Saturday, 25 September 2010


Well, what a fool I felt.  Why hadn't I heard of him?  Maybe I had.  In a sort of distant way, you know, the name rang a distant bell, but not enough to pursue. Or he was mentioned in one of those pieces in The Sunday Times written by an old school cove who you didn't really know and skipped over.  The army was mentioned, the war, Greece, dressing for dinner, anecdotes, regimental silver - that sort of thing.  Oh dear.  It was my loss.
Patrick Leigh Fermor.  That's the man in question.  Of course, you're probably sniggering now, being well acquainted with his work and thinking - where has she been not to know of him? I bow my head in shame.  I do, really. 
A Time of Gifts is an unexpected treat.  A young man (obviously well connected, let's make no mistake about this) sets off from London to walk to Constantinople in the 30's.  Yes, walk.  Through Europe.  Through the rising Nazi threat in Germany. 
A quick update of his upbringing is called for - so - troubled but privileged childhood, Father was a Geologist and away discovering fossils and rare rock strata's, Mother a dippy and enchanting society woman, Patrick not qualified and penniless starts his adventure armed with a rucksack, a sketchbook,a pair of boots and an army greatcoat and the promise of four pounds every month or so posted to his at various ports of call.
It's a classic memoir of forgotten Europe.  The Europe that I, certainly was not familiar with.  The Black Forest, The Danube, The Rhine, Schlosses, Abbeys and crumbling castles perched on rocks. Eagles, Bears and the finer points of Bavarian aristocracy, woodcutters, crones and monster perch. He has an insane thirst for arcane knowledge and picks up the most delightful trivia along his way.  This book is a treasure chest of the most wonderful writing, making me yearn to see the domes, the monasteries, the Bavarian snow, the last of the duelling schools, and the wildlife of pre-war Europe.
He describes when walking through the snowy forests the effect of a million of pine needles catching the frosty light and cross hatching the snow with a hundred thousand sequins.  That alone made me want to be there.
He muses on the correlation between the Baroque and decorative ironwork, the fact that from Nepal to Switzerland or wherever there are cold winters and mountains, woodsman with too much time on their hands in front of the fire and access to sharp knives take up fretting and carving wood to within an inch of its life and the rise of the brown shirts...
"In cold weather like this," said the Innkeeper, "I recommend Himbeergeist." I obeyed and it was a lightening conversion.  Spirit of raspberries, or their ghost - this crystalline distillation, twinkling and ice cold in it's misty goblet, looked as though it was homeopathically in league with the weather.Sipped and swallowed it went shuddering through it's new home and branched out in patterns like the ice ferns that covered the window panes, but radiating warmth and happiness instead of cold.  Fierce winters give birth to their antidotes.  Vodka, Aquavit,, Danziger Goldwasser.  Oh for a thimble full of the cold north!
I like to think that when the weather gets bad this winter (and I think it will) Patrick can knock at my door and I can offer him some of my Sloe Vodka that will be a fiery-frost potion to spark his blood and revive aching limbs and send him back on his youthfull travels, rocketing through the ice and snow.  Cheers.

No comments:

Post a Comment