Skip to content

Baron Pips von Schey

April 19, 2014

Originally posted as a comment on the Your Paddy Thoughts page, I thought this too good to be left buried deep in that page. My thanks to Brian Human who posted it here.

One of the most significant of the characters that inhabit Paddy’s pre-war world is Baron Philipps (Pips) von Schey. Paddy’s stay with Pips at the Schey country house at Kovecses enlivens the later pages of A Time of Gifts. This episode gets an unexpected reference in Edmund de Waal’s sparkling biography The Hare with Amber Eyes (p. 177 of the illustrated edition, Chatto & Windus, 2010) due to an important family connection.

In 1899 Baroness Emmy Schey von Koromla married de Waal’s great grandfather, banker Viktor von Ephrussi. Pips was her younger brother and Kovecses becomes a recurring presence in the lives of the Ephrussi family.

In The Hare Kovecses is described as ‘a very large and very plain eighteenth century house (“a large square box such as children draw”…) set in a flat landscape of fields with belts of willows, birch forests and streams. A great river, the Vah, swept past, forming one of the boundaries of the estate…There was a swimming lake with fretted Moorish changing huts, lots of stables and lots of dogs.’ Trains stopped ‘at the tiny halt on the estate.’ The Hare includes several pictures of Kovecses.

Pips is pictured in a pen-and-ink drawing playing Wagner at the piano. He had been educated by tutors and had ‘a wide circle of friends in the arts and the theatre, is a man around town in several capitals and is impeccably dressed…’. A further sign of his high profile: ‘Pips appears as the protagonist of a highly successful novel of the time by the German Jewish novelist Jakob Wassermann…Our aesthetic hero is a pal of archdukes…He is erudite about incunabula and Renaissance art…’. Kovecses became a retreat for the Ephrussi family, a refuge from the banking hothouse of Vienna for games, music and plays, for swimming, walking riding and shooting in the years before 1914.

With the advent of war, ‘Uncle Pips is called up, handsome in his uniform with its astrakhan collar, to fight against his French and English cousins’. In 1915 he ‘is serving as an imperial liaison officer with the German high command in Berlin, where he is instrumental in helping Rilke get a desk job away from the Front.’ Wartime shortages beset the Ephrussies in Vienna and in 1916 they go to ‘…Kovecses for the whole long holiday. This means that at least they can eat properly. There is roast hare, game pies and plum dumplings…’. By August 1918, ‘There are only two old man to tend the gardens and the roses on the long veranda are unkempt’ at Kovecse.

After the war Pips maintains his friendship with Rilke and gives his niece, Elizabeth, de Waal’s grandmother, an introduction to the poet. She sends him her poems and they correspond, though they never meet.

By the early 1930s and with the ascendancy of fascism and anti Semitism life became increasing difficult for the Ephrussies. In 1934 (the year of Paddy’s visit) ‘Viktor and Emmy holiday together at Kovecses, but since the death of her parents it is a strangely diminished place, with only a couple of horses in the stables and fewer gamekeepers and no great weekend shoots any more…The swimming lake has been let go. Its edges are susurrating reeds.’ Following the Anschluss in 1938 Viktor and Emmy flee Vienna for the relative safety of Kovecses. ‘In the summer of 1938 Kovecses looks much the same as it has done, a jumble of grand and informal…[but] The roses are more unkempt…The house is much emptier.’ The safety is only relative: ‘The borders are under review and Czechoslovakia is fissile. And Kovecses is just too close to danger.’ Germany occupied the Sudetenland; Emmy died at Kovecses on 12th October 1938 and was buried in the churchyard of the nearby hamlet. In early March Viktor got permission to leave for Britain, where he died in 1945.

The war and its aftermath wreaked their havoc on Kovecses and the Schey family, though happily Pips survived and Paddy records that he died in Normandy in 1957.

I have found that you can read The Hare with Amber Eyes on-line here.

‘The Ariadne Objective:’ Spooks, Germans and the battle for Crete

April 15, 2014

Ariadne-jacket-453x680A review of Wes Davis’ recently published book by Alexander Clapp.

First published in Ekathimerini.com 8 March 2014

On May 27, 1941, days after the first airborne invasion in history, the German army hoisted a Nazi flag atop an abandoned mosque in Hania, western Crete. The gesture was poignant. Crete – which had overthrown three centuries of Turkish rule just three decades prior – was again under the heel of an occupying power.

The Cretans were unshaken. The island’s peasantry armed itself with muskets and daggers and took to the crags and caves of the White Mountains. The campaign of sabotage that followed – an echo of repeated revolts against the Ottomans, Venetians and Arabs – marked the first mass civilian resistance to Nazi rule in Europe. “We had encountered for the first time an enemy that was prepared to fight to the bitter end,” marveled a German lieutenant.

Wes Davis’s “The Ariadne Objective” (Crown, 2013) traces the British intelligence service’s collaboration with this hardscrabble fifth column. The plans to wrest Crete from Nazi control formed part of a larger wartime strategy to “set Europe ablaze” through the Special Operations Executive (SOE), “Churchill’s secret army.” In Crete the stakes were particularly high. Cretan restlessness proved crucial to delaying Hitler’s march to the East. As the war in North Africa came to a close, the island was to become a strategic linchpin to the European theater. By 1943, the British naval command looked to Crete as a promising base from which to retake the Aegean and the Continent at large.

“The Ariadne Objective” distills existing accounts of the Cretan conflict – W. Stanley Moss’s “Ill Met by Moonlight,” George Psychoundakis’s “The Cretan Runner,” Antony Beevor’s “Crete” – into a thrilling, highly readable narrative. The book benefits from a remarkable group of protagonists. Just as the Greeks of 1821 attracted a spirited cast of Western philhellenes, so too did the Cretan resistance become a curious meeting ground for a platoon of Anglophone scholars. Most were Classicists who had scraped together the rudimentary basics of Modern Greek. Many – N.G.L. Hammond, Thomas Dunbabin – went on to hold distinguished academic posts after the war; others – Evelyn Waugh, Lawrence Durrell, Patrick Leigh Fermor – were to become the literary giants of their generation. “It was the obsolete choice of Greek at school which had really deposited us on the limestone,” recalled Leigh Fermor.

Davis weaves in and out of these figures’ fascinating back-stories. The book narrates Leigh Fermor and Xan Fielding’s respective hikes across Europe in vivid detail; the one-eyed Cambridge archaeologist John Pendlebury provides an excursion into the British excavations at Knossos; a chapter on life in wartime Cairo – including a detour into the rowdy antics of the “Tara villa” inhabitants – acts as a kind of comic relief from the grittiness of the Cretan front.

Sporting shepherds’ crooks and cork-dyed mustaches, these British guerrilla leaders spent months sleeping in caves, organizing resistance bands and smuggling supplies to the beleaguered islanders. Over time their efforts paid off. In the words of a German commander on Crete, the Nazis made the mistake of “regarding a quite substantial partisan movement as nothing more than a few gangs of cattle thieves.”

This thinking was not entirely unfounded. Some Cretans chose to collaborate with the Germans against their countrymen. Those who did resist were internecine and uncertain of their objectives. The available weaponry was hopelessly antiquated. “Stand still, Turk, while I reload” was still the threat of choice among the elderly fighters.

But if the Germans underestimated the determination of this ragtag uprising, so too did they misunderstand its means. In order to deny the Germans any legitimate right to bring reprisals against the local population, the British SOE commanders concentrated the Cretans’ efforts on disrupting Nazi supply lines, provoking discord between Axis commanders and draining the occupiers’ morale through a carefully crafted propaganda campaign. “We want not so much to kill Germans as to terrify and bamboozle them,” advised SOE resistance leader Tom Dunbabin. The smuggling of Italian commander Angelo Carta from Crete to Cairo in 1943 was one such bloodless blow to the enemy’s morale. It was also the dry run for a more devastating attack on German confidence – a ruse that forms the theatrical climax of the “The Ariadne Objective.”

On April 26, 1944 Patrick Leigh Fermor, W. Stanley Moss and a team of Cretan partisans abducted the German commander of Crete, General Heinrich Kreipe, from his headquarters at the Villa Ariadne in Iraklio. Passing through 22 enemy checkpoints, the team worked their way to the southern coast of Crete, sheltering in caves by day and evading German search parties by night. By May 15 Kreipe was in Alexandria; two weeks later he was a prisoner of war in Canada.

“The galvanizing effect of the mission could still be felt in the tense months that followed the end of the war,” writes Davis. “As the rest of Greece plunged into civil unrest – pitting factions of Communist partisans against each other and against various stripes of nationalists – Crete remained relatively calm.”

An intriguingly highbrow current runs through the book’s otherwise soldierly narrative. Greece was not merely a shared strategic prize for German battalions and British spies; it was also an intellectual middle ground for two competing nationalisms, each of which claimed the cultural mantle of the Classical world as its own. Evidence of this mutual enthrallment to antiquity resurfaces throughout “The Ariadne Objective.” The German invasion of Crete is code-named “Mercury.” The British cruisers stationed in the Eastern Mediterranean are named the Orion and the Dido. Shipping out to the front line, Pendlebury reads Edward Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall” for a crash course in military strategy. Following their conquest of Crete, the Germans import their archaeologists to tend to the island’s historical sites. The diary entry of a German commander flying out of Crete: “just as Daedalus had done so many centuries ago.” “Minotaurs, bull-men, nymphs of Ariadne, kings of Minos, and German generals – a splendid cocktail!” writes Moss after abducting Heinrich Kreipe.

The most arresting example comes a few days following the general’s capture. In a well-cited incident on the slopes of Mount Ida, Kreipe quietly quotes the opening lines of Horace’s “Soracte” ode. Taking up where the general had paused, Leigh Fermor, Kreipe’s captor, recites the rest of the poem’s 24 lines.

“It was a reminder that the war itself was the aberration, interrupting something far more important and lasting. The moment of connection he and the general had just shared had sprung from a deep-running current of literature, art, and civility,” notes Davis.

The incident – like much of the clash in Crete – represents a strange last flowering of the world of the 19th-century imperialist scholar. “The Ariadne Objective” examines that story ably and admirably. This is necessary reading for anyone interested in Greece in the Second World War.

Go east – the people get nicer, even if their dogs get nastier

April 10, 2014

Artemis Cooper’s review of Nick Hunt’s ‘Walking the Woods and the Water’. Hunt retraces the footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor across the suburban wastelands of Holland to the woods of Transylvania.

by Artemis Cooper

First published in The Spectator 10 April 2014.

When Nick Hunt first read Patrick Leigh Fermor’s account of his youthful trudge across Europe in A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, he knew ‘with absolute certainty’ that one day he would make that journey himself. When I embarked on Patrick Leigh Fermor’s biography, I made an equally firm resolve that I wouldn’t walk a step of it. Paddy’s books had left me with a vision of a timeless Europe suspended somewhere between memory and imagination, and I didn’t want that vision distorted by layers of personal impressions.

But to Hunt the books posed a question. Eighty years on, was there anything left of the ‘gifts’ Paddy had enjoyed in prewar Europe? Was there still room enough for wildness, freedom and spontaneous hospitality? In this moving and profoundly honest book, the answer is ‘yes’.

Hunt was in his late twenties when he set out from London, and he got off to a bad start. In Holland and Germany he was obliged to walk for miles on tarmac, under motorways and across industrial and suburban wastelands. He had done no prior training — after all Paddy hadn’t, and what was more natural than walking? The result was tendonitis so severe that he was laid up for a week in Ulm, cursing his stupidity and looked after by a couple called Dierk and Dora.

He found that the kindness of strangers — who included musicians, caretakers, house-painters and Buddhist soap-makers —  was an ever recurring miracle. And like the grandees Paddy met, Hunt’s benefactors contacted their friends and relatives, urging them to help the traveller too. He found these guardian angels online, through the Couch Surfing network. Their website is designed to weed out loonies, but it still requires a high level of trust — a trust that was never misplaced. His hosts gave him food and drink, took him to the pub, lent him their laptops — and not once did he feel uncomfortable or threatened by them. At the same time, Hunt was more willing than Paddy to brave the elements. He often slept in the open, twice in sub-zero temperatures; and he became expert at ‘castle-squatting’ — finding snug holes in ancient walls.

As he walked on, the industrial sprawl gave way to landscapes that Paddy would have recognised. Hunt is often haunted by the ‘unimaginable inhumanity that lay between his walk and mine’, but at the same time many things remained startlingly similar. Swapping cigarettes is still a great ice-breaker; the sheepskin coats and cross-gartered moccasins were gone, but in a bar one morning Hunt could see that all the men there had known each other since childhood, and worked in adjoining
fields. Hungary still mourned the loss of Transylvania like an amputation, and still hated the Romanians. Just like Paddy, Hunt was told that the moment he entered Romania he would be attacked by bears, gypsies, wolves and thieves. But as the author observes, people became nicer as he travelled eastwards, although their dogs got nastier.

Hunt is not Paddy, and never pretends to be. Baroque architecture and princely lineage leave him cold, and he never plunges into historical speculation or conjures fantasies out of thin air. But one of the most moving passages in the book tells of his meeting with Ileana Teleki, the great-granddaughter of Count Jeno Teleki, one of Paddy’s hosts in Transylvania. With her, he visits a number of the country houses described in Between the Woods; but now they are gutted, abandoned or used to shelter those who would never recover from the experience of being a Romanian orphan: ‘Traumatised children,’ writes Hunt, ‘housed in the ruins of a traumatised culture.’

The reader familiar with Paddy’s oeuvre will find that something of him has rubbed off on Hunt, which is hardly surprising: he took no other books on the journey, and he feels intimately connected to his predecessor. So in walking through the wooded Pilis Hills, or in watching for changes in physiognomy as he crosses from one territory to another, he is — consciously or unsconsciously — paying homage to Paddy by absorbing his way of looking at things.

At the same time, I’ve learnt so much from the vivid way Hunt describes the physiological effects of trudging on for month after month. Sometimes it brings a sense of unlimited freedom, sometimes joy, sometimes an extraordinary, dreamlike dislocation, always accompanied by a dazzling sharpness of hearing and vision. I see now how that youthful walk informed so much of Paddy’s style. Before embarking on his journey, Hunt was going to write to Paddy. The letter was never written, and by the time he set off, Paddy was dead. How touched and fascinated he would have been to read this book.

Walking the Woods and the Water by Nick Hunt

Nicholas Brearley, pp.336, £10.99, ISBN: 9781857886177

Paddy’s attempt at buying a hat for Joan

April 8, 2014

It often takes me quite a while to post items that have been very kindly sent to me by some of our many readers. This is just one such example and I have to apologize as I have lost the details of whoever sent it to me. Suffice to say that the content on here is often the result of your hard work in finding items and sending them to me so please do keep it up and I will always acknowledge your contribution. This is unique example of being unable to do that. If you sent me the original link and are reading this please step forward! PS – the mystery contributor has been found. Thank you Rob MacGregor!

Below is an extract from Neville Phillip’s 2008 biography The Stage Struck Me! in which he mentions an amusing episode involving Paddy at the shops! Can you imagine him shopping?

You can actually read the whole book online via Google Books where we are told:

“The Stage Struck Me!” is a funny, informative and sometimes sad account of the life of a jobbing actor and writer in the 1940s and 1950s, full of anecdotes about the famous, the infamous, the charming and the downright loopy people he met along the way. After joining the South African Army and serving as a gunner in the coastal artillery, Neville Phillips was transferred to the entertainment unit where he spent four years doing shows for the Allied troops in North Africa and Italy. In 1946 he was demobbed to London and it was here that Neville Phillips met and got to know some truly remarkable people, as well as writing West End reviews, pantomime, cabaret, and a musical starring Pat Kirkwood. “The Stage Struck Me!” is a fascinating and sometimes poignant account of times, places and people that played such an important part in a young aspiring actor’s life.

buying a hat for Joan

Read the extract in pdf format here.

A Walk Through Time

April 2, 2014

young paddyIn the winter of 1933, an 18-year-old named Patrick Leigh Fermor set out from the Hook of Holland to cross Europe on foot. His goal was Istanbul, which he bookishly insisted on calling Constantinople. He had little more in his rucksack than a volume of Horace and a few blank notebooks. He also had a bad reputation: The masters who expelled him from school — for a flirtation with a local girl — saw only “a dangerous mixture of sophistication and recklessness.” He spent the next year charming his way through a doomed prewar landscape of landed aristocrats, feudal peasants and benevolent monks, sleeping alternately in schlosses and hayricks. It was a journey that would become legendary, not so much for the extraordinary things he saw and recorded as for his prose — an utterly unique, hybrid vehicle that combines youthful exuberance with a dense, dauntingly erudite display of verbal artifice. Unlike most authors of travel literature (a rattlebag genre that doesn’t really do him justice) Leigh Fermor does not confine his role to that of camera obscura. He builds dense whorls of wordplay to echo the carvings in an old church door; he slips into baroque historical fantasias, scattering a shrapnel of words like “gabions,” “hydromel,” “eyot” and “swingle­trees” at the unsuspecting reader. In between salvos, there are moments of ferocious humor and quiet, lyrical beauty.

By Robert F. Worth

First published in the New York Times, 7 March 2014

In part, this richness is a measure of the extraordinary gap between the experience and its narration. Leigh Fermor did not begin writing the first book about his journey, “A Time of Gifts,” until the 1970s. In the intervening decades, he had written several other books, becoming a fiercely learned autodidact and adventurer. His exploits during and after World War II — when he helped to kidnap the Nazi commandant in Crete and deliver him to a waiting British submarine — are said to have helped inspire his friend Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond novels. As a result, the travel narratives are a kind of palimpsest in which his younger and older selves exist in counterpoint. He initially considered naming the first book “Parallax,” to reflect this split perspective.

Few books have been as keenly or lengthily anticipated as the third and final volume of Leigh Fermor’s youthful travels. (A second installment, “Between the Woods and the Water,” was published in 1986.) It never appeared; burdened by writer’s block and frailty, Leigh Fermor was still working on it when he died in 2011 at age 96. But he did leave a manuscript. His biographer, Artemis Cooper, and the British travel writer Colin Thubron chose to tidy it up and publish it as “The Broken Road,” a reference to the abrupt narrative halt before the author reaches Istanbul.

“The Broken Road” narrates Leigh Fermor’s travels in Bulgaria, Romania and Greece, a more tribal and violent world than Northern Europe. It does not always have the gemlike polish of the first two volumes. But it is an unforgettable book, full of strange encounters with a prewar Balkan cast of counts, prostitutes, peasants, priests and castrati. The greatest pleasure of all, as usual, is Leigh Fermor’s own infectious, Rabelaisian hunger for knowledge of almost every kind. His memory seems eidetic; his eyes miss nothing. He seems to carry within himself a whole troupe of sharp-eyed geographers, art historians, ethnologists and multilingual poets. For anyone who has tried to document a journey, reading him is a humbling and thoroughly inspiring experience.

“The Broken Road” is also full of his signature verbal architecture: The Orthodox bishops “in copes as stiff and brilliant as beetles’ wings, and the higher clergy, coiffed with globular gold mitres the size of pumpkins and glistening with gems, leaned on croziers topped with twin coiling snakes.” Or the Virgilian evocation of a passing flock of storks in the Balkan mountains, which goes on for pages: “All at once we were under a high shifting roof of wings, a flotilla that was thickening into an armada, until our ears were full of the sound of rustling and rushing with a flutter now and then when a bird changed position in a slow wingbeat or two, and of the strange massed creaking, as of many delicate hinges, of a myriad slender joints. They benighted the air.”

In some respects this book is even more satisfying than its predecessors because it is less guarded; the narrator emerges as an angrier, more troubled and more persuasive character. One of my few quarrels with “A Time of Gifts” is the dogged high-mindedness of Leigh Fermor’s youthful self. Where is the lust? Where is the rage? This man is 18 years old, for God’s sake. He never gives way to the curse-spitting xenophobia that overcomes most travelers (certainly me) at some point in their journeys. He runs into plenty of jams, and meets plenty of pretty young girls; but there is something a little too noble about him, too much of the innocent abroad.

This time things are different, and the young man seems to break free of his older narrator. At one point, lying on the damp earthen floor of a Bulgarian peasant’s hut, he gives way to revulsion at the “noisily hibernating rustics swathed all over this stifling hellhole.” He is overcome by self-hatred and yearns for the comfort and status of his school-bound peers. Elsewhere, he meets a spirited Bulgarian girl named Nadejda and falls in love with her; their romance, though apparently unconsummated, reeks of the adolescent emotional frailty that seemed absent in the earlier books.

One of the most vivid passages in “The Broken Road” takes place in Bucharest, where young Paddy (as all his friends called him) checks into what he takes for a modest hotel, the Savoy-Ritz, giving his bags to a baffled patronne. He returns late that night and discovers that it is not a hotel but a brothel. The laughing madam ushers him into the kitchen, where four attractive young prostitutes are eating a late supper: “I was given a chair and a glass of wine, and the girls on either side cut off bits of chicken breast and offered them on their forks with friendly solicitude.” The women, charmed by his youth and innocence, feed and fuss over him for several days, telling him stories about their clients and themselves, though he remains discreetly silent about whether he got anything for free.

“The Broken Road” ends in midsentence, and the editors have chosen to follow it with excerpts from the diary Leigh Fermor wrote in early 1935, mostly at Mt. Athos in Greece. These are fascinating precisely because they are so ordinary: Suddenly we see how lucky we are that Leigh Fermor chose to wait four decades before starting. Young men have strong legs and eyes, but it is the older narrator, with his multilayered perspective, who knows how to turn memory into art.

History also played a role. “The Broken Road” is strewn with ominous, proleptic hints about the future that only we — and the older narrator — are privy to. In “A Time of Gifts,” the Nazis were a constant presence, crass and often ludicrous, waiting to inherit Europe. In this book, it is both the Soviet boot and the Balkan breakup that lurk throughout, as young Paddy listens to his Bulgarian and Romanian friends spew hatred of one another. But he also evokes a quiet, starlit world where countless eccentricities of folk art and culture bloomed in isolated villages and persisted for centuries, untouched by the glare of television and the Internet. Much of this is gone now. We can be grateful he was there to record it.

THE BROKEN ROAD

From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos

By Patrick Leigh Fermor

Edited by Colin Thubron and Artemis Cooper

362 pp. New York Review Books. $30.

Transylvania Diary

March 26, 2014

Bran Castle — but don’t mention Dracula

A gentle and humorous review of the very first Transylvanian Book Festival.

By Thomas W. Hodgkinson

First published in The Spectator 21 September 2013

Ehe-Gefängnis. The word, strictly speaking (which is how one should always speak), means ‘marriage prison’, and refers to an austere cell maintained in some of the magnificent fortified Saxon churches of central Transylvania. When a local couple decided to divorce, they were first locked in this narrow room for several weeks. There was only one bed: single. There was one chair, one plate, one knife, one fork, one cup. The result was that within a few days, the couple would realise they didn’t actually need a divorce after all — not because they wanted to escape the hell of enforced proximity, but because they had fallen in love again.

I’m here in the pastoral heart of Romania, attending the first ever Transylvanian Book Festival: a three-day extravaganza of talks, tours and readings, featuring bitter poets, wry novelists and rueful academics, and all of them what you might call professionally interesting. This sets the conversational bar pretty high over lunch, I can tell you. For one thing, since arriving in Romania, I’ve learnt that you should never, under any circumstances, mention Dracula. I mention him once, but I think I get away with it. Then up steps Professor Roy Foster, warily, wearily perhaps, to speak of the unspeakable. And of course he turns it around, delivering a vampirically mesmerising talk, showing how Bram Stoker’s masterpiece is ultimately all about Ireland. And transgressive sex.

Along with war, one of the great narrative themes (laying aside, for a moment, transgressive sex) has always been the return from war, and returning home generally. The Odyssey and other stories about the Greeks returning from Troy, collectively known as nostoi, set the tone. Our word ‘nostalgia’, referring to a painful desire to return, can extend to the pain felt when you get home and find it isn’t what it used to be. Nostalgia is also a theme of this festival. The villages where we’re staying — Richis, Biertan, Copsa Mare — were built by Saxons in alien Romania in the 12th century, and sustained until 1990. Lured by the promise of a better life, many modern Saxons then moved to Germany. They called it ‘going home’, though often their new lives were in concrete blocks, while their derelict farms fell apart. Now, with the help of the Mihai Eminescu Trust, and in co-operation with the Saxons who remain, these old buildings are being restored. I had an idea of writing a spoof travel book, detailing my ten years spent living among the people of Chiswick. Or possibly even ‘amongst’ them, which always sounds like a more profound level of integration. But what I’ve seen here is curing me of the conceit.

A night on the tiles with William Blacker. His book Along The Enchanted Way, about his years living ‘amongst’ the people of northern Romania, also describes his passionate relationship with a gypsy beauty named Marishka. After midnight, we enter a bar in Richis, which is packed with gypsies, including brooding boys and a girl with what I can only call a bluge (my invented word for a cleavage that defies gravity). The place falls silent as we come in. Should I lose the straw hat? William has a discreet word with the barman, who slips on a CD of gypsy music, and soon the dance floor is all movement: clicking fingers and smacked thighs. I tap my foot dexterously to one side. Wine, then beer: oh dear. Beer, then tzuika (the local brandy): eureka!

My fiancée and I have the occasional argument, shall we say. Anya, who languishes in London while I whoop it up in Richis, is Russian, and her deadpan manner can be disconcerting. I asked her recently what kind of man she found attractive. ‘Clowns,’ she replied. While I’m here, lawyers push the sale of our flat in Chiswick, which is the size of an Ehe-Gefängnis. We’re after something bigger, within striking distance of central London. Hold your sides, if they hurt from laughing.

But I mustn’t complain about property prices, with so much of interest going on around me. Artemis Cooper speaking about Paddy Leigh Fermor; Jessica Douglas- Home on the Mihai Eminescu Trust, which she runs; young Nick Hunt reading from his forthcoming book about following in Leigh Fermor’s footsteps; and all presided over by the seraphic Lucy Abel Smith, mistress of ceremonies. This has been, quite simply, the best and most inspiring literary festival I’ve ever attended. But more even than the readings, what has made it special has been the beauty of the countryside, the warmth of the locals, and — dare I say it? — the incredible cheapness of Romanian beer, which in a bar sets you back about 50p a bottle. All of which has persuaded me I’ve no choice really but to move to Romania. Now I just have to tell Anya.

Publication day for Walking the Woods and the Water by Nick Hunt

March 20, 2014
Walking the Woods and the Water

Walking the Woods and the Water

Today marks a very important day for Nick Hunt as it is the publication day of his wonderful first book, Walking the Woods and the Water which describes his 2011-2012 journey walking in Paddy’s footsteps from the Hook of Holland to Istanbul.

Many of you will be familiar with the background and even supported Nick financially by donating to his crowd funding site which I publicised here under the title of “£1 a Week”. Since then we have been able to keep up with Nick following his return as he sought a new publisher and gave some thoughtful and entertaining public lectures.

I am sure Nick will now be in greater demand as this book is a gem. As I wrote a few weeks ago this is no simple homage to Paddy. It is a unique work of one man’s often very painful journey over eight months. The story is inhabited by interesting characters and is at times a very intimate work. We get very close to Nick and his thoughts during that long walk.

As a walker myself, one of the things missing from ATOG and BTWW was any mention of the pains of walking (we get some hint in The Broken Road when a hobnail from his boot puts Paddy in a lot of pain in Bulgaria). Whilst Paddy may have been lucky, it would be very surprising if he had not experienced some discomfort, and even fear, during his journey. Nick brings all this alive with gritty descriptions.

Nick does draw parallels with Paddy’s writing for his aim was to see what had changed during the last 80 turbulent years in Europe. Whilst his conclusion is that much has changed, there is also much that has not, in particular the attitudes and prejudices of the people he encounters.

I hope that there will be many positive reviews which will help Nick to achieve good sales, and it is not my intention to write a review as such. All I can say is that the book is a very enjoyable read; a wonderful read. It offers a major contribution to travel writing and it will inspire many of those that read the book to set out on journeys of their own, especially to Central and Eastern Europe.

If you enjoy reading my blog, and want to make a link with Paddy and his adventures, I ask you to buy a copy of Walking the Woods and the Water today. Unfortunately the book is only available in paperback, but I guarantee that you will enjoy it. If you don’t please contact me or make a comment, and I will surely post your comments here.

And it you doubt me, read what some others have said:

‘Nick Hunt has written a glorious book, rich with insight and wit, about walking his way both across and into contemporary Europe. He set out as an homage to Patrick Leigh Fermor’s legendary tramp across Europe in the early 1930s, but his journey became – of course – an epic adventure in its own right. A book about gifts, modernity, endurance and landscape, it represents a fine addition to the literature of the leg.’Robert Macfarlane, author of The Wild Places and The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot

This moving and profoundly honest book sometimes brings a sense of unlimited freedom, sometimes joy, sometimes an extraordinary, dream-like dislocation: always accompanied by a dazzling sharpness of hearing and vision. I see now how that youthful walk informed so much of Paddy s style. Before setting out Hunt was going to write to Paddy. The letter was never written, and by the time he set off, Paddy was dead. How touched and fascinated he would have been to read this book. –Artemis Cooper, author of Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure and co-editor The Broken Road

‘Vivid and hard-won’ Giles Foden inConde Nast Traveller

‘Delightful, balanced and extremely well-written…an impressive and timely effort. A worthy literary tribute to the classic of British travel writing.’ –Vitali Vitaliev, author of Passport to Enclavia

‘A most enjoyable read and a worthy tribute to the originals’ –Caroline Sanderson, The Bookseller

‘Walking in the footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor from Rotterdam to Constantinople, Nick Hunt found that, 78 years later, everything and nothing has changed–Daily Telegraph interview with author

Walking the Woods and the Water is published by Nicholas Brealey (336pp), is available in paperback only and is ready to order from Amazon. Walking the Woods and the Water: In Patrick Leigh Fermor’s footsteps from the Hook of Holland to the Golden Horn

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 933 other followers

%d bloggers like this: