Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Patrick Leigh Fermor at last reaches Bucharest

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I am loving Patrick Leigh Fermor's chapter on Bucharest in The Broken Road. I find this city spell-binding and am pleased that he did so. I gave up hope that we would ever read his description, to set beside his description of Budapest in Between the Woods and the Water, Then after his death we were told that the final volume in his trilogy had almost been completed. In fact it is a very much unfinished and not at all like his finished work - which makes it much easier to read quickly. At least now we have it, although not in the final form which would have satisfied him.

I find I cannot put this book down. I emphatically do not agree with the man in my local English-language bookshop, who told me the other day that it should not have been published. I tend to agree with the friend last night who prefers it to the earlier two books. I find that because it is not finished it is easier to read. Reading Fermor's wonderful Ruskinian prose can sometime be, as Tennyson described reading Ben Jonson, like swimming in treacle.

Fermor arouses in me for the first time an interest in Bulgaria, whose gentle charm for me has been an acquired taste. I acquired it in the end but only now do I feel an interest in the place. Fermor at the time he travels through Bulgaria has never set foot in Greece, which is to be his great love, but we see his philhellenism prefigured in his liking for Bulgaria and his distaste for Turkey and Islam. Perhaps this is why, having walked from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople, as he rightly always called it, he spent only ten days there before setting off for Greece and Mount Athos.

I enjoy reading Fermor because he makes me remember why I am living in Romania, which is because I fell in love with the country when I first came in the autumn of 1990. I still am in love with her, though it is a married love now, not a schoolboy infatuation. I am delighted that Fermor shared my enthusiasm for Romania and for Bucharest.

I also see that, like him, it is old churches that make me want to travel more than anything else. This is the reason why Burma a week ago did not move me as I had hoped. Pagodas and Buddhist temples are just not  so interesting or remotely so beautiful as churches, especially the monasteries of the Balkans. 

I have been telling family and friends for fifteen years to come to Romania before it is spoilt but I have not followed my own advice and have seen far too little of the provinces. From now on I shall stay around here.

Here 'The Broken Road' is reviewed by the wonderful Neal Ascherson and here by William Dalrymple, who is a writer comparable to Fermor.

I somehow missed reading Artemis Cooper's Life of Fermor which came out a year ago and which I shall hurry to get. Hardbacks seem scarce but I do not want to read it in paperback. I did read this intriguing review. I am not sure whether the reviewer knows much about Fermor though, as he says,
He sometimes slept rough in stables and barns but this was interspersed, we now learn, with sojourns in the castles and country houses of the eccentric, amusing, minor nobility. (My italics.)

Anyone who has read Fermor's books knew that. He himself likens his journey to Surtees' Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour.  Somerset Maugham apparently described him as "a middle-class gigolo for upper-class women". That might contain a scintilla of truth, unfortunately. A gigolo, though, if that is what he was, who was a prose stylist to compare with Sir Thomas Browne.

I write more about The Broken Road here.

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