantinople, a journey he undertook in 1933/34. But how much has changed since Leigh Fermor’s day? Nick Hunt, a modern-day adventurer, is in a good position to say because he has recently retraced Leigh Fermor’s footsteps. This is what he found:

Why did you want to undertake this journey?

I was given A Time of Gifts when I was 18, the same age as Leigh Fermor when he set off on his journey. He was describing exactly what I wanted to do, which was to go out and have adventures and explore the world. I decided I’d do that journey one day: and 12 years later, at the age of 30, I did.

What was it about the route itself that appealed?

The books conveyed a great sense of freedom and wildness, mystery and wonder. The Europe of those books is a very magical place and I wanted to see if that magic still existed. These days we assume that Europe has become homogenised and dull; that it is a very tame continent. People go away to the other side of the world – that’s what I did as well – seeking this wonder out there somewhere, and I really wanted to see whether it is still possible to find it in Europe.

And is it?

Yes. I was amazed by how quickly things changed across borders: borders that are unmanned and unguarded. The most amazing crossing was at the border between Austria and Slovakia, when immediately everything was different: people smelled different, looked different; roads were different and buildings were different. For 50 years this was the crossroads between East and West, and it is still the place where you move between the Germanic and Slavic worlds.

Paddy’s first passport photo

How long did it take you and what did it cost?

I set off on December 9, 2011 – exactly 78 years to the day after Leigh Fermor did – but whereas it took him 13 months, I completed the walk in seven. I gave myself a budget of £50 a week – the equivalent of the £1 a week Paddy allowed himself back in 1933. In total I walked some 2,500 miles through eight countries: Holland, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey.

So initially you were walking in the winter?

I wanted to walk through Germany and Bavaria in snow – that seemed to be the truest manifestation of that kind of fairy tale. Walking on dry snow is quite pleasant, and you don’t get too hot and sweaty. Of course it got dark early and night times were hard.

Were people you met aware of the Leigh Fermor books and still interested in them?

Before I left I was shocked to discover how well known he was. People from all over the world wrote to offer support and encouragement. Many said they had dreamed of doing something similar: there was a lot of vicarious enthusiasm for what I was doing. Once I was on the road, people were very curious about this account of their village written by an English writer who came through it nearly 80 years ago. One of the things I enjoyed most was showing people the passage in the book where their village was mentioned and reading it aloud.

What did you find that chimed most with Leigh Fermor’s account?

There was a lot more continuity with Paddy’s journey than I expected, especially in terms of how kind and generous people were. There was also continuity in the landscape. Even in Germany, walking along the Rhine is still quite special. There may be a big road running alongside it now, but it is still possible to see this older, wilder Europe.

The Rhine

I was also amazed by how little people’s prejudices had changed, especially in the east. Some of the things Slovaks were saying about Hungarians, Hungarians about everyone, Romanians about Hungarians, Romanians about Bulgarians – it could have been cut and pasted from the pages of the books. People have long memories.

Were you, like Paddy, entertained by counts?

No, but I did experience extraordinary hospitality. For the early part of my journey I stayed on people’s couches (arranged through the couch-surfing website). I was constantly amazed at people’s generosity, and the farther east I went the friendlier they became: in the latter stages of the journey it became common for people to say, “I’ve got friends in the next village, I’ll give them a call,” so I started staying with friends of friends rather than booking.

I had a tent with me, and once the weather turned warmer I began to camp out. Towards the end I struggled to spend my £50 a week: transport was covered, I hardly ever had to pay for accommodation; it was just food and occasional chocolate treats.

What was most different from what Leigh Fermor experienced?

Right away you see the impact of the war, especially in Holland and Germany. Rotterdam was flattened – one of many cities whose medieval hearts had been wiped out and turned into corporate, commercial hubs full of the same shops you can see in London.

Rotterdam

Farther along the route the hydroelectric dams on the Danube summed up for me the process of industrialisation that has tamed so many of the wilder parts of the continent’s rivers. Also, although I didn’t stay with a count, I did meet one of the descendants of one of the families that hosted Paddy. Their country home, once a place of dinners and dances, had been nationalised after the war and turned into a psychiatric hospital. That spoke volumes.

What were your favourite parts of the journey?

Walking through Transylvania and the Carpathian Mountains: the culture was warm and generous and I loved the fact that people still have time for old-fashioned courtesies. I was amazed at how little impact Ceausescu’s attempts to remodel that society had. It was in the Carpathians, too, that I felt completely alone. I was quite high, above the snow line, and not altogether sure about what I was doing. In terms of the adventure, that was pretty wonderful. Earlier on in the journey I had fantasised about the baths of Budapest: they didn’t disappoint.

And the not-so-good bits?

I didn’t enjoy trekking through miles of suburbs. Or walking on tarmac. In the southern German city of Ulm I had to stop for three weeks because of an Achilles tendon injury. On the plus side, I discovered the wonder of the German health service, but it was frustrating. Getting attacked by stray dogs in Romania was pretty hairy – as was coming face to face with a wild boar.

I can’t say I liked the “Sunny Beach” in Bulgaria between Varna and Burgas. Paddy described this stretch of coastline as one of the most delightful – offering solitude and peace, space and silence. Today it is just a long strip of concrete: one hotel after another.

Is walking the best way to go?

Absolutely. When you walk you are exposed to everything. You feel everything – the weather, you absorb all the atmosphere of the place around you – and you notice things that in a car would just be a blur. That said, much of the route I took was not pretty.

Paddy on horseback in Moldova

My advice to anyone doing a trip of this kind would be to try to find interest in everything you see. When I was in Budapest and said I was heading for the Great Hungarian Plain I was told to prepare for the 10 most boring days of my life. It is true the plain is no longer the wild place that Paddy described. But I found it quite extraordinary just having this space and silence, huge empty horizons, dust and heat. It felt a bit like walking through a desert. I’d advise avoiding tarmac (even walking through leaves and mud is preferable). And I’d advise taking a very good pair of boots.

What was the most important thing you learnt from your walk?

That the woods are not full of axe murderers and that people are generally quite kind and helpful and hospitable. That was heart-warming, and that was what I had wanted to believe. I also learnt how to slow down. At the beginning I got frustrated at how slowly I was travelling. It took a while to shake off the mentality of having to get somewhere quickly and to realise that I wasn’t trying to get anywhere in a hurry: that the destination was much less important than the getting there.

Are we going to have to wait 80 years for a full account of your walk to appear in print?

No. The book will be out next spring.

* ‘Walking the Woods and the Water: in Patrick Leigh Fermor’s footsteps from the Hook of Holland to the Golden Horn’ by Nick Hunt (Nicholas Brealey Publishing) is due out in spring 2014.

Patrick Leigh Fermor celebrated author of one of greatest travel books ever written

By Michael Dirda.

First published in the Washington Post, 23 October 2013.

In the annals of armchair adventure, nothing can rival a travel classic by a good-looking, sandy-haired young Englishman — or Englishwoman. If you’re planning ahead for some ideal winter’s reading, you can’t go wrong with any of the following:

  •  A.W. Kinglake’s “Eothen.”
  •  Peter Fleming’s “Brazilian Adventure.”
  •  Freya Stark’s “The Valleys of the Assassins.”
  •  Robert Byron’s “The Road to Oxiana.”
  •  Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s “The Worst Journey in the World.”
  •  Sybille Bedford’s “A Visit to Don Otavio.”
  •  Wilfred Thesiger’s “Arabian Sands.”
  •  Eric Newby’s “A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush.”
  •  Bruce Chatwin’s “In Patagonia.”

All of these are wondrous. Still, the most beautifully written of modern “travel books” — an awkward term — may well be Patrick Leigh Fermor’s “A Time of Gifts” (1977) closely followed by its sequel “Between the Woods and the Water” (1986). These two volumes lyrically memorialize a youthful walk across Europe in 1933-34, starting from the Hook of Holland and passing through Germany and much of Eastern Europe. A never-completed final volume — drafts of which will be published in March (in the US) as “The Broken Road” — would have followed its boyish hero to Constantinople and Mount Athos.

While most of Leigh Fermor’s work is highly personal, his various books — and these include one about the Caribbean, “The Traveller’s Tree” (1950), and two about Greece, “Mani” (1958) and “Roumeli” (1966) — offer only carefully chosen glimpses of his long and astonishing life (he died at age 96 in 2011). Artemis Cooper’s excellent biography, “Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure,” fills in the details, corrects errors and makes clear that Paddy — as he was always known — often conflated incidents or fudged details in his writing, sometimes for reasons of art, sometimes to protect a friend or a woman’s reputation.

When Paddy began his European rambles, he was not quite 19. Up until then he had been an indifferent student, although passionate about reading and gifted with a phenomenal memory. Paddy also possessed, along with good looks, daring and boundless curiosity and a seemingly irresistible charm. He originally expected to doss down in haystacks and barns as he trudged along; in fact, he regularly smiled his way into country houses, consulates and baronial manors — and sometimes into the beds of young women and lonely divorcees. Letters of introduction then eased his way into other homes. As he cheerfully sauntered along, he would belt out each region’s folk songs.

At the end of his journey, Paddy met Princess Balasha Cantacuzene, a scion of one of the great dynasties of Moldavia and Wallachia. She was 16 years his senior, but the two fell in love and the young Englishman passed four idyllic years living on her family estate at Baleni in what was then known as Rumania. During these years he read voraciously — history, reference works, Mallarmé, Apollinaire, Gide, Proust, Tolstoy and much else. To his personal magnetism and general sexiness, the magpielike Paddy soon added a mind filled with poetry and out-of-the-way knowledge.

When Britain declared war on Germany, the stylish young adventurer immediately left Baleni to enlist. He was, at this point, all of 24. But Paddy already knew much of Europe intimately, had made friends everywhere, and could speak French, German, Romanian and Greek. He was a natural for the Intelligence Corps.

Lieutenant, later Major Leigh Fermor spent much of the war behind the lines in Crete, helping to coordinate its resistance to the Germans. Periodically, though, he would be pulled out for R&R in Cairo, where he partied all night, slept in the arms of exotic girlfriends and drank champagne with King Farouk. During one particularly orgiastic revel, the young intelligence officer came up with a plan to kidnap the commanding German general in his area of Crete. It would give a boost to the partisans’ morale. He eventually recruited his admiring friend William Stanley Moss to join him in this crazy exploit.

The two actually brought it off. Dressed as German border patrolmen, Paddy and Moss stopped General Heinrich Kreipe’s car, which was immediately surrounded by Cretan guerrillas. For more than two weeks, the ambushers and their victim eluded capture until they were able to rendezvous with their escape boat. In her biography, Cooper provides the most detailed account available of this “hussar stunt,” the highlight of which occurred on a morning when the raiding party was hiding in a cave:

“No one slept well that night, and as dawn broke and the sun illuminated the great snow-streaked hump of Mount Ida, the General murmured a line in Latin: ‘Vides ut alta stet nive candidum Soracte.’ ”

As it happened, this was not only a poem that Paddy had once translated — the line from Horace means, in his schoolboy version, “See Soracte’s mighty peak stands deep in virgin snow” — but one that he knew by heart. Taking up where Kreipe had paused, the youthful British major went on to recite the entire poem.

Cooper then quotes Paddy’s own account of what happened next:

“The General’s blue eyes swivelled away from the mountain-top to mine — and when I’d finished, after a long silence, he said, ‘Ach so, Herr Major!’ It was very strange. ‘Ja, Herr General.’ As though, for a long moment, the war had ceased to exist. We had both drunk at the same fountain long before; and things were different between us for the rest of our time together.”

This whole adventure was later chronicled in W. Stanley Moss’s minor classic “Ill Met By Moonlight.”

After the war, Paddy — now all of 30 — found work at the British Institute in Athens, where his colleagues included the historian of the Crusades Steven Runciman and the translator and novelist Rex Warner. But, despite all his gifts or because of them, Paddy couldn’t hold a 9-to-5 job. He was too free-spirited, too feckless, in some ways, too spoiled. For years he would rely on, sometimes live on, the generosity of rich and aristocratic friends and lovers.

And there were many. When he finally returned to England, Paddy cemented his connections with the aging members of the Brideshead Generation. The second half of Cooper’s biography is packed with the usual names: critic Cyril Connolly, the famous beauty Diana Cooper (the biographer’s grandmother), the Duchess of Devonshire (nee Deborah Mitford), Ann Fleming (wife of Ian), poet John Betjeman and many others. With Joan Rayner, whom he had first met in Cairo, Paddy would settle into a permanent, if extremely open relationship. By the time the two finally married in 1968, they had already bought property in Kardamyli, Greece, and built their ideal house (marble, open air, lots of books, cats), where they would welcome celebrated friends, former Cretan partisans and numerous admirers of Paddy’s books.

Easily distracted and as much a perfectionist as Flaubert, Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor — as he eventually became — always found writing difficult. His descriptions are like tapestries, rich in color and intricate design; his bravura diction often requires a dictionary close at hand; and sometimes his weaker pages are clotted and overwrought. Yet “A Time of Gifts” marvelously evokes an ancient Mitteleuropa now almost wholly vanished. If you’ve never read it, do; and if you have, you’ll certainly want to follow up with this fine biography of its adventurous and romantic author.

Dirda reviews books for The Washington Post every Thursday.

 Artemis Cooper will be at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave NW, at 6 p.m. Nov. 2. Call 202-364-1919.

Patrick Leigh Fermor: his final journey

Artemis Cooper and Colin Thubron on PLF walkColin Thubron introduces an exclusive extract from Patrick Leigh Fermor’s ‘The Broken Road’, the concluding part of his account of his teenage walk across Europe.

By Colin Thubron with Patrick Leigh Fermor

First published in the Telegraph 1 September 2013.

Patrick Leigh Fermor never quite completed the long-awaited third volume of his youthful journey across Europe. He was 18 when he set out to walk from Holland to Turkey in 1933, but the first two magnificent books recording this epic – A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water were published only in 1977 and 1986 respectively. The second ended with the implacable words “To be Concluded”, and for years expectations ran high that a final book would follow, carrying its hero from the Iron Gates, on the Romanian-Bulgarian border, to Constantinople.

But for Paddy (as friends and fans called him) a long ice age set in: a writer’s block that dogged him for the rest of his life. On completion of the second volume he was already in his seventies, and the pressure of expectation, the demands of his highly wrought style and his own perfectionism were overwhelming.

Yet ironically a near-complete draft of the third volume – written in pen on stiff sheets of paper – had been lying for years on a shelf in his study, in three black ring binders, all but forgotten. It had been composed following a request from Holiday magazine in 1962 that he record his whole trek in a 5,000-word essay. Paddy abandoned this essay when it reached the Iron Gates, but then launched into a full-scale retrieval of his trek’s last stretch: a work he eventually gave the stopgap title of A Youthful Journey. Then this, in turn, was abandoned, with the realisation that he must start all over again, and describe his walk from its beginning.

The initial two volumes were written virtually from memory: a prodigious feat of recall coupled with a rich imagination. His first diary of the journey was stolen in a Munich youth hostel in 1934. His later diaries went missing during the Second World War. But a final one, covering the last stretch of his trek, was preserved by his first great love, the Romanian princess Balasha Cantacuzène, who hurled it into her suitcase in the few minutes allowed her by communist officials when she was ejected from her estate in 1949.

Patrick Leigh Fermor at the Rila monastery, Bulgaria, autumn 1934

Patrick Leigh Fermor at the Rila monastery, Bulgaria, autumn 1934

Yet this diary, recovered from Balasha in Romania during a clandestine visit by Paddy in 1965, did nothing to cure his writer’s block.

Perhaps its callow text conflicted with the more mature writing of A Youthful Journey; or perhaps the factual discrepancies in the two versions troubled him. Only in 2008, when already in his nineties, did he seriously begin, painfully and intermittently, to revise the Great Trudge, as he called it. But by now he was suffering from tunnel vision, and his stamina was failing. He died in 2011 at the age of 96, still working on the narrative in a fragile hand.

So it fell to two of his three literary executors, his biographer Artemis Cooper and myself, to prepare the text for publication.

A Youthful Journey was largely written between 1963 and 1964, in prolix bursts of enthusiasm, and its grammar, punctuation and even its style were far from what Paddy considered finished. In our revision we laboured to preserve his inimitable style, while clarifying and refining the text in a process as close as we could get to his exacting practice. There is not a sentence that is not his.

But The Broken Road is our own title. It acknowledges not only that Paddy never, in the end, continued his written journey to Constantinople – it stops 50 miles short of the Turkish frontier – but also that this is not the exuberantly polished volume that he would have most desired. Yet it includes passages perhaps as fine as any he wrote. Its editing was aided by our sense of Paddy’s previous work, of course, by our knowledge of the man himself, and by his few hints and tentative suggestions. And here his journey must rest.

Map accompanying The Broken Road

Map accompanying The Broken Road

Extracts from Patrick Leigh Fermor’s ‘The Broken Road’

“The party went with a bhang”

The lights of Tirnovo were beginning to twinkle in every window, the sun had set, and the prospect of my St Jerome-like hermitage loomed rather bleakly, especially compared to the gleaming interior of the grocer’s: the barrels of anchovies, the hanging flitches, the lamplight refracting a battery of bottles, the dried figs impaled on skewers of bamboo, the kegs and crates and jars and the pyramids of wares from Germany and Austria, the scarlet bacon slicer with its flashing disc of blade, the huge cheeses and the cubistic mounds of halva. It glowed like Aladdin’s cave.

But the shop was empty. A boy of about my own age who had been sitting reading a book on the doorstep got up and followed me in. Where was I from? Whither bound?

Cheerful alacrity and a friendly glance accompanied these questions. We were soon perched on the edge of barrels, clinking slivo glasses and exchanging autobiographies. Gatcho was the grocer’s son, and he was looking after the shop while his father was at some ex-officers’ anniversary celebration, a reunion of old comrades from the Balkan wars.

This particular season, once more, seemed to be crowded with holidays and parties and religious feasts, which kept us up late and beset the mornings with headaches. Gatcho demonstrated a way of finding out if the next day was going to be a feast day, by a method about as reliable as predicting a stranger’s arrival by tea leaves. He found my sheepskin kalpack among the heaped-up chattels on my bed. He pounced on it with glee, crying, “Let’s see whether tomorrow is a prazdnik” – a feast – then lifted it above his head and flung it on the floor, which it struck with a dull thud. His brows knitted with vexation. He repeated it several times. If the hat hit the boards fair and square, he explained, it would give a loud report like the explosion of a paper bag. “There we are,” he said. “All’s well. Prazdnik tomorrow.” And so it was.

In the small hours of one of these celebrations, we found ourselves with half a dozen of the blades of Tirnovo in a hut on the outskirts of the town, smoking hashish. The dried and powdered leaves were packed into the tube of a cigarette paper from which deft fingers had laboriously prodded the tobacco. Lit, and then solemnly passed from hand to hand until the clouds of smoke enveloped us with a sweetish vegetable reek, it brought on a faint dizziness and a gregarious onslaught of helpless laughter.

Bulgaria, it appeared, was one of the richest natural hashish gardens in the world. Cannabis indica thrives in embarrassing abundance. Its cultivation, which is scarcely necessary, and its smoking, my companions explained between puffs, were strictly forbidden: “Mnogo zabraneno. Ha! Ha! Ha!” But the ban seemed about as effective as legislation against cow parsley or nettles. I longed for the opportunity to say “the party went with a bhang!” The lack of opportunity to say so, however, didn’t stop me saying it, and dissolving in transports of hilarity at my own wit.

“A soul in hell”

The following days were raining off and on the whole time, soaking the lowlands and an ever-thickening crop of villages. I stuck to the main road, watching occasional cars pass, and, more temptingly, buses, with PYCCE plastered across the front – Russe, the Bulgarian name for [the city of] Rustchuk. On one of these drizzly stretches, I fell in with a fellow wayfarer heading north like me, a young barber from Pazardjik called Ivancho, threadbare and urban and with a face like a hare’s. Where was I from? Anglitchanin? Tchudesno! – “Wonderful!” This revelation was followed by a burst of talk that needed no answer. It was uttered at such speed that I could scarcely understand a word – at the same time eager, confidential and ear­piercing, and without the faintest trace of punctuation, accompanied by many gestures and with a fixed smile and those hare’s eyes projecting and rolling, as though loose in their sockets.

It continued for mile after mile till my head began to swim and ache. I tried to detach myself and draw on inner resources, merely muttering Da or Nè when a pause occurred. But these were not always the right answers and my companion would begin again, catching me by the elbow and prodding me with his forefinger with redoubled urgency and a crablike veer of his fast and tripping gait that always edged me across the road and nearly into the field, till I darted round the other side and into the middle again, only to be seized once more and harangued off the road on the other side with the same smiling urgency and with eyes peering mesmerically so that it seemed impossible to deflect them. Sometimes he was walking backwards in front, almost dancing along the road in reverse, the unstaunchable flow gushing unbroken from his smiling and gabbling lips. Once I turned round in a circle and he danced briskly round in a wider circle still talking faster and faster.

I tried to counter-attack by resolutely bawling Stormy Weather, but it was too slow. He dived in between the bars, so I shifted to The Lincolnshire Poacher, Lillibulero, On a Friday Morn When we Set Sail, and Maurice Chevalier’s Valentine, over and over again. My head was splitting and I sighed for the tomb and the silence of eternity. People had often teased me for gasbag tendencies, especially when a bit drunk. If only they could see this retribution!

There was only one hope. Ivancho belonged to some kind of pan-Bulgarian barbers’ guild – he had showed me a dog-eared card with a snapshot glued to it – and in two nearby villages that we had passed before I realised how it worked, he had entered a barber’s shop, displayed his card and emerged with a handful of leva. In the next village we came to, I took discreetly to my heels and ran full tilt along the road. Looking back, I saw him emerge, catch sight of my diminishing figure, and set off in pursuit. But I had a good start and the distance widened. I pounded on like a stag with a lightening heart and finally, when the road stretched bare behind me, slowed down, free at last. But a few minutes later a northward-bound car slowed down and Ivancho, with a forefinger wagging in playful admonition, leapt from the running-board.

There was nothing for it. All the evening, and all through dinner, the torment continued till at last I lurched to bed, but not to sleep for any time. Fortunately, though, owing to lack of room, different roofs were sheltering us. After a few nightmare-ridden hours, I got up in the dark, paid, and slipped out before breakfast, and away. But I had not gone a furlong before a waiting shadow detached itself from a tree. A cheerful voice, refreshed by sleep, wished me good morning, and a friendly hand fluttered to my shoulder. Day broke slowly.

Stunned and battered, I saw my chance early in the afternoon. We were sheltering from the rain, drinking Russian tea an inch deep in sugar in the kretchma of a large village. A battered bus was drawn up outside, and the driver-­conductor was drinking with some cronies at another table. I left the table with the excuse of the lavatory, and, outside, made a pleading gesture towards the conductor through the glass top of a door. He joined me, and I haltingly explained my case. He had heard and seen the social amenities rattling about my table; perhaps he could tell from my eyes that he was talking to a soul in hell.

Back in the main room I made the treacherous suggestion to Ivancho that we should take the bus to Rustchuk and get out of the rain: I would pay for the journey. Would he please buy the tickets, I said, handing over the money, as my Bulgarian was so bad? He assented eagerly and volubly. There was a hitch at the bus door: he insisted I should get in first. We struggled and the driver shouted impatiently. I managed to shove him in and the driver pulled the lever that slammed the door, and moved off. I could see Ivancho gesticulating and shouting but all in vain. He shot me a harrowing glance from his hare-eyes, I waved, and the rain swallowed them up. In a few minutes, I took a side-path through a field of damp sunflowers. Taking no chances, I followed a wide loop far from the dangers of the main road. The guilt implanted by Ivancho’s reproachful glance almost managed to mar the ensuing feelings of relief and liberation, but not quite. Not even the bitter wind from the east, as steady as an express train, could do that.

The Broken Road book cover

The Broken Road book cover

The book is available to pre-order from Amazon, just click here The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos

Artemis Cooper on Patrick Leigh Fermor’s ‘Broken Road’ at King’s Place Festival

Artemis will be discussing The Broken Road at the King’s Place Festival in London’s King’s Cross on 15 September 2013.

The blurb fails to mention that Colin Thubron jointly edited Paddy’s manuscript with Artemis.

Booking detals can be found here.

The book is available to pre-order from Amazon, just click here The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos

Preview copy of The Broken Road

The Broken Road book cover

The Broken Road book cover

Not only did I have a lovely meal last night with friends, and awoke to a beautiful English summer’s morning, but my preview copy of The Broken Road was delivered this morning. It looks as beautiful as you would expect and I was pleased to see that Colin Thubron is given “lead billing” as editor; Colin has sometimes been overlooked but this is very much a joint project with Artemis Cooper.

I am looking forward to reading it in my lunch break today!!

The book is available to pre-order from Amazon, just click here The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos

Xan Fielding Crete books to be republished

Xan Fielding in Crete

Xan Fielding (front centre) in Crete

I have just discovered that Xan Fielding’s books about his time in SOE and wartime Crete are to be republished by Paul Dry Books and will be available, if Amazon is to be believed, in June 2013.

Hide and Seek: The Story of a War-Time Agent
is available for pre-order now at £9.95 on Amazon – pre-order through the link above.

The Stronghold: The Four Seasons in the White Mountains of Crete
is also available for pre-order now at £9.95 on Amazon – pre-order through the link above.

These books are very difficult to get hold of and The Stronghold in particular is quite rare and sells for between £200-£500 on eBay.

Paul Dry Books link is here.

Don’t forget that you can also pre-order the third volume of Paddy’s trilogy,The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos

The Broken Road – book cover artwork

The Broken Road book cover

The Broken Road book cover

A message from Artemis Cooper who is preparing Vol Three – The Broken Road – with Colin Thubron.

Here is the art work for ‘The Broken Road’, the final volume of Paddy’s great walk which comes out on 12 September… it is by Ed Kluz, a great choice of artist by John Murray. Ed is very much in the English pastoral and Romantic tradition, like John Craxton who did all the covers for Paddy’s books. I know Paddy would have LOVED it.

Available to pre-order from Amazon The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos

‘A Tonic and a Treat’ – Patrick Leigh Fermor: A Celebration

Last Wednesday over seven hundred people packed out the main lecture hall of the Royal Geographic Society to hear Colin Thubron question Artemis Cooper about Paddy’s life in a joint event with the Royal Society of Literature, of which Colin is President. The event, sponsored by Art Tours, was entertaining, if perhaps a little shorter than one would have liked.

By Tom Sawford.

Artemis revealed how difficult it was to get Paddy to talk about his life, his experience and friends until on one visit to Kardamyli after Joan’s death she found every horizontal surface of his study, including the floor, covered with groaning piles of books, magazines, journals and personal correspondence (and I daresay some unpaid bills!). She offered to help him create some order and in doing so she started to ask questions: ‘I didn’t know that you had met so-and-so’ at which point Paddy, always happy to be distracted from his Herculean struggle with Vol Three, would brighten and start to expound on this outing, that visit or other glittering adventure. It was in this way that Artemis was able to make notes and get behind what she describes as the ‘waterfall’ of banter when asked directly to talk about his life.

It appears also that Paddy was perhaps always happy to receive visitors and recount old stories as he suffered both from bouts of personal depression and writer’s block.  Colin Thubron described the time that he and Paddy went for a long swim at Kardamyli and when well away from the house and others he talked to Colin about his struggles with this block, and his inability to understand this and his state of mind. Artemis said that Paddy was not ‘an intellectual’ and did not think too deeply. He was a ‘polymath’, less inclined to ask why, but rather dazzled, entertained, and fascinated by outward appearances and the sheer joy of being.

The other great excuse for not working was his correspondence with the three great correspondents of his life: Debo Devonshire, Annie Fleming and Diana Cooper. They were an ‘entertainment’ which Paddy approached with great enthusiasm and which ‘took up a lot of his time’ enabling him to divert his energies from his other writing.

We were also given a glimpse of The Broken Road (Vol Three) which is being edited jointly by Artemis and Colin. As the biography tells us it will be based almost entirely on the work that Paddy wrote in the early sixties for a US magazine ‘A Youthful Journey’ which was meant to be no more than 5,000 words. Once Paddy had reached the Romanian-Bulgarian border in this retelling he was suddenly gripped by a passion to write down this story in great detail, the result being over 50,000 words about the leg from Romania to Istanbul, although Colin said that the account does not include his time in the City.

Colin told us that this is difficult work, and they are being most careful not to add their own words. There is much work to be done but as I was told last week by Roland Phillips from John Murray, the publication date remains September 2013, not far short of the 70th anniversary of the start of Paddy’s youthful journey.

During the question and answer session a variety of subjects were raised from the condition of the house at Kardamylli – things are moving forward – to whether or not the Horace ode recitation actually did happen – yes it did but it may not have been on Mount Ida.

When it came to the last question a rather large man, wrapped in colourful braces stood up and shouted out that this was not a question but a statement, a Traveller’s Tribute. I think I could hear the whole audience groan quietly in apprehension, but all turned out well. Holding up a copy of the biography he boomed ‘This book is nothing short of a tonic and a treat! It kept me sane today during a long and boring train journey from Scotland!!’ Cue laughter and applause.

The event was sponsored by Art Tours who are arranging a tour of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Mani in the spring of 2013. Places are limited and already about half are taken so if you wish to go on this tour, which will include Artemis Cooper as a guide and key speaker, please make contact with Edward Gates at Art Tours as quickly as you can edward[at]arttoursltd.com

In addition Art Tours have 15 signed copies of the biography Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure to give away in a competition. To have a chance of winning, please send your Name, Postal Address, email address, and telephone number to Edward. Winners will be contacted in early November.

If you would like to know more about the Mani tour please download this pdf or contact Edward Gates at Art Tours Ltd on +44 (0)207 449 9707 or by email edward[at]arttoursltd.com

 

Patrick Leigh Fermor’s archive acquired by the National Library of Scotland

From a National Library of Scotland press release dated today.

The archive of one of the most important travel writers of the 20th century and a war hero whose exploits were made into a major film has been acquired by the National Library of Scotland (NLS).

Sir Patrick (Paddy) Leigh Fermor, who died last year at the age of 96, is regarded as a central figure in understanding and appreciating mid-20th century culture.

To describe his life as colourful does scant justice to the reality. At the age of 18 he set off to walk from the Hook of Holland to Istanbul , a year long journey described in his books A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water. The Independent described the former as “rightly considered to be among the most beautiful travel books in the language.”

His war record is equally impressive. After the fall of Crete in 1941, he was sent back to the island to organise guerrilla operations against the occupying Nazis. He spent much of this time disguised as a Cretan shepherd, living in freezing mountains caves.

In 1944 Leigh Fermor organised one of the most daring feats of the war when he kidnapped the commander of the German garrison on Crete . This was made into a film Ill Met by Moonlight in 1956 starring Dirk Bogarde.

The archive consists of literary manuscripts and typescripts, correspondence with leading figures including the poet Sir John Betjeman, photographs, passports, portrait sketches and personal papers including visitor books and various honours awarded to Leigh Fermor. One of the star items is the only surviving notebook from his youthful trek across Europe .

It offers an unrivalled insight into his life and writings and adds to the wealth of travel literature at NLS. Acquisition of this archive is seen as helping to establish NLS at the forefront of 20th century travel literature research collections

“This is a fantastic collection which will be made available at NLS,” said David McClay, Manuscripts Curator. “We hope it will excite people who know of Paddy and introduce him to a whole new generation of people who may not be aware of his work.”

Its arrival at NLS comes just before a new biography of Leigh Fermor by the British writer and family friend Artemis Cooper is to be published.

Leigh Fermor died before he could complete the third volume in his travel trilogy. Artemis Cooper has worked on the uncompleted manuscript and this third volume – entitled The Broken Road – is expected to be published in 2013. This will all add to the interest in Leigh Fermor’s life and in the NLS archive.

The archive has been bought with a grant from the John R Murray Charitable Trust which assists NLS in the care and promotion of access to the Library’s John Murray Archive. Leigh Fermor was published by the Murray family.

The connection with the Murray publishing house was one of the reasons NLS was chosen by Leigh Fermor’s executors as the home for his archive. He also knew the Library, having donated his wife’s photographic collection to NLS just before he died.

NLS has also taken possession of the personal archive of Leigh Fermor’s close friend Xan Fielding, an author, translator and traveller who also fought in Crete . This has been donated to the Library by Fielding’s family.

Volume Three of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s trilogy to be published in Autumn 2013 and called The Broken Road

We have waited a long time, and now like London buses, or English summer rain, it is all coming at once. Following on from her work on Patrick Leigh Fermor’s biography, An Adventure, to be published in October 2012, Artemis Cooper will pull together Paddy’s work on Volume Three ready for publication in autumn 2013.

The book will have the title The Broken Road. If you Google that you will find a catchy country song by Rascal Flatts. In fact the title has been taken from the sixth volume of Freya Stark’s letters. I am told that everyone concerned with the publication is agreed that it “sets up the right resonances, because although The Broken Road completes the story, the text is taken from more than one unpublished source.”

It is perhaps not well-known that Paddy started to work first on the events of Vol 3. Much of it was written before his defining work on A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, the other two volumes in the trilogy.

Artemis Cooper tells me that although “it does not have their high polish, it does provide an extraordinary insight into Paddy the writer, and the interplay of his memory and imagination.” and whilst “it’s not going to sound like ATOG or BWW”, I am sure it will be one of the most anticipated publication events of next year.

Whilst we wait we can sing along ….