Monday, September 23, 2013

Paddy’s broken road

John Murray has just published the final part of a trilogy by Patrick (Paddy) Leigh Fermor concerning his epic journey on foot across Europe in the mid-1930s. The first two parts, thought by some to be classics of travel literature, were written from memory 40-50 years after the journey and not published until the 1970s-1980s. Leigh Fermor died in 2011 and never completed the third part, but the new book - The Broken Road - has been compiled from early pieces of his writing, including a diary he kept during the latter stages of his walk.

Paddy was born in London in 1915, the son of a distinguished geologist then working in India, and spent the first four years of his life with a family in Northamptonshire while his mother and sister stayed with his father in India. Subsequently, he had trouble with schools, being expelled from some, and being sent to one for difficult children for a while. Nevertheless, he managed some learning, including Greek.

By the summer of 1933, still only 18, Paddy had tired of education and decided to live in London and become a writer. A few months later, though, he was off on the first of his many travels: a walk across Europe from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople. The journey lasted from December 1933 to January 1935, and thereafter he travelled around Greece, settling with a Romanian noblewoman, Balasha Cantacuzène, first near Athens then in Moldavia.

Paddy served with the Irish Guards during the Second World War, and then joined the Special Operations Executive in 1941, helping to coordinate resistance in German-occupied Crete. He led the party that in 1944 captured and evacuated a German commander. Captain Bill Stanley Moss, his second in command at the time, later wrote about the events in Ill Met by Moonlight: The Abduction of General Kreipe, which was adapted into a film by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger with Dirk Bogarde playing Paddy.

In 1950, Paddy published his first book, The Traveller’s Tree, about post-war travels in the Caribbean, and he went on to write several further books, including Mani and Roumeli, of his travels on mule and foot around remote parts of Greece. He was friendly with Lawrence Durrell, another writer on Greece (see The Diary Review - A book out of these scraps) who wrote of him in his Cyprus book, Bitter Lemons: ‘After a splendid dinner by the fire he starts singing, songs of Crete, Athens, Macedonia. When I go out to refill the ouzo bottle. . . I find the street completely filled with people listening in utter silence and darkness. Everyone seems struck dumb. “What is it?” I say, catching sight of Frangos. “Never have I heard of Englishmen singing Greek songs like this!” Their reverent amazement is touching; it is as if they want to embrace Paddy wherever he goes.’

In 1968, after many years together, Paddy married Joan Elizabeth Rayner (née Eyres Monsell), daughter of the 1st Viscount Monsell. She accompanied him on his travels (until her death 2003) and the two were based partly near Kardamyli in the southern Peloponnese and partly in Gloucestershire, England. They had no children. Paddy was knighted in 2004, and he died in 2011. Further information can be found from Wikipedia, The New Yorker, various obituaries (The Guardian, for example, The Independent, the BBC), or from reviews of a ‘magnificent’ biography by Artemis Cooper published last year by John Murray (The Telegraph, The Daily Mail).

In 1977, John Murray published Paddy’s A Time of Gifts, often considered to be a classic of travel literature. This was a memoir of the first part of his journey on foot across Europe in 1933-1934. (Much of it can be read online at Googlebooks.) Nearly a decade later, a second volume appeared, Between the Woods and the Water; and a third, covering the final part of the walk to Constantinople (Istanbul), was promised but never completed: he laboured at this third book for years but never produced a manuscript. Now, in September 2013, John Murray (part of Hodder) has brought out a third volume edited by Colin Thubron and Artemis Cooper - The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos - by way of trying to complete the trilogy.

But this is a very different book to the first two since it is made up of two documents written by Paddy much earlier in his life, and not crafted by him to be the third book of the trilogy. The first, called ‘A Youthful Journey’, was inspired by a commission for a magazine on the pleasure of walking; and the second is a diary Paddy lost but, oddly, recovered in 1965.

In the book’s introduction - which can be read on the Hodder website - the editors provide a full explanation of the convoluted story behind The Broken Road, and some background on Paddy’s diaries. They also explain the genesis of the title chosen to indicate Paddy’s unfinished written journey, and the fact that the work is not the polished version he would have desired, ‘only the furthest in the end we [the editors] could go.’

‘One of the astonishing facts about A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water,’ the editors say, ‘is that they were written from memory, with no diaries or notebooks to sustain them. Paddy’s first diary was stolen in a Munich youth hostel in 1934, and those that succeeded it, along with his picaresque letters to his mother, were stored during the war in the Harrods Depository, where years later they were destroyed unclaimed. It was a loss, he used to say, that “still aches, like an old wound in wet weather”.’

However, in 1965, while researching an article on the Danube, he met up again with Balasha Cantacuzène, who he had not seen since the start of the war in 1939. She had saved his fourth and final diary, and returned it to him during this visit.

The editors continue: ‘Written in faded pencil, the Green Diary, as he called it, carries his life forward to 1935 after his walk was over, and is appended with sketches of churches, costumes, friends, vocabularies in Hungarian, Rumanian, Bulgarian and Greek, and the names and addresses of almost everyone he stayed with. But strangely, although the diary covered all his walk from the Iron Gates to Constantinople and more, he never collated it with ‘A Youthful Journey’. Perhaps its callowness jarred with the later, more studied manuscript, or their factual differences disconcerted him. The two narratives often diverge. Whatever the reason, the diary - which retained an almost talismanic significance for him - did nothing to solve his dilemma.’

Here are three partial extracts from the diary section of The Broken Road.

24 January 1935
‘I left Salonika last night; Patullo and Elphinstone came along with me to the boat, and we bought some bread, and salami and cheese by the harbour gates. I was glad they came, as it was already sunset, and it’s very lonely starting off on these journeys alone. The ship was surprisingly small; very dirty and overloaded with every kind of cargo, all of which was hauled on board in a surprisingly unworkmanlike way. The boat was a shambles inside too, with enormous banks of coal in the passages, and peasants lying in their blankets in despondent groups everywhere. We stood in the passages and smoked, and chatted, waiting for the bells to ring to announce departure, so they could get off; but the boat was nearly two hours late, and they nearly came away with me, which would have been rather serious for Patullo has to join a troopship for Hong Kong in a day or two at Port Said. [. . .]’

27 January 1935
‘I left Koutloumousiou early yesterday, and started off downhill, the road winding beside a rushing torrent, breaking over great boulders, and dashing on in a lather of white foam. The peninsula here is entirely forested with evergreens, so that it is difficult to believe it’s only January; among the ilexes and oleanders are many olives, aspens, cypresses and cedar. The higher slopes are almost entirely fir.

Coming round a corner I saw a funny little grey-haired man sitting on the edge of an old stone well, with some big brown paper parcels beside him. He wished me good day in French, and giving me a cigarette, began to tell me all about himself. He was from Kavalla, and had lived on the Holy Mountain for four years, making maps of it, and copying ikons on wood. He showed me a few of these, they were good.

The sea soon came into sight round a bend, and the large monastery of Iviron, the high walls appearing above the trees. These walls are lofty, and have the effect of being much higher than they are long, as they are divided into sort of rectangular bastions, rising sheer to quite a height without a single window, then suddenly branching out into an overhanging balcony, with undulating tiled roofs, and the plaster painted bright colours - red, blue, green, in crude designs.

Several monks were sitting on benches in the big, sunny cobbled courtyard, half asleep, stroking their beards. [. . .]’

28 January 1935
‘I left Iviron after an early lunch yesterday, the track running close along the shore, sometimes over the high rocks, sometimes over the pebbles and sand of the beach, and sometimes winding away inland, a little footpath between the trees. It was really a succession of Devonshire combes, but full of wildly growing evergreens, with now and then a squat stone hermitage standing on a ledge of the mountainside, surrounded by dark cypresses. [. . .]’

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