Monday, 2 December 2013

Patrick Leigh Fermor, his long walk, and a guest blogger




The Broken Road: from the Iron Gates to Mount Athos by Patrick Leigh Fermor


Published 2013





One pair of pyjamas, two grey flannel shirts, a couple of blue short-sleeved ones, two white cotton shirts that could be worn with a tie at a pinch, two pairs of grey canvas trousers, one kept for best, a thick soft white pullover with a high neck, and quantities of different and brightly coloured handkerchiefs … The great sartorial treasure among all this was a thin, light, beautifully cut grey tweed jacket.


observations from guest blogger and cultural commentator Veronica Horwell:
The traveller Patrick Leigh Fermor inventorises the wardrobe contents of his pack after it has been stolen, and returned, in Bulgaria in autumn 1934, almost a year into his walk across Europe from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople-Istanbul: this is from The Broken Road, the final part of the trilogy that narrates his journey. The jacket had been a present in Transylvania, and most of the other items had also been donated – no wonder he called the first book A Time of Gifts – mostly because his initial pack and contents had been stolen in Munich the previous winter. Still, his heavy-weather gear, most of it ex-military, bought in London to outfit him cheaply for the magnificently absurd jaunt, is still with him, a brown leather jacket softened by hard use, breeches, brass buckled leather belt, the army greatcoat that had served as blanket so often in apple lofts and under the stars, and the not so useful puttees. These are cloth bandages (their name means that Hindi) wound round the leg from below the knee to the ankle; they were adopted by the British Army early in the 20th century and worn until just before the Second World War: exasperating to put on and keep up – many a poor infantryman must have gone over the trench top to death with his puttees descending slovenly in spirals round his feet: they were supposed to confer a feeling of protection, like working gaiters -- that you could walk your way across, and even over, any horror. Elsewhere in the book Leigh Fermor mentions squalid socks, and his growing collection of ethnica, the woven sashes and local fur hats he can’t resist buying: he loved dressing up, the full Byron fig appealed to him; when he fought with the Cretan resistance in the war, he wore local costume, complete with fleas.

And then there are Paddy’s boots, “the heroes of this walk” – patched and resoled and indestructible. They were ammunition boots, another First World War surplus bargain, studded with hobnails that took the brunt of wear, and war. If you travel on foot, and live for months out of a single pack, you will be incredulous at how much he seems to be carrying in his – there are so many other items besides the clothes: it must be bigger on the inside. You will also recognise with a pang the familiar footwear problem, since all shoes are hard to pack, and none will ever be appropriate for whatever event you are invited to on your road. He complains he has, beside the boots, only ghastly local canvas shoes and a pair of gym shoes (think Converse lows, only tatty). How will he not offend the smart international set in Bucharest? They love him of course: his hair almost peroxided by the sun and his tan as dark as walnut stain, youthful excitement animating the handsome face. He could've gone barefoot. Somebody would've found him the right shoes. 

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Veronica Horwell has guest-blogged before, here, and helped out with the fabric called ‘facecloth’ in the comments on this entry.

The pictures include a photo of PLF, post-war, and slices from the covers of the previous two books on this walk
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10 comments:

  1. Moira - Thanks for hosting Veronica.

    Veronica - Thanks for a really informative post. To me it's amazing that a person would take this kind of journey on, let alone with so little in the way of wardrobe. And I rather like his interest in different kinds of ethnic clothes. Such an important part of culture...

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    1. I know - it makes him very human doesn't it? I love his books about this trip, because they remind you what it's like to be young and a bit foolish, across time gender and place....

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  2. Replies
    1. It is really good, but not much in the way of crime.

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  3. Travel writing always sounds so interesting, but I never get around to reading it. I enjoyed this post.

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    1. Thanks Tracy. I like SOME travel writing, some of it I find self-indulgent. But as I say, I like PLF because of his picture of himself as a young man, full of hopes and dreams and with no idea what the next few years are going to bring....

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  4. When you love good travel writing, there is no way not to read Leigh Fermor. Especially his trilogy about his walk across Europe to Istanbul is a classic. I read it together with the excellent biography of Artemis Cooper. Interestingly, Leigh Fermor's attempt to establish himself as a novelist, can be considered as a bit disappointing. The Violins of Saint-Jacques indulge in orientalist stereotypes which prevented me from really enjoying that book very much: http://www.mytwostotinki.com/?p=1017
    Thanks for this interesting guest post!

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    1. I just went over to read your post on The Violins, which I looked for years ago but was never able to find and read. Perhaps best to leave it that way now...

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