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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Sunday, 14 July 2019

"Between the Woods and the Water" by Patrick Leigh Fermor

This might be one of the most expensive books I have ever owned. It was a gift from my good friends Mary and Danny so I acquired it for nothing but it has inspired me with longing to go for a long walk of my own which might cost me a thousand pounds, being a little older than PLF and liking more creature comforts than sleeping in the woods on a mountainside.

This book continues PLF's epic pre-WWII journey across Europe from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople. The first section (to the Hungarian border) is recounted in A Time of Gifts. This volume starts as he enters Hungary and ends at the border between Romania and Bulgaria.

What is most remarkable about the writing of this book is how he can describe things with such precision and extraordinary lyricism. For example:

  •  “Not a light showed in the town except for the flames of thousands of candles ... in the hands of the waiting throng ... The glow from their cupped palms reversed the daytime chiaroscuro, rimming the lines of jaw and nostril, scooping lit crescents under their brows and leaving everything beyond these bright masks drowned in shadow.” (C 1)
  • Landing with sticks in their beaks, they [storks] picked their way along the roofs with black flight-feathers spread like tight-rope-walkers’ fingers fumbling for balance.” (C 1)
  • The roads were not good: the car pitched about the ruts and potholes like a boat in a choppy sea and the dust of our progress ... formed a ghostly cylinder.” (C 6)
  • When the afterglow following a bonfire-sunset had gone and the bed-time pandemonium of birds began to quieten.” (C 7)

But all his observations about nature and his fellows are astute and sometimes humorous:

  • An hour or so before, two storks, tired by their journey from Africa, had alighted on a disheveled nest under one of the belfries and everyone had watched them settle in. Now, alarmed by the din, desperately flapping their wings and with necks outstretched, they were taking off again, scarlet legs trailing. ... ‘A fine night they chose for moving in,’ my neighbour said.” (C 1)
  • After the hours of Latin, Magyar was bursting out in a cheerful dactylic rush.” (C 1)
  • When the sun reaches full strength, the eternal snows, the glaciers of the Alps and the banked peaks of the Carpathians look unchanged from a distance; but close to, the whole icy heart of Europe might be dissolving.” (C 1)
  • There were sleepy grunts from the sties prompted by dreams, perhaps, or indigestion, and now and then a pig, roused in the small hours by night-starvation, munched in semi-liquid bliss.” (C 1)
  • Budapest: “Life seemed perfect: kind, uncensorious hosts; dashing, resplendent and beautiful new friends against the background of a captivating town; a stimulating new language, strong and startling drinks, food like a delicious bonfire and a prevailing atmosphere of sophistication and high spirits that it would have been impossible to resist even had I wanted.” (C 2)
  • Badly played, this [Gypsy music] can sound like treacle and broken bottles.
  • Magyar ...is an agglutinative language ... The words are never inflicted as they are in Europe, ... changes of sense are conveyed by a concatenation of syllables stuck on behind the first; all the vowel sounds imitate their leader, and the invariable ictus on the leading syllable sets up a kind of dactylic or anapaestic canter which, to a new ear, gives Magyar a wild and most unfamiliar ring.” (C 2)
  • The apostolic crown ... was Hungary's most sacred object ... wrought in battered gold, with its culminating cross askew, it was the actual diadem Pope Sylvester II sent to St. Stephen when he was crowned first king of Hungary in AD 1000.” (C 2)
  • An advanced case of lamb dressed up as mutton.” (C 3)
  • ‘Let us assume’ turns in a few pages into ‘We may assume’, which, in a few more, is ‘As we have shown’; and, after a few more pages yet, the shy initial hypothesis has hardened into a brazen established landmark, all the time with not an atom of new evidence being adduced.” (C 4)
  • It was said that the newcomers were of such varied origins that a chameleon placed on a coloured population map ... would explode.” (C 5)
  • Istv├ín and I parted at last, each trailing a faint cloud of hangover in opposite directions.” (C 7)
  • It would have been hard to set off much later than the cock crew that morning, as the bird itself was flapping its wings on a barrel ten yards away.” (C 7)
  • In early times, when all religions were polytheistic, gods were shared out and exchanged; they wandered from pantheon to pantheon and were welcome everywhere. ... A solitary god ... and there was discord with neighbours from the start.” (C 7)
  • It seems at times that strife can no more be separated from monotheism than stripes from a tiger.” (C 7)
  • The mountains were full of echoes. Small landslides would spread like a rumour.” (C 7)

I also learned that:

  • John Hunyadi who founded Hunedora was is the service of King Sigismund of Hungary son of the blind King of Bohemia killed at Crecy. Hunyadi’s son was Matthias Corvinus, later elected to the throne of Hungary becoming one of their greatest (conquering) kings. (C 5)
  • The star Algol is named from the Arabic El Ghoul. (C 5)
  • In Transylvania there is a cleft called the Asmach cave which is thought to be where the children from the Pied Piper of Hamelin came out of the mountainside. For centuries there have been many people in Transylvania of German extraction. (C 6)
  • “Transylvania was the oldest source of gold in the classical world.” (C 7 fn)
  • While the decree of Papal Infallibility was read out at the end of the Vatican Council in 1870 there was a spectacular thunderstorm; the next day the Franco-Prussian war broke out. (C 7)
  • In the Carpathian uplands he saw a few black squirrels (C 7); I have only ever seen one ... in Letchworth.

This is wonderful writing. I so envied this young man, wandering across mountains and making friends with swineherds and gypsies, staying in townhouses and country mansions and partying with the elegant set, skinny-dipping with a friend and encountering two young peasant girls ... and enjoying some "rough and tumble" (not to mention the car journey with Angela, unhappily married, who could only join the trip through subterfuge).

A superb travelogue.

July 2019; 279 pages

This review was written by
the author of Motherdarling

Other great travel books in this blog:
Travelling in Britain:
And others:

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