Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Entre deux guerres, a grander tour

An English youth, with little
more than time and his senses
on his hands, undertook a hike
in 1933, from Holland to the
Hellespont. This was before 
Laurie Lee famously walked 
out, and before Eric Blair
set out for Catalonia, never
for its capital to be forgot-
ten by the young; and Wystan 
Auden and Herr Issyvoo, with 
Spender scanning Aryans, de-
camped to the renascent Reich.

In 2013, the Balkan phase of
Patrick Leigh-Fermor's adven-
ture was published under the
astute guidance of his liter-
ary executors, themselves and
their families household words
in English letters and nobility.
Again the amazements of the
boy are what shine through,
and the natural trilogy of a
profoundly fertile inner trek
is no longer truncated. It is
neither hard nor easy to dis-
tinguish these writings - all
in the Aegean in which he un-
forgettably distinguished his
command and himself - from the
brilliant cultural icon he was
seen to be, in Greece and Eng-
land in the last 60 years of
his life. Not hard, not easy;
simply irresistible. This vol-
ume is rmbl's book of the year.

The writing is that bright, the
life is that elated to be lived.
You can tell a forager from the
flâneur by the cut of his jeans.
2013 gave us several urgently
notable or gorgeously recaptured
works, from the uncollected poems
of Frank O'Hara, to dialogues on
our living history, to squabbles
and simmering fiction, still be-
ing absorbed.

But, improbably, only one hung-
over kid in Bucharest at dawn,
nothing but his language to
preserve that sure awakening.
Is there any other choice?

The next fragment of memory - a morning beam falling across half-empty glasses and a disorder of [gramophone] records - filled me with a hollow feeling of distress and calamity; morning all over again.. But the light also rested on two spurred feet projecting from the end of a divan covered with peasant rugs that indicated a warrior taking his rest, then two crossed and gleaming black cylinders with small gold rosettes at the knee, tight dark blue breeches embroidered with foliating black galloons of braid, scarlet braces, a white shirt, and finally the sleeping and disheveled head of the young officer; and in another armchair, the crumpled frame of the French journalist. When the red-haired girl, who seemed to live there, emerged with coffee, it transpired that the hard exhibition-ist core had stayed the night, which made things a bit better. 

When Pierre, the young officer, returned from shaving, I watched him with some envy, slowly and painfully reassemble: struggling shakily with the hooks and eyes of the high astrakhan collar of his astrakhan-cuffed blue tunic, flattening the hussarish soutaches across the chest, arranging the fall of empty sleeves of the black and blue pelisse he slung on heavy cords across his left shoulder, and correcting the diagonal slant across his back.

He polished his beautifully cut boots with a cushion, and then peered in a looking-glass at the fragile, resplendent cornet reflected there and shuddered, 'Do you think', he asked sadly and slowly in English, 'that I look like an officer and a gentleman?' I said he did indeed. 'Let's hope so,' he murmured lugubriously. He was half Scottish; his mother, he told me, had been a Miss Douglas; rather surprisingly he had an Everyman copy of the Pickwick Papers in the pocket of his pelisse.

Patrick Leigh-Fermor
The Broken Road
  From the Iron Gates
  to Mount Athos
Artemis Cooper and
  Colin Thubron, editors
John Murray, 2013©

Laurie Lee
As I Walked Out
  One Midsummer Morning
André Deutsch, 1969©
Penguin, 1971©

George Orwell
Homage to Catalonia
Beacon Press, 1955©
Eleventh Printing, 1967©

Stephen Spender
World within World
Modern Library, 2001©

No comments:

Post a Comment