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Preserving the best of Romania: Charlie Ottley and Jessica Douglas-Home on Pro TV

November 12, 2014

Capture

Watch this inspiring interview with Charlie Ottley, presenter of the Wild Carpathia series, and Jessica Douglas-Home, President of The Mihai Eminescu Trust, to find out why Romania’s heritage, natural landscape and areas of wilderness are so special and need protecting.

An interview on Romanian TV in English where Charlie and Jessica discuss the importance of preserving Romania’s wilderness and cultural heritage.

In one generation all the forests of Romania may be gone.

Watch the interview here

Jessica Douglas-Home la ProTV from Mihai Eminescu Trust on Vimeo.

EYE on the prize

November 7, 2014

A new award aims to support and promote an artist or film-maker whose work unites art and film. EYE, the Dutch film museum and the Patrick & Joan Leigh Fermor (PJLF) Arts Fund have launched the EYE Prize. The annual £25,000 prize is aimed at supporting and promoting the artist or film-maker whose work unites art and film, and demonstrates quality of thought, imagination and artistic excellence.

From Screen Daily

Sandra den Hamer, CEO of EYE, commented: “With the undeniable intimate relationship between the moving image and contemporary arts, it is about time for a prize for work which brings these two art forms together. EYE is delighted that the PJLF Arts Fund has made the creation of this new prize possible, and, with our additional commitment to stage an exhibition every four years of the three previous years’ EYE Prize winners, EYE will cement its position as a leading and international institution for film and art.”

The jury for the inaugural 2015 prize will be chaired by den Hamer and also includes director Chantal Akerman, chief curator for media and performance art at MoMA Stuart Comer, director Isaac Julien, cultural entrepreneur Martijn Sanders, producer/screenwriter and PJLF Arts Fund trustee Olivia Stewart, and director Béla Tarr.

An international advisory board will make the selection of nominated candidates to present to the jury. The winner will be announced in late January and will be presented at the annual EYE Gala on April 2, 2015, coinciding with EYE’s third anniversary.

The advisory board is headed up by Jaap Guldemond of EYE and also consists of Solange Farkas (director and curator of Associação Cultural Videobrasil), Gyula Gazdag (artistic director of the Sundance Filmmakers Lab), film historian Marc Glöde, Sunjung Kim (curator and professor at the Korea National University of Arts) and Andrea Lissoni (curator, film and international art, Tate Modern).

Established in 2011, the PJLF Arts Fund aims to help artists, writers, film-makers and musicians.

2014 Stavros Niarchos Foundation Lecture at Yale University: “Patrick Leigh Fermor In Greece”

November 5, 2014
Artemis Cooper presenting the 2014 Stavros Niarchos Foundation lecture

Artemis Cooper presenting the 2014 Stavros Niarchos Foundation lecture

Artemis Cooper giving the 2014 Stavros Niarchos Foundation Lecture at Yale University.

A video is available on YouTube here or via the embed below. The blurb introduces things as follows:

Patrick Leigh Fermor’s first travels in Greece took place before the outbreak of the Second World War, and he already spoke fluent Greek by the time he was parachuted into occupied Crete in 1942 to help the Cretan Resistance, which in May 1944 resulted in the abduction of a German general. Leigh Fermor settled in Greece in the 1960s, and lived there until his death in 2011. His books Roumeli: Travels in Northern Greece and Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese are two of the best travel books in the English language. The talk is about his life and friends in Greece, and how much the country meant to him.

Mark Granelli brought this video to my attention and had this to say:

It is quite fascinating, and includes a beautiful extract from ‘Mani’ where Paddy is accompanied by dolphins on a ferry trip.

It focuses a lot on Paddy’s time in Crete.

The Q&A at the end turns up some personal information about Paddy and also references Olivia Manning and Fitzroy Maclean.

The slow adventure – in the footsteps of German film-maker Werner Herzog

November 3, 2014
Jasper Winn

Jasper Winn

Adventurer, horseman, musician and walker, Jasper Winn will soon be striding in the footsteps of German film-maker Werner Herzog who walked a 500 mile route from Munich to Paris exactly forty years ago, starting in November 1974.

Herzog had heard that German film critic Lotte Eisner was ill and might die; she had championed his career from early on when his films challenged the notion of what films were for and how they were made; he decided that by making a pilgrimage on foot to her bedside he would stop her dying. He kept a private journal of his three week trudge. This was published some years later as the slim volume, Vom Gehen Im Eis/Of Walking In Ice. Jasper came across the book, in translation, when researching long walks and pilgrimages more than a decade ago, and it made an impression on him. He describes the writing as “stark, recounts only the images that he sees, and what he directly feels. It’s both beautiful and unsettling.” His trip was difficult – average 24 miles a day non-stop and he carried little to make him comfortable or weather proof. He left in cold and patchy snow and over the coming weeks it rained, snowed, froze and blew. At night he broke into holiday homes, barns or anywhere he could find shelter. There were occasional nights in inns.

Jasper Winn, the author of Paddle: A long way around Ireland, will be updating us on this recreation of the journey on his website, Slow Adventure. If you would like to keep up with him please subscribe to his posts here.

Good luck Jasper!

Canadian Review of Walking the Woods and the Water by Nick Hunt

November 2, 2014

A positive review for Nick’s book in the Canadian online journal Macleans.

By

First Published in Macleans 1 November 2014.

In December 1933, an 18-year-old Englishman by the name of Patrick “Paddy” Leigh Fermor set off to walk the width of Europe, from Rotterdam to Istanbul. He packed little more than some clothes, several letters of introduction and the Oxford Book of English Verse—to live “like a tramp, a pilgrim, or a wandering scholar.” It was a time before the horrors of fascism and Soviet-style Communism had taken hold, and much of Eastern Europe was still semi-feudal. (While he spent many nights in barns and shepherds’ huts, Paddy also enjoyed the hospitality of castle-dwelling counts and barons.) The accounts of his adventures, the lyrical memoir A Time of Gifts, and its sequel, Between the Woods and the Water—both elaborate love letters to a pre-war Europe—won him international acclaim.

Hunt was also 18 when he discovered Paddy’s travelogues and, before he’d finished reading them, “knew with absolute certainty that one day [he] would follow in [Paddy’s] footsteps, retracing his route through Holland, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey, in search of whatever was left of wildness and adventure.” And so he did. In December 2011, Hunt left his own London home and, for the next 221 days and 4,000 km, undertook his own pilgrimage: “Beyond buying roadmaps and putting out calls for accommodation, I deliberately did no research into where I was going,” Hunt writes of his preparations. “Paddy’s books, eight decades out of date, would be my only travel guide. With his experience underlying my own, I would see what remained of hospitality, kindness to strangers, freedom, . . . the mysterious, the unknown, the deeper currents of myth and story I believed—or longed to believe—still flowed beneath Europe’s surface.”

On an oft-perilous trip riddled with obstacles not seen in Paddy’s time—hydroelectric dams, industrial wastelands and multi-lane highways—and despite injuries that sometimes laid him up for weeks, Hunt prevailed. “In every country of my walk,” he writes, “I encountered kindness and generosity that Paddy would have recognized.”

Is is when recounting that generosity— from the strangers who invite him into their homes, to the colourful characters who, over beer, fruit brandy or tea, reveal their grievances, prejudices and aspirations—that Hunt’s writing shines brightest. And while his descriptions of landscapes can occasionally feel as plodding as his pace of travel, some are downright breathtaking. Atop the Balkan mountain range in Bulgaria, he writes, “Here and there, the green skin that covered the mountain had pulled away, as if tugged back by giant fingers, and jumbled rock burst out like sausage meat.”

Overall, Hunt makes an enormously appealing narrator and guide on the road less travelled: curious, sharp-eyed, insightful and intrepid—not unlike his predecessor, who died at the age of 96, just six months before Hunt began his trip. Sadly for Hunt, it was before he could send the letter he planned to write “to tell him I was on my way.”

Salmagundi Magazine special feature on Patrick Leigh Fermor

October 30, 2014

Paddy at BaleniI am grateful to Marc Woodworth for sending me this feature about Paddy posted in Salmagundi Magazine.

It includes excerpts from three essays:

  • Joanna Kavenna on memory and the past in A Time of Gifts
  • George Prochnik on Byzantium and style in Mani
  • Bina Gogineni on exoticism in The Traveller’s Tree

Plus exclusive online contributions from Nick Delbanco, Nick Delbanco, our very own Nick Hunt (Following Fermor in Romania)
and a Micro-Anthology selected by Michael Ondaatje, Thomas de Waal, Michael Gorra, Andrew Eames and photographs of Kövecses by Andrew Hillard.

Download the pdf here … salmagundi magazine

The Mitford files: Exploring the extraordinary lives of six sisters

October 29, 2014

Surely more forests have been felled in the name of the Mitford girls than any other family circle in history, and the death recently of 94-year-old Deborah, the youngest and longest-lived, prompts a consideration of the sisters’ contribution to the world of letters – as both authors and subjects.

By Mark McGinness.

First published in The National, 2 October 2014.

Between 1904 and 1920, Lord and Lady Redesdale produced a son, Tom, and six daughters – Nancy, the novelist and Francophile; Pam, a horsewoman, farmer and cook; Diana, a fascist beauty; Unity, a besotted Nazi; Jessica (“Decca”), an American communist and writer; and Deborah (“Debo”), the Duchess of Devonshire. They were six variations of the same face and voice with an obsessive dedication to a person or cause. Nancy’s love for Gaston Palewski, Unity’s for Hitler and Diana’s for the English fascist Oswald Mosley, blighted their lives – although none of them would ever admit it. Jessica’s dedication to communism and Deborah’s to her home, Chatsworth House, were just as strong but cast no shadows.

Four of the sisters – Nancy, Diana, Jessica and Deborah – took to print. Memoirs from the last three of them (and more than 40 books among them); novels and historical biographies from Nancy; biographies and reviews from Diana; and exposés from Jessica, the Queen of Muckrakers. Three volumes of Nancy’s letters have been published (one, her correspondence with Evelyn Waugh), 700 pages of letters from Jessica, and Deborah’s 54 years of brilliant badinage with the travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor, In Tearing Haste. There are also the 843 pages of correspondence between all six sisters, covering 77 years.

These tomes join four previous biographies of Nancy (by Harold Acton, Selina Hastings, Laura Thompson and Lisa Hilton); two of Diana (by Jan Dalley and Anne de Courcy); three of Unity (the most comprehensive – and controversial – by David Pryce-Jones); one of Pamela, the quietest and, according to John Betjeman, “the most rural of them all”; and two of all six sisters: The House of Mitford by Diana’s son, Jonathan Guinness and his daughter Catherine; and Mary Lovell’s quite definitive The Mitford Girls. There was even a musical of the same name in 1981. Deborah’s daughter, Sophia Murphy, also produced The Mitford Family Album. Biographies of Deborah are certain, like her beloved chickens, to be hatched before long.

Why the fascination? The lives of the Mitford sisters have riveted, and repelled, Anglophiles, romantics and readers since the 1930s. Diana Mitford once wrote, “I must admit ‘the Mitfords’ would madden ME if I didn’t chance to be one.” Their hold on the public imagination, through their loves and marriages, their politics and opinions, their friendships and sense of fun, can be attributed to a mixture of aristocratic eccentricity, romance, rebellion, devotion, betrayal, estrangement, tragedy and loss; and through it all, a uniquely irrepressible wit. This absolute self-possession and determination to treat the gravest aspects of life as a lark are what make the Mitfords such an enduring study.

The Mitfords: Letters between Six Sisters (2008), superbly edited by Diana’s daughter-in-law, Charlotte Mosley, presents the sisters at their vivid best, bouncing off each other, revealing a distinctive, instantly recognisable style that shines through each one’s letters. The lives of the Mitford girls seem as remote today as the Bennett sisters. The latter were fictional and the Mitfords have become so, too.

It is almost impossible for many to separate the family from their fictional equivalents. The books that made them so, and grew into what Jessica dubbed the Mitford Industry, were Nancy’s The Pursuit of Love (1945) and Love in a Cold Climate (1949), which become classics, still in print today, creating cult figures of her already notorious family.

The intensely autobiographical nature of Nancy’s fiction might suggest a lack of creative imagination, but the real-life models she was so brilliantly able to draw on – with some, but not much, embellishment – made it all the more fascinating for appearing to be true. Published in December 1945, The Pursuit of Love, a hilarious, high-spirited and sweepingly romantic tale came at just the right time to a country exhausted and numb after six years of war.

That spirit and the ingredients of love, childhood and the eccentricities of the English aristocracy in the guise of the Radlett family make it still so eminently readable today. Nancy trumped her success with Love in a Cold Climate four years later, again drawing on life with the Radletts, but focusing on their neighbours.

Half a century passed between Nancy’s first novel, Highland Fling (1931), and Debo’s first book. Eldest green-eyed Nancy never recovered from not being an only child and was relentless in her teasing. She called Debo “Nine” – her apparent mental age – and claimed she had to point to the words on a page to read. Debo played on this, claiming never to read; rather like Favre (as they called their father), who apparently only ever read one book, White Fang, which he found so good there was no need to read another.

Debo was certainly a late developer but would write almost as many books as Nancy, and proved herself as gifted, original and funny as her supposedly cleverer sisters. Most of them reflected her life’s work, Chatsworth House, the seat of the Cavendishes for 16 generations since 1549, the 175-room caramel-coloured pile, known as “the Palace on the Peak” in Derbyshire, which in 1959, she and her husband, Andrew, the 11th Duke of Devonshire, occupied (with their son and two daughters) and set about to rescue. Debo was arguably the greatest chatelaine of the 20th century.

In 1980, at the age of 60, she produced Chatsworth: The House (1980); then in 1990, The Estate: A View from Chatsworth. The Treasures of Chatsworth and The Farmyard at Chatsworth were published in 1991 and, in 1999, The Garden at Chatsworth. Two years later a bestselling collection of home thoughts and reviews, Counting My Chickens (2001), appeared. She was a hen breeder and chicken lover for more than 80 years.

The Chatsworth Cookery Book ­appeared in 2003. Debo’s hairdresser thought she had a nerve as she had not cooked since 1945. But she was better than two of her sisters. Nancy, looking after her father during the war, threw an egg into a pot of water and was appalled when “a sinister sort of octopus grew out of it”. So she threw in two more – the whole week’s ration – and the same thing happened. She then gave up. Jessica was no more adept. Her recipe for roast goose reads: “Take a goose and roast till done.”

In 2005, Round About Chatsworth was published, featuring the 35,000 acres that surround the house – plumb full of houses and architectural curiosities: bridges and byres, mills and a mortuary, turrets, towers and troughs, forests, fountains and follies – brimming with Devonshire knowledge and Mitford dash.

Writing about Chatsworth was the most natural thing in the world for Deborah and so it read. She listed her occupation in Who’s Who as “housewife” and would refer to Chatsworth as “the dump”. As Alan Bennett said in his introduction to the second collection of her journalism, Home to Roost … And Other Peckings (2009), a bestseller like her predecessor, “Deborah Devonshire is not someone to whom one can say ‘joking apart …’: with her it’s of the essence, even at the most serious and saddest of moments.”

And in a long life, she had her tragedies and her trials. She lost three children at birth and like many a duke, her husband had affairs. He was also an alcoholic and a gambler but gave these up so their last two decades were warm and companionable.

“Happiness is very rare and totally overrated,” Deborah would say. “Contentment is completely different and Chatsworth has made me content … I am the most easily pleased of the sisters.”

By December 2005, sisterless and widowed (her last sister, Diana, died in 2003 and the Duke the following year), Debo left Chatsworth to her son, the 12th duke, and his wife, moving nearby to the Old Vicarage at Edensor. She called it the Old Vic and soon made it her own. She continued to contribute to The Spectator as a columnist and reviewer. Her views were sturdily conservative – Crown and countryside, the social order and stiff upper lip, good manners, loyalty and friendship, but always expressed with originality and humour.

Then, at the age of 90 and by then almost blind, she published her memoirs, Wait for Me!, perhaps the most reliable and rational account of life as a Mitford sister, recalling the stumpy-legged infant trying to catch up to her five big sisters. Indifferent to their politics, her love for her sisters was unwavering. Debo had been the Redesdales’ last chance for another son. Mabel the parlourmaid recalled, “I knew it was a girl by the look on his lordship’s face.” Yet, unlike her tearaway sisters she loved life at home with Muv and Favre and became her father’s favourite. Apart from preserving Chatsworth and protecting the legacy of her sisters, the Duchess of Devonshire championed, through her writing and her patronages, traditional values and the importance of country life; proving in the end, to be the grandest and most remarkable of that remarkable brood.

Mark McGinness is a freelance writer and reviewer based in Dubai.

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