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A Review of Noble Encounters between Budapest and Transylvania

From the July 2018 edition of the Hungarian Review. Gordon McKecknie reviews the recently published Patrick Leigh Fermor: Noble Encounters between Budapest and Transylvania by Michael O’Sullivan. “… he has (…) also given us, through personal and often tragic histories, poignant insights into the enormous social changes that Hungary underwent in the middle years of the twentieth century.”

In December 1933, Patrick Leigh Fermor, then 18, set out from Hook of Holland to walk to Constantinople. It was the first year of Nazi power in Germany, and the last days of the old romantic era there and in the former Habsburg realms of Mitteleuropa, an era that had not quite been swept away by the First World War. Of course, the Second World War – and, for many of the countries that Paddy travelled through, the subsequent dark years of Communism – did sweep the old order away. Since then the landscapes that Paddy tramped through, and the populations he met, have undergone the further, and not-always benign, influence of the ubiquitous automobile, instant global communications, hordes of tourists, a camera in every pocket, the spread of English as the modern lingua franca, and cheap clothing made in distant sweatshops. The old aristocratic way of life that Patrick Leigh Fermor, also known PLF to his numerous friends, saw in its dying days, and nowhere more clearly than in Hungary and Transylvania, vanished not long after his “Great Trudge”.

PLF’s first volume describing his journey – A Time of Gifts – was published in 1977. It became an instant classic among travel books. In painterly and sometimes almost absurdly lyrical language, A Time of Gifts told of his travels through the winter landscapes of the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia, and took him as far as the bridge across the Danube at Esztergom on Holy Saturday 1934, at the beginning of a magical spring and summer spent in Hungary and Transylvania. We had to wait until 1986 for Between the Woods and the Water recounting those Hungarian days. The third volume of the trilogy, The Broken Road, was pulled together from Paddy’s notes by Artemis Cooper (his biographer) and Colin Thubron (a fellow travel writer) after PLF’s death in 2011 at the age of 96. It appeared in 2013.

As PLF wrote in his introduction to Between the Woods and the Water, he had set out “meaning to mix only with chance acquaintances, but almost imperceptibly by the time I got to Hungary and Transylvania I found myself having a much easier time of it than I had expected or planned: ambling along on borrowed horses, drifting from one country house to another, often staying for weeks under patient and perhaps long-suffering but always hospitable roofs”.

Sometimes in his books, PLF tells us what became of the people he met on his 1930s walk across Europe. Fritz Spengel, son of the proprietors of the almost medieval Red Ox in Heidelberg “was killed in Norway (where the first battalion of my own regiment at the time was heavily engaged) and buried at Trondheim in 1940, six years after we met”. The Jewish, Proust-reading Baron Fülöp (Pips) von Schey de Koromla left his country house in Slovakia “when things began to go wrong in Austria and Czechoslovakia”, settled at Ascona on Lake Maggiore, and died in 1957 in Normandy at the home of his daughter, Alix, who had married into the French branch of the Rothschild family. But now, for a more comprehensive view, we have Patrick Leigh Fermor: Noble Encounters between Budapest and Transylvania.

In his very enjoyable book, Michael O’Sullivan follows PLF from the moment he was standing on that Danube bridge, with a letter of introduction to the mayor of Esztergom in his pocket, to Budapest, across the Alföld (the Great Hungarian Plain) and the Bánát region, and into Transylvania. On this part of his journey PLF was the guest of the aristocracy of the land. Continue reading

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Faraway Greek fun in the third largest Greek city

It appears that the most fun is to be had in Melbourne these days. A report by Brent McCunn of some highlights of the recent Greek Week which included talks about Paddy and his Cretan links. Be like Brent; send in your thoughts and articles (no matter how obscure) to share with fellow Paddy enthusiasts in our community.

by Brent McCunn.

Further despatches from the Hellenic outpost of Melbourne-iniki!

What a week of Greek! I remind readers that Melbourne is the third largest Greek city! Our Grecian week started with the inaugural Rebetiko Music Festival at the Melbourne Recital Centre, a prestigious venue!

After recovery, Friday night offered a performance of Cretan music from the visiting Xylouris brothers from Crete. Saturday afternoon saw a lecture by Chris White at the Greek Culture Centre in Melbourne – the topic being, ‘The Resistance of Grete’ during WW2 and in particular the history of Patrick Leigh Fermor, Billy Moss and the SOE. Of particular interest to the audience were the unique collection of ‘then and now photographs’, collated, researched and photographed by Chris White and his brother.

At this point it is important to illustrate the global reach of the PLF Blog. As a result of this correspondent’s earlier post (to this blog), advertising the above lecture, Melbourne subscribers did indeed turn up!

Chris enthralled all with his unique collection of images and has been invited back to present again to a wider audience drawn together by the cultural centres head of lectures – watch this space! I, Brent McCunn then presented details related to the main books on the Subject – Ill Met by Moonlight and Abducting a General – and how to purchase copies.

We then attended the Messines Community’s Greek Independence dinner and dance (Once they found about the lecture it was compulsory for us to attend this event – how Greek!) – Messines is the region where Paddy and Joan’s house was located. Whilst at the Messiness dinner your correspondent spent quite a few minutes on Google maps, with locals, being shown the family village and its relationship to Kardamyli!

One for the road in Greece means an impromptu music session at a local Greek restaurant! Katerina Douka, a well known Rebetiko singer from Thessaloniki, who appeared at the Rebetiko festival with her band, was still in town and gathered some local musicians and presented an enthralling session of northern Greek music. Food, wine and beer flowed of course.

Chris’s lecture became a feature story (by Jim Clavens) in the local Greek newspaper which is published in both English and Greek. A main thrust was to seek out decedents of the villages featured in the Kreipe kidnap and SOE operations. They have been asked to make contact and add their histories.

Your Philhellene correspondent in Melbourne,

Brent (alpopolous) McCunn from Passport Travel.

The ANZAC Cretan theme continues in Melbourne in the month of April with a lecture by Professor Peter Monteath. Entry is free.

When: 19 April 2018 at 19:00
Where: The Ithacan Philanthropic Society, Level 2, 329 Elizabeth Street
Synopsis: In the Second World War many thousands of ANZAC’s were sent to mainland Greece and then Crete in the hope of preventing German invasion and occupation – but to no avail. After the Battle of Crete hundreds of ANZAC’s were stranded on the island and spent weeks, months and even years trying to get off it.

This presentation looks at the experiences of those ANZAC’s who found themselves trapped, but who also discovered the extraordinary hospitality of Cretans, who offered the ANZAC’s shelter even when they themselves were enduring great hardship and danger.

Beyond that, the presentation looks at the collaborative efforts made to evacuate these ‘stragglers’ from the island, and how those efforts evolved into a series of ‘special operations’ to resist a brutal German regime of occupation. The person who occupies the centre of attention here is the Tasmanian Tom Dunbabin, an important and influential figure in the resistance in Crete through to the last weeks of the war.

Peter Monteath was born in Brisbane and educated in Queensland and in Germany. He has taught previously at The University of Queensland, Griffith University, Deakin University, The University of Western Australia and The University of Adelaide. He has also been Adjunct Professor at The University of St. Louis Missouri and the Technical University of Berlin, where he was an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow. At Flinders University he is Professor of Modern European history. His research interests span modern European and Australian history. His latest book, Escape Artist: The Incredible Second World War of Johnny Peck (New South 2017), is about an Australian who spent time in Greece and Crete in World War II.

 

A happy Easter

We here at the Paddy blog would like to wish you and your family a happy and peaceful Easter. This year I would like to share with you the beautiful voice of Nektaria Karantzi, a Greek singer of traditional Byzantine and Orthodox chant. Paddy was an admirer of Byzantium and I am sure also loved the music

Fine out more about Nektaria, her concerts and more video on her Facebook page.

Don’t forget to switch on the volume!

Lament from Epirus

Some readers may be interested in this forthcoming book by Grammy-winning producer Christopher C King, about the oldest fold music tradition in Europe, music that Paddy almost certainly would have come across in his travels across northern Greece.

Described as being in the tradition of Patrick Leigh Fermor and Geoff Dyer, Christopher King discovers a powerful and ancient folk music tradition.

In a dark record shop in Istanbul, King uncovered some of the strangest and most hypnotic sounds he had ever heard. The 78s seemed to tap into a primal well of emotion inaccessible to contemporary music. The songs, King learned, were from Epirus, an area straddling southern Albania and northwestern Greece and boasting a folk tradition extending back to the pre-Homeric era. Lament from Epirus is an unforgettable journey into a musical obsession which follows a genre back to the roots of song itself. As King hunts for traces of two long-lost virtuosos, he tells the story of the Roma people who pioneered Epirotic folk music and whose descendants continue the tradition today. His journey becomes an investigation into song and dance’s role as a means of spiritual healing and what this may reveal about music’s original purpose.

The book is due for release in May and can be pre-ordered on Amazon. Lament from Epirus: An Odyssey Into Europe’s Oldest Surviving Folk Music

Patrick Leigh Fermor – the journey continues

From time to time, the Benaki Museum publishes a supplement to its regular journal, and the 9th Supplement is a masterpiece dedicated to Paddy’s life.

Well bound, and coffee table book sized, there are over twenty new articles exploring a range of topics including Paddy’s intimates and friends, his walks, the Cretan resistance, wider discussions of Greece, Paddy’s writing and of course the house.

The Benaki have assembled a remarkable collection of writers including Hamish Robertson, Cressida Connolly, the Marques de Tamaron, Nick Hunt, John Kitmer, Chris White, Colin Thubron, John Julius Norwich, Adam Sisman, and Roberto Calasso amongst others.

The supplement is available from the Benaki Museum shop for 18 Euros plus worldwide DHL shipping.

Details of the contents are here.

Help needed – high resolution photos of John Pendlebury

John Pendlebury at Knossos

Hello all. I have a request from Crystalia Patouli who is writing an article for a magazine in Greek and English. She would like to include some high resolution pictures of John Pendlebury. If you can help please contact Crystalia – cpatouli[at]gmail.com

Thank you.

A forlorn ultimate border of reality

Kapka Kassabova’s Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe is a timely, powerful story of immigration, friendship and travel.

By Caroline Moorhead

First published in The New Statesman

When Kapka Kassabova was in her late thirties, she decided to return to the place where she had grown up, but had not seen for 25 years: the borderlands of eastern Thrace, where Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey meet. Her parents were Bulgarian scientists who, after a spell in the UK, had settled in New Zealand, where, she writes, the Kiwi speech made “fish” sound like “fush” and “chips” like “chups”, where the stars were rearran­ged and the seasons inverted: an “upside-down world, but then it always is, for the immigrant”. It is again as an immigrant, a wanderer, that Kassabova – who now lives in the Scottish Highlands – went to find the forbidden places of her childhood.

“Forbidden” because her early years were confined by the militarised border that separated the three countries, acting as a cut-off line between the Warsaw Pact states of the Soviet bloc and Nato members, in the Western sphere of influence. Though the end of the Cold War and shared EU membership “softened” the border between Greece and Bulgaria, it was once “deadly”, she says, and it “remains prickly with dread to this day”. This is an exceptional book, a tale of travelling and listening closely, and it brings something altogether new to the mounting literature on the story of modern migration.

Kassabova started her journey on the Black Sea, dropped westwards to the border plains of Thrace, crossed the passes of the Rhodope Mountains, and made her way in a circle back to the sea again. (A better map would have been invaluable.) Everywhere she went she paused, took time to make friends and hear people’s stories, to look at her surroundings and understand them, to meditate on the nature of borders and to remember her own confined childhood, when she first became conscious that, unlike other holidaymakers to the Black Sea, she was not free to leave Bulgaria. A border, she writes, is something that you carry inside you without knowing. Like Freya Stark, who also wandered through remote parts, Kassabova has a gift for relating the past to the present: Herodotus, Atatürk and the Greek gods all accompany her on her travels.

The countryside she describes is wild, remote, sometimes scary, covered in the blackest of forests, where wolves, boar, bears and vipers are to be found, where the villages are inhabited by old people, the young having long since left, and where “entrepreneurs and consumers, desperadoes and smugglers” hold sway. She meets former border guards, traffickers, foresters and lighthouse keepers. Many of them are refugees from earlier migrations, expelled from their homes by conflicts, victims of nationalist feuds that had lain dormant for years, or the children of immigrants, whose love of their homeland is strong but who exist in a permanent sense of limbo, ever poised to flee.

With some of her new friends, she crosses backwards and forwards across the former border, travelling in cars so old it seems unlikely that they can cope with the steep mountain tracks. With others, she just sits and talks. There is Ivo the herbalist, a man with a “heroic” moustache, forced through bankruptcy to settle in what was once his holiday home, who grows aubergines as heavy as hand grenades and makes an ointment that cures everything from psoriasis to alopecia; and the divorced former teacher Ioanna, now a mountain climber, who patrols the forests for poachers, illegal loggers, drug dealers and illegal immigrants as she searches for abandoned treasure; and Mr Karadeniz, whose father was five years old when he threw a stone at a pig requisitioned by Greek soldiers and whose grandmother, fearing reprisals, whisked her son over the border to hide with Bulgarian neighbours.

Into this mix have come today’s refugees, the Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans, struggling to find safe routes to the West, their journeys truncated by new wire fences and hostile officials. “Europe,” one Kurdish woman marooned in a village on the Turkish border tells her sadly, “is where you are not afraid.” She fled with her eight children to prevent them being conscripted to fight Isis; but where she will go now, no one can say. The strength of Kassabova’s book lies in the skill with which she interweaves the narrative of these people into that of the inhabitants of the borderlands, giving the context for their lives in a way that the dozens of current books on the travels and travails of modern refugees seldom do. They enter her journey, and she listens to them, as she listens to everyone. It is an important reminder that refugees are not a separate species, moving inexorably away and towards, but part of a vast, complicated pattern of history.

Everywhere she goes, Kassabova takes stock of her surroundings, the birds and the mountains, the ruined monasteries and caves, the rock formations and waterfalls. Sometimes charmed, sometimes frightened, sometimes haunted by the ghosts that seem to inhabit these lost mountainous lands, she writes about roses, about belly dancing, fire worship and dragons. Her curiosity is limitless.

Patrick Leigh Fermor once wrote about a “forlorn ultimate border of reality beyond which a cloud of legend, rumour and surmise began”. This is Kassabova’s territory. And if, at the end of the book, it is hard to name the many characters she has met, or to recall with precision the places she has visited, she leaves a vivid image of these lands and the people who occupy them. Equally powerful is her own sense of sympathy for the uprooted and dispossessed. “I felt very strongly that within my lifetime, we may all become exiles,” she writes. “That we may all be robbed by devouring daemons disguised as policy and industry, that we may all walk down some road carrying in plastic bags our memories of forests and mountains, clean rivers and village lanes.” At a moment when Hungary has promised to incarcerate all who cross its borders ­illegally, and when asylum-seekers are adrift from one end of the world to the other, Border makes for timely reading.

Buy Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe