Tag Archives: Istanbul

The imaginary Istanbul in Patrick Leigh Fermor’s literary odyssey

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

By Charles Sabatos

First published in The Daily Sabah, 25 August 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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Patrick Leigh Fermor: his final journey

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

By Colin Thubron with Patrick Leigh Fermor

First published in the Telegraph 1 September 2013.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Map accompanying The Broken Road

Map accompanying The Broken Road

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

“The party went with a bhang”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A soul in hell”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Broken Road book cover

The Broken Road book cover

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

On Foot to the Golden Horn: A Walk to Istanbul

Jason Goodwin, author of On Foot to the Golden Horn

Whilst at the launch party for An Adventure, I met Jason Goodwin who, when just a little younger, walked in 1990 with two friends from Gdansk to Istanbul. Jason subsequently wrote On Foot to the Golden Horn: A Walk to Istanbul as a record of their adventures. It is an enjoyable read, but there is just not enough about Istanbul!

Of course before setting out on the journey, Jason sought Paddy’s blessing, as so many young writers have done over the years …

We met him for the first time in early 1990, just before we set out to walk from Poland to Istanbul. My aunt Judy asked him over for a drink. Impeccably dressed – touch of the dandy, old school, Guards… Shabby chic was not his style.

We told him our plan, to start walking from Gdansk. There was a cargo ship that made the passage to Gdansk from the Thames each fortnight, and offered berths.  From the Baltic to Czestechowa, then Cracow, over Slovakia into Hungary…. It was a wonderful moment to start out across the lost lands of eastern Europe. Paddy had known them so well before the curtain dropped, and we would be among the first to go in again, to see how this disjointed Europe might re-unite. To see what and who was on the Other Side.

‘What a marvellous idea!’ he exclaimed, as if – well. As if we were the very first people ever to think of it.

On Foot to the Golden Horn: A Walk to Istanbul won the John Llewellyn Rhys/Mail on Sunday Prize in 1993, and is now available in a Kindle edition. Jason’s review of Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure was published in Country Life and you can read it here.

£1 a week – Nick has arrived in Constantinople!

He left England on a warm and balmy December 8 2011, and has today, 17 July 2012, arrived in the hot and bustling melting pot of Istanbul as we in England endure the foulest, accursed summer weather.

Nick’s boots, which he had just had repaired by a Romanian cobbler in Turda when I met up with him in Cluj in May, have finally collapsed, and it appears that his emotions are about to undertake a twisting, heaving, never experienced before maelstrom of sweet contradictions as he comes to terms with the conclusion of so much commitment, planning, and effort.

Link to here to read his immediate thoughts and follow him in the coming days as he tries to come to terms with his next steps.

As we discussed in Cluj, he could not see how after reaching his goal he could just jump on to the next plane home; and why would he want to? He faces the ‘plan your journey’ congestion of the Olympics and rain, and floods, and worst of all … normality.

Paddy would have been very proud of him; I am sure of that. And we all are.

Well done Nick!!!!

Criss-crossing Europe – this time from Istanbul to Edinburgh!

It is envy time again. I was recently contacted by Owen Martel who made a long walk across Europe last year. His was a slightly different journey to Paddy’s and to our current venturer, Nick Hunt, but nevertheless it must have been exciting. Unfortunately Owen did not hear about Paddy until he was half-way through his journey, and he only read ATOG and BTWW upon completion of his walk.

Dear Tom,

From March to December 2011, I was on foot from Istanbul to Edinburgh; and at one point, while I was laid up with badly damaged feet at a mountain hut in Austria, a fellow traveler showed me the book she was reading and urged me to find it in the original English when my journey was over. Upon settling for three months in Glasgow this past winter, I accordingly tracked down at the public library and read “A Time of Gifts” and “Between the Woods and the Water,” alternately laughing and shaking my head in bewilderment at the all-too-familiar and bafflingly different experiences Patrick Leigh Fermor recounts. While my own route was quite different from his – certainly nothing like the retracing that, I have just learned from your site, Nick Hunt embarked upon almost exactly as I was finishing my own odyssey – the spirit of the thing was highly in keeping, and if you have any interest in this latter-day echo, I’ve posted various aspects of the trip on my blog at Walk Across Europe.

Thank you for running the Patrick Leigh Fermor blog, and for helping to keep this particular sense of possibility alive and well.

Owen Martel

Philhellene’s progress: The writing of Patrick Leigh Fermor

As you know I trawl the net for Paddy related material to create the best online source of information about PLF and his friends and associates. Some of you may have come across this essay that attempts to analyse Paddy’s style and his literary achievement. In my view it is just one of many that emphasise how great the man is and how unequalled is his prose.

First published in New Criterion, Jan, 2001 by Ben Downing

I have carried the soldier’s musket, the traveler’s stick, the pilgrim’s staff. –Chateaubriand (what a great quote for Paddy!)

The captive must have been exhausted and afraid, but when, on the fourth day of his grueling forced march across Crete, he saw dawn break behind Mount Ida, the sight was so beautiful that it brought to his lips the opening of Horace’s Ode I.ix: “Vides ut alta stet nive candidum/ Soracte,”(1) he murmured. Then, just as he trailed off, one of his captors came in to take the poem over, reciting the rest of its six stanzas. At this, the captive’s startled eyes slanted down from the peak to meet those of his enemy, and, after a long thoughtful silence, he pronounced, “Ach so, Herr Major.” For the captive was a German soldier–the commander of the island’s garrison, no less. General Karl Kreipe (to give him his name) had been abducted on April 26, 1944 by a band of Greek guerrillas led by two English commandos. Over the next three weeks, the kidnappers picked their way across Crete, eluding the thousands of Nazi troops who hunted them, until eventually they were met by a British boat and whisked to Cairo, where Kreipe was handed over and the two commandos promptly awarded the D.S.O. One of these men was W. Stanley Moss, who in 1950 published a riveting account of the escapade, Ill-Met by Moonlight, later filmed by Michael Powell. The other was a certain Patrick Leigh Fermor. Disguised as a shepherd and (like Zeus in his Cretan boyhood) living largely in caves, he had spent much of the previous two years on the island organizing the resistance. Leigh Fermor it was who finished the quotation.

But where had he, who’d never completed high school, learned Horace so well? Had Kreipe asked him this, Leigh Fermor could have answered, savoring the irony, that he’d committed the odes to memory during his teenage Wanderjahr a decade earlier, when, just after Hitler’s rise to power, he’d walked clear across Germany (among other countries) with a volume of Horace for his vade mecum, often reciting the poems to himself as he tramped. About that experience he’d not yet written a public word, and would not do so for many more years. Similarly he held off recounting his aubade with Kreipe. At last, however, in the 1970s, he broached the subjects of his continental traverse and, in an aside to that account, of his fleeting bond with Kreipe. Some things are best waited for: the book in which Leigh Fermor set these matters down, A Time of Gifts (1977), along with its sequel, Between the Woods and the Water (1986), represent not only the capstone of his career but, in my opinion, the finest travel books in the language and a pinnacle of modern English prose, resplendent as Soracte or Ida in deep snow.

The deplorable fact that most Americans, even well-read ones, have never even heard, as I also had not until recently, of a figure who in Britain (to say nothing of Greece, where he lives to this day) is revered and beloved as war hero, author, and bon vivant; who is, in Jan Morris’s words, “beyond cavil the greatest of living travel writers”; and who, in those of the historian John Julius Norwich, “writes English as well as anyone alive”–all this spurs me to correct our oversight of the sublime, the peerless Patrick Leigh Fermor.

His turbulent early life is recounted in the introduction to A Time of Gifts. Shortly after his birth in 1915, his mother and sister went to join his father in India, while he was left behind “so that one of us might survive if the ship were sunk by a submarine.” For four years he was billeted with a Northamptonshire farming family, an experience that proved “the opposite of the ordeal Kipling describes in Baa Baa Black Sheep.” A halcyon period, this, but the taste for boisterous freedom he acquired in the fields made for trouble later on: “Those marvelously lawless years, it seems, had unfitted me for the faintest shadow of constraint.” Especially intolerable to him were academic strictures of any kind, and there ensued a long series of dust-ups and expulsions, hilariously related. At ten he was sent to “a school for difficult children,” among which misfits he lists

the millionaire’s nephew who chased motorcars along country lanes with a stick, the admiral’s pretty and slightly kleptomaniac daughter, the pursuivant’s son with nightmares and an infectious inherited passion for heraldry, the backward, the somnambulists … and, finally, the small bad hats like me who were merely very naughty. Continue reading