Tag Archives: Between the Woods and the Water

“A dangerous mix of recklessness and sophistication”: Themes of identity and nostalgic ideas of Europe in the travel writings of Patrick Leigh Fermor

Paddy after the war in Byronic costume – Benaki

Dear readers I hope that you all remain well. During what was almost a global “lockdown” I attempted to publish articles that might have been somewhat longer than usual on the basis that you might have more time on your hands to absorb them! I do wish that I had remembered to offer this masters thesis by Matthew Staite at the time, as it is a good read; absorbing and well written, exploring themes that make us think about Paddy’s work, the times he describes, and his own character. This is only a study of A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water and does not purport to analyse his other work. I commend it to you and hope that you might find the time to read it.

A PDF of the thesis can be found here: Matthew Staite Leigh Fermor Thesis.

Here’s how Matthew introduced himself to me back in April:

Two years ago I completed a masters degree at the University of Amsterdam in the field of European Studies, in a track attempting to study the Identity & Integration of Europe. As a British person with a love of travel writing, I chose to write my thesis on Patrick Leigh Fermor’s books. Very little academic scholarship exists about his writing, so I attempted to academically analyse the first two books about his European walk and look at themes of memory and how he splits Europe between East and West in the texts. I found your site very interesting and helpful when writing the thesis (I even made reference to you at one point), so I thought I would send it to you in case you found it of any interest!

If nothing else it is worth reading Matthew’s conclusion.

While this thesis has travelled across the width of the European continent alongside Leigh
Fermor, it is time for this journey to come to an end. It has been demonstrated that, while Leigh Fermor sought a Europe bound by common culture and history upon his travels, this was a nostalgic search for a Europe rooted in the past. While the texts may describe his youthful adventuring through Europe, they were written and narrated by an older Leigh Fermor who was more nostalgic for this lost past and who desperately searched for the glimpses of it that remained.

The interaction with memory that this entails proves crucial to both books. As a result of the
parallax structure, the narrative is split between the past time of his journey and the future time of his writing. As a rhetorical device it allows Leigh Fermor to jump seamlessly between the past and the present, enabling him to write in a way that both captures the younger Leigh
Fermor’s boyish charm and the older Leigh Fermor’s wisdom and knowledge. It lends narrative power to the images of lost Europe that he constructs, for Leigh Fermor has experienced this past and can contrast it with the narrative present.

The Europe that Leigh Fermor was travelling through was in many ways on the cusp of
modernity, and many of the things he describes were to completely destroyed or changed by
the effects of the Second World War. He is implicitly critical of the period under communism
that followed the Second World War in Eastern Europe; a criticism of communism (still present at the time of the book’s writing) forms the ‘elephant in the room’ of his narrative. Despite his sympathy for Eastern Europe, Leigh Fermor’s texts also conform to the tradition of writing against Eastern Europe as a backwards and savage place. While there are elements of his narrative that go against this trend, they certainly form the lesser part of his narrative.

The two tiers of class (the peasants and the elite) that Leigh Fermor encounters throughout
Europe stem from this lost past, and he only lightly deals with the contemporary changes that
were happening to the societies he travelled through at the time of his journey. Despite this
criticism, the texts remain a wonderful journey across the European continent and back into
its past. Leigh Fermor’s personality and enthusiasm for knowledge permeate the texts, and
the rich descriptions of history, literature and language that ensue read as a beautiful tribute
to European culture.

This thesis has attempted to alert scholars of the scope for analysis and research that Leigh
Fermor’s travel texts provide. However it is far from a comprehensive study of Leigh Fermor
and his writing. By conducting a close study of only A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods
and the Water, it has only looked at the themes of identity and ideas of Europe that Leigh
Fermor established between Holland and Romania. Due to the complications presented by
artificially constructed nature of the unfinished The Broken Road, there has not been the space to conduct a close analysis of it within this thesis. However that book is certainly of use to scholars, for there is certainly scope for analysis as to how Leigh Fermor includes Bulgaria
within his conception of Eastern Europe, or whether he others with it alongside Turkey as a
demarcation of the orient.

I have also not chosen to incorporate Leigh Fermor’s interpretation of Greece and its
importance within Europe. The latter half of A Broken Road is set in Greece, along with Leigh Fermor’s other travel texts Mani and Roumeli. As the south-eastern edge of Europe, and a nation where he spent a significant part of his life, it would be interesting to analyse how Leigh Fermor’s depictions of Greece correspond with the same themes of identity and nostalgia for Europe’s past that this thesis has explored.

Finally this thesis has largely treated A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water
as a single and coherent travel narrative. In doing so it has readily jumped between the two
texts despite them being published nearly a decade apart. There is certainly scope for analysis
into the effect of this time on the differences of the two books.

Easter – the bridge at Esztergom, and Between the Woods and the Water free audiobook

Crowd river watching Esztergom  1934

A happy Easter to you all wherever you are and however much space in which you have to move around; I hope that you remain well. The weather here in England is lovely. The South Downs, which are a short run away for me, were soggy and treacherous for runners just four or so weeks ago. Now, after a number of weeks of dry sunny weather, the chalky soil has drained, and is even cracking apart it is so dry on the surface.

The South Downs, and Chilcomb church at Chilcomb near Winchester, England, UK, Easter 2020

Back to Paddy. At Easter time we always find we have left him mid-stream on the Mária Valéria bridge which joins Esztergom in Hungary and Štúrovo in Slovakia, across the River Danube. The bridge, some 500 metres in length is named after Archduchess Marie Valerie of Austria, (1868–1924), the fourth child of Emperor Franz Josef, and Empress Elisabeth (now she has a sad tale to tell).

Paddy crossed into Esztergom and watched an amazing Easter service led by the bishop with crowds nobles, soldiers and their ladies dressed in their finest clothes and colourful uniforms. A sight that will never be seen again.

This Easter I offer you a selection of photos of Esztergom, some from 1934, and the Audible audiobook of Between the Woods and the Water, to complement that of A Time of Gifts which I posted a couple of weeks back.

Enjoy this strange Easter as best you can. Please keep inside, safe and well, so that your medical services are not stretched to the point of collapse by this terrible virus.

In the Trail of Odysseus

I shall soon be making a working visit to Odessa in the Ukraine. I’m hoping to have a few hours to walk around and make my own impressions of the city apart from the usual swift drive to the hotel and office, interspersed with a dinner in “one of the best restaurants in town”. This made me think of a post that we put up in October 2010 which covered Paddy’s introduction to a wonderful book, In the Trail of Odysseus which is the story of Yiankos Danielopoulis a Black Sea Greek. There is just one copy left on Amazon UK. If you are fascinated by this part of the world and tales of people who come through trial after trial, you will want to snap it up. Over to the old post …..

I think this is a rare treat, even for those of us who have read much of Paddy’s work. This introduction to In the Trail of Odysseus by Marianna Koromila is full of longing for the world at the edge of the Black Sea that he discovered in 1934 and which so soon was to disappear forever.

“The whole region seemed an enormous and mysterious antechamber to the whole Mediterranean, unbelievably remote and enigmatic, and ever so soon in danger of fading.”

It is the story of Yiankos Danielopoulis who died in 1987 at the age of 88. As a Black Sea Greek living through the 20th century his life was uprooted time after time, until at last he was able to settle in Mount Hymettos in mainland Greece in the 1950’s.

I have been sent some scanned copies of Paddy’s introduction, by blog corespondent James, to the English translation to the book which I hope you will enjoy and inspire you to purchase the last few copies of the book from Amazon!

To help you further, here is a short synopsis by John Colvin Body which appears to have been published in the Daily Telegraph in 1994.

“In the Trail of Odysseus by Marianna Koromila tr by Nigel Clive Michael Russell, L14.95 this modern-day “Odysseus” is Yiankos Danielopoulos, one of 12 Thracian children born in Vasiliko, a whitewashed Greek village of the Ottoman Empire in 1899, and dying in Attica 88 years later. His life has been compiled by Marianna Koromila from a privately printed family record that she acquired from his daughter. It reflects the turmoil of that region in the 20th century. Born under the Empire, Yiankos lived in Bulgaria, Romania, Russia, Turkey and Greece, surviving two nationalities, seven homes and 13 professions, all imposed by “the gale of the world”. Bulgarian violence, Bolshevik revolution, civil war and Communist take-over were his Eumenides. As a child, he “listened to the rattle of the pebbles as they were washed up by the waves”; saw woods, vineyards, wheat fields and boats unloading below his window on return from fishing. The Thracian traders and shipowners, with relations in all the Black Sea ports, he described as the seagulls which followed the fish. In winter, wolves descended from the mountains, threatening the village. “Union is strength,” said Yiankos’s father when the horses drove them off.

The Great Powers then changed lines on maps. Vasiliko came under the Bulgars, and life became untenable. Yiankos and his brothers moved to Constanza in Romania and opened a grocer’s shop. An admiral’s wife fell in love with one of the brothers. The shop received the navy’s warrant. Funds accumulated. Bulgaria then invaded and the family fled to Galatz (also in Romania) with their assets – 50 cases of macaroni. Yiankos dealt profitably in foreign exchange; money was made. But Galatz became an impossible place, what with bombing and Cossacks shooting holes in wine-cases and drowning in the alcoholic flood. The Danielopouloses escaped to Russia, packed like sardines in a stinking refugee train. Life in their new Russian home, Berdiansk, was lucrative until the Bolshevik and Anarchist massacres began, when the family escaped to Novorosisk in 1917, where the Russian fleet had scuttled. They steered clear of politics, which preserved them, but chaos came. The family escaped by tug back to Constanza, having profitably run cafe, shop and currency exchange in the middle of a revolution. Back in Romania, they enjoyed “party-time” – the annees folles of the 1920s – until the Crash of 1929. Thanks to family unity, they picked themselves up again, flourishing even during the German occupation of 1940.

But later, in 1950, when Soviet theft and odious oppression became intolerable, Yiankos, his wife and daughters left for Greece. They arrived in Mount Hymettos penniless, but went on to farm pistachio, orange, lemon and tangerine trees, cows, hens and vegetables. Yiankos had survived once more. Nigel Clive’s sparkling translation of Koromilos’s book is richly enhanced by Patrick Leigh Fermor’s introduction to that legendary world of the day-before-yesterday.”

 

Buy In the Trail of Odysseus at Amazon.

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Related article:

The mystery of The Black Sea Cave

 

 

Anna Sándor de Kénos, friend of Patrick Leigh Fermor – obituary

I have been able to find a copy of the obituary for Anna Sándor de Kénos and hope that you find it interesting reading.

Anna Sándor de Kénos, who has died aged 97, knew Patrick Leigh Fermor in Transylvania when he made his now legendary journey on foot, beginning in 1933, which took him from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople.

They met in July 1934 when he was travelling through Transylvania and Anna Sándor de Kénos was staying with some of her aristocratic neighbours.

This was the period immediately before Communism annihilated the almost feudal way of life of these ancient Transylvanian noble families which Leigh Fermor recorded in Between the Woods and the Water.

Anna Sándor de Kénos was close to the Csernovits family, one of whom, Xenia, became Leigh Fermor’s lover in 1934 and whom he later immortalised as Angela when the book appeared in 1986. She was also close to one of the book’s most enigmatic characters, Elemér von Klobusiczky, who features under the pseudonym Istvan.

Just over a decade later, on the bitterly cold early morning of March 3 1949, the majority of the Transylvanian aristocracy, including the Sándor de Kénos family, were arrested and taken away to internal deportation, Anna among them.

Like many Hungarians she fled Budapest in November 1956 when the Hungarian Uprising was still raging, settling first in New York. She spent the rest of her life helping many of her fellow dispossessed and impoverished aristocrats to settle in the United States. These included members of the Almásy family, one of whom was depicted in the film The English Patient (1996).

Her munificence extended to all Hungarians. However, it was with those still trapped under the repressive Ceausescu regime in her native Transylvania that Anna Sándor de Kénos’s real sympathy lay.

Though tiny in physical stature she earned the nickname “the titaness of Transylvania” for her fearless disregard for officialdom. This extended even to the intimidating Communist apparatchiks in Ceausescu’s Romania, which she revisited regularly from the mid-1960s.

Anna Sándor de Kénos, seated front left, with other members of the Transylvanian nobility in exile at the Plaza Hotel, New York, 1960

Anna Sándor de Kénos, seated front left, with other members of the Transylvanian nobility in exile at the Plaza Hotel, New York, 1960

Another favourite target was officious airport check-in clerks. Once, at Sarasota Airport, Florida, in the mid-1960s when checking in for a connecting flight that would eventually take her onward to Budapest, and laden down with massive overweight baggage containing clothes and food for the poor of Transylvania, she was ordered to pay a substantial overweight baggage charge.

Her response was to point to a lady on her left hand side and declare in a strong Hungarian accent: “Sir, as you can see, I weigh a mere 44 kilos, the lady on my left I reckon about 144, why don’t we split the difference in our combined weights, or perhaps you would rather have me take her with me and make her into a delicious Goulash for my poor people in Transylvania.” The charge was immediately dismissed.

At the age of 92 Anna Sándor de Kénos applied to a US bank for a 30-year mortgage of $100,000. Three years earlier she had walked the excruciatingly long route of the Csíksomlyó pilgrimage to a Marian shrine in central Transylvania, a journey that would have challenged pilgrims half her age.

It was an 
unusual undertaking because the pilgrimage is the highlight of the Catholic calendar in Transylvania and she was a devoted Calvinist. She told a friend that she did it because “anything that was banned under Communism must be good for the soul”.

Anna Sándor de Kénos, known as Annuska, was born on March 21 1921 in Deva, the capital of Hunedoara County, which had been ceded from Hungary to Romania by the 1920 Treaty of Trianon.

The scion of a 16th-century Transylvanian noble family who were long characterised by unflinching determination and optimism in the face of adversity, she was one of two daughters born to Béla Sándor de Kénos and his wife Etelka (née Buda de Galacz), who were then living on the family estate near Deva.

The family’s circumstances were, like so many other “class enemies”, greatly reduced from quite comfortable to an indigent state under Communism in Romania. Though deprived of all the privileges that would have come to one of her class, Anna Sándor de Kénos was never resentful of her reduced situation.

She worked in New York for the renowned cosmetics company created by her fellow Hungarian Ernö László, whose client list included the Duchess of Windsor, Greta Garbo, Ava Gardner and Jacqueline Kennedy, before giving it up to work as a theatre nurse.

Anna Sándor de Kénos in Budapest on her 90th birthday

Anna Sándor de Kénos in Budapest on her 90th birthday

She spent much of her life in Sarasota, keeping open house for Hungarian émigrés. On occasion she had as many as 50 guests for dinner. The only rule was that guests should make a donation for her charitable interests in Transylvania. After the collapse of Communism in 1989 she spent part of the year between Budapest and her native Deva.

Although Anna Sándor de Kénos never married, her name was linked for many years to a Transylvanian nobleman who also never married.

With the death of Anna Sándor de Kénos, the last living link to the Transylvania and Hungary of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Between the Woods and the Water has gone. She is survived by her nephew, Daniel Lészay de Lésza.

Anna Sándor de Kénos, born March 21 1921, died May 18 2018

The 80th anniversary of the Great Trudge – Paddy’s Romania tour?

Something like the opening line to Sergeant Pepper, it was eighty years ago today, that Paddy Leigh Fermor was on his way, setting out on the journey that more than anything else was to define his life.

I have written about this once or twice before – Nice weather for young ducks – but this time it is different. This is the start of a number of major anniversaries, including the 70th, next year, of the abduction of General Kreipe.

For some time I have had an idea to arrange a tour, In The Steps if you like, of Paddy’s Romania. Much of Between the Woods and the Water, and the recent Broken Road are taken up with a country that Paddy once said was second only to Greece in his heart.

The idea is to get together a party of around twenty people for an 8-10 day tour of Romania next September, 2014. I am planning this with an experienced tour company. The general idea is to meet in Bucharest, then follow Paddy’s Transylvanian route, including stops in Cluj, Sighisoara, Sibiu, and Hunedoara. If possible I would like to include a visit to Baia Herculene and the Danube at the Iron Gates. It would also be great to include a visit to Baleni where he lived with Balasha. It is a little out of the way but may be possible once we look in detail at the itinerary.

Romania is a beautiful country, and Transylvania is very special. We will include visits to the Saxon villages with their fortified churches. Accommodation and food will be good, as will the company.

In order to proceed all I need at the moment are expressions of interest. There is no commitment beyond that. Costs are likely to be around £,1500 per person excluding flights to and from Romania. But this may change. If you are interested all you have to do is drop me a line at tsawford[at]btinternet.com .

The following slideshow gives you an idea of some of the things we night see. These are my own personal pictures and some are of an area to the north of Romania called the Maramures which will probably not be included (the wooden churches in the main).

The words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo: Meeting Patrick Leigh Fermor

Ryan Eyre lives in Seattle, and took a journey to Kardamyli to meet Paddy in 2009. He has written this article for the Journal of the Book Club of Washington, and has asked to publish it here as well. Ryan tells us, as many others have done, about Paddy’s remarkable memory, which he utilised to the full to write A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water. I have seen evidence of this myself. On a recent visit to Cluj I was able to enter the public rooms of the fabled Hotel New York (Continental) clutching a copy of BTWW and marvelled at the accuracy of Paddy’s description of its decor … but the cocktail bar was closed!

Update: I met Ryan last month (5 June 2013) in London and was able to show him the site of the original John Murray publishing house at 50 Albemarle Street. Ryan was on a holiday from his post in the Republic of Georgia where he is teaching English. He reminded me of this article which was posted in the week following Paddy’s death. It may have got lost in all the high frequency posting at that time, so I promised him that I would give you all another chance to read his account.

Meeting Patrick Leigh Fermor

by Ryan Eyre

On a February evening in 2009 I alighted from a bus in the village of Kardamyli, in the Mani region of southern Greece. I had arrived at this remote corner of the Peloponnese with one purpose: to meet the celebrated English author Patrick Leigh Fermor, one of the great prose stylists of the 20th century and arguably far less well known than he should be. Now in his nineties, Paddy (as he is known by his friends) still divides his time between England and his adopted home of Greece, where he lives in a house he designed himself in the 1960’s on a headland just south of Kardamyli. Patrick Leigh Fermor (PLF) has had an extraordinarily full and remarkable life.  For the sake of some background for those unfamiliar with him I provide a brief biographical sketch:

Born in 1915 and educated at the King’s School in Canterbury until he was expelled at the age of sixteen, he was preparing for the entrance examinations for Sandhurst when a sudden inspiration came over him. He decided to walk across Europe, with the final destination point as Constantinople, living, in his words, “like a tramp or a wandering scholar.” It was December 1933 and he was eighteen years old. He set out almost at once, catching a tramp steamer from London to Rotterdam and beginning his walk from there, passing through the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and European Turkey before arriving in Constantinople on New Year’s Day, 1935. His experiences on his thirteen-month peregrination later provided the material for his two most celebrated books A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, which were first published in 1977 and 1986, respectively.  These two volumes recount the first two-thirds of his amazing journey by foot from the Hook of Holland to the Golden Horn. Richly descriptive and full of historical and literary allusions they provide a portrait of a pre war Europe long since vanished.  Apart from the extremely high standard of prose and the author’s obvious enthusiasm for history, literature and art, perhaps the most appealing aspect of his account of this remarkable journey is that it was completed on foot. It has been said that the human mind can only properly absorb its surroundings at a walking pace.   The gradual transitions of landscape, language and culture were carefully observed by PLF because of the patient, unhurried approach that he took; a faster form of travel would have failed to capture nearly as much of the richness and complexity of the lands he passed through.

After completing this walking journey, he spent the next couple of years in Greece and Romania. He was romantically involved with the Romanian princess Balasha Cantacuzene, living with her on her estate in Moldavia until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, at which point he returned to Britain to enlist in the army. During the war he served with distinction in Greece, both during the German invasion of 1941 and afterwards during the occupation.  As a SOE (Special Operations Executive) agent he helped coordinate the resistance movement on Crete. The highpoint of his war was the celebrated kidnapping of the commanding German general Heinrich Kreipe on Crete in 1944, which he and a fellow British officer devised and accomplished with a band of Cretan partisans, abducting the luckless general from his car outside of Iraklion and spiriting him away into the mountains and eventually Egypt. After the war and in the company of his wife, the late Joan Eyres-Monsell, he travelled all over Greece, exploring the most remote rural areas on foot or mule, and developing a deep appreciation of the folk customs, dialects and traditions that have in the last half century largely vanished (see his books Mani and Roumeli).  His travels and books have never been limited to Greece, though:  his first book The Traveller’s Tree (first published in 1950) was written after an extensive journey around the West Indies in the late 1940’s.  Possibly his best book (according to New Yorker columnist Anthony Lane), A Time to Keep Silence, explores the nature and meaning of silence as he experienced it living in various French monasteries.  Whatever topic PLF has written about, his natural enthusiasm, curiosity and exquisite writing make it compelling reading.

Several years before I had been travelling in Romania and by chance a fellow American in the hostel had shown me a copy of Between the Woods and the Water, in which PLF recounted travelling through the same area in the 1934. Intrigued when I returned to Seattle several months later, I had checked A Time of Gifts out from the library and was instantly enthralled by it. The subject matter, the style and the sensibilites were immediately appealing. I can state unequivocally that PLF’s writing had a powerful influence on me. He seems almost the embodiment of an ideal-the literary man of action. Highly erudite but also a man of the world, unapologetically articulate and learned but with enough graciousness and charm to avoid being a pedant, equally comfortable with the humble as well as the high born. I’m not the only one who views him this way – Bruce Chatwin, Colin Thubron and William Dalrymple have all cited PLF as a major influence on their writing and lives. From PLF I developed a deeper appreciation of art and literature, and renewed an interest in history-particularly European. Because of him I also became a better traveller– by slowing down, more closely observing my surroundings and immersing myself in the history of a place before I visited.

I became determined I had to meet this man. I knew he was old and in declining health so time was of the essence. In January of 2009 I was in England visiting relatives and went to his literary agent’s offices in London hoping to get a formal letter of introduction. I only spoke to a secretary, who passed on an email address to which I wrote but predictably from which I heard no reply. My cousin said “The only way to meet the blighter is to show up where he lives-I’m sure you’ll be able to meet him.” I decided to take his advice and hope for the best.

Thus a month later I arrived in Kardamyli with a mixture of excitement and trepidation, after having travelled over land and water from Portugal all the way to Greece. I had done my homework: I knew his former housekeeper (a woman named Lela) ran a taverna with some rooms in the town-that seemed the obvious place to stay.  Before my arrival I had telephoned and had spoken to her son Giorgios (Lela spoke no English).  In the winter the taverna was closed, Giorgios explained, but they would make an exception for me and at a reduced rate. Giorgios, a moustachioed and world- weary but courteous man in his fifties met me when I got off the bus, and after introductions were made, he walked me to Lela’s a few blocks away. It was a simple two story building by the sea, with a restaurant on the ground floor and a few rooms upstairs looking directly out on the sea. Lela appeared from the kitchen, in her seventies but still sprightly, with a craggy and quintessentially Greek face. After showing me to my room she and Giorgios disappeared quickly, leaving me as the only guest. Strolling out from Lela’s along the water onto a jetty and looking up towards one of the clearest starlit skies I had ever seen, with the only sound coming from the waves crashing against the rocks, I understood immediately why Patrick Leigh Fermor had decided to settle here years before.

The next morning I awoke early and walked along the road going south from Kardamyli. A Greek man out in his garden saw me and gestured for me to come inside. Without asking any questions he sat me down in his kitchen and served me coffee; this was exactly the type of hospitality towards strangers that PLF had described in his books on Greece.  Somewhat timorously I broached the subject of Patrick Leigh Fermor (known as Michalis by the locals) and asked where he might be found. He gesticulated southwards, saying in broken English that PLF lived a short way down the road, in the next cove known as Kalamitsi. I thanked him for the coffee and continued walking. I had with me an anthology of PLF’s work titled The Words of Mercury, which included an article he had written on how he had designed his house in Greece.  He described it as resembling a faded Byzantine monastery, with a view framed by cypress trees overlooking a cove with a small island offshore. Down a path and through an olive grove there was a house that closely resembled this description; in fact, it had to be his residence as it looked far older than any other house in the vicinity.

Emboldened by this discovery I walked back into town, just as the villagers were exiting the church service on a Sunday morning. Approaching Lela, I tentatively mentioned PLF’s name and pointed to The Words of Mercury, with a photograph of PLF in the 1940’s on the cover.  She gave Giorgios soon appeared and I explained that I had come to Kardamyli to hopefully meet PLF, and handed him a note of appreciation that I entreated to pass along. Giorgios told me that PLF was in England at the moment, but would be back by Tuesday and would gladly give him the note once he saw him.  So my timing had been providential!  Now I simply had to wait.  I spent the next couple of days either reading (finishing War and Peace to be exact) or going on long walks exploring the myriad of small coves and hills. The Mani is very quiet in winter and felt refreshingly unexplored. Each evening I would go to the kafeneon to sit with the local men as they chatted and watched football on the television. Giorgios would be there every evening and he was quite friendly and talkative to me.  Every evening I would tactfully bring up the subject of whether or not he had seen PLF. Each time he responded he hadn’t yet.  One evening as I was returning to Lela’s she insisted on cooking me a meal in the kitchen, sitting me down in a table in the restaurant and plying me generous portions of pork, potatoes and vegetables. On a table in the corner was a pile of black and white photographs; examining them more closely I saw they were informal snapshots of Lela and her family from the 1960’s with a younger looking Patrick Leigh Fermor in a number of the them. Seeing these candid photographs gave my purpose a lot more immediacy.

Taking the bus one day into Kalamata (the nearest city-some 20 miles away) I fell into conversation with a local woman about my age. I explained that I had come all the way here to hopefully meet PLF.  She raised her head backwards and clicked her tongue, the universal Hellenic gesture for disapproval. “The Patrick Leigh Fermor is very old man, many people, journalists come here to meet him, they have to book appointment…it’s not so easy to see him.”  Discouraging words and with each passing day I realized that Giorgios was probably protecting PLF’s privacy…it was perfectly understandable but I made up my mind to take a more direct approach. I wrote another, longer letter of appreciation (I wrote about eight drafts before I was satisfied) and screwed enough courage up to go to what I was almost sure was PLF’s house to give it to whomever answered the door.  Just as I was about to knock an Englishman in his forties opened the door and walked out to the driveway. He introduced himself as Hamish Robinson and confirmed that PLF did indeed live there. Hamish added PLF wasn’t very well at the moment but he would gladly pass on the note of appreciation and went back inside. I decided to walk south several miles to the next village called Stoupa. I had done everything realistically possible to meet PLF and if I wasn’t able to at this point I accepted that it just wasn’t to be. Walking along the coastal road with its stupendous views of the Messenian Gulf to the west and the snow-capped Taygetus Mountains to the east, I felt fortunate and privileged to be there at all.

Returning to Kardamyli later that afternoon in a state of calm resignation, my interlocutrix from the bus the previous day came running down the road. “Ryan, where you been? We been looking for you all day. Patrick Leigh Fermor wanted to have a drink with you but we couldn’t find you.”  Patrick Leigh Fermor wanted to have a drink with me? Suddenly a car pulled up. It was Hamish. “We were looking for you earlier today –come round for lunch at 1:00 tomorrow,” and then drove off. I couldn’t believe my luck…all the persistence had paid off…I was actually going to have an audience with Patrick Leigh Fermor after all — it was more than I could have asked.

Paddy on his 94th birthday (February 11, 2009)

The appointed hour couldn’t come fast enough and it was in state of mild disbelief that I found myself being admitted into PLF’s house by his housekeeper and into the sitting room (which doubled as a dining room), with prodigious book shelves on three sides.  I found myself standing in front of a distinguished, slightly frail looking man wearing a blazer and a tie. It was Patrick Leigh Fermor.  Shaking my hand, he briefly mistook me for somebody else before apologizing with, “I’ve got this blasted tunnel vision and I can’t see that well…so you’re the young man…so glad to meet you.”  His hearing and his eyesight were poor and I had to speak loudly to be heard. Hamish Robinson was there as well (his presence helped facilitate conversation) and for the next two and a half hours the words flowed, abetted no doubt by the several vodka and tonics that were consumed as well as the generous glasses of retsina that accompanied lunch. Conversation ranged from Lord Byron (PLF: “I didn’t care for him much when I was younger but now I adore him”), the Greek Orthodox Easter service, and the fate of King Harald Hardrada at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066-to name a few of the topics discussed. When I told him I had visited Romania several years before he asked me, “Did you go by foot?”  Unfortunately, of course I had to answer no.  He also asked me questions about Seattle (“Where does the name come from?”). He had only visited the United States once -when he was invited by a Cretan-American association in New York as an honoured guest to commemorate the anniversary of The Battle of Crete.

PLF’s short-term memory was a bit faulty at times, he would forget the course of the conversation a bit but if I asked him about something from decades past or a literary reference he could recall it with instant clarity. For example, I showed him my copy of   The Words of Mercury and asked him the significance of the title.  “It’s from Love’s Labour’s Lost. You know that in the last act there’s a play within the play that’s performed for the amusement of the King of Navarre and the Princess of France. At the end of it they receive news that the King of France has died and the Princess and her entourage must leave. The last line of the play is ‘The words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo’. It’s rather a strange play.”

Surprisingly he seemed a little fussier and more self-deprecating than I would have thought. When I quoted from his writings a couple of times he responded, “That’s a bit fruity” or, “What absolute drivel.” I mentioned that I had tried to contact his literary agent in London but without success. His reply: “Oh do you know, I’ve never met him either.”  Time passed quickly and after the meal was finished we walked onto the terrace of his house, overlooking the sea. I thanked him for the invitation.  He replied, “If you’re ever in these parts again, do come round.”   And then he retired for his customary afternoon nap, “Egyptian PT,” in his words.  Hamish showed me the adjacent building where Paddy does his writing, giving me a recent photograph of him taken on his 94th birthday as a memento, and then with good-byes and sincere thanks, I gracefully made my exit. I felt a mixture of elation –having the extraordinary privilege of actually being a guest of the celebrated author in his home — and a bit of melancholy in seeing him in his twilight years.  It was surely the only occasion I would meet him, and there was so much more I wanted to ask that would never be said. I also suppose, perhaps there was the realization that for all this accomplishments and marvelous writing he was  still human after all.

The next day I left Kardamyli. Spending even a week in the Mani gives Patrick Leigh Fermor’s life and work so much more immediacy. When I read a passage in Mani describing the view looking out towards the Messenian Gulf with “dragon headed capes in the distance,” I know exactly what this looks like because I have seen this view myself. That means almost as much as having met the man, and both memories will last for the rest of my life.

Related article:

Images of Iasi

Travel along the enchanted way with William Blacker

GHF TourJoin William Blacker, author of Along the Enchanted Way, and Global Heritage Fund (GHF) for a visit to the villages of Saxon Transylvania. Scattered along the valleys and hills of the southern range of the Carpathian Mountains in Romania,the villages represent a unique and diverse landscape of Romanian, Saxon, and Gypsy cultural heritage.

The nearly 100 villages and their patterns of settlement, which date from the 12th century, are among the last vestiges of European mediaeval planning and culture. This vast cultural landscape exhibits an uncommon equilibrium between villages, fields, meadows, forests, and mountains. Now under threat, GHF, William Blacker and the Romanian heritage organization Monumentum, are working to save this vanishing landscape.

This tour running from 9th-12th September follows on from the Transylvanian Book Festival, 5th – 9th of September. See the Festival website for further details.

The GHF flyer here has some more information about this and 2013 tours to Turkey and Cambodia as well.

For further information please contact:

Brian Curran

Global Heritage Fund

9th Floor 1 Knightsbridge Green

London SW1X 7QA

bcurran[at]globalheritagefund.org

t +44 (0) 787-648-1847

http://www.globalheritagefund.org

You can still win some wonderful prizes in Heywood Hill’s Paddy competition

As many will know, Paddy set off on his European odyssey from Shepherd Market in Mayfair. His biographer, Artemis Cooper, has discovered that Paddy and Joan lived above Heywood Hill’s bookshop in Shepherd Market after the war. He kept an account there for Balasha Cantacuzene, the Romanian princess and great love of his youth, so that she could buy books whenever she wanted. He remained a lifelong customer of Heywood Hill.

This wonderful bookshop which I visited last week is offering you all the chance to win some amazing prizes in a draw to celebrate the publication on 11 October of Artemis Cooper’s biography of Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure. If you order a copy through them you will be automatically entered to win:

1st Prize

Signed First Edition of A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor
Original John Craxton lithograph from A Poet’s Eye 1944
Watercolour of a View From The Library at Kardamyli by Isobel Brigham
Magnum of Laurent-Perrier Brut NV
£100 Heywood Hill voucher

You may well have already ordered a copy of the book at Amazon or some such place, but you know that you will need a second copy to give as a present to Aunty Mable, so why not order a further copy from Heywood Hill and have a chance of winning?

The first edition is worth in the region of £500 alone and was donated by John Murray, let alone a original Craxton!

The Heywood Hill Prize Draw closes on the evening of 29 November when the winner will be drawn from a hat by Artemis Cooper.

To order your copy and to enter The Heywood Hill Prize Draw 2012, contact them at:

10 Curzon Street, London W1J 5HH
+44 20 7629 0647

PLF@heywoodhill.com

More details available on the Heywood Hill website.

http://static.heywoodhill.com/prize_draw_2012.htm

Flying to the moon

Inside the Hotel New York (Continental), Cluj

As many of you will know by now, I travel to Romania pretty frequently and I am fortunate enough to stay and work in the beautiful city of Cluj which Paddy says he visited during his road trip tryst with Angéla in the summer of 1934.

Paddy’s descriptions in Between the Woods and the Water are very accurate and detailed, and the one of the Hotel New York was the most impressive which I highlighted in this article last year with accompanying photographs.

Nick and Tom outside the Hotel New York (Continental), Cluj

During Nick Hunt’s recent walk across Europe we were able to meet up outside of the hotel and I was desperate for us to drink a cocktail there just like Paddy, Istvan and Angéla. The fact that the hotel is closed should not have been a barrier to this; all I had to do was find the recipe and a willing local barman and all would be OK. Unfortunately following an ‘occupy’ protest security at the hotel was heavy and we were firmly told we could not enter. It must have been Nick’s road weary look and dusty attire which was the blocker!

I had done some research, and whilst I could not find the recipe of the Cluj cocktail which was described by Paddy thus in Between the Woods and the Water …

An hotel at the end of the main square, called the New York – a great meeting place in the winter season – drew my companions like a magnet. István said the barman had invented an amazing cocktail – only surpassed by the one called ‘Flying’ in the Vier Jahreszeiten bar in Munich – which would be criminal to miss

… I contacted the Bar Manager of the Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten Kempinski in München to find out the recipe for Flying. Florian Fischer kindly replied as follows, so maybe this autumn, to celebrate the publication of the biography, you may order one or even make it at home.

Dear Mr. Sawford,

thank you very much for your request. These are the things which are creating culture!

I am really interested in cocktails of this period. I was thinking about the recipe and I am quite sure, that it must be the following :

Flying Cocktail

2 parts of Gin
1 part of curacao Triple sec ( Cointreau preferred )
1 part of freshly squezzed lemon juice

fill up with champagne
served in a champagne flute

Actually it is the famous “White Lady” with champagne and this drink was really popular in these times.

Greetings from Munich and enjoy your “Flying Cocktail”

Cheers

Florian Fischer

Barmanager

Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten Kempinski München

Maximilianstr. 17 · 80539 München · Germany Tel +49 89 2125 2217· Fax +49 89 2125 2222 florian.fischer@kempinski.com

Related article:

An eye for detail and the memory of the Hotel New York in Cluj

Ada Kaleh: the lost island of the Danube

Ada Kaleh island postcard

Towards the end of Between the Woods and the Water, Paddy is exploring the Danube which he described as wild, with ‘many scourges to contend with’ including the Kossovar winds which in the spring could ‘reach a speed of fifty or sixty miles an hour and turn the river into a convulsed inferno.’ A long, long, way from the tamed beast that the once great river is now.

In the midst of this occasional inferno lay an island with a Turkish name, Ada Kaleh, which means ‘island fortress’. Paddy tell us that he had read all that he could find about the island, and was very keen to explore this lagoon of Turkish descendants which was quite probably abandoned by the retreating Ottomans as their empire shrank. Although placed under control of the Austro-Hungarian Empire following the Berlin Conference in 1878, very little changed and it was ceded to Romania at Versailles. The Romanians too had better things to do with their time and left the inhabitants undisturbed.

It was into this cultural, religious, and demographic time capsule that Paddy stepped in August 1934 and immediately joined a group of men at a rustic coffee-shop, who were armed with ‘sickles and adzes and pruning knives’. Paddy describes the moment as if he had suddenly been ‘seated on a magic carpet.’

Ada Kaleh – “as if seated on a magic carpet”

Paddy spent a night on the island, and slept out by the Danube, under the stars, watching meteors, and listening to the sounds of owls and barking dogs, interrupted by the occasional sound of a cart wheel or the splash of a fish in the now calm and lazy river. He dreamt of crusaders under King Sigismund of Hungary attempting to turn back the Turkish tide in 1396. They crossed the river almost at this point, and what excited Paddy most was the thought that ‘the last pikeman or sutler had probably reached the southern bank this very evening, five hundred and thirty-eight years ago.’ Sigismund’s allied army of Hungarians, Wallachians, French, Germans and Burgundians, with a few Englishman, was shattered by Sultan Bayazid at the battle of Nicopolis further down the Danube, with the captured dying in ‘a shambles of beheading lasting from dawn to Vespers’.

Like the storks he saw the next day, who were preparing to fly off to “Afrik! Afrik!”, as an old Turkish man gestured, Paddy departed after breakfast to Orsova. Ever one for losing things he discovered that he had left behind an antler which he had been carrying as a trophy. Paddy writes that ‘perhaps some future palaeontologist might think that the island had once teemed with deer’.  This cannot be as the river was dammed and Ada Kaleh submerged by the rising Danube. Its population was evacuated and its mosque removed to a new, safe location. Such mitigation measures did not satisfy Paddy as he states in the Appendix to BTWW. The second of the two attached presentations is also a heartfelt, but belated cry of protest in Romanian.

Please take a look at these presentations. If you have PowerPoint you will find there is appropriate musical accompaniment (slide show one has a song called Ada Kaleh). The images show the place and its people almost exactly as Paddy would have seen it, something that we can truly say will be seen no more. The pdf copy is for those who do not have access to PowerPoint. I do hope that you enjoy them.

Tom

PowerPoint 1

PDF of PowerPoint 1

PowerPoint 2

PDF of PowerPoint 2

There are lots more great pictures to be found on Google images.

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.

An opportunity to win some wonderful prizes in Heywood Hill’s Paddy competition

As many will know, Paddy set off on his European odyssey from Shepherd Market. His biographer Artemis Cooper has discovered that Paddy lived above Heywood Hill immediately after the war. He kept an account there for Balasha Cantacuzene, the Romanian princess and great love of his youth, so that she could buy books whenever she wanted. He remained a lifelong customer of Heywood Hill.

To celebrate the publication in October the biography of Patrick Leigh Fermor : An Adventure, Heywood Hill are running a Prize draw. If you order a copy through them you will be automatically entered to win:

1st Prize
Signed First Edition of A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor
Original John Craxton lithograph from A Poet’s Eye 1944
Watercolour of a View From The Library at Kardamyli by Isobel Brigham
Magnum of Laurent-Perrier Brut NV
£100 Heywood Hill voucher

To order your copy and to enter The Heywood Hill Prize Draw 2012, contact them at:

10 Curzon Street, London W1J 5HH
+44 20 7629 0647

PLF@heywoodhill.com

More details available on their website.

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 ….

Literary and Historical References – Between the Woods and the Water

The last in the series which presents the work of members of the Royal Geographical Society which analyses chapter by chapter, literary and historical references from some of Paddy’s key works.

This was presented at the RGS in the afternoon talk on 12 December 2012,”Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Appreciation by Alexander Maitland, FRGS”.

My thanks to the Royal Geographic Society for permission to present this.

Download a pdf of this document here.

Related article:

Literary and Historical References – The Traveller’s Tree

Transylvanian hay-day – An afternoon’s diversion on the way to Constantinople, 78 years ago.

Between the Woods and the Water

As Nick Hunt is currently in the vicinity of the Hungarian-Romanian border on his walk in Paddy’s footsteps to Constantinople, I thought that it might be an appropriate time to publish this extract. It is one of the most memorable pieces of Paddy’s writing. What a way to spend a hot summer’s afternoon!

by Patrick Leigh Fermor

First published in The Spectator in 1986. This version 18 June 2011.

One day when we were invited to luncheon by some neighbours, István said, ‘Let’s take the horse’ and we followed a roundabout uphill track to look at a remaining piece of forest. ‘Plenty of common oak, thank God,’ he said, turning back in the saddle as we climbed a path through the slanting sunbeams, ‘you can use it for everything.’ The next most plentiful was Turkey oak, very good firewood when dry, also for stable floors and barrel staves. Beech came next, ‘it leaves scarcely any embers’; then yoke elm and common elm, ‘useful for furniture and coffins’. There was plenty of ash, too — handy for tools, axe-helves, hammers, sickles, scythes, spades and hay rakes. Except for a few by the brooks, there were no poplars up there but plenty by the Maros: useless, though, except for troughs and wooden spoons and the like. Gypsies made these. They settled in the garden and courtyard of the kastély with their wives and their children and whittled away until they had finished. ‘There is no money involved,’ István said. ‘We’re supposed to go halves, but, if it’s an honest tribe, we’re lucky to get a third. We do better with some Rumanians from out-of-the-way villages in the mountains, very poor and primitive chaps, but very honest.’

In a clearing we exchanged greetings with a white-haired shepherd leaning on a staff with a steel hook. The heavily embroidered homespun cloak flung across his shoulders and reaching to the ground was a brilliant green. His flock tore at the grass among the tree-stumps all round him. Then a path led steeply downhill through hazel woods with old shells and acorns crunching under the horses’ hooves.

It was a boiling hot day. On the way back from a cheerful feast, we went down to the river to look at some wheat. Overcome by the sight of the cool and limpid flood, we unsaddled in a shady field about the size of a paddock, took off all our clothes, climbed down through the reeds and watercress and dived in. Swimming downstream with lazy breaststroke or merely drifting in the shade of the poplars and the willows, we talked and laughed about our recent fellow guests. The water was dappled with leafy shade near the bank and scattered with thistle-down, and a heron made off down a vista of shadows. Fleets of moorhens doubled their speed and burst noisily out of the river, and wheat, maize and tiers of vineyard were gliding past us when all at once we heard some singing. Two girls were reaping the end of a narrow strip of barley; going by the colours of their skirts and their embroidered tops, braid sashes and kerchiefs, they had come for the harvest from a valley some way off. They stopped as we swam into their ken, and, when we drew level, burst out laughing. Apparently the river was less of a covering than we had thought. They were about 19 or 20, with sunburnt and rosy cheeks and thick dark plaits, and not at all shy. One of them shouted something, and we stopped and trod water in mid-Maros. István interpreted. ‘They say we ought to be ashamed of ourselves,’ he said, ‘and they threaten to find our clothes and run off with them.’

Then he shouted back, ‘You mustn’t be unkind to strangers! You look out, or we’ll come and catch you.’

‘You wouldn’t dare,’ came the answer. ‘Not like that, naked as frogs.’

What are these for?’ István pointed to the branches by the shore. ‘We could be as smartly dressed as Adam.’

‘You’d never catch us! What about your tender white feet in the stubble? Anyway, you’re too respectable. Look at your hair, going bald in front.’

‘It’s not!’ István shouted back.

‘And that young one,’ cried the second girl, ‘he wouldn’t dare.’

István’s blue eye was alight as he translated the last bit. Then without exchanging another word we struck out for the shore as fast as crocodiles and, tearing at poplar twigs and clumps of willow-herb, bounded up the bank. Gathering armfuls of sheaves, the girls ran into the next field, then halted at the illusory bastion of a hay-rick and waved their sickles in mock defiance. The leafy disguise and our mincing gait as we danced across the stubble unloosed more hilarity. They dropped their sickles when we were almost on them and showered us with the sheaves; then ran to the back of the rick. But, one-armed though we were, we caught them there and all four collapsed in a turmoil of hay and barley and laughter.

‘Herrgott!’ I heard István suddenly exclaim — much later on, and a few yards round the curve of the rick — smiting his brow with his hand. ‘Oh God! The bishop! The Gräfin! They’re coming to dinner, and look at the sun!’

It was well down the sky and evening was gathering. The ricks and the poplars and the serried rows of sheaves and haycocks were laying bars of shadow over the mown field and a party of birds was flying home across the forest. István’s hay-entangled hair was comically at variance with his look of consternation and we all laughed. Extracting strands of hay and the clinging barley, we tidied Safta and Ileana’s plaits, disordered by all this rough and tumble, and set off hand in hand with them for the river, István and I on tiptoe. ‘Poor feet,’ they murmured. After goodbyes we dived in and started the long swim back, turning many times to wave and call to those marvellous girls and they waved and answered until they were out of earshot and then, after a bend in the river, out of sight as well.

This piece first appeared in The Spectator in 1986; it forms part of Between the Woods and the Water (John Murray, £8.99). © Patrick Leigh Fermor, 1986.

£1 a week – Surprisingly easy to Hungarian padded hands

Nick Hunt by the Danube

Nick Hunt by the Danube

Nick has been making quite an impact with the local press in Austria and Hungary. In a recent piece on his blog entitled “Surprisingly easy to Hungarian padded hands” you can find links to some interesting articles and an explanation of that title.

Urgent! Can we help Nick locate Istvan’s kastely?

I know I could open BTTW but I might still find that I don’t know the answer so I thought in this electronic age the best thing would be to go viral with the question Can we Help Nick Find Istvan’s Kastely?

I received this note from Nick just an hour or so ago …

Tom

Thanks so much for your support with reposting some of my articles. I’m glad people seem to be finding them interesting. I’ve got one question about the Romanian leg of the journey — do you have any idea where Istvan’s kastely was? It’s somewhere east of Zam, near the river Mures, but there’s nothing more specific than that. I’ve had a lot of help on the other kastelys from someone called Ileana who works for this organisation – http://monumenteuitate.blogspot.com/ – involved in restoring and preserving historic buildings in Romania. She contacted me having found my blog somehow, and is really helpful. I’m not sure if she has any more clues about the location of Istvan’s place.
Hope all is well with you. Have you been travelling recently? Best wishes from Budapest… and soon from the Great Hungarian Plain.
Nick
Any clues or answers please email me or add a comment. I am sure we will crack this so thank you in advance!

March 2012 – Nick reaches the bridge at Esztergom

Imagine Paddy standing in the middle of this bridge looking at the cathedral

It took Paddy until Easter 1934 to get to this bridge. Nick is moving well now. The bridge at Esztergom was one of my first blog posts back in April 2010!

The bridge linking Slovakia and Hungary, between the towns of Štúrovo and Esztergom, also links A Time of Giftsand Between the Woods and the Water. Here Paddy paused both in his walking and his writing, ‘meditatively poised in no man’s air,’ before crossing into Hungary and the second phase of his journey.

I reached that bridge a week ago (or rather the reconstruction of that bridge — the original was destroyed in 1944), and in a rather unbelievable way came to the very last page of my notebook standing above the Danube … read more

Related article:

Easter 1934 – Paddy reaches the Hungarian border at Esztergom

Patrick Leigh Fermor The Art of Travel broadcast c.1990-1992

A recording of a BBC Radio 4 programme entitled “The Art of Travel” (broadcast c.1990-1992) in which Annette Kobrak interviewed PLF for about 26 minutes concerning his early life and his journey to Constantinople. There is some good discussion about his travels after Between the Woods and the Water, about Bulgaria and into Constantinople.

I am indebted to David Turner for taking the time to convert this to digital and very successfully too – the sound quality is excellent!

You can listen online or download (press the downwards pointing arrow on the right hand side menu bar of the player).

I have updated the Video and Audio page with the programme. Don’t forget to visit to find more interviews with Paddy.

A Year of Memory: the top ten posts on the Patrick Leigh Fermor blog

As the year comes to a close it is time to reflect upon what has passed and to look forward to 2012. I make no predictions for the coming year. There are some things which are almost certain such as the continuing Euro crisis and the much anticipated publication of Artemis Cooper’s authorised biography about Paddy, but forecasts tend to be overtaken by events and are quickly forgotten.

What we can do is to look back on this year in the life and times of Patrick Leigh Fermor. The major event of course was Paddy’s death on 10 June at the age of ninety-six. A sad event for his family and close friends, but also for those of us who admired him for his writing and the life he lived. As the year closed it was time to celebrate his life at his Memorial Service held on 15 December in London.

As I hoped the blog has become a significant source of material about his life including rarely seen video. There have been over 228,000 visits over the last year and you have made it a much more interactive experience by using the comment facility to exchange information, provide your own memories of Paddy, and to express your admiration for him. At the time of his death I opened a page where you could express your thoughts about Paddy which has run to over 120 comments.

Paddy would probably have been somewhat bemused by the whole idea of the blog, but perhaps even more so by the interaction we now have with social networking sites with nearly 4,500 visitors finding the site from Facebook, and 850 via Twitter.

To conclude the year, and as the 365th post on the blog, let us take a look at some of the most popular articles over the last twelve months. Perhaps I can make one promise to you all which is that there is much more to come on the blog in 2012 which includes a lot of material submitted by you the readers of the blog.

The Funeral Service of Patrick Leigh Fermor, 16 June 2011 

Paddy’s funeral service was held on a typical English summer’s day at his home in Dumbleton. He returned to England just one day before his death and is buried beside his beloved Joan.

Obituary from The Independent by Paddy Leigh Fermor’s biographer Artemis Cooper 

Perhaps the definitive obituary.

Patrick Leigh Fermor … This is Your (Ill Met by Moonlight) Greek Life 

The amazing video from the Greek TV programme which reunited the participants of the Ill Met by Moonlight kidnap including Paddy, many of the Andartes, and General Kreipe and his wife.

Anthony Lane’s New Yorker article on Fermor is now free to view 

One of the most comprehensive profiles of Paddy which is now freely available to all. (the pdf download appears to be no longer available – click on the article to magnify to read and then drag your cursor to move around the page)

Intimate portraits from Kardamyli by Miles Fenton 

A series of personal photographs sent to me by Miles Fenton who is Paddy’s nephew and who now lives in Canada where he works as an artist.

Patrick Leigh Fermor recounts the kidnap of General Kreipe on video 

The ever popular video where Paddy talks in some detail about the Kreipe kidnap. (press play on Battle of Crete 7).

Colonel David Smiley 

David Smiley was a fellow occupant of Tara in Cairo with Paddy and Billy Moss et al who continued his military career with some distinction after the war and even led Japanese soldiers in a charge against VietMinh rebels!

Paddy’s eye for detail: Ian Fleming, Bondage, James Bond and Pol Roger 

It is probably the James Bond/Ian Fleming association which maintains the popularity of this article.

If food be the music of love … Bánffy’s lover in Cluj (Kolozsvár) 

No list of popular posts can be complete without the compelling combination of my passions for Paddy, Romania, Miklós Bánffy, and Cluj.

Patrick Leigh Fermor Memorial Order of Service 

The order of service from the joyful occasion that was Paddy’s Memorial Service.

Finally I would like to thank so many of you for your encouragement and support during 2011, and wish you all a very Happy New Year!

Tom Sawford

£1 a week to Constantinople – Bon Voyage to Nick and Nice Weather for Young Ducks

Paddy does not say if his last night in London before his epic journey was as busy as it was on Wednesday as Nick Hunt gathered with some friends in Shepherd Market to wish him well on his epic journey, but seventy-eight years ago today our hero, and let’s not be ashamed to say it, our hero, Patrick Leigh Fermor celebrated his last night in London as just another under-achieving public schoolboy, setting out to emulate Robert Byron, from this untouched corner of old London, which is now the haunt of hedge fund managers and buccaneering chief executives of junior mining companies; London clay brick Georgian squeezed into some of the highest priced real-estate in the land.

A new endeavour is about to start as Nick sets off on Friday to walk across the New Europe just as it is probably about to undergo the most significant peacetime turmoil since the rise of Nazism in the 1930’s into which Paddy stumbled with only a few links to ‘civilisation’ to accompany him, including his copy of Horace’s Odes.

Frankly I am as envious as I can be. Who could not wish to spend time away from the demands of today’s ever connected world? To endure physical challenges whilst encountering architectural marvels and meeting interesting people, each with a unique story to tell. It could well be the journey of a lifetime and I hope I send Nick off with all your best wishes. He has mine.

The weather today is better than that encountered by Paddy as he set out ….

The weather in London on December 9th 1933 was typical. The sky darkened, the clouds lowered and then it rained hard. A young man walked the cold pavements towards Cliveden Place to collect a rucksack that his friend Mark Ogilvie-Grant had used on a journey to Mount Athos accompanied by Robert Byron. After stopping to buy a stout ash stick, and probably some cigarettes, at the tobacconist on the corner of Sloane Square, the young man collected his new passport – occupation ‘student’ – from the office in Petty France. He cast his eyes up to the ominous clouds and then made his way quickly north across Green Park. Now the rain splashed down as he dashed between the traffic on Piccadilly and entered the house of his landlady, Miss Beatrice Stewart, in Shepherd Market.

A former model who sat for Sickert, and Augustus John, and who is said to be the model for the bronze figure of Peace atop Wellington Arch, Beatrice Stewart’s career was cruelly cut short after she lost a leg in a road accident. She had arranged a lunch for the eighteen year old Patrick Leigh Fermor and two of his friends to wish him bon voyage before the start of what was to become one of the most famous journeys of all time, and certainly the longest gap year in history.

After lunch, Paddy said thank you and goodbye to Miss Stewart, and jumped into a waiting taxi, which drove off through Mayfair, around Trafalgar Square, up Ludgate Hill, and past the Monument towards the Tower of London. It was raining so heavily that all they could see out of the steamed up windows were hordes of umbrellas, some carried by bowler hatted men, as the rain splashed down in the dark. “Nice weather for young ducks.” said the taxi driver as he dropped the small party by the first barbican on Tower Bridge.

The two companions, one a young girl wearing a mackintosh over her head like a coal shifter, stood in the rain to watch Paddy descend the stone steps down to Irongate Wharf. With a final wave, he strode up the gangplank of a Dutch steamer bound for Hook of Holland.

This was the start of Paddy’s journey down the Rhine and along the Danube which he so memorably describes for us in his book A Time of Gifts. This part of the story ends on Easter Sunday 1934 as Paddy stood on the long bridge over the Danube, in no-man’s land, between Czechoslovakia and Hungary at Esztergom, just as the Easter celebrations started in earnest.

A Time of Gifts is almost universally acknowledged as a masterpiece of English literature; Sebastian Faulks is a dissenter, but he would be. Described by some as a travel book, it is essentially the journal of a young man with a superb gift of memory, for languages, and for making friends, written with the benefit of a lifetime of amazing experience and learning, forty years after the events it describes. It is embellished by anecdotes and essential historical background, making it a rounded piece of literature and no mere travelogue. It should be compulsory reading for all seventeen year olds; it is truly inspirational. The sad part is that the very reason for the ending of Paddy’s ‘gap year’ whilst with his lover Balasha Cantacuzene in Romania in September 1939, resulted in the destruction of many of the towns and cities he passed through, and certainly ended the way of life of the peoples of Europe that he describes so well.

I have no doubt that today, were Paddy still with us that he would pause for a while to recall that day, wish Nick all the best, and reflect on the events that followed during his amazing and full life, and the friends and lovers who have gone before him.

Perhaps Sir Patrick Michael Leigh Fermor DSO OBE, who was the Greatest Living Englishman, would pen a short letter to Debo?

Snail’s pace to Byzantium: journey of a lifetime

This is a combination of profile and review of Words of Mercury. An interesting piece.

by Ann Elder

First Published in Athens News, 9 Jan 2004

“I HATE the word travel-writer,” London-born, Mani-based Patrick Leigh Fermor told a British journalist in 1995. Under the title Words of Mercury, a selection of his writings was published by John Murray this autumn. The excerpts from half a dozen of his books, some articles and reviews show clearly why he must flinch from being slotted anywhere confining.

As his followers know, he writes with an enchanted pen. Any topic he takes up becomes something ‘rich and strange’. He has a story-teller’s knack of compelling interest, like the Ancient Mariner mesmerizing listeners with his glittering eye. And he has a particular flair for catching the heightened receptivity and visceral thrill felt at new encounters, what Cavafy wished the traveler in his poem Ithaka:

Pray that your journey may be long,
that many may those summer mornings be
when with what pleasure, what untold delight
you enter harbours never seen before.”
(Kimon Friar translation)

Not least, Leigh Fermor wins readers’ allegiance by creating the sense of affinity with an engaging personality, uncensorious, untinged by chauvinism, reveling in life, akin in spirit to A E Housman, onetime professor of Latin at Cambridge, in his lines:

Could man be drunk forever
With liquor, love or fights
Lief should I rouse at mornings
And lief lie down at nights.

Edited by Artemis Cooper, a writer (Cairo in Wartime) and wife of historian Antony Beevor (Crete: The Battle and the Resistance), the book has five parts: travel, Greece, people, books and flotsam (finishing with a poem on Christmas maybe better forgotten). Cooper gives brief introductions to each piece and starts off with a succinct biography.

As an 18-year-old living on a pound a week in a flat off Picadilly in 1933, Leigh Fermor spent more time partying than buckling down to write. As fate had it, he had read The Station: Athos: Treasures and Men by the irreverent young Robert Byron in 1928. The ‘great and misunderstood spirit of Byzantium’ had greatly impressed him.

“About lamp-lighting time at the end of a wet November day, I was peering morosely at the dog-eared pages on my writing table,” he related later. “A plan unfolded – to set out across Europe like a tramp – a pilgrim or a palmer, an errant scholar, a broken knight.”

“The chief destination was never in a moment’s doubt. The levitating skyline of Constantinople pricked its sheaves of thin cylinders and its hemispheres out of the sea-mist; beyond it hovered Mount Athos; and the Greek archipelago.”

In excess of his wildest dreams, he found material to write about. All was grist to his mill, but his mill ground slowly. His writing proved to require long gestation. He became fanatical about polishing his product, and research, the more obscure, the more it seemed to appeal to him, like the origins of the Sarakatsans or the Laz-speaking Greeks of Trebizond. The first book about his venture, A Time of Gifts, came out in 1977, over 40 years later, and the second, Between the Woods and the Water about “those mysterious regions between the Vienna Woods and the Black Sea” as Saki put it – in 1986. In France they called him “l’escargot (the snail) of the Carpathes.”

Real life and events also delayed his writing. The trek took him about a year. He reached his goal on New Year’s Eve, 1934, after ending his traverse of Bulgaria with a splash, falling into the Black Sea on a cold December evening. He came to the coast some 150 miles north of the Bosphorus. “An old man was smoking a narghileh on the doorstep of a hut beside a little boat beached among the rushes – a Tartar fisherman, the only human being I saw all day,” he  wrote over 20 years later in an article in the May 1965 Holiday Magazine.

Darkness fell. “I lost my footing on a ledge and skidded – waist-deep into a pool. Jarred and shaken, with a gash on my forehead and a torn thumb, I climbed out, shuddering with cold. At the bottom of the pool, about two fathoms down, my torch was sending a yellow shaft through sea anemones and a flickering concourse of fish.”

Crawling round the rocks, he came to a veritable Cyclop’s cave sheltering a dozen Greek fishermen and Bulgarian goatherds with their 50 goats and cheese-making apparatus, eating lentils by a thornbush fire. The young wayfarer was soon dried and warm, tossing back slivovitz and eating fresh fried mackerel.

Leigh Fermor is in his element in the climax of this thoroughly Homeric episode, when one of the Greeks, Costa, turns out to be an unsung Nijinsky, his dancing invested with a ‘tragic and doomed aura.’ He performed the stunt  with which Greek cruise ships like to wind up their Greek night shows: dancing with a table between the teeth.

“On a rock, lifted there to clear the floor, the low, round, heavy table was perched. Revolving past it, Costa leaned forward: suddenly the table levitated itself into the air, sailed past us, and pivoted at right angles to Costa’s head in a series of wide loops, the edge clamped firmly in his mouth and held here only by his teeth. The dancer whirled like a dervish, till the flying table melted into a disc, finally returned to its rock, glasses, cutlery, lentil pot and cigarette burning on the edge of a plate undisturbed.”

Time in Greece he dates from his 20th birthday, February 11, 1935, when he arrived at Mt Athos as ‘snowflakes were falling fast’ and ‘in deep snow, trudged from monastery to monastery.’ In Athens later, he frequented the  Romanian embassy, meeting descendants of Phanariot hospodars, Ypsilantes, Ghikas and Cantacuzenes. As with Greece, he fell in love with Balasha Cantacuzene whose forebear, Emperor John Vl, invited the Seljuk Turks to  Europe (and is recalled sorrowfully in a Cavafy poem for having coloured glass not jewels in his coronation crown).

After time writing and painting in an old mill among the lemon groves overlooking Poros, they went to her decaying family estate in Moldavia. Published in 1961 was a perfectly pitched account of a picnic in sunlit  countryside by open carriage and on horseback on September 2, 1939, the last day of peace. “It had been a happy day, as we had hoped, and it had to last us a long time, for the next day’s news scattered the little society for ever.”

Utterly desolating is the Daily Telegraph weekend magazine article of May 1990 on his first breaking through the Iron Curtain in 1965. He found the Cantecuzene sisters in a Bucharest attic eking out a communist state pension  teaching. The gracious old houses he had stayed in among flowery meadows and nightingale-filled woods were psychiatric hospitals, their owners dead.

Leigh Fermor seems happiest gilding the past, writing to ‘the brave music of a distant drum,’ as old Khayyan put it, not dwelling on ‘bitter furies of complexity’ or ‘that gong-tormented sea’ of Yeats’s “Byzantium” which he refers to at the outset in Time of Gifts. The days of his youth were the days of his glory and he evokes them with zest, if no doubt some selective memory. He admits he is beset with ‘retrogressive hankerings,’ but these add to the richness of the embroidered prose dazzling his readers, to twist Yeats a bit. And sometimes he might be shoulder-to-shoulder with the poet:

Of all Arabia’s lovers I alone
Nor dazzled by the embroidery, nor lost
In the confusion of its night-dark folds,
Can hear the armed man speak.

His review of Edmund Keeley’s Cavafy’s Alexandria in a 1977  Times Literary Supplement (TLS) shows him at his serious best. He recalls “the blacked-out, jolly, rather wicked wartime port” he knew as a young British World War Two agent, then is off with Cavafy into the Judaeo-Hellenic Franco-Levantine city “old in sin, steeped in history, warrened with intrigue.”

He notes the depths of irony and dark humour in the notion of citizens aghast with consternation when the barbarians fail to invade them on cue. He ponders “the jagged Ithaka at the long Odyssey’s end; the imminent Ephialtes ready to sell the Thermopylae of the spirit.” He goes on: “Issued without preamble from an atmosphere of earthly delights these warnings sound as harsh, for a moment, as the words of Mercury after the songs of Apollo at the end of ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost.'”

Leigh Fermor is a mild Mercury though. In a review of Oxford classicist CM Bowra’s Primitive Song in a 1962 Spectator he commends him for eschewing ‘a softer technique, swaying to the seductions of every coincidence  and historical chance-shot.’ He himself tends to yield to the tempting vistas of ‘alluring byways.’

The selections from his writings on Greece include a report he wrote for London’s Imperial War Museum archives in 1969 on how the German commander General Heinrich Kreipe was abducted by a Cretan-British force he led in April 1944. While still controversial, the coup makes a cracking good story.

At Anoyeia where captors and captive rested, villagers were ‘convulsed by incredulity, then excitement and finally by triumphant hilarity. We could hear running feet in the streets, shouts and laughter. “Just think, we’ve stolen their General!”‘

Heading south round Psiloritis – Mt Ida of antiquity, over 2,200 metres high and snow-covered till late May – the getaways were to meet a British vessel on the coast to spirit them to Egypt. After a night in a shepherd’s hut sharing  one blanket, “a brilliant dawn was breaking over the crest of Mt Ida which we had been struggling across for two days. We were lying smoking in silence, when the General, half to himself, slowly said (in Latin): ‘See, how it stands, one pile of snow’. I was in luck. It is the opening line of one of the few odes of Horace I know by heart. I went on reciting where he had broken off (likewise in Latin);

‘neath the pressure yield
Its groaning woods; the torrents flow
With clear sharp ice is all congealed.
Heap high the logs, and melt the cold,
Good Thaliarch; draw the wine we ask,
That mellower vintage, four-year-old,
From out the cellar’d Sabine cask.

(Conington’s translation)

The stanzas are much-loved, ‘a picturesque Christmas card,’ say scholars. They evoke the perfect ambience in which to peruse the book. Those unfamiliar with Leigh Fermor will surely have appetites whetted for more. Those who know him and have his books around will dash for them to locate the extracts, then hotly debate the choices, such as the punning Achitectural Notes from a 1994 Spectator: “If you squinch, aisle screen,” and “Put those Saxon  here Norman,” and “Overhung? Per apse, when dais done.”

The author has covered himself. “Pure nonsense is as rare among the arts as an equatorial snowdrop”, he wrote in a review of George Seferis’s Illustrated Verses for Small Children in a 1977  TLS.

Wild Carpathia

Sorry I just can’t help myself. Romania is so magical and beautiful; Paddy is reported to have said that after Greece he loved Romania the most. I have to share this video with you. It was funded by The European Nature Trust (TENT) which is based in Marlow, Berkshire. It’s mission is ” the protection and restoration of threatened wilderness, wild habitats and the wildlife living within them.” and it is focused upon Romania and Scotland.

This is a high quality version in English. Watch it and maybe support the work of TENT.

The all star cast includes lots of bears, even more mountains, and huge (but endangered) forests. Presented by Charlie Ottley, with Count Kálnoky, and HRH Prince Charles who thinks because he has some ancestral links to Vlad Dracul he has a ‘stake’ in the country.

Related article:

Lost in Transylvania

Cantacuzino Family Tomb in Baleni, Romania

Of the old estate of the Cantacuzino’s, all that remains is a tomb—and even that has been left to the elements—“The memorial has value, but the monument isn’t part of our database,” maintains the Director of Culture.

Chris Bartholomew got in touch with me, all the way from Salt Lake City, to pass on his translation of an article he found in a Romanian newspaper about the family tomb of Balasha Cantacuzene, who was Paddy’s lover before the war.

Thank you so much for your Patrick Leigh Fermor Blog. I have been a daily reader for about a year now, and have a difficult time thinking of life without my connection to this community you have brought together.

Last night I came across three newspaper articles about Baleni, Romania where Paddy spent time with Balasa Cantacuzino (the romanian spelling of Cantacuzene). The newspaper is Viata Libera, I believe from the city of Galati.

I’ve translated one article about the family tomb in Baleni, and thought it might be of interest to you and your readers as it provides excellent details about this mostly unpublished chapter of Paddy’s life.

Regards,

Chris

Salt Lake City, Utah

by Cristna S. Carp

First published in Viata Libera 17 March 2009

Generations of Cantacuzinos, the famous Byzantine noble family who contributed crowned heads to Romanian principalities, sleep forever in the locality of Baleni, almost forgotten.

Of the manor house and their vast estate in the former Covurlui County, all that remains is a tomb, left crumbling and surrounded by decrepitude.

The Last Male Descendant

Stories of princes and princesses always have happy endings. This only happens in fairy tales.

In reality, the princesses buried at Baleni are crying and sobbing, and Leon [Balasa & Elena’s father], the final Cantacuzino male descendant from the south of Moldova, is turning in his grave. Artifact hunters have even broken into the tomb through the roof.

But not even recent historical times have been among the most favorable. The last inhabitants of the manor, the daughters of Leon, Balasa and Elena, as well as Constantin Donici, the husband of the latter, were deported by the Communists to Pucioasa. Of the descendants of the Cantacuzinos of Baleni, it seems that no one is left alive.

The Transformation of a Library

One night in March of 1949, the fate of the owners and of the estate was sealed. The solid and imposing manor was doomed to dust.

An existing remnant of a reddish wall vaguely reminds us of the one time benefactors of the local communities, of country celebrations filled with good friends, and the many hunting expeditions. This is where in 1927 Nicolae Iorga, after a conference in Galati, came to admire the “splendid library, with artistic and rare editions.” This is also where Prince Sutu once dropped in, in his personal airplane.

The precious library from Baleni, consisting of books in English, French, Russian, Greek, German and Romanian, was scattered in all directions, beginning on the night of its masters’ eviction. Some volumes came to an end burning in the bottom of a decommissioned root cellar, others were thrown into a nearby river.

As not to muddy themselves during the early months of spring, activists used the books, gathered by the Cantacuzinos from the ends of the earth, to pave their walkways. Peasants fashioned shoes out of the luxurious covers of the books. Only a few hundred have found their way to the ‘V.A. Urechia” library, deposited by the Party or from other donations.

Ten Souls

Constructed, most likely, at the beginning of the 20th Century, the tomb situated in the old village cemetery, is “crammed” between graves whose ordinary souls also ask for the right to rest in peace. The funerary monument includes a chapel, constructed above the tomb. The crypt is open to anyone who would like to light a candle above the heads of these ten souls.

The first of the resting places belongs to the brother of Leon. Next are buried the paternal grandmother and the parents of Leon. His father, Prince George Matei, died in Egypt, but was brought to Baleni, where he was given a very ceremonious funeral.

Ana Vacarescu [Balasa’s mother] faded from life in 1923, followed that same year by her husband, Leon Cantacuzino. Balasa died in 1976, in Pucioasa. Elena brought her to Baleni and a few years later, also had the privilege of placing the incinerated remains of her dead husband in the crypt.

In her turn, Elena was placed, in 1983, in her final resting place, by her former students. The final person buried in the Cantacuzino tomb is Georghe Farcas, a descendant of the noble estate. As the founders of the new village church, the Cantacuzino descendants are often mentioned, but only during religious services.

“The Memorial is Proposed for Designation”

The county cultural representative, councilman Marius Mitrof, told us that, concerning the value of the funeral monument, all circumstances point to the memorial receiving historical designation. A precedent exists, in the tomb of the Serfioti Family, from Filesti, and of the Crissovelon family, from Ghidigeni, found on the list of historical monuments. However, specialists still must take into account other parameters, such as its architectural value and the conditions of the construction.

The former mayor, professor Nicolae Nita, admits, not without regret, that the princes, who might bring recognition to the village, are unjustly forgotten. Not even the current mayor, Lica Oprea, knows how this civic treasure might be given recognition without financial help from the county counsel.

A first step would be, as Marius told us, to solicit historical designation for the tomb, from the Directorate of Culture. “We do not have this funeral monument in our database, but it follows for us to visit the site to collect information and to hold public discussion with the local administration,” he also said.

On the other hand, even with an official place in the register of historical monuments, the tomb in Baleni has no guarantee that it will remain intact. Neither is it assured that, if the manor, once visited by Nicolae Iorga, had survived the Communists, it would have been maintained and promoted any better by our contemporaries. Here as well, sadly, we have precedents. Proof that our mentality must also be changed.

Related article:

The troubled waters of the mind grow still and clear by Colin Thubron 

£1 a week from Hook of Holland to Constantinople – packing the rucksack

With just over a month to go I asked Nick if he could provide us with an update on his preparations. Nick is absolutely delighted with the support that many  of you have given to him. Some by giving money. Others with offers of accommodation or contacts to help him on his way. Hopefully, we will have one more update before he sets out.

I have just over a month to go before starting my walk to Istanbul, following in Paddy’s footsteps. Ferries don’t leave from London these days, so I’m sailing to Rotterdam from Harwich, and from there will pick up his route to Dordrecht, and on towards Germany.

With my funding from the Globetrotters Club, I’ve bought most of my supplies. It’s kind of reassuring to know that despite 80 years of advances in technology and materials, and the growth of an entire ‘outdoors’ hiking industry, the most important things I could buy are still a rucksack and a decent pair of boots. Essentially I’ve just bought the same stuff Paddy did, but lighter and more waterproof. So while Paddy packed ‘different layers of jersey, grey flannel shirts’ and ‘a soft leather windbreaker,’ I have layers of merino wool and a wonderfully warm down vest. No hobnail boots, I’m sorry to say, but a pair of Scarpa Terra GTX boots, waterproofed with Goretex. And in place of an ‘old Army greatcoat,’ a lightweight Berghaus jacket.

During my journey I’ll be posting intermittently on afterthewoodsandthewater.wordpress.com – there’s a ‘Follow’ button, if you’d like to be informed when something new comes up. I may also be writing a weekly column for a newspaper – details are still to be arranged, so I can’t say more at the moment. It will surely be an interesting time to be walking through the heart of Europe, with the Eurozone bucking and writhing and its future increasingly uncertain … a reminder that the continent is still changing, is always in a state of flux, struggling with its identity, as it was when Paddy did his journey.

More to come before I go. For now, I’d just like to quote from James Kenward, Paddy’s great-nephew, who I had the great pleasure of meeting in London a few weeks ago. Paddy was clearly a huge influence and source of inspiration to him, and here are a few of his thoughts on what I’m setting out to do:

Personally I always find it difficult to understand why someone would seek to follow the line of someone else’s arrow … but the mission statement that emerged through our conversation seemed full of fresh intent and knocked the aforementioned out of me. Perhaps the very course of a great journey holds its own through time’s passing like the essence of structure provides timelessness to a heroic tale. The breadth of Europe will not cease to be a story and having such an incredible point of reference in Paddy’s writing adds another dimension. I think that Nick will dig deeply and write well of his journey and my hope and suspicion is that the seed of his inspiration — his regard for Paddy and his adventuring ways — will yield entirely new crop that Paddy would admire. Frankly his romantic masochism invested in and infected by a new age interests me — previously there was snow, and there will still be that — but imagine the frigging motorways.

Related article:

£1 a week – Nick explains the reason for his journey 

My favourite travel book, by the world’s greatest travel writers

Paul Theroux, William Dalrymple, Kari Herbert, Colin Thubron and many more writers tell us about the travel book that most influenced their own life and work. Others that one could say are slightly less well-known, and very pleased to be placed into the pantheon of “world’s greatest travel writers” – Mr Jasper Winn 🙂 – are included.

I was very pleased to see two of Eric Newby’s books chosen; no surprises that they were A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush and my absolute favourite, Love and War in the Apennines.

William Blacker chose all of Paddy’s books, including Between the Woods and the Water. Yesterday he sent me an email pointing out some deficiencies in the way the Guardian had edited his submission – Now, what did he really expact from the Grauniad? – , including the quotation from Kim at the end. William’s original submission can now be revealed in all its full and original glory …

It was not just the books of Patrick Leigh Fermor – notably Between the Woods and the Water about Rumania – which inspired me, but also the man. He was the quintessential free spirit. He didn’t bother with university, but at the age of 18 set off into the blue, on foot, across Europe , simply hoping for the best. His journey lasted five years. On the way he picked up a bewildering multitude of European languages, which led on to extraordinary wartime adventures, and then to a series of breath-taking books, which are peerless, and among the great masterpieces of twentieth century literature. The resounding success he made of his special brand of non-conformity should fill all would-be wanderers and fellow free spirits with hope. Read about his life, read his books, and if you are not similarly inspired and exhilarated by Leigh Fermor’s example then, as Kim said, ‘Run home to your mother’s lap, and be safe’.

William emphasises, for those who might miss it, “that I wrote, very deliberately, ‘great masterpieces of twentieth century literature’ and not  ‘great masterpieces of twentieth century TRAVEL literature’ !”

The list of choices can be found in this article in the Guardian.

A pilgrimage to Esztergom

I am not the only one who takes the opportunity to visit some of the places mentioned by Paddy in his books when travelling. Here is a nice note I received recently from Ed Ricketts …

Dear Tom,

Just writing to say that, in Budapest last weekend with some spare time before a conference, and having just learned of Paddy’s passing, I felt it appropriate to make a brief trip out to Esztergom – the town on a bend in the Danube where, on the bridge, A Time of Gifts ends and Between the Woods and the Water commences.

After a winding 90-minute train ride down a single-track line, I emerged at the end of the line, Esztergom, and into a sleepy provincial eastern European town (the fact that it was Sunday lunchtime probably the defining reason for this). After a good 30 minute walk into the town centre, past a very pleasant main square with some almost northern Italian architecture, you suddenly see the mammoth marble basilica overlooking the town on a hill. This is the seat of the Hungarian Catholic Church, and an important place of pilgrimage. Around the basilica are grouped some nice old cobbled streets and religious buildings, while the Danube flows calmly by.

I scrambled up a back way to the basilica, then climbed up onto the cupola which provides an incredible view of the Danube bend and nearby hills (see the attached photos). All the while, I tried to imagine a young and inquisitive countryman with a knapsack doing a similar thing in 1934. What I left until last was walking over the bridge (destroyed in 1944, so it’s sadly not the same structure Paddy tramped over) which now links Slovakia and Hungary. Reading the two books had a considerable effect on me, so this was quite an exciting moment. After a brief meditative pause in the middle, and a few minutes’ ambling on the Slovakian side, I returned over the bridge into Esztergom having toasted Paddy with a small cigar en route.

So a very pleasing day trip overall, with just one slight regret – that I didn’t have the two books with me at the time!

Thanks,

Ed Ricketts

Related article:

Easter 1934 – Paddy reaches the Hungarian border at Esztergom 

Honoring Patrick Leigh Fermor: Review Essay

This is quite an excellent essay that focuses on Paddy’s writing more than many other profiles.

Paddy in 1966

by Willard Manus

Reading Patrick Leigh Fermor today is both an exhilarating and depressing experience, exhilarating because of the depth and brilliance of his prose, depressing because the Greece he portrays so memorably has been hammered to dust by the march of time. Fermor, who was knighted in 2003, is best known in Greece and in his native Britain, where he was born nine decades ago to Sir Lewis Leigh Fermor, director of the Geological Society in India, and Eileen Ambler, who was partly raised there. His first book, The Traveller’s Tree, published in 1950, dealt with the journey he made through the Caribbean islands in 1947-48. The book won the Heinemann Foundation Prize for Literature, and established him as a writer of note.

His next two books, 1952’s A Time to Keep Silence, which described his stay in various European monasteries (where he discovered in himself “a capacity for solitude”), and 1956’s The Violins of Saint-Jacque, a novel, are interesting but minor works. His literary and political importance is linked to the two books on Greece he published a decade later—Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese and Roumeli: Travels in Northern Greece. Established his reputation as the pre-eminent non-native writer on 20th century Greece.

Fermor’s first experience of the country dated back to 1933, when as a rebellious and untamed 19-year-old, he dropped out of Sandhurst and set out on a walking tour of Europe with Constantinople as his ultimate destination was Constantinople. Envisioning himself as “a medieval pilgrim, an affable tramp with a knapsack and hobnailed boots,” he embarked, in mid-winter, on a journey that eventually spanned three years and took him through the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Rumania and, eventually, Greece. 2

Remarkably, Fermor did not write about his picaresque adventures in pre-war Europe until many years later. “So when A Time of Gifts appeared in 1977 and Beneath the Winds and the Water in 1986, the life of the mid-thirties that he described had been utterly destroyed,” his biographer Artemis Cooper has noted, “and much of the land he had walked over was in the grip of communism for years. Yet his memory recreated this world with an astonishing freshness and immediacy, and recaptured the young man he was then: full of curiosity, optimism and joy in the vibrant diversity of the world.”  The concluding volume of Fermor’s trilogy is scheduled for publication (by John Murray Ltd.) in early 2007.

Fermor made it to Constantinople on New Year’s Day, 1935, and then crossed south into Greece. He spent time in a monastery on Mt. Athos, got caught up later in a Royalist vs. Republican battle in Macedonia, arriving finally in Athens, where he met the great love of his life, the Romanian Balasha Cantacuzene. They went to Poros and lived together in an old water mill, where he wrote and she painted. When the money ran out they retreated to her decaying family home in Baldeni, Moldavia.

Fermor described the house in an essay published in Words of Mercury, “Most of a large estate had been lopped away in the agrarian reform. There was little cash about, people were paid in kind by a sort of sharing system, so, in a way, were the owners; and, on the spot, there was enough to go around. Elderly pensioners hovered in the middle distance and an ancient staff would come into being at moments of need. . . .

“There was one crone there who knew how to cast spells and break them by incantations; another, by magic, could deliver whole villages from rats. After sheep-shearing, a claca, fifty girls and crones, bristling with distaffs would gather in a barn to spin; hilarious days with a lot of food, drink, singing and story-telling.

“Snow reached the windowsills and lasted till spring. There were cloudy rides under a sky full of rooks; otherwise, it was an indoors life of painting, writing, reading, talk and lamp-lit evenings with Mallarme, Apollinaire, Proust and Gide handy; there was Les Enfants Terribles and Le Grand Meaulnes and L’ Aiglon read aloud; all these were early debarbarizing steps in beguiling and unknown territory.”

Fermor was not quite the barbarian he fancied himself. Despite having rejected higher education, he was already something of a polymath, an autodidact. Not only was he conversant in five European languages (only Hungarian stumped him), he was knowledgeable about art, history, architecture, geography, sociology, religion, fashion, etymology, cartography, heraldry and many other subjects, all of which he had absorbed through voracious reading.

The importance of books in his life was discussed in a piece he wrote for The Pleasure of Reading (ed. Antonia Fraser, Bloomsbury, 1992). “When the miracle of literacy happened at last, it turned an unlettered brute into a book-ridden lunatic,” he confessed. “Till it was light enough to read, furious dawn-watches ushered in days flat on hearth-rugs or grass, in ricks or up trees, which ended in stifling torch lit hours under bedclothes.”‘

Among his favorite writers were Dickens, Thackeray (Vanity Fair, anyway), the Sitwells, Norman Douglas, Aldous Huxley and Evelyn Waugh, not to speak of Kipling and Houseman; Baudelaire and Ronsard in French; Horace and Virgil in Latin; Holderlin, Rilke and Stefan George in German.

“The young learn as quick as mynahs, at an age, luckily, when everything sticks,” he continued. What also stuck were “reams of Shakespeare, border ballads, passages of Donne, Raleigh, Wyatt and Marvel . . . two Latin hymns, remnants of spasmodic religious mania . . swatches from Homer, two or three epitaphs of Simonides, and two four-line moon-poems of Sappho.”

Fermor’s list also includes “the eleventh edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica … a battery of atlases, concordances, dictionaries, Loeb classics, Pleiades editions, Oxford companions, Cambridge histories, anthologies and books on birds, beasts, plants and stars.”

When Britain declared war in 1939, Fermor immediately went home to join up, leaving Balasha behind in Romania. He first enlisted in the Irish Guards, but because of his fluent command of Greek he was commissioned into the Intelligence Corps, serving at first as liaison officer to the Greek army fighting the Italians inAlbania. After Greece fell, Fermor was sent to Crete where he took part in the battle against the German airborne invasion. He remained on the island after the German triumph; disguised now as a Cretan shepherd, with a big handlebar moustache and a dagger in his belt, the tall, slim, Fermor cut a swashbuckling figure as he roamed the mountains to help organize the resistance movement.

It was there, in Crete’s high, wild country, that he recalled in Words of Mercury that…

“devotion to the Greek mountains and their population took root. . . . We lived in goat-folds and abandoned conical cheese-makers’ huts and above all, in the myriad caverns that mercilessly riddle the island’s stiff spine. Some were too shallow to keep out the snow, others could house a Cyclops and all his flocks. Here, at ibex- and eagle-height, we settled with our small retinues. Enemy searches kept us on the move and it was in a hundred of these eyries that we got to know an older Crete and an older Greece than anyone dreams of in the plains. Under the dripping stalactites we sprawled and sat cross-legged, our eyes red with smoke, on the branches that padded the cave’s floor and spooned our suppers out of a communal tin plate: beans, lentils, cooked snails and herbs, accompanied by that twice-baked herdsman’s bread that must be soaked in water or goat’s milk before it is eaten. Toasting goat’s cheese sizzled on the points of long daggers and oil dewed our whiskers. These sessions were often cheered by flasks of raki, occasionally distilled from mulberries, sent by the guardian village below. On lucky nights, calabashes of powerful amber-colored wine loosened all our tongues. Over the shoulders of each figure was a bristly white cloak stiff as bark, with the sleeves hanging loose like penguins’ wings; the hoods raised against the wind gave the bearded and mustachioed faces a look of Cistercians turned bandit. Someone would be smashing shells with his pistol-butt and offering peeled walnuts in a horny palm; another sliced tobacco on the stock of a rifle; for hours we forgot the war with talk and singing and stories; laughter echoed along the minotaurish warrens.”

In 1944 Fermor took part in a bold and perilous mission that later became the subject of a best-selling book, Ill Met by Moonlight by W. Stanley Moss, a fellow intelligence officer. 5 The British plan was to kidnap the German army’s chief of staff, General Muller, who had become notorious and hated for his brutal treatment of both Cretan partisans and civilians. When Muller was called away, the new target was his replacement: General Heinrich Kreipe, a professional soldier arriving straight from service on the Russian front.

Fermor and his team, which included Moss, Sandy Rendel (former political correspondent for the Sunday Times), the Cretan partisan Niki Akoumianakis and a dozen other andartes, had to radically alter their original plan. Fermor and Moss agreed to disguise themselves as German military policemen. That meant Fermor had to part with his Cretan moustache Without it, he looked so much the stiff-necked Teuton that Moss kidded him about being on the wrong side. They decided to promote themselves to corporal’s rank and decorate themselves with a few (stolen) ribbons.

Taking up positions outside the isolated Villa Ariadne—the headquarters for the German army had been built above Heraklion before the war by the archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans—Fermor and Moss flagged the general’s car down at 9.30 pm.

“Is dies das general’s wagon?” he asked.

“Ja, ja,” came the muffled answer from inside.

With that assurance, key members of the band attacked from all sides, tearing at the doors of the car. The beam of a flashlight showed the startled face of the general and the chauffeur reaching for his automatic. There was the thud of a bludgeon; the chauffeur keeled over and was dragged out of sight.

The general, who offered no resistance, was brought to Anogia, the largest village on Crete, located on the northern slopes of Mt. Ida. “Famous for its independent spirit, its idiosyncrasy of dress and accent, it had always been a great hideout of ours,” said Fermor in an account written in 1969  for the Imperial War Museum.

Fermor related that a note had been left in the general’s car stating that he was safe and “would be treated with the respect due to his rank,” and that the kidnap had been carried out by British officers and Greek nationals serving as soldiers in the forces of His Hellenic Majesty. “The point  was to give the Germans no excuse for carnage and reprisals in the Knossos area.”

The next day, however, a single-winged Feiseler-Storck reconnaissance plane circled above Anovia and dropped a steady snowfall of leaflets. “To all Cretans,” the message read, “last night the German General Kreipe was abducted by bandits. He is being concealed in the Cretan mountains and his whereabouts cannot be unknown to the inhabitants. If the General isn’t returned within three days, all rebel villages in the Heraklion district will be razed to the ground and the severest reprisals exacted on the civilian population.”

The general was not, of course, returned to the Germans; he was smuggled off the island and delivered by submarine to British army headquarters in Egypt, and the Germans exacted their promised revenge. Fermor deals with this in circumspect fashion in his official report, asserting that “most untrue to form, there had been little violence, few arrests, no shooting on the part of the Germans.”

Fermor’s statement is disputed by Dr. Michael E. Paradise, a Midwest-based Greek-American whose father and two brothers were members of the British intelligence group on Crete. Though in his teens, Michael himself was often used as a courier. “Attacking in the darkness of one night,” he wrote in the April 10, 1997 edition of The Greek American (a now-defunct, New York-based newspaper), “the Germans proceeded to destroy several villages with the utmost brutality and ferocity. I was witness of the destruction of one of the villages, Ano Meros, on Mt. Kendros in Amari.”

The kidnapping of Gen. Kreipe, Paradise asserted, “contributed to the unnecessary death of hundreds of men, who were hunted down like wild animals in the streets of their villages, then, while some were injured and still alive, they were burnt in the houses of the villages, and buried in them when the dynamiting of the houses followed.”

Most Cretans, though, have not held a grudge against Fermor and his gung-ho confederates. As one veteran Cretan commando said at the time of Kreipe’s abduction, “So they’ll burn down all the houses one day. And what then? My house was burnt down four times by the Turks. Let the Germans burn it down for a fifth time! And they killed scores of my family, scores of them, my child, yet here I am! We’re at war and war has all of these things. You can’t make a wedding feast without meat.”

After the war—and his brief Caribbean sojourn—Fermor realized that his love of Greece had tied himself forever to the country’s fortunes. He lived for a time on Evia, then Ithaca and Hydra (in the house of the painter, Niko Ghika). Soon after he began his travels in the far corners of the Greek mainland which led to the publication of his two masterpieces, Mani and Rozemeli. Accompanied by the photographer (and his wife-to-be) Joan Rayner (daughter of the Conservative politician and First Lord of the Admiralty in Ramsay MacDonald’s coalition government, Belton Eyres Monsell), whom he had met in wartime Cairo, Fermor set off with this goal in mind: “To situate and describe present-day Greece of the mountains and islands in relationship to their habitat and history.”

Mani is the southernmost part of Greece, an isolated, mountainous and forbidding peninsula known for its stark, sun-blistered landscape and warlike, feuding inhabitants. Despite having been warned not to attempt to penetrate into The Deep Mani— “the Maniatis are dangerous”—”they are Jews”—”they fear and hate foreigners”—”they live on salted starfish”—Fermor and Rayner defiantly set out on foot and mule, bus and caique, in search of an authentic Greek world.

What they found and reported on was a revelation to one and all. The Mani was a strange, combative place, to be sure—most people lived in pyrgi, stone towers that were more fortress than domicile—but it was fantastical at the same time, rich in history and bravery (no part of Greece played a more conspicuous and valuable part in the War of Independence). With its code of honor and hospitality, its love of freedom, the Mani was also pulsing with life, colorful in speech, custom, ritual and superstition.

The book that came out of this expedition into the heart and soul of the Mani became an instant classic. Fermor’s prose and Rayner’s photographs (sadly dropped from subsequent editions) won plaudits from critics and readers alike. The British artist (and longtime Greek resident) Polly Hope has said, “Mani was one of the books that brought me to Greece. When my husband and I first read it we knew instantly that this was the world we wanted to go to. It told of magic and fury and history and people and landscape. Completely breathtaking. We read it and reread it and read it again until our heads were full of towers and feuds, cucumbers like slices of ancient pillars, and ouzo. Donkeys and heat. And the dark sea that because of the extraordinary Greek light stands up vertically as far as the horizon. We had to go. And immediately. “We did, and remained, though not in Mani. Still all these years later it is the book that tells about Greece as it is. It is still right and as clear and informative as that first reading. Although tourism has spread its ugly veil over most of Greece the people are still there, the feuds and cucumbers, the vertical sea and broiling sun.”

Similar praise was bestowed on Roumeli when it was published eight years later. Fermor and Rayner’s portrait of the northeast corner of Greece, including Messolonghi, where Lord Byron (one of Fermor’s heroes) fought and died for Greece, is as vivid and compelling as anything in Mani. Whether writing about the sarakatsans, the nomadic shepherds—”self-appointed Ishmaels”—who inhabited the mountaintops, speaking in a  secret tongue; or the origins of the local Karayiozi puppet shows; or the Meteora monasteries; or the “stone-age banquet” (celebrating an arranged marriage) to which they were invited, Fermor’s prose shines and shimmers like beaten gold.

Historian John J. Norwich believes that Fermor “writes English as well as anyone alive.” 7 He also praised ‘the preternatural copiousness” of Fermor’s two books. Jan Morris seconded the statement, adding that Fermor was “beyond cavil, the greatest living travel writer.” In November, 2004 the British Guild of Travel Writers concurred, bestowing on Fermor its Lifetime Achievement Award.

Fermor won another important prize in 2004: the second Gennadius Trustees’ Award for his support of things Greek. At the ceremony in Athens,  the previous recipient of the award, writer/translator Edmund Keeley, said, “I look upon Mr. Fermor as one of my first mentors, a man of letters who taught me, perhaps more than any other Philhellene, the best way to write about the second country we have both come to love and to  celebrate in our work.”

After lauding Fermor for his “imaginative projection of Greece,” Keeley offered a specific example of the kind of “special insight” that Fermor  brings to his writing about Greece. “A scene in his superb book on the Mani . . . not only captures the essence of Greek hedonism . . . but  demonstrates his easy and subtle understanding of the Greek sensibility.”

The scene took place in “the glaring white town” of Kalamata where the Feast of St. John the Baptist was being celebrated. Fermor, his wife Joan, and their friend the writer Xan Fielding sat down to eat their dinner set out at the water’s edge on flagstones “that flung back the heat like a casserole with the lid off.”

Suddenly they decided to pick up their iron table, neatly laid out, and set it down a few yards out to sea, followed by their three chairs, then by the three of them sitting down with the cool water up to their waists. Quite sensible, the only slightly odd thing about this was that all three were fully dressed. Yet the really significant moment, the epiphany, came when the waiter arrived on the quay, gazed in surprise at the space they’d left empty on the burning flagstones, and then (quoting Fermor) “observing us with a quickly masked flicker of pleasure,” stepped without further hesitation into the sea and “advanced with a butler’s gravity” to put down their meal before them, three broiled fish, “piping hot, and with their golden brown scales sparkling.”

As Keeley pointed out, “It is Fermor’s seeing both that flicker of pleasure and the quick masking of it that says so much, more even than his report that others on the quay sent their seaborne fellow diners can after measuring can of retsina, and a dozen boats gathered around to help them consume the complimentary wine, and a mandolin arrived . . . to accompany rebetika songs in praise of the liberated life. Only those who have often taken apart and savored a broiled tsipoura or fangri . fresh from the sea and amply bathed in an olive-oil-and-lemon sauce would recognize why no representative Greek citizen given to pleasure would think of disturbing, except in a celebratory way, any table holding such a succulent, earthy gift from the Gods. And only a writer with Fermor’s precise vision and brilliant skill in expression would choose to show our hedonistic waiter appropriately masking his pleasure and assuming the gravity of a butler as he entered the sea on his mission to deliver the gods’ gift.”

It is, alas, harder and harder to find such raffish scenes in 21stcentury, tourist-choked, EU-regimented Greece. Even Fermor, in a recent essay, had to admit that much of what he first encountered and experienced in Greece has disappeared. “Progress has altered the face and character of the country,” he commented. And as for tourism, “it destroys the object of its love.” 10

That said, Fermor still continues to write about Greece. In his 90s, living alone in the pyrgos he built in the Outer Mani—Joan died in 2000, of injuries suffered in a fall—he toils away on the final book of his Hook of Holland to Constantinople trilogy, the one that deals with his first years in Greece, working from notebooks, maps and memory. In a way Fermor is a chronicler of a bygone age, a rememberer of things past. The Greece he reveres may have died, but he battles with the last strength in him to keep its spirit alive.

Notes

1. ‘Only two of Fermor’s books are in print in the United States: A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water. They are New York Review of Books Classics. In the UK, most of Fermor’s books are published in hardbound and paperback by John Murray Ltd., but Penguin has published a few of his titles as paper reprints. The following are his major publications. Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese. Photos by Joan Eyres (London: Murray, 1958); Translation of George Pyschounadkis, The Cretan Runner: His story of the Germany Occupation. (London: J. Murray, 1978, c1955); Roumeli: Travels in Northern Greece (London & NY; Penguin, 1983, c1966); Introduction to Kostas Chatzepateras, Greece 1940-41 Eyewinessed (Anixi Attikis {Greece}: Efstathiadis Group, 1995); Text with Stephen Spender of Ghika: Paintings, Drawings, Sculpture (London: Lund Humpries, 1964); A Time of Gifts; On Foot to Constantinople, from the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube (NY: New York Review of BooKs, 2005).

2. Quotations is from a review from “Scholar in the Woods,” a review by James Campbell in The Guardian, April 8, 2005.

3. ‘James Campbell, Words of Mercury.

4. A11 quotes regarding Fermor’s reading tastes are taken from his essay in
the anthology The Pleasures of Reading edited by Antonia Fraser, Bloomsbury,
1992.

5. ‘The details of the kidnapping are taken from Ill Met by Moonlight (London:
Harrap, 1950). In the movie of the same name released in 1958, Fermor is
played by Dirk Bogarde.

6. Letter to the author sent in 2004.

7. Copy written for the dusk jacket of the paperback edition of Between the Woods and the Water.

8. Ibid.

9. This and subsequent Keeley citations are from a 2004 letter to the author. Date?

10. See Fermor’s essay in A Time of Gifts.

Travel writing: Lost art in search of a lost world

Few authors have been able to equal Patrick Leigh Fermor’s ability to dissolve into the places described in his books.

Editorial, first published in The Guardian 18 June 2011

“I hate the French cookery, and abominate garlick,” Tobias Smollett told his readers 245 years ago, with a snooty disregard for foreigners that runs through too much travel writing today. Describing distant places fairly, curiously and entertainingly has never been easy. Few authors, in any century, have been able to equal Patrick Leigh Fermor’s liquid ability to dissolve into the places described in his books, so that he seemed to be less reporting on than living in them. His death this month, at 96, with the third of his great trilogy of prewar European exploration still unpublished, is a moment to ask what travel writing can still achieve.

Leigh Fermor was lucky, in that he walked through an archaic and aristocratic eastern Europe soon to be obliterated by the second world war. His two greatest books, A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, take readers into a time and place that can never exist again, and that, as much as his pitch-perfect writing, is why they are among those few books worth reading many times.

Few of today’s writers have this advantage. They must describe a world in which it is easier to communicate, and travel, than ever before. No teenager setting off from Tower Bridge now would find themselves amid ballgowns, hunting parties and lonely mountaintop shepherds. Facebook and text messaging have brought Bucharest and Birmingham closer. Describing difference has been made harder.

Leigh Fermor was one of the last of the great travel writers whose experience spanned the previous century. A varied assortment, mostly men, wrote books that still stand as classics today: among them Eric Newby, Norman Lewis and Wilfred Thesiger. Jan Morris, still writing, deserves to be among them. Two decades ago, a fresh crop of authors revived the art but then fell victim to their own celebrity, Bruce Chatwin and Paul Theroux included.

Where does travel writing stand now? There are fewer famous authors and fewer sales. Some of the best books involve almost no travel at all: Roger Deakin’s account of wild swimming in Britain, Waterlog, or Neil Ansell’s lovely Deep Country, about the birds and landscape of mid-Wales. William Dalrymple remains an explorer in the classical sense: in From the Holy Mountain he shows Byzantium is not quite destroyed. William Blacker’s Along the Enchanted Way, about eight years living in rural Romania, is the closest modern writing has come to Leigh-Fermor, and not only because the Gypsy and Saxon life he shares is almost gone.

Always, the attraction is the slow pace. There is no need for hurry, no requirement for horror, just immersion in a place and time that is different, even when it is not far from our own.

The Phoenix Land: The Memoirs of Count Miklós Bánffy

A reminder that Arcadia Books will be republishing Count Miklós Bánffy’s memoirs “The Phoenix Land” in June 2011. The book is already available for pre-order in bookshops such as Waterstones in the UK. and of course on Amazon. Arcadia first published this in 2004 and you can read a Spectator review here.

Bánffy’s memoirs were translated from the Hungarian by his daughter Katalin Bánffy-Jelen and Patrick Thursfield,winners of the Oxford Weidenfeld Translation Prize. Paddy once more offers a foreward. The blurb describes the book as follows:

“The thousand year-old year-old kingdom of Hungary, which formed the major part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the last Habsburg fled in 1918, was finally dismembered by the Western Allies by the terms of the peace treaties which followed the First World War. Phoenix-like the Hungarian people survived the horrors of war, the disappointment of the first socialist republic, the disillusion of the brief but terrifying communist rule of Béla Kun, and the bitterness of seeing their beloved country dismembered by the Treaty of Trianon. This is the world that Miklós Bánffy describes in The Phoenix Land.”

I contacted Gary Pulsifer at Arcadia for some further background and to ask him to explain more about why Bánffy is one of their authors. He sent me this, including a little vignette about Paddy and the writing of his introduction:

Tom, two reasons, one general, one specific. The first is that Arcadia specialises in translated fiction. The second is the story and this is it:

When I worked at Peter Owen Publishers I was invited to Tangier by the Hon David Herbert, one of Peter’s authors. He took my partner and me to lunch with his neighbour Patrick Thursfield, who as you know is the Bánffy co-translator. After lunch Patrick gave me the manuscript of THEY WERE COUNTED, which I read while I was on holiday, and was hooked. I tried to persuade Peter Owen to publish the trilogy, but no go, so when I started Arcadia in 1996 volume one was one of our early titles. I became quite close to Patrick, stayed with him in Tangier and saw a lot of him in London and he even once came along to the Frankfurt book fair. He was overjoyed when THEY WERE DIVIDED won the Weidenfeld Translation Prize (this happened at an awards ceremony in Oxford, when Umberto Eco presented the prize).

A funny aside is that Paddy’s forward was written in longhand and he came into our tiny offices to have Daniela de Groote, now our associate publisher, word-process it. Daniela, who is Chilean, hadn’t been in the UK all that long – she had been studying for a PhD here prior to working at Arcadia – and she had some difficulties in understanding Paddy’s upper crust accent as he dictated the foreword. Daniela was also catching a plane to Santiago that afternoon and the whole thing was a little much for her. So much so that I had to leave the office until they were finished . . .