Thursday, August 28, 2014

From A Time of Gifts

In 1933, at the age of eighteeen, Patrick Leigh Fermor began a journey on foot from the Netherlands to Turkey. In a Munich youth hostel, a pickeliger Bua, a pimply chap, steals his rucksack, which holds a diary, books, money, clothing, and a passport. A letter of introduction still on Leigh Fermor’s person leads to a five-day stay in nearby Gräfelfing with Baron Rhinehard von Liphart-Ratshoff, whose White Russian family fled Estonia. The Baron and family collect a rucksack and some clothing for their guest. And then:

All these kindnesses were crowned with a dazzling consummation. I had said that my books, after the lost diary, were what I missed most. I ought to have known by now that mention of loss had only one result under this roof . . . What books? I had named them; when the time came for farewells, the Baron said: “We can’t do much about the others but here’s Horace for you.” He put a small duodecimo volume in my hand. It was the Odes and Epodes, beautifully printed on thin paper in Amsterdam in the middle of the seventeenth century, bound in hard green leather with gilt lettering. The leather on the spine had faded but the sides were as bright as grass after rain and the little book opened and shut as compactly as a Chinese casket. There were gold edges to the pages and a faded marker of scarlet silk slanted across the long S’s of the text and the charming engraved vignettes: cornucopias, lyres, panpipes, chaplets of olive and bay and myrtle. Small mezzotints showed the Forum and the Capitol and imaginary Sabine landscapes; Tibur, Lucretilis, the Bandusian spring, Socrate, Venusia . . . I made a feint at disclaiming a treasure so far beyond the status of the rough travels ahead. But I had been forestalled, I saw with relief, by an inscription: “To our young friend,” etc., on the page opposite an emblematic ex libris with the name of their machiolated Baltic home. Here and there between the pages a skeleton leaf conjured up those lost woods.

Patrick Leigh Fermor, A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube (1977).
A Time of Gifts is the first of three books recounting this journey. The others: Between the Woods and the Water: On Foot to Constantinople: From The Middle Danube to the Iron Gates (1986) and The Broken Road: Travels from Bulgaria to Mount Athos (2013). The best parts of A Time of Gifts thus far: its scenes of hospitality.

A related post
Patrick Leigh Fermor’s eye

[The Baron seems lost to history, but Wikipedia has a likely ancestor. Bua is Leigh Fermor’s rendering of the local pronunciation of Bursch, “a youth,” or as Leigh Fermor translates it, “chap.” Machiolated is just one indication of his intimate knowledge of architecture.]

comments: 3

The Crow said...

I'd have broken down and sobbed at receiving so wonderful a treasure...hell, I'm crying now!

Chris said...

I don't remember if he mentions the fact in A Time of Gifts, but he lost that volume of Horace in the course of his exploits in World War II.

Michael Leddy said...

I like his “etc.,” which seems like a way to deflect the great emotion involved. That all of it is pre-WWII adds another element of feeling: he’s already visited an inn whose family loses a son in the war (fighting against forces that include PLF himself).

He hasn’t mentioned losing Horace. I somehow know or think I know that he recovered the diary years later. But he hasn’t mentioned that either.