Catchup and listen to the programme by clicking this link. Dolores’ main contribution starts at the 14 minute spot.
Buy Drink Time!: In the Company of Patrick Leigh Fermor: a Memoir by Dolores Payás (translated by Amanda Hopkinson)
One of the best travel books of the year has to be Like a Tramp, Like A Pilgrim: On Foot, Across Europe to Rome by former Coldstream Guards officer, and Blandford Forum’s premier travel writer, Harry Bucknall. Recounting his pilgrimage from Canterbury to Rome, it is fresh, and full of good humour.
By Tom Sawford
This is Harry’s second book. His first, In the Dolphin’s Wake, recounted a journey from Venice to Istanbul, which is quite surprisingly a journey of more than 5,500 miles across the Aegean that included …
“the glories of Mount Athos, 36 islands, and every island chain in the Greek Archipelago. It also involved 57 sea passages on 35 ferries, four landing craft, three hydrofoils, a fishing caique, a sea plane, 11 buses, two trains, an open-top Land Rover, and a duck egg blue 1961 Morris Oxford.”
Like a Tramp, Like A Pilgrim: On Foot, Across Europe to Rome demonstrates Harry’s development as a writer since his Greek Odyssey. As a Santiago peregrino myself I instantly empathised with the motivations, the pains, the joys, and the surprises to be found on the solo journey of a pilgrim. Even when walking with others there is a solitary dimension to pilgrimage which permits the walker to observe with a detached eye the changing landscapes, the historical dimensions of the road, and the sometimes absurd characters one meets on the way: Harry very successfully brings us a gently unfolding list of observations, anecdotes and stories of friendship.
The 1,500 mile route from Canterbury to Rome is an ancient and well travelled path. Our Anglo-Saxon chronicler Bede often sent his acolytes off to borrow books from the Vatican library but never made the journey himself. One has to ask if they managed to return them in time and how big the fines may have been.
It is a long journey and one much less well-known than other pilgrim routes such as the one to Santiago de Compostela. Only a handful of pilgrims start out each day, compared to sometimes hundreds in Spain. This makes Harry’s journey all the more interesting for his readers as he encounters things new, and brings a wryly observed perspective to others more familiar.
For me the second half of the journey was the most enjoyable. As Harry enters Italy the pace and temperament changes. Less history. More humour. Rather like Nick Hunt and Paddy entering Slovakia there is some invisible border on such a journey. One of the mind or the spirit. It may be related to something physical but it is more than this. From my own experience on the Camino it is clear that a long journey has many phases each with their own character. It is in Italy that Harry finds hilarious situations despite his tiredness. He reveals to us, and calmly copes with, the frustrations encountered in a country that does not function particularly well, whilst journeying with an ever growing band of assorted and garrulous pilgrims from many nations.
As with all good travel books the tale ends with the enticing possibility of a further journey: a next phase. I look forward to that, but in the meantime I will recall with pleasure this enjoyable book. One for the Christmas list to help stave off (or possibly encourage?) wanderlust. It is potentially dangerous contraband.
Now, where did he get that title from? :-)
Don’t forget to drop in now and then to catch up with Jasper Winn on his slow adventure from Munich to Paris in the footsteps of Werner Herzog. I have been enjoying Jasper’s short posts which are always insightful. He has crossed the Rhine, the Moselle and the picturesque but economic backwater of the Vosges. Clearly enjoying being in France he now faces mostly flat country in his last weeks walking to Paris, but as today’s post says, this brings it’s own challenges. Here is a little taster:
Always hard to avoid looking just a bit wooden in selfies. I’ve just crossed the Moselle at Thaon, so am across and out of the mountains that rise high on both sides of the Rhine valley, and with neither the snow nor storms that Herzog battled. The land being flatter brings it’s own challenges. Long slogs, little shelter, busy agriculture and so less hidden woods or derelict barns to sleep in, and speeding traffic on narrow twisting roads. And rural France is a struggle for many locals too – unemployment; so gambling, drinking, suicide. Symptomatic is the small number of village bars and cafes still open. I found just three still trading in over a hundred kms of walking and passing through tens of small villages. Now, in Thaon, I’ve found a joy. Bar Le Cosy. Good coffee. Wifi – hence another post. An armchair and friendly hostess and clients. It’s rather smart and chic and I may look a tad out of place
Just a short notice to say that Dolores will be on Libby Purves’ BBC Radio 4 Midweek show at 0900 today. I presume talking about her time with Paddy in his last few years and her delightful book Drink Time.
More details here.
Thank you to my spy in Jedburgh for spotting this one.
Buy Drink Time!: In the Company of Patrick Leigh Fermor: a Memoir by Dolores Payás (translated by Amanda Hopkinson)
In this extract from a longer work on Patrick Leigh Fermor and Budapest, Michael O’Sullivan looks at the fate of one of Paddy’s girlfriends in Budapest under communism and also solves the riddle of a postcard Paddy received about his stolen rucksack. The extract is part of a book Michael is working on called Between the Counts and the Comrades which looks at the fate of some of the old Hungarian noble families under communism.
Michael tells me that he has “… traced many of the descendants of the families he stayed with in Hungary especially his first port of call here which was with Baron and Baroness von Berg at Uri Utca. He tried to get access to the house on his last visit to Budapest and there is a rather sad photograph of him at the closed door.”
The best dreams of an ancient lineage are often had on beds of straw. This is the thought that engages me as I stand outside the house in Budapest where Patrick Leigh Fermor’s ex-girlfriend strangled her flatmate in 1969. This end of Budapest’s Pannonia Street is more chipped and faded in appearance than the more prosperous commercial stretch further south which is guarded by the elegant facade of the Vigzinhaus – the city’s Comedy Theatre. This neighbourhood of the XIII district called the Újlipótváros or New Leopoldstown was still a very new part of the city when Leigh Fermor first came to Budapest in 1934. It soon established itself as home to the literary and artistic set and also formed part of the residential area favoured by some of Budapest’s Jewish community. Today, according to recent census information, some of the capital’s Jewish community is again reestablishing itself here. Standing outside 48 Pannonia Street, I imagine it has changed very little since Xenia Cszernovits moved here in 1957, soon after the revolution which tried to end Soviet rule in Hungary. I am trying also to imagine how this woman of distinguished lineage, born into a family of landed gentry in 1909, coped with the ‘class enemy’ status imposed on her by Communism and how she coped too with being sent to work as a labourer in a textile factory.
Xenia Csernovits de Mácsa et Kisoroszi was a ravishing dark-haired beauty. She was the daughter of a Transylvanian land owner from Zam, Mihály Czernovits. The family was of grand Serbian origin. Xenia married Gábor Betegh de Csíktusnád, scion of an old Transylvanian noble family, while still in her early twenties but at the time she met Leigh Fermor in 1934 the marriage was going through a turbulent phase. It later appears to have settled down again because they had a daughter two years after Xenia’s tryst with Leigh Fermor.
Xenia’s niece by marriage, Stefania Betegh, doubts that the [Paddy’s] affair with Xenia ever happened. She has no particular reason to defend Xenia’s honour. She is not, after all, a blood relative. There is also the issue of the confused manner in which Leigh Fermor attempts to disguise, and yet not disguise, Xenia’s identity in Between the Woods and the Water. At one point in the narrative he gives her full name, the location of her family house at Zam and enough detail for us to know exactly who she is. Then he disguises her as ‘Angela’ and even adds a footnote about the need to ‘alter names’ having already made her one of the most identifiable characters in the book. She seems not to have been bothered by this and when, in her seventy sixth year, she read a translation of the book in Hungarian by her relative, Miklos Vajda, she wrote to Leigh Fermor to say how much she had enjoyed it.
Leigh Fermor’s attraction for women and his success as a seducer are well known. The balance of probability, in the seduction stakes, most likely rests with his success with Xenia. It was one of the last happy periods of her life. Miklos Vajda, recalls her as a free spirit and ‘a woman with something of the exotic gypsy in her looks and nature’. Men found her irresistible and the regular absence of her husband on business trips enabled her to have frequent liaisons with various male admirers, amongst whom Leigh Fermor is the best known.
Once Hungary had become a postwar Soviet satellite state, her life was altered in a way that was unimaginable in 1934. As a ‘class enemy’, she was sent to do menial work as a house painter and later in a textile factory in Budapest. She ended her days in a squalid little basement flat which she moved to after she strangled her former flatmate in a fit of rage in Pannonia Street on 20 December 1969. Such was her popularity with her neighbours that many of them testified in court to the justification of her actions, claiming that the victim was an unbearable woman, thus leading to a reduced charge of manslaughter.
There has been much talk in Budapest recently about the publication of the final installment of Leigh Fermor’s account of his walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople. In the third volume The Broken Road he moves onward through Rumania and it is his favourable view of the old enemy that has irritated some amongst his admirers in Hungary. Presenting the Rumanian nobility as better read and more cosmopolitan than their Hungarian neighbours has not endeared him to some of the descendants of his former hosts. ‘No good deed goes unpunished’ is how one of them put it, at a recent event to mark the anniversary of the 1956 Revolution. But despite this he is remembered with great affection in Budapest where his friend, writer and translator, Rudi Fischer, now in his 90s, still lives.
Meeting him one can see how Leigh Fermor admired him and came to rely on his extraordinary knowledge of Hungarian history and culture. Fischer recently solved a Leigh Fermor conundrum when he admitted authorship of a hoax postcard addressed to Paddy from Kirchstetten, W.H. Auden’s Austrian retreat. In it he claimed that it was his grandfather, ‘Alois Schoissbauer’, who stole Paddy’s rucksack containing his money, passport and travel journal, from a Munich hostel in 1934. To add veracity to the hoax Fischer claimed that the author of the postcard later inherited the rucksack and that it was stolen again by ‘an Australian hippie’ as he travelled across Asia to Peshawar. He signed it ‘Dr Franz Xavier Hinterwalder, Professor of Farsi and Pashtoo, Firdausi School of Oriental Languges, Kirchstetten Lower Austria. The card was written after a bibulous lunch at the Traveller’s Club in Pall Mall. Paddy enjoyed it enough to copy it to Debo Devonshire.
There are plans in Budapest to raise a plaque in the city to mark Patrick Leigh Fermor’s 1934 visit and plans too for a commemorative lecture about his time in the city.
The news about the opening of Paddy’s archive to the public was quite exciting. It may herald some new studies into the life of this gifted but flawed man.
I had a bit of a sneak around the National Library of Scotland website and found the following images which may form the start of the on-line digital archive mentioned in the press release. They include an unpublished poem by John Betjeman written on the back of an envelope.
Many thousands visit this blog every month, and have done since I started it all in 2010. I know that you all enjoy different sections and themes. The Paddy blog is, and will remain, free at the point of reading, but I do want to ask you for something quite important at this time.
Homelessness is a terrible scourge, and between 10-13 December I will walk from Winchester Cathedral to Bath Abbey to visit my daughter and to raise money in support of the UK charity for the homeless, Shelter.
Below I tell you why I want to do this at this time, and how you can donate. This applies to anyone whatever your location in the world, as long as you have a debit card, credit card or PayPal account.
For all sorts of reasons, people in our great country, men and women, and sometimes entire families, end up without a home, have no bed of their own, without warmth, and don’t get to eat simple, wholesome food.
All of you reading this have these things and more: a job; friends and family to share your happy times with; money; and perhaps more than this, a future.
We have all passed these people in our towns and cities, perhaps feeling guilty that we have not given them a pound. But also maybe thinking that if we did they would only spend it on booze. You may be right.
The charity Shelter aims at long term solutions for homeless people, giving them chances not just for a roof over their head, but also to help them make a future. To get a job and to rebuild their lives.
I have a friend who lives on the streets around my train station in Winchester. He is called Paul. He is an ex-soldier, and served his country well, but for reasons that I don’t understand he now has problems with alcohol and lives on the streets. He is about my own age.
I met Paul in May and wrote about him, contrasting his life with someone more privileged, also a brave soldier, in this poem.
It would be good to help Paul and others like him at this time of year when the nights are painfully long, and damp and cold.
My daughter Harriet finishes her term at Bath University on 14 December and for some time I have wanted to walk to Bath. So at this Christmas-tide I am going to do that. It is not so far, only about 60 miles but I will probably end up walking further. I thought that maybe I could combine my walk with raising money for the work of Shelter.
I will have some modern clothing and kit and will try to keep as dry and warm as I can. But I will live outside under meagre cover, with a simple shelter and may experience some of the cold and damp that is the daily lot of people like Paul.
This walk will not change anything, but it may help some good people who have fallen on hard times and who are really just like you and me. The people who we so often turn away from and walk on by. My walk may however make a small difference.
It will soon be Christmas and we will spend an awful lot of money on ephemeral things. Please consider giving some of what you may spend to help the work of Shelter with homeless people in this country; give some of your hard earned cash to the cause which I am supporting.
Thank you from me. And thank you from Paul.
You can donate now very easily on my Just Giving page. Please help.