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May 08, Sherwood Smith added it Shelves: memoir.


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It took me a long time to comprehend history as a palimpsest. Fermor seems to have understood it viscerally, if not yet intellectually, as a teenager dropping out of school in order to walk from Ostend to Constantinople. He set out in December of , though he didn't write up his experiences until the seventies. He did keep a travel diary though he lost the first one, when he left his backpack at a youth hostel in Munich for a day, after having met a pair of schoolgirls who took him in so It took me a long time to comprehend history as a palimpsest.

He did keep a travel diary though he lost the first one, when he left his backpack at a youth hostel in Munich for a day, after having met a pair of schoolgirls who took him in so the book is liminal in so many ways: the observations of a young man interpreted through the experience of himself much older; the fascinating layers of history encountered in villages, cathedrals, castles, and towns across Germany; the shadow of what was to come as Hitler had just taken over within the past year, and had his eye on Austria.

What was incomprehensible back then is gloriously rich to me now--but that's after years of accumulating context, from Huizinga's thoughts on the German Renaissance and those who disagree with him to the language itself, to having hitch hiked along the exact section of the Danube, roughly between Melk and Duernstein, which Fermor considers one of the most beautiful river valleys in all of Europe. I wasn't much older than he when I lived for a year in Austria as a student.

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And I kept going back to that stretch of the Danube just to see if it was really as amazing as I thought the first time, though hitch hiking was scary. If you were lucky, it was also a way to meet people, something he talks about as he wanders cross country and encounters people who take him in, give him a place to sleep and share their food, from counts in castles to the poorest farm folk.

He also blends his travels with reflections on the layers of history, through the art and architecture, and evokes the old ghosts of cultures smashed by war. It's a brilliant book, elegantly written: it repays regular rereads. I followed his steps on a map of Europe dated Most of the villages and towns are on it.

View all 4 comments. A true masterwork of travel writing. Over the course of three years, starting when he was just 18, he walked from Holland to Constantinople. I was particularly eager to read this because he passes through a lot of places I went on my train travels this past summer, including Germany, Austria and Bratislava.

This first of three volumes covers up until his entry into Hungary. The sharpness of memory is astonishing, A true masterwork of travel writing.

His descriptions of the landscape and the people he interacted with are as fresh as if they happened yesterday, and yet he was reconstructing this journey nearly 40 years after the fact. For every night he had to sleep in a barn or on a pub floor, there was a stay of comfort or even opulence. Lastly, this is simply damn fine writing. I marked so many gorgeous passages; here are just a few that helped me absorb the atmosphere: Beer, caraway seed, beeswax, coffee, pine-logs and melting snow combined with the smoke of thick, short cigars in a benign aroma across which every so often the ghost of sauerkraut would float.

The Romanesque nave was packed and an anthem of great choral splendour rose from the gothic choir stalls, while the cauliflowering incense followed the plainsong across the slopes of the sunbeams. When no buildings were in sight, I was back in the Dark Ages.

But the moment a farmhouse or a village impinged, I was in the world of Peter Brueghel. View all 6 comments. May 22, Eric rated it it was amazing Shelves: memoir , travels , favorites , art , mitteleuropa. Ah, these English travellers and their amazing prose--prose equal, fitted to their feats. Virginia Woolf on Hakluyt's Early Voyages : These magnificent volumes are not often, perhaps, read through. Part of their charm consists in the fact that Hakluyt is not so much a book as a great bundle of commodities loosely tied together, an emporium, a lumber room strewn with ancient sacks, obsolete nautical instruments, huge bales of wool, and little bags of rubies and emeralds.

One is for ever untying Ah, these English travellers and their amazing prose--prose equal, fitted to their feats. One is for ever untying this packet here, sampling that heap over there, wiping the dust off some vast map of the world, and sitting down in semi-darkness to snuff the strange smells of silks and leathers and ambergris, while outside tumble the huge waves of the uncharted Elizabethan sea. During , the eighteen year old Patrick Leigh Fermor, recently expelled from school after an innocent, unconsummated townie flirtation, walked, barge-floated, rode horseback, hitckhiked lorries, Bugattis, woodcutter sledges , but mostly walked from Rotterdam to Constantinople.

There's his passport, "crammed with the visas of vanished kingdoms. An Augusburg choir stall, specimen of Germany's blunt realism in woodcarving, showing "highly polished free-standing scenes of Biblical bloodshed," On the first Jael, with hanging sleeves and hatted like a margravine, gripped a coal hammer and steadied an iron spike among the sleeping Sisera's curls.

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Leigh Fermor is really into the Thirty Years War, so the curio emporium must include a composite warlord portrait: The polyglot captains of the multi-lingual hosts hold our gaze nilly-willy with their grave eyes and Valesquez moustaches and populate half the picture galleries of Europe. Caracoling in full feather against a background of tents and colliding squadrons, how serenely they point their batons; or, magnanimously bare-headed and on foot in a grove of lances, accept surrendered keys, or a sword! Curls flow and lace or starched collars break over the black armour and the gold inlay; they glance from their frames with an aloof and high-souled melenacholy which is both haunting and enigmatic.

And to stand for the strange political ruin of the lands in which Fermor wandered, there's the symbolic gold key once worn on the uniform of a Hapsburg court chamberlain-- But now the Empire and the kingdom had been dismembered and their thrones are empty; no doors opened to the gold keys, the heralds were dispersed, the regiments disbanded and the horses dead long ago. With one book, Leigh Fermor makes an easy leap into my "favorites. He's on a borrowed horse, cantering across the great Hungarian plain, thinking of the Magyar and other migrations.

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Aug 09, Ken rated it really liked it Shelves: nonfiction , finished-in Yeah, yeah. There's that problem of the English Channel and all, but you can't take it so literally. He takes trains, no planes, and automobiles when necessary, but mostly he foots it, and, for a traveler, there's no better way to find local color. What about his "All horsepower corrupts. What about his finger-wagging parents, you ask? Off to India, helping keep order in the colony so the sun never sets and all that.

It wasn't unusual, back then, for parents to abandon their children to relatives for such patriotic tasks.

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And Paddy as he's called by friends At the time of his departure , the Nazis have just come into power in Germany and Fermor walks through that fair country, giving us the odd juxtaposition of ideologues and Black Forest stereotypes, fanatics and Old Country Romantics. I'll take the latter, thank you, and that's where Fermor focuses his attention, too, with the intricate wood carvings, the beer steins, the pipes, the Schnapps, and the Guten Tags! The bucolic nature of it all was reminiscent of some of Knut Hamsun's stuff or certain Hemingway short stories set in the Alps circa s.

Nice, in other words. The nyrb edition is one smart-looking text sporting my favorite painter Brueghel the Elder on the cover. That's a plus. On the minus front is the lack of a map showing our pilgrim's progress as he hikes his way through the Low Countries, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, and, at the end, a bridge over trouble waters to Hungary.

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At 18 he turns 19 during his travels , Fermor finds that his youth, his good looks, and his status as "student" though in truth he was a rebellious one who failed to play the game very well are the perfect ticket to accommodations -- even if it's in a barn -- and a meal in a Europe where the tradition of hospitality still holds weight. Being from England doesn't hurt, either, even in Germany, even after WWI, where only one person takes him to task bitterly for hailing from that "green and pleasant land.

Like all travel literature, it's episodic, and you will find your attention spiking in episodes you favor. I, for instance, loved the scene where he jumped in the back of a loaded truck next to a farm girl who was traveling with a duck and a clutch of eggs which she presented to him for his February 11th birthday. And a scene where he spends time with an old-school nobleman named Baron Pips, who speaks to the wonders of Proust and other great writers. Fermor's ticket to such stays are people who write ahead to friends, alerting them that a young man needing lodging and food is coming through.

If you're wondering, I mean. That's why the book runs the gamut from sleeping in the hay to sleeping in fine beds in houses that might as well be called manors. Even at 18, Fermor had an incredible background in poetry and literature, huge swaths of it memorized even. It will put you to shame or in awe, maybe. Still, there's something to be said about a learned vagabond, something akin, maybe, to the Noble Savage that so intrigued Rousseau.

And old-school, capital-R Romantic myself, I found this aspect of the book most appealing of all. And, in one of his many asides, Fermor alludes to it when telling the story of how he would later play a role in capturing a Nazi officer in Crete. Fermor apparently quoted memorized poetry that the captured soldier also had committed to memory. Hell with the Stockholm Syndrome, an instant bond was created between captor and captive by literature. If nothing else, this book showcases the difference between reading sensibilities now and then.

In the hands of a 21st-century scribe, a book such as this would probably per instructions of the publisher focus on such tawdry elements as how the knight errant strung together all manner of romantic conquests and dodged every kind of creep and pervert that could possibly lurk in Europe.